Chapter 12: “Two Small Rooms, Part 2”

The next afternoon, Xavier asked Bobby to stay behind after class. It was only then that Bobby realized just how distracted he’d been throughout the Professor’s English Lit lecture. It had never been a big subject for him and his mind frequently drifted off but today he wasn’t even sure which book they were studying.

“Robert,” the Professor began gently. “I wish to speak to you about last night.” Bobby’s heart started racing. Images of him and Lance leaped to the forefront of his mind even as he worked to implement the psychic blocking techniques Xavier had taught him.

The Professor’s eyebrows rose for just a second before he restored his face to neutral, cleared his throat and continued his speech. “Last night I sensed certain erratic mental patterns which led to me to investigate further.” Bobby wanted to die. He began rehearsing excuses: It wasn’t really what it looked like! It was just experimenting! We’re just horny teens, not—

“In general,” Xavier continued, “I believe our country’s obsessive vilifying of marijuana to be a hypocritical waste of energy…” The gears of Bobby’s mind shrieked horribly as he realized what they were actually talking about. “However, in the context of a school for young mutants—powerful mutants who are just learning to control potentially destructive powers—I’m afraid we have to draw a hard line on the use of alcohol and recreational drugs. The consequences of any loss of judgment could easily be fatal.”

Bobby’s mouth worked spasmodically but no words came out. He could suddenly smell his rank armpits and feel the cool air drying the sweat on his forehead.

He heard the Professor’s words as if from far away. “I have chosen to forego involving Scott in this incident because, frankly, I fear he might overreact. And furthermore, I would like to ask for your help in enforcing this policy. You are respected by the student body and I am sure words of sensible caution will have more effect coming from you than from the code of conduct documentation. Do you think you can help me with that?”

“Yes, Professor,” Bobby managed in a tight voice. “Professor… we didn’t mean any harm—”

“Yes, yes, I know Robert and I know you won’t let me down again. I leave it to you to speak to your fellow... perpetrators. I’m sure Ms. Pryde will be suitably chastised just knowing she was caught. Your roommate, I fear, might be harder to convince; but perhaps the two of you have an understanding?”

Bobby blushed mightily and left as quickly as he could. He walked out into the hallway, absently returning Roberto’s greeting, and headed towards the rec room. There he planned to spend some quiet time with a snowboarding magazine his mother had sent him. It was typical of his mother’s timing that she should uncharacteristically send him a care package at precisely the moment when he didn’t even want to think about her. He felt like she was watching him. Her son the stoner, her son the–

He stopped short as he entered the rec room. Curled up on the far sofa were Lance and Kitty, their heads bent earnestly together in intimate discussion. They seemed very serious, but Lance’s hand was stroking her hair and she wasn’t moving away. If any bad feelings had come between them last night, they were clearly trying to work through them. Bobby felt like he should be glad but he wasn’t quite.

Kitty looked up at him and smiled. “Hey, Bobby, come and join us.” Bobby looked at Lance who looked back a little annoyed and mouthed “no”.

“Nah, it’s okay, Kitty,” Bobby answered in a chipper voice. “I’ve got stuff to take care of.”

He looked back at Lance one more time, but he was already burying his face in Kitty’s hair, whispering in her ear. Bobby turned quickly and left. He didn’t know what to think of the events of last night.

Later that evening, he sat on his bed studying and awaiting Lance’s inevitable return. Bobby became more and more apprehensive, wondering if his roommate would be cold towards him, look down on him—as if last night’s incident had been his fault. Maybe it had been.

But then at 10:00, Lance burst in, kicking off his shoes and declaiming a rap into Bobby’s face, grabbing him by the shoulders and shaking him back and forth to the beat until Bobby couldn’t help but laugh.

“You had a good evening with Kitty, I assume?” Bobby managed through his laughter.

“God, that is one awesome chick!” Lance declared, falling onto the narrow bed beside Bobby who was pushed up against the wall by the broad-shouldered boy. “You try to be all smooth and suave and she sees right through it. Smacks you right down. But you also know she’s digging it, right?” He lay his head back on Bobby’s pillow. “I want her so bad.”

Bobby, propped up on one elbow, looked down at Lance’s oh-so-close body, his heart beating faster. “So, um, you didn’t get any?”

“No! She’s not going to make it easy.” He lay back down. “And damn, do I want it. You kissed her, right?”

“Uh, yeah,” Bobby replied warily.

“Bet you got as hard as I do.” Lance started rubbing his crotch. Bobby’s mouth went dry. It was happening again. Lance looked across at Bobby again, his eyes half-closed. “Why don’t you put away the textbooks for a while, dude.”






Two weeks at the diner was enough to make John wish he’d never see a burger again or hear the whiny voice of that overstuffed bitch who came every day at 12:15, complaining that the fries were soggy and asking him for the thousandth time if he was ready to accept Jesus Christ into his heart.

On the other hand, he felt lighter and freer than he had since he and his mom had lived together in the little railroad flat above the dry cleaners in Syracuse. Everyday, she’d promise him she would get them a better life and he had always repeated, “Everything’s fine like this, Mom! Really!” Then she had met him, the calamitous asshole, and everything had gone to shit—had stayed shit for so long that John had forgotten that ‘light’ and ‘free’ had ever existed. But now, despite the tedium and the fatigue, he was damned if he could think of anywhere he’d rather be than in this piece of shit diner with Barrow and gallons of grease.

It was a sunny afternoon in early October and John was taking pride in the way the warming beams came in through the freshly washed windows. It had been his idea and his alone to attack the yellow filth that coated them and he had stuck to it stubbornly, swearing like he was wrestling an alligator, until they gleamed. Barrow had cheered and whistled as John rubbed his aching forearms, He smirked back at his boss as if it weren’t a big deal, but his chest swelled with pride at the praise.

