AN ACCIDENTAL INTERCEPTION OF FATE 1b: Phantoms in Westchester (S/J, prefilm)
- Continuing directly from part 1b....
While among the show's more infamous and expected artifices, the
crash of the falling chandelier at the end of Act I still caused Jean
to start in her seat and clutch at Scott's arm. Like Steven
Spielburg, Andrew Lloyd Webber knew well the art of theatrical
suspense. "Sorry," she said when she realized it had been his bad
arm. Letting go, she straightened his sleeve as the lights came up
and the red curtain dropped for the intermission.
But Scott just laughed at her in a friendly way. "S'okay. The arm's
Rising, they escaped the gaudy, gilded glory of The Majestic's
orchestra level to stretch their legs, and Jean made her way to the
women's restroom, finding the inevitable line. The outer area was as
shamelessly overdone as the rest of the place, sporting green marble
counters under mirrors and banks of frosted make-up lights.
Expensive baroque wallpaper bore tiny gold fleur-de-lis on a forest
green background, and in the room's corner, two gold plush velvet
couches gathered dust under fake silk greenery and grinning ceramic
cherubs. She couldn't decide if she were more awed or more appalled
by the decor, but the whole place certainly suited the grandiose
melodies of Webber's gothic horror tale. She hummed a bit of "All I
Ask of You," then caught herself and stopped. An operatic soprano
When she finished, she found Scott waiting patiently outside. A few
passers-by glanced at the boy wearing sunglasses indoors at night,
but didn't pause. These were the years before popular perceptions of
mutants elicited irrational fear. To observers, he was just a young
blind man in dark glasses and a nice pinstripe suit. "Ready to go
back?" he asked.
The second act was more hard-hitting -� and not because of the play's
native pathos. In her excitement at the prospect of a ninth-row
orchestra seat, Jean had overlooked the irony inherent in Scott
Summers choosing *this* particular story.
*"Why, you ask, was I bound and chained in this cold and dismal
place? Not for any mortal sin, but the wickedness of my abhorrent
She'd been escorted to a theatrical performance about a man forced to
mask his terrible visage by a man forced to mask his deadly eyes.
*"Pitiful creature of darkness -� what kind of life have you known?
God give me courage to show you that you are not alone . . . ."*
She thought long and hard about Scott's incessant attention over the
past few weeks. She'd found it sweetly charming, occasionally
annoying, and unarguably flattering. But perhaps, in her amusement
at his schoolboy crush, she'd overlooked something more cardinal -�
he was lonely.
If she didn't know a great deal about his background, how his power
had manifested was no secret, and being the architect of dramatic
disaster at one's own senior prom could hardly be a pleasant memory.
Jean had never gone to a prom, but had stopped regretting that some
time ago. After a certain age, it ceased to matter. But for Scott,
she wondered? Everything about him screamed a self-confidence
learned early �- from his casual ease in his skin to the strut he
couldn't quite conceal. He'd been popular once, she thought. And
while the shy, science-geek that still lived inside Jean might have
found a certain poetic justice in what had happened to him, she'd
mostly outgrown that, just as she'd outgrown regret. He'd been
popular, but nothing about him made her think that he'd been petty or
cruel. He just needed a little attention, and a friend.
Exiting the theater, they walked aimlessly down 44th Street in Times
Square, side-by-side but not touching. The wind sang between
buildings, whipping at her dress and jacket and blowing stray paper
against the sides of brick buildings made sooty-dark with vehicle
exhaust. "Would you like to get something to eat before we go back?"
Jean asked him, and was delighted to see his face light up.
A little attention indeed.
"Sure! But" -� he glanced down at her feet -� "can you *walk* far in
She smiled. "Don't worry. I spend ten-hour days on my feet in heels
on a regular basis. Come on." She offered him her hand, friend to
friend. He took it, and she dragged him off on a romp through
Born and raised in smaller cities where neighborhood suburban sprawl
had preempted east-coast high-rise urbanization, Scott had always
found New York oppressive, even threatening in a vague and
unspecified way. It was quirky, it was colorful, and it was brash.
Even LA was a pale imitation, like a cheesy storefront facade in an
old spaghetti western. Or perhaps familiarity had simply bred
contempt, together with resentment at the annoying tendency others
had to equate southern California with Los Angeles.
He was from *San Diego*, dammit.
Now, he decided that he was fortunate to have a native New Yorker -�
well, more or less native -� to show him around. He was lost. Not
directionally. He never got lost directionally: a function of his
mutation. But he was lost at a more basic level. Where, he
wondered, did one take a classy lady like Jean Grey for a good time
on a Friday night?
