Tigra and new student X-23 are going at it hammer and tongs. Spots of blood fly as X-23’s blades slash at her opponent. As the pair break away from each other, Tigra suddenly stops and straightens her hair. She tells Laura that she finds her style interesting. She notes that she automatically wants to go for disembowelment with her foot claws, but Laura uses her claws for killing strikes at the major organs. Laura replies that Tigra’s instincts are those of a cat whose claws won’t penetrate to the heart. She was trained as an assassin to kill as quickly and decisively as possible.
Tigra smiles and tells her that she obviously doesn’t need combat training. She hopes Laura can learn from them in other ways as she’s sure they will learn from her. She turns to the original students who are with White Tiger and Lightspeed and introduce them to their newest member. She is met with a wall of surprised looks apart from Finesse who was more interested in studying Laura’s moves. “And they say I’m dangerous,” whispers Hazmat to Mettle.
Reptil has the same thought. He finds it amazing what sticks in your head. He looks around at the others… so young, knowing everything except how little they really knew. They thought they’d had their choices taken away by Norman Osborn, by their parents and by life. But, here he is in the body of his younger self and the possibilities… all the things he could do - it’s almost overwhelming. He looks at Mettle and wonders whether, if he could warn him what’s coming, could they remain friends? Could things work out for him and Hazmat? He then glances over to Finesse. She still lets him call her Jeanne in this time. Every time he says it, he wants to cry. If he could change just one thing… but he can’t. He can’t and that’s the whole reason he came. He has to make sure things work out the way they did before. The way he wants them to.
He then turns to White Tiger and figures it’s bad enough that he has absolutely no recollection of her. He didn’t even know the original had a sister who lived. And, he sure as hell doesn’t remember having his mind yanked into the future trapped in his adult body; held in a cage, his powers neutralized and unable to hear or see anything. Reptil thinks ‘he’ was right. The timestream is in flux and his being in this time makes it more so. But, they had to take the chance. So, here he is, living out a fantasy everyone has at some point. Going back to school, knowing what you know as an adult. However, instead of doing it right, he has to make sure it happens the way it did the first time. Mind you, that doesn’t mean he can’t do things a little differently. He begins to morph his ear as he’d always wondered what Giant-Man and Tigra were saying to Laura. What the hell were they thinking even bringing her to the academy… disastrous as it turned out? There’s no reason he can’t listen in.
X-23 informs Hank that, as he can see, she doesn’t really need instruction. Hank agrees that she doesn’t require combat training, but he and Wolverine felt her spending time on campus might benefit both her and the other students in other ways. Laura says he’s said that before. However, she doesn’t really want to and they don’t want to be around her. Hank reckons that’s precisely the point, but she doesn’t have the same baggage here as she does with the X-Men. She can visit as much or as little as she likes. All he asks is that she gives them a chance. She should talk to the students and get to know them. She’ll find that they’re not so different from herself.
Laura joins the full-time students and explains that Dr. Pym would like her to join them. She would like to hear their thoughts on the matter. She informs them that her name is Laura Kinney. She was cloned from Wolverine’s DNA, raised in a lab and trained to kill with maximum efficiency and no remorse. She began showing emotion and hesitation and so her trainers responded by creating a trigger scent that sends her into a murderous rage, overriding all higher thought. She continues to explain that at of age twelve she worked as an assassin and she has murdered men, women, children and animals, as well as everyone at her birth facility. This included her own mother. She admits that she has little understanding of normal feelings, relationships or behavior. To this day, if she smells the trigger scent, she will slaughter anyone in sight.
The students look at each other for a moment before welcoming Laura to the academy. Mettle reckons they forced her to be like this. She’ll fit right in. Finesse tells her that she has difficulty with emotions as well. She’s constructed flash cards. Striker hopes her trigger scent doesn’t smell anything like ‘Axe.’
Reptil remembers being right there with the others welcoming Laura, so why does he hold back now? Is it because he knows how it ends? He has to tell himself to focus. His whole world is depending on him. He sees Striker calling out to Lightspeed as she walks away and realizes this is the point that Striker impressed on him how important it was. He figures he’d better make sure things go in the right direction. He doesn’t think they’re used to him turning into prehistoric bugs just yet, so he minimizes himself and takes flight.
Striker tells Julie that he heard what Hazmat said to her the other day about not knowing which team to play for. Julie asks him to leave her alone. Her private life is her private life. She knows that she can’t stop people talking about her but she’s not going to participate. She continues to fly away and he explains that he needs to talk to her about this. She replies that there are plenty of web sites out there that can help him, but Striker impulsively zaps her with an electrical blast, telling her not to walk away from him. She changes direction quickly and flies towards Striker, punching him in the jaw in her anger. “That hurt, you little…” She lands and stands over Striker and tells him for the last time she is not talking to him about her love life. She is not kissing a girl while he watches and she’s done with his obnoxious pervy…
“I think I’m gay too,” he blurts out. Julie stops in her tracks and folds her arms, thinking he’s messing with her. All he does is hit on girls. Striker replies that he hits on girls who’d never go for him and in the most obnoxious way possible. “Listen,” he adds, “If this is about not being sure who you are…” Julie sits beside him and assures him that she knows. She is Julie Power. She likes reading and acting, was born in Richmond, Virginia and she has two brothers and a sister. She’s not some symbol or label. “So you’re not gay?” he asks. Julie looks upwards and says she doesn’t know. Everyone’s all ‘pick a side’ like it’s Yankees and Red Sox. She explains that when she has feelings for a person, it’s for that person, not their gender. Can’t you just like someone without it being a political statement? she asks.
