Chapter 21: “Liberty Spikes”

The dream was Jubilee’s fault. At the end of a long phone call just before bed, she had told him, “You’re really walking on eggshells now, baby.”

He dreamed he was in a big hall which was maybe a gallery in a museum or the cafeteria at school. His parents and Principal Matthews and undisclosed other agents of judgment were seated at the far end of the space, beckoning him impatiently. To reach them, he had to cross a field of eggs that jiggled and shifted below his feet. He knew that if he lost his concentration for a moment, he would hear the sickening crack, feel the mucousoid slop as it soaked through his socks. The line between chaos and order was oh so thin.

Kassim and Rashida  Haddad, Mike’s parents, flew home from the Middle East the night before the Christmas dance, travel-weary but happy with the success of their business trip. Mike was relieved to hear Angelica expounding on his excellent behavior from the minute they walked in the door, how he had come home directly from school each day and studied diligently until late in the night. The Haddads all thanked the housekeeper for staying at the house with Mike, and then Mr. Haddad took her and her brightly flowered little suitcase to the train station.

“My sweet child,” his mother said when they were alone, stroking his cheek and looking up at him with misty, loving eyes. “I’m sorry you and I were on such poor terms before we left. I know you’re a good boy.”

“I never meant to worry you guys,” he assured her and for a minute he forgot the deception in his words and felt only the love. “I know things were a bit wild for a while, but everything’s back on track now, I promise.”

She ran a finger across the stubble on the shaved side of his head and clucked her tongue. “Thank God, it’s growing back in, yes? No more of that nonsense!” Mike laughed as if they had both endured his previous madness and were now stepping out into a new day. A cold knife of guilt pierced his gut.

“Go to sleep, Mom,” he said. “You look really tired.”

“Yes, yes, I am. As soon as your father gets back. Good night, Michael. It’s good to be home. Families have to stick together.”

When he came downstairs the next morning, he realized he had confused the direction of their jet lag. He’d been expecting to slip out while they were sleeping in, but there they were, well-ensconced at the breakfast table, his father returning to the joys of his bacon-and-eggs American breakfast, his mother still lingering in Lebanon, eating couscous and tomatoes. He felt terribly conspicuous, carrying not only his schoolbag, but a second bag with a change of clothes especially for that night.

“Mom, Dad, I’m not sure if I told you, but it’s the Christmas dance tonight and I’ll be late, okay?”

“Are you coming home for dinner first?” his mother said, sipping her strong coffee.

“No,” he replied as breezily as he could. “I’m on the dance committee and I have to help set up.” He studied their faces, hoping his involvement in even this wholesome activity didn’t violate the terms of his parole.

His father nodded without looking up from the paper. “Well, just make sure you don’t skip dinner. A growing boy needs fuel. Look at that! They are threatening another transit strike!”

A horn sounded outside and, simultaneously, his cell phone rang. He pulled it out and read the text message from Jubilee: Get ready 2 b TRANSFORMED!

“Uh, that’s my friend, Rayen. She’s giving me a lift to school.” He hadn’t mentioned Jubilee’s name to his parents since they returned. Quiet appeasement was the strategy of the day.

He kissed them both and ran out to the car, jumping into the small vehicle that already contained both girls and Xeno. “Go, quick, before they look out and see you guys.”

Soon they were at Jubilee’s house for the event that she dubbed Punk Salon 2.0. Xeno was DJ this time, which meant new hardcore tunes for Mike’s edification and the girls’ annoyance (though Jubes was being slowly dragged into a grudging appreciation of the art of punk). The bed sheet was back over Mike’s shoulders and Jubilee was high on the power of wielding Xeno’s electric clippers, turning the power switch on and off like she was revving a chainsaw. Mike held his breath as she carefully plotted the angle of her attack and then dived in, cutting a swath across Mike’s scalp.

Even as Mike’s head was being landscaped, his right arm was extending out of the sheet, held at the wrist by Rayen as she passed the glowing fingertips of her other hand across his lower arm in slow circles.

It felt a bit like being sparked by Jubes, little sizzling bursts that seemed to run around under his skin like a swarm of electric ants. Involuntarily, he jerked his arm, but she held it firmly in place. “Ow, Rayen!” he shouted over the buzz of the music and the buzz of the clippers. “Is it supposed to hurt like that?”

“I’m sorry! I know it burns a bit, but it’s not as bad as getting a real tattoo.”

“You’re following my design?”

“Yeah. Actually, improving it a bit. Oh, Mike, please don’t look so scared; I know tattoos! Now hold still or I’ll screw up.”

Xeno sat on the floor looking up at the scene of Mike’s reinvention. “Don’t sweat it, Haddad. She gives me mutant ink all the time.”

Mike couldn’t keep the worry out of his voice. “And it’s gone the next day?”

“Yeah, or two. It depends how deep she goes.”

“It’s just… Oh, man, can you imagine if my parents saw it?”

Jubilee clicked off the trimmers and picked up her scissors. “Heh, or your haircut? They’ll chain you up in the basement like a mad dog when they see this.” She laughed her bark of a laugh and began evening out the one area where hair still remained.

Rayen shook her head in agitation. “You are so gonna be busted.”

Mike wanted to say a sarcastic, gee, thanks but she was right. In his parents’ absence, he’d clashed with the school administration and appeared on TV twice to promote mutant rights. Even without the haircut and tattoo, there was no way they wouldn’t find out. If he thought too much about these betrayals of their trust, his stomach twisted in knots.

And there was something else: he hadn’t told his friends about his run in with Friends of Humanity in front of his house or about all the weird, silent phone calls he’d been getting at home in the past week, sometimes in the middle of the night.

The only solution to his problems was to shut up and press on. Tonight would be awesome and tomorrow… Well, tomorrow didn’t exist yet, so fuck it.

 “Hand me the bottle, Xeno,” Jubilee commanded and he presented her with the Elmer’s gel glue. She squirted a glob into her hand with a definitive farting sound. “Hold tight, lover, here we go!”

Mike put his worries aside and watched the amazing process in the mirror. He didn’t recognize the kid reflected back at him. It was a beautiful freak, a creature of the imagination made flesh. Mike tried to recall what he had looked like a year earlier, but he couldn’t. It was as if the file on that version of Michael Haddad had been erased. Then Jubilee was done, pulling the sheet off his naked shoulders. Rayen was finished, too, her fingers making a few last strokes across the whole of the design, filling his arm with delicious warmth.

Mike stood slowly and took in his reflection. He had a full Mohawk, glued into liberty spikes five inches high. On his forearm, in gothic letters were the words, “You Are the Government!” in a semi-circle around a clenched fist. He held it up and his three friends beamed.

