"Why does he hate Berlin?" John asked, making himself ignore the crack.
"He doesn't like Germans."
"Why doesn't he like Germans?"
She shrugged. That didn't mean she didn't know. It just meant she didn't feel like telling him.
Mystique had pissed him off pretty often with that shrug, but that time, John didn't get mad. The truth was, he didn't like Berlin very much, either.
In Berlin, you got yelled at a lot. Always some dumb rule, and the cop--or, hell, some little old lady--would point at the sign where, he guessed, it had been written down and lecture him about it. Not that he understood the sign or the lecture, but it was really annoying anyway. His old prep school had taught him Latin, not German. Too bad they couldn't be hiding out in ancient Rome.
All the kids his age spoke English, of course, but Magneto had told him not to make friends. Humans were for using, not getting attached to. He thought he'd hated having all the little kids constantly running around at Xavier's, but. At least you had someone you could talk to. Sometimes Marie and Bobby hadn't been so bad.
Pyro broke the rules, of course. Hooked up with some kids at the clubs. They thought it was kind of cool he was American. They taught him bits of German, how to get around, how to duck the cops--useful stuff Magneto couldn't possibly complain about. It was even easier to get cigs and booze there than at Dalton. The music was kind of gay, but whatever.
Magneto didn't say anything when he came home late, though, which kind of killed the buzz. And it got pretty tired, pretty fast, having to lie about...everything. His "uncle," why he wasn't in school, where he was from, the little fact that he could singe your eyebrows off if you made him mad. He was on the edge of at least telling one of the girls, who looked a little like Marie, that he was actually a runaway. Then there was a bombing in Iraq, and U.S. planes hit sites in Iran in retaliation.
Suddenly, it wasn't so cool to be an American anymore. The guys weren't actually nasty, and probably in a few days they would've gotten over it, but...
John set a fire at their favorite club. Only in the trash cans in the alley out back, and during the day. It hardly even delayed the opening that night an hour.
"Humans are always looking for a group to turn on in times of trouble," Magneto commented the next morning, even though John hadn't told him anything, and that was the end of that.
Not too long after, he sat in a chair at the Internet cafe, tapping a finger on the mouse. Mystique had shown him the anonymizer services, how to get in touch with people without leaving a trail. She was crouched a few terminals away, frowning as she typed, a perfect geek girl with short spiky bright red hair, an Invader Zim T-shirt, and dogtags around her neck. She was trying to get together some of the people Magneto called "associates," and that was all she'd tell him.
He wanted to write an email to Bobby. Maybe he could get him to send his stuff somewhere he could pick it up...sometime. If he could figure out what to say.
John clicked around until he hit the site he was looking for. Xavier's school had one, of course--part of the cover. Just like the site for Dalton, or any of the other schools he'd been kicked out of. A game of ultimate frisbee, a sunlit grassy quad, quiet wood-paneled hallways. But none of the students in these pictures actually went to the school. He snorted. No clues there.
"Let's go, John," Mystique said. She was looking out into the street, at a couple of cops loitering by the door.
John closed the window. What the hell. He'd left on a good exit line. Might as well stick with it.
It was mostly kids' stuff at Xavier's, anyway.
It sucked that Magneto was still making him study. John had figured that when you ran away with international mutant terrorists, that really wouldn't be an issue anymore, but no. Of course, it was a little different than Xavier's, with Magneto just sitting across the table with his piercing blue eyes and asking him question after question about what he thought about the book of the week, just not letting up until John was ready to wing it right at him.
He'd done that once, in fact, when Magneto had been poking holes in his argument that might made right. Erik had batted it back into his face with a twitch of his eyebrows. "It seems to me you have two options here, Pyro," he'd drawled, amused, as John rubbed his head. "Either accept the counterargument or get better at hitting people."
Professor Xavier had never whacked him with a book in class. But at least Magneto seemed to actually want to hear what John was thinking. John had felt like he was always saying the wrong thing in the Professor's classes--things that would make the rest of the class look at him funny and the Professor himself mutter "Hmm" and then hastily change the subject. To think he might be able to get the right answer...that was new.
