BETHLEHEM (Special #5)
Summary: Warren comes back to the mansion. What does he want from
Warning: ADULT. Deals with very unpleasant topics. I refuse to
glorify prostitution or the scars it leaves.
Notes: It's so easy to make Warren simplistic in fanfic, but like
Scott, he's complex and easily misunderstood. And like Scott, he
does have a deep-seated sense of right and wrong. Warren was the
Avenging Angel before he was an X-Man. I owe Lelia for some insights
into Warren. Cameron Hodge should be familiar to readers of
X-Factor. The lyrics are from "The First Noel," and "O Little Town
of Bethlehem." The poem Warren quotes is "The Hound of Heaven" by
Francis Thompson, though yes, I know, I took the words out of
context. (There's a picture of Warren on the website link; actually
several images in this chapter.)
"The professor tells me that you're in charge of the stables."
Almost jumping out of my skin, I swung around to face the newcomer, a
curry brush brandished in front of me like a weapon. His eyebrows
went up and he raised both hands in surrender. "Don't shoot,
Warren Worthington. I'd forgotten how deep his voice was. And how
big his wings were. They'd carry him places I could never hope to
go, places where people like me served the meals and the booze and
their bodies for entertainment. Mere animated meat, all thoughts,
dreams and aspirations beaten out of them by the impossibility of
It had been ten days since the events in New Hampshire, and a week
since things at the mansion had truly calmed down enough for me to
grow curious about the man I'd saved. So I'd spent an afternoon
surfing the internet, reading old business reports and gossip columns
about the Worthingtons, and Warren. He was an American prince. Even
the professor's wealth was unimpressive compared to his.
And I'd seriously thought he might become my fellow student? My
What a joke.
Now, I turned back to my horse and continued my work. I wondered
what he was doing here at the mansion, less than a week from
Christmas. Didn't he have family? "Yeah," I answered at last,
remembering that he'd asked me a question. "I'm in charge of the
stables. Sort of."
"How sort of?" He'd come closer, moving so that he could see my
face, and the proximity of his voice startled me once more.
I covered it well. "It's not like I know a hell of a lot about
horses," I explained. "But I like them. And the professor can't
keep the place clean himself."
"Doesn't he have grooms for that?" Warren slouched elegantly against
the edge of the stall, moving his wings out of the way. Those wings
might be pretty, but they must be a royal pain in the ass, too.
"I guess I'm the groom," I replied.
"I thought you were a student?"
"That, too." I wondered why he was still hanging around talking to
"How old are you?"
It was nosey, but the fact that he'd asked at all surprised me enough
that I answered before I thought about it. "I turned sixteen in
"Ah. A Libra -� or a Scorpio? No, don't tell me. A Scorpio." He
I stopped currying my gelding to glare. "I don't believe in that
The smile widened. "*Definitely* a Scorpio."
Shaking my head, I returned to my work. December or not, the work
made me hot and I pulled my sweatshirt over my head, tossing it on a
stool. The t-shirt beneath stuck to my back and chest and I could
feel his eyes move over my body. It made me uncomfortable. "Did you
want something?" Irritation brought the question out sharply.
His eyes flicked up from my body to my face and he pushed his
shoulder off the stall wall, walked over. "I have a horse. Well,
two of them, actually, but I think I'll only bring one. The
professor said I should speak with you about it." I must have been
gaping like a fish, because he added, "He said that you'd know which
stalls are empty, and where there's space in the tack room for my
saddle, etcetera and so-forth."
So he was coming to school here after all? And the truth would out
at last. With a prospective real student, I'd been relegated to
hired help, and living here like I was, I didn't even have the right
to tell him to take care of his own damn horse. So I turned back to
mine � or rather, I turned back to the horse I was permitted to ride.
"All four stalls at the end of the row behind us are empty. Mare or
"Stallion, actually. That's part of the problem. I have a gelding,
but I'd rather bring the stallion, and he'll require a box stall."
