Chapter 41: “Spending Our Days Waiting for Tomorrow”

Daragoj ot’ets!

And that, Dad, concludes my attempt at Russian in this letter. Don’t be disappointed, please. I’m probably the last teenager in America to send an actual pen-on-paper letter to his parents. We need to get you a computer! It would help you at the church, too. Honest.

I spoke to Mom last week and she said that Illyana is doing really well at school. The hardest part of living away from home is I miss seeing her grow up.

We are reopening the school and I am going to stay on to help with teaching while I decide what to do next in life. Ms. Monroe is going to be headmistress and also leader of the X-Men. But it’s not clear whether the team will be allowed to operate now that the government knows about us.

Dad, something very strange has happened and I have some difficult questions to ask you. On the phone, I told you the miraculous news that Professor Xavier was not dead after all. I didn’t tell you all the details, and they are strange and troubling. The teacher I have known and admired for the last three years did die. However, we learned afterwards that he had telepathically moved his consciousness into the body of a brain-dead mutant. Strange as things sometimes are around here, this news was the strangest ever. Professor Xavier in his new body returned a week ago from Scotland with Dr. MacTaggert who is a mutant specialist from Europe (though not a mutant herself).

I say “returned,” but is it really him? I’m sure that it is the Professor’s mind inhabiting this body — he talks to me telepathically, and his “voice” is the one I’ve always known. (He’s still the only person other than you who calls me ‘Piotr’.) But what is he really? If he has a new body, can he be the same man? I bet you know where I’m going with this, Dad. Has his soul passed with him from one body to the next?

I can’t say I’ve ever understood what the soul is, despite the number of times you’ve walked me through Bible passages and tried to explain. But now, as I look at this stranger and try to figure out what’s familiar and what’s not, I find myself obsessed with the question.

The Professor (actually, he’s insisting we call him Charles) is going through a difficult transition. He is having trouble getting used to his new body, and he is also confused a lot of the time. Dr. MacTaggert says that his mind needs to time to map itself to the new brain. I know, this all sounds like science fiction, but I’m living it!

I volunteered to watch over him part of every day. I help him with his physical needs and also make sure he doesn’t get confused or upset or even wander away. It reminds me of the time we were all caring for Dedushka when his Alzheimer’s was getting bad.

A sharp laugh from Kitty shook Peter’s concentration loose. He looked up from his letter and watched her lying on her stomach on the rec room couch, talking into her cell phone. Although the room was usually a hub of student chaos, it was quiet for once as the whole student body was in the cafeteria listening to a public safety lecture.

Kitty seemed more excited than usual. Even — was it possible? — giggly. “No, I’m more interested in better human interfaces for computers. The mouse and keyboard will be finished in under seven years. You heard it here first.” She sat up, tossing her hair from her forehead in a way that made Peter ache a little. “Really! Well, then, I know where to look for project funding, don’t I?”

She caught Peter looking at her and gave him a smile and a wave.

“Is that Worthington?” he asked her sotto voce and she waggled her eyebrows and turned away, laughing again at something the braggart billionaire was telling her. Peter stopped for a moment to consider his own jealousy. He knew it was immature, but he couldn’t help it.

“Scott! Scott, where are you?” Charles called, and Peter felt a moment of panic; he had lost track of where his charge was. He turned and spotted the man sitting by the window, nervously kneading the edges of his newspaper. He was middle-aged with thinning chestnut-brown hair. After years in a coma, his body was weak and stooped. The Professor at 64 and handicapped had looked more robust than this pale figure.

Peter rose and walked over to him.

“I’m Peter, Pro… I mean, Charles. Can I help you with something?”

Charles looked into his face and winced. “Oh yes. Scott is dead, isn’t he? I keep forgetting. Poor Scott.” His voice was weirdly close to the old Professor’s. Actually, it was like a stranger doing a really good impression, and it was more than a bit unnerving. The man seemed calmer now, less confused. “I have to get to my office and write some emails. I’ve been sitting here trying to decide whom I can trust with the knowledge of my… resurrection.” He gave a wry smile.

Peter smiled back. “Yeah, I can see how that would be tough.”

“Bring me my wheelchair, would you?” he asked.

“You don’t need one anymore, remember? Your legs work.”

Charles looked down at them and then smiled sheepishly. “Ah yes. I keep forgetting that I’ve upgraded to the new model. Help me, then.” And Peter helped him stand on the atrophied legs. They began to walk slowly for the door, when suddenly it was full of an agitated Wolverine. They hadn’t seen their teammate since Alcatraz, though he had phoned to say he was searching for Rogue.

“You and me have got some talking to do, bub,” Wolverine snarled.

Peter found himself instinctively moving between them. “Logan, we were getting worried about you,” he said, trying to bring the encounter to a calmer place.

“We’ll do the debrief later, Pete. I got some questions for your friend here.” Peter could practically feel the adamantium claws readying themselves to pop. He weighed the merits of changing to his steel form. Logan would consider it a provocation, but if he had to protect Charles…

Charles put a hand on his shoulder. “It’s all right, Peter. What do you want to know, Logan?”

Wolverine brought himself in close to Charles. “Let’s start with the basics. Who are you and what do you think you’re doing in my home?”

“Logan, my friend. I understand your doubts; I can’t say I don’t share them at times. But I am who they say I am: Charles Xavier.”

