Jean tossed her head as she stepped back, tangled copper hair damp against the nape of her neck. "Come on, Logan," she teased, breathless. "Don't tell me you're worn out already."
"Darlin', I've barely begun." He circled slowly, closing the distance between them by half, smelling her heat, the salt of her sweat, gauging how much strength she had left before lashing out with a perfectly executed right hook. She blocked his fist with her forearm and kicked, her foot catching him high in the chest and knocking him back several feet.
He dropped into a crouch to avoid the roundhouse she had followed through with during their third bout and found himself almost catching a back kick full in the face, his superior reflexes preventing a badly broken nose as he grabbed her ankle with his hand and jerked her toward him. She shrieked as she slammed into the mat, twisting in his grasp to free herself and bouncing to her feet with an easy, fluid grace. He grinned.
"Like what you see?" she asked, pausing to rub a sore muscle in her leg.
"You know I do."
She arched a delicate eyebrow. "I'm talking about my fighting skills."
"No you're not." He saw the smile fade from her face and regretted his words immediately, having crossed some unspoken line in speaking the truth. "Your uppercut needs work," he continued gruffly, moving to stand behind her. He held her bent elbow in his palm, his fingers guiding the upward sweeping motion of her arm. Because she was left-handed it was slightly awkward, they both tensed as his bare chest pressed against her back, his hand brushing too closely along her hip and stomach as they completed the move. "See? It's more like this....."
"Logan, stop." When she turned he saw her bottom lip was trembling faintly; her eyes told him that it wasn't fear. He tore himself away before he kissed her, cursing himself and the certainty that he would burn for her until he died.
He picked up his towel and wiped his brow, then rubbed it through his unruly black hair. "I don't know what the hell I was thinkin', Jean."
"Forget it," she said quietly. "You know...I like Mariko."
"She's the best person I've ever known," he said with a rueful smile. "Now I understand what you see in Slim."
"Then you understand why nothing serious ever happened between you and I." She sat and began to stretch, seamlessly moving from one yogic position to the next.
"Yeah, I do. And for what it's worth, I'm sorry. I didn't make things very easy for you -- I wasn't seein' the whole picture, just the parts I was in."
"You have changed," she remarked solemnly. "You've grown. Everyone has."
"Don't look so bummed, Jeannie. I still think you're hotter than hell."
She laughed, grateful to have him as her friend. "Thank you for doing this, Logan - teaching me, I mean."
"Thanks for agreein' to it. I think it'll do you good, not havin' to rely completely on your powers in a fight."
"It's fun too," she grinned. "Hey, does Mariko enjoy the ballet? A group of us are going to see Swan Lake next weekend, and I was thinking about asking her along."
"She'd like that. She doesn't have many friends in America; and I worry that she's lonely." He joined her on the mat. "Are you helpin' Scott move into the brownstone?"
Jean finished stretching and lay still, her knees bent. "No, he's recruited manly men. I'll stop by later."
"As the high profile murder trial of Reverend William Stryker enters it's third day, the state is reportedly planning to subpoena the X-Men, seen here with the defendant last January in Madison Square Garden. In addition, the FBI is offering the mutant outlaws immunity from prosecution for past crimes in return for voluntary cooperation in the ongoing investigation of Stryker's origanization. Here with us today is FBI Agent Fred Duncan. Agent Duncan, polls show that the majority of the American people not only view the X-Men as criminals but feel that prosecuting a well respected clergyman like Reverend Stryker is a waste of time and money. Can you tell us why the federal government feels the need to enlist the X-Men's aid in this matter?"
"First of all, this 'well respected clergyman' murdered a woman in cold blood, on national television, simply because she was a mutant. The defense itself does not dispute his actions, only his guilt. The bureau does not and will not tolerate the perpetration of hate crimes against any segment of the population, even if they are unpopular, and furthermore--"
"Agent Duncan, are you saying that the goverment officially recognizes mutants as citizens--"
"What I am saying, Ms. Courick, is that until a Constitutional amendment is passed that specifically declares mutants to be non-citizens or non-humans, the government doesn't have a choice in the matter--"
"I'm not sure if I want to immerse myself in this." Matt Murdock turned his attention from the television and leaned back, fingers laced behind his head. "The possible implications of a case like this are staggering; and I could do without the publicity."
"Come on, Matt. Half your clients leave you plastered all over the nightly news," Peter Parker reminded him dryly. "At least this is one you can be proud of. Somewhat."
"They will need a lawyer....."
"They'll need you." Peter glanced at his watch and stood, slinging his bag across his shoulder. "And I need to get down to the Bugle. I'll catch you later."
"Thanks for stopping by, Peter." Matt pushed his chair out from behind his desk and shook the other man's hand firmly. "I'll let you know what I decide."
Although he loved each one of his students and relished the guidance he gave them, Charles had never enjoyed teaching academics - in truth, it left him feeling bored and disappointed, the latter emotion stemming from his youthful idea that he would love teaching, and would be good at it.
Oh, they learned from him, listened to him, and respected him; but he never felt as though he were inspiring a true passion in them, the way he did when he preached his dream. He wanted them to listen to lectures on Milton or Calculus with that same rapt attention, he wanted them to spit out their gum and sit up straight and stop whispering and giggling and writing notes and bickering; but it seemed that the more he tried to make them understand this, the less they did.
