Disclaimer: Marvel owns the Marvel characters. The rest - you can have 'em if you want.
This story contains derogatory language and allusions. I mean to offend. If you're a prude about such matters, don't read it. Flames will be deliberately ignored.
Acknowledgement: This came out of multiple emails between Don Berry and myself. My eternal gratitude to him for bringing up the examples that gave me this idea. Also thanks to Impar Vir for beta-reading this.

A Life of Coffee Spoons
it always rains in seattle
by Min

For I have known them all already, known them all -
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;

(The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, T.S.Eliot)

"I don't see signs of anything being wrong with your son at all, Mr Drake. In fact, he's as healthy as any twelve year old boy can be."

The doctor removed the stethoscope from his ears and sat down on the practitioner's chair. "He has a little vitamin deficiency, nothing a simple prescription wouldn't remedy." He turned around to the young boy who was in the process of making a flourishing jump off the examining table, "haven't been eating your vegetables eh, Jimmy?"

Jimmy wiped his hand across his nose and grinned before making a flying leap. He clambered onto the table again to repeat the stunt. Both men looked at him for a while before the doctor turned back to address Bobby.

"You know, Mr Drake. I can see that you're very concerned over the welfare of your son and it's perfectly understandable. But much as I like the business, don't you think a regular check-up every fortnight is a tad too...regular? His tone was quizzical and unobtrusive.

Bobby gave a jerk as if his mind was elsewhere. "No, not at all. Like you said, Doctor, I'm very concern over my kid's welfare. In fact, my younger daughter will be joining him in these check-up very soon." His eyebrows rose, "You're not begrudging my money are you, Doctor?"

The general practitioner held up both his hands in defence, smiling reassuringly, "Oh no, no, not at all. I hope to see you again in two weeks time. Remember to collect your prescription at the pill counter before you leave."

Bobby gave a quick nod and a tight smile before ushering his son out of the room.

"Why do I have to see the doctor so regularly?" Jimmy asked from the passenger seat as his father drove him to school for a boy scouts session after the check-up.

Bobby was humming a tune to the song playing on the radio. "I just wanted to make sure that you're healthy, son," he said as lightly as he could.

Jimmy scowled and muttered, "I hate eating those vitamins. Every time when it seems like I'm gonna finish them, I get another bunch shovelled down my throat."

Bobby turned on him abruptly. "You just eat those vitamins and keep your mouth shut, you hear me?"

Jimmy looked at his father in shock. He subsided. Hurt was in his eyes as he looked out of the window to pretend that nothing had happened.

A flush of guilt rose in Bobby. It was raining - then again, when did it not rain in Seattle? For a while, silence dominated the car. The only thing that could be heard was the sound of the windscreen wipers working across, left and right, left and right.

He wondered why he had lost control all of a sudden and took it on his own kid. "I'm sorry, Jimmy," his voice was quiet and taut. "You'd never know but one day, you'll be glad that I'm doing these things for you now."

Jimmy ignored him pointly and continued to stare out of the window.

Bobby hit the horn hard with the base of his wrist. The blaring sound coloured the air like a vulgarity. The sports car driver in front of him poked his head out and gave him the middle finger.

"Damnit! I just want you to grow up a normal and healthy kid! Is that too much to ask for?"

Immediately after those words came out, he knew he had done the wrong thing. Jesus, why was it so hard for him to keep his damn temper down? When the light turned green, he hit the accelerator hard, causing the car to careen ahead so fast it overshot the sports car.

He dropped his son off and watched as the boy run through the school gate without so much as a goodbye or a backward glance.

It was a Saturday morning. All employees were given the half-day off because of the company dinner that was to be held at one of the prestigious hotels in the city this evening. Bobby had left the entrance pass on his desk the day before so he came back to get it. The accounting department was quiet as a ghost, the not-so-white fluorescent lamps lighting the strangely empty rows of tables. But it was not quite empty, not quite.

