TITLE: Zah-mah-ki-bo

AUTHOR: Kuria Dalmatia

CHARACTERS/PAIRING: Pre-X1, St. John, Scott and Jean

SUMMARY: Just how did St. John end up at the Mansion?

RATING: R, profanity and sexual situations

WORD COUNT: ~5,500

ARCHIVING: My LJ only & FFNet only.

Feedback always welcome.

DISCLAIMER: Marvel owns the X-Men, 20th Century Fox owns the movie. Kurt Vonnegut owns Cat's Cradle. Salut! I just took them out to play and I promise put them back when I'm done. I'm not making any profit just trying to get these images out of my head.

SERIES: An "unofficial" prequel to The Fundamental Difference of Experience series, although you don't have to be familiar with the series to enjoy this. The installments are archived at .

COMMENTS:

Zah-mah-ki-bo is from the Vonnegut novel Cat's Cradle.

Original concept November 2004. Draft finished April 2005. Revised August-November 2007. Originally posted November 2007.

Unbetaed. All mistakes are mine.

***/*** Minus Three ***/***

St. John adjusts the books cradled under his arm, making sure that the hardcopy of Great Expectations can be clearly seen. He's read it twice but not because it's his favorite but it helps pass the time. Dickens is a paid-by-the-word hack in his opinion, but the book plays to the "Can you spare some cash because I'm just a student who forgot my lunch money" angle.

It takes him a few minutes to spot today's potential target: a man and woman who just met up with each other. They're only a block away. The guy wears a black trench, which makes him seem cooler than he has any right to be, and red shades, which is odd given how overcast it is. He's holding a map and the woman next to him points to it. She's taller than him and her hair is a few shades warmer than the red of his glasses. A gust of wind makes her long coat flutter, revealing her knee-length, pencil skirt. The guy wears faded jeans.

Interesting.

They're too mismatched to be tourists. She's the professional. Maybe she's meeting her guy for lunch and she has just selected the restaurant.

Maybe you should get a life instead of scripting theirs, St. John's mind taunts but the thought kicks him into gear. His hair is greasier than usual, but he's able to smooth it back into something respectable. There's a private school a few blocks away and his Salvation Army tie and jacket match the school colors. St. John's white button down shirt has a yellowish tinge but the navy blazer hides the tear in the sleeve and the stained armpits.

The costume isn't perfect, but it works. Pity combined with semi-respectability means more money.

St. John breaks into a run in their direction, adding credence to his "I'm late for class, please spare some change" spiel. He slows up as he approaches, skidding to a stop a few steps past the guy. Both look up.

St. John directs his desperate, pleading look at the guy. He's learned that appealing to the guy generates the best results because the woman almost always prods the guys to open his wallet. St. John says his lines with just enough, "Hey, help me out because you're a guy too" in his voice to earn a sympathetic smile from the woman.

The guy quirks an eyebrow, his girl cajoles him a little, and then the guy reaches for his wallet. St. John flashes a grateful smile, noticing just how beautiful the woman is. She's obviously got the money and the social class, while her guy seems to be a few steps down. The grease under the guy's fingernails is a dead giveaway, but also means he'll probably shell out a few extra bucks just to prove he's not cheap.

The woman asks St. John a question about the book and he answers. She then asks him if he likes Dickens. He holds back the "if it gets me more money from people like you, then yes". Instead, he shrugs and says, "It's required reading."

That earns a snort from the guy, who hands him $10.

It's more than St. John expects; usually, he's lucky if he gets two bucks. It's enough money for St. John to wash his meager stash of clothes, stock up on ramen noodles and beans, and splurge on some fresh fruit.

He thanks them. She then asks where the sushi restaurant is and St. John knows instantly that the guy wants no part of a raw fish lunch. The thought of honest to God protein makes St. John's stomach rumble, but he forces a polite smile and a casual shoulder shrug.

"Two blocks down, on the left," he tells them and hears the guy suppress a sigh. It triggers sympathy, which is weird because St. John has trained himself to be indifferent. Maybe it's the $10 that's inspiring the kindness. "But around here, Ampollini's Bistro is the place to go." He points down the street. "The Saltimbocca Alla Romana is killer."

The woman turns to the direction he's indicated and the guy flashes a brilliant smile at him, but it's charming yet sharp, appreciative yet knowing. In that instant, St. John realizes the guy is on to his scam, but it doesn't stop the guy from slipping St. John another $10.

St. John pockets the bill and dashes away, convincing himself he didn't hear the woman's offer to join them for lunch.