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

ARCHIVING: My LJ only & FFNet only.

Feedback always welcome.


Three days ago, St. John fled from the homeless shelter where he had been propositioned six times. Half were in exchange for drugs and half by Sal, a pimp who promised to put St. John up in an apartment. Each time, St. John turned him down but made sure he kept his tone neutral yet curious. Storms raged for five days straight and he did not want to be out in it, especially since a cold snap hit. Of course, Sal didn't take the last rejection well and lunged at him. St. John had quickly escaped before the older man could get a hold on him.

Now, St. John sits on a bus stop bench, the overhang sheltering him from the worst of the downpour. He's cold and miserable, wondering what possessed him to declare New York City as his home for the past six months. He knows that he doesn't want to spend a winter here but doesn't have enough cash to travel to a warmer climate.

He hasn't slept all that much, paranoid that Sal and his thugs put a bounty on his head even though he's on the other side of the city. St. John knows he could use his powers to defend himself, but isn't sure just what kind of attention that would attract. If he does manage to take out Sal and his gang, he should be heralded as a hero yet he is positive the media will spin it into yet "another mutie attack".

St. John checks the bus schedule again, frustrated that it will be another thirty minutes before he one he wants will arrive. It's mid-afternoon so the bus fare will only be $2, which is all the cash he has. It will only take two transfers to get to the Christian shelter he's stayed at before. The head honchos insist on a crapload of prayers, but it's the safest of the ones he's been to. He hopes they don't remember him from last time and call family services.

He reaches into his duffle, carefully pulling out the American Gods novel he's wrapped in a plastic grocery bag to keep it dry. He values it more than he should. Maybe it's the inscription on the inside cover.

Jean, When you want to take a break from JAMA. Love, Scott

St. John has already scripted their lives. High class, society babe Jean falls for wrong-side-of-the-tracks Scott and they secretly meet three times a week in various parts of New York City. They cycle through the places, never the same one twice in a row, so that Jean's society friends don't catch on. Scott wears the shades and the trench to give off that "movie star" look to help conceal his true identity.

Scott's a mechanic specializing in high-end import cars and works the early shift. They met when Jean had car trouble and the dealership had dispatched Scott with the tow truck. At the repair shop, he offered her coffee that he had made before he had left. She had been amazed that a simple cup of joe with powdered creamer tasted far better than any Venti Espresso Macchiato with Soy she'd ever had.

Jean tries to broaden Scott's palate with sushi and fusion cuisine. Scott shows her the finer points of diners. Scott develops a taste for cheese flights paired with imported beers while Jean gladly takes extra spin classes to work off the calories from Mama Jones' Southern fried chicken with smashed potatoes and country gravy.

Scott takes the money he's been saving to restore the rusted '67 Mustang Fastback garaged at his brother's and buys Jean an engagement ring. The stone is small and the setting is simple—a far cry from the jewelry she usually favors—but he knows it will suit her. They meet in Central Park where he drops on one knee and proposes. Scott sings softly, "Take my hand, we'll make it, I swear" even though it's utterly cheesetastic. It's one of her favorite songs. She gasps and then cries, "Yes!"

They haven't told their respective families. They don't want to give up the thrill of a secret romance just yet.

St. John shakes himself out of the story, knowing the whole thing is stupid. It's a dorky and clichéd romance, but it gives him something to focus on. Still, he wouldn't mind being Scott with the crappy apartment that Jean would try to renovate into something more acceptable to her tastes. It would be a roof over St. John's head and a steady income. Having Jean as his girlfriend would simply be icing on the cake. Hell, having Scott as a boyfriend would be just as good.

He returns his attention to the novel, which is okay, although St. John had the whole "who is which god" thing figured out pretty early on. It isn't as good as Vonnegut but beats the hell out of Dickens and Hawthorne.

St. John is starving, but knows that the shelter serves meals promptly at six. He can last that long. He reads to distract himself; he flips to Chapter Twelve and finds where he left off this morning, occasionally glancing around.