As Bobby pocketed the pass and was preparing to leave, a brown tousled head popped up from the compartment next to his.

"Yo, Bob! Whatcha doing here this mornin'?"

It was his newest and youngest colleague, Brian, fresh from college. He was a natural prankster, always cheerful, with a joke for every occasion.

"I forgot my pass for this evening. And what are you doing here? Don't tell me you fell asleep at your desk again?"

Brian shrugged and grinned sheepishly. "Forgot the time." He rubbed his eyes with his hands and stretched himself exaggeratedly. In a split-second, he brought his face inches to Bobby's, hands gripping the compartment wall that separated them.

"Guess what I heard! Didya know the branch office at New Hampshire got burnt down during the night by mutant activists? I overheard some of the bosses talking about it last night when all of you have left. See? If you hang around, you get to hear things other people don't." He scanned the older man's face avidly, but the reaction he got wasn't something he had anticipated.

Bobby's face paled. "Are you sure it was the New Hampshire branch?"

"My ear was as clean as a whistle."

Bobby didn't bother to correct his friend on the use of the phrase. A heaviness like lead was settling into his stomach. Shit, shit, shit, his parents' house was in the vicinity. He grabbed the phone and spent several agonising moments flipping through his phone cards, looking for the number. After several fail tries, he got through. Pick up the phone, damnit!, he muttered. The tone drone on for what seemed like eternity before someone picked up at the other end.

"Maddy Drake here. What can I do for you?" Bobby breathed a sigh of relief as he heard his mother's voice.

"Mom? It's me, Bobby."

"Bobby? It's good to hear from you!"

"Yeah, I know. I heard about the attack on the branch office there and I was afraid -"

His mother's soft laughter broke through. "We're fine, Bobby. We're fine. The mutants were only interested in the building. They didn't hurt anyone else. Oh Bobby, how have you been? I, wait - your father wants to talk to you."

Bobby waited as his mother gave over the phone.

"Son?" came his father's gruff voice. "Your mother and I are fine. Those freaks came specifically for your company. They claimed that they were protesting over your manufacturing of power inhibitors. They can go to hell, every one of them -"

Bobby heard his mother's shushing voice behind and he smiled as he heard her telling his father to watch his words. She was Jewish and God-fearing woman, and she made sure that her Protestant husband felt the same as well.

"- anyway I want to say that I'm proud of you, son. I'm damn proud, -" another shush, "of the fact that you're working for the right company. If those freaks think that they can stop us rightful Americans from protecting ourselves, they're bloody well mistaken," yet another shush.

"Blast your mother," his father's tone was affectionate. "So how are things there? How's Angela? How are the kids doing?"

Bobby looked at the picture of his wife and kids on his desk and smiled, "They're fine, Dad."

He kept up the conversation a while longer talking about his work and how his life was going. When he put the receiver down, he found Brian peering down at him.

"Those damn mutants are really a pest, y'know," he saw the other man staring at him intently. "Sorry, couldn't help over hearin'."

"You're right. It's impolite to eavesdrop on other people's conversations." Bobby said simply as he straightened out the mess he had created over the phone call.

"Yeah, okay. But don't you think so, too?"

When Brian saw Bobby intended to keep silent, he wheeled his chair over to his friend's compartment.

He lower his voice conspiratorially, "You're gonna laugh but I've to say this. My college CPA was rather good, I don't need to be working in this hellhole if I didn't want to. But look - it's an American thing, you know? Me? I hate mutants, every last fuckin' one of them. And to be part of this company that's doing somethin' against them - it's like your dad says, I feel damn proud. And now I know that you're one of us too."

Bobby frowned. "One of who?"

The younger man looked at him in surprise. "Us! Y'know, rightful Americans! Since I was young, I've tried my best to fight for our rights. In high school? I dated mutant bitches and dumped them after I got to the point where I could make them do anything I wanted doing. You should've seem the looks on their faces! The feeling was so great. But those were small things, I'm moving on to bigger ones. Next Saturday - there's going to be an election for the sub chief of the Seattle division of the FoH. I'm runnin' for it." His chest puffed up involuntarily.

