Continued directly from Part 17a .....
Jean was reclining on her bed, reading by the light of an end-table
lamp, when the knock came on the Danger Room door. It surprised her
so much, she dropped her book and sat up with a gasp, grabbing for
Three days after returning to herself from the morass of her madness,
Xavier had decided that there was no reason for her to be
uncomfortable, and had transformed one corner of the DR into a
makeshift bedroom complete with a twin-sized bed, end table, small
dresser, desk, her computer, and even some knickknacks that Scott had
brought down, among them her stuffed, spotted white snow leopard.
Other children had cuddled teddy bears or fluffy cats, bunnies or
beanbag dogs. Jean had cuddled a snow leopard named Ralph. Ralph
had gone with her to the sanitarium, to her dorm at Columbia, her
apartment, the institute, and now, the Danger Room. Despite
occasional appearances to the contrary, she had a penchant for
constancy in her affections.
Slipping into her robe, leopard tucked under an arm, she crossed to
the door. "Who is it?"
Smiling, she glanced at her watch. "Hello, Just Me. Do you always
call on women in their towers after midnight?"
"Only if they let down their hair, Rapunzel."
"Sorry. Chopped all mine off."
"Darn. I guess I'll just have to find some convenient dynamite to
blast my way in. Or, oops, I kinda come equipped with my own."
Smiling wider, she unlatched the door so he could enter. She hadn't
realized until she'd heard his voice how disappointed she'd been when
he hadn't shown up after supper like he usually did, and now as he
entered, the warmth of his mind filled her up. It wasn't about
touch. She didn't need his touch to be touched by him and usually
did her best to keep him at arm's length. If she let him touch her
with his hands like he touched her with his thoughts, she'd be lost.
Moving back a step, she hugged the leopard to her breasts, regretting
her half-clothed state even as he noticed it. Color suffused his
cheeks, but not from embarrassment. He wanted her. She felt it
bright in him, intent. How long did she really think she could hold
out against the force of that? "I missed you," she whispered.
"Sorry. I should have called down before we left."
"It's okay. Where'd you go?"
Grinning, he held out his arms. "What d'you think? I just finished
doing laundry for my new duds." She redirected her attention to what
he was wearing, and felt her eyebrows go up. "Do I look like a prep
school math teacher?" he asked.
"You look like you robbed a "Land's End" catalogue." He almost
pouted and she struggled not to laugh, but then picked up, seeping
from the edges of his mind, scattered memories of his awful
afternoon. That removed her amusement. "Oh, Scott -- you don't have
to be somebody else to make them listen to you. Just be yourself.
You're a great teacher."
"Like hell." He turned away, his embarrassed pain stabbing at her.
"It was your *first class*. Of course there were bumps." She
studied his back. "Come on," she said and headed back to her little
'room,' where she took a seat on her bed, her leopard still clutched
to her chest. He followed, slowly, feet dragging, and plopped down
in the chair she pointed to. "I never did tell you about my first
night on call, did I?"
They hadn't been talking much at that point; she'd told Warren but
not Scott. "We had an MVA about eight in the evening -- young couple
in a pickup truck. The man had been driving and was hurt pretty
badly, but his wife was only banged up. Still, she had his blood all
over the front of her shirt and looked frightful. They brought them
in, put the husband in Trauma Room A, and her in an exam room with
me, and as you can imagine, she was just frantic."
Scott had leaned over to listen, hands clasped between his knees,
lamplight falling soft on his serious expression and the shiny red of
his glasses. Clearly, he expected some tragic tale.
"Well, I couldn't keep the wife on the exam bed so I could give her
an exam. She kept hopping off and running out into the hall, to hear
what was going on in Trauma." Scott's serious expression had begun
to crack. Just a little. There was the tiniest tug at the corner of
"ER was full that night so we didn't have spare nurses, and here I
was, almost six feet tall, but I couldn't keep this little thing from
getting away from me. I swear, she was Mighty Mouse!"
The tug turned into a grin
"*Then*," Jean went on, "she ran *right out* into the waiting room --
still wearing those bloody clothes! I don't know what she thought
she was doing -- looking for her mother, she said. But it was nuts.
I felt more like an air traffic controller than a physician!"
And that succeeded in startling a laugh out of him.
"I thought I was an utter failure. But I found out later from the
nurses that it was a crazy situation, and I was just inexperienced,
not incompetent. No doubt someone with more familiarity could have
controlled her better, but it was the situation -- not me." She eyed
him. "It's the situation, Scott. You teach just fine and you know
it. How long have you been tutoring?"
