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first.

Professor Xavier sits by the window in his office, his back turned to the room.

"Come in, St John," he says. John suspects Xavier likes the touch of drama. This office is a good place for it, all wood panelling and leather chairs and the smell of old money everywhere. "Does that bother you?" asks Xavier.

"No." He waits, trying to look patient, but his fingers tap the back of the chair before him. He's never enjoyed waiting for unpleasant things.

It doesn't have to be unpleasant, Xavier's voice says somewhere in his frontal lobe. Talking to a telepath is like losing control over your own thoughts, and there's no way John is going to believe it's anything but unpleasant. "You still don't trust me," Xavier says out loud, radiating perfectly nuanced regret and concern.

"I guess not."

Xavier turns the chair and approaches soundlessly. John hates this part, hates kneeling down most of all, but he does it without protests. He even tries not to think bitchy thoughts, although that's an exercise in futility if there ever was one.

Xavier's hands are light on his head, hardly disturbing his hair. John's mind shuffles through emotions, memories, dreams, nightmares without asking him. He keeps his eyes open and counts the buttonholes on Xavier's suit. One, two, three, four...

"Thank you, St John," says Xavier. The hands go away. John's thoughts settle down like dust after a door is closed. "You've dropped the 'Saint' from your name."

"No one can pronounce it anyway," John says. Except for Xavier, of course. That goes without saying. Everything with Xavier goes without saying.

"And, of course, you're Pyro, too."

"That's right." He makes a point of rising gracefully from his knees. As gracefully as possible, at least, which isn't all that. "Look," he says. "Will there. Can I." What is he even asking? "I'm turning eighteen."

"I see no reason not to continue as we have."

"Okay." He turns to go, but Xavier calls his name again. Just 'John' this time, though. "What?" he asks.

"There are things on your mind you need to talk to someone about. The fact that I can extract all your secrets like this doesn't mean they're not still in there."

"Sure," John says, shifting his weight from one foot to the other.

"You don't have to talk to me."

Images flicker through his brain. Familiar faces. Bobby. Yeah, right.

"You may leave, John," Xavier says and rolls back to the window.

*

second.

He doesn't want to go back to the room right away, not with his brain still in disarray. The least Xavier could do is put things back where he found them.

He takes the scenic route upstairs, through the empty second-floor hallways, dragging his feet and flicking his lighter open and shut, open and shut.

Someone's left a bag outside the science classroom, a bright red kid's bag with frolicking Disney characters. John kicks it across the hall. It thumps against a wall, pens and toys scattering along the floor.

*

Bobby's in the TV room, playing cards with Piotr; something fast and ridiculous that involves too much yelling and card-throwing for John to take seriously. Instead, he stays in the doorway, leans casually against the jamb and flips his lighter open, letting his attention wander between Bobby's face, set in concentration, and the flame flickering in and out of existence with every click.

After a while, Piotr lifts a hand and makes an interesting and graphic gesture in John's general direction, all the more emphatic in metal.

"What?" John says, stopping mid-click.

"You get used to it," Bobby tells Piotr. "After a while it's background noise. Sometimes I wake up at night because there's no clicking."

"Maybe I should just confiscate it," Piotr says, and John's feet take a nervous step back before he can stop himself. What sucks is that Piotr could make good on his threat. What sucks even more is that Piotr knows it.

John will not be intimidated by walking lumps of metal, though. He lights up again and spends a few minutes of quiet and intense concentration perfecting a fiery hand with an extended middle finger.

When he looks up, he catches Bobby studying his cards so furiously that he could only have been staring.

*

third.

          hallway that's panelled, dark-grained, smooth-finished wood, the floor polished to perfection, every Wednesday so slick you'll slip if you don't walk carefully. Nobody home, even though it should be teeming with life, such a big house, so familiar. First time he saw it the feeling of déjà vu was strong enough to make his spine tingle. And now he's suddenly not sure which house this is.

He takes out his lighter.

If it's a dream, he can play.

The lighter works but there's a chill pooling in the pit of his stomach, like déjà vu. The floor feels sticky under his bare feet, as if the maid has used too much polish. He cups his hand around the tiny flame and breathes, breathes, breathes, the way that makes it grow-- should make it grow, should blow it to a fury.

Should, but doesn't; his brain feels like a dead lump in his skull with no sparks, no fuel. His breaths echo off the walls. He can see the door to his room next to him and, up ahead, another door.

He goes into his room, the sickly little lighter flame casting hardly any light, and it's what he expects, familiar - vintage Steve McQueen poster over his bed, Bobby's bed by the window (empty, neatly made), desks suspiciously free of clutter, a pair of sneakers lying in the middle of the floor. None of it stops his heart from its panicky racing.

He wants to burn, but there's nothing, and when he blows at the feeble flame it only flutters and trembles as if he's no one special. What if it's not a dream? He steps

Waking up is a struggle, like pushing his way through a wall that should crumble at his touch but doesn't. He lies stiff on his back and listens to his own heart racing and his own ragged breaths. The dream lingers like a hangover; stupid, obvious dream, let this be a lesson to you all, and he knows what it feels like to be just another human nobody. Getting along with nothing going for him but flesh and blood and bone and a brain that can only think and not act.

Then he hears sounds from the other bed in the room. Soft snores, the rustle of sheets, and the dream falls away and takes its stupefying, dull horror with it. The place that feeds the fire is there, right there in his head, alive and raring to go. His lighter is a safe and solid blood-warm shape in his hand. Click-scrape, and just the tiniest ball of contained flame in his palm, little tendrils of it rising towards his face so close he can feel the sweet, loving heat of it start to lick his eyebrows. He warms himself on it while his heart slows down and the sweat dries on his chest and neck.

"Don't play with that thing in bed, you moron," says Bobby, his voice sleepy but edged with irritation.

"I never burn anything by accident," says John, letting his voice go low and raspy and in no way reassuring. Then he chokes the fire out before Bobby fills his bed with ice.

Outside the cocoon of their room, the world is asleep, but John's wide-awake now.

"Gotta eat something," he says, although he's not precisely hungry. He knows Bobby will be, though - just the mention of food will have Bobby running to the kitchen for an impromptu fridge raid. Something about his metabolism, he claims.

*

They don't turn the lights on until they get to the kitchen; this isn't the first time they've ended up down here at three in the morning, eating leftovers and trying not to wake up the house.

Bobby's talking in between bites, but John has an untouched sandwich on the table in front of him and a small flame going in his palm. He's trying to make a lion. It's hard, not because he needs practice with the fire making, but because he's not much of an artist. He can't draw, and it's starting to look like he sucks at sculpting, too, even with something as pliable and obedient and eager as fire.

"And the science teacher in my old school was this old coot, like sixty years old with such a case of haemorrhoids that he had to sit on a pillow."

"What?" John says, because he's missed everything leading up to the haemorrhoids.

"You have to admit that this school has by far the hottest teachers on the eastern seaboard."

"I wouldn't know, I'm from the Midwest." The teachers in his old school weren't as hot as Jean Grey or Storm, but he doesn't feel like agreeing with Bobby right now.

Bobby gives him a look like he's got his number. "You know what I mean."

"Yes, I do," says John, shrugging his left shoulder so as not to disturb the blob-shaped lion-thing. "But they're still teachers. Unattainable. What's the point? And, I mean, hot for teacher? How Van Halen of you."

Bobby snorts and pokes at his half-eaten sandwich. "How eighties of you." He probably only knows Van Halen from a hole in the ground because John has a thing for hair rock and will turn up VH1 if they're having nostalgia days. He also doesn't do sarcasm well. He's too nice. Should leave it to the pros, John thinks, being one of the pros, or at least not nice. Bobby squints at him as if he's trying to read his mind and it's giving him a headache. "Who then, if Doctor Grey is too unattainable?"

Now there's a loaded question. John closes his hand around the not-quite-a-lion and the fire laps at his fingers like an overheated puppy. Bobby is staring at him over the lettuce and blue cheese on full grain like he's expecting some groundbreaking revelation. The lion puffs out in a tiny, acrid cloud of smoke. Anticipation, even this grumpy anticipation, looks good on Bobby.

"That's for me to know," John says, savouring a brief image of Bobby anticipating on his knees.

"Jubilee?" Bobby suggests doubtfully.

"Please."

There's a pause while Bobby mentally runs through every available female at the school - John can see each candidate bring a fresh expression of naaah across his face. "Some human chick," he finally ventures.

"Drop it, teacher's pet. Maybe I just don't lust." He lights up again and tries a giraffe. Or at least something with four long legs and a long neck.

"I don't see what's so bad about thinking Dr Grey's hot," mutters Bobby. Then he seems to want to go for snide again: "You know, they say pyromaniacs are chronic bedwetters."

