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PERMISSION TO ARCHIVE: Yes, just let me know.
RATINGS/WARNINGS: PG-13 for some bad language
SUMMARY: Northstar and Iceman chat post-Uncanny 415.
DISCLAIMER: The X-Men universe belongs to Marvel and other entities with expensive lawyers. I'm making zero bucks from this, believe me.
NOTES: I don't generally write "between the lines" fics, but this issue so desperately called for it, I found myself sitting in bed fiercely scribbling away while my husband waited impatiently to turn out the light. There isn't any sexual content here, but if you're squicked by the idea that one man could be attracted to another...you probably shouldn't be reading anything with Northstar in it. Thanks once again for the beta to Captain Average, in whose debt I will be for the rest of my life for all his editing help :) Oh, I borrowed one line from issue #415.
Ami, Pas Amoureux
(Friend, Not Lover)
By Mara Greengrass
Against nurse's orders, Jean-Paul was wandering the grounds of the mansion when he saw Bobby.
The dark blond hair caught his attention--a stray shaft of mid-morning light making it gleam--before Jean-Paul saw the rest of the other man leaning against a tree, not far from the wrought iron pagoda that had been the site of a battle several days before. He paused, taking this quiet moment to watch him.
Annie was very perceptive to notice his attraction to Bobby, Jean-Paul thought, it was not the kind of fact he was accustomed to revealing. It was also true, the X-Man known as Iceman was hardly his usual type, but something about the insouciant attitude in the face of danger struck a chord. And the package it came with was most certainly worth looking at, he thought, eyeing the muscles that shifted under the uniform of the X-Man.
Mon Dieu, he thought, crossing his arms, Robert Drake is a man, yet nearly everyone treats him like a boy. He was a boy when he came here, but no longer. Of course, Jean-Paul had to admit that Bobby helped the illusion by always playing the joker, the fool.
But in this moment--believing himself unobserved--Robert Drake was a man, one weighed down by cares Jean-Paul wished he could smooth away. Bobby sat on the ground, his back against the tree, elbows propped on his knees, chin resting in his palms. For a moment, he buried his face in his hands, shoulders shaking as if he were laughing...or crying. Jean-Paul took a step forward, but stopped as Bobby leaned back and pounded his fists once against the tree trunk, staring at the pagoda in front of him.
His eyes were dry, but his face was resigned and drawn; Jean-Paul felt a pain in his heart to match Bobby's, and he found himself walking down the brick-lined pathway toward the other man.
It didn't take Bobby long to hear him, and Jean-Paul's heart sank further as he watched the mask slip down. The grin that met him was oh-so-adorable, but he knew it was false.
"Hey, Northstar, I didn't know Annie was letting you off the leash again."
"I'm not certain she knows yet," he admitted, hovering a few feet away in unaccustomed reticence. Since the explosion and his severe injuries, he'd been second-guessing himself unusually often.
"Way to go!" Bobby's grin grew wider. "I didn't know you had it in you."
"There's a great deal you don't know about me," Jean-Paul found himself saying. He paused and frowned. "That sounded a great deal less cliched in my mind."
"Hey, 'sokay, what's the good of being a superhero if you can't use a cliché now and then?" Bobby's grin was getting strained now. "So, there something I can do for you?"
Jean-Paul ignored the obvious attempt to get rid of him, looking down at Bobby. "Are you well?"
"I'm fine. Hey, Annie let me out of her clutches without too much of a fight, so I've gotta be okay, right?"
Jean-Paul arched an eyebrow at the circular logic and, uninvited, sat down next to Bobby. "What were you thinking about with such concentration?" he asked.
"Huh?" Bobby looked surprised, as if he'd never been asked that before.
"When I approached, you seemed to be thinking thoughts most serious."
Bobby twitched a little, then tried for his previous grin. "Me? Oh, nothing much."
"Of course." Suddenly annoyed by the whole situation, Jean-Paul gave his most arrogantly Gallic shrug. "Of course, you Americans always go to the place where someone has just beaten you into unconsciousness in order to think thoughts of no consequence."
Bobby shifted from friendly to angry in an instant, practically spitting out his words. "What do you care, Mr. French Canadian waltz in here and tell us we're losers?"
Well, angry was probably better than indifferent. "I didn't intend--"
"Bullshit. You loved that Xavier had to beg for your help, that the mighty X-Men were in such shitty shape that we called you."
"Again." Jean-Paul winced as soon as he said it, annoyed to find his usual bad habits rising to the forefront.
"You had to call *again*," he said, almost apologetically. "I came before when Jean asked for my help."
Bobby sneered. "Well, lah-di-fucking-dah, isn't that special? Do I bow down or what?"
