See the separate section with main notes, but a quick addition: There's an intentional little echo of the movie, if anyone catches it, and the Scottish reference is in honor of Mark.
"If you've got it, girlfriend, flaunt it!" was Ororo's response to my complaint about my chest size. "And the dress looks great on you, Jean. Scott'll love it."
She was right - he would. It'd push every button he had. Modest but sexy, and who'd have thought brown calico could flatter? It was a perfect color for my hair, making it less orange-brassy, more auburn-rust, and the cross-cut bust was designed to show off my cleavage while the print pattern kept it from looking sleazy. But I'd never have picked this dress off the rack. Leave it to Ororo to head straight for it with that unerring fashion sense that made me half despise, half envy her. The price tag was a bit daunting, yet she had an opinion on that, too. "You want a cut that looks good? You pay for it."
So now, I slipped off my prize and bundled it up to go check out. We needed to get back to the mansion; the professor wouldn't be happy about us taking off during lunch to go clothes shopping, even if he didn't already disapprove of the relationship. Yet I'd needed to do this, needed to mark the night as special somehow. It was the date it had taken me three years to get, and who cared if I was already sleeping in the bed of the man escorting me? A little romance never hurt anyone - even Scott Summers. But if he put on just a t-shirt and jeans, I was going to punch his lights out.
The closer we got to home, the more aware I became that something was off. The link binding me to Scott had begun to pulse red-black with distress, and my foot pressed harder on the accelerator. Feeling our speed pick up, Ororo glanced over at me. "In a hurry to show off the dress, huh?"
"No. Something's wrong at the mansion."
She immediately sat up in the passenger seat and her eyes flashed white. I could hear thunder roll somewhere, low and booming. After Weapon-X, we no longer felt safe even in our own house. We didn't have the energy to live on-edge all the time, but the slightest trigger could send our anxiety sky high.
Yet when we pulled into the long drive, everything was quiet. The fall sky was bright blue, crossed by a V of Canadian geese, and the mums Ro had planted late were still blooming in gold, maroon and violet. Maples glowed pink and yellow, and the oak had just begun to redden. Nothing seemed amiss. Not an armored black-ops vehicle anywhere. Nonetheless, we parked the car outside and approached carefully. I reached out to Scott along the link.
Confusion and pain - but not physical danger. And I picked up nothing from the others. We found the guys hanging out in the kitchen, Hank and Peter playing paper football at the counter while Bobby tried to balance a straw between his upper lip and nose. "Leave them alone for a few hours and they revert," I remarked to Ororo, then added softly, "It's just Scott. I'll go see what's tied his tail in a knot. You get to babysit."
I found Scott exactly where I'd expected to find him, where he tended to go when he was upset and angry, as opposed to just upset. He was in the gym, beating the life out of a punching bag, the smaller one attached to the back of a weight machine. Whappity, whappity, whappity, whap. He wasn't wearing gloves, had his hands wrapped instead. This is his version of taking out his frustrations on a pillow.
He looked up when he heard the door and stopped, stilled the swinging black bag with one hand. "Jean. I was looking for you earlier. Peter said you went clothes shopping?" He made it a question. And while his voice was calm, the mind underneath was anything but. It roiled.
"Yeah, I went shopping." Locking the door, I came down the stairs to the main floor of the equipment-crowded gym, wove through the machines until I reached him, still standing by the bag, wearing nothing but shorts, a tank top, and tennis shoes. I grabbed him by the hips and pulled him to me, burying my face in his chest because he needed the touch. His arms came around me. "What's wrong?" I said. "You feel as tight as a vine wrapped around a trellis."
He just shook his head and lowered his face to my hair. Sometimes Scott felt so much, it wracked him like a boat in a storm and he could no more hang words on it than a man could row through a gale. He was like that now - pushed past coherence. I could try going right into his head, and he might even let me, but Scott was a body person. That was why things like beating a punching bag helped. When I thought about it, we were such an odd pair. I was expressive but intellectual - all fire and air - while Scott was physical and pragmatic, solid like the earth, but deeply, deeply emotional like a mile-deep Scottish loch. And there were monsters down there, real ones with human faces who'd turned his childhood into hell. Fire and air, earth and water. Apart, we were incomplete. Together, we made an elemental circle.