And there was other stuff that was more fun. At Xavier's it had been all about hiding your powers, not being noticed, escaping when you had to. Magneto took him into situations, asked him how he'd control them. Who might be a threat, how to keep an eye on entrances and exits, how long it might take for the authorities to get there. Just when John thought he'd got it figured out, Magneto would do something like tap the top of his head, hard. "Did you account for hostiles on the ceiling?"
"No. People don't usually stand on the ceiling, you know."
"People don't. Our kind does. For quite a while, I had an associate named Toad..."
There was fighting, too, in the big empty room on the second floor. Magneto out of his expensive suits into warm-up clothes, circling around, surprisingly light on his feet. "I'm teaching you this against my better judgment, Pyro."
"What?" He was hardly listening. He couldn't wait for his chance to kick a little ass, and he was sure he could take Magneto this way, if no other way in the whole wide world.
"Only a fool engages in hand-to-hand combat when his power works at a distance. Take...Wolverine. Given a few unprepared seconds at close quarters, he could turn me into mincemeat. Whereas, from a distance, I can toss him about like a puppet."
"But you can't always tell what's going to happen. The night they came to the mansion..." He trailed off. The night he'd realized that it was all an illusion, that all the Professor's money and X-Men's powers couldn't keep them safe.
Magneto nodded, and there was a slight softening around his eyes. "Precisely. But if you allow some teenage rush of testosterone to tempt you into a fight unnecessarily, don't look to me to mop up the pools of your blood."
"Okay, okay. Can we just fight now?"
"Very well. Come on."
John grinned and lunged. And promptly found himself on his back. "Ow," he gasped.
Magneto grinned back. "I suspect I'm being underestimated."
John flushed. "I just didn't get my footing..."
After he'd been thrown the fifth time, Magneto inquired courteously, standing above him, "Should I have the floors resurfaced? Velcro, perhaps?"
He rolled his eyes. And then kicked Magneto's feet out from under him.
He laughed, and John felt a giddy rush. "Good! Cheating! I like it."
John scrambled to his feet, then offered Magneto a hand up. As Magneto rose, the sleeve fell away from his arm. It was lean and strong and not like an old guy's at all...and John saw numbers tattooed in blue on the inside of his forearm.
Which, fuck. Whatever certain people might think, he wasn't stupid. John blinked, and looked away. No wonder Magneto didn't like Germans. In fact, it explained a lot.
"Round two?" he offered, after one of those awkward pauses he hated so much.
Magneto flexed his shoulders like nothing had happened. John could respect that. "Certainly."
"Magneto was in the Holocaust?"
Mystique looked up from her lunch. "Why do you care?"
"I just wanted to know."
"Curiosity killed the cat."
"Why do you get to know and I don't?" he demanded.
The shrug again. "Because I don't have to ask."
Mystique really didn't like him. When she was around, she taught him weapons and tactics, but she wasn't around much, which was just as well. Once you got used to the blue, you realized she was a hot chick. And not just a hot chick, but a hot chick who went around naked all the time.
Oh, yeah, his dick had a good time with that one. He knew better than to stare, but alone in his room nights...that was another story. He had thought it was bad with Marie and Dr. Grey and Miss Munroe around, but this was a whole new level of not getting any. Especially when sometimes at night he could hear things thump or rattle upstairs. Too easy to close his eyes and suck on his fingers and jerk himself off, imagining all kinds of things going on up there.
He didn't think Mystique was always a girl, for one thing. He'd come across the two of them one night after they'd had gone out to the opera, leaving him to wander the streets. It was raining hard. Magneto was holding an umbrella over them both in an alley, bending to kiss her in the crook of his arm. At first he'd just been surprised how much she looked like a guy, her same height, but in a pinstripe suit and fedora and short, very dark red hair, and then he realized she was a guy.
He tried not to think about that when he was jerking off, but it didn't always work. Like trying not to think of Bobby and Marie.
One day, they took the train to Geneva. It was weird, watching Magneto and Mystique blend in with the rich people in the first-class compartment. They could've passed at one of his mom's best dinner parties. It wasn't very hard to play his part: fidgety kid. Ten hours on the train. It wasn't fair that the dullest parts came right before the excitement.
