Continued directly from part 16b....
When Scott arrived back downstairs with Jean's suitcase, he found the
professor waiting in the locker area outside the women and men's
showers, brows drawn in concentration. Scott didn't disturb him but
slipped past into the women's shower area. Entering, he kept his
eyes on the floor. He could hear the rush of water, and moved
cautiously around the tiled privacy wall, but the dressing area was
empty. Along two walls were benches -- her hospital-green clothes
discarded in a heap on one -- and a third had sinks with mirrors and
a little alcove with a few bathroom stalls. Off to the left was the
shower area. Steam rolled out, fogging his glasses and preventing
him from seeing anything even if he'd wanted to, and he didn't want
to. After that morning, he was confident he'd get his chance, but
right now, what she needed most was privacy, not his prurient
He set down the suitcase on a bench and she heard the thud even over
the pound of water. Alarmed, she called, "Who's there?"
"It's just me. I brought your stuff, including shampoo if you need
it. And clothes. I didn't know what you'd want, so I threw in
different things. If you don't like them, or want something else, I
can go back . . . "
He trailed off. He was babbling; she was laughing. "It's fine," she
called. "I'm sure it's fine, Scott. Thank you."
"Okay. I'll . . . go on outside and, y'know, wait."
*Oh, even better, Summers*, he thought and slapped his forehead; even
an *unseen* naked woman could render him imbecilic. Jean herself
remained amused. Under Xavier's telepathic umbrella, she couldn't
swim like a fish through his thoughts, but she could sense the edge
of his emotions and his embarrassment was palpable, as was the tickle
of mild arousal overlaid by a tender concern -- altogether a complex
blend of emotional spices. She could also pick up the buzz of plain
old physical hunger. Scott still had a young man�s metabolism, and
with the demands of his mutation, he couldn't afford to miss meals.
"Scott," she called, "I�ll likely be a while. Go upstairs, please,
and eat lunch." She could *feel* that he was going to protest.
"Don't argue. Doctor's orders. I'll still be here when you're done,
trust me." Her voice was wry.
And while he did, in fact, want to protest, his body was telling him
to acquiesce, so he left again, heading upstairs to duck into the
kitchen where Valeria Placido, Frank's mother, was cleaning up from
lunch. "And where were you all day?" she asked him in Italian.
"Busy," he replied in the same language. He'd brushed up on it in
college, using Frank and his mom for practice. Sticking his head in
one of the industrial refrigerators, he searched for a quick snack.
"No, no, no!" she said, "You Americans! You eat like uncivilized
beasts!" And she hustled him over to a table, where she stuffed him
on soup, bread with olive oil and cheese, and meat ravioli. While he
didn't appreciate the delay, with Valeria watching, he could hardly
grab his food and run. Italians took meals seriously in the same way
that Americans took sports. (For that matter, Italians took sports
seriously, too, when it came to soccer.) And Valeria seemed to think
it her own brand of cultural education to teach the silly Americans
to eat right. He could no more get out of a two-course lunch, and
conversation with it -- half in English, half in Italian -- than he
could fly. So almost an hour passed before he was free to return to
the sub-basement. Being dreadfully late already, he swung by the rec
room to see what he could find to entertain Jean during her exile to
the nether regions.
While Scott was thus occupied, Jean had finished her shower, emerging
-- arms wrapped around herself, hands clasping elbows -- to survey
the damage of her dementia in the long mirrors of the dressing area.
She'd grown so painfully thin, she could count her ribs, and the
bones of her hips protruded like a sweep of boat hulls. Her breasts
were even smaller than usual while her kneecaps and collarbones and
wrists looked huge; her face was hollow-cheeked and lantern-jawed,
and her eyes were shadowed and sunken. Worse yet, she'd yanked out
chunks of hair at both temples and there were scratches on the skin
of her face and neck and arms. Her skin was sallow.
Scott had said he loved her, looking like this? She was astonished.
Turning, she went to see what he'd packed for her, and was amused by
his choices. Comfort clothes, almost unisex -- he still thought like
a college boy, but under the circumstances, she didn't mind, and
slipped on khakis and an Old Navy sweatshirt. It was, in fact, one
of *his*, and she wondered if he'd recognized it. She chose it
because she wanted to be surrounded by him.
