Chapter 34: “The Funk (X3), Part 1”

It’s a beat as deep as the planet. You’re aware of it even before it has awakened you from your sleep in the deep. Good God, have mercy!

On the one.

As with all births, it will begin in water. You remember the earlier ones. The receding tide, the journey downwards, the pressure. Emergence! The unbearable light; sound a revelation, an explosion. “It’s a girl, Mrs. Grey.”

But also

Evanescent surfacing in the womb of cosmic matter, the disembodied, omniscient voice: “Nebulas, the nurseries of the stars. Across light years, these massive pools of matter and energy are the chaos from which all life originates.”

Twin origins. Concurrent contradictions. It is time to awaken into wholeness.

*Scott…*

 

***

 

“Charles, I don’t think you’re taking the situation seriously enough.” Andi drummed her fingers in frustration as Professor Xavier answered an email. His behavior was downright rude. You don’t conduct other business when you’re in the middle of a meeting with someone!

“I’ll be with you in one moment, Andi. Hank needs a last-minute quote for his first speech as Secretary of Mutant Affairs.” He smiled up at her. “His appointment is wonderful news, don’t you think? The first mutant to hold the position.” She had no choice but smile back and be patient as he finished his email.

She had been trying to get this meeting with Xavier, her thesis advisor, for almost a month, but something had always come up. Back in June, they had been wrapping up the school year with final papers to mark and student evaluations to compose. Since then, the man had been all but inaccessible, meeting with both governmental and private sector contacts on mutant rights issues. She felt peevish about her annoyance — the situation for mutants in America was becoming tense and the government was sending a confusing array of mixed signals — but he had made promises to her, too, and time was running out.

“Charles, please,” she said after a minute of listening to him type. “We have so little time and I need your feedback on my paper before I submit it to the Journal of Adolescent Psychology.”

“Just one short minute, my dear…” he said, squinting at his screen and typing.

She remembered her very first conversation with the man, more than two years earlier. Within five minutes of picking up the phone, she had found herself cleaving to his agenda, making passionate promises to help him fulfill his altruistic mission. Two years later, the life she had known before had been completely swallowed by the hungry needs of Professor X and the School for Gifted Mutants. She had abandoned her work on children of divorce to dedicate herself to the psychosocial effects on X-gene manifestation in mutant youth. During the school year, she had at times forgotten that she even had an apartment in Manhattan and a relationship with Raheem Jones. Westchester had been her de facto home, the staff and students of the school her society. After all, it was here that she taught high school, here that she counseled youth, here that her test subjects lived (the same mutant youth), and here that her thesis advisor was, in theory, available.

“Now then, Andi,” The Professor said, folding his hands in his lap and smiling at her. “Your paper.”

She leaned forward expectantly.

“I’ve read it and I feel you’re on the right track; however, there are several areas where I think the editors will demand clarification and I want to make sure you’re ready to respond to those demands. Firstly —”

There was a brief knock at the door before it opened. “Professor?” Scott Summers stuck his head in. “Oh, hi Andi, sorry to interrupt.” She nodded with a small, awkward smile.

She had seen very little of Scott in recent months, though she knew he’d been around the mansion. He had returned to teaching in January, but by February, he had given it up, retreating into the shady underworld of administration. From time to time he did make an appearance (popping up like a ghost at dinner, or in the rec room in the middle of a movie), but Andi continued to be shocked by the transformation wrought by Jean’s death. Whereas the Scott she had first met was always immaculately dressed, with every hair in place, this haunted man tended to wear the same sweater — with its missing buttons and hole in the elbow — at all times. His hair drooped unhappily over the tops of his ears and across his forehead.

“There’s a courier at the front gate,” Scott said. “And he insists that he has to hand a package to you personally. I don’t like it.”

“No, no,” Xavier said hastily. “Show him in. Please, I’m expecting him.” Andi had the immediate impression the Professor was hiding something. She looked at Scott who seemed annoyed and confused. He left, closing the door behind him.