Bobby looked at his colleague with increasing disgust.

"Hey, you wanna come along? I can get you and your wife good seats. My old man's gonna be there too. He's damn proud of me -"

Bobby slammed the table and rose to his feet. "Shut up, just shut up, will you?"

Brian looked up at him with indignation. "What's the matter?"

"Just keep your bloody agenda to yourself, I don't want to hear any of it."

"Really, I didn't think you'd be so close-minded about the whole thing." The younger man's face grew guarded and ugly.

"We have a secret police division, y'know," he threw offhandedly after a brief silence. "We deal very harshly with mutant sympathisers. It's the American thing to do. And Bob - if you know any of these ass-sucking individuals, you'd be sure to tell us, won'tja?

With that, he hoisted his jacket onto his shoulder and left the office, whistling.

Looking at the departing figure, Bobby wanted so much to rip the offending head off that sauntering body. He flexed his fists and gasped as he felt a sudden cold ripple through his body. One by one, he felt his extremities freezing up, toes and fingers rapidly being encased with ice. With a groan, he collapsed onto the carpeted floor. Hiff, hiff - breath slowly, one breath at the time. Get a bloody grip of yourself, damnit!

Several minutes later, he managed to exert control over himself again, the frost receding back into his body. After all these years, he could never get a grip or even come to grips with it...

He sunk into his chair as he hid his face with his shaking hands. Outside, the rain poured down unabated.

What the fuck was happening to him?

"Are you ready, Bobby?" Angela Drake called to him from their bedroom.

"Yeah, just give me a minute."

Bobby closed the door of the medical cabinet and surveyed the face that the mirror brought into sharp focus. He looked haunted, those blue eyes that stared back at him seemed as if they belonged to a stranger's. He splashed himself several times with cold water, trying to improve his appearance. It was the company dinner, it was important that he presented himself well for the occasion.


"Yeah, I'm coming."

The baby-sitter had been called in. When Bobby manoeuvred the car out of the garage, it was still drizzling. In the distant sky, thunder rumbled. He drove along one of the highways facing the waterfront. It was six o'clock, the water surface was choppy and grey, gushes of wind brought wave upon wave of turgid water towards the concrete-reinforced shore.

Angela tugged at her coat irately. "Tonight's a chance for you to interact with your superiors, you'd better make good use of it."

Bobby sighed, "I'd rather just have a simple dinner and a couple of dances, dear."

His wife turned on him, her dark eyes flashing. "No you don't. Do you know how long it took for you to advance from the position of a junior accountant to a senior one? Seven! George took only three. And now, people of your age are already managers and you're still working in that same office space with the newcomers - "

"Ange, please. We've been through this so many times already. Can we not talk about this tonight? Let's just try and enjoy ourselves, okay?"

Angela made an impatient sound. "If you're not going to think of me, at least think of your kids. Jimmy's in high-school; pretty soon he'll be going to college, we've got to set aside a sum of money for the tuition fees. And those medical check-ups..."

"We'll say nothing about those check-ups." Bobby's voice was firm and final. He took the next turning more sharply than was needed.

Once again, the rest of the trip was undertaken in silence.

It was a splendid ballroom. The alcoves, made of prefabricated fibreglass mimicked the Rococo period architecture to the smallest swirl. The ceiling centrepiece was a gigantic amalgamation of stained glass and steel trellises. The crowd milling below it was no less diverse or elaborate in its makeup. The directors were mingled with their employees. Bobby found to his surprise that the Manufacturing and Research Departments were actually talking with each other as they thawed out frigid relations after office hours.

"Mr Campbell? Hi, I'm Angela Drake, this is my husband, Robert. No, we're not acquainted, but you know my friend, George Bentley? Yes! I know he is doing very well now. Mr Campbell, I must say I'm terribly impressed with your business savvy, your company is such a fast and upcoming one. Now I was wondering if you could do something for my Robert here. He has had a lot of experience... You have no vacancies? No, it's alright. It was a pleasure meeting you..."

