The water was hot, scalding steam burning his face but no matter how many times he scrubbed it just wouldn't come off.
"Come on, Craig!" his sister, Steph, banged her fist from the outside of the bathroom, "other people have to use the bath too!"
He didn't bother to answer her, he was too preoccupied.
It came back again, Craig Dean cursed himself, why do I keep waking up like this!
It started a few weeks ago, just after his brother, Jake, admitted to killing a woman...
aHis brother had killed Diane Valentine in a hit and run accident.
After discovering his wife's affair with a sixteen-year old, his unborn child's possibly not being his and violently attacking the boy responsible for destroying his marriage, Jake's life had finally started to rebuild itself... until that night it came crashing down again.
Distraught over a fight with his family, the eldest Dean boy had been unprepared when he had caught Diana Valentine in the headlights of his car. She had simply dropped her keys and was bending over to pick them up when his brother had knocked her aside like a rag-doll.
His life already in a spiral downward crash, panic and self-presevation had blinded Jake to flee, though eventually his guilty psyche had won out and he confessed to everything.
The news shocked the family and the entire village... but most especially Craig.
A murder in their own house, in the room right next to his.
He went to bed to one night trying to understand how someone could take a life and just walk away. Those thoughts were gone however the next morning...when he awoke to find his fingers were coated in metal.
There was no other way to explained it, his first morning it looked like he had dipped his digits in chrome paint, now it was spreading.
He still didn't know how he had managed to get out of his bedroom, down the hall and into the bathroom without anyone seeing his arm. Everything below his elbow was gone, consumed in jarring yet glossy steel skin.
His fingers flexed again, even if they held the look, weight and strength of metal they still moved like his normal skin.
"Craig!" now it was his mother knocking against the door, "hurry up. You'll be late to your first day of courses!"
Just calm down, he coached himself, stop panicking and it will soon go away.
Deep breaths, the hot air and steam burned on the back of his throat but slowly he started to relax.
The tingling ran down his nerve endings and making Craig shiver as he fought down a smile, trying with all his might to keep himself calm. It was prolonged and gradual but soon the warm flesh of his normal skin began to break through as the silver armoring dissolved back into his body.
"CRAIG!" his mother's shrill voice nearly caused him to leap out of his skin.
"Coming," he shouted back, flexing his now normal and skin covered fingers once to make sure they were back to normal before finally pulling on his uniform.
Hopefully this day would go better then the rest of his morning. He had managed to hid his status as a mutant from his family, how hard could all of Hollyoaks be?
"Where's my jumper?!" John Paul yelled as he tossed another pile of clothes off the couch, searching in vain for the piece of clothing.
"You do this every morning!" his mother yelled, walking passed with an basket full of folded linens.
WIth seven children Myra Mcqueen was far from free of the consent burden of waling and indignant mouths looking for a meal or someone to shout at. The joy of being a single mother to an entire gaggle of hormone ridden children who enjoyed to drive their mother up a wall every second of everyday.
But she was use to it since she was fourteen-years old, an unwed teenage mother tossed out onto the streets with her newborn in arms. Myra Celestine Maxine Philomena Portia Mcqueen was a survivor after the fact and at forty-years old she knew all the moods, emotions and stuble nuisances of her children. If anything she may not have been the best mother but she loved her children, sometimes to the point of smothering.
"Now," Myra announced as she dropped the laundry basket on the kitchen counter, "I hope you have a good day at classes but I'm off with your sisters. Your brother is suppose to give you lot a ride if he ever shows."
As if on cue the oldest Mcqueen boy, Matthew, came through the front door, followed close behind by the youngest.
"I don't see what a few quid would mean to you!" Michaela Mcqueen shouted at her brother, already clad in her school uniform.
"Because your just going to spend it on drugs, a fake ID or God forbid... tampons," he retorted, a smirk played across his lips at the indignant look on his little sister's face to reward his comment.
Matthew Brownlow Mcqueen was the oldest of the Mcqueen siblings and by far the oddest. Strong willed, incredibly caring and towering over most members of his family, Matthew could easily have won any 'Nice-Guy' award... if it weren't for his sometimes mysterious and calculating mind that unnerved many who didn't know him personally... and also due to the fact he was the only heterosexual male working at the local salon, Evissa, as their newest stylist.
That one always sent a few eyebrows up from the local female population of the village and some jolly ribbing from the males.
"Why you..." her sentence immediately cutoff as the teenager's hands suddenly burst into flames.
