"Yeah! He didn't have a codename until the moment the reporters asked
him for one!" Jamie laughed, eyes sparkling.
Bobby chuckled, shaking his head, and sipped white wine. Jamie, true
to what he'd said in the hotel room, wasn't drinking. "And then what
happened?" Bobby asked, setting his glass down and pretending to eat.
"The reporter asked and he blurted out 'Strong Guy!'" Jamie grinned,
rolling his eyes, and took a bite of chicken parmesan. "That was the
same day he announced to the world that 'mutant' was derogatory and
he wanted to be called 'genetically challenged.'"
Bobby laughed and shook his head. "Sounds like you guys have had
some fun times."
Jamie nodded, mouth full, and made random circles in the air with
"See, that's the problem with the X-Men," Bobby said. "We're always
out of there so fast, the media thinks we're the bad guys. I keep
telling Scott we need to stick around and answer questions or something,
but he just glares at me and says that's not what the X-Men are about.
I dunno. Seems like we should be about that, to me."
"Maybe Scott's camera shy," Jamie suggested, a twinkle in his brown
Bobby chuckled. "Possibly! God knows the man is shy in general. I
don't think I've ever seen him shower in the locker rooms. Explain
to me how someone can parade around town in skin-tight clothing that
shows off every contour -- and believe me, you haven't seen tight
until you've seen Scott's outfit -- but be shy around the people he
lives with? Heaven forbid we see him shirtless!"
Jamie was chuckling, nodding as he swallowed his food in a rush to
add something. "Rahne was the same way! I mean, she wears -- what?
A leotard? And then acts like if she so much as wears a short
skirt or short shorts she's going to sink through the earth!"
Bobby grinned, sitting back, happily watching the play of the light
across Jamie's shirt. The blue looked good on him, Bobby had decided.
And the fact that the shirt fairly clung to the other man, outlining
muscles on his chest and arms, had nothing to do with it, of course.
Jamie had been getting looks all night -- from both women and men
-- and the best part was that he was completely oblivious to it.
"And then there are people like Hank, who can run around in their
underwear and not feel self-conscious," Bobby said, keeping the conversation
going even though he was far more interested in watching Jamie. He
smiled, showing a flash of white teeth.
Jamie grinned in response, dimples knicking into his cheeks, and
nodded. "Lorna was like that after she lost wieght -- not that she
was ever fat. She and Alex shared a room and -- I swear to
God -- she would come out wearing Alex's dress shirts and underwear
and that was it. Drove Guido nuts."
Bobby's eyes sparkled in a silent laugh. "Not you, though?"
"It didn't drive you nuts?"
Jamie shrugged, making a face and shaking his head. "Nah. Not my
type. It's that green hair." He grinned impishly.
"How could you not fall for Lorna?!" Bobby cried, hand over his heart.
Jamie laughed, and the sound tickled Bobby's ears. "She was so beautiful!
A goddess among women! And then Alex stole her right out from under
"I'm sure you didn't get far enough with her to be under her," Jamie
murmured, a teasing gleam in his eyes.
"Oh! I'm wounded! The man doubts my suave-ness with women!"
"Is suave-ness a word?" Jamie asked in an undertone as Bobby continued.
"He thinks I couldn't have any woman I wanted! I could! I could,
I tell you! Just because every woman I've gone out with has dumped
me, and treated me like scum -- it's only because I let them!"
"It means nothing that my longest relationship was with a sycophant!
A narcissist! A woman so hated by my friends that Hank formed a group
called People Who Hate Opal Because She's Sucking Out Bobby's Heart!"
"Really?" Jamie laughed in disbelief.
"Oh yeah. They called it P-WHO-BS-SOBH for short."
Jamie took a minute trying to pronounce the word, then shook his
"Pea. Who. B.S. Sob."
Jamie laughed and repeated it.
"That's it! They had group meetings and everything!"
"Are you serious?" Jamie asked, eyes crinkling with laughter.
