Thirty-three

(R, profanity and an angry teenager's assessment of God) John/Bobby, Kitty

Kitty's shy smile was the last good thing that happened to St. John on Day Thirty-Three.

It had taken exactly thirty-three days for St. John Allerdyce to feel comfortable enough with his surroundings to actually laugh at one of Kitty's dumb jokes. When he was eight, he had learned never to laugh at a stupid joke because it had made him an immediate target for the jocks and bullies. After all, between the ages of eight and ten, his nose had been broken once and he'd had several black eyes. The teachers had chalked it up to typical Bad Kid behavior and had sent notes home to his father about what a troublemaker little Johnny Allerdyce was. His father never had opened the notes, just had punched him every time a new one arrived. Hence, St. John learned never to laugh at a stupid joke.

Still, St. John had allowed himself to acquire some stock in the "Xavier's School was Different" ideology. It was his choice whether he stayed or not; he was not at the mercy of his father or the State or Xavier or anyone. Xavier had mentioned some bullshit about legal guardianship when he'd first arrived, but had never forced St. John to sign anything or swear an allegiance to the school or pledge his soul to the rich telepath. The adults left him alone; no sexual advances, beatings, or psychological crap were forced upon him. The professor's benevolence had made him skittish, but the other kids seemed to be okay with it. Plus, he had his own added insurance: he had a pack with Jubilee, who actually had street-sense. If things got weird, they'd ditch the place together. She understood strength in numbers, too.

Thirty-three days had passed with only minor problems. The boat dock incident was almost forgotten and he'd learned that the head honchos distinguished between "accidental" and "deliberate." Accidental flares of powers were met with tolerance and understanding. Deliberate acts meant a lecture and additional chores.

Another adjustment had been the whole concept of instructors giving a damn about his answers on homework and tests. None of the teachers had given him any shit the first week, so he had initially believed the School had been just like every other place he had been subjected to. However, Jubilee had pulled him aside after that first Sunday dinner and had informed him, "You and me? Coming in the middle of the semester? We're like the norm, 'kay? They're used to our crap. Starting this week, babe, you gotta study."

He hadn't quite believed her, so in that second week, he had given half-assed answers on his Algebra homework. Summers had stopped him after class and suggested that maybe he should pair up with Kitty when they studied. It had taken a lot of willpower not to snarl back a reply, but he had remembered what Jubilee said. These people cared. They didn't have any reason to, but they at least acted like they gave a rat's ass about what he did. St. John wasn't going to jeopardize his meal ticket just yet over something as stupid as Algebra.

Ultimately, it was his choice whether or not he stayed at Xavier's. He'd chosen to stay because it wasn't all that bad, despite Mr. Stick-Up-the-Ass Summers' thing about rules and Dr. Grey's hellacious Biology class. Jubilee was his confidante and partner-in-crime, Kitty and Pete were his friends, and he and Drake had an unspoken cease-fire. The two of them still didn't necessarily get along but they tolerated each other. The boat dock hadn't been torched since the second repair job. Drake never made snide remarks about chickens and phoenixes; he in return never teased Drake about the Alison-romance debacle. Plus, the teachers took a sick delight in pairing up Fire and Ice to practice powers. He had yet to burn Drake and Drake hadn't given him frostbite. Things were good.

In those thirty-three days, St. John had, for the first time in his life, been accepted into the upper echelon without having to sacrifice himself. He was still St. John Allerdyce, dammit, who hated math but was good at English, who didn't kiss up to Dr. Grey and Mr. Summers like some of the other kids did, who didn't necessarily care if his homework was late, and who had no problems sneering at idiots. None of the other kids had given him shit about it. There had been no nasty comments about sucking up because he'd been incorporated into the Kitty/Pete/Drake club, no vicious catcalls on the basketball court, no especially hard tackles when playing football, and no physical retaliation.

There had been no repercussions until day Thirty-Three.

Because all the kids at the mansion had chores, he was in the kitchen with Kitty, sitting at the table with their backs to the bay windows and peeling an ungodly amount of Yukon gold potatoes. It was their week for kitchen duty, and he had to admit that he had grown to like the quiet conversations he had with Kitty. She was a huge Cubbies fan and even though he didn't like baseball, he asked her about it because it was the one subject besides schoolwork and her faith that she seemed most comfortable talking about.

So, she told a baseball joke, a pretty lame one by anyone's standards, and he laughed because it was so lame it was kinda funny. She smiled shyly at him, obviously surprised he even offered up a chuckle. It was well established after thirty-three days that St. John Allerdyce rarely cracked a smile and even then, it was because Jubilee prodded it out of him.

That shy smile was the last good thing that happened to him on Day Thirty-Three.

