AN ACCIDENTAL INTERCEPTION OF FATE:
Pomp and Circumstance
RECAP: It's been a couple months since I posted a chapter to this.
Therefore, I'll do what I don't usually do -- give a little recap.
In the two previous chapters, 11 and 12, Jean, Hank and Bruce Banner
were all caught in an unexpected lab explosion, resulting in the
further mutation of Hank into his blue form, and the mutation of
Bruce into a "big, green thing." Scott is called back from Berkeley
and the fledgling X-Men face their first real "mission" -- rescuing
the Hulk. They fail. Frank is wounded and the Hulk flees, only to
be shot multiple times by the NYPD, falling into the waters of the
NOTES: The description of the car accident that killed Annie might
trouble some, although if you've gotten this far, I doubt it.
Information on investigating explosions came from my friend the
ex-cop Randy, and info on Berkeley's graduation came from Mack.
NEW READERS ... if you're completely new to the group and want to
catch up, all previous chapters are available at the link above.
Exhausted in body and heart, all three of Xavier's wards were asleep
in the back of the Bentley by the time he reached Westchester. He
hated to wake them, but it was necessary. *Children*, he sent into
their minds. *We are home. You should go to your rooms and sleep.*
Ororo was the first awake, a bit startled. "Frank -- "
"Is fine. Warren returned him safely home, and while Henry is
wounded, he is not incapacitated. He set Francesco's leg, gave him
some pain-killers, and ordered him to rest. You should join him."
Nodding, Ororo got out, followed by Scott and Jean, stupid with lack
of sleep, though Scott retained enough presence of mind to fetch
Xavier's wheelchair for him. Xavier thanked him, then shooed him
off. As tired as Charles was himself, he had age on his side. He
never slept more than five hours on any given night, and was
perfectly comfortable with that. His first order of business was to
discover what was known, what wasn't known, and what would be
necessary to do, in order to protect his children.
Upstairs, Jean barely pulled off her shoes before collapsing on her
bed. Yet she dozed and woke, dozed and woke, fitful in the heat and
clammy with sweat, until finally, in the late-afternoon, she woke a
final time and left her room. Pushing open a door catty-corner down
the hall, she entered. Scott's room without knocking. Why she'd
come there, she couldn't have explained, but at some primal level,
Scott represented comfort to her. The westering sun fell in the
window, making stark blocks of butter yellow on the mahogany
furniture and the carpets. Scott lay sprawled on his stomach, on top
of the sheets. He'd taken off his shirt but that was all, and he
looked to be as warm as she, his face all flushed and his hair damp.
His duffle bag lay in a chair where he'd dropped it before they'd
left, but otherwise, the room had an appearance of hibernation,
decorated by the generic and what had been left behind. Scott no
longer lived here. It struck her like blow beneath the breastbone.
She crawled up onto the bed anyway, and he woke a little, peering at
her through his goggles. She could see the faint light of his open
eyes. "Jean?" His voice was throaty with sleep.
"Bad dreams," she replied and snuggled down beside him without
asking, her back to his front. His arm snaked around her to pull her
closer, like a plush toy, as chaste as siblings. She cried a little.
"I've missed you." He didn't reply, just stirred her hair with his
breath and his fingers. After a while, she slept. So did he.
They woke again after the sun had gone down, their internal time
clocks all disjointed. She turned to face him in the dimness of the
bedroom and they lay nose to nose. His breath was sour with sleep.
"Have you ever seen someone die?" he asked, blunt with his shock.
"Yes," she replied, almost without thinking.
He blinked -- she could see the light behind his goggles disappear
and reappear -- then he said, "Yeah, I guess so. Dumb question.
You're a doctor."
But that hadn't, actually, been what she'd meant. "No," she said
now. "I mean, yes, sure, as a doctor. But once before, too." She
stopped; he waited. She'd never before told him about Annie. It was
her private nightmare, and he'd been young, a boy; she'd
automatically protected him. But here, now, that fell away. She no
longer saw him like a little brother, sometimes annoying, but dear.
He was a man -- young, but a man -- and last night, she'd bowed to
his command of the situation without even thinking about it. He was
her equal, her leader sometimes, her confidant. Her friend.
"Annie," she said now, as if that one name were ripe with the
explanation of her whole self, and in a way, it was. "Annie
Richardson. She lived across the street from me. Her parents taught
at Bard, too. We lived in the �faculty ghetto,' but
Annandale-on-Hudson isn't big and I think most of the town is
involved with the college in some way."
