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"A Rose by Any Other Name Still Has Thorns" (1/1) HOW THE LEOPARD ... (AU)

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  • Minisinoo
    With sincere apologies. I realized that I d posted this to my website and announced it on LJ, but forgot to send it to groups. This is the last chapter in the
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 25, 2004
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      With sincere apologies. I realized that I'd posted this to my
      website and announced it on LJ, but forgot to send it to groups.
      This is the last chapter in the PowerSwap novella, HOW THE LEOPARD
      CHANGED HER SPOTS. All previous chapters can be found here:
      http://www.themedicinewheel.net/series/leopard.html
      (Novella summary: A different Scott, a different Jean. Montague and
      Capulet. Are they still who they are, if they aren't who we
      recognize?)


      A ROSE BY ANY OTHER NAME STILL HAS THORNS
      Minisinoo

      Summary: An ending, and a beginning.
      Warnings: None

      -------------
      It was only much later that the truth of the whole matter finally
      occurred to me. At the time, I reacted in exactly the way he'd known
      I would. I left him. And that was what he wanted.

      Let me back up to the day of the vote on mutant registration. That
      Friday morning, I walked into Senator Kelly's office to find Scott
      already there, waiting on me. Kelly's secretary, Christine, had
      leapt up as if to run interference and get me -- who she believed to
      be Kelly -- into my office, apologizing for the fact that Scott
      wouldn't leave and did I want her to call security?

      "No, it's all right," I told her, patting her shoulders reassuringly
      (and pushing her subtly away). Then I approached Scott. I'd assumed
      he'd figure out what I'd done. "Dr. Summers, I can't say I'm
      surprised to see you."

      His smile answered, 'I just bet you aren't.' But he didn't try to
      sign. We were in public, more or less, and Kelly shouldn't be able
      to read sign language, so Scott had to speak aloud. "Senator. Do
      you have a moment?"

      "I just ducked in here to pick up some file folders," I explained.
      "I'm afraid I don't have time to chat."

      "This will only take a moment. Maybe I could go with you while you
      look for your folders?"

      I glared at him. I could've said no, and Christine would've called
      security to escort him out. It's what I should have done. Even if
      Senator Kelly had changed his political tune, no one would've been
      surprised if he didn't want to speak to Scott Summers.

      But Jean Grey did want to speak to Scott Summers. Desperately. So I
      ignored common sense and nodded, turning for the office and letting
      him follow me in before shutting the door -- slamming it, really.
      They'd think I was mad, which might prevent us from being interrupted
      for a few minutes. Just five minutes. That was all I needed.

      With the door shut, I turned and let my form ripple back into myself.
      Scott watched, his lips thin, as I leaned in to kiss him. He
      allowed it, but didn't kiss back. Worried, I pulled away.

      *Have you lost your mind?* he signed, rough and fast. *You were
      worried your former teammates might find out you'd survived. Well,
      you may as well have shot off fireworks that spell, 'Here I am! Come
      and get me!'*

      **But if I hadn't done this, the MRA would pass, I shot back. *Now,
      the fact that Kelly himself has switched sides has made the
      fence-sitters reconsider.*

      *But the Brotherhood will know it's you!*

      *So? They're in prison -- all but Wolverine, and he never knew Kelly
      died. I told no one but Erik, in fact. This had to be done; you
      know that. You also know I was the only one who could do it.*

      He didn't answer for a moment, then signed, *Xavier knew, too, didn't
      he? He knew you were going to do this!*

      *I talked to him, but he didn't ask me to make this choice. It's my
      choice.*

      Scott turned away, giving me his back so I couldn't argue further.
      He was so angry, he shook. I'd never seen him so upset, not even
      when he'd first learned I was Brotherhood. Finally, he spun around
      and all but shouted with his hands -- *They'll KILL you! Don't you
      get that? They'll kill you, and you can't come back to me after
      because that's the first place they'll look!*

      I made an exasperated sound, which, even if he couldn't hear, he
      could read in my expression. *You interact with hundreds of people a
      week, Scott. How will they know which one is me?*

      *Hundreds of people don't live with me!*

      Ah. *Well, we managed before -- for three years. We can do it
      again; we'll be even more careful.*

      For a moment, I thought he might've screamed aloud in frustration.
      But all he did was turn on his heel, yank the door open, and stalk
      out of my -- Kelly's -- office.