Bobby leaned forward, resting his chin on his hand. "Not at all.
Hank did form that group, and they did have group meetings, but he
was the only member. He even put a banner up with the initials for
when she came over. I told her it stood for People Who Hate Oppression
Based on Swimming and Sexual Obvious Biases."
Jamie laughed harder. "Does that even make sense?"
Bobby snorted. "It was Hank's club. It didn't have to make sense."
Jamie grinned hugely, dimples making canyons in his cheeks. "Your
friends seem nice."
Bobby nodded. "They're the best. Hank's always been there for me
-- even when I wasn't sure I wanted him there."
Jamie looked at him questioningly.
"Well ... like, when I first couldn't control my powers very well?
I'd hide in the woods if I iced up -- only then it was more like snowed
up -- and feel sorry for myself. I was so embarrassed. I mean, I was
fourteen and Jean was the closest to my age at sixteen, and they could
all control their powers." Bobby hesitated, then shook his head. "Well,
Scott couldn't. But he had those glasses that controlled them for
him. Anyway, I couldn't control my powers hardly at all, and I would
get upset with myself and spend hours in the woods, because I couldn't
un-snow. And I didn't want to tell anyone and seem like a baby." Bobby
smiled fondly, remembering. "And then, one day, Hank came looking
for me. He found me. I was so embarrassed and humiliated and angry
-- and I started to cry, which only made it worse. But all Hank did
was give me a hug--snow and all. I wanted him to leave but
I'm glad now he didn't. We must have sat out there, the two of us
together, for two or three hours. After that, whenever I went to the
woods Hank would follow me. He made it not such a big deal, and when
I stopped obsessing over it I found I was able to control it better."
Jamie smiled, leaning on his hand. "What a cool guy."
Bobby nodded. "Yeah. Hank's the best. But," he looked at Jamie mock-seriously,
"I'm the coolest."
Jamie snorted. "Right. And the Human Torch is the hottest. But I
am the..." He trailed off, obviously searching for a word.
"Sexiest?" Bobby supplied, grinning wickedly.
Jamie's brown eyes snapped up, his jaw dropping and face turning
almost purple with a blush. "I don't believe you just said that!"
"There's nothing wrong with that word," Bobby laughed. "Watch. Sexy.
Sexy. Sexy sexy sexy."
Jamie was still blushing. "No, not the word itself, but when -- I
mean, you can't--"
Bobby laughed. "I can't call you sexy? Sure I can. Watch." He cleared
his throat and leaned across the table until he was as close to Jamie
as he could get -- though Jamie had sat back in his chair. "You are
There -- that blush came back even stronger than before. "Don't do
that!" Jamie hissed, though he looked oddly pleased.
"Call you sexy? Okay. You're sexiful."
"Would you stop?!"
Jamie glared at him, eyes carrying a strange mixture of fright, uncertainty
(Of what? Bobby wondered) and an odd sort of tickled pleasure.
"Handsome? There must be one you'll accept." Bobby grinned. "I, for
instance, will accept it when someone calls me 'cute.' I know I'm
not handsome, but I am cute. I'm like the boy next door."
Jamie laughed, tensely, eyes flashing around the restaurant. "Um.
Okay. I'm not cute, though."
Bobby sat back and looked at Jamie squarely, wondering if the man
was just being modest or if he really believed that. Then those brown
eyes settled on Bobby, and beneath all the warring emotions Bobby
could see that Jamie really believed he wasn't cute.
"That is such shit," Bobby muttered. "Who told you you weren't cute?"
Jamie looked utterly stunned. "Well ... no one, I guess. I'm just
not. I mean, I see myself in the mirror and I see myself in
my dupes. I'm not cute."
"You have to let other people make that judgment," Bobby said as
the waiter arrived. He asked for the bill, and the waiter nodded and
disappeared. "We're going back to my hotel room, and finding a mirror,
and showing you that you're cute. At least cute. More like gorgeous."
The blush had returned. "We can't -- I mean, how would -- I. Ah.
