When you first meet the woman who'll turn out to be the great love of your life, you'd think there'd be some warning, some fanfare, or at least a nipping intuition.
Nope. Nada. Not even a hint.
In fact, I can't now recall what Jean was wearing when I first saw her, or anything specific about her beyond the fact that she was attractive in a sophisticated fashion, and her arms were full of presents wrapped in chic paper of blue and gold, ivory and wine, and topped with velvet bows. The presents grabbed my attention mainly because it looked as if she were about to drop them all.
Warren and I had come barreling out of the billiards room when some stranger had bellowed "Merry Christmas!" at the top of her lungs in the foyer. Burglars don't usually announce their presence -- at least not like a branded calf -- but the mansion wasn't a place that people wandered into casually, either. So we'd raced out to find her standing there with her arms full and the door hanging open behind her, letting in freezing air. I had a pretty good idea who she was, even without Hank sliding down the stairwell banister with a shout of "Jeannie."
The oft mentioned but heretofore elusive Jean Grey had appeared at last.
Hank took some of her presents as Warren walked over to shut the door. That was when she noticed the two of us, or really, noticed Warren, and paused to blink in nonplused surprise, her mouth hanging open a bit stupidly. I got nothing more than a cursory glance before her gaze swiveled back to him, taking in both his wings and his face, but fixating on his face.
"Hi," she said. "You must be Warren." Then, as if remembering, she turned to me and grinned. "And you're Scott, right?"
So she'd heard about us just as we'd heard about her.
Hank cheerfully inserted himself among us to make introductions. "Jeannie, this is Scott Summers. He joined us in September. And this is Warren Worthington III, who joined just this month. Fellows, this is the lovely, talented, and ebullient Jean Grey."
Laughing, Jean shifted presents to smack his arm -- not hard -- then ask, "Where's Charles?"
It surprised me to hear her call the professor by his given name so casually, but Hank just pointed back up the stairs. "Last I saw, he was working in his office. I'm sure he knows you're here by now, though."
And as if on cue, the hall elevator dinged and the door slid aside. This was the public lift, not the hidden one going to the sub-basement. A grinning Xavier wheeled out, his arms extended, and Jean put down her presents to hurry over and embrace him warmly. "I'm so glad to have you back, my dear," he said. "I've missed you."
And at that, I just saw green.
I didn't have a name then to hang on the sudden, dark shift of my thoughts -- I wasn't good at naming feelings -- but I was the Elder Son watching the return of the favored Prodigal. And I was bitterly jealous.
So no, I didn't fall in love with Jean Grey at first sight. Quite the opposite, actually. She was the interloper, the threat to my place in the household. What I didn't stop to consider was how I'd shifted so quickly from thinking of myself as a tolerated counterfeit to a child who had a place for which he could be challenged.
Crossing my arms, I tried to affect a jaded disinterest. Of course, hiding anything from a telepath is just this side of ludicrous, but at the time, I didn't realize Jean was as much a telepath as Xavier.
She'd arrived more or less in time for supper, so the professor herded all of us from the foyer into the dining hall, and Warren and Hank warred over the right to pull out a chair for her at the long table. Arms crossed on the back of my own chair, I just watched. The little bitch, she had the rest of them eating right out of her hand.
Smiling faintly at the other two, and eyeing me, she said, "That's really not necessary, boys." And she made a commanding gesture with one hand.
My own chair jerked out from under me and slid around to her side of the table. "Holy fuck!" I yelled. "What the hell?"
Jean sat down in it and rested her elbows on the table. "I just thought I'd save you the trouble." She grinned like an imp. At me. Then she winked. Inside my skull, she said, The 'little bitch' can get her own chair. It's the '90s. And I'm not your rival, Scott.
Involuntarily, I laughed, though Hank and Warren had no idea what I found so funny. Bitch, yes. Minx, too. And not afraid to call me on my assumptions.
"Jean," Xavier was saying, "is a telekinetic, as well as a telepath, like myself."