And I knew that the best way to untangle his emotional knot was to start with his body, so I began to rub his back, still hanging onto him and walking him about towards the front of the leg machine. It was a little awkward, and I almost tripped, but he held me up. Then I turned him to face the seat and lean into it, so I could get behind him and pull off his tank top. He permitted it, surprisingly compliant. I could sense a peculiar fatalism in him, a fey quality. He was letting things happen, all inexorable, surrendering control of the situation - which alarmed me, because Scott didn't do that. He always had to be in control. It was one of the first things I'd learned about him: don't try to order Scott around, and don't do anything to make him feel foolish or helpless. In the past ten days, I'd discovered that extended to sex. He had no particular objection to me being on top - it left his hands free, he said - but he was never passive, and his favorite position was old-fashioned missionary. It wasn't a lack of creativity; he simply needed to be in control, and wanted to see my face. As long as those conditions were met, he was considerate and gentle - sometimes too gentle. But that was part of Scott, as well. Any hint of roughness turned him off.
So our sex life was a bit of a minefield, but I should have anticipated as much. If not for the link between us, I'd probably have bungled it horribly. When we made love, I opened the link as widely as it could go, so I knew what he needed - and what scared him - and he could feel my intentions. We'd never talked about that, the necessity of it and why it was a necessity. We just did it. Someday, we were going to have to talk about it.
But now, he'd . . . let go. And I didn't understand why. Was this the ultimate act of trust for him? Or something else? I touched that fatalism I'd sensed - as gingerly as I could. What I found stilled my hands for a few seconds.
Scott didn't figure we'd still be a we in the morning for him to face the consequences of this surrender, and he wanted, just once, to know what it was like to give up control by choice, instead of having it ripped from him by someone bigger, meaner, and with more money. I was very tempted to scream at him in a rage, and in fear - but then he would go away. So I bit down on my temper. I needed to find out what had changed so suddenly and radically, because whatever else was spinning around inside his skull, overarching it all was wrenching grief. He didn't want to give me up, but for some reason, he thought he had to.
I pushed it away. Later. I'd deal with it later. Pitch a calculated fit, scream, throw things, whatever it took to knock some sense into the big idiot. Right now, I had a job to finish.
His skin was slick with sweat, and heat from his exertion radiated off him. I fell into the delight of touching him, swam through the sensations as I slid palms up and down long muscles, over the planes of his shoulder blades and the ridges of his vertebrae. Fingers traced down to the scar, low on his back. Kneeling, I pulled down the waistband of his shorts so I could set my lips to it, stroke and kiss it. His whole body had tensed. "Jean," he whispered.
Hush, Scott, I love you. Let me do this.
He subsided. I kept sending, over and over into his head, I love you, I love you. A telepathic litany. He'd begun to shudder. I moved my hands from his sides over his hips to his bare, hairy legs and dragged short nails along his outer thighs, heard his breath suck in. Moving my mouth from his scar down to his legs, too, I kissed along the outer right thigh. His muscles had gone rigid once more, his tension pooling, coiling low in his belly and groin. One hand I drew up and down his leg while I licked his thigh. The other arm, I wrapped around his hip to press my palm against the front of his shorts, not quite gripping his erection, but letting him rock into me. His tension snapped and centered on six inches. We hadn't had sex last night, and not this morning, either, and Scott's nothing if not predictable about that. He's young and he runs hot.
I turned him around, still kneeling in front of him, and pulled his shorts and underwear down in one motion. His cock bobbed free right in front of me, swollen and purple. The skin on the head was smooth, like a plum.
We'd had rather conventional sex up to this point, and while I didn't really consider oral sex unconventional, the one time I'd come close to trying it on Scott, kissing my way down his belly, I'd felt such alarm flutter through him that I'd immediately moved back up. It was a hanging point with him, all set about with "Do not trespass" signs, and I had a few suspicions as to why.