The lunch hour rush and cleanup were over and John was typing on a shiny little laptop computer that was open in front of him on the counter. Barrow’s friend had dropped off the machine that morning. He didn’t trust his sketchy housemates and wanted Barrow to look after it for him while he went out of town for the week. Barrow had told John he was allergic to computers but John had been really excited and had even figured out he could scam some wireless bandwidth from their neighbors. Standing at the counter, fingers typing fluidly, he was making notes for a story. With growing excitement he began to wonder if he could write a whole novel in the one week he had access to the machine. People did that! He’d heard of it!

He was daydreaming of the fantasy glamour of having his finished novel in his hands when the door slammed open with more force than was necessary. He turned, about to give whoever it was a piece of his mind (“Hey! You gonna pay for that if you break it?!”) when he saw who it was who had just come in: Chisel, the loud, brainless jerk who used to taunt him during his time in Keever’s gang. There he was, bragging and blustering along with two other guys, one of whom John didn’t know and the other who had joined the gang shortly before the night John left. Also known as the night Pyro, the fire mutant had turned Nikkatyne into a human bonfire in front of two gangs.

As if he’d been clipped in the knees, John dropped to the floor behind the counter, scuttling like a crab deep into the niche beside the garbage can. He heard Chisel shout, “Hey! Can we get some fucking service here?” John’s heart was pounding, but he realized that he had not been seen. Just then Barrow emerged from the backroom, having taken the garbage out back through the fire exit. He looked annoyed at the ruckus and looked around for John. When he caught sight of him cowering under the counter, his eyebrows raised a bit and John threw him a pleading look, holding a silencing finger to his lips. Barrow looked up at the gang members, his face neutral.

“What can I get you boys?” he asked, as John crawled slowly around his feet and, shaking, made his way along the floor and into the backroom. He listened to the sound of the exchange out front, not hearing the words, just the way Chisel spat everything with pointless contempt and Barrow coolly replied. John was on his feet, grabbing his portfolio, his clothes—including the new ones he had bought with his first wages—and stuffing them in a big plastic bag. He ran to the end of the room and pulled open the heavy fire escape door, squinting into the light and making ready to run.

“Hey!” came a voice behind him and his heart thudded almost painfully. He turned and saw Barrow in the doorway to the backroom. The older man crossed the space quickly until he was standing right over John. He put a hand on the boy’s shoulder and whispered, “I’ll get rid of them; you come back in a few hours.” He paused, probing John’s eyes with concern. “Don’t you be running away on me, Big John.”

Reluctantly, John dropped his meager bag of possessions to the floor. Barrow held the fire escape door open while John slipped out and then closed it behind him with a crash. John leaned against the dirty brick. He let out a low moan and squeezed his eyes tightly shut. Fuck! Fuck! he thought. Why did I put down the damn bag? All he wanted was to run and keep running until everything was behind him: the city, the gang, every trick he’d turned and, most of all, the fire—the terrible fire he had lit that night, the great grotesquery of Nikkatyne burning, screaming. The memory had returned with Chisel; it was right there in front of his closed eyes. The panic threatened to overwhelm him and he opened his eyes and grounded himself in reality. He was here in the alley behind the diner. He was with Barrow. He wanted to run but he wasn’t going to betray this man who trusted him, who believed he was somebody.

His heart in his throat, he moved through the alleyway to the street, looking left towards the door of the diner to make sure the coast was clear, and then turning right and running as fast as he could down the sidewalk, not stopping until he was many blocks away.

***

Day by day, the relationship between Kitty and Lance had deepened, much to the delight of the school’s gossip mill which had precious little wood to grind. The couple was demonstrative, serious and living in their own world of meaningful looks and barely concealed make-out sessions.

Bobby, however, had a unique perspective on the whole thing. When Lance was training or otherwise occupied, Kitty would grab Bobby for walks, pouring out her heart, her worries and her hopes in long, neurotic monologues, asking him questions she didn’t give him the time to answer. “Do you think he’s right for me? Is he just after my body or does he respect me? Is it too early for me to be in love?”

Then came the evenings which were exponentially more baffling. The Kitty and Lance soap opera would begin somewhere on the grounds, the passion carefully restricted by Kitty to the lips and not much below. Then Act Two would follow in the boys’ dorm where Lance would come back, inflamed, and find relief with Bobby, moaning out his fantasies about the fabulous, maddening, uptight girl even as he taught Bobby’s body to sing songs it had never even heard of before. This routine had gone on for two weeks now and Bobby didn’t want to think about the future. In fact, not thinking about it seemed to work all around as his best coping method.

In addition to acting as the object of a popular student’s affection, Lance was earning other reputations at school. Half of the student body found him to be prickly and unapproachable and the other half thought he was funny and cool. He was generally recognized as the one most likely to find friction with the teachers and some were already taking bets on how long he’d last before quitting or being thrown out.

Nothing could get Kitty angrier than attacks on Lance (perceived or real) and she often leaped to his defense. She expected Bobby to be right there in the fray with her and was sort of disappointed when he held back. Bobby understood her frustration but he was reluctant to seem too worried about Lance’s fate.

Lance’s reaction to all this notoriety was to preen and clown for the students who liked him and grow hostile to those who didn’t. He ignored Kitty’s suggestions that he strive to make as much peace around himself as possible, especially with the teachers.

“He’s too proud,” she cried in frustration to Bobby as they left math class at 4:00. “He’ll never take my advice! Hey, you want to grab a snack?”

“No, I’ve got powers training with Scott,” he responded, “and so does Lance.”

