Fate Sucks Chapter 5

The part from Kota's POV was written by NeoMagus from Crystal Hall, and was extremely well done in my opinion, really helping cement the character of Prairie Sun and shaping how the story advanced in the future.

Disclaimer:
"This is fan fiction for the Whateley Academy series. It may or may not match the timeline, characters, and continuity, but it's fan fiction so I hope it's forgivable.

Edmonton, Alberta,
Late afternoon, December 21st, 2007

Estelle

While Theresa went to put her clothes away to give us a bit of privacy, Mom sat Kota and I down in the tv room. She had taken her sunglasses off letting us see her violet eyes that didn't really look like eyes at all, a sure sign that she was upset.

“What happened? Kota first,” she said.

The girl stared at her lap. “I just didn't like all the clothes shopping and stuff,” she mumbled.

“So you get to call me a slut?” I demanded, still angry with her.

Kota didn't answer. Mom raised her hand to stop me before I said anything else. “Kota, I don't know what you've gone through. You should have told us that you didn't want to do all of that stuff, we would have found something else that we could have done. But that doesn't give you the right to insult Estelle like that.”

The girl seemed to shrink down into her baggy shirt, refusing to look at anyone.

Mom sighed as the girl shut down. “All right, think about what you'd like to do tomorrow, and we'll see if we can do it. For now, go to your room and do something quietly in there, or you can talk with Theresa. The Wii, will stay in its box until Christmas morning. Estelle come on, you can help with supper.”

I followed Mom to the kitchen and started pulling out things for a salad, while she took out the pork chops that had been marinating in apple sauce, BBQ sauce and sweet peppers all day. As I sliced up the lettuce letting out some of my frustration, I started talking.

“It's not fair,” I said.

Mom turned to look at me. “What isn't, honey?”

“She's so pretty, and she doesn't care at all. It's like she hates being a girl.” The knife slashed the lettuce without any rhyme or reason, butchering the leaves.

“What do you mean?”

“I don't know,” I cried. “She just doesn't seem to want to talk about anything, or do anything except play video games. And whenever she looked at me today it was so mean, like I was doing something wrong wanting to look pretty. Why can't I stay a girl?!” I almost screamed, sliding to the floor.

She threw on a pair of oven mitts and knelt down to hug me. “It's going to be ok, Estelle. No matter what happens, we'll be here for you. You don't have to go through this alone.”

“I don't want to go through it all.”

Theresa came in, not seeing us on the ground until she was at the cupboard getting two glasses. She looked nervously at Mom and I, as I sobbed. “Um, I'm just... getting drinks. Is, is there anything I can do?”

Mom gave her a weak smile. “No, dear. But thanks for asking.”

“Do you have GSD?” the girl asked.

I nodded my head, rubbing my nose on my sleeve. I'd rather grow scales, fur, claws, spikes, almost anything. At least I'd still be me.

She knelt down. “It's not too bad once it's all done. It's scary at first, but you get used to it and you might get lucky and look really beautiful once it's over. I have a friend in Whitman who has really soft fur and looks a little like a beautiful deer.”

“I won't be pretty. I'm going to be big and ugly,” I told her.

“You won't know until its all done. And even if you are, you'll have friends. You'll be in Whitman, I can help you meet all sorts of nice girls who've gone through the same thing.” She gave me a hug, as if that would make it all better.

I couldn't tell her I wouldn't be in Whitman. I wouldn't be with any girls, I'd be with the boys, farting, and killing monsters and zombies in video games and staring stupidly at girls, and measuring penis', and doing stupid guy things. I started crying harder.

“Can you tell Kota supper is going to be late tonight?” Mom asked. “You can fix up some snacks if you're hungry.”

“Sure thing, Mrs. Young.”

Mom carried me up to my bed and tucked me in. She left for a moment to get a damp wash cloth, I fell asleep listening to her singing me lullabies as she wiped my tears away.

**

“Hey princess, are you hungry?” Dad asked, shaking me awake.

My stomach growled. “Yeah,” I mumbled.

“Can you come downstairs, or should I fix you up a tray and bring it up here?”

I really wanted to be alone, but I had to face things head on. “Thanks Dad, I'll be down in a minute.”

It actually took five minutes to put in some eye drops, change my wrinkled clothes and fix my hair. And another few minutes to work up the courage to walk down the stairs. I felt like a fraud. I was turning into a boy, why didn't I just start dressing up like Kota and get it over with? What type of name was Dakota anyways?

When I got downstairs, Kota was putting the last of the silverware on the table. She was wearing a baggy t-shirt that looked about two sizes too big and as if it had come out of a donation box, along with her usual jeans that were faded and badly patched. With just a change of clothes, not even an expensive change, she could look great, why did she insist on dressing like a bum?

