t h a n k s: To everyone at the Corner, especially River, Lise, Jono, KG and Mel. Merci beaucoup, people! And extra special thanks to Maelstrom for the spellcheck. *huggles*
d e d i c a t e d t o: River and Lise.
e x t r a _ t h a n k s: to Maelstrom, River and Trisha for the spellchecks.
p r o l o g u e
You can try blending in all you like. Won't work much when you're a nice shade of green. Oh, there's body make-up and stuff like that, but honestly, who has the patience or the will to apply that every bleeding day?
Not I, that's for sure.
I look pretty normal otherwise. When you look away from the green skin, I reckon I look... Well, not exactly handsome, but certainly passable. Slavic features with a hint of well built Scandinavian. Polish grandfather, Norwegian grandmother. Mutant myself.
The green skin is pretty much a dead give away, yeah.
Don't have much of a power, really.
I see hidden things.
Yup. Secrets, and safes hidden behind pictures, and secret passages. Stuff like that.
No, I haven't a clue why that warrants a green skin.
Someone up there is having a mighty big laugh at my expense, I'm sure of it.
Not that I would've been "normal" even sans green skin, but, you know, it's so damn obvious. Pretty much the first thing I hear from people is; "Oh, but you're... green."
I never hear people say; "Oh, but you're... gay." Okay, but that's pretty rare so it doesn't really count. Or; "Oh, but you... write weird stories for equally weird people online."
Of course, if I splashed my picture up on the web, I might get that. Apparently there's a lot more weird people out there than I would've guessed. Not that that's a bad thing, mind.
Like this girl I met on the subway. She was sitting next to some kids, reading a print-out of one of my favorite stories, smiling to herself and completely ignoring those she was with until one of them whacked her over the head and shouted: "Kitty! For chrisake! Pay attention!"
She growled distractedly in reply. She seemed completely caught up in the story. Just my kind of person.
I was about to commit a killing offence, asking a complete stranger on the subway what she thought of the story, when one of the people she was with bumped into me.
*Kind. Steel claws. Feral look. Bare chested male in a cage. Don't touch me! Don't touch me! Scream. Kiss. He's so cute.*
I winced at the assault of images in my head. Oh yes, this one had secrets. I suspect I must have moaned as well, because the next thing I heard was someone yelling: "Rogue! What did you do?"
"Nothing! I just bumped into him, that's all!" She sounded worried.
I opened my eyes and gave her a weak smile, which was, quite frankly the best I could do at the time. Surprise attacks of secrets, especially something this powerful, leaves me with a pounding headache and a deep desire for licorice. Don't ask.
"I'm all right, really," I assured the people who were looking at me with varying degrees of worry in their faces. "Just bumped into... something."
"You sure?" The girl with the white bangs and the red scarf asked, biting her lip.
Her face lit up and she looked relieved.
In the mean time, one of the boys had come to a startling conclusion. "You're a mutant!"
I looked at him. Pretty blue eyes. "Oh, gee, you think?"
"And you're here, in public and...And..." He gestured with his hands, looking semi-shocked.
The next sentence will probably run in the lines of "Freaks like you should be locked up somewhere, away from normal people."
My luck sucks. Actually, I'm starting to think I have none. I leaned against the wall and waited fatalistically for the "I Hate Muties speech." There are times like this I truly regret moving to New York. I'd never would've gotten this speech back in good ol' Norway.
Partly because I lived in Nowheresville, but never mind.
The boy surprised me however. "Man, you've got guts."
I blinked. "Huh?"
"Aren't you afraid?" Yellow raincoat and pink gum.
"Yeah, after the whole Magneto thing, even I'm kind of worried and I'm normal good looking," blond boy said.
The one with the blue eyes whacked him amicably over the head. "Difference of opinion on that topic."
"Eh..." I repeated, getting the feeling of being backed up in to a corner by eager, inquiring teens.
"Though the Senator Kelly thing probably helped some," the girl who'd been reading the print-out said. She looked at me with serious brown eyes. "Don't you think so?"
"Quite frankly, I have no idea... I don't pay much attention to politics," I admitted and frowned thoughtfully. "Though I suppose I should, if I'm going to be living here for a while."
All five of them looked disappointed.
Looking around, I noticed that the cart we where in where more or less empty except me and the teens. I decided to be social. If I just worked at it, I was sure I could do it. "You're a mutant too?" I nodded towards the girl with the white bangs.
The odd 'mutant-bonding-us-against-them' phenomenon kicked in, and she nodded. "We all are, actually."
I must have looked surprised, because they grinned amusedly at me.
"Not all of us have oddly colored skin or strange - yet attractive - haircolours, you know," the one with the blue eyes pointed out with a grin.
"No, some have pretty blue eyes," I replied.
He first looked surprised, then turned red. "Eh..."
I snickered. "Hi. I'm Alex. You are?"
"Uh... Bobby." He quickly pushed the blond boy in front of him. "And this is John."
John grinned at me. "Hey."
"I'm Jubilee," yellow raincoat and pink bubble gum said, popping her gum a few times. "And this is Rogue..." White bangs. "And Kitty." The one with the print-out. "Nice t'meet cha."
"Oh this is our stop!" Kitty got on her feet, almost losing her print-outs. "Come on, guys. Mr. Summers won't be happy if we're late."
They all pushed their way past me, barely giving me the time to jump to the side. I wasn't quick enough however, and was hit with a jumble of secrets.
*Leaned against a tree, panting. Smirk. Red-brown hair. Black sunglasses.*
*Big happy smile. Don't be late. Dark eyes. I got the card.*
*Not bad, kid, not bad. Ferocious. Up, spin, kick. Can you teach me that?*
*Laughing. Pool. Where is she? Pretty girl.*
*I definitely shouldn't have seen that. Kisses. Bodies behind the pavilion.*
*Big happy smile. Don't be late. Dark eyes. I got the card.*
*Not bad, kid, not bad. Ferocious. Up, spin, kick. Can you teach me that?*
*Laughing. Pool. Where is she? Pretty girl.*
*I definitely shouldn't have seen that. Kisses. Bodies behind the pavilion.*
Do all of these kids have serious, big secrets?
I winced and rubbed the bridge of my nose. I was going to get all the bloody store had of licorice. Then I was going to veg on the couch for at least a day. Maybe two.
She looked down at a piece of paper in her hand, then looked up with a smile. "Are you Alexander Olson? Freelance graphic designer?"
"...Yeah. Well, it's Olsen, actually." Americans never get that right. Wonder why? I gave her a curious look. "Why?"
"My name is Ororo Munroe, I'm from the Xavier School for Gifted Youngsters, and I might have a job for you."
Oh. Oh cool. I opened the door further to let her in. She wanted me to make a web-page to represent the school. I'll spare you the further shop talk and just say that I took the job (without doing flip-flops out of joy. Though, I think I would've if I knew how).
"Do you know when you can begin?" Munroe asked, pen poised on a piece of paper.
I went through my date-book in my head. Almost finished the Carmelie deal, wasn't going to work for Blyth, Tims and Gerald until next week... "I could start right away, if you like."
She smiled. "That would be wonderful."
I followed her out to the school, (recon, she said) and ended up in the computer room, working with Kitty.
Someone up there is having fun with me life.
I can tell.
c h a p t e r _ o n e
I hate getting involved.
The mere thought makes me break out in cold sweat.
Okay, getting involved romantically speaking, can be fun. But when the involved thing doesn't have anything to do with romance (at least not for me), I start squirming.
I have, on occasion, been known to run into my room and lock the door in order to not get involved.
I'm not kidding.
So you see how this whole working at Xavier's thing was causing me some conflict.
On one hand, I had the job. Which was nice, I got to play with a web page and I got paid. Both very neat things which I fully support.
But then, on the other hand, you had the secrets.
Bundles of them.
I swear, there wasn't a person in that place who didn't have a serious secret or another.
And all of them seemed to be doing their damned best to get me involved.
(No, I'm not pouting! I never pout!)
First there was Kitty who seemed to be spending more time at the computer room than I was. She could make herself intangible and walk through stuff, by the way. Called it 'phasing', I think. Waaaay freakish to look at.
She didn't really have that many secrets (serious ones or otherwise), so most of the time we could bump into each other without me getting the mother of all headaches.
There was one big secret though. She'd seen something she most emphatically thought she shouldn't have.
Not entirely sure what it was exactly. This power-thingy of mine works backwards, for one thing. I get the most recent image first. For another, I get impressions and images and thoughts and it all gets kind of jumbled together.
I have the distinct impression it had something to do with sex, though...
Anyway, except for the fact that she occasionally gave me headaches, she was a big help. She seemed to know everybody, and when I mentioned to her that I'd like some aerial photos of the school, she said "No problem!" and went and fetched a redhead and a blond boy with wings.
I would have liked wings. Why couldn't I have gotten neat white wings instead of a green skin? Huh?
She introduced them as Angelica and Warren.
"Hey," I said.
"Hey," they said.
Warren looked at me with a 'duh' expression on his face and ruffled his feathers. I think he knocked over a speaker.
"Right," I said, blushing and doing my best to ignore it. "So... Take as many photos as you can, from as many angles as possible, okay? I need something to choose from."
Angelica nodded. "Will do. Cameras?"
"Right," I said again. God, I'm turning into Giles. ...Wait, that's not a bad thing. If I turned into Giles, I'd get Ethan. And Ethan is definitely a good thing... That smirk... Those eyes... That nose... Oh, right, the kids. Work now, fantasize later. "I have a couple in my backpack."
Kitty nodded and ducked under the desk to get the cameras. "The DigiCam as well?"
"No, bad quality --" I changed my mind. "Wait. Yes, bring that one too."
She reappeared from under the desk and started handing out the cameras. I have a lot of cameras. Not professional extra-super-doesn't-get-any-better-than-this type cameras, mind, just a bunch of ordinary cameras. I do a lot of small business/school webpages, and for some reason, they like getting their faces plastered online. Bringing the cameras myself saves a lot of work.
Believe me, you have not known frustration until you've looked through 37 different albums and 52 piles of photos in order to find fifteen photos you can work with.
(I now know far more than I ever wanted to know about the Leeman Association's employees private lives, by the way.)
Angelica and Warren grabbed a couple of cameras each and walked out of the window.
I have to admit my jaw dropped at that.
Kitty snickered at me. I made a face at her (Twenty-five, five - doesn't make much difference when it comes to me) and she giggled and went back to her hotmail.
Nice kid, really.
Which of course makes it even more difficult for me to stay the hell uninvolved...
And then there was Logan.
Let me say... Wow. Much, much wow.
Way out of my league, of course, but that has never stopped me from ogling before, and certainly didn't stop me now. First time I saw him without a shirt, Kitty had to whack me over the head in order to get my attention back on the screen.
I have a feeling that girl spends a lot of time laughing at me...
He's walked into the computer room a couple of times, looking for Dr. Grey (who I still haven't seen. Kitty says she's off lecturing or something), or Rogue (I still can't believe people are calling her Rogue. Everytime I say her name I feel like a dork).
One of those times he, naturally, bumped against me.
Shut up. I did not do it on purpose.
Anyway, I was hit with the most unholy mess of secrets I've ever been hit with. Had a pounding headache for days after wards. And I think I ate way more licorice than what's healthy.
Only thing I can remember clearly is the impression of... a lion? A big cat growling? Something like that. Connected to an image of a tall, feral looking guy with blond hair.
Apparently this school does 'weird' very well.
I kept away from Logan after that. I didn't quit ogling, though.
Couldn't get rid of the image of the feral man. Stuck in my head, he did. Reckon I got a crush on him, too.
Never said I was particulary smart in that area.
Two weeks later I saw feral-blond-guy on the news. Let's just say that seeing someone you kind of, sort of, in a way, have a crush on being on the 6 o'clock news, under the heading WANTED! REALLY COLD BLOODED KILLER! ...Well, it's not really all that much fun.
...Which reminds me, why would Logan have a secret about a cold blooded killer?
Yes, I definitely kept away from Logan. That generally wasn't that hard, since he hardly ever was in the computer room and I rarely left it. Now if I'd been wanting to stay away from Pete Wisdom, then I'd have to work at it. The kid seemed to spend an awful lot of time in the computer room considering he had no business being there.
Didn't take me long to figure it out, though. I might be a bit socially challenged, but I'm not that lost.
His eyes followed Kitty's every movement. Covertly of course.
I pointed it out to Kitty, and she blushed, denied it and called him a 'bloody wanker'.
No, not interested in the Brit, she is. Not at all.
I managed to suppress my matchmaking urges for an entire month, because you know, matchmaking qualifies as getting involved and getting involved is icky.
Oh shut up.
Yes, I did end up getting involved.
And I blame that on pretty much anyone other than me.
I stood outside the legendary "Smog", eyeing the door skeptically. Wisdom was bound to be there. I'd picked up that little bit of info in the cantina. You'd be amazed to know what you learn from spending a couple of hours in there, nursing a coke, watching and listening.
The Smog was where you'd find the Brits, the smokers and the punk wannabes. For some, all three qualified.
There was Pete Wisdom, who seemed to be a sort of unofficial leader of the bunch, the purple-haired Liz Braddock, punk-girl Ali Blaire, the grey-skinned Angelo Espinosa, dark-and-broody Evan Starsmore, dark-shades Remy LeBeau and airhead Lance Shot.
(Sidenote: Lance had the fashion sense from hell. He even made me wince and I'm the expert of grabbing-what-ever-is-first-in-the-closet. I've worn some pretty weird combinations... Anyway, Lance = Hell's fashion sense. Shudder.)
They were usually the kind of people I regarded with amused fascination from afar.
Now I was actually considering knocking on the door, and walking inside to give one of them advice on his love-life. Which, considering my usual people skills, would probably suck majorly. I'm bloody insane, I am.
I knocked on the door.
Liz Braddock opened it and stared at me. She's the only Japanese-type person I've met who's able to stare directly into my eyes. "What?"
"Wisdom? Is he here?"
Suspicious look. "What if he is?"
"Could I talk to him?"
"Wait." She closed the door.
I waited. Twiddled my thumps. Counted the tiles in the ceiling. Read the scribblings on the door. Ran through the lyrics to "The One" by Voodoobeats in my head. Took a couple of dance steps.
The door opened and Wisdom's surly face looked out. "What you want?"
"Talk to you. About..." I hesitated, then gave a mental shrug. I come this far, I might as well continue. "About Kitty."
"What about her?"
"Well, I... You want her, right?"
He gave me a look I couldn't interpret. "What's it to you?"
I shrugged. "She's a friend."
"Right." Even I couldn't miss the doubt in his voice.
I glared at him. If I wanted to consider Kitty a friend, who was he to draw that in doubt? I could call her a friend if I wanted to. So there. "Yes, a friend. And I want her to be happy."
"Is this your way of telling me to stay the hell away from her?" He questioned, moving his hand up to take a drag of his smoke.
"Don't worry. Won't touch the kid. Happy? Shoo." He closed the door.
What the hell?
I stood there blinking for a while. What the hell was that guy smoking, anyway?
I pounded on the door until someone tore it up. It was Wisdom. He stared at me.
"You still here?"
"Yeah. Still haven't done what I came here for."
"Look, I told you --"
"Yes, I know. I'll figure out what the hell you were talking about later. Now. Go ask her out. See a movie. Have a burger. Do what ever it is that you do on a date. Preferably today."
He stared at me with a 'you're mental' expression on his face. I get that a lot. Didn't quite see what I'd said to qualify for it this time.
"You don't want her?"
Light bulb above head time. I snickered. "No. And you can believe me on that."
"No, I meant, why should I-- what?"
I grinned at him.
"So you're not...?"
"Nope. And besides, she's way too young for me anyway."
"She's sixteen, I..."
I gave him a disbelieving look. Did he want her, or didn't he? Hadn't it been for the constant gazing at Kitty he did, I'd be willing to swear he didn't. "Go ask her out," I repeated.
I walked away, figuring I've done enough for this time.
A whole week, and no headaches. New record. Woohoo.
I celebrated it with a coke and a pizza slice over at JB's Diner.
The gods were against me, however, and just as I'd finished eating, dark-shades Remy LeBeau and punk-girl Ali Blaire entered.
I sank down in my chair.
They would touch me. I just knew it. This was way to good to last, so one or both of them would touch me and we'd have secret heaven. I grumbled and looked around to see if this place sold licorice.
Surprisingly they both passed me without even noticing me, never mind touching me.
I brightened a bit, figuring that the gods might, possibly be on my side for a change.
Then the blond guy from the subway a month ago entered and I tensed again. I think his name is Sinjin, or something, even though Pretty Blue Eyes called him John. 'Least I think he did. My memory when it comes to combining names and faces leaves a lot to be desired.
He walked past me, headed in the same direction as LeBeau and Blaire. Not touching me. Much rejoicing on my behalf. I was busy promising the gods pretty much anything I could think of, so when a short, dark-haired man dropped down into the chair in front of me, I gave a start of surprise.
"And where were you, babe?"
"Heaven," I replied with a grin. "Izzy, what are you doing here?"
Izzy laughed and wiggled his brows suggestively. "Anyone I know?"
"Is there someone you don't?"
"Point. Now. Tell me. Everything. In detail." Izzy gave me his best 'I'm utterly cute and innocent and you must succumb to me' look.
I laughed. "There's nothing to tell, you berk."
"Uh-huh." Doubting look thrown my way.
"Honest! I was just thanking the gods for small mercies."
Izzy looked surprised. "No headaches for a week again? Man, this is getting to be a habit. Can't have that, now can we?"
I grinned. "No, we certainly can't. Now, what are you doing here?"
"Oh, I'm heading home after a party and I saw you sitting here all by your lonesome, decided to say hi," Izzy grinned at me. "You should've been there. Rick got really, really drunk and sang."
I snickered. "You get it on tape?"
"Of course I did." He looked affronted that I'd even suggest that he wouldn't have caught that priceless moment on tape. Granted, the day Iz goes anywhere without his camera is the day I stop reading fanfiction, so I suppose it was a stupid question.
"What did he sing? 'You're the one that I want'? 'Truly, Madly, Deeply'? 'Falling in love again'?"
Izzy snickered. "Yup."
"All of them, and more," he said with obvious relish. "And I have it on tape. I have Rick crooning 'I caaaan't help falling in looooove with choooo' to Stacy and Kallie on tape."
I gaped at him. "You're kidding?"
Izzy stretched and shook his head in blissful happiness. "Oh no. Have it right here." He patted his backpack. "You wanna see?"
"Don't have to ask me twice!" I jumped up on my feet. I paused and watched Iz stumble slowly onto his feet. "You realise Rick's going to have you murdered for this?"
Izzy grinned. "Oh yeah. Is all worth it too. You'll see."
There's this place close to my apartment called 'Kay's Corner'. It's a weird mix of a writer's workshop, netcafe and a private home. I found it a couple of days after I moved here, and that's where I got to know Izzy.
First time I walked in there, I found Iz and Rick curled up on the couch, Izzy's head in Rick's lap. They were mumbling to each other about Keller and Beecher and all sorts of weird, incomprehensible things.
I gave them a sort of nod and went looking for a computer. Mine hadn't arrived yet, you see.
Izzy and Rick gave me a curious look.
"Who are you?" Izzy asked in the kind of frank manner I've now learned is all Izzy. Never beats around the bush, that one.
"Ian," I said distractedly as I eyed the closest computer eagerly, wondering who to pester for access codes and such. Then I realised what I'd said and winced. "I mean Alex. Call me Alex."
Izzy blinked at me and looked thoughtful. "Hey, you... Nah... But what if you are..."
I gave him a puzzled look. "What?"
"Are you Ian, as in Ian Rose? Does 'Helplessly' mean anything to you?"
Now I blinked at him. "How did you know that?"
Izzy beamed at me. "Ian! C'mere!" He straightened up and spread his arms wide open.
I regarded him skeptically. "Who are you?"
"Who am... Right." Iz grinned. "I'm Izzy."
Obviously, I was supposed to recognize that. I put my brain in gear. Izzy... Izzy... Only Izzy I knew was a guy I'd done some betaing for on a story, but this couldn't possibly be... "Izzy? Epic Izzy?"
Iz grinned brighter and nodded. "Is me!"
I walked over to him and gave him a hug. I'm not really big on touching people, but this was Izzy! You understand, right? (And no, no big secrets there)
Rick looked amused at us. "You two know each other?"
"Yeah, from online," Izzy explained and let me go. He sat back down on the couch, leaned over Rick and grabbed a handful of popcorn. "Betaed story of mine."
"Cool," Rick nodded. He looked up at me. "I'm Rick. Nice to meet you."
And that's how I came to know Rick and Izzy. It seemed to me like everytime I was there, they were there. Either snuggled up together on the couch or seated next to a computer, giving each other evil glares at irregular intervals.
They're the ones who introduced me to the rest of the regulars at the cafe, some of them so much regulars, I still doubt they ever sleep.
There was Kay herself, who was treated like a minor deity among the Cornerians and considered an addiction they didn't want to be without. You should have been there for her birthday party. The Corner was filled to the brink with people carrying stories and storylets for her to read.
Kallie, who stepped in when Kay couldn't be there and I have to this day never experienced her having a bad thing to say to anyone. She's something so rare as an actual nice person.
Stace, who never seemed to move from her spot in front of the computer in the corner and had the tendency to come with the strangest facts and story ideas.
Ron, who's a fellow Viking. Montgomery, Ellis, Moric, Jana, Lin, Cassie and so on, and so on.
They've become my family, away from my family.
Some of them are mutants, some are not. Some are gay, some are bi, some are straight. Some are religious, some aren't. Some are teenagers, some are pushing sixty.
None of this seem to matter in the Corner.
There's a reason I like this place.
I spent the weekend with Izzy, snickering at his tape of Rick making an idiot of himself, watching old horror movies, throwing popcorn at Iz when he suggested watching 'Rocky Horror' for the n'th time, and making love.
I showed up at Xavier's practically beaming.
The first thing that happened was, of course, that dark-shades LeBeau and blond-guy Sinjin-John-something-like-than made their way out of the building, both of them bumping into me in the process. See, I knew this was too good to last.
*Hands sliding over stomach, down. Mouths touching tentatively, hotly. Want you. I want to look into your eyes. Removing dark shades, uncertain. You're beautiful. Surprised, grateful. You are. Closer. Grinding together. Faster. Harder. Love you! No, can't say that. Never. Don't want to lose you.*
I collapsed on the porch.
Nope. Not embarrassing at all. Really.
Did you know that I turn dark green when I blush?
Well, Chatterbox and Pretty Blue Eyes certainly know that now. As well as a young blonde girl, a Native American girl, a Native American boy, a guy with long red hair and a star on his face, a Latino looking guy... Should I go on? Didn't think so.
They brought me to see Dr. Reyes even though I told them repeatedly that I was going to be just fine. When you looked away from that humongous headache of mine, that is.
Dr. Reyes... She might be an excellent doctor, I'm not saying she's not, but she's scary. She has this way of looking at you... I swear, you feel like confessing to pretty much every bad thing you've ever done. She would've made an excellent police detective. One look and here comes the confession.
Anyway, she asked me if me collapsing was related to me being a mutant. I said yes. She asked me if it had happened before. I said yes. She asked if I knew what had caused it. I said yes again. She wondered if I was on any kind of medication. I said a couple of dozen paracets would do. She gave me a quizzical look. I told her paracetamol, pills at that. She said ahhh, gave me a box and pointed towards the computer room.
I happily escaped.
Kitty gave me a worried look when I entered the computer room. "Are you all right?"
"Yeah." I smiled to her. "Just a headache."
"You get an awful lot of headaches," she noted.
I tilted my head in agreement.
"Who caused it this time?"
I looked surprised at her. "What?"
"Oh please. What am I? An idiot?" Kitty rolled her eyes. "Well?"
"LeBeau and Sinjin-John-whatever his name is," I said too surprised to even think about keeping it a secret. Wait a minute... Two of them. Only one secret... 'Course that could mean only one of them had a secret, but it did't feel like that, it had been more like... Like... The same secret? "That can't be it," I said out loud. And when I think about it, it didn't seem backwards either...
Kitty looked puzzled at me. "What can't be what?"
"Most people call him John, by the way."
"Then why Sinjin? I mean, I'm not really seeing the connection here..."
"It's spelled S-T-period-J-O-H-N," she explained.
I gave her a look.
"If you say so..."
"And I do." She grinned at me and waited until I'd opened my coke bottle and taken a sip. "So... You got laid, eh?"
I choked. "Whaaa?"
Her eyes glittered. "I can tell. You're giving off 'I got laid' vibes. Kind of like Mr. Summers do when Dr. Grey's around."
"Kids today," I said when I stopped spluttering. "No shame. No shame at all."
Kitty rolled her eyes. "You deserve it, jenta."
I stared at her in bemusement. "Jenta?" I repeated. Girl? Why's she calling me a girl? An in Norwegian to boot.
"You're trying to tell me you weren't playing matchmaker?"
"No, but what has that got to... Yenta." Of course.
"What I said."
"Yeah, but it's not what I heard."
She looked confused at me.
"So how did your date go? I assume there _was_ a date?"
Kitty beamed at me. "Oh yes! Was so cool! A real restaurant! And I got to beat up people!"
"Pete said I was tough and he kissed me!" She practically bounced in her chair.
I had to smile at the look on her face. She was really making it hard for me to stay uninvolved.
Though... I wasn't sure if I wanted to, anymore.
I felt this weird urge to... To... Try and fix things. Get involved. That sort of thing.
Stuff that usually makes me queasy.
Bad influence. Yeah, that's it. Being here at Xavier's is bad influence. Before you knew it, I'd be a bartender somewhere giving drunk people good advice about their wives/husbands/bosses/dogs/cars/trucks.
I should have made a run for it. Could have saved myself a lot of trouble that way.
But, I'm a total idiot, and I stayed.
c h a p t e r _ t w o
I'm a dreamer. I know I am. Never denied it, never going to.
The stories I write are light and fun and superficial of that same reason. I don't write angst. Well, not unless Rick and Izzy gang up on me, that is.
(...Spike and Ethan Rayne having sex on top of a lampshade. Shudder. It's all their fault.)
Angst just isn't my thing.
Naturally, the first secret I decided to sink my teeth into, was all about angst. Lots and lots of angst. Teenage angst, at that. Could it get any worse?
Why, yes. Yes, of course it could! What a silly question!
I volunteered to bring some of the kids from Xavier's on a bonding trip. Apparently they were a bit short of teachers (and desperate, I'd think) and Ms. Guthrie didn't know what else to do. That woman's eyes should be registred as a lethal weapon. I've never seen anyone make anime eyes that well before.
Anyway, before I knew it I was out of the computer room and surrounded by twenty or so teenagers.
Now I had two problems. One, I have an authority problem. Or in other words, I have no authority what so ever. I couldn't get a three year old to listen on a good day. And two, I didn't know any of them. I mean, I knew the names of some of them, but I didn't know them. So what in the world was I going to come up with?
I have a feeling I looked pretty desperate.
Then... Brilliant idea hit me.
Galynne! Oh yes! Galynne! She owed me one (and even if she didn't, I was at the time desperate enough to ignore that).
"Hey!" Two fingers up to mouth and insistant whistling. "Listen up! Is there a bus somewhere around here? We're going on a field trip!"
They looked at me.
Warren pointed towards the parking lot. "There are usually a couple parked over there."
"Where are we going?" A blue devil wanted to know. No, I'm serious. That's exactly what he looked like.
I grinned. "That'll be a surprise for when we get there."
They muttered to each other at that.
"Somewhere public?" Warren looked at me with a apprehendsive look on his face.
