Chapter 15: “The Yellow and the Black, Part 2”

Scott! It’s Bobby with a sit rep! Me and Kitty... the Turcott clinic. The roof and wall just peeled open and, uh, this guy in a cape named Malveno or Maraschino or something...

“Bobby,” Kitty hissed, breaking his imaginary call. “What do we do?”

He had no answer for that. He and Kitty were crouched behind a sofa in the battered Day Room where they had sheltered when the debris started flying. Maybe he should phone Scott for real; but the worse the situation got at the clinic, the more trouble he imagined them getting into for being there in the first place. So he said nothing, just squinted through the haze of dust from the recent demolition and tried to make sense of the world.

The chill of the night was flooding through the hole in the wall and his ice-sense told him that it was only a few degrees above freezing in the room. The cold seemed to clear his mind and he found himself wondering if he’d do better at school this winter if he were to study outside.

Equally cold was the smile of the man in the cape as he crossed the room to stare into the frightened eyes of Christian Turcott. At the same time, two figures, each more improbable than the other, stepped through the shattered wall. The first was a massive man, like one of those 500-pound housebound types Bobby had seen on some TV freak shows. However, unlike those sad figures (usually rescued by the show with camera crew and forklift), this behemoth was mobile, even weirdly athletic, his every dynamic step making the floor shake. He planted himself in front of the security guard, protecting the man in the cape. His puffed up face was inscrutable.

He was followed inside by a blue woman. While that description would have been enough to mark her in any crowd, this particular blue woman had vivid yellow eyes and bright red hair. She seemed at once naked and costumed, her blue skin festooned with exotic, organic fringes and she walked with a flowing alertness that seemed simultaneously queen-like and animal.

“Ohmygod,” Kitty murmured, her mouth slack, her breath visible in the cold.

The caped man (Manicotti? Magellan?) only had eyes for Turcott, but the blue woman’s probing yellow gaze was swinging through the room like a searchlight, assessing the terrain, taking the measure of the frightened nurses and the Russian cleaner. Her concentration reminded Bobby of Scott.

Hello, Scott? Sit rep: cape! blue! fat!

Bobby grabbed Kitty by the shoulders and hauled her down behind the couch. She looked up at him, frightened and he mouthed “quiet!” to her.

“Wh-who are you?” Bobby heard Turcott ask, his voice edged with hysteria. Bobby peaked out carefully around the side of the couch. “Magneto, did you say? Is that... some kind of nickname?”

Magneto laughed gently as if Turcott had said something pleasantly amusing. “It is my name, Doctor Turcott. My true name, though I only came to it later in life. Much like you only came to be called ‘Doctor’ after much study and trial.”

Bobby peeked again over the top of the couch as Magneto (Magneto? What’s that supposed to mean?) stepped closer to Turcott. He wasn’t any taller but his confidence gave him psychological grandeur and the doctor shrank at his approach.

“It is a name I chose for myself,” Magneto continued, “and yet it is truer than the human name I was born with. Perhaps it is like your title, Doctor. Do you feel you have lived up to the trust and obligation that was bestowed on you with that title?”

Turcott seemed to have no answer.

“In essence, Doctor, that is what I’ve come here tonight to ask you.” For the first time, Bobby heard a note of true menace in the voice of the silver-haired man. “You would do well to answer carefully.”

Without turning, he called out, “Mystique, access the clinic’s records. Let’s find out who the patients are and what the good doctor has planned for them.”

Bobby had been so intent on Magneto that he had forgotten the blue woman and her unnerving laser-like gaze. She slid into view, passing her boss and heading towards the nursing station beyond the door. Bobby ducked back behind their shelter.

“Blob,” Magneto called to his other accomplice and the absurdity of the name underscored the bizarreness of the whole fucked-up scene. Bobby felt his stomach shift.

“Yessir,” came the hoarse voice of the massive man.

“Make sure our excitable security professional doesn’t find any other weapons to play with. And as for these fine people,” he indicated the frightened staff, “collect their cell phones and keep them together here while I speak to their employer.”

The man called Blob took a few thundering steps across the floor and the beams overhead groaned ominously. Plaster fell on Bobby’s head.

Mystique called from the door, “Magneto, maybe we’d better move into the main building before the roof in there comes down on everyone.” Bobby was almost surprised to hear her voice, as if she were too exotic for something as mundane as speech.

“You know, I believe you have a point there, my dear,” he responded. “Blob, take your charges and follow Mystique. Perhaps you should tie them up in there. If any escape I will be most unhappy.”

“Come on, move!” Speaking seemed almost painful to Blob, Bobby noted. He peeked around the side of the couch as everyone filed out except Turcott and Magneto. He and Kitty were trapped in the crumbling room with them.

Bobby turned to communicate with his friend just in time to watch her crawling to the far end of the couch for a vantage point of her own. He felt panic growing in his chest and realized he didn’t trust her to be careful enough. In fact, this whole fucking fiasco of an evening told him that.

A metal chair slid across the floor beside him, skittering to a halt beside Turcott. Bobby almost shouted out in surprise.

“Please have a seat, Doctor,” Magneto said in a tone of courteous threat.

Turcott remained standing. “No, thank you. I’ll ask you again,” the doctor said, finding his lost confidence at last. “What are you doing in my clinic? I do not appreciate my staff being terrorized, my property damaged—”

Bobby watched Magneto’s face darken. The metal chair shook violently, its feet dancing an agitated tattoo on the floor, as if to say: “He told you to sit!

Turcott sank into the chair with a surprised expression, like his legs had made the decision for him.

Magneto’s face grew calm again, curious. He paced slowly in front of Turcott who was gripping the seat with both hands.

“Let us begin, Doctor,” Magneto said. “When did you first become interested in my people—in Mutants?”

Turcott hesitated a second before answering. “I-I followed the early reports of the manifestations with interest. There was a lot of debate as to whether the cases were purely anomalous or, um, indications of a new sub-species.”

“Yes, I remember those months well. The buzz amused me, Doctor—human scientists talking about us as if we were an exotic new bacterium or Amazonian frog, as if they could patent us.”

Magneto’s eyes seemed to warm with sympathy and in a kinder tone he inquired, “But what was the event that made you change the focus of your career? How did you decide to devote yourself to our... welfare?”

Perhaps it was because Magneto had asked the question like someone on TV—Larry King maybe—Turcott seemed to find his enthusiasm again.

“I was at a party, a fundraiser for a new foundation and I suddenly saw someone I knew. I’m sure you’ve heard of him. Derek Strachan? Of the Cambridge Group? No? Anyway, he looked just terrible. I got him a drink and asked what was wrong. I expected to hear ‘divorce’, ‘cancer’, ‘Chapter 11’.”

Magneto smiled indulgently. “But it wasn’t cancer, was it?”

“No,” Turcott responded. “It was his daughter. Her mutation had begun subtly, presenting with just a few unusual physiological anomalies: repigmentation, subtle structure realignment. But then she began to register on Geiger counters, emitting gamma radiation. She was being held in a closed ward with no obvious treatments for her condition.”

