Book 5: Love and Power

Chapter 40: “The Strange, Clear Light of Morning”

Castle grew warier and charier as the cave grew deeper and steeper, darker and starker.

— Trimally! — he called.

He entered a new chamber where weak light from a crack in the rock above illuminated a pair of skeletons, huddled together in a corner in their final, eternal embrace, one with its arm extended as if grasping for a last, hallucinated  hope.

Castle turned to run for the door, but the dense tangle of thorns closed over it in an instant, the fanged branches twining sensuously around each other, contemptuous in their languor. A terrible voice intoned as if from the rock itself:

— YOU WILL NEVER LEAVE THIS PRISON.

Castle sank to the ground in despair and cursed his moment of weakness. Trusting the wrong soul had proved his downfall once again.

– from Castle in Exile, by St. John Allerdyce

 

***

 

Bobby’s heart fairly bubbled with joy. The school was busier and happier than ever. He bounced through the halls, saying hi to everyone, slapping the wood-paneled walls as he rounded corners. Sunlight poured through the leaded glass windows and the freshly polished furniture practically glinted.

Twin girls, first years, were suddenly in his path. Bobby knew he should remember their names, but he couldn’t for the life of him.

“Congratulations, Bobby,” they said in perfect unison, which always kind of creeped him out. “We heard they made you leader of the New X-Men.”

Bobby felt a swelling of pride. He nodded humbly and said, “Thanks, girls, but in a team as special as ours, everyone is a little bit of a leader.” He waved and walked away, but after a few steps, he felt compelled to look back. The twins stood there in perfect symmetry in their dresses and pigtails, staring at him, faces pale as death. Suddenly all the good feeling turned to dread. The sunlight was gone by the time he reached his room. The door, strangely, was open. He gasped when he saw Rogue sitting on his bed.

“You’re back,” he said, and it was then he noticed she wasn’t wearing gloves.

She looked embarrassed. “I’m sorry. I had to,” she told him.

“This isn’t what I wanted,” he said, his voice cracking a bit.

She stood and came to him, speaking with sad certainty. “I know. It’s what I wanted.” She took his hand and he shuddered for a moment before he truly accepted that, yes, Rogue was “cured.” He looked down at their clasped hands, and realized she was naked. “Come on,” she said urgently, licking her lips, breathing faster, leading him toward the bed.

And he was naked, too, willing his dick to get hard, knowing it was what was expected of him. He tried to look between her spread legs, but all he could see there was a blur. The door! He remembered the door was open as he climbed on top of her, his flaccid dick slapping wetly against the white flesh of her thigh. He turned and saw a dozen or more young students, watching avidly, some smirking and giggling at his ineptitude. The twins were there, black staring eyes in doll-white faces. “Come and play with us, Bobby,” they said.

Bobby awoke with a start in the broken easy chair of the hotel room. The musty smell had grown worse, and he stood stiffly and crossed to open the room’s single small window. By staring down the dim alleyway, he could just make out a sliver of street, and that’s how he knew the day was fair and well underway. He turned on the desk light and walked to the bed where John lay sleeping. The bruise on his forehead was more pronounced today; a purple shadow like a rain cloud on his clear, white skin.

Their ice raft had come ashore in San Francisco the previous night in a waterside park. Looking back towards Alcatraz, Bobby had seen smoke rising into the sky. He had hoisted John over his shoulder and scrambled across the dark, abandoned park. The power was out across the whole area, probably as a result of the Golden Gate Bridge being torn loose. Bobby had got them out onto a main street and lain John down on a bus stop bench. The streets were eerily deserted and Bobby had breathed a sigh of relief when a taxi finally drove by.

“I need a cheap hotel,” he’d told the cab driver. Then, imagining roaches, crack addicts and dangerous pimps, he had amended his request: “Not too cheap.” Bobby had been worried that the driver might call the cops, thinking it was Bobby who’d hurt John. But the driver was talking a nervous blue streak about the “mutant terrorists,” and couldn’t spare a care about the guy in the black leather uniform and his unconscious friend.

The “not too cheap” hotel had cost more money than Bobby had wanted to pay, and yet didn’t provide any of the comfort he might have wished for. John had been only barely conscious and wasn’t making much sense. Bobby had to pretend to the clerk that he was bringing his drunk friend in from a wild night on the town. Not that the clerk cared; his eyes had been glued to the wall-mounted TV where coverage of the battle of Alcatraz and Magneto’s relocation of the bridge played non-stop. Bobby propped John up in the tiny elevator and got them to their room. Once Bobby had him in bed, John had had a brief moment of lucidity. “I’m not done killing you,” he had said with cool hatred.

