John couldn't touch the fire.
He was drained, after his showdown with Bobby, with Iceman, and didn’t pull his lighter from his pocket for three days. When he finally did, because he was cold and wet and cupping the flame in his hands was one way to get warm, he couldn’t do it.
Click. Swish. And the tug at his fingertips when he pulled the fire away from the metal. It was habit, ingrained, easy, except that time it wasn’t, it didn’t happen.
“Mon ami, why you hide in the fog?”
John must have been really out of it, because he never saw the guy walk up. His back was against the lifeguard tower, to his right was the ocean and to the left a big wooden fence, so the guy must have walked straight toward him and John never noticed.
He shrugged, and hoped the guy got the point. He didn’t want company.
Instead of leaving John alone, he slouched against the fence. Something flashed in his hands--he shuffled a deck of cards, back and forth, too fast to really follow all the movements.
"Good night for quiet," he said, and John couldn't argue the point.
"M'name's Remy, you?"
John fingered his lighter and stared at the mirror behind the bar. It was streaked with dirt, but he could see himself and his new shadow. Pesky man, eyes hidden behind sunglasses even inside, even at night, and he always had a card between his fingers.
"Cat got your tongue?" He had a drawl, elongated, Southern, but not like Rogue. John made a face, hated the comparison, and didn't answer for a long while.
There a half-full beer sat in front of him, warming and leaving a ring on the scarred, shiny wood. Remy's barstool was way too close, so close John could feel his body heat and smell the whiskey in his glass.
He wasn't old enough to drink, he didn't think he had a friend left in the world, and he no longer had a name. He wasn't Pyro anymore, not when he couldn't manipulate fire, not when he was just like a normal, weak human, but he didn't want to be John, either, just a high school kid messing up everything.
"John," he said at last, and took another drink of the beer. It was nasty on the back of his tongue, sour, and it smelled like piss drying on asphalt.
"Try this instead." Remy pushed the whiskey over and watched, close, while John twisted the glass then sniffed the liquid. "C'mon, mon ami, you know you want to try it."
He crooked a grin, and flipped the card around his fingers, walked it from one to the other. John watched him over the top of the glass and then, fast, swallowed the whiskey down in a gulp.
It hurt, it burned, it was a fire in his belly. He couldn't breathe, but it was so good, so hot, and it uncurled in his stomach, warmed him from the inside out. Remy grabbed the glass from his hand and slammed it down on the bar.
He tossed a crumpled bill on the counter. "Two more." When the glasses of whiskey arrived, he lifted one and winked at John. "Laissez le bons temps rouler."
John didn't know what it meant, but he'd drink to that.
"You in or you out?"
John snapped his lighter shut, and then flicked it open again right away. He sagged sideways against the wall, glad to be stuck in the corner where either way he leaned, he wouldn't fall over.
Remy still had cards in his hand--six? two? the room spun and John couldn't count--but he wasn't alone anymore, somehow he'd kicked up a poker game, found three men not talking while they drank and got them to sit down together.
He was like a fucking peacemaker, John thought, and then rocked with his laughter. It stayed silent, stuck in his throat, bitter and heavy, and for a second he thought he was gonna puke.
He drank again anyway, drained another glass, his third, maybe his fourth, Remy just kept filling them. It didn't burn so much anywhere, but it made him hotter than ever. He peeled off his hooded sweatshirt and put his forehead back against the wall.
The card game wasn't like any John had seen. He used to play a little, weekend nights when there was nothing better to do, him and Peter and Jubilee and Bobby. It was never like Remy's game, though, it was much slower and he fumbled with the rules and tried to hide his mistakes and whenever Bobby got a bad hand, he iced up the cards.
"Fuck Bobby." John hadn't meant to actually say anything, but Remy's head turned toward him sharp. He tapped one finger on the table and then grinned. John smiled back and leaned forward, his balance off enough he had to reach out and catch himself on Remy's shoulder.
"You're cheating!" This pulled Remy's attention back to the other players.
"Now, now, this here's just a friendly game of cards, mes amis."
