Continued directly from Part 9a....
Although presents had been exchanged on Christmas night after supper,
whatever surprise the professor had planned for his students had been
put on hold as he turned his attention to settling in Bobby Drake.
The boy's parents hadn't wanted him to come home, but also weren't
sure if they wanted him at Westchester, either. So for three days,
the professor divided his time between trips to Allentown and private
counseling sessions with Bobby. He even invited Bobby's parents to
visit the school and gave them a tour, albeit a tour that didn't
include the sub-basement. They met the other students over dinner,
as well as some of the live-in staff such as Moira the maid, and
Valeria, Frank's mother. On their best behavior, everyone struggled
to reassure the Drakes that being a mutant wasn't a curse, and their
son hadn't become a monster. In fact, they were all so absorbed in
quelling fears about mutancy that they failed to consider the
possibility of other forms of bigotry.
"They are *staring* at me," Ororo whispered to Scott, as the two of
them went into the kitchen to fetch coffee after dinner, and brandy
for the professor and Bobby's father.
Scott was amused. "Well, how many black chicks with white hair have
they seen, Ro?"
Jaw clenched, she shook her head as she fetched down teacups so that
Valeria could pour the coffee. "You do not understand. They are
staring at Frank and me. I have seen it before. Not in the city,
but here in Westchester, I have seen it."
"So? People stare at Clarie and me, too. It doesn't necessarily
mean anything. Sometimes they're just curious."
Turning to face him, she shook her head again. "This is not
curiosity. You truly do not see it, do you?"
"The *how*. Notice how they look at us, Scott. That is not
"They are not liking it," Valeria agreed. "Small minds. I have
spoken at them, earlier, about how I felt, after Francesco
manifested. Charles asked it of me." She sniffed. "I do not like
Having found the brandy, Scott poured two shots each into brandy
snifters, and then downed half a shot himself. Ororo rolled her eyes
but he ignored her. What she'd said bothered him because he hadn't
noticed while Valeria had, and he suddenly wondered what else he'd
failed to see. He was reminded of the frat party. It was three days
until 1999, yet even in Berkeley, racism still hid under the porch.
"Even if they don't like it, Ro, what can they do? Ignore them."
"They make me nervous."
"They're not going to do anything to you," Scott said, picking up the
snifters. "You could blow them all the way to Timbuktu if they
But after the two of them had returned, he did watch, and he did see
what she meant, and after the professor had released them for the
evening, he went down to the gym to take out his frustrations by
practicing kata. Jean followed an hour later with a bottle of water
that she offered to him without comment. "You looked upset, when you
left the dining room," she said.
By that point, he'd nearly exhausted himself and he took the water,
drinking half of it at once. Then he undid the belt on his gi so
that it hung open to let heat escape and wiped the sweat off his face
with a towel. Sitting down on one of the weight machines, he pressed
the bottle to his forehead. "The Drakes were giving Ro and Frank the
'look' -- you know the one: the 'we don't approve but we're not
going to say anything in polite company' look. Fuck. Can't people
get *over* the black-white thing?"
"Small minds," Jean said.
Scott snorted. "That's the same thing Valeria said. She's older
than them, and she doesn't care."
"Not about Ro, no. But if Frank had brought home a nice Gypsy girl
instead of a nice Kenyan girl, it might be a different story." Jean
grinned. "She thinks Ororo is �sensible.' Even if she can't cook."
Scott laughed, but Jean had a point. He'd heard Valeria make a few
choice remarks concerning the Rom or Albanians, or -- for that matter
-- northern Italians. Grandson of an �migr� from Turin, Scott tried
not to take offense about the latter.
"Have you and Clarice had trouble?" Jean asked, and Scott started.
It was the first time she'd asked him anything directly about his
girlfriend, but he'd been thinking just the other day that it was
time to put the taboo topics behind them, so he answered.
"Just the frat party. And that wasn't specific. But now I wonder if
there's stuff I'm not seeing."
"And it bothers you? The disapproval?"
"Only in general. Because people are stupid."
Jean nodded and they said nothing else for a while. He finished the
water and wiped his face again with the towel. Finally, since she'd
brought up Clarice first, he gathered his courage and broached the
topic of her own relationship. "What about you and Ted?"
Surprised, she glanced over. High gym lights glittered on her dark
auburn hair. She'd cut it last spring, and it fell in a sweep to her
shoulders and just brushed her chin. "What about us?"
"Warren said you're this close" -- he illustrated with forefinger and
thumb -- "to splitting up."