But now, he didn't try to pull me to my feet, and didn't try to move away. I looked up his body. His head was back and he leaned elbows into the seat of the leg machine. Though I couldn't see them, I was sure his eyes were closed, too, and afraid to startle him, I laid one hand on his erection first. He shuddered, but that was all. I moved the hand up and down, slid the loose skin over hard tissue beneath. He didn't react except to undulate his hips a little, so I blew over the head. I wanted him to know where my mouth was, didn't want to give him a nasty shock. He dropped his chin and his hand moved, but only to cup the back of my head, slip fingers through my hair. I could feel the roughness of the wrap still covering his knuckles. But he neither pushed my head forward, nor pulled it away. He was going to let me decide. Another surrender.
I won't hurt you, Scott, I sent into his head. Trust me.
I do. And he was too into the sensations at that moment for any undertow of fatalism to drag under that assertion. Here, now, he was trusting me. What happened on the other side would take care of itself.
Leaning forward, I licked him from the cock base, near fuzzy balls, up the ridge of the big vein to the notched head. His whole body shivered once and then was still. I used one hand to hold his erection out from his body a little while I stroked him, so I could lick all around the head. With the other, I steadied myself on his hip. "Jean," he whispered as fingers continued to brush through my hair, a little jerky. I used my teeth a bit, nibbling very carefully around the ridge of the head. He started to gasp; it was almost funny. He was so sensitive, it was amazing. Despite the sweaty smell of him, and the mustiness of sex, I loved this, to give this to him, loved the feel of skin so soft and warm, and the pulse of his heart throbbing through his erection. Here was acceptance, to kiss him all over - every part, even what he considered most private. I knew he didn't really want me on my knees in front of him - the symbolism of the posture bothered him - but it was easier, and I wasn't going to stop so we could rearrange positions. He might change his mind about letting me do this.
I took him in my mouth then, and finally got a full cry out of him as he began to move - oh so carefully in order not to choke me - and held my head still with his hand. I could read his thought that it would be easier on my neck. He knew what he was doing, what it felt like to be on my end, and I could only imagine the horror of how he'd gotten that experience. I sucked him hard, swallowed around him, and suppressed my instinct to gag. I could hear him almost sobbing, and wasn't sure whether it was from pleasure or grief, or both. So I gave him all my feelings about what we were doing, how wonderful for him to trust me this way, and how precious to me that trust was. This wasn't a horror for me, an indignity. It made him feel good, and that made me happy. This was love. And he accepted it. He came hard in my mouth. I swallowed, because it was terribly important for me to do so - right here, right now - even though I've never much liked the taste. Then I was being pulled away, up his body and into his arms. He held on tightly, but was much calmer, as I'd known he would be. Sex centers him, clears his head. This time, it had taken him apart and put him back together, too.
We said nothing, just cuddled for a minute, his mouth against my ear. His breath tickled and I squirmed away, then helped him pull his shorts back up, returned him his tank top and kissed his shoulder. "Now," I said, when he'd put on the tank, "you want to tell me what's going on?"
He sighed and collapsed back against the leg machine. But he seemed decided on something, not so fey. "I'm going to resign as commander of the X-Men."
This statement astonished me so much, it took a moment even to process. "You're going to what? Scott, you can't leave again!"
His arm came up and he pulled me against him. "I'm not leaving. But I had to choose: you or the X-Men. When it came down to it, it was an easy choice. I won't go anywhere, unless you want us to leave. But I won't lead. Peter can lead. He's the obvious one, since he's not in a relationship that compromises him."
And then I got it - Scott's wacky rational for giving up command. I pulled back to glare at him. "Wait a minute; let me get this straight. You're stepping down because you're sleeping with me? You think you can't be objective? Scott, that's stupid - "
"No." He shook his head and looked down between us, rubbed his thumbs up and down over the skin of my arms. "I think I can be objective, ninety-eight percent of the time. It's the other two-percent that worries me. And we have to think, too, about what the others will believe."
Between the way he'd acted last night and what he was saying now, this sudden attack of self-doubt smelled fishy. "Did one of the others say something to you? Logan, maybe?" I could just see Logan challenging Scott on his impartiality.
