Thaw

(R, profanity and adult situations) John/Bobby, Scott

Gone was the guise of friendship. Bobby was visibly upset, and St. John's guilt was so obvious the other three weren't even bothering to pretend they didn't notice it. He immediately recognized the situation; he was on trial by a jury of his peers.

Notes:

In a day and age of underpaid schoolteachers, especially those in poorer school districts, child abuse can go undetected. Keep in mind for the background of this story, John had been moved a lot as a child and rarely visited a doctor's office; therefore, patterns that could be seen as recognizable abuse may not be so because of his unstable home life.

Having had counseling by a social worker, a psychologist, and a psychiatrist, one thing they all had in common was allowing me to bring up certain painful subjects. Xavier's approach here may seem perhaps too indifferent about the abuse St. John received, but pushing a subject into disclosing a painful event(s) sometimes is the worst thing one can do.

When St. John Allerdyce was six years old, he discovered that he could snap awake immediately and be almost completely lucid. He didn't know where he had picked up the ability; maybe whatever greater power that was out there had been benevolent and bequeathed him with a survival mechanism. It had certainly saved him on more than one occasion from his dad, the cops, druggies, gangs, and bums.

Since his time at the Mansion, however, that ability had rapidly declined, especially after the Kitty Death Nightmares had started. On the mornings after a nightmare, he woke up feeling so completely drained and disoriented that it was like coming down off of a bad hit of speed or dealing with a nasty hangover. It was unnerving, sparking early morning paranoia and tetchiness that not only spooked him, but his friends as well. Plus, when he had practiced his powers and had a Kitty Death Nightmare on the same day/night, it took a huge effort to crawl out of bed and function coherently. If there was some psychological link (and he was sure there was), he never talked about it with Xavier.

Yet, on this morning, St. John wasn't waking up right away but he wasn't panicking about it. He couldn't quite explain it, but it was like his subconscious was struggling to hold on to a few more seconds/minutes/hours in that protected Good Dream State before allowing him to return to the real world. It was such a rare thing, to feel so damned safe (finally) and secure (rare indeed), that St. John accepted it without question. He liked that feeling. He wanted to hold on to that feeling.

What irked him was that he was chilly. He must have kicked his sheet and blanket off again, which was another new sleeping habit. Instead of staying perfectly still and curled up as he'd conditioned himself to do, last month he had started to move around in his sleep. Six days ago, he'd woken up belly-down, sprawled out and found everything tangled around his feet. It had been unnerving, because he was not the belly-down, sprawling, tangled up in the sheets type.

He went to reach down and pull up the blankets but realized he couldn't move. Bare arms were wrapped around him. Bare legs were tangled with his. His back was against a naked chest. And a hard dick was digging into his back.

He'd gone to bed in only his skivvies because... he couldn't remember why. He just knew he had. Shit.

St. John panicked. Waking up with a half-naked guy was not a new experience. On the streets, sometimes physical comfort was all the comfort one had or could get. It hadn't mattered that he was fifteen; sex was sex. However, he had woken up half-naked with a guy with no memory of how he got there only twice in his life. Those had been unpleasant experiences. He dared not open his eyes, not just yet.

Fight and flight were the only things he could think of.

He jabbed both elbows back hard, earning a surprised and groggy grunt of pain from the other guy. St. John was released instantly, but he turned and landed two sharp punches anyway, one to the ribs and the other to the gut.

"Ow, dammit!"

He tacked on a third hit for good measure before scrambling backwards out of bed, thudding on the floor. The floor was wet, soaking the seat of his underwear instantly.

"Dammit, John! It's me, Bobby."

His eyes snapped open and he looked up and saw a shirtless Bobby Drake, who was clutching his mid-section and staring at him with bewilderment and pain in his eyes.

St. John's brain rapidly processed this new information: half-naked in bed with Drake, Drake had a hard on, and St. John had no memory of how he got there.

It had to be a Bad Thing.

Instinct told St. John to lash out, to strike hard, and to inflict as much damage as he could. He always followed his instincts.

It was what had enabled him to survive his dad, the cops, druggies, bums, gangs, and bullies. The one time he hadn't gone with his instincts, Kitty had almost died. There was no way in hell he was going to let that happen again.

"Why in the fuck are you in my bed, you motherfucking freak? Getting yourself off? Or are you doing this for Scottie-boy, so you can give him a hand job while telling him how you did me? Better yet... howabout Wheels? You doin' it for him 'cos he can't?"

Drake flinched with each word. Then, anger settled over his features. The temperature in the room dropped immediately, and St. John decided that the flux was more intimidating than any look or verbal threat the other guy could give.

"You had a nightmare," his roommate said flatly, almost clinically like Dr. Grey sounded when explaining some bullshit biology thing. "Again." Drake got out of the bed, grabbed a shirt from the floor, and pulled it on. He walked over to the door where his shower caddy and towel were and picked them up. "Me in your bed? That's the only thing that calms you down." He opened the door. "I won't bother next time."

Drake left, slamming the door.

St. John sat there, stupidly.

His memories of last night flooded back, all in bright detail.

He remembered his nightmare. He remembered his conversation with Drake... No. That was unfair. Bobby.

No longer the Mansion Mascot. No longer simply Drake. Bobby.

The details fell into place: why Bobby molded himself after Summers, the pin-up for control freaks everywhere. Why Bobby preened under the simplest of kind words from Xavier or Dr. Grey or Ms. Munroe. Why Bobby played by the rules. The shame Bobby must have felt for having his own room because his power was potentially lethal.

A vow... Wait. That hadn't been from last night. That had been... from... the Kitchen. He remembered the ferocious protective edge of Bobby's voice. He remembered the arms wrapped tightly around him as Bobby swore to protect him. No one had ever claimed him as a friend, never with the absolute conviction that Bobby had.