“It’s over John,” Bobby had replied. “Magneto’s cured.”

“Fucking idiot,” John mumbled before sleep claimed him. Bobby hadn’t been sure if he meant Magneto or him.

Bobby couldn’t bring himself to join John in the double bed, and had settled into the armchair. He’d had time to think fucking spring is sticking in my back before he, too, fell into a deep and featureless sleep.

And thus they survived the night. Bobby reached down to touch John’s cheek and found it hot. That was probably a good sign for John, but it was hard to be sure. From his emergency first aid training, Bobby guessed that it was a concussion. What had they been taught? Concussions usually healed on their own, right? He couldn’t remember any more. His stomach growled, and he decided the first order of business was a supplies run.

He’d have to get to an ATM for some cash. He wasn’t really worried; he’d been collecting a small salary for his work as a teaching and admin assistant at the school, and he’d saved up just over $2,000. Even so, Bobby wasn’t sure how long he and John would be there at the hotel; he would have to keep them on a tight budget. He wrote a note and left it on the dresser: “Gone for food. Stay in bed and rest. TV doesn’t work. Be back soon, B.”

He resisted the urge to add the word “Love” before his initial.

He smiled shyly at the clerk on the desk as he passed — he looked like he might be the night guy’s brother — and was ignored for his trouble. The man was watching the TV which showed frightening helicopter shots of the Phoenix effect over Alcatraz. The word “mutant” repeatedly assaulted Bobby’s ear like an angry hornet. He stepped out onto the sidewalk and squinted at the sunny day. The streets were busy, but there was a palpable air of tension and suspicion. He had left his uniform jacket off, wearing only the black leather pants with his white t-shirt. Even so, he was getting stares. Maybe the pants were a bit fancy for the denizens of what the cab driver had called the Mission District.

He made a stop at a funky little second-hand clothing store and came out with a pair of jeans and a couple of surfing t-shirts. Even though it didn’t really fit into their budget, he hadn’t been able to resist buying John a shirt. It featured a red baby demon in a diaper, his head dancing with flames. The shirt bore the inscription “Li’l Devil.” The woman at the desk had offered Bobby $100 for his X-pants, and he had been sorely tempted to take the money. But they weren’t his to sell. And besides, it wasn’t like he never intended to go back…

Back on the street with his leather hidden away in the shopping bag, he attracted less attention (though he was pretty sure he got checked out by a few guys). He began to make a shopping list in his head, enjoying the idea that he would be nourishing John, nursing him back to health.

He’s going to be fine, he told himself. And he’ll appreciate that I saved him. But would he be fine? What if his injury was something serious? What if he got worse? Didn’t Roberto need a CAT scan that time he ran into the concrete wall in powers class? Bobby found himself standing under a tree in a scrappy patch of park, staring at the face of his X-phone. With the Blackbird destroyed, the X-Men wouldn’t be home yet. In any case, he couldn’t talk to Storm or Beast. They’d make him come back. They’d turn John into the authorities. He scrolled through the school directory and dialed.

“But I can’t tell you how he is if I don’t at least touch him, Bobby!” Josh Foley said in exasperated tones.

“Look, I told you his symptoms! Is it serious or not?”

“That depends on what’s going on in his hypothalamus. You have to get him to a hospital.”

“Yeah, and the FBI’ll be there five minutes later to arrest him.” He felt helpless and annoyed. “Never mind, Josh. I’ll handle it.”

“No, wait a second,” Josh said. Bobby heard the phone clatter. Across the park, a group of young men were staring at him with hard eyes. Don’t try anything, assholes, he thought. I’m a fucking X-Man!

“Bobby?” Josh’s voice startled him. “Phone this number.” He recited a phone number with a San Francisco area code. “Ask for Caducea. Tell her you were a student of Professor Xavier’s. She’ll help John. In the meantime, get him some Tylenol, keep him off his feet, and don’t let him get too upset.”

At the drug store, Bobby couldn’t help telling the clerk more details than he needed to.

“Here you go,” the man said, handing him the pills. “I hope your boyfriend feels better soon.” Bobby looked up surprised, but then blushed and smiled a delighted smile.