Then it was Andi’s turn to be annoyed. “Wait, you’re not canceling our meeting, are you?”

“Andi, this is important. I’m sorry, I can’t explain.” He avoided her eyes, focusing intensely on his screen again. “I have an opening for you next Tuesday…”

She marched down the hall in fury, the slap of her loafers echoing on the hardwood. I’ve had it, she thought. I will not be taken for granted like this! Who does he think… Then she wondered if he could hear her thoughts. Shame washed over her. But no! Let him hear!

She imagined for a moment what it would be like to have Xavier’s powers. If she had, she would plant an alarm deep in his head that would explode like a grenade every ten minutes, shouting: ANDI! ANDI! ANDI! until he was forced to meet with her or lose his sanity. She came out in the lobby and found a small group of students looking excitedly through the windows by the front door. She was struck with a new appreciation for those with the burden of mutant powers. How much control did it take not to use your abilities in anger? To ignite an annoying roommate, to blow up your parents heads with a sonic scream when they just didn’t listen to you for the hundredth time? She was glad she didn’t have to face these moral tests.

But what was it the students were looking at? she wondered. The group suddenly jumped back as the front door flew open. In strutted Charles’s courier. The tall black man sported a four-inch afro and a thick, sexy moustache. He moved across the marble floor like he was taking the stage at the Apollo. On his shoulder was a large CD player, the kind they had called a “ghetto-blaster” when Andi was a child. In fact, he looked like something straight out of one of those 70s movies Raheem liked to watch — “Shaft” or “Car Wash” — movies that were loud, garish calls for racial and cultural revolution.

Like an incarnation of those anachronisms, the courier’s slim hips rocked and swayed to the funk beat that pulsed from the speakers, filling the normally staid atmosphere of the school with oozing purple groove. He winked at Andi and flashed a million-tooth smile at Terry and Pixie who burst into blushing laughter. Sam, halfway down the stairs, was caught in a reverie that could only be called reverence.

The heavy courier bag rocked against the man’s hip as he marched down the hall towards Charles’ office, singing along with the music: “Give up the funk / Tear the roof off the mutha, sucka / We need the funk / Gotta have the funk!”

He knocked three times in rhythm on the Professor’s door and then entered confidently, not waiting to be asked in.

 

Charles offered the courier a bemused smile. “You have left a wake of thrill and consternation behind you. You’ve always had a knack for making a dramatic entrance, Mystique.”

Mystique’s lithe blue form emerged from the courier’s muscular bulk. She switched off the music and sat herself smoothly down in one of the large leather armchairs, crossing her naked legs. “It’s the institutional atmosphere, Xavier. Schools, government buildings… All those impotent little men compensating with their big hard rules. It makes me want to mess things up a bit.” Her eyes narrowed in anticipation of his reaction, but Xavier only nodded as if he understood all too well.

“Well then, I appreciate your deigning to enter our institution to bring me this intelligence.”

She rose and crossed to the desk, handing him a package from the courier bag that hung incongruously from her shoulder. “Don’t thank me; it was Magneto’s idea to share what we’ve learned. I don’t trust you or your motives. I think you’re naïve and in love with your own tiny celebrity.”

He opened the package with a silver letter opener, pulling out a USB drive. “Forge-tech,” he muttered, plugging the cable into a port set into his oak desk. “I admit I was surprised by Erik’s communication, and more than a little alarmed. I had thought the current administration in Washington was finally one we could trust.” The files flashed before him, disturbing, damning. He was silent. “Poor Hank,” he finally said. “He believed we were turning a corner.”

Mystique picked up her CD player and walked back to the door, pausing with her hand on the knob. “Trust is a luxury for the ones in power, Xavier. We mutants can’t afford it.” She transformed back into the courier.

Charles studied her with a look of clinical interest. “And yet I have trusted you today, and you me. How does that fit into your philosophy, Raven?”