Theresa came out with the pork chops, followed by Mom and Dad with the salad, mashed potatoes and steamed vegetables. I took my seat, and began filling up my plate. Theresa looked at me with new found sympathy, Kota kept her eyes down.

“So... what do you girls want to do tomorrow? I was thinking we could show you the headquarters downtown,” Dad said trying to break the silence.

“I'd really like to see the headquarters again. Kota, you have to see their workout room, they even have a mini-parkour room set up where you can run on the ceiling,” Theresa said.

Mom perked up. “You like parkour?”

Kota nodded.

“We should run together tomorrow. It's too cold and slippery to do a real run, but the jungle gym has some challenging parts to make up for the lack of size.”

She actually smiled and didn't look like it was hurting her. “Ok. Thanks Mrs. Young.”

“And what about you two?” Dad turned to Theresa and I.

“We never did get our haircut or nails done, could we do that?” I asked.

Theresa's face lit up at the suggestion. Dad gave a relieved smiled. “Sure, I'll take you both in tomorrow.”

I thought I caught Kota rolling her eyes. My fork cracked the plate as I threw it down. “What the HELL is your problem?!”

“Nothing at all,” Kota said looking startled.

A tiny part of my mind said I might be overreacting, the rest of me didn't care. “You've been looking down at me and rolling your eyes all day today! What have I done to you?”

“I just don't like dressing up and things. Is that a fucking crime?!” Kota yelled back, as Mom and Dad tried to bring some order back to the meal.

“Fine, you don't have to like it! Some of us like to, and you have no idea how lucky you are!”

She got to her feet, tipping the chair over. “LUCKY! You think I'm lucky? FUCK YOU! You don't know anything about me!”

“I know you get to stay a girl!”

Dad grabbed Kota before she could launch herself at me, Mom put her arms around me holding me back. I saw the hatred on her face as she looked at me. “Why did I ever come here, to your perfect home and your perfect life? I should just go back to Whateley!”

“PERFECT!” I screeched. What the hell did she know? My life wasn't perfect and it never had been, now it was just getting worse. “You think I have it perfect! I'm turning into a goddamn boy. I'm going to be a fucking freak! My friends won't even recognize me by the summer!”

Her face went slack. “Y-you're turning into a boy?”

My knees let go and I was crying before I hit the floor.

Dad let go of Kota, who seemed too stunned to do anything. “I-I thought I was the only one.”

“You used to be a boy?” Mom asked catching on more quickly then the rest of us.

Kota turned white, before Dad could do anything she'd run out of the dining room heading for the front door. Mom took off after her.

“She never told me,” Theresa said in amazement.

**


Dakota Morgan

"Fine, you don't have to like it! But some of us like to, and you have no idea how lucky you are!"

That was the final straw. I'd been putting up with this prissy little girly girl's attitude all day long, but now she'd crossed the line. I bolted up from my chair, not even caring that I knocked it over in the process.

"LUCKY! You think I'm lucky? FUCK YOU! You don't know anything about me!"

I poured all my frustration into those words, every ounce of venom that I could muster, and it still wasn't enough. It never would be, not since my voice had betrayed me like the rest of my body. There was just no way for such a feminine sound to convey the kind of menace I intended, and that fact only added to the dagger in my gut. I never asked for this. I never wanted everything that had happened to me in the last two months since I manifested.

"I know you get to stay a girl!"

In that moment I just reacted. All I'd clearly heard was "you" and "girl," but that was precisely what I didn't want to hear. I shifted my weight beneath me in preparation to pounce. I wanted to hurt her. I wanted to vent my frustrations on this spoiled little brat who dared to accuse me of being lucky, but I didn't get the chance. Her dad was upon me even as I tried to leap at her, and he was more than strong enough to hold me back.

Damn it! Why did my mutation have to leave me so helpless? I couldn't even manage a good old-fashioned fight! The best I could do was glare, and try to show her everyone else just how much it hurt. I was beyond caring anymore, I knew they didn't, so why should I? "Why did I ever come here, to your perfect home and your perfect life? I should just go back to Whateley!"

"PERFECT? You think I have it perfect? I'm turning into a goddamn BOY! I'm going to be a fucking freak! My friends won't even recognize me by summer!"

The bottom dropped out of my stomach as her words penetrated my own anger and finally sunk in. I felt my face go slack for a moment. Was she saying...

"Y-you're turning into a boy?" I couldn't help the stutter in my voice as I finally managed to get the words out.

Estelle responded in the worst way I could imagine. She didn't deny it or acknowledge it. She simply crumpled to her knees with a look of anguish on her face that I'd only ever seen the rival of in a mirror.

Estelle's dad let go of me as my shoulders sagged. The burning anger had completely fizzled out, only to be replaced by a dull ache. An ache prompted by a single undeniable fact.