You don't know the half of it, John thinks, and his giraffe loses shape and becomes a generic fireball. "They say so much they must be getting sore throats," he snaps. "And a high school kid who has time to drool after his teacher probably wants to stay a virgin forever. Or has something to hide."

"What's that to you?"

John smiles at his amorphous flame and ignores Bobby. Poor, sleepy Bobby. John feels wide awake. His flame grows long and cylindrical. The day Bobby will rattle a confession out of him will be the day he turns in his lighter.

He can draw a dick, and he can also sculpt one. He makes it bigger.

Bobby is watching and pretending he isn't. John adds balls to the dick. Heavy ones that (if made of flesh and blood, that is) would make a loud sound when slapped against someone's smooth ass. It looks good. Realistic, or as realistic as a dick made of fire will ever look.

He's almost tempted to give up a little bit of truth just to ruffle poor sleepy Bobby a bit more, but when he looks up, the guy is blushing bright red, proving once and for all that he's not only a virgin but also a bona fide prude. Worthy of lust, but as unattainable as Dr Grey.

John holds Bobby's eyes and puts out the burning penis with his hand, suggestively.

"Don't you ever get sick of being such an ass?" Bobby mutters.

A clock in the hall chimes. One, two, three, four. John makes a new fire sculpture, a flaming ass. To illustrate. When will he get sick of being an ass? When will he stop lusting after Bobby's ass? When will either one of them get a fucking life?

"I'm tired," he says. He's had his fun, but he's not lying. He dodged the bedwetting, but he's still an ass. He's not Virgin Bobby with the blue, blue eyes. "I'm going back to bed." He pockets the lighter and waves the flaming ass into oblivion.

Bobby swallows the last bite of his sandwich. "I guess that's a good idea. Physics at seven-thirty." He sounds way too cheerful about that.

Bobby is good at physics and history. John likes English and Chemistry (subversion and flammables, but not necessarily in that order). Physics is bearable whenever the Professor invites someone Smart and Studious (Bobby) up to present his solution to the class. Bobby writes on the blackboard like his life depends on it, and he will stretch to get the last squiggly letters printed out in his ridiculously round and girlish handwriting, and his t-shirt will ride up to reveal a strip of skin above the waistline of his jeans. And John will be less terminally bored and more worried that the Professor has his nosy telepathy turned on and tuned in.

"Blah, physics," he says out loud. Bobby has made himself busy tidying up (and hiding the fading blush), but he looks up with a suggestion of a smug expression growing on his face. John yawns and gets up, carefully nonchalant. I didn't just zone out and think about your skin, he projects furiously into the yawn and the cant of his shoulders. "Night."

"Yeah, you look exhausted," Bobby says, catching up in the doorway. When he walks past, he slaps John on the shoulder, not hard, and leaves a frozen handprint on the thin tee. "Good night."

When he's alone in the kitchen, John clicks his lighter for a while, staring at the flickering flame. The ice melts and starts dripping down his back in chilly tendrils. Leftovers of the nightmare stops him from putting the lighter down, and he makes small bursts of fire pop all around him until he's sure he's not going to just torch the garbage can or something out of sheer nerves. Then he goes back to bed, but not before he's taken a leak.

*

fourth.

"She calls you 'sweetie'?" Bobby's reading a letter at his desk. It's almost too cute how his mother writes him real snail mail every other week.

"Would you not read my letter," Bobby snaps and shoulders John aside. "Go bug your own parents."

Right, yeah, will do. "Sure," he says and goes to sit on his bed. He feels restless. The garbage can under the desk looks tempting. The lighter's warm in his hand. Click, click, click. Garbage cans everywhere fear him.

After a while, Bobby says, "Wanna go down to the Field?"

He thinks about it, flipping the lighter on, off, on, off, making the flame a little bigger each time. The field is fun, sure. But it's probably not very smart going down there all bursting with teenage angst. He might blow Bobby to smithereens.

"Look, man," Bobby says, probably worried he's stepped in something sticky. "I'm sorry if I... Your parents aren't dead, are they?"

John pockets the lighter and gets up. Whatever, whatever, whatever. "Jesus, relax," he says, keeping it just this side of scathing. "They're not dead. Let's go."

*

The Field is behind a hedge on the south lawn, a plot of dented, yellow grass circled by a wide ditch that everyone calls the Moat, but John insists on calling the Haha. Not because it is a haha, since it's not, exactly, but because it's funny and no one gets it.

"Two out of three?" Bobby shouts at him. They're standing on opposite sides of the Field. It's a dull, overcast day, and the grass seems listless and ready to die.

John lights up. "Sure," he says. A small fireball sits placidly in his palm like a fat, sleepy kitten. He tucks the lighter back in his pocket.

He sees Bobby take a step back and cock his head. "Here, kitty," John mumbles and the fire kitten flickers and grows into a billowing orange cloud. He breathes in the delicious heat, exhales, and the fire becomes a moving, scorching wall. It tugs at his mind, raring to go.

He waits a beat, holding back, and... There's the sharp chill of Iceboy trying to get through, but John's ready. He sacrifices half the wall to shape the rest of it into a snake, low and greedy, squirming through the grass towards Bobby, lighting small bushfires along the way.

The snake runs into a pillar of ice, and the wall of fire-no-more tinkles to the ground in glittering shards.

"Oh no, you don't," John says and he knows he's grinning like a rabid wolf but can't stop, it's just the way his face goes when he's making things go whoosh. Across the grass, Bobby is looking stern and frowning, which is the way his face goes when he's making things freeze.

John rescues his fire snake at the last second, pumping it full of heat, blowing it up until his vision blurs and his ears are filled with white noise. His brain feels too big for his skull, like it's about to start pouring out of his nostrils, but the fire begs and wheedles for more. He's only vaguely aware of the rest of his body, but he knows he's just popped a boner of fucking steel. Nothing gives him a rush like this, nothing.

He picks up Bobby's voice, weak and distant over the roar of fire. But he's there all right, a draining resistance somewhere in the middle of the hedge of flames between them. This is Bobby's power at full throttle - it's like chewing glass, it feels like he should be bleeding from the ears. He lashes out with both hands and lets rip until the ground beneath him shakes.

He can't push Bobby away, but Bobby can't push him back, either. His head is full of melting glass. A few minutes more of this and he will be bleeding from somewhere.

He sees Bobby through a haze of steam, looking a little ragged around the edges himself, his lips pressed to a thin white line, his arms gloved to the elbows in crackling ice. Bobby's not holding back, either.

We could stay here until one of us has an aneurysm, John thinks, and the thought is appealing to the raging fire. They're matched like a couple of chess pieces (he sees two towers locked in battle like ornate battering rams); it could take days.

He gasps and pushes, raises flaming tentacles over the field, looking for a weak spot, but he might as well be trying to burn a glacier. His knees have started to shake.

There's a voice in there somewhere, almost drowned out. He wants to ignore it, but it cuts through.

"STOP!" Bobby yells. Stop? Stop? Stopping would be like... like-- He can't. But there's a note of panic in Bobby's voice. "Call it off, call it the fuck OFF!"

John pulls in a great, trembling gulp of smoky air and bites his tongue hard and stops.

The fire goes out with a pathetic, cowed 'pop.' His legs buckle under him and he lands on his hands and knees. His dick feels like the fire's all headed that way, a great burning root pulling at every nerve. He pants ineffectually, dizziness coming and going in great, grey waves. Sweat drops from his face. His head pounds. His dick is about to split down the middle like a baked banana.

He feels absolutely fucking fantastic.

He lifts his head with some effort, his neck creaking all the way like a rusty hinge. The singed grass in front of him becomes scorched, blackened earth three feet away, becomes a great pool of dirty water halfway between him and Bobby, becomes grass paved with ice, and there's Bobby, sitting on his ass with melting ice cracking and falling in wet lumps from his arms.

He's still got that frown on his face. John's still grinning so hard his jaw hurts.

He collects his wobbly legs and gets to his feet. "Cool," he says, conversationally.

"Fucking loony fuck!" Bobby says, loudly but not with very much anger. "You could have blown up the whole school."

The school looks intact, not the tiniest little scorch mark on its hallowed facade. It's also behind Bobby, who is still melting slowly. "Nah," John says. "You had it well in hand." Bobby's wearing sweatpants, which is a bad, bad choice. John feels his grin grow into something Jack Nicholson would envy. "I gotta jerk off, man," he says, oh so casually. "I'm about to blow up."

Blush, gasp. Sweet. It'd be even sweeter to just drop his pants right here and spurt all over the flooded field. Or all over Bobby.

Bobby staggers to his feet. His shirt is drenched in ice water. He's blushing furiously. John wants to laugh but he wants to come even more.

"Yeah, uh. Me too, kinda," Bobby mutters, looking like he wants something to hide behind. He looks hot. Of course, John notes, I'd find a squashed toad hot right now.

