Chapter 1: Part One
John doesn’t click his lighter once during the jet ride to DC. He just stands in the back of the plane, having given up his seat to the professor, and stares into the middle distance, body loose and eyes glazed over.
That’s what worries Bobby as Logan tosses them uniforms. He doesn’t protest the uniform, doesn’t really notice its presence. He just watches John.
Eventually, though, he turns away silently and zips into his own suit. It’s uncomfortable, and he tugs gently at the collar. It’s too warm, and he can hardly blame himself for sweating.
He looks over at Rogue, who seems more at ease in the X-Men uniform. She’s hurting – they all are, with Dr. Grey gone – but she looks more like her grief is giving her a strength she hadn’t had before than anything else. She stands tall as she meets his eyes with a wordless We’ll be okay.
Quietly, he wonders when they managed to build that kind of rapport. It’s only been a few months, after all, since she arrived at the mansion.
His reverie is interrupted by the warmth at his shoulder that has always signified John’s presence.
There it is, and it’s a reassurance as warm breath brushes his ear on the whisper, “Hey, give the eyefucking a rest – looks like we’re X-Men now.”
It’s a dumb jab – not nearly one of John’s best, but the fact that he’s trying is just enough to relax Bobby a little. He turns, knocking his shoulder against John’s and murmuring back, “Oh, shut up.”
He, John and Rogue clump together as everyone hangs on to Kurt. Rogue grabs onto his hand, and he feels John’s hand on his shoulder just before the world shifts. His stomach flips uncomfortably. He sees Rogue’s eyes go wide after the fact and her hand tightens around his. He tenses, remembering how she’d almost died and Kurt had saved her.
They stand silently as the professor speaks to the president, and then there’s the flight home.
This time, something in them seems to have fallen apart. Bobby senses something breaking, and then realizes – it’s everyone giving in to grief.
Cyclops looks fragile, which is in itself a little terrifying, and Bobby finds he has to look away. His eyes drift over to Logan, who is determinedly not looking at Cyclops or anyone else. He looks tired. Storm is flying the plane, but her hands are tight on the controls, and Kurt is leaning toward her as if to try and comfort her. The professor says nothing, but his eyes are closed and his expression much too serene for comfort.
Even Rogue looks like she’s in pain, and Bobby finds himself reaching again for her hand.
John is no longer in the back of the plane, but rather is standing right behind Rogue and Bobby’s chairs, and his presence is warm and comforting. Bobby knows he's going to need that.
But there's something strange in John's closeness, something that Bobby's never observed before -- and when it comes to John, there's very little that he has not observed. It worries him like the trip to DC did.
Finally, they touch down in the hangar, and there is the slow procession out into the mansion, every child, every mutant moving back into the familiar, if disheveled halls. Piotr's already back with his group, and Bobby recognizes the instant that the Russian colossus notices that Dr. Grey hasn't come back with them.
He meets Piotr's eyes, and the looks they trade say it all as Bobby gestures subtly toward Cyclops with his head.
Kitty runs up to him upon seeing him, hugging him tightly. They've always been close -- that shared love of chilly weather and art made sure of that.
Bobby turns away from that reunion to pull Rogue close. He may not be able to touch her skin, but he holds her anyway, because he needs it right now, needs closeness almost as much as he needs air, and she is within reach -- she is safe.
John catches his eye over Rogue's shoulder, and there's a gentle sort of worry in John's expression. He's only a few feet away, but suddenly, he looks terribly alone.
Bobby loosens his hold on Rogue by a fraction, and gestures to John to come closer. John moves toward them hesitantly, quietly, not even the lighter making a sound.
There are people all around them, reunions going on all over the hallways and in the hangar, but Bobby's world has funneled down to the three of them, silent and sad in their own bubble. He reaches out to John with one hand, squeezing his shoulder, as he tightens his hold again around Rogue's waist.
John places his hand over Bobby's on his shoulder, and Rogue nuzzles deeper into Bobby's other shoulder. Bobby feels her shaking.
There is a long, hanging moment, and then Rogue pulls back and John lets go, and they proceed into the house in silence. Other groups of two or three or four are doing the same, and it seems like it is the thing they’re supposed to be doing.
No one has been through this, or something like this, ever before. Sure, a lot of the kids here were either runaways or their parents were scared of their powers, but no one has ever been attacked in their home and then returned to find the holes and ragged carpets and broken glass all exactly where they’d been before, when they were fleeing.
They walk Rogue to her room, and there is a brief moment between Bobby and her – the moment where, if it were any other couple, a kiss would be – before John and Bobby proceed to their dorm.
It isn’t overturned at all, aside from the blankets and sheets being torn from the beds and the wardrobe and closet doors flung open. Bobby moves toward his sheets and begins to re-make his bed, because that seems to be the first thing that he can do, and he feels he must do something.
"Hey," John says, quiet. "You're shaking."
Bobby hadn't noticed. He looks down at his hands and the sheet he's holding and sees that John is right -- he is shaking, and it looks like he's about to drop the sheet. He looks up at John who seems a combination of fierce and anxious. Bobby isn't sure why.
"Put down the sheet and breathe," John orders. Bobby does, but his hands are still shaking, and, for the first time in a very, very long time, he feels cold.
John takes the two little steps it takes in that small room for his body-heat to wash over Bobby and warm him. Bobby feels a rush of air escape his lungs, and, despite his chill, the puff of air comes out like steam from a grate.
John is still quiet, and Bobby suddenly wishes that the lighter would click, or that something would happen that would bring back the John he's used to seeing, all bravado and certainty with fire at his easy, casual command. He isn't used to silence when it comes to John -- he is the quiet one out of the two of them.
Then, silently, softly, John winds an arm around Bobby's shoulders, crushing him into a hug that's just a hair too much manly bro-hug -- but that is comfortable, that kind of thing; it is familiar and it is real, and Bobby needs this touch right now, before he breaks apart and shatters so that he can't fuse himself back together again. Everything has changed. He has never seen the world like this before -- has never watched a beloved teacher die, and another one lose his cool in front of everyone. He has never seen the Professor look so tired and almost weak. He has never thought about death, about how hated mutation can be.