Alvers and Dukes busted into the kitchen, the noise startling Kitty so badly she nearly phased through the table. Dread curled up in St. John's belly because he knew what kind of guys Alvers and Dukes were: typical bullies who just happened to be mutants. A majority of the kids at the Mansion were just happy to be there so they didn't try to fuck things up, but there were still bullies, although they were a bit more creative about exerting their power.

Regardless, bullies were not tolerated. Xavier and Summers had been painfully clear on that point when they had talked to St. John those first two days. Even if St. John hadn't been taken in by Jubilee, he doubted he'd be hanging out with Alvers and Dukes. They were fucking idiots.

Alvers spotted them and smiled dangerously at Kitty. She dropped her potato and it rolled off of the table and onto the floor. St. John knew she hated confrontations and was still a little skittish because she and Alison were no longer friends. Alison had become part of Tracy's and Tabby's group and, according to Jubilee, Tabby had kinda, sorta dated Alvers until three days ago.

Alvers took two steps towards the table. The second the jackass opened his mouth and hurled insults at St. John, St. John knew why Alvers was there: on the rebound from Tabby, this was Alvers's pathetic attempt to impress Kitty. Dukes was there as Alvers' Thug insurance because Dukes was fucking huge and called himself "Blob" for Christ's sakes.

St. John also knew why Alvers and Dukes had picked this particular time to make an appearance; of Kitty's friends, St. John knew he was considered the weakest because of his height, build, and the fact that he needed a source for his power. Kitty ranked higher than him in the powers department because of the "no accessories required" shit. Jubilee was immune simply because she'd cheerfully use her ability regardless of the consequences; no one wanted to be on the receiving end of one of her sparks. No one fucked with Drake or Pete, since Drake was the Mascot (especially after the Alison-debacle) and Pete, well, he was Peter Rasputin.

St. John fully understood the situation. There was going to be a fight, probably an ugly one, but St. John knew if he played his cards right, for the first time since he was six-years-old, he wouldn't be blamed for starting something. He could play by Xavier's rules. He had a choice.

On the off-chance, he might even win a pat on the head, an affection that he refused to admit that he so desperately wanted.

Dukes fooled around with the six-burner gas stove, twiddling the knobs and opening the oven doors, while Alvers paced in front of table where Kitty and St. John were peeling potatoes. The insults were typical: St. John was a limp dicked, bed-wetting, pussy-whipped cry-baby who liked sucking cock and taking it up the ass. If St. John had been alone, he would have matched insult for insult with Alvers. It wouldn't have been that hard; Alvers wasn't the most creative guy and his street-slang probably came directly from the Internet.

However, St. John was sitting next to Kitty, who was turning an interesting shade of pinkish-white as if she didn't know whether to blush or faint. St. John knew she'd never heard the term "ass bandit" before; she was, after all, a nice, upper-middle class Jewish girl from the Chicago suburbs. He doubted that it was used in conversation when walking to the Temple on the Sabbath.

"...So you see, Kitty," Alvers finished with a gallant bow before placing his hands on the table where they were sitting at, "that is why you need to be with me, not this panty-waste of a peach boy."

Kitty didn't' reply. She covered her mouth in shock. Tears were in her eyes and for the first time since he was nine years old, St. John found himself moved by a girl's tears. Kitty didn't understand, never thought she was good enough to be considered "prime date material" according to Jubilee (and just why St. John knew and cared about that fact kinda scared him). The whole idea that Alvers charged into the kitchen and began an insult war to win her over was completely foreign.

If Alvers had any clue, he would have known that cursing didn't impress but horrified Kitty. She covered her eyes during the tamest of kissing scenes on screen and paled slightly if she heard "damn." It was why Drake stuck to the dorky "gosh" and "darn it", Pete opted for Russian, Jubilee swore in Cantonese, and Pete and Jubilee taught St. John a few words in those two languages.

Lovely, sheltered Kitty. She probably thought that "peach boy" meant St. John was from Georgia. He wondered how Jubilee would explain it. It pissed him off that Alvers would say such bullshit in front of Kitty, but he controlled his anger.

Kitchens with gas stoves and St. John were definitely not friends.

Alvers was waiting for her reply, but St. John knew she probably couldn't get any words out. It was up to him to handle the situation before Alvers launched into another expletive diatribe and further scandalized poor Kitty.

St. John had a choice. Xavier had given it to him. Kitty didn't have to befriend him just because Jubilee had dragged him along to study that second night he was there. Kitty was genuinely nice, the kind of girl that Bad Kids like him would never have interacted with except in some stupid, teen genre flick. She was innocent as well, which was why Pete and Drake so doggedly protected her and why those two let Jubilee into their circle; she had no problem with kicking the crap out of someone who upset Kitty.

If anything, he owed it to Kitty for at least giving him a chance. He owed it to Jubilee because she understood. He owed it to Pete and Drake because guys defended girls and they'd kick his ass for not protecting Kitty. He owed it to Xavier because, well, he'd given him back his ability to choose.

