Ketel and Skyy

(R, profanity, underage drinking) Pre-X1, John and Piotr

When Bobby goes to Boston for the weekend, Piotr shows John the proper way to drink vodka.

Notes: "Za vashe zdorov'ye" is transliterated Russian courtesy of Learning Russian Phrases. Other Russian terms are from Russian-English Online Dictionary. Damn. I can't find my dictionary or notes from when I took Russian for two semesters at university. Damn again.

Ketel One (Holland) and Skyy (U.S.) are two brands of premium vodka. Currently, my freezer is stocked with Grey Goose (France) and Three Olives (England). For those non-vodka drinkers, the more expensive brands are corked, not screw-capped. Also, vodkas produced in the U.S. do taste differently than those imported (at least to me). For more info on the finer points of vodka, visit Vodkaphiles.

Piotr's English at the end is dicey for a reason.

It had gotten easier over the past few months to set aside his cynical inner-thoughts and simply allow himself to be, well, free. And tonight, it wasn't just the lure of contraband vodka that led St. John on a twenty-minute hike into the woods after Friday-night lights out. It was that ease of friendship, that recognition of the 'let's be reckless because I'm bored off my ass' quirk in Piotr Rasputin's smile, that had made St. John put on his shoes, pat his jeans pocket for his Zippo, and grab his jacket.

His friendship with Piotr was unlike the one cultivated with Bobby, because Piotr didn't court his company. The Russian had absolutely no need to. People worked at becoming Piotr's friend, not the other way around, and while Piotr could have been a prick about it, he wasn't. His offer of friendship had been there on the first day and had never been rescinded. It had always been up to St. John on where he wanted to go with it.

Their core understanding of each other, he supposed, had really been forged those first few days after the Kitchen Incident, when Piotr had stayed down in the MedLab with him. Other guys might have pestered him with questions on what had happened, but Piotr had simply resumed teaching him Russian curses, patiently correcting his pronunciation. There were no questions about St. John's past and no pressure to discuss anything he didn't want to. In turn, St. John had made an earnest attempt to learn conversational Russian beyond insults or ordering booze.

And while St. John had carefully maintained the 'mutual respect'-type of friendship with Piotr for the three months after the Kitchen Incident, it hadn't been until the day after he had emotionally spazzed out in Scott's office that St. John had purposefully tracked down Piotr. In the privacy of the garden maze, St. John had only been able to get out 'Thank you' because he couldn't list all the things that his friend had done for him. At least he had said the phrase in Russian, which he supposed had been a hint as to what he was getting at. Piotr had set aside his sketchpad, nodded once and replied in the same language, 'You're welcome'.

It was why there had been no fear, no mistrust, and no hesitancy as he had trailed close behind the tall Russian, who had effortlessly moved aside the brambles, forging the way to a destination known only to Piotr.

It hadn't been as dark as it could have been, the moon bright in the humid-cool, after-midnight of Spring. The canopy overhead had not filled in yet, leaving patches for the full moon to shine through. Up until that evening, St. John had never ventured past the tree-line, only getting that close to retrieve a homerun ball (there should be a rule against mutant Russians hitting with aluminum bats) or the one and only time he had ever ridden a horse, the latter solely on a dare by Guthrie.

"Poison ivy?" St. John asked as his friend began pushing aside branches. Although he wasn't into the whole hiking and nature thing, he had paid attention to Ms. Munroe's talk about potentially dangerous plants around the Mansion and its grounds.

"Nyet. A little too early," came the reply, tinged with appreciative amusement. "The same for sumac."

So St. John shut up until they reach the clearing, and damn if the small area didn't fit the description of "pastoral". It even had a fallen log with a few smooth, flat stones lined along the side, creating a place to sit that wasn't in the mud. It was almost creepy in its perfection, but then St. John spotted a block of wood and another stone at a carefully angled distance from the couch.

"You draw here," he said as he wandered around the small area.

He saw Piotr's grin in the moonlight and heard the light laugh, "You are the first to notice."