"Like an air force base."
"A little. Annie was my best friend." Jean smiled. "I liked being
in her house, I liked her parents. It was an escape for me. Her mom
was the antithesis of mine -- utterly 1960's Flower Child. Kate and
Larry -- her parents -- had met in San Francisco in some kind of
co-op, then had Annie. Her real name wasn't even Annie, but
'Anahita' after some Persian goddess."
"I don't blame her for going by Annie."
"I don't think she minded, really. She liked being different, but
the fact that her parents had never formally married was a bigger
scandal in our sleepy, little New England town. They were the kind
of people you couldn't help but like, if you got to know them, but
most people still talked about them behind their backs. "
"You liked the exotic." It wasn't a question.
She didn't give it a direct answer. "Over at Annie's house, I was
allowed to do things my mother wouldn't even consider -- bounce on
the bed, run around outside with no shoes, eat spaghetti with my
fingers, and play with tarot cards." She fell silent then, lost in
speculative memory of what her life might have been, if not for an
errant Frisbee and a speeding car.
When some time had passed, Scott finally prompted, "What happened?"
The question was soft and gentle in the room's twilight.
"I felt her die."
"You *felt* her die?"
Jean touched her forehead, as if somehow her fingertips could brush
away the telepathic gift that had driven her mad. "I was ten; she'd
just turned eleven. It was the summer before we went to middle
school. We were playing outside. It was twilight -- that time when
it's too dark too see clearly but it's not really night yet. My
mother had called me twice for dinner and I'd been ignoring her; we
were playing Frisbee and listening to the radio. I can remember just
what was playing, too. REO Speedwagon, 'Keep on Loving You.' I
still can't listen to that goddamn song."
She closed her eyes. He didn't push her, just waited while she
circled this, tested the boundaries of old pain. He kept an arm
around her, draped over her shoulder, and patted her back.
"I threw the Frisbee a little too hard, and it was too dark to see
well, so Annie missed it and went running after it. Our houses were
right across from each other, one house in from the corner. Down
the block lived this boy -- Terry Watson. He was a senior, and had
this ugly old brown Impala, and he always used to come tearing around
our corner with it like a bat out of hell."
And even though Scott had never heard this story before, he could
guess what was coming. He held her a little closer.
"He hit her." It was simple. Three words, delivered flat. Scott
moved his hand up to run fingers through her thin hair. In the
background, he could hear the hum of the fan, stirring limpid air.
"I'm sorry," he said finally, words pulled out by the weight of
"The left front fender. It knocked her back into our yard. I ran
over to her and Terry had stopped the car. He was yelling at us, at
her, but he was scared more than angry. He wanted to blame her for
being in the road, instead of himself for driving too fast, because
he knew this wasn't a little thing. It wasn't a speeding ticket.
"And I *knew* that, Scott. I didn't guess it; I wasn't told that
later. I knew it, felt it, saw it in his mind. I yelled back at him
to go call an ambulance. By that time, people were coming out of
their houses, and Annie's mother was screaming. I knew what all of
them were thinking -- the shock, the fear, even the sick interest.
"Annie was bleeding everywhere, or that's what it seemed like to me
then. You see it in accident victims a lot -- a little blood forced
out of the nose, mouth, ears, and eyes by the impact. It breaks the
tiny capillaries in thin membranes. It scared me, and I could *feel*
her hurting. I'd pulled her up into my lap and held on. Now, I'd
know better than to do that, but I don't think it would have made a
difference. One whole side of her ribcage had been broken and the
bones had punctured her right lung. She drowned on her own blood,
but that took about five or ten minutes. Her mother was just
hysterical, so I held her instead. She couldn't talk because she
didn't have any air, and she was so frightened. There's no fear like
not being able to breathe, and she didn't really know what was
happening; it hurt too much for her to think, but she was pretty sure
she was dying and she didn't want to die. So she was clutching at
me" -- Jean demonstrated unconsciously by gripping Scott's upper arms
-- "and then the blood stared coming out of her mouth . . . a lot
more than had at first." Jean touched her chin, then began to cry.
"Shhh," Scott said, pulling her head against his shoulder because he
really had no idea what else to do. What was he supposed to say to
this? EJ would know., but Scott felt inadequate.
After some time had passed, Jean quieted, and said, "It was dark,
where she went, but not scary. You hear people talk about white
lights and all that, but I never saw any lights. We just kind of . .