“Her condition,” Magneto repeated quietly. “And of course, you, as a man of medicine, a healer, offered to help.”

“Well, there wasn’t anything I could do for him. He already had the best doctors money could buy. But it did get me thinking. If the Strachans were experiencing this kind of heartache—“

“Heartache…” Magneto repeated, encouragingly.

“Then surely other families were similarly in need.”

“You saw a niche. An opportunity.”

“To help, yes.”

“And how soon was this fine establishment up and running, Doctor?” Magneto somewhat ridiculously indicated the demolished room but Turcott failed to see the irony.

With his famous smile back in place, he nodded and said, “We had this facility repurposed and renovated within eight months. It was an exceptional team effort.”

“Don’t be modest, Doctor. It was your dream and vision.” Magneto said with a solicitous smile. “But one wonders how you found the time—what with choosing tile colors and such—to learn anything about the patients you would soon be cutting open.”

Turcott’s face fell as if he had only just remembered what was happening. He shivered in the cold night air.

“I-I was, of course, studying night and day, talking to the best consultants in the field.”

“The collective wisdom as it were, yes.”

“Yes! And I knew there would be a steep learning curve once we opened our doors, perfecting techniques and—”

“Experimenting,” Magneto said in a low voice.

Turcott paused. “Yes,” he replied carefully. “Working night and day to find new methods and—”

“Fumbling in the dark,” Magneto cut him off. “Hacking away at the new flowers of creation. Dissecting the butterfly with a dull hatchet.”

Turcott tried for indignation, “Look, that’s not fair. It’s a new area of medicine and we are all—”

Magneto’s brow furrowed. “A new area? Hardly, Doctor Turcott. Blood letting, mutilation—these are as old as time.”

From the debris, crude cudgels of metal rose in the air and began circling lazily around Turcott who shrank in his seat, trying to present as small a target as possible. Magneto continued, “No, your error, your sin of arrogance came with your first assumption: that there is anything about a fine young Mutant that needs fixing.” The shards of metal began to whirl faster, in more complex patterns, ricocheting off each other with sharp clangs. “The assumption that we are a mistake when, in fact, we are your successors.”

“Mister... Magneto, please,” Turcott was very frightened now. “You have to understand... the families were heartbroken, desperate...”

“Tell me, Turcott,” Magneto continued relentlessly, “have you read much about Dr. Mengele? Auschwitz’s Angel of Death? He was an avid experimentalist himself. In the Nazi concentration camps, he conducted vile and pointless tortures in the name of science. The Jews whose limbs he broke and whose flesh he cut were not even human, as far as he was concerned. Certainly not as human as a true Aryan man like himself. I was just a boy then and owed my allegiance to a different people than I do now, but I was there. I remember. A handsome man he was, charming like yourself.”

“That’s not f-fair. I am not Josef Mengele!”

“Yes, yes. Of course the situation is different, but imagine, if you would that you were there in some Weimar mansion, a soirée for the Reich’s most influential citizens. The Strachans of their day, if you will. I think you’ll find this amusing, listen.”

The shards were now spinning on their axes as they orbited, and Turcott flinched as they passed his ears with a ‘whoosh’.

Magneto had a horrible glint in his eye and wore a shocking smile as he spun his tale. “You’ve just tucked away another fine Bavarian cocktail sausage with some excellent schnapps when Herr Goering comes up to you looking distraught. ‘Ach, Herr Doktor,’ he whines. ‘I don’t know what to do... My wife has given birth to ein kleiner Jud! A Jew, Doctor! Dark, deformed. It is terrible. What will the Feurher say? Is there nothing you can do with your clever scalpel?’”

“Magneto,” came a voice from the door. Bobby turned to see the women called Mystique standing there. “I have the information on the patients.”

Magneto stopped his story but did not take his eyes from Turcott. The deadly shards spun in their orbits with terrifying precision.

“Magneto!” she repeated with a touch of irritation that surprised Bobby who couldn’t imagine ever challenging the man.

Magneto sighed. With a crash that made Bobby and Turcott both jump, the shards fell to the floor. Magneto looked up at Mystique and said, “Show me.”

Mystique entered the Day Room and jerked Turcott to his feet, pushing him forward with his arm twisted behind his back, following Magneto out into the nursing station.

Bobby and Kitty were alone, though the door to the rest of the hospital was still open and Bobby could faintly hear the voices that came from beyond it. He crawled around the couch and found Kitty sitting, clutching her knees tightly to her chest. She was shivering with cold, but there seemed to be a deeper chill on her.

“Kit?” Bobby whispered, “Are you okay?”

She was looking towards the chair Turcott had abandoned as if she could still see the drama playing out. She didn’t answer and Bobby put a gentle hand on her shoulder, calling her name again.

“He was there,” she said in an almost flat voice. “Magneto. In Auschwitz.”

Bobby looked around anxiously. There was no time for this. “Kitty, listen, I know. We’ll talk to X about it, but we’ve got to go now. I have a phone from Scott. I can use it to—” He reached for his pocket only to find the bulge gone. “No! Shit, I must have dropped it when we ran for cover. Help me look, Kitty!” He dropped to the dusty floor and began peering around in the dim light.

He looked up in time to see Kitty making her way to the door through which the others had gone. Standing behind the doorframe, she peered around the corner.

“Kitty!” Bobby hissed in annoyance but she gestured for him to join her. He took one more desperate look around for the phone but, really, curiosity had him by the throat. As he had all along, he found himself following his reckless friend to their next precarious vantage point.

Mystique was seated at a computer behind the big round desk of the nursing station giving her report. The odd juxtaposition of the blue woman and her mundane setting seemed to Bobby like some new high concept TV show: Alien Hospital.

“Mostly level one and two; simple physical manifestations or low-level electro-magnetic influence.”

“No threes or fours?” Magneto asked in a hungry voice.

“One four. Lance Alvers.”

“Powers?”

“One moment… I’m trying to make head or tail of these ridiculous notes. Tectonics!”

“Excellent! We could use that. Where is he, Mystique?” Magneto looked around at the frightened faces. The three nurses, the cleaner and the guard were sitting on the floor, their hands tied behind them. Turcott was slumped miserably in a chair with Blob standing over him menacingly. “Where are they all?” He addressed Binns. “Where are the patients?”

“In bed,” she said with some defiance. “Where should they be at this hour?”

“What, none are walking about? Or have you locked them in like animals?” Binns looked anxiously towards Turcott. “Ah, you have. Blob! Take this nurse and have her unlock all the rooms. Get me Alvers. What room is he in?”

“1017.” Mystique said and watched as Blob departed with Binns. Turning back towards the computer, her eyes suddenly widened. “Magneto, over there.”

Bobby turned with everyone else and gasped when he saw the little girl with a stuffed rabbit under her arm standing at the end of a corridor.

“Millie!” Turcott cried and rose to go to her. Blob pushed him back down into his chair with a meaty paw. “Go back to your room right now, do you hear me?”

“Uncle Chris,” she said in amazement. “Who are these people?”

