Rules and Rituals at three a.m.

(R, profanity and sexual situations) Bobby/John

It's the weird things that bond mutant kids together. "How I almost killed another student" as a bedtime story was now on the list.

It is the nightmares that remind me how vulnerable he is, the ones that jolt him awake at three in the morning. He tries so damned hard not to make a sound; some part of his past must have conditioned him to be able to do that. That thought terrifies me.

I never ask. Honestly, I'm too afraid. St. John Allerdyce guards his secrets carefully, and I have never once pushed him. I have my own secrets, ones that only the Professor and Scott know about, and there are a few that I keep firmly to myself. I understand.

Three months have passed since the kitchen almost blew up. St. John had controlled the fire and I had kept him focused while Pete had rescued Kitty. How exactly the Professor had finally managed to convince him to release the fire out of the broken window, I'll probably never know. However, I have a sneaking suspicion it had something to do with the Professor pretending he was God.

Welcome to Mutant High, where weird is the norm and you go with what works to solve a problem, no matter how outrageous it may seem.

What happened that day in the Kitchen is just one of those things that John and I never talk about. There are unspoken Mansion Rules, especially those involving near-death experiences and telepathic encounters. Don't ask, don't tell. It's like we're in the freaking military. See? I did pay attention in Scott's Poli-Sci class.

It's that initial sharp gasp followed by harshness from breathing through his nose to calm down that wakes me up. After all, I am used to the absolute quiet of my own room; even a small noise tends to wake me up. It's the first time in almost seven years that I've had to share sleeping space with another person on a daily basis. When I was eight, having my own room was all I ever wanted. At sixteen, having a roommate means everything. It isn't something I would ever tell John.

Secrets. We all have them. For me, having a roommate means I'm somewhat normal. It is a reward for my control. It makes me just like the other kids. I covet that more that I probably should.

However, having St. John Allerdyce as a roommate also includes some unspoken (and unexpected) responsibilities. Getting him through a nightmare with his dignity in tact is one of them. It's a tricky thing, because John Allerdyce is ferociously independent. Nightmares or not, he refuses help and probably considers asking a weakness. He still doesn't really trust us, even after almost four months at the Mansion. He seems to be waiting to be thrown out. Even Jubilee has gotten over that particular skittishness.

So I do the nightmare thing. Three months ago, when I had held him and tried like hell to freeze the fire he was controlling so he would have some measure of relief, he had begun identifying me as the Cold. It was one of those hysteria-induced hallucinations, when he separated things out to make sense of what was happening.

Oddly, I kinda understand it. It had been Warren who had found me on the roof of the Mansion when I had been ready to take a leap because I'd believed I'd killed Remy. It had been Warren who had scooped me up and had flown me around for what felt like hours, until he had settled me on the boatdock, flexed his wings around me, and told me it was okay. I had cried myself to sleep that night and ended up in Warren's bed, with Warren's wings around me.

Ladies and gentleman, I -- Bobby Drake -- have shared a bed with the heir of the Worthington Industries fortune: Mister Warren Worthington the Third himself. He even gave me one of his feathers as a talisman; it's currently in my bottom dresser drawer.

I have a feather and St. John has me.

It's the weird things that bond mutant kids together, you know.

Tonight, I slide out of bed, pad over to his side of the room, and maneuver myself carefully behind him. As long as he doesn't actually see me, things are okay. He has his eyes closed and even in the darkness, I can see the tears sliding down his cheeks. The bright green light from his alarm clock highlights the moisture on his face.

John is still tetchy around us, although he allows Jubilee to hang all over him. During Iron Chef and wrestling, she even sits on his lap, which is something I know Scott and Jean don't approve of, but they never break them up. It had taken two weeks after the Kitchen Incident before John finally allowed Kitty to loop her arm around his. Now she sometimes rests her head against his shoulder if she's sitting next to him on the couch. Once, she even fell asleep with her head on his lap. I don't know who was shocked more, John or us because it was our notoriously prudish Kitty curled up not-so-politely around John.

