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Bombs Away, Pinocchio

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Bobby's grade school friend committed suicide this morning. He stood in front of
church before Sunday services, yelled that he didn't want to be a "mutie" anymore,
put a gun in his mouth, and pulled the trigger.

His name was Brandon Kendall.

It made CNN Headline News; about ten of us were watching the 8 p.m. edition for our political science assignment due on Wednesday. When newscaster made the announcement, Bobby breathed out, "Holy fuck, that's Brandon" and grabbed my wrist. The rec room went sub-zero and Bobby promptly turned himself into ice.

Solid. Fucking. Ice.

I almost shit myself right there.

It was one thing to see Rasputin flash steel, because that was his mutation. But Bobby? I had never seen him do that before. His skin would occasionally tinge bluish-white when we pushed each other during practice, but he never ever fucking transformed into actual ice.

Piotr, Kitty, and Lee-Lee chased everyone else out, closing the doors behind them as they left. It was damn cold and I began to shiver. I wasn't sure if it was my nerves because Bobby turned himself into ice or the fact that the air I breathed was that dry, frigid kind that made it feel like tiny shards were piercing my lungs.

We sat there, in silence, and I tried really hard not to gawk at him as my teeth chattered. In a Mansion of Mutants, one of the first things that we all learned was when not to stare. Manifestation of powers was an iffy thing at best, and so far, none of the kiddies had truly fucked up mutations. I mean, it wasn't as if one of us turned into a werewolf or had blue skin or sported scales.

I heard the doors open, the whirr of the Professor's chair, a 'thank you, Piotr' and the doors closing. The Professor's chair apparently had a 'Turbo ' mode, because he had made it from wherever he had been to the rec room fast. He didn't even look at me as he motored up to the couch we were on; he just focused on Bobby. I wondered just what the Professor was saying to him telepathically but sure hoped it included the fact that I was freezing my ass off so that Bobby would ease up on the sub-zero thing or at least he would at least tell Piotr to bring me a coat.

The words "secondary mutation", "no cause for panic," and "this occasionally happens" tickled the back of my brain. They were just little bits of information from the Professor, but not sent powerfully enough to freak me out. He didn't usually talk to me that way because when he did, I had really bad nightmares. Nasty ones. Sit-in-the-walk-in-freezer bad ones because sometimes even a near-naked Bobby couldn't chase them away.

At 8:17 p.m., Piotr played doorman again as Scott strode into the room and wordlessly handed the cordless to the Professor. Scott flexed his right hand twice, and having watched the man practice, I knew that he was itching to blast the hell out of something.

A speeding Xavier, a pissed off Cyclops, and Bobby as an ice man.

Fucking great.

When Xavier accepted the phone and said the words, "Good evening, Mrs. Drake," Bobby abruptly shifted back to normal. Icy bits flaked off here and there, but his skin was pale instead of the flushed I had expected. He then stood up, still holding my wrist, and stormed out of the room, dragging me along. I didn't resist. Thankfully, Piotr managed to get the door open fast enough else Bobby would have probably barreled us right through it.

What I hadn't counted on was being inducted into the very exclusive West Gable Mansion Rooftop Club. There was only one problem I had with my membership: I hate heights. I much preferred Vodka in the Woods to this, but it was Bobby's place to go. While he had mentioned it once or twice in the past, it was my first time up there.

I don't know how long we sat in silence, but it was long enough for us to observe the sliver of moon rising. Bobby might have been 'speaking' with Xavier the whole time, but I doubted it. The kids generally talked aloud when responding to the Professor's mental dialogue, even if there were other kiddies around. Then again, this was Bobby and his four-year tenure gave him advantages over all of us; the other kids wouldn't recognize or even think to look for most of them.

When Bobby finally spoke, it was harsh, emotional, and a speeding train of words. "They didn't even call to tell me, man," he snarled out, "until after it was on the goddamn, fucking news! Motherfucking C-N-N for Christ's sake!"

I didn't reply. I was too busy gripping the slate shingles because while Bobby seemed to have an unnatural talent for scrabbling along smooth surfaces, I didn't.

"Shit, Johnny."

I didn't flinch at the diminutive of my name either. I was too busy making sure my feet were planted firmly so I didn't slide too much. Heights were one of my few true, irrational fears.

Bobby's voice was shaky but the fury was clear. "St. Peter in Chains? That's their fucking parish, Johnny. There's no fucking way they weren't there! This month? My mom is a Eucharistic minister for that stupid mass. She wanted me to visit so she could give me communion."

I didn't know all the bits about the Catholic mass; I slept through a few because the church had been warm and no one had noticed me underneath the pew. However, I suddenly realized why Bobby had reacted the way he had.

It was one thing, perhaps, to believe that Mommy and Daddy weren't part of the parish gossip group. But faced with the triple whammy of it being their parish, their particular mass, and Mommy Drake doing some mass-related shit could only lead to one conclusion: they knew. They probably were there when it had happened.

