Disclaimer: the X-Men movieverse does not belong to me. Neither do the lyrics to "Cold, Cold Heart." Nobody can claim ownership over Ryan, though.

As I have previously stated, this a sequel. Go back and read "Silent Spirit", if you haven't read it before, before you read this any further. Even though familiar characters do not appear in this chapter, they will later.
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"You getting on, son?"

I blinked in surprise, even though I HAD been sitting at a bus stop. Four in the morning is not the usual time for people to board buses. The only reason I was there was to sit down on the bench and eat a pastry that I'd bought from a convenience store. "I'm sorry sir," I replied as politely as I could, "I don't have enough money. Just sitting here, sir."

The bus driver gave me a knowing nod. He appeared unusually genial for that time of day, with laugh wrinkles imprinted in his cocoa-colored skin. On his head was a dark blue baseball cap, which he adjusted as he spoke. "You're welcome to ride all the same, if you like. If you board, the fee will be on me. If not, that's fine too."

I thought for a moment. Like any other kid I'd been warned not to accept rides from strangers, but I was rebelling anyhow, what was one more act of defiance? Besides, he was a bus driver, and I had never been told to not ride on buses, even though this one didn't have anyone else riding it. At that point I was also extremely tired and a lift would have been nice. "Thanks. Just let me get my stuff in," I said, lugging my backpack, suitcase, and guitar case up the steps.

"What's your name, kid, and where do you want to go?" asked the driver as he steered the vehicle through the quiet streets. "Call me Jeff. Sir makes me feel old, even though I appreciate politeness."

"Central Station. My name's Ryan Steve-no-Ryan Sing." To explain the correction, I said, "I'm adopted, and my foster parents' last name is Stevens. But my real last name is Sing. I've used Stevens for years, but now I've decided that my old name fits me better." Which it did, especially the Asian sound to it, which suited my ancestors' Eastern origins.

"Central Station is fine. It's my home base, actually. I was going there in the first place. Did you run away, Ryan?" asked the bus driver nonchalantly, as if asking my age or grade. I didn't say anything, so he continued, "Don't worry, I won't tell. I was a runaway myself once. I pick teens up regularly. Leaving home is quite common nowadays."

I relaxed again. Something in his voice made me feel that he was being honest. "Dad and I had another argument. About the sixtieth one, probably. I decided I'd do better without him." Then I stopped, wondering if I was saying too much.

"Everyone I meet has a story, Ryan, and I've heard plenty of them. I may be a stranger, but most psychiatrists and therapists are too. Lots of kids need someone to listen to 'em. I don't tell anyone what they say, and I won't criticize. Trust me, I know what it's like." He continued on for a while, telling me about his experiences running away from home, finding a job at a restaurant, then eventually becoming a bus driver. In the meantime he had married and had two kids, both little girls. "Your turn," he finished.

My mind was a bursting fountain that needed an outlet, and the invitation triggered the words. I left out locations and names as a precaution, so that everything I said would be of no use to anyone who wasn't genuinely interested in my problems. I felt that it would be okay to tell a man with a similar story.

"I ran away because Dad and I always fight. Mom takes his side. We fight over my grades, my friends, my girlfriends, my hobbies, what colleges to apply to, etc. According to him, I'm never good, athletic, hardworking, or smart enough. And Mom treats me like a dumb five-year-old, checking on everything," I moaned. "I've graduated from high school already, for goodness' sake! I'm seventeen!"

"What made you decide to finally leave?"

I sighed. "I wanted to go to a music school. I'm really good with the guitar, and I can sing too. Dad thought it was a bad ambition." I imitated his exasperated voice. "'Ryan, barely anyone makes it into big time. And the ones who do are parasites, lazy bums that leech off the population and care only about publicity. Do something useful, like being a doctor.'" I grimaced. "Even if I don't become a star, I'd rather play in a hotel than do what he wants me to. Now I know why God never gave children to those two."

The sun was now rising, turning the summer sky pink and blue. "Lovely, isn't it?" commented Jeff as he drove. "I see it every morning, and I'm still not tired of it. What happened to your real parents?"

"My mother died from birth complications, having my younger sister. My sister and father died in a fire," I answered.

"Tough, kid, tough. Do you miss them?"

"I don't remember them. I don't even know what they looked like. The pictures were all burnt up."

"How old were you?" Jeff asked quietly.

Oh dear, I thought. I'd hoped to avoid explaining this yet again. "I was seven. Yeah, sounds weird, doesn't it? Kids are supposed to remember their lives from age three onwards, right? Well, I don't." Telling people this always made me angry. Not at the listener, but angry at fate, angry at life for wiping out memories of my former existence. "To save me, my dad apparently dropped me out of the second-floor window to get me away from the smoke before he died. I woke up in the hospital. I knew what two plus two equaled, I knew how to tie my shoes, I knew the stuff kids that age are supposed to know. But I couldn't remember my name or anything about myself."

