Title: Air
Author: Apathy
Recipient: Sascha
Featured character: Ultimate Northstar
Summary: Just call him Minority Man: the mutant with the power to be despised by every person on the planet.
E-mail: apathocles@gmail.com
Spoilers: Through Ultimate X-Men #49.

He drums his fingers against the steering wheel.

Some sorry excuse for a song abuses his eardrums through the static, a fifteen-year-old pop princess wailing about true love and devotion. Keeping the radio on is simply delaying the inevitable, but waiting until it attains the point of unbearability just makes it all the more satisfying when he finally reaches down and turns it off.

The silence is stunning in contrast, and there's a moment of sweet relief before he remembers why he had the radio on in the first place. No distractions means he might have to actually think about what's going on, and he's been doing just fine without that. A month stuck in hospital with a bullet wound to the chest had allowed him plenty of time to perfect the art of not thinking.

He can't keep the denial up forever, he knows. Even now, he's being forced to make decisions, to consider the course of his entire life. It's why he studiously ignored the turnoff to the Xavier Institute a couple of hours back, put the pedal down and floored it until he was sure that he'd left that place miles behind. There are few things he's sure of anymore, but top of the list of things he does know is that Charles Xavier is a dangerous man, and Jean-Paul isn't going to even consider going into the Institute before he's worked a few things out in his own head. He doesn't need to run the risk of someone else working them out for him.

He drives until it's dark, and he's so exhausted he can barely focus. He pulls over, waits until he feels something resembling human. He'll never take being able to breathe easily for granted again.

After more time than he's willing to admit, he opens the door and swings his legs outside, trying to make out his surroundings. He has no idea where he is, beyond "off some back road somewhere". He'd headed north, more or less. Not deliberately towards Canada -- although it was probably at the back of his mind -- but just away. His only privacy in recent weeks has been at the whims of others, and if he's going to deal with everything, he needs some space.

He's supposed to be starting to catch up on his schoolwork, but that's really not going to happen any time soon. And he knows that Aurora will cover for him with their dad, should he ask as to Jean-Paul's whereabouts. He hadn't even told her he was leaving, but he knows she'll cover, just like he'd do for her. No need to ask -- she's always known him better than he knows himself.

This may well be the first time she's ever been completely in the dark about something in his life. He wonders if she even suspects. How to broach the subject.

Hey, sis -- you really don't think muties are all that bad, do you?

Oh, by the way -- I'm a genetic freak. Just thought you should know.

Say, you don't happen to've developed any strange abilities, by any chance?

This? Oh, I'm just flying. You mean, you can't?

How fast can you run the mile?

He eases himself out of the car, and takes a few careful steps to stretch his legs. The night isn't that cold, and he's wearing about fifty layers, but he shivers, anyhow.

It's deserted out here. Dead quiet, apart from the faint noise of insects and the whisper of wind. If it would solve all his problems, he'd just stay here. The trees don't care if he's a mutant.

He wishes he could say the same for himself.

He leans back against the side of the car and stares at the sky for awhile, allowing himself a few more minutes of not thinking, of no responsibilities. After this, it's the point of no return, really. He massages his temples.

I'm a mutant.

And there, that's not so bad... except how it really is. He kicks his heel back against the car a few times. Says the words out loud.

"I'm a goddamned MUTANT, okay?" He kicks the car again for good measure, and winces.

That didn't feel as cathartic as it should've been. Damnit. It should've been some glorious shining moment of self-acceptance and harmony with the world, and shit, no-one should have to deal with this crap on two entirely different fronts.

He wonders what his mom would do if he came out as a mutant. Probably announce to the world that she loves her gay mutant son and try to send him to Xavier's, which would magically transform from "twisted cult" to "specialist educational institution". Because being able to run fast means he should be set aside from the rest of the world with the word "freak" stamped across his forehead. Twice.

But....

It is tempting. He can think of a few good reasons to consider going there, and not all of them were leaning over his bed in that hospital room when he woke up. Because he doesn't actually want to get fried by a Sentinel -- and that will always be a risk, no matter what people say. Because it would be nice to not have to worry about being a target, even if only within the school boundaries. Because Nick Fury won't tell his father what's going on with Sinister. Because if he's going to be hated for something he can't help, he should at least be able to make full use of it.

He hasn't tried anything since the incident at the school, when he'd barely stopped himself from flying over the edge of the roof. He'd taken the stairs down instead, legs barely steady enough to hold him up, and spent the rest of the day walking aimlessly about the city, responding with an internal "la la la" every time his brain tried to tell him that he'd just flown.

And then... yeah. Not really much of a chance to experiment, even if he'd wanted to. But, now....

He looks around, and everything still appears to be deserted. Not that he can see too far, but if he can't see anyone, well, then they can't see him. Right?

He doesn't let himself think, ignoring the inner voice reciting a litany of reasons why this is A Really Bad Idea, and makes his way over to a clear patch of grass a little way off the road. If he crashes here, at least it won't kill him. Probably.

He shifts his weight from foot to foot, and realises that he doesn't actually know how to fly. It'd been pure instinct and emotion that first time, and, unless some redneck comes running out of the woods with a shotgun in hand, he's not going to recapture that here.

Maybe it's better this way. It's not as if he's really a mutie if he won't -- can't -- use his powers, right?

He can't make himself believe it, even for a second. It'll always be there underneath his skin, whether he likes it or not.

So easy to forget without a visual reminder, though. When he first saw Peter in the hospital, he'd completely forgotten that the guy could turn himself into metal, despite having seen it on the news countless times. After it happened, Jean-Paul felt as shocked as Peter looked.

He could pass. He could. Look and act just like everybody else. And yet, some idiot in the street could kill him for it anyhow. It's not a new concept.

He's never cared what anyone thinks of him.

His father could be kicked out of his job. His family could be threatened.

He could fly.

He... he doesn't know what to think. He doesn't want to have to. He just wants to be mindless, to not have to make himself remember to forget. He doesn't want this. He --

Is floating about a foot off the ground.

Holy shit.

The shock almost makes him lose his balance, and he flails in mid-air for a moment before regaining his equilibrium. He hovers uncertainly, and then cautiously directs his body to move forwards a little.

It obeys.

A grin spreads over his face. Okay, this is just cool.

Slowly, carefully, he puts his body through the motions, gradually picking up a little speed. Nothing spectacular, but exhilarating nonetheless. The air feels fresh, rather than cold, and the rush of wind against his skin is like nothing else.

He wants to have this. Doesn't think he can let it go, now that it's in his grasp.

Thoughts drift in his wake, physical pain left in the dust. It feels natural. It feels right.

And the ground is obviously closer than he thought, because he finds himself on his ass, and then on his back.

"Fuck...."

He lies there, trying not to die, and listens to his watch tick somewhere in the vicinity of his left ear.

Idiot. Of all the stupid things he's done, this would easily rank within the top five. But he can't help but smile a little, even as he wipes the tears from his eyes. Because that was literally like nothing on this earth.

If only he could have the ability, without the genetics... but everything has its price. And people would still hate him, anyhow. Hell, they hated him before he found out he was a mutant.

When -- if -- he ever manages to get back up, he'll find himself a hotel, and crash for the night. Tomorrow, he'll head back to New York and try to catch Aurora -- he hasn't really talked to her in ages.

He still doesn't know what the hell he's doing, or what he thinks, or what he wants. But at least he has a place to begin.