Cannonball

*******

chapter one

*******

It was the cusp of dawn when Billy teleported onto a part of the eastern beach of Genosha, the waves crashing quietly against the white beaches. The only other sound was the occasional squawk of pelicans and petrels as they hunted for fish, and he hovered over the water for a moment as he breathed in deep the scent of brine and fresh air. The magic slowly built inside of him, lured out by the environment, by the melding of ocean and air, of night and day, of the seeming stretch of nothing but elements looming on before him, of stars crashing into waves….

*Focus*, he chided himself as he took another deep breath and clutched the heavy velvet of his red cloak tighter around his chest. He was here for a reason, one he wasn’t that certain about but was obligated to fulfil. He closed his eyes to center himself for a moment before he opened them and stared out across the ocean and then focused his thoughts on what his grandfather wanted – what he seemed to be spending so much of his talent upon lately.

He had to think carefully of this latest request, of what his grandfather had asked of him this time. It would be difficult, he had sensed that much, and had decided to attempt it when things were mostly quiet so he wouldn’t be interrupted. When his thoughts were appropriately still and the magic thrummed through his veins, he attempted to unleash it upon the world.

IwantourownoilreservesIwantourownoilreservesIwantourownoilreserves.” He kept repeating the chant as the magic built up and spilled out of him, the world turning blue before him as it encompassed the ocean and beyond. It felt as if he was connected to everything, the swells of water and the life swimming beneath it, to the heat simmering beneath the crust of the earth and the cold of the sky, the cold… was that something else there? Something alien, something…. And then the magic began draining out of him, began rushing from his very center, from his veins and left him *aching*. It wasn’t until he was hovering only a couple of inches from the ground due to exhaustion that the world slowly returned to normal, the waves crashing back into the beach and a cautious ‘caw’ from a bird here or there, letting him know that the magic had finished.

He slowly tumbled onto the beach, the sand damp and cool beneath his fingers as they dug into the malleable surface, his breaths coming in ragged pants. There was little he could do for what felt forever than just breathe in and out, so utterly drained that he could barely lift his head. His dark bangs almost touched the sand, his hood hanging forward as well, and when the water began to creep forward into his dimming sight he finally summoned the dregs of his magic to wish himself somewhere safe.

The last thing he remembered before blackness took over was the scent of flowers, of roses and geraniums and lilies and-

*******

Warmth. There was warmth beneath his cheek and a gentle touch to his forehead. Billy moaned softly and nuzzled the softness that was beneath him, a familiar scent teasing at his memory.

“Oh William….” The gentle touch ran through his hair as he tried to place that voice, his eyes fluttering open. He groaned a little as the sunlight caused first his eyes to ache and then his head, and turned his face into the soft red fabric covering the bent knees upon which his head rested.

“Rahne, bring some tea for him.”

Realization smashed into William, making him attempt to push up into a sitting position. He mostly succeeded, even as the mild ache in his head morphed into a full-blown migraine; he moaned in pain and leaned against his mother for support.

“There, there, dear,” she soothed as she combed her fingers through his hair. “It’ll be all right.”

“Mother,” he murmured as he rested his head on his shoulder and closed his eyes. Somehow his last teleportation spell had brought him here instead of back to his own quarters – he supposed this was just as ‘safe’. His body relaxed into her warmth as the comforting touch continued. Even though they were nearly the same height, she easily supported him just then.

“What were you up to last night, hmm?” Despite it being a question, she didn’t give him any time to answer. “You’ll drink some tea and then Rahne will take you to your bed. You need some sleep, young man.”

“Yes, Mother.” As always, he never argued with her, so happy to have her attention on him, to feel her love and to make her happy in any manner.

“And you’ll get some rest.” She pressed a kiss against his temple and hummed a little. “You’re growing up so much. My little William….”

“Sorry for dropping in like this.”

She laughed a little and gave his hair a gentle tug. “Oh hush, you know you’re always welcome here. Such a sight you were, sleeping amidst my roses. I almost had Rahne take a picture before waking you, it was so cute.” She laughed again when he wrinkled his nose. “William… you need to look after yourself,” she said a moment later, her tone serious.

Somehow he managed to lift his head so he could look at her, at how lovely she was with her brown curls falling around her face and her brown eyes almost filled with tears in concern over him. “I’m fine, Mother. Just… just a bit of magic that got away from me.” It was mostly the truth. “You know I’ll use any excuse to stop by for some of your tea.”

He doubted that she bought that excuse – Wanda might be the most sheltered of Eric Lehnsherr’s children because of her lack of a mutant gene, but she was far from naive. However, she was aware of the demands that her father placed on his progeny – well, those who could live up to his expectations – so merely leaned in to give Billy a tender kiss on the forehead. “You’re welcome here any time. I cherish your visits – at least you seem to remember your dear old mother.”

“Hardly ‘old’,” Billy scoffed, just as Rahne returned with the tea set on a platter. The wolf shifter bowed her head as she approached, fair skin flushed nearly as red as her short hair, and set the tray on the ground near the two of them.

“Thank you,” Wanda told the young woman before she reached out to pour some tea for them both. “I’ll need you to take William back to his quarters in a few minutes.”

“Yes, ma’am.” Rahne bowed her head again and moved backwards, until she almost blended in with the pale carnations and roses behind her due to the pale grey robe that she wore.

Billy almost protested that he didn’t need any help getting back to his rooms, that he could teleport himself, but he still felt so drained from earlier – how long had it been? His hands trembled when he accepted the cup of tea that his mother handed him and it took almost too much energy to hold the delicate porcelain steady enough to drink from it. Yet the blend of black tea and roses seemed to soothe him, to provide an iota of strength that he desperately needed just then.

Before he knew it, the cup was empty and he felt sleepy again, his chin dipping toward his chest. “Hmm, get some rest,” his mother urged him as she waved Rahne forward. “Stop by once you’re better.”

