See the separate section with notes.
"Jean's dress is brown calico," Peter said as he passed me. He was carrying a little snack, which for Peter meant three hotdogs and a bag of potato chips. I'd been hanging out between kitchen and den, waiting for Jean to make her appearance after being kicked out of my own room by Ororo, so she could work her magic on Jean. Frankly, I didn't get how a woman could spend an hour or more getting ready, and had said so.
"Men," Ro had replied, while shoving me out the door, "want their women to look like knock-outs, but not actually make any effort to do so. Sorry, buck-o, it don't work that way. Scat."
Now, to Peter, I said, "You mean they let you have a preview? I was flat banished!"
He grinned. "Oh, let Ro have her fun. Jean's putting up with it. So can you."
"Brown calico, huh?" I asked before he could move off.
"Yeah. It's a good color on her." It was like Peter to think to tell me, to realize I couldn't see it for myself. He looked me over. "You might try some khaki chinos with the black shirt. To match."
"I can't get in my freakin' room," I reminded him.
"Ah. But I can." Grinning, he set down the hotdogs and headed off, returning a few minutes later with the pants. These, he tossed to me and I changed right there, since the girls weren't likely to walk in on me.
Unfortunately, Xavier did. Or wheeled in on me, I guess is more accurate. Both his eyebrows shot up. I hadn't seen him since our confrontation that morning and hadn't really wanted to until more time had passed for me to get my head together. Certainly having him catch me with my pants down - literally - wouldn't have been my choice of ideal situation. "Has the men's locker room changed locations?" he asked, as I pulled up the pants and tucked in my shirt. I watched him take in the fact that it was a dress shirt.
"Ororo kicked him out while Jean got ready," Peter said with distracted disconcern. He was flipping through the TV Guide and munching on potato chips. I zipped up the pants.
Xavier rolled all the way into the den. "Going somewhere tonight?" he asked me, making the question sound idle.
"I'm taking Jean to Pasha. She wanted something 'exotic.' I figured Turkish qualified." Cool, cool, I had to play it cool. And I wasn't going to duck the question. If he wanted to make an issue of it - well, let's get it over with, right here, right now.
But he didn't. "Ah. Excellent choice of restaurant, Mr. Summers. Not cheap, but reasonable for the Upper West Side. Very nice atmosphere, and the apricot desert is particularly fine. With the weather as mild as it is, may I recommend the outdoor patio?"
Unsure what to make of this potted restaurant-guide summary, I didn't reply, just nodded and busied myself with changing my belt from the old pants to the new, and putting back on my shoes. There was a reason why most of my wardrobe was either black, grey, or went with black and grey. I never had to worry whether my clothing matched. I could feel Xavier watching me as Peter flipped channels on the remote. Bobby entered to plop down by Peter and riffle the potato chip bag. "Game?" he asked.
Peter just glanced at him. "It's a Friday night, Bobby."
"So? Go to ESPN, see what's on."
"No way. Dark Angel's up later. I don't want to miss it"
"Ooooh, man, Jessica Alba is a mega-babe! But it's not on yet. Go to ESPN, Pete."
Not that Peter's interest would be Jessica Alba, the professor said into my head, which made me start and glance up sharply. It wasn't really like him to make jokes of that kind. Just because I do not often choose to comment, doesn't mean I'm not aware, he replied to my thought.
Which had just levels and levels of meaning.
Speaking of comment - did you give any thought to my observations of this morning? he asked.
Yes, sir. I did.
He waited; I didn't elaborate. Finally, he prompted, And?
And I think you had some valid points. I flopped down in the recliner so that I was at an angle to his chair where I could see his expression but not place myself in symbolic opposition. So I talked to Jean, and then I talked to the team. I offered to resign command.
I watched surprise take his expression. Jean was right; he hadn't expected me to make that choice. The rest of the team wasn't too keen on that idea, I went on. Peter outright refused to take it. They don't question my objectivity. And Ororo's comment was, if I remember right, 'as for those hard choices, it wouldn't make any difference whether you were sleeping with her or not. You don't feel any differently about her now than a month ago.' So we agreed that if a situation ever came up where I didn't think I could be objective, I'd temporarily turn over command to Peter. But they elected to keep me. I shrugged, calculatingly casual. So I guess, I'll stay in command.