It felt like the heat in his arm was spreading over his whole body, erupting in his core like a power plant. “Hey,” he managed in a voice husky with emotion. “It’s me.”

 

“Ready for your debut, Haddad?” Jubilee asked as Rayen pulled into the school parking lot just before second period.

“I keep bumping my spikes on the ceiling,” Mike said, gingerly touching the top of his Mohawk and looking uneasily at the flow of students in and out of the building’s side entrance. Rayen switched off the car and now they were all looking at him. “Okay, let’s do it.”

They grabbed their bags and stepped out. It only took a few seconds before the first comment (“Whoa! Rock on, man!”) and the second (“Queer!”) reached him through the breeze. He and Jubilee exchanged looks.

“Any publicity is good publicity,” she told him as she gave a critic the finger.

“I’ll see you guys at lunch,” Rayen said. “We’ll put up the final posters, okay?” She ran into the school, her furry black backpack with the red horns bouncing against her hip.

Jubilee checked the time on her phone. “Hey, Mike, kiss me, I gotta race to chemistry. See you tonight, Xe!” Mike watched her leave — the sweet sway of her hips beguiling him as always — before he turned back to his friend.

“What’s up with you? You didn’t say a word in the car.”

“I’m mysterious, didn’t you read my press kit?”

“You didn’t even tell Rayen to turn down the Decemberists. You have a fever or something?”

Xeno leaned against the car and lit up a cigarette. Mike did a quick scan for teachers, as smoking was not allowed in the lot. Xeno took a long drag and blew the smoke straight up in the air, like a steam engine. He fixed Mike with one piercing eye, the other closed as if he was trying out a pirate’s eye view. “If your parents throw you out tonight, you can come live with me and Mom. She won’t mind; she’s cool.”

The words pissed Mike off. This day was not about consequences; it was about victory. “They’re not throwing me out, Xeno! Family’s important in our culture. You don’t just drop each other when it gets tough. You don’t run away from your problems.” Xeno didn’t respond. “And that’s not what you wanted to say. There’s something else, right?”

“I’m not coming to the dance tonight.”

“What?! Why not? This whole thing’s practically your fault. You have to be there.”

Xeno picked up his backpack and pulled it on. “I’m not even attending any high school in the district now. I’m not eligible, right?” He tightened the straps and started walking away across the lot.

“Hold it! That’s total bullshit, Xe. You’re officially registered as a homeschooler; that gives you the right to —”

Xeno turned back to Mike. “Then I don’t want to, okay? I hate dances. Is that so weird?”

Mike tried to read what was going on behind the stubborn face. His new friend had a proud streak in him that resisted sympathy, and Mike didn’t know how far he was supposed to push. “Do you think maybe something bad’s going to happen?”

Xeno marched back to him angrily. “No! What do you think? I wouldn’t have your back if there was going to be trouble?” He took a deep hungry drag at his cigarette. “No, man… it’s just…” He trailed off, exhaling the smoke. At the other end of the lot, two groups of boys were talking trash at each other, tossing their heads like roosters. Xeno shook his head in disgust. “I can’t walk into one of these buildings again. I get too fucked up when I see those rows of lockers and smell the chlorine. It smells like fucking death.”

“You think you’ll get, like, flashbacks of what they did to you at school?”

“Fuck, I do sound like a soap opera, don’t I? No, it’s not just about me. It’s about all the liars and haters and how everyone there is either a victim or a perpetrator. High school is the breeding ground of every crime in this society.”

Mike laughed despite himself. “That sounds like the beginning of a lyric.”

Xeno smiled at the ground. “Too long for a tattoo, though. Anyway, you’ll just have to be awesome without Xeno Evil.” He body-checked Mike into the side of a car.

“Gee, I wonder if we’ll remember how.” Mike moshed back, using his puffed out chest as a battering ram. They began shoving and bumping each other, ending up in a clinch, laughing and scrambling for footholds until Mike yelled, “Watch the hair!”

Xeno pushed him back against another car more aggressively than their game called for. Mike lost his smile and stared at him uncertainly for a minute, panting lightly. Who was this anger really for?, he wondered. Without another word, Xeno turned and walked away, waving farewell over his shoulder. Mike wanted to call him back, but really, there was nothing more to say. Nothing other than, “Don’t go, I need you here,” or, “I’m scared.” But none of that was rational.

Mike cheered up as the day progressed. Everyone was excited about the dance and curious about what mutants might arrive. His media-enhanced status still seemed to grant him a lot of favor with the student body and he sort of regretted refusing a lunchtime interview with another local station. While he was growing comfortable with public speaking, the idea made him too nervous with his parents back in town. Maybe, somehow, he’d be able to get through the whole thing without them ever finding out. Then tomorrow, life would go back to normal. This scenario suddenly seemed possible and Mike allowed himself a second to feel pretty damn smart.

Jubilee had been receiving emails and text messages from her extended mutant network about who would and wouldn’t be coming that evening. “A lot of them are flaking. They’re just too scared some shit will go down.”

Mike was frustrated. “But that’s why we have security! If no mutants come, we’ll be wasting an amazing opportunity.”

“Not to mention we’ll look like total dorks,” she added. Mike knew that wasn’t the point, but he agreed the prospect sucked.

Suddenly someone grabbed his shoulder and twisted him half around. He spun angrily to confront the aggressor and was shocked to find himself face-to-face with a bug-eyed monster whose antennae bounced crazily on its forehead. Over his shoulder stood a second creature, it’s nose a long, wobbly tentacle, bobbing obscenely. It took him half a second to realize they were cheesy Halloween masks.

“Hey, is this where we come for the mutant hoe down? I’m looking for a girlfriend!” The “monsters” wore team jackets; the voice was unmistakably Aaron Hovak’s.

Bug face #2 shoved past Aaron and pushed Mike down, pinning him to the table. “Hey, I want some mutant pussy, too!” It was, of course, David Rourke. Mike started to tell him off and the mask’s long rubber nose fell into his open mouth. He spat it out in disgust and, using his feet on the bench for leverage, threw his tormentor off him.

Rourke crashed to the ground and Mike rose to his feet in a fury, his mouth tasting foully of rubber. “Get the fuck off me. Is this supposed to be funny?” He looked up and saw two more hideously masked guys in team jackets approaching. “Jubilee, get out of here,” Mike said quietly through gritted teeth.

She came around the table to stand beside him. “Yeah, like that’s gonna happen.”

Mike stared at the four masked figures. It was a grotesque parody of the strength and beauty of his mutant friends and it made him sick. Or maybe it showed a different message than the boys intended: it wasn’t mutants but they who were the monstrosities — hatred embodied, standing before him with a twisted sense of entitlement.