“Yes, Mother,” Billy answered, doing his best to keep the words from slurring. He felt a slight hint of embarrassment when Rahne shifted into her partial wolf form to pick him up and carry him away, but he was too tired to object – all he wanted just then was his own bed so he could sleep forever. At least this time he had the taste of his mother’s tea on his tongue and the lingering feel of her gentle hand on his forehead as he faded back into the darkness.

*******

“-be there for the ceremony!”

“And I’m telling you that you can go *fuck* yourself and *fuck* the ceremony!”

“Do you understand how important this is? King-“

“No, I don’t give a shit who’s there, right now I just know that Billy’s still sleeping off whatever the hell it is that Grandfather asked of him this time, so you tell the old man to go to hell! He can’t keep doing this, snapping at Billy to change the damn world to suit him and then expecting him to jump through some silly fucking hoops!”

Billy moaned as the voices grew louder and more strident, and tugged a soft, fluffy pillow from beneath his head so he could try to cover his ears. He was *tired*, dammit, didn’t they understand that? A tiny voice inside his head whispered that he could *make* them quiet, that he could make everything quiet, but just as he began to summon the magic inside of him, the voices stilled. He let out a long sigh because he really was tired and would rather sleep than cast another spell right now.

“Fine, I’ll tell Father, but you’ll have to answer to him eventually.”

“Oh, grow a damn pair, Uncle Pietro!”

Billy moaned again and wondered if he shouldn’t have used the magic after all. Yet before he could try to summon it, there was the sound of a door slamming and then a strange breeze ruffled the blanket covering Billy before the pillow was snatched from his head.

“Hey there, Sleeping Beauty. It’s about time you woke up.”

Billy blinked his blurry eyes a few times and then finally focused upon his brother, who was standing there with his pillow clutched in his hands. “Tommy,” he groaned. “Let me sleep, dammit.” He made a failed attempt to swat at the bastard, which of course the speedster dodged without any effort.

“Nope, you’ve already slept an entire day, you know? You really need to get up and eat.” Tommy moved with blinding speed to tug Billy up into a sleeping position. “It’s 6pm on Thursday.”

“What?” Billy gave up on struggling with his twin so he could stare at him in shock – he’d gone out to try to do something about Genosha’s lack of oil reserves on Wednesday morning. “You’re joking.”

“No, I’m not. We’re supposed to be at some fancy dinner for King T’Challa, remember?” Tommy sighed in what seemed to be annoyance and fussed with Billy’s hair for a moment. “You’re really out of it, you know. What’s the last thing you remember?”

“Uhm… I went out to the ocean to do what Grandfather asked of me, and then ended up in Mom’s garden rather than here.” He shrugged when Tommy’s eyes went wide at that bit of news. “She gave me some tea and had Rahne bring me here, and… that’s it.”

“Eh, that explains why the room smelled of dog when I found you tucked into bed, and Uncle Pietro’s pissy attitude.” Their uncle always believed that they wore their mother out with their visits, even when she insisted that they stop by. “So, you gonna tell me what you did for Grandfather this time?” Tommy’s green eyes narrowed in suspicion as he repeatedly poked Billy in the left shoulder.

“Ow! Stop that!” Billy scowled and grabbed at a lock of his brother’s white hair in retaliation before the idiot could use his super speed to pull away.

“Come on! Spill the beans!” It looked as if Tommy was going to try another tactic just then, maybe tickling Billy or something rougher, but he seemed to remember that Billy was still tired just in time. “I stood up to Uncle Pietro for you,” he cajoled.

“Please, you live to twist his tail,” Billy scoffed before he finally gave in; he never had been good at standing up to his brother when Tommy really wanted something. “Let’s just say that if everything went well yesterday, that Grandfather won’t have to go through with signing any more contracts for future oil shipments.”

Tommy stared at him for several seconds as if he hadn’t said anything, and then he began to curse beneath his breath while reaching out to grasp Billy’s face beneath his hands. “You friggen idiot,” he told Billy while shaking his head back and forth. “No wonder you were out like one of the dead – how much did it cost you this time?”

Billy clutched at his twin’s wrists and gave him a reassuring smile. “It wasn’t… I’m fine,” he insisted. “It wasn’t that much worse than anything else he’s asked of me.”

“’That much worse’?” Tommy’s voice became louder and higher with each word. “Like it wasn’t bad enough when he had you fuck with a tropical cyclone or two, or to twist an election. Now he’s having you mess with the very earth?”

This was just…. Billy closed his eyes and leaned forward to rest his head against his brother’s shoulder. “He has his reasons. It’s… it’s for the good….” Yeah, he didn’t want to think too much right now. Grandfather always had some very sound arguments at the time, arguments that made Billy seem like an ingrate of a grandson if he tried to refuse.

Tommy couldn’t even speak – what came out just then was an inarticulate sound of fury and concern as he hugged Billy close. They remained that way for a couple of minutes until Billy’s stomach rumbled, the sound loud in the sudden quiet of the room.

“You stupid idiot,” Tommy mumbled against the top of Billy’s head. “Stay here until I come back with some food, okay?”

“’Kay.” Billy sat up when his brother let go and watched as the white and blue blur vanished from the room, then gathered up his missing pillow so he could sit propped up in bed while he waited. He noticed that Tommy had appeared dressed more for a night out clubbing than for a formal affair and wondered if he’d be left alone yet again in their rooms once he’d been stuffed with whatever food Tommy snatched from the kitchens; he didn’t begrudge Tommy his adventures away from the palace, but he had to wonder sometimes what it would be like if their powers were reversed. Tommy got away with so much more as the speedster and the outgoing twin, while Grandfather made certain to keep Billy very close….