"Not as strong, though," Jean added. "I can't read random thoughts unless they're . . . obvious."
She hadn't released my gaze.
We sat down to eat, and after the meal, Jean distributed her presents. Rather to my surprise, she had something for us all, even Warren and me. Mine was a puzzle, 5000 pieces showing an image of jumbled, multi-hued Ukranian Easter eggs. It wasn't expensive enough -- lightweight cardboard Hasbro -- to make me feel badly at having nothing for her in return, but it was far more specific than food or clothing, either of which might have cost more, yet been less thoughtful.
Warren's present was even more intriguing. What does one get for the man who can afford everything? A set of bottled ointments, apparently handmade and labeled with black magic-marker. "What is this stuff?" he asked, holding one up to peer at the writing.
"Healthy skin and feather care for the winged mutant in winter." She grinned. "Your body may secrete natural oils, but it won't hurt to supplement them." She pointed to bottles. "The one you're holding is cod-liver oil. Don't make a face! You need it. Prime vitamin A supplement. Given your body weight, I'd say -- what do you think, Hank? -- 6 ounces a day in winter?"
I was struggling not to laugh at the expression on Warren's face. I got a puzzle; he got cod-liver oil.
"The other capped bottles," she was saying, "are flax seed and evening primrose oils. Both you can apply directly to any irritated spots on the wings. But once a day, regardless, you should apply the mist -- that's what's in the three spray bottles. It's evening primrose, elder, chamomile, calendula and sesame oil."
And so it went. Jean had specific, if inexpensive, presents for us all, and she seemed to take great delight in seeing our reactions. It said, I thought, a great deal about her, yet my cynical side was still suspicious. Simple kindness didn't strike me as motivation enough, so I studied her. She was tall, with large bones and a strong jaw, and lanky auburn hair that framed a pale but attractive face otherwise undistinguished except for the eyes. Those were dark and intelligent, with fine brows that arched high -- all but hidden behind large-lens glasses. Someone needed to take her shopping for contacts. She was the kind of girl who, if dressed right, might be a knockout, but if dressed wrong -- as now -- looked merely big and awkward and a little too flushed from the wine she'd had with dinner.
After the meal, Xavier suggested that Jean go settle herself in, and then invited me to stay for our usual hour or two at puzzles. I hadn't expected that. I'd expected Jean to have his entire attention, but I'm sure he read my jealousy as clearly as she had, and was trying to reassure me. So I stayed and she departed with Hank (and Warren) to settle in. The professor suggested we start my new puzzle although there was one still incomplete on his table. The point was subtle, but I took his meaning all the same. We said almost nothing while we set out the puzzle pieces, a few stray comments on the meal, the weather, and the New Year's Gala to which he'd been invited and was taking me the evening after next. I even had a nice new suit. Cut my hair, clean me up, and take out the earrings, and one couldn't tell what I'd been less than a year ago.
"Do I really have to go?" I asked the professor now.
"Of course not, Scott." He set aside the puzzle box and began the task of separating out the edge pieces. "I simply hate to leave you home all by yourself on New Year's Eve."
I sighed. Truth was, I didn't want to be left home, either, but I'd never been to a fancy party where I wasn't the entertainment. Turning to look at me, Xavier laid a hand gently on mine. I flinched, but I didn't pull away. "You won't be there alone. Hank may be on call, but Warren will be there, and Jean, as well. I wouldn't abandon you to your own devices."
I wasn't entirely reassured. My friendship with Warren remained a bit frayed at the edges, and I knew Jean not at all, but I said, "Okay."
He turned at the sound of my voice. The lines of his evening jacket lay perfectly, even with the wing rack beneath, but when one plunked down a couple thousand pounds for a hand-made suit from Benson and Clegg on Piccadilly in London, that was what one expected. He was straightening his cuffs -- white against the dark fabric of the jacket -- and he smiled. "What's up?
Feeling supremely stupid, I held up my necktie. I'd never learned to tie one. In fact, I hadn't worn a suit like this in my life. It felt restricting but . . . respectable. And I liked that.
