Chapter 19: “Friends Like These, Part 1”

Over the days following Halloween, Mike Haddad was occasionally aware of the significance of what was happening to him. For moments, at least, he understood that this was a turning point in his life, that he was bursting transformed from the chrysalis of himself. Not that he was in control of the process...

Halloween night. Mike’s mother looked suspicious almost from the moment he walked in the door. Somehow, through mom-psychic power (were all mothers secretly mutants?), she knew something more had happened at the Spiderhole than her son was letting on. He knew she didn’t approve of his costume, of his girlfriend or the whole change in his attitude since the beginning of the school year. He knew she knew he was up to something.

Of course, she couldn’t have guessed that he had just led a group of mutant youth in standing up to three cars full of thugs with baseball bats. That was not the kind of news she needed to hear about her always-been-good, destined-for-med-school boy. Mike used the warm fog of his father’s cheery nostalgia to hide from a confrontation with her.

It was kind of embarrassing how delighted his dad seemed that his son was sowing some oats, or whatever the Lebanese equivalent of that expression might be. The whole way back in the car, Mike and Jubilee had been treated to reminiscences of his supposedly fancy-free youth in Beirut. Mike even caught his dad watching with a grin through the side mirror when he gave Jubilee a goodnight kiss outside her Auntie Bao’s house.

“Our son really know how to pick the best ladies,” he told his wife as he planted a kiss on her unimpressed cheek. “Just like me.” Mike took that moment to run up the stairs, throwing a hasty ‘good-night’ at his mother who returned it with an eyeful of recrimination and a familiar set to her mouth that meant trouble.

He knew it was risky to get online, but he couldn’t resist. And there she was — his very own “best lady” — so it was all worth it:

Pafs>ur my hero, Michael Haddad

Haddadada>just want 2b ur bf, jubes

Pafs>if I was there now what wud u do?

Hadadada>ru still wearing ur costume?

Pafs>Not 4 long.

“Michael?”

The door swung open and Mike jumped as if he’d already had it out.

“Yeah, dad?”

“Computer off and go to sleep now. It’s good you had your fun, but school is the priority, yes?”

“Okay, Dad. Thanks for… thanks for everything tonight.”

As Mike said goodbye to Jubilee and shut down his computer, he could hear his parents fighting about him.

***

 

Stand on your own WILL if you really think you're right

Cause this country is a SHAM, and politicians are a BORE!

We won't live that way no we won't do it ANYMORE!!

One truth was undeniable: no matter what amazing thing happened in the night — experimenting with drugs or literature, losing your virginity, re-inventing the very meaning of life — when the morning came, you still ended up back in the daily humiliation and routine torture that was high school. The cafeteria was particularly painful the next day, full of primal dramas, plumage and posturing that could put a zoo to shame.

“You’re my hero, Mike Haddad!” Rayen squealed and hugged him from behind. She put down her lunch tray and sat down on Mike’s right.

Jubilee dropped her lunch box loudly on the table and sat herself to his left. She glared over his hunched back at her friend. “Hey, he’s my mutant warrior, not yours.”

Rayen covered one side of her face with a chubby hand decorated in five or six silver rings. She half-uncovered it, revealing for Jubes alone the word “bitch” that she had brought up on her cheek in tiny red letters.

Jubilee gasped and looked around and then broke into her raucous laugh, jumping up to hug her friend even as Rayen suppressed the mutant letters before anyone could notice.

Mike was oblivious to all this, staring angrily at the corner-stapled pages in front of him, which were decorated as rudely and redly as Rayen’s cheek had been with a large, vindictive “C+”.

“Fuck him,” Mike scowled.

Jubilee kissed the shaggy hair on his head. “It’s just one paper. You’ll make up the mark on the final, Mike.”

“No! I worked really hard on this essay. He’s just pissed because I’m criticizing Lincoln’s politics. Lincoln only banned slavery to fuck with the South’s economy, not because he was a great humanitarian!” He flipped pages with an angry snap, literally seeing red. “Shit, listen to this: ‘You ignore the symbolic power of Lincoln’s life to those of us who were born in this country.’ What kind of racist bullshit is that? I was born in America, too! Just because my parents are immigrants —”

“I hear Lincoln was gay,” Jubilee said as she bit into an apple, the only part of her lunch which seemed to interest her.

Mike blinked. “That’s… What are you talking about?”

“Yeah, he wrote in his diaries about these guys who kept him warm on cold Washington nights.”

Mike dropped his head into his hands. “That’s totally irrelevant. And crazy.”

She pulled a newspaper from her bag, already folded back to a small item on an inner page. “Forget the stupid essay; you’ll like this.”

“Mutant Community Responds with Outrage to TV Movie,” read the headline. It was just a few inches of story, but it cheered him right up. Mutant rights organizers and sympathizers were already talking about a protest in New York on Friday.

“Oh wow, can you imagine if we could be there?” Mike said and felt again the previous night’s rush of glory when the bullies had turned tail and run.

By the time he got online that evening, the protest had been officially announced and the boards were full of talk. It was just after 10:00 and he was in an IM chat with Xeno Evil.

Haddadada>If I could afford to miss school, I’d so be there.

XenoEvil>I cud go but mom gets 2 worried about me

Haddadada>Why? you skip a lot of classes?

XenoEvil>No. I don’t go to school. had to drop out

Haddadada>Why? What do you mean had to?

XenoEvil>They found out.

Haddadada>That you’re a mutant? What happened to you?