He held up his right hand and summoned up a bit of lightning, the blue sparks dancing around his fingers and making him smile. If only this and the ability to fly were truly his only gifts – the gifts that everyone outside of the family were led to believe that he possessed. Maybe then he could sneak out of the palace on a regular basis without Grandfather and Uncle Pietro seeming to care, and maybe he could get away with shirking his duties despite not being the oldest twin. There were days when he felt like a literal genie in a bottle, trapped inside these walls as he handed out wishes, a golden leash around his neck that led back to his grandfather’s hand… but what could he do? His family was all he knew, all he cared about in this world, and he was all too aware of what would happen if his family were proven to be too weak to protect the mutants who looked to them for guidance and safety. All his life, his grandfather and uncle had made sure that he knew about the tragedies his people had suffered before his grandfather had come to rule Genosha, and it was his duty to ensure that those tragedies were never repeated.

Still… was it so much to dream of a semi-normal life?

The sparks were still dancing about when Tommy burst back into the room with a large platter almost overflowing with food in his right hand and two bottles of wine tucked under his left arm. “ThefoodtheyhaveoutthereisCRAZY,” he spat out as he barely came to a halt at the foot of Billy’s bed.

Laughing a little as he willed the sparks away, Billy sat up straighter in bed, grateful that Rahne or whoever had put him into it yesterday had left him dressed in the plain long-sleeved tshirt and cotton pants he’d worn beneath his cloak so he could just push the sheets aside and stumble his way over to the small table a few feet away. “Great, so we’re not missing out on much.”

“Eh, there were a few cute babes out there, but none of them as hot as this one chick I’m seeing.” Tommy began flicking the stuffed grape leaves onto Billy’s plate since he knew that he liked those, and kept the stuffed olives for himself. The salmon was divided up equally, and Billy got the quail while Tommy wolfed down the prime rib. Billy liked the risotto enough that Tommy let him have it, and ate the macaroni and cheese with truffles instead. When it came to the desserts… well, that was a free for all, and considering that Billy could pit his magic against Tommy’s speed, they came out about even.

They split one of the wine bottles between them, a rare treat since usually their uncle or their aunt was careful to watch how much they drank and limited them to a glass or two, which was probably why Tommy grinned and pointed a finger at Billy while he licked at a spoonful of dark chocolate mousse. “There’s also a lot of cute guys out there, too.”

Billy didn’t have a problem with his sexuality, so he didn’t understand where his brother was going with this. “Your point?”

Tommy just waved his hand about as he opened the other bottle up and poured Billy some more wine before taking the bottle and himself across the room. “Just saying that you should have a bit more fun.”

As if Billy’s idea of ‘fun’ was to fool around with someone who would either be gone in the next day or two or would just be using him in an attempt to get through to his grandfather. “No thanks, I’m happy with how things are right now,” he lied.

His brother made a rude noise at that statement and then took a swig from the wine bottle. “You need to come out with me and Kate one night. We’ll show you a fun time.”

Ah, so the new girlfriend was called ‘Kate’. Billy didn’t let any of his interest show as he pushed away the empty dessert dish and made his way back to his bed. “Maybe some night.” Some night when Grandfather wasn’t watching him like a hawk, which was… oh, never?

Tommy seemed to realize that was his polite way of saying ‘yeah, right’ and rolled his eyes. “I’m serious, it’s about time you got laid or something.” When Billy gave him the finger for being so rude, Tommy laughed and darted over to ruffle his hair. “My widdle baby brother,” he crooned. “Look, you feeling better now?” All traces of humor was gone from him as he stared intently at Billy.

“Yeah, the food really helped.” Billy smiled gently at Tommy as he pushed against his chest. “Go on, get out of here.” When his brother hesitated, he laughed a little. “All I’m going to do is get a shower and probably sleep some more – you’ll drive me crazy if you hang out here all night so leave.”

“Okay,” Tommy seemed a little reluctant as he stepped back. “I’ll have my phone on me – if Uncle Pietro or Grandfather stop by to give you any shit, call me immediately.”

“I will,” Billy promised.

His brother still seemed a little uncertain as he began to gather up all of the empty dishes. “Let me get rid of these for you.” He turned to study Billy for a moment before he picked up the tray. “You are just going to stay here tonight, right?”

“Where else would I go?” Billy kept any bitterness he secretly felt from seeping into the question and continued to smile until Tommy nodded and wished him a good night before leaving.

Finally alone, as he was most nights, Billy sighed and got up from bed so he could gather up a clean set of clothes and take a shower – maybe enjoy a soak while he was at it. If he wasn’t too tired after that, he could catch up on the shows he’d missed yesterday. Ah, the exciting life of a modern prince….

*******

Tommy slowed down as he wove through the streets of Camden Town and resisted the urge to yank out a piercing or two along the way – really, was Kate so bored that she was willing to play up the rich girl gone bad image like this? Well, not that he could really blame her when here he was, out unsupervised on another *continent* instead of at some formal dinner, but he had a few more issues than a distant daddy and a… well, he had a few more issues.

He came to a stop in a dark alley and then strolled out, all cocky attitude and self-confidence as he tugged his cap a little farther down the back of his head, and no one seemed to pay him that much attention. One thing he’d learned over the years was if he didn’t make that big of a deal with his appearance, that if he wore nice enough clothes but not *that* nice, tried *just* hard enough, that people might take a double-look at him but then go ‘nah, that *can’t* be Prince Thomas Magnus, it’s just some kid wannabe’. After all, Prince Thomas Magnus wouldn’t be strolling around in grey skinny jeans torn at the knee that didn’t cost just shy of a thousand dollars, in a hoodie that anyone could buy in the nearest department store or ankle boots that were nice but had seen better days. Yep, just another kid who’d been told ‘you know you look like...” and who’d gone out and bought some hair bleach on a dare. That was him.

Especially since he was headed into ‘FUDs’, a club whose name supposedly stood for ‘Fuck U Darwin’. Oh, no one would come out and claim it was a human only establishment, no one would *dare*, but the vibe was distinctly anti-mutant, was that the poor humans needed a place where they could retreat and lick their wounds while downing some pints. Tommy had to wonder what his grandfather would make of such a place.

