Jean-Paul crossly polished the antique bed head.
“You see my problem, Raymonde. Just because one of them is, perhaps, a little attractive to me…”
“…doesn’t mean you want to be attending Mutant Thanksgiving hand in hand?”
Raymonde leaned forward and flourished a slightly battered pair of silver asparagus tongs.
“They’re always running around the city in their long underwear, my dear. It can’t be too difficult to spot one. Then isolate him, corner him and shazam!”
“Shazam?” Jean-Paul raised an eyebrow.
“Isn’t that what those superheroes say?”
“I think you’re a little behind the times.”
“Well, the meaning is clear. You need to catch this Colossus on his own.”
Jean-Paul snatched the asparagus tongs out of the older man’s hand and snapped them menacingly.
“His name is Piotr. I told you already. I’m starting to think you just like to say ‘Colossus’.”
“It does bring rather a picture to mind, doesn’t it?”
Despite an immense effort to look cool, Jean-Paul could already feel a blush creeping up his face. Raymonde’s teasing never failed to hit home. “Do you want to hear about the date or what? When we have one, I mean. If.”
“Yes, yes, I will stop bothering you. Now finish polishing, or I will have to throw you out of my shop like a stray cat.”
Jean-Paul threw the tongs back, laughing, and redoubled his efforts with the bed head.
Raymonde, despite the age difference, was his best friend, and something of a guide through a very confusing world. More than any of his straight friends had, he thought rather smugly. Even if Raymonde did use Jean-Paul as cheap – well, free – labour in his tiny antique dealership, their conversations had kept him sane and grounded through a difficult year. He’d even taken Jean-Paul skiing last winter, something which Jean-Paul hadn’t managed to do since his dad had moved the family from Montreal to take up the consulate position in New York. His parents had been much more worried about Jean-Paul being a mutant than about him being gay, so they hadn’t really paid much attention to his friendships. They were too busy scanning the skies for Sentinels, or Magneto, or any number of dangers. Jean-Paul, meanwhile, was busily scanning the New York scene for boys even half as good-looking as himself.
Their respective targets both appeared a few months ago, when a mutant lunatic known as Sinister tried to kill Jean-Paul, but the X-Men, in the form of Marvel Girl and the highly attractive Colossus, had turned up to help. Once Jean-Paul had recovered from his injury, which had, fortunately, left only a tiny scar, his young man’s mind had lightly turned to thoughts of love. Or at least lust. Raymonde had set him in the right direction, and now all he needed to do was locate the X-Men outside their stupid Institute. He even had their phone number, but the last thing he wanted was to call it. Their creepy Professor would be picking his brains in no time, and Marvel Girl would be shoving him and Piotr together and cooing over how sweet they were. Horrible! No, he had to get Piotr on his own.
Jean-Paul wasn’t exactly a stranger to hanging out in the seedy parts of New York. Usually this meant a bar, or a club, though, not an alarmingly creaky rooftop above an alley which seemed to be a meeting place for half the mutant prostitutes in New York City. His plan was to hang around mutants until someone got in trouble and the X-Men came to rescue them, just as they had done for him. The idea didn’t seem so terrific at three a.m. under flickering neon lights, with unimaginably unpleasant smells wafting upwards.
None of the mutants down at street level had got in much trouble, either. A guy had grabbed a skinny girl by her long green hair, but she had laughed and thrown him halfway across the street with a mutant power that crackled and sparked. Apart from that, the worst thing that had happened was loud and protracted swearing and the occasional small-time drug deal. The X-Men were hardly about to fire up their big black jet and zoom down to the city to deal with that.
As the streets quietened for the few hours before the day began again, Jean-Paul sat on his jacket, which would never be wearable again, and sighed. This was no way to meet a guy, even a remarkably hot one, but he certainly wasn’t going to get involved in the whole X-Men scene down at Salem Centre 90210. He swigged down the last of his fourth cup of bad coffee and stood up, then heard the frightened whimpering in the alley below.