"Intense, huh?" he says.

"Pretty intense."

And this is a chance, right? An in. The in. Just grab him and he'll be too steamed up to back out. John's pretty sure about this. Almost sure. He's throbbing all over with almost sureness.

"Later," Bobby mumbles and walks away, a little stiffly.

John sits down on a surviving patch of lawn. Chickenshit, he thinks.

When he can't hear footsteps anymore, he presses the heel of his hand against his crotch and lifts his hips in a short, sharp thrust. He doesn't even have time to picture Bobby, naked or otherwise, before he comes in his pants.

He lies back, sticky and getting a little chilly, and smells the soothing reek of burned grass and hot sand. He watches birds circle overhead and thinks about Bobby stroking himself with those frozen hands.

*

fifth.
Saturday that week is John's eighteenth birthday. When he wakes up, there's a present on his desk. For about two seconds, he thinks-- he's fooled--

It's from Bobby (the card says, 'Happy Birthday John! from Bobby' in that familiar round handwriting). It's a book, Firestarter by Stephen King. He stares at it, stupefied, until he starts laughing and laughing. He's afraid he's going to rupture something. Bobby is nowhere to be seen. Thank God for small favours.

He reads it, quickly, skimming a lot, and hates it, like he knew he would. He considers the possibility that Bobby chose this particular book just to fuck with his head, but the idea feels preposterous. That's something he, John, would do. Not Bobby, never in a million years. For one, he'd have no idea it would fuck with anyone's head. Just a fairly average horror novel about a mutant girl and her mutant dad.

*

"Thanks for the book," he says when he sees Bobby at lunch.

"Happy birthday," Bobby says. He looks perfectly innocent of any and all mindfucks. "Hope you like it."

"Yeah," John says, gritting his teeth. "Very appropriate." He shoves his hands into his pockets, rubs the lighter and looks around for something to burn. "Right," he mutters to the air between them, pushing his chair back. Maybe the Field is empty. Hopefully, because he'd like to send up fireballs big enough to torch the Pentagon.

"John?" Bobby says before he can leave. He stops, squeezing the lighter in his sweaty hand.

"What? I'm going to the Field to blow up some more innocent grass."

"Want me to come?"

Not 'can I come?' Not 'I want to come.' It's Be Nice To John Day, apparently. Or something.

"Nah, you know, battling is fun and all, but it feels like eating fucking glass. I just wanna fool around."

"Oh," says Bobby, not visibly disappointed. "Funny, to me it feels like having my eyeballs boiled on a low heat."

"Low heat, my ass."

"I guess I'll go study or something." Bobby looks like he has something to say, but John isn't sure he wants to hear it. This is, however, a perfect opportunity for some reciprocal headfucking.

John opens his mouth to say something. Nothing pithy appears, and he closes it again, fishes the lighter from his pocket and lights it.

"The kid in Firestarter has the fire inside her," he says before he can stop himself.

Bobby smiles, brightly and cluelessly. "So you don't blow up the bed every time you have a nightmare. Handy."

"Yeah, sure," John says.

"You never said where your parents are," Bobby blurts out, as if that's what he'd been thinking about all along. John's suddenly not so sure about his cluelessness. He doesn't like not knowing what Bobby's after.

"No, I didn't," he says with studied nonchalance, trying to formulate a good answer. Kicked out, what a sob story, Xavier knows everything anyway, it's okay. "We'll try it for six months," Xavier said, and John has to go talk to him every week - therapy, pretty much, although it's not called that and it's the kind of therapy where Xavier searches John's head for sins like you'd leaf through a phone book. The six months have passed and he's still here, nothing burned to the ground yet, although there are some patches of dirt on the Field that are starting to look like volcanic glass.

"We don't get along," he says, summing up fifteen fucked up years of his life in four words.

"The mutant thing, huh?"

"You could say that." And you'd be lying, of course, but he doesn't want to talk about it. Things got better once the mutation manifested itself along with zits and wet dreams. After that they were afraid of him.

Fuckers.

"My family is here now," he says with an ultra-fake, sappy grin. "Catch you later."

*

sixth.

            hallway, the demure paintings by artists whose names he never remembers (on general principles because his mother will say he's a perfect example of what's wrong with America today, no respect for history.) His parents' bedroom through that door, Xavier's office through that door, but he opens another one, his lighter already in his hand. Fire stalks with him, sneaking along the walls, kissing the ugly paintings and the expensive wallpaper, tonguing the Persian rug and making it curl up in the corners with its heat. He doesn't look back but he feels his footsteps scorch the floor and burst into flames behind him - the whispery coughs of firestarting, whoof, whoof, whoof. His heartbeat drums against his ribcage, and with every beat the fire spreads around him. He's warm all over and his breaths are thick and smoky and raspy in his throat. His skin feels thin, stretched tight over his bones, and every heatflutter in the air is like a caress.

There's someone in the room, behind him, and he hears another kind of whisper, something muffled and choking.

He turns around, but the room is already lit floor to ceiling, blanketed in flames that will yield only to him. He lifts his hands and parts the fire, making a tunnel. There's a shape in the bubbling, billowing fire, someone caught in his wake like an asteroid in a comet's tail. He reaches out and his fingers meet fragile, crumbling flesh. There's a stinging in his mouth as if it's full of broken glass, the slivers cutting his tongue, wedging between his teeth. If he bleeds here, his blood will steam and evaporate before it

When John opens his eyes, the room is filled with pale grey predawn light. He's bitten his tongue hard enough to bleed. He rubs his mouth.

"Scary or sexy?" Bobby asks from his bed. "I was about to wake you up; you were moaning and, like, squirming."

John considers the dream and can't decide. He ignores Bobby and pads down the hall to the bathroom. The dream lingers like the taste of blood and ashes somewhere in the back of his throat. His tongue hurts like a bitch.

He leans against the wall in the bathroom and thinks vaguely about jerking off. The dream, already fading from his memory, wasn't exactly disturbing, but it was annoying, as if it was trying to serve up some sort of prefab moral. His dreams about fire are usually a lot more like wet dreams. Although, maybe this was his subconscious suggesting things: Bobby Is Not Untouchable. Bobby Can Be Burned.

Yeah, sure, whatever. He goes back to the room, where Bobby's already dozed off again. The sun hasn't cleared the tree line.

John lies down and imagines waking from a nicer dream to Bobby's earnest face hovering above him, maybe Bobby's earnest hands on his shoulders. And of course, in that languid, confusing state between sleeping and waking... well, you can't really be held responsible for extreme actions. Like maybe pulling someone down and sneaking a few quick gropes.

Bobby yawns and turns around. His sheet slips off his shoulder to lie decadently draped over his hip. He's wearing an old, white tank top that's a little too small for him.

Since I'm dreaming... John thinks, and imagines a Bobby that won't blush and back away. Perhaps a Bobby who squirms under him and whispers random things, like "This is so hot. You're so hot."

"I'm so hot the bed's on fire," John mouths and slips a hand under his own sheet, sliding it down his stomach. He lies absolutely still for a moment until he can hear Bobby's breaths. He cups his dick and squeezes, taking the rhythm from Bobby, and closes his eyes.

Quiet and slow is the key, but the dream left a restlessness in him. He really wants it fast and hard, the solo equivalent of a quickie against the wall - and what would it take to get Bobby to slam him against something hard?

An act of God, no doubt, but the thought has burrowed into his mind and sits there, sending out zings of heat with every breath. He gropes for the lighter with his free hand; he can't light it without attracting attention, but holding it brings the potential. One day he will set the bed on fire just to see if things can get any hotter.

He wonders if Bobby would be cold to the touch. What about the times when he lets go of control?

He almost-arches, pressing the back of his head into the pillow until his scalp goes numb. He bites his tongue again when he comes, but he hardly notices.

He wipes his hand on the sheets; they were a bust anyway after all the sweating and squirming of a dream-filled night.

The room is conspicuously quiet. Bobby is lying perfectly still.

John lies still too, dozing in the afterglow. He licks his hand and thinks about blowjobs, slow thoughts about slow sucking. No sounds at all from Bobby, and chances are that he's not really asleep.

John smiles and flicks open the lighter. Just the tiniest little firebaby. He catches a smidgen of flame on his fingertip and it hangs there, flickering happily with his breaths. Oh, so suggestive. He wonders if there's a way to build a house of fire; or a house constantly on fire. A whole house just made of fire - not too shabby, really. No one else could come in. But real houses burn down all too fast.

The thought of his parents' house is unbidden and un-fucking-welcome.

"Fuck," he says, losing the orgasmic bliss. His parents' house was nothing like this one on the outside, a lot like this on the inside because his family liked to think of themselves as old money and wanted to live it. He hasn't been anywhere near Indiana in years. He doesn't actually know for sure if his parents are alive. He doesn't know where they moved after he left.