He gave the bouncer/doorman a huge grin when he handed over one of his fake IDs and a 20 note. The bounce, built like a bull with his shaggy dark hair falling around his tattooed face, grunted softly as he motioned at the tufts of white hair poking out of the cap. “Not funny, kid.”

“Aw, but I made a killing on the bet. No one thought I’d go through with it.” Tommy continued to grin as he waited to see if the guy bought the excuse, refusing to lose any of his habitual cockiness. The bouncer gave him the stink-eye for a few more seconds before handing back the ID and waving him inside.

Inside, FUDs was full of smoke and noise and mostly beautiful young people desperate to get either drunk, high or both and do stupid things – and not an obvious mutant in sight. Really, this didn’t seem like Kate. By the time Tommy tracked her down, his limited patience was mostly done in by the inebriated idiots he’d had to step around to avoid being smacked into or have drinks spilled on him as they twitched about to what he could only suppose was ‘music’. Thank whatever higher power there was that he didn’t have enhanced hearing, even if keeping to a ‘human’ pace made the past five minutes seem like five hours….

“KATE! How are you? Great to see you! Can we leave now?” He rushed up to her at a barely restrained speed and mushed his lips into her left cheek.

She’d been frowning at another woman who was yelling something about needing more shots at one of the busy bartenders, but turned to face him with evident surprise. Dressed a bit more elaborately than the rest of the crowd in a pretty, dark purple sleeveless dress that did *amazing* things to her curves and with her dark hair pulled back in a twist, she laughed a little as she pushed him away. “T! I didn’t think you’d show up here. Are you crazy?”

“Yeah, only for you, gorgeous.” He waggled his eyebrows at her for a few seconds until she shook her head. “What say we-“

“One moment.” She leaned over to the other woman, who was equally overdressed and gave her left shoulder a shake. “Allison! They’re a bit busy right now, so stop yelling at them like that!”

The blond girl turned to glare at Kate – or at least attempt to, since it seemed she was a bit too intoxicated to manage it very well. “But Robby and I want our drinks.”

“I think the two of you have had enough already.”

“No we haven’t, we-“ The blonde girl, Allison, seemed to finally notice Tommy standing beside Kate and frowned. “Oh, it’s you again.”

“Yeah, nice to see you, too.” Tommy didn’t bother to put much enthusiasm in his voice.

Allison waved him aside and then shrugged off Kate’s hand. “Gonna find Robby.”

Kate didn’t appear too happy just then, but she was quiet while watched her friend leave. “Why is it that some people never learn,” she asked, her voice so forlorn that he could pick it up even over the trash that was pouring out over the speakers.

“Eh, I thought that was basically the human condition.” Look at the way that Billy was draining himself dry trying to please their grandfather, at how Tommy ran so fast and so far yet never seemed to get anywhere. At how Kate might hang out with her party friends like this yet never seemed to make her father pay her any attention – well, if that was why she did all of this; Tommy had to admit that he didn’t know her that well yet. He’d just been infatuated with the lovely, self-assured young woman he’d met one day at some boring function his uncle had insisted he’d attend and been chasing her down ever since. “So, you wanna dance?”

Kate took a moment to think about that before gracing him with a smile and holding out her right hand. “Oh why not – can’t make this evening any worse, can it?”

“I like your confidence, Princess,” Tommy teased as he pulled her onto the dance floor, laughter trailing after him. He managed to find them a bit of space and they did their best to dance to the awful bass that seemed intent on bludgeoning them that poured out of the various speakers scattered about, but he judged it to be about half an hour before they both looked at each other and silently decided to ditch the club.

This time it was Kate’s turn to latch onto his wrist and haul him along, toward the nearest exit. “There *has* to be a better club around here somewhere,” she shouted over the music as they circled around the writhing crowd on the dance floor.

“What, you mean this wasn’t your pick for the night?”

She tossed a grimace over her bare shoulder and shook her head. “Blame Robby for that one.” She must have spotted an exit door because she picked up her pace, moving rather quickly considering the heels she was wearing. “Ah… is that a relief,” she practically moaned once they reached the outside, where it was considerably cooler and a hell of a lot quieter. She shivered a little in the night air, making Tommy wish that he’d worn a decent coat or something so he could give it to her, and began to dig through the tiny clutch that she held in her left hand while they walked toward the main road. “Let me call a cab – you want a bite to eat? I know this-“

He’d been so fixated on Kate and happy to get out of the noisy club that he hadn’t noticed the figures lurking around the entrance of the side alley, not until he heard someone cry out and then the flash of lights. Startled by the familiar sound of lenses clicking and flashes going off, he reacted without thinking and grabbed onto Kate before dashing off, just wanting to get away from the paparazzi. She cursed in his ear as he whizzed on by them, her left hand digging into his right arm, and he didn’t stop until… yeah, this was the South Bank, wasn’t it? His feet finally slowed down around the Tate Museum, the parking lot deserted this time of night. “Sorry,” he mumbled as he lowered his arms so a distinctly pissed off Kate could set her feet on the ground – hey, she still had both her heels on, that was a plus since they looked expensive.

Both of her hands on her hips, she rounded on him with a look he knew didn’t bode well, her blue eyes flashing and her mouth pressed in a grim line right before she started yelling. “You *moron*! You do realize that they’ll know who you are now, right?”

“Yeah. Shit. SHIT!” He knocked his cap aside and ran his hands through his hair. “I have to do something to get rid of those pictures. *SHIIT*” He kicked at the pavement in the parking lot and yelled at the night sky, his stomach twisting at the thought of what his grandfather would do when he found out that his grandson had been out at a mostly human club in the company of *human* girl. “The old man is going to *flip*,” he muttered, as he reached for Kate. “Come on, I need to get you home before I… I’ll do something.” He needed to get her somewhere safe, fast.