XenoEvil>Doesn’t matter. Mom’s helping me with home schooling. More time to make music this way.

Haddadada>Did the school throw you out or did you quit?

XenoEvil>U don’t understand, Ok? I don’t talk about it

Haddadada>OK. I understand

XenoEvil>NO U DONT.

Haddadada>OK sorry

XenoEvil They hurt me

Haddadada>You don’t have to tell me.

Haddadada>OK? Xeno?

Haddadada>u there?

XenoEvil>Worst one was after gym. locker room. They held me down. poured aftershave on my emitters. Never felt pain like that. begging the mutherfukers. begging them like a baby.

Mike had stopped breathing. He thought about the nodules on the underside of Xeno’s arms, and the amazing, screaming balls of light that flew from them. During the battle in the SpiderHole’s parking lot, Xeno had used his power to fill the air with magnificent confusion that had helped assure their victory. His light banshees were beautiful, like Jubilee’s fireworks, like Rayen’s tattoos — beautiful precisely because they were unique and new to the world.

A minute passed. Mike stared at the words on the screen and wondered what it had cost the proud boy to reveal his shame. He felt the weight of that trust and swore to himself to honor it and to repay it someday.

Haddadada>You have th right to attend school. Why not fight for it?

XenoEvil>Cuz hi-school is a brainwash factory anyway. I’m getting real education now. What about u? U do yer homework for Professor Hardcore?

Haddadada>Yessir, Prof, sir! I downloaded the Anti-Flag song. It’s cool.

XenoEvil>Theyre not afraid to say all the things Americans don’t want 2 hear. But then they fucked up and signed with big corporate money. Lesson: U can’t trust anyone!!!

As Mike received his Punk 101 illustrated lecture, he was imagining Friday’s protest: millions of mutants of all shapes, sizes and hues, shouting in the street; maybe invading the network offices! He had read about a planned ‘Net feed and suddenly an idea occurred to him. He had little trouble finding the right image online. He opened PhotoShop and began designing.

***

 

Of course you'll bring no change

When you sit home on your couch!

We need to stand up and FIGHT

Bring our future to a start!!

The sun rose brightly the next morning, air cold and clear, and Mike was getting a haircut.

Impatient drums and pissed-off guitars screamed from Jubilee’s portable stereo which had been dragged into service in the bathroom. With the hardcore assault as soundtrack, Mike stared with delight at his reflection in the mirror. He turned his head back and forth from the left side, where the hair spilled over his ear, to the right where a clean-shaved expanse of olive skin opened like a vista of endless adventure.

This two-faced aspect was something of a parlor-trick: turn one way and you had Haddad the good son, on the road to professional respectability. Do a lateral 180 and you met the new-minted punk who understood that the halls of authority had been built to hide the truth. Armed with righteous anger and half a Mohawk, it was Mike the Rebel’s mission to break down those walls.

Jubilee, too, stared into the mirror but with scowling, objective intensity. Standing behind her boyfriend, she made final adjustments, her scissors circling and diving in precise, staccato strokes. Finally, she seemed satisfied.

“There,” she shouted over the music, a wicked smile blooming on her features. “You are hotter than hot.” She popped her bubblegum loudly.

“Does that make you want to do anything?” he asked hopefully.

“Yeah, open a salon.”

“C’mon, your Aunt’s at work! We could —”

She pulled the towel off his shoulders, shaking the clippings to the floor. “Michael, I already missed Spanish this morning because you couldn’t wait to get buzzed. I can’t miss Math, too.”

He swallowed his horny disappointment. “I know. And I appreciate it. Really! I just needed to do this now, okay?”

She responded by breaking into a wild, arm-flinging dance to the music he had forced on her. He ducked as the open scissors swung dangerously close, her reckless abandon stoking his furnace even hotter; but then she snapped off the player, reset her haughty dignity and marched purposefully from the room, saying over her shoulder, “Clean up, boy.”

“Okay,” he muttered, and contemplated his shaved half again. Seen in the context of his bare torso, it looked even more provocative and daring. He considered taking one of Jubilee’s Sharpies and giving himself an omega tattoo like the one Xeno sported. No, he realized. He had no right to that emblem. He was not a mutant, even if he was fighting on their behalf.

When he was done sweeping, he pulled the poster he had designed out his school bag and read it over again. It was inflammatory but true, like a Bad Religion song. He worried about what his parents would think if they knew his plan and then deliberately banished them from his thoughts. He could make his own decisions about right and wrong. No matter what his history teacher thought, he was born in this country and he would fight for its ideals.

He knew he was inviting trouble, and trouble accepted the invitation early that afternoon.

“Stop right where you are. Not another pushpin, Mr. Haddad!”

Mike turned and stared at Principal Matthews, who seemed to be doing silent movie acting. His body and face twisted with hyperbolic masks of outrage and disbelief as he contemplated both Mike’s poster and new haircut.

Mike pulled the headphones out of his ears and a micro-storm of hardcore dissent hissed and yammered from the tiny buds. “Is there a problem, Mr. Matthews?” he said calmly.

A thin smile of triumph twisted the corners of Matthews’s mouth. “Did you think I was joking when I had you in my office in September?” Mike thought back to his first attempt at bringing mutant awareness to the school and the unceremonious trouncing of the attempt by Matthews. “Did you think I had forgotten?!” He tore the poster off the bulletin board and pushpins scattered across the floor. He pored over the offending document like he was combing a crime scene for telltale fibers.