A normal individual would have screeched in agony, horribly burned or in blinding pain but instead the juvenile just stamped her feet before lobbing a blaze of flames at her sibling.
The response was a blast of freezing air that slammed into the furious red comet, dousing the flames in an instant as a wash of snowflakes peppered the room.
"What have I told you!" Myra shrieked at the most junior member of the household, not bothering to pay a hint of attention at Matthew who was shaking a good deal of ice from his hands as she continued her triad. "No powers in the house!"
"Its not our fault Mercedes electrocuted her last boyfriend when they were snogging!" Michaela shouted back.
Michaela Chelsea Margaret Mcqueen was the last of the Mcqueen sisters and more alike to her oldest brother then they'd care to let on. Both known for being calculating and mischievous, Michaela lacked the maturity of Matthew had gained over his last two and a half decades and as such still held tight to her teenage selfishness and lack of foresight. Her most defining feature however was her fun-loving personality that endeared her to most people, a trait Matthew lacked to great excess.
"Oi, don't blame her," Matthew countered in defense of his sister, "Jacqui's the one who magnetized the silverware in the first place!"
The yelling, the shouting, the unceasing annoyance, John Paul was not the least bit surprised when he found himself pinching the bridge of his nose as a pain began to spring up in his forehead.
"Still getting those headaches, love?" Myra noted her youngest son's discomfort.
"They'll go away soon," John Paul waved off, trying to get out the door just a little faster without any further delay.
"Maybe I should to take you round the Barnes' later, see if he can fix whatever's wrong," Matthew suggested.
"Why do you insist on taking him to that witchdoctor?" Myra spat at the idea. "He's nothing but a nutter."
"Better then the hospital, mum," the oldest contended. "We don't want them catching something from a blood test or something. You don't have to blow up a building now to know you have an X-gene."
John Paul rolled his eyes, not wanting to be pulled into another family brawl, as he finally managed to pull his wrinkled jumper from a pile of bras and a number of female underwear or oddities.
"Move it, Michaela!" he shouted behind him as he made a quick exit, not wanting to be on the tail end of another one of his mother's rants.
One year of school left to complete and then he'd be free from the hectic life of the Mcqueen women and their incessant need to yell at every qualm life sent their way.
But one year was time enough for so much to happen.
The school yard was a hustle of hurried movements, rushing to finish homework assignments forgotten and catchup on social drama missed from the summer vacation.
But in the hurried motions, Craig continued on a slow path, not really wanting to be noticed or become involved with the general populous of the school population.
He almost clear from detection until ran headfirst into the last person he wanted to encounter.
Sonny Valentine, son of the late Diana Valentine, stared him down, eyes filled with hate and rage burning into his form as Craig managed a meager "Excuse me" before disappearing into the building.
Ever since the judge had ruled Jake's hit and run a simple 'accident' and released him with nothing more then two-years probation, Sonny had taken the news badly. Though he was restrained by his older brother Calvin from striking out at his mother's killer, he was free from restriction on Craig, who was a much easier target anyways.
Unlikely to fight back, wanting to go unnoticed, no friends around or willing to defend him... it was an amazing outlet of pent up angst.
As Craig disappeared into the building, he tried not to think about the pair of vexing orbs behind him then sent a shiver down his spine.
They were late, so very late and it was only there first day.
How he groaned at Matthew's dreadful driving, the man took to the road like he was trying to run down every person in his sights. Still if they had walked that would have meant they'd be even worse off so John Paul stifled his groan.
Behind him, Michaela snapped her fingers as she trailed after her older brother, a spark of fire playing over her finger tips.
"If you smell like smoke again," John Paul mumbled, "they'll throw you out."
"Oh what?" she mocked his tone in a higher voice, "the only person in this house without any powers is going to tell me how to use them. Your not even a mutant!"
"Shh," John Paul silenced her quickly, a hand clapped over her mouth as he looked around, making sure no one had heard them. "You know mum doesn't want us talking about this in public. What do you think they do to mutants who can't keep there big mouths shut?"
The threat was more then enough to get Michaela to shut her mouth.
She failed to notice the pain expression on John Paul's face however as he hurried her into the school building.
Craig sighed in relief as he pressed his back into the cool walls of the common room.
He had managed to avoid Sonny for the better part of the day, which was no small feat in itself considering the first course of the day had them sitting on opposite sides of the room from each other.
"If your looking for the way out this isn't it."
