Turnabout on the Roundabout

(R, profanity) Pre-X1, Bobby (Bobby/John)

After a parish festival reveals the uglier side of the Drake household, Bobby returns to the Mansion.

Notes: Told from Bobby's POV, the grammar may not be exactly right in parts. Some of the run-on sentences are deliberately done for style purposes.

The X2 novelization places Bobby's family in Quincy, MA. The Catholic parish and elementary school that Bobby refers to, St. Peter in Chains, does not exist in Quincy but the other churches mentioned (including St. Ann's) are in the Boston diocese.

The 'undercroft' that Bobby refers to is basically the basement of the church where social activities can be held. They are generally found in older (pre-1960's) churches. Seasonal festivals are typical fund-raising activities for the parish. Also, Catholic masses can be held either Saturday evening (also referred to as the Vigil Mass) or the more traditional Sunday mornings.

The homily and text that is referenced is taken directly from "Living a Different Law" -- Third Sunday of Easter, Year C. Written by Paul Turner. © 2003 Archdiocese of Chicago. Liturgy Training Publications. I was doing research on dioceses in the Boston/Quincy area and stumbled across http://sacredheartquincy.org/main.shtml which had the text as part of the web page at the time.

Yes, there's a joke in the voice mail passcode towards the end of the story.

Bobby supposed the only benefit to the St. Peter in Chains Spring Festival was that it spared him from his mom's cooking. He would never say aloud that he was spoiled by Mansion-fare (because he was), but one of the things he dreaded about visits with his parents was any meal made by his mom. When he had first arrived at the Mansion, he had asked the Professor if he had ever heard of a mutant ability to make even Chef Boyardee Ravioli taste bad heated right out of the can. If there was one, his mom had to have it. The Professor had only chuckled slightly before saying, "No, my dear boy. Your mother is not a mutant," and Bobby could have sworn he had heard a tinge of sadness in his voice.

Then again, if his mom was a mutant, things would be much, much different. He was sure of it.

Still, the Spring Festival sucked for a variety of reasons, mainly that Bobby ended up stuck with his parents because he didn't really know anyone anymore. The kids his age were not making the effort to be around him either because he was 'that prep school tool'. Ronnie had already escaped with his dorky friends, and there was no way he was going to ask his punk of a thirteen-year-old brother if he could tag along. Everyone knew that it was the big brother who had the cool friends and who the kid brother wanted to hang out with.

Fat chance on that one, Bobby-boy, he told himself. Then again, it wasn't as if his mom was going to let him out of her sight anytime soon. There was always 'just one more person' she had to drag him over to.

If only Pete was there, then at least girls would swarm over to them because Pete would be a new, handsome face for them to drool over. Girls always drooled over Pete, especially when the group of them went to Palisades Center for a shopping excursion. If Pete was there, he would have to endure an explanation of Gothic architecture of the church and other artistic nuances. Bobby could tune it out after the first twenty seconds, but at least it would have been a conversation he could redirect with 'Wanna get a funnel cake?'

Bobby could then practice his Russian for the sole purpose of freaking some of the parishioners out. Maybe he would have called out loudly 'Hey! Rasputin!' to watch the jaws drop because of the sheer power of Pete's last name. Pete would scowl just right to look like the type of guy who would put decapitated heads on spikes just for fun.

If John was there, Bobby could listen to his roommate's harsh yet funny assessment of the crowd, Spring Festivals, and life in general; John's disparaging comments were sometimes funnier than Conan O'Brien's. If John were there, he would probably go on a riff about how if St. Peter was really in chains, then who would be holding the whip? Bobby would then explain that St. Peter in Chains really wasn't a bad name for a parish, because there was Star of the Sea, Gate of Heaven, and (worst of all) Most Precious Blood. John would then say that Catholics had weird names (sick even) because 'Most Precious Blood' was decidedly morbid and Bobby would agree. Maybe they would decide Most Precious Blood was the parish for mutant vampires or something equally as lame yet somehow fitting.

If John was there, the girls wouldn't be able to make up their minds on if they wanted to approach or not. After all, Golden Boy paired up with Bad Kid always drew attention, and John did 'scrappy, Bad Kid' with such expert ease that other guys would wander up just to find out just how much of a badass John was; there was no 'wannabe' about him now. If John was there, they would probably score a cup or two of cheap beer, eat funnel cakes and corn dogs (because church festivals were the only times Bobby could get them), and have a burping contest on the steps of the undercroft. John could almost get out 'Luke, I am your father' in a single belch.

Instead, Bobby was saddled with his mom, feeling like a toddler on a leash because of her not-so-gentle grip on his wrist as she pulled him from couple to couple and presented him like a show dog.

"Bobby's in town for the weekend," was how his mother started the conversation. Then, her card-playing friends would fuss over him, asking him which classes he was taking and how he did on the PSATs. They would go over all that school-related crap that always included the not-so-subtle question about extracurricular activities. His mom always would drop the 'exclusive, private school chic' bomb of horseback riding.

He always just nodded, because what was he supposed to say? He really wasn't into horseback riding because motorcycles were way cooler. Scott had been adamant about not teaching him until a) he knew how to maintain one properly and b) he actually got his driver's license not just his learner's permit. Then there was the whole 'teach me to fly the jet, please, because what if Scott was on another mission and he needed a backup besides Jean and Ro?' issue.

After being cooed at by the latest Pinochle player, he managed to pull his mom aside and asked to be excused. She looked at him, concern plain in her features. "Why, honey?"

"Mom..." he said with just a hint of exasperation because he really didn't want to spell it out.

"Oh! You have go!" She brightened immediately, nodding once, and then looked around. Damn, it was embarrassing because he was positive that Ronnie never had to endure this crap. He was three years older than Ronnie, had a better GPA than Ronnie, and unlike Ronnie, he followed all the rules. So why was he treated like a baby? He felt the tug at his wrist. "The potties are this way, honey."