      I didn't make anything of it then. We'd fought before, many times,
      and it was another month and a half before I could lay down my
      masquerade as Robert Kelly. Scott didn't try to contact me in all
      that time, but I wasn't worried. He knew I was undercover. The day
      before Kelly was to 'disappear,' I sent Scott a message to meet me
      the next day in the Natural History Museum's coffee shop, for lunch.
      I arrived at noon, but he wasn't there. I waited until the museum
      closed, but he never came.

      I feared he might not have gotten the message -- that had happened
      before, as well -- so I tried again, tried twice more, in fact, to
      the same results. Then I went after him.

      When I let myself into Scott's apartment wearing the face of the
      building maintenance man, I found a pretty young woman with
      strawberry blonde hair wandering about his living room in a white
      terry bathrobe. She'd obviously just gotten out of the shower.

      I was so shocked, I stopped dead with my mouth open even as she let
      out a little squeak like a strangled kitten -- that awful 'girlie'
      noise I detest so. For a moment, I feared I'd gotten the wrong
      apartment, but it was Scott's furniture all around us. "Where's Dr.
      Summers?" I asked even as she demanded, "Who are you?"

      "Building maintenance." I flashed the badge I'd duplicated.

      "He didn't tell me you were coming."

      "It wasn't a scheduled visit. I'm just checking duct work. He's not
      here?"

      "He had an errand to run." She flipped her rose-gold hair in a
      mixture of disdain and provocation, and her robe slipped enough to
      show that she was probably bare beneath it. "He'll be back soon."

      For several moments, I simply couldn't speak, my head close to
      exploding with disbelieving rage. What was this slut doing in my
      home?

      Except it wasn't my home and never would be. It was Scott's. That
      realization washed over me like a flood. Erik had been right. Scott
      had just used me, and now that I'd served my purpose, he'd moved on.
      What did he want with a scaly blue girl when he could have Beach
      Babette . . . or whatever the hell her name actually was.

      "I'll come back later." Let her think I just didn't want to be in
      the apartment with a naked girl when her boyfriend wasn't around.
      "Tell him . . . Tell him Gene came by to look at his heat."

      She eyed me from beneath lashes. "Okay."

      I stormed out of the building and down to a pawn shop, where I bought
      a pistol and ammunition, then spent the night watching his building.
      I never saw Scott return -- maybe he'd come back during the time I'd
      been gone -- but 'Babette' left the next morning, walking three
      blocks to a parking garage. I trailed her through the crowds, but
      the parking garage was empty. Hiding behind a column, I watched as
      she paused to unlock her vehicle. Foolish girl -- not checking
      around her at all. I had a clear shot, and raised the gun.

      But I didn't shoot. It wasn't that I couldn't kill. I'd killed
      multiple times in the line of 'duty,' but I refused to kill for this.
      I told myself he wasn't worth it, and neither was she, but the truth
      was, it hurt too much. I was too humiliated to play out the scene
      like a bad soap opera and just wanted to hibernate with my pain. So
      I wiped the gun free of fingerprints and tossed it away -- it wasn't
      registered to my name anyway. Jean Grey was dead. Then I approached
      her wearing my real face. At my footstep, she glanced over and
      sucked in a shocked breath.

      "You should pay more attention to your surroundings, Miss," I told
      her. "Anyone could be following you." And I left her there.

      The next day, I left Washington itself with a one-way ticket and no
      luggage.




      More than a year has passed since I've seen Scott. At first, he
      continued to define my life, even though he was effectively out of
      it. Everything I did seemed somehow to be in response to him. I
      quit eating Italian food, because he liked it so, and I ate a lot
      more Chinese, because he didn't. I stopped on the west coast,
      because he was on the east. I bought a dog instead of a cat, though
      I gave it away again inside a month because having a dog tied me down
      too much. I even wound up with a job as an ASL translator. I have
      to earn a living, and Erik no longer pays my bills.

      My real job, however, still involves helping mutants when I can, and
      doing whatever it takes to throw monkey wrenches into the plans of
      anti-mutant groups. The paperwork for an anti-mutant demonstration
      march in Palo Alto was accidentally sent through a shredder. A lab
      in Seattle that pioneered tests for evidence of the X-gene in
      amniotic fluid had a little lab 'accident,' and burned to the ground.
      A TV commercial for an anti-mutant politician from Orange County was
      wrongly marked as blank and taped over before it was copied and sent
      to television stations. And so on. None of these is terribly far
      reaching, and I know they're temporary -- mere petty vandalism. But
      I do what I can. My days of high-profile spying are over.

