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AN ACCIDENTAL INTERCEPTION OF FATE 21a (ensemble + S/J, adult, prequel)

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  • Minisinoo
    AN ACCIDENTAL INTERCEPTION OF FATE Speaking to the Dead Minisinoo http://www.themedicinewheel.net/accidental/aiof21.html Henry McCoy hadn t practiced emergency
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 15, 2003
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      AN ACCIDENTAL INTERCEPTION OF FATE
      Speaking to the Dead
      Minisinoo
      http://www.themedicinewheel.net/accidental/aiof21.html




      Henry McCoy hadn't practiced emergency medicine since his days as a
      resident, yet it never occurred to him that he shouldn't go into
      Manhattan on the afternoon of September 11th, and he was down in the
      med bay packing spare blood in ice when the professor found him. "I
      saw they'd opened lanes into the city for medical personnel," Hank
      said, by way of explanation. He was dressed in a white lab coat, one
      specially sewn to accommodate his new girth and frame, and beneath
      that, a 'big and tall' set of khaki slacks and a button-down shirt
      with a tie. And sandals. No shoes were large enough for his feet
      anymore.

      "Are you sure you wish to do this?" Xavier asked. "The hospitals
      have not been flooded." The unspoken corollary to this being that
      once the towers had gone down, there hadn't been enough survivors to
      flood them.

      But Hank shook his head. "Doctors who've been working since the
      beginning should be relieved, Charles. Any pair of trained hands is
      needed, even blue ones."

      "Where are you planning to go?"

      "To Columbia. I'll send Jean back; she's been on call since
      yesterday morning. By this point, she's so exhausted she's more of a
      liability than a help."

      Xavier steepled his fingers. "I'm not sure Columbia Presbyterian
      would be the best choice."

      Startled, Hank glanced up. "Why? It was where I did my residency; I
      know the place."

      "Yes, and it is the same emergency room to which a certain 'big blue
      furry man' was taken after the accident in the Hammer Building. I
      made no attempt to wipe memories completely, Henry. For one, it
      wouldn't have been very effective -- too many people saw. For
      another, I question the ethics of such an act. I only modified as
      necessary, and while I'm sure there has been some turnover in the
      past year, I'm also sure some would remember."

      Hank stared down at the cooler of blood. "So you don't think I
      should go out of the house?" It was both bitter and angry.

      "If I'd thought that, would I have supported your decision to attend
      the conference in Atlanta?"

      "People asked questions, even there."

      "Of course they did. Not only did the accident make the general
      news, the mystery of it persisted in the medical community for
      months."

      "People still think Bruce is to blame." Henry looked up. "What
      really happened? You've never said."

      "I've never said because I have no idea. From what little I do know,
      I think it was an accident." One eyebrow went up. "They do occur,
      you know, and if I understood the machine specifications correctly,
      even something as simple as failing to fasten the containment
      cylinder firmly could have had catastrophic results. The longer
      something dangerous is used -- and used without mishap -- the more
      lax people grow."

      Charles kept to himself what Francesco Placido had foreseen. Henry,
      usually so quick with a deduction, was also fundamentally
      straightforward and it had never occurred to him that Frank might
      have known but chosen not to speak. The 'greater good' was difficult
      to accept when faced with the dramatic results of it in a mirror. A
      part of Frank would never forgive himself for his choice, and Xavier
      thought that punishment enough.

      Charles also kept to himself the contents of a certain letter that
      he'd received three months ago from an old friend. It had included a
      clipping taken from an English-language newspaper in the little Cree
      village of Chisasabi, Quebec on the eastern shore of James Bay off
      the Hudson. The town supported a thriving summer tourism industry,
      and the paper spoke of a 'great green wendigo' whom locals claimed
      was at least seven feet tall. The creature reputedly ran from
      groups, but if cornered, had a habit of pulling up small pines and
      flinging them. At least one family of overly curious campers had
      been forced to abandon their crushed tents. The reporter, a tribal
      member disinclined to join the hysteria, had concluded his column
      with the tongue in cheek remark: "If he is a wendigo, he hasn't
      actually *eaten* anyone yet. Maybe our white urban tourists just
      can't recognize a grizzly when they see it?"