Craig turned at the sound of a male voice, catching a glimpse of a blond boy, just a hair breath around his height, sitting in one of the chairs along the wall with a pair of headphones hanging from around his neck.
"What?" Craig asked, unsure of the remark.
"Weren't you suppose to leave last year?" he asked, not bother to reiterate the first statement.
"Do I know you?" Craig questioned.
"No idea," he shrugged, "John Paul."
"Craig," he offered to this strange boy who had piqued his interest as he took the seat across from him. "You know I didn't get the grades I wanted so...well I passed, just a couple of points short so I'm taking another year."
"Great," John Paul paid no heed to his explanation.
Usually Craig would have ignored such a comment and disdained any further contact but for some reason this kid just kept egging him on.
"So why are you in here?" Craig couldn't help himself to ask a question just as poignant as John Paul's, "instead of out there with the rest of them?"
The sound of laughing and stumbling caught both their attention, either head turning to watch as Sonny Valentine and Justin Burton almost fell into the common room in a fit of jovial rumbling. However the moment the new arrivals entered both quieted themselves as they saw who was seated across from them.
"No reason," John Paul muttered cryptically.
"You wanna go somewhere else?" Justin tried to push Sonny back at the door but the boy slid out of his grasp.
"Nah," Sonny said, crossing the room in one stride and vaulted over the couch, pressing himself down next to a very uncomfortable Craig. "I got everything in my sights."
Trying not to draw attention to himself, Craig sank a little deeper into the couch.
He knew he was in a hot water and it was also going to get worse but maybe if he just ignored the situation, Sonny would loss interest and leave him alone.
A very stupid assumption.
Less then a minute later Craig was staring at his homework notes all over the floor before him.
He had the binder in his hands just a moment ago, but somehow it had ended up on the floor.
Craig tried no to pay attention to the fact that Sonny had slapped it from his fingers without so much as an "Oops".
However he did notice when Sonny's foot crunched atop his palm as it went down to reach for the lost item.
"Shh," Sonny's couldn't help the edge and coldness in his voice as he ground his shoe onto Craig's appendage, "have a look around, no one is going to come to your rescue and this is what it is going to be like everyday."
He was right and Craig knew it.
Everyone knew what his brother had done and regardless of his involvement they knew the taking of another life was a slippery slope of morality when you came to the aid of those who had committed the crime versus the one that had lost it.
"Sonny?" Justin's pleading question was enough to get the boy's scrutiny.
A quick nod at a approaching group of students being ushered on by a teacher was enough of a silent warning to get him to back off.
"Bye, Craig," the pressure removed itself from his hand and Sonny quickly retreated out of sight, sending Craig a terrible smirk at his personal object of his fury.
His act of violence yet was for nought as Craig had been more interested in the fact that he was feeling no such pain from Sonny's foot on his hand. Instead he was terribly afraid the boy would have seen the chrome armor creeping up and over Craig's wrist.
Quickly slipping his sliver hand into his jumper he watched for Sonny's timely exit as he willed himself to calm down. The crackling of the living steel finally started to lessen as it was reabsorbed into his normal flesh and finally after a minute of concentrated effort he managed to withdraw his fist without so much as a glint of metal upon it.
Thank god, he sighed inward to himself.
He had been concerned that something like this would happened, caught in the open when he went through one of his 'changes'. The sickening hole inside of his stomach seemed to drop to a new level as he looked around, hoping no one had paid any attention to his stoic attitude.
But no one had come to his aide either and for some reason that burned all the more inside his heart.
How was he going to keep this up any longer, the consent threat of being discovered, hiding himself from a person who was making it his mission to hunt him down. And now with his condition weighing on his thoughts, it was just starting to become too much.
He wanted nothing more then to be a normal boy again, thinking about problems like girls, his exams, what was for lunch.
Gathering up his stuff he pressed the current events and their results from his mind since he was probably already late to his next course.
Bathrooms always smelled like cleaning products and a hint of urine. No matter what public restroom you found yourself in, everything was coated in that smell.
Notwithstanding the pungent odor that overpowered his senses, he wasn't here to utilize the facilities for their intended use, instead using the porcelain thrown for a place to hid then a place to do his business.
"Your not even a mutant!"
The words continue to repeat over and over again in his memories, like a bad commercial that kept playing over and over again on the television.
All his siblings had powers, why not him. His older brother could throw ice, his sisters magnetize metal, create earthquakes, turn into water or shot lightning bolts just with a wave of their hands.
But why not him?