When she finally emerged, clean again with teeth brushed and face
painted, Scott still wasn't back. Xavier led her into the Danger
Room and shut the door. "Scott -- " she began.
" -- can *knock*," Xavier replied, though he'd covertly engaged the
'occupied' light and hoped the boy would see it and return upstairs.
However much Scott might provide Jean with a point of stabilization,
the longer they remained in one another's company during this
critical period, the deeper the bonding would run. It was a
dangerous game he played, and a ruthless one, using the attachment
between the two in order to heal Jean more quickly, but preventing it
from following its logical course to an end he couldn't condone, for
either Jean or Scott's sake. This wasn't, he realized, quite
ethical, but it was necessary, and when pushed, Xavier was a
"Although your self-awareness has returned," Xavier began now, "you
and I both know that the reassembly of memories is not complete, and
may not be for some time . . . ." And thus, the next stage in her
When Scott did arrive downstairs, he did exactly what Xavier had
expected: he found the door shut, the occupied light on, and assumed
he'd be intruding. So he left his offering of games and puzzles
outside the door and went back upstairs, whiling away the afternoon
by unpacking some of his boxes, talking to Hank about the various
students' mathematics placements, and cycling on the path around the
lake until supper. For the first time since his return, he ate with
the rest in a dining hall setting that emphasized for him the
mansion's shift from intimate circle to something more institutional
and organized. The hall's long oak tables had acquired benches
instead of chairs, and the sideboard was stuffed with various dishes
for students to help themselves, buffet style. An antique tapestry
had been replaced by white boards, one listing student duty areas and
another announcing stable riding schedules and when the bus would
leave on Saturday for a trip into White Plains to the Westchester
Mall. Scott thought the boards horridly out of place in a room of
dark-wood moldings, heavy velvet drapes and a coffered ceiling with
decorative medallions. The eleven current students sat at one table
while the handful of former students -- now 'grown ups' -- occupied
another. He found it all rather disconcerting, a sentiment only
heightened when the thirteen-year-old Jubilee addressed him as "Mr.
Summers." For a moment, he'd honestly not realized she'd been
speaking to him.
At least Bobby treated him no differently, and just to prove he
wasn't an antique, Scott engaged the boy on an unoccupied bench in a
game of table football with a folded napkin. They became so
engrossed that Scott almost missed Warren's arrival until a puff of
wind from a wing swept the paper 'ball' onto the floor. "Hey, man!"
Scott greeted his friend, rising to offer Warren the customary
embrace -- but Warren backed away. His face was stiffly polite.
"Ororo said you've come back. Permanently."
Sitting down again, Scott eyed Warren. At the other tables, chatter
had quieted; Hank, Ororo and Frank observed with polite discretion
while the eleven students stared unabashedly. "Yeah," Scott replied,
unsure where this was going. "I told you at Christmas about some of
the sh--, some of the stuff going down in the Berkeley anthro
department. It got worse. I'm outta there."
Warren's head tilted, his sharp, aristocratic, falcon-features
faintly derisive. "And Jean's condition had nothing to do with that
All too aware of their audience, Scott glanced around the room. It
was plain that Warren considered Scott's return to be a betrayal, but
Scott had no idea why. "She's my friend, War. I didn't see much
point in sticking around out there a few more months when she needed
"*Needed* you? She doesn't *need* anyone but the professor. She's
down in the sub-basement, mentally unglued."
That came from more throats than Warren's, but it was Hank who
smoothly inserted himself into the conversation. "It was reported to
me earlier" -- he didn't say it had been reported by Scott -- "that
Dr. Grey has returned to consciousness. It may yet be some time
before a full recovery, but she's definitely on the mend."
"I'm going down to see her," Warren said, heading out of the hall.
"You can't!" Scott called after, standing once more. "The professor
wouldn't even let me back in."
"Scott," Hank warned. "Warren -- "
Both young men ignored him. "What do you mean 'back in'?" Warren
asked, swinging around, blue eyes narrow, wings slightly arched.
"And why should you get in, in the first place? You're not her
A mixture of prudence and distracted irritation led Scott to ignore
the first question in favor of the second. "I'm her *best* friend,"
he said. "You're not her boyfriend, either."
At the adults' table, Ororo rolled her eyes while Henry palmed his
face. The students, though, watched with open-mouthed fascination.
