_Better Than Good Enough_by Zi Ling, Tzuriel Kabuki, Argemone Lehnsherr, Pietro Maximoff, & some lady who has no idea what she just started
The food had been good and the company even better, Zi mused as she lifted her glass and peered at Taz over the top of it. She always loved his company, he was fun and sweet and laid back, everything she needed and wanted. Just as she took a sip, she glanced at her personal chronometer and actually groaned. "Oh no..." she whispered. "I'm late!"
Blue eyes widened slightly as Taz looked down at his own chronometer. "Uh oh. It's my fault, Zi," he said hastily as he began cleaning up the remains of their shared meal. "I'm not used to keeping a time table when I'm actually at school."
"It's okay, I'm sure it's okay," she said, almost as if she was trying to convince herself more than him. "I've really got to go though." She leaned in and kissed his cheek. "I'm sorry."
He gave her a brief hug then kissed her forehead. "Do you want me to walk you back? I'm a reputable alibi. Everybody believes me," he said with a small grin.
"Please? She might believe you, she never believes me," Zi sighed, grabbing her bag and making for the door. "Just... quickly?"
"Lead the way," Taz said simply, brushing his jacket and slacks straight as he made to follow. "If it's my fault, it's my fault. I'm an awful liar so they'd know if I was putting something on."
They made their way through the campus and people greeted them, Zi in particular, as they sped along. Zi grabbed Taz's hand and gave it a squeeze as they approached her office. "It'll be fine," she repeated over and over. As she pushed open the door, a white haired woman glanced up from her work and actually smiled vindictively.
"Late again, and for the last time," she said with a smile."Ah, excuse me, ma'am, but that's my fault completely," Taz said with his best professional smile. "I had my mind in study time not real time."
The woman took in the young man and snorted. "Your fault but her responsibility. I finally have cause to do this, even a scruffy student won't stop me." With glee, she grabbed her PADD, called up the relevant file and handed it over. "You're fired."
Pale and clearly shaken, Zi took the PADD and read it over. "I...""Now wait just a minute," Taz protested. "You can't fire the women just for one lateness. There are laws about that sort of thing." Even as he said that, he looked over his appearance. 'Scruffy'? He could be but not when he was out with Zi. He wouldn't disrespect her that way. "One lateness is not cause to dismiss somebody."
"No but late every morning this week is perfect cause," the woman told him, her eyes shining maliciously.
"I... I explained those... I had to go..." Zi started."Back to that school for freaks, yes, you said," the supervisor snarled. "They should keep all you freaks together, that's what I say."
Taz blinked. Zi was Chinese. He was, himself, a serious mixture of Asian cultures from generations back. "Are you insane, lady?" he asked. "Are you seriously calling me, whose brother is the circuit judge for the entire state, a freak? I think you've lost it."
"You're one of those mutants too, are you? Figures." The woman sniffed in disgust, her nose wrinkling as if a bad smell was invading it.
Zi bit back her retort and almost closed in on herself. She hadn't told him, she didn't want him to know, that was her own private business. "We're not freaks!" she hissed, her cheeks beginning to dampen with her tears.
"Are you really?" he asked Zi curiously, his heart breaking at the sight of her tears. They reminded him of when they'd first met.
"Oh yes, she's one of those alright," the supervisor crowed. "And she's fired. No more freaks in here, thank you very much."
"Y... yes.""You," he said, sapphire blue eyes going quite cold as he stared at the older woman, "really need to shut up before you did yourself in a deeper hole than you already are in." He squeezed Zi's hand gently, offering her a quick smile, before placing both hands flat on the supervisor's desk. "You are starting the wrong fight with the wrong man. God doesn't like persecutors, lady. He even said 'blessed are you who are persecuted for justice's sake'. I suggest you apologize."
"And I suggest you help your friend clear her desk because she's out, no matter what," the woman informed him.
Zi hugged her arms over her stomach so tightly she shook. If a person looked at her too closely, they'd realise that the other side of the room was just visible through her skin, but only just. It had taken years but she was normally a master of her mutation, except today it was slowly slipping.
