"I don't think so," Peter answered. "Not unless Shatterstar asks."
"Probably a good thing. I mean, jeez." She poked at her soggy cereal. "Poor guy."
"The 'poor guy' is coming," Jean said.
They all stopped talking about him. At least they'd gotten used to the routine. Like some people needed coffee before they were functional, Shatterstar needed to exercise. Nobody bothered talking to him until then. So he walked in, poured cereal, and carried the bowl and a fork back out again.
Peter stared resolutely at his bowl. "Was he wearing goggles?" he asked finally.
"Yup," Jean answered.
"And . . . um . . ."
"His hair?" Kitty suggested. Her face was slowly turning red.
"Yup," Jean said.
"Did anyone notice anything else?" Peter asked. He, for one, noticed they were all staring resolutely at their food.
"Not a thing."
"I did." Kitty closed her eyes and laid her forehead on her arms. "I think I'm going to blush to death."
Jean patted her on the back.
Professor! Peter shouted. I think the clothing problem's getting worse!
In the hall, he heard Alison whoop.
Peter looked up at the sound of Scott’s voice, then followed the line of his face to where Shatterstar sat, tonguing a spoonful of ice cream.
“It is very cold.”
“True,” Scott said. “I see you went shopping.”
“Yes. Alison says I look ‘hot.’”
Peter eyed the ensemble. He guessed Alison would think black, silver-studded leather wristbands and dog collar were hot. Black jeans. Black boots. Studded black belt. A wife beater. It made Shattersatr’s hair even more red.
“She says I should get a tongue ring. And maybe an eyebrow ring.”
Scott looked at Peter. Peter looked at Scott. “As much as I hate to say it,” Scott said finally, “maybe we should take him shopping.”
Peter just shook his head. “I’m not going out in public with him.”
“Peter insists I am not hot.” Shatterstar looked at Peter and licked his spoon.
Peter turned quickly to stare at his book. Mufflers. He was learning about mufflers. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Shatterstar still watching him intently, and still licking that damn spoon.
“I. . . see,” Scott said. “I’ll just, ah, go.” He left. Very quickly.
“Must you drive everyone away?” Peter muttered.
“He had to go. I didn’t drive him away.”
Peter glared. He snapped his book closed. “Shatterstar. When people leave without giving a reason, it usually means you’ve made them uncomfortable and they’re leaving because they don’t want to be around you.” Then he stood and stalked outside.
He heard the screen door open behind him, and tensed. Then it closed again, softly. After a bit, he turned to look back. The courtyard was empty. The living room was empty, too. Shatterstar’s bowl of ice cream sat on the coffee table, melting.
Peter sighed. He supposed he should find the arrogant little twerp and apologize. But--this wasn’t hard. He came from Russia, and the cues people gave when they were uncomfortable were the same ones worldwide.
Peter shook his head and leaned against the wall. Shatterstar just didn’t get it.
Television. Television was the most wonderful thing on earth, Peter thought. Mostly because once Shatterstar found it, he would sit there for hours watching it. It was like a babysitter. He understood why so many parents let their kids watch TV all day.
Though, he had to admit, after his little outburst two days before, Shatterstar had been on his very best behavior. He’d hardly spoken at all, and he’d worn pants everyday, even when he didn’t wear a shirt. He also wore the goggles a lot, which Peter really didn’t understand, but to each his own.
Alison. Peter didn’t bother to answer, because she only used that tone for Shatterstar. He fascinated her. Peter suspected she just liked having someone who got more stares than she did.
Peter looked up. Alison was holding the goggles. Shatterstar snatched at them, and she moved out of reach. “You look better without them, ‘Star.”
“I like them.” Shatterstar stood.
Alison shrugged and walked out of the room. Shatterstar growled and followed.
“Guys?” Peter called, arching to see them walk through the doorway.
“Relax, tall, dark and metal. I’ll babysit,” Alison answered.
Peter went back to his book.
He nearly leapt out of his chair when he heard a blood-curling scream--no, two.