. sank down. Like we were at the bottom of a well -- sitting
cross-legged at the bottom of a well. And it didn't hurt there. It
felt good. We were holding hands, just like friends do, but I knew
she had to go. She didn't say anything to me -- there wasn't any, 'I
must go, but you must stay!' sermon. It was just . . . like at the
end of the day, when I knew I'd have to go in soon, and I didn't want
to. I'd rather have stayed with Annie, but it just wasn't an option.
I felt her slip away finally. Her fingers left mine and she went .
. . somewhere else. Maybe she saw the white light there, I don't
"Anyway, where I was, it was warm and dark and it didn't hurt and I
just wasn't too interested in waking up.
"So I didn't. Not for a long time. Sixteen months." She felt his
arms tense. "When Annie died I was ten. When I woke up again, I was
twelve, and there were other people in my head. I thought I'd died
after all, and gone straight to hell. I couldn't even tell what was
me, and what wasn't. Forget sixteen personalities. I had hundreds.
Whoever came near -- nurses, patients, doctors. They put me in a
sanitarium because they thought I was psychotic. 'Dissociative
disorder with aspects of bipolar I' was my diagnosis. So I was out
of my mind, my parents consulted half the psychiatrists in the State
of New York, and Sara -- my older sister -- was left pretty much to
fend for herself. It's probably no great surprise that there isn't
much love lost between Sara and me now. It's not easy to be the
sibling of a chronically ill child."
Abruptly, Jean sat up, sliding out of his arms to push her hair back
from her face. "So now you know the story of Crazy Jean."
"You're not crazy," Scott said from the bed. "You survived."
"Barely. Dad heard about the professor through a mutual friend, and
called him in desperation for a fourteenth opinion . . . forget
second or third. Of course the professor knew exactly what was wrong
with me. He shut down the telepathy entirely, like catching a roach
under a Tupperware bowl."
Scott didn't miss the comparison of her gift to a parasite.
"*Then*, of course, the TK exploded. I was out of the hospital by
then, and the professor had explained to my parents what I was. It's
a good thing the telepathy and telekinesis didn't happen at once, or
the doctors would've decided I was *possessed*, not just nuttier than
a fruitcake. Can you imagine?"
"How old were you then?"
"You mean you made up all that school you lost in two years before
college?" Scott was astonished.
Her smile was wry. "Three, actually. I went to college a year late,
like you. But it's not that surprising. It wasn't like I had
anything *else* to do with my time, like oh, say, dates or football
games or school dances. I never went to high school, Scott; I had
private tutors. And I was able to do a little school in the psych
ward. Plus, telepathy gives you a certain advantage. I picked up
all kinds of odd things right out of people's heads. But I wonder if
maybe what happened with Annie isn't why I went into medicine. I
never want to be *helpless* like that again, dammit."
Quite possibly. Scott had heard of other people who became doctors
for similar reason. In any case, and despite her disparaging
comments, he was still astonished by how quickly she'd made up her
educational void. He'd known she was smart, but it had never before
come home to him quite so concretely.
Reaching out, he gripped one of her long hands again and rubbed the
top of it with his thumb. "I think you're amazing." Frank, Ororo,
now Jean . . . it made his own previous life seem blissfully easy,
and the guilt of good fortune wrapped bands around his chest and
squeezed until she lay back down beside him and stroked his cheek.
"Don't knock being normal, Scott. It's something about you that I've
always liked -- you're this perfectly normal guy. It's . . . nice .
. . to have a friend like that."
Her hand was soft and he was suddenly very conscious of the fact that
she was lying in his bed, touching his face. It struck right out of
his mind any question of how she'd known he was feeling guilty.
Three years ago, this would have been a fantasy come true. Now . . .
he wasn't sure what he felt. She continued to stroke his cheek and
he caressed her in turn, her shoulder, her arm, her hair. Their legs
were intertwined. There was more in it than mere sibling attachment,
but paramount was their need for human connection in the face of
death, a reminder that their own hearts still beat. After a while,
comfortable and still tired, first Scott, then Jean, fell asleep.
When they woke again, it was the middle of the night. As he'd fallen
asleep first, Scott also woke first and tried to get out of bed
without disturbing her, intending to shower, but she woke anyway and
raised her head to look around in the moonlit room. "Unh?"
"Scott?" Then she remembered and pushed herself up, slightly
embarrassed. "Oh. Uh, sorry about barging in on you last night."
