Warnings: Beware of language; and Scott talks about things that aren't pretty. The comic tries to make the students sound tough and hip, but still maintain comic code (no profanity) - so it sometimes just sounds awkward. I don't have to follow comic code . . . so I don't. I'm sure at least some of this story will be contradicted in the future, but what the heck . . . . Consider it AU if necessary.
Notes: One of the things I like so far about Ultimate is that (most of) the characters are less black and white, including Xavier and Magneto. And although we haven't been told much about the students' backgrounds yet, aside from what's on the official site (very little), I'm going to assume a few traditional things about Scott, e.g., that he's an orphan who spent some time on the street. And in keeping with Ultimate's darker tone, I'm playing that background harder. I'm also preserving his old nickname.
Scott sits on the back steps of the mansion kitchen's rear entrance - what used to be the servants' door. He's wearing his uniform, staring off at the line of pines along the back of the yard. And thinking. Planning tactics, probably, figuring out how we'll get Little Miss Cashmere-and-Pearls out of Magneto's clutches. And drinking chocolate milk.
My Beaver in black leather.
Except he's not. Beaver Cleaver is only who he'd like to be in a perfect 1950s world. In a world of Sentinels and drug lords and Reality TV, he's a mutant, and before that, an orphan and a run-away. He's seen more things and done more things to survive than I can imagine. Telepathic exposure can grow you up fast, but it's still by proxy. Scott lived it, and he doesn't talk about it. He's told me a few funny stories, like the pet wolf spider he kept to kill the roaches in one dive where he slept. But like a combat vet, he skips the hard stuff. I don't know if he's protecting me, or if he just can't talk about it. I wasn't here yet when the professor first found him, but I do know Xavier had to throw him in a de-tox tank before he could do anything else with him.
These days, his worst vice is chocolate milk. Chocolate anything, really, but chocolate milk is what the mansion had better never be out of, or we hear about it. I hear about it. The Man with the Milk Mustache. He can go through a gallon of the stuff in two days. He'll put up with regular vitamin D white, if there's nothing else in the fridge, but the chocolate milk is his. He drinks it straight out of the jug, so who else wants it, anyway?
Now, I wander out the door to plop down next to him on the steps. "Didn't anyone ever teach you to use a glass, Slim?" It's my usual question. He gives his usual answer - a shrug - and takes another swig. It makes me smile as I tap out a cigarette from my pack and light it. He has chocolate milk, I have Camel Wides. This is my flirtation with the Dark Side of the Force. Deep drag and the nicotine rush makes me shiver a little, calms my body. He watches. He doesn't approve. I don't care. Yet I do. We don't even have that conversation any more. I'm careful to blow smoke away from him. I think cigarettes are the only vice Scott never took up. He tells me they make me look ugly. I tell him to go to hell. Which is why we don't have that conversation.
But I'm trying to quit. For him. I bought some of those stupid little patches in the three different sizes and I'm down to step number two. All for a man who chugs chocolate milk. But however much of an annoying son of a bitch he can be, he's also my friend, and it genuinely bothers him. He can't hide that from me. So I'm going to quit.
But not today. I fill my lungs with smoke and speak on the exhale. "You're not happy about this mission."
"No shit, Sherlock. But the professor gave us a job; I'll do it."
"Is that the only reason?"
He doesn't reply, drinks more milk.
"In there," I jerk a thumb back towards the Situation Room, "you said the professor was right."
"I guess." He sets down the jug on the step between his knees, and sighs. "No, I know he's right. Violence won't end violence."
He glances at me, gives that funny Scott-smile. "Isn't that what you'd tell me, too?"
"Maybe. But I want to hear what you really think. You're just parroting now."
He doesn't reply immediately, rubs a thumb up and down the handle of rough plastic. I smoke and wait. I've learned with Scott to wait. He can wisecrack as quick as the next guy - quicker - but when he's being serious, he wants to think it all through. Finally he says, "He has a point. But he's doing this to get a bargaining chip, make the president owe him a favor. That might work in the short-run - for this month, next month, the one after. But people have short memories when it comes to gratitude."
"I'm not most people."
He's not trying to be funny but I laugh anyway and he realizes, belatedly, how that sounded - grins. He does have a sense of humor about himself at least. "You know what I meant," he says.
