The private plane touched down at the Westchester County Airport outside White Plains a little after nine on a Saturday evening. It was raining and the runway lights fuzzed blue through the drizzle while the plane's own running lights blinked in white and red.
"Mr. Worthington, we'll have a car brought around for you."
"Thank you, Aaron."
Closing his laptop, Warren stowed it in his briefcase and waited. No sense in getting up yet. At six-foot-two, he was rarely able to straighten fully inside a cabin and it just made his back hurt worse. Now, he stared out the window and let his mind go numb. It was easier that way; he'd rather not think right now. About fifteen minutes later, his personal assistant was back. "The car's ready, sir."
Warren rose to follow Aaron Mayfield out of the plane. His driver already had the door open and the crew was stowing his luggage as rain came down relentlessly, streaking the glare of lights and the windows of the car. Hurrying inside, he tossed his briefcase on the seat opposite and let Aaron pour him (another) drink, which he took without comment and finished in the twenty minutes it took to drive to the dot on the map that was Salem Center.
As the car pulled up to the gate beside the sign, Warren rolled down his window and punched in the code himself. He didn't give it out to anyone, not even his driver or personal assistant. They knew the place was a school, and that he served on the Board of Regents (one of a grand total of five people), but that was all they needed to know. "How long will you be staying?" Mayfield asked now as the limo pulled around the drive's circle.
"As long as it takes," Warren replied.
"You have my number, Aaron. I'll set up a mini-office in my suite. I'm not going incommunicado."
"Yes, sir." His assistant wasn't happy, but he also wasn't going to argue, which was why he still had his job. Warren didn't always like yes-men, but that's what he wanted in a personal assistant, and about the most Mayfield was good for, in Warren's estimation. That this was a condescending assessment didn't occur to him.
Now, he got out, briefcase in hand, and took one of his suitcases himself. There were three of them, plus the suit-bags and briefcase. His driver helped him get the rest up to the front porch.
Welcome home, Warren, ghosted through his mind even before his finger hit the doorbell. It should be open; I've been expecting you.
Of course, he replied with a faint smile.
Your room is ready.
The door was, indeed, open, but Warren watched as the driver returned to the car, got in, and drove off. He kept watching until he saw the gate close behind it. Then he entered the house.
Where is he?
Already? It's barely eight o'clock.
Actually, this is the first time he's slept in over 48 hours. And the first time since that he's slept in their room.
That wasn't good, even if it was predictable, and Warren wasn't about to wake him. Instead, he headed for the elevator even as Ororo came tearing out of the rec room. "Oh, my God!" she said, embracing him. He hugged her back. "Thank goodness you're here," she said in his ear.
"How is he?"
She shook her head as a few other students appeared, staring at him curiously. "You need some help?" she asked, eying his luggage with amusement. Ororo had always traveled light.
"Yeah, sure," he said, piling a smaller satchel and one of the suit-bags on the larger rolling suitcase, then grabbing his briefcase and heading for the elevator. Ro got the remaining pieces and followed. In the elevator, Warren tried again, "How is he?"
Reaching the mansion's third floor, they headed down to the small suite that was unofficially Warren's, right next to Scott and Jean's -- now just Scott's. Dragging the luggage inside, Warren dropped his briefcase on the desk, then skinned out of his suit jacket and the shirt beneath as quickly as he could manage. Ororo watched this impromptu strip with a slight upturn of her lips. "Get it off," he said, more of a plea than an order.
Coming over, she helped him with the wing harness, unfastening buckles and straps with a soft rasp of leather, then lifting it free. He just dropped face down on the bed, wings cascading out to either side in a fall of feathers. Slowly, he extended them, hearing the joints crack. He had to go slow. No more flicking them open after they'd been racked for almost twenty-four hours, and he wasn't sure if that was the effect of too many years in the harness -- like Jean or his mother complaining of too many years in high-heels -- or a product of age. He'd turned thirty a few months before. That wasn't so old, in the grand scheme of things, but he could no longer go for a day having the wings penned without suffering for it later.
"You're going to handicap yourself, if you keep this up," Ro told him, as if she were the telepath, not the weather witch.
He turned his face sideways so he could see her. "What choice do I have? Pretend to be Gabriel? No thanks."
She shook her head. "Do you need anything? Food?"
"Right now, what I need most is sleep." Well, what he needed most was to see Scott, but if Scott were sleeping, Warren would let him be.
"Okay," she said. "It is good to see you, you know."
"You, too. I'll join the living in the morning." Then he winced at his own phrasing, his wings snapping shut in reflex. "Shit," followed immediately by, "Ow."
