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Smile Back
Part 1

Warning: There are several sexual references, and discussion of controversial topics. But this is a story, not a political soapbox. Stories are meant to make people think by grounding abstract discussion in the context of personal histories. People's decisions never take place in a theoretical world.

Notes: This story may lose you if you haven't read LOER. Likewise, reading Ult-X issues #7-8 is recommended. Action here begins with the close of issue #7, and runs to the end of issue #8. Regarding Scott's bracelet, there is one on his right wrist in #8; it might be a watch or communicator, but I had some fun with it. And yes, I know, I LIKE to play on the theme of Scott-as-Crazy-Horse. I see parallels. It seems that the attack on the mansion came the same day as Bobby's arrival, but Storm's outfit changes (dramatically) from one scene to the next. I tried to explain that. "Resist," belongs to Melissa Ethridge off Yes I Am, and my subtitles are scene titles from Ridley Scott's Gladiator. Thanks to Pax for invaluable comments, Naomi as always, and to Rob at Strange Days for pretty pictures while my scanner is down.

Dedication: To those who had to choose, whatever choice they made.


"Are you sure you're okay, man?" Scott is speaking to Peter as we take our seats on the Blackbird and prepare to leave Tokyo behind. "You still look peaked." Peter has transformed back into his fleshly form, and his pallid complexion is even more noticeable than it was a minute ago.

"I told you, I'm fine." Peter's frowning, whether from irritation at being babied, or for some other reason.

"Whatever you say," Scott replies. "Strap in, people." And almost before we have a chance to do so, he's sent the plane up at a forty-five degree swoop. Flashy, Cyclops. I clench my jaw to keep my stomach where it belongs and watch him pilot, instead.

I've never been a woman who believed much in the romantic drivel of uncontrollable passion, or had patience for girlfriends who did stupid things in the name of love. I've done plenty of stupid things, to be sure, but not because of men.

Now, I stare at the back of Scott's neck, hypnotized by a fine line of hairs running down his nape, shaved close. I want to bend forward in my seat, reach across the back of his pilot's chair and slide a finger down that line of hairs. I want to watch his muscles bunch and his body shiver. I think that if even my fingertip came into contact with his skin, maybe I could alchemize enough of his essence to sustain me for a while. Erotic osmosis. I breathe his strength like air, and cut off from him, I would suffocate. I can't bear this physical madness, and haven't slept much since the banquet. Couldn't. The thoughts in my mind tumble over one another like a scattery of jacks, but I can find no order by which to pick them up. All I can think about is touching Scott again.

I grip my hands together in my lap.

I really, really need to see Henry.

I shouldn't feel like this, I shouldn't feel like this. It's a hundred times worse than in Nashville. Then, it was just a white, shocked cloud of new infatuation, blown away by an abrupt explosion of doubt - a puff of dandelion-seed sentiment scattered by Xavier's manipulations. I'm so used to distrusting what I feel. Feelings are dangerous. Caring is dangerous. Flippant Ororo had learned to insulate herself so well, to hide away in a private tower of studied sarcasm and scathing disinterest. Until Scott.

A demon's day in madness kissed
I swear I never had it like this
Forbidden yet I cannot resist . . . .
The last few days in Japan have destroyed all my careful illusions. I'm wholly, catastrophically seduced - and Scott wasn't even trying. I just respond to his presence without sense or volition, out of some primitive, bone-deep drive that I'm not foolish enough to call love, but which is far more than lust. Lust would be easy to handle. But this? It's beyond me. I've never felt like this before and the inexorable tide of it has sucked me out into an emotional sea.

I'm obsessed with Cyclops.

Yet I'm dating Henry McCoy. And I do care for Hank. God help me, I've come to love him for his gentleness. He's a good man and deserves better than to be the victim of this mad, magnetic drag between Scott and myself. It's wrong, wrong, wrong. Yet I find it impossible to be indifferent to Scott Summers.

Shocked in silent trances, our eyes search just to know
What makes flesh and body hunger for another burning soul?
Conscience quiet pleading in the corner of my eyes
But seeing is believing, all consequences fly . . . .
I grip my fingers tighter and grind my teeth, pretending that there is no prickle of pain in my chest and no flash of heat between my legs as I stare at those hairs on the nape of Scott's neck.