“Tell me whatever you like, bub,” Wolverine said in a low voice and gave two sniffs at the air. “To me, a person is who my nose says he is, and you don’t smell like anyone I ever met.”

And then Charles was speaking to Wolverine in his mind, but Peter could hear him, too.

*At the Grey’s house, when Jean was killing me, I felt your presence so strongly. You were in the next room, fighting against the Brotherhood and waves of punishing telekinetic force to try and save me.*

Logan’s face changed and Peter could see in it the pain and loss they had all felt when their teacher had died.

“But I wasn’t strong enough,” he said mournfully, as if he had been cursing himself since that day.

*But you were! All that passion you exerted trying to reach me was the love and faith I needed to make the leap into the unknown. If it wasn’t for you, Logan, I would not be standing here today. Thank you.*

Logan turned away from Charles, from them all, lowering his eyes, focusing on the floor. Charles, sat again on a chair by the wall. He looked up at Peter through those strange, grey eyes. “I’m sorry, Peter, Kitty. I had not meant to broadcast so publicly.” He put a hand to his temple. “I don’t yet have the control...”

“It’s okay, sir,” Kitty said. Peter wondered when she had ended her call with Worthington.

Logan spoke suddenly, and it was the first time Peter had ever seen him so lost, so uncertain. “Charles... I’m sorry. It’s not easy. Everything is telling the animal in me that you’re a stranger, but my mind tells me you’re my friend —”

“And it’s the animal you’ve always trusted, I understand,” Charles said and Logan started to reply, but then turned and walked to the far corner of the room where he stood staring out the window. No one moved or spoke.

The silence was pierced by the sound of approaching voices and the rumble of running feet. Seconds later, a dozen students burst into the rec room through its two entrances. Soon, the cacophony of laser bolts and mortars was exploding from the gaming terminals and riotous laughter was exploding around one of the work tables where a group of girls were gossiping about one of the boys playing the game. Charles watched all the chaos, beaming.

Many students who had known the Professor before his death were wary of him, but some of the new ones were curious about the school’s “Lazarus” and soon he had a little group around him.

“Do you remember my name this time, Charles?” one young boy asked.

Charles smiled (the familiar smile on the strange face was like his voice — totally perfect except different) and said, “Well, not exactly, but if you imagine your name written on your forehead in bright green sparkling letters, I’ll be able to read it there. Hmm… Martin!”

“Yes!”

“Now do me, Charles!” said a little girl whose face was covered in a complex web of raised purple lines. “I’m imagining my name now.”

“Yes, you are. You’re imagining it written on the side of a galloping giraffe! Now, if you could just rein him in for a moment…”

Peter noticed Moira entering the room, moving to the far wall from she could observe Charles unseen, a scientist collecting data on her subject. Her beauty was sometimes hidden by her severity and by the white lab coat she inevitably wore, but Peter was always aware of it.

Charles’ eyes were closed. “Yes, yes. I see your name now. It’s Guadalupe, yes? Ahh, and I see your dog back home. He’s in your room again, pulling garbage from your trash can. Naughty Caesar!”

Guadalupe’s smile vanished. Charles opened his eyes and locked them on hers. He continued in a low voice. “Your mother is angry. ‘I’ll take that damn mutt and let him go in the desert if you don’t keep him under control!’ Now mamá’s in the kitchen, smashing dishes again.” Peter watched, unsure what to do as Guadalupe began crying. But still Charles continued as if in a trance, his voice now an imitation of the girl’s mother as rendered through an imitation of a dead man’s vocal chords. ‘What did I do deserve this? A mutant daughter! It’s your damn father’s fault. All those drugs, all those whores —’”

“Charles!” Moira said sharply and came to stand between him and the girl. “You mustn’t go that deep without permission.”

Charles looked up startled. “Moira? What are you doing here? I was in San Diego…”

Kitty rushed up and took Guadalupe out of the room, murmuring reassurances. She gave Peter a worried looked before she and the girl disappeared. Peter felt terrible. He should have seen this coming, prevented it. Wolverine appeared at his side.

“I fucking hate this, Russkie,” he said quietly. “Things that are dead are supposed to stay dead.”

Peter was shocked at the callousness of the remark. Or was he guilty because, on some level he felt the same? “Any luck finding Rogue?” he asked, as if the subject could really be changed that easily.

Logan shook his head. “It’s like she vanished off the face of the earth. I kind of feel like joining her.” And he slipped away as silently as he had appeared.

Moira called, “Peter, please take Charles to his room. He’s tired.”

Peter put his hand around his teacher’s shoulders and steered him toward the door. The raucous rec room had grown deathly quiet. The digital combatants on the gaming screen shifted mechanically from foot to foot, awaiting orders, while all the kids watched the telepath being lead away.

“Oh, Scott,” Charles said hoarsely as they climbed the stairs. “I lost control. It’s been so long, I’d forgotten how hard it is to grow accustomed to your powers. Do you remember when you first came here? Even when Erik and I gave you the visor, you were terrified to open your eyes. You were so afraid you’d hurt someone.”

“Professor, I’m not…” Peter began, but then decided that sometimes you just had to let it go. “Yes, I remember.”

What is the soul? Peter asked himself again as he pulled the blanket up over the sleeping man. Is it identity? Is it what we mean when we say “Oh, him?” Is it what we miss when that person is gone? But don’t we miss the body, too? The sound of the voice, the smell, the touch of a friend?