Reaching out, she helped extend the wings again, just stroking along their arch for a moment, using fingers to massage the sensitive weave of muscle and tendons along the back until he shivered in pleasure. "Thanks," he said.
"You are most welcome." Then she left him to himself, shutting off the light and closing the door behind her. For a few moments, Warren debated getting up to finish undressing, then dismissed it. He let sleep take him, the great white wings sliding loosely over the edges of the bed to trail on the floor.
Warren! invaded his dreams even as a distant-through-walls shout and the sound of crashing yanked him off the bed, wings arching instinctively. He was still mostly asleep, but already moving out through the little sitting room for the door to the suite, yanking it open. "What?" he said, though no one was in the third-floor hall beyond. He heard another shout on his left and a screech like something tearing; it came from Jean and Scott's suite -- Scott's suite, now -- even as Xavier said into his head, Scott is having a nightmare, I believe. I'm getting dressed, but you can move faster.
Warren needed no other prompting, barreling around the corner and down the short hall to the suite door, to yank on the knob.
It was locked.
Had he paused for thought, he'd have realized that he had a keycard in his wallet, back in his own suite. He was the one person (besides Xavier) whom Scott and Jean would never lock out of their room. But he wasn't thinking, he was panicking. So he lifted his leg and, using the deceptive mutant strength that came with his wings, kicked the door in.
It crashed back against the wall and there was another yell from the general vicinity of the couch, and the sound of something falling as Warren flipped on a light.
The room looked like a cyclone had hit it -- all but the couch Scott had, apparently, been sleeping on, but had fallen off of at Warren's entry. "What the hell?" he asked now, getting to his feet.
Then he noticed the state of the sitting room, and gaped right along with Warren. "Holy fuck."
Couches and chairs had been shoved about, a lamp had been knocked over, books had fallen off their cherrywood shelves, the Georgian mirror had fallen to floor, shattering, and the afghan that usually draped the back of the couch was now hanging from the Edwardian chandelier in the center, casting a blue-green-brown tint to the light.
"I take it you didn't do this," Warren said, walking over to Scott even as they could hear the patter of feet in the hall beyond.
"No," Scott said simply, turning as Ororo burst through the open door, followed by some of the kids.
"What is this?" Ro asked. "Scott -- did you . . . ?"
"No," Scott said again, walking to the old roll-top desk, which had been pulled half away from the wall. He shoved it back, then bent to right an antique seat beside it.
More students arrived, and finally Warren heard the whine of an approaching wheelchair. Kids parted to let Xavier through while Scott -- somewhat aimlessly -- tried to fix the mess, pulling the afghan off the chandelier and moving furniture. The crowd in the doorway watched -- as if afraid to approach, or unsure what to make of the whole matter. "Poltergeists," one of the kids said, perhaps to break the tension.
"Or telekinetics," one of the other kids replied.
"The only telekinetic we had died in Canada," Scott snapped back and everyone flinched at his bluntness -- even Warren, even Xavier.
But not a tall man who'd apparently just arrived. He had coarse hair, a lumberjack shirt, and smelled of sweat and tobacco. Warren wrinkled his nose as the fellow -- who must be Logan -- pushed past with just a glance and a raised eyebrow, then went about helping Scott clean up, tackling the mess from the mirror -- and shaming Warren, who only belatedly realized that he should be doing that, not some interloping stranger. It was always in the small things that his upbringing showed itself. Servants cleaned up messes, not Worthingtons.
Turning instead to the crowd at the door, he raised his wings to cut off their view of the room and made shooing motions. "Out," he said. "Show's over. I'm sure all of you have classes in the morning." And even if half of them had no idea who he was, the practiced authority in his voice had them withdrawing to slink off.
"I had best follow," Ororo said, "to be sure the children all end up back in the rooms they are supposed to."
Warren snorted at that and watched her play mother hen, herding them away, though he hadn't missed the troubled look in her eyes. Settling his wings and turning back to the room, he found just the four of them now -- himself, Xavier, Scott, and the man called Logan, who asked neutrally, "What do they call this? Therapeutic rage or something?" He dumped glass from the mirror into a trash bin.
"Give it a rest," Scott replied, "I didn't trash my room."
Face incredulous, Logan turned where he was kneeling on the floor. "Then who the hell did?"
"I don't know, but it wasn't me."
"Now which of us has the memory problem --"
"Fuck you! Fuck you, you son of a bitch!" And Scott lunged at him. Warren was moving for Scott at the same time Logan rolled to the side, but Xavier's voice halted all of them.
