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Kindred Hearts, Chapter 7 - A Knight’s Petition. - Left Turn at Westchester Fan Fiction

About Kindred Hearts, Chapter 7 - A Knight’s Petition.

Previous Entry Kindred Hearts, Chapter 7 - A Knight’s Petition. Jun. 30th, 2006 @ 10:04 pm Next Entry
I know this has been a long time in coming, but I promise it will be shortly followed by chapter 8. This chapter features a conversation between Piotr and Jonothon Starsmore, a character I played at the LT spin-off X-Corp. I was going to suggest that this chapter could be considered AU compared to the other chapters, but now that Left Turn has reopened, the entire fanfic should probably be considered AU. Considering that the first Jono portion was written in April, it made me laugh to compare it to what is taking place with Jono and a different dance at LT in the present.

Synopsis: Piotr seeks to get Jono’s approval of his growing relationship with Lejla.


A Knight’s Petition

Piotr

“Thank you, Mr. Summers!” Piotr called over his shoulder, “I will be sure to return it after the weekend.” Scott nodded firmly as the Russian rounded the corner. Smirking at the boy’s urgent request, he remembered what it was like to be a hopeful teen.

Jogging up to his room, Piotr shut the door behind him, a huge grin plastered on his face. It took some considerable planning, but he finally managed to get Mr. Summer’s approval. Summers was the second toughest and sternness teacher at Xavier’s – next to Logan. His whole ‘obey the rules, respect the rules, live the rules’ mentality was nearly impossible for Piotr to penetrate. However, all of his hard work in his danger room sessions and his responsible manner in general helped bend Cyclops’ usually strict demeanor.

Piotr held out the prized possession on its hanger by his hooked index finger. Unzipping the plastic protection, he took a quick peek at his X-men training uniform, thanking God for Mr. Summers’ change of heart. He ran his fingers over the black Kevlar. “Perfect.”

Satisfied with one final look, Piotr zipped up the plastic bag covering his uniform. The dance was this weekend and so far everything was going according to plan. After putting his uniform in the safe haven of his closet, Piotr dug into his pocket, retrieving a small folded piece of paper. Straightening the sheet, he grabbed a pen from his desk and began to mark through various things written on it.

“I got that yesterday,” Piotr said as he paced the floor and drew a line through something on his paper, “I’ll pick up that tomorrow with Shiro…I finally have the uniform,” he said with a small smile, marking another item. “Now all I have to do is—“ Piotr stopped in mid-sentence when he saw the next thing. Biting nervously on his lower lip, he came to a halt. He placed this particular task at the bottom of his list, even though he knew he would have to do it sooner rather than later.

Piotr sighed, taking a seat at his desk.

He really wanted to omit that last item, but in his heart, he knew he wasn’t raised that way. It was the custom in Russia, and he would uphold his country’s traditions even if he were thousands of miles away from home. He thought about the upcoming weekend and its importance. He had to do it. He had to do it for her. It was the only decent way.

Casting fear and pride—but mostly fear—to the utmost corners of his mind, Piotr took a deep breath. Pushing the chair back, he left the room with determination.

On the desk, a crinkled piece of paper full of fast scribbled writings and crossed out items remained. There was one distinct name at the very bottom:

Jono


Jono

I’m wearin’ me leathers or I ain’t goin’

The last words he’d projected at Amara before he stalked off to his room replayed in Jonothon Starsmore’s mind, despite the loud punk music that now pumped into his brain through a pair of expensive headphones.

The tall Brit lay sprawled on his back, arms beneath his head and long legs crossed at the ankle. It was practically the only use his bed ever got.

Why do women always have to be so difficult?

Sometimes he was certain he was better off without this whole dating thing. He hated getting dressed up; it reminded him too much of how his own mum tried to control him as a kid. Traipsing around in a stiff monkey suit so he could put on airs was not his idea of a good time. He would don his best set of clothing, he had no argument with that, but he didn’t own a suit and he certainly wasn’t going to rent a tux – not in a million years.

The music was supposed to drown out his uneasiness about the coming weekend, but he was so immersed in the tension his argument with Amara had created that he barely noticed when the CD came to an end. Jono was just about to exchange it for another when there was a knock on his door.

Cor, that better not be Amara, he sniped to himself. If he were a proper telepath, he would already know the identity of this harasser. The second knock assured him it wasn’t his kinda-sorta girlfriend – there was a rhythm to her rapping that Jono already recognized. He was more than half tempted to ignore whoever dared interrupt his solitude.

Swinging his legs off the bed, Jono uttered a mental grumble he was sure could be heard down the hall. It was probably somebody looking for one of his roommates, both of which were nowhere he cared to know. Very few people came seeking his company these days besides the Italian. Even Lejla seemed to be preoccupied with...

He swung the door open more vigorously than was necessary. Bloody ‘ell.. . it was the man that now monopolized Leli’s time to a point where he rarely conversed with the red girl.