Without comment, he came over to slip the tie out of my hands, a slick draw of silk across my palm. The tie was deep maroon to offset the charcoal black of the suit fabric. I could walk down Wall Street in this and not draw a second glance, which was quite a step up from the glances I'd drawn in Alphabet City in the Village.
"Raise your chin," he said, deftly turning up my collar to slip the tie around it. "I confess, I've never understood the rationale behind hanging our own noose around our necks, but what can I say? It's the fashion. It's not too hard to do, either. The trick is getting both pieces roughly the same length. I'll show you later, but it amounts to a slip knot." He spoke as he worked, either to distract me from the necessity of his touch, however impersonal, or to make me feel less foolish, or both. Finished, he turned back down the collar and patted me lightly on the chest, right over the tie.
I grinned; I couldn't help it. "Do I look okay?"
"You look fantastic."
Uttered in another tone, or with a less open smile, it would've been a come-on, but Warren had always shown a remarkable ability to be wholly straightforward. He meant exactly what he said; no more, no less. He could play games of innuendo, but preferred to avoid them. It was why I'd felt so drawn to him from the outset. As astonishing as it seemed to me, Xavier had been right. Warren liked me for me -- plain and simple. This was, I thought, the way it ought to be, this was what 'normal' felt like, and he'd always have my loyalty for teaching me friendship. I'd force myself past my own discomfort, because Warren had earned it.
"Let's go find the lady," he said now, double-checking his own tie in the mirror.
Following him out, I asked, "What do you think of her?"
"No, the fucking housecat! Come on, who'd you think I meant?"
His smile and sideways glance were sly. "I think Jean is very nice. And I think you're jealous."
"I am not."
"Yes, you are."
"I am not, dammit! It's just . . . she waltzes in here after being off at school for months, and takes over the whole fucking place! Little Miss Perfect."
"Nope. You're not jealous in the least."
"Blow it out your asshole."
He laughed, then sobered. "She's not perfect, Scott -- not any more than I am. She just wants people to like her, so she does her best to be what she isn't. I understand that."
I pondered his words as we arrived downstairs in the foyer where the professor and Jean were already waiting. For once, a woman had beaten the men ready, and I'd been correct in my earlier evaluation. Dress her right and she was a statuesque knockout, but that assessment was entirely clinical. At a visceral level, I remained unmoved. Warren, however, was susceptible to a spangly evening gown and artfully applied makeup. He swung either way.
"Miss Grey," he said, offering her an arm.
"Mr. Worthington," she replied with a smile, and took it.
I rolled my eyes where neither could see. Tsk, tsk, the professor said into my head.
We took two cars to the party. Warren wanted to drive himself, and Jean opted to ride with him. I rode with Xavier in the Rolls. The very idea that I was sitting in a vehicle like this, chauffeured to fancy party dressed in a suit by Armani, still blew my mind. "I feel like Cinderella," I muttered.
Xavier smiled from the seat beside mine. "I trust our transportation won't revert to a pumpkin at midnight, or we shall have a long, cold trip back home." Then he added, "You look very nice, you know." Embarrassed but pleased, I shrugged.
When we arrived at the mansion where the party was underway, I discovered that if clothes didn't quite make the man, they had a moderate shot at re-making him. However much I might have felt like an impostor, no one else reacted to me as such. It was the most bizarre experience of my life to date -- far stranger than saving angels from rooftops or living in a household where one resident crossed rooms on the ceiling, another could move the furniture without touching it, a third molted on the carpet, and the master of it all could call us to dinner without uttering a word.
"It's a pleasure to have you, Mr. Summers." "What a handsome and polite young man." "So glad Charles brought such nice young people."
No one asked, "Who let in the whore?" Astonishing. I was Eliza Doolittle with a penis.