He sighed and started to walk away. "Be back in a bit."
"What? Get back here!" Oh. That sounded almost... authoritive. I'm getting better at this.
Warren walked back. "What? I just wanted to get my harness."
I blinked at him. "Your... Never mind. This is a come as you are thing, okay? And we're leaving now. Come on."
I could almost feel them shrug at each other before they followed me. Well, at least they followed.
Charlie, the busdriver, stopped the bus outside Galynne's Paintball War Arena and looked at me. "Are you sure this is a good idea?"
"Ah. Well, as long as you're sure..."
I looked back in the bus at the students. I swear some of them were bouncing. "All right, everyone! How many of you have played this before?"
Most hands shot into the air.
"Okay. So most of you know what you're getting yourself into... Good. When we get inside, I want you to wait in the cafe for a bit while I..." Go convince Galynne that I haven't lost my mind. "...Talk to the owner."
Nods and shouts of "Got'cha!" and "Get a move on it, already!"
I got a move on it.
Entering Galynne's, I felt like a duck mother with all these kids milling around me. Iz and Rick were never going to let me forget this. Hm. Maybe I could bribe Galynne into not telling...?
No, probably not.
I pointed the kids towards the cafe and went to find Galynne.
That wasn't really all that hard. I just followed the sounds of murder and mayhem. And cursing that would make a sailor blush. Ah. She was working inside today. I entered the door marked 'A2' and looked around.
"Hey Gally," I said to the bushy tail waving in front of me. "Have a minute?"
Galynne crawled out from under the 'mountain' and looked at me, ears flat against her head. "What?"
"I have a bit of a problem..."
"Yeah?" Suspicious yellow eyes and hand firmly clasped around a screwdriver.
"Yeah. Um. About twenty-three of them." I swallowed. "You think I could borrow one of the courts for a while? Like... Two hours?"
Galynne stared at me. "You couldn't make it more of a short notice?"
"Well..." I gave her a pleading look.
"Let me think," she sighed and proceeded to look thoughtful while she scratched herself behind one ear with the screwdriver. Sometimes I swear I can hear her purr when she does that. "Yeah. B5 should be free for an hour and a half. That's the best I can do. And you owe me for this."
I beamed at her. "Of course I do. You're a sweetheart, Gally!"
"Yeah, don't go spreading it, or I'll gut ya. Have a reputation to think of here," she muttered and crawled back under the mountain.
I came back to the cafe just in time to stop dark-shades LeBeau and purple-hair Braddock from scamming the poor guy behind the counter into giving out free cola.
I looked around at the kids and really took notice of who was there for the first time. Oh greatness. Just about all of the Smog-people. Wonderful. Heey, wait a minute. Isn't that St. John over there?
Yes, it is.
I, wrongfully of course, suddenly thought things were looking up. I should have remembered that there's a reason I don't like getting involved. But nooo...
"Okay, I'm dividing you into four teams - red, blue, green and yellow. The stuff you'll need is over there -" I pointed. "- go fetch it when I'm done here, then come back and I'll come with you to B5. Everybody get that?"
"Yeah, yeah. Get on with it, will you?" grey-skinned Espinosa said boredly.
"LeBeau, Allerdyce, Smith, you over there and you over there - blue."
"DaCosta," you over there #1 said. "My name is Roberto daCosta."
"All right. LeBeau, Allerdyce, Smith, daCosta and... You are?" I looked at the girl with the short red hair.
"Rain Sinclair," she said shyly and flushed red.
"And Sinclair," I smiled at her. "Are the blue team. Go find your gear."
Then I waited while LeBeau and Blaire said goodbye (by smooching the heck out of each other. Do either of them actually need air to breathe?), Smith and Lee exchanged insults and Allerdyce and daCosta told the blue devil that they were going to kick his ass. Having gotten them out of the way, I divided the rest.
"Lee... What's your name? Wagner. And you? Richter. You? Rasputin. Braddock and Davidson. You're the red team."
"Espinosa, Blaire, Maximoff. No, Wanda. And what's your name? Astrovik. And you? Russell. You? Dane. You're the green team. Go find your gear. The rest of you are the yellow team. Everybody clear on that? Wonderful. You got your gear? Okay, let's go."
Let's see... First, there was an earthquake.
Then, there was the bombs.
Then, fireworks in retaliation.
Then, there was the forrest fires.
"THAT WASN'T ME!"
"HEY! I DIDN'T DO THAT!"
"ALLERDYCE! I'M ON YOUR SIDE, 'MEMBER?"
"LEBEAU! QUIT CHARGING THE PAINT!"
"JE NE FAIS PAS!"
"LIKE HELL YOU'RE NOT!"
Around then I sank down on my ass in the look-out tower, hid my head in my hands and stopped listening. Apparently it was possible to find people who played this the same way the Cornerians did.
My brilliant plan of putting LeBeau and Allerdyce on the same team and seeing what happened, quickly turned into watching Galynne go postal because said two persons just about burned down her forest.
"...Need air..." I gasped out, wincing as her claws scratched my neck.
"Air?! I'll give you air!" Galynne growled, pushing her face into mine. "My forest! My beautiful, beautiful forest! I NEED THAT FOREST!"
"I HAVE NO FOREST!" she schrieked. "Do you know why? Because of you! You and your brats!"
"...Not my brats, exactly..."
"Good. I want my forest back. Now." Her whiskers vibrated and her ears lay flat against her head. "Or else!"
She let me go. I gasped for air and rubbed my throat. I am never getting involved ever again. Especially not in things involving mutants that can make fire, but not water. Where's Pretty Blue Eyes when you need him anyway?
I turned away from Galynne to glare at the teenagers. Weren't seventeen year olds supposed to behave like adults? ...Actually, they kind of were, but not the way I was wishing. Most of them gave me guilty looks in return.
Espinosa held up two flags - a red and a yellow. "Um. We won."
"Good for you."
"We got the blue one," Pietro Maximoff said.
"We're going home," I said. Why couldn't I know someone who could make plants grow? Like Poison Ivy, or something. Not that B5 had burned down, exactly, but it was admittingly a bit singed...
They looked disappointed at me.
"We have a whole half hour left!" Lee complained.
"And I'm dead broke and in dept because of you. We're definitelly going back at Xavier's."
Lee turned to glare at Allerdyce and LeBeau. "This is your fault!"
"Hey!" St. John Allerdyce and Remy LeBeau exclaimed in unison then glared at each other.
"She's right," Smith said and nodded. "Is all your fault."
"Oh like you're all that innocent!" Braddock snorted.
"Shut up! Shut up!" I shouted, surprising them and myself. They stared at me. "Promise me no arguing and I'll bring you to the library."
"The library?" Smith, Lee and Espinosa said in unison.
I nodded. Mai Lee was going to kill me. Twice. But it was the only thing I could think of. "Yeah. The library. It's either that, or back to the school."
They picked the library.
I brightened as a thought hit me. Maybe I could get Xavier's to pay Galynne? This being a school trip and all... Hey, it was worth a try.
"No. I'm a push-over and she gave me anime eyes."
Mai Lee leaned against the check out desk and snickered at me. "Why did you bring them here? Or better yet, how did you get them to come?"
"Galynne threw us out and it was either this or back to the school."
We looked at each other.
"Tell me," said Mai Lee. "How much are you willing to bet against most of your students having split into pairs and being busy making out between the shelves?"
"Not a thing," I sighed.
I've known Mai Lee forever, or there abouts. I got to know her over the internet. Apparently straight out awe from my side is a good thing. Mai Lee draws comic strips, you see. Fun comic strips. And she writes. I feedbacked her, we got talking, and we became friends.
Very strange to my parents, and lots of fun to me.
When I moved here, Mai Lee showed up on the airport to welcome me, and she'd even brought her beloved toy dolphin. Is there any wonder I adore her?
"Um... Mr. Olsen?"
I turned to look at Rain Sinclair. "Yes?"
She gave me a nervous look. "There's... Tabitha and Jubilee are fighting."
Mai Lee looked worried. "I hope they're not touching the books..."
"Where are they?"
Sinclair pointed. I took off in that direction, swearing rather colorfully in Norwegian. In a library! How the heck did they manage to get into a fight at the frigging library? Huh? What was there to fight about there? A book? Somehow Smith and Lee didn't hit me as being the type for that.
I rounded 'Science Fiction A-H' and heard shouting which grew stronger as I closed in on the fight.
"Very mature of you, Angelo."
"Put a sock in it, St. Croix!"
"Go Tabitha! Go Tab!"
"Go Jubes! Woo! Woo! Woo!"
"Would it help if I pointed out that I wouldn't go out with either of them?"
"Sincerely doubt it, Ev. You could try of course."
A very loud crash sounded and I started running.
"...I'm thinking I'll stay right here and not say a word," Everett Thomas told John Allerdyce as I reached 'Art and Culture' and the fight.
Allerdyce patted him on the back. "Good choice."
"ALL RIGHT!" I made my way through the crowd, somehow managing not to get overwhelmed by secrets. The close to blinding rage and serious exasperation thing probably had something to do with it. "WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON HERE?!"
Lee did a spin-kick and made Smith fly backwards into the crowd in front of 'History G-L'. I took a moment to admire her technique (it's in the blood. Vikings, you know. Can't help it. When I see violence, my first reaction is either to stop and admire or rush right into it), then rushed forth to stop Smith from attacking Lee.
I glared at the 'History G-L' crowd. "Can I get a hand here?"
Astrovik and Pietro Maximoff hesitantly came to help me. Once they had Smith's hands firmly locked behind her back and Richter and Russell had done the same to Lee, I stared at them. For a long time. Hoping to induce squirming.
It actually worked.
"All right," I said, somewhat calmer than the first time I said it. "What the hell were you two doing?"
Both of them started talking at once.
"That bitch --"
"Not going out with --"
"I keep telling her, but she won't listen!"
That was about all the words I managed to get from what they were spitting out. I shook my head and they fell silent. "One at the time. Lee, you start."
"She like thinks she's going out with Ev but she's definitelly not doing that because I am and she's like a total bitch who won't even admit when she's outclassed and--"
I held up a hand. "Yes, quite enough, thank you." I stared incredulously at them. "You started a fight in Mai Lee's library because of him?" I pointed towards Everett Thomas.
"Okay, I don't care if you've twenty minutes left, we're going back to the school. And you two -" I looke pointedly at Smith and Lee. "As well as Allerdyce and LeBeau are coming with me to Ms. Guthrie's office."
"What did I do?" Allerdyce wanted to know.
"You nearly burned down a forest."
I dropped down on a pile of pillows, leaned my head back and stared at the star covered ceiling. I sighed deeply, then closed my eyes. "Wake me up sometime next year."
I felt someone ruffling my hair, then Kallie's voice sounded above my head. "Bad day?"
"Like you wouldn't believe."
"Want to talk about it?"
"And relive it? Not a chance."
She patted my shoulder and I opened my eyes in time to see the smile on her face. "All right. But if you do want to talk..."
"Yeah." I smiled. "I know."
I closed my eyes again and I must have fallen asleep, because the next thing I remember is waking up to Jana's scream of horror.
Ah. What a way to wake up. I sat up and looked around. Yup, there they were. At a standstill by the four leaf clover table, it would seem. Jana was glaring daggers at Jasmine who was smirking back. Rick, Kallie, Stace, Moric and Ron were rolling on the floor laughing.
I poked Ruth's ankle. "What's going on? What did I miss?"
"Jasmine has been telling us embarrassing stories about Jana," she explained, grinning down at me.
"No! And I missed it? There is no justice in the world," I moaned.
Ruth took advantage of her position (her regular computer was on floor one and a half. It's a bit hard to explain) and patted me on my shoulder with her foot. "Dear, dear. I'm sure you could get Jasmine to repeat them to you."
I looked over at Jana who was giving Jasmine dire threats of no more smoochies if she ever, ever told any more embarrassing stories. Or stories at all, for that matter. I looked back up at Ruth. "I doubt it. Wait. Why did Jana let Jasmine tell the stories in the first place?"
"She didn't," Ruth grinned. "She had to go to the hairdresser, and she left Jasmine with us."
"That would explain it."
Ruth nodded and went back to her computer.
I got on my feet and walked over to look in fascination at Jasmine's attempt to placate Jana. Apparently Jana's girlfriend had gotten over her initial shyness at the Corner. Which had probably been induced more by the multiple death threats against her should she ever hurt Jana than anything else, to be honest.
Nothing personal, you understand. We had to threaten her life. Principle. Not that it wasn't heartfelt from my side. I like Jana. She's a cute little thing.
Telling her that to her face is usually a good way to seeing a human vulcano explode. She's in deep denial over her own cuteness. Lucky for her that we at the Corner have seen it. And are pointing it out at regular intervals.
She doesn't see it quite that way.
"See," said Jasmine earnestly. "I _had_ to know how to change my nick and they wouldn't tell me unless I told them stories about you."
"HA!" said Jana.
"*Snicker* *choke* *laughter*" said Rick, Kallie, Stace, Moric and Ron.
"You're all dead," Jana growled menacingly. "Dead. Dead. Dead."
I knew I could trust this place to get me in a better mood.
The next day I promptly forgot all promises to myself about staying the heck uninvolved as St. John Allerdyce, Remy LeBeau, Tabitha Smith and Jubilee Lee came to apologize for yesterday.
No, the apology had nothing to do with it, really. It was very obviously a forced one.
It was when I touched Allerdyce and LeBeau again. Or rather, they touched me as they walked past me on their way down the hallway. Something happened that I can't remember happening before. It was like I was watching it on a 3d video tape or something. Instead of the usual jumble of images, impressions and thoughts, what I got was clear as crystal. And it made me change my mind about getting involved.
*You wan' a relationship o' somethin'? Dat it? [Eyebrow arched in... challenge?]
[Startled look.] No. No, of course not.
Didn' think so. So stop actin' like a jealous petit ami, d'accord?
Boyfriend. You're actin' like a jealous boyfriend.
Am not! [Instant denial.] ...But do you have to kiss her like that?
I think she'd find it a bit odd if I jus' gave her a peck on the cheek, non? [Hope? Is that hope in his voice?]
You're right, you're right. [Deep sigh.] I'm just being a moron. Been spending too much time with Bobby lately. C'mere, let me make it up to you... [Smile.]
[Disappointment quickly pushed away. Answering smile.]
[Initiates the kiss. Searches his mouth possessivly to get rid of _her_ taste and replace it with his own.]
[Gasping. Feeling. If this is all, it's better than nothing.]*
[Startled look.] No. No, of course not.
Didn' think so. So stop actin' like a jealous petit ami, d'accord?
Boyfriend. You're actin' like a jealous boyfriend.
Am not! [Instant denial.] ...But do you have to kiss her like that?
I think she'd find it a bit odd if I jus' gave her a peck on the cheek, non? [Hope? Is that hope in his voice?]
You're right, you're right. [Deep sigh.] I'm just being a moron. Been spending too much time with Bobby lately. C'mere, let me make it up to you... [Smile.]
[Disappointment quickly pushed away. Answering smile.]
[Initiates the kiss. Searches his mouth possessivly to get rid of _her_ taste and replace it with his own.]
[Gasping. Feeling. If this is all, it's better than nothing.]*
It's probably needless to mention that I passed out. Woke up again to a bottle of paracet and Doc Reyes. I have definitelly woken up to prettier sights. Right then I didn't really care.
I grabbed the bottle and held my hand out for the water Doc Reyes gave me. I swallowed five paracets - new personal record - and smiled gratefully at her. "Thanks."
"It's my job," she replied. She took the empty glass (I wasn't going to let go of the paracets just yet), put it down on a table and looked searchingly at me. "What is your mutation exactly? I'm only asking because it could come in useful if you plan on coming here a lot."
"I'm not," I said, then remembered that I hadn't exactly planned this visit either. "But I see secrets, if you must know."
She blinked at me. "Secrets?"
"Yup. Hidden stuff, like secret passages, safes, thoughts, feelings..."
"And the downside?"
I blinked at her. "There's an upside? Never mind. Headaches. Get headaches. The intensity varies after how serious whoever I touch consider the secret to be. With things, I usually don't get affected at all."
"Touch? That's what causes this?" She took half a step back before she realised what she was doing. "Sorry."
I grinned and shook my head at her. "Don't worry. People do that a lot when I tell them. I guess it's something of the same with empaths and telepaths, you know? Only they're more so."
Doc Reyes nodded. "I see. And the skin?"
I shrugged. "The powers that be probably found it horribly amusing."
I had to give her a blow-by-blow account of my medical history before she let me go. I was there for a while, yeah.
Jana sat crosslegged on the table and stared blankly in to the air. A small grin was playing on her lips. She looked adorably cute and I regarded her warily for a bit before I continued over to pillow heaven.
I sat down beside Rick and nodded towards Jana. "She's plotting, isn't she?"
"Should I worry?"
"Probably." Rick grinned.
I nodded and changed the topic. "Where's Izzy, by the way?"
"He didn't tell you?"
"I've just had two days of hell. Trust me, I wouldn't even been able to remember Moric's birthday, hadn't it been for them there." I nodded towards the nearest 'MORIC'S BIRTHDAY! THIS SUNDAY! BE THERE!' poster.
Rick chuckled and patted my back comfortingly. "Izzy went to OzCon."
I closed my eyes. Duh. I opened my eyes again. "Are you writing anything for Moric?"
"Yup. But it's a secret. You?"
"Faith and Anya."
"What?" He stared at me.
"It's what the man asked for," I shrugged. "And remember who pestered me for two weeks in order to get Spike and Ethan Rayne..."
Rick grinned brightly at me.
I rolled my eyes and grinned back. You'd never get me to admit this out loud, but I kind of do like that story. Weirdly twisted as it is.
"Do you remember being a teenager and hopelessly closeted?"
He gave me a fond look and patiently waited for my brain to kick back in. It did, about two seconds later, and I banged my head against his tigh. Rick snickered and patted my back again.
"You're too touchy-feely," I complained. "How the hell am I supposed to remember that you're mostly on the side of straightness?"
Rick laughed. "Hey, I have no gender prejudices, you know that."
I just grumbled at him.
"What made you ask, by the way?"
I straightened. "Oh that. You know I've been working over at the Xavier's school lately, right?"
"Kind of hard to explain, but um... I picked up some secrets I probably shouldn't have and now I can't just forget it and..."
Rick blinked. "You're getting involved?"
"No! ...Well. Yes. But I don't really want to. Honest."
"Sure. I believe you."
"It's just... I think they're in love. Well, one of them, anyway."
"You're a romantic sap," Rick said. He raised his voice. "Hey! All! Alex is a romantic sap!"
"Tell us something we don't know!" Was the reply he got.
I groaned, turned dark green and sank deeper into the pillows. I distinctly heard at least four different snickers thrown my way. I stayed that way for a while until something else hit me.
The 3d secret vision-thingy... Why was I getting them all of a sudden? I couldn't possibly have gone through the last 13 years without touching two people who shared the same secret, could I? Nah. Far to implausible.
Testing time, I decided and looked around for someone to pester. "Hey Montgomery! You doing anything?"
Montgomery looked up from the computer and gave me a suspicious look. "Writing. Why?"
I was momentary distracted by that. "Is it Ethan Rayne?"
"Yes. And you still owe me Doyle."
I winced guiltily. "I know. But anyway, could you do me a favor? Could you come over here and touch me?"
This was one of those rare moments where the cafe fell entirely silent.
Montgomery's eyebrows went up towards his hairline. "I hesitate to ask, but why?"
"I'm testing out my powers."
"Don't listen to him!" Moric shouted. "He just wants to take advantage of you! ...And only I get to do that..."
I waited until the laughter died down before I asked again. Montgomery nodded. "Sure. But I'm not moving, so get your lazy ass over here."
I got up on my feet (after a lenghty fight with the pillows who seemed reluctant to let me go) and wandered over to him. He looked expectant up at me and I placed my hand on his head, feeling oddly like a Padre of some kind.
Nope. No 3d here.
I removed my hand and frowned.
"No, didn't work," I said distractedly. Hm. Maybe it had to be two persons... I looked around the Corner for another person I hadn't become more or less immune to yet. Aha! Daniel and Cassie! I stalked over to them.
"Can I touch you?"
Daniel and Cassie gave me identical puzzled stares as they looked up from their respective computers.
"...Sure," Daniel said somewhat doubtingly. Cassie nodded. I beamed at them and did repeat of my 'Padre' act.
Frell it. That was just confusing. I removed my hands and frowned in fustration. What was I forgetting? There was something... Ah right! Two people, same secret!
...Where the hell was I going to find that?
I spun around to eye the still meditating Jana. Hmmmm. There was the immune factor to take into consideration, but Jana and Jasmine were bound to have some secrets together, right? Right.
I walked over to her, poked her and asked where Jasmine was.
"Not here," was the reply I got. "And you can forget about getting more stories out of her."
"I didn't get to hear the first one, actually."
"With sugar on it?"
"I'll write you Harmony fic."
Jana got very talkativ all of a sudden. I got the whole tale out of her. Much fun. Involved public singing. Of Lion King songs.
Which reminds me, I really should write her that Harmony story...
When I stopped laughing, I looked around again and spotted Stace over in her regular corner. And lo and behold! Who other than Ellis walked through the door? I pounced immidiatelly.
"Ellis! Stop right there!"
He froze. "What?"
Stace, who'd jumped out of her chair the second she spotted Ellis, completely ignored me and threw herself into Ellis' arms. He caught her automatically.
"Could I touch you? I'm testing my powers."
Ellis blinked, then nodded. "Sure. If you have to."
"Yeah, yeah. Get on with it, already. Do you know how long it's been since I last saw him?"
I reached out and touched their arms. Bingo. 3D heaven. I was prepared this time, however, and stepped back as soon as I'd confirmed that they gave me 3D visions.
They also gave me blitz-light-spots-vision, dizzyness and an ever worse headache than I already had.
I decided to wander home and lock myself in my bedroom. Oh yes. My nice, cold, dark bedroom. With blankets. I thanked Stace and Ellis, got me a coke, swallowed a few paracets in order to keep from blacking out on the way to my apartment (I always carry a box of paracets in my pocket. I pretty much have to) and looked pleadingly at Rick.
"Stop looking at me like that and tell me what you want," he sighed. "You can be truly exasperating sometimes."
"And I thought I was always terribly charming." I tried to smile. "Could you follow me home?"
I woke up next day to the sound of the telephone. I squinted in its direction and picked it up. "Hmm?"
"Is him. I mean, yeah?"
"This is Kitty. You didn't show up at the school today and I got worried something might have happened..."
"No. Nothing's wrong. I'll be back again tomorrow. Just a really bad headache," I assured her.
"Oh good. Not that you have a headache, because that's bad, but that it's not more serious than that."
"Yes, I know," I smiled. "See you tomorrow."
I hung up and fell asleep again.
c h a p t e r _ t h r e e
Something unexpected always happens. It's a rule. Sometimes a good one, sometimes a bad one. But always true.
As I found out when I opened my door and discovered Remy LeBeau outside it. I had very much not expected that. In fact, if you told me to give you a list of people I doubted would ever knock on my door, Remy LeBeau would have been on it along with James Marsters and John Cusack.
He looked nervous. "Could I come in?"
I looked blankly at him. The day after I've gotten two serious headaches, one upon the other, my mind is pretty much on the 'tree good, fire bad' level. It takes a while before I react to anything. After what must have been at least a couple of minutes, I realized who I was looking at and managed to string a sentence together. "What are you doing here?"
"Inside?" he questioned.
There was another pause as I processed that, then I shrugged and held the door open. "Sure."
He walked inside and ended up standing in the middle of my living room, looking at me. I followed him and looked around to see if the place was a total mess as usual. Yup. Books in piles everywhere. Videos, magazines, comic books, all spread about. Dirty dishes on the table along with two used paracet boxes, folinacid and iron pills. I looked back at him.
"Want to tell me why you're here now?" A thought hit me. "Or how you knew how to find me?"
"Oh right." He thrust his hands into the pockets of his trench coat and came up with a CD. "Here. You left it in the computer room."
"You came all the way here to give me a CD?"
He didn't reply.
I shrugged and sighed. "Okay. Just... Put the CD on the desk or something. I'm going to find me some pineapple soda. Want some?"
I walked into the kitchen to get the soda. I came back with two glasses, the bottle of pineapple soda and a bowl of licorice. While I'd been in the kitchen, he'd sat down on the one seat in my couch that wasn't covered with magazines, and was now looking around the room. I put one of the glasses in front of him.
"So," I said as I poured soda into the glass. "Why are you here?"
"Merci. I'm not sure," Remy LeBeau said slowly.
"You're not sure," I repeated. "I see."
We sat there sipping in our soda for a bit.
"Pete says you're gay," he said abruptly.
"Mmm." I nodded.
"When did you know? Dat you were gay?"
"I don't know. Thirteen, fourteen, something like that. Why?"
I like to think that I'm usually more perceptive than this, but give me a break, all right? It was taking all my concentration just to catch what he was saying and not zoning out.
"I'm not," he said, fidgeting a little.
I blinked. "No?"
"Non." He shook his head. "J'aime les filles."
Even in this state I had no problems translating that one. So he likes girls, eh? I blinked some more. "And what would you call St. John?"
He paled. "Je ne comprend pas toi..."
"Do you know what my mutant power-thingy is?"
"Non..." he said slowly, suddenly suspicious.
"I see secrets. And I've seen yours."
Okay, okay, not the best way ever to reveal mutant powers, and yes, I see now that it was somewhat melodramatic, but you have to realize that the foremost thing on my mind right then was calculating how many pineapple sodas I had left. I have to get them sent to me from Norway, you see. Specially imported and all.
Remy turned chalk-y and seemed to rediscover his English. "Have you... Have you told anyone?"
"Of course not."
There was a long pause where I did a mental count of how many pineapple sodas there were in my cooler and Remy stared at his hands. Or at least I think he did. It's a bit hard to tell when he's wearing shades.
"You won't tell anyone, will you?"
I could tell from his tone of voice that he didn't really believe that.
"Nope. Who would I tell, anyway?"
"Would it be so bad," I asked. "If anyone found out about you and John?"
"Because... Because it would, okay?"
"You might be surprised."
"No." He shook his head a couple of times. "No. I won't be. And please don't tell anyone."
"All right." I looked over at him. "Just out of curiosity; Have you and St. John ever really talked about things? You know, like... 'Hey, John, I think I'm in love with you.' 'Really? Well, Remy, I reckon I'm in love with you too'?"
His face twisted into a grimace. "I'm not that fond of being 'umiliated, thank you very much," he said bitterly. It's strange listening to him sometimes. He seems to drop and adopt accents at the blink of an eye. It's kind of schitzo, really.
"Humiliated? What do you mean?" I frowned at him.
"Don't you get it?"
"It's not about love and stuff like that. It's about sex. Fucking." He poked at a pile of Dick Francis books on my table. "He'd just laugh if I said something like that"
Oh god. Angst.
I really wasn't properly prepared to deal with that.
I took a deep breath and did my best. "I don't think you're right about that."
"Oh yeah?" he snorted. "What do you know, anyway?"
"A whole lot more that you think."
"You've been using your power on us?"
"Well, it's hard to avoid when you keep bumping into me." I leaned forth. "I still have no idea what you're doing here, but if you want my advice, you go back to the school, find St. John and tell him that you're in love with him."
He took a sip of his soda. "And what, in your slightly deranged opinion, is John going to reply to that?"
"I love you?" I suggested.
"Well, okay, maybe not. But something in that area, I'm certain of that at least."
"What makes you think he won't just laugh?"