“My name is Mystique,” she answered coldly in the black man’s deep voice. “Frankly, Mr. Professor, I woulda been tickled to see a phalanx of Sentinels descending on your pretty little estate. Later,” she said, turning on the music and jiving her way out, leaving the door open so he could watch her exit, singing out to all the trusting souls of the school, “We need the funk! / Gotta have the funk!”

Xavier looked through the documents again. He was impressed by the ingenuity of the plans. He wasn’t one to use words like “diabolical,” but it was hard to maintain his objectivity in the face of this evidence. Internment camps. Sentinels! He maximized a control panel on his screen and brought the security cameras online. When the courier truck had left the gates, he picked up his phone and dialed. “She is heading north on Greymalkin Lane. No, wait. Don’t pick her up yet. I have a better suggestion. I read her mind; she’s planning a break in at the FDA facility in Oakland. Probably a week from Tuesday. If you catch her there, you will have a stronger case against her.” He looked out his window and thought about trust.

“You’re welcome,” he said. “And, General Trask, I have your word that my institute will be left alone? Including my staff and students? No, I have no more contact with John Allerdyce. He’s with Magneto’s people.” Charles remembered that he had meant to ask Mystique about his former student, who was often in his thoughts. He cursed his aging brain.

“General, one more thing. I have come into possession of some most disturbing documents. They seem to suggest an alarming anti-mutant initiative by the government. I assume that if such a plan were more than just the work of a reactionary fringe, the new Secretary of Mutant Affairs would be the first to know?”

 

Trust.

Mystique adjusted the transceiver on the dashboard, watching the surveillance signal describe a placid, meaningless sine wave. She cursed quietly and pushed another button on the dash.

“This is Pyro,” came the annoying voice.

“Mystique here. Delivery made. Let me speak to Magneto.”

Pyro ignored her request. “Did you remember to plant the bug?”

She held back the response that sprang to her lips. The boy was probably on speaker phone with Magneto in the room. “Obviously. Unlike some people, I know how to follow plans. But Forge has left their mansion immune to that kind of monitoring. If we ever need to move against Xavier’s people, we’ll need a different source of tech.”

Magneto’s voice in the background. “We took a chance going there in person. Was Charles grateful for our olive branch or will he betray us?”

She considered this. “I don’t think he will. He was glad for the scraps we threw him.”

“Don’t overestimate your charms,” Pyro sneered. “He probably read your mind. The Feds will be blasting their way into our headquarters within the hour.”

She clenched the wheel harder. “Listen, little boy. It’s not your job to make judgment calls. When I get back we’ll —”

“Magneto and I have already left. We’re on the road, keeping our heads down. Rendezvous with us at the forest HQ in ten days. We’re going into radio silence.”

The boy abruptly closed communication and could not be raised again. She screamed and slapped the wheel. Now that Pyro had planted the suggestion, she could almost feel Xavier rooting around in her thoughts like a snuffling dog. The Feds might well be closing in. She accelerated the truck up to 100, passing cars like they were standing still. Her eyes turned again and again to her rearview mirror as she swerved onto a rural route and then onto a dirt path that only barely qualified as a road. She abandoned the truck behind a barn and, picking up her pack, began to hike back the way she’d come.

When she reached the main road, she became a non-descript youth, hitchhiking cross-country in search of meaning. At the tourist-town bed and breakfast that night, she was a middle-aged school teacher, reading historical fiction with stuffy pleasure as she polished off her apple brown betty. She disappeared into the skin of America as only a chameleon can, heading west.

 

***

 

“A toast to my son on his 18th birthday,” said William Drake, raising his glass of red wine and bowing slightly to Bobby who sat awkwardly across the table from him, his knee bumping against Rogue’s as he fidgeted. Five of them were squeezed around a table that should only have seated four in the busy middle aisle of a touristy Times Square eatery. Rogue smiled and raised her cranberry juice, and his brother Ronny clanged his glass noisily with a fork, earning a scowl from Madeline Drake over the rim of her daiquiri glass as she sipped fussily at the froth.

