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AN ACCIDENTAL INTERCEPTION OF FATE: "And All the King's Men" (S/J + ensemble) 16c

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  • Minisinoo
    Continued directly from part 16b.... ... When Scott arrived back downstairs with Jean s suitcase, he found the professor waiting in the locker area outside the
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 30, 2003
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      Continued directly from part 16b....
      ---------

      When Scott arrived back downstairs with Jean's suitcase, he found the
      professor waiting in the locker area outside the women and men's
      showers, brows drawn in concentration. Scott didn't disturb him but
      slipped past into the women's shower area. Entering, he kept his
      eyes on the floor. He could hear the rush of water, and moved
      cautiously around the tiled privacy wall, but the dressing area was
      empty. Along two walls were benches -- her hospital-green clothes
      discarded in a heap on one -- and a third had sinks with mirrors and
      a little alcove with a few bathroom stalls. Off to the left was the
      shower area. Steam rolled out, fogging his glasses and preventing
      him from seeing anything even if he'd wanted to, and he didn't want
      to. After that morning, he was confident he'd get his chance, but
      right now, what she needed most was privacy, not his prurient
      intrusion.

      He set down the suitcase on a bench and she heard the thud even over
      the pound of water. Alarmed, she called, "Who's there?"

      "It's just me. I brought your stuff, including shampoo if you need
      it. And clothes. I didn't know what you'd want, so I threw in
      different things. If you don't like them, or want something else, I
      can go back . . . "

      He trailed off. He was babbling; she was laughing. "It's fine," she
      called. "I'm sure it's fine, Scott. Thank you."

      "Okay. I'll . . . go on outside and, y'know, wait."

      *Oh, even better, Summers*, he thought and slapped his forehead; even
      an *unseen* naked woman could render him imbecilic. Jean herself
      remained amused. Under Xavier's telepathic umbrella, she couldn't
      swim like a fish through his thoughts, but she could sense the edge
      of his emotions and his embarrassment was palpable, as was the tickle
      of mild arousal overlaid by a tender concern -- altogether a complex
      blend of emotional spices. She could also pick up the buzz of plain
      old physical hunger. Scott still had a young man�s metabolism, and
      with the demands of his mutation, he couldn't afford to miss meals.
      "Scott," she called, "I�ll likely be a while. Go upstairs, please,
      and eat lunch." She could *feel* that he was going to protest.
      "Don't argue. Doctor's orders. I'll still be here when you're done,
      trust me." Her voice was wry.

      And while he did, in fact, want to protest, his body was telling him
      to acquiesce, so he left again, heading upstairs to duck into the
      kitchen where Valeria Placido, Frank's mother, was cleaning up from
      lunch. "And where were you all day?" she asked him in Italian.

      "Busy," he replied in the same language. He'd brushed up on it in
      college, using Frank and his mom for practice. Sticking his head in
      one of the industrial refrigerators, he searched for a quick snack.

      "No, no, no!" she said, "You Americans! You eat like uncivilized
      beasts!" And she hustled him over to a table, where she stuffed him
      on soup, bread with olive oil and cheese, and meat ravioli. While he
      didn't appreciate the delay, with Valeria watching, he could hardly
      grab his food and run. Italians took meals seriously in the same way
      that Americans took sports. (For that matter, Italians took sports
      seriously, too, when it came to soccer.) And Valeria seemed to think
      it her own brand of cultural education to teach the silly Americans
      to eat right. He could no more get out of a two-course lunch, and
      conversation with it -- half in English, half in Italian -- than he
      could fly. So almost an hour passed before he was free to return to
      the sub-basement. Being dreadfully late already, he swung by the rec
      room to see what he could find to entertain Jean during her exile to
      the nether regions.

      While Scott was thus occupied, Jean had finished her shower, emerging
      -- arms wrapped around herself, hands clasping elbows -- to survey
      the damage of her dementia in the long mirrors of the dressing area.
      She'd grown so painfully thin, she could count her ribs, and the
      bones of her hips protruded like a sweep of boat hulls. Her breasts
      were even smaller than usual while her kneecaps and collarbones and
      wrists looked huge; her face was hollow-cheeked and lantern-jawed,
      and her eyes were shadowed and sunken. Worse yet, she'd yanked out
      chunks of hair at both temples and there were scratches on the skin
      of her face and neck and arms. Her skin was sallow.

      Scott had said he loved her, looking like this? She was astonished.

