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What Is Normal

Posted on Wed Aug 16th, 2023 @ 11:41am by Cameron Hood & Ethan Hale

Mission: Episode 2: Northern X-Posure
Location: NYC
Timeline: August 10th, late at night, early morning of the 11th

Ethan had had a difficult time getting to sleep, tossing and turning until well after midnight before he had finally fallen into a dreamless slumber.

It was the smell of bacon that brought him out of his dreamless state. He lay there in bed, hoping for just a few more minutes where he didn't have to get up, and could just relax.

"Ethan," came a voice from below the room he was in. It was a voice that he recognized instantly even though for some reason he felt he hadn't heard for some time, even though he knew that couldn't be the case. It was his mother.

"Just five more minutes," he begged as he pulled the pillow over his face.

"There was a sharp rap on the door and the same voice called again, this time louder and more insistent. "You don't have five more minutes young man. It's not my fault you stayed up half the night on the phone. Now get your lazy behind out of that bed before I come in there and get you."

"Okay, okay," Ethan acquiesced, "I'm coming."

He heard footsteps receeding as he rolled himself out of bed.

The only thing he was wearing as he made his way to the bathroom was his sleeping shorts. After relieving himself, he took a quick look in the mirror.

He was eighteen and a Senior at Ernest McBride High School in Long Beach California, but he could have passed for someone fifteen or sixteen. His ash blond hair fell almost to his shoulders. He would have preferred a little longer but his mother had nixed that idea. His eyes were the color of the Pacific on an early Summer morning. Most of the girls in his classes, and one or two boys he suspected, thought he was easy on the eyes.

He took a shower, considered shaving, then thought better of it since there really was no need, then spent a good ten minutes deciding what to wear before selecting a UCLA hoodie over a Van Hallen tee shirt and a pair of khaki-colored cargo shorts. He finger-combed his hair, checked himself out in the mirror again then made his way down the stairs and into the kitchen.

His dad, Ethan Senior had already left for the day. Ethan couldn't quite remember what it was his dad did, but he knew it had to be important. His mom wasn't in the kitchen, probably off in another part of the house getting his younger siblings ready to head to their schools. She had left him a plate with his favorite breakfast foods. Bacon, easy-over eggs with raisin toast. He ate everything on the plate, not really tasting it, but at least he felt satisfied.

"So, who were you on the phone with?" his mother asked as she came back into the kitchen, "as if I didn't know."

"Guilty as charged, Mom. You know me too well. It was Angela. My girlfriend."

"You know how your father and I feel about, you know, waiting till you're married before you fool around, or do something you're going to regret."

"I know Mom, I know. And trust me, I haven't done anything inappropriate with her or any other girl."

"Okay son, I trust you. Besides, you need to get to school." She tossed him the car keys which he caught easily.

The next thing he knew, he had arrived at the school.

His first class was biology, his least favorite class for some reason. So, he was in no hurry to get there. He stopped by his locker to get his book when a hand touched his shoulder. He glanced behind him and saw her. Angela Finnegan. "Hey," she said brightly.

"Hey yourself," he replied.

"Are you forgetting our morning ritual?" she asked.

"No," he lied.

"Good," she said leaning in to kiss him.

"Eww," she said after the kiss broke. "What the hell is wrong with you? You're not frigging normal."

Then Ethan sat up in bed. He wasn't in Long Beach, he wasn't a normal boy and he didn't have a girlfriend, nor would he ever have one. Nor would ever be normal. He would always be Gryphon, not just Ethan.

There was no getting around that. Just as there was no getting around the fact that he wouldn't be able to go back to sleep. He glanced over at the radio on his nightstand. It read 1:15 AM.

He wasn't just going to sit around his room. What was the fun of that? Wandering around the mansion was no fix, either. He'd probably just wake his fellow students, or worse yet Professor Xavier. He needed someplace different. He'd seen more than a few bars in his time, and more than one had been gay bars. But he'd neither been in either kind. Since he knew he'd never be normal. Perhaps it was the perfect timing to visit such an establishment.