“Shit, I forgot. It’s ‘shooters and shakers’ today.” She looked nervous. “Can you try and help him keep his cool? He hates that class so much.”

“Don’t you think I know that? Who gets to hear him bitch every night?”

“He’s just scared, Bobby. He doesn’t like things he can’t control.”

“He can’t control you,” Bobby pointed out. She smiled and, amazingly, blushed.

The class of six gathered thirty minutes later in the pit, dressed in their X-sweats. “Shooters and shakers” was the nickname given to the group of students with emittive powers (‘blasting shit to pieces’, as Sam liked to say), namely Roberto, Neal, Terry, Sam, Bobby and Lance. It was less of a grab bag than Kitty’s class (phasing, language acquisition, psychic imagery, lycanthropy, turning to metal, electronic interfacing) and Scott emphasized ways they could use similar techniques and coach each other in harnessing their destructive potentials.

They began with breathing and focusing exercises before taking turns attempting individually-designed trials. The theme of the day was using your powers in a more controlled way and preventing sudden spikes. Sam (whose mutation had profoundly accelerated the healing of his broken arm) had to launch himself without overshooting the flag Scott had raised to 20 feet. Terry had to user her voice to shatter a brick placed on wooden platform without shattering the glasses that sat on adjoining platforms.

Then it was Lance’s turn. He rose slowly from his place on the ground as if it were his decision and no one was waiting on him. He pushed the hair out of his face and watched Scott setting up the platform with more oddball objects.

Roberto called out, “Don’t worry, Lance! You doing it good today.” Lance nodded with the curt snap and raised his fists in the air. He reminded Bobby of a boxer before a match.

Scott finished and stepped aside revealing three eggs balanced on top of a short wooden stand. “Lance, I just want you to concentrate on turning on your powers and keeping them at their lowest level. I want to see the platform shaking but I do not want the eggs to fall.”

“Jeez, Mr. Summers,” Lance quipped. “At the carnival they glue them down so you can’t win the bear.”

“These aren’t glued, Lance,” Scott replied calmly. “Just do your best.”

Bobby watched anxiously as Lance took a wide-legged stance ten feet from the platform. He clenched and unclenched his fists and shook out his shoulders, breathing deeply and audibly, his brows tensed in concentration. Bobby called out to him, “Just stay cool.”

Neal added, “Just imagine your power as a wave on the ocean, rolling into the beach like—”

“Quiet!” Lance barked back, a bead of sweat appearing on his forehead. His hand turned into an inverted claw and he clenched his teeth. The earth began to move under them and Bobby put a hand out to steady himself. The platform was visibly moving and the eggs were quivering, wobbling back and forth. No one breathed.

“Steady,” Scott coached. “Keep it going just like that.”

Bobby could see Lance was struggling; he was dripping with sweat and hunching over like a gorilla ready to charge. He let out a fierce growl that caught everyone by surprise and the oscillations increased, the eggs swinging back and forth, closer to the edge.

A wicked smile crossed Sam’s lips and he muttered to Terry, “Oh my god! What was that?”

With a cackle she responded, “It’s your brother!”

They looked at each other and said in unison, “The Betrayers! They’re already inside!” Bobby realized with annoyance that they were quoting some movie trailer which he hadn’t seen. He wanted to blast them with hoarfrost.

“Pipe down, you two,” Scott snapped. “Lance, slow your breathing, relax your muscles, regain control.”

But it was too late. With another cry, Lance raised his fists in the air and a huge wave of tectonic energy shot through the ground, not only knocking off the eggs but bringing down the platform and tipping most of the class over. The tremors stopped abruptly. Lance turned and stormed off to the edge of the group, dropping on his ass and bringing his head down to his knees, his hands coming up to squeeze his temples.

Scott came over and crouched beside him, putting a hand on his shoulder he said, “Does your head hurt?”

Lance’s muffled voice responded, “Yes,” but he didn’t look up.

“That was good work, Lance. You held on for at least 15 seconds, that’s better than—”

Lance’s head shot up and Bobby winced because his roommate was furious. “Good work?! What was fucking good work? My scrambled eggs?!”

Scott got to his feet and said a bit sternly, “Okay, you have to calm down. That’s part of your problem. If you can’t control your temper, you won’t be able to control your powers.” Bobby looked resentfully at Scott.

Lance jumped to his feet, wincing from his headache. He was taller than Scott by a few inches and got right up in his face. “My problem is you acting so smug, like this is easy and I’m a loser if I can’t do it!”

Bobby wanted to jump in and say something but he was afraid to move. It was Neal who said, “No one called you a ‘loser’ except you, Lance.”

“Fuck off,” Lance spat at him. He turned and walked away, climbing out of the pit. Bobby got to his feet and ran after him, scrambling up the grassy incline.

“Bobby, let him go.” Scott called after him. “He has to take responsibility for his own actions.” Bobby stopped at the edge and looked back down at the class who were all watching him. He looked back at Lance’s retreating figure and, in the distance, he could see Kitty coming towards him. Had she just been waiting for class to end, or was she standing by in case of this exact outcome?

Bobby stayed behind after class to help Scott clean up. He was waiting for the right time to say what he was thinking, but he wasn’t ready yet.

“You did well today, Bobby,” Scott told him as he took down the flag from the pole. Bobby felt a swell of pride. On command, he had changed the texture of his ice blasts from hard pellets to wet sleet to a light dusting of snow. He had found a kind of channel inside himself from which he could just let the energy flow. Then he could use his conscious mind to adjust it. Scott told him that someday he’d be able to instantly build ice slides that he could swoop down as if he were spontaneously designing his own snowboard runs.