Xavier once asked if he'd like to contact them.

He speaks out loud into the perfect quiet of the room: "How come your folks never noticed that you're a mutant?"

"What?" Bobby says. His voice is sleep-thick, but he's untangling himself ponderously from the sheet, blinking owlishly. John turns his head a little to get a better view. He puts out his little flame.

"I said--" John starts, but Bobby cuts in.

"They don't really notice... anything. They were really excited when I got into this school, scholarship and everything, but they didn't really check it out. You know? Like it wasn't important."

It's way too easy for Bobby to just spill his guts; he seems to have no instincts of self-preservation whatsoever. Maybe he's just showing off some minor issues to cover up something bigger and juicier underneath.

That sounds sort of un-Bobby-like, though. What could he possibly have to hide?

"Yeah," John says, faking a touch of sympathy. The restlessness is back, along with more unwelcome thoughts. He told Xavier that he didn't give a shit if his parents lived or died. But it's hard to know what to care about when you don't actually know if they're alive or not. And he's eighteen now, free of all legal strings.

Bobby's still talking: "They keep in touch, but they never come to visit. I don't know, it's like they forget I'm real sometimes-- Where are you going? It's like five in the morning!"

John finds a moderately clean shirt and pulls it on over his tee. "Out," he says, pocketing the lighter. Some things have to be dealt with immediately.

Bobby looks almost stoned the way he blinks and tries to catch on. Kissable, the way he's leaning on his elbows, his body pliant with sleep. He's probably a cuddler too; he'll want to hold you after you get off, maybe pet your hair and mumble things. A romantic.

Right. John leaves him sitting there and sneaks down the hall. They're not technically allowed outside at night, but five am isn't exactly night, and he's not exactly asking anyone's permission. Fuck the rules, anyway.

His legs feel just a little shaky, but the last remnants of sleep and orgasm and not-quite-nightmare fall off him in the bleak-grey morning air. There's a cacophony of bird noises but all human sounds are absent. Xavier put his school away from the crowds. Who knows what he's got in the tunnels under the house? For all they tell the students, it could be weapons of mass destruction.

But the weapons aren't just in the tunnels, they're everywhere. John's one of them, and sometimes it feels like he's been ticking for a while. There was a time, not long ago, that a friendly little battle with Bobby would stay friendly. Their powers are growing.

It could be interesting if Xavier has ulterior motives.

He stands outside the back door and clicks the lighter on, off, on, off, on, off. It doesn't really help him focus, but it's soothing. He tries to remember what his father looks like. It hasn't been that long, it shouldn't be this hard.

He's not quite ready for the rule-fuck that is borrowing a car, so he takes Bobby's 21-speed instead. The road is deserted all the three miles into town.

*

seventh.

There's a phone booth outside the train station. An old drunk, wrapped in a ratty coat, is sleeping under it.

"Hey, move it," John says, but the guy just grunts something and stays. "Hey, asshole," John says, raising his voice. The guy stinks like a fucking distillery, provided someone's using it to store sour milk and dead dogs.

"Fuck off," the wino mutters, "fucking punk ass--"

John kicks him in the side and growls, "You fuck off or I'm burning you where you lie."

The wino gets up, not entirely steady on his feet, and the reek is like a punch in the stomach. John gives him a sharp push, mostly just to get the stink the fuck away from his nostrils, and the guy goes sprawling on the pavement like a bag of dirty clothes.

The smell is bringing stuff back, cramming John's head with old faces and places, from Gary to Pittsburgh, the stink of dumpsters and unwashed skin, old booze, festering sores and human filth.

He kicks the man again, aiming for the kidneys. Then he steps back and lets him crawl to his feet and limp off.

He dials 411 and asks for William and Amanda Allerdyce, which is a guess - they weren't exactly all roses and sunshine when he last saw them and that was three years ago - in Gary, which is another guess. He can't see his father leaving his factories, though.

"No listed number," the operator says, "but there's a William Allerdyce--"

"Yeah, him," John says. He's tasting ashes again, and his lips and tongue feel cold and sluggish. "Put me through."

He thinks he hears a wet cough and the shuffling of feet on asphalt behind him, but the drunk has ceased to be an issue.

"Yes?" his father's voice says. "Who is this?" He sounds punchy and irritable, and John stares at the wall in front of him and realises he has no idea what he intended to say. The man is alive and ill-tempered as ever. What more?

"Where's mother?" he asks, his voice almost catching.

"Who is this?" his father snaps.

"It's me," he says, "St. John." His name feels wrong now, his mouth wants to mispronounce it the way he hates.

There's a silence on the line.

"I don't know who that is." And the dry, final click of the connection closing.

He stares at the mute phone. It fails to explain anything. He replaces it gingerly in the hook. He feels completely tapped out, dry and dusted, and most of all, cold.

He takes out his lighter. It lights on the first try. It's never copped out on him, not ever. He stole it from a drunk clubber in Pennsylvania and it will never cost him any fingers.

He squints at the phone and there's a whoosh and a soft crackle, and the receiver melts into sizzling blobs of black plastic that land steaming on the asphalt. His fingers tingle and spark, and he blasts the rest of the phone.

"Fucking asshole," he mutters indistinctly. A small shower of faintly glowing coins follow the molten plastic. The air swirls with noxious, stinging smoke.

"Hey, Stinko," he says, turning around, "want some--"

There are three of them now. The drunk he drove away stands in the middle, weaving slowly. Flanking him, two younger, stronger, but equally filthy fuckers. Holding sturdy pieces of painted wood, apparently stolen from someone's picket fence.

"--change?" John finishes. He's still holding the burning lighter.

"Hey, freak," says one of them, a bulky guy just a little taller than John, with a ridiculous lavender knit cap perched on his bald head.

"Yeah, mutant freak," the other one growls. His beard is reddish and seems to be missing in patches, like the fur on a mangy dog. He's at least three inches taller than Mr Lavender.

There's a ringing crash behind John. The rest of the telephone has given up the ghost.

"Did you want something?" he asks, cupping his free hand over the flame and thinking hot thoughts. The hand trembles, but it's not out of fear. Mange Man looks nothing like his father (who has black, thinning hair always carefully combed back and a weak chin he passed on to John) but there's something familiar in the scowl on his face.

John smiles at them.

They lift their clubs and he takes a deep breath. Anticipation.

"John! NO!"

He's distracted for all of a fraction of a second, and one of the clubs comes down on his shoulder with a crack. Pain zaps through his arm, all the way to the fingertips and leaves nothing but numbness in its wake. He staggers back and the raggedy trio, hardly distracted at all, advance. He drops to the ground and avoids the next swing.

His lighter falls from his nerveless fingers and skitters away out of reach.

Fucking Bobby. Fucking Bobby is right there, yelling "Stop it!" and running toward him and if John had his lighter, he'd torch Bobby too and dance on the fucking ashes. "You fuck," he gasps, "are you trying to fucking--?"

There's a soft noise, like the crackling of very thin paper, and the asphalt is suddenly very, very cold, glassing over with thin, clear ice. Mr Lavender, mid-step, goes skidding into his friends, while John is still trying to figure out how to get to his lighter. Bobby reaches him and grabs the other arm, tugging him to his feet. "Come on!"

It hurts like a motherfucker to move, and the bad arm hangs limp at his side like a useless bag of skin and bones, but he scampers along after Bobby, caught and momentarily helpless.

*

eighth.

They run down a quiet street until John's lungs threaten to explode.

"I think we lost them," Bobby says and lets go of his arm.

"What the fuck?" John snaps at him. "He could have cracked my fucking skull with that swing! He could have killed me!"

Bobby goes from red-faced with exertion to a white shade of fury, gets right in John's face like he wants to punch his lights out and yells, "You could have killed them! Are you defective? You were gonna burn them, you stupid fucking moron!"

John is the one who takes a swing then, a badly aimed left hook that just grazes Bobby's cheekbone and hurts his knuckles. Bobby, still deathly pale, punches back.

John always figured Bobby would be a sharp fighter if he ever actually got into a fight.

I guess I know now, he thinks as the ground shifts and heaves and comes up to greet him.

He doesn't pass out, but there's a while of not being entirely sure which way is up, and a great wave of whiteout washes over him, bright red sparks of pain dotted here and there in the general chaos. The ground moves like a ship deck under him. Or above him. It makes him feel a little nauseous.

"Oh shit," a distant voice says. "John? John, are you all right?" It has to be Bobby, although he sounds hollow and far away. "John, talk to me, hey, I'm sorry, I'm so sorry."

Only Bobby would punch a guy's lights out and then apologise. It has to be Bobby, too, touching John's face very delicately, lifting his head from the hard but solid ground, lighting fingertips on his bruised jaw.