Mike looked down at the copies in his hand. The image he had downloaded was of a glowering punk in a Mohawk who happened to have a pair of mean, purple horns growing from his brow and a crude omega tattoo across his forehead. Above this compelling image, Mike had written “Mutants Demand Their Rights!” and below, an invitation for students to watch the protest on Friday, via Internet in AV room 3 of the school library.

Matthews crumpled his copy and took a threatening step towards Mike. “If you think I’m going to allow this kind of attention-seeking provocation —”

“Mr. Matthews, please, if you’d —”

“This blatant flouting of my authority —”

“Mr. Matthews!” Mike shouted loudly enough to make the principal stop short. “Sir, look at the bottom. This poster was approved by Mrs. Genovese at lunch. It’s for a project in our Social Studies course on contemporary human rights issues.”

The Principal rose suddenly to his full height as if he had been stabbed in the back. He squeezed the paper ball tighter in his fist and brought his face close to Michael’s. “You watch yourself, Mr. Haddad. I don’t allow troublemakers at my school.” He straightened again, adjusted his jacket and stormed back to the office.

Mike looked around and saw that a small crowd had gathered. They looked somewhere between amused and disturbed. Mike walked up to them, handing out copies of the poster with a friendly, reassuring smile. “You guys should come see this on Friday. It’s going to be really interesting.”

He didn’t wait for their response, but put the headphones back in his ear and let the adrenaline-surge of the furious vocals begin to soothe and center him. He was sweating rankly and his heart was still pounding as he moved to the next bulletin board.

***

 

And I want to conquer the world

Give all the IDIOTS a brand new religion!

Put an end to poverty, uncleanliness and toil

Promote EQUALITY in all my decisions!

On Friday, at the end of second lunch, a small group of kids exited from AV room 3 comparing notes on what they’d just seen.

“Do you think they were all mutants?” Rayen whispered awestruck. “Can you imagine if everyone around you was and they could be open about it? I wanna move to New York!”

Mike laughed. “No, it’s the same as here, I’ll bet. It’s just that everyone came out because of the protest. If we had something like that, a reason for mutants to be visible —”

“Nice bunch of freaks, Haddad!”

Mike came to a halt, looking up at the tall figure of Aaron Hovak, his former basketball teammate. Hovak was standing side by side with his perennial sidekick, David Rourke. The sidekick had, if anything, even less wit at his command, and so just glared.

Most of the group who had been watching the Internet feed seemed to evaporate, leaving Mike, Jubilee and Rayen in a face-off with the pair.

Mike wouldn’t be goaded. He answered the remark without hostility. “You should have seen the protest, Aaron. We all have a lot to learn about the world.”

“What I want to learn is why you would trade your teammates for these losers. Look at you! What’s with your hair? You want to be a freak? Mutants? You’re helping mutants?!” Mike could feel his calm slipping. Hovak wanted a fight and if necessary, he would give him one.

Rourke seemed inspired to speak at last. “Yeah, Haddad, and what’s with your little United Nations here? We, like, always considered you basically white. Why fuck that up?”

Hovak looked mildly pained. “Hey, Rourke, that’s not so cool.”

Jubilee spoke up before Mike could recover. “Rourke, has it ever occurred to you that Hovak only keeps you around so he can look smart in comparison?”

A fight was definitely in the air and Jubilee looked ready to spark their enemies in the gonads. Rayen put a hand on her arm. “Guys, let’s go, it’s not worth it —”

“Hey, Hovak, Rourke, what up?” It was Paul Greenstein, wandering out of the AV room finishing off his sandwich, crumbs spilling down his front and onto the floor. He had spent the time during the netcast making remarks about Susan Sarandon’s flat chest and other equally charming comments until Mike had almost thrown him out.

Mike didn’t spare him a look. “Do you think you intimidate me, Hovak?”

“I think you should remember who you were, Haddad, and decide if you want to be our friend or our enemy.”

Jubilee snorted, “Heh, with friends like these, Mike…”

Greenstein crossed the imaginary line between camps and put a chummy hand on Hovak’s shoulder. “Hey, you know that video you were looking for?”

Hovak went suddenly red. “What? Shut up, Greenstein!”

“Yeah, I finally found it in a really obscure, really skanky archive. That’s weird shit, man; I felt like I should be wearing rubber gloves. But whatever gets you off.”

Hovak shoved Greenstein away. “Fucking shut it!” He looked back at Mike and the girls. “Just think about what I said, Haddad. Three words: Friends of Humanity. Rourke, let’s go.”

“What? I wanna fuck them up.”

“Let’s go!”

Greenstein called jovially after them. “I’ll get it burned for you for Monday, man! Usual price.”

“Who the fuck does he think he is?” Jubilee shouted when the two had left. “And is he seriously part of Friends of Humanity?”

“No, he’s just bullshitting,” Mike said, shaking his head. “I can’t believe I used to think he was so cool.”

“You guys should be careful,” Rayen said. “You’ll get yourself in trouble.”

Mike watched Greenstein go to the drinking fountain and spit loudly in the bowl. “Paul, what the fuck was that about? What videos?”

“Nothing. I make up porn DVDs for some of the guys. I’m good at fulfilling special requests for my clients; and let me tell you, Hovak’s requests are special!” He licked a spot of ketchup off one of his fingers and sauntered away, down the hall.

“Shit, Haddad,” Jubilee swore, her cheeks still bright with rage, “Your past is littered with such charming characters.”