Who are you, Charles? Can I be grateful you’re here and still mourn Professor Xavier?

 

***

 

Hank was trying to revise the class schedule for the whole school. He had been working for more than an hour when he realized he wasn’t really reading anymore, just running his eyes up and down the page. He pulled off his glasses and massaged the bridge of his rather simian nose. After a year, he had finally grown used to his altered body, though every now and then, his reflection in the mirror still gave him a turn. He knew he shouldn’t complain. Sure, it was a hulking blue mass, but he could balance it on one toe like the greatest prima ballerina — on one finger, even.

But balance wasn’t as easy to find for the School for Gifted Youngsters. Too many students, too few teachers. Too many bills and not enough fundraising. A legacy of hope versus a hard drive full of hard reality.

“What is the government saying, then, Hank?” Ororo asked that evening at the senior staff meeting. She had stopped spiking and frosting her hair again and he was glad to see the fine straight brilliance of old beginning to return. How many hours had he spent contemplating that silky, white cascade? If only he had been brave enough to ask her out while he still looked human. Now he wasted too much time wondering if beauties ever truly fell for beasts. Of course, there were rumors that she and Nightcrawler… No! Balance! he reprimanded himself.

“There are loud voices demanding we be shut down immediately and possibly imprisoned for our dangerous tendencies,” he told his colleagues.

Logan leaned back in his chair. “Dangerous tendencies? I have no idea what they’re talking about,” he said and took a swig of his beer.

“Be quiet Logan,” Ororo said. Hank noticed how much the Wolverine’s sloppiness annoyed her. Would they be able to find their balance as teammates? “So, do we have to prepare ourselves to defend the school again?” she asked.

Hank shook his head. “Those voices may be loud, but they’re not terribly pragmatic. Look to the media for signs of where the White House stands. The attack on the Golden Gate and Alcatraz is being portrayed as the work of Magneto and his followers, not as an argument to crack down on mutants in general. I find that very interesting. The President knows that he would be a fool not to use the X-Men — our powers, our technology — to fight for America rather than against it. I think we might be given a fair amount of leeway, if we’re prepared to give them some things they want in return.”

Logan leaned forward, looking suspicious. “Such as?”

Hank removed his glasses and wiped them thoughtfully. “Such as Magneto.”

The door opened and Moira entered. She looked at Logan’s beer and said, “Och, I’d have a brought a gin and tonic if I’d know it was that kind of meeting.”

“Ah, welcome to our black cloud, Moira,” Hank said. “So nice of you to join us under it. Bad day?”

She put down the papers she had been carrying and continued making little notations in the margins as she spoek. “I’ve been following up the random reports of strange symptoms among cure recipients. A pattern is beginning to develop.”

Logan said, “I knew it! You don’t just fuck with people’s DNA.”

Moira gave him a disapproving glance. “Thank you, Doctor Logan. Let’s hold off on conclusions until we gather more evidence, shall we? What we know is that about 15 percent of the cured are reporting mild to severe neurological symptoms. At the low end of the scale is chronic headaches; but the worst subjects are experiencing tremors, similar to those of Parkinson’s Disease. Of course, most of the cases are here in America. Everywhere else, the treatment is still in testing, so only mutants that got black market doses are affected.”

“Keep us informed about the situation, Doctor,” Ororo said. “It may lead to political fall-out for all mutants.”

Hank asked, “How’s Charles doing?” though given the general tenor of the day, he could predict her answer.

“Worse. And I can’t explain why. We’re in brand new territory here.”

Logan leaned forward. “Is it like when a body rejects a transplant? Maybe this body can’t handle such a big mind.”

Moira put her hands up in surrender. “Frankly, your guess is as good as mine. All that I know is he seems to spend less and less time in the here and now. He talks to shadows, makes references I don’t understand, though I suspect they’re from a time before I knew him.”

“Any references to Magneto?” Ororo asked and shared a look with Hank.

“Oh, yes,” Moira nodded. “Erik’s name comes up a great deal. But frankly, something worries me more than his… fading away. As the days pass, his telepathy seems to be growing in strength.”

 

***

 

Charles wasn’t in his room when Peter arrived to take him for his afternoon walk. He looked in the obvious places — the music room, the little sitting area in the bay window at the end of the hall — but the man was nowhere to be found. He was about to call an alert when Charles emerged from one of the spare bedrooms in the staff wing, pulling a wheeled suitcase.

“Are you going somewhere, Charles?” Peter asked carefully.

A strange smile crossed Charles’ face. “Hello, Piotr Nikolaievitch.” He raised his eyebrows and chuckled. “Did you think I’d call you Scott again?”

Peter smiled in return with some relief. “Uh, it seemed like a possibility, sir.”

“No, I’m feeling rather lucid today. Full of plans, in fact.” He reached up to pat Peter’s broad shoulders. “I have a surprise for you, son. Come to my room.”

Charles moved along slowly, wheeling the suitcase and Peter followed curiously. “Have a seat,” Charles told him as they entered his sitting room. Peter chose one of the comfortable, overstuffed antique chairs. He noticed a porcelain horse on a side table, chestnut brown with a dark, full mane. Picking it up carefully, he blew a layer of dust off the shining surface and examined the delicate painting on the graceful sculpture.