"I hit you first, dumbass," he tries to say, but it might not come out as entirely intelligible. The whiteout is receding, though, and he finds himself on his back, filled with quite ordinary pain, staring up at a blamelessly pale blue morning sky.

Or he would see the sky, the blameless sky, if Bobby weren't there filling up John's field of vision with his earnest, worried face. He seems to be looking for a pulse.

If there was ever a moment stuck between states of consciousness, this would be it. The world seems very unimportant and distant right now. He might be coming slowly out of a dream.

He tries to lift an arm, but it's the wrong one and for a second, the whiteout is back. Bobby leans closer, his face still pale except for a bright red spot crowning the right cheekbone. "John?" he says.

John tries the other hand and it lands somewhere on Bobby's shoulder. I'm basically unconscious, it's not my fault, he thinks, and if that's not enough, I'm traumatised. He knots his fingers in the thin fabric of Bobby's shirt and tugs.

"Wha--?" Bobby blurts, but the rest of it gets squashed between their lips.

There's struggling, a little feeble, but just as John thinks, shit, not even brain damage will cover this, Bobby relaxes, suddenly and completely, and opens his mouth.

There are trumpet blasts of triumph, confetti and cheering, although John thinks that part may actually be caused by brain damage. Bobby's hand touches his hurt shoulder and it's like a cold pack. His mouth is warm like all mouths, and it's not like chewing glass, although there's something in the touch that holds the potential. John feels the rough ground under his back, pebbles biting into his skin, and his empty hand lying flat on the dirt, no lighter, no fire. Bobby could kill him like this without even trying, without even breathing hard.

The thought sizzles through his body and he may or may not make some sort of whimpering little sound. He keeps his good arm hooked tight around Bobby's neck just in case, and he makes the most of it while staying subtle (only hissing lightly and arching his back when Bobby moves, when he wants to growl and hump his thigh frantically; only humming under his breath when Bobby's teeth scrape his lower lip and he wants to tell him to do it again, harder) and every second he waits for the moment when reason will return.

Bobby kisses with a sort of clumsy, but intense, concentration. John, at a slight disadvantage, being supine and semi-incapacitated, is breathless and disoriented. He tries to remember if he's ever kissed a virgin before. No boys, at least, none quite this young and eager, and none he'll ever kiss again. Or talk to again.

But it's all good, really, a little dizziness goes a long way and his spine feels melty and loose that way only sex (and particularly good pot, perhaps) makes it. He whimpers again, not entirely on purpose.

"Am I hurting you?" Bobby murmurs, not lifting his head enough to give John a good look, but he sounds a bit bashful and nervous. And slightly out of breath.

"The punch. That hurt," John says, tightening his grip on Bobby's shoulder just in case. "This, not so much."

Another kiss, hesitant, and John suspects the spell is broken. Bobby has started to think, and it's bad, it will bring this to an end quicker than a bucket of cold water. He feels out of it, halfway between aroused and desperate. He's never spent this long wanting to nail someone before, this long lusting for the unattainable, and if Bobby would lean back and unzip, John would suck his cock and not even ask for a reciprocal. Not even a handjob. The sore jaw would not be a deterrent.

How low I've sunk, he thinks and remembers times (not as many as he's let Bobby believe, but more than once for sure) when other people were this pathetically eager to go down on him.

"Let me--" he mouths into Bobby's mouth, scrabbling clumsily with his right hand, the hurt one (but just bruised, not broken, not dislocated, and what kind of wuss is he anyway?) and getting a handful of shirt, a tantalising touch of damp-warm skin under his fingertips and then the scratchy metal of a zipper and there--

Bobby makes a surprised, strangled sound and arches into the touch, mashing John's hand between their hips, his thigh coming up against John's cock.

"Ah," John says, a little throatily.

"Oh," gasps Bobby, "shit, not here, not here--"

Not here what? "Hm?"

"We're in the middle of the road," Bobby pants, not letting go. He's grinding into John, grinding him into the road, and it hurts in one place and feels like intravenous heaven in another, and John really doesn't care about where they are.

"Fuck, not here." Bobby pushes himself off and John's hands are suddenly empty. He's left flat on his back with his wet mouth and his insistent erection straining at his jeans.

"It's Tuesday morning," Bobby says. He's wiping his mouth and nervously pulling down his shirt, looking around as if he expects hordes of unsuspecting Tuesday morning travellers to come stampeding down this slumbering street.

The sun has cleared the tree line and is stinging John's eyes. He sits up, getting light-headed and wincing at the various aches and discomforts that all want their say at once. He adjusts himself gingerly, giving his dick a little sympathetic pat.

"Are you okay?" Bobby asks. He's now moved on to a defensive pose, complete with crossed arms and frown.

"I'll live," John says dryly. Unless I expire from blue balls, but maybe you know all about that. Another thought occurs to him. "How did you get here? Did you run from the school?"

"Well, you took the bike," Bobby says, not meeting his eyes. He does give John a hand up like a gentleman, and he doesn't let go until John has stopped weaving from the vertigo. Then he does look at John's face, touches the smarting jaw with careful fingertips. "Do you think you need to see a doctor? I didn't mean to hit you that hard, I was just-- I just."

"Whatever," John says, furiously attempting to sound nonchalant instead of simpering. "I've had worse."

Just to make sure he can, he leans in and gets a light, brief kiss. His dick gives a plaintive twinge.

"This is so... um," Bobby mumbles. "Weird."

John concedes that there are some elements of the extraordinary here.

"Your bike is still by the train station," he says. "And my lighter."

"Right. Uh." He shifts his weight from foot to foot and chews on his lower lip. John wants to kiss him again. "Why did you take off?"

"Had to call my dad," John says evenly. The exact reason seems fuzzy now, but it clearly seemed, at the time, like the thing to do.

"At five in the morning. I bet he was thrilled."

"You have no idea."

*

They start walking. It's already getting warm, almost hot, and a car passes them when they cross the highway.

At the station, there are no signs of the Loathsome Threesome, but neither can they find Bobby's bike.

"Shit," says Bobby. "That bike was a birthday present from my folks."

"You can hit me again if it helps," John suggests, because he knows Bobby won't take him up on it.

"No!" Shocked and appalled. "But I'm holding on to this."

And there's the lighter in Bobby's hand. A little grubby but apparently whole. John snatches at it, he can't help himself.

"It's just a lighter," Bobby says. Infuriating. Just a lighter, no way. John will get it back, of course. Bobby has to sleep sometime-- "Jesus, what-- What did your dad say?"

He's spotted the ruin of the phone. The coins are gone, not unexpectedly, but the rest is there, a heap of congealed black goo and twisted, sooty metal.

"Nothing," John says, turning his attention back to the lighter, which Bobby is distractedly stuffing in his pocket. "I just felt like doing a random act of vandalism."

"You really are defective," Bobby says, as if that's a great revelation. John shrugs lopsidedly and rubs his jaw and longs for his lighter back and Bobby's hand on his dick. In that order.

*

They walk.

After the first silent mile, after they've passed the last houses of the town and the landscape has turned to woodland cut through with neat fields and farmhouses, Bobby says (as if he's been contemplating it for a while), "We're going to be in so much trouble."

"Correction," says John. "I'm going to be in so much trouble. You can't even be all noble and shoulder the guilt." (And Bobby actually looks a little sheepish at that, the predictable tool.) "You can't lie to Professor X." And since they're on the subject, "Why did you run after me in the first place?"

Even more sheepishly: "I don't know."

"Thought I was gonna burn this sleepy, innocent little town?"

"You were just looking sort of weird, I guess," Bobby hedges.

"Didn't realise you cared," John says and grins.

"I just-- Whatever," and he stops, looking indecisive. John stops, too, and they stare at each other; Bobby nursing a couple of worry wrinkles between his eyebrows, John unable to take his eyes off them.

The moment stretches ridiculously. Birds chirp. Bobby's forehead smoothes out and John's legs (as if they're wired to something primal and fearless) move him forward. Bobby doesn't turn away.

This kiss, now, is a little frantic, a little sloppy, and Bobby's hands run down his back in random, erratic strokes, bunching up his shirt but not quite daring to look for skin.

They're standing in the shade of a patch of some kind of pine trees (John knows less about trees than he does about string theory). The tall trunks have crowded together, huddling like gangbangers on a street corner.

John tugs Bobby towards the trees.

"What?"

"I'm already fucked," John says. "So a little more delinquency doesn't matter." He crowds Bobby a bit, gets him to back up against a sturdy trunk. "I'm going to suck your cock." Perfectly casual, in no way sounding like he's been thinking about saying that for months.

Bobby can't seem to find a response to that, and John slides to his knees on soft moss and grass. It's been... a while, too long; he's not old enough to go without for this long, although Bobby might say he's bitching about nothing, at least it's not seventeen years. But it's different when you've already swum in the deep end. The kiddie pool is just not going to cut it anymore.

