Disclaimer: Characters = not mine. See Marvel and Fox for details.
Notes: My thanks to notthatlucky for looking this over.

Zippo in Hand

When John was twelve, he set the garage on fire.

It was an accident, but either way his parents weren't pleased. Didn't they tell him not to play with fire? Thank god the car was at the shop and oh my god, was he smoking? John said he wasn't. That was something, at least. Their son may be a junior arsonist, but at least he wasn't a smoker.

They grounded him.


It started at school.

Science class. Bunsen burners. So it went.

Nate Molloy was the biggest kid in seventh grade. John was not. Current circumstances rendered this a problem. John could see his death certificate flashing before his eyes. Cause of death: Nate Molloy.

The circumstances came about from Nate coercing John to do the science homework for him. John didn't know why. He certainly wasn't the smartest kid in class. Still, it was difficult saying no to Nate Molloy, especially with your elbow twisted behind your back and your face three inches from the toilet bowl.

During any other circumstances, he would have fought back. No one pushed St. John Allerdyce around. This was a rule he quickly established when middle school began. John knew how to fight. He just preferred not to fight with Nate Molloy, or any other Cro-Magnons of similar girth.

The F's were not unexpected. The teacher talked to them after class and told them how disappointed she was to have cheaters in her class. Correct answers are good, but the process is more important. Did they understand?

Nate, being Nate, said, "How did you know?"

Handwriting. Apparently, John's block letters were different from Nate's usual chicken scratches.

Cause of death: inflexible penmanship.

Nate was going to pound him.

John was so not looking forward to the end-of-school bell.

And now, back to science class.

"You're only given a limited amount of peptidase," said the teacher. "So please follow the procedure and don't be wasteful."

A podgy finger poked into John's back.

"You look stupid in those goggles," Nate whispered, though he was wearing identical lab goggles. "Really stupid," he added, when John didn't respond.

John only stared at the Bunsen burner flame. What people like Nate Molloy had to realise was that it was the brawn that did the intimidating, not the brain. Displays like this only chipped away at any respect he might have held for Nate, but Nate would probably slug his teeth out if John said anything.

The poking had stopped, but now there was the kicking of his chair and a droning "Stupid goggles… stupid goggles… stupid goggles…"

His mother told him to ignore idiots like Nate Molloy. "Just concentrate on something else," she suggested. "If you talk back, you'll only encourage them."

"Stupid goggles, stupid goggles, stupid goggles…"

Stare at flame, stare at flame, stare at flame…

"Stupid goggles… stupid goggles… I'm going to kill you after school."

Flare. That's what the flame did, and left burn marks on the ceiling in a bout of over-enthusiasm. Screaming ensued.

"St. John!" the teacher shouted. "What did I tell the class about mucking around with the Bunsen burners?"

"I didn't!" he sputtered.

"Don't lie to me, Allerdyce."

John stumbled through his own confused excuse until he figured out that spending the afternoon in the safety of detention would be nicer than being pounded in the schoolyard. He owned up. Detention was assigned. Score. Maybe by tomorrow Nate would find someone else's skull to crush.

"I saw," said his lab partner, shortly after the class began their labs. "You didn't even touch the Bunsen burner."

John's reply was a flustered "Pshaw" and a dismissive wave of his hand. At the wave, the fire flared again (not as large as before) and singed Kara's hair. She blanched, too shocked to say anything. John did the same. He held his breath, waiting for Kara to scream or panic or something.

She didn't, which John supposed was a good thing. It was also slightly disappointing.

The teacher, helping someone in the first row, didn't see a thing. Kara moved as far away from John as she could while effectively remaining his lab partner, and continued her work. John looked around to check if anybody else had seen. Nobody else seemed to, unless they were pretending.

So that was him controlling the fire? This, John decided, required a full-fledged investigation.

This, as it turned out, explained why the Allerdyces didn't have a garage anymore.


On the first night of grounding, John went to the kitchen for a soda and got this instead:

"…but what if he's a mutant, Paul?"

"Don't be ridiculous. For God's sake, he can't be."

"I saw him—"

"Jesus Christ, I can't believe we're—"

"I saw him, Paul! I saw John in here this afternoon, and the stove was—"

"Julia, would you listen to yourself?!"

"—and the fire was in his hands—on his hands—and he didn't even flinch. Paul, he smiled."

Out in the darkened hall, John smiled. It was just for verification. Yup, that was how he smiled this afternoon. He had been juggling balls of fire. That was definitely something to smile about, especially since he didn't how to juggle before today. Never mind that it was his mind and not his hand-eye coordination that was moving the fireballs.

"They've already got mutant problems in New York, Paul. What if?"

"But this isn't New York. And this is our son."

The first thing John did when he returned sodaless to his room was look up mutant in the dictionary.

Then he looked up gene, although he had a vague idea of what it meant. He recognised the word from the science course syllabus. They were supposed to study it next term.

When he came across chromosome and nucleotide, however, John decided that was enough of that.

Sitting up in bed, John tried to make his own fire. That'd be cool. He'd never have to complain about cold food again. And was it only his hands that could control the fire? Or could he set, say, his head on fire as well?

Setting his head on fire would be very cool.

A few minutes of fruitless grunting and hand-waving revealed that generating fire wasn't part of the deal. He reached under his pillow and took out his dad's lighter. A Zippo. His dad had a collection of them and John wondered how long it would be until he noticed this one was missing.

Click open.

He collected the flames in his hand, watching them trace the lines on his palm. He didn't know much about palmistry, about whether it was supposed to tell your future or fortune or whether it was just these weird squiggles everyone was making too much hoo-hah about. But if that stuff was true, then John thought things were looking pretty good. Future and fortune and life written in fire on his skin.

Click close.