Magneto kneeled in front of the girl, suddenly warm and avuncular. “Hello, Millie. Is that your name?”

“It’s actually Camille. Camille Fleury,” she explained. Mystique turned back to the screen and began typing.

“She’s beautiful!” the girl exclaimed, looking at the blue woman in wonder.

“Isn’t she,” Magneto agreed. “Tell me, Camille, are you a patient here at the hospital?”

“Sort of...” the girl began. “I help Uncle Chris.”

“She’s a psi-dampener, Magneto,” Mystique explained, reading the girl’s electronic file. “Exclusively passive psionics but powerful.”

“Ahh, so that explains why Charles has been kept in the dark. Much as he prefers to use diplomatic channels, I was surprised he hadn’t been to this abattoir yet.”

From the corridors, a few patients began to appear, released from their rooms, curious and startled, including Marilla, pushing her IV on a wheeled stand.

Magneto looked delighted. “Children, it is time to awaken. You are free from your captivity. It is time to accept that you are not mistakes; you are the next step of human evolution.”

“Evolution!” came a groggy voice and Bobby and Kitty craned their necks around the corner. It was Lance in his flimsy hospital gown being held up by Blob, Binns following nervously, pushing the IV pole.

“Mystique,” Magneto called. “Can you get him fully conscious?”

Without a word, she rose and walked to a glass fronted medicine cabinet where she peered at the available drugs. She tried the door and, seemingly unsurprised to find it locked, shattered the glass with a sharp blow of her elbow. With practiced proficiency, she prepared a hypodermic and moved across to Lance.

“Goddam...” he slurred drunkenly. “You have great tits. Blue tits!” She jabbed him with the hypo and he yelped.

“Sit down and breathe normally,” she instructed and then said to Binns, “You, remove his IV.”

Half a dozen patients had appeared and were standing in clumps, whispering nervous questions.

Magneto turned to Turcott who was crouching, a protective arm around Camille. “I believe everyone is here now, Doctor. It is time for your trial to begin.”

Mystique’s head snapped towards the south corridors. Bobby had heard it, too: a short, sharp, sound almost like a gunshot.

“Magneto,” she called. “We have company.”

Magneto frowned. “How annoying. Blob, be prepared. I consider this mission your first true test. Don’t disappoint me.”

“What’s happening?” Kitty whispered. Bobby restrained her from looking out further and blowing their cover.

Running footsteps were coming down the corridor. Bobby looked around and saw Magneto and Blob standing ready, awaiting the arrivals. Mystique seemed to have vanished.

Three figures burst from the corridor. More Halloween costumes, thought Bobby. Three figures in tight yellow and black spandex like cyclists might wear, including masks that covered all but their mouths and noses. The design came together on their chests to form the letter ‘X’.  It would take more cunning disguises for Bobby not to recognize his teachers from Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters.

Kitty squeezed his arm painfully. “Holy shit, Bobby,” she breathed. “It’s the X-Men!”

***

Much to his shock and chagrin, Mike was having an amazing time, rocking down Halloween with the mutant Goths of the Spiderhole. It was an evening of surprise and learning. Considering he was usually shy with strangers, he was dancing with abandon and laughing with kids he had never met. He realized he was responding to the joy they were feeling, free to be themselves for one blissful night. This sense of freedom gave him a clue as to how scared and repressed the life of a mutant teen must be.

Jubilee was a bee flying through the crowd—a yellow and black buzz of social interaction, everywhere at once, but always returning to check in on him. He thought of her refusal to join him in fighting for mutant rights at school and realized that she was doing her part here.

At one point, she popped out of the crowd and threw her arms around him, planting a deep kiss on his shocked lips to the amusement of the group he was dancing with. Her hand caressed his bare torso under his leather vest and he felt his dick harden immediately. She suddenly extracted a condom package from a pocket in the vest and twirled away from him. Confused, he watched her hand it to the kid with the Kurt Cobain t-shirt (“Have fun, Lucky,” she told him) who was standing shyly, hand-in-hand with a tall red-headed boy chewing anxiously on one of his lip rings. Prophylactically equipped, the couple disappeared into the crowd, Jubilee blowing a saucy kiss after them.

An evening of surprise and learning.

Ten minutes later, covered in sweat after a particularly fast set of dancing, he decided it was time for a break. He found his coat where he had stashed it behind a bank of speakers and headed for the parking lot, nodding to Wolf as he passed, though the big doorman didn’t respond.

The clean, cold air felt good after the close heat of the club. He thought of hot summer visits to the woods with Bobby when his friend’s ice blasts would cool him off. If only Bobby could be here to see this, he thought. I bet his Halloween isn’t nearly as exciting!

“Hey,” a voice called and Mike turned to face another guy sitting up on top of a closed dumpster. He was around Mike’s age, wearing a battered, chain-festooned leather jacket, tight, ripped black jeans and serious shit-kicking boots. His hair was shaved on one side and he had a prison-style tattoo on the shaved part. Mike recognized the crudely rendered mark as the Greek letter Omega.

“Hey,” Mike called back. “You here at the party, too?”

“Yeah, just taking a break.” Despite the intimidating outfit, the guy didn’t seem like trouble. Mike moved over to the dumpster and accepted the proffered hand, scrambling up beside him.

“So,” the guy said, pulling off his headphones. “You’re here with Jubes. She’s the shit.”

“Yeah,” Mike said, feeling a surge of pride. “She’s my girlfriend. I’m Mike.”

“Xeno,” the guy responded, his breath visible in the cold air. “Hey, look, steamy windows!”

Mike looked over at one of the parked cars, a tiny two-door Echo, which was rocking a bit. He thought of the Cobain kid and the redheaded boy. “Uh, is that...?”

“Ludo and Lucky,” Xeno said with a grin, “exploring the dark side of the moon.” He laughed at Mike’s shocked expression and then looked him up and down with a dubious glare. “Please tell me that’s a costume you’re wearing.”

“Huh? Oh yeah, of course!” Mike’s embarrassment notched up higher. He had kind of forgotten what he was wearing, especially the makeup.

“Good. I don’t think I could hang with you if you were really into hair metal.”

Mike looked down at the mp3 player Xeno was fiddling with and asked, “What music do you like?”

Xeno gave him a challenging look. “Hardcore. Thrash. Punk. You?”

“Um, I don’t know.” He suddenly wanted to impress the boy. “I just like different stuff I download or get from friends. Akon, Fall Out Boy…”

Xeno guffawed which pissed Mike off since he thought his picks had been kind of cool. Xeno’s fingers whirled on the dials of his mp3 player and then he reached over and unceremoniously stuffed the headphones into Mike’s ears.

He was about to object to this assault on his personal space when Xeno hit play and a different assault started. Loud, fast, abrasive, unpolished music hit his head like a lead pipe. Mike reached up to rip the phones out and assert some control over the situation but Xeno grabbed him by the shoulders and flipped on top of him, slamming him against the cold metal of the dumpster with a resounding ‘klang’.

