Chapter 18: “Let the Statue of Liberty See What Lies Inland”

Bobby couldn’t get his curls to sit right. He had gelled them and pushed them around relentlessly on his head, but it was going to be one of those days when his hair refused to cooperate. He gave up and instead adjusted his shirt collar so it stuck out evenly all around from the crew-neck of his baby-blue sweater. In the reflection of the small mirror by his bed, he saw John’s amused eyes, staring at him with infuriating skepticism.

“Fuck, Drake,” his roommate offered with a smirk. “You act like you’re going on a date instead of to a physics class.”

John, for his part, was sprawled on his bed wearing his one pair of jeans and one of Bobby’s t-shirts, the same clothes he had taken off last night, or rather that Bobby had taken off him. His mind filled with vivid memories of John’s lips on his, their bodies straining together. Today, even John’s brutally self-inflicted haircut looked hot.

Still, Bobby wasn’t going to be anyone’s clown just because he cared about his appearance. He shot John a look in the mirror and decided to assert himself. “What? Does it, like, hurt your big, cool rebel sense if I like to look good?”

“Knock yourself out,” John retorted and turned away in a sudden sulk. Bobby’s mouth dropped open. He hadn’t meant to hurt him. He was shocked he could! He turned and watched John flipping through the physics textbook he had received from Professor Xavier after dinner the night before. “Shit, I used to know some of this stuff but now it’s like trying to read runes.”

Bobby attempted to repair the damage he had apparently done. He went and sat by John and said with enthusiasm, “Do you know runes? Those are always in the fantasy novels I read!”

John rolled his eyes. “Metaphor, Bobby, metaphor!”

Bobby blinked. He had begun to realize that being with John required a lot of patience. He tried again. “I think you’re just nervous about your first day of school; that’s why you’re acting like such a hard-ass. Trust me, you’ll be fine. And Terry said she’ll be glad to tutor you in physics.”

“Hard ass?” John threw the book down on the bed. “I’ll show you hard ass!” He jumped on Bobby and knocked him onto his back, pinning his arms by his sides. Bobby gasped and a snake of frozen breath escaped from his lips, drifting across John’s face.

“I could totally throw you across the room, Allerdyce,” Bobby warned, his voice shaking a little. “I’ve had training.”

“Ooh, listen to you, Jet Li. Why don’t you just shut up and show me how to kiss again?”

Like the taste of fire on Bobby’s lips, John’s bravado faded when they left the safety of their dorm room ten minutes later. He trailed Bobby through the school day like a puppy, hiding his head in Physics and scratching it in Math. Things were a bit better in Geography and, after lunch in Biology. However, it was in English, the last class of the day, that John finally had his chance to shine.

Professor Xavier seemed unimpressed with the answers coming back to him from the class and finally pointedly asked John to contribute to the discussion. John took a deep breath and then emerged from his shell to demonstrate in no uncertain terms just how well he understood what Toni Morrison was up to in Beloved. He held the floor for several minutes, and by the time he finished, Xavier was beaming.

Bobby (for whom spotting literary devices was like looking for a polar bear in a snowstorm) couldn’t stop grinning proudly as John’s confidence swelled. Afterwards, Peter, whose love of literature rivaled John’s, walked with him and discussed the book as Bobby followed at a discreet distance, relieved that his roommate was making friends at the mansion. While it was true that Peter made everyone look small in comparison, John was walking tall as they entered the foyer.

“Hey, New Kid,” came a challenging voice from the first floor landing. John frowned and looked up, instantly ready for a fight. What he saw was Sam Guthrie grinning at him with Terry at his side. Sam’s Kentucky twang grew especially thick when he was being playful. “Why don’t you get your be-hind up to my room. I gots me some proper barbering clippers and I aim to make that sorry mess on your head look like something halfway respectable!”

John looked over at Bobby with a serious face. He was acting cool but Bobby knew he was nervous about this plan, still not sure how far his trust should extend.

Bobby crossed his arms as if considering and then said with a wink, “I think that’s an offer you’d be wise to accept.”

“Fine,” John called up the stairs as if he couldn’t care less. “Make me beautiful.”

“He’s not a miracle worker, Sparky,” Terry put in with a raised eyebrow as John joined them.

Bobby called after him, “Uh, I’ll be in our room taking a nap. Come and wake me before dinner, John.” He was already hatching a plan that made his palms sweat.

Terry’s quip aside, John was beautiful when he opened their door 45 minutes later, dramatically lit from behind by the hall lights. Without the cascade of soft hair, he no longer possessed the fragile beauty of an angel. Instead, his beauty was stark and sculptural. There remained only a faint brown shadow of buzzed hair but that emphasized his probing, hungry eyes and his full lips.

John closed the door behind him, but remained where he was, peering into the darkened room. “Bobby?” he asked, unsure if he was alone or not.

With a shaking hand, Bobby reached over and snapped on the light on his nightstand. “Hi.”

John turned his way, his mouth moving with half-formed questions. They never had a chance to emerge before Bobby threw off his blanket and presented himself, naked and aroused to the gaping boy.

John could only stare for a few seconds before whispering, “Shit…”

Bobby knew he liked what he saw, knew that he liked the bravery of the gesture. For Bobby, it was terrifying and exhilarating to be so brazen. Each time he dared to be openly sexual, he felt he was gambling with every chip he had. There seemed to be so much to lose! But the wheel kept turning up winners and he couldn’t step away from the table.

“Come here, St. John,” he breathed.

John stayed where he was, his eyes wide and his breathing growing faster. Bobby could see the thickening of his penis behind the cover of his jeans and he suddenly found himself appreciating John’s no-underwear policy. “Come here,” Bobby repeated.

“No,” John replied, taking control of the game. “I want to watch you. Stroke it, Drake.”

Bobby felt his stomach turn over. John’s hungry eyes suddenly seemed as powerful and dangerous as Scott’s. “You mean, you want to watch me — ?”

“Jack off, yeah. Do it.” John pawed at himself through his pants. Bobby began shyly, with light, fast strokes, feeling more naked than he ever had before. “Fuck, that is so hot. Anyone ever tell you have big balls?”

Bobby was growing more bold, groaning as he pleasured himself, spreading a river of pre-cum down the length of his shaft. “Yeah, they did…”

John, breathless with lust, guffawed nonetheless. “Oh, really? You have some stories to tell me, virgin boy.” He was now massaging his erection in earnest as he watched Bobby perform.

“Take it out,” Bobby moaned. “I wanna see it.”

“Heh,” John teased with grin. “Make me, virgin boy.”

Bobby was on his feet in a second, crossing the room and pushing John against the door. He ran his hand over the scratchy surface of the shaved head as his mouth found John’s and they kissed with sloppy passion. Bobby pushed up John’s t-shirt and pressed his leaking hard-on against the smooth stomach while he felt John up with a probing hand. He needed it. He had to have that dick and none of the internal voices that advised prudence and caution could quell that desire. He dropped to his knees and pulled at button and zipper until he had what he wanted in his hands, until he could feel the intense heat of John’s penis pressed against his face and he was smelling it, tasting it, swallowing it whole.

The feeling returned, like the first time — some perfect connection of fire and ice — as waves of cold in his mouth and hands met waves of heat in a collision of opposites. John let out a hoarse shout and pushed himself deep into Bobby’s throat, thrusting maybe five times before he came powerfully. At the same time, Bobby exploded under the power of his own hand, sending globs of cum shooting against the leg of John’s jeans and onto the floor between them. And just for a second, he couldn’t tell them apart. It was like he was John, and he could feel his dick in his own mouth and see himself there on his knees through those dangerous, beautiful eyes before they squinted tight in ecstasy, dropping a curtain on the vision.

Bobby fell back on the floor, with his mouth hanging open as the aftershock orgasms shook his frame every few seconds. He could feel little bursts and crackles in his throat as John’s burning fluids met an icy death. Steam escaped from his mouth.

“Fucking shit, Drake,” John panted and slid down the door to join Bobby on the floor. “You really know how to make a guy feel welcome.”

 

Half an hour later, they were running through the halls towards dinner, laughing like idiots and bouncing off the walls. They burst into the dining room and almost fell over Professor Xavier in his chair.

“Oops,” Bobby said, catching himself but not losing his grin. “Sorry, Professor. We, uh, didn’t want to be late.”

“It’s my fault,” John added with a straight face. “I was making Bobby give me a hand... with my homework.” Bobby turned away, coughing.

Xavier smiled and nodded. “That’s fine, boys. I’m glad your first day of classes hasn’t put you in a bad mood, John. Oh, Robert?”

Bobby turned to him, still blushing from John’s comment. “Yes, sir?”

“A friend of yours is here and wishes to speak to you.” He gestured towards the teacher’s table where Bobby saw a familiar face. She was chatting with Ororo, showing her something in a notebook.

“Oh my God, it’s Andi! C’mon, John.” He ran up to young woman who smiled with pleasure to see him.

“Bobby, wow, it’s been forever!” enthused Andi Murakami.