"Fucking great," I muttered. All I needed was his damn mouthy
stallion trying to take a bite out of me every time I passed that
He must have overheard my comment because he added, "I could bring
the gelding, but he was my first horse and he's old now. I think
he's earned his quiet pasture days." He moved even closer, right up
next to me and laid a hand on my horse's neck, patting him to keep
him from spooking. "Also, Charles suggested that if I brought the
stallion, he'd be willing to forgo stable charges in exchange for
having El Sid breed his mares. He's pure Spanish Andalusian. I
think poor Charles was drooling at the chance for some Andalusian
I didn't have a fucking clue what an 'Andalusian' was, but I'd have
bet good money it was the Ferrari of the horse community. "Sounds
peachy," I said now.
"Actually, he's a grey, not peach."
It took me a minute to recognize that he'd just tried to make a joke,
bad as it was, then almost against my will, my lips tipped upward.
He clapped his hands in apparent delight. "Splendid! I was starting
to wonder if you knew how to smile at all! That's the first one I've
seen on your face."
It was? But smiling wasn't something I'd had much cause to do, and
my face didn't automatically twist into that expression. Most often,
it showed no expression at all. I'd worked hard for that, and now
turned away, tossing the brush onto the stool with my shirt so I
could pick up a blanket to spread over my horse's back. Warren
helped without being asked, then nodded to the horse. "What's his
"The professor named him Thunder Major, but I don't like that." I
shrugged, feeling guilty for the critique. "It seemed kind of silly
for such a quiet horse. I just call him Lardbutt."
I wasn't prepared for Warren's reaction. He bent over, wings
fluttering spasmodically as he laughed so hard he almost couldn't
breathe. "Lardbutt! I love it! Priceless! Not one ounce of
pretense at all!"
"Well, he's *fat*," I said, bemused. Granted, the name was funny and
had been meant to be, but it wasn't worth busting a gut.
"Oh, oh." Finally, Warren managed to calm himself and unbend, wiping
tears out of his eyes. "Oh, my. I named mine El Sid, and you named
yours Lardbutt!" And he went off into another peal of laughter. But
the humor didn't seem vicious; he was genuinely amused. Shaking his
head finally, he ran a palm over his mouth. "In any case, do you
think we can find a box stall for El Sid?"
'We'? What was with the 'we' shit? I knew damn well who'd be
shoveling the manure. But I wiped dust off my hands and said, "Come
on. The box stalls are on the other aisle." It wasn't like I had a
real choice here, so I showed him the two stalls and he looked them
both over for the solidity of the wood and any rough sections that
might leave splinters in his precious horse's hide, then settled on
the farther of the two and followed me to the tack room to decide
where there was space for his equipment. We ended up having to store
some of what was there, stuff that Warren said was so old it ought to
be tossed. But what did I know? "You really are unfamiliar with
stables, aren't you?"
"I'd never been on a horse in my life until I got here," I answered
truthfully, but didn't elaborate.
"How did you wind up running the stable?"
"Like I said, Xavier can't do it. And I like horses. They're . . .
sensible." Then I realized what I'd just said and grinned even as he
caught the unintentional pun a beat behind.
"Horse sense!" he exclaimed.
"Yeah. Horse sense. Anyway, the old groom had to retire last year.
It was before I came. There was another guy who'd been hired part
time, but I don't know if he had too much to do, or was just lazy.
Anyway, I realized he wasn't cleaning out the stalls all the way,
especially back in the corners where Xavier couldn't see. Sometimes
he'd just lay down new hay on the old. I found fungus in the frogs
of my horse's hooves, so I started checking the others. It was
really bad for some of them. We had to call a vet. When I told the
professor what I'd found, he fired the guy." The shame of that came
back and I felt it burn my ears and cheeks. "I wasn't trying to get
him fired; I just wanted him to do his job better."
Warren had straddled a bench, his hands gripping the end while the
tips of his white wings trailed in dirty hay. He studied me.
"Scott, what you're describing is a serious oversight. You could
have wound up with lamed horses. It wasn't just a matter of not
doing his job. It was a matter of cruelty to animals who had no
voice of their own. He deserved to be fired."
I kicked at the wall absently. "That's why I said something in the
first place -� the horses. It wasn't like they could complain. But
the guy had some kids at home, y'know?"
