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.
s p e c i a l _ n o t e: This starts off the sommat darker part of the story...
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.