“What are you doing here?”

“I’m helping the Professor and Ms. Monroe get ready for the demonstration tomorrow. We’ve had wonderful response from some civic leaders and even some celebrities!”

Ororo nodded. “Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins just confirmed they’ll be speaking.”

“Holy cow,” Bobby said, impressed.

Ororo got up from the table. “I’m going to get my dinner. Will you join me, Andi?”

“Thanks, Ororo; I just want to talk to Bobby a minute first.” Ororo moved off and Andi looked up at Bobby warmly. “Sit down. You and I have to catch up. It was the Professor who got Sarandon and Robbins. I’m amazed how many connections that man has.

John appeared behind Bobby’s chair. “I heard a rumor their son is a mutant.”

“Hey, Andi, do you remember John?” Bobby asked and couldn’t keep himself from beaming up at his friend. “He came to the first meeting in May.”

“I do. Hello, John. I’m surprised to find you here.”

John raised an eyebrow. “Oh yeah? I don’t fit your image of mutant prep-school boy, huh?” he responded acidly.

Andi and Bobby suddenly entered a contest of who could look more embarrassed. She quickly remarked, “No, no, I-I just meant that when I met you, you seemed to be… in transition.”

Bobby’s smile was a bit forced. “Yeah, but now he’s here and he’s doing great.”

John rolled his eyes. “I’m going to sit with Peter and Dani, Drake. See you later.” He turned and walked away without another word to Andi.

“Sorry about that,” Bobby murmured.

“No, I’m sorry. I should have realized how that sounded.” They were silent for moment before Andi opened her laptop and typed for a second. “There’s something I wanted to show you. Here, read this.”

She turned the laptop around to an open email message. 

Forwarded message from: info@midtownyouth.org
To: andimura@gmail.com
From: yinyang91@pionline.com
Subject: Looking for Derek

To whom it may concern

PLEASE GIVE THIS MESSAGE TO ANDI FROM THE FORMER MUTANT YOUTH GROUP. IT IS PRIVATE SO DON’T READ IT. THX

Hi Andi

This is Lynn and Nyll and we need help. Derek is missing and we’re worried. He was scared to stay in his apartment and he moved somewhere but didn’t tell us.

Maybe you don’t know but we were his girlfriend for a while. He already broke up with Stacey in August. Did you know that? It wasn’t because of us, though. Honestly. We were just being supportive and then things went a bit too far. You know how it is. We were kind of stupid, actually. Our parents were being super nasty to Nyll (this is Lynn writing this part) and they couldn’t understand that she’s their daughter too. She was always inside me before our power manifested. They won’t even look at her which makes me so mad because she’s beautiful.

So anyway, we ran away and lived with Derek and then the police almost arrested him and it was totally our fault. So we went home but then he was getting these death threats from someone and he took off.

He shows up on GenePool sometimes and he sounds really angry, like he’s going to do something stupid. But we don’t believe he would hurt anyone. He’s very gentle. You know that, don’t you? His red skin makes him look meaner than he is. So, if he calls you or something, let us know or if you can find him.

Thanks a lot, Andi. We miss the youth group

Lynn and Nyll

Bobby looked up to find Andi’s serious face watching him. “Have you heard anything from Derek?” she asked.

“No, not at all. I mean, we were never friends. I-I think he had a lot of good things to say but he wasn’t ever the warm and friendly type, you know? Maybe Tonio’s heard from him.”

“I don’t know; I phoned Tonio at the Center and asked him if they’d been in touch. He just said not to worry, that Derek would handle things his own way. Frankly, that made me even more anxious.”

“Doug Ramsey — the blond kid over there — he spends a lot of time on GenePool. We’ll ask him to check after dinner, okay? Maybe Derek will be logged on.”

Ororo returned with her tray and Bobby went to join John. Bobby was quiet during dinner, thinking about the summer and all the young mutants who had attended the meetings at the Youth Center before the nervous administration cancelled them indefinitely. The truth was, he didn’t like Derek and resented the boy’s refusal to see anything but the worst in people. Still, he didn’t want anything bad to happen to him…

He watched John talking to the others at the table and felt a little jealous that he was making friends so easily. He had sort of liked John being dependent on him.

Twenty minutes later, Ororo stood to announce that the next day the students would be joining most of the staff in New York at the protest over the broadcast of The Betrayers. What she actually said was, “…all but a few of you…” and students turned to look at Bobby. He ducked his head, blushing and then tried to ignore the excited chatter as they left the dining room. His two-month detention suddenly really stung.

When the students were dismissed, he and Andi grabbed Doug to ask for his help. Bobby looked over at John with an unspoken invitation and was kind of surprised when he got up and joined them, pointedly ignoring Andi but accompanying them to the recreation room nonetheless.

Most of the students ended up in the rec room every evening and it was always a noisy hive of activity. They played games on the big screen and did their homework on the couches or at the work tables, some logged in with laptops to the wireless network. Bobby thought it might we be his favorite time and place at the school. In this joyous, studious hubbub, he felt like he had stumbled across the family he was meant to have instead of the fractious Drakes.

Whizzer>Rumors about me being a mutant all ovr the skool

4ontheFloor>I heard Turcot tortured them with electrodes

Shadowcat>I don’t think there were electrodes involved.

**GenePool welcomes csilagszoro at 7:35 p.m.

Ramalamadingdong>Whizzer, anyone at school you can trust? A teacher?

“Are you ‘Ramalamadingdong’?” John snorted.

“Yeah. It’s from this song me and my dad like. Quiet, let me concentrate.” Doug was perched on the edge of the couch, his fingers flying over the keyboard of his customized Linux laptop which sat on the coffee table. Bobby, John and Andi were gathered around him, squeezed awkwardly together so they could see the screen.

Whizzer>I think my best friend knows but Im scared to ask him

Shadowcat>And Turcott didn’t consider it torture. He thought he was helping. Totally fucked in the head, but that’s what he thought.

Ramalamadingdong>If you don’t feel safe, don’t tell. But you could keep a diary. That sometimes feels good. Helps you work out your feelings

csillagszoro>vannak itt Magyar mutansok?

4ontheFloor>Id use electrodes on him if he was alive

Shadowcat>So you think Turcott was totally wrong? He said he was trying to help mutants who wanted to control their powers

Ramalamadingdong>Szia, Csillagsoro. Hól vagy? Budapesten? Bécsben van egy Mutansklub.

“Csillagszoro is from Hungary,” Doug explained. “He’s really cool. He can log on without a computer, just using his mind.”

“That’s amazing,” Andi exclaimed. “You mean he could be walking down the road now?”

“Yeah, or sitting on the can,” John suggested.

Bobby considered. “Actually, you could be on the toilet with a laptop.”

“Classy, Drake,” John replied.

Doug ignored this exchange. “I wish I could get online like that. I think Jones is going to be able to,” he added enthusiastically and then grew serious as he remembered his roommate’s condition. “I mean, after he’s better. Listen, I can only help you for another five minutes. I have to go see him in the med-lab, okay?”

Bobby put a hand on his shoulder. “Sure, buddy. No prob.”

“Then maybe you should ask about Derek now,” Andi prompted.

“Yeah, okay.”

Ramalamadingdong>Hey, anyone hrd from DerekTheRed? His friends r worried about him

4ontheFloor>Yes turcot was totally wrong. Magneto says MUTANT DESTINY IS AN HISTORICAL INEVITABILITY, BUT WE MUST TAKE UP ARMS TO MAKE THE INEVITABLE THE ACTUAL.

“Ouch! Overripe-language alert,” John commented. “Magneto should hire me as his speech writer.”

Ramalamadingdong>Anyone?                                                  

Whizzer>g2g

***Whizzer has left GenePool at 7:42 p.m.

station2station>He was here ths afternoon. Said smthing like ‘We’ll make the world shake in its boots’

Shadowcat>Okay, shall we analyze that? If it’s INEVITABLE then you don’t have to fight for it. Magneto makes it sound like it’s a foregone conclusion that mutants will destroy humans or enslave them. But all that destiny bullshit is rhetoric and politicking. We have free will. We can choose not to destroy each other.

“Who’s this ‘Shadowcat’?” Bobby asked Doug. “She’s pretty smart.”

“Shh!” Doug hissed, ducking lower behind his computer. He nodded sideways and Bobby looked across the room to where Kitty sat at a work table, typing on her blue laptop.

Bobby pointed discreetly. “Shadowcat?” he whispered.

“Yeah.”

Bobby was surprised. From the way she had been moping around the mansion, he had assumed she was still too wrapped up in losing Lance to be thinking about the world; yet here she was involved in the dialogue, trying to make a difference. But if she wasn’t completely depressed, why was she still treating him like leper?

Andi bit a fingernail in agitation. “‘Make the world shake in its boots’? That sounds bad.”

Bobby tried to reassure her, though he thought she had a point. “That’s just how Derek talks. If he means to say ‘no thank you’, he says ‘shove it up your you-know’.”