      Along the edge of the clipping, Erik Lehnsherr had written, "Weisst
      du zufaellig irgend etwas ueber grosse gruene Monster, Charles?
      Oder ueber grosse blaue?" *I don't suppose you would know anything
      about big green monsters, would you, Charles? Or big blue ones,
      either?* Then, in English, he'd added, "Fascinating machine that Dr.
      Banner built. I'd love to see the schematics."

      Henry was saying, "I need to do something, professor. I can't just
      sit here twiddling my thumbs."

      "I know," Xavier said, quietly. "I'm not objecting to your decision
      to go into the city. I simply think it wiser if you offer your
      assistance at a different hospital. Perhaps St. Vincent or Beth
      Israel?"

      Hank sighed. "That's assuming either lets me in the door. They
      don't know me."

      "Under the circumstances, I think your initial comment quite likely
      correct. Any trained pair of hands, whatever their color, will be
      welcome -- particularly a trained pair that is bringing blood
      supplies."

      "Jean still needs to come home."

      "I'll send Scott after her."





      Emergencies, Scott Summers could handle, but the controlled blood
      letting of formal medicine turned his stomach. Thus, when he entered
      the ER of Columbia Presbyterian, he wasn't sure what he'd face and
      steeled himself to witness triage in the hallways. In fact, he faced
      very little. The hallway wasn't crowded with survivors, and the
      triage nurse was currently tending a young Hispanic boy for what
      looked like a bad knife gash on his arm; Scott doubted that had
      anything to do with the disaster in Battery Park.

      He was barely inside the main waiting area when Jean burst through
      the big, swinging doors that closed off the treatment rooms from the
      waiting area. She'd felt him arrive. "Scott!" He caught her as she
      ran forward to launch herself at him. "Oh, thank God!" Even though
      she'd known he hadn't been in danger, and she hadn't been in danger,
      on this day, there was relief enough in simply holding each other.
      Mortality had been brought home to everyone.

      "I came to get you," he said now. "You've been here long enough."

      "I can't leave -- "

      "Yes, you can." He pushed her away to meet her eyes. She was
      exhausted. And that, he thought, was when her age showed the most;
      twenty-two handled sleeplessness more easily than thirty-one. There
      were visible bags under her dark eyes and creases around her mouth
      that, in ten years, would be full-fledged lines. Yet he found them
      dear. Kissing the bridge of her nose, he said, *sotto voce*,
      "They're not coming, Jean. Everyone's out who's going to make it."
      That was hard and brutal, but she needed to take a break.

      She acknowledged it with a sideways tilt of her head and a pursing of
      lips. "You never know -- "

      "Hon, *enough* -- come home." They looked at one another for a
      moment, then she gave a little sigh. He changed the subject. "Have
      you heard from Warren? The professor said -- "

      "He's here."

      "Warren?"

      "Yes. Wait a sec."

      She disappeared back behind the doors, emerging a minute later with
      Warren in tow. A bad cut on his right cheek (now stitched) might
      well scar, there were smaller cuts and abrasions all over his exposed
      skin, and his Armani suit was beyond help, but he seemed unconcerned
      about all of that. His expression was haunted, and Scott could only
      imagine what he'd seen. Scott didn't embrace him; the chasm between
      them had been wedged too far apart by Warren's pride and Scott's
      indignant guilt, yet they'd been close once and it relieved Scott to
      see him alive. Scott offered him a hand instead. He took it. "Can
      we drive you home?" Scott asked.

      "I . . . Yeah. Thanks."

      Scott glanced at Jean. "Go get your overnight bag, hon."