He glances over his shoulder, briefly, as if he'd felt my eyes. For an instant, our gazes lock, even with the visor in the way.

Then he turns back. His hand fumbles a little on the throttle.



I don't want to go home. I'm going to lose her again. Not that I really had her, in Tokyo, but I could pretend. I'm the king of pretending, and what is my fucking problem, that I shackle myself to these impossible relationships? First Jean, now Ororo . . . .

Xavier would tell me it's because they're safe. He likes to psychoanalyze me; I'm his pet psychology project, but he's not always right. When all this started, Ororo was not 'safe.' She was mine. I got screwed. Literally and then figuratively, and it's mostly Xavier's fault. But I'm too far gone to pull back now, so all I can do is wait. I can be a very stubborn man.

But stubbornness doesn't shield one from pain. When we land at the mansion, Hank is waiting in the hangar and Ororo hurries off the plane to throw herself into his arms. He swings her around, and it goes through me like the proverbial knife.

She's fleeing me; I know it. But why? Because she loves me and it scares her? Or because she doesn't love me and I pushed too hard in Japan? The reason makes or breaks my world.

Peter deplanes after Ro, and they all go off with the professor, to fill him in. I stay to cool down the engines. Jean, who was also there waiting, comes in to help me. She's dressed in a crop-top with a silk-screened Chinese character on the front, black on red. No bra. The cool of the hangar has hardened her nipples under the thin cloth. Once, that would have made my throat go dry. Now, we just exchange meaningless banter as we shut down the plane, but I can feel her watching me and I know she can sense that I'm upset even if she won't go traipsing through my brain without an invitation.

I get out of there before she starts asking questions, tell her that I need to unpack. It's even true, and gives me something to do for a while. Then I tackle the laundry, which has gotten backed up in my absence. We all have our little chores around the mansion, since the professor doesn't have a formal staff. We are the staff, and he divides chores evenly and without regard to gender lines. So I mow the lawn, but I also do the laundry. My fellow students may handle their own clothes, but there are lots of other things to be washed: towels, dishrags, table cloths, bed sheets and assorted miscellany. Plus, I do the professor's clothes in addition to my own. He can certainly run a washing machine, but it's easier for me to bend over the basin.

"You wanna talk, Slim?"

I jump and twist around to look. "Hey, cat-feet, give a guy a break. How about a little noise next time?"

Smiling, Jean comes over to help me sort the dirty things in the cramped, old, basement laundry room - using a camouflage of the mundane to approach the significant. We can discuss my jinxed love life as we sort colors, whites, and brights. I may not be able to tell green from blue, but I can tell pastels from jewel tones. It's the difference between 'shade' and 'tint.' I don't see shade. I do see tint, although light pink and true white are the same color to me. So far, though, I've never ruined the wash, and I know why the professor assigned me this task - to teach me to work around my handicap, or to ask for help when I need it. "Is there any pink in with the white?"

"No," Jean says. "You're getting better." It's an observation, not a condescension, so I don't snap at her for it. "You want to talk to me?" she asks again after a moment. Push, push. I could tell her to fuck off, I could tell her that there's nothing to talk about, but lying to a telepath is an exercise in stupidity. I'm not sure how objective she can be, though. "I'll just listen," she adds. "No judgments."

"You're reading my mind, Jean."

She grins. "So, sue me. You're not exactly keeping your thoughts to yourself."


"Don't be. You project when you're upset; most people do. Usually, I ignore it." She glances up, a towel clenched in one hand. Her face is gentle. "But I can't ignore you. I never could."

I'm not sure what to make of that, so I just dump Tide With Bleach into the washer basin and start the water: warm/cold, extra-large load. Signals from Jean have been mixed since I came back from the Savage Land - approach and re-fucking-pel. I wonder sometimes if our interaction will ever return to something easy. I wonder if I want it to.

I slam a handful of sticky kitchen towels into the washer.

"So - talk," she says now.

"I don't even know where to begin," I say over the whoosh of water filling the machine, and I add more towels, making sure they're spread out so they don't ball up and knock the machine off-balance, sending it walking across the laundry room floor.

"What happened in Japan?"

I stop and look around at her. "What makes you think anything 'happened'?"

