Thanks: To two people, actually. First, to Kaylee, who is a WONDERFUL person. We love Kaylee. :) Second, to PoiLass. Who is getting this as a birthday present! YAY! Everyone, now!
YAY! Poi, I hope you have a great birthday! And I hope you like all the presents you get! :D
HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO YOU!
HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO YOU!
HAPPY BIRTHDAY DEAR POILASS!
HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO YOU!!!!!! :D
I'm changing things slightly. X-Factor has already broken up by the time Bobby left the X-Men to help his dad. This is where that takes place. :)
YAY! Poi, I hope you have a great birthday! And I hope you like all the presents you get! :D
Bobby stuffed his hands in the pockets of his gray slacks and stepped out of the restaurant, into the cool Washington night. He smiled slightly at the doorman, nodded once, and then sauntered across the street and leaned against the rail of the pier.
Stood up by his best friend. Bah. Not that he'd really expected more. And, heck, he was more than grateful for this small reprieve.
Bobby still remembered the day Hank had arrived at his parent's house, where Bobby'd been staying while his dad recuperated from the beating FoH had given him. It had already been late afternoon when the Beast in all his blue fuzziness had arrived unexpectedly in his red sports car. They'd invited him in and he'd stayed for dinner--explaining that he'd only come by because he was in the area (which had actually been true) and that he was more interested in home-cooked food than Bobby. But he'd had that Sparkle in his eye when he'd said that, and Bobby had known he was kidding.
Bobby wasn't sure how Hank had known he was going nuts living with his parents. Bobby'd needed a break for weeks, but didn't feel like he could just leave. And then Hank had said, oh so casually after dinner, "Robert, I'm traversing to a conference of one week's length in Washington and I would be most appreciative of a person other than my humble self with which to converse. I'm afraid that I won't often be available, departing early and not returning until, perhaps, the wee hours of the morn, but mayhap you'd like to traverse with me and keep me company whilst listening to my eloquent soliloquies?"
And Bobby had known using his special Best Friend sense that what Hank was really saying was "Bobby, I can see you're going nuts. Want to have a short vacation? I won't be around much, but if you want out of this house for a while here's your excuse."
Bobby had jumped at the excuse.
The drive to Washington had been fun, if tiring. In the three days they'd been here, Hank had been pretty good about getting lunches off and leaving to come do Friend-Stuff with Bobby afterward.
But he was here for a conference, and the conference was running late.
Ah, well. It could be worse. Bobby could have been home listening to his father tell Alex Trebek that the Jeopardy answers were wrong.
At that thought, Bobby grinned and mentally thanked Hank again for giving him this vacation.
Whistling, Bobby started down the sidewalk, hands still in his pockets, blue eyes taking in all the scenery. Ahead, someone was goofing off on one of the pier supports. A small crowd had gathered, laughing, and Bobby smiled. The police would come tell the man to get off the support in a moment, but in the meantime it looked like he was doing very fake, very slow tai chi.
Bobby's smile turned into a grin, and he sauntered closer, cocking his head to watch the figure in the brown trenchcoat. In fact, he realized, stopping, that figure looked awfully familiar. It looked like . . .
"Jamie Madrox?" Bobby called, pitching his voice to hover above the crowd.
The figure jerked and twisted around, trying to see who had called his name--and then overbalanced.
Bobby made a dash for the edge, but much too late as a splash could be heard. Bobby, cringing, peered over the side of the rail. "Sorry," he called when Jamie (and another Jamie) emerged, sputtering.
The two Jamies became one, and that one swam for the shoreline nearby.
Bobby followed him down, meeting him on the rocky beach. "Sorry," he said again, smiling apologetically.
"It's freezing in that water!" Jamie yelped, his face pale in the moon and starlight.
"Here," Bobby said, pulling off his gray jacket, "wear this."
Jamie nodded and pulled off his soaking wet trenchcoat, shivering so hard he almost couldn't get Bobby's jacket on. It was slightly too big through the shoulders, but overall fit fairly well. Bobby took the trenchcoat, hesitating when Jamie reached into the pocket with fumbling hands and removed a now-wet cell phone.
Jamie punched some buttons, held it up to his ear, punched some more buttons, and, making a disgusted face, tossed it onto the rocks. "It's busted," he sighed.
"Sorry," Bobby said again. Then he grinned. "You know, that's probably government property."
Jamie smiled ruefully up at him. "Thanks for the tip. You have a phone on you? I need to call a cab to come get me before I freeze to death."
Bobby shook his head, regretting leaving his cell phone back at the hotel room--then brightened. "Come on," he said, motioning with his head as he started up the rocks. "My hotel's just about a block from here. You can make a call and get a change of clothes--you can probably wear mine. And we can dry yours--it's the least I can do after making you fall in the water," Bobby said, laughing contritely.
"Thanks," Jamie chirped, pulling the dry gray jacket around his wet clothes. "I appreciate it!"
The walk back to the hotel room was quiet. Bobby knew little about this man, other than he was an X-cousin and had worked with X-Factor for a while. And Bobby had been sure he'd died . . . but, obviously not.
The silence wasn't comfortable, though it fell short of being uncomfortable. The dark night made the other man's features blur together slightly--Bobby had never had very good night vision, unless he was iced up. That was more heat-based vision than anything, though.
They reached the hotel in a short time, walked through the door into the plushly carpeted and expensively decorated lobby.
"Nice," Jamie said, the words slurred slightly as he shivered.
Bobby nodded and glanced toward the slightly shorter man, eyes widening in worry as he saw the almost-blue lips and white face. "C'mon," he said, tugging Jamie faster to the elevator and up the stairs. "Why didn't you say you were freezing?"
Jamie lifted one shoulder in a shrug, stepping into the elevator and leaning in the corner. "It wouldn't have gotten us here any faster. What's the point?"
Bobby started to lecture the other man, then just shook his head and willed the elevator to go faster.
Jamie huddled in the corner, jaw clenched to keep his teeth from clacking together, shivering hard enough to make the material around his slender body shudder.
"We're here," Bobby said as the elevator stopped with a stomach-lightening lurch, the doors opening. Bobby hurried out into the hall, striding down swiftly to the door to his and Hank's suite--a suite the conference people had paid for. He swiped the electronic card, pushing against the door with his shoulder while twisting the handle. The door opened, revealing a couch rolled out into a bed, with a small table and two chairs in one corner, and a bar by the door. Another door lead to another room with Hank's bed.
Bobby went straight for his suitcase, pulling out the warmest clothes he had--sweatpants for sleeping and a sweatshirt for cold mornings. "Get in the shower, thaw yourself out," he ordered, glancing over his shoulder to see Jamie already pulling off the gray jacket and black T-shirt beneath. Bobby tossed him the blue sweatshirt and black pants, watched the other man disappear into the bathroom.
"Toss me your clothes," Bobby shouted, picking up his jacket and the soaked-through shirt. He waited for a moment, then the door opened and he saw a flash of too-white skin stretched taut over a slender chest. Pants, shoes and various other sundry items came flying out the door, landing in a heap on the floor before the door closed, and the shower turned on.
Bobby frowned at the image of white skin and blue lips, picking up the rest of the clothes and heading down to the laundry room they had at this hotel. Coulda been worse, his mind commented to himself. You could be at a cheap hotel with no laundry room.
Jamie was still in the shower when Bobby got back, and Bobby picked up the phone to order room service. That done, he looked in the small, stocked refrigerator, pulling out several miniature bottles of liquor and setting them on the little table in the corner.
Bobby dug through his belongings, pulling out a card deck and the raggedy paperback he'd found at a park several days before. Bobby settled himself in one of the hard wooden chairs that seemed to be made specially for hotels, propping his feet up on the other chair across from him and settling in to read.
Room service arrived and Jamie was still in the shower, so Bobby set the food on the table and went back to his novel. The smell of chicken and rice was tantalizing, though, and he couldn't keep his mind on his book.
Finally, the shower cut off. Bobby kept half an eye on the door, an entire eye on the covered platter of food, and another half an eye on his book.
The bathroom door opened, letting steam race into the room, billowing and shoving through.
"You warmer?" Bobby asked, watching as Jamie fumbled his way to the table.
Jamie nodded wordlessly, though he still looked awfully pale.
"I really didn't mean to make you fall in the water," Bobby said, smiling apologetically.
Jamie started to laugh. "Stop feeling bad! It wasn't entirely your fault--I shouldn't've been up there anyway!"
Bobby lifted one shoulder in a shrug, then gestured to the food. He moved his feet off the other chair, pushing it back with his toe. "I got food--figured it was the least I could do."
Jamie smiled gratefully and sat--plopped, really--into the chair, reaching for the nearest platter.
"You're not vegetarian, are you?" Bobby asked, suddenly frowning as he uncovered the other platter.
"Of course," Jamie said, not really even paying attention as he focused on the chicken and rice pilaf, "but only when there's no meat around."
Bobby grinned, nodding, biting into his own food. "Me, too," he said, mouth full.
Jamie grinned and set to eating with the fervor of a starving man.
There was a comfortable silence for several minutes as both men ate as much as they could, then relaxed slowly as they weren't so hungry.
Bobby eyed the other man curiously, noting the very wet, dark brown hair that fell in unruly strands down his face. Every few minutes Jamie would brush at them, tucking them behind his ears or just brushing them back. They always fell right into his eyes again, eyes that were so dark they seemed almost black at times. Bushy eyebrows hovered above those large eyes, perpetually stuck in a humorous sort of tilt. He had what Bobby had termed a flippity nose--one much like the type you would expect to see on a particularly mischievous pixie. Freckles smattered themselves across that nose and the high cheekbones around it, though the freckles were light enough as to be almost unnoticeable.
Another thick strand of hair fell into Jamie's face, letting a fat droplet of water plunk onto his nose and slide down into his lips. With one had Jamie pulled the strand away, tucking it firmly behind his ear, while with the other hand Jamie shoveled food into his mouth. His cheek puffed with a bite of chicken that really was too large, but he chewed it down swiftly and swallowed.
That hand that had supplied the chicken held a trembling fork back up, filled with rice.
Bobby set his own fork down, looking at Jamie overtly.
Jamie stopped eating and looked up, suddenly aware he was being scrutinized. "Whuph?" he asked, mouth full of rice.
Bobby swallowed, keen blue eyes searching for any other signs of shivering underneath the much too baggy shirt. There--hair trembled at the collar, shaking away drops of moisture.
"You're shivering," Bobby said, watching the other man's Adam's apple bob as he swallowed.
"Oh." Jamie sat still for a moment, then took another bite.
"Hey, I'm kinda worried here," Bobby said, setting his fork down and leaning on the table. "You were in the shower for a long time, and you're still shivering?"
Jamie swallowed, glanced up. "Not hard," he said, shooting Bobby a bright smile that would have carried innocence and sincerity if Bobby didn't use it whenever he was trying to brush someone off.
"Hold your hand out," Bobby ordered, blue eyes narrowing as his own light brown hair tickled his ears.
Jamie hesitated, cheek puffing again as food was stuffed into it, then held up the hand that wasn't occupied by a fork. "Ish no' baf," Jamie said around his giant mouthful of food.
Bobby eyed the shuddering fingers, then reached out with his own hand to hold the other lightly, bringing it closer. "Your nails are blue, Jamie," Bobby said, a lecture in his eyes.
Jamie pulled his hand back. "I'm fine," he said, then flashed a reassuring grin. Dimples lay in his cheeks, falling into creases that were there for just that purpose.
"Humph," Bobby muttered. He leaned back, folded his arms across his chest and eyed the other man. Finally, he stood and got two small glasses, opening one of the tiny bottles of liquor and pouring it evenly into the cups. He handed one to Jamie and set one by his own plate.
"No thanks," Jamie said, not even glancing up. "I'm a real lightweight--can't hold my liquor at all." He grinned then, warm brown eyes flickering upward, a self-depreciating smile on his lips.
"Too bad," Bobby answered, smiling back, carrying just a hint of seriousness beneath the grin. "Drink. It'll at least get you warmer. Or more comfortable. One of the two."
Jamie looked uncertainly from the glass to Bobby and back again. "Nah," he said after a minute. And smiled, as if it were a joke.
Bobby recognized the tactic. He used it often himself. "Yeah," he countered, cocking his head. And smiling.
Jamie looked like he'd been caught off-guard. He took his time finishing his bite, running his tongue across his teeth, stalling for time. "I'm really okay," he said at last. He smiled.
Bobby recognized the believe-me-because-I'm-cute-and-so-innocent-and-wouldn't-lie-to-you-wouldn't-even- exaggerate look instantly.
"Just make me feel better," Bobby answered. He smiled. In his own way, using his I'll-sit-here-and-pretend-like-its-funny-even-though-we're-serious-and-you'd-better- do-it-because-I-know-this-game,-pal,-and-I'll-win smile.
Jamie smiled. It was automatic, default mode as his eyes flickered again around the room. "You know," he said, as if the thought had just occurred to him, "I'd better call Forge. He'll be worried about me."
"Good idea," Bobby agreed, rolling with the subject change. "Tell him you're gonna stay for a while until I make sure you're okay. In fact, why don't you just stay until Hank gets back, and then he can check you since he's a doctor and all, and then I'll feel a lot better." Bobby smiled. Pitched his eyebrows Just So, manipulating Jamie shamelessly. Jamie might be good at the innocent jokester game, but Bobby was better. "I feel really bad about dropping you in the water. It'd make me feel a lot better." Bobby watched, triumphantly, as Jamie immediately tried to tell him it wasn't his fault.
"Just call Forge," Bobby said, reaching down to his suitcase and fishing out his cell phone. He turned it on, then handed it across the table to Jamie. And smiled as he saw the look on Jamie's face--the dammit,-I've-been-outsmarted look.
Jamie took the phone, called Forge, explained what had happened and where he was, then handed the phone to Bobby.
"Hullo?" Bobby asked, slightly surprised.
Forge's deep voice rolled across from the other end. "Hi, Bobby. Is Jamie okay?"
"I think so," Bobby answered. "Cold, though. I thought maybe I'd have Hank give him the once over when he got back."
Bobby could almost hear Forge nodding on the other end. "Good idea. Just don't let him blow you off, all right?"
Bobby grinned, noted the slightly frustrated look Jamie got at the sight of that smile. "Sure."
Forge and Bobby said goodbye and hung up, and Bobby tossed his phone back into his suitcase. "Drink up," Bobby said, nodding to the liquor. "It'll warm you."
He stood as Jamie reached for the glass, sighing heavily.
"It's really not nice to railroad people like that," Jamie said. Bobby grinned, carrying the plate to the miniature sink. Behind him he heard Jamie cough. Bobby glanced back, saw that the other man had taken much too big a swallow, and forced his laugh away.
When Bobby came back to the table, most of the drink was gone and Jamie was shoving his food around his plate with his fork.
"So what are you and Forge doing here?" Bobby asked conversationally, sitting back in his chair, propping his foot up and resting an arm on his knee.
"Forge has government stuff to take care of," Jamie answered, leaning back himself. "And he's nervous about letting me out of his sight." Jamie grinned, laughing at a private joke.
Jamie lifted a shoulder in a shrug, face a study in innocence.
Bobby's eyebrows rose in mute disbelief, though he wasn't sure what he wasn't believing.
Jamie laughed. It was a cheerful sound, one Bobby hadn't heard often enough lately. "No, seriously. Since the Legacy Virus thing, he acts like I'm some strange animal that people are going to try to cart off and study."