“Your ‘you know’?” John exclaimed, his eyes wide with mock alarm. “Where’s that, Bobby? Do I have one?!”

Doug’s exclamation pre-empted Bobby’s caustic retort. “Oh my God, he’s here!”

**GenePool welcomes DerekTheRed at 7:45 p.m.

GenXJenni>shadowcat, how do u make peace when they call you killers on TV?

DerekTheRed>TOMORROW IS OUR DATE WITH DESTINY

DerekTheRed>I’M THRU WITH PEOPLE DISSIN ME

Station2Station>Derek ur awesome!

Ramalamadingdong>Derek, Im with Andi here. can she talk 2 u?

DerekTheRed>TIME TO TAKE BACK UR MUTANT PRIDE

DerekTheRed>DON’T TAKE THE BACK SEAT ON TH RIDE

“Is that supposed to be a poem?!” John laughed. “What the fuck?”

“I don’t think he’s going to answer us, Andi,” Doug sighed.

Bobby leaned forward. “Doug, quick, tell him to call me at the mansion. Say it’s important.”

4ontheFloor>Mutant pride!!!!!!!!! Fuck the flatliners!!

DerekTheRed>IN NYC TOMORROW WE RIP THE LIARS

DerekTheRed>WE WAVE OUR BANNERS PASS OUT OUR FLIERS

Ramalamadingdong>Derek. Call Bobby. He’s worried

DerekTheRed>WE SCREAM THE NEWS LIKE MUTANT TOWN CRIERS

“‘And spin like socks in mutant dryers’,” John suggested and Doug giggled.

Bobby pushed the boy away from the keyboard and typed: 

Ramalamadingdong>This s Bobby, Derek. don't do something illegal! We can help.

DerektheRed>WE SHOCK AND AWE LIKE ELECTRICAL WIRES

“You’re Lame!” John shouted at the screen and tried to wrestle the laptop away from Bobby. “Give me that! I have to tell him how he’s lame and should be killed slowly.”

“Everybody leave my computer alone!” Doug pushed them aside and slumped forward to cover the keyboard.

Andi put her hand on the boy’s back and spoke with gentle urgency: “Doug, tell him he can protest with the group from the school tomorrow. We’ll be happy to have him fighting on our side.”

Doug sat up warily and they all checked the progress of the chat.

temptation93>Whos going tomorrow? Any1 driving frm Newark?

theClaw>Everybuddy get Omega tatooz. Brotherhood!!

DerekTheRed>Tomorrow is destiny! TOMORROW THE EXPLOSION BEGINS!!

Shadowcat>*yawn* I’m so very impressed.

***Shadowcat has left GenePool at 7:48 p.m.

Bobby looked up to see Kitty close her laptop, stand and leave the room. Bobby thought she looked sad and terribly alone.

Ramalamadingdong>Derek, protest with us tomorrow. We’re making really gr8 signs.

**GenePool welcomes Bruge15 at 7:48 p.m.

4ontheFloor>Dereks gonna fuck them UP!

Bruge15>y’a quelqu’un de Belgique?

***DerekTheRed has left GenePool at 7:49 p.m.

***Ramalamadingdong has left GenePool at 7:49 p.m.

“Sorry,” Doug murmured and closed his laptop. “I’ll let you know if he comes on later, okay?” He stood apologetically.

Bobby gave him an encouraging smile. “Thanks, Doug. You were a big help. Go see Jones and let us know how he’s doing.” The boy gave a small grateful smile and ran off, laptop clutched to his chest. Bobby stretched, realizing his back was stiff with tension. “What’ll we do, Andi?”

“I don’t know. ‘Electrical wires,’ ‘Explosions.’ Maybe we have to alert the authorities.”

John gave her a disgusted sneer. “You’re going to rat out a mutant kid? They’re the ones who assaulted us! That’s why we’re protesting!”

Andi looked guilty. “I know, but if the protest doesn’t remain peaceful it will just hurt the cause!”

“Tell the Professor, Andi,” Bobby counseled. “He’ll know what to do.”

John scrunched himself back into the couch and crossed his arms over his chest. “Frankly, I hope he burns the fucking network to the ground. As long as he doesn’t feel compelled to write a fucking sonnet about it.”

Bobby sprung to his feet, feeling he should do something, though he didn’t quite know what. He looked around the room and saw that Kitty hadn’t left; she was standing in the doorway talking to Roberto. As she exited into the hall, a wave of courage made him follow. He caught sight of her as she was about to vanish around the corner.

“Kitty!”

She stopped and he could see her stiffen. Bobby knew she was as likely to bolt as turn and respond. He had no option but to address her back. “It’s a total drag that we don’t get to go tomorrow. I bet it’s going to be a really, you know, historic day.”

She turned slowly and he was surprised that her expression was more fearful than angry. “Yeah, I know. You can watch it live online. Want me to send you the link?”

“That would be great, thanks.” He smiled but then she started to turn away before he had really said anything. “Kitty, wait.” She stopped. His voice revealed more pain than he realized he was feeling. “Why are you treating me like this? It’s not my fault that Lance… that things turned out the way they did.”

 “Bobby,” she began carefully, “Did something bad happen with you and Lance on his last night at the mansion?” He opened his mouth but no words came out. She was watching him carefully, assessing. “He told me he was upset about something and I think you know what it is.”

Bobby was lost somewhere between anger and guilt. It wasn’t my fault! I didn’t make Lance do anything that night! How could I? “You’re not being fair, Kitty!” he accused.

“God! You can’t even answer a simple question! Did something happen?!”

“Kitty, I understand that you’re upset, but —”

“NO, I don’t want to hear it! I don’t even know you!”

She turned on her heel and vanished through the wall, leaving Bobby breathing the sour air of amorphous accusations.

 

***

 

It was the next morning. Finally. The sun was at last making itself known behind the drapes and John didn’t want Bobby in his bed. They had fallen asleep after an hour of increasingly groggy talk, which in turn had followed another round of explosive fooling around. John didn’t know what to make of this crazy connection with Bobby Drake. He’d had sex with a lot of guys, especially in the past year, but he had never felt this maddening loss of control. His orgasms had never been this obliterating. He couldn’t decide if it was the greatest thing ever discovered or something too unsettling to bear.

What he did know was that he had been tossing and turning — a writhing coil of razor wire — since 5 a.m. and that having the gangly form of sleeping Bobby chasing him around the narrow mattress, trying to maintain a monkey-baby hold on him wherever he moved was more than he could stand.

So why don’t you just kick him out of bed, moron? he wondered. You can’t afford to get so fucking sentimental!

His mind was unfocussed; a whirling torrent of ideas, hopes, half-realized fears. His patchy sleep had been haunted by images of gray buildings pressing down on him. He had run and run through numberless alleys, escaping specters with masked faces until he had awoken exhausted.

Maybe it was the contrast of his unrest and Bobby’s apparent perfect contentment that was so infuriating. He pulled away until he could look at the sleeping face. Peace. Angelic fucking peace. And god-fucking-dammit, he could feel his heart melt at the sight of the long lashes and button nose. Weak! Weak! he berated himself.

The glowing numbers on the clock told him there were still 15 minutes until their alarm went off. Bobby would probably want to get off again. John’s body immediately responded to the idea but his mind wanted to be left alone. He disentangled himself from the sheets and from Bobby (who moaned irritably) and climbed out of bed. He had to search all over the room to find the clothes he had been wearing before bed. As he felt around under his bed for his second sock, he heard Bobby mumbling above him.

“Don’t go to New York. Stay in bed with me all day.”

John left for the bathroom without answering.

There was a stone in his stomach even before they got downstairs for breakfast and it was weighing him down, sinking him into a dark place from which he seemed to only perceive the world around him through a truculent haze. His monosyllabic responses prompted Sam to rename him Grunting John.

Bobby didn’t seem much cheerier, watching his friends brimming over with excitement about the trip to the City and the rally that he was about to miss. John reflected that if it had been him with the detention, he would have found enough solace in his anger to shield himself from misery. Bobby, in contrast, didn’t appear to know what the word “stoical” even meant. John made a mental note of how easy it was to punish his friend; a factoid worth having.

He watched girls comparing outfits and guys posing like roosters or cutting up like fools and it all pissed him off. The worst part was he didn’t know what he was so bent out of shape about. Even without Bobby going, he had enough people at the school he felt comfortable with. He could even score some coolness points because he was so familiar with Manhattan. His stomach suddenly lurched. Maybe the waffles weren’t agreeing with him.

Ororo and Scott both made logistics and safety announcements, reminding the group to keep an eye on their designated “buddies” and to stay together in the crowd. They gave the group an emergency meeting place in case they became separated and warned them not to use powers unless they were in immediate danger.

John listened with anger-tinged boredom until Scott passed the ball to Xavier. “Please take all of Mr. Summers’s warnings seriously,” the Headmaster told the group. “You must watch out for each other at all times. That being said, I want you to enjoy yourselves today and to feel pride in what we are doing. We were attacked with drama and rhetoric and we are responding in kind. You will see many mutants today. For some of you, this will be a new experience. Use this opportunity to remember that we are many. Use this day to see what we are fighting for.”