She was like me.

"I...I thought I was the only one..."

The words slipped from my mouth before I could stop them, and I knew it was too late. Mr. Young and Theresa both gave me questioning looks, but I looked on in horror as Mrs. Young's eyes widened in sudden realization.

"You used to be a boy?" came the expected, inevitable, and entirely unwanted question as my heart skipped a beat and I felt all of the blood drain from my face.

I wasn't ready for this, and would never be ready for it. I'd been hiding from it since before I'd gotten to Whateley, ever since my brothers...

I ducked away from Mr. Young's reach before he could even react, and then I bolted. Through the dining room doorway, down the hall into the living room, a guided leap over the couch and a roll across the coffee table to bringing me back to my feet still running. It couldn't have taken more than six seconds to get from the table to the front door, and only a second longer to get it open.

The bitter cold slammed into me, but I didn't care. Without a moment's hesitation, I raced out into the harsh Canadian winter.

***
I don't know how long I ran. Even before I manifested I had been a runner, and part of the best junior high cross country team around, back home in Chicago. In spite of everything that my manifestation had stolen from me, running wasn't one of them. In fact, since my change I could now run harder, faster, and longer than ever, as if that was some small consolation for everything else.

So I ran, heedless of the freezing temperatures and the thick blanket of snow all around. Even though my t-shirt and jeans provided little protection from the cold, I wasn't worried about it. Sure it was uncomfortable, but it wasn't like I could get sick or succumb to frostbite or hypothermia; my mutation made sure of that, just as surely as it made sure I was stuck in this nightmare. Who would have thought that regeneration could be such a curse?

As I ran down the icy streets I couldn't help but think back, even though I didn't want to. Who in their right mind would want to relive the experience of having their own body betray them? I remembered the initial shock of waking up to discover that my green eyes had turned silvery grey, that my sandy colored hair was turning black at the roots. I remembered the following 8 days of agonizing changes, at once so slow and gradual seeming and yet so fast and undeniable. The loss of height had been a big blow, as I shrank from nearly 5'7" down to my current 5'2". And the budding breasts had been just as bad, as they confirmed what was happening to me in a way that the thinning waist, widening hips, and shifting face just couldn't quite compare with. My hair growing out to be long and effortlessly luscious had just been the nail in the coffin, especially when I tried cutting it only to find that it wouldn't stay cut. It always grew right back out within a matter of hours, always stopping just above my now rounded butt. The power testers at Whateley had told me that was because my regen power was keeping me in line with an unusually specific BIT. Lucky me.

The tears I tried to fight back wouldn't listen, and in the freezing cold they weren't fun. I hated the fact that my body had betrayed me, that it had decided all on its own that I should be pretty little girl and had even given me powers that made sure I stayed that way. With my BIT and level four regen, there was absolutely ZERO chance that I would ever be or even look like a guy again. I thought I'd gotten over that; that I could deal with it as long as no one ever knew. Sure I'd never be happy about it, but I could live with it.

But I was wrong. These past two days with Estelle and her family had proven that without a shadow of a doubt. Hiding from it hadn't helped, it still hurt.

Why did Estelle have to be so happy with being girly? With shopping for clothes and looking pretty? Even knowing what I now did, that she was facing a situation similar to mine, I still couldn't bring myself to feel any sympathy for her. Why should I? So she was trying to have a last hurrah in the world of girlhood? She was upset that her friends won't recognize her in a few months?

HAH!!! I'd had my entire life, my friends, my family, my very manhood all ripped away from me in a matter of WEEKS! I'd been rejected, scorned, and even VIOLATED by the very people who should have helped me. Had Wing Nut of the Windy City Guardians not found me after I ran away from it all, I'd still be wandering homeless in the streets of Chicago, without even a legal identity to call my own.

I never had the chance for a last hurrah, so why should she get one? Why did she have a loving and supportive family, parents who were obviously going to great lengths to help her through all of this, while I was stuck with a family that first was ashamed of me, then abused me, and then ultimately rejected my very existence?

How was that supposed to be FAIR?

"KOTA, WATCH OUT!"

The shout came from behind me, and shook me out of my daze just a moment too late. The car that I'd almost stepped out in front of had taken as little notice of me as I had of it, and it was traveling down the road far faster than it reasonably should have been given the icy conditions. I reacted by trying to pivot around and come to a quick stop, but the ice on the ground caused my footing to slip and I continued forward, slamming into the side of the vehicle as it continued on its merry way without so much as a second glance to see what had just hit it. The impact, combined with the slick ground beneath me, sent me crashing to the ground in pain; with scrapes and would be bruises covering much of my body. The worst part was the distinct crack that I heard followed by an intense pain shooting up my leg from might left ankle.