Hovak pulled off his mask. His face wore a sweaty grin and his hair stood on end. “What’s the matter, Haddad? I thought you wanted tonight to be a freak show. Me and the guys just wanna make it a little more interesting.”

Mike realized that all conversation in the cafeteria had come to a halt and everyone was staring at their confrontation. His pulse raced, but he knew he mustn’t back down. “We aren’t going to let you make trouble tonight, Aaron.”

“Ha! You have a fucked up idea of who’s causing trouble here, Haddad. We have more right to come to our own school’s dance then a bunch of mutie freak outsiders.”

Rourke was on his feet, his mask lending him an air of surreal menace. He grabbed Mike by the front of the t-shirt and pulled him close. “And who’s gonna stop us if we want to come?”

“I am,” said a loud voice behind them. They turned and found themselves facing Principal Matthews. For once, Mike was glad to see the administrator’s apoplectic countenance. “Take off those ridiculous masks right now.” The gang complied, looking angry and sheepish at once. “The four of you are barred from the dance. If I hear that you showed up, you will be suspended. If anyone else you know shows up to cause trouble, you’ll be held responsible and suspended. Is that clear?”

“That’s not fair,” Aaron said. “If it’s not even us —”

Matthews cut him off. “Well, then, you better do your best to see that no troublemakers show up. Now get out of this cafeteria and get to your next class. Be early.”

The boys gave Michael and Jubilee an evil stare. Rourke mouthed something unintelligible at them — “I’ll get you later” or something equally original.

Mike was breathing hard. He reached up and felt the damage to his spikes. Matthews followed his gaze and shook his head in disgust. Mike controlled himself enough to say, “Thank you, Mr. Matthews.”

Jubilee nodded. “Yeah, that was awesome. If the administration doesn’t stand up to that kind of hatred —”

“Give it a rest, Ms. Lee. Do you think that was some kind of victory? I just barred four stars of my winning basketball team from the Christmas dance. What do you think that does to morale at the school? I knew this dance was a bad idea.” He turned and walked away, and it seemed he was still mumbling under his breath, cursing them.

Just then a student who Mike could only place as “generic popular girl” bounced up to them as if there hadn’t almost been a rumble. “Hi, Michael! And you’re, uh. Julie, right? Remember me? I’m Brittany, from the school dance committee. We’re all really excited about our… um, our guests tonight!” Brittany over-emphasized at least a word or two per sentence.

Mike managed a polite smile. “That’s great, Brittany. I think it’ll be really cool to have them here.”

“Totally!” she agreed. “You guys are going to help with decorations this afternoon, right?”

Jubilee pushed the hair off her forehead, rolled her eyes and then smiled so sweetly, Mike’s teeth hurt. “Sure! That’s just what my whole life has been leading up to, Brittany!”

 

As the afternoon progressed, Mike was surprised to find that the dance committee kids weren’t as empty-headed and plastic as he had feared. In fact, he was developing a warm spot for people who cared about more than just getting to the mall the minute school let out. And — bonus — he and Jubilee got fed when the committee ordered in pizza.

It was almost time to open the doors and the cafeteria actually had something resembling atmosphere thanks to the work of the lighting guys from the Theatre Department. The student DJs weren’t bad either, showing Mike a collection of songs that actually veered from the Top-40 into cooler realms.

The X-Gene Dance Committee had toned down the rhetoric in the last week, and he watched with satisfaction as Rayen and Jubilee hung a simple banner that read: “Diversity Is Our Greatest Strength! Lincoln High Welcomes Our Guests.”

Two big security guards appeared an hour before the dance and Mike tried without much success to strike up a conversation with them. Like Wolf, the mutant bouncer at the Spiderhole, they were men of few words and intimidating stature. Still, they let him tag along as they did their efficient pre-dance check, locking all the doors to the cafeteria except the front entrance where the ticket-takers sat and the fire doors at the side. Mike found himself telling them about Aaron Hovak and the other students who had threatened trouble that afternoon. This earned him the only smile the big men had to offer.

“Don’t worry, kid, your buddies won’t get past us.”

Mike felt like a fool, ratting out his former teammates like some nervous nerd. He was making a big deal out of stupid high school grandstanding. He slunk back to the front to see if there was any pizza left, only to be grabbed on route by Jubilee who dragged him unceremoniously into the girls’ bathroom. She had his dance clothes with her as well as her own bag of supplies and she wasted no time in getting to work.

Soon he was ready. His spikes rose again proudly from his head and his dark eyes were intensified by the black eyeliner that surrounded them. He was wearing a white t-shirt with the sleeves crudely cut off and studded leather wristbands that drew the eye to his temporary tattoo. His tight, black jeans vanished into a pair of 14-hole Doc Martens boots they had found in a thrift store on the weekend. The woman at the counter had told him, “That’s a total find! Someone’s looking out for you, guy.”

When she was done with dressing him, Jubilee presented Mike with a surprise gift: a well-worn, black leather jacket onto which she had sewn some emblematic lengths of chain. She hung the jacket over one shoulder, leaving his tattooed arm bare. “Stand like this. Yeah, look tough.” She pulled out her cell phone to take a picture. “Say ‘motherfucker’!!”

“Motherfucker!” he snarled and managed to keep a straight face until the picture was taken. He knew he was a punk cliché and that Xeno would have ribbed him endlessly if he saw, but he felt good. Jubilee came in close to show him the picture and he spun her around like a romantic hero and kissed her in an enthusiastic collision of tooth and tongue.

The door swung open and Brittany gasped with theatrical gusto and then giggled. Mike blushed and muttered, “Sorry, we were just leaving.” As he slipped out the door, he heard her tell Jubilee “He’s so hot.”

In the end, it was the very ordinariness of the evening that made it so special. Just a dumb high school dance with kids trying to be cool, hearts being broken, and romantic fantasies being fanned. Mike had been worried no mutants would show up, but they came; maybe 25 out of the hundreds of Lincoln students. Most were just recognizable because they were strangers to the school, but a few obvious mutants had been brave enough to face the crowd. Mike was pleasantly startled throughout the evening to come across a green face or pair of webbed hands, and the rest of the student body seemed to get into it, too. An early highlight was a boy who danced in a kind of dreamy sway, the air filling with colored bubbles in his wake as he moved across the dance floor.

Principal Matthews stood unhappily at the side, talking into the ears of various teachers with a sour look on his face. Actually, he seemed kind of worried. Get over yourself, Mike thought. The security guards stood at the entrance to the cafeteria looking bored; there was no feeling of threat in the air. Mike turned to Jubilee and said, “We did it. We really did it.” They headed for the dance floor, where they were often interrupted by guests who came up to thank him for what he’d done. Mike began to think that this whole celebrity thing wasn’t too bad.