"Like hell! You had half a deck up your sleeve!"
The man across from Remy knocked his chair back and flipped the table, just like in a movie. Remy pushed John back against the wall and then spun away, his coat whirling around him dramatically.
So that's why he didn't take it off even though it had to be a hundred degrees in the bar. John grinned and propped up his feet on one of the overturned chairs. It was better than a movie, and much more fun than watching their poker game. Remy was fast, and strong, and at one point he whipped out a long metal rod.
John cheered, but he couldn't hear himself over the noise of the fight. Remy turned to give him another grin, and still managed to duck away from a fist, mostly. It didn't hit his face, but it caught the edge of his sunglasses and sent them flying.
There was a pause, and silence, and then, like a roar, a disgusted shout. "Fuckin' dirty mutie!"
John was on his feet before he knew it, lighter in one hand. The whiskey haze faded, pushed back by his anger. He didn't think about how he couldn't do it anymore, how he'd failed, how he'd betrayed his power.
Alcohol burned fast.
The bar was up in flames, and the humans were either dead or gone, he didn't care which. There were sirens headed their way, but Pyro couldn't stop playing with the fire. It felt so good in his hands, jumping from his fingertips. He was warm, and maybe a little drunk still, and he couldn't stop laughing.
He had only been without his power for a few weeks, but it felt like a whole lifetime, like he had just entered another iteration. First there was John, then there was Pyro, then John again, and now--
He drew handfuls of flames to him, built a wall, a tower to the sky until the whole block was lit. He would burn the entire city, he could do it now the fire was back.
He could take on the world.
"Mon ami, as fun as it is to watch your show, is time we be moving on."
Remy leaned against the brick wall across the street, arms crossed over his chest casual, but there was a deck of cards in his hand. The sirens were getting closer, and though he knew he could take the police, his adrenaline was up from the fight and he wanted more, he also knew he could do more damage later, in some other place.
He let the flames slide from his fingers, retreat to the main fire, and then crossed the street.
"Follow me," Remy said, and took off at a dead run, toward the water. Pyro shoved his lighter into his pocket and ran, the heat of the fire trailing behind him like a cape.
Remy didn't stop until they were far away, past the touristy boardwalk. There were lots of empty summer homes up the hill, and Remy veered off into one yard, spent less than a minute at the door, and then they were inside, no alarms, no fuss.
The downstairs was all concrete and games--pool table, poker table, even hopscotch taped off on the floor--and all the actual furniture was upstairs, which was one big room. There was a balcony off each side, a big one at the back where he could see the ocean, but Pyro preferred the one out front, looking down at the city.
They were a couple miles away, at least, but he could still see his fire burn.
Remy leaned against the rail next to him, watched Pyro's face more than the fire. His eyes were black and red, and reminded him a little of banked coals waiting to be coaxed into flame.
He hesitated, and John threatened to take over, but he could feel his lighter, a heavy weight in his pocket, and he could see his power out in the city. He was all Pyro when he leaned over, put his hand on Remy's arm.
"What's your name?"
Remy cocked an eyebrow. "Remy, mon ami. Did you hit your head?"
"That's your human name." The memory of Magneto in the jet was fresh, the way a whole new world unfolded in the subtext of a simple conversation. "What's your mutant name?"
Back then he thought it sounded like some college frat. He'd been wrong, it was a fraternity but in an older meaning of the word. They had no parties, just fratricide when other mutants got in the way.
"Gambit." He made a card glow, and it hovered in the air above their heads, burned away until all that was left was sparkling ashes on the breeze. There was that crooked grin again, too, all cocky.
Pyro leaned closer, right up in his face, and then he kissed him.
The next morning Gambit promised breakfast and disappeared for a few hours. John would have worried, but Pyro just went back to sleep. When Gambit returned, he brought donuts and coffee, and then hogged the hot water in the shower.
Pyro took the food to the back balcony. It was so foggy he couldn't see the beach, but he could hear the water. The coffee was warm and about three and a half sugars sweet. He didn't know how Gambit knew what he liked. He didn't really care.