"I see secrets, remember?"
He digested that. I went to see if I'd remembered correctly about the amount of pineapple sodas in my cooler. Pineapple sodas and licorice. Two of my not-so-secret vices.
I'd just stepped inside the cooler when the phone rang. I grumbled at what the sound did to my head and wandered back into the living room. I found Remy hovering over my desk.
"It's the school," he told me.
I quirked an eyebrow in question.
Not really what I was asking, but it was perhaps somewhat difficult for him to know why the school was calling without answering the phone. I picked up the phone. "Olsen."
"Mr. Olsen, this is Ororo Munroe."
"I'm calling you because something has..." she paused. "Happened here at the school."
"Yes. And I was wondering... Is Remy LeBeau with you?"
"Yes, he is. Why? What's happened?"
She gave a sigh of relief. "Oh good. Kitty said she thought Remy was going to visit you, but I wasn't sure. It's so good to hear he's all right. He is all right, isn't he?"
"Yes, of course he is. Miss Munroe, what's happened at the school?"
She hesitated. "I'm afraid the school has been under attack."
"What?! Who would... Is Kitty all right?"
I didn't believe her. "Are you sure about that?"
"No. No, I'm afraid not. Kitty is certainly well considering the circumstances, but she's not all right. Not at all."
"Oh my god." All sorts of horrible possibilities flew through my head. "Is there anything I can do?"
"Actually, yes. Would you mind looking after some of the kids for about a day or so?"
"Of course! ...How many kids?"
Remy poked me before Miss Munroe had the chance to reply. "What's happened? Is John okay? The Smog?"
"No more than eight, counting Remy," Ororo Munroe said.
"All right then. Oh and... Is St. John Allerdyce okay? And the Smog people?"
"As far as I know, yes."
"John's all right," I told Remy. "Could Allerdyce be one of the kids you send to me?" I asked Miss Munroe.
"Is there anything at all I can do for Kitty?"
"No, I'm afraid not. I'll let her know you asked for her."
"Okay. Good bye."
Remy LeBeau, St. John Allerdyce, Jubilee Lee, Bobby Drake, Ali Blaire, Japheth something-or-another, Rain Sinclair and Warren Worthington III.
In my apartment.
Not a chance.
The second they arrived, I grabbed them and dragged them with me to Kay's Corner. I had a feeling I needed the backup with these eight.
Everybody looked up from whatever they were doing as we entered.
Kallie blinked and stopped typing. "You know, I didn't mind Jana, or Roland, or Mai Lee, but don't you think eight at once is a bit much?"
I quickly filled her (and the others in the close proximity of Kallie) in on what was going on while the teens wandered about. Hopefully without causing any mayhem.
"You are going to protect them?" Ron looked like he didn't know whether he was going to laugh or cry.
"More like look after..."
"Tell me they're not going to set the Corner on fire," Kallie said pleadingly.
I didn't say anything.
"Well, at least three of them can set stuff on fire... But Pretty Blue Eyes can make ice," I said hopefully.
"And the others?"
"Haven't a clue."
Moric eyed me. "Didn't you bring someone to Galynne's too? And then they set her forest on fire?"
"Um..." I smiled.
"Alex!" Kallie and Moric exclaimed while Ron shook his head.
"I'm going to get my katanas," Ron said. "I have a weird feeling I'm going to need them."
I looked after him as he walked out of the Corner, muttering to himself, then spun around as I heard Jana's voice.
"HEY! KEEP YOUR WHATEVER THEY ARES AWAY FROM ME!" Jana was shouting at Japheth, who was leaning over her shoulder and leering. The 'whatever they are's were crawling on the floor behind him.
"Eany and Meany," Japheth said. "Their names are Eany and Meany."
"I don't really care what they're called," Jana grumbled. "I just want them away from me. Far, far away."
I figured Jana could take care of herself and looked around for the other kids. Rain stood beside me, looking worried. Ali, Remy and Warren sat on the counter, looking bored. Bobby and John had found themselves a computer and seemed to be having a lot of fun. Jubilee... I looked around again and finally spotted her over by the pillows. Ah. Jubilee was chatting with Rick.
...Arguing with Rick.
Maybe I should call the school and see if I could send the teens back home? Before I was killed by both the kids and the Cornerians, I mean.
I went to rescue Rick. Or Jubilee, depending on whose temper went off first.
"Is there a reason you're eyeing the guy with the shades?" Rick crawled across the pillows over to me. "Besides a sudden urge to cradlesnatch?" I rolled my eyes at him and he snickered. "Well?"
"You remember me telling you about this secret I'd gotten and--"
"Oh yeah," he nodded. "Romantic sap and all that."
"I was talking about him and the blond guy. Next to Pretty Blue Eyes over there."
"Pretty Blue Eyes?" Rick laughed.
I turned dark green. "Well, it's true!"
Rick eyed me.
"No! God, he's what? Sixteen? Get serious, Rick!"
"Angel is 240," Rick said. "Granted, that's television..."
"But back to Shades and Blondie. What's their problem?"
"In short? They're seventeen."
"Ahhh," Rick nodded. "What are you going to do?"
"Yeah." I looked at him and grinned. "I'm thinking Remy might fix things between them."
"Why am I thinking you've got a finger in on that?"
I grinned brighter. If I was right, I should definitely get an A in meddling in other peoples affairs.
^ Niek ran a finger down Loke's ...^ I stopped typing and frowned. This wasn't working. Help. I needed help. And inspiration. I glanced over at Remy to see if he was doing anything particularly mooky. Nope. Still sitting on the counter, talking with Ali Blaire. Damn. I looked over the computer to see if John was doing anything besides kidding around with Bobby. Nix to that too.
I sighed and tried again. ^ Niek grinned devlishly, his hands roaming all over Loke's body. Teasing.^ Hmm. Progress. I frowned. "Hey, guys?"
A collective reply going in the lines of "Hmm? Yeah? What?"
"Could you give me another word for cock?"
"Penis," Moric said. "Why?"
I looked at the story. "No, doesn't work. I'm writing on the SciMonster again. Niek and Loke and them there."
"What do you need it for?" Stace asked. She was snuggled up against Ellis on the couch. I wondered if they'd moved at all since last night.
"A sex scene. And it's not working."
There was a strangled sound from the computer across from me.
"Too easy even for me," said Stace and grinned.
"Does everything I say sound vaguely obscene?"
"Yeah, pretty much," Rick agreed and leaned over my shoulder to read what I had written. "Erection?"
More strangled sounds.
"Didn't you say you were going to write two more chapters before they had sex?"
"Evil fictives," I said shortly. I swear I heard Niek and Loke snickering in the back of my head. Evil, I tell you. Evil. Grumble. Mutter. Rassumfrassum.
"Ahhh," Rick nodded. "Hard on?"
Rick shrugged. "Then I out of ideas."
"I want Iz. Iz would know." I sighed. "When is he coming back?"
"He'll be back the day after tomorrow." Rick patted me over the head.
I gave up on Niek and Loke and logged out. Was probably about time I made another round around the Corner and checked on the Xavier teens anyway. I walked around the table to make sure St. John and Bobby was still sitting there. They were. And they blushed furiously when they noticed me looking at them. Why? Who knows.
I nodded at them and wandered over to the counter where Warren sat cross-legged, reading through a leaflet. I jumped up on the counter. "Hi. What'cha doin'?"
"Reading." He held up the leaflet so that I could read the title. 'Slash and Oz by Risa Kahn'. One of Izzy's then. Possibly Rick's.
Warren shrugged. "Readable."
Hm. Possible convert. I should tell Rick. I nodded at him, jumped down from the counter and wandered off to find Rain. Whose name was, according to St. John, actually Rahne. Just go with it.
She was doing homework.
No, seriously. She was. She'd found herself a free table and was now sitting there surrounded by books. Doing... I looked. Math. Ick. Now there's a subject I dropped as soon as I could.
She looked up and smiled. "I'm doing homework."
"I can see that. Very... studious of you. If that's a word."
She smiled again and blushed faintly. "Thank you."
I grinned at her and continued on my 'check what the teens are up to' trip.
Japheth was arguing with Jana over something while Jasmine (who was busy playing Tekken) gave them indulging glances from time to time. I stood and looked at them for a while.
"...Electra? Seriously, Japheth, what are you on?"
"What do you have against Carmen? Huh?"
"Gee, where do I start..."
"You have no taste."
"Au contraire, unlike you I actually have taste!"
"No problem. Three words; Catherine Zeta Jones."
Jana gave a disgusted sigh and poked Japheth in the chest, and I wandered off to find Remy and Ali. I already knew where Jubilee was. As loud as she was, she was pretty hard to miss. She had found a TV and Ricki Lake and was busy commenting on everybody's fashion sense (bad, worse and ohmygod).
Talk shows... I am never, ever going to understand los americanos fascination with the thing. It's, well, embarrassing, quite frankly. Oh well, some things are not meant to be understood by me, I suppose.
I finally found Ali and Remy in the supply closet, shouting rather loudly at each other.
"Ali, it doesn't matter!"
"Like hell it doesn't!"
Ah. Remy had finally broken up with Ali. About time in my opinion. Maybe he could go fix things with John later. When Ali was done shouting. ...Which could take a while...
I decided to just leave them and go pester Montgomery or something.
c h a p t e r _ f o u r
I adore books. Have since I was a little kid and my mother read to me. I've never understood people who think books are boring. It's just a concept I really can't wrap my mind around. Books? Not fun? Huh?
I have a feeling I tend to give people who says things like that a rather pitying look. Not unlike the one I gave Ali when she stomped over to counter, I believe. That was one unhappy girl. Well, if she'd been thrilled about it, I would have been a bit surprised. From what I'd observed, she seemed genuinly fond of Remy.
Oh well, she never really stood a chance anyway. Right? Right.
Sometimes not caring very much for people I don't really know, can come in handy. Certainly lessens the guilt factor. A lot. Not that I had too much of it to begin with...
C'est la vie, you know? What is, is and all that.
St. John gave a surprised blink at the sound of his name. Though part of the surprise probably came from discovering who'd said it. Apparently, from what I've seen, the Smog-people didn't mingle with the other students. Major attitude problems might explain that. "Yeah?"
"Can I talk to you for bit?"
Now Pretty Blue Eyes looked up as well. "What do you want, LeBeau?"
"Didn' I jus' say dat?"
See? Schitzo. Even when I switch to Norwegian, I don't drop my accent that fast. Makes for a rather peculiar accent, by the way. Guaranteed to get my siblings to break down in laughter every time I open my mouth.
John gave Remy a long look, then he nodded slightly and got up from his chair. To the amazement of Pretty Blue Eyes who stared at him. "You're actually... Okay. It's your life. Your lungs too, if you're going with chimney junior here. Wait. You haven't been messing with Ali, have you? 'Cause, I have to say, I thought you had better taste than that."
"Shut up," John sighed.
Bobby shook his head. "I'll be here if you need... back up. Or something."
Judging from the tilt of Remy's head, he was currently rolling his eyes beneath his ever present dark shades. He probably didn't think John was the one who needed protection. Which could mean that... I grinned and made a mental note to nyah-nyah to Rick afterwards.
I followed Remy and John with my eyes until they disappeared out of sight and in to the kitchen. I looked over at Montgomery again. "Can I see what you've written now? Pretty please?"
"Because I'm still writing."
I sighed dejectedly. "You don't love me anymore."
"Yup, that's it exactly."
I sighed again and stared at the back of his head for a while. Nice hair. Got a bit boring after a while though, so I got up from my chair, stretched and went to see what Rick was up to.
He was sleeping.
How dare he sleep when I am bored and want to be entertained?
I glared at him for a bit. I suppose I could just let him sleep and go pester someone else... He did look all cute and peaceful there he lay sprawled on top of a bunch of pillows, drooling slightly.
I sat down on the pillows and poked his nose. "Hey. Rick. Wake up." Not a reaction. I tried again. "Riiiichard... Riiichard Oliiiver..."
His hand shot up to grab me by the wrist and his eyes opened to direct a 'you are in great danger of being horribly dismembered soon' glare. Rick doesn't like his last name very much. Child hood traumas involving being forced to play a poor, starving, street kid, I think.
I gave him a bright grin. "Hey there."
"I was sleeping," Rick said. "Is there any particular reason you woke me, or did it just seem like a good idea at the time?"
"I'm bored," I complained.
"Oh buh-huh," said Rick. Did I ever call him touchy-feely? What was I thinking? "Why don't you go buy a pizza or something? Isn't that what you usually do when you're bored?"
I brightened at the thought, then reality set in. "Can't. I have to watch them." I made a vague handgesture meant to include all of the Xavier kids.
"Then call the frelling school and see when you can get rid of them," Rick said sleepily and closed his eyes. "And let me sleep. I was up 'til 10 am. I need sleep."
"Wimp," I said and got on to my feet again. "And remind me that I have to nyah-nyah at you when you're awake again."
"Yeah, yeah. Go away."
I went away to find my mobile and call Ororo Munroe. I looked through my call list, found Miss Munroe's phone number and hit dial. I listened to this nice beeep beeep for a bit, then her voice came on the phone.
"Yes? This is Ororo Munroe, to whom am I speaking?"
"Hey. Alex Olsen here."
"Oh hello, Alex."
"I was just wondering... How much longer are the kids staying here?"
There was a pause and I could hear the faint sounds of a conversation, then she was back. "If you could look after them for a couple of hours more, that would be wonderful. We haven't finished the sweep yet, you see."
"Just a couple of hours?"
I thought. I looked at Rahne who was still doing homework (she must have done homework for the entire week, judging from the amount of time she'd spent on them), and over at Pretty Blue Eyes who was eyeing the kitchen door with a frown on his face. "Okay. I guess I can look after them for that long. Oh and Miss Munroe..."
"How is Kitty?"
"No change, I'm afraid. You can see her Monday, if you like? I'm sure she'd like that."
"Yeah, that'd be great. Tell her I said hello."
"I will. Goodbye."
* * * *
After fifteen minutes of staring blankly at a screen, reading the same line over and over again, I gave up. I went to find the Xavier kids and drag them with me to the pizza place. Brilliant idea, yeah?
Warren and Rahne were easy to find and collect. Warren was still reading leaflets (he'd finished the Oz one, and had moved on to 'Slashing the Angel by Catherine Wandan') and Rahne was studying history. Weird kid. Probably got great grades though. Unlike someone I know (read: me) who didn't start studying until he was promised a trip to Los Angeles if all grades were Bs and As. You'd be amazed what that did for my motivation.
Lovely year, that was, by the way. Los Angeles, Finland, Sweden and Toronto. God, even thinking about it makes me grin like a mad man. The year after I covered London, Dublin and Paris, and the year after that I decided to leave the icky school stuff for a while and just travel.
There's got to be a gypsy somewhere in my ancestry. Or maybe it's the viking blood. Sail the great seas, murder, rape and pillage. You know.
The gypsy theory sounds nicer somehow.
Anyway, I had to drag Jubilee away from the telly, Bobby away from the computer, Ali away from the booze (note to self: Buy more Guinness), Japheth away from Jana (they were still arguing, and they appeared to be enjoying it immensly) and get John and Remy out of the kitchen, then we were ready to go.
I was definitelly going to see if I could get Xavier's to pay my bills.
We ran into Ron (who'd found his katanas) on the way and I bribed him into coming along. I was babysitting eight mutant teenagers, a guy who could weild katanas like nobodys business could probably come in handy.
* * * *
"One large number 5 with two cokes," the woman in front of us said to the girl behind the counter (Jennifer, 23, blonde, goes to acting class).
"I hate pineapple," Jubilee informed me. She frowned at the menu. "And I want meatballs."
"Pepperoni!" from Bobby.
"Anchovies!" from Japheth.
"Ewwww," from me, Jubilee, John and Bobby. I've never been fond of fish. I know I come from a fish-country and all, but I've never liked fish. Ick, I say. Ick, ick, ick.
"Mushrooms. I definitelly want mushrooms," Remy said.
Ali's eyes narrowed. "Onions. Lots of onions."
"Are you ready to order?" Jennifer (girl behind the counter) smiled at us.
I shook my head. "Doesn't look like it."
"I am," Warren said calmly and whipped out what looked suspiciously like a platinum card. He gave Jennifer a charming grin. "One half vegetarian special, one half ground beef. One medium ice tea, surprise me, and a large milk."
Jennifer smiled brightly at him and punched his order into the register.
I stared at him. Either he was seriously schitzo, or he was buying for two. With these people you just never knew for certain. "Who are you paying for?"
"In the end, probably everybody," Warren said wryly. "But this was for me and Rahne."
"Oh." Was I the only one who found that a teenzy bit strange? I looked at the others. That would be a yes. "Excuse me for asking, but..."
Warren rolled his eyes. "I'm her big brother, okay?"
"School. She's new, I show her around and stuff."
"Ahhh." It was all so much clearer now.
"Alex?" Jennifer said. "Are you going to order anytime soon? There's a line forming..."
"Oh right." I look at the rest. "Have you decided?"
"Ham!" St. John.
"Mexican special, extra large!" from a widely grinning Ron. I should've just kidnapped him instead of bribed him.
I sighed, turned to Jennifer and took a deep breath. "Okay, pay close attention now... We'll be having one half meatballs, one half mushrooms, one half pepperoni, one half onions, one half anchovies, one half ham, one half pineapple and a Mexican special, extra large. And keep the anchovies and the onions away from the other stuff."
Jennifer punched it all in, then gave me a bright grin. She'll be an excellent actress one day. Six hours of punching in orders and she's still capable of giving bright grins. "Will you be having anything to drink?"
"Um." I looked at the kids and Ron. They quickly rattled off their drink preferences. "Four cokes, a beer, Remy, Japheth, you can forget about it, you're getting cokes, a sprite and two fantas."
Warren held out his platinum card with a wry look. "You'll be needing this."
I'm starting to like that kid.
I, well, Warren, really, paid Jennifer and went to find a table that could seat all ten of us. It turned out that we had to push two tables together to make room for everyone. Ali sat down as far away from Remy as she could get and proceeded to tear every napkin she could get her hands on into neat strips while she sulked. Remy and John managed to get a seat next to each other without making it too obvious (but I swear they were holding hands). Jubilee and Bobby sat across from them. Warren and Rahne sat next to Remy and John, and Japheth sat next to Ali. Ron and I took an end each.
"So," I said, taking a stab at the conversation-thing. "Nice weather we're having."
"Alex," Ron said patiently. "It's raining cats and dogs."
Japheth leered at Ali. Ali ignored him and grabbed his napkin.
"Right." Pause. "But I've seen worse."
"Of course you have. You're from Norway."
Warren absently tossed a package of salt from one hand to the other. Rahne read the back of a ketchup bottle.
"Like the Swedish weather is all that much better!"
"I've been in Norway, Alex. Compared to your weather, ours is practically sunny."
Remy very pointedly did not look at John. John very pointedly did not look at Remy.
"...Good point that."
"Yeah, I thought so. You have a nice coast though," Ron added generously.
Jubilee inspected her nails and hummed something that sounded like 'I'll be thinking about you'. Bobby eyed John with a puzzled look on his face.
"Oh thanks. You know, I come from a small place by the coast."
"Really? Must get windy..."
Ron and I continued to discuss the weather until the waiter (Raymond, 26, part-time student) brought us our pizzas. That took about fifteen minutes. If there's one thing Norwegians can, it's dry talk about the weather for all eternity. Swedes, or at least Ron, are apparently just as good at it. We once spent two hours comparing the weather in New York and the weather in Scandinavia. Yes, we were at that time bored silly.
"Okay, get this away from me!" Jubilee pushed the pizza away from her person with a look of disgust on her face.
I leaned across the table. "Gimme my pineapple!"
"Gee, Ali, we seem to be sharing a pizza, wanna fuck?" Japheth leered. That guy hits on anything in a skirt...
Ali gave him a Look. "Drop dead, maggot-breath."
"That one's mine." Remy reached for his mushrooms.
John tilted his head and frowned. "I think Jubilee's got mine... Hey, Jubes! Gimme my ham!"
"Could you bring me a plate, please?" Warren enquired Raymond with a polite nod.
Bobby sighed. "Look, I have a brilliant idea... Why don't you and Remy switch places?"
Jubilee patted him on the back. "Good idea!"
"Why don't you move?"
"'Cause it was my suggestion, swamp-rat," Bobby replied.
John elbowed Remy discreetly. Remy sighed long-sufferingly and got up to switch places with him. That earned him a bright grin from the other three.
Ron looked up at Raymond (who'd returned with both a plate and a pizza) with stars in his eyes. He sighed happily as the pizza was placed in front of him. "My piiiiizzaaa..."
I rolled my eyes. Ron's a chef, and it's impossible to bring him to dinner at any place which isn't something akin to a take-out place. He just ends up either critizising the food or being green with envy over what the local chef could do with mushroom sauce. At take-out joints, however, he's pathetically pleased with the food no matter how bad it is. Not that the food at O'Malley's is bad, but... Ron's weird.
He fits in really well with the rest over at the Corner.
Rahne eyed the ketchup bottle, then leaned over to whisper something to Warren, who nodded. She turned the bottle upside down over her pizza. Warren looked at the ketchup being poured down on the pizza for a moment, shuddered and returned his attention to his own pizza.
* * * *
"Touch my ass one more time, and I'll make you see the light. As in the Light," Ali growled at Japheth, who backed up slightly.
We were on our way back to the Corner after a relatively uneventful time at the pizza place. Uneventful meaning that no one got seriously hurt and O'Malley's insurance company wouldn't be breathing down our necks.
Of course, Bobby and Jubilee did play that prank involving heaps of ketchup, and it had taken the combined strenght of me, Ron and Rahne to keep Warren from launching at Remy when Remy provoked him, and Ali had blinded Japheth by creating a bright light in front of his eyes...
I decided to call it a success anyway.
* * * *
Note to self: Don't ever go to the bathroom while teenage-sitting ever again. You'll come back to utter chaos and it'll take you days to figure out everything that happened.
When I'd gone to the bathroom, everything in the Corner had been as normal. Stace and Ellis had pushed one of the big, comfy chairs over to one of the computers and Stace now sat in Ellis' lap, typing happily away on some story or another. Galynne, Japheth and Jana amused each other by coming up with gore-ish ways to kill someone. There were people on the computers, in front of the tv and on top of the counter. All normal.
When I came back from the bathroom, Ron came flying through the window and landed on his ass in front of me. I stared at him in puzzlement. Ron made a sort of rolling thing with his body and was back up on his feet in no time. Two seconds later, he charged through the window, one hand grabbing a katana, without a single look at me.
I blinked after him, and turned to ask someone what was going on, and discovered that I was the only one in the Corner.
This was probably a bad thing.
I heard the distinct sound of Galynne's lioness-growl, joined by a growl I didn't recognize.
Okay. So it was definitelly a bad thing.
Fuck. Faen. Frell and flonq.
What do I do now?
I came to the conclusion that I was not hero type material, and while I had no qualms jumping into an ordinary bar-fight, I had no intentions of going up against someone who could make Ron fly through the air, and headed for the kitchen.
I opened the kitchen door and ended up face to blade with a really big, mean looking knife. "Eeep!"
The knife was removed. "Oh hey, Alex. Was wondering were you were."
"If you ever do that again, I will hurt you severely!" I glared at Rick and made my way into the kitchen. "You scared years off of my life. I'll be dead when I'm fifty because of you."
"Pfft," said Rick.
"Alex! There you are!" Jana elbowed her way over to me. "We've trouble."
"Galynne smelled someone that made her hair stand on an end, and Montgomery said that they were after the kids..." I decided that this was not the time to point out that Jana was probably younger than all of the Xavier kids. "...And Gally and Ron went out to keep them distracted while we got the kids out of the way, but we can't find Jubilee and Montgomery and Ellis are sitting on Bobby and Remy to keep them from rushing out to join Ron and Gally and..."
"Slow down, all right!" I held my hands up in surrender. "I only caught about half of what you were saying. Someone's after the kids?"
"Yes." Jana nodded.
"And Jubilee's gone?"
"Is anyone phoneing the school?"
"Yes, Warren, but he's not getting a reply."
"So we're in deep shit?"
"Yup," Rick nodded, eyeing the door watchfully.
"Pretty much," Jana nodded as well.
"In the cooler."
I blinked at her. "In the... Never mind."
I left Jana and Rick to guard the door, or whatever it was they were doing, and headed for the cooler, noticing on the way that the kitchen was kind of crowded. I elbowed my way forth. I reached the cooler and opened the door to a stream of French and English curses.
"Wow," I said and blinked. "I don't know what half of that means. Probably nothing nice. Anyway, hey, Montgomery. What's up?"
Montgomery whacked Remy over the head and turned his head towards me. "A whole lot, it would seem like. Any idea what we're supposed to do?"
I wondered briefly when I had turned into Captain Picard. "Um... Eh... How many people's after the kids? Can you tell?"
Montgomery frowned and stared blankly into the air for a bit. "Two. A male and a female. Might be mutants. Their thoughts are all weird."
"Can you tell me anything else?"
"They're close. And I think the male is older than the female. Actually, I'm pretty sure about that. They know how to fight -"
"Yeah, I saw that," I muttered, thinking about Ron's trip through the window.
"-And they know exactly what the kids look like."
"That's why you think they're after them?"
"Yeah. Well, that, and I have a very strong impression that they're here to pick them up. And Galynne didn't like the smell of them. She started hissing."
"Can you find Jubilee?"
Montgomery shook his head. "Nope. I tried looking. She's out of my range, I think."
Bobby stopped struggeling with Ellis. "Jubilee's gone?"
"So they say."
"That's not good."
I, Montgomery, Remy and Ellis stared at him.
"Um," Ellis said. "Duh?"
"Let me up," Bobby said. "I've got to find her before she does something insanely stupid. I really, really don't want a repeat of what happened the last time the Jubester made a run for it."
Remy looked thoughtful. "Was that the time with the blond and the bike and the judge and the fish?"
"No, that was the time before that. I mean the time with the redhead, the skates, the phonebox and the Fed."
"Right," Remy nodded. "Yeah. A repeat of that would be bad. Kind of fun, but, bad."
"Okay, would you two stop freaking me out? Thank you." I thought. Evil people after the kids. Jubilee gone. How to fix?
I had no idea.
I looked over at Warren, who was looking increasingly impatient as he dialed the number to the school again.
No help in that.
I looked around the room for inspiration.
I poked Ellis with my foot. "Where's Stace?"
Ellis looked up, frowning. "She's not here?"
"HEY! ALEX! THEY'RE GOOD GUYS! THE SCHOOL SENT THEM!"
Spreaking about the devil...
"THEY SAY YOU KNOW THEM? LOGAN AND ROGUE?"
Logan and Rogue?
I looked at Montgomery and Ellis. "You can let them up now. The good guys are here to fetch them."
* * * *
"But he doesn't smell right," Galynne insisted for the n'th time and regarded Logan suspiciously. Galynne and Ron looked like they've been through a meatgrinder. Logan and Rogue didn't look as though they'd been touched at all. Huh. Could have sworn Gally and Ron were good enough fighters to at least get a few punches in...
"I know you keep saying that," I said patiently. "But, honestly, he's on the side of the angels - or a reasonable faximile of such."
"Where's Jubilee?" Rogue asked, having looked around and not spotted her in the crowd on the street outside the Corner.
I winced. "Uh..."
"She made a run for it," Bobby said darkly.
Rogue blinked. "What?"
"Oh right. You're new. You haven't heard..." St. John grinned. He slung his arm around her shoulder. "Rogue, m'dear, come with me and I shall tell you allll about the time with the blond and the judge, and the redhead and the Fed, and, my personal favorite, the brunette and the nun..."