      The casual endearment made Warren's lips thin, but Scott hadn't meant
      to rub salt in the wound and realized what he'd done only after he'd
      spoken. Frowning, he dropped his eyes to the tiled hallway floor as
      Jean glanced between the two. "It'll just take me a minute," she
      said, "but Scott, they're taking blood -- "

      "Where?"

      "Harkness Pavilion, Fourth floor. Follow the signs. I'll meet you
      there."

      Nodding, he headed off with Warren in tow. Being O-negative made
      Scott much sought after by both the Red Cross and their own mansion
      med lab, and several pints of the blood Hank had packed earlier had
      been Scott's. Now, neither he nor Warren said much as they wound
      through the maze of the medical center. TVs blared in antiseptic
      waiting rooms, and people were gathered around them, watching, faces
      blank or stunned or angry. Finding where to donate was easier than
      Scott had expected. There were, indeed, signs, and a long line
      snaked down the hall. They got into it, and Scott thrust hands in
      his pockets, staring at the floor, while Warren pretended interest in
      the indecipherable abstract art on the walls. They listened to
      people chatter. There was some speculation on who had engineered the
      attacks, but even more about others' welfare. "Did you know anyone .
      . . ?" "Well, my secretary's daughter's husband . . ." "My neighbor
      is a policeman . . . " "I haven't been home since it happened . . .
      " "My daughter's best friend was . . . " Adversity unified, even if
      only in the horror of uncertainty.

      After a few minutes, Warren turned back towards Scott. "I saw a
      woman jump," he said softly. "I could've caught her."

      Scott raised his eyes to Warren's specially tailored suit jacket.
      "Not wearing that," he said.

      "Brilliant observation!"

      Scott winced. "I just meant you couldn't have gotten free fast
      enough."

      It was the kind of straightforward observation that Warren had always
      appreciated in Scott, and he didn't immediately reply. In the shadow
      of tragedy -- and out of the shadow of Jean -- their usual animosity
      had been shunted aside, at least for the moment. "I should have
      thought to get free," Warren said. "You would have."

      "Maybe. Maybe not."

      "I should have gotten free after, at least."

      "Why didn't you?"

      Warren glanced over sharply but the question had been level, not
      accusatory like the ones in his head. "I don't know. It sounds
      stupid, but I was just . . . too shocked, I guess."

      Scott studied Warren's face, part of him unable to imagine why Warren
      wouldn't have thought to fly, and he wondered if Warren had simply
      been afraid to reveal himself. Perhaps, but Scott also knew that
      Warren *didn't* think clearly in a crisis. He didn't freeze up or
      panic, and he could follow orders, but his thinking tunneled -- like
      most people's, really. Scott had never understood how he kept his
      own head under pressure. He just did. If he could act, he could
      think. What drove him insane was to wait -- yet Warren could bide
      his time and watch for an opportunity.

      *Like he did with Jean,* Scott thought to himself -- unkindly. Then
      logic interceded. Warren may have bid his time, but he hadn't gone
      behind Scott's back. It was Scott who'd been dishonest, and whether
      or not he'd meant it, Warren had been a victim of Scott's own attempt
      at self-deception. So now, he tried to make up for it a bit. "All I
      could think, when I saw that second plane hit, was that if I'd *been*
      there, if I'd gone to get you instead of just calling . . ." He
      stopped. People around them could hear, and he looked right at
      Warren, mouthing, *I could have stopped it.* "But I wasn't there,"
      Scott finished.

      Warren seemed to understand Scott's gesture. "If you'd gone running
      down there, Jean would've been worried sick. And there's no
      guarantee you'd have been in the right place at the right time. If
      wishes were horses, we'd all ride."

      "Same back atcha."

      "That makes me feel so much better." The words were sarcastic, but
      the faint smile was genuine. A nurse was moving methodically down
      the line, asking blood types.

      Scott raised his hand -- "I'm O-negative" -- and that was enough to
      get him ushered right to the front. Warren said he'd wait in the
      lobby, where there was a TV. Tables had been set up outside the
      donor center for volunteers to take names and information. Scott
      lied about the length of time since he'd last given, said two months
      when it had been only six weeks, but he was young and healthy, and
      this was *some*thing he could do. He had to do something.