      As I'd expected, neither Raven nor Erik remained long in custody,
      though as far as I know, Zeus is still there. Erik contacted me once
      telepathically -- to thank me for bringing about the defeat of the
      MRA, and to let me know that he won't seek me out as long as I stay
      clear of his business. It's a truce, of sorts. It was also proof
      that I can't hide from him, no matter what face I wear. So far, I've
      abided by his request, though if he took another mutant girl, I don't
      know what I'd do.

      Lilith, of course, doesn't share Lucifer's ideological equanimity.
      He won't tell her where I am, but if she can track me down, I know
      she'll try to kill me for betraying them. So far, I've stayed below
      her radar and can probably continue to do so as long as she doesn't
      enlist the aid of Wolverine. I just hope she has better things to
      occupy her time than revenge.

      Charles Xavier contacted me once, as well, but not telepathically.
      He used the U.S. Postal Service, though I'm sure he didn't find my
      current address through flatline means. He wanted to know if I'd
      join the X-Men. Politely, I refused, and he hasn't tried to contact
      me since.

      And so fourteen months have gone by. I think of Scott less
      compulsively now, and with less pain. Yet as the pain lessens,
      common sense reasserts itself and I reconsider what happened the
      previous spring -- at which point, portions of the equation cease to
      add up. Suddenly, I find myself obsessing again, but in a different
      way. Scott had bargained on me reacting, not acting, and now it
      seems obvious that I was played. Why, though, and whether I was
      played from the start or only at the end, isn't completely clear. So
      for a second time, I buy a one-way ticket, but my leaving isn't
      sudden. I've worked too hard to establish my new identity. Madelyne
      Prior has a driver's license, passport, work history, and birth
      records. Waste not, want not, so I give my proper two weeks' notice
      and sell most of my belongings before I leave. I don't need much,
      and can live off savings and proceeds for a while, even in
      Washington.

      Once I arrive, I begin to shadow Scott -- stalk him, truth be told,
      just as I did over four years ago. It's not difficult; he's not a
      suspicious man, and aside from a brief burst of fame following his
      senate speech, he lives quietly. He continues to translate for
      museums, and eats twice a week at the Greek Deli with a book for
      company. He goes to the local deaf theatre, which he loves, and
      sometimes to a deaf bar, of which he's not so fond, and still reads
      six foreign-language newspapers on the train in the morning.

      There's not a hint of Beach Babette. There's not a hint of a girl in
      his life at all, in fact. He's thinner and his shoulders are bowed.
      He doesn't smile as much and loses himself looking out of windows.
      He's not happy.

      I settle on my plan of attack. I get a job, then rent an apartment
      -- in his building, on the same floor, which was three-quarters
      fortune and one-quarter select spying -- and move in on a day when
      he's home. Since he won't hear the racket, I make sure to bump up
      against his door, hoping the knock sensor is still attached. Sure
      enough, a few minutes later, he's opened the door to look out, and
      spots me down the hall amid boxes. He comes to investigate with his
      ever-present pad for notes. I pretend to almost run right into him
      before seeing him. I grab a pad, too.

      *Sorry, I'm deaf,* he's scribbled on his. *But can I help? I live
      down the hall.*

      I hold up my own pad. *Sorry, I'm deaf --* I'd begun. Now I tap
      the hearing aids I'd bought (for show), and he breaks out laughing.

      We spend two hours visiting in ASL over tea in my new kitchen. I
      spin out my story for him as Madelyne Prior. I think he's buying it
      all. He helps me carry up the last of my boxes. We visit some more,
      and I remember why I fell in love with him, falling all over again.
      Just before he leaves for the evening, he turns at the door to sign,
      *I'm glad you're home, Jean. I've missed you.*

      Then he walks out and shuts the door behind him.

      For a full ten seconds, I'm bereft of any ability to respond. Then
      shock propels me into motion. Running to my door, I yank it open and
      shout, "How did you know?" -- realizing immediately the futility of
      the gesture. Pulling my door shut behind me, I scuttle down the hall
      to his and bang on it. Pause, then bang again. Pause, then bang a
      third time. It opens in the middle of my banging.

      He's wearing the look of the cat who ate the canary. I want to slap
      him. Instead, I just grab hold and don't let go. He pulls me inside
      and shuts the door, and it's as if a year and a half hadn't passed.
      "I hate you, I hate you, I hate you," I tell him, fists bunched in
      his shirt, pounding his chest. He smells so good, sweaty as he is,
      that I just want to eat him alive. He's running hands through my
      hair -- red hair, the same as my Jean incarnation. 'Madelyne's' face
      is broader, hair shorter, eyes bluish instead of brown, and there are
      freckles on her skin. She's shorter, too, and a bit wider in hip and
      breast, but I kept my basic cast of face, and red hair. Nostalgia,
      perhaps. Pushing me back a little, his thumbs trace my cheekbones
      and he smiles with real warmth.

