She brushes her hair with long, slow
strokes; and it falls over her bare shoulders like a cascade of crimson
silk in the dim light.
He turns as he leaves. "I believe Mr. Xavier has told you that he does not wish
you to drink. I do not think
it would be a wise course of action to even taste that."
She stares at the pale, amber liquid
and raises the cool glass to her lips, inhaling the heady odor. She needs to drink, needs to defy her husband in this small
way. The memory of a night
three years past when Charles had broken her of her fondness for
cigarettes surfaces and she shudders as she pours the sherry down the
Not tonight. Charles
is in a good mood. There is
no reason to upset him with meaningless and childish defiance.
Except that it's not meaningless.
And childishness is all she has the strength for any more.
Walking down the main staircase is as
much of an emotional journey as a physical one.
With each step she pushes her true feelings a little deeper, smiles
a little wider, slips a little further into what is expected of her, loses
a little more of her soul.
The ballroom is already filled with
guests, laughing, talking, mingling, all there to congratulate Charles on
the Xavier Alliance for Coexistence's latest victory.
She greets the ones she knows, nods politely at the ones she
doesn't. Demarcen gently but
firmly guides her through the room, and she resents the implication that
she could not do this on her own, even though it is true.
There is a small crowd surrounding her
husband, hanging on his every word, and they part like the sea for her.
Charles smiles warmly when he sees her, and she is reminded that
once he was human too. At
times it shows through; but it never lasts for long.
Charades rarely do.
"Darling!" He kisses her on the cheek, encircling her waist with his
beautiful." She blushes
and kisses him back. A
lifetime ago she had loved him, or thought she had, and a few of those
feelings still remain.
"You recognize Senator Kelly,
don't you, darling?" She
turns to see the Senator, one of the minority of public figures who do not
support her husband unquestionably. Charles
must be trying to woo him again. "Senator,
I'd like you meet my wife, Jean. She's
a big fan of yours." Not
a total fabrication. She has
been watching Robert Kelly recently; but not for the reasons Charles
"It's a pleasure to meet you, Mrs.
Xavier." The Senator
kisses her hand lightly, and attempts to bring her into their
conversation, for which she is grateful.
After only a few minutes of discussion of politics, she feels
Charles' mind in her's, telling her not to worry about such things, they
don't concern her. She may talk to any of his staunch supporters about whatever
she pleases; but to no one who's loyalties are in doubt.
She excuses herself politely and turns
to hide the anger in her eyes. If
only she still had her powers, he wouldn't dare to treat her like this.
Sometimes the anger at him is so strong in her soul she feels as if
it will consume her like a raging inferno; but it always turns to anger at
herself and then deep sadness, which drowns the last flames of hostility
It is her own fault she is powerless.
Everything Charles did to her was done with her permission.
She should not have believed him when he said it was for her own
good, that if he did not prevent her from ever reaching her full potential
that she would be a danger to herself and others.
He wanted to make sure he could control her without trouble,
without interference, and so he had destroyed her.
The fraction of her power that remains
is a bittersweet reminder of what she lost, of what could have been.
It is also a small, treasured comfort, for while she cannot use it
against anyone directly, it does allow a small part of her mind to remain
alone, a part that he can never invade or conquer as he has done to the
rest of her being, time and time again. It is just enough to let her have a few secrets, just enough
to keep her sane.
Hours pass, and the clock strikes
midnight, the birth of a new month. She
has given up chatting nonsensically about trivialities with the guests and
has taken up residence in a comfortable chair outside the ballroom,
forbidden drink in hand, sleep on her mind.
She has been enjoying watching the guests without them knowing,
since her resting place is cloaked in darkness, and thus hidden from their
view. She picks a stranger out and creates a life for them,
sometimes exciting, sometimes not. Always
wondering what brought them to this place at this time.
Then she moves on to the next one.
Her solitude is undisturbed, a rarity
she cherishes. During the
first hour Demarcen had looked in on her every quarter hour, to make sure
she was still where he had left her.