      It was nearing seven o'clock in the evening before the three of them
      walked from the hospital out to the Mercedes that Scott had
      commandeered. He told Jean to leave her car; she was too tired to
      drive, even in the ghost traffic that remained in the city since the
      disaster, and she'd have to be right back at the hospital in the
      morning. At least the chief resident had given her until ten,
      instead of expecting her back at seven.

      They headed southwest from Columbia's Medical Center, towards
      Warren's apartment off Central Park. In the light traffic, it took
      less than half an hour to reach 72nd Street on the east side, and
      over the radio, they caught reports that more than two-hundred
      fire-fighters and seventy-eight police officers remained missing.
      Warren thought about the men he'd seen rushing up the stairs inside
      Tower One, and wondered how many wouldn't be going home that night.
      "Stay for a while," he said impulsively when Scott had reached his
      building. "Jean's exhausted and if she goes back to the mansion, she
      won't get any real rest. There's the president's speech at
      eight-thirty, too. You won't make it back in time to hear it. We'll
      get some dinner and listen."

      Scott decided that Warren had to be desperate for company if he was
      inviting them to keep it, but said, "All right," and let off Jean and
      Warren at the curb in front of an elegant, 1890's art nouveau
      entrance, then went to park and walked back to the building. Warren
      was alone, speaking with the doorman. Seeing Scott, he said, "I sent
      Jean on up." The two of them followed. The building was silent and
      Scott wondered if that were typical of the place, or part of the
      day's general mood. The city that never slept had been frozen mute
      with shock, muffled beneath a cloud of ash.

      Scott had never seen Warren's new apartment, and was both amused and
      unsurprised to find that he had the penthouse with windows all
      around, giving a panorama of the city. These matched the building's
      early 1900's style and were framed by marble casings carved in
      sweeping motifs of sensual elegance, and Warren had decorated
      accordingly -- art deco furnishings, Robiesque Tiffany lamps, and
      �cole des Arts ornamentation. Scott traced a stained glass
      oak-and-acorn light switch, then wandered over to one of the draped
      windows. Normally, the view would have been impressive as the sun
      went down and the city's lights came on, but today, Scott's eyes were
      drawn to the black mar on the southern horizon. Jean stood at the
      window just to his right, and Warren beyond her. They all stared at
      the same thing.

      After a while, Jean asked, "Do you ever wonder what use our powers
      really are? I mean, when you think about something like today . . .
      "

      She trailed off, and remembering what Xavier had said to him earlier,
      Warren spoke. "We need to do what we can do as ourselves. Scott
      gave blood, you patched people up." He stopped. He still wasn't
      sure what he'd done. "Is what we can do as human beings less
      important than what we can do as mutants?"

      Scott and Jean both turned to look at him, and embarrassed suddenly,
      Warren headed off for the kitchen to see if there were anything to
      eat. As it turned out, the housekeeper had gone home early and while
      Warren couldn't blame her, with most of the city shut down, it left
      them at a loss for dinner until Jean drew on borrowed memories and
      the larder to produce a pasta in cream sauce while Warren changed and
      Scott drifted about the big flat like an unanchored skiff. The pasta
      was not only edible but excellent, and they ate like college
      students, sitting on the floor around Warren's beveled coffee table
      while they watched Bush's speech on the wide-screen TV. Afterwards,
      Warren broke out some good sherry and they got drunk. If the gulf
      between them would return when morning dawned, for that night at
      least, they remembered how to be friends, and Warren put them in the
      guestroom together, even loaning Scott clothes for the next day.
      Jean had washed hers. She fell asleep by ten, and Warren went to bed
      by eleven, but Scott couldn't sleep. He sat up watching the news and
      talking to EJ on his cell phone while the effects of the sherry wore
      off.