"I'm not your competition, dude," St. John said, flicking the peeler just right so that the freshly scraped potato skin landed on the back of Alvers's hand. He didn't even look up. "Rasputin is." St. John scraped and flicked a second potato peel on to Alvers's hand. "You know. Big." Scrape, flick. "Tall." Scrape, flick. "Russian." Scrape, flick. "You are so outclassed, dude."

All Alvers had to do was walk away. He didn't even have to admit defeat because nobody in the school, nobody, was stupid enough to mess with Peter Rasputin. Not even Bigger-than-Texas Blob.

St. John wasn't into the "playing hero" bullshit, because heroes always got the crap kicked out of them, but he had a choice. He was going to back down from the argument because in all the schools he had been subjected to before and in his thirty-three days at the Mansion, St. John had faith in The Way of the School Yard in that "My Thug Trumps Your Thug and Everyone Knows It."

Scrape, flick.

But Alvers wasn't moving. Neither was Dukes.

It was up to St. John to offer them a way out. He continued to stare at the potato he was peeling, quelling his temper. He said quietly, "Leave now and this stays between you..." Scrape, flick. Because he was St. John Allerdyce. "...and me, dude."

It was a legitimate offer. Alvers and Dukes had to recognize that at least. It was the Way of the School Yard. St. John would keep Kitty quiet about what happened; Alvers and Dukes would successfully avoid a visit to Xavier's office, because an insult like "sperm-burping, butt pirate" was definitely Lecture from the Headmaster territory.

After all, Kitty would be unable to repeat what was said unless Xavier or Dr. Grey used their telepathy. To her, "darn it" was pushing the envelope of profanity. St. John would then diffuse the situation with Jubilee, Pete and Drake, much like Jubilee had with Alison that second night he was there. It was all so damned simple. Sacrifice a little pride, the Good Kids wouldn't say jack shit, the Bullies got their fun, the adults would probably stay out of it because they preached shit like "resolving issues between yourselves first", and the situation would be over.

Dukes had moved away from the stove and towards the swinging door to the main dining hall. Odd that a guy who called himself Blob actually had the brain cell of the two.  "C'mon, Lance," Dukes called, "the pussy's not fucking worth it."

Scrape, flick.

St. John spared a vicious glance to Dukes. That piece of shit was gonna be dead if he meant Kitty. One whisper to Jubilee was all it would take, but he pushed down his anger. Dukes was smart enough to move closer the door.

Scrape, flick.

Thirty-three days ago, St. John would have taunted Alvers, flicked his Bic, and palmed a ball of fire. Now, he simply met Alvers's enraged stare with a bland one of his own. It wasn't the "no powers in the Mansion" rule holding him back or that Kitty was freaked out. He was in a kitchen and given his previous experiences in kitchens with gas stoves, he knew it had the potential to be a Very Bad Thing.

Scrape.

All Alvers had to do was leave. Easy. Simple. A little bruised ego and everything would be done.

But nothing in St. John Allerdyce's life had ever been easy or simple.

Scrape.

"So... how much does Pubes charge for a blow job? Five bucks? Or will she do it for free if you do her English?" Alvers's whisper was harsh and directed squarely at St. John. "Heard she'll take it up the ass for a history paper."

There were nicknames, and then there were nicknames. Jubilee had never mentioned which ones she'd been christened with at the Mansion, but Alvers used the crudest and most vicious of the ones St. John had overheard.

Kitty's gasp sounded like a swallowed squeak. He didn't even have to look to know the tears were running down her face.

It took a hell of a lot of willpower for St. John to remain seated. Alvers played the one card guaranteed to get a reaction out of St. John: a direct insult to Jubilee. Bullies were dumb about a lot of things, but the more experienced and successful ones knew how to sniff out weaknesses and use it to their advantage.

Figuring out Jubilee was St. John's trigger wasn't that hard, but the slight itself was so on target that it made St. John's gut twist in fury.

He had a grand total of four friends in his life, all thanks to Jubilee. They let him be St. John Allerdyce, not pestering him to be nice or change or give up anything that was essentially him. Jubilee was the main reason he'd made it to Day Thirty-Three and the one person he felt an absolute obligation to defend.

The anger St. John worked so hard to control suddenly flared.

The thing about St. John's mutant power that he'd never explained to anyone was his ability to actually feel the heat source he needed to ignite his power. The initial fwoosh of flame from his Bic would shoot down his spine like a good hit of speed. Instinct made him draw it closer so he could shape it.

But here, now... it was a bad thing.

He was in the Mansion's kitchen. The kitchen had an industrial gas stove. All gas ovens had pilot lights. Pilot lights were easily assessable because they occasionally went out and had to be relit. Dukes had been fucking around with the oven doors and left one open. That was where St. John felt the Source and where he drew the flame from.