No longer the Mansion Mascot. No longer simply Drake. No longer that separate persona of The Cold that his mind had created that day.

Bobby.

Bobby had extended the hand of friendship and of understanding. It hadn't been done with the "been there, done that" cavalier attitude that some of the kids had. It had been done with stark and painful honesty.

It had been a gift.

St. John knew that one didn't come across that type of thing just because. It was deliberately given, shared. Yet in typical John "holy shit, what the fuck happened to me" Allerdyce fashion, he had thrown it back in Bobby's face, complete with vicious insults to Bobby's heroes.

Forgiveness for that particular sin would be tough to come by, if at all. Making references to Xavier, the Father, and Summers, the Son... At least St. John's subconscious had at least granted him some reprieve by his not mentioning Dr. Grey and Ms. Munroe. The crux of the problem was still there, though. Insults to Xavier and Summers were not taken lightly in Bobby's book, and the sexual implications... well, shit.

It was a ticket straight back to the streets.

*****

Breakfast gave St. John new insight on what The Powers That Be had to endure when Bobby was just learning to control his power. Random objects were nearly frozen, although his roommate managed to keep it centralized to his own stuff. St. John seriously doubted Kellogg's would appreciate his roommate's version of Frosted Flakes.

He wondered how many times that joke had been made.

"Bobby," Kitty teased playfully, "cut it out." She even flicked a strawberry slice at him.

Bobby shot her a harsh look, one so unexpected that she sharply gasped. She promptly phased through her chair and plopped onto the floor. It had been awhile for that type of shock. Their Kitty was toughening up.

However, it drew attention from The Powers That Be.

Well, Johnny, he berated himself. You totally fucked up. A pissed-off Bobby meant concerned Powers That Be, and concerned Powers That Be meant a nice visit to either Summers' or Xavier's office. And just how do you explain why Bobby's pissed? 'Oh yeah. Mister Summers, I said that Bobby gives you hand jobs.' Yeah. Right. Give yourself up now, Johnny, and maybe... just maybe... they may not kick your ass out.

Time. He needed time.

"Sorry, Kitty," Bobby said, but there was nothing apologetic in his voice. "Scott's test has me keyed up." He grabbed his tray, shoved his chair back loudly, and left the table.

Crap. Shit. Fuck Damn.

Use of First Name of Teacher in Public. No one at the table missed that. The tension around him ratcheted up fast.

Pete started doing table-knife origami, which was totally and completely unnerving to the innocent bystander. If only he would hold up one sculpture and announce, 'Look, a pterodactyl', it would be a little less creepy. St. John knew the spoon was next and spoon origami was even more unsettling.

He didn't have to glance over to see The Glare from Jubilee. He half-expected an under-the-table spark to his balls, which she had become the expert at over the past few months. Maybe he should ask Dr. Grey if repeated plasma sparks to his testicles would result in permanent sterilization. That would certainly eliminate one fear of The Condom Breaking Issue.

He did spare a look to Kitty, who had taken her seat without blushing too badly. She met his eyes, but instead of the tears he was expecting, he saw disappointment, even a hint of anger. An angry Kitty meant he was doomed.

Gone was the guise of friendship. Bobby was visibly upset, and St. John's guilt was so obvious the other three weren't even bothering to pretend they didn't notice it. He immediately recognized the situation; he was on trial by a jury of his peers.

He knew he was royally fucked.

*****

"Everything okay, John?" his algebra teacher asked, a slight curious tone edging the words.

Summers had the uncanny ability to corner a student without it looking like something out of the ordinary. Maybe it was because St. John had lingered a few extra seconds after Bobby and His Trinity of Protectors had departed the classroom. He had no idea. All he knew was that he now had his teacher's full attention.

Fucking hell, he thought as he stood next to his chair. He just needed time. That was all. Time. "Ah... Um... Well...." His ability to speak was obviously shot. Finally, he got out, "Uh... No, it's not, Mister Summers."

Great. He admitted that there was a problem. How fucking subtle.

Summers' voice changed to neutral and unthreatening, with a slight hesitation before he spoke. "... I have some time before my next class."

He recognized it as the 'no freaking the student out' tone. Instead of being reassuring, however, it unnerved him. The Powers That Be were supposed to side with Bobby, defending the Mascot against all evil; everyone in the Mansion knew that, especially him. Why else had Alison tried so hard to worm her way into Bobby's pants? Win Bobby and win Summers and The Powers That Be.

The whole idea that his teacher was doing the whole "neutral third party thing" was absolutely, unequivocally wrong.

"Thank you, Mister Summers, but no, Mister Summers." He had to buy himself time. "It's something I have to work out myself, Mister Summers."

Shit. What better way to attract attention than showing your manners, Johnny?

St. John had the reputation of being polite only when absolutely necessary and never asking for help. The Powers That Be would offer it to him, going so far as to make suggestions as to who could help him if they couldn't. However, he never outright asked for it.

It was now, perhaps, the whole reason Summers was acting the way he was. It was the first time St. John had lingered in the classroom, unintentionally invoking Mansion Rule #3: 'I really need to talk to an adult but your office scares the shit out of me'. His teacher sat on the edge of his desk with his shoulders rolled slightly forward, an unusual stance for the man who was the poster boy for posture. "Well, if you want to sound off some ideas, just let me know."

"Uh... Thank you, Mister Summers."

Grab some flags and practice semaphore, why don't you, Johnny?

"You're welcome, John." Summers paused for a second, and then tacked on, "I'll be in my office after school, then probably in the garage after dinner to change the oil in Dr. Grey's car."

"Uh... um... okay, Mister Summers."