To them, this was better than an episode of SURVIVOR. "She's going
out with *me*," Warren said, voice crisp.
"Not according to her," Scott replied, then immediately regretted it.
It wasn't in him to publicly embarrass a friend. "Look," he began,
taking a few steps closer in an effort to mend the damage, but
Warren's wings snapped out to their full extension and his face
warned Scott off. Warren was proud, and wouldn't bear coddling.
"At Christmas," he spat, "you told me you weren't interested."
Embarrassed, Scott glanced away. He'd forgotten all about that. "I
kinda changed my mind."
"I asked in good faith! You said you weren't interested anymore!"
"Okay, I lied!" Scott snapped back. They'd almost forgotten their
audience, even while being painfully aware of it. "I was . . .
trying to let her go. Things changed, okay?" He made another bid
for a peaceful end. "Come on, man. You know I've been crazy about
"And you think I haven't?"
Warren's admission confounded Scott. He'd dismissed his friend's
flirting as trivial, another of Warren's dalliances, and had been
more worried about Jean's possible interest in Warren than any
sincerity on Warren's part, but the expression on Warren's face now
wasn't regret over a missed date. Scott took a few more steps
forward, speaking in a voice he hoped only Warren could hear. "Look,
War, it's mutual. I can't stop how I feel, and neither can she. I
didn't realize you were actually serious about her."
And that, for Warren, was the deepest betrayal of all; it dug claws
into his gut and disemboweled him. "I thought you, of all people,
knew me better. I thought you were my friend. But you really *are*
plebian, aren't you? And childish -- a little boy trying to be a
man. In fact, you're eight years younger than Jean." He pointed to
Jubilee, who sat gaping at this very public feud. "That girl is as
many years younger than you, as you are younger than Jean! Never
mind that you're not her equal. You think a sophisticated woman like
Jean Grey wants to bring home a military brat like you?"
Equally betrayed, Scott struck back equally hard. "My father was an
*officer* and a *test pilot* -- which takes skill and talent, not
just an accident of birth. This is America, Warren, not Europe.
Nobody gives a fuck who your parents were or how many Roman numerals
you slap after your name. As for the age thing, I hear the pot
calling the kettle black -- you're younger than her, too, and not by
one or two years."
Warren's lips pursed. "I'm twenty-five, I have an MBA from Harvard,
and I'm CEO of several companies. What are you? You can't even
finish a year of grad school. You have nothing to offer her, no
inheritance, and don't even qualify to teach *high school* in the
State of New York. If she's interested in you, it's because you've
got a pretty face. You're her boy toy. She'll get bored eventually
and go looking for a real man."
Shocked silence smothered the dining hall. Those listening
instinctively understood that a friendship had just shattered beyond
repair. Glancing around, face flaming, Scott muttered, "This is a
"Yes, it is!" Ororo echoed, rising to intervene, but Scott had
stalked out of the room. He didn't run, but when she called after
him, he didn't look back, either. Furious, Ororo grabbed Warren's
arm to propel him out, too. "Are you proud of yourself?" she
"I didn't tell him anything but the truth." Disinclined either to
remorse or repentance, Warren's chin went up. "He got what he
deserved. He stabbed me in the back!"
"Only because you turned it," Frank said without heat. He'd joined
the two of them in the back hallway. "You chose not to see."
"He told me he wasn't interested! I fucking *asked*, Frank. I
played by the damn rules!"
"You chose not to see," Frank said again. "It was plain to the rest
"Scott *said* he wasn't interested! You don't go back on your word!"
"You had your chance," Ororo pointed out, "but *Jean* was not
interested. Or does her opinion not count? Why men think women are
territories to be divvied up, I will never know. 'You take this one,
I shall take that one' -- and what if 'this one' and 'that one' have
And at the base of it, the fact that Jean *did* have other ideas was
what Warren found impossible to bear. He was always the chosen one,
except to those he cared about most. To them, he was the imperfect
angel, rejected, and he might have withstood the blow better, had
Jean not chosen instead one of the few men he'd considered a true
"As far as I'm concerned, you can all go to hell," he said now,
turning and retreating back through the mansion to the garage where
he'd just left his orange Lamborghini. Scott might have yielded the
battlefield, but Warren now fled the theater.
