Continued directly from part 2a.....
The set of experiments that Jean was currently running with vaX
receptors and stress triggers had to be done sequentially, from start
to finish, and so, required her to be awake and coherent for
twenty-eight hours straight, a feat that �- at twenty-six years -�
did not come as easily as it once had. She managed on coffee, BLT
sandwiches, and her insatiable hunger for knowledge. It was her fate
to be dissatisfied with ignorance -� hers or anyone else's. To her,
the only thing worse than ignorance was a casual complacency in it.
Like winter snow, it buried the true outline of things in white
When her experiments were done at last and the results stored with
doubled backups, she dragged herself upstairs to bed, sleeping for
sixteen hours until a little before ten the next morning. Waking
finally, bleary and befuddled, she showered and dressed, and
considered getting coffee. But even the mere thought of more black
bean made her queasy, so she opted for tea and toast instead at the
little eat-in kitchen table. It sat near a door that led out onto
the rear porch, once the servant's entrance. The day was cool for
late June, nice enough to leave the door open and enjoy a breeze
through the screen. Limpid gold morning sun played over the yard
beyond, casting indistinct shadows, and triplet bees hummed among the
chamomile bushes in the herb garden.
"Hey! You're awake!"
Startled, Jean jerked around to find Scott in the kitchen doorway.
"Hey yourself," she answered. He took that for an invitation and
ambled across black and white tile to plop down on a vinyl seat
across from her. It squeaked under his weight. He was carrying a
pair of cameras.
"Frank said his mom said you were up. How'd it go -� the
experiments? Did you get the results you needed?"
"I got results, yes, but I didn't need any *particular* results.
That's not how research works, Scott. Not good research. You start
with the *data*, the evidence, then you build your hypothesis from
that data. You don't start with a hypothesis and go looking for data
to support it. Bad science. That was one of the first things Dr.
Banner and Hank drilled into my head."
Laughing, he held up a hand. "Okay, okay. I surrender! I just
meant in general." Then he brought up the other hand, the one
holding the cameras. These, he set gently on the table in front of
her. "I wanted to be sure you got what you needed, so you could take
a day off."
She picked up one of the cameras. They were of the drugstore
cardboard disposable variety. "What on earth are these for?"
Awarding her the grin she'd come to think of as 'pure mischief,' he
said, "Remember what I told you about going to the mall and taking
pictures with the worst and best stuff?"
It required a moment for her to place when he'd told her any such
thing -� and, thus, what he was talking about. Then she remembered:
at the Hyatt Regency, when they'd been walking around the atrium and
had seen that god awful dress. She lifted one of the cameras. "Your
idea of a day off is a bad-taste-in-clothes hunt?"
"Yeah -� you, me and Warren, against Ororo, Frank and Hank."
Both her eyebrows climbed. "And they agreed to this?" What she
meant was, Hank agreed to this? And what she didn't know was that
Scott had bullied the rest of them into it because he'd felt that she
needed a vacation from her work. Even Hank had been unable, or
unwilling, to argue against that, so they'd agreed to his scheme.
"Yeah," he said now. "They think it'll be fun. We were just waiting
for you to wake up."
She should have said no. She should have explained that she needed
to go back down to the lab and evaluate the results of her research,
her work, her passion. She had no time for frivolity, and opened her
mouth to tell him as much -� then shut it. Scott wore that earnest
expression she found so impossible to refuse, eyebrows raised a
little and the eagerness shining out of him as if his skin were
translucent. Rising, she finished her nearly cold tea in one
swallow, then set the cup down on the tabletop with the solid thumb
of a decision made. "Then let's go hunting Tacky. But forget those
cheap things. We need *videocameras*."
So the six of them hit the Westchester Mall in White Plains, with its
skylit ceiling and marble floors, specially commissioned sculptures,
fountains, and four stories of shops, counting the food court. They
stayed until the doors closed at nine, and returned to the mansion
with six tapes of excruciating footage, which they played on the den
TV over popcorn, coke, and much ribbing. The professor acted as
judge, his final pronouncement being that both teams had execrable
taste, but that Scott's team won on the basis of a single,
particularly frightful dress found in the Neiman Marcus formal-wear
department and modeled by Jean. It seemed to have been constructed
from purple velvet and silver semi-transparent scraps stitched
together like a checkerboard quilt, with peek-a-boo slits over the
belly-button, upper cleavage, and lower back, and a great purple and
silver bow just above the ass to complete the Elvira Ensemble. When
Scott and Jean were married ten years later, that old tape found its
way to the wedding reception, and though the professor staunchly
denied any involvement, he remained the primary suspect.