Distaste forced itself gradually into Bobby's mouth as he watched how his wife prostrated herself in front of total strangers to better his situation. He saw that she was about to latch onto another hapless prey and took the opportunity to slip away.

He meandered around aimlessly, snatching drinks from waiters carrying trays. Ahead of him, he saw a familiar tousled brown head. It was Brian. Stepping into a corner, Bobby saw that he was mingling with a group of individuals he had never seen before. They were extremely well-dressed and self-assured. Must be the directors and CEOs of some friendly companies, Bobby decided. He watch with amusement as Brian sidled up beside a gorgeous blonde woman. She was middle-aged but her flawless looks and command of absolute composure made the younger man looked like an ass-sucking crony next to her.

Bobby tipped his glass mockingly in their direction and downed the contents. He didn't feel so assured when the woman turned her head sharply at him, her steel-blue eyes catching his and holding them mesmerised. She looked at him shrewdly even as he felt a sudden sense of light-headedness. In the interim, she returned her attention to his younger colleague and said something curt. Brian's shoulders slouched visibly as he walked away.

Bobby's eyes followed the detestable young man before he felt the same presence in his head again. He saw that the woman was still surveying him. Was that a flash of pity he saw passed across her face? What the hell? He didn't need -

"Where on earth were you!" Angela's angry voice hissed into his ear. He saw that she had behind her a group of new acquaintances waiting to make their introductions.

"Nothing..." He mumbled, still unsettled by the experience he just had.

"Well," Angela huffed as she preened at her metaphorical ruffled feathers. She gave a small coquettish laugh for the audience's benefit before launching on her repertoire.

"And this is my husband, Robert. Robert - I'd like you to meet Mr Armstrong, he is a division manager over at Coops, Mr Doolittle, human resource officer at SidMid, Miss Margy, personnel relations officer..."

Bobby let Angela's voice drone on and on. He had long since lost track of the night. Bit by bit. It was a sign that his life was slipping away. For once, Bobby became acutely aware of lost chances and missed opportunities. Maybe he could have chosen something else, something better. Bile rose in his throat, threatening to choke him. Anything. Anything but this -


He woke up with a jolt and saw the look of horror on Angela's face. Following the direction of her stare, he saw that his left hand was encased entirely in ice. Frantically, he hid the offending member behind his back. The Armstrongs, Doolittles and Margies looked at him with unfeigned interest.

He pasted a grinning expression on his face as he tried to hide his errant power. "It's nothing. I just - "

Angela interrupted smoothly even as her nails dug painfully into his shoulder blade, "Ladies, gentlemen, I'm afraid my husband isn't feeling very well tonight. It's an old complaint he's suffering from. We have your name cards, we'll call you soon. I think it's better if we leave now."

They didn't stop quarrelling even after they reach the house. The interior was dark, their two children had been put to bed, the babysitter paid for and gone.

"It's always about you! You and your blasted ego, you and your reticence. This whole damn world doesn't revolve around you, Bobby Drake!"

"Angela -" Bobby felt too tired and mortal to sustain any sort of argument.

"I don't know what made me marry you in the first place. You said that you were keeping it under control! That you had everything figured out, that it wasn't going to affect our lives in any way! Where's that promise now?"

Angela sat back down on their bed, the tears welling up. "Oh Bobby, what is happening to you? What have you become?"

Bobby stood there, frozen. He felt like a prisoner and a searchlight had caught him in act of trying to escape. He felt as if he was a monster and everyone around knew about it except himself. He felt as if everyone had been tiptoeing around him for a long time condescendingly, all the while concealing the source of their disgust towards him. So this was it, it was all going to come out now, on this fateful night...a bloody fitting ending for the bloody day he had.

