I finally found him.
I leaned back, pinching my nose and telling myself that I wasn't getting misty-eyed. Over that brat? Not a chance!
Who are you kidding, Summers? You're no more immune to those damned puppy-dog eyes than anyone else in the world.
I stood up, needing movement, needing to do something so I couldn't tremble. It was hard to shield the emotions from Jean; she'd know I was shielding anyway and ask me about it later but... but well, that's later and I could come up with something for later. Right now, I needed to move.
sixteen years ago...
"Freak! Freak! Freak! Red-eyed, inbred freak!"
The cruel chant drifted over the juvie playground. Scott lifted his head from his book, searching for the source.
There was a mini-mob gathered at one corner of the building. He couldn't see what they were looking at but he could guess: a new kid. If you were unlucky enough to have to stay for more than a week, the first few days were torture to those guys. You had to learn to stand up for yourself or pray that you found some dipshit older and stronger than anyone else who was willing to back you up. The latter didn't come for free, of course. Payback started from letting them get half your lunch and moved downhill from there.
Scott had chosen the first option. It had been harder and more painful but at least he wasn't beholden to anyone.
Deciding that the song was really getting a bit tedious, he stood up, dusted the seat of his jeans off, and headed in that direction. He'd heard lots of crap about the innocence and purity of children. What a load of bullshit. Kids were the worst type of creatures out there; selfish, conscienceless, egocentric. No one wanted to get on the bad side of a kid.
The chanting suddenly escalated into out-and-out yells. Scott moved faster. The mob had decided that a more physical beating was in order and had proceeded to deliver it. Whoever they'd been teasing was in the middle of that dogpile. Scott sighed, grabbed two collars and yanked.
"What's up?" he asked conversationally.
The snotty-nosed grub wiped mucus, saliva, and blood from his face. "We're just havin' some fun with the freak!" he said gleefully, "You should see his eyes!"
"Yeah? Well, you should see your face." He dropped the kid and kicked his pants for good measure.
Someone from the doggy-pile saw Scott. By some mysterious kid-code, she transmitted that information to the rest of the little demons. They scattered all over the playground. By the time the last of them staggered away, the new kid was already standing up. He drew his foot back and viciously kicked one boy who still hadn't gotten up then whipped his small fist into the face of another one that was, unluckily, also in the way. He was about to punch Scott, too, but the older boy grabbed his wrist.
"I'm the calvary," he said.
The kid dropped his head and his hand. "I don't need no help." He had a slight drawl. But then again in middle America almost everyone seemed to have an accent.
"Of course you didn't," said Scott wryly, "Next time I see two dozen little turds piling on top of you, I'll just wave and wish you a good day."
"Yeah, you do that." The boy wiped his face. Scott saw a streak of red on his arm.
"You better get that cleaned up."
"What are you, some sort of big brother?" His sneer was obvious though Scott had yet to see his face completely.
"You wish." He took the boy's arm, intending to drag him inside if necessary but the kid whipped it back so viciously that Scott was almost carried along with him. He stumbled, catching himself in time to keep from falling on top of the boy.
That was when he got his first good look at him. The kid had red-on-black eyes. It matched his bloody nose.
I didn't tell anyone why I was going to Seattle. "None of your business" was what I told my students. "Some things to take care of," was the excuse to the Professor and the others. Actually, I felt kind of sorry for my kids; Hank's vocabulary takes a little getting used to and everyone in my math class was going to hate me or adore me by the time I return.
Either case was a bit alarming.
Since that good-for-nothing, Logan, had stolen my bike I couldn't even have the enjoyment of road-tripping. The more rational part of me, the one I mentally labelled "Cyclops," said that the Jeep was more practical anyway, more comfortable in the long run and was roomier. But I felt like getting pissed off at Wolf Boy so I let myself wallow in a sulk as I threw my backpack into the passenger seat. My hand hovered then, with a sigh, I threw in one last item.
A deck of cards.
Sixteen years ago...
Scott glared at Remy over his cars. "I saw you palm that card."
The younger boy threw his hand down with a disgusted sigh. "How the fuck am I supposed to cheat when the damned cards are twice as big as my fuckin' hands?"