*****

St. John wasn't normally one to make amends. He had learned when he was nine that the effort in making something up to another person was basically worthless, so he had simply stopped trying. After all, since he was five, the longest he'd stayed in one place had been three months. Making amends meant having friends and/or a relationship of some type, and he had never been able to stick around long to develop any semblance of a real friendship.

This was a new situation. Completely new. St. John, who prided himself on adaptability and his wits, had no clue what to do. Was this complete confusion what Bobby endured every time he dealt with a new situation? If so, it sucked. Big time. No wonder Bobby had crafted an elaborate network of people to fall back on.

Still, St. John considered himself pretty damned resourceful and he did know certain ticks of Bobby's. The cleanup after an Icing Incident was one of them. His roommate was hypersensitive to losses of control and would always frantically (and rapidly) clean up afterwards. He hadn't this time, which gave St. John a window of opportunity.

While everyone went to lunch, he returned to the bedroom and began mopping up the floor and layering paper towels on the desks and dressers to soak up the water. It really wasn't all that bad, actually, compared to the description Bobby had given him last night.

A foot of solid ice coating the floors and halfway up the walls? Shit.

A man so completely encased in ice that it required precision optic blasting to free? Fuck.

Yet he knew that at least making the attempt to clean would earn some kind of points, because Bobby had a tendency to completely spazz upon the realization that he'd coated something in frost, especially in his sleep. It was the little things his roommate tended to notice. Details. Scary-assed details. Shit. He shouldn't know that type of thing but he did because as much as Bobby surreptitiously paid attention to him, he surreptitiously paid attention to Bobby.

St. John went so far as to change the sheets on both beds.

Jesus fucking Christ, he was channeling Bobby. Three months ago, he'd been patting himself on the back because he was still the unchanged St. John Allerdyce. Now, he was cleaning up the bedroom to make amends. It was definitely fucked up.

However, no one tracked him down to tell him he was missing lunch. Not even Jubilee. The trial by his peers continued, and they seemed to be content on allowing him as much rope as possible to hang himself.

He wondered what Bobby was freezing at the table.

The Powers That Be hadn't even sent someone after him. Considering he'd been such a stuttering jackass in front of Summers, he was surprised that they had backed off. Then again, why give St. John a few feet when he could have the whole bale of wire to garrote himself with?

He just finished tossing the last of the water-soaked paper towels into the garbage bag, noting that he still had fifteen minutes before his next class and maybe he could grab something quick from the kitchen, when he heard the door open. No knock, which meant that it was Bobby.

Maybe, just maybe....

"Here." A foil-wrapped square landed at St. John's feet. It was the same size and shape as a sandwich. A cold chill permeated the room. Bobby's voice didn't have the same flat quality from this morning, but it still sounded distinctively non-Bobby. "You missed lunch."

The door closed before St. John had time to turn and look. Knowing his luck, it would be something he would actually eat, not that he was picky or anything. It was just on "make your own sandwich" day -- which, of course, happened to be that day's lunch theme -- he was very specific about what he chose.

St. John picked up the sandwich and undid the folds. Whole wheat bread. Four slices of roast beef. Horseradish on both slices of bread. Two pieces of Swiss cheese. Four slices of dill pickle in the middle.

"Fuck me, Madonna," he said aloud.

The sandwich was what he always made, down to the last fucking detail.

Just fucking great.

*****

"A moment of your time, please, John."

He resisted the urge to smack himself on the forehead. It was the second time that day he had lingered in class, allowing Bobby and the Trinity to leave while he stressed about how to solve the situation. Hanging back a few extra seconds in anyone's class was unspoken code for asking for some attention, especially in Xavier's. St. John hadn't meant to do that, honestly. He had just wanted a little time between their departure and his.

"Uh. Yes, sir." He watched as Sharra, who gave him a shrug of sympathy, closed the door.

"You seemed distracted during class." Oh yes. The Classic Opening Line: Hello. My name is Professor Xavier. I'm a telepath. I won't do a damned thing to you, just watch you fuck yourself royally over.

"Uh. Yes, sir." The Classic Reply: I'm completely at your mercy. I fucked up massively. You know it. I know it, so what now?

"Please, sit down."

"Yes, sir." It certainly beat standing there, staring at the door like a pound puppy begging to be taken home. He settled in the chair in front of Xavier's desk. Bobby's seat, his mind cheerfully informed him. He didn't slouch because he was at the mercy of his own nerves. When in the hell had he turned into Bobby?

He was St. John Allerdyce, fearless survivor. He was ferociously independent, and everyone knew that and everyone respected that, dammit. It was who he was. He didn't need anyone. Not one damn person. Not even Jubilee.

"It has been over four months now, since you first arrived."

One-hundred thirteen days to be exact. Not that St. John counted or anything. Not that he kept a calendar stuffed between his box spring and mattress. Not that he placed a little green checkmark in the upper corner every morning. Not that he had counted the green checkmarks after Bobby had delivered that sandwich during lunch. Not that he had counted them to help calm down.

It was the longest he had stayed in one place since.... He snapped himself from that train of thought, forcing himself to focus his gaze on the corner of the desk. It wasn't the one in Xavier's private office, dark mahogany with the dent on the left corner. He had counseling sessions there once per week, but it usually consisted of St. John sitting there for thirty minutes and staring at the left-hand corner of the desk. Yet they were in Xavier's classroom/study, so the desk was the oaken one, honey blonde with curls of reddish brown.

Three cheers for the subconscious, he thought bitterly. Everything's coming up Bobby.

While he wanted to hate Bobby thoroughly for all the things that the guy had going for him, St. John found he couldn't. Bobby was pathetically generous and had put up with his nightmares for three solid months, not once betraying him. Ever.