      Turning, she went to see what he'd packed for her, and was amused by
      his choices. Comfort clothes, almost unisex -- he still thought like
      a college boy, but under the circumstances, she didn't mind, and
      slipped on khakis and an Old Navy sweatshirt. It was, in fact, one
      of *his*, and she wondered if he'd recognized it. She chose it
      because she wanted to be surrounded by him.

      When she finally emerged, clean again with teeth brushed and face
      painted, Scott still wasn't back. Xavier led her into the Danger
      Room and shut the door. "Scott -- " she began.

      " -- can *knock*," Xavier replied, though he'd covertly engaged the
      'occupied' light and hoped the boy would see it and return upstairs.
      However much Scott might provide Jean with a point of stabilization,
      the longer they remained in one another's company during this
      critical period, the deeper the bonding would run. It was a
      dangerous game he played, and a ruthless one, using the attachment
      between the two in order to heal Jean more quickly, but preventing it
      from following its logical course to an end he couldn't condone, for
      either Jean or Scott's sake. This wasn't, he realized, quite
      ethical, but it was necessary, and when pushed, Xavier was a
      pragmatist.

      "Although your self-awareness has returned," Xavier began now, "you
      and I both know that the reassembly of memories is not complete, and
      may not be for some time . . . ." And thus, the next stage in her
      healing began.

      When Scott did arrive downstairs, he did exactly what Xavier had
      expected: he found the door shut, the occupied light on, and assumed
      he'd be intruding. So he left his offering of games and puzzles
      outside the door and went back upstairs, whiling away the afternoon
      by unpacking some of his boxes, talking to Hank about the various
      students' mathematics placements, and cycling on the path around the
      lake until supper. For the first time since his return, he ate with
      the rest in a dining hall setting that emphasized for him the
      mansion's shift from intimate circle to something more institutional
      and organized. The hall's long oak tables had acquired benches
      instead of chairs, and the sideboard was stuffed with various dishes
      for students to help themselves, buffet style. An antique tapestry
      had been replaced by white boards, one listing student duty areas and
      another announcing stable riding schedules and when the bus would
      leave on Saturday for a trip into White Plains to the Westchester
      Mall. Scott thought the boards horridly out of place in a room of
      dark-wood moldings, heavy velvet drapes and a coffered ceiling with
      decorative medallions. The eleven current students sat at one table
      while the handful of former students -- now 'grown ups' -- occupied
      another. He found it all rather disconcerting, a sentiment only
      heightened when the thirteen-year-old Jubilee addressed him as "Mr.
      Summers." For a moment, he'd honestly not realized she'd been
      speaking to him.

      At least Bobby treated him no differently, and just to prove he
      wasn't an antique, Scott engaged the boy on an unoccupied bench in a
      game of table football with a folded napkin. They became so
      engrossed that Scott almost missed Warren's arrival until a puff of
      wind from a wing swept the paper 'ball' onto the floor. "Hey, man!"
      Scott greeted his friend, rising to offer Warren the customary
      embrace -- but Warren backed away. His face was stiffly polite.

      "Ororo said you've come back. Permanently."

      Sitting down again, Scott eyed Warren. At the other tables, chatter
      had quieted; Hank, Ororo and Frank observed with polite discretion
      while the eleven students stared unabashedly. "Yeah," Scott replied,
      unsure where this was going. "I told you at Christmas about some of
      the sh--, some of the stuff going down in the Berkeley anthro
      department. It got worse. I'm outta there."

      Warren's head tilted, his sharp, aristocratic, falcon-features
      faintly derisive. "And Jean's condition had nothing to do with that
      decision."

      All too aware of their audience, Scott glanced around the room. It
      was plain that Warren considered Scott's return to be a betrayal, but
      Scott had no idea why. "She's my friend, War. I didn't see much
      point in sticking around out there a few more months when she needed
      me here."

      "*Needed* you? She doesn't *need* anyone but the professor. She's
      down in the sub-basement, mentally unglued."

      "Not anymore."

      "*What?*"

      That came from more throats than Warren's, but it was Hank who
      smoothly inserted himself into the conversation. "It was reported to
      me earlier" -- he didn't say it had been reported by Scott -- "that
      Dr. Grey has returned to consciousness. It may yet be some time
      before a full recovery, but she's definitely on the mend."

      "I'm going down to see her," Warren said, heading out of the hall.

      "You can't!" Scott called after, standing once more. "The professor
      wouldn't even let me back in."

      "Scott," Hank warned. "Warren -- "

      Both young men ignored him. "What do you mean 'back in'?" Warren
      asked, swinging around, blue eyes narrow, wings slightly arched.
      "And why should you get in, in the first place? You're not her
      boyfriend."