"Alright but don't say I didn't warn you," Taz said with an oddly calm smile. "You are going to have to deal with God when He gets to you but the more mortal people aren't going to be too happy either. They aren't as pleasant as me." He stood up straight and wiped his palms against each other, as if to wash off the filth he'd come in contact with simply by touching the woman's desk. He then held out one hand to Zi. "Come on, pretty lady, I don't think Broomhilda here knows what kind of fuse she just lit."
"I just... I need to get my things..." Zi whispered as she sort of wandered over to her desk, her old desk, and pulled open the drawers. There wasn't much in them, a PADD and some hair slides. On the desk was a small stuffed crocodile that she put in her pocket as she gathered the other things and moved to Taz's side. "Ready..."
"Trust me, Zi, everything's going to be fine but I may just be getting in trouble right now," Taz said mildly. He left her side for a minute to stand in front of the supervisor one more time, looming over her with a peculiar smile on his face. "Last chance before I let Cerberus lose off his chains and he drags your sorry self to the hell you deserve."
"I have no idea what you're talking about," the pompous supervisor sniffed imperiously. "Now take your silly girl friend and get out of my office!"
"Don't say I didn't warn you," he said with an extremely rare nasty smile. "Come on, Zi, I think you've got better places to be. That and we have to go find Cerberus."
"Okay..." Her whole density was thinning, any lights shone straight through her skin as she took his hand and held it tightly. She'd once told him she was invisible and she'd meant it quite literally.
"Oh wow..." Taz blinked. He was still holding her hand but..."Umm, now that is way too cool. I'm impressed."
"Hmm?" Zi said absently. She glanced down at her hand and gasped. "Nooooo..... Oh no...... How do I turn it off?" she whispered desperately as she became completely invisible.
"Uh oh," Taz said softly, absently whispering a prayer under his breath. "If it's anything like what a friend of mine said," he began, addressing the spot he'd last seen her in, "you can just think yourself back to visible."
"I can't! I did this in school once and I was stuck for a week!" She held onto him tightly, closing her eyes and trying not to panic.
He felt her touch and it was the oddest sensation, to put his arms around someone he could actually see. "Think of me as an anchor then, a bit of something substantial to hold on to," he said calmly.
"I'm sorry..." she whispered, her face buried in his chest. "I... I should have told you... But... I liked you so much... and... and I didn't want you to have to choose."
"Because you're exactly as God made you?" he asked softly, wishing he could see her face. "It's alright, Zi, I've come to meet some people who have allowed me to understand exactly what you mean so there'll be no choosing, especially when there isn't a choice to be made."
Slowly, she began to change back, her form solidifying once again, as she clutched onto him. "I'm in love with you, you know," she whispered.
Taz, conscious of the fact that they were still quite being stared at by a few people, simply kissed her lightly. "Love you, too, Zi," he said softly. "I'm not going to let what she did just go away. It's wrong and it's wrong directed at somebody who means the world to me."
"Let her be," she whispered. "She won, I need to move on and that's the end of it."
"Nah, I don't think so," Taz said as he steered her toward the exit. "You know that social injustice just ticks me off. There's that plus the fact that it would help any other mutants who get put in a similar position. Would you want this to happen to anyone else?"
"No..." she said softly. She followed him mutely for a while until they were outside and then she just stopped and stared around. "You know, I won't be coming back here ever."
"I don't blame you. That atmosphere's just plain ugly," he said grimly. "You know, if that woman had been a man, she'd have her lights punched out."
"No because then you'd be in jail and that's not a good thing," Zi said firmly. Something seemed to have changed in her, she was brighter, more relaxed and less frightened as she walked away from that place for the last time.
Taz laughed brightly at that. "No, no it isn't but there are ways of getting things done without me losing my temper. That would involve introducing you to a friend of mine whose sister, I think he said is an attorney. So's my brother but I somehow think she'd be more suited to the occasion."
"Why's that?" Zi asked casually as they left the campus. "And where are we going?"