“Me too, thanks!”

 

***

 

The door chime was subtle and musical and it had to play more than once before Kitty awoke with a “Whufuh?” followed by a confused, “Come in?”

The stainless steel handle turned, the bleached oak door swung open and Warren Worthington III stuck his head into the small room. “Good morning, Kitty. I was wondering if you wanted to start the day working out with me.”

She pushed the hair from her face and squinted at the alarm clock. 7:30. The X-Men had crossed the country, defeated Magneto’s army and recovered Jimmy Renner (source of the mutant cure) less than 12 hours ago. If this clown seriously thought she was going to get out of bed before 11… But then she looked at that face, at those cheekbones and that small, ripe plum of a mouth and she knew she had no choice. Lust was bad for sleep. Everyone said so.

“Sure, okay. Is it 7:30 already?” she asked. “Wow, you shouldn’t have let me sleep so long.”

Worthington grinned. He entered the room and placed a set of sweats and a glass of fresh-squeezed orange juice on the dresser. “See you in five minutes. The big blue door at the end of the hall.”

Kitty, Warren, Storm, Beast, Peter and Jimmy (inconveniently dampening their powers even as they were rescuing him) had run from the Phoenix force to the edge of Alcatraz, only to find a Worthington Industries speed boat waiting for them. They were quickly transported across the bay to the Oakland side where they docked in front of a small, modern office building right on the waterfront. It was wide, but only three stories tall, presenting a face of steel and glass, and bearing a sober if ambiguous sign: “Lofty Conceptuals.” Warren had phoned ahead, and by the time they entered the spotless, high-tech building, his staff had hot food and clean clothing for them. They’d been put up in tiny but comfortable guest rooms for the night.

It had been hard to convince Storm to stay. She’d wanted to take to the air immediately in search of Bobby, Jubilee, and Logan, but Warren had convinced her it was too dangerous; Federal troops were pouring into the city and she was just as likely to get shot down as find her missing teammates.

“We’ll locate them in the morning, Ma’am,” he’d reassured her. “I’ll get my people on it first thing.”

Kitty had to admit it; Worthington’s confidence impressed her. She’d noticed his staff trying not to stare at his wings. Was it the first time they’d seen him unharnessed? If he had just come out to them as a mutant, they all seemed to be handling that milestone with aplomb. And then there was the flirting. He was probably definitely flirting with her.

For instance: “I’m putting you in this room, Kitty, just across from mine. In case, you know, you need anything during the night.”

“Pretty swank, Worthington,” Kitty said with a smile as he pushed the blue doors open and she got her first look at Warren’s training room. It was three stories tall, taking up one whole side of the building. Large workout areas were defined by pristine mats over dark hardwood. Weight machines and gymnastics apparatuses filled one side of the room. Jump ropes and exercise balls were piled up neatly at various stations. Huge, curving windows let in the morning sun, offering a view of the bay.

They watched the boats in the harbor and the military helicopters doing sweeps of the bay and of San Francisco beyond. This mess isn’t over yet, Kitty realized.

“Shall we warm up?” Warren asked. “I want to get airborne as early as I can.”

“I thought you told Storm it was too dangerous.”

She watched his face harden. “No one’s declared martial law. They have no right to keep me grounded. This is my city and I’m going to fly across it. I’m sick of hiding.”

Kitty tried to keep the concern out of her voice. “And if the military decides to use you as a skeet for shooting practice?”

He smiled at her with that maddening confidence. “I’ll have a little chat with them. After all, my father is a close friend and associate of General Trask.”

She raised her eyebrows, and then raised her knee to her chest, standing on one foot, rotating the ankle first clockwise, then counter. She asked, “What is Lofty Conceptuals, anyway?”

“Well, my father thinks it’s my aerospace consulting firm. He’s been the major investor in all my companies, including this one. He wouldn’t be exactly pleased to know what I really used the money for.” He began a series of amazing wing stretches, and Kitty had to find a mat and begin concentrating on her own warm ups to keep from staring (for instance at the intricate way his shoulder muscles and the tendons in his long, fine neck worked in conjunction with the wings).

He joined her on the floor for some more routine stretches while he continued his story. “I knew my father was working with the military on different anti-mutant technologies. He wanted to keep it a secret from me, of course, but I’ve been establishing my own insiders at Worthington Industries since I was 18.” Kitty knew he was now 19. He was a business prodigy, having started the first of several companies when he was only 14. Kitty believed in doing her research.