"You knew I was a mutant when we decided to get married! 'In good times and in bad. In sickness and in death.' Does that even mean anything to you now? You're regretting it now, aren't you? Tell me, damnit! You. Are. Regretting. Isn't it?"

"Of course not! How dare you even accuse me of something like that?" But she refused to look at him in the eye. Instead, she wiped fastidiously at the dark streaks on her face, the moisture had made her eye-liner run.

Her little simpering actions infuriated Bobby to no end. He injected as much brittleness and cruelty in his voice as he could.

"No, Angela. I want it all out tonight. I can't take it if my own wife doesn't trust me any more. So tell me now. Get it over with. You're feeling like you've made a damn bloody bad deal for marrying such a loser like myself, aren't you? You should never have broken up with George Bentley to go with such a fucking piece of shit, right?"

Angela looked up, her dark eyes flashing. He saw in them years of suppressed frustration and discontent. Every bit of it was now channelled into her hateful eyes and even more hateful words.

"Yes! You're a mutant, you're cancer. You're infected and now you're going to infect the kids. If Jimmy is ever diagnosed as a mutant, I'll never forgive you. Those are my kids - they didn't ask for this to happen to them. And what about me? Do you know how embarrassing it is every time you lose control of your powers and make a laughing stock of me? But no, it never mattered to you, you've always enjoyed being laughed at. Well, I don't! You want out, isn't it? Let me tell you something. I've been seeing the signs all my life. I wanted out a damn long time ago. I wanted out the moment we walked down that aisle. I should have kicked your bloody fucking balls there and then. But I didn't and now I'm paying for it. And don't think you can push me, Bobby. There's only so much I can take. Push me too hard and you'll be the one to suffer!"

Bobby stumbled back, aghast. Angela took the opportunity to slam the bedroom door on his face. He heard the click of the lock and then - absolute silence.

The corridor was dark, the lights had been turned off. Numbly he stood there. He didn't know anything else except for the fact that in that brief instance, his entire world had suddenly collapsed.

He proceeded slowly down the stairs into the living room. He sat down on the couch. Slowly, mechanically, he eased his head onto the armrest.

His eyes were unblinking. They roved about, searching, and saw that the door to the children's bedroom was agape.

Just as quietly and surreptitiously, it closed.

Next day.

Lunch Hour. The crowd was bustling as usual. Bobby walked alone, wending his way towards anywhere that promised a breathing space amidst the traffic and sound. Ahead of him, he saw a green canopy of trees - the City Park. His feet dragged themselves along in that direction.

Having rained in the morning, it was dark and cool beneath the branches. Now and then, movements from a slight breeze shook loose water droplets that showered onto the ground.

There was a man sitting on a nearby bench feeding the pigeons. Bobby bent his knees and lowered himself onto the other side of the seat. Holding his head between his hands, he felt his mind go absolutely blank.

A rustling of a paper bag, he looked up. The man was reaching into the bag and taking out handfuls of birdseeds which he threw generously at the birds flocking around him. Bobby saw that the man seemed to have abnormally large hands, his fist had filled the paper bag entirely. Apart from that, he looked rather ordinary. Mid-forties, nondescript brown hair.

He must have felt Bobby studying him, for he turned around and smiled. His small eyes crinkled in friendly candour as he extended his other paw. In a deep and sonorous voice, "I'm Hank McCoy. And who might you be, sir?"

Taken aback by the spontaneity of the stranger, Bobby gave his hand slowly.

"I'm - Robert Drake."

The man pumped at his hand warmly. "Very please to make your acquaintance, Mr Drake. It's a beautiful day in Seattle, isn't it?"

Bobby blinked. There was something in his voice that made everything he said sound sincere.

"I guess you're not from these parts?" He ventured cautiously.

"Oh no, no, I'm here on a business trip with a couple of friends. Although I must confess, business isn't my forte at all," another warm smile, "and what do you do for a living, Mr Drake?"

"I'm an accountant." Bobby gave an abrupt laugh. Everything he said today sounded absurd to him; he didn't know why he was even holding this conversation with a total stranger.