Bobby suddenly blurted, "I grew up with Brandon, okay? We played Power Rangers, for Christ's sake." He wiped his nose with the back of his hand. "And Brandon also had the really cool Legos, you know? But I only had the cheap-ass Mega Blocks because Ronnie's a stupid fuck and loses every goddamn important thing."

The frost radiating out from him was making the shingles around us slick and treacherous. I wondered if Dr. Grey was patrolling on ground level in case we were to fall. I sure as hell hoped so, because if Bobby continued to be that upset, there was possibility of a skating rink on the rooftop and we would have slid right off.

Yay fucking us.

"They think I wouldn't know? That I wouldn't find out? Shit. What better way to make the national news than..." Bobby bit back a sob. He pounded a fist onto the slate. Ice spidered out from where he hit the shingles. "Shit, Johnny. Brandon isn't... He... wasn't like us." Bobby choked out the change in the verb tense. "Wasn't." He whacked the slate again. Then he yelled, "Wasn't!"

And anyone outside would have realized that Bobby was freaking out on the rooftop and, oh shit, there would be a scene below. I then realized that it was a moot point. The Powers That Be were probably hosting the roundtable crap that they did whenever something nasty about us showed up on TV, the Internet, or in the paper. Something turned up in the news and whammo! Dining Hall meeting.

"Holy fucking Christ, Johnny," Bobby said more quietly, but with that horrified tone of realization, "he blew his goddamn head off."

We were children of the 1990's, the Tarantino and Nintendo era. We knew gore; we were familiar with it. We ate popcorn and Fritos playing House of the Dead and paused the DVD to see if the director actually filmed brains and bone. Guthrie once demonstrated how to clean and gut a freshly killed rabbit for Biology Lab, assuring us that the twitching hadn't meant that the damn thing had still been alive. But all that gore hadn't been real before. It had never been personal. It had never been an actual person.

Now it was. Fuck. No wonder The Powers That Be had probably called a conference with all the kiddies.

So, I concentrated on what Bobby had just said, the second to last sentence in which the declaration of "he wasn't like us" was made. I ignored the verb because the verb was too distracting, too emotional. I also avoided the designation of 'mutant' because Bobby had; there was something ugly hiding behind that, and I wasn't about to broach it while perched on a goddamn slate roof, four stories up.

Carefully, I asked, "How... How did you know?"

There was a long pause. It was hard to see in the waxing moonlight, just a sliver enough to see Bobby's profile. If I wanted to have a clearer view, I would have to pull out my Zippo. That meant releasing my death-grip on the shingles and that wasn't going to happen any time soon.

He breathed sharply several times, exhaling hard through his nose. Finally, he said, "That weekend?" with that certain tone of voice that meant that he didn't want to have to go into detail.

However, there wasn't a need to clarify that particular weekend. I had gotten shitfaced drinking Piotr's vodka, and Piotr and I had made a pact to protect Bobby against the evils of the Drake Parental Units. Bobby had returned to the Mansion with a father-sized bruise and a state of shock that had pissed me off to the point of staging my own protest against The Powers That Be.

So "Yeah," I knew what weekend Bobby was referring to. That was when we had become inseparable opposites.

"Brandon was at the parish festival." His words were now broken with sharp edges, like the ice that he had cracked beneath his fist. "Some pieces of shit had fucking beaten him up."

Carpeting-bombing the conversation with "fuck" and other various profanities was something that I did. Bobby carpet-bombing with the f-word was not a normal thing; he just wasn't a vulgar guy. But when Bobby was really and truly pissed (or shocked as hell, like he was now), he seemed to emulate almost all of my mannerisms, especially rampant and creative use of the f-word, complete with conjugations.

He continued, "I did the fucking Good Samaritan thing, right? Just like the Bible says. Love thy fucking neighbor as thy goddamn self and all that shit." Another pause, another hard breath. "But I couldn't ask him why because... because..."

I looked over, pissed at myself for not having a bit of flame to see him better by, but I recognized the pause all the same. He had never talked about what had actually happened that weekend. I had drawn up all the conclusions given the scant evidence that I had. No matter what people thought, Bobby didn't share often, especially not the important shit. He made others think that he was giving up some great detail, some super-secret thing about himself, but he wasn't.

The real stuff was too raw, too painful, and too ugly.

He was faltering, flailing against words that he didn't want to say. But they were the wrong words. I knew how Bobby thought. I knew what he had accused himself of, who he had compared himself to, and what conclusion he had come to.

The situation was not so much about some dude named Brandon Kendall as it was Bobby thinking he could have done more.

And that was what had hurt. Him thinking if he had just been the Good Guy - the Hero who tapped into that bit of Cyclops we all had in us - that things would have worked out differently. They wouldn't have. Those of us who had been out there, beyond the surreal world of the Mansion, stable home lives, and good parents, knew differently. We knew that being the Hero didn't necessarily translate into a happy fucking ending. Someone always got hurt.

