DISCLAIMER: Marvel owns the X-Men. I am not making any money off of this story, and will probably continue not making money off it well into my twilight years. Feedback of any sort is, as always, welcomed with open arms.
FEEDBACK: [email protected]
COMMENT: I finished this story months ago, and, after all the work I put into it, found I hated it. Yesterday I reread it and discovered that I actually rather liked it, and so I post it in the hopes that my second impression will prove more reliable than my first.
This one's for Ebonbird.
The Blind Eye
Personally, I think alligators
have the right idea. They eat their young.
-Eve Arden, "Mildred Pierce"
Scott stared at the paper. So far, he had gotten as far as etching one large 'S' at the top. It returned Scott's bemused regard with blatant contempt.
He looked pointedly away, glancing around the study. His glasses painted the already dismal room in shades of red, as if some overly artistic director - one destined for commercial failure - had filmed the scene. Even the heavy shadows which draped the room were tinted red. Red, the color of blood and battle. Sometimes Scott wished he was colorblind.
Inevitably, his strained eyes returned to the light. The small lamp sat on his desk, illumining the paper that lay in front of Scott, and its single, mocking graphite 'S'.
He was not going to do this. He would not put his paranoia on paper.
But he knew he had to.
Firmly, he put the tip of his pencil down next to the 'S' and wrote out, neatly and deliberately, 'Suspects.'
He stopped and chewed on the end of the pencil.
Alphabetic order would be the best.
After a few false starts, in which he accidentally skipped some names, he at last had a complete list. Eleven suspects, written out in Scott's precise handwriting:
and, of course,
He stared at it for a few moments, before putting light lines through Storm and Psylocke's names.
Beside 'Beast', he jotted down 'Check alibi'.
Then, so slowly he could hear the sound of the pencil scraping against the paper, he drew a thick line under 'Gambit'.
Scott had always been a field leader. Someone who took charge when there was no time for a committee decision, no time to pool ideas and opinions, though enough X-Men tried to make the time. But during battle the team was not a democracy and, even if he made a wrong decision, he knew a wrong decision was less wrong that no decision at all.
Outside of battle, there was more time to consider all the evidence, to weigh the pros and cons. To make a well-thought-out mistake, instead of a quick, easy mistake. That was where things got complex. Icky.
It had started off fairly simply, on a pleasantly warm Tuesday. While the other kids played outside, Storm and Scott had come to the Professor's office to be debriefed on the latest mutant-related atrocity.
The meeting wasn't exactly eventful, but certain odd details stayed in Scott's mind. He could remember what Storm had worn - strange, since he never paid much attention to clothing. He certainly couldn't remember was Xavier had worn. But he knew that Storm had been draped in white, and wore sandals that snapped against the floor as she walked.
"Two boys. One a mutant," the Professor said, his tone straightforward, yet somehow still... compassionate. Some corner of Scott's mind spared a moment to admire the man's ability to keep his professionalism without becoming callous.
"How did they die?" Storm asked. She had a knack for asking questions that Xavier was going to answer anyway. Of course he would get to that eventually, but Storm had to show she was paying attention - mainly because she never looked like she was. She was staring out the window the whole time, eyes fixed on that sunny, green world that lived outside that little bubble of murder and violence that was Charles Xavier's office. She would've driven a high school teacher insane. But Storm was always paying attention. Always. Assuming otherwise could be a dangerous mistake.
"They were beaten to death," said Xavier.
"It is possible that it was a race killing," Scott said. "That is a neighborhood where that sort of thing happens." He hated that they automatically jumped to the conclusion that it had to do with mutancy, and so had to do with the X-Men. Now that he looked back his annoyance at them doing so was rather... hypocritical.
"That's very true, Scott." Xavier took two papers from his desk, and handed one to Scott, one to Storm. "However, we have forensic evidence to indicate they were moved after they were killed."
"Ah." Storm's mouth and throat tightened briefly, and then she went on, "There are any number of explanations..." Xavier held up a hand, and she stopped speaking immediately, a well-honed reflex.
"The non-mutant boy," Xavier dropped the words into the conversation like stones into water, "was was Marvin A. Gatsburg's son."
"Gatsburg the FOH Gatsburg?" Scott asked, and the nervous knot of his stomach became a bit tighter.
"You said the boy's name was Adam *Stevens*," Storm pointed out.
"His mother remarried, and he took on his step-father's surname. But you see where this leaves us."
Scott rubbed beneath his sunglasses, and said wearily, "With a huge mess."
Xavier nodded. "I want you two to look into this. Make use of any resources we have, human or otherwise, but try to keep between as few people as possible. We don't want to make any waves with this investigation. Scott, you'll start at Gatsburg's end. Ororo, you'll investigate from the victims'. The other boy was Nicholas Beal. He seems to have the ability to secrete a substance that would form a hard outer layer over his body, rather like a giant body scab." He passed some papers and a photograph to Storm.
Scott leaned forward to take some papers that Xavier passed to him. "Do you think we have a conspiracy on our hands, sir?"
"I hate to jump to conclusions, but I think it's safe to assume that whoever was responsible for these killings had some sort of political agenda."
Storm's face contorted with revulsion as the Professor said 'political agenda.' Scott rather suspected he had a very similar expression on his face.
After Xavier had finished relaying all of the other information they had to work with, he released them. If the Professor's information about Gatsburg's recent financial transactions was accurate, Scott was pretty sure he knew where to start. He went to track down Warren.
He found him working at a computer, his flawless features contorted in a scowl.
"Warren, I need your help."