In the three years I've lived here, I don't think I've ever seen the professor look so completely sideswiped by anything. I'd executed the perfect flanking maneuver. But unlike Darius facing Alexander, he wasn't inclined to flee the field. You seem to have thought of everything, Mr. Summers - except for one detail. How will it affect the team when you and Jean break up?
But that assumes we will, professor. Care to put a wager on it?
It wasn't my mental reply, and we both turned our heads toward the den doorway at the same time that Bobby let out a whistle. "Man! Talk about mega-babes!"
"Deep-freeze it, Iceman," said Jean, and thwapped him on the head telekinetically with Peter's TV Guide.
I'd stood up, and Peter, too . . . because you're supposed to stand when a lady enters the room. And tonight, Jean was that - every inch the daughter of upper class privilege that I knew she'd been born to, right down to pearls, heels, and a hat with ribbons. Light from the hall chandelier fractured and glittered on what showed of her blazing hair. Me Tarzan, you Lady Jean Grey. She smiled at me and sent, privately, You're catching flies, Slim.
I snapped my mouth shut, which made her smile widen.
"You look lovely, m'dear," the professor said aloud. She just curtsied graciously to him. If they said anything silently, I wasn't privy to it.
You ready to blow this joint? she asked me.
Then come get me, dope. Don't just stand there gaping. Her grin kept any edge out of it. She was teasing me like she always did. I obeyed her suggestion, met her in the doorway and took her hand to draw it inside my elbow and escort her towards the door. I'd already parked the car outside. It was a warm night for late fall. We didn't need jackets yet, though I grabbed them for later. Peter and Ororo followed, Ororo looking smug where she'd been lurking in the shadows behind Jean. Henry had appeared from somewhere and Bobby was bouncing at Peter's elbow.
"Have her back by midnight, young man," Peter said, with a wicked grin. Ororo popped him with the back of her hand before Jean could.
"You guys have fun, and be sure to try the baba ganoush," Ro said, wiggling fingers goodbye as she shut the door on us.
"Man, were they ready to get rid of us, or what?" I asked as I stood on the porch and stared back at the closed door. Floodlights lit the front yard: the stone fountain, the circular driveway, and the red convertible I'd chosen for the evening.
Jean half pulled me down the outer steps. "Scott, you and I going on a date - finally - is the event of the season. I think they're having almost as much fun as we will." She grinned up at me from under her hat - so charming. "Ro said she was going to throw us out of the house before you decided to have another crisis of conscience over the color of your shoes."
And dear God, I wasn't sure if I was more insulted, or more inclined to laugh my ass off. I settled on the latter, because I really was going out with her tonight. And tomorrow, she was moving in with me.
And it was in the middle of laughing that I noticed Wolverine hanging around off to one side of the drive. Jean had noticed him, too, and she moved differently all of a sudden. For me, modest and ladylike - for him, sensual. And I remembered what Peter had said: it would never be over between them.
STOP! Loud in my head. Just stop it, Scott, before I slap you. And let me in the damn car.
Shaking my head, I walked her down to open the passenger door and settle her in, then tossed the jackets in back and went around to my side to get in. Slipping the key into the ignition, I said, "I told the professor. About talking to the team."
"Yeah, I overheard." She was grinning. "He almost had you there, at the end."
I started the engine and pulled out of the drive with a squeal of tire. Jean grabbed her hat to keep it from flying off. "You came to my rescue," I said. "Thanks."
"Of course." Another brilliant smile from under that hat. "It's what partners do, isn't it?"
"Yeah, it is."
"We're stronger together than we are apart, Scott. And that's why I'm in the car with you, not Logan. You're my other half. Remember that, next time you decide to suffer an angst fit, okay? And don't poke the Wolverine through the cage bars. He might bite back."
I grinned at that, and she turned her face into the wind of our speed, squinted her eyes against it as she held her hat in place. "Let's go fast. I feel like breaking rules."
"You're incorrigible, Jean."
"Always. I'll take care of
the cops, if you watch the road."
"Scott, what is this? Allergy medicine?" Jean held up a little brown bottle. I didn't need to see the label to know what she'd found. Valtrex, 500 milligrams to be taken daily.