Instinct. He was furious and his first reaction was to strike out because it was the only way he had been able defend himself until thirty-three days ago. He didn't even pause as he tapped into the Source.

But in the split-second between feeling the flame and drawing it to him, he knew what he had done was the worst possible mistake he could have ever made.

Dukes had been playing with the burner knobs as well. St. John registered the faint sour smell of natural gas just as he drew the flame out.

It ignited the gas pouring from the burners.

Fwa-boosh.

Dukes screamed. Alvers hit the floor.

The flames headed straight for Kitty and St. John.

Jesus Fucking Christ.

Kitty began shrieking, a high-decibel staccato screech that rivaled Tracy's. St. John knew the tone. Kitty was absolutely terrified.

He instinctively thrust his arms toward the fire, the action helping him to control the direction and shape it.

This was his fire, dammit. His alone. There was no way in fucking hell he was gonna lose control of it and torch Kitty.

St. John began absorbing the fire. It wasn't something he had practiced here at the Mansion, but he knew how to do it. The initial blast of heat was staggering and he could feel it running along his limbs. He knew that the less there was of the actual fireball, the easier it was for him to control.

There was only one problem: that asshole Dukes had left the fucking burners on. St. John had never dealt with a fire that had an unlimited source of fuel and one that he couldn't easily extinguish.

"Alvers, get Kitty the hell out of here!" he yelled.

St. John's tormentor had only one thing on his mind: self-preservation. Alvers barreled toward the swinging door, slamming into Dukes as they both tumbled out. A plume of fire trailed after them, but St. John was able to catch it and put it back with the larger flame.

"Kitty, you gotta phase out of here!"

It was no use; she was transfixed and continued to scream.

Please, God, someone fucking notice this shit! St. John thought. There are two goddamned telepaths in this place!

"Kitty!"

He felt the fire on the tips of his fingers. Nothing new. He'd done this countless times before.

He made it part of him. He felt the sweat begin to pour off of him.

Drake... where the hell is Drake? Bobby! C'mon, man. The professor makes us practice this shit every fucking day! Where the hell are you?

Oh. Right. He wasn't telepathic. But what the fuck was the point of having two telepathic mutants at school if they didn't know what the fuck was going on? Didn't this place have fire alarms? Why weren't they sounding?

He couldn't hear anything besides Kitty's screams and the hissing from the burners.

He needed to get to the stove so he could turn the burners off. It meant going directly through the flames, but he wasn't scared. St. John had set himself on fire countless times; it was part of his power. He wasn't afraid of being burned.

He was St. John Allerdyce.

He did not fear fire.

He controlled it.

He took a step forward and noted in horror how the flames curved around him.

Toward Kitty.

Who was still screaming.

He couldn't turn the burners off without serious endangering Kitty.

Doesn't anyone here fucking know fire safety? They train us to use our fucking powers, but they don't do jack-shit about 'what if powers went out of control'? Fucking hell! You'd think Summers would at least teach the kiddies to run the fuck away if they saw him without his damned shades. All that crap about responsibility and rules...

He pulled more of the fire into himself.

Jesus H. Christ he was hot.

It didn't matter.

He'd take in as much as he could until someone could get Kitty out of there.

He would endure.

He caused it, so he would control it.

He wouldn't give up, no matter how much it hurt.

Hurt...

He was used to pain. Constant, even. Broken ribs took a while to heal up.

St. John had never gone to the emergency room in his life. His father never had insurance and they had moved around so goddamned much that the teachers had never noticed the simple pattern. It had taken Dr. Grey all of five minutes to figure it out and she had been appalled. Shit rattled around when she got pissed off and, damn, she had been pissed off.

Yet that type of pain now seemed more like a dull ache compared to the surge of agony flaring through his body. Pure heat crawled up his arms and clawed across his shoulders and down his spine. If he paid attention to it -- if he allowed it to consume him -- he knew he would lose. He did the only thing he could do: he tuned everything else out, focusing entirely on the flames he held at bay.

Controlling the fire to save Kitty, who was still screaming.

Scary to think that was a good sign. It meant she was still alive.

He could feel the flames dancing along his fingertips, curling around his knuckles and lapping at his wrists.

That was not a good thing. It meant he wasn't controlling it well enough. That meant more pain.

Because of his father, he knew how to manage pain. It didn't make him thankful.

Dear Dad: I managed to fuck up again. I lasted a whopping thirty-three days before I fucked up. Kitty's gonna die because of me. I wanted to stay here, you hear me motherfucker?!? I finally had friends you piece of shit bastard! Proud of me, you fuck? It should be you, you piece of shit, not Kitty.  You hear that? It should be you, you motherfucking bastard! Xavier's gonna kick my ass outta here... He gave a shit about me. Pulled my sorry-ass off the streets. I just wanted to make him proud. Just once. Just once to make someone proud of me. That's all I fucking wanted. Someone to be proud of me...