"Try again, Jean. Concentrate."
Lowering her chin, Jean Grey focused once more on the three laces
lying like limp noodles on the professor's desk. Her assignment was
not simply to lift all three simultaneously, but to braid them, as
The laces rose up and swayed towards one another like three drunk
dancers, wavered, twisted and tangled, then dropped back onto the
desk. "Dammit! I'm never going to get this!"
"You won't if you've already decided that you won't," Xavier told her
with amused patience. "You said the same thing, as I recall, when
you were overcompensating and throwing all three of them at the
ceiling, a week ago."
Sighing, she rubbed her forehead, all damp with exertion, and he
watched her fondly. If she only knew how much potential he saw in
her. He loved all his students for their own unique virtues. Frank,
with his quiet wisdom that went far beyond his years; Ororo, for the
strength of will that had made her a survivor; Hank, for his
enthusiastic brilliance; Warren, for his desire to matter in the
world for reasons beyond his bank account; and Scott, for a bedrock
strength that the boy himself didn't fully recognize yet. But Jean
was the one most like him, and not just for the burden of telepathy
that they both shared. She, too, had been sheltered from the world
by others' false perceptions of her fragility. But she was his
dragonfly child, too fast to catch and crush. She soared high in a
glitter-bright buzz over those who sought to contain her.
"Do it again?" she asked now. He just smiled. She already knew the
answer to that.
When Ororo and Frank were alone together, they tended to converse in
French peppered with English idioms �- not to be covert or recondite,
but because each found that language more amenable. Speaking French
would hardly have made their conversations secret, in any case. The
professor spoke the language fluently, as did Warren, having spent a
year overseas in Provence after high school. Jean had taken French
in college, and Hank collected languages. He often said that he
could get himself in trouble in eight different countries in their
native tongue. In fact, the only person at the mansion who
*couldn't* understand their franglais was the one currently standing
in the den doorway, listening. Scott Summers. Hearing him enter,
they turned as one, and Summers thought that he had never seen two
people more alike, yet not -� white and black in ways that went well
beyond their skin. A mutant Oscar and Felix.
He was gentle; she was hard. He was inclined to see the best in
people; she remained cynical. He was a romantic, she a realist. He
slept late; she got up early. He preferred the city though he'd been
born in a hamlet of thirty-seven people; she loved the country,
though she'd come from a city of two-million. He smoked like a
chimney; she hated cigarettes. Yet at some cellular level, they
understood one other. He was her sanctuary, her home, her peace.
Rejected by her tribe as a witch, she had fled to the streets of
Nairobi, where she'd made a living by cat burglary and picking
pockets -� a child of the savanna forced to live in an urban jungle.
She'd learned English from cartoons and B-grade horror flicks, which
she'd watched on a filched RCA ten-inch television that she'd kept in
her personal basement hole in an old business building on the
Kiriyaga Road, not far from the river. It was an infamous part of
town, the kind tourists were warned away from, where business was
conducted in the clich�d tiny smoke-filled rooms with low light and
even lower honesty -� the part of town where bad things happened to
young, pretty girls unless those girls commanded the lightning. So
Ororo had learned to keep a low profile, and her thoughts, opinions,
and emotions to herself, especially among strangers. They were not
her tribe, and her tribe hadn't wanted her, in any case. So she had
lived without a people, rootless -� a terrible fate, but an
increasingly common one in Africa. Francesco, too, had learned that
some things were better left unsaid, and so he respected her
silences, which inclined her to break them with him more often.
Now, Summers sauntered into the den, hoping he wasn't interrupting
something private, but the two lovebirds had out a math book and were
apparently working on some problem. Seeing him, Frank made an
expansive gesture. "Just the one we need!" And he shoved the book
across the coffee table towards Scott. "Sit down, sit down. Explain
this to us."
"What is it?"
"We are trying to find the lowest common denominator," Frank said.
"She does not understand the fractions, and you know how numbers and
I get along. I am no good at explaining this."
*She doesn't understand fractions?* Summers thought, but then bit his
tongue. Maybe he could do calculus, but he couldn't carry on a
conversation in three different languages. In the end, which of
those was more practical? Dragging over a chair, he settled in to
look at the problem. "Okay, it's really not that hard. First,
you've got to break down the numbers themselves." He took the pen
Frank handed him and set about writing. "Let's see -� this set is an
8, 12 and 18. What times what, gives you 8?"
"Two times four," Frank said, "but I tried that."
