Disclaimer: Marvel Comics owns these characters, not I.
Author's note: An answer to Minisinoo's powerswap challenge as well as an idea that's been formulating in my head for quite some time now. I just never figured out how to tell the story until now. Some background material for Jean and Scott kindly supplied by Minisinoo and used with her permission; the Scott here derives his background from Minisinoo's "Special" series and Scott mentions an incident that happens to Jean in "Accidental Interception of Fate." This story takes place before X1 and right up to X2.
This story also contains some dialogue from a version of the X1 script, with some conversations and action altered to fit the premise of this story. Original material from X1 belongs to Bryan Singer.
Warning: This story contains some adult language and situations that may be disturbing to some readers.
Many thanks to Liz Logan and Rocky for the research help, Minisinoo for allowing me to use some of her background, and Jerie for betaing this one; it's much appreciated.
The San Andreas Fault stretches 700 to 750 miles across California, depending on which geologist you ask. Aerial photos show a puckered sepia-colored scar reaching from the southern part of the state in Imperial County into the Pacific Ocean, west of Mendocino County. When it comes to the science of plate movements, the San Andreas fault is easily one of the most studied. Scientists predict a 62 percent chance of another major earthquake in California before the year 2032. But it's not the big earthquakes that concern me, but the little ones, the ones we barely notice, the ones which never make the evening news.
Until the motorcycle crash, I'd never given much thought to how geography shifts around us, however subtly. I knew, of course, that millions of years ago, there was only one land mass, Pangaea. Over time, the shifting of the tectonic plates below the surface rearranged the Earth's land masses into the familiar shape of continents we know now. The most obvious evidence are the Himalayas, the tall peaks a testament to the collision between Asia and the subcontinent of India. Each year, India pushes into Asia, adding a few more inches to the Himalayas. There are days when I stare at the map of the world and wonder what it'll be like when India has turned herself into a completely new and mountainous geography. And then I remember how I feel, how I was before my own collision, before my own personal geography was irrevocably changed.
And like I said, I never thought of this until after the motorcycle crash, when I woke in the infirmary, my eyes taped shut, and every muscle in my body aching.
"Don't move," Hank said, concern evident in his voice. His hands were cold against my skin. "How do you feel?"
"You sustained quite a blow to the head."
I gingerly reached up and touched my bandaged eyes. "It hurts like hell too."
"You have a minor concussion." I heard Hank pull up a chair, most probably one of the metal stools with the black leather cushions. "Some bumps, bruises, and other than that, just fine. You have Jean's telekinetic powers to thank for saving both of your hides."
"That's a relief." I twisted my head slightly to the side, to the direction of Hank's voice. "And Jean? How is she?"
"She's resting," Hank said calmly. "And I still have a few more tests to run." The strain in Hank's voice caught my attention.
"What happened to her?"
"She got thrown from the motorcycle when you hit the tree," Hank said. "Her head injury is more serious than yours."
I struggled to sit up, but Hank's hand against my chest pushed me back down. "Easy, Scott."
"What else?" I pushed the words out through gritted teeth.
"A broken arm, some bumps and bruises, and there's the possibility of some internal bleeding." I could hear Hank getting up and pushing his stool away. "Now, rest. I'll check on you in an hour."
I spent the 72 hours after the motorcycle crash in the infirmary. My eyes were taped shut for most of the time and I drifted in and out of a heavily drugged sleep. Hank came by every few minutes it seemed to check on me, and a couple of times, the Professor and Ororo came as well. None of them would tell me anything more about Jean. And I started to think the worst, that something awful had happened and it was all my fault.
On the fourth day after the motorcycle crash -- I had already begun to think of life in terms of before and after -- Hank let me return to my room. Carefully, he removed the bandage from my eyes and then said, "Here's your visor, but you won't need it any more."
Years of discipline kept my eyes firmly shut. "No." I held my hand out to him.
"The MRIs I took shows that the concussion has managed to reset the X-factor control in your brain. I can't explain it any better than that, but there's considerable variance in the amount of brain activity and it's more in line with what I see in mutants who can *actually* control their powers," Hank said. "You will be fine without your visor."
"No," I said again.
Hank silently handed me the visor. "When you feel comfortable..."
"I want to see Jean."
Hank looked me up and down and then nodded. "Just for a few minutes."
Jean lay in the backroom of the infirmary, covered to the neck with a white blanket. Her face was pale, her long red-brown hair spread in a halo around her. The golden red eyelashes curled against her skin and as I leaned down to gently kiss her on the lips, I had a silly thought that she was Snow White and I was Prince Charming. Head injuries have a way of making you delusional. But Jean didn't wake, rather she shuddered almost violently at my touch, her eyes opening wide before shutting once again. Hank pulled me away and pushed me out the door.
"What is the matter with her?" I demanded.
"Jean used her telekinesis to protect the two of you when you went off the road," Hank said quietly. "But it wasn't enough." He took a deep breath. "She's changed, Scott."
"In what way?" I had to grab the back of a chair for support. I had to blink to focus; even with the red-tint of my visor, the room seemed unusually bright. "Hank?"
"The head injury has destroyed the control center for her mutation. Basically, the opposite of what happened to you when your parents' plane crashed when you were boy. You were unable to control your mutation, but Jean's injury, it's turned her mutation off completely." Hank was standing just a few feet away from me, but the distance seemed even further. I blinked again.
"I don't understand."
"Why don't you come sit down?"
I followed Hank into his office, which was located just down the hall from Jean's. They both had the same furniture -- wide mahogany desks, green plush chairs, and bookshelves lining the wall. But Jean's office, Jean's office was alive with plants, with framed Monet reproductions on the wall, and a green plush sofa covered with a bright red afghan shoved into a corner; I knew that sofa well, having spent many a night on it while Jean studied well into the night during med school. Yes, I know, but I was a boy then, just nineteen years old, and in love for the very first time and hopefully, for the last. And Jean, with the patience of a woman nearing thirty, indulged me, and often covered me with the afghan before returning to her own books.
Hank pulled out charts as I sat in front of him. He pulled out charts of the cerebellum, medulla and cerebrum, explaining how the before and after of Jean's brain worked. He explained the X-factor, what we call the gene that creates the mutative condition, and the role the brain plays (or doesn't play, as was my case) in controlling the gene. But I admit I'm a math person. I understand formulas and equations; frankly, I prefer the stark certainty of pi to the ambiguity of the human brain. But Hank was patient despite my own impatience with him and I learned that Jean had for the most part, had lost her telepathic and telekinetic abilities.
"So she's... normal?" The words scratched at the back of my throat. How many times had we wondered that 'what if'? "What if, Scott, we weren't mutants? What kind of life would we live then?" And then, "Jean, what if there was a way I could control my eyes, didn't have to wear this visor..."
But we never seriously considered that possibility, and the *idea* Jean could be something other than a mutant, someone other than one of *us*, was frankly frightening to me. I pressed my hands against my face, already imagining Jean moving first out of my room, and then out of the house, out in the world that had never really considered us as anything but freaks, anomalies, dangers, evil -- you name the adjective, and you get the feeling.
"Give it time," Hank said softly. "She'll adjust. You both will."
I stumbled to my feet. And that's when the earth shook for the first time. A gentle rumble and I tumbled to the floor, banging my knee against the desk. Books fell off the shelves, and I lay flat on the carpeted floor, too woozy to get to my feet on my own. The rumbling continued for a good two minutes. I could hear screams all over the house and running footsteps past Hank's door. I inhaled deeply. One one hundred, two one hundred, three one hundred... and then the shaking stopped. The earthquake had ended. Hank stared at me oddly. Then he rounded the desk and helped me to my feet.
"Again," Hank said. He motioned with his hand. "Walk towards the wall."
I put my hand on Hank's desk for support and took another step. Slight tremors. Another step. More tremors. Coincidence? My palms were sweaty and I could feel a familiar ache behind my right eye.
I looked at Hank. Was he crazy? By now, my knee ached terribly and my head spun; I wasn't quite sure which way was up, but I obeyed. I continued, slowly, heading towards the wall. The ground continued to shake. Slowly at first, and as I picked up speed, so did the tremors. I touched the wall and leaned back against it.
"Earthquakes don't happen in New York," I said, almost incoherently.
"I know." Hank supported me, his arm around my waist, and his other hand gripping my right forearm. "I think that's all about to change." He offered me a sad smile. "Not sure how the geologists are going to explain it."
"Great," I said gloomily. Instead of endangering people with optic blasts, now I had the ability to shift the plates below the surface of the Earth. The thought took my breath away and I sat down heavily in my chair.
"This is... permanent?" I asked finally. I had a hard time forming the words.
"I can't answer that, Scott." Hank took a deep breath. "To be honest, I've never seen something like this happen before-- suppression of one X-factor manifestation and the emergence of another as a replacement."
How on Earth, I wondered, would I be able to control this?
For the first time in my life, I knew I preferred the ruby-shaded glasses.
It took a week for Jean to regain consciousness, and then another week passed before Hank allowed her to leave the infirmary. In the meantime, I took long walks outside, occasionally removing my visor to look for the first time in years at the colors around me. I reveled in the blue of the sky, the vibrant green following a rainstorm, the deep rich red of the roses Ororo cultivated in her garden, and the shimmer of black asphalt stretching out across the verdant countryside. If I forgot for a moment, if I lost myself in color, the ground beneath me would vibrate. Slowly, at first, and then increasing in intensity, a sure reminder that I no longer had a barrier between myself and my power; now I would be like all of the other mutants at Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters. I would have to rely on my self-discipline and control to keep those around me -- hell, those in a 500-mile radius of Salem Center -- safe.
I found that if I concentrated as I walked, ran, hopped, skipped -- you name the action -- the earth did not tremble beneath me. In fact, it was only when I drifted, allowed myself to dwell on something other than where my next footstep would fall, the ground would move. In those first few weeks though, unfortunately, I lost concentration more often than I'd like to admit.
The newspapers ran a daily "earthquake watch" story. The geologists were baffled. No prominent fault lines lay beneath the state of New York. The evening news didn't miss a beat either and in a perverse way, I *enjoyed* the coverage about the sudden rash of earthquakes in Westchester County. I usually watched the evening newscast in our room, lying on the bed, hands tucked behind my head. Sometimes I wore the visor, sometimes I didn't. One night, I watched with interest one geologist's speculation the crust beneath New York was enduring some major stress, given that the last major earthquake in the state had occurred in 1944 -- caused by plate activity in Western Quebec.
"Any area where small earthquakes occur, obviously, there's the chance a big one may happen," the geologist said importantly to the television reporter. "The 1944 Cornwall earthquake in upstate is the largest in magnitude experienced in New York state. It measured about a six on the Richter scale, but the possibilities of something larger than that, say a seven or eight is not out of the question. Of course, we only have 250 years worth of data on earthquakes in New York and some people say that's not enough information to correctly predict what could happen here." The geologist -- a balding man in his late sixties -- then turned to face the camera directly. "In general, I would stress there is little cause for alarm. New York State is far away from any faults; this is not like California and even Alaska has more earthquakes than New York. So while the recent activity is unusual, there is no reason for residents to panic--"
"Scott." Jean stood in the bathroom doorway, dressed in silky peach, a clingy fabric that left little to the imagination. She had piled her hair piled haphazardly on top of her head, looking every inch a femme fatale, if not for the dark circles rimming her eyes and the jagged scar running across her cheek. Hank had assured Jean the scar would fade with time, as would her other injuries. She didn't have to tell me, though, that she desperately missed her telepathic and telekinetic abilities; there had been a time in her life when she had been crippled by the voices in her head. Now, Jean reached out for them in comfort. And I admit, I missed hearing *her* in my own head.
I pressed the mute button on the geologist. I had read as many books as I could get my hands on and prowled the Internet for more information on earthquakes, looking for answers on how I could possibly control this new power of mine. There wasn't much, in layman's terms, that the geologist in his smug way could tell me about earthquakes in New York that I didn't already know. Especially, I thought as I smiled back at Jean, when someone was making me a much, much better offer.
"Hi," I said softly. I patted the bed, feeling a little bit of Lothario in the process. "You look beautiful." I meant the words sincerely, but Jean didn't move.
"I felt that one today. The earthquake this afternoon." She eyed me. "Were you upset?"
"Scott, you can't just let go like that," Jean said. She sat down on the bed, the silky fabric of her nightgown riding high on her thighs.
"You think I don't *know* that?" I pointed a finger at the television. The reporter was now asking the geologist some questions. "Do you think I *like* it when the earth moves? Do you think I *enjoy* being responsible for the damage and injuries?"
"There has been no serious damage or injuries."
"And there won't be, Scott. You're too careful to allow this to get out of hand. You'll figure out how to control it and it won't happen."
Jean leaned over and cupped my face with her hands. I leaned forward, resting my forehead against hers. It was the first real moment of intimacy for us since before the motorcycle crash. For this second, I almost believed it could be all right, that we could go back to being the people we once had been. I kissed her, my hands reaching to unclip her hair so that it tumbled free around her shoulders. She moaned, pressing me back against the bed, straddling my hips.
"I've missed you," she said, her words coming out on a curve of air. "I've missed *this*." She kissed me lightly on the side of my mouth. "Have I mentioned just how *cute* you are without the visor? Not that I didn't think you were adorable before--" she ran her fingers down my cheekbones, a slow exploration that I was enjoying immensely "-- but your eyes, Scott. To finally see your eyes." She leaned in for another kiss, this one deeper and much more passionate.
"Hank said I was fine."
"Are you sure?"
She offered me a coy smile. "Are you telling me a young man like you can't keep up with me?"
I laughed and pushed her off me and pinned her arms over her head. "Not at all. I just didn't want to exhaust you."
"I'd like to see you try," Jean said. Her lips parted slightly to reveal a row of teeth.
"Now there's a challenge I'm more than happy to take up." I slipped the strap of her gown down her shoulder and pressed my lips to rounded curve of her breast. Jean ran her fingers through my hair and then wrapped one leg around my hips. I was determined to go slow and below me, Jean wiggled and occasionally let out short gasps as I explored my way down to the V between her legs. And then, Jean stiffened, her eyes widened and then she rolled away from me.
"Stop." Her voice
came out in a strained gargle.
"What is it?" I reached for her, but she scooted in the opposite direction from me, nearly falling off the bed in the process. I let my hand drop.
"You--" She swallowed hard.
"What?" I sat up. "What did I do?"
"Why didn't you ever tell me?"
"Tell you what?"
"What it felt like to be raped."
I stared at her. "Jean--"
"I was *there*, Scott." She stared at me, her eyes wide with fear. "I *felt* what happened to you, how *you* felt--" her voice trembled as she spit out the words "--
"You never *told* me." She was shaking now and nearly slipped out of the bed. I grabbed her arm, intending to steady her, but she pushed me away. "Don't. No. Don't touch me." Jean curled up in a fetal position, her body shaking. I wanted to wrap myself around her, wanted to assure her that my pain was long in the past and was not something she needed to share. But as she lay there, arms crossed against her chest, face nearly pressed down into her knees, I knew Hank hadn't told me the whole truth about what had really happened to Jean.
When I was sixteen, I was raped. I lived on the streets and I admit, I had a thing for marijuana, and later for hard stuff like crack and, and when I felt like escaping my skin, crystal meth; The habit gets you through the street life and eventually, you have to pay it somehow. I didn't think of getting a job at the Seven-Eleven, but instead, I sold myself. Every night, in my leather pants and spandex black tank top, I'd walk the streets. I had my block -- the one-tenth mile between Ninth and Tenth streets -- and I was careful never to cross the street.
Most johns paid up. They liked me. Pretty boy, and I didn't look sixteen, at best, twelve, and they liked that. Sometimes we'd do it in their cars, sometimes in a hotel, once or twice I took them up to my one room on the fifth floor of a condemned building; I shared the floor with at least thirty other people -- male and female both -- who were in the business of trafficking sex too -- and my mattress would rock in rhythm to the groans and moans threading through the paper-thin plywood walls.