I am proud of you, St. John Allerdyce. And, no, you will not be 'kicked out.' This is your home, St. John, for as long as you chose it to be.

His control wavered.

Voices in his head? That was new.

In all the time he'd used his powers, he'd never had voices in his head.

Jesus Fucking Christ, it's so bad that God is now talking directly to me!

The flames licked around him. Kitty's shrieks raised in pitch.

No no no no!

"Jesus, Kitty, just phase the fuck out of here! Please!"

Motherfucking hell! I cursed at her. Shit. Fuck. Damn.

She wasn't going to move. He'd scandalized her even more.

He had to take more of the fire inside.

It was the only way.

His hands ached. His body began shaking. He'd never taken in this much before. Ever.

More. Absorb more. Just a little more. Buy Kitty time. Buy Kitty just a little more time.

He just needed time.

Hello, God? I know I'm just a worthless piece of shit, right. But do you think you could override some of that 'free will' crap and get Kitty the fuck out of here before I torch her? Can we do the whole 'trade my life for her life' thing?

I'm sorry it took so long, St. John. Piotr and Robert were across campus. Unfortunately, Dr. Grey and Storm are not here to help.

St. John heard a loud crash behind him. It startled him. His concentration wavered just a millisecond, long enough for a tendril of flame to shoot past him before he could pull it back.

Kitty's screams stopped abruptly.

No. No. NO!

It wasn't fair.

God? You piece of shit! Why didn't you take me, you motherfucking piece of omniscient fucking shit?!? I'm gonna find every one of your fucking temples, churches, mosques, what-the-fuck-EVER and burn them to the motherfucking ground. You hear me? Why didn't you take me? Don't you dare give me that 'wasn't your time' crap because, motherfucker, it is my time.

Kitty was dead.

He'd failed.

He'd fucked up and gotten someone killed.

Every part of his body hurt.He knew his hands were blistered, and his outstretched arms were shaking now from the exertion. The only reason his clothes were simply drenched with sweat rather than on fire was because he always wore wool. Wool wasn't flammable.

He hadn't been good enough, though.

Kitty was dead.

He knew he couldn't absorb any more of the fire. He was going to blow up the fucking kitchen and take himself and half the mansion with it.

There's no forgiveness for this one.

At least Hell theoretically had flames. He could practice his powers when he was in Hell, couldn't he? No, wait. Hell was punishment so he'd be denied. Maybe. Maybe this would be his eternal punishment, to have a continuous source of fuel for his fire and he would have to control it.

A sudden blast of cold air made him shiver. The flames snapped around him, one striking where Kitty had been as if taunting him about his loss of control.

He hadn't done that on purpose.

He hadn't.

He hadn't meant to hurt her.

Swear to God.

But God was being a complete bastard. When he was twelve, Reverend Boyce had asked St. John why he didn't have faith in God. St. John had replied that basically God was an asshole. God let shit like this happen "for the good of mankind" or whatever.

But Kitty believed in God. She wore the Star of David. Her rabbi sent her pop quizzes on the Torah via email.

Kitty.

Maybe there were different gods, a Christian God and a Jewish God. Shit. He remembered some weird discussion about God's moods between Pete, who was Orthodox Christian, and Kitty. Pete's Christian God was on the benevolent side. Kitty's Jewish God kicked some serious ass in the vengeance department. Those plagues in Egypt were top-notch, scary shit.

Just fucking great. He'd killed Kitty and her God had no problem about laying down some serious whoop ass.

A sob escaped him because he knew he deserved whatever Kitty's God decided to dish out.

Kitty's dead.

"She's okay, man. I swear. Pete got her out. He broke the window and got her out."

Huh?

St. John stumbled backwards into a cold surface. He couldn't control the tremors running throughout his body and he could feel his legs threatening to give out.

Cold. He could feel the steam forming around him. The Cold felt so good.

When he was ten, he lived in Baton Rouge for the month of August with his dad. He remembered putting a wet washcloth in the freezer, pulling it out when it had become stiff with ice, and pressing it to his face because the rat hole that his dad had scored for them didn't have AC and it was the hottest August on record. Even the tap water out of the faucet was warm. That was what this felt like, that ice-covered, scraggy blue washcloth pressed against his back, except this one didn't seem to melt as quickly.

"I've got you, St. John. I'm right here."

St. John? No one called him St. John except Jubilee but that was only on those walks at two in the morning when neither of them could sleep. She smoked Marlboros. He kept an extra pack in his jacket pocket. It was something friends did for one another.

The Cold was along his back, then extending along the rest of his body. Cold wrapped around his arms, bracing them. Steam was everywhere now.

Weird. The washcloth never used to steam.