Peering over the edge of the rickety building, Jean-Paul saw a young girl flat against the wall. He blinked, and realised she really was flat – the girl was two-dimensional. Her eyes darted from side to side in her frightened face, and she clung to the wall as closely as the piss and the graffiti. The source of her terror was immediately obvious – a short, solidly built man with a sizzling spear of energy held lightly in his hand. The man peered down the alley, but was at the wrong angle to see the girl. He turned away and loped on down the street.
Jean-Paul only realised he had been holding his breath when he let it out. The girl was just as relieved, and peeled herself off the wall, running back towards the main street. Both had relaxed too early, however, as the man with the harpoon had quickly doubled back to search alleyways on the other side of the street and immediately spotted her. She froze in panic and tried to turn sideways to the hunter so that he couldn’t see her, but he was obviously ready for this, as he ran towards her in a swift, random zigzag pattern, leaving her unable to turn precisely sideways.
The man raised the spear and grinned, and Jean-Paul suddenly realised what was about to happen. The X-Men were nowhere in sight, and this girl was about to be murdered. He didn’t want to be hurt again, especially by another crazy mutant, but the girl was defenceless. The consequences of getting involved were perfectly clear to him, but Jean-Paul still found himself leaping onto to the fire-escape and running with all his tremendous, unnatural speed straight to the paralysed girl.
“You’ve run long enough, Tommy,” the man snarled, but yelled in surprise and outrage as, an instant before his harpoon connected, the girl was snatched away in a blur of motion and vanished from sight within a second.
Jean-Paul sprinted, carrying the amazingly light weight of the girl, until his lungs were burning and his legs shaking. Slowing, he dared to look over his shoulder, but he had travelled almost twenty blocks, and the would-be killer was nowhere to be seen. They were near a church with a high stone and wrought iron fence, so Jean-Paul jumped the gate and dropped the two of them down into the little courtyard by the main entrance.
“Are you okay, kid?” he gasped, scared, but still rather wishing his track coach could have seen that run.
The girl looked back with wide eyes and nodded.
“So why was that guy trying to kill you? Is this some kind of regular deal for mutants?”
“No, um, I don’t know. I’d heard about this guy, he’s called Harpoon.”
“He hunts people and paralyses them with his electricity, and takes them away somewhere. Or he just kills them sometimes. I thought I was dead!”
“No, you’re good.” Jean-Paul thought for a minute. He could hardly take the girl home to his family’s apartment. “Have you got somewhere to go?”
“Sure, my family lives kind of near here. Could you… could you take me home?”
“Yeah, okay,” Jean-Paul muttered, feeling a little let down. Shouldn’t she thank him or something?
Instead, he walked the girl – Tommy – home to the basement apartment of a shabby complex. Several other strange-looking mutant children spilled out onto the stairs to greet her and pulled her safely inside.
One, a pale green boy with a lumpy head, looked up at Jean-Paul and whispered, “You all right, mister? He might come after you, now.”
Jean-Paul blinked, but maintained his cool. “No, I can take care of myself.”
“Thanks for bringing Tommy home.”
“You’re welcome. I don’t want her.”
Jean-Paul sprinted off, his tired legs protesting, but feeling that it was somehow important to make an impression on the kids. He wasn’t sure why. It wasn’t as if he was planning to do this regularly.
Out in Westchester, Charles Xavier and Jean Grey watched Jean-Paul’s run on their telepathic monitors.
“Shouldn’t we have helped him, Professor?”
“Jean, I think young Mr. Beaubier has made his opinion on our help quite clear.”
“He could have been killed!”
“And yet he was not. I doubt he will be venturing out again any time soon. This Harpoon character, however, may need some of our attention. I may scan the police channels tomorrow and see if anyone knows him.”
“Are you sure about Jean-Paul, Professor?”
“He does not wish to be a part of our School or our Team, and I do not see that our help is necessary. We have enough people to assist without going where we are not wanted.”
Jean-Paul had a sore neck from looking over his shoulder, but there was no sign of anyone coming after him. His night out hadn’t yielded a single X-Man, let alone the one he wanted to meet, and yet he felt exhilarated.