John had to admit the guy had smarts and style.

Roberto was overdressed in a sober suit, as if they were heading for a funeral or he was being inaugurated or something. John smirked but then Neal, standing with Roberto and wearing pretentious Euro-fashion, turned and caught his eye and gave him a look of sour reproof. John tried to glare back but something was wrong: his heart started racing and he broke into a sweat. Turning away like a coward, he pinched his forearm hard under the table, digging a long nail into the skin. The sharp pain cleared his head and he was left wondering again what the fuck was wrong with him today. He forced himself to tune back in to Xavier’s calming voice.

“There is one more request I would make of you. Our guest, Andi Murakami, is worried about a mutant named Derek who has gone missing. She fears he may attempt some sort of disruption at the proceedings today. Let us try to pre-empt any harm he may do and try to protect Derek from harm himself. I am projecting his image into your minds. His features, you’ll note, are quite distinctive. If you see him, inform one of the teachers or Ms. Murakami immediately. Thank you, children. Please join us on the front driveway in 15 minutes.”

John sat with a miserable Bobby at the edge of the front steps, offering silent support as the students emerged from the mansion wearing sweaters and fall jackets. The day was sunny but cold, yet the fire and ice boys were just in shirtsleeves, oblivious to the temperature.

Fred Dukes noticed them and took a detour. “Hey, Bobby, John, did you hear? They’re going to let me stay at the school!”

John scowled. What was so special about tubby? he wondered. Bobby pulled out one of his special smiles and the change of mood startled John. “That’s great, Fred! If there’s anything I can do to help you settle in, let me know.”

“Thanks, Bobby! If there’s time, I’m gonna pick up some posters to put up in my room. Doug told me there are some cool memorabilia shops near the protest. I’ve never seen New York before. This is gonna be awesome!”

He turned and ran down to one of the two waiting black SUVs whose sides were branded in elegant, silver X’s. John watched Bobby’s face return to its former gloom. “You better go, John. I think everyone else is on board.”

A horn honked and Scott called out his name.

“You going to be okay, Drake?”

“Yeah.”

“It’s not like you’re missing much. Just a bunch of self-congratulatory speeches. These rallies are always preaching to the converted, you know?”

“No, I don’t know. I’ve never been to one.”

He gave Bobby the best sympathetic face he could, which probably wasn’t too impressive, and headed down the steps.

Xavier and Ororo were the teachers in the first vehicle and John watched them pull away as he approached the SUV driven by Scott, with Andi riding shotgun. He put a hand on the frame of the open panel door and put one foot inside. Then he froze. His heart was beating faster and he could feel his armpits dampening with sweat. What the fuck? he asked his body but got no answer.

With a challenging look on his face, he dared peer inside to see who he was acting like a moron in front of. Terry, Sam and Pete looked confused, but then he saw Neal and his consternation turned to fear. Something in those eyes, something he’d seen before — a contempt, a sure knowledge that John was going down in flames while he himself came out the winner. John knew that look. It was the same he’d seen so often in Chisel’s eyes during his tenure in Keever’s gang. It was Chisel who always let him know that he was temporary, that his fate hung by a thread. John wanted to pull himself inside, to knock the damn Indian know-it-all on his ass but he couldn’t move. He was in limbo.

“John, are you all right?” It was Scott’s voice and it took him a second to realize that his teacher had come up behind him. He felt the weight of the man’s hand on his shoulder. “Are you going to get in?”

“Yeah, give me a second, I think I forgot something or something!” He cringed at his own words.

“John, come here. Let’s talk a second.”  He felt the hand gently pulling him back from the vehicle and though he was burning with shame, he obeyed its urging. They walked a few feet away and John scowled down at his shoes as Scott addressed him quietly. “You don’t have to go with us if you don’t want.”

John snapped back. “I’m fine. I just need to…”  But he didn’t know what he needed. He turned to look up at the faces pressed against the windows, staring at his lameness. “I don’t know what’s happening, this is bullshit.”

“Maybe,” Scott suggested, “you’re not ready to go back to the City.”

John was outraged. He was being psychoanalyzed by a fucking Scout leader! By a glorified soccer coach! The fact that he was right made it all the worse.

“That’s… that’s bullshit,” John managed, annoyed again at his failure of wit. “I’ve been up and down every corner of that stupid city a million times in the last six months!”

“Exactly. Where you were in danger, hungry, scared — ”

“I handled it.”

“You did, I know. You survived and that’s something to be proud of. But now you’re safe here at the Mansion and your mind doesn’t like the idea of going back.”

“It’s just the fucking waffles poisoned me, okay? You’ve been reading too many of X’s psych texts.”

Scott surprised him by smiling instead of getting pissed off. “Maybe you’re right. In any case, you’re free to stay here today if that’s what you want.”

John didn’t answer. His weakness was humiliating. He had to march away from this agonizing conversation, get on the bus and put anyone who condescended to him firmly in their place. But now that Summers had said it out loud… Shit! The thought of being on those streets, exposed to anyone who might know him. Nikkatyne’s gang, former tricks, Chisel…

“I think I just need to, uh, sleep this off a bit. Besides, I have a ton of reading for my classes.”

“True. You have a lot of catching up to do.”

Scott put a comforting hand back on his shoulder but John shrugged it off. He couldn’t find the courage to look at the other students again but he stood tall and tried to seem as bad-ass as he could under the circumstances. The only good part was the look on Bobby’s face when the vehicle that had hidden the whole sordid scene from his roommate pulled away and revealed him.

John walked past Bobby without stopping, tossing over his shoulder: “I fucking hate crowds, you know?” He marched up the steps into the mansion.

He had only gone about 20 feet down the hall before Bobby ran past and cut him off, wearing a grin that could light up the Stygian depths.

“This is excellent! You and me are going to have an amazing day! Except for, like Kitty and a few staff we have the whole Mansion to ourselves! We can…” he looked around and lowered his voice, “…get it on anywhere we like! We could do it in a classroom!” He seemed awed at his own inspiration and dived in to grab John’s head and plant a wet and hungry kiss on him.

Despite all the humiliation he had just suffered, John was aroused and amused. “Heh, I used to have a trick who liked to play school principal. You want to be my bad little student, Drake?”

Bobby’s look of shock was priceless but just as John was deciding how to shock him further, their attentions were caught by a weird buzzing hum that was growing steadily louder. They looked up and saw a tiny helicopter flying down the hall towards them. Bobby pushed John out of his arms so fast, he fell on his ass. The helicopter slowed until it was hovering just in front of them. Where the pilot’s window would have been was a small video screen and on it, the face of Forge.

“Bobby Drake?” came the tinny voice from the onboard speakers.

“Y-yessir?”

“I understand you’re my assistant today. Get yourself into some work clothes and join me on the West roof in five minutes.”

“But… Yes sir, Mr. Forge.” The chopper flew off, doing a stunt circle around a potted palm before disappearing around the corner. “Shit. I forgot that I had to do that. What’re you going to do?”

John climbed to his feet and dusted off his butt in annoyance. “Play video games, surf porn, shoot heroin, you know.”

“John!”

“I’m going to study, moron. That’s why I stayed behind.”

“Oh, I was wondering.”

“Although I was also hoping we’d have time for a workout in the gym. A naked workout,” he added with a raised eyebrow.

Bobby’s grin returned. “Yeah! Okay, um, come and find me later and… we’ll make it work! Totally!” Bobby gave him a fast kiss and then turned and sprinted down the hall.

Silence descended on John and with it, the memories of what had just transpired out front. What did they think of him now? How many friends had he just lost in one moment of weakness? He started walking quickly, shaking off the fear with action. Fuck them, he thought. I don’t need friends; just need to know who’s liable to fuck with me and who’ll leave me be.

It was weird to walk the halls alone. He realized that all this must have been the family home of the Xaviers. What would it have been like to grow up with that kind of money? Money meant security, protection, power — the things the rest of the world had to work and fight for. No wonder the old man could afford to be idealistic.

He stopped in front of a painting of storm-tossed sailors in a tiny boat that was no match for the waves it was battling. “The Lifeboat by J. M. W. Turner,” said the brass plaque. Not a print; an original, like in the Metropolitan Museum. John visited the Met on nights when it was free. He felt safe there, surrounded by art; like it was a special place once-removed from the universe where the fighting stopped for a minute and everyone just participated in a collective jaw-drop at the fucking majestic beauty of it all. The Mansion sort of felt the same. John wondered how long it would be before free night was over here, too and he had to go back out to the streets where his kind belonged.

He left the Turner and continued his private tour, poking his head into different rooms, checking out art and architecture. The place was like an old-fashioned horror movie; he kept expecting ghosts of murdered children in Victorian dress to appear, rattling their chipped porcelain dolls at him and demanding vengeance. This line of thought amused him until he became aware of a creaking behind him and got instantly spooked. He slowly reached a hand into his pocket and pulled out his Zippo. He turned around, and saw a door slowly opening by itself. *Click, skritch, fwoosh* He struck a flame and spun it into a fireball in one fluid motion.