      By the time he hung up, it was almost midnight and the room was lit
      only by the blue glow from the television. Scott paced over to the
      windows. Beyond the glass, the city stretched, etched in neon and
      electric yellow; Central Park made a dark slash off to the west,
      pockmarked by street lamps like fireflies. Feeling frustrated and
      penned in, Scott took Warren's key and went out. The doorman nodded
      to him as he exited onto the sidewalk beyond. He wasn't sure where
      he was going; he just needed to be in motion.

      He'd assumed the area around Warren's building would be safe, but on
      a night of such upheaval, nothing was certain and there were always
      human dregs who'd take advantage of any calamity. So when one
      shadowed figure appeared out of an alleyway right in front of him and
      another came up behind, two thoughts struck him in quick succession.
      First, that he'd lived off-and-on in New York for five years without
      the baptism of a casual mugging. And second, this was the wrong
      night.

      He didn't have his visor, but he did have years of sparring with EJ,
      and more recent workouts in Reed Richard's Danger Room, plus the
      stonewalled rage of the whole day just seeking a target. One mugger
      pulled a knife. Scott reacted with a block, a punch, a block, a
      hammer-fist strike, and a throw. It cleared him enough space to
      safely reach for his glasses. Then both his attackers were knocked
      into unconsciousness by barely moderated force-blasts.

      It had all taken less than a minute, and when he was done, he was
      breathing hard, heart pumping, adrenaline making him high. Only then
      did he notice that he'd been sliced on the lower arm and was bleeding
      onto the sidewalk. He pressed the artery inside his elbow, trying to
      stop it, and thought it might need stitches, but wasn't too serious.
      Yet after giving blood earlier, he knew the additional blood loss
      could make him light-headed.

      "I don't know who needs saving more here -- you or them."

      Scott spun around, but no one was there.

      "Look up."

      He did as told, finding a shadowed figure attached precariously to a
      white stone balustrade on the brick building above. The figure
      jumped down where Scott could see him better. He wore a costume that
      Scott recognized from newspaper articles. "My friendly, neighborhood
      Spider-Man?" Scott asked.

      "Got it in one, Mr. I-Wear-My-Sunglasses-at-Night."

      "I don't think a guy in red-and-blue spandex has any room to talk."

      "Hey, at least it's not banana yellow."

      Scott had to laugh at that, half in amusement, half in sheer relief
      that he was still standing, and the muggers weren't. Spider-Man had
      turned to wrap them up in webs. "That was an interesting finish," he
      said, almost off-hand, "with the eye-lasers." But Scott hadn't
      missed the fact that he was moving so as to keep Scott in his line of
      vision.

      "They're not lasers -- no heat. And I'm a mutant," Scott replied
      bluntly. Not much point in denying it. "You can call me Cyclops."
      So Frank had dubbed him, half in jest, but vocalized to a stranger,
      it sounded as ridiculous as the red-and-blue spandex looked.

      Finished with the riff raff, Spider-Man walked back over and Scott
      was surprised to discover that he was both taller and wider across
      the shoulders than the other man. With EJ as a roommate, and now
      surrounded by Jean, Warren and Hank, he'd developed a bit of a height
      complex. "Cyclops, eh?" Spider-Man asked. "Did you lose Odysseus?"

      "Very funny."

      "I've heard of mutants. There was an article in POPULAR SCIENCE just
      a couple months back. You have an X-gene that causes physiological
      modification at adolescence -- gives you superhuman abilities."

      "I thought you were a crime-fighter, not a science geek?"

      From the twitch of red fabric across the man's lower face, Scott
      thought he might have smiled. "Science geek by day, superhero by
      night," he quipped.

      "Just your friendly --

      "-- neighborhood Spider-Man, yes." But there was something bitter in
      it this time, not amused. "All I'm good for -- mugger patrol."

      "That's something."

      "Tell it to the people in the Towers. If I'd been there --"

      "-- you could have climbed the walls to rescue them. And a friend of
      mine could have flown. And I could have shot the second plane out of
      the sky before it even hit. What if, what if." Those words were
      bitter, too, and the spider-man's head jerked sharply.

