p"Fuck!" Saint

John Allerdyce cursed loudly as the first fat drops of water hit his palm. The

flame he'd been cradling there flickered violently for a brief moment, then

sputtered and fizzled out. He gave an irritated sigh, glanced upward, and presented the sky with his middle finger. The only response he got was a face full of water as the rain began to pour. "Figures," was all he said, getting to his feet and beginning to trudge back up the hill toward his school./ppIt had been that sort

of day. He'd been lectured all the way through his morning classes about the

fact that he hadn't done any homework, which was annoying enough because he

knew the material, and he knew the teachers iknew /ihe knew the material,

but they still chose to be anal about it. Something about "taking

responsibility seriously and completing all designated tasks" – he wasn't

sure, he hadn't listened very closely. And then his best friends Bobby Drake

and Marie D'Ancanto had disappeared to spend the afternoon together, leaving

John to his own devices. And most people would agree this was a serious problem,

considering the devices John had available to him./ppHe waited until he

was inside the school building before pulling his treasured shark Zippo lighter

out of his pocket. He knew there was a rule against students using their powers

inside the buildings, but he could see no one as he glanced around the main

hall; deciding it was worth the risk, he flicked the lighter and drew the flame

into his palm, letting it twine around his fingers. The rainwater evaporated off

his hand as he held the flame, coaxing it into ever-brighter radiance./ppJohn Allerdyce, whose

friends knew him as Pyro, was one of the many "gifted" students at Doctor

Xavier's private school for exceptional children. His particular gift was

pyrokinetics, which of course was what had earned him the nickname, and the

"exceptional children" the school catered to were mutants – the next step

in the course of human evolution, the outcasts of society because of their

unique and sometimes dangerous abilities. Under Professor Xavier's care the

children were trained to use their powers wisely and well, and many stayed on at

the school after they graduated – several had even become teachers there

themselves./ppA loud snap echoed

through the grand hall, making John jump. His flame vanished in an instant as he

automatically hid his hands behind his back, looking around innocently and

hoping to hell that nobody had seen what he'd just done. A second snap

directed his attention to the foot of the main staircase, where an unfamiliar

girl sat, staring at her hands and looking very bored indeed. As he watched, she

snapped her fingers, and to his astonishment a small spark leapt from her

fingertips and kindled itself into a tiny fire in her palm./ppJohn gaped openly at

her. Shock and resentment fought for dominance within him; shock, because

Professor X had never told him there was another pyrokinetic in the school, and

resentment because this strange girl who was obviously at least two or three

years his junior had accomplished something he had never been able to – she

had icreated/i her own fire./pp"Hey!" he called

out. Her head snapped up and she stared at him as he strode across the hall

towards her. "Hey, how'd you do that?" he demanded./ppThe girl eyed him for

a very long moment before answering. She was small, quite slim, and looked about

fourteen or fifteen years old; her hair was long and curly, a deep shade of red

that contrasted sharply with her pale olive-toned skin and brilliantly green

eyes. Her thin lips twisted into a mischievous smile as she said, "Why ya

wanna know?"/ppJohn's temper

flared in an instant. Hadn't the day been bad enough without getting sassy

backtalk from a little girl? "Because I do," he growled. "You going to

tell me or not?"/ppShe cocked her head

to one side and her smirk widened. "Not, I think," she said sweetly, still

staring at him./ppFurious, John reacted

without thinking. His hand flew out and snatched at the fire she cupped in her

palm – and came away empty. His jaw dropped. The girl tipped her head back and

roared with laughter. "How'd you—" he sputtered, and then tried to touch

her flame again, more gently this time. Again, the fire fluttered under his

fingertips but was absolutely unaffected by the energy he poured into it./pp"Rhiannon!" A

voice that positively crackled with authority echoed down the stairwell./ppBoth John and the

little girl jumped guiltily; the girl leapt to her feet and extinguished the

flame in an instant. "Yes, Miss Munroe?" the girl said in a deceptively

innocent tone of voice, glancing up the stairs./ppOroro Munroe, known

to her students as Storm, came striding down the steps, eyeing the girl with an

expression halfway between amusement and disapproval. "You iknow/i the

rule about using powers indoors, Rhiannon," she said with gentle chastisement

in her tone./ppThe girl sighed.

"Yes, Miss Munroe," she said glumly./ppJohn gaped as the

image of the girl before him flickered and then, abruptly, vanished. In her

place stood a much older girl, at least his own age, with a round face and mousy

blonde hair that fell into her large blue-grey eyes. Storm nodded, satisfied./pp"And John," she

added, looking at him, "you should know better than to encourage her." He

opened his mouth to defend himself, but Storm was already walking away./ppThe girl turned

toward John, hanging her head. "'m sorry," she mumbled, addressing his

shoes instead of his face. "I didn't mean to make you so mad. I was only

messing around."/ppJohn blinked. He was

utterly unused to anyone iapologizing/i for their treatment of him, and,

caught off his guard, he felt his anger evaporate. "It's alright," he

said, still sounding slightly shocked. "I… look, who are you, and what

exactly just happened there?"/ppShe continued to talk

to his sneakers. "My name's Rhiannon," she sighed. "Rhiannon Graves.

