FAQ       Archive      Extras       Gallery
       Links       Subscribe


Lightning Over Elk River
Part 1: Road Trip
Warnings: This story is ADULT and contains discussion of adult topics, including sex and drugs in later sections. Drugs are not glorified.

Notes: This one's for Diane, because she loves Ultimate Scott, and because she loves Storm (and because she beta read it). Ultimate Storm is a different girl from her traditional goddess self. I liked the old Storm, but like the new one, too. The biggest difference is Ultimate Storm's sass. Ultimate Scott can be a wise-cracker, as well, but I'm maintaining his canon shyness. Incidently, and while I write movie-Scott's eyes as blue because Marsden's are, comics-Scott's eyes are brown. Ororo's are supposed to be blue, but in Ultimate, they're gold-tan. As for Scott's vocabulary and would he really know a word like 'oxymoron' consider, folks. This is a guy who, in the midst of a heated argument with Xavier, pulled out 'monosyllabic.' He's shown, too, in a couple other places, that he has a good vocabulary. If you think Storm wouldn't comment on Jean's skin color, remember she does just that in issue #4 regarding the president's daughter. The John Mellencamp lyrics are from "You Gotta Stand for Something" off Scarecrow, and the "Authority Song," off Uh-Huh.

Disclaimer: They all belong to Marvel, Stan Lee, Mark Millar and the A-boy Kuberts.

I'm still trying to figure out who's getting punished here: me or Cyclops. Maybe both of us. Xavier does like to kill two birds with one stone. So ol' Fearless Leader is on probation after haring off to the Savage Land to join Magneto for a while. (I gotta admire him for filching the Blackbird right out from under the prof's nose, though.) And I'm in the doghouse for sneaking out two nights ago to go clubbing alone - but it was worth it, to dance until the sun came up, feel the music undulate through my body in time to the strobe lights on the floor. I still don't get why Xavier threw a hissy fit when I came back. I hadn't been drunk or stoned, and it's safe to be out now, isn't it? In a club, who looks twice at the black girl with white hair?

But Xavier has his damn rules, and I broke them, and earlier, Scott had defied him to run off to his arch-enemy. So what if he came back and apologized, and Xavier pretended everything was peachy-keen? We all knew Cyclops was on probation. So here we were, stuck with each other in the same vehicle all the way to Nashville, Tennessee.

Like who the hell wants to go to Nashville?

"I need to take a bathroom break," I said. Cyclops was driving. "And no stupid wise-cracks about bladders the size of a pea."

"I wasn't going to say anything." But his lips had quirked up. "I'll keep an eye out for the next rest area. I need coffee anyway."

"I could drive for a while, y'know, if you're getting tired."

"I'm not getting tired. I just need some coffee."

Right. He didn't want to give up the wheel, was the truth. Friggin' control freak.

Hating the heavy traffic of coastal Interstate 95, Scott had taken I-87 west to I-81, since we'd have to be on that road eventually anyway. The interstate had run south through pretty green Pennsylvania hills to the capitol of Harrisburg, busy with traffic from families who, here on the crest of spring, were out for their first holiday of the season:  a plague of vans and SUVs and squealing children in fast food restaurants. Once at a distance down an access road, I'd seen an Amish family in an old-fashioned horse-drawn buggy, and Pennsylvania Dutch hex signs had adorned some barns. A little before noon, we'd crossed a finger of Maryland just west of Hagerstown, and less than an hour later, had leapt eastern West Virginia, into Virginia itself.

Scott had passed the Virginia welcome station without a second glance, and now, when a quick consult of the map revealed that the next rest stop wasn't for another forty miles down the road, I made him take a regular exit before my bladder exploded. It looked ready to rain, the sky heavy grey over the growing hill line to our west. There were four gas stations here, and a choice between McDonalds or Hardees; he chose the orange and blue without even asking if I'd rather go to the arches. Not that I really cared which restaurant, but it pissed me off that he hadn't at least consulted me. "Maybe I wanted a Happy Meal," I said as he turned off the engine.