"That's not in front of a classroom --"
"Phoo!" She flicked her fingers away from her, dismissing his
objection. "I've seen you on stage. You're an excellent front man,
and I also know you're a good math tutor. But Scott, a person just
can't teach five classes at once!"
"The professor can."
"The *professor* is *telepathic*. He can carry on two different
conversations at once -- or did you forget that?"
Scott sat up a little. "Oh. Yeah," he said.
"Oh, yeah," she echoed, then winked. "As for the clothes, they're
very New England, Mr. Summers. But you already looked like a math
teacher to me."
He glanced down at himself, pinching the fabric of the oxford. "At
least they make me seem a bit more . . . professional." *And older*,
she heard him think, but not say aloud. And it was true. No longer
so indisputably ephebic, he could have passed for his middle
twenties. She rather liked that, and felt guilty for liking it.
The next evening, two days after he'd begun teaching and a week after
she'd come back to herself, Scott arrived in the sub-basement for
their usual evening visit after supper, guitar case tow. She let him
in and he leaned up against the wall, head back against the metal,
case propped in front of him and forearms crossed over the headstock,
watching her. She could feel his gaze, even if she couldn�t see it.
"What?" she asked, mildly irritated by the force of his regard.
"Go out with me."
She rolled her eyes. "I told you no already."
"And I told you I'd ask in a week."
"Fine, you asked. The answer is still 'no,' and it will continue to
"For how long?"
Embarrassed, she looked away. "A while." But even as she said it,
she doubted. It was easy to make declarations, harder to keep them
-- especially when she clung so to his company. He was her rock, her
redwood, her friend. She needed him. She wanted him, too, and she
was reminded of Clarice's reproach, two months prior. What game was
she playing, and when would it end? "A while, but not forever," she
amended now. "I just . . . You're *twenty-two*, Scott."
His face turned bitter. "And when I'm twenty-three, I'll magically
cease to be jailbait?"
"You're not *jailbait* now -- "
"Then stop acting like I am."
"It's not that simple -- "
"Yes it is! Why do you make such a big fucking deal out of it? I
know how you feel. You know I know. And you know how *I* feel!
This is stupid! What are you waiting for?"
And he'd stalked back out of the room, would probably have slammed
the door if the pneumatics had permitted it. She'd hugged herself
and leaned into the wall where he'd been, wondering if he'd punish
her by not returning, but the next day, there he was as usual, with
his guitar. He sang her Simon and Garfunkle's "Bridge Over Troubled
Waters" as a veiled apology and they both acted as if nothing
untoward had happened.
When you're down and out, when you're on the street,
When evening falls so hard, I will comfort you.
I'll take your part, when darkness comes,
And pain is all around,
Like a bridge over troubled waters, I will lay me down ...
He was, once again, just her friend. But his parting question of the
night before echoed silently between them. What *was* she waiting
*Please come down to the sub-basement when you have a moment,* echoed
through Scott's skull, halting his explanation of fractions in
mid-sentence. *Jean has something to show you.* It was the
professor's telepathic voice, and Scott shook his head a little,
mumbled, "Sorry," to the class of younger students, and tried to
remember where he'd been.
As per Frank's sensible suggestion, seconded by Jean, Scott and Henry
had split up the school enrollment; it made teaching less of a trial,
even if it lengthened Scott's day. He supposed he should get used to
it: this was what he'd be doing for the rest of his life, or at
least the next several years. The thought was sobering, and the road
to his future no longer stretched into a horizon of potential, or
even an adventure of ancient sites and romantic digs (and grant
proposals and academic papers given before fractious colleagues). He
was a high school math teacher, and that was that. There were worse
fates, he supposed, and part of growing up was learning that
sometimes one had to settle. He wouldn't have done anything
differently in the choices that had led him here, so regrets seemed
When he released his students for lunch, he headed below. The steel
halls were empty, and his steps echoed. The professor must still be
in the Danger Room with Jean, he thought. Every time Scott saw her,
she seemed stronger, more centered, more like the woman he
remembered. Given how psychotic she'd been when he'd first seen her
two weeks before, her recovery was nothing short of remarkable, and
the only reason she'd remained isolated in the sub-basement had been
her inability to fully shield.
But now when Scott keyed the door to the Danger Room and entered, he
felt nothing, or at least, no sudden fire-rush of Jean's thoughts
into his like he'd come to expect. It was as if he faced . . .
anyone . . . and he was struck by relief for her, and sadness, for
himself. He missed her touch.
