Written a while ago but never posted because I kept picking at it.
Author: SullenSiren (sullensiren(at)gmail(dot)com)
Fandom: X-Men Movieverse
Characters: John/Pyro, Bobby/Iceman
Pairing: Bobby/John, Bobby/Rogue
Summary: "What he learned, he learned slowly, like stray pieces of a John-shaped puzzle he was assembling bit by bit."
Rating: PG-13 for language
Disclaimer: I own nothing. Marvel has all the cards; I'm just borrowing some of them.
Note: Spoilers through the end of X2 and vaguely for X3, though nothing the trailers don't show. Thank you to oraclejenn for the beta. Crossposted to x_slash and dry_ice.
"I know the pieces fit 'cause I watched them fall away,
mildewed and smoldering. Fundamental differing.
Pure intention juxtaposed will set two lovers' souls in motion,
disintegrating as it goes; testing our communication.
The light that fueled our fire then has burned a hole between us so
we cannot see to reach an end, crippling our communication.
- Tool, "Schism"
The first thing St. John Allerdyce said to him was "fuck off."
Bobby ignored it because he'd been there a while and he'd seen the new kids come in with chips on their shoulders and go to hell attitudes, each one showing off their power and trying to be the biggest, baddest kid on the block because that's how they'd learned to get by, wherever they came from.
He figured that's what it was anyway. He'd never had to deal with any of that and it always made him feel a little guilty. Maybe that's why he put up with their posturing crap until Storm sent a lightning bolt across the lake or Scott blasted a target and they realized they weren't the biggest baddest anything, and it didn't matter here anyway. If that didn't blow through their attitude, then Jubilee usually did. Jubilee didn't take crap from anyone, and she could deflate just about anyone with sheer force of will, most of the time.
So when John set his socks on fire for calling him St. John, he let it go. He just iced it over and shrugged. It was only socks. He could get more. When he realized that John only had two pairs and both had holes in the toes, he tried to give him some of the new ones. He'd just gotten a wavering fire finger flicking him off and a sullen silence.
Colossus metaled over, picked up a table - with Jubilee and Kitty on it - with one hand, and dropped it into the pool in front of John two days after he got there. The next day Remy shot a charged card into a bush, sending leaves scattering everywhere. An angry Storm sent a miniature storm cloud after him, complete with tiny whirlwinds and one aptly placed small lightning bolt. When the Professor gave him his class schedule, Jean levitated his schoolbooks toward him.
None of it made any difference.
John was sullen and easily angered. He was restless and he rarely slept. He flicked the lighter he'd come with constantly, a gesture that drove Bobby nuts the first few days but after that became just part of the background.
A week after John arrived, Scott dropped a hand onto his shoulder to ask him something. John reacted so quickly the whole thing looked like a blur of motion and a flare of flame. Scott had to be treated for burns and all Bobby really remembered was the blur and the fire and the look on John's face when he stilled. He looked like a dog at the shelter Bobby spent half a summer volunteering at - ready to bite the hand that fed him before it had a chance to hit him. Animal-wary and wounded beneath it.
Bobby didn't think John had ever tried to be the biggest and baddest. He'd just tried to be dangerous enough to survive, and there wasn't going to be much more dangerous than living fire, anywhere but here.
You share a room with a guy, he's got to unbend at least a little. Bobby learned early on that John didn't like questions. He didn't like the first part of his name. He didn't much like water - though he never said it, Bobby just always noticed the wary distance he kept from the edge of the pool. He didn't like anyone touching him. He didn't like rap music and he hated baseball. There were a lot of things John didn't like, and he disliked it all intently with the same sort of angry vehemence that made Bobby sort of tired just listening.
John didn't like questions more than he didn't like most things though, so Bobby didn't ask. What he learned, he learned slowly, like stray pieces of a John-shaped puzzle he was assembling bit by bit.
When John finally slept, Bobby learned that he talked in his sleep, and that his nightmares were as intense as the rest of him. He learned that John couldn't make the fire he controlled, but the sheer heat of his skin when he was deep in dreams was almost enough to send steam into a room Bobby never could quite keep from making too cold. He learned that John didn't wake up easily from those dreams and that shaking him awake carried a risk of burns for anyone without ice at their fingertips.
