I sat on a strange bed in an unfamiliar room at a rich mansion in the Westchester countryside, and thought about the art of second-guessing. It's a necessary talent, for a hustler.
I've had to second-guess the desires of johns more times than I care to count - men too shy, or with too little knowledge of the possibilities. They'd relied on me to tell them what to do. Then there were the dangerous ones, the johns who got a kick out of power games. They'd keep me in the dark about what they expected, but punish me if I got it wrong. And last, there were the tricks you just didn't take, based on a hunch or a bad gut feeling. Life might be nasty and brutish sometimes, but I was in no hurry to make it short, too. Second-guessing was a survival skill.
This time though, I had no idea what to expect. The guy was in a wheelchair, for crying out loud. A paraplegic. I'd never done a paraplegic before, didn't even know what he could do. Maybe he just wanted to watch me perform, but that wasn't my specialty. Still, if it got me out of doing anything else, I'd work on it. It wasn't like I hustled because I enjoyed dick. After running from Boys' Town not quite two years ago, I'd discovered that I had exactly one useful skill and one saving grace. I could play pool, and my face was as pretty as a girl's. But when I'd hustled at pool, I'd as often as not gotten my pretty face messed up later. When I'd hustled my ass, being kicked around had come less often, so I'd picked the path of least resistance and tried not to think about the fact that I was probably HIV positive. I'd had gonorrhea twice and syphilis once, and the crab too many times to count. That was life.
Now, my life was about to change.
After the guy in the silver jaguar had left New York, I hadn't immediately followed the address that he'd given me. I'd been too angry, and too cautious, and too damn stubborn. But when cash had gotten tight, leaving me caught between Scylla and Charybdis, my pride had faded. I hadn't known what to expect, but I'd trusted that whoever was on the other end of the address wasn't dangerous. Still, I'd put a switchblade in my pocket, just in case. You don't live long on assumptions. Even if Westchester County lay just north of the city, it was a land of milk-and-privilege that had felt as far away for me as the moon, so I'd packed as if I were leaving for a few days not a few hours and dressed in street clothes for the trip -- old, ripped jeans and a red hooded sweatshirt -- then told Mariana I was going to the library. She'd stared pointedly at my backpack, but had asked no questions. That's why I love her. She doesn't play my mother even if she is ten years older than me. And she loves me because I don't try to get into bed with her. Or rather, when I do, it isn't for sex. She lets me sleep with her when I have nightmares, and sometimes she comes to my bed seeking sanctuary from her own.
I'd left Greenwich Village in the early afternoon because I didn't want to look for the address on the matchbook after dark, and this trip was mainly to scope out my options in any case. The man hadn't summoned me and I wasn't sure if the guy in the silver jag had even told him about me. Taking the number six out of the Village to Grand Central, I'd had to wait for the MTA Metro-North leaving at 2:20. Eeling into a seat that opened improbably near a window, I'd put on my headphones and stared at my faint reflection painted unchanging over the whiz of scenery outside: cold city concrete transmuting into autumn gold countryside, out past Tarrytown to arrive an hour after departing at a speck on the map called New Salem. There, I'd changed into work clothes in the station bathroom, then hired a taxi to drive me to the address I'd been given. The driver had awarded me an odd look, but shrugged and let me in. Turned out, the address wasn't in town at all but at a big estate in the country. I'd expected an anonymous flat reserved for some rich guy's cheap fucks, though how I'd been supposed to contact him, I hadn't been sure. I think I was more surprised than the driver when he let me out at the gate to a private mansion.
Shit, I'd thought, as I'd walked up the lane. I'd learned fast in this business to locate the exits even before entering, but the mansion was a hell of a long way from any neighbors. Bodies could disappear out here.
The house itself overwhelmed, had great glass windows opening above a circular drive and a manicured lawn, private gardens, apple orchard . . . . I'd wondered how many acres it covered. I didn't belong here; I belonged at the curb with the rest of the trash. But I'd taken the earphones off my head and mounted the steps to the front door anyway, rang the bell.