"Of course. But you just set yourself up for these things sometimes." I put an arm around his shoulders. Companionable. Yet he stiffens, and I let him go. I shouldn't tease him, even unintentionally. I know how he feels about me. The stupid thing is, he knows I know. I'm a telepath. But he's never said anything. Maybe he figures he doesn't need to, that if I'm interested in return, I'll tell him. But that's too easy. If he wants me, he's going to have to tell me. With words. I'm not getting into a relationship where I have to do all the work. Logan wouldn't expect me to read his mind.
Jesus. Where had that come from? And what is it about Bad Boys that I find so attractive? One who wants to be Beaver Cleaver, one who wants to be Mad Max. "What'd you think of what Logan said in the Danger Room -- about coming here for 'the scenery'?" I ask now.
He shifts, glances at me. "He meant you, y'know. You're the scenery."
I feel my skin go red and mentally damn my complexion. I hadn't taken it that way. But I'm terribly flattered for some stupid reason.
"I don't like him," Scott says.
Tell me something I don't know, Slim.
"He's after something," Scott adds.
"Well, yeah. Duh. The question is what."
The Scott-grin again. He should patent it. "I don't know what yet, Jean. We watch him to find out. And we don't trust him. Entirely." He gives me a warning look. Jealous, Scott?
Maybe it'll incite him get off his duff finally and say something to me about his feelings. But if he did speak, what would I say back? Two weeks ago, I'd have said yes without stopping to think twice. That was before Logan arrived. Logan's too old for me. Logan's dangerous. "I don't trust him," I say aloud now. "I don't even like him much. But I do feel for him. He's really screwed up, Scott. People screwed him over but good."
Scott takes a final swallow then pops the cap back on the milk jug, stands. "Yeah? Well, life's a bitch. Pity for poor Wolverine." And he goes back inside.
I sigh and crush out what's left of my cigarette, follow him, catch him up in the hallway. "I didn't say you've had it easy. But you do have it together more, even though you're younger."
"No, I fake it better." He'd never admit that to anyone but me. Not even to the professor.
I grab his hand and pull him to a stop, ignore his discomfort with the contact. "It's not all just a show. I may tease you, but I trust you. Implicitly. You're a good man."
He doesn't say anything but I can feel his mind whirling. Pleasure, at my praise; he stands an inch taller. But underneath that is shame. He doesn't really believe me, that he's a good man, and I wonder for the hundredth time what he hides about his past, what makes him so desperate to be a boy scout, what makes him so anxious to control every little detail, what makes him so protective of his dignity. It's more than the power of his eyes. Like telepathy, three years on the street can make a kid old, fast. Scott's eighteen going on forty. I can't imagine him playing or laughing or just being silly. It's like that part of him got burned out before he ever had a chance to find it. Some day, I'd like to see him laugh just because he's happy. Not with sarcasm or cynicism or bitter humor. But laugh because he's having fun. I've never seen that, which is a tragedy because I think he might have a beautiful smile. I'm not sure he even knows how to laugh like that. His heart is all wrapped about in barbed wire.
"Hey," I say now, and tug him closer. There's no one around, no one to see. "Lean down."
"Why?" But he does it, bends slightly at the waist.
Softly, I kiss his scratchy cheek,
whisper in his ear, "You are a good man, Slim."
And then I leave him there, dazed.
After the mission, it's Scott who pilots back to the mansion. I'm too busy helping Storm keep Hank alive to give Scott much thought. But I can feel his frustration, his fear, and his guilt. It radiates off him in waves like heat from a sidewalk . Nothing shows on his face. You'd think he didn't care, unless you watched close enough to see his hand grip the throttle convulsively.
He's going to be okay, I send at one point. I don't need to specify who 'he' is.
Scott doesn't glance around at me, but he does glance at the girl in the passenger seat behind the co-pilot's chair. Miss Cashmere-and-Pearls, the president's dim-witted daughter. I'm almost embarrassed that we share red hair. She sits stiff in her seat, obviously terrified - as terrified of us, her rescuers, as of the ones who'd kidnaped her in the first place. She's afriad that she might catch it, being a mutant, just from breathing the same air we do. She's my age, but I feel a hundred years older.
He'd better be okay, I hear Scott think. The little bitch isn't fit to lick his toes clean. I have a feeling he might have said something other than 'toes' if I hadn't been listening. It's funny, how he tries to shelter me, even from himself.
After we set down in the mansion
hanger, I must go to the infirmary, to help the professor try to save
Hank. But I take a moment, maybe thirty seconds, to stop by Scott
who is unstrapping himself from the pilot's chair, set a hand on his
bare upper arm. He fumbles his harness and turns his head down
towards my hand. We don't speak, not even mentally. I just
send him my affection. Whatever else happens, we'll always be
That's what I thought then. We'd always be friends.