Concerned, Ororo glanced at Frank, who just shook his head. "He will
be back," he said. "Let his pride mend a little."
"And he and Scott?"
"They may patch things up."
"Or they may not."
"Or they may not," Frank admitted.
Scott escaped first to his room only to face the unpacked boxes and
(again) the rashness of his choice to leave Berkeley. Yet hadn't he
brought Jean back to them? And that was more than Warren could claim
-- more than Warren could *do*. Still angry and distraught, Scott
returned to the sub-basement. He hadn't seen the professor at
supper, and half-thought to find him with Jean yet, but the occupied
light was off, and the games had been removed from outside the Danger
Room door. Scott hesitated only a moment before engaging the outer
lock and entering the little hall. The light above the inner door
wasn't on either, so he knocked.
Jean opened it and he stumbled in. Indeed Xavier wasn't there and
Scott was relieved for that, but his otherwise-vivid upset battered
at Jean after her long afternoon working with the professor. Her
hands flew up to her temples and alarmed, Scott gripped her upper
arms. "Are you okay? Do I need to get Professor Xavier?"
*No!* She replied. *You need to quit _shouting_ at me!*
*Calm down, please. Calm down. You're hurting me.*
Unfortunately, he wasn't at all sure how to stop 'shouting' and aware
of his confusion, she reiterated, "Please just try to calm down,"
then pointed. "Go sit. Over there."
He glanced across to where the little table had acquired two chairs
since his last visit, and meekly obeyed her order. She'd had dinner
sent down by Valeria, but had eaten only half of it, the wild rice
and asparagus. Cold chicken cacciatore remained, trapped in
congealed red sauce. Her tea was mostly gone, ice left to melt at
the bottom of the glass, and he picked it up to shake a stray cube
into his mouth, crunching it. He tried not to think about what
Warren had said.
But what Warren had said was as clear as a bell to Jean -- clearer,
in fact, than if Scott had been projecting as he had when he'd first
arrived. She stood on the other side of the Danger Room and
struggled to sort through her own mixed emotions. She was seething,
at Scott as much as at Warren. They'd behaved like toddlers fighting
over a favorite toy and she didn't appreciate being treated like a
prize -- even while she was utterly amazed that she, Jean Grey, might
be regarded so by two young men who could so easily have their pick
of girls. She was also irritated with them for parceling her out --
'If you don't want her, I'll take her' -- though that was closer to
what she'd come to expect.
Yet what Warren had said to Scott at the end upset her most of all.
It'd been a less polite, less psychological version of what Xavier
had told her -- and it reflected what others would say behind her
back, if not to her face. She wasn't sure if she were ready for
She approached him slowly. He had calmed down, and she no longer
felt overwhelmed. Taking the other chair at the small table, she
said, "First, I am not a prize in a car race, Scott Summers. I will
not display a big victory cup for you while wearing a skimpy bikini."
He was still holding her tea glass, and his lips quirked up. "I
"Do you?" He had the good grace to blush, and took another mouthful
of ice. "Second," she went on, "*I* decide who I'll date, and I'm
not dating *either* you *or* Warren. Understood?"
His expression was startled. "But, Jean -- !"
"No, Scott. I'm not."
Ambushed, he wasn't sure how to respond to that. "But we both feel
the same thing!"
"How a person feels does not necessarily determine how a person
chooses to act. Do I love you? Absolutely. Do I think this is a
good time to date you? No, I do not."
Mute but frowning, Scott leaned back in his chair and Jean took
advantage of his silence. "Third, you are not a failure. So Warren
has a degree from Harvard. You have one from Berkeley. You earned
it on a scholarship, no less, which Warren did not. And you received
a graduate assistantship for your masters work -- which Warren also
did not. We both know the reason why you didn't finish the latter,
and it has nothing to do with any deficiencies on your part. I
respect Warren, and he *is* an intelligent man. But so are you, and
if intelligence is measured in speed of comprehension, ability to
recognize patterns and analogies, and ability to draw valid
conclusions from divergent data, then you exceed him in all three
Scott was blushing, but she could feel his confidence seeping back.
Like her, he responded better to a rational approach than to
emotional declarations, and while he might have appreciated her
cheerleading, he wouldn't have believed it, and she was more
interested in having him believe it.