Pete can occasionally get away with a light clap on the shoulder. Scott had tried that once after John had put on a particularly vivid and controlled display of his powers, the "good job" kind of pat Scott gives all of us. He had dropped his lighter, and since everyone knows John and his Bics are inseparable, such a thing meant Scott had spooked the hell out of him. I had been the only witness besides Scott because we always practice powers together. John had glared at me, daring me to make a comment, and Scott had backed away, thoroughly embarrassed.

Secrets. Don't ask. Don't tell. No problem.

Jean and Ro aren't on the "Allowed to Touch John List" either, except for when it's something medical-related. In those first two days after the Kitchen Incident, when Jean had been the one to change the bandages on his hands, John kinda had bared his teeth at her in a grimace but had never said a word. Pete and I re-bandaged his hands just once each; the vicious glint from John had unnerved me so badly that I had frosted up the bedroom.

Pete, of course, hadn't missed a beat when John had glowered at him. He had called over Kitty and Jubilee and had showed them how to swap out the gauze pads and properly reapply the wraps and tape. The girls had taken over bandage-duties from there.

The only reason why I'm on The List is because I can bring him down off the nightmares. Yet there are rules and one of them is that he doesn't see me. He doesn't trust me as Bobby Drake but only as "The Cold", that persona he identified in the Kitchen those months ago. If John actually sees that it's me comforting him, all bets are off and he'll leave the room for a while. I followed him once. He went to the walk-in freezer and stayed for about twenty minutes.

Like I said, welcome to Mutant High, where you go with what works no matter how weird it sounds.

Other rules include: no sitting face-to-face, no thwacking him or shaking his shoulders to wake him up, and under no circumstances call him "Johnny." For a wiry guy, he can certainly punch hard; I had a bruise on my upper arm for over a week the first and only time I called him Johnny.

"Dead," he spits out.

It was a bad one. He hasn't let go of the sheets just yet and his trembling is almost making the bed vibrate. I wrap my arms around him, pull him back against my chest, and begin the "Fire/Ice Really Bad Nightmare" ritual.

It's always the same nightmare. I know how to respond. "Kitty's okay, man. I swear. Pete got her out. She's okay."

I concentrate on cooling the temperature of the room. Not too much, because I don't want ice crystals on his Nine Inch Nails posters. He gets really pissed off when his posters are water-damaged. He never says anything about it, which is odd. He lets me know in other ways he's angry; his favorite (and most effective) is to loudly pencil-drum a Nine Inch Nails song while I'm trying to work on my Brit Lit essays. He knows Brit Lit is my worst class.

However, John hadn't protested the Professor changing room assignments; three days after the Kitchen Incident, Pete and I had traded spaces. Jubilee had bunked up with Kitty and Alison had moved in with Tabby. Those involved never asked why. Part of me wonders if there wasn't some psychic gloss behind all of it. I had asked Scott one time, but he had avoided answering the question altogether. Either he knew and didn't want to tell me, or he was questioning the Professor himself.

Don't ask. Don't tell. No problem.

"I've got you, St. John." God knows, I never call him that in public. Whoever St. John Allerdyce really is, there is a distinct difference between John "I'll roast your ass with fire" Allerdyce and St. John "I suffer from shitty nightmares" Allerdyce.

Again, it is something I never question.

It isn't my place.

Usually, those opening statements get him to calm down a little. It's the ritual thing. It took a couple of times for me to get it right - par for the course, as Warren would say - but I knew certain phrases and certain words calmed him. As long as I pretended I was The Cold, that hysteria-induced persona he had created back in the Kitchen, things were okay.

Not tonight.

"Dead," he whispers as he leans into me.

St. John associates The Cold with comfort. During that first week of rooming with him, careful consultation with the Professor helped me come to that conclusion. I'm not ratting out him with my conversations with the Professor, because I've been where he is now. I understand. Warren and Scott helped me through my screaming fits and I know they had to have consulted the Professor; I had simply done the same.

"Not dead," I tell him and hold him closer. "Pete got her out. That's why you can't hear her any more." It's always the same phrases, same sentences. The Professor said once that key words sometimes help center a frantic person. I've found this particular combination to be the most effective. "Pete broke the window and got her out. Pete took her to the other side of the Mansion, to Scott and the others. She's okay."