Bobby nodded, though he wasn't really sure what Jamie was talking about. "Yeah," he said, frowning in remembrance, "I thought I'd heard that you had the Legacy Virus? And that you'd died?" He grinned sheepishly. "Guess I shouldn't believe all those rumors, huh?" But a haunted light had entered Jamie's brown eyes, and he looked away.
"Yeah. Something like that," the man muttered. His hands played with the edge of the table, slender fingers dancing back and forth. Quick eyes saw the pack of cards and he picked them up, smiling again. "Wanna play?"
"Sure," Bobby answered, dropping his leg and leaning forward. The haunted look had left again, and Bobby was more than willing to keep it away. "What do you want to play?"
"Poker?" Jamie asked, shuffling the cards with ease.
Bobby nodded. "I don't have any money, though, so we can't play for chips."
Jamie shrugged. "I don't have any money, either." Then a gleam entered his eyes, making the brown dance in merriment. "But I have an idea."
He stood, setting the cards on the table with a small thump, and walked with a long, loping stride to the kitchenette.
Bobby had to admire the grace Jamie seemed to have, though somehow Jamie still looked slightly gangly, as though he wasn't entirely used to his body. Jamie reached up to the cupboards, opening them all quickly. The sweatshirt pulled up, exposing a pale stomach with lightly defined muscles.
"Here!" Jamie said, eyes laughing as he walked back to the table with that same loping, gangly stride. Bobby tore his gaze away from Jamie's body, knowing that most people didn't appreciate being ogled, and shifted to what the man held.
A grin spread across Bobby's face as he saw the bag of potato chips--just a small bag, but there nonetheless. "Perfect!" he declared as Jamie flopped into his chair and opened the bag. "I have to warn you, though," Bobby said pseudo-seriously, "I'm awful at poker."
"Me too," Jamie laughed. "We should play a special game."
Bobby's eyebrows rose curiously.
Jamie was grinning hugely, setting aside his plate. "Whoever loses the most wins."
Bobby started to laugh. "But you have to try not to lose!" he added.
"Right! Because if you lose, you have to . . . I dunno. If you win you get the bag of chips. And in the end, whoever's lost the most gets . . . um . . ."
"Treated to lunch or dinner at a place of their choosing," Bobby announced, chuckling.
Jamie almost blushed--red creeping up his neck--then nodded, once, grinning. "All right," he said, his eyes fastened on the cards.
Bobby cocked his head, filing the blush away for later contemplation. If there was one thing he was, it was a good judge of people. And blushes always meant something.
Bobby reached for the tiny bottle of gin and re-filled Jamie's glass, then took a sip from his own. The cards were trembling as Jamie passed them out, a sure sign that the cold was still clinging to the other man's bones. Not good. Something Bobby planned on making sure went away. After all, he did feel bad about surprising Jamie into falling in the water.
"Don't we need four people to play poker?" Bobby asked after a moment.
Jamie looked up, eyebrows raised. "You want four people? I can do that."
Bobby blinked, then grinned. "That's right. That's cool. Never run out of people to talk to, huh?"
Jamie laughed. "Yeah well, it's no fun. I always know just what's going on, because we all think the same way! Besides," and he frowned slightly, "I tend to bicker with myself."
Bobby laughed. "Now that must be interesting."
Jamie snorted inelegantly. "You want two people or four?"
"Let's just play with just us--the two of us," Bobby answered. Jamie nodded once and dealt the cards, picking his own up with long fingered hands. Bobby lifted his own cards and looked at them, glancing up and taking the moment to surreptitiously look Jamie over again.
Oh, sure, the man before him wasn't as built as some of the men on the X-teams. But, really, when a guy got so muscled that there were veins sticking out it just didn't look good anymore. And it was true that Jamie wasn't the handsomest guy in the X-teams--he had a certain cuteness that precluded being handsome. But there was something about that smile, those eyes (those gorgeous dimples) that Bobby found more than a little endearing.
Bobby didn't realize he'd sighed until Jamie looked up, completely oblivious to the fact that Bobby was about to drool all over the table. "Something wrong?" Jamie asked, all earnestness.
"Nah," Bobby said, smiling his own boy-next-door smile and looking back down at his cards.
With his luck, Jamie was as straight as the pole Bobby used to hang Scott's underwear on.
Bobby looked back down at his cards. Two fours, an ace, a six of clubs and a nine of hearts. Bah. He threw everything but the fours on the table, and waited for Jamie to hand him more cards.
A queen, a seven, and a jack.
Jamie smiled and opened the bag of chips, munching on one after they'd revealed their cards. "So when's Hank due back?"
Bobby picked up his new cards for the new round. "Don't like my company?" he asked, grinning.
"Company's fine," Jamie answered innocently. "Or it would be if there was someone interesting here."
Bobby pretended to be horror-struck and kicked playfully at Jamie's legs under the table. "So that's how it's gonna be, huh?" Second draw, and he had a pair of kings. Jamie had nothing. Bobby grinned smugly and snatched up the bag of chips, carefully choosing which ones to eat.
"What are you doing in Washington?" Jamie asked, dealing.
"Hank came for a bunch of conferences. I tagged along to get out of the house."
Jamie laughed, and it made Bobby smile. Such an unfettered sound. The people at the X-mansion didn't often laugh like that. Bishop never laughed. Logan chortled. Remy did that sly I-know-something-you-don't-know laugh. Rogue often sounded forced. Scott was too busy to laugh, and Jean never around. Nope. No one had that free, unfettered, careless laugh.
It made Bobby grin to hear it.
"So you're just hanging around the hotel?"
"Pretty much," Bobby agreed with a bob of his head. Jamie won. Chips went to him.
"You know Lorna, right?" Jamie asked.
"Yeah," Bobby answered, grinning. "We dated."
Jamie glanced at Bobby, grinned, then looked back down at his cards. "You wouldn't believe it to look at her, but she's really good at poker."
"Lorna?" Bobby asked in disbelief.
Jamie nodded sagely. "She could always beat out Alex, and Guido, and me. Forge gave her a run for her money. Rahne didn't play."
Bobby nodded. From what he'd heard of Rahne, she wouldn't have. "So you're here because Forge is doing things, and I'm here because Hank is doing things," Bobby commented.
"Yup," Jamie said. He sighed, losing the game.
"I'm bored during the day. Are you?" Bobby asked, glancing at Jamie--who was intent on the cards.
Jamie looked up, consideringly. "Yeah."
"We should hang out."
Jamie thought about that for a moment, then smiled slightly. "Yeah."
Bobby grinned. This week was starting to look up.
Morning, late. Bobby loved mornings, late. There was something about them, something no one else saw.
Maybe it was just because he liked to sleep in so much. Or maybe it was that the grumpy people were already off to work. Or maybe because Scott never scheduled him for the Danger Room workouts this time of day.
Bobby walked along the sidewalk, face turned into the sun that smiled down at him (the sun liked mornings, late, too) and the clouds that drifted lazily through the clear autumn sky.
That was another thing he liked. Autumn skies. The hint of warm weather, the ability to still go out walking, but the promise of Cold on the horizon. Leaves turned orange and gold, a burning glory, a last act of defiance against the Cold of winter.
Bobby bounced up the steps of the hotel, smiling brightly at the doorman as he waltzed in. He glanced down at his paper, then headed to the stairs and jogged up them--all the way to the eleventh floor. He was winded by the time he reached the top, but the cool (if air-conditioned) air felt good as it snapped into his lungs.
The door opened into a patentedly Hotel Hallway, and Bobby bounced down that until he came to room J-23. Jamie's door. Whistling tunelessly--the only way Bobby knew how to whistle--Bobby raised his knuckles and rapped--tap-tap-tap-tap--on the door. A moment later it opened, showing an older man's face, black hair tied back into a ponytail, streaks of white running through it like lightning.
"Hey, Forge," Bobby said, finding his smile coming back. "Jamie still here?"
Forge smiled, his face creasing into worn grooves. "Yeah. Come on in." He stepped back, opening the door farther, gesturing for Bobby to enter the small hotel room. "Jamie's been complaining all morning that you got him drunk," Forge chuckled, though his silver eyes held a question as they looked up at Bobby.
"Yeah, well, he was warm," Bobby answered, smiling. He could hear the shower running, and made his way to one of the beds, seeing the small table occupied with a typically Forge-looking mess. Bits and pieces of metal and wires, computer boards and chunks of plastic--all a very technical confusion.
"Actually," Forge commented, not really paying attention, "alcohol doesn't make you warm. That's an illusion."
Bobby cocked an eyebrow to himself, then smiled lopsidedly and shrugged. "Oh. Well, he was comfy. And he stopped shivering."
"Psychosomatic," Forge muttered under his breath.
"What?" Bobby asked.
Forge shook his head mutely and walked to the small table.
"He been in there long?" Bobby asked as Forge sat back down at the table, pushing a duffel bag aside with his foot.
"About fifteen minutes. I think he's soaking off the hang-over," Forge answered, picking up a chip of Somethingorother and eyeing it before placing it with a Whatchamacallit.
Bobby nodded and sat on the bed, fidgeting. He tapped his feet, whistled under his breath, played with the blankets. Finally he got up and wandered for a bit, ending by the bathroom door. "Hurry it up, James!" Bobby shouted over the shower.
"Go 'way!" he heard dimly from within.
Bobby's smile spread slowly across his face, lighting his eyes with a wicked gleam. Consideringly, he walked around the edge of the wall, head cocked, one hand trailing along the paint. Finally he stopped where he thought the top of the shower might be, and placed both hands flat on the wall. He closed his eyes, leaning his forehead against the stucco, and concentrated.
There--beneath the drywall, before the tiles. Pipes were running, carrying an absence of Cold, which meant heat. Water pipes. Carrying hot water. To the shower. Bobby's slow, wicked smile returned, and he slowly started to chill not the water itself, but the pipes.
A satisfying yowl echoed from the bathroom, and a moment later a dripping wet Jamie raced out, towel wrapped tightly around his waist.
Bobby grinned smugly and tried to keep his eyes on Jamie's face as he leaned a shoulder against the wall, laying his arms over his chest and crossing his ankles nonchalantly. "Hi."
A narrow, well-muscled chest shuddered outward, then collapsed as Jamie took a deep breath. "I'm gonna kill you for that."
Bobby laughed, seeing Forge look up out of the corner of his eye. "Cold showers are good for hang-overs."
Jamie rubbed the back of his forearm across his mouth, his other hand holding his towel firmly in place around a trim waist. "Who said I had a hang-over?"
Bobby blinked innocently. "Didn't you know? When people have hangovers they always look really pale. You, my boy, look really pale."
Jamie shifted uncomfortably. "Oh."
Bobby laughed again, pulling his eyes away from Jamie's (very bare, very wet and oooh there was an image) long torso and back up to his face, brown hair almost black from the water as it lay flattened against his head. "I'm kidding," Bobby said, grinning again, cocking his head. "Go get dressed! And hurry up!"
Jamie ducked his head once, in a nod, then disappeared back into the bathroom.
"What do you boys have planned?" Forge asked, not looking up from his whatchamacallits.
Bobby straightened and considered taking offense. He was no 'boy.' He'd been an X-Man far longer than Forge . . . then he decided the day was too nice, and Forge was old enough to call anyone 'boy.' Bobby slouched back against the wall, smirk playing around his mouth. "We're going to just hang out, mostly. Later, Jamie has to buy me dinner because he lost a bet." Bobby grinned impishly.
Forge chuckled, shaking his head. "Have a good time," he said, glancing up as the bathroom door opened and Jamie walked out, tucking a black T-shirt into faded blue jeans. He ran his long fingers through recently brushed hair, effectively ruffling it all up again, then smiled brightly at Bobby.
"Set?" Jamie asked, picking his brown trench coat up off the bed.
"Yeah," Bobby answered, smiling and raising a hand at Forge before ducking out the door.
"How 'bout McDonald's for lunch?" Jamie offered, smiling as though he carried the entire day in his heart.
"You trying to get out of buying me expensive food?" Bobby answered, mock-offended. He stepped off the curb to avoid someone, then hopped back up. The sea lay on one side, and the city on another. Jamie walked near the railing that kept people from falling into the ocean.
Bobby laughed, sending a sidelong glance at the younger man. "I want dinner. Expensive dinner."
"C'mon, the government pays well! I'm sure of it, having watched lots of TV," Bobby said, still grinning.
Jamie snorted. "Okay, then. McDonald's for dinner!"
Bobby laughed, reaching out to push Jamie. Jamie stumbled against the railing, then grinned and ran ahead. "Hurry up, slow poke!" he shouted, weaving through the crowds of people.
Bobby blinked, then took off after Jamie, legs pounding against the sidewalk. He finally caught the other man at a park, sitting on a rock by a small pond.
"Hey, Bobster, look," Jamie said in a hushed tone, deep brown eyes twinkling.
Bobby thought he really liked those eyes. In fact, he more than really liked them.
He tore his thoughts away from that course and turned his gaze to the water, where Jamie was pointing. "What? The fish?"
Jamie rolled his eyes. "No. Look--is that a seahorse? I've never seen a seahorse in a pond!"
Bobby frowned and leaned forward slightly, putting his hand down on the boulder Jamie sat on. One of Jamie's legs was pulled up onto the rock, the other still planted on the ground. He had twisted, looking backward to see into the water, and Bobby could feel the man's breath tickling his ear. "I don't see a seahorse," Bobby said after a moment.
"Right there. I swear it's a seahorse!"
Jamie leaned forward to point, brushing his shoulder against Bobby's. Bobby's stomach tightened, and he closed his eyes tightly for a moment. This wasn't the person to feel this way about, he chided himself. The moment passed, and Bobby opened his eyes to look.
"I don't see a seahorse," he said again, though he was looking hard. "I don't think they can live in ponds anyway."
"It was!" Jamie protested, then shifted around until he lay on his stomach on the boulder, leaning across the water, sprawled next to Bobby. "Right there!"
Bobby hesitated, then decided he needed a better balancing system if he was going to lean and look. Carefully, he shifted until he perched with one hand on either side of Jamie's shoulders, toes digging into the soft dirt by Jamie's feet. "Where?"
Bobby frowned and leaned closer, almost but not quite touching Jamie. "Where?"
"There!" Jamie twisted, blinking as if he hadn't realized Bobby was that close. "Um." A blush crept up his neck (This boy blushes faster than I do!), and he slid downward, ducking out beneath Bobby's arms and standing off to one side. "If you lean over you can see it better. I think it's hiding under that fern-y looking thing."
Bobby eyed Jamie, then glanced back at the water. "Sheeeeya, right."
"Really!" Jamie sounded thoroughly frustrated. His hand--slighter than Bobby's--planted itself back on the rock and he leaned close again, shoulder brushing shoulder as he stretched across the water to point. "That fern-y looking thing!"
Bobby could smell Jamie's aftershave. His stomach tightened again as Jamie pulled back slightly, brushing brown hair across Bobby's cheek. The brown trenchcoat tickled against Bobby's legs, and as Jamie shifted to get better balance his knee kissed against Bobby's shin.
Bobby swallowed hard. This man was adorable, and he wasn't even aware of it. That was all right, though. Bobby was more than enough aware of it for both of them.
Head dizzy with the scent of aftershave that wasn't his, Bobby leaned farther forward to peer around the fern-y thing Jamie had been pointing at. He blinked several times, trying to focus on the water instead of Jamie.