He learned that John didn't ask anyone for anything, and learned to watch him to see what it was he needed - to learn how to work the laundry machines downstairs, to find the library, to use the computer in their room. When Bobby did things for him, most of the time he just nodded, but once in a while he'd offer a quiet "thanks" and smirk before walking away.
When the Professor asked him how things were going with his new roommate, Bobby wondered if the man had already put all of the pieces together and knew all the things that John never said, all the reasons for the things he did. Bobby didn't ask though. It wouldn't be polite, and the Professor wouldn't answer anyway. He just said that yes sir, things were fine, and no sir, Bobby didn't think he'd need to be moved. Xavier smiled in a way that made Bobby think he hadn't planned on moving John anyway, but then he always smiled like he knew something everyone else hadn't caught on to yet.
Three weeks after John got there, Bobby dreamed of fire - white hot and searing him to the bone, eating him alive. He tried to ice it over but it just melted him away. He woke up at warm hand on his shoulder and a room that was arctic cold, though John didn't seem to mind, skin running warm enough to keep him from shivering. There was frost and ice everywhere and John defrosted it with heat generated by flames that were a little too wild to not scar the walls, here and there, though he didn't seem to care. He gave Bobby a crooked smile before climbing back into bed and rolling, back to Bobby and face toward the door. It was something. Usually he lay flat on his back so he could watch both sides as easily.
Neither of them slept and when John suddenly asked what he'd been dreaming about, Bobby told him, because somehow he always told John everything, even what he didn't mean to. John had twisted to look at him, smirk too shadowed to see, and told him he could always put out any fucking fire that tried to burn Bobby.
Bobby didn't remember ever dreaming of fire again until years later, when everything had changed.
The first time Bobby saw John laugh they were in their room, a box of donuts wheedled away from Kitty on the floor between their beds and stacks of CD's in both their laps. Both stacks were Bobby's because John came here with a single bag of clothes, a notebook, his lighter, and nothing more, but they were arguing music nonetheless, John tossing anything he found distasteful carelessly onto the floor. The floor pile was getting bigger.
When John pulled out the best of Joni Mitchell and dangled it between two fingers, quirking an eyebrow at Bobby, Bobby flushed and shrugged. "Chicks think it's hot when you listen to girl-music."
John blinked at him and then burst out laughing, sullenly guarded expression giving away to open amusement that made him look younger and less broken and angry. He was smiling when he wound down and Bobby smiled back. John left the CD in the pile of stuff that didn't suck and at Bobby's look he just shrugged. "Knew a girl who liked her," he explained. Bobby didn't ask, but he added another small piece to the puzzle and wondered if there was any way he could rescue a few of those CD's before the ritual cleansing fire John seemed to think was in order.
The second time he saw John laugh, it was at a table with all of them. He'd never sat by himself and Bobby thought it wasn't because he'd wanted to be near them, but because sitting apart might mean he was afraid or something, but maybe he was wrong. He'd sat with them from the start, whatever the reason, but at the end of the table, usually silent and eating rapidly enough that everyone was pretty sure food hadn't been all that consistent for him for a while. Jubilee was screwing around, making dirty sculptures out of her mashed potatoes and declaring whose genitals each incarnation was. When she got to Piotr, Kitty leaned over and dumped her potatoes on the plate too, Remy adding his a moment later. Piotr turned five shades of red, and the girls giggled, and John laughed. They all grinned back at him and Bobby thought he liked it better when he was the only one seeing it, but he was still glad to see him laugh.
The first time John asked him for anything, it was nothing. Twenty bucks to repair his lighter. He'd dropped his eyes and shifted restlessly, the request almost combative because asking for anything was so alien to him. When Bobby handed him a twenty he'd flashed a strange smile and said something about paying him back before hesitating and asking Bobby if he wanted to come with him. He'd almost wished for John's easy dismissal of authority when he said they'd miss class and John just smirked and rolled his eyes before dropping cat-quick out the window and heading for the gates.