Rasputin? Jono paused, running a hand through his unruly hair. What yer want?


Piotr

The sooner I go in, the sooner I can come out…I hope… Piotr nervously thought to himself as he sized up the closed door looming in front of him. If there were a curmudgeon contest at Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters, the crowned king would be Jono Starsmore.

Several stories where going around the school about Jono. Some of the accounts involved the British mutant as a zombie, some dubbed him a leather-bound rebel; there was even a farfetched one about Jono’s mouth being the deviant gates of hell’s fiery fury. Piotr never believed such fables before, but now with his heart racing and a sudden surge of fear coursing through his veins, he wondered if there was any actual truth behind those anecdotes.

Piotr saw few people enter Jono’s room and make it out with the same peace of mind. Even Jono’s roommates seemed a bit disgruntled and depressed upon leaving their shared room. It was beyond the Russian how someone as sweet and cheerful as Lejla could befriend someone like Jono, the personification of all things bitter and pessimistic.

He wasn’t sure how Jono would react to what he needed to ask him, and he certainly wouldn’t know anything by just staring at the doorknob. Maybe he is not in a bad mood today… Piotr thought, hopefully resolute to carry out his current mission.

“Well, here goes nothing.” He breathed as he knocked soundly on the door. When there was no reply, Piotr knocked again. This time he received a disparaging grumble from the other side, never a good sign. Piotr flexed his wrist back to knock a third time when suddenly the door swung open.

He blinked and stared. Never having been this close to the British mutant, Piotr hadn’t realized how tall he was. For once, when Piotr spoke he wouldn’t have to look down, though he wasn’t sure if that would be considered a good thing. In his standard leather attire, Jono looked like one of those dark hard-core guys on TV whose mere glare could cause sudden heart failure.

Rasputin? Jono paused, running a hand through his unruly hair. What yer want?

Piotr stood there a bit dumbfounded, his hand still raised in knocking position. Realizing how silly he must have looked to the Brit, he dropped it to his side.

A small awkward pause ensued while Piotr’s eyes trailed over Jono’s dark figure, finally managing to meet his eyes. There was something familiarly intimidating about Jono’s irritated demeanor.

“….I…uh…I…I…uh…”

Was this Jono’s power? To make reticent Russian boys forget what to say and look like lumbering fools?


Jono

Jono waited impatiently in the doorway while the Russian gawked at him as if he’d never seen the Brit before –or like he’d grown a third eye on his forehead. It was strange because they were both seniors and shared some of the same classes, although it was doubtful he’d come looking for the answers to the math homework or something similar.

What did he want then? His silence was only increasing Jono’s annoyance.

“….I…uh…I…I…uh…”

Arching an eyebrow, Jono groused – Roberto and Julio ain’t in, if that’s who yer lookin’ for?

He could tell by Piotr’s blank stare that his roommates weren’t the reason the Russian had knocked. Core blimey, Jono kept to himself, I hope ‘e ain’t come here for advice on what to get Leli fer a Valentine’s present. Jono wasn’t even certain their relationship had progressed that far. Lejla was fairly aloof the last time he asked her.

Well? Jono quieted the urge to start tapping his foot like a demanding schoolteacher. I can’t read yer mind Rasputin, I ain’t THAT kind ’o telepath. Don’t just stand there blockin’ the ‘allway. Yer might as well come in.

Backing away from the door, Jono made space for the Russian’s large bulk. Whatever Piotr desired, at least it was doing a better job of taking his mind off his argument with Amara then listening to music.


Piotr

Roberto and Julio ain’t in, if that’s who yer lookin’ for? The Brit said with an arch of his brow.

Piotr shook his head, snapping out of his trance, “Nyet, I —“

Well? I can’t read yer mind Rasputin, I ain’t THAT kind ’o telepath.

Jono’s words dripped with bitterness, making the Russian wince slightly. Piotr pursed his lips before speaking again, “Sorry, I—“

Don’t just stand there blockin’ the ‘allway. Yer might as well come in.

With that ‘invitation’, Piotr stepped into Jono’s room, closing the door behind him. So much for being in a good mood… Piotr thought bluntly, thankful the slender Brit couldn’t read his thoughts.

So far so good, now if he could just get his words to come out properly. Piotr rubbed his hand over his buzzcut, recollecting his thoughts. Looking back at Jono, he suddenly realized why his sharp intimidating gaze was so familiar. Mikhail often looked at Piotr with that same disdain, like he was beneath his older brother’s standards of approval. Practically by instinct, Piotr’s eyes met the floor, shoulders subconsciously hunched forward.

“I…I don’t mean to bother you.” He continued feeling the need to apologize due to Jono’s current attitude. Suddenly stuck in his ‘stupid younger-brother’ complex, Piotr’s voice became subtle, almost fearful. Years of his brother’s venomous threats and insults held a heavy weight on the Russian’s spirit as he tried unsuccessfully to look Jono in the eyes.