"GOD DAMN IT!" I shouted to the world, not even caring anymore as I rolled over and tried to sit up. A quick glance told me that my ankle was definitely broken, with my foot pointing off in an odd angle. But before I could do any further damage assessment I found a large heavy coat and thick blanket being thrown over my shoulders.

"Shhhh, calm down, Kota, I'm here." The woman best known to the world as Prairie Sun appeared at my side, her voice soothing and gentle. It felt like a knife was digging into my soul. Why couldn't my own mother have treated me like this? Why was I being looked after by a complete stranger who had her own child to look after, when my own mother had not only turned a blind eye to my pain but had allowed...

"Get away from me!" I shouted angrily as fresh tears came to my eyes. I tried to push her away, to make her leave me alone so that I could continue to be angry at the world. "Go take care of Estelle! She obviously needs you more than I do!"

"Kota! I can help you more!" she practically shouted as she grabbed my shoulders and gave me a firm shake. With her strength that was all it took to take the fight right out of me, and then my teary eyes were looking up to meet her own. The pain that I saw reflected there surprised me as much as her grip did. "I know you won't understand this, but I physically CAN'T give my daughter the kind of help she needs right now. I can't hold her tight and tell her that everything will be alright, the way I wish I could."

"So what?" I replied angrily, "you can't help your daughter for whatever reason, so now you're going to make yourself feel better by trying to help me?" I winced in pain for a moment as my ankle snapped itself back into alignment, then tried to shake her hands off and push her away again. "What if I don't want your help, huh?"

Her grip remained firm but gentle.

"Kota, you've been running for over an hour in sub-zero weather. You're hurting so badly right now that you didn't even notice a speeding car that would have plowed right into you if I hadn't called out a warning. You NEED help right now."

"Oh yeah? Well maybe I do, but it shouldn't have to be from you!"

"KOTA!" she said again firmly, taking her hands from my shoulders only to place them on the sides of my face so that I couldn't turn away from her gaze. "Listen to me. Steve and I did some digging to find out about you when Theresa asked if you could come from Christmas. We got in touch with the Windy City Guardians, and they sent us your file."

My eyes widened in shock at that. While I hadn't told Wing Nut and the others any specific details, I had to give them some reason why I was apparently a young female runaway, and why I didn't want to tell them who my family was. So I'd told them that one small part of the truth. Prairie Sun, no Mrs. Young, merely gave a sad, knowing nod in response to my expression.

"Yes, sweetie, I know what happened to you. But I didn't know how bad it really was." She gave me a look that was at once both pleading and apologetic. "I can't even begin to understand what you're going through and feeling right now, but I AM here for you. You don't have to face this alone any longer."

That did it. I caved. The last bit of fight drained out of me as I collapsed into her arms, a fresh wave of tears pouring from my eyes as I clung to her. And as good as her word, Mrs. Young simply held me tight and hugged me close.

Before that moment, I hadn't realized just how much I needed it...

**

The coffee shop was nearly empty when we stepped through the door. There were two clerks behind the counter, a family of four gathered around a fake fireplace in the lounge area, and one older man who looked like a trucker, seated in a corner and seemed to be partaking of a bowl of warm chili. The clerks greeted us warmly as we came inside from under the rapidly darkening sky. If either of them noticed my bloodshot eyes, my torn jeans, or just my generally ragged and disheveled appearance then they hid it very well.

After what seemed like an eternity of my shedding tears on Mrs. Young's shoulder, the superheroine in disguise had decided it was time to get someplace warm so that we could talk. And considering that an evening snowfall was just starting, I'd quite readily agreed. So she'd quickly pulled me to my feet and hugged me close as she guided us to a Tim Hortons just a little further up the road.

I decided I liked the place, and not just because it was warm. There was just an appealing feel to it that I couldn't quite explain, resting somewhere between the comfort of home and the relaxing air of a popular public hangout, even as empty as it currently was.

And the smells where just heavenly! While I'd never been a big fan of the drink itself, the smell of fresh brewed coffee had always appealed to me, and this place had that in spades. Not to mention the sweetness of fresh baked goods and a more rustic scent that I suspected was related to the trucker's chili. As I breathed it all in I was suddenly reminded in the worst way possible that I hadn't finished dinner, and that I'd been running for over an hour, and that my body had expended a fair bit of energy healing itself from my encounter with the moving car.

To put it bluntly, my stomach chose that exact moment to rumble. Loudly.

Mrs. Young only chuckled as my cheeks flushed in embarrassment, then she gave me another reassuring hug. I'd be lying if I said it didn't feel good. Then she gently lifted my chin so I could see her warm smile, and I noticed she'd put her sunglasses back on.