The man looked at him in surprise but his voice was grave and polite. "A very respectable profession, if I may say so."

Bobby waved his hand. "Enough about me. You said that business isn't your forte. So what do you actually do?"

McCoy harrumphed and scratched his arm modestly, "I'm a biophysicist. My area of speciality happens to be in the field of medical research."

"You're a scientist?"


"I've never met a scientist before," Bobby tried to keep the note of expectation in his voice from rising. "But to be a scientist, you've got to have an open mind, right?"

McCoy looked at him before nodding.

"I mean you see everything in empirical terms, right? You don't judge things the way other people do?" Question after question tumbled out. He didn't know why he felt like this but suddenly, he felt as if he was some kind of dam, and the pressure had been building up for so long it had become a way of life and now out of the blue, a floodgate appeared and seemed to promise him some sort of outlet - if only he could find a way to open it.

Even if it was to a total stranger.

"It should have come out a long time ago. Sometimes I wish so hard that it had come out in such a way I could never hide it. My parents - they never knew. Even when all the signs were so glaring they were screaming to be seen. I was old enough to know that it was a curse when it came. And I've spent every moment of my waking life learning how to hide it. I mean, everything else had always been going well for me. After college, I got a job at a firm, married my college sweetheart, moved across the country, started a family here. And now after all these years, it suddenly occurs to me that I might have been making the biggest mistake of my life."

Bobby ran a shuddering hand through his hair, the momentum of his confession carrying him away.

"I thought that it was simply a small part of me. That people would come to accept it and move on the way I did. And the fact that they don't - my marriage is going to pieces, my kids are ignoring me, I don't know what the fuck is happening anymore. Angela called me a cancer last night but a man - if he's sick, he can't help himself right? And she accused me of infecting our kids. God, how could she even say that! I can't help it! I can't help it if I was born - different..."

He didn't dare to use the word - mutant. He wasn't so gone as to utter that fatal declaration. But Bobby hoped as he looked at the man with hopeful eyes - please, for someone to even understand a fraction of his existence all these years...

McCoy folded up his paper bag and sighed. For a long while, he was quiet. When he turned back, his eyes studied Bobby even as they held undisguised sympathy.

"Robert - may I call you Robert? Scientists are often regarded as slaves to quantifiable phenomena. We test out the validity of every hypothesis on the basis of presence or absence. And when we get a positive, woe betides the individual who dares dispute against us! We'd announce, "But it has been proven! See? Here are the signs! How can anyone not recognise their existence?" So it does. But ultimately it begs the question - so it does, but what does it mean to me?

"I can for example, expound all I want about the properties of different uranium isotopes and the fission process but it doesn't explain the existence of the nuclear bomb. It doesn't explain to the man on the street why he can never again return to the city he was born in, or why his wife is dying from cancer and his children suffer from radiation sickness. No one can help being born different but those signs - we see them and conveniently ascribe human morality as part and parcel of the knowledge they bring to us. When in fact, they can only be held responsible for the kind of physical phenomena they effect.

"To hell with those signs, I'd say. The Neanderthal man lived an infinitely more blissful existence because he didn't need to know why the sun rose every morning. The fact that it rose, was reason enough for him."

McCoy smiled widely. "But on a lighter note, I do envy you, my friend. Yours truly has never been married and doesn't think he'll ever be. Most women are peeved when they realise they'd have to compete with the microbes in my lab for my attention. In my case, science and marriage does not constitute as sensible chemistry."

Bobby grinned despite himself. He liked this man. "Wait a minute, do you ever like - come up for air when you talk?"

"A good question! I happen to be studying the effects of oxygen deprivation on certain viruses lately..."

They talked long past the lunch-hour. But Bobby felt better than he had ever did for a long time. It was such a relief to talk uninhibitedly to a stranger and not worry about the consequences of his words. He obtained Hank McCoy's hotel address and phone number, intending to ask him out at least once more before he return to New York.