He just glanced over. "Looking for a toy to distract you from my company?"

I laughed because I hadn't expected that. He can be funny sometimes. We both got out and stretched. God, I hate riding. Driving is okay, but riding is a pain in the ass. Nothing to do but stare at miles and miles of concrete and hardwood forests and shiny little metal boxes that ate fossil fuel and spat back carbon monoxide. Ol' Cyclops isn't exactly a charming conversation partner. At least he has decent taste in music. There haven't been many wars over the CD player.

I made a dash for the little girl's room, but had to wait in line behind a family any of whom could have modeled for Wal-Mart Big Woman clothing. There was a grandmother, her two daughters and their kids in fabric-painted t-shirts of faded lilac or yellow. The grandmother had permed hair that looked as if she'd rolled it, slept on it, took out the curlers, and then hadn't bothered to brush it. It was dyed a shade somewhere between burnt orange and maple-leaf pink. She turned to stare at my navel-bare midriff with dim-witted envy, while her daughters gossiped about the trouble of toilet training their snot-nosed brats - the same ones crawling unchecked in and out under bathroom stall doors. By all that's holy, give me a hysterectomy right now.

When they were finally done, I had my turn, and from inside the stall, could hear the last of them: a mother washing her preschool-aged son's hands at the sink. "Why's that nigger woman got white hair, Mama?" the kid asked. His accent was from the deeper South than Virginia.

"Shhh, Rory," the mother said, then in a whisper which didn't conceal a damn thing, "I think she's a mutie, honey. You stay away from them people, y'hear?" The water shut off and there was the whoosh of a door opening and closing.

Great. Racism and anti-mutant sentiment all rolled up in one fat package. So much for anything we'd accomplished in Washington last week. The public still hates us.

By the time I emerged, Cyclops was looking edgy, standing by the door up against the window with a cup of coffee and a small bag in one hand, and the other hand shoved deep in the pocket of his black jeans. With the exception of a few khakis, I don't think the man owns a stitch that isn't some shade of black or grey. He glared indiscriminately at everyone for no good reason. "Hey, Jolly Charlie," I said as I approached.

"Man, what took you so long?"

"Little girls can't just unzip, point, and shoot. I had to wait on the Polyester Convention," and I jerked my chin towards the family with whom I'd shared the bathroom.

"Ah," he mouthed without a sound, biting back a grin as he opened the door for me. Always the gentleman.

We paced side by side to the car. "They still hate us, Scott. Whatever Xavier wants to think, they hate us."

He pondered that as he unlocked the Mercedes' door on the driver's side. "It'll take time," he replied as he clicked the lock release so I could get in.

"And Rome wasn't conquered in a day," I said as I slid into my seat. "I know."

"It's 'Rome wasn't built in a day.'" He grinned and started the car.

"Shit! Do you have to correct every little mistake, all the friggin' time?" I hadn't meant to say that, but I still felt raw from the 'nigger mutie' crack, and I confess, his perfectionism drives me crazy. "I'd think being Poster Child for the Mutant Polly Anna Society would get old."

He didn't reply for some minutes, just turned over the engine with a vengeance, and squealed the tires leaving the parking lot. When we were back on the road, he opened his bag and fished out a hamburger, then said simply, "Fuck you," before taking a bite.

"Well, will wonders never cease? There's actually a guy to piss off inside the Fearless Leader."

More silence. One hand was gripping the wheel while he ate in silence, a whole burger in a just a few bites, but then I've seen him put away three Big Macs without trying. And I was beginning to rethink the wisdom of opening this can of worms anyway. We had two days alone together in a car before we got to Nashville, and if the Mystery Mutant wouldn't come back with us, we'd have to face the return trip with just each other for company, too. "Y'know," he said finally, "my job is not to make you like me. I don't give a shit one way or the other. My job is to keep you from getting killed in a combat situation. So think whatever the hell you want to about me, as long as you do what I say when it comes to crunch time."