“Who’s there?! Bobby?” He shouted. “Don’t fuck with me!”

“St. John? Could I talk to you a minute?”

It was Dr. Grey. Right, he thought. Telekinetic. John took a ragged breath and stepped into the doorway. She was sitting in the spartan office behind a desk whose surface was completely hidden by files and papers. She gave his flame ball a sharp look and he quickly absorbed it, tucking his lighter back into his jeans.

“Just ‘John,’ okay?” he told her with an edge, trying to regain his composure.

“Sorry, I forgot. I sensed you going past. Will you step into my office?”

“Said the spider to the fly,” he quipped uneasily.

She laughed. “That’s not much of an insult; I have great admiration for spiders.”

“I didn’t mean it as an insult, sorry. Why aren’t you in New York with the other teachers?”

“I have to stay here and look after Jones. All the students are my patients and that includes you now. Since you’re here and there are no classes, it’s a perfect time to do a physical on you.”

John shifted uncomfortably. “A physical?”

“Don’t worry. Just a routine medical exam, plus I’d like to get some data on your powers.”

He wanted to refuse. He was passing out bits of himself way too easily. But what choice did he have? He had signed up for the school thing and she was the doctor.

Soon they were down in the sub-basement and if he had felt trapped before, now he felt buried alive. One of the topics of the previous night’s pillow talk had been the secret life of the mansion, including this sci-fi underground realm and the X-Men with their action costumes and cheery little code names. John had thought the whole thing pretty hilarious when he heard it — too self-important by half — but there was some serious infrastructure around him. Money and power. Turners and big shiny gadgets.

“Take a deep breath and hold it,” Dr. Grey said as she listened to his heart and lungs with a stethoscope. He was sitting on an examination table with his shirt off, hoping she wasn’t going to hook him up to any of the weird science fiction machines in the room. “Okay, breathe normally. When was the last time you saw a doctor?”

“Not since I got my powers.”

“That was probably wise. Your basal temperature is six degrees above the homo-sapiens norm. Anyone would know right away you’re a mutant. Remember that if you ever have to see a doctor, okay?”

“Great,” he mumbled.

“I sense a lot anxiety, John. Upstairs, too. That’s how I knew you were passing my office. Is everything okay?”

“I’m fine; I’m not ‘anxious’. Stop reading my mind, okay?”

“I wouldn’t do that without permission. Not unless you were in danger. The same goes for Professor Xavier. However, I usually do pick up emotions. I can’t turn that off any more than I can my hearing. Sorry. I need you to undo your pants.”

He looked her square in the eye and said, “I usually charge for that.”

She looked over the top of her glasses. “Telepaths are also nearly impossible to shock.”

He laughed as he unbuttoned his pants. “Great! I love a challenge.”

“Turn your head and cough.”

“You’re kind of like one of those guards in London; you always keep a straight face.”

She was making notes on a rolling computer terminal. “The students say I don’t have a sense of humor.”

“Hmm, I think they’re wrong. I suspect you have a whole other side that no one else sees, Dr. Grey.” That did make her smile but she said nothing. “Are you serious about this whole telepathic ethics thing?”

“Completely serious.”

“Frankly, if it was me, I’d read everyone. All the time. No one would ever get the jump on me again.”

She removed her glasses and tucked them into the breast pocket of her lab coat. “Trust me, you wouldn’t want to spend so much time inside other people’s heads. I stay out for my own good as much as theirs. You were right that there’s more to me than meets the eye. That’s true of everyone and if you go digging inside those secret worlds, it can… overwhelm you.”

He considered her words. “Yeah, I can see that.”

“So, correct me if I’m missing anything here: your powers consist of pyrokinetic manipulation. You can animate existing flames but not create fire spontaneously.”

“Yup. Sucks, huh? Why don’t I get the whole package like Drake? He can pop ice-cubes out of thin air.”

“I wish I knew. How an individual mutant’s powers generate is a mystery. We all have the same X gene, but the range of expression is vast. I have a theory that there is some kind of interaction with an individual’s personality, possibly at a very young age, that leads them to create their own power set.”

“You mean I chose not to create fire? I don’t think so.”

“No, ‘chose’ is too strong a word; but it’s possible that we do what we do because of who we are.”

“The mind reels with metaphorical possibility,” John said.

“Ah, the writer speaks. Anything else you can do?”

“Flames doesn’t burn me if I’m concentrating right. Also, I can sense fire within a few hundred feet. It sometimes… uh, this will sound weird. Sometimes it talks to me.”

Jean raised an eyebrow. “What does it say?”

“Well, it depends on the fire. Some of them are, um, better spoken than others. Fuck, I sound psychotic.”

“No, you don’t. You have a deep understanding of fire and a powerful imagination. You are using your artistic mind to help you interpret the data.” She typed some more notes and John wished he hadn’t mentioned the last part, which was now being digitally immortalized for the amusement of all. He had to learn to shut up around these people.

“Are we done, Dr. Grey?”

“Not quite; there’s something else I need to talk to you about.” He eyed her warily. “John, I’d like to screen you for STIs.”

He wanted the look on his face to say Fuck off but he was pretty sure he looked ashamed.

“How long were you on the streets?”

“I… I was just out a couple of nights before I joined this, um, gang. Then I had to leave in August. So I was on my own for about two months before you found me.”

“And you were supporting yourself by hustling?”

She asked it so matter-of-factly that he felt the gray haze of shame lift a bit. He could look her in the eye as he said, “Mostly, yeah. I worked in a diner and then did a bit of squeegee, but the cops bust you faster for that than for peddling your ass.”

“Ironic. And did you use condoms with your customers?”

He hesitated because he knew he was going to disappoint her with his answer, though he wasn’t sure why he cared. “Most of the time, but if he told you he wouldn’t pay you, you didn’t insist.”

“Okay.”

“I apologize for my bizarre pronoun usage,” he muttered, turning away as his face turned red.

“I’m glad to hear you protected yourself most of the time. I’m going to do a urethral swab to test for bacterial infections and then I’ll take some blood. Try not to worry. If anything turns up, we’ll deal with it.”

He was silent as she took her samples. He concentrated on the sound of the air compressors and generators humming behind the steel walls. When she was done, he pulled on the dumb sports t-shirt of Bobby’s he was wearing and buttoned his pants, trying not to think about what bad news she might find hiding in his blood

“John, it’s very important that you protect yourself and anyone you have sex with. Do you want me to give you some condoms now?”

“No!” he answered instantly but then his mind flashed vivid pictures from the day before — Bobby giving him head. What if…? He shut down the thoughts, scared that Dr. Grey had seen them. He watched her look quickly away but he couldn’t tell if that meant anything. “Yeah… a few would be good.”

She opened a cabinet and handed him a long snake of condom packages and then a small tube of lube. With the tangible proof of his sexuality sitting there in his hands, he felt more exposed than if she’d read his mind. He wanted to be gone from this place.

“I’ll have the results of your tests tomorrow. We’re using a new, faster HIV test.”

He winced at the portentous initials. “Dr. Grey… you won’t tell anyone will you?” It sounded weak but he couldn’t help it. He wanted the past behind him. He didn’t want Xavier to know what he had done, though he realized they must all know he had been a hustler.

“I’m bound by doctor-patient confidentiality, John. I would never reveal anything from today’s session, whether I learned it through word or telepathy.”

“Okay, thanks.”

He slid off the table and she walked him towards the entrance of the med-lab. Before he left, he noticed curtains drawn around one of the bays. “Hey, is that Jones?”

“Yes. Would you like to visit with him?”

“Can he hear me?”

“We’re not sure, but having visitors might help him. Go ahead. I’ll just clean up for a minute and then walk you back to the elevator.”

He approached the curtained area and carefully slipped inside. The boy was lying on the bed in green pajamas. The blanket that came up to his chest rose and fell slowly with his breathing. Electrodes on his temples were attached to a machine with brushed aluminum housing and sleek black buttons. The display showed a shifting psychedelic dance of light which made John wonder just what kind of trippy shit went on in the kid’s head. Scariest of all, Jones’ eyes were open, staring. Every few seconds he’d blink mechanically but there didn’t seem to be anyone home.

Now that he was standing there, John didn’t know what to do or say. “Hey, Jones. I’m John. We haven’t really met. I mean, you saw me a couple of times but you were already orbiting Jupiter by then. Anyway, Doug tells me you’re really smart. Maybe you’ll help me with math when you’re better. I mean, Kitty’s supposed to but she looks like a real bitch, you know?” He smiled, but his audience wasn’t appreciating his routine.

He waved a hand a few times in front of the open eyes but there was no response. He abruptly felt a stab of sadness for the broken little guy. Unbidden, a lullaby popped into his head. He had forgotten about it. She had sung it to him when he was small and sick with a fever that made the world feel far away. Go away, cat, standing in the corner, trying to get my baby…  He clamped down firmly on the unwelcome memory.