"That's why you should distract them, shithead." He slapped the boy upside the head, not too gently but not too hard either. "Like that."
In retaliation, Remy grabbed Scott's wrist and twisted. But Scott knew this move; he taught it to the little turd. He forced his hand away and pushed the boy just hard enough that he fell out of his seat. "You fight like a fuckin' girl."
"Thanks." Seeing Scott's surprise, Remy explained, "You ever seen girls fight? Vicious bitches from hell."
"True." He started the clean up the scattered cards. "You're pretty enough to be a girl," he teased.
Remy grimaced. He was just old enough to know that being liked by the girls wasn't necessarily a bad thing but being hated by the guys because he was liked by the girls was all too horrible. That and his eyes. Sometimes, he didn't know why they beat up on him so much: his baby face or his devil's eyes.
"Why you doing this?" he asked the older boy.
Scott shrugged. "I've always wanted a pet freak." He ruffled the kid's hair to take the edge off of the words. "'Sides, the rest of those guys are idiots. You're smart enough to fight back; most of them just hang onto the nearest big kid."
"I ain't no hanger onner!" He drew his arm across his eyes, wiping away tears. "I ain't cryin' either. The sun makes my eyes water."
Scott put both arms up, a peace sign. "That's cool with me." He took the cards from Remy's end of the make-shift table and started shuffling them again. "Five card stud, jokers are wild."
I pulled into the cheap little hotel. My car screamed "rental mistake" and I'm sure the owner took notice of that. She threw me a look that said "I'm watching to make sure you pay" before reluctantly handing me the keys
I had my choice of car rentals when I got off the plane; the Professor has a business AmEx that was nigh onto unlimited. I could have gotten a smooth sports car and booked a five star hotel. It would have been much more comfortable for me but I wasn't sure if that was the case with Remy.
Hell, that kid could be comfortable from a cardboard box to the Taj Mahal. At least, that's what would show.
Sixteen years ago...
He felt something warm and little wiggle into bed with him. Instinctively, his arm went out hold it still while his other hand made a fist and ploughed it deep into the something's softest part.
Remy didn't even whimper. The only reason he knew it was Remy was because his eyes were glowing dully.
"What the fuck do you think you're doing?" Scott growled, shaking the younger kid roughly. "Get back in your own bed!"
"I can't!" he whispered back.
Scott had only seen real fear twice in his life. Once was on his mom's face when she threw them out of his dad's burning plane with that faulty parachute. The other time was when social services had taken his little brother, Alex, away to his new family three days after Scott was let out of the hospital. Tonight with Remy made up the third.
"Why not?" he asked, gentling his tone just a little bit.
"I just can't, okay?" Remy tried to drag his arm away but it was half-hearted at best and Scott's hand was like a clamp. "Look, do... do you want me to do something for you?"
When Scott felt the younger boy's hand rest on his upper thigh, he thought he was going to throw up. A look at Remy's expression told him that the kid felt the same way. But apparently, something was worse than playing a jolly-boy.
"Get your friggin' hand off me and stay on your end." Scott threw himself to the edge of the bed to make more room. "The minute you steal the blanket, you're on the floor, got it?"
Scott was just about to fall asleep again when Remy poked his back.
"What?" He hoped his voice let the kid know how pissed off he was.
"Sorry I came onto you."
Scott sighed. "It's okay, kid. Just don't do it again. There are better ways to get what you want."
There was a second or two of silence. Scott would hear the gears in Remy's head moving. "I know. Someone told me I got the stickiest fingers this side of a gecko."
Scott snorted, unable to choke down a laugh. "Then you got something to teach me. I couldn't steal candy from a blind-deaf baby."
"Yeah, you aren't exactly sneaky."
Scott turned around to face the kid. "What am I then?"
Remy shrugged. His eyes swept down to the loose thread. He picked at it like it was the most interesting thing since sliced bread. "A brick wall," he replied, "Something big that you can't move even with a truck."
Now Scott had to laugh aloud. At five-foot-four and ninety-three pounds, he was anything but a brick wall. A walking stick was a better description.