"As for being 'plebian'" -- she sat forward in her chair -- "you know
Warren doesn't really buy into the myth of blue blood." Although, in
fact, she wasn't so sure. Children learned what they lived, and
Warren harbored his share of assumptions and prejudices just like
"I think it rather impressive that your father was a test pilot,
though I'm less impressed by how he and the rest of your family have
treated *you*." When Scott started to protest, she barreled on.
"It's going to take more than him showing up at your graduation for
me to forgive him, Scott.
"And last, yes, there are those who'll look at your face, look at me,
consider our ages, and decide you're my boy toy. All that says is
they don't know you, they don't know me, and they don't understand
She glanced away. "Besides, it's not usually the woman who loses
interest. How do I know you won't get tired of your old woman in ten
years and dump me for a younger model? I'll be forty and you'll be
only thirty-two. Some pretty, young twenty-something might look a
whole lot better than me."
Scott's sense of insult was sharp and sudden. "I'm not that fickle!
And it's not about looks!"
She glanced down at herself with a wry smile. "Obviously."
"Stop it!" His affront was turning into anger. "I really hate it
when you put yourself down! You're not an ugly woman, all right?
And I told you -- it's not about looks."
"It's not about looks, but I'm not an ugly woman? I know perfectly
well what kind of image you had of me when we first met, Scott
Summers. I was your own personal Venus."
His rage was pulsing now. "I can't win with you on this! You get
upset if I think you're pretty and you get upset if I think you
aren't! Which is it, Jean? And what the hell does any of that have
to do with loving you? That's *attraction*. That's all. Attraction
is what gets two people on the same playing field. It doesn't mean
you finish the game. Most of the time, you don't. As for looks, how
do I know you're not going to stop being interested in me when I lose
my hair and get a middle-aged paunch? You have to trust that the
other person really loves you, no matter what you look like."
And ashamed, Jean stared down into her lap. This, she thought, was
why they were evenly matched. Sometimes she told him things;
sometimes he told her.
"All right," she said softly. "I'm sorry for doubting you. I guess
it's just that, for most of my life, I've been the ugly duckling."
"And you know how that story ends, don't you? Take a look at your
reflection in the lake, Jean. You're a swan."
"Looks seem to matter more to men."
"Yeah? Well, we're hot-wired eyes to dick. That doesn't mean we're
hot-wired eyes to heart. Sex isn't love. But when sex and love go
together, it's pretty terrific."
And Jean could pick up on what he didn't say -- she had him coming
and going, and why did she so doubt his love that she couldn't accept
his desire? Rising, she walked away a few steps, hugging her upper
body again. "I want to believe," she said to him.
"It's hard. It may take me a while."
"I don't want that kind of power over you. If you decide you'd like
to date someone else -- "
"I won't. I'm *in love* with you, dammit. Don't you get it? I'll
wait. Just don't yank me around, okay? If the answer's going to be
'no,' don't string me along." She heard the unspoken addition, *like
you did to Ted*. He hadn't intended to hurt her, but it hurt her
She shook her head. "I'd never do that to you. I didn't intend to
do it to him. It's a definite maybe, even a probable yes -- just not
"Fine. I'll ask you again next week."
"Scott, I wasn't kidding when I said it'd take time. You're still so
young -- "
His jaw hardened. "I wasn't kidding about asking you next week,
"God! You are *so* stubborn!" she said, exasperated.
But that just won a sudden, dimpled smile. "You know what Alexander
the Great said to the island city of Tyre when they refused to
surrender, don't you?"
Suspicious but intrigued, she asked cautiously, "No, what'd he say?"
"'You may be an island now, but I'll make you part of the mainland.'
And he did. It took him ten months, but he did it."
Standing, he crossed his arms and continued to grin like a maniac.
"Consider yourself under siege, Dr. Grey."
And he walked out.
Feedback is adored. :-) The Alexander the Great reference is just
for Lelia Burke. <G>
I'm going to take a little break now, from ACCIDENTAL, and work on
the next story in SPECIAL: The Genesis of Cyclops. I hope to have
Chapter 17 finished, though, before the film debuts in early May.
Do you Yahoo!?
Yahoo! Platinum - Watch CBS' NCAA March Madness, live on your desktop!