Mike tried to fight him off, but he was decisively pinned. Looking up at the smiling face suspended over his, he saw Xeno mouth the word, “listen!”

Rip it loose
Don’t take it lying down
Just tie the noose around the clown
He lied to you from the day you fell out bleeding
He laughed in your face when you were pleading

The music shot through Mike like an electric shock. It was angry but also stupidly joyous and even funny. It made him gasp with its audacity. It made him feel like he shouldn’t take shit from anyone ever again. His mind started making all kinds of connections: if he wanted to put up mutant rights posters at his school, he fucking would and he’d take on anyone who tried to stop him, whether it was bigoted students or asshole administrators.

He was banging the dumpster lid in ragged time and it took him a second to realize that Xeno was no longer pinning him, but sitting up beside him with a broad grin. As the song finished, Mike took off the phones and told the other boy, “That was really good. Like, really.”

“Listen to this one,” Xeno told him, his mask of superiority now dropped in favor of pure enthusiasm. “This is the Circle Jerks. Classic L.A. scene, like 20 years ago!” Mike put the phones back on and listened, learned.

The third selection was different. First of all there were computer beats which he didn’t think was very punk, but the raw attitude, the wail of the vocals and the guitars was every inch hardcore as were the lyrics:

Burn it on my flesh
It’s burned in my chromosomes
Cut with a scalpel in the D-D-DNA!

And I won’t shut up
I won’t fuck off and die
So your Harvard boys can have their blue eyes!

I’m Xeno Evil, I’ll be your mutant tonight!!!!

Weird, aching high-pitched screams swam around in the stereo balance like an agitated school of piranhas and Mike felt like they were making his world spin and twist apart.

He pulled off the headphones and saw that Xeno was very pointedly not looking at him. “Xeno Evil. That was you?” Mike asked, impressed.

“Yeah, it’s just a demo. It kind of sucks.” Mike wanted to laugh because now it was the cool Xeno who was looking embarrassed.

“It totally does not suck!” he enthused. “It’s fucking awesome. What’s that noise at the end? Those really high scream sounds? It’s not a guitar...”

Xeno turned and smiled. He had a mischievous twinkle in his eye. “My secret weapon. And I will not divulge—” he stopped and looked out across the parking lot. “Oh, shit, here they come.”

Mike followed Xeno’s gaze and he saw two cars pulling into the lot, driving too fast in what amounted to an automotive swagger. The vehicles screeched to a halt half way to the club. Mike looked over to the door of the Spiderhole and saw Wolf standing there along with three or four partygoers. They were watching the intruders warily.

One of the car windows rolled down and an angry drunken face—a frat boy by the look of it—leaned out and yelled, “Hey, muties! We fucking know what you are!”

The passenger door of the second car opened and the kid who stepped half out was big, maybe a football player. “Yeah, you can’t fucking hide, muties!”

The first boy repeated, “We know what you are now! ‘Betrayers!’”

“Betrayers!” echoed the football jock. “Mutie betrayers!”

A chorus of ugly laughter from the cars. The first car screeched out of the lot but the football player pointed at Wolf who had moved a few steps forward, adopting his most intimidating posture. “You think you can just do whatever you fucking want? We’ll show you... We’ll show you!”

The car had been revving its engine and he was barely back inside before it jerked into motion, circled the lot right in front of them and peeled noisily back into the quiet side-street.

More kids had appeared from inside and stood huddled in the door looking scared. Xeno jumped off the dumpster and marched up to Wolf.

“They’ll be back,” he announced and Mike felt his stomach clench.

***

“My, but those are stirring costumes,” Magneto announced as Scott, Ororo and Jean pulled to an abrupt halt in the crowded area around the nursing station. The scattered patients fell back a few steps in fright and confusion. “Has Charles been dabbling in fashion design or did he hire a consultant?”

Scott took a step forward. “Magneto, we have come here with a message from Professor X. He would like you to come with us, to come talk with him. He says to tell you that it is not too late to work together.”

“How nice to hear that Charles holds no grudges.” His eyes narrowed and his smile grew harder. “I somehow doubt you share that generosity of spirit, Cyclops.”

Cyclops? Bobby was working hard to understand the situation which was continuing to grow weirder. X-Men! That was the joke name he had made up for Kitty’s amusement back in the summer when they had been goofing on the idea of their teachers as a secret team of action heroes. But, as Kitty had put it, Holy shit! There they were!

He could see Scott struggling to maintain his temper. Jean leaned towards Scott and whispered in his ear. Cautioning him? Scott ignored her and answered Magneto. “How I feel doesn’t matter,” he said curtly. “I had a message and I delivered it. Will you come with us quietly? Let me make something clear: I will not allow any innocents to be harmed here.”

“My feelings exactly,” Magneto replied and walked back towards Turcott. “That’s why we’ve come here tonight to speak to the Butcher of Poughkeepsie: protection of the innocent.” Turcott shrank back.

“You heard me, Magneto,” Scott continued. “If you are responsible for any injury tonight—”

Magneto turned on Scott and smiled his chilling smile. “Oh yes, questions of responsibility have always troubled you, haven’t they, Cyclops? For instance, you can’t decide if Charles was crippled primarily due to my actions or your inaction.”

Instantly, Scott’s hand moved to his visor. With the smallest of waves, Magneto made a metal tray fly from a food wagon and wrap itself around Scott’s face, knocking him to the floor where he pawed frantically at the shining mask.

Several patients shrieked and began rushing for the safety of the corridors.

Ororo was on the move. She seemed to be pulling cold wind through from the damaged Day Room and whipping it against Magneto who staggered in the blast, cape flying.

Jean was on the floor helping to free Scott. Over the wind, Bobby heard her call, “Cyclops, my powers aren’t working!”

Kitty squeezed Bobby’s arm and whispered, “It’s the little girl, Camille. She must block all kinds of psionics.”

Ororo had turned to look at Jean and was suddenly knocked through the air by the one called Blob who had run into her with the force of a rhinoceros. She hit the far wall and crashed to the floor.

“We have to do something!” Kitty hissed at Bobby.

“Wait,” he said with more confidence than he felt. “We have surprise on our side; don’t do anything yet.” Amazingly, Kitty nodded and obeyed.

Am I being clever or cowardly? Bobby thought to himself.

Ororo’s wind had died and Magneto was back on his feet. He magnetically tore one of the steel chairs apart with shocking ease and the legs stretched, twisted and circled Turcott like the coils of a cobra. Magneto clenched his teeth and Turcott rose, struggling into the air.

The sound of Scott’s optic blasts rang out and the tray flew across the room and hit the wall with a crash. Magneto sent a shower of medical equipment flying towards him and Jean but they rolled clear and sheltered behind the large nursing desk.

“Enough of this nonsense!” Magneto called out. “I am leaving with Turcott and you cannot stop me. Stand down and you will not be hurt.” Scott was making his way unseen around the circular island of the desk, hand ready at his visor controls.

“No!” screamed Turcott to whomever might save him. “Don’t let him take me! I’m a doctor! I just want to help people!”

