Bobby smiled up at Jean as she made the pasta bowl hover before him so he could get some. His blue eyes slid quickly to the empty seat beside him--where Jamie was *supposed* to be sitting. "I'll be right back," he'd said just before they were going into dinner, and then disappeared. That was ten minutes ago.
Bobby tried to make his shoulders relax, but discovered it was impossible. After finding Jamie so depressed just a few weeks ago, he'd been fighting the urge to try and protect the other man from everything.
Bobby looked toward the door again, craning his neck to see down the hall, ignoring the voices that talked merrily--and loudly--around him.
~You want me to see if I can locate him?~ a soft, yellow voice said into his mind.
*No,* Bobby thought back. *I'm just worrying needlessly, I'm sure.*
He felt the nod, and Jean's presence retreated.
"Ain't that right, Bobby?" someone asked to his right, nudging him.
Bobby nodded automatically, though his eyes didn't leave the door. A slender shape suddenly appeared in the hall, brown trenchcoat billowing out as he walked. Bobby smiled and stood, watching.
"Hey, Jamie," Bobby said as Jamie walked in, smiling in a self-depreciating way to the others in the room. Bobby grinned, feeling the anxiousness in his eyes and unable to erase it. "I was starting to think you weren't gonna make it," he said, the words only partially kidding.
Jamie looked up at Bobby then, warm brown eyes still filled with nervousness. "'Course I came," he murmured as he sat down at the table, Bobby sitting next to him and an empty chair on the other side. "These are your friends."
"Have some spaghetti, Jamie," Jean offered, floating the pot in front of him.
"Thanks," he said, smiling up at her where she sat near the head of the table, catty-corner to Scott, who sat at the very top. Bobby watched as Jamie blinked and glanced around, looking at each person. Bobby cocked his head, following Jamie's gaze, wondering what he was thinking. There was Jamie, then Bobby. Then Ororo and Jean, Scott sat next at the head of the table. Logan sat across from Jean, then Warren, Betsy, Sam across from Jamie, Remy, Rogue at the far end of the table, and the empty chair where Hank sat occasionally. Which brought him full circle, back around to Jamie. Jamie looked slightly daunted at the sheer number of people--though they were currently low on members.
"You okay?" Bobby asked softly as he watched Jamie spoon white noodles onto his plate. "You look a little pale."
"I'm fine," Jamie answered, smiling before scooping up the sauce Jean offered.
"Are you sure?"
"*Bobby,*" Jamie sighed, smiling to take the reprimand out of the word.
"Right. Sorry. I just worry," Bobby answered, turning back to his plate, though he was still focused on Jamie.
"Jamie, that's Betsy," Jean introduced, pitching her mind and voice to cut through the noise so everyone could hear. "And next to her is Remy."
Remy nodded, giving a small flourish with his fork, and continued eating.
"That's Rogue at the end of the table, there. Guys, this is Jamie Madrox."
"He whom Bobby talks about incessantly," Warren said dryly, a twinkle in his blue eyes.
Jamie blushed and looked at Bobby.
Bobby shrugged. "What can I say? You're a good topic," he murmured loud enough for Jamie to hear.
"Hey, Jamie, try the potato salad," Sam said from across the table, passing a ceramic bowl over.
Jamie took it with a smile--a smile that was half the voltage Bobby had *seen* Jamie use before--and spooned some onto his plate. "Looks... interesting," Jamie said after a moment.
"Ah know," Sam answered, "but it really is good."
"Provided you like eating mold cultures from outer space," Bobby murmured.
"Robert!" Jean called, and a spoon flew through the air and smacked him in the head. "Be nice!"
"I was! I was!" Bobby cried, rubbing his temple and making faces at Jean. More unused silverware flew from the kitchen into the dining room and pelted Bobby, though it seemed to carefully avoid hitting anyone else.
"Jean!" Bobby yelped, covering his head. "Uncle! Uncle!" The silverware flew itself back into the kitchen.
Bobby sighed and glanced over at Jamie. The flying silverware hadn't seemed to bother him in the slightest; in fact, he was still eating and talking to Sam. Bobby shook his head. Normally, people reacted at least a little to Jean's use of her telekinetics. Then Bobby smiled, as he remembered Jamie had been on a team with Polaris, Mistress of Magnetism. Of *course* flying silverware didn't phase Jamie.
"We grew mostly crops," Sam was saying, spearing potato chunks with his fork.
