Takes One to Know One

Chapter 6

Jamie Maddox was stuck doing laundry. With fifteen minutes left on the timer, he was perched on a washer with a comic book, waiting for the dry cycle to finish. Everyone did their own clothing at the Institute to keep things fair, but the sheets did not belong to anyone in particular. They still needed changed once a week, and there was a chore list on the cork board for who got to wash the linens and towels.

There wasn’t much to complain about; washing linens was one of the easier chores to do at the Institute - you loaded the sheets up into the washer, put in soap, punched a couple buttons and waited for a while. Plus there was a soda machine in the laundry room and chairs to sit in and aside from the whirring machines, it was peaceful and quiet.

If there was anything that irked him about laundry, it was the part where he had to fold sheets. The sheets were long and he was not and making copies of himself to help with the folding only ever ended in disaster. The last time, three of his copies had decided to use the sheets to build a fort outside in the backyard, and the other two had transformed themselves into instant superheroes (or was it super villains? They’d been cackling maniacally down the hall, now that Jamie recalled). It had taken Jamie three hours to get folded what should have only taken one hour.

He sighed and closed the comic book as the buzzer sounded, then began to pull out the bunches of warm fabric. Pillowcases were dealt with first because they were easy. Then bottom fitting sheets because they were a bitch and he wished he could just roll them up into wads, except they wouldn‘t fit in the linen closet that way and he‘d have to do it again.

The work was tedious and boring except for the exciting occasion of a bra falling out of the pile as he separated the linens. Jamie studied it, trying to guess who it belonged to, and decided to leave it on the table because he’d likely be murdered in his sleep if he tried to return it himself.

Finally finished, Jamie gathered the first pile in his arms and began to walk upstairs to the first-floor hallway. He’d almost made it when a blur shot past him, sending several pillowcases and sheet flying off the pile.

“ARGH!” Jamie set down his armload as carefully as he could and stomped over to the sheets, once again folding them. He carried them back to where he’d set his armload only to have the same blur shoot past him - the other way, knocking the entire pile in the hallway over and sending the creator of the blur down on his face.

“What the hell -” the silver-hair boy started, kicking the tangled sheets off him. He recovered and got up, glaring first at the sheets and then at Jamie. “Watch where you put stuff, huh squirt? Someone might get hurt.” With that, Quicksilver sped off again.

Jamie stood with his mouth gaping open and staring at the hopeless mess of sheets tracked halfway down the hall.

“AAAAAUGH!” he ranted, kicking at them angrily.

“Yo, what’s the problem?”

“Problem! Why would there be a problem!? I’ve only spent all afternoon folding these things and I hate folding them and that guy just --- AAARGH!” It took him a moment to register who he’d spoken to. Jamie looked at the thin boy leaning against the doorframe to the room he’d just walked out of. The Adhesive Incident room. What was he doing in there? Wait, he was a Brotherhood member wasn’t he? Maybe he’d been trying to get high on dried glue. Jamie scowled at him. Todd appeared unconcerned, looking in the direction Pietro had vanished.

“Yeah, ‘Aaargh’ pretty much covers Pietro most days.” Todd approached the laundry and picked up a corner of a sheet. He folded one to the other and frowned when the middle slipped out. He didn’t know why he was doing it any more than Jamie did - just that he was tired of being in his room and maybe if he did something mindless like this he’d feel a bit less crappy.

Jamie watched him and stepped forward. “Here. You do it like this.”

Between the two of them, they got the mess refolded and Todd helped him carry the sheets to the closet at the end of the hall. He was glad to know where the linen closet was - the dusty sheets weren’t that comfortable to sleep on after all. Something was up with his skin; it was itchy as hell.

“So . . . Thanks. For helping. I guess you’re not as bad as Scott says.”

“Summers? Eh, I’ve said worse about him,” Todd shrugged. He felt indifferent to what Jamie had just said; before that would have angered him. He felt beyond caring right now. Who gave a shit if Summers didn’t like him? Nobody really liked Summers either. “So, you got anything else to do around here or something?”

“Um, well . . . you could help me carry the rest of it to the second floor. Then we could go hang out in the Rec room. We have video games.”