I'm a photomanipulator."/pp"What, you mean,

like, you can mess around with people's pictures?"/ppShe shook her head.

"No, I mean I have the ability to manipulate light. Everything you see is just

a reflection of light off some atoms – I can change the light, change the way

it's reflected, make it seem a different color, that sort of thing. That's

why I looked different a moment ago."/pp"So you…" John

was having a difficult time wrapping his head around this one. "You're sort

of like a shapeshifter, then?"/pp"No." Rhiannon

shook her head again. "I can't manipulate atoms, I can only manipulate the

way the light reflects off those atoms. If you tried to touch anything I created

your hand'd just go right through it. It's like—" she paused as though

searching for a metaphor. "I had a photography class once, and my teacher was

always going on about how nothing we see is real. Everything is just a

reflection of light. We just take it for granted that because there are a

certain set of physical rules that govern the way we perceive that light, that

what we're seeing is really physically there. Me, I can warp those rules. Like

Professor X, you know, he can get inside people's minds and make them think

they're seeing things that aren't there, right? Or a shapeshifter could make

someone see something by taking on an actual physical form. But me, my powers

are halfway in between: they're not mental and they're not physical. I

change the way people perceive things without ever actually getting into their

heads." She sighed. "It's kind of hard to explain."/ppBut John was finally

nodding. "No, I think I get you," he said slowly. "So when I saw you

playing with that fire just now, it was only light being reflected in a way it

shouldn't have been. It wasn't really fire at all, and that's why I

couldn't use it."/pp"Exactly," she

said, then looked at him keenly, her eyes on his face for the first time.

"What d'you mean, you couldn't use it?"/ppGrinning broadly,

John glanced around to make sure there were no more teachers in the vicinity and

then clicked his lighter open. It sparked and flared up immediately, and he

pulled the flame into his palm, letting it spread over his fingers until it

looked as though his whole hand were on fire. He allowed it to burn for several

more seconds before clenching his fist and putting it out. "I'm

pyrokinetic," he said, pocketing his lighter once more./ppTo his surprise, he

found Rhiannon gazing at him with a quite rapt expression. "You can manipulate

fire?" she said breathlessly./pp"Yeah," he said,

his ego swelling a bit. Finally, here was someone who seemed to appreciate his

abilities! "I can't create it, though," he admitted bitterly. "The

Professor keeps telling me to 'accept the limitations of my abilities,'"

he mimicked, a snarl in his voice, "but I think he's trying to hold me back.

Doesn't want me burning down the school, or something." He rolled his eyes./pp"That is still iunbelievably/i

cool," Rhiannon breathed. She looked as though she were about to say something

else, but at that moment two more students came skidding down the hall toward

them, both sopping wet and laughing madly./pp"Rhi!" the girl

squealed, colliding with Rhiannon and almost knocking her over as she tried to

hide behind her. "Rhi, make him stop poking me!" she giggled./ppRhiannon laughed and

looked over at the tall white-haired boy who had slid to a halt in front of her.

"What the hell have you two been doing?" she asked him, grinning./pp"Nothing!" the

boy said, trying to look innocent and failing spectacularly./pp"Nothing,"

Rhiannon repeated, sounding as though she was trying valiantly to stifle a

snicker. Suddenly remembering that John was still there, she turned to him.

"Sorry, didn't mean to be rude. This is Nisse Winters," she said, pointing

to the Asian girl now peering over her shoulder, "and that's her boy-toy

Dante Williams."/pp"iBoy-toy?!/i"

Dante snapped. "I resent that!" When Rhiannon only smirked at him, he turned

to John and held out a hand. "They call me Diablos," he said./pp"I'm John,"

John said, shaking Dante's hand firmly and noticing that the boy was wearing

gloves. "How come you're Diablos?"/ppIt was Rhiannon who

answered. "Pray you never find out," she said emphatically, shivering./ppJohn raised an

eyebrow at Dante, but got no more explanation. "And what do they call you?"

he asked Nisse instead./pp"Angelis," she

replied. She stepped out from behind Rhiannon and moved close to Dante, who

slipped an arm around her waist./pp"Diablos and

Angelis," John repeated, looking back and forth between them. "Cute."/pp"Pure coincidence,

I assure you," Rhiannon said, rolling her eyes at her friends, who were both

grinning broadly. "Anyways, I've got to go – I promised this pair I'd

have lunch with them. I'll see you around, alright?"/pp"Yeah, sure,"

John said, nodding to her and waving as the three other teens turned away and

disappeared through a door. "Well," he said to no one, "that was…

bizarre."/ppPulling out his

lighter once more, he flicked it open and shut as he wandered off down the hall./p