"That's cool. We had a few crops--not much. My dad was actually a scientist, so he did all that scientist-y sort of stuff. My mom had chickens and cows, and a garden. On occasion my dad would try and grow larger crops, but he always got involved in an experiment halfway through and let them all die."
Sam laughed ruefully and shook his head. "'Course, in New Mexico there ain't much to grow. It's too hot an' dry."
Jamie nodded his agreement. "Mostly, it's a lot of cows and rodeos."
Bobby cocked his head. "Did you go to rodeos, Jamie?" he asked curiously.
Jamie nodded and shrugged. "A few, before they died."
Bobby didn't bother asking who 'they' were. He knew Jamie wasn't referring to the rodeos dying, and made a mental note to talk to Jamie alone before they retired for the night. Bobby had discovered that when Jamie was stressed, he never referred to his parents as dying--it was always 'they.' Maybe he would ask Hank about that later. Speaking of which... "Anyone seen Hank?" Bobby asked, glancing around the table.
"In his lab," Jean answered swiftly. "I already called him, but he's busy. Ororo set aside food for him, if you'd like to take it down later."
Bobby nodded. "Provided he doesn't show up."
"He skips dinner a lot?" Jamie asked, looking at Bobby out of earnest brown eyes.
Bobby looked heavenward and nodded. "All the time. We just make it a point to feed him on occasion. It's become a running joke now--someone has to go into the basement and feed the Beast." Bobby grinned and winked.
Jamie collapsed on his bed, facedown, and moaned into the bedspread.
The bedspread, though it didn't say anything in return, sympathized.
Achingly, Jamie turned his head toward the clock. It was nine thirty. Really too early to go to bed yet. And he wasn't actually tired--especially since the jet lag made him feel more like it was about six thirty.
But the alternative was to go face more X-Men. Oh, they were nice enough. But just the stress of being around them made him tense. Feeling like at any moment they would condemn him because he couldn't control his powers (and since when had that happened? He didn't *have* the Legacy Virus anymore!), or because he was gay, or just because he loved Bobby but wasn't really good enough for Bobby and almost got Bobby killed on that plane.
Jamie turned his face back into the bedspread and groaned again. The bedspread understood him.
The door creaked. Jamie folded his hands and laced his fingers through his hair, feeling it whisper against his skin. Then he waited for whoever had entered to ask him something, and he would have to answer with some funny little response.
What are you doing? they would ask.
And he would say... Why, I'm sunbathing.
You're indoors, that person would respond, obviously confused.
And then he would jump up with a stunned expression and say, that's why it's not working! then laugh and follow that person out of the room.
Or maybe the person in the doorway would say, Jamie? Are you tired?
And then he could answer with a simple, Yeah, I think I'll go to bed soon. Jet lag. Never mind that it was actually three hours earlier for him. His answers prepared, Jamie waited.
The bed dipped with the weight of another body. A hand settled on his back, then rubbed up and down soothingly.
Jamie felt himself relaxing, and turned to look at Bobby. "Hi."
Bobby laid down on his side, one hand still rubbing up and down, the other bracing his head up. "Hi, yourself. Selves. Uh, how does that work?"
Jamie smiled tiredly. "Self. There's only one of me present."
Bobby grinned and nodded. "How are you holding up?"
Ulp. That was it. Now he had to jump up and smile and make a witty remark.
Jamie flashed a smile he hoped hid how weary he was, and answered, "I'm not holding up--the bed's holding me up. It's doing a good job of it, too, isn't it?"
Bobby smiled, but it was only softly, and there was reservation in those baby blue eyes. "It's okay to be tired."
"It's only six thirty my time!" Jamie laughed with forced cheerfulness. It was okay, he was good at that. Bobby wouldn't notice it was forced.
Bobby apparently noticed, because he didn't rise to the bait. The hand that was rubbing Jamie's back reached around and slid down the side of Jamie's face, then flicked a long finger across his nose. "I love you."
Jamie's smile faltered. He blinked rapidly, and breathed deeply, and reminded himself sternly that this wasn't something to be *sad* over, this was something to be *happy* over. He didn't need to feel bad, feel like everything was crashing down because it wasn't, dammit, and he was *fine.*
Jamie didn't say anything, trying to regain his composure before he broke down and started crying. It seemed like that was almost all he'd done for a week after Bobby had found him, and now that he stopped... nothing bad was going on. There was no reason to feel like crying.
Bobby's knuckles were slightly rough against his cheek, and those eyes looked concerned. Not entirely worried, yet, but watching closely. "Have you been sleeping okay?"