“Here, Bobby, try this Merlot,” William said, handing the glass across the table.

Madeline put out a hand to stop him. “William, he is under 21! You’ll get us thrown out of here.”

“For heaven’s sake, Madeline, don’t start,” he replied.

Ronny abruptly leaned over to lick a sip from his mother’s drink, sitting up again with a daiquiri moustache, winking at Rogue.

Madeline pushed him away. “Ronny! Behave yourself, what will, um, Marie think?” She smiled nervously in the girl’s direction. Bobby had confused his mother at the start of the evening by introducing his girlfriend as Rogue. The strangeness of the name left Madeline blinking until Rogue offered a gloved hand and said to call her Marie. Since then, his mother had avoided his eyes altogether and talked only to her.

“I’m fine with my Coke, Dad,” Bobby said, ducking as a waiter flew by with a full tray.

Ronny wasn’t the same little boy that Bobby had known when he lived in Boston. While Bobby seemed to be taking after his tall, lean maternal grandfather, Ronny at 16 already had something of his father’s imposing bulk. The boy seemed to take up half the room at the table with his presence. He pushed his hair off his forehead and said, “So, aren’t you guys, like wanted by the police? After all the mutant terrorist shit in the news?”

“Language,” his mother snapped and smiled weakly at Rogue.

Bobby was determined to get through the evening without a fight. Carefully, he replied, “The Professor told us it was fine to go out. It isn’t anyone from the school who did that stuff. Don’t confuse us with Magneto’s Brotherhood.”

Ronny leaned forward, traversing half the small table. “Yeah, except the firestorm on our front lawn was you guys. Not to mention the way your jet knocked down the Kravtiz’s maple tree.”

“And none of that would’ve happened if you hadn’t called the cops on your own brother!” Bobby replied, half rising until his nose was practically touching his brother’s.

William stood and pushed them apart. “Bobby, sit down and don’t taunt your brother.”

“Me? What about him totally betraying his brother?!”

Ronny hit the table with his fist. “How did I know what you guys would do to us? I mean, what about the art teacher with the knives in his hand?”

“Marie!” Madeline said desperately. “I love what you’ve done with your hair.” She reached up to touch the long white tresses and Marie pulled back hastily, banging the back of her chair into a patron behind her.

“Excuse me,” she said, turning, and then turning back to Madeline, “Sorry, Mrs. Drake. You shouldn’t touch me…”

“It’s dangerous, Mom, I told you,” Bobby said, exasperated, wondering why it was impossible for the fucking Drakes to just have a peaceful birthday dinner.

“Yeah, Mom,” Ronny smirked. “We’re eating with dangerous mutants. Watch out or she’ll turn you into a frog.”

“Ronny!” both his parents said in unison. Then the food arrived. Three of the orders were wrong.

In one way, Bobby welcomed his family’s usual feuding: it kept his mind off the plan that he had formulated for the rest of the evening. He was pretty sure he could pull it off, but there was a distinct possibility of creating an idiotic sitcom of the whole thing. And if he did succeed, he would be opening up a whole new chapter of fear. Okay, one thing at a time.

They made it to the end of dinner more or less unscathed. After they’d all finished dessert, Bobby reminded his family that he and Rogue had a train to catch back to Westchester. His parents stood quickly, but Ronny remained seated, pushing a scrap of brownie around his ice cream dish with a distracting clatter of spoon on glass.

Rogue wished the senior Drakes good night and thanked them for the meal.

“Ronny, maybe you’ll come and see us at the school some time,” she suggested with admirable sincerity. Ronny’s blush caught Bobby by surprise. He realized for the first time that the boy had been attracted to her all night. For an uncomfortable moment, Bobby envied his brother.

“Would you mind waiting for me downstairs?” Bobby asked Rogue.

“Oh no, of course. You take your time with your family, sugar.”