"You... You had an audience," I told him quietly, because the last thing we needed was for my voice to do something stupid like break. My hesitation wasn't out of lack of things to say; it was because we were on the roof, damn it. However, I also knew that Bobby flipped out about Powers in Public. It was a big line in the sand with him. "You couldn't do the 'I'll show you mine, you show me yours' thing."

The words were bitter. "Yeah. That."

"Survival," I said simply, because while Bobby was having trouble coming to terms with what had happened, it made sense to me. He never had to deal with survival on that level. He'd never had to identify it like that. "You flash the freeze," I explained, "but some shit could have had a blade or a piece and then you were gonna be fucking toast."

"It wasn't like that," harshly whispered as if daring me to challenge it.

"You flash the freeze," I repeated, "and you're completely fucked. Right?" Because this was logical progression, and Bobby tended to think intuitively versus logically when it came to these emotional things. "You had a damn audience. Doesn't matter who the fuck it was, but you had one. You knew that if you fucking made so much as a snowflake, it would have made shit much fucking worse."

A pause. Slowly and warily, "So?"

"Survival," I snapped, because Bobby in denial was the most frustrating thing. I waited a few seconds. "You think I flicked the fucking Bic every time I got hassled? Fuck no. You do the powers thing to make a point. You don't fucking flash them just 'cause. So what you did was motherfucking survival and if some cocksucker tells you different, then they're full of shit."

"It's not the same," Bobby spat back. "It's not the same fucking thing, Johnny! You did it to live, damn it--"

"Survive," I cut in. "You're not listening, Bobby! Survive. You have something you don't want to fucking lose. Doesn't matter what the fuck it is, or how it fucking rates in the grand scheme of things because it's damned important to you. You have something that you cannot fucking lose. You do what you have to so you don't. Don't you see that?"

Silence answered me.

"So," I continued, "You did what you had to do to survive at that moment."

"I fucking walked away," he said, but I knew the tone. I knew it all too well. It was a half-truth.

The pieces fell into place, rapid-fire and bright. That was what sucked about being smart; I figured out shit too damned quickly. There were other factors. Ugly factors. I went on, "What did you do next?"

Choked. Angry. Humiliated. "Called the Professor."

"Before that," I insisted, because it was a point that had to be made. Logic, after all. He didn't answer, so I tossed out my own bit of reasoning. "That bruise you had. They fucking pulled you away from him, didn't they?" I didn't specify whom. Bobby did better at abstracts sometimes.

Edgy now, because I had hit on something. "I had a choice, Johnny."

"It's not the one you're thinking of," I said firmly. "This Brandon... he didn't spark. He didn't metal up. He didn't ghost. Shit, if he had pulled a Dani, the whole place would have been fucked." I swallowed hard, because blessed with a creative mind, I pictured how the scene had gone down. "You thought he was like me. The whole catalyst thing. He couldn't do jack shit without a fucking source."

Defensively, "There was a lit propane burner twenty feet away."

I licked my lips. Bobby wasn't stupid. He was observant as hell. I knew precisely what he had done even if he was just now realizing it. "So you had this checklist, things that you were familiar with, and what you saw didn't fucking add up. So somewhere in your head, you compared all that shit with Brandon with all the shit you've seen at the Mansion, and it all came up negative. So when some asshole pulled you away--"

"I fucking let him, Johnny." He emphasized the verb. I flinched because of what the use of 'him' implied: Bobby's father.

I couldn't let that detail get in the way. We were going to have to deal with that later. "Because it was the only choice you had. Why go all in before the flop?" I demanded. He didn't answer. I pushed on. "Before all of this, when was the last time you ran into Brandon?"

A longer pause. A shamed answer. "I was eight and a half when we moved. Saw him once or twice after that."

"Eight years, Bobby. If it had been two or three, yeah, the odds would have been different. You know the drill about us, how our powers come into play," I reasoned. "The little things first. Me? After I turned twelve, I knew every time the goddamn gas furnace kicked on. I didn't know what it was back then, but shit, I could still feel it. You weren't there to see the little things with Brandon. All you had were assumptions."

"Bullshit, Johnny."

I shook my head. "Wherever you were, you didn't have an out. So you're helping Brandon, and then some fucker comes by and challenges you two. Answer me this: you corner Lee-Lee and what the fuck happens?"

He didn't want to answer; I could tell by the way he leaned away from me. He hated being hit with the clue-by-four. We all did, but him especially. Because when he was already intuitively at the conclusion, he didn't want to necessarily see the logic it took to get there. "She sparks."


"She ghosts."


"You pat down your pockets real goddamn fast."

"Brandon do any of that shit?"

Vicious. Angry. "No."

"He didn't do jack shit, did he?"

Bobby didn't respond right away, but I could see the frost growing thicker around his feet. Finally, he spat out, "No."

"So, you're faced with putting everything, every goddamn thing important to you on the fucking line and you had a three-nine off suit. That's a shit hand, Bobby. You're supposed to fucking fold when you're dealt that crap but you didn't. You held on, but you weren't going all-in, not without the flop. But the guy dealing the hand, Brandon? He held on to his fucking cards real fucking tight. He didn't deal you in."