“You’re spying on your dad?” she asked.

“We’re tracking his initiatives. Pretty soon, we may have to take some action to stop some of the programs. We really dropped the ball on the cure — in fact he almost made me take it. But if I had known how far advanced the program was, I would have done something. Poor Jimmy. We’ll have to make sure he’s protected.” He stood up and spread his wings full. Kitty couldn’t help but gasp at their beauty. She wanted to run a finger along the feathers, see if they were as soft as they looked. She wanted to stare into his dazzling eyes for, like, a century.

And she was staring. He smiled back and said, “I also use this place to nurture my other self: the Avenging Angel!” And with that he leaped into the air. She watched him thumb a remote and immediately a series of rings, bars and ceiling-mounted hurdles began rotating through the high reaches of the space. He dodged and wheeled around the obstacles at high speed.

She climbed up on a vaulting horse to watch the dazzling show of aeronautics. She realized she was gawking and chided herself. Since when did some cute guy with powers turn her into a gushing schoolgirl? Then she caught him watching her watching him, and she realized he was out to impress. Well, she could be impressive, too. Look out, Avenging Angel, she thought. You’re about to meet the Shocking Shadowcat!

She discreetly moved into a squat, coiled like a spring, and waited for him to circle back in her direction. At the last instant, she jumped directly into his path, phasing just before the collision. He swerved in panic and became completely unbalanced. She was hanging casually from a pair of rings as he landed awkwardly on the mats. But Kitty wasn’t finished. She let go of the rings, somersaulting as she dropped 20 feet to the floor, phasing to cushion and silence her fall.

She was in his blind spot now. She grabbed two of the jump ropes and ran at the grounded Angel. He spotted her and attempted to take off, but he was too late. She leaped at him, phasing herself through, but leaving the ropes solid. Warren toppled to the ground, face first and Kitty, her hands phasing and solidifying, quickly tied his ankles together. She spun him over on his back and used the other rope to pin his wings and arms to his side. With a satisfied smirk, she straddled her opponent, sitting on his hips to hold him down.

“Don’t mess with me, Worthington!” she crowed, but then there was something strange in his eyes. Panic? No. Maybe some kind of desperate, excited… what? He writhed under her and she pushed his shoulders down, leaning on him. He bucked like a bull, groaning hoarsely and she rode him, her leg muscles working, her breasts testing the strength of her sports bra. But it was too easy; surely he should have been able to throw her off with those powerful wings… And then she felt it under her, against her ass, hard and unexpected as they struggled and humped. Her eyes went wide just as he gave a strangled moan and collapsed back onto the mat. He turned his head away, blushing and she jumped off him, confused. She looked down at her vanquished foe; a dark, wet stain adorned the front of his baby blue sweats.

Amazed, she looked from the stain to his flushed face and asked, “Did I do that?”

Warren’s untouchable confidence was gone. Turning over on his stomach to hide the evidence of his explosive excitement, he stuttered, “I, uh, like ropes, you see…” and gave her a moment to take in his meaning. “And I like you, too,” he added, shaking free of the ropes that held his arms, curling around to undo his ankles. Kitty watched the back of his neck as he worked. Even there he was blushing.

Just then, the door of the gym opened and Storm marched in. “Warren? I’m sorry to be more of a burden, but we need to get back to Westchester immediately.”

Warren, son and grandson of captains of industry, was instantly back in control of himself. As he stood, showing Storm his back, he casually removed his t-shirt and tucked it into his waistband. When he turned her way, the stain was covered.

“Yes, of course. I can arrange a plane.”

“What is it, Storm?” Kitty asked, still reeling from what had just happened. “Why do we have to hurry back? Can’t we spend a few days —”

“It’s the Professor,” she said, and now Kitty was totally confused. “He’s come back to us!”

 

***

 

Bobby helped Caducea climb out of the cab, untangling the old lady’s many shawls and scarves that caught on everything they touched. She stood on the sidewalk, tucking loose locks of white hair into her wool hat, looking around suspiciously while Bobby paid the driver. He watched 25 dollars vanish into the man’s pocket, like magic beans he shouldn’t have parted with.

Caducea muttered, “I should never have come. We’re not safe here.”