They started walking towards the school bus, Bobby, Remy and Japheth trailing behind them.
I looked at Logan.
He looked back.
"Maybe you should go back to the school...?"
He sighed. "I need a vacation."
"This happens a lot?"
Galynne looked intrigued. "Which part? The fighting or the disappearing students?"
"Cool," Galynne nodded, impressed. She seemed to have put the fact that Logan just didn't smell right behind her. For now.
"Ow," said Ron. He was studying his hand intently. "You know, I think it's broken." He shook it slightly and winced. "Um. Yup. Definitely broken. Could someone drive me to the nearest doctor?"
"I'd do it, but I don't have a lisence," I said. "Maybe Logan could stop by the doc on the way to the school?"
Ron turned to Logan and looked questioningly at him.
Logan nodded. "Yeah, sure. No problem." He raised his voice. "HEY! ALL XAVIER KIDS! GET INTO THE BUS! NOW!"
Rahne started walking towards the bus, then stopped and looked uncertainly at Warren. He was busy talking with Rick about something. He laughed at something Rick said, and I suddenly noted that the kid was actually good looking. When he didn't look all 'high and mighty' or 'dreadfully bored', he was down right handsome. I shook my head in amazement.
He finally noticed Rahne, said good bye to Rick and followed Rahne into the bus.
Ali had already entered the bus and now sat staring out of the window. She didn't look much happier now than she had at the Pizza place.
The bus drove off five minutes later and life returned to what went for normal at the Corner.
I, for my part, went home.
c h a p t e r _ f i v e
What day was it again?
I thought hard. What was on telly today? ...Spin City rerun. Okay. That meant Saturday.
My eyes widened. Oh bloody, frigging hell! Saturday! And Moric's birthday was tomorrow! And I had barely started the story. Damn, damn, damn.
Time to do some bleeding on paper and clubbing of inspiration.
I had to come up with some decent (or at least something resembling decent) Anya and Faith before tomorrow. I'd promised. I'd obviously been temporarily insane at the time, but still. I had promised.
I crawled out of bed, trotted yawningly into the livingroom, pushed the on button on my computer and continued into the kitchen to make myself some instant cocoa. Remember me telling you about my licorice and pineapple soda vice? Well, instant cocoa is another for the list. I'm not entirely sure why I'm so fond of heated water with a chocolate after taste, but I am.
One of my theories to that, is that I just got used to it after waiting one time too many for my father to finish working so he could drive me home. Where he worked there was this 'Clix' machine, you see, with free drinks. You push a button, and voilà, you get a hot beverage of your choice. Since I couldn't stand blueberry or heated orange juice, I used to pick hot chocolate. After a while, I even started liking it.
Another theory is that I'm just to damn lazy to actually bother to make real cocoa.
I glanced over at the watch while the water boiled. 11:18. Heh. Early. I'm usually not up until 1 on weekends. Unless of course I'm doing an all-nighter in which case I sometimes go to bed at 1...
I opened the cabinet and took down the instant cocoa, shook it and listened to the charming sound of the package inside being shoved from side. I ripped open the last package in the box, grabbed one of my many cups (I collect. I have around thirty) and poured the powder into the cup.
The water heated pinged a moment later. I poured water over the cocoa powder, grabbed a near by biscuit package, stuck a biscuit in my mouth, grabbed both the cup and the biscuits and made my way back into the livingroom.
As always when I was awake enough to notice, I was amazed by the amount of books, magazines and comics that had managed to accumulate during my seven month stay here in New York. Not that it was anything new, since I never could resist buying reading material no matter where I was. But I hadn't stayed at the same place for this long since before I started my gypsey life (so to speak), and I hadn't realised how much stuff I could collect.
Used book shops usually got my buyings when I moved on, or if I really wanted to keep something, I mailed it to my parents in Norway. They stored it in the attic for me. I didn't take much with me when I travelled. There are, after all, limits to how much you can stuff into a suitcase and a backpack before the seams rip. And I had to prioritize things like clothes. And my cups. Oh and yeah, my laptop.
Forgetting the laptop would be a pretty bad career choice for a graphic designer who works more in Paint Shop Pro than on paper. Not to mention that I'd probably go nuts if I had to go for long without scribbling on some story or another.
Speaking of stories...
I dropped down on the chair in front of my desk, carefully placeing the cocoa within my range, but away from the laptop. I took a sip of the cocoa, placed it back down, then clicked open a WordPad.
^ Anya embraced human holidays. They were often ridiculous, true, but there was something oddly safe about them. Like Christmas. ^
I munched at a biscuit and regarded the paragraph. A Christmas story? I gave a mental shrug. Well, why not? I finished the biscuit, took another sip of cocoa and continued typing.
When I'd come to paragraph twenty-three and Faith was threatening some demon to make him give Anya her powers back, I stretched and put the computer on wait modus. Enough with the clubbing of inspiration for now. I needed a break.
I picked up the now empty biscuit packet and the cup and wandered into the kitchen. What to do? Hmm. I pondered that as I washed the cup and threw the biscuit packet in the trash. My eyes fell on a Marvels comic book and I grinned. Comicbook buying. Oh yes. Always good for wasting a few hours.
Now I remembered that the last time I'd talked to Penn, she'd said something about a Felidae comicbook...
I pulled on my grey trenchcoat and black boots, wandered outside, locked the door and was on my way to Jamie's Comicbook Paradise.
One of the things I really like about living here is that there are entire shops dedicated to just selling comicbooks. Believe me, we have nothing like that in Norway. Well, there's Avalon, but that's only three shops in two big citys. And where I lived the book shops weren't much to write about either, so whenever I'm in a big bookshop or comicbook shop now, it's like letting a kid go crazy in a candy store. Complete with wide eyes and a never ending grin.
I walked inside Jamie's. Ahh... The sight of new comicbooks... I never tire of it.
I made a bee-line for the Dark Horse section to see if Felidae had been published. I couldn't remember what date Penn had said, so for all I knew it wasn't due for launch until February. Still. I had to check.
Heh. I grinned as I spotted the comic. As known from the books, the card game and the numberous collectors cards. Penn sure knows how to keep herself busy. I picked the comic up (nice picture of Chasa on the front) and flipped through it. The tale of the Sanctuary's origins, part one of three. Nice art. Not much surprise in that.
I curled the comic up to keep it with me while I went hunting for other comics. Or sci-fi books. I'm not discriminating.
Another glace at the DH section told me that I could move on to without missing anything. That didn't stop me from flipping through a few more comics though. Just for fun.
Did I have the newest 'L'Amitié?'
It got curled up along with Felidae.
I was eyeing a Vertigo TPB, wondering if I could afford it, when someone nudged me. I turned and grinned. "Cassie! Lin! What are you doing here?"
Cassie held up a couple of comics and smiled. "Shopping day."
Lin nodded. "Yup, me too. Ran into Cassie here over at the Blonds Are Us section."
"Why am I not surprised?" I sniggered. Cassie's fondness for blonds was legendary. Had she been at the Corner yesterday, John and Warren would probably been attacked imidiately. She makes no excuse for it either. Shameless, she is.
Cassie aka Cassiopeia-with-the-impossible-last-name grinned brightly at me and bounced. "Many, many blonds!" She waved her comics. "Oh and have you seen the newest Valhall?"
"Valhall...No, I don't... Hey, wasn't Declan going to have a series of covers for that one?"
"Yup!" Lin nodded, then looked at her watch. "Oh, I've got to go! Nice to see you, bye!" She rushed off.
I looked after her. "Is she always in a hurry?"
"Yes, I think so. Anyway, look!" Cassie held up a copy of Valhall. "Ennit gorgeous?"
I oohed at the painted cover. "It is indeed. Where can I get one?"
I wandered over.
I walked out of the shop with five comics. And a semi-decent Sci-fi book. I'd turned a used-comicbook case more or less upside down and managed to find an old copy of a Louise Glochester comic as well as an old Rose Inc. I liked Rose Inc. Marty and Kal have chemistry. A screwed up, based on hate sort of chemisty, but still. And Glochester art is always a good thing. Even if the Emperors of Dawn wasn't precisely my favorite comic book.
One day I'd probably write slash about Marty and Kal. Provided I could find something they had in common besides being really compeditative and having the same profession. I know people who can slash just about anyone and do it decently, but I just can't do that. I have to base it on _something_.
Well. Except that Ethan Rayne/Spike thing which I based pretty much only on the fact that they're both bad guys... But that one wasn't my fault. That was all Rick's fault. Honest.
See if you can have him nagging at you for two weeks straight without succumbing...
* * * *
Two paragraphs away from finishing Moric's birthday present, and the phone rang. I paused my typing and leaned over to check the caller ID. It was Mai Lee. I grinned and grabbed the phone. "Hey, Mai Lee!"
"Could you not do that? It freaks me out every time."
I chuckled. "Why do you think I do it?"
"Why are you calling?" I grinned.
"Oh that. Um. Are you doing anything today?"
"Have two paragraphs left on a story, but after that, I'm free. Why?"
"Oh, just this party I have to go to, and roomie has to study and I don't want to go alone, so I was wondering..."
"...What kind of party?" Yes, this was Mai Lee so the party was probably not that outre but one could never be too sure... I let Izzy talk me into going to a party once. I'm still not sure whether or not he knew that chains and leather was mandatory. And then there was that other time with the Hawaii theme, but, really, that one was... Um. Nothing compared to the chains and leather party. And while I'm on the topic, some people should really face up to their limitations and realise that black leather catsuits just isn't for everyone.
Iz hadn't looked that bad though. Despite being short, kind of stocky and cursed with eternal cuteness (old ladies pinches his cheek). I would've liked to see Rick in something like that. Him being tall, kind of skinny, and having a blue stripe in his hair. He claims it's a part of his mutation. Everyone else says he dyes it in. Goes well with his eyes at any rate.
Note to self; Mention this to Izzy when he comes back tomorrow. See how long it'll take him to convince Rick to wear leather.
"It's a school paper thing. At seven tonight. So. Can you?" Mai Lee sounded hopeful.
There goes my anti-social day... "Yeah, sure. You going to pick me up or?"
"No, I can do that. Six-thirty all right?"
"Yup. See you then!"
"Yes. And thanks!"
She hung up.
The phone rang again.
I looked surprised at it. Geez. Amazing how popular I had suddenly become. I picked up to phone. "Yeah?"
"This is Liz Braddock. I'm calling from the Xavier school?"
"Oh yeah. Yeah, I know who you are. Why're you calling?"
"Have you seen Jubilee? Today, I mean."
I blinked. "She's not appeared yet?"
"No. I take it you haven't seen her?"
"No, I haven't. If I do see her, I'll be sure to call the school, though."
"Okay, thanks." She hung up.
I eyed the phone.
It didn't ring.
* * * *
"I forgot to ask. There's not going to be any overly mutant-fobic people at this party, is there? Because I really prefer being prepared if that's the case."
Mai Lee frowned thoughtfully then shook her head. "No. 'Least I don't think so."
"Great. Let's get inside and kick some social butt," I suggested.
Mai Lee giggled, grabbed my arm and wandered inside the building. I looked around, spotted the buffet table and saw a brunette I thought I recognized. I stared at her for a bit hoping to jog my memory.
Mai Lee elbowed me. "You're staring."
"I know. I'm trying to remember where I know her from."
Mai Lee glanced in the brunette's direction. "The tv probably. That's Trish Tilby."
I snapped my fingers. "Oh right! Izzy likes to spend time following her around with his camera!"
"Isn't that his job?"
There were no overly mutant-fobic people at the party.
I mean, I did get stared at. Hey, I'm green. I've gotten used to it. But no one started talking about 'registrating mutants' and 'camps'. Yes, I've actually heard people talking about mutant camps. In the States that is. If it was mentioned in Europe, it would lead to a long discussion on Hitler and the Nazis two seconds later. It might have been over fifty years since the war ended, but believe me, it's not even close to forgotten. Just look at the schools in Norway; The kids get force-feed information about the war from day one. When I finished the Norwegian equiqualent of High School, I was so sick of the whole war I was tempted to start one of my own just to give the school's history books something else to go on and on about.
Anyway, nice party. Entertaining Mai Lee. I didn't regret giving up my anti-social day all that much. Besides I could always have it later.
It wasn't more than ten when we left the party and Mai Lee drove me home (pausing for a moment at SilverShoe so I could rent a few movies. They know me by name there. I hardly ever need to show my card). I stepped out of the car and bent back in. "Want to come up?"
"No, I can't. I still have a paper to write," Mai Lee smiled.
I shrugged. "Okay."
"And I think you rented Dead Man on Campus. Again."
"I like that film!"
"Yeah, I know. Believe me, I know."
I grinned at her and waved goodbye before I went upstairs. Maybe I had gone on and on about Dead Man quite a few times... I grinned wider. This would be the what? Fiftieth time I saw it?
I like this movie. Can you tell?
I climbed the stairs up to my apartment, whistling merrily on 'the Bridge over Kwai' (which isn't the official title, I don't think, but I don't know any other name for it). I fished the key out of my pocket, put the key in the lock and discovered a yellow raincoat balled up in the corner. I blinked at it.
There was something familiar about that raincoat...
I left the key in the lock and went to poke the raincoat cautiously with my foot.
It moved. And yelped. "Hey! Where do you get off--"
"Jubilee?" I broke in, incredulous. "What are you doing here?"
The raincoat was twisted around, and now I could see her face. Since I find it vaguely disturbing to be talking to an inanimated object, I welcomed the change.
"I wasn't sure where else to go."
"Eh, excuse me, but does 'Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters' ring any bells what so ever?"
She gave me a Look. "I can't go there."
"Why not? No, wait, don't answer that. Let's get into the apartment so I can lock the doors and not invite to being robbed blind."
Jubilee seemed to agree to that plan. She got on her feet and followed me into the apartment, eyeing the bag with the film in curiously.
I locked the door behind me and turned to look at Jubilee. I wondered which hair-colour he'd had this time and whether or not the CIA wanted her for questioning. Well, the school probably knew how to deal with this. Provided I could get her to the school, that was. She didn't seem all too eager to return.
"Want to sit down?"
She nodded and dropped down on the floor.
"I do have chairs..."
"I'm fine, thanks."
I left her sitting on the floor, looking curiously around, and walked into the kitchen to put a frozen pizza in the stove. I came into the livingroom again carrying two pineapple sodas. I handed one over to Jubilee and sat down across from her on the floor. "So. What are you doing here?"
"I need a place to crash." She gave me puppy-dog eyes. "I'll be out of your hair tomorrow, honest."
"And back at the school?"
She hesitated a bit, then gave me a bright grin. "Sure!"
"Why am I not believeing you?"
"You listen to rumours too much?"
"Nah, don't think that's it." I looked at her. "Why won't you go back to the school?"
Jubilee looked down at her soda. "Got something I have to do first."
Okay, that lifted something off of my shoulders. I would've hated to call the school and tell them that, yes, I did in fact see Jubilee today, only she didn't want to go to the school and made a run for it before I could do anything. Where she's now? ...Well...
See, that wouldn't have worked at all.
"But you're going back to the school eventually?" I asked for confirmation.
She looked surprised. "Of course. Where else would I go?"
I didn't reply to that. I didn't want to be giving her ideas.
We sat in silence, sipping in our sodas until the buzzer I'd set for the pizza went off. I got on my feet. "Want some pizza?"
"Sure." She got on her feet as well. "This mean I can stay?"
"Yeah, I suppose. You can crash on the couch. I'm going to call the school and tell them about it though."
"You have to?"
"Yeah. Otherwise I'd blow my cover as a responsible adult."
For some reason, that just made her laugh.
* * * *
"My parents are dead, you know," she said.
I looked away from the screen and Josh and Cooper's photography snapping. "They are?"
"Yeah, me too. Some bastards ran them off the road."
"It'll be five years since they were killed next April."
"I know who did it."
I arched my eyebrows at her.
She didn't notice. She stared intently at the glass in her hand. "I'm going to make them pay."
"And by pay, you mean..."
"Just dying is too good for them."
I made a mental note to have a little chat with Ororo Munroe about a certain homicidal student of hers.
We finished watching the movie and went to bed.
c h a p t e r _ s i x
"Are they..." Jubilee wiggled her hand. "You know?"
I shook my head, and glanced over at Rick and Izzy. I couldn't help but grin. Sometimes those two were just illegally cute together. Until a few moments ago, Rick had been chatting with me and Jubilee, but the second Izzy came into the Corner, stopping and looking around, Rick was on his feet and rushing towards him. Rick wearing a really big, shit-eating grin, and Izzy looking much the same as soon as he spotted Rick.
They hugged and laughed and pushed Stace and Ellis off the couch. Then they kissed. One of those slow, long, with lots of tongue kisses they are so fond of.
Oh, yeah, 'straight' is to Rick an negotionable label.
Jubilee's eyebrows hit her hairline. "They're not? 'Cause they seem awfully friendly to be just friends if you know what I'm saying...?"
I shrugged, looking back at her. "It's just Rick and Izzy being Rick and Izzy, really. They're really close friends."
"No shit. Bobby and John are really close friends as well, and I don't see them doing that." She nodded towards Rick and Iz.
No, Remy would probably be jealous, I thought, managing not to say that out loud. I shrugged again.
Jubilee rolled her eyes. "Okay, if you say so."
Actually, in my opinion Rick and Iz were so in love with each other, they looked at the other through rose-coloured glasses, but since they were both fiercely denying that, I tried to keep my opinion to myself. Mostly.
I did tend to nag at Iz about it at regular intervals, but he just glared at me and changed the subject.
If I didn't know better, I'd almost say they were afraid of something...
Lin patted my hair to get my attention, pausing in front of me. "Did you see where Moric went? I have timtams and stuff."
"Nooo..." I said slowly. "I don't think so..."
"Moric," Jubilee said thoughtfully, looking around the Corner. "Is that tall, curly haired and wearing a sweater with some redhead with dots for eyes and a white dog on?"
"Yeah, that's him," Lin nodded. "Did you by any chance see where he went?"
"Uh-huh. Went through that door." Jubilee pointed at the door leading up to the roof. "I think some short, blond guy went with him."
"I wouldn't know."
"Okay, thanks," Lin said and disappeared in to the kitchen. I eyed the kitchen door suspiciously. A lot of people had been disappearing into it, and they reappeared looking smug. Ron was in there. Hmmm. I deeply suspected that I was missing out on something yummy.
I wanted something yummy.
I got on my feet and wandered into the kitchen followed by Jubilee. No, I don't have a clue what she was doing at Moric's birthday party. She'd just sort of followed me there. Nobody seemed to mind much. I think they were just relieved that I hadn't brought all eight of them back.
Ron and Cassie was making chocolatey things. Or rather, Ron was making them and Cassie was walking in his way. Lin was on the phone.
"Cass, hand me the cream and the paper thingy."
"The huh?" said Cassie and licked chocolate off her finger as she looked around.
"The... Never mind," Ron sighed and reached over to grab the bowl himself. "You know, if you're not going to do anything but sneak-eat my chocolate and stand in my way, you could leave..."
"Nu-huh." Cassie shook her head.
"Knew you were going to say that."
"Hey Ron," I said hopefully.
Ron turned, spotted me and Jubilee and groaned. "Oh god. More of you."
I beamed at him, hoping the good old Olsen charm would work.
Ron just turned back to whatever it was he was doing, shaking his head and muttering something I didn't quite catch in Swedish. I'm pretty sure I heard 'helvetes' in there somewhere though.
Cassie grinned at us and jumped up on the kitchen bench.
"CASSIOPEIA GRIESINIEMI!" Ron yelled immidiatelly. "Get your arse off the frying paper!"
Cassie jumped down and gave Ron a meek look. "Sorry."
"C'mon, Jubes," I said. "I don't think we'll get anything from this guy..."
Jubilee grinned. "He's worse than Remy."
I gave her a surprised look as I pushed the kitchen door open. "Remy cooks?"
Jubilee nodded. "Yup. Is what he does when he's angry. He's really good too."
"He... cooks... when he's... angry?" I repeated, trying to picture the broody seventeen year old I knew cooking. To be honest the only cooking I could picture him doing was putting something in the microwave and pushing the right bottons. Maybe not even that.
"Uh-huh. Though I usually don't get to taste it. Only Miss Munroe does."
"Miss Munroe? Why?" See, this is the downside of spending most of the time I'd been at the school in the computer room. All I knew about the kids came mainly from what I saw and what Kitty told me. Apparently, this didn't give me the whole picture. Strange, huh?
"Miss Munroe's his sponsor," Jubilee explained. "She knew him from before he joined the school."
"Oh." I added that piece of information to the folder in my head marked Remy LeBeau - Mystery man. "So they're close?"
Jubilee shrugged. "Yeah, I guess. I don't really know 'em very well."
"You've been at the school for a while, haven't you?"
She nodded. "Yup. Since I was twelve. Kitty, Kurt and Peter have been there longer. Oh and Liz. But otherwise I was one of the first students to attend to the school."
"What about Pret-- Bobby?"
She snickered. "Why do you call him that?"
I feigned ignorance. Hard to pull off when you're turning a nice shade of dark green, but I tried. "Bobby? Well, it's his name, see."
"Nah. Pretty Blue Eyes. Why do you call him that?"
I gave up. "'Cause it's true. He's got pretty, blue eyes. I know. I've seen them."
Jubilee grinned brightly and gave me a look that made me want to go hide somewhere. "You've a crush on Bobby!"
"I do not!"
"Do too! I can tell."
"Not! Not!" I had a feeling I was turning the shade of green Norwegian pines have. "He's just a kid!"
"Is eighteen," Jubilee corrected, still grinning. "And you do so. Oh, this is so cool. I have to tell him."
"Hey Alex. Why are you blushing?" Jana gave me a curious look. She sat on top of one of the empty computer tables, braiding her hair. Kallie had ordered all the computers carried away to one of the spare rooms, saying something about this being a party and you can damn well survive without checking your mail every three minutes.
Jubilee bounced. "He's got a crush on Bobby!"
Jana blinked at her, then looked interested at me. "Reaaaally? You don't say..."
"I don't have a crush on Bobby!" I shouted, exasperated.
Close to everybody in the cafe quieted down and turned to look at me. I really wish they'd stop doing that.
"The lady doth protest too much," Rick commented.
Izzy agreed. "Yeah. Are you sure you're not just a tinzy bit interested?"
I growled at them. "Shut up!"
Jana poked me. "You know, I could ask him out for you, if you--"
"Was just an offer, no need to shout..."
Jubilee was rolling on the floor, laughing. "Oh I am so gonna tell Bobby!"
I hid my face in my hands and wished they would find something else to talk about. For once, my prayers were heard.
Lin walked out of the kitchen, beaming. "HEY! EVERYONE! Time for the prezzies! Someone go get Moric and Montgomery!"
"And we shall gather at the table," Rick said, untangeling himself from Izzy.
Izzy gave him a strange look. "Have you been reading Hamlet again?"
"Eh, no. Twelft Night."
"Rick... What have I told you about Shakespeare?"
Rick looked guilty. "Not a suitable bedtime story?"
Kallie appeared from somewhere bearing gifts and shook her head at them. "You two are strange."
Rick and Izzy beamed proudly. "We know," they said in unison.
I swear they're being like this on purpose.
* * * *
Moric sat on the couch, a thick pile of paper in his hands. He was beaming brightly and appeared to be very happy with his gift stories. "Am I supposed to be reading them out loud?"
"No!" Half the Corner, including me.
"Yes!" The other half of the Corner.
Moric obviously heard only the ones he wanted to hear. "All right then." He rifled through the pile of paper, then started from the top of the pile. "Okay, here goes..."
And the reading session, which lasted quite a while, was on.
* * * *
"No, but see, it works!" Rick waved his hands wildly to emphasize his statement. "It's like a puppet theatre and I'm channelling that guy, while you have your guy --"
"Yes, but whom is our resident green-skinned mutie freak channelling?" Iz asked, looking both amused and doubting.
"Well..." Rick blinked, stomped for an answer. He eyed me. "Hmm..."
"What are you two babbling about?"
"Spirit persons," they replied in unison and grinned at each other.
I arched an eyebrow. Personally, from what I'd heard, I thought it sounded like a certain someone had seen Being John Malkovic one time too many. "Uh-huh. Do I really want to know?"
Rick pondered, then shook his head. "Probably not."
"But you're going to tell me anyway?"
"How did you guess?" They both gave me identical bright grins.
Half an hour later I gave Iz and Rick a dubious look and inched slowly away from them. They had explained their spirit person - channeling theory to me, and besides being slightly dizzy, I was deeply convinced that they where both utterly and completely bonkers.
While inching away from the two nutcases, who were completely oblivious to my disappearing, I bumped into someone. I turned around to apologize and came face to air with Penn d'Henri. I'm a bit taller than she is, you see. I looked down. "Penn! Hey! Didn't expect to see you here."
She grinned. "Well, I had a day off so I figured why not? Nice to see you again, Alex."
"Yeah, nice to see you too." I grinned back. "I see you've gotten the Felidae comic published?"
"Oh yes!" She beamed. "Am real excited about that. Have you seen it? Bought it? Read it? Tell me!"
I laughed and told her.
* * * *
"Hey, Alex!" Stace shouted. "I think these two belong to you!"
I gave her a puzzled look. She pointed towards the door. I turned around and spotted Logan and Bobby standing in the doorway, looking around.
What the heck where they doing here?
"Oh good," said Lin from where she was sitting next to me, shuffling cake into her mouth. "They're here."
I blinked at her. "You called them?"
She gave me a look. "Because Kallie told me to."
"Okay. Why did Kal -- Jubilee."
"Bright lad." Lin patted me over the head and disappeared into the kitchen, no doubt to pester Ron or make another phonecall. I got up as well and walked over to Logan and Pretty Blue Eyes.
"Where is she?" was the first thing they said to me.
"And hello to you too." I grinned. "She's celebrating Moric's birthday."
"I got that part. Now where is she?" Logan said impatiently. Bobby seemed to be busy eyeing the cake. It was a rather nice cake though. Ron had out-done himself this time.
"What? You're in a hurry?"
"Yes, I'd --"
"No," Pretty Blue Eyes interrupted. "We're not. We can stay a while, can't we? Don't want to pull Jubilee away from all this food -- I mean, fun, now, do we?"
Logan looked unhappy. Before he could say anything, Lin showed up with cake.
"Here, enjoy," she said, smiled and continued on her way.
"Yum," said Bobby and grinned happily.
Logan took a bite of the cake. "Well, we could stay for a little while, I guess..."
I beamed at them.
Not that I had any hidden intentions or anything...
I was just being nice by letting Jubilee stay at the party.
Yeah...Sure, Alex. Keep telling yourself that.
* * * *
"Yeah, yeah, but there's one thing I don't get, sweets," Iz said, propping his chin up on his hand and giving me a thoughtful look. "Why this fascination with 'Stigmata'?"
"He's got a crush on Gabriel Byrne," Cassie said. She reached over the table and grabbed the chocolate plate. For the third time. Izzy, Rick, Jana, Cassie, Galynne, Stace, Ron, Jubilee and I had all benched us around the four clower table for the dessert and stuff. The desserts and stuff were quickly disappearing.
Izzy waved his hand. "Well, yeah, I know that, but there's lots of movies with him in it, so why 'Stigmata'?"
"I've seen that one," Galynne said. "Provided of course that we're talking about the movie. Are we talking about the movie? It's bloody."
"Yes, we are. Or rather Izzy is for some Izzy-ish reason," Stace replied before returning to her conversation with Ron.