The fourth bus that vomits passengers has a rather large crowd exiting both doors. They huddle under the shelter as they pop open their umbrellas. A few glare at him—he's taking up valuable dry space—but he knows the $2 bus fare he has tucked in his pocket will satisfy any cop they sic on him. Their retaliation is to press further into the shelter.

A fat woman moves so that her floral-covered ass knocks his book and he quickly pulls it in. Her perfume is overwhelming and he wonders if he should tell her that the ghastly scent she's bathed herself in doesn't mask her BO. Instead, he cuts a well-timed, loud and particularly foul fart. He has their attention, but he continues to blithely read even though the smell is thoroughly rank. Two straight days of beans and ramen noodles never does him any favors in the gas department.

The crowd mutters variations of "rude" and "manners" and "street trash". Still, they move away, taking advantage of the brief pause in the rain and the fresh air.

St. John glances up to see which of the morons are still left.

He nearly drops the book when he sees Red Shades Guy—Scott, his mind corrects—is sitting on the other end of the bench, dressed in his black trench and ball cap. Panic wells up as St. John looks around wildly for the best way to escape. He is in the corner with his back against the Plexiglas and the only route is straight ahead, through the people he pissed off and to the street busy with traffic.

Terror bubbles up as his efforts to seem calm dissipate. St. John glances up to the schedule and notes the next bus isn't scheduled to arrive for four minutes. Fucking great. The crowd is in his favor, he tells himself, because Red Shades Guy wouldn't dare try something with so many witnesses.

Wrong. A 7-11 sealed container with sandwich is now between them. Roast beef and Swiss. St. John's stomach growls loudly, much to his mortification.

Still, he knows this is more than coincidence. This is the fourth time in three weeks that he's crossed paths with either him or Jean. They have the uncanny ability to find him, even when he's moved across town. They can't work for Sal, because St. John has only had to deal with that asshole for the past four days.

Yet, they're after him. Specifically. St. John knows that without a doubt. He forces his breathing to be even. Hyperventilating won't do him a damn bit of good. He quickly runs through the list of people who would be chasing after him.

Child services? Nope. They don't play mind-fuck games. They get the cops to haul kids in.

Undercover police? Maybe. It doesn't explain the cat-and-mouse game though unless they don't want him to know for whom they work.

Mutie hunters? Perhaps. However, St. John is very careful about using his powers in public and never discloses them. He's heard the rumors about mutant kids being sold off for experiments.

It's the final thought that causes him to belch, bile searing his throat as his grip on the book tightens. Mafia. His father must have really fucked up to get multiple families to work together.

Being a bit dramatic? It's been two years since you left your old man. What use would they have for street trash? Like your dad gives a shit about you, his mind scolds. The time in Phoenix proved that point, when an enforcer threatened to kill St. John if his dad didn't pay. His dad had waved the intimidation off and St. John earned a switchblade scar.

He tries his best to be nonchalant about closing the book and wrapping it back in the plastic bag. He places it on the bench next to the sandwich container. Maybe the guys just wants the book back. Doubtful. Really doubtful. But it is all St. John has.

Red Shades Guy then says quietly, "You're a smart kid."

St. John tenses and then almost laughs. It's a crappy pickup line and he's surprised that the guy would be so obvious about it.

"Dickens. Vonnegut..." continues Red Shades Guy. His tone is even, as if he's used to situations like this. The older guy smiles a bit as he adds, "Although Gaiman's graphic novels are better than his books, in my honest opinion." The man then moves the sandwich container so that it's on top of the book and pushes both a little towards St. John.

St. John can't keep his eyes off the sandwich; hunger mauls his common sense. He calculates how fast he can grab it. How quickly he can get out into the crowd. How he can disappear. A group of tourists suddenly block the sidewalk in both directions.

Red Shades Guy lets out a sigh. He reaches into his pocket and pulls out his wallet.

St. John's terror turns to anger. Fucker wants a blow, but why be so public? It contradicts Red Shades Guy's declaration that one time about statutory rape. Yet, St. John's stomach rumbles again and he then quickly decides how much he'll ask to perform various services. He's got a few condoms in one of his pockets. Perhaps he can earn a few extra hours in a warm, dry place because Scott—Red. Shades. Guy. his mind shouts—seems like the type of guy to rent a room somewhere.