Come on, Rasputin, you can do this. You have to do this. Just don’t say anything stupid and everything will be fine. Though the age-old fear of his brother was still misplaced on Jono, Piotr finally met his eyes.

“I just needed to ask you something… something important.” He added, hoping Jono would see how imperative this was to him.

Now that he had the British boy’s attention, he paused, nervously struggled to find the proper American words to express his request. Just coming out with it was easier said in Piotr’s mind than done in front of Jono.

Taking a slow breath, Piotr straightened his posture and closed his eyes briefly, regaining his usual stern stature, “I would like your approval to take Lejla to the Valentine’s dance this weekend.”


Jono

Piotr obeyed Jono, although the Brit was beginning to wonder why he was allowing it. He supposed that since Lejla had at least attempted to tolerate Amara (most of the time anyway) the least he could do is be civil to her... What was this bloke to Lejla?

A few awkward moments passed while the taciturn Russian ran his fingers nervously through his short-cropped hair and stared at the floor “I…I don’t mean to bother you.” He stuttered, eyes looking everywhere but at Jono’s face.

Crossing his arms impatiently, the Brit found it interesting that the large muscular chap would have such a hard time expressing himself. Perhaps it was the language barrier. Not having much personal contact with the Russian, he certainly hoped that it wasn’t because of Jono’s disfigurement.

Fortunately for the Russian, just as a sarcastic remark popped into Jono’s thoughts, Piotr finally raised his eyes. “I just needed to ask you something… something important.” There was another momentary silence, and Jono could no longer stave off commenting.

Blimey, I ain’t gonna’ bite yer... or blast yer. Stop faffin’ around. What is it yer want to ask Rasputin? Probably not the best way to settle the Russian down. Then, Jono wasn’t in a generous a humor at the moment.

Taking a slow breath, Piotr straightened his posture and closed his eyes briefly, regaining his usual stern stature, “I would like your approval to take Lejla to the Valentine’s dance this weekend.”

Completely flabbergasted, Jono’s eyes widened noticeably. He managed to mentally swallow – You must be off yer trolley – before it was broadcast in a way Piotr would comprehend. What came out instead was merely Huh?

He had to collect his thoughts in the pause that followed, because it was the last thing he expected to hear. Talk about old fashioned, Jono thought the whole ‘permission’ thing went out with the horse and buggy. All he could think to add was – Why me?


Piotr

Piotr mentally kicked himself for the way that came out. Idiot! You only asked him part of the question! ... Well, it was too late to try and reword his request now, because Jono’s eyes were already wide with puzzlement.

Huh?

Maybe you should just tell him what is customary at home.


Taking heed to his inner thoughts, Piotr decided a small traditional explanation would best help Jono understand his request.

“In Russia, when one wants to…’court’ a lady, he must first ask the lady’s guardian for permission to do so.” He paused; making certain the Brit was still listening. Piotr hoped Jono understood what he meant by the word ‘court’. He didn’t think telling Jono he wanted to ‘hook-up with that chica’ (as Angelo would put it) was appropriate. “Without a guardian’s approval, the relationship is a bad omen and looked down upon by everyone in the village. This passage is proper and custom in Russia.”

Why me?

Jono’s question surprised the Russian, or rather; he expected a crude remark spit in his face along with the inquiry. Maybe the Brit wasn’t as ill tempered as the other students dubbed him, or maybe the Russian had left him bereft of any sarcastic comebacks. Piotr had an uncanny feeling it was the latter, so he proceed to explain, “Lejla has no father, but she speaks highly of you. She says you are her brother here, so you would be the next appropriate person to ask.”

His voice was shaky and he stuttered at some points, but Piotr managed to make his entreaty known. “Though we are not in Russia, I must still uphold my village traditions, for they are honorable and decent.” The Russian tried to appear as valiant as possible though his heart was pounding fiercely in his chest. He hoped the sour-tempered young man knew that he didn’t just want to ask Lejla to the Valentine’s dance. He wanted to be her boyfriend long after the dance was done and gone.


Jono

Jono’s turn to be completely speechless, he listened dumfounded to Piotr’s explanation. The anachronous custom of asking permission notwithstanding, it was the word ‘court’ that alarmed him. Stronger language than he would have used for Lejla’s relationship with the Russian, it brought to mind the whole white dress and church thing. Did Leli have any idea Piotr felt this deeply? She was only around sixteen and Piotr couldn’t be more than eighteen. Was it also customary to tie the knot that young in Russia?

Jono wasn’t sure he liked the way this conversation was heading, but he allowed Piotr to finish clarifying.

“Lejla has no father, but she speaks highly of you; she says you are her brother here, so you would be the next appropriate person to ask.”