"You're pretty mad."

"Are you a mind-reader or something?" He didn't reply, so I said, "Yes. I am. Because I get flashes of my old life when I'm dreaming, and they're happy. Always happy dreams, that I forget as soon as I wake up, except for the feeling of being loved. My foster parents disciplined me properly, gave me enough healthy food, made sure I went to bed early and all that, but they never were affectionate. I think they adopted me just so that they'd impress the neighbors or something. Dad was running for mayor at the time, so I guess he was trying to make a good reputation for himself. Then he tried to live through me, have me do what he'd missed out on. But I didn't want to. In my dreams, though, I don't feel pressured. So I think it's really unfair that I can't remember that time, because I have a nagging feeling that it was the best part of my life, the part that I've lost."

Jeff shook his head sympathetically. "Did you forget just because of being hit on the head?"

"That's the weird part. The doctors say that usually amnesia from head injuries makes you forget everything, not just your identity. I've gone to a therapist. She said it was probably a mixture of the injury, and my subconscious repressing the memories that makes me unable to remember my early childhood. I thought she was right, but she didn't have any success in digging them up, so I stopped going to her." I didn't just think she was right, I knew she had been right, though I didn't want to admit it. For all my nightmares were full of fire, screams, and fear. I would nearly suffocate, then the floor would drop open under me, and I'd fall for miles and crash, then wake up. I had never told anyone about these nightmares.

"So what are you planning to do now?"

"I've been saving up for a ticket to New York City, since New York's the closest state to here. Lots of people, so my foster parents won't find me. An old friend of mine moved to New York two years ago, and he says I can stay with him for a while. I'll wait tables or something, until I get a chance to start playing my music."

"Sounds like a good plan," agreed Jeff. Then he asked, "Incidentally, do you happen to be a mutant?"

"No!" I exclaimed, repulsed at the idea. "Of course not. Why would you think so?"

"Chill, Ryan. It's all right. I wouldn't have cared if you were."

"What?" I asked incredulously. "But...they're awful! Wouldn't you be worried? I mean, they kill people so easily..."

"I pick up paying passengers and teens who can't pay, but need a ride. Doesn't make any difference to me what they're genes are."

If he weren't such a nice guy I would have told him that he was insane. But if I had, and he'd asked why I thought so, I'd have to tell him about Crystal, which would have hurt too much. Our conversation was stifled, and there was a long silence.

Presently, Jeff asked, "Mind if I turn on the radio? I usually listen to oldies."

"I don't mind." Actually, I secretly enjoyed old songs. They were fun to play and sing.

He turned a few knobs, commenting, "This station plays songs from the 90's about this time in the morning. I was around your age back then." A quiet female voice came on. This was not the first time I had heard this song, nor the last. The lyrics washed over me soothingly.

[I've tried so hard my dear to show that you're my every dream.

Yet you're afraid each thing I do is just some evil scheme.

A memory from your lonesome past keeps us so far apart.

Why can't I free your doubtful mind and melt your cold, cold heart?

Another love before my time made your heart sad and blue.

And so my heart is paying now for things I didn't do.

In anger unkind words I said that make the teardrops start.

Why can't I free your doubtful mind and melt your cold, cold heart?

Another love before my time made your heart sad and blue.

And now I know your heart is shackled to a memory.

The more I learn to care for you, the more we drift apart.

Why can't I free your doubtful mind and melt your cold, cold heart?]

Sometime after the song I ended up sleeping for a while, since I had been walking all night. Jeff woke me up when we reached the station. "Thanks a million," I said.

"No problem. Good luck, Ryan." He paused. "Oh, and by the way, are you planning on any specific bus?"

"No." I gathered my stuff together as I spoke.

"Well, I would personally recommend number 87. It runs straight from here to New York State, stopping at several different cities and a few towns. NYC is the seventh stop. Though it takes a while, it tends to be cheaper than the rest. But don't miss it, because that driver won't take excuses. You probably wouldn't want to be marooned in Westchester County, the last stop. There's only a tiny town there, and that bus drops people off near a private school that's miles away from it. Other than that, it's a good route. If you caught the next one you'd get there around 2 AM tomorrow."

He shook my hand as I walked past him. For the first time, I got a good look at his face. At first it seemed that his eyes were a brilliant green. That's impossible, I told myself. African-Americans don't have green eyes, unless they're wearing contacts. I decided that he either had contacts or it was weird lighting that made them look like that. There was no way a mutant would be that nice, I thought.