As she departed, Madeline let slip a sigh of relief. Bobby’s father shook his hand. “I’m sorry we couldn’t stay longer, son, but Ronny has a baseball game tomorrow afternoon. We have to get him back.”

“That’s okay, dad, I have stuff to do at school in the morning.”

“Well, then, I wish you luck… I mean, happy birthday, son.”

His mother jumped forward and hugged him, saying, “Oh, Bobby…” as if he was heading off to war. She jumped back to William’s side and looked away, blinking back tears. He looked at Ronny who raised a fist which Bobby bumped.

He found Rogue at the door of the restaurant, looking at signed celebrity photographs. “Sorry we’re such idiots, honey,” he said.

“Nothing out of the ordinary,” she said. “If families didn’t love each other so much, they’d probably kill each other. Did you have a good time?”

“Not bad. I mean, I guess it’s hard for them to get used to us, especially the way we all met the last time. It made it easier that you were here.” He bent and kissed the top of her head where her hair was thick enough to protect him. He had returned from his month with Sam’s family with a lot of uncertainty about their relationship; but it turned out that Rogue was as anxious as he was for the easy normalcy of being boyfriend and girlfriend. It gave them both identity within the school. She had stopped asking him if he really loved her or if he minded not having sex, and he had been cheerful and polite to her. It was a tacit agreement to play their roles as best they could. Still, it always felt like there was a reckoning waiting just below the surface, where unspeakable truths would be demanded.

“Listen,” he told her carefully. “My parents asked if I wanted to stay overnight at the hotel with them. They suggested — you won’t believe it — that we go to the Statue of Liberty in the morning.”

A look of horror crossed Rogue’s face at the suggestion, but then she burst out laughing. “Fine, you’ll excuse me if I don’t come along. My last visit was enough for one lifetime.”

“I’m going to walk you to the subway. Then I’ll call Scott and tell him the change of plans. You know how he worries.”

“Mama Summers,” she laughed. “I’m glad you’re getting along so well with your family. You have fun. I’ll be fine.”

They were out in the tourist crush of Times Square now. The night was cooler, a relief after the day’s humidity. They watched an R&B singer with a guitar belting out “When a Man Loves a Woman,” and tossed a few dollars in his guitar case. Vendors were selling D&G belts from cardboard boxes, loud hawkers were handing out invites to comedy shows. But Bobby had a different destination.

He walked Rogue to Grand Central Station and waved as she vanished through the doors. And then he was alone, just an 18 year old and his scary plan.

New York City was alive on this hot summer night, and he suddenly felt like part of something big — the world of adults who controlled their own destinies, who did exciting things and took chances. That was what this night was about. He patted the wallet in his front pants pocket for the hundredth time and then took out his cell phone and called Scott about his happy, spurious reunion with the Drakes.

With the call out of the way, there was nothing stopping him. He was free. He got on the subway and took the number 4 train down to 14th Street. There he switched to the L line and took it to 1st Avenue. Successfully navigating the underground portion of his journey gave him a feeling of control and calmed his fear. However, as he climbed from the steamy lower depths into the night city, his nerves spiked again. He pulled the Google map printout from his pocket, oriented himself, and began walking purposefully into the tangle of dark buildings.

He had read online about a few blocks in the Lower East Side that were becoming known as Mutant Town. The idea of coming here had been cooking in his brain for months, and he realized how he had mythologized the place in his head. Somehow, he had expected to see obvious mutants walking down the street, smiling, welcoming him home. In fact, apart from some Omega Revolt posters glued to the utility poles, he saw nothing that would distinguish the neighborhood from any other run-down and slightly scary district.

He checked his map discreetly, trying hard not to look like a tourist. Two blocks straight, right turn, look for the green door on the south side. When he got there, he pushed the door wide and was immediately hit by music and heat rising up from the basement bar. New York City, it is said, has everything if you knew where to look for it. According to rumor, “Born Like This” was the world’s first mutant queer bar.

