AN ACCIDENTAL INTERCEPTION OF FATE 10
Warnings: We're veering into a little more graphic adult material.
Images: see the site for Cyclops in a Hawaiian shirt. ;>
Notes: Siamese Rescue really exists: http://www.siameserescue.org/
'Closer to Fine' was written by Emily Saliers and can be found on the
Indigo Girl's first (eponymous) album; it still gets radio play, over
ten years later. The building at Columbia is real enough, but
obviously the people I name, and department dynamics, are fictitious.
Tarch graciously checked my genetics info, et al., and thanks to
Domenika for some Columbia info. 'Stray Cat Strut' was written by
Brian Seltzer and performed, of course, by The Stray Cats, but you
won't find "Wicked Jig's" on Telegraph in Berkeley.
Guilt on three fronts made Jean Grey sullen. First, there was simple
guilt arising from the fact that she was at a party when she still
had one-and-a-half manuscripts-worth of corrections, from two
different professors, to enter into her dissertation before she could
turn in the defense draft to her committee. And one of those sets of
corrections involved serious questions of her data, with her defense
only six weeks away. She'd been locking herself in the mansion's
lab, writing, editing, and re-running her stats, emerging only to
sleep and eat, both of which she did rather fitfully. Now, she'd
been dragged out to this utterly useless party at Ted's insistence.
Second, she felt guilty because she was here with Ted, although a
month had passed since her conversation with Scott at Christmas,
about breaking up with him. As she'd told Scott then, she was a
wimp, and working on her dissertation had made an excellent excuse to
avoid the matter. She didn't want to end the affair until after her
defense, simply because she had too many other serious matters on her
mind to deal with a moping Ted Roberts.
Last, she felt guilty for the simple reason that she'd just managed
to spill salmon-cheese dip on the nice, cream tablecloth, and then
had followed it up (in an effort to catch the dip) by spilling wine
on the carpet. "God, I am such a fucking klutz!" she muttered now,
near tears as she tried futilely to soak red wine out of gray carpet
with a handful of napkins.
"Jean, honey, it's okay," Ted was saying, trying to help her.
"It is not *okay*," she snapped, shoving his hands away in frustrated
rage. "I ruined their *carpet*."
That she barely knew the host made it that much worse. This was a
party to which Ted had invited her, and the host -- a medical
resident rather than a doctoral candidate -- was a friend of his.
She approached now to kneel down and whisper to Jean, "Don't worry
about it. I have an infant, so I have a carpet with Stain Guard."
And Jean laughed because she was relieved and embarrassed and
grateful all at once, and she silently blessed those who knew just
what to say. Letting Ted lead her away and sit her down on a sofa,
she told him, "I'm sorry for snapping at you."
"It's okay." He brushed hair back from her cheek with a forefinger.
His touch was always gentle. "I know you've been uptight, and
McMasters is being a bastard at the eighteenth hole." One of her
committee members -- and not Banner, the director -- had taken a
sudden dislike to some parameters in her experiments, and was trying
to insist that she rerun them with different types of controls.
Banner and Hank were both livid. Ted was worried. And Jean was
ready to tear out her hair or burst into tears every time she looked
at McMasters' comments on her draft. If he balked too much and
refused to sign off on the dissertation, she wouldn't graduate. All
those years, and all that work, and it hung on the whim of a
sixty-five-year-old department divo who was jealous of Banner and
taking it out on Banner's students. Academic politics at their
"I wish you'd move in with me and let me take care of you," Ted said
"Ted, don't . . . ."
"Okay, okay." Frowning, he turned his attention to his finger food.
And now, Jean felt guilty for a fourth reason. He just wanted to
take care of her, but the longer she stayed with him, the more she
realized that he wasn't the one she wanted to be taken care of by --
or to care for -- for the rest of her life, and she wondered why. He
was kind, he was thoughtful, and he was interested in the same things
she was. Why couldn't she love him?