"So?" Izzy reached over the table and poked me. "Why Stigmata?"
I shrugged. "It's just nifty."
Jana blinked slowly. "It's just nifty? Blood and stuff and it's nifty? You're weirder than Gally."
"Hey! No insulting the one with the claws!" Galynne did indeed look mildly insulted and waved a clawed hand in Jana's direction.
"Let me rephrase," Jana said quickly. "Alex is NOT weirder than Gally. NO ONE is weirder than Gally."
Galynne stopped waving her hand and looked satisfied.
"You have a strange definition of nifty," said Rick and contemplated his piece of strawberry cake.
Izzy pointed at me. "Have you guys ever watched 'Stigmata' with this guy? I've seen it four times, I think, and everytime they get to that wrist slashing scene --"
"He puts a pillow in front of his face," Rick, Jana and Cassie finished, all three of them grinning at me.
I glared at them. "So?"
"That movie scares the hell out of you, doesn't it?" Izzy had an intrigued look on his face.
"You know, normal people watch Halloween or Nightmare on Elmstreet or something when they want to be terrified," Rick pointed out.
"Oh but see," Iz said and patted Rick on the shoulder. "Alex is a freak. He isn't normal. Huh. Actually, that pretty much explains it all..."
"I'm dying of laughter, I really am," I said dryly.
Iz gave me a brilliant smile. "Of course you are!"
"Are you people always like this?" Jubilee wanted to know, tilting her head and looking fascinated.
Jana nodded. "Pretty much, yeah."
"I think I like you," Jubilee nodded with a grin.
"I think I like you too," said Rick. "Even though your taste in music is horrid."
"It is not!"
"Give it up," Iz adviced Jubilee, eyeing one of Ron's more exotic creations. "Rick's in the business. He claims to know these things. If he says it's horrid, it probably is. And if it isn't, there's no way you'll manage to get him to admit that."
Jubilee arched an eyebrow. "In the business?"
"Mmm." Izzy nodded. "He's a record producer. Hey, Ron, could you hand me that plate with the curly things on it? Ta."
Jubilee stared at Rick. "You're a record producer? For real? No kidding?"
"Yup." Rick eyed the plate Iz was holding. "Are you actually going to eat that?"
"Are you insulting my cooking?" Ron asked.
"Who? Me? Absolutely not!" Rick denied. "Great strawberry cake!"
"Huh," said Ron, apparently satisfied with that.
"Hey, this is good!" Iz munched happily on one of the curly things.
* * * *
"Sigh no more, ladies, sigh no more, for man was constant never," Izzy quoted, grinning. "And I would have quoted Hero in honor of Jana here, but I can't remember a word she spoke."
Jubilee grinned as well. "Are you an actor or something?"
"An actor? Izzy?" I laughed. "Well, he's certainly got the primadonna act down path..."
Iz gave me a hurt look and got up off his chair. He disappeared towards the bar.
I closed my eyes and sighed. Fuck. Now I'd hurt his feelings. Damn. I started to get up to follow him and make nice, but Rick shook his head at me.
"Don't. Don't bother. He'll get over it, he always does."
"You're right, I guess..." I hesitantly sat back down.
"Uh-huh." Rick nodded, then his eyes widened as he saw something. "Oh god. Iz, what are you up to?"
I twisted around to see what he was seeing. Izzy was determindedly headed towards... Logan. Oh no. This could not end well. There was no possible way this could end well.
Logan grunted. Kallie and Moric looked surprised up at Iz. Bobby tilted his head curiously and Daniel and Penn stopped talking.
"So. I hear you're a teacher at the Xavier--"
"I ain't no teacher. And I ain't interested in whatever you want."
"But, we haven't even been aquainted yet!" Iz pouted prettily.
"You know Alex, right?"
Hey! He knows my name! I preened slightly.
"Ain't you sleeping with Alex?"
...How the hell did he know that?
Iz sort of huffed and tossed a glare my way. "Depends on your definition of fucking, my friend. Look--"
"Ouch," I said. Oh yeah. Iz was not happy with me. Cassie winced in sympathy.
"Then, go. Back. To. The. Green. Runt," Logan said through clenched teeth.
Iz posed. "I promise, I'd make it worth your--"
"I'm warning ya..."
Iz gave up posing, and went for irrisitibly charming instead. "Oh, you big, tall, handsome man! C'mere and gimme a kiss."
Around this point Jana was bent over laughing, face more or less in her cake, and over by Logan's table, Bobby wasn't much better off.
"I'm warnin' ya. I have metal claws, a mean temper, and a habit of usin' both. Fuck. Off."
Iz beamed at him and the other people at the table. "Oh, he likes me for sure."
Daniel gave him a skeptical look. "I wouldn't put money on that."
"What part of fuck off ain't clear, bub?"
"--the bit where we fuck. Want it on the car? In the school? I'd say here's a bit public, but I'm game if you are..."
"Call 911," said Rick, looking as though he was expecting Iz to turn into a rather more bloody version of himself. So was I, really. I squinted in Iz' direction, hoping the following slaughter wouldn't look that bad then.
Logan tilted his head and raised his hand.
I closed one eye. Everybody else seemed to be holding their breath.
Iz arched an eyebrow. "Edward Scissorhand fetish? Yeah, well, I've had weirder shags."
He's probably telling the truth too.
"Why does he say 'shag'? He's not british." Jubilee looked puzzled.
Rick shrugged. "OD'ed on Queer as Folk yesterday, probably."
Logan growled, "Piss off, kid."
Iz bent down and kissed him on the lips, which, by the way, I could have told him was a damn bad move.
Two seconds later he was flying through the room, landing with a THUMP in front of Ellis and Montgomery.
* * * *
"Fuck, that hurts!" Iz complained, giving Rick an evil glare. Rick ignored him and kept dabbing his chin with pyrisept.
"That was a bloody stupid thing to do," I informed Iz, sitting down on the chair across the table from him.
"Well, it was. What the hell were you thinking, anyway? 'Oh look, here's a scary guy with claws, I think I'll harrass him'?"
"Alex. Shut up." Rick shook his head at me and went to get a bandaid from one of the cabinets here in the kitchen. Kallie has it for emergencies and stuff. Even got paracets in there. He came back with a bandaid featuring Mickey Mouse. "Would you two stop sulking?"
"Who's sulking? I'm not sulking," I said. "Iz, are you sulking?"
Rick snorted. "I'm not sure which one of you is more the brat. You," he looked at me. "Or him."
I immidiatelly pointed at Iz while he pointed back at me.
"I need some new friends," said Rick and sighed.
Iz slung his arm around Rick's neck and pulled him down to a kiss. He let him go and grinned. "Oh, you love us to bits and you know it."
I grinned. "What he said."
Rick rolled his eyes, but couldn't suppress a smile.
c h a p t e r _ s e v e n
The next day I went to see Kitty. I didn't really want to, since I'd had more than enough of people to last me a life time at that point, but I'd said I would, so...
Like Miss Munroe has said, she was well considering the circumstances, but the circumstances were not good. They were bad. Very bad. While the school has been under attack, Kitty had phased. For much, much long than she was used to, and when the dust cleared (so to speak), she found herself unable to unphase again.
To put it simply, she was currently a ghost.
And sitting crosslegged inside a glass-cube-thingy, looking miserable.
I tapped on the glass to get her attention. "Hey."
"Alex!" Her face lit up a little.
"Is me," I smiled. "I came to see how you are. And, no, don't bother explaining. Dr. Reyes did all that before she let me come in."
She grinned. "She's very thorough."
"Yeah. And scary." I shuddered exaggeratedly at the memory of those dark, serene, scary eyes.
"She's not so bad when you get to know her." Kitty's voice lowered to a conspiratory whisper. "I've even heard her laugh. Once."
I stared at her in amazement. "You're kidding?"
"Nope. Cross my heart."
Kitty nodded. The smile faded from her face and she looked down.
"Hey. Are you all right?" I put my hand on the glass by her head. "Okay, stupid question considering, but--"
"Yana's dead," she interrupted. "She was just a little kid and now she's dead! Who would - who _could_ - do such a thing? She was only seven years old!"
My jaw dropped. Apparently this attack had been far more severe than I'd imagined. Dead? Hurt maybe, but dead? Hadn't even crossed my mind. "Dead?"
"Yes!" Tears welled up in her eyes. "Yana, and Johnny, and Marie-Ange, and Clarice... They're all dead!"
"Oh my god..."
Her lips quivered. "And... And... I couldn't help them. I couldn't do anything."
"I'm so sorry, Kit. I'm so sorry." I had no idea what to do. Or what to say. Kitty didn't seem to notice. She just kept talking, with tears running down her face. I listened with a sense of incredulity.
"Kit, love, stop crying, yeah?"
I jumped slightly at the sound of Pete Wisdom's voice. I'd been so caught up in what Kitty was telling me, I hadn't even noticed his arrival. Kids killed. And hurt and disappeared. That was bad, right? I mean, of course it was, but it was a bit unreal at the same time. Things like this happened on movies or to other people. Not to people I knew.
I noticed him now. He looked concerned. And looked like he either hadn't slept in days or slept in his clothes. I didn't need to be a genius to figure out why.
Pete patted the glass around Kitty's head. "Please, love? I can't stand seeing you cry."
"Well, I've a bloody good reason, now don't I?" Kitty sniffled angrily, brushing a tear away from her chin.
Pete opened his mouth then shut it again. Seemed like he wasn't any better with tears and stuff than I was. I really wish he would have been.
"Alex, come here." Pete nodded towards a medical thingamajig a bit away from Kitty's glass.
I gave him a puzzled frown, looked at Kitty and followed him. What did he want to talk to me about? As far as I knew, Pete didn't even like me very much. Of course he didn't like _anybody_ very much...
"Miss Munroe wants to talk to you."
Ah. "All right..."
"She's in the waiting room."
I nodded. I started walking towards the waiting room, then hesitated and turned to look at Pete. "Can I ask you something?"
"Sure. I might not answer, but sure, ask away."
"Do you know who Remy is... sleeping with?"
He narrowed his eyes at me. "Why do you want to know?"
"Curiousity. And I know. Was wondering if you did."
"Yeah. I know. Now get yer Chevy Chase away from me, a'right? Remy's me best china, he is." He glared at me. "And I don't like gossiping about me mates."
I frowned at him, then headed off in direction of the waiting room, translating what he'd said in my head. Chevy Chase, face. China, china plate, mate. Heh. And it had been ages since the last time I was in London too.
* * * *
"Don't you forget about me. Don't. Don't you forget about me. As you walk on by, will you call my name? Will you walk away? Will you walk away?"
"Alex! Shut the fuck up, would you?"
I elegantly ignored Rick and kept yowling along with Simple Minds, and two seconds later, Bon Jovi. I like mp3s. It's a wonderful invention. I can get all of my favorite songs on one CD now.
Rick groaned, clasped his hands firmly over his ears and sank down on the floor, giving Mai Lee a desperate look.
"I just can't believe... It was all a lie..." I sang happily, whirling around the room.
Mai Lee grinned widely at Rick, jumped up on her feet and joined in. "No man in the moon, just a big light in the sky."
Rick looked horrified. "I'm in hell."
"Say it isn't so," sang Mai Lee and I.
Rick twisted around and hit the off button on the stereo.
"It's for the best of mankind," Rick explained solemnly. "The world is just not ready for you and Mai Lee singing Bon Jovi." He paused. "And I think the neighbours were gearing up to start banging on the walls and ceiling."
The doorbell rang.
I look sheepishly in that direction. "You might have a point."
"I'm not here," said Mai Lee and looked innocent. "If they say something about hearing two voices, say it's Rick. They'll believe you. He's a reputation for singing."
"I do? Since when?"
"I just can't help falling in love with you," said Mai Lee.
Rick looked stunned. "How did you... Izzy."
I went to get the door before Rick could figure out who'd been a most eager partner in crime when it came to spreading that particular tape.
I opened the door and looked down at Jana's puzzled face. "You're here."
"So it would appear. Want to tell me why I had to rush right over here without even having dinner first? It was lasagne. I might even have eaten it."
"I need your advice on something."
Jana regarded me mutely for a while, blinking at me, then she made her way into my apartment and the livingroom. She looked at Rick and Mai Lee, then pointed towards me. "He," she said. "Has gone off on the deep end. He's bonkers. Gone. The lights are on, but noone's home, if you know what I saying. He just told me he needed _my_ advice on something."
Rick and Mai Lee gave identical mock-gasps and stared at me.
"Oh ha ha ha," I said.
Jana grinned and dropped down into the couch. "So what did you want my advice on?"
"I'll tell you when Iz gets here."
"That could take a while," Rick warned me, glancing at the clock on top of the tv. "He's out on a job."
"Yeah, I know. I caught him on the cell. He says he reckons it won't take long. Something about a hostile interview object."
"You can have those?"
"Yeah, sure. I mean like OJ probably wasn't all that crazy about being interviewed during the trial, but all the journalists wanted to interview him and so," Rick trailed off. "Well, you get the point."
Jana just shook her head and muttered something about lasagna.
Ten minutes later, Iz walked into the livingroom, waving a bag. "Heyah, Alex. I got Black Adder 4, House on Haunted Hill and Oliver Twist -- Oh hi Rick..."
Rick paled and had a look of utter betrayal on his face. "Et tu, Iz? How could you?"
"Oliver Twist," Rick said, heartbroken. "I never thought you'd do such a thing."
"I didn't know you'd be here," Iz said helplessly, putting the bag down on the table and his camera on the floor next to a pile of Robert Jordan books.
"And that's supposed to make it okay?"
Oh yes. Rick has a very big issue with his last name. And consequently that poor, starving orphan he was forced to play in his youth.
Mai Lee looked at Rick and Iz with a mix of worry and amusement on her face. "They going to be all right?"
I nodded. "Sure. After Izzy's groweled a bit. Or extensivly."
Jana rolled her eyes. "Can we get on with it? Please? I have a dinner to get back to."
"Hey, Iz, Rick, want to stop arguing and listen for a second?"
Iz dropped down in the closest chair, moved in it until he was comfortably sprawled and nodded towards me. "Talk."
Rick folded his arms over his chest and sulked.
Jana quieted with her musings of lasagna and Mai Lee stopped fingering my CDs.
"The school's offered me a job as the school counsellor."
Everybody was quiet for a while, then...
"What?" Rick said slowly.
"Cool," said Izzy and stretched. "Go with it."
"But Alex... You don't have any education in that direction," Mai Lee pointed out.
"And you love your job," Jana said, looking puzzled. "You love being a graphic designer."
"What Jana said. And you'd have to be in constant contact with people if you took that job, have you thought about that?" Rick leaned forth. "You _can't_ take that job."
"Yeah, I've thought about all that, but Ororo, she said that I've already been helping. With Jubilee and Remy and..."
"Well, fine, go on helping like that, just don't. Don't take that job, Alex. You'll regret it."
"I think I'll have to agree with Rick," Mai Lee said.
"Hey, if the guy wants to accept that job, we shouldn't stand in his way." Izzy frowned. "Why he'd want to, is beyond me, but."
"But don't you think I owe them to help?" I said helplessly. "I mean, with my powers, I should..."
All four of them stared at me.
"Alex, sweets, love of my life, all around nummy treat, what the hell are you talking about?" Iz straightened up.
"Ororo said... I have a duty to..."
"Oh fuck that!" Rick exploded, jumping out on his feet. "You don't have a duty to do anything at all! What? You think I have a sacred duty to live in the Sahara desert and make water for the poor?"
I was taken aback. "No. Not exactly."
"I can't picture you in Africa as a Red Cross person," Jana said thoughtfully.
"But if I was doing what was for the best of mankind, and not what was best for me, that's exactly what I'd be doing!"
"Well, you can't really make _that_ much water," Izzy pointed out.
Rick glared at him.
"Forget I said anything."
"Ignoring Rick for a second. For the record, you all think I _shouldn't_ take the job?" I looked around for confirmation, feeling relieved. I never really wanted that job in the first place, but Ororo had reasoned it all so... reasonably.
Talk logic to me and I'll follow you to hell and back. Until I've figured out what the heck it was you said.
The four of them looked at me again.
"Your life is all yours to fuck up," Izzy said and leaned back in the chair again, admiring the ceiling. The guy has a thing for ceilings, I swear.
"What Iz said, " Jana said. "Plus, no, I don't think you should take it."
"You'd hate it," Mai Lee noted, her attention caught by the action figures in my book shelf. "When did you get those? Oooh! You have Birds of Prey!"
"Which part of 'hell, no!' are you having problems with?" Rick dropped back down on the floor.
I nodded, frowning. Okay. I liked this. They didn't think I was a selfish bastard for not taking the job as counseller for a bunch of angsty teens, in fact, they were telling me I'd be an idiot to do it. Well, except Iz, but Iz rarely said anything pro or against anything.
I decided I wouldn't take the job. Now... How did I tell Ororo that? I grinned slowly and eyed my friends. Izzy... No. Not after that show he put up yesterday. Jana... Too young. Rick or Mai Lee then. "So..." I said, grinning brightly at Rick and Mai Lee. "Which one of you want to come with me to the school tomorrow as I inform them that I've decided not to take the job?"
"I have a... a... deadline!" Mai Lee said, giving me an equally bright grin in return. She put my Birds of Pray action figures back in my shelf and looked innocent. Pah. She so didn't have a deadline. She had the comicstrips drawn three months in advance. I know. I was watching her draw them.
"I... have..." Rick paused, then looked resigned which was his way of saying that 1, he couldn't be arsed to come up with anything after the Oliver Twist trauma Iz had given him, and 2, he was curious about the school. See, I speak 'rickian' very well. "Nothing at all to do."
"Can we watch Black Adder now?" Izzy said hopefully.
"Lasagna," said Jana and walked zombie-like out of the livingroom. The frontdoor smacked shut seconds later.
* * * *
A pretty, darkhaired girl stepped out of a taxi just as Rick drove up in front of the school's main building. She was wearing a red t-shirt and blue jeans and looking searchingly around. Her eyes landed on Remy who was just coming out of the gym, followed by Evan and Angelo. Her face lit up like a christmas tree. "Remy!"
Remy stopped and glanced in her direction. First he frowned in puzzlement, but then his face cleared and he was running towards her. "Jake!" He stopped in front of her. "It's you, isn't it?"
She grinned. "Of course it's me, you moron."
Remy picked her up and whirled her around, laughing.
"Put me down! Put me down, or else I swear you're going to wake up missing a few bodyparts...!" Judging from the way she was laughing I don't think she meant it very seriously. Remy finally put her down and she straightened her t-shirt. "I hate you, you know."
Remy grinned. I don't think I'd ever seen him that happy before. "I know you do. So. What are you doing here? And looking like this?"
Rick tugged at the sleeve of my coat. "Try and curb your voyouristic tendencies long enough for us to tell what's her name of your decision, yes?"
"Shh," I said, wondering who the girl was. Remy'd called her Jake... Short for Jacqueline, maybe. Or Jacobine.
Jake rolled her eyes. "Oh it's dad's idea. You know how he gets. Anyhow, I'm going to be attending this school for a year or so. Dad wants me to take those... eh... special courses they provide."
Remy arched his eyebrows. "Looking like that?"
"Yes," Jake said darkly.
"What in the world did you do to deserve that?"
Rick started pulling me towards the door. "We're going now."
I sighed regretfully, knowing I couldn't escape the inevitable forever, and let Rick push me in through the door. Just before I was out of earshot, I heard Remy introducing Jake to Evan Starsmore and Angelo Espinosa.
"Guys, this is Jak--"
"Jackie," Jake, I mean, Jackie interrupted. "I've known this guy since we were both in diapers. I have _tons_ of embarrassing stories to tell. Have he told you about that time he tried to nick Mastiff the fence's jewelry and got caught by Mastiff's two year old daughter who developed the biggest crush on him yet?"
* * * *
Insultingly enough, Ororo didn't seem devastated by me telling her I wasn't going to join the school staff. In fact, if I wasn't completely mistaken, she had already contacted an empath named Mickey Canté and offered him the job. She didn't exactly say that but she implied it heavily. Very heavily. Sort of the same way as Logan implied things and that was a hair away from being hit over the head with a two by four.
About two weeks later, it turned out I'd been right (I rather like that), as yet another taxi drove up in front of the school building. Or, um, what was left of it. They were still in the process of rebuilding it after the attack. Some of those who were hurt in the attack were already bouncing about the place, but Kitty was still locked up in that glass-thingy. She had people to talk to though. A skinny Russian kid I had somehow been roped into taking to visit Declan, Penn and Louise as soon as Dr. Grey and Dr. McCoy finished their testing. Apparently the kid was an aspiring artist himself. And of course, Pete was down there with her as much as he could.
I finally got to meet the legendary Dr. Grey, by the way. Beautiful (most of the people at the school were, for some odd reason. I was starting to get used to it), and in a hurry. Dr. McCoy was... well. Pretty much like a really smart cookie monster with constant munchies actually. Kitty told me Bobby used to sneak down and drag Dr. McCoy with him for midnight Twinkie runs. Whatever the heck that was.
Out of the taxi stepped one of the tallest people I've ever seen. I mean, I was staring out of the window on second floor, and I could already tell that he was damn high. How he looked... Try to imagine a Native American with red Irish colouring and you're close. Shoulder-lenght bright red hair (More carrot than Dr. Grey if you know what I mean), pale blue eyes, eagle nose, freckles and a penchant for Bayliss.
No, I didn't know that as I watched him get out of the taxi. I found out about it later when Mickey came to 'bond with the other empath on campus'. I tried pointing out that I wasn't an empath exactly and discovered that Mickey had an amazing ability to ignore whatever I was saying on behalf of what ever idea was in his head at the moment.
Iz and Mickey hated each other on sight. Of course, Mickey chose to tag along to the Corner with me in the middle of Iz' flamer-phase (He gets them occasionally when he feels guilty about not being 'gay enough'. I love the guy to bits, but he's just down right weird at times) and his own Sioux-Mystic-phase (Which is basically him being guilty for not being 'Sioux enough'), so perhaps it shouldn't come as a great big shock.
I think they saw their own (presumed) inadequacies in the other, or something.
Mickey's the shrink, okay? Not me. Anyway. Iz hated Mickey's guts. Rick was at that time too busy with fixing the mess his assisstants had managed to create during his sabbatical, and probably wouldn't have cared if Mickey was the new leader of the FOH (Friends of Humanity. Bunch of postering jerks I'd cross the street to avoid). Mai Lee met him maybe twice and Jana resented him for having redder hair than she had.
That one trip to the Corner was enough for Mickey. The place just wasn't him.
I think, maybe, he was looking for a friend in me, but I just couldn't be that friend. We didn't share any interests and our personalities didn't click at all. We became really good colleagues, though.
Mickey was an empath. And the new school shrink. Two things that together spelled, in my opinion, utter madness. Granted, unlike me, he could actually control his powers and stay shielded from people, but, come on! This was Xavier's! Where the secrets were many and the angst level hit the ceiling!
Mickey shrugged when I pointed it out to him. "Yeah, but I'm really good at keeping my shields up at all times."
I gave him a disbelieving look. "Ignoring for a moment that you sound like the Enterprise personified, are you trying to tell me you've got emotional shields of adamantium or something?"
Mickey grinned at the comparison. "Something like that. Hey, you ever tried to shield out secrets?"
I frowned at him. "What do you mean?"
"Like, have you ever tried to touch someone and block out the secrets they give you?"
"Oh. Kind of like with you and feelings?" I shook my head. "No, doesn't work. I mean, I've tried, but the only thing that stops it is familiarity. I can touch Iz just fine as long as he doesn't aquire some new deep, dark secret. Same goes for Rick and Mai Lee."
Mickey looked thoughtful. "Huh. Maybe I could help..."
"I don't think so." I frowned again. "Or I guess you could. But we don't have the same power, remember? You can tell _how_ people feel, while I'm more on the _why_ side of things."
"Yes, true. I think I'm going to have a talk with Professor Xavier and see what he can tell me about your mutation and then maybe I can create some sort of training program for helping you create some sort of shielding..." Mickey was deeply into his own brilliant planning.
I sighed. Mai Lee and Kitty. They were normal. Why couldn't I have lunch with them every day instead? "Mickey... Mickey!"
Mickey gave me a surprised look. "What?"
"You don't have to do all that. I've had 13 years to get used to this, you know. And you're here to help the kidlets, not me," I reminded him. Also, rigorous training programs really isn't my thing, but I figured mentioning it to Mickey probably wouldn't help. I strongly suspected he's one third Irish, one third Sioux and one third bulldozer.
"Don't you want me to help?" Mickey looked hurt.
"It's not that, exactly... It's just... Like I said, I've had my powers for 13 years now. I know how they work." I grinned wryly. "Yeah, okay, the headaches, but I'm used to them too, and they're usually not that bad."
"Oh yeah, that reminds me, I've been thinking about it and I think the headaches have a psychological origin, and not actually necessary for your powers to work."
I blinked at him. "Huh?"
"I think I might be able to get rid of your headaches..." Mickey said slowly.
I looked incredulously and hopefully over at him. I might be used to the headaches but that didn't mean I liked them particulary much. "You think?"
"I think," Mickey nodded. He looked up at the clock. "Oh damn. I'm going to be late for my appointment." He got up from his chair and grabbed his coffee. "I'll talk to you later, okay?"
Later turned out being two days later, which gave me plenty of time to fret. And accidentally overhear an arguement.
"...I would, but it's not up to me!"
"No, it's up to her, isn't it? For chrissake, Remy, why won't you be honest with me and tell me--"
"Johnny, shut up." Pause. Sigh. "You're just going to have to trust me."
"I'm fucking trying, but I'm telling you, it's not easy when she's all over you all the bloody time."
Dry chuckle. "Believe me, Johnny, Jackie has absolutely no interest in me what so ever. She just likes to make me uncomfortable."
"Yeah, you looked real uncomfortable yesterday in the cantina..."
Bewildered. "Yesterday in the cantina? ...Oh. With the banana... Yeah, well. Jack's got a very odd sense of humour."
"I can't tell you... I mean, Jackie would kill me if I did, so I can't, but if you want to. To. You know. Be a couple, like. I guess I could. If you want..." Remy trailed off awkwardly.
"I... I want," St. John said so quietly I almost couldn't hear him. "But. I don't think I can. Not yet, anyway."
"Yeah. I understand. I just thought."
I oh so subtly slinked away as John and Remy closed in on my position around the corner. They both might be aware of that they couldn't hide anything from me, but I really didn't see any point in letting them know I'd been eavesdropping on them. Unintentional as it might've been.
When I walked into the cantina, Mickey was sitting at our regular table, downing a jug of coffee and waiting impatiently. "Where have you been?"
I blinked at him and sat down. "'Scuse me?"
"I wanted to talk to you about your headaches, remember? I have..." He glanced over at the watch on the wall. "About fifteen minutes. Talk here or at my office? Makes no difference to me."
"I'm hungry. Here," I said decisivly. I still didn't think there was anything he could do to get rid of the headaches, but I figured it wouldn't hurt to listen to him. As Rick said, what's the harm? I won't repeat what Izzy said.
Mickey nodded. "Okay. Here, have a..." He paused and looked down at his plate. "...I'm not entirely sure what it is, actually, but it doesn't taste all that bad. It's probably not poisonous, even if I don't think that colour can be found in nature."
I grabbed the plate, avoided looking at the food and focused on Mickey instead. I liked his nose. "Ta, mate."
He gave me a 'you're weird' look, then launched into his explaination of the hows and whys of my headaches.