The humiliation was hot and sharp, flashing across him kind of like the flames John controlled. Bobby concentrated hard, willing his mutant power not to activate, because the last thing he wanted to do was flash-freeze his mom at the parish festival. Perhaps the only reason why he had maintained control was that she hadn't spoken too loudly and there weren't that many people standing around. She pulled at him again, but he didn't move.

"Mom," he said softly, desperately trying to think of what Scott or Jean or the Professor would say, because they were all so diplomatic about things. Pete, Kitty and Jubilee had that ability as well.

John would have said, 'Gotta take a piss' or something equally crass because that was John, but it would have worked. Bobby knew, however, such a tactic from him would only make matters worse.

"I want to spend time you and stuff," and boy did that sound lame as hell but it had caught her attention, "but... um... I think I can manage the bathroom by myself." He offered up a bashful grin, the one that worked with Jean and Ro when he had done something stupid, and then tacked on the compromise, "Maybe we can stop by the Friendly's on the way home and get a sundae? Just like we used to?"

"Oh, Bobby!" his mom exclaimed and then cradled his face in her hands. "You are so sweet." She let him go. It was still embarrassing, but it certainly beat being escorted to the port-o-let like a six-year-old.

He glanced at his watch. "I'll meet you and dad back at the Potter's Cake Wheel in an hour?"

That was hoping for a lot, but maybe she would realize it was just for an hour, that he would be responsible and that he'd already endured two hours of 'latched to my mommy and daddy, stick a blue ribbon on me because I'm the Prized Son' time. No wonder no one would talk to him.

"Okay, honey, but be careful." She gave him the 'my little boy is growing up' look, just like out of the stupid Lifetime movies Alison and her cadre sometimes tormented them with on Thursdays. His mom dropped her hands from his face and Bobby had to try very hard not to turn and run before she could tie another apron string to him.

*****

After the third attempt to strike up a conversation with a former classmate had earned him 'yeah, you're the Prep School Tool' shit, Bobby decided that he had gone to school with complete jerks. Still, it beat the hell out of being led around the festival like a baby, so he was content to buy another funnel cake (his third) and a soda (convenient excuse for his hands being cold). He found a spot behind a row of 'spin the wheel and win a prize' booths and ate his food in peace.

He still had twenty-one minutes before he was supposed to meet up with his parents, and he decided that maybe just hiding behind the booths, away from prying eyes and expectations, was the best thing to do. Sure, it was the coward's way and he knew his father would definitely have something to say about it, but he remembered what Scott had said that one time Bobby had confessed about spending the night on the roof. Scott said that he would have done the same thing if he could have gotten away with it. That thought reminded him of the cell phone in his pocket.

Yesterday afternoon before they had gotten out of the car at the train station, Scott had handed it to him. "It's already programmed with all the Mansion numbers." That, of course, meant the Powers' cell phones and private lines. "If your parents make a big deal about it, tell them it's school property - which it is - and that all kids who are traveling get one as a safety precaution - which is now in effect. But... if you just want to give us a buzz to find out who won the Foosball tourney tomorrow, that's okay too."

The phone felt suddenly heavier, as if someone had put lead in his pocket. Bobby had the urge to call, just to hear a friendly voice and the reassurance that it wasn't as bad as he thought it was, that at least he got to pig out on junk food and no one had really heard his mom say "potty" in public. John would be laughing his ass off about that last part, falling off the bed and holding his sides like he sometimes did now. Bobby put up with it because, well, at least John was laughing about something.

The sharp "oof!" startled Bobby out of his thoughts. He looked up and saw a guy about his age on his hands and knees as if he'd just fallen, breathing hard through his mouth. Bobby immediately got up and approached, but when the other guy jerked his head up and glared at him, he stopped. The warning look was nothing in comparison to what John used to routinely throw at him. Still, it was a glare nonetheless, the 'stay the hell away from me' type.

"You okay, man?" Bobby asked, keeping his distance as he set his soda down and held out his hands, palms up, just like Pete did. Once he got a good look, Bobby knew it was a stupid question because the guy had the beginnings of a black eye, his lip was split, and blood was dripping steadily from his nose.

"Fine," the guy muttered, but with that tone of voice that Bobby recognize not as the 'leave me the fuck alone' tone which John's particular specialty, but the 'don't beat the crap out of me' one that Bobby supposed some kids used with Pete when they first met the towering Russian.

Bobby carefully took a few steps closer, pulling the handkerchief from his pocket. He kept one in case he sneezed, because it was much easier to hide the frost with cotton than Kleenex. He knelt down and held it out; the guy was watching him the whole time. Then, Bobby started to pick out the details: curly, close-cropped ash brown hair, freckles everywhere because of fair skin, and deep set eyes. It reminded him of someone from his past; that was when he spotted the name embroidered on the jacket. "Brandon?" Bobby asked as a flood of memories hit him. "Brandon Kendall?"

That earned a sharp stare. "What do you want?"

"It's me, Bobby Drake," he said and waved the handkerchief. "If you're Brandon Kendall, then we went to kindergarten and first grade together at St. Ann's and we used to play Power Rangers. I had the Red Ranger and you had the Blue Ranger but we used to pretend that the Blue Ranger was really the Black Ranger because you mom had a thing against the Black Ranger."

The guy blinked a few times before sitting back on his heels as he wiped the blood from his nose. "Bobby? What are you doing here? They said you went to school in New York."

"Yeah... well, I'm just here for the weekend. Right now, I'm hiding from my mom," Bobby grinned slightly as he grabbed his soda. He glanced around, wondering whom Brandon was running from. "She's been parading me around all night." He held out the handkerchief again. "Here. It's clean. Swear. You can keep it. No big deal, but you're getting blood all over your jacket and trust me, blood is a pain in the butt to get out of clothing."

