There was a sickening crunch when Vic Barkowski hit the brick. It wasn’t his body that made the sound, but the wall itself. His spine straightened on impact, but his scaly skin was tough and resilient. Despite the abrupt impact, his body hanged limp as his arms were pinned down. His stature was a small one, with the exception of his regrown arm, but he was strong, and yet he couldn’t shake free of the hold.
“Keller! Let me down!” he voice covered much of the school grounds, but they were alone and there was nobody to help him. The green aura that glowed with use of Julian Keller’s powers waned only slightly as the young man approached him, appearing suddenly from behind one of the trees. There was a smirk on his face just begging to be punched off, but he had asserted his dominance in the situation. Victor could only struggle through kicking his legs.
“I’m telling you, Vic, you need to learn how to beat a telekinetic if you’re gonna make first line,” Julian said. There was a momentary lapse in his hold, and the green flickered, giving Victor the opportunity to —
“Ha!” he shouted as he sprang off the wall. He jettisoned towards Julian, arms shooting out as their bodies connected and Anole, despite being shorter and ultimately less muscular, managed to send Hellion sprawling to the ground. Pinning him down, one arm raised up and punched down heavily against Julian’s face, connecting with his cheekbone.
Julian’s face contorted as he turned his head to the side, spitting onto the lawn. “We even now?” he asked, that same smirk reforming on his face. He widened his jaw, stretching it out, trying to feel through the pain.
Pulling himself off, Victor nodded. “Yeah,” he said. There was sweat beading down his forehead. With knees cracking as he stood, he raised a hand, and around them the simulation vanished. What was once the Jean Grey School grounds transformed into what had once been the danger room. Though the entire school could now convert at will, there was a sense of nostalgia about returning to the cavernous metallic room. He stretched out a hand to let Julian up, a smile on his own face. “Be more careful next time you’re lobbing trees at me.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Hellion replied, noncommittal, taking the hand and straightening up. His fingers went instantly to the swollen skin on his cheek. “That’s gonna leave a mark, dude.”
“Be thankful I didn’t give you a concussion.”
The two walked towards the door, sliding open upon their arrival. The blinding lights of the subbasement welcomed them. Upon entering the hallway, both made a careful effort to check their surroundings. Nobody was there, nobody watching — technically, neither were supposed to be in the Danger Room on their own accord, without staff intervention. “Nice,” Julian mumbled, and both carried off down one hallway. They moved quickly, trying to get out of the basement before they were caught.
“—It’s simply fascinating,” a voice echoed through the halls. Hank McCoy — the ubiquitous Beast — was talking to himself. They could hear his shuffling footsteps coming closer, stopping them both in their tracks. “I cannot wait to examine…”
“Shit. Shit, shit, shit,” Julian whispered hoarsely, grabbing hold of Vic’s arm and tugging him backwards.
Anole slipped free of his grasp. “You’re on you’re own, Julian,” he said with a curious smile as he leapt into the air. Soundlessly, his body attached itself to the ceiling as his skin colour faded away, matching that of the wall. His clothes still hung limply off his body, but it was difficult to discern against the white of the roof.
“Screw you, Borkowski,” Julian hissed.
Just before he intended to turn back and run for his life, Hank turned the corner, his gargantuan blue frame imposing in his direction. The Beast was distracted by something in his hand, but there was another person with him. Julian blinked, distracted by the sight, cocking his head to the side. “Sofia?” he asked breathlessly.
Sofia Mantega stared back at him, eyes widening.
“Oh! Good afternoon, Mister Keller,” Hank said, looking up only briefly from the papers before him. “Mister Borkowski.” Wordlessly, Vic dropped from the ceiling, letting out a quiet sigh. “I hope the two of you enjoyed your unsanctioned session in the Danger Room?”
Neither really knew what to say in response, Julian and Victor looking back and forth between one another in an attempt to formulate an answer. Fortunately, Hank managed to breach the silence. “I take it you both remember Miss Mantega?”
“What are you—”
Julian was at a loss. It had been nearly two years since he’d last seen Sofia. Two years she had been on her own, without a goodbye, without an apology.
“Miss Mantega, as you recall, was one of the… unfortunate victims of the Decimation,” Hank interjected. It was for the best, as Sofia seemed too stunned to speak, eyes locked on Julian’s. Clearly she hadn’t intended for this reunion to happen, at least not so suddenly. “Since the elimination of the Phoenix Force, and the re-emergence of the mutant genome, we’ve had many new visitors to the school. But a former guest has come to reacquaint herself.”
“You—you…” Julian was stammering now, completely at a loss. It was unlike him to lose his cool in such a way. He was a kicker, a screamer, a no-holds-barred fighter. He didn’t panic.