He'd turned to smile at her. "Hey, I don't mind. What are friends
And she smiled back. They'd edged a little past the usual boundaries
for friends the evening before, but if he was content not to go
there, so was she. Exhaustion both physical and emotional had left
her vulnerable, and while she didn't regret for a minute telling him
about Annie, the sensual session that had followed had left her
confused. However much she cared for him -- and she always seemed to
be brought back around by circumstance to how deeply that caring went
-- she'd never returned his infatuation. At least, not consciously.
Her adolescence in a psych ward had schooled her well in how to shut
away thoughts that weren't socially acceptable, and so she liked to
forget that her first reaction to him, lying on his back in the mud
after she'd hit him with her car, had been purely visceral. He'd
been a pretty boy, and he'd become a prettier man, and the chemistry
of attraction was neither predictable nor inclined to respect social
boundaries. She'd never allowed herself to consider acting on it,
though, nor had even allowed herself to recognize precisely what she
felt. The chasm of age and life experience had been as real as the
attraction, so sublimation had become the name of the game, yet it
was harder to sublimate when he wasn't a boy any more.
"I'm going to go shower," he said now.
"I should, too. I'll head back to my room. Meet me in the staff
kitchen for a little breakfast at midnight?"
So she left him to himself, and whatever his easy responses, his own
feelings upon waking beside her had been just as confused as hers.
He'd thought himself over her, at least in any romantic sense. After
all, his feelings for Clarice had been real and profound -- his first
true love. Jean had been just a crush, however powerful. And he'd
dated women since Clarice, if none with any seriousness. But Jean .
. . .
Inside his room's little private bath, he leaned a fist against the
door and just breathed. "Get a grip," he muttered to himself. It
would be beyond foolish for him to fall back into that hopeless
pursuit. Jean was almost thirty and he was barely legal. She'd have
no more interest in him now than she'd had three and a half years
ago. The problem was -- it wasn't a little crush any more. And if
he were honest with himself, it hadn't been a little crush for some
time. Perhaps his fey melancholia over the past year hadn't been due
only to his breakup with Clarice, or his impending graduation, but to
his lapsed contact with Jean.
"You are a complete and total *idiot*," he told himself, leaning back
against the door and banging his skull lightly against the wood.
Against all good sense, yes, indeed, he'd fallen for Jean Grey all
over again, but not the angelic vision he'd considered her when he'd
been eighteen. Her tragedy drew him, but so did her strength. She
was everything he'd ever wanted. And too old for him.
Doffing his 'mission' clothing, he climbed into the shower, rinsing
away sweat and frustrated lust, then got out to dress before heading
downstairs. He wasn't, it seemed, the only one awake, though Jean
wasn't yet there. He found Ororo at the stove in the kitchen, making
food for Francesco. He eyed it skeptically, though it was only soup.
"Is that going to be edible?"
"Up yours," she said pleasantly, and finished her task while he
grabbed a box of microwavable pancakes out of the freezer and popped
four in the toaster oven. Frank sat at the eat-in table, his eyes
focused on the far wall. He spoke neither to Scott nor Ororo, and
Scott was jolted back into reality and what had happened less than
twenty-four hours ago.
When his pancakes were done, he took butter, syrup and pancakes to
the table and sat by his friend. "Hey," he said. "How's the leg?"
"Broken," Frank replied with rare (for him) wit. He turned to focus
those Italian-black eyes on Scott. "What happened at Fort Tryon
should not have happened."
Scott thought about that. "You told me once that futures can be
predicted, but never 'the future.'"
"True. But there are the more probable and the less probable."
Scott chewed on that along with a bite of his pancakes. "I screwed
up, didn't I? When I shot him." Guilt struck like the impact of a
But Frank shook his head. "Not you only." It wasn't precisely
polite, but when a Seeing took Frank, he forgot to be polite. "It
should not have ended as it ended. He should have stopped when I did
not move. He should have *stopped*."
"That's why you didn't obey my order to get out of the way?"
And the term 'order' surprised Scott. He hadn't been in charge; how
could it have been an order? Yet Frank didn't object, said only,
"Yes, exactly. You should not have shot him. Fighting him brought
the guard. But then the next branching point was whether or not we
let him escape. In the *probable* futures, he did not hit me. He
stopped. We stopped him."
Though Scott had known Frank for years, in many ways, he still didn't
fully understand Frank's gift, and Frank spoke now as if he were a
god, knowing what might have happened and what should have happened
as well as what had happened. Their Italian Apollo.
