Bobby Drake slathered mustard on his first hotdog and wolfed it down. "I really have to start bringing lunch to the office," he said. "These things taste like pigeon feet and WD-40."
"Don't talk with your mouth full, Robert," Hank chided as he took his food and change from the street vendor. "It isn't couth."
"Maybe I don't want to be couth," Bobby replied defensively.
"You would if you knew what it meant." Hank settled his large blue frame on a park bench, smiling cheerily over the top of his glasses.
"Don't start, Mr. Smarty-Pants. I bet Jean doesn't know what it means either."
"What don't I know the meaning of?" Jean asked as she sat between them on the bench and took an apple out of her bag, polishing it on her slacks before taking a bite. A passing bicyclist gaped at Hank, nearly veering off the path. Jean waved to him and he blushed, pedaling away furiously.
"Polished, sauve, and well mannered," Jean answered, sticking her tongue out at Bobby. He returned the gesture.
"Look," Hank exclaimed, "a Mimus polyglottos! It's the first one I've seen this season." He jumped up, peering excitedly at the closest grove of trees.
Bobby smiled smugly. "A Mockingbird."
"I'm impressed. You should have gone into Ornithology."
Hank reseated himself as the bird flew out of sight and turned his attention to Jean and Bobby, who were tussling like children and in danger off falling off the bench altogether. "My friends, the day is tranquil. Let us follow its example." They finished eating peaceably but rather hurriedly, due to Bobby's ridiculously short lunch break.
"I have to be running too," Jean remarked, tossing her apple core and sandwich wrapper into the nearest trash bin. "I don't want to be late for this shoot."
"I still don't know why a liberated gal like you wants to model anyway," Bobby mused. "Not that I'd ever dream of stopping you."
"It isn't terribly fulfilling, but the pay is obscene."
"I assume Luke resigned you? How very fortunate," Hank commented.
"I know. Decent, non-pervert agents are so hard to find in this city. And he didn't really need much convincing to take me back either," she continued. "All I had to do was give him Bobby's number."
Bobby paled. "You didn't...... Hey, wait - you don't even have my current number."
"I know." She straightened his tie lovingly. "You're neurotic enough as it is. Did you really think I'd do that after you asked me not to?"
He considered it for a moment. "Well, yes. You can be an evil wench when you want to."
"Watch your mouth, dear," she laughed. "You're speaking to an evil wench who could wish you into oblivion."
"I think I'll go now," he announced, kissing her on the cheek and waving goodbye to Hank. "I'll call you, Blue."
"Goodbye, Bobby, enjoy the rest of the day." Hank turned to Jean. "Do you desire company on your journey, my fair lady? The hospital doesn't require my humble services for another hour."
"How is the hospital? Do you like doing your research there?"
"It's strikingly similar to working for a corporation, although I feel more philanthropic somehow." He hailed a cab, unsurprised when the driver asked for his autograph. He obliged the man, signing "Dr. Henry McCoy, Avenger" on the back of an old lottery ticket. "How have you been feeling, Jeannie? Have you suffered any episodes of any kind? Any feelings of disassociation?"
"I'm not insane, Hank," she told him firmly. "Not any more."
"Perhaps not; but from what I've seen and read of your case, you may have a form of schizophrenia as well as MPD, both atypical due to your mutancy, and possibly stemming from childhood. Don't you think it would be prudent to make sure they don't surface again?"
"So you're a psychiatrist now?"
"Jean, please refrain from being difficult. I only desire to assist you in your trials."
"I know you mean well." She turned suddenly, looking at him in confusion. "What do you mean, what you've read of my case? Have you been talking about this with Charles?"
"We've discussed it once or twice since your return --"
"I don't believe this," she muttered. "Is Moira in on it too? How dare you talk about me behind my back like that, Hank. I expect it from Charles, but from you? And Moira?"
"We thought it best to debate the particulars of the situation before involving you," he explained slowly.
"Have you forgotten that the 'particulars of the situation' are my mind? My life? God, Hank." She pressed her hand to her eyes, trying not to cry. "Don't you think I'm worried about this too? Do you think I don't know how fragile my psyche is? I think about it all the time. The knowledge is always there, in the back of my head. Always. It never leaves. Having people I trust do things like this makes me feel even less in control than I already do."
"I apologize," he said. "I didn't realize....."
"We'll talk about it later," she interrupted as the cab pulled up in front of her destination. "My eyes are going to be all red. They'll love this."
"Don't fret. They won't even be able to tell you were upset."
"Would I lie to you?"
"No." She hugged him tightly, the fur on his neck soft against her face. "I'm sorry I'm such a mess, Hank. I don't mean to be."
Scott leveled the mid-sized jet out at 32,000 feet, checked the instrument panel, and switched on the autopilot before engaging the intercom and tossing it to his co-pilot.