It was late Saturday afternoon and the sun was gone, not that it had been seen much at all on this rainy November day. Bobby was floating in a weird waking sleep, sitting on the edge of the work bench with his legs swinging lazily beneath him. It was the end of another detention day with Forge who, when he spoke at all, tended to say things like, “…a regulator with half the capacitance might just mumble, mumble…” Bobby had learned to stop paying attention unless he was given a clear direction. Truth be told, with everything that had happened in the past week, he was finding blank boredom kind of comforting.

“Blah-di-blah blah,” Forge was saying, “…back from the mission.”

“Huh?!” Bobby’s head snapped up and there, on one of the new security monitors, the souped-up Hummer that was now known as the X-Van, was coming up the back driveway. Bobby was instantly awake. The X-Men had left the mansion in their yellow and black action outfits right after breakfast and he and the other students had spent the day speculating on just what they were up to this time. The vehicle, photographed from above by a camera Bobby himself had focused the previous day, was stopped in front of the garage door.

“Forge!” came Scott’s annoyed voice through a speaker on the wall. Forge answered without looking up from his work.

“Hey, Cyclops, what can I do for you?”

“Why won’t the garage door open?”

“Uh, probably because the security mechanism is in pieces in front of me. The door’s programmed not to open without the correct handshake protocol between the master server and —”

Jean’s impatient voice cut him off. “So what are we supposed to do?”

Forge shrugged as if the question was outside his jurisdiction. “Park in the front driveway, I guess?”

Bobby watched the car reverse abruptly, scattering angry gravel in its wake.

“Clients,” Forge muttered with vague exasperation and continued his dissection of a pirated circuit board.

Bobby jumped off the table and peeked out the door of Forge’s temporary workshop towards the front door, waiting for the teachers to enter. At the other end of the foyer, Doug, Terry, John and Sam appeared at the door to the rec room. Bobby thought they must have seen the X-Van coming around the corner and interrupted their foosball tournament. The fact that John had agreed to such a banal activity had surprised Bobby.

“What?” John had said at lunch. “I can’t just wait around all day till your ass is available, Drake,” which had made Bobby squirm with embarrassed delight. Not that his ass would have been “available” even if he had been. He wasn’t ready for that particular intimacy just yet.

He and John locked eyes across the foyer. Bobby raised his eyebrows meaning how’s the tournament? and John rolled his eyes meaning lame, but whatcha gonna do? Doug waved at him and then the front door swung wide and the three X-Men staggered in. They were soaking wet and disheveled, their uniforms worse for wear.

“Oh my God, Ms. Monroe!” Terry squealed and the chandelier shook a bit. “Are you okay?!”

Ororo was leaning heavily against Jean, holding a bloodied bandage to her side. Her cheek was also scratched and bruised and she was clearly in some pain. Bobby’s heart began to beat faster, images of the melee at the Turcott Clinic flashing through his mind.

Ororo spoke calmly, though her voice sounded a little shaky. “I’m fine, children. My injuries are not serious.”

“I bet the other guy looks worse,” Sam said, but the joke sank under the surface of the group’s tension.

“Okay, guys,” Jean said. “I have to get her down to the med lab right now. We’ll see you at dinner.”

The two women headed down the corridor towards the elevator and Bobby crossed to where Scott was standing with the other students.

“You okay, Scott?” he asked. Somehow, under the circumstances, he couldn’t make himself say “Mr. Summers.” Scott nodded silently. Bobby noticed that his hair-ringed nipple was staring through one of the tears in his top.

“Are you going to tell us what happened?” Dani asked.

Scott looked around the group. “I can’t give you details, sorry. But don’t worry. Everything went well. There were some mutants in trouble and we were able to help them.”

“Was it the Friends of Humanity?” Sam demanded.

“Magneto?” Doug asked simultaneously.

Scott raised his hands. “Don’t worry about it, okay? It’s not your concern at this point. I’ll tell you one thing, though.” He pulled at the slits in his uniform and it tore open across his chest with a satisfying riiippppppp! “It’s the last time we wear these damn uniforms!” He laughed and the others joined in a bit nervously.

Bobby heard the door of the subbasement elevator open again and within seconds, a distressed Jean was closing on them with great strides of her long legs.

“Where the hell,” she demanded with uncharacteristic panic, “is Jones?!”

Scott’s smile fell off his face. He turned back to the students who looked at each other for a second and then moved out of the door, giving Jean a clear view of her patient. He was slumped peacefully on the couch, still wearing his green pajamas, his eyes glued to the big TV.

The teachers were at his side in a second, Jean taking his pulse and peering into his eyes while Jones tried to look around her to see the screen.

“When did you wake up?” Scott demanded, his voice somewhere between relieved and angry.

“How are you feeling?” Jean asked, professional, bewildered.

He grunted in annoyance. “Fine. Actually, I’m even better.”

“Better than what?” Scott asked.

Jones sighed theatrically and began blinking his eyes. In perfect synchrony, the lights in the room winked on and off. The boy’s tongue slipped between his lips as he concentrated. The music system came on loudly and he made the TV picture strobe and distort with the beat of the song while the lights in the chandelier went into a “chase” pattern.

“Hey, Jones!” John yelled over the din. “Turn it down!”

Jones blinked once more and everything snapped back to normal. A golf tournament was playing on the TV with hushed intensity. “Sorry, John,” he replied with a little smile.