Shatterstar was gone, was his first realization.
The upstairs bathroom, the professor said into his mind. Hurry.
Peter raced up, turning metal as he tore down the hall. Alison was sitting against the wall across from the bathroom, doubled up and clutching her stomach. There were tears smearing her make-up, though she seemed more angry than anything. “Stupid, creepy little--“
Peter cringed. Shatterstar had done something else? He lunged into the bathroom--and stopped.
Shatterstar was sitting on the sink, clutching his bare chest. There was blood on his hands.
Peter looked at Alison. She stood, her expression murder, but she wasn’t bleeding. Peter looked back at Shatterstar. The teenager kept wavering from upset to angry to upset again.
“Are you okay?” Peter asked.
Shatterstar’s head snapped up. “She stabbed me!” He jumped to his feet, one hand still covering his chest, the other closing around a sword that--thankfully--wasn’t really there. Then it closed into a fist.
“You kicked me!” Alison shouted back. “You knew what I was going to do, and you kicked me!” She was approaching fast.
Peter slammed a metal arm across the doorway. “Stop. Both of you.”
Shatterstar gripped his--nipple? --and yanked. He hissed in pain, and dropped a stud to the floor. Peter stared at it. At the blood. Then at Alison.
“You tried to pierce his nipple? ” Peter heard himself yelp.
“He said okay!”
“She stabbed me!”
Peter put his entire body between them. “Alison!”
“Oh, come on. Tell me he wouldn’t look hot with a nipple ring!” Her expression turned sly, and she stepped very close. “Just think, the outline against a nice, tight, shirt . . . ” Her fingers danced up his chest.
Peter slapped a hand over hers and pulled it away. “Don’t pierce him.”
“That hurt! ” Shatterstar roared behind him. Suddenly, there was a body on his back, trying scramble over him. It was like trying to stop a monkey.
“Move,” Peter snapped, pushing Alison out of the way and grabbing for Shatterstar’s flailing limbs. He caught hair. Good enough. Yanking, he pulled Shatterstar away from Alison and down the hall, toward the teenager’s bedroom. He nearly threw the boy in, stepped inside, and closed the door. Shatterstar had already grabbed a sword and was running at him.
Peter leaned against the door just for good measure. The sword hit him, beating at him around his head and shoulders for a good five minutes. Then Shatterstar backed off, panting.
“She hurt me,” he gasped.
“She thought you knew what piercing meant.”
“Well, I didn’t.” Shatterstar dropped onto his bed. “How was I supposed to know what ‘piercing’ meant? Everyone expects me to know these things and I just don’t. ” He slumped. “It’s so confusing.”
Peter felt really guilty. Right then. That moment. He remembered that he’d liked this kid in the arena, that he’d helped break him out because he’d felt bad that the boy had spent his whole life fighting and killing his own friends. Couldn’t learn much in a cell. Could learn even less if you had to kill the people who might teach you.
Peter walked to the bed and sat down. “I’m sorry.”
Shatterstar rubbed his forehead with a leather gauntleted arm. “I’m trying to learn. I wear pants.” Then he scowled and stood, undoing the button.
”Uh, ‘Star? What are you doing?”
“Getting out of these stupid pants. Jeans. Jeans. They are terrible to fight in, and if I can’t seem to do anything right then at least I can do things that make me feel better. ”
“Uh.” Peter stared frantically around the room. “Uh.”
The door opened. Shatterstar looked up, glaring out of silver eyes. Alison poked her head in.
Shatterstar kept glaring.
“I wanted to apologize. I just assumed you knew how a piercing worked.” She edged in, then stopped when she saw Peter. “Am I interrupting?”
“Please interrupt,” Peter said, standing and hurrying for the door. “Why don’t you two make up? I’m going to--well--leave.” Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Shatterstar go back to stripping. Peter stopped beside Dazzler. “Don’t take advantage,” he growled.
She looked offended. “Hey, man, I’m not the school hussy, okay?”
Peter left the room. Quickly.