Bobby thought about this and about the future it implied. Adventure. Purpose. Then he thought about Lance and wondered what would happen to him if he couldn’t succeed at the school. He stopped cleaning up and just stood there until Scott turned around to look at him. “Is something wrong, Bobby?”

“Don’t you think...” he began and then decided to start over. “Do you think, um, that’s the best way to talk to Lance when he’s having trouble?”

Scott paused before asking, “What do you think I’m doing wrong?” There were times when Bobby wished he could see Scott’s eyes because at moments like this he had no idea what his teacher was thinking.

Bobby felt very uncomfortable giving Scott advice but he had started, so he went for it. “It’s just that his ego is pretty fragile. As soon as something doesn’t go right, he gives up on it, you know? Like, he’s really awesome in history and so he works hard in that class. But he doesn’t understand calculus so he never does his homework.”

“Yes, I’ve noticed that. What do you think we should do differently?”

Bobby hadn’t actually thought that far ahead. “Uh, well, I don’t know... praise him more or understand his frustration...”

Scott was silent for a minute and Bobby could see he was taking his words seriously; but then he shook his head. “Look, Lance is 17 years old. It’s about time he learned that he can’t control people through tantrums. He’s surrounded by other students who have their own problems; but they’re moving forward and not looking for special treatment.”

“That’s just it, Scott. I think he thinks he’s not as good as the rest of us.” Bobby hadn’t realized this until he said it out loud and it shook him up a bit. Confident Lance was more scared than he was. That was why he never came to the peer discussions—he didn’t dare open up that much.

Scott came over and put an arm around Bobby’s shoulder, leading them out of the pit and back towards the mansion. “I’m sorry, Bobby. I can’t afford to spend more energy coddling Lance at the expense of the other students. He has lots of support from everyone; all he has to do is ask. If he’s determined to go it alone, that’s his decision.”

Bobby said nothing and spent dinnertime and the rest of the evening thinking about his role in Lance’s secret life. He and Kitty both wanted Lance to succeed. They both believed in him. Was he doing everything he could to help? Was he the one taking advantage?

It was after 9:30 and Lance and Kitty had not returned from wherever they were on the grounds. Bobby kept going downstairs to check for them and then returning to the dorm room to study. He was trying to write a sociology paper but was actually spending more time IM’ing with Mike.

Bcube says: (9:46:16 PM)
     When did you meet her?
Haddaddah says: (9:46:22 PM)
     Summer at the mall. I really like hr a lot. But she
     has a TEMPER!
Bcube says: (9:46:30 PM)
    Uh-oh
Haddadah says: (9:46:45 PM)
     We fought first week of school but we made up
Bcube says: (9:46:16 PM)
     Awwwwwwwwwwwwwww… kyoot!
Haddadah says: (9:47:02 PM)
     Yeah, yeah, blahblah
Bcube says: (9:47:17 PM)
     What did u fight about?
Haddadah says: (9:47:25 PM)
     I got in trouble with Matthews about something
Bcube says: (9:47:44 PM)
     Bullshit. you in the principal’s office? mr. model
     student?
Haddadah says: (9:48:03 PM)
     Uh-uh, not anymore. Different guy now
Bcube says: (9:48:12 PM)
     Bullshit.
Haddadah says: (9:48:30 PM)
     My hair is hippie-length! Anway, look who’s
     talking. it’s not like you ever got busted.
Bcube says: (9:49:10 PM)
     No, I’m different too. called in to the headmaster
Haddadah says: (9:49:27 PM)
     Bullshit yourself! What did you do wrong?!!
Bcube says: (9:50:05 PM)
     Just never mind what I did.
Haddadah says: (9:50:15 PM)
     Did you cheat on a test?
Bcube says: (9:50:40 PM)
     No. got caught smoking up
Haddadah says: (9:51:03 PM)
     LOL! Stoner!!!!!
Bcube says: (9:51:15 PM)
     Hard to put one over on a telepath.
Haddadah says: (9:51:44 PM)
     THE BETRAYERS: THEY’RE ALREADY
     INSIDE!
Bcube says: (9:52:13 PM)
     What is that?! someone in class said it too
Haddadah says: (9:52:36 PM)
     Made-for-TV horror flick. coming on Hallowe’en.
     Looks cheesy but cool.
Bcube says: (9:52:51 PM)
     So gf was mad you got in trouble?
Haddadah says: (9:53:10 PM)
      uh, yeah, it kind of affected her. I can’t talk
     about it.
Bcube says: (9:53:35 PM)
     What?!! Huh? WUZZUP?!!! Tell me the big secret.
Haddadah says: (9:54:02 PM)
     Shit shouldn’t have said anything. what about
     u? hooked up with anyone?

The door open and Lance drifted in like a dark cloud. He snapped on his portable stereo and hip-hop came blasting out. Bobby winced because it was a bit late to be playing music that loud. Lance moved to his bed, kicked off his high tops and lay down without a word, staring up at the ceiling.

“Hey,” Bobby ventured, raising his voice over the music. “You okay?”

“Whatever,” Lance offered in return.

Bcube says: (9:55:28 PM)
     Hang on. brb
Haddadah says: (9:55:46 PM)
     No, I gotta hit the sack. early day tomorrow
Bcube says: (9:56:10 PM)
     k. g’night. tell me about hot chick next time
Haddadah says: (9:56:28 PM)
     Jubilee
Bcube says: (9:56:47 PM)
     that’s a name? ok more questions. bookmark it. gtg

Bobby turned in his desk chair and tried to read Lance. Was he asking to be left alone or waiting for Bobby to come and join him?

There was a loud electronic squawk from the stereo. The music stopped abruptly and Jones’ voice spoke through the speakers: “Attention, Attention! This is the noise police. Your crap music is being suspended effective immediately.” Bobby and Lance watched as the stereo unit shut itself down.

