"Hey, is- is this seat taken?" A soft voice asked from right beside him. Matt was tucked in the darkest corner of the Rec Room, trying more than anything to hide from all the new people.
He had been put into another dorm, when they arrived at the school in the wee hours of the morning, and it turned out his new roommates were as inconsiderate as the old ones. Despite the fact that when he got in at about three thirty am he had snuck into the room as quietly as inhumanely possible, so he didn't disturb their sleep, the five teenage boys he was sharing with, opted to make a hell of a lot of noise when they woke at seven, until the last of them left the room at eight for breakfast and classes. So, he had started his day in a bad mood, which he so far hadn't been able to knock himself out of.
It was better to avoid people, than make a bad first impression by being rude, he had learned.
"Nope, chair's still there," he replied, clarifying when the girl looked confused, "It hasn't been taken."
She giggled. "I meant, can I sit here?" she replied teasingly.
"I don't know, can you?" Matt responded, his lip quirking just enough for the intruder to know he wouldn't be mad if she did.
"Yes, yes I can," she replied defiantly, as she took a seat. "My name’s Candice, what's your name?" she asked, as soon as she was seated.
"Matt," he replied. He didn't have a problem with her sitting down but he still wasn't sure if he was ready for a conversation.
"Are you new here?" Candice continued.
"Yep," he replied bluntly.
"How are you liking it so far?" she asked, with a friendly smile.
"It's too noisy, too many people, my roommates are rude, I don't know what the 'school' side is like because I haven't been assigned classes yet... the food isn't half bad though," Matt replied honestly.
"Oh, well, that's good I guess, and maybe your roommates won't be so rude once they get to know you a bit... you're a mutant, right?" Candace continued to grill him.
"Yeah, isn't that what this place is for?" he asked, maybe she was a human wanting to satisfy her curiosity about freaks.
"Uh huh, though sometimes we get the odd human here, mostly because they don't have anywhere else to go... some of the boys at lunch were saying you got sent here from juvie, i-is that true?" she plucked up her courage enough to finally ask.
Ah ha, she was the pretty girl sent to gather gossip, figures. He glared at her before replying, "No."
"Oh, well I suppose that's good, so, how did you end up here then?" she asked, clearly confused.
"The system didn't know what else to do with a freak," Matt muttered, still glaring, though he couldn't help feeling like he was being just a little uncharitable. At least the girl had come to him to get answers, rather than just fuelling the gossip mill.
"Were you in foster care too?" she asked softly, understandingly.
"... Yeah," Matt murmured, taking a closer look at the girl, what did she mean 'too'.
"That sucks, did your parents dump you when they found out about your mutation?" she queried curiously.
"Did yours?" Matt asked in return, suddenly curious to gather some information of his own.
The girl nodded sadly. "I got hit by a car, when I got to the hospital, they took me into surgery, I died on the table, and when they used those shocky things to try and jump start my heart, my body absorbed the energy and then the second time my body discharged it all, I fried all the electronics in the operating theatre. At first everyone thought it was just a weird freak power surge and everyone was saying how I was so lucky to be alive, but then it turned out it was me, sucking up energy and then releasing it by touch, that's why I have to wear the gloves, until I figure out how to control it, so I don’t accidentally take energy from people... Anyway, my parents dumped me in foster care but the Professor had already heard about me, he managed to get custody of me, and then I came here. What about you?"
Matt listened to her story, man she had shitty parents, at least his dad hadn't abandoned him for some quirk of his DNA. Though, given he didn't know why his dad abandoned him, he didn't know of that was better or worse.
"I've been in foster care since I was little, don't know why, my dad just disappeared one day... My mutation became evident and the system didn't know what to do with me, somehow they contacted these guys, or something, and now I'm here," Matt explained.
"How did your mutation 'become evident'?" Candice asked curiously.
"Some sick fucks tried to kidnap my sis- the foster family's kid... I jumped in the van after the kidnappers, fought them off until the driver stopped and ran... Apparently saving Missy's life meant I was too dangerous to be around her, so they kicked me out, everyone else was afraid of me," he shrugged glumly.
"So, what is your mutation then?" Candice continued to press.
"Um, I've got, like, these sort of... claw things, they come out my hands, and I must heal really fast or something because one of the kidnappers shot me but by the time the cops arrived the wound was gone, they said they wouldn't have believed me, that I'd been shot, if not for the holes in my clothes and the blood from where the wound had been, so..." Matt trailed off, he still wasn’t sure what he thought about his own mutation, so he was a little nervous what others would think, especially if anyone found out he has maimed people.