But she didn't. She got more excitement from an email of Scott's
than from seeing Ted, and if her friends interested her more than her
boyfriend, there was something wrong with that picture.
"She's nice," Jean said now, to make conversation.
"The host. Barb . . . what's her name?"
"Clark. Barb and Randy Clark." But he was frowning.
"What is it?" she asked.
He looked around to judge who was sitting near, then glanced almost
involuntarily at a big man in the corner, younger than most of them,
and attractive in an excitable Saint Bernard way. "That's Randy over
"Yeah? He's tall."
"He's five years younger than Barb."
Jean blinked, not quite sure that she followed his reasoning. "So?"
"Well, don't you think that's a little weird?"
"He's five years younger!" Ted hissed again, as if the answer should
be obvious. "He's not a med student. He's a banker. Or something
like that. He's going into bank management. I mean, what have they
got in common?"
"A kid and a mortgage, apparently," Jean replied.
"Honey, be serious."
"I am!" She set down her plate and stared at the side of his face.
He could be so understanding and solicitous of her, then would come
out with the oddest prejudices. "What is the big deal?"
"That she's twenty-nine and he's twenty-four? She married him when
he was barely out of college. Don't you think it's a little strange
if a woman in her mid-twenties dates a kid who's barely old enough to
"You're a year younger than me," Jean pointed out, amused.
"That's just a year. Big deal."
"Exactly. A year. Five years. Big deal. Now, if she were ten
years older than him, maybe it'd be weird. But five? So what? And
even if she were ten years older, how do you know it wouldn't be a
perfect match? You told me on the way over here that you know Barb,
but not her husband. You're not exactly in a position to judge. Do
you even know how they met? And what if -- just for the sake of
argument -- I were dating Hank instead of you?"
"*Hank*?" Ted was trying very hard not to laugh.
"For the sake of argument. Hank's five years older than me. Would
that bother you?"
"Well, ah, it's a little different," he temporized.
"How? Because the guy's allowed to be older?"
"No, not that . . . " But he didn't elaborate immediately, and
abruptly disgusted, she stood to walk away, ostensibly to refill her
As it turned out, the hostess was standing nearby, and Jean made a
point of stopping to apologize again for the carpet. "Really, don't
worry about it, darlin'" Barb told her. She was a smallish woman
with curly blond hair and a face that was earnest rather than pretty.
"Wine is no worse than orange carrot mush."
Jean smiled, both at the carrot mush and at being called �darling' by
a contemporary. Barb had a Southern accent as heavy as Ted's, but
broader. "Can I ask a nosey question?" Jean said.
"How did you have a baby and survive residency?"
And the other woman broke up laughing. "I don't know! I ask myself
that all the time. But you do what you have to do, and really, I
just carried Becky. Randy's the saint who covered most of the child
care." Jean watched her turn to shoot her husband a fond grin. He
was aware of it but only vaguely, in that way of someone hears his
name in another conversation, but doesn't want to leave the one he's
in, to investigate. "His employer actually gives paternity leave.
And Barb's quip gave Jean a perfect, if unexpected, entry point to
satisfy her own curiosity, after what Ted had said. "How did you and
Barb was grinning. It must have been her natural expression -- as
opposed to Jean's habitual frown -- because she had the beginnings of
crows' feet in the corners of her eyes, and brackets around her
mouth. "Rescuing cats," she reiterated. "Randy went to college at
Mary Washington, and was involved with the Siamese Rescue
Organization. It's like a humane society for siamese and part
"And that's why . . . "
"We have a house full of cats, yes."
Jean had counted four, so far.
"Anyway, I was Randy's New York City contact. I'd collect cats here,
then drive down with them to the center in Virginia. Or I'd bring
back cats from the center to place with families in this region."
She shrugged, artlessly. "We did a lot of talking, both
long-distance and in person. Eventually, we started dating, and when
he graduated, he moved up here with me. It was hard, because he was
leaving his babies."
"It looks like you brought some of them with you."