"Yeah, but you stopped there. You have to break down the 4, too.
You have to break them all down to numbers that aren't divisible.
It's really kind of fun, like solving a puzzle or something . . . ."
And he was off. They listened intently as he took them through the
process, finally rendering an answer of 72. "See? It's not
complicated. You just have to take it one step at a time, and not
get lost in the equation. Let's try the next one: 9, 16, and 20.
Okay, factor down the 9."
"Wait," Ororo said. "Why is this important?"
"Well, you can't add or subtract, multiply or divide fractions until
you get them down to a common denominator."
"But why? I do not understand why it even matters."
That brought him up short and he straightened, staring off into space
for a moment and pondering why it did matter. He might enjoy the
puzzle aspect of it, but not everyone was a math geek.
"Come on." Rising, he led them out of the den, down the main hallway
and into the mansion's industrial kitchen. They raised eyebrows at
each other as they followed, wondering what the kitchen had to do
with math, but waited patiently while Scott rummaged through the
refrigerator. Pulling out a pack of bologna, he peeled off three
slices and brought them over to the cutting board, where he cut them
up. "Come here." They approached. "Now -� pretend these are pies
at a party. The people who brought them already had them cut like
this. One's in ten pieces, one's in six, and one's in eight. How
are you going to be sure that the guest who gets peach pie will get a
piece that's the same size as the guest who gets pecan pie?"
"Pretty funny pecan pie," Frank quipped.
Scott elbowed him. "Work with me here, man." And using the bologna,
they figured out the lowest common denominator.
"You are good at this," Ororo said.
"Good at math? Or good at dealing in bologna?" He grinned at his
own play on words, but neither of them spoke English well enough to
"No, no," Ororo said. "Good at teaching."
He blinked. "I am?"
"You are," she said, and Frank nodded agreement.
Scott looked down again at the mangled bologna slices on the maple
cutting board. "But it's pretty straightforward stuff."
"To *you*," Frank said, laughing.
"She said I was a good teacher," Scott told Jean as he racked the
balls a second time and lined up the yellow lead on the table's foot
spot. Removing the rack, he made a grand gesture. "You break."
"Are we playing 8-Ball again?"
"Unless you want to try something else."
"No, this is fine. It's not like I'm ready to take on Paul Newman."
"Who's Paul Newman?"
"The *actor* Paul Newman."
"Oh, I thought you meant a person."
She laughed. "Well, he is a person, Scott."
"Christ!" He blew out in embarrassed frustration. "I just meant,
you know, some guy you knew named Paul Newman! What does the actor
have to do with playing pool?"
"Paul Newman made 'The Hustler' a long time before Tom Cruise made
'The Color of Money.' That was just a bad sequel, you know."
"Oh." Scott blushed, feeling foolish �- and young. Film trivia
wasn't his fort�.
Still grinning, she patted his cheek fondly. "It's not important.
But you're not ready for Paul Newman, either, boy-o."
Scott shrugged. "No, I guess not."
What Jean didn't know, of course, was that Summers could have given
Newman's Fast Eddie Felson a run for his money, and had threatened
Warren, Hank and Frank with unspecified dire consequences if any of
them let the cat out of the bag -� not because he sought to hustle
Jean, but because he wanted to keep her playing. His mutation gave
him an unfair advantage in games of physics and geometry, and his
eyes were more than a vent for solar-powered force beams. He *saw*
differently -� could track motion with uncanny precision, determine
trajectories and spatial relationships with instinctive skill, and
even figure probabilities with innate facility. Jean knew all that,
but as an abstract description in his personal file. That it might
translate in the real world to a budding pool shark wasn't something
Now, she placed her cue ball and struck it hard, but the packed
triangle at the table's end barely scattered under the white ball's
assault. Nothing found a pocket. "Damn," she muttered, moving so he
could take his turn. There were several possible shots, but he
eschewed them all in favor of hitting the remaining block of balls,
breaking them further. A solid slipped into a corner pocket, more by
chance than design, and he glanced around the table for another shot,
chose what should have been easy but made sure to hit the green six
just enough off-center to cut left and miss the pocket by a good
"Ha!" she said, triumphant. "My turn."
Smiling faintly, he moved back to let her shoot and tried
(unsuccessfully) not to stare at her ass as she bent over the table.