Jamie nodded. He had been. Okay. Not great, not even good, but okay.
Tears threatened suddenly to overwhelm him, and to hide that Jamie turned his head away again and re-buried it in the bedspread, as if he were tired. He breathed deeply and reminded himself that he was *happy,* now, not sad.
That hand returned to his back, stroking up and down his spine. "You feeling okay?"
How to answer that one truthfully? For years, he'd wrestled with that question. But he'd found the perfect answer, and it was both his safety and his cage. "I don't feel good," he murmured into the bedspread. He felt emotionally awful. Hopefully, it would be better in the morning. He wanted to curl up and cry again, and there was no reason. He wanted Bobby to ask the right questions, and then he would cry, and it would be okay because it was always okay when Bobby was there.
But Bobby wasn't a telepath, and he asked the question that was always asked.
"Why don't you feel good?"
Jamie sighed and answered truthfully, "I don't know." He hated those words.
Bobby frowned. "Does your head hurt?"
"No," Jamie said into the bed.
"Does your stomach hurt?"
"No," Jamie said, and let a touch of irritation into his voice. "I just don't feel good. I'll probably feel better in the morning." He turned his head to see if Bobby would take the hint.
Much to his sorrow, Bobby did. The older man sighed and stood up. "Okay. I hope you feel better."
Jamie grunted into his bedspread, and waited until he heard the door close.
At least he wouldn't have to deal with the others anymore tonight.
He didn't even think about waking up until ten. Then a brown eye cracked open and peered at the clock, and his mind cheerfully informed him that if it was ten New York time, it was seven Washington time.
Jamie muttered--what he muttered, even he wasn't sure--and stumbled out of bed. He pulled clothes from his suitcase--he had yet to unpack--then grabbed shampoo and wove his way down the hall toward the larger bathroom with the showers. Three showers at this end, and at the other end there was another bathroom with five more showers. Each bedroom had half-baths, but only the bigger bathrooms had showers. It didn't really matter--the showers were private.
Jamie, once in the shower, washed his hair and body, then leaned against the wall and let the water run over him. Slowly, he was starting to wake up. He took a step, slipped, caught himself on the wall only to slip on that, and crashed to the floor amid much swearing.
*Well,* Jamie thought glumly, trying to stand up again without slipping, *I'm awake.*
A foot caught him on the side of the head, and Jamie swore before looking up and seeing himself drying off swiftly.
"Hey!" Jamie said, and tried in earnest to clamber to his feet.
"Finish showering," the dupe said, with a large amount of disgust in his voice.
Jamie slipped again, bashed his knee against the side of the tub, then finally managed to push the water off and get to his feet.
The dupe was already dressed--in Jamie's clothes--and heading out the door.
"Where are you going?" Jamie snapped, snatching the towel up and swiftly drying off the worst of the water. "Those are my clothes!"
"I'm outta here," the dupe spat.
"You can't just *leave,*" Jamie argued, wrapping the towel around his waist as it became obvious the dupe was, in fact, leaving. The other Jamie had disappeared around the corner, and Jamie raced after him, wiping water from his eyes.
The dupe was bouncing down the stairs at the far end of the hall, brown head of hair dropping below the floor of the second story.
"Get back here!" Jamie shouted, and ran down the hall, one hand holding his towel in place around his waist.
"No!" the dupe shouted back, hitting the first floor and racing for the doorway.
"Stop that dupe!" Jamie shouted, pounding down the steps. Jean stood in the living room door, looking in confusion from one Jamie to the other.
Bobby appeared in the kitchen, glanced from Jamie to the dupe, and reached out to grab the doppleganger.
The dupe whipped around, furious. "You should be disgusted!" he snarled at Bobby, who let him go in surprise and backed up.
The dupe followed him into the kitchen, and Jamie finally reached the first floor and ran for the room his boyfriend and copy had disappeared into.
"You're too old for him--and you're too male! That is sick!" the dupe was yelling.
"Hey!" Jamie shouted, stopping in the door and almost sliding on the tile. "What are you doing?"
The dupe turned. "What am I doing? What are *you* doing? Jesus Christ, Jamie, you're not even gay!"
Jamie's eyebrows rose. "Excuse me? What, precisely, am I then?"
"Confused," the dupe answered instantly. "Remember Rhapsody? You *liked* her, Jamie."
Jamie scowled and shook his head. "Of course I liked her. Everyone liked her. That was her power."
"What about Lorna?"
"I never liked her!" Jamie said, tossing his head to get hair out of his face.