St. John is shirtless tonight and the sheet pools around his waist. The first night we shared the room, I hadn't really been surprised how much clothing he wore to bed. He had been ready to bolt in the middle of the night, because he had firmly believed the Professor was going to kick him out because of the Kitchen Incident. I don't know who or what convinced him to stay, but he had.

As the weeks wore on, though, he had gone from fully clothed to half-naked. Not that I stare or anything, but I observe because the Professor suggested that it was a way to get to know him. Not that the Professor suggested I stare at St. John in his skivvies, but well... to observe.

"Dead," he repeats, his breathing harsh and erratic. For the first time, he sobs aloud.

This is new. He has never made a sound like that after a nightmare. Shit. This means it is worse than the one last week, when it had taken me almost twenty minutes to convince him that Kitty was alive and the Professor wasn't going to kick him out. I had been so frustrated that I had almost dragged him down to Kitty's room to prove it.

He presses his back against my chest, turning his face to my shoulder.

"Not dead," I tell him, but he continues to cry. I feel his tears soaking my shirt, and this is a very bad thing because John Allerdyce does not shed tears. Even when he had dislocated his shoulder and sprained his wrist playing football last month - two very painful injuries I'm very familiar with from snowboarding - he hadn't cried.

The Cold comforts him but St. John is not calming down. If anything, he is becoming more agitated.

I'm not risking lowering the room temperature anymore, which means I have one option: getting rid of the T-shirt. If he feels more cold, he sometimes calms down faster. I let go and he yelps. It echoes loud in the room, but that's perhaps because I am used to how quiet St. John is at night. I manage to pull my T-shirt off with one hand and fling it to the floor. I reposition myself so that my back is against the headboard and he is between my outstretched legs. I kick the sheets down to accomplish that trick and only then realize that he is only wearing tighty-whities.

Great. Me only wearing my sleep shorts and boxers and him clad in tighty-whities. Jubilee would have a field day with this sight. She'd never tease St. John, but she would be merciless with me. She'd commission Pete to do a portrait.

I pull him closer to me and he presses his entire body against mine. Back to chest, face to shoulder, arms to arms, and legs to legs. His feverish, sweaty skin is slick against my colder-than-normal skin.

Grounding, the Professor had called it. Once when I had once run blindly through the halls after a crappy nightmare, the only thing that had stopped me was the feel of Warren's wings as they had snapped around me, cocooning me in brilliant white feathers. There had been absolutely nothing sexual about what happened: I had nightmare, Warren had been awake, and Warren had kept me from taking the Giant Leap from the Mansion rooftop. I think it's why I have an affinity for down pillows and comforters.

Jeez. No wonder the Professor's a psychologist.

"Dead," St. John says again. "Dead." He edges up closer, leaning into the embrace.

I untangle my right arm so I could stroke the side of his face like I had done that first time. It's tricky thing, touching St. John with such familiarity, because him lashing out in such a position means a sharp elbow to the ribs or belly. The rest of him may have somewhat recovered from months of starvation on the streets, but his elbows remain lethally sharp.

"Kitty's not dead," I tell him again.

"Not Kitty...." He sounds irritated that I'm not getting the point, but I know this nightmare. It's always the same....

Isn't it?

"Kitty's not dead," I growl, complete with a hard squeeze and a little shake. That's what had triggered him out of it last time.

"Kitty's not dead," he echoes with such shallowness that it scares me. Usually that verbal acknowledgment means the end of it, that he realizes he's having nightmare and he's okay. He trembles a little more, twists a bit. His next whisper is full of pain. "Bobby...."

What?

He never calls me Bobby. Three months of being the guy's roommate and he never addresses me by my first name. It's usually Drake or "dude". When he's joking around with me (a rare thing), he opts for Frosty, which is Pete's nickname for me. Once while practicing our powers, he called me Popsicle; my temper flared because that had been my nickname in grade school and I hated it. I had flash-frozen the lawn around us. John had never asked why and I had never explained.