The next few days found Bobby very busy. It was that time of the year again, where company sales had to be tallied and accounted for. The office was still abuzz with the attack on the branch office but Bobby welcomed the tumult as he worked.

It was better than going home and facing a darkened house. Angela had taken to late nights recently. When he awoke in the morning, she had left the house on her way to the local kindergarten where she taught. There had been many times these few nights when he'd tried to seek her company in bed only to be rebuffed by her turning away.

Bobby sighed and flipped at his card file disconsolately. He had filed up McCoy's number and decided that he'd call once the workload slacked off after Friday - he couldn't face the idea of staying at home over the weekend. He was putting the finishing touches on a particularly tricky piece of transaction when the department manager, Simonson asked to see him in his office.

Bobby knocked on the door, wondering what it was about. Simonson looked up distractedly as he entered. Bobby saw that he had on his desk a list of names, a good number of which were annotated with red marks. The pen that made them was poised between his fingers. It was the sign of something bad.

"Sit down, Robert. How has the work been? I hope it's easing up?"

Bobby gave the appropriate answers even as he began to feel niggling suspicion of something gone wrong. Was it because he reported late after lunch break that day?

"I know that you're one of our most hardworking employees and you've been working with us for how many years? Ten? Twelve? Twelve years is a long time." Simonson gave a nervous laugh, the high-pitched sound grated on Bobby's ears.

"You might have heard about it, I know news travels fast around here. As you might have known, our company isn't doing very well lately. And the recent attack on our New Hampshire branch didn't make things easier. Fortunately or unfortunately as is the case, a mega-corporation has come in as the biggest shareholder to help ease the pressure. They promise us that they can get everything back into shape, provided we do exactly what they tell us to do." He tried to look at Bobby in the eye but his gaze sidled away.

A sinking feeling rose in Bobby.

"They're asking for really crazy things. Restructuring the entire organisation, re-evaluating company policies. I told my superiors that it's ridiculous, but nobody ever listens to me. I care for the people working under me, I told them. This is no way to treat loyal employees who have been working for this company for years. But they just shake their heads and said that it must be done. Now, don't get me wrong, I wasn't the one - "

"I've been sacked, isn't it?"

Simonson licked his lips. "Well, I wouldn't put it that way -"

"I'm sacked. Right?"

Another nervous high-pitched laugh. "I can't tell you how glad I am that you're taking this so well. You're a good worker, these people - they don't know what they're -" Bobby rose and made his way to the door. "Well, you can stop coming to work at the end of this month. It's rather sudden I know, you'll be receiving two months pay in advance for this..."

He allowed the man's words to wash over him as he left the room. When he turned to close the door behind him, he saw Simonson tick against the list with the flourish of a painter completing his masterpiece.

Bobby put all the belongings on his desk into the box. The picture of Angela and the children, his desk pad and things he thought were worth keeping. He threw the card file into the trash bin.

"Hey, you don't want that thing?" It was Brian.

"Take it if you want."

"Gee, thanks!"

Bobby hoisted the box firmly with his hands and made his way towards the lift.

The sound of the lift bell resonated. Several pairs of footsteps and Simonson's voice could be heard long before the group came into view.

"And this is our accounts department. We've taken your advice and streamlined operations here. Some employees have been retrenched by your request. On what grounds? Oh, for job incompetence, inability to improve themselves, being a general deadweight in the department and things like that."

Bobby didn't have time to analyse his feelings before the group was in plain sight.

It was his manager and the blonde woman he saw at the company dinner. And walking behind them was Hank McCoy.

They stopped short. The entire party looked at Bobby and the box of belongings he was carrying. Simonson shuffled and looked away, suddenly aware that his words were overheard. The woman surveyed him coolly, acknowledging his presence with a slight nod. McCoy looked down at his feet.

Bobby mumbled some excuse and walked past them. He stopped at the lift and heard as their footsteps picked up and fade away. Words were pointless, McCoy was right in not looking at him. They didn't have anything to say about this. Nobody wanted this.