That sounded so tough, so controlled, so hard-assed leader-ish. His glasses made it impossible for me to read his eyes, but his knuckles were still clenched on the steering wheel and his lips were thin. Whatever he said, I think he might like to have a friend, especially now that Little Miss Perky had hopped into bed with the Wolverine. He's out of confidants, unless you count the professor. He and Jean Grey have barely spoken ten words to each other since he came back.

And God, is she an idiot, or what? I know the stink of a wild animal when I smell it, and Logan is a wild animal. I have a hard time feeling sorry that he screwed her over and then took off into the sunset. I might feel sorrier for Cyclops at being passed over, if he wasn't so damn determined to make himself annoying.

He reached across to turn up the CD player, so we didn't have to talk. It's my CD. Under the Pink:  old Tori Amos before her lyrics turned completely surreal.

"Baker, Baker baking a cake, make me a day, make me whole again and I wonder what's in a day what's in your cake this time / I guess you heard he's gone to LA; he says that behind my eyes I'm hiding and he tells me I pushed him away, that my heart's been hard to find / here, there must be something here, there must be something here, here . . . ."
Outside, it had started to rain finally, and I didn't think it was me, but I was suddenly feeling as sad as the weather. The windshield wipers slapped out a blues beat.

"Do you know why the professor sent us?" I asked Cyclops, because I really didn't want to go the rest of the trip with this electric tension between us like the atmosphere before lightning strikes.

I think he understood my question for an apology because he answered levelly - no trace of bitterness - "How much did he brief you?"

"There was supposed to be a brief? It was more like, 'Storm, pack your gear, you're going to Nashville with Cyclops.'"

Almost against his will, Scott smiled. It was terse, tense, but still a smile. Does smiling really hurt so much, Cyclops Leader Man?

"All right," he said, "the scoop is this:  Cerebro picked up a very powerful mutant signature somewhere around Nashville. The girl's been on the move south from Chicago for the past week or so."

"Will she still be in Nashville by the time we get there?"

"I don't know. The professor will contact us if she isn't. Her movements haven't been rapid, but they have been consistent over the past few weeks, south down I-65."

"So what else do we know about her besides that she's a girl?"

"Her powers are psionic. She manifests people's fears and hopes - so strongly that they can kill. She literally scares people to death."

"So tell me, why did the professor send us instead of Jean-Ms-Recruitment-Officer, who also happens to be the telepath?"

He seemed suddenly uncomfortable, but whether at my question or my mention of Jean, I wasn't sure. "I think it has to do with things the professor sensed about her. She might talk to us more readily than to Jean."

"Oh, really? And why's that?"

He clearly didn't want to answer. "Wait," I said, "don't tell me. I'm here because she's black, right? I'm your token minority."

He sighed. "You're a token nothing. And she's not black. But she's not white, either."

"Like I said, I'm the token minority. But what's your excuse?"

"Ororo, drop it."

So I did. Yet I still couldn't figure his inclusion on this mission if it wasn't for punishment. I was here because we were going to talk to a woman of color, and much as I hated to admit it, it did make sense to send me instead of Jean, the white, middle-class darling daughter of privilege.

But why Cyclops? I was sure he'd been sent along as more than chauffeur. And although I might like to chalk it up to an elaborate punishment from Xavier, there had to be more to it than that. Xavier could have found something better if he didn't have an ulterior motive for sending Cyclops to Tennessee.

We drove for two hours without saying much of anything. I dozed at some point and woke to find the rain over and the surrounding country gone from high hills to real mountains raising backs into the clouds like great, green humpback whales breaking foam.

"We're just north of Roanoke," he told me, when he saw me stir.

"I love the Blue Ridge," I murmured, more to say something than because I really felt compelled to share that information with him.

But unexpectedly, he replied, "So do I. Or really, I like any mountains. Have you ever seen the Rockies? They're amazing."

Wow. A talkative Cyclops. About something that wasn't business. "I've seen the Rockies, but I still like these better. They're greener."