Sighing, Warren looked away, out the door. "Responsibility is
heavy," he muttered, but I wasn't sure he was talking to me. "Still,
Scott -� people make their own beds and it's not your place to wash
their sheets for them."
I just blinked at him in surprise. It wasn't what I'd expected out
of him. "So you're going to do your own damn laundry while you're
here, so I don't have to?"
Now it was his turn for bafflement at the sudden leap of topic. "Why
would you do my laundry?"
I threw up my hands. "Well, who else is going to do it? The
professor has a cook and a maid, but Hank and I do our own laundry
and stuff, and I do Hank's when he's too busy with his rotations, so
I guess I'll get yours, too, like I'm getting your freaking horse to
take care of."
The white wings rose and fluttered with agitation like a bird's
might, and Warren pulled in his chin to study me from under blond
brows before saying, "Actually, considering the fact that you seem
to be between grooms at the moment, I'd planned to suggest to Charles
that I bring in one of my own -� who would take care of my horse and
yours, too. Frankly, Scott, you don't have the experience for this
job long term, even if you do have the conscientiousness. I doubt
that Charles planned to saddle you with it permanently -� pun
intended -� so I'd had no intention of asking you to take care of my
horse. As for my laundry . . . I confess, I hadn't expected to do it
myself, but if that's the way of things here, I'd like to think
household appliances can't be *that* difficult -� though the one time
I tried to run a vacuum cleaner, it chewed up a corner of my mother's
imported, top knot grade Bokhara Persian rug. Of course, I was six
at the time. The maid wasn't happy, and neither was my mother. I
wasn't permitted to 'help' again."
I wasn't sure if I should laugh at that or not, but he was grinning
himself, so I grinned back. "What's a Bokhara Persian rug?"
"A type of pattern -� the classic type, in fact. It's what you think
of when you think 'Persian rug.' Dull, if you asked me." He grew
serious then. "Charles told me that you were to be my fellow
student, not my servant. I have plenty of servants. I'm not
interested in another. I am interested in a friend from whom I don't
have to hide these." He fluttered the wings again, like anyone else
might flutter fingers in emphasis. Big emphasis.
"I don't live in your world," I replied bluntly because I was so
taken by surprise, I didn't have a chance to figure out a more
politic answer. "I don't know how to play golf."
That made him laugh again, if not as hard as at the name I'd given my
horse. "Good God! Golf! Well, if you'd really like to learn how to
play, I'd be glad to teach you!"
And that was how I wound up learning golf from Warren Worthington,
That week before Christmas was one of the strangest I'd ever
experienced. Warren and I spent ninety percent of our waking time
together -� at lessons, around the mansion, and even out Christmas
shopping in the city, ferried by his chauffeur. He seemed bound and
determined to be my friend, attacking it with the same fervor some
people decided to quit smoking. It might have annoyed, had his
company been less enjoyable. But he got my backhanded jokes, and �-
as I'd thought that very first morning after his rescue -� he was
plain nice . . . the kind of guy who held the door for little old
ladies and left out milk for stray cats. He defied stereotypes. We
He still didn't know what I'd been before I'd come to Xavier's, but
it was hard to camouflage the enormous discrepancy in our social
backgrounds. I asked him once if he didn't worry what his friends
would think -� his real friends, people from his own social class -�
about him hanging out with me, not to mention his doing his own
laundry. He'd shaken his head ruefully and measured Tide into the
plastic scoop before dumping it into the washer bowl under my
supervision. "What friends?" he'd replied. "There are two types of
people who want my attention, Scott. Those who hope to get something
from me �- money, reputation by association -� and those who hate my
guts and want to bring me down. Then there's you. You have no idea
how rare you are. You don't want a damn thing from me."
"Except the CDs you borrowed."
Warren grinned. "Yeah, yeah. I'll give them back this afternoon."