That didn’t sound completely terrible. “Sure.”

Jamie was very happy to have the unexpected help, and because he was grateful, he didn’t remark on Todd’s strange skin flakings. He had several patches of pale white skin, small and irregularly round, on his face and neck. Even some on the back of his hands. Every other minute he seemed to scratch at them.

The rec room was mostly empty by the time he and Todd finished. Sam was practicing on his guitar in the window seat and barely looked up as he and Jamie came in. Jamie immediately set up the video game system, wanting to play Bust-a-Move against Todd, who admitted he’d only ever played it at the arcade once or twice.

The game was every bit as brainless as Todd remembered, and that was more than okay. He lost the first two rounds before Jamie had mercy enough to give him a few hints. Todd barely beat Jamie the third game, and then won the fourth, still absently scratching his throat with his fingernails.

He looked up when the door opened, accompanied by sobbing and turned to see Amara, dripping wet in her swimsuit and wrapped in a towel, fling herself in the corner of one of the couches. She dropped her forehead on the arm of it, crying audibly. Todd stared at her, noticing Sam put his guitar away in order to hastily retreat from the room.

“You’re losing,” Jamie warned him. “Oh. Never mind. You just lost.”

“What’s her problem?” Todd whispered, moving his head to indicate Amara.

Jamie glanced at the couch. “I didn’t even see her come in . . . look, don’t get involved. That couch that she’s on? That’s called the Drama Couch. Stay away from it and anyone who’s on it, and you’ll be a lot happier in life.”

Todd looked at him hard. “Who fed you that crap and what flavor of crack did they sprinkle on it first?”

“Roberto told me. After Amara almost fried him for trying to get involved.”

“Yeah, well, I’m immune to getting fried by now, so I’m gonna go see what the matter is.” Because if it was one thing Todd couldn’t stand, it was a crying and miserable girl. He put his game controller down and approached the couch, ignoring Jamie‘s panicked hissing for him to come back before it was Too Late.

“Yo, Amara - right? What’s the matter?” She hitched pulling away from the couch to wipe at her face, but said nothing. Todd sat on the arm, not backing away. “Look, I know you don’t know me. And that it’s hard to talk about stuff that bothers you to friends, when you think they won’t understand. Some things are easier to talk about with people you don‘t know.”

She looked at him, surprised. Todd was a little surprised too, he didn’t know where this was coming from. Usually he would try to banter or tell jokes to cheer a girl up, which usually wound up with him getting slapped across the room, but right now he just didn’t feel like being funny. “So . . . . you can talk to me about it. If it’ll help.”

Amara bit her lip and for a long moment, Todd thought she was going to tell him to go away. But finally, she spoke. “Tabitha used to live with you. You know her, right?”

Todd groaned. Oh yeah, he remembered Tabby. The girl who liked to barge on him in the shower. Who’d once painted his fingernails pink and sprayed perfume on him after he’d fallen asleep on the couch. He’d gotten a bad rash and lost his voice for a couple days from the perfume, but Lance had at least let him stay home so he didn’t have to go to school with fingernail polish. “Yeah, I know her. What did she do to you?”

“Oh . . . well, nothing. I guess then you know how she swings?”

Toward everything on two legs? Todd almost retorted, but thought better of it. “All I know is she’s gone out with girls and boys. She on girls now?”

“Yeah,” Amara blushed. “Me. Or so I thought.”

“. . . so you thought?” he prompted.

“She . . . She moved out of her room to give it to Wanda. And I thought she said she would share a room with me. But instead, she moved in with Jubilee. I don’t think they’re doing anything, but I don’t know! And she’s been acting like nothing’s happened - she still approaches me like . . . like always!”

Amara looked in danger of crying again. Todd rubbed the back of his neck, which turned to scratching. Damned skin.

“Uh . . . well, you ain’t gonna figure her out if you don’t ask her, that’s for sure. I think yo jumpin’ to conclusions. If she’s actin’ like normal, maybe she just thought it was for the best that you two weren’t roommates. I mean . . . crap, Lance and Kitty love each other half the time, and the other half they fight. Yakitty yak yak, all night on the phone. Can you imagine if they had to share a room?”