“I hear that asshole Summers cut you off TV. That guy is such a Nazi, huh?” John looked up at the flatscreen monitor that hung over the bed. “Hey, maybe we can get you something on this. Bet you like Family Guy. Let’s see…” He pushed some buttons and gave himself a small cheer as he found the cable TV feed. He quickly muted the sound.

“How about that, Jones? Not bad, huh?” He flipped channels a few times. “Well, morning TV is all for housewives and unemployed drunks, but it’ll get better. You get better too, okay?” He reached over and squeezed the kid’s small shoulder. He slipped out of the cubicle, closing the curtains carefully to hide the illicit broadcast. “Dr. Grey? You there? I’m ready to leave.”

Go away cat, go away cat. No, you can’t have my baby…

 

Having spent the better part of the morning with Dr. Grey, John decided he would study for her biology class. He grabbed the textbook from his room and headed off to what he decided was a perfect study spot.

He opened a window in an unused third-floor room and climbed out onto the roof. Fifteen feet down the vast expanse of slate shingle, Bobby was straining to hold up a small satellite dish as Forge attached a series of wires to the underside. The small helicopter was there, flying around purposefully. There were also several small robots with large swiveling monitors for heads and big rubber tires who were moving back and forth with equipment, apparently at the dark, sexy man’s silent bidding.

“Hey, John!” Bobby shouted happily when he noticed him standing there. “You want to give me a hand holding this up?”

“It’s not my detention, is it?” John replied. He sat down with his back to the dormer and opened his text.

“Thanks a whole lot,” Bobby snarled and John smiled behind his book.

The cool air was pleasant and the view stunning, gray clouds scuddering low on the horizon, like a ruffle on the blue quilt of the sky. He looked out at the denuded trees and wondered if he’d still be here in the spring when they turned green. A strange sense of dislocation passed through him. Two days earlier, he’d been struggling to survive on the streets and now here he was on the roof of a country mansion, reading through vaguely familiar material on DNA as if he were still in Syracuse and his school career hadn’t been blown off the road by a head-on collision with fate. And just down the slope, the strange figure of Bobby Drake who had exploded into his life like an airbag.

John tried to study, but he found himself watching the pair as they attached the satellite dish to a stand that they’d bolted to the roof. Forge was excellent eye candy, but it was Bobby who was the biggest distraction. John loved the way the long muscles of his roommate’s bare arms flexed as he shifted the dish around. The strain of his splayed legs made John want to climb in between the wide V of his cargo pants and play a joyous tune with his mouth. Of course, blowjobs seemed to be Drake’s specialty somehow. As he remembered the overwhelming feeling of cumming in that excellent mouth, he felt a twinge of panic about his blood tests. What if I gave Bobby something?

“Hey, Mr. Forge,” Bobby exclaimed, providing John a welcome interruption from dark thoughts. “What time is it?”

Forge consulted one of the robots’ screens. “11:15.”

“The rally just started! Can we go inside and watch a bit of the web feed?”

Forge said nothing but pushed a few buttons on his bionic arm. John could suddenly hear the sound of an amplified speech and the response of a crowd as Bobby stared with delight at the monitor on one of the robots. Forge looked up at John and pushed more buttons. The other robot began climbing the sloping roof to his position, its screen also displaying the feed.

“Who’s that?” John shouted over to Bobby.

“Chad Michael Murray. He played the lead in the Betrayers.”

From the robot’s speaker came the reverberant voice of the broadcast. “ — and I feel, uh, grateful for this chance to say sorry to those in the mutant community I have offended. When we started the project, I had no… Believe me, in my wildest dream I didn’t realize what life must be like for…”

John snickered. “Backpedaling as fast as he can.”

“I think it’s cool he’s there. Brave of him,” Bobby insisted.

John heard Forge’s deep voice for the first time. “Bobby, get me the reciprocal saw. The one with the blue handle and follow me over by the chimneys.” John watched them move further down the roof where Forge cut a neat hole in the shingles and began packing unnamable electronics down inside.

John turned from the monitor and began reading his biology text, letting the sound of cheering, chanting and commentary fade to a backdrop that he only checked out when the pitch of excitement rose.

“…a crime against innocent Americans…”

“…the Union Movement sends out its support to our mutant brothers and sisters…”

“…Susan and I hope to initiate a project about a mutant violinist whose dream it is to play Carnegie Hall…”

A sudden squawk made him look up and he could hear Summers’s voice speaking in quiet, urgent tones over the picture. “I’ve done a perimeter check but no sign of Derek. Anything, Storm?”

“Negative, Cyclops,” he heard Ms. Monroe reply. “I wish I could get airborne. It’s impossible to see from here in the crowd.”

John looked over to Bobby who shouted back, “Forge got us Scott’s com feed. Cool, huh?”

Scott again: “Okay, Professor X is coming up to speak. I’m doing a sweep for any snipers.”

John’s mouth dropped open. He peered closer at the screen as a rooftop camera panned over the crowd. There were a few thousand attending the rally, completely filling the street in front of the network building on 5th Avenue. A stage with banks of speakers had been erected and a banner over it read, “Mutants are your children, not your Betrayers.” More hand-painted signs dotted the crowd though he couldn’t read them. Riot police, anonymous and inhuman in their black armored uniforms, stood just beyond the protestors, looking more like they were about to attack than protect them.

The camera panned and zoomed with a lurch and there was Professor Xavier wheeling towards the microphone. Snipers? Who would want to hurt the old man? John wondered nervously. A different camera angle picked up his smiling teacher as he shook hands with Tim Robbins and various organizers on the stage. He was handed a wireless microphone and he turned to the crowd, giving a broad wave.

“Hello, good morning. My name is Charles Xavier and I have been working with mutants for more than 15 years as a psychologist and a political activist.” A smattering of cheers and applause could be heard. “This gathering is the most public display of mutants ever and I am proud to see so many here to express their concern about the network’s broadcast.”

Someone in the crowd shouted, “No more shit!” which earned a more enthusiastic cheer. The camera swiveled to show the crowd and now John could read their signs: “Mutant rights now!” and “We’re not your enemies.”

Xavier continued. “Indeed, as you say, we do not wish to see this type of programming again. Unfortunate as this event has been — and the violence that followed it is testament to the destructive power of such propaganda — I believe that some good can come of it. We stand here today, in the streets of New York, to show America that mutants are not a hidden monster in their midst, but bold new members of its diverse society, ready to contribute to and enhance this great nation.

“As a land of immigrants, we have always looked outwards to receive our newest inhabitants but, as the poet Alice Goodman wrote, ‘Let the Statue of Liberty turn her gaze a little. Let her see what lies inland.’ Mutants are the new arrivals to this constantly-changing landscape and we must look — ”

A squawk of static and Ororo’s voice overtook Xavier’s. “Cyclops, the Friends of Humanity protestors are looking restless. Do you have a clear shot if one of them tries anything?”

“Affirmative.”

John suddenly wished he was there. He wanted to be standing up on stage with a flame ball beside the Professor, ready to take out anyone who dared try anything.

“…a bold new day. So let us keep our dreams alive as we let the network know that we are watching, that we will not tolerate this treatment.”

“Where’s the president of the network?” someone shouted and the crowd growled in agreement.

More voices: “We want an apology!” “Defend your rights!” “Magneto!”

The Professor looked out seriously at the crowd as one of the organizers nervously whispered in his ear. The mood was shifting; a chant of “Apologize! Apologize!” had started. The organizer took the microphone and called for calm but her voice was all but inaudible.

Ororo again: “Cyclops, there! Coming onto the stage from the right!”

Scott: “Shit, circle around to the left, I’m going to try to get a better angle in case I need a shot!”

John was pressed close to the screen, cursing as the cameras swooped in confusion. There! Running past the guards and grabbing the mike from the organizer. It was Derek and someone with him, that other guy from the group…

“It’s Tonio!” Bobby shouted and ran up the roof to join John squatting in front of the little robot.

“Yo, New York!” Derek shouted. “They called us Betrayers! They called us murderers! Are we gonna take it?” and the crowd shouted back, “NO!”

He was moving around the stage, shadowed by Tonio, staying two steps ahead of the organizers who were trying to get the mike back like someone chasing a dog around the yard. Derek was in shiny black sweats, his red face and hands shining brightly in the sun. Tonio had pulled off his shades to reveal his oversized mutant eyes that made him look like some kind anthropomorphic lizard. Derek pointed a finger over the heads of the crowd and shouted, “Billy, hit it!”

Beats! A thumping hip-hop groove suddenly pulsed over the street and the crowd whooped in approval.

“What the…?” Bobby asked as Derek and Tonio broke into absurd posing choreography and began rhyming:

“Today, united for MUTANT UPRISING
And the sapiens SAPS are in for surprising
We’re driving this striving for a day JUSTICE
Just us and you and YOU GOTTA TRUST US!”