*This isn't a date*, he reminded himself for the umpteenth time. It
was . . . an excursion.
And Jean seemed more than willing to tell him where to take her. Or
in truth, she took him. They wound their way through a revitalized
Times Square, the Disneyland of tourist havens, her slender fingers
hooked in his elbow so she could direct him better. He didn't
realize it then, but that would come to define the nature of their
paired existence: she steered while he pushed a path through the
crowd. They passed myriad little tourist shops sporting "I [heart]
New York" bumper stickers and key rings and shot glasses, Yankee's
baseball caps and shirts, and assorted electronic equipment. One
video store advertised: "XXX Features! ** Disney DVDs! ** Live
Girls!" and that improbable juxtaposition bent Scott over double,
laughing. Above them, the Jumbotron screen scrolled brightly with
headline news tickers and expensive advertisements. The Disney
theater was visible, the Virgin Megastore, the All-Star Caf�, and one
of the stairwells down to the Times Square subway station.
And people. Even at this hour, people of every possible shape, size,
and nationality crowded everywhere one looked �- a seething, noisy
human kaleidoscope in gaudy jewel-tone variety. 'The city that never
They browsed windows for a while, then she pointed off towards the
Marriott Marquis visible to the north. "Let's go up to the View
Restaurant. Forty-ninth floor. Have you been there yet? It rotates
and you can see the entire city. It'll be my treat."
"Not been there, but lead on, Sacajewea. I'll follow you to the
Laughing, she hauled him three blocks north on Broadway towards the
hotel's spiking outline all brightly lit like an invitation to a
plush existence beyond his wildest dreams. "The atrium is just
outrageous," Jean told him, wrinkling her nose with amusement. "The
kind of thing you have to see to believe. The hotel itself is one of
those triple-A, four-diamond places. They have suites that go for
three grand a night."
The idea that anyone could waste that kind of money on a bed struck
Scott as either comedic or obscene. Then he remembered Warren, and
reconsidered. It was no less comedic or obscene, but it was
something Warren would do.
And Jean was right, he thought; the atrium left him gaping in dumb
astonishment. "Thirty-eight stories," Jean whispered, and pulled him
on, past lush greenery and modern smooth-line Italian furniture
occupied by suits and power-skirts looking tired from a long day's
travel, or laughing gaily from too much alcohol. Scott and Jean took
the glass elevator up to a floor with shops and boutiques and a
lounge amid the atrium trees. He got a coke, she got a glass of
white wine, and they strolled the perimeter casually, window
shopping. One display was dominated by a silver, blank-faced
mannequin in a hideous pillbox hat and a wide-striped, blocky,
skin-tight mini-dress that should have been fined for exceptional bad
taste. Exchanging a glance, they broke up laughing, and a few hotel
guests glanced over at them in surprised irritation. Embarrassed,
they scuttled away, still giggling helplessly. When he could speak
again, Scott said, "I'm almost afraid to ask the colors of those
The remark took Jean by surprise. "What do you mean?"
His sideways glance was quick and sharp. "I thought you knew. I
can't see colors anymore."
And she should have known -� she *did* know, in fact. She'd read it
in his medical file, but forgotten. It was an easy thing to forget,
an easy thing to take for granted. "They were pink, orange and
They ambled along for a few minutes more. She sipped her wine; he
drank his coke, and once or twice, he walked to the edge of the
interior atrium railing to lean out and look up, amazed by the
spectacle like a child at the zoo. Finally, he said, "When I lived
back in San Diego, there was this one mall with all the ritzy stores
-� Ambercrombie and Fitch, Banana Republic, The Sharper Image,
Williams-Sonoma, Cyrus' Imported Persian Carpets -� that kind of
thing." She smiled and nodded, refraining from telling him that
everything he'd just named (carpet store perhaps excepted) was a
chain for upper-middle-class shoppers harboring pretensions.
"We used to take off to the mall on weekends with a pair of
Polaroids," he went on. "The assignment was to take pictures of
ourselves either with or wearing stuff we'd never be able to afford,
or wouldn't be caught dead in, in public. The team with the best
stuff -� really nice or really awful -� won."
"Sounds like bribe-worthy material to me."
"Except we all had the dirt on each other, so it wouldn't've done
"Too bad we don't have a camera." She glanced back in the direction
of the boutique.
"Too bad the shop's not open. I'd dare you to put it on, even
without a camera." That made her grin and poke him in the side. He
flinched away, then asked, "You ever do anything like that, back in
"Nope. I was a stick-in-the-mud."
"What? You? I don't believe it."
"I was." She nodded solemnly and took another sip of her wine.
"I still don't believe it."