And then, rather suddenly (though it really shouldn't have been unexpectedly, Bobby noted), Bobby's feet were wrapped in long arms and pulled up off the ground, toppling him headfirst into the pond.
He was screeching as he surfaced, though he wouldn't have admitted it. Men didn't screech.
"I am going to KILL you, Jamie!" Pond sludge hung in his face, and as he stood up a large poi fish tried to eat his pants.
Jamie was laughing too hard to run away, doubled over and clutching his sides. "Your face--!" he gasped, pointing one slender finger.
Bobby fought his smile, shooing the poi away, wiping brown muck off his arms. The water was waist-deep, and now it swirled with upset mud. Bobby's clothes were brown. His skin was brown. His hair dripped green slimy stuff.
Oh, yes. Jamie would pay. He must pay.
"I am going to get you," Bobby warned, smiling wickedly as he sloshed through the pond.
"Sir! No bathing in the pond, sir!" someone pompous and official-looking shouted.
Jamie started laughing harder, nodding. "That's right, you horrible pervert, you! No bathing in the pond! I tried to tell him to get out," Jamie gasped in the general direction of Pompous Man, unable to catch his breath.
"Very funny," Bobby muttered, clambering up onto land and shaking the water out of his hair and onto Jamie.
Jamie just kept laughing.
"You sicko!" Bobby snorted, falling to his knees next to Jamie and wiping sludge off on the other man's chest.
Jamie pushed back, trying to keep from getting slimed, but gasping too hard to put up much of a fight.
"That pond is probably infected with all sorts of diseases!" Bobby continued, his voice shaking with mirth as he wrung his shirt out on Jamie. So much for his nice, new shirt. One look at Jamie, though, and he couldn't be even irritated. Those sparkling brown eyes were running over with tears, and his grin was so big that his dimples were like canyons in his cheeks. "Sick, sick, sick!" Bobby said, flopping backward and rubbing his spine along Jamie's stomach, wiping off mud.
Jamie laughed and pushed him away, then rolled to his knees and stood. "Oh, Bobby, your face was so stunned! It was hilarious! You should have seen it!"
Bobby chuckled, still kneeling. "I'm sure! Probably a lot like yours last night, in the bay!"
Jamie laughed harder and nodded, wiping tears off his face with the back of his hand. "Yeah!"
Bobby watched, grinning, as Jamie collected himself.
"C'mon," Jamie said, still grinning, "I'll buy you some new clothes."
Bobby sniffed as if upset, though he couldn't quite suppress his smile. "I stink."
"How's that different from normal?" Jamie quipped, holding out a hand to pull Bobby up.
Bobby grasped the other man's warm fingers in his own, feeling the solidity, the stability as he pulled against Jamie to get up. "The stinky part. That's different from normal," Bobby answered Jamie's quip. "You're thinking of yourself, where it's normal," he said, blue eyes sparkling.
Jamie laughed and started out of the park, his stride long and sauntering.
"You're dirty, too," Bobby commented, matching Jamie's long, carefree steps.
"I'll get me new clothes," Jamie answered, smiling brightly. Bobby grinned in return, finding it impossible to remain solemn in this man's presence. It was such a welcome change from how things had become of late, a change Bobby was reveling in.
They walked in silence broken by the occasional chuckle to a department store, where both made a beeline for the men's department.
"We need non-stinky clothes!" Jamie announced--loudly--to whoever cared to be listening.
Bobby laughed and pulled a pair of jeans and a shirt in his size off the rack, then headed into the changing rooms. A moment later he returned, finding Jamie pulling clothes out, too, and got underwear and socks, grateful that he was one of those rare people who could wear off-the-rack clothing in a pinch.
Jamie started to laugh all over again.
"Shuddup," Bobby said, though he was grinning as he said it. Jamie kept laughing, and followed Bobby into the changing rooms.
"Little wet, huh?" Jamie asked, banging the door shut on a nearby stall.
Bobby opened his mouth to say something dirty, then thought better of it and entered his stall. "Just a little," he answered, and grinned to hear the bubbling laugh. He peeled his shirt off, then pulled his shoes off with his feet, and managed to somehow wiggle out of suddenly-smaller jeans. Socks and underwear went next, and he pulled on the new clothes quickly, chilled from being both wet and in an air-conditioned building. Funny. As The Iceman he could stand sub-zero tempatures, but as just Bobby Drake he seemed almost sensitized to the cold. Hank had said once that it might have been because he was exposed to cold in the flesh so rarely--normally, he was ice.
The new jeans weren't nearly as comfortable as his old ones, but they'd do. The shirt, a plain white button-down, felt nice and dry against his skin, though.
"We need to find a bathroom, too," Bobby said, walking in stockinged feet out of the stall. Jamie leaned against the wall, wearing new pants and a new shirt--a black T-shirt that hugged his body nicely. Bobby purposefully looked away and headed out to find some shoes that didn't squelch when he walked.
It didn't take too long to find new tennis shoes that fit decently, and Bobby walked swiftly into the men's bathroom to wash the sludge from his hair.
He ignored the odd looks as he ducked his head beneath the faucet, then pulled his shirt off and scrubbed his face, neck, arms and hands. Jamie wandered in, and Bobby watched the reflection of the other man as dark brown eyes flittered across his bare chest. Then that blush rose again, and Jamie leaned casually against the sink to contemplate the other wall as if he hadn't just been eyeing Bobby.
Bobby felt complimented. And hopeful. Maybe Jamie was interested. Now wouldn't that be fun?
"I still smell," Bobby said, using paper towels to blot most of the water out of his hair and scrub his body dry.
"I smell, too," Jamie answered solemnly, gaze still focused on the far wall. "I smell flowers and ocean spray and--right now--pond scum."
Bobby chuckled. "I need . . . cologne or something. Anything to take this stench away!"
Jamie nodded and rolled around the corner, disappearing out the door. A moment later he returned, picking a price tag off a bottle of cologne before handing it to Bobby. "This smell okay?"
Bobby nodded and put it on, relieved to find that between the sink-bath, new clothes and cologne, he could hardly smell pond-scum anymore. "This stuff smells good," Bobby commented, sniffing again. It smelled familiar. It smelled like . . . oh yeah. Like Jamie.
"Yeah, I think so," Jamie said, leading the way out of the bathroom. His trench coat swirled around his legs like a strange cape, first hiding his form and then flattening against his body, showing every long line and sharp curve.
Bobby wondered if maybe Jamie really could be interested. It would be easier to date him then a lot of other guys--after all, he wouldn't have to hide the whole I'm-going-to-go-save-the-world-now shtick. And Jamie was really cute.
"You know," Bobby said at last, trotting until he walked alongside Jamie, "after all this I think I need to go someplace nice for dinner."
Jamie chuckled. "I'm going to pay more for that, aren't I?"
"Oh yeah," Bobby affirmed. They stopped at the register, ignoring the fact that the woman there was giving them very strange looks as she unclipped security tags and price marks from the clothes they were wearing. She didn't much seem to appreciate the fact that Bobby sat on the counter and twisted around to check out the price on his boxers, or the fact that Jamie had peeled the sticker off the bottle of cologne.
Jamie handed her a credit card even before she read the price out, and she ran it through quickly.
"Here's your receipt," she said, handing him the slip of paper, "and your card. Thank you for stopping by."
Jamie smiled politely, nodding, and the two men walked out of the department store.
"So, anymore ponds you wanna visit?" Bobby asked, smiling.
Jamie's grin returned, like the sun coming from behind clouds. "Nah. None of the rest are as deep."
Bobby laughed and followed Jamie down the sidewalk, the breeze ruffling through their hair. “I think,” Bobby said after a moment, “that I want to go to Chez Adrienne's for dinner.” A wicked smile played around his mouth, and light blue eyes slid sideward to glance at Jamie.
Jamie’s deep brown eyes peered from behind a layer of mahogany hair, suspicious. “And I’m paying?”
“I haven’t heard of Chez Adrienne’s. What is this place?”
Bobby smirked. “Got a tux?”
Jamie shook his head slowly. “It’s that fancy?”
Bobby grinned, showing twin rows of white teeth. “Close. You need to look really good.”
“This is my punishment for dumping you in the pond, isn’t it?” Jamie asked, though he didn’t sound very irritated.
“Yup,” Bobby answered. He put his hands in the pockets of his jeans, striding happily. They’d made it to the pier--close to the same place Bobby had seen Jamie the night before--and the wind off the ocean was cool on Bobby’s face. It carried the tang of the sea with it; salt and fish and something unidentifiable but distinctly sea-like. And the promise of Cold was heavier, whispering “Soon” into the ears of those who would listen.
“Rain’s coming,” Bobby murmured, able to taste the moisture on the wind.
“How can you tell?” Jamie asked, turning his face into the breeze.
“Water. The wind carries more than usual.”
Jamie turned to him, a question in those dark eyes. “I thought you were all ice-y, not water-y.”
A grin tugged at Bobby’s mouth. “Yeah. But what do you think ice is made from?”
Jamie cocked his head, facing forward once more. That gait, long and loose-limbed, lengthened a bit more, and Bobby had to walk faster to keep up. How could someone shorter than he have such a long stride?
“That makes sense,” Jamie said after a moment, nodding. He turned suddenly, leaping backward and up, planting his hands on the rail between the sidewalk and the ocean and hoisting himself away. His feet landed on the rail and he stood gracefully, pivoting on his toes and walking along on the fence. “Whatcha wanna do?” He tipped a bit, and one arm flashed out to keep his balance.
Bobby grinned and walked alongside Jamie on the ground, watching as the other man stuffed his hands in his pockets and walked casually, feet scuffing the salty wood. “I’d say go to a park,” Bobby answered, half-laughing, “but now I’m afraid of ponds.”
Jamie laughed delightedly, rolling his shoulders as if tickled pink. “You are not!”
“Sure I am,” Bobby answered as seriously as he could. “Absolutely traumatized. See, someone shoved me into one once.”
Jamie turned to him in mock horror. “No!”
“Yes. It was horrifying. I was all covered in muck and slime and I stunk.”
“Did you hate that person?” Jamie asked, and even though a smile played around his mouth, there was an uncertain question in his eyes.
Bobby blinked, surprised. He stopped and turned to look up at Jamie, who paused and gazed back down at Bobby, now far more worried.
“Not at all,” Bobby said, very seriously. “I deserved it. And it was funny.”
Jamie smiled, and Bobby recognized the grin. It was the very same one he used when he was trying to shrug something off as no big deal. “I know. I was kidding.”
Bobby nodded, agreeing though he knew the question hadn’t been entirely a jest.
There was the sound of scraping sand, and Jamie half jumped, half slid off the fence. Both arms flew above him as he dropped, following the line of his trenchcoat as it billowed. Jamie landed on the ground, bending his knees to absorb the impact, and then sprang up. His jacket snapped to attention around his ankles, swirling impatiently. “I’m starved. Want lunch?”
“You’re just trying to fill me up so I don’t run the bill up at dinner,” Bobby teased.
“Yeah!” Jamie answered. “C’mon. There’s a Burger King this way.” Jamie cocked his head in the direction of the restaurant, hands finding their way back into the pockets of his brown trenchcoat. The loping stride picked up where it had left off, and Jamie headed down the street.
It didn’t take them long to reach the Burger King and order, and after Bobby had fended off Jamie trying to pay for their food (“You’re paying for dinner--not lunch!” he’d argued, laughing. “Yeah, but lunch will be cheaper!” Jamie answered, so free with that teasing grin) they gathered hamburgers and french fries and headed out to the little kids’ playing area, Bobby leading the way and Jamie laughing as they had to duck through the three-foot high door meant to keep adults out.
“I always loved the balls,” Bobby said, grinning as he set down the tray on a plastic table. “And you?”
Jamie’s grin was considerably smaller as he shook his head slightly. “I didn’t have a favorite thing. Actually, I didn’t play in these.”
Bobby shot him a questioning look, and he elaborated, “I lived in the middle of New Mexico, on a farm. There weren’t any playground fast-food restaurants.”
Bobby looked up at him, eyebrows raised. “You’re from New Mexico?”
“Ah shorely am,” Jamie replied, eyes twinkling as a heavy accent--too heavy to be believable--emerged. “Ah was growed an’ raised thar!”
Bobby laughed and shook his head, deft fingers pouring french fries from their container onto the tray. “You’re full of it.”
Jamie laughed, but looked slightly offended. “I am not! I am from New Mexico! They just didn't really talk like that!”
“Liar!” Bobby grinned back.
“Nu uh! I grew up on a farm!”
“With Ma and Pa Kent?” Bobby snickered.
“Very funny. We grew corn, and we had a few chickens, and two cows. Bessie and Bossie.”
Bobby looked at him cynically. Jamie looked earnest, but Bobby still wasn’t sure he believed it. “Why don’t you have an accent?”
“After--” there was a bare hesitation, and Jamie continued, “I came to live here, I lost it. I didn’t have much of one to begin with, and I didn’t like being called ‘cute’ all the time.”
Bobby slid into the bench, watched Jamie do the same. “Why did you leave?” he asked, still not sure he believed the other man.
Jamie’s eyes flickered from one spot to another, twitchy and restless. The smile that always seemed to hide at the corners of his mouth was gone. “My parents died, and I was too young to live by myself.”
“Oh.” An uncomfortable silence filled the air, not even the laughter of several children in the play area able to cover it. Backtrack! Find safe ground! Bobby’s mind screeched at him. Backtrackbacktrackbacktrack!
Jamie was playing with his fries. He’d picked one up and was using it to push the others around, scooching them into Bobby’s fries and then carefully pulling them out again.
“So you’ve never played on one of these playgrounds?” Bobby asked finally, forcing a light tone and a smile.
Jamie’s head shot up, relief flooding his eyes at the change of topic. Bobby’s smile turned genuine. The other man couldn’t hide an emotion if his life depended on it--his eyes were much too expressive.
“No,” he answered, shaking his head. “Never.”
“Well we should fix that.” Bobby grinned wickedly, tilting his head toward the netted, plastic monstrosity in a tempting invitation.
Jamie laughed delightedly and scooted out from behind the table, following Bobby to a rubber mat.
Bobby sat and untied his shoes, stuffing them in the little slots.
“This is so silly,” Jamie chuckled.
“Oh what, and practicing fake martial arts on a pier support, at night, was serious?” Bobby laughed, reaching over and flicking an ever-present lock of hair out of Jamie’s eyes. There was a moment of skin to skin contact--freckled skin, warm to the touch, hot to the touch--and then Bobby had pulled his hand away.
Jamie glanced up at Bobby, a startled/embarrassed/curious expression in his eyes, then looked studiously back down at his shoes. “It was. I was teaching that group of people the correct way to practice the extremely difficult art of Fake Tai Chi.”
“Is that what that was?” Bobby asked, pushing himself to his feet and waiting for Jamie.
“Yup,” Jamie answered, standing. He flashed a brief smile at Bobby--a smile that would be Bobby’s undoing--and then looked toward the plaything.
“C’mon,” Bobby said, and took the few steps needed to reach the tube you had to crawl through to get inside the netted area.
It was hot within the tube, and everything glowed a slightly red color. Bobby glanced back, bumping his head on the side, checking to see if Jamie was following. He was.
“Hurry!” Bobby called, and it echoed hollowly back. Bobby scrambled forward on his hands and knees, dumping himself headfirst into a pit filled with colorful plastic balls. He scurried--as much as one could scurry--out of the way, and heard Jamie fall into the pit behind him. Bobby stood, head touching the top of the net-pit, and bent to pick up one of the balls.