Striker takes off and tackles an assault course as Julie flies overhead. He tells her that he’s not sure which country she’s been living in but everything is a political statement. Being bisexual is a thing. It puts the B in LGBT. Julie reckons a lot of her L and G friends think B’s are just gay people who haven’t come all the way out. They say they knew they were gay when they were little kids. She guesses she was too busy with getting super powers from alien horses. Then, she adds, there are those people who think she’s just confused… under bad influences, like she moved west and suddenly caught ‘the gay.’ L.A.’s answer to bedbugs.
Striker reckons they should forget them all. The only thing that matters is what makes you happy. Julie tells him that’s actually a really nice thing to say, and obviously not at all what he’s doing with his own life. “I’m… different,” replies Striker. He tells her that he’s not ashamed or anything, but he doesn’t make a big thing out of it either, so no blabbing, okay? They both come to a rest and Striker informs her that when he was little he acted in commercials. He had this sleazebag manager who touched him inappropriately. His powers kicked in one day and… he killed him. Julie is shocked but Brandon asks her not to. He hates people feeling sorry for him. Anyway, he adds, it’s bad enough he has to carry the memory of killing him, he doesn’t want that monster to affect his life any more that he does already. “If I’m this way because of him…”
Julie doesn’t think it works that way. Someone like that can’t make you into something you’re not. The only way he has any power over Brandon is if he gives it to him; if he lets the guy change who he is. Brandon explains that he didn’t really have a dad. When his manager started paying attention to him, it was like he really cared about him. Not just as a way to get money and fame but about him. Even after he started being weird, he still wanted to be around him. He wonders if maybe on some level he wanted it.
Julie warns him to stop right there. She tells him he didn’t want to lose the closest thing he had to a father. He was a lonely little boy and he made him feel loved. Anybody would respond to that but no way in hell does it make it in any way Brandon’s fault. He was an adult. Brandon was a kid. What he did was unequivocally wrong. She’s sorry. Brandon takes in everything she’s saying and bursts into tears. Julie responds by hugging him tightly. Striker thanks her. It’s not like they really know each other. Julie says they now know each other now better than a lot of people.
She wants to ask him a question. He’s been with girls, right? Striker replies that he has… kind of a lot. He guesses he was out to prove he was a man. Julie asks if it was something he wants to spend the rest of his life doing. Striker replies that he already knew it wasn’t. Julie says in that case, he should figure the rest out at his own pace. He should just never feel like he has to be alone. As she takes to the air, her rainbow stream following closely behind, He tells her that in return he can help her be a proud bisexual. She replies that the way her love life’s going she’s not much of anything sexual.
Once Julie has flown away, Reptil transforms from his bug form back to his normal appearance. He didn’t like spying on Brandon at his most vulnerable, but he asked him to. Like this wasn’t hard enough already.
(the next day)
X-23 is relaxing on a branch in one of the trees. Hazmat asks her to tell Mettle what she told him. Mettle doesn’t wish to bother Laura, but Hazmat tells Laura that he’s all shook up because he killed some Nazis trying to save civilians. He thinks it’s gonna turn him into this psycho killer. “Tell him.” X-23 drops from the tree and lands beside them. She informs Ken that there are very few subjects on which she considers herself an expert but killing is one. She tells him that taking lives to save innocents is worlds apart from taking the life of innocents. She’s done both. One she would do again today without hesitation. The other, she struggles constantly to ensure she will never do again. Hazmat tells Ken that the Yoda of killers has spoken, so he can chill.
Ken becomes a little excitable. He tells her that when he killed those guys it felt like a kind of… a kind of rush. Laura reckons that’s adrenalin. It’s powerful and some people become addicted to it. It doesn’t mean he enjoys killing. She asks what he feels when he recalls those events. Ken admits that it makes him want to hurl. Reptil, who overheard their conversation, sidles up to Hazmat and whispers that she has some competition. Hazmat quickly gets Ken away from X-23 on the premise that they have some papers to write. Reptil then wanders off with a sad look on his face. Just like that, he thinks, everything changes. A word here, a gesture there and he changes the courses of lives. But, the big one is coming today and, God help him, he doesn’t know what to do. He then glances over and sees Hawkeye approach Tigra. He asks her if she’s mission ready. ‘And there it is,’ sighs Reptil.
Hawkeye informs Tigra that there’s a police report about some kinda firefight on Skid Row. Some anti-mutant nuts called the Purifiers are trying to kill a homeless kid - a telekinetic kid. She tells him to get to the Quinjet while she gets Hank. Pietro can be there in under a minute. As Hawkeye leaves, Reptil approaches him and offers to help. Hawkeye asks him to follow. ‘And lives change forever,’ thinks Reptil.