"*I* did!" the dupe yelled. "And I don't like him!" A finger stabbed toward Bobby, though the copy didn't even turn to look at him. "This is screwed up!"
"What?" Jamie shouted, indignant. "You're just a dupe--"
"I'm you," the dupe snarled. "I'm what you think, on some level, I have to be. And this... this gay thing is wrong. Your parents would hate you for it."
"I don't know that my parents were homophobic," Jamie snapped back, his entire body tensing. He felt more than heard Jean step up behind him. Across the room, Bobby was looking helpless.
"This is wrong, Jamie. You know this is wrong--you *know* it."
Jamie looked ill. Finally, he shook his head and reached out a hand. "I don't know what's wrong with you. Stop yelling in public and come back."
"No!" the dupe snarled, backing away. "I won't go with you and be gay! It's wrong! You don't even know how your parents would feel about this! How can you do this if you don't know?"
Jamie frowned and stepped forward. He flickered a glance over his shoulder, sensing Jean there, then glared at the dupe. "It's right, because it makes me happy, and that's what matters. Who cares if my parents wouldn't've liked it? They're *dead.* It won't matter to them now."
"Well it matters to me--it matters a lot!" The dupe turned, glaring at Bobby. "And you should be disgusted! You're gay, and you made us gay, and you're older than us by too much!"
"Not that much," Bobby responded, frowning. "Only six years."
"That's a lot," the dupe snarled.
Jamie took the moment while the dupe was distracted, and leapt forward. It dissolved back into him beneath his fingertips, not a sound marking the passing.
Jamie fidgeted and looked at Bobby, who was looking at him worriedly.
Jamie glanced back at Jean. She was standing in the doorway, looking concerned. She smiled hesitantly, then left. She had heard everything, and Jamie was almost embarrassed... then realized that as small as the X-Men were, everyone would hear it all sooner or later.
"Do you really feel that way? How the dupe said?" Bobby asked softly.
Jamie looked up at him, then down at his hands. He untied his towel from around his waist, now dressed in what the dupe had been wearing a moment ago. He turned and sat down on the kitchen table. "I don't know," Jamie murmured at last. "I mean, I don't think so. Not like that, at least. It worries me, I guess, not knowing about my parents... but I don't think I feel like that."
"Does the age thing bother you?" Bobby asked, still quiet.
Jamie shook his head. "Only that I'm not allowed to drink and you are," he said, grinning. But the grin faded. "I'm worried," he said at last. "Not about us--I mean, that does make me happy." He grinned and looked fondly up at Bobby. "You make me happy." The grin faltered, and disappeared. "But my dupes... they were never like this before. They never really had minds of their own, they always thought like I did. Since the Legacy Virus, they've been more like people. But I don't have Legacy anymore." Jamie dropped his gaze down to his feet. "Unless I got it again somehow," he whispered.
Bobby's hand rested on his shoulder, then pulled him closer into a hug. "We'll talk to Hank," he said, not releasing Jamie.
Jamie nodded against Bobby's shoulder. Even with this frightening thought, though, the hollowness didn't rear its head.
Mornings were always better times.
Hank withdrew the needle and carefully placed the blood sample in a tray. "I'll look, Jamie," he said quietly, "but it'll take a few days for the results. After that, it would be wise to check again in a week or two to make sure there really are no traces of Legacy."
Jamie nodded soberly, holding the cotton on the inside of his elbow as he stood up. "'Kay," he said after a moment.
Bobby put a hand on Jamie's shoulder, trying to offer support even in such a small way. "We should do something else. We could go to a park?"
Jamie smiled weakly and shook his head. "Nah, thanks."
Bobby bit his lip. Jamie liked parks, normally. "Wanna go see a movie?"
Jamie shook his head.
"Wanna sit around and mope?"
"Okay," Jamie responded, but he grinned and it was a real grin, not one of the ones he'd been forcing lately. Bobby made a face at him and followed him out of Hank's lab.
"Jamie--" he started to say, but saw Jamie turn and look back toward the medical center.
The younger man hesitated, and licked his lips. "Bobby?" he said after a moment, "If it's okay with you, I'd rather help Hank. I mean, if there is something wrong then I want to know about it, and if I help Hank with stuff he'll be able to do it faster."
Bobby hesitated, then finally nodded. That was reasonable, and what with all the things Jamie's dupe had said earlier, Bobby didn't want to push Jamie into anything.
Jamie smiled, then disappeared back into the lab.
Bobby sighed heavily and scuffed the floor with his toe, then headed toward the stairs.