Perhaps his cries had distracted Scott because Bobby watched in horror as Blob began to run at his teacher’s blind side, gaining terrible momentum as Scott lined up a shot at Magneto.

Bobby found himself in motion without having really planned it out. He dived from his cover, rolling on the floor and coming up into a kneeling position with ice already spraying from his outstretched hand. He had executed the move just as he had learned in his training.

Blob hit the ice patch and skidded past Scott with a surprised grunt. Scott, caught off guard but recovering instantly, spun around and sent off a short optic blast to help send the behemoth into the wall with a terrible thud. Blob slid to the floor and suddenly began to shrink and collapse on himself until there was only the unconscious figure of a normal if kind of chubby teenage boy lying there in innocent oblivion.

Bobby turned his head slowly back around and found himself staring into Scott’s face. His stomach turned over painfully.

“Scott,” he began shakily, “Let me explain—”

 

***

 

Within minutes of the cars’ pulling out of the lot, a small crowd of kids had gathered near the entrance of the Spiderhole.

“Who are they?” Mike asked Xeno, seeing the grim and nervous set to everyone’s faces.

“Frat boys. Assholes,” Xeno replied. “Mostly they’re just a lot of hot air, but they call us names and try to freak us out.”

“How do they know you’re mutants?” Mike asked as more partiers gathered outside, forming a small island in front of the door. In the middle of the island was Wolf, rising like a volcano, fuming quietly.

“They’ve been around a while. They saw stuff. What did they mean about ‘betrayers’?”

A girl who had pulled up beside them answered, “It’s that movie they showed on TV tonight.”

Mike was confused. “But what does that have to do with—”

It was Rayen who answered, reading a text message on her cell phone. “Shit, oh my god. It was about mutants!”

Jubilee was suddenly there, sliding an arm around Mike’s waist and pulling herself in close. “What do you mean ‘about mutants’?”

Rayen looked up at her friend with her lost baby look. “Dean just texted me. He says it was about evil mutant children killing their families and stuff.”

No one said a word. Mike felt the outrage like a physical force. He wrapped a protective arm around Jubilee.

Rayen was the first to speak. “Should we all go inside? Usually they just leave if we stay inside long enough. Or maybe we should take off while we still have the chance.”

Mike was surprised to hear himself answer. “Fuck that. This is our party and we’re not going anywhere.”

“They sometimes wave baseball bats and shit, Mike,” Jubilee cautioned him. “Maybe they’ll use them now if they think this is a bug hunt.”

Mike set his jaw. “So? They have baseball bats on their side; you have powers.”

Jubilee and a few of the others exchanged worried looks.

Xeno tilted his head suspiciously. “You a Flatscan, Mike?”

“A what?”

“A Norm.”

It sounded almost dirty the way he said it and Mike resented that. It was like the way he had been dismissed at Bobby’s mutant youth meeting.

“Yeah, I am. You have a problem with that?”

Xeno smiled a crooked smile that showed a chipped front tooth. “Nope. Welcome aboard.”

Jubilee’s brow furrowed. “So, what are you saying? We attack them? Who do you think the cops will side with if someone gets hurt?”

Mike kissed the top of her head. “No, we won’t attack first; but we’ll stand our ground. We won’t act scared.” Kids were pressing forward to hear him. “They’re freaked out by mutants; they don’t know what you can do. Let’s use that our advantage.”

Xeno gave his arm a friendly punch. “I like the way you think.”

Mike felt a presence looming behind him and turned to find that Wolf had come forward to stand with them. A front line had formed around him. He found that more than a little unnerving; what had he done to become so important? But then Jubilee gave him a determined nod and pressed closer to his side. He thought she had never looked hotter.

They waited in silence, trying not to feel the cold or the fear. From around the corner, they heard tires squeal. “Here they come,” Rayen murmured..

“Hey, Mike,” Xeno said almost conversationally. “You busy Saturday night?”

The cars appeared on the street. Not just two of them this time, Mike noted. Three. No, four.

His heart beat faster but he answered Xeno as coolly as he could: “Nothing planned. What’s up?”

The cars entered the lot at speed.

“Plague Years are playing at the Scaramouch. You gotta hear them. Your brain’ll totally bleed.”

How many of the frat guys were in the cars? Mike wondered. Could be as many as twenty, I guess. “Sounds good. Does Jubes have your number?”

“Yeah,” she said, “I’ll give it to you. After.”

The cars screeched to a halt in front of them, the fourth sliding with a bang into the fender of the third. Doors swung open and a few of the boys stepped out, one of them brandishing a tire iron. He was a big blond in a BC Eagles hockey jacket and he looked out at the assembled crowd of Goth kids with a sneer.

“Wow, it’s a bigger freak show than usual.” He glanced back at his buddies for confirmation. Mike could see guys in the car staring out threateningly. Interestingly, not all were so sure about climbing out.

Mike called, “Why don’t you guys just get back in your cars and go home. No one wants trouble here.”

The guy in the hockey jacket guffawed at Mike's suggestion. “You’re the trouble, mutie. And you’re right, we don’t want you!”

It was Jubilee who yelled next. “What’s your fucking problem?! We just want to live our lives, same as you. Go back to your pub or whatever and leave us alone!”

A tall guy with a shaved head and cold grey eyes climbed out of a car. He held a baseball bat. “Oh no, mutie! We know what you want. The movie got it right: betrayers! You’ll betray your friends, your family, your country.” He called back to his buddies. “But we’re not going to let that happen, are we?”

The mob shouted back approval but most still stayed in their vehicles. Mike’s mind was whirling. He and the Spiderhole gang were standing their ground just like he had said, but the situation seemed to be getting worse. What could he say to defuse the tension? His brains felt like oatmeal.

The horrible moment of tension stretched out painfully until they all heard a car door open with a creak off to the side of the lot. Heads turned as Ludo, the tall, skinny redhead stumbled out of the little Echo. Somehow Mike had failed to notice before that his skin was orange.

Ludo stared at the two opposing sides and blinked in confusion. Lucky, his black hair disheveled and his Kurt Cobain shirt still half off, stared out from the backseat.

“Get that one,” the skinhead guy shouted and someone grabbed Ludo by one orange arm, pulling him into their midst. They began shoving him from one to another like they were playing dodge ball until he tripped and fell to his hands and knees, calling out in fright.

“Stop it!” came a voice beside him that made Mike’s ears ring. It was Jubilee and she punctuated the exclamation by filling the air with exploding fireworks that cast the whole tableau in vivid colors. Ludo was fast, using the moment of confusion to run back to the mutant ranks. Lucky slammed the Echo’s door quickly and locked himself in.

Another long second of stunned silence and then the skinhead screamed a wordless battle cry and ran forward, swinging the bat high over his head. Mike froze and his vision seemed to telescope. Then suddenly Wolf pushed past him and ran to meet the thug. Mike watched in horror as the wooden baseball bat arced high in the air towards the bouncer’s bald head; but when it connected with its target, it seemed to lose integrity, turning soft as taffy in the surprised thug’s hands. Wolf kicked him hard in the ass and the skinhead ran for his car, the limp bat bouncing pathetically between his legs.