She hands me a paper clipping she'd had stuffed in her back pocket. A page out of some freakin gossip rag that shows scenes from our trip, including one of Ororo and I dancing. I look it over and hand it back. It's less incriminating than it might have been. "It was just a dance, Jean."

"Just a dance? Scott - you don't dance!"

I close the washer lid and turn around to lean my back against it, cross my arms and ankles. I can look out the door this way, through the basement workroom to the stairwell. If anyone comes down, I'll see them. "She dragged me out there. It was that or argue with her and cause a scene."

Jean just shakes her head. She knows I'm not lying, but she also knows that nothing short of an earthquake would have gotten me onto a dance floor if I hadn't secretly wanted to go.

"We didn't do anything but dance," I reiterate. "Once."

"God! I didn't assume you did do anything else. I'd fall over in a dead faint if you'd done anything else! You don't betray people that way."

I'm sharply reminded of what Ororo told me in the hotel suite in Nashville:  that Jean had defended me to the rest of the team when I'd taken off to the Savage Land - had insisted I wouldn't betray them. But now, her defense seems misplaced. "Maybe not in deed," I say. "Thought is another matter."

"You can't control how you feel, Scott. I know how much you wish you could, how much you wish you could control how you feel about me, about her, about a lot of things. But you can't. It's not possible. Feelings aren't good or bad, they just are. It's what we do about them that matters and you have a knack for doing what's right. But I worry about you still. I wish you'd talk more. You need to talk about how you feel."

This just makes me laugh, and uncrossing my arms, I push away from the washer to pace across the linoleum floor, then pace back. Frustrated energy. Finally I throw up a hand. "Who the hell am I supposed to talk to? You?"

"Yes, me."

"Man, that makes a whole fucking lot of sense! Go talk to the girl I had a crush on about the crush I had on her! Jesus! I usually try my best not to look like an ass."

She sighs. "That's just it. You try too hard. I don't suppose it ever occurred to you that I might have gone out with you if you'd asked, instead of slinking around like a shy, kicked puppy?"

I lean back up against the washer. "And I told you before, you didn't need an ex-hustler alcoholic druggie for a boyfriend. You can do better than me."

Reaching down, she grabs a bath towel to fling at me. "Bastard! And I told you before that I don't want to be your porcelain Madonna! I don't care who you were, Scott Summers. I admire who you are."

I caught the towel, and now return it to the pile to cover my embarrassment, and my gratitude for her words. "Give it a rest, Jean. We already had this fight. Let's just leave it in the past where it belongs. You don't want to date me anyway."

"How do you know?" She lifts an eyebrow and gives me that smirk she specializes in.

I stare at her a minute, not at all sure what to say to that. She's kidding. I think.

God, what if she's not kidding? I don't even want to consider that. I have my eye on a different woman these days. She senses that she's confused me and looks embarrassed - a hard thing to do, embarrassing a telepath. It doesn't last long, returns to wry humor. "You really are fixated on Storm, aren't you?"

There are many ways I could answer that - try to explain it, try to defend it, try to deny it. I opt for the simple. "I'm in love with her."

I don't think she expected that. "Love? Bullshit!"

"No - I think maybe I am, Jean."

She exhales heavily. " I know I said I wouldn't judge, but Scott, that's ridiculous. You are not in love with her; you can't be in love with her. She's as shallow as a baby wading pool. I don't think she's ever had a thought in her head that wasn't about clothes, cars, or boys. She's just jerking you around, jerking Henry around . . .  She's hurting people and I don't think she even cares!"

"Yes, she does care. She was trying not to hurt people."

"Oh, really? How is going out with Henry when she's not really interested in him, and leaving you high and dry, not hurting people?"

I just shake my head and pull off my visor, rubbing at my eyelids - careful not to let them crack open under the pressure of my fingers. Then I put the visor back on. Jean just vocalized my own questions of a few weeks ago, but I understand better now. It doesn't hurt less, but I understand better. "It was bad timing," I say. "Hank asked her when she was vulnerable. He was trying to be nice, but he put her in a spot, and she was mad, and scared, and didn't know what to do. So she went out with him. Now, she's stuck. Blame the professor for that. Ro does care about Hank, Jean. It's just . . . not romantic. Or, it wasn't."