“Isn’t it lovely? I found it in the attic. I’d forgotten all about it, actually, but I’m so glad…” he paused, lost in thought for a moment. “It takes me back to better times.”

“Is that what you wanted to show me, sir?” he asked and Charles looked puzzled. Peter reminded him: “You mentioned a surprise…”

“Oh yes! Right you are!” Charles looked him in the eye, and Peter felt a wave of calm flow over him. *Nothing to worry about. Everything is fine; the Professor is getting better every day.*

“Come in, Father Rasputin,” Charles said, and Peter watched the door to the Professor’s bedroom open to reveal his father, standing there in his rumpled suit, his long beard streaked with grey.

Peter jumped to his feet and engulfed the man in a bear hug. “Dad! When did you get here? No one told me!”

It was the best surprise he could imagine. “I’ve come to talk to you about the soul, Peter,” his father said. “Let’s sit down.”

And they did. And there was tea and cakes on beautiful silver service. A string quartet was playing somewhere, the music invigorating and soothing at the same time. Peter wondered for a moment how his father had gotten there, and why he should have been sequestered in Xavier’s suite. But soon this confusion faded away like snow in the sunshine. Peter knew that he and his father had all the time in the world. There was nothing else he needed to do. No other duty to perform. No one he was supposed to be watching.

 

***

 

Bobby remembered that among the lame gay jokes heard around his high school, “They have an opening for you in San Francisco,” was one of the lamest. Now, Bobby thought it wouldn’t be so bad. He liked the city. He liked hiking up and down the steep streets and the sudden glimpses you’d catch of the water as you crested a hill. He liked that it felt more like Boston than the overwhelming everythingness that was New York. He liked being young, gay and newly out in the city of Harvey Milk (the previous summer, he had secretly watched the movie about the gay rights activist alone in his room at the mansion. Three times.)

He was in charge of his own life for the first time. He ate when he wanted, slept and woke when he wanted. He was taking care of himself and of John. He was a man, not a dog on the end of a leash.

He and John had gone out together for just one day after John was finally feeling better, but halfway through their outing, they had seen his face come up on a TV show about mutant fugitives (the program had called him “Terrorist and cult author, St. John Allerdyce”). They had hurried back to the hotel, John hiding behind Bobby’s back, and since then he had been a virtual prisoner of his own infamy.

So, while Bobby was out enjoying his new life, John was stuck in the hotel. Bobby worried that the sheer boredom might make John hit the road sooner rather than later. But it hadn’t happened yet. In fact, Bobby was pretty sure that John had slipped into some kind of depression. A few nights earlier, John had shaken him awake in a panic, repeating over and over, “What am I gonna do? I fucked it all up! There’s nowhere for me to go!” Nothing Bobby had said had been able to calm him down, and he had finally put his mouth to better use, which achieved some results. The next morning John had been even more distant than usual, and claimed to have no memory of the middle-of-the-night melt-down.

The only time John seemed engaged by life was when he would get a brainstorm about the new novel he was planning. Then, he would sit for several hours writing notes in the lined exercise book Bobby had bought him at the dollar store. It had Transformers pictures on the front.

The atmosphere of their little room ranged from cautious to tense. They didn’t talk except to discuss what Bobby should pick up for dinner. But every couple of days, a wave of sexual frenzy would descend on them out of nowhere, and they would end up fucking franticly, almost like they were fighting again to the death. The frenzy would pass as mysteriously as it had arrived, and John would return to bed to watch the snowy TV that had no sound.

No matter how sympathetic he felt, Bobby couldn’t pretend to share John’s depression; not when his world was so full of novelty and promise. He stepped into the Internet café he had been using, and the cute Korean guy behind the counter, his long shiny hair in a ponytail, looked really pleased to see him again. “Hey, how you doing? Did I tell you I like your t-shirt?”

Bobby was kind of embarrassed. “Uh, was I wearing this one last time?” He still only had two shirts. What would his mom have said?

“The color goes with your eyes,” the young man said and held Bobby’s gaze long enough for Bobby to get nervous and excited.

“Oh, thanks… Um, do you have a free terminal?” Which was a dumb question considering there was only one other customer in sight. “I’ll take station #5, if that’s okay.”

He opened his X-phone’s notepad and checked the URL and passwords for the admin backdoor to John’s website, a ghost site residing in an alternate, untraceable Internet secretly created by Doug and Jones back at the mansion.

“The certificate for this website was signed by an unknown certifying authority, the dialogue box told him. “Would you like to connect to the website anyway? Cancel. Continue.”

He pressed “continue” and another dialogue came up saying, The farts in this room are registered to your ass. Please light a match. Welcome to the Internet as imagined by two 16 year old boys. Bobby entered the admin page, made note of some stats and logged out. It always cheered John up to know how many new people were reading his online novel, and Bobby liked cheering him up.

He checked the timer on his session. He had five more minutes left to surf before he would have to pay for more time, so he quickly downloaded his mansion email. As usual, letters from Kitty and Peter asking if he was okay and when he was coming home; this time one from Doctor McCoy, too. It was funny how they seemed to take it for granted he wasn’t dead. Was it a sign of faith in his abilities? He didn’t know what to say to any of them, so he didn’t answer their emails. The guilt left an ache in his chest.