Cheers and hoots of derision erupted from the Spiderhole gang. Wolf actually smiled.

Assorted frat boys climbed uncertainly from the cars, not sure whether to leap into the fray or take off but now the mutants were ready to rumble. In Mike’s estimation, their powers weren’t anything compared to Bobby’s but small rocks were swirling through the air telekinetically, weird lights were flashing and the kid with the vampire teeth was howling like a wolf and running at one group of attackers who scattered in panic.

A few of the braver thugs rose up to form a new offensive line. Mike watched in amazement as Xeno stepped forward, pulled off his jacket and raised his hands high in the air. From a series of blue nodules on his bare arms, strange glowing shapes shot out like bats from a cave at sunset. The shape-creatures filled the air, emitting high wails that Mike recognized as the mystery sound on Xeno’s demo. Thugs were scattering and jumping back in their cars in utter panic.

Across Rayen’s face, the numbers “9-1-1” glowed bright and Mike saw them projected high onto the side of the building. Two of the cars were pulling away, trailed by a couple of galloping frat boys who hadn’t gotten aboard in time. The remaining thugs had fallen back but were brandishing weapons with demented bravado.

“Jubilee,” Rayen called. “They’re using their cells! They’ll get reinforcements!”

Jubilee, who had been taking care of the traumatized Ludo, stood up—magnificent in her ringmaster’s outfit—and let loose a series of fireworks right over the thugs’ heads. Mike watched, jubilant as their cell phones sparked and shorted out, the boys dropping them in shock.

That seemed to be the last straw. They climbed into their vehicles and followed the others out of the lot, mutant kids running after them screaming obscenities.

Mike was dumbfounded. They had done it! All around him, kids were hugging and cheering, some laughing and crying simultaneously from the effects of delayed shock and adrenaline.

Jubilee flew into his arms so hard, he almost fell over. She kissed him passionately and he felt their respective lipsticks sliding against each other.

“You are the Best. Guy. Ever!” She said and followed this pronouncement with another kiss, plus tongue and ass grabbing.

“I didn’t even do anything!” he protested. “I just stood here like a dumb fuck while you guys kicked their asses!”

“No, Michael; you made us brave. You made us stand up for ourselves.”

Mike was embarrassed and aroused. “I-I guess. I dunno, I just thought that, y’know...” He looked around at the smiling faces, a lot of them directed his way and he didn’t know what to think. Maybe it was true; maybe he had helped.

“Hey, there’s another car coming,” Rayen called out. The group fell silent and Mike felt his heart start to pound again. Electric arcs sparkled around Jubilee’s fingertips.

Then he recognized the car. “No, wait! It’s just my dad.”

Mr. Haddad pulled into the lot and stopped in front of the assembled mutants, Goths and miscellaneous outcasts. He climbed out of his car and looked around, beaming with delight.

“My goodness, my goodness. I’ve been driving around the neighborhood and you are all, by far, the best costumed group so far. Happy Halloween, children!”

 

***

 

Scott ran at Bobby, grabbing him by the arm and pulling him and Kitty back into the Day Room.

“Quiet,” he barked. “We are a in a combat zone now and you will follow my every order immediately and without question.”

Bobby was still reeling from being busted, babbling, “Please try to understand, Scott, we—”

“I don’t want to hear it now! And call me ‘Cyclops,’ not ‘Scott’. We use code names in the field. Ororo is ‘Storm’, Jean is...” he hesitated a second. “Uh, Marvel Girl.”

“Marvel Girl?” Kitty’s eyebrows shot up.

Scott ignored her. “Bobby, you’ve already chosen ‘Iceman’, right? Kitty, you’ll be ‘Sprite’.”

“Yeah, I don’t think so,” she responded, with a toss of her hair but Scott had turned back to review the situation. Ororo or, rather, Storm was apparently back in action as the wind picked up again and the smell of ozone filled the air.

Scott turned back to them and ordered, “You will stay here and keep your heads down unless I specifically call for you. If you act on your own, you’re going to cause more trouble than good.”

He left them there and returned to the nursing station. Bobby was a bit indignant. More trouble than good? He had just saved Scott’s ass from getting squashed flat!

“Sprite?!” Kitty fumed. “This guy has serious issues making up code names for women.”

“Are you two kids all right?”

They spun around to find Nurse Binns behind them. She put a gentle hand on their arms and said quietly, “Come this way before we get hurt.” She began pulling them back into the darkness.

“We’re okay,” Bobby reassured her. They were being pulled into the Day Room with surprising strength and Bobby wondered how she had freed herself. “Just take care of the patients, ma’am.”

“Thank you but I know just what I’m doing,” said the nurse, her tone suddenly acid. They gasped in comic unison as she transformed before their eyes into Mystique, her grip on their arms now painful.

“Shit!” Kitty yelled and phased out of Mystique’s grasp, running across the demolished room and vanishing through the wall.

“Matter phasing,” Mystique murmured. “Fascinating.” Without missing a beat, she put Bobby in a painful head and arm lock and pulled him, stumbling clumsily, back towards the nursing station.

Bobby wrenched his head around to see the battle and gasped at the chaos of it all. Dangerous debris flew through the room magnetically or borne on mutant winds. Optic blasts lit the air and bodies connected painfully. It all seemed random and mad. How were you supposed to think under these conditions? Was this the kind of thing Scott had been training him for? Would he ever be able to fight like this? Did he even want to?!

“Stop or I will kill this one!” Mystique shouted over the melee, hauling Bobby up onto his toes. Everything stopped. Bobby felt a wave of nausea pass over him and he moaned as he saw Turcott, white-faced, still suspended painfully in the air.

Jean looked terrified and Ororo’s eyes blazed white with anger.

“If you harm a hair on that child’s head—” she called out with chilling fury.

“Quiet,” called Cyclops and ‘codename: Storm’ stopped immediately.

“Let the boy go, Magneto,” he said in a calm voice. “He has nothing to do with this fight. He’s not even supposed to be here.”

“We’re all caught in the crossfire, Cyclops—all the mutants. Right now, the boy is making himself useful to my cause. He should be proud.”

Scott’s hand rose to his visor but Bobby knew that Magneto held all the cards. He felt fear overtaking his reason.

Then a voice called out that he had forgotten all about, though it was the reason he was here.

“Way to go, Bobby,” Lance yelled derisively. “Great little rescue you and Kitty cooked up.” Mystique’s injection seemed to have roused him.

“Lance!” Jean called out in surprise. “Stay back, this situation is dangerous.”

Scott looked from Lance to Bobby to Magneto, calculating angles.

Magneto, in return, showed him utter disdain by turning his back. He walked to Lance, appraising his form. “Ahh, the tectonic manipulator. I must say, I agree with your assessment. As rescues go, theirs has been rather pathetic. I and my compatriots prefer to look at this evening as one of retribution. We are here to liberate the prisoners of this house of horrors and to make the one responsible pay.”

