AN ACCIDENTAL INTERCEPTION OF FATE: 2a (S/J, prefilm)
- AN ACCIDENTAL INTERCEPTION OF FACT:
*La coppia perfetta*
Note: Information about the Italian isle of Stromboli owes largely to
my friend Barbara L. Due to its picturesque nature, film-makers love
it and it was (et al.) the site of Fellini's famous "La Strada."
Thanks to Domenika for the math problem suggestion, and to Jennifer
for her assistance (way back when) with journal article and
dissertation titles for Jean. Yes, readers may find a Marvel
reference or two that's not X-men.
When Francesco Placido was ten years old, he'd fallen prey to a
particularly virulent strain of meningitis. It had been winter in
the little hamlet of Ginostra, one of two settlements on the volcanic
isle of Stromboli in the Eolian string running northeast from Sicily.
Even Odysseus had found the place difficult to escape. It had no
running water or electricity, depending instead on solar energy and
imperfect cell phone reception. Thirty-seven people and eleven
donkeys had called it home then, with Francesco being the only one
under the age of fifteen (including the donkeys). His father had
worked for Siremar, the local transport company. It was a tourist
site, intended to preserve the natural beauty of the volcano, and
with tourists and traffic at their seasonal low, the first aid clinic
had reduced its staff to one nurse and a medic, who had taken
advantage of a break in the weather to go that very morning to nearby
Lipari to fill prescriptions.
The nature of meningitis had meant a rapid onset. At eight that
morning, young Francesco had been racing off to help his father at
the world's smallest formal port (it accommodated only three boats).
By ten, he'd been sent home to his mother with a fever and a rash,
and lay torpid on the family couch under a window where he could hear
the quiet pulse of the sea. By twelve, he'd been delirious, and his
mother had yelled for a neighbor to bring a wagon so she could get
the child to the clinic. Less than an hour later, Francesco had
begun seizing and a wire was sent to the medic on Lipari, but it took
time to return from the other island, even by Aliscafo hydrofoil, so
the man had arrived at the clinic only to declare the boy dead at
For a normal human child, that might have been the end, but
Francesco's latent X-gene had saved his life by activating early.
The virus that had inflamed the lining of his brain and spinal column
had also caused his mutant gift to manifest before puberty's
traditional onset. Twelve minutes after he'd been pronounced, while
his mother Valeria wailed in the outer office and the doctor notified
the father by cell phone, the clinic nurse had come rushing out to
say that the boy was coming around. Dropping the phone without
hanging up, the doctor had raced back into the exam room to find -�
past any expectation or hope -� Francesco Placido with his eyes open.
"I'm thirsty," he'd said.
From that day on, in the hamlet of Ginostra, he'd been called
Lazarus, but as with the Biblical resurrected, his evasion of death
had come with a terrible price, though it would take years and a move
to Genoa before he understood that his almost-magical knack for
predicting things would include foresight of his own father's demise.
He was ten when he regained his life, and fourteen when he lost his
Now, at not-quite-seventeen, and perfectly sane, he sat on the steps
of the courtyard gate to Xavier's mansion and waited for what he knew
would be the third most important event of his life (the second had
been losing his father). Fortunately, this time, it involved no
"Hey, man -� it's Saturday. What are you doing up already?"
Frank looked around to find Scott Summers standing behind him. The
other boy had apparently just gotten out of the shower; his hair was
wet still and he looked freshly shaved. He held a mug of coffee in
one hand. Frank had finished his own some time ago and was using the
cup as a makeshift ashtray. "That is so gross," Summers said,
wrinkling his nose and seating himself beside Frank on the step.
"Would you rather that I littered the drive?"
"No, I'd *rather* you didn't smoke at all."
Smiling, Frank brushed the nails of his right hand up his neck, the
Italian hand gesture for, among other things, 'I don't give a shit.'
It made Summers laugh and shake his head. "You're such a crazy Wop.
And you didn't tell me what you're doing up at this hour. It's not
even noon yet. You never get up before noon if you can help it."
"The professor, he comes back today."
But Placido didn't reply to that immediately. Instead, he lit his
fifth cigarette of the morning and inhaled deeply, held the smoke
until it burned, until he could feel the nicotine charge his blood,
then let it out in a rush. The breath of a sibyl before prophecy.
"He will bring us someone new."
Summers' gaze was intense behind red quartz. "Who?"
"You ask her name? I do not know. That is not how it works. Her
hair is white."
"No. She is younger than me." And Placido returned to his smoking,
satisfied that he had said enough to deflect further questions. They
sat in easy silence then as the summer sun beat down on the courtyard
flagstones and baked the boys into medium-well indolence. Pulling
off his shirt and pillowing it under his head, Summers stretched out
to sun himself like a cat. He'd probably pay for the indulgence
later with a massive headache or extra hours at practice to ease the
pent-up solar energy that his body stored and released again as optic
blasts. But just then, he lived in the moment, and the sun was
pleasant on his bare flesh.