Bobby had to work hard to keep his temper. She’d been complaining from the time she answered the phone and agreed to help. She’d complained when he picked her up at her apartment, and throughout the cab ride. “Magneto and his people are finished, ma’am. Nothing to worry about,” he said as cheerily as he could.

“What about the army? They say troops are all over the city! What about the drug addicts in every alley? I should never have let you drag me into the Mission District.” He wanted to say that he actually liked the neighborhood, and that it wasn’t as bad as she thought. Despite her supposed fears, she didn’t seem to be moving towards the door of the hotel. Old drama queen, he thought. She’s enjoying her big day out.

“He’s up on the fourth floor,” Bobby said, indicating the door.

“Hmph,” she said. “My city isn’t what it used to be.”

Bobby resigned himself to following her timeline. “Have you lived here your whole life, Mrs. Caducea?”

“Just Caducea. Yes, I have. Long before anyone ever heard the word ‘mutant.’ Not that we didn’t exist…”

Someone across the road screamed and they both turned and followed the upturned faces. Overhead, a blond man with the wings of a pure, white dove was flying, circling once before disappearing over the buildings.

“Warren!” Bobby shouted, but Warren Worthington III was already too far away to hear.

“You know him?” Caducea asked suspiciously.

“He fought with us against Magneto.”

She leaned on her cane. “Ten years ago, before anyone talked about the X gene, I would have said it was an angel — a sign from heaven. I thought my gifts were from Jesus Christ himself. But you know, science spoils everything. I used to believe. Now I know. Can’t say it’s better. Let’s go see your friend.” She began climbing unsteadily up the stairs and Bobby ran to take her arm.

They found John awake, sitting up in bed, looking pale and pissed off. “Now what, Drake? Bringing your grandmother around to gawk at the invalid?”

This outburst actually made Caducea chortle. She left a trail of scarves on the floor and shrugged off her coat, holding it out for Bobby to take before moving to the beside. “Well, I can see you’re not dead yet,” she told John, her voice louder and more commanding than before. “I’m a healer, young man, a mutant like yourself, though not anywhere near as powerful as young Josh Foley. He’s our little miracle.”

“Who the fuck is Josh Foley?” John spat, flinching as Caducea placed her dry and bony fingers on his head.

Bobby told him, “A new student at the school. How do you know Josh, ma’am?”

She had begun to hum tunelessly to herself as she examined John, who had grown still and looked a bit nauseous. “We healers have always recognized each other. While you other mutants were out forming little armies to fight humanity or each other, the healers banded together and dedicated ourselves to life. Not mutant life, not human life. Just life.”

She sat down on the bed, pressing her palms against John’s forehead and temple. “Close your eyes and breathe deeply.” Surprisingly, John obeyed without question. “We knew about Josh when he was still a little boy. We watched over him and made sure his parents sent him to Xavier. Not that we want our boy to become one of those X-men…” she said the name as if it were an off-color curse. “But he needs the chance to grow into the healer he can be. Perhaps the greatest of us all.”

John moaned, a frightened sound like a child in the grip of a nightmare, and his eyes popped open, full of tears, unseeing. Bobby hurried to the far side of the bed, but John relaxed again, lay down on his side with his hands under his head, and closed his eyes. Caducea sat on the edge of the bed, panting. The strength seemed to have drained from her. Bobby stood there, feeling useless to them both.

“Can I get you a drink?” he asked her. “Some orange juice?” He dug into his bag of groceries.

“That would be nice.” She sighed. “He’ll be all right. I healed what damage I could. He just needs a few more days of rest.” She took the orange juice and drained it quickly, wiping her mouth with the back of her hand. “Angry boy,” she commented.

Bobby looked at John who seemed to be sleeping. He looked so sweet and vulnerable. “He’s not always angry. He can be really…” he searched for the word. “Thoughtful.”

“Maybe you have to love him to see it.”

He went with her to the lobby and asked the clerk to call her a cab, handing her another 25 dollars, reeling a bit when he thought of the total of his one day expenditures. How would he keep them going if he ran out of money? How would he keep John? Caducea grunted, as if she had been hoping for more, but then told him to get back up to their patient. With relief, he did just that, running up the stairs rather than wait again for the slow elevator.

He entered the room as silently as the squeaky floor would allow, hoping for some time to think, but John’s eyes were wide open, and filled with a terrible clarity.

“How do you feel?” Bobby asked.