So I wandered about, either with the others or by myself, sometimes pausing to glance in reflective surfaces to see if my mask were slipping yet. But all I saw looking back at me was a well-dressed teenaged boy on the cusp of manhood. "Seem what you would be," I muttered to myself, "and be what you would seem."
This was me. This was Scott Summers. I wasn't a whore. I wasn't a charity case. I was a sixteen-year-old in a suit with a plate full of hors d'oeuvres. I was a student, a friend. I was the eldest son of an air force pilot, an orphan, yes, but not alone. I had a future, if I wanted it.
I could redefine myself. That, I decided, was my New Year's resolution. I would make myself into someone new.
I found I was grinning.
"Hey." The greeting startled me, and the hand on my shoulder startled me even more, but I controlled my flinch and turned to find Jean Grey. "Admiring your reflection, Narcissus? You do look pretty sharp tonight, I admit."
It was said with humor, not venom, and here, now, I couldn't summon the animosity to resent her. "No, actually, I was thinking about something else. Just -- you know -- staring off into space."
She grinned. Her hand was still on my shoulder, and I didn't move away. "Yeah, I do that, too. Usually when I'm bored to tears. That's what I came to ask, in fact -- you wanna get out of here?"
I blinked. "The professor's ready to leave?" It was barely ten-thirty in the evening.
"No, no, I meant just us. You, me, Warren."
Confused, I asked, "Why?"
"Well, um . . . Charles means well, but, um, this is the blue-hair convention."
Taken by surprise, I glanced around. The entire setting was so far beyond anything I was used to, the elderly composition of the guest-list honestly hadn't registered with me. "I don't mind," I said. And I didn't. They'd accepted me, and I'd enjoyed visiting with some of them.
But Jean rolled her eyes and slipped an arm through mine, tugging me away with a familiarity that only Mariana had ever earned before. "I swear, you're sixteen going on forty, Scott. Let's go do something more fun."
"And leave the professor?" The idea of abandoning him bothered me deeply.
She glanced over. "Who do you think suggested we take you along? We weren't sure you wanted to go, but Charles said we should ask you."
In truth, this felt more like an abduction than an inquiry, but I went along with it. "Okay, I guess. Let me tell him goodbye, at least."
"Go ahead; he was in the drawing room, last I saw. Warren and I will meet you at the Porsche."
So I wound through the crowd seeking the drawing room without any idea of what I was looking for. What did a drawing room look like? I finally broke down and asked someone, and was steered in the right direction. I found the professor just as Jean had said, having brandy and a pipe by the fireplace with several other men his own age. "Scott," he said, upon seeing me. "Did Jean find you?"
"Yes, sir." Being in this place sharpened my manners from the 'yeah' I might have given under other circumstances. "But I wanted to see you first."
Sensing my uncertainty, he smiled and made a shooing motion. "You aren't required to stay here. Go have fun with Jean and Warren."
"Kids getting bored?" one of the other men asked. He had a shock of white hair and a long face, and reminded me -- just vaguely -- of the man in the silver jaguar who'd first sent me to Xavier.
"A little," Xavier replied with a smile, then glanced back at me. "Go on, Scott. Have a good time." In my head, he said, Keep an eye on them. I nodded.
So I went out of that fancy mansion on New Year's Eve a different person than I'd gone in, and with a new responsibility. 'Keep an eye on them.' At the time, the irony didn't occur to me that I, the youngest, had been placed in the role of guardian. It simply fit, as snug as my suit jacket.
Outside, I paused to light a cigarette. I hadn't wanted to smoke in someone's nice house, but I needed the nicotine to calm me and was finishing it as I reached Warren's gold Boxster. I noted Jean's wrinkled nose, and dropped the butt on asphalt, crushing it out before wedging myself somehow into the nonexistant backseat. "So where are we going?" I asked.
"Anywhere but here," Jean said from her place at shotgun as Warren slipped behind the wheel. I eyed him, to judge his sobriety, but he seemed all right.
"Actually," he said, starting the engine, "I want to go somewhere I've never been, do something I've never done."
"What? Visit Wal-Mart?"