Lance guffawed. “‘House of Horrors’; you got that right. They were going to shut me down.”

Magneto nodded with understanding. “They’re scared of your magnificence, Lance.”

“Yeah, they all are: Turcott, my parents, Xavier. Xavier left me here to be mutilated by him!” he pointed an accusing finger at Turcott who was turning slowly in mid-air, blood dripping down his arm where a sharp piece of metal cut into him. “The Professor abandoned me!”

“You know that’s not true, Lance,” Scott said. “Professor X wanted you to learn control, to make good choices with your powers—”

“THEN WHY DID HE LET THEM TAKE ME?!” Lance screamed and the room shook like a giant roused from sleep. Deep groans from the strained beams of the Day Room answered.

Scott made as if to move but stood down when Mystique yanked Bobby up again and he cried out with pain as his shoulder threatened to dislocate.

Magneto laughed. He gestured dramatically and the bound figure of Turcott floated down until he was in front of Lance, toes just grazing the floor.

“Lance,” Magneto goaded. “Why don’t you show the good doctor just what you think of him and his clinic.”

Lance’s face twisted in contempt. He spat in Turcott’s face. Turcott winced as the saliva rolled down his cheek.

Camille had been hiding in the corner with Nurse Binns (the real nurse Binns whose hands were tied behind her) and called out, “Uncle Chris! Don’t hurt Uncle Chris.”

Turcott’s eyes flew open and he tried in vain to turn his bound head and see the girl. In desperation he called, “Millie! Get out of here! Run and hide!”

The girl broke from the nurse and ran into the darkened wreck of the Day Room. Yeah, hide, kid Bobby thought. At least someone might get out of this okay.

Magneto paid no attention to the interruption. “Good, Lance. What else do you have to tell the good doctor?”

Lance stared furiously at Turcott. “You were going to cut my brains open tomorrow!”

Magneto added, “Because you’re a mutant, Lance, and he’s scared of you.”

“I don’t even think you know what you’re doing; but you get a big Visa imprint and that’s all you need.”

“You are homo superior, Lance. The future.” With a wave, Magneto released Turcott’s restraints and the man fell to the floor in a heap, curling into a scared ball.

Lance loomed over him. “As long as my dad said, ‘Here’s the money, doctor’ you didn’t care about the anything else.”

Turcott stumbled to his feet, shaking, backing away until he was against the wall.

“What about Alan? and Ashley?!” Lance demanded and the room began to rumble again. Off in the corner, Bobby saw Jean grabbing patients by the hand and leading them down the corridors, away from the area. “Do you think you helped them? They’re drooling idiots now!”

Magneto’s eyes gleamed, “Dr. Christian Turcott, for crimes against homo superior—”

“And that almost happened to me!”

“—you have been tried and found guilty.”

Turcott tried to speak through the trembling of the room, through his own trembling. “I-I believed I was doing the right thing! People are suffering!”

Magneto’s voice rose in rage, “SENTENCE HAS BEEN PASSED! LANCE, CARRY OUT THE EXECUTION!”

Scott cried out, “Lance, No!”

Lance screamed and an uncontrolled wave of tectonic force pushed out of him, knocking everyone to the ground except Magneto who rose several feet into the air laughing.

Bobby had spun free of Mystique when she lost her balance. He watched Lance falling to his knees, clutching his temples.

“Lance!” he screamed over the noise, “Not again! Control it!”

Lance looked up desperately and locked eyes with Bobby. He clenched his teeth and wailed terribly.

The shaking stopped. There was a moment of shocked silence and then, from the Day Room, a horrible groan of metal and wood and the structure began to fall apart.

“Millie!” cried Turcott and without a moment’s hesitation, ran into the crumbling annex. Ororo, following a few feet behind could not stop him and she hesitated at the doorway before, with a horrible crash, the ceiling of the Day Room started caving in, dust billowing out into the nursing station.

To Bobby, it seemed the ballet of destruction went on and on, though he realized it had probably taken just a few seconds. Scott joined Ororo in the doorway trying to see in. Ororo brought up a wind to clear the dust and Scott climbed in to the blocked entrance, trying to pull a beam loose. Suddenly pieces of debris began to float free and Scott turned to see Jean concentrating her telekinesis to help him.

“Your powers...?” he asked.

“They’re back,” she said soberly.

“Does that mean the girl—”

“I don’t know,” Jean responded, blinking.

“Wait,” came a strange voice. One of the patients, her eyes covered by bandages wound round her head, was led forward by another. When she reached the doorway and stood beside Scott and Ororo, she thanked her fellow patient quietly and began to unwrap the bandages, her hand circling her head slowly and deliberately. Her eyes, when revealed, were like swirling vortices—satellite pictures of hurricanes, the pent-up force deceptively lovely.

She peered into the rubble and it was clear to Bobby she could see something, the same way he could tell when Scott was looking at someone from behind his visor.

In a still, distant voice, she said, “A mouse. Pill bugs. Spiders.” Bobby realized he was holding his breath. She stared into the rubble in silence. “That’s all. Nothing else alive.”

He could hear exhalations around the room. He hadn’t been the only one holding his breath. Nurse Binns let out a choked sob.

Bobby turned to look at Lance but his former roommate was looking at the far side of the room with an expression of profound despair. Bobby turned again and saw Kitty standing against the wall, staring at him, tears streaming down her face.

“Kitty!” Lance called out. “I-I didn’t mean to do that! Please, you have to believe me, I don’t want to hurt anyone.”

“You killed them, Lance,” she said quietly and then with sudden vehemence. “Turcott and the little girl! What’s wrong with you?!”

Tears broke from Lance’s eyes and he grabbed the top of a chair for support. “Kitty, don’t! Don’t hate me. I need you to help me! I love you, Kitty!”

“Shut up! Shut up!” she screamed hoarsely and stumbled across the room to fall into Jean’s arms. Jean looked surprised for a moment but then held the weeping girl tightly.

“KITTY!” he screamed after her and then Magneto was there, a hand on Lance’s shoulder.

“Casualties of war, Lance.” He paused to consider. “No, not ‘Lance.’ That was your slave name. You are ‘Avalanche’.” The older man bestowed the new title with sincerity and weight.

“Avalanche,” Lance repeated though it wasn’t clear if, in his shock, he understood or not.

“Humans want us destroyed, Avalanche. Destroyed! Just when we’re about to make wonders happen.” Somewhere in the distance, sirens could be heard.

Lance looked desperately at Magneto and the white-haired man smiled benignly. “Come, my boy, we will do wonders together. We will make whole what has been torn asunder.”

Lance nodded.

“Mystique,” Magneto called out. “It’s time we left.”

Scott stiffened, preparing to challenge him but then a voice spoke in their heads.

*Scott, let him go. You must take the others, the children and get out before the authorities arrive.*

*Professor!* Scott sent back. *He murdered Turcott, the girl!*

*And one day he will answer for those crimes, but not today. I had hoped… hoped we could still reach Erik… Never mind. Never mind; come home. All of you come home.*

Bobby could feel the despair in Xavier’s telepathic voice. What had he hoped? Was Magneto Erik?

