AN ACCIDENTAL INTERCEPTION OF FATE
Notes: See end. For nitpickers, I did fudge the application
deadline for Berkeley�s anthropology department in order to place it
after New Year�s. Thanks to Domenika for Columbia graduation
information, and Andraste for a read-through of Xavier; errors are my
"Four, three, two, ONE -- *whoo-hoo!* Happy New Year! *Happy New
On the TV screen, the new Times Square Waterford crystal ball had
descended seventy-seven feet to set off the flashing "2000" light
display at the flagpole bottom. Balloons, streamers and confetti
erupted skyward right along with fireworks and cheers from tens of
thousands of throats packed into the square for this special -- and
frigid -- New Year�s Eve. In the mansion den, which was considerably
warmer with a fire going, there were also cheers and noisemakers and
balloons, but no confetti. No one wanted to vacuum up the carpet in
Fortunately, the celebration wasn�t marred by any sudden loss of
power or other dire disaster. "So much for Y2K!" Warren shouted.
Scott had been saying the same thing for months, but doubt had
remained in the minds of the rest of his adoptive-family.
Now, the professor raised his goblet in the midst of noisemakers and
laughter. "Happy New Year, children. Let�s hope for as much peace
and quiet to come as we�ve enjoyed this last year."
"Amen!" Hank agreed, and they all raised their glasses in answer --
Xavier, Hank, Jean, Warren, Ororo, Frank, Scott, and even young Bobby
(who�d been allowed a little champagne). "To peace," Jean echoed,
and they drank. Scott thought that Frank�s expression appeared a bit
troubled, but he said nothing aloud.
"Wow! This is like, so cool!" Bobby was saying. "It�s, like, a
whole new millennium!"
"Actually," Hank corrected, "the new millennium began either three or
four years ago, depending on what argument one follows regarding the
shift from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar. Thus, if one wishes
to count back to the Year One -- as there was no year zero -- 2000 is
actually 2003, or thereabouts. And even if that were not the case,
the new millennium would begin next year -- with 2001. 2000 would be
the final year of the old millennium."
And the rest of them just broke up laughing. "What?" Hank asked. "I
wasn�t trying to be funny."
Jean, who stood beside him, set down her flute to slip both arms
around his sizable bicep and hug tightly. "Hank, dear, we�re
laughing because you would know all that, but . . . we really don�t
care!" Yet it was said fondly, and she grinned up at him. "Happy
New Year, old friend!" and she stood on tiptoe to kiss his cheek,
then let him go to move over to Scott, saying softly, "Happy New Year
to you, too." And she clinked her retrieved flute against his.
"Happy New Year," he replied, hugging her fiercely with his free arm.
"I�ve missed you."
"I�ve missed you, too, boy-O. I�m glad we had tonight."
"Ditto." And he was indeed grateful for whatever bribe had secured
her freedom on this most special of New Year�s Eves. He�d talked to
her more in the past six hours than he had in the last six months,
and he chalked up the closeness of their hug now to simple pleasure
in a renewed camaraderie. Finally, she released him to move on
around the room, and he did the same. When he got to Xavier and bent
to embrace the professor, Xavier sent, *You have something to tell
me, Scott?* It was a question that wasn�t a question. *You�ve been
avoiding it, haven�t you?*
Surprised -- though he shouldn�t have been -- Scott pulled back.
"Yes," he said softly. "But it can wait."
"It can wait, but not forever. Come see me sometime tomorrow."
Scott tensed, and reading that as clearly and easily as a flare,
Xavier added, "I�m not angry, son But we need to talk about your
future." And then he turned away to exchange well wishes with Bobby.
Troubled, Scott moved back, and if he smiled at the others, he didn�t
feel so celebratory now; after half an hour, he found an excuse to
retire to his bedroom. There, he tossed and turned for a while,
twisting the sheets in an echo of his own confused thoughts.
Finally, he slept.