“You know,” he laughed as he tossed the globe at an emerging Jamie, “this place used to seem a lot deeper!”
Jamie chuckled as the ball bounced off his chest. “It’s only knee-deep!”
Bobby cackled in return, throwing himself backward, his landing cushioned by the plastic spheres. “Look! I'm swimming!”
Jamie’s giggle tickled Bobby’s ears, and he grinned. He liked that laugh--liked it a lot more than the sadness he’d seen in Jamie’s eyes earlier.
“A slide!” Jamie called, and Bobby felt more than saw the other man step over him, the balls making a shush-ing noise with each step Jamie took.
Bobby sat up and looked around, then followed Jamie through another tube and down a plastic slide, back outside the monstrosity.
“Hey!” a pimply voice shouted as Bobby landed on top of Jamie, both of them laughing. “You can’t be in there!”
“Get off me,” Jamie said, his voice filled with breathless, chuckle-filled hiccups. He grinned and shoved against Bobby, knocking him over.
Bobby was laughing too hard to protest, instead flopping over and lying on his side.
"You two can’t be in there!” the pimply voice said again.
“Yeah, yeah,” Jamie answered, waving a long, slender hand negligently at the teenager. “We know. We were just making sure it was up to standards.” He looked down at Bobby, brown eyes twinkling merrily. “Right?”
Bobby sat up, managing to sort his face into some semblance of seriousness. “Right.”
“You’re not allowed to be in there,” Pimply said again. “It’s against the rules.”
“And how do you suggest we find out if it’s up to standards?” Jamie asked pompously. Somehow, he managed to look pretentious even while sitting on a multi-colored mat, trench coat splayed out around him.
“You’re not checking if it’s up to standards,” Pimply countered.
Jamie tugged at his shirt. “I beg your pardon! Are you calling me a liar? I could sue for that!”
Pimply looked suddenly nervous, and Bobby decided to help.
“Next thing you know,” he muttered to Jamie, loud enough for the boy to hear, “he’ll be asking us for credentials.”
The boy heard. “Do you have credentials?”
Bobby stood, lifting his chin and puffing out his chest. “Of course we do! We’re with the CPA of the NYCCA in the third branch of CCNT! Go ahead, call your superiors! In fact, I'm sure they’ll be thrilled to hear that we’re being harassed for doing our jobs! I think I’ll call them! Just wait until they hear that you won’t let us inspect this play area--they’ll shut it down for months while the paperwork goes through the courts! And how many people do you think will bring their children here then, hmmm?”
Pimply looked rather uncertain. “Well, no, I . . . mean, you can finish your inspection.”
“Thank you, we’re done,” Bobby sniffed, and walked stiffly over to where his shoes were. There was a moment of silence, and then Jamie's ringing laughter filled the air.
“CPA of CCNY--what? Where did you come up with those?”
Bobby grinned. “I’m just a genius.”
“Sure you are. That’s it," Jamie snickered, reaching Bobby and getting his own shoes out.
Bobby grinned up at Jamie in return and finished tying his shoes.
Bobby glanced at himself in the mirror. Hair brushed, body re-bathed to get the last traces of pond smell away, clothed in gray slacks and matching gray sports jacket. His shirt, raw white silk, flowed and clung alternately around his chest. Bobby grinned. He looked good, and he knew it. Who said he couldn’t dress? Ha! Just because he usually chose not to care didn’t mean he couldn’t.
Whistling, Bobby put his shoes on--they matched his slacks--and headed out the hotel door to the cab waiting below.
It was a short drive to Jamie’s hotel, and Bobby bounced up the stairs and rapped a short staccato on the door.
Jamie opened it, looking slightly uncomfortable in black slacks and a white, formal-looking shirt. His stockinged feet were shoeless, and his shirt was still half-unbuttoned.
“Am I gonna need a tie?” he asked plaintively.
Bobby smothered his smile, looking away from the bit of exposed chest. “You are if you wear that shirt.”
Jamie looked utterly forlorn. “I don’t have another one, though. Can I wear my trenchcoat?”
"Not with black slacks,” Bobby answered. He moved forward, forcing Jamie to step back into the room. “Don’t you have another shirt?”
“No,” Jamie muttered.
Bobby glanced over the contents of the duffel bag, then peered into Forge’s suitcase.
“We could stop somewhere and buy another shirt,” Jamie suggested hopefully.
Bobby glanced back. “Yeah,” he said. “But you’re going to be spending a lot of money on dinner, and you bought new clothes this afternoon. I don’t really want you going broke.”
Jamie smiled and lifted a shoulder in a shrug. “I won’t.”
Bobby glanced over again, eyebrow raised. Jamie didn't make any movements of elaborating, though, and Bobby only nodded. “Then, if you really want to, we can stop and buy you another shirt.” He pulled his silver pocket watch out of his pocket, glancing at it. “We have time.”
God help a man without fashion sense, Bobby thought to himself fifteen minutes later, and he forcefully took Jamie away from those God-awful cotton shirts and steered him toward a nicer section.
“What about this?” Jamie asked, picking up a silk, collar-less shirt much like Bobby’s, only in yellow.
“No,” Bobby said, cringing at the bright color against Jamie’s black slacks and tan skin. “You have too much yellow in your skin for that. If you were blond, you could get away with it. But you’re not, you’re brunet, and like most brunettes you have yellow tones. That shirt makes you look sick.”
“You lost me somewhere after ‘No,’” Jamie muttered as he hung the shirt back on the rack.
“You like that style?”
“Here,” Bobby said, shoving a pale blue shirt into Jamie’s chest. “And here,” and there went a dark blue one, and then a deep green color. “Try those on. And let me see.”
Jamie sighed, muttering something under his breath that sounded suspiciously like, “You’re worse than Lorna,” and stomped off to the dressing rooms.
Bobby slouched against the wall outside the stall, idly examining the collar of his jacket while waiting for Jamie to stop whining and try the shirts on.
“Is this good?” Jamie asked a moment later, opening the door. His feet were once more shoe-less, and he wore the light blue shirt tucked haphazardly into his pants.
“Eh,” Bobby answered with a wrinkled nose and a shrug. “Try the green one."
The green one was okay, but not any better than that. Bobby grinned when he saw the dark blue one, though. It contrasted well with Jamie’s hair and eyes, and shimmered just so in the light, showing off a slender waist, chest and shoulders. The sleeves were the perfect length for Jamie’s long arms, and the white buttons were just enough to lighten the outfit.
“Perfect. You have a black jacket?” Bobby asked as Jamie gathered the other three shirts--two from the store, and his old one--and slid his feet into his shoes.
“Um,” Jamie answered.
Bobby sighed heavily and rolled his eyes. “Good God, do you ever go anywhere nice?”
“No,” Jamie answered, tossing an irrepressible smile back toward Bobby.
Bobby shook his head and helped hang the two shirts back up, then led Jamie to the jackets.
“Look!” Jamie said, happily, lost somewhere amid the racks. “A black trenchcoat!”
An image flashed into Bobby’s mind; Jamie’s long, slender body lost somewhere amid the folds of his brown trenchcoat. Bobby hadn’t realized how much that jacket hid the other man until he’d seen him in just pants and a shirt in the dressing rooms. “No!” he answered to Jamie’s unspoken question before the man could come out hidden in a trenchcoat.
Bobby still couldn’t see Jamie, but the phantom voice sounded plaintive.
“Because you don’t wear trenchcoats to a place like Chez Adrienne's!” Bobby answered. It was only partly a lie. Jamie probably could have gotten away with it, but it was better if he wore a jacket.
“Here!” Bobby said at last, pulling out a black jacket. “Try this on!”
Jamie appeared and pulled the jacket on, adjusting it on his shoulders for a few moments before looking at Bobby expectantly.
“That’ll do,” Bobby said, nodding. It wasn't great, but for one night--during which the jacket would be taken away anyway--it would work.
“I feel so naked without my trenchcoat,” Jamie muttered. Hair fell in his face, shielding his eyes from Bobby’s view.
Bobby chuckled. “It’s okay. It’ll be waiting at home for you when you get back."
“Unless it realizes I’ve been cheating on it with this jacket,” Jamie answered solemnly as he paid for the clothing.
“I’m sure it’ll forgive you,” Bobby answered. They walked outside to the waiting cab, sitting under the sky as it darkened toward night. Stars were winking into existence, peering down on the world as though eager to see what the people were up to.
"Chez Adrienne’s,” Bobby said to the driver as Jamie ducked into the cab. Bobby followed him in, pulling his seatbelt across his lap and buckling it.
The cab moved off into the traffic.
“You told Forge you were going out?” Bobby asked innocently.
Jamie slanted him a suspicious look from under brown hair. “Why?”
“I don’t want your keeper coming after me.” Bobby grinned wickedly as Jamie shot him a dirty look.
“You’re thinking of Hank,” Jamie answered smugly.
“Hank’s your keeper?” Bobby questioned, purposefully missing Jamie’s point. “Wow. You sure do have a lot of them."
Jamie laughed and shook his head, looking out the window. “So where is this place?” Jamie asked, head propped on his hand.
“About fifteen minutes from here," Bobby answered. Jamie’s face was highlighted briefly by a passing car, eyes turning yellow in the glare. The gold light shined against his hair, making it shimmer copper, and was gone.
“You gonna make me pay out my ears for that pond stunt?”
Bobby chuckled, then sobered. “Jamie, I'm not doing this as a punishment. You know that, right?”
Jamie’s head popped up, swiveling toward Bobby until surprised brown eyes met serious blue ones. “Of course.” He smiled, teeth gleaming whitely. “I’m just teasing.”
Bobby hesitated, searching those eyes, then nodded. “Okay. Just making sure.”
Jamie grinned again.
True to Bobby’s word, fifteen minutes later they were at Chez Adrienne’s. Bobby paid the cab driver, and the two men headed inside.
“We have reservations. Two for Madrox?” Bobby asked as they reached the hostess desk.
"Madrox?" Jamie asked under his breath while the hostess looked over papers.
"Less common than 'Drake,'" Bobby answered just as quietly.
"'Drake' is common?" Jamie replied, voice laden with disbelief.
Bobby shot Jamie a glance before ignoring him soundly, watching the hostess instead.
“It’ll be a ten minute wait,” she answered, smiling.
Bobby nodded and steered Jamie toward an outside bench. The night wind was cool on their faces, stars gleaming brighter now that the sun had retreated. Only strips of red and light blue were still visible on the horizon; a promise the sun would come back in the morning.
“Pretty night," Jamie murmured, as if reading Bobby's thoughts.
“Yeah,” Bobby agreed as quietly. A silence passed, touching each of them with peace.
“You still with the X-Men?” Jamie asked, dropping his voice, in deference to the team or the silence, Bobby couldn’t tell.
“Sort of. I’ve actually been living at home for a while, now. My dad was beaten up pretty badly by the FoH, and I’ve been helping out.”
Jamie nodded, a bob of shaggy brown hair. Bobby knew the man had combed it--had seen it himself. Somehow, though, it still looked like Jamie had just gotten out of bed.
“He okay now?” Jamie asked, still looking out at the star-filled night.
“Yeah. Good enough to drive me nuts.” Bobby caught a flash of dimples from Jamie’s profile, and took the encouragement to continue. “You know. ‘Son, you need to clean your room!’ ‘Son, I don’t want you tracking dirt in the house.’ ‘Bobby--’”
“Not ‘son’?” Jamie asked, grinning briefly.
“No, that’s only when he’s really irritated at me. If he’s really mad at me, then he says ‘You little--’ only he never finishes the sentence.” Jamie laughed, and it made Bobby grin and continue. “Until I was twelve I thought my name was You Little something, only my dad had forgotten what the rest of it was. I figured my mom just called me Bobby because she liked the way it sounded.”
Jamie laughed again, twinkling eyes turning to look at Bobby. He moved back slightly, resting one leg up on the short wall around the patio area. “Tell me more about your family?”
Bobby shrugged slightly, nonplused. “What do you want to know?”
Jamie thought about it, obviously considering the question before answering. “Do they approve of what you do?”
Jamie nodded and sat on the wall, looping long arms around his knee.
“I think so. I mean, we’ve never really talked about it, and my extended family doesn’t know. I know my dad isn’t thrilled, because his brother died in the war, but he deals with it.” Bobby smiled fleetingly. “I think he’s starting to be proud of what I do. But he won’t say that.”
“Then how do you know?” Jamie asked. He cocked his head to let a lock of hair fall to the side, his brown eyes almost black in the darkness.
"My mom,” Bobby chuckled. “She tells me. She always told me when my dad was proud when I was little--Dad couldn’t ever tell me himself. Couldn’t seem to find the words.” Bobby hesitated, rubbing his lower lip. “There was one time he tried . . . God, it was painful for both of us. After that, we made an unspoken agreement to just let Mom tell me.”
Jamie laughed. “What about the rest of your family? Is there a lot of it?”
Bobby shrugged. “I have an aunt on my dad’s side that I never see, and the uncle that died. I don't remember him, though. There are a couple of aunts and uncles on my mom’s side. Two of them are married, and one has some kids . . . and one of the kids has kids.” He grinned lopsidedly. “I guess I have quite a bit of family. I just don’t see them very often."
“But they’re there if you need them,” Jamie said softly. His arms tightened around his knee, and he tilted his head back, looking up at the stars. “I always wanted a big family,” he said to the sky. “I mean, I know, I’m from New Mexico. Everyone there supposedly has a big family.” He snorted. “Heck, everyone there’s supposedly related to everyone else there.”
Bobby choked back a laugh, crossing one arm over his chest and propping his chin on the other.
Jamie grinned, flashing dimples that caught the light from the restaurant and seemed even deeper. “But really,” he continued as if Bobby hadn’t made a sound, “I don’t have much family.”
“Why don’t you go see the family you do have?” Bobby asked softly, hearing the want beneath the smile.
Jamie looked up, and hair fell into his eyes. He twitched his head, tossing it back, and gazed at Bobby thoughtfully. “Because X-Factor’s it.” He smiled painfully and looked down, playing with the edge of his shoe. “And now X-Factor’s disbanded. Alex is . . . gone, and Guido left to go with Lila Cheney . . . and, really, he was the only one I was ever truly close to.” He looked up, smiling again, wiggling his shoulders as if shaking something off. “But it’s okay. I mean, hey, I always have more of myselves!”
Bobby laughed because Jamie was trying to make him, and wondered how much it really hurt the other man. That shadow was back in Jamie's eyes, a sorrowful shadow he didn’t seem aware of.
“You could start a new X-Factor. I can see the headlines now. ‘It’s Jamie! And Jamie! And Jamie! And Jamie!’”
Jamie started to laugh, the shadows lurking away to hide. “Gives a whole new concept to the term ‘one man army,’” he said, grinning.
Bobby laughed and nodded.
“Madrox, party for two,” someone called over a loudspeaker.
“That’s us,” Bobby said, and held out a hand to help Jamie up.
Jamie hesitated a moment, then took Bobby’s hand and pulled upward.
Bobby was aware of heat, first. Then callused hands--old calluses, still there but softened by time. Long fingers curled around his palm, fingernails clipped or bitten short. Bobby shivered, as if he’d hit a live wire briefly.
Then Jamie’s hand was gone, and Bobby glanced up to see a startled expression in the other’s eyes. Good. Then maybe he’d felt it, too. Maybe Bobby had a chance.
Maybe he’d try for it.