He's never going to be able to go back to what and who he was before.
So he buries his head into John's warm shoulder, and stands there and feels the tears hiss into nothing on the other boy's clothes and skin.
He mourns for the death of innocence, the death of Dr. Grey, and for everything else that is gone forever.
Rogue finds herself awake the night they return to the mansion. She's long since peeled out of the leather X-Men uniform, the one a little too loose about the hips and tight around the bust and throat, but she can't bring herself to sleep.
Her bed seems like a dangerous place to be, and, though she's exhausted, she can't deal with this right now.
So she leaves her room and walks the halls of the mansion, remembering that night in flashes of fear and movement and the ever-present "Please, don't let them touch me" that runs like a mantra through her head.
She tucks the white lock of hair behind her ear as she takes notice of a light in the kitchen -- or, really, what was the kitchen.
She finds Bobby there, staring at a half-finished carton of ice-cream.
"So you were here when they came." It's not a question.
"Right," Bobby whispers, too quiet. "Talking to Logan about things. And then...then everything happened." He pauses. "I can still hear the guns and the rotors."
When Rogue lets herself listen, so can she.
"Thank you," she whispers, realizing that she'd never managed it. "For goin' back for Logan."
Bobby's lips -- lips she'd finally tasted only two days ago -- twist ruefully. "You were right, though. We would never have made it without him." He looks back down at the ice cream, which is only partly frozen, some of it dripping onto the counter from the time it spent entirely melted.
She nods, a little, and joins him at the island. It's silent in the house but for the remembered chaos, and, when Bobby is near, even that sort of falls away.
He looks like he wants to hold her again, but she's in her night-dress, her arms and shoulders bare, and he is in a tee-shirt and boxers. They can't get any closer than they are, and she once again hates herself just a little bit more.
He seems to see the self-loathing in her eyes, because she sees his lips tinging blue.
He leans down to kiss her, gently, oh-so-gently, and she, scared and hopeful, kisses back. It's beautiful and sad and far too short, but it's something at least, and they have learned to treasure the somethings whenever they came along.
When he pulls back, he’s breathless, and she wonders if it’s the kiss that did it or her mutation.
He smiles, and she wonders if it matters.
He lets her go without protest, and she continues to wander the halls, listening to the soft constant rush of many people’s sleeping breaths. There are lights on in some rooms, but most are dark under the doors, and she thinks that that’s a good sign.
Eventually, her eyes grow heavy, and she finds her way back to her room.
The bed looks less dangerous now, and more inviting. She slips into it and falls asleep quickly, exhaustion shielding her from nightmares.
John doesn’t fall asleep until long after Bobby does.
He has too much to think about, too many things that he’s suddenly not sure of. He waits up for Bobby after he disappears downstairs – no doubt to the kitchen, because that’s where Bobby goes when he’s upset – and when he returns, he pretends to be sleeping.
But he’s really staring at the wall and thinking. Every now and then he rolls over to make sure Bobby’s okay, but mostly, his eyes are on the wall in the thick silent dark, and he can’t help but wonder who really is in the right or the wrong. What if his powers mean he is better than other people, and to hell with equality? But then, why would the Professor, one of the strongest mutants on the planet, restrain himself to the degree that he taught coexistence rather than war?
Are they, by virtue of mutation, the better men?
John doesn’t know. He has no idea who is right and who is wrong anymore. Presently, he rolls over to look at Bobby, and he realizes something – there may not be a right side or a wrong side, but his best friend is on this one, and really John doesn’t have anything else but this life, and Bobby Drake.
And yeah, he’s maybe a little bit stupidly in love with his best friend. Mostly he’s okay with it.
In fact, right now, he’s more than okay with it.
The things Magneto said to him on the jet matter a lot less when he thinks about leaving everyone here, and in particular leaving his best friend who he happens to be a little in love with. Maybe he’s a god among insects, maybe he’s just being held back, but right now…
Right now, in the aftermath of the greatest disaster mutantkind has ever seen, he doesn’t care, because Bobby’s in the other bed, and they’re both safe and alive, and they’ll be okay.
They’ll be okay.
Chapter 2: Part Two
The next few weeks are full of news. Thousands are dead in America alone from what Stryker did, whatever that is, and there’s a new anti-mutant outcry.
The Mutant Registration Act is reintroduced despite the President’s support, and it makes everyone in the school uneasy. Nobody doubts that something is going to happen, but no one is sure what. It is like the calm before a storm when you haven’t got a weather channel.
Bobby sits on one of the benches in the garden, reading the letter from his mother for the fifth or sixth time. It still says the same things, the gentle, trite, walking-on-eggshells comments about it being “okay, of course” that he’s “different,” and that his brother has been properly chastised and apologises for the police incident – that had made John laugh when he’d read it over Bobby’s shoulder.
Rogue is angry. She hasn’t said so, but it’s clear that she is, and Bobby wishes she wouldn’t be. He hadn’t been expecting anything more or less than what this letter says.
Maybe it’s because she’s a runaway, and she’d give anything to have a family again, but only if they loved her unconditionally, if they didn’t see her as a danger to everyone around her. Bobby muses that that’s probably it as he sits in the garden; it probably is that.
He folds the letter back up and slips it into his pocket, standing up as smoothly as he can.
There have been a lot of parents in and out of the mansion lately, taking their kids out of school early – it’s only mid-May, and the year doesn’t end ‘til mid-June – because of the tragedies caused by William Stryker and his monster son at Alkali Lake. The summer will be particularly quiet this year, Bobby thinks to himself.
He has never stayed at the mansion over the summer, but this year he is pretty certain he will – to give his family a chance to recover from the havoc caused by what happened weeks ago, to recover from John going postal on the police and seeing Logan get shot in the head and then get back up. They deserve that time; Bobby wouldn’t have brought John and Rogue and Logan to his house if they weren’t desperate, if it weren’t the only thing they had a chance with.
He walks through the empty garden toward the mansion’s great front doors and glances up at the windows. His eyes are caught by John’s, who looks down at him and nods.