Most encounters lasted less than an hour. If I was lucky, the men I serviced would pay me in full. There were a few nervous types, and I always pegged them as respectable bankers or accountants who had families in New Rochelle. But there were a few who didn't cough up the cash, who hit and kicked me when I held my hand out; I learned to accept 'fuck you' as paid-in-full because a split lip and a black eye didn't bode well for business.
The man who raped me was not the first, and certainly not the last, but he's the one I remember most clearly, the one whom I talked to my therapist about after I was brought to Xavier.
This man was tall, thin, his nose pointed, and his eyes set close together under a dark unibrow. His cheekbones were mottled with black freckles, and his chin, like the rest of him, was sharp and angular. He wore jeans and a white t-shirt and I pegged him in his late thirties, maybe forties. He offered me a joint and I took him up to my room. We sat on the mattress and he took off his boots. Next door, my neighbor Mindy moaned, because like me, she had learned that our johns liked to hear us 'enjoy' ourselves.
"You do that, fucker?" the man asked me.
I eyed him curiously and stretched my legs out languidly. "Define 'that'."
"Sex." His tone clearly implied he thought I was stupid.
"You a homo then?"
"Doesn't matter to me. No preference."
"You are a stupid fucker." He crushed his joint beneath the heel of his boot. "Stupid fucking lie. All liars, people like you." He reached out so quickly, I had no time to react. His hand encircled my neck and he pushed me facedown on the bed. Hard. He kept his hand on my back as he straddled my hips. "Pretty boy, pretty, pretty, pretty boy." His hands were on my hips, reaching in the front to unbutton and unzip my jeans, and then he pulled them down. His palm was heavy on the small of my back and I found it hard to breathe as he put all 180 pounds of his weight on me. "Pretty boy fag," he said then. And then just, "Fag, fag, fag," until the words blurred in my ears and I no longer heard him.
In the background, Mindy stopped moaning.
My face pressed hard against my dirty mattress; it smelled like mildew. I could not move, paralyzed by weed. I clutched the edge of the bed as the man pounded in and out of me. And then he flipped me over onto my back.
"Such a pretty face," he said as he zipped up his pants. I hurt and didn't move. He reached down, cupped my face with his hand. "Such a pretty, pretty face." And then he hit me. Again. Again. Again. After a while, I no longer felt him and when I opened my eyes, darkness flooded the room. It was night time and Mindy was sitting on the edge of the bed, a washcloth in her hand.
"Oh Scott," she said softly. She reached down and kissed me lightly on the lips. Gentle, caring, and not at all sexual. For the first time in months, a woman held me. Mindy wrapped her arms tightly around me that night and rocked me to sleep.
The next night, I was back on the streets, make-up covering up what the man without a name had done to my pretty boy face.
"Jean absorbs memories through touch, you're both absolutely right," Hank said. We were in his office, the door shut firmly. I kept my arms crossed against my chest and I couldn't help the scowl stretching across my face. Next to me, Jean sat silently, almost as if in shock. "The longer the exposure, the more vibrant and *intense* the memory. And from what I can see, she just doesn't pick up on the memories of the other person, but also the feelings the individual experienced at the time of the memory, and in such vivid detail that she feels like it's happening to her."
I gripped the arm rest tightly. "All this with just a simple touch?"
Hank looked at me, and then at Jean, sadly. "Yes."
"Why didn't you tell me, tell *us* earlier?"
"I'm sorry." Hank's shaggy hair flopped over his forehead, and he pushed it back carelessly. "With you, Scott, it was obvious what had happened when you were brought in -- the MRIs were pretty conclusive about your brain wave activity, but whenever you moved, the earth did as well. The first time you walked across my office, you confirmed my theory your power had simply migrated. With Jean, I could tell from the initial MRI scan that her brain had turned off the X-factor, but I wasn't sure if it had turned something else on as there was no outward physical manifestations as there were in your case."
I thought of Jean, how she'd immediately changed out of the peach negligee into a thick flannel nightgown, and then she'd spent the night huddled at the edge of the bed. Our first night together in over two weeks and she wouldn't let me touch her. I couldn't help the frustration which knotted itself into a painful lump at the base of my throat.
"You could cover up to avoid touching others. It seems to be direct skin to skin contact that's the issue," Hank continued on, this time his gaze rested directly on Jean. "In this case, your absorption of memories is more painful and traumatic because you haven't quite learned how to filter them out. But like you learned with your telepathy and telekinesis, in time, you will learn how to manage this."
I let out a shaky breath. "Then we'll deal with it." I glanced at Jean, but she remained expressionless. "It'll be no different than when her shields collapsed all those years ago. Remember? And I stayed with her?"
"I remember." Hank took a step towards me. "This is different, Scott. This is trauma. She is experiencing *your* trauma."
"It was over ten years ago."
"But be honest, Scott." Hank sat on the edge of the desk, just a foot or two away from me. "Is the pain any less today than it was when you were sixteen years old?"
I considered. Hadn't thought about my life on the streets in recent years, not since I'd gotten my masters in mathematics, had become the leader of the X-Men, and second only to Xavier here at the school. I had put the past away, buried it deep; when I did think about it, it was always in clinical terms such as perpetrators tend to be males who consider themselves heterosexual and up to one out of six men report having had unwanted direct sexual contact with an older person by the age of 16. As if the facts could put some distance between the Scott Summers I was now and the Scott Summers I had been then. Somehow, Jean had unearthed the primal nature of the memory.
"Maybe I should have told her about what happened in more detail," I said slowly. Next to me, Jean didn't react.
"Hearing about an incident and experiencing it are two different things," Hank said gently. "Give Jean time to adjust, Scott. You have to understand she picks up new emotions and memories with every touch. She's not only dealing with yours, but those of half a dozen other people in this school. And those memories, they run the gauntlet from joyous to traumatic. It's a wide emotional range and not easy to cope with." He looked at Jean. "Jean, if you've got a moment--"
I recognized a dismissal when I heard one. I left Hank's office, a hollow pit in my stomach. I did this to Jean, I thought to myself as I made my way down the hallway. *I* did this, I did this, I did this, I did this, I, I, I, I...
Jean started wearing gloves. Long, elbow-length, the type you see in turn-of-the-century sepia-colored photographs. She wore turtlenecks and pants, skirts and dresses now a thing of the past. She kept her distance, not just from me, but from others as well. There was a haunted look in her eyes and I wanted to ask her who else she had touched, what other horrors had she experienced in the minds of others.
I suggested to the Professor that perhaps there was a way to develop filters, that we should be able to find some way to block Jean's mind from absorbing the memories of everyone whose skin she came into contact with.
"It is harder to protect the mind when one is no longer telepathic," the Professor said gently. "Mental shielding requires a certain amount of power to maintain, an ability which Jean no longer has."
"Can she at least get the good memories?" I asked in frustration. "Why does it always have to be the bad ones?"
"I believe the longer the contact, the more deeply her ability to reach into the mind of the person she touches. It is not something she can control, Scott."
I sat back in my chair. This would explain *how* Jean had somehow broken into a memory of mine, one which had been buried and not at all referenced in recent years. The Professor went on to conjecture that perhaps a light touch, quick in duration, would simply bring up superficial memories; these, he postulated, for the most part would pose little or no harm to Jean at all.
"But we have talked enough about Jean," the Professor said. "How are *you*, Scott?"
I shrugged. I was wearing my visor today for no other reason than it was an unusually bright day and the sun hurt my eyes. I was still quite sensitive to light and believe it or not, I still considered the visor an object of comfort.
"I'm fine," I said, remembering what Jean had said about being able to see my eyes. "I'm working with Ororo to control and develop my new powers."
"I don't mean that, Scott. About the accident," the Professor said. He sat in his chair absolutely ramrod straight, impeccably dressed in a black pinstripe suit with a tie of a shiny black fabric. "Have you recovered from the accident completely?"
"Physically, yes." I felt restless and shifted my position in the chair. "Hank says I'm pretty much as good as new."
I shrugged. "I can't help but think there might have been something I could have done to avoid this happening to us."
"Do not blame yourself, Scott."
I got up from my chair and roamed the office, giving free rein to my agitation. "How can I not? *I* was the one driving. Jean *trusted* me."
"You were run off the road. You could not have anticipated that possibility."
I had a dim memory of a black Ford 150 rushing towards me. I remember Jean telepathically -- and frantically -- saying to me, *Scott! He's in the wrong lane!* And then, I'd made the decision to swerve.
I stared at the Professor and he nodded, almost imperceptibly. "So you do remember."
"I do." I took a deep breath. "But it doesn't make a difference, Professor. The accident has changed everything about who I am, who Jean is."
"That is not true, Scott," the Professor said. "You've always been more than your mutation, always more than your power." He smiled, a little sadly, maybe. "But I have always had a hard time of convincing my students of that truth."
I tried to remember this particular insight when I saw Jean getting ready for bed. I'd sit in the easy chair, which gave me a view of the bathroom -- she always left the door open -- and I'd watch. Every now and then, she'd offer me a tentative and shy smile, but then would emerge draped completely in flannel. Some nights she would hug me, but most nights, she'd just slip under the covers with a quiet, "Good night, Scott."
And so Jean kept sleeping in our bed, but hugging the edge and dressed from head to toe in thick flannel, while I lay on my back, staring up at the ceiling. We'd attempted to make love just once since the first aborted attempt, but it was a thankless situation; sex fully clothed just isn't the same. And I tried to explain to Jean just how much I missed the taste of her skin, but she turned away.
"I can't, Scott," she said. "I'm sorry."
So I fell back against the covers. Out of a habit, I reached for my sleep goggles. If nothing else, I could block out the image of Jean doing her best to never touch me again.
In my spare time, between classes and tutoring sessions, I escaped to the back lawns of the school. There had been a time in my not so distance past when I had done the same thing so I could remove my visor and shoot off beams into the sky in attempt to relieve the pressure in my head. Now I did the same thing to practice controlling my power. I was getting better at focusing and now, I'd reduced the number of earthquakes to one a day, and thankfully, those little tremors measured just a few notches below 2 on the Richter scale.
The students had become used to the shaking, and some of them even thought the ability to create earthquakes was much cooler than optic blasts. I wasn't so sure. I was growing more comfortable with my new power, but there were days when I desperately missed the old.
"It's different when the power isn't 'broken'," I said to Jean. We were watching television in our bedroom. She was eating popcorn and every now and then, passed the bowl over to me. "I can control this one."
"I'm thinking about researching and writing a paper about what has happened to us," Jean said. She glanced at me sideways. "Anonymously, of course. This shows a new link between the presence of the X-factor and the ability of the brain to dictate exactly *what* the mutation will be."
"So you want to study us?"
"I want to make sense of what has happened," Jean said very quietly. She stretched the sleeves of her turtleneck so that they were covering her fisted hands. "This isn't easy for me, Scott."
"I never said it was." I felt that familiar lump of guilt forming at the base of my throat. "I'm sorry, Jean, so sorry."
She waved my comment away. "It wasn't your fault."
"I wasn't paying attention." I got up from the bed and turned off the television. Who cared about a special two-hour episode of "Survivor" at a time like this? Jean stared at me as I settled in the easy chair diagonally across from our bed. "If I had seen the truck, I might have been able to anticipate better."
"I could have perhaps pushed the truck away from us," Jean said. She lay on her stomach, facing me. "I *was* telekinetic, you know."
We stared at each other in silence.
"I know," I said finally.
"It was an accident," Jean said firmly. "That's it."
"That doesn't change how I feel. I want you to know how sorry I am this happened to you."
That night, she let me hold her. I wrapped my arms around her, put my pajama-covered leg over hers, and pressed my lips to the nape of her neck, counting on the shield of red hair to keep her safe from whatever demons still lay trapped in my past.
I practiced controlling my new powers with Ororo in the Danger Room. With her experience in summoning weather phenomena at a moment's notice, I figured she was probably the best tutor for me.
"You have to focus all of your energy," Ororo said. She wore her black leather X-Men uniform, her cape flapping behind her. A cool breeze whipped up from the southwest corner of the room. She turned to look at me, her eyes milky white. She raised her arms above her head and the wind grew colder, harder, stronger; I fell to my knees, shivering. After a moment, Ororo put her arms down. "Focus on *what* you want and it will happen."
"In other words," I said, "just *think*."
"No, you must imagine." She took a step in my direction. "I think of the winter, of the wind blowing through the trees, and then I imagine the snow, and the ice, and it becomes colder."
I rubbed my hands together. "And to get it to stop?"
"I think of that word itself. 'Stop'."
"Sounds simple," I said, even though I knew it was anything but.
"You will master this, Scott."
"I have to," I said. I took a deep breath. "All right, I'm ready to try again."
"Be gentle," Ororo said. "The last thing we need is an investigation."
I arched an eyebrow. Her concern was well-placed. It was only a matter of time before geologists turned their attention towards a mutant, and where else was there a higher concentration of mutants other than here at Xavier's? I closed my eyes tightly, so tightly a little drop of water squeezed out of one corner, and I imagined myself shifting through the layers of the Earth. Grass, soil, bedrock -- composed mostly of igneous and metamorphic rocks -- and then finally, to the lithosphere, the outer part of the continental plates that form the Earth's crust. Focusing a little harder, I pictured the lava bubbling up from the asthenosphere, putting pressure on the lithosphere. I could see the cracks in the surface, the fire-red lava stressing the fractures, and creating convection currents. In my mind, I saw the lithosphere split, move about, one plate brushing up against the other. A sideways slip. Edges grinding together, pushing tectonic plates up, swallowing earth, creating new depressions and uplifts in the terrain. A minor rearrangement of geography, barely perceptible to the naked eye.
I opened my eyes to see Ororo standing next to the wall, braced. Her lips turned up a little. "Yes," she said softly. "And now, you must stop it."
I closed my eyes again and mentally reached out. My hand stretched out inadvertently, almost as if I was pushing up against the tectonic plates themselves. I concentrated with all of my energy on just that one word. Stop. And the shaking did. Exhausted, I opened my eyes. Ororo was smiling at me.
"Keep practicing," she said. "Soon, you will have complete control." She patted me on the forearm as she walked by. "And I think we will all breathe a sigh of relief when you do."
Left alone in the Danger Room, I slid to the floor, leaning back against the wall. My skin was sweaty, my hair damp and flopping in my eyes. I took off my visor and rubbed my eyes wearily. I had never been able to control my optic blasts without the protective shielding of the visor; now I could see in a way, I was lucky. Trying to control and contain power was an exhausting exercise, one I'd never had to deal with before. I looked down at my hands. They were shaking. My legs were stiff; I wasn't quite sure I had the strength to stand. So instead, I slid –- ungracefully –- to the floor, leaned my head back against the padded wall for support and slept.
"How is this so easy for you?" Jean asked one day over lunch. We were in the kitchen, eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with a side of potato chips.
"Easy?" I glanced up from the car magazine I was thumbing through. The specs for the new Mazda RX-8 had caught my attention. "What are you talking about?"
"Your mutation." Jean bit into a chip and grimaced. "I really don't like the salt and vinegar ones."
"What about my mutation?"
"Would you put that magazine away and pay attention?"
I obeyed. I knew that tone of voice. Jean didn't get angry at me often, but when she did, I took notice. "What?" I said.
"The fact you can't shoot optic beams out of your eyes anymore, that doesn't bother you?" Jean asked. She pushed her plate, with the half-eaten sandwich, away from her. "I don't understand that."
"What is there to understand?"
"It was a part of you, Scott. A part of *who* you were." Jean sighed. "I don't even know if I recognize myself anymore." She cupped her chin in one gloved hand. "I had just gotten used to learning how to control my telepathy and now this."
"You will learn how to control this one too," I said soothingly, putting my hand over hers.
"It took me years to keep people out of my head, Scott."
"But you did it."
"Not before I went crazy." Her lower lip quivered. "Is that going to happen again?"