Moira had suggested long ago that he make learning more fun, or some such thing, and to his credit he had tried, taking his first students with him on a Washington business trip and then dipping down into the Shenandoah Valley for a tour of Civil War battlefields. He felt a wave of nausea at the mere memory of the experience, still horrified at the way his previously intelligent, mature, well mannered young adults had gradually deteriorated into a bunch of brats who alternately whined that they were bored, complained that it was too hot, fought with each other, or ganged up on him. The disaster had culminated with their forcible ejection from a particularly illustrious museum after an incident which involved all five of them, soaking wet from being caught out in the rain after wandering away from the guided tour, running helter-skelter through the building hurling crabapples at each other.
Never again, he had sworn. Never again.
He entered the small classroom as the bell rang, his mind sweeping over his current children, gauging their receptiveness as they took their seats and quieted down. "I trust you have all read the assignment?" His gaze fell on the student most likely to be prepared. "Rahne. What did the Babylonian Captivity, in combination with the bubonic plague and the Great Schism of the West, contribute to?"
"The Hussites in Bohemia and the Lollards and John Wyclif in England," she answered promptly, adjusting her skirt around her knees.
"Don't forget the Black Mass, the Order of Flagellants, and the Dance of Death," Illyana volunteered, appearing to be vaguely interested. She turned lazily in her seat to look at her classmate. "They were the best parts."
Rahne glowered and stared down at her notes; a faint hint of a smirk touched Illyana's lips. Kitty and Doug snickered. Amara yawned discreetly.
Charles glanced at the clock.
"Ororo Munroe? My name's Vanessa Wright. I'm here on behalf of the law offices of Collins, Chamberlain, and Jones." Curious brown eyes looked around with interest as she stepped into the foyer.
"What is this about?" Ororo shook the proffered hand cautiously. Well meaning strangers were a rarity at the mansion.
"This. It belonged to your father," Vanessa explained as she handed over the small packet. "It opens a safe deposit box at the east Harlem branch of First National Bank."
"My father?" Ororo choked, staring at the silver key that spilled out of the envelope to nestle in her palm. "How did you find me?" she demanded suspiciously. "My parents died twenty years ago, in Africa. There is nothing to link me to them."
"I was given a discription of your mother," Vanessa began patiently. "There was a clip of the X-Men on the Today show, and I noticed that 'Storm' bears an uncanny resemblance to N'Dare Munroe. The X-Men are most frequently seen in the New York area. There's a listing for an O. Munroe in the Westchester phone book. You don't have to be Sherlock Holmes to put it together."
"No....I suppose you don't." Papa. She motioned absently toward the kitchen, memories of his pipe and moustaches thick in her head. She had stood on his feet when they danced. "May I offer you a cup of coffee?"
"No thanks. I've got to pick up my son at school in an hour. Besides," she continued, "if I come in for coffee, the next thing I know I've been brainwashed into forgetting that this ever happened and I'd really rather not do that."
"We do not brainwash people," Ororo answered stiffly.
"Sure you don't. Look, I really do have to be going; but don't worry - I'm not going to show up on Hard Copy exposing the true identity of Storm or anything. I promise," she added hastily as the temperature in the foyer plunged a good ten degrees. "I generally try to not cause problems for other people. It's bad karma."
The woman seemed honest, albeit annoying. Perhaps it would be for the best to take a chance and trust. Charles would not approve; but Charles need not know. There was so much on his mind already. "I have your word? You will not speak of this to any one? Ever?"
"Cross my heart and hope to die," Vanessa responded, her bracelets clinking together as she waved her hand in a nebulous way across her chest. "Which is what will probably happen to me anyway if I tell, right?"
"We do not kill people either," Ororo stated coldly, walking to the door and holding it open. "I think you had best leave now."
"There's no need to be so rude--" The door slammed shut behind her. "Hmph. You're welcome." She refrained from making a vulgar gesture. Mutants were so touchy.
It was cold in the house. Rebecca pulled the blanket that draped her shoulders closer to her body and shuffled down the stairs, her eyes fixated on the floor.
Don't look at the walls. Don't look at the photographs. Don't look at Adam.
She made it though the living room, and then the library. She bit her lip as her hip hit the sharp corner of a desk and she hated herself for feeling the pain. Adam must have hurt so much more. He must have been so scared...
She lifted her head only when she had entered the kitchen and fastened the door behind her. The kitchen was safe. There were no pictures there, no books, no scattered toys. Nathaniel had taken Adam's drawings off the refrigerator. She wanted to know where they were but could not bring herself to ask.
"Nathaniel......" Her throat ached when she spoke to her husband. "I've been thinking. About what you told me."
"I didn't think you heard me," he groaned. "I didn't think you heard anything."
"I heard." She sat across from him and laid her head on the table. "I don't need justice, Nathaniel. It doesn't mean anything. I don't want revenge. It won't bring Adam back. I just have to know."
"You don't hate me?"
"No. I don't hate you." He reached his hand towards her and she jerked away. "Don't touch me."
"Don't be sorry," she said. "Just don't touch me."
From his vantage point on the roof opposite the brownstone, Jason Wyngarde watched. Waited. Contemplated the past, the future. Thoughts of how he'd make her pay for her betrayal were almost more erotic than the ones in which she was his again, body and soul.
At last she came around the corner, confident, smiling, bag swinging in her hand. She was wearing all black, black like she had worn for him, her short dress and long leather jacket clinging to her curves, her knee high boots contrasting with the pale flesh of her legs, but she wasn't wearing it for him now, she was wearing it for that boy, that pathetic, blind, boy.
She'd be sorry for crossing him. She'd love him again.
Even if it killed her.
Other Stories By Sequoia