Lance gave a single pound on the wall, “Fuck you!” and dropped back on his bed, turning to face the wall.

Bobby poked at the silence. “You know, you didn’t do so bad in ‘powers’ class. You held it for a while...”

“God, Drake! I’ve had enough of you and Kitty. Fucking give it a rest,” barked Lance’s back and Bobby thought the conversation was over. He turned back to his desk and was about to get down to work when Lance spoke again. “She was really pissed, you know. I don’t blame her. Why bother with me when there are other dudes here. Neal or Sam. Or Peter. Bet she’d go for Peter.”

“What are you talking about, Lance?” Bobby asked, noticing he wasn’t included in the list.

Lance turned to him, his face exasperated, hurt, angry. “Add ‘em up, bro! She’s a winner; and winners go with winners!”

“She digs you, man! You know she does!” Bobby sounded whiny to himself.

“Yeah and you know why? Because I’m a bad boy. We’re fun for good little chicks like Kitty! But in the end, you gotta go with someone who makes you look good, right? Guys like me are just for fun.” He punched the wall again with a vicious jab that left him rubbing his knuckles. He sat up and put his feet on the floor. He looked forlorn, pathetic and utterly unlike himself. “And fuck me for a fool, Bobby. I think I love her. I fucking love her and I’m gonna fuck it up!”

Bobby moved across the floor without thinking, grabbing Lance’s upper arms in both hands and shaking him angrily. He didn’t know what he was doing; shaking sense into him? Punishing him? He dug his fingers into the meat of the boy’s biceps with painful intensity and stared at him, their face inches apart. And then Bobby put a knee on the bed in between Lance’s parted thighs and brought his mouth down to kiss him hard on the lips. Lance seemed to resist for a moment before opening his mouth to let Bobby’s tongue in.

They kissed loudly and wetly and Bobby’s hand went to Lance’s crotch where he found a fat erection which he massaged forcefully with his palm. Lance broke away from the kiss, turning his head sideways and gasping, “Dammit, Bobby!” as if he were angry. But Bobby suddenly had no fear. He began undoing the buttons of Lance’s shirt and started kissing his way down from the neck, his lips following the expanse of skin that his fingers were revealing. His tongue lapped across the big brown nipple, and he felt the coarse hairs tickle his tongue.

“What the fuck are you doing, Drake?” Lance murmured but Bobby didn’t believe he wanted him to stop. Lance’s shirt was open now and Bobby’s knees were on the floor as he lapped at the treasure trail and ran his tongue in and out of the navel, his hands hanging onto Lance’s side, thumbs on the forward jut of his pelvic bone..

Bobby sat back on his haunches and brought his shaking hands to Lance’s belt buckle. Breathing hard, he undid the belt and pants button without subtlety, hell-bent on his goal. He pulled down the zipper and found a wet spot on the plum-colored boxers. He put his nose and lips against the hard on, kissing the wet spot. He raised his head and looked up defiantly, hungrily at Lance’s amazed face. Lance’s expression was somewhere between carnivorous and frightened as Bobby hooked his hands into his waistband and commanded him, “Lift up.”

Lance lifted his butt off the bed with his hands and Bobby pulled the jeans and shorts down. The underwear caught on Lance’s erection for a minute and it was released with a snap on his stomach as Bobby pulled the clothing free of the hairy legs. For the first time since he had crossed the room, Bobby felt a twinge of panic invading his resolution, but he shook it off and returned to his position between Lance’s legs, taking the hard-on in his shaking hand, stroking it a couple of times and then lowering his mouth onto the head.

Bobby had never done this before, though he had curved his lips around many abstractions of dicks in the final moments of his masturbation fantasies. Now, faced with hot reality, he felt there wasn’t actually that much to know. His mouth tasted, sucked and licked the top half while his hand stroked the base in movements he had perfected over the last weeks. Lance was starting to make deep sounds in his throat and hissing through his teeth. Bobby tasted pre-cum for the first time and it spurred him to move faster, to take more into his throat. Lance was moving his hips now, too and Bobby choked for a second before realizing he could use the jacking hand to control the depth of penetration. He thought of how Scott called him a good problem-solver.

Lance’s familiar sex-scent was rising from the pubic hairs beside Bobby’s nose and it was like the craziest drug in the world, making Bobby crave the gush of semen that was going to come sooner than later, if he knew the pattern of Lance’s breathing.

“Fuck yeah, Bobby,” Lance was murmuring in a bass rumble, “Take it, suck it.” Bobby realized it was the first time Lance had said his name during sex instead of getting himself worked up with a commentary about Kitty’s tits and pussy. He felt powerful and, as the dick in his mouth thickened, he undid his own pants and awkwardly pulled out his own rock hardness. Jacking them both now, Lance’s dick sliding into a perfect rhythm of invasion, Bobby heard himself moaning around the thick meat as Lance’s voice got tight and his breathing faster. Lance’s hands flew to Bobby’s head and held it still as his penis swelled in Bobby’s fist and jets of semen blew into his mouth and throat, Lance’s cry sounding as full of loss as it was of exultation.

Bobby felt his own penis explode and his orgasm surged through him like possession, exaggerating the world around him. He could taste Lance’s essence in his mouth and nose, feel the strong hands in his hair and hear the sound of semen plopping on the parquet floor—each sensation magnified and profound. He dropped his face onto Lance’s thighs as aftershock orgasms continued to wrack his frame. They stayed in that position for a long time before Bobby’s knees started complaining and he lowered himself to the floor, his pants and briefs around his thighs and the air cooling his exposed, retreating genitals.

