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Rise of the Mutants, Part III

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Okay. Deep breath. You can do this, Pryde. It’s your first day of university, not Magneto at Cape Citadel.

 

The car came to a stop, and there Kitty Pryde found herself, just in front of Empire State University, about to have her first day. The year before, the Professor had agreed along with Kitty and her parents that an accelerated program to get her into university earlier would be suitable for her, that high school was officially pointless. Kitty couldn’t agree more, even if she’d miss taking classes with some of her friends. So here I am, sixteen years old and about to go to university. Let’s do this. Why am I even nervous? I got a perfect score on the SAT.

 

“Must be pretty excited. Big day for you.” Logan glanced out the side window distrustfully before giving her a small grin. “Don’t think this place is ready for you, half-pint. Just remember, don’t kick everyone’s ass unless you really gotta-”

 

“- and then make sure they remember it. ” Kitty finished for him, leaning over to give him a quick hug. “I’ll be fine. It’s college. Barely even a thing compared to the things we deal with on a regular basis. I don’t think the Juggernaut’s hanging out anywhere near here. Besides, there’s a couple of us that take courses here. It’ll be great.” Honestly, Kitty was trying to convince herself just as much as Logan, which she was pretty sure he could pick up. Logan rarely missed these things.

 

“Yer worried because people know.” Logan, as she figured he would, picked up the source of her anxiety pretty much perfectly. “That you’re a mutant and that you were there at Cape Citadel.” Jean’s was the only name that had been officially publicly released, but it hadn’t taken the media long to figure out the others that were at Cape Citadel. That had been a very, very hard thing for her parents to swallow and she still wasn’t quite sure how she’d convinced them not to take her back to Chicago, or more realistically, try to, because she wouldn’t have allowed it.

 

“You don’t like it because you know ya can’t just fight your way out of it. Sometimes, fightin’ looks like the easy way, don’t it?” Logan took a deep breath. “Anyone who gives you a hard time for being a mutant ain’t shit. Not worth the effort. Anyone who’s worth a damn’ll give you a chance to show who you are.” A bit of a shark-toothed grin. “Shame I can’t take you out for a beer afterwards, half-pint, but in this dumbassed country, you’re five years too young.”

 

“Ew, beer.” Kitty wrinkled her nose slightly, but couldn’t help but smile. “I really, really don’t get the appeal of that stuff.” She’d stolen several sips of the course of the last few years, in a foolish attempt to get a taste for it. Kitty had concluded that she had no idea whatsoever why any of the guys liked it so much. Not that she imagined Piotr’s vodka or the Professor’s scotch was any better. At least Betsy seemed to have the good sense to drink wine. Kitty didn’t mind wine, she’d had it at Passover dinners and weddings in the past.

 

“Get out of my car.” Logan growled, but there was a faint grin on her lips. Kitty stuck her tongue out at him and phased out of the car, out onto the ESU campus, an impressively roomy and green space, smack dab in the middle of Manhattan. Kitty could only begin to imagine how valuable the real estate was these days. She turned towards Logan and waved and then stepped out further, clutching a bag full of books on her shoulder. Huge crowds of students were milling about in various directions. Kitty took out her phone and loaded up the ESU app. First two classes are in the Howard Stark building, which is … Kitty looked around. Probably that huge shiny one. App agrees.

 

As Kitty started walking towards the building, she started noticing eyes on her- at first she tried to convince herself that people were wondering what the kid was doing in university or that guys were checking her out. She hadn’t made twenty steps before realizing, however, that they were trying to place her. They know they recognize my face from somewhere, they’re probably trying to figure out where. Kitty continued to walk towards the Howard Stark building, mostly ignoring the stares, but finding herself checking her back every so often.

 

Kitty steeled herself for what would probably follow, the abusive slurs, the near-total social exclusion, the possibility of a physical confrontation. It wasn’t that she was exactly afraid for her own safety- she had faced threats which a pack of college kids could not even remotely compare with, but that part of her wanted to be judged based on who she actually was as a person, not because she was a mutant. But if people are going to do that, I’m not going to let them stop me. I’m not ashamed of who I am and people are going to know that.

 

There was a cluster of big guys starting to form directly on her path- from the way a few of them had been on their phones, Kitty had no doubt whatsoever that they were coordinating somehow. Kitty stopped about ten feet away from them. Eight total. Most of them twice my size or better. Football players? Dumbasses for sure. Kitty raised her eyebrow, looking evenly at the one who looked like the ringleader with a gently raised eyebrow.