It all boiled down to, I found out, after patiently asking Mickey to rephrase in English a few times, that I didn't really _want_ to know other people's secrets and therefor resisted when my powers kicked in. Apparently this messed my head up and I got headaches.
Made an odd kind of sense, actually.
But I didn't see how it helped all that much. Wasn't like I was suddenly going to embrace knowing the secrets of all that came in contact with me. I told him as much.
He gave me an exasperated look. I got the hint. I wasn't fully appreciating his brilliance. Shame on me.
"Not that I don't appreciate you going through all this trouble to figure it out and all, but I really don't understand how it'll help me to know _why_ I get the headaches when I can't get rid of 'em anyway."
"Well, I'm still working on that."
I finished Mickey's lunch and went back to the computer room while shaking my head. Mickey was a bit too... enthusiastic sometimes.
I'd see it before I believed it, in other words.
c h a p t e r _ e i g h t
"It's a fucking storm out there," Rick said dispassionatly and tilted his head to look at me. He still harbored a resentment towards everybody else in general for not letting him drive Martha instead. In my opinion he should be grateful. There _was_ a fucking storm outside and Martha would probably have been torn into nuts and bolts. Maybe Rick had realised it as well. He hadn't moaned about leaving his precious Martha for over two hours now.
We'd been on the road for twelve hours. Mickey driving the first eight, me the last four. We had originally been heading towards Canada since that was the nearest border, but Mickey had taken one look at the road blocks we'd been hearing about on the radio, and done a sharp u-turn, muttering something about Mexico.
So now we were on the run and headed for Mexico, and I kept getting flashbacks from 'From Dusk til Dawn' inbetween trying to see the road for all the hail.
Funny, only three days ago, everything had been normal. I'd even finally brought the skinny Russian kid (Piotr, it turned out his name was) to see Declan, Penn and Louise.
Dec, Penn and Louise had all chipped in to buy this enormous atelier once their careers started getting off the ground. It was right next to a cafe, which I personally thought was a good thing, since they'd probably forget to eat otherwise. These people were _artists_.
Declan was slowly becoming the hottest cover illustrator in the comicbook industry, Penn was the creator of Felidae which seemed to have become as popular as Pókemon once was and Louise was a comicbook penciler.
Piotr and I made our way through a corridor covered with balled up paper, hoping to run into Penn, who I'd talked to on the phone earlier. We finally found a yellow door at the end of the corridor and went through it. We found ourselves standing in the biggest room I'd ever seen. It was huge, mostly white except from a wall that was splattered with colours, and empty except from Penn who sat bent over a huge drawing board.
"Penn?" I said, uncertainly.
Penn jumped in surprise, then looked up and beamed at us. "Alex! Hi! I didn't expect you so soon."
"I called you four hours ago to say we were coming," I reminded her.
"Oh. Fours hours? Really?" She looked baffeled. "Man, time passes quickly..."
"...Right." I looked over at Piotr. "Penn, this is Piotr, the kid I told you about. Piotr, this is Penn d'Henri. If there's anything you want to ask, she said she'd be happy to answer all your questions." Introductions over, I stood back and watched.
Piotr inched his way over to the beaming Penn and shyly extended his arm in a greeting. Penn shook it, then motioned for whatever she was doing at the drawing board. Piotr bent over to see, and not long after they were deeply involved in a discussion about the colour red.
I had, to put it mildly, no idea what they were talking about. Bored, I started wandering around, glancing at half-finished and finished products laying about. I ended up standing by the window, looking across the street at Dec and Louise getting caffeinated. I glanced over at Piotr and Penn who were now talking about computer colouring. "Anybody mind if I just dip across the street for a coke?"
Piotr and Penn waved their hands at me and continued talking.
I shrugged and left.
I came back half an hour later with Dec and Louise and found Piotr drawing Penn who took modelling breaks now and again to look critically at his work.
"No, no. See, if you get it more oval shaped, then the proporsions... Yeah, like that."
That had been my day three days ago. Thinking back, I realised that I wouldn't mind being bored out of me skull again, if it meant things would go back to normal.
I glanced into the mirror and saw Mickey trying to fold his long body into a comfortable position so he could get some sleep. Approximatly thirteen hours earlier, Mickey had drove up in front of the Corner in the van and silently handed me a weird metallic sort of communication thingy.
"Uh... Hello?" I said into the thing.
Ororo was waiting in the other end and she was sharp, short and efficient. "There's been an upheaval in the government and in two hours they are going to send the police out to fetch all foreign, and some domestic, mutants. Supposedly the foreigners are going to be put on a plane back to their home country, but our information suggests that anyone over gamma status will be sent to secret military installations. Get your friends and leave. Now."
"But..." I blinked. I was used to travelling and leaving places, but I usually had a bit more than a moment to do it on. Also, I didn't really want to leave. I quite liked it here.
"Do you understand? We cannot protect you. You must go. Leave immidiatelly!" And the communication thingy went dead. I handed it over to Mickey and saw the hard look on his face.
"...Oh fuck. This is for real, isn't it?"
He nodded. "It's very real." He looked sad for a moment, then turned all brisk efficiency. "Right. Well, I have room for four in the van."
I looked at the van, then over at Mickey. "Four?"
"I'm already taking Remy, Jackie and Jubilee," he explained. "That is, Jubilee is here, right?"
"Yeah," I nodded. "Cassie is teaching her some weird Finnish card game."
Making the others believe me, was only something I managed because they couldn't believe I'd joke about something like this. Then there was shock, panic and anger.
"I'm going with you," Izzy said with so much conviction and determination, I knew trying to talk him out of it would be futile.
"We don't have room for--" Mickey started.
"Gally's got a van," Iz said, nodding towards the pacing Galynne who looked very much like a tiger in a cage. "She can take the rest. You wouldn't have room anyway."
I looked over at Ellis who was holding Stace, both of them whitefaced with shock, neither of them talking, and Moric and Montgomery, who were talking to each other in low voices, and agreed. Ellis would never leave his girlfriend or his brother and Moric wouldn't leave his friends either.
In the end, we had thirty minutes to go pack and then regroup at the Corner. I tossed my laptop in a suitcase, threw some clothes on top, added some food and a few CDs and headed out. One of the good things about travelling for five years was that you didn't really get attached to things. Before I left the apartment I e-mailed Mai Lee and told her not to worry and that I'd be in touch with her as soon as I could.
At the corner it was decided that Rick, Izzy, myself and Jana would go with Mickey, while Galynne would drive herself, Stace, Montgomery, Ellis, Moric, Cassie and Ron. Cassie and Ron leaving had been Kallie's idea. Then those who were left could say they thought the others had headed off somewhere on a hiking trip. As for me, Iz and Rick, well, no one ever knew where we were, and Jana? Well, wasn't she at school?
Cassie and Ron didn't object. Apparently they had a sudden longing for home.
I glanced in the mirror again. Izzy was pressed up against the door, staring blankly out on the hail. Jana had shifted into a kitten and lay curled up into a ball inbetween Mickey and Iz. In the back, Jackie had fallen asleep with her head on Remy's shoulder and Remy and Jubilee were talking quietly to each other. I wondered briefly why St. John wasn't there instead of Jackie, then had my attention caught up in trying to stay on the road.
Two hours later, everybody was sleeping but me and Rick. He was busy rummaging through the cds in the car for the fifth time and I was still trying to keep us on the road while the storm got worse.
"Rick," I said, frowning. "We're going to have to pull over somewhere. Help me look for a Holiday Inn or something, would you?"
His head popped up. "If you can tell me how we get the rhinos into the attic," he said distractedly.
My lips quirked. "You move the table."
"Huh. Yeah, if you moved the table... But what about the body glitter?"
"I'd forgotten about the body glitter."
"I thought you might have. So we can't move the table." He pointed ahead. "Look, there's one."
I nodded. "But you realise that if we can't move the table, my whole line of reasoning falls apart? It was all based on moving the table."
"I know, but would you really want to put deep purple and electric yellow together?"
"I see you point."
"Maybe if we moved the hatrack..." Rick mused.
"You're both fucking insane and I want to know why the hell you're driving," Izzy's grumpy, sleepfilled voice sounded from the back.
Rick and I looked at each other and laughed.
There was a meow, then a pause, then Jana's voice asking; "I said, why are we stopping?"
"The storm is this close to blowing us off the road."
I glanced in the mirror and met a red on black stare. I blinked. So that's why Remy keeps his shades on all the time... "Remy, could you wake the girls?"
"Yo, Mickey!" Izzy said, throwing an empty milkshake cup at the sleeping man. "Wake up! We need your money!"
It was decided that Iz and Rick would go and rent the rooms since they looked the most 'normal' and the others were too young. They came back out waving three keys.
"I figured the girls could take one room, Mickey and Remy the other and us three the last," Rick explained, handing out the keys to Jana and Mickey, while keeping one for himself.
"Uhm," Remy said, looking over at the half-asleep Jackie. "I think Jake wants to change." He nudged her. "Isn't that so?"
"Huh? Oh. Yeah. Right. Change. Sleep with Remy," she said groggily, blinking her eyes slowly. "No, that didn't come out right..."
"I should hope not." Remy looked like he was fighting very hard not to start laughing hysterically. "No offence, Jake, but I just don't like you that way."
"'Course you don't. 'S why you keep staring at my rack," Jackie retorted, and was starting to come alive. She turned to me. Because, you see, for some reason, they considered me the boss of this whole adventure. Whoppedodee and where the heck is Captain Picard when you need him? "Could I get ten minutes or so to change back to my real form? I mean, there's not much point in me going around like this now, is there? Then I can crash with Remy and Mr. Canté and Jubilee and ... uh... Jana? can get the room to themselves."
I stared at her in puzzlement. "Excuse me. Change?" Then it started to dawn on me. "You're a shapeshifter."
More pieces fell together. "...You're a _male_ shapeshifter."
This time both Remy and Jackie nodded.
Jubilee looked surprised. "You know, I never suspected. I mean, you're a bit weird, but I really thought you were a girl."
"Thanks." Jackie frowned. "I think."
Remy snickered. "Told you they didn't suspect anything."
A sudden wind throw made the van shake and I figured it was about time we got ourselves indoors. I just hoped the van wouldn't fly away during the night... "C'mon, grab your bags and let's get inside."
There was a wild scramble as everyone tried to get into the back at the same time.
"Ouch! Hey, watch were you put that elbow, all right?"
"That one's mine!"
"Don't squish Jana-Bat!"
"Bat? Where? Ahh!"
Finally we all got our bags and our arses inside, where we split up to find our rooms. The motel room had a tiny bathroom (with a shower, thank god), a big bed and a little kidlet bed, an old tv, a tiny table and a green textile and dark wood chair. Not exactly the Hilton.
Iz dropped his bag down on the chair, then let himself fall down on the bed. He lay there spreed eagled and stared at the ceiling. Rick dropped his bag on the small bed and started rummaging through it, muttering about needing a shower. I dropped my suitcase on the bed next to Iz' feet and unzipped it, intending to see if I could find something to read. I can't sleep without reading anything first. My brain goes on overdrive otherwise. Though, actually, sex works.
Not an option right now, even if I wasn't exhausted. Rick probably wouldn't _mind_ exactly, but the idea is just way to weird to deal with.
I pulled out Diana Wynne Jones latest book and put it on the bedside table. I then rezipped the suitcase and put it on the floor. Iz turned his head to look at me now that I wasn't hidden behind the suitcase anymore.
"You're going to make me sleep in the kiddie bed, aren't you?"
I gave him a bright grin. "Good guess, shorty."
Iz grumbled. "Why is it I like you guys again?"
I bounced on to the bed, then crawled over to sit on him, my knees on each side of his waist. I grinned down at him. He glared up at me. Rick started singing in the shower.
"I want a cool rider, a cooool rider, if he's cool enough, he can burn me through and through, oh oohh ye-ah... If it taaaakes forever, then I'll waaaait forever, no ordinary guy, no ordinary guy's gonna do..."
My eyebrows hit my hairline and I turned my head to stare at the bathroom door. Out of the corner of my eye I could see Izzy doing the same thing. I looked back down at him when the bathroom door didn't tell me what the heck Rick was yowling about. "And people say _we_ are the weird ones..."
"They don't know what they're talking about obviously."
We looked at each other for a while.
"Why did you come with us?"
Izzy shrugged and looked away. "Just... Oh god, you're going to go sappy--"
"Thanks," I broke in. And I was indeed going to go sappy on him. He'd just have to deal. "For coming with us. I know you didn't have to and it means a lot."
There was a faint flush on his face and he avoided my eyes. "Yeah, well," he mumbled. "Seemed like a good idea at the time. After twelve hours in the car with that damn mick, I've changed my mind."
I grinned and bent down so we were forehead to forehead. I caught his eyes. "I love you, Iz."
Izzy squirmed. "Yeah, back at'cha, sweets. Listen, could you cut the sappy stuff now? I want to see if we can get something on the telly."
I sighed lightly and rolled off him. For one who claims not to hide anything and be very in touch with his feelings, he has a curious adversion to 'sappy stuff'.
I rolled my eyes and got up to fetch the remote.
Izzy beamed at me. "Ta very much, hon."
I dropped back down on the bed and watched Iz zap through channels while listening to Rick crooning on one of the songs to one of the boybands he produces. It's not that he likes them, he explained to us. But they get stuck in his head. And he has to listen to them because the last time he didn't, something called Digital Getdown happened. When Rick found out about that, he had a minor breakdown. ...Can't say I blame him.
Iz wasn't having much luck with his zapping. The storm was disturbing the connection, so he got mostly snow or picture that kept falling out. He stopped on a pay per view channel and tilted his head. "Huh."
I blinked at him. "You're going to watch porn?"
He shook his head. "No. It's straight porn and that's even more boring than gay porn." He considered it. "Well, it's good for a few laughs, I guess."
I looked at the tv, then back at him. "How can you tell it's straight porn?"
"I can just tell. It's a gift."
"You're amazingly talented."
"I know," he said smugly and continued zapping.
"Go back! Go back!" I waved frantically at him.
He flipped back a channel. "What?"
"Look! It's Dead Man on Campus!" I grinned happily.
"Oh god, no," Iz moaned and immidiately changed channel again.
"No, Alex. Absolutely not."
"Hold me, thrill me, kiss me, kill me," I could hear Rick crooning in the bathroom.
I hid my head against Iz' shoulder. "He's nuts."
"In an adorable sort of way," I amended. "But still nutters."
Suddenly there was a flash of... something. Some sort of secret, but it was gone before I could really get what it was. "Iz..." I started, then a dizzy sort of feedback loop started. Emotions, mangled and in bits and pieces, and images hit me again and again, too fast for me to understand what I was seeing. I whimpered and pulled away. I crawled over the bed and got on my feet, standing dizzily.
Oh god. I was going to throw up. Fuck.
I scrambled over to the bathroom. "Rick! Open! Now! C'mon!"
The door was unlocked and Rick looked puzzled at me, holding a towel in his hands. "Alex? What...?"
I pushed him aside and managed to get to the john before I violently threw up. As I alternatly spit and cursed Iz, I felt Rick putting a warm, wet hand on my forehead.
"'Lex, you okay?"
I spit. "Iz is a bastard."
He paused. "Why?"
"He looped me." I spit again, then groggily leaned back on my feet and looked up at Rick, who was looking thoughtful. I drew a hand over my mouth and grimaced. I hate throwing up. "I hate him."
Rick patted me absently on my head. "Sure you do. Why did he loop you?"
"Don't know. Couldn't catch it." I pondered about getting in upraised position again, noticed the room spinning slowly and changed my mind. "Don't care. He's a bastard."
Rick's lips quirked into a grin. "Uhuh. Here. Wash your face." He handed me a towel after wetting it in the sink first. I grabbed the towel gratefully and then noticed that he was standing there all naked. I've seen Rick naked before. Hell, I've seen _Ron_ naked. But for some reason, it was affecting me. ...Yeah, okay, I was getting turned on. Turned on and dizzy. Bad combination.
"Rick. Get dressed. Please?"
Rick looked surprised, then annoyingly knowing. He chuckled and at least got that damn towel around his waist.
I leaned my head against the wall and tried to get my eyes to focus. Also. I like Rick, but for godssake...
I sprang up on my feet, immidiately reached a new high of dizziness and made a hurried crawl over to worship the porselain idol again. I more sensed than saw Rick rushing out of the bathroom. I spit foul tasting liquid again.
"What the fuck are you two doing?" Rick.
"Stay out of this!" Mickey.
"Yeah. None of your business," Iz agreed. "This is between me and that damn mick!"
I thought idly that it was entirely possible that Izzy believed 'that damn mick' was actually Mickey's name. I stopped spitting, got on my feet very slowly and made my way over to the door. I looked into the room. Mickey was standing in the doorway, looking somehow taller than usual. Iz stood in front of the bed with his hands balled into fists and Rick stood between them, towel threatening to slide off him anytime now. Mickey and Iz vaguely reminded me of a Grand danois being attacked by a terrier. I'll leave you to figure out which was which...
Rick scowled. "Wonderful rolemodels you are."
"I ain't no fucking rolemodel!" Izzy said, sounding insulted at the idea.
"You got that right," Mickey commented.
"Look who's fucking talking!"
"Mickey, go to bed. Iz, shut the hell up," Rick commanded, rubbing the bridge of his nose with one hand and grabbing the towel around his hips with the other.
Mickey finally spotted me and ignored Rick in favour of asking the question he'd probably come to the room to ask in the first place. "Alex, when do you want to leave?"
"S-huh?" I said groggily. "Oh. Um. Six hours sound all right? Provided the bloody storm's quieted down, of course."
Mickey nodded. "Sounds good. I'll tell the girls. Good night." He left, closing the door very politely behind him.
I turned to stare at Iz, who had dropped down on the bed again and was pouting. "What the heck was that all about?"
"Iz, I'm going to get dressed, then we're going to talk." Rick made his way past me again.
Iz groaned and eyed the ceiling.
I looked over at Rick who was shrugging into a blue t-shirt. "Should I go see what Jana's up to or something?"
Rick pulled the t-shirt over his head and when he reappeared, he gave me a puzzled look. "Why?"
"Talk with Izzy," I reminded him.
"Oh. That. Nah," he shook his head. "This isn't The Talk. I don't think he's ready for that one yet. This is a little talk."
"Ah." I nodded, then vowed never to do that again. I was still dizzy and moving was a Very Bad Thing. Which raised the question: How was I going to get from the bathroom to the bed? It was, after all, at least five, maybe six, steps to it. I eyed the bed consideringly. Maybe if I moved extremly slowly with lots of breaks...?
I made a mental note to kill Izzy later.
Rick brushed past me again, fully dressed this time in a t-shirt and worn sweats. He got to the bed before stopping and turning to look at me. He sighed and came back. "Alex. Are you going to sleep in the bathroom?"
I hadn't considered that option. But now that I thought about it, it sounded like a pretty good idea. Yeah, okay, so the bathroom sort of... smelled, but I'm sure I could have ignored that for the sake of six hours sleep. Especially since I'd been on the road for twelve hours beforehand. "Yes."
Rick rolled his eyes and looked mildly amused. "No. You're not." He grabbed me by the shoulders and firmly marched me towards the bed. I sat down on it with a relieved sigh. Soft. Sort of sqeaky, but soft. Softer than the floor at any rate.
Iz turned his head to look at us, a strange look on his face. He was about to say something when Rick crawled up on the bed, sat down with his back against the wall and pulled Iz into a hug. The look on Izzy's face was priceless. Confusion and warmth and suspicion all in one.
"It's going to be all right," Rick said firmly. "_We_ are going to be all right."
I almost believed him.
c h a p t e r _ n i n e
I hate sleeping in the same bed as Rick. He always, always, nicks the sheets, and, on occasion, my pillow. Okay, so I don't care about the pillow. I don't use it anyway, but I hate it when he pulls the sheets away from me and exposes me to the cold air. Also, I hate cold air. Bit of an disadvantage when living in Norway, by the way.
True to form, while I was trying to get some sleep before the long, looong car-trip that I knew awaited when I woke up, he nicked my sheets. Which woke me up. I fought the sheets back, fell asleep again and then woke up _again_ because he'd nicked the sheets. Again.
After the fifth time, I gave up and curled up around him. At least that way I could get some body heat.
I was awakened some times later by the feeling of someone watching me. I lay still, waking up properly, trying to figure out who it could be. Wasn't Rick 'cause I was still more or less laying on top of him, so it had to be... There was the sound of footsteps, then someone bumping into something, then rather inventive swearing. Izzy. I opened my eyes, untangled myself from Rick and rolled over to look at him.
He was standing on one foot in front of the kiddie bed, looking annoyed.
"Mornin'," I said.
He jumped a mile high. "What the fuck...! God, Alex! Are you trying to scare me to death?"
I laughed at him.
"Would you two shut up? I'm trying to sleep," Rick's voice sounded grumpily from underneath my pillow, which, of course, he'd managed to snatch at some point during the night.
"Well, you're going to have to wake up anyway," Iz said after glancing at his watch. "It's been six hours."
Rick burried his head deeper under the pillow in response. He's not really a morning person, you see. Izzy isn't really either, but I was willing to bet money on him not having slept at all during those six hours. He's got a slight touch of insomnia, see, but if I remembered correctly he had slept for a while in the van, and hopefully he'd get some sleep when we were on the road again.
"On the road again," I hummed as I got out of bed. "Just can't wait to get on the road again..."
Iz rolled his eyes at me. "I'm going to see if this place has any breakfast. Try not to sing too much in the mean time."
I beamed at him. I know my singing is horrible. It doesn't stop me from doing it, however, even though I suspect Rick wished that it did. The curse of having a perfect pitch. I rummaged around in my suitcase, trying to find something I could sit for hours and hours in a car in. And, if I couldn't find that, then just something that didn't smell like sweat and sleep would do marvelously. I found a brown sweater and some track pants and disappeared into the bathroom.
Fuck. Toothbrush. Of course I'd forgotten to pack my toothbrush. I have a toothbrush curse or something. During the last five years I swear I'd bought at least thirty toothbrushes. I kept forgetting them when I moved on. I sighed and splashed water in my face. Well, I'd have to eat breakfast then. Unless I wanted to be able to kill people with a breath. Hey, could come in handy, that...
I got dressed and wandered back into the room. Rick was still burried under my pillow, not looking like he was intending to get up anytime soon. I grinned, walked up to him, took a firm grip on the sheets and pulled.
"Alex!" Rick growled, peaking out from beneath the pillow, showing off his wonderful bedhair in the process.
I snickered. "Up and at it, Rick. Iz is off finding breakfast and we're going to have to take off in a bit."
"Okay, okay, Jesus," Rick muttered and kept muttering as he rolled on to his feet and made his way to the bathroom, absently grabbing some clothing from his bag on the way.
"I'm going over to see how Jana and Jubilee are doing."
"Yeah, yeah, whatever."
I made my way down the corridor and banged on the girls' door.
"Alex. You two awake?"
Jubilee opened the door and gave me a sleepy look. She was dressed in a huge, pink 'I think I taw a puddy-tat' t-shirt and her hair could almost compete with Rick's in the 'worst bedhair ever' contest. "We're up. This place have any food?"
I shrugged. "Don't know. Iz went to find out."
She looked down the corridor and grinned. "I think he found some." She turned around to shout into the room, while I turned to look for Iz. "Jana! This place's got breakfast!"
Iz was walking down the corridor, slight scowl on his face, balancing a trey with a pile of some unindentifiable pastries, coffeecups, two juice boxes, the little jam and butter boxes these places alway have and... My eyes widened and I gazed at Iz with absolute adoration. Sugar buns. He'd found sugar buns somewhere.
Granted, licorice would be better, but sugar buns were a really good substitute.
"You shouldn't be walking around here," was the first thing he said when he came close. He frowned at me.
I blinked at him. "Huh?" Oh. On the run. Sort of green skinned. Right. "Oh," I said sheepishly.
He shook his head. "God, Alex, sometimes..." he trailed off.
I narrowed my eyes at him. "What? Sometimes what?"
"Nothing... You just. You can't walk around like this. You're a mutant."
I looked at him in astonishment. "I know. It sort of occoured to me when I looked in the mirror some decade ago and discovered that I was turning a nice shade of green."
He rolled his eyes. "We're on the fucking run, Alex. Maybe you should start to remember that, eh?" And he walked past me and soon after disappeared into our room. I stared after him. I knew we were on the run. Hell, I knew that better than anybody. I couldn't pass for a human if I wanted to, all the others could. No, I thought, remembering Remy's eyes in the car mirror. Not all the others.
Jubilee put her hand on my arm and I started slightly as her secrets, now almost familiar enough for me not to notice, danced about in my head. "He's just worried, you know." She looked at me with strangely old and serious eyes. She's seen a lot of the world, for a seventeen year old. For anybody, really. It was easy to forget that most of the time.
"I know." I smiled at her. "Meet you by the van in an hour? Provided it hasn't flown away during the night."
She nodded. "Got'cha."
She disappeared back into her room, and I went to let the guys know. I knocked on their door, and Jackie (Jake?) opened the door, eyes twinkling with laughter.
"Bonjour, Alex. Comme etes vous?"
I blinked at him. "Ca va. Et vous?"
"Ca va." He grinned. "Hey, you speak French."
I nodded. "I'm very multi-lingual. Comes from not being American."
He sniggered. He looked... almost like his female self, but not quite. His male shape was more... square, in a way. Those amazing blue eyes which could rival Bobby's were the same though.
"Anyway. I figured we'd have an hour to get dressed and eat, and then we'll rendevouz at the van?"
He nodded. "Sounds good. Mickey's in the shower. I'll let him know when he's done."
"Okay." I turned to walk away, then stopped and turned back. He gave me a quizzical look. "What do I call you?"
He frowned at me, then laughed again. "Jake. My name's Jake. Well, Jacob, actually, but if you call me that, I'll start looking around for my father."
I grinned. "Okay. Jake it is then."
When I came back to our room, Iz and Rick was sitting on the double bed, happily munching pastries. They had managed to leave me two sugar buns and I went for them immidiately with a little happy sigh. Rick's eyes crinkled at the corners as he sipped in his coffee. Iz was shoving food into his mouth with one hand and channel surfing with the other. He stopped briefly at a news channel.
I savoured the taste of the first sugar bun. Lovely. Firm, yet soft. A bit dough-y, but well baked. With sugar sprinkled on top. Ahhh.
"Hey, that's Trish," Iz said, pointing with his jam-covered pastry.
"Turn up the volume," Rick said, licking jam off his fingers. Iz complied.
"---Mutants. The British Embassy as well as the French and German Embassies have issued press releases saying that they are looking in to the matter and that it hopefully will have itself sorted out soon. In the mean time, one thousand persons are still missing." Trish's serious, if still slightly snowy face looked at us from the tv set. I was starting to think the snow had more to do with the age of the tv set than the weather outside. The weather, by the way, was still windy, but at least it wasn't a full blown storm anymore.
"Look. We're on tv," I said wryly, picking up the last sugar bun. Wonder if I could get Iz to get me some more before we left...
"This is a good thing. I think." Izzy frowned at the tv. "I don't like miss high'n'mighty very much, but she does want to tell the truth and all that. And she supports mutants. Think her uncle or some cousin thrice removed is one or something."
Rick nodded. "I think you're right."
"Which doesn't mean we're out of danger," I pointed out, eyeing the bun. Where to start, where to start... The first bite is always the best, because after that before you know it, the whole thing is gone. Poof! Up in smoke. I can't tell you how many times I've been sitting there eating them, only to discover that they're all gone and I have no idea how.