Out of the corner of his eye, Placido caught Jean exit the den out
into the courtyard, but spotting the two of them lounging on the
steps, she moved back into the shadow of the doorway. He turned his
head and she raised a finger to her lips, shutting the door behind
her. He might have chalked it up to a desire to avoid her shadow,
but knew better. If Scott wasn't following her around the mansion,
before long she turned up somewhere public, reading a book or
computer printout while pretending that she wasn't making herself
easy to find.
"*La storia di Scott e Jean,*" he muttered sotto voce.
Perhaps five minutes later, he heard a soft crack and glanced up to
find the face of Jean Grey grinning down at him from the window
above. The gated courtyard steps lay half under an arch that opened
onto the main drive. Above was a narrow, second-story servants' pass
joining the east and west mansion; they used it these days as a short
cut to avoid walking all the way around to the building's rear to
cross over. Narrow, wooden-framed windows marched along the outer
wall, and Jean had opened one directly over them. She held a big
plastic Tupperware bowl, and waved Frank clear. Very carefully, he
moved, but Summers was so far out of it, he didn't even stir. Jean
lowered the bowl with her mind until it was less than five feet above
Scott's chest, then tipped it upside down.
Little cut squares of refrigerator-cold Jell-O with fruit and
marshmallows landed in a verdigris splat all over Scott's chest and
belly. Bellowing, he arched up in shock and Frank let out a bark of
laughter as Jean slammed the window shut above. The plastic bowl,
forgotten, slapped down on the Jell-O littered flagstones beside
"Godfuckingdamn!" Summers yelled, slapping and swiping at the green
mess all over his stomach as if he'd been covered in snakes. "That
sneaky *bitch*! She's going to pay for this!" But Frank could hear
an edge of real delight behind the indignation, and laughing almost
too hard to breathe, leaned up against the wall behind him.
Naturally, it was at that very moment when the professor's dark
limousine pulled through the front gate and made its way up the
drive. Scott and Frank watched it approach, Scott still shirtless
and decorated in bits of pineapple, orange, and green-stained
marshmallow. When the driver had stopped the car, one tinted back
window slid down. Xavier grinned out at them, then spoke to a shadow
in the car beside him. "And these, I am sorry to say, are two of
your fellow students. I buy them books and buy them books, but all
they do is eat the covers off." There was a sound of distinctively
female laughter from inside the limousine, and Frank thought he
caught a flash of white hair. The present fractured into myriad
futures, all edged with lightning. His vision tunneled and he heard
Scott yell, "He's zoning again!" before he blacked out.
"I call, and raise all of you another quarter."
Ororo Munroe, the white-haired object of Frank Placido's visions (not
to mention his more heated dreams), tossed thirty-five cents into the
pot at the center of Warren's bed. Due to his wings, Warren had a
king-sized bed, and it was the only one large enough to accommodate
all four of the younger students for poker.
"No way," Summers announced now, folding his cards face down on the
quilt. "Too rich for my blood. The woman cheats."
"Prove it," she said, but without obvious heat. In fact, she did
cheat, but was accomplished enough at it to be arrogant rather than
defensive. She had survived on the streets of Nairobi through a mix
of thievery, cons, and picking pockets. She had skills at deception
that the other three could only postulate existed.
Grumbling, Summers sipped from a contraband can of Heineken. There
was a loaded cooler in the corner that Warren had smuggled in; this
beer was Summers' fourth. In fact, alcohol could be directly blamed
for the current mutation of five-card-stud into strip poker. Fold
and lose one's money, or call, lose the hand, and lose an article of
clothing along with the pocket change. So far, Summers had lost both
his shoes and socks, his watch and his high school ring, but was in
better shape than his two male classmates. Warren was down to jeans
and underwear, and Frank had on only European-style bikinis.
Now, sighing, Frank folded, too, and flopped back on the bed. "I
told you," Summers said, "she cheats." Ororo had lost only her
earrings and sandals, and Summers was convinced that was simply to
make her cheating look less obvious.
"And I said you must prove that I cheat." But she wasn't looking at
Scott; she was looking at Warren. "Are you in?"
He considered the pot, considered his hand, considered her, and
folded as well. "Better to keep my clothes and lose some cash."
"Wimps," she told them and raked in her draw, then laid down her
cards for them to see. All she'd had was a pair, and not a high one.
"Goddamn!" Warren yelled, tossing his own hand. Scott picked them up
and turned them over to reveal a straight.
Ororo shook her head. "I told you. I do not cheat. But I do
"You cheat, too," Summers insisted, gathering all the cards for his
turn to deal.
In the end, Ororo did win the game, though they got her down to her
bra, at least. But she had an opportunity to compare circumcised
with uncircumcised, and pronounced Frank the best endowed of the
three. When, later, she chose to go out with him, she claimed it had
nothing to do with his assets below the belt. Warren claimed not to
believe her. And Jean never heard about that particular poker game
until, many years later on the eve of her wedding, she was shocked to
discover that her teammate had seen her husband-to-be in all his
glory before she had.
Ororo looked up from where she was trying to read a history
assignment in the courtyard sun on a warm, June afternoon. The yard
was expensively landscaped, and populated with good Greco-Roman
imitation sculptures and pseudo-damaged Ionic columns. Ororo shaded
her eyes until she could make out the person who'd spoken to her:
the auburn-haired medical student with the expensive shoes and
delicately-arched eyebrows, the one whose name her schoolmate, Scott
Summers, couldn't keep out of his conversations.