The next morning, feeling both sluggish and nervous, he fetched a
letter from his luggage and made his way downstairs. *I�m in the
conservatory,* the professor sent. *I�ve been waiting for you to
wake. Please join me.*
The mental message almost made Scott jump out of his skin, but he
took a deep breath and headed in that direction. Memories floated up
to the surface of his mind of another letter shown to another father
four years ago. Both letters had involved a wish to follow a dream,
yet the first had been perceived as a defiance, a betrayal, and that
was the last impression he wanted to give this time.
Scott found Xavier sitting in a patch of sun, a blanket thrown over
his useless legs. He was dressed casually, or more casually than
Scott usually saw him, in a loose, dark sweater over a light
turtleneck. His face was sad, but not disappointed, or angry, and he
gestured to the bench near his chair. Feeling lightheaded and a
little weak, Scott took it. His stomach, which had been roiling
since he�d woken, now issued a nervous belch. It embarrassed him,
and he flushed, but Xavier merely held out a hand for the letter and
Scott turned it over to him.
Educational Testing Service read the upper left-hand corner return
address, with its distinctive oak leaf symbol. Slipping out the
form, Xavier read the scores that ought to have been a cause for
celebration, not Scott�s shamefaced hesitation. "Verbal," he said
aloud, "630, quantitative, 760, and analytical, 780." He glanced up
and waved the paper. "You do realize these GREs will likely ensure
you a graduate assistantship at all but the most competitive
Scott shrugged with one shoulder. That hadn�t been quite the
response that he�d expected. "That�s what Fred said -- Dr. Hand, in
the anthropology department at Berkeley."
Xavier nodded. "So I take it that you�ve applied for the graduate
Leaning over, elbows braced on his knees, Scott sighed. "Not yet. I
just took the tests to see what my scores might be. Everybody in
anthro is telling me I should apply, though. Well, not everybody,
but you know." Xavier did know. Any graduate program would be happy
to acquire a student of Scott�s caliber.
"Are you going to apply, then?"
The boy looked away. "I don�t know."
And he didn�t. He still hadn�t entirely made up his mind. It would
mean abandoning his previous plans and he�d never considered himself
flighty by nature, but was it flighty to recognize that the goals one
had at eighteen might not be relevant at twenty-one? And yet, and
yet, and yet . . . he felt that he owed Charles Xavier. The
professor had put him through college, and pride made Scott view that
kindness as a scholarship, not a charity -- an education in return
for service. Now, he was considering going back on the implied
promise of service and his conscience pricked him. Moreover, common
sense required him to ask how he�d pay for graduate school. Even if
he were able to secure a graduate assistantship that waived his
tuition, he�d have to work in addition to the assistantship, just to
survive the cost of living in California.
"If I do apply," Scott said now, "I�ll pay you back for putting me
"You will not. I told you before �- "
"That was when I was planning to come back here and teach!"
And his exclamation stopped them both -- a moment of honesty brought
out by guilt.
"And now you don�t plan that," Xavier finished softly.
Rubbing his eyes beneath his glasses, Scott said, "I don�t know."
The tone was pained, and half-choked, and despite the chill of
midwinter, Scott felt suddenly hot all under the skin.
Charles leaned forward. "Tell me what you do want, son. Not what
you think you ought to do."
Something in the timbre of the question unlocked the dungeon inside
Scott, and words spilled out of his mouth. "I always thought I
wanted to be an engineer and design planes. Then I thought I wanted
to teach math. But now I find I�m more curious about how people
learned to do things -- why some things developed in one place, but
not in others. I think plain engineering would bore me now."
Abruptly he grinned. "Pun not intended, but appropriate. I like
asking 'why,' y�know? Not just the what and how. Maybe Jean and her
theorizing is rubbing off on me, but I read stuff, and I keep
thinking, 'Okay, yeah, but *why*?' I never really thought I�d be
interested in a bunch of dead people, but I am. I want to find out
how they did things, and why." Abruptly, he looked away again.