She looked thoughtful, biting her lip. “You really think Tabby’s just . . . trying to keep us from fighting then?”

“Ain’t sayin’ that’s what’s goin’ on. Just sayin’ that it’s possible. She shoulda talked with you about what she was going to do, though. So talk to her and figure out what’s going on. Otherwise, yo just torturin’ yourself for nothing, know what I‘m sayin‘?”

Damned freaking skin! Todd wondered if he should duck into a shower. No soap - just water. Maybe that would help soothe his skin.

Amara fiddled with her hands. “I . . . I didn’t think it could be something like that. It just . . . now that I think of it, she usually doesn’t think to tell me when her plans are going to change. Tabby’s random like that.” She smiled, fondly, before looking up at Todd. “Hey, thank you. You’re a lot sweeter than Scott gave you credit for.”

That was the second time today he’d heard something like that. Todd shrugged, not sure what to say.

“Wow,” Jamie said, risking a peek over the couch. “Are you like the Girl-Whisperer or something?”

Amara glowered at him and tossed a pillow his way which Jamie ducked with a squeal. It hit the stack of games, making it wobble dangerously.

She turned back to look at Todd who was currently having a fit of laughter. Girl-Whisperer, his scrawny ass! He broke off with a wince as he felt another stabbing itch behind his ear. Todd scratched it, though more carefully; he was going to break his skin at this rate.

“Are you okay? Your skin looks kinda painful. Sunburn?” she guessed.

“Nah. It’s . . .” Todd hesitated. Everyone was going to know sooner or later. He was saved from explaining at a shout from Jamie, who was now at the window.

“Fight! They’re fighting!” he exclaimed, pointing down at the field.

A slight tremor shook the mansion and Todd sighed. “Fantastic.” He got up and walked to the window with Amara following behind, clutching at her towel. Lance was butting heads with Bobby Drake over something or other - a soccer foul judging by the deflated ball with a spike of ice through it.

Wanda, Fred and Pietro were coming up to stand beside him, while Bobby was being slowly flanked by Scott, Jean, Roberto, and Kitty.

“It’s a good thing you’re up here with us instead of down there getting in trouble,” Jamie said, looking at him. Todd said nothing, watching the display. He should be down there. He should be standing up for Lance no matter how stupid the argument was. Instead, he was hiding. Because he didn’t want to be anywhere near her.

Wanda glanced around, as if wondering where he was. Not seeing him, she calmly turned back to pay attention to Summers, who’d gotten between Lance and Bobby and was lecturing. Like that was going to diffuse anything.

Todd turned away from the window, feeling wretched. He didn’t want to fight with anyone, whether it was expected from him or not. Though he missed being around Freddy and even the other two boys, he couldn’t approach them right now. In fact, the entire thing made him want to be alone again.

“Hey, so . . . you want to keep playing?”

“ . . . Actually, I think I’m gonna hit the shower. I think I got poison ivy or something.” Yeah. He wished it was poison ivy.

Amara winced. “I’ve got some calamine lotion. Maybe it will help?” she offered. Todd glanced at her, surprised.

“And after you feel better, do you think you could come back and play something else? We have other games,” Jamie interjected hopefully. Todd turned to stare at him, not used to anyone wanting his company.

“Uh, sure,” he said, before he could think otherwise.

Jamie smiled at him. “Okay! Come find me when you’re free.” He went to put the controllers away as Todd slunk toward the door.

Amara didn’t let him get away so easy. She all but led him to the bathroom, opening the medicine cabinet and pulling out a pink bottle of lotion. “There’s the calamine lotion and here’s some cotton balls. You look like you’re going to need a lot.” She rolled up his sleeve, looking at the white spots on his arms and frowning. Amara apparently had taken charge of his bath, and was now pulling towels out of the small bathroom closet, placing a washcloth and towel in his arms.

“You can use this soap - it’s made from natural ingredients and exfoliates, so it should get rid of the peeling without further harshing on your skin. And it doesn’t smell like anything, so don’t worry about smelling like a strawberry-daiquiri because you won‘t.”