"Honest. Cross my heart and hope to die." She made the appropriate
gesture. "A big, tall, nerdy Amazon with a pony-tail, glasses only
one step up from horn-rims, and a flat chest."
The direction of his gaze dropped involuntarily to her bust line �- a
little meager still but she'd since discovered the wonders of a
push-up bra. She fell silent, remembering. When she spoke again,
her voice was soft, and almost lost to the click-clack of her heels
on marble flooring. "I was put in a sanitarium for the first time
when I was ten. Catatonic. I didn't leave until I was fourteen, and
then only thanks to the professor. But I had to go back a few times
later when the voices in my head got to be too bad. I'm a latent
telepath, Scott, as well as a telekinetic." She paused, adding
simply, "I didn't get out much, in high school."
Scott remained silent, afraid that anything he said would sound trite
and hollow. Yet it wasn't pity that stirred him, or even fear at her
potential ability to read his mind -� he was accustomed to Xavier,
and he trusted Jean's ethics. Rather, he wanted to show her, all at
once, everything she hadn't experienced: how to TP a house on
Halloween, how to shoot pool in a game hall, how to sneak into the
gym after hours to put Crisco on the ballcourt, how to drop Milk Duds
from the cinema balcony onto the unsuspecting patrons below. "Do you
still hear them? The voices?" he managed finally.
"No. The professor suppressed my telepathy entirely, in the end."
"Will it come back?"
"He'll release the blocks when I'm ready to handle it. He's says I'm
very sensitive." He'd said, in fact, that she might one day be
stronger than he was. That thought frightened her in the dark of the
night. "He thought it might be a good idea for me to learn to use
this first." And she stopped walking to extend her wine glass and
draw her fingers away just a bit, holding it up by the power of her
mind alone -� but ready to catch it if she lost control. She still
found it easier to shove a couch across a room than to hold up a
"Jean!" Scott hissed, glancing around nervously.
"Don't fret so. No one can see what I'm doing; my hand is in the
way. Besides, haven't you noticed that others see only what they
want to see? *Normal* people can't hold wine glasses with their
minds, so unless I wave the truth under their noses, no one will
notice." The last sentence came out more brittle than she'd
intended, and she looked up at him, catching her own reflection in
the mirror red of his distinctive lenses. They were his Mark of
Cain, and she flushed. Who was she to lecture him?, she thought. At
least no one looked at her twice, walking down the street.
But he said, "It's okay," as if he were the telepathic one, able to
follow her embarrassed thoughts. She wished she could read his eyes.
She'd wondered before what they looked like behind red, but it had
been a cursory curiosity. Now, her researcher's inquisitiveness
pressed forward with new force.
"Do you have any pictures of you, before those?" She pointed to the
glasses, and his eyebrows shot up over the top of them. Realizing
abruptly how her question might sound, she slapped her free hand over
her mouth. "God. How rude. Sorry."
But her anxiety just amused him, and he laughed. In his experience,
the glasses bothered others more than they bothered him -� the
obvious thing everyone tried not to notice, like crutches or a
wheelchair. But they had given him back his sight, and he hadn't had
them long enough yet to grow to hate them. "No need to apologize."
He pulled his wallet out of his back pocket. "Actually, I used to
have a picture of me with my brother and parents. I don't think I
took it out." Opening the wallet, he flipped through it. "Yup, here
it is. It's a few years old but . . . you can get the basic idea."
Slipping the picture free, he handed it over.
She took it with a smile, this piece of his past, and moved to find
better illumination from the high track lights overhead, studying the
photograph intently. It was one of those Christmas portraits that
families had made every few years, and which required fifteen takes
to get a single shot where someone's eyes weren't shut or expression
wasn't peculiar. In this, she thought Scott's father looked stiff
and uncomfortable in his Air Force dress blues, but his mother was a
pretty woman, photogenic with long cat-eyes and fair hair that had
probably come more from a bottle than nature at her age, but she
possessed the cream skin to support it, and her younger son had
clearly inherited it. A brassy-bronze under studio lights. Jean let
her gaze move finally to Scott. Even standing in the back with his
father, she could see the bright blue of his uncovered eyes.
Deep-set and sparkling, they matched his electric smile, but they
were sharp, too, focused in a way that suggested intelligence. She
looked up at him now, standing a few feet off and clearly watching
her from behind those shades. Glasses made him appear older and more
serious, and enigmatic, but they also concealed the piercing nature
of his regard. He didn't miss much, she thought, and wouldn't soon
forget that. Walking back, she handed over the photo. "You look
like your dad." That made him grimace as he refit the picture into
its thin plastic sleeve. "I take it that's not a good thing?"
"We don't exactly get along."