Bobby's warm and smooth and smells a lot cleaner than just about every other guy John has ever gone down on.

Never someone his own age before; never someone this fresh and sweet. Bobby's noises are muffled as if he's holding them in. John's jaw hurts but it gives this an edge, just the right measure of pain, and he rubs himself through his pants and groans around Bobby's cock.

A hand rests on his head, just a touch, no pressure at all. Maybe later he'll show Bobby how rough he can take it, but this is good, this is all good, gentle, with Bobby's soft moans and the birdsong all around them.

Some piece of rough trade once tore out a whole chunk of John's hair in an alley in Pittsburgh. That was the guy with the lighter, so drunk he kept calling John 'girl' and slapping him. John picked his pocket and got the lighter and three hundred dollars, and didn't set his hair on fire even though it was long and ridiculously styled, like Fabio's.

Maybe Bobby feels the little patch where the hair hasn't grown back in. John strokes his ass and pushes down on his cock, as far as he can go. Bobby cries out, throaty and deep, and his hand tightens briefly in John's hair. He doesn't thrust, even though his thighs tremble with the effort not to.

John's scalp gets very cold, suddenly, and Bobby comes in his mouth with a muffled grunt.

John palms the lighter from his jeans pocket and swallows. Looks up at Bobby's flushed face. "Did you just zap me with your freeze beam?"

"Oh, I'm--"

He stands up and kisses Bobby, deep so that he can taste the come, and flicks on the lighter. "That's okay. Do you freeze the bed when you jerk off, too?"

Bobby's pliant and loose-limbed, leaning against the tree like he'd fall over without it, and John rubs himself against his long legs, smells the clean boysmell of his neck and jaw and makes a small, compact ball of fire in his cupped hand, because there's nothing that doesn't get better with some pyrotechnics.

"Wait, wait--" Bobby whispers and fumbles at John's fly. His hand is fine to rub against, too, and John sucks on his tongue and sets the pace. He comes all over Bobby's shirt.

"Wow," Bobby says. He still seems too dazed to zip up. John would feel smug about deflowering him in the great outdoors, but there is a certain blameless joy to this occasion. The setting only makes it more so. He pulls up Bobby's jeans himself and tucks him in gently.

Then he lights his lighter again and starts walking back to the road, idly making tiny swirls of flame circle his hand. The lighter goes in his pocket, an old, trusted friend.

Bobby catches up with him, looking perfectly corrupted and a bit flustered. "We're going to be late for breakfast," he says.

"But so worth it," says John.

*

ninth.

In the hall behind the back door, Professor X waits quietly. Bobby stops in his tracks and John walks into him. Very slapstick. Xavier looks unamused.

"Gentlemen," he says.

Bobby's "Professor Xavier!" cracks a bit at the end. John stays quiet. Somehow, he'd managed to forget about this.

Xavier gives them a long look that says, 'I'm reading your minds, puny mortals, and I don't like what I see.' Bobby shifts nervously. John squeezes the lighter in his hand. Xavier seems like an inventive guy when it comes to punishments. Maybe he won't go for something so dull as expulsion.

"I'd like to see you in my office, John." And with the tiniest curl of lip: "Perhaps after a shower."

"Yes, sir," John says, resenting the whole charade. There's some frantic shuffling next to him as Bobby fails to avoid drawing attention to his come-stained shirt.

Xavier shows mercy and ignores it. "Bobby, in the future, in case of any situations of this kind, please contact a member of the faculty before running off."

If Bobby blushed any harder, he'd be bleeding from his eyes. "Yes, sir," he blurts, only relief in his voice.

*

tenth.

Professor Xavier sits behind the desk, giving John the hairy eyeball the second he comes in the door. John sticks his hands in his pockets and stares back, but there's no way to out-eyeball the Professor. No way. It's like trying to outstare a statue. Of a cat.

John gives up and looks at the wood panelling. Out the window. He sees trees, and trees now remind him of the smell of Bobby's skin, which is good, but not what he wanted to be thinking about right now.

"Perhaps you'd like to formulate some kind of explanation for this morning's shenanigans."

"What's the point?" Not like you don't know already.

"Think of it as therapy."

"Whatever." He knows all about therapy. "Tell me about these nightmares you're having, St. John. Your mother tells me they're almost nightly. Perhaps we can get to the bottom of this." He keeps his eyes on the desk. Formulating an explanation, sir, yes, sir. "I wanted to talk to my dad."

Is that the raised eyebrow of sarcasm? "Phones are available to students right here at the school."

"Yeah, well, I wanted some privacy."

"I don't spy on students, John. Not unless they're in trouble."

"Sure."

"Safety is always a priority. You're my responsibility."

John stops himself from rolling his eyes. He's hungry and there's a deep, nasty throb in his bruised face and shoulder.

"I can't protect you if you don't trust me, John."

"Are you gonna throw me out or what?"

Xavier sighs, the kind of sigh that's meant to say 'I don't like doing this, but you've left me no choice,' and John steels himself. He wonders if Xavier would send him back to Pittsburgh or just set him loose.

"The very opposite. You'll be confined to school grounds."

"I'm grounded?"

"Yes, that's the technical term." Xavier moves his chair closer. "Grounded, until further notice. Now, Dr Grey will take a look at your face, and I advise you not to pick fights again, whether it is with vagrants or your roommate."

"Yes, sir."

"I shouldn't have to tell you why provoking civilians is dangerous, John."

"Yes, sir." This is all starting to sound familiar.

"Power brings responsibility, and your power is particularly destructive."

"Yes, sir."

"You haven't had an easy life, John, but there are few here who have. It's a hostile world. Let's try not to make it more so."

"Yes, sir."

"Dr Grey is in her office. After she's made sure you're not critically injured, you can go down to the garage. I sent Scott to retrieve Bobby's bicycle from your new friends in Rochester. It may need some maintenance. And John, before you go..."

There's a pause long enough that John thinks he's meant to say something encouraging (which he doesn't).

"Safe sex. Mutants are not immune."

*

eleventh.

He's never claimed to be particularly handy with tools, so it takes a lot more time than it probably should to untwist the cruelly buckled wheels on Bobby's bike, to change tyres, to oil the chains and straighten the spokes. It leaves him with a lot of time to think while he works. Which is frustrating, not to say utterly pointless. He has to take a break to go outside and charbroil the pebbles on the drive (so as not to do the same to something expensive inside).

Cyclops seems to come down every twenty minutes to poke at something random in the garage and ask how he's doing. He's perfectly amiable and in no way subtle. John figures he's been assigned guard duty. Poor guy. John pretends to be completely riveted by the mystery of the gearwheels.

"If you need help..." Cyclops says when John has been at it for what feels like a week but is probably no more than two hours. He's managed to separate the bicycle into its component parts. "Sorry. When you're ready to admit you need help, just ask."

Cyclops has a good line in sarcasm there, he's a real connoisseur, clearly, but John isn't particularly interested in a battle of wits. He mutters something indistinct and wonders if Bobby went to class. Probably. John is missing the organic chem lab, the only class he was looking forward to this week: polyvinyl synthesis, which is fun, as opposed to this bullshit.

Cyclops leaves with a shrug and John sneaks outside again to hum Wagner and napalm some rose bushes that grow by the garage wall.

He could do with some sparring right now, another knock-down, drag-out fight, power to power. With Bobby, because who else fits that way? He wonders if Xavier roomed them together because they were so well-matched? That'd be some fucked-up kind of yenta stuff on the part of the old man, but John doesn't think it's beyond him.

Being out in the real world, being the only mutant of any power he knew about (although he'd heard of others, of course, but never a hint of where to find them, how to recognise them...), he'd only had inanimate objects to practice on, and no matter how solid an object, it never really put up much of a fight. There was a phase, early on, when he'd burned birds and rodents, but that wasn't much of a challenge either, and the sight of a screaming seagull falling towards a field, its wings aflame, had given him new inspiration for nightmares.

It also brought tears from his mother and weekly therapy sessions with a woman whose facelift made her look like her face was too small for her skull. (Tell me about the dreams, St. John.") He either lied or refused to speak entirely, and imagined her on fire, the tiny surgery scars along her jaw coming undone and her face melting off the bones.

She would probably have loved being a telepath like Xavier. And John's rid of his parents but he's still in therapy and now he can't even lie.

*

When he finally escapes the hell of grease and monkey wrenches (unscathed save for some oil under his fingernails), he makes the tactical mistake of taking the elevator up to the dorm rather than the more discreet back stairs. Of course, the TV room is crowded.

"Where have you been all day?" Jubilee asks him. "And Bobby's been looking like he caught his mom and dad doing it doggy-style." She spots his bruises, and her eyes widen in a way that would be funny if John wasn't feeling quite so crabby. "Holy shit, did you guys fight?"