Something about the peculiarity of the situation struck him. “Usually people would rather I smell like a strawberry daiquiri,” Todd joked. “Compared to the usual.”

Amara looked at him quizzically, then took a sniff. “Why? You don’t smell like anything. Maybe a little bit like wet grass, but nothing bad.”

Todd blinked. “I don’t?” He sniffed his shoulder. “. . . I don’t.”

She raised an eyebrow and giggled. “You’re funny. Scott was totally wrong about you, wasn’t he? Hey, so, I’ll let you shower. And I’ll go talk to Tabby. Thanks again.”

“Yeah. Uh, no problem.” He watched as the door shut behind her. He stared down at the towels in his arms and set them aside, picking up the soap. He tried to read the ingredients, but stood there instead, staring through the bottle in his hand.

He didn’t smell. And he hadn’t even showered. What the hell did that mean? Was this part of his mutation? Or would his smell return in a couple of days, worse than ever? Todd put the soap on the window ledge of the shower and stepped in, peeling off his clothing.

The water was every bit as wonderful as he imagined it would be, soothing his burning skin. The soap didn’t soak into him, it was apparently made of mud or something, and had little beads in it. As girly as it was (he cringed to look at the bottle’s delicate swoopy logo) he couldn’t help but be surprised and grateful. Maybe he should buy some for himself; he could always take a permanent marker and black out the logo.

The dried skin was everywhere and it came off him within three rinses of the beaded soap, grossing him out. It was thin enough to go down the drain - he didn’t know what he’d do if it clogged. Todd went through Herculean efforts to get his back and finally stole one of the back brushes he’d spied in the closet, figuring he’d rinse it out. Not like anyone could tell it was him if he didn’t stink anymore.

The white dry patches were gone, leaving new patches of skin where they’d been, smoother and more sensitive than the skin around it. Todd touched one on his hip before leaning back into the water’s spray, simply enjoying the moisture. He reluctantly turned the cool water off and dried off with a towel, less vigorously than usual. As much as he hated taking showers, this one had been oddly welcome.

He didn’t even need the calamine lotion, though he made a note of where he could find some as he put it back into the medicine cabinet. Todd shook out his clothing, making a face at the grit he could feel in it. He really didn’t want that against his skin. He got his jeans as clean as he could before pulling them on, then put the towels in the hamper before starting to his room with his shoes and shirt in hand.

Todd thought nothing of the odd glances he got walking downstairs. He ducked into the kitchen for a bite to eat and a soda, setting the rest of his clothes on a chair. The others hadn’t come in yet - for all he knew they were outside still having a fight. He told himself he didn’t care as he spread mayonnaise on some toast and piled turkey on it.

He nearly jumped a mile and a half when someone touched his shoulder. “What?!” he yelped, spinning around. It was Kitty. She apparently had come through the wall or floor, moving silently. He hated that.

“I . . . Tolensky?! I thought you were someone else!” she stammered, stepping back. Todd raised an eyebrow.

“Who else would I be?

“No, I mean . . .” she gestured helplessly with her hand, indicating all of Todd’s body. When Todd continued to stare at her blankly, she heaved an exasperated sigh. “With your spots, or whatever those are!”

He froze. “S-Spots?” he asked, voice low with dread. He shakily held up a hand.

Spots. It had taken mere minutes for the patches of new skin to darken to a greenish-gray hue. On his pale skin, they stood out like stripes on a zebra. Todd made a funny little squeaking noise and dropped the knife with a clatter. He was shaking all over now, leaning heavily against the counter.

Kitty bit her lip, not sure what to do. “You mean you didn’t know? You want me to like, get Lance or something?”

Lance . . . Lance would mean Pietro, followed by Fred, and then Wanda. Oh god, he didn’t want her to see him like this. He wanted to find a hole and crawl into it and never come out again. “No,” he rasped. “I . . . I’m just fine . . .” He dodged around her and snatched up his clothing, intending fully to go to his room and hide there until doomsday.

He ran head-on into Logan and stumbled back, staring up at him. Even with his shirt and shoes clutched to his chest, he knew the man could see what was wrong with his skin.