Secrets. Don't ask. Don't tell. No problem. I don't call him Johnny. He doesn't call me Popsicle.

St. John pulls my other arm tightly around him while twisting slightly to meet my touch. Again, this is new. He tolerates my touch because it's the only thing that calms him down. He's never actively sought it, never curled up against me like he's doing now.

Then he whispers, "You don't understand...." His fingers tighten around my arm; his other hand clutches my thigh hard. A few shaky breaths later, he says, "I killed Bobby."

The words are like a punch to my gut.

Jesus H. Christ.

This is something I am not prepared to handle. Entirely new situations and I are not friends. I don't handle them well. My nerves take over and my decision-making abilities go out the window.

I glance around; John's side of the room is now coated in a light frost.

"I fucking killed Bobby," he cries again and his whole body shakes with sobs.

What in the hell do I say?

I hold him closer and begin to smooth his hair, petting him like I would my cat. Risky as hell, because St. John could interpret it as demeaning, but it calms me as much as it hopefully calms him.

Me? He's freaking out because he thought he killed me? We share a room. We practice powers together. We put up with each other because Kitty, Pete and Jubilee are our mutual friends. I'm better friends with Neal, Sam and Jamie than I am with John. I know that Neal has a brother named Sanjit, Sam is from Cumberland, Kentucky, and Jamie prefers the sport of curling to ice hockey. I know whom they consider the hotties in the Mansion and their stances on the Jean vs. Ro debate. Sam's vote is for Jean and Neal's is for Ro; Jamie always smirks, creates a double, and asks why he should choose.

John and I don't talk about stuff like that. We never have. I know what music he likes just because he tortures me with it while we're studying. I know what foods he eats because we share a table at meals; he hates macaroni and cheese, most rice dishes, and anything with beans in it. If Ro cooked for him, he'd starve. But that's all I really know.

Yet here he is, spazzing out because in his nightmare, his powers killed me.

Then again, I could be full of it. I remember when my Remy Death Dream changed to the Warren Death Dream. It had been the weekend Warren had left for college. Scott had to blast through two feet of ice to get me out of my room. The Professor later said the stress from the change had freaked me out, changing the star of my worst nightmare to Warren because of my feelings of abandonment.

I hadn't argued because no one really argues with the Professor. Remy had, but Remy had only last a year at the Mansion.

Regardless, nothing had drastically changed for St. John in the past few days, or at least nothing that I knew of. He doesn't get letters from home; he scoffs at mine. God help me if he ever saw the prayer cards Nana Drake sends me for the holidays and my birthday; Kitty is the only one besides the adults who know about them.

No one calls John at the Mansion; he smirks at me when I'm called to the phone. He isn't fighting with anyone that I know of; last night, he had sat on the couch while we watched The Mummy Returns with Kitty on one side of him and Jubilee on the other. There are no pending tests, projects, or papers for him to be stressed about, if John ever got stressed about schoolwork (doubtful). He hadn't recently gotten into trouble either.

It is why him freaking out this badly freaks me out just as equally.

His death grip on my thigh hurts. His nails are blunt, his fingers are incredibly strong, and I know I'm going to have a very interesting bruise in the morning.

"St. John...." I search for something to say, anything really as I run my fingers through his hair. I'm on my own. At 3:24 a.m., there's no Jubilee to bail me out, no Pete to drop hints about what to say, and no Professor to telepathically dispense sage advice on how to handle one emotionally spazzing St. John Allerdyce. Just me, Bobby "Foot Perpetually in his Mouth" Drake, and I have no clue what to say.

"I killed Bobby," he chokes out.

"It's just a dream," I tell him. My nerves are shot now; I can see my breath. Great. Frost will probably be everywhere. Fan-freaking-tastic. I left my history paper out on my desk like a dumb ass.

Welcome to Mutant High, where the teachers will actually believe the excuse that 'my powers destroyed my homework.'

"You had a nightmare, St. John. Everyone's okay. I swear." I repeat that a few times, continuing to smooth his sweat-soaked hair and hoping I'm not leaving too many ice crystals behind.

