"Annie, must we have this conversation every time?" Jean Paul Beaubier sighed, staring down into his glass of wine.
They were sitting outside enjoying the balmy summer evening, sipping wine and taking advantage of the relative calm. He'd wanted to forget about it all for just one evening and simply enjoy being with a friend.
Jean Paul had never known the mansion to be so peaceful and it was certainly a welcome change. After the debacle that had been Alex and Lorna's non-wedding day, it had been felt that the kids, teachers and X-men alike all needed a break. The decision had led them to this, an entire week stretched out before them with the children all off on a week long field trip and, barring any world catastrophes, no missions and no obligations, just rest and relaxation.
It was the first night without the children and a party had inevitably broken out. There was no real plan for it by anyone but that evening they all had seemed to congregate and music and alcohol had quickly made a welcome appearance. They all needed to let off some steam.
Having held nothing but contempt for the sugary bubble-gum pop that had been playing, Jean Paul strongly suspected that Jubilee and Paige had taken control of the sound system, the Canadian had suggested that they step outside with a good bottle of wine. And of course, inevitably, the conversation lead back to the same subject that it always did with Annie; their love lives. More specifically Jean Paul's.
"Well, how can I not bring it up?" Annie asked, a smirk in her voice that he was sure could be found on her lips too if they weren't hidden by the wine glass. "You haven't been listening to a word I've been saying because you've been watching him!"
"Of course I was listening to you, I was simply," He lied as he topped up his own glass, careful to keep his voice light with an air of innocence. "Admiring the scenary. No harm in that."
"You all but had your tongue hanging out!" The Nurse laughed back causing him to sniff indignantly "Ok then, if you were listening to me, what was I talking about?"
"Carter?" Jean Paul cast his mind around quickly. "Or Alex?" It was hardly a difficult guess, it was obvious she'd been talking about her son or her new lover it's all she'd ever talked about since Jean Paul had known her, besides his own dismal love life of course. "Or both." He added, sending her a smug expression that clearly said 'Try and deny that!'
"I was looking for something more specific but we both know you can't give that to me because Frosty the Snowman had your undivided attention when it should have been focused on me. " She smiled sweetly as she spoke, her tone was playful and there was a slightly mischievous glint to her eyes.
At the mention of Drake, Jean Paul's eyes darted to the nearest window again. Bobby was still perfectly framed by the pane, drinking a beer and sitting with a few other X-men and actually smiling for the first time in a long while. He doubted the sincerity of the smile but wasn't close enough to see if it reached Bobby's eyes. He wasn't sure anyone else paid enough attention to notice or care.
Jean Paul honestly couldn't fathom the density of these people sometimes. These people who claimed to be Bobby's friends, his family, not one of them seemed to truly notice or care how rare a smile from Bobby Drake had become lately. Perhaps Jean Paul only noticed because he watched Bobby more than most.
He worried about the younger man and yet was in a position from which he could do little about it. Bobby's closest friends were the ones who should have been the first to see and were in the position to help him but they were blinded. To them he was still good old Bobby, the childish prankster. Why did only Jean Paul see that Bobby hadn't played pranks or even cracked a corny joke lately?
Having been watching Bobby, subtlety he hoped, for much of the evening so far, Jean Paul knew that the relaxed and happier looking Bobby was simply a product of a little too much beer. He also felt that a beer fuelled smile was better than the sullenness and thinly veiled misery that had become the Iceman's new trademark. He'd never thought he'd see the day when he actually missed Robert Drake's sense of humour and yet that day had been and gone. Most of all, though, he missed hearing Bobby laugh. The genuine, gleeful laugh that had once sounded out so easily and had now been replaced with a hollow version that never rang true.
"You've won your man, Annie." Jean Paul said when he eventually spoke "Do not begrudge the less fortunate for enjoying the few crumbs that they are offered."
Annie's eyes were full of concern as she placed her hand over his and Jean Paul hated it, he hated pity above all else. "You know, you'll never know until you actually tell him. You haven't been rejected, he has no idea you feel the way you do."
Jean Paul pulled his hand away. "Annie, just stop. He is straight so why would I set myself up for rejection? I'm not a complete glutton for punishment and I do not need false hope."
Even as he said the words, he knew there was still part of him that hoped beyond hope that perhaps one day he would hold Bobby in his arms and call him his own. It was the same part of him that often indulged in ever increasingly detailed and complicated day-dreams of being Bobby's lover and life partner. His infatuation had progressed some time ago to the point where he could honestly not believe that he would ever want to be with anyone as much as he wanted to be with Bobby. At this point, he was fairly certain, he had developed a genuine problem.