He tilted his head and thought about that. "You like green things." It wasn't really a question. He's watched me garden. Not long after I'd first arrived at the mansion, I'd taken over care of the arboreum, even started a few plots outside. It had been the first time in a long while that I'd stayed in one place long enough to get my hands in the dirt. When I was working outside, Scott would sometimes watch from his spot in the hammock under a pair of small maples. He'd take a newspaper out there, or the current issue of The Nation, and read, or nap. He never said much, but sometimes I'd felt his eyes on me. I think he liked being outside as much as I did, enjoyed the sound of bird and cricket, the wind in the trees, so unlike the hot noise of summer mean streets with their honking traffic, loud radios, and angry mothers screaming at children. It was peaceful here, and if there was any reason I'd stayed at Xavier's, it was for that peace. I was learning what a woodpecker sounded like, and the hoot of a whippoorwill; I was learning how to catch fireflies in the early evening, how a mist rose up off fields after a hard rain if the evening was cool enough, and how the water of a brook felt over my bare toes as I balanced my way over the rocks of a creek bed. Xavier's was heaven to Bobby because he wasn't running anymore and had as much PB&J as he wanted to eat; it was heaven to Peter because he didn't have to hide - either his mutant ability or his aartistic streak; and it was heaven to Hank because he had free rein to poke around with state-of-the-art technology. But it was heaven to me because I could play in the dirt, court the mansion cats, and put a hummingbird feeder outside my attic window over a box of enticing flowers - and actually hope to see a hummingbird.

I wondered sometimes why Xavier's was heaven to Scott. He's a hard man to figure out, but you don't have to be Sigmund Freud to see he's not comfortable in social situations, even 'social situations' that are just a handful of peers and teammates. A bit schizoid, that. When he's in uniform, he orders us all around as if he were Patton reincarnated, but take him out of uniform and he slinks off into the background and never says much - or hides out in the hammock under the maples. The hammock is his personal retreat, and the rest of us steer clear. In fact, the only time I've seen Scott act aggressively outside training was over that hammock. Bobby found it on his second day at Xavier's and made himself right at home. When Scott had discovered him in it, he'd politely asked Bobby to give it over. Bobby's reply had been a smart aleck, "Squatter's rights. I got here first. Go find somewhere else to sleep."

Setting down the book he'd brought, Scott had gripped the edge of the hammock and yanked - tumbling Bobby out in the grass. "Squatter's rights bow to right of conquest," he'd replied, snatched up his book, and plopped himself down. "The hammock is mine, Drake. Stay out of it."

He's territorial like that. And he clings. I figure he must have lost something desperately important to him once, to cling like he does now. When you lose everything, you go one of two ways: you stop caring about things, or you care about them too much. I'm the former, he's the latter.

Funny thing for a thief to admit, not caring about things. Or maybe that's why I am a thief. I don't steal because I'm greedy, or even out of need. I steal because it's a thrill. So sue me. But I've never stolen from anyone genuinely poor, and not just because they have nothing worth stealing. I do have ethics.

In any case, I realized now that I needed to go pee again, and I was getting hungry, too. "When are we going to stop for the night?" I asked him. "We won't make Nashville today."

"Not unless we get there after midnight, and the professor doesn't consider it that critical - or he'd have sent us in the blackbird. We'll stop for the night somewhere just over the border into Tennessee, I think."

"So how about stopping for dinner now, then?"

"It's a little early for dinner."

I rolled my eyes. "Well, we seem to have forgotten lunch."

"No, you forgot lunch. I got a hamburger. Besides, I don't eat much when I'm on the road."

"Fine, but I'm hungry! So find the next decent fast-food restaurant, okay?"

He smiled faintly. "I thought decent fast-food was an oxymoron."

"Oh, and tell me you don't eat enough of it, Mr. I-can-eat-a-whole-pizza-myself?"

"I didn't say I didn't eat it. I said 'decent fast-food' was an oxymoron. Not the same thing."

I laughed. He catches you unexpectedly. And while he may drive me nuts with his anal-retentive boot camp routine, I confess that I admire his wit. "Well," I told him, "if 'decent' is out, I'll settle for something with less grease rather than more grease."