"What's it to you?" he snaps. Everyone seems to be here. The gossip must be running rampant. At some other time, he'd probably enjoy that (his enjoyment parallel to Bobby's discomfort), but right now they could not fuck off fast enough.

"Okay, be an asshole," she mutters, and he flips her off and goes to his room.

Bobby's there, sitting on his own bed, not reading a Tom Clancy novel and looking decidedly bummed out. He doesn't look up when John comes in, but it's probably not a trick of the light that makes his colour rise. So it's like that, then. Not surprising.

John lies down and plays with his lighter and waits for Bobby to crack.

The grumpy silence stretches and twists.

The sun goes to cloud outside, and an equally grumpy dusk falls in the room.

John wonders if he could make a sheet of fire that covers the entire bed without actually burning it.

It would probably suck all the oxygen from the room, though.

And then Bobby would turn him into a popsicle.

Maybe some day when Bobby is out.

Okay, this is as boring as he's going to let it get. Mindgames are only entertaining for so long. He sits up and stretches deliberately. Bobby is staring out the window longingly like a Jane Austen heroine. His book lies forgotten in his lap.

John flips the lighter closed and stuffs it in his pocket.

Bobby turns his head as if he's startled, quickly and with no time to school his expression. John decides not to let him collect himself; just puts a knee on the bed between his legs and pushes him down with his body. He only resists for a second, enough for some weak "Hey, what--" and "John, look--" but he's so ready it's not even funny. John shuts him up with his mouth and there are no more protests, just yielding and heat. Clear and Present Danger hits the floor with a thud, and Bobby doesn't even twitch.

Oh, good.

John's sexual history, while certainly interesting, hasn't so far involved much of this kind of innocent necking, but Bobby seems to want to take his time; he's not pushing John's head downward (which John keeps expecting) and he's not groping for his zipper, or John's, or in fact doing anything but kissing and touching John's hair and John's back almost gingerly.

It's bizarre, but enjoyable, and there are still blowjobs in the foreseeable future.

Maybe they could even be naked for some of them. He pushes up Bobby's tee so he can lick his nipples, pinch a little, see how much he likes-- A lot, apparently, which is good, because John likes chests and nipples, really likes abs, and Bobby even has a little treasure trail, which is just too tempting to not follow.

Bobby quivers and arches and his hands stay perfectly gentlemanlike, which is so weird that John loses his downward momentum and instead grabs one of them, broad and boyish with messy cuticles, and licks the palm, nibbles on the pulse point, follows the faint tracing of blue veins with his tongue, and then the other hand becomes less polite, fists in his hair and pulls him up to kiss again, more aggressively. John's hips twitch and he feels like a rag doll, suddenly, and this is the point where people (basically everyone not Bobby) have twigged to certain facets of John's personality and vigorously begun to take advantage of them.

Bobby just kisses him, somewhat frantically, and his hands don't go below the small of his back, although his hips jerk up against John's without precision.

There's a knock on the door.

"Shit!" says Bobby, going stiff as a board under him.

John contemplates murder.

Kitty's voice: "Hey, guys, Trivial tournament in the TV room!"

"Fuck off!" John yells.

"Okay, be an asshole," Kitty says, but John could swear he hears giggles.

Bobby's pushing himself up, pushing his shirt down and generally looking like a freshman girl coming off the Rohyphnol.

"Fuck," John mutters. His heart is pounding with what's probably half arousal and half good old fury. "I guess the blowjob's off?"

"Look, I don't know-- I haven't had time to think about this at all."

"What's there to think about?" He sounds too frantic, way too eager, and he tries to shake the feeling that things are slipping out of his hands. This isn't how it works. Not at all. He slides off the bed. "Fine."

"What?" Bobby says, and now he's the one who sounds frantic. John fishes the lighter from his jeanspocket and clicks it, click, click, click, click, all the way back to his own bed. His cock refuses to believe the show is over. He half wants to turn and jump Bobby, half wants to blow the window into a mushroom cloud of fire and broken glass. In a perfect world, he could do both.

In this, he does neither, just clicks the lighter and takes a minimal amount of comfort from its tiny, innocent flame.

Bobby stares at him. "You can be such a dick, you know that?"

"Yeah, I know that," John says placidly. Click, click, click. He holds Bobby's eyes until Bobby looks down. "You got your bike back, by the way."

It works as distraction. "Did the Professor find it?"

"I don't know. I guess he did. Cyclops picked it up and Xavier made me fix it as punishment."

"That's gotta suck," Bobby says, and John is (a bit unnervingly) not sure whether that was sarcasm or not.

He recovers by way of smug: "Oh yeah, Dr Grey checked out my war wounds..."

Bobby ignores the tone. He even ignores Dr Grey, which is new. "Are you okay? I mean, nothing permanent?"

"Just bruises." That's almost embarrassing to admit. Somehow he'd expected more: at least a dislocated shoulder. Instead it's nothing but an ugly patch of purple just below the knob of his shoulder and spreading halfway down his bicep. The colour's impressive, though. He pulls up his sleeve to look closer. If he prods very carefully, it hurts just enough to be interesting, but not enough to cross into the unpleasant kind of pain.

Other fingers touch the heated skin over the bruise, and he looks up. Bobby looks at the bruise, not his face. "There's the other one," John says, lifting his chin, "right here--"

"Did the Professor say anything about--" Bobby's fingers are cool, and his palm is cold. "You know."

"That's none of his fucking business," says John, sharply. If the nosy old fucker insists on looking in, let him look, but John is not going to listen to any lectures. "That's cold enough."

Bobby snatches back his hand. "Sorry."

"No, I meant--" The hand may be gone, but Bobby's still standing there next to him. Quiet, waiting, because he's the kind of guy who needs a push every once in a while. It's just a question of knowing when to push. And whether it's a good idea. He says, "Come here."

And Bobby only hesitates for a second (complete with some contemplative biting of lower lip and a quick look around the room as if to check for hidden cameras or possibly spies lurking in the corners) before he leans down to John, lets him pull him onto the bed.

It might be a terrible idea; there's a moment when he's almost sure it's a bad idea - he somehow hasn't had time to consider the merits of this seduction, what with one thing and another. He's momentarily baffled that in all the time he spent by himself in the garage, he never thought about... where to go. And before, everything happened so fast, perfectly innocent flirting with clueless Bobby and then suddenly--

Bobby leans over him, weighs him down, pins him down, hands clamped around his forearms almost too hard, making his hurt shoulder ache. And John shudders and arches because whatever the circumstances, he's always been a slut for this. He'd be even more of a slut for some sore nipples, or rough fingers on his bruises, but he doesn't know how to communicate that without putting Bobby off. Yet.

It's really too late for second thoughts anyway, he thinks. It just occurs to him - and it's really late in the day to consider this, but he seems to have been working on autopilot for days - that this has to be handled right or he'll be stuck with a hostile roommate for the rest of his time here. Better make it good, let Bobby think he's calling the shots. Play nice. It might take some doing, maybe, but John's prepared to give Bobby what he wants.

As long as he wants to pin John to the bed and suck on his tongue.

Bobby leans back a little, lets him breathe and John pushes his hands under Bobby's shirt, strokes the smooth skin of his belly and up, nipples, just the gentlest tweak and Bobby shudders and leans into it. John tugs at the shirt, pushes at Bobby's arms.

Bobby wrenches off his shirt, as if it's burning. John reaches up to touch his chest, but Bobby catches his hands and pushes them down. "Um," he says, his voice sounding awkward and not at all like something that should come out of his mouth right now, not when he's got this look like he wants to crawl under John's skin. "You too."

John pushes himself up and ends up sitting with Bobby straddling his lap, which is a great position for licking his collarbone and, when he arches back, his nipples. And graze them lightly with his teeth and there, Bobby makes a deep, throaty sound and his arms tighten around John's back. His breath fans suddenly cold through John's sweaty hair.

Then Bobby's hands scrabble wildly at his shirt and it comes off, miraculously without taking John's ears with it, and then he's back on his back with Bobby heavy on top of him. When they kiss, his lips go numb.

"Bobby," he slurs. "You're kinda--"

"Shit," Bobby says. "It gets away from me. They don't mention this in class. Here, let me--" And he puts his mouth over John's again, carefully, and it's human warmth again. He licks John's lips, warms them with his mouth. John's got a pit of heat somewhere in his stomach and he thinks he should, by rights, be lighting little fires all over the room, but the temperature stays inside him, mute and helpless. The lighter is a small, hard shape digging uncomfortably into his upper thigh, pressed between them. He closes his eyes and stops himself from digging it out. He stops himself from biting Bobby's lip until it bleeds, too.

Instead he looks at Bobby's body, or what he can see of it. He's seen it before, but he wasn't in a position to trace the coils of muscle with his tongue, then, or drag his nails over the subtle shapes of ribs under smooth skin.