Good afternoon, Scott, please come in. The door is open; I've been waiting for you.
At first I'd thought it was a loudspeaker. Then I'd realized: the voice was coming from inside my fucking head.
I'd almost turned around right then and fled. That I hadn't, had owed to hunger. So I'd pushed the door open and entered to find an old, bald guy in a wheelchair, sitting there in the foyer. He had an eagle nose and sharp, small eyes of indeterminate color. His age was about the same as that of the man who'd sent me to him, and he'd looked me up and down thoughtfully. In the train station, I'd put on for him the same outfit that I'd kept for his friend in the silver jag. I'd figured it was as safe a bet as anything. "Aren't you cold?" he'd asked. No judgement, just the question.
I'd glanced down at the short-sleeve, mid-drift muscle-shirt I wore in late September. In fact, I was cold, but said only, "It's okay if you like it."
"It is not 'okay.' Please come with me." And he'd motored off, calling over his shoulder, "My name, by the way, is Charles Xavier, a former professor of psychology at Queen's College, Oxford." He had the British accent to go with it. "My students used to call me 'Professor X.'"
Baffled, I'd trailed him. He was giving me his name and occupation? But I'd supposed that I shouldn't have been surprised. After all, the address had led to his own house, and I'd learned already that the rich could do whatever the hell they wanted, and damn appearances. "How'd you do that . . . thing . . . inside my head? You a mutie, too, like the guy in the silver jag?"
Yes. Erik Lehnsherr -- the 'guy in the silver jag' -- and I are both mutants. We met when I was seventeen, and were friends for many years in a world hostile to us. As you no doubt were shown -- Eric was never shy -- his gifts are related to magnetism. My own are telepathic.
Holy fucking shit. "You can read minds?" I'd squeaked, stopping dead in my tracks. Hungry or not, I'd been ready to flee right then, do not pass 'Go,' do not collect two-hundred dollars.
He'd halted his chair, turned it to face me. "Erik and I do not share the same methodology, Scott. I will not read your mind without your permission unless you are unintentionally projecting -- as you are right now about your empty stomach. Otherwise, I will respect your mental privacy in the same way I would your physical privacy. You are not here for the reason you believe, child."
Then he'd turned again and motored away. Blinking and unsure what to think, I'd followed.
First, he'd fed me, then he'd given me clothes, towels, a razor, a toothbrush, and a room to put them all in. "This is where you'll sleep, Scott. Your room. You may decorate it however you like." And that was how I'd discovered that my status had changed from two-bit hustler to rent boy at a fancy mansion in Westchester county. Looking out the room's french doors past the balcony, I could see the Hudson River in the distance, a dull ribbon of grey. "Is there anything at your apartment that you need to retrieve?" he'd asked.
"No." My former life held absolutely nothing that I wanted, except, "Uh -- there is one thing, though. I've, um, got a friend. Not a girlfriend," I'd hastened to explain so he wouldn't get jealous and throw me out. "Just a friend. I need to call her or she'll worry about me."
"If you will give me a number where she can be reached, I shall have her notified that you are alive and quite well."
It wasn't what I'd had in mind, and had made me nervous that he wouldn't let me call Mariana myself.
He'd leaned forward in the chair to catch my eyes. "You are in absolutely no danger here, Scott. I promise you. These precautions are for your own protection. Unless I am much mistaken, you have a pimp, and he might be disinclined to release your services?"
True. But, "I'd thought you said you wouldn't read my mind?"
The professor had smiled. "I didn't have to. I read your face. You are free to walk out the front door right now if you wish." He'd gestured back down the hall. "I can call you a cab."
But it hadn't been said as a threat, just an offer. I felt like the feral cat being shown the open door. "That's okay," I'd said.