I knew she was referring to the time the mental shields Xavier had placed to help her contain her telepathy had broken down. She'd been close to catatonic, kept in the Danger Room while Hank and Xavier had tried to help her find herself. And then I had taken measures into my hands, had promised to stay and take care of her until we managed to find -- in the cacophony of all those voices -- the real Jean.
"No," I said. Then I leaned forward, lowered my voice. "Why don't you take off the gloves, Jean?"
She shook her head.
"Please," I said.
"I can't." She lifted her chin defiantly.
"Try, for me."
"What about *me*?" Jean asked. "Don't you care about what it does to *me*?"
I tried not to let the frustration get to me. "Of course I do, but Jean, I don't want it to *be* like this."
"Be like what?" She stood up so quickly she nearly knocked over her chair. Her hands were shaking as she stared at me. "You're not giving me time, Scott. I'm so glad it's easy for you to just accept what has happened to us. I'm so *glad* that it's so damn easy." Her voice rose on each syllable.
"Jean…" I said helplessly.
"Have you ever thought that I didn't want to go through that again?" She was practically breathless.
"At some point you're going to have to accept your new mutation."
"But on *my* schedule, Scott, not *yours*." She held up her hands. "Don't push me."
"You want space? You got space," I said. I picked up her plate and mine both and dumped them into the sink with a loud clang. "I'm trying to *help*, Jean."
"And you're doing a fabulous job at it." She started putting away the condiments we'd left out on the kitchen counter. I ignored the slamming of the cupboard doors and refrigerator and instead concentrated on washing the dishes. "How did this become all about *you*, Scott? About what *you* need? You were there with me when my shields went down. You *saw* what happened to me." Her voice had now reached a feverish pitch. "I thought you understood."
"I do, Jean." I turned off the water and faced her. "But I'm offering to help you. We can take it one step at a time, one day at a time. We did it once before. We just need to do it again."
"I'm not ready." She practically hissed the words at me.
"Fine." I held up hands in a gesture of surrender. "You tell me when you're ready and we'll take it from there."
I stalked out of the kitchen, still very aware that Jean was glaring at my retreating back. I took refuge in my office, along with the math tests I'd given that morning and the latest issue of Car & Driver.
We entered an uneasy kind of truce from that moment on. Our conversation was polite, somewhat stilted, and never personal. Jean asked about my day, I asked about hers. One Friday evening, we went for pizza, but when I reached across the table to take her hand in mine, she pulled away and I felt that familiar pain of rejection settle in a knot just below my heart.
I continued to practice controlling my own power, but every now and then I slipped up. The students were fascinated by the earthquakes, though Moira wasn't quite so amused when the fine china slipped from her hands and shattered on the tile floor, thanks to a rumbler measuring 3.4 on the Richter scale.
But still I practiced, every single day. Sometimes with Ororo, sometimes without. I never told Jean what I was doing and she never asked. Each practice session in the Danger Room left me exhausted, though not as bad as the first few times I'd attempted to control my new powers.
About two months after the accident, I stopped wearing my visor on a regular basis.
"What are you reading?" Jean asked me. She stood in the doorway, lab coat over her red dress. She was wearing her glasses and her hair was pulled back in a bun, loose strands framing her face; I admit, I've always found this professional look of Jean's to be particularly sexy. I smiled in greeting and laid my book aside. I didn't kiss her, like I once had in the past after she'd come home. A little thing, so routine that perhaps it had no longer meant anything at all, but these days I longed for nothing more than that peck on the cheek.
"A book on earthquakes I found in the library," I said. I held up the text for her to see. "Did you know there are half a million detectable earthquakes a year?"
"No, but I do now," Jean said, sounding amused. "Did you have a good day?" She leaned casually against the door frame.
"Relaxing, yes," I said. I had ended up spending the afternoon relaxing on the window seat in our room. It was unseasonably warm for early April day, and like the students, I'd been stricken with a bout of spring fever. I'd given the kids the day off from math, since I didn't feel like being particularly productive. Now, I glanced at my watch. "You're home early."
She shrugged. "It's a beautiful day and I thought if you could play hooky, so could I. And --" she leaned forward conspiratorially -- "I am so sick and tired of preparing for my testimony in front of the Senate. I could really use a break, Scott."
I nodded; Jean had been spending the last few days cooped up in her office, reviewing notes and preparing her testimony. She knew her facts cold, this I had assured her many times, but still, she was nervous. I didn't blame her though. After all, I wasn't sure I had the courage to face the Senate and especially Senator Kelly, the proponent of the controversial Mutant Registration Act.
"I've asked Moira to make us a picnic basket," Jean went on. "How about it?"
I got up from my seat. "I'd like that," I said, recognizing an opening when it was offered.
Jean offered me a shy smile. It always amazed me this woman, this smart and beautiful woman with multiple degrees to her name could be so insecure, and doubting herself and her abilities. It occurred to me it had never mattered to me what Jean did or how she did it; I really just wanted her, had always just wanted her. Telepathic, telekinetic, memory absorption, it didn't matter.
Our picnic on the back lawn, under a copse of maple trees, held all of the typical awkwardness of a first date. I tried not to bump Jean's hand, was very careful not to get to close to her. In the past, we might have lay there in each other's arms, but this time, after we finished eating, Jean moved away from me.
"Want to talk about it?" she asked softly.
"Your life. Before Xavier's School for the Gifted." There was an edge to the way the words rolled off her tongue.
I shrugged. "Not much more to tell you than I've already said in the past. I lived on the streets, I was a prostitute, Erik Lensherr saved me, and brought me here." I smiled. "And I met you."
"Sometimes I think you have never quite dealt with what happened to you."
"I've talked enough, Jean." I took a sip of my soda.
"I hurt for you, Scott."
"It was ten years ago. More. I'm over it."
"Yes. Drop it."
"I want you to talk to me," she said. She leaned forward, cupping my face with her gloved hands. "Why don't you tell me anything anymore?"
I shrugged. "Jean, I do talk to you."
"Not like you used to." She dropped her hands and moved away from me, tucking her knees up against her chest. "Sometimes, I just want to know about *you*."
"You want to know about something that happened to me years ago and I already told you my answer." I didn't mean to be short with her and she was visibly hurt.
It was a warm day, the sunlight streaming through the leave of the maple tree we'd chosen to lay our blanket down, but the terse conversation we'd just had sent a shiver down my spine, reminding me that things still weren't right with us. In the distance, I could hear some shouting. Jean turned her head in the direction of the voices.
"Classes must be over," she said, glancing down at her wrist watch. I caught her gloved hand in mine.
"I'm sorry," I said.
"I just want you to let me in."
"And you have to realize that I have my own coping mechanisms, Jean. I am fine." I took a deep breath. "Remember all that therapy the Professor put me through when I first got here? All of those sessions? That did accomplish something."
"So share it with me."
"You already know what it felt like," I said.
She was silent, biting her lip pensively.
"Jean, we have to get past this," I said, almost desperately.
She tipped her head to the side. At that angle, the sun caught the lighter shades of red in her hair. I wanted so much, in that moment, to reach out to her and cup my hands on either side of her face, to lean my forehead against hers.
"What I got from you, Scott," she said and then stopped, looking a little nervous. "I don't know how to put it, but I think you've tried too hard to bury the past. I think you've tried too hard to forget who you once were."
"That Scott Summers became the man sitting here now. You love him still. I hope." I hated the touch of insecurity that crept into my voice; I wasn't particularly fond of the melodrama of my words much either, since sentimentality wasn't something that I, as a mathematician, dwell on.
"I do." Her fingers, protected from me in white silk gloves, touched my cheek. "I do, Scott." She allowed me to wrap my arms around her and she leaned her head against my chest. "I'm working on a way I can filter the memories, or at least, mitigate the effects of them." She lifted her head to look at me. "But I'm afraid that's going to have to take a backseat." With the change in subject, her voice became stronger. "My appearance before the Senator is less than forty-eight hours away."
"You're going to do great," I said sincerely. I was also secretly relieved that we were no longer talking about *me*. "The Professor and I will both be there."
She squeezed my hand. "Thank you," she said. Her lips turned up slightly. "Let's just hope Senator Kelly and his allies don't bring vegetables with them to the hearing." Her expression turned serious. "The old Jean could have done something about that possibility, y'know."
"Hey," I said softly.
She nodded. "I know." She took a deep breath, wrapping her arms around her knees.
"You can still do it, Jean," I said. I remembered what the Professor had said to me. "You are more than your mutation, you always have been." I shifted my position on the blanket and my leg bumped up against hers; she stiffened slightly and pulled away. I swallowed hard. "You've spent years researching mutants, Jean. No one else is more qualified on the issue than you are. And you have the advantage -– though some might not think so –- of being a mutant." I smiled. "And I can't think of anyone I'd rather have up there testifying on our behalf."
"You really think so?"
"I *know* so."
She smiled, full force radiance and for this moment, it felt like old times once again. "Just sit where I can see you, all right?" she asked.
I nodded. It felt good, really good, to be able to finally be able to give Jean something she wanted.
Jean wore a red suit on the morning she testified in front of the United States Senate. Her hair was loose around her shoulders and she wore her wire rimmed glasses, looking every inch a professional academic. She left the gloves at home. I sat in the Senate gallery with the Professor, looking down on the chamber and then, towards the front of the room, the podium where Jean stood. The sign in front of the podium read: Jean Grey, M.D., Genetically Enhanced Rights Association. Her voice was clear, confident and carried well through the room and I was proud of her. Not once did her gaze waver from the senators seated in front of her.
"In every organism on Earth there exists a mutator gene -- the X-factor -- as it has come to be known. It is the basic building block of evolution -- the reason we have evolved from homo habilus--" Jean paused to point at a chart showing the evolution of man behind her -- "to homo erectus to homo heidelbergensis, the common ancestor of Cro-Magnon Man and the Neanderthals and then, finally, to homo sapiens sapiens." Jean took a sip of water before continuing on. "Taking its cues from the climate, terrain, and various sources of nourishment, the mutator gene tells the body when it needs to change to adapt to a new environment. The process is subtle, normally taking thousands of years."
I leaned closer to the railing, honestly fascinated by what Jean was saying. She had gone over theory of evolution with me so many times, reading articles from National Geographic regarding new finds in Oldavi Gorge in Kenya.
"Did you know," Jean had said on one such occasion, "that Neanderthals buried their dead with flowers? And also took care of their elderly and injured, possibly for many years? That, in fact, they've been treated unkindly by history which claims them as nothing more than idiotic brutes?" At my questioning look, Jean nodded. "When the first cranial fragments and skeletons were discovered in a cave in 1830, and then again almost fifty years later in Gibraltar and the Neander Valley, popular sentiment was pretty high against claiming Neanderthals as a part of the human family. In fact, many scientists went out of their way to draw the Neanderthals as primitive and stupid in an attempt to distance modern humans from them. In reality, Neanderthals built tools made to last, and while their verbal communication may not have been as advanced as modern humans, they did have a cultured society, perhaps some rudimentary communication abilities and engaged in trading patterns."
I had not known and this new image of the Neanderthals as a caring race of humanoids had appealed to me much more than stocky, muscular, grunting and primitive portrait of them that was so popular.
"In fact," Jean had said, "some scientists believe Neanderthals and homo sapiens exchanged information and goods as evidenced by the transfer of technology between the two groups. Some even believe there was interbreeding between the two species." She had focused on the text in front of her, furrowing her brow and then continued on. "That's still in dispute, of course, but there's evidence in Croatia and Portugal of interbreeding." She'd lowered her glasses. "Without the results of DNA testing, of course it's impossible to be completely sure, but the possibility does exist."
"Of what?" I had asked, feeling a little dumb for not knowing much more about Neanderthals than what I'd read in Jean Auel novels.
"While the evidence is inconclusive, I've always wondered *why* an X-factor would evolve," Jean had mused, "and the Neanderthals, at about 28,000 years ago, were dying out and homo sapiens were gaining ascendance. Obviously some genetic or environmental or even cultural factors played some part in the demise of the Neanderthals. I've thought perhaps the X-gene might be one such factor."
"Are you saying you think Neanderthals are responsible for our mutations?"
"No, not Neanderthals directly, but perhaps it was the key genetic differentiation between homo sapiens and the Neanderthals." Jean tipped her head to the side pensively. "Of course, interbreeding itself is fraught with new genetic combinations so perhaps if indeed there was a co-mingling of gene pools between the Neanderthals and what we call modern humans, it's possible the X-factor was one of the variations that came out of the combination." She turned to look at me, the tips of her hair skimming her cheeks lightly. "It's just an idle curiosity on my part, not really founded in solid science. Sometimes it's fun to just be silly about why we are the way we are, you know?" Jean's smile belied what I knew was deep insecurity. "Of course, a lot of people get riled up when it's suggested that any part of our genetic make-up might derive from the Neanderthals. I'm actually a little surprised geneticists and anthropologists didn't put the blame for the X-factor on our poor language-impaired maybe-ancestors in the first place."
Now, I focused on Jean's presentation. The chart behind her showed a homo sapien living in a temperate climate and dressed in skins. In his hands, he held an Acheulean hand axe, a diamond-shaped stone blade which Jean jokingly called "the Swiss Army knife of the Paleolithic."
"Only in the last few thousand years did mankind begin to make clothes for himself, build shelters, use heat and grow food in large quantities. With this man-made environment remaining relatively stable, the X-factor became dormant," Jean said. She took a step back in the direction of the podium. "Until now." She aimed her laser pointer at her chart, underlining the words "Present day." Her voice took a dramatic increase in volume as she turned her attention towards the senators. "For reasons still not known to us, we are seeing what some are calling the beginnings of another stage of evolution--" the words were barely out of Jean's mouth when a man of medium-build and light hair stood up.
The Professor leaned over. "Senator Kelly. The sponsor of the Mutant Registration Act."
I nodded, having already recognized the Senator from various newspaper and publicity photos. In fact, he was almost as much a prominent fixture on the evening news as the geologists discussing the current spate of earthquakes in New York.
"You're avoiding the question I posed to you at the beginning of the hearing, Ms. Grey," Senator Kelly said. I bristled at the emphasis he placed on the word 'Ms.' "Three words: Are mutants dangerous?" He clearly enunciated each word, putting stress on individual syllables; the smugness in his tone rankled at me.
Jean looked poised and calmed as she answered, "I am avoiding a question that is decidedly loaded, Senator. The wrong person behind the wheel of a car can be dangerous."
A female senator -- one I recognized as the junior senator from Idaho, Lucinda Rowee -- interjected, "Well, we do license people to drive."
Unflinching, Jean responded, "But not to live."
It was obvious Kelly wasn't finished with Jean. He stood up, raising his hand against the growing disquiet in the room.
"Ms. Grey --" again, Kelly's lack of respect for Jean's expertise rankled at me -- "you work at a school for mutants in Westchester, New York. Can you tell the members of this committee what exactly you are teaching these mutants?" He said the last word, 'mutants', in a voice dripping with hate.
"Math--" Jean glanced in my direction though I couldn't tell if she could actually see me -- "History. Science. English. Athletics --"
Again Kelly didn't let her finish her statement. "You wouldn't happen to be teaching them how to use their powers to--"
Jean flushed and interrupted the Senator, saying tersely, "Control, Senator, we teach them control."
The Senator picked up a photograph from his desk, one that showed a melted car on a freeway. "This was taken by a state police officer in Secaucus, New Jersey. A man in a minor altercation literally melted the car in front of him. I don't know where you come from, Dr. Grey, but where I come from, you don't go melting people's cars when they cut you off. You do it the old fashioned way -- you give 'em the finger." Some of the onlookers laughed appreciatively; next to me, the Professor remained stoic. I balled my fists. I knew all I had to do to knock the Senator onto his ass was to stand up, take a step--
"Scott," the Professor murmured. "*Control*."
The laughter died down as Senator Kelly lifted his hand once again. "Ms. Grey, what you presume to tell this committee --"
"I presume nothing," Jean said evenly. "I am here to tell you that in time, the mutator gene will activate in every living human being on this planet. Perhaps even in *your* children, Senator."