"'Course not." Rick grabbed another coffeecup. Long live the coffeine addicted. Rick just wasn't alive before he'd got a healthy (or rather, unhealthy) dose of caffeine in his system.
Izzy started flipping through channels again.
"Hey! The PowerPuff Girls!"
Iz stopped flipping and grinned. "Belle kicks arse."
"I can't believe you're watching cartoons." Rick shook his head at us.
I scoffed at him. "Right. Says he who watches Flintstones religiously."
"The Flintstones is a classic," Rick said.
"Sure it is."
"It is," Rick insisted.
"Uh-huh. And so's.. um.. what's that dog's name? Snoopy? No. Doopy. Yeah. Doopy is one of the great classics of modern television," Izzy said, moving to grab one of the juice boxes.
"I wouldn't go that far," I muttered.
"Neither would I," said Rick. "But Wile E. Coyote definitelly is."
"Who?" I blinked at him.
"The coyote who buys all those acme things to try and wack the... uh... ostrich-thing," Iz explained helpfully and a bit distractedly.
"Oh right. Yeah, okay, I'll give you that one." I bit my fingers. Damn. Finished the bun already. "Tom and Jerry."
"You know, they're actually pretty slashy," Iz said.
I stared at him in horror.
"Yeah, now that you mention it..." Rick looked like he was seriously considering it.
I stared in horror at _him_. "You're both bonkers. Kindly stop talking about Tom and Jerry slash."
"You know what's really slashy? The Smurfs." Iz grinned widely.
"The little blue guys? Dunno. They're kind of annoying, aren't they? Don't know if I'd want to slash them."
"Riley," I said, hoping to distract them. "Riley is very slashy. And Gunn. Riley _and_ Gunn."
Worked like a charm. Rick's head whipped towards me so quickly I feared he was giving himself whiplash. "Riley and Gunn?"
"Interesting," Iz said and tilted his head. He's not a big Gunn fan, really, but I guess the suggestion was nuts enough to catch his attention.
"Yeah, isn't it? And they're both sort of soldiers too. Though Gunn is more a vigilante I suppose," I babbled. "But that's beside the point, not that I actually have a point, but, ohh, look at the watch! Time's up, we have to go!" I jumped relieved on my feet, grabbing for my suitcase at the same time, over-balancing and landing flat-faced down on the suitcase.
Rick and Izzy rolled on the bed laughing.
* * * *
"Look! A Coop Mega! Stop the car, I'm hungry," Jake demanded, leaning forward to point. Mickey gave him a brief, annoyed look, but changed lanes.
I had been ordered to the back with the other non-drivers when Mickey had discovered that I didn't have a lisence. I prefered not to grumble about it since I probably would have been sentenced to the back anyway. The news from the radio hadn't exactly become more positive as we drove on.
Jana, Remy and Izzy sat in the back with me. We had pushed the seats up against the wall of the van, and sat on a blanket on the floor. We'd also pulled back the middle seat in front to use as a table. The last couple of hours, we'd been playing cards. Remy had kicked our collective butts in every single one of them. Even Buzzard.
"Did anybody say anything about food? 'Cause I'm hungry." Jana looked up and stopped frowning at her cards.
"Coop Mega, straight ahead," Jake said. "May I have your orders, please?" He twisted his head to grin at us.
"Pasta and orange juice. Give me a moment and I'll get you three dollars. No, wait. Six. I want a magazine too." I started searching through the pockets of my jacket, looking for money. "SFX if you can find it. Photographer or something if you can't."
"I'll have a coffee and..." Rick reconsidered. "Nah, I'm coming with you."
"Wok," Izzy said and folded his cards together. "Wok, water, schticks - Rick, you know what I mean - and the newest Buffy TPB."
"Yeah, wok for me too. But with coke and an issue of Cosmo." Jubilee ripped a piece of paper out of her notebook and scribbled down her order. Not a bad idea that.
I leaned forth to poke her. "Hey, Jubes. Could you write down my order too?"
"Sure, no prob."
"Stew, two meatballs, chocolate milk and Gatecrasher," Jana said. "Jubilee, are you getting this?"
"Chickenwings, pepsi and Whiskey," Mickey said. We looked at him. "It's a magazine."
"Pasta, sprite and pick up some newspapers," Remy said, not even looking up from his cards which he was rearranging for the tenth time or so. The kid is a card shark, I swear to god...
Jake and Rick collected the money and disappeared inside the store.
"Three of clubs," Remy said and looked at me.
I looked down at my cards. Of course I had the three of clubs. I sighed and handed him the card. Remy grabbed the card, rearranged his cards once again and turned to Izzy.
"Ten of diamonds."
Izzy didn't even glance at his cards, he just smirked. "Go fish."
"My turn." Jana looked intently at her cards, then turned to Remy. "Four of hearts."
Remy handed her the card.
Jana held out her hand towards him. "Four of spades."
Remy handed her that one too.
Jana beamed and added the fours to her pile of points. So far it looked like this round would go to her.
"I've been wondering," I said and looked at my cards. Seven of hearts, seven of clubs, eight of clubs, queen of diamonds, king of spades, ace of spades. Not too great cards. "Where's John?"
"In Australia," Jubilee replied. She was changing the CD in her discman. From Coldplay to Radiohead, it looked like. "All the foreigners are there. And Kitty and Bobby 'cause Kitty is ghost-y and Bobby is possible Alpha level."
"Not all of the foreigners," Remy disagreed, looking briefly up from his cards. "The fliers are with Monet in Morocco, remember?"
Mickey turned up the radio and shouted for us to shut up.
"...of seven pm today, the Mexican borders will be closed. Tune back in for more. This is Pam--" Mickey switched off the radio.
The van was silent.
"Okay," Jubilee said finally. "Now we're in trouble."
"Like we needed anymore of that," Izzy muttered.
"I want out of this country," I, well, whined. "I don't like it here anymore."
Izzy rolled his eyes.
"I might know someone who might be able to help..." Remy said slowly, reluctantly. He frowned. "Or, Jake might."
"Yeah?" Mickey had turned to look at him. "How fast can you get in contact with them?"
"Depends. But I'm going to need a phone. And I'd prefer it if Jake tried first. He should have a better chance of pulling it off."
So we sat there and waited until Rick and Jake returned from the store, both of them carrying two shopping bags. Jake slid the door open and bounced inside. "Geez, what's with the gloom, guys? You look like someone just died." He paused and looked horrified. "Oh god. And the award for the most tactless comment goes to Jacob Gavin junior yet again."
Izzy looked angry. Rick quickly dug into one of his bags and handed him a bottle of water.
Remy shook his head. "Noone's dead. As far as we know. But we do have a problem. Seems like the Mexican borders are closing as well."
Jake looked relieved. "Is that all?"
"Maybe you don't understand," Izzy said acidly. "But the borders closing equals us being stuck in the States."
Jake blinked. "How so? We just need someone to smuggle us over."
"And I suppose you know someone who can do that for us?"
"As a matter of fact, I do."
I ate my pasta and drank my juice and tried not thinking about how damn scared I really was, as Jake and Remy disappeared to find a payphone and call someone who hopefully would be able to help. Those two were more 'connected' than I felt comfortable thinking about. Somethings are just bad for your health to know about. I'd managed to keep the 'I'm fucking terrified' factor pretty low so far and I wanted to keep it that way. I wouldn't be of any help to anybody if I ended up gibbering in a corner.
Waking up by being kissed by Rick is an interesting experience. You should try it sometime. When Iz isn't around since he'd probably kill you. He's weird that way.
Anyway. Rick kissed me (I knew it was him even before I opened my eyes. The secret thing comes in handy sometimes), I responded automatically, he pulled away and I heard loud wolf whistles from somewhere near by.
I opened my eyes.
Jake slapped Rick on the shoulder as the latter sat back down, grinning widely. Remy picked up a used coke bottle and eyed it consideringly. Izzy was sitting with his back against the shot-gun seat and smirking. Jubilee was driving, Jana had curled up in cat-shape on the shot-gun seat and Mickey sat cross-legged beside Remy. Having taken stock of where everybody was, I returned my attention to Remy, who seemed to be in everyone's center of attention at the moment.
Remy solemnly placed the bottle on the floor of the van and spun it around. Jubilee hit a speedbump and the bottle flew into Jake's lap. Jake looked surprised.
"Truth or dare?" Remy said, grinning.
Jake considered it. "...Truth?"
Remy grinned wider as something evil obviously occoured to him. "All right. That thing with with Warren which you said wasn't a date, was actually...?"
Jake hid his face in his hands. "Oh god."
"That's what I thought." Remy looked smug.
Izzy sighed disgustedly. "Why do you ask such wimpy-ass questions?"
Remy shrugged at him. "I wanted to know. Not all of us can ask kinky sex questions, you know."
Izzy blinked in surprise. "Why the hell not?"
I thought this was as good a time as any to interfere. "What are you people doing? Besides corrupting whatever innocence there is left to corrupt."
"Playing truth or dare," Mickey said, looking as though he was having the time of his life. I wondered what kind of embarrassing questions/dares for Izzy he was thinking about.
"Ah," I said. I thought for a second, somewhat sluggishly. I'm not exactly the brightest of people when I've just woken up. "...Can I join?"
So I joined.
Jake spun the bottle and it landed pointing at Izzy. Iz beamed.
"Truth or --" Jake started.
"Dare," Izzy interrupted, beaming more. "Dare me."
"We're in a car. What the heck is there to dare people to do in here?" I asked Rick who was sitting closest to me.
"Well, so far, it's been kisses."
"Ah," I said, then paused. "Wait a minute..."
"Kiss Remy," Jake said gleefully. Obviously he hadn't much appreciated admitting that the thing with Warren had indeed been a date. I found myself wondering what they'd been doing on said date...
Izzy, being Izzy, made a big show out it all. Crawling across the van, looking strangely seductive considering. Of course, Izzy has a tendency to look seductive even if he's reading history for his night classes, so you know. Remy didn't seem to mind much.
That definitely wasn't a chaste little kiss, I noted.
God knew what the teachers at the school would do to me when they got their students back. Some 40 hours and I'd managed to make them all even less innocent than they already were. Not a bad feat that. Though Izzy would probably help. A lot.
Rick clapped loudly for the performance. "Encore! Encore!"
Izzy grinned and crawled back.
Remy stared at him and shook his head.
Izzy spun the bottle.
It ended up pointing at Mickey.
They locked eyes and grinned ferally at each other.
"Truth or dare?" Izzy challenged.
"Truth," Mickey said, narrowing his eyes. Obviously he thought he'd be safe that way. He was wrong.
"If you could do anything sexually to anyone of us present, what would it be and with whom?"
"Izzy!" I stared at him.
"Shh," Izzy said and waved his hand at me to make me shut up. Everybody else stared at Mickey and Iz, riveted, holding their breath for Mickey's response.
Mickey's eyes narrowed his eyes until they turned into tiny slits. "...It would be a long, hard fucking that made him so hot he'd lose the ability to speak or think, do anything but push back. And Rick."
My eyes widened. Oh-oh.
Izzy's eyes widened in outrage and I could see his hands balling into fists. "What?"
Rick seemed amused by it all, casually putting an arm on Izzy's chest (to keep him put, probably).
Mickey stared impassionately back at Iz. "You heard."
"Duh-duh-duhduuuh," Jake hummed. "Duh-duh-duhduuuuh."
Izzy relaxed suddenly, grinning brightly. "Well, I asked. C'mon, spin the bottle."
I found this far more frightening than his angry look.
The grin widened and Iz arched an eyebrow. Which is something he generally does only when he's plotting. It didn't take much thought to figure out who he was plotting against this time. I wondered if I should warn Mickey. ...Nah. He's a grown boy. He can take care of himself. Besides, he was asking for it.
Mickey looked thriumphant and spun the bottle.
It landed pointing on me.
"Truth or dare?"
"Eh..." Let's see... Kiss someone, have Mickey ask embarrassing personal questions, kiss someone, have Mickey ask embarrassing personal questions... "..Truth." I was going to live to regret this.
Mickey tilted his head and looked intently at me. "When was the last time you had sex, and who was it with?"
"...Why are you asking two questions?"
"'Cause that's how we're doing it. Answer the question." He grinned at me.
There was a collective snort.
I sighed. "All right, all right. Two weeks ago. And I'd rather not say."
Izzy was eyeing me strangely.
"Because I'd never hear the end of it," I muttered, scratching my neck.
Rick grinned at me. "Oh, do tell."
"Yeah!" Jake said, nodding vigoriously. "Tell. Share."
"Is it anyone we know?" Remy wanted to know.
"What is this? Twenty questions?" I knew I was turning dark green.
"No, truth or dare, and you aren't playing," Mickey said, grinning.
I muttered something.
"What was that?" Mickey leaned closer to hear.
Izzy stared at me then broke down laughing, a vaguely hysterical tinge to his laughter.
"Terry?!" Rick stared at me. "Sex-club Terry?"
I scratched my neck again. "...Yeah. See, when you sent me to pick up that lost boyband-er of yours, I sort of... Never mind."
Jake and Remy exchanged looks. Jake tilted his head. "Do I want to know?"
"I do! I do!" Izzy gasped out. "Details, man, details!"
"That wasn't a part of the question!" I objected, grabbing the bottle.
I spun it around before anyone could say anything else. I knew I should've just picked dare. Why don't I ever listen to myself?
It pointed on Izzy. Which, considering he was laying on the floor, taking up much of the space, wasn't a complete surprise. He sat up and gave me an expectant look.
"Truth or dare?"
"Truth," he said, obviously counting on me being to ...me... to ask him a real question.
Moron. Doesn't he know me at all?
"Why aren't you," I pointed at him. "With him?" I pointed at Rick.
Izzy lost his grin.
Rick winced audibly.
Mickey, Jake and Remy seemed ready to bring out the popcorn.
"No." I shook my head. "Answer me."
He gave me a near terrified look, then glanced over to Rick. He did this thing with his mouth where it looks like he's about to cry, which usually happens when he's pressed and doesn't know how to get out of the situation. He looked back at me. "I..." He worked his jaw a couple of times with no sound coming out. "Why... Why would I want to---"
I gave him an incredulous look. "Izzy."
He closed his eyes, pulled his legs up towards his chest, leaned his right arm against his leg, rubbed the bridge of his nose, and opened his eyes again, looking straight at me, eyes suspiciously shiny. "It wouldn't work. You know it wouldn't."
"You don't know that," I pointed out.
"Yes, I do." He gave me a shaky grin which wasn't even a shadow of his usual grin.
I glanced over at Rick. He was looking at Izzy with a shuttered expression on his face. Izzy followed my look.
"This is better than 'Days of Our Lives'," Jake commented.
"Shut up," Remy and Mickey said in unison.
"Ricky..." Izzy said, the almost-crying expression on his face again.
"Did it ever occour to you that I might have a different opinion?" Rick said, very calmly. I was surprised he replied at all.
Izzy bit his lip.
"This isn't exactly..." Rick hesitated, tossing me a not-entirely-friendly look. "It's too soon."
A small frown appeared on Izzy's brow. "What?"
"Yeah, what?" Jake echoed.
"Will you for god's sake shut the fuck up?" Remy said, exasperated.
Rick stretched a hand out towards Izzy's chin. Izzy flinched back. Rick shook his head and crawled over to him, putting his hand firmly on Izzy's face, making him look at him.
"I do think we could make it work, Iz," Rick said gently.
"But..." Iz still looked terrified.
"Yeah, there's a but," Rick nodded.
"Yeah." Iz blinked his eyes rapidly a couple of times. "Yeah, I know. I..."
"See, if we got together now, you wouldn't be able to handle it. I could tell you I loved you a dozen times a day and prove it too, you still wouldn't really believe me. You'd be... You'd become whoever you think I want you to be. And I don't want that."
Izzy looked down. I stared at the two of them. Was it too late to change my question now? To be honest, I hadn't actually expected Iz to answer it. Seemed like I'd underestimated his sense of fair play. Or he simply didn't want to lose. Izzy is a very bad loser.
"What do you want?" Iz said quietly.
"Look at me."
Izzy hesitantly did as told.
"You." A tiny, tender smile appeared on Rick's face. "I just want you."
"Awww," Jubilee said, glancing into the mirror with a grin. "Damn, you guys are cute."
"Fuck off," Iz snapped, eyes fixed on Rick.
I was relieved by it. Iz was starting to sound more like his usual self, which I far prefered from the terrified version.
"Me? You want me?" Izzy put his hand over Rick's, much like he was trying to make sure this was real and not some weird dream. "Do you realise how very fucked up I am?"
"Yes." Rick's smile widened. "It hasn't escaped my attention. I am, after all, the one who peels you off the ceiling when you're in your hyper-mood, and the one who sits with you on the roof when you're depressed so you won't kill yourself, and the one who lends you his beautiful classic of a car at any given day of the week."
And that was all true. Except the part about Martha being a classic. A classic piece of junk, maybe, but a classic car... Yeah, right.
"You guys do that too?" Remy blinked. "I thought we had the patent on that."
"The roof thing is actually widely popular," Mickey started. "In fact, in my business, we have a term for this kind of --" He shut up when Jake whacked him over the head and reminded him about the drama happening in the van at the moment.
"Ricky... I'm scared," Iz said in a small voice, then burried his face in the crook of Rick's neck. Rick's arms went around him and they sat there like that for a while.
"Not to interrupt anything," Jubilee said. "But if we're going to spend the night at a motel, there's one coming up down the road... And it _is_ past one am."
"You're not interrupting anything," I said, glancing over at Rick and Iz who didn't react at all. I look at the rest. "I suppose a bed is preferable to the floor of the van?"
"You think?" Jake commented.
So we stopped at the motel.
Izzy isn't what you might call a 'private person'. He usually had no problems telling complete strangers how he was feeling. In great detail, I might add. He's a sadistic son of a bitch when he wants to be. And that's often. But I still figured he couldn't be all that happy about what had happened in the van. One of the most important moments in his life, and the school brats were there to hear and see him be an insecure little kid.
Not that we - or at least I - didn't already know he was an insecure little kid. He puts on a grand show, Izzy does, but when it comes down to it, it's just a show and he can't hide behind it forever. Though I suppose he wishes he could. He's good at denial. If he had it his way, he wouldn't deal with reality at all. If there's something he doesn't want to think about, well, then he won't. No matter the cost.
So it must have hurt like hell to tell Rick and us _why_ he'd never gotten involved with Rick. Why he seemed to avoid the concept completely.
It's better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all.
Not in Izzy's case. He knew, deep down, that he would never recover from having had Rick... and then lost him.
So he chose not to get in a situation where that might happen.
I could understand him. Or, I suppose I couldn't, really, but my imagination was good enough that I could at least imagine what he must be feeling and why he made the choices he made. If I had someone like Rick, I'd cheerfully jump straight into it, figuring things would work out. But Iz was far more intense than me. Whatever he did, he did with all his heart. Me, I always kept parts hidden away where no one could get to them. It was just the way I was.
Well, he didn't have the obvious intensity Iz did, but I knew it was there. He mated for life as well. Like Canadian geese or something. I thought Rick must have realised early that he wanted Iz, and probably laid a highly complicated battle plan too. He was without a doubt the smartest one of us.
I, and everybody else as well, tended to forget just who Rick was most of the time. He was usually so quiet and when he did say something, it was something that made sense only after cross-referencing it and playing the association game. If it made sense at all. Rick quite liked nonsensial conversations as well.
But Rick was twenty-six years old and one of the most successful producers in America. That wasn't something that happened by accident.
Of course, he was also a half-psychotic, nagging arsehole, but that's was fairly up-front and hard to miss.
Having this happen while we were running for our lives in direction Mexico, couldn't possibly have been in his plans however. And if it had been, I really didn't want to know about it.
"So," I said, weighing the key in my hand. I looked over at them. "Same room arrangements?"
"Hey, leave the love-birds alone!" Jubilee grinned.
I swear to god I could almost see Iz blushing. Which was impossible. Iz didn't even know _how_ to blush.
Must have been a trick of light or something.
"Well?" I glanced over at Rick, shaking the weird thought out of my head.
Rick looked down at Izzy, then looked a bit sheepish. "Would you mind crashing with Mickey et al?"
"'Course not," I grinned.
Jana made a weird little noise, put her hand over her eyes and said, very calmly; "Evil, evil mental image. Begone. I'm a wee innocent child. I do not think of such..." She removed her hand from her eyes and looked over at Rick and Iz. "Such... Please, please, take pictures! Video tape it! Let me watch!"
Innocent. Yeah, right.
"Yeah!" Jubilee nodded eagerly. "Pictures! I can sell them for lots of cash at the school..."
Izzy looked vaguely interested. "Sell them? What'cha say we split the profits -- mmmph!" Rick put his hand firmly over Iz' mouth.
"We are not videotaping, taking pictures OR holding a bloody life show!"
"Mmmph mmmh mph," Iz said.
I sniggered at them and handed them their keycard.
c h a p t e r _ t e n
I woke up, smelling cigarette smoke.
The only one who smoked in this room was Remy so where it originated from wasn't precisely hard to guess. I sat up and rubbed my eyes before looking around the room. I spotted Remy sitting in the window, staring out into the night.
"Hey," I said, softly as not to wake Mickey or Jake. "Go to bed."
He shook his head. "Can't sleep."
I sighed. I then felt around on the floor for my suitcase which I opened. Pulling out a bag of marshmallows, I turned towards Remy again. "Here. Have a marshmallow." I figured, why not? It always worked on Izzy.
He blinked at me. Repeatedly. "Marshmallow?"
"Yeah. Go on. Take one." I gave him my best grin.
Remy eyed me suspiciously for a bit, then apparently deciding that I had no nefarious plots in mind (which I of course did. I always have nefarious plots in mind. It's a part of what makes me so endearing), he stuck his hand down the bag and came back up with three oval, white, squishy marshmallows.
I chewed on one myself. "So. How's things?"
"Okay, if you're gonna keep me awake at god-knows-what time of night, 'least you can do is keep me entertained."
He gave me an incredulous look. "I'm keeping you awake?"
I looked at him and stuck my chin out. He was gracefull enough not to laugh his arse off the way Rick tended to do when I tried it on him. I never tried it on Iz, mainly because just feeding him tended to work.
"Okay." There was a small grin on his face. "What do you want to talk about?"
"Oh I don't know." I looked at him through the corner of my eye as I fished more marshmallows out of the bag. "What about boyfriends?"
"What about them?" he countered.
This time I shrugged. "I don't know. I haven't had one in three years. I was hoping you'd enlighten me."
He flicked the butt of his cigarette out of the window. "It's not like that. I told you."
I snorted. "Right."
"Look, it's none of your business anyway."
I nodded agreeably. "No, it isn't. I'm just curious. I get that way. Ask Izzy, or Jana."
He arched an eyebrow. "Not Rick?"
"Rick doesn't answer if he doesn't want to so it's no point. I can bug the other two into answering."
"Something tells me you frequently do too." He looked almost pitying.
I considered it. "Not as much as it seems like. I usually don't have to."
"They tell you?"
"...In a manner of speaking."
He chewed on that, then nodded. "Your powers. Don't you ever get tired of them?"
I laughed at him. "You think I enjoy being the walking encyclopedia of secrets?"
"But, you know, you get used to everything. Though one night stands really, really aren't worth it. Believe me on that." I winced at the various memories that popped up. I really am young and dumb still. Otherwise I wouldn't have done Terry.
And now Izzy was off-limits.
The next time I decide to 'help' someone, I'm going to make sure it doesn't affect my sex-life. Not that me and Iz ever had anything other than a very casual deal about that, but I can count on one hand the lays I've had the last year sans him. It was truly depressing. I munched down four more marshmallows.
Half a bag later, I was almost ready to wish Iz and Rick well without any regrets. Almost. I looked up and noticed Remy staring at me with a faintly amazed look on his face.
"You almost finished a bag of marshmallows in five minutes."
"So I'm thinking you're the one who needs to talk, not me." Remy regarded me for a moment, then smiled. "But you're not going to, are you?"
I grinned back at him. "Good guess."
Talking about things isn't my thing. Usually I don't even mention the things that actually bother me, until about three years later when I've worked it all out in my head. But right now I was surrounded by people everywhere, twenty-four hours a day, it didn't give me any room to sit and think.
When I was younger, I used to head for the woods (which was right outside the door, so I didn't walk very far) to think. Or also when I was angry and didn't want to risk accidentally killing someone. I'm usually quite docile, but when I get angry, I get violent. It's the viking blood, I suppose.
Here, however, there wasn't a forest in sight.
Remy and I sat in companiable silence while he continued to stare out the window, and I finished my marshmallow bag.
"Right," I said, when the last marshmallow was eaten and I'd peered intently into the bag to make sure there weren't anymore hiding in there, and got on my feet. I curled the bag together in my hand and tossed into the trash. "I'm going for a walk."
Remy tilted his head at me. "If anyone asks...?"
I shook my head. "I'll be back before anyone wakes up."
So I headed off into the night.
Well, I walked through the town at any rate. There were about a dozen houses spread along the street. Did that qualify for town status, or would it be more correct to simply call it a dump in the middle of nowhere?
The latter. Yeah. Definitely the latter.
I stood there staring at the shop window (combined grocers, post office, bank and house it appeard) for a while, frowing at my reflection. Being green's never really bothered me. Though if one more person ask me if I'm related to the Hulk or ask me for She-hulk's phone number, I swear to god I'm going to do something drastic.
However, now the green colour was something that kept me further apart from everyone.
Something that made me have to hide in the back of a bleeding van while the sun was up. Something that made me unable to go outside any time I wanted to. Something... Something that marked me just as surely as Hitler's camps had marked the jews, the gays and the other people imprisoned in them.
The comparison was depressing. I had just brought up the second world war to myself. I hated the second world war. I'd be happy if I never heard about it again. I was an excellent example of how the Norwegian education system had failed in that regard.
I shook my head and made a face at myself.
"Alexander Olsen," I told myself sternly. "This was not why you went outside. Stop procrastinating and think."
I listened to myself, and thought.
Though I doubted everything would suddenly be all sunshine and roses and white-picket fences between them, I knew something at changed. Maybe just a little something in the over-all picture, maybe something big. Point was, it had changed. And with the change of their relationship (from 'shall not be mentioned, thought off, hinted to or otherwise acknowledged' to 'there's something and we both know it'), _our_ relationship had changed as well. It would be foolish to pretend it hadn't.
Don't think I wasn't tempted, though.
I stared at myself for a bit longer.
Would Izzy kill me on sight if I showed up in their room now?
Was I going to show up anyway?
Well. I never did say I was all that smart...
And we _did_ need to talk.
Though we're guys. We could get away with not talking for years.
Just look at Iz and Rick.
I looked in the window, wondering how it would play out.
* * *
"The HELL? This has better be a god-damn emergency or else I swear -- Alex." Rick's triade was cut short as he opened the door and spotted me. I beamed a bit uncertainly at him.
"Can I come in?"
"Thanks." I pushed my way past him.
Rick banged the door shut behind me. "Sometimes I really, really wonder why I haven't moved to Tahiti yet."
"You're allergic against that much sunshine?" I suggested and stopped in front of the bed. Iz was sitting in it, arms folded over his chest, his hair looking truly spectacular and he had a 'I don't want to acknowledge the fact that you're alive' look on his face.
"No. That's not it. Utter stupidity, I suspect." Rick walked past me and sat down on the bed by Izzy's feet. "What do you want, Alex?"
I fiddled with the covers. "Um. I... I sort of... wanted to apologize."
"You wanted to apologize," Rick repeated, nodding sagely. "I see."
None of us said anything for a while.
"'Cause. You know. I am sorry."