Then, to her great delight, he had been thoroughly distracted by a
dark eyed brunette who seemed to mesmerize him, something that did not
happen often. Demarcen
enjoyed women as much as the next man, and probably more often; but it was
not their conversational skills that held his interest.
There must be something special about this one, for him to be so
enthralled without taking her away from the party.
She is contemplating whether or not to
warn the woman when a tall, thin man steals by her and makes his way down
the dark hall. Suddenly wide
awake, she watches curiously as he enters her husband's study.
A glance at Demarcen shows he hasn't seen anything, his attention
soley on the brunette; and Charles is on the far side of the ballroom with
his back to her, as he has been for most of the night.
It is not likely he is spying on her, and the alcohol has
diminished her resolution to do only what she is told.
She feels her way down the hall, moving
as silently as a whispered breeze, and slips into the study, closing the
door gently behind her. The
room is empty and dark but she catches a slight movement in the corner of
"I know you're in here," she
says with a smile. "You
can come out, I'm not going to tell on you.
There is a sudden rustle and strong
arms grab her from behind before she can move; a hand covers her mouth,
threatening to clamp down if she tries to scream.
She does not feel frightened of the stranger, or even nervous.
She knows that if he was going to hurt her, he would have done it
"How do I know you're not going to
scream, or run for help the second I let you go?"
He whispers in what she assumes he thinks is a menacing tone; but
it is a far cry from the ones she is familiar with and she stops herself
"Because," she whispers
conspiratorially, "if I tell them that you were in here, they'll know
that I was in here; and I don't want that."
"You're not allowed in your
husband's study?" He
sounds surprised. She notices
he smells of Ivory soap and masculinity and ever so slightly of pine
needles after rain. He can't
be much older than than her, and that realization relaxes her even more.
It has been so very long since she has been with someone her own
"I'm not allowed to be anywhere
without permission." She
twists out of his grasp and turns, seeing his face in the pale moonlight
from the window. His eyes are
completely covered by a pair of dark glasses, and this upsets her because
the eyes are how she judges a person.
But the rest of his face is kind and honest, almost shy and somber.
He has a good face, she decides, although she wishes she could see
all of it.
He is studying her as well, but it does
not make her uncomfortable. After
a moment she moves from him to the desk; and he does not try and stop her.
"What were you looking for in here?"
she asks, curious to know what would make this young man risk his
life. "Was it
incriminating evidence against my husband?"
"So there is some then."
He smiles for the first time, and it transforms his whole face,
making the seriousness melt away. "I
don't suppose you'll tell me where to search?"
She looks at him incredulously, not
realizing he is only teasing her. "Only
if I want to be dead by sunrise. Charles
may be many things; but he's not stupid.
He doesn't leave things that could ruin him just lying around for
anyone to find. If he did he
would have fallen from power long ago."
She says the last part wistfully, as though she cannot wait for her
husband's demise. The
stranger doesn't blame her, he has witnessed the brutality of Charles
Xavier more than once.
"I'm sorry," he says,
although he isn't sure why. He
is finding himself drawn to this sad eyed woman, wanting to reach out and
connect with her, the wife of his greatest enemy.
She senses his need to help her and it
scares her. Charles helped
her, and her life became a nightmare.
Why would this man be any different?
"I think you'd better leave before
you're found," she tells him, walking toward the door. He grabs her arm as she passes, and puts a finger to her
He seems to be listening intently to a
voice she can't hear. A radio
transmitter in his ear, she surmises, or telepathy.
However poor his burgling skills, at least he is intelligent enough
not to go into the lion's den alone.
"Demarcen is looking for
you," he tells her. "He's
headed this way, we can't leave through the door."
He walks quickly over to the big windows, dragging her behind him.
"What do you think you're
doing?!" She can
hear footsteps in the hall and the door of the room next to the study
opens. She knows what will
happen if Demarcen discovers her in here, but at least she knows.
She knows nothing about this strange man.