His wings wouldn't be easy to conceal, but they wouldn't be impossible either. He'd just have to remember to keep them tight together. His ears on the other hand would be a bit harder. But his hair was long enough to cover them. It wouldn't pass too close scrutiny, but he thought he'd be able to pull it off. After all, it wasn't as if he was going to go home with anyone.

He changed into a pair of jeans, that might have been a little snug and a shirt a size too big.

He made his way downstairs where he found a Yellow Pages. Stonewall Inn was the one he chose. It was in the West Village. He carefully sneaked out, making sure he had a key for when he returned. Again being careful that no one was around to watch he flew to a street a few blocks over from the address he'd found.

He could hear Bon Jovi's Blaze Of Glory as he turned the corner.

Cameron had a hankering for a night out dancing. Normally he'd ask Jade to go out with him, but she had begged off. He didn't exactly understand her reason, something about needing sleep. Cameron though, he was used to going clubbing after a long week in the field and functioning on four hours of sleep.

He had found his way down to the West Village. It wasn't entirely his scene, perhaps a bit too white. But the two girls he was with had convinced him to come down to this little hole in the wall to get another drink. And seeing as one was barely wearing a shirt and wearing it well, and the other had the darkest, most intoxicating eyes, Cameron was not going to object.

The howling guitar of Jon Bon Jovi tickled Cameron's ears as he turned a corner.

The bouncer, a tall broad-shouldered thirty-something with reddish hair stopped Ethan with a wave of his hand.

"You got an id?" he asked in a stern, but not unkindly voice.

"I just want to dance," Ethan said giving his most flirtatious smile, and I am eighteen. I've got a California ID, 'cause I just moved."

The bouncer held out his hand as he reached for a flashlight with the other. "Let me see it," he said reluctantly.

The ID was real enough, a gift from his previous affiliation. That didn't mean every detail was accurate.

"Looks legitimate enough Mr. Morrison. What's your date of birth again"

" May 1, 1974," came Ethan's almost immediate reply, and just call me Alex."

"Okay Alex, here's a wristband. You're to wear it at all times, and no booze for you. Understand?"

"Understood," Ethan replied as he put the wristband on and stepped into the bar.

There was a large rainbow flag over the U-shaped bar which brought a smile to his face.

He threaded his way through the crowd and waited till it was his time to order. The bartender didn't look much older than he was and looked like he was part Native American. He was shirtless and it took a lot of effort for Ethan to focus on his face. "Ginger Ale, if you have it," he said holding up his arm.

"I could let you have a beer," came the reply. "No one will know."

"I appreciate it, but Ginger Ale is fine it really is. I just came here to dance."

The bartender, whose name was Justin, filled a small glass with amber liquid. "Two bucks," he said. Then Ethan handed him the money from his wallet.

He took a sip of his drink and was trying to make his way to the dance floor when someone shoved him. It was probably not done intentionally but it caught him by surprise which caused him to bump into the heavyset man in front of him.

"What do you think you're doing twink?" the man asked getting into Ethan's personal space.

"It was just an accident, I didn't mean to."

The man looked down at himself, then back at Ethan before shoving him backward. "Come on asshole, take your best shot"

Then the man swung his fist at Ethan's face. He could have dodged the blow but decided not to instead. The jab caught him in the lips. He was moved back a few feet, but otherwise unaffected.

"Is that all you have?" he asked as two of the bully's buddies moved to back their friend.

Meanwhile, Cameron had found himself dragged into the Stonewall Inn by his companions. When he had time to look around, he noticed there were quite a few men kissing men, more than he was used to in the bars he had frequented. There were also women kissing women, two of them right in front of him. This interested Cameron more, as he was invited to switch off with one, then the other. The threesome's enjoyment of each other was interrupted when a rather burly man was tossed into the table Cameron was sitting at. The table got one of Cameron's friends in the stomach and glanced against Cameron as well. A rough push cleared the table away from Cameron's friend and allowed Cameron to observe a scuffle in progress.

The young man in the center was slight of build, but in Cameron's eyes very quick on his feet. He also seemed to be punching above his weight class. As Cameron looked his mutant power kicked in, analysing the moves in the back of his head. A proverbial bell rung as he recognized it as some of Ethan Hale's moves from the last self-defense class he had run a few days ago. This made Cameron step forward and call out to the familiar fighter "Ethan, is that you?"