Brandon nodded, took the cloth, and dabbed his nose and lip. Slowly, he stood up. "Thanks, man."

"No prob." He paused and looked around again. "I don't think anyone followed you." His friend tensed, but he simply continued, "You should sit down with your head tilted back. It stops the bleeding. You can have my soda, too. Just hold the side of it to your face because ice helps the swelling around your eye go down. There are some steps over there. C'mon."

*******

For Bobby, it was a weird, uncomfortable silence that really couldn't be broken. His childhood friend, the only one willing to acknowledge him at the festival really, had been beaten up. Bobby knew that away from the Mansion, he just couldn't ask what happened because guys did not talk about getting the crap kicked out of them on the playground. Whoever had roughed up Brandon hadn't followed him behind the booths, so they had ended up setting on the rectory stairs near the parking lot.

"Want another soda or something?" Bobby asked. He dug around his pocket and pulled out three bucks.

Brandon stared at him a moment and then shook his head. "Nah. I'm good."

"You sure? I can get more ice if you want."

"Nah," he said and adjusted the bloody handkerchief.

The lack of conversation began to get to Bobby, because although John was the King of Silence and Awkward Conversations, it had never been like this. Maybe it was because there were things to talk to Brandon about, things that they had in common even if it was years ago. So, Bobby offered up a bit of his own ego, because the Professor had once said that a good dialogue could be started with a shared experience. "Don't tell my parents, but this guy named Freddy tagged me a few months ago and I had a shiner for weeks."

Brandon looked at him again, surprised yet guarded and even a little scared. Bobby knew that the first words out of John's mouth would have been, 'so fucking what' and his lips would be quirked in that arrogant, sarcastic badass way of his because that was John and how John reacted to things. Brandon, now however, had the proverbial 'deer in the headlights' look in his eyes.

"I don't know," Bobby tried again. "Maybe you can talk your dad into self-defense class or something. I mean, I can show you a move or two. Not that I'm good or anything, but Scott's been teaching us and..."

"Bobby!" his mom's voice had that shrill to it, just like the one time Bobby had come across a skunk while they had been camping at Beartown State Forest that summer when he was nine.

He automatically glanced down at his watch and realized that was late meeting them at Potter's Cake Wheel, but also surprised that as much time had passed as it had. He flashed her a bashful grin, the one that had worked last time, as he stood up, stuffed the cash back into his pocket, and gestured to his friend. "Hey, Mom! Remember Brandon Kendall from St. Ann's? We used to..."

Bobby then saw his dad and brother approach, Ronnie's jaw dropping as his dad's face twisted in anger. His mom covered her mouth with her hand as his father ordered, "Get away from him, Bobby!" with the same tone of voice he'd used to warn Bobby away from that homeless guy in the subway when he was six.

"Jeez, Dad," Bobby said as he took a step towards them. "Brandon just has a bloody nose and I..."

"Now, Bobby!" his dad repeated before striding forward, grabbing him by the upper arm, and forcefully yanking him away.

"He doesn't know, Bill," his mom softly pleaded. "He doesn't know."

"Know what?" Bobby asked as he dared to glance back and saw the way Brandon was now almost huddled against the stairs. "Dad, someone hit Brandon. I was just doing the Good Samaritan-thing, okay? We are at church, you know, and aren't we supposed to be doing the whole 'love thy neighbor' stuff?"

The hold on his upper arm tightened considerably and his father gave him a rough shake. "Stay away from him, do you understand?"

"Brandon's hurt!" he protested, but his parents weren't listening. They began quickly walking towards the parking lot to where the car was, Ronnie trailing behind with that 'You're in so much trouble' smirk. His dad's grip on his arm was painful, fingers digging into the muscles, but Bobby continued anyway. "He was bleeding!"

"Oh!" His mother's squeaked exclamation set Bobby's nerves on fire and he tried like hell to control his mutant power. A flare up was the last thing he needed. "You didn't touch him, did you? His blood didn't get on you, did it? Don't lie to me, Bobby. Did he touch you?"

Jesus fucking Christ, what in the holy fuck is your fucking problem? was what Bobby wanted to yell, because it was something John would say and John usually got answers when he sprinkled the f-bomb in conversations. But Bobby knew he couldn't say that because it went beyond a mouthful of Dial soap and whatever creative punishment they would call the Professor about. 'No horseback riding for a year because Bobby took the Lord's name in vain with f-bombs' which was fine with Bobby because he rather learn to fix a motorcycle or the jet than perfect his posture posting while the horse cantered. Both his parents were in full panic mode, something he'd only seen once before when they had thought Ronnie had swallowed lighter fluid. Bobby had been ten.

"No," he replied as his dad continued to shove him roughly towards the car.

"Are you sure?" his mom persisted and then made a reach for one of his hands.

Bobby jerked away, or at least tried to but it was quite difficult considering the death grip his dad had on him. "I'm positive, Mom."

His dad had the car keys out, clicking the remote to unlock the doors and finally let go of Bobby's arm. "Get in the car, now!"

"What did I do?" Bobby asked, hating that his voice rose in pitch but preferred that to a fine coat of frost on the Audi sedan. "Brandon was hurt! I was just trying to help."

His father whirled, lanced him with a harsh stare, and snapped again, "I said, get in the car, now!"

Bobby obeyed because he saw how his father's hand had raised up as if ready to slap him for his disobedience. Once they were all inside with the doors closed, Bobby fought to control his power as what his mother had said clicked. He doesn't know, Bill, she had said and then made a huge production about Brandon's blood. His mom was now trying to hide her nervousness by blowing her nose.

