Their fishing poles sat before them, floaters bobbing gently on the waves. A cloud or two dotted the blue of the sky. The late July temperature was warm, but not unbearably hot.
A perfect day.
"Still can't believe you're here, Six, " Tim said, grinning as he settled a little deeper into his seat and popped the top on a beer.
Jason snorted. "Why not?"
"Why come back here at all, when you've got all that cool stuff to do in New York?"
"Tim, I happen to actually like my parents."
Mentally Tim rolled his eyes.
Jason shrugged. "They wanted me to visit, so I'm visiting them."
Tim took a drink and said, "It sucked that you couldn't make it down for your birthday. It sucks that you're leaving tomorrow, too."
Jason's mouth tightened slightly. He drew in a breath, held it, blew it out. "I might not be coming back," he said softly.
"What?! Really?" Because Tim only pretended to be casual about Jason's visiting. He wanted to spend time with Jason, as often as possible. Phone calls just weren't the same.
(He also didn't want Jason to leave him behind, like other people had.)
"I'm about to drop another bomb on them." Jason swallowed hard. "I'm seeing Scott."
It took Tim a moment to place the name and then a wave of sick disappointment at the news crashed over him. He had never said, never done anything ... and now Jason had moved on before Tim even had a chance to let him know. All because he was too chickenshit.
Scott -- the tall, good looking guy Tim had played a mean game of pool against that time he had visited Jason at school. (A part of Tim still couldn't believe he had ended up hustling a guy like Logan.)
Scott -- the kind of guy Tim was not and never would be.
He said nothing, just gulped the can dry and hurled it as hard as he could, rocking the boat so hard he nearly swamped it.
"What the hell's gotten into you?!" Jason yelled, clearly miffed.
"Nothing," Tim muttered back, clipped and tight. "Nothing."
After a very long pause, Jason asked, "You still seeing Landry?"
"Nope. He's dating Tyra now."
"You said it." Tim didn't try to keep the bitterness from his voice.
Tim saw Jason off at his parents' house the next morning. Judging by the strained looks on everybody's faces, it was going to be a long ride to the airport.
Two weeks later, after a practice that left Tim bruised and achy (if he never had to attempt to bowl over Santiago again, it would be too soon ... and this was only the 3rd pre-season practice) he reached into the fridge for an ice-cold beer when a soft knocking came at the door.
What now? he thought.
A small-for-his-age boy with dark hair stood there and looked up at him with great frightened eyes.
Billy from Jason's school! "Billy ... what are you doing here?"
"Don't know," Billy said, on the edge of tears, and then he was hugging Tim's legs as if his life depended on it.
Tim ruffled his hair before gently getting Billy's arms unwrapped from around his legs. "C'mon kiddo, let's get you a soda."
Billy smiled up at him and said, "I don't get to have soda any more."
"You don't?" WTF?!
Billy shook his head. "Daddy Reed says it's not good for growing boys."
Who's Daddy Reed? Tim also thought that whoever he was, this Daddy Reed sounded like some sort of jerk for not letting a kid have a soda. Not that kids should have a lot of soda, because you also needed things like orange juice and milk for nutrition. But, hell, he'd had lots of soda growing up, and it hadn't exactly stunted his growth.
"So," he said as soon as he had Billy sitting down at the kitchen island happily drinking Coke from a Panthers State Championship cup, "how'd you get here?"
"Don't know," Billy replied in a tiny voice, brown coke-mustache staining his upper lip.
Tim wiped it away with a paper towel. "Do you remember what you were doing just before you came here?"
"I was having a time out because I pushed Franklin, and I was so mad because he took my robot and made it into something else. And I was watching Tommy spin around and it was raining and I wanted to go out and spin around like we did with you at that big house with the big yard, and I wished you were here so you could push me and Tommy on the swings again, and I really wanted to find you so that you could take me and Tommy to the park and play with us again. And then it flashed and I was here." Billy chugged down the rest of his Coke and burped loudly.
Something curdled in the pit of Tim's stomach.
"Can we go on the swings? 'Cause it's sunny out here. Also, I want ice-cream with jimmies. Jason and Lorna were going to take me once for ice-cream with jimmies, but Magneto came and ruined it. He's in jail now. Daddy Reed says he can't hurt me or Tommy."