"I shall leave you now," the professor had said, "and let you settle in. You may shower if you wish, but please, do change into something warmer, and into some shoes you can walk in." He'd smiled when I'd glanced down at my high-heeled fuck-me boots. "Meet me downstairs at five, and we shall take a little tour before dinner at seven."
So I'd followed his suggestion to shower and now sat on the bed staring into the closet like Alice through the fucking looking glass. When he'd asked if there was anything I needed from my room, I'd gathered that he meant me to stay. But this -- The closet was full of clothes. New clothes. Expensive clothes. Most had the tags still on them. And they were all bought for me -- my size. I'd never had new clothes at Boys' Town. Later, on the street, most of my new stuff had been for work. The last new shirt I'd had that wasn't skin tight had been a pretty woven pullover the same color as my eyes. Mariana had given it to me for my birthday, and Christ, maybe I'd spoken too soon. I'd miss that shirt.
In any case, I got up off the bed to flip through the clothes: jeans and khakis and even a couple pairs of wool dress pants; polos and button-downs and long-sleeved t-shirts. Still in shock, I started yanking open drawers. Socks, underwear, turtlenecks, even belts. And on the closet floor, real leather loafers, tennis shoes, a pair of nice hiking boots, all lined up in a neat row.
How the hell had he known my sizes? Maybe his friend, that guy Erik, had told him. There had been plenty of opportunities for Erik to have looked if he'd wanted.
But it was a prep boy's wardrobe, not the clothes of a hustler. Well, people did have strange fetishes. If he wanted me to dress like an ivy league drop out, who was I to argue? It must be some weird professorial fantasy. Was I to play subsie for all those hot college guys who'd sucked him off so they could get As on the next test, then dropped him cold when the semester was over? I was a little young and a little thin for a college boy, but what the hell. Picking out something that didn't look too dorky, I put it on, then tied my hair back in a ponytail. Long hair did spoil the effect. Maybe he'd want me to get that cut, too.
But I really do hate trying to second-guess johns. That much I'd give Erik. He hadn't played these stupid fuck-games.
Looking at the clock, I had half an hour still to wait. I was too strung out to rest, and my head had started to ache like it did sometimes when I was tense, the pain radiating out from a point in the center of my brow just above my eyes, as if someone had taken an icepick to that spot. I must be light sensitive, because I'd discovered by accident that wearing certain sunglasses helped. Anything with red-tinted lenses. Purple wasn't too bad, either, but red was better.
Pacing was just making me more nervous so I put on my shades and went out onto the balcony to glare off into the westering sun and smoke. I wondered if this guy would be as weird about my cigs as his friend had been, and what would I do if I couldn't get more? I had a couple packs of Camels with me, but that would last only a few days. I'd do just about anything to get off the street and know where my next meal was coming from, but I had limits. If I played the cue ball's fantasy games for sex, outside that, I was myself and he could learn to live with it.
I was almost done with my cigarette when movement to my left caught my attention.
There was a guy walking up the wall. Not with ropes. He was just . . . scaling it freehand, like a rock climber without the chalk. He had the goddamn biggest feet and hands I'd ever seen on a person in my life. I felt my jaw drop at the same time his nose lifted, sniffing the air. Then he turned his head to look directly at me, blinked. His eyes were blue, like mine.
Quicker than I could quite register, he'd grabbed a window ledge and swung himself smoothly over onto my balcony. Like some overgrown ape. Instinctively, I backed against the door, ready to flee inside. But I confess, I was also as curious as hell. Erik had been a mutant, the professor was a mutant, and this guy had to be a mutant or I was James Dean. What was this place?
Aside from his crouching posture and the enormous extremities, he looked fairly normal with wire-rimmed glasses and curly dark hair. He wasn't what I'd call good-looking, but he wasn't ugly. Seeing my alarm, he grinned and straightened up, offered a hand for me to shake. "You must be the new boy. Allow me to introduce myself. I'm Henry McCoy, better known as Hank. Welcome to Westchester, Mr. Summers."