Is that ... okay?"
Bobby smiled his most sincere smile. "Why wouldn't it be? It's wrong
to look in mirrors now?"
"No -- that's not--" Jamie stopped and smiled sickly at the waiter
who had arrived. He took the bill and paid for it with cash -- Bobby
wondered who in their right mind would carry that much cash around
-- then stood. "I should go. Forge is probably worried."
"He's probably in a conference, still," Bobby muttered. "You're coming
with me. If I have to, I'll wait until Hank gets home and have him
tell you you're cute."
Blush. That quick. Like a light switch, all you had to say was 'you'
and 'cute' in the same sentence and Jamie turned red. Bobby wondered
if it was because a man was saying it, and that wasn't normal,
or if it was an automatic reaction on Jamie's part because he didn't
think he was cute.
Bobby filled the ride back to his hotel with mindless pratter, sensing
with what he termed his Bobby Sense that Jamie was on overload. Jamie
was pretty silent, other than a few automatic quips and more stuttering
that he should go see Forge, which Bobby firmly overrode, knowing
that if he lost Jamie now the man would never see him again. He'd
pushed too far, and unless he did some massive soothing he was pretty
sure he'd scared Jamie away.
"Okay," Bobby said decisively, marching into the hotel room. "Where's
"This is really useless," Jamie muttered, shaking his head as his
blush (which Bobby had started to capitalize in his mind as Jamie's
Blush) crept up his neck.
Bobby planted Jamie in front of the bathroom mirror, then took the
black jacket away. "What do you see?"
"I see me," Jamie answered, looking forlornly from the mirror
to Bobby and back again. "Bobby, this is stupid."
Brown eyes met blue ones, and Bobby almost relented. "Uh uh," he
said, taking Jamie's face and making him look toward the mirror. "What
do you see?"
"Uh huh. That's a start. Are you fat?"
Jamie laughed unwillingly. "No."
"Are you all buff?" Bobby made a face and struck a muscle-man pose.
Jamie laughed. "Not really."
"What?! You're kidding, right?" Bobby grabbed the back of Jamie's
shirt and pulled it tight across the other man's chest, while Jamie
laughed in disbelief. "Look! Muscles! I see them, right there!" Bobby
announced, a laugh making his voice twitch. He pointed with one finger
to shoulder and pec muscles, then poked Jamie in the stomach and was
delighted to hear the other man screech with laughter and try to wiggle
out of the way.
Bobby laughed in return. "Stomach muscles! Look at those tummy muscles
tighten when you laugh!" and he poked Jamie again, as Jamie twisted
away and backed off.
"Don't tickle me!" he cried, laughing, clutching his stomach protectively.
"Admit you're gorgeous!"
"But I'm not!" Jamie answered.
Bobby looked with utter horror at his fingertips. "Uh oh," he said,
looking up with wide eyes at Jamie. His fingers twitched. "My tickle
fingers are getting itchy!"
"What?" Jamie laughed, watching Bobby somewhat warily.
"I can't control them!" Bobby cried, and lunged at Jamie as though
his hands were dragging him. He tickled Jamie's neck so the man would
move his arms, and when he did Bobby dove for that obviously vulnerable
"Stop it!" Jamie laughed, tears running down his face as he squirmed
"Admit you're gorgeous! Then maybe my tickle fingers will stop!"
Bobby cried as though he really had no control.
"I'm gorgeous!" Jamie cried between gasps of laughter.
Bobby stopped tickling him, and Jamie slid down the side of the wall,
Bobby knelt, feeling his bad knee protest.
When Jamie finally caught his breath again he wiped the tears from
his face and looked back up at Bobby. His eyes weren't filled with
laughter anymore; lurking solemnity chasing some of it out. "But,
Bobby, just because you tickle me doesn't mean I'm cute."
Bobby wanted to hit whoever'd given Jamie that idea. It wasn't something
people picked up by themselves, though it also didn't have to be told
flat out to be instilled. "You are, though," he answered.