It was the moment for a joke, a tease about just many girls Piotr had lured out here under the guise of 'painting their portrait'. But that was Bobby's department, and their erstwhile jokester had left shortly after classes had ended for a weekend in Boston. Still, St. John made the effort, if only to be his expected, smart-assed self.

"Dude, if I'm here for a fucking midnight sketch..." he threatened as he brushed a few leaves off of one of the stones and sat down.

"Nyet." Again, a chuckle. "The lighting is too poor." Piotr plopped down next to him, stretching out his legs and leaning back against the log. "And, to have a 'fucking sketch', you would need a companion who is not with us, and I would have to have brought my pencils and sketch book, not good Russian vodka and shot glasses."

St. John let out small snort. It was kind of a weird comment from Piotr, because "companion who is not with us" sounded way too... well... formal for a teenaged guy. Maybe it was an attempt at humor. Piotr's English was always a bit more awkward when making a Bobby-esque joke.

Still... it wasn't the same, really, not to have Bobby there with them because he handled all the jokes. It wasn't the first time since they began sharing a room that his roommate had gone home for the weekend. However, this time it had seemed as if Bobby were more self-conscious about it, because when he had asked Scott if the train was still on time, it had been distinctly without enthusiasm. It had almost seemed to have been asked with dread, and St. John had been a little offended by the whole thing because he certainly wasn't going to hold the whole 'going home' thing against Bobby. His roommate was considered one of the lucky ones, one of the few to be in good standing with his parents.

Piotr then pawed through the small, soft-sided cooler he had brought. "Good vodka," he declared as he pulled out a glass bottle and then two shot glasses, "should always be served frozen. Without Frosty, preparation is more difficult but it is possible."

"Whoa. Bobby joins you on your drinking expeditions?" Of course, St. John asked it with just the right amount of incredulity because Bobby was the Mascot, the Quintessential Good Kid at the Mansion, and drinking vodka in the woods qualified as Quintessential Bad Kid behavior. But there was another part of him suddenly jealous, that he hadn't been invited along sooner.

Then again, when had Bobby had the chance to sneak off since they had started sharing a room? Not that St. John monitored his roommate's every move, but he certainly would be aware if a) Bobby disappeared in the middle of the night or b) he came back smelling like booze. Of course, Bobby could have snuck out while St. John went on his walks with Lee-Lee, but such a venture would require incredible timing and St. John was never out longer than forty or so minutes.

"Haven't been on one since you arrived," Piotr replied calmly as he uncorked the bottle. "Before the Kitchen, there was concern that you would leave unexpectedly."

It was a polite way of confirming St. John's suspicions from those early days, that they had been watching him closely and waiting for him to bolt. Yet the way it was said meant that they would have made the effort to coax him back to the Mansion. It was also the first time that Piotr had ever directly mentioned the Kitchen Incident since that morning after in the MedLab.

"After the Kitchen, there was that concern as well," Piotr continued almost conversationally. "Frosty became protective of you." He poured two shots. "He insisted that you should be part of this." He held out a glass. "Frosty does not insist often."

And goddamn if that didn't feel like he was smacked with a clue-by-four hard against the jaw. He remembered what Lee-Lee had told him about how Bobby had fought for someone to stay with him in the MedLab. He remembered Bobby being covered in powdered sugar and confirming later it had been because he argued about the finer details of celebrating St. John's birthday.

There were a ton of signals he got from Bobby, but they so mixed that he really didn't act on any of them. He wasn't sure if it was Bobby making a pass at him, which he would welcome of course, or Bobby just trying like hell to be his friend.

"For you, tovarisch," Piotr said and wiggled the glass. St. John accepted it, noting how cold the shot was. "Now, in Russia, this is how we toast formally: Za vashe zdorov'ye!"

He looked over, realizing that Piotr was expecting him to repeat that mouthful of syllables. He tried, knowing that he was butchering it from the way Piotr's eye twitched a little, but after his second try, "Za vashe zdorov'ye" rolled off a bit easier, and Piotr tapped his glass to St. John's, downing the liquor in one gulp.