“So. When did Shatterstar go back to wearing just briefs?”
Peter groaned and dropped his head into his book.
“Oh, and the leather wrist bands. I kinda like those, though . . .”
“Jean. You’re not helping,” Peter muttered.
“And I do believe the nipple ring is new.”
“The--what?” Peter’s head snapped up.
“He’s got a ring. In his nipple.”
Peter arched his head around. Shatterstar was walking toward them, wearing--as Jean had said--briefs, a nipple ring, and leather wrist bands. He looked away. Saw Scott staring. Couldn’t help himself, and looked back. Then looked away again.
“Hello,” Shatterstar said, settling cross legged on the floor.
“I thought you pulled the stud out and let it heal?” Peter said through his teeth.
“Well, yes. But after you left Alison and I talked, and she explained the whole process to me. And she liked the idea, so . . .” he shrugged.
“I’m . . . going to go . . . um . . . check the cars.” Scott left.
“I think I’ll join him,” Jean said with a grin, and hurried after Scott.
Shatterstar sat silently, eyes fixed on the television, eating dry cereal out of a bowl that he’d carried in.
“Hey guys, I--whoa. Nice, uh, ring,” Bobby said, running in and coming to a screeching halt. Storm stopped right behind him.
”Thank you. Alison says it makes me look hot.”
“Does she. Well. Um. Okay then.” Bobby edged around the seated figure, and hurried out the other door. Ororo followed, much more slowly.
Then Peter and Shatterstar were alone again. Peter tried to focus on his book. But there was this damn little body, nearly naked, and--Jesus. The boy was wearing as much clothing as if he’d been swimming, Peter tried to remind himself.
But underwear was different. Underwear was taboo. It made him uncomfortable. Eventually, he closed his book and went into another room.
“At least he’s got the television to entertain him now,” Kitty said, after Shatterstar had left the kitchen wearing a kilt and his new ring. “He’s still kinda weird. Even after the professor brain-zapped him. I mean, you’d think if the professor gave him all those social rules, he’d use them.”
“I think they’re all muddled up in his head,” Scott said, staring at his cereal bowl still. “That, and he might know them, but, unlike us, he doesn’t care about them. He didn’t grow up with them.”
Peter sighed. “I never know what to do with him. And he asks the most awkward questions . . .”
“Yesterday, he asked me where babies came from.” Just remembering it made Kitty blush. “I told him it was storks.” At the groans, she added, “I just didn’t know what to say!”
“He may be weirder than weird,” Storm said, munching on a bagel, “but at least he still does his morning exercises. C’mon, Kitty, let’s go get seats.” Both girls left.
Scott watched them go. “He is odd. I feel like I don’t know any more about him now than I did when he arrived. And that’s just . . . strange.”
Peter had to agree with both parts of that statement.
Scott picked up his coffee and ambled out of the room.
Shatterstar wandered around in the kilt for most of the day. At some point, he took it off and wandered around in boxers. Then briefs. Then briefs and a shirt, which was almost worse. Like a bad porn movie, and at any moment he’d take off the briefs.
Sometime in the afternoon, he went outside.
It was after dinner when Peter realized he’d never come back in. Peter wandered the mansion, peering out windows until he finally saw a skinny figure sitting on the courtyard wall, staring at the ground. He grabbed an extra coat and headed out.
“You cold?” he asked, offering the jacket.
Shatterstar didn’t jump. Trying to surprise him was like trying to surprise deer. He always knew you were there. He did, however, take the coat and put it on. Then he picked his sword back up and returned to tapping the ground with it.
Peter almost went inside. He glanced at the earth in front of Shatterstar, saw the mush he’d made of the grass with his sword, and leaned against the low wall instead. “Everything okay?”
Shatterstar looked at him without moving his head. Then he looked back at the dirt and the tapping sword-tip. “I have been thinking.”
Peter sat on the wall, turning until he faced outside, like Shatterstar did.
“I have been thinking, and I think maybe I’ll . . . maybe I’ll go back to Mojoworld.”
