Francis sat behind a mound of boxes, nearly buried under wrapping paper and ribbons. He gleefully opened present after present, letting out squeals and hoots with each gift. The students sat at his feet, or at nearby picnic tables, finishing their hotdogs and cheering when Francis would hold up his brand new belonging to share. His smile was blinding, ear to ear, and his emerald eyes glowed with delight.
Logan sat on a table nearby, watching the procedings, grinning at the kid's reaction to it all. A sad thought haunted him. The boy was now fourteen, and this was probably his first real birthday party. He had seen many a party at the school, but he had never seen the pure, unbridled joy that he was now seeing in the boy. Everything the kid did or saw was new to him. Even something that everyone took for granted, going to a movie. The sight of the kid, sitting in his seat with the bucket of popcorn on his lap, his eyes bulging out when the lights went down and the movie roared to life, would live in Logan's mind for a long time to come. He sat, mouth hanging open, for an hour and a half, and never ate any of his snack. He was afraid he would miss something. That sight repeatedly popped into Logan's mind. The image of the boy picking out his first pair of shoes, by himself. The image of the boy the first time he got an A on a test. Everything was so new and exciting. Logan reluctantly found himself caught up in the excitement as well. He did everything he could to show Francis as much of the world as was humanly possible. He planned day trips to the beach, just the two of them. He took rides up into the mountains, took the kid into Manhattan, went on camping trips, fishing trips, the gamut. It was often as enjoyable for Logan as it was for Francis. He even consulted with the professor, asking for permission to take Francis on a trip to Canada with him. The professor agreed immediately, as long as it was educational, of course.
Logan was knocked out of his reverie by a loud squeal. He looked over at Francis, and saw him holding up an over sized New York Yankees jersey. Once more, the boy bounced, and his friends all cheered. He crawled into his jersey, and modeled it for the crowd, causing more hoots.
"That is a nice gift you got him, Logan." Ororo sat next to him, finishing her salad. "It's a little big."
"He'll grow into it. Isn't that how the kids are wearing them these days?"
"Uh, well yeah, I guess you're right. It's really nice. He loves it."
They once again turned their attention to the boy, opening his last gift. Again, he let out a loud squeal, and he opened the box for his brand new Game Boy. Judging by the hug he gave Stephanie, it must have come from her.
"That is just so cute. He really likes her, doesn't he?"
"Yeah, I guess so. She really likes him, too." Logan noticed as he watched the warm embrace between the two. "Taught him well, huh?"
"A little too well. Hey, where's the cake?"
"Jean's in charge of that."
"I hear it's lemon?" Ororo wore a hopeful look.
In a flash, Logan again wore Francis around his middle. The boy gave him another bear hug, speaking muffled thank yous into the man's chest. Logan faught to push the kid away.
"Ok, ok. Take it easy." He glanced over at Storm, who was near tears laughing. He also noticed Scott and Jean approaching, making him even more uncomfortable. "Ok. I get the message. Now get the fuck off." The boy let go, and smiled up at his friend and guardian.
"This was the greatest day. Thank you for my shirt. I'm gonna wear it all the time."
"Won't you get a little smelly?"
"No." The boy giggled. "I'll put it in the wash sometimes. Hey, is that my cake?" He ran toward Scott and Jean, and they struggled not to dump the cake. "Lemme see! It has my name on it! Happy Birthday Francis. And the letters are green. I love green. Is it lemon? Lemon is my favorite, but I suppose chocolate would have been ok."
"Yes, it's lemon. That's Storm's favorite as well." Jean patted him with her free hand. "Come on, let's light the candles."
"Don't forget, there's supposed to be 14 of them, ok?"
"I remember, and one to grow on."
"I forgot about that. Come on Logan." He took Logan by the arm, and tried to drag him along.
"I'll stay here-"
"Come on. You gotta help me. I don't know what to do."
Logan looked at Jean, who was giving him a warm smile. "Go on, help him out."
Scott, silent until now, decided to add his two cents. "Yeah, you have plenty of hot air, you can help him blow out the candles."
Logan muttered an audible "Go fuck yourself" under his breath, and allowed himself to be dragged toward the table. He sat down, and immediately Francis plopped himself in his lap. The large cake was placed in front of the boy, and the candles were lit. As one, everyone began singing. Logan wanted to get away but he was trapped, sitting under a bouncing, blushing boy. He managed to sit through the out of tune song, wanting to hit something, and then it was time to blow out the candles. Francis took a deep breath, and blew, extinguishing all the candles in one shot. The assembled children cheered and grabbed their plates, and Jean allowed Francis to make the first cut.
After what seemed like an eternity with the boy planted on his lap, he finally was allowed to stand up. He grabbed his piece of cake, and slunk away, before he was subjected to yet another slobbering bear hug. He did not get far, however, as he was stopped by Stephanie.
"Mr. Logan? Thank you for inviting me to the birthday party. I had a nice time."
He looked down at the girl, and out of the corner of his eye, he could just see her mother, hiding behind a hedge. "Well, don't thank me. Francis invited you." He gave her his best warm smile, and continued. "I think the kid would like it if you could come back again. Maybe have another swim."