“Or pick better music,” John replied, returning the smile.

“But what happened?” Scott asked Jean.

It was Jones who answered, turning to Scott with calculated innocence. “John switched on the TV for me. Then I felt better.”






“It’s not fair!”

“Michael, you have gone out with strangers enough this week,” his mother snapped, leaning closer to the mirror in the front hall as she touched up her lipstick.

“But Xeno already bought the tickets.”

“You should have asked us first. What kind of concert is it, anyway?”

“Music,” he replied sullenly. “What kind of concerts are there?”

“You mean the bang-bang-bang you have been shaking the house with this week? That is not music.”

“Hardcore is excellent music!” he countered and cursed himself for sounding like a stupid, whiny adolescent!

His father entered from the next room wearing a suit, eating a meatball pilfered from the fridge. “Who is this Nemo person anyway, Michael? What school does he go to?” Mr. Haddad was a self-styled expert on area schools with elaborate theories on which institution gave you the best chance at a prosperous future. He swallowed the rest of the meatball and licked at his fingers like a cat, earning a dirty look from his wife as she handed him a tissue from her purse.

“It’s ‘Xeno,’ and he doesn’t go to school; he’s studying at home with —”

“This is ridiculous,” his mother waved her hands as if warding off flies. “You meet some drop out, start listening to insane music and cut off half your hair like a lunatic. You cannot go out tonight. Stay home and study for your exams.” She went to the closet and pulled out her new fall coat.

“Exams aren’t for five weeks and I did homework all afternoon.”

“Life is not always about having fun!”

“She says as she dresses for a party!”

“Michael, you will show your mother respect. Tonight we are celebrating the 25th wedding anniversary of Dr. Aziz and his wife. He is a fine man and a fine doctor. Someday I dream you will be a man as great as he.”

“But Dad, I told Xeno I’d go.”

“And now you will tell him you can’t. This story is over.”

He sat in the living room in the dark for a long time after they left, fuming. Each dull beat of the antique mantle clock reverberated in his brain like slow, relentless torture. The phone rang and he banged his leg on the coffee table running to grab it. He swore at the top of his lungs through the next two rings before picking up.

“Hey, Mike man, I’m just getting ready to leave.”

“Your mom let you have her car?”

“Sure. I told her she should get out and party — it’s Saturday night! But she just wants to watch old 80s comedies and be depressed. Oh well, that means we have the vehicle. Anyway, I’ll be there in 20 and we’ll hit the road, okay?”

“Xeno, I —”

“What did you think of the protest? Fuck, I wish I had been there. For sure I wish it was me making the music instead of those limp-dick rappers.”

“I thought the protest was awesome.”

“Yeah! Stick it to the man! Don’t take his shit! Hey, don’t wear anything that you can’t afford to rip tonight; we’re gonna do some serious moshing. You’ll love it. Hey, Mike, you there? Hello?”

“Yeah, sorry. Okay. I’ll be waiting outside.”

“Excellent! FUCK IT UP!!”






“Come on, Jean, admit it. I fucking blew it!”

“Scott, stop being so hard on yourself. I’m his doctor and I didn’t know. With undocumented mutations, we’re always shooting in the dark.”

“I just thought… I thought he was being a little shit. A rebel.” He looked out through the window of the office to the examining room where Jones was sitting up in bed, hooked up to monitors and contentedly flipping through channels on the TV monitor in front of him. “So I played the big authoritarian and we almost lost him.”

“Hmmph, I’m not convinced he isn’t a bit of a shit sometimes. He likes to play people. But Scott, you’re trying to run a boarding school filled with mutants at the same time as you deal with the demands of leading the X-Men.”

“Now you’re calling us that dumb name?”

“I think it’s kind of cute. And Charles secretly likes it, of course.” Scott was seated on a cool, aluminum chair slumped forward sullenly. He seemed so small and lost that she put an arm around him and kissed the top of his head. She felt the tension leave him as he snuggled in close to her.

Most of the time, he was her rock, the one steady anchor that she could tie herself to so she could step into the world with her famous confidence. Before Scott came to the mansion, she had always gone out with geeks who seemed really impressed with themselves for snagging the smart and sexy Jean Grey. Like she was a big game prize. They did whatever she said and all that power left her bored to tears.

Scott, on the other hand, was her little rooster, her tough guy and she was kind of thrilled by the idea that he would fight to defend her in a bar if someone defamed her honor. As if that was all there was to him, as if she couldn’t take care of herself…

And yet, there were times like this when she valued the fact that he was younger than her and shorter, when she could wrap him up against her breast and stroke his fine brown hair until he felt better. Part of her was appalled at all this role-playing, but it really seemed to matter sometimes, not least in bed.

“We didn’t lose him, Scott. And you’re not alone in this. We’ll get through the challenges and the kids will be okay.”

He looked up and managed a smile. How she longed to look into his eyes. She had only seen them in photographs of a young, angry man. Blue, they had been; clear and honest as a winter sky. But she could still see his love for her in the tenderness of that smile and she could feel it roll off him like caramel-colored waves.

A few minutes after Scott left, John Allerdyce marched cockily into the lab. She noted the contrast between his confident walk and the psychic anxiety he was emanating.

“Hi, Dr. Grey. I met Summers… I mean Mr. Summers in the hall and he unlocked the elevator for me.” He leaned against a counter but it took him a couple of tries to make it look casual. “You wanted to see me?”