Warren ceased typing and swiveled in his chair to face Scott. His expression smoothing out into one of polite, and no doubt spurious, interest. "Yes?"
"You know Charles Yeats?"
Warren pursed his lips thoughtfully, and Scott gave him a moment so that he could use his phenomenal memory for names and faces to dredge up the information. At last he said, "Yes. I met the man briefly a year or so back. He was Ray Forsythe's right-hand man then. I haven't heard anything about him since."
"No reason you should have. He's still with Forsythe, doing the same old same old."
"Still evading taxes, cheating his boss, and working hand in hand with the FOH?"
"You don't miss much, do you?"
"Not where business is involved, no. Or the FOH. But why do you bring him up?"
"It's about a killing yesterday."
Warren's gaze grew cold. "What did that bastard have to do with it?"
* * *
Jean was pleased to find that there were no white couches or armchairs. She didn't like white upholstery. It wasn't that she objected to them on aesthetic grounds. The fact was, she was a housewife at heart. She wasn't ashamed of it; quite the contrary, since she lived in a world where housewives were more of a novelty than super-spies and ninja assassins. And, as a housewife-at-heart, she knew that white couches and armchairs were extremely impractical, and ended up looking dull and
grungy in anything but an absolutely sterile home.
Jean drew her attention away from the living room furnishings, and back to the issue at hand. The former Mrs. Gatsburg (seated in a deep green and extremely comfortable looking armchair) was staring at Jean with guarded hostility. Ruby Stevens was a small woman, with a determined nose that dominated her face. She watched Jean steadily from the depth of large, tear-drop eyes, looking away only to pick up the cigarettes at her elbow.
"Do you smoke?"
Jean shook her head.
Mrs. Stevens lit a cigarette. "It's a useful habit. I took it up to stop biting my nails."
"I don't bite my nails."
"Really? That's surprising. I'd be biting my nails to stubs if I had to interrogate grieving mothers."
Jean had been an X-Woman too long to be fazed by the glare the woman cast her. "I can understand if you're uncomfortable talking about this, Mrs. Stevens."
Mrs. Stevens shook her head, and blew a cloud of smoke. It hovered above her, like a dark halo, constantly mutating.
Jean sighed, and then perked up as she at last identified the vibes she was getting from the woman. She had been categorizing them under the broad name of 'fear', but 'wariness' was far more accurate. But of who? "I'm a mutant, you know," she said softly.
The dead boy's mother raised her eyebrows. "Oh?"
"I haven't been sent by the FOH, or any affiliate organization. The opposite, actually. I can prove it." She spoke into the woman's mind:
"That doesn't prove that you're not with the FOH," Mrs. Stevens said calmly, careful to convey no emotion in her voice. "I've heard Hitler was part Jewish."
Jean frowned. She had been sure that that would work.
Mrs. Stevens' fingers were tracing a pattern on her skirt. Jean watched the movements sharply, as if the woman would trace out a message on the somewhat crumpled polyester. But Mrs. Stevens saw her watching, and stilled her hand with a frown.
*Honestly, Jean, are you blind?* What more could the woman tell Jean than she already had? It was made obvious by her behavior, by her responses, telepathy be damned. She was so careful to display no affinity for nor hatred of mutants, yet she had slipped when she used an analogy which left the FOH playing the part of Hitler. She was wary of FOH spies, not mutant ones.
*The enemy of my enemy is my friend.*
But the woman wasn't just afraid of the FOH, no. She was afraid of Gatsburg. Father of her son.
There would be no violation of mental privacy, not this time. It was quite unnecessary. Jean sat quiet for a moment longer, forming a subtle but effective psychic link with Mrs. Stevens. The woman seemed to feel something was happening, and she glanced at Jean sharply through the haze of smoke.
said Jean, rising in as non-threatening a manner as possible,
To her surprise, Mrs. Stevens smiled a slow, sad smile as she rose to see her telepathic guest to the door. "Like in a fairy tale," she said softly.
"I wish," said Jean, and took her leave to go report to Storm.
* * *
Jean paid the taxi outside the gate, and began her walk back towards the mansion. Her progress was slow - she was in no hurry, having nothing important to report. Mrs. Stevens' suspicions had been just that, suspicions. What Ororo and Scott needed were facts. Still, it felt good to know she had given the woman some security, with their newly formed psychic link.
She was about half-way to the mansion when, out of the corner of her eye, she spotted the back of a light haired head. The person was seated on the bank of the little stream that cut through the lands. Leaving the long driveway, she began walking towards the figure.
The stream was relatively quiet, so he must have heard her approach, but he didn't look up, not until she said, "Hi, Sam. How're you doing?"
"Hey, Jean. Ah'm good."
"Mind if I sit with you a minute?"
He obviously wished to be left alone but he was studiously polite - like all Guthries but, alas, only one Summers - so he nodded, and gestured for her to have a seat on the grass next to him.
"You just got back from somewhere? Or just out walkin'?" Sam asked.
"I went to see the mother of Adam Stevens, one of those boys who was murdered three days ago," said Jean.
Sam's face became solemn. He reminded her so much of Scott, sometimes... "Poor woman," he said. And he meant it, of course, because if there was one thing Guthries knew it was the value of family, and sometimes Jean loved them for it.
"She's having an awful time of it," agreed Jean. "I formed a psychic link with her, so she could call us if she needed us. Even though it's only a light connection, I can still feel all of her fear and sadness, because it's so strong."
Sam bent his head to get a better view of her face. "Really?"