At the bottom of the stairs was long, narrow corridor that led to the main room. Bobby felt like he was being forced through a machine, or a birth canal. The black-painted walls were littered with stapled-on flyers for plays, drag shows, porn auditions, and political action meetings. Half the posters seemed to feature either an impossibly enticing guy or a fierce drag queen. Both types left him feeling queasy. The rest of the wall was naked staple heads, like teeth, where posters had been pulled off.

Just before the end of the tunnel sat a huge Asian man who reached a substantial arm across Bobby’s path.

“You got ID, buddy?” he said in broad New York twang that Bobby could just hear above the music.

Bobby nodded so hard, he almost snapped a cervical vertebra. He reached for his wallet and pulled out the fake ID he had bought from the dealer kid in the park. He worked hard to keep his cool, rocking stiffly to the music, glancing around the bouncer’s bulk to try and scope out the room beyond. Out of the corner of his eye, he watched the man stare at the ID and then pull back his khaki cap to reveal a third eye with which he assessed the card further.

He handed back the ID and turned his attention to Bobby. “So, what’s yer power?”

Bobby was startled. Asking so openly was considered rude at the mansion. “Um,” he stammered. “I, uh, do this.” He made an ice ball in his upturned palm which the bouncer reached out and took. He examined it with an appreciative grunt and put it down on top of an empty beer glass. He shot Bobby a smile and winked at him with both his left and center eyes.

“First time here, kid? Well, have fun but don’t get too wasted. You don’t want to do anything stupid with the wrong guy, right? And remember that you don’t got to do nothin’ with no one. It’s your choice, got it?”

Bobby nodded mutely and the man moved aside to let him pass. Again, his imagination had prepared him for more — a grand cavern of a club with miles of chrome and impossibly beautiful men. Maybe he was happier to find that Born Like This was just a small, low-ceilinged bar decorated in warm colors and antique light fixtures. This classy ambience was offset by a few oscillating laser lights and thumpy trip-hop which played just on the edge of really loud. At the tables and on the tiny dance floor was a mixture of men and women, mostly under 30. He found himself staring at men dancing together — free and joyous or close and sexy. The sight was as beautiful as anything he’d ever seen.

He realized he was getting interested looks from around the room. One intimidatingly sexy couple on the dance floor was waving for him to join them, and he felt his stomach flip flop. He just gave them a friendly nod and made his way quickly to the bar where he sat hunched over, trying not to panic. Not wanting to press his luck with the fake ID, he ordered a Coke. He looked up when the bartender handed him his drink and found himself staring dumbly at the video on the screen behind the bar: a naked, four-armed muscleman with an enormous double dick. Was it mutant porn or digital effects?

He only belated noticed the guy who sat down next to him. He was dressed punk, like Mike Haddad. Facial piercings and a buzz cut, and a sleeveless t-shirt for some band called “Kill the Prom Queen.”

“Hey,” the guy said to Bobby. “I’m Redshift.” Sure enough, the whole room suddenly turned a pinkish-red as if Bobby had put on cheap sunglasses. The effect lasted just a second and left Bobby feeling a little giddy.

He laughed. “Cool. I’m Bobby.”

Redshift scowled as if he didn’t like the name. “So, this your first time here? You’re really cute. Let me guess — fresh off the boat from some little island in Maine.”

“Close. Boston.” Bobby wondered why he hadn’t said Westchester or even that he was local. He felt like he didn’t really have control over his mouth.

“You need a new name, Bobby. A mutant name. You tattooed yet?” Redshift shrugged his shapely shoulder up for examination and Bobby saw the crude omega tattoo. He had never actually met anyone from Omega Revolt, and wasn’t sure what someone from such a reactive group might do. Here. To him. He reached for his Coke a bit too abruptly, spilling half the contents across the bar.

“Shit, sorry. Um, that looks… nice. No, I don’t really believe in… I mean, I’m not sure Omega Revolt is the best way to — ”

“To liberate our people? To show that you’re not ashamed of the way you were born? So you’re not a newbie. You’re an assimilator.”