Jono had to give the big man some credit, it must have been difficult to make this query of an almost complete stranger, and he was well aware he had a hard-nose reputation. “Though we are not in Russia, I must still uphold my village traditions, for they honorable and decent.”

There was another moment of stillness while Jono weighed his response – he owed Leli that much. Uncrossing his arms, he scratched at a non-existent itch on the back of his neck. Ugh, he began with what sounded more like a mental throat clearing, I still don’t understand why it’s got to be me. Leli does ‘ave a guardian – the Professor – although I can see why you’d avoid approaching ‘im... not that I think ‘ed tell yer no.

Jono lapsed into silence, taking a few almost nervous paces towards his bed. He retraced his steps before leveling a stern look at the waiting Russian. I ain’t very comfortable doing this, but if I’m gonna act as Leli’s protective ‘big brother’ – And make no mistake, I DO care a great deal about Leli – I’m gonna need to understand yer intentions.

Crossing his arms again, Jono’s stare intensified. First off, I ‘ope yer put sincere thought into what difficulty yer going to face dating a mutant with Lejla’s considerably dangerous powers. Not to mention the fact that the idea of courting usually means yer seriously want a future with ‘er. There were times he felt Amara didn’t understand the same, and that she’d eventually grow weary of dealing with it. He wasn’t surprised that she was already showing signs of intolerance. Leli deserved better.

Jono took a step closer to the Russian, not in the least intimidated by the teen’s larger mass. Secondly, are yer sure Leli is ready fer this kind of relationship. Only a few months ago she were afraid to eat in the dining ‘all. Leli don’ talk much to me ‘bout the two of yer, so I’m leaving it up to you to enlighten me. I’m asking cause I don’t want ‘er pressured to a point that she goes feral again. He recalled the trauma Lejla had suffered over Doug a few months ago and his fear that she might retreat to the nether regions of the mansion to escape the pain.

Eyes narrowing, he added. Do yer love me little kitten... and she feel the same way about you?



Piotr

Jono’s silence worried the Russian. What was going on behind that leather-bound face of his? Piotr settled for trying to read Jono’s eyes—the only facial feature that wasn’t wrapped up tightly. Jono’s thoughts weren’t extremely hard to read, mostly because the habitual crossing and uncrossing of his arms and the neck scratch gave away his contemplation.

Ugh, beginning with a noise like a mental throat clearing, I still don’t understand why it’s got to be me. Leli does ‘ave a guardian – the Professor, although I can see why you’d avoid approaching ‘im... not that I think ‘ed tell yer no.

“This is true,” Piotr nodded in agreement, watching the Brit pace over to his bed, “But I feel your approval is more important.” Piotr was no dope. He knew he could have simply asked the Professor and received immediate approval. However, winning the approval of the curt and cantankerous Jono Starsmore meant he was truly worthy of the delicate yet hazardous rose he sought so dearly. Piotr wasn’t one to take the easy way out, and he had a feeling that trying to convince Jono of his sincerity would not be a simple task.

Sending a lethal glare in the Russian’s direction, Jono retraced his footsteps.

I ain’t very comfortable doing this, but if I’m gonna act as Leli’s protective big brother –And make no mistake, I DO care about Leli a great deal – I’m gonna need to understand yer intentions.

Piotr opened his mouth to speak of his ‘intentions’, but apparently the slender mutant was not finished with his harangue, so he quickly clamped his lips shut.

Crossing his arms again, Jono’s stare intensified. First off, I ‘ope yer put sincere thought into what difficulty yer going to face dating a mutant with Lejla’s considerably dangerous powers. Not to mention the fact that the idea of courting usually means yer seriously want a future with ‘er.

Piotr was glad Jono did not have Scott Summers’ optic blasts. He was certain he would be disintegrated into dust by now. As much as he wanted to avoid the British man’s strengthening glare, Piotr forced himself to look Jono in the eyes. Unfortunately, that only caused his hands to tremble, so he shoved them into the pockets of his jeans.

“Her…her powers…th-they are not a problem…” he started off nervously, returning to his timid tone. “My powers….they make my skin steel—it is nearly indestructible….so to be close to her is not dangerous for me. We were even able to share a kiss.” His eyes widened slightly, suddenly regretting the last unintentional comment. He cleared his throat in hopes of erasing the shakiness from his voice, “I-I like Leli…” Piotr said, “as more than just a friend…” He had spoken the words before he knew.

A future with Lejla? Piotr couldn’t begin to tell Jono how many times he’d daydreamed about being with Lejla forever. He wanted to make that commitment, but did he truly have a future with Lejla? He would never know unless he tried.

“I do want a future with her.” He answered sincerely, with more confidence than he started.

Jono deliberately stepped into the large Russian’s space, challenging his truthfulness.

Secondly, are yer sure Leli is ready fer this kind of relationship. Only a few months ago she were afraid to eat in the dining ‘all. Leli don’t talk much to me ‘bout the two of yer, so I’m leaving it up to you to enlighten me. I’m asking cause I don’t want ‘er pressured to a point that she goes feral again.