"I'm taking you with me." He
lets go of her arm as he undoes the lock and swings the window out, nimbly
climbing up onto the sill. "Come
on." His voice is
She is caught in a terrible moment of
indecision, torn between her need to obey the man who has controlled her
life for more than a decade and this unforseen offer of freedom which
seems too good to be true. And
life has taught her that such things usually are.
The door next to the study closes and
the footsteps grow louder.
The man reaches out his hand.
"I promise I won't hurt you," he says, and she believes
They jump out onto the street, close
the window, and duck into the alley.
Demarcen will know that she left the house and come searching for
her; but they will have had a fair sized head start by then.
For once, she is grateful they moved to the city.
They would have been immediately seen running across the wide
expanses of the Westchester mansion's lawn.
Here there are places to hide.
He takes her hand in his and they run
swiftly through the faintly lit alleys for several blocks before slowing
to catch their breath. To her
surprise she begins to laugh, deeply and joyfully, something she has not
done since childhood. She
feels as though she can finally breathe again, and the veil of dispair has
been lifted, allowing her to see with stunning clarity.
She stands on tiptoes and throws her
arms around her savior's neck, murmuring her gratitude.
He laughs with her, although his return of her embrace is slightly
awkward. He probably did not
expect such an enthusiastic response to his actions; but he does not
She separates herself from him,
suddenly shy. "Thank
you," she tells him, her voice shaking as the initial rush of
happiness is tinged with a mixture of relief and apprehension that they
will find her.
"Thank you for trusting me.
I know you didn't have much reason to."
He wonders why he trusts her as he reaches out to gently wipe a
tear from her face. "So
what now, Red? Where do you
want to go?"
"I don't know. I don't think there is a place for me to go.
Charles has made my family believe that he's perfect, and I'm the
luckiest woman in the world to have him.
They'd tell him immediately where I am; and even if they didn't,
that's the first place he'd search. I
don't have any friends of my own either.
Charles wouldn't allow it. There
are a few women I socialize with; but I trust them even less than my
family." She sits down
on a bench, wrapping her arms around herself to ward off the autumn chill.
"You have a friend now," he
replies, draping her shoulders with his jacket as he sits beside her.
"A friend who's name I don't even
know," she grins. "Or
don't you have one?"
He smiles back.
"As a matter of fact, I do."
He offers her his hand. "Hello,
I'm Scott Summers; but my friends call me Slim."
"Woah, a name and a nickname.
"My cup runneth over."
"It's a pleasure to meet you, Slim
Summers," she says, shaking his hand. "I'm Jean. You
can call me Jean, or Jeannie, or Red, or even Tallulah. Just not Mrs. Xavier."
"I think I can handle that."
A gusty wind springs up, and they watch the dry, crackling leaves
skitter and dance in the light of the streetlamps.
Her euphoria is fading as the seriousness of her situation settles
in. Charles will have her
killed for this betrayal if he ever gets wind of her whereabouts.
She has to disappear as quickly as possible.
As if he can read her mind, Slim stands
and looks around to make sure they weren't followed. "We'd better keep moving," he tells her.
"We don't want to take any chances."
"Why are you looking at me like
that?" he asks as they walk through the streets of the city.
"I was just wondering why you wear
sunglasses at night," she admits.
"I was trying to decide whether it was because of a medical
condition or a bizzare fashion sense."
He pulls her into an alley and
partially lifts his glasses. A
thin beam of red light shoots out, hitting the wall and ricochetting
elaborately off of several garbage cans before smashing into an old
mirror. She stares in amazement.
The mirror had been cracked; but there's nothing left now but
"You're a mutant."
I can punch through solid metal with my blasts, and could probably
take out a small army; but I prefer to use them for tricks like that.
It's helped my pool game immensely."
He is enjoying her astonishment at how lightly he's treating the
subject, which is a small surprise to him as well.
Although he still has occasional lapses into bitterness about his
power, he has slowly come to accept it as a gift rather than a curse, and
realize that constant angsting about it would only bring him more misery.
