The other bed in the room was empty. Brown sheets were cold in the night air, made perfectly, and it had been empty for the past five months. Four months and three weeks. Four months, three weeks, two days. Bobby’s mind was too fuzzy with sleep to try and figure out anything more accurate than that.
The angry red numbers of his digital clock glared at him from his bedside table, counting away the hours. 3.44AM currently shone disapprovingly. The red light illuminated the room with a fierce tinge of colour, lighting clothes and homework scattered haphazardly over the floor.
Bobby used to be able to sleep fine. Lights off to lights on, he would doze happily away, never stirring or waking. It was John who used to be the bad sleeper, fitful at best, sleepless at worst. It hadn’t been uncommon for him to wake in the middle of the night and go to the rec room, or to simply explore the endless corridors. John had walked in on Dr. Grey and Mr. Summers making out in the kitchen once, as he’d reported back the following morning to horrified students.
A quick consensus, though, had confirmed that everyone thought Dr. Grey was hot, so it was okay for her to make out with people. Personally, Bobby thought that Mr. Summers was way hotter.
He also thought that John would beat them both by miles in any hotness competition.
John had always enchanted Bobby. At first, when they were younger – 12 – Bobby had thought that the affection he felt was friendly. Brotherly. He liked John because he had a cool power and said rude things behind the teacher’s backs, and always shared his ice cream.
Later, when he had to hide hard-ons whenever John emerged dripping from the shower with a towel around his waist, he admitted to himself that maybe his feelings were a little more than friendly. Friends didn’t have fantasies about ripping each other’s clothes off and ravishing each other, and they most certainly did not jerk off while imagining the other’s lips wrapped around their cock. No, these feelings definitely didn’t fall into the ‘friendly’ category.
But he hadn’t said anything. John was the straightest guy in existence, and Bobby wasn’t about to risk losing his best friend because of a fucked up crush.
He’d lost him anyway. The bed was empty, the room was cold. John – Pyro, it was Pyro now – was gone.
Bobby turned away from the other bed, staring blankly at the closed curtains instead. Time turned slowly, as it always did at night. Bobby was considering getting up, wandering to the rec room or the kitchen, when he heard footsteps and voices outside.
Two sets of footsteps and a set of wheelchair tracks, actually. The mechanical but near-silent whisper of the professor’s chair was always easy to identify. Bobby forced his breathing to become slow and steady, his eyes thinly veiled. The sounds stopped outside his room. One of the voices belonged to Ms Munroe, he realised as her accent came muffled through the door.
His heart sped up as he unwillingly leapt to conclusions. John, John, John. It had to be John. Or something to do with John. Why else would he have two teachers outside his room at night, talking in hushed voices.
Ms. Munroe fell silent, her voice replaced with the Professor’s. Bobby almost blushed hearing that voice, recalling the knowing smile that always appeared on Xavier’s face whenever the head teacher looked at him. Bobby really hated having a telepath around while he was attempting to get through puberty. As if teenage angst wasn’t hard enough without an older man around to find amusement in it.
Bobby kept his breathing steady, even as the door cracked open and a beam of electric light found its way in. He even managed to keep up the illusion of sleep when Ms. Munroe spoke again. “We’ll talk tomorrow, John.” That last word almost had Bobby opening his eyes and leaping to his feet, just to confirm what she was saying. His self-restraint was just strong enough to keep his eyes closed. “In the meantime, get some sleep. I’m sure you’ve earned the rest.”
“Yes, john. I have to say, it’s a relief to have you back in the school with us.” There was a disbelieving grunt following Xavier’s statement, and the sound brought a smile to Bobby’s face because it was so typically John. “I know Bobby will be pleased to have you back.” Bobby knew that Xavier probably had a twinkle in his eye as he said that, and also knew that the professor was perfectly aware that he was still awake. The guy’d be a pretty crap telepath if he didn’t.
The door closed, leaving them alone in the dark room together. “Like hell he will be.” John mumbled to himself, determined to have the last word in the conversation. Seconds later, his bedside lamp flicked on. Bobby could see the soft glow through his closed eyelids. There was a quiet creak of worn bedsprings as John sat down.
Bobby couldn’t take it any longer – he opened his eyes.
John’s hair was different, shorter but still in his eyes. That was the first thing he noticed.
The second was that John was wearing a grey shirt, the long sleeves pushed up to his elbows. Bobby didn’t think that he’d ever seen John wear a shirt before. John lived in t-shirts and thin sweaters.
The third thing he noticed was the bruise on John’s face. Harsh and painful, the yellowing purple stuck out horribly against tanned skin.
But the main, most important thing he noticed was that the bed opposite him wasn’t empty anymore. He smiled.
“You’re back.” It came out colder than he meant it to, ice in his veins. It was an unintentional accusation.
John didn’t look up from where he was staring at his hands, didn’t respond at all to the words for a long while. He didn’t move or fidget, and that worried Bobby. John keeping still? It wasn’t natural.
John moved. John was alive and wild and free, so what the hell was he doing frozen in time? It made no sense. Where was his lighter? Bobby wanted to hear the constant clicking from it that used to annoy him so much.
John eventually broke out of his dazed stillness, and leaned down to untie his shoelaces. “Looks like.” He confirmed quietly, his voice carrying easily within the silent room.
Bobby watched his movements as he fiddled with his shoelaces, slipped the scuffed shoes from his feet and placed the pair carefully by his bed, side by side. That wasn’t John either. It wasn’t the John that used to leave clothes and homework and CDs lying haphazardly around the room. Where was that John?
And where was the John that used to lie up late into the night with him, talking. Talking about girls and films and sports while Bobby tried not to talk about how attractive the scar on John’s stomach was. Sometime Bobby would stare long and hard at John’s mouth when the other ranted about politics, the upcoming war and the mutant-human divide.
Now, he wished he’d paid more attention to what John had actually been saying during those rants, even if the way his mouth twisted in anger was so eye-catching. Then he could have done something. It didn’t matter what, just something that would have persuaded John to stay.
Instead, his hormones had run riot around his body and John had gone missing for four months, three weeks and two days.
“I missed you.” Bobby stated quickly. John’s eyes glanced up at him suspiciously, waiting for the punch line. There was a frown when it didn’t come, before his hand hurried switched off his bedside lamp. The room was plunged into darkness once more.
Bobby didn’t get a response, and listened to the bedsprings complain as John lay down on his bed. He watched the digital numbers on his clock change to 3.51AM and tried not to think about how much could change in under ten minutes. Just ten minutes could undo an entire four months, three weeks and two days of consequences.