They stopped, Logan looking grateful, Scott looking sulky, and Warren -- Warren suspected his own face just held an expression of bewilderment. None of this was adding up -- well, outside of Scott's temper. Warren made his way over to his friend's side and shot Logan a warning glance that wasn't entirely friendly, but the other man simply stared back at him with cool detachment. Warren had met men like Logan before -- aggressive, instinctual, rebellious -- and wasn't impressed. He had no idea what Logan thought of him, and the professor was speaking in any case.
"Fighting among ourselves is pointless. Logan, Scott was asleep until just a few minutes ago. He was having a nightmare, in fact. I woke Warren --"
"-- who broke down my fucking door," Scott interrupted.
"Sorry. It was locked."
"What happened to using the damn key?"
"Forgot I had it."
"Gentlemen," the professor said while Logan eyed both of them with a renewed interest. Xavier turned to Scott. "What did you see?"
"Nothing." Scott ran a hand into his bangs and pulled at them. He was still wearing his night strap on his glasses, which kept them from accidentally moving while he slept. "I was sound asleep until Warren crashed through my door. He turned on the light, and there was this . . . " Scott gestured to the half-repaired wreckage. "I didn't even hear it happening. I don't know how it did happen . . . "
Scott's voice was rising just a little and Warren arched a wing enough for the feathers to brush his friend's back even as Logan said, "I don't know how you could've slept through it. I heard it downstairs in the den."
Logan, Warren decided, didn't know when to keep his mouth shut. Scott was already turning, jaw clenched and head tilted in that way he had when prepared to fight, but Xavier intervened yet again. "Logan, enough. Scott is normally a very light sleeper, and you have exceptional hearing, in any case. There must be more to this matter than it would appear.
Finally rising, Logan dusted his hands. "Maybe one'a the kids's got TK and's been hiding it -- decided to pull a little prank on Summers."
"Right now?" Warren asked, "That's a bit crass, don't you think?"
"It is possible," Xavier said, "but I must agree with Warren. I do not believe that even our most jaded students would do something this cruel and thoughtless." His eyes had slid to Scott's face, which was turned down to glare at the hardwood floor. "But we should not rule out the possibility of a student manifesting a secondary power. While having a secondary mutation is rather rare, it does occur, and dual mutations rarely manifest together. Usually one appears before the other. Tomorrow morning, I'll do some investigating in Cerebro."
"But if it's some kid," Logan asked, "why would she -- or he -- trash Summers' room?"
"It may be simple proximity. The most obvious place to begin our investigation is with the students in the rooms directly beneath this suite."
Scott was turning around in the middle of the floor, looking to see if everything was picked up, or as much of it as could be just now. "But why didn't I wake up?" he asked. "When it was Jean, I always woke up. Woke even before her, sometimes."
"I can't answer that," the professor said. "Perhaps, this time, you were simply too exhausted." Head jerking around, Scott glared while Warren flexed his wings again in a vain attempt at comfort. "It is not an insult, Scott," Xavier said.
Scott plopped down on the couch and stared forward at nothing -- or rather, he stared at the empty wall where the mirror had been. "Jean picked that. I always hated it, but she liked it." The words were riddled with vague guilt and didn't immediately connect to anything that had been said before. "And the afghan," reaching over, he picked it up and passed it through his hands, "It's something her grandmother crocheted. I thought it made the place look like some retiree's living room."
Warren shot a glance at Logan -- who was still standing there, listening, and who -- Warren thought -- really had no business being involved in the first place. He reached out to take the afghan from Scott and fold it neatly, draping it back over the couch. "We can clean up the rest in the morning," he said. "We should all go back to sleep."
Logan snorted. "Won't get no argument from me," and he headed for the door, pausing in the frame to look back at Warren, adding, "I'm Logan, by the way."
"Yes, I know," Warren replied, just the faintest edge of sourness in his tone, but a sharp glance from Xavier made him nod finally, and say, "I'm Warren Worthington. An old student."
"You knew Jean?"
"Yes, I knew Jean."
And it seemed so strange to put her in the past tense -- it choked him, and he sat down abruptly beside Scott. Head lowered, Logan departed, but Xavier was still there. None of them said anything for a while, and Warren could feel the tension between Scott and Xavier. Finally, the professor said, "We shall find out what happened here tonight, Scott."
"Yeah," Scott replied, but it was non-committal rather than confident.
"Good night, son. Do try to get some rest. Both of you."
"Yeah," Scott said again, and Xavier turned his chair, motoring out.
When he was gone, Warren rose to pull the door shut as best he could, though it wouldn't fit right in the frame now, and the whole area around the handle was cracked. "Sorry about the door. I don't know what got into me." Scott didn't reply. "I just . . . I had to get in here. I heard you shout and I heard the furniture crashing around, and I had to get in here."
"I can't believe I didn't hear it," Scott said finally. "If you heard it, why didn't I hear it?"