St. John did the same, surprised at the cold yet silky flavor racing across his palate. "Smooth," he said stupidly, because it didn't burn at all and the vapors from the alcohol didn't overwhelm him.

"Of course." Piotr grinned. "Good vodka is always smooth. My uncle says creamy, but I have never thought vodka as creamy. Smooth, yes. Perhaps even soft. Your first good vodka, eh?"

He shrugged. "Quantity, not quality. Drink for the effect, dude, never the taste."

The smile dropped from Piotr's face, and a concerned look appeared. "Was this..." he held up the glass again, the words very carefully chosen, "a bad idea?"

"No," St. John replied as he brushed his palm over the pocket of his jeans. Whenever he and Lee-Lee broached uncomfortable subjects during their walks, he would palm a flame and sparks would dance between her fingers. He wasn't sure why he was clarifying his comment to Piotr, because if there were rules of friendships and roommates, St. John supposed that Bobby should be privy to this information more than Piotr. "That was my old man's crutch."

"Ah," said softly, with a slight nod. "Does it bother you?"

"Nope," he replied. "And before you go off on some shit about peer pressure, it's not that either." He pulled out his Zippo. Snap! Click-click!...click...fwoosh! The whole motion took longer than a Bic, but the feel of it was beyond words. He palmed a very small ball of flame before flicking the Zippo shut. "Just wondering what the fuck took you so long to invite me into your damned club."

A light laugh again. "We are friends, da?"

"Yeah."

"And when I asked this evening for you to join me, you did not make a cruel comment, you did not mistrust me," Piotr said plainly, without criticism. He reached over, poured himself another shot, and then beckoned for the second glass. St. John pulled the fire in, snuffing it in his palm, before picking up his glass and holding it out for Piotr. It was filled as Piotr continued, "We drink for friendship, tovarisch. That and... you looked like you could use some company this evening." He saluted with his glass, "Za vashe zdorov'ye."

St. John repeated the toast, tapped his glass against his friend's, and they downed the shots in unison. Damn. That was good vodka. It was a bit more edgy this time, probably because it wasn't as cold; no wonder Piotr had enlisted Bobby in his booze campaign. But still it was smooth. Damn. He licked his lips, allowing the flavor to linger in his mouth. Yeah, he could see where the descriptor of 'creamy' came from, because it was thick on his tongue.

However, Piotr's last comment before the toast bugged him. "What do you mean, that I could use the company?" St. John asked as he set his glass down. "It's not the first time Bobby's gone home to his parents."

"It is the first time you looked so..." Piotr trailed off, which was par for the course sometimes. On those very late nights when it was just the three of them sprawled out in his and Bobby's room, their resident Russian slipped into his native language without thinking and sometimes it took longer for him to put together sentences. "... Upset is not the word. Concerned, maybe? Offended? Unsettled? I am not sure."

Proof that the booze was loosening his tongue, St. John snapped, "Fucking hell, Piotr." He deliberately used the Russian's given name. Out in the woods past midnight and drinking vodka, it was the appropriate name to use. "I'm not gonna fry him for having a goddamn family."

"I know." Then, there was a very long pause, followed by a long sigh. St. John heard the bottle open again. He briefly wondered how the fuck they were going to get back to the Mansion if they were shitfaced and what kind of hell Piotr would catch for having the booze to begin with. He watched as two more shots were poured into the glasses that were side-by-side between them, but Piotr did not reach for it immediately. "Frosty does not like going to his parents' home. It is beyond being the Mascot. He will not tell me why. He will not discuss it. Even with this," Piotr gestured towards the glasses, "he does not say."

And that made St. John flick his Zippo to create another ball of flame, this time a little larger. He felt the anger brimming up, because Piotr was a hell of an observant guy and he just didn't say things to fucking say them. St. John wanted to snap, 'Never seen a mark on him when he comes back,' because he hadn't and Bobby certainly didn't act like a kid who had been physically abused. Sure, there was some mental shit going on, but that was what all parents did to kids, even good parents like Kitty's.