Broken, edgy, desperate. "Not the same."

"It is the same. You didn't fucking abandon him, did you? No. Because what else did you fucking do? You called the Professor. And... you found a fucking way to do it without anyone else knowing."

"It doesn't goddamn matter, Johnny," he snarled back. "Brandon's dead. He shot his fucking head off in front of the goddamn church."

He was trying to redirect the conversation. He was good at that, but I wouldn't let him. "But that night, you made the fucking effort. You didn't abandon him. You called Xavier, for fuck's sake. So, what did he say?"

"The pride speech." He pounded on the shingles again. "Everything I fucking wanted to hear."

What you needed to hear, my mind clarified. Long-distance justification. But there was something else, because Xavier wouldn't have simply spouted off compliments or brushed off the situation. He would have taken the extra steps. The Professor made no bones about playing chess, but all the kiddies seemed to think it was just a board game to him. Hell fucking no.

So I challenged, "And?"

"And fucking what?"

"Don't fucking play this game with me, Bobby. There's always a goddamn 'and' in there somewhere. This is Xavier we're talking about."

Bobby let out a sob, a hard one, and then clutched the roof tiles. "He said he would go downstairs. He said he would see if Brandon was a mutant and then we would go from there."

Bile danced at the back of my throat. Holy fuck. 'Downstairs' was our euphemism for the subbasement; the Professor making a trip to there meant that he had used Cerebro check out Brandon. If there was a book that things were done by around the Mansion, the Professor had followed it, just like Bobby had faith in him to do.

I whispered, "That's how you knew."

"It's not the Professor's fault!" Bobby suddenly shouted defensively. "It's not his fucking fault. He said he would try. He said..." but he couldn't finish the sentence.

And I knew what the Professor had probably said. It was one of the themes The Powers That Be preached. All these great and awesome powers could only do so much. It was what they were trying to drill into us, that shit happened beyond our control, that we couldn't always be heroes, and that our Powers didn't necessarily make us gods.

There are no absolutes, St. John, Dr. Grey had told me that day in the Kitchen. We can only try.

Bobby was the idealist. I was the realist. The optimist. The cynic. Ice. Fire. Inseparable opposites.

"It ain't no one's fault, Bobby," I spoke softly, delicately almost, but loud enough to be heard over his now-muffled crying. "That's the shit of it. It ain't no one's fucking fault. You tried. The Professor tried." My self-edit mode had gone on temporary hiatus, because why else would I have said: "He told you Brandon wasn't like us. But he also told you he would do what he could for him, right? But, shit, Bobby, there wasn't much else that he could do."

Bobby rocketed to his feet. "It wasn't enough! It wasn't fucking enough! What the fuck part of that don't you fucking get, Johnny? It wasn't fucking enough!"

He was looming over me. His hand was raised above his head. Instincts borne from a lifetime of a father beating the shit out of me made let go of the shingles with one hand to shield me from the potential blows. I cowered down so there would be less of me to hit.

There was silence. A lot of silence. It was the waiting part that I had always hated when my father had decided to take his frustrations out on me. The fucker had taken a while to make up his mind what part of me he wanted to strike first and then what he should use to do it with. The kiddies all thought that wrestlers getting hit with a steel chair on Smackdown didn't hurt. It did. I watched wrestling not because it was what the guys did; it was a point of pride with me. I wasn't going to be afraid of a damn chair. But Lee-Lee was always next to me, holding my hand where no one could see.

"Christ," Bobby whispered, horrified. "Oh Jesus fucking Christ. Shit. Christ. Fuck."

I heard him take a step back. I forced myself to unbend, because I knew we were on the roof, Bobby was emotionally fucked up, and he could very well back away from me and forget that we were four stories up. There were two ways to react to the sudden knowledge that the last name wasn't the only thing that one had inherited from a parent: rush forward to comfort the potential victim or run the fuck away.

I wasn't taking any chances.

"I'm not mad at you, okay? I fucking swear I'm not mad," I told him. "Just sit the fuck down, damn it, before you fucking fall off the goddamn roof." I gingerly adjusted my weight so that I could balance myself again. "Sit the fuck down," I repeated because he hadn't.

"God... I..." was choked out, but no other words followed. All his self-hatred was amplified and crystallized from that one brief stance.

I made sure I looked straight at him. "If I were pissed at you, you'd been on fire right now and you fucking know it." Hopefully, it had sunk in that during the whole time we had been up there, I hadn't been fiddling with my Zippo. "Now sit the fuck back down."

He didn't.

Instead, he crouched down and touched my shoulder. "You're shaking."

I honestly hadn't noticed, but I knew he thought it was because I was afraid of him now, so I clarified, "I fucking hate heights, okay? And you're storming around up here on a fuckload of frost and you could fucking fall."

He blinked. "Oh." Then his fingers carefully wrapped around my arm. "C'mon. Let's go."