“Yes, John. I have your test results. Hold on a minute.” She called up his file on her monitor. “Well, we have very good news here. No infections. No STIs.”

For just a second, his unguarded joy emerged and the relief in that smile made him seem younger than usual. “Really?” he exclaimed and she suddenly understood that he had expected the worst — perhaps habitually expected the worst. “That’s really… really great.”

He turned away from her and she watched him reconstruct his mask. She looked over the numbers on the screen. “I don’t know if you were just lucky or if your mutation protects you in some way.”

“Whatever, it’s good news, right?”

“Yes, but until I can answer that question, you should always practice safer sex.”

“Oh yeah, for sure.”

“And not just your sake. When we’re intimate with someone, John, we have to take responsibility for them.” John furrowed his brow. “Sex is more than just fun. It carries a lot of emotional power and those emotions can be explosive. You have to remember that you might have more experience than others and —”

“Hey, no offense, but when it comes to explosive… well, we all walk in that minefield, doc. Experienced or not, we all take the same chance.”

“Good point.”

“But don’t worry, I’ll take care of him.”

He was perceptive, this one. And unafraid of the truth. She realized how much she liked him. “Thank you, John.”

“You’ll get my bill in the mail. Hey, how’s Jones there?”

“Remarkable, actually. My new theory is that he externalizes some of his brain’s functions, such as REM sleep, to the machines in his environment.”

“You mean he dreams television? Sad.”






Mike was buzzing, high on the sensory overload of his first punk concert as he walked in the front door of his house. It was just after midnight and Xeno had dropped him off with a promise that this would not be their last excursion into the world of teeming, inked and pierced masses. As predicted, his t-shirt was practically torn to shreds, he had some aching bruises on his side, a cut on his cheek and his ears were buzzing like a squadron of wasps. He felt amazing, truly alive, almost like when he and Jubilee had sex.

Then he saw his parents sitting in the living room waiting for him.

It was like an out of body experience; one second he perceived himself as the nexus point where all of history was converging, the next he saw himself through their eyes: battered, alien, disrespectful, out of control.

The next 15 minutes was an endless, nauseating barrage of guilt, anger and humiliation that made his head swim and the world spin out of focus.

“You could have been dead! We were worried sick!”

“Are you taking drugs?! Don’t you know these people take drugs?!”

“In my day, such disobedience would have had painful consequences!”

“Why are you throwing away everything we have given you?”

“Trading your basketball teammates for thugs and tramps!”

“You don’t care about your parents, your future, yourself!”

His voice was hoarse from an evening of screaming. “I do care! It’s just music. Xeno’s a good guy! We didn’t take any drugs! I’m still doing well at school!”

“You are? How do you explain this?”

His mother held up his history paper, the red C+ looming larger and more humiliating than ever. “I see why you were hiding this.”

“You went in my bag! You have no right to —”

“Your mother has every right when she sees that you are lying to us, destroying your own future!”

“He’s a racist! He gave me that mark because I’m an Arab and I criticized Abraham Lincoln! What kind of education does he think —”

His mother’s eyes went wide. “Are you crazy, Michael Haddad? You think we can come to this country and attack their heroes? We are not safe here, especially since 9/11! You have to be quiet and try to fit in! When you have graduated from medical school, when you are a respected man like Dr. Aziz… maybe then you can speak your mind; but now? You must think. Think!”

“Mom! I can’t believe you’re saying that! I’m an American! This is a free country!”

“And this?!” She pulled out another sheet of paper and he found himself facing the horned, mutant punk on his poster. The sneering face now seemed full of contempt for his stupidity. “You endanger yourself and your whole family getting involved in this kind of radical politics!”

His father looked grave. “Michael, do you know any of these… mutants?”

“Dad, I… I’ve met a couple, yeah, but the point is that their rights are being —”

His mother slammed the poster face down on the coffee table. “Their rights are no longer your concern! There will be some changes in this house, starting tonight!”

Haddadada>So you might as well findd a new bf! I’m a fucking prisoner.

Pafs>Ok, we’ll deal.

Haddadada>No more dates, no more Spiderhole, no mutant politics, no more NO FUCK FUCK THEM!!!!!!

Pafs>we’ll see each other at school. Don’t worry. I love u

Haddadada>don’t bother. They’re probably gonna kidnap me back to Lebanon and arrange a marriage with some 30 yr old hairy hag from a GOOD FUCKING FAMILY!!!

Pafs>You’ll steal her money and run away with me.

Haddadada>I want to die. Mom totally hates you, btw. ur some kind of drugged up slut with magic power to twist my mind. It’s all ur fault.

Pafs>I am pussy power. Fear me. Btw, I like this new angry Mike. He’s hot.

Haddadada>fear me

Pafs>So what r u gonna do now?

Haddadada>thinking

Pafs>ok

Haddadada>Can I ask u a favor?

Pafs>I’m already naked. Kidding.

Haddadada>U know any mutants or mutant-friendly types on student councils in the district?

Pafs>A couple. Why?

Haddadada>I just thought it would be a nice gesture if our school invited mutant students from the whole district to the Xmas dance

Pafs>lol. Ur trouble, Mike Haddad.

Haddadada>;-) love u 2






“Oh fuck, John, you gotta let me cum! I’m gonna die here!”

John still had his jeans on as he kneeled between naked Bobby’s thrashing thighs. He laughed and ran a nail up the struggling boy’s erection. “Life’s tough, Drake.”

“What if I have, like a seizure or something?” Bobby moaned and that earned another chortle.