Pyro was so much better at the gay thing than John. John always used to mess it up.
Bobby wasn’t gay.
Neither was John, not really, mostly he liked girls; it was just sometimes boys were what he had, and what he wanted. Usually he didn’t do anything, let them come to him, fumbled kisses in the dark, and that had only been a couple times.
With Bobby, though, he really fucked up.
Bobby was the closest thing he ever had to a best friend. Maybe that was why he read it wrong, the whole situation, he didn’t know how friends were supposed to act. All he knew was that Peter didn’t put an arm around him in the halls, and Jubilee never touched his hand for emphasis, so when Bobby did all those things and more, John thought—well, he thought Bobby wanted something else.
So one night, after lights out—like they were fucking children, and needed curfew and bed checks—John went over and sat at the edge of Bobby’s bed. The was enough light coming through the curtains over the window, Bobby never shut them all the way, and he could just see the sparkle of his eyes.
“You’re freezing the room again.”
It was a pretty good cover, as covers went, because it wasn't a lie. When Bobby got distracted, especially right before he fell asleep, he dropped the temperature a couple of degrees. It was only a little noticeable, and John really didn't care, he kept an extra blanket on his bed just in case, but it made a good excuse.
"I'm burning up," Bobby mumbled and kicked off the sheet. "You playing with fire over there?"
"Not anymore." Better answer would have been not yet. "Sorry."
"Long as you don't burn the sheet again, I don't care." He yawned and halfway sat up. His hair was a mess, and his t-shirt pulled up and showing off part of his stomach.
John kissed him.
It wasn't a very good kiss, their noses bumped and Bobby's teeth scraped John's lips. His mouth felt cool, and John reached out, touched the bottom of his shirt.
Bobby shoved him so hard he fell off the edge of the bed.
"What the hell are you doing?"
"Nothing!" John's ass hurt and his elbow where it cracked against the edge of the bed. "I didn't mean it. It's nothing."
He scrambled off the floor, threw himself into bed, and pulled the blankets up high. As soon as he was hidden, he pulled his lighter out of the pocket of his sweatpants.
Click. Swish. And the sharp burn when he pressed the hot metal against his palm.
"You freeze out here if you're not careful." Gambit's drawl was even more pronounced. He carried two croissants with him, and handed one off to Pyro. It was microwave warm.
"Takes a lot to freeze me." Like a standoff with his ex-best friend. Like a mutant war and he was on the losing side. A lot more than a comfortable house and a hot guy bringing him food.
"Wanna play?" Gambit palmed a deck of cards, flashed a few real fast, and then slapped them down on the patio table.
"You don't know the rules anyway, you don't care."
That was a damn good point.
Pyro took another bite, chewed, and then grinned. "I don't have much money, what do you want to bet?"
"Remy don't need to play for money. Remy find money elsewhere. Remy play for fun."
"Okay, for fun, that's great. No betting should make it easier to remember the rules."
"Remy didn't say no betting, mon ami. Remy said for fun. Each hand you win, you get to pick a fun thing we do. Same goes for Remy."
"It's really annoying when you do that, you know."
"When Remy do what?"
"When you talk about yourself in the third person. Especially when you use that human name."
Gambit grinned, slow and insolent and rather sexy.
"You like it."
Pyro fingered his lighter and smirked. "Deal, Gambit. And no fancy pyrotechnics."
"You make enough of those." His fingers were sure as he dealt the cards, all blurred movement and confidence.
King, Queen, Jack, all hearts. Pyro didn't bother to hide his grin.
They were in another bar, drinking more whiskey. Gambit headed outside three times to smoke, and there was news on the television about the X-Men. Pyro ignored it. He had more important things to watch.
Gambit twisted on the barstool.
"I'm going home, back to Louisiana," he said, apropos nothing. Pyro nodded, and drained his whiskey. Right away he wished he hadn't, he felt sick, and wondered if he could make it to the bathroom.
Gambit laughed and put a hand on his shoulder. "You don't want to come with, mon ami?"
Pyro didn't even have to answer that. He did, however, cup his lighter in his hand when they walked out the door.