Mystique had cased the bank a couple weeks earlier. She knocked out the guard, then took his position as Magneto popped the locks and turned the elaborate security systems off. Pyro went with him. It was his first crime on purpose, and he was nervous, but it all went smoothly. Magneto took care of most of it--it wasn't like a vault presented a lot of challenges to the master of magnetism. It was really something, actually, watching him stroll through this fortress of modern high technology and just make it all his without even lifting a finger. Pyro did get to do his part, too--burn through a couple of barriers that weren't metal. He filled his backpack with thousand-mark bills while Magneto collected the precious metals, and off they went.
Except that the street was crawling with cops--they'd had crappy luck, as they found out later. The guard's girlfriend had tried calling him, and when she couldn't get him, she'd called the police. Pyro was glad for the mask and the costume. He was even gladder when Magneto had turned to him and said, "Perhaps a distraction is in order?"
Outside Bobby's house had been the first time he'd ever really been able to cut loose. This time, there was no Marie grabbing his ankle to stop him. He could just let the flame flow through him, wave after wave, sheets that brought the cops to a halt and set building after building on fire. It was some truly fucking amazing devastation they left behind as Magneto flew them off. Better than an action movie. Hell, his life was better than an action movie now.
It was all over the papers the next day. Magneto came in with his usual armful of German papers and an International Herald-Tribune for Pyro. "I thought you might like a souvenir," he said, smiling.
"How about a raise in my allowance?"
"Don't get cocky."
He read the paper in his room. It was pretty damn cool to be "an elusive, highly-dangerous mutant terrorist." There weren't any pictures, though--Magneto had seen to that. Pyro was almost sorry.
When he hit the part about three cops dead, he was sorry. For a minute. Then he told himself: cops. They were the same everywhere. They wanted to lock them up, do things to them--he'd heard about what they did to Nightcrawler and Magneto--maybe even kill them. Nobody was going to put a tattoo on his arm. It was a war, and they'd picked the wrong side. Too bad.
On his birthday, two weeks later, he tried calling his mom. Nothing but voicemail. She was probably out at a social function, preferably one that involved lots of social drinking. He hung up, frustrated, then picked up the phone again and called the school. As the phone rang, he hoped that one of the kids would answer the phone--anyone but one of the teachers, who'd want to ask a bunch of boring questions. He was in luck; Artie got it. He wasn't even sure Artie knew who he was. Or what the phone did, for that matter.
He'd asked for Marie, but of course Bobby had to come instead. "John."
"Hey." Bobby's voice was flat.
"What's going on?"
"Not much. Some new kids at the school."
"Oh. How's...I mean, everybody's good, right?"
"As good as they can be, considering."
Bobby sounded mad, which didn't make sense. "Considering...?"
"Considering Dr. Grey's dead. What did you think I meant?"
Shit. She'd always been nice. A little stuck-up, but nice. "When did it happen?"
"The day you went off with your new friends."
"Hey! Nobody told me."
"At least I'm learning things. I don't need to hide behind the X-Men anymore."
"Whatever. Look...John...why did you even call?"
"Fucked if I know. And it's Pyro."
He hung up.
Magneto was reading the paper in an armchair in his room. John walked in without knocking. "Yes?"
"Why didn't you tell me about Dr. Grey?"
"I thought you already knew. And I didn't think you particularly cared." Magneto gave him a critical look. "Do you?"
He was breathing too fast. "We don't belong to any country. Any laws. Any people. We can do whatever we want, right?"
"Of course. If we want to end up in a cell, or dead, where we can't do anything at all."
"You know what I mean. Everybody hates us, so why play by their stupid rules?"
Magneto got serious. "Yes. We are free, Pyro."
"Prove it," he said, and kissed him.
Magneto stiffened, and for a second John felt it, something catching hold of his watch, belt-buckle, boot-buckles, pulling him back. Then he relaxed, and his hand slid over John's waist. "Certainly."
And it was easier than he'd thought it would be with a girl. Magneto knew what to do, and--fuck. It was good, and it was over too soon, and he lay there afterwards, wondering if this meant he had left the other kids behind for good.
He turned his head and Magneto was looking at him. A little differently, yeah. "Don't--don't tell Mystique," John said.
Magneto touched his wrist. Already, there was so much space between them again. "This is a harder life than the others lead."
He rolled over and looked at the ceiling. "Yeah. I'm getting that."
"Pyro. You're doing splendidly."
It made an achy hot bloom in his chest. "Yeah. Maybe."