I'm sitting in the kitchen now, his jug of chocolate milk sitting on the table in front of me while I occupy a chair, feet up, arms around my knees. I stare at it.
God, Scott. Who's going to finish the milk? And why'd you leave me?
But I know why.
I caught him. Before he left. Before he stole the blackbird and ran away. I didn't realize that's what he was going to do - take the 'bird - or I'd have prevented that, at least. But I didn't stop him from leaving. I tried, but only with words. I didn't force him. I didn't try to make him stay like the professor did.
I hate Xavier.
And I hate myself.
I was in bed - with Logan -
when the professor opened the connection between my mind and his, let me
overhear his final conversation with Scott. I wonder if he knew
where I was at the time? Probably. But he made me a silent
witness to that awful exchange:
"We're hardly going nowhere, Scott. I've just arranged the first human-mutant summit and negotiated a suspension of the Sentinel program, for God's sake."
"Neither," I called back.
When you're about to lose your very best friend in the whole cold world, you don't play fair. I used my telepathy to locate him. He was on his way to the lower levels. I assumed, then, that he was after his bike, and went flying down the emergency stairs, raced the hall to catch him. He heard me coming and stopped, turned to face me, expression that of a man on death row. "What?" he said. It wasn't really a question. It was a warning. Stay away from me.
I didn't listen, I just grabbed him. He was my life raft. "Don't go!"
He shoved me away. Hard. "Go cling to Logan."
Oh, shit. He knew. How he knew, I didn't have a clue, but he did. He must have seen something when I didn't realize we were being watched. Maybe in the garden? Not that it mattered. Done was done. I'd never meant to hurt him. Everything in him screamed betrayal now; it was heavy in his gut like slug iron and almost brought me to my knees. But the betrayal stemmed from more than just what I'd done. I'd come after him in the first place to try to undo Xavier's damage.
The professor doesn't understand Scott. Not fully. He doesn't understand Scott's terror of being controlled. Scott will micro-manage everybody's else's life, but if anyone tries to compel him, he freaks and goes ballistic. No question that it has something to do with his past but he's never told me what. I just know better than to try to compel him. Ask, and he'll bend over backwards for you. Demand and he'll put a fist in your face.
He'd started walking again. I hurried to catch up with his long legs. "Just listen to me, Slim."
"Because you owe it to me."
"I don't owe you shit, little girl."
"Yes, you do!" I grabbed him again. Probably a mistake, but I did it anyway. All his pain and grief poured through me. "You owe me as a friend!"
"I don't have any friends," he spat it in my face. "Or didn't you notice?" But he let me hold on to him when he could easily have shaken me off again. He wanted me to contradict him, needed it. I obliged. I'd do anything to keep him.
"You do have friends, Scott. You have me."
"Logan has you." Bitter, bitter like espresso.
"You stupid ass!" Now, I was pissed. "Who I sleep with has nothing to do with who my friends are. Or who I care about most."
That awful smirk. "Then I guess we both know what that makes you, huh?" And this time he did walk away. "Whore."
It was a kick in my gut. "I'm not a whore, you self-righteous prick!"
"Really?" He didn't stop or turn. "When a woman jumps into bed with a guy she doesn't care about, that's the term I'd choose. I'd thought better of you, Jean."
Oh, god. Just a few words and he makes me feel like the trash heap.
"Who are you to judge me?!"
He did stop now. About forty feet separated us. Forty feet and all our very different life experiences. "Who am I? An ex-prostitute. Been there, done that, took no souvenirs."
His self-hatred was so thick it choked me, and I didn't know what to say. I guess I was surprised, even while I wasn't. I'd known that whatever secret he harbored, it was bad. I'd just assumed he'd been a thief or a drug-runner or something else - something macho. Stupid assumption. He'd been fourteen when he'd run from the orphanage. Young and pretty. That little boy wasn't the Cyclops I knew - six feet tall and hard as steel - but that little boy still hid inside, curled up terrified in a corner of Scott's soul.
He gestured to me, a movement awkward with restraint. "I don't get you. How you dress, how you act sometimes, the cigarettes, the holes in your ears. It looks like a fucking ring toss, not jewelry. It's not attractive. You want to be bad; you try so goddamn hard. I don't understand that. It's crazy. You don't know shit, Jean. You've been flirting with fire. That's a cliche, but it's true. It's also stupid as all hell. I know, okay? I know what bad is. It's me. It's why I can't sleep at night. You were pure. However you dressed or acted, you were pure - just an average girl whose biggest concern was what grade she'd get on her next algebra exam, before she started hearing voices in her head. And I loved that. I loved you; I never wanted to ruin you. So instead you ran to Logan and let him do it. Why?"