Despite his impulsive vow to marry her someday, in his saner moments,
he considered his infatuation to be hopeless �- she was eight years
out of his league �- but he couldn't stop how he felt any more than
he could have halted a freight train. Sometimes, he wandered down to
the basement just to walk by the lab and hear her inside, humming to
herself, or he dialed the phone in her room to hear her pick up and
say 'hello.' He'd memorized the number of her license plate, and her
weekly schedule, too, so he knew where she was every minute of the
day. You're pathetic, Summers, he told himself. Aloud, he asked,
"So what do you think? About what Ro said?"
Jean finished her shot, then looked around at him. Light from the
Tiffany lamp overhead fired her hair and he wished he could see her
in full color. "I'm sorry, I think I missed something. What did Ro
say about what?"
"She said I was a good teacher. What do you think?"
"Oh." She straightened. "Well, you taught me to play pool. But
given how badly I play, I'm not sure that's a recommendation."
He sighed. "I'm serious. Could I be a teacher, do you think?"
Sensing that there was more behind the question than idle curiosity,
she leaned up against the table edge to study him. "What brought
Suddenly embarrassed, he shrugged, unsure how to explain all the
conflicting wants and dreams that had been running through his head
of late. He was still young enough that the possibilities seemed
infinite, unconstricted by the buckles of too many previous choices,
but he was single-minded by nature and all the many options confused
him. He'd been struck by her devotion to her research, and it
troubled him that nothing consumed him in the same way. He was a
proselyte in search of a religion.
Coming over, he leaned up against the table beside her, holding his
cue stick in front of him, both hands clasped on the shaft. He
didn't look at her as he spoke, looked down instead at the fine dark
grain of the wooden floor beyond the central carpet. "I've been
thinking about a college major. I'm leaving for Berkeley in a month,
so I've been thinking about what to major in."
"I thought you'd planned to get a degree in engineering?"
"Yeah, I did. But now, I don't know." He stopped, letting his
thoughts fall into order before speaking further. "This whole mutant
thing -� it's just starting, y'know? If what you and Hank and the
professor say is true, there are going to be a lot more of us.
Probably are a lot more of us, even now."
She nodded. "Yes, I think so."
"So who's going to teach them? I mean, the professor is teaching us,
but there are just six of us here, and you, me, Hank and Warren �-
we're not taking school classes. It's just Frank and Ro who're
actually finishing high school. And he's busy all the time with us,
as it is."
He looked over at her. She was watching him solemnly, not with
tolerant amusement or half-distracted patience. She cared what he
thought, and *that* was why he loved her. Beyond the loud cacophony
of eighteen-year-old hormones or the romantic devotion of a knight to
his lady, Scott Summers loved Jean Grey because she *listened* to
him, treated him as a person with thoughts and ideas of his own, not
just the teenaged kid who worshiped the ground she walked on. She
listened as if he might have something interesting to say.
"More kids are going to come here, kids like Ro, who don't have
anywhere else to go and no one who cares about them. You and Hank
say most mutant powers develop at puberty �- I was late -� but that
makes me wonder. How many of those kids are going to come here
needing to finish high school? Xavier can't teach every subject to
everybody when he has twenty students instead of two." He shrugged
and looked off, suddenly shy about adding the next thought, but
driven to do so anyway. "Maybe I could help. If I have some talent
for teaching, maybe I could get a degree in education and come back
here to help the professor teach." He stole a glance at her. "Does
that sound crazy?"
She was still watching him with great intensity. "No, Scott. It
doesn't sound crazy at all. You're right. We're just seeing the tip
of the iceberg. If my research is right, and my estimations, there
are already over a million mutants in the U.S. alone, though most
have mutations at only delta or gamma levels. But there are others
like us, beta and even alpha mutants who're frightened by what they
can do, and don't understand what they are -� call themselves freaks
instead of gifted. Those kids deserve a chance no less than we do.
We just got lucky."
She stopped, staring at a Monet print on the wall though she didn't
see it. Instead she saw the petal-pale pink walls of a sanitarium
room, blank and hopeless, the box in which society discarded its
broken pieces. "Sometimes I wonder how many other little girls are
out there, hearing voices in their heads, diagnosed as schizophrenic
and medicated into numb stupidity when it's really the thoughts of
others that they hear? I think about those little girls, Scott.
That's why I do what I do. I know I told you before that I do it
because I want to understand who and what we are �- and I do. But
it's also for those forgotten little girls."
She didn't realize she was crying until he reached up to wipe away a
tear. "Yeah," was all he said.
Turning, she smiled at him, bright and a little brittle. "If
teaching is what you want, then I think you could do it. But don't
do it because you think Charles expects it of you. He doesn't."
"You have to do it because you want to."
"I know. I want to."
Chapter 3, "Berkeley Bound," is in process. Feedback is always
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