So we started looking for a place to eat, wound up at Arby's. At three in the afternoon, it was almost dead, the counter help hanging out and cracking jokes when we entered. They made our roast beef sandwiches fresh. I discovered that Scott likes hot sauce; he put way too much on his and still complained. "Baby hot sauce," he said, "like baby cheese."

"Baby cheese?" I asked, putting normal bar-b-que on mine.

"Soft white cheese with no taste. Baby cheese."

I followed him to a small table near a window. It was sunny out now, nice, with high fluffy cirrus clouds hazing the blue above green mountains. I took the seat across from his. "Scott, you have so much hot sauce on that, you can't taste the food."

"Ah, but you assume I want to taste the food." And he took a bite.

I spit Mountain Dew through my nose, which made my eyes water at the sting. The man is lethal to tender membranes. He grinned around a mouthful of beef, as if he'd scored a battle victory.

It suddenly occurred to me that he was making an effort. Despite what I'd said to him earlier, or maybe because of it, he was making an effort to be friendly. The least I could do was meet him halfway. "If you like hot so much, when we get back to the mansion, I'll make you siga wat - beef in berbere sauce - and some spicy lentil pot. If you can eat all that and still have a tongue left, you deserve a medal."

"What's berbere sauce?"

"Ethiopian red-pepper sauce. My mother used to make it."

"Sounds good."

"I'll see if you still say so after you taste it. It has a teaspoon of ginger and three tablespoons - that's tablespoons - of red pepper."

He just grinned. "Try me."

"You're on. But," I added, "I have a price."

Both his eyebrows shot up over the rim of his glasses. "Which is?"

"Teach me to fly."

He set down his sandwich and then sat back in his seat, studied me a minute. When he spoke, his voice was soft so that it wouldn't carry - not that there was anyone around us to hear. "You have to know how to read first, Ororo."

Twice with Mountain Dew out the nose. This time, not from amusement.

He went on inexorably, "When you let me teach you to read, then I'll teach you to fly."

I slammed down my cup and leaned across the little two-person table, spat, "What in hell makes you think I can't read?"

"Careful observation."

I glared down at my half-eaten sandwich. "I can read! If I couldn't read, why buy magazines? Or didn't you notice that I read them?"

"You buy fashion magazines and car magazines to look at the pictures. And I've seen you make your way through short things. You can sign your name. That's not reading. You're functionally illiterate."

"I'm not stupid!"

"I never said you were. In fact, I'd say you're pretty damn smart, have a good vocabulary and an excellent memory, which is how you've managed to fake it this long. It wouldn't take much for you to learn to read if you put your mind to it." He glanced out the glass wall beside our table, at a big mustard-tan RV pulling into the parking lot. "I think the 'put your mind to it' is the key."

I glared at the side of his face. "Did Xavier tell you I can't read?"

He shook his head, still without looking at me - as if he was giving my pride space. "No.  As I said:  observation.  Little things added up.  So I gave you a test.  Do you remember, not long after Wolverine arrived, a practice when I handed each of you some brief written instructions along with verbal orders?"

"And I did exactly what you told me to do!"

He smiled. "Yes. You did exactly what I told you to do. You barely looked at the paper. On it, I'd written, 'Ignore everything I just said and bring me a cup of coffee from the kitchen.'"

"You sneaky son of a bitch! And I could have read that!"

"Probably." He looked back at me. "But you would've had to work at it. So you just glanced at the paper like the rest did, then put it in your pocket because you'd have had to sound it out aloud and you didn't want anyone else to know that. You never looked at it again. Learning to read is a matter of practice, Ororo. But I won't teach you to fly until you can read the manual. It's not safe."

I turned away to glance out across the restaurant. A dozen signs stared back at me, inscribed with their cryptic messages. I could read parts of most, but not all of any. "I wasn't in school anywhere long enough to learn," I told him now.

He hovered at the edge of asking more, then reconsidered and went back to his sandwich. I was grateful. He already knew things about me that I'd worked hard to keep secret, and I stared at my own sandwich. I'd lost my appetite. Folding the silver wrapper around it, I pushed it off to a corner of the tray. He eyed it as he downed the last of his own. "You want it?" I asked.