This morning, for the first time since he was five, St. John had woken up feeling totally safe and secure. He had woken up knowing that a warm shower and a decent breakfast were on the agenda, and that he had three classes before lunch and three classes afterwards. He had woken up knowing that he had clean clothes to wear and that he had friends. No wonder his subconscious had struggled to hold on to that good feeling as long as it had.

The last time he had woken up like that, it had been the day his mother had left him at the mercy of his father. Since then, it was one shitty place after another, one city after another, and one state after another all with the same result; his father was a crappy gambler but 'conscientious' parent who made sure his son was enrolled in whatever school was in the district. The one crime Marty Allerdyce could never be accused of was his son's truancy.

Now, this Mansion and all its perks were going to be taken away from him because of his stupidity. It was just like everything since he was five. Why in the hell had he thought this place any different?

So St. John began the mental litany that kept him alive and somewhat sane over the years: This is just a meal ticket. That's all. A meal ticket. A place to stay. I'm just playing along. I don't care about these people. I don't. Not about Drake. Not about Pete. Not about Kitty. Especially not about Jubilee.

Xavier's spoken voice cut in gently. "There are people here concerned for you, St. John."

His chain-smoking Lee-Lee. He had stood up to bullies for her. He had defended her honor because it was what guys did for girls, what friends did for friends. He understood her. She understood him. He kept Marlboros in his jacket for her and she kept two Bics for him. They still had their "strength in numbers" pact.

Lovely, sheltered Kitty. After the Kitchen Incident, she had insisted on writing or typing his homework until he could do so without wincing in pain. She never made him feel stupid about not quite getting an Algebra problem. She frequently (and wordlessly) battled Jubilee for the spot at the foot of his bed when all five of them studied in his and Bobby's bedroom.

Pete had stayed with him in the scary-as-shit MedLab those first few days after the Kitchen Incident and through all of Dr. Grey's tests. He had fed him when he couldn't use his hands and had done so without comment or pity, just the stalwart presence that was Pete. He was the first guy to extend the hand of friendship and who had taught him how to curse in Russian.

Drake.... Bobby.

The guy who had put up with St. John's nightmares on a regular basis. All without asking. All without comment. All without receiving a single "Thank you."

No discussion in the morning. No teasing hints in passing. No threats to expose his weakness to the student populace. Just silent understanding. Just being there, without question.

Bobby had never once asked for anything in return.

He remembered what Jubilee had said the only time they had talked about the Kitchen Incident. You should have seen him, St. John. Playing all his trumps with The Powers That Be. Never thought I'd see a guy fight so hard. Damn, he used up all his Mascot points that night, babe, right down to challenging Dr. Grey in the MedLab. Our little Mascot was fucking scary as shit.

More than a meal ticket. More than a place to stay. More than a nameless bunch of people.

Damn.

This place was starting to feel like....

No.

This place would be ripped from him, just like everywhere else he had dared to actually give a damn about.

Xavier's quiet, well-enunciated tones broke his train of thought, "This is your home, St. John, for as long as you choose it to be."

He remembered those words, echoing in his skull, during the Kitchen Incident. He sucked in four sharp breaths. They never talked about what happened in the Kitchen, not after those first two sessions. After that, St. John had closed himself down. Xavier had never pushed.

These people allowed him to be St. John Allerdyce. Never forcing him to change. Allowing him to make the changes himself. To adapt. To mature.

To evolve.

"Sometimes, the solution begins with the simplest of things." Softly spoken, so measured and even. Allowing St. John to absorb the words. Sense their meaning. "A two-word apology, for example."

WHAM! Clue-by-Four, Xavier-style.

What else could he say? Xavier fucking knew the score. "Thank you, sir."

The silence was uncomfortably long, more unnerving than any speech about bullies, constructive use of powers, or admiration of control could have ever been.

"St. John..." there was a measurable pause, then a whisper echoing in his skull. Sometimes, the most we can do is trust.

*****

On his seventh try to find someplace quiet to think, St. John had ended up in front of Summers' office. He realized his subconscious was intentionally fucking him over, because four months ago, he would have never gone anywhere near an authority figure. All his other teachers had always ignored him. Always. That black eye? That hand-size bruise on his forearm? That cut on his chest that had kept bleeding through his shirt? The injuries had never seemed to draw attention. Those adults had all turned a blind eye the obvious signs.

These people didn't.

St. John had watched enough of those medical shows to realize that Dr. Grey and Xavier didn't necessarily have to be telepathic to have some idea of what he had been subjected to. X-rays and simple patterns of behavior telegraphed all that information for them. However, they never once directly confronted him about it, just repeated the consistent message that whenever he was ready, they were ready and by "they", it meant all of The Powers That Be.

He edged closer to the door, peered inside the office, and saw that no one else was there. Summers was at his desk doing paperwork.

Shit, what he was doing was such a Bobby thing to do, to run to The Powers That Be.

You've been channeling Bobby since breakfast, his mind chastised him, why the fuck stop now? He slowly walked in, shuffled over to the Lecture Couch, and sat down. He eyed the door and for the first time really noticed that the couch was angled at such a way that someone passing by couldn't necessarily see someone else was in the office.

"No one saw you come in," Summers quietly said after a few moments. "If you want, I can shut the door."

Just how in the hell did he know... St. John then mentally slapped himself. The man's gaze was hidden by those shades, which meant he could be watching every fucking movement under the guise of doing paperwork. Shit, shit SHIT.

"No thank you, sir," he finally stuttered because the only thing worse than being seen having an open-door conversation with The Powers That Be was exiting from a closed-door session because then everyone wanted to know what it was about.

"Still working things out?"