If he thought that Kate was ticked off at him before, it was nothing like the way she looked at him now, as if he… well as if he was scum. “What, you worried how your dear Grandpa is going to react to you dating a non-mutant,” she sneered? “Worried about losing the family inheritance because you touched-“

He grabbed onto both of her arms and gave her a shake. “No, you stubborn idiot, I’m worried about *you*!” When she stared at him in shock, he started to walk her backwards, desperate for the need to move. “Do you know what he’ll do to you when he sees those pictures and realize that you’re the human that was with me? Don’t you remember what happened when my aunt was caught dating that one artist?”

Kate made a couple of inarticulate sounds before she shrugged off his left hand and turned enough to walk beside him. “But… that guy… he broke up with her…”

Tommy gave a loud snort of derision over that bit of fabrication. “Hell no, Grandfather’s people made it look that way so Aunt Lorna got all of the sympathy. It was either the relationship ended or… well, the guy loved her, but he loved living even more. I… I don’t want you going through what that poor bastard did, okay?” He didn’t look at her as he spoke, instead he focused on what was in front of him; he liked Kate, liked her a lot more than the other girls he’d dated or… whatever you called what they’d done together, and he wanted to know her better. He wanted the *chance* to know her better, and that wouldn’t happen if Grandfather found out. That meant he’d have to get rid of those photos somehow.

Things were silent for about a minute and then Kate bumped her shoulders into his. “I’m sorry. Do you… do you need some help in stopping those guys?”

He smiled a little while he shook his head. “Nah, I have an idea, but I need to get you home and then get back myself to do something about it.” He made to grab for her when she shoved her empty hand against his chest and shook her head, a lock of her dark hair sliding free from her bun.

“No, you can go now.” She jerked her chin in the direction of a restaurant down the street that still looked open and smiled. “I’ll go there and call a cab to take me home – I’m good.”

He wanted to argue, but the truth of it was, the longer he stayed here then the more it would take to get rid of the evidence. “All right, be careful.” If it was anyone other than Kate, he’d be worried, but one of the things he liked most about her was that she was good at looking out for herself.

“Funny, I was about to say the same to you.” She leaned in to give him a quick kiss and then laughed. “See you around.”

“You too, Princess.”

Smiling despite the trouble he was in just then, Tommy waved before he burst into motion.

*******

So many worlds. As far as Billy could see, there were worlds upon worlds, ones with every variation of blue skies, of green skies, of skies bereft of stars and those burning with them until the beauty of it left him struggling for air. Skies filled with machines, skies of floating cities, skies of ice and fire and…. He hovered a little closer to a world that seemed composed of multicolored gases, its inhabitants gossamer creatures of crystal filaments. For a moment he wanted to know more about it, to know how it came into being, how it functioned, and *knew* that if he just reached out with his talent that he could-

/Ah, how did *you* manage to get here?/

Well, that was new. Billy frowned and glanced around, the gossamer world forgotten for now. He wrapped his red cloak around himself and floated a little higher as he searched out for the source of that annoying, haughty-sounding voice. “What do you mean? I got here… well, I come here now and then.” It seemed to happen lately, when he pushed with his power.

/Please, someone who reeks of mortality shouldn’t be here, someone who…/ The voice paused and Billy frowned as he felt… he felt *something* push against his being, something that felt familiar and disturbing. Unhappy with the sensation, he called his magic to him, let it slowly build inside of him until all he could feel was the welcome burn that sizzled through his entire being and ached to be unleashed, to be put to use. Sparks crackled around his fingers and his vision took on a blueish cast, yet there was nothing for him to cast the power upon, no clear target since the alien presence had receded so he merely let the magic simmer inside him.

/I see… not so mortal,/ the voice said, no longer so haughty but more thoughtful now. /Interesting – so wonderfully interesting./

“Who are you?” Billy held up his right hand as he searched about, as if it illuminate the darkness beyond the stretch of endless worlds.

/Soon enough, young one. Soon enough./ After spouting that bit of nonsense – really, would a straight answer be too much to ask for, if not an actual name – there was nothing but silence.

Billy waited for another minute before he let his magic slowly retreat. “Great, I need to stop letting Tommy bring back dinner or something, if this is what I dream about as a result. Is it too much to hope for a nice fantasy regarding-“

The multi-world dreamscape melted away around him, and Billy found himself jolted back to reality with the object of his most recent complaint looming over him. “Gah!” He attempted a weak swat at the idiot’s face, which Tommy scoffed at and dodged with an enviable ease.

“Really, Billy? What if I was an assassin or something? You’d be so dead right now.” Tommy gave him one more shake before sitting on the bed beside him.

“I’d hope that they’d be good enough to let me die in my sleep,” Billy muttered as he kicked at his brother from beneath the sheets. “What do you *want*?” It was still dark out, so the idiot should still be outside partying or something, not waking him up.

Judging from the guilty look that settled on his brother’s face, Billy would say that this wake-up call wasn’t about some urgent need to bond at… oh, 3am in the morning or them sharing a midnight snack. “Okay, what do you want,” he repeated as he rubbed his face to help wake him up.

Tommy bounced a little on the bed as he toyed with a lock of his bangs. “Look, I’m really sorry about this,” he said in a rush, barely speaking slow enough so that the words were understandable. “I hate being like the assholes and use you for your talent, but… I’m in trouble.”

Billy needed a moment for that to make sense, he was still a bit sleepy, and then he bent forward so he could punch the idiot in the arm. “You’re always in trouble,” he reminded his brother. “So what is it? What do you need done? It better not be unexploding the damn Eiffel Tower or something like that again….”

Tommy stared at him for a second or two and laughed, his motions blurring as he wrapped his arms half around Billy’s head. “Nah, you dweeb, it’s easy. I just need you to get rid of some photos and such for me.” His face was a little red as he backed off of a protesting Billy. “Uhm, some damn paparazzi caught me and… well, they caught me and a girl leaving a club a bit ago.”