John was fire and Bobby was ice and they figured out that meant neither one could do all that much damage to the other. Neither was so lucky when they trained with others though, and John came back from a training session walking stiff legged and pained, peeling the shirt from his back to reveal deep angry cuts down his back from something he'd landed on when he came up on the wrong side of a swing from Colossus.
The first time John asked Bobby to touch him, it was because he'd rather Bobby than Jean or someone, and he handed him gauze and antiseptic he pilfered from the medlab. When Bobby told him that he should probably have Jean look at it because he might need stitches, John didn't say please, but it was there in the way he flicked his lighter and the look he gave Bobby, and Bobby just told him to sit down and got a washcloth.
Little scars dotted John's back and Bobby didn't ask, but John offered, in a tone that was almost casual save for the pain of the new wounds behind his voice, "cigarettes." When Bobby blurted out without thinking that John didn't burn, he just smirked. "I used to, before the fire kicked in." And Bobby pictured a child with John's eyes and raw burns down his back, sitting somewhere and wishing he could burn back. It was too easy a picture to form, and the bandages he wrapped around John were crooked from Bobby trying not to touch his skin, not wanting to hurt John when it was so obvious he'd been hurt before.
When he finished John slung an arm around Bobby for the first time and grinned, told him "Thanks, Bobby-boy," and then sprawled across his bed on his stomach, a novel tugged from the drawer beside him.
John would touch him more after that - an arm around his shoulders or a hand ruffling his hair, shoulder budged up against his on the sofa when they watched movies. He was wary of anyone else touching him, but he stopped paying any real attention to when Bobby did, or to when he touched Bobby - he trusted him, maybe. Bobby liked that.
He asked the Professor finally what he and John talked about in their sessions, the question tumbling out before he had a chance to stop it. Every student had those sessions. More times than not Bobby and Xavier ended up talking about Jubilee's latest adventure in pyrotechnics or something like that. Xavier just smiled that small smile of his and asked Bobby if he would want St. John to know what he and Bobby spoke about. Bobby wouldn’t care. He'd never been good with secrets and everything that happened to him pretty much rolled right off his tongue at John anyway. John talked a lot without really giving anything away, but he listened too, when he wanted to. He usually wanted to listen to Bobby, or acted like it, anyway. But John would care if Bobby knew. St. John held everything close in, buried under his skin. And much as Bobby wanted to know, he liked it when John peeled back a layer to show him something he hid from everyone else. So he shook his head and Xavier smiled and they talked about politics, which Bobby had no interest in but knew a lot about anyway, like most of the kids at the mansion.
John filled out the hollows beneath his eyes and the point of his hipbones with regular meals, but Bobby still gained two inches of height and a good twenty pounds on him. John hated that, started calling Bobby a tall motherfucker for a while. But he still called him Bobby-boy so Bobby didn't really care. John hated that, too.
Bobby can't remember the first time he started thinking of John as his best friend, but he remembers the first time John said it, grinning crooked and wicked and flicking off a nearby Jubilee as he tried to wheedle Bobby into cutting classes with him. Bobby'd said no, because he always said no, but he'd grinned because John had called him his best friend, and that meant something. Meant he had more pieces of the puzzle than most people, maybe.
The first time Rogue smiled at him, Bobby made her an ice rose and froze the ball of flame John made before he could shape it into something obscene. She looked like a dog from the shelter too - the ones that cowered in the corners of their cages, afraid to let anyone touch them but looking as if they longed for it too. She was beautiful and broken and isolated and it made him want to fix her and bring out that slow smile more often.
Bobby remembers the first time Rogue curled up next to him on the sofa, trusting him not to hurt her, and herself not to hurt him, white and brown hair spilling down his back and head on his shoulder. For a long time, that's all he remembered. Now, he remembers John walking in and then rolling his eyes and cracking something about fucking lovebirds getting a room and walking out again. It was the first time he remembered seeing John walk away from him. It wouldn't be the last.