Warren laughed at that. "Believe it or not, I've been to Wal-Mart. And an A&P, too." He turned in the seat to look at me. "You know how to bowl?"
"Well . . . yeah," I replied cautiously. "You don't?"
I shook my head. The mental image of Warren in rented bowling shoes and a hand-made British suit was ludicrous. But I liked it. "Jean -- you know any bowling alleys in Westchester?"
She scrunched up her nose in thought, like a pensive rabbit. "New Roc City in New Rochelle? It's not just a bowling alley, it's sort of an indoor boardwalk. They even have ice-skating."
"Perfect," Warren said, and threw the car in gear.
And it was perfect. Plebian entertainment with upper class pretensions and strung white lights above a brick street, cotton-candy-colored neon billboards, and wall-to-wall people. We stood out in our nice evening clothes, but not too much. There were Goths and Geeks, Grunge and Preps, and everything in between. Jean hooked her arms through Warren's and mine, and dragged us past arcades and restaurants and shops, directly to the neon-blacklit bowling alley. "Here it is."
Warren was still looking back up the sidewalk. "Was that laser tag? I want to go play laser tag."
"We can visit the fun house later," Jean said, and pushed the door open, hauling him inside.
So under purple neon, I taught Warren to bowl, as he'd once taught me to golf -- taught them both to bowl, really. It took us a while to find a ball with holes small enough for Jean's slender fingers. She had to doff her heels to put on the shoes, and that made her sequined dress drag the floor, and Warren looked very silly in a dark suit and two-toned bowling shoes. So did I, for that matter.
It didn't matter. We had fun. Most of Warren's balls went down the gutter, and too many of Jean's went backwards, flung off her fingers in the wrong direction by the weight. After a while, we started calling "Fore!" when she'd step up to take her turn. She made faces at us. I beat them both -- twice -- even though they played as a team against me. We ate generic, greasy pizza and toasted the new year with coke. Jean gave us both a kiss -- on the cheek only, but I was charmed. Later, we went down to the arcade to play laser tag, which was laughable in suits and Jean's evening dress. We wound up tangled on the floor at one point like puppies, laughing so hard we couldn't even sit up.
It was the first time in a very long time that I could remember enjoying myself so purely, and all without chemical assistance. By the time we left, it was three in the morning, and Jean had an arm around both of our waists . . . and it was okay. I didn't mind. That was the birth of the Three Mutant Musketeers, as Jean dubbed us. I protested that I wasn't a mutant, but she just looked at me with half-lidded amusement. "You knock Cerebro off the scale, Scott, and I've seen the DNA tests Henry ran on you. You're a mutant."
"So why haven't I manifested any 'talent' then?"
"I don't know; maybe you have and we just haven't figured out what it is yet."
"Maybe he's going to be latent," Warren said.
"Maybe," Jean agreed. "But I doubt it. We don't blow Cerebro's gasket, War. I've never seen anyone except Charles himself affect Cerebro's readouts like Scott does."
I didn't reply, but her words troubled me deeply, in part because the professor had never told me this. Once, I would've attributed sinister motives to that concealment, but I'd learned since to trust -- at least to a point -- and was willing to grant Xavier the benefit of the doubt. Maybe he'd just been afraid to alarm me.
And what did it mean, what she'd said? That I sent Cerebro off the scale? What did that make me?
Dangerous, maybe. It put a damper on my frivolous mood. To make matters worse, we were caught in traffic on the way home, even at that early-morning hour, due to a pile-up on the highway involving a semi and at least three cars. Both lanes were blocked for almost half an hour as they brought in helicopters and emergency vehicles. Eventually, we were able to move forward and get past the site of the accident, marked off by pink flares in the dark. A morbid curiosity made us stare as we crawled solemnly by. One car lay upside down and another had the roof peeled back like the top of a sardine tin. I wondered what the people in those cars had been doing just before the impact. Had they been laughing like we had earlier? Had they been happy? Had they made New Year's resolutions that would go unfulfilled now?