"Go ahead and find a seat and get comfortable," she told me softly, "I'll get you some hot soup and Timbits to go along with our coffee. How do you like yours?"

I tried not to groan, I honestly did. I knew better than to be picky about someone else's show of kindness. But apparently she could see the misgivings in my face because she immediately backpedaled.

"Ah, not a coffee drinker. I suppose I should have asked that first. How about hot chocolate than?"

That was much better, a fact which I assured her of with a nod before she headed up to the counter to order while I made my way over to cozy corner booth on the opposite side of the shop from the few other patrons. I quietly slipped into the booth and let out a sigh as I gazed out the window at the now steadily falling snow, pulling the heavy wool blanket that was still wrapped around my shoulders even tighter. I decided that this felt good. It felt safe, something I hadn't truly felt in far too long, even considering the relative safety of Whateley.

Once I'd decided that, my brain decided it could afford the luxury of wondering what exactly Timbits were.

Fortunately I didn't have to wait long to get my answer, as Mrs. Young soon joined me with the first part of our order in tow. Apparently Timbits are just donut holes with good branding, though the fact that these were honey dipped did merit some extra points in my book. Mrs. Young had requested a large order of the popular treat, as well as two large bowls of steaming French Onion soup that smelled absolutely delicious.

The next several minutes were thankfully devoid of conversation, as I eagerly set about the task of calming my stomach's ravenous desire. By the time Mrs. Young was called up to the counter to retrieve our hot beverages, I had almost finished with my bowl of soup and had already made a significant dent in the Timbits as well. When she returned to the table with our two steaming mugs, she pushed the second bowl of soup in my direction. I tried to refuse, to say that I really didn't need it, but the stern gaze she cast my way was more than enough quell that objection. I blushed rather sheepishly as I accepted the second bowl. While I had to admit that I WAS in fact still hungry, I couldn't help feeling a bit guilty that she wasn't eating anything but a few of the Timbits herself.

After several more minutes of eating, this time with rather less gusto and a more subdued atmosphere, my stomach was finally satisfied. With the soup bowls set aside, only a few of the honey coated pastries remaining, and my somewhat cooled but still warm hot chocolate in hand, there was no good reason for me to avoid the conversation any longer. I looked up to meet Mrs. Young's gaze, seeing that she was worried yet patient and resolved. She wasn't in any hurry to rush me, and that sentiment was both comforting and yet somehow daunting. I sighed and gave her a resigned nod.

"Okay. I guess I'm ready to talk." The words themselves felt heavy as they rolled off of my tongue.

Mrs. Young responded by reaching across the table and gently grasping one of my hands while giving me a warm smile.

"Thank you, Kota. I'm glad to hear you say that." She gave my hand a reassuring squeeze before continuing. "But before we start, I want to lay down a couple of ground rules."

That surprised me, though I hesitated only a moment before nodding for her to continue.

"First, while I want you to talk to me, I won't force you to. This time is for you, so take as much as you need." She paused for a moment to give me a sly grin. "I even have two thousand dollars with the manager's name on it, in case we need him to keep the place open overnight."

I'm glad I didn't have any hot chocolate in my mouth at that point. It would have made a mess when my mouth dropped open. Would she really do that? Just to help me?

As if she could read my mind, she gave me a gentle nod of reassurance and another soft squeeze of my hand. I couldn't keep my eyes from misting again as I swallowed the lump in my throat and nodded my own understanding.

"Good," she practically whispered back, "and the second rule is related to the first. If at any point you feel that you simply cannot continue, that just taking some time won't be enough to get you through it, then all you have to do is tell me and we will stop, no further questions asked. My only request if that becomes the case is that you agree to try again at a later date. Will that work for you?"

The lump was back, and I was forced to swallow it again. Not only was this woman telling me that I could take as much time as I needed, even if it cost her more money then I'd ever had, she was also telling me that it was okay if I wanted to walk away, that she wouldn't be upset if I couldn't handle it just yet. And oddly enough, the simple fact that she was giving me that choice seemed to lighten the load a bit and make it all just a little bit easier to face. With a deep breath, and blinking back the tears in my eyes, I gave her another nod, this one more firm than the last.

"What do you want to know?" I'm proud to say that my voice didn't shake at that point, though a trained ear might have still detected the nervous tension that it carried along.

"Well, I've already mentioned that I've read your file from the WCG, and given the revelation that you let slip following my daughter's outburst at dinner I think I have a good idea of what you've been through. However..." She paused and gave me a gravely serious look. "...I think you and I both know that there are still plenty of details I'm not aware of, and which have had a large impact on you." Now she clasped my hand in both of hers. "So I want YOU to tell me what happened. As much as you can, step by step, in your own words. As wrong as it was, as much as it hurts, and as much as you want to hide from it and wish it never happened, I think you NEED to do this. You need to acknowledge the wrongdoing and the hurt to yourself more than to me, not so you can dwell on it, but so you can stop letting it control you." She captured my eyes with hers again. "Can you do that for me?"