They meet in the Danger Room.
That’s another thing that’s changed. They, and Rogue, and Kitty and Piotr are all training to become X-Men now. Bobby wonders if that’s because of what happened at Alkali, if the world-changing effects of that incident mean that everyone, human or mutant, would be in danger, and needed the X-Men more than they ever have before.
“So, you still can’t go full on Iceman, huh?” John asks him, conversationally, but there is something off about his stride, something a little animalistic, and his voice is low.
Bobby knows that that look means that he needs to let loose, needs to fight and hurt and be hurt.
He nods. “I still can’t get enough ice out all at once.”
John glances away, toward the door. “You ready, man?”
Rogue always watches them fight, when she has the chance.
It’s a stunning display, always, the interplay of fire and ice. John becomes Pyro in the Danger Room, who is like John but more vicious, less inhibited. In contrast, Bobby goes quieter, colder, more than either himself or the Iceman would be alone. The nickname doesn’t apply so much to what he becomes in a fight the way it does for John.
Right now, John is drawing rude words and gestures in the air with lines of fire and smoke, lighter gripped in one hand as the other directs the flames with an ease like none she’s ever seen.
He’s not afraid of what he can do, the way she is.
She guesses she admires that about him, the same way she knows she’s jealous that, even here, they’re so evenly matched. Bobby conserves energy, moving as little as he can, while John practically dances around him. Bobby doesn’t say anything; John makes barbs and quips as easily as breathing.
It’s kind of frustrating, but she knows why. They’ve known each other for so long, and John has always been there, just off the corner of Bobby’s shoulder, or seated in a corner of the same room.
She envies that easy camaraderie, and envies even the way that John will now and then put a hand on Bobby’s arm to get his attention, or poke him in the head, or just touch him, for whatever reason. She wishes she could have that simple physical assurance, but she can’t.
The fight ends slowly, but she watches it wind down without a clear winner. Privately, she admits that it’s probably John, but she will never admit that to Bobby.
They both smile at her as they exit the room and see her , and John shifts a half-step away so she can move in close to Bobby. She appreciates the gesture as she pulls Bobby into a brief hug and tells them both: "You're lookin' good in there. Like yer dancin'."
Bobby laughs. "That's more John, I guess."
"Takes two to tango, sugar," she says, sharing a conspiring look with John, who smirks back. "Just because he's the one movin' doesn't mean you're both not dancin'."
He shakes his head. "Both of you are crazy," he gripes good-naturedly.
"And yet you're best friends with one of us and dating the other," John rebuts. "You're probably at least a little nuts, too."
Bobby has to concede to that, and he does, winding an arm around Rogue’s waist and lightly punching John in the shoulder. “Maybe a little, just to keep up.”
They head for the rest of the mansion in companionable conversation.
“I can handle it,” he says, taking her gloved hands. “Trust me, Rogue. Marie.”
She tenses when he uses her real name, and looks down at their hands interlinked. When she looks back up at him, she looks afraid. “I want to, Bobby. But…I can’t.”
“Why?” He pulls her close, pinning her hands to his chest.
She pulls away. “I don’t want to hurt you. Remember at yer house? When even just that one kiss messed you up pretty bad? I cain’t risk it.”
He shakes his head and steps back into her space. “I’m still sure I can take it this time. Please, Rogue. You want to, I want to…Just let me try.”
“No,” she tells him, forcefully, and he relents.”
She turns on her heel and walks away from him, and he watches her go, wishing she could trust him with his own safety – all he’d wanted to do was to get a few feet past first base.
He notices, as he himself turns to take the other door out, that John has been sitting on the sofa, watching their exchange over the back. He meets Bobby’s eyes with a soft, almost commiserating expression before returning to the book he’d been reading.
Bobby nods, and goes on his way.
John finds Rogue on a bench in the garden, curled in on herself. She isn't crying, but she's staring out over the fountain like a kicked puppy.
He remembers the argument she and Bobby had earlier, and his heart goes out to her. He can’t imagine not being able to touch anyone because he couldn’t control his powers. He has his under as exact control as anyone – he can draw a spark from a hardly lit cigarette; he can do nearly anything with only a lighter at his side.
“You okay?” he asks her, walking over and sitting down beside her.
She looks at him dubiously.
“All right,” he admits. “Dumb question.” He pauses. “Can I help?”
“If ya can suddenly make my mutation vanish, that’d be damn helpful,” she grumbles, returning her gaze to the water. “Otherwise, not really.”
He sits in silence for a moment, and then puts a hand on her shoulder. She flinches. He says, “I can’t quite do that, but…maybe I could help you control it?” It’s barely a germ of an idea, but he has it. He wants to help her, and maybe, just maybe, he can.
She turns back to him and stares. “How?”
“I can do a lot of really precise things,” he murmurs, flicking his lighter and drawing a line in the air between them. He curls it into her name and then sends it spinning into a smiley face. “If any one of us can help you, it would probably be me.”
He extinguishes the flames with a though and a dismissive gesture.
She looks at him with a hesitant sort of hope in her eyes. “You’d be willing to help me with this?”
He nods, smiling.
“Thank you,” she whispers, and throws her arms around his neck in a near-instantaneous hug that is over as soon as it begins.
It’s about eleven o’clock on a Tuesday night, and Bobby finds himself in the kitchen. There’s still an uncomfortable sense of déjà vu, but one terrifying night couldn’t break him of the habit.
When he’s upset, he eats his feelings with ice cream.
So he opens the freezer, feeling the wash of chilled air move over his skin. It’s as familiar as his mutation is, and he feels a little calmer as he pulls the tub marked with his initials out of the back of the freezer.
He isn’t sure who provides the ice cream, but he has a feeling that it’s John – in fact, it was while Bobby had been eating his feelings of homesickness two years ago that John had shown up at the mansion’s doorstep, hunched over, cold, and thinner than he should be.
The ice cream tonight is Neapolitan, his favorite, and he perches on a stool at the island to eat it.
The kitchen has been restored to almost exactly the way it had been before the attack, which is a little unnerving, but Bobby doesn’t mind too much.