Angst, like everything else, is best in moderation.
"So you have to wear the glasses
all the time?" she asks as they move back to the main street and
continue walking. "Even
when you sleep? What are they
"Reed Richards and Tony Stark
designed them out of ruby quartz, the only substance besides my eyelids
that can hold the beams back. This
pair is tinted black to make me seem less conspicuous.
Before they helped me I had to keep myself tightly blindfolded, so
that I didn't accidentally kill anyone."
His voice darkens, as if he's trying to hold back anger or hurt.
"It was during that time I had my first encounter with Charles
Xavier and his Alliance. It's something I don't like to even remember, much less talk
After several minutes she tenatively
breaks the silence, telling him in halted, hesitant words things she has
never told anyone. The story
of how she had met Charles Xavier at the age of twelve, when he had
rescued her from the mental institution and the hellish, chaotic mess her
mind had become. How she had
thought of him as a god, perfect and infallible, and she had worshiped the
ground he walked on, as she had allowed him to carve out a piece of her
soul. How happy she had been
when he declared his love to her and she had married him, just weeks shy
of her nineteenth birthday. How
foolish she had been to be so blind to who he really was.
It is too painful to describe in any detail the horrors of the next
five years, the constant abuse and torment she had endured, all the evil
she had witnessed; and she chokes on her words.
"It's okay," he says,
"you don't have to tell me."
"I want to," she insists.
"I don't want to have to hide the truth any more.
I'm so very tired of keeping secrets."
"I know," he says, "But
it's too soon. I want you to
be sure, I don't want you sharing anything you're not ready to.
And when you are ready, I'll be there to listen, and to help."
He brushes a lock of hair from her face.
"I want to heal you. I
want to love you. I want to
make you whole again. I want
that more than I've ever wanted anything; and it's making me crazy because
I don't know why I feel this way."
Lips meet, hesitant and shy, barely
"I think I could love you,"
He looks into her eyes and knows she
Their kiss deepens as he pulls her to
him, melting into her.
They go to an all-night diner and order
strong black coffee while they discuss the best way to get her out of the
city. Demarcen's usual mode
of operation is to find out everything she has done wrong and then make a
full report to Charles, so
she does not have to worry about being found telepathically.
He will realize she's missing; but he will not bother himself with
her until Demarcen has taken care of all the details.
He has more important things to do than search for her; and there
is no doubt in his mind that she will return.
As they sip their coffee he fills her
in on what he was doing at the party, and why he was looking for
information on Xavier. He is
a member of People Against Xavier, he tells her, an organization comprised
of both mutants and ordinary humans whose goal is to expose the injustices
and crimes committed by the Xavier Alliance for Coexistence.
She has heard of them before, and always found it amusing when the
nightly news reported on the disruptive and volatile nature of PAX,
accusing them of inciting violence and trying to undermine all the
wonderful work done by Xavier and his Alliance.
"Did your friend get out all
right?" she asks.
He looks at her curiously.
"What friend would that be?"
"The brunette who was doing such a
good job of distracting Demarcen while you tried your hand at espionage. I
assume she's the one who warned you he was coming."
"Her name's Natalie Ryan.
I think you'd like her. She
found out about us from an ex-boyfriend and joined a little over a year
ago because she thought it would be fun to play revolutionary.
Since then she's realized how serious this is and has become quite
a valuable asset. Nat's smart
and plays it by the book. Your
husband's thug won't suspect a thing; and I would have been contacted if
she didn't check in."
She absently traces a design on the
ceramic tabletop with her finger. "I
could end this all," she says. "I
could bring Charles down; but I'm too scared."
He covers her hand with his.
"You don't have to be scared anymore, Red.
I can protect you. But
your word against his is not going to count for much, especially when he
puts his spin on it."
"No," she says, shaking her
head. "It wouldn't be my
word. I have concrete proof
of some of the things he's done. More
than enough to ruin him forever."