Damn. Admittedly letting her move in with me - getting involved with her at all - had meant she'd find out eventually, but there were some parts of my past that I really didn't want to have to explain to her. Like the Valtrex, and why I had to take it, pretty much for the rest of my life.
Walking over, I removed the bottle from her hand and put it back on the narrow glass shelf in the medicine chest. She'd found it because she'd been trying to figure out how on earth we were going to fit two people's worth of personals into one tiny bathroom. That had been the adventure of the whole morning for that matter, as she'd moved in with me. Jean was a magpie, and I was frankly astonished by how much she'd managed to reacquire just since our escape from Weapon-X. At least most of her childhood things had been at her parents' house, so she hadn't lost everything in the fire, but she'd cried for a week after we'd gotten back, seeing what had been destroyed. I couldn't even imagine how the professor must have felt. He'd lost antiques hundreds of years old, not to mention documents and photographs of his ancestors. Some had been in storage underground, and survived, but the flames had consumed irreplaceable heirlooms.
I hadn't had much to lose, and was used to losing things anyway. Just finding my furniture intact, if singed, had been more than I'd hoped for. Part of why I had so much extra space for Jean was because I hadn't bothered to replace a lot of smoke-damaged clothing. In any case, she now had the whole dresser to herself, which left me the armoire, and she was busy taking over most of my bathroom, as well. I hadn't even thought about the medicine bottle, or that she'd look at it twice. Though she'd acted as Henry's physician, she wasn't one in truth yet, and didn't necessarily recognize or know the application of various drugs like a doctor would. Now, she was waiting for me to explain.
"It's a medication for herpes."
Her eyes got very big. "You - "
"Me and about five million other people in the U.S. - half of whom don't even realize they have it. Don't worry, it's in remission and has been for a while. Treatments are pretty effective these days, and I've got the milder form anyway. You can't catch it from me right now. I'll tell you when it's a danger, Jean." I sighed and leaned up against the counter, stared down at the little bathroom rug. "I just hadn't gotten around to explaining it yet. I'm sorry; I should have."
She laid a hand on my arm. "It's okay. I know you would've told me if it was a danger." She smiled and touched my cheek. "You're dependable that way. And I'd have told you, too. If there was anything."
That made me smile wryly. I doubted she'd be carrying anything that I hadn't had at least once, except AIDS. You only got that once, and by some minor miracle, I'd escaped it. Never look a gift-horse in the mouth. I shut the medicine cabinet. "Is there . . . anything else I should know about?" she asked.
I twisted my head but didn't quite look at her. "No. Just the herpes. I'm not even allergic to penicillin."
I turned to leave.
"Scott." Her hand on my arm halted me. "How long have you had it? I mean - do you want to talk?"
I looked back. "No. I don't. I'd rather forget that part of my life ever happened, okay?"
She opened her mouth to object, but then shut it, and nodded once. The bathroom lights over the mirror shone down on her bright hair. "Okay - for now. But someday, I need to know what happened to you. I need you to talk to me."
"No, you don't need to know. I'm not your psychology experiment." But I felt more tired than angry. "I hustled pool and my ass and hot electronic equipment for a while after I ran away from Boys' Town - until my mutation showed up and the professor found me. That's more already than you need to know. Use your imagination. I'm sure you can figure out the details."
Her expression was as pained as if I'd slapped her, and I knew I was shoving her away. But I wasn't ready to talk about this. I wasn't sure if I ever would be ready. Some wounds went too deep.
"Scott - "
"Don't, Jean. Just don't, okay?" And I went back out to the bedroom. But even remaining in the same room was too close a proximity, so I left after a minute to find busy work to occupy me. We didn't have all the pictures up around the place yet, so I set about finding wall studs in the east third-story hall and tagging them with sticky-notes. The heavy stuff like mirrors required nails in studs or they'd rip through the drywall. The mansion was being redecorated with historic themes out of the American past. There were rooms with images from the Antebellum South, Colonial New England, pre-statehood Texas, the Union Pacific Railway, Chicago of the Twenties, the Battle of the Little Bighorn, Tecumseh at Fallen Timbers, the California gold rush, and the history of San Francisco. This particular hall had been set aside for the Civil War.
I was walking back and forth, trying to decide where each of the pictures would look best when I heard feet on the stairs. Frowning, I glanced around, figuring it was Jean coming after me. Sometimes she didn't know when not to push.