"It�s not very practical."
Xavier smiled. "No, it�s not. But if all we ever did was the
'practical,' would life be much fun?"
"Well, no -- but I�m not talking about taking up a hobby. Can I make
a career out something so esoteric? *Should* I? Is saying, 'Because
I like it,' good enough? Or is that just selfish?"
Xavier shook his head. "You�ve asked a very hard question. Not
everyone has the luxury of pursuing their interests. And not
everyone has the *ability* to consider graduate school -- and I do
not mean simply in terms of their intellect. Graduate school
requires both perseverance and an ability to self-start -- to choose
a research topic and pursue it for reasons of interest, not external
pressure. You have both of those -- as well as the intellectual
capacity." And the professor waved the printout with Scott�s
exceptional test scores.
"So you think I should do it?" Scott was amazed.
"I think you should consider it."
�But, I don�t -- �
Xavier held up a hand to stop the flood of questions. "Right now, I
want you to consider only two things -- is this what you *want*, and
do you want it badly enough to invest what will be the next six to
eight years of your life in it, assuming you go for a full Ph.D.? If
you answer 'yes' to both of those, then we shall consider other
questions . . . such as the cost, which I know concerns you."
Too stunned to speak for a moment, Scott leaned back. Finally, he
said, "I can already answer those questions you asked. Yes, to both
Xavier nodded. He wasn�t surprised; he�d felt this moment coming for
months. "Then you must follow where your heart leads, Scott. You
must live your own dreams, not what you think are mine because you
have a misplaced sense of obligation." And he winked. "Why don�t
you go get some breakfast? We�ll discuss the details later, and
prepare your application package before you miss the deadline."
"And that was it?" EJ asked Scott when both returned to Berkeley for
the spring semester.
"Well, there were still details, but that was pretty much it," Scott
replied, still astonished himself that his graduate school fancies
had been received with calm understanding, even encouragement,
although intellectually, he knew that the professor wasn�t like his
father. He�d still been prepared for the worst. Chris Summers might
deny being a hothead, but in some matters, he had a trigger-temper.
And -- if he were honest with himself -- Scott knew that he did as
well. Stereotypically, Scott and Chris were too much alike in all
the wrong ways.
Scott�s application did make the deadline, if barely, and then began
the wait to see if he�d be accepted for the next fall, and be
accepted with a graduate assistantship. In the final call, that had
been the compromise on which he and Xavier had settled. The
professor would�ve been willing to pay the cost of his graduate
education as well as his undergraduate, but Scott had refused, pride
unable to accept that much generosity. Xavier had realized as much,
so they�d agreed that the determining factor would be a graduate
assistantship. If Scott received one, he�d go on to graduate school.
If he didn�t, he�d return to the mansion to teach. Xavier himself
had little doubt that Scott would receive one, but being under the
pressure gun, Scott wasn�t so sure.
That spring, Scott lived somewhere between anticipation, sadness, and
an increasing disconnection, but disconnection from whom he couldn�t
say -- his friends in Berkeley, or his family back at the mansion?
The summer�s end would bring his college career to a conclusion, and
graduate school, if he were accepted, would be different, more
serious. If he were not accepted, then this would be his final
semester at Berkeley, summer being merely a coda. Placed thus
between a rosy past and an uncertain future, life took on shades of
pastel nostalgia and fey shadows. He spent more effort on his
schoolwork, but also played harder, dating heavily if never seriously
and performing with an exaggerated showmanship for Soapbox, who now
gigged as far away as San Francisco and San Jose. The band, too, was
reaching the end of an era. Even if Scott did make it into graduate
school, Rick would finish at the end of this spring and leave town.
They�d be looking for a new guitar player.
Scott heard less from New York as well, increasing his dissociation.