Presently, Kitty wanders into the kitchen. She smiles when she sees him, though she seems a little surprised. He knows how odd he must look – Kitty’s far from the first person to walk in on him and his late-night ritual – but doesn’t really care, because he’s got good reason to be upset.
He didn’t mean to hurt Rogue today, didn’t mean to push her toward doing something she obviously doesn’t feel ready for. He’d never want to do that.
“What’s wrong?” Kitty asks, pulling up a stool to sit next to him.
He likes that about Kitty, that she’s straightforward and honest – that she doesn’t play mind games or try to assume what he’s feeling or what he means.
So he tells her the whole story of the argument while she sits there, listening.
When he’s finished, she tilts her head to the side and thinks for a moment. “It’s awful, isn’t it? When someone you care about doesn’t trust themselves with keeping you safe.”
“Yeah,” he murmurs back. Then he raises an eyebrow. “So you and Piotr, huh?”
She laughs a little. “Yeah. He’s scared he’ll crush me, since he’s Colossus. I keep telling him that I trust him, that I am kind of, you know, in love with him. But he won’t listen.”
Bobby gets up and pulls another spoon out of the utensil drawer, passing it and the tub of ice cream to Kitty. “To people who are afraid of themselves.”
Kitty nods, and then digs in, keeping to the strawberry side of the tub.
It’s a couple of weeks later when John comes into one of their private lessons angry.
Rogue can see the simmering in the backs of his eyes, the little bits of Pyro struggling to come through. She wonders why he’s so unabashedly pissed off.
She doesn’t have to wonder for long.
“What the hell is with you?” John asks her, and she looks back at him completely nonplussed and wordless.
He continues past her silence. “I don’t understand. You keep saying that you want to do this so you can touch Bobby, so that you don’t have to worry about hurting him. And yet, it seems like every time Logan’s in the room, your pretty brown eyes wander to the Wolverine!”
Rogue isn’t sure how to react to that. Yeah, she’s close to Logan – and let’s face it, Logan is very, very attractive in that wild, powerful way. But she still loves Bobby.
She doesn’t get the chance to say this to John though, who takes her thoughtful silence for a refusal to speak and storms out of the room, telling her as he goes, “If you’re not going to treat him right, just break up with him now and save him the heartache.”
She watches him leave and settles down to think.
It takes a while, and a few laps walking around the mansion, for John to calm down. He reasons with himself the whole way, trying to convince himself he’s being stupid.
But he just watched Rogue flirt with Logan – it’s completely blatant, eyelash-batting, hair-flipping flirting. John is a hell of a lot more perceptive than most people give him credit for being; he can tell when someone is being flirtatious.
Of course, he knows nothing will come of it. Logan, if anything, is consistently weirded out when Rogue’s behavior veers into flirty.
It doesn’t change the fact that Rogue is still trying, though.
John pulls his jacket close around himself and keeps his lighter safely in his pocket. He doesn’t trust himself to not burn something – he feels the urge, the need, deep down in the pit of his stomach, searing and warm where it shouldn’t be.
He finally stops and sits down against one of the mansion’s outer walls, calming himself and holding on to his control by his fingertips. He stays like that for a long while, and then, carefully, he fishes his lighter out of his pocket and flicks it on. He pushes the flame out into a shimmering veil, concentrating on making it translucent and beautiful – if it weren’t made of flame, a woman could have worn it.
He fiddles with it for a few minutes before he feels calm enough to dismiss it and go back inside. He wonders if Rogue has discussed what happened with Bobby.
When Bobby rounds a corner and nearly runs into him, he realizes that she hasn’t. Bobby looks natural, normal – nothing has disturbed him today. That’s good, John decides. John doesn’t think he could take a hurting Bobby Drake after dealing with Rogue today.
“So,” Bobby begins, hands in his pockets. “I noticed you and Rogue are hanging out a lot.”
Oh. Awkward. But only for a moment – John’s been out to Bobby for about a year and a half; he’d know that there’s no way in hell anything could happen between Rogue and him. Ever.
“Yeah,” he replies, not sure where this is going.
Bobby shifts from one foot to another.
John decides to take pity on him. “I’m helping her try and control her mutation. She really wants to…you know…touch you, and whatever.”
Now that is awkward.
After a moment, Bobby looks at him, and, fuck, those blue eyes are sparkling. He looks like John just told him that world peace had been achieved, Christmas had come early, and somebody had gone and cured AIDS and cancer simultaneously – because Bobby gets all teary over shit like that.
“Thanks,” he whispers, and there’s a thoroughly unmanly hug right there in the middle of the hallway.
But John doesn’t really care, because hey, a hug is a hug, and he’s close enough to smell the hints of Bobby’s cologne, and there’s a comfortable coolness to his touch.
Bobby is smiling when he finally lets go.
Rogue stops mooning over Logan about a week after her “conversation” with John. She’s thought about it, long and hard, and, while Logan is incredibly attractive in a dangerous, feral way, that’s not what she wants.
She wants simple things, like touch and closeness and sweetness – all things that Bobby can give her perfectly well. And Bobby isn’t unattractive, either. He’s just a more settled kind of beautiful.
She loves, for example, how he doesn’t seem to care about the danger she poses to him every time they kiss, that he wants her anyway. And she loves that he’ll find her when she’s having a nightmare and comfort her – even when it’s Magneto’s nightmare-memories she’s woken up from.
The streak in her hair mocks her on those nights, but he just sweeps it out of her eyes and gently kisses her lips and forehead, shivering when her mutation tries to hurt him.
She loves how he’s there for her, how he’s steady and safe and kind – love is patient, love is kind, she thinks to herself.
She approaches John to apologize, and he lets her, forgiving her. She wonders why he cares so much about her and Bobby’s relationship, but figures that it has to do with John being Bobby’s best friend. It’s important, she guesses, to Bobby, so it’s important to John.
Presently, John is walking her through another lesson. She can feel the pinpricks in her skin, now, when she is draining him – she hates having to, but he makes her. He tells her that it’s the only way to be sure she’s doing it right, and she believes him; how could she not? She knows nothing about her own powers, and he understands methods of control she can’t dream of.