      "A lot of people will be saying that tonight, I guess," he said.

      Scott didn't reply, and neither spoke for a minute, nor even looked
      at the other. Scott was staring at the trussed-up and unconscious
      lumps of his attackers. "What do you think makes a hero?"

      "You're asking me?"

      "Yeah, I'm asking you, Spider-Man."

      "Doing something to help because you can."

      Scott nodded, mostly to himself. "That doesn't require special
      powers. The most useful thing I did today was give blood."

      Abruptly, Spider-Man leapt sideways and attached himself to a wall,
      watching Scott from that peculiar angle. "I have a question for
      *you*."

      "Yeah?"

      "What's the difference between a hero and a superhero?"

      "Dunno. Superhuman abilities?"

      "Absolutely nothing."

      That reply caught Scott by surprise, but before he could reply,
      Spider-Man pointed to his wounded arm. "I think you're giving more
      blood than you intended today. You'd better go get that looked at.
      See you around. Cyclops." And he scampered up the building wall
      into shadow.

      "My name's Scott," Scott called after him, impulsively.

      For a moment, there was just silence and Scott figured him long gone,
      then a voice drifted back, "Mine's Peter."





      In the wake of the attacks, the city of New York first banded
      together in a solidarity of distress that thumbed its nose at her
      callous reputation, then entered a shocked hibernation of several
      days the likes of which Jean had never seen. Streets in lower
      Manhattan were vacant, and even the boroughs were quieter than usual
      while the news flashed pictures of flowers stacked in Union Square
      and drawings of children in Central Park. Rescue workers wore
      stunned expressions, family members tacked up images of the missing
      on walls and telephone poles, and the death toll changed from
      estimated to actual, acquiring names. A pink-ash cloud continued to
      drift over lower Manhattan, making the sunset red behind a wounded
      skyline.

      When the city woke at last, she woke like an angry bear, grief-mad
      and grateful for, but also mildly resentful of, the solidarity
      offered by the rest of the nation (Washington excepted). It hadn't
      been their cities hit, and like anyone in mourning, New York didn't
      want to be told 'We know how it feels.' Grief, Jean had learned
      during her residency, was an individual thing. In this case, an
      individual thing nine-million strong including the outer boroughs,
      and what people wanted depended on who was asked, but the desire to
      strike back topped the list of many. One of the ER nurses who Jean
      worked with put it succinctly, albeit with resort to clich�: "You
      don't mess with New Yorkers." She was wearing a big pin with an
      American flag on the collar of her scrubs, and an expression of
      defiance on her round face, and Jean had felt an empathic pride that
      lasted until she heard over the radio on her drive home about a
      Muslim mother and daughter who'd been hounded out of a grocery store.
      Then she was ashamed. Hurting innocent people wasn't what she
      wanted. She wasn't in favor of hurting anyone, in fact -- she was a
      doctor -- yet another part of her wouldn't have minded seeing an eye
      for an eye, and her own mixed feelings confused her.

      Scott's anger took a different direction. A New Yorker only by
      transplant, his rage was less personal, and overlaid by cynicism. He
      found the sudden explosion of patriotism mildly nauseating, but
      didn't share this with Jean, Warren, or even the professor. Their
      pain was too raw, yet he told EJ over the phone, "If I see one more
      idiot waving an American flag like that'll bring back the dead, I
      think I'll puke. They won't be the ones sent overseas to
      Afghanistan, or waiting at home."

      "Take it easy, man. It's an angry city out there. It's an angry
      country all over," EJ replied. "And scared. People are scared. Dad
      said Sunday attendance is way up."

      "I bet. And I know people are scared." He stopped, remembering what
      Frank had told him back in March: *This country is like an open camp
      now, at ease, confident -- but in five years, it will not be.
      Threats real and imagined will create paranoia.* "We're in for a
      rough ride." And by 'we' he wasn't sure if he meant Americans
      generally, or mutants in particular.