Ethan had miscalculated, or at least he hadn't factored in the amount of alcohol that had been consumed. He'd thought that if he just laughed off the jackass' assault he'd been okay. After all, he was a lot tougher than he looked.
The first attacker had been surprised, there was no doubt about that. Rather than deter him, however, it had encouraged him. He swung again. This time, Ethan did dodge.

The swing missed Ethan, but not the man behind him. Then, what started as a simple altercation quickly erupted into an out-and-out brawl. He could have stopped easily enough, just unfurling his wings or extending his claws. But that would have been overkill and out him.

So, he was forced to resort to more traditional methods. Not that he was bad at those. He'd just put a new opponent in a wristlock when he heard a familiar voice. His eyes got wider as he recognized who it was. What was he doing here? "Cameron?" he questioned as he pulled his opponent closer to the older man. "You know what kind of bar this is right?"

Cameron shrugged at the posed question but then realised Ethan was probably too busy to see the reply. "From the combination of people making out, I suppose it's a gay bar." He then paused for a moment, "What are you doing here? Students shouldn't be off the grounds at this time. Let alone get into barfights."

Ethan's complexion changed, color rising to his cheeks. "I didn't come here to get into a fight," he insisted. "I just came here... well I've never been to a bar before. I wanted to see what it was like."

"Yeah I know I should stay on campus I get that. But, I'm probably the only gay kid there, and I just wanted to be around others like me."

One of the brawlers bounced out of the middle, towards Cameron. A few deft steps and some gentle movement allowed Cameron to park the big man onto the ground with some extra imparted energy. "Want me to step in? You seem to be handling it well enough."

The fight seemed to be dying down as most of the bar patrons were returning to their drinks or each other, leaving only a handful of hardcore drunks. Ethan dodged an uppercut meant to knock him out, the blow glancing off of his shoulder and not his chin.

"I got this," he said. You can go back to whatever it is you were doing."

Cameron glanced behind him. His companions had become intimately involved, and Cameron had a sense his interrupting them to join would not be welcome. "Honestly Ethan, I think it's time for both of us to head back to the School." And with that, Cameron stepped into the scrimmage. Having not drawn any real attention to himself from the other brawlers allowed Cameron to grab a fist heading for the back of Ethan's head, pull it off course, and with a twist of Cameron's hips sent the fighter flying out towards the bar itself.

Having drawn some modicum of attention to himself now, two angry looking men peeled off the group. Cameron relaxed his posture, keeping his hands just above his hips and open. As soon as the first came within range Cameron's fist shot up directly into the would-be assailant's nose. Then two quick steps to his right, and Cameron had closed to be almost nose to nose with his second sparring partner. Three furious and fast blows to said partner stopped him in his track. He finished him off with a Glaswegian Kiss to the nose. Cameron used the recoil from the headbutt to take two steps back, and then shift forward again with a low kick to the knee of assailant one.

Ethan didn't want to out himself as a mutant, he figured that wouldn't have gone well under normal circumstances and this fight wasn't normal. He had to do something this brawl was becoming as dangerous as it was monotonous. So, he twisted to the side avoiding another attack, then shoved a table into an oncoming trio. He wasn't sure if he'd hit any of them and at that point, he didn't care. But his action did clear a temporary path to the exit just as sirens were heard approaching.

"Let's get the fuck out now while we have the chance!' he shouted.

"Not bad idea." Cameron agreed, tossing the last assailant into a nearby bar table. As the pair made their way outside and around the block, they saw the flashing lights of a police car approach the bar. Cameron pulled Ethan into the alleyway nearby, out of sight. "We'll need to head back to the school quick. My car is nearby." Cameron said, hesitating a moment before continuing. "And Ethan, I won't tell the Professor you snuck out tonight, but I won't cover for you twice. Don't do it again."

Ethan shook his head. "I was...lonely. I'm, you know, different. None of the kids at school or like me, you know gay. I just wanted to see what it was like to be, semi normal. But I've learned my lesson. I won't be going out again. You won't have to cover for me again."


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