“You practically begged me to get you off, Drake, didn’t you?”

Bobby nodded weakly.

“And I said as long as I could make the rules, right?”

He nodded again and then bit his lip as John ran a hand up his lube-slick shaft and then rotated his palm on the swollen cock head.

“But I didn’t think you were gonna, you know, tie me up!

John backed off to consider this. Bobby’s arms were over his head, his wrists tied to the headboard with the belt of his terry-cloth bathrobe. He was further imprisoned by the ball of ice that had been growing around his hands as his excitement grew.

“Sorry, Bobby. You look fucking incredible like that, and beauty always comes at a price.”

“John! Please! Get me off! I gotta go running with Scott in ten minutes!”

“Heh, maybe I’ll leave and let him find you like this! You have a thing for Summers, I know.”

Bobby whimpered.

John bent and started licking Bobby’s inner thighs from the knee up to the balls at the same time as he started tapping his swollen perineum with two fingers. “I frankly can’t get past his personality, but I can see the attraction in those tough little soldier buns.” He kept tapping the taint as he began to jack Bobby with long, agonizing strokes, each ending with a slippery finger across the peehole. “Yeah, I bet he’s a real army sergeant in bed, too. I bet if he said to, you’d give him your little virgin ass, wouldn’t you? Oh yeah, he’d probably still be wearing white sports socks while he pushed his dick into your hole. Very efficient, tilting you to just the right angle for maximum mechanical advantage —”

“nnnnnggrrraAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHH!!” Bobby’s spunk arced into the air in three distinct blasts across his torso as he arched his back off the bed and twisted like a hooked trout.

John let go of him and pawed at his own pants, practically tearing the buttons off as he freed his dick. He straddled Bobby, staring wildly at the cum-splattered torso and jacked himself off hard, grunting loudly until he gritted his teeth, swore and added to the splatter painting on Bobby’s chest. The furthest shot reached Bobby’s face, and the lust-soaked boy stuck out his tongue to take the juice as if catching the first snowflakes of a fresh, new winter.

Their breathing was loud and shaky as they came down from the orgasmic high. John stroked Bobby’s face and kissed his forehead. He struck a small fireball off his Zippo and used it to gently melt the ice from Bobby’s hands before he untied him. He crossed the room and returned with a towel. Sitting down on the bed, he wiped Bobby down, planting tender kisses as he went.

Bobby sat up slowly and hugged John.

John hated to break the mood but it was only fair to remind his absentminded friend. “Uh, shouldn’t you be downstairs? Your running buddy hates to be kept waiting.”

Bobby swore and tore around the room, grabbing his running gear. He smelled his armpit. “Oh, God, I should shower before I meet him!”

“That makes sense: shower before you go running. Will you just leave?”

Bobby pulled on his clothes as fast as he could and headed for the door. He stopped and turned before he left. “Thanks, John.”

“Heh, think of me cumming on you if the run gets boring.”

The door closed and John sighed contentedly, thinking how achingly beautiful Bobby was when he was all debauched and satisfied. He ran a finger across his naked torso, languidly circling his nipples which were always sensitive after he came. He sniffed his own armpit, shrugged and pulled on his shirt. He didn’t share Bobby’s obsession with always smelling like a blend of artificial honeysuckle and ocean spray.

He dug through the mess on his desk until he found the pages he was looking for and, grabbing the fountain pen that Xavier had given him at their last meeting, headed downstairs to his mentor’s office. They had been meeting twice a week for the three weeks since John had arrived at the mansion and the sessions were the highlight of John’s academic life. He liked being pushed to excel. He liked being appreciated.

“I’m not at all sure ‘celebrant’ is the word you’re searching for.”

“I didn’t know I was searching. What’s wrong with it?”

“Unless you’re being ironic, it seems to me the man’s ritual is anything but joyous. He is drawn to the altar by guilt, I would say, not by jubilation.”

“Okay, I see that. Wait, what’s that word…? ‘Penitent’! That works, doesn’t it?”

“Nicely. Do you really think that balance can be restored through that kind of abnegating self-sacrifice, John?”

“I don’t know. No! I don’t think so! If you messed up, you have to accept it and try to be less of a jerk in the future. But the damage we leave behind, or the shit someone does to us… well, that’s done and there’s no sense crying about it.”

“No regrets.”

“Exactly.”

“Ni le bien q’on m’a fait / Ni le mal / Tout ça me bien égale.”

“Huh? Sorry my French stops at ‘Voulez-vous couchez avec moi ce soir.’”

“That’s too bad. I have a feeling you’d like Rimbaud.”

“Was that Rimbaud?”

“Edith Piaf — quite another story.” Xavier smiled mischievously and took a sip of tea. “What ever am I thinking? It would be highly irresponsible of me to point you toward such a savage soul as Rimbaud’s. I shouldn’t even tell you his complete works — with satisfactory translations — can be found in the school library.”

John grinned back. “Oh. Well, I’ll be sure to avoid it for my own good, then. So, you think the poem works, Professor? I revised it like 40 times.”

“Yes, I recognize a new level of discipline in it. I’m pleased, John. Read me the last stanza again.”

“Flayed and hung
Racked and hard
Psalms his mother taught him hot and stinging
On his lips
He opens the door with the borrowed words of God
Inviting the wolves to feast.”