"Wow, that sounds cool, and it's great you used them for saving people, you're like an unofficial X-Man," Candice replied approvingly, and with a hint of awe.
"What's an X-Man?" It was Matt’s turn to ask in confusion.
"Oh, the Professor has this team of mutant superheroes, they go around rescuing mutants and stuff, they're called the X-Men, pretty much everyone here wants to be one 'when they grow up', some of the seniors are already training to join once they graduate," Candice explained. At Matt's additional questions she continued telling him about the X-Men, she was telling him about the members of the teams, and what their powers were, when their conversation was interrupted.
"There you are Candice," came the loud voice of a short Asian woman, dressed in clashing neon brights.
"Hi Miss Lee, were you looking for me?" Candice asked, smiling at her eclectic art teacher.
"I sure was sweetie, we're going to have a unit on photography later this semester, I'm trying to collate my old photos from my studying days to use in class but I'm running out of time, I was wondering if you would be interested in earning some extra credit by helping me out?" the woman asked, as she cracked gum like a bored teenage.
"Sure thing Miss Lee, what can I do for you?" Candice asked, jumping up and joining her teacher at a nearby table.
"Just pop these photos into this album, they're all in order, one's at the front of the pile go at the front of the album, think your friend might like to join you?" 'Miss Lee' asked, pointedly glancing at Matt and nodding for him to come over too.
"Uh, sure," Matt replied with a shrug, it wasn’t like he had anything better to do after all.
"Great, I'll leave you two to it then," Miss Lee said, before she turned and disappeared out of the room.
"So, that was...?" Matt asked curiously.
"That's Miss Lee, she's my art teacher, and also the X-Man codenamed 'Jubilee', she makes fireworks come out of her hands, similar to my mutation, transferring energy, except mine's just destructive, whereas hers can be pretty too," Candice told him, almost sounding sad as she talked down her own mutation.
"Does your teacher always pawn off her class prep on her students?" Matt queried, not sure if that was a common occurrence in private schools or something specific to this teacher.
Candice laughed. "Only on special occasions, and only to the students she likes, Mr Summers says it's because she's unorganized, Miss Lee says he only says that because he has a stick up his butt, Mr Summers never argues when she says that so I guess she's right," Candice shrugged, as she flipped open the album to the first empty page and carefully set up the pictures, in the correct order, to be ready to enter into the book. "You hand me the photos, and I'll enter them," Candice suggested, with a smile.
They worked together in a combination of pleasant chatter and companionable silence for a time, Matt glancing at the photos as he passed them over. There were a lot of still life's, and nature shots, before they got to photos from what looked like some sort of fancy party.
"Who are all these people?" Matt asked curiously, as he handed over the photos, one by one.
"Oh, some of them are just guests, the Professor holds fundraisers pretty regularly, there's also some former students, and some X-Men and stuff, these are really old pictures though," Candice replied, as she began to point out the people who were still relevant. Matt recognized the guy with glasses and the red-haired woman who had picked him up in Washington and brought him to New York.
After several more minutes, as Candice chatted happily as she worked, Matt froze, eyes locked on a photo. Candice reached for the next photo, to add it to the book in front of her, only to grasp onto empty air.
"What's wrong?" Candice asked, when she saw the look of shocked surprise on Matt's face.
"Who- who is that?" Matt demanded hoarsely, as he pointed at a man in the background of the photograph he was holding.
"Um, that... I'm not sure, let's see if he's in any more of these pictures..." Candice said, leafing through the pile. "Here, is this the same guy?" she asked, comparing the close-up photograph to the more distant shot Matt had. Once she was convinced it was the same guy she added, "According to this photo, that is... Wolverine, oh that's Wolverine! He's like a legend, he used to be an X-Man but he left years and years ago, Miss Lee tells us stories about him sometimes, she makes him sound really cool, it's a shame he's not here anymore," Candice told him disappointedly.
She noted Matt take the close-up photo and set it aside, she didn't say anything, just left its space in the album empty so it could be added back in later. She wasn't sure what exactly Matt wanted it for but the scowl on his face made her loathe to ask.
They went back to collating the photos until Matt suddenly froze again, this time catching her attention immediately when he gasped.
"What?" she asked, getting even more confused, it was a different person this time.
"Rogue?" Matt murmured, uncertainly, after having read the inscription on the back of the photo. He turned the picture back around, staring into the laughing eyes of the woman photographed. He knew this woman, he just couldn't place her, it was the same as the man, though he felt like, with the man, he knew who it was, his brain just didn't want to admit it.
