t h a n k s: To everyone at the Corner, especially River, Lise, Jono, KG and Mel. Merci beaucoup, people!
d e d i c a t e d _ t o: River and Lise.
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."