His breathing evens out a little and the hold on my thigh eases. "Bobby...."

"Everyone's okay. I swear." I feel his skin goose-pimple, but he isn't shivering. Instead, he's shifting again, somehow molding himself even closer to me. He's never been like this before, so... intimate. There's really no other way to describe it.

Two half-naked guys, one in the aftermath throes of a nightmare and the other comforting him. One trying like hell to completely occupy the same space as the other.

My thoughts turn South. A Bad Thing. A hard-on poking into St. John's back is not a Good Thing. I don't know why it's happening.

It's John for Christ's sake. He barely tolerates me as his roommate.

John is a guy and, well, I don't like guys.

I think.

Shit.

Focus. Focus on the problem. St. John is scared witless and is convinced he killed me in his dream. I check the clock: 3:33 a.m. This has gone on longer than any of his other nightmares.

"St. John..."

"Bobby?" His tone of voice has changed. He's awake. He's aware. He knows what's going on. His whole body tenses.

My mouth goes dry. How in the hell should I answer? Yet before I can figure that out, I hear myself saying, "Yeah?"

Shit. I go completely still. I broke the freaking rules.

He lets go of my thigh. He'll probably slug me next, because we're half-naked, wrapped around each other, and I have a hard-on that I know he can feel. This is total invasion of his personal space, which he wears like plate armor except around Jubilee and Kitty.

The hand that was on my thigh now curls around my arms.

Okay. Good sign? Bad sign? I have no freaking clue.

"Bobby?" He asks again, his voice a little stronger, and it feels as if he's stopped crying.

Is he giving me a way out? To talk about myself in the third person so he can pretend it's not me that's holding him like this? But I don't talk in the third person. That was Remy's shtick. Maybe if I affect a Cajun accent, I could do it.

But while one part of my mind is worrying over first-person vs. third-person and how stupid "dis ol'Bostonian" sounds in comparison to "dis ol'Cajun", the other part is saying, "I'm right here, St. John. I've got you."

His shoulders relax marginally. He's not pressing into me like he was before. His next words were whispered and tentative, as if dreading to speak them in the first place. "The Professor... He's not gonna kick me out, is he?"

Now that's a question at least it's one I know the answer to. "No."

"He got rid of Alvers and Dukes." It's the first time he's ever brought up that point.

We never talk about the Kitchen Incident. We never talk about Lance and Freddy, the two bozos responsible for the Kitchen Incident. They had packed their stuff and had run away before Scott, the Professor, or anyone could stop them. Personally, I was glad. They didn't like me, I didn't like them, but by the sheer grace of Piotr Rasputin, they never had bothered me. Lance and Freddy were classic bullies, like Rocky Beasley.

"They took off on their own. When the Professor found them, he sent Jamie and Sam to talk to them." After all, sending students to talk to runaway students has much more creditability than just sending an adult.

"I talked to them too." The second attempt had been an impromptu one on my part, because I knew if I didn't try to bring Freddy and Lance back, the rest of the Mansion would always wonder if their refusal had been because the Mansion Mascot hadn't made the attempt. I sigh, "They were allowed to come back, but they didn't."

"But Freddy belted the shit out of you."

"So?" I shoot back, because I'm so fricking tired of that argument. Three months after everything and some of the guys still wonder. "Scott knew what happened on the football field when Freddy tackled you too hard. He..." That's when it hits me, what Scott really said that morning, not just my interpretation of what was said.

Call me if you want to talk or if you get into trouble. It doesn't matter what time it is or where you are. If you are in trouble, we'll try our best to help you out. That's a promise.

That second time, never once did Scott actually say that Freddy or Lance could come home. I was the one who made the offer. I was the one who said they could come home. Scott just said that they could call and talk to him.

My mouth goes dry.

Drop it, I tell myself, because I don't really want to explore the possibility that I had been an unwitting part of The Big Gloss Over about the Kitchen Incident. St. John needs you, you idiot!

Fire and Ice. There's a reason the Professor plays chess. It sometimes scares the crap out of me, but I trust him.