Jean-Paul looked down at his hands, unsure what to say. He supposed he deserved this, since he *had* come in with more than his usual boundless arrogance, pleased in a small way that the X-Men needed his help. And he *had* been extraordinarily snide and annoying, even for him. But to explain it, the long history of Alpha Flight and the X-Men, his own feelings on the matter, this was not possible.
A squirrel ran across the ground nearby, chittering madly, and the two men sat in silence for a long moment watching it.
"Why are you here?"
The sneer was gone from Bobby's voice and Jean-Paul looked up. "I am here because Professor Xavier asked me and the X-Men needed help. Whatever you think of me, in the end I could not refuse."
"No." Bobby shook his head. "I mean, why are you out here right now?"
"I was in need of some time and space to think, so I decided to walk."
"Out here, where someone had just beaten me into unconsciousness?" Bobby mimicked his accent.
The flat reply left Bobby momentarily speechless, and they sat there for a little while looking at the pagoda, lost in thought. Jean-Paul remembered his first sight of Bobby being slammed into the ground as he raced toward the confrontation; his super-speed reduced by injury to what felt like a crawl, shaking with the fear that he might not get there in time, that someone else might die on his watch.
"Josette," Bobby said suddenly, his hands clenched and resting on his knees, "she...she was using her empathy to control me, you know."
"I heard her say it."
"I mean, I don't normally...and in the hallway..."
They were silent again for a while, and Jean-Paul fought the urge to put his arm around Bobby, lean against him, hold him. The other man would certainly not allow it, not from a gay man, and not from someone he didn't even seem to like very much.
Looking out of the corner of his eyes, he saw Bobby staring at the pagoda with a kind of loathing. Jean-Paul suspected he'd found the root of the problem. "To be controlled, it is most abhorrent," he said. "It may be the worst thing that happens to those of us who join the team, who become a public mutant figure."
Bobby didn't say anything, he just continued to stare ahead, one hand straying to rub the center of his chest. Jean-Paul frowned slightly, wondering at that, but decided not to push his luck by asking.
"I'm afraid I do not have such an excuse for my behavior," Jean-Paul said. When Bobby looked at him in obvious surprise, Jean-Paul found himself flushing a little--apologies were not something in which he often engaged. "I should not have been so rude to everyone, when we met at the house in Fort Albany."
"Yeah, well...we all have bad days."
"Look, forget about it. There's been a good bit of water under the bridge since then. You were rude, I've yelled at you. I'm over it."
"Yes, water under the bridge."
A bird twittered on a nearby branch, the same squirrel ran halfway across the grass, stopping to look at them curiously, and they sat.
"So," Bobby said diffidently, "I was sorry to hear about the kid you were carrying back here."
It was like a punch to the stomach, and it took all Jean-Paul's returning strength to say, with equal diffidence, "Peter. His name was Peter."
"Yeah, Peter. It's rough when you lose someone you were trying to save." Bobby didn't look at him, just twiddled with a piece of grass next to his boot.
I see his face when I close my eyes, Jean-Paul thought. "Yes, it is."
"You did your best."
Not enough, it will never be enough. "The Professor could not stop the explosions."
"He told me you stayed with Peter at the end, instead of flying away."
"Yes." Peter's face, bleeding, scared, begging for reassurance he could not give. 'I'm going to die this time--aren't I?' Jean-Paul closed his eyes momentarily, then caught onto a distraction. "You spoke of me with the Professor?"
"He really wants you to stay, and I think he's worried I'll annoy you outta town."
"I do not think that is likely."
They sat a little longer, the silence now more companionable than uncomfortable; in the distance, the sounds of the school started to drift toward them, the laughing and shouting of the teenage mating dance, a basketball thudding on pavement, even the unmistakable *bamf* of Kurt in a hurry to get somewhere.
Bobby started to fidget a little, and Jean-Paul sighed to himself at the approaching end of this interlude. He would likely never get another chance to speak with Bobby in such a forthright manner, and he was certain Annie would urge him to tell the other man how he felt, but he knew she was wrong.
It was easy for a woman with a romantic heart to urge him to say something, but what did she expect him to do? In his considerable experience, men who were straight--and controlled by Josette or not, Bobby *was* straight--did not take kindly to declarations of undying affection.
Jean-Paul ached bone-deep--in a place that medicine couldn't touch--as Bobby jumped up from the ground and took a few steps away.
"Hey," Bobby said, pausing and turning to look back at him, "we never did get that meal I promised, and it's about lunchtime. You hungry?" The engaging grin was back, a bit more genuine this time, if Jean-Paul was any judge--and he'd become a veritable connoisseur of Bobby's smiles in recent days.
"I do believe I *am* hungry," Jean-Paul said as he carefully stood, glad he'd regained an echo of his usual grace.
"C'mon then, or the only thing left'll be the meatloaf."
Take what you can get, Jean-Paul told himself as they walked back toward the mansion. Just take what you can get.