"What don't I know about Brandon? Is he HIV-positive and you're afraid he transmitted the virus?" While he meant it to be a little sarcastic, it was the only thing he could think of off the top of his head. He watched as his mom cringed with his words. In the rearview mirror, he could see the passiveness settle across his dad's features. "I have had first aid training," he told them, trying to keep the anger out of his voice because this was just plain stupid. He didn't have any cuts or open sores and he had told Brandon to keep the handkerchief, just like Jean always advised. "Dr. Grey spent a whole week on blood borne pathogens, about HIV, AIDS, and Hepatitis B and C."

Ignorant, his mind then whispered coldly and oddly enough, his inner voice sounded kind of like John. Scared and ignorant. This isn't about any of that shit, Bobby-boy. You know what they're freaking out over. Dread curled up in his belly yet its claws reached up and raked his lungs.

"We had to pass a test before we got our certificates," he forced the words out. "Do you want to see my First Aid Training card? I have it in my wallet."

"No, Bobby," his mom replied.

Maybe he was a masochist because he needed to hear them say it. If they were going to play this stupid game, if they were going to crucify Brandon for something his friend had no control over, he wanted to hear them say it. "To become infected with a blood borne pathogen..."

"Bobby," his mom interrupted, "We think Brandon may be one of them."

"What? A Yankee fan?" Bobby ground out the joke, because people expected him to make jokes about things to cover when he didn't understand something, especially his parents. Now, however, he knew exactly what they referring to. He still wanted to hear them say it.

Maybe it was to hear the condemnation his parents reserved for those 'not like them', and there were quite a few people who fit in that category. Maybe it was simply to justify all the lies that Bobby had told. Maybe it was to confirm once and for all what the Professor had tactfully explained that first day they met in his parents' living room. Some people just weren't ready to accept those with 'exceptional gifts' but given time and patience, they would.

The cell phone burned against his thigh.

"No, stupid," Ronnie told him with a sneer that was so practiced it wasn't intimidating at all. "A mutie freak."


(***((()))***)

When they had arrived back at his family's house, Bobby's mom had insisted he change immediately. What could he say? Too late, Mommy, I am a mutie? What about: According to Dr. Jean Grey, who specializes in mutant DNA, the X-factor is a genetic characteristic that is passed on from one generation to the next by males. Instead, he'd done as his mom had asked, careful of the cell phone because he had to figure out a way to contact the Mansion. He knew it was the only way he could calm down and hopefully not have a nightmare.

She had scurried downstairs to the washer with his discarded clothes. He wondered how much bleach she would use, because his mom's answer to any cleaning question was always, "Bleach is the best, honey."

At least she's not burning them, he thought darkly and wished that John was there, because John would be making the appropriate sarcastic comments. John would have the clothing out in the front yard, create a flaming chicken and have it swoop down to set everything on fire.

Now, he just had to get out of the house because he felt as if he were suffocating. Bobby knew he could have ended everything right then at the parish festival. He could have confessed his sin that he was a mutie, created an ice shield between him and his family, and taken off with Brandon until they found some place safe so that Bobby could call the Mansion. The X-Men would have shown up, executed a perfect rescue because Cyclops was brilliant at them, and Bobby would have been back home... his real home he suddenly decided. Jean would have taken care of Brandon's injuries, and Brandon would have probably bunked with Pete because Pete usually ended up with the tetchy new kids as roommates.

Jesus, that sounded so damned lame. Childish. Foolish. John would have called him a fucking moron.

If only he wasn't such a coward, things would be so much easier. If he had just an ounce of Scott's courage, he would have been able to stand up to his father and say, "I'm a mutant," and not endure the pathetic charade.

Courage. The word burned in his head as he recalled the homily Father Rousch had given earlier at Mass. They had gone to Saturday evening mass instead of Sunday because that was what they did when Bobby was in town. He had tried to tune the lecture out, just like he always did because Father Rousch tended to ramble. Maybe it was because the second reading was from the Acts of the Apostles and Bobby had perked up at the mention of St. Peter and St. John because he missed his friends; there was mention of the Sanhedrin and that reminded him of Kitty.

"There may be times when your faith prompts you to speak up," Father Rousch had said. "You may put yourself at risk by doing so. You may be criticized. You may even be arrested. But you will have the happiness that comes from beliefs so strong they cannot be kept quiet."

When it came to faith and courage, Bobby was sorely lacking in that department. Pete and John would have had no problem admitting they were mutants. Kitty and Jubilee wouldn't either. His best friends were so damned comfortable about being mutants and either their families outright accepted them like Pete and Kitty or their families didn't exist like Jubilee and John. If his friends knew that he was such a pathetic loser...

He had to get out of the house now. He had to call the Mansion and talk to the Professor and tell him what had happened. If he had been too chicken to stand up for Brandon earlier that evening, the least he could do now was let the Professor know about the situation before Brandon got beaten up again. It had to be the reason Brandon had those injuries.

Bobby headed towards the front door when his dad grabbed him in the same spot as before, the grip just as tight as before. Damn, it hurt a lot and he winced in pain. His dad's voice had a hard edge to it. "Where are you going?"

He gestured to his sweats and tennis shoes, the shoes being the one item his mom hadn't confiscated besides his underwear; maybe she had just forgotten about them. "I know it's late," he said as neutrally as possible, just like he had practiced in his bedroom, "but I want to go for a run. I didn't get a chance to this morning."

His dad stared at him a minute. "Jogging at night?"

Lying had suddenly become so much easier. How could his father possibly know that the only running Bobby did was on the football or soccer fields? Oh, there were certain ticks of his parents that he knew about, and thanks to extended time with Jubilee and John, he knew somewhat how to use those certain ticks to his advantage. His parents were always worried that he wasn't doing enough, that he'd lose his "scholarship" because of lack of effort. The words felt bitter but flowed off his tongue smoothly and with just enough earnestness so it didn't sound forced. He supposed John would be impressed. "With breakfast and the trip back to school, I won't be able to tomorrow. I don't want to fall behind."