The only thing that really stood out to St. John was that his roommate always nursed a bottle of Pepto Bismol those evenings he came back from Boston. Bobby had always claimed motion sickness from the train and St. John had never challenged him on it, although it had been so damned obvious that his roommate had been lying. Sure, he could start the self-condemnation game because he had never pestered Bobby about it, but remembered what Piotr had said. Even after a few belts of high-powered Russian vodka, Bobby kept his secrets.

Damn. Maybe Bobby had the secondary mutation of alcohol-tolerance. Doubtful, because Piotr was smart enough not to get an ice-manipulating mutant who had control issues drunk. So, his roommate's reasoning for not liking to go home was One Of The Big Ones, the ones that aren't given up except maybe upon severe pain or death, but even then it was questionable.

Suddenly, St. John realized that the drinking session in the woods was not as impromptu as he had initially thought. Piotr wanted information and St. John was the only logical source for it; after all, the Russian had never shared a room with Bobby. Piotr had used the guise of friendship and the lure of vodka to get it.

Fuck. To be bamboozled by a Russian.

Shit. St. John had to respect it. It wasn't a cheap payoff either; the vodka was damn good and the whole outing appealed to the Bad Kid in him. In the pale orange glow, he met Piotr's stare. It was now that he said, "Never seen a bruise on him."

His friend's eyes widened for just a second, either in surprise that St. John had given up the information or relief in the confirmation that Bobby hadn't been touched. From the twitch in Piotr's eye, he knew that it was both.

"The Powers That Be... they would not let things happen." Yet the declaration was not as convincing as St. John expected. It was more said as a reassurance for both of them.

Still, there was that little thing of faith. How long had he been at the Mansion now? Oh, St. John still counted the days every morning, but he didn't know the number off the top of his head. It was long enough, however, to know that Xavier wouldn't allow that shit to happen under his watch; the old man had said as much those first few days St. John was at the Mansion. And even though Scott played down the whole 'knowing Bobby since he was twelve' angle, Bobby was still considered family, and 'Lo! He who toucheth my Kid Brother shall feel the wrath of my optic blasts.'

And while there were the promises of mental privacy and all of that, St. John did remember Bobby's explanation of 'projecting' and how telepaths could pick it up quite easily. There was no way in hell that Xavier would willingly allow Bobby to return to an abusive home.

No fucking way.

Piotr's hushed voice interrupted his thoughts. "Spasibo balshoye, tovarisch." The only part of it that St. John recognized was the 'thank you.' Then, in a very measured tone, his friend said, "You notice a lot of things. You are like me in that."

It could have been considered an odd comment - creepy despite what had just been said. Yet it was an acknowledgement of the exchange of information. In the privacy of the woods and the solitude of the evening, it was a compliment. Perhaps even an even more understandable 'thank you' than the one before.

"Habit," St. John replied, but it wasn't an evasive comment. It was the truth. If he didn't pay attention to what the fuck was going on around him, he would be vulnerable and vulnerability made him an easy target. St. John refused to be an easy target.

"Da," which was an unexpected affirmation, but St. John let it pass because, well, he knew the conversation was going to take a turn for the weird. "They..." Piotr gestured vaguely; St. John supposed it was in the direction of the Mansion but wasn't sure, "they think I observe things because I paint. Yes, that is part of it, but not why I am aware of the details to begin with."

And he blinked, surprised at the revelation. To some, such an admission wouldn't be significant, but to him, it was a measure of friendship. Piotr didn't share that often; he and Lee-Lee were as ambiguous about their respective pasts as St. John was. Still, it was a curious statement. It was payment for his earlier confession about his observation of Bobby.

Aha, he thought triumphantly, Rules of the Streets do apply at the Mansion! But only past midnight, after two shots of very potent Russian vodka. St. John raised the flame to chin level, puckered his lips, and inhaled sharply at the same time he used his power to reabsorb the flame. One of these days, he was going to impress the hell out of someone with that trick. Problem was, Piotr wasn't even looking. Damn. He'd have to do it again. Bobby would be telling him that he was crazy and then proceed to do some ungodly ice trick; St. John wondered if his roommate realized how many phallic symbols he created with ice.