Fuuuuckkk. Tim remembered seeing that footage on TV. Jason holding on to Billy and his brother as Lorna tried to fend off Magneto's relentless advance.
Smiling back down at Billy, Tim said, "Sure thing, little guy. Give me a chance to get changed and we'll go visit my buddy Seven for some ice-cream and then I'll take you to the park." Tim poured him some more Coke and told him to sit tight.
When he got into his room, Tim whipped out his cellphone and called Jason. Voicemail. Crap. "Uh ... Six? Little Billy of the Billy and Tommy dynamic duo just showed up on my doorstep not 10 minutes ago. Looks like his power's come on line, that or somebody's doing something really freaky involving him. Call me back. I'll call you right away if he does any more teleporting."
Hopefully they weren't freaked out too bad over at Jason's school and hopefully somebody would come soon for Billy.
(But not too soon.)
"Ooooohhh!" Billy crooned at the sight of the banana split Tim plonked on the table between them. Matt had covered it with jimmies, just like Billy asked.
"There's also this," Tim said, setting a small cup covered in Disney characters down in front of Billy. "It's root beer." Handing Billy a spoon he said, "Dig in."
Billy set to with enthusiasm.
"Let me guess," Tim said sourly, "there's no ice-cream at Daddy Reed's."
Billy shook his head. "We get frozen soy dessert."
Tim rolled his eyes. "Bet it's not as good as this."
Billy shook his head no and tried a cautious sip of the root beer. "It's good!" he squealed happily.
"Of course it is, kiddo. Would I steer you wrong?"
The expression in Billy's big brown eyes was so serious as he shook his head no that Tim had to laugh.
On their way to the park, as Billy jabbered a mile a minute in response to his questions, Tim discovered that Billy no longer lived at the Xavier school. He didn't know his new phone number or the address, just that the building had a big four on it. But, for a place without ice-cream or soda, it actually didn't seem all that bad.
His foster parents, Daddy Reed and Sue Mom, had a son of their own, Franklin, who was a year older than Billy and Tommy, and liked to tinker with electronic appliances and toys. Billy and Tommy had bunk-beds in their room and lots of toys and books, and Sue Mom read to them almost every night. Sometimes Daddy Reed did, but Sue Mom was better at it. Billy liked Green Eggs and Ham and Tommy liked The Cat in the Hat. Franklin liked Discover Magazine.
They took trips to the park or the beach, too, but they weren't allowed to leave the house without an adult coming with and --
-- Billy's face crumpled. "Tim, I'm going to be in big trouble!" And he started to cry.
"No, Billy, " Tim said in a gentle voice as he dabbed at the tears spilling down Billy's cheeks. "It was an accident. And if they get mad? I'll stick up for you." They'd better not be fucking mad at him over this.
"Okay," Billy seemed reassured and sucked the last of his root beer through the straw. "Can we go on the swings now?"
After three hours of swinging, and see-saws, and slides, and spinning until he was dizzy and then trying to run, it was time for Billy to go home.
Tim smiled down at the sleeping Billy in the seat next to him. A lot of his happiest childhood memories -- and there weren't a whole lot of those -- had to do with going to the park, too.
Tim's cell phone rang about 10 minutes after he finished studying this season's playbook and climbed into bed next to a completely conked-out Billy (who insisted on wearing a Dillon Panthers T-Shirt that hung to his knees).
"Tim!" Jason's voice held a frantic note. "Is Billy still with you?!"
"Yeah he's sound asleep right next to me." And it's about frikkin' time you called.
"Do not go anywhere. Do not let anybody into your house until it's me calling to say we're here. If anybody comes prowling around the house call me on the cell and 911 on the land line --"
"Take a breath and calm down, Six."
"Tim, you have no idea how much shit you almost found yourself in. Luckily Professor X was able to put in a good word for you, because I shit you not when I say that Billy and Tommy's new family was already taking some major actions to find him."
Daaaamn. "Okay," he said mildly, because sometimes when Jason got on a roll you had to just let him keep going.
"Seriously, Tim, this could've blown up in your face -- blown up in the whole town's face. I'll -- I'll tell you more when I see you. We'll be there in as soon as we can."