There was that spark of interest and that appreciation of the 'go get 'em attitude'. It earned a nod and then a light clap on his shoulder. "Don't be long, then. And stay in the neighborhood."

"Of course, Dad. Thanks," he added and then left through the front door. He made it three blocks before he sat down on the curb, pulled out the cell phone that he had carefully hidden in the pocket of the shorts he had on underneath his sweats, selected the number, and hit the 'talk' key.

The phone was answered on the fourth ring. The Professor's voice sounded pleasant and not the least bit surprised. "Good evening, Robert."

The salutation stunned him. "How did you... uh... know it was me?"

"Caller ID, my dear boy," the Professor answered with an amused chuckle. "Contrary to popular belief, I do have some limitations."

"Oh."

"How are you this evening?" asked with such calm casualness, as if Bobby called him regularly just to chat.

Whatever it was in the Professor's voice -- even long-distance he had that uncanny ability to be effortlessly reassuring -- it caused something in Bobby to break, and his words came out in a torrid jumble of syllables. He finished with, "Is this a test? I mean, you gave me a cell phone and maybe you knew that Brandon was like... uh... us and I was supposed to help him? Because if it was a test, I failed big time because I'm... I'm such a chicken. Scott would've helped Brandon. I just..." He picked up a pebble and coated it in ice, the release of his power easing some of the ache in his shoulders. "I freaking failed."

"First of all, Robert, this was not a test," the Professor said evenly. "The cell phone was given to you for a variety of reasons. Your safety was our utmost concern, of course, but also in case of situations such as the one you just described. You showed a remarkable maturity in how you handled what happened with Brandon. You offered comfort to a former schoolmate in need. How could that be wrong, dear boy? I am sure that time with Brandon helped him more than you give yourself credit for."

By what? Giving the guy a hankie? Bobby thought sarcastically. By not standing up for him when my dad was dragging me away?

"Also, you did not immediately jump to the conclusion that Brandon was a mutant because you realized that you had no way of knowing unless he demonstrated his power, which he did not." The Professor paused, as if waiting for Bobby to absorb the information. The Professor did that a lot, that almost imperceptible delay between sentences as if judging just how much the person was following. Then, the Professor's voice became slightly softer as he said, "You have a very unique situation with your family, Robert."

That's the whole problem, Bobby wanted to say, but didn't.

"You controlled your power during a very stressful situation and exhibited shrewd judgment in waiting to call the Mansion to ask for advice. So you see, Robert, how could you have failed? You managed the situation as best you could given the resources you had."

"But Scott would have..."

"What action Scott would have taken is irrelevant," the Professor interrupted gently. "I do hope your realize that."

He didn't answer for a few moments, drawing frost circles on the pavement. "I just wanted to do the right thing."

"And you did. As I said, what Scott's actions would have been are irrelevant. However, he would have shared the same motivations as you," the Professor told him. Bobby felt the blush creep up his face. Every kid at the Mansion knew that comparisons to Scott Summers were, perhaps, the highest compliment that the Professor could pay.

"As much as I enjoy speaking with you, Robert, I do believe you should be getting back to your parents' home. It is growing late and your family has had enough excitement for one day. As for me, I will confirm whether or not your friend Brandon is a mutant. Place your phone in silent mode and I will leave a voice mail for you regarding your friend. The passcode is 9-6-3-6. If Brandon is a mutant, there are several issues that we must address. Your relationship with your parents, obviously, is one of them."

"Yeah," Bobby replied as he created a small ball of ice in his palm. "Figured as much." Maybe it was that feeling of understanding that made him say, "I'm just sick of all of it."

"I know, Robert. It is a difficult road for you."

"I want to come home," and God, did he sound like a six-year-old.

"I know." Then, ever so gently, "Do you remember the reason why you asked that your abilities be kept secret from your family?"

"They'd freak."

"Yes."

"If they knew now, they wouldn't let me come home. To you, I mean," he continued as he stared at the ice in his hand. "I remember what Mister Murdock said about legal rights and stuff when he visited that one time. I'm not eighteen yet. If my mom and dad pull me out of school, I can't do anything about it except sue them or something, and that would... that would screw it up for everyone else."

"Robert..."

"No, sir. I'm serious. I'm not being a martyr or anything, okay? It's just that... what about kids like John and Jubilee? I mean... jeez... what would have happened to them?" Silence answered him, so he forged on. "All this time, my parents tell me I'm supposed to act like a good Christian or Catholic or whatever. So I do and everything. Brandon's got this bloody nose, but it could be anyone, right? So I remember what my parents taught me and what Jean taught me and what you always say and stuff. I thought about what Scott would do and how he would handle things. I did freaking everything right, you know? And, well... Jeez. It wasn't enough."

"Robert..."

"It wasn't enough, Professor." He blinked back the tears as he said, "I'm not a freak. I'm just trying to do what is right."

It was the first time Bobby had ever heard the Professor hesitate. "I know, Robert."

"Then why isn't it enough?"

"Because sometimes... because sometimes, my son, it is never enough."

***

His face felt stiff from the forced smile he had since breakfast for the benefit for his family, to assure them that everything was just fine. His body ached, although he wasn't sure it was because of the tight control he exerted over his power since last night or the impromptu jogging session; after hanging up with the Professor, Bobby had realized that he had to make good on his lie and work up a sweat.

The news that Brandon wasn't a mutant hadn't eased any of the tension Bobby felt at all. At least the Professor had said that he would discreetly alert Brandon's school and family that the boy was being unnecessarily targeted. After all, it was the responsible thing to do and while the Professor hadn't outright said it, Bobby knew that there was only so much the Professor could do about it.