He laughs a lot, during their lessons together, but not at her. He laughs when she gets something right, when she can make her fingertips a safe zone and lay them on his arm.
“You’re doing beautifully,” he tells her.
“Thank you,” she murmurs, turning her eyes downcast a little bit. Maybe it’s the fact that she’s so completely touch-starved, but when John tells her that, she feels her stomach flip over a little. Because he too is a good-looking guy – and he’d flirted with her, hadn’t he, when she’d first come to the mansion.
So, she removes the sensation of her mutation and, terrified and not sure what she’s doing, she leans over and pecks him on the lips.
He pulls away immediately, his eyes going suspicious.
She smiles. “So it works. I didn’t hurt you.”
It’s a weak excuse, but it’s part of the truth. She wants him to understand that.
“Since it’s going to be your mouth at first, right?” he asks, his eyebrow quirking. “Because if I’m just that good looking, you’re gonna get a rude awakening.”
“Oh?” she asks. He doesn’t seem angry – more amused than anything else.
His head lolls to the side. “Marie, darling, I’m gayer than a tree full of monkeys on nitrous oxide.” He pauses. “Also, if you try to cheat on Bobby, I’ll beat you to death with a rusty shovel and then burn the remains to ash.”
She takes a moment to process this new information. She starts laughing at the metaphor before she registers the facts, and then stops abruptly. “You are?”
“Yep. You could call me flaming, in fact, but I’ve heard that one from every person I’m out to.”
She grins. “I wasn’t going to. You mentioned it first, after all.” She stops for a moment. “And please don’t kill me with a shovel. I’d hate to go like that.”
He laughs, and the lesson continues as though it was never interrupted.
But Rogue notices, as time goes on, John gets more fidgety in her presence, and eventually, he ends it early. She wonders if she’s ruined everything as he leaves her again.
It was an impulse, an urge she’ll never give into again – and she didn’t especially mean it.
Chapter 3: Part Three
It’s been a week since Bobby has seen John and Rogue in each others’ company. In fact, it seems like John is actively, if subtly, avoiding her presence.
Maybe it’s only because Bobby is so used to John’s presence at his side that he notices the connection between his absence and Rogue’s presence in a given room aside from classes. But all the same, he notices it, and it bothers him to a great extent.
Eventually, just after they’ve finished English – they’d been working their way through A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce – he asks Rogue.
They’re on their daily walk in the garden, and she tenses. “I don’t know what yer talking about.”
“Maybe I’m looking too far into it,” he murmurs, wrapping an arm around her shoulders. “But you guys had been, y’know, friends, and it’s not like I want to see you two in a fight or something.”
She shakes her head. “We’re not fightin’.”
He lets it go at that, but he’s fairly certain that something is going on with them, and he wonders what it is.
The air smells like ash and smoke – like John, Rogue’s mind supplies unhelpfully – as she dodges huge chunks of debris. They’re on the losing end of it, she knows, and she can’t even see the sentinel through the glare of its lights and the glow of a dozen fires.
She realizes too late that a boulder is flying straight toward her, but Piotr rescues her, sharing his mutation with her for the instant it takes for the boulder to hit them and for it not to hurt them.
John is at her side in an instant, shooting fire desperately at the Sentinel, though it doesn’t seem to be helping in any way whatever. But Rogue isn’t looking at him – she’s looking at Bobby.
Well, it’s more like she’s looking at Bobby and Kitty, who are standing too close on the battlefield as Rogue, John, and Piotr take cover. There’s a too-long look and a shared smile between Bobby and Kitty before they join the other, and it twists something in her – jealousy.
She doesn’t really pay attention as Piotr and Logan take out the Sentinel, or as the debris-strewn, burning field disappears and is replaced by the clean whiteness of the Danger Room.
She doesn’t even pay attention as she gives Bobby some circuitous, snide remark.
Instead, she heads outside and strides through the garden, trying to do on her own the things that John has stopped trying to teach her.
If he could do it, couldn’t she?
A cure, they’re saying. A fucking cure.
The word tastes like vomit in John’s throat, and he remembers again what Magneto told him – so long ago now, it seems – “You are a god among insects.”
He wouldn’t trade his power for the world.
But he sees the look in Bobby’s eyes, sees Rogue storm out of the room, and he knows.
He gestures gently to Bobby and they leave the room, moving into a hallway for some privacy. There’s pain in Bobby’s expression – the same pain he shows whenever he gets a letter from home, or when he’d been telling his parents he was a mutant.
“Do you think she’ll take it?” Bobby asks, plaintively.
John doesn’t know. He honestly doesn’t know. Before that incredibly ill-advised kiss, Rogue had been doing so well. She’d been learning, and John knows deep down that she can make it, that control isn’t beyond her at all. She just needs time and practice, and then she should be able to do it.
He wonders, though, if she realizes that, if she understands her own potential.
“I don’t know,” he finally replies.
Bobby looks crushed, and John wants to warm the chill away. He kicks himself for admitting to his uncertainty, but if there’s anything he’s known for, it’s telling it like it is.
He won’t stop now.
Rogue approaches John to try and mend the bridge she’d broken with that kiss. He takes to it easily – almost desperately, it seems.
They train harder than they ever have, and she finds her center in the middle of it all, pulling away the power from her skin, centering it deep, deep inside of her. She puts her hand on John’s, and he smiles. The sensation of skin, and the buzz of her mutation – caged for the moment – almost intoxicate her. She smiles back, and he twists his hand so their fingers are interlaced.
She feels her heartbeat begin to race, and she fights the instinct in her to lean in and kiss him. The instinct to kiss is one she’s learned too well to avoid, after all.
He must see the struggle in her eyes, and know it’s not all about keeping her power restrained, because his eyes drift slowly, deliberately, down to her lips and back to her eyes. There’s a hesitant question in his eyes, and she knows exactly what he means – it comes as a shock to her that she’s learned to read him as well as she’s learned to read Bobby.
The thought of Bobby gives her a moment’s pause, and she then pulls away. She’s done this before, made this mistake, and she won’t do it again.