"Hear me out, okay?" Red Shades Guy asks as he places a business card on top of the 7-11 sandwich. Raindrops on the plastic makes it stick.

St. John quickly reads the text: Scott Summers, BS. Asst. Head Master. Xavier School for Gifted Youngsters. 1407 Greymalkin Lane, Westchester, NY. One call to the cops and the guy is busted for solicitation. A charge like that means the end of his career. Easy. Surely, Red Shades Guy realizes that.

Then again, Red Shades Guy knows St. John won't go to the police. Bastard.

Red Shades Guy's tone is calm yet frank. "Like I said, you're smart. You're fast. But you're what? Fifteen? You know as well as I do that there's someone else out here smarter and faster than you, with a hell of lot more allies. Pretty soon, you're going to be in a really crappy situation that you can't get out of. Even worse? You've got a month or two before the weather really starts to get dicey. That's when you're prime meat for the gangs and pimps. Things you'd thought you'd never do, you'll be doing just to have something to eat and a warm place to sleep."

Like take up with you? St. John wants to sneer but he keeps his mouth shut. He only has to wait two more minutes until the bus arrives.

He drags his gaze to Red Shades Guy's face. It's then St. John sees that the shades aren't really traditional sunglasses. It's a funky contraption with a slit runs across the front and metal that covers the ears. Weird. Sci-fi scary weird.

St. John stares. He knows his mouth probably has dropped open because the guy quirks a smile. Red Shades Guy then stage-whispers, "You're not the only one," before tapping the contraption on his face.

Mutant? St. John wants to be sarcastic, to say that he knows he's not the only mutie on the planet. He's not stupid. He reads the newspaper business people routinely discard on the benches. He does crossword puzzles to pass the time. He's not willing to admit that he has never actually met another mutant though. He slips his hand into his pocket, fishes for a Bic, and palms it. Slowly, like he has done so many times before, he moves his hand to his side.

Red Shades Guy remains expressionless, but shifts his body to face St. John more, one booted foot pointing at St. John's lighter-clutching hand. Then, Red Shades Guy casually props his elbow against the top of the bench and places his fingers against the metal covering his ear. His index finger makes a lazy half circle.

St. John swears he hears clicking, like Red Shades Guy is dialing the side of his head.

"Do you really want to get into a pissing contest?" Red Shades Guy asks quietly, but this time there is no humor in his voice. It has that authoritative tone from the incident in the alley; it is more intimidating than the Red Shades Guy's words.

St. John remembers watching those poker and blackjack games that his father played. He recalls his father's explanation of tells and body language. He knows that, despite his father's declarations that he could read anyone like a book, the elder Allerdyce couldn't tell if someone was bluffing even if they held a sign up saying stating as much.

St. John, however, can read people to some extent and he's been right more than he's been wrong. Red Shades Guy pose may seem casual, but he's ready to kick St. John's ass in more the one way. There's the foot that can potentially knock the lighter out of St. John's hand and then there's whatever that eye-gear is keeping in check.

Set eyes to "cook".

Wouldn't that be embarrassing? Two years on the streets deftly avoiding gangs, cops and pimps only to be fried by a guy with Superman's heat vision.

"You can walk right now if you want," Red Shades Guy continues. "Take the book. Take the sandwich. You can go back to running your school boy scam." He pauses and then nods slightly, "Clever, by the way…I mean that as a compliment. But you and I know it won't work when winter hits. The weather here can be quite nasty."

Finally, St. John finds his voice. "Trying to save me from being another statistic?" He tries for sarcastic, but his voice is shaky and then breaks on the last word. His thumb finds the wheel of the Bic. If the son of a bitch laughs, St. John will toast him, consequences be damned.

Red Shades Guy tilts his head toward St. John's hand, index finger still on the earpiece. "You're already a statistic," he says tonelessly.

The bluntness hits St. John hard, searing him to the core worse than anything Red Shades Guy could shoot out of that eye contraption.