"I don't know."
"I woke up when you came in. I heard that. So why didn't I hear that big, fucking mirror fall?"
"I don't know," Warren said again, turning around, but staying by the door. "I'm sure Xavier will figure--"
"Hell, no! Don't hand me shit about Xavier figuring it out! He didn't figure out the mansion was going to get attacked, or that Stryker had a hard-on for him -- and he knew the bastard. I'd never heard of Jason Stryker before; Charles never told me a damn thing about him until after Alkali Lake. He was here before us, here even before Jean -- he must've been close to forty. The professor's first project? His first failure? So how many other failures have there been that he's not telling us about, War? He's not a god. He doesn't know everything. He can't answer everything. He can't fix everything."
Warren had stood quietly, listening through Scott's tirade, and now wondered how he ought to reply -- or if he should. These were matters for which he wanted answers himself, and he doubted the full impact of Jean's death had hit him yet, even now, standing in the room she'd shared with Scott. He was still on emotional autopilot. Scott needed him, and that gave him something on which to focus. "He can't fix everything, Scott. You're right -- he's not a god. People make mistakes --"
"So you're going to defend him?" It was belligerent, and Warren sighed. Scott needed to fight, he needed somewhere for the anger to go, and he'd always struck out at others when he was hurting. Usually, Warren could handle it, but tonight, he was too tired, and too heart-sore himself.
"I'm not here to defend or blame. I wasn't there --"
And he stopped, swallowing hard as the truth of that hit him yet again. He hadn't been there. It had been his first thought when he'd received the news from Xavier, and he couldn't help but think if he had been, he could have saved her.
After all, he could fly.
But he'd been in Hong Kong, asleep. Like everyone else, he'd suffered under the mental assault -- it had woken him up -- but he hadn't known that Jean was gone for almost forty-eight hours, and a part of him resented that. It had taken them almost a day to remember to call his office to let him know his best friend was dead? Why had it taken them a day to remember?
In any case, after that, his secretary hadn't been able to reach him for more than half a day, with the world still in chaos from the results of the assaults, and then he'd had to arrange to leave Hong Kong for the States. All together, it had taken almost five days to get back.
Jean had been dead five days.
Suddenly, he felt hands grip his upper arms. "Hey." He'd been sobbing, and hadn't heard Scott rise from the couch. "Hey, even if you'd been there, it wouldn't have made any difference."
"Yes, it would! I could have flown down to get her and pulled her out . . . "
"So could the new guy, Kurt. He's a teleporter. But she didn't let him. Warren -- she didn't want to be saved."
Shocked, Warren looked up, sure he must be gaping like a fool. "What?"
Scott's face was cold, and closed. "They're all calling her a martyr, they talk about how she saved them. And she did. But she didn't have to die to do it."
"What are you talking about?" Warren hadn't heard this. Xavier hadn't told Warren this when they'd talked on the phone as Warren had made arrangements to come home.
"She left the plane, then locked us all up inside of it. She was controlling it -- the whole thing. This wasn't a test tube or a book, War. She lifted the whole, goddamn plane. Then she turned the engines on when they weren't working. She fixed them, and more than that, kept the controls under her power until the very end -- we couldn't lower the ramp, we couldn't do a fucking thing. And she kept that Kurt guy from teleporting out to fetch her. She flat stopped him. Maybe the professor could do something like that -- but Jean? She's never had that kind of strength.
"But she did it all, War -- and parted the tidal wave, too. It went right by us on either side. She parted the wave, lifted the plane, and kept us inside it . . . Now you tell me, if she could manage all that at once, why couldn't she do it from inside? There was no reason she had to be outside, none at all. I've thought this through. The others don't want to hear it, but I've thought it through. She didn't want to be rescued. And if you'd been there, it wouldn't have made any difference."
Warren could only stare, barely taking in this rain of words, unable to admit the implications even as he understood them perfectly. "You're saying she wanted to die?"
Warren just blinked, and they stood staring at each other a long time. Finally, he shook his head. "But why? Why would she want to die? That makes no sense."
Scott let him go and shrugged with one shoulder -- and Warren was suddenly angry. "Why? If you're going to accuse her of essentially committing suicide, Scott, there has to be a fucking reason!"
But Scott just walked back to the couch and sat down again, all expression gone from his face and Warren was reminded of how he'd been in those first years -- indifferent, placid . . . until he'd suddenly explode in a rage. The professor had told Warren and Hank, and later Jean, that he had so much anger inside, it scared him into suppressing it until it flat got away from him.