Without being invited, the older woman sat down beside Ororo on the
bench, pulling up her legs to wrap arms about them and rest her chin
on her knees -� a posture reminiscent of slumber-party confidences,
although Ororo had never been to a slumber party in her life, to
recognize it. Nonetheless, she could recognize the attempt at
friendly familiarity and her time on the street had made her
suspicious of it. "Is there something you wanted?" she asked.
"Oh, I don't know. I just thought we might have a chat." Jean
grinned. "You're the only other woman here. Female bonding." Ororo
blinked, startled by that notion. As near as she could tell, she had
next-to-nothing in common with Jean Grey to bond over, and it never
occurred to her that Jean might be practicing something as simple as
kindness. She hadn't experienced much kindness in her sixteen years.
When she didn't immediately reply, Jean sat up to run a hand through
her hair. "The professor introduced us, but we haven't had a chance
to talk much -� get to know each other."
"That is because you are usually conducting your research in the lab
below, or at the hospital."
It was offered as an observation, not a rebuke, but already feeling
thrown off her stride, Jean took it as the latter. Over such small
misunderstandings are wars begun, and the power of first impressions
lent this one additional impact. It didn't begin a war, even of the
minor, interpersonal variety, but it did succeed in killing any real
chance at sisterhood between the two women, although both proximity
and familiarity would eventually build a bond based on common causes
and shared experience -� a friendship of sorts, but stemming from
necessity, not preference. Jean Grey and Ororo Munroe would always
be closer to others at the mansion than to each other.
Now, realizing that she had said something wrong -� but still
suspicious and skeptical -� Ororo closed her history book to set it
aside, her movements neat and precise. "You are also a mutant, I
"What is your power?"
One hand releasing her knees, Jean pointed to Ororo's book,
levitating it a few inches off the bench. Ororo neither started nor
permitted herself to appear impressed. "I'm a telekinetic," Jean
said with a smile. "What's yours?"
Turning her face to the sky, Ororo let the mist roll over her eyes,
making them as unnaturally white as her hair. A wind whipped up and
the cirrus-scudded blue overhead grew obscured by boiling gray
clouds, like a time-lapse film of an approaching storm. Jean gasped.
"My tribe, in Kenya, called me a weather witch," Ororo said,
lowering her chin. The wind had lifted her long hair like a bird's
wings and the clouds above hid the sun until, with a flick of her
wrist, Ororo dissipated the buildup as easily as she'd called it, and
as quickly. She didn't tell Jean how much the whole display had cost
her; she'd meant it to impress.
It worked. Jean sat up. "That's . . . amazing," she said. But
before she could say more, an upstairs window slammed open and Scott
Summers leaned out with Frank Placido behind him.
"Ro!" Scott scolded. "What are you trying to do? Paint a big X on
the mansion with magically appearing and disappearing thunderheads?
Christ, woman, show a little common sense!"
Ororo casually flipped him off as Jean waved a hand. "My fault,
Scott. I asked her what she could do." It was Jean's nature to
smooth over conflict.
"A little fog next time, maybe?" Frank said from behind Scott. Like
Jean, he was more inclined to offer solutions than rebukes.
Ororo and Scott ignored them both, continuing to glare at one another
a moment until finally, Scott's lips turned up and he flipped her off
in return before pushing himself back inside and shutting the window.
Embarrassed, Jean shook her head and turned to Ororo, intending to
offer some kind of apology, only to realize the white-haired girl was
And a strange hot flash skittered under Jean's skin, uncomfortably
like a jealousy she shouldn't feel. She wasn't interested in Scott
that way. "His dimples make up for his lack of manners," she said,
her tone teasing and suggestive. "He's cute, don't you think?"
Ororo glanced at her and spoke with the same bluntness she had
before. "Frank is better looking, but Scott is more honest. I
respect that. He isn't afraid of me."
"And Frank is?"
"Oh, yes. Terrified." She shook her head. "He is very silly
sometimes." But Ororo was secretly flattered by the intensity of his
Jean plucked a leaf from one of the courtyard bushes and studied it
in her fingers. "Men are often silly creatures." Then she asked,
abruptly, "Do you like him?"
*Ah, ah, ah,* Ororo thought. Frank had told her -� insisted, in fact
�- that Scott's interest in Jean Grey wasn't entirely one-sided. She
hadn't believed him.
"Yes, I like Scott," she said now, just to watch the older woman's
eyes widen and her face go still in an effort to hide her
disappointment. It was cruel, but amusing, and Ororo was not above
being occasionally cruel in small things. "I like him very much as a
friend. But Frank has asked -� again -� to take me to dinner on
Friday, and I think this time, I shall go. But I shan't tell Frank
that just yet. And you mustn't, either."
Grinning, Jean gave Ororo's arm a playful pat. "You're wicked. But
I hope you have a wonderful time. Frank really is quite sweet."
Continued directly in part 2b.....
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