Bobby told Rogue he loved her after the first time he kissed her. It hadn't worked - her skin had kicked in and she'd jerked away, apologies on her lips. He'd just kissed her again through the fabric of the scarf she wore and told her. She'd smiled at him and said thank you, and that wasn't what he thought he wanted her to say, but somehow it didn't bother him that much. Rogue was Rogue. She kept everything a little further away than most - except Logan, and he tried not to be jealous of that, or of the way her face fell whenever he left again.
The first time John ever really made him mad - really mad, not the irritated frustration John was so good at bringing out - was when Bobby told him what Rogue had said, and John had smirked and told him that was what girls said when they were just passing time till what they really wanted made an offer. It was the first time Bobby'd ever hit him anywhere but in training, too. He'd split his lip and John had looked at him, expression wary and angry and something else that Bobby couldn't identify and wasn't sure he wanted to, then. He'd wiped at his bleeding lip with one hand and grinned cruelly, saying "fuck you if you want to be deluded," and threw himself into bed, laying flat on his back and not looking at Bobby but seeing him anyway.
For two days they didn't speak They kept to separate sides of their shared room and didn't spend any more time there then it took to sleep - or try to. In the end Bobby apologized first because he was Bobby Drake and that's what he did. He was the nice guy and John was the bad boy - and John didn't apologize.
When he said he was sorry, John shrugged and said whatever. He didn't say he was sorry, but he brought Bobby up a bag of Fritos and a Dr. Pepper later and things went back to some semblance of normal.
Bobby remembers seeing John watch him with Rogue, sometimes, sullen too-old face unreadable and Bobby thought there were some pieces of the puzzle he would never see, no matter how he tried.
The second time John walked away from him, they were at some god awful club John had dragged Bobby to once before, because the guy who spun gave him weed and the Bouncer let mutants in for free if they flashed their powers - solidarity, he'd called it. It was too loud and smelled like smoke and sweat and Bobby had to be practically tied up and tossed inside the first time, but he'd tried a little of the pot and ended up laughing for half the night. They'd had fun.
That night he brought Marie, too, and John had smoked a joint without offering either of them any and then dove into the crowd of dancers, skinny body not moving well, but moving anyway. He caught Bobby's eye before shrugging and vanishing out the backdoor with some guy who would probably give him something harder than weed that Bobby would have to talk him down from - not for the first time. Except John didn't come back so there was no where to talk him down from. He and Marie had left and he'd wondered who the guy John had taken off with was. He remembered Marie's brown eyes looking sideways at him and he'd had that feeling that there was something he wasn't getting. He'd thought maybe it was because he'd never lived on his own, never been alone, never struggled to survive like they had. Like abandonment was some kind of club he'd never had admittance to.
John came back and he smelled like sweat and smoke and dropped onto his bed without a word. When John slept that night and Bobby didn't, Bobby thought to wonder, for the first time, if maybe there were pieces of the puzzle John was showing him that he couldn't understand. If maybe he would never be able to assemble the pieces and see all there was to see.
Looking back now, he can't remember exactly when everything changed, he just remembers waking up and realizing that it had. The line down the center of their room had somehow become solid again - a distance between them that hadn't been there for years but suddenly filled the room when they were both in it. Bobby told his secrets to Rogue, now. Not that he had many. She smiled her shy smile and never told him many of her own. He never thought to ask why. Girls were like that. Or he thought they were, even if Jubilee said every thought in her head and Kitty came to him when she needed to talk.
The last real conversation he remembers having with John was when he told him about Rogue never really telling him anything about where she comes from, or what she's been through. He never spoke to John about her anymore - he'd learned not to. He wasn't sure why he'd broken that rule then, but he did.
Bobby had expected sarcasm or some scathing insult. Instead John had looked at him with eyes that always looked older and brighter than the ones Bobby looked at in the mirror each day. He'd smiled a faint smile and shrugged. "She's telling someone, Bobby-boy. If it's not you, who is it?" Bobby had started to get angry - something he rarely did with anyone but John, who could always manage to find the right buttons to push if he was looking hard enough. But John had reached out and caught his chin, turning his face to meet Bobby's eyes. And the touch was rare enough now that it startled Bobby out of his upset. John had smiled that crooked half-smile again. "You'll find out eventually, Drake. Shit you try to hide, ways you try to change - everything always comes out in the end. Even for the Southern Princess."