But it felt so good, easing the pain along his body. He felt himself starting to slump against the Cold, but he forced himself to stand back up. He couldn't give up now.

Just a little longer. Time... they need time... Why the fuck aren't the fire alarms going off? Doesn't anyone fucking know what the hell is going on? Yo, God, you omnipotent fuck! Think you can bother yourself to send a message to Xavier? You can't miss him. Bald guy. Wheelchair. Patrician nose. Tell him to get everyone the fuck out of here!

Icy puffs of air were by his left ear. "The alarms did go off, St. John. Everyone's out front. Just hold on, okay? I've got you. Lean against me, St. John, it's okay. Pete's turning off the burners right now."

St. John then heard a click and he felt part of the Source suddenly stop. His body jerked in response, a fresh wave of agony surging along his arms and seizing his chest. He may have cried out, but he wasn't sure. The Cold wrapped around him tighter.

"I won't let you fall, St. John. I swear. Just hold on."

Two more snaps and the Source was gone. St. John never had a seizure before, but hard jerks ravaged his body. He held doggedly onto his fire.

Can't give up. Gotta get Jubilee out. And Pete. And Drake... Gotta get them out... Only thing I have...

"We're okay, St. John. We're okay."

He couldn't see beyond the yellow-orange in front of him. He closed his eyes. It hurt too much to keep them open.

The Cold against his back kept him from falling. He pressed the side of his face against it.

The icy puffs caressed his ear again. "Out the window. Just do your phoenix-thing out the window, okay? Please, St. John. C'mon. We've done this before. I know you hate it when we have to practice together, but we're Fire and Ice, man. Scott wouldn't pair us off unless there was a reason. You know why? No one can beat us, man. You know that. Together? You and me? No one can beat us."

He felt himself being shuffled, his body half-turning away from the fire. The Cold braced him. The steam continued.

"Trust me, St. John. Please. Trust me. Kitty's okay. I swear. She's okay. C'mon, St. John. You know how to do this. Out the window. Just do your phoenix-thing out the window. Straight to your left. All you have to do is direct it straight to your left. C'mon, St. John. Please."

St. John, listen to Robert. The Mansion has been evacuated. You need to release the fire out the window.

Well, well, well. If it isn't God. So now you decide to fucking show up. Kitty's dead, you omniscient fuck. Hear that? She's dead. She fucking believed in you, you shit, and you let her die... wait... no, you're the Christian god, aren't you? That's why you let her die. She didn't accept Jesus Christ as her Lord and Savior and you got pissed off about it. I've got news for you, asshole. Kitty's God is way older than you and wrote the book on smiting people. He kicked Baal's ass. He'll kick yours. He'll get all Sodom and Gomorrah on you, you hear that?

"Kitty's not dead, St. John. Pete got her out. She's on the other side of the Mansion with Scott."

Silence, Robert Drake!

The Cold flinched around him.

"Ow! Jeez..."

I'm gonna do the prayer thing with her rabbi and send her God after you, understand?

...What are you waiting for, St. John? If you want your vengeance, then release your fire out the window. I am standing right there.

I'm gonna ask for the frogs and the locusts because they were a real pain in the ass to clean up.

Why don't we start now, then?

You wanna taste of this?

Not just a taste, St. John. If you want your vengeance, you must release all of it. Release your fire out the window, St. John.

You asked for it. This is for Kitty, motherfucker...

And then, St. John Allerdyce let go of the inferno he'd kept at bay for six minutes, three seconds.

He was so tired, ached so badly, he couldn't form it into anything except a single plume that he directed where the Cold had told him to: his left. He didn't trust that Christian God. The Christian God had let Kitty die.

The Cold... he trusted the Cold.

He felt the molten energy leave him, pouring through his left hand.

He was shaking so badly, the only thing keeping him upright was the brace of the Cold against his spine, wrapped around his arms, and against the backs of his legs. He pressed the left side of his face into the Cold because everything felt so damned hot and humid, like that August in Baton Rouge, and he just wanted to cool down.

He knew the precise moment he channeled the last of the fire out of the Mansion. His body convulsed once and then he sagged against the Cold.

He was scared. He knew he was sobbing, but didn't care. He'd killed Kitty and then tried to torch the Christian God. He had a feeling the Christian God was going to turn him right over to Satan because everyone knew that Satan was the Christian God's Thug. Or maybe he'd been talking with Satan all along.

Satan does all that deception and temptation shit, right?

"Uh. Yeah. I guess."

He felt himself sliding to the floor, the Cold staying with him. His arms flopped to his sides. He couldn't hold them up any more. He could feel the steam all around him.

Like Baton Rouge.

The Cold smoothed his hair. The Cold stroked his cheek.

"I've got you, St. John."

No one was ever nice to him, except Jubilee. No one was ever nice to him without a reason.

The Cold was.