They danced fast and slow together and, after weeks of doubt and worry, everything seemed to fall into place. He felt the heat of her body next to his and smelled that special scent she had when he nuzzled close to her hair. Mike wondered if it were possible to meet your soul mate this young. The idea was scary and thrilling. He also wondered if he could find a place to fuck her later that night. He really, really wanted to. Maybe wearing his new boots.

Then he saw something strange. Just a glimpse. Someone going through one of the doors at the back of the cafeteria. Someone in a rubber Halloween mask.

“Shit,” he murmured. “Jubes, I have to check something.”

“What? What’s wrong?”

“Nothing, I just… Would you get me some more punch? I’ll meet you over by the stage in a minute.” He picked up his leather jacket which he had dropped at their feet when the dancing had really heated up.

He vanished through the crowd before she could ask any more questions. He knew he had aroused her curiosity, but there was no sense in getting her upset if there was nothing to be upset about. Just before he reached the door where he’d seen the mysterious figure, someone grabbed his arm. He spun around and Paul Greenstein was staring at him forlornly. “Dude,” he slurred, “I need a mutant girlfriend! Bad! Hey, the chick with those slit things on her cheek — do you know her?”

Mike looked around vaguely, but couldn’t see the girl in question. He had to get away. “Um, no Paul, but if I meet her, I’ll, uh, put in a good word.”

“Oh yeah, please! I’m totally in love. What do you think it’s like when she gives you head?”

Paul bounced away into the crowd and Mike tried the door, one of the locked ones he had watched the security guards check. It was open. He looked back towards the two big men, way across the room at the entrance. He looked for Jubilee by the stage but he couldn’t see her. “Fuck,” he said under his breath and ducked through the door.

The noise of the dance was just a dull thud with the big metal door closed behind him. It was weird to be there alone in what was usually a bustling school thoroughfare. Only one bank of lights was on and strange reflections glinted off of the trophy cases, eyes of long-gone student athletes staring at him from ancient photographs. The corridor was cool after the heat of the cafeteria and he felt his sweaty body chilling rapidly. He pulled on his leather jacket as he got his bearings. Going right took you to the front lobby; left and left again, the gymnasium… He saw movement. Someone looking around the corridor to his left, eyes staring inhumanly through the rubber face.

“Hovak!” he shouted. “I don’t what kind of bullshit you’re up to, but I’m not going to let you ruin —” The masked figure vanished around the corner. “Shit,” Mike muttered and ran after him. There was nowhere his quarry could have gone but into the gym, and that door should have been locked, too. Mike grabbed the handle and paused, his heart suddenly beating rapidly. He depressed the latch and, with a click, the door swung wide.

Mike couldn’t make sense of what he was seeing: figures bent over a big, open sports bag, five men or more. They turned as he entered but their masks weren’t alien bugs; they were caricatures of presidents. Bushes Junior and Senior, Reagan, Clinton and one Mike figured for Nixon, each with a rubbery crowd-pleasing grin. The men wore black, padded hunting vests with all kinds of shiny, intimidating gear on their belts.

He had meant the words to sound threatening, but his hoarse, “Who are you?” came out scared. He was grabbed by the arm and spun around to face another Bush. He had no time to bluster or protest before the fist slammed into his stomach and he went down in shock.

He was on the floor, curled up, trying to breath. He knew he had to get up but it wasn’t possible. He could see feet in heavy boots moving around him. He had to get up.

Another man — was that Carter? News trivia flooded his brain — was moving towards him. In his incomprehension, Mike reached out a hand to him for help, but the man’s heavy boot connected with his side, igniting his senses in bright pinwheels of pain.

Get up get up get up!

He rolled away from the attacker and staggered to his feet. “Please…” he heard himself gasp as he turned to face the presidents. Black eyeholes and crazy shit-eating grins all turned his way, but no one was coming to his rescue. Another one must have been behind him because he has smacked in the back of the head and sent back to the floor, crying out in fear.

The man in the Reagan mask called out, “That’s enough now.” His voice was awful — distorted electronically, emotionless, deadly. “Leave him. Let’s get ready,” he said. Mike was left to writhe on the floor. He saw the men pulling canisters from the sports bag and clipping them to their belts. Gas? Oh, God, help me.

“Don’t,” he choked out. “Don’t do this. We don’t mean any harm. Mutants have the right to… to live with the same —”

“Fucking, mutant lover!” yelled a voice that was way too close and suddenly he was being lifted by his Mohawk with two hands. He screamed and smashed at the unseen attacker, punching and kicking wildly. He felt his fist connect with something hard, maybe the man’s jaw but then another heavy presence was coming up on his left and a fist that felt like concrete connected with his face.

He was on the floor again with no memory of having fallen, though the pain in his knee seemed to speak of some violent passage. Through his left eye, he saw only a red haze.

Get up get up, the voice in his head repeated but he was too far away from any kind of motor control do heed this dire coach. His head lolled painfully to the other side and he could see that the door to the hallway was open again. The man in the Reagan mask was there, talking to someone in the corridor through the robotic voice-distortion device.

“Just tear gas and flares, Fred. Just going to frighten them. Now go away, you don’t need to know any more.”

“But who was that shouting? Was that a student?!” It was Principal Matthews out there! “You said students wouldn’t be —”

“Just go back to your dance; but stay close to the door; you’ll need to leave in a hurry.” Mike tried to find a voice to call out but his head was full of buzzing. Robot Reagan closed the door and Mike felt the despair overwhelm him. He started to cry. Help me.

Some animal force inside him made him move, though all he could do was crawl blindly across the floor. There were footsteps near his head. Robot Reagan was walking with him as he dragged himself relentlessly across the glossy hardwood. “It didn’t need to be this way, Michael. Remember that we warned you.”

He crawled. The meeting outside his house with the Friends of Humanity played in his brain with mocking clarity. This is what happens when you don’t listen to your parents, taunted a trite and horrifying voice in his head. Mike’s Doc Martens squeaked against the hardwood, his breathing was labored.

Reagan again, his clean, new hiking boots in Mike’s peripheral vision: “We will do what we have to, to protect humanity,” he said in his disguised voice, and Mike knew what a fool he had been not to see the danger for what it was. He knew, with doomed certainty, that whoever got hurt tonight — mutants, humans, students, friends and family — it was his fault.

He was lost; his will to move evaporated. He rolled onto his back and looked up at them with his one open eye. “Don’t… hurt…” he managed but then he saw the man in the Clinton mask pull a gun from a shiny holster on his belt and his words dried up in his mouth.