“It’s just the adrenaline,” he muttered to himself, but he couldn’t wait to do it again. Sternly, he had set himself a two night break, mostly to make sure that that guy with the harpoon wasn’t coming after him. Most of these two days had been spent drawing slightly exaggerated pictures of Piotr on the back of his maths book, and once he had snapped out of a reverie to realise he had been sketching ideas for a sleek, black-and-white costume for himself. That little daydream was quickly scribbled out with his heaviest black marker, but he was still excited to find his two nights up. It was time to go out again.
One aspect of the super-hero lifestyle had left Jean-Paul less than thrilled, and that was the sitting on cold rooftops drinking bad coffee. This part of his plan needed a definite overhaul, so he’d gone online and looked for incidents of mutant-related violence. As far as Jean-Paul could tell, the X-Men were more likely to turn up if a mutant was committing the violence than being the victim, but maybe that was part of their erratic public relations agenda. Narrowing his search to attacks by mutants soon led him to a nightclub over in Chelsea named Alpha. Its pro-mutant stance was a blatant publicity grab, but it was working. The clientele was a mixture of edgy fashionistas, celebrities and actual mutants, all trying to be more flashy than humanly possible. There were plenty of fights in and near the club, and, of course, plenty of X-Men rescues. A brawl could really get out of hand when earthquake powers or telepathy got involved, especially in the middle of a city.
Too much makeup wasn’t going to be enough, Jean-Paul thought, shivering in the queue in his lime-green string top. His leather pants looked great, but an earring and a nipple ring, which had been enough to send his mother fleeing in tears, were just par for the course here. Besides, they were turning away absolutely everyone who didn’t turn up in a limo with half-a-dozen bodyguards and their own paparazzi entourage. The bouncers, two big, solid black men with dreadlocks and glowing eyes, looked too ferocious to try to hit on or slip past.
For a moment, Jean-Paul thought he was hallucinating. The movement had been so fast that his brain took a moment to process the input. A skinny white-haired guy wearing a very expensive European suit had sped past the bouncers and through the door with a flicker of motion and a swirl of everyone’s coats and skirts. Had no-one seen him? Jean-Paul looked up at the bouncers and realised that, indeed, one of the bouncers had seen – sensed? – the man racing by him, and hadn’t bothered to stop him. The bouncer caught Jean-Paul’s gaze and, just for a moment, winked at him. The rest of the queue smoothed their wind-blown clothes and obliviously continued to gossip and complain, but Jean-Paul turned and slunk off into the darkness. He had worked out their mutant admittance policy: show off your power to get you in, or Alpha wasn’t interested in your attendance.
Racing up to the door was a big mistake, and was met by a very large arm across Jean-Paul’s chest.
“Got one of you already, kid,” the bouncer growled. “We don’t need two.”
“No chance?” Jean-Paul used his most winning smile.
Concentrating his hardest – he had never done this without his sister – Jean-Paul raised his hand level with the bouncer’s face and let the light out. It flashed for just a second, illuminating the entryway like the full glare of the midday sun. The bouncer’s arm dropped, and Jean-Paul scurried into Alpha.
Words seemed to echo in his head, in the bouncer’s deep voice. “Have fun, nightlight,”
Inside, through the lobby to the main dance floor, Alpha was quite brightly lit, unlike any of the clubs Jean-Paul had previously managed to sneak into. There were plenty of dark corners, and an upstairs balcony was lit with dim purple lamps, but the main dance floor was a place to be seen, not to hide. This central area was at least two stories high, and there were several mutants and their partners dancing in the air, above the heads of the earthbound revellers. The white-haired man that had entered the club before Jean-Paul was sitting on an uncomfortable-looking moulded steel sofa, throwing down drinks as quickly as the blue-haired, metal-gloved waitress could bring them. A dark, sulky woman sat by him, sipping a single drink, prepared to make it last all night. They were almost completely surrounded by the sycophantic chatter of a dozen hangers-on, but the two of them ignored everything but each other. There was something quite hypnotic about the strange, haughty pair, and Jean-Paul found himself staring.
A huge hand clamped down on his shoulder, and Jean-Paul used all his speed to twist away and see who was behind him.