Warren was busy in the city, Frank was now in college himself
locally, and despite their reconnection at New Year�s, Jean had sunk
back into the final months of her clinical rotations and preparation
for her second set of medical boards, disappearing from Scott�s life
once more. She became a ghost from his past, the muse of his youth,
traveling her road now while his diverged. What had they really had
in common anyway? An X-gene? A brief belief that they could save
the world? In retrospect, it all seemed rather silly -- a prophecy
of a dark future, a secret sub-basement, and a mutant power training
room like something out of a science-fiction movie. He read that
stuff; he didn�t live it. RAIDER OF THE LOST ARK was closer to what
he had in mind for his future.
Scott remained in Berkeley for Spring Break that year to work on a
paper, instead of going home with EJ as he had for the two previous
years. If he and Clarice had finally grown easy again in one
another�s presence, he wasn�t prepared for the Haight Family Pressure
Cooker, and EJ didn�t press. So he spent his time working in the
library, and watching over a friend�s newt. His paper faired well
enough, the newt did not. It took him a few days to realize it was
dead, not simply hibernating (or the amphibious equivalent), but a
rotting-fish stink finally alerted him to the truth and with a
wrinkled nose, he cleaned the tank after wrapping the newt�s body in
cellophane and storing it in the freezer -- then forgot to tell EJ,
who found six cans of Coke, three bottles of Michelob, one dead newt,
and three boxes of Toni�s frozen pizza in the entire fridge, when he
returned from LA.
"I am never leaving you alone for a whole week again, Slimboy.
You�re fucking dangerous on your own, to newts and your digestion
both. Don�t tell me you ate like this last summer, too."
"Okay, I won�t tell you."
EJ rolled his eyes. "That�s what I was afraid of. And ain�t you
ever heard of flushing dead stuff down the damn toilet? That�s what
I did with my goldfish, man."
"I thought Jerrod might want it back."
"It�s freakin *dead*."
"Yeah, well -- whatever."
When Saint Patrick�s Day rolled around a week after spring break and
Soapbox wasn�t scheduled to gig, EJ and Scott set out about
four-thirty in the afternoon on a bar tour of Telegraph Avenue. As
EJ was now twenty-one, it was even legal for a change, and in the
course of the evening, Scott discovered just how well his mutated
metabolism could process alcohol. He�d been aware for some time that
he grew tipsy quicker and crashed sooner, and that a bag of Oreos
shot his sugar levels high enough to qualify him for a temporary
attention deficit disorder. But he�d had no idea just how ill he
could make himself. They plowed through five bars and five pitchers
of green beer in six hours that night, but first they had dinner in a
nice restaurant with red-and-white checkered tablecloths and antique
farming implements on the walls.
"So what *did* you think of me when you first met me?" EJ asked while
wolfing down a decidedly un-Irish double-portion of pasta with
marinara sauce. They�d been reminiscing about their first year in a
pre-emptive attack of Glory Days.
"I thought you were something out of the hood." Scott�s own meal was
the more traditional corned beef.
EJ glanced up at him. "It�s *in* the hood, white boy." But it was
said with humor, then he added, "I thought you were some spoiled rich
Scott spit beer out his nose. "You�re fucking kidding."
"Nope. It was the shades and the Gap wardrobe. Why�d you assume I
was in the hood? Just my skin color?"
"Christ, no. It was the clothes and the hair -- or lack of it."
"Well, fuck -- I was *moving*, not going to a job interview. What�d
you expect me to dress like?"
Scott shrugged. "So we both made assumptions."
"Yeah, okay, true." They ate in silence a while, then EJ said, "I�ve
learned a lot, living with you. I wouldn�t trade it."
"If you get into grad school, you gonna go into the grad dorms?"
Surprised, Scott glanced up. "I hadn�t especially planned on it."
Then a thought occurred to him. "Why? You want somebody else to
move in?" He couldn�t help but grin.
"What�s that supposed to mean?"
Scott leaned back in his booth to lace hands together behind his
head. He was still grinning. "Oh, nothing."