Death and life were a mystery. One year dies and a new one is born. An old life crumbles and a new one rises. I leaned back against the rear seat and thought about my own promises to myself, my resolutions, and the games I'd been playing about the state of my own health. 'Don't ask, don't tell.' Was it futile to remake yourself when you carried the seeds of your own destruction in your blood? I'd never escape my old life, not entirely, and I probably wouldn't see thirty.
But I wanted to live. "I want more life. I can't help myself, I do." The words from that play, Angels in America, spun around inside my skull. Could I make whatever time I had left be enough? Could I have enough life? And I was suddenly fed up with my own attempts to avoid what I already knew. Wasn't part of living facing the truth?
When we returned, the professor was up waiting, worried, but he could see that we were all as sober as priests. "There was a big accident," Warren said, face tired as he jiggled his keys. "The cops shut down the highway for a while, to bring in the medical choppers. I know -- we should have called. Sorry. We just didn't think about it."
Xavier nodded, accepting that, though he clearly wasn't happy with us. "You're safe. That's what matters. Go to bed, children." So we did, but the sun was rising on a new year by the time I laid my head on my pillow.
When I rose, it was already after noon. I showered, dressed, then hung up the suit I'd left spread across a chair the night before. The jacket smelled faintly still of body odor, cigarettes and cotton candy, greasy pizza and Jean's perfume. Dry cleaning was in order, but part of me regretted the need. These were the scents of my own awakening. I wasn't numb anymore.
Shutting the closet door, I went down to find the professor, or better yet, Hank. I figured that he'd be back from the hospital by now, and he was. I located him in the kitchen, eating a bowl of cereal and looking exhausted. No one else was in the room. Getting coffee, I seated myself across from him at the eat-in table. "Good morning," he said, but his heart wasn't in it.
"You look dead beat."
"I am. We had four trauma calls last night, one right after the other, the worst at the end. Decapitation. Seven teenagers in one car. Apparently, it spun out of control, crossed the median, and went under a semi trailer -- peeling the top right off, and six heads with it. The only one to survive was a girl who'd been lying down across laps in the backseat."
"We saw it."
His head jerked up. "What?"
"Not the accident, but the cars -- yeah. On the way back from New Rochelle last night. The accident had traffic backed up for miles. By the time we got up there, the ambulances were all gone, but the cars weren't. There were at least two others, plus the truck."
He nodded. "The chief car struck another, and yet a third car slammed into the back of the semi when the driver put on the brakes suddenly. There were two other fatalities, and several serious injuries. The truck driver walked away." He shook his head. "I was never made to deal with this sort of thing, Scott. Give me a problem to solve, but don't give me a body to patch up that is past repair."
His big hands were shaking, and seeing the normally irrepressible Hank so distraught moved me. Reaching out spontaneously, I offered him my own hand to grip. He did so, studying my face in surprise. "Thank you."
"You're welcome." And given his evening, I was reluctant to ask him my next question, although it was why I'd come looking for him in the first place. It was time to stop avoiding the issue. "Hank, I need to know -- am I HIV positive?"
Sitting back, he released my hand and his face went still. "What brought this up?"
"I'm tired of playing ostrich."
His eyes held mine for a full minute, then he nodded. "Yes, you are."
It was a dull blow, one I'd been prepared for, but a blow nonetheless. Until a fact is confirmed, there's always a fraction of doubt. Of hope.
"But," Hank went on, "you're showing no signs of developing AIDS, or even ARC. You may never develop it. We still don't entirely understand the virus, Scott."
I nodded. I knew all that. "Can you give me anything preventive for it?"
"I already have been. What do you think those drug cocktails are that I feed you periodically?"
And I nodded again. I suppose I'd suspected that as well, but I simply hadn't asked questions. "I need to know something else. Jean told me you've done a DNA scan on me." He eyed me, then nodded. "And she says I have the X-gene."
"So why hasn't it manifested? Don't most mutants manifest by my age?"