“I do not know if she is ready for it or not,” Piotr answered honestly, shrugging his broad shoulders in response. “But I do know she is special to me and I would never do anything to hurt her.” The Russian met Jono’s stern stare with one of his own. “If she does not wish to be with me, I will respect that, but I do not think she feels that way.”

Piotr briefly glanced away from Jono sucking in his lower lip. Was Lejla really that secretive about their relationship? Then again, Piotr hadn’t exactly told the world his feelings for the red mutant either. Well, he did tell Shiro, so it was a wonder the whole mansion didn’t know by now. That Jono knew so little about his relationship with Lejla didn’t make answering Jono’s questions any easier.

Meeting Jono’s eyes once again, Piotr proceeded to ‘enlighten’ the British mutant. “I started talking to Lejla a few months ago… before Thanksgiving. We discovered we both have a passion for art.” His lips curled in a half smile, remembering the first picture he drew for the Bosnian girl. “Our friendship seemed to grow from that point. I helped her with her drawings and she taught me sign language. Most of the time we did not need to speak with our hands, our silence spoke louder than our hands, like we shared the same spirit.” His mind seemed to drift off as he spoke.

Do you love me little kitten... and she feel the same way about you?

There was that word again, the word that had been on his mind for the past several weeks. He pondered what the word truly meant to him and how it seemed to connect him to Lejla. He even wondered how Lejla would react to such a word. He admired the word and longed to use it, yet he feared the power of that word would backfire on him. The ‘L-word’ excited him just as much as it made him uncontrollably nervous. The word love had Piotr wrapped around her little finger.

All the feelings swarming within the Russian made him inhale deeply in hopes of easing the fluttering sensation generated in his stomach. Removing his hands from his pockets, Piotr held one palm within the other shifting them frequently. He had so many feelings for Lejla, but how on earth was he going to express them to the mansion’s leather-bound crank? Turning away from Jono, Piotr closed his eyes to collect his words and regain his nerve, remembering that his desired relationship with Lejla was on the line.

Pacing away from Jono, he began – “Lejla is a wonderful girl. She is sweet, funny, caring, and beautiful—inside and out.” Piotr turned around to face the Brit, “When I see her I just want to be near her, and her laugh is contagious. When she signs with her hands, she speaks with such passion I am compelled to listen. And when she smiles with that little smirk, I want to kuh—hug…her?” Piotr blushed, smiling lopsidedly, his words trailing off as he tried to avoid saying the word ‘kiss’ again.

“I care so much for Lejla. I would do anything for her; I would protect her from the world if I could, had the world not already hurt her so badly. I would treat her like the precious rose that she is.”

Piotr began to close the gap between them, gaining more sincere confidence in his stride. “I…I know she feels the same way—that she feels what I feel. I can see it in her eyes.”

Staring at the man nearly his equal in height, Piotr confessed, “I love her.”


Jono

“Her…her powers…th-they are not a problem…” he started off nervously and in his usual timid tone. “My powers….they make my skin steel—it is nearly indestructible….so to be close to her is not dangerous for me. We were even able to share a kiss.”

About to interject that he was well aware of Piotr’s powers, the Russian’s abrupt admission made one eyebrow shoot up before Jono could control his surprise. This relationship was more serious than he’d imagined. It took a determined man to brave Lejla’s razor lips. Piotr’s compatible mutation was the one thing that eased Jono’s fear for Lejla’s emotional well being. Doug would have had a hard time winning his approval. Then again, it amused Jono to think of Doug ever asking permission. However, he still wasn’t satisfied Piotr had a sufficient concept of the difficulties the two of them faced.

He cleared his throat in hopes of clearing the shakiness out of voice, “I-I like Leli…” Piotr said, calling Lejla by her nickname, “as more than just a friend…” “I do want a future with her.” He answered sincerely, with more confidence than he started.

Piotr was growing bolder, standing solidly instead of shrinking back as the Brit might have expected. It only served to make Jono more adamant.

Secondly, are yer sure Leli is ready fer this kind of relationship. Only a few months ago she were afraid to eat in the dining ‘all. Leli don’t talk much to me ‘bout the two of yer, so I’m leaving it up to you to enlighten me. I’m asking cause I don’ want ‘er pressured to a point that she goes feral again.

“I do not know if she is ready for it or not,” Piotr answered honestly, shrugging his broad shoulders in response. “But I do know she is special to me and I would never do anything to hurt her.” The Russian met Jono’s stern stare with one of his own. “If she does not wish to be with me, I will respect that, but I do not think she feels that way.”