Even to himself, he couldn't quite explain what it was about Bobby that attracted him so much. As of late, Bobby had been harsh and rude to almost everyone around 90% of the time. He wore terrible clothes and owned what seemed to be an unending supply of Hawaiian shirts. His jokes were awful and his pranks were infantile at best, ludicrous and infuriating at worst. And yet, and yet, his exuberance for life, his joy in little things had warmed Jean Paul's heart. He was aware of it even more than ever before now that Bobby's exuberance had lost it's spark.
"How can you be so sure he's straight?" Annie attempted to reason, though Jean Paul was already shaking his head. They'd had this discussion before, so many times in fact that Annie knew his response and countered it before he could even verbalise it "You do know that the whole empathic skank incident really doesn't mean much, did you know Bobby's always been very susceptible to mind control?"
"And how on earth do you know that?" Jean Paul enquired, topping up her glass for her. He felt that, since Annie was clearly not going to let this subject drop then he might as well actively and willingly participate. If nothing else it meant he got to openly speak about Bobby with someone other than himself. His internal monologues centred around the topic of Iceman were beginning to make him question his own sanity at times.
"I may have peaked in his file, I am the school nurse after all. I need to get to know my patients." Annie wore a sheepish grin with a hint of glee to which Jean Paul rolled his eyes quite affectionately and sipped his wine, mulling over the new information without inclination to speak.
His glass was half empty by the time he'd found his voice again.
"The fact remains that I have been here for quite some time now and Robert has not once returned my interest in any way. He has never flirted, never sent any sort of signals or given any indication of being aware of mine. He certainly has, however, shown an interest in women. After all he kissed you." Jean Paul's voice grew tense and he suddenly fell quiet.
Annie had insisted the kiss hadn't been a real kiss. That it had simply been a moment between too desperately lonely people that they had both regretted afterwards but it still hurt Jean Paul deeply that she, his friend, had gone further with the man of his affections than he had.
"An interest in women doesn't automatically mean a disinterest in men." Annie seemed to have an answer for everything tonight Jean Paul mentally noted before beginning to wonder if she'd perhaps practised this conversation and prepared her arguments ahead of time.
"He's never even hinted to it, Annie. Surely with me of all people he would have. There are not all that many homosexuals in this place, surely if he had any inclination he would have sort me out!" His expression was one of perverse triumph. He never liked to lose an argument, even if it was one that he wished wasn't true.
"He wouldn't if he didn't know about you."
"Mon Dieu, Annie! Now you are just being absurd!" He scoffed loudly "Don't be so ridiculous. My coming out was all over the media, I have a book about being a gay mutant, Xavier hired me because of my sexuality. Everyone knows I'm queer, I don't hide it. How could he not know, we've known one another for years!" Jean Paul shook his head derisively at her, feeling angry that she would suggest such a stupid thing. That she thought he'd actually go for such a suggestion. He certainly wasn't that desperate. "Annie, please, just stop this."
He drained his glass, deciding that he had enough 'fun' for the evening. As he did so, Annie too lost her temper.
"For God's sake Jean Paul!" She snapped, jumping up as she glared. "He had no idea you were gay. He was shocked, he had no absolutely clue. None. Now sit your butt back down Mister!"
Obediently, he sank back down into his seat struck momentarily dumb.
"You pick 'em pretty but thick, can't deny that." Annie said in wake of his silence, smiling a little evidently trying to break the tension between them.
"Shocked?" He repeated softly, his anger giving way to an emotion hard to describe. His stomach started churning and his heart speeding up as his chest tightened a little. His eyes glanced back to the window where he could see Bobby pouring himself a drink, he was no longer surrounded by friends and his smile seemed to have gone once more. "Horrified?"
Bobby certainly had been angry lately and a complete jerk towards newcomers but he had never struck Jean Paul as closed-minded or a bigot. As if falling for a straight man wasn't bad enough, had he really fallen for a homophobe? If that was so then clearly life, God, the universe, whatever was in control certainly had it in for him. He just never caught a break.
"No, no, more like it had never occurred to him before and he didn't understand why he wouldn't know you were gay if everyone else had." Annie tried to explain, rushing as though she was worried he might try to bolt again. "I did sort of accuse him of being a bigot but then we talked for ages and I really don't think he had an issue with it at all."
Jean Paul felt his body relax as he exhaled a breath he hadn't even realised he'd been holding. Robert didn't hate him at least he had that, if nothing else.
"Talking to him made me think, I mean neither of you know the other all that well. Maybe it's time you try to?" Annie's continued, slightly tentative in her suggestion and Jean Paul realised that she was a little nervous of him. That thought unsettled him and so he smiles just a little to reassure her.
He was absolutely aware of his reputation as a cold jerk, he often sort refuge in that reputation, but Annie was his ally here at Xavier's and he truly valued that.