"Yes, sir," he replied and developed a sudden interest in the spine of his Algebra book. Of course, it had to be the Algebra book and notebook he had grabbed from the stack on his desk. He wasn't used to acting like this, not at all, and he still hadn't figured out just why in the hell he was in his teacher's office to begin with.

"Do you just want to hang out here?"

"Yes, sir."

Summers went back to working on whatever he'd been working on while John just sat there on the Lecture Couch. After a few minutes, he opened his book and notebook, sliding out the pencil from the metal spiral, because he had to do something besides sit there looking like a dork. He was enough of an idiot for being there in the first place. He had to at least appear to have a legit reason for being there.

The whole 'channeling Bobby' crap had to stop soon because his nerves couldn't take it. At three in the afternoon, he was doing his damned homework in his teacher's office. Then he realized something -- he had no homework because there had been a test today and Summers didn't assign homework on test days.

He just couldn't win. He let out a frustrated sigh and closed his book. He glanced up at Summers, half-expecting some bullshit "no man is an island" or "you can always talk to me" or some other Chicken Soup crap that could be read off of some Inspirational Quote of the Day calendar. He had learned when he was nine that it was what teachers usually said.

The only sound was the scratch of ink pen on paper.

A few more minutes passed by, Summers merrily scribbling on papers. He was the only teacher St. John had ever had who corrected homework and tests in green ink. Was it some subliminal messaging on Summers' part, using green was a positive reinforcement? Green meant go, green meant good, green was a happy color... Of the teachers, he expected that kind of weirdness from Xavier because he was a psychologist or maybe even Dr. Grey because she did all that research. He could see the title now: The Physiological Effects on Adolescent Mutants of Multi-Spectrum Ink Corrections on Schoolwork.

But why green? Red was traditional, blue was more practical, but black wouldn't be distinct enough. There was too much that could be to be read into a male teacher using purple or pink ink, although he had learned on his second day here that prejudice of whatever flavor would not be tolerated. Still, Summers' choice of colors was just odd. He was the only one of the four who didn't use red, unless the use of green ink was something as simple as, "You can't see red," which made perfect sense given the eyewear. He didn't realize he had said it aloud until Summers stopped writing.

"I can see it to some extent," came the quiet reply, one without rebuke. The Powers That Be rarely spoke about their respective mutations outside of when the kids practiced, and never really disclosed their own limitations. "But this," his teacher held up the pen and gave a slight almost rueful smile, "is just easier."

St. John opened and closed his mouth a few times, trying to figure out just what to say. An apology for blurting out something like that? A follow up question? Just what was there to say because the casual admission floored him. There were certain Rules of the Streets, one of them being 'Never Admit a Weakness Because It Will Be Used Against You'. Yet Summers' confession belied everything that St. John had learned over the years that had enabled him to survive his dad, the cops, druggies, gangs, bullies, and bums. In fact, the whole way of the mansion conflicted with almost every thing he had learned. He knew how to survive on the streets.

Suddenly, all of his confidence in his street smarts and abilities to cope with situations on the fly shattered with Summers' simple admission about green ink.

St. John felt his stomach lurch as the cold/hot/cold of panic flashed through him. Nausea hit hard and he dropped the book, notebook and pencil to the floor. He could feel his heart hammering and his vision tunneled. The shakes began next and he knew he made some kind of sound as he pitched forward. He felt strong hands on his shoulders, he heard someone calling his name, and he felt himself being lifted to his feet and half-propelled/half-carried somewhere.

Some part of him registered the sharp slam of doors, the sudden change in light, the faint bleach smell of toilet bowl cleaner and the clatter of the toilet seat. "Just get it out," Summers was telling him. "I'm right here. I'm not going anywhere. Just get it out."

St. John grabbed the rim of the bowl, his stomach twinged hard, and he retched. He started sobbing as his body purged itself until there was nothing but metallic-tasting spit and snot. The whole time, he could hear Summers' quiet murmurs and felt the hand on his shoulder. The heaves subsided and he felt a wad of toilet paper against his hand. St. John obediently wiped his eyes, nose and mouth, tossing the mess into the bowl. It was the cleanest damned toilet he had ever barfed in. No funky blue water, no cake disinfectant hanging on the side, no rust stains under the rim, and no curls of pubic hair or dried piss on the porcelain.

Summers flushed the toilet and said, "I'm going to get you some water. I'll be right back."

Odd that once the hand was removed from his shoulder, St. John started to bawl even harder. His forehead rested against the porcelain and he held on to the rim as if it were a lifeline. Another spasm of dry heaves hit but there was nothing for him to expel except spit and snot.

He was self-sufficient dammit. He had learned when he was...

"Here, lift your head."

He blinked yet obeyed the soft command. The edge of a cup touched his lips. The hand settled back on his shoulder. He calmed down a little. It was a new experience for him, someone being there as he puked his guts up, because he had learned when he was...

"Take a sip. There you go."

He took three swallows, terrified to drink anymore because he had learned when he was...

"Have you eaten anything besides breakfast today?"

That was a stupid assed question, but he spit out "No" along with a healthy amount of mucus. More toilet paper was handed to him and he blew his nose, wondering why in the hell he was answering because he had learned when he was...

"Would you like more water?"

He was breathing hard although his sobbing began to subside and he still had a one-handed death-grip on the porcelain. He dropped the used paper into the bowl and managed to choke out, "No."

What the hell was happening to him? He wasn't like this at all. He had learned when he was...

"I think there are some new toothbrushes in the Infirmary," Summers told him. "I can get you one if you would like."

His first thought was to make a snide comment about dental hygiene at a time like this, but realized that the offer was sincere and the words were spoken with a kind of understanding he wasn't expecting. Maybe kids freaked out in Summers' office all time. If they did, he certainly never heard about it and he had the Operator of the Mansion Grapevine on his side. His mouth did feel nasty, but he was too leery of what would happen if Summers left. It was as if that hand on his shoulder was the only thing keeping him, well, sane.