I only hope you mean that, Jono thought. Lejla had no problems spurning unwanted attention (He’d suffered her cold shoulder treatment on more than one occasion.) What worried him was the possibility that Piotr would tire of her, and that he would be left to pick up the pieces. Jono recalled Lejla’s emotional state after years of captivity. He wondered if the red girl had adjusted well enough for that kind of commitment. Jono snapped out of his momentary inattention, meeting Piotr’s now steady gaze

“I started talking to Lejla a few months ago…before Thanksgiving. We discovered we both have a passion for art. Our friendship seemed to grow from that point. I helped her with her drawings and she taught me sign language. Most of the time we did not need to speak with our hands, our silence spoke louder than our hands, like we shared the same spirit.”

Nodding absently, Jono tried to gauge the seriousness of the big man’s affections, gratified when the bloke appeared to set aside his self-consciousness. As the Russian concluded almost dreamily, there was no longer any doubt in Jono’s mind. Piotr was smitten. Could it be that Lejla was as well? Why didn’t she tell him about it, or had she been so deprived of human relationship that she didn’t even understand. Jono tucked the thought away, determined to seek Leli out and confront her, ASAP.

That didn’t satisfy him; he wanted confirmation that Lejla wasn’t just a fleeting fantasy for the Russian.

Do you love me little kitten... and she feel the same way about you?

The audacious question gave Piotr pause, which was exactly the Brit’s intention. If this young man really wanted his seal of approval, he had to display the nerve to declare his devotion. Jono wasn’t disappointed.

With a rush of genuine ardor that began to soften Jono’s harsh demeanor, Piotr spelled out his feelings for the red girl. “I care so much for Lejla. I would do anything for her; I would protect her from the world if I could, had not the world already hurt her so badly. I would treat her like the precious rose that she is.” Piotr began to close the gap between them gaining more sincere confidence in his stride, “I…I know she feels the same way—that she feels what I feel. I can see it in her eyes.”

Staring at the man nearly his equal in height, Piotr confessed, “I love her.”

Jono would have relented, if he hadn’t already heard those words bantered about much too freely at the mansion. Likewise, something Piotr had said bothered him. “Lejla is a wonderful girl. She is sweet, funny, caring, and beautiful—inside and out.” Much he agreed with – Leli had a sense of humor, even if most people weren’t aware of it, and she was fiercely loyal to her friends. Beauty, well... that was in the eye of the beholder, but Lejla’s blossoming figure, tightly bound in leather, never failed to turn male heads.

The word that concerned him was “sweet”. It wasn’t a term Jono would have used for the red girl no matter how fond he was of her. Had Piotr’s infatuation blinded him to Lejla’s faults?

Running his hand through his hair, Jono lowered his psi-voice to almost a whisper. Yer sure we’re talking about the same girl? I love Leli like me own sis’, but ‘sweet’ she ain’t. Life’s been unmerciful to ‘er, and she’s learned to be ‘ard in return –It were the only way she coulda’ survived this long. Apparently yer never been the object of ‘er wrath. Raising a questioning eyebrow, Jono tried to judge if he was in error.

He waited for Piotr’s answer before he barreled along. You better be prepared for ‘er jealousy Rasputin, if yer ever let yer eyes wander. Leli ain’t terribly forgiving. I can tell yer THAT from personal experience, and I’m not even the one dating ‘er.

Jono shifted his feet, taking a couple paces around the Russian. His blue eyes returned Piotr’s impassioned gaze. Assure me yer can ‘andle both the good AND the bad that is Lejla Mrnjavcevic, and I MIGHT be persuaded to give yer me blessing.


Piotr

Piotr felt a burdensome load lift from his large shoulders as he proclaimed his love for Lejla. He could only hope he would have the same nerve when the time came to tell Lejla to her face. He focused his attention back on the Brit, who still stood before him, not wanting his thoughts to stray too far ahead.

You’re not out of the forest yet, Rasputin… Piotr reminded himself as he awaited Jono’s judgment. Would his proclamation be enough? Honestly, the Russian didn’t know what else to say if it wasn’t.

Jono lowered his psi-voice to almost a whisper. Yer sure we’re talking about the same girl? I love Leli like me own sis’, but ‘sweet’ she ain’t. Life’s been unmerciful to ‘er, and she’s learned to be ‘ard in return –It were the only way she coulda’ survived this long.

Piotr’s brow furrowed in thought. Why did he not consider Lejla sweet? He realized Lejla had been through everything but the fiery gates of hell before she arrived at Xavier’s, but she did not let her past consume her. She was always very reciprocal when it came to showing kindness to those around her, or so Piotr thought. This ‘hardness’ that Jono spoke of was evident in Lejla’s artwork, but never surfaced in their budding relationship. There were times when he forgot she had such a painful and traumatic past and simply saw her as the happy, sweet, and beautiful red-skinned girl that she was in his presence. Piotr was usually very observant—had he missed some kind of obvious flaw in his red rose?

Apparently yer never been the object of ‘er wrath. Raising a questioning eyebrow, Jono tried to judge if he was in error.