Even his little sister could throw fire around like it was the easiest thing on the planet.
How could a family of mutants have one human in the bunch?
Oh sure mum would be so relieved, he grimly laughed to himself, having a normal in a household of weirdos.
He kicked open the stall door, giving little thought to the shoe print he had left on the surface.
What did he care about?
Being the only normal person in the entire Mcqueen clan could be a godsend in disguise. But that didn't mean he could stop feeling like being the odd one out in the bunch.
Sliding out of the bathroom he found the halls quiet and empty, most everyone right now was in class or at lunch. He was suppose to be in his calculus course but after the substitute had failed to show it didn't take long for the class to abandon their work.
Coming about the corner however caught his sight,
Sonny and Justin, arguing.
Sonny wasn't a particularly nice person to...well everyone. But he had grown a special place of hate in his heart for Craig Dean.
Pressing back around the corner he watched as the two had words, the distance was too great for him to hear anything but since Sonny was gesturing widely and Justin was trying to keep him from heading off it was obvious who was the one upset.
Finally it seemed Justin accepted defeat as he took position with his back against the wall outside the common room doors.
Sonny on the other hand seemed to have gained a fair degree of confidence at his victory and strutted past. As the common room doors opened John Paul caught sight of who Sonny was heading right for...or more certainly the only sight in the empty common room.
Craig sitting on one of the sofas.
Justin's playing look out while Sonny goes in for the kill, he thought to himself.
This was not going to end well for anyone.
"Look who I found."
Craig couldn't help cringed at the sound of Sonny's voice echoing through the room.
He knew this wasn't going to end well, no matter which way you spun it Sonny was out for blood, his blood. Didn't matter who had done the wrong to his mother, he was related to the proprietor and the closest to vent the rage of loss at.
Snatching up his bag and trying to escape another triad of a hurt Valentine, Craig was intercepted and quickly shoved against the most convenient wall.
"Hit me!" Sonny shouted the moment he had Craig pinned.
Did he see, Craig's mind spiraled wildly as anxiety and the threat of exposure raced around his skull, does he want to call me out?
He couldn't have, and slowly Craig started to come down when he realized the true reason of Sonny's insistence of violence.
Sonny wanted a reason for his wrath, some evidence that Craig was as horrible as Sonny thought he was.
Well he wasn't going to justified this acting out with more violence.
"No," the words were quiet but Craig managed to push them out.
"Come on! Hit me!" his aggressor continued to batter him with. "What's wrong with you?
"I said no, alright," Craig's voice started to raise in volume as he started to gain some confidence. Sonny wasn't going to goad him. "I'm sorry what happened to your mum but its got nothing to do with me."
"Don't you mention her!" That comment only managed to magnify Sonny's ire.
"Why not?" Craig countered, his own temper starting to rise. "That's what this is about. I am sorry but its not my fault."
"NO!" Sonny's voice dropped to a growl.
With as much force as he could muster, Sonny slammed Craig back into the wall, the harsh plaster sending a echoing thud through the room.
What caught Craig's attention and not Sonny's, was that it wasn't the sound of someone hitting a generic plaster wall.
It was the sound of a metal clang.
"It was your brothers fault," Sonny bellowed. "He ran her down and then just drove off...like she was a dog. Why didn't you stop him, instead of driving off? Leaving her dying in the road. Come on tell me!"
"Don't know..." the confidence he had before was escaping Craig as he became more interested in the creeping feeling drawing up his back.
"Imagine the pain," the opposition whispered in his face, enjoying how the spit from his words hit Craig's face, "laying there, knowing no one is coming to help you."
The sound of a door opening and a urgent whisper suddenly broke the tension.
"Sonny don't," Justin called out, trying to pull his friend back from the brink.
But it just wasn't enough.
"Stay out of this!" Sonny growled.
Just the same the sudden blaring of the fire alarm overhead was enough to get the infuriated boy to back down a little bit.
"We could all get chucked out on our first day!" Justin's grave ploy still wasn't good enough.
"This is between me and him," Sonny shot back.
"We gotta leave," now Justin had to physically pry the fellow back from Craig and finally it was just the right amount of pressure to gain some sort of logic from Sonny.
Retreating back through the common room doors Craig finally let out a ragged breath, both in relief and a adequate amount of terror.
He had been close, if Sonny had only...he didn't want to think of near he had been to being outed as mutant.
Reaching a hand down he pulled the hem of his shirt up, not wanting to look but having to just confirmed what he had feared.