"Good afternoon, gentlemen," Frank announced in rich, smooth tones. "My name is Captain Francis Austin, and I'll be your pilot today. If there is anything you desire to make your trip more pleasant, please do not hesitate to ask your flight attendant, the lovely and gracious Miss Branyon. The estimated length of our trip is one hour and thirty-five minutes; we shall arrive in Norfolk just after two o'clock. If you take this opportunity to look out your windows, you'll be able to see the island of Manhattan. Please enjoy your trip." He switched the intercom off and groaned loudly. "I can't stand chauffeuring these rich bastards to and from their business deals. Can't they just use the damn phone?"
"If they did, we wouldn't have these jobs," Scott reminded him, although he didn't sound enthused. Running commuter flights up and down the well developed east coast just didn't hold the same thrill that flying cargo planes over the rugged and wild Alaskan countryside did; and after only two weeks in the employ of Westchester County Airport he found himself growing disinterested.
"Coffee, boys?" Meg Branyon ducked into the cockpit, a styrofoam cup in each hand.
"You're a doll, Meggie," Frank replied, taking his cup in one hand and reaching for Meg's bottom with the other. She stepped expertly out of the way.
"Unless you want to lose them, keep your hands to yourself, Frank," she said sweetly. "Here you go, Scott."
"Thanks, Meg. Are the passengers giving you any trouble?"
"Not really. One old guy has the same manners deficit as poor, simple Frank here, but I can handle it."
Scott took a gulp of the hot brew. "Well, if he gets too forward, let me know."
"Hey, Meggie," Frank interjected, "can I buy you a drink when we off tonight?"
"If you must," she sighed. "I'd better get back to work. I'll see you boys later."
Early in her modeling career, Jean began to greatly prefer posing for fitness and health magazines over the better paying fashion rags; and as she grew older she tried to work exclusively within that community. She appreciated an atmosphere in which her muscle tone was looked upon as something desirable and not the antithesis of all that was beautiful; she enjoyed not being criticized because her belly was merely flat instead of concave, or because she was a natural 34B and not an artificial 36C. Occasionally the makeup artists even let the faint smattering of freckles across her nose show, a small miracle in a perfection obsessed industry.
Still, it had its problems. An insanely slow photographer who rarely did promo shots and was letting it go to his head being one. "Roy? Are we going to begin any time soon? My knees are starting to hurt," she complained, trying not to shift even slightly on the hard floor.
"Don't you dare move a muscle yet," he warned, adjusting the lighting. "Lara? She spoke. Touch up her lips."
"I know he's horrible," the makeup artist whispered lightly, "but at least you're not dating him. I don't know what I was thinking." Jean suppressed a smile as Lara stepped aside to work on another girl and Roy turned the wind machine on, causing the wispy red hair that framed her face to fly back behind her.
"Okay, now you can move," Roy decreed, his camera already clicking. "Stay on your knees. Get up on your toes....keep your feet straight. Hands right above your knees........lean forward. Keep your upper back straight....arch, keep your butt resting on your heels. Shoulders back. Tilt your chin. No! Look over there, don't focus on anything..... Look dreamy... Damn it! Not sultry, distracted! This isn't Cosmo!" His voice sweetened as she achieved exactly want he wanted. "Lovely....now hold it."
She remained perfectly still as he shot a dozen more frames from various angles, relaxing only when he told her to. This was the part she enjoyed, finding favor with the crew, being the center of attention for something she was doing *right*. "Was that good?" she asked, knowing the answer.
"Terrific. Now get your skinny butt back into the dressing room. I want you ready for the main set by the time I reload. We'll be over there."
"Aye, aye, captain." She jogged to the noisy room that acted as both makeup and wardrobe, shedding her sneakers and close fitting shorts and teeshirt, leaving on the white bandeau style bikini top she wore beneath and pulling on matching boy-cut briefs. Lara swept her hair up and back, darkened the tones of her makeup from neutral to light, and sent her back out for numerous black and white 'artistic' photos that would be used for an article extolling the numerous benefits of meditation on the condition of the skin.
Roy took five rolls of film before dismissing her to the showers. She dressed in her own clothes and took a crowded elevator to the lobby, which stopped on the seventh, sixth, fifth, and then third floor, gradually emptying until she found herself alone with a pleasant enough middle-aged man. She looked at her watch. At this rate she would have made better time on the stairs.
"Pressing engagement?" her companion asked, crisp and authoritative.
"No," she replied, glancing in his direction. "I'm just..." He turned toward her and she saw his eyes and it didn't matter that he had a different face, different voice, different manner; the soul was the same, black and warped and cruel. She backed away, hitting the far wall, suddenly unable to breathe, the walls closing in and blood rushing in her ears. She tried to scream and found she couldn't.
"Forgive me," he said, his voice like silk, its undertones making her sick to her stomach. He stepped forward and pushed the emergency stop button. "I've startled you."
If he touches me I'll die, she thought, desperately struggling to gain control of her emotions, not trusting herself to use her powers as protection when she was on the brink of hysteria. "Let...let..me go," she whispered. "Please, Jason."
"I'm afraid I can't do that," he told her, moving closer. "Not until you listen to what I have to say." He smiled, the expression lending a terrifying aspect to the hate in his mind. "You're quivering - I haven't frightened you, have I?"
She stood up straighter, forced her voice to be stronger. "No."