Like now. The rage was there in the tightness of his shoulders and the nonchalant way he leaned back into the couch . . . and in his eruptions of temper earlier at the man called Logan. But when he spoke, his voice was bland, and it made a shocking contrast to what he was actually saying. "She was tired of me. We'd been together nine years -- it was a habit for her, not a relationship. Logan excited her. He was a man, not a fucked-up sob story. But she couldn't exactly get out of it, could she? What would the rest of you have thought if she'd left me for him? She told me once that she'd love me forever, but forever's a damn long time. I think I knew even then, back in Greece, that it wouldn't last, but I wanted to believe, so I did. In any case, she couldn't get out of it without looking like a bitch -- and Jean never did like to look like a bitch, did she?"
Warren was too stunned to reply, stunned because Scott's theories were a lot closer to right than Warren had thought Scott could possibly know. But also stunned because, at the root of it, Scott was very, very wrong, and Warren couldn't believe that, even now, even after nine years, Scott could still be that wrong.
"She loved you," he said, because it was both the most important thing, and the best he could rally.
The smile he got back was cynical, bitter, and annoyed. "Don't patronize me."
"I'm not. She loved you. Completely. Absolutely."
"No, you're talking bullshit!" Warren was getting angry again. "And you forget who you're talking to. I know, Scott. I know how she felt about you -- I talked to her three days before that trip to the museum. We talked about you."
Scott appeared intrigued by that, and Warren was relieved to see some expression -- any expression -- on his face. "What about me?"
"Marriage. Again. We talked about you, and marriage."
Scott's expression locked down, jaw tightening, and he stared at his hands. Warren didn't need to tell him what had been discussed; it had been a point of strain for a while. Jean had wanted to get married. Scott hadn't. For the most part, Jean had kept her real feelings to herself, or at least, hadn't shared them with Scott. Warren, however, had gotten an earful. She'd always turned to him when she felt unable to talk to Scott. So he'd heard the uncertainties, the frustrations, the insecurities. He'd heard how much Jean wanted to get married, and how Scott was afraid of it, and how she didn't want to pressure him. It had been just one more of several chaffing spots that had come up in recent years, although, to Jean, it had seemed the most significant.
"He keeps putting it off -- says he's not ready," she'd told Warren over the phone in that last conversation. "It's the same old song, and I know why -- I know, War. But I worry. I'm past thirty. What if he never wants to get married? What if he's bored of me? We were all we had back then. What if he's found someone who's better suited?"
And Warren had reassured her (for the hundredth time) that Scott wasn't bored of her. "There isn't anyone, Jean. There never will be. He couldn't open up to anyone else as completely as he did with us. Our situation's too unique. You're the only woman he could ever love, I think. You're it."
She'd paused then on the line, and Warren had been able to hear her breathing, harsh, as if she might be crying a little. "But I don't want that kind of pressure. I don't want to be the only one. What if something happened to me?"
"I thought you were worried that he was going to leave you?"
"God, I don't know what I'm worried about anymore. I'm worried that he can't ever really love me enough -- not enough to get married. But then I worry that he loves me too much, and I'm caught in this -- this jail, this relationship that I can't possibly leave because, like you say, I'm it. I'm the only woman he'll let in, and if I leave him, he'd close up completely and turn into a robot or something. And it's not fucking fair! He wants all this from me -- wants, wants, wants . . . He worries all the time. He tries to act like he doesn't, but he worries whenever I talk to some other guy for more than five minutes, and if the other guy flirts with me? He goes ballistic. Well, not for real; he's always saying that he trusts me, but he hovers. You know how he hovers. And he gets jealous and mean. But he won't marry me. If he's so jealous and worried, why won't he marry me?"
And Warren had been unable to offer her anything except the same-ol', same-ol': "He's scared."
"I know! I know he's scared! But I get so tired of him always being scared! After nine years, you'd think he'd get over it. And I know it's not that simple." He'd heard her sigh. "I'm so awful. It's not like I didn't know all this, going in. I knew. Xavier told me it wouldn't be easy. I just -- I don't think I really knew how hard it would be, War. Or how long it'd go on. I guess I thought I could fix him. I know you're not supposed to think that about a partner, but I did. I thought maybe if I loved him enough, he'd get over it. He'd stop being so damn neurotic."
"Well, he's not as neurotic."
"I know. I know. It's just . . . on days like this, I feel so tired."
"I'll talk to him, when I get home. But you know, getting a ring on your finger isn't going to make him less neurotic, sweetheart. Or make you less frustrated when he gets that way."
"I know that, too. But at least I'll have the promise."
"Jean -- you've always had the promise. The rest is just the trappings."
And she'd agreed, and they'd talked then of other things. The last conversation, but Warren remembered it quite well.