To this day, I don't know if it was the warmth of her hands on mine, or the sincerity of her words, or just the naked compassion that was evident on her face and in her voice, but somehow I found the strength to nod and open my mouth to speak.

I started with everything that had crossed my mind while I was running. I told her about waking up with eyes that weren't my own. I told her about my lost height and my budding breasts. I told her of how my socialite parents had been ashamed when they first realized that I was a mutant. I told her about their stubborn denial when it became all too obvious how I was changing. And I started to tell her about my brothers...but I couldn't.

I'd hit a wall, and I couldn't bring myself to say it, no matter how hard I tried. I would open my mouth but nothing would come out, and the frustration of that caused the tears I'd been managing to hold back to start flowing again. God I felt like such a weakling. I couldn't bring myself to say a few simple words, and now here I was getting weepy about it.

At that point Mrs. Young stood up from her seat on the other side of the booth and came over next to me, wrapping me in her fiercest embrace yet.

"It's okay, Kota. We can stop if you need to."

I shook my head fiercely at that. Now that I'd decided I wanted to say it, I HAD to get it out somehow. I couldn't stop here and let it get the best of me. If only I could convince my mouth to work properly. It seemed ridiculous that the one thing I couldn't bring myself to admit was the very thing that she already knew before I'd even met her.

"Well okay then, just take your time. There's no rush. Just remember that they can't hurt you anymore. They're long gone from your life, through their own actions, not yours. And even if they weren't, there's no way that I would ever let them hurt you again." She took my hand in hers again as she squeezed me tight against her. And that was all it took to break down the wall.

"They RAPED me," I finally managed to get out, and just like that the floodgates were opened. "It was Halloween, two weeks from when I'd first started changing. By then the change was done, so they took me, as their new little sister, to a salon. They got my new hair styled and paid for my first ever experience with makeup. They dressed me up in a girly princess costume. Then they took me home. They made me do things to them that I'd only seen on the net and never done, I couldn't even imagined doing them for someone else. And after that they each...they each..."

"They each went all the way with you, didn't they?" The tone of her voice told me that she already knew the answer. She was just trying to help me admit it.

"Yes." The one word felt to me that it had all the weight of the world contained within it. "First Jonathan, then Neil, then Hector. Oldest to youngest, as if it really mattered who went first."

I pulled away from Mrs. Young's embrace for a moment so that I could look up into her face before I continued. I glimpsed her eyes under the glasses, they reflected the pain that was tearing me apart.

"My own brothers, who I had always adored and looked up to while growing up, who I wanted to be like, refused to see me as their little... sibling. They told me to my face that their little brother was dead, and that I was just a pretty little toy that had taken his place. A pretty toy that they could use and abuse as much as they wanted because legally, I didn't exist."

I paused for just a moment, my eyes still meeting hers as they now flashed with a barely contained fire. Then I said perhaps the hardest words yet.

"I don't want to be a pretty little toy..."

Prairie Sun's response was immediate as she pulled me close and held me firmly while I cried. I could feel her own warm tears flowing against the top of my head.

"No, Kota, don't you EVER think that," came her firm response as she continued to hold me tight. "Don't you EVER think that you're just somebody's plaything."

She released her hold on me and gently pushed me back just so that she could take my face in her hands again, as she'd done out on roadside to ensure that I met her gaze.

"You are a PERSON, Kota, and don't ever let anyone convince you otherwise. You're a human being, and apparently a damn sight better an example of such than the so-called family that raised you. Don't let what they've done to you define you any longer." And with that she placed a firm but gentle kiss right on my forehead. It was a gesture that I'd never received before, and it set me off again.

I leaned in again and wrapped my arms around her, holding on just as tightly as she was holding me. And yes, I cried. You would think that I'd be out of tears by now with all the crying I'd already done, but apparently that wasn't the case. Probably a regenerator thing.

But whatever the reason, I didn't care. I didn't even care that I was being "girly" in that moment. Here was a woman who genuinely cared about me in a way that even my own mother hadn't shown me, and that was all that mattered.

***
Once that bout of crying was over the words flowed much easier. I told Mrs. Young about running away after three days in my brothers' hands, with my parents idly standing by and doing nothing. I told her about being found by Wing Nut and identified as yet another newly manifested mutant fleeing a home that had turned hostile. I explained how I'd been admitted to Whateley late on a hardship scholarship. And I told her about being in Whitman, about having to listen to so many other girls' problems while hiding my own, having everyone around me assume that everything was perfectly alright for me.