“Piotr! What… are you here too?” Jean-Paul controlled his blush, and instead regained his cool. “Nice to see you again.”
“Yes, I was surprised to see you, Jean-Paul. I heard your father told you to stay away from mutant gatherings.” Piotr was wearing an appropriately tight pair of faded jeans and a brown leather jacket over what Jean-Paul was fairly sure was his X-Men costume.
“No, only the crazy isolationists like you guys. Are you all here?”
“Just me, and Alison. She’s, uh, occupied. With the DJ.”
Jean-Paul squinted up at Piotr’s face, backlit by one of the big industrial lights. It seemed weird for him to be here with a girl, but, on the other hand, he didn’t seem too troubled that this Alison had abandoned his company for the dubious charms of a DJ.
“So I’ve got you all alone?” Jean-Paul edged closer and waved a hand to exclude the hundreds of dancing mutants and wannabes. “Let’s dance.”
It was Piotr’s turn to blush, and step back. “I don’t really… I never learnt to…”
Jean-Paul knew this routine, and swiftly took the opportunity to clamp his body to Piotr’s before the big hunk of Russian could object.
“One arm here, one hand here, stick to me like glue, and we’re dancing!”
Piotr was right: he really couldn’t dance. What he didn’t know, but Jean-Paul was rapidly teaching him, was that some kinds of dancing weren’t really about dancing at all. Jean-Paul’s feet were nimble enough to keep out of the way of Piotr’s giant boots, and the rest of the dance was all in the body-to-body rhythm. Jean-Paul kept his pelvis firmly attached to Piotr’s, his hands comfortably on the broad back and muscular butt, and led him smoothly from the bright lights of the main dance floor to a dimmer corner lit only by strings of tiny blue bulbs twisted around struts at the bottom of the balcony like miniature Christmas lights.
Still swaying to the completely unromantic beat, their features almost invisible to each other, Jean-Paul and Piotr held onto each other tightly. Jean-Paul grinned, and tilted his face up to Piotr’s, but Piotr had his eyes closed, totally lost in the moment. Jean-Paul was starting to think that if he wanted to get anywhere, he was going to have to choreograph the whole thing himself. He ran his hand right up Piotr’s back to grab his short black hair and push his face down to Jean-Paul’s for a kiss. Piotr’s eyes opened in surprise, but his lips had already parted and Jean-Paul was kissing him deeply and passionately. Piotr’s surprise was gone before it even registered, taken over by much stronger feelings, and their bodies were quickly as entwined as their tongues, Piotr holding Jean-Paul up so strongly that only his toes were touching the ground.
Jean-Paul was happily twining a slender leg around one of Piotr’s tree-trunks when a violent shrieking noise suddenly overwhelmed the music. Jean-Paul didn’t think much of it, but Piotr immediately dropped Jean-Paul and spun around to look for the source of the unpleasant sound. Suddenly seeing the flaw in his plan to find an X-Man by finding trouble, Jean-Paul backed up a little, not wanting to seem like a coward, but not necessarily wanting to be in the front line, either.
The centre of the commotion was the white-haired man. Completely unaffected by his heavy drinking, he was moving with balletic, mocking slowness and repeatedly punching and kicking a beefy dark-haired man who had fallen to the floor and was ineffectually trying to fend off the blows with his expensive sunglasses. Jean-Paul recognised him as Simon Williams, a party-minded C-List actor who had cemented his place in Jean-Paul’s mind by the simple means of neglecting to wear a shirt in most of his movies. The other nightclub patrons were crowding closely around the fight, hysterically excited by the sighting of both a celebrity and a mutant at once. Some were cheering for one or the other of the combatants, but most were just cheering. The sulky-faced woman seemed to be the only onlooker who was not thrilled. She was in tears, waving her hands in distress and crying,
“Leave him alone, my brother, he didn’t mean anything, leave him alone!”
Piotr didn’t hesitate. He strode through the protesting crowd and into the fight, his huge form easily pushing aside those who didn’t bother to get out of his way. Jean-Paul found it rather magnificent. Without changing to his shiny steel form, Piotr reached out to grab the two men and pull them apart, but the white-haired man was much too fast and slipped aside.