Jean nodded absently, staring down at the water.
"Having someone else's pain in your head, especially if that person had just lost their child..." Sam frowned. "Ah think that would drive me crazy."
Jean looked up quickly at him, and, for a second, seemed not to move, not to breathe.
Then she smiled, and Sam thought maybe he had imagined the moment. "I'm going inside." She stood up, and added as a worried afterthought, "Sam, you'd tell me if anything was really wrong, right?"
He smiled, a lop-sided smile, not unlike Scott's own self-deprecating one. "If something was really wrong, Ah don't think Ah'd even have to tell you. Ah'm not exactly the mysterious one on the team."
*That's why I wonder about you.* Jean ruffled his hair, and left.
* * *
Warren did good research. The others could be as scornful as they wanted, but Scott knew well that sometimes cocktail party training was much more useful than prowess in battle. Though Warren had that, too.
He didn't write reports, though. None of them did, but the things were so damned useful. All the facts, laid out in a nice, neat format for easy reference. Scott smothered a wistful sigh as Warren finished speaking.
"I'm impressed. This took you only four days?"
"Some people just don't know how to cover their paper trails. It's not conclusive," he added modestly, "but it's certainly enough for us."
Scott drummed his fingers on the table. "You understand, you don't breathe a word of this, Warren."
"Of course not. I wouldn't want to even if I could." Warren's face spasmed with anger. "Goddammit, his own son." Warren took a deep breath, and let his body de-tense. "Do you know why yet?"
"Not yet," admitted Scott, and then added, "But I will." His eyes narrowed, but there was no way for Warren to know that.
"Damn. I knew Yeats was a weasel. I just had him figured as a small-time weasel."
"I doubt he's helped hire assassins before, but he's certainly been up to more than he wanted Warren Worthington III or anyone else to know."
"God damn it. I could kill him."
Scott shot a covert glance at his fellow X-Man's face. It was set tightly, and his eyes were burning.
*I believe you could, Warren.*
Scott wandered dispiritedly back down the hall. He found Jean in the kitchen, drinking Diet Coke and reading some women's fashion magazine. She took one look at him, a look that took in more than his external appearance, and closed her magazine.
There was coffee in the maker. There was always coffee. Scott poured himself some, sat down next to her, and explained what he wanted.
Jean leaned forward as she listened, elbows on the table. Her hair framed her face and neck, and just touched the table top. She fingered a lock of it with one of her perfect hands - Jean's hands had always been just right, Scott had noticed that when they'd first met. "Maybe the fact that his son was associating with mutants was too much of an embarrassment for him, or an impediment to his career."
"I have considered that, but his solution seems a little drastic, don't you think?"
Jean took Scott's hands, tightly gripping the edge of the table, into hers and rubbed his palms. "I spoke to his ex-wife, and she seemed to think Gatsburg was perfectly capable of having his son killed, though I don't believe she had any evidence he had done so. Too bad," she added reflectively.
"Won't she be in danger, if she suspects?"
"I have a psychic link with her. She can call me if things go bad."
"Good." Scott pulled his hands from hers, gently, and straightened his back. He took a sip of his coffee, not nearly as hot as he liked. It never was.
"So you want me to look into this boy's life? See what he was up to that merited his death?"
"I promise you, whatever he was doing, it didn't merit death."
"You know what I - oh, Bobby." Jean turned towards the kitchen doorway, where Robert Drake was standing. "I didn't notice you."
Bobby flashed them a crooked smile. "Too caught up in your conversation with your husband to even bother sensing me? I'm insulted." He drifted into the room. Scott frowned thoughtfully. How long had Bobby been standing there? Not that Scott could imagine anything horrible coming of Bobby knowing about the case, but it felt rather - chilling - to think that he could stand there unnoticed by one of the world's most powerful telepaths.
Jean smiled placatingly. "You're just part of my background noise, Bobby."
"Gee, thanks. Is there any coffee left?"
"There's some. Enough for you, considering all the milk and sugar you add."
"Actually, it's for Rogue. I was just watching the news with her and Warren. There was an item about two boys who were killed about a week back. One of them was a mutant. Rogue got really upset." He pursed his lips, and poured out the remainder of the coffee. "Some times... these things just really get to you, you know?"
Bobby left with the coffee. Scott and Jean exchanged glances, but neither said anything. They never needed to.
* * *
Warren stared pointedly forward, glanced to his left, looked up, looked at the television, and then finally gave up and looked to his right.
"Um, Rogue, are you crying?"
She sniffed. "No." She stared pointedly forward.
"Ah get so sick of this shit." Warren started slightly at the anger in her voice. "And the boy's father, goin' on and on about the adverse effects of associating with mutants..." Her fists clenched, and her gaze turned back to the TV, but Warren was fairly sure it wasn't what she was seeing.
Warren regarded her angry profile for only a moment before saying, "He killed him."
Rogue looked at his sharply. "What?"
"He killed him. But you had already guessed that, hadn't you?"
Bobby came back with the coffee, then, and she didn't get a chance to reply.
* * *
It was four days after Adam Stevens and his friend had been brutally and mysteriously killed, and Scott still had nothing but the nagging suspicion that there was some method in the madness of Stevens' murder; that something would come of it, that that something would be an unpleasant something for mutants, and, by association, the X-Men.