      "How did you know?" I ask him again, where he can see.

      *Lots of little clues.*

      *I thought I was a better spy than that.*

      *You're a great spy. But I'm Sherlock Holmes.* He's laughing.

      *Humble, aren't you?*

      He ignores that to ask, *Did you lock your door?*

      "No."

      *Go lock your door.* And he turns away, headed for the kitchen.

      I do as he says, coming back with my head spinning and my heart in
      free-fall. I keep swallowing because I'm so nervous. I can hear him
      in the kitchen, and Thutmose comes to greet me, trails me in there.
      I circle around so he can see me approach in his peripheral vision.
      He's making more tea, his mug -- and mine -- on the counter.
      Reaching out, I finger the mug. "You kept it."

      He's watching me, and signs, *I kept everything.*

      I feel tears in my eyes. *What the hell was that last spring?*

      *I had to make you leave. You know why.*

      I slam the mug down and, now, I do slap him. He's surprised, but not
      really, and raises a hand to his cheek. "Feel better?"

      "You didn't have to drive me away!"

      "Yes, I did. You're too confident in your own abilities sometimes,
      Jean. If you'd kept hanging around here, Erik would have found you
      as soon as he got out."

      "He found me anyway."

      Scott's eyes widen. I go on, signing, *He's a telepath, remember?
      He found me on the other side of the continent. We have a truce.
      For now.*

      *One Raven will honor?*

      I don't reply to that. *How did you know it was me?*

      His lips tip up. *I wasn't sure, at first. I've wondered if you'd
      come back -- half hoped you would, half hoped you wouldn't. But I've
      been . . . anticipating, I guess.*

      *I've been trailing you for three months, _Sherlock_. I stress the
      name.*

      He eyes me, still smiling. *You haven't spoken to me, though.*

      *Well, no.*

      The tea kettle whistles and I start. Seeing, he turns back to it and
      pours hot water into our mugs, hands me mine.

      Sitting down at the little eat-in table, he signs, *You are good,
      Jean. It took me a good two hours tonight before I was sure. But it
      started with your signing, actually. You're better than when you
      left -- you've been practicing -- but you still don't sign like
      someone who's been doing it all her life, though you told me, as
      Madelyne, that you'd been hard of hearing since childhood.*

      *And you kept starting, as if you could hear noises. I've seen
      people try to fake deafness before and starting at noises always
      gives them away. So I tried asking you some questions that I knew
      you'd answer truthfully, and some that -- playing Madelyne -- I knew
      you wouldn't. Your eyes tracked in different directions . . . a good
      sign you were lying, or at least not sure of your answer.*

      *Then there were your gestures. You're an excellent mimic, but some
      of your gestures are uniquely yours. The way you hold your hand when
      you're pointing* -- he demonstrates -- *so the wrist is cocked at a
      90-degree angle instead of extended straight. It's odd enough for me
      to remember. And the way you lick your lips and then purse them, and
      the way you rub here, right between your brows when you're tired and
      trying to think. Those things never changed, no matter what body you
      were in.*

      I'm astonished by his level of observation, but then, Scott reads
      body language as clearly as he reads anything else, and he's been
      accustomed to seeing me in a variety of forms before. "I still don't
      know why you felt you had to trick me like you did." I can feel the
      anger rushing back, making me hot. "Who was that girl anyway? Did
      you really sleep with her? You took a terrible chance, Scott. I
      might have killed you both, or her at least."

      *She's someone I worked with, at a museum. And no, I didn't sleep
      with her. I stayed in her place for a few days and she stayed in
      mine. I told her I was trying to get rid of this woman who was
      following me around. I explained a little, about your ability to
      change forms -- though I don't think she expected you to be a guy
      when you showed up. Anyway, I knew you wouldn't hurt her.*

      My mouth drops open. "And just how could you 'know' that? You can't
      read the future!"

      *I know you. You wouldn't do that.*

      "What? Scott, I've killed people before for less."

      He looks away. *But not for that. You're not a murderer.*

      My lips thin and I reach across the table to turn his head, force him
      to see my answer. "Scott, haven't you ever heard of a crime of
      passion? You fool. I bought a gun. Did you know that? I bought a
      gun and followed her back to her car." His face has gone pale. "I
      wouldn't have missed, if I'd decided to shoot."