He still had a smudge of his mom's mango-colored lipstick on his cheek from where she kissed him before he boarded the train. "We love you, honey," she had told him and Bobby wondered if she would have said the same thing if she knew he were a mutant.

Probably not.

After all, Ronnie had bounded up to them, waving a handful of Find Out More About Muties flyers, and had asked, "Can I go?"

Bobby knew that he had stared stupidly at the flyers even as he reached out and took a few. His mom had read them over quickly and had replied, "I don't see why not, sweetie, but your father has the final say." She had looked at Bobby and had cradled his cheek. "Oh, Bobby... Do you want to go, too? Maybe take some of your friends? I'll talk to your father and maybe you can bring them home for that weekend, honey."

Oh sure his friends would want to go. Jubilee would handle the fireworks, John would handle the flame throwing, and Dani would scare the shit out of people left, right, and stupid. Sure, Ronnie would find out about muties because he was sure John would be more than happy to show him the finer points of fire manipulation. He could just see another introduction: "Mom? Dad? This is Assistant Headmaster Summers and he can blast Frisbees with his eyes."

He had swallowed hard but the lie had tumbled smoothly out of his mouth. "I think that's the weekend Warren will be visiting. You remember Warren, don't you?"

"How could I forget a Worthington!" his mom had exclaimed with a bright smile. His mother always loved pulling that little social trump card amongst her friends.

"Since I'm sixteen and so are some of the other guys," he had continued, "Warren said he was going to see about internships over the summer." And Oh God, it had been a big, ugly lie but it had also been brilliant because he now had a good excuse to stay at the Mansion during the breaks. "I'm trying real hard and Professor Summers says I have a good shot at it."

"Well, you try your best then," she had told him and kissed his cheek again. "An internship with Worthington Industries will be wonderful on your college application." The announcement of the impending departure of his train had ended any further discussion on that subject. "We love you, Bobby," his mom had said again as he had stepped closer to the train.

"Bye," he had said, because if there was one lie he refused to tell it would be that he loved his human family in return.

He wasn't sure he did.

Bobby hadn't moved from his seat once he had boarded either, not even to get something to drink or make a trip to the bathroom during the three-plus hour ride. He felt sick, and he wanted to say it was because his mom had attempted to make cinnamon-swirl pancakes but they had tasted like the glue paste that Brandon had dared him to eat when they had been in kindergarten. It had taken three rounds of brushing his teeth and gargling with Listerine to get rid of the taste. He also felt numb, which he supposed was a good thing, because it meant that at least his power was under control.

He held the flyers tightly in his hand, knowing that a shitload of Frisbees were going to be blasted that evening by Scott, because that was how Scott sometimes dealt with things that made him angry. All the kids knew the difference between Scott 'practicing' and him venting his anger, although they would never admit that they did.

The Professor would give him the speech about how it wasn't Bobby's fault and that he did a remarkable job of controlling his powers. Basically, the Professor would repeat what he had said last night, just tweaking it a bit to touch upon the fact Ronnie was probably just curious about mutants. The Professor would tell him that he would research the Find Out More About Muties seminar, and he would praise Bobby for bringing it to his attention.

Bobby knew he couldn't tell his friends. He couldn't let them know what had happened. There would be questions. There would be answers. There would be confessions. They would never speak to him again. They would call him a wuss and a coward because he refused to standup for himself and for mutants everywhere. They would shun him because he didn't have the balls to tell his parents what he was and run away like they had. They would accuse him of playing both sides, for trying to be a 'norm', and for being the biggest hypocrite at the Mansion.

He was the Mascot, after all, and a two-faced one at that.

He let out a slow breath, willing himself to calm down. Willing himself to push those thoughts aside because he had to get his mind back into the proper frame so he could play Bobby the Mansion Mascot for the benefit of the populace.

The Professor would keep this secret and so would Scott.

Bobby just wished it didn't hurt this much.

His stop was announced, the train ground to a halt, and he departed, slinging his duffle over his shoulder. He was returning to the Mansion with less clothing than he had left with; his mom had claimed to have 'forgotten' to transfer what he had worn on Saturday from the washer to the dryer. Bobby knew it was a outright lie because his mom never forgot about stuff like that. He wondered if they were going to simply throw them away - and wasn't waste one of those Cardinal sins or something? -- or they would burn them to kill the threat of the spread of mutantitis.

Bobby wandered into the main terminal and didn't have to look too hard to find Scott waiting for him. Dressed in all black, the man held up a placard that said "Mr. Drake" and he even had that stupid chauffeur's cap on. It was a joke between them that had started that second time Scott had picked him up from the train station those years ago; Scott would play the driver and he even did the 'take your bag, sir,' and opening the door thing. They would end up at the McDonald's on the way home because Bobby would be absolutely starving and even not-so-good Mickey D's beat the hell out of his mom's cooking.

Yet now, Bobby didn't even smile; he couldn't find the comfort that used to automatically settle over him when he saw Scott waiting for him to take him home. Maybe it was because as he came closer, he realized that not only was Scott waiting for him, so was the Professor.

He knew what they were trying to do; Bobby was well-versed in the Way of the Mansion and understood such concepts as familiar routines, recognizable behavior patterns as a way of reassurance, and the significance of Professor Xavier and Scott Summers showing up to take him back to the Mansion. He couldn't conjure up a smile, not even a wave or a shout out or anything really, to show his appreciation of what they had done. His emotions felt like they were encapsulated in solid ice, and no amount of optic blasting or telepathic reassurances were going to melt them any time soon.

"Welcome back, Robert," the Professor said and offered a gentle smile, but there was a certain quirk to his eyebrow. Bobby realized immediately that he must have been broadcasting like a high-powered satellite dish for any emotion to show like that on the Professor's face. Either that, or he noticed Bobby was clutching bright blue papers in his hand.