"And you think it's suddenly become romantic?"

I recall her running off the plane to leap into his arms. "I think she's trying to give him a chance."

She crosses her arms over her breasts, mouth drawn tight with a drawstring of disapproval. "By dancing with you in Japan? She's stringing you both along!"

"No, she's not, or that wasn't her intention. We shouldn't have danced together. That was my fault."

"Excuse me? How, exactly? She dragged you out to the dance floor and it's your fault? Is this some weird form of reverse coercion that I've never heard of before?"

Against my will, I smile, tap my temple, and say, "Look for yourself." Sometimes it's easier just to let her get it out of my head. She accepts the invitation and ruffles through my memories of what happened in Japan. Ro's dress, the walk through the Tokyo streets holding hands, the coffee shop, the dance . . . .    She doesn't reply for a while. Then she says, "It's not just your fault."

"No. But it's not just Ororo's fault, either. It takes two to tango."

Her shoulders have sagged like the fight's gone out of her. Maybe she's a little less certain now that Cyclops wouldn't betray a fellow team member. After all, what else would one call holding hands with a teammate's girl? "She should still break up with him," Jean says finally.

"No. Maybe she got into it for the wrong reasons, but she likes him, and she owes it to him to try. And I owe it to them both to keep my distance. I wasn't fair to her in Japan. I pushed her."

"She let you."

"Yeah, she did. Like I said, it's both our faults. It got out of hand."

That makes her laugh. "Only you would say a dance was out of hand, Scott."

"It's not the what, Jean. It's the intent."

"And I told you - you can't control your feelings, just your actions. You controlled your actions."

"So did Ro."

She shrugs in reluctant agreement. "I still don't think it's right. She shouldn't have agreed to go out with him. She should've said no. Maybe it would've hurt him, but he expected her to turn him down. What she's doing now just builds him up to get his bubble burst. I never led you on."

"What?" I'm stunned. "You never led me on? You have got to be kidding!"

Her eyes go wide, and angry. "How did I lead you on?"

"Jean, you are the freakin' queen of flirtation! You say things sometimes and I don't know what the hell you mean. I can't read your mind."

"Like what? Give me one example!"

"Like less than five minutes ago! I said you didn't want to date me and you said, 'How do you know?' And how am I supposed to interpret that? Were you teasing, or were you serious?"

Remembering, she blinks and is embarrassed all over again. Colossally annoyed, I take three steps forward, grab her by her upper arms, and pull her off balance into me. And I kiss her; it's not platonic. I've taken her by complete surprise, yet she kisses back, half out of sheer curiosity. After a moment, I let her go and she leans away, her eyes huge. "What was that about, Scott?"

"Did you like it?"

She considers. "I don't know. Maybe." She inches forward a little, rises up on tip-toe to study my face, and looks as if she might like to try kissing me again. Against my will, that excites me. "Maybe I could learn to," she admits.

"Ah." I lean back enough to get some personal space, and emotional distance. "Maybe you could learn to. Maybe, if I asked you out and you said 'yes,' you could learn to love me instead of the Wolverine? Maybe Ororo can learn to, as well."

For some reason, it takes her a minute to follow the object lesson, then she says, "Oh," and asks, "And you're okay with this? Ororo dating Hank?"

"No. But I'm going to keep my nose out of it and stay away from her better than I did in Japan."



The box came three days after we got home from Japan. Peter passes out mail, but the only ones who ever get any besides the professor, are himself, Jean, and Bobby. This day, however, there is a small box wrapped in grocery-bag brown and taped within an inch of its life, addressed to Scott Summers. Amazed and slightly suspicious, he takes it, but his expression alters as soon as he sees the postmark. "It's from Montana," he says, grinning. "Dani Girl." It's the first time I've seen him really smile since we returned from Japan. Curious, I edge closer. We're in the kitchen, Hank and I, Scott and Peter, and all of us watch Scott try to open the box.

Finally, he gives up on tearing through all the tape and raises a hand to his visor, cutting a small line along one edge of the paper. It startles us . . . partly for his precision - though by now, we ought to know just how good he is with the eye beams - but mostly for his casual use of such a deadly power. Even after months of living here, I'm not used to that.