I didn't take the hand. "How the hell do you know my last name?" I'd certainly never given it to the guy in the jaguar.
Shrugging and withdrawing his hand, McCoy perched himself on the balcony rail. I might have worried that he was going to fall off, but after the little display he'd given getting here, I doubted it. "The professor has been waiting for you for some time. I'm sure he'll explain it all, during your tour. How do you like the mansion? And those things will kill you." He pointed to my cigarette. "Have you ever seen a picture of the lungs of a smoker?"
"Black is my favorite color," I said and took a last drag before flicking the butt over the rail.
I could tell he was no more sure what to make of me than I was of him. I decided that maybe I should be friendly, at least until I'd figured out the score in this place.
"What do you do here," I asked, "besides climb the walls and scare the bejeesus out of people?"
He grinned. "I am a medical doctor."
A fucking doctor? "Aren't you a little young?" I'd have laid money that he was no more than five or six years older than me barely out of college.
He sighed, a strangely exaggerated sound. "I fear I was born with more than one gift" -- and he raised one of those improbable feet -- "or curse, depending on your definitions. My IQ is rather . . . excessive. My high school career ended in ignomity on a football field and the professor brought me here, became my private tutor. After that, there seemed little point in hiding what I could do intellectually in order to preserve my secret, so I finished the equivalent of an undergraduate degree at nineteen and medical school just last year. I am currently working on my internship. The rigors of actual clinical experience do not lend themselves to academic acceleration."
I found myself grinning at this, and not just for his dictionary-who-ate-the-thesaurus language. It was the whole idea: ape-man the Einstein. "Where're you doing your internship?"
"Columbia Presbyterian. Well, that's what it was called. The name now is rather a mouthful: New York-Presbyterian, the University Hospitals of Columbia and Cornell." He made it sound suitably dramatic, then shrugged. "No one calls it that except on official stationary."
Still smiling, I made a gesture to take in the whole of him. "Do they know about the wall-walking thing?"
"Most certainly not. People like us must be very careful."
"'People like us'? Sorry, dude, I don't think so. This may be mutie heaven, but I'm just visiting."
He seemed baffled, then shook his head slightly and shrugged. "I believe it is nearly time for your appointment with the good professor. And I must return to my room."
Then he flipped -- literally -- backwards off my balcony to grab the same window ledge he'd used to arrive, and scampered up the wall. "Hey!" I called after. "Can't you, like, use the friggin' stairs?"
"What fun would that be?" he called back before disappearing over the edge of another balcony. "See you at supper, Scott!"
Despite what McCoy had intimated, the professor said nothing to me about why I was there, during my tour of the mansion. Instead, he gave me an abbreviated history of the place, which had been in his family for generations -- though how his British accent and the Oxford professorship fit into that, I wasn't clear. The house had all kinds of rooms: solar, library, sitting room, commercial kitchen, formal dining room and a dining hall both, chapel, ballroom, stable, indoor pool, workout room, game room, atrium, bedrooms, lots of closets and other undefined storage space. The tour extended outside, as well. Much of the property had been adapted for wheelchair access. There were external gardens and an English-style hedge maze with a gazebo at its heart. "You may like this place," he told me with a twinkle in his eye. "You can hear anyone coming long before they reach you. And the heart of the maze cannot be seen from the mansion."
Why he was telling me how to hide from him, I had no idea. But at least I knew where I could go, to get some peace.
He took me as far as the boathouse, pointed out the jogging path through the pines, then we headed back to the mansion. But he stopped in the garden again and gestured me to sit down on a stone bench, spoke to me about my place here for the first time. "You are not beholden to me, Scott. After you hear what I have to say, you are free to leave, if you wish. If you do choose to stay, then I shall expect you to observe a few common-sense rules. For instance, please be on time for the main meals; it's rude to my cook, to expect her to prepare more than one dinner. If you wish to eat at non-meal hours -- and I do recall the eating habits of adolescent boys -- " he smiled -- "You will have to fetch your own meal from the kitchen. If you take a trip into town, please notify someone first. Keys to the mansion vehicles are in the garage, on a board near the door, labeled. Be sure the key is returned to its proper place. Do you have a valid driver's license?"