Still, it was surely the booze in his system that forced him to ask, "You spent time on the streets?"

It was, of course, inappropriate to ask, but Piotr had opened the door to the conversation and St. John was curious enough to follow through. He could always claim two shots of vodka in quick succession as his excuse. Piotr turned and met his gaze; in the bright moonlight, he could see a certain measure to the look. "My time was more..." There was a distinct pause, but he didn't blink as he said, "...organized."

'That, ladies and germs,' St. John could hear his father slurring out, 'is what we here at the poker table call All In.' Because, Holy Fucking Shit, a big, nasty revelation was just tossed into the center ring with the huge implication that could only lead to one or two ugly truths. St. John supposed he could react several ways.

He could recoil in disgust, yelp and run away. But, he had no idea where the fuck he was in relation to the Mansion, so he would be lost.

He could say 'no fucking way! You? Mafia? Nah! How the fuck did Xavier spring you?' and go into a list of reasons why it just wasn't possible. Maybe it wasn't Mafia because that was too fucking dramatic, but something along the lines of drug running, because Piotr was a big guy and no one would fuck with him. Else he had spent that kind of time on the streets; Piotr was an attractive guy but St. John did not want to go down that particular path of logic.

Pre-Mansion, St. John would have used the information to his advantage. He would have been ruthless with it, calculating ways to make the tidbit last as long as he could. Yet now, it was perhaps in acknowledgment of St. John's earlier revelation about his father. It put them on even ground.

Yet the only response that made sense to St. John was a slow nod of understanding. It was an ugly truth, confessed in the privacy of the woods, but it was a gift, he knew, all the same. This is my past, was what Piotr was saying, accept me now or leave it. It was also saying, I know what you've been through.

His gesture wasn't much, but neither were the words that Piotr had spoken. Yet he didn't blink. Neither did Piotr. Then, an ever-so-slow nod in return. "You understand."

"You better fucking believe it, Piotr."

They lifted the shot glasses, clinked them without the Russian toast, and downed them. Silence fell between them. St. John was uneasy because by the rules of friendship and roommates, Bobby should have been with them. He owed it to the guy who routinely put up with his shit, who doggedly tried to be his friend. Damn, St. John needed to hear a joke or something, because even a nervous Bobby saying something stupid would have eased the tension.

His own attempt was lame, but -- fuck -- something had to be said. "Your uncle..." St. John's tongue felt more than a little heavy as he set the glass down. "What is 'uncle' in Russian anyway?" because in his lessons, St. John never had asked and Piotr never had volunteered to teach him how to address family members.

"Dyadya," Piotr replied as he placed his glass next to his. "Or affectionately, dyadyushka."

"Okay, so your dyadya is right about the creamy thing," he said. "This vodka... is thicker, like cream instead of thin, like water."

"Ah." Another nod, this time probably in recognition of his effort to change the subject to something more comfortable. "It is thicker tasting."

"Yep." He glanced over again. "So what does, 'za vashe zdorov'ye' mean?"

A light laugh, the same as earlier except twinged with even more amusement. "To your health."

"And 'tovarisch'?" because St. John had never heard that word before.

"It is the same as comrade," came the clarification, "but with affection. The same as 'Lee-Lee' for Jubilee."

"So... it's the same as Katya for Kitty," St. John said, "and 'Frosty' for Bobby. Shit. I hate to think of the nickname you come up for me."

"You are John, tovarisch," Piotr replied. "That is enough." He then dug around in the cooler again. "Twinkie?"

"What?" St. John stared at his friend. Well, if that wasn't proof enough that Bobby went on booze expeditions, he didn't know what was. "You've got to be fucking kidding me. Twinkies? With... how much is this stuff per bottle?"

Piotr asked, "American dollars or Russian rubles?"

"American dollars, comrade," he said. "I don't have a currency converter on hand."

"Fifty or so," said casually, as if the price didn't matter.

"Shit. So you're serving imported, expensive vodka with the only foodstuff that could survive a nuclear holocaust?" And damn, that sounded kind of Bobby-esque but not quite, but still...