"I don't mean like that," Remy said, rolling his eyes. "Look, Jake McNamara's a friggin' truck but the only reason he gets his way is 'cause he's biggest on this side of the fence. He's such a wimp when the big kids come around; he's practically their dog."
"He doesn't push me around," Scott said with a self-satisfied smirk.
"Exactly." Remy stopped picking at the thread; it was starting to unravel the pillowcase and Scott might get pissed off. "No one can push you around. You're a brick wall. You don't let anyone hit you or make you do things you don't want or... or..."
Was the kid crying? Scott wasn't sure but he let Remy grab a few minutes to sniff his snot back up and save face. "My dad told me that I shouldn't even let anyone push me around."
"Cool." Remy sniffled again. "I don't know who my dad is. Or my mom either. I heard people say they found me in a garbage bin on account of..." His hand waved in front of his face, gesturing at his eyes.
"My dad was awesome," Scott said. He shifted to lie on his back and tried to recall his dad's face. It got blurrier and blurrier each year. "He flew planes in the army. I'm gonna be a pilot, too, when I get older."
"Me, too." Remy piped up. "Or a motorcycle racer." Then he sighed and to Scott's ears it was one of the saddest things he'd ever heard.
"Are you cold or something?"
"Naw, I'm okay. It's a helluva lot better than alleys and sidewalks."
"No kidding." He opened his mouth to ask another question but changed his mind. He and Remy both needed to get some sleep.
I flipped the paper I had picked up at the airport to the third page. The building formerly known as "Casa Flamenco" was completely gone. Well, that's a bit of a lie. There were a few charred chunks of plywood and some melted remains of the steel frame but otherwise the hotel was a crater in the middle of downtown Seattle. I'd never been in the (in)famous hotel myself but unless you lived under a rock, you'd've heard of it.
Outwardly, it was one of the most opulent of the grand hotels, even more so than any of the places in Las Vegas. It wasn't as big as, say, the Waldorf-Astoria, but it that was probably one of the reasons it was so popular. Some rooms had to be booked two years in advance. The restaurant on the third floor was voted the best worldwide for three years in a row; the menu was so expensive, they didn't bother quoting the prices.
But by far, Casa Flamenco was known for NeoRoma, the theatre that stood beside it. People flocked to it by the thousands and not only to watch the classic greats. NeoRoma also opened its doors for magical acts, hard-core bands that weren't permitted to play elsewhere, and the now-outlawed rave parties. There were also rumours of old-fashioned bacchanals, satanic sacrifices, and mutant cage-fights.
I was doubtful about everything but the last.
God, Remy, where are you?
Sixteen years ago...
He wasn't going to miss Remy sleeping beside him. The kid kicked and punched and talked and his sleep. If anything, he'd admit that he was a bit jealous. The kid had only been in here for a couple of weeks and already, someone was going to pick him up.
When he had been in the orphanage, everyone's eyes had always gone right over his head. If you were under seven, you had a chance of being adopted. Once you hit nine, it was over. Scott also had records with "brain damage" in red ink. He didn't know if he really had brain damage; sometimes he just didn't feel like talking, that was all. He'd gone through eight foster homes in the three years since then. They hadn't all been bad; some of them were awesome, and some were terrible, and most were right in between. He just didn't want to be part of their "family;" he had a family already. Now that his files had juvenile jail records in them, his chances decreased exponentialy.
Remy hadn't told him about the man who'd come in. The brat didn't talk much unless he was trying to weasel out of trouble; then he was unstoppable.
Scott found him playing with some bugs at one end of the playground, those bugs that curled up into balls when they were touched. He was picking them up and rolling them into each other like miniature marbles. "Hey you."
Remy didn't look up. "Know what these things are called?"
"Those bugs?" Scott shrugged, not really caring. "I dunno."
"Neither do I."
Scott picked one up and rolled it, too. He didn't hit anything. As soon as you left them alone for more than five seconds, they would uncurl and try to get away. It made for really hard targets.
"You know anyway to sneak out of here?" Remy asked after several minutes of the increasingly interesting game.