Jamie laughed almost ruefully, a single gust of air that disguised
itself as a chuckle. "Okay. Fine."
Yup. Definite pain for whoever had left Jamie with that impression.
Bobby sighed and leaned back against the cupboards below the sink.
"When did your powers first come out?" he asked, changing the subject.
Jamie smiled and rolled his eyes. "Know how doctors slap babies to
make them breathe?"
"My dupe fell and hit his head on the floor."
Bobby's eyebrows rose. "Really?"
Jamie nodded. "Yeah. My dad was a scientist and made a suit so that
I wouldn't keep making dupes, and no one told me about it until my
parents died and the suit ripped." Jamie rolled his eyes and shook
his head. "I have to admit, it was a lot easier to run the farm with
so many dupes, but it took me forever to figure out I could reabsorb
them! I was terrified. Didn't know what was wrong with me. I'd led
a really sheltered life, and didn't know much about mutants."
Bobby cringed. "That must have been hard."
"How long were you on the farm for after your parents died?"
Jamie lifted one shoulder in a shrug. "I don't know. A while."
"And then this woman found you?"
"Yeah. Sue. She took me to Moira, and that's where I found out about
X-Factor and everything."
Bobby nodded, them smiled warmly. "I'm glad you did. I'm having a
Jamie's Blush turned his neck red, and he nodded. "Me too."
Bobby stood up slowly, then finger-brushed his hair and glanced in
the mirror. "I'm having a really good time," he said to his reflection.
He turned, looking down at the still-sitting Jamie. "We look too good
to stay in," Bobby said, though he didn't really feel that
cute. It had the desired affect, though. Jamie laughed. "We should
go ... to a bar, or a club or something. Out."
Jamie cocked his head. "Seriously?"
"Yeah. C'mon. I've only got a few more days in Washington -- I wanna
do something fun." Bobby grinned brightly and held his hand
out for Jamie, who took it and hauled himself up.
"Okay," Jamie said, smiling. His dimples creased, eyes looking up
at Bobby from beneath dark brown brows.
Bobby grinned some more.
Bobby rested his head on his hand and watched Jamie make his way
through the throngs of people. A woman "invited" him to dance, bumping
up against Jamie's back. Jamie glanced back at her, smiling slightly,
and continued forward with his and Bobby's drinks.
He was graceful. Never did he hit someone he didn't mean to, just
sliding carefully out of the way, avoiding contact, drinks held in
his hands. Jamie broke into a grin as he stopped at Bobby's table,
setting the drinks down. "One unidentifiable drink, and mine."
"Thanks," Bobby said, smiling as Jamie slid into the bench seat on
the other side of the round glass table. Bobby sipped his drink, letting
it slide Coldly down his throat. The music was so loud he could barely
hear anything, and the flashing lights (Didn't that go out with
Disco?) made his eyes ache with an I-know-something's-wrong-but-I'm-not-sure-what
A woman came to their table, cheeks pink with laughter, eyes dancing
and slightly clouded, as if she'd had a bit too much to drink. Curly
blonde hair swung over her shoulder as she almost fell across the
table, breathless. "Hi!" she shouted.
"Hi," Bobby answered, watching with some amusement (and a twinge
of jealousy) as she turned a bedazzling smile on Jamie.
"You want to dance?"
"No, thanks, I don't dance," Jamie answered, shaking his head and
smiling warmly, taking the sting out of the rejection.
"I'll teach you," the woman declared, and almost fell into Jamie's
lap. Bobby laughed at the almost panicked look on Jamie's face.
"Uh, no, thanks," Jamie stuttered, arms held slightly out as though
he didn't know if he should hold the woman up (though her arms around
his neck were doing a good job of that) or not touch her.
"It'll be fun!"
Jamie's eyes held uncertain panic as he looked up at Bobby.
Bobby sat his drink down, leaning over the table and smiling. "He
really doesn't dance."
The woman wasn't to be put off.