Flicking ahead through the photos, he found a spread of photos that were focused solely on Wolverine and Rogue, most of them together, as they held each other, danced, smiled in each other’s directions, and even one shot of them almost kissing, completely unnoticed by those surrounding them.
As he ran his finger over one of the photos, a sudden wave of recognition washed over him as a picture flashed through his mind, a memory. "Mama," he murmured softly. This was the exact same look she had been holding in the photo that used to sit on his bedside table when he was little. It was the picture his father would hold, and smile at tenderly, as he told him stories about his mother to lull him to sleep.
Grabbing the photos, Matt jumped to his feet, pausing at the door he turned back to Candice. "What's the fastest way to the Professor's office from here?" he demanded. She was leading him out the door, and through the maze that was the mansion the school was housed in, a split second later.
He was surprised to find, on bursting in uninvited to the Professor's office, that several people were already there. Mr Summers, Dr Grey, Miss Lee, and the bald, wheelchair bound, Professor Xavier. It wasn't enough of a surprise to distract him from why he was there, though now he had a new person to direct his queries at.
"Why do you have pictures of my parents?" he demanded, thrusting the photographs at Miss Lee. The sudden tense silence in the room was highlighted by Candice's surprised gasp.
"May I?" the Professor asked politely, holding out his hand for the photographs Matt was still holding. Miss Lee, with tears in her eyes, clearly didn't want to take them, so he handed them over to the old man.
"Well, sir?" Matt pressed, after the old man had glanced through the stack of photos, that focused, on one or both, Wolverine and Rogue.
"Thank you, Candice, for showing Matthew to my office, you can return to your task now," the Professor said, gesturing for Matt to take a seat as Candice was ushered out of the room, and the door closed behind her.
"We were not certain, when we first brought you here, we didn't want to give you false hope by suggesting we may know who your parents are, so Miss Lee dug through her collection of photographs in an effort to expose you to them more organically and see if there was any recollection on your part," the Professor began to explain. "Wolverine and Rogue left us a little over sixteen years ago, she was nineteen, Wolverine's exact age is unknown. If our hunch was correct, that you are indeed their son, based on your birth date, and the date the pair left, we can only conclude they left because they discovered Rogue was pregnant-"
"Why would they leave if they knew that? Isn't this supposed to be a safe place for mutants?" Matt demanded to know.
"It is supposed to be, let's just say certain people took exception to their relationship and made it too hard for them to stay," Miss Lee replied, sounding bitter as she tried not to glare at the pair sitting across the room from her.
"Why?" Matt queried.
"We thought we were doing the right thing, we were trying to protect her from getting her heart broken by a much older man, Logan was a drifter, a brawler, he was rough and uncouth, literally the opposite of the sweet, quiet, girl your mother was, we thought it was just a crush, a spot of hero worship after he saved your mother’s life when she was younger... we were wrong but we were never able to find them to apologize and ask them to come back, if there's one thing your father can do, and do well, it's disappear, and he took Rogue with him and did just that," Jean explained, looking suddenly older, and sadder, than she had since he met her.
"You tried to separate them and they ran?" Matt confirmed, taking in the nods of agreement from around the room. "So, none of you know what happened either then... I'm just as clueless as before," he murmured, feeling the weight of disappointment crushing down on him.
"We will do everything we can to help you find out what happened to your parents," the Professor assured him, "After everything they went through to be together, I cannot imagine Logan abandoning your mother, or you, not without serious extenuating circumstances."
"... My dad's name is Logan?" Matt asked after a few minutes, "What about my mom, what was her name?"
"She only ever went by Rogue when she was here-" Dr Grey began to say.
"Her name was Marie," Miss Lee interrupted, "But the only person who was allowed to call her that was Logan, only a handful of her closest friends even knew it."
"You were close friends?" Matt asked hopefully, even if he couldn't find his parents maybe he could at least find out about them.
"Sure was, even then they still didn't tell me anything about where they were going, or even that they were going, but that was them, everything done spur of the moment, flying by the seat of their pants, they liked life like that, your mom used to say what was the point of living if your life was all mapped out in advance, you had nothing to explore, and nothing to discover," Miss Lee replied, a smile on her face as she remembered her friend. If anything, Rogue had been more of a rule breaking free spirit than she had ever been, those that picked up on it though brushed it off as being a result of Logan's influence over her life but she had never believed that.
"Do- do you have any more photos?" Matt eventually asked, if that was all he could have right now it would have to do.
"I sure do," Miss Lee replied, "You stay and chat with the Prof, I'll leave them up in your room for you." With that the other adults began to file out of the room, leaving Matthew alone with the Professor.
"Tell me Matthew, what do you remember of your early childhood...?"