Continued directly from 8b....
A triage nurse deemed Rick's injury non-life-threatening, and he was
consigned to a waiting room until he could be seen by one of the
residents. Waiting with him, it dawned on Scott that neither Clarice
nor Lee had come inside yet. "I'll go check on the girls," he told
the other two, and slipped out, making his way back down the hall and
escaping into the dark of the parking lot. It was now after midnight
and clouds had boiled in from the west, obscuring the moon. Lee's
van was still there, so they hadn't gone anywhere else. Hands shoved
into his pockets against the cold, he jogged across asphalt to peer
in the front window. No one was there and the door was locked when
he tried it. Deciding that they must have gone into the hospital
after all, he'd turned back towards the ER when the side door slid
open and Clarice's head popped out. "I thought it was you," she
said. Her face appeared both strained and vaguely eerie in the
yellow light of a street lamp.
Turning back, he kissed her quickly. "You okay? They decided Rick
isn't likely to die on them, so they're making him wait. It could be
a while. You may as well come in."
Clarice glanced back into the dark of the van and Scott could hear
faint sniffles now. Worried, he tried to see past her, but she
blocked his view until Lee's voice -- very rough -- said, "It's okay.
Let him in." So Clarie moved aside and he climbed into the van,
made his way over to sit down beside Lee, whose face was puffy from
heavy crying. Her fair skin glowed ghostlike in the dark, but there
was still blood on it, and dark bruises now. He put an arm around
her, hugged her to him just because he didn't know what else to do.
She accepted it, hugging him back. She was shaking, and it alarmed
him to find self-sufficient Lee Forrester near breakdown. He could
hear Clarice's breath behind them, and the grating sound of the door
slamming shut again.
"What'd they do to you, Lee-Lee?" he asked finally, almost afraid to
hear the answer.
Pulling back, she wiped her running nose. "Not what you think, so
"Well, his *pants* were down -- "
She burst into almost hysteric giggles, as did Clarice behind her.
"That wasn't because of me."
"Lee said he came out of a room where there were at least three of
them in there, going at it. He just hadn't buttoned up his fly yet."
In other circumstances, he might have laughed, too. But not here.
"Lee -- "
"Really, Scott. I just got in his way. He did try to kiss me, but
just to piss me off. I made him mad and he hit me and that's how it
started -- and all it was. He was drunk; I was furious. I'm just .
. . a little freaked out, is all. It brought back some bad memories.
I'll be okay."
Scott considered that, and sat down cross-legged on the van floor in
front of her, gripping her hands in his. He was aware of Clarice at
his back, like a bulwark. "You want to talk?" he asked.
"Not really. Did that already."
Should he press, he wondered? But for what purpose? Just to satisfy
his own prurient interest? He was no counselor, and Clarice had been
here for Lee. Like her brother, Clarie had a quietude of soul that
acted as a balm, and Lee had no close girlfriends. Perhaps she
needed one. But what she needed most from him was simple acceptance
without fanfare. So he asked, "You want some coffee? They have it
in the ER. We should probably get your face cleaned up, too. You're
going to have one helluva shiner by tomorrow, y'know?"
"More like two of them," Clarice said from behind him. "A matched
Smiling at that, Lee let them raise her to her feet, one on either
side, and lead her into the ER.
As Scott and Clarice hadn't spent more than a weekend apart since
they'd begun dating -- he'd even gone home with her for Thanksgiving
-- the looming separation at Christmas haunted them both. Finals
demanded their attention, but they otherwise breathed one another
like swimmers gulping oxygen before a deep dive. Seven days before
Christmas, Warren flew out with Frank to pick up Scott, and Scott
then flew them all back, Warren watching with approval from the
co-pilot seat. "You've picked this up fast, Gamma Gaze," he said.
"Runs in the family, I guess," Scott replied, making light of it, but
he and Warren both shared a love of the clouds, so he felt no need to
explain further. "So how are things at the mansion?" Deliberately
general, the question could be answered in whatever way the other two
"I am graduated!" Frank crowed, and twisting, Scott offered a hand
over his shoulder to shake.
"Hank's newest experiment, whatever it is, smells *foul*," Warren
added, "and Ro's learned to manipulate air currents so she can
"Yeah. She can't go fast, or move anybody else -- she dumped Frank
on the lawn -- "
" -- but she can raise herself."
"*Cool.* I never even considered that she could use her powers to
"None of us did. She figured it out by accident, I think. But you
know Ro, she won't show off anything until she has it down." Scott
grunted in agreement, though he understood the sentiment. "Frank
here has been working at using Cerebro, but it still makes him sicker
than a dog."
"I do not think this will change. It is the nature of having the
power accelerated so far."
"Maybe you should stick to running the obstacle course Hank laid
"Ugh." Frank's expression, seen faintly reflected in the cockpit
window, made Scott grin. "Tell him about the new construction,"
Frank prompted, to change the subject.