It wasn't that late; somewhere between eight and ten, Scott estimated. He couldn't be quite sure of the hour since apparently hell had frozen over and he had forgotten his watch. There was something in the air that night, something that made thoughts and things slip away from you, and that made time pass strangely. He had left around seven, he knew, but his meandering steps had lead him down new paths, or perhaps old paths changed by darkness, and he had wandered much farther than he had
He was approaching the mansion now, which seemed darker than it usually was at this hour - whichever hour 'this' was. Despite their relative dearth, the few lights that were on gave of the same familiar golden light as always, and still held promise of comfort and warmth and time pieces. Scott had hoped that the house would be blazing in welcome, but this glow would suffice.
He stopped abruptly as he caught a light out of the corner of his eye. It was small, moving in a constant, measured pattern, rising for a few seconds, than falling and hovering a few feet above the ground until it rose again. Finally Scott's brain registered that it was a cigarette. The figure holding it was leaning against a tree, standing just outside the halo of light that radiated through the mansion's windows and fell on the grass.
His vision obscured by the darkness and his red glasses, Scott had to move a little closer to be sure the figure was indeed Gambit, albeit sans trench coat. That was strange, on such a cool night.
"Cyke," the thief acknowledged him.
Gambit dropped his cigarette to the ground, extinguishing it with one foot, and crossed his arms.
"Shouldn't litter," said Scott, more from habit than a deep-seated belief that littering was wrong.
"Shouldn't smoke, eider," shrugged Gambit. "Lots of t'ings I do dat I shouldn't."
It was only later, in memory, that Scott caught the introspective note in Gambit's voice. But by then it was perhaps merely a product of imagination.
"Yes, but the only ones I have a problem with are the ones involving other people's property. You can come out tomorrow and pick up every cigarette butt you find. I'll spare you the cigars."
"D'accord," Gambit said wearily.
Taken aback by the submissiveness of Gambit's reply, Scott nodded good-night to the man, and went inside.
He didn't see anyone at the mansion, but whether they were out, or hidden away in one of the mansion's many rooms, he couldn't say. At the time, he couldn't have cared less where they were. There had been a time when he would have made a point of knowing everybody's whereabouts at all times. No longer. Too bad.
He watched TV for an hour before he saw anybody. It was Storm, fresh from a shower. She merely wanted to make sure they were both up-to-date concerning each other's investigations, which they were. Scott couldn't help but feel that she had perhaps come merely for some company. This idea was reinforced by the fact that she lingered a while after they had said all there was to say.
He saw Jean next, about a quarter hour later.
*You're back,* he thought cheerily to her.
"You're back," he said.
Jean turned and smiled brightly and meaninglessly at him. "Of course. Everywhere in Salem Center closes at nine, anyway. I would've been back sooner except I stopped to pick up some food for you. You haven't eaten, have you?" Scott shook his head. "I thought not." She held up her shopping bags. "I bought some presents for Charles' birthday. Only four days left, you know."
Scott sighed. "I suppose I should look into getting him something, but he's so hard to shop for. What do you buy for a man who already has his own hoverchair?"
"I could pick something up-" began Jean.
"No. Definitely not. It's one thing to have your wife buy presents for your friends, but when the man's your mentor you have to put some thought into it."
She raised her eyebrows. "Especially when he's a telepath?"
"That wasn't even a consideration."
She put her bags in the closet, except for one. "I got something for you," she said, grinning as she pulled out a large box.
Scott blinked as its details registered.
"Jean, maybe I'm going crazy, but that looks suspiciously like a hat box."
"Yes. Can you believe it? A milliner opened in Salem Center, and the salesclerk was the nicest boy wearing a white suit and white hat. He looked like something out of a movie. I think we have a duty to help the place stay in business."
She lifted the lid and revealed a dark fedora. She held it out to him. "I had to guess the size. It's brown. The band around it matches your hair."
He put it on, and lowered the brim slightly over his eyes. "Fits perfectly," he said, wandering over to check himself in the mirror that stood to the left of their bed. The glasses somewhat spoiled the effect, as did his T-shirt, but all in all, not bad.
"You look great," Jean pronounced, "Men should wear hats."
He glanced over at her, watching him with her brilliant, white grin. Was it glued on permanently?
She came up behind him and pecked him on the cheek. "Let's go eat now. I'll even let you wear the hat at the table."
It was the most cheerful he'd seen her in days. Usually, because of their psychic link, he could also feel any strong emotions, but she seemed to be confining all her happiness to herself, since all Scott felt was weariness. His own. He assumed.
Scott followed her down to the kitchen. There was a plastic bag on the table, and inside it were Styrofoam containers of fried chicken.
"You don't look so hot, love," Jean commented as he sat down.
"I've just been thinking about the case."
"You're afraid of the repercussions?"
Scott took the hat off, and set it on the table in front of him. "I don't even know what they'll be."
Jean pressed her lips together in silent sympathy. "Maybe you should just leave it alone, and see what develops." She shrugged. "For now, let's eat, and then you can get some sleep."
Both their heads turned at the sound of someone entering the room. Elisabeth Braddock strode in. "Maybe the first good sleep you've had in a while. Xavier sent me to tell you - Gatsburg's been killed."
Scott's eyes widened. "How? Why?"
"Well, we're not exactly in the police's confidence, but I gather it involved his head exploding, or being shot with a very large bullet at point blank range, or something equally messy. The why is a bit beyond me, but I expect it has something to do with divine intervention."
Jean blinked rapidly. "Good God."
Betsy smiled. "That's exactly what *I* thought."