I could see him consider. Scott rarely turns down food, but then he shook his head. "No, thanks. We should be going."

So we gathered our trash, dumped it in a bin, and headed out. It struck me only as we were leaving that no one had looked at us twice. How very strange. For half an hour, we'd been regarded as normal.

We drove another couple hours, then stopped at a Knights' Inn in Bristol, Tennessee, took side-by-side rooms. He disappeared into his after we'd unloaded our bags and I didn't expect to see him again until morning. I got a Coke out of a machine and some peanuts, changed into sweats and a tank top, then flopped on the horrid, cheap floral bedspread to flip TV channels. The remote was fixed to the night stand to keep anyone from walking off with it, but at least the room was clean and it had one of those little complementary coffee machines to make a cup for those of us who need caffeine in the morning before we can get our eyes to stay open. About an hour or two later, there came a knock on my door. Surprised, I rolled off the bed to peer out the peephole. Scott, on the other side. He was looking off down the walkway and shifting from foot to foot. He almost jumped when I opened the door. "Hey," I said.


Standing aside, I made a wordless gesture of invitation and he stopped three steps inside the door. He was wearing black sport shorts - the first time I'd ever seen him in anything that casual - and a New York Knicks sweatshirt with the sleeves ripped out. I hadn't known he was a Knicks fan. He seemed unaccountably nervous. "Is there some emergency?" I asked.

"What? Oh, no. No emergency."

I started to say, "Then what're you doing here?" but bit it back. Maybe he'd just been bored, like me. Or maybe this was more of his awkward effort to be friendly. It was kind of charming, in a stiff Scott-way. "You want some peanuts?" I asked instead.

My question seemed to throw him for a loop, as if common hospitality was as unexpected as sighting a bald eagle. "Peanuts?"

"Yeah. You know, those little tan oval things they make Bobby's peanut butter out of?"

Abruptly, he grinned and his shoulders relaxed a little. "No, but thanks. I'm not hungry. I, um, walked over to get something to eat at the Village Inn."

"And you didn't invite me?"

There was a momentary pause, and I was sure that if I could've seen his eyes, he'd be blinking in surprise. "I, uh, didn't figure you'd want to go."


"I -   Um -   I just - " Completely at a loss. Once again, we hovered on the edge of something, but this time, he took the step over. "I didn't think you wanted to spend time with me."

Now, I had two choices:  be honest or be polite.  But Politeness and Ororo have never been more than nodding acquaintances, so I said, "If you'd asked me yesterday, I wouldn't have."

His eyebrows shot up. "And today?"

I smiled. "You're not so bad, Cyclops. At least not when you lighten up a little."

He actually grinned at that. "Gee, thanks. And, um, you can call me Scott."

"Yes, sir, Mr. Scott, sir."

"Cut it out, Ororo!" But he was still smiling.

"It's Ro."


"Ororo is a mouthful. I'll call you Scott if you call me Ro."

"Deal." He held out a hand and we shook on it. His grip was firm. "You want to go to the Village Inn?"

"I thought you ate?"

"I can always eat twice."

"Or three times, more like."

"Or three times. I didn't get any pie last time."

"Then let's go get pie."

So we left my room and crossed the parking lot, jaywalked the street to enter the restaurant. If anyone noticed that he was back again, they didn't comment. Here at the height of summer, the sun was only now going down in a backdrop of wine velvet as a waitress showed us to a table near a window, gave us cheap plastic laminated menus, and disappeared to fetch a Mountain Dew for me and an iced tea for Scott. With lemon. Hot sauce on his roast beef and lemon in his tea. He doesn't like bland food. I discarded the real menu and went right for the pie menu. "Hey!" Scott said as my fingers closed on it before his did.

"The early bird gets the worm," I told him.

He started to fetch a second menu from one of the tables nearby, but then got up and joined me on my side of the table. Sitting as we were in chairs, it wasn't quite as forward as it might have been in a booth, but it was unexpected from him. It turned out that he had an ulterior motive. Covering the pictures with his palm, he pointed to a description and said, "Read it."