To say he was surprised was an understatement. “Why?” Peter asked finally.
Shatterstar shrugged. He set his sword aside, putting both hands on the wall, hunching his shoulders. “I do not belong here. I do not think anyone likes me.”
Peter cringed inwardly. “People like you . . .”
“No. I have not gotten any fanmail since I got here, and you are always telling me that I am not attractive, and--“
“All right, wait,” Peter said. “First off, people in the real world don’t send each other fanmail.”
Shatterstar frowned at him. “They don’t?”
He frowned at the ground. “Oh.”
“Second off, I only tell you you’re not attractive because . . . well . . . it annoys me that you walk around announcing how attractive you are.”
Shatterstar looked at him. “Really?”
“Yeah.” Embarrassing as that was to admit.
Silver eyes narrowed. “You mean, you do find me attractive?”
Oh, crap. He was never going to live this down. “I guess.”
“But, I didn’t mean to be annoying. I just thought--well, in Mojoworld that was what people always said. That I was attractive. I thought maybe no one thought I was attractive here, and that’s why they didn’t like me. I was just trying to make people notice it . . .”
Peter smiled wryly. “We noticed. You’re attractive. But people don’t like to be told that all the time.”
“Oh.” Shatterstar smiled softly and sat a bit straighter. Then, slowly, it melted away and he was slouching again. “But no one likes me, still. They leave whenever I come into the room.”
Peter sighed. “Shatterstar, when you walk around without clothes, some people feel a bit . . ." he trailed off, looking for the word.
"Jealous?" Shatterstar asked.
Not what he had planned on saying. "Yes," Peter said, trying to keep his voice from turning too bland. "They feel jealous." The boy would probably believe that before he believed it made people uncomfortable.
Shatterstar nodded. "I understand. I am very attractive."
Peter sighed. "Yes. You are," he said placatingly.
Shatterstar seemed to perk up again. "You really think so?"
Peter rubbed his eyes. "Yes. I think you're attractive."
Shatterstar made a happy little humming noise. Then he frowned. “But I was wearing clothes, and people still didn’t talk to me--“
“Alison likes you,” Peter said.
Shatterstar snorted. “I am not stupid. Alison only likes me because she can dress me up.” He picked his sword up and went back to digging a hole. “Mojo used to dress us up, sometimes. I thought maybe she would dress me so people liked me, but that didn’t work.”
Peter was quiet. He really didn’t know what to say. Somehow, he’d though Shatterstar was oblivious to everything around him. Apparently not.
“Why don’t people like me?” Shatterstar asked softly.
Peter pulled his legs up, arms around them, and stared out at the grounds. “I’m not sure. I think . . . I think it’s just hard to know you.”
“I have no secrets,” Shatterstar said. “They could talk to me. I do not tell other peoples’ secrets, either. I’m good at that.”
Peter could believe it. “’Star, they’re not sure what to say to you.”
“You talked to me. You told me about your family. They could tell me about theirs.”
“Yes, but usually when someone talks, they expect the other person to respond. For instance, if I tell you about my family, I would expect you to tell me about yours. It makes it easier to share things that way.”
“And I don’t do that,” Shatterstar said. “But, people do not like to hear my stories. I told Kitty once, and she was just very quiet.” He sighed. “No, I think it’s better if I just go back to Mojoworld. People like me there.”
“Sometimes they’re quiet because they don’t know what to say,” Peter said. “You have to remember, most people don’t live in cells, and don’t kill others to live.”
“But if I am not supposed to talk about that, then I have nothing left to talk about!” Shatterstar said, frustration in every line. His sword cut into the dirt.
“I didn’t say don’t talk about it,” Peter said calmly. “I just said understand when people are quiet. And--you can ask them questions. People like that. It shows you’re interested.”
Shatterstar eyed him. “It does?”
“Yes. But questions about something they’ve said, not just random questions.”
Shatterstar seemed to think about that. Then he shook his head and twisted, jumping to his feet inside the courtyard. “No. I think it is just best if I go home.”