Logan looked at him, unfazed. He didn’t ask any questions, for which Todd was grateful, but put his hand firmly on the boy’s shoulder to prevent flight. “Think it’s time we had that talk,” he said, voice gentle. All Todd could do besides tremble, was nod.

* * *

Kurt stared at the phone in his hands, wondering if it was worth a second try. He’d made himself wait until evening, leaning against the headboard and idly flicking his tail. Every time he tried to think of someone other than Amanda, his thoughts flew like an arrow to Todd.

Maybe he should check on the boy. Maybe he should let Todd sleep. Maybe he should tell Xavier that Wanda was the cause of it all, though he really didn’t see the point. Nothing could be done that would take her words back. The damage was done.

Apparently, it was so with Amanda. Should he have waited longer to speak to her? Kurt had been so elated when she had picked up the phone. He wouldn’t have been if he’d known what she was going to say.

“Kurt, if this is you - I don’t want to speak to you! I can’t believe what you said to my parents. If you’d rather we leave Bayville, then that’s fine by me! We’re going!”

“Amanda wait - I’m sorry! But your father had no right to frighten him like that!”

“He had no right to bust into our house! Why are you taking his side!? You’re even letting him and his friends move in with you! Did you even complain to your Professor about it?”

“Well, ja, everyone complained! But he’s really not that bad -”

“He’s the reason we’re moving away! The reason we can’t be together!” Amanda yelled and Kurt put the receiver away from his ear, wincing. “Because my parents think all mutants are like him!”

“Well, tell them that isn’t fair! You of all people should know how unfair that is!”

Amanda’s voice was cold. “What do you mean?”

“Okay, if a black guy broke into a store, does that mean all black people are criminals?” Kurt countered.

“I don’t know. Does it?” she iced.

“Oh for - Amanda! You know what I’m trying to say!” he yelped. Maybe he shouldn’t have brought race into this. “For another example, just because I am from Germany, that doesn’t make me a Nazi!”

“Don’t, Kurt!” she snapped, sounding close to tears. “It’s not the same thing! What hurts me is that you took his side and said you’d rather see us leave Bayville than stand another second of Toad being scared of my father!”

“He was panicking because he was caught in a second manifestation - his powers are starting to change on him again. I didn’t realize it at the time - I thought your father had pushed him over the edge or something! I was angry!”

“Well I’m angry too, Kurt! I really don’t care about Toad or what he‘s going through, but apparently you care about it more than me. More than us. So you just do whatever you want to do, and leave me out of it! Goodbye!”

She’d slammed the receiver. Kurt had considered throwing it against the wall in frustrated retaliation, but all he could do was stare at it in his hand. He stared until his vision became blurred and rolled to lie on his side hiding his face in his elbow.

After a long moment, he redialed her number and pressed the receiver to his ear. It rang until it hit the answering machine. He hung up, and tried again. This time it just rang endlessly; she had turned off the message-recorder.

Kurt tossed the phone aside and curled further into a ball.

* * *

Logan was less after-school-special than Todd had initially feared. Not that he thought the man screamed of any such thing, but he’d been mortally afraid to show any sign of weakness around the Canadian - which Todd suspected he‘d do the moment someone spoke kindly to him. Logan didn’t necessarily remind him of Pop in mannerisms, but he was strong and probably just as quick.

Logan had led him to the garage where he was working on his bike and gestured to the fridge. “Want a coke?”

Bewildered and out of his depth, Todd would have agreed to chilled olive juice if it was offered. He retrieved a soda from the fridge and looked hesitantly at Logan, not sure if the man wanted one as well.

Logan picked up a soda he already had open and took a drink. Todd closed the fridge and sat down on the bench, surprised to find out how thirsty he was as he drained half the can.

“You wanna come over here and take a look at this?” Logan asked, indicating his bike. “Heard you weren’t half-bad with machines.”

“Where’d you hear that?” Todd asked. It was true, but he hadn’t told any of the X-geeks.

“From Kitty, who heard it from Lance, after you helped him work on that hunk of junk he calls a Jeep.”

Todd grinned shakily. “It’s not that bad of a car, yo. Just needs a couple new parts. And a new engine too.”