"I think I have... Ironic, isn't it? The last time we met it was I who was terrified of you. With good reason," he added, "as it turned out."
She felt his self-pity, hidden behind the assured exterior, and was suddenly filled with rage. He had raped her, body and mind, driven her insane, torn her life to shreds without a glimmer of remorse, and he was sorry for himself, loathing her because she had dared to stand up to him at the end. "I hate you," she spat. "I hate you more than you could ever imagine."
He shook his head disapprovingly, but restarted the elevator. "Is that any way to speak to a supplicant, Jean? I haven't come here to injure you in any way. On the contrary - I've come to apologize."
He wasn't even attempting to lie to her convincingly, his words blatantly at odds with his thoughts. The elevator opened and she exited quickly, heading for the street, deciding it would probably be best to play along with whatever game he was trying this time. "Have you? Fine. Get the hell away from me before I kill you."
"I need your absolution. I find myself....overwhelmed with guilt at times." His tone sounded almost sincere, chilling her.
She turned on her heel to face him. "That's just too goddamned bad. Do you honestly expect that I would forgive you for what you did to me?" she asked incredulously.
"Not at first, no...you have too much pride for that." He came within a few feet of her, raising his hand as if to touch her hair. "But in time? I have no doubt that I'll get what I want."
She couldn't stop herself from flinching. "What makes you so sure?"
"I know what you want," he said simply, tipping his head to her in deference and walking away, confident the trap had been set.
When Scott arrived home from work he found Charles sitting in the hall at the top of the steps, his hands clasped. "Pardon my unannounced visit," he said, "but I needed to discuss something with you in person."
"It's fine," Scott replied, unlocking his apartment and letting Charles enter first. "I hope you haven't been waiting long. My last flight took longer than expected. Turbulence over Maryland." He took off his jacket and tie, laying them across the back of a chair. "Can I get you something to drink?" he asked, undoing the top buttons on his shirt.
"No, thank you." Charles seated himself on the couch and looked around with interest. "I know you have been entirely on your own before, in Alaska, but this is the first time I have seen it for myself. I'm very proud of you, son."
"Thank you, sir." Scott sat and waited, knowing his mentor would only speak when he was ready.
"I have a dilemma," the Professor began slowly, "relating to the Reverend Stryker's trial. The X-Men have been subpoenaed by the prosecution."
Scott frowned. "I knew that they were considering it; but I didn't think they would follow through. When did this happen?"
"Late last night. I have already decided that the X-Men will not appear in court; it's too risky. However, Agent Duncan has informed me that the X-Men will indeed be offered immunity in return for help with their own investigation into Stryker's organization, and I think we shall oblige him." He reached into his suit pocket and pulled out a business card, handing it across the coffee table to Scott. "Two weeks ago I had a meeting with this man, Matthew Murdock. I am sure he wants to help us and that his motives are pure; but I wonder if it is a mistake to bring a stranger into the fold."
"If he genuinely wants to help, I doubt he would betray us. I think you should tell him we're interested." Scott paused before continuing. "I think the mistake is in refusing to answer the subpoena. The X-Men are already considered criminals by many in the government."
"Which is why it doesn't matter whether or not we comply with their demands," Charles retorted. "They will think what they want about us, no matter our actions; and I could not, in good conscience, allow one of my X-Men to put themselves in a potentially volatile situation."
"What if one volunteered?" Scott asked.
Charles shook his head decidedly. "No. I know what you're thinking, but I couldn't allow that. There's too much at stake."
"Isn't that for me to determine?"
An insistant knock sounded at the door, interrupting the conversation. "It's Jean," Charles said, getting to his feet. "We'll finish this later."
"I could tell her to come back," Scott began; but Charles held up his hand.
"We'll talk later," he repeated, greeting Jean as he let himself out and her in. She shut the door behind him and just stood there, a haunted expression in her eyes.
An icy fear shot through Scott's heart. He went to her, cupping her face in his hands. "Jean?"
"Love me," she breathed. "I need you to love me."
Much later, the afterglow of their lovemaking lending a most pleasant languor to his body and mind, Scott pushed his damp hair off of his forehead and sat back against the headboard, silently studying his lover. She lay sprawled on her stomach amidst the tangled bedclothes, her head resting on folded arms at the end of the bed; as his fingertips traced slow patterns on the smooth skin of her legs she turned her face to look at him.
"I think I had forgotten just how incredibly good we are together," she murmured, rolling over onto her back, the sheet that partially covered her falling away. "Thank you for refreshing my memory."
"It was my pleasure." He lifted her foot to his lips. "Do you want to tell me what happened?"
"I don't want to ruin the perfection of this moment," she said. "Besides, whatever you're doing down there feels wonderful."
He trailed his mouth up along her leg and then her stomach, kissing her long and deep when he reached her lips. "Will you tell me in the morning?" he asked. "When this moment is over?"
"Yes," she promised as she pulled his body close against
hers, surprised at how much she did want to tell him about her
meeting with Jason. "I'll tell you about it in the morning."
Other Stories By Sequoia