But then again, nobody deserved such a fucked up life either.

Bobby dropped his box with a crash and ran back the way he came. Hands reaching for McCoy's back, he turned the other man around and handed a fist into his face. Bobby felt a strange sort of triumph as he drew blood. McCoy staggered back but didn't collapse.

Bobby went at him again. This time, his hand landed on the midriff. Something hard beneath his coat cracked. Everyone who had came forward with the intention to assist McCoy drew back in horror. He began to change right before their eyes.

Held back by several men, Bobby stared as blue fur seemed to sprout from the skin of his opponent. Claws replaced his already abnormally large hands, his features turned feral, his teeth elongating into fangs that dug into his lower lip.

There was a shocked silence.

"Mutant." Bobby breathed the word he had never dared to use. Hearing the sound from his mouth, he gained courage. "You're a mutant! You're a bloody fucking mutant!"

Everyone else remained silent, but Bobby didn't care. He was quivering over with ecstasy. Damn those restraining hands! He turned his head wildly around at the circle of onlookers. "Can't you see? He's a bloody mutant! And he's taking over this company! This company, damnit!!! This company that protects rightful Americans! Brian," he swung around to look for the familiar tousled head. "Didn't you say you hated all mutants? That you'd sent your FoH friends to deal with them? Here's one for you! What are you waiting for? What the hell are you waiting for!!!"

The crowd began to disperse under the orders of the security guards that had arrived. Bobby saw Brian slink away with the rest of them. A burly guard twisted his arms so hard behind him he nearly blacked out.

He heard the woman's voice, "Henry, are you alright?" and then McCoy's murmur of assent.

Then Simonson's apologetic voice. "I'm terribly sorry, Ms Frost. Do you wish to lodge a suit against him? It would be my pleasure to undertake the procedure personally."

Bobby tried to pull himself together to do something, anything.

"No. He's not worth the trouble. Have the security throw him out and make sure that he doesn't come back again."

He must have walked miles. He must have traced the entirely waterfront with his footsteps.

"I want to say that I'm proud of you, son."

It was raining again. He sat on a upturned bucket facing the sea. The rain ran into his jacket collar and down his back in freezing rivulets. The streaming blanket effaced every lineaments of the watery expanse, presenting him with a sea face that stared back blankly at him even as he cast question after question into those grey depths.

"Oh Bobby, what is happening to you? What have you become?"

He didn't know how he was going to break the news to Angela. She would leave him. And take their children with her. She was only waiting for a sign. Everyone waited for signs. He had his many years ago, but he chose to do nothing about it. She had her sign when she married him. She ignored it too but when it came again, she wouldn't be so stupid this time.

"But ultimately it begs the question - so it does, but what does it mean to me?"

If Bobby Drake had the chance to looked back at the events from the retrospection of several years, he might realise that he had been able to find strength to weather through this particular stretch of rough road and come out better for it. His bed would have been colder by several degrees, and his family life lonelier but that wad of memory packed so securely in his consciousness would only reinforce the kind of understanding he needed to get through the rest of his life. People took wrong turnings all the time. So what if he had to detour the entire route? Maybe this time he could go back to that fork and take the road not taken.

The cold grey water looked so tantalising here. All he needed, was a sign.

The road not taken. How would it be, he wondered. Would it be fraught with the same kinds of trial and tribulation he had suffered? Would he be happier after all? Angela wasn't the only one who was given a sign. His own future was a shifting smokescreen of vagaries, every alternative stretching endlessly into the horizon. But there was no other way. He knew he had to choose and if he did chose to take it, he would have to ask himself this question at some point of time again.

What if...

A shuddering sob tore his body as Bobby realised that he didn't possess the strength to find out what the rest of the sentence truly meant. He finally knew the extend of his cowardice - he didn't dare to choose.

There was another way. He stood at the edge of the pier. And waited for a sign that would prevent him from taking the last step.


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