They sat in silence. Xavier believed in silence, told John that you had to let the thunder of a poem reverberate for a minute. So John breathed in the smell of old books and felt the comfort of the leather chair. Psalms his mother taught him… and suddenly he was somewhere else. He had a clear vision of bath time in the narrow bathroom of the Syracuse apartment where he and his mother had lived alone for six peaceful years.

He was a tiny thing, small even for his age, and the steamy room was an exotic oasis at the end of each eventful day. Hot water surrounded him, chill winds blew past his ears from the drafty window, the radiator hissed and banged ineffectually. And through it all, like an amber light illuminating the bathtub’s steam, his mother’s high, fragile voice sang country romances with wistful resignation as John traced the relief patterns on the radiator’s hot surface with a pink, wrinkled finger. I’ve got to find you a daddy, little St. John…

John didn’t know where Xavier’s mind was traveling (perhaps literally) as they sat there, but he felt that these shared silences meant respect for his work, respect for his worth and the worth of his art. He thought about the long journey he had made to reach this moment in his life and suddenly he was deeply grateful for Xavier and for Bobby; one, a wise guide in the mysterious lands of poetry, the other a boundless source of optimism and passion. John wondered if Bobby even understood how alive he was, how overflowing with more than just semen.

And there he was, like a vision, running through the back field on those long legs beside Summers, the glowering clouds and the setting sun which glinted golden on his curls making their exercise seem more heroic, more mythic. Would you run to the ends of the Earth for me, Drake? he wondered. Would you descend into Hell to save me? Or am I Orpheus and you’re Eurydice? Heh, only in months without an ‘r’.

“Hmm,” came Xavier’s voice from deep within the silence, “I sense the urge in you again, John.”

“Urge? What…?”

“The urge to write, son. What did you think I meant?”

 

***

 

“Let’s pick up the pace,” Scott announced and the pair accelerated in perfect synchrony. They had stopped running together when school had begun in September. The hiatus was supposed to be temporary, but when Lance left, Bobby had retreated into himself. Then, the horrible night at the Turcott clinic had driven a wedge between teacher and pupil and the simultaneous meteoric crash of John into his life had made Bobby reluctant to heal the rift.

But something had changed after Jones’s recovery, and it was a newly conciliatory Scott that had urged a return to their training routine a few days later. Bobby had been reluctant at first, but two weeks later, he was enjoying the camaraderie with his summer friend and the physicality of their running relationship.

 “You didn’t go home for Thanksgiving last weekend,” Scott noted.

Bobby always answered quickly and automatically when a question made him uncomfortable. “Yeah, it wasn’t going to work out, but I’m gonna go skiing with my family at Christmas!” Scott didn’t respond which made Bobby feel the need to say more. “I didn’t want to get behind in my schoolwork. And I led a really important discussion group with some of the kids about our families. And John… uh, I didn’t want him to feel like…” Now that he had started that sentence, he didn’t know how to finish it. “He doesn’t have anyone to go home to, so I figured… I should stay.”

Their breath was coming faster and the sound of their footfalls on the moist, black earth seemed suddenly very loud.

“You’ve been a good support to John since he came to the school, Bobby.”

“I just want to help him adjust.”

Scott continued as if Bobby hadn’t spoken. “You have to remember, though. That boy has lived a very different life than you have and that makes him see the world differently.”

“I know. Sometimes he says some stuff and I’m, like, whoa!

“I just want you to prepare yourself for the fact that he might not succeed at the school.”

Bobby’s feet stopped working right. He broke stride and watched Scott pull ahead. He stood frozen in the mud for a few seconds before scrambling after his teacher until they were in unison again.

“Why? Why did you say that? John is working super hard to catch up.”

“It’s not just about academics, Bobby.”

“I know he’s not much of an athlete and he’s a bit frustrated in powers class, but he’s not gonna freak out like —” Like Lance, he was about to say, but there was no reason to bring Lance Alvers into the discussion! John was not that kind of immature showoff.

“Bobby, I’m not saying he won’t succeed. I just think you shouldn’t get so involved in his outcomes. I see you devoting energy to John at the expense of some of your other friends, like Peter and Neal.”

Scott had named his favorite students. Bobby wanted to freeze Scott’s feet in a puddle and run in the other direction so he wouldn’t have to hear that certain, censorious voice anymore; but the rhythm of their run seemed to hold him captive. On the other hand, Scott was his friend. He was saying these things for Bobby’s good, wasn’t he? Maybe a guy like John… abused, a runaway, a hustler… maybe he was going to be trouble… Shit, an hour ago, he had me TIED UP! Bobby’s head spun.

“Have you thought about whether you want to become an X-Man when you turn 18, Bobby?”

It was like being in a boxing ring; Bobby was struggling to remain on his feet while one blow after another rained down. “I-I thought about it… I mean, I’m thinking. It looks really hard, but, I guess…” he trailed off. Peter and Neal, he knew, had already declared their intentions to join the team.

“I just want you to know that I have every confidence in you. If you apply yourself, keep your mind on-task, you could really be a great champion for mutantkind.”

Bobby wanted to throw up. He wanted to be with John, or away from John and just think. He didn’t want anyone’s expectation, he didn’t want anyone else demanding his loyalty.

“Thanks, Scott. That’s really… uh, thanks,” he said.

“Let’s pick up the pace again.”

Notes: The songs quoted in the first section are, in order, "Conformity" by Global Threat, “Rotten Future” by Anti-Flag and “I Want to Conquer the World” by Bad Religion.

Chapter 20

Home

Comment on this chapter