I helped him load his clothes in the washer, then he shut the lid and
turned to face me. "Look, I'm the one the rest of the sorry little
wankers want to be seen with, not the other way around. I *define*
cool." But his smile was as bitter as it was ironic. "They can
think whatever the hell they want. I'll name you a friend if I want
to." And we went up to the solar for another lesson in irons and
For the next few days, I pondered what he'd said -� that he defined
cool. He'd been joking of course, but it was something I hadn't
considered before. When one occupied the top rung of the Social
Ladder, it resulted in incredible pressure to stay there, but also a
certain freedom to set one's own parameters �- all determined by a
hair-trigger instinct for social Russian Roulette. And for whatever
reason, Warren had decided to gamble on me. Maybe it was just for
gratitude; I'd saved his life.
In any case, he dragged me out to a party on Christmas Eve after we'd
opened presents at the mansion with the professor. Hank was off
visiting his family in Deerfield, Illinois, so it was just the three
of us. Warren had no reason to go home. His parents were in Bangkok
and he didn't expect them back until after New Year's. So when the
present-opening was over, he took me off to some party where he
flirted with every girl in sight and got so smashed that I almost had
to carry him back to the limousine. I hadn't understood his
desperate need for oblivion in a bottle until I'd thought about how
it must feel to have living parents who may as well have been dead.
I was an orphan in truth. Warren was one in effect. 'You're
eighteen now, Warren. You must have friends you'd rather spend
Christmas with.' His father's words on the phone from Thailand. But
what the man had meant was, 'I have more important places to be than
home with you, and you're a semi-adult, so entertain yourself.'
He'd entertained himself by getting too drunk to see straight.
Maybe I'd have fought with my parents, too, if they'd lived, but
death had preserved my pristine memory of them. I could dimly recall
my last Christmas as a son, not an inconvenience. We'd gone to
midnight mass, then home again, Mom and Dad singing carols in the
front seat while Alex and I had fallen asleep in the back. Christmas
morning had brought presents and candy-canes and ham for lunch, just
the four of us, cocooned by snow in cramped base housing, but we
hadn't cared. Alex and I had received a new sled, and that was all
that had mattered to us -� a new sled, Pooh mittens, fresh Nebraska
snow outside, and parents to cheer us on.
It's such small things that I remember.
I made Warren leave the party around midnight, and asked the driver
to find a Catholic church nearby for mass. I didn't even know if
Warren was Catholic. Probably not. And God knew, I hadn't been
inside a church in years, but this was also the first Christmas in
years that I'd felt like celebrating hope. So I splashed water on
his face in the cathedral bathroom and we went in half way through
mass to sit in the back. I didn't take the sacrament because I
hadn't confessed. He didn't take it because he'd fallen asleep.
When mass was over, I had his driver return us to the mansion while I
sang carols in the back under my breath.
** "The first Noel the angel did say was to certain poor shepherds in
fields as they lay . . . ." **
It was the wee hours of Christmas morning and I had a half-drunk
angel zonked in my lap. What wonderful irony. He was asleep, so I
slipped my hand beneath the collar of his shirt and touched the edge
of bound wings. Soft feathers. Hope.
** "O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie; above thy
deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by. Yet in thy dark
streets shineth the everlasting light; the hopes and fears of all the
years are met in thee tonight." **
"I've got the mother of all headaches."
It was about two in the afternoon on Christmas day. Hank was due
back in an hour -� he actually had to work tomorrow �- and the
professor had gone to pick him up from the airport. I'd decided to
stick around so someone would be here when Warren woke. Now, he'd
come into the den where I was lying on the floor, messing with the
pieces of a new war game the professor had given me for Christmas.
With presents opened on Christmas Eve -� apparently a Xavier family
tradition �- there'd been no reason for us to rise early.
I glanced up and offered my bottle of spring water. "Drink. You'll
feel better." He staggered over to take it. "And don't cry on my
shoulder. You're the fucking idiot who got plastered last night. I
have no pity."
"Fuck you." But he opened the bottle and drank. I didn't make any
of the other remarks I could have, just returned to my game. He sat
down beside me to watch.
"You wanna play?" I asked.
"Scott, I haven't got a goddamn clue what to do with all those little
squares of cardboard."
"I'll show you."
He thought about it, then shrugged and said, "Okay. Why not?"