      A mixture of prudence and distracted irritation led Scott to ignore
      the first question in favor of the second. "I'm her *best* friend,"
      he said. "You're not her boyfriend, either."

      At the adults' table, Ororo rolled her eyes while Henry palmed his
      face. The students, though, watched with open-mouthed fascination.
      To them, this was better than an episode of SURVIVOR. "She's going
      out with *me*," Warren said, voice crisp.

      "Not according to her," Scott replied, then immediately regretted it.
      It wasn't in him to publicly embarrass a friend. "Look," he began,
      taking a few steps closer in an effort to mend the damage, but
      Warren's wings snapped out to their full extension and his face
      warned Scott off. Warren was proud, and wouldn't bear coddling.

      "At Christmas," he spat, "you told me you weren't interested."

      Embarrassed, Scott glanced away. He'd forgotten all about that. "I
      kinda changed my mind."

      "I asked in good faith! You said you weren't interested anymore!"

      "Okay, I lied!" Scott snapped back. They'd almost forgotten their
      audience, even while being painfully aware of it. "I was . . .
      trying to let her go. Things changed, okay?" He made another bid
      for a peaceful end. "Come on, man. You know I've been crazy about
      her forever."

      "And you think I haven't?"

      Warren's admission confounded Scott. He'd dismissed his friend's
      flirting as trivial, another of Warren's dalliances, and had been
      more worried about Jean's possible interest in Warren than any
      sincerity on Warren's part, but the expression on Warren's face now
      wasn't regret over a missed date. Scott took a few more steps
      forward, speaking in a voice he hoped only Warren could hear. "Look,
      War, it's mutual. I can't stop how I feel, and neither can she. I
      didn't realize you were actually serious about her."

      And that, for Warren, was the deepest betrayal of all; it dug claws
      into his gut and disemboweled him. "I thought you, of all people,
      knew me better. I thought you were my friend. But you really *are*
      plebian, aren't you? And childish -- a little boy trying to be a
      man. In fact, you're eight years younger than Jean." He pointed to
      Jubilee, who sat gaping at this very public feud. "That girl is as
      many years younger than you, as you are younger than Jean! Never
      mind that you're not her equal. You think a sophisticated woman like
      Jean Grey wants to bring home a military brat like you?"

      Equally betrayed, Scott struck back equally hard. "My father was an
      *officer* and a *test pilot* -- which takes skill and talent, not
      just an accident of birth. This is America, Warren, not Europe.
      Nobody gives a fuck who your parents were or how many Roman numerals
      you slap after your name. As for the age thing, I hear the pot
      calling the kettle black -- you're younger than her, too, and not by
      one or two years."

      Warren's lips pursed. "I'm twenty-five, I have an MBA from Harvard,
      and I'm CEO of several companies. What are you? You can't even
      finish a year of grad school. You have nothing to offer her, no
      inheritance, and don't even qualify to teach *high school* in the
      State of New York. If she's interested in you, it's because you've
      got a pretty face. You're her boy toy. She'll get bored eventually
      and go looking for a real man."

      Shocked silence smothered the dining hall. Those listening
      instinctively understood that a friendship had just shattered beyond
      repair. Glancing around, face flaming, Scott muttered, "This is a
      stupid conversation."

      "Yes, it is!" Ororo echoed, rising to intervene, but Scott had
      stalked out of the room. He didn't run, but when she called after
      him, he didn't look back, either. Furious, Ororo grabbed Warren's
      arm to propel him out, too. "Are you proud of yourself?" she
      snapped.

      "I didn't tell him anything but the truth." Disinclined either to
      remorse or repentance, Warren's chin went up. "He got what he
      deserved. He stabbed me in the back!"

      "Only because you turned it," Frank said without heat. He'd joined
      the two of them in the back hallway. "You chose not to see."

      "He told me he wasn't interested! I fucking *asked*, Frank. I
      played by the damn rules!"

      "You chose not to see," Frank said again. "It was plain to the rest
      of us."

      "Scott *said* he wasn't interested! You don't go back on your word!"

      "You had your chance," Ororo pointed out, "but *Jean* was not
      interested. Or does her opinion not count? Why men think women are
      territories to be divvied up, I will never know. 'You take this one,
      I shall take that one' -- and what if 'this one' and 'that one' have
      other ideas?"

      And at the base of it, the fact that Jean *did* have other ideas was
      what Warren found impossible to bear. He was always the chosen one,
      except to those he cared about most. To them, he was the imperfect
      angel, rejected, and he might have withstood the blow better, had
      Jean not chosen instead one of the few men he'd considered a true
      friend.