Ah, the mysterious Kate. Billy wondered what it was about the young lady that had his brother so enraptured… and worried about their family finding out about her, but now wasn’t the time. “Okay, so no gossip, got it.” He settled back against the padded headboard of his bed and began to concentrate, the magic rushing forward with particular ease – probably because of the dream. It seemed that he had just began to chant when he felt something ‘click’ into place that let him know that his desire for whatever evidence had been captured earlier that night was now fulfilled. “Done,” he whispered as the magic faded away to a faint hum in his bones, his inner being, eager to be summoned again.

“Eh, you sure?” Tommy appeared a bit dubious just then. “That was fast.”

Billy shrugged and pulled the blankets pooled in his lap up to his chest. “Hmm, it wasn’t that bad of a request, really.”

His brother didn’t seem convinced. “Are you sure? I mean, you were really tired earlier – maybe I should have let you rest and-“

He reached out to pat Tommy’s arm before the idiot raced away to beat up some photographers. “Tommy, it’s done.” He shrugged when Tommy gave him a concerned stare. “I guess I’m getting stronger from casting so much, that and all the sleeping helped. Don’t worry so much.”

Tommy still didn’t look convinced, but he reached over to tug a corner of the blankets up past Billy’s left shoulder before standing from the bed. “If you say so – long as I don’t hear from Grandfather in the morning.” He made to move to his side of the room, but Billy held up a hand to stop him.

“Uh-uh, what about my payment,” Billy asked with a big grin. There was no way he was too sleepy or tired to forget about *that*.

Judging from the incredulous look on his brother’s face, yeah, he’d go with that Tommy had hoped to sneak off to bed while skipping over this part. “What, you want something from your dear big brother after doing him a favor?” Tommy clutched at his chest as if experiences pangs of pain. “Just think of how you saved Grandfather from-“

“Oh no, I saved *you*, so you’ll be getting up in a few hours and heading off to Blé Sucré to fetch a nice selection of pastries so we can join Mother for a nice breakfast.” Billy reached over onto the nightstand so he could grab his phone and send Rahne a text she’d see in the morning to let her know that they’d be stopping by for a visit.

The moan from his brother was truly piteous just then, which only made Billy smile even more. “Don’t forget the chocolate croissants,” he reminded the idiot before setting his phone aside and curling back up in bed.

“Can’t you just magic them? And why do I have to go? You’re her favorite, you know,” Tommy whined.

“Nope, they taste better if you fetch them, and she claims that she doesn’t have any favorites.” Billy fluffed the one pillow a little more before resting his head down.

Tommy scoffed at that as the sound of him falling onto his bed echoed through the room. “Right. There better be *nothing* in the news, CC, or else I’ll make you eat so many of those croissants you’ll puke for days!”

“Yeah, whatever PJ.”

“Bite me.”

“No thanks, don’t want any hetero cooties.”

“More like you couldn’t handle being a bastion of testosterone like me.”

“You’re not even making any sense. Go to bed, and get some madeleines tomorrow while you’re at it.”

“Picky bastard.”

Billy figured he could live with that so he closed his eyes and went back to sleep.

******

Billy picked up the two boxes stamped with the Blé Sucré logo and then looked his brother up and down; Tommy had combed his hair back and put on a nice pair of dark grey slacks and a plain white shirt, the sleeves rolled up and the top buttons undone, but everything nicely pressed and still in good shape for once. Billy had tried taming his hair but had less success, and went with a pale blue shirt and black slacks – both of them had refused to dress alike after about five years of age. No doubt their aunt and uncle would be upset at how ‘informal’ they appeared just then, but it was fine for a nice breakfast with their mother. “Ready?”

Tommy’s expressive face twisted a little in displeasure but he stepped closer to Billy. “I guess.”

There was no reason for that – Billy hadn’t made anyone sick with his teleporting in at least a year. Summoning his talent, he wrapped them in the comforting blue until their bedroom faded away and then his mother’s garden formed around them, the rioting scent of flowers as much a welcome as always.

“-why there’s so much tea this morning? And where’s the toast?”

“I’m sorry, ma’am,” Rahne’s soft voice sounded so apologetic, so Billy strode forward into his mother’s sight.

“We brought breakfast,” he called out and smiled, and adored the way that his mother’s lovely face lit up when she realized that both he and Tommy were here; there were moments when he wondered if time had stood still for Wanda ‘Magnus’ somehow, if she really was a mutant, because she didn’t seem old enough to have two teenagers for children.

“My boys,” she cried out as she rose from the small iron-worked table set out in the garden and held her hands for them to grasp, the full skirt of her red gown twisting about her legs. “You’re here?”

“Yeah, we figured we’d surprise you.” Despite his insistence that Wanda wouldn’t care if he showed up, Tommy’s cheeks were a little flushed as he gave her hand a squeeze and leaned in to accept a kiss. “You’re looking da- ah, you look great, Mom.”

Wanda laughed at the compliment and ran her fingers through his hair before turning to kiss Billy. “So kind, you are.” Her smile grew wider when she noticed the boxes in Billy’s hand. “Blé Sucré!” She clapped her own hands together. “Oh, my favorite.”

“We know – Tommy went and got them especially for you.” Billy gave his brother a wink when Wanda grabbed hold of the speedster to hug him in appreciation. “That’s why Rahne’s starving you this morning.”

“Hush now, Master William, as if Ah’d evah mistreat the Lady Wanda,” Rahne insisted, yet she smiled as she brought out two more chairs with an ease that belittled their heavy weight.

“You’ll be glad to know there’s a couple of those snail rolls in there for you.” Tommy grinned at the shifter, which caused the young woman to blush.

“Ah couldn’t,” Rahne attempted to say, but one look from Wanda had her bowing her head in gratitude. “Thank ye.” She set about pouring all of them tea and was quick to help unbox the pastries, and had a slight smile on her face as she went off with her own treats.