The teenager just walked back into the mansion, head down, sword dragging.
Peter pounded on Angel’s door, waited two seconds, and pounded again.
“What?” Angel asked, opening it and rubbing sleep from his eyes. “Do you have any idea what time it is?”
“Yes,” Peter said shortly. “I need help.”
Angel woke up at that. “Is everything okay?”
“It’s Shatterstar. Just--come downstairs. The den.”
He had everyone but the professor in the den within half an hour. Peter laid out pencils, pens, markers and paper, and looked at the bedraggled group. “Shatterstar is thinking about going home. To Mojoworld. Because he thinks we hate him.”
“I don’t hate him!” Kitty yelped.
“I don’t even know him,” Kurt pointed out.
“Who here does?” Alison snorted, propping her feet up on Scott’s back. He turned and glared at her, and she dropped them.
“That’s the problem. We haven’t spoken to him, because he makes us feel awkward, and he doesn’t know how to speak to us because he’s lived in a cell all his life and killed the few people he could have spoken to. We’re supposed to be teaching him how to be normal. All we’ve done is convince him he never will be and that his best bet is go kill more people and never have any human contact.” Peter looked around the room. A few people were looking vaguely guilty. Scott was rubbing his forehead. Alison was pulling at the front of her hair.
“Now, he said something to me earlier, and I think we can stop him from leaving.”
“Maybe we shouldn’t.”
Peter stared until Alison looked up at him.
“I mean,” she continued, “I’ve been around him the most, I think. He’s unstable. He’s kinda freaky. Maybe it would be better if he just went back to Mojoworld.”
“I don’t think so,” Bobby said slowly, glaring at her. “I mean, what kind of a life is that? Man, if we took Wolverine back in after he tried to kill Scott, I think we can deal with Shatterstar.”
Peter gave him a relieved smile. “Shatterstar used to get fanmail. One of the reasons he thought we didn’t like him was because no one had sent him fanmail. I explained to him that it doesn’t happen here, but I thought if we wrote him letters, it will at least keep him from leaving in the morning. Maybe give him a bit of hope, and then we can start actually teaching him how to be part of the real world.”
“Good idea,” Scott said through his yawn. “Sorry. Right. It really is a good idea. Kind of narcissistic, but . . .”
Kurt had already picked up a pen. He looked around. “What do people put in fan letters?”
“Tell him he’s attractive,” Peter said blandly.
Kurt chuckled and started writing.
It didn’t take long for most of them to get into it.
“How do you spell ‘enormous’?” Bobby asked once. Peter didn’t want to know why he needed that word. “What about ‘shriek’?” Scott spelled that, too. “And ‘obsess’?”
“God, Bobby, can you spell anything?” Alison snorted.
”I can spell ‘bitch,’” Bobby returned. “A L I S--“
She threw a marker at him.
“I’m going to write fanmail for the professor’s cat,” Kitty announced.
“I’m gonna write hate mail to you,” Bobby said. “Dear Kitty, you suck. You are the suckiest suckity suck--uh, suckalicious--“
“Dear Bobby,” Kitty said, even louder, “people should really call you Tiny Bobby because you have the world’s tiniest--“
“Fanmail, people,” Scott said. “Write the hate mail on your own time.”
Kitty mouthed the last word.
Peter tried hard not to see it. Or understand what the word was.
There was the sound of writing for about two minutes. Then, “How do you spell ‘Gladiator’?” Bobby asked.
“Is broad-sword one word or two?” Angel called out.
“What are you writing?” Kurt asked, straining to see.
Angel flattened his paper against his chest and pushed Kurt away with his foot.
“Ooooh, broad-sword, that’s good . . .” Bobby crooned. “I’m writing fanmail to Storm!” he announced.
Ororo’s head snapped up. “Me? Why?”
“’Cause you helped me make those ice-sculptures. That was cool. Dear Or--how do you spell your name?”