The world shifted red again and this time it made him nauseous. Why was this guy hassling him?

“Look,” Bobby said, “we don’t have to talk politics, do we? I mean, we came here because we’re both… you know.” Redshift got to his feet, planted a hand on the bar and leaned in close, shouting his message over the music into Bobby’s ear.

“Bobby, don’t be such a no-nothing little twink, okay? You’re not that cute.”

“Give the guy a break, Redshift,” cautioned the bartender as he wiped up Bobby’s spill.

“Come on, Satch, you know the type. Little suburban mutant boys, waiting around until the government gives us a little stamp of approval and promises not to be mean anymore. Well, I have news for you, suburban boy: until mutants stand up and declare themselves, loud and proud, we’re not going to get a damned thing. Get tattooed, Bobby! Shove it in people’s faces or else you’re just another pathetic victim.”

“’Ey, you, Lightshow or h-whatever,” came a voice from behind them. “Where’s yer rainbow tattoo if you so into da pride ting, henh?” The red haze lifted and Bobby spun round in his chair to find Remy LeBeau, the creepy guy John had dated the previous summer, very close and very intense. His red eyes burned hotter than Redshift’s color field and his quirky smile sent a tremble through Bobby’s chest.

“Fuck off, Gambit,” Redshift said, though his bravado was instantly cut in half. “Me and Bobby were just getting to know each other.”

“Nah, Bobby knows de hypocrites when he sees dem, right? You make yer speeches after you have de balls to tell your Omega amis dat you like to suck de cock, henh? Come on, Bobby, let’s get out of here.”

Redshift grabbed Bobby’s arm indignantly. “He’s with me! Right, Bobby?”

Bobby’s mouth dropped open. He didn’t know what he was supposed to do. Did Redshift like him after all? Was there some kind of etiquette to these situations? But Remy just laughed. “Careful, p’tit coq. He used to be de Pyro’s boyfriend.”

Redshift dropped Bobby’s arm and moved back a step. “Pyro from Magneto’s Brotherhood?” He turned to Bobby, but before Bobby could say that he wasn’t anyone’s boyfriend, Redshift was stammering, “Sorry, man, didn’t know. We were just talking, right? No harm.”

Remy laughed again and turned to exit. A moment of panic, and Bobby found himself stumbling after the Cajun back towards the long entranceway. Some old guy called from a corner table, “Don’t leave yet, sweetie!”

The whole evening was a nightmare and he was glad for the excuse to escape. But where would he go? Where could he sleep? He had never really worked out that part of the plan. He had sort of imagined that he would be staying until morning in the bed of some cool, sweet, handsome young mutant who would make love to him all night and introduce him to the delights of a brave new life. Breakfast in his sunny loft, promises to call soon…

What a fucking loser you are, Drake.

So he followed Remy out into the night and stuck close beside the man as they navigated the sketchy streets full of scary shadows.

“Incroyable!” Remy said, sucking back on a bottle of Stella he had taken with him from the bar. “Imagine my surprise, p’tit mec. Finding you here with da queers of Mutant Town.”

“It was just, um, a coincidence. I didn’t know it was a gay bar!”

Remy’s laugh filled the empty street. He reached into a deep pocket of his great coat and pulled out another beer. He touched the cap which began to glow and suddenly shot off into the air, a small geyser of beer following. Remy handed the bottle to Bobby “Here, cher, you need a drink.”

“Listen, Mr. LeBeau, I have a train to catch and —”

“Too late, cher. Last one leaves in 10 minutes. You stay da night at Remy’s place.”

“But…”

“Drink!”