"Warren is a gossip."
"Yeah, he is. Is he right?"
Dropping her face into her hands, she rubbed at her eyes. "I don't
know . . ." Then she raised her face again and looked at him. "Do
you really want to hear this?"
"Sure." He nodded once, decisively. "You're my friend. I want to
That won a smile. "Okay. Then, basically, the problem is that Ted's
a lot more serious about all this than I am. He's been talking
lately about getting an apartment together in the city and I just . .
. I'm not ready for that, Scott. I don't think I'll ever be ready."
She sighed. "He's not the one. I enjoy his company, and I like him
as a person but . . . he's not the one. I'm not in love with him.
And he's in love with me. I think."
"Sounds familiar," Scott quipped before really thinking about it.
When her face went white, he raised both hands. "Christ, I'm sorry.
I'm just kidding. Really. You never led me on."
"Oh, that makes me feel better. You think I led Ted on?"
"I don't know," he replied honestly. "But knowing you, I doubt it.
Or you didn't lead him on any more than going out with anybody is
leading them on. Dating's a risk. You don't know if it'll work out,
or if you're going to wind up caring more than the other person
Leaning over, she locked hands between her knees and stared off at a
gym wall. "It's funny. Usually you're the one who likes to have all
his ducks in a row, and I'm the one who likes an adventure. But not
in this. You're a lot braver than I am. You wear your heart on your
"Not really." He thought about it a moment, then said, "You want an
honest answer? No false modesty?" She looked over, then nodded.
"It's easy to ask someone out if you're pretty sure they'll say
�yes.' I usually heard �yes.' But that's not wearing your heart on
your sleeve -- it's an ego trip. I was pretty arrogant, in high
school." He turned the empty water bottle in his hands. "Becoming a
mutant -- and falling for you -- were good for me. I don't take it
for granted any more. But even so, you can still make mistakes." He
thought about Phoebe. "Maybe this thing with Ted isn't a mistake,
exactly, but if he's getting more serious than you want to get, it's
time to break up with him. Or you will be leading him on."
"I know, I know. It's just . . . I'm a *wimp*, Scott. I don't want
to hurt him."
"Jean -- he knows already. He may not want to admit it to himself,
but I'll bet you ten bucks he knows. The longer you put it off, the
harder it'll be."
She sighed again, then slipped an arm around his shoulder to pull him
sideways and hug him. "You should put up a stand like Lucy on
Peanuts. �Relationship advice, one bottle of water.'" He grinned at
that, then hugged her back. Her hair was soft, and holding her sent
the echo of a thrill through him, but he suppressed it. He was just
*I believe we have a _situation_.*
It was a mental call from the professor, late at night on the day
before New Year's Eve. Only Scott and Hank were awake, the former
reading a book in his room and the latter working on something in the
*The new boy is up on the roof, considering jumping. Obviously, the
logistics of getting me up there with him are problematic, at best.*
Humor tinged Xavier's mindvoice. *I could perhaps address Bobby
mentally, but I believe this is a situation that favors face-to-face
interaction. And I also believe it time that he got to know the rest
of you outside of meals.*
Already into jeans and a sweatshirt, Scott headed out of his room for
the stairs leading up to the attic loft that Ororo shared with Frank.
"Professor," he said aloud, because he preferred to verbalize even
if he didn't need to, "I don't know the first thing about suicide
*I will be right there with you, to guide you. The main thing you
must remember is that those who threaten suicide rarely want to die.
They simply can't bear to keep living, so you must give them a reason
to. Don't be afraid to talk about death, either. The blunt approach
Scott's throat was dry as he reached the top of the stairs and yanked
open the stairwell window. It was one of several ways onto the roof,
and he used it when he didn't want to disturb Ororo to climb over her
balcony. It was very black out, and cold, but fortunately Bobby
hadn't gone far across the shingles. He was a small boy with sandy
hair just starting to darken with adolescence, and a sweet face,
though Scott could make out neither clearly. At the crack of the
window opening, Bobby jerked his head around and Scott called, "Hey,"
because he didn't want to startle the kid into falling when he was
there to keep him from jumping.
"What do you want?" the voice might have been belligerent, if it
hadn't picked that moment to crack. Scott bit back a laugh.
Amusement would *not* help. He remembered what the professor had
said: be direct.
"You thinking about jumping?"
He could tell that his question had caught Drake by surprise, because
the boy's head jerked up a little, then his chin jutted out. "Yeah.
Maybe. What's it to you?"