"Water," St. John whispered and felt the cup touch his lips. He knew his hands were shaking too badly to hold it. It wasn't a disposable paper cup, but a nice ceramic one. The last thing he wanted to do was to have it drop in the toilet. He swallowed another three sips, but swished and spit out the fourth.

"Are you sure about that toothbrush?" Summers sounded genuinely concerned.

It went against everything St. John had ever taught himself. Everything he had ever learned that had enabled him to survive.

His vision began to spin and the hot/cold/hot flashed through him yet again. Dizzy and suddenly disoriented, he collapsed and would have fallen completely to the floor if Summers had not caught him. Head against the man's arm, he knew he had to say something, make a plea, because he was falling apart and was scared out of his mind. He didn't care how he sounded. He just said, "Please, I didn't mean it. It just came out. Please, don't make me leave. I... I just want to stay," and blacked out.

*****

"Uh, Scott? Um... why are you in my bedroom?"

"You're supposed to be at dinner, Bobby."

"Well, yeah, but... well. So are you."

"Did Jean or the Professor send you up here?"

"Uh. No."

"Then go back downstairs."

"What? I can't believe you're kicking me out of my own bedroom!"

"It's not just your bedroom anymore, Bobby. Now go back downstairs."

St. John burrowed deeper under the covers, not wanting to hear the rest of the conversation. He'd woken up a little while ago to find himself fully dressed and in his own bed; Summers had been sitting at the desk and reading a book. After a quick but wobbly trip to the bathroom to brush his teeth and drink three more sips of water, all with Summers patiently escorting him but not hovering over him, St. John had gotten back into bed. Almost immediately, the shakes had started again.

Summers had then asked if he had wanted him to stay, and he had only nodded 'yes' and curled back up in the bed. St. John had pulled the covers over his head, feeling like a pathetic piece of shit, and had fought like hell to keep his teeth from chattering. The next thing he knew, a few more blankets had been draped over him. He had begun crying again, angry that his body would betray him like this, and he hadn't understood why.

When he had heard the door open without a knock, he knew it was Bobby and that the precious few hours of the Vigil Over the Freaked Out Student was going to come to an ugly end. A confrontation was brewing, because one of The Powers That Be was paying attention to St. John, doing the whole parent/sibling thing, and everyone at the Mansion knew that it was supposed to be Bobby for whom Summers did the big brother routine. After all, he had learned when he was...

"Go back downstairs, Bobby," Summers repeated, his voice taking on that authoritative edge.

There was a pause, followed by a softer, "Um... is he okay?"

St. John heard a muted snort of disbelief and then Summers say, "Bobby..." The unspoken "I can't believe you just asked that question" was clear.

Still, he knew the moment for what it was -- Advantage: Bobby -- and all his roommate had to do was repeat what he had said this morning. St. John would be stripped of everything like always and tossed back out on the streets. After all, Bobby held all the cards and had every right to use them. St. John had learned when he was...

"Look, he and I got into it this morning, okay?" his roommate said.

"Bobby, it can wait."

"No, it can't."

"Bobby!" snapped with frustration and authority. Maybe Summers wasn't used to Bobby's defiance, or else he was the only one who wouldn't let Bobby get away with it.

"But he's been acting weird all day!" But instead of sounding vicious or condescending, Bobby sounded confused and worried. "I know I was mad at breakfast but it wasn't like I was going to tell anyone what we fought about. Jubilee said to leave him alone because John does his brooding thing when he's totally pissed but when he missed lunch... okay, the sandwich thing was wrong but Jubilee sparked me in the butt for it because Kitty said I deserved it and Pete said I had snow for brains. We knew he was still pissed after lunch because he wasn't even looking at us and stuff, so we left him alone because... if you push him he gets that look and we didn't want to make it worse than it already was.

"But when John disappeared this afternoon and Jubilee couldn't find him, she sent Sam around the Mansion grounds to find him because, well, he's fast, you know. Kitty and Pete went to Jean and she said that John needed some time and to back off. But when he missed dinner... I thought..." Bobby's voice caught and then he whispered, "I thought he'd taken off, okay? So I came up here to see if he had."

Summers' voice was low and even, "He's here. Now go back downstairs."

"They're worried about him. I'm worried about him, okay?" There was the distinct thump of Bobby kicking the dresser. "Jubilee's so zoned out that she accidentally sparked Jamie's dinner roll and it exploded. It freaked Jamie out and now there's six of him. Kitty keeps ghosting through things and Pete's metalled up twice without realizing it. He started doing the silverware thing when I left." Bobby let out a frustrated sigh. "And I had to ask Neal to help defrost the gravy and the green beans, okay? Do you have any idea how freaking embarrassing that is?"

"Listen..."

"I'm still mad about what he said, but... well. Jeez." Another thump, this time softer. "This morning was just weird, okay? But no one's used to John being like this so they're all upset. He's my roommate, Scott, even though he says stupid things, I do stupid things and this morning was a stupid thing... but, well... I don't think I would have said the same thing, but I would have probably been just as mean if it had been me."

A few seconds passed before Summers said, "Bobby, wait outside."

This time, there was no protest as the door opened, Bobby shuffled out, and the door closed. St. John began shaking harder, because things were not supposed to be happening the way they were. People were not supposed to care about him, not supposed to pay attention to him, and certainly not supposed to give a damn whether or not he showed up for supper. In the one moment Bobby could have destroyed everything because he had every right to, he hadn't. Instead, Bobby had practically apologized in his stupidly generous and na´ve way. St. John didn't understand; he couldn't comprehend it at all because he had learned when he was...