She likes John, a whole hell of a lot, but she’s with Bobby, and she loves him too.
John nods, understanding and silent still, and he turns what could have been a kiss into a hug, wrapping his arms around her shoulders and pulling her close.
“Was this a test?” she asks him.
He never answers. He just pulls back, a shadow of a wicked grin on his face, and rises out of his chair. He gestures with his head for her to leave the room with him, and she lets it pass.
After all, if it was, it seems she’s passed.
The mansion is quiet after the Professor’s memorial service.
Storm’s in charge now, it seems, and she sends them all to their rooms. Rogue clings to Bobby for a long while, her head buried in his shoulder – this tragedy is another in the long line of recent ones, and suddenly, all of them come crashing home to him.
He looks helplessly at John over Rogue’s shoulder – he needs to breathe, he needs to walk.
John understands, and he places a hand on Rogue’s shoulder. She pulls away from Bobby just enough to turn to him, and, to Bobby’s surprise, pulls him into the embrace.
John, as always, is warm. He’s firewood-warm tonight, and Bobby finds himself comforted by that. They’re arranged somewhat awkwardly, a tangled mass of grief and limbs, but John puts his hand on the back of Bobby’s neck and wraps his other arm around Rogue’s waist. Bobby feels his warmth down to the bones now, and wonders if this is another way John uses his mutation.
After another long moment, they all untangle as though by some unspoken agreement, and John leads Rogue by the hand toward the stairs.
Bobby roams the mansion, trying to put everything into some kind of perspective – but there isn’t one.
He doesn’t have a frame of reference for this; mutantkind has never had a leader like Charles Xavier, and they probably never will again. There’s no history for this, there’s nothing to turn to to ask “How do I deal with this?”
He hears sobbing while he passes Kitty’s open door, and he pokes his head in.
When he takes her outside – or rather, when she phases them straight through the walls – he’s not exactly sure what he’s doing. He figures it out as he goes, though, and soon they’re skating around on the fountain he’s keeping frozen.
He gets a surprise when he winds up with an armful of Kitty. She laughs, and it’s not entirely mirthless.
“How are things with Rogue?” she asks him, and Bobby can almost hear the unspoken question about the cure.
“They seem all right,” he says softly.
Kitty skates a quick lap around the fountain. When she comes back around to him, she says to him, “You know, in all the time we’ve been here, I haven’t ever seen you like anyone but her. It’s kind of sweet.”
His stomach twists. “There haven’t been…I mean, mostly…I…”
She looks at him quizzically.
Bobby takes a deep breath. He knows what he has to say, because honestly, he doesn’t want to lie about this. Not now, with Rogue so close to being gone, and every second counting double.
“I’m mostly gay, I think,” he whispers. “I’ve only liked Rogue and…y’know…”
Kitty nods quickly. “I get it.”
She doesn’t seem at all surprised, but then, he wonders if anyone would be, if he told them that. He’s pursuing a girl he has to beg to touch, to even hold her hand, and he doesn’t fight it when she tells him no.
Kitty smiles, and the moment passes, without awkwardness, into the night. They continue to skate, and it’s lovely – a moment of beauty after crushing grief.
John can’t sleep. He feels like the world is on the edge of something, that everything is building to a climax, and soon that climax is going to come and it will change everything.
So, he wanders. He takes Rogue back to her room and, knowing Bobby is probably wandering too, he roams the building as quietly as he dares. He walks around, his lighter clenched tight in his fist as he thinks about the day and the days to come.
What will the world be like without the Professor? John is sure that that’s the question on every mutant’s mind right now, and it does flit through his.
But John isn’t the type to linger on maybes. He deals best with the things that are, the here and now.
Which is why, when he passes by Rogue’s door again and finds it open and empty, he knows. He knows why the bed hasn’t been slept in, why the closet holds nothing, why the light is on.
She’s gone and left them.
Betrayal sears through him, hot and sharp as steel in a forge, but he doesn’t blame her. He knows what she wants, what she needs…
And maybe now she thinks she’ll get it easier if she’s cured.
There’s only one thing John can do right now, so he does it – he goes and finds Bobby, who by now has returned to their room. He skids in, eyes wide and terrified as his stomach churns.
“She’s gone,” he pants.
The look on Bobby’s face codifies heartbreak.
“She can’t have gone far,” John says, awkward. He looks away and darts to the dresser, digging through. He knows he has an emergency twenty hiding somewhere, and that might pay their way through to Manhattan. The need to find her before she does something irreversible.
Bobby is beside him after a long moment. “What if she does it anyway?”
“Don’t think about that,” John snaps. Then he recoils. “But…we have to try. You love her, right?”
“And you love everything about her. You love that she’s a mutant, no matter how inconvenient that might make things?” John pulls the twenty out of the communal sock drawer.
“Yes.” The word is broken.
“Then we have to make sure she knows that.”
Rogue watches the sun come up in the east, over a crest of rock that seems to wobble between different shades of brown every time she blinks. It’s a lovely sunrise, but she’s in no mood for lovely.
Bobby and Kitty skating on the fountain had been lovely, after all. Glittering and sweet and something straight out from some young adult romance novel she’d never admit to reading. She had seen it all from the window – them taking comfort, it seemed, in the chill of ice and rush of wind and the warmth of touch.
It is the last thing, of course, that has driven her here.
John has tried to help, bless him, but he isn’t enough. He isn’t enough to keep her from this. She can’t stand it any longer, to go without touch when she has this new choice she can take.
She thinks of what Logan had told her at the door of the mansion, and wonders if he thinks she’ll refuse at the last minute. She feels that she can’t. Not when there’s something hurt and starving lurking inside her, something that’s made of braided-together love and lust.
Her thoughts turn to Bobby, and how she is and isn’t doing this for him. It’s not him, precisely.
But it’s what he means to her – touch, safety, a comfortable feeling of just being loved – that makes her need to do this. If not him, she’s sure someone else would have come to represent those things.
Nothing will keep her from this, not now.
Chapter 4: Part Four
Manhattan is loud and angry. Even with John at his back, Bobby is nervous.
This place is dangerous.