It still hurt to talk about all of that, for sure, but it wasn't the crippling, gut-wrenching, world-shattering hurt that my own family had inflicted on me. And as I brought my story back around full circle to my arrival here in Edmonton, I could honestly say that it felt just a bit easier to breath. I certainly wouldn't say that I was all better now, but I could see that my self-imposed prison cell had at least started to crumble, and that I could possibly even have a genuine discussion with my counselor once I returned to Whateley.

"I'm so proud of you, Kota," Mrs. Young finally said to me as she pulled me into a lighter and less serious but still warm hug. "I know this wasn't easy for you, but I'm glad you worked your way through it. Has it helped you to maybe sort some things out for yourself a bit?"

"Yeah," I replied simply as I held her close for just a few seconds, "it still hurts, but not as bad. I think I can see a light at the end of tunnel, if you know what I mean."

"I'm pretty sure I do," she told me gently. "Just promise me that you'll keep walking towards that light, even if the tunnel seems to keep getting longer. You'll get out of the cave eventually, even if it takes a while."

"Yes ma'am," I replied firmly, with more confidence than I'd felt in a long time, "I think I can do that." Then a worrisome thought came to mind and just had to be voiced. "I'll still be me when I come out of it, right?" Even I could hear the tremble in my voice for that one.

Mrs. Young once again pushed me back to meet her gaze, her hand on my chin to make sure I didn't look away.

"Yes, Kota, I can promise that you will still be you." Her words were firm in spite of being tinged with sadness. "You'll undoubtedly be different, shaped and changed by your unique experiences, but you will never stop being you. Don't ever forget that."

We embraced again. Not as tearfully this time, but I didn't treasure it any less. It was amazing how just talking about what I'd been through could make me so comfortable with hugging someone, considering that I'd never been a very touchy-feely person. I guess this was just one of those kinds of changes that Mrs. Young was talking about, and that thought was both scary and oddly comforting.

"This doesn't mean I have to start being girly now, does it?" I asked only half jokingly, "because I don't think I'm quite ready for that, or if I ever will be." Then I gave a slight groan. "I'm acting just like Estelle right now, aren't I? Fighting back against the inevitable and..."

Mrs. Young placed a single finger on my lips, silencing me as swiftly as if she had covered my whole mouth.

"Shhhh...don't worry about Estelle, you have enough troubles of your own to deal with." Her eyes started to glisten a bit with an anguish that she struggled valiantly to conceal. "Estelle's situation is more complicated than you realize, no less complicated than your own in fact, only for different reasons. I can only hope that she can come to terms with it in her own time and in her own way, just like you still have to do."

I nodded uncomfortably at that, unsure of exactly what she meant though I did have a vague idea. She'd told me that she physically couldn't help Estelle the way that she was helping me, and while I didn't really understand how that could be, I didn't believe that she was lying to me. And if Estelle couldn't lean on her mother's support for some reason, than her situation was even more similar to my own than I'd first realized.

Could I maybe be of some help to her, the way that her mother was being of help to me? Could I honestly bring myself to help someone who was so angrily fighting back against everything I wished I still had? As much as the thought pained me, I didn't honestly know if I could or not. I struggled to form words to express that, but Mrs. Young spoke up first.

"Can I ask you to promise me one more thing?"

I swallowed hard and gave a firm nod.

"I won't ask you to try reasoning with Estelle about her situation, not when I know how stubborn she can be and how difficult that might be for you to deal with. But whenever she says or does something that upsets you could you please keep in mind just what she's going through? I know that's asking a lot of you, but right now you're **the only person she knows who has a chance of really understanding what she's dealing with."

Even without the desperate pleading in her voice and in her eyes, I knew what I was going to say. Once again she'd given me just what I needed to hear.

"I can't promise that I'll handle it well, but there's no way I won't be keeping it in mind. I'll do my best not to argue with her or make things any harder for her to deal with, but I can't promise that I won't mess that up."

Now it was her turn to swallow hard and nod. If she was upset by my response she did a good job of not letting it show. "Thank you. That's all I can ask, that you give it your best. And I really am sorry to have to ask all this of you, but since you'll be here through the end of the holidays..."

"It'll be something I have to deal with anyways," I finished for her before taking a deep breath. She smiled and gave me another quick hug, which I found myself appreciating more and more. As I said before, I'd never been a very touchy kind of guy, but her hugs just felt so RIGHT. I knew without a shadow of a doubt that I could certainly get used to them.

She had one last thing to say as she held me. “After Christmas, we're going to get some company, someone we were introduced to through Estelle's doctor. She went through the same thing you did. She's going to talk to Estelle, if you want you can meet her to. Together with Estelle or by yourself.”

It was hard to believe that in one night I would find one person changing like I had, now she was telling me there was another one. “I'll see her. I'll try to see her with Estelle.”