* * *
The obvious motive for murdering a man who had just had his son murdered was revenge. If that was indeed the motive - and all signs seemed to indicate that it was - then it shortened the list of suspects considerably. Instead of everyone the man had ever pissed off, the list became composed of everyone who knew about and resented Gatsburg's hand in his son's death. That would include Ruby Stevens, probably a number of the victims' friends, and, of course - Scott snorted derisively at the thought - many of the X-Men.
The blow that had killed Gatsburg did much towards shortening the list of suspects, too. The man's face had been completely crushed, or exploded, or something to that effect, and either the perpetrator was possessed of incredible physical strength, or a very, very tiny bomb had been strapped to the man's face.
Scott hated investigations. There were far too many variables, especially when you were on the outside as the X-Men were. He didn't know how much force it had taken to kill Gatsburg, the exact time of death, nothing useful if he wanted to get to the bottom of this before the X-Men were affected by any fallout. Then again, they were much better at dealing with fallout than they were at investigating things.
The murder was on the news the following morning.
"So, honey, what do you think? Scott?" Jean called from the bathroom, where she was brushing her hair.
Scott pressed the mute button on the remote. "I'm sorry, Jean, I missed that. What do I think about what?"
"A surprise party. Charles would never suspect it. Betsy and I could make sure of that. A surprise party for a telepath, wouldn't that be too wonderful?"
"If it would work, yes. Wait, it's about Gatsburg. I want to hear this." He turned the sound back on.
"...has been shocked by the brutal murder of Marvin Gatsburg yesterday, only four days after his son's death, supposedly at the hand of a group of mutant dissidents. Gatsburg's murder raises questions as to whether his family is being targeted. His ex-wife cannot be reached..."
Jean, still brushing her hair, walked out of the bathroom and through the multi-colored corners of Scott's peripheral vision, and looked at the TV in distaste. "Idiots. You can't tell me no one's figured out what's going on."
"It's perfectly possible that the X-Men are the only ones who know, Jean. After all, who would suspect Gatsburg had killed his own son? Even we don't know what his motivation was."
"Things aren't kept secret so easily," argued Jean. "There have to be tons of people who know. There have to be, because one of them killed him for it."
"Hmmm." Scott looked thoughtfully at his wife. "Jean, is our... I mean, is it just me or are you-?"
"What, Scott? Am I what?"
For some strange reason, he couldn't bring himself to ask it: *Have you closed our telepathic link?* Their bond couldn't be shut down completely, short of death or some very brutal telepathic surgery, but she still didn't seem as connected to him as usual. The woman was entitled to her privacy, God knew, but it felt odd.
The TV blared on, "A witness report that a strange man in a trench coat and sunglasses entered the building that day, but was not seen to exit. He was describes as being approximately six feet in height and had a distinct, but possibly false, accent. The police ask..."
"Scott, what is that look supposed to mean?"
"Oh, come on! A trench coat and sunglasses, so it must be someone we know, and probably Gambit, that's what you're thinking, isn't it?" Jean wrenched the brush through her normally docile hair.
"Jean, I didn't say anything like that." Though, now that she mentioned it, it was rather odd that Gatsburg's murder occurred on the exact same day that Warren came back with evidence of the man's guilt.
She slammed the brush down. "You don't have to say it. You know very well that was what you were thinking." An angry breath trembled on her lips, and her eyes glittered angrily at her reflection. When he had first met Jean, Scott hadn't realized her hair was red, assuming her hair to be somewhere in the vicinity of brown.
Now he wondered how he could ever have mistaken her for anything but a redhead.
"Jean, that's crazy." Now that he thought about it, mutant powers would also go a long way towards explaining the odd circumstances of Gatsburg's death. "I didn't say a thing," he went on, "and I'm pretty damn sure I didn't think it. Maybe you know better than me, though."
"You-" She stopped, closed her eyes, and took a few deep breaths. Scott decided it was wise to remain silent. After a moment she spoke, "I'd better be quiet before I make a bigger fool of myself."
"No. Go ahead. Get it out of your system."
"You're sore," she said, with all the brilliant insight of a telepath.
"No, I'm not."
"Yes, you are."
"Jean, I don't mind. You're entitled to the occasional outburst. Though I wouldn't mind if you'd use a quieter voice in the future."
She shrugged, and resumed brushing her hair. "I guess I've just been on edge lately."
He managed a sympathetic smile. "Yes, I know. Since last night."
"Last night," she echoed hollowly.
For a moment, the expression on her face looked familiar. It took Scott a moment before he realized it was because it was the same look Gambit had had in his eyes the night before.
The night Marvin A. Gatsburg was murdered.
* * *
Why don't you give that copper's
brain of yours a rest? Every time you look at me, I can see it dwelling over its
slogans. Once a crook, always a crook. Once a tramp, always a tramp.
-Ingrid Bergman, "Notorious"
Somebody saw me.
They were standing at the window watching me as I went into the house, and I can't remember which window, and I have no idea who, male or female, human or spirit. All I know is that there was a shadowy figure, and it saw me.
Sometimes I think maybe I imagined it. I tell myself I have nothing to worry about. Sometimes I even listen to myself, and stop worrying.
But it doesn't last. I keep remembering.
* - * - *
Considering it was one of those rare occasions where almost everyone was eating together, the dinner table was unusually quiet, except for Bobby, who seemed to be radiating nervous energy. Jean seemed very pensive, Scott noted, scanning the faces around him, as did the Professor, but there was nothing new in that. Warren looked grim. Rogue, hair wet and limp from a recent shower, looked abstracted. Some emotion played on Betsy's face, like sunlight at the bottom of a pool, but Scott couldn't place the expression. Gambit was there - a rare occurrence - and he looked hung over. Hank looked tired, Sam, apprehensive, as he did only too often, and Bishop, well, he looked blank. Wolverine and Storm were both out somewhere.