Several Purifiers are on the attack. A young boy defends himself but using his telekinetic powers to lift a car between them. “Die creature, in the name of God, die!!” cries one of the aggressors. Both Giant Man and Reptil appear, shaking the Purifiers off their feet as their massive feet hit the ground. Hank asks if they’ve actually read the bible, because he reckons they skipped an important commandment. One of them raises his weapon but finds two arrows fired perfectly into the barrels. Reptil leans down and grabs a couple of Purifiers in his massive teeth. Another Purifer fires and tells them that they’re trying to save them. The kid is a monster! Quicksilver runs around him at super speed, loosening his armor, taking apart his weapon and generally confusing him. He replies with more than a hint of sarcasm that they know. All mutants are monsters. He’s heard the gospel of hate from bigots like him all his life.
Meanwhile, Tigra takes on another and taunts him for using an energy weapon. What brave warriors they are! The guy replies that if she knew she would help them. However, before he can continue, he is killed by an explosion. Fortunately for Tigra, Quicksilver grabs her and pulls her away from danger just in time. Hank asks what’s happened. Reptil replies that it was a suicide switch. They get captured and go up in flames. Isn’t that what those kind of guys do? Hank says he’s heard of the Hand doing that and occasionally Hydra, but not the Purifiers. Clint reckons a nut is a nut. Good riddance. He asks the kid if he’s all right. He asks his name and whether there’s anyone he should call. He replies that his name is Jimmy Marks and his parents are dead so he doesn’t have anyone. Clint extends his hand and asks him not to be so sure about that. “Us orphans have to stick together.”
(Avengers Academy, later)
As Jimmy sits by himself at a canteen table, Hank, Clint and Humberto discuss his situation. Hank explains that Social Services have sent over his file. He’s from West Virginia, lost his parents at fifteen and came west with a foster family. Unfortunately, he was aged out of the system. After his parents died, it seems he essentially stopped going to school. He’s no psychiatrist but he’ll bet that Jimmy’s suffering from depression. Clint explains that he was pretty messed up for a while after his folks passed. It managed to royally screw up his life for a while. The Avengers gave him a second chance, he adds. Maybe they could do the same for Jimmy?
Hank replies that he told him he’s had his powers for years but his parents were prejudiced against mutants to he kept them hidden. He doesn’t mean to pass the buck, but they’re short-staffed as it is with the students they have. And, he’s busy trying to rebuild Jocasta. If he’s a mutant, it might be best to refer him to the X-Men. “Or,” adds Reptil, “We could ask him what he wants.” Hank grins and reckons this is way Reptil is class leader. They approach Jimmy and Hank tells him that there’s no reason he has to live on the streets. He could stay with them and learn to use his powers. Maybe he could even get his G.E.D. Alternatively, if he’d prefer, the X-Men would welcome him.
Jimmy sits upright and says no, loudly. He apologizes but then explains that his father raised him to believe being a mutant was a bad thing. He knows he was wrong, but he thinks he’d be more comfortable at the academy. Clint says that works for him and welcomes Jimmy to the academy.
Reptil extends his hand and introduces himself adding that he lost his parents too. Would he like to be shown to his room? As the pair departs, Clint tells Hank he’s a good kid. Only someone who’s been there knows what it’s really like. Hank thinks it’s surprising to hear Humberto talk about his parents in the past sense. His idealism is what has kept him going. He’d hate to think he’d lost it.
Humberto leads Jimmy to his room and they enter. As soon as the door is closed, Jimmy reveals his true form - a grotesque being who tells Humberto that they can stop pretending they don’t know what each other are. He informs Humberto that he is the horror known as Hybrid! He tells Humberto that his thoughts are hard to read, perhaps because he too is a product of the dark arts. So, why doesn’t the ‘time-traveler’ explain why he has facilitated him coming to the academy? Why shouldn’t he incinerate him as he did those Purifer fools? Humberto semi-transforms himself into a scaly form and replies that it would be easier said than done. But, like he said, he is not from this era. They can just say he has a vested interest in things working out a certain way. That involves Hybrid getting what he wants; a school full of superhumans who, unlike the X-Men, don’t know him. It’s a school full of prey. All he has to do is to let a few people live and he’ll give him the rest.
Hybrid changes back into his Jimmy form and reckons that to surrender his fellows to him rather than fight, his future must be precious to him indeed. Reptil says it’s none of his business but, just so he knows what’ll happen if he double crosses him… yeah, it is!
Mettle, Veil and Finesse are together when Striker appears trying to catch a small child who is running around. Ken tells him that all he had to do was to keep her out of there. Striker replies that she’s a shape changer. What is he supposed to do? Keep her in a jar? Finesse looks down as the child grabs her leg and asks who let a child into the room. “Oh, jeez Finesse,” replies Ken. “That’s Maria, your daughter.” Finesse looks at her more closely and realizes that he’s right. She thought her movements looked familiar. Maria looks up at Reptil who is captive and asks, “Mommy. Why is daddy in a cage?