Izzy finally opened his mouth. "The fuck you are."
"I _am_," I insisted and looked up from the covers.
"I know you, you green-skinned, mutie freak," for some reason the usually friendly, teasing term made me flinch. "And right now you're not any more fucking sorry than Gally after a night out on town. Or if you are, it's just because you've lost your fuck-buddy."
I jerked back. "That is _not_ what --"
"Oh fuck _off_, Alexander! What do you think I am? Stupid?" Izzy's eyes shot lightning-bolts at me.
"Right now, I'm thinking, 'yes'," I snapped back.
"You so need to get off whatever fucking ego-trip you're on, and realise the world doesn't bleeding revolve around you," Izzy continued and stretched his arm out to touch Rick's shoulder. "And it never did. I didn't come along on this trip because of _you_, I came because of Rick. And now I've got him. I've got someone. Who the hell have you got?"
"I..." I blinked hurt tears out of my eyes and got angry. "You've got Rick? Yeah, right!" I snorted. "You're so fucking scared, you're going to drive him away from you within a month with your insecurities and you know it!"
"At least I would have HAD someone!"
* * *
The quiet voice shook me out of my daydreaming (night-dreaming?) and I turned around. I flinched back automatically when I saw Izzy standing there, tripping a little at the same spot and rubbing his elbows as if he was freezing.
"So," I said.
He gave me an uncertain look from underneath his bangs. "I saw you walk out. From the window."
Izzy looked down at his feet, then back up again, giving me an oddly intent look. "It wasn't... very nice of you, you know."
This was going somewhat better than the talk I'd had in my head. I nodded again. "Yeah. I. I didn't expect you to say anything."
Iz gave me a wry look. "I've never been a very good loser."
I snorted. No shit. "Still. I'm sorry, though."
He blinked in surprise, then tilted his head and frowned at me. "What the hell have you been... Oh god. Jesus, Alex, these kids are bad for you. I think you've caught the angst-bug from them. C'mon." He grabbed my arm and started pulling me after him. "Let's get you inside and in bed. Man. Can't leave you alone for a minute, can I?"
I was too bewildered by his behavior to do anything.
Rick was laying on his stomach on the bed, reading what looked like an ancient issue of Playboy and chuckling when we entered the motel-room. He sat up and wiped the smile of his face when he noticed us. "Alex." His gaze flickered from me, over to Iz and back again. "Hi."
"Hi," I repeated, stupidly.
Iz sighed disgustedly and pushed me down on the bed. "There. Much better."
Izzy grinned his 'man, what adorable kids they are' grin and said; "We obviously need to talk. Or you need to touch and I need to...forgive and forget, whatever."
"And we have to do that on the bed?" I blinked again.
He beamed at us. "U-huh."
"Your logic does not resemble our Earth logic," Rick noted, but he grinned and shifted over so he was sitting beside me, his tigh touching mine.
"'course not. Mine is far more advanced." Izzy crawled up behind us and put his arms around our shoulders and stuck his head between ours. "So. I'm a bit pissed at you right now. I'll give you one guess as to why."
I winced. "Look..."
"Shhh!" Izzy said sternly. "I'm talking."
"However, since you're pretty much the sappy-est person I know, and because I happen to like you (god knows why), I'm forgiving you all you like. I know you didn't do it to be..." He made a strange face. "Mean."
I tilted my head so it came in contact with Izzy's and sighed. "Has it ever occoured to either you that I'm not exactly a saint?"
Rick snickered. "Alex, we don't believe you're a saint. But... You _are_ our friend."
"Enter violin music here," I muttered. "But," I said louder. "This will _change_ stuff."
"Yeah," Rick nodded. "But not by much. Maybe if we were someone else... But we aren't."
I swear he gets off on making cryptic comments like that. "Ehn?"
Rick gave me a quick grin. "You're being incredibly slow tonight, aren't you? I mean, we've always been doing this song and dance with each other, and I can't see that changing anytime soon, so." He shrugged. "Let's just go with the flow, yeah? See where it leads us."
"But right now, I want to get some sleep," Izzy announced, and reached behind himself to grab a pillow before he bounced off the bed and got comfortable in the chair by the window.
* * * *
We actually got to El Paso, all of us alive and well. I told myself that I hadn't doubted that for a second, but I'm not sure I believed myself. Jake lead us to an abandoned warehouse and he and Remy jumped out of the van and went to 'make contact'. They came back after a few minutes followed by a woman with close cropped black hair, white skin and a black oval tattoo over her left eye.
Mickey opened the door and leaned out.
"Domino, Mickey. Mickey, Domino," Jake introduced.
Violet eyes regarded Mickey, glancing over at those she could see in the back of the car, then she tossed her head towards the warehouse. "You better get inside. Give me a second to get the door open, and you can drive in."
She turned and disappeared back into the warehouse, followed by Remy, while Jake jumped back into the van. The garage-like door was opened and Mickey drove into the warehouse. The insides looked pretty much like what it was. Great, empty, concrete floors, abandoned machinery and roting woodwork. There were some differences though. Balancing pecariously on some piece of machinery were boxes of take out and empty beer and soda cans and the lighting was actually good.
I got out of the van along with the rest and looked curiously around, spotting some sleeping bags over in a corner and two young men who looked familiar.
Jubilee yawned and stretched, then paused and blinked. "Ric? Star? What are you doing here? Shouldn't you be in Australia?"
Rick gave her a puzzled look at the sound of his name, then followed her look towards the two teens before returning to unloading the van.
The darkhaired teen waved at her and gave a little wry grin. "Yeah, well, me and Star were visiting my grandmama in Tijuana, so. We thought we'd do something useful."
I suddenly remembered where I knew them from. They'd both been there that time I passed out on the steps to the school, and they'd both been among the lot I'd brought to Gally's. The darkhaired one could make earthquakes, I wasn't sure what the redhead could do.
"Hey, Alex, wake up!" Rick jabbe me with my suitcase, looking exasperated. I gave him a startled look and reached out for the suitcase.
Domino told us that we had to wait here until tomorrow morning when they'd try to get us across, then, if that went well, and Domino had no reason to believe that it wouldn't, Ric and Star would lead the way to some Xavier installation where we could stay for as long as we needed to.
Iz snorted and muttered something under his breath. Rick elbowed him and he shut up.
* * * *
I don't mind sleeping on the floor, I do it occasionally just because, so I fell asleep pretty quickly. I woke up what seemed like two seconds later. I kept my eyes closed, hoping to fall asleep again.
"--Me? No." Izzy chuckled. "I was more like your boyfriend."
"He's not. My boyfriend," Remy mumbled. There was a hiss and a clicking sound, then I could smell cigarette smoke.
"Whatever, man. And keep the smoke away from them. Alex is allergic, he'll wake up."
"Mmm," Remy said, and the smell of smoke lessened. There was a pause. "Really?"
"Not sure, actually. Some times he starts coughing up a lung, other times... Oh, you mean..."
"Could I...? Thanks. Yeah. I was. Well, not really, but I was closer to him, than to you or Jana."
"Nah, Rick and Alex are. Special cases."
"You really want to know?"
"Okay. Well, I grew up in the middle of nowhere, more or less. Wanted out so badly you wouldn't believe it. Not really among the smartest, and I'm far to lazy to do the athlete thing, so schoolarships were pretty much out of the equation. Then some teacher gave me a camera the last year at junior high, and voilà, Timmy's got himself a passion."
"Timmy?" I could practically hear the raised eyebrow.
"Full name Isabel Timothy Wesson. I didn't start using Isabel until Vin found out that that was actually my first name at some point in high school. Can't remember exactly when."
"Oh shut up. You want me to go on or what?"
"Go on, go on."
"Humph. Anyway, I went wild with the camera, ended up on the school news and the yearbook. Vin decided I'd lost my mind. I'm not saying he wasn't right, mind. Swan decided that now was a good time for us to have sex--"
"You had a girlfriend?"
"Shut up. I was misguided and seventeen years old, okay? Yeah, mine. You had one too, so there's no need to look at me like that. Besides, she became my ex-girlfriend rather quickly after that." There was a wry note to his voice. "Then Marc came."
"...No. No, he wasn't, actually. He was just... different. We used to star gaze at the junk yard."
"He made me think." Izzy shrugged. "Can't explain it better than that."
"I'm curious... How old are you, anyway?"
"You seem younger, but you talk older, so I wasn't sure."
"There's a compliment in there, I'm sure."
Remy laughed. There was another pause, which was probably filled with things like smoking and eyecontact and looking around, but I was keeping my eyes closed, so I couldn't tell.
"Do you think he'll ever be ready?"
"John. Do you think he'll ever..."
Izzy sighed. "I don't know. Talk to Alex if you want to know, he's the one with the inside scoop. But not everyone can be Nathan, you know?"
"Queer as folk reference, never mind. What I meant was that some people need more time to face it all than others. And that school of yours," and I was sure that was acompanied by a sneer, "seems like a pretty claustrophobic place, and he and Alex' Pretty Blue Eyes seem close... It's what Alex calls Bobby. I'm not even sure how that Xavier dude looks on homosexuality, so really, I'm not the one to ask. You know, you really ought to ask John about this."
"I have. He remembers important prior engagements every time."
"Ouch." There was a brief pause, then Iz said hesitantly, "Look, he might just be... experimenting, or using you for sex. I don't think he is, mind, but."
"Look. No. I really don't think he is."
"But it occoured to you, didn't it?"
"Yeah, well, I'm the kind of person who sees hidden agendas in everything. Really, don't listen to me. If Stace'd listened to me, she and Ellis would be doomed before they even started."
"What about you and him?"
"...I don't know. Jubilee? She got anyone?"
"Not that I know of."
I fell asleep again.
* * * *
Jubilee woke me at the break of dawn, and we had a few minutes to run back and fro' like headless chicken, then Domino decided it was time and brought us across the border. Amazingly, all that could go right, went right and we got across without any problems what so ever.
"Luck of the devil," Izzy said, shaking his head, once we stopped to let Domino off. "We've had the luck of the devil on this trip, swear to god."
Domino grinned briefly. "Not quite, but close."
"It's more than good enough for me," Izzy said firmly.
Mickey stuck his head out. "Thanks for all your help. We really appreciate it."
"No problem," Domino said cheerfully. "Xavier is paying me." And then she walked off to a motocycle parked behind a shed and took off, snickers from us following her.
"Her, I like," Jake announced.
"She's someone else, all right," Star agreed.
Ric sighed. "Something else. She's something else."
Izzy looked thoughtful. Or surprised. Something inbetween. "If the Xaves-guy is paying her 'cause of us, do we have to pay him back?"
"Good question." We turned to look at Mickey, who shrugged back at us.
"I have no idea. Don't think so, but I can't guarantee anything."
"Bet'cha we're gonna have to _pay_," Iz said darkly. "With our blood. Our time. Our skills --"
"What skills?" Jana shot in.
"-- Be quiet when your elder is talking -- our souls, our minds. Shut up, Jana. He's going to use us as guinea pigs, I just know he is. We're going to end up as mindless, drooling drones chanting 'X is the way, X is the way'."
Rick patted him on his shoulder. "You've been thinking again, haven't you?"
"He will. Just you wait and see." Iz folded his arms over his chest, stared at the wall and pouted determinedly.
Ric glanced over at him for a moment, shook his head slightly and started to explain the way to the Xavier place to Mickey.
* * *
My first impression of the Xavier installation was that it looked like a really big stone. Really big. Like a mountain. In fact, it was a mountain, I realised after a few minutes. We had to pass a gate in order to get there, and when Ric identified himself to the gate-watcher, he called himself 'Julio'. Actually, what he said was; "Hiyah Jamie. Julio here. Got the green guy and his friends, doctor Mickey, Remy, Jubilee and Jackie -- who is, apparently, Jake. Yup, shapeshifter. All present and accounted for. No, I didn't. Because I'm not suicidal. Will you let us in now? Thanks."
And we drove in to the general area, which consisted of a whole lot of nicely mowed green grass. That surprised me a little, since as far as I knew, grass didn't usually grow very well on stone. And if it did, it certainly didn't end up looking like a very big lawn.
"A couple of centuries ago, these people would've been burned for sorcery," I muttered.
"A couple of centuries ago, YOU would've been burned for sorcery," Jubilee pointed out.
Izzy looked over at us, started to say something, then shook his head violently and clasped Rick's arm. Hard. 'You still might.' That's what he'd been about to say. I could tell from the look on his face.
I looked at the... mountain again. I was a little surprised by not spotting any X' inside circles -- Xavier's had that little logo on practicaly everything at the school. Cups, training gear, schoolbooks... -- but I supposed there would be some difficulties in staying incognito if you plastered your emblem on every smooth surface there was. The installation itself looked like a mix between a jail, a mental institution and Akershus fortress. All of it hacked out of the mountain it was a part of. Or maybe formed out of it. I knew a stone-former once. Met him in Switzerland on my way to Italy. White hair, grey eyes, went by Wolfgang, lived in the middle of bloody nowhere and seemed to prefer it that way.
Occasionally, I think he might have the right idea.
* * *
We were met by Rogue when we entered the building.
"Ha!" I said, crowing and pointing at Iz. "You didn't believe me, did you? I _told_ you, didn't I?"
"Yeah, yeah," he sighed. "I should've known you didn't have that much of an imagination."
I held my hand palm up out towards him.
He gave me a cautious look. "I didn't...?"
I beamed at him.
The others were giving us puzzled and 'yup, they're insane, all right' looks.
"He bet me you all weren't wearing all black leather suits on a regular basis," I explained, waving my hand towards Rogue, who was indeed dressed in a black leather uniform of sorts with green borders.
"And since I'd actually met you guys by that time, I really should've known better." Izzy looked wryly over at Remy and Jake.
Jubilee nodded in agreement. "Yeah, you really should've."
"Though we don't have uniforms," Remy said.
"Yet," Jubilee added.
"It's because you're too impulsive," Rogue said, speaking finally. She'd been standing there, looking at us, waiting for us to finish talking.
"Am not," Remy and Jubilee said in unison.
"Riiight. Of course you aren't. My mistake completely," Rogue grinned, then turned serious. "Okay, if you'd all follow me, I'll show you to your rooms."
c h a p t e r _ e l e v e n
I took one look at my room and decided that I wanted to stay there forever. If this place had roomservice, possibly longer. Rick and Iz had disappeared down the hall, Izzy looking for a room which had a mirror in the ceiling (I didn't want to know why), Jana was wandering about looking for ice and I had no idea where the others had gone.
At the moment, I didn't care either.
This was a lovely, lovely room.
I beamed at it.
There were lots of oak furniture, red cloth and the bookshelf of my dreams. It looked as though it might look better with some things haphazardly spread around. I dropped down in the couch and beamed some more.
I could go for being on the run if it got me rooms like this.
I looked around, looking for a window, and spotting none. I frowned. Okay, slight drawback. But I could live with it. I looked around some more. Bedroom. Yes. Must check bedroom.
I got up and wandered over to the bedroom door and opened it. I blinked. "Oh. My."
Jesus. Tigerstripes. Black. Silk.
When Rick and Iz saw this, they were going to die.
I closed the door. How the heck was I going to be able to sleep in there?
I shook my head. Well, I'd find a way. If I managed to sleep on cement floors, I could manage to sleep in... that...
Where was there food?
Okay. Where was the kitchen?
I regarded my room thoughtfully and wondered if I should brave the hallways. I hadn't paid attention to where we were going when Rogue were showing us our rooms, so I had some serious doubts as to me being able to find anything at all, except possibly the lift mechanics room. However, since my stomach was going 'feeeeeeed meeeeee. feeeeeeeed meeeee', I decided to at least give it a shot.
I did wish for some breadcrumbs though.
* * *
I found the control room.
I knew it was the control room by the number of screens on the wall and the amount of people going "sector 4 security breach. No, disregard that. It was a rabbit." and "Team Delta reporting in, nothing new, they're continuing on to Tango Four Gaia."
I took a step forth to ask someone where the kitchen/cantina/whatever-as-long-as-it's-got-food was and promptly tripped over a wire.
A voice raised in alarm, "Commander, my screen's gone black!"
"What?!" The darkhaired woman that was apparently the commander whipped around and stalked over to the man in front of the now black screen.
"I don't know what happened, suddenly it was just..."
I got on my feet, blushing dark green. "Um. Eh. Look, I just... tripped. Um." I held the wire up for them to see. "I didn't mean to..."
"Who are you?" The commander asked, looking suspicious.
"Alex. Olsen. I came with, uh, some Xavier kids?" I pointed at the door as though Rogue was standing there, ready to confirm my story.
The commander sighed. "Why am I not surprised? Let me guess, you're looking for food?"
The commander looked around. "Sek, show mr. Olsen to the cantina too."
"But...!" Sek said.
The commander gave her a look.
Sek sighed and got up of her chair. "Yes, ma'am."
Sek stalked ahead of me to the cantina, opening the door for me and then disappearing almost before I'd had the time to enter the room. The first people I saw were Jake and Remy sitting by a long table, building a tower out of salt shakers and ketchup bottles.
"You can't put the pepper there," Remy said patiently. "You'll make the whole thing fall down."
"Will not." Jake put the pepper where he wanted to put it.
Half the tower land-slided down.
"Don't. Say it."
"I. Told. You. So," Remy said slowly, pronoucing each word perfectly.
"Is that an offer?"
Jake whacked him over the head. "No. No offence, but ewwww."
"Thanks so very much."
Jake shrugged. "It is ewww, Don't tell me you don't think it's ew."
Remy turned his head to look adoringly at him.
Jake frowned back.
Remy continued staring at him.
"You... don't think it's ew?" Jake was starting to look worried. I could see he was starting to buy into Remy´s you´re my long lost love´ act.
Remy continued looking at him, expressionless.
Jake really looked worried now. Then he gave a gasp of outrage and whacked Remy hard over the head. "Son of a bitch, don't do that to me, man! You nearly gave me a heart attack!"
Remy laughed, ducking his head and rubbing it.
I shook my head at them and went to find some food.
Hee. They had tiny little butter thingies. And jam thingies. How very cool. I beamed at the things, spread them out on pieces of toast and ate it.
* * *
"AlexAlexAlex!" Izzy fell into my room, looking panicked. "We've trouble. Or not us. But them. Lots of it. Come on!"
The them in trouble were our Canada bound friends. Apparently they´d been too slow and had been picked up by the military. Xavier´s people were working on a rescue now. Izzy, Rick, Jana and I alternately wandered around and looking at people working, and working ourselves into worry-fits.
Probably quite distracting and annoying, but none of us considered that at the time. And even if we had, I don´t think we would´ve cared.
Eventually, Rogue came and showed us into a different room. It had a huge view screen on one wall, various computer equipment, small tables and chairs. It was all very black, for some reason.
Here, she said, making a wheel of fortune´ gesture. You can stay here and watch, if you like. Probably won´t see much, though. Doop´s out there with a camera, but he can´t risk being seen. You´ll get the headset talk as well, if you like.
Yeah, yeah, yes. I want to know... I want to hear what´s going on, Iz nodded quickly.
Rogue nodded. I´ll tell Sek. She´ll fix it for you. She turned to walk out, and stopped in the doorway. There´s a small snackbar in the wall over there. Just press the yellow button. She smiled carefully and left.
I cannot begin to describe how much this sucks, I sighed, walking over to the snackbar. There were several buttons in a nice elevator-like row on the wall. Blue, red, purple, green I pressed only the yellow. One of the others might only cause a minor catastrophy, but even a minor would be one too many right now.
Zzkrzzt U-go Girl reporting in.
We all turned to look at the screen. It showed nothing.
The headsets Jana muttered, walking over to me to pick up a pack of peanuts.
Dead Girl reporting.
Orphan reporting. Enemy in sight.
Vivisector reporting. Following the Orphan in.
This is the commander to all points. First team in position. Second team, move in.
There was a five minute pause.
Spike reporting. Second team alpha in place.
Succubus reporting. Second team delta in place.
The Commander to Ant. Come in.
A slight pause.
Ant reporting. Second team beta in place. Ready, commander.
The commander to all points. You have a go. Repeat, you have a go.
There was a long silence.
I was nibbling my nails nervously. Rick was running his fingers through Izzy´s hair. Izzy was tapping with his fingers on one of the table. Jana was eating peanuts. She was on her fifth pack when the silence was broken again.
Dead Girl to base. Got the target. Moving out.
The Commander to U-Go Girl. Did you get that?
U-Go Girl to base. Got it.
It took forever before we heard something next. Or so it felt. The watch on my wrist seemed to believe it only took a few minutes, but it surly had to be malfuctioning.
Calm? I´ll give you calm, you fucking - Rick? What are you doing here? Gally´s anger turned to puzzled anger upon seeing Rick. We thought you were cross border. Didn´t make it either?
No. Road blocks. You know.
Iz bounced out of the chair and rushed towards Gally. You! You okay? The others? You know anything? Sure you´re okay? He had a worried frown on his face and the only reason he wasn´t all over Galynne making sure she was all right, was that Galynne would probably deck him if he tried.
Gally growled. Of course I´m fine. I´m very fucking fine, as a matter of fact, and I don´t know how the others are because some redheaded little tart swished me out of there before I had a chance to see how the fuck they were!
I took a step back. She wasn´t happy. I didn´t like being in the close proximity of her when she wasn´t happy. She had claws.
Jana didn´t care about claws. She jumped Gally and babbled. Gally blinked a couple of times, then carefully shoved Jana off and away. She brushed herself down and gave a little cat-ish shiver, before looking up and at the black screens. So. What´s happening?
· * *
I feel asleep before the operation was finished. I really tried to stay awake, you know. I really was worried, but... Turned out I was dead tired as well. The whole rescue mission took two hours from start to finish, and I was high strung on worry the whole time. If anybody ever told you that waiting was the hardest thing to do, they weren´t kidding.
We had only a small idea of what was going on, due to listening in on the conversations between the commander and the people in the field and the overview video feed Doop (whoever that might be) was giving us, but we could not interfere in any way.
Nearly drove Izzy completely crazy.
Inactivity is not his thing, especially not when his friends are in danger. As far as I know, none of his friends have ever been in quite this much danger, but everything is possible, I suppose. I don´t know every friend he´s ever had.
Hm. Wonder if he considers Trish Tilby a friend?
Maybe not. He´s not the type to consider his boss his friend. But perhaps a big sister? Someone deeply annoying, whom you still feel warmly about.
Rick was alternating between trying to calm Iz down and stealing peanuts from Jana. Jana finished all the peanuts, then turned into a bat and went around roosting in people´s hair. I paced and chewed my nails.
Galynne stayed with us for a while, but couldn´t cope with the passive waiting and went to see if she could talk someone into sending her back.
Then Montgomery and Moric showed up and told us what had happened in more detail. Getting anything out of Gally without her ranting and meowing angrily turned out to be an impossible task, so I´d quickly abandoned that idea.
Moric explained how they´d been caught on the border. The military had made the van drive through some sort of dna scanner, and upon registring the X-gene present in the persons in the van, had simply confiscated it and placed the people in it in arrest.
Monty´s eloquence in law had been completely wasted, as those who´d actually bothered listening had simply replied; Martial law and then ignored him. Montgomery had been furious.
They had split the group up. Which was also the reason it was taking the X-Men so long to find them all and bring them to safety.
Since Gally wasn´t talking (at least not coherently), we had no idea what had happended to her, but Montgomery said that nothing at all had happened to them. They´d just been tossed in a cell and apparently forgotten about. They had been fed a couple of times, and that was it.
We waited again.
Then Cassie was brought in.
It damn near broke us all, and Jana shapeshifted into a snake in distress.
She needs medical attention, you fuckers, why´d you bring her for? Izzy hissed, fists tightly in Rick´s shirt.
The redhead supporting Cassie so she could stand straight-ish glared back. You think this was my idea? She insisted. There was no talking to her.
Rick and I brought her to the surgery, where dr. Reyes was waiting, intimidating as always.
We sat down to wait. And I feel asleep.
I woke an hour later. Dr. Reyes shook me awake and told me that Cassie was doing fine. Unconscious due to sleep meds, but otherwise good. Dr. Reyes then sent me back to the room with the screens were the others were still cooped up.
* * *
"What's the story?"
"We don't know yet. Who are still missing?"
"Ellis. And Stace and Ron."
"Thank you. I'll send it on." Rogue hesitated. "I just... The situation is becoming quite... What I mean, is." She took a deep breath. "They have to pull out soon."
We stared at her.
"Even if they haven't found them yet?" Montgomery asked, deeply worried.
Rogue looked uncomfortable. "I think so, yes."
"But they can't do that!" Izzy exploded a second after Rogue had left. "They're heroes, or what the fuck, they can't go leaving them! Who knows what'll happen to them? It would probably be worse than what Cassie's been through! They can't!"
"They can't be expected to kill themself in the attempt, though," Rick pointed out. He looked down at the empty glass in his hand, blinked a little, then absently filled it with water while looking Iz, who was pacing.
Iz scowled. "Of course they fucking can. Didn't you hear me? They're heroes! It's what they do!"
After a few minutes of tense silence, Iz threw his hands in the air, said he was going to check on Cassie and went away, still scowling with a vengeance.
Moric came back from the bathroom and looked around. "All right. What's happened?"
Montgomery told him.
Moric blinked a few times, then gathered himself up. "Oh no no no. That's not going to happen. If they think that, they've got another think coming. Who's in change of this place and where is he? I'm going to _explain_ a few things to him." The light in his eyes was quite disturbing.
I took a discrete step away from him.
Jana pondered for a bit, then shrugged and morphed into a wolf. Another disturbing sight. Jana-Wolf padded over to Moric, bit his trouser leg and pulled him towards the door. "Oh good," Moric said, beaming at the wolf. "You can show me the way. That animorph thing is quite handy sometimes, isn't it?"
Montgomery glanced over at Rick and I, shrugged and followed Moric and Jana-Wolf.
I looked over at Rick.
Rick looked back.
* * *
"They're pulling out. The fuckers are pulling out." Moric looked and sounded defeated. He walked in to the room, and headed straight for the bar, Montgomery at his heels. Montgomery appeared to have aged several decades in the last thirty minutes. Never thought I'd experience that saying being true.
"What?" Rick stared. I joined him. They couldn't just leave Ellis, Stace and Ron. Could they?
"Something about casuality rate being unacceptable." Montgomery rubbed his nose and held his hand there for a moment. He sighed. "They can't risk losing people, apparently."
"The fuckers," Moric added.
"So they're pulling out."
Moric gave Montgomery a glass of something alchoholy and grabbed one for himself. They both tipped it down at the same time. Monty gave the glass back to Moric. "More."
"But Ellis, Stace... Ron?" I asked. Horror was definitely approaching. Big time.
"They're fucked," Moric said.
At that point, Ellis and Ron limped in.
We stared at them.
"Take a photo, it'll last longer," Ron snapped, cradling his left arm awkwardly with his right.
Montgomery gradualy started to look less dead. "They said they were leaving you," he said to his brother.
Ellis nodded. "Yeah. Well. We found them at the last possible minute." He looked around, hopefully. "Stace?"
Montgomery slowly shook his head.
Ellis closed his eyes. "I was afraid of that. No possibilty of convincing them to go back for her, I suppose?"
"We tried," Moric said. Apologizing. "We can keep on trying. Maybe..."
"No. No..." Ellis looked down at his hands. "Lose the battle, win the war," he said quietly, trying to convince himself. "I'll find her somehow. With or without help."
* * *
Iz came in to the room, wildeyed and heaving. He dragged Rick with him and they both disappeared for hours.
* * *
I went back to my room and slept.