That was one of the things about Bobby that was both endearing and annoying as hell. One moment, he would be all consumed with anger and rage at the world, and the next moment, he would totally set aside his own feelings in order to take care of someone else. It was his compassion that drew people to Bobby, that made us put up with his stupid jokes and his cluelessness about certain things. It was his selflessness that suckered us all in, that made us do stupid things for him because we knew he would do them for us in return.

His childhood friend, the same guy Bobby had tried to help weeks ago, had committed suicide and now Bobby was worried about my fears.

However, I was a selfish bastard. Everyone knew it.

I wanted off the damned roof.

So I gave in.


Getting ready for bed had been surreal, the details really hard to remember. Maybe because we were both on autopilot because there were big, ugly things looming between us and about us that neither one of us wanted to deal with just yet. The hallways were deserted, however, and I wasn't sure if people were still downstairs or if the guys were respecting our privacy as we returned to our room. Regardless, we ended up sitting next to each other in Bobby's bed, our backs against the wall. He liked having his bed against it; it always made me feel trapped.

The Professor had left a note excusing Bobby and me from classes the next day. He would occasionally do that: include the roommate and/or best friend to deal with a problem. I mean, when Guthrie's kid brother had been in an accident, he sent Madrox along to Kentucky because it was some special time in farming and Madrox understood all that agricultural shit; he was a farm boy, too. So my inclusion in the 'dispensation from classes' wasn't going to be seen necessarily as favoritism.

There were also some Twinkies, Cheetos, and a six-pack of Dr. Pepper on my desk; I knew that Piotr had put them there. Bobby didn't touch them. I didn't blame him. My stomach was a bit off as well, but that had to do more with Bobby's proximity and coming down off the damned roof than anything else.

Finally, Bobby asked, "Did any of your friends... you know...?" His voice cracked a little and his face twitched as he spoke. "Did you ever have to deal with it?"

"No." What was I supposed to say? I never had any friends until the Mansion?

The only time I dealt with the death of someone I knew was when my grandmother died. I had been four. I remembered how my mother had cried, but not much else. It wasn't as if I actually had known my grandmother either, so her death hadn't really had an impact.

I mean, it was not as if I had any real friends before the Mansion. I had acquaintances. I had people I hung out with because we were the Bad Kids and that was what Bad Kids did. I didn't know the real name of the first girl I kissed; everyone called her 'Reza.' She was also the first person I fucked. I don't remember the name of the first guy I kissed, but a middle-aged man named Paulie who had a kink for jailbait took my other cherry. Names hadn't meant much to me back then; I had learned not to get attached.

This whole 'guy I've grown up with' deal was completely out of my league.

Bobby was now picking at the blue blanket we were sitting on, just like it was the imaginary scab he was verbally picking at. "I should have done something more."

"Like what?" I challenged him, but kept my voice down.

Shit, we needed some white noise because Guthrie and Sharra were next door, although they weren't ratters or active listeners like some of the other kids. I got off the bed, flicked on the CD player, and was surprised to hear the opening chords to a Police song. Damn, Piotr had been thorough, because I remember the last thing in I had listened to had been NIN. It wasn't the type of music conducive to grief counseling, at least not for Bobby. I liked industrial. He went for classic rock.

I crawled back on the bed but faced him. "What the fuck else could you have done, Bobby?"

He wasn't looking at me. "Something."

Between the glow of the alarm clock and the CD player, I could make out his features better. He was staring off to the side, and I wondered if he was thinking about that last time he had seen Brandon. I still only had bits and pieces of what had happened. I wondered if Xavier had the whole thing. So, I asked, "You talk to him at that festival thing?"

"No," and I saw the tear slipping down his cheek. "That's just it, Johnny. I didn't."

"He wasn't sharing," I reasoned. "Rules of the Schoolyard. He had the shit kicked out of him and you couldn't ask why."

"The rules fucking suck, Johnny." Yet there was no bravado this time, no pounding on the bed to make a point or to release the anger. He said it with a certain resignation.

"Out there ain't here." I shrugged and I knew he had to respect that part of it. He exhaled hard but continued to look away. I went on, "You said yourself you hadn't seen him in what? Eight years? Even seven? So he runs into you at that damned thing..."

"He was running away from them," Bobby whispered. "I just happened to be there behind the booths when he showed up."

Another misdirection, so I corrected the course of the conversation. "If it were you and those other guys had come after you--"

"They wouldn't have fucked with me, Johnny," his voice was sharp, edgy. "You fucking know that." Yet before I could challenge, before I could throw in that the admiration he had at the Mansion wouldn't translate well to normal life, he spat out, "I'm the Prep School Tool." It stopped me cold, no pun intended. "That's what they fucking called me. Prep School Tool."