John didn’t answer. He continued to stare until Bobby was practically shaking in discomfort. He straightened their supplies some more, feeling John’s eyes on his back.

Finally, the boy in the bed said, “What do you want with me, Drake? You went to a lot of trouble to get me here.”

Bobby turned and faced him, leaning on the dresser, gripping its edge tightly. “I wanted to make sure you were okay. I wanted…” he remembered to breath. “I wanted to get you — get us — away from them.”

“Them? Them who?” John had raised himself on his elbows. His face shiny with sweat from the healing.

“Xavier! Magneto!” Bobby answered, his voice rising. “The X-Men! I-I needed to talk to you without anyone telling me who you were, or who I was!”

“Whatever, guy,” John said, laying himself back down, closing his eyes. “The old men are both gone and no one’s worrying about Pyro and the Iceman. Say what you have to.”

Bobby felt the ache in his fingers, but he couldn’t let go just yet. “I wanted to say I was sorry.”

He let the words hang there. He released his grip and wiggled his fingers to let the blood back in.

John’s eyes were open, staring at the ceiling. “For this bruise on my head?”

Bobby felt tears in his eyes, but he wouldn’t let himself lose control, not when everything might be riding on what he said. “For everything. For abandoning you, for Rogue, for being a liar.” He had to breathe again, stop the sob that wanted to escape. “When you first came to the mansion, those first months, I don’t think I’ve ever been happier. It was like the Bobby who I used to be as a kid was back, a Bobby who got lost under a mountain of sadness.”

“Good for you,” John said, turning away.

Bobby had to move. He lurched across the room and sat in the chair by the bed. “No, shut up and listen! This is hard to say. So, yeah, it was this awesome time, but the better it got, the more scared I got. I couldn’t be what you needed me to be.”

John turned to him suddenly. “I didn’t need you to be anything except yourself, idiot.”

“No, I know. I mean — I mean I couldn’t be what I had to be to be your boyfriend.”

“You mean you couldn’t be gay. Because what would precious Scott and precious Xavier think of golden boy then? What would they think if they knew he sucked cock as well as he made ice shields.”

Bobby felt an absurd moment of pride. “Really?”

John rolled his eyes. “Jesus fucking Christ. You’re a piece of work, you know? For months you’re all over me, can’t get enough, keep going on and on about love and destiny and bullshit. And then Summers catches us fucking on my birthday, and I think, ‘Hallelujah! Way to rip off the goddamn band-aid!’ But no, not Bobby Drake. He has to rewrite everything: rewrite his feelings, rewrite history. And bang! He’s got a girlfriend… Bang! He was never my lover in the first place; never felt anything like that! Tell me something, Bobby. Did you spare one fucking thought to what I was going through after that day?”

“John, you can’t blame me for everything you did. All your rebellion and —”

“That’s not what I asked, is it? I asked if you knew what I was going through after you fucking abandoned me.”

“No. Yes… I-I don’t know what I was thinking. After Scott… saw us… I wasn’t thinking straight.”

John laughed. “Nice choice of words. You’re a true wit, Drake. Anyway, dickwad, Summers is dead now, so why don’t you go down to the Castro and get on your knees. No one around anymore to give a shit.”

“No, I don’t want just anyone. Remy, he made me realize —”

“Remy Lebeau? You and Gambit got together?” John put a hand to his forehead and squeezed his eyes shut. “Fuck, this soap opera just gets less and less believable.”

“Yeah, we did. Just one night. My birthday. And he made me realize that… That I still love you. I never stopped.”

“So I heard from reliable sources. Well, that’s great. I’ll sign a copy of my book for you some time.”

Bobby got up and sat on the edge of the bed. “But… Do you —?”

John shot him a look. “Love? You? I don’t love anyone. Period. How many times do you think I can get my heart stomped on before it stops bouncing back? Including by you. No. No more.”

“But St. John —”

“No! As soon as I’m feeling better, I’m out of here. I mean, thanks for the save and all, and the goofy old lady, but I’m done. We’ll call it even, Drake, how’s that? You got my ass off Alcatraz, so I won’t try to kill you anymore.”

And then Bobby did start crying. Deep guttural sobs shook his frame, and he moved back to the chair, pulling his knees up and wrapping his arms around them.