He raises his eyebrows in surprise.
"I thought you said he didn't keep things like that just lying
"He doesn't. I keep them. Notes,
orders, contacts. A few are
originals I managed to save from being put in the shredder; but most are
copies." She laughs.
"For years I got a thrill out of each new piece of damning
evidence I hoarded away; but that's all I did, hoard them. No one ever knew; and sometimes I wanted to keep it that way.
To let them become public knowledge would be like stabbing Charles
in the back; and I didn't have the courage to do that."
"A few weeks ago that
changed," she continues. "I
just couldn't take it any longer. I'm
twenty-four years old and I feel seventy inside.
Betraying Charles may kill me; but staying with with him will too,
only not as quickly. So I
took everything I had and put it in an envelope and addressed it to
Senator Kelly, because I believe he would do the right thing with
"What happened then?"
"I decided to wait a little while
before I mailed it. Just to
make sure that this was what I wanted to do.
I put the envelope back in it's hiding place and waited." She sighs. "Charles
became...upset with me for another reason and I lost my resolve to do
anything with the information. I
was a coward. I didn't want
to be hurt any more in the here and now even though I knew that in the
long run it was the better thing to do.
"You don't have anything at all to
be sorry for," he tells her firmly, almost angrily. "None of what happened was your fault.
You were a child when Xavier got his hands on you.
He used and abused and manipulated and controlled you for years.
I'm surprised that you could stand up to him as much as you
"You know, in my logical mind I
realize that but it doesn't make any difference.
No matter how hard I try, deep inside I'll always believe it's all
He doesn't know what to say to that,
and so he says nothing at all.
He pays the check and they leave the
diner with the intention of going to the closest PAX safehouse where they
can get some rest and then consult with others on the best way to get the
information out of Xavier's house. She
feels a great sense of relief that she is no longer alone, that she won't
have to be on her guard constantly, that someone will watch out for her.
They go out through the back since
morning is coming and traffic is picking up.
There will be too many cars to keep track of, and they don't want
to be spotted if they were trailed. The
alley behind the diner is large and open.
Disassembled scaffolding leans against the opposite wall from the
dumpster, and stray cats scatter as the door locks shut behind them.
Demarcen steps out from behind a stack
He aims a revolver at them and fires as
Slim throws himself at Jean, knocking her to the ground, the slug striking
his arm. He recovers quickly
and goes down on one knee, raising his glasses and firing seemingly at
nothing. The beam hits the
corner of the dumpster and bounces off into Demarcen's gun, driving it
from his hand and sending it skidding down the alley toward the street,
out of anyone's reach.
Slim begins to stand and Demarcen
rushes him, smashing him into the wall with brutal force, knocking the
wind from his lungs and preventing him from firing again.
Forgotten for the moment, Jean picks up
a piece of lumber lying near the scaffold and swings it through the air
without hesitation. A loud
crack resounds as it comes into contact with the back of Demarcen's head. He staggers forward, catches himself on the wall; then turns
and lunges at her. So shocked
is she that he didn't go down that she doesn't have time to raise her
weapon again and they fall, his weight pressing her into the cold stone
His mask of civility is completely
gone, the beast inside him breaking free as his hands encircle her throat,
strangling her, his body pinning her in place.
She rakes her nails down his face, drawing blood; and he screams in
rage as she gouges at his eyes. His
grip on her neck loosens just for a moment; but it's enough for her draw
another breath and keep from passing out.
Unseen, Slim comes up beside them and
kicks Demarcen with all his strength, unsetting him and allowing her to
crawl out from under him, gasping for breath.
He grabs her ankle and tries to drag her back and she kicks at him,
the sharp heel of her shoe connecting with his arm and forcing his fist
Demarcen's face smashes into the ground
as Slim jumps on his back and slams his head down.
Remarkably, the assassin remains still.
Tenatively, Jean approaches with the
revolver in her hand. "Is
"He should be. The first time you hit him should have --"
With an inhuman howl Demarcen launches himself off the ground and
toward her. She brings the
revolver up and fires off four rounds in quick succession.