From Mansion Mascot, respected by all and had a gaggle of girls wanting to get into his pants, to pariah. It had nothing to do with the fact that he was a mutant. He had been branded by outsiders because he went to a private school, something I was sure his parents brandied about. Why else would the others crucify him for it? So, I leapt over that element. "You still said something to him. Did he say that he was--"

"No. He didn't say shit." He looked over at me and shook his head. "I found out later. After they..." He looked away, then down. He fiddled with the crease of the blankets. "I was just sitting there with him, you know? Just hanging out because, shit, he was fucking bleeding and everything. He didn't say jack shit. There were all sorts of shit to fucking talk about but we didn't. A whole bunch of fucking silence."

Then, it hit me. Hard. I nearly fell off the bed. Fuck. Because there were certain elements that he was avoiding, carefully and cautiously. I recalled what Piotr had said on Vodka Night. Bobby never took anyone home with him. Those kids with the Good Parents, Guthrie especially? Shit, they took their friends home with them. Last I had heard, every kid at the Mansion had a free stay at the Guthrie homestead and Guthrie's mom didn't have jack to spare. In Bobby's four years at the Mansion, no one had gone home with him. The Drakes hadn't visited the Mansion that I knew of either.

It was confirmation of Piotr's and my theory: the Drake's believed Xavier was training the mutant out of Bobby, not the other way around. Billy and Maddy touted Bobby around because he went to a prestigious school, but no one beyond them knew just how Xavier had defined 'gifted'.

Oh, fucking hell. "Those others... they don't know." And Jesus Fucking Christ on a Crutch I hoped to fuck I hadn't just said that aloud.

But I had.

Because the next thing I knew, Bobby had his hand around the back of my neck, his thumb along my artery, and he had pulled me close enough so that our noses nearly touched. His skin was that nervous-upset temperature, but I knew that all he had to fucking do was freeze the blood in my neck and I was a dead man.

People had been threatening my life for a long time. None had woven themselves into my life as Bobby had. Fuck. I never had let anyone get that fucking close to me, even my father. And if Bobby had been an average kid, two swift punches from me and it would have been over. But this was the Mansion. This was Bobby. This meant Powers on the level that every goddamn kid automatically saluted without question.

"You would have stood up to them," he whispered harshly against my lips. 'That's my soul up there,' Sting sang. Bobby shook me a little. "You would have. I know you fucking would have."

Up close. Personal. I wished Piotr had put in Stevie Ray Vaughn because that man didn't have introspective lyrics. 'There's a black winged gull with a broken back'. Fuck you, Sting, I thought. I didn't close my eyes though.

Piotr had defined my role in this populace quite fucking clearly: I was the balance and gave them all the reality check, even more so than Lee-Lee. Piotr was our pacifist mediator and Bobby the compassionate jokester. I was the one who had to give the hard speeches about real life, because Bobby sure as fuck wouldn't have accepted it from Xavier. He wouldn't have listened to Scott either, because even though Scott was his big brother, Scott was also the standard to whom Bobby constantly strived to be. Scott was his hero; I was his peer.

I had always wondered what the price of living at the Mansion was. I wasn't stupid enough to believe there wasn't a catch. I got the fun job of shattering the Mascot's illusions.

Yay fucking me.

"If it meant losing this?" I could feel the frost on his lips and taste the cold on my tongue, but I still forged on. "This place? These people? Piotr, Kit-Kat, Lee-Lee... you? No. I wouldn't have. I would have done everything in my fucking power to keep what I have."

"Liar," he hissed out.

The word caught me by surprise. Bobby didn't challenge often, especially using that kind of language. 'Liar' was just as much as four letter word as 'shit', 'fuck' and 'damn', but for a kid like me, who took pride in the fact that I could be honest with one person, it was much more devastating than 'dick' or 'cunt'. It hurt. A lot. More than I had ever expected it to.

"You're such a fucking liar, Johnny." His grip tightened. His hand became colder, a subtle exertion of power that would have had even the toughest of thugs crying for mommy. I didn't know if he even realized what the fuck he was doing.

Desperate, I snarled, "On the roof. You saw my past. You fucking recognized it." I was the Bad Kid, the one who had seen it all. If I broke in character while he had his hand around my neck, he could kill me simply because I had backed down from a challenge from him. "You know the shit I had to fucking deal with. You knew the second day I was here, when Piotr... when you told me he treated every new guy like his kid brother. You fucking knew back then."

His hand hadn't moved, but his skin temperature remained the same. It didn't stop me from being afraid. I felt the chill around me.

"But here? The Mansion? I am me. St. John Allerdyce." It was the first time I spoke my given name aloud to him. I knew he had gotten it originally from Xavier and he only ever used it in those after hours to calm me down from a nightmare. Lee-Lee and Scott had been the only two whom I had told my name to outright. I spat out, "Son of a bitch. Son of a bastard. But here, this place, I am me." I closed my eyes because the admission hurt too much. "You fucking think I would give that up over a chance? Over some guy I knew when I was eight when all the facts didn't add up to my experience? Fuck, no. My jackass of a father was a shitty gambler and it fucked me up good, but I learned from his mistakes."

I felt his skin turn a little warmer. I opened my eyes and stared straight into his. We were close enough and it was dark enough that it all blended together into one. Well, shit, if he wasn't a Cyclops.