And his question was answered. Wrath?... Piotr thought it was a pretty strong word to use for someone like Lejla. Jono talked as if she possessed the power to hex people at will. He thought briefly over the past few months he’d known her, and not a single ‘wrath of Lejla’ moment came to mind…

Piotr’s mouth drew up in lopsided smirk. “Not exactly…” He trailed off, his mind tracing back to just two weeks ago when he was bedridden with the flu. He wouldn’t exactly call Lejla’s bedside manner wrathful, but rather ‘brashly concerned’. Not wanting to go into detail with that particular less-than-manly moment, Piotr’s train of thought switched to a slightly more playful memory. “But I now know why Mr. Wagner calls her a ‘little red devil’”. Piotr concluded, remembering how Lejla had triumphantly pummeled him with snowballs on that wintry December afternoon of their first kiss.

You also better be prepared for ‘er jealousy Rasputin, if yer ever let yer eyes wander. Leli ain’t terribly forgiving. I can tell yer THAT from personal experience, an’ I’m not even the one dating ‘er.

Piotr’s brows shot up in curiosity at this tidbit of information. She has a jealous streak? He couldn’t help but find this amusing after the whole ‘Doug envying’ he succumbed to while he was sick. Lejla, jealous? The girl that called him out on his childish behavior had the same trait? From Jono’s tone, Lejla’s jealousy was green-eyed and atrocious. Having an impish personality definitely wouldn’t compliment that attribute either. Well, if this were the case, then Lejla would have no cause to chastise him for his envious behavior toward Doug.

Jono proceeded to circle Piotr like a hawk circling its prey before he finally met the Russian’s eye again.

If yer can assure me yer can ‘andle both the good AND the bad that is Lejla Mrnjavcevic, I MIGHT be persuaded to give yer me blessing.

She has seen me at my worst, so it is only fair I accept her at her worst as well. Piotr logically concluded, recalling Lejla’s patient and caring nature during his time of sickness. It was a fifty-fifty situation. The more their relationship grew, the more the two were bound to find each other’s defects—it was inevitable.

“We all have flaws, parts of us that are not pleasantly displayed.” Piotr began, carefully choosing his words, “But they are flaws we must deal with in ourselves and accept in others. “ He wanted Jono to know that Lejla wasn’t the only one with ‘bad’ traits, but didn’t exactly want to admit his own for fear of losing the confidence he sensed Jono was developing in him. Piotr knew he was nowhere close to being the ‘perfect boyfriend’ for Lejla, but he knew she would accept him, just as he had accepted her that first lonely night in the classroom months ago.

“I appreciate Lejla as she is--the good, the bad, and everything in between. I would not want her any other way.” His tone was mellow but confident as he kept his eyes locked with Jono’s, waiting for the leather-bound mutant’s response.


Jono

Apparently yer never been the object of ‘er wrath. Raising a questioning eyebrow, Jono tried to judge if he was in error.

From Piotr’s confused state, Jono knew that Lejla had yet to reveal her bad side to the Russian. Snorting mentally to himself, the Brit wondered how long it would be until their first real fight. Piotr would find out eventually what a wicked temper his crush possessed. He hoped the normally reserved man was up to the challenge.

“Not exactly... But I now know why Mr. Wagner calls her a ‘little red devil’”.

I’m sure you do
, Jono thought, his cheek flinching in amusement. Lejla revealed that side of her personality only to those she trusted, and her beloved mentor alone got away with calling her that nickname. However, Jono wasn’t quite finished. There was one more thing he felt obliged to mention.

You also better be prepared for ‘er jealousy Rasputin, if yer ever let yer eyes wander. Leli ain’t terribly forgiving. I can tell yer THAT from personal experience, an’ I’m not even the one dating ‘er.

That little tidbit seemed to take Piotr aback. Perhaps he hadn’t befriended anyone who’d sparked Lejla’s ire. Considering his introverted nature, that made perfect sense. Jono was softening to the idea of Piotr as a partner to his ‘little sis’. The more he thought about it, the more the two seemed suited to each other.

Jono shifted his feet, taking a couple paces around the Russian. His blue eyes returned Piotr’s impassioned gaze. If yer can assure me yer can ‘andle both the good AND the bad that is Lejla Mrnjavcevic, I MIGHT be persuaded to give yer me blessing.

“We all have flaws, parts of us that are not pleasantly displayed.” Piotr began, carefully choosing his words, “But they are flaws we must deal with in ourselves and accept in others. I accept Lejla as she is--the good, the bad, and everything in between. I would not want her any other way.” His tone was mellow but confident as he kept his eyes locked with Jono’s.

A very mature statement, it added to Jono’s growing admiration for the younger mutant. The traces of nervousness had entirely disappeared. Whether or not he could follow through remained to be seen. Still, Jono was quite certain now of Piotr’s sincerity.