Bobby looked up at Lance who was leaning against the wall, his eyes closed and said, “If Kitty doesn’t want you—and you’re a fool if you think she doesn’t... If anyone doesn’t see your worth, they’re idiots.” Lance said nothing—didn’t even look at him—but rose slowly, pulled on a pair of sweatpants, got his toilet kit and left for the bathroom.

“Fuck it,” Bobby said to himself as he looked around for something to clean off with. He chose Lance’s underwear. And when he had wiped the last of the semen from his thighs and lips, he brought the underwear to his nose and inhaled deeply. There was a catch in his breath but he resolved firmly that he was not going to cry.

He undressed completely, turned off the overhead light and climbed into his bed. He would sleep naked tonight, like Lance. Defenseless and defiant. Only Lance’s small bedside lamp still illuminated the room as his roommate returned from the bathroom. He pulled off his sweatpants, tossed them sloppily on the floor and climbed into his own narrow bed. Bobby turned his face to the wall, though his eyes were still open. He felt hot, lost and utterly alone.

“Bobby,” came Lance’s voice. It was choked and hoarse. Bobby turned over to find his roommate staring at him with a face so drained that Bobby thought he was seeing a ghost. A silence into which ocean liners might disappear before Lance finally whispered, “Good night.”

They continued to stare at each other. Lance’s eyes drifted closed with fatigue and then popped open to find Bobby still staring. “What?”

“Maybe I... uh, could I sleep in your bed tonight?” A pause. “I mean with you.”

“Don’t fag out on me, Drake.” Lance said with finality and rolled over. Soon, he was snoring gently.

Bobby didn’t say a word. He lay there frozen thinking he’d never sleep a wink that night—maybe ever—but then his eyes were shutting, too and he was grateful for the coming oblivion.

His computer was muted and so he didn’t hear the IM alert noise and didn’t see the message that popped up on his screen:

Pyro Pyro Burning Bright says: (10:42:51 PM)
     Bobby? That you?
Pyro Pyro Burning Bright says: (10:43:25 PM)
     Hey, it’s me, John. St. John. Pyro from the youth group thing back in May
Pyro Pyro Burning Bright says: (10:44:02 PM)
     You there? Guess you don’t remember me.

***

John stared at the screen and drummed his fingers on his thigh. He was sitting cross-legged on the floor before the borrowed laptop which was perched on his mattress. His face was calm but his legs were twitching nervously. Nauseous with fear, he had returned to the diner after 5:00, his neck straining constantly as he scanned every corner of the street for gang members.

Barrow had been cool as usual, not subjecting him to any interrogation about the customers that had frightened him so badly.

“What if they come back?” John had asked, more to himself.

Barrow had snorted. “Not likely. I burned their burgers and gave them warm soda.”

John had smiled despite his tension, feeling a rush of affection for the older man. “Heh. They pay their bill?”

“Yeah,” Barrow had answered, “but they stiffed me! No wonder you don’t like ‘em!”

John had felt a bit better and gratefully made the two of them dinner with his newly emerging culinary skills. As he cooked in the familiar kitchen, he had chided himself for getting so bent out of shape by those losers; but as darkness descended, the fear had returned and the ghosts from his past seemed to haunt the shadowed corners of the backroom. He had turned on the computer and found that the wireless signal from next door was still working. The Internet, he had decided, would distract him until it was time to sleep.

He had caught up on six months worth of Dinosaur Comics and covertly scanned his favorite sites of naked skater dudes when he had thought to IM Bobby. Against all reason and after six months, the earnest little suburban boy still haunted his memory. Bobby still stood, somehow, for safety.

But that hadn’t worked out, had it? The Messenger window showed Bobby was online but he wasn’t answering. Probably he didn’t want to talk to the weirdo trouble maker who shoved poems at him and then ran away like a scared girl. Probably next time he logged on, John would find himself blocked. Fuck it. It didn’t matter one way or another.

Barrow had been reading the paper in the diner and now turned out the lights there and came into the backroom to go to bed. “Good night, Big John,” he muttered as he climbed under the covers. “Don’t stay up too late.”

John suddenly felt something in his chest and looked up startled. “Hey! You didn’t turn off the pilot light on the stove!”

Barrow raised his head, maybe to wonder how John knew that. “Nah, there’s something wrong with the regulator. It took me almost fifteen minute to get it going this morning. I called the repair guy and he said to leave it on and he’ll come tomorrow after we close.”

“Oh,” John replied, trying to sound calm. “Okay.” A horrible dread took hold of him, mixing with the other miseries already churning in the cauldron of his guts and he knew he wouldn’t be sleeping anytime soon. The noises from the street were tortured groans as they came through the high, closed window and the wind rattled in the exhaust fan. Through this background scrabble came the irritating mutters of the stove, calling out, “St. John… St. John… let me loose. Let me feed…”

He ignored it all and opened a new document. He began writing with no clear destination in mind, almost in a trance. Sometimes it was like poetry, sometimes diary... but somewhere, in the dry pile of words, the spark of an idea caught fire. It was just a little piece of fiction about a boy who lived in the shadow of a volcano. It was a short story maybe. He was attended by the sea birds and ruled over the mice who sheltered in his hut from the volcano’s burning spit. And there were others. There were acolytes and jesters. There were warriors on neighboring islands whose spears could reach him when he went down the beach to fish. There were ancient sharks in the frozen depths who had answers to his questions but would only reveal them for an awful price, paid in flesh and marrow. Clearly, it was many stories and he began to write lists of names and sketches of scenes that would happen deep into the tale. It was a novel. And it wasn’t pretty and it wasn’t nice. And the blood that flowed from the wounds was drunk by the hungry even as the helpless victim lay dying. Because the sentimental didn’t survive where volcanoes rumbled and allies betrayed.