"You want the truth?" I swallowed again. We were knee-deep in ugly enough already, so I verbally hauled him down a little further. "I'm an asshole, Bobby. A selfish, piece of shit bastard. You want the truth? I wouldn't have even bothered with the guy in the first place. I would have taken one look and walked the fuck away because there is no fucking way I'm gonna give up what I have. Not for a bunch of 'what ifs' with really shitty odds." I let out short, sharp laugh. "Tell me: am I lying about that?"

And once I got that out, everything around us seemed to stop.

He called me a liar.

I called his bluff.

Bobby always had the ability to recognize honesty. It was why I didn't li to him all that often. I preferred to avoid answering directly than give him a sentence that he could use against me. He recognized it, appreciated it really, I thought. It was why he rarely called me on my misdirection of a conversation.

Suddenly, his lips moved against mine. At first, I thought he was trying to say something, but that I couldn't hear him over the stereo. I thought he was just murmuring quietly, telling me that I was wrong and that I would have done the right thing. I thought he was telling me that my time at the Mansion had changed me, reformed me into a Good Guy like him and that I wouldn't have ignored the downtrodden. I thought he was forgiving me for saying that and asking for forgiveness for calling me a liar in the first place.

It took a few seconds for me to realize that there were no sounds coming from him, that the movements were wordless.

It could have only meant one thing.

Cool, dry lips touched mine, whisper-fine, almost as if not there at all. It was the shy kind of kiss, the testing-the-waters type that polite young men bestowed upon blushing virgins to see if the girl would run away. But I had lost my virginity a while ago and I sure as hell wasn't going to run away from Bobby. It certainly wasn't only because his hand was still around the back of my neck and thumb still against my throat.

However, I knew what was happening: fucking away the demons. Okay, kissing away the demons, but it was still all the same. Cliched for sure, but fuck, that was all we had. I was there. I was 'friendly skin' and the whole gender thing kind of became a moot point simply because I was physically there and I wasn't punching the shit out of him for touching me.

And fuck, if Bobby was totally straight, he wouldn't have been pressing his lips against mine in the first place.

I understood. I had been there. I remembered those nights when I had fucked and had been fucked just to know that for just a few goddamn minutes, I was worth something to someone. It was comfort.

But this wasn't supposed to happen this way. This kiss, this moment, was not supposed to be about some grade school friend eating a bullet for breakfast in front of a church. This moment, this place with us, was supposed to be something totally different. I had it all planned out. I was going to confront him in the far corner pasture closest to the woods.

My speech included the lines: "If you want to kiss me, fine. Then do it. I'm not gonna be pissed about it. I'll take it as far as you want to go. The only way you're going to fuck things up between us is if you don't do anything. This indecision-shit and mixed-messages crap has to fucking stop. We'll still be roommates. We'll still be friends. Just chose where you want to take it."

In my little revelation narrative, Bobby would get mad, we would argue, and he would run away. I would chase after him, we would argue some more and then, finally, the whole roommate/boyfriend thing would be settled.

It wasn't supposed to be about this hurt and ugly and pain.

It didn't matter.

It was what it was and my experiences translated it into something that Bobby needed not only for himself, but something he felt he needed to give me.

I mimicked him because what he was doing was so fucking different than what I was used to. No bruising force or nasty taste of cheap scotch and cigarettes. It wasn't sloppy and wet and messy. It was caressing and pulling and brushing with a near gentle reverence, as if I was something that would shatter if he pressed too hard. It was insistent without being overwhelming.

I had once bragged to Piotr that I knew how to corrupt Good Girls, and up until I felt Bobby's lips on mine, I was supremely confident in my abilities. I believed I was the king at the Mansion. However, when Bobby snaked out his tongue to lap at mine, I knew that he could corrupt all of Heaven and convince Satan and all his little minions to reform. If this was how he had kissed that bitch Alison, no wonder she had done everything in her power to try to get into his pants and stay there.

And if it had been anyone other than Bobby, I would have shifted my weight enough to get him to release his grip around my neck. I would have pushed him down until he was flat on his back. I would have deepened the kiss while sliding my hand under his shirt. I would have played touch-tag with his tongue before kissing his jaw and then down his neck. I would have brushed my thumb against his nipple before trailing my fingers along his side to the waistband of his shorts. I would have licked his collarbone before moving back up to kiss him on the mouth. All the while, I would be working my hands into his boxers and pulling them down - mine as well - so that our cocks would rub as I ground my hips against his.

I would make him forget about gunpowder, saints in chains, and action figures, because that was what sex could be used for. I would lose him in sensation and get him beyond the raw emotion to the surreal state of release.

But it was Bobby who held me close, whose lips caressed mine, whose tongue explored my mouth, and whose thumb was now slowly stroking my throat as if he were my lover. Dispensation from classes tomorrow did not translate into time to debauch the Mascot so he could escape the harsh reality if only for a few scant hours.