"I was thinking of someone, you know, with the XX chromosome."
EJ�s fork clattered to the stoneware pasta plate. People in booths
around them glanced over and he bent across the table to say, more
softly, "Whathefuck? Like *who*?"
Scott�s grin deepened. "I�ll give you three guesses and the first
two don�t freakin� count."
"You�re full of shit." EJ went back to eating.
"How many nights of the week is she over at our place?"
"I�m just pointing out a fact, Eeej. I thought maybe she could save
time going back and forth if she just moved right in."
Scott laughed and drank his beer. "Come on, admit it. You have it
bad for her."
"Yeah? And if I do?"
"Good for you."
EJ glanced up at him. "I�m serious," Scott said. "You two are good
together. In fact" -- he leaned across the table in an echo of EJ�s
previous gesture -- "I think you�ve never gotten serious about anyone
else in the three years I�ve known you because you�ve been in love
with Diane Hernandez the whole damn time and just weren�t ready to
admit it to yourself."
EJ�s mouth dropped open, giving Scott a clear view of half-chewed
pasta. Then he swallowed and went back to his meal. After a minute,
he said, "I haven�t even asked her out, man."
"Well, maybe you ought to, lugwit."
"Yeah, yeah, yeah. Maybe I will."
Grinning, Scott toasted EJ with his beer.
As things turned out, supper wasn�t the last meal they shared that
night, though the second was five pitchers later and far less
pleasant. EJ hadn�t realized that he needed to watch Scott�s alcohol
intake, and Scott hadn�t realized that he needed to watch himself,
and the drunker Scott became, the less he could judge how drunk he
was. By a little after midnight, EJ had to half-carry him out of
their fifth and final bar, though EJ himself wasn�t sober. "You�re
trashed, man. I�m about three sheets to the wind, but fuck -- you�re
*five*. Let�s get some food into you, and coffee." And he hauled
Scott down to Blondie�s, the Berkeley branch of a San Francisco pizza
parlor that served pie by the slice in an atmosphere balanced between
McDonalds and an Italian highway trattoria, with decor in bold
primary colors. The food was good, but greasy, and when one figured
in burnt, bad coffee and too much alcohol in his bloodstream already,
Scott�s stomach simply rebelled less than halfway into the meal and
he spewed the counter with green-tinted barely digested bits of
pizza. "Shit!" EJ yelled, embarrassed and appalled at once as watery
vomit dripped off Formica onto the floor. Scott had it all over his
front, as well as on the counter, the stool, and even on EJ�s jeans.
Grabbing Scott, EJ hauled him through the restaurant and into the
bathroom, after leaving a generous tip on the counter. Scott was
reeling still and emptied the rest of his stomach into a toilet, then
knelt shaking on the bathroom tile. Worry began to replace EJ�s
disgust. "Man, this is serious bad news. You been drinking longer
than me, Slim. Don�t you know when to quit?"
"Never drank that much," Scott whispered. The room stank of
disinfectant and piss, in addition to vomit, all of which only
twisted his stomach more, but at least his head had cleared a bit,
along with his field of vision. Objects didn�t swim in and out of
it. And while he�d always hated the sensation of vomiting, at the
moment, it was the best thing for him so he stuck a finger down his
throat to make himself vomit again, but succeeded only in triggering
his gag reflex and coughing. He was sweating and dizzy and unsure if
he could get to his feet. "I am dog sick," he whispered.
"No shit, Sherlock. Ever heard of alcohol poisoning?"
"I didn�t drink any more, any faster than you did."
EJ thought about that. It was true. "So maybe in the future you go
light on the beer, just like on the sugar? Your body obviously don�t
process food the same way mine does."
Scott just nodded. This, he thought, was the downside of his
mutation. And then he started to giggle. Here he was, trying to get
into grad school, and he didn�t even have sense enough to know when
to quit drinking. There was something ironic in that.
Continued directly in Part 11b
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