It was two in the morning when the torrent of ideas stopped flowing. His legs ached from sitting cross-legged and his fingers were almost numb from typing. He shut down the computer and staggered to his mattress, exhaustion blurring his vision. And as sleep slowly drowned him, visions of his fictional world danced in front of his eyes. Something in him realized that the main character’s castle was the abandoned building where Keever’s gang had lived and perhaps still did. He could see them moving around him, and from a high window, he could see fire in the courtyard.

“Sleeeeep, St. John,” murmured the pilot light.

“Eat me,” he breathed and fell unconscious.

His sleep was nothing but dreams, as if the fiction button, once pressed, couldn’t be disengaged. Things were just typically surreal and dull until Chisel found him in a huge industrial kitchen. John was alone in the cavernous facility where the dim light came from pale, humming fluorescents a mile up. He was dicing a huge pile of carrots with a large chef’s knife and trying to be very small and quiet. Chisel’s steps echoed as he approached inexorably, a horrible grin on his features. John pretended not to care and kept cutting, but his anxiety grew as step by step, the enemy approached, taller than he remembered. Monstrously tall.

Chisel sounded close when he finally spoke. “Keever doesn’t like carrot soup, fuckwad.” John panicked. He had thought the soup would appease. He looked down and there was no knife in his hand. Chisel had it; he knew that without looking. John turned to face him across the nighttime desert landscape, the air smoky with oil fires. It wasn’t Chisel though, it was his stepfather, swinging the knife through the air with lazy menace.

“Fuck you!” John screamed at him through his terror. “I got away! You can’t follow me here!” But John was very small and the man towered above him. His stomach was in his throat as his stepfather moved closer and John dropped to the hard-packed desert floor, curling himself into a tiny ball, waiting for the first blow. Then he realized he wasn’t helpless, not at all! The ground was full of fire, full of fuel.

He dared to look up at the fat, bald silhouette that rose above him. The man said in a voice like dark toffee, “I want your sweet mouth, Little John,” and John reached with his mind into the corroded pipes and touched the flame, clenching his fist tight in concentration.

“Not this time,” John growled and released his hand, pulling the fire into the air, making it rise like a wave behind the punishing demon who caught fire and screamed, dropping the belt from his hand. The inferno rose on a limitless supply of underground gas. He was safe, he was unstoppable.

Something exploded and John awoke with a start on his mattress; his eyes went wide. The wall behind Barrow was on fire, debris already half-covering the unconscious man.

***

Bobby and Mike were on a new roller coaster at Six Flags called “The Betrayer”. Mike was hollering and grinning as they plunged hundreds of feet straight towards the ground. Bobby was worried, though; it just didn’t feel safe. Rivets popped as they raced around corners and the structure was shaking as if it would tear apart any minute.

“Isn’t this great?!” Mike screamed over the rush of the wind and bump of the coaster.

Bobby looked around frantically and saw the ride was almost empty; he and Mike were in the front car and way in the back were Lance and Kitty, holding tight to each other. As the ride rounded a particularly tight corner, Bobby saw the last car break free and fly into the air. Lance’s scream cut through the air as the whole ride shook calamitously and began to disintegrate around them.

He tried to reach for Mike but they were pitching too wildly and that was when Bobby realized he was awake in Lance’s bed (and when the fuck had that happened?) experiencing a mutant-made earthquake. His roommate had fallen naked to the floor and was clutching his head, screaming in pain. Books, CDs, the stereo, all were tumbling to the floor, furniture was skittering across the floor out of position and plaster dust was filling the air.

Bobby could hear people shouting in the rooms around them as they were awoken. He tried unsuccessfully to get to his feet, ending up on all fours on the bed, calling, “Lance! Stop it! You’re going to bring the ceiling down!” Lance rolled on his back, looking up at Bobby through tear-filled eyes that begged for help. Bobby was shaken off the bed, naked, on top of Lance. He grabbed him by the shoulders and shouted, “Look at me! Look me in the eyes. You have to control it!” but Lance seemed to be completely panicked, grabbing onto Bobby like a drowning man. Bobby closed his eyes tight, concentrating through the shaking, through sound of falling debris, through Lance’s fierce grip and called with his mind, *Professor! Help! Wake up! Lance can’t turn off his powers!*

Bobby felt Xavier’s presence sweep across him though it came with no words. Lance let go and fell back to the floor with a strangled cry. Bobby opened his eyes and watched his roommate’s internal struggle as the waves of tremors slowed and stopped. Bobby felt nauseous as he staggered to his feet, clearing a path to the door.

*Hold on, Bobby,* came Jean’s voice in his head. *I’m on my way!*

Their door handle shook but the door couldn’t open because Bobby’s desk had slid in front of it. Peter’s voice called out. “Bobby? Lance?! Stand back; I’m going to break down the door!”

“Peter, no!” Bobby called, suddenly noticing that he was naked. “I’ll get it!” He grabbed Lance’s bunched up sweatpants and pulled them on—hopping like a stork until he could force his second leg through the tangle—then ran to push the desk out of the way. Lance was on the ground, still holding his head, crying in agony. Small aftershocks shook the room every time a spike of pain went through him.

“Hang on, Lance! Jean’s coming.” Bobby began pushing the heavy wooden desk (why did he have to have one of the old solid wood desks instead of a light IKEA one?!) while more agitated voices joined Peter’s on the other side of the door. Bobby saw Lance begin to crawl towards his night table and called out to him between grunts of exertion, “Hey, man, just hold still; help’s on the way!”