"Oh, yeah. Well, the big news is that Reed Richards has been up at
the mansion every weekend since November. He and the professor are
building something in the sub-basement, but they won't tell us what.
They sealed off a whole corridor, and Xavier brought in contractors.
Ro asked the guys some questions, and they think they're building a
"But you don't."
"He's mucking around in minds again. I know that's how he got the
whole sub-basement built in the first place, but still . . . ."
Warren trailed off, frowning, then asked, "Do you two ever worry
that, y'know, you may not be thinking your own thoughts?"
Scott pondered this while eyeing instrument readings. Everything was
running on level. "No," he said. "I mean, it did at first -- when I
first got to the mansion. Now? No, never. I trust him."
"*Si*," Frank agreed. "I think I would know otherwise." And he
"So when will we find out what they're up to?" Scott asked.
"Christmas Day," Frank and Warren replied in unison.
They fell silent, and Scott finally decided that he'd have to go
fishing. "How's Jean?"
Warren glanced over. "I thought you had a girl?"
Annoyed, Scott breathed out heavily. "That doesn't mean I don't want
to know if Jean's okay." He paused, added, "I'd like to be friends
again but . . . I don't know. I'm afraid we've lost that."
"You hurt her feelings, Scott," Frank said quietly from the seat
behind, "not to invite her to your party. Henry did take it better
than Jean did."
"Ro already chewed me out, thank you very much. And I wasn't ready
to see her, then."
Scott shrugged. "It's different. I've got Clarice." A pause. "I
think I'm in love with her."
Both Warren and Frank sat straight up, Warren's wings fanning out in
astonishment. "Whoa -- say what?"
Scott grinned. "I think I'm in love with her."
"Yeah, for real."
"You thought you were in love with Jean."
"No, I had a *crush* on Jean. This is different." A hesitation.
"But is she happy? Jean, I mean. Her last letter seemed kind of
*flat*. It worried me, but there are things we just don't talk about
"Ted Roberts is one of them," Frank said. It wasn't a question.
Warren raised a hand to show thumb and forefinger an inch apart.
"They're this close to splitting. She makes us answer the phone, in
case it's him, and sometimes pretends she's not there"
Scott didn't know how he felt about that. Honesty demanded that he
admit to a small, gleeful vindication, but it saddened him more.
"He's not being good to her?"
"I don't think it's that. I don't know what it is. She's not
talking to us." Warren glanced sideways. "She might talk to you,
though. If you asked."
"And she might not."
"She will," Frank said with a finality of which only he was capable.
But Scott had no chance to talk with Jean, and there were no
white-lit Christmas deer on the lawn waiting to greet him. Jean was
off visiting her sister, and was to head directly home after that so
she could return on Christmas for the professor's surprise. Hank was
gone as well, and the four younger students spent their time playing
poker, working out in the gym, building snow creatures on the lawn,
or simply gossiping. Each time he returned to Westchester, Scott
grew more conflicted, uncertain as to where he belonged. Here, with
others born like him? Or back in Berkeley, with others who thought
like him? California was home; he'd lived there since starting high
school, and to a military brat, that constituted a long time.
Moreover, he had friends there again, and it felt increasingly like a
different existence, one integrated, instead of isolated. Yet the
people here were his chosen family, and he owed the professor so
much. There was also the matter of Frank's visions, whatever they
might mean. If he believed in Frank's gift with the closest thing he
had to faith, that faith wasn't hard reality, and the notion that his
optic blasts could be anything other than a dangerous nuisance hadn't
really penetrated until he'd saved his friends a month ago. Now, he
reveled in the new recognition that his power could be used to
protect, not to harm, and maybe there was something to Frank's
prophecy after all.
On Christmas Eve, Frank was visited around mid-afternoon by a
powerful premonition. He and Scott were wrapping last minute
presents on the floor of Frank's room, while Scott chatted with
Clarice by phone. Frank suddenly grabbed his head and fell forward
like a stunned bull. Mostly his visions struck in his sleep, but the
very strong, or the very imminent, might hit him while he was awake.
Hanging up on Clarice with a stuttered explanation, Scott knelt
beside him, waiting for the vision to pass. For long moments, there
was only Frank's harsh breathing, then he stirred and raised his head
from his hands, looked at Scott. "Fire and ice," he said. "I see
fire and ice, and a mutant boy in danger at a church. And steel
But whatever was to come, it hadn't happened yet. The professor
descended to the sub-basement to scan periodically using Cerebro.
Just around dusk, he finally located a mutant's distinctive mental
spike in Allentown, Pennsylvania. It was a drive of several hours,
or a flight of less than one, so they headed for Warren's jet and
landed at the local Allentown airport in twenty-five minutes; renting
a car took another fifteen.