“Storm, Marvel Girl, Iceman, Sprite,” Scott called brusquely. “We’re pulling out. Now.”

“A wise decision,” Magneto replied, straightening his cloak. “Avalanche? Blob?”

“N-no!” came a surprisingly high-pitched voice. Bobby turned to look at the boy who had been the monstrous Blob. Shaking with fear at his own defiance, he stuttered, “I-I’m not going with you. I don’t want to kill anyone.”

Without premeditation or fear, Bobby stood up and went to him, putting a hand on his shoulder.

“Then come with us.”

“Yes,” Magneto sneered. “I think you’re more Xavier’s soft sort.” Without sparing the boy another thought, he turned and marched down the west corridor followed by Mystique and Lance Alvers, ever after known as Avalanche.

Bobby watched the retreating figure in the flimsy hospital gown and felt a last pang of lust for the fine legs and ass that peeked out. He suddenly felt certain that he didn’t love Lance. Until that moment, he hadn’t realized he had even considered the possibility.

 

***

 

Charles watched/felt them running from the clinic. He penetrated the layer of their emotions but shallowly, like a toe in the stream. It was against his beliefs to delve deeper with his powers just because he could. Yet they are all my children, he thought petulantly, I must know what they’re thinking if I’m to help them. In disgust, he chided himself: Monstrous ego!

Yet feeling their pain was not just a voyeuristic thrill but a burden of the heart as well: Ororo’s sense of justice frustrated, Jean’s of terrible waste. Bobby and Kitty (how had he missed their scheming? Where was his insight then?) in the blind singularity of their separate adolescent miseries. And Scott, not so much older, again feeling his failure like a keen blade.

I use his guilt, Charles thought miserably, floating above/around them in his non-corporeal world. I let him bear burdens that are not his to bear so he will work harder for my dreams.

He rose away from the bright lights of the group as they approached their vehicle and drifted higher, seeking the other contact. There. Shining like stars, all three, Erik the brightest point of light, of course. Charles could not resist the temptation to touch that mind, to brush against its familiar contours. He tasted the exultation, the frustration, the bottomless anger that drove the man. He could almost reach inside, bend him to his will… if only he had more control… Erik, you know I have to stop you…

*You can try, Charles, but you will not succeed. You let yourself get too distracted.*

*Soon I’ll be even stronger, Erik.*

*But old friend, you know I’ve always been one step ahead of you!*

Like a switch had been thrown, the bright mutant mind-lights of Magneto, Mystique and then Lance vanished from Charles’s mentalscape. In vain he twisted in his world of thought but they were gone, as if they had never existed.

He cursed and felt a terrible fatigue overtake him.

Down, down, he thought and opened up his ordinary senses until he could feel the chair beneath him, the weight of the helmet, smell the dank metallic scent of the air. He opened his eyes and sighed. With infinite weariness, he removed the bulky helmet of the interface and placed it beside him. He was too tired to move. How many hours had he been in Cerebro? More than ever before yet still not enough to make a difference.

On a tea trolley beside the control station he found a thermos of tea and a sandwich, left for him by someone on his team before they departed. Ravenously, he devoured the food. The re-entry to the physical world could be a shock. The demands of the body could only be put aside for so long before it grew resentful.

He tried to muster up the will to leave the chamber and go up to his office. The others would soon return and there must be at least a short debrief. But he was so tired!

So many lives at stake, he thought, but for all our power, we’ve so little power to help.

He felt his head sink to his chest and thought, Just a small nap. They’ll be home soon. They’ll know where to find me.

 

***

 

Three hours later, Bobby lay in his bed with the covers over his head, fighting off waves of nausea, his powers threatening to spike out of control in his panic and misery.

Things had been as bad as they could have been on the way back to Westchester. The three teachers, the two truants and the bewildered Blob (who turned out to be a runaway from Pennsylvania named Fred Dukes) had left the clinic in a hurry. The flashing lights of the emergency vehicles had been already visible through the trees as they had followed Scott across the darkened lawn to a big black vehicle—something like a Humvee but sleeker and more futuristic.

As he climbed aboard, Bobby had thought of Kitty’s cousin, Ezra, parked on a neighboring street, unaware that they weren’t coming back. Maybe he was waiting still.

As they had buckled in to their heavy, padded seats, they had been silent. A terrible atmosphere of defeat and humiliation had hung over the crew. For Bobby’s part, it had felt like the definitive end of something. Childhood, maybe. Scott had barked out minimal orders while Jean drove and Ororo spoke in hushed, comforting tones to the frightened Fred.

Bobby had scrupulously avoided all eye contact but nonetheless, he had been able to feel the cold, brewing front of Scott’s anger and finally, just outside Westchester, the storm had broken.

Scott had been merciless, excoriating him and Kitty for their recklessness, thoughtlessness, selfishness. Bobby had been humiliated, trying to mouth excuses, finding himself babbling, “But Scott, I mean Mr. Summers, I mean Cyclops...” and tears had burned his eyes.

Kitty had returned to catatonia; mutely taking the tongue lashing like a rock takes the beating of the sea. No humiliation, no punishment could have cut her more deeply than Lance’s actions, than his betrayal.

Back at the Mansion, they had been ordered to their rooms until the morning when “appropriate actions would have to be taken”.

Despite the fact that it was after midnight, the mansion had been humming with excitement; the teachers had been spotted leaving in costume, in some kind of military vehicle. Rumor had it that they had been off on a secret mission to find the people who had put “The Betrayers” on TV and make them pay.

Bobby had divulged nothing, had closed the door of his dorm room on the curious faces and headed straight for bed.

Now, almost an hour later, he couldn’t sleep. The covers over his head could not shut out the parade of images before his mind’s eye: the awful, destructive entrance of Magneto, the binding and torture of Turcott, the collapse of the Day Room and Lance’s stricken face.

And over and over, he heard Scott’s words: You have betrayed my trust! I don’t know if you can even be allowed to continue at the school. I expected better of you, Bobby Drake!

He sat up, sweating, a moan escaping from his dry lips. He stumbled to the fridge and drank greedily from his water bottle. He turned on his computer and paced back and forth while it booted up.

Messenger launched automatically with startup and he wondered if Mike could possibly be online. No, it was too late on a school night for his studious friend. Maybe he could log in on 2Gether after all these months. Maybe those old friends were still around and would still want to talk to him despite they way he had abandoned them. Betrayed them.

He was so wrapped up in his misery that he actually jumped when Messenger chimed. He sat down shakily at the computer and concentrated on the chat window that had popped up.

pyropyroburningbright says: Bobby? fuck fukfuck are you there?

Bobby froze, unable to move for a second, re-reading the brief message two more times before he was able to respond.

bcube says: St. John? Hi yeah I’m here.

There was no response and Bobby almost screamed in frustration before the reply finally came through.

pyropyroburningbright says: Bobby, I’m in so much trouble… Shitfuck. help me! You have to get me out of here... NOW!


Chapter 16

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