"Logan hasn't said a word to me outside of practice in four days," he replied.
"So where is this coming from?"
"Man, what makes you think it's coming from anywhere? Maybe I've just been thinking!"
"Don't hand me crap, Slim. You've already had your little attack of conscious about this, remember? We agreed that the others didn't seem too concerned. Hell, Storm and Henry want my old bedroom! Somebody's said something to make you worry about it again."
He didn't reply for a long minute, just continued to stare down between us. Finally, the weight of silence made him speak. "The professor pointed out a few things to me, this morning."
I felt as if I'd been slugged, and rocked back on my heels. But of course. It made sense. The professor had tried with me and when that had failed, he'd gone after Scott, gone right for Scott's great strength . . . and his great weakness - his sense of responsibility. Xavier had tried to guilt him into leaving me. Instead, he'd guilted him into sacrificing command in order to stay with me.
Slight miscalculation, professor.
And I'd be damned if I'd let Xavier win. Scott was born to lead; he did it as naturally as breathing. Reaching up, I brushed his hair back a little. It had gotten mussed, and was wet with sweat still. "Will you let me see what he said to you?" I wouldn't take it out of his head without his permission. He hesitated, but finally sighed and nodded, and I dropped into his memories of the conversation that morning, and the ones that had led up to it.
Rage, rage, rage. "That egg-sucking son of a bitch!" I yelled when I pulled free, and everything around us just exploded into the air, propelled by white-hot fury.
I have a terrible temper.
"Jean!" Scott was yelling, shaking me. "Quit throwing the weights around before you brain one of us!" He was lucky I didn't throw him, too, but he's always waded in where angels fear to tread around me. And he calms me down, usually - grounds me. Like now.
Breathing hard, I settled things back to the floor, snarled again, "That son of a bitch!" but the gym equipment stayed put. It's a good thing most of it's metal, and the floor is that fake wood stuff one is supposed to be able to build a fire on. Even so, Peter's pneumonic weight-system had a few dents in it, the basketball was flattened, the hoop torn off the backboard, and the wires to the weights on the lower-back machine had snapped..
It could have been worse.
Scott looked around at the mess I'd left, then back at me. We'd occupied the eye of the storm. "You're a dangerous woman," he said, but in amusement. He's seen my temper tantrums before. Then he grew serious. "Now you understand?"
"I understand he went right for your jugular! He knew how you'd react, he knew - "
"Jean, stop." He put his hand over my mouth. "He had a point."
I considered biting the hand, but it wasn't really Scott I was mad at. Maybe he did, I sent into his head - because his hand was still over my mouth - but it wasn't worry for the team that motivated him. It was plain old jealousy! Then I opened my own memories to offer up my conversation with the professor last week, the one I'd previously not planned to give. But I no longer had any desire to protect Charles Xavier. As for protecting Scott from disillusionment . . . well, Xavier had disillusioned me too badly. It wasn't just that he'd gone after Scott - I probably should have anticipated that - it was the how: by using me, by using the awful choice I'd been forced to make in India.
And remembering that, remembering what it felt like to snuff out a man's mind, I slid out of Scott's arms onto the floor and burst into tears. It was too much. He knelt down beside me and rubbed my back, "Jean, shhhh. Please don't cry. Shhhh," but then gave up and sat down on his ass to pull me into his lap, let me get it out while he patted my back. Sometimes, that's what I need most. Bottling up feelings simply ensures that they'll explode in my face, later. He needs to learn the same thing himself.
Finally I sat up and wiped at my nose, which was running terribly. He grabbed his towel to wipe my face for me. "Better?" he asked. I nodded. He himself seemed much calmer than I'd have expected, while I'd been the one to break down.
"Why aren't you angry?"
"I am," he said, folding the towel and tossing it back on a handle bar, his precise actions at odd contrast to his words. But Scott was most dangerous when he turned cold like this. "I'm furious. But at least I understand now, and I can't even really blame him. That'd be the pot calling the kettle black. After all, I took off to Magneto when you started with Logan." His jaw worked a minute. "But you should have told me, Jean."