Except, except . . . There was still a small warmth, a feather
brush. She wasn't entirely gone.
He smiled at her. "Wow," he said. "Shields. You did it."
But her face showed irritation rather than triumph, and both hands
were raised to her temples as she sat on her bed. Scott glanced to
Xavier, seated not far away. He, too, was frowning. "I can't do
it!" she said, voice angry. "I can still . . . *feel* him."
"Like a tickle," Scott agreed. "Yeah, I feel it, too." *I like it*,
he sent to her privately.
She looked up at him. "It shouldn't be there!" she said aloud.
And Xavier sighed, their words only confirming what he'd suspected
for two weeks but had hoped was an exaggerated misgiving. "I fear
what the two of you sense is a permanent bond."
"A . . . what?" Scott asked, not liking how Xavier had phrased that.
Jean seemed merely stunned. "But I didn't mean to -- "
"Of course not," Xavier interrupted, though in truth, he thought a
subconscious part of her *had* meant to. "Nonetheless, it exists --
the residue of that first encounter when Scott returned, I suspect.
Apparently, you established it while using Scott's memories to
Jean looked at Scott. Scott looked at Jean. Both wanted it, and
were afraid to admit it, yet both also feared it. They said nothing
for several long minutes and Xavier watched the play of emotions
across their faces, not needing to read their minds to follow the
spiral of their thoughts. "It can be broken," Xavier said -- offered
"No," Scott answered on the instant, then stuttered, "Ah, well, I
mean -- what does it do? Shouldn't we know that first?" He couldn't
look at Jean now; his face was flaming.
"It doesn't *do* anything, Scott. It's a psychic link that connects
you, allowing you to be aware of Jean's presence, and her of yours."
*We can use it to talk*, Jean sent silently into his head.
*You'll always know what I'm thinking?*
*No. I don't know what you're thinking now. But I can . . . feel
*And I feel you. Do you like it?* It was an impulsive question that
he regretted as soon as he asked. But he also needed an answer.
She didn't reply immediately, finally dropped her eyes. *Yes. I
think . . . yes.*
*Me, too. I've gotten used to coming here, feeling your mind. I'd
regret it if I didn't have that.*
*But when I get out, it'll always be between us, Scott. Every minute
of every hour of every day --*
She sighed, exasperated. *It'd take something like the Danger Room
or Cerebro to shield me. And even then -- I don't think . . . Or
rather, now that I consider it, I _have_ felt you in my head since
the very beginning. You're never entirely gone; you're like the
earth under my feet.*
He smiled faintly. *Then it wouldn't be a good idea to lose your
footing, would it?*
She still didn't look at him. *This would be between us all the
time. Do you understand that?*
*I understand it fine. The question is -- do you want it? If you
don't, then let's break it.*
She did look up at him then, and something heated in her dark eyes
set his belly on fire. She spoke to Xavier, not him. "I'd think
we'd like to keep it."
"Very well," the professor replied, but both could tell he wasn't
entirely pleased. "Shall we try the shields with someone else?
Henry perhaps? Or Frank?"
"All right. With Henry or Frank," she replied, but she still wasn't
looking at Xavier.
*It'll be there forever?* Scott sent to her.
*It'll be there forever. Until one of us breaks it, or one of us
And he hadn't been able to keep the stupid grin off his face, even
when Xavier had sent him up to fetch someone new. It wasn't until
much later, alone in his room and cut off from her, that he
reconsidered the wisdom of his choice and had second thoughts. And
when, two days later, Jean finally emerged from the sub-basement for
limited periods in limited company, Scott got the first taste of what
she meant by *constant presence*.
Oddly, though, it eased his doubts. It wasn't intrusive -- more like
background noise, soft, and comforting really, and if he turned his
attention to it, he always knew where she was. He came to think of
it as his own personal Jean compass.
"We can never play hide-and-seek together," he told her, leaning up
against the jamb of the rec room door. She was pressed back against
the door on the other side, as if his physical presence were a force
as strong at repelling her as the link was at tying them together.
They were being watched by some of the younger students, as if they
were better entertainment than the movie on the TV, but they tried to
pretend they didn't know, or that it didn't curtail their
*I don't think we're very good at hide-and-seek, in any case. Ro
told me there's a bet on,* she sent.