      "She said she saw you finally," he whispers, "in your real form. She
      didn't tell me about a gun."

      "She saw me, but she never saw the gun. I just gave her a warning.
      Still, it was a close thing. I *could* have killed her --"

      "-- but you didn't. You wouldn't --"

      "Stop it!" I let his chin go and he rubs it. "You refuse to see
      that part of me. You always have!" I'm almost shouting. "You want
      me to be something I'm not." Leaning over the table I get right in
      his face, almost too close for him to read my lips, but I try to
      enunciate despite my anger. I keep my voice level. "You've never
      asked me how many people I've killed."

      "I don't want to know!"

      "Twenty-seven, Scott. I've killed twenty-seven people."

      "I don't want to know that!" He jumps up and walks away, out into
      the living room. I follow. I'm not going to let him run from this.
      Grabbing his arm, I swing him around. "Look at me! Look at *me*."
      I shift into my own form. "This is who I am. I used to think you
      loved me for myself, but you never have. You've loved your own
      dream. You refuse to see me, the me beneath the blue skin."

      "You're not a monster."

      I'm oddly amused by this, and pull in my chin, snorting softly. "No.
      But I am a soldier, after a fashion. I've killed people, and I'll
      do it again, if I think I have to. I'm not one of the 'good guys,'
      Scott. I'm not one of the bad guys, either. Life isn't that neat,
      and my name is Jean *Grey*. I love you for who you are. I need you
      to love me for who I am. What I don't need is someone who thinks he
      knows what's best for me and tries to manipulate me, not talk to me.
      Erik did that. I'm not with Erik anymore, am I?"

      I back up a few steps and he's looking scared. "Don't worry, I'm not
      leaving. Well, I think I am leaving just now, but I moved back
      across the country for you, and I signed a lease for the apartment
      down the hall. I have a job. I'm not running away again.

      "But we're going to start over, Scott. I think we need to start
      over. And you're going to hear the truth about me you didn't want to
      hear before, like the twenty-seven people. Did I like doing it? No.
      And I remember all their names. I don't take killing lightly --
      when I do, then I'll become a murderer. But I still killed them, and
      you need to know that. You don't have to like it, or approve, but
      you need to know it or you can't love *me*."

      He doesn't respond at all. He seems . . . shell-shocked. I don't
      think this is quite the happy ending he was expecting. But I don't
      believe in happy endings. I believe in real endings -- or real
      beginnings -- and I leave him then, shifting back into my Madelyne
      form to return to my new apartment.

      I don't know how things are going to turn out. I want to say that I
      hope I didn't make a mistake -- except I know I didn't, even if it
      might mean losing him in the long run. Yet I think we work well
      together. I need his idealism, his belief in happy endings, and he
      needs my reality, and real beginnings.

      I found a note pushed under my door this morning. It reads:

      The gentleman down the hall in 2570-E would like to request
      a date of the lady who lives in 2570-H. Friday at 7pm.
      Evening wear. Real clothes are preferable.

      The last sentence makes me smile. Sometimes happy endings and real
      beginnings can meet in the middle and live contentedly ever after.

      -------------

      Feedback welcome.
      Afterwards: When I first issued the PowerSwap challenge, I had no
      real idea it was going to catch on like it did, nor did I have plans
      to write a story myself -- much less a whole novella retelling X1.
      It's been a fun romp and a challenge to see both how well I can keep
      the characters IN character, even while changing such a significant
      thing as their mutation, and also how well I could take the same
      basic plot and recast it to fit the new set of powers.

      But the tale has now come to an end. I have no intentions of doing
      X2. BUT if anyone wants more of Cypher Scott, a role-playing game
      has sprung up, based on the PowerSwap challenge. It's called X-Axis.
      I don't run it, and the RPG is based on the general PowerSwap idea,
      not my installment in particular; in addition, the basic set-up is
      rather different (the MRA passed). But I do play Cypher Scott there.
      It's a chance to continue with the character and see how he
      develops. (Jean in X-Axis is not Mystique, but has Kurt's powers and
      Scott and Jean have a brother/sister relationship, not a romance.)

      (X-Axis:
      http://www.greatestjournal.com/userinfo.bml?user=x_axis&mode=full )




      =====
      --Min
      The Medicine Wheel: X-Men Fanfic
      http://www.themedicinewheel.net/




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