The closer they drew to the mutant's signature, the more obvious it
was that a local disturbance was underway. In the end, they couldn't
get within more than a few blocks. The police had the area cordoned
off, and they could hear sirens in the distance, see the glow of a
fire against the night sky. Parking the rental haphazardly on a
curb, they stopped to confer. "Warren, Scott, I want you to move in
rapidly," the professor instructed. "Ororo can wheel me closer but
it will take more time. Frank, stay with the car."
It was, Scott thought, a handy way of keeping their weakest link out
of trouble, and now that they were here, they needed his powers the
least. A pragmatist, Frank made no protest.
Grabbing his visor and tossing the keys to Frank, Scott, with Warren
in tow, raced off in the direction of the racket. Although traffic
had been stopped, there were simply too many people about and in the
dark, it was easy to slip past the blockade by the simple expedient
of ducking through backyards and over fences. The houses here had
been built in the post-war boom of the late forties and early
fifties, all northeastern clapboard square frames with yards the size
of postage stamps and constructed closely enough together that a tall
man could stand with arms extended and touch the house to either side
of him. A few had back porch lights switched on, and once, the two
boys were chased by a yapping cocker spaniel.
The heart of the disturbance appeared to be a local church lawn -- as
Frank had foreseen. 'Trinity Presbyterian' read the brick marquis.
Vaulting over a final chain-link fence, Scott and Warren stumbled to
an awed halt.
The entire lawn had been transformed into a frozen confection like a
life-sized ice sculpture, and at the center rose a great, decorated
cedar, lighted still from within its glittering shell. Behind roared
hell. If the lawn was frozen, the church itself was on fire, flames
licking up into black night and sparking gold and red off the
Against this backdrop, firemen sprayed water from hoses and people
ran shouting to and fro. Some flung rocks or trash or whatever came
to hand, but not at the firemen. The center of the maelstrom was a
boy and a girl. He'd pushed her to the ground and now attempted to
cover her with his own body. They might have been screaming, but
with the general uproar, no one could tell, and even as Scott and
Warren watched, the girl clawed her way out from under her protector
to race away into the crowd.
No one flung things at her. But the missile flotsam continued
assaulting the boy, who had his arms wrapped protectively over his
head. "Monster!" people were yelling. "Freak!" "Devil!"
Scott was reminded of the frat house, but he felt no anger. As
before, he felt nothing at all, his mind having slammed itself into
that same strange state of which in all his life, he would never
learn to make an adequate description. It was the difference between
a muggy day and the clarity after rain. Time dragged, he could count
his own breaths, and his body tingled with blood rush. Freed of
mortal restraints, he doubted nothing in himself. Instead, he
catalogued everything around him: the angry mob bent on a modern
stoning in this season of redemption, the police trying vainly to
restrain them, and the firefighters attempting to subdue the blaze.
The boy huddled all alone like an infant in an icy creche.
"Warren, get your jacket and shirt off. It's time to stage our own
To his credit, Warren offered no protest, just doffed his clothing as
Scott had instructed. "What? You want me to fly down and pick him
"Jesus Christ! All I need's a flaming sword! Where should I take
"Back to the plane, if you can get that far. If not, land somewhere.
The professor can find you."
"What if the police decide to *shoot* at me? Real archangels don't
bleed. *I* do."
"I've got your back. You concentrate on getting that kid out of
there; let me handle the police, if it's necessary."
"God, I hope it's not." And Warren handed over jacket, shirt and
wing rack, then stretched out white feathers in the shadow of a
backyard shed and launched himself into the air, spiraling fast --
too fast, Scott hoped, for anyone to see him go up.
Gripping Warren's discarded apparel, Scott edged his way closer to
the crowd, one hand hovering halfway to his visor. He was watching
the police, but busy with the mob, they weren't watching the sky.
Warren came down, wings beating in slow strokes, gilded by the fire's
light. The crowd noise died away and people stood with mouths agape.
Scott's own gaze flicked from Warren to the mob, to the police,
who'd turned now, to see what had stunned the many-headed beast into
Except for the sirens, the crack of the fire, and the hiss of rushing
water, it was eerily silent.
Touching down beside the frightened boy, wings still extended
protectively, Warren got hands under the boy's armpits and hauled him
up. If they said anything, Scott couldn't tell. People were still
frozen as stiff as the icy lawn, and none of the police drew a
Lifting the boy with easy mutant strength, wings beating hard, Warren
rose up into the night, high as a star, and then disappeared.
For a long moment, no one moved. Finally, the flood of astonishment
broke free and people babbled like geese. Turning, Scott looked
about for the professor, spotting him with Ororo at a distance, even
as he heard a woman beside him cry out, "God save us, it was an
angel! An angel rescued that boy!"
Yes, I know the comic put Bobby's hometown in Fort Washington, Long
Island (thanks, Naomi), but I'm changing it. It's a minor point.
Feedback is better than chocolate.
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