Scott shrugged again. "Why? You're gonna get picked up tomorrow."
Remy's body stiffened. Sometimes it seemed as if he was even scrawnier than Scott but maybe that was just 'cause he was so small and those eyes of his were so big. Then he drew his arms and legs closer to his body; if he had been those roly-poly bugs, he'd've curled into a ball, too, with that tangled shock of red-brown hair hidden under his arms. "I don't wanna go with him." The words were whispered.
I never did ask him why he didn't like the man. Somethings don't need to be explained like why Remy always snuck into my bunk, why he hated being touched without warning, why he always stole things and hid them under his mattress. I kind of guessed that whoever it was that came that morning was part of the reason why Remy was on the streets in the first place.
I bribed the older kids with some cigarettes to make a distraction while Remy snuck away. They never guarded us younger kids as well as the older ones which was stupid 'cause we could get in and out of smaller bolt holes than they could. I gave Remy my jacket, this cheap windbreaker with big pockets and loaded them with bread and fruits. Peaches. A part of the chain-link fence was loose on the bottom; we'd been using that since time immemorial.
The funny thing was they never made a fuss about it. The last time they found out someone escaped, they brought in five squad cars and a private detective. When Remy disappeared, life went on as usual. I think I went along with it just 'cause I was thrown.
It was weird but the very next morning, I was sent to foster with Deborah and Craig Jameson. I spent the best five years of my life with them up until I blew up bathroom during my senior prom.
Eleven years ago...
"Scott?" Deb knocked a bit louder. "Scott, please open the door. I've got your dinner here."
"Just leave it in the hall, Deb, please."
She didn't like the sound of his voice. It was scratchy and ragged, like he had been or still was crying. And he hadn't gone out of that room since the prom incident.
"Scott, please, for the last time, you're not in trouble." She put the tray down on a hall table.
There was no answer.
"Scott." Her tone became wheedling, almost begging. "You've got to--"
A loud engine gunned down the residential street, the stereos blaring. Then there were several crashes, the sound of broken glass and ceramic.
"Hey, freak!" came the yells, "Why don't you blow up the bank next time instead of trying to peek into the girl's bathroom, swamp thing!" Raucous laughter followed by jeers like, "Come on out, Laser Boy!"
"Dammit!" bellowed Craig as he herded the younger kids away form the windows. One of the girls had been hit by a stone. "I've had it with those kids! I'm calling the cops!"
I walked out of the Starbucks with a large (or grande, if you want to use the lingo) black coffee, much to the disgust of the girl behind the counter. Hey, I was in the coffee capital and I guess they though I should have bought something that was fifty percent froth with gooseberries and bee pollen in it or soemthing. It wasn't cold enough to warrant a hot drink; I just needed something to do while I was walking around aimlessly.
Honestly, once I got here, I didn't even know where to start. The professor had told me that Remy was incredibly hard to read. In fact, the only reason why he'd found him was because he had used so much of his power, causing a granddaddy of all spikes on Cerebro's monitor. The Remy I thought I knew wouldn't have stayed in the same place that he'd caused such a commotion in.
I was grasping at straws.
I took as sip of the coffee. I certainly didn't stick around for the cops to come around again all those years ago. The minute I heard Craig yell the word "cops," I took off. It was pretty stupid; I didn't even eat the dinner that Deb left behind for me. I just jumped out of the window and ran as fast as I could with my eyes clenched shut. It was on luck alone that I survived an entire month before the professor found me. I hadn't opened my eyes in all that time.
I wonder what Remy's eyes would look like through my shades. White on black? That was even scarier than before.
The Casa Flamenco was a good fifteen-minute walk away from the Starbucks. It looked a lot worse in person than in full-colour photos. But I guess pictures can't capture the smell of the place. They say there were at least a fifteen hundred people in the theatre when it blew up and another thousand in the hotel including staff. There were four hundred sixty-one survivors.
There was police tape encircling the perimeter. I ignored it. As long as I looked as if I had the right to be there, no one would question me. If worse came to worse, my school ID cared looked official; I could flip it quickly and blab off something about Bureau C17 and terrorists. It worked in lots of other mutant related cases.