“Holster that,” said Reagan. “They hear gunshots, this is over before it starts.”

But Clinton held it firm, muttering, “Mutant lover. Fucking camel jockey!” Mike knew the man wanted to just do it — blow the stupid kid away.

It was so strange. Just a few minutes earlier, everything had been so hopeful. Now, the span of his life was reduced to the time it would take a bullet to reach him. So simple: life-bang-death. He almost wished the man would pull the trigger and get it over with. The sound of the door opening seemed a million miles away and then it was Jubilee’s voice. “Get away from him!”

No! He couldn’t find voice to scream, No, Jubilee, get out!

And then chaos, men running, cursing as fireworks exploded in their faces. Mike rolled onto his side with a groan and watched his beautiful girlfriend, his love, pressing her hands against the banks of switches by the door. Electricity pulsed through her arms and, after a sudden burst of sparks, the gym was plunged into darkness.

Shouting men and random movement; a spark of hope ignited within him and he was on his feet, trying to reach the wall so he could get his bearings. Jubilee, run! he thought desperately. At the far end of the of the gym, a door swung open into the light of the parking lot and she was screaming, “Michael, here! Come this way!” No, no, he’s got a gun!

She shot fireworks at anyone who approached as he stumbled through the shadows, dragging himself along the wall. He saw her turn towards him and there was animal wildness in her eyes, pointing her hands to shoot. “It’s me! It’s me!” he screamed and she ran along the wall to collect him.

Their hands linked, she practically dragged him towards the door. He heard Robot Reagan yelling, “Don’t shoot, damn it! Use the Taser!” They both turned in horror just as the weapon released its long shock cord. Mike watched helplessly as it planted itself in Jubilee’s sleeve. The electricity hit her like a wave. She jerked upright and her eyes glowed white, but then the end hooked in her arm sparked wildly and the shock seemed to rebound along the cord to its source. The man holding the Taser screamed and hit the floor, convulsing. Everyone froze for a moment.

“Whoa,” Jubilee breathed. “Cool.”

“Look out!” Mike shouted as he saw the man in the Clinton mask again draw his gun. This time, Mike knew the man was not going to let himself be stopped. He and Jubilee ran through the door as the first shot hit the jamb near her head. She screamed and then they were outside, moving across the pavement, trying to get around the corner to the front of the school; but Mike was limping, holding his side and half blind. He looked over his shoulder in terror but no one had followed them out of the gym.

“Hey, hey!” Jubilee was shouting and Mike saw a curly-haired girl having a smoke on a butt-strewn island of grass that separated two sections of the lot. “Get help!”

“Tell them!” Mike gasped. “Tell security; they’re going to attack the dance!”

“What are you talking about?” the girl asked in shock, and the horror in her eyes as she looked at his damaged face made him feel the pain afresh. Just then, Clinton emerged from the gym and a shot exploded into the pavement at their feet. Mike and Jubilee hit the ground and the girl screamed and ran. And as she ran, her legs lengthened until the long dress she was wearing seemed like a mini skirt. With only a few strides of her giant mutant legs, she had rounded the corner.

Mike and Jubilee were on the ground, barely hidden behind an ornamental rock, watching as the men emerged from the gym door, walking purposefully across the lot towards them, two now with guns drawn.

Mike’s voice was shaking. “C-Can you take them out?”

“I don’t know,” she moaned in fear. “I used a lot of power already…”

“Michael, there’s nowhere to run,” came the robot voice, and he was right. They were up against a fence that they could never climb in time. How long would it take security to come? Too long.

Then a sick screech of tires and a familiar, battered Toyota jumped the curb, crossed the patch of grass and pulled to a sudden, thumping stop between them and the armed men.

“Hey, guys, want a ride?!” called Paul Greenstein from the driver’s seat. They scrambled into the backseat and, before they’d even closed the door, Greenstein gunned the engine. The car barreled down on the masked men and Greenstein screeched circles around the them, yelling, “Whooooooooooooo!”

A shot spider-webbed one of the side windows and Mike and Jubilee cowered on the floor of the backseat.

“Shit,” Greenstein muttered and spun through one more circuit before tearing out of the parking lot and out into the streets.

“Jesus Christ, Paul!” Jubilee was screaming. “We could have been shot while you were playing demolition derby! Are you fucking stoned?”

“Yeah, of course,” Greenstein replied happily.

Mike found his voice. “How did you know we needed… ?”

“I was in my car enjoying a doob and I saw the whole thing: you guys running, the hot mutant girl with the legs — wow imagine those over your shoulders… fuck!”

Mike twisted in his seat, looking back towards the school through the rear window, fighting against nausea as the car skidded around corners. Where were the attackers? And where was security? What if they blew off the mutant girl when she went in? Maybe they wouldn’t believe her at all!

“We have to do something,” Mike said. “Paul, stop here! Stop!”

Jubilee said, “Whoa, take it easy! We should be getting you to a hospital. What do you want to do?”

Paul pulled up to the curb beside a small park. Mike threw the door open and stumbled out of the car. He hurled himself across the park as if a pack of dogs was on his heels, a desperate, uneven skip on his damaged knee. His mind was spinning, spinning, no control. We’re was too exposed! They can see us!

“Mike! Stop!” Jubilee yelled as she ran after him but he wouldn’t stop, not until he reached the fence, sheltering in the shadows behind a small stand of bare trees. She caught up to him and grabbed his shoulders. “What are you doing?!”

“I gotta call 911!” He dug in his jacket for his cell phone, praying it hadn’t been lost. “They’ll hurt someone, I gotta…” He pulled the phone out of an inner pocket and tried dialing, but his hands were shaking too much.

Jubilee put a steady hand on his. “I’m sure the security guys already called the cops, but hold on. I’ll phone.” He nodded with relief as she pulled out her own cell and hit three buttons. “Rayen? What’s happening?”

Mike screamed, “You’re calling Rayen?! No! Call the cops! FUCK!”

Jubilee covered her ears and bent over her phone. “No, honey! We’re around the corner. No, we’re okay… Well, not okay, but okay. Are you still in the cafeteria?” She looked up at him. “Mike, the whole school is in lockdown. The cops are coming. She did what? No way! Ha! Mike, that cow Erin Bendis, you know, the one who always tortures Rayen in Chemistry? She’s having total hysterics like a three year old!”

“She’s such a fucktard,” Paul guffawed, appearing suddenly at their side and startling Mike. “Is she making that hinh-hinh-hinh sound? Is her makeup totally running?”