"Ooo...I'd love to. And ride the horses? Can we ride the horses?"
"Don't see why not."
"Well, mommy says it's time to go. I have to go see my father tomorrow, so I need my rest. I have to go say goodbye to Francis now." She turned and bounced away, her pony tail flopping damply behind her.
He turned and began to walk toward the hedge Anita was hiding behind, taking a forkful of cake. He could hear the rustling of the branches. As he passed, he spoke. "Did you have cake? It's great. Hope you can come back again, real soon." He smiled when he heard her gasp, and held back a laugh when he heard a thud. She had leaned a little too far into the hedge, and it gave way under her, sending her crashing to the ground.
As he walked toward the mansion, he called over his shoulder. "Careful, there. Don't hurt yourself." He continued on his way, as she muttered and thrashed in the tall hedge.
On the patio behind the mansion, the professor sat, watching the festivities. He had been noticably absent during the day, and unusually distracted. Logan approached him, still shoveling the cake into his mouth.
"Better get some before it's gone." He managed to say with a full mouth.
"Yes, I believe Jean is taking care of that. Did Francis enjoy himself today?"
"Hell, yeah. I'll be hearing about it for weeks." He forked the last of the cake into his mouth.
"I'm glad to hear that." Something about the professor's demeanor just wasn't right this day. Logan didn't need to be a telepath to know that something was wrong. He studied Xavier's face a bit more closely. He hadn't seen the man quite this worried in some time. This was not good.
"So, what's up?"
The professor kept his eyes on the children, smiling when he saw Francis hug Stephanie. "I would prefer to discuss it when the party is over."
Logan felt a little tremor shoot up his spine. This was serious. His mind began to work over time, wondering exactly what was wrong, who they would have to fight. Things had been very quiet as of late. No trouble, no troublemakers to deal with. He was distracted enough that Xavier had to snap him back to reality.
"I believe Mrs. Warren and Stephanie are leaving. Perhaps you should say goodbye to them before they do." Xavier looked up at the big man before him, who now wore an expression of concern. He smiled warmly at him. "Logan. I assure you, we are not in for a fight. At least not the type of fight you are envisioning. Please, I will explain everything later. Now go say goodbye to our guests."
Logan was entirely confused now. He was about to protest, but was stopped short.
"Oh, and Logan? Please go easy on Mrs. Warren. You tend to make her a bit....flustered." He gave a wry smile, and spun his chair around to go back inside his office, before Logan could respond. He just watched the man disappear through the glass doors, then turned to walk toward the drive way, still wondering what the professor meant.
He neared Anita's car, and warmed a bit when he noticed the two teenagers once again embracing. They both seemed to be the touchy-feely type, and for that reason alone they seemed a perfect match. They were both petite, for lack of a better word, both seemed to bounce endlessly although Francis did have the edge in that department, both had a mouth full of metal, and both were highly excitable. It was not so much a true romance, but rather an intense friendship, as Logan felt that neither was quite mature enough emotionally for anything else. They did kiss on occasion, but probably only because they felt they had to, because other couples did. It certainly was not the tonsil-hockey type kiss, by any stretch of the imagination. He always dreaded the thought of having to pry their braces apart.
As he neared, he also noticed Anita fumbling in her bag, looking for her keys. She looked up and saw Logan approach, still damp, still shirtless, and promptly dumped her bag all over the drive-way. Logan held back his snicker. Yup, flustered.
Francis also noticed Logan approach, and bolted for the big man. Logan stopped and held out his hand. "Ah,ah. No more hugs, my ribs are getting sore."
Francis stopped as well, and let out a giggle, that was imitated by Stephanie. "No they aren't. You're joking. Hey, can Steph come over next weekend? We want to go riding. Do you think that would be ok?"
Logan shot a quick glance at Anita, still doubled over, hurriedly repacking her bag. "Sure. No problem. Weather permitting. Uh.....need any help?"
"NO!" Anita answered a bit excitedly. "Uh, no. I've got it under control."
He just watched her. "Uh huh." He turned his attention to Francis again. "You make sure you clean up the mess, and take all your stuff back to your room, got it?"
The boy nodded. "Ok. No problem." The boy gave Stephanie a final hug and kiss on the cheek. "I'll see you next week ok? You can call me if you want, or do you want me to call you?"
Stephanie was climbing into the car, as was her mother. "Naw, I'll call you tomorrow from my dad's."
The car roared to life and waves were exchanged, before Stephanie's mother sped off, barely missing two other parked cars.
Francis watched them pull out of the lane before turning to Logan. "How come Steph's mother gets so nervous when you're around? I think she likes you, but it's hard to tell. She never wants to talk to you. How come? Steph says she asks about you all the time."
Logan gave Francis a sidelong glance. "Hmm, don't know."
"Mr. Scott says it's your animal mag-met-tiz-um."
"Mr. Scott is an asshole. Go on. Gather all your stuff up. I gotta go talk to the professor."
"Can I go swimming again?"
"After the mess is cleaned up. You know how Mr. Scott feels about messes."
"Uh huh. Anal."
"You got it, kid."