It wasn't Jean. Logan stood there, dressed in his leather jacket as if he were about to head out somewhere. He didn't spend much time at the mansion since we'd returned from Weapon-X, even less than he had before. He slept here. He showed up for practice and sometimes for meals, but was rarely around in the evenings or on weekends, and I was surprised to see him now. "You need something?" I asked, trying not to sound hostile. I hadn't forgotten how intently he'd watched last night when I'd left with Jean, and I didn't want a confrontation with him. It wasn't worth it.
He sauntered down the hall, looking at the sticky notes on the walls as he came. "I'm getting ready to hang some pictures," I explained. "You want to help?"
"That was a joke, right?" He stopped about ten feet away and, hands in pockets, turned to look at me. "I thought you'd be with Jeannie, getting her settled into her new room."
I wasn't sure how to take that. His tone didn't sound aggressive, but it was a loaded statement, to be sure. "We're basically done," I said now. "She's putting stuff away in the bathroom. She doesn't need me for that."
Nodding, he walked around me in an arc, like a wolf circling prey, seeking the best angle for an attack. I moved as he did to keep myself facing him, relaxed but ready. He seemed amused by that and stopped finally to lean up against a lowboy on the opposite side of the hall, across from me but a little at an angle. "Tell me why I should let you keep her, pretty boy. Tell me why I shouldn't try to get her back, why she's better off with you?"
Well, that was blunt.
"I don't have to tell you anything, Logan. And it's not my or your choice anyway. It's Jean's."
He was moving so fast I barely credited it, barely prepared myself to meet his attack - and it didn't do a damn bit of good anyway. I may be inches taller than him, but he outweighs me by at least fifty pounds, and he just plowed me backwards right into the hall wainscoting, one hand gripping my t-shirt at the neck. He'd popped the claws on the other and sank them into the wall right beside my head. At least it wasn't the paneling; I could spackle the wall. "Not good enough, toy soldier," he said. "Try again."
"Shit, you crazy psycho! Lemme go!"
"A crazy psycho who saved your ass in Finland."
"And I thanked you, at the time." I glared him down; he didn't look away. And he didn't let me go. I decided to try reason. "Look, Logan, I didn't try to start any fights with you when Jean chose you last spring."
He grinned. "Because you knew you'd have gotten knocked on your ass."
Exasperated, I tried shoving him off. He didn't budge and I didn't want to give in and actually fight with him. I heard feet on the stairs, patter-patter, and knew without even looking that it was Jean. Damn link. I needed to learn how to keep her from knowing everything that was happening to me. Logan and I both looked in her direction. She was glaring and I could almost see the air warp around her as she gathered her power. "Let him go, Logan," she said, "before I throw you into a wall."
"Not just yet, darlin'. I'll let him go when he gives me an answer."
"To what!" I shouted, annoyed.
"Why is she better off with you?"
"Maybe you should try asking me that?" Jean snapped.
"Because I have a pretty good idea what you'd say, Jeannie. I want to know what the wannabe Patton here thinks. He owes me an answer."
"I told you, I don't owe you anything."
"I'd say you owe me your freedom and your life, leader boy. But I think you won't answer my question because you can't, can you? You don't think she's better off with you. You think you got damn lucky. And she deserves better than some spineless boot shiner who couldn't find his own ass with a flashlight - at noon. She deserves a man who can do right by her, and who knows he's right for her."
"And that's you?" I snarled.
"I didn't say it was me," Logan replied. "But it sure as hell ain't you, leader boy."
"So, what? We should let Xavier have her?" It was out before I could think better of it, but Logan just grinned, feral.
"Oh, Chuck knows better. What we want and what we're willing to go after ain't the same thing. But he's got the same worries I do; I'm just a little more direct in settling them. Now answer my question, pup."
With a quick inside parrying motion, I knocked away the hand that had been holding my shirt and spun away from him, fell into a fighting crouch. I saw Jean start to move, but I said, "Stay there, Jean. This is between Logan and me."
"Oh, gee. Let me watch the two big, brave men go ape-shit while I bat lashes and 'oooh' in properly feminine appreciation."
I grinned against my will. So, I noted, did Wolverine, but he said, "Scotty boy is right, darlin'. This is between him and me."
"Sometimes words aren't enough, it takes fists?"