I just blinked at him. "Sir, I don't have a valid birth certificate. How could I get a valid license? I don't know how to drive a car." I didn't mention that I wasn't even sixteen yet.
This seemed to take him aback. Then he shook his head. "How foolish of me. Of course. We'll have to take care of that. Do you know your social security number?"
"Good. We can start there. In any case, if you wish to go into town, you may summon a taxi, or perhaps Hank, Jean, or my driver can take you. But if you do go, please don't simply disappear. Otherwise, we may worry. Last, please do not litter the lawn below your balcony with cigarette butts."
Christ. Had he seen me on the balcony earlier?
"As I am all too aware" -- he tapped the pipe in his breast pocket -- "nicotine can be an insidiously addictive substance, one to which you are apparently already subject. So I shan't ask you to surrender your cigarettes. But I think we can find you an ashtray."
The dry humor made me smile. It was also a surprising concession and, like his confidence to me regarding the gazebo at the heart of the maze, showed unexpected kindness. "I didn't know what you'd think," I said now. "So I didn't ask for one."
He smiled at me and took out his pipe, filled it. "I'll be honest with you, Scott: I hope you'll quit eventually, for the sake of your health. But you'll find that I am not in the habit of criticizing. Not that way. You've been forced to live as an adult for a while now and I'll endeavor to treat you like one, as long as you behave like one. You can make your own decisions. I'll simply be frank regarding my opinions -- and from the high ground of personal experience, in this case." He raised the pipe bowl in his hand, and then paused a moment to light it. "It's an unhealthy habit," he continued. "You must decide if your reasons for maintaining it are worth the risk, and that isn't a decision I can make for you. If I did, I'd be your parent, not your teacher."
"My teacher?" That made me laugh out loud. "What the hell do you plan to teach me? The kama sutra?"
He sighed. "No, my young friend. Simple math, history and literature. I told you before, you are not here for the reasons you think, and my methods are very different from Erik's." For just a moment, I saw anger in the line of his jaw. "Erik was supposed to have brought you to me months ago. Instead, he played a game of cat and mouse, let you walk the streets because it suited some fancy of his, and waited to tell you about me until he and I were past any point of reconciliation." Abruptly and sharply he shook his head. "No matter. You're here now."
"To go to school?" It seemed absurd.
"To go to school," he reiterated. "I'm offering you an education, the chance to recover what you missed while you were struggling to survive. No one will expect anything of you here beyond your attention during study session, diligence in your homework, and common courtesy to others. I think you'll like it, Scott." He smiled at me, a wholly genuine expression with no assumptions, no expectations behind it. Kind. It knocked the breath out of me. When was the last time anyone had been kind to me for no reason? Even Mariana was kind because she was my friend. This man was kind without knowing me at all. I didn't trust it, even while I was desperate to accept it.
"What's in it for you?" I asked, because I just couldn't believe there was no reason. "You really don't want me to sleep with you?"
A wash of emotions on his face -- anger, pain, disappointment, resignation -- ending with abstract sadness. "No, Scott. As long as you live here, you will never have to submit to unwanted sexual advances. If anyone should ever suggest such a thing to you, or pressure you into it, you must come to me immediately and I will deal with it." The tone of his voice promised that he could. Crippled, locked in a wheelchair as he was, I had no doubt that he could. "Here, you will be safe, child. No one will hurt you, no one will beat you, and you will never be hungry."
Simple promises, easy to say, but I felt my eyes sting from overwhelmed tears. I believed him. For some reason, maybe just the sheer strangeness of the whole afternoon -- the new clothes in my new closet in my new room, his confidence to me about the gazebo, his generous tolerance of my bad habits -- I believed him. It wasn't until much later that I realized he'd never answered the first half of my question, about what was in it for him. "But why?" I asked now, rubbing at my eyes under my sunglasses, because tears were weak and I'd learned never to be weak.