Kelly exchanged a look with Rowee before saying, "I can assure you, there is no such creature in my genes."
I bit back a smile at the comment and I could see Jean, at the front of the room, trying to contain her amusement as well. A few other people weren't quite as subtle in concealing their reactions.
Kelly continued on, "Ms. Grey, we are not here to weed out mutants. The Registration Act is designed merely to assess their potential threat -- if any -- to national security."
The crowd started cheering loudly, chanting "MRA! MRA!" No one made an attempt to quell the screaming and the crowd grew progressively louder and I even heard one person yell out "Kill the mutant bitch!" I got to my feet and this time, the Professor didn't restrain me. I clenched the railing and watched as Jean walked boldly down the middle aisle. I kept eyes focused on her the entire time, admiring the proud way she held her posture even in the face of such animosity. Meanwhile, Senator Kelly still stood in front of Jean's evolution chart, pounding his fist, stirring up the feverish crowd.
"Mutants are very real. They are among us." Kelly paced back and forth as he spoke. "We must know who they are." He enunciated each syllable carefully and loudly. "And above all, we must know what they can do."
The crowd went crazy and the Professor looked at me.
"I believe we have overstayed our welcome, Scott," he said quietly.
Jean took a bubble bath that night and I sat on the edge of the tub. We had made it out of the capitol building with some difficulty; reporters and hecklers had crowded the main steps, making it impossible to pass by, and finally, the Professor resorted to 'freezing' them so we could pass safely. Jean was visibly stunned by the reaction.
"You started well," I said now as Jean leaned her head back against the rib of the bathtub. Her hair hung in damp strands around her face. "I'm very proud of you."
Jean stared glumly at the pile of bubbles she'd made in the center of the bath. "It didn't end well, I'm afraid. I didn't mean to turn my testimony into an anti-mutant rally."
"It wasn't your fault," I said. I leaned over and gently swirled water with my fingers. In the past, Jean would have invited me to join her, but she didn't ask and I didn't offer. I understood our boundaries now, better than ever. "You couldn't have anticipated the vehemence of Senator Kelly's feelings on the subject."
She sighed, resting her head back against the tub. "I'm sorry, Scott, so sorry."
"Because you guys were counting on me."
"The hopes of a thousand mutants don't rest on your shoulders alone, Jean."
She sighed. "This was our big opportunity."
"Hey," I said, "look, it was a set-back. It isn't the first time, it's not going to be the last. We'll make it through this too."
"Along with everything else?" She looked uncertain and that frightened me.
"What do you mean?"
"I don't know, it just came out." She shifted restlessly in the bathtub. "I'm tired, Scott." She tipped her head to the side. "I don't know, I'm just tired. Since the accident, I guess. Everything has been upside down, nothing makes sense. In many ways, I feel the same person and then I look at you and--"
I stiffened. "And?"
"I don't know."
"What does that mean?"
"If I knew, I'd tell you, Scott."
I got up, frustrated. "Look," I said. "I've been patient with you. I've given you time, I've given you space, and Jean, it's been months. *Months.*"
"Well, I'm glad this whole process has been easy for you," Jean said sharply. "But you haven't really been as supportive as you think you've been. If you'd had, you'd realize just how hard this has been, especially with everything else that's been going on."
"Then why don't you *talk* to me?"
"I do. *You* don't listen."
"This is ridiculous," I said. "I don't know if I can do this, Jean."
She stared at me with a limpid-eyed expression. "What are *you* saying?"
I put both hands on my head, frustrated. "You need to trust me, Jean. You need to trust me when I touch you that it's going to be all right and nothing bad is going to happen to you. What you took from me, that happened to *me*, not to you. Nothing like that is going to happen to you. I wouldn't let it."
She said nothing.
"Look, Jean, I miss the old us as much as you do." I leaned against the sink, the sharp edge of counter jutting into the small of my back. "But we had an accident, and everything's different now. We've got to figure out who we are and how we fit together again." I took a deep breath. "That's if, that's if that's what you want."
Jean didn't answer.
"You're still you," I said softly. "I'm still me."
"That's where you're wrong," she said.
I swore under my breath and left the bathroom. For the first time in six years, I slept alone. Or rather, I tossed and turned in the queen-sized bed in an empty guest room three doors down. Without Jean, even a Jean who wouldn't let me touch her, the bed felt empty and cold. As I walked to sit in the window seat, the whole house shook. Pictures fell off the wall, books tumbled off bookshelves, and I could hear the Professor's clearly voice in my head.
*Scott, what are you doing?*
I didn't care and for the first time since I'd arrived on his doorstep as a scared boy of sixteen, I ignored the Professor.
I didn't see Jean the next morning; she buried herself in her office and I taught most of the morning and attended to some administrative matters -- 'administrivia' Ororo liked to call it -- later on in the day. As I passed through various recreation rooms, I occasionally caught snippets of the extensive earthquake coverage the local broadcast stations were running. Once I heard a reporter, his voice strong with agitation and excitement, exclaiming the earthquake the previous night was the strongest one yet, measuring nearly four on the Richter scale. The students looked at me in curiosity and awe, but I ignored them and went about my work.
It was just after two when there was a rap at my door. I looked up from the math exams I was grading.
"There you are, Scott." The Professor wheeled into my office. I stood up.
"Good afternoon," I said, feeling oddly and strangely on edge. The Professor eyed me speculatively.
"You've done a good job at making yourself unavailable today, Scott," Xavier said. He wheeled right up to my desk.
"It's been one of those days," I answered apologetically.
"I have an assignment for you." He pressed the tips of his fingers together and his eyes narrowed. "I have picked up readings on two mutants in Alaska. I want you and Ororo to go get them and bring them back here."
I nodded. "When do we leave?"
"Immediately. I will continue to brief you once you've left."
"And Scott--" Xavier's lips turned up slightly at the corners "-- as part of the 'ring of fire', Alaska is known for earthquakes and there seem to be half-a-dozen occurring in that part of the world on a daily basis. But do not use that knowledge too lightly. You seem to be making the evening news a little too often for my liking these days."
I swallowed my own smile at Xavier's quiet rebuke over my loss of control the previous night. "I will keep that in mind, Professor."
"See that you do." The Professor turned his wheelchair towards the door. "You'd best be on your way. Ororo is waiting for you."
As I suited up in my black leather uniform, Jean appeared in the locker room. She was wearing jeans and a red knit shirt beneath her white lab coat. Latex gloves completed the outfit.
"Hi, I said slowly.
"I wanted to see you off."
"That's nice of you." It seemed like an inane thing to say, but after walking out on her the previous night, I couldn't find the words I most needed to make things right between us again.
Jean stared at me and then took a seat on the wooden bench. "I've always loved you in that uniform," she said. "Something about black leather and you. Absolutely irresistible."
I recognized the olive branch she held out to me. "You're good at that flattery thing."
"And you're good at putting up with me."
"I don't 'put up' with you, Jean."
Jean took a deep breath. "I'm sorry about yesterday."
"Me too." I pulled on my black leather gloves and then reached for my visor, purely out of habit now, rather than actual need.
"We'll talk when you get back," she said, standing up. "I missed you last night."
"Yeah," I said. I exhaled sharply. "Same here."
We stood facing each other and then Ororo came in, already suited up, her cape flapping behind her.
"Ready, Cyclops?" she asked briskly. Even though I no longer could shoot optic blasts out of my eyes, I'd chosen not to change my codename to something more apropos, like "Trembler." I'd been Cyclops for a good chunk of my adult life and I meant it when I had told Jean I still felt like the same old Scott Summers, even if she herself didn't believe it.
"When you are, Storm," I said curtly.
"I am." The edge in her voice was unmistakable.
I took another look at Jean. "I've got to go."
"Be safe," she said softly, and planted a light kiss just to the left of my mouth. I nodded briefly at her and boarded the jet. Storm had already gone through the pre-flight checklist and according to radar, the air space above us was clear.
"Let's go," Storm said grimly. "I've got the flight plan entered into the main computer." Her fingers moved quickly over some controls and a weather report popped out. Clear skies and little in the way of turbulence to mar our flight, I informed Storm. She flashed me a quick grin. Trouble, we both knew, would be waiting for us soon enough on the ground.
As Storm ascended to 35,000 feet, I kept an open link with the Professors.
"There are four mutants in all, Scott," the Professor's voice was tinged with static.
I exchanged a look with Storm before responding. "You said two earlier."
"A visit to Cerebro revised that initial estimate." The note of wry humor in Xavier's voice was unmistakable. "You may remember the two new additions as Sabretooth and Toad from the Brotherhood."
"Of course I do. Pleasant gentleman both."
Storm glanced at me sideways, an amused expression crossing her face. I shrugged and Storm turned her attention back to the control panel in front of her.
"After analyzing the situation more carefully, I have concluded Magneto must have had a hand in this," the Professor went on in his clipped tones. "He wants something -- or rather *someone* -- for reasons I'm uncertain of. Of course I suspect it has something to do with the recent Mutant Registration Act hearings, but with Erik, while his motivations are often clear and straightforward, one can never be quite sure of his final intentions. You must be aware of what is going on around you at all times."
"We'll be careful," I promised.
"It'd be quite nice if you could bring all four back, Scott. Preferably all of them with limbs intact."
"We'll do our best, Professor." I grinned. "But no promises where Sabretooth and Toad are concerned."
There was still snow on the ground when we landed. Early April in Alaska and there was still a foot or two of the white stuff. I was thankful for my visor, for it dissipated the effect of the snow glare.
"That way," Storm said as we headed towards what we thought was the last known position of the mutants. I tapped my ear piece lightly and the Professor assured me we were going in the right direction.
I sniffed the air. "Storm?"
She nodded. "I smell it too."
We quickened our pace, tracking through the unplowed snow, towards the raw stench of burning gasoline. We emerged onto a snowy road, bordered on both sides with evergreens. The three fighting men -- shadows in the falling snow -- caught my attention.
"We need some cover," I said, but Storm was already a step ahead of me. Her eyes turned golden and she lifted her arms towards the gray skies. The wind churned, lifting up snow with it. We advanced slowly towards the three figures. The air grew bitterly cold, the wind chill enough to stiffen joints and peel away skin.
"I'll take care of the truck!" Storm shouted. Her voice caught the attention of Sabretooth and Toad; they left the man they were using as a punching bag in a snowdrift and headed in our direction.
I lifted my hand to my visor, knowing Toad would anticipate my optic blasts. There was no way he could know a truck had run my motorcycle off the road, that I'd hit my head and now, my mutation was something completely different. I couldn't help but smile as I concentrated on what lay beneath the snow. I focused down deep, through the dark soil, beneath the hard rock and to the ever-shifting tectonic plates. I imagined lava slipping through the cracks between the plates, the heat of friction as one glided over the other. I closed my eyes and sank to the ground in preparation for what would come next.
The first rumble roared through the valley, shaking snow off the branches. Trees cracked as the second tremor hit and then snow came sliding towards in an avalanche, sweeping us all off the road.
"How are they doing?" I glanced in the rear of the plane where Ororo was attending to our new passengers. The girl was hunched over, wrapped in a blanket, her teeth chattering. She hadn't said a word since we'd pulled her into the jet. The man was unconscious; Toad and Sabretooth had done a good job on him. Truth be told, I was rather glad. The man was larger than me, taller and much stronger. He had a shock of brown-black hair, and the sideburns reaching down almost to his cheeks. The girl, on the other hand, was a slight thing, probably no more than sixteen or seventeen years old with long brown hair reaching down her back. I couldn't help but wonder how two such unlikely personages had managed to end up together.
"They are stable for now," Ororo said now, making her way back to the front. She swayed slightly as we hit a small patch of turbulence. "But the sooner we get them home and have Jean and Hank check them out--"
I nodded. "Got it."
Ororo took the seat next to me. "Good work, Scott."
I glanced at her briefly. "Thanks."
"You're really handling your new powers well."
"I have you to thank for that."
In the back, the girl groaned and with concern, Ororo turned to look.
"Maybe you should go and sit with her," I said, as I reached over to adjust some of the environmental controls.
"She's fine, just cold and scared," Ororo said.
"And I owe you one," I said. I looked down at the control panel. We were roughly ninety minutes away from the school. "Thanks for keeping the avalanche at bay."
"You're welcome," Ororo said. As the avalanche had swept us all away, Ororo had whipped up a powerful winter wind to blow the snow away. She flipped a few switches on the main control board. "It's almost like old times again, Scott."
"If you insist."
"You've come a long way."
"Again, thanks to you."
"You did all the work, Scott." Ororo twisted slightly to look once again at the girl. The man was still unconscious. "I only helped guide you. And it's not easy, I'm very aware of that, especially to relearn at our age." Her lips curled up at the corners. "You've basically had to re-educate yourself and rediscover what you can do. I'm very proud of you, Scott."
"Looks like we're going to hit a patch of rough air," I said, my voice scratchy in my throat. "Are they buckled in back there?"
"Yes." Ororo took a quick look at radar. "Nice change of subject, by the way."
I allowed myself a smile. "It's good to feel like myself again," I said softly. "To know that I still *can* be in control, still can do what's expected of the leader of the X-Men."
"Now you only have to convince Jean of the same."
I sighed. "Now that will be a little more difficult."
Jean, Hank and Xavier were waiting for us near the landing pad when we arrived.
"Hey," Jean said very softly, her gloved hand resting lightly on my forearm. She smiled, a little shyly at me.
"Hey yourself," I said.
"Good work," Xavier said. Hank and Jean had brought out a gurney and a wheelchair and together, the four of us lifted the man onto the gurney, as Xavier watched. I helped the girl into the wheelchair; her skin was cold to the touch. I pulled my fingers back as I felt an electric shock course through my body. The girl's lower lip quivered. I stared at my fingers, unable to get rid of the sensation of feeling *burned*. Recovering, I started to push the wheelchair forwarded.
"I'm Professor Xavier." The Professor kept his hands in his lap as he greeted the girl. "This is Dr. Grey and Dr. McCoy."
"Rogue." Her voice was faint, just over a whisper.
"Is that your real name?"
"They used to call me Marie." She licked her cracked lips nervously and her eyes darted back and forth as she took in all of us.
"Welcome to Xavier's School for the Gifted, Rogue," the Professor said gently. He glanced over at Ororo. "Why don't you take Rogue inside so she can get warm as well as something to eat?"
Ororo nodded. She leaned over, said something softly to Rogue, and then headed into the house, pushing the wheelchair. Meanwhile, Hank was eying the man on the stretcher speculatively. He turned to look at Jean, a questioning expression on his face.
"I've never seen anything like this," Hank said slowly. "This is amazing." He pointed to the unconscious man's bruised knuckles. Dried blood scarred the skin. Carefully, Hank ran his fingers gently over the man's knuckles. He turned, in surprise, at Jean.
Jean's eyes narrowed. "I'm going to examine him in room two," she said. She looked at me. "I'll catch up with you later."
I nodded and followed Hank and the Professor back into the house.
"Jean brought you some clothes from upstairs," Hank said, after he'd given me a quick medical exam; the exams are standard procedure after any mission. I insisted I was fine with the exception of a few bumps and bruises but Hank was adamant. Finally, convinced, he nodded and pointed to a pile on the chair. "Why don't you get dressed? And Moira has dinner warming for you in the oven upstairs."
Hank left, to give me some privacy and I got dressed. Khakis, blue button down shirt and a cardigan –- the usual, in other words. My visor lay on top of the stack. I picked it up and caressed it lightly. Cool, sleek metal, slender and in the front, a thin line of rose quartz, and then the delicate mechanism on the side that allowed me to control the size and magnitude of my optic beams. Gently, I laid the visor down on the Hank's desk. I wouldn't be needing it any more.
I could hear voices in the next room over, one clearly recognizable as Jean's; the paper thin walls in the infirmary in the school weren't great for privacy. For that reason, both Jean and Hank preferred to have confidential conversations in their offices. I put my hand on the door adjoining the two rooms and carefully turned the knob, opening it slightly. Jean stood next to the gurney, and she was examining the man we had brought back with us in Alaska. I watched as she lifted the man's hand, caressing the knuckles in her own bare hands.