And now I understood the reason Scott had never spoken to me about his feelings. The fool was afraid to sully me. But he'd also made me so mad, I couldn't think straight. "I'm not some stupid doll you can put up on a pedestal, Scott Summers! I'm not your porcelain Madonna! And I wasn't a virgin!"
"That's not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about selling yourself. Giving out when you don't feel anything."
"You jackass! How dare you assume you know what I feel?"
"Do you love him?"
"No, of course not!"
He turned away.
I couldn't let him go. Reaching out mentally, I touched his mind, tried to give him all at once the things I wanted to say: that I didn't care what he'd been, and admired who he is. That I did love him, I just wasn't entirely sure in what capacity. But I forgot, in my panic, what Xavier had done to him earlier and his reaction was an explosion of the physical, not mental. He was back across forty feet so fast, it took me by complete surprise. Slamming me up against the wall, he screamed in my face, "Don't fuck with my head!"
"I'm not, I'm not, I'm not! I'd never do that to you!"
God, he was strong, and I was terrified. For the first time, I was terrified of Scott. I was also hugely turned on. Is that what I wanted? A man who scared me? And why? It was sick. He saw only the fear, and pulled away. He wouldn't apologize verbally, but I could feel his shame, see it in his smile. Always so bitter. It's the only kind he knows. "If you weren't fucking with my head, then what were you doing? Playing mental footsie?" Abruptly, he lifted me off the ground and pushed me into the wall, held me there with the pressure of his body against mine. He was aroused, too, and God, he felt good. I wanted to eat him alive. Without even thinking, I put my arms around his neck and leaned forward to kiss him.
He jerked his head back. "What, Jean? You like it rough?" He let me go and I fell to my feet. He moved away again. "Well, I don't."
"Scott - "
"Shut up. And don't try to fuck with my head again."
"I wasn't. I - "
"You were trying to change my mind like Charles did. Screwing me over mentally after you did it with Logan physically. Remind me never to trust another telepath."
"That wasn't what I was doing, you bastard!" I tried to slap him but he grabbed my hand, held me easily by the wrist.
"You don't get to hit me, Jean. Not unless I get to hit back, and I'd hurt you." He let my hand go, pushed it away roughly as if contact with me stung. "You both think you're gods, you and Charles. You have all the answers and the rest of the world should just bow down to your homo superior wisdom. At least Magneto's honest about it."
"You said it yourself yesterday. Violence won't end violence."
"Yeah? Well, maybe I lied. From where I'm standing, from everything I've seen, the only way to get rid of your pimp is to blow his fucking brains out." He tapped the side of his face, near his visor and stepped back. "Charles is lucky I didn't do to him what I did to Jack." I could feel my mouth hanging open. "Goodbye, Jean. Go sleep with the snake in the grass or whoever the hell you want. Remember what Rhett said to Scarlet? 'Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn.'"
And he left me. I just stood there, defeated, and watched his back disappear. I stood there a long time, then went back upstairs. The rest of them were milling about, expressing their shock, talking about his defection, cursing him, calling him a traitor.
But he's not the traitor. I am. I and the professor. We betrayed his trust. And maybe he was right. He does fake it better, that he's got it all under control. He makes us forget that he has a heart, and it's very, very tender. His clam-shell silence protects him. God, what must his life have been like? Is that how Xavier found him? As high as the moon and covered in the blood of the pimp who he murdered with the power of his own eye blasts? Oh, Scott. Why didn't you ever tell me? Did you really think I'd hate you?
Unable to bear the vicious words, the colossal misunderstanding of the others, I went to the kitchen to get something to drink, opened the fridge and saw his jug of chocolate milk. And that was when I lost it, curled up on the kitchen tile and cried with the fridge pouring cold air out over my back. Finally, I stood up again and took the jug, set it on the table and myself in a chair to stare at it. One hour ago. Or maybe two or three. I've lost track.
The jug sweated for a while in the heat of a midsummer nightmare. I wish this were just some trick of Oberon, King of Faerie. But it's not. Scott's gone. And it's my fault.
After a long while, I shake myself like a dog coming awake. Like a bitch. Unscrewing the cap, I raise the jug to my mouth, intending to drink.
But I don't swallow.
The milk's gone sour.
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