Mike stumbled away restlessly across the grass, straining his eyes into the darkness. He saw a looming figure in the distance and almost cried out before he realized it was just the war memorial. They were in the same park where he and Bobby had talked back in the spring. He suddenly wanted his friend there. He wanted everyone he cared about around him where he could keep an eye on them, make sure they were safe. He could hear police sirens moving through the neighborhood. Mike felt the terror returning like a cold river in his chest. He doubled back to join Jubilee and Paul.

She was still on the phone, chattering as if things were normal. Paul was walking the brick border of a flower bed like he was on a tightrope, grunting obscene rap lyrics in his gravelly, nasal voice. Mike noticed a purple button on the lapel of his battered old overcoat that read “Porn, pot and Mom’s apple pie.”

Their stupid calm made the terror grip him all the more fiercely. “What if they come looking for us?” Mike shouted at them.

“Rayen, hold on.” She walked up to Mike and grabbed his shoulders. “They don’t know where we went, baby. It’s going to be all right.”

He’d be okay if he could only control his breathing which was coming in short, painful jerks that made his ribs throb. “You really think w-we’re safe?” he asked, and the cell phone in his hand rang. He dropped it in panic, like he had discovered a scorpion crouching on his palm. The three of them watched it as it sang its merry little tune on the dead grass. Jubilee picked it up and handed it back to Mike.

“Hello?” he managed.

The robot voice responded. “Hello, Michael. You and the mutant cunt spoiled our attack. Your list of crimes against humanity is growing.”

Mike seemed to have no control over how his voice emerged. It was an alien thing full of hatred and terror. “I know who you are; you’re Ryan Dennison, right? I called the police, you know! You’re finished!”

“I’ll tell you who I am, Michael. I am the sword of vengeance, and you had better listen to me carefully. You’re not going to call the police. And when they come calling on you, you are going to say nothing about your meeting with Friends of Humanity. You don’t know who the attackers were tonight and the attack came as a complete surprise.”

“I don’t take orders from you!”

“We know where you live, Michael. We know your every move. If you tell the police anything, we will kill you and your parents. First you will all suffer, then you will die. Do you understand?”

“You-you can’t! I won’t let you!”

“Is the mutant cunt with you?”

Mike looked up at Jubilee, shaking with fear. her face paled when she saw the fear on his face. “What? What is it?” she asked.

The monotonous, plastic voice continued. “Tell her if we see her, she’s dead. We will slash her aunt’s throat in front of her and then we’ll kill her. If she doesn’t want blood on her hands, she had better disappear.”

Mike started crying. “Fuck you!” he screamed into the phone and kicked the fence hard. His knee screamed in agony and he fell onto the cold ground, wailing, the phone flying from his hand. Paul and Jubilee both dropped down beside him but he waved them away, grinding his teeth against the pain as he scrambled to pick up his phone again. “If you hurt her, I’ll… I’ll —”

“Give her the message, Michael, and then go home. No more little rebellions from you, punk. Don’t go to the police or we’ll make your family suffer. They’ll die and you’ll be responsible. Remember, we’re watching.” The caller disconnected.

Mike dropped the phone to the ground, tears streaming down his face.

“Who was that, Mike?! Who the fuck are these people?”

“Friends…” His breath hitched. “F-friends of Humanity.”

From Jubilee’s phone, Rayen’s voice shouted like a trapped pixie. Jubilee put the phone to her ear. “Honey, I’ll call you back, k?” and hung up. She squatted by Mike’s side. “Oh shit, shit. We have to think this through. Okay. first, we got to get you to a hospital. You could have broken bones or anything. And your eye, oh God, your eye’s a mess.

“Or you might have a concussion man,” Paul added. “They can be serious. I had two of them. Wait… Three!”

“No hospitals! They’ll call my parents. I can’t tell them about all this!”

Jubilee touched his shoulder gently. “Mike, I know your folks are going to be mad, but you need them now! And then we’ll call the police, okay? You can’t just —”

He moaned and dropped his head into his hands. “No, no, no! They said th-they’d kill them if I talked to the police. They said…” he screamed in frustration and pounded on the cold, hard earth. “Oh, God, I fucked everything up! They said… Oh God, Jubilee! You have to leave! They’ll kill us, and… our families! Your aunt!”

Jubilee’s eyes went wide, her lip began to tremble and she dropped gracelessly onto the ground beside him. “I don’t understand! How could they know about us? How could they be phoning you?!”

Michael’s stomach kicked over. “The Friends of Humanity… They came to my house. A-a few weeks ago. Told me to cancel the dance. Um, I… I guess I should have told you.” He realized immediately how bad this was. Jubilee’s mouth was hanging open. He could see her mind turning, see the storm building in her black eyes.

She covered the distance between stupefaction and fury in just a few seconds. “You… You fucking, stupid asshole! You knew, didn’t you! You saw one of them when we were dancing and you went right after him like a little hero, didn’t you?!” She jumped to her feet and began pacing around him in small circles of rage.

“No! I-I thought it was just Hovak and his crew! If I had known —”

“Then you’re an idiot as well as an asshole! The fucking Friends of Humanity warn you off and you don’t tell me? You don’t tell anyone?!!

Everything was hurting again as he gaped at her fury. “I thought it was just bullshit! I-I didn’t want you to be worried —”

“Worried?! They could have killed you!!” She loomed over him with her fists raised. He gave a choked whimper and curled himself into a ball. He started coughing painfully through his sobs. Jubilee dropped her fists and burst into tears herself. She touched his head awkwardly. “Oh, God… Look what they did to you, baby.” She dropped onto her haunches beside him, shoulders heaving with her sobs. “What are we going to do? What are we going to do?”

They remained frozen in this tableau of misery for what felt like a long time before Mike steeled his resolve against the tears. He pulled himself slowly to his feet and immediately got dizzy. He balled his fists and breathed forcefully through his nose until he felt steadier. “Okay. This is my fault and I have to fix it. I have to leave before anyone else gets hurt.”

“Leave?” Jubilee said through her tears. “What the fuck? What am I supposed to do?”

Mike couldn’t look at her. “You… you go to Rayen’s. Or maybe you and your aunt should go to your relatives in California! You’ll be safe there. Go to a hotel tonight and —”

“I’m not going anywhere without you, fucktard,” she screamed and under her palms, flattened against the cold ground, red and green sparks hissed and spit. Mike actually managed a deep breath. He felt unbelievably relieved at this declaration of loyalty. She looked up at him. “Besides, once my aunt figures out I’m trouble — finds out I’m a mutant for fuck’s sake — she’s going to throw me out. Just like my relatives in California did.”

Paul cleared his throat. “Uh, this is all really impressive and emo and shit, but Mikey, why aren’t you asking your parents for help here? That’s kind of what they’re for.”