Jono paused again, his eyes thoroughly accessing the Russian as if he’d never seen Piotr before. How very paradoxical that both the King and Queen of freaks found themselves attached to the near epitome of passer partners, at least in physical appearance, doubly strange because Lejla avowed despising passers as a general rule.

Granted, Piotr’s shyness handicapped him from developing a trailing swarm of females. Perhaps that was one of the things Lejla found attractive – He was almost as retiring as she was.

Jono did not begrudge his little red friend a chance at finding happiness. He only wanted to make sure that she didn’t become the object of another’s transient fascination. He already suspected that’s how Amara’s affection would turn out in the end.

Adopting a condescending air that he secretly no longer felt (he had a reputation to uphold after all) – Jono finally acquiesced. I believe you honestly love ‘er. All right Rasputin, I’ll give yer dating Leli a nod if it means that much to you. If yer the one responsible for ‘er sudden determination to get Xavier to move ‘er to high school classes, that’s even better. She’s come a long way from the frightened little girl she were less than a year ago-- It’s a little ‘ard for me to believe anyone would want to be ‘er boyfriend. I ‘ope yer the right man. Despite his tone, Jono’s eyes betrayed a touch of mirth.

Jono turned in dismissal. At least one of them had a promising future when it came to the romance department. Then a thought suddenly clutched at him, instantly evaporating his good humor and making him turn back to the big Russian before the youth had a chance to walk away.

Piotr... Jono reached out to touch the big man lightly on the arm, almost in supplication. Please promise me something. Leli is tough as nails on the outside. It’s ‘ere – Jono paused, removing his hand and placing it on what he no longer technically possessed – where she is most vulnerable. She’s been through enough tragedy for a dozen lifetimes. Don’t break ‘er ‘eart. The Brit’s intense gaze held the smallest hint of warning.

He didn’t wait for a response. Instead, he moved to the window, eyes pensively searching the horizon for nothing in particular. Thoughts of Gayle always seemed to emerge unbidden when he least expected. He wondered if his own personal tragedy would ever fade from conscious thought.

Jono barely noticed Piotr’s departure.


Piotr

The Russian watched Jono’s expressions carefully for any signs of approval or condemnation; his heart’s determining happiness hanging by the mere thread of Jono’s final answer. The suspense was almost unbearable, but finally he saw something in Jono’s impassive eyes that he didn’t see before. He watched Jono’s expression gradually soften as the Brit reflected on Piotr’s words. Though the rest of Jono’s face was non-existent, his eyes boldly stated his answer before his psi-words reached Piotr’s mind.

Piotr bit down on his lip to contain the small grin tugging at the corners of his mouth. Jono apparently sensed his excitement, because he almost instantly assumed his trademark patronizing tone.

I believe you honestly love ‘er. All right Rasputin, I’ll give yer dating Leli a nod if it means that much to you. If yer the one responsible for ‘er sudden determination to get Xavier to move ‘er to high school classes, that’s even better. She’s come a long way from the frightened little girl she were less than a year ago-- It’s a little ‘ard for me to believe anyone would want to be ‘er boyfriend. I ‘ope yer the right man.

Piotr’s eyes lit up with pure gratitude at Jono’s approval... and to think he almost backed out of the whole formal request. Finally, an uncontainable grin stretched across his face.

In a sudden state of speechlessness, Piotr minimized his 100-watt smile and simply gave a brisk nod in response. He was almost tempted to bear hug the Brit for his change of heart—almost. Considering Jono’s personality, he decided that such an open form of appreciation was a bit much, so Piotr settled for extending his hand.

Apparently missing Piotr’s gesture, the leather-bound mutant turned quickly on his heels. Slightly embarrassed, Piotr stuck his hands in his pockets and proceeded to leave the solitary Brit to himself.

Before Piotr could move very far, he felt a light hand on his arm. He glanced over his shoulder to see Jono looking him square in the eyes.

Piotr... Jono reached out to touch the big man lightly on the arm, almost in supplication. Please promise me something. Leli is tough as nails on the outside. It’s ‘ere – Jono paused, removing his hand and placing it on what he no longer technically possessed – where she is most vulnerable. She’s been through enough tragedy for a dozen lifetimes. Don’t break ‘er ‘eart. The Brit’s intense gaze held the smallest hint of warning.

Piotr swallowed hard, taking in Jono’s tone full of concern and portent for Lejla. He too had a younger sister, and understood the language of ‘big brotherhood’. He reasoned that one day, he would be having this same conversation with Illyana’s first real boyfriend. Before Piotr could reassure Jono of his loving intentions, the Brit withdrew. Piotr took this movement as a sign for his overdue departure.

Nyeh potryehvozh tyehs ee syehrdyeht boodyeht byehehopahsno vnootree moyeh syehrdtsyeh*.” He whispered before leaving Jono’s room.



* Do not worry, her heart will be safe within my heart
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