And maybe . . . just maybe Scott had a point. Warren couldn't believe that Jean had really been suicidal, but she could be emotional -- and irrational and impulsive when she got that way. Most of the time, she was the calm, collected, mature and scientific Dr. Grey. But sometimes she was Jean the hothead, and in a moment of crisis, maybe, just maybe . . .
"Scott, I don't know what she was thinking, there at the end. Maybe she wasn't thinking at all. You and I both know she's been under some stress lately."
And Scott started to giggle. "Stress? Christ, Warren. Stress? She's under some stress so she hops off a plane and lets a tidal wave sweep her away? That's not stress, that's lunacy!" He swallowed the giggles; they definitely weren't from amusement. "Stress -- yeah. She was fucking falling apart because Logan was back, she couldn't just leave me, and she didn't want to live anymore."
Warren shook his head. "Scott, she loved you, not Logan." Stalking over, he stood in front of where his friend was sitting on the couch. "Now listen to me -- I'm only going to say this once. Jean loved you. She did not love Logan. She didn't even entirely like Logan. She did, however, find him attractive -- and she felt sorry for him. But that isn't love, and she knew it. She told me that herself after he left the first time. And Scott, she would have told me if she had been interested in him that way. You know it as well as I do."
And that broke Scott. Leaning over, his friend buried his face in his hands and sobbed so that Warren could hardly make out his question. "Then why? Why did she kill herself if she loved me? Why did she leave me alone if she loved me?"
Kneeling down, Warren put both arms around him and just held on, resting his chin on the top of Scott's head, his wings raised a little for extra balance. "I don't know," he said. And it was, mostly, the truth.
As soon as the sun had crept through the sitting room curtains to strike the couch, Warren stirred and rolled sideways, flexing his wings. Scott was still asleep and Warren let him be, returning to his own suite instead, where he showered and cleaned up, dressing neatly.
He'd never left Scott's room last night after his friend had cried himself back to sleep in Warren's arms. Instead, he'd settled Scott on the couch and covered him up with the afghan, then settled down on the floor right beside him, in case he had another nightmare. But he hadn't. He'd been too wrung from anger and grief. And so had Warren.
But now, showered and dressed, Warren exited his suite to pad back to Scott's. The door was still slightly ajar, and Warren peered in, reassuring himself that Scott remained sleeping. Then, hands in pockets, he headed for the elevator. Before he got far, he heard the familiar whine of a wheelchair behind him and turned. "Professor."
"Warren. How was the rest of the night?"
"We talked some, he cried some, then he fell asleep."
"I slept, too."
"But not as much."
"I'm not as tired. Did you find out anything in Cerebro?" Warren was sure Xavier had already been down there, as he preferred to do telepathic scans in the pre-dawn hours before most people woke. It kept things simple, he said.
But now, he just frowned faintly. "No, I didn't. While there are still high levels of anxiety among my students -- understandably -- none of them are showing any signs of new mutations that I can discern."
Puzzled, Warren asked, "So who moved all the furniture around Scott's room? Poltergeists?" He couldn't help but remember what one of the kids had said the night before.
Xavier's frown deepened. "Actually, I do have a theory -- but it's a disquieting one." He paused and closed his eyes a moment, then said, "Yes, we are alone. Warren -- I believe Scott did it."
"I believe Scott is the one who caused the damage."
"Wouldn't he remember that?"
"Not necessarily. Under duress, the mind can do peculiar things, and Scott already has a long history of trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder. It's not beyond the realm of possibility that, in the grip of a nightmare, he did the damage himself, only half-conscious."
"Why would he do that?"
"The need to express his anger. Did you notice what he said about at least two of the items involved? The mirror and the afghan? Both were objects of contention in his relationship with Jean, even if mild contention. By destroying them, or attempting to, he is working out some of his rage at her for dying. Rage is a normal part of the grieving process, but her death was anything but normal, and everything about it conspires to complicate his responses. Given Scott's previous patterns and tendencies, distorted grief of the rage type seems a logical direction for his grief to turn."
Warren wrinkled his nose. Xavier was a licensed psychologist, and certainly, he knew Scott's psyche inside and out -- but that was part of the problem. Scott wasn't Xavier's patient, and Warren wasn't entirely sure whether to trust such a clinical assessment. Analyzing Scott sounded like the professor's means of coping with his own grief.
And what's yours? he asked himself.
Well, being here and taking care of them, he supposed.
"Okay -- it's not that I doubt Scott could pitch a fit like that. He's done it before. And it's not that I doubt he's angry." After the previous night, Warren understood exactly how angry (and hurt) he was. "But it just . . . it sounds a little fantastic, that he could do all that damage and not remember it. Plus, I'm pretty sure he was on the couch when I kicked the door in. I heard him fall off. I startled him and he rolled off onto the floor. But just a few seconds before, I'd heard the mirror crash down and furniture moving around. That's why I kicked the door in and didn't go back for my key." Well, that and the fact he'd panicked. "How could he have done all that, lying on the couch?"