"Seems appropriate," Piotr laughed and stretched again, "that the beverage of the Evil Empire go hand-in-hand with the American icon of snack cakes."

He snickered. He couldn't help it. Damn, the vodka was potent. "You do realize that there's that whole sugar-thing when it comes to booze. That it makes you absorb the alcohol faster or whatever."

"Oh... See? You do pay attention."

"Yeah. Well. No. This is from experience, dude. My old man? Hershey's bars before a fifth of some shit. Got him drunk off his ass in a hurry." He realized the last part was slurred and that he'd revealed a shit-load of information that he would have never said if it wasn't for a particular liquor in a soft-sided cooler. "Fuck. My tolerance is shot."

And there was silence. Finally, softly yet firmly, "I will never betray you."

"I know." Because St. John did. It was one of the one things he realized about Piotr that second night he was at the Mansion, when they had returned to the room they had had shared at the time. That had been the day that Lee-Lee had taken him in, the evening he had sat at the Good Kids' Table for dinner, and the evening they had congregated in Bobby's old room to study.

Piotr had said the same thing, in the same tone of voice that brokered no argument. It had been a declaration that had unnerved him at the time, but now, given the revelation about 'organized' time on the streets, it made perfect sense. And while some part of him knew he should be worried because... well, shit... Wasn't it all just a too bit damned calculated? -- another part of him welcomed the connection he and Pete had now.

An act of trust.

Damn. He needed Bobby here because of all the shit that his roommate had put up with, the time of understanding was now. Because when it came to issues of betrayal, simply, "Bobby... he wouldn't either."

"He is loyal. He is good friend. He is rare."

"I know," St. John said quietly, and Oh God did he know how rare it was to find someone like Bobby. No wonder he had earned the nickname of 'Mansion Mascot' because Bobby was the epitome of a mascot. "What did you mean earlier? That I should be part of this?"

"This." Again, a vague gesture. "Patience. You were not ready before. Now you are. It is hard to explain. All things are with time. Me. You. Frosty. It is time now."

"Shit." Because the chill he got from those words, well... hell... it felt as if Bobby had lost control again and ice crept up his spine.

"You miss him."

"So do you."

"Not the same."

"What the fuck does that mean?" and it was definitely asked as a challenge, because St. John had let the earlier one pass without comment. Now, after three belts of high-powered vodka, he wanted the answer.

"He seeks your company. You seek his," Piotr said plainly. "He courts your laugh. You cajole for his smile. He is protective of you as you are of him. It is beyond Fire and Ice, tovarisch."

Snap! click!...click...fwoosh! St. John shaped the flame, or at least tried to. He settled on a wobbly ball of fire as he looked over, making sure to meet Piotr's gaze. "You warning me off?"

Piotr raised an eyebrow at him. "Nyet."

"You warned him off?" because that was an interesting twist. It would explain why Piotr had never done anything more than look at Kitty, the stupid fuck. Granted, the Russian played his hand close to his chest always, but St. John would have never pegged the artist to be interested in boys.

Stereotypes aside, Piotr's focus was always at least peripherally on Kitty, and it was beyond 'must protect innocent girl' instinct. Hell, the guy had a notebook full of Hebrew calligraphy. It was one thing to learn a foreign language to be able to curse or order a beer. It was something else to be able to write in the language, without the benefit of formal classes or direct tutoring.

However, the Russian's expression didn't change. "Nyet."

Relief, yes, but it was because his instincts hadn't failed. St. John instead demanded, "Then what?"

Slowly, deliberately: "We will not judge."

St. John pulled the flame back in, because the last thing he wanted to be explaining to The Powers That Be was 'I was drinking vodka with the Tin Man and I set the woods on fire.' Still, the comment made him mentally step back. There was way too much to read into that statement. "Judge what?"

"What you choose. Whom you chose." Again, another sigh came from Piotr. "I do not wish for you to be hurt. You are good friend, John Allerdyce. You are balance to us. You are needed here, else we lose sight of things. We cannot lose you. We will fight for you, tovarisch. You must understand that."