      "As far as I'm concerned, you can all go to hell," he said now,
      turning and retreating back through the mansion to the garage where
      he'd just left his orange Lamborghini. Scott might have yielded the
      battlefield, but Warren now fled the theater.

      Concerned, Ororo glanced at Frank, who just shook his head. "He will
      be back," he said. "Let his pride mend a little."

      "And he and Scott?"

      "They may patch things up."

      "Or they may not."

      "Or they may not," Frank admitted.





      Scott escaped first to his room only to face the unpacked boxes and
      (again) the rashness of his choice to leave Berkeley. Yet hadn't he
      brought Jean back to them? And that was more than Warren could claim
      -- more than Warren could *do*. Still angry and distraught, Scott
      returned to the sub-basement. He hadn't seen the professor at
      supper, and half-thought to find him with Jean yet, but the occupied
      light was off, and the games had been removed from outside the Danger
      Room door. Scott hesitated only a moment before engaging the outer
      lock and entering the little hall. The light above the inner door
      wasn't on either, so he knocked.

      Jean opened it and he stumbled in. Indeed Xavier wasn't there and
      Scott was relieved for that, but his otherwise-vivid upset battered
      at Jean after her long afternoon working with the professor. Her
      hands flew up to her temples and alarmed, Scott gripped her upper
      arms. "Are you okay? Do I need to get Professor Xavier?"

      *No!* She replied. *You need to quit _shouting_ at me!*

      "Huh?"

      *Calm down, please. Calm down. You're hurting me.*

      Unfortunately, he wasn't at all sure how to stop 'shouting' and aware
      of his confusion, she reiterated, "Please just try to calm down,"
      then pointed. "Go sit. Over there."

      He glanced across to where the little table had acquired two chairs
      since his last visit, and meekly obeyed her order. She'd had dinner
      sent down by Valeria, but had eaten only half of it, the wild rice
      and asparagus. Cold chicken cacciatore remained, trapped in
      congealed red sauce. Her tea was mostly gone, ice left to melt at
      the bottom of the glass, and he picked it up to shake a stray cube
      into his mouth, crunching it. He tried not to think about what
      Warren had said.

      But what Warren had said was as clear as a bell to Jean -- clearer,
      in fact, than if Scott had been projecting as he had when he'd first
      arrived. She stood on the other side of the Danger Room and
      struggled to sort through her own mixed emotions. She was seething,
      at Scott as much as at Warren. They'd behaved like toddlers fighting
      over a favorite toy and she didn't appreciate being treated like a
      prize -- even while she was utterly amazed that she, Jean Grey, might
      be regarded so by two young men who could so easily have their pick
      of girls. She was also irritated with them for parceling her out --
      'If you don't want her, I'll take her' -- though that was closer to
      what she'd come to expect.

      Yet what Warren had said to Scott at the end upset her most of all.
      It'd been a less polite, less psychological version of what Xavier
      had told her -- and it reflected what others would say behind her
      back, if not to her face. She wasn't sure if she were ready for
      that.

      She approached him slowly. He had calmed down, and she no longer
      felt overwhelmed. Taking the other chair at the small table, she
      said, "First, I am not a prize in a car race, Scott Summers. I will
      not display a big victory cup for you while wearing a skimpy bikini."

      He was still holding her tea glass, and his lips quirked up. "I
      know."

      "Do you?" He had the good grace to blush, and took another mouthful
      of ice. "Second," she went on, "*I* decide who I'll date, and I'm
      not dating *either* you *or* Warren. Understood?"

      His expression was startled. "But, Jean -- !"

      "No, Scott. I'm not."

      Ambushed, he wasn't sure how to respond to that. "But we both feel
      the same thing!"

      "How a person feels does not necessarily determine how a person
      chooses to act. Do I love you? Absolutely. Do I think this is a
      good time to date you? No, I do not."

      Mute but frowning, Scott leaned back in his chair and Jean took
      advantage of his silence. "Third, you are not a failure. So Warren
      has a degree from Harvard. You have one from Berkeley. You earned
      it on a scholarship, no less, which Warren did not. And you received
      a graduate assistantship for your masters work -- which Warren also
      did not. We both know the reason why you didn't finish the latter,
      and it has nothing to do with any deficiencies on your part. I
      respect Warren, and he *is* an intelligent man. But so are you, and
      if intelligence is measured in speed of comprehension, ability to
      recognize patterns and analogies, and ability to draw valid
      conclusions from divergent data, then you exceed him in all three
      areas."