Soon they were sitting across from each other at a battered oak table in Remy’s high-ceilinged loft, drinking another beer. Bobby watched in silence while Remy did acrobatic things with a deck of cards, letting them roll and tumble through his fingers like little gymnasts. The loft was somewhere between an elegant home and an antiques warehouse. Some of the furniture was classy, old, and polished to a shine, but some was broken, standing in odd arrangements, like party guests who had nothing in common. That was when Bobby remembered Remy LeBeau, Gambit,  was a thief. His right leg started stomping nervously, the tap-tap echoing in the big space. Remy looked at the leg and raised an eyebrow. Bobby stilled it abruptly.

Maybe it wasn’t so bad, he reassured himself. He had a roof over his head, and the cold beer felt good going down. The silence was good, too. Between the stupid restaurant, Times Square and the bar, his ears had had enough.

“So, Bobby,” Remy said, watching his fingers doing their tricks. “I am t’inking, you are pretty brave, henh? You come down here alone, looking for da queer bar. Johnny, he didn’t t’ink you could do something like this.”

At the mention of John’s name, something twisted inside Bobby. “What… What did he say about me?”

“Dat you would rather eat poison then let anyone know you eat dick.”

Bobby blushed and felt a hot stab of anger. “He doesn’t fucking know me, okay?” He got up and moved among the antiques, running his fingers along the dusty face of a filigreed mantel clock. “What is this stuff? You steal it all?”

“Not all,” Remy responded. “You right, cher, nobody really knows nobody, I t’ink. Maybe you gonna surprise dem all.”

Bobby turned and stared at the Cajun who had put down the cards. He was leaning back in his chair now, boots up on the table. His shirt had opened a few buttons and Bobby found himself checking out the chestnut hairs revealed in the ‘v’. His breath caught in his throat and he licked his lips. “Hey, uh, do you have any weed?”

Remy stood up smoothly, his smile seeming to say, “but I know you, Bobby.”

They climbed a ladder to a platform that served as Remy’s bedroom. Rugs were piled on rugs, woven in all the colors of the sunset; gold-framed reproductions of Caravaggio and Rubens hung from the ceiling on long chains. The bed was massive and brass and Remy moved around it, lighting candles in ornate holders of glass, wood and copper. Bobby was soon sitting close beside him on the bed, watching him fill a pipe. Then the smoke was sliding down his throat and Remy’s knee was touching his.

“What’s da matter, cher?” Remy’s voice. Remy’s arm around his shoulder. Comfort, excitement.

“Do you miss him?” Bobby asked. “John, I mean.”

“Do you?”

“Sometimes… Sometimes it’s like he’s a million miles away. I mean, he’s a member of the Brotherhood, for God’s sake. He practically burned down a hospital.”

“mmm.”

“But then, I close my eyes in the dark and he’s right there, you know? I can feel his skin, his kiss. Taste it. And then he reaches out and his hand touches me.”

Remy’s voice like hot butter: “Where does ’e touch you?”

“The back of my neck. My arm. My stomach.” And Remy’s hands were there too. Sense memory, but new.

Bobby felt himself being pulled into Gambit’s vortex, falling away from the stifling safety of the world he knew. “And sometimes I almost say his name into the dark.”

Remy unbuttoning Bobby’s shirt and running his rough hands against his nipples. “You love him, Bobby,” he said in his ear.

“No!” But Bobby wasn’t sure what he was saying “no” to. He turned with open mouth to find Remy’s mouth, and they were kissing. It was a hard kiss and Remy’s tongue was hot, though not as hot as John’s.

“You got to tell dem, cher. You go shout it from da rooftops,” Remy said as he pushed Bobby back on the gold satin bedspread. “John Allerdyce, je t’aime! I ’ave not forgotten.”

Their clothes had melted away. The pressed shirt he wore so his mother would know he was still a good boy had sunk into the Bayou. He was naked, and Remy’s size, his size and strength and hair were there for him, so welcome.

“I want you to fuck me,” Bobby whispered, gasping, reaching, drawing the man into himself, like pungent smoke.

Note: Mystique is singing “Give Up the Funk (Tear the Roof off the Sucker)” by Parliament Funkadelic.

Chapter 35

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