An excused absence from public appearances tomorrow meant an appointment with a telepath who, if he didn't already know what the fuck was going on, would certainly know tomorrow. And there probably would be speeches given to me about appropriate behavior and better ways to solve problems than by fucking, although somehow I didn't think Scott would be assigned to give that lecture. He struck me as the type of guy who understood just how powerful a fuck could be.

So I allowed Bobby to maneuver us around so that my back was pressed against the cool wall and we were stretched out next to each other. He continued to kiss me, nibbling here and there. It was languid and exploratory, certainly, but slightly more aggressive, as if his fear of retaliation was fading. We touched, but it was merely to balance or position ourselves, not to stroke or fondle or pet.

I allowed him the lead because it was what he needed. For a little while, Pinocchio could be a real boy. No strings attached.

Maybe it was what I needed as well. I got to be worshipped as if I were worth something more than I had ever thought myself to be. It was a 'thank you', perhaps, for delivering the reality check.


I just wanted to fuck Bobby or at least wrap my hand around his cock and jerk him off while rubbing against him until I came. Pre-Mansion, I would have done just that, because he would have been a nameless kid who wanted sex for comfort. But this was Bobby and a place where names and consequences had become important to me.


The pragmatic part of me understood that if such things were to happen, I would have to deal with Bobby unable to face me. Kisses could be somewhat be explained to a guy in emotional turmoil. Wanking each other off...

He finally let go of my neck with his hand, wedging himself instead so that my chin was resting on his temple and his arm settled on my hip. We were not quite tangled, but close enough. He started crying again, but those awful kind of silent tears because he was tired and worn out. They were warm against the cool of his skin. I petted his hair, something I learned from him. He wrapped himself around me even more, the unspoken plea to make it all stay away for a while.

I knew when he was wrung out like this that he didn't sleep; he was terrified of turning the place into an igloo. He cat-napped, a trick that Abercrombie kids shouldn't know how to do but he did. He drifted off a few times but I stayed awake.

"You hate me?" he finally asked.

"For what?" I asked because it was just too damned generic.

A pause. Then, "I'm a wimp."

Ah. We were back to Brandon French-kissing a handgun. "Bullshit."

"I didn't stand up to him." That stupid pronoun screamed 'my father' clearly. I let it go.

"You arguing with me again?" I asked and this time I slipped my hand underneath his shirt to stroke his spine. I did not want to go over that shit once more.

Thoughtfully, "No. Just..."

"Just what?"

"I hate it."

"No shit. But it happens. We ain't gonna judge. We all do shit, Bobby, that we ain't fucking proud of." My lips were against his temple. "We all do things to survive."

Whispered, "Not like me."

My hand traveled to the small of his back. "So you lie. You cheat. You steal. Whatever. Just because it's not exactly the same doesn't mean that it isn't the same." I let out a short laugh. "We're not saints, here, Bobby. Never have been, never will be. We all just know. We all just accept it. Those who judge? They ain't got a leg to stand on, dude, and you know it."

He didn't answer for a long time. I kept caressing his back because I was a fucking perv and had wanted to get my hands on him for a while. He wasn't punching me or freezing me, just breathing quietly. Hell, his skin wasn't even that awkward-cold from earlier. Finally, his lips moved against my neck. I heard: "You hate me?"

"For what?"

"This." He brushed his lips against mine.

I couldn't help but grin. "You on fire?"


"Then I don't hate you." I sighed.


I reached down, cupped his ass, and pulled him into me. "Think I'm lying?"

He didn't answer. His skin flashed cold for a second before returning to normal.

I, of course, had given him too much information. It was one thing perhaps to know that I didn't mind swapping spit. It was something else, perhaps for him, to find out that I got off on it. I muttered, "Shit."

"Nononono," he murmured and goddamn if the fucker didn't snuggle against me. Sadist. Bastard. If he continued for much longer, my hand would have been on his cock, consequences be damned. "What about you and Lee?"

I almost said, I take what I can get, but I didn't. "Don't know," I replied, because it was kind of the truth. Lee-Lee draped herself on me because I wasn't the type to grab her tits or her ass. The guys left her alone because they thought we were an item. We weren't, but I couldn't betray her, not even to Bobby. "Anything friendly, I guess."

"Friendly," was laughed against my neck.

"Longest I've been in one place has been here," I shot back without heat.

"Oh, Jesus, Johnny."

Yeah, and that was it. He was the only person to ever call me 'Johnny' and me not wanting to kill him outright. I could deliver the reality checks just fine, but when it came to me - St. John Allerdyce - the rules didn't seem quite to apply, especially in the case of Bobby.

Shit. I fucking hated that Piotr was right: I loved him.

No surprise that an artist by charcoals and an artist by words should understand each other.

No fucking wonder Piotr had warned me off.

Accepting Bobby meant taking on all that emotional shit.

Me? I was a stubborn bastard. I said: bring it on, motherfucker.

Aloud, I said, "You understand."

And at that precise moment, curled around each other in bed, I knew that he did.

Yay fucking me.