As he paid, the clerk got kind of shy and finally said as he passed Bobby back his change, “So, there’s a free concert in Dolores park on Friday night. You think you might want to go with me? We could get dinner after.”

Bobby couldn’t keep himself from blushing. “Well, yeah, but you see… um, I’m kind of taking care of my boyfriend while he’s, uh, recovering and…”

“Oh, I’m sorry. I’m dumb. Of course you have a boyfriend.”

“No! I mean, I’m glad you asked. Actually, I’m not even sure he is my… boyfriend now. But I hope he will be again. Does that make any sense?”

The guy laughed. “Yeah, too much. Don’t let him take advantage of you. You’re too sweet to be treated like that.”

As he walked back to the hotel, Bobby found himself imagining a relationship with the clerk. Well, first he imagined himself fucking him right there on his cash counter, then he imagined the relationship. Would he be easier to love than John Allerdyce? Was easier better? He realized it didn’t matter. He loved John, and he knew how to make a commitment, so that was that. Still, if John did leave…

Bobby was approaching their street when the familiar nervousness took him. He was always scared that he’d open the door of their room and find it empty, John gone forever. He began walking faster, and then something caught his eye: a flash of white high in his peripheral vision. He looked across the street and up to the top of an old three-story office building and there stood Warren Worthington the Third, in all his angelic glory. He gave his wings another flourish and then retreated behind a structure on the roof. Bobby was about to shout up to him when someone tapped him on the shoulder.

“Mr. Drake?”

Bobby spun around and found himself facing a man in sunglasses and a grey suit which bore an insignia of a stylized, white feather. “Maybe I am,” he said, trying not to sound flustered. “Who are you?”

“Mr. Worthington wonders if you could spare a few minutes of your time.”

“To talk?” Bobby asked and wanted to kick himself. No, jerkwad, to knit tea cozies.

The man spoke quietly into his headset and then said to Bobby, “Please follow me across the street, sir.”

Bobby found himself complying. Then he was passed from the care of this man to that of an identically dressed woman just inside the doorway of the building. She led him up the three flights of stairs in silence, checking out each door they passed as if for lurking assassins. They climbed the final flight and she opened the heavy door that led to the roof.

Worthington was standing there in an alcove, hidden from the view of passersby on the street. He wore shiny Italian loafers, beautifully cut black trousers and a shimmering, silver-grey silk shirt. Bobby realized that the shirt must have been specially designed to let his wings out in the back. Were there tailors who worked exclusively for rich mutants?

“Bobby, thanks for seeing me,” he said, holding out his hand. Bobby came forward and shook it. Warren’s grip was firm, but not aggressively so.

Bobby wondered if it was some kind of trap, like Storm and Beast were going to pop out of the chimney with a net. “How did you know where to find me?” he asked.

“Oh, I try to keep track of things. Don’t worry; I haven’t told anyone back in Westchester.” Bobby was silent for a minute, searching the young man’s eyes for signs of deceit. Warren added. “I haven’t told anyone about John Allerdyce, either.”

“Thanks,” Bobby said and decided he would have to trust him. “What do you want?”

“Just curious what your plans are. Will you become an X-Man again? Have you thought much about college?”

“You sound like a guidance counselor,” Bobby said and couldn’t help laughing.

Warren smiled. “Maybe I am! I just wanted you to know that if you do decide to strike out on your own, I might be able to help you. Just something for you to think about.”

Bobby had no idea what the man was driving at. Trying to look nonchalant, he leaned against the bricks of the wall.

Warren shook his head. “Um, kind of dirty there, Bob.”

Bobby stood again and hastily dusted off his shoulder. “Why wouldn’t I go back to the X-Men?” he asked.

Warren nodded as if he understood everything there was to know about Bobby’s life. “Yeah, they’ve been good to you, I know. But it’s hard to say what the future of that organization will be. The government will never let them act as free mercenaries again. And then there’s John. With the feds breathing down their necks, the X-Men won’t be able to help him, will they?”

Bobby went back to not trusting him. “But you will?”

“I need talent, Bobby. You’re both talented.” He laughed again as if everything was just a lark. “Hey, I’m just throwing it out there. Just laying out some options.” Except you aren’t, Bobby thought.

Warren stuck out his hand again and Bobby, like a trained dog, found himself taking it. Bobby walked back towards the door, puzzled. The security woman was holding it open.

Just before she closed it, Warren Worthington called to him. “Bobby!” The boy billionaire seemed suddenly less sure of himself. “Has, um, Kitty Pryde talked to you about me?”

Bobby tilted his head. “I haven’t talked to her since Alcatraz. Why?”

“Like, did she mention anything about…? No, it’s nothing. Never mind. I look forward to talking to you — and John — soon.”

Five minutes later, Bobby was back in the hotel room, still confused. John hadn’t left. He was there, reading through his notebook, the air thick with boredom. Bobby decided not to say anything about Warren, and instead just reported the site stats to John. These only seemed to give him a moment’s pleasure, and then the deadly silence returned. Bobby had found the previous day’s newspaper down in the lobby, and he began hurriedly leafing through it for anything remotely diverting.

“Hey,” he said, excited, as he noticed an article buried at the back of the news sections. “You remember the coma couple that you were so obsessed with?”

“What?” John asked, showing interest. “They finally die?”