Sparkling sliver metal covered his entire torso and as Craig snaked his fingers around the back he could feel it covering every inch of his spin.
Its getting worse, he thought to himself.
The first morning he had woken up like this it had just been his finger tips, then his whole hand the day his brother turned himself into the police, his entire left arm this morning and now his entire lower body and most of his right shoulder were consumed in this living steel.
It was getting worse...like everything else in his life.
The hot summer air felt good and no matter if in another month it would be swallowed up in the cold and rain of fall, John Paul felt good under the powerful sun. Laying back on the school wall, he had to admit these moments of quiet made the deafening loudness of home and the suffocating boredom of school almost bearable for these moments of reprieve.
So preoccupied in his own personal recreation he almost didn't notice as Craig trudge passed him in his own little world.
"Relax," he called after him and though his lips did not show it he was snickering on the inside, "Sonny's gone."
Slowly but surely Craig turned to regard the boy leaning against the wall.
"Why you hanging around here?" he had to ask, not bothering to hide his contempt.
"Waiting for my kid sister, Michaela," John Paul shrugged to Craig's seething attitude. "If your scared I could get her to walk you home?"
That managed to crack the hard exterior of Craig Dean as the displeasure look on his face dropped a bit, an act not missed by John Paul.
"That'd be a great end to the day. First theirs the humiliation of walking in, then there's Sonny wanting to kill me, not to mention I was all..." Craig had to mentally slap his mouth shut from sputtering that last bit of information and quickly hiding it around another, "...all these idiots who think setting off a fire alarm is a right laugh."
Sighing John Paul pushed off the wall and steadily paced passed Craig, his aloofness of the situation only helping the dark-haired boy's blood boil.
"Maybe that idiot was just trying to watch your back," he finally murmured as he moved continued on out pass the school-gates, "ever thought of that?"
Craig's ears perked up at that assumption, but more so noting the agitation in John Paul's voice.
"What?" he asked, rushing to catch up to the other boy who was not stalking off.
"Huh," John Paul glanced at his watch, not paying any attention to his pursuer, "she must have already left."
"Hold on, what'd you say," Craig scurried up next to John Paul. "Hold on! Was it you!?"
"You can get kicked out for pulling a stunt like that," John Paul uttered at the Craig's implication.
"Tell me!" the former shot back.
Sighing John Paul gave in.
"I saw Sonny follow you inside," he confessed. "Just wasn't shaping up to be a fair fight."
He didn't want to elaborate of what he had to go through though to pull off such a stunt.
"Come on," John Paul argued with his sister twenty minutes previous. "Just do this for me."
"No," Michaela hollered at him from her locker. "If they catch us, you'll just be booted out, I'll probably get carted off to be sectioned! I don't want to end up like Jacqui!"
"I'll give you twenty quid," he tried to bribe her.
"No!" the blonde howled right back at his attempt.
"You can rummage round in my stuff all you like," John Paul tried another chance to gain her cooperation.
"Not a chance, John Paul," Michaela shrugged him off as she continued to fool around inside her locker for her missing history text.
John Paul knew Michaela could be stubborn but he was not about to be deterred.
It was time to change his tactics from bribery to blackmail.
"I won't tell mum who set fire to the Carrington's trellis last month!" his voice was barely a whisper but it was enough to catch her attention.
"How'd you..." Michaela shouted before she brought her volume down considerably as not to draw attention to themselves. "How'd you find out about that!"
"You should really invest," John Paul dismissed, "in some better passwords on your computer."
She ground her teeth together, weighing her options and chances of survival in both situations. Caught by the authorities or caught by her mother. She fear Myra Mcqueen's rage far more then a lifetime in a mental institution.
"Fine," she answered a with her eyes still bearing down on her brother who was forcing her into such an action she pointed her hand skyward and fired a pellet of fire at the nearest smoke detector.
The alarm was immediate the second the super-heated ball of air raced passed it's sensor. It wasn't enough to entice the sprinklers to break themselves open but it was ample to get the bells ringing across the school.
"Now were even!" Michaela screamed over the sound of doors opening, students clamoring out into the hallways and instructors directing them along. "And then some!"
"Thanks," Craig said, and for once he was truly sincere about it.
Nodding, John Paul turned and slung his back pack across his shoulder and started to head off.
But quickly he turned back towards Craig one last time.
"You for someone who says he just wants to keep his head down," he observed, "you do a pretty good job calling attention to yourself."