"Great. Now, look at the pieces. Here's the unit name, here's the
size, here's the troop quality, and here's the movement allowance,
normal and extended . . . . "
I'd barely done more than explain game rules and set up the board by
the time Hank and the professor were back. Hank didn't get past the
den; instead, he plopped down with us, delighted by my new toy.
"Splendiferous! The Battle of Zama!"
Warren gave up his position immediately -� his eyes had been about to
cross, in any case -� and Hank and I played. Hank was Scipio; I was
Hannibal. I beat him around two in the morning, long after the
professor had gone to bed. "I don't think history went that way,"
Warren remarked. He'd sat up with us through the whole game,
needling Hank and half-watching DVDs of IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE and
MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET. Was he hoping for his own Santa Claus to
bring him a new existence?
Hank ignored him and said to me, "You have a definite knack for
this," as he helped me put away the little colored squares in their
Ziploc baggies. I just shrugged. The truth was he *didn't* have a
knack for it. I doubted West Point would have any interest in my
"How was Christmas at home?" I asked, to change the subject.
His smile was warm. "Delightful. Cold, but delightful. You will
have to come with me to visit some time. My mother would dote on
you. Perhaps this summer. You can see how a farm runs." He glanced
around to include Warren in the invitation. "Both of you can come."
"Oh, lovely." Warren snorted. "Will we get to milk the cows and
feed the pigs?"
"Don't be a jackass." What bug did Warren have up his butt? He'd
been flat *mean* ever since Hank had gotten back, which didn't seem
at all like the Warren I'd come to know this past week. Maybe it was
just that Hank got along with his parents. On the way to our rooms
later, I pulled him aside. "What was with you tonight? Are you mad
because Hank got to go home and you didn't?"
Glancing away, he fluttered his wings, which told me he was nervous
for some unaccountable reason. "I'm just tired."
He sighed. "Okay -� maybe I am a bit jealous." A pause. "You
seemed glad to have Hank back."
"I like him," I said simply. "He's a nice guy. So are you �-
"Ooh. Ow. Slap on the wrist noted, Mr. Manners." But it wasn't
said with heat, just his usual dry humor. Abruptly, he sighed again
and rubbed at the bridge of his nose. The hallway lights had been
dimmed for evening and they cast shadows on his face, drawing tired
lines under his eyes. "It's been a shitty holiday."
That stark admission touched me for some reason. "I know," I told
him, and felt guilty because, for me, this had been the best holiday
I'd had in a long while. I wished I knew something to make him feel
better, but I didn't, so we walked to our rooms in silence. When we
reached my room, I turned to face him. "Can I ask something weird?"
"I don't know," he replied. "Can you?" Annoyed, I boxed his arm,
and he grinned. "Sorry, couldn't resist. What'd you want to know?"
His expression was serious and polite.
I blurted out the request fast before I lost my nerve. "Can I touch
one of your wings?" I hadn't forgotten the furtive feel in the
limousine the previous night -� and curiosity killed the cat.
He was studying me, caught between amusement and surprise. Then he
flexed a wing and bent it around in silent invitation. Light poured
through, pure and white, as if I were standing inside a cloud.
Reaching out, I ran fingers along the feathers. They were as soft as
I recalled up near the bone, but the pinions were stiffer. "Does it
feel strange to have them touched?" I asked him.
He ran his own hand down the skin of my arm where I'd pushed up the
sleeves of my sweater. "Does that feel strange?"
Actually, it did, and I flinched minutely. I didn't like to be
touched. But aloud I said, "No."
"It feels the same for me. Or maybe more like this" -� and he moved
his hand up to stroke my hair. That time, I couldn't conceal the
flinch. He frowned. "What's wrong, Scott?"
"Nothing," I lied. "I'm just . . . a little funny about my hair."
I could see in his face that he didn't believe me, but he let it go.
"The feathers insulate the skin -� like hair."
I ran a hand along the top again. "They're soft here." I regretted
it as soon as I said it.
But he smiled and, reaching up, yanked out a fluffy covert feather
from near the joint, then offered it to me. "Merry Christmas."
I took it. My own personal angel feather. "Thanks."
Continued DIRECTLY in part 2/3.....
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