There are a few moments of silence before St. John clutches me harder. "The Professor... he's gonna get rid of me."

It makes me so angry, I snarl, "Bullshit."

That gets a reaction. He tilts his head up so he can meet my eyes. I don't normally curse, not in public anyway. I think I'm the only kid here who has actually had his mouth washed out with soap. It's the reason I will never buy Dial soap.

"I blew up the kitchen," he says, an edge to his tone as if he's testing me.

"So did Remy," I counter, and I feel my anger dissipate as I offer a half-grin. "Actually, you just burned it. Remy charged up the kitchen table and made it explode. You know, I think the Professor developed his tolerance for property damage because of Scott, Remy, and me." It is meant as a joke, but he doesn't smile.

"Who the fuck is Remy?"

Crap. I knew that was coming. Mention a name that people don't immediately recognize and it is questions galore, especially someone as keen as St. John.

I look away. In the three months since the Kitchen Incident, he's never asked. When Jean had telepathically spoken to St. John, she'd asked me specific things that Kitty, Jubilee, Pete, and I would expect of him. Kitty always needed help on her Lit papers, we all knew he and Jubilee did their midnight walks, Pete was teaching him Russian, and I offered up... I offered up my own personal "I nearly killed another student" story. I offered to tell him about Remy. In his delirious state, I had never expected for him to remember about it.

Maybe I'm just jumping to conclusions. I had thrown out a name he didn't recognize.

"Remy was a student when I first got here." I absently pet him, because I'm nervous and really don't want to talk about this. No elbow to the ribs, so I guess he is okay with it. "He could kinetically charge objects. Kinda like Jubilee, except that he needs a medium...." Three cheers for wonderfully scientific explanations from Jean. "He charges objects, like playing cards, and tosses them. They explode on impact. At least, that's how I understood it".

"Shit."

That's a huge compliment from John regarding another's powers. He always seems particularly unimpressed by other's mutations, even after the Kitchen Incident. I think Scott could blast away half a mountain and the most he would say is, "Whatever."

I feel his fingers around my wrist, the hand that's been smoothing his hair. There is nothing harsh about the grip. He just lowers my arm until it's around him, so that I'm hugging him with both arms.

"You almost killed him." It isn't said with harshness or curiosity. He simply says it matter-of-factly, as if the final piece of the jigsaw puzzle had been placed.

My stomach twinges hard and I tense up. I know he can feel it. I force the affirmation out. "Yeah."

He shifts again, almost snuggling for Christ's sake. "Tell me about it."

My breath catches. I don't want to talk about it. Yet I recognize this moment for what it is: an act of trust. I've seen him at his barest, most vulnerable moments. He just sees me as Scott's Wannabe Kid Brother, a Mister Summers-in-training.

It's the weird things that bond mutant kids together. "How I almost killed another student" as a bedtime story is now on the list. That is seriously screwed up.

I glance at the clock -- 3:42 a.m. I feel his thumb brushing my forearm. Is this his way of reassuring me? I've never spoken about his nightmares to anyone except the Professor, and after that first week, it was only in the barest of detail, usually just the acknowledgement that John had had one the previous night.

I never bring it up to St. John in the morning either. There's a heavy silence. He will look at me. I will look at him. I will shrug. He will leave the room.

Maybe that's why he doesn't share anything else about himself with me. I know too much already. I know damning things that no teenaged guy wants anyone else to know.

He's waiting. I can feel it.

I let out a long sigh. I can see the frozen vapors, but he's not shivering.

I begin to tell him.

Every detail. Every feeling. Everything.

"It's okay, Bobby," he whispers. "I understand."

And I know he does.


A/N: I rarely write in the first-person, present tense. This is another experimentation in style on my part. Stylistically, this was the most challenging. Any mistakes you find are mine.

Thanks to nakki for the beta. Special thanks sent to mitchpell for the crit and discussion regarding roommates. To onomatopoetry for her kindest of offers.

To everyone following the "Fundamental..." series, thank you for your feedeback, thoughts, and encouragement.



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