I drew back as Hank came back into the room.
"You all right?" Hank asked in concern.
I shook my head, trying to erase the scene I'd just witnessed. "I need a moment."
"Like I said, Moira is waiting for you in the kitchen." There was a note of impatience in Hank's voice. No doubt he wanted to devote himself to the new mutant we had brought in and suddenly, I wanted to get out.
"Thanks," I said briefly.
Hank nodded and disappeared into the next room. As I left, I could hear Jean giving him a basic medical rundown on the John Doe we'd rescued in Alaska.
My appetite gone, all I wanted to do was get to our bedroom and get some rest. On the way up the stairs, I ran into the girl Storm and I'd rescued. She was wearing clean clothes and her hair had been freshly washed and was clinging to her scalp. Dimly, I wondered how long it had been since we'd come back from Alaska, how long the debriefing with the Professor had taken, and then the medical exam. Long enough, I supposed, allowing myself a small smile.
"Are you finding everything all right?" I asked cautiously. My fingers gripped the stairwell.
"Yes. Miss Munroe, she has been very kind," Rogue said, a little shyly.
"Good." I attempted to brush by her, but she put her hand very gently on my forearm.
"Thank you," she said shyly as we stood facing each other in the stairwell. I noticed she was wearing elbow-length black gloves. Her hair was long, brown, straight, and she smelled like citrus. "I thought I was gonna die out there."
"You'll be safe here." It was an inane thing to say, but I still remembered the day Magneto brought me to Xavier's and left me with those very same words. Silly, but sometimes, that's all you want to hear. "You'll be fine."
"Dr. Grey said you would be able to help me."
"Yes, we can certainly try."
"There are others here, she said, who have the same problems as me," Marie said.
"I wouldn't refer to what's happening to you as a 'problem'," I said gently. "'Genetic enhancements' is the term we'd prefer." I smiled full on now. "And yes, much more preferable to 'mutation.'"
"So I'm a mutant."
"So it would seem, yes."
Marie shuddered and her eyes crinkled at the edges. Don't cry, I thought desperately, please *don't*. After a moment, Marie lifted her head and looked at me. Her eyes were very bright. Tentatively, I reached out and touched her shoulder. She didn't shrink away.
"You're going to be fine," I told her quietly. "You will learn, and you will find your way. I promise that. We can help you."
"I killed a boy," she said, her lower lip quivering.
Now *that* admission was completely unexpected. I swallowed hard. I'd heard so many stories of what happened to children before we found and brought them to Xavier's, but none had ever owned up to murder before. And I knew that I wasn't the right person for this job. I was the administrator, the organizer, the man who came up with strategy. I left the touchy-feely stuff to Ororo, the Professor, and to a lesser extent, Jean.
"Can I still stay?" Marie's voice was barely louder than a whisper. Her lower lip quivered and without thinking, I reached forward and lightly brushed a strand of hair away from her forehead; the feel of her skin against my fingertip was electric. Jolted, I stepped back. Marie's eyes shone brightly; even in the dim light, I knew she was close to tears. "I'm so sorry, so sorry. It happens that way. I can't help it." She swallowed hard, bit her lip, and then lifted her chin. "You won't send me away, will you? Now that you know?"
I stared at her for a long moment and then shook my head. "No, of course not," I said softly. "And we can talk about what has happened to you, your experiences, at another time. After you've gotten something to eat and have rested. Do you know where the kitchen is?" She nodded. "There's dinner there. Talk to Moira, our housekeeper. She'll help you."
Instead of going to the spare room where I'd slept the night before, I headed into the bedroom I shared with Jean. She wasn't there. I stood in the doorway, looking at the room carefully. Everything was just as it had been the night before: books piled haphazardly on the floor, a pile of clothes in the corner, a jumble of pictures on the dresser, and a couple of magazines on the window seat. I crossed the room, neatly side-stepping a pair of Jean's high-heels, and closed the drapes. Then I sat and waited.
She came back just after ten.
"Hey," she said.
"I've been waiting for you."
"Sorry." She shrugged out of her white lab coat. "I was examining, um, Logan."
"Yes." She looked at me oddly. "Logan. The man you brought back from Alaska, that's his name."
Logan. Not the first name that would have come to my mind. I would have considered a name more brawny, something more primal and wild, like Doug. Or Beowulf.
"Ah." I didn't move from my perch on the window seat, instead choosing to watch Jean remove her jewelry carefully and then she pulled the pins out of her hair.
"You didn't know his name?" Jean looked at me in surprise.
"He was unconscious when we found him."
"Ah." Jean twisted her hands together. One hand rubbing the other. After a moment, she hiked up her skirt and removed her pantyhose. I looked towards the window, parting the curtains just slightly with my fingers. Nothing to see tonight. A cloudless and moonless night. The glass was cold to my touch. I turned back to see Jean now wearing a robe. Her gray skirt and red sweater had become part of the ever-growing mound of clothing in the corner of the room. "Don't you want to know, Scott?"
"What he is."
A memory of Jean touching Logan's bare knuckles came into my mind. I shook my head.
"No," I said.
Jean continued, as if she'd never heard my response. "He has accelerated healing abilities -- uncharted regenerative capability, making his age impossible to determine. I assume whoever is responsible for his adamantium skeleton was counting on his healing abilities to survive the process." She turned on me, her face alive with excitement. "I've never seen anything like it, Scott. Didn't think it was *possible*."
"And now you know that it is." I managed to keep my tone expressionless, flat of any emotion whatsoever. Jean narrowed her eyes at me.
"And now I know." Jean grabbed a towel out of the stack of neatly folded ones in the laundry basket. "I'm going to take a shower."
"Okay," I said. "You win."
She squinted in my direction, took a step towards me, her gloved fingers gently drawing a line down my chin. "It's never been a contest, Scott."
"I never said it was."
"You just did. You said, and I quote, 'you win'."
"A figure of speech, that's all." I crossed my arms against my chest. Jean shook her head and turned around.
"Sometimes," she said, "I'd really like to know what you're thinking."
"I can't feel your thoughts, Scott," she said. "I can't *sense* what you're going through. Maybe you don't miss it, but I do." She clutched the towel close to her. "Because I wanted to tell you earlier, that you did good today. With Logan and Marie. You really did."
I allowed myself a small smile. "Thank you."
Jean smiled -- a little shyly -- back at me. "And I'm glad you're back. Safe and sound. In one piece."
"It's the only way."
"That's not what I meant," she said softly. "Don't go anywhere, Scott." She put one hand against the wall, and stared at me. Then she shook her head. "I can't get used to you without the visor. I'm sorry, Scott." She gave a self-conscious little laugh. "I'm so sorry." She walked into the bathroom and turned on the water. I leaned my head against the glass, but after a few minutes, exhaustion got the better of me, and I crawled, fully-clothed, into bed. I was asleep before my head hit the pillow.
The next morning, all 2,000-plus parts of my body ached. I groaned and shifted in bed. As I reached out, I realized Jean was already gone. I flopped onto my back and turned my head to look at the alarm clock. It was after nine. I rubbed my eyes and sat up. Was it Saturday? Surely it had to be Saturday. I took a deep breath. And if it wasn't Saturday, why hadn't Jean woken me up? I stared glumly at my alarm clock; the neon green numbers changed to just a minute past nine. I put my feet down on the floor and with some effort, stood up.
In the bathroom, I splashed water on my face and then looked at myself critically in the mirror. The beginnings of dark circles formed below my eyes, and brown stubble peppered my face. I considered that for a moment. With the visor, I had always managed to look older than my twenty-eight years, and that had given me a dignity and confidence to hide behind. Without it, I looked like a kid, just out of high school -- at best. Even I could see that and I wondered if that's what Jean had meant the night before.
*Jean?* The thought was there, almost inadvertently. And then with more force, *Jean?*
And then I laughed bitterly at my reflection. Of course that's what she had meant the night before about missing 'it'. We were no longer mentally linked. Jean couldn't hear me.
I got dressed in my standard khakis and button-down shirt and headed down the stairs. It was quiet, which proved that indeed it was a Saturday morning. The kitchen was empty; Moira had set out several boxes of cereal and loaves of bread -- it was a "fend for yourself" type day. Not feeling especially hungry, I set out on a prowl to find Jean. As I walked through the corridors, I was keenly aware of the silence. Even the television was off in the rec room.
Finally, I reached Jean's office. The door was slightly ajar and I pushed it open. Jean was standing in front of her desk, wearing jeans and a red ribbed turtleneck, one that clung to every curve of her body and left nothing to imagination. I pushed away the thought and smiled at her.
"Good morning," I said brightly.
"Scott, eh--" she looked flustered.
"I know you're busy," I said. "I just wanted to say hello. It was quiet, so quiet, and I wanted to tell you that I missed you. Missed you in my *head*." I looked at her meaningfully and then I heard someone standing behind me clear his throat. I whirled around. Logan. Great. The heat rose in my face. "Hello." It was all I could do to get the word out.
He eyed me warily and then stalked around me to stand near Jean.
"Logan and I," Jean said hesitantly, "we have an appointment now, Scott." As if to illustrate her point, she grabbed her white lab coat off the back of her chair and put it on. Dr. Grey, now on duty. Logan's eyes narrowed in my direction.
"Don't let me keep you," I said. I backed out of the room, very aware of the heat of Logan's stare. Out in the corridor, I inhaled sharply and went into the kitchen. I needed coffee. Lots of it.
I spent most of that Saturday morning working in the garage on my car -- a sporty little Mitsubishi Eclipse in a vibrant shade of red. Peter came to help for a while and then around lunchtime, I put away the boxes the new Bose stereo system had come in.
"Now that's a great sound system," Peter said as I turned the radio on.
"Thanks," I said, beaming. I'd never installed a stereo system before and had spent many months researching my purchase. The motorcycle accident had put me off track; I'd have installed the speakers and audio box much earlier if it hadn't been for that. "How about we go wash up and get some lunch?"
Peter nodded and I shut the door of the car, locking it. As we left the garage, I saw the remnants of my motorcycle, covered under a blue tarp. After telling Peter to go ahead, I went to lift the covering. The bike, my beautiful bike, was completely smashed. Not salvageable, according to the insurance adjuster. I squatted and ran my fingers over the smooth blue metal, the silver chrome, and then leather of the seat cushions. God, how I loved this bike, how I loved early Sunday morning rides with Jean -- her chin on my shoulder, her arms wrapped snuggly around my waist. As I stood back up, I realized it wasn't so much the *bike* I missed, as everything else.
I covered the bike back up and went into the house, which was now fully alive with adolescents streaming out of every room, it seemed like. I caught sight of a harried Ororo pushing Kitty Pryde into a classroom, and was that Lorna Dane going after Jubilee? I peeked into the kitchen and saw Moira spooning out pasta and salad onto individual plates. I figured I'd wait until after the lunch rush and serve myself later on. There was no way Moira would let me -- with grease on hands and face -- into her kitchen.
I continued on my way and as I reached our floor, I could hear Jean's voice coming from one of the spare rooms. I paused, feeling almost guilty about eavesdropping.
"Anything else I can get you?" Jean asked. Her voice trembled just a little.
"Some cigars. Case of beer." Logan had an edge of cockiness to his voice and I disliked him immediately.
"There's no smoking or drinking on the school grounds." Jean sounded calm and firm.
"I won't light the cigars -- how about that?"
"I'll see what I can do--" I stifled my desire to step into the situation; Jean was going to make allowances for this guy? -- "You should get some sleep, Logan. Even with your healing ability, you're going to be hurting for a while."
"What if I like the pain?"
There was a long pause and then Jean said, "The Professor said you were a solider in your previous life. Actually, I believe he used the word 'mercenary.'"
"Yeah." Jean exhaled the word on a curved breath of air. "It sounds like you've lived an interesting life, Logan."
"Well, I don't like to talk about my past," Logan growled the words at Jean. "What I remember of it, that is." I stiffened, my muscles tensing.
"Maybe the Professor could help you with that," Jean said.
"By reading my thoughts?"
Another long pause and then Jean said quietly, "If necessary."
"What if they're naughty?" Logan asked and it was impossible to miss the salacious note in his voice. "What about *you*, Doctor? Can *you* help me? Don't you want to know what I'm thinking?"
"I can't," Jean said. She took a deep breath. "Once I could read minds--"
"What happened?" The aggression disappeared from Logan's voice and he sounded mild now, toned down considerably.
"An accident. It's a long story." The longing underlining Jean's tone was unmistakable. My chest tightened at the sound of her voice and I pressed my palm flat against the wall, almost as if leaning in for support.
"Maybe I can help you. We can give each other a hand."
"I don't think it's a good idea."
I let out my breath then in relief and was about to continue on my way when Logan said, "So do you still have a power or are you normal?" He practically sneered out the word 'normal'.
"I--" She stopped and then, through the crack between the door and the frame, I saw Jean take off her gloves. Carefully, she placed her palms on Logan's face. "Let me show you." She leaned towards him, her breath coming shallowly. And then, she gasped, pulling away. Logan grabbed her hand.
"What is it?" he asked breathlessly.
Jean pulled away. "It's nothing."
"You felt something, you saw something." There was no mistaking the desperation in Logan's voice.
"I--" Jean backed away. "I'll tell you some other time.
"Was it about me?"
Jean nodded slightly. Logan grabbed her by the arm again, his fingers pressing down against the red wool of her sweater. Jean winced.
"Let go of me."
"I have the right to know."
"Yes," she said and roughly, she pried Logan's fingers loose. "But in the morning." She eyed him pensively. "Get some shut-eye, slick. I'll check on you tomorrow."
As she came out into the hall, Jean saw me. The heat rose in my cheeks, whether from anger or embarrassment, I couldn't differentiate properly. Most probably a mixture of both.
"Scott, I--" Jean began, but I interrupted her.
"I don't like him being here," I told her roughly. I crossed my arms against my chest as I watched her pull her gloves back on.
"What are you talking about?" Jean stared at me.
"You know what happened in Alaska. The Professor told us Magneto sent Sabretooth and Toad after this guy. You think Magneto won't come here if necessary? This is a school, for God's sake."
"If Magneto is planning to use Logan for some terrible purpose, it's our responsibility to do something to help him and prevent Magneto from doing whatever it is he's up to," Jean pointed out. I couldn't deny the reasonability of her statement, but damn it, I didn't have to *like* it. "What's wrong? There's something else bothering you."
I put my arm around her, drawing Jean close to me. For once, she didn't resist, nor did she reach for the gloves, tucked in the pocket of her coat.
"I have a bad feeling about this," I said quietly. She wrapped her arms around my neck. "I don't like having Logan here at all."
"You know I love you, Scott."
It was an interesting segue, not exactly what I had intended. But a conversation about the state of our union was definitely necessary. I just wasn't sure I wanted to have it here in the hall, and most certainly not in the hall. Jean pressed her finger to my lips and leaned forward to kiss me lightly on the corner of my mouth. I gently untangled her arms. "What comes next for us?"
She looked at me in puzzlement. "I was thinking about getting some rest myself. It's been a long few days and I could use a nap." Her lips curled up a little at the edges. "Do you want to join me?"
I was tired, still feeling the aches and pains from my Alaskan adventure, so I let her wrap her arm through mine and lead me to the bedroom. She cuddled up next to me, and I put my arm around her. It felt good to hold her, but I couldn't help but think of the way she'd touched Logan. I stared up at the ceiling, pensive, as the minutes turned into hours. It was, in retrospect, every bit the longest nap ever in my life.
Logan was going to stay at the school for the near future, the Professor told me. "Find a way to incorporate him into school life," Xavier said. I sat on the sofa in his office, Xavier opposite me, his hands folded primly in his lap.
"What?" I stared incredulously at the Professor. "You've got to be kidding."
"On the contrary, Scott, I'm perfectly serious."
