I've not been
reading the X-Men for a while, so I thought best to describe my story as being set in an
alternate timeline. Historians out there, don't flame me! And hey, I love mail! E-mail
your comments to: email@example.com.
"Why, this is hell, nor am I out of it."
(Doctor Faustus, Christopher Marlowe)
Bobby woke up with a jerk that sent pain coursing through his wounded arm. He sat still, breathing between clenched teeth, partly to assuage the pain and partly to capture the remnants of a dream slipping through the sieve of his morning consciousness.
There was tantalising quality in it that he could not put a name to and he could feel its sweet aftertaste on his awareness. A flavour that had coloured his otherwise pain-filled night; akin to the scent of a departing - his eyes lit on Emma's sleeping form and stayed there for a long time.
Bobby approached her position slowly, cradling his arm close to his body. There was something familiar to the sight in front of him. His eyes fell on the spill of blonde hair that drew a veil across her sculpted features, the white of her teeth against the red of her slightly parted lips and finally, those unique eyelashes, auburn near her eyelids, suffusing through every length to become a pale gold flush at the tips.
An unnatural exhilaration drew a shiver from him and he lost his train-of-thought entirely. Bobby turned away, started. Was that another sign of the physic remnants she had left in his mind or - was it more?
This was not the best way to start a new day, he decided even if wretchedness proved to be his only lot before night fell. It was better to concentrate on those injuries instead. He was surprisingly clear-headed. Despite - Emma's caution, he thought he might not have a concussion after all. In fact, he realised the only problem was his dislocated arm.
Bobby felt his swollen limb tenderly, checking for the direction of the protruding joint. He had often watched his best friend Hank, set joints for X-Men who injured themselves on missions. The remedy looked simple to him; basically, it required a lot of strength and a sense of the direction in which the limb had to be knocked towards. It's now or never, he thought as he positioned his arm against the wall. Holding his breath and making a mental countdown, Bobby slammed his whole weight into the wall.
A loud crack resounded. Pain exploded the air from his lungs and he howled, shattering the silence with such intensity that he brought Emma waking up with a scream. He had to count every breath he took in those few seconds that she needed to remember where she was.
She demanded irately: "What was that for?"
Mentally crossing his fingers, Bobby began flexing the joint gingerly. It felt fine, at least for the time being, and he announced that he had fixed his arm temporarily.
For a while, Emma looked at him uncomprehendingly, not making the connection. Then an incredulous expression filled her face.
"I never thought of you as a masochist."
He grinned back. "Two can play at the game."
Bobby berated himself as soon as those words escaped his mouth. Why the hell did he say that for? He really had no intentions to reiterate yesterday's quarrel and frantically, he threw at her the next thought that came into his mind.
"I'll promise not to tell anyone you screamed."
Ouch, that was worse. But Bobby was surprised when Emma simply gave a start and kept quiet, leaving him to decide for himself if that had been another one of her sore spots.
This was before he realised that she had worn his coat to sleep.
It was oversized on her; the garment simply hung on her shoulders, contrasting oddly with the figure-hugging attire she had on beneath. He was he mused, at all probability, one of the privileged few to see such a rare sight of her so early in the morning. Emma saw the direction of his gaze. She looked away and made a deliberate move of returning the article of clothing to him.
He accepted it back wordlessly, to reduce the embarrassment between them even though the morning was still rather cold. Bobby noticed that part of her cotton sleeve was missing and realised that she had tore it off to wipe his wounds. Wisely, he kept quiet and their fragile peace lapsed into a becomingly familiar silence.
They sat on opposite sides of the room, facing each other; both wrapped up in their own thoughts. Reaching a hand to touch his own face, Bobby encountered the roughness of a night's stubble over his cheeks and felt his stomach beginning to growl from the lack of food. A notion came cursorily to his mind: Creed trying to torture them through starvation.
He gave free rein to his thoughts and watched numbly as they landed into a now-accustomed rut. Once again, his mind ran over the images of his father lying there in the hospital but when his mind ran to the end of that sequence, new images took over. There was a new furrow on that scar - last night's confrontation with Creed.
Bobby did not feel proud at the recollection although he remembered handling himself well. But there was no remorse either, only an emptiness that spoke of what-ifs and what-might-have-been. He gave voluntary voice to those thoughts and was surprised by the slow but gradual cessation of an ache he thought he would never be rid off.