*Yeah, I know.*
*I cannot _believe_ that! They're going to be waiting a damn long
time to collect.*
Scott just smirked, eyes half-lidded with speculation behind his
glasses. For four weeks now, he'd asked her every Sunday night to go
out with him, like clockwork. And every Sunday, she'd turned him
down. After the first time, he'd quit taking it so personally, had
decided simply to wear her down because whatever she said, whatever
she did, he was convinced her self-imposed moratorium wouldn't last
out the summer, not the way their bodies drew each other with a
magnet-pull. She stayed so far away because if she came any closer,
they'd snap together, permanent and inseparable. Even now, pressed
into the door, her hips gave her away, tilted in his direction like
an invitation, and her eyes were on his mouth, not his glasses.
"I hear you've been working on one of the old motorbikes in the
"Yeah. A Harley 1960 Panhead. You want to go see it?"
They headed out down the mansion's main hall, walking apart but their
steps in unison; the banks of windows to their right gave back their
reflection against the evening darkness beyond. It was late, and he
knew she was tired, so he took her away from the others. She still
slept in the Danger Room at night, to shore up her shields during her
unconscious hours, but after a month, she was able to spend most of a
day above ground, and was already agitating to return to her
residency. "My sick leave won't last much longer," she said. "I'm
not throwing away years of school just for *this*. I'm not that
weak, dammit!" Scott understood her restlessness, and her anxiety --
and her pride -- but he worried. He didn't think her ready to return
to the pressure cooker of residency.
In the garage, they were alone at last, but it put neither of them
more at ease. He spoke too fast, using technical terms that lost her
within minutes, but she wasn't listening anyway. Mechanics bored
her. Instead, she watched him talk, and the light play over his
hair, and the fabric of his shirt pull across broad shoulders as he
pointed to this or that. At one point, she leaned in, feigning
interest, just as he turned to look at her. They were so close, she
could feel his breath on the skin of her face. He smelled like the
beef and gravy they'd had at dinner, and she started to giggle but it
died on her lips.
Time stretched. He could *feel* her heartbeat, fast as the wings of
a hummingbird where it beat against the bars of her ribcage. He bent
even closer. She didn't pull away. Tilting his head ever so
slightly, he let his mouth barely brush her own. His belly shook.
She jerked back, dark eyes wide. She wanted to stay; she wanted to
flee, and after another second in which he grasped fully that he'd
moved too fast, she gave in to the latter desire and ran from the
garage. The door fell shut behind her.
"*Dammit!*" he snarled, kicking his work stool halfway across the
For three days, she avoided him, and he was too embarrassed to corner
her. The time for his weekly suit came and went without him making
it, and the morning after, Monday, she took her first trip back to
the hospital where it had all begun, the professor along, just in
case. But nothing calamitous happened; her shields had grown strong,
like a Tupperware lid on her thoughts, keeping them unspoilt. People
who knew her asked cautiously how she was, as if afraid she might
shatter, and she, ashamed, wasn't sure what to say. "Fine," she
replied. "I'm fine now."
There were harder questions from the director of the residency
program, but finally, her return was secured. The very next week,
she'd restart rotations, and she was, she knew, very fortunate.
Other residents' careers had miscarried for less, and mindful of
grace, she set herself to prepare, which meant not thinking about a
certain brown-haired boy with hidden eyes and a devastating smile.
Besides, what medical resident had time for a love life?
So their dance of avoidance continued -- quite a feat in the small
company of the mansion -- but the morning of her first day back, she
woke at an ungodly hour, dressed, and descended to the kitchen to
grab coffee . . . only to find Scott making her breakfast. She
didn't really have time to eat, but was touched -- Scott Summers
rising before the sun to cook for her. He seemed to realize her
hurry. Slapping her eggs on a bagel along with three pieces of
bacon, he slipped it in a baggie and held it out. "A McSummers
That made her smile. "Thanks." She accepted the offer and all it
implied, along with a travel mug of coffee fixed with cream and sugar
the way she liked it, though he'd told her often enough that she'd
fallen from the True Faith, contaminating the black bean with foreign
substances. Now, she gave him another smile and, impulsively, set
down everything to hug him, and maybe that was a mistake but she
really didn't care. He hugged her back. It was the first time
they'd touched so close, body-to-body, since the day he'd returned,
and something healed. He kissed her hair and let her go. He didn't
need to say, "I love you." The breakfast had said that. And she
didn't need to say it, either. He could read it in her eyes.
Then she was out the door, wondering to herself -- yet again -- what
game they were playing and how much longer she could keep it up, how
much longer she wanted to keep it up. Not long, she decided, and to
hell with bets or what the rest thought.
Continued directly in Part 17c.....
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