Which thought brought him to a sudden and painful question. With a
glance towards the door -- Jean still hadn't arrived, but Ororo was
finished with the soup and had brought it over -- he asked, "How much
did you *see*, Frank?"
Frank studied Scott a beat, then bent to blow on his soup and tried a
sip. "I saw variations on the outcome of our trip to the park."
"That's all? You didn't . . . You didn't see the explosion?" As
Frank was constantly reminding them all, he did not see everything.
But now, he didn't answer and Ororo's glance at Scott was sharp with
reproof. Suddenly alarmed, Scott reached over to grab Frank's wrist.
"Fuck it, Frank. *Tell* me you didn't know about the explosion.
Please tell me."
"I knew," Frank said.
And Scott released him to sit back, too shocked, too angry, and too .
. . what? *Afraid.* Too afraid to reply immediately. "Why?" he
asked when he got his voice back.
Frank didn't look at him but concentrated on his soup while Ororo
continued to glare with that unique protectiveness she reserved only
for Francesco. "There are crossroads," Frank began. "Pivotal
events. This was one such." His voice was harsh. "So -- did I save
those I knew? Or did I prevent a war? Which would you have chosen?"
"Wasn't there a third option?"
Frank looked up. "No." It was unequivocal.
Scott looked down at his pancakes, then pushed the plate away. He
was no longer hungry. Rising, he left the staff kitchen to wander.
He hadn't known Bruce Banner, and he'd certainly not held much
affection for Ted Roberts. But they were dead. And Hank was blue.
And Frank had known but hadn't stopped it.
He heard the tap-tap of feet behind him and turned, half expecting
Jean. It was Ororo. She stopped a few feet away. "It is not your
place to judge!" Her voice was harsher than he'd ever heard it.
"This choice has nearly broken his heart!"
"I'm not judging." And he wasn't. Not like she meant. "But doesn't
it make you wonder? He'd sacrifice us all, wouldn't he?"
"To prevent the death of thousands? Yes! Would you wish it to be
otherwise? Do you think he could choose otherwise? This is what
makes him Francesco." *This is what makes me love him.* She didn't
say it, but the addendum was obvious. And from Ororo, queen of
emotional independence, the depth of her attachment to this one man
"I . . . " He trailed off. She came nearer until they stood face to
face. Jean might be older than him, but he doubted she'd ever
confront him quite this way. It was what he admired about Ororo
Munroe. When she believed something, she granted no quarter. They'd
never have made a couple, even if she hadn't had Francesco. Yet
sometimes he wondered. If matters had fallen out differently, might
he have fallen in love with her? She was magnificent. But not for
him. Now, he finished, "I don't think I'd want it to be otherwise,
no. But that kind of power . . . doesn't it scare you?"
"In anyone else, yes. In Frank, no. Do you fear Professor Xavier's
"No." And he didn't.
She nodded once, decisively, then turned on her heel and went back to
the kitchen. He watched the sway of her hair, unbound, rippling like
their choices. Still not hungry, he went on to his own room and
spent some time thinking as he packed to return to Berkeley. He
sincerely hoped that neither Hank nor Jean ever learned the truth.
It wouldn't be so philosophical to them. Scott was also fairly sure
that there was more to it all than Frank was admitting.
Nor was he alone in his suspicions. Some hours later, when Ororo
found herself finally outside with Frank, she asked him, "How will
what happened the night before last prevent a war?" She could
imagine only that it would make things more tense, not less.
It was dawn, and she was working in her garden while Francesco sat on
a bench, smoking, his leg elevated beside him. "Without this team
we're building," he said, "there will be a war between mutant and
non-mutant. Yet if Scott doesn't return, there will be no team.
Without the night before last, he wouldn't have returned."
"Couldn't one of the rest of us create it?" She didn't think of
herself as a leader, but if it came to war or peace, she'd certainly
Frank watched her as she bent over the dahlias, thinning them. She
might, indeed, lead them one day. She had the strength. But she was
not the one to build them; she was the one to nurture them, as much
as it might surprise her to hear that. "We need Scott," he said.
"Why do you think this accident with Dr. Banner will make him return?
No one that he knew has died, and the 'mission'" -- her voice was
sour -- "was a spectacular failure."
"He will return," Frank said with the certainty of a pronouncement.
Ororo eyed him. "I hate it when you do that."
Continued directly in part 13b.....
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