"Hey there, kiddo." Scott offered a small grin, nowhere near the wattage he was capable of, and folded up the placard. He reached out to take the duffle, just like always, but brushed the exact spot where Bobby's dad had grabbed him twice the night before.

Bobby winced and shied away even though Scott hadn't really touched him at all. The hand-shaped bruise was much more tender this morning than last night and it had turned an interesting shade of purple/brown/green. God help him if Scott ever actually saw it, because his surrogate big brother would have taken the jet to Quincy, landed it in the front yard, and awarded Bobby's dad a bruise of his own. Yet now, Scott went completely still, his fingers flexing slightly as if trying to control his temper, and then dropped his arm back to his side. Bobby stared at the floor because there was no way he wanted to explain anything right then. He knew they wouldn't challenge him here.

"We should be going," the Professor said.

"Yes, sir," Bobby muttered.

The ride back to the Mansion was spent in vocal and telepathic silence.


(***((()))***)

When the car had pulled into the Mansion garage and stopped, Bobby had handed the Professor the flyers. "I don't want to talk about it," he had said and had made sure he caught the Professor's gaze as well as Scott's attention. "Please, I don't want to talk to anyone about anything. I don't want anybody to know, please? I'll do whatever you want. I swear I will. Extra chores, extra homework, you name it and I'll do it. Just please don't tell anybody."

Before they could respond, he had fled to his bedroom, where all he could do was shut the door and sit on his bed, too numb to do much else. He knew he should simply curl up on his side with his back to the door, because then John would come in, see the situation, and believe that Bobby had gone straight to bed after coming home. Bobby had done that before, but that had been mostly to recover from his mom's cooking.

The door opened without a knock and John stood in the doorway for a few seconds before entering all the way in and closing the door behind him. He flicked the overhead light on before he walked to the hamper, yanked off his grass-stained shirt, and tossed it in. There must have been an after-dinner football game. "Didn't know you were back yet."

Bobby blinked twice, floored by what John said. He wanted to shout out, 'What in the fuck do you mean that you didn't know I was back?' because f-bombs in a conversation with John were only natural. He wanted to ask 'Didn't the Professor or Scott tell you?' and he wanted to believe that John was just playing dumb, but John wasn't that type of guy. John didn't play those types of games with him.

His roommate dug through his dresser, pulled out his black Nine Inch Nails t-shirt, and put it on. "Dude?"

Bobby didn't answer, unsure of his voice or what to say. 'I may be just as fucked up as you are?' It was all so damned wrong. He was unable to move. Maybe his mutant power had kicked in and he'd frozen himself to the bed. That would certainly be a new twist, because he had never frozen himself to something before.

John would probably have just ignored him if he had just said something, even if he had just flipped him off. Instead, he just sat there, stupidly. John cocked his head sideways, an odd imitation of what Jubilee did occasionally, and took a step closer to him. "Bobby?"

He twitched a little, because the outright concern in John's voice was a new thing. His roommate usually backed off from comfort duty, seeming content to simply observe when one of them went off on a tangent about something. Then again, walking into the bedroom and finding Bobby just sitting on the bed and in the dark may have just set off every alarm in John's head. Bobby wondered how long it would take for John to call in the cavalry and then retreat to his side of the bedroom to watch the proceedings.

It was time for a joke to ease the tension, but Bobby realized that he was the one who always made the jokes while John provided the sarcastic retorts. He need that now, that little touch of 'everything is normal here at the Mansion', and John to say something like, "If your head starts spinning and you puke pea soup, you're gonna fucking clean it up, dude."

His roommate didn't. Instead, John edged a little closer, probably debating on the wisdom of approaching a guy who could encase him in solid ice. Bobby blinked, wondering why he couldn't see his breath because he knew the room had to be cold because he was zoning out massively and whenever he did, his control slipped.

"Fuck," John muttered and then walked swiftly to door. Instead of yanking it open and calling down the hall for Pete to get his organic steel ass in here because Pete was the de facto handler of a spazzing Bobby, his roommate locked the door, came back to Bobby's bed, and sat down.

It was a decidedly un-John-like behavior. Bobby looked over to him in wide-eyed shock because this was not something that was supposed to happen. Sure, John had seemed more at ease, especially in the evenings when it was just the two of them. However, maybe John was just as freaked out as Bobby had been when he'd walked in that night and found Scott in vigil over John.

Bobby supposed that most people would have started with, "Who died?" or "Are you okay?" or something generic and passive and open-ended so that he could just explode with an explanation. John didn't. He simply sat next to him, the only movement was his eyes as his gaze went from Bobby to the door to the clock back to Bobby. He found the silence soothing.

Bobby had no idea how long they sat like that, shoulder to shoulder on Bobby's bed, because the only thing he was staring at was the slightly warped floorboard by his dresser. There then was a light knock followed by the rattle of the door handle. "Hey John-boy," Jubilee called and there was outright worry in her voice, "open up."

He tensed and John shivered, the first outward sign that his control had slipped. His roommate got up, went to the door, unlocked it, opened it just enough so that he could slither out, and shut the door behind him. God that was strange, to see the protective side of John, because wasn't he supposed to let Jubilee in so she could start the comfort process?

The door opened and John slid in. The door was locked and John sat on his bed, next to him. No words. No arm around the shoulder or reassuring pat on the thigh. No nothing.

No bullshit.

Then again, John wasn't the bullshitting-type, or at least that was how Bobby always saw him. Bobby twitched again, hoping that he hadn't inadvertently frozen John or the sheets or something. Damn, his roommate was patient as hell when it came to the frost and all that related shit. He knew his parents simply couldn't handle it. Bobby remembered when his power first started to emerge and the huge fight his mom had with his dad over the furnace and the vents because Bobby's room was always colder than the rest of the house; his mom had insisted on a new heating system.