I picked my way around the debris, taking care not to step on anything fragile. Although the explosion had only occurred two days ago, they'd managed to get everyone out. Everyone possible, that is. I jerked away from a long thin object that resembled an arm that had been charbroiled. Apparently, the fire had burnt so fiercely that only those on the outside escaped whole. Not necessarily alive, but whole.
Everyone in the theatre was ash.
Eleven years ago...
"So," Scott asked as he perched nervously on the examination table. His head ached; he still wasn't used to seeing everything in red. "Can the professor really cure me?"
The doctor, Hank McCoy, passed his instruments to his assistant, Jean. "I regret to inform you that mutation is not a condition which can be cured." Seeing the boy slump minutely, he patted Scott's shoulder. "It is a gift; a rather questionable one in your case, but a gift nevertheless." He sighed and rubbed the back of his neck. "You know, of course, of the brain damage you retained as a child."
"The plane crash, yeah. My old doctor said that didn't damage anything important," he protested, "I did all right in school."
"Indubitably," said Dr. McCoy, "but although most of your motor functions escaped unscathed by this predicament, I suspect that your mutation did not."
"So," Scott said after a few seconds of translating Dr. McCoy's medicalese into normal English, "you're saying I'm stuck wearing these glasses forever?"
"I hesitate using that word for anything in life," replied the doctor, "Nothing lasts forever."
"Yeah but--" Scott bit off his words in mid-sentence as another particularly vicious jolt of pain throbbed behind his eyes. It felt like someone was hammering the middle of his head.
"Close your eyes for a sec," Jean ordered softly. Without waiting for his word, she plucked the glasses from his nose. He almost protested and jerked away but then her fingertips came to rest on his temples and before he knew it, he was lying down on the bed being given the best headache massage he'd ever experienced.
Hank had picked up the glasses in the meantime and studied it. "While the ruby quartz does absorb his optic blasts, it has a straining point during which it reflects the blasts back into young Mr. Summers' eyes. I suspect that is the cause of his numerous migraines."
"Isn't there some sort of... I don't know, alloy or insulation we can use to redistribute power of the blasts?" asked Jean.
"Possible but detrimental to the more practical aspects of life." Hank turned Scott's glasses over and over in his paws. "Being composed entirely of red quartz, Mr. Summers' eyewear, though resembling a banal prop from a retro-sixties cinematic experience, provides him with nearly conventional sight."
"There is an alloy I could utilize for the frame but I am dissuaded from using it due to the fact that it would take his peripheral vision away completely."
Scott started to straight up but Jean firmly pushed down on his shoulders. "Look," he said staying in his prone position, "You said yourself that my eyesight is above average. I can live without peripheral vision but I can't stand these headaches any more."
"You won't have to," said Jean soothingly. Her fingers strayed from his temples to make circles in his scalp. It was the closest Scott every came to melting into a puddle. "We'll find a way to control your powers."
There was an entrance to the underground levels from the parkade on the other side of the street. Urban legends notwithstanding, I really wasn't expecting more than laundry rooms, gigantic heating tanks, maybe another parking lot just for employees. It was a rabbit-warren of cement tunnels thinly painted peach. The uppermost floor was scorched and smelled of smoke. The one below that was in slightly better shape.
That was where I found him.
I was right about the laundry rooms; they had enough washing machines in there to whiten the uniforms of the entire USA military force. I opened the next door: hot air billowed out. White sheets hung from the ceiling like some cheap horror flick. The drying room. I moved on and tried the third door. More sheets, these ones in the Casa Flamenco's red and violet pattern. The fourth and fifth doors held more of the same; smaller sized washers and dryers probably for the guest's clothes.
I almost missed the sixth door. It was tucked away in an odd angle and stood only to the middle of my chest. It was probably a closet for the detergents but I opened it anyway.
I remember Hank telling me about a physics phenomenon where the inside of an object was larger than the outside. That was this closet. I felt like donning a fur coat and taking on a British accent while I looked for Mr. Tumnus and Aslan. I ducked in, leaving the door wide open.