I could get used to this, he thinks absently.

Bobby leans back, and their eyes meet, probably for the first time since, since... whenever it was they were arguing about something, it's all starting to really not matter because Bobby's eyes are heavy-lidded and glazed.

Then he scoots down the bed and reaches for John's fly - and I didn't even have to ask - his breath puffing damply over John's belly and just this fumbling, the glancing of fingers on his dick is pushing John into some dizzying spin cycle. It's been a long day of starts and stops and he's probably going to come before Bobby gets his stupid button fly open.

He doesn't, though, and Bobby doesn't just open his fly, he tugs down the jeans altogether. His face set in that same little frown that he gets when he's using his power (John has a tiny second of worry about that - frostbite on the gonads would be fairly unamusing) and he's looking very intently at the evidence.

John hopes he's not being compared unfavourably to someone else (who else, ha ha ha), and then Bobby bows down and opens his mouth.

Yeah, okay, I can live with that, John thinks and fuck, it's been too long since there's been a mouth there. His dick wants him to grab Bobby and just ram himself down his throat, but that would spoil the sweet, clumsy eagerness of this.

John's own first time sucking involved being grabbed and rammed (and backhanded, although that had to do with something else, not the quality of the blowjob), but then, that asshole had no class.

John prides himself on having a touch of class and stays almost still, digging his fingers into the mattress. And there's something to be said for virgins, clearly, because Bobby's trying everything, looking for the right way, unpredictable and accidentally teasing, a scrape of teeth there that sends a thick flare of pleasure all through John's body, and it's sloppy and hot and frustrating and John's melting into the sodden sheet under him.

He tries to speak but it comes out a croak. Sweat is trickling over his chest, pooling in the hollows. His empty hands want fire but he knots them into fists and says, politely, "I'm going to come in your mouth," and does.

Bobby stays, gamely, licking John's softening cock until it's tender and zinging with aftershocks.

Bobby kisses his lower belly with strange tenderness, and there's the chill again, entirely physical (this deflowering business seems to have put the guy off his stride completely), but also bringing a different chill, the chill of oops.

There's suddenly something ominous about Bobby's tenderness, the way he stays there, running his fingers through John's sticky pubic hair, resting his head heavily on John's pelvis. In John's experience, a blowjob well done demands either reciprocation or some other kind of compensation (like cold, hard cash, although John himself never had to go there - or never had time to start before Xavier picked him off the street like a lost wallet.)

He lies still, soaking in the post-coital bliss and decides that this is not going to get ugly. It's not even going to get weird.

"Is this part of some kind of coming out struggle you're having?" he asks Bobby. "It seems a little pointless after the fact. The struggle, I mean."

Bobby looks up, and he's rumpled and red-mouthed and John's worries suddenly seem silly. Weird or not, the rewards in this case outweigh any apprehension, no contest.

Momentary lapse, he decides and says, without much consideration past give me some of that, "You can fuck me if you want." The thought of it makes his dick twitch. Why not go whole hog and get everything at once? His is the instant gratification generation, after all. Or one of them.

Bobby blushes bright red. It's fascinating to watch - John can actually make out the deepening of colour.

He makes his limp and sated body sit up and hauls Bobby up. "...or you can kiss me first and consider it," he offers helpfully, and Bobby does, deep and with a familiar aftertaste; half spicy, half chemical. Eau de Pyro. John hasn't met anyone whose semen tastes anything like his, so he figures it's something to do with his mutation. One day he'll analyse it. Or try to burn it.

He imagines the porn version of his life, where his name would be Flaming Dick or something inventive like that. He'd only fuck fire breathers...

He snickers at the thought - he and Bobby could be a double act, what with Bobby's freezing mouth.

"What?" Bobby says.

"Thought of something funny," John says and gropes him for distraction. His fingers find damp heat. Well, there's an explanation for all the awkwardness. Possibly, it could be a bit overwhelming to come in your pants just from sucking some cock. John is gratified, though, and in any case, he's come in his pants for far less valid reasons.

Obviously he's not going to say anything about that, so instead he says, "I guess the fucking can be postponed," because even though he's still light-headed with bliss, he's not above rubbing it in.

While Bobby concentrates on blushing like the virgin he was yesterday, John feels along the floor by the side of the bed for his discarded jeans and the lighter in the front right pocket.

"Why?" Bobby says, suddenly. John lies on his back next to him, lights his lighter and waits for a specification. "Why did you...? Why now?"

John makes a mocking fiery heart float in his cupped hand.

"Stop it," Bobby says and puts his hand over it, freezing the poor heart (and John's hand; still a little off, there.)

"Anyway," John says, refraining from slapping the hand. "I was horny, you were there. Available, willing, and attractive. No big mystery."

"Those are your criteria?"

"Pretty much. I've been known to settle for two out of three, though."

While that's sinking in, John makes fire twist around his raised arm like a flickering orange snake.

"Don't you ever stop?" Bobby asks. He's not looking particularly offended. Amused. Sort of indulgent, as if he's got John all figured out and thinks he's cute instead of obnoxious.

"No," John says. He's not sure he likes being indulged. Then again, he could just decide it's cute instead of obnoxious. Tit for tat. "No, I don't."

"You'll burn down the house one day."

"I don't think so. I like this house."

He'd like it better in flames, perhaps (he doesn't say), but he has to admit there's no way he'd get away with it. And the punishment would, without question, be a fate worse than death.

He lets the firesnake fizzle out and closes his eyes. It's been a long fucking day and he suddenly feels worn and chilly. Bobby makes a sleepy sound and slips an arm around him. John is too tired to fight it off even though he should kick him out of bed and go to sleep, that's what he should do.

In a minute.

*

twelfth.

          hallway at night, moonlight streaming in through some windows that he can't see. The light is chilly, silver-bright, and makes the shadows sharp and vicious. He has his hands showed into his pockets, knotted into fists around nothing.

He passes his room without stopping, and the hall stretches out before him, longer than it should be, the shadows of the potted plants and delicate antique chairs lying flat and black on the floor like holes cut through it.

Then it ends, surprisingly, in a door. It's ajar, and he pushes it open without knowing what lies behind it. He has time to think that's stupid, how can he not know? He grew up here, he's walked this hall every day of his life.

The room is empty, the large window overlooking the back yard is curtainless and bare and wide open.

It's very cold even though the trees outside are lush with leaves. But the leaves are colourless in the moonlight, and he's not sure if they're actually green or if this is their real colour, this dark grey. His empty hands search for the lighter in his pockets but it's gone, too, like everything else in the house.

He walks back through the hall (no more baroque chairs, no more plants, just the hallway as bare as a hospital ward) to his room, pushes it open. "Bobby?" he says into the void. He's bare-chested, he realises, and shivering, goose-fleshed, empty-handed. "Bobby?"

Nothing there, either, and his breath is a cloud of steam in the freezing air, stark white, seeded with moonlight. He backs slowly

He wakes up with a scream caught in his throat. It's pitch black in the room and he's twined around Bobby like a scared kid, and Bobby is twitching and mumbling in his sleep and his skin is numbingly cold.

John clamps down on the scream and pushes himself away, his heart fluttering like a startled bird in his chest. He pushes harder than intended and suddenly the bed ends and he hits the floor with a rattling thump. His teeth click together around the tip of his tongue and he tastes blood.

"Fucking hell," he mumbles (a little slurred) to the moonlit room. This is not acceptable. Bobby, the fucking snoring icebox, sleeps on, his eyelids twitching with the hidden movements of his eyes.

The lighter is in his jeanspocket where he left it and he cradles it in his hands, standing naked in the middle of the room, still shivering. Click.

"The nightmares are signs of an unprocessed trauma," Ms Winters the shrink liked to say, and he would make up more dreams because it was sometimes amusing to listen to her try to figure out the trauma. Xavier is too smart to jerk around. He's not any more successful with the damn unprocessed traumas than Ms Winters, though. That actually gives John a spark of satisfaction.

The fire is a little cloud in front of his face now, and he basks in its heat. Bobby murmurs something sleepy and turns over, his hand groping at the sheet as if looking for something. Me, John thinks, and notices that he's stopped shivering. The room is getting warmer again. Maybe Bobby has nightmares, too. He looks peaceful now, though, and all thawed out. John's tired.

Bobby's bed is still made, the day cover neatly tucked in. Clear and Present Danger lies on the floor next to it.

If he freezes me again, I'll just burn his bed or something. But at least it won't be accidental.

He puts out the fire and clicks the lighter shut. He keeps it in his hand when he lies down again next to Bobby, who's back to normal body temperature and takes up a lot of space in the bed. John has to snuggle up to him in a not entirely unpleasant way. Bobby's hair tickles his face.

He sleeps.