No one ever touched him nicely, except Jubilee and even that was the briefest of touches. No one touched him like this.

The Cold did.

He decided he liked the Cold.

"It's gonna be okay, St. John. I swear. Everyone's okay."

But... It's not fair. He was alive. Kitty's dead.

"Kitty's not dead, St. John. Waitasec... the professor's sending her, okay? She's not dead."

He felt the Cold touch his forehead followed by icy puffs of air down his face. It felt good. It chased away the steam of August in Baton Rouge.

"The professor says Jean's about five minutes away... Ro's driving."

More icy blasts puffed across his face. The Cold against his back shifted slightly. The Cold was along his arms again, but against his forehead too. And then his jaw.

He liked the Cold.

"Of course, if Ro's behind the wheel, that means they'll be here in two. Mild mannered History teacher by day, Drag Racing Storm Queen by night."

The Cold was now petting him. St. John decided he liked it when the Cold petted him. It wasn't demeaning at all.

"Everyone thinks that '69 Stingray Corvette is Scott's. No way. It's Ro's. The first week I was here, she zapped him in the butt for touching it. He couldn't sit still for two days."

It doesn't matter... Just let me go, okay? I'm the reason Kitty's dead.

The Cold squeezed him hard.

"You held the fire back, St. John. You held it back! Kitty stopped screaming because Pete got her out."

The Cold ran along his face, his neck, and his aching arms.

"It's okay. Everything is okay, okay?"

Kitty's dead.

"She's not dead. God, you're stubborn."

God's a motherfucking asshole.

"Well... you're still stubborn. Which, I guess, works in your favor, you know? I mean, you held the fire back, St. John."

Not good enough... not good. Kitty...

He then heard a sharp gasp. "John!"

It sounded like Kitty. Impossible.

Kitty's dead.

He heard staccato footsteps and a crunch.

"Oh, John." Warm hands touched his face.

He flinched. Hard. He didn't like warm hands. They hurt.

Cold... where is the Cold...

There. On his cheek. Where the Warm had touched him.

"Kat... don't, okay? He's hurt really bad."

"But Bobby... he..."

The Cold held him tighter. The Cold petted him some more. The Cold breathed icy puffs down his face, which felt so good.

"I know. Just talk to him, okay? You need to talk to him."

"John?" It sounded like Kitty, but he knew Kitty was dead. "John? Oh, please... your hands..."

He heard weeping, the scary kind of weeping. St. John vaguely remembered a funeral. Close relative of his... Grandmom, maybe? His mom had cried. Cried like he heard now.

"John?" Kitty sounded so tinny now. Maybe that was because she was dead. "John, I don't care if you're from Georgia, okay? You saved me. There was that fire thing and you held it back. It's not your fault. It's not your fault! I know I freaked out and stuff, but you... you saved me."

If only... if only...

He heard the harsh squeal of car breaks and the slam of car doors.

Oh shit. The police.

Mr. Allerdyce? May I call you St. John?

A different voice rattled in his head. A woman. St. John knew it wasn't that Christian God because the Christian God had a British accent.

Why in the fuck does the Christian God have a British accent?

He studied at Oxford.

Huh?

He studied at Oxford College in England. The accent is one of his few vices.

Weird. She sounded like a God to St. John, but he knew that Kitty's God was a dude because smiting people was a guy-kinda thing.

Maybe the voice belonged to another God. No, it was a woman. A Goddess. St. John knew the Jewish God was probably busy in Israel, so there was a possibility that a Goddess was listening in. He knew that the pagans had all the cool goddesses.

But why would a Goddess check up on Kitty? The Jewish God has a beef against the other gods.

Maybe they were making nice. He laughed a little. It hurt. Yet he wondered who would the Jewish God would send. He tried to remember what Kitty had said about Moses and the plagues.

Maybe the Jewish God hangs out with the Egyptian ones?

Kitty... Pete called her Katya. Jubilee called her Kit-Kat. Bobby called her Kat.

Kat.

Cat.

Cat Goddess.

Oh shit... the Jewish God couldn't be here so he sent Bast?

She sounded amused. I'm not Bast.

Good. Don't get pissed or anything, but I hate cats.

I know.

He'd killed a Jewish girl but a pagan goddess had come after him. It didn't make sense to him, especially since She wasn't one of the Egyptian ones. She wasn't the Cat Goddess.

Cats. Kat.

Kit Kat.

Katya.

Kitty.

No... no... Kitty... not Kitty... please not Kitty...

Kitty is alive. She's the Warm that touched you. Remember?

St. John concentrated. He remembered the Warm that touched him, the Warm that hurt him. He didn't like the Warm. He liked the Cold... But...

Kitty... was the Warm?

Yes. She is the Warm. Can you feel the Warm?

He felt the Warm touch his cheek and he twitched hard.

No! It hurts... make it stop. Please make it stop...