I glared at him. "Is this my first lesson?"

"I guess. I figured you'd have incentive, if pie was your reward."

I glanced around at other tables. We were mostly isolated, whether by chance or by deliberation because the waitress had guessed we were mutants, I couldn't say. No one was paying us any attention. So slowly, laboriously, I worked through the description.

I have to read out loud, and if a sentence is too long, I can't remember the whole of it by the time I get to the end. Likewise, if the word isn't spelled like it sounds, I'm clueless. At one point, he said, "Enough," and I replied, "Thank god!" to which he responded, "No, I meant that word is 'enough.'"

"But there's no F in it," I said.

"The 'o-u-g-h' is pronounced as an '-uf.'"

"Why not spell it that way?"

"Because English is crazy? I don't know."

"At least you're not defending it."

The wry smile. "No, I'm not defending it. That doesn't mean you don't have to learn it."


"Look, Ro, nobody will say that English is easy to learn. But you can do this. And I bet the next time you see 'enough,' you'll recognize it."

He was right; I probably would. And so my first lesson continued. I might hate this, but I wanted to fly, and I knew Cyclops too well to assume that I could get him to back down on his stipulation. The waitress came three times to take our order and he sent her away with a "We haven't decided yet" each time. On the last, she rolled her eyes where even we could see.

"You'd better tip her well," I warned him.

"As long as she doesn't spit in my tea, we're cool."

I laughed. "And how would you know if she did?"

He shrugged and pointed to the last pie description. "We're almost done. One more." Intent on what he was doing, he'd braced his right arm on the back of my chair and leaned in to point with his left. Very close. He smelled good in that clean-man way, Irish Spring and new sweat, and I was suddenly hyper-conscious of his body heat, the quiet murmur of our voices. His is low in level rather than pitch, a surprisingly pure, high baritone. He was a patient teacher, too, unlike his drill sergeant approach to battle. That, more than anything, surprised me. But he wouldn't quit. If I got frustrated, he let me rant a moment, then made me repeat whatever had me stumped.

Finally, we were done and he crossed his arms on the tabletop, leaned in to look at my face. "So? What kind of pie do you want?"

I thwacked him on the head. "After that, I want a whole dinner!"

He just laughed and it struck me that, in the last hour or so since he'd shown up at my door, the dynamics of our relationship had altered fundamentally, and completely. He was no longer shy, or slightly hostile - seemed to have decided that I wasn't going to bite him. I'm not sure what I'd decided, but his proximity was making me jittery.

Now, he rose up a little to look around. "I think I'll have to go find the waitress; she gave up on us."

And so we had our pie. After reading the whole menu, and despite what I'd said to him, I wasn't about to go for something else. I needed chocolate. Lots of chocolate. He ordered simple apple cobbler, which surprised me, given his fetish for chocolate milk. But I suppose it was a matter of baseball, hotdogs, apple pie and Chevrolet. Or maybe Ford. Black mustang. A 1969 R-Code Mustang Fastback. That was Scott to a T.

"What are you thinking?" he asked when he caught me grinning for no reason.

"Trying to imagine what kind of car you'd choose, if you could have any car you wanted."

"Any car?"

"Any car."

"What kind did you guess?"

"Mustang Fastback. You seem like a classics kind of guy. John Mellencamp, Indiana, and Ford."

That got a very strange reaction, not quite a laugh, not quite a look of disgust. "Not even close," he said.



"So what would you choose?"

"I didn't mean the car. I meant the description of me. I like the car. A lot, actually. I like John Mellencamp, too. 'You gotta stand right up for something, or you're gonna fall for anything.'"

He actually sang it, didn't just quote it. His pitch was true even a capella. I'd had no idea he could sing, would never have guessed it in a hundred years. I hid my surprise under a Mellencamp line of my own, "I fight authority, authority always wins . . . ."

That made him laugh outright. "That's you, Ro."

I stuck my fork in my mouth and licked off the last bit of chocolate. "So tell me, if you like the car and you like ol' John, why was that a bad description?"