Wanda hummed in happiness as she lifted her cup of tea. “Breakfast with my two boys, what a lovely start to the day.” She took a sip before setting it aside and reaching for one of the chocolate croissants. “What have the two of you been up to, hmm? William, you look much better this time.”

Billy blushed a little and hurried to swallow a bite of croissant, the pastry all but melting on his tongue. “Yes, Mother, I feel much better now. Though to be honest, I haven’t been doing much besides sleeping and reading.”

She clicked her tongue a little in that way of hers and reached out to cup his cheek with her right hand. “Watch out for yourself,” was all she said, but the worry in her voice and her brown eyes made him murmur out a promise immediately.

When she turned to Tommy, he immediately charmed her with a series of silly stories about boring functions and outrageous clubs that he somehow managed to sneak into, with no mention of ‘Kate’ or any other girl, Billy noticed. Wanda laughed at the nonsense, a hint of pink blossoming on her pale cheeks, and they soon finished off the large pot of tea and several pastries between them.

“Be careful, you,” she chided Tommy, once again reaching out to touch her son. “You need to stay out of trouble.”

“I am,” Tommy assured her. “I leave it to Billy to push things, you know.”

Wanda shook her head at that. “The two of you….” She didn’t finish that thought, and Billy noticed that her hand trembled a little as she lowered it to her lap - and that Tommy caught it, too.

They shared a look and reluctantly pushed away from the small table. “We should be going,” Billy said with some reluctance as he went over to kiss his mother on the cheek. “It was a wonderful breakfast, and I’m sure we’ll be back soon.”

“Yeah, though I’ll have Billy fetch the food then so he doesn’t get too lazy,” Tommy teased when it was his turn for a kiss.

Wanda looked a little upset at them leaving, but she summoned a smile and nodded. “Just stay out of trouble, you two. That’s all I ask.”

Billy wished that he could stay longer, but their mother didn’t have the strongest of constitutions and the last thing he wanted was to push her too far. “Get some rest,” he urged as he and Tommy stepped further into the garden so he could teleport them back.

Rahne came back out, probably so she could help Wanda back inside, and the two women waved to them before the blue took them away. Billy sighed as they returned to their bedroom, immediately missing the scent of his mother’s garden – maybe he should have brought some flowers with them.

“Well, that went better than I thought.” Tommy was already pulling off the dress shirt as he headed for his closet.

“You headed somewhere?”

“Yeah – since it looked like your spell worked, I’m gonna get out of here before Grandfather comes after me to show around some dignitaries or Uncle Pietro harps on us for ‘disturbing’ Mom.” There was the rustle of clothes on their hangers and then Tommy reappeared in the room dressed in a pair of dark jeans and layered t-shirts, his hair gelled up into spikes. “You wanna come? It’ll do you some good to get out of here, you know.”

It would, but the last time Billy had disappeared for more than an hour or two, he’d ended up in so much trouble that it really hadn’t been worth it in the end. “Nah, I think I’ll check the store to see if I got any new issues and then do some more reading.”

Tommy threw his hands up in the air before reaching over to flick Billy on the forehead. “Try to *live* a little, you big nerd. There’s life outside of comics and books, you know.”

“I could say the same thing about crashing parties and seeing how many brain cells you can kill before you turn twenty, but to each their own.”

“Oooh, someone sounds all pissy today.” Tommy rushed over to rub at Billy’s hair, prompting an annoyed laugh from him as he tried to shove the pest away. “Seriously, stop being the good twin for once, CC, and do something to make me proud.”

Billy wrinkled his nose at the thought and resorted to sparks to chase his annoying brother away. “Yeah, because that always ends well. Get out of here before something blows up.”

“You’renofun,” Tommy whined as he dashed out of the room, a dark blue and white blur that vanished over the balcony as if the three story drop wasn’t any big concern.

Finally alone, Billy took a deep breath to steady himself and then magicked his own clothes into a more ‘common’ outfit, one that would allow him to go hopefully unnoticed as he browsed through The Attic: the loose jeans, red hoodie and sneakers felt almost alien to him after dressing for so long to be ‘presentable’ at his grandfather’s Court, but it had worked so far. As soon as he felt ready, he tugged the hood up to cover his head and then teleported away.

*******

Teddy rubbed his hands against the blue material of his pants before he reached out to accept the incoming call from his mother. Just the sight of her face filling the screen of his computer made him smile, even if he noticed the worry lines of her forehead as she studied his image. “Hi, Mom.”

“Teddy. You look – have you lost weight?”

“You ask me that every time, and the answer is always ‘no’.” He shook his head and tugged at the top of his uniform a little. “You know that’s – well, no.”

She sighed a little and brushed back a lock of her blonde hair. “You know I worry about you, it’s a very intense program and… well, I’m very proud but I worry about you.”

His smile slipped a little and he resisted the urge to reach out to touch the screen. “I know, and I’m sorry for everything I’ve put you through in the last few months.” The look she gave him just then, the flash in her blue eyes and the angry press of her lips let him know that she was about to start ranting again that it was *not* his fault, so he rushed on. “But I’ve just about completed the training and I’ll be an official member of S.H.I.E.L.D. in another day.”

“Teddy… I’m happy for you, and I know you’ll do well. It’s just… I wish you were a little older.” His mother sighed for a moment and then summoned up a smile. “But I’m proud of you, I really am – and I’m going to be praying that they post you somewhere nice and boring and safe.”

He laughed a little at that and fussed some more with his trainee’s uniform. “Yeah, I figured you’d say that.” Some of his good mood faded a little. “I just hope that they don’t station me too far away.” That was the worst part of all of this – the sudden upheaval his life had become since last winter. It had worked out better than he’d expected, better than he’d deserved, but he thought he’d have some more time before he went away to a college of his choice – *if* he went away to college.

His mother looked as if she had picked up on his mood because her smile had gentled and she took to playing with the silver necklace he’d given her a couple of years ago, the two plain linked hearts. “You’ll do fine wherever you end up, kiddo. You’re everything I ever hoped you'd be.”