*Professor?* Scott sent, because speaking aloud just now wouldn't be
a good idea. *Help?*
*Remember -- the direct approach, Scott. Answer his question, and
follow your instincts. And don't forget what I told you, when you
called me after speaking with EJ last spring. You mustn't be afraid
to share your own feelings. And your past experiences.*
*That's why you sent me up here, isn't it?*
A tinge of amusement again. *Partly. But you and Henry also
happened to be the ones awake.*
*Oh, just grand. Thanks.* To Drake, Scott said, "Well, if you jump,
I'll be the one who has to clean up the sidewalk. It's kind of
messy, so I'd really rather it if you didn't."
Scott could see the kid wasn't sure if he were pulling his leg or
not, and at that moment, Hank came swinging up over the roof edge,
nearly causing Bobby to tumble off from fright. As quick as a snake,
Hank grabbed and steadied him. "As you were, Mister Drake. Now
what's this I hear about you wanting to try out non-existent wings?
Only Warren is allowed to jump off the roofs around here."
"Go away!" Bobby snarled at both Scott and Hank. "Leave me alone.
What do *you* two care, what I do? What does anybody care?"
"We care," Hank replied.
Bobby pointed at Scott. "All he cares about is cleaning up the damn
And Scott had to laugh as he inched his way over to sit down beside
Bobby while Hank found a spot facing the boy -- between him and the
roof's edge. "I was kidding," Scott said.
"He has a rather disturbed sense of humor," Hank agreed.
"So why do you want to kill yourself?" Scott asked.
"Maybe because I'm a *freak*?" the boy screamed, "God, is it so hard
to figure out?" Then he added more softly, "And I killed a girl."
"No, you did not," Hank replied, firmly.
"What d'you know about it?"
"The professor told us what happened," Scott explained.
"Those boys were threatening your friend, and you became rightfully
protective," Hank said. "In his own recklessness, one set fire to
his own girlfriend's hair. He will have to live with that. You,
however, are not to blame. It seems to me that you were struggling
to put *out* the fire, even if you could not yet control your power
enough to do so."
"So what good is it?" Bobby snapped.
"You *learn* to control it," Scott said. "And next time, you can
make the ice go where you want."
"But I didn't want it in the first place!"
"I didn't want mine, either. I've learned to live with it."
"Yeah? Well, you can like being a freak. I just want to go home and
be normal again. But I can't. So what's the point in living?"
*Christ, he sounds just like I did,* Scott sent privately to the
professor. There was no distinct reply in words, only a bubble of
mental amusement. *How did you put up with me? It's pathetic!*
*Don't react to his words, Scott; react to the pain. You do remember
how that felt?*
He did. He remembered dreams broken into a hundred irreparable
pieces, or so he'd thought at the time. Some still were irreparable,
but he had new dreams. "Y'know," he said, "I thought about killing
myself, too, after I got my power. I wrecked my high school
gymnasium -- on prom night, no less -- and hurt people. I didn't
kill anyone, but I could have, and it *would* have been my fault. I
was a month away from graduation, and everything just came apart. I
figured I'd never go to college, never have a normal life, never have
a girlfriend, or sex, again." He nudged Drake, who laughed with
"I can't control my power, Bobby. That's why I wear these." He
touched his glasses. "Or at least, I can't turn my power on and off,
like you can. When it first manifested, I thought I had only two
options: tear my eyes out, or commit suicide. The first didn't
exactly appeal because I'd have had to do it myself or I'd have
blasted a hole through any doctor who did it for me, and I'm not big
on long-term pain." He grinned, but this time, Drake didn't.
Neither did Hank, who'd never heard this story. He listened with a
quiet, thoughtful expression. "I might have tried to live with a
blindfold, but figured I'd slip up eventually, so dying seemed like
my only real option. I went into my parent's bedroom and got one of
my dad's guns. I knew where they were, and I could load it by feel.
So I took it back to my room and sat there on the bed for about three
hours, trying to work up the courage to pull the trigger. I think I
stuck the thing in my mouth about twenty times. Gunmetal tastes
pretty bad, y'know." He could make light of it now, but he
remembered exactly how his hands had shaken and how he'd begun to
sweat anew every time he'd felt cold metal on his tongue. "But in
the end, I couldn't do it."
"Why not?" Drake asked, morbidly fascinated.
"Because I didn't know who'd find me. I wanted to blow my head off,
and I didn't -- and I didn't want anybody in my family to have to
clean up the mess, either. So I took out the ammo and hid the gun.