I got up and paced the width of the room. "He's dangerous."
"I'm keeping an eye on him."
"What about Magneto?"
"There will be no problems, Scott. I can handle Erik." Xavier eyed me pensively. "Sit down."
I paused and then obeyed, sitting stiffly. "I just don't feel comfortable having Logan here."
"Where would you like to send him, Scott?" The Professor's expression was absolutely neutral, giving nothing away.
I shrugged. "Somewhere he won't be a danger to the students here."
"I see. And where do you suppose that is?"
"He must have come from somewhere," I said. I hated that I sounded so petty, and I tried to rationalize my latent jealousy with the very clear and present danger Logan had to the school. My instincts had rarely let me down and right now, my gut was screaming to get rid of Logan *fast*.
The Professor wheeled around to his desk. "He has no memory of who he is, Scott."
I lifted my chin defiantly. "I'm not sure that's good enough reason to keep him here."
"I didn't turn you away twelve years ago today," the Professor said gently. I stared at him. "Yes, today is your twelfth anniversary here at the School, Scott." Xavier gave me a thin-lipped smile. "Did you know Jean and Hank were apprehensive about having you here? They didn't think you were 'redeemable'."
"Jean said that?" It was hard keeping the shock out of my voice. Nervously, I ran my hand through my hair and then shifted in my seat, trying desperately to avoid making eye contact with the Professor. What I could remember of my arrival at the school was more a jumble of images and feelings now -- all of it warm, all of it comforting and inviting. To hear this now was a heavy blow indeed.
"Not in so many ways, but you were bruised and scarred, Scott," Xavier said earnestly. He held up a manila file folder. "Here are my notes on the day Erik brought you to me. We were concerned, yes, about your drug use, about your police record, about what diseases you might have contracted due to your sexual history."
"Hank and Jean were your only students at the time," I said shortly.
"But even so, you could have been a bad influence on them as well."
"I seriously doubt it. They were –- are -- both older than me."
Xavier shook his head. "Always stubborn, Scott, aren't you?" I could detect a hint of amusement tinged with exasperation in his voice. "Unable to accept and realize what I am telling you."
"You're telling me Jean and Hank didn't want me here." I folded my arms against my chest. "What am I supposed to get out of that?"
"You misunderstood me, Scott, and there's no reason to get defensive. I said they had concerns. Neither of them ever said they didn't want you." He handed me the manila folder. "You may find this interesting reading, Scott."
"I don't see what this has to do with Logan."
"You heard what Jean said in front of Congress. At some point, the entire human population will have an active X-factor. I don't know when that day is coming but it will be soon. Magneto knows this too." Xavier sighed. I knew he and Magneto -- Erik Lensherr -- had been friends for many years before a rift had split them apart. I didn't know the details, but I was very much aware of the respect Xavier still held for his old friend, and that there was always a pensive wistfulness in the Professor's voice when he spoke of Magneto. I myself had Magneto to thank for bringing me to the school. For some time, I'd had sex with Magneto, and he'd treated and paid me well. Much better than most of my johns. As I lifted my head, I saw Xavier staring at me thoughtfully and with a flush of embarrassment, I wondered if he knew I was remembering drawing my fingers down Magneto's thighs and then running my tongue up and down the length of his penis. Xavier cleared his throat before continuing. "We have to be ready, Scott. For what comes next."
I spread my hands in a gesture of question. "I'm still not sure what you mean by that or how Logan fits in."
Xavier leaned forward. "I have heard and appreciated your concerns, Scott, but I believe we can use Logan here. We only need to find out what has happened to him in the past, what it is about him that makes him so attractive to Magneto. We need to make him one of *ours*."
Realization slowly dawned on me. "So when the time comes, we will be sure of which side he is on," I said slowly.
"Exactly." Xavier touched the tips of his fingers together. "I know you don't like it, Scott, and I'm aware of why that might be--"
Xavier held up a hand. "Let me finish. You cannot call Logan 'dangerous', Scott. You do not even know him. To us, he is simply another mutant who requires our assistance. It would be irresponsible for us not to help Logan now. You have to understand this, Scott."
I nodded. "Even though I don't like it?"
"I didn't ask you to like it, Scott. I simply asked you to find a place for him in the school." Xavier wheeled himself to his desk. "As you say, we need to know what side he's on when the time comes. Hopefully he will pick us."
I stood up. "Is that all?"
"For me, yes, but you--" he narrowed his eyes "-- you surely must have something to discuss with me."
I considered for a moment. "No."
"Are you sure, Scott?"
"A word of advice before you go."
Xavier leaned forward, his hands knitting together now. "You can be a good listener, Scott, but sometimes that's not what's needed."
I frowned. "What do you mean?"
"Consider that," Xavier said. He smiled at me. "Now, why don't you go help Logan settle in?"
I took a long walk out on the grounds after my meeting with the Professor. The ground beneath my feet was soft, muddy -- the result of the winter thaw combined with some overnight showers. My socks were already wet, but I was too busy dwelling on other things to pay much attention.
So Logan was going to stay and while he was trying to find himself, I'd have to come up with something for him to do here at the school. He didn't seem the scholarly type to me, and I certainly didn't want him anywhere near the kids (though Marie, or Rogue as she preferred to be called, had taken quite a shine to him). I stopped in the gazebo in the far corner of the property and plopped myself wearily down on the cool marble bench.
He's got to be good at *something*, I thought. But nothing came to me as I tipped my head back, and let the cool breeze stroke my skin. Above me, the new leaves rustled and I could hear the faraway chirp of birds. The sky itself was a pale blue, no clouds above. I stood up and stretched my arms out wide and turned slowly around.
In the past, I would have gotten on my bike and ridden as far as I could before the sun melted into the horizon. I hadn't talked to Jean about replacing the bike; I'd just made the assumption that she'd want to, that she'd want to ride again. But like so many other things these days, I wasn't quite so sure of any thing.
With a sigh, I headed back towards the house to find Logan.
I found the house in an uproar when I came back. Ororo met me at the door.
"Rogue is gone," she said briskly. "We've looked everywhere for her. The Professor is using Cerebro now to try and track her down."
I blinked. "Rogue? Where could she have gone?"
Ororo took me by the arm. "That's an excellent question. No one seems to know anything. I already talked to Bobby and Jubilee. They both says Rogue was fine at breakfast this morning and they had talked about a movie night this evening."
I nodded as we walked down the hall towards the elevator. "When was it noticed she'd gone?"
"After lunch sometime. She didn't show up for English."
I considered. Xavier's class was one of the most popular of those we offered here, mostly because of Xavier, rather than any deep devotion to dead Englishmen. Unless deathly ill, most students would never consider skipping. Mostly because they also knew Xavier could tell if they were bluffing or not. But more than that, they *liked* and respected Xavier. They went because they wanted to, not because they had to. And yes, Rogue was new, but surely she had picked up on the deep loyalty to the patron saint of the mutants already.
"And you've searched everywhere?" I asked.
"Yes." Ororo punched the button for the elevator. "The video cameras don't show anyone leaving through the main entrance."
The elevator doors slid open and I stepped aside to let Ororo enter and then I followed. "So she must have gone out one of the side entrances? The one on the East side, the camera there has been broken for quite a while now." I'd caught Kitty sneaking out that door just a few nights ago.
"That's what I'm thinking. But we don't understand *why* she would leave. She seemed happy enough here and the Professor was helping her come to terms with her mutation." Ororo sighed. The elevator doors opened and we walked down the gleaming halls of the basement. It was here Cerebro was housed, that magnificent and powerful machine that allowed Xavier to tap into the minds of every mutant in the world. Here he could track their movements and their actions. He had built Cerebro with Magneto and sometimes, I wondered at that, how these two highly intelligent men could design such a machine, how they could spend so much time in its creation, and yet no longer speak to each other regularly.
The doors to Cerebro were closed, a giant X marking the door. I leaned against one wall. It was hard to get immediately agitated. Rogue was a kid, kids run off. Hell, I'd done it half a dozen times myself before my parents had been killed in the plane crash. The last time I'd run off, it was for good, and the streets became my home. Rogue, however, didn't seem to be that type. Her desperation was more of a desire to understand what had happened to her, what her mutation meant and how she could control it. It'd only been a few hours since anyone had seen her last; perhaps she'd show up by dinner time. Perhaps, like me, she'd just needed some time away.
I looked down the hall as the elevator doors opened and out spilled Jean and Logan. I gritted my teeth. Jean was walking very quickly towards us. Was she matching her step to Logan or vice versa?
"Nothing," Jean said breathlessly. "I've got the kids divided up in teams to search the grounds. Lorna's taking one team and Hank's got the other. But Rogue's not in the house."
I turned to Logan. After all, he knew Rogue better than the rest of us. How deep their friendship went, I had no idea. "Why would she run away?" I asked.
He growled at me, seemingly insulted by the mere suggestion. "She wouldn't."
Jean took a step closer to the door, her attention focused on the small LCD screen next to it. She frowned. "Something's wrong."
"Did Rogue seem upset about anything?" I directed the question at Logan, even though he didn't seem to be in the mood to answer any. Deal, buddy, I thought.
"She killed a kid, her boyfriend. She's gonna be upset." The casual and dismissive wave of his hand really grated on my nerves. I gritted my teeth.
"I knew about that," I said impatiently. "I told her we could help her." I lifted my chin defiantly. "And we can. There was no reason for her to run away."
I didn't look at Jean. Logan's lip curled up, the challenge evident in his eyes. "So maybe she tried to help herself."
"By running away?" I asked incredulously. "She was *safe* here."
"What do you think you have here? Some kinda of collection of mutants? A reform school for those of us who are damaged goods?" Logan snarled.
"That's *not* what Xavier's is," I said with as much patience as I could muster. I was very aware of the note of condescension in my voice, but I couldn't help it.
"Maybe that's your problem." Logan jabbed a finger in my direction. "You spend so much time locked up in a place like this you forget what it's really like to be out there--" he took a step towards me, but I held my ground "-- and so maybe this ain't the miracle cure you think it is."
"This isn't helping Rogue--"
"Scott!" Jean grabbed my arm tightly and pulled me furiously towards the door. "Something's wrong." She pointed at the screen as Ororo joined us. "Cerebro..." Her fingers flew across the keypad. Her voice rose. "I've got to get in there."
"The Professor--" Ororo said. She put her hand on the giant X but the door refused to unlock. "Jean!"
Jean shook her head in frustration. "I'm trying, but I don't want to jolt him. It could kill him!"
I stared in shock at the sine waves streaking across the panel; both amplitude and frequency were increasing at an alarming rate. Still, Jean remained calm, her jaw set in determination. She pulled off her gloves and then carefully punched in the code, one number at a time. After what seemed like an interminable wait, the doors finally slid open. Jean pulled her gloves back on as Storm and I, followed by the Logan, rushed in.
The Professor was slumped forward in his wheelchair. Jean approached and carefully, disentangled Xavier from Cerebro with the same practiced care she'd used to unlock the door. I shifted from foot to foot; I knew we had to be careful but still, Jean's deliberateness chaffed at me. Finally, Jean nodded. Xavier was free of Cerebro.
"I'll take him upstairs," Ororo said quietly. We -- Logan and I -- stepped out of Ororo's way as she maneuvered the wheelchair around. Logan watched her and then he turned to me.
"What about you, Cyclops?" he sneered. "You afraid to leave me alone with your girl?"
"Not at all," I said. I brushed past him. "She's free to come and go as she pleases."
I kept walking and after a moment, I heard the rhythm of Logan's footsteps behind me. At the door, I turned to see Jean still standing where we'd left her, fingering the delicate helmet.
"Jean?" My voice echoed in the room. She didn't react immediately and then she carefully laid the helmet on the ground before coming in my direction.
"Before," she said in a low voice, not looking at Logan, "before the accident, I could have found her, you know."
"You can't use Cerebro," I said firmly.
"I could have." She brushed by me. "And I would have found her."
I quickened my step to follow her. "You still can, Jean." I caught her by the arm. "Look, maybe not with Cerebro, but you have other talents, other skills--"
She brushed me off. "I need to check on Xavier. Hank will need me." Her voice cracked slightly at the end. "You should help them. Find Rogue."
We parted ways at the end of the hallway, me more reluctantly than Jean. I thought about following her, but then I shook my head and went the other way.
From the window in Xavier's office, I could see the students fanning out across the school grounds. Shouts of "Marie!" and "Rogue!" intermingled. I put my hand against the cold glass, pressing my forehead against the glass. We had searched every inch of the house; wherever Rogue had hidden herself, she'd done a damn fine job of it. I didn't know the girl that well -- we'd never actually sat down and had the chat I'd promised her -- but Logan was right, as much as I hated to admit it. What little I knew of her made me think she wasn't the type to run off. But then again, I had misjudged people before -- Erik Lensherr, for example -- and perhaps this was another case of that.
Moodily, I turned and stared at Xavier's desk. The surface was neat, not at all cluttered, a far cry from my own desk in my office which was stacked high with papers, folders, textbooks and other items, some non-academic in nature and a few which could even be described as 'cute'. Jean often wondered how I could get any work done in all that mess and I answered that it didn't bother me, I could find anything I needed quite easily.
"Of course you can," Jean had answered with an amused smile, "everything's all in the same place!"
I took another look around and left Xavier's office, closing the door gently behind me. The floorboards creaked under my feet as I walked down the stairs. The house was mostly quiet, with most of the inhabitants having gone outdoors now. As I crossed into the kitchen, I heard a noise. I turned quickly.
"Who's there?" I called. I took a step towards the pantry. A second later, Rogue emerged, a box of Thin Mints in one hand, and a sheepish grin on her face. "Rogue!" I grabbed her by the shoulders. "Where have you been? Don't you know we were looking for you?" I found it difficult to keep the anger out of my voice.
She shrugged, almost too casually. "I took a walk into town."
"That's several miles."
"I need time to clear my head."
"You should have told someone." I firmly propelled her over to one of the chairs and sat her down. "Don't you understand? There are people here who care about you, who are out looking for you at this very minute. You *should* have said something."
Rogue lifted her chin defiantly, her dark eyes wide and luminous. "I didn't think I would be gone so long," she said simply. "I didn't think anyone would notice."
"Well, think again!"
I whirled around. Logan stood in the doorway, his eyes flashing. He took long strides towards us, seemingly not seeing me at all. I moved out of his way. Logan crossed his arms against his chest.
"Logan." Rogue's lower lip trembled as he hunched down next to her. "I'm sorry. I made a mistake."
"A huge mistake." He put his hand lightly on her gloved arm and then sniffed. "You owe everyone in this school an apology."
Rogue's eyes watered as she looked at me, almost imploringly. I said nothing. It looked like Logan had the situation well under control and it seemed as if the kid had some respect for him. But then, Logan's expression changed and he stood up, eyeing her critically.
"Hey Rogue, tell Scott what you were telling me last night." Logan's lip curled up as he stared intently at Rogue. Rogue seemed unaware of his expression as she continued to munch, with infuriating obliviousness, on her cookies. "You remember. About women." Logan took another step towards Rogue. I narrowed my eyes. What the hell was he up to?
"Logan," Rogue said in exasperation, "I don't know what you're talking about." The edge in her voice was unmistakable. I frowned. Was that impatience? Something else?
Logan put one hand flat on the table and then picked up a cookie. He took a bite and then said, "Remember we were talking in the rec room yesterday? What is that you said about women all being the same?" He leaned in closer, and a second later, claws sprung out from his fists.
Rogue's eyes widened. "Logan--"
"No two women smell alike," Logan said, grabbing Rogue by the collar of her black shirt and yanking her to her feet. I grabbed his arm.
"Logan, what the hell are you doing?" I yelled, but Logan didn't release Rogue. The girl was struggling now to get free, pushing with all of her strength against Logan's chest.
"This ain't Rogue!" Logan yelled back at me. And that's when I noticed Rogue's eyes, now a yellow color, and then slowly her dark brown hair lightened into an unnatural shade of red, and her smooth skin was replaced with blue scales.