He suddenly seems to notice that he's the focus of all our attention. "What are you three stooges looking at? Don't you have anything better to do than watch me open my mail?"

"Nope," Henry replies with a grin from where he's crouching on one of the bar stools.

Scott flips him off but sits down, pulling out the little white box that had been inside the paper, and opening the lid. There's a brief note, lying on top. Four words that I can read now, even at a distance. "Happy birthday. Love, Dani."

"It's your birthday?" Peter asks, shocked, even as we hear footsteps behind us and all glance around. Wolverine enters the kitchen to head for the fridge, and the level of tension in the room kicks up a notch. We're never entirely comfortable around Logan.

"Two days ago," Scott answers Peter now.

"Why didn't you tell us?"

"Because I didn't want you to know?" Scott asks, dryly.

"So you turned, what, nineteen?"

Scott nods as he raises white cotton fuzz to reveal the box's contents - a silver bracelet, Indian-made. Lifting it out, he looks it over. It seems like a strange gift. I've never seen Cyclops wear jewelry of any kind. At most, he wears a watch. This bracelet isn't heavy or gaudy, but still - it's a bracelet. There's a flat spot along the top and Scott turns it to see what's there. We all lean in to see, too. Resting sideways, wings out, is a little stylized bird done in silver on a square, turquoise background. Abruptly, he laughs. "A Thunderbird."

"And this is funny . . . why, exactly?" Henry asks, eyebrows up.

"Because when the Thunderbirds open their eyes, lightning shoots out."

It's not said by any of us. We look around, towards the fridge. Wolverine is leaning back against the door, sipping juice. "How'd you know that?" Scott asks, but with curiosity, not animosity.

Wolverine shrugs. "I know a lot of things." He takes the juice with him when he leaves.

No one says anything for a few minutes, then Scott admits, "He's right. It's was Dani's little joke. She kept telling me I had the wrong code-name."

"There's something on the back of the note," Henry says, gesturing. Scott turns it over and reads, but doesn't share it with us. Instead, he puts on the bracelet.

Later, I ask Hank if he'd been able to read the note, and what had it said? Hesitating, he tells me, "I couldn't see it all, but the part I did see said the bracelet is special 'medicine' - her word. She bought it for him because she saw it in a vision. As long as he's wearing it, bullets can't touch him in battle - like Crazy Horse." He shrugged. "Hoodoo, if you ask me."



Monday Morning Meeting is supposed to be a blow-out valve on the pressure cooker of seven young adults living and working in close proximity under one roof, most of whom have different ideas of what constitutes "clean up the den" or "don't hog the computer room." Not to mention the eternal war over the toilet seat.

Hey, I'm polite. I put it back down when I'm done.

When it had been only Jean and I living here with the professor, life had been uncomplicated. The most serious quarrel we'd ever had was over Jean's tendency to drink the last Coke and not put any more in the fridge to get cold. That had really pissed me off. If I can put down the toilet seat for her, she can put more Coke in the fridge for me. But aside from that, we hadn't quarreled.

Add four more people, from four very different backgrounds, and uncomplicated goes to hell in a handcart.

It took a month of steadily building complaints and a few verbal sparring matches before the professor finally instituted Monday Morning Meeting. Or The Grievance Hour, as Hank dubbed it almost immediately. Crumb Cake, Coffee, and Complaints, was Jean's version.

The first few meetings had involved a lot of Scream and Leap, with me stuck in the middle trying to mediate - until they all ganged up on me, and The Grievance Hour turned into the Bash Cyclops Hour. Now that we're all getting used to each other's idiosyncrasies, however, meetings have calmed down. That doesn't mean a fight never erupts.

"He takes too damn long in the shower, and then all the hot water is used up!"

Henry McCoy, complaining about Peter.

"I do not!" Peter replies. "A shower's a shower! Maybe if you got up sooner, you wouldn't be the last one in!"

"Maybe if you'd take yours at night, you could take as long as you want. You're worse than the girls!"

"Hey!" Jean snaps. "Watch it."

And I say, "Define 'a long time.'"

"He's in there twenty minutes!"

"Yeah, well, maybe I shampoo my hair and scrub under my arms, unlike you Beastie Boy."

"Sounds to me," says Wolverine from a corner of the kitchen, "like Petie's having a shower and a little morning jack-off. Easier to clean up the mess that way."