“No. They woke up! It says here they opened their eyes just a few hours apart and were fully conscious within a few days.”

John looked pissed off about this. “Hmmph. So the fucking wedding’s back on, right? Everyone gets a happy pass, and they sell the rights to the networks and buy a house.”

Bobby shook his head. “Nope. Apparently there was some huge fight with the family and they took off together; left everything and everyone behind and they’re moving to LA.”

John lay back on the bed, grinning from ear to ear. “Excellent! Good for them,” John said. “I bet everyone wanted them to be grateful and shit, and they refused to play along.” He was silent for a minute, and then said again in a low voice. “Good for them.” His stomach growled audibly. “Hey, Drake, you going for food soon? Get something from that Chinese vegan place. It’s not bad.”

“Okay,” Bobby said quickly, happy to have another excuse to leave. This actually worried him; what did it mean that he was so happy to leave John? He pulled out his wallet and checked its contents. Three dollars? That didn’t seem right. He began digging through his pockets for the crumpled bills that must be hiding there. He came up with a handful of change and a rat’s nest of linty, unreadable receipts. Sudden panic gripped him. He walked quickly to the bathroom and looked behind the toilet tank. Nothing.

He practically ran back into the main room and jumped up on the armchair to check the crack behind the framed print that was screwed to the wall.

“No,” John said lazily. “You already cleared that spot out a couple of days ago.”

Bobby looked at him in exasperation. “What are you talking about?”

John rolled his eyes. “Come on, Drake. You don’t think I know everything you’ve hidden in this room? What else do I have to do when you’re not here?”

“So, where’s my fucking money? Did you take it?!”

“Don’t be a jerk. You took the $40 from the picture last Friday and the 20 from behind the toilet yesterday.” He flipped pages in his book, looking bored. “You should be paying me to be your financial advisor.”

Bobby began to pace back and forth. They were screwed. He was fucking out of money. How did he let that happen? Too damn busy thinking about the café clerk’s ass!

He looked up to find John staring at him angrily. “What’s with you? Are we fucking broke?”

“No!” Bobby snapped back, as if the very idea was the stupidest thing he’d ever heard.

“Well good. Get a few of those avocado spring rolls, too then.”

“I will!” Bobby shouted, and stormed out of the room.

Bobby walked out of the hotel. The wind had picked up, bringing in a gloomy cover of Pacific clouds. He sat on the steps of a boarded up store and opened his wallet again, as if he might have missed something. $3.78. That was all that was left. Shit. His bank account was empty and he had nothing left to sell. There was finally no other choice.

“Hello, Bobby,” Storm said when she came to the phone. She didn’t seem as surprised or as relieved as he’d imagined she would.

He had practiced sounding confident in his head, but it didn’t come out as good in reality. “Hi, listen, we’re okay, so don’t worry about us.”

“Good to hear it,” she responded with maddening calm.

“Now, I have a favor to ask, and before you say anything, just remember how much I helped at school, how I never asked for special treatment or anything, but any time Scott or anyone needed help —”

“Get to the point, Bobby.”

“We need some money.”

“Really? How much?” she asked and Bobby suddenly felt like he was being set up.

“Uh, I’ll pay it all back, I promise. But maybe, um, $700?” She didn’t respond and he started to stutter a bit. “B-but, I’ll have to tell you where to wire it. We, uh, aren’t going to divulge our location. I’m not telling you anything unless you can guarantee you won’t turn John in, got it?”

“Bobby —”

“Look, I know I’m not being fair, but I have no choice! There’s no one else who —”

“Bobby!”

“What?!”

“You’re staying at the Excelsior Hotel on 19th Street. Room 412.”

Bobby’s mouth dropped open. He looked around as if the street were full of spies. “How…?”

“The X-phone is also a two-way GPS locator. It’s there in case we have to track an X-Man’s movement in the field, or find them if they’re wounded.”

He felt like a dumb kid. All his pride about his newfound independence had been a joke from the start. The X-Men hadn’t let him off the leash; Storm had just put some slack on the line.

She continued. “Furthermore, we think you’ve sold your uniform. You’ll need to get that back.”

“Locator in the lining?” he asked sheepishly.

“Mmm-hmm.” She went quiet, and he knew she wanted his situation to sink in. “So, here’s the deal. I’ll wire you the money you’re asking for, but you need to do something for us.”

 

Back in their room, Bobby shifted from foot to foot, trying to get a word in edgewise as John ran around, stuffing his meager possessions into a plastic bag. “I’m out of here,” he shouted. “Don’t try and tell me they haven’t called the FBI already.”

“Will you calm down and listen to me?” Bobby shouted back. “She promised she wouldn’t do that, and you know she’s not a liar.”

“I don’t know shit.”

“You know, John. Now, listen. She has a mission for us. Yes, us. We have to find Professor X.”

John looked confused-angry (as opposed to hungry-angry or horny-angry or happy-angry — Bobby had learned to read the subtle differences). “Look for him?” he said. “Where? Is this like something out of Ovid? Are we supposed to find him in the Underworld?”

“No, here in San Francisco. Who’s Ovid? Only he’s in a different body. Turns out when Jean killed him, he commandeered this mutant vegetable in Scotland. But now he’s kind of nuts.”