"Everyone dances! Why else come to a club? Come, dance. Both of you.
We'll all dance!"
A red blush was sneaking its way up Jamie's neck.
"Okay!" Bobby chirped, seeing the woman wasn't going to go away anytime
soon -- and, besides, he'd be able to see Jamie move. Moving was good.
Bobby bounced to his feet, pulling the woman to hers, looking without
mercy at Jamie as Jamie's dark brown eyes looked up at him pleadingly.
"I don't dance," Jamie said, quieter.
"No one will be able to tell," Bobby answered, taking Jamie's hand
and pulling upward.
"I'll hold the table," Jamie suggested with a hopeful smile.
"Our drinks will hold it," Bobby said, smiling and tugging harder.
Jamie came up slowly, followed Bobby and the woman onto the dance
It didn't take very long for Bobby to convince Jamie that he wasn't
the worst dancer. Jamie laughed as Bobby made a fool of himself, head
banging and Disco-dancing to the hard, almost angry sounding music.
Jamie loosened up, dark eyes seeming to devour Bobby as Bobby started
to dance normally. Blue eyes watched, interested, as Jamie mimicked
his every movement, intent on not looking foolish. Dark blue silk
glistened in the flickering light, sliding over smooth muscles. Jamie
tossed his head, flinging hair out of his eyes, and laughed nervously
as the woman tugged him away slightly to dance more with her than
Bobby stayed within easy view, seeing quickly that Jamie really wasn't
certain how to dance and giving him a model to draw from. Bobby couldn't
dance as well as some people, but he wasn't bad. He raised his arms
above his head, happy to see Jamie do the same, watching avidly as
blue silk flattened and caressed against Jamie's long torso.
Very graceful. Flowing. The blue looked like water, shining in the
light, shivering with each twist of motion. Twin pools of brown watched
Bobby closely, and looked more intent than they needed to. Brown hair
fell in a lean face, was tossed out again, glowing in the dimness
(and when had the club started to seem dim?).
"That's my girlfriend, asswipe!" someone snarled, heard even above
Muscles slid, body moving rapidly, silk flattening to a defined chest.
A different arm, brawny and large and entirely uncouth next to Jamie's
grace, sliced through the air where Jamie's head had been.
Jamie twisted, came up, started to duck even as Bobby forced his
way through the crowd. The next fist connected, and suddenly people
were shoved out of the way as there were not one, but two Jamies.
"Shit," Bobby muttered as the second Jamie blinked and looked at
him, fear already set into deep brown eyes. "Jamie!"
The first Jamie was hit again, split into another two. Someone screamed
as they realized Jamie had actually split into two people.
And there were three Jamies.
"James!" Bobby shouldered someone out of the way, made the floor
slick with ice beneath the blond, brawny man's feet, and grabbed the
first Jamie by his shirt, pulling him through the crowd. The dupes
disappeared as they passed them, reabsorbed.
Bobby pulled Jamie toward the door, laughing and cursing and running
before the brawny man could regain his feet and come after them.
They were out in the night, the music gone, the heat of bodies dissipated,
leaving them on a freezing street beneath a star-filled sky. "C'mon,"
Bobby laughed, and saw his breath puff out in the chilled air.
Then they were running, running for no real reason because no one
was following them, but the Cold air in Bobby's lungs felt so good,
and Jamie was beside him, hobbling, laughing, striking at his arms
with long, slender hands, trying to get Bobby's attention.
Finally, panting, grinning, Bobby stumbled to a stop and looked at
Jamie, whose eyes sparkled without a trace of any shadow.
"I left my jacket!" Jamie cried, laughing, dimples creasing in his
cheeks, hair in his face.
Bobby put his hands on his knees, breathing hard, then reached up
and brushed a lock of thick brown hair out of deep brown eyes. "You
want to go back and get it?"
Jamie was still smiling. "Nah." The hair fell back in his face. Starlight
softened his features, cast shadows that covered much of his skin.
"Let's go back. It's cold out here!"
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