They get closer and closer to the clinic, and there are mutants everywhere – some obvious, some not nearly so. But Bobby can tell; there’s always something in the slant of eyes, or in the nervous skitter of a gait, that makes it visible even for those with invisible mutations.
Soon, they’re on the same block as the clinic. The sidewalks on both sides of the street are full to bursting. On one side is the clinic, and the long line of mutants waiting for the cure. On the other is the mob of protesters and signs that make the line out to be traitors and cowards. Bobby doesn’t know what to do, exactly, or where to stand.
John puts a hand in the small of his back and guides him to the side of the street across from the clinic. They have to walk the block to see if Rogue is already on line, he tells Bobby, whispering softly into his ear. Bobby complies, and John stays close.
Out of the corner of his eye, he can see John’s lighter clenched tight in his hand.
They both look for Rogue, peering over heads and around signs, but they don’t see her anywhere. Bobby feels his heart speed up with every passing minute – what if she’s already inside?
There is a second of utter silence, which catches Bobby off guard, and then an explosion.
It isn’t John’s doing, but John jumps into action, pushing Bobby back toward a building and throwing his hand outward. He wrestles with the flames hurtling toward the clinic, yanking them back. He’s not even looking at the fire, but the ferocity in his eyes makes Bobby afraid. It’s more than he’s ever seen in the Danger Room, and it looks like a forest fire – the kind where people get killed and houses get burned to cinders.
Right now, John looks like he could be a fucking force of nature.
Finally, he turns around, and Bobby watches as the crowd parts to reveal a blonde girl, not much older than them, who has her hands outstretched and is trying to wrest the fire from John’s control.
John spits at her, and begins to shape the fire to his will.
She growls something unintelligible and vicious and tries to unravel John’s designs. The ball of fire shivers but doesn’t unwind. John just tosses his head and closes his hand.
The fire goes out – but only for an instant.
In the next, the young woman goes up in flames, screaming. It takes her a few seconds, precious seconds, to put herself out – or maybe John does that too, with another tilt of his head. She falls to the ground, smoking and red and still screaming.
John turns back, and looks a little scared of himself.
Bobby looks back at him, and, sure, what just happened scares the shit out of him, but there’s something powerfully alluring about it, too. That’s the scariest thing. But it doesn’t matter in the long run, because Bobby gestures with his eyes for them to get the hell out.
They head for the end of the block, and that’s where they see a girl in green at the corner bus stop.
Rogue steps off the bus as the fire starts.
She watches, and the smell of ash and smoke starts filling up her memory – but John isn’t here, is he?
When the fire stops in midair and begins to twist itself back around, she realizes that he is. That he is, and it has to be him protecting these people.
And if he’s here, then Bobby must be too.
Have they come to try and stop her? She can’t imagine any other reason.
The crowd starts thinning as people head for cover. Even from the end of the block, she can see John, hand outstretched, manipulating flame, and Bobby, leaning against a wall in shock. She thinks that John must have pushed him out of the way there.
She watches the fire form itself into a ball, and the other pyrokinetic try and regain control.
Then she sees the woman burst into flame, and she thinks she might throw up. But she knows why, she thinks, John is capable of this, that he’s willing to do it.
It has to do with Bobby and her, she thinks.
It’s Bobby that starts leading John down the street to try and escape, and she finds she cannot move.
All she can do is stand, and listen, as her name falls, a broken word, from Bobby’s lips.
John feels the emotions of the crowd like licks of fire on his skin. The coolness of Bobby ahead of him keeps him tethered to their reasons for being here.
If he weren’t, John would probably be no different than these people. He would probably be raging, fighting this whole idea of a “cure” for mutation with every fiber of his being, trying to stop it. Maybe, even, he’d be worse.
He scans the sidewalk for Rogue, and sends up a manic almost-prayer that she hasn’t already done it, that they’re not too late.
Then, he feels the prickle of fire in the air in a peculiar silence.
He only has an instant to shove Bobby back as the fire explodes outward from someone a little further down the sidewalk. He feels it bone deep as the fire comes, wild and barely-controlled.
He imagines Rogue inside that building, and that makes him grab onto the flames and pull them back.
Power slams into him even as he still looks at Bobby. He feels it filling him up like a magnificence he’s never quite felt before. He can hardly hold on.
This is nothing like the Danger Room, or sparring with Bobby – this is real.
Pyro gets to run loose today, he realizes. He turns to the fire, judging it and finding it wanting. So he yanks it loose of the weak and unskilled hands that try to wield it and shapes it in the image he desires.
The protesters part, and the other appears, her hair wild and her eyes arrogant.
He spits on her. She is nothing. She is lower than ash.
She tries to pull the fire back to her will, but his image barely flickers. He laughs inside, and he lets it disassemble into sparks – before he shows her what fire really does.
He feels an instant of justice, of sick satisfaction, as she burns.
Then John realizes what he is becoming and reels backward into himself, forcing the fire out and locking away the vindication of being a god among insects. He looks back at Bobby, in part to shut out the image of his victim lying, convulsing and shrieking, on the ground.
But mostly, he begs for forgiveness.
He doesn’t quite find it, but Bobby moves his head to the side, and they head down the street, getting away, shoulders bumping together as they move.
He almost misses Rogue before he hears Bobby say her name.
She looks at each of them in turn, standing at that bus stop, and John thinks, wildly, desperately, that they’re not too late, they’ve still maybe got a chance.
She grabs each of them by the hand and drags them down a sidestreet as sirens begin to wail.
They put a dozen blocks between themselves and the clinic before they collapse into a park, rolling behind a set of bushes like one overwrought organism.
Bobby is the first to recover, and he pulls Rogue close, only millimeters between their faces. Rogue’s eyes dart to John, and then she closes the gap. John watches as the kiss goes heated…
And nothing happens to Bobby.
When they finally pull apart, Rogue is shaking, and Bobby’s lips are hardly blue at all.
“What was that?” Rogue asks, almost to the universe.
“You controlling your powers,” John gasps, still recovering from shock and exertion. “You doing exactly what you’ve been trying to do for months.” He finds himself smiling madly.