"John?" Summers called out and he felt a hand settle on the covers.

What Bobby had blurted out suddenly sank in. Right then, right there, St. John realized that he had completely misread everything from breakfast on. They hadn't been giving him the cold shoulder; they had been giving him his space. All he had to have done that afternoon was say something to Jubilee, Kitty or Pete and it would have been settled.

His chest tightened up and he suddenly couldn't breathe. He gasped hard twice as panic took over. He felt the covers being pulled back and Summers somehow maneuvered him around so that he was sitting up with his feet on the floor. The hand was on his shoulder again and he heard the soft litany, "Breathe. In through your nose, out through your mouth. Come on, John. There you go. Breathe."

St. John concentrated on the voice and tried to follow the instructions, but he knew he was making some god-awful sound because the door opened again.

"Dammit, Bobby, I said wait outside!" Summers' parental tone was intimidating. The door promptly shut. Yet once the door had closed, that soothing chant resumed, "Stay with me, John. Breathe. In through your nose, out through your mouth. Come on. Breathe."

He didn't know how long it took, but the tightness in his chest eased a little and he was able to take a breath without sounding like a dying animal.

"There you go, John. In through your nose, out through your mouth."

He opened his eyes and stared at the floor, noting that Summers was squatted down, directly in front of him. He also saw the floor was coated in frost for the second time that day. He wondered if Bobby even noticed. Two breaths later, St. John was able to get out, "He'll freeze the door shut."

Summers snorted a little but said, "Are you dizzy? Do you feel like you're going to throw up?"

"No," he replied. He could feel his stomach settling as his heartbeat slowed down. He was still cold; the weak feeling and a headache were still there as well. His muscles ached. He leaned back slightly and Summers let him go. He rolled onto his side, his back to him, and pulled the covers up. He could almost hear Bobby pacing outside the bedroom door. "You'd better let him in before he frosts the hallway. All those rugs will be a pain in the ass to dry out."

A few seconds passed before he heard the gentle question, "Are you sure?"

"No," St. John admitted but he knew how things worked around here. "You know how he gets."

He felt Summers sit on the edge of the bed. "Do you need me to stay?"

It wasn't the question that was supposed to have been asked. Up until now, St. John Allerdyce had just been a piece of shit with a fancy name. He hadn't been important, especially in a place like this. Despite the fact that Summers had chased his roommate out, St. John was supposed to be second-class, riding coattails and all that bullshit because it was a way to survive. All he had were his wits and his Bics, the latter only coming into play two years ago. Even his mutant power was lame because it required a catalyst. After all, he had learned on Day One-hundred and...

"Do you need me to stay?" Summers repeated.

Need. The pain hit sharp in his chest and the hot/cold/hot flashed through him. He wasn't used to being asked those types of questions; no one had ever bothered. St. John needed a lot in his life, but he had always made due with what he had. After all, when he was eight, he...

"Hey, I'm right here." The hand was back on his shoulder. Just, there. He never thought something as simple as a hand on his shoulder would be such a big deal to him, that it would calm him down as quickly as it did. Summers asked, "Do you want me to stay?"

Want. No one ever really asked what he wanted. Things just happened. If he had wanted something, it was up to him to figure out a way to get it. Asking for things never worked before. But all this was new, all this was different, and all this was frightening. He had garnered someone's attention, and that person didn't walk away when it was convenient.

"I'm not sure," the words were out before he could stop them. It was humiliating to have his body and then his wits betray him this badly. He had trained himself not to allow this to happen. He closed his eyes. As much as he hated to, he said, "I don't know what's wrong with me," because maybe an authority figure did have a clue on something and was willing to share it with him.

A few beats of silence followed. Then, "I can't tell you for certain, but I know that sometimes realizing that some one will do something without expecting anything in return is a pretty big deal." Summers' hand remained firm on his shoulder. His tone wasn't patronizing, just measured as if he were reflecting on something. "Sometimes the body acts independently of the mind to force an issue. It just happens. No rhyme. No reason. It feels like sheer hell and is scary as shit because nothing like it has every happened before. Learning to trust again," he let out a short, sharp laugh, "is a pretty damned big deal, especially when what used to work to survive beforehand suddenly doesn't."

St. John opened his eyes and turned his head, expecting to see Summers looming over him with a benevolent smile just like a scene out of some stupid, Made-For-TV movie. Instead, he was turned away, his head bent down, and from what St. John could see of his face, he seemed sad. What the man said wasn't just some regurgitated bullshit line from some psychology book. St. John just stared as the words tumbled out, "I don't like it."

"Pain in the ass, isn't it?" Summers turned with a half-smile and moved his hand away from his shoulder. For the first time, St. John actually saw the faint points of light behind the shades and he could tell Summers was looking directly at him. "Whether or not it gets easier? Well, that depends on a lot of things, but having the right people around does help. I think you've got that, and I'm not saying that because I've known Bobby since he was twelve. This place..." he gestured with his hand, "helps out a lot too."

Stark honesty. No bullshit about silver linings or that everything was going to work out or that there was going to be a happy ending. That, more than anything else, made him want to believe. He recalled something from the Kitchen, when he thought he was having a conversation with a goddess. He remembered the sound of a woman's voice in his head. It was the only time Jean Grey had ever telepathically communicated with him.

"She said there are no absolutes, that we can only try," he said. The words finally seemed to make sense. It was so weird having an authority figure say something useful. Then there were the words Xavier had spoken earlier. "He said sometimes the most we can do us trust."

Summers added, "Sometimes, the hardest thing is learning how."

They stared at each other a moment, St. John unwilling to ask the question of just how Summers knew all of this. Whether it was from other kids or personal experience, it wasn't his place to ask. He only nodded.