It was one thing, he supposed, to have the Mascot insist that he was important. After all, he was Bobby's roommate and Bobby desperately wanted a roommate. Therefore, St. John had a ton legit reasons to dismiss Bobby's claims.

To have the Mansion Mediator say that he was needed.

Shit.

That was something else.

It also forced him to challenge, "What if I choose your Katya?" Dead silence answered that. So he bullied on, because he was St. John Allerdyce. "Show 'em, Tin Man, because that's what we're fucking doing here right? What if I made a play for your Katya?"

"What if I made a play for your Lee-Lee?"

"Irrelevant, dude. Lee-Lee chooses her own."

"As with Katya. She chooses her own."

St. John laughed, but it was sharp and bitter. "Dude, no guy in the whole fucking Mansion will go near her. Flirt with her. Tell her she looks nice. Fuck. Don't you see that? They all think you've staked your claim so they're respecting you. Shit. She thinks she's ugly or unworthy or fuck... too damned Jewish, which is complete and utter bullshit. The guys? They ain't gonna poach your girl."

"Oh."

"So all I have to do just fucking smile at her. Shit. Something as fucking simple as ask her about that pendant. Tell her how pretty it is. Say that it suits her." St. John picked up his shot glass. "Your Katya would smile. She would blush. Next thing you know, we'll be holding hands. I'd score the first kiss and the take it from there. Oh, and Tin Man? I know how to corrupt Good Girls. I've had lots of practice."

The tone was even, crisp almost. A fair but edgier imitation of what the Professor used when drawing out answers from students in class. "The reason you don't?"

"I almost killed her. I also saved her life." It was St. John's turn to raise an eyebrow as he met Piotr's gaze. "She's not mine. I don't poach. God fucking help you if the next guy who comes in ain't as nice as me, and we both fucking know I ain't a nice guy."

"Love is patient," Piotr quoted softly. "Love is kind."

"That's New Testament, Tin Man. She's Old Testament all the way. Fuck. As much as you two debate your faith, you should fucking know."

"Ah."

"You could let Kitty know you've been practicing Hebrew, jackass."

Piotr actually sat up and stared at him.

St. John only grinned. "You said yourself. I notice things." He settled against the log. "There's you're opening. Right there. Calligraphy. Makes Kitty realize that you really give a shit about her religion beyond some philosophical shit. Fuck. Maybe even talk to her about the scrolls again. Fucking ask her if you can do one for the outside of her damned door. That'll be a no, mind you, but fuck. It's the damned thought that fucking counts. Do the whole 'art' angle thing until... well..." He eyed his glass. "Shit, I sound like some stupid fuck from a Lifetime movie."

"Nyet. You sound like your Lee-Lee." He plucked the glass from St. John's hand. "You also sound like no more or you will regret this."

Regret? Well, fuck. He'd already confessed to Piotr in one hour what had taken him months to share with his own roommate. Fuck. "Bobby should be here."

"Da."

"I mean it, Tin Man."

"Of course."

That grated on his nerves particularly badly because an omniscient Rasputin was almost annoying as Lee-Lee's being 'godly' about what she knew. So he ground out, "What's that shit about hurting me?"

"Because Frosty does not know what he wants. He wants to please so many. He is pulled so many directions. He is puppet. You know this. You listen."

And fucking hell did it surprise him because someone else had picked up on the same damned thing. Yes, St. John had trust in his instincts, but the Mansion had always operated above and beyond his instincts. To hear confirmation, from the Russian no less... "Shit, Piotr, get it right. He's a marionette. All those damned strings. His dad pulls him one way. Xavier pulls him the opposite. The Mansion is his stage. We're the chorus. Aw, fuck. It's fucking Shakespeare for Mutants."

His friend let out a snort, but then his tone was serious. "Frosty does not want this place to be taken away from him."

"Who the fuck does? Christ, Piotr, this is fucking Mutie Heaven."

"Then tell me... describe for me how he sounded when he asked about the train."

"That'll cost you, Tin Man. Round'em up."

A hesitation. "You'll be ill."

"You want info. Info is a commodity. Commodities require payment, comrade. This is the land of capitalism. What else you got?"