From behind me, I heard Ororo gasp. "Mystique!"
The shape shifter pulled herself to her full height, almost regally, her eyes narrowing at us in obvious disgust.
"Where's Rogue?" Logan demanded, but Mystique remained silent, her cryptic expression giving absolutely nothing away. I felt a sick stirring in my stomach.
Ororo came to stand next to me. "Scott?" she asked softly.
"This has Magneto written all over it," I said dully. Mystique's eyes flashed at me and her upper lip curled just a little bit into a sneer.
"But why?" Ororo asked. She stared at Mystique; Logan still held the woman tightly by the arm. Surprisingly, Mystique made no move to struggle against him. It was almost as if she were resigned to her fate, as if she had already know it would end like this.
I shook my head. "That's a damn good question." I jerked a finger in Logan's direction. "But I'll bet it has something to do with *him*."
"How is the Professor?" I asked Jean. She was in her office, writing up notes when I arrived. She looked up, and I noticed her eyes were bloodshot and there were new lines at the corners I hadn't noticed before. She sighed and leaned back in her chair, rubbing her eyes wearily.
"The Professor is in a deep coma, having suffered intense neurological trauma from Cerebro's malfunction, but he's psychically so strong I think he'll recover," Jean said. She stood up, jamming her hands in the pockets of her white coat. "Don't worry, Scott. He's going to be fine." She sounded confident and I knew she was saying the words as much as for herself as she was for me.
I nodded. "Can I look in him later?"
"Sure." Jean shrugged. "I think he can hear us when we speak to him. Hank was talking to him earlier. Anyway, it can't hurt." She frowned. "I heard some excitement upstairs. Something happen with the search for Rogue?"
"Logan and Ororo have Mystique upstairs."
Jean blanched at my statement. "How did she get on the property?"
I shrugged. "That's something we're going to have to figure out. I think she's the one who sabotaged Cerebro. We know Magneto has a helmet he can wear to protect himself from Xavier's telepathy, so it wouldn't surprise me if Mystique had a similar type of mental shielding. Somehow, she managed to harm the Professor through Cerebro, spirit Rogue away and then return here to the school, ostensibly to stop our search and draw us off track. If we thought Rogue was here and safe, there'd be no reason to continue looking for her, would there?"
Jean's eyes widened and I knew she had put the pieces together. "Magneto has Rogue," she stated flatly.
"It looks that way."
"Damn." Jean paced the length of her office. "What the hell could he possibly want with her? She's a kid, just a kid." She looked at me in concern. "What could she possibly have that he'd want?"
"Her ability to temporarily assume another's mutant power," I said. "I was thinking about it on the way down here, Jean, and it's the only reason why Magneto would take Rogue and not anyone else here." I didn't add that I felt Rogue was, hands down, probably one of the weaker students here in terms of being able to control her own abilities. Magneto had picked well, I had to give him credit for that.
"So you think he's wanted Rogue all along and not Logan?"
I bit my lip. Jean meant the question in good faith, I knew that, but I still couldn't push away my nagging doubts about the Wolverine. But it could very well be true; Logan may have just been in the way when Magneto's Brotherhood came after Rogue. Either way, we still had a lot of answers to come up with.
"It's a good possibility," I said cautiously. "Obviously, as you've said before, Logan has some, um, qualities Magneto might find attractive or necessary."
"That was my initial impression, yes," Jean said briskly. She sounded confident, alive, enthusiastic -- more like pre-accident Jean. "Of course--" she shot me a penetrating look "-- I wasn't entirely sure Magneto was after Logan in the first place."
"You're right then," I said, not meaning to be snappish but the words came out in that tone anyway. Jean didn't seem to notice.
"The question now is what Magneto's up to." She furrowed her brow. "Do the others have any idea?"
"Ororo and Logan are questioning Mystique now, but she's not being cooperative. Surprise, surprise. Your friend Logan's claws don't intimidate her at all."
Jean stood in silence and then she lifted her chin to look at me directly. "Let me try," she said softly.
Mystique didn't react when Jean followed me into the kitchen. She remained in her chair, with Logan busily tying her up. Ororo stood some distance away. Jean approached cautiously.
"Hello, Mystique," Jean said softly. "No need to tie her up, Logan. We're all friends here, aren't we?" There was a seductive purr in Jean's voice that caught my attention and it most certainly caught Mystique's. For a moment, the shape shifter was caught off guard and that was all the time Jean needed to rip off her gloves and clamp her hand tightly on Mystique's wrist.
As we all watched, Jean sank to the floor, her eyes pressed close and her lower lip trembling. Mystique squirmed at first, and then arched her back, letting out a primal yell. But Jean didn't let go, even as Mystique struggled against her; Jean's grip remained strong. Finally, Jean let go and she lay still on the floor, her breaths coming out short and quick; a light sheen of perspiration covered her forehead. Logan kept his eye firmly on Mystique, brandishing his claws in front of her, daring her to make a move. Mystique, however, looked drained, and her proud posture gave way to exhaustion. At most, a minute had past between the time Jean had first touched Mystique and now.
"Jean." I took a step forward to kneel down next to her. I gathered her in my arms.
"I'm fine, Scott," she said, but her voice was weak. "The Statue of Liberty. Rogue is there. Magneto has a machine. He plans to activate the X-factor." She struggled to sit up. "Tonight."
"Activate the X-factor?" Ororo looked confused. "How?"
"With a machine?" I asked, trying hard to keep the note of incredulity out of my voice. "How on earth does he possibly intend to do that?"
Jean shook her head. "I don't know how it works exactly; Mystique herself is unsure of the technical details. Her only memories of the machine are that it contains a powerful radioactive beam, one calibrated to resynthesize and resequence the genome in such a way the X-factor is activated." She frowned, staring critically at Mystique. "I'd love to have a look at those schematics, to understand the science behind the medicine."
"Does Magneto have a target?" I asked tensely.
Jean nodded. "The city of New York."
"The *entire* city?" I stared at her in amazement. "You've got to be kidding."
Ororo simply looked shocked.
Jean pointed at Mystique's slumped figure. "Mystique was there," Jean said wearily. "She helped plan the whole thing. Apparently, there's already been a human test subject and the trial failed." Jean swallowed. "Senator Kelly." She looked at me in anguish. "You know I don't have any love for the man, but I would have never wished him dead!"
"Senator Kelly is dead?" Ororo gasped.
Jean bit down on her lip and I could tell she was fighting to maintain control of herself. I reached over and held her hand. I looked up briefly to see Logan staring down at our intertwined fingers; Jean took no notice at all.
"He dissolved," Jean said finally, "into a puddle of water. He just--" she closed her eyes before continuing "-- I've never quite seen anything like it before. It was--" another pause, one a few seconds in duration "-- shocking, disappointing, a turning point."
"A turning point of what type?" I asked. I didn't want to push Jean too hard because she was obviously distressed, but I *had* to know. "What happens *now*?"
Jean closed her eyes, her fingers tightening around mine. "Have to go... on." She sounded strangely distant, not like herself at all. "Cannot give up. They must... not... win. We... have--" Jean blinked. "Scott?"
"I'm here," I told her softly. "Do you need to sit down?"
She nodded gratefully and I led her to a chair in the corner, a few feet away from everyone else. I crouched in front of her, putting my hands on her knees. She slumped forward, her hair brushing against her cheeks. I looked back at Ororo.
"Can you get her a glass of water?" I asked. Ororo nodded.
Jean put her hands on top of mine; they were ice cold.
"Go on," I said. "What else?" I hated to push but I needed to know everything.
"It didn't work... I tried to stop him." At this she stared directly at Mystique, who was still passed out in her chair. "We should try another test, but he won't listen."
"Who?" Ororo asked.
"Magneto." Jean reached for the glass of water gratefully. "The girl, he says the girl is going to help."
Jean shook her head. "He won't... he's upset. Senator Kelly. I have to clean up the mess."
"What about Rogue? Jean, what about *Rogue*?"
"Liberty Island, that's all I know. He wants me to go to Xavier's, pretend, so they don't notice. Don't notice until it's too late." Jean's hand trembled and the glass slipped from her fingers, shattering on the floor. The water splashed against my jeans but I didn't pay attention.
"You don't know why Magneto wants Rogue?"
Jean squeezed her eyes shut. "She can help... with the machine. He wants to use her with the machine. I... don't know anything else." She looked at me imploringly. "Don't... don't make me say any more. I don't know." With that, Jean pitched forward into my arms.
Ororo crossed her arms against her chest. "Let me get this straight. If I understand correctly, Magneto has a machine that can resequence the human genome to activate the X-factor, the city of New York is his guinea pig and somehow he's going to use Rogue to power this machine of his? It sounds incredible, like science fiction."
Jean started to stir and carefully, I helped her sit back. She still exhausted, but there was a flash of Jean in her once again. "Scott."
In the background Logan, who had been listening impatiently, growled. "Are we gonna just sit around and talk or are we gonna do something?"
She waved me off. "Let's go. I'm fine. Just help me up."
"What about her?" Ororo looked at Mystique with concern. "We can't just leave her here. She'll warn Magneto we're coming after him."
"Get Lorna," I said decisively. "She and Hank can take turns guarding Mystique."
"You shoulda let me tie her up," Logan said to me, but he was looking at Jean.
"Go right ahead," I said. I was already heading to the door, Ororo and Jean right behind me. "But make it quick. We've got a job to get done here."
There wasn't much talking on the Blackbird as we flew towards New York City. It was a short flight, but we were all very much on edge. Ororo exuded calmness and I tried to feed off that. It wasn't lost on me that this would my first real challenge using my new powers; the little skirmish in Alaska now seemed so far away, and on the grand scale of things, terribly irrelevant. Inadvertently, my hand went to my face; at this moment, knowing we were about to face Magneto, I felt the loss of the visor keenly.
"Everyone okay back there?" I turned in my seat. 'Everyone' meaning Logan and Jean, but mostly Jean. She offered me a tired smile in return. I had tried to convince her to stay behind at the house, but that wasn't Jean's style and I knew better than to stand in her way when her mind was made up about something.
The Manhattan skyline appeared before us, jagged towers of light against the navy blue night sky. After all of these years, the view in all of its grandeur and magnificence still took my breath away. I'd gotten into the habit over the past few years of collecting postcards of the skyline -- daytime, nighttime, from New Jersey, from Ellis Island, from the Circle Line Cruise, you name it -- and I had enough now to fill more than a few pages in a photo album. I heard a gasp from the back and turned to look at Logan.
"First time?" I asked.
He looked at me defiantly, as if embarrassed to have been caught admiring the view.
"It's okay," Logan said.
Next to me, Ororo smiled and then turned her attention back to the radar. "We'll set down--" she pointed "-- here."
We could see the Statue of Liberty now, rising out of New York Harbor, the skyline in the background. I'd already had my moment of awe, and now I focused on the task ahead, which was in bullet points, to rescue Rogue, disable the machine and capture Magneto. Not necessarily in that order, I thought as I pulled on my leather gloves. Ororo gritted her teeth as she brought the plane down for a landing. We landed with a mild bounce and then a thump, the plane skidding to a halt just in front of Lady Liberty herself.
The night itself was perfect -- cloudless and moonless -- with just a hint of a breeze. We made our way carefully across the carefully manicured lawns of Ellis Island and I silently apologized to the groundskeepers who would no doubt have to deal with the mess we would make tonight.
Logan, in typical impatience, led the way and I reached forward to grab his arm.
"Slowly, quietly," I said.
Logan jerked away. "I'm gonna get her outta there."
"We all are. No heroes."
"Boys," Ororo said firmly, stepping between the two of us. "Keep it down, okay?"
Jean trailed, her eyes narrowing as she scanned the area keenly. We could hear the occasional motor boat in the distance, and of course, could see the twinkling lights of the Big Apple, but other than that, there was no clue as to Magneto's whereabouts. Jean stopped short.
"What if I am wrong?" she asked hoarsely. "What if Mystique tricked me?"
"Is she that good?" I responded. "She doesn't know about the, eh, change in situation."
"Don't doubt yourself, Jean. Not now." I gripped her arm for a moment. "We're just going to have to keep looking. Rogue is around here somewhere. Come on."
We were at the base of the Statue when Ororo put her finger to her lips and pointed upwards. There was a flash of light at the top of the Statue, followed by darkness, and then more light.
Logan pulled at the entrance, trying to force it open with brute strength. He slammed against it several times, and the door started to creak under the pressure. The light we had noticed earlier was glowing now, gaining in radiance and strength.
"Stop!" Ororo grabbed Logan's arm. "We don't have time for that kind of thing."
"You got a better plan?"
Ororo's eyes went pure white as she spread her cape and tipped her head upwards. The air suddenly turned chilly. I saw Jean hunch her shoulders, her teeth chattering as snow swirled around us. Ororo raised a hand and the wind picked up speed. The light blinked a few times and then went out completely.
"Logan, you're with me," Ororo said. She pointed to the Blackbird. "We'll fly up there, and you'll get her."
"Now you're talkin'," Logan said. The two of them broke into a run while Jean and I stood where we were. The light did not come back on.
Jean looked at me. "She must be so scared."
"Rogue?" At her nod, I said, "Yes, most probably."
"She's only just beginning to learn who she is and then this happens." Jean frowned as she took a step towards me. In the background, the Blackbird rose straight up and we both ducked as the jet hovered for a few seconds above us before heading to the top of the Statue. Jean continued to look worried. "Do you hear something?"
I shook my head. "Only the jet."
"No, it's not that-- Scott!"
I was knocked off my feet and rolled face-down into the grass. The sting of acid seeped over the edge of my collar. Toad! I struggled to get free, but he was too strong for me. I turned my head to see if I could see Jean, but Toad slapped at me.
"So we meet again, One Eye."
I closed my eyes and concentrated. After a few seconds, the earth began to rumble. Jean screamed again and I concentrated as the tremors intensified. More, I thought as I drew on every last ounce of energy, *more*. And in a final burst of energy, I heard a loud crack, another scream, and then took the opportunity to throw Toad off my back. As I got to my feet, I saw both Jean and Sabretooth passed out. Blood was gushing from Jean's shoulder. I ran to her and pulled her away from Sabretooth.
"Hey," I said, "are you all right?"
She opened her eyes briefly, nodded, and then closed them again. I saw Toad getting back on his feet and I stared at him, daring him to come back towards me.
"You want more?" I asked. I slowly lowered Jean to the ground and then stood up to face Toad. Once again, I missed the ability to blast him right into the Harbor, but I figured every now and then, good hand to hand combat didn't hurt. He lashed out with his tongue and I sidestepped him easily. Toad growled and tried again. This time, I caught him by the upper arm. He kicked at me, his tongue catching me on the cheek.
"Ouch!" I screamed. I let go and backed away. Toad laughed and advanced towards me. At that moment, the Blackbird descended once again. I took advantage of the distraction to tackle Toad and wrestle him to the ground. He hissed at me and tried to break free of my arm and almost succeeded as the wind from the jet's engines nearly blew me off balance. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Sabretooth getting to his feet and lunging towards Jean. She held up her hands, palms facing outward, as if trying to telekinetically repel him and a look of panic crossed her face as Sabretooth continued to advance, a malicious grin on his face.
Logan jumped out of the jet and in several bounds, crossed the distance towards Sabretooth and sunk his claws deep into his back. Sabretooth let out of a wild howl before collapsing. Ororo came to my aid, grabbing Toad's other arm.
"Easy there," she said to Toad as he tried to lash out at her with his tongue. "That's no way to treat a lady."
Jean and Logan grabbed Sabretooth between them and dragged him on to the plane. As we entered, I saw an exhausted Rogue strapped into one of the empty seat. In the cargo hold, I saw an equally weary Magneto bound hand and foot, his helmet shoved unceremoniously to the side. I shoved Toad down and buckled him firmly. Logan and Jean did the same with Sabretooth. Logan looked at me.
"Don't worry about 'em," he said. "I'll keep an eye on them."