He smiled his most playful, endearing smile and gestured toward the door. “Shall we?”
Jamie nodded, eyes casting about uncertainly, and headed into the restaurant.
“Yeah! He didn’t have a codename until the moment the reporters asked him for one!” Jamie laughed, eyes sparkling.
Bobby chuckled, shaking his head, and sipped white wine. Jamie, true to what he’d said in the hotel room, wasn’t drinking. “And then what happened?” Bobby asked, setting his glass down and pretending to eat.
“The reporter asked and he blurted out ‘Strong Guy!’” Jamie grinned, rolling his eyes, and took a bite of chicken parmesan. “That was the same day he announced to the world that ‘mutant’ was derogatory and he wanted to be called ‘genetically challenged.’”
Bobby laughed and shook his head. “Sounds like you guys have had some fun times.”
Jamie nodded, mouth full, and made random circles in the air with his fork.
“See, that’s the problem with the X-Men,” Bobby said. “We’re always out of there so fast, the media thinks we’re the bad guys. I keep telling Scott we need to stick around and answer questions or something, but he just glares at me and says that’s not what the X-Men are about. I dunno. Seems like we should be about that, to me.”
“Maybe Scott’s camera shy,” Jamie suggested, a twinkle in his brown eyes.
Bobby chuckled. “Possibly! God knows the man is shy in general. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him shower in the locker rooms. Explain to me how someone can parade around town in skin-tight clothing that shows off every contour--and believe me, you haven’t seen tight until you’ve seen Scott’s outfit--but be shy around the people he lives with? Heaven forbid we see him shirtless!”
Jamie was chuckling, nodding as he swallowed his food in a rush to add something. “Rahne was the same way! I mean, she wears--what? A leotard? And then acts like if she so much as wears a short skirt or short shorts she’s going to sink through the earth!”
Bobby grinned, sitting back, happily watching the play of the light across Jamie’s shirt. The blue looked good on him, Bobby had decided. And the fact that the shirt fairly clung to the other man, outlining muscles on his chest and arms, had nothing to do with it, of course.
Jamie had been getting looks all night--from both women and men--and the best part was that he was completely oblivious to it.
“And then there are people like Hank, who can run around in their underwear and not feel self-conscious,” Bobby said, keeping the conversation going even though he was far more interested in watching Jamie. He smiled, showing a flash of white teeth.
Jamie grinned in response, dimples knicking into his cheeks, and nodded. “Lorna was like that after she lost wieght--not that she was ever fat. She and Alex shared a room and--I swear to God--she would come out wearing Alex’s dress shirts and underwear and that was it. Drove Guido nuts.”
Bobby's eyes sparkled in a silent laugh. “Not you, though?”
“It didn’t drive you nuts?”
Jamie shrugged, making a face and shaking his head. “Nah. Not my type. It’s that green hair.” He grinned impishly.
“How could you not fall for Lorna?!” Bobby cried, hand over his heart. Jamie laughed, and the sound tickled Bobby’s ears. “She was so beautiful! A goddess among women! And then Alex stole her right out from under me!”
“I’m sure you didn’t get far enough with her to be under her,” Jamie murmured, a teasing gleam in his eyes.
“Oh! I’m wounded! The man doubts my suave-ness with women!”
“Is suave-ness a word?” Jamie asked in an undertone as Bobby continued.
“He thinks I couldn’t have any woman I wanted! I could! I could, I tell you! Just because every woman I’ve gone out with has dumped me, and treated me like scum--it’s only because I let them!”
“It means nothing that my longest relationship was with a sycophant! A narcissist! A woman so hated by my friends that Hank formed a group called People Who Hate Opal Because She’s Sucking Out Bobby’s Heart!”
“Really?” Jamie laughed in disbelief.
“Oh yeah. They called it P-WHO-BS-SOBH for short.”
Jamie took a minute trying to pronounce the word, then shook his head. “Huh?”
“Pea. Who. B.S. Sob.”
Jamie laughed and repeated it.
“That’s it! They had group meetings and everything!”
“Are you serious?” Jamie asked, eyes crinkling with laughter.
Bobby leaned forward, resting his chin on his hand. “Not at all. Hank did form that group, and they did have group meetings, but he was the only member. He even put a banner up with the initials for when she came over. I told her it stood for People Who Hate Oppression Based on Swimming and Sexual Obvious Biases.”
Jamie laughed harder. “Does that even make sense?”
Bobby snorted. “It was Hank’s club. It didn’t have to make sense.”
Jamie grinned hugely, dimples making canyons in his cheeks. “Your friends seem nice.”
Bobby nodded. “They’re the best. Hank’s always been there for me--even when I wasn’t sure I wanted him there.”
Jamie looked at him questioningly.
“Well .. . like, when I first couldn’t control my powers very well? I’d hide in the woods if I iced up--only then it was more like snowed up--and feel sorry for myself. I was so embarrassed. I mean, I was fourteen and Jean was the closest to my age at sixteen, and they could all control their powers.” Bobby hesitated, then shook his head. “Well, Scott couldn’t. But he had those glasses that controlled them for him. Anyway, I couldn’t control my powers hardly at all, and I would get upset with myself and spend hours in the woods, because I couldn’t un-snow. And I didn’t want to tell anyone and seem like a baby.” Bobby smiled fondly, remembering. “And then, one day, Hank came looking for me. He found me. I was so embarrassed and humiliated and angry--and I started to cry, which only made it worse. But all Hank did was give me a hug--snow and all. I wanted him to leave but I’m glad now he didn’t. We must have sat out there, the two of us together, for two or three hours. After that, whenever I went to the woods Hank would follow me. He made it not such a big deal, and when I stopped obsessing over it I found I was able to control it better.”
Jamie smiled, leaning on his hand. “What a cool guy.”
Bobby nodded. “Yeah. Hank’s the best. But,” he looked at Jamie mock-seriously, “I’m the coolest.”
Jamie snorted. “Right. And the Human Torch is the hottest. But I am the . . .” He trailed off, obviously searching for a word.
“Sexiest?” Bobby supplied, grinning wickedly.
Jamie’s brown eyes snapped up, his jaw dropping and face turning almost purple with a blush. “I don’t believe you just said that!”
“There’s nothing wrong with that word,” Bobby laughed. “Watch. Sexy. Sexy. Sexy sexy sexy.”
Jamie was still blushing. “No, not the word itself, but when--I mean, you can’t--”
Bobby laughed. “I can’t call you sexy? Sure I can. Watch.” He cleared his throat and leaned across the table until he was as close to Jamie as he could get--though Jamie had sat back in his chair. “You are sexy.”
There--that blush came back even stronger than before. “Don’t do that!” Jamie hissed, though he looked oddly pleased.
“Call you sexy? Okay. You’re sexiful.”
“Would you stop?!”
Jamie glared at him, eyes carrying a strange mixture of fright, uncertainty (Of what? Bobby wondered) and an odd sort of tickled pleasure.
“Handsome? There must be one you’ll accept.” Bobby grinned. “I, for instance, will accept it when someone calls me ‘cute.’ I know I’m not handsome, but I am cute. I’m like the boy next door.”
Jamie laughed, tensely, eyes flashing around the restaurant. “Um. Okay. I’m not cute, though.”
Bobby sat back and looked at Jamie squarely, wondering if the man was just being modest or if he really believed that. Then those brown eyes settled on Bobby, and beneath all the warring emotions Bobby could see that Jamie really believed he wasn’t cute.
“That is such shit,” Bobby muttered. “Who told you you weren’t cute?”
Jamie looked utterly stunned. “Well . . . no one, I guess. I’m just not. I mean, I see myself in the mirror and I see myself in my dupes. I’m not cute.”
“You have to let other people make that judgment,” Bobby said as the waiter arrived. He asked for the bill, and the waiter nodded and disappeared. “We’re going back to my hotel room, and finding a mirror, and showing you that you’re cute. At least cute. More like gorgeous.”
The blush had returned. “We can’t--I mean, how would--I. Ah. Is that . . . okay?”
Bobby smiled his most sincere smile. “Why wouldn’t it be? It’s wrong to look in mirrors now?”
“No--that’s not--” Jamie stopped and smiled sickly at the waiter who had arrived. He took the bill and paid for it with cash--Bobby wondered who in their right mind would carry that much cash around--then stood. “I should go. Forge is probably worried.”
“He’s probably in a conference, still,” Bobby muttered. “You’re coming with me. If I have to, I'll wait until Hank gets home and have him tell you you’re cute.”
Blush. That quick. Like a light switch, all you had to say was ‘you’ and ‘cute’ in the same sentence and Jamie turned red. Bobby wondered if it was because a man was saying it, and that wasn’t normal, or if it was an automatic reaction on Jamie’s part because he didn't think he was cute.
Bobby filled the ride back to his hotel with mindless pratter, sensing with what he termed his Bobby Sense that Jamie was on overload. Jamie was pretty silent, other than a few automatic quips and more stuttering that he should go see Forge, which Bobby firmly overrode, knowing that if he lost Jamie now the man would never see him again. He’d pushed too far, and unless he did some massive soothing he was pretty sure he’d scared Jamie away.
“Okay,” Bobby said decisively, marching into the hotel room. “Where’s a mirror?”
“This is really useless,” Jamie muttered, shaking his head as his blush (which Bobby had started to capitalize in his mind as Jamie’s Blush) crept up his neck.
Bobby planted Jamie in front of the bathroom mirror, then took the black jacket away. “What do you see?”
“I see me,” Jamie answered, looking forlornly from the mirror to Bobby and back again. “Bobby, this is stupid.”
Brown eyes met blue ones, and Bobby almost relented. “Uh uh,” he said, taking Jamie’s face and making him look toward the mirror. “What do you see?”
“Uh huh. That’s a start. Are you fat?”
Jamie laughed unwillingly. “No.”
“Are you all buff?” Bobby made a face and struck a muscle-man pose.
Jamie laughed. “Not really.”
“What?! You’re kidding, right?” Bobby grabbed the back of Jamie’s shirt and pulled it tight across the other man’s chest, while Jamie laughed in disbelief. “Look! Muscles! I see them, right there!” Bobby announced, a laugh making his voice twitch. He pointed with one finger to shoulder and pec muscles, then poked Jamie in the stomach and was delighted to hear the other man screech with laughter and try to wiggle out of the way.
Bobby laughed in return. “Stomach muscles! Look at those tummy muscles tighten when you laugh!” and he poked Jamie again, as Jamie twisted away and backed off.
“Don’t tickle me!” he cried, laughing, clutching his stomach protectively.
“Admit you’re gorgeous!”
“But I’m not!” Jamie answered.
Bobby looked with utter horror at his fingertips. “Uh oh,” he said, looking up with wide eyes at Jamie. His fingers twitched. “My tickle fingers are getting itchy!”
“What?” Jamie laughed, watching Bobby somewhat warily.
“I can’t control them!” Bobby cried, and lunged at Jamie as though his hands were dragging him. He tickled Jamie’s neck so the man would move his arms, and when he did Bobby dove for that obviously vulnerable stomach.
“Stop it!” Jamie laughed, tears running down his face as he squirmed uncontrollably.
“Admit you’re gorgeous! Then maybe my tickle fingers will stop!” Bobby cried as though he really had no control.
“I’m gorgeous!” Jamie cried between gasps of laughter.
Bobby stopped tickling him, and Jamie slid down the side of the wall, still breathless.
Bobby knelt, feeling his bad knee protest.
When Jamie finally caught his breath again he wiped the tears from his face and looked back up at Bobby. His eyes weren’t filled with laughter anymore; lurking solemnity chasing some of it out. “But, Bobby, just because you tickle me doesn’t mean I’m cute.”
Bobby wanted to hit whoever’d given Jamie that idea. It wasn’t something people picked up by themselves, though it also didn’t have to be told flat out to be instilled. “You are, though,” he answered.
Jamie laughed almost ruefully, a single gust of air that disguised itself as a chuckle. “Okay. Fine.”
Yup. Definite pain for whoever had left Jamie with that impression. Bobby sighed and leaned back against the cupboards below the sink. “When did your powers first come out?” he asked, changing the subject.
Jamie smiled and rolled his eyes. “Know how doctors slap babies to make them breathe?”
“My dupe fell and hit his head on the floor.”
Bobby’s eyebrows rose. “Really?”
Jamie nodded. “Yeah. My dad was a scientist and made a suit so that I wouldn’t keep making dupes, and no one told me about it until my parents died and the suit ripped.” Jamie rolled his eyes and shook his head. “I have to admit, it was a lot easier to run the farm with so many dupes, but it took me forever to figure out I could reabsorb them! I was terrified. Didn’t know what was wrong with me. I’d led a really sheltered life, and didn’t know much about mutants.”
Bobby cringed. “That must have been hard.”
“How long were you on the farm for after your parents died?”
Jamie lifted one shoulder in a shrug. “I don’t know. A while.”
“And then this woman found you?”
“Yeah. Sue. She took me to Moira, and that’s where I found out about X-Factor and everything.”
Bobby nodded, them smiled warmly. “I’m glad you did. I’m having a good time.”
Jamie’s Blush turned his neck red, and he nodded. “Me too."
Bobby stood up slowly, then finger-brushed his hair and glanced in the mirror. "I'm having a really good time," he said to his reflection. He turned, looking down at the still-sitting Jamie. "We look too good to stay in," Bobby said, though he didn't really feel that cute. It had the desired affect, though. Jamie laughed. "We should go . . . to a bar, or a club or something. Out."
Jamie cocked his head. "Seriously?"
"Yeah. C'mon. I've only got a few more days in Washington--I wanna do something fun." Bobby grinned brightly and held his hand out for Jamie, who took it and hauled himself up.
"Okay," Jamie said, smiling. His dimples creased, eyes looking up at Bobby from beneath dark brown brows.
Bobby grinned some more.
Bobby rested his head on his hand and watched Jamie make his way through the throngs of people. A woman "invited" him to dance, bumping up against Jamie's back. Jamie glanced back at her, smiling slightly, and continued forward with his and Bobby's drinks.
He was graceful. Never did he hit someone he didn't mean to, just sliding carefully out of the way, avoiding contact, drinks held in his hands. Jamie broke into a grin as he stopped at Bobby's table, setting the drinks down. "One unidentifiable drink, and mine."
"Thanks," Bobby said, smiling as Jamie slid into the bench seat on the other side of the round glass table. Bobby sipped his drink, letting it slide Coldly down his throat. The music was so loud he could barely hear anything, and the flashing lights (Didn't that go out with Disco?) made his eyes ache with an I-know-something's-wrong-but-I'm-not-sure-what feeling.
A woman came to their table, cheeks pink with laughter, eyes dancing and slightly clouded, as if she'd had a bit too much to drink. Curly blonde hair swung over her shoulder as she almost fell across the table, breathless. "Hi!" she shouted.
"Hi," Bobby answered, watching with some amusement (and a twinge of jealousy) as she turned a bedazzling smile on Jamie.
"You want to dance?"
"No, thanks, I don't dance," Jamie answered, shaking his head and smiling warmly, taking the sting out of the rejection.
"I'll teach you," the woman declared, and almost fell into Jamie's lap. Bobby laughed at the almost panicked look on Jamie's face.
"Uh, no, thanks," Jamie stuttered, arms held slightly out as though he didn't know if he should hold the woman up (though her arms around his neck were doing a good job of that) or not touch her.
"It'll be fun!"
Jamie's eyes held uncertain panic as he looked up at Bobby.