They were leaning in to share the mike while they kept dancing. The performance was a shambles of dropped lines and dropped microphone but they weren’t stopping. John and Bobby gave each other a shocked look and then jumped up spontaneously, dancing to the unexpected show.

“There’s a thousand SOUNDS and thousand VOICES
There’s choices and CRISIS and prices to PAY
And a DAY OF RECKONING, beckoning
It’s SICKENING how they call us BETRAYERS
We’re slayers of HYPOCRICY!”

The performers got lost for a minute, arguing about which verse came next. They gestured to the crowd to keep dancing and clapping as Tonio dug into his back pocket for a lyric sheet. Somehow, it should have been a disaster, but a shot of the crowd showed everyone grooving to beat, waving their signs, buoyed by the fearless absurdity of the duo. Up on the roof of the mansion, the boys danced, too and John stopped to yell out into the Westchester air:

“Mutant rights now!!”

And Bobby joined him, both boys yelling, “Mutant rights now!!” until the groundskeeper’s dog ran across the lawn and started barking up them as if he, too, were ready to fight for their place in the world.

 

 

When the protest was over, they ate sandwiches with Forge up on the roof and listened without much comprehension as he tried to explain how the new systems worked. They were more interested in a close-up inspection of his bionic arms and leg.

“Anymore bionic parts, Mr. Forge?” John asked, glancing down at the guy’s crotch.

Forge was nonplussed. “Yup. With three vibrating speeds. Makes me popular with the ladies, I’ll tell you.” John guffawed and Bobby almost slipped off the roof in surprise. He looked completely uncomfortable and that made John laugh harder.

Forge had lots of plans for Bobby and so he and John never managed to get off on the teacher’s table in the cafeteria (which was John’s idea). Instead, John finished his biology chapter and then tracked down Kitty for a math lesson. She had spent her detention day doing computer maintenance and seemed happy for the distraction.

They got off to a good start and John was impressed by how well she could organize the lesson, getting the difficult concepts across better than anyone else ever had. After 45 minutes, his brains were full and he pushed the text away and stretched.

“You picked that up fast, John,” Kitty told him.

“You explained it well.”

“Thanks. I’m thinking maybe I should be a professor,” she replied and checked his face to see what he thought of that.

“Dream big, girl. So, you and that Lance guy, huh? The one who left with Magneto.”

Her face darkened. “Yes.”

“Drag.” She scowled down into the math book and he had the sense she was holding herself back. John knew it would be politic to drop it, but something in him wanted to push. “And what about Drake? You and him were an item, too, I heard.”

She shot him a dirty look. “Not really.”

“That’s what I heard…”

She tried to sound uninterested. “I don’t know what we were.”

John leaned in closer. “You shouldn’t be so nasty to Bobby, you know. He breaks too easily.”

“Is that what you think? You don’t know him, John. He acts like a big victim, but frankly, I wouldn’t trust him. He has his big smile and his award-winning empathy, but underneath, I think there are a lot of little secrets and if you try to get too close, he’ll bite. Of course, he’ll be smiling and apologizing when he does.”

John felt like he had been slapped. His mouth dropped open and now it was her turn to stare him down. It took him a second to snap out of his shock and give her a Fujita 4 scowl. “Like you’re the big expert,” was the best comeback he could muster.

She just shrugged. “Want to go back to the lesson?”

He got up, his head buzzing like a swarm of angry bees. “Nah, I don’t think I can take anymore today. I mean, math. We’ll do it some other time. Uh, thanks,” he managed.

She gave him a satisfied smile. “No charge.”

His head continued to buzz as he marched through the halls without a clear destination. Fate brought him across Bobby’s path and he acquiesced to his weary roommate’s appeal for help in putting away Forge’s mysterious equipment.

Forge had commandeered one of the unused rooms off the foyer and here the boys attempted to match the shapes of various unnamable tools with the foam-lined crates where they lived. Neither boy spoke much during the operation; Bobby due to his fatigue and John because he was watching Bobby for some corroboration of Kitty’s claims. What kind of secrets could he have? Much as he liked him, John had never even thought of Bobby as having any kind of hidden depths.

Now he felt like he might be trapped in the room with a whole different Bobby Drake, an alien double maybe. Furthermore, John found the room itself claustrophobic and unsettling. It was filled with various machines of indefinite purpose which stared at him and blinked as if measuring him for an invasive brain probe that they were preparing with exacting malevolence deep in their chassis. This time it was John who pulled back when Bobby tried to kiss him.

It was around 4:30 and they were just latching the last of the carrying cases when they heard the sound of the students bursting in through the front door. Bobby didn’t hesitate to run out and greet them but John held back. He could hear snatches of excited conversation through the open door as they shared with Bobby everything about the protest: Derek and Tonio, the celebrities and the sinister presence of both the riot squad and the Friends of Humanity counter-protestors.

John moved closer to the door but stood back in the shadows watching the happy kids.  He figured the day must have brought the group even closer together, making him even more of an outsider. He noticed some had shopping bags with them and that was the first time he realized he had no money of his own. He was both an outsider and a prisoner of this place. Not only that, after that morning’s public breakdown he probably had no friends here either.

He was wishing that they would all clear out of the foyer so he could escape unseen when the lights in the room started flashing. A robot head like a vacuum cleaner’s evil cousin rose up from its place on the wall with a whir of servos. “This room is returning to restricted status; you will leave this room immediately. Authorization: Forge 8-5-7-3-Echo.”

John made a noise that sounded suspiciously like “eep!” and bolted from the room, practically knocking over Doug and Rahne as he raced for the stairs.

 

***

 

Bobby had found his time with Forge tiring and boring. The mutant inventor seemed lost in thought most of the time, leaving his assistant waiting long minutes in silence for orders. However, after his fellow students returned, life flowed again through Bobby’s veins.

The protest had changed the context of the students’ lives at the school. Most of them had been isolated as mutants before they got here. Now, suddenly, they were part of a larger group and today they had stood in public and shouted for their rights, for their place in the world. After dinner, they watched news reports about the protests and shouted back at the screen when anti-mutant “experts” put in their two-cents on various news programs.

Doug was glued to the tumultuous post-protest discussion on GenePool and called them over to watch the shocking moment when the online community split in two.

Acid4Blood>We hereby announce th creation of a new com for mutant direct action:

Acid4Blood>OmegaRevolt is ground zero of the new wolrd order

FlyMIND>ur wrecking our com! This is a place 4 every1!!!

spikestrike>We follow Magneto’s principels at OmegaRevolt. We are homo superior!

Acid4Blood>No more time to be whining, “I’m a mutant, daddy hates me”. Time 4 action. Time for politics

Shadowcat>Mutants supporting each other IS political. This is bullshit grandstanding.

spikestrike>Get angry! Get tattooed!!

Bobby was frustrated at the way John distanced himself from the excitement. His roommate sat back looking either cynical or depressed, reading his way through textbooks as if the protest and all the fallout from it didn’t matter. At least he hadn’t retreated to their room, Bobby noticed. At one point, Terry pulled Bobby aside and told him about the weird incident in the morning when John wouldn’t get into the car. Bobby wondered how he would bring it up with him, if he even dared.

Everyone was still keyed up when it was time to head upstairs, so discussions continued in dorms. It was nearly midnight and Peter and Sam were still talking with Bobby.

“I don’t know how much the Professor would let us get involved in more political action, Sam,” Peter cautioned. “They’re really trying to protect us.”

Sam writhed in frustration. “But it’s our future! X loves to go on about Gandhi and MLK but then he wants us to watch from the sidelines.”

“Just for a couple of years, Sam,” Bobby reassured him. “He just wants to make sure we have more options before we decide how to become involved with the fight.”

“Well, I want to be an X-Man, end of story,” Sam declared. “What about you, Bobby?”

Bobby felt like he was being pressured to make a decision he wasn’t at all sure about. “Shit, I don’t know. Maybe, yeah I guess. Now I just want to help Andi get the youth group going again. She’s fighting the board at the Youth Center over it.”

He looked up at John who was sitting on his bed, still reading. Only he wasn’t reading when Bobby looked up; he was watching him with an unsettling intensity. Their eyes met but Bobby didn’t feel like they were communicating anything. Then John vanished back into his book.

“Are you still here?”

The boys all turned and saw Terry standing in the doorway.

“Hey, you aren’t supposed to be in Boys’ Wing this late!” Sam scolded with a delighted smile.

She acted offended. “No, that just applies to you dirty boys coming over to our wing to take away our innocence.”

Doug appeared at her side and asked, “Did you give it to him, Sam?”

Terry gave Sam a sharp look. “No, he forgot it in the rec room.” She held up a shiny black plastic shopping bag. “John, we got this for you in the City.”

“Oh, shit,” Sam mumbled with apologetic glances first at Terry then at John. “I got kind of carried away with what all we were talking about.”

John looked puzzled, almost angry. “For me? What the fuck?”