"Do they know who killed him yet?"
Gambit's red rimmed eyes snapped to Bobby, then away.
"It just happened yesterday," Hank replied. "Give the over-worked, un-super-powered policemen a week at least, Bobby."
"Ah think whoever did it deserves a medal," said Sam, stabbing his food rather savagely. "Ah don't know much about who's who in the FOH, but even *Ah* had heard enough about this guy to loathe him."
"But ya have to admit," Rogue murmured, her voice soft like a dagger being pulled from its sheath, "it was a particularly gruesome way to die."
Bobby and Warren both glanced at her with concern. Remy's eyes stayed fixed on his almost un-touched plate.
"Not to be cold," said Betsy, "but some people deserve to die in particularly gruesome ways."
"But that doesn't mean," interjected Hank, "that we should discuss these things at the dinner table."
"My thoughts exactly," said Warren.
"What are we going to talk about then?" Bobby demanded. "I kinda missed the game, what with all the breaking news about the brutal and mysterious murder of an important figure in a major anti-mutant organization. Anyone watch 'Friends'?"
"Shut the hell up, Drake," said Gambit.
Bobby met his annoyed gaze for a moment, but Gambit rarely lost a staring contest. He certainly didn't this time. Bobby's gaze dropped, and, to Scott's surprise, he shut up.
There was a brief silence, which was prevented from becoming a long silence only by a cheerful query from Psylocke. "And how was your day, Daniel?"
All eyes turned on her. No doubt they were wondering, like Scott, whether she had gone insane. *Daniel?*
Bishop frowned. "Uneventful."
Oh, yes. Daniel.
"That's probably just as well," said Betsy. "Uneventful days are few and far between in this business, and must be cherished." She smiled brightly. "Jean, those are fabulous earrings. Are they new?"
Warren squeezed his eyes shut. "Betsy..."
Betsy turned wide, innocent eyes on him. "What, love?"
"May Ah be excused?" Rogue asked quietly.
"Of course," said Xavier, frowning at her.
*Jean,* Scott addressed his wife mentally. *Jean? JEAN?*
"Scott," Bobby's voice pierced through the conversation, "would you stop tele-flirting with your wife or whatever you're doing and pass the mashed potatoes already?"
"Oh. Sorry," said Scott, and passed the mashed potatoes.
* * *
"Thank God that dinner's over with," Scott said as he plopped down in one of the leather armchairs in the Professor's office. He sat up straight to pour some port from the decanter resting on the Professor's desk, and handed the glasses to Ororo and Xavier.
Ororo nodded. "The events of the past few days seem to have had a very pronounced affect on the team's morale."
Silence fell as they silently sipped their drinks.
"Gatsburg," said Xavier, seemingly irrelevantly, "was on the third floor, in his office, when he was killed. It would have been very difficult to get in and out without being seen by anybody."
Storm stirred uneasily. "Yes."
"It was very likely a mutant," Scott pointed out, "or at least that's how they want it to look. There are any number of ways a mutant can get in and out of a building undetected. What confuses me is that the man who seems the most likely suspect was seen entering but not leaving."
"So they say," shrugged Storm.
Scott glanced at her, taken aback by her reply. "There are security cameras."
"Have you seen them?"
Scott tilted his head bemusedly. "No..."
"Hearsay is not evidence."
"What the police report is hardly hearsay-"
"It depends on the police," Storm interrupted him. "I'm sorry, Scott. I don't wish to be contrary, but I do not believe anything in this case is as it appears."
"No, no. You're perfectly right. I'll have to look into those security cameras more thoroughly."
Storm didn't seem to think much of the idea. She vented a soft, "Oh?" and turned to the Professor, setting an empty glass down on his desk. Scott hadn't seen her drain it. "If you would excuse me, I have some things to attend to."
She nodded briefly to Scott, and rose. Scott usually thought she carried herself like a dancer, but, as she strode out of the room, he thought fencer would be more apt.
Scott excused himself shortly after, pleading fatigue, and resolving to follow up on Storm's advice the next day. For some reason, he had the feeling she didn't really want him to follow up on it.
* * *
Psylocke could have had a hell of a movie career, if only based on her spectacular skill in martial arts, to say nothing of her looks. She probably had a very limited range as far as acting went, but Scott had no doubt she would have been able to carry off certain types of roles to perfection.
She had promised to come as soon as she finished training. Scott waited in the study, reflecting on the strangeness of the whole situation. Jean's sudden shift in behavior. That hunted look in half the team member's eyes. The fact that Gatsburg was dead so soon after his son's murder, and the many, many possible explanations for his death. Too many. Scott had to narrow things down. If there was a plot in the works, it wouldn't do for the X-Men to be the last to know.
She wafted in like a hot breeze, wearing a T-shirt and sweats, hair plastered to her forehead and neck by water or sweat. She tossed herself down in the chair across from him. "You don't look happy to see me, Scott. Didn't you want me to come?."
"I did. You're going to help me with something."
"Me? What could I possible do for you that your wife couldn't do just as well?"
"She's too ethical for what I have in mind."
"Ouch, Scott. You'll catch more flies with honey, you know."
Scott leaned forward, and demanded urgently, "What do you know about Marvin Gatsburg?"