"It's a short flight," I said.
"I can handle them." And for emphasis' sake, he extended his claws.
Back at the School, after depositing our 'guests' into a special holding room made especially for that purpose, Jean and I retired to the locker room to change out of our sweaty uniforms. Logan, however, insisted on taking Rogue directly to the Infirmary himself, Hank informed us the Professor was doing much better and would make a full recovery. We were all greatly relieved to hear the news, but especially Jean.
"I just felt so helpless," she said as she stripped out of her leather uniform. "I wanted to help him, but I couldn't."
"You helped us find Rogue," I said. "Without you, we wouldn't have been able to do it."
She offered me a shy smile. "So I'm still good for something."
"I don't even know why you have to ask."
She shrugged. "I just want to know I'm useful."
"We work as a team, Jean. Everyone brings something different to the table." I spread my hands out. "I don't know what I can do to convince you of that. We wouldn't be the same without you."
She nodded, that cryptic smile playing on her lips. She finished dressing -- brown slacks and a red blouse -- and then sat on the bench, watching me. I turned my back to her. Sure, she's seen every part of me, but somehow, in the non-intimate setting of the locker room, I preferred a little bit of distance. I pulled on my khakis and light blue dress shirt. As I finished dressing, I was suddenly aware that we were no longer alone. I turned around slowly to see Logan standing in the doorway.
"Logan," Jean said a little awkwardly. She got to her feet. For the first time, I noticed just how deeply the v-neck on her blouse plunged, how her necklace -- a delicate gold chain with a diamond star pendant -- seemed to draw attention to her exposed freckled skin. And I couldn't help but notice that Logan had noticed too. "How is Rogue?"
"She'll be fine." His voice was one of quiet and restrained fury. "When we found her, Magneto had strapped her to the machine, was using *her* to channel his power."
"Because she can absorb his powers and he can save his energy."
"Poor Rogue." Jean twisted her hands together, pausing for a second to stroke her palm with her thumb. "I'll look in on her in a minute."
I opened my mouth to point out Jean could really use some rest herself. After all, every muscle in my body was aching and I hadn't even been through the mental wringer like Jean had been.
"I'll go with you," Logan said. "I'm on my way down there now. I—-" he looked at me, almost suspiciously "—-promised to look in on her after the debriefing."
Jean stood there for a moment, not looking at either of us. I bit my lip. There was an intensity in Logan's eyes, in his expression, and I knew immediately Jean was drawn to him in a way she'd never been to me. I turned away and started carefully putting away my uniform. After a few seconds, I heard footsteps fading and I took a deep breath, putting my hand flat against the cool metal of the lockers for support. The vibration was mild enough, a gentle tremor against my skin, one that most people would barely notice.
I turned in surprise. Jean stared back at me.
"Stop," she said quietly. "Stop it."
"You thought wrong." She continued folding her clothes and putting them away, almost calmly.
"I'm sorry." I swallowed.
"You should be."
I sat down on the bench, my hands still tingling from my momentary loss of control.
"Don't make assumptions," Jean said calmly. "I hate it when you do that."
"Right." Jean pulled on her white lab coat. "I'm going to look in on the Professor. I'll see you later."
I leaned against the lockers, tipping my head back, listening as the sound of Jean's footsteps receded into the distance.
After a brief respite, we –- Logan, Jean, Rogue, Hank, Ororo and myself –- gathered in a classroom for the after mission debrief. We sat in a semi-circle around the teacher's desk –- I perched at the edge –- while the others pulled up chairs. Logan sat with his legs sprawled out, his arms crossed against his chest. Rogue, still looking a bit pale, sat between Logan and Ororo. Jean was on the other side of Logan, and Hank next to her.
"We have several issues to deal with," I said. I looked at each one of them in turn, letting my gaze linger on Logan the longest. His upper lip curled in challenge. "The first being the safety of our students, and the security of the school. Rogue's abduction and Mystique's presence on our campus is a matter of great concern."
"It's my fault," Rogue said. Ororo put her arm around the girl. "I already told you that."
"No one is assigning blame, Marie," Ororo said. "Scott simply wants to find out what happened, what we can do to prevent it." Ororo gave me a sharp look. "Isn't that right, Scott?"
I nodded. "You're not in any trouble, Rogue. We just need to understand what happened and why."
"Why don't you start at the beginning?" Ororo asked gently.
Rogue glanced at Logan before beginning. "I was outside between classes and I was waiting for Kitty and Bobby and John. And then I saw Bobby and he said we were all meeting by the pond—-"
"Sullivan's Pond?" I asked, earning another glare from Ororo. Sullivan's Pond was about half a mile down the road, a rather murky body of water, but the fields around it made for a nice picnic area. Tall weeds alongside the road also provided a nice shield from whoever might be passing along; it was no surprise that clean-up crews would often find hundreds of dollars worth of discarded beer cans in the area. It also didn't surprise me our students would choose to frequent the spot either.
"Yes." Rogue wiped at her face with a gloved hand. "So we went and when we were almost there, that's when he –- Bobby –- changed into—-" she paused and then said uncertainly, "—-Mystique."
I could fill in the blanks from there. With Rogue away from school grounds, it had been easy enough for Toad and Sabretooth to bundle the girl off and Mystique must have appropriated Rogue's passkeys and other identification material to let herself back onto school property.
"I'm sorry," Rogue said quietly. "For all the trouble I've put you through."
I didn't know how to respond to that, so I was very grateful when Ororo reached over and gave her a hug. Logan gave the girl a brief squeeze around the shoulders –- a gesture that surprised me. When I looked away, I saw Jean staring at me, the corners of her lips tightening into a straight line. I rubbed my sweaty palms against my khakis and cleared my throat.
"And now," I said, "about what happened on Ellis Island."
"The Professor is almost back to normal."
I looked up from my book. Jean stood in the doorway, her hands jammed deep into the pockets of her lab coat. Her hair was coming out of her ponytail, tendrils of red-gold framing her face. I put the book aside.
"Glad to hear it," I said cautiously. Jean didn't move from her spot and I felt suddenly awkward in my –- our –- bedroom. I had retreated here after the debriefing, while Logan and Ororo had comforted Rogue and Hank and Jean had disappeared to check on the Professor. I had felt suddenly and conspicuously superfluous in that moment and had left quietly.
"Are you all right, Scott?"
I shrugged. Jean came in and sat down on the bed, facing me. She put her hands on my knees.
"I'm sorry I snapped at you in the locker room," she said. "I couldn't help myself." She gave a rueful smile. "It's different now, isn't it, so different?"
"I wasn't sure when we went to Ellis Island and I know you weren't either." She held up a hand. "No, no, let me finish. You'd never admit it, Scott, but I know you had concerns."
"I had concerns about Logan."
"Yes." She looked at me directly, her eyes filled with concern. "But also about yourself."
I shifted uncomfortably in the armchair. "What are you getting at?"
"You were afraid about how you'd perform out there. You're the leader of the X-Men, you're so good at that, Scott, but you were afraid of what would happen because now you have this power, this untested power, something you're just barely able to control, and you didn't know how you'd do. Whether you could stand up to the pressure or not."
"You did, Scott. You did it." She smiled at me. "That's what I wanted to tell you. That's all."
I cleared my throat. "Thank you."
"But I wish you'd told me that. Not as the leader of the X-Men, but as someone whom I've loved for so many years."
The past tense of the word wasn't lost on me. "Is this it then?" I asked. Might as well be blunt, might as well get it over with. I felt amazingly calm in that moment, could even imagine the two of us sitting down and methodically going through a listing of our joint belongings, separating them out. We had no joint real estate and no children –- our seven years together would merely come down to the logical division of objects and some items were definitely more Jean's than mine.
"Are you giving up, Scott?" Jean asked softly.
"Isn't that what you're saying?"
"Is that what you want?" She wrapped her arms around herself, pulling her lab coat tight around her body.
"It just seems we haven't seen eye to eye lately and with Logan on the scene—-"
"I see." Jean lifted her chin defiantly. "Is there something you want to ask me, Scott?"
"What is it about him?" I asked. The words were out before I could stop myself.
Jean looked startled. "I don't understand," she said.
"Logan. What is it about him?"
She shrugged, as if to say, "If you don't know…"
I spread my hands in a gesture of surrender. "You tell me what you need from me, what you need me to do to help you and I'll be there. I was there for you once before when you were overwhelmed by your telepathy. I can be there for you again."
"Maybe that's just it," Jean said. She stood up. "Maybe Logan doesn't make assumptions about what I need, that I even *need* anything at all." Her tone sharpened. "Or if I did need something, that you could be the one who could give it to me."
I swallowed my frustration. "You said the other night--"
She started to pace the length of the room, the heels of her black pumps sinking slightly into the gray Berber carpet. Abruptly, she stopped, and looked back over her shoulder at me. "Have you eaten?"
"You should." She picked up the phone. "I'll ask Moira to bring up a tray."
"Don't." I shook my head. "It's late."
"You need to eat."
"We need to talk."
She sat back down on the edge of the bed, her hands folded primly in her lap. "Go."
I stared at her in disbelief. "Look, this afternoon, in the locker room--"
"You jumped to conclusions, Scott."
"And that was so wrong?" Now it was my turn to start pacing the room and the telltale rumbling started. "I think I already apologized for that."
Jean tightened her jaw. "You're jealous."
"Yeah, so maybe I am. And damn straight if I think I've got a good reason to be."
She turned on me in full fury. "I am a doctor. Logan is my patient. I've never seen anyone quite like him before." She tipped her head to the side. "There is absolutely no reason for you to get upset."
"You weren't wearing gloves when you touched him."
Jean had no response. Her shoulders bowed in slightly and she hung her head. At times like this, she looked nothing like a professional, competent woman, but more like a small child. I knelt in front of her, putting my hands gently on her knees.
"Why?" I didn't mean to whine; it just came out like that.
"Because I needed to know," she breathed. The tips of her long hair brushed my cheeks. "I wanted to find out what kind of man he was, what he'd been through, how he'd lived, how he'd survived. He has remarkable abilities, Scott. His skeleton is completely coated with adamantium."
"How is that possible?" I asked. Adamantium, provided anyone could heat it to a state hot enough to keep it in its liquid form, was a substance that was impenetrable, unbendable, indestructible -- you name it. In spite of myself, I was fascinated. Jean nodded. "Is that his mutation?"
Jean shook her head. "No. Someone did that to him." Her eyes clouded. "It *hurt*, but he *wanted* it, Scott. At the time, that is."
I didn't want to know.
She shook her head. "It was an *experiment*, Scott, and Logan *volunteered*." She took a deep breath. "I wouldn't know all this about him if I hadn't touched him." Carefully, she stripped off one glove and cupped a warm hand to my still chilly skin. "You and I, we've hit an icy spot. It happens. Our geography has changed, shifted, and perhaps we'll never fit together the way you remember us."
"I want to, Jean." I tried to keep the plaintiveness out of my voice, but I couldn't help it. I silently cursed that black Ford F150 for crossing our path that fateful day. If only I had been paying more attention, if only, if only...
"What are you thinking?" Jean asked. Her mouth twisted wistfully. "Remember, I can't read your mind anymore."
"Only that if I'd been paying attention, maybe we wouldn't be having this conversation."
She removed her hand from my face. "You don't think we were due for one?"
"Things were good between us, Jean."
"They still can be." She took the other glove off. "Having Logan's memories inside of me *hurt*, Scott, but not as much as what happened to you." Her expression softened as she looked at me. "Your situations are not dissimilar. You both were violated. And even though Logan volunteered for what happened to him, I don't think he really understood what was going to happen to him. And you--" she inhaled sharply --"were taken advantage of because you were put in a position where you didn't think you had other options or choices available to you. You both suffered a great deal."
I got to my feet and went to stand at the window. It was a clear night, pinpricks of distant stars decorated the horizon. I could barely make out the shadows of trees that edged the boundaries of Xavier's properties. The window glass was cool to the touch and finally, I turned around to look at Jean.
"Go on." My voice sounded unfamiliar, distant.
"He didn't hurt me the way you did," Jean said. She got to her feet and came towards me. "His memories, that is. Because I don't *know* him, Scott. His pain doesn't resonate as deeply with me as yours do. And perhaps, I was shocked, because I never truly understood what happened to you. You used words to tell me a long time ago, Scott, but this was something different. I *ached* for you and I just didn't know how to tell you."
"You just did."
Jean shook her head. "I didn't mean to pull away, but I wanted you to tell me, to explain to me what *I* had experienced through you."
I stared at her. "So you didn't necessarily want to know about me, did you?"
Jean looked at me sadly. "I'm so sorry."
"No." I held up a hand. "I understand. You needed some kind of coping mechanism and that's why you were pushing me so hard to talk to you about what happened twelve years ago."
"Because you needed a way to deal with a violation that felt so real to you that it could have been you on your stomach in that bed."
We stared at each other in silence. Jean's eyes were very bright and I thought about crossing the distance between us and pulling her close to me, but I didn't.
"So tell me about Logan," I said finally. She nodded, taking a deep breath, and then continued.
"I didn't realize the difference in the *degree* of emotion until I touched Logan. Yes, that experience was just as real to me as your rape." She watched me closely. "I felt the needles pressing into my skin, the heat of the admantium flowing through my body, my skin cracking and the taste of blood on my lips. I felt and experienced all of that, but the emotional gut punch, it wasn't there."
"Maybe you've learned how to cope," I said softly. "You did it all yourself, Jean." I shook my head. "You never needed my help."
"Or maybe it's because he's a stranger to me and I had no personal stake in what had happened to him," Jean said quietly. She slipped her hand in mine. "Hold on, Scott, please. I promise, I'll never let go again."
I looked at her. "You got all of that out of an animal like him?"
"I wish you wouldn't call him that."
I nodded. A concession, a first step. I didn't have to like the man, but hearing what he'd been through, well, I could respect that.
Jean smiled. "Forgive me?"
I pulled her towards me. "If you forgive me."
Her fingers tightened around mine. "Always." She pressed her lip to the curve of my neck. And I kissed her. Full on the lips and this time, when we went to bed, she didn't pull away. I ran my tongue over her skin slowly, savoring her. She kept her promise that night and never did let go.
There are three ways tectonic plates can move against each other. In one type, they move towards each other and collision is inevitable, leading to large tremors and volcanoes. The San Andreas Fault in California is an example of the second kind, where two plates slide against each other, creating damaging tremors. Finally, the third and most benign of movements typically occurs in deep waters, when two plates head in opposite directions, the result almost never creating large earthquakes.
To me, it's fascinating how physical geography can mimic that of human relationships. It occurs to me only now that these years with Jean have always been filled with little earthquakes, barely discernable tremors. We've moved towards each other, growing closer over time, but then we also pull away, often during the times when we need each other most. It's when we're together, however, skin to skin, that the most friction -- good and bad both -- happens.
I tell Jean now in retrospect that perhaps the accident was the best thing that ever happened to us. I tell her that until we changed, I took her for granted. She nods, smiling.
"And now you have some humility," she says, laughing. We've both given up the accessories we clung to in the aftermath of the accident; her gloves are shoved in the back of the closet, my visor is in the glove compartment in my Mazda RX-8. Sometimes she likes to touch me slowly, and I close my eyes, wondering what she's digging out of me. It's not quite as powerful a sensation as the mind-link, simply because I cannot share what I'm feeling or thinking with her. But she seems at peace with what she's learning about me and maybe, one day we'll talk sincerely about what happened when I was sixteen years old and walking the tenth-mile between Ninth and Tenth streets.
One night in bed, Jean props herself up on one elbow. "You know something, Scott?"
I open one eye. "What?"
"Of all the men I've been with--"
I groan. She's said this before and I know she'll say it again because it amuses her. "Jean."
She presses a finger to my lips. "You're the only one who makes me feel the earth move beneath my feet." She smiles seductively, red-gold hair framing her face. "Literally and figuratively."
And I fall in love with her all over again.
~ the end
Feedback always welcome at email@example.com or in my LJ.
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