"Many do, yes. But it's all very new. There's a lot that we don't fully understand yet."
"But I am a mutant."
"Genetically speaking, you are a mutant."
Standing, I pushed in my chair. "Thank you." And after pouring fresh coffee, I headed out.
"Scott -- " Hank called behind me. I glanced back. "That is all you wanted to know?"
"Yeah, that's all. Go get some sleep, Monkey Toes. And thanks."
My next objective was Xavier himself, but before I found him, I stumbled over Jean and Warren in the den, watching football. "Hey -- the dead walk," Warren said without turning to look at me, but he was grinning.
I didn't reply, but did decide that Xavier could wait, and entered to join them. Jean scooted over, making room for me on the couch even though there were empty chairs for me to take. Even a week before, I'd have taken a chair. Now, I sat down beside her, Warren on her other side. "What are we watching?"
"Rose Bowl," Warren answered. "Northwestern versus Southern Cal. Second quarter; Southern Cal is winning." Despite his thoroughly blue-blood background, Warren took college football seriously. I could've cared less myself, but I liked sitting here with them, doing what other Americans did on New Year's Day. The easiness we'd learned together the night before was still evident the morning after, and the restless jealousy that I'd felt for Jean ever since her arrival seemed to have vanished like a morning fog burned off by the heat of the rising sun. I'd learned to like her last night -- to like her a lot, in fact. Everyone else at the mansion but Jean was aware of what I'd been before, and I needed to know that she couldn't guess, that it wasn't obvious, that I wasn't branded. I could start over with primary colors.
Oddly, my cell phone rang at that very moment. I'd forgotten that I was even carrying it, much less that I'd turned it on. Warren and Jean both glanced at me in curiosity and I shrugged, pulling it out and opening it to say, "Hello?"
But the line hummed silent. "Fine," I said after ten breaths. "I didn't want to talk to you either." And shutting the phone, I turned it off, leaving it on the end table.
So we all sat together to watch the Rose Bowl, and ordered pizza delivery from a local Domino's. Hank had no doubt gone to bed, but the professor joined us at halftime. I glanced at him when he entered -- a measuring look. He didn't respond to that immediately, but after the topping choices for the pizza had been settled on, he sent into my head, You wished to speak with me?
Yeah, I do, I sent back. But not now. Right now, I want . . . this. I want to watch football with my friends and eat pizza.
And I could feel his pleasure at that. By all means, Scott. Happy New Year.
After the game was over, however, Xavier and I left while Warren and Jean watched endgame commentary, and Xavier took me up to his own bedroom suite. Once, I might have made certain assumptions, and panicked, but not now. It was early evening, and inside, he offered me a seat by the burning fireplace, in a big pine-green wing chair, and set about making tea on the lowboy under a window. Outside, I could see the reflected glow from the Christmas lights that Hank and I had strung early in December. Not elegant white, but bright and multi-hued. "White is so dull and predictable," Xavier had said, "and Christmas is all about brilliance."
So we'd strung the whole mansion with old-style, large-bulb light sets in shades of red and blue, green and orange. "It looks like a Chinese whore-house," I'd told Hank later. But I liked the colors. Brilliance, indeed. And there was nothing about this place even remotely like a whore-house. I ought to know.
When the tea was done, he brought me a cup -- ever gracious. It was fixed with milk and sugar the way I liked it, and one reason that I'd come to trust Charles Xavier was because he served me, like Jesus washing the feet of his disciples. I was a human being to him, worthy of respect, and there were days I wanted to cry for that. "Thank you," I said now.
"You're quite welcome," he told me. "And feel free to smoke, Scott. Not in the rest of the mansion, but these are my rooms, and I don't always feel like going outside for a pipe."
I smiled at that. "Maybe I should take up the pipe instead of cigarettes."
"Maybe you should."