He'd dropped his hand and walked away, vanishing out the doorway with a cigarette - a new habit Bobby wasn't sure he liked - already in his hand. Bobby remembered now how long he'd felt the echo of warm fingers on his face, and how he'd forgotten what it felt like to be touched by someone. It hadn't made sense then - Kitty, Jubes, his friends - they touched him all the time. Somehow, it'd been different though.
Bobby remembers the attack with the sort of cold, precise clarity that comes with shock. He remembered John burning hot in the bed beside his, jerking and mumbling his way through a nightmare, fingers flexing around the lighter he'd started holding in his sleep again, sometime. It had always bothered him that he couldn’t pinpoint when John had stopped doing that, or when he'd started again. When Bobby woke him up, John shrank away from the hand left on his shoulder and glared empty-eyed at Bobby until he retreated downstairs to ice cream and strained conversations, hugging goodnight to Rogue on the way the embrace feeling oddly empty. Like John's eyes. And just as mysterious, since Bobby didn't understand why nothing felt right anymore.
When the soldiers came, he thought of Rogue first because she was small and soft and had horrors he never caught a glimpse of hidden behind her eyes. John has always rolled his eyes at that, said that Bobby saw what he wanted to see. Which might be true. Sometimes when Marie sat next to Logan, there was something so eerily alike in them that he wondered if he knew her at all.
But the soldiers came and he thought of her and ran after her, and when he saw John first, something close to panic in his eyes - an expression he'd never seen before - for a moment it was like a kick in the gut that Bobby hadn't remembered him. Hadn't thought of his best friend first. He wondered now if John had been looking for him. If he'd thought of Bobby first.
There hadn't been time though, and he'd gone after Rogue and some part of him was almost surprised when John came with him. Something in his face, in the way he ran, in the pant of his breath - it gave away that this wasn't the first time he'd been hunted. That there were reasons why he gripped his lighter in his sleep and came awake at the first sign of noise, unless he was dreaming. Another piece clicked into place in Bobby's head, but he didn't have time to look at the puzzle yet, to see the picture it formed.
In the car ride to his parents, John had fidgeted, pressed buttons, somehow managed to fill the space in the back of the small car with nervous energy. Bobby had felt like a cold sea of calm next to him, which was oddly soothing because somewhere beneath the cold was confusion he didn't understand and the blank fear that came with knowing the only lies he ever told to anyone else were about to come apart in front of his eyes.
He'd kissed Marie and for a moment it had been sweet and dragged everything away. The house that felt too small, now. The way John had looked around, expression somewhere between derision and something sad and faraway that Bobby couldn't quite name. The way she'd watched Logan in the car, like something between lover and savior and not quite either. The nervy waiting for the door to open and his parents to return. The wondering who was dead and who was alive and where they'd taken the kids they stole away.
It had all dripped away when Marie's warm lips were against his, the warm leeching to cold beneath the chill of his. And for a moment she had smiled, blowing out a chilled white breath, and it had been bright and real and alive - all her. No shadow of other people in her head there, no careful distance and reserve. Just a girl smiling at a boy. He'd kissed her again, and she'd pressed against him and somewhere he knew there was something wrong, even before her skin started to pull his life from him. She'd kissed him still, and he'd jerked away, smiling at her apologies, repeating the "it's all right, it's not your fault" litany that had become so familiar.
But it hadn't been. It wasn't her fault, but it hadn't been all right and he knew that. Even then he'd known that.
He remembered seeing the scars on John's back when he'd pulled on the borrowed clothes and wondering when the wall had gone up between them again.
There hadn't been time to ask. To try to fix it. There had been his parents and then police and bullets and Rogue too shocked to cry as she stared down at Logan, lowered herself to the ground, Bobby beside her because he didn't know what else to do.
He should have known. He should have stood back and looked at the pieces he knew. Should have remembered that summer at the shelter, and that cornered dogs always bit the hardest.