"Well, six of them, although we ended up having to give away one when
the baby was born -- which is exactly the kind of thing the Rescue
doesn't want to happen. But when it's a choice between your child
and your cat, that's not a choice. So we found her a good home."
"And now you have five."
"Now we have five."
Later, when Ted was driving her back to Westchester, Jean said, "They
"They rescue cats. Barb and Randy. That's how they met. Rescuing
cats." She paused, then added, "They have something together,
something that binds them. A mission. I think that's important."
He appeared thoughtful, but said only, "I guess."
"It's going to be okay."
"I don't know, I don't know, I don't know . . . . Oh, God, I'm never
going to get this done!"
"Jean, stop it." Hank slipped big arms around her, pulling her in
close to hug her tight, and hold her still so she'd quit wringing her
hands and panicking. "Listen to me. Bruce is going to talk to
McMasters. He won't let the bastard ruin this for you. Bruce and I
have both double-checked your parameters and results, and we have no
problems with them."
In fact, Bruce had told Hank privately that he'd do whatever it took
to make McMasters sign off on Jean's dissertation. It infuriated him
to have a colleague take a personal quarrel into the arena of
teaching; McMasters wanted to force the younger but more celebrated
Banner to owe him a favor. Hank himself hadn't been required to deal
with McMasters, as his own work lay in the direction of biochemistry
and molecular genetics, but Jean's interest in multigenic inheritance
mapping had left her with few choices to fill out her defense
committee. Hank himself could serve only as an external expert since
he wasn't on the Columbia faculty. From the department, she needed
Bruce Banner, the new guy Phil Lacey, and Professor Emeritus Jonathan
McMasters, with his Scottish accent, love of golf, Cambridge airs,
and over two hundred articles in refereed journals. And an attitude
as deep as Loch Ness.
Pushing free after a minute, Jean turned around once in the space of
her little office in the mansion basement, as if she weren't quite
sure where she was. Books were strewn everywhere, and computer
paper, and copies of her manuscript. "A multifactorial inheritance
hypothesis for the etiology of Homo superior: the
genetic/environmental interactions leading to the activation of the x
factor gene." There must be a rule somewhere, Hank thought, that
dissertations in the hard sciences required a least twenty-word
titles. His own had been just as bad. The desk held her laptop, her
notebook, a calculator, stray slides, three coffee mugs, a plate with
left over crumbs, a staple-gun, tape, an incense burner and incense,
a stack of CDs, and a small ghetto blaster from which strains of
Sheryl Crow drifted. Blunt, hard music.
**"We got loud guitars and big suspicions, great big guns and small
ambitions, and we still argue over who is God. And I say, �Hey
there, Miscreation, bring a flower, time is wasting.' It's hard to
make a stand, it's hard to make a stand . . ."**
"Has Scott sent any more limericks?" Hank asked her. Scott and his
roommate had been writing alternately morbid or lewd limericks about
Jonathan McMasters every few days.
Now, she turned to look at him. Her hair was falling out of its
clip, scraggly about her face, and she was too pale. But the
question made her smile. "Yeah, he sent another last night. He and
EJ are so wicked."
"But funny." And good for her, he thought.
She just grinned.
Later that afternoon, Banner called Hank McCoy to tell him that
McMasters had agreed to sign the dissertation, but how Banner had
obtained that promise, he wouldn't say. "It wasn't much." Hank
doubted that. In any case, Jean finished up her final version and
sent out copies, and the evening before the defense, Banner asked
her, Ted, Hank and Phil Lacey over to dinner. As they sat about the
dining table after the meal, plates bearing the remains of pasta
pushed aside, they polished off three bottles of wine and talked. "I
can't guarantee he won't grill you," Banner told Jean. "Hank, Phil
and I have all agreed to tell you one question each that we'll ask
tomorrow, so not everything will come as a surprise. And I can tell
you to be prepared to field more questions from Jonathan about the
controls you set for examining environmental triggers."