The words were mouthed tentatively, seeking permission to lighten his burden through their release.
"...A hundred miles, a hundred miles... Lord, I'm five hundred miles away from home..."
But slowly and surely, the wavering acquired through singing so softly subsided and his voice rose in clarity and depth; every new note birthed in the wake of its fading neighbour heightening the sense of loss in the song.
"...If you miss the train I'm on, you will know that I am gone. You can hear the whistle blow a hundred miles... ... "
His father had sung that song during the sweltering nights in the jungles of North Vietnam, when no soldier could be sure if they would ever return home to their families alive. Now, recalling that fact, the connections finally snapped into place. The song's original message of longing bridged his remembrance of his father clearly for the first time.
Bobby turned away. It was unusual enough that he had opened himself up for a possible flank attack, he did not want Emma to see his reaction as well. Let the scathing comments come, he could take them.
"I didn't know your tastes extended to root music."
"Dad used to sing them to me when I was a kid. Didn't think of remembering them till now. Maybe that's why it's too late -"
"You have a good voice..."
"It's never too late, Bobby. You remembered - that is your father's legacy. And it's one that you'd be proud, I'm sure, to pass on to your children someday."
He had to be surprised. She spoke all this awkwardly as if the concepts were alien to her social makeup. But the words were rare, coming from her and that earnest delivery, rarer still. Bobby carefully stored both away for future use.
Emma's next words recalled him back. She was staring into space, her voice almost inaudible.
"I used to play that on the piano when I was a child."
"You learned music?"
"I could play the violin too," there was an assertion of pride in her quiet voice. "A long time ago. I was thirteen when I stopped. When the voices started -"
She stopped, suddenly aware that she might have said too much. The weight of the anticipated words hung in the air. Bobby was frustrated; he wanted to hear more when the pay-and-tell criterion cropped up again. She was fascinating him more than she ever did in all their years of acquaintance.
"Sitting here 's got me thinking." Bobby tried to resume the conversation with a new resolve. He was now equipped with an understanding he never knew existed before. Somehow their relationship had proceeded beyond antagonistic boundaries.
" It's funny - how I don't feel so strongly against anyone anymore. Even Creed, but that's much harder. But I'm thinking; why do we always think of ourselves as being only mutants? I mean, look at me; stuck here, trashed up, lost my powers and suddenly I'm feeling more human than anything else."
Emma turned around; she was surprised at the direction of the subject but when she spoke out, it was not to rebuke him.
"I can never enjoy being helpless. I can't empathise with you. I gave up many things, many things Robert, for what I am and who I've become."
"I know," he assented. "But that's not the point. And trust me, I know what you mean. You weren't the one beaten up - "
"Do you really know? Did you think it was fun for me to watch?"
"Hey..." Bobby said softly into the sudden hush following her words. "What I'm trying to say is, I cared so much about being an X-Man that I forgot all about my role as a son. The arguments I had with my dad were on nothing but my being a mutant. It was like we've forgotten the times when I was a kid, when he and mom would take me to the fairs, beaches and things like that.
"Worse; I even let Dad to be pulled into my own mess. Since then, I've done nothing but rail against people like Creed, the FOH, mutant-haters, thinking all the time that they were my real problem. But everything boils down to the fact - all this could've been prevented if I'd just remember that there's more to life than running around in a superhero costume.
"Who knows," he shrugged lightly, careful of his shoulder. "Maybe if I've learnt that earlier, Opal wouldn't have left me and my father wouldn't have died."
Silence answered Bobby and he had to wonder what he had hoped to achieve with that speech. He was rewarded, finally.
"I envy you."
There was a stark look on her face.
"I envy anyone with the space in their lives for such noble gestures."
"We make that space, Emma." He told her gently.
She shook her head.
"That philosophy falls through more often than you think."
Bobby could find no words to rebuke that. He looked hard at the floor, respecting her outlook. Maybe there was something Emma might have said in return, something more about herself at that moment. Bobby could only curse inwardly as a key jangled in the lock, announcing another appearance by their captor.
His anger at Creed's timing died suddenly when the door swung opened and he recognised the mutant who was lounging casually beside the mutant-hater.