"Because you're special," he answered. "You're one of a tiny percentage of the population who's fantastically gifted."
It was such a patently absurd statement, my mouth dropped open. "Me? Hey, man, you got the wrong guy. I'm not your wall-climbing monkey genius. My IQ's pretty goddamn average."
"That isn't what I meant -- nor is it true. I know more about you than you might think. Just how many streetwalkers spend their summer afternoons reading their way through the New York Public Library?"
"What the fuck does that prove? A library's air-conditioned."
"So is a mall."
"A library's quiet -- which a mall sure as hell ain't."
"Mmmm. Yes. And just how many books did you read in the meantime?"
"If I didn't read, they kicked me out."
His smile grew. "Fair enough. Nonetheless, a library rat is a rather different animal than a mall rat, don't you agree?"
I felt myself turning red, and wouldn't reply.
"Scott, there is no shame in liking books. You have a tremendous mind and books feed the mind as surely as your ham-on-rye fed your stomach at lunch." The smile again. "In my experience, most mutants are above average in intelligence."
He thought I was a mutant? Was that was this was about? His friend Erik must have led him on a wild goose chase.
I stood up. "Professor Xavier, I think you have some wrong ideas." He'd been kind to me, and he wasn't trying to get me into bed. Something drove me to do the right thing in return. "Maybe your friend didn't level with you or something. Maybe I shouldn't either, but you'll find out eventually, so I'll just tell you. I'm not a mutant. I'm just your average runaway. Hustling is how I make a living. There's nothing special about me, unless you count my eyes." I pulled off my sunglasses to show him my blue eyes. I was vain of them. 'Killer eyes' Mariana had called them as a joke.
But inexplicably, the professor had started chuckling. "Yes, Scott, there is something very special about your eyes. So we think, Hank and I. Just what and how they are special will reveal itself in due time. And I am not mistaken. You are a mutant. I managed to find you before your power had manifested catastrophically."
This was just absurd. But he seemed so certain of himself. And what he said about my eyes. . . . I thought about my headaches again -- headaches like those suffered by people who needed glasses. Except my eyesight was 20/20, better than 20/20, in fact.
I didn't like that train of thought.
"If my power hasn't manifested, how could you possibly know I'm a mutant?"
The smile didn't disappear. "I will show you. But first, I must have your word. Will you stay here to become my student?"
I mulled it over. He didn't rush me. There were times enough that I'd lied through my teeth. But if I gave my word, I kept it. When forced into personal humiliation on the grand scale, maintaining small points of honor mattered.
And the plain fact was, I wanted off the street. This man was offering me a way out. He might be a mutant and the world might hate him for it if they knew, but he'd bought nice clothes for a cheap hustler and now he was promising me an education so I could do something with my life that didn't involve getting on my knees and opening my mouth. He'd said that no one would harass me and I could sleep in my own bed. Alone. And I'd have enough to eat. "Okay," I told him finally. "I'll be your student. I think you're crazy, but I'll stay here."
The smiled turned brilliant. "Then come Scott. I want to introduce you to Cerebro."
Endnotes: The character makeup in this series is reminiscent of the original five. Hank is pre-blue and older than Scott, who is not the first student - quite. Thanks to Mo for subway info, to Leila for the professor's background, what little we know, and to Domenika for information on Columbia.
Story III is "The Bird Whose Wings Made the Wind"
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Title: Scylla and Charybdis (Special 2)
Series Name: SPECIAL: The Genesis of Cyclops
Author: Minisinoo [email] [website]
Details: Series | 26k | 09/27/04
Characters: Scott Summers, Charles Xavier
Summary: Scott decides to follow the address given to him by the man in the silver jaguar.
Disclaimer/Other: ADULT - frank language and discussion of unpleasant topics.
Sequel to: Just About Sex
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