If it was as bad as Jason made it sound, it wasn't going to be a decent hour like 9am that they came knocking on his door. Probably something oh-dark-thirty.
Tim catnapped through the night until his cellphone rang just before 2am. Billy didn't stir at all.
Two minutes later, with Jason still on the phone to him, the knock came at the door.
"Holy shit!" Tim blurted when he opened it, the phone falling from nerveless fingers.
Jason stifled a laugh behind his glove.
"You ... You're -- it's --" Tim stammered.
The tired looking man before him (who had surprisingly kind eyes, not at all the fire and brimstone Jason led him to expect) held out his hand. "Hi, I'm Reed Richards."
Wordlessly Tim pumped it a few times before he remembered he was supposed to say something. "Tim. Tim Riggins. Billy's sleeping. I'll -- why don't you come in?"
Reed motioned for the people waiting at the bottom of the drive to come up. They were joined by Sue Storm (every bit as hot in real life as she looked on TV and magazines), as well as Jean and Scott from Jason's school.
"Um, sorry for the mess," Tim muttered, looking at the state of clutter in the living room. "I didn't think to clean up. I ... I guess I'll go and get Billy now."
"He can sleep a little while longer. He's probably had a long day," Sue said not unkindly, though her smile was a touch strained.
"Tell you what," Scott said, "why don't I make us all some coffee?"
"Sounds great," Reed and Sue said in unison.
"And then we can talk about what happened today," Jean said.
"Okay," Tim said numbly. "It's not really exciting --" At Reed's raised eyebrow, he amended, "Well, after Billy just showed up, we just did things a little boy thinks are fun. Pretty ordinary." His legs wobbled a little as he sat down on the couch.
He then answered the same questions (just asked different ways) over and over about everything that had happened since Billy knocked on his door that afternoon.
Reed Richards frowned at the mention of the root beer and the banana split -- and Tim almost laughed because, really, you'd think he'd fed the kid Corona and hash brownies or something.
::In his eyes, yes. Don't mention the Coca-Cola or he'll flip. He's a firm believer that caffeine is not for children. :: Amusement colored Jean's voice in his mind.
Finally, almost as an afterthought, Sue asked where his parents were.
Tim bit back on the flare of anger and shame.
(Jean sucked in a quick breath and Jason's mouth went hard and tight.)
"Your guess is as good as mine," he said bitterly. "My older brother, Billy, and his girlfriend Jackie live next door. They've taken Bo, that's Jackie's son, and gone for a week's vacation down in Galveston."
"How old are you?" Reed asked.
What did that have to do with anything? It's not like he was six or something. "I'm 17. Look, Jason's parents are checking in on me, so's Coach Taylor. Plus, Billy calls me every evening. It's not like I'm abandoned." He looked at Jason for some help.
But, oddly enough, Reed and Sue seemed content with his answer. So did Jean.
"Billy and Tommy have mentioned you when they talk about living at the Xavier Institute, " Sue said. "You made quite an impression on them."
"I did?!" Tim blurted.
"Yes," Scott interjected. "Jason had to explain to Reed several of the games that you had played with the twins when they first went to live there."
Oh. Tim blushed. It wasn't -- it was just what you were supposed to do with kids. It was just all stuff that he had loved to do with his older brother when he was that age, stuff that he did with Bo. Nothing special. "I ... I guess this is where I go and get Billy," he finally said.
Billy refused to get back into his clothes when Tim told him that Daddy Reed and Sue Mom were here for him. Tim figured he could live with the loss of a T-shirt. Billy beamed for a moment at the news that they were here, then asked, voice quavering, "But I'm not in trouble?"
"No silly," Tim said, scooping him up. "They love you." He choked up a bit on that. Reed and Sue had come half way across the country for a kid that wasn't even theirs. His parents? Fuck it. He forced his voice to be light and happy, "They're just really happy you're okay, squirt."
As they entered the hallway, Billy clinging to his back as Tim held his clothes in a neatly rolled bundle, Billy whispered in his ear, "Are you sure you're not a mutant?"
Tim flashed a bittersweet grin over his shoulder. "Yeah, Billy, I'm sure I'm not a mutant. They told me so."