He had very few true friends here and Annie was the only one he could talk to about his ridiculously infatuation. Rogue, whilst being a dear friend, was never a choice because of her long-standing friendship with the Iceman and the thought of having a heart to heart with Logan of all people, well that almost made Jean Paul laugh aloud.
He mulled her idea over for a moment. In many ways it did appeal to him, the idea of spending time with Robert always did but surely he would just be torturing himself by giving himself a taste of what he couldn't have?
"If nothing else, it'll maybe it'll help you get some sort of closure?" Annie added, obviously wanting to get some kind of response from Jean Paul. "And it might be good for both of you."
He arched his eyebrows at that "Do you know something, Annie?"
"Who me? Nope."
Her expression was too innocent for him to trust it.
"You've said it yourself: he's miserable and no-one's seeing it." She paused momentarily to flick her hair from her eyes. "He needs someone to see it. You see it. He needs you."
Jean Paul swallowed as the thought that Bobby might need him in any capacity sank in. He felt certain that Annie must be getting at something, perhaps in-between discussing the sexuality of the local French-Canadian and kissing Bobby, she and Drake had actually talked. Perhaps she knew more than she was saying, which was infuriating to him.
"Mon Deiu, Annie, why don't you just tell me?" Jean Paul sighed heavily though deep within him he could feel that spark of hope bubbling up inside of him.
"There you are!" A male voice cried out happily and their private peace was gone. Annie's focus instantly moved to Alex as she jumped up and into his arms. "I've been looking all over for you." He informed her before turning to Jean Paul "I'm not interrupting, am I?"
"Only in a literal sense," Jean Paul replied causing him to be lightly swatted by Annie. "Anyway, I best be going." He certainly didn't want to stick around for the hetero PDA's that new couples were so prone to. As he began to walk away, Annie grabbed his hand once more. He half turned to look at her, she was still wrapped in Alex's arms.
"Don't forget what I said. Just try it." She then releases his hand and turns back to face Alex, wrapping her arms around his neck with a soppy, adoring expression that Jean Paul sincerely hoped he never wore for anyone.
He hurried away, back inside the house through the patio doors that lead into the large kitchen. Finding that Bobby had finally moved from the spot he'd been haunting all evening, Jean Paul made his way through the groups of people loitering with drinks in the kitchen.
As we walked, he was thankful that someone had taken control of the music. Whilst not exactly a fan of hip hop it was certainly a better alternative to having his ear assaulted by bubble gum pop. He moved through into the the rec room, where the main party was focused, hoping to spot Bobby separate from the crowd. His hopes were dashed, no Robert at all.
It was probably for the best, he decided as he sighed heavily. Between the pair of them, he and Annie had drunk four bottles of wine since starting at 4 o'clock. His metabolism, and body in general, moved at such a speed that any inebriation would pass far quicker than for anyone else but the fact stood that talking to Robert whilst his judgement and self-restraint might be impaired was a poor idea.
He excused himself from the party without being stopped by anyone and quietly made his way to his room. He knew there were no slumbering children to disturb but still he crept through the halls, it was a habit that had been quickly ingrained on him. As he walked, he found himself thinking that without the sounds of whispered conversations and the tinny noise of headphones playing as the children attempted to stave off sleep, the mansion felt quite empty.
Jean Paul had been quite surprised by the way he'd settled into living at the school. Initially, he'd not been keen on the idea of living here when he could easily afford a luxury apartment rather than a settling for a standard size room with small en suite bathroom. He had been informed however that part of the teaching job was living with the students and he'd found he liked it a lot more than he'd ever expected and not just because of proximity to Bobby. The mansion felt like a real home in so many ways, something that Jean Paul had often lacked in his life.
He let himself in and crossed the room. It was gone midnight and he intended to simply crawl into bed since red wine in such large quantities always made him feel pleasantly warm and sleepy. As he was heading straight to bed he didn't even bother to turn on the light, he pulled his dark sweater off and dropped it in his laundry basket before crossing to his window. He needed to let some air in his room on an evening like this. By chance as he opened the window, he glanced downwards and froze: Bobby.
Directly below his bedroom window, on a small wall that separated patio from the sprawling lawn, sat the object of his affections. Bobby had his legs stretched out before him and was leaning back on his hands, gazing up at the night sky. Next to him sat a half drunk plastic cup of something and his expression was a distant one. Jean Paul was confident that Bobby had no idea he was being watched.
Jean Paul could easily fly down and talk to him as Annie had suggested, no insisted, he do but he hesitated. This all seemed too straight forward, too easy. He never got what he wanted, he always fell in love with the wrong man, with the heterosexual so why would this time be any different? Especially when Bobby had never shown any attraction to any males ever. Why fly down there to either be rebutted for attempting friendship or, far worse, have his advances rejected? Not that he could ever honestly picture himself making any sort of move on Bobby short of in his fantasies. The idea of doing anything like that in real life was enough to terrify him.