Mike felt his manly resolve crumbling. “No! I can’t! My parents told me not to get involved! They said I’d get in trouble and they were right. Fuck, I betrayed them and now these… these terrorists are going to kill them if I don’t leave. No! No way am I calling them.” He wiped his runny nose on the sleeve of his leather jacket. “It’s time I took some fucking responsibility. I’m not a little kid.”

Jubilee got to her feet and the three of them stood in a loose circle, saying nothing, like they were waiting for something to happen. Paul stuck out his tongue and Mike realized he was catching snowflakes. It had begun to snow, the first of the season. The moment was perversely calm — a prayer before battle. Mike was starting to shiver with cold and noticed for the first time that Jubilee was wearing only a gauzy yellow shirt with a black, cotton vest. He put his arms around her and pulled her close, sharing whatever heat he had to offer.

Jubilee looked at Paul. Her voice was steady, her black hair turning to a starscape in the snow. “Do you mind going back to the car for a minute? I have to talk to Mike alone.”

Greenstein began rocking his head from side to side in rhythm and then started rapping again, his mouth smoking like a dragon’s in the cold air. He turned and stomped away, his ass shaking ludicrously to the beat under his coat.

Mike didn’t dare speak. He had the sudden horrible thought he was about to be dumped, and he knew that would be worse than anything that had happened so far that night. Without preamble, Jubilee began her story.

“My parents… they didn’t just die, okay? It wasn’t, like, a skiing accident or whatever you’ve been thinking. They were murdered.” She pulled away from him and walked a few feet before squatting low and wrapping her slim arms around her knees. “It was underworld shit… Chinese mafia in LA. I was only 13 so they told me it happened in a robbery. Like Batman’s parents or something, right? But I heard my aunts and uncles talking. I heard the truth.”

Mike found her words unbearable, like he had caused that tragedy, too. Was this what everyone had to live through? This parade of hideous calamity? Why had he never seen it before? The cozy landscape of his life was exploding into terrifying vistas. He was on an ice floe — freezing, floating away from everyone he knew on currents he couldn’t comprehend.

“I don’t know if they were involved. Maybe they were criminals too. Maybe they just owed money, or refused to pay protection or something. It doesn’t matter. They died!” She raised her head off her knees but didn’t turn to him. Her voice chimed through the empty park. “Do you understand?! My mother and father got themselves fucking killed and now you’re doing the same thing, you stupid fucking moron! I love you and you’re an idiot and you’re painting giant fucking targets on your back!” She rose suddenly to her feet and screamed at him. “I don’t want to lose you, too, Michael Haddad!”

“Jubilee,” he stammered. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry…” It was all he could say, the only thought that existed in his head. Sorry, sorry…

She moved to him and it wasn’t quite an embrace. More like the last two pillars in a collapsing building, leaning on each other because that was all there was.

They found Paul sleeping in his car with the engine on. Mike thought briefly of death by carbon-monoxide, but Paul would probably outlive them all, finally stumbling stoned off a cliff at age 97.

“Greenstein,” he called as they climbed into the backseat, shivering, clinging to each other for warmth.

Paul snorted awake, “It's just a cigarette, Officer!” He sat up and smacked his forehead with his palm three times. “So, what are we doing now?”

“Can you drive us to the bus station?”

“Sure. Mi chariot is su chariot, or whatever.”

“Where are we going?” Jubilee asked. “We have maybe 75 dollars between us, we’re underage…”

Mike could hear the weariness in her voice, but he was suddenly feeling a glimmer of hope. He squeezed her tighter. “I think I know somewhere safe. I mean, I hope they’ll help. They have to!”

Paul looked interested. “Is it far? I like road trips.”

Mike smiled for the first time in what felt like days. “Three, four hours, I guess. We can pay for gas and chips, at least.”

“Bonus!” He pulled his cell phone from the glove compartment and speed dialed. “Mom, I’m sleeping at Tony Huang’s tonight. Yeah, his parents are home. Okay, see you tomorrow. Love you, you’re beautiful.” He looked back at Mike and Jubilee in the rearview mirror and said. “Hope you like Phish; I have 18 hours of live bootlegs to choose from.”

 

***

 

The middle of the night was a time Bobby knew all too well. When everything in his life was going as smoothly as a run on fresh powder, he could sleep like a log until the alarm clock woke him. John’s arrival had been the beginning of such a period of blissful oblivion. The nightly warmth of John’s presence in his bed and the weight of his limbs had been exactly the soporific Bobby’s soul craved. Even when they awoke in the dark, long enough to share a groggy orgasm, Bobby would quickly crash back into obliterating nothingness before he could even wipe up properly.

This brief respite in the life of an insomniac had ended by the middle of November. Since then, Bobby had been snapping awake around 2:30 in the morning as if his mind had stumbled into a mousetrap somewhere in the dark cupboards of his unconscious. There was no warning, no nightmare precursor; he would just find himself suddenly conscious, heart pounding.

The first stage of wakefulness lasted maybe 20 minutes. He would lie there in confusion, trying to retrace his steps into slumber, but an idea — tenacious and barbed as a fishhook — would lodge itself in the soft tissue of his mind and begin to throb. Maybe it would be a voice saying, “You are a coward. You’ll never be an X-Man and everyone knows it.” or lately, “I’m lying to John. He thinks I’m like him. He thinks we’re something that we’re not.”

These period of dazed misery would end once he was finally, fully awake. At that point, there was nothing to do but suck it up and use the time constructively.

He climbed carefully out of bed and pulled on his t-shirt. He was surprised to find himself in his boxers. Hadn’t he and John fooled around before falling asleep? No, that was the night before. Last night, Bobby had dropped off while John was revising a poem, alternately cursing under his breath and furiously typing.

Bobby looked down at his friend. Because of their thermal powers, neither of them had a need for a blanket, so it was not unusual for Bobby to watch the shifts and rhythms of John’s naked, sleeping form. He was an active sleeper, turning often, muttering. Now, he was on his front, ankles crossed, one arm under his head. Bobby’s eyes skipped down the line of vertebrae and then roamed over the twins cushions of his ass. John rolled over with a grunt and Bobby felt a pang as his sleeping roommate’s erection was revealed in the half-light.

He felt his own hard-on growing as he contemplated an oral assault on sleeping beauty’s tower. John often liked being woken with an unscheduled blowjob, but sometimes he snapped testily that he wanted to sleep, called Bobby a cocksucking addict and rolled away. Bobby didn’t feel like taking the chance so he turned on his desk light and sat down to read through the latest draft of the school’s new refugee plan.