"I'd say right now but I have no idea where the heck he is. I actually haven't seen him in a while actually," Taz mused as he fished about his pockets for his portable comm. "Ah, there it is. I stored the number any way. He's a bit of an arrogant jerk but a decent man really."
After another five minutes of beating his head against the concrete wall that was trying to talk to Inhumans, Pietro was ready to hit something. He was ready to break things or take off on another pointless run. He'd been just about to do that when his comm beeped. "Madusa, if that's you, I'm going to strangle---oh, you're not Madusa." He blinked in surprise at seeing Taz. He hadn't seen the man since his return to Genosha, though they'd played message tag often enough.
"No, I'm not, thank you very much," Taz said with a wry smile. "Listen, man, I need help and I honestly think you are the man to go to."
"Yeah? Why'sthat? NevermindIdon'tcare. Tellmewhereyouare," Pietro said brightly. After Taz did just that, the speedster laughed. "Easy time. Be right there." Then he clicked off.
Zi blinked at the face just zipping off the screen. "You know Quicksilver," she said in soft awe.
"You know who he is?" Taz asked curiously. "I really can't tell you how we met but Pietro's an interesting character."
"Of course I do! He's an Avenger, or he was. I always wanted to be an Avenger or an X-man when I was at Xavier's but I was too timid."
"Zi Ling, you silly woman, you never told me you went there. Even I've heard of that school," Taz said brightly. "Ah but then I'd've figured out the secret so--"
A gust of wind, despite the fact that the San Francisco air was relatively still, almost spun Taz around. Then the wind took the form of a tall, thin, white haired man. "Youcalled?" Pietro asked. Then he noticed that the younger man had his arm around a timid looking woman. "Hi, you must be the girl with the cookies."
"Hi," Zi said softly. She sort of froze and an almost fan-girl expression crossed her face as she murmured, "You're Pietro Maximoff." It took every bit of Taz's self control to not laugh at the change in Pietro's demeanor. He knew the man's ego was a bit inflated while also being fragile. He could practically see it puff up at Zi's words. "Quicksilver in the flesh," he said with a theatrical bow.
"Pietro, this is, as you so geniusly deduced, my girlfriend, Zi Ling, who, until a short while ago, I didn't know had something in common with you," Taz began.
"I do?" Zi blinked and then she blushed deeply. "You mean the whole mutant thing... Yeah... I guess I do."
Taz hugged her slightly. "Well, yeah but you're way better looking than him," he said deadpan.
"Bite me, Taz," Pietro retorted. "Zi, if half of what this guy said about you is true, you're already a nice girl. That you're superioris just makes it all the better. What's the matter any way?" He peered closely at Zi. "You've been crying. What'd you do, Taz?"
"He didn't do anything!" Zi said, her eyes wide as she scrubbed at her cheeks to remove the trace of her tears. "I... I got fired... I... I keep being late... so they fired me... I told her why! But she didn't believe I know Susan Richards... and that I still see her about... about my mutation..."
"Relax, kid," Pietro said in a gentler tone, "I don't think Boy Scout here would hurt anybody's feelings without having an arm fall off or something."
"And the hag came out and called her a freak," Taz added with righteous indignation. "And she said she was looking for excuses to fire so she could get rid of her because she's a mutant."
It was easy to see when Pietro was angry. The crimson flush of feeling climbed all the way to his hairline. "What the fuck?" he snapped, despite knowing the word would irk Taz. "I have to call my sister."
Zi actually flinched when Pietro swore so violently but she managed to stay where she was rather than hide behind Taz. "What will your sister do?"
"She's a lawyer," Pietro explained, "and probably way better at doing anything about this than me." He stared hard at his hand comm. "C'mon, Argemone, answer will ya?"
"Oh, you got to see your twin then?" Taz asked. "Wrong sister," Pietro muttered, still staring at the phone.Argemone glanced at her comm and frowned. "Pietro?" she said softly as she answered.
"You know how Father's always going on about how baselines treat us wrongly?" he began at his usual too fast pace, not even giving her a chance to blink. "You want the chance to do something about it on an up close and personal basis?"