He blushed a little and ducked his head, suddenly regretting the short cut that they’d made him get as a new recruit; yeah, he was definitely taking advantage of his talent as soon as he was officially an agent. “Mom….”

“There’s my boy.” Laughter broke up a little over his laptop’s spotty connection, but it still made him feel so good, so loved, as if his mother was right beside him. “Now tell me how all about your last few days….”

*******

The sounds of alarms going off startled Kitty so much that she reacted without thinking and phased through the bed and the floor beneath, the sound of muttered curses following her as she dropped into the office below the bedroom. She hovered near the desk in a near panic and remained in an intangible state while those curses and stomping footsteps grew louder, yet she didn’t see anything – everything looked clear.

“Fucking bastard, get back here!”

Okay, maybe not so clear, she thought as she began to calm down, grateful that Pete was there. There was the sound of breaking glass and the awful smell of something burning followed by a cry of pain, but since Pete was in his element, Kitty left him to it while she did a better examination of her office, the panic slowly being replaced with anger as it sunk in that *someone* had tried to steal her research. The papers on her desk appeared disturbed but the computers were still turned off, so everything should still be all right; she would wait until her husband returned before going tangible and booting them up to double-check.

“Bloody thieves with no respect for sleeping people,” Pete muttered as he stomped into the office, his black hair sticking up into every which direction and dressed only in a pair of plaid boxers. “And you!” He willed away the thermal knives still glowing at the end of his fingers as he pointed them at her. “Any idea what that tosser could have done to you if he’d have been in here?”

“Which is why I stayed phased and let you go after him.” She went over to him and stood on her toes to brush their lips together, her thumbs skimming along his hipbones as she rested her hands on his hips – thankful that he appeared fine. “Hmm, thank you, Sweetie. That was so manly of you.”

“Ugh, you’re not getting off so easily.” Still, he hugged her to him in an almost desperate manner and gave her a proper kiss back before stepping away. “Winged ‘em, but somehow he – or it – teleported away. Is anything missing here?”

She shook her head as she went back to the computers and began to boot them up, the anger from before returning now that she knew Pete was fine. “I don’t think so, since the pcs were still down and the alarms had just gone off.” Her fingers flew over the keyboards as she checked the encryption programs to make sure that nothing had been hacked – nothing *better* be hacked. “None of the hardware is gone and I’ll run some checks just in case they tried to install something.”

After a quick search of his own, he joined her at the desk, his left hand settling on the small of her back as he leaned in to watch what she was doing. “Maybe check in with Forge, see if he had any ‘special visitors’ tonight. Err… well, it’ll be today for him, yeah?”

She paused in typing with her left hand to reach back to pat him on the side of the head. “Such a clever man.”

“One of the *many* reasons you love me.” She could hear the smirk in his voice before he gave her a kiss on the left temple.

“Hmm, no distractions just now. Let me finish this and then I’ll call-“ There was a faint sound of a ringtone that could be heard through the thin walls of the cottage, which caused her to break out in a nervous laugh. “Or maybe that’s him calling now.”

“I’ll get it.” Pete gave her bottom a gentle smack and went running upstairs, and a few seconds later the ringing stopped. Concentrating on getting the bug-check programming up and running, she barely paid any attention to what he was saying, just enough to know that it did indeed sound as if he was talking to Forge.

The program was busy scanning for any nasty surprises when Pete came back down and draped a robe over her shoulders. “Yep, Forge said something dark ‘n nasty tried to breach his security while he was busy working on another project,” he confirmed while she tied the robe shut, grateful for something other than the worn t-shirt she’d gone to bed in earlier. “Want some coffee?”

Guessing that they weren’t going return to bed until she verified that everything was fine, she nodded and followed her husband into the tiny kitchen of their cottage. “So what, someone tried to hit us up at nearly the same time? Or two someones?” She frowned while she pulled free the tie that held back her hair and ran her fingers through it while Pete fussed with the ancient coffee machine.

“I’m thinking that it’s at least two – I nailed that bastard, ‘n Forge said the guy he scared off didn’t look wounded. Plus, the attacks seem to be around the same time.” He glared at the machine until it began to sputter about and the scent of brewing coffee filled the room.

“Hmm.” She left her hair alone and went to lean against her husband for comfort, who had pulled on a t-shirt when he went back upstairs. “So, someone’s after the research.”

Pete scoffed as he tucked back the brown curls falling onto her face, a hint of a worried frown on his face. “No big surprise there – question is, who knows about it? We moved to the middle of bumfuck so you could work in peace and obscurity, and Forge isn’t a talkative sort.”

“You think it’s Stark?”

Something dark flashed though Pete’s blue eyes for a moment as he stared down at her. “It better not be – the man needs to learn that he doesn’t own every bit a tech on this planet.”

Well, being involved in the creation of a good bit of it would help feed the belief that he probably should have something to do with the rest of it in one way or another, but Kitty kept that thought to herself before a major rant got started – it could wait until they both had some coffee in them. “So, what are we going to do about tonight, hmm?”

Her husband got that particular evil twinkle in his eyes that made her want to both smack him and kiss him silly, which the smug bastard knew because he bent his head down for a kiss that left her a little dizzy before gently setting her aside so he could go after a mug of his precious coffee. “First, you’re gonna make some of those lovely hotcakes of yours. Once I have about half a pot of this ‘n some of them, then I’m gonna rig us an entirely new security system that’ll be a *right bitch* to get through.”

Kitty did some smirking of her own as she accepted a mug of coffee from Pete. “Ooh, and here Mother said I married you just because you were pretty and talked all fancy.”

“Please, you married me because I’ve got the finest arse that you’ve ever seen,” he told her over the rim of his mug, the corners of his mouth tugged up. “Now get your own in gear, Woman, ‘n make me those hotcakes.”

She laughed at the idiot as she sauntered over to the stove.

*******

Return to Archive

Next Chapter