His teacher gestured towards the clock. "You should really try and get something in your system."

Pinned by the gaze, he stuttered, "I'm afraid," although he wasn't sure if he was talking about the prospect of eating or everything in general.

"I know."

"They'll make a big deal about it."

"Maybe. Maybe not. Give your friends credit. They know you. Bobby is the only one up here, after all."

"I don't know how." He didn't specify what he was talking about. Unsure and uncertain, he didn't know what he was asking for.

Yet Summers didn't need the clarification. "Neither do they, but they'll try their best. It just takes time and some patience." He stood up and motioned towards the door. "Bobby is still waiting outside."

"I know."

"Do you want me to stay?"

He thought about it for a moment and then shook his head. "No. I know what I have to do." He made sure he found his gaze as he said quietly, "Thanks, Mister Summers."

"Times like this, I prefer Scott." There was a pause, then a light laugh. "Not during class, though."

A leap of faith if there ever was one. Names were important at the Mansion. "St. John," he offered, knowing that this man would appreciate the significance. "But not in class either."

Then Summers flashed a pure electric grin as brilliant as the eyes behind the shades -- the kind of smile that girls swooned over. No wonder he had won a gorgeous woman like Dr. Grey. "You're welcome, St. John."

It was too much. He dove underneath the covers again. He heard the door open and close, the murmur of Scott's voice, and then the door open and close again. Despite the several layers of blankets, St. John could feel the cold seeping through.

"Sorry about the floor, man." It was so like Bobby to focus on that. As twisted as it sounded, St. John found it comforting in a way. After all the weird shit that had happened today, Bobby had gone back to being Bobby.

"Used to it," he muttered, which was the truth. It was an annoyance, but at least his roommate's mutant ability didn't stain clothing or smell or cause bugs to swarm.

"Twice in one day," came the forced half-laugh. "I guess I should ask the Professor if more sealant should be put on the floorboards. He did that for my old room."

Bobby's old room, the one that had screamed institutionalized to St. John the first night he had seen it. High-gloss floors with too much wood sealant on it, the door and windows that opened outward not inward, and no personal items on display, all because of Bobby's fear of icing them in his sleep or when he lost control. No wonder the rules St. John had learned on the streets didn't quite work here. Those rules were for functioning in the real world, not in the confines of the Mansion full of Mutants where a sneeze could start a two-alarm fire and an ill-timed fart could result in an inch of ice on the floor.

Before he lost his nerve, St. John got out, "I'm sorry."

"About the floors and stuff? Man, that's..."

For the third time that day, he smacked himself on the forehead, this time literally. He rolled over, flipped the cover down just enough to see, met Bobby's wide-eyed and confused gaze, and clarified, "No. About this morning. When I punched you. What I said. I didn't mean it. I'm sorry." He squirreled back under the blankets before he could see the reaction.

If Xavier and Scott were wrong...

"Oh." There was a lengthy pause. Then that unmistakable chill permeated the room, even through five layers of blankets. "Oh jeez! Man, is that why you... uh... oh jeez!"

"The word you're looking for is 'shit' and I'm not going to attack you with a bar of soap to wash out your mouth or anything," St. John snapped. His teeth began chattering again. "Dammit! You're making the room cold, Bobby."

For a solid minute, there was no answer. The temperature evened out. Then, there was a squeak of a sneaker across a wet floor. "I'm sorry," came the shamed whispered. He pulled the covers down and saw Bobby's expression. His roommate was standing at the edge of St. John's bed, staring at the floor, his face flushed with humiliation. "I thought you were okay with the whole Cold thing."

God knows where all the honesty was coming from, because it certainly defied any rule that St. John had ever learned to survive. The Mansion was different; Scott had said as much. With all the crap that Bobby had endured over the past three months, he certainly didn't deserve to be verbally smacked for doing something, intentionally or unintentionally, that had worked before.

"I don't know what the fuck I'm 'okay' with anymore," he said without harshness. Bobby looked up, eyes wet with unshed tears, and St. John sighed. "It's all fucked up. I'm all fucked up. I don't know how to do any of this 'trust' crap, okay? You do." His roommate's jaw dropped slightly as if he were about the say something, then he promptly snapped it shut. Seeing Bobby in self-edit mode was kind of spooky. Still, he knew he had to give Bobby at least something so he could try to understand. "Look, my mom ditched my dad when I was five. Haven't seen her since. My dad got stuck with me. He wasn't thrilled. We moved around a shitload."

"Baton Rouge."

"Yeah," his voice caught on the word. Of course Bobby would remember. "Baton Rouge."

"Your dad... does he know you're a mutant?"

"He was never around," he replied. "He probably celebrated when he figured out I left for good."

His roommate sat on the bed, but didn't break eye contact. "I won't tell anybody. I swear."

"I know," St. John replied. This place wasn't the streets; it was the Mansion with all its perks and oddities and rules that defied the outside world. It was the world in which Bobby existed. It was the world to which St. John had to adapt.

This was a place where concepts like Trust and Loyalty actually meant something. Xavier, it seemed, had played it straight all along. Scott offered that really scary kind of understanding that was so unexpected, St. John didn't really want to think about just who Scott Summers was before he had met up with Xavier.

New life. New existence. New rules. Christ, he wasn't ready for this, but at least he had the Mascot as a guide and Lee-Lee as a confidante. Pete would catch him if he fell and Kitty would bandage him up.

"You're my friend," Bobby told him.

"Yeah. I know that, too."

For the first time since he was five, he believed


Thanks to mitchpell for the commentary that made me take it a step further, to taral for the beta read and to nakki for the thumbs up. Also, to onomatopoetry for creating a place for FDoE.



Part eight: From Bic To Zip or Leave Feedback