The smile fell off his mouth. "It just was."

I started to push but changed my mind. There was more than one way to skin a cat. Or open a locked door.

When we were done, we walked back to the motel. On the way, he asked me about the places I'd been to while hoofing it around the country. "All forty-eight continental states," I told him. I asked him about his eyes. "What color are they?"

"Red, now."

"Unh!" And I hit his shoulder. "Originally, dingbat!"

"Hey! I'm going to have bruises, woman!"

"Then answer my question and quit hedging."

"I wasn't hedging! They're red! They were brown."

"Brown? What color of brown?"

"Man, I don't know! Brown!"

"Scott, my eyes are brown and Denzel Washington's eyes are brown, but they're not the same brown. I mean, are yours light brown, medium brown, or cow eyes?"

"Cow eyes?"

"Yeah, you know - so dark you can't see the pupil."

He just shook his head.  "Cow eyes, I guess. They were pretty dark."  He was quiet a moment, then asked, "Why do girls always want to know what color my eyes were?"

"Watch it with the gender generalizations, buster."

"Well, Jean asked a long time ago. And then Wanda, too - it was about the third thing out of her mouth to me. 'What color are your eyes?' Christ! Hank's never asked!"

"It's the mystery," I told him, grinning. "And I just bet Wanda Maximoff wanted to know what color your eyes were."

"Lay off it, Ro. Wanda drove me crazy the whole time I was there."

"Awww. There was no smoochy-smoochy for Little Miss Magneto, huh?"and then I dashed off, laughing. He chased me all the way back. At least he played fair and didn't just blast me.

We might have parted company at my door, but completely on the spur, I asked him if he could play jacks. He must have gaped at me for ten whole seconds, then said, "Jacks? As in a rubber ball and little spiky things?"

"Yeah. Jacks."

"Once upon a time, I could play jacks.  I think.  Man, I don't even remember that far back."

"You don't?"

"No."  Almost absently, he touched the back of his head.  "I don't remember a lot from before I was about eight or nine.  I was in an accident, had some brain damage."

"Oh."  I mean, what do you say to 'I had some brain damage'?  "I'm sorry."  It sounded lame.

"I'm all right now.  Except for these."  He tapped his glasses.

"That's why you have to wear the glasses?"  I hadn't known there was a reason, beyond his power itself.

He shrugged.  "The part of my brain that should control the blasts doesn't work any more."

"Can they fix it?"  It was an intrusive question, but I was curious.

"'They' who?  It's not something I can take to a hospital.  How many samples of what constitutes 'normal' for my mutation has anybody seen?  But in any case, no, the professor doesn't think it can be fixed, even if someone knew enough to try.  He lives in a wheelchair.  I live with these."  He touched the glasses again.

And that, I thought, might explain Xavier's attachment to Scott. On probation Scott might be, but we all knew that if any of the rest of us had pulled that stunt with Magneto - Jean possibly excepted - we'dd have been kicked out on our cans. I've seen Xavier chew Scott up one side and down the other for no apparent reason, but I still think he could forgive Scott anything, if push came to shove. Not that he'd tell Scott as much; he'd die and go to hell first.

"So - you wanna play jacks?"

He shook his head, but said, "Sure. Did you bring jacks?"

"I always bring jacks. Stupid childhood addiction, but it's good practice for finger agility." And I wriggled mine in his face.

"Once a thief, always a thief."

"I hear the pot calling the kettle black, mister. Which of us stole the Blackbird?"

"I brought it back."

"Yeah. But you still stole it in the first place." I keyed open my door and glanced sidewise at him. "Very slick that, I have to say."

His smile was lopsided. "You would be impressed, wouldn't you?"

"It's a compliment." I switched on the lights in my room and dropped the keycard on the dresser by the TV. He followed me in. "I'm a hard girl to impress."

"I'll keep that in mind." He grinned.

Part 2

Again, I am a shameless feedback slut.  Tell me you love me if you want me to write more; it's the only pay I get.

<Other Stories By Minisinoo>

Return To The Archive