“You got your powers back?” Victor asked, tilting his head to the side. Unlike the other two students, he had a wide smile on his face. Without warning, he rushed forward to wrap his arms around Sofia, who seemed to return the hug with some hesitance. As Vic held her tightly, her eyes lingered on Julian, unable to smile at him.
“Indeed,” Hank reasoned, resuming his walk right as the hug broke apart. Sofia followed him, skirting around Julian, who spun to say something, mouth hanging open, trying to get the words out that he’d wanted to say since he vanished without a word.
Sofia stopped mid-step, and Hank followed suit just moments later when he realized that his audience had vanished. She turned slowly, pivoting on her heel, face contorting from indifference to anger. “You’re sorry, Julian?! You’re sorry?”
Sensing that he should probably do something, Victor stepped back to let the argument continue.
“For what I said,” Julian clarified. “Or for what I did. I didn’t—I didn’t mean to…”
“You didn’t mean to do anything! Because that’s what you do, Keller. You act as if everything’s a joke. You always have, you always will. You abandoned me!” Somewhere between her rage and vitriol, Sofia’s eyes began to water.
Victor clenched his jaw, stepping forward again, putting a firm hand on Julian’s shoulder. “Sof, come on…”
“Stay out of this, Victor,” she snapped in response. Steeling her eyes on Julian, she stepped forward.
“Sofia, please, can we talk about this later?” Julian asked, almost pleading.
“You were the one who wanted to apologize.”
“Because I’m sorry!”
“You meant what you said, Keller,” she responded, the harshness lost from her voice, replaced by hurt and betrayal. “You just didn’t think I’d hear about it, or you didn’t think I’d lost my powers, whatever it was, you just didn’t think. You never think.”
With those words, she turned away again. Beast swivelled with her, casting a concerned glance at the two boys behind him, and then one to Sofia herself. “If you don’t mind,” he said as they began walking again, “I’d like to take some samples of—”
They turned the corner, leaving Julian alone with Victor pressing tightly to his shoulder. For a few moments, they merely stood there in stunned silence. Anole considered saying something, anything, to defuse the tension, but before he could find the words, Julian was shrugging out of his grip.
“… You alright?” he asked quietly.
“Do me a favour, Vic,” Julian said softly, beginning to walk away. Victor followed close behind, but Hellion stopped him. “Just fuck off, alright?”
Victor pressed his lips together as Julian held him back with his telekinesis. He watched as the boy who had gone from being his adversary to one of his closest friends walked away, sadder than he’d ever seen him, and there was nothing he could do.
Once Julian got a fair enough distance away, the telekinetic hold loosened and Victor’s muscles went slack. A breath he didn’t know he was holding in escaped his mouth. With nowhere else to go, he turned in the direction that Doctor McCoy and Sofia had gone. Rather than tailing Julian, he opted to follow them.
He hadn’t gotten far before spotting her. Sofia was huddled up against the door next to the medical bay, head buried in her knees. “Sof?” he asked softly, taking a few tentative steps closer. When she didn’t move, he repeated the actions, drawing ever closer. He stopped short of moving next to her, instead crouching down a few inches away, giving her the space should she desire it. “Come on, Sofia, can we talk?”
It took her a solid minute before looking up. On several occasions Vic considered just getting up and walking away, but something made him stay. His eyes remained focused on her, heart sinking with each passing moment, but he remained silent as she worked up the ability to say what she needed to stay. “I haven’t stopped thinking about him,” she admitted finally, voice hoarse and breaking. “I— Every night. I dreamt about him every night.”
Vic reached out slowly, putting his less mutated arm on her knee, squeezing it gently. “It’s okay, sweetie…” he whispered.
“I thought—I thought maybe I could forgive him. Once I actually came back here, I’d forget about… everything he said.” She paused, finally looking up at him. He’d never seen her so upset. “But then I saw him. Maybe I wasn’t ready for it, I hadn’t worked up the… courage, I guess, but…” She slowly shook her head. “I don’t forgive him for what he said about David, casting him off like that because he lost his powers.”
“You know he didn’t—”
“He did mean it, though, Vic, stop covering for him.” Her voice was growing tense again. Anole sat himself fully onto the ground, scooting closer to her, knees touching.
“I’m not covering for him, Sof,” he replied. “I’ve been here with Julian since… since you left. He’s paid his dues. He’s not the same douchebag that bullied me the first couple months. He’s different.”
She sniffed, rolling her shoulders loosely. “I don’t know, Victor. I just—I don’t think I’m ready to be here.”
“You’ve got your powers back, though?” She nodded slowly. Victor smiled, squeezing her knee once again. “Then you’re ready to be here. This is your home, Sof, it’s always been your home. You belong here.” He smiled widely, baring his teeth. “I’m really glad you’re back. I missed you.”
Sofia paused before answering. “I’ve been meaning to ask. What happened to your arm?”