Two hit him in the chest, one in the leg, and the last in the face.
He crumples at her feet, a pool of dark red blood spreading rapidly
away from his body.
She walks to Slim and drops the gun.
"I guess he is now."
Her voice is exhausted; but there is no regret in it.
She takes off his jacket and rips off a
large piece, using it to staunch the flow of blood from his arm.
"Are you all right, Jeannie?"
He winces in pain as she ties the fabric tightly around the wound.
But you're not. You
have to get to the hospital."
He shakes his head. "Impossible. I
have a warrent out for my arrest and they have to report all gunshot
wounds. There's a
doctor at the safehouse, I'll last until we get back there."
He picks up the gun with his good arm and tucks it into his
"I'm not going with you," she
says. "I can't.
Charles is going to find out about Demarcen and he'll kill me.
I need to get the envelope before he discovers what happened."
"Won't he just know?
Isn't this the all powerful telepath Charles Xavier?"
She brushes dirt off of her dress and
helps him to his feet. "Charles
doesn't like to keep constant tabs on other people.
It makes him uncomfortable to have someone else so close for so
long. He's worked for years
practicing how to inflict the greatest amount of damage in the least
amount of time. It's very
unlikely he knows what happened tonight; and he won't suspect anything
until Demarcen's body is discovered."
"Well then we'd better get back to
the house and get the envelope."
"I have to go by myself," she
tells him as he starts toward the street.
"Are you insane?" he asks.
"Do you think I'm going to let you go back there by
"You're injured," she says,
"it's not a good idea. And
I don't want to put your life in danger any more than I already have. Please, Slim, I have to do this myself. Let me go."
He kisses her gently. "I don't want to lose you.
Not so soon after finding you, not ever."
The sun is just beginning to peak over
the horizon when she arrives back at the house and lets herself in the
front door as quietly as she can. Charles
is nowhere to be seen. He could be in his study working; or sleeping in
his room. She says a silent
prayer that he's not waiting for her in her room as she opens the door.
She breathes a sigh of relief when she
sees that the room is empty. She
makes her way over to the bed to retrieve the envelope from where she hid
it in a slit in the underside of the mattress; and the decanter of
Amontillado on the night stand catches her eye.
She remembers leaving it out and
berates herself on being so stupid. If
Charles had seen it there would have been hell to pay.
She starts to put it back in the cabinet and stops.
Charles does not control her.
Not any more. Not ever again.
She pours herself a glass of the sherry
and drinks it slowly, relishing every second, a feeling of satisfaction at
having so deliberately defied him spreading through her, warming her.
As she sets the glass down and turns
toward the bed a wave of dizziness washes over her, and she clutches the
edge of the table for support. The
world begins to spin faster and faster, drawing her strength away and
forcing her to her knees as the poison travels through her body.
She wonders how she ever could have
thought she'd succeed. Charles
winning, destroying her completely, is a fate as inevitable as death.
Still she refuses to give up, dragging
herself as far as the end of the bed before collapsing. She hears the door open and raises her head, needing to face
him at the end, hoping against hope that he will show some remorse, some
regret, something to show that he had cared for her once, no matter how
small or long ago.
Charles stands over her, and she sees
nothing but hatred for her in his eyes.
His voice is cold and mocking.
"I told you your drinking would be the death of you."
He reaches down and pulls her roughly to her feet.
She struggles against him with all the
strength she has left, with all the hidden anger that she has felt for him
through the years, with all the love and hope that she has so recently
realized possible. It is not
She feels the icy steel between her
shoulders and gasps as he plunges the knife into her flesh. It does not hurt as much as she had thought it might; but she
can taste the blood in her mouth, feel it running down her back in warm,
He releases her and she falls silently
to the floor, her life pouring out of her.
As the darkness closes in she sees Slim's face before her and she
smiles. He looks so real.
Other Stories By Sequoia