Bobby sat his drink down, leaning over the table and smiling. "He really doesn't dance."
The woman wasn't to be put off.
"Everyone dances! Why else come to a club? Come, dance. Both of you. We'll all dance!"
A red blush was sneaking its way up Jamie's neck.
"Okay!" Bobby chirped, seeing the woman wasn't going to go away anytime soon--and, besides, he'd be able to see Jamie move. Moving was good. Bobby bounced to his feet, pulling the woman to hers, looking without mercy at Jamie as Jamie's dark brown eyes looked up at him pleadingly.
"I don't dance," Jamie said, quieter.
"No one will be able to tell," Bobby answered, taking Jamie's hand and pulling upward.
"I'll hold the table," Jamie suggested with a hopeful smile.
"Our drinks will hold it," Bobby said, smiling and tugging harder.
Jamie came up slowly, followed Bobby and the woman onto the dance floor.
It didn't take very long for Bobby to convince Jamie that he wasn't the worst dancer. Jamie laughed as Bobby made a fool of himself, head banging and Disco-dancing to the hard, almost angry sounding music.
Jamie loosened up, dark eyes seeming to devour Bobby as Bobby started to dance normally. Blue eyes watched, interested, as Jamie mimicked his every movement, intent on not looking foolish. Dark blue silk glistened in the flickering light, sliding over smooth muscles. Jamie tossed his head, flinging hair out of his eyes, and laughed nervously as the woman tugged him away slightly to dance more with her than in general.
Bobby stayed within easy view, seeing quickly that Jamie really wasn't certain how to dance and giving him a model to draw from. Bobby couldn't dance as well as some people, but he wasn't bad. He raised his arms above his head, happy to see Jamie do the same, watching avidly as blue silk flattened and caressed against Jamie's long torso.
Very graceful. Flowing. The blue looked like water, shining in the light, shivering with each twist of motion. Twin pools of brown watched Bobby closely, and looked more intent than they needed to. Brown hair fell in a lean face, was tossed out again, glowing in the dimness (and when had the club started to seem dim?).
"That's my girlfriend, asswipe!" someone snarled, heard even above the music.
Muscles slid, body moving rapidly, silk flattening to a defined chest. A different arm, brawny and large and entirely uncouth next to Jamie's grace, sliced through the air where Jamie's head had been.
Jamie twisted, came up, started to duck even as Bobby forced his way through the crowd. The next fist connected, and suddenly people were shoved out of the way as there were not one, but two Jamies.
"Shit," Bobby muttered as the second Jamie blinked and looked at him, fear already set into deep brown eyes. "Jamie!"
The first Jamie was hit again, split into another two. Someone screamed as they realized Jamie had actually split into two people.
And there were three Jamies.
"James!" Bobby shouldered someone out of the way, made the floor slick with ice beneath the blond, brawny man's feet, and grabbed the first Jamie by his shirt, pulling him through the crowd. The dupes disappeared as they passed them, reabsorbed.
Bobby pulled Jamie toward the door, laughing and cursing and running before the brawny man could regain his feet and come after them.
They were out in the night, the music gone, the heat of bodies dissipated, leaving them on a freezing street beneath a star-filled sky. "C'mon," Bobby laughed, and saw his breath puff out in the chilled air.
Then they were running, running for no real reason because no one was following them, but the Cold air in Bobby's lungs felt so good, and Jamie was beside him, hobbling, laughing, striking at his arms with long, slender hands, trying to get Bobby's attention.
Finally, panting, grinning, Bobby stumbled to a stop and looked at Jamie, whose eyes sparkled without a trace of any shadow.
"I left my jacket!" Jamie cried, laughing, dimples creasing in his cheeks, hair in his face.
Bobby put his hands on his knees, breathing hard, then reached up and brushed a lock of thick brown hair out of deep brown eyes. "You want to go back and get it?"
Jamie was still smiling. "Nah." The hair fell back in his face. Starlight softened his features, cast shadows that covered much of his skin. "Let's go back. It's cold out here!"
"I'm freezing," Jamie laughed as they ran into the hotel, then up the stairs and down the hall.
"Shh!" Bobby laughed, swiping the key-card and opening the door. "Hank's back by now, and probably asleep!"
"Tip toe, tip toe, tip toe," Jamie squeaked.
Bobby covered his mouth, trying to suppress the laughter that threatened to burst forth. "Shhh!" he hissed again, waving a hand back at Jamie.
"Be vewy vewy quwiet. I'm hunting wabbits!" Jamie whispered in a perfect mimic of Elmer Fudd.
Bobby stumbled and collapsed on the couch, hiccuping as he tried furiously not to laugh. "Ja-amie!"
"Shhh!" Jamie chastened. "Hank's sleeping!"
Bobby reached out and slapped at Jamie, laughing too hard to do anything else. Jamie was grinning smugly, as if he was incredibly proud of making Bobby crack up. Bobby's blue eyes looked up into Jamie's eyes, noted suddenly his arms clenched around his chest, shivering in the darkness.
"Freezing!" Jamie laughed. He continued, solemnly, in a nasal voice, "I t'ink de snot in by dose is froze."
Bobby started laughing again, trying to stop it, stumbling up and to the kitchenette where he flicked on the light and turned back to Jamie--
Jamie's hand came to his face quickly, fingers dropping away bloody. "Just a little."
Bobby had already grabbed a rag and ice, and he walked swiftly to Jamie. "First I freeze you to death and almost give you pneumonia, then I get your face bloody . . . Forge is never going to let me visit." He pushed Jamie back until the man plopped down on the arm of the chair, then slapped Jamie's hands away and inspected the bloody area. "I think you split your lip."
"Yeah. I'll remember not to run into someone's fists next time," Jamie said, chuckling.
Bobby grinned. "Good idea." He dabbed away at the blood, fingers gentle against the bruising lip. Jamie flinched, and Bobby apologized quietly. "That looks painful," Bobby murmured, taking Jamie's chin in his fingers and turning the other man's head into the light.
Heat. There was heat in Jamie's skin, like a blaze set against Bobby's fingers, but somehow less than painful. More heat whispered by, Jamie's breath still coming in small hiccups and pants from the run to the room. Bobby looked up, saw Jamie looking at him closely. Brown eyes looked warm, and uncertain, and somehow frightened.
Bobby let go of Jamie reluctantly, settling the ice pack against his chin. "Here," he said, holding it carefully against the split lip.
"Thanks," Jamie murmured, and took it, pulling away before those fingers could linger any longer.
Bobby cleared his throat. Then cleared it again. "So. How's Lorna?"
Relieved brown eyes flickered up, and dimples flashed breifly in a grateful smile. "Oh, she's fine. Last time I saw her she was throwing all her exercise tapes out the window."
"Really?" Bobby laughed, then cringed and remembered to keep his voice down.
"Yeah. She was mad because Alex could do them better than she could."
"You're making that up," Bobby said, grinning.
"Yeah," Jamie agreed. His eyes sparkled behind the rag. "But have you ever seen those tapes?"
Bobby shook his head briefly, then took the icepack when Jamie thrust it toward him.
"They're like this," Jamie said, and leapt over the coffee table to stand on the other side, where there was more room. "And one, and two, and one, and two, and feel that burn!" Jamie mimicked in a high voice, gesticulating wildly and swiveling his hips.
Bobby laughed, eyes devouring the lithe, graceful form dancing like a nutcase before him. Silk caressed against a lean chest, taunting Bobby mercilessly.
Jamie grinned when Bobby laughed, and danced some more, still chanting his 'feel that burn' routine as he segued into the Macarena. "This is in those tapes, I swear," he said over his shoulder as Bobby fell over, gripping his sides and laughing, knowing it really wasn't that funny, but so tired it seemed hilarious. He lay on his back and kept laughing.
"What is going on out here?" a deep, rumbling bass voice almost . . . well, whined.
Bobby rolled his head to look up at Hank, standing in all his blue furriness, wearing only white boxers covered in tiny little rainbow hearts. Jamie had stopped moving altogether, and instead was blushing furiously.
"Hi, Fuzzball," Bobby said, somewhere between a chuckle and a giggle.
"Bobby. I have to wake up early in the morning, and it's almost midnight."
Bobby rolled his head to look at Jamie. "He's tired. You can tell, because none of those words were over two syllables."
"Actually," Hank said, rubbing his eyes with two blue fingers, "one of them was three."
Bobby frowned and started mouthing the words to himself, only to notice half way through that Hank was grinning with that special "gotcha" look. "Very funny," Bobby said, mock-glaring.
"It is late, Robert."
Bobby sighed sat up. "Sorry, Hankster. We didn't mean to wake you. A google apologies." That got a twist of the mouth, a tired smile from Hank.
"I should be going anyway," Jamie said quietly, fiddling with the edge of his silk shirt. All night he had been fingering the fabric, running it through his hands. "Forge'll be worried."
Bobby sighed and looked from Jamie to Hank, who was already turning and heading back into his room. "'Night, Grover," Bobby called.
"Good night, Frosty," Hank returned before the door closed firmly.
Bobby looked back at Jamie. "You don't have to go yet."
Jamie smiled slightly. "Um, yeah, I probably should. But I'll see you tomorrow?"
Bobby nodded, seeing that he wasn't going to win this battle. "Don't forget to ice your lip."
Jamie nodded and opened the door, and Bobby rolled to his feet and walked Jamie to the hall.
Bobby leaned against the doorframe, watching Jamie lope down the hall with that long, easy stride, blue fabric shimmering against his back, slacks hugging his hips and legs. Jamie reached the elevator and pressed the button, and Bobby waited silently until the elevator doors opened.
“See you tomorrow, Sexy,” Bobby called, and then laughed riotously when Jamie turned and looked at him in exasperation, face brighter than the sunrise. Bobby retreated back into his room.
"You wanna who what when where and how?"
Bobby laughed at the rapid-fired words, then shoved open the door to the large building. Cold air hit him first, a vent blasting out the pale warmth of the day. "Ice skate. Haven't you ever ice-skated?"
"No," Jamie answered, following Bobby through the door and looking suspiciously about.
"It's fun. I'll teach you." Blue eyes flickered happily to Jamie, noting that there was only the tiniest of bruises along the man's lower lip, and just a small scab where the lip itself had split clean open
"I'm gonna fall on my ass and look like an idiot," Jamie murmured. "Even more than I normally do."
"You don't look like an idiot," Bobby stated firmly, frowning. "Now, what size shoes do you wear?"
Jamie wiggled uncomfortably, looking at the ice rink. After a moment he gave Bobby his shoe size, and Bobby rented the skates.
"Put these on," Bobby said, setting the skates down next to the bench where Jamie stood.
Jamie ignored him.
Blush. "Would you stop doing that?"
Bobby sat down on the bench, looking up at Jamie's profile. "Why?" he asked at last.
"Because," Jamie answered, shifting from foot to foot. He plopped down on the bench, eyes never leaving the ice. "People might think . . . y'know . . . "
Bobby cocked his head, bracing himself inwardly. Wordlessly, he prayed Jamie wouldn't tell him being gay or bisexual was wrong. "So?"
Jamie blinked, and brown eyes flickered to Bobby. Those eyes looked utterly confused, and the shadows that had been lurking the day before had sprung up more powerfully. "You don't care?"
"Why should I?" Bobby asked. His hands were still, resting on his thighs as he gave Jamie his full attention.
"Because . . . I don't know."
"It's wrong?" Bobby asked, shielding his face from the panic-induced sickness he felt.
Jamie shifted again, frowning and shuffling his feet on the ground. "No . . ."
Bobby didn't let his relief show, either. "Does it make you uncomfortable to be called 'cute' by a guy?"
Jamie shifted some more, fidgeting. "I dunno."
"You don't know if you're uncomfortable or not," Bobby repeated dryly.
Jamie looked like he was about to say something, then shook his head and started unlacing his shoes. "You sure I'm not going to fall on the ice?"
Bobby bit his lip, considering chasing the other subject down . . . then let it drop. "I'm sure. If I have to hold you up with an ice wave, I will."
Jamie chuckled weakly. "I need a pillow."
"Yeah. To tie to my butt."
Jamie clung to the side of the rink with both hands, pulling himself along without moving his feet as other kids raced by on the ice.
Bobby laughed and skated up, facing backwards to see Jamie. "Here, give me your hands so I can pull you," he offered, slowing down and holding out his arms.
"No way," Jamie answered, eyes locked firmly on the ice. "I am not letting go."
"Ja-amie! I won't let you fall!" Bobby wheedled.
Slowly, one hand at a time, Jamie reached over and grasped Bobby's forearms. "OhGoddon'tletmefall," he blurted as Bobby moved away from the wall, still skating backwards and now pulling Jamie's weight.
"I'm not going to let you fall!" Bobby laughed in exasperation.
"Know what happened the last time someone said that?" Jamie asked, eyes glued on their feet.
"I was five, learning to ice skate on a pond, and I fell. Into the water."
"There's no water here," Bobby pointed out.
"What do you call ice?"
"Frozen," Bobby chuckled.
"Right. So the water is really, really hard."
Bobby laughed and tightened his grip on Jamie, turning them slowly. He could feel the tenseness in Jamie's muscles as they bunched and spasmed beneath Bobby's fingers. Bobby projected as much calm as he could, smiling at Jamie even though Jamie wasn't looking. "You're fine," he murmured soothingly. "Watch my feet, and do what I do," he said.
Bobby watched Jamie nod spastically, and then the other man's feet moved, sliding in jerks and stops across the ice. It took half a circle around the large rink before Jamie was moving his feet regularly, though he wasn't helping to push his body at all.
"I'm skating!" he laughed, head never moving as he still stared down at their feet.
"Sure are," Bobby agreed, not having the heart to tell Jamie that he really wasn't propelling himself anywhere yet.
Jamie's skate caught on something and he tripped, feet skittering all over as he tried, frantically, to keep from falling. Bobby tightened his grip, Jamie's hands clenching painfully on his arms, and bodily pulled the other man back to his feet.
Jamie launched himself at Bobby, wrapping both arms around his neck. Bobby could feel Jamie's heart thundering through the light cotton of their shirts, and Jamie's breath puffed raggedly against Bobby's neck.
"It's okay," Bobby soothed, having come to a full stop. Jamie's legs and skates still weren't underneath him. "Just hang on for a minute," Bobby murmured, wrapping his own arms around Jamie's waist and holding on to him. Bobby leaned a bit, peering down and smiling slightly at the sight of the toe of one blade caught in the space between blade and boot of the other skate. "You're probably the first person I've ever seen who's able to get their skates tangled," he muttered, a laugh in his voice.
"You said you wouldn't let me fall!" Jamie managed to squeak next to Bobby's ear.
"And did you? No," Bobby answered. "Okay, take this leg--" he reached down and tapped Jamie's right hip, "--and pull it outward."
Slowly, the skates slid apart. Jamie moved too quickly, panicking again and stuttering for the ground.
"Easy," Bobby murmured, stifling his laugh. "Slowly."
Jamie took the advice. Bobby held him tightly, balancing the man until he once more had his skates firmly underneath him and could stand up.
"I hate ice skating," Jamie murmured as he pulled away from Bobby. The Blush was back.
"Don't hate it just because you're all discombobulated," Bobby laughed. He took Jamie by the elbows, feeling strong hands grasp his in return. "Now, follow me. You were doing really good."
"I tripped," Jamie muttered unhappily.
"Then don't do that again," Bobby answered. He stared at Jamie until the other man looked up and returned his smile. "Copy my feet."