I figured I could always do it later. But my dad found it, and that
It was one of those acts for which Scott wasn't sure if he loved his
father, or hated him, but when Chris Summers had discovered that one
of his weapons was missing, it had taken him less than a minute to
draw the correct conclusion, because he'd known exactly what he would
have done in his son's shoes. He'd turned Scott's bedroom upside
down until he'd found the gun, then had said only, "It's a coward's
way," and had taken all the guns and locked them in a chest, then
hidden the knives and razor blades and medicines as well, just to be
"I might have found another way to do it, but two days later, the
professor showed up at our house and offered me a third choice. It
wasn't what I'd planned for my life, but it was better than dying, so
here I am. And you know what? All those things I thought I'd never
do? I've done them all. Well, all but the normal life. It's mostly
normal, but I still have to sleep in goggles."
"You've done all of it? Even the . . . you know. *That*?"
"Sex? Yeah, even that."
"Hey! A gentleman doesn't tell." And he punched the boy's arm in
"You are too young," Hank added, "to make irreversible decisions
about life and death before exploring all possibilities for your
They both watched Bobby Drake consider that. The cold was starting
to sink in. Bobby, of course, didn't feel it, and Hank liked cool
weather, but Scott preferred California sun. "How long have you been
a mutant?" Bobby asked Scott finally.
"I've been a mutant all my life. So have you. But my power only
showed up two and a half years ago."
"And you?" Bobby asked Hank. "How long for you?"
"I was born manifesting my mutation, Robert. At the time, doctors
called it a mild congenital deformity, though in my case, it aided my
physical abilities, rather than impeded them, and my parents raised
me to regard it as a blessing, not a curse. I played sports, took
piano lessons, and my father taught me how to use every mechanical
tool in his shed. It's hard to say if my mutation also includes my
mental facility, but in any case, I was set to graduate high school
at fifteen when Professor Xavier learned about me and came to speak
with my parents. That was the first time we heard the term �mutant'
and �X-gene.' With the professor's support and assistance, I went on
to college normally -- or as normally as one can at fifteen -- and
later helped Charles to set up his school here. Thus, my tale is
less dramatic than yours or Scott's, and I never truly considered
taking my own life. But there was also never a time when I could
claim to be 'normal,' or didn't hear �monkey boy' applied to me
behind my back. My mother once told me that few true blessings come
without two edges."
Resting his chin on his drawn-up knees, Bobby didn't reply. But he
no longer seemed so angry. *How are we doing, professor?* Scott
*Excellently. But remember that these feelings will come and go. We
are hardly out of the woods for good. Ask him to give you a
*Like the one you made me give you?* Scott was amused.
*Precisely.* And the mental touch faded away.
"Look," Scott said aloud, and Bobby glanced up at him. "Neither Hank
nor I can tell you what to do with your life. It's your life. All
we can do is tell you how it's been for us, and maybe there are some
options you haven't considered. They won't be the same ones you had,
but it's not the end of the world. At least, it wasn't for us.
Still, it's you who has to choose."
Bobby nodded cautiously, sensing that he wasn't going to get off this
"But make me a promise, okay? If you decide you're going to do it,
you come talk to me first, tell me when and how. Jumping off the
roof isn't the way to go. I was joking earlier, about the sidewalk.
There isn't one down there. You'd just fall in the bushes and wind
up in Hank's infirmary. It's not really high enough to kill you
unless you were to land just right."
Caution had shifted to confusion. Scott doubted that the boy had
expected to get advice on what would and wouldn't work. But this
way, he realized Scott was taking him seriously, and that was Scott's
real point. "Okay," he agreed.
"So you promise you'll come talk to me first?"
"Shake on it." Scott offered a hand, and Bobby took it.
"What do you think of them?" Ororo asked Frank from where she stood
at the french doors to her loft's balcony. As always, when alone,
they spoke French; and just now, she was looking down into the yard
below. Scott, Warren and Jean were on the basketball court, playing
what looked like three-way one-on-one. She couldn't tell who was
winning, but would have bet on Scott.
"Think what of whom?" Frank said. He was lounging on the bed,
studying for the SAT and drinking a coffee.
"Of Jean and Scott, cret�n!"
Frank shrugged by way of reply, and Ro demanded, "What kind of answer
"What kind do you want?"
"I don't think Scott is over her. Jean, I mean. But he thinks he
is. What do you think?"
"Time will tell." Frank turned a page and returned to his reading.
Ororo threw a dirty shirt from the laundry bin at him.
Continued directly in Part 9c....
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