Homeless. Penniless. Jobless. Runaway. Teenager. Occasional hustler. Probably a 5 on the Kinsey Scale. Child of an abusive alcoholic with gambling addiction.


"Some you're stuck with. Gender. Hair color. Skin color. Genetics," Red Shade Guys slightly emphasizes the last word and nods towards St. John's fist again. "As for some others? Well, you can either choose what they will be or have them chosen for you. It's up to you."

The sudden, loud hiss of air breaks startles St. John. He looks up and sees the bus that he's been waiting for stopped in front of him. A bunch of people are waiting to get on board, impatiently tapping their feet and shifting because the departing passengers are slow to exit. It's going to be a very crowded ride.

"We've been around for a long time. Look us up at the library," Red Shades Guy tells him as he smoothly gets to his feet, trench coat fluttering. The noises around St. John seem to fade so that he can only hear his voice. "It's a boarding school. Plain and simple. You'll have your own bed, clothing, a shower... three meals a day. The only catch is that you do your homework and follow the rules. Nothing else. No strings."

A black sedan pulls up to the curb behind the bus. St. John looks over and sees Jean at the wheel. A memory tickles at him and he realizes it was the same black sedan from the second time St. John ran into Red Shades Guy—Scott Summers he corrects himself.

"Think about it," Summers says and then points to the business card still stuck on the sandwich box cellophane. "My cell number is on the back and my phone is always on. It doesn't matter what time it is or where you are. If you're interested, call." Then, he turns and walks towards the car.

Between swipes of the wiper blades, St. John makes out Jean's expression: sad and worried, as if she's just received bad news. She looks away as she thumps the steering wheel. St. John checks the bus; ten people are still waiting to board. A young black woman with two strollers struggles to get them down the stairs but no one helps; the passengers barely part wide enough for her maneuver. By her clothing, St. John knows she's a hooker.

"How many?" St. John suddenly asks. Summers stops, turns, and quirks an eyebrow, so he clarifies, "How many students?"

"For this semester, you'd be the thirty-third," he answers. "We had four graduates last year."

"What about tuition?" he fires back, because he distinctly heard "boarding school" and he knows that requires some kind of payment. "Let me guess: hands and knees."

"Academic scholarships," Summers responds bluntly but doesn't sound offended.

The young woman finally gets the two strollers off the bus. Only three passengers wait to board; the skinny kid with a skateboard argues with the driver about his bus pass.

Another memory flashes: the second time he ran into Summers. "John! Wait!" Jean had called to him. It doesn't register that she'd used his name until just now. St. John demands, "How do you know who I am?"

Summers briefly grins. "A psychic told me."

He wants to shout bullshit, but doesn't. He watches as Summers resumes casual his trek to the sedan. A flash of lightening followed a clap of thunder are the only warnings before the sudden downpour. The woman with two strollers rushes into the bus shelter, her babies wailing.

St. John grabs the sandwich box and peels off the card. He flips it over, wondering if the guy really did write a number down. But, the water on the cellophane caused the green ink to bleed, rendering the numbers unrecognizable. He stands as he watches Summers reach for the handle and open the door. The guy is in no hurry, as if used to getting rained on.

St. John knows this will be the last time they'd make the effort to track him down. For most, making the same effort four times is three too many.

Which statistic does he want to be? He tells himself that security cameras are everywhere and Summers has been talking to him for over five minutes. There are plenty of witnesses.

Zah-mah-ki-bo, St. John's mind suddenly whispers. Vonnegut defined the word as "inevitable destiny". In that instant, he realizes that it's now or never.

He grabs the book and, along with the packaged sandwich, stuffs them into his duffle. He closes it and the dashes towards the sedan, raining soaking his clothes instantly. Heart pounding and hands shaking, St. John opens the passenger rear door and climbs in. There's a blanket folded on the other seat, so he puts his duffle on the floor behind the driver.

As he shuts the door, he hears Summers declare, "Damn storm."

Meal ticket, St. John tells himself. Meal ticket.

/ Finis /