Dead silence greets that observation, and I'm not sure who's more embarrassed - Peter, me, Hank, or the girls. At least Bobby's still home with his parents. The professor says nothing - which is par for the course - and Wolverine continues to clean his goddamn nails with one of his fist-knives. Of course, Wolverine is probably right, but . . . .   "'Why' isn't the issue, Logan. The length of time is the issue." I catch the professor suppress a smile. Score one for Cyclops.

"Maybe Petie just needs a little action."

Peter twists to look at Logan. "Are you volunteering, Wolverine?"

It takes real will-power not to laugh at Logan's expression. I and the professor are the only ones who manage. But the Wolverine rallies and grins slyly. "You're not my type, Ruskie."

Peter affects a grand sigh. "Too bad. All the good ones are straight."

Composure is out the window now. Even I can't not laugh at that. When things calm down again, I say, "Peter, don't make me put a timer in the bathroom, okay, man?"

"I hear the pot calling the kettle black. I'm not the only guy who takes a long time in the shower, eh, Cyclops?"

"He has a point," Hank adds.

"I'm in there and out before most of you are even awake," I reply, starting to get annoyed.

"Well," says Hank, "I think we ought to put a time limit on everybody. Ten minutes. That's it."

"I shower at night," Ororo pipes up. "My hair has to dry."

"You don't count," Hank tells her.

"Unfair!" Peter yelps. "No grace for the girlfriend, Beastie Boy. If it's a time limit, it's a time limit for everybody."

"Guys," I say, "No time limits. Just . . . think about the next person, okay?"

"What's wrong with ten minutes?" Hank asks. "I can shower in five."

"Well, I can't! I have to shave my legs!" Jean snaps.

"Shave some time other than in the morning, then."

"Fuck you, Henry."

Language, Jean, the professor says mildly.

I just shake my head. "No. We're not doing time limits."

"Ten minutes too short for you, pretty boy?" Henry's teasing me, but it has an edge. He may not know what went on between Ororo and I in Nashville, or Japan, but he's not completely oblivious to the fact that I stutter more when Ro's in a room. Henry's anything but stupid.

I glance helplessly at the professor, who, understanding, sits forward to intervene. Ororo beats him to it. "Give Scott a break, guys. None of you has to shower blind. Try it some time; it's not easy."

That stops the argument cold, but what she'd said surprised me more. Later, I find a minute to approach her. "What did you mean 'try it some time; it's not easy'?"

We're in the upper hallway on the mezzanine overlooking the main entry. Anyone can see us talking, but that doesn't matter. I try not to be alone with her. We haven't had a reading lesson since we got back, but she doesn't really need me any longer. She can read. Not fast, but she can read. And she practices; that, I make sure of. Now, arms crossed, she looks away, down to the entry below. "I wanted to see what you have to go through, so I tried showering and getting dressed once with my eyes closed. I didn't expect it to be that hard. I knocked the bathroom cup in the sink and almost broke it."

"You get used to doing it after a while," I say, mostly because I can't think of anything else. She gives a little shrug and moves past me. I call after, "Ro!" and she looks back. "Thanks." She shrugs again, but smiles at me. It sends a weak-water flash through my bones.



The cold water hits me harder than the shallow lake bottom, and breathless but laughing, I roll over to lean back on my arms, face to the sky, eyes closed. I can hear Hank's footsteps on the wooden steps of the pier. "Oh my God! I can't believe I was too scared to experiment with these powers before I met the professor. Riding air currents is better than riding a Harley Fatboy. You have got to try this!"

"Thanks for the offer, but I think I'll pass until you perfect that landing technique - if you don't mind."

His humor - so like Scott's sometimes - makes me smile and I push myself up, wade through the calf-deep water to the edge of the lake and let Henry pull me out, wrapping his black jacket around me. He's warm and he's solid, and his hands are very gentle. I'm always amazed by his hands. They look clumsy but his fine motor control is better than my own. Better than any of ours. A gentle man and a gentleman. "Besides," he goes on now, 'I thought I was supposed to be helping you review for this algebra exam you were so worried about last night."