"I wish you were," Billy said wistfully, almost too soft to hear. Then, a little louder, "'Cause then I'd get to see you when I'm old enough to go to school at Xavier's."
Tim grinned even bigger at him. "You can see me without me being at Xavier's, you know. Maybe I can come visit you and Tommy the next time I visit Jason."
"Promise?" Billy asked, eyes alight.
"I promise to try," Tim replied. Then, as they made it fully into the living room -- "Look, Billy, everybody's here for you."
"Sue Mom!" Billy shouted, jumping off of Tim's back and running toward her.
"Billy boy!" She cried, scooping him up.
Billy, of course, was very happy to see Daddy Reed and over the moon to see Jason and babbled happily to him about all the new things that he had learned to do.
"Thank you," Reed said quietly as he left, shaking Tim's hand one last time.
Tim shrugged. "It was nothing. He's a good kid."
The house seemed deathly silent after the day's earlier hustle and bustle.
Thirty minutes after they left, Tim kicked himself for not getting Sue and Reed to sign something for Bo.
"Hey, Tim, my dad wants to know if you've got that equipment check done yet," Julie asked him. "He needs one of those numbers right away." She held out her hand for the metal clipboard box.
"Sure thing," Tim smiled and handed it over to her.
There was a sight crackling noise as she made contact.
"Ouch!" She winced, shaking her hand against the pain.
He cringed. "Sorry. I've been giving a lot of people static shocks lately. Don't know what it is."
When the remote control he was using to watch some Larribee game tapes snap-crackle-popped about two seconds after he set it down, buttons flying off, the casing cracked and shattered as if he had banged it with a hammer, Tim came to the realization that what had been going on (and getting worse) in the past three weeks was not static electricity.
A sick feeling churned in his guts.
He prayed that he could make it through the game against the Lions tomorrow night without anything happening. After that, he'd call Jason first thing in the morning.
Tim had a deathgrip on the football as he ran down the field, stiff arming and stutter-stepping the few Lions between him and the endzone. By the 10 yard line, there was nobody to catch him.
Smash would have made a show of sauntering lazily into the endzone.
He wasn't Smash. He kept steady on.
Spiking the football? Now that he could do.
Except that the football in his hands glowed a weird purple-pinkish white. Tim dropped it and starting running for his life.
It exploded five seconds later, the force of the blast causing Tim to miss a step and smack into the chain link fence at the end of the field.
He looked over his shoulder and saw a huge crater about six feet wide and three feet deep and the goal post seemed to topple in slow motion. Several players lay sprawled on the field. He did not stay any longer to watch. Lungs burning, sobbing for each breath, Tim ran as he had never run before, cleats slip-sliding on concrete and asphalt. The sound of screams chased him across the parking lot, past his truck, to Billy's Camaro, parked two cars over. Heart hammering in his ears, he reached under the rear bumper of the car and found the spare key in the plastic baggie that Billy kept twist tied to the tow loop.
For once, that ancient piece of shit started on the first go.
And, Billy had gassed it all the way up.
Tim slammed the gear selector into drive, put his foot on the gas and roared out of the parking lot. He had no plan beyond getting down the road, finding a pay phone, and making a collect call to Jason.
Two hours later as he flew around a curve in the road, the front tire blew. The Camaro crashed through a fence, careened down an embankment, and smashed into a concrete drainage pipe abutment.
The pain felt like a knife twisting through his ribs as Tim hauled himself out of the smoking wreckage, his football pads not helping any, and crawled about half way up the side of the embankment, the coppery taste of blood filling his mouth.
The world narrowed to a tunnel, grayed out, went staticy, and mercifully faded to black.
Noise. The sound of a helicopter. Shouting.
(Pain like a hot wire all through him when they moved him.)
Oxygen mask on his face. Trying to say something to them.
A voice said something about a messy extraction and you-know-who isn't going to be pleased. Another voice said to shut up and get the med-tech, he's not dead yet.
There was someone else in his brain.
"He's coming 'round! He's awake!"
There was someone else in his brain. Tim felt it, tried to push The Other out, felt them dig in, twist, and clamp down.
A needle stung his arm and warm blackness washed over. The last thing he heard was one of the voices asking if a sedative was the right choice given the subject's injuries.