“I’m going to write fanmail to everyone,” Kurt said, rocking back and forth on the giant rubber ball someone had brought in.
“Me too!” Kitty said.
Peter supposed he should have known better than to wake up a bunch of teenagers and expect them to act relatively normal. Either exhausted or hyper, and nowhere in between. He finished his own--brief--letter and sat back, watching.
“Dear . . . Warren . . . Worthington . . . the--what number?” Bobby called.
“Third,” Angel laughed.
“ . . . Third . . .” silence while he kept writing. Then, “How do you spell ‘millions’?”
“It’s really sad that Kurt and Peter don’t need help, and you do,” Kitty said.
“Kitty, I have been here since I was nine,” Peter pointed out.
She looked at him blankly.
“Right. I’m going to bed, now,” Peter said, shaking his head as he stood. “Hand over your Shatterstar letters.”
They did, with a scramble of paper. He took them all and headed up the stairs, then paused outside Shatterstar’s door. He thought about going in, but . . . he’d probably get jumped on. With swords. Instead, he slipped the letters under the door, and headed to his own room.
Peter stumbled downstairs the next morning. He paused outside the den. Kurt was flipping channels, laying on the couch, wrapped up in wings and a giant tangle of legs. Peter managed to identify Kitty, Bobby, and obviously Angel and Kurt in various states of sleep. He smiled and wandered into the kitchen.
Scott was half asleep at the table, holding onto his coffee like it was the only thing keeping him upright. Peter poured himself cereal and sat down.
“I should’ve noticed he was so . . . alone,” Scott said.
Peter smiled grimly. “I think we all should’ve noticed.”
Jean walked in, humming. She practically danced around the kitchen, making toast, getting herself tea, stooping to kiss Scott on the cheek.
“You’re in a good mood,” Peter said.
She grinned. “You wouldn’t believe the happy vibes coming from upstairs right now.”
Peter’s eyebrows rose. “Shatterstar?”
“Excuse me,” Peter said, and stood, leaving the room. He wandered past the den once more, peeking at the table still covered in paper and markers. Now, also, string and scissors and glitter and paint--and boy did he ever hope the professor forgave him for starting this, because there was paint on the table.
There was also a lot of letters with names on them. “Wing-boy” was one, and “the professor’s cat” in Kitty’s girlish writing. There were letters to everyone, and two addressed to him--he refrained from taking them, though it was tempting--and even letters addressed to “the professor’s chair” and “cerebro.”
Peter shook his head and went upstairs.
He knocked softly on Shatterstar’s door before opening it.
Shatterstar was sitting on the floor in his sweatpants, hair pulled back loosely and pooling behind him. There were letters all over. He looked up, wide-eyed, at Peter. “I thought people didn’t send fan-mail,” he said, sounding trembley.
Peter smiled and leaned against the doorframe. “Normally, they don’t. But just this once, we made an exception. It probably won’t happen again.”
Shatterstar nodded and looked around. He picked up a letter, looked at it, put it down again reverently. “So . . . they don’t hate me?”
Peter shook his head. “No one hates you.”
“And they don’t want me to leave?”
“No. No one wants you to leave. We thought, maybe, we could all try talking. I mean, you can’t learn how to have a conversation if no one will talk to you.”
“So . . . people are going to talk to me?”
“And I have to talk back?”
”What if I say the wrong thing?”
“We’ll help you with that,” he said. “At least, we’ll try.”
Shatterstar nodded this time.
”’Star, families aren’t always perfect. Sometimes people don’t like each other, and sometimes they fight, and sometimes they don’t get along. But they work things out. So, as long as you’re willing to try and work things out, this can be your family. It can be your home. You don’t have to go back to killing people. You can have friends.”
Shatterstar swallowed. Then he swallowed again. He opened his mouth to speak, closed it. Closed his eyes, too. He nodded.
Peter thought about touching him. Laying a hand on his head or shoulder. But the teenager looked like he was barely holding it together anyway, so instead Peter just slipped quietly out of the room, pulling the door closed behind him.
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