"He may not have fallen off the couch, Warren. Your entry may have startled him, snapping him into full consciousness, and he fell down or tripped himself."
"So you think he was . . . sleep walking, essentially? Trashing the suite?"
"Yes -- it's the only logical explanation I can arrive at."
"And you're going to tell him that?"
The professor shook his head and, reaching out, hit the call button for the elevator. "I won't tell him this morning, no. I don't think he's ready to hear it."
"I don't think he is, either."
"But he will need to be told, especially if this turns out not to be an isolated event."
"You mean he could flip out again?" The elevator arrived and they entered together.
"He could. You and I both know that his separation anxiety makes the loss of Jean one of the worst things that could have happened to him. It will have ramifications, and complicate the healing process. We never entirely get over loss, Warren. We learn to live with it, and we heal -- but if we lose too much, or lose too often, the trauma becomes increasingly difficult to heal from. That's why it's so important that you're here -- so he remembers he's not alone."
The elevator reached the bottom, but Xavier held down the 'close doors' while he studied Warren, who shuffled his feet, uncomfortable, and perhaps resentful, too. "And I think you need him just as much. The three of you had a very rare thing, very precious -- but even with Jean gone, you and Scott still have each other. Neither of you is alone. Scott needs to remember that -- and so do you." He released the button so the doors could open, requiring their public faces. Warren had no time to reply, as Xavier had no doubt intended.
Students crossed and crisscrossed the main hall, heading to breakfast. A few gave him double-takes, no doubt those who hadn't seen him the night before. But in the professor's company, he was accepted as belonging there, and he realized suddenly that he hadn't been at the mansion since Christmas, over nine months previously. "How many new students have come since my last visit?"
"Ten -- no, make that eleven."
"The total's over thirty now, isn't it?"
Warren didn't state the obvious -- that enrollment would likely increase exponentially now and the school could quickly become understaffed. He also didn't bring up the point that boarding schools needed at least one nurse on the premises, for insurance purposes. Xavier knew all that as well as Warren did, and this wasn't the time to discuss Board matters that would just reopen the wound.
They reached the dining hall-cum-cafeteria, and headed for the table with Ororo. Yet Ro wasn't alone. Beside her, dressed in a topcoat of truly eccentric (Warren would have said atrocious) taste, sat a blue man. The darkness of his skin made it difficult for Warren to see his features clearly until he glanced up at the sound of Xavier's wheelchair. Then he did a shocking thing.
He disappeared ...
... only to reappear with a popping sound, crouched at Warren's feet and stuttering in something that definitely wasn't English, arms thrown over his curly hair, and tail lashing like a distressed cat's. It had a spade on the end of it, Warren noticed, astonishment causing him to focus on the trivial. "Hello?" he said over the other man's babble.
The rest of the dining hall fell silent, and after a moment, the man at his feet fell silent, too, twisting his head just a little to peer out from behind his hands. They had two large digits and one opposing thumb each, and his eyes were yellow, their expression wide-eyed. All his movements seemed exaggerated and theatrical, and Warren resisted laughing. "Hello," he said again.
Ororo stood. "Kurt --" she said.
The blue man -- Kurt, apparently -- cocked his head further, and drew down his arms, although he remained at Warren's feet. "You are a man," he said, as if surprised by that fact.
Warren's lips tipped up. "So are you."
And the blue man grinned, revealing a mouth full of very sharp teeth. "I am Kurt Wagner, the Incredible Nightcrawler!" He had a Germanic accent, and rose to execute a rather florid bow with all the grace of a stage performer.
Ororo approached to add, "Kurt is Catholic. Devout."
That began to explain some things, and Warren glanced over at the professor, who hadn't interfered, merely watched. A low buzz had begun in the background again, soft discussion of the drama among the kids. "Kurt," Xavier said over the noise, "may I introduce you to Warren Worthington, one of my first students. These days, Warren helps run the school, although not as a teacher. Warren, Kurt Wagner used to perform with the Munich Circus."
"Der Jahrmarkt," Kurt added with a smile.
Ah. And that would explain some other things. Warren -- whose business career depended on a fast assessment of people -- found Wagner to be a curious mixture of shy humility and cheerful spectacle. Despite the bow, he'd backed up now to stand behind Ororo, head turned sideways to avoid staring at Warren face-on. "It's nice to meet you, Kurt." Warren didn't offer a hand to shake, unsure if the blue man would accept it. He suspected that anything too forward might frighten Wagner into a full retreat. The man radiated a fragile peculiarity. Then again, looking the way he did, Warren could only imagine what his life must have been like.