      "Boxing shadows," EJ said. "It makes people mad. Pretty soon they
      start hitting whatever looks solid, even if it's not casting a
      shadow, y'know?"

      Just a few days later, Bush announced the creation of his Office of
      Homeland Security and Scott listened to the speech along with the
      rest of the mansion. One part caught his ear: "Our response
      involves far more than instant retaliation and isolated strikes.
      Americans should not expect one battle, but a lengthy campaign unlike
      any other we have ever seen. It may include dramatic strikes visible
      on TV and covert operations secret even in success."

      It was the mentality of a foxhole, just as Frank had predicted, and
      against a faceless enemy that, being faceless, could shift at need.
      Amorphous wars mutated too easily into witch hunts, and that was the
      genius of guerrillas and terrorists, to create fear of the suspected
      rather than the seen -- not an environment conducive to rationality,
      and Scott disliked the open-ended nature of what he heard. Anything
      deemed dangerous could become a target, and how long until the noose
      was tightening around their own necks? *Threats real and imagined
      will create paranoia.* And Scott understood something at last that
      had been teasing the back of his mind for days. A man couldn't see
      where he was going if he was always busy looking over his shoulder.

      Despite these private worries and angers, another result of the
      September attacks was to make Scott and Jean more acutely
      appreciative of each other -- not because they'd been in danger that
      Tuesday, but because they hadn't, yet understood now that time was
      mortal, always dying. Each day, each breath spun out behind them
      into gossamer impermanence, and the future took on the aspect of
      shattered steel and concrete. They had the now, and that was all.
      Scott touched Jean at night with gentle fingers, and her kisses had
      grown thoughtful, as if memorizing what he tasted like. Once, he
      woke to find her sitting up in their bed in the dark, cross-legged
      and facing him while he slept. When he asked her what she was doing,
      she replied, "Watching you breathe." He'd done that with her, too,
      but thought she meant something rather different.

      Life at the mansion stuttered through the rest of September and then
      fell into October. Leaves changed and students plotted costumes for
      Halloween. A strange fervency had overtaken them, as if they would
      force enjoyment from the holiday if it couldn't be coaxed. Halloween
      was also Scott's birthday (an irony he found by turns amusing or
      ironic), and he turned twenty-three. If he'd gradually stopped
      worrying over the age gap between himself and Jean, he'd remained
      subconsciously aware of it and was glad he could once again claim to
      be 'only' eight years younger. Yet it was at his suggestion that
      they dressed up as Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, on the theory
      that one's demons were best controlled by waving to them.

      Uncharacteristically, Ororo kept to her bedroom that night. She was
      missing Frank, Jean said, and the two of them debated whether they
      should pry her out or leave her in peace. They'd nearly settled on
      leaving her in peace when an even more uncharacteristic development
      sent them both rushing up the stairs (Jean almost tripping in her
      skirts) to bang on Ororo's door and insist she answer. Throwing the
      door open, Ro glanced from one to the other. "What?"

      But Scott and Jean were laughing too hard to speak, so they just
      grabbed her by the hands (one each) and hauled her after them, back
      downstairs.

      There in the foyer sat Charles Xavier, in costume -- improbably -- as
      a *gorilla*, a rather displeased gorilla, in fact, given the mirth
      his choice seemed to have generated among the mansion denizens. "You
      all assume I have no sense of humor."

      "Whether or not he's got a sense of humor," Scott hissed under his
      breath to Ro, "at least he's got hair!" And she was forced to bite a
      lock of her own to keep from dissolving into giggles.

      It wasn't until much later, as Scott and Jean were readying for bed,
      doing their usual dance around each other in the bathroom, that Jean
      said, "He did that on purpose, you know."

      "Wha?" Scott's mouth was full of white toothpaste foam.

      "The costume. He did it to make us laugh."

      Scott spat out the toothpaste and reflected that sometimes being
      leader meant surrendering one's dignity on purpose.

      ----------

      Continued DIRECTLY in part 21b.....


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