"Being a mutant was a problem?"
"Partly." He looked off, his face expressionless in an effort to
contain something more volatile. Scott Summers never knew how to
explain the strained love that bound him to his father: it was both
as old as the hills and as new as the lightning in his eyes, an
emulation and resentment all twisted by nature's unexpected
surprises. Yet he knew, down in his heart, that his father still
cared about him. It was simply easier for them both to maintain that
care if they saw as little of each other as possible. Too close a
proximity yielded shouting matches on everything from Clinton's
economic policies towards China to the fine imposed on Newt Gingrich.
"I guess you could say I was the black sheep, even before these." He
tapped the glasses. "It doesn't always take weird powers and
trashing your high school to quarrel with your family. Sometimes all
you have to do is register Democrat in a family of Republicans." But
he offered that confession wryly -� as humor, not an admonition. A
gift of the personal in exchange for her earlier admission about her
years in a sanitarium. Understanding, she smiled back faintly and
they walked on, side by side but no longer casually touching, as much
separated as bound by awkward revelations and the deep blue
silhouettes of old monsters in the closet.
They went up to the rotating restaurant atop the Marriott to overdose
on caffeine with Death-by-Double-Chocolate cheesecake and espresso.
Jean flirted with the maitre d', who, suitably flattered, found them
a little table on the outer rim by the wide banks of windows. There,
they could look out over the city at night, lit in white and yellow
and neon red like an earthbound reflection of the sky overhead.
Constellations made from the Manhattan streets, a Zodiac pattern of
high urbanity. Ever the gentleman, Scott held the chair for Jean,
and she rewarded him with a smile. Then he asked her questions about
her doctoral research and listened quietly to answers he didn't
understand. He just wanted to watch her talk. Animated by her
passion, she sparkled, spilled golden charisma onto the table like
honey, catching fast whomever happened to be watching: Scott
himself, a middle-aged Asian businessman at the table to their right,
a passing waiter. It was a beauty that owed nothing to the flesh.
"Are you afraid," he asked her at one point, "that people might find
out you're a mutant, and ignore your research, call you biased?"
"All the time," she replied, using her fork to scrape the last
streaks of chocolate sauce from her plate. "But I have to do it."
Looking up, she pinned him with eyes as dark as the chocolate. "I
have to. It's just . . . . " She stopped, unsure how to explain.
"It's this . . . need. I have to understand where we come from and
why. What made us this way? Can we track it, map it, like the rest
of the human genome? Can we predict who and how and what? I want to
*know*, Scott. There is so much still to *know*!"
Smiling a little sadly, he said, "I wish I had something I was that
"You'll find something." She played with her fork, licking off the
chocolate. "You've lots of time still, to decide."
After they'd finished, they left the hotel to make their way north to
Rockefeller Center where they found a band who had set up for an
impromptu concert on the plaza. The musicians proved more proficient
than the average garage band, but otherwise, they could be
categorized as an undistinguished pop clone of Hootie and the
Blowfish. Upon seeing the bass player, however, Scott Summers grew
unusually animated, even for him, and lapsed into mostly
incomprehensible mutterings on the man's vintage imported 4001
maple-top Rickenbacker bass, circa Paul McCartney's Beatles phase.
Jean not only couldn't tell a bass from a guitar, it took her a good
five minutes to realize he was talking about an *instrument*.
Finally, she interrupted to ask, "How do you know all that?"
"That . . . technical stuff." She wriggled her fingers in an
imprecise but amused illustration. "Model numbers and things."
It made him smile. "Bass players are kinda gear fanatics."
"You play? I mean, you're a musician? Like in a band?"
"Yeah, like in a band." Then he looked away. "Or I used to."
"So find another band."
He tapped his glasses. "Yeah, right."
"You never know, Scott. It's been my impression that musicians
usually fall on the liberal side."
He shrugged and deflected any further questions by asking her if
she'd like to dance. She agreed, and they wove out into the plaza
crowd, forgetting for a while the differences in their ages and
backgrounds in the rhythm of a drum line. Sound and movement united
them. When they finally slipped away, Jean let Scott put an arm
around her shoulders, to guide her through the press of people. His
warmth against her side felt natural, felt right, and looking over at
him, she wondered, fleetingly, about future possibilities.
Then she dismissed that line of thought.
He was eighteen. She was twenty-six. Some chasms were simply to
wide to leap.
But Scott Summers wasn't inclined to be daunted by such things as
generations gaps. With brash youthful zeal, he decided that very
night that he was going to marry Jean Grey.
Feedback is welcome; it makes me write faster to know people are
enjoying it. <g> I'm working on chapter 2.
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