He remembers that the fire was beautiful. That it burned through the tree that held his initials. He remembers that it had been hard to tell the screams of the people from the battering noise of the flame. He remembers the look of betrayed, sickened horror on John's face when Rogue pulled his fire away from him.
He remembers that some part of him had cringed at the loss of the flame, because without the glow, they had to look at what was left in its wake.
He remembers that Rogue had been restless after. Angry. Easily set off and in constant motion. It hadn't occurred to him why. John had been still. Silent. Right beside him but miles away. He had felt foreign and Rogue's strangeness had been easier - calming in its familiarity. Because it wasn't like her at all, but it was familiar all the same. It was the way John had been, not too long ago.
The first time Bobby realized that John wouldn't always come back when he walked away, Rogue had shut the ramp to the plane after him. Bobby didn't follow him. John came back. He always had when he left.
But Rogue closed the ramp and then her hand twined around his and pain wracked through his head. He thought he was dying. He thought they all were. And for a moment he wondered where John was. If he was with the X-Men. If he was clutching his head and alone.
But it stopped and Rogue paced again, restless and nervy and then she was moving the plane and they were back and Jean had left and it was frantic and strange and the water was rushing.
For one moment. Just a moment, but he would never forgive himself, he forgot that John had left. That he might be there dying, somewhere, alone, waiting for the water.
When Rogue asked where he was, he half thought - even now - that it had been for his benefit. A reminder, so he wouldn't regret not knowing later. Bobby had felt a sharp twist of pain in his gut, almost turning to slam the ramp open, to run back out, to drag him back.
It wasn't until Jean spoke that another piece clicked into place, and he looked at the half-formed picture the puzzle made and knew that sometimes people didn't come back. That St. John could walk away. And that he had. He'd walked away from the school. From the X-men. From Xavier's dream.
He'd walked away from Bobby.
Bobby remembers sitting in a room that felt too big now, and too empty. Remembers breaking apart and putting together the pictures of his mind in different shapes and getting a different result each time. There was so much he didn't know, and he couldn't remember why he stopped trying to find out. He emailed an address he knew John checked now and then, but he never got an answer. He haunted the stores John had liked, the fast food joints he'd eaten at. When someone said John's name, he pretended to be angry because that's what he should be. He never was.
Rogue sat in his room with him sometimes, now, and he almost hated it because she never had when John was there, and it was just one more reminder that he was gone. "It's alright to miss him, sugar," she'd said quietly, and he'd kissed her hair and leaned against her. Because there was comfort in someone who understood, even if Rogue brought her own brand of confusion.
The last thing St. John Allerdyce ever said to him was "you always do what you're told?" Everything after that is Pyro - with his bleached blonde hair, perpetual smirk and empty eyes. Bobby hates him because he wears a face Bobby doesn't think he can ever hate, walks with the shape of Bobby's missing piece. And somehow he can never stop wishing that he'll look and Pyro will be gone, and John will be there, eyes too-old and sad - but his.
But there are days when he sits in a room that used to be shared and takes apart the pieces he knows and puts them together again, and when he is done it doesn't look like John. It looks like Pyro, and Bobby wonders if maybe that is really all that's left.
It would be easier if he didn't hope, he knows. But he can't help it. He's not sure he wants to.
The last email he sends only has three words. "I miss you." There is no answer. He wonders if the person he wanted to answer ever even existed, or if he was just a puzzle Bobby invented when he put the pieces together wrong.
It doesn't matter. Either way, Bobby misses what he never had, and what he did.
He misses St. John.
Xavier stops him in the hall one day, a manicured hand on his arm and a soft smile on his face. "We never stop missing those who leave us. And there is no shame in hoping they come back to us. Keep your hope, Bobby. It will see you through dark moments when nothing else will." There is something sadly knowing in his face, and Bobby thinks of Magneto, who Rogue slips and calls Erik, sometimes, and a piece he hadn't even known he was missing from the Professor's puzzle click into place.
On the staircase in front of him Rogue waits, her brown eyes soft and secretive still, but warm. Xavier lets go and Bobby smiles, goes to her. He keeps hoping because no matter what John - or Pyro - would have said, there is always hope.