 

“Hi there.” Kitty put on her best obviously-fake looking smile. “Thanks for the welcoming committee, but I’d rather not be late for my first day of classes.” It would be easy, of course, to simply run through them in phase, but the notion of running away from cheap punks like these guys annoyed her. At the same time, though, she knew that there were other considerations. It would look bad for both her and the Xavier Institute if she got into a fistfight on her first day of school.

“You should go back to your freak school.” The ringleader, a huge redhaired guy, cracked his knuckles and glared down at her. “Turn around and go back the way you came and this doesn’t have to get worse for you.” The others started making a rough crescent shape, not completely surrounding her but plainly trying to cut off her flanks. Kitty expected that they thought she’d cry or run or maybe even gear up for a fight herself. It might not have been the wisest thing to laugh, but she couldn’t help it. It came out so deeply and strongly that her body shook with it.

 

“Nothing’s funny about this, mutie, stop laughing. Get the fuck off of my campus while you can still walk off of it.” There was a broader crowd gathered around now, probably mostly there to watch whatever happened, but Kitty had few doubts about where their actual sympathies lay. Great. My first day and I’m already dealing with a mass convention of the Hate Squad.

 

“And … how did you find out I was a mutant, Thompson?” Kitty noticed the embroidered last name on his jacket and instantly knew who he was, the bigshot quarterback of the ESU football team. She fixed him with an intent gaze, noticing that he was slightly rattled by her using his name. “Only one way you could possibly know.” Kitty had faced down Magneto and nuclear armageddon at Cape Citadel, lost a good friend and nearly lost some others. “So, knowing that, do you really think that I’m frightened by you? All I want is for you to get out of my way and let me go to class.”

 

“Get out of her way, dumbasses.” A random voice shouted from the crowd and there was an almost immediate murmur of what actually sounded like approval from them. Kitty glanced around quickly and realized, somewhat to her surprise, that the crowd was supporting her. Several others began to say similar things and the football thugs in a crescent around her were looking shakier and shakier. I guess I shouldn’t be so surprised. This isn’t high school anymore. The jocks don’t rule the roost anymore. Most of the students don’t give a damn about sports.

 

The other thing that was happening was that a veritable sea of cameras were coming out, recording the event, taking pictures of it. If Kitty had nurtured any hope of being anything less than completely open about being a mutant, she knew it was over now. At the same time, however, there’d be photographic and video evidence of half of the football team openly threatening a girl who was less than half their size. That she had mutant powers that made it almost impossible to touch her and had combat training from one of the world’s best fighters might not factor into a lot of people’s gut responses. They’ll see a girl threatened by massive guys.

 

“This isn’t over yet.” Thompson growled just as he turned into the flash of a camera, an actual proper camera- which suggested the campus paper at least. The big guy growled and went for the guy who was holding the camera. “Gimme that camera or I’ll kick your ass, Parker.” Parker, who happened to be a rather nerdy-cute guy with brown hair, scampered out quickly- very, very quickly, almost suspiciously quickly, with Thompson following. Yeah, not gonna let that happen. Kitty moved up, phasing right through a couple of the guys who moved to restrain her, dropped low and aimed a sweeping kick at Thompson’s legs, bringing him down roughly to the ground.

 

“You bitch!” He growled, splaying on the ground like some colossal turtle, finding it hard to even get up. Kitty stood up and brushed herself off, watching as the other guys stood around, whatever courage they had gathered clearly fading as they realized they were outmatched. With the crowd clearly on her side, they all slowly started departing, some of them with muttered curses, others sheepishly. Finally, Thompson himself got up and walked off with his own curses under his breath.

 

At that moment, campus security- rather belatedly in Kitty’s opinion, started to show up, hastening the retreat of the football thugs and dispersing a lot of the crowd that had gathered around her. Kitty walked over a few steps to where the guy who the quarterback had called ‘Parker’ was, still holding his camera. He gave her a slightly awkward smile for a moment, before putting away the camera into her bag and taking out a notepad.