I laughed. I'd been joking, but somehow, the idea lodged in my head. Shaking out a cigarette, I lit it, then held it straight up to stare at the burning tip. An ugly habit. Jean had never said as much last night, but I'd been able to read the thought clearly in her face, and it suddenly mattered to me. Even Warren didn't smoke much. It was just me. Nicotine, coffee and chocolate. My addictions.
"There are worse things," Xavier said, obviously having followed that. "It's the same molecule, you know, rotated -- caffeine and nicotine."
Raising the cigarette to my lips, I took a drag, then crushed it out in the ashtray on the end table. It left a dark streak on clear glass. Xavier watched me.
"What is troubling you, Scott?"
"Jean said I send Cerebro off the scale. And Hank says I'm a mutant. Genetically, anyway. Why didn't you tell me all this shit?"
I glanced up. "When?"
"I've told you this since you first arrived. I never concealed the fact that you were a mutant. It was you who were unready to hear."
I pondered that. He was right. From my very first day in Westchester, he'd said I was like them, but I hadn't believed him. "You didn't tell me I sent Cerebro off the scale, though."
"Scott, consider this logically -- if you were resisting the knowledge that you were a mutant of any type, do you think you would have believed me if I'd told you that you were one of the most powerful mutants I've ever encountered?"
He had a point, and I snorted, still staring at the streak of ash in the ashtray. "So what does that mean? Sending Cerebro off the scale?"
"Not quite off the scale," he corrected lightly. "But you are a very high-level alpha mutant. More than that, I can't say, since we're not entirely sure what your mutation is. All that Hank and I can determine, at this point, is that it will be of the physical variety, instead of the psychic."
"You mean I'm going to change. Like Hank, or Warren."
"Perhaps; perhaps not. And how, we aren't sure. We think your mutation involves your ocular nerves -- your eyes. But frankly, even now, Henry is unable to get a clear reading of anything above your jaw in X-Rays, or even in CAT scans." His grin was faint. "Whatever your body does, Scott, our equipment doesn't seem to like it."
"But I am a mutant."
"You most certainly are."
And this time, I believed. I think I wanted to believe, in fact. I wanted to be like them, these people who'd adopted me as their own. But I still wasn't. "What if my power never manifests?" I asked. "I mean, Warren said something about me being 'latent.' What if that's all it is? What if I never get any powers?"
Would they make me leave?
Bending forward in his chair, Xavier clasped his hands between his knees, and caught and held my eyes. "It doesn't matter, Scott. This is your home. Even if you didn't carry the genetic code, this would still be your home. You will always have a place here. Always."
And that broke me. After all these years, after living tenuously in foster homes and surviving on the street, the word 'home' had an almost mythic power that was difficult to convey. Home. I was home. This was my family. I belonged.
Hiding my face in my hands, I wept, and I could hear the squeak-grind of Xavier's chair as he moved it up next to my seat, then his hand fell on my head, stroking my hair. "Be my father," I choked out. "Please be my father." It sounded pathetic and small, but it rose from a grand canyon of loneliness. All I wanted was to be loved. "Be my father."
I felt his arm go around my shoulders to pull me in. Eyes still squeezed shut, I slid off the seat to lay my head in his lap. Not flesh of my flesh, not bone of my bone, but still miraculously my own, he said into my mind. "I'll never have a son," he whispered aloud, hand still stroking my hair. "But if I could, I'd want him to be just like you."
Notes: Jean's "wing care" is lovingly dedicated to Pax. She'll know why. Wal-Mart is a nod to Lelia. Additional thanks to Heatherly and Domenika (as well as Naomi, as always). The arrival of Jean is a fun little nod to X-Men #1.
Story VII is Diamonds in the Rough
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Title: Primary Colors (Special 6)
Series Name: SPECIAL: The Genesis of Cyclops
Author: Minisinoo [email] [website]
Details: Series | 35k | 10/09/04
Characters: Scott, Jean, Warren
Summary: Scott Summers, meet Jean Grey. Jean Grey, meet Warren Worthington, III. Nothing in life is ever simple.
Notes: This entire series is ADULT.
Sequel to: Bethlehem
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