"He thinks most of it's bogus," Jean said, torn between bitterness
and a gut-clenching fear that made her want to start
hyperventilating. She took a long drink of wine. The wine was
welcome, though she'd barely been able to touch her dinner. With her
fingers, she pinched wrinkles in the tablecloth and didn't look at
the rest of the men.
"If he goes after you too unfairly, Jean, be sure I'll put a stop to
it," Banner told her. "This is my committee, not his."
She nodded. But when she got home, and despite all the wine they'd
made her consume, she didn't sleep well. Three times, she rose to
pad around the mansion halls aimlessly, her mind going over and over
questions she might be asked, and how she would reply. At one's
defense, one was supposed to be the expert of the day, but she knew
all too well how much they could bring up that she couldn't answer.
On her third perambulation, she wandered into the den and sat down on
the sofa, pulled an afghan over her legs to put off the chill, and
tried distracting herself with television. She was still there at
four, when the professor motored in. He wore a dressing gown and had
two cups of tea on a tray. Smiling, she helped him move out of his
chair to a place beside her on the couch, and he put an arm about her
so she could lay her head on his bony shoulder, just as she had used
to do when she'd been a young, coltish teen, new to her powers. He
said nothing, not even in her mind, just patted her arm and drank his
tea. After a while, she sat up and drank hers as well. The warmth
settled in her belly and made her sleepy, and she stretched out on
the couch, her head on a pillow in his lap. He stroked her hair
until she fell asleep, and even she, with her latent telepathy, never
felt the tiny tendrils slip into her mind, triggering the
neurotransmitters in her brain to send her down into dreamland. When
Ororo woke with the dawn as she usually did, she found them both in
the den still -- Jean with her head resting in the professor's lap,
and Xavier leaning back against the couch top, snoring lightly.
Shutting the door, she let them be, but kept an eye on the clock, to
be sure that Jean woke in time to make her defense.
The hallway smelled wet from all the melting winter slush tracked in,
even sixteen stories up in the Hammer Center, and somewhere, a
fluorescent light buzzed like an angry fly. The voices of
secretaries could be heard when the main office door to the genetics
department opened and closed, but Jean's attention was fixed on a
different door, leading into the conference room.
They were in there, the four of them, debating the rest of her
career. They'd been in there twenty minutes already.
Dropping her head, her hair fell in front of her face, and she
sighed. Ted shifted on the bench beside her. He'd stopped trying to
cheer or distract her ten minutes ago. Now, his face was pulled into
lines of mixed anger and concern as he leaned forward, elbows on his
knees, one foot jiggling nervously. He glanced at his watch again;
he'd been doing so every other minute. "It didn't go bad," he said
now. "What's taking so fucking long?"
She didn't reply. He was right. It hadn't gone badly, but it hadn't
gone as well as it might have. Just having McMasters in the room had
thrown her off her stride, and she'd fumbled questions she wouldn't
have otherwise. After an hour and a half, Banner had called a halt
and sent her out with Ted, to wait while the committee deliberated.
"They're not going to turn you down, honey," Ted said. He'd said it
at least six times already. "Banner-man wouldn't have let you walk
in there if you weren't going to pass."
"Maybe," she said. But it wasn't his career on the line. Her own
hands were clasped between her knees, skin winter pale in sharp
contrast to the navy blue pantyhose she wore, to match her navy suit.
She was fighting a compulsion to tap her heels together, like
Dorothy. "There's no place like home, there's no place like home . .
The door opened and she almost jumped out of her skin, popping to her
feet so fast she felt like a jill-in-the-box.
Bruce stood in the entrance with Hank behind him, and if Bruce's
expression was schooled to neutral professionalism, Hank's grin told
her the results. Banner held out a hand. "Congratulations, Ms.
Grey," was all he said.
"Yeehaw!" Ted shouted behind her in an uncharacteristically exuberant
explosion as Jean took Bruce Banner's hand in both hers.
"Thank you," she said, earnestly. "Thank you so much."
"You earned it, my dear. We don't give away doctorates here."
Continued directly in Part 10b....
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