That got another squeeze of encouragement.

Finally we released each other as Mrs. Young cleared her throat and suddenly became more businesslike.

"Well, it's getting late, and we need to get back. I called Steve when we arrived earlier so he wouldn't worry about us, now I'll let him know to come pick us up. I don't know about you, but I really don't feel like walking several kilometers through the snow in the middle of the night."

"Yeah, that's something I'd rather avoid as well," I adamantly agreed.

While Mrs. Young called her husband to see about getting us a ride, I made a point to bring our nearly-forgotten dishes back up to the counter where the manager was waiting. A quick glance at the clock on the wall told me that it was nearly 11:00pm, almost an hour past the shop's scheduled closing time.

"Um...I'm sorry, sir, we didn't mean to..."

He silenced me with an upraised palm, his face was warm and kind rather than cold and angry that I had expected.

"No need to apologize, little lady, I could tell that your conversation was more important than my late night movie at home."

That response confused me, and it must have shown on my face because the man just chuckled before reaching into his pocket and pulling out a familiar looking plastic ID card. Apparently his codename was Resonance, and he was rated as a receptive Empath-2. My eyes widened at that revelation.

"You're a hero too?"

"Oh no," he quickly replied, though his deep belly laugh made that a bit of a struggle, "I'm not really much of a hero type. I'm just an average Joe mutant trying to make a living, who just happens to also be decent friends with Prairie Sun and Fly By. They've asked for my assistance more than a few times to help out young mutants like yourself, though usually they don't really need much assistance from me. They're both good people, and you kids are usually pretty quick to pick up on that and open up."

He leaned forward over the counter and looked me right in the eyes.

"Listen. I don't really know what you're going through, only that it's been causing you a lot of heartache and pain for a good while. But trust me when I say that, whatever it is, it WILL get better with time."

I couldn't help but smile at that. Here was a man who had no clue what I was facing, and yet he would take the time to encourage me through it, genuinely believing that it would get better. I have to say that it was hard to not believe him.

"Just had to get in your little heart-to-heart as well, huh Reese?" Mrs. Young said with a smile as she walked up behind me, addressing the man I only knew as Resonance by his apparent first name. It didn't escape my notice that she placed a check face down on the counter and slid it across to him.

"And why shouldn't I, Sun? Encouraging words don't cost me anything, and they usually do a world of good for the person who hears them." Then he gave Sun a stern frown before sliding the check, still face down and unlooked-at, back across the counter. "And I'm serious about the no cost thing. You know I don't take payment for things like this."

Sun merely nodded with a smile that was no less firm.

"Of course I know that, Reese. But you should also know me well enough to realize that I'm not offering this lightly." She paused for a moment and I got the distinct impression that she was looking at me. "This conversation hit a lot closer to home than the usual ones, and I appreciated your usual tact of not interrupting so much more because of that. I'm afraid that this time I really must insist." And with that she firmly slid the check across the counter one more time.

I felt my cheeks flush as Resonance gave me a long appraising look, as though he was seeing me again for the first time and trying to gauge what was different. It was somewhat uncomfortable, but it didn't take long for him to shift his eyes back to Sun. He did take the check though, and without looking at it folded it up and added it to the MID in his pocket.

"Alright, I'll take it this time, but don't expect it to happen again." Then he turned his eyes back to me, though this time they were much friendlier. "You must be something else, kid. Remember what I said. Tough it out and things will get better." And with that he gave me a gruff nod and turned away, taking our dishes with him to small kitchen in the back.

Mrs. Young placed a hand on my shoulder and started guiding me away from the counter and towards the door.

"Don't mind him too much" she said gently, "he really has a big heart and a gentle soul, it's just that he's very firm about sticking to his principles and I just asked him to ignore a big one for the time being."

"Yeah, he seemed nice enough, and I guess I can see how important his principles are to him, so I can kind of understand the moodiness there at the end."

"Oh, I wouldn't worry about that," she said as she opened the door with an oddly mischievous smile, "he'll be getting over it rather sooner than you might think."

Okay, what was THAT supposed to mean? As I hugged my blanket tighter around me to combat the freezing night air and looked out to see Mr. Young already waiting for us in the family vehicle, I considered asking Mrs. Young that very question. Before I could open my mouth to ask however, I was startled by the sound of a positively thunderous laugh that erupted from the kitchen on the other side of the hall.

"Prairie Sun, you sneaky little schemer! Ten dollars?! You got me all riled up over a stinkin' HOUR at MINIMUM WAGE?!"

Even as my jaw dropped from the sheer hilarity contained in those words, Mrs. Young was grabbing me by the shoulder with a broad grin and dragging me out into the parking lot through the falling snow.

Could this night get any stranger?



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