"I know. I'm sorry. And you shouldn't have worried about protecting me, either. I know what I did in India was wrong."
"And I know you know. I don't see the point in rehashing it. It won't change anything." He settled me against his side, my head on his shoulder, and stroked my hair - like he had a dozen times before in our Weapon-X cell.
"So now what?" I asked. "Do we stay here, or do we go?" Because whatever we did from here on out, we did it together. That was the only certain thing in my life right now.
He chewed over my question and I waited. I could hear the building air conditioners hum. We keep the gym intentionally cool, but now, sitting on a bare floor, I regretted that. The adrenaline rush of my anger was fading, leaving me weak and cold and weighted down with a dough-soft sickness in my belly. Finally, he said, "Do you still believe that mutants and humans can work together? Should work together?"
"Yes." That was a no-brainer.
"So do I. I'm not here anymore because the professor got me off the street. That's how it began, but that's not why I came back from the Savage Land. I didn't come back for guilt, either, and I didn't even come back for you." He kissed my forehead. "I came back because I realized Magneto was wrong, and because I realized this is my dream, too. I've picked my side."
I nodded against his shoulder. "But we could still work for that dream without doing it here."
I felt him chuckle. "Yeah, right. Don Quixote and Sancho Panza out tilting at windmills. It takes money and resources and contacts to run a war, Jean, and this is a war of sorts - a war against ignorance. The professor is the one with those resources, contacts, and money."
"So you think we should stay here?"
"But we'll have to fight him at every turn!"
"No, I don't think so." He paused and shifted again, moving his legs so that I was cradled between them. "We just win this battle decisively."
"Cyclops the strategist." I smiled in spite of myself. "So how do we win decisively?"
"We do the same thing he tried to do - make a flanking maneuver and catch him where he's not expecting it."
"And that would be?"
"Xavier's worried about team perceptions of our relationship. Ostensibly. So we call a little conference with the rest of the team and iron out just what those perceptions are."
I sat up and looked at him. "Ooooh, you're good."
"Of course I'm good." He was grinning. Some things, he's not the least bit modest about, and his tactical brain is one of them. I find that charming. But then his smile fell away and he frowned down at the floor. "But Jean, the professor did have a point about bias and perceptions of bias, whatever his motivation in bringing it up."
"I know. That's what made it all so insidious, isn't it?" I studied his lowered head. "Could you order me on a suicide mission, Cyclops?" then added, "You might have to someday," because I wanted him to know that I'd obey.
He didn't answer immediately. "Honestly? I don't know. And I hope to God I never have to find out."
I nodded. "Fair enough. I found out I couldn't lose you." I ran a thumb down his cheek and then tilted his chin up. "So, when do you want to call this little conference?"
He pushed himself to his feet. "No time like the present." And he was moving for the door almost before I could register it; I had to scurry to catch up.
After lunch was the professor's prime time for one-on-one independent sessions with us, and study period for those who weren't scheduled. So when we arrived topside, we found everyone but Bobby at work in the library - the one that actually had books. Can you shield us?, Scott sent to me.
It'd be easier in the Danger Room. There's some built-in shielding there.
Gotcha. Aloud, he said, "Heads up, people. Surprise D-R session. Get downstairs."
There was a collective groan, and Henry said, "I have to meet the prof in half an hour, Cyclops."
"This won't take that long."
"Surprise short D-R session," Peter muttered, but pushed himself up.
Scott herded them all below, cutting off attempts to go for uniforms. "You won't always be able to fight in uniform."
Logan had not, of course, been in the library, and I hadn't been able to locate him on-grounds, either, so it was just the five of us. Scott shut and barred the door. It wouldn't keep out the professor, but with it sealed off, the natural psi shields were in place and Xavier wasn't likely to come snooping. I doubted he'd think to. When it was sealed, Scott turned to face us all, hands on hips. "This isn't a practice," he said. "It's a conference."
They looked at each other, unsure of what to make of the trick he'd used to get them there. Then Ororo seemed to come to some conclusion and dropped down on the floor, Indian style. "Okay - if we're going to hold a secret soiree, I'm going to make myself comfortable."