"Somethin' like that."
"I'm so impressed. The testosterone in the air is just overwhelming."
"Can it, Jean," I said, to shut her up. She frowned but subsided. "Now," I said to Logan, "you want to come after me when I'm ready for you? You keep those freakin' claws in and I'll keep my hand off the trigger of my visor."
His grin showed more teeth than humor, but he lunged. I sidestepped to deliver a side chop, but he was too fast for me, snagged me and blocked the blow. I managed to twist free and returned to ready, hands up. He feigned left and then delivered a swinging kick up towards my chin that I ducked even as I struck out for a kidney punch on his open side. He grunted but barely seemed to feel it, came back with a hard left hook that caught me in the mouth and split my lip.
Admittedly, going hand-to-hand with the Wolverine hadn't been one of my smarter moves. He had years of training that I didn't have, mutant healing, and extra weight from the metal on his bones. All I had was my greater reach and my speed. And my special eyesight. I started using it. He tried several more feigns that I didn't fall for because I'd seen that he wasn't putting his whole balance into it. When he did finally move in earnest, I wasn't there for the blow to connect. I'd spun away, letting his own weight work against him, propelling him forward past me as I kicked him in the back of the knees. He went down but was rolling to his feet before I could press my advantage.
Yet he didn't return to a crouch. Instead, he hopped up to sit on the top of the lowboy. "Good for you, kid. You finally started using your brain instead of your spleen. Now, let's try this again. Tell me why Jean is better off with you."
"Logan - "
"You owe me that much."
I glanced at Jean, but she wasn't coming to my rescue this time. Instead, she'd leaned into a doorway and was watching me with her arms crossed over her chest. I'd told her to stay out of it, and she was. Sighing, I straightened up and fingered my split lip to give myself time to think.
Logan had asked me the hard question. What the hell did I have to offer Jean? Why would she want to stay with me? I hadn't figured it out for myself yet, and Logan was right that I hadn't answered because I couldn't. I looked at Jean again, met her eyes. She was waiting just like Logan, to hear what I'd say, and I was reminded of what she'd told me on the first night we'd slept together.
"I'm always here," I said finally, speaking to him but still looking at her. "I'm not running off to find my past, even though I lost it, too, in a plane crash ten years ago. I'm here when she needs me. And I tell her things, or try to - I don't keep secrets. I'm honest with her. Just . . . some things are harder for me to talk about."
It was an apology for walking out on her earlier and she nodded faintly. Her expression had gone from closed and watchful to a little sad but open, and her eyebrows were up as if to say, "Go on."
I continued speaking to her. It was easier that way. "She's always stood behind me, defended me when I did stupid things . . . believed in me. And I believe in her. She's my best friend."
She was smiling at me now. I smiled back.
Finally, I turned to look at Logan. He'd been watching us both; his face neutral, closed. "I've been around since she first got here, Logan. I've watched her change, grow. She's watched me do the same. We know each other - all our little individual quirks and faults. Maybe there's not much mystery left, but mystery's over-rated. When it's solved, what do you have? Anything? Do you have anything in common with Jean but good chemistry? She's not a person to you; she's an ideal. She represents what's good in the world - for both of us. We both see her that way. But you want to tie her handkerchief to your armor before battle like some lone Champion. I don't want to wear her handkerchief. I want her fighting at my back. That's why she should stay with me. She's not just an ideal to me. She's a woman. And she makes me a better man."
For a long moment, Logan didn't reply at all. Then he hopped down off the lowboy. "She makes me a better man, too, Scott."
And he walked away, down the stairs. We both watched him go.
So, she sent into my head, Words won the day after all, instead of fists. Then she pushed away from the door to come slip her arms around my neck, smile up at me, all impish. "It's good to know that you listen to me occasionally when I tell you what a catch you are, Slim. And maybe you're even starting to believe it."
I pulled her tightly against me. "You're kind of hard to ignore when you have a point to make."
"I'd better be hard to ignore period." And she tilted her lower body against mine.
"I think so."
She laughed then stepped away and caught my hand. "Come on, Beaver Cleaver. I finally got the bathroom finished. Let's go back to our room and fool around. You can hang pictures later. I'll help."
We didn't get back to the hall for a while.
Imagine that; I
wrote an Ult-X story with a happy ending!