He remembered when he was still living at his parent's house, how he had woken up one morning with frost-covered sheets and a fine sheen of ice on the inside of the windows. He had been so desperate for an excuse that he had flung open one of the windows and allowed the cold winter air in. It had been the only time his father had ever used a belt to punish him and it had been when he had learned how expensive furnaces were.

"Shit," John said and then got up. He picked up Bobby's duffle, pulled out the tennis shoes and put them next to the dresser. He put the books on the desk, the toilet kit on the dresser, and tossed the clothes in the hamper. John paused for a second before turning the bag inside out. He must have noticed the tan Dockers and blue plaid shirt were missing because John was slightly obsessive about their respective inventory of clothes. What could he say? My mom bleached them because she thought I touched another mutant?

The duffle was placed in the closet, where Bobby always put it, and John returned, kneeing before him and, of all things, pulled off Bobby's loafers. He tossed them in the general direction of the closet.

John in Caretaker Mode should have scared him, perhaps, because it was so out of the ordinary for his roommate. It was out of the ordinary for any guy, really, if Bobby actually thought about it, because most guys were conditioned not to give a shit about other guys. That type of behavior earned the label of faggot or pansy or wussy or nancy boy or... the list was quite extensive, but always called into question the guy's masculinity. Maybe it would now include 'mutie freak' because, well, the Professor had said that while Brandon was not a mutant, that apparently 'mutie freak' was now one of the more 'unsavory insults' - an only the Professor could use the word 'unsavory' in a sentence and make it sound serious.

He shuddered this time, which he supposed was an improvement over the twitch because it meant he hadn't frozen himself to something. But he couldn't figure out why he couldn't see his breath because he was positive that his control was shot to hell and back. After all, his notoriously indifferent roommate was now peeling off Bobby's socks and that was totally, unequivocally wrong. Then again, John did qualify as a mutie freak, and the Powers always preached about taking care of one another.

It then kicked in what John was trying to do: get him ready for bed because it was probably late and his roommate was being the responsible one for the evening. Bobby supposed it was fair considering all the times that he had shepherded John through nightmares. He stood up and watched as a relieved expression crossed John's features.

Bobby fumbled with the buttons of his shirt a few times, fingers slipping because he was doing a remarkable job of icing up the front of his shirt instead of taking it off. He knew he made some sort of sound because John was standing before him and saying quietly, "Here, let me," and he yielded the removal of his shirt duties to his roommate.

John tugged at the waist of his shirt, untucking it from his pants, and Bobby watched in a daze as his roommate patiently undid the front buttons all with an impersonal touch, eerily reminiscent of Jean. His cuffs were undone next, John showing an efficient dexterity that Bobby had never noticed before. He felt the fabric being fluffed and sliding off his shoulders, John maneuvering around him to take his shirt off. It wasn't until the fabric pooled at his wrists that he blinked, suddenly aware of John's sharp breathing and how John's fingers hovered over the bruise.

"Mother-goddamned-fucker," John snarled, his eyes turning dark and viciously angry. Bobby recognized the look; it was the expression that John had when something was about to be massively flambéed within the next few seconds. There was also a ferocious protectiveness in the gaze as well, one that John only dialed up when some jackass was hassling Jubilee or Kitty at the Palisades Center, but this one was more intense, akin to righteous anger if Bobby wanted to put a label on it.

John removed the shirt completely, fingers brushing against Bobby's bare skin occasionally, as if in light reassurance that everything was going to be okay. Bobby wondered why the hell he was allowing his roommate to undress him like this, but it was somehow okay because it was John and more than anything over the past two days, he had wanted John to be there with him. His trousers were undone and pulled down, efficiently yet gently, as if John stripped his roommate of his clothing all the time. Maybe it was something John had done in his mysterious past, undressing people or whatever.

A tap on the back of his right knee registered somewhere in the numb daze he was in, and Bobby lifted his foot. Another tap and he raised and lowered his left foot. His trousers were flung across the room towards the hamper.

John stood up and pulled back the covers to Bobby's bed. Bobby felt like a six-year-old, being led around his room to bed, but he decided that unlike at the parish festival he didn't care. This was a good kind of thing for whatever reason that he couldn't quite figure out now, but he was tired and drained of all emotion. John had taken over feeling justifiably angry although John's fury was directed at the wrong thing.

"They'll never hurt you again," John hissed in his ear as Bobby collapsed into the bed and felt the covers tuck around him. "Swear to motherfucking God, if they ever so much as touch you again..."

And what could Bobby say?

He just allowed John to curl around him and to smooth his hair like he sometimes did when John had a nightmare.

Maybe in the morning, he'd feel different about things. He would be able to face the Professor and Scott and apologize for throwing their generosity and kindness back in their faces. He'd be able to talk about his dad manhandling him and his mom's addiction to bleach and his brother's fascination with anti-mutant things...

Tonight... he indulged. For all those nights he had gotten John through those awful nightmares, well... hell...

"S'okay. Don't have to explain. I know how it goes."

Bobby's intake of breath was sharp, piercing to his lungs because of the implied shit that John had gone through... His own shit was so freaking pathetic...

"You don't have to be the damned Mascot all the time."

Yet that was they expected him to be.

Bobby suddenly sobbed. John held him.

"I've got you, Bobby. Fire and Ice, you said. Remember? Well, you'd better fucking believe it."

Thanks to...

mikhale for in-depth commentary and for pushing me (yet again) to make the necessary changes to make the story stronger. See? I take requests. To onomatopoetry, for pointing out problems with phrasing, challenging me to clean them up, and reminding me (yet again) I tend to beat points into the ground.

Any errors that are left are all mine.



Part eleven: Stare or Leave Feedback