 

“Peter Parker. Um, I work for the campus paper. I actually also do photography and web design for the Daily Bugle, but this is for the campus paper. I imagine you’re probably trying to get to class and so am I, so I was wondering if you wanted to, um, talk sometime? Give your view of what happened? I mean, you don’t have to, but I actually, um, I actually believe pretty strongly that people like you don’t really get a fair shake in the media? And even though it’s just the campus paper …” Up close, Peter Parker was very much in the nerdy-cute axis, though he looked notably fitter than she might have expected from a journalism student, if that’s what he was.

 

“... so what you’re saying is that you’re looking for my phone number.” Kitty couldn’t help but smile slightly, even as the brief adrenaline rush from the confrontation started to ebb. “And where would we have this interview, Peter? I’m pretty new here. Fresh out of freak school.” If the direct reference to her being a mutant was at all upsetting to him, he wasn’t showing it. He seemed a little flustered, but she got the idea it was more because he thought she was cute than because she was a mutant. Honestly, she was kind of wondering if he was a mutant himself. His brief bit of running had been pretty fast.

 

“There is a great coffee shop right on campus, in the student union building. I mean, I go there a lot because you know, it’s right below where the paper’s offices are. It’s funny, because I’m actually majoring in nuclear physics. I just really like journalism. Photography most of all, but we’re really short on reporters so I gotta do whatever to keep it going, you know?” Peter laughed. “I’m really sorry. I keep going on and on and you’ve probably got a class to head to.”

 

Kitty took the notepad and pen from him and quickly wrote down her number, passing it on to him. “Drop me a text sometime. I think I can slot in an interview somewhere.” She gave him another smile. “Soon, I promise. But I actually do have to get to class. I’ve already been in a physical confrontation, I really can’t add being late to that. On my first day, too. Hell of a welcome to ESU.” She managed to laugh slightly.

 

“I’m really sorry. Flash is like, I’ve been dealing with Flash Thompson since I was a little kid. He’s a complete jerk. But one hundred percent bark and no bite. That was pretty gutsy standing up to him like that. But, uh, I guess you’ve seen worse.” Peter laughed again. “I’m sorry. I need to let you get to class. Some of the professors are really intense about punctuality. But uh, I’ll send you a line sometime soon and we can meet up for coffee- interview. For an interview.”

 

“Interview.” Kitty replied with a smile. “Talk to you soon.” She clutched her books again and continued on her way to the Howard Stark Building, which was a truly impressive building- at least thirty stories high and extremely modern, having only been finished about five years ago. Walking into the doors, she couldn’t help but feel a new rush of excitement at the publicly displayed arc reactor that powered the entire building and around which all the floors were arranged, the gleaming steel and glass architecture. This place is amazing. Incredible.

 

Hastily, she took out her phone, hoping that the phase protection that Forge had put into it would actually hold- and thankfully, it did seem to work and she was able to quickly check where her class was. The class that started in two minutes. Forgetting about propriety and having been thoroughly exposed anyway, Kitty dashed as quickly as she could, phasing through several people and a few walls along the way until she reached the classroom, darting through the door just as it was about to close.

 

“I see that some of us feel compelled to make our entrances dramatic.” The professor dryly noted as she walked in and sat down towards the back of the class. This time, nobody spoke up on her behalf. It was hard to tell if it had even been particularly anti-mutant anyway or simply a mild annoyance at something that was potentially distracting. I guess it is kind of weird to see a girl walk through a door or a wall. “I suppose, considering the circumstances, we can forgive mild tardiness. In any case, if everyone would settle down. I’m well aware nobody likes lectures in gigantic theatres- least of all me. Thankfully, you have a lab component to even this course, with the other section. That being said, we have a lot to get through.”

 

Dr. Octavius clearly didn’t love lecturing before large crowds, but it was manifest that he was every bit the inspired genius that she had heard he was and she looked forward to the lab section of the class, which would be tomorrow. She found herself hurrying over to subsequent classes, introductory biology with Dr. Connors, to a spectacularly boring English literature class- it was probably awful of her to be so disinterested in classic literature, but she couldn’t help but wish she could tag team with Rogue or somebody who actually liked tedious discussion of Jane Austen.

 

Her classes finished for the day, Kitty was headed to the bookstore to purchase some exhorbitantly expensive textbooks for her classes when she saw a familiar face heading out of a building. Her eyes narrowed and she glanced around her before following him. It looked like one of the kids that Magneto had hired in order to help him kidnap the Professor. She knew that somehow they’d managed to escape prison and were still probably at large. What the hell would he be doing on campus?