He realized that the desk was being stopped by a pile of fallen books wedged under the legs. He dropped to the ground and pulled them loose. Suddenly Peter was able to move the desk as he pushed the door open. The big Russian squeezed into the room in his pale blue pajamas followed by Sam and Jones as other students filled the doorway, eyes wide. Bobby could hear more voices approaching as the girls ran in from their wing. Everyone was asking what had happened and Bobby only then turned around to see Lance curled on the floor, naked with his cell phone to his ear, weeping like a child and babbling into it, “Mommy, it hurts, please, please help me, Mommy! Make it stop, please, it hurts!”

“Stand aside,” Scott yelled out in the corridor and bodies parted to let Jean through, medical kit in hand.

***

“NO!” John screamed as the realization of what he’d done hit him like a slap. As if it were fate laughing at him, the fire surged high and hot, like a wave ready to break over the unconscious form of Barrow. Screaming, teeth gritted, hand outstretched, John used his powers to push the flame back towards the door to the diner. It was a terrible battle and too much for him, especially with the gas still on, feeding the flames. He staggered across the room to Barrow and, right hand in the air to control the fire, started dragging the heavy unconscious man towards the back door with his left. His skinny frame strained with the effort.

He needed to keep the heat off Barrow, needed to get both of them away from the smoke which was pressing down from the ceiling, making him tear up and cough. He could hear the exultation of the fire as it swept through the diner, consuming everything in its path. It was swift and it was brutal and John knew he could do nothing but save himself and, he prayed, the older man. He pulled the emergency door open and the fresh air fanned the flames higher. Abandoning any attempt to control the inferno, he used both hands to drag Barrow into the alley. He didn’t know if he was alive or dead.

Sirens sounded in the distance, and John soon realized they were coming his way. He had to leave; couldn’t afford to be caught there, questioned, returned to his family, revealed as a dangerous mutant. “Shit!” he screamed at the top of his lungs, misery tearing him apart. He realized he was weeping. He looked back into the room where the mattresses were burning fiercely. He got on his knees and reached in beside the door. The plastic bag with his belongings, still packed up since yesterday’s abortive escape, was within reach and he pulled it into the open air. He knelt beside Barrow and put a hand on his chest. “I’m sorry,” he told him though he knew his words weren’t heard. “I just wreck everything. I… I’m sorry.”

The sirens were close now and he could hear people shouting in the street. He grabbed the plastic bag and moved to the entrance of the alleyway. A crowd was gathering in the street and a fire truck was turning into the block. It was now or never. He broke cover and ran as he had run the previous afternoon, knowing this time he would not be coming back.

***

At 5:00 a.m., Bobby and Kitty emerged from the elevator in the lobby. They had finally seen the secret sub-basement and the glistening science-fiction world had been everything they had imagined. They just didn’t care anymore. They had helped bring Lance to the med-lab where they had watched, terrified as he had been hooked up to futuristic machines, Jean all the while working with him psychically to relieve his headache and Scott coaching him to subdue his powers. Finally, Lance had grown quiet and the aftershocks had ceased. Bobby and Kitty were gently but surely dismissed.

The elevator doors closed behind them and they climbed the stairs silently. Through the windows, Bobby could see that the first hint of dawn changing the autumn skies from black to the purple of a bruise. He walked Kitty to her room. He thought he’d go in and sit with her, but Rahne opened the door, took Kitty by the hand and led her to her bed. “Thank, Bobby,” she said in her shy, rough voice. “I’ll take care of her.”

“Okay, Rahne, thanks. Get some sleep, Kitty.”

Bobby lingered silently in the doorway for another moment and Kitty looked up at him, her face fatigued but calm. “What about his parents? They already phoned Xavier, didn’t they?”

“They’re coming tomorrow morning to take him away. I have to go pack his bags.” A feeling like a cold river ran through his chest as he watched Kitty’s face melt into tears. She started weeping loudly and Rahne came over to hold her, waving at Bobby to leave.

Bobby walked wearily to his room where there was no one to hold him if he needed to cry.

“Did anything out of the ordinary happen tonight?” Jean had asked him in the med lab.

“No,” he had replied quickly. “Of course not! What do you mean?”

He replayed this conversation over and over in his mind as he gathered Lance’s belongings.

***

The sun was rising above the buildings and the bitter smell of smoke hung in the air. Barrow lay on the stretcher, breathing through an oxygen mask and looking at the devastation of the diner. The fire was out and steam hissed through the broken front window. He saw one of his regulars coming down the street with a look of horror. She was a business woman, or maybe a decorator. He had never had a chance to ask her what she did in all the months he had served her eggs and coffee. She turned and saw him across the street on the stretcher and gave a small wave. He closed his eyes and pretended he hadn’t seen her.

A groggy passage of time before a stern voice addressed him. “Sir? Can I ask you a few questions now?” He opened his eyes and saw a policeman. Barrow nodded.

“How did you get out? Do you remember?”

Barrow started to speak and began coughing. A paramedic came and helped him sit up until the fit had stopped. The young man wiped his mouth off and replaced the mask. “I imagine it must have been the boy,” Barrow managed, his throat sore.

“The boy? Someone was with you overnight?”

“Yes. We were… just staying there a few nights until I got into my new apartment.”

“And you think he pulled you out.”

Barrow thought about this, thought about Big John pushing big pots of soup around the stove, wrestling sacks of potatoes from the delivery truck with his skinny arms. Barrow said, “Yes, I’m sure of it. He saved me.”

“Do you know where he might be?” the policeman asked, putting his pen to his pad. “We’d like to speak to him.”

John looked around the street again, at the buildings in the foreground and the buildings in the background—at all the layers on layers of the city in which nameless people vanished. “No, I don’t know where he’s gone. Don’t figure he’ll be back.”

“What’s his name?”

“’John,’ he told me.” The sun touched Barrow’s face with a merciful caress. “Same as mine.”

Chapter 13

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