Scott grinned at that and gestured expansively. "By all means." He likes her, even when she's bucking his authority. On some levels, they understand each other very well. They both came off the streets.
A bit more suspicious, Henry and Peter followed her down, and I joined them, then Scott, too, making a circle on the floor like a mutant Round Table. "What's this about?" Peter asked.
"Us." Scott gestured between himself and me. "Jean's and my relationship."
"Okay," Ororo said. "And you're keeping this meeting from the professor . . . why?"
Scott looked down and ran fingers over the steel floor. "Xavier is . . . concerned . . . that the rest of you may fear I'll play favorites."
"Ah - and that's why you were a bastard to her at practice last night," Ro said, grinning.
Scott just glared back, and I laid a hand on his knee. "That was part of it," he admitted.
"You want us to tell him we don't care," Ro said.
"No, I want to find out if you do care. He basically suggested - though he didn't spell it out - that I break up with Jean in order to retain command." He paused to lick his lips. "I was willing to surrender command, and give it to Peter instead."
"No freakin' way!" Peter sat straight up. "Are you nuts? You couldn't pay me enough to take command of the X-Men!" Which made the rest of us smile - except for Scott.
"You wouldn't want it?" Scott can't imagine that someone wouldn't want command.
"No!" Peter replied. "It's all yours, Cyclops."
Scott shook his head. "The professor's points were good ones. What if I had to make a decision between Ororo and Jean, who to send on a fatal mission - and I chose Ororo because her skills were better for the job?" It was the same scenario that Xavier had painted for Scott. Now, Scott turned to Henry. "But would you believe that was why I picked her? Or would you think I was saving Jean?"
Henry opened his mouth to respond, but Ororo bent forward first to slap her palm on the floor. "Wait a goddamn minute! Who said I'd obey such an order?" Startled, Scott turned to stare. "I didn't join the Marines here, mister. When you say 'jump,' I don't ask how high."
"So I've noticed," Scott replied, grinning.
"I'm not going to leap in blindly and get myself killed just because you say so."
"Even to save the lives of others?"
"I said I wouldn't leap in blindly. If I was doing it to save someone else, then it wouldn't be blind, would it? And I'd be agreeing to go - which means you wouldn't be ordering me to do jack shit. I'd be choosing to do it - got that? And if Henry had a problem with my choice," she turned her head to wrinkle her nose at him fondly, "he knows where he can stick it."
We all laughed, even Scott. "But what if I had to choose which of you to save?"
"We know who you'd choose," Henry said, "and if it was my choice, you know how I'd choose. And why."
Scott nodded, then glanced up slyly at Peter. "And if it was you, you'd be in trouble, having to answer to one of us." Which made Peter grin.
"Oh, I'd just save Bobby," he said.
It was meant to be funny, but wasn't, because we all knew it was true - one of those things we didn't much talk about. Bobby didn't know about Peter's orientation, and Peter didn't want him to know, not yet. We'd all agreed to honor that.
Ororo diplomatically changed the subject. "Look, Cyclops, you've been chasing Red's ass since the rest of us first got here." Scott flushed, and I squeezed the knee my hand still rested on. "If you were going to be biased, it would've shown by now. You haven't been. And as for those hard choices . . . well, it wouldn't make any difference, would it, whether you were sleeping with her or not? You don't feel any differently about her now than a month ago."
That was, I thought, the most obvious and pragmatic argument I'd heard so far. Scott had made a variation on it himself to Xavier, but it had gotten buried beneath his attempt to resign command.
"You're our commander," Peter said. "We follow you because we choose to, not because we have to. But if it makes you feel better, should you ever face a decision you don't think you can make unbiased, then I'll take command long enough to make it. But only that long. Agreed?" He held out a hand to shake on it.
Scott hesitated only a moment, then gripped Peter's hand. "Agreed."
And that settled that. It was just the five of us here, out of seven, but we were the core of the team. Scott had just made the X-Men his own. We'd all continue to work for Xavier's dream - but we'd follow Cyclops.
Crisis thus averted, Scott and I might yet get to go on our date tonight.