Jamie nodded seriously and focused on Bobby's feet. A circle and a half passed before Jamie loosened up a bit more, and was actually pushing himself along.
"I'm skating, aren't I?" he asked, a very slow grin spreading across his face.
"Yup." Bobby loosened his grip, then tightened it when Jamie looked about ready to panic. "You want to try it by yourself?"
Bobby chuckled. "Okay, then. We'll just keep skating like this."
Ten minutes later, Jamie pulled away and continued on, arms stretched outward precariously. "Look, Bobby! I'm skating by myself!" he called, grinning like a maniac.
"Wahoo!" Bobby answered, laughing. He skated forward faster, then spun and twisted around Jamie's form.
"Don't bump me," Jamie ordered seriously.
"I'm not," Bobby answered.
"I mean it."
"Me too." Bobby grinned and spun again, racing down the rink before twisting, leaping through the air and racing back to where Jamie was. "Want to go faster?"
Bobby sighed and skated backward, hands linked behind him. "Lookin' good, gorgeous."
Blush. Red as an apple. "I'm gonna go faster."
"I might run into you."
Bobby grinned. "I don't think so."
"Just make me feel better," Jamie muttered.
Bobby slid smoothly out of the way, and then watched Jamie struggle to speed up. Bobby pushed off after him, keeping up with an easy slide across the ice.
"How do I slow down?" Jamie yelped.
Bobby grinned and sped up slightly, until he was ahead of Jamie. "Twist your body to stop--like this," he said, and swiveled his hips. The skates slid sidewards, and ice slivers went up in a small wave.
"It's easy," Bobby said, starting up after Jamie as the man passed him.
"Okay," Bobby said. He smothered his laughter and skated up behind Jamie, putting a hand on either side of the man's waist.
"What are you doing?" Jamie yelped, hands racing to cover Bobby's.
Bobby could feel the muscles beneath him tense as if they'd been burned. "Relax. I'm gonna help you swivel your waist, without falling. I promise you won't fall."
Jamie's fingers tightened on Bobby's, and the man stayed stiff.
"Gonna turn," Bobby said, acting as though he couldn't tell the body before him was practically trembling with pent-up energy. "Turn your hips," and he pushed slightly--and then harder--with his hands, twisting Jamie in the right direction. "We're gonna go straight to the wall."
Jamie nodded and slowly the two of them turned. Bobby dragged a skate behind him, slowing them both. By the time they reached the wall they were barely moving, and Jamie put out a hand and stopped them easily.
"I skated!" Jamie laughed.
"Very well," Bobby said, nodding.
"Oooh," a falsely high voice squealed in obvious mockery behind them. "I skated while my boyfriend felt me up!"
Bobby went pale as he watched Jamie's eyes fly wide, his face first turning red and then draining of all color. Bobby twisted on his skates, ice flying beneath them as cold blue eyes searched out the owner of the voice.
Two teenage boys stood in the middle of the rink, laughing. "Get a room, fag," one of the boys shouted, flipping Bobby off.
"You little shits," Bobby snarled. The ice around the boys suddenly turned rough, and both of them tumbled to the ground. The Cold had come at Bobby's call, and air puffing out of warm lungs turned white and frosty. "You both are friends," Bobby snapped. Dimly, he felt his hands clench into fists at his sides. "Are you fags?" Bobby was gliding forward on his skates, and he twisted violently, coming to a stop just outside the rim of rough ice. "You know what? You nose-mining snot eaters aren't worth it." He struck out at the ice with his skate, shoving away and bulleting across the ice. Bobby glanced around, saw Jamie sitting outside the rink, fingers moving rapidly as the laces came undone.
Bobby jumped from the ice to the rubber mats, feeling the jerk as his momentum all but stopped. He hurried around the wall to where Jamie sat, and the temperature in the building dropped several more degrees when he saw Jamie wipe furiously at his face before hurling the skate toward a bin filled with them.
"Jamie, wait," Bobby said, stripping off his own skates rapidly and tossing them with the other rentals. He didn't bother putting his shoes on, just grabbing them and running out the doors, after Jamie.
Jamie stopped at the curb and stood, body tense.
Bobby reached out, fingers barely brushing against Jamie's shoulder before the man turned.
"How can they do that? We weren't even--we weren't--I'm not--"
"I know," Bobby said softly, hand still hovering near Jamie's shoulder. There were wet marks down the other man's face, and his eyes were red.
"I'm not a fag," Jamie snapped vehemently. "I'm not, because I couldn't possibly be, because--because--because I'm NOT."
Bobby nodded wordlessly, reading the terror and hurt and confusion that warred so obviously in Jamie's eyes. "I am," he said softly.
Jamie's head snapped up, hurt brown eyes meeting wary blue ones. "What?"
Bobby's anger had drained off, worry replacing it, now joined by a clenching in his gut he was certain was fear. Oh, please let Jamie not be homophobic. "I am. A--" he caught himself, continued, "--gay. I'm gay. Well, technically, I'm bi, but--"
"You are?" Jamie's eyes shone wetly, and he trembled.
Bobby stopped rambling. ". . . Yeah." He glanced around the empty street, then back toward the building. "But this is no place to talk about it. Let's go get a drink, okay?"
"I can't," Jamie muttered wretchedly, shaking his head.
Bobby blinked. "You are?"
"I won't be twenty-one for eight months," Jamie said, his words almost a whisper.
"Oh." Bobby shook his head to clear it. Between the facts that he knew Jamie had been in X-Factor for what seemed like a long while, and then that Jamie didn't act young, and the eighteen and over club they'd been in the night before . . . Bobby shook his head again. He'd thought Jamie was older. "Then we won't go to a bar. Jamie, we need to talk."
Jamie nodded numbly, drained of all the passion he had a moment ago.
They took a cab back to Bobby's hotel, rode the elevator in silence.
"You're . . . bi?" Jamie asked quietly, closing the door behind him.
"Yeah," Bobby answered.
Jamie stood by the door, oddly subdued.
"You wanna sit down?"
Jamie nodded and moved to a chair. He folded his legs up, wrapping his arms around them and putting his head on his knees. The trenchcoat spilled around him, hiding most of his body and pooling on the floor. "Your friends don't care?"
Bobby shrugged. "They wouldn't be very good friends if it mattered, would they?"
Jamie blinked at nothing, and nodded. He stared at some unknown spot, fascinated. "And your parents?"
"Love it when I bring home girlfriends. Like to pretend I don't have boyfriends." Bobby sat down slowly on the corner of the bed, elbows braced on his knees. "There's nothing wrong with being gay or bi, James."
"I know," Jamie responded, and a moment later, "I do." His hands rubbed up and down his arms.
Bobby leaned down a bit, trying to catch Jamie's gaze. He didn't manage it. "Has anyone ever told you that it did matter? Mattered more than that it creates prejudice?"
Jamie hesitated for a long time. "No," he finally murmured.
Bobby frowned, aware he was missing something important, but unable to figure out what. The silence stretched. "Did anyone ever tell you it was all right?" he asked finally, voice quiet.
Jamie looked up then, and his eyes seemed far deeper then they ever had before. They flickered toward a nondescript landscape painting above the fold-out couch. "My parents . . . we never talked about it. I never heard about it." He looked down at his hands, fingers twisting together. "I was thirteen when they died. I never really had another family after that. I lived at Muir Island, but . . . " he shook his head slowly. "It wasn't really a family. It was more like a boarding school. Moira had a kid--Rahne--and Ranhey needed a lot of help and attention. I just stayed out of trouble, and people pretty much ignored me. No one really took me aside and told me much of anything, you know?"
Bobby nodded wordlessly.
"But I know that it's not bad to be gay or anything," Jamie said, eyes flicking toward Bobby. "I'm just . . . it's just that I'm not gay or anything."
Bobby nodded again, though he couldn't believe it. Jamie looked almost pleading, as if he were praying Bobby would believe him, wouldn't question it, wouldn't disturb the precarious balance Jamie seemed to have reached. Bobby nodded again, more to himself than to Jamie.
"Because I'm not gay or anything," Jamie said again, then looked away nervously. "I'm just not."
Bobby nodded. "Okay." Silence stretched, filling the air with nothingness.
"But people still shouldn't call other people gay when they're not," Jamie murmured, voice almost a whisper. His head was dipped, intent on his fingers as they plucked at little hairs on his arm.
"That's right," Bobby agreed.
"Because I'm certainly not," Jamie whispered again.
"I know," Bobby whispered back.
Jamie looked up, dark eyes haunted. "When did you know, Bobby?"
Bobby sat back on his hands, tilting his head. Light brown hair fell away, tickling one ear. "I'm not entirely sure. I admitted it one night with Hank."
Jamie's eyes widened. "Hank's gay--or bi--too?"
Bobby grinned warmly. "No. We were driving."
Jamie blushed. "Oh."
"We were on the way home late at night, after hanging Scott's underwear on a flagpole--"
Jamie laughed, though it still sounded uncertain.
"--and there was a male couple kissing in a parking lot. It made me nervous for some reason, and I said that was gross." Bobby looked down, and smiled fondly. "Hank told me I was a 'doodie head.' He said those two men were very brave for facing so much bias, and that he hoped their love lasted. He said he wished he could find love that strong." Bobby looked back up at Jamie, finding that brown gaze very attentive. "It was the first time I'd heard someone say it was really okay--admirable, even. After we got back to the mansion, we sat in the car and talked until three that morning. Just talked. I told Hank that I liked men, but I liked women, too. He said that was bisexual, and he thought it was more like loving the person then the package they come in." Bobby grinned, slightly self-depreciating. "I'm not sure that's true--I mean, I'm as shallow as the next person, and don't want to date someone ugly--but it sure sounds nice. I kept that theory."
Jamie grinned in response, shoulders hitching in a silent laugh.
"That was . . . God, I think it was almost seven years ago. Yeah. So I was younger than you. I don't date men often, though. It is harder--you get a lot more flack for being gay then you do for being straight. Only once or twice have I liked someone enough to face that type of bigotry and go out with them. I admire the people who can go out with their own sex on a regular basis, and face people like the kid in the ice rink every day."
Jamie smiled dryly. "Right. Like you don't face it being a mutant anyway."
"But that I can hide. It's not obvious that I'm a mutant," Bobby pointed out. "You can hide being gay, but then you don't get to date."
Jamie hesitated, then nodded. "Yeah. Good point." His eyes flashed up again. "But I'm not gay."
Bobby smothered his smile viciously. "I know."
"If your parents died when you were thirteen," Bobby asked softly, "then you were alone running your farm that young?"
Jamie nodded silently. "Yeah. For about a year."
"Jesus," Bobby muttered.
"No, it was okay. I did it," Jamie answered earnestly.
"Yeah, but just because you did it doesn't mean it's okay. That had to have been really hard."
Jamie rolled his shoulders. "I guess," he said at last. "But I dealt."
Bobby nodded, and couldn't help wondering what sort of life that had been. "Did you have a childhood?" Bobby asked softly.
Jamie picked at the sleeve of his trenchcoat. "Sure. I was pretty old when they died."
"Thirteen is not old," Bobby corrected instantly.
Jamie blinked. "Okay."
Bobby hesitated. "I'm sorry," he said at last, realizing he'd snapped at the younger man.
"You didn't hear about being gay," Bobby said after a moment, "or mutants. You don't know how to ice skate."
"But I figured out the mutant thing," Jamie defended. "And now I can ice skate. And . . . and I'm not gay."
Bobby bit his tongue on protesting the last, still able to hear the tremor that ran through Jamie's voice. "And you think you're ugly. Yeah, you had a great childhood."
Jamie's head snapped up. "I didn't say I was ugly! And I did have a fine childhood!"
"It was great," Bobby agreed tonelessly.
"You're making fun of me."
"No. I just don't believe you," Bobby replied.
Jamie opened his mouth to respond, then closed it again. "It's none of your business," he finally snapped.
"Of course it's my business!" Bobby answered sharply. "You're my friend!"
"I've only known you for two days," Jamie answered. He unfolded his legs, standing. "It isn't your business. I don't need you to tell me I had a rotten childhood because my parents died, and I don't need you implying that someone screwed me up because they didn't tell me I was 'pretty,' and I don't need you implying that I don't even know which sex I prefer!"
Bobby opened his mouth to respond, but remained quiet as Jamie talked over him.
"My parents loved me, and if they'd had a choice they wouldn't have died. But they did, and everyone around me did the best they could. So I'm not vain. And I get upset when someone calls me fag. So sue me. It's not like you're the poster child for normalcy."
Bobby took a deep breath and nodded. "I know. I worry about you."
Jamie's jaw clenched, his muscle tensing. "Don't. I've been taking care of myself since I was thirteen."
"I know," Bobby replied softly.
Jamie glanced down, then away. "I'm tired. I'm going back to my hotel."
Bobby wanted to protest. Instead, he nodded. "Okay."
Jamie tucked hair behind his ear and padded out the door.
"Is something wrong?"
"Then why isn't my coffee frozen?" A pause, then, "Very funny."
"You wanted it."
"No," Hank sighed, running his cold mug under hot water in an attempt to make the coffee-ice fall out. "I just asked why it wasn't."
"Oh. Sorry. Misunderstood," Bobby answered, smiling his impish smile. But even he could tell it was only at half-voltage. And it obviously wasn't fooling Hank.
Hank turned and gave Bobby the Hank Look. The one that said you-will-tell-me-what-is-wrong-or-I-shall-do-something-you-won't-like-and-oh-by-the-way-I-care.
Bobby sighed heavily and stirred his cereal into mush. "Remember the time you tried to set me up with a guy?"
Hank sat down, holding a new mug of coffee. "Yes," he answered softly.
"And I told you I wasn't going to go out with a guy, because it was too much hassle?"
Hank nodded, brown eyes--deep brown eyes, but somehow not as handsome as Jamie's brown eyes--watching Bobby steadily. "Yes. You said you'd go out with a man if you thought it would be worth the prejudice."
Bobby bobbed his head in a nod. "I think I've found a man I would date."
Hank sat back slightly. "Ah. And the problem would be . . . ?"
"He wants to pretend like he's not gay."
Hank nodded. "Has it occurred to you that he might not be gay?"
Bobby snorted. "Yeah, right, he's not gay. Jamie is . . . Jamie's . . . he's been screwed up, Hank, and I don't think he realizes it. Or he's in denial."
"And what does being 'screwed up,' as you so eloquently put it, have to do with him being gay?"
Bobby looked up from beneath bushy eyebrows. "I'm not sure. But he is gay."
Hank smothered his grin, but not until Bobby had seen it.
"And now he's mad at me."
"Oh." Hank rubbed his chin. "Go see him," he said at last. "Take Twinkies."
Bobby smiled, puzzled. "Twinkies?"
Hank shrugged. "It always works on you."
Bobby let out a bark of laughter, shaking his head. "Maybe. Maybe later, I will."
Hank set down his coffee mug and stood, nodding. "Just don't wait too long, Bobby," he said, putting a large hand on Bobby's shoulder as he walked by. "Things don't always need time before you act."
Bobby nodded. "Better hurry, Hank," he said as Hank walked into the other room. "Your conference is about to start. You need to go dispense some more wisdom."
Bobby heard Hank's rumbling chuckle and smiled.
Jamie wasn't in his hotel, and he wasn't at the pier, and he wasn't at the park. At least, not the four Bobby had checked. He wasn't at the ice rink, or the Burger King, or the other pier. And Bobby was getting worried.