Doug grabbed the bag from Terry and pushed past her into the room, presenting the package to the older boy with a big grin and then backing off to a safe distance. John looked like he was scared to open the bag, like it was a trick, like it might contain a dog turd. He reached in and pulled out a new t-shirt. He looked up, surprised and found six sets of eyes watching him nervously.

“Okay, don’t shit yourselves,” he told them.

He shook the folds out of the shirt and held it up, blinking. He turned it around so everyone could see: a vivid red flame on black material.

Sam gave him a crooked, non-committal smile. “We couldn’t have you wearing Bobby’s stupid snowboarding shirts for the rest of the year.”

Terry added. “Yeah, baby blue is totally not your color.”

Bobby didn’t even react to the comments on his wardrobe. He found himself holding his breath, unable to guess how John would react. He watched John’s hands tighten on the material. Bobby felt sure that his next words would be something like, I don’t need your damned charity!

But John looked up at them almost sheepishly. “I don’t know what to say.”

“Heh, and he calls himself a big writer,” Sam said as he stood up and joined Terry at the door. “You could try ‘thank you’.”

“That’s not his style,” Doug told Sam. “Hey, John, if you want to thank us, just say, ‘You guys are a bunch of fucking nerds.”

John burst out with a barking laugh, like the first gush from the tap after you turn the water pressure back on. “You guys are the biggest fucking nerds ever, is the fact of the matter.” Bobby let his breath go in relief.

“You’re welcome,” Terry answered with a grin and whapped Sam in the bicep just because.

“It’s a nice t-shirt, John,” Peter said, standing up to tower over everyone else in the crowded room. “Have a good night, Bobby.” He moved to the door and that seemed to finally signal the end of the evening.

Sam said a shy good night to Terry as she slipped away. He was the last to leave, standing in their doorway with a sad puppy look on his face. “I hate being a fucking high-schooler. You want someone so badly and you can’t just say so.” He gave a big sigh which morphed into a yawn, then turned and left, closing their door behind him.

Bobby instantly jumped on top of John, throwing his book onto the floor. “Yeah, being a lonely high-schooler SUCKS!” He kissed him all over his face and began pulling the much-maligned blue snowboarding shirt from his body, hungry to have John’s heat against his flesh. He could feel John responding, his body arching to meet him, his breath coming faster but then he abruptly pushed Bobby away and pulled himself back against the wall.

“Hold it, hold it!” he shouted.

Bobby felt all his gears grinding. “What?! Did I do something wrong?”

John was staring at him as he had all evening but now there was something more desperate in the look. “What do you want from me, Bobby?” he asked, panting. “I want to know!”

Bobby sat back on the bed, confused, trying to figure out what John wanted to hear. “I don’t know, what do you mean? I-I don’t want anything. I mean, I want to be your friend… I-I feel — ”

“What? What do you feel?!” John pressed. Bobby knew that he had to give the right answer but he didn’t know what that was. He was suddenly terrified.

“I don’t know; I’ve never felt it before. It’s… it’s really big, real. I don’t know. Maybe… maybe I love you.” He hadn’t planned on saying that but as soon the words were out he was dumbfounded by their magnitude. He felt like he had just become an adult in one moment. He looked at John expectantly but John just shook his head.

“No, I don’t care about love,” he answered, angry again. “That’s… it’s all just words. It has no worth, no grit. You just slide down smooth words like ‘love’ and fall to your death.”

Bobby felt like he had opened up the door of his heart only to have his soul plundered. Tears sprung to his eyes. “So… what do you want to hear? What should I tell you?”

John lost his hard look and Bobby could see he was scared, too. He got up on his knees and came towards Bobby, taking his wrists in two strong hands. “I want you to promise me.”

“What?”

“That you won’t betray me. Bobby, people say ‘love’ and ‘friend’ and all that shit everyday and then they fuck each other over.” He was talking faster, his voice becoming hoarse with emotion. “I don’t have anyone, do you understand? My mom didn’t care when her new man tried to kill me. I had teachers at school said they’d help me and then did nothing! So I trusted Keever when he took me in and then… then he tried to sell my ass so he could stay in business. After that, I swore that I wouldn’t let myself get weak again, that I’d just trust me and only me and then I’d be safe.”

Bobby’s tears spilled over. He’s gonna leave me, he’s gonna leave, he thought desperately.

But John pushed on. “But when I called you, asked you to come and save me, when I told Xavier I’d be his student, I went back on my own word. Do you understand? I’m risking it all here. And I don’t care if you ‘love me’ or ‘dream about me’ or whatever those slippery ice words are. I just need to know you won’t betray me, too.”

“John — ”

“Do you promise?!!”

Bobby swallowed and snorted up his tear snot. “Yes. I promise I won’t ever betray you, John. I…” He was about to say ‘I love you’ again but stopped himself. The unexpressed words tasted like fire on his tongue.

John took a deep breath and let it go with a shuddering hiss. “Okay, good.” John got off the bed and went to his dresser. He opened the top drawer and came out holding something which he brought to Bobby. It was a condom package. Calmer now, he said, “I need you to fuck me.”

He handed Bobby the condom and started to undress himself. Bobby sat frozen, the condom in his outstretched fingers like the flag of a country he couldn’t name, as John’s slim, hard body was revealed, his cock already erect. Confused as he felt, Bobby was hard, too.

“Open the package,” John told him as he lay down on the bed. Bobby did, taking the slippery condom out. It reminded him of a jellyfish, but it was also really sexy. He put it on the night stand and started peeling off his clothes as quickly as he could, throwing them to the floor and pulling himself against John’s body, kissing his shoulders, neck, face.

“Bobby,” John interrupted. “Bobby! Just… just do it. I need you in me. Now.” He was breathing fast and he turned on his side, putting his back against his confused lover.

Bobby was suddenly self-conscious. “I don’t know… what I’m doing.”

John sat up and grabbed the condom. He put an experienced hand on Bobby’s erection which caused a tight squeal of pleasure. “Hey! Drake, don’t you cum yet!”

“O-okay. Then don’t stroke it or anything.”

John rolled the condom onto Bobby who gritted his teeth to keep from cumming. He looked down at his sheathed meat and thought, this is really happening! John was holding something; a small silvery tube whose top he now unscrewed. He squeezed some onto the head of Bobby’s erection.

“Anointing the king! Okay, put some in my ass, too,” he instructed, handing Bobby the little tube of lubricant.

“With my finger?”

“No, moron, with your baseball glove. Of course with your finger.” John turned his back to Bobby again and pulled his knees to his chest.

“Weird…”

“What?!”

“I’ve never seen an asshole before.”

“You mean even your own?”

“It looks like a brain in a jar in some science fiction movie.”

“Will you shut up and lube me?” Bobby squeezed the lubricant onto his finger and touched the brain gingerly, half expecting it to say ‘I want to live again, Doctor!’ He pushed and his finger slid inside.

John grunted quietly and Bobby asked, “Is it okay?”

“Yeah, keep going, squeeze some more lube onto it.”

Bobby did and pushed it in with his finger, amazed at the heat inside. “Am I supposed to put in more fingers? Open you up? Isn’t there something where you do, like, this scissoring motion?”

John looked over his shoulder. “Shit, don’t believe everything you read in porn, Drake. Fingers…” he grunted and moaned again and Bobby could see he was jacking his cock gently. “…are full of bones. Cocks feel better. They bend right.”

“I don’t think mine is gonna bend at all,” Bobby breathed as he put the head of the hardest erection of his life against John’s opening. “I’m pushing in now… wait… I gotta fix the angle. This is… unh… hard to do… There!” The head of his penis popped inside and John jerked under him. “Oh fuck, John… Are you okay?”

“Okay… okay, Bobby, it’s good… just hold it there…”

Bobby tried, but it was like he was being pulled in, like he couldn’t stop himself from making little thrusts that moved him in bit by bit and John was writhing, moaning against him and it felt better than anything… the heat, the tight power of that hole.

John was breathing fast through his mouth, and Bobby could feel him tense. “Does it hurt, John?”

“Yeah, but it’s okay… it’ll be okay in a… second…” John put a hand between his legs and reached back, feeling the base of Bobby’s dick. “Are you all the way in?”

“Yeah.”

“All of you? All the way inside me?” His voice was shaking.

“Yeah, all of me. It feels so fucking good.”

“Yeah, to me too. Please, fuck me, Bobby, but really gentle, please.”

Bobby began to move and it felt so perfect, like something he had forgotten he always knew how to do and his cock felt like it was huge — a cucumber, the Goodyear Blimp — and as he pushed faster in and out, he knew he wouldn’t last long.

John was jacking himself off, growling and crying and hissing and swearing fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck and then he came and Bobby could feel the contractions of his ass, and John’s orgasm ignited his like a fireball and he pushed in and heard himself make a strangled noise in his throat as he came and came. A world of sensation muted his senses and he thought he could hear John say from somewhere far away beside him:

“I believe you, I believe you, Bobby.”

Chapter 19

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