Bobby has tears in his eyes, but he’s laughing.
Rogue looks at them both like they’re crazy, but it’s the good kind of crazy.
The emotions are running high, and John can feel his heart still thumping wildly against his ribcage as he digs through everything he’s ever done and can’t find anything quite this insane.
“Oh God,” Bobby says, the tears falling. “Oh God, Rogue, please.”
John doesn’t think that he needs to ask.
They make it to a cheap, seedy motel on the furthest outskirts of northern Manhattan when they find that they’ve made the evening news.
Or rather, John has. Apparently, some idiot amateur reporter has video of the entire thing, up to and including the burning woman at the end. Bobby and Rogue look at each other and block John from the view of the person at the desk. Rogue pays for the room, her eyes never meeting the attendant’s, who doesn’t ask questions.
Bobby notices the attendant’s little girl peeking around the door, and she’s a pale green with a tongue that flicks out every few seconds.
That explains it.
They pile into the tiny room. As soon as the door is shut behind them, all of the energy and the rush and the fear drains out of them, and they – or rather, at least Bobby – see the day in all of its terrible glory.
“I’m sorry,” Rogue and John say simultaneously, and both recoil.
Bobby feels a hiccup of a laugh tear itself out of his throat. He is leaning against the door, trying to process everything.
It had taken him long enough to figure out and accept how he felt about what Bobby had done with the police in Boston. He can probably forgive this more easily, though, he realizes. And as for Rogue?
There’s nothing to forgive.
“It’s okay,” he tells them both, and pushes off the door to survey the room.
There are two equally tiny, equally uncomfortable-looking beds in the room, with threadbare sheets and curtains, and he thinks, for one wild moment, where everyone will sleep.
He can still feel the hours-old kiss on his lips, and thinks that this could be the best thing that’s ever happened to him – and he has both of them to thank for it. He turns back to them, and they are looking uneasily at him and at each other, as though any wrong move will break one of them, and so break them all.
He looks at Rogue, who he’s been sure he loves for a while now, and at John, who, honestly, he might also be in love with too.
The realization hits him like ice and fire and the pull of Rogue’s mutation.
All of a sudden, he realizes what he needs to do, and it seems like it’s simple and perfect – though there are so many ways it can go wrong, and he could screw everything up in seconds.
Still, he doesn’t let the fear stop him.
He pulls Rogue close and kisses her, soft, on the lips, and then, not letting go, he grabs John by the front of his t-shirt and gives him a kiss as well.
After, he steps back from both of them and waits.
The first thing Rogue realizes is that it doesn’t bother her to see Bobby’s lips brush over John’s.
The second is that this might just save everything, might just fix every single one of their problems – hers, Bobby’s, John’s – and all she has to do is let go.
She turns to John, who looks confused and scared, and fifty kinds of beautiful, and kisses his cheek.
“Yeah,” John croaks, his hand trailing from his mouth to his cheek. “Yeah.”
Rogue smiles, and everything seems all right. She can control her power, thanks to John, and she can touch the both of them, and it isn’t a problem, it isn’t a danger.
This is what she needed, what she’d never even thought to look for.
Bobby laughs, bell-like in the quiet, and he kisses each of them again, this time longer, and this time starting with John. It’s enthralling, Rogue decides.
Part of her, she realizes belatedly, has always known that John felt this for Bobby, and that this kind of closeness meant what it means. Why else would he care so much that Bobby was happy? Why else would he be so bent on making sure she didn’t do anything to hurt him?
She meets John’s eyes when he pulls away from Bobby, and hopes she can articulate with her eyes her understanding, her acceptance.
Then Bobby kisses her, and it’s almost like coming home again after long years away, the ice hardly forming between their lips as she keeps the buzz of her abilities deep in her core. It’s easier, now, much easier, and once again thanks John in her head. She’ll have to thank him out loud in a minute, once she’s got her mouth back, but not quite yet.
It’s not too surprising when John wraps his arms around them both, nuzzling each of them with his warmth. But it’s another piece to the homecoming, like finding dinner on the table when you get there.
They stay like that for a while, wrapped in warmth and what Rogue is sure is love.
John can feel his guilt slipping away with every kiss, every touch.
There is something comforting in Rogue’s gentle embrace, even as Bobby’s cool touch makes him burn hotter with every kiss.
And watching the two of them is a pleasure in and of itself, to watch her drive him crazy.
He slides one arm back to touch Rogue’s hip as Bobby dips his tongue into his mouth with hesitant but wonderful grace. He loves these people – even though it’s a little different for each of them. He doesn’t have a word for it, but it’s all right, it’s what they need.
He’s loved Bobby for ages, and this feeling for Rogue sort of snuck up on him, and all of it is exactly the way it should be.
“Thank you,” Rogue whispers in his ear as they stumble toward one of the beds.
That first night, she doesn’t undress, though they do, and she watches as they drive each other up the wall, occasionally giving them little kisses to remind them that she’s there, and that this affects her as much as being with one or the other of them does.
When it’s all been finished, and they collapse in a twelve-limbed tangle on the bed, John drifts off to sleep, full of pleasant love and warmth.
Life never really returns to normal at the mansion – too much has changed. Too many people have died, and the world is forever changed.
The cure continues to be handed out in clinics, and John expresses disgust whenever they have to protect those clinics, but he does it anyway. Rogue always comforts him afterward, in that mystifying rapport that they’ve built that never quite leads to sex.
Bobby thinks he’s the luckiest person on the face of the planet, to have the both of them – two best friends, two lovers, who are also each others’ best friends.
Maybe some other people at the mansion have figured it out – Logan probably has – but no one has brought it up, and that’s fine.
Presently, Bobby wakes in bed with Rogue and John both wrapped around him. Rogue keeps her powers locked away now, unless she needs them in the Danger Room or in a fight, and Bobby will never be able to thank John enough for that.
As for John, he is as constant as he’s ever been, and he never ceases being so.
Early-morning sunlight filters down through the curtains, and Bobby remembers that this is the first day of a new school year.
He curls his arms around Rogue and John, and welcomes it in.