"I didn't mean to hurt him! I didn't mean to..." The sharp sobs unnerved St. John. No one ever cried for him. Ever. "Oh, John! Please, I didn't mean to hurt you..."

The Cold soothed away where the Warm had been. "He's hurt really bad, Kat. Really bad. Look, you gotta promise me something..." The Cold brushed St. John's cheek again, holding him closer and protecting him from the Warm. "You gotta promise me, Kat. You gotta promise me that you won't talk about this, okay?"

"Bobby..."

"Kat... please. Trust me. I wouldn't ask you unless it was important. Please."

The Warm didn't mean to hurt you.

The Warm hurts because I killed Kitty.

"I'm not dead, John. Please." The sobs were short gasps of near-hysteria, young and female and kind of like Kitty's sobs, but he never heard her cry so hard. "I'm not dead. I didn't mean to hurt you, John. Please... You saved me."

Kitty is alive, St. John. She's right next to you. She didn't mean to hurt you. We didn't know that the Warm would hurt. She's saying a prayer for you right now.

But... the Jewish God is gonna kick my ass for this unless... you did the Goddess thing? Brought her back from the dead and shit? Isn't the Jewish God gonna get pissed? He did the Egypt-thing, you know.

I don't know what the Jewish God thinks, St. John. He keeps to himself. And I didn't bring her back to life. She never died.

But... You're not gonna get pissed because she does the Jewish God thing, are you? 'Cos the Christian God... he was pissed about the Jewish God.

St, John, I'm not angry about the Jewish God. Or the Christian God. I'm worried about you. Will you let me help you?

You're gonna keep Kitty safe, right?

I'll try my best.

St. John felt the icy blasts across his face again and then the Cold along his arms. It was reassuring to have that brace of Cold so... tangible. So close. It strengthened his resolve. If he was going to barter with a Goddess, then he was going to make damn sure that the Goddess knew exactly what he meant.

You don't understand. Kitty... It's important.

St. John, I do understand. I'm proud of you. I'm so proud of you.

I fucked up. Alvers... That jackass... I tried. I swear I tried. But he called Jubilee... he said that she... I got mad. She's not like that. Not like that at all. Alvers... he said things about Lee-Lee... You don't understand... Lee-Lee...

I do understand, St. John. You tried to hold your temper. You tried so hard. You tried to defend Jubilee. You protected Kitty. You did so well. I'm so proud of you.

I blew up the fucking kitchen.

You did no such thing. You kept the Mansion from being destroyed.

The Goddess sounded pretty adamant about that fact, so he wasn't going to argue. Still, he was going to press his point.

Then... well... You gotta take care of Lee-Lee.

I already do, St. John.

I mean it. Take care of Lee-Lee.

I will try, St. John.

What's this 'try' shit?

There are no absolutes, St. John. We can only try.

So you'll just try to take care of Kitty and Jubilee?

Yes.

Well, if you're just gonna try, then you hafta include Pete and Drake... Bobby. You gotta include them.

I'll do my best. That is all I can offer.

I wanna hear you say it. You gotta say it...

I'll do my best to take care of Jubilee, Kitty, Bobby and Piotr. But I need to help you now, St. John. You're hurt. And Kitty says she needs your help with her English paper. Jubilee says your promised her a walk in the gardens. Piotr says he has some more Russian to teach you. Bobby... Bobby understands. He says... he says he needs to tell you about what happened with Remy. They need you, St. John, but I can't help you unless you let me.

But you're gonna take care of them. All of them, right?

Yes.

What about the Cold?

The Cold?

Yeah... He managed to lift his arm, curling it around the Cold band around his chest. The Cold. You gotta take care of the Cold. You gotta promise. Take care of the Cold.

The Cold seemed to tense up, the band around St. John's chest a little tighter than before.

I'll... I'll take care of him, too.

Promise? Cos you'll need the Cold if you're ever in Baton Rouge in August.

...Yes, I promise.

The Cold held him closer. The Cold stroked his cheek.

"I'll take care of you, St. John. I've never been to Baton Rouge, but I know about Boston in February."

"Me too, John." The Warm was on his arm. If he had the strength, he would have jerked away. The Warm hurt. The Goddess had told him the Warm was supposed to be Kitty, but it still hurt. "I know about Chicago in January."

The Cold pulled his other arm in. The Cold soothed where the Warm had been. The Cold cradled him. "Pete... Pete'll do the rest of winter. He says St. Petersburg is pretty darned cold."

"And... Jubilee'll take care of summer," Kitty's voice was still tinny. "She lived in Hong Kong and San Francisco, you know."

The Cold pulled him closer. "We'll take care of you. I'll take care of you. I promise. You're my friend."

You don't understand... I don't have any friends.

"Yes..." The Cold squeezed him. "Yes, St. John, you do."

*** Finis ***


A/N:



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