“Oh, is that all?” Logan asked wryly. He stayed back while Todd approached the bike, body tense as if expecting attack. He noticed a few things wrong - a burned out spark plug, a few coils that should be replaced. Otherwise, the bike wasn’t impossible to fix.

He mentioned as much to Logan, who grunted in approval. “You know what you’re talking about. Help me with this, and then maybe we can fix the Jeep later, provided nothin‘ else gets broken around here.” Logan said this with an air of inevitability.

Todd eventually relaxed around him and as he handed Logan tools, the man was content to talk mechanics with him and little else. Todd felt comfortable enough to start asking questions.

“So . . . about the drills. Am I really supposed be getting up to do ‘em?”

“Up to you, flycatcher. If you think you’re up to them, go for it. Just so you know, your friends have been pitching a fit that you get to sleep in and they don’t. If you’re on the outs with them, this ain’t makin’ it any better.”

“Yeah, I know,” Todd said lowly. “I . . . I guess I can’t avoid them forever.”

“Do you want to?” Logan asked simply.

“No. Maybe. Yes.” Todd was obviously conflicted. “Not all of them. Just . . . there’s a couple I don’t wanna deal with right now.”

“So then approach the ones you do want to talk to. They’re not attached at the hip. We gave them different rooms, and I know you can get to a window.”

Todd flushed. “Yeah . . . Guess I can talk to Freddy.” But not tonight. “You don’t suppose Kitty’s gone an’ told everyone about me?”

“Maybe she has. Ain’t like you’re gonna hide in your room forever. By the way, nice job with the furniture.”

At Logan’s praise, Todd smiled. Before he could open his mouth to ask, Logan answered, “Yes, you can borrow a drill, but only if someone’s there who can get you to the infirmary in case of an accident. And I‘m only letting you do it because you know your way around tools.”

“Alright! Can I have Fuzzy?”

Logan looked at him oddly. “You’ll have to ask him, not me.”

“Right,” Todd flushed. “I just . . . didn’t know if you’d let me pick.” Having Scott watch over him wouldn’t be as fun. The jerk would probably flip his lid at what Todd had already done. Nothing in his bedroom made sense, which was partly why Todd liked it so much.

“Surprised you’re getting along with him now. Used to be you needed a bucket of water to break up your fights,” Logan said easily, popping in a new spark plug.

Which reminded him. “Hey, do I smell?” Todd asked, seemingly off topic. Logan looked at him quizzically. “Like, you know . . . do I stink?”

“No. You don’t stink. But you do have a smell. Like grass and rain and teenaged boy. With a hint of Natural Earth-Moves Exfoliating body wash.”

Todd swore under his breath. Logan laughed.

“Relax, kid. I only know cause Half-Pint just about stuffed the friggin’ tube up my nose yesterday. She says I should use it instead of the Lava soap. Better for the environment or somethin‘ like that.” Logan finished with the bike and got up to stretch. “Well . . . Think that’s it for the night. I’ll test it tomorrow.”

“Yeah, don’t kill me if you bite the dirt, kay?” Todd asked, mostly teasing. Logan looked at him.

“Won’t kill you,” he said. “Although . . . if you have some free time tonight, maybe you should talk to Elf.”

“About my room?”

“Nah. Not about that. From what the Professor’s told me, makin’ up with Amanda didn’t go so well.”

Todd blinked. Part of him sneered that he didn’t care, but it wasn’t really a part that he listened to anymore. It was the same part that had insisted he should be down on the field getting into Scott’s face, right beside Lance.

Despite their differences, Kurt had been there beside him earlier today, when he’d needed it. And Kurt wouldn’t be having any trouble with Amanda if it wasn’t for him.

“Maybe I shouldn’t be talkin’ to Wagner,” he said quietly, fiddling with the tab of his empty soda can. Logan almost said something, then stopped, realizing that Todd wasn’t finished voicing his thoughts.

He was proven right when Todd took a shaky breath and looked up at Logan. “Can . . . you give me a ride to Sefton’s house?” Todd asked quickly, before he could lose his nerve.

Logan’s eyes held only approval as he nodded.




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