      Scott was blushing, but she could feel his confidence seeping back.
      Like her, he responded better to a rational approach than to
      emotional declarations, and while he might have appreciated her
      cheerleading, he wouldn't have believed it, and she was more
      interested in having him believe it.

      "As for being 'plebian'" -- she sat forward in her chair -- "you know
      Warren doesn't really buy into the myth of blue blood." Although, in
      fact, she wasn't so sure. Children learned what they lived, and
      Warren harbored his share of assumptions and prejudices just like
      anyone else.

      "I think it rather impressive that your father was a test pilot,
      though I'm less impressed by how he and the rest of your family have
      treated *you*." When Scott started to protest, she barreled on.
      "It's going to take more than him showing up at your graduation for
      me to forgive him, Scott.

      "And last, yes, there are those who'll look at your face, look at me,
      consider our ages, and decide you're my boy toy. All that says is
      they don't know you, they don't know me, and they don't understand
      our friendship."

      She glanced away. "Besides, it's not usually the woman who loses
      interest. How do I know you won't get tired of your old woman in ten
      years and dump me for a younger model? I'll be forty and you'll be
      only thirty-two. Some pretty, young twenty-something might look a
      whole lot better than me."

      Scott's sense of insult was sharp and sudden. "I'm not that fickle!
      And it's not about looks!"

      She glanced down at herself with a wry smile. "Obviously."

      "Stop it!" His affront was turning into anger. "I really hate it
      when you put yourself down! You're not an ugly woman, all right?
      And I told you -- it's not about looks."

      "It's not about looks, but I'm not an ugly woman? I know perfectly
      well what kind of image you had of me when we first met, Scott
      Summers. I was your own personal Venus."

      His rage was pulsing now. "I can't win with you on this! You get
      upset if I think you're pretty and you get upset if I think you
      aren't! Which is it, Jean? And what the hell does any of that have
      to do with loving you? That's *attraction*. That's all. Attraction
      is what gets two people on the same playing field. It doesn't mean
      you finish the game. Most of the time, you don't. As for looks, how
      do I know you're not going to stop being interested in me when I lose
      my hair and get a middle-aged paunch? You have to trust that the
      other person really loves you, no matter what you look like."

      And ashamed, Jean stared down into her lap. This, she thought, was
      why they were evenly matched. Sometimes she told him things;
      sometimes he told her.

      "All right," she said softly. "I'm sorry for doubting you. I guess
      it's just that, for most of my life, I've been the ugly duckling."

      "And you know how that story ends, don't you? Take a look at your
      reflection in the lake, Jean. You're a swan."

      "Looks seem to matter more to men."

      "Yeah? Well, we're hot-wired eyes to dick. That doesn't mean we're
      hot-wired eyes to heart. Sex isn't love. But when sex and love go
      together, it's pretty terrific."

      And Jean could pick up on what he didn't say -- she had him coming
      and going, and why did she so doubt his love that she couldn't accept
      his desire? Rising, she walked away a few steps, hugging her upper
      body again. "I want to believe," she said to him.

      "So believe."

      "It's hard. It may take me a while."

      "I'll wait."

      "I don't want that kind of power over you. If you decide you'd like
      to date someone else -- "

      "I won't. I'm *in love* with you, dammit. Don't you get it? I'll
      wait. Just don't yank me around, okay? If the answer's going to be
      'no,' don't string me along." She heard the unspoken addition, *like
      you did to Ted*. He hadn't intended to hurt her, but it hurt her
      anyway.

      She shook her head. "I'd never do that to you. I didn't intend to
      do it to him. It's a definite maybe, even a probable yes -- just not
      right now."

      "Fine. I'll ask you again next week."

      "Scott, I wasn't kidding when I said it'd take time. You're still so
      young -- "

      His jaw hardened. "I wasn't kidding about asking you next week,
      either."

      "God! You are *so* stubborn!" she said, exasperated.

      But that just won a sudden, dimpled smile. "You know what Alexander
      the Great said to the island city of Tyre when they refused to
      surrender, don't you?"

      Suspicious but intrigued, she asked cautiously, "No, what'd he say?"

      "'You may be an island now, but I'll make you part of the mainland.'
      And he did. It took him ten months, but he did it."

      Standing, he crossed his arms and continued to grin like a maniac.
      "Consider yourself under siege, Dr. Grey."

      And he walked out.
      ----

      Feedback is adored. :-) The Alexander the Great reference is just
      for Lelia Burke. <G>

      I'm going to take a little break now, from ACCIDENTAL, and work on
      the next story in SPECIAL: The Genesis of Cyclops. I hope to have
      Chapter 17 finished, though, before the film debuts in early May.



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