"Twinkies."

"Dude. Do I fucking eat Twinkies?"

"According to Frosty, no."

"You got your damn answer, then. Ante up."

The vodka was uncorked, the glasses filled, and the bottle set aside. Neither of them touched their glasses.

"You first, Tin Man. You've known him longer. Does he say he's going 'home' or to 'my parents' house'?"

"Parents' house."

"He still says that. Dude, he's really specific about saying that," he told him, rubbing the side of the Zippo with his thumb. "Did he ever bring stuff back from there for his room?"

"Nyet. Frosty too fearful of ruining things."

He traced the rim of his glass with his finger. "He brings stuff back now. Important stuff, you know? None of that trophy-type shit, but personal things. His granddad's cuff links and pocket watch. Ice skates that don't fit anymore. Talked about his snowboard last time, but fuck knows where we're gonna put it."

"Ah. Very domestic."

"Bite me, Tin Man."

"Just observation."

"And observation tells me I don't fucking like him going home."

"It is because you love him."

The comment struck him hard. It was true, he supposed, that the emotion he felt was 'love', but he'd never really felt like that about anything or anyone before. To have Rasputin identify it with such ease annoyed the hell out of him. It wasn't fair, really, for someone else to tell him how he felt even if the identified emotion was correct. Or as correct as St. John supposed it could be.

He wasn't sure quite how he sounded. Fearful. Pissed. Unsure. Angry. All of them, probably. He still snarled out, "Listen, Tin Man, I could set the fucking woods on fire. Then, you'd have to drag my ass outta here because you're the Good Guy. Then you'd have to explain why you and me ain't sober. So back the fuck off on that shit, okay? Or I swear to God I'll..."

"Understood."

"Good."

They eyed each other for a few seconds before picking up the glasses, clicking them together, and downing the liquor in unison. The silence stretched out far longer than St. John expected, but he had no inclination to break it.

A thought then struck him. St. John twirled the Zippo before tapping it against his lips. "Maybe Bobby's parents think he's being cured of being a mutie. Wouldn't put it past the old man."

"Possible."

"Probable."

"The Professor encourages us to use our powers."

"Fuck, Tin Man. You've seen how Bobby can get. His parents probably fucking freaked the first time he farted at the dinner table and something got iced up. Shit. So they sent him off to Mutie School and, fuck, he still has problems."

Piotr let out a harsh sigh. "He is terrified he has not good control."

"Fuck yeah. Shit... If that kid brother of his is a punk..."

"He is a punk."

"Okay, then Punk Kid Brother probably fucks around with him. The fucking shithead."

"Da."

"There. Why Bobby hates going home."

Piotr scrubbed his face with his hand. "If he loses control, his parents think he failed. If he failed, then he be taken from Mansion. Why Frosty hates going home. Could lose Mansion. Mansion where he is..."

"Shit, Tin Man. I don't like this."

"Neither do I."

"Swear to God, if something happens..."

"We fight for him. That is the end. We will."

"Damn straight, Piotr. Damn Straight. You? Me? Don't fucking matter which one of us and don't fucking matter the damned consequences. This is our pact. Tonight. No matter what, his parents give him shit about his powers? We give them shit right back."

St. John Allerdyce held out his hand.

Piotr Rasputin grasped it firmly and shook. There was a pause. Then, "You love him."

"As do you."

"Not the same."

"Don't fucking matter. Oh, and Tin Man?"

"Da?"

"Fucking do something about Kitty. Lee-Lee's wondering if she can weld you together, and there's only so much I can fucking do to stop her."

"You are drunk."

"Just being honest, Tin Man, and dude? We all know that ain't that fucking often."

Thanks to....

mikhale for pushing me to take it a step further and really strive for a better and more complete ending. I think I accomplished that. To onomatopoetry for commentary, pointing out inconsistencies, and reminding me that I don't have to beat points into the ground. To taral, for the very thorough beta reads, correcting my grammatical problems and challenging me on wording. Any mistakes that are left are mine.



Part ten: Turnabout on the Roundabout or Leave Feedback