A little self-satisfied smile appeared on her lips. "I thought that's what this was about. His son, friend to the mutant community, and another boy, a mutant, were killed. A few days after, Gatsburg was murdered under mysterious circumstances, and the only discernible motive is revenge. Unless," she purred, catching Scott's eyes, "it's part of a larger, twisted plot. That's what you're afraid of, right?"
"Right. So far there's only one suspect-"
"The boy's mother?"
Betsy looked momentarily bemused, but then her expression smoothed out into one of exquisite blandness. "Oh. You're a proponent of the theory that the mysterious man in the lobby did it. The one who only the receptionist saw."
"And the security cameras. Don't forget them. They're reticent, but very reliable once you get them to talk, Miss Braddock. Which is what I want you to do for me."
* * *
The wind cycled around him, whipping through his hair, over his face, stinging his eyes. He blinked, but stood his ground, waiting as the weather goddess landed.
"Logan," she smiled, "I have not seen you for a while."
"I've been busy. Skulking."
She chuckled. "How brave of you to admit it."
"Yeah. You still investigating about that kid's and Gatsburg's deaths?"
"You knew we were looking into that?"
"Everyone does, 'Ro. Even if I didn't know, I could've guessed. Kind of thing we look into."
"Mmm. We have done a bit of investigation. We are not trying to solve any murders here, Logan. We are just making sure it is not part of a larger, more dangerous, picture."
"Glad to hear that." Storm arched one eyebrow, questioningly, and he explained, "From the little I know, Gatsburg's son was a good kid and Gatsburg wasn't a good anything. Seems to me justice has been served. No need to tamper with that."
"Let the dead bury their dead?" Storm asked softly.
"Exactly," said Logan.
"I think I would like that."
* * *
It wasn't until Scott watched the tapes that he realized what he had secretly been looking for. It was crazy, but not *completely* crazy. A man in a trench coat had entered the building, and shortly after, a man in that building's head had seemed to be partially *exploded*. The man had fit the description of Remy LeBeau. Maybe Scott was being a paranoid ass, but at least he was honest enough to investigate the case from all angles.
The man in the FOH HQ lobby sure looked like a certain Cajun thief, but, despite the accusations of certain redheads and white-haired women, Scott was not jumping to any conclusions. It was only grainy black and white film anyway - black and red, to Scott's eyes - and the man could only be seen at an odd angle, from above.
He finished shuffling through the surveillance photos. "Thank you, Betsy. I hope you didn't have much trouble acquiring these."
"Not at all. Make me try to get something from the police the aid of telepathy, and *that* would be a challenge."
*Maybe not, depending on the sexual preferences of said police,* thought Scott, glancing at her form-fitting outfit out of the corner of her eyes.
She caulked her head to the side. "So, what next?"
"For you, nothing," he said bluntly, and then amended his response, "For now." He might need Betsy in the future. It wouldn't do to rub her the wrong way.
"What next for you, then?"
She looked far too keen. "I don't know," he replied.
That was a lie. He knew exactly what was next. If he hurried, he could probably even get there before the building was closed.
As soon as Betsy was gone, he had a date with a receptionist.
* * *
Bishop frowned at Rogue as she approached the front door.
"Ah've just been flyin' around,' she said.
"I didn't ask."
"Ah know, Ah know. You just always look like a guard."
"I'm not guarding against X-Men."
Rogue smiled oddly at him. "Why ever not?" He said nothing, and she added, "Ya know, if you're gonna be sitting on the porch, ya should do it properly. Ya should have something to whittle."
He raised his eyebrows. "Whittle?"
"Ya know, when you have some wood and-"
"I know what it means."
She laughed. It was an odd laugh, too, or maybe it was just the misty air and dark, starless backdrop that made him think that.
"Bishop," she said, when she had finished laughing, "some day, some day Ah want to sit down with you, and you can tell me about your world. Not the big things. Just little things, like how people dressed, what things looked like, sounded like, smelled like. Whether they whittled. Ah want you to tell me."
She was in a strange mood tonight. "If I'm still here, we can do that."
Her brows snapped down. "Why wouldn't you be?"
"Well," she said, pulling herself together and heading for the door, "stay as long as you can. Ah like having you here. You make me feel safe."
The door closed behind her. Bishop glanced down at his two large, motionless hands - hands that would no doubt be better employed in violence than anything so creative as whittling - and wondered why he would make anyone feel safe.
* * *
Fortunately, the receptionist behind the front desk was the same as in the video. She was talking unconcernedly on the phone, while upstairs men plotted and planned, devised new ways to kill and repress their mutant brothers and sisters. Lovely.
She probably carried some mutated genes, this receptionist. Those fingers that drummed lightly on her desk, those eyes which glanced questioningly at the man with the red sunglasses as he approached her, contained millions of cells with probably contained as many copies of her mutated DNA, dormant and unthreatening, waiting to manifest itself in her children, or her children's children.
Scott cleared his throat and his mind. "Excuse me? Miss?"
She held up one long, slim finger, and finished off her phone conversation. Hanging up the receiver, she asked politely, "Can I help you?"
"Yes." He flashed a badge; the X-Men had nothing if not mountains of fake ID's. "I'm a detective working on the Gatsburg case, and I wanted to ask a few follow-up questions."
She glanced around the almost-empty lobby, and frowned. "I'm working, now-"
"I know, but it will only take a few seconds. The man in the trench coat, who you saw on the day of the crime, did he have an accent?"
"I already told you people-"
"I know, I know. But I was hoping you could give us a more thorough description. The man, did he tend to replace his th's with d's?"
"I don't know. He could have, I suppose. I wasn't really paying attention at the time, I'm sorry to say. I didn't know he was a murderer," she added, "or I wouldn't have let him in."