 

Kitty was surprised when he turned around- she’d have to get Logan to add some stealth lessons to her curriculum. She wasn’t particularly afraid of him, though- if she remembered correctly, his powers were something to do with earthquakes. Kitty more or less floated in place when she phased. Up close, he was surprisingly handsome- not especially tall, but clearly in good shape, with dark hair and dark eyes. Greek?

 

“Hey there.” The guy grinned easily, slightly insolently, before making a seemingly mocking show of putting his hands up. “Don’t worry, I got out of that business awhile ago. Back to school. They, uh, have a pretty good remedial program here. Just another student like you.” Behind the shit-eating grin, though, there was a wary glint in his eyes. He’s not actually a grinning idiot, but he doesn’t mind if people think he’s one.

 

“And why should I believe you?” Kitty took a step closer, looking around to see if any of his fellow goons were around. Her hand reached towards her phone, ready to press the emergency button that would summon any of the others that were around to serve as backup. Scott’s on campus for sure. Piotr and Betsy might be too. Rogue can fly here in a few minutes. My ass is pretty covered. “Last time I met you, it wasn’t exactly friendly. And you weren’t exactly helpful during the blackout.”

 

“And both times, I had my ass royally kicked. Truth is, I dropped out of high school and now I think that was pretty stupid. Just like working for Magneto was stupid. I know, stupid decision king right here. Speaking of stupid decisions, don’t you think a mutant-on-mutant throwdown would be one of them?” Kitty had to admit the guy was making sense, even if she trusted him only about as far as she could throw him. “Actually, you want the full and total truth? I’ve been … wanting to talk to you guys. At the school. Because I mean, the program here is pretty good but it’s probably better there. And I’d like to properly train to use my powers-”

 

“You mean not knocking down churches? I don’t know, Avalanche-” Yeah, that was the weird mutant name he had. Avalanche. “You seemed pretty good at causing a lot of damage. What makes you think we’d trust you to come anywhere near us?” Someone else would probably have been a better diplomat, but she was still less than sure diplomacy was what was actually called for. Kitty was really not particularly inclined to buy the argument that he couldn’t control his powers- he’d caused a lot of damage.

 

“Purity churches.” Avalanche replied. “I can’t imagine that, deep down, you’re terribly sad about that. I mean, yeah, I’ll own it. They murdered children . But then, then Magneto was threatening to destroy half the world with nuclear missiles. And that’s when I got off the crazy train. I don’t want to be enemies, we’ve got too many of them already.” He took a breath. “My name’s Dom.” Another breath. “You trusted Rogue. I just want a chance.”

 

Kitty paused for a moment and then nodded. “You got a number I can forward to Professor Xavier?”

 

“You asking me for my number?” The tenseness disappeared and Dom grinned again. “Yeah, I got a number.” Kitty tentatively closed the distance between them and handed him her phone to put his number in, ready at any moment to defend herself at the slightest sign of aggression from him. The only thing she noticed, though, was that he was definitely checking her out, though his gaze didn’t linger overlong and he handed her phone back.

 

“I’ll pass that on. But don’t get ahead of yourself. And I don’t date mutant terrorists, so don’t get any of those ideas either.” Kitty rolled her eyes. “But yeah, I don’t know if you’re still in touch with your old buddies, but tell them they’d better not get back to any of their old tricks. You’ve seen the news, I’m sure.” The X-Men, as they’d been dubbed by the press, had been quite active over the last while. A lot of supervillains, expecting an easy time with the Avengers out on some insane space mission, were sorely surprised.

 

“Yeah, I’ve seen them. There’s a brain behind this handsome face.” Dom grinned again. “The last thing I want to do is get my ass kicked again. So, what’s your name?”

 

“Kitty Pryde.” Kitty replied, unsmiling. “And if you step out of line, you’ll damn well remember it.” And don’t think I’d hesitate for a second, even if you have a cute smile. Wait, where the hell did that thought come from? Check yourself, Pryde.

 

“Talk to you soon, KPryde.” Dom grinned and gave a little salute before walking off.

 

Whelp. Today’s been quite a day. I think I was going to get books? I should probably get books. Kitty turned around and went back the way she came, though she found it very hard indeed to concentrate on something so insignificant as purchasing textbooks. She kept thinking about the confrontation earlier that day, her brief conversation with Peter and the latter one with- Dom. I’ll be nice and call him by his actual name.  

 

Helluva first day.