In that moment of hesitation and internal struggle, Jean Paul's decision was made for him by someone exiting the mansion and walking directly to Bobby. The large feathered wings gave away the identity of the mutant instantly and Jean Paul's expression darkened: Worthington. He may have been in the process of talking himself out of going to Bobby but he was inclined to still blame Worthington and not himself for the missed opportunity. He did not abandon his post at the window, however, he watched silently.
"What're you doing out here? You're missing all the fun, Bobby." Worthington said as he drew closer to Robert. Jean Paul shook his head, the man was utterly dense.
"Thinking." Bobby's voice was soft and somewhat sad though Jean Paul doubted the the winged wonder down there had noticed.
"It's that time of year already is it?" Worthington's joke fell flat as it was met with silence from Bobby continued to gaze upwards. "Ok, I'll bite, what are you thinking about?"
There was along silence in which Jean Paul and Worthington both waited for Bobby's reply. It wasn't quick in coming though, Bobby seemed to be wrestling with his thoughts and his eyes were still trained upward when he eventually uttered a single syllable.
Jean Paul looked up at the sky himself and found that it was utterly clear; the almost full moon was shining brightly and all the stars were visible. Had Bobby finally lost his mind?
His gaze moved back down and he saw that Worthington was suddenly standing, almost awkwardly, staring into his beer instead of looking at Bobby. So 'Cloud' clearly meant something to him even if it didn't to Jean Paul.
"I, uh, um wow..." Worthington stumbled over his words. "Haven't thought about that in a long time. It was a long time ago"
Bobby said nothing and Worthington fidgeted with his shirt.
"Not really." Bobby eventually disagreed, his voice was soft and Jean Paul had to lean out of the window a little to be certain he heard the other man. "Sometimes at night, one like this when the sky's all clear, I wonder is Cloud right there? Is Cloud looking back at me?"
Jean Paul exhaled heavily, so Cloud was a woman who'd apparently left Bobby to go into space. Considering he was in Xavier's school, this certainly wasn't the strangest break up story he'd ever heard. Though if this Cloud had been so important to Bobby, why had Jean Paul never heard of her?
Long before he'd joined the X-men, when he was still in Alpha Flight, he'd had missions in which he'd fought alongside Bobby. He'd known all about Lorna, even about a human named Opal and naturally the news that Bobby and Annie had kissed had spread like wildfire. After all this was a school and a school's primary function seemed to be to spread gossip like it's going out of fashion. There had been no talk about this Cloud, however. He wondered why.
Worthington had sunk down to sit on the wall, behind Bobby and facing back at the mansion. Jean Paul took a step back into the dark; he didn't want to risk Worthington looking up and seeing him.
"Why torture yourself, Bobby?" He asked, putting his empty beer bottle aside on the patio floor and shaking his head "You had a lucky escape, I reckon coz her leaving meant you didn't have to break up with her. The whole 'Am I a Boy? Am I a Girl? What will I be today?' routine just fucked with your head. I don't blame you really. If it were me, well, I would have-"
Jean Paul stopped listening as his brain was in overload, what did Worthington mean by that? Had Bobby dated a transsexual? Did this Cloud suffer from gender confusion or perhaps had she, he, whatever gender pronoun was appropriate, had they been a shape shifter like Mystique and simply enjoyed switching gender?
Worthington had just said it caused Bobby confusion, did that mean Bobby had liked having a gender switching partner, if indeed he had had one. Or if not liked it, at least not hated it since he'd obviously stayed with this Cloud or there would have been no more relationship and no more confusion. Was this what Annie had found out? That Bobby was possible bi-curious or maybe even bi-sexual? If so, why hadn't she just come out and said it? But then, he had been rather abrupt with her so maybe he hadn't given her a chance or his rudeness had just made her decide he should find out on his own?
Or was he jumping to too many conclusions. He risked leaning out of his window so that he could see Robert again. As he did so, he tried to remind himself that even if by some sort of miracle Bobby was indeed bisexual, that didn't mean he'd ever give Jean Paul the time of day.
Down below, Bobby had sat up. He was now perched on the wall like Warren but his expression was defensive, his arms folded over his chest.
"Do you ever hear me saying you're better off without Betsy or should get rid of Paige?" He snapped with an ugly look on his face, anger obvious in him.
Warren seemed utterly taken aback that Bobby hadn't agreed with him. "I'm just trying to help, Bob-"
"Maybe I don't need your help." The Iceman stood and stormed back inside leaving a very confused looking Worthington sat alone.
Jean Paul lent against the window frame, his mind trying to process the scene he had just witnessed and it's possible meaning.
He sighed sadly thinking of the anguish on the younger man's face. How could everyone else be so blind to it? He shook his head as he wondered aloud "What's going on in that head of yours, Robert?"