But that's Henry's fixation, not mine. I was worried about the test, true, but mostly because it's the first written exam I've ever taken in my life. Hank doesn't know that, and I don't want him to know. It's still my little secret; one Scott has kept faithfully from everyone - except the professor, of course. Xavier knew from the outset about my inability to read; it wasn't something I could hide from a telepath. But I'd thought him more interested in making me a super-hero than a student. Then a week ago, he called me into his office and said it was time to put my new literary skills to the test. He was giving me an exam on the simple algebra that Scott had been showing me before we'd gone to Tokyo. Scott picks math and science material because he likes it, and I'd just read whatever he put in front of me. "How'd you know what he makes me read?" I'd asked the professor.

Xavier had given me that look, and it had caused me to wonder all over again just how much he'd set up Scott and me:  my field leader, my teacher, my lover? He'd planned for Cyclops to become all those things to me. But I hadn't run to Scott to review for the test he didn't know Xavier was giving me. I'd asked Henry to help me instead.

This afternoon, though, with a blue sky and perfect weather and the prospect of a picnic, studying for a math test isn't high on my list. "Who can tell a cosine from a hypotenuse when coming down off an adrenaline rush?" I ask Hank now, but it's mostly a smoke screen. And it's not just the lake water that's given me cold feet. If I let Henry tutor me, he'll figure out how badly I read. I can, however, come up with a way to get his mind off of it, I think. I've spent half my life perfecting the distraction of men. "Can't we just cuddle and make out for a while?" I ask, grinning and snaking an arm around his back. He's so wide, I can't even reach the other side of his waist - so different from slender Scott, who carries his breadth across chest and shoulders.

Don't think of Scott.

Hank's speaking in any case. "Are you sure you're really comfortable with this, Ororo?"

Perplexed, I just blink at him. Comfortable with what? Not being able to reach around his waist? Seeing my confusion, he continues, "I mean, this whole dating-the-fat-guy-thing isn't just some elaborate prank the others put you up to for a laugh, is it?"

The question is so unexpected, and so wrong - and yet so close to my guilt, if not to the reason for it - that all I can say is, "Come again?"

"I'm sorry." Flushing, he looks away. "It's just that the only other time a girl was interested in me, the rest of the class had begged her to ask me out. When I showed up for our first date, all the other kids in the school were waiting outside the theater to hit me with eggs, telling me how ugly I was and how I looked like a gorilla."

This . . . .   I don't need to hear this. It makes me feel all the worse, and my heart spasms for that young boy outside a movie theater. "Are you serious?" I ask him softly, though I don't really doubt it. People are cruel.

We've reached our picnic blanket, spread out with food. He did all this while I was playing in the sky. And he ate a little, too, I see, but I don't mind. His mutation requires more calories in his system than the rest of us need. He keeps making jokes about being the fat kid, but he's not fat. Most of it is muscle. He's just so big and thick, and round, it's easy to mistake. Now, I settle down on the pink picnic blanket and turn to face him, my legs tucked under me. He sits cross-legged beside me.

"The fact that someone who looks like you would even want to kiss me just absolutely blows my mind," he says. He still isn't looking at me.

And how do I reply to that? 'I'm sorry, Henry, but yeah, I sorta, kinda went out with you because I didn't know how to say 'no' and now I'm stuck, but it's not your body I dream about at night when I touch myself'?

And that bothers me. It bothers me a lot. But what bothers me almost as much is his . . . fixation . . . on my looks. I wonder sometimes if I'm a person to him, or just a trophy? I'm flattered that he thinks I'm pretty, but -   "I break wind and forget to floss some days just like everyone else, y'know? Chill out."

I wouldn't have needed to tell Scott that, and the difference strikes me sharply. But I'm still a bit traumatized by the thought of gentle, funny, clever Henry being the butt of a school-wide joke. It infuriates me, and if he wanted to take me back to his school to show me off, I'd be happy to play his little trophy girl for an afternoon, just to see the look on that bitch's face.

"I've done a lot of stupid things over the years," I tell him now, "insane things like you wouldn't believe." I pick up the math books and fling them aside with the force of my indignation. "But going out with you has been the most fun I've ever had without getting myself arrested, Henry McCoy." And I kiss him.

Maybe I'm just digging myself in deeper, but Hank's a good kisser. And I think that I could learn to like this. If I could just forget Scott.

part 2

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