Four o' clock, and he couldn't find Jamie. Forge was at a conference. Bobby didn't know Forge's cell phone number, and he knew Jamie had thrown his on the rocks the day it stopped working, so there was no chance of calling him even if he was suddenly overwhelmed with the knowledge of Jamie's number. Bobby was leaving tomorrow. Early.
I shouldn't have waited so long to try and find him, Bobby thought to himself, stomping down the sidewalk. He glanced up, peering through the trees on one side. Another park. One he hadn't seen Jamie in. I could always call Guido. If I had his number. Or Lila Cheney's number. I could call Lorna. If I knew where she was. Maybe Moira would have an idea where Jamie might go . . .
Bobby kicked at a pebble, watched it skitter off into the underbrush. Cold danced along his spine, beckoning from a distance. Bobby paused, closing his eyes and letting the Cold wash over him. There was a lot of Cold.
Bobby turned and headed into the wild area of the park, following the Cold.
He smelled the water before he saw it. Bobby blinked and continued forward, the ocean stretching out for miles and miles, reaching to touch the sky in the distance. Cold Atlantic water, calling for the wind to try and freeze it, laughing that it would never be able to. Bobby stopped short of the rocky cliff the led down to the water's edge. The wind blew in fits and spurts, blasting his hair away from his face, then letting it settle around his ears. And the wind spoke.
Bobby strained to hear as air ruffled across his body, flattening his shirt. The gust keened, like a distraught human. Bobby's blue eyes closed, pale lashes resting against his cheeks. And the wind formed words. "I don't--help me--"
Bobby's eyes snapped open. He stepped closer to the edge of the cliff, peering below. Rocks tumbled down, ragged and jutting angrily toward the sky. A pool of brown crouched on one just below, moving slightly, trembling.
Bobby slid down the first rock, found a foothold on the second. The third he lowered himself onto carefully, hands straining to hold his weight. The last he jumped to, almost landing on the figure, who didn't acknowledge him.
Worry overrode anxiousness, and Bobby put his arms around the narrow shoulders sheathed in a brown trenchcoat. He rested his head on the dark brown hair, pulling the shuddering body closer, almost into his lap. "It's okay," Bobby whispered, hands rubbing up and down the man's arm. "It's okay."
Jamie's head turned into Bobby's chest, and he cried painfully.
Did I do this? Bobby wondered to himself. He felt sick at that, and held Jamie tighter.
The wind picked up, plucking at them, tossing the ends of Jamie's trenchcoat. Both men ignored it, and it howled by them in frustration.
The sun was sinking. Gold dusted the top of the water, making it sparkle until it hurt to look. Bobby rocked back and forth in time to the crashing of the waves below, hands stroking against Jamie's hair, his back, his arms.
The sun peeped out at them from under its blanket of water.
"I don't know what to do," Jamie whispered.
Bobby wanted to say something, but couldn't.
"No one ever told me what to do," Jamie said, his voice breaking. "They didn't tell me. They left, and they didn't tell me and it hurts."
Bobby nodded. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to do this to you," he whispered at last.
Jamie didn't answer. "Seven years ago today. They died. And I need them."
Bobby brushed his face against Jamie's brown hair and said nothing.
"I'm so confused."
The Cold brushed up against them, tossing their hair, flattening their clothes against their bodies. Jamie was still crying. Bobby could feel the tears on his neck, soaked into his shirt. But the man was no longer sobbing. The tears were silent; his breathing close to normal.
"We need to go in. It's getting cold," Bobby whispered against Jamie's hair. He felt Jamie nod. Neither of them moved, until Jamie started to shiver.
Somehow, they made it back to Jamie's hotel. Bobby wasn't sure how they did it, but they did. And Bobby was still cradling Jamie like he might break at any moment--and, truthfully, Bobby wasn't sure he wouldn't.
"What if I'm gay, and my friends hate me? I've seen that."
Bobby smiled against Jamie's head. "Then you get rid of your friends and move on."
"But I don't want to lose them."
Bobby closed his eyes, wondering how Hank had managed to get him through this, wishing he had some of Hank's ability to know Just What To Say at Just The Right Moment. "I'm your friend," Bobby said, ignoring the words his memory called up, Jamie's words that they barely knew each other. "I won't leave you."
Jamie's breath caught in his throat, shuddered in his chest. Bobby held him that much tighter, willing this pain away.
"What will Moira say?"
"That you're tracking mud in the house and you'd better not even think of learning to smoke like the other trenchcoat wearing men around."
Jamie laughed, a sort of hiccup in his breath. "Yeah."
Bobby smiled, dipping his head to look at Jamie's face. "James? I'll stay with you."
Dark brown eyes met Bobby's blue ones. They swirled with fear, almost black in the evening light. "Really?"
Jamie's breath curled around Bobby's neck, and the smell of his aftershave wandered up, carried by the heat from their bodies. "Really."
Jamie swallowed hard. His eyes were suspiciously bright, still, and his lower lip barely kept from trembling. "Even if I'm not gay?"
Bobby's gut clenched, and he felt a surge of anger. Still in denial. Almost, he snapped at Jamie. Instead, he bent down the tiniest bit and kissed him.
Jamie stiffened slightly, still leaning against Bobby. And then Bobby felt the slender body relax slowly, and through half-lidded eyes he saw Jamie's brown orbs stutter closed.
And Jamie kissed him back.
Bobby smiled and pulled away after what seemed like a very long time. "Even if you aren't gay," he answered softly, and slid his knuckles over Jamie's jaw. He felt Jamie's shiver, saw the uncertainty and confusion still in those brown eyes as they flickered open.
Jamie's eyes closed painfully. Bobby wrapped both arms around the man, holding him tighter. "I'm sorry," he said after a moment, not knowing what else to say.
Jamie nodded. His breath shuddered in his lungs. "Forge will be back in about fifteen minutes," he said at last. He sat up and pulled away, and Bobby saw a flash of brown eyes--still hurt, still uncertain, still denying--before Jamie looked elsewhere. Long-fingered hands wiped at drying tears.
"Should I go?" Bobby asked.
Jamie looked up. "Yeah."
Bobby felt his stomach twist. "Call me if you want--anything."
Jamie wouldn't meet his gaze. "Yeah."
Bobby nodded after a moment. He knew that look. That was the one he wore when he was refusing to see the truth. "Yeah," he muttered, and stood up. "I'm leaving tomorrow, but you can get my home number from the database."
Jamie nodded, didn't look up.
That was it, then. Bobby hesitated, looking at the man. The long lines of his body were still hidden beneath the trenchcoat, his face sheltered behind dark brown hair. Bobby moved silently to the door, glanced back again to see Jamie still sitting on the edge of the bed, staring at the floor.
Bobby walked out and closed the door.
Bobby leaned against his tree, eyes closed, lawn mower sitting fifteen feet away. He'd been home for three weeks. He was seriously considering going back to the X-Men. He was trying very hard to forget about Jamie. (It wasn't working.)
He didn't bother opening his eyes. "Yeah, Mom?"
"You almost done mowing?"
Wouldn't it figure that his parents would take out the shed in back, the tomato plants and fruit trees and plant grass instead? And the Cold that had been promising to come had passed over already. Bobby hated hot snaps.
The screen door opened with a rattle, like Colossus gargling rocks in his armored form. It banged shut almost as loudly. Footsteps were quiet through the grass, but Bobby could hear them. He took after his father that way.
Long strided, someone light. His mom hadn't announced who it was. Probably Warren, then. She didn't announce any of the original X-Men, and only Warren was that light and long strided. He'd visited several times already.
The footsteps paused just behind him. Bobby wiggled, scratching against the tree before settling.
"I should probably tell you that I died once," a hesitant, young voice said.
Bobby opened his eyes and tilted his head; saw slender legs encased in blue jeans.
"You know. In case I end up being a Summers or something."
Bobby smiled and slowly, slowly let his gaze travel up those long legs to narrow hips. A black T-shirt covered a muscled but slender chest, hands, stuffed into pockets, leading to shoulders that were small, but not too small. A slender neck went up to a face with a smattering of light freckles, a flippity nose, high cheekbones and expressive brown eyes. Dark brown hair fell in that delicate face, and a hand slipped out of a pocket to tuck the strand behind a small ear.
"'Cause, you know, that's important stuff."
Bobby nodded against the tree. "Then I should tell you that I've been in space. So I could be a Summers, though it's less likely."
"Oh. Yeah. Yeah, that's important." Jamie nodded solemnly. "I should tell you that I worked with a Summers."
Bobby frowned. "Me too. So, you know, it's highly likely that one or both of us somehow got Summers DNA or something."
Bobby nodded and contemplated the grass. Finally, he looked back up. "I'm willing to chance it."
Jamie itched his neck. "Me too."
Bobby sat for a moment more, then looked back up at Jamie. "But if you're the Phoenix, I'm going to be upset."
"Damn," Jamie said, shaking his head. "Guess I better go, then."
"No, no, wait," Bobby said as Jamie turned away. "I think I can learn to live with it."
"Okay," Jamie said, then crouched down.
Bobby looked at him, and smiled. "I thought you weren't going to talk to me again."
Jamie looked at the lawn mower. "I wasn't going to. I mean, not because I was mad, but . . . " his voice dropped to a whisper and he looked down at his shoes. "Bobby, you kissed me."
"I know," Bobby said, and couldn't suppress his smile. "I was there."
Blush. "I am very aware of that." Dark eyes flickered toward Bobby, still uncertain, but without denial, and without that shadow. "I could have ignored it for a long time if you hadn't done that. Well, if you hadn't done that and if I didn't have a dupe that really liked you . . ."
"I'm serious. I mean, they're different facets of my personality sometimes and that one . . . well, he didn't mind being gay. And he did mind that I was angsting."
"A sure sign that you're a candidate for a Summers," Bobby commented.
Jamie nodded solemnly. Then he blushed. "I couldn't stop . . . I mean, every time I closed my eyes . . . and whenever I got sad I remembered something you'd said."
Bobby looked at him curiously. "What's that?"
Jamie met his gaze, and for once his eyes didn't shy away. He was very solemn, but then started to laugh. He shook his head and looked away, dimples creasing his cheeks. "Damn. I was gonna give you some bull about something, but I can't keep my face straight." He dipped his head and shrugged, then looked back at Bobby, still smiling. "I'd remember different things. Sometimes a joke. Sometimes your face when you fell in the pond."
"When you pushed me in the pond," Bobby corrected, grinning.
Jamie just shrugged and smiled. "I did remember one thing, though. You said we were friends. And you said you wouldn't leave me." He grinned, looked down, back up, and blushed. "And you said I was gorgeous."
Bobby laughed. "You are."
Jamie shook his head and looked at Bobby. "I'm not. But it's nice to hear."
Bobby smiled, accepting that at least Jamie wasn't arguing with him quite as much anymore. With time, he'd start to accept it, maybe. "Know what I remembered?"
"I remembered that you pushed me in the pond."
Jamie laughed, brown eyes sparkling merrily.
"And I remembered that you're ticklish."
Jamie's eyes flew open, and he looked warningly at Bobby.
Bobby started to laugh again. "But mostly, I remember that you didn't tell me if you were gay or not." There was a question in his light blue eyes as he looked over at Jamie.
Jamie looked back down, then up, before gazing at Bobby. "Not like you see in 'The Birdcage.'"
"But I never really had much choice in the matter. It just took a kiss to wake me up." An eyebrow cocked up. "Call me Sleeping--"
"Sexiful," Bobby interjected.
Jamie laughed, blushing. "Okay. Sleeping Sexiful. I was gonna say 'Jamie.'"
"Oh yeah," Bobby laughed, grinning. "We're gonna call you SS instead of MM."
Jamie laughed and rolled his eyes.
"You know what's a really good idea?" Bobby asked, feigning nonchalance though he didn't feel it.
Jamie looked at him expectantly.
"You and me having dinner. Lots of times. Together."
Jamie bit his lip and nodded. "Yeah. That's a good idea. If you can stand me for that long."
"Phshh," Bobby snorted.
"I don't have any experience at this whole gay-dating-thing," Jamie explained, looking worried.
"I only have a little. It's like straight-dating-things. Only with men."
Jamie grinned. "Oh."
"Know what's another good thing?"
"Kissing." Bobby grinned.
Jamie laughed, and glanced toward the house. "Your mom--"
"Will have to get used to it," Bobby answered, though he didn't really feel that sure of himself. He watched Jamie closely, seeing the war in the other man's eyes. He'd almost decided that Jamie was going to say no, and then the man turned towards him and scurried closer, ducking behind the same tree.
Jamie looked at him very seriously, though laughter danced in his eyes. "You're right," he said solemnly. "Kissing is another very good idea."
Madeline Drake looked up as her son entered the kitchen. "Is Jamie a friend of yours?" she asked, smiling as Bobby gathered two glasses and poured lemonade in them. "You boys have been out there all afternoon."
Bobby hesitated and put the lemonade pitcher down. His eyes were sparkling, and there was grass in his hair. "We have a lot of catching up to do. About twenty years worth on his part, twenty-six on mine."
"Ah," Madeline said. "So you two are new friends?"
Bobby picked both glasses up and leaned against the counter. He was frowning slightly, the way he did whenever he wasn't sure how to say something. "I like Jamie, Mom."
Madeline nodded. Bobby was looking at her closely, and she knew she wasn't having the right reaction. But she needed more information than that.
"I like Jamie a lot. And he really likes me. We like each other a lot."
Madeline smothered her smile. "Ah. Should I put an extra plate on for dinner?"
Bobby looked frustrated. "Mom, Jamie and I--"
She put a hand on his arm, noting the pink of the sunburn that was starting to stain his pale skin. "Bobby. Do you remember Opal?"
"I do, too. I didn't like Opal. I like Jamie. However, the same rules still apply. He may stay as long as he likes. He has to obey the rules in this house, too. And you two may not share a bedroom. There are extra sheets in the linen closet. I'll put out an extra plate for dinner." Madeline turned back to the sink and ignored Bobby's blush. He reached over and pecked her cheek, then turned to walk out the door. He stopped half out, looking back.
"Um, when do you think is a good time to tell Dad?"
Madeline smiled. "Don't you worry. I'll tell your father."
Bobby nodded and left the house, banging the screen door. Out by the tree, Madeline could see a brown trenchcoat lying in the grass, and a slender male figure on his back on top of it, looking up at the clouds. She started to hum, and got out another plate.
The smile spread slowly across Hank's face, and then he nodded, pride swelling his chest.
"What is it?" Scott asked, looking up curiously as Hank grinned. Jean, cradled between Scott's arm and his side, cocked her head.
Hank, smiling, shook his head slowly, refusing to show anyone, and re-read his message.
hi, Hank! dad's doing better, mom's doing good. i may come back sooner than previously thought (oh please oh please oh please). mind if i bring a friend? Jamie Madrox--Multiple Man--is at loose ends since xfactor disbanded, and i thought that since he had legacy maybe he could help or something. i dunno. anyway, attached is a picture. later!
PS i'm in love.
PPS it's Jamie.
PPPS don't tell anyone yet, okay? he's shy, and i didn't tell him i was telling you.
PPPPS i really, really like him, Hank.
PPPPPS kissing is fun. get a friend and try it sometime. you have to leave the lab to do it, tho . . .
PPPPPPS this is the last PS.
[McDragon's Memo: Want to see the pic of Jaime and Bobby? Click on the attachment, silly!]
Back to the living room
Back to the Water Lines main page