Somehow this seemed reasonable to both of them, in a new mutant-world kind of way. But John still wasn’t onboard for the mission thing. He flipped through his Transformers notebook and then stuffed it into the bag. “So, what do I care if he’s on the loose?”

“Storm and Beast think he’s with Magneto.”

That stopped John. “What?! Magneto’s still here in San Fran?”

Bobby could see that he had, at the very least, aroused John’s curiosity. He allowed himself to hope. “There have been unconfirmed sightings. So, what do you say? She’ll send us some money. I’ll give you half. That’ll at least get you a bus to somewhere.”

“Where are my igniters?” John asked, referring to the impressive fire-starting gear he had acquired in the Brotherhood.

Bobby didn’t know what to do. Working with John was one thing, but giving him that much power didn’t seem smart. “Uh, I had to hide them… somewhere away from the hotel.”

“Hmph. Probably a locker at the bus station. I want them back.”

“Okay, here’s the deal. If you help me find the Professor and Magneto, I’ll tell you where they are.”

“Deal,” John said, and actually smiled. The sight was so surprising, Bobby smiled, too. John rubbed his belly. “Let’s go get that Chinese food.”

“I’m still broke. Storm won’t be wiring the money until tomorrow.”

“That’s okay,” John answered, walking to the closet. He fished an envelope from his jacket. “I’ve got about $150 here.”

 

They hit the streets, following Storm’s leads. John wore a stocking cap and dark glasses so he wouldn’t be recognized. Bobby thought he looked really hot in this outfit, like some renegade DJ. Three days later, they found themselves staring down a street of run-down tenements and boarded-up stores. The junkies on the nod didn’t even bother hiding themselves.

“Charming neighborhood,” John sneered.

“It’s called the Tenderloin,” Bobby said, consulting the map on his X-phone.

“Appropriately bloody. Anyway, all the clues have been leading us here. I think we’re going to find them today, Bobster.”

The statement made Bobby anxious. The end of the mission meant the end of their time together, and he wasn’t ready for that. They had been hunting for Xavier and Magneto for three days, and John had the beginnings of a beard that made Bobby want to lick his jaw line. What would he do without this wonderful, maddening boy? “Let’s get some lunch before we start knocking on doors,” he suggested, trying to delay the end a little bit more.

They sat themselves down in the darkest corner of a greasy little taquería on the corner.

“And a beef burrito for the guy in shades,” the 45 year-old waitress in the baby-doll goth attire said with a bored expression. She scratched at her nose piercing. “Those things will kill you,” she told John.

“Wow, you sure know how to sell the product,” he laughed.

“I’m just saying,” she replied with a pout. “Eating animals will kill you first and then the planet. But hey, I’m not here to change fate.” She wandered off fairly oozing apathy, tugging at the top of her fishnet stockings. The boys cracked up.

“See that?” John said. “That’s one of the humans we were supposed to subjugate, turn into the slaves of homo superior.

“She’d be an annoying slave,” Bobby opined, but he could see John had grown serious. “You having a change of heart now that Magneto’s cured?”

John looked pissed. “What are you talking about? Do you think I ever took any of that shit seriously?”

“Uh, let me think,” Bobby said, scratching his chin in mock thoughtfulness. “You left the mansion and everyone who cared about you, you burned down first a hospital and then a cure clinic, attacked a convoy of federal troops, threw flaming cars at the army on Alcatraz —”

“Okay, okay, I hear you,” John said, as if conceding some minor points. “I guess it all made sense at the time. I was sick of taking shit from everyone. Maybe I should have stayed in Westchester.”

“Maybe,” Bobby muttered. “But maybe the school isn’t any better.”

John pulled off his sunglasses and peered quizzically at Bobby. He rapped him on the head with his knuckles. “Uh, hello? Is Bobby Drake, mansion mascot in there?”

“Quit it!” Bobby slapped his hand away. “I guess I’m just thinking about what Caducea said. Maybe the Professor and Magneto were having this war with each other. They had some fight and split up…” He suddenly stopped talking. For the first time, it occurred to him that the two men might once have been lovers. He knew Magneto had lived at the mansion for many years, building Cerebro with Xavier, together building their dreams of the future. He thought of the way the Professor had always talked about Magneto with a sense of personal disappointment and loss. This theory freaked him out, but it made all kinds of sense.

John continued his speech for him. “They were pissed at each other, and they’ve just been getting the rest of us to do their fighting for them. What a joke.”

Bobby found this new idea a lot to digest. He believed in the dream the Professor had fought for. But if they were fighting on the side of the angels, why were so many good people dead? Why were humans and mutants still so far apart? He sighed. “I just don’t know anymore. But maybe we should be doing something better with our lives than of following them.”

“Well, today we’re actually being paid to follow them, so suck it up,” John said, a new glint of anger shining in his eye. “Maybe we can give the old fuckers a piece of our mind before we turn them over to Storm.”

They spent an hour getting nowhere, talking to the suspicious denizens of the Tenderloin, before they came across a man babbling to himself on the sidewalk — not that this was anything new, but what he was saying caught their attention.

“…lining the mutants up for morning inspection. Killing the weak, making the strong work one more day, always one more day…”

John looked at Bobby. “That sounds promising.”

Bobby wasn’t so sure. “It sounds nuts, is what it sounds.”

“Yo! Street-dude!” John called and they approached the man who was dressed in torn jeans, no shirt and a nylon jacket with peeling sports-fishing decals.