Last week, Scott had called him and Kitty into a meeting and asked them to contribute to plans for welcoming new students to the school. Specifically, it was a plan for mutants on the run: kids escaping from trouble or abuse for whom the School for Gifted Youngsters would be a mutant sanctuary.

It was strange to be working with Kitty again. Although they were still more cordial than friendly with each other, Bobby hoped they could rekindle the friendship that Lance’s departure had all but extinguished. According to the plans, Bobby and Kitty would act as peer support for arriving male and female students respectively, helping them get settled at the school. He and Kitty would also keep an eye on any emotional or physical issues that the new arrival might have and report to Dr. Grey and Professor Xavier if necessary.

Bobby put down the stapled pages and imagined what kind of terrors these kids might be escaping from. Anti-mutant gangs? Violent parents? He wondered if he’d be of any use at all to a truly traumatized student. He’d find out soon enough. The X-Men were scrambling more often to rescue mutants in trouble and it was only a matter of time before they brought one home with them.

Bobby checked the time. 2:45 a.m. Was he sleepy yet? No, he wasn’t.

His eye fell on the Drake family portrait stuck to the corkboard over his desk. It seemed like yesterday when they had gone to the mall to have it taken, but he looked like such a kid in it, so it must have been a couple of years. And Ronny was tiny! A wave of anxiety passed through him. In just a few weeks, he would join his parents and his little brother for a Christmas ski weekend. His emotions were decidedly mixed. He definitely wanted to smooth things out with Ronny, who had avoided talking to him since he left for school the previous summer. But how could you explain to a 13 year old that everything’s not always about him?

Bobby looked at the picture again, the smiling faces, the unselfconscious contact. They all seemed so happy. He knew that relations with his family were a lot more complicated because of the secrets he was keeping. How could he say anything about his life at school without using the word “mutant”?  He was the only student who was not out to his family about his powers, and while everyone seemed supportive of his decision to keep his parents in the dark, Bobby had to wonder if they didn’t think him a bit of a fool. Or a coward.

If only his parents could meet everyone, see them use their powers! Surely they would be impressed and they could love him for who he was if they could see Kitty phasing, or Sam flying, or John manipulating fire like...

Bobby’s heart pounded. No. He didn’t want his parents to meet John. That wasn’t possible. Not going to happen.

He got to his feet and pulled on his Jeans as quietly as he could. He needed... something… Ice cream! He slipped from the room like a spy, padding down the hallway in bare feet. No, it was better this way. People didn’t need to know everything. I can handle this myself, he thought. I can straighten out my own life.

As he descended the stairs, hidden sensors followed his path, turning lights on and off. Down in the foyer, he could hear the sound of the television in the rec room, cycling through hundreds of channels as Jones kept his nightly vigil. Bobby thought about joining him, but Jones wasn’t much company when all the media of the world were flashing before his eyes.

Bobby turned in the direction of the kitchen and froze. There was a red light blinking on the security panel that he and Forge had installed by the front door. His mind raced and he glanced left and right down the dark corridors, wondering if someone had broken in. Magneto? Or the blue chick, Mystique! Just the thought of her walking the halls of the mansion sent chills down his spine. He moved quietly to the panel to check which light was on. The front gate. It was then that he felt the cold gust of air  and realized the front door was ajar.

Remembering his training, he adopted a defensive posture and raised his hands, ready to shoot ice. He was shaking. The door swung open. He whimpered.

“Bobby,” Scott said, coming through the door with snow on his shoulders. “What are you doing?”

“I thought... I mean, I saw the security light and the door was open, so I...” He paused as a girl came through the door. Chinese, wearing a dilapidated overcoat that seemed oddly familiar. She was joined a moment later by a punk rocker who looked decidedly shaky on his feet. He had been beaten pretty badly by the look of it, and Bobby realized that the first refugees were arriving. He pulled himself together and prepared for his role as designated peer.

Scott went back to give the injured boy a hand, helping him move to one of the chairs at the side of the foyer. The girl squatted down nervously beside him. Bobby composed a sympathetic and friendly face and moved towards them.

“Hi,” he said. “I’m —”

“Bobby?” said the punk boy, and Bobby’s brain did a frontside 360 and a face plant.

“Mike? What the hell...? That isn’t you... is it?”

The half-closed front door flew open and Paul Greenstein stumbled in, rocking from foot to foot in agitation.

“Hey, Drake, how’s it hanging? Where’s the can, dude? I gotta take a giant dump!”

“Third door on the left,” Bobby replied automatically and watched with amazement as this unlikely phantom from his past scurried heavily down the hall.

Jean came down the stairs in that moment, dressed in sweats, her hair tied in the back with an elastic. She was carrying her small examination bag. Behind her was Kitty, looking groggy, dressed in jeans and sweater. Kitty came to stand by him while Jean went down on one knee next to Jubilee. “I’m Dr. Grey. I’m going to take a quick look at you, okay? What are your names?”

“That’s Mike,” Bobby mumbled, stupefied. “He doesn’t usually look like that.” It was then he realized that the girl’s coat, which stunk pretty thoroughly of weed, belonged to Greenstein.

“I’m Jubilee,” she was saying. “Don’t worry about me, but Mike’s in a lot of pain and he’s feeling dizzy.”

“But you’re okay?” Jean asked her.

“Well, I have a little burn on my arm where the taser hit me. Um, and a death threat from Friends of Humanity. And I can’t go home again ever, and they almost killed my boyfriend, but yeah… Nothing too serious.”

Everyone looked shocked except Mike who laughed and then grabbed his side, wincing in pain.

Jubilee moved to help him, but Kitty put a hand on her shoulder. “Hi, I’m Kitty. Let’s step back and give Dr. Grey some room. Don’t worry, she’s a really great doctor.”

Jubilee let herself be moved as Jean opened Mike’s jacket to touch his side. She then scrutinized his puffed up face. “Okay, Mike, Mr. Summers and I are going take you down to the med lab. You’ll be okay,” she said in that way that always made everyone feel safe.

Bobby blurted out, “And we’ll find out who did this to you!”

Mike looked up at his friend, his face pale. “Oh, God, Bobby. I swear you mean my hair, not my injuries.”

“No! Well, maybe.”

Mike started laughing again, holding his side.

“Maybe you want to cut back on the laughter,” Scott suggested.

“I know,” Mike replied, coughing a bit, “but, Bobby, you’re kind of hilarious when you’re totally confused.”

Notes: Mike’s tattoo is Bad Religion again. Yes, they're my favorite punk band. Personally, I have nothing against the Decemberists. Thanks to the commenters who told me about glue gel and the anonymous commenter who gave me the title for the chapter. Next: we return to the main pairing, honest!

Chapter 22

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