The first time John lives in New York (or rather runs away to) it's only for a few days until their parents pick them up. Them as in John and Max. Max, who lives next door and is beaten by his father. Max, who has blonde hair and blue eyes and a wicked smile that makes John's stomach twist and turn. Max, who giggles before he kisses John. Max, who can lift things without touching them and John, who can control fire but cannot create it. They're thirteen and in love and they belong together forever. That's why they run away after Max's father announces that they would move away (the teachers began to ask questions about Max's 'falls') and beat Max so hard he could barely crawl when Max stood up to him. They steal John's sister's car but two days later Max can still barely breathe and John brings him to a hospital and calls his sister to help him. When she hands the receiver to his Dad John hangs up, rushes back to Max and tells the doctor everything. When their parents come Max's father is not allowed to come in and John takes Max's hand and tells him that everything is going to be okay.
The next morning Max is gone and back home the house next to theirs is abandoned. John takes the lighter Max gave him (it has a shark face painted on it, it's a bit cliché but their first kiss was during Jaws 2) and burns the house down. The adults call it an accident and simply forget that Max has ever existed.
The third time John lives in New York (after the second time but before Alcatraz) he meets Harry. Harry is a bit taller than him and has a lot of money. He is brittle and miserable and heartbroken. Harry is a heap of broken hope, love, friendship and promises, showered in alcohol. John doesn't drink and Harry hasn't given up hope entirely yet but besides that looking at Harry is like looking in a mirror: Both of them have an unhappy past and were betrayed by lanky, blonde boys with blue eyes and idealistic views. And they both have scars. John's are on the inside of his skin and Harry's are on the outside.
Harry gives John a place to sleep and the sex is great, John never comments on Harry's drinking and Harry never says a word about John's disappearances. It's the perfect deal.
But then Magneto summons John at his side again to recruit further members for the Brotherhood and meanwhile Harry gets killed in some freak attack when he helps his (former) best friend.
John tells Magneto that he wants to destroy some of these clinics (put an end to the humiliation) and goes back to New York. It rains on the day of the funeral and John stands among the crowd. He sees Harry's redhead friend and his best friend. He wants to blame them for what happened but he doesn't. It was Harry's decision to help them and John has to accept that like he accepted everything else about Harry.
After the funeral he goes to Harry's place and gets his stuff. He makes a grimace when he sees himself in the grand mirror in the living room. Dying his hair blonde had not been his best idea. Harry would've loathed it. John loathes it. In the doorway to the kitchen he pauses. This had been Harry's favourite room and John remembers evenings when the kitchen had been filled with music and laughter, them dancing and giggling and feeding each other with slices of food that were supposed to cook on the stove.
It hurts to leave this behind, not as much as it hurt to leave the mansion (and Bobby, especially Bobby) but it hurt nonetheless. He has let Harry get too close. Never again, he vows (but he already vowed it two other times and it never stopped him).
The fourth time he lives in New York (a few years after Alcatraz) he recruits a new Brotherhood. A new president has been elected and after a few years of peace mutants are hunted again. He sets up a hide in the sewers and starts his mission. Among the recruits are a blonde girl named Claire with the ability to regenerate and a boy named Zack, who is Claire's best friend and not a mutant but John keeps him anyway, because Claire begged him to do so and because Zack has pretty, green eyes and is smart with computers.
He sleeps with Claire because he can. They're friends, comrades and it's fun for both of them. Claire's hardened by the murder of her family and John has no difficulties to keep his vow.
Zack, however, is a completely different matter. He makes John feel protective. Zack draws him in with his pretty eyes and his shy smile. Late at night John sometimes stands in the doorway and watches Zack writhe and sweat on his bed when his nightmares torture him. John tells himself to stay away from Zack, that it's not safe. That it's better for Zack. He has seen the way Zack always checks a room for possible escape routes before he enters it and how he shies away from touches. Claire told him that Zack had been in custody and John can guess what they did to him there.
John – genetically superior or not – is only a man and not a particular good man (that has been and always will be Bobby's role and John's stomach churns when he thinks about the cooperation between the X-Men and the police force) so in the end, he gives in. He feels his resolve slip, again, but he tells himself that Zack isn't out there fighting with them but safely hidden in the underground (he's quite good at lying to himself and not really believing it anyway) until someone gives them away. John has a flashback to the night the mansion was attacked when the soldiers come. The shelter is filled with terror, screams and bullets. Four of nearly ninety, John among them, make it out alive.
Only he survives the next week. He burns two of them to ashes but he buries Zack in the back of an old cemetery and puts a small cross with Zack's name onto the grave.
This time he doesn't only leave New York but America itself and goes to Australia.
The fifth time John lives in New York (although he didn't want to) it's only for a year and he was sent there by his employer the Sydney Times. He has long, blonde hair now and goes by the name of Daniel Murray.
It's the least painful time he has ever spent in New York.
In the same building as he lives a fire mutant named Johnny Storm. With Johnny it's easy to keep his vow.
A) their time is limited
B) Johnny doesn't do emotions
C) Johnny doesn't remind him of anyone (too unblemished for Max, too reckless for Bobby, too happy for Harry, too soft for Claire, too loud for Zack )
D) like every good blonde mutant Johnny is part of the X-Men (or something similar) which members are responsible for a good deal of the pain John has experienced
In this year he grows bold and shaves the blonde locks and the beard and grows his hair to the length it had when he was young (he's only 33 but the last twenty years feel more like 200).
When he leaves this time he feels no regrets.
The sixth time John lives in New York (it starts in Sydney) he didn't think he would. He has been walking home after he had spent the day with his friends when a hand (a cold hand, how odd) touches him and a voice (which he hadn't heard in nearly twenty years) says:
His first instinct is to draw a flame (how little things change ten years without a fight and he reflexes are still the same) because everyone who had been on his side and knew this name (Magneto, Mystique, Phoenix, Callisto, Harry, Claire, Zack, probably Max) is dead. He turns around, ready to (run, fight, lie, kill) react to whatever ghost from his past (Rogue, Logan, another X-Man, hopefully Max) is standing there.
He's not prepared for Bobby.
Bobby, who still has blonde hair and blue eyes and still 10 cm taller and frowns when he's confused.
John feels a sneer and sharp reply forming but then Bobby does something so uncharacteristic that it makes John ask him later if he's been abducted by aliens and got his personality changed.
He hugs him or rather crushes him between his arms and his chest before he lets go and kisses John. Right here in the middle of a lively street on a bright Sydney winter afternoon.
The sixth time John lives in New York (it ends in Sydney) it's only as long as it takes for Bobby to resign his job and pack his stuff. In the meanwhile John goes and does what he hasn't done before:
He says goodbye to Harry, Claire and Zack and wishes Johnny and Max good luck (he likes to tell himself the lie that Max lives somewhere happily ever after or in his more realistic dreams hopes that Max's father rots in prison for beating his son to death).
He's ridiculously in love with someone he tried to kill and who tried to kill him, who he betrayed, blamed, fought and who did the same things to him.
He loves Bobby and Bobby loves him and there are no ghosts looming over their shoulders anymore.
The sixth time John lives in New York he makes a new vow. A vow to try and be happy.