The man tilted his head way to one side and said. “Spare change?” He held out both hands and they watched a nickel vanish from one and appear on the other. The coin teleported back and forth a few times before John grabbed his wrist.

“Okay, okay, nice trick. We’re looking for two old guys who live around here. Two mutants. I’m guessing you know about them.”

The man pulled his hand back and rubbed the wrist as if gravely injured. “No! I don’t know! I don’t know Magneto, Magneto is not born, he is a boy, a prisoner! They line us up in the mornings, killing the weak, making the strong work one more —”

“Hey, hey, don’t worry!” Bobby said and smiled at the man, trying to be as non-threatening as he could. “We just want to help Magneto and his friend. Won’t you tell us where they are?”

This time, the man bent his whole body sideways and peered up at the building behind him, as if expecting retribution to fall from Olympus. “I don’t know! I don’t know they’re on the third floor. Honest! Don’t put me in the punishment room, please!”

Bobby was making soothing noises at the man, handing over all the coins in his pocket, when he turned and saw John already heading into the front door of the building. “John, wait! We should discuss our mission strategy first!” He ran after John, calling back over his shoulder, “Thanks, sir!”

“They came for us in the night,” the man replied miserably as Bobby hurried into the building.

He found John punching the elevator button furiously. “John,” he said quietly, “If we just burst in on them, they might —”

“Fuck! Goddamn piece of shit elevator isn’t working. Figures. Come on.”

Bobby had no choice but follow, chasing after John up the filthy stairwell. At the landings, they had to push past garbage and broken baby strollers. The metal door to the third floor was smashed in at the bottom and scraped along the concrete floor when they opened it. It made a sound like a screaming demon child.

“But which apartment is it?” Bobby asked, looking down the long, dim corridor.

John wasn’t in a subtle mood. “Lehnsherr!” he called. “Xavier! Where are you two old fuckheads?!” He was banging on doors as he moved down the hall. Angry voices sometimes shouted back from within. “You two have caused more fucking trouble in this world —”

Bobby shouted, “John! Hold it!” He pointed at one door on which an X had been crudely scratched into the peeling grey paint, as if with a knife. “Uh, this might mean something.”

John gave a disgusted smirk. “Wow. Must be the Danger Room 2.0.” He rattled the knob, but it was locked. He pounded on the door with his fist. “Magneto! Open up! It’s Pyro, and we got some unfinished business!”

“Professor?” Bobby called, “It’s me, Bobby Drake. Please let us in.” And then they heard the sound of locks being undone — one, two, and three — before the doorknob turned.

Bobby had been told that Xavier was no longer the wheelchair-bound Xavier of old, but the sight of the able-bodied stranger still shocked him somehow. And immediately following was the shock of the apartment within.

“Jesus Jumping Christ,” John said, his hand flying up to pinch his nostrils.

The stench was of rotting garbage, urine and unwashed bodies. They peered into the single-room apartment, in shock at the disarray. Newspapers and books were strewn everywhere, as well as dirty dishes with flies buzzing around them. Bobby saw the scurrying of cockroaches and felt his skin crawl. At the table sat an unshaven, sunken man in a wool cap and dirty clothes. It took him a second to realize he was looking at Magneto, Master of Magnetism.

“Hello, young man,” the stranger who was now Charles Xavier said with a smile, pulling the door wide. “I think perhaps I know you. Erik, we have guests. Please come in, I’ll put up the kettle.” He suddenly looked serious and gave a hesitant peek into the hall. “Hurry, please, you never know when they’ll come for us.”

The boys entered, and now even John’s angry bravado was muted. “Look, old man,” he told Magneto. “You’re in serious fucking trouble here. The X-Men want you back in Westchester. They’ll take care of you, and you sure as fuck need it.”

Bobby turned to the new Charles and said, “Professor, we want to help. You and Mr. Lehnsherr both.” He managed a weak smile.

“No!” Erik cried out in a hoarse voice, devoid of its former power and authority. “We’re safe here in the cabin! Don’t make us leave.” As he sat up more, they saw one side of his mouth was slack. His right arm shook uncontrollably. He looked up at John. “Boy, are you a mutant? Don’t look out the window; it would break your heart to see the wretches.”

“What are you talking about, Erik?” John said, a growing desperation in his voice. “You have the windows taped up!”

“They will come for us in the night,” Charles said, and it was his old voice. Bobby turned and saw him standing there, holding a beautiful ceramic teapot. And it wasn’t the new Charles, but the Xavier he knew, only younger, dressed immaculately in a white three-piece suit, seated in an antique wooden wheelchair.

“What the fuck,” Bobby breathed.

John’s voice had a note of panic in it. “Bobby, did you see that? There was this horse statue on the table. Now it’s gone.”

Bobby squeezed shut his eyes, and when he opened them, the vision was gone and the new Charles was standing there, holding a chipped Chinese restaurant teapot. He heard noises in his head. Sounds of groaning and coughing. Somewhere in the distance, a scream. He grabbed onto John’s arm. “John, let’s get out of here. Something’s not right.”

John in turn grabbed Lehnsherr by the shoulders. “Magneto, it’s me, Pyro! It’s all over. We failed! You have to come with us now.”

Bobby became aware of light behind him. “Hey,” he said, “Who turned th

Chapter 42

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