“This is not your business, X-Man.”
“You are beating up a helpless man, Quicksilver. It is not fair.”
Quicksilver laughed. “This man touched my sister! He is lucky that I am prepared to let him live, if he apologises.”
“You are just like your father.”
The noise that had alerted Piotr, however, wasn’t from the fight. It was coming from the big overhead lights, as they spun in place, wrenching at their tracks with the dreadful noise of tearing metal. The lights directly above the hooting crowd were the worst affected, but the thrill of the fight made them oblivious to the imminent danger of the creaking, swaying lights. Jean-Paul’s attention was on those unsteady lights, which could easily crush someone if they fell. Quicksilver, busy with his argument and still kicking Williams every time he tried to wriggle away, was obviously not the cause, but he just as obviously didn’t care if someone got hurt. His sobbing sister, though, was gesturing at him to leave, and the shrieking metal of the lights were mimicking the frantic movements of her hands. Whatever power she had, it was wrecking her surroundings.
“Piotr! That woman’s the problem, stop her moving her hands!” Jean-Paul bellowed, and Piotr stepped forward to grab hold of the woman’s arm. Quicksilver instantly leapt between the X-Man and his sister, and punched Piotr full in the face, so fast that even Jean-Paul had trouble seeing exactly what happened. With the sound of a knife being sharpened on steel, Piotr’s form bulged, shone and shifted.
“Stop it, Wanda! You’re going to kill the people here,” Piotr shouted, but Quicksilver was already all over him, jabbing at his defences, pushing him back from the terrified Wanda. The crowd began to mill uncertainly, not wanting to be in real danger, but afraid of missing out.
Jean-Paul took a deep breath. He wasn’t as fast as Quicksilver, but Quicksilver was distracted by trying, without great success, to beat up Piotr. Wanda had to be separated from the crowd before she brought one of those huge lights down on someone’s head. Unless it was her brother, Jean-Paul thought pettily, that man could use a little squashing.
Backing up, then accelerating smoothly in the small distance he had, Jean-Paul raced into the random motions of crowd, their movements absurdly slow and easy to avoid. He grabbed Wanda by the waist, slung her over his shoulder just like a fireman would, and dashed, slightly unbalanced, for the door. Wanda obviously didn’t share her brother’s speed power, as she was taken entirely by surprise. Rather than struggling, she clung onto Jean-Paul’s back and lay there quite passively.
Jean-Paul made it all the way to the front lobby before Quicksilver skidded to a halt in front of him and threw a punch at his face, which Jean-Paul was surprised to find himself successfully dodging.
“Stop! Here’s your sister, I had to get her out of there,” he gabbled, faster than people could normally follow, but it was perfectly clear to Quicksilver.
“Put her down.”
“Okay, here.” He slid Wanda gently but unceremoniously to the floor, and her brother pulled her roughly to her feet.
“She was going to bring the lights down,” Jean-Paul managed to spit out before Quicksilver cut in.
“Never touch her again. I could have saved everyone.”
“Yeah, if you even noticed,” Jean-Paul snapped, but the strange pair were already gone.
Piotr ran out to Jean-Paul and grasped him by both arms.
“It’s all right, Piotr, they ran away.”
Piotr said not a word, but kissed Jean-Paul hard on the mouth. Jean-Paul returned the favour, wrapping his arms around Piotr’s hard, strangely warm steel body. He walked the big steel man backwards, away from the busy main doorway, where gawkers and minor celebrities were dashing in and out in great excitement. Jean-Paul kissed Piotr again, and grinned up at his shining face.
“So, Piotr, you think I’ve got a bit of X-Man in me?”
“Well, I - ”
“Gonna give me some?”
Jean-Paul laughed and laughed, and, a moment later, so did Piotr. Piotr’s laugh was deep and rumbling in his steel chest, and vibrated all through Jean-Paul’s body as they kissed, and pushed their bodies against each other, and wetly kissed again, pressed together against the tacky black velvet wall of Jean-Paul’s new favourite club.
If all superheroes’ nights ended like this, Jean-Paul thought, he might have to try this gig again.