Through his tears, he saw John staring at him in fury. “Whatever, just keep it down. I have to sleep some more.” And they stayed there like that, in the room that sunlight couldn’t touch, for what must have been an hour, Bobby weeping an endless stream of bitter regret, John silent. The sun was setting when Bobby finally found enough inner resolve that he could stand himself up and get on with life. He looked down at John and saw that he was, indeed, asleep again. Bobby prepared peanut butter sandwiches for them and sliced an apple with the little green paring knife he had bought at the dollar store.

John was awake by the time he was done, and without a word, Bobby brought the food over to the bed where they ate their sandwiches in silence. There was a crumb stuck to the edge of John’s mouth and Bobby half reached for it before retracting his hand and indicating on his own mouth. John removed the crumb and ate it. They seemed suddenly embarrassed by each other and Bobby didn’t know what to do next.

“I need a shower,” John announced quietly.

“Okay,” Bobby said and helped him get up. He stood in the door of the bathroom while John peed, and then watched as he began to unbutton his pants. John was kind of wobbly on his feet and Bobby was scared he’d topple over and hit his head all over again. He entered the bathroom and put a steadying hand on John’s elbow while he stepped out of the pants, and then helped him pull the t-shirt over his head. Little jolts of sensation went through him every time his cool hand touched John’s warm body, and soon his former lover was standing only in briefs.

“Since when do you wear those?” Bobby asked.

“Huh? Oh, yeah. Just when I go to fight. Dunno, makes me feel safer.”

Bobby couldn’t take his eyes off of John’s crotch, and when it began to swell, John turned away, quickly pulling off the briefs and stepping into the moldy shower stall. Bobby stood outside the shower as it ran, barely breathing, and maybe a minute later, John pulled aside the faded plastic curtain. His wet skin glistened blue in the fluorescent light, but his eyes were full of heat, his erection so hard it looked purple. Bobby’s hands were shaking as he put the towel around John’s shoulders. John let himself be dried and then led back to the bed. He looked scared as Bobby took his face in his hands. Then Bobby was on his knees, holding the cock in a firm, cold grip, licking from balls to head over and over as John groaned.

Bobby took the cock in his mouth, diving deep, choking himself on its hot urgency, raising his hands to John’s chest to stroke the nipples. John grabbed his wrists and thrust into his mouth harder and faster until he made that broken sound Bobby was longing for and shot streams of jism, so hot they sizzled like Pop Rocks, into Bobby’s mouth and throat.

Bobby stood up quickly, wiping his mouth, looking away in embarrassment, but then John’s hands were undoing his pants, pulling his boner painfully from his boxers. John toppled him over onto the bed, their faces close together. His eyes were wide, his teeth clenched in a grimace as he jacked Bobby off, hard and fast with a spit-wet hand until Bobby cried out, a spare sob from his crying jag breaking free, his cum shooting in long streams across John’s naked belly.

They lay there in silence, the silence that follows a calamity, the death by fire of an innocent. Bobby felt the fatigue overwhelming him and he forced himself to his feet. He retrieved a towel from the bathroom and wiped John’s belly clean before he climbed into bed with him, pulled the covers up over them and fell into a dreamless sleep.

They awoke almost 10 hours later, Bobby wrapped around John, John’s hand stretched out, free of the blanket as if he was reaching for something. They disentangled themselves and took turns using the bathroom, not speaking.

“So, look,” John said finally. “I’ll stay here a few days with you if I can, until I’m feeling better and I figure what to do next.” He sounded like he was talking himself into something. “Just don’t think it means anything, okay?”

“I won’t,” Bobby promised wearily.

“You okay for cash? Can you keep us going?”

“I’m fine,” Bobby said. His mouth was dry. “And then, what? You’ll take off?”

“Yeah,” John answered and sat in the chair, his face vanishing into shadow. “I’ve got to get my shit sorted. I’m a fugitive; I’ve burned all my bridges. I want to get someplace where I’ll be safe and I can keep writing.”

Bobby said, “I’m glad you want to keep writing. But wouldn’t it be easier if you had me to —?”

“No. Look… I keep making the same mistake. I keep attaching myself to people, and either I fuck them up or they stab me in the goddamn back. No more.”

Bobby decided he wasn’t going to cry again. He would do what he had to to keep them housed and fed as long as he could. Whatever John decided then was his business. He walked to the closet and, hidden from John’s view by the closet door, folded his X-uniform and packed it into the bag from the clothing shop.

“What do you want me to get for breakfast?” he asked as he moved to the door, carrying the heavy bag.

Chapter 41

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