Inside, I could stand up straight, reach my arms up and still not touch the ceiling. Empty shelves lined the walls. I ran my hands along their surfaces. There was barely any dust; these had been in use recently. The blast hadn't reached these levels hard enough to upset any dirt, not even the giant dust bunnies near the walls that would have driven Jean insane.
Remember when I told Hank my eyesight was better than average? Well, it's about three times better. I can discern (that's a Hank McCoy word) the barest movement and track it all over the place. We're not sure yet if it's because of my mutation or if it's just a family fluke; my dad was one of the Air Force's best pilots. In any case, I spotted something shift slightly at the far end of the room.
Remy was right about my lack of subtlety. Again, it maybe because of the visor or that month I spent blind on the streets but I couldn't sneak up on anyone if my life depended on it. Jean says I have elephant's feet. Whoever or whatever had been hiding scurried away as soon as I took a step in their direction. All I could do was run after them.
It wasn't difficult. His breathing sounded bad, like he had pneumonia, and his steps were uneven. He knocked down a unit of shelves as I got closer but I blasted it away and ducked around another set to keep the debris from hitting me.
"Come out," I said, trying to be gentle and firm at the same time. I think I only got away with firm. "It's just me and I promise I won't hurt you."
A ragged laugh was all that answered me. Whoever-it-was shuffled away again. This time, instead of following his heels, I tried to guess where he was heading for. I hoped there was only one entrance to this place but planned for the opposite. Sometimes I gut lucky and I never have to diverge from Plan A, but most of the time, Plans, B, C, and D have be pulled out before anything could be done.
I think, at long last, I got lucky.
I caught a better view of him as I hugged the wall that had the door. He was wearing a dark coloured coat, knee-length probably fake leather. Its hem was torn and fluttered like a flag as he ducked behind some more shelves.
"I know you're back there," I said. I moved more fully into the narrow walking space between the shelving units. "I'm going to stay right here. You can come out when you want to."
More laboured breathing. He didn't want to come out but he obviously was too tired to run any more. Besides, I was blocking the closest exit.
"You're hurt," I continued, "I can get you a doctor."
If anything, he got more panicked at that idea. Inadvertently I suspect, he let out another mockery of a laugh then gasped. There was a sliding noise-- had he fallen? If that was the case, I had to investigate.
"I'm going to walk towards you," I said slowly, trying not to sound threatening, "I just want to see if you're hurt."
The shuffling, sliding sounds increased as I got nearer. He was trying to get away but his injuries were keeping him from doing so quickly enough. His breaths were beginning to resemble sobs. I turned the corner. A glowing bar of wood came up to greet me. I put an arm up automatically to block it then reached down to yank it away. It sizzled in my hand.
"Oh, shit." I tried to throw it but the shelves were in the way. All I could do was duck down towards the mutant and cover my head and neck. The explosion wasn't that big; just enough to bring down a few more shelving units.
The mutant underneath me squirmed and threw wild punches. Several of them met their mark and for a while, I couldn't seem to remember how to breathe. He kicked me off and started to get up but I shot my leg out and tripped him. Cheap shot, I know. He came down on his chin-- ouch!-- and let out a cry as he curled up.
"Are you okay?"
"I'm fuckin' perfect, homme," he replied, "T'anks f'r carin'."
Great. Another smart-ass. As if there weren't enough of those in the mansion. "I can get you some help."
"Like de help you jus' showed me?" He snorted. "I t'ink I can live wit'out it."
I think I rolled my eyes. "At least let me see the worst of your injuries. I've had paramedic training."
"Last time I check, kung fu wasn't in no paramedic guide book."
"I was using the new improved edition," I retorted. I started to get up on my feet but changed my mind at the last minute and sat back on my haunches. "I'm a mutant, too. I'm not going to crucify you if you've got green skin, flippers or feathers for hair."
Slowly, he relaxed his foetal position. I thought I saw the flash of his eyes from under his lanky auburn hair. I felt his gaze focus on my visor for a long time, then move down to my hands, which were laced loosely on my lap. He straightened but with his back still primarily facing me.
"What about devil's eyes?" he asked.
I allowed myself to smile. "Even better."