Turning to the professor, he said, "I'll get some breakfast," and headed for the buffet table where the selections were spread out. As the school had grown, breakfast had turned into a continental affair to allow for ease in serving. Grabbing a tray, Warren began filling it, giving Kurt time to regain his mental footing, and his dignity.
Returning to the table, Warren passed tea and grapefruit to Xavier, who took them with thanks. Seating himself then, he opened a jar of peanut butter that he'd nabbed and began spreading it on a bagel. Kurt watched this with great interest. "It is not the usual spread, ja?"
"Scott likes his bagels with peanut butter," Warren explained. Then again, Scott ate peanut butter on almost anything, from bagels to apples to fried banana-and-peanut-butter sandwiches.
Kurt tilted his head. "So the bagel is not for you?"
Warren didn't reply, just took a bite out of the poppy seed muffin he'd gotten for himself.
Wagner's eyebrows rose. "The professor tells me that you are the Warren Worthington."
Warren snorted and shot his old tutor a glance. "Yes, I'm afraid so."
"Ein Milliardar who fetches the breakfasts of other men."
Nonplused, Warren opened his mouth to point out that it was easier for him than for the professor, and Scott was still sleeping . . . but no mockery distorted the blue features. In fact, Wagner was smiling. "Sie sind faszinierend, Herr Worthington." And he returned to his own breakfast as if the conversation were over.
Not sure what to make of that, Warren decided to change the subject. "Who -- outside the school -- knows about the attack on it?" Visions of parents and potential lawsuits danced in his head.
"Nothing has been revealed to the press," Xavier assured him.
"I'm more concerned about the kids themselves when they call up Mom and Dad for the weekly check-in. 'Yes, I made a B+ on my math test and an A on my English essay, oh, and by the way, some crazy black ops guys stormed the school and abducted six students out of their beds, but I got away down a rabbit hole into Wonderland."
Ororo snorted and Xavier smiled. The blue man, Kurt, seemed unsure if Warren were jesting. "I understand your concern," Xavier replied, "but even our youngest children know the necessity of secrecy for certain aspects of the school -- just as you did, once."
Warren shrugged, not entirely convinced. "Kids get excited. They talk."
"True. But these are not normal children. And only about a third of them are still in contact with their parents at all."
"What about the Drake kid?" Warren asked. "I understand his family found out the full truth?"
"They did," Xavier said. "The entire Boston incident" -- he glanced at Ororo -- "was unfortunate. I have, however, modified their memories, along with that of a few others, such as the police. The Drakes do not remember that Bobby visited them, and they think the burn damage to their lawn was the result of a severe car accident that occurred during the . . . blackout."
Warren didn't miss how Xavier spoke of Stryker's use of him. He also didn't miss the fact that Xavier had indulged in some extensive memory rewriting -- an act that he typically struggled to avoid for ethical reasons.
"Like Jean's disappearance," the professor went on, "we have been able to cover anything that might connect Stryker to the school . . . and might endanger our students."
"Mmm," Warren replied. He didn't disagree with the need to protect the kids. That was their first duty. But in his experience, cover-ups tended to breed like bunnies -- one here required two there, which in turn required six, and so on. He ought to know, since he lived inside a tower of them, but he didn't want to use the breakfast table to find out all the details. That would come soon enough; if he were to be of any use, he'd need those details. The professor had one form of damage control, and Warren had another.
Just now, though, he had another concern that was closer to home. Picking up the bagel, he glanced at his old mentor. "Is he awake yet?"
"No, but perhaps he should be. He won't appreciate being left to sleep until noon."
Warren snorted at that. "How times change." Rising, he nodded to the rest. "Later." And to Kurt Wagner, "Nice to meet you."
Then he headed out of the dining hall while students milled about, getting ready for their first class of the day. Life went on, even when it felt as if the whole world should have stopped.
Notes: Libby Edwards has graciously allowed me to use the extraordinarily detailed maps that she made of Xavier's mansion for "Left Turn at Westchester" (http://pub21.ezboard.com/bleftturnatwestchester). I've modified them just a touch in terms of who's in which rooms, since the assignments were designed specifically for that game, but the blueprints are all hers. You can also find some references to some of these same structures in SPECIAL as well.
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Title: Guardian Angel (Grail 1)
Series Name: GRAIL: a novel of resurrection
Author: Minisinoo [email] [website]
Details: Series | gen | 43k | 02/16/05
Characters: Warren Worthington, ensemble
Summary: After the events of X2, Warren comes home to help pick up the pieces.
Notes: See warnings in prologue
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