"Of course," she said, straightening up. "Tell me."He proceeded with a rapid fire account of what Taz and Zi had told him then, slowing down just a fraction, he added, "Look, this is the guy who--well I don't know what Father told you--but this is the guy who helped me out and his girlfriend seems like a girl. I'd appreciate it on top of it being a righting of a wrong."
"Righting of wrongs is why I joined the Brotherhood in the first place," Argemone reminded him as she brought her calendar up on her screen. "Okay... I have a gap to meet her tomorrow at three. If she's free, I'll meet her. If not, let her call and I'm available over the comm any time."
Pietro shrugged and tossed the unit to Zi. "My sister Argemone," he said simply.
Wonderful, Argemone thought sourly. "Hi," she said with a bright smile. "My name's Argemone and I'm Pietro's sister, for my sins. Are you free tomorrow at 3?"
"Um... sure..." Zi said softly. She recognised the woman, she'd been at Xavier's at the same time as her brother, Gareth, but she'd been above him. "Can... can I bright Taz..."
"Anything that'll make you more comfortable." Argemone nodded, her ears shaking slightly. "I'll see you tomorrow."
Taz simply rubbed her arm in a gesture of comfort but he was also grinning. "This is pretty cool: a road trip with a reason," he said brightly. "Just my sort of thing."
"Glad you're enjoying it," said the sarcastic voice from the comm. "Give this back to my brother, I want a word or ten."
"Yes, Argemone?" Pietro asked in all innocence, white lashes doing nothing to make him at all angelic.
She rolled her eyes at him and stuck out her tongue. "Come with them. I've got an idea for our father, I'd like your help convincing him."
"I was going to anyway since Mr. Nice Guy's just a baseline and really can't step on Genosha without a pass and Nice Girl would get lost getting to the palace and--" Pietro began.
"Slow down," Taz muttered good naturedly."Shut up, Taz," Pietro countered. "So, yeah, I'll help convince the old man of anything that's good for him, Argemone, you know that."
"And bring Jennifer," she added with a bright smile and sparkling eyes. "She can help out!"
Ice blue eyes twinkled at that. "You don't think he'll have a fit?""Nah, I'll invite Jay over too and he can huff at my husband all day, it'll cheer him up!"
Pietro snickered at his brother-in-law's expense. "Especially since the kid likes Jennifer and likewise," he replied. "We'll be there, sis. Don't worry. I love fireworks."
"Good," she said with a smirk then closed the link. "So... that's good... right?" Zi said softly."Very good," Pietro assured her. "If she wants you to meet our father then she knows you've got a good case," he explained, making an effort to slow his speech, if only because he knew his hyperactivity scared people and she was scared enough. "Nobody can pick on you because you're a mutant, Zi. You don't have to take it."
"I don't want to be in the Brotherhood," she said quickly, giving in and hiding behind Taz.
"I'm missing something here, aren't I?" Taz asked carefully."Probably," Pietro snorted before peeking around him to see Zi. "As much as I've knocked heads with him, my father's a good man, Zi. Don't believe all you hear and, any way, the Brotherhood's a voluntary thing. Trust me."
"I wanted to be an Avenger but I wasn't good enough," she said suddenly, her cheeks flushing scarlet as she held tightly to Taz from behind.
"Zi," Taz said patiently as he reached to try to pull her next to him, "if you were young and scared, I sincerely doubt 'not good enough' was the problem. You are good enough--better than you think really--for anything you set your mind to."
"Just not to right wrongs," she whispered timidly."Some people have to grow into that," Taz said gently, touching a fond hand to her cheek. "Not everybody has a father and uncle who spit on injustice every chance the get and not every mutant steps into the boots of the ones who came before them easily. Not every baseline, either."
"Besides," Pietro told her, a wry smile on his face as he crossed his arms over his chest, "if you live and work with people who tell you that what you are isn't good enough then you might start to believe it sooner or later."
"Maybe...." she said softly, her eyes lost in Taz's bright blue ones. "Maybe I'll try for the Avengers again one day."
"You're good enough, Zi," Taz insisted. "You're good enough to do anything you want."