She looked very perplexed, and something suddenly occurred to Scott. "This may sound odd but - would you describe him as charming?" She stared at him as if he had just sprouted an extra head, but he pressed on, "Did you feel compelled to do what he said? Did you find him unnaturally attractive?"
He was rewarded by a slight flush in her cheeks. "Well, I guess I kind of, um, yeah, he *was* attractive. But I didn't let him in because of that. It was - it was almost like I was hypnotized, or dreaming, you know?" She broke off, embarrassed by the way she had spoken, but then a hopeful light dawned in her eyes. "Hey, are you suggesting he was a mutant with some sort of mind-clouding ability?"
"I'm not sure. Of course, Gatsburg would be a target for people with mutant abilities."
She nodded, and seemed relieved to have an explanation for her carelessness in admitting a murderer. "Of course."
Scott turned to see a security guard standing a few feet away from him, hands on his gun. As Scott turned towards him, he pulled it out and pointed it straight at Scott. The receptionist gasped, but that was the only reaction, since the lobby was otherwise empty.
The guard waved his gun slightly in the direction of a metal door. "Over there. Go. And don't touch your glasses."
Apparently he was known here. Well, it would be a sad, sad FOH security guard who didn't know his X-Men by sight. Scott obediently put his hands up, but said softly, "You had better not do that."
"Do what?" demanded the guard.
"Wave that gun around like that," Scott explained. "It makes me nervous. When I get nervous, I start to sweat," his voice dropped, "And when I sweat, my glasses sometimes slip a little."
The guard's eyes narrowed. "Go to the door," he ordered.
Scott didn't move.
Scott Summers: leader, hero, Xavier's chosen one, and now, idiot. Well, by all rights, 'idiot' should have been added to his credentials long ago, but usually fate had intervened had he had somehow come out looking good. That didn't seem too likely, this time. It wasn't a problem of getting out, since there was only one security guard. The problem was causing as little damage as possible as he made his escape.
He couldn't control the size or force of his eyebeams without his visor, so he couldn't target the gun without seriously injuring the man. He briefly considered blasting the wall, just to scare the man into letting him go, but his trigger finger looked shaky enough as it was.
"Okay, okay," said Scott, inching sideways in the direction of the door, and to the side of the guard. "I don't want any trouble."
The man snorted. Scott took a long step sideways. The gun turned to follow him, but the man's body was not completely behind it any longer. This was the best shot he'd get.
With a twitch of his face, he lowered the glasses. The edge of the blast took the gun's barrel, and the gun went flying as the man clutched at his slightly burned hand.
Others would be here in a minute. On some psychotic impulse, Scott spared the wide-eyed receptionist a thank you nod as he darted out at a speed that would have done an Olympic sprinter proud.
* * *
Scott made his way up the stairs, deeply depressed. There was still a chance of course that Remy hadn't committed the murder, but the circumstances were against him. He lacked motive, yes, but maybe he had known one of the kids who got killed. Regardless, he had definitely been there on the day that Gatsburg had been killed, barring the possibility that this was the most elaborate frame job Scott had ever seen. Or maybe it was a clone. Or a Gambit from a parallel dimension. Or - God, he needed to get a new job.
He had asked Gambit for an alibi, partially from a vague hope that the man would actually have one, and partially because Scott wanted to watch his response to being asked.
As it turned out, his response was hostile. And, apparently, 'alibi' was a much more flexible word than Scott had ever realized. "Yeah, I got an alibi. I was at dis place, kind of a bar - Nobody to back me up on it, *non*. Why does it matter? I was wit' Ororo around five. Dat won't do? What is dis, de Spanish inquisition? You feeling okay, Cyke?"
Well, it had been a long shot anyway.
He could here Jean rustling about in their room. He pushed open the door, calling as he did so, "Jean, are you decent?"
"Who, me?" she asked lightly, tossing her head back and causing her lustrous red hair to fall in neat waves down her back as she flashed a smile at him. Her smile vanished when she caught his gaze. "Scott, what's wrong?"
"Nothing - nothing yet, at least."
"Well, Scott, I have good news. I know you haven't wanted to admit it, but you've been rather suspicious about Gambit lately, though God knows why you were so eager to suspect him of a gruesome murder."
How could he tell her it was because of that chance encounter on the night that Gatsburg was killed? The look in his eyes? It would sound insane. It *was* insane.
However, the photographs and the receptionist's testimony were unfortunately rather reliable.
"Well, I was talking to Charles about the case," Jean went on, "and it turns out that Gatsburg's face was smashed, and definitely not exploded."
"Oh," said Scott, and then, more weakly, "Oh..."
Jean smiled. "Just thought you'd like to know." She went towards the door, pecking him on the cheek on the way out. "You know, you'd better get Charles a present. You only have two days. I'll talk to you later, okay, honey?"
Scott nodded mechanically, still staring blindly forward.
*Let's review the facts, shall we?*
There was little doubt in Scott's mind that Gambit had entered the FOH headquarters that day, though no one had seen him leave. He had been at the site of the murder, around the time of the murder.
But he hadn't done it.
Then why had everyone been acting strangely since the murder? Paranoid, wary, depressed. The telepaths had been acting particularly strange; Jean had even shuttered her psychic bond with Scott.
They had sensed something. Jean had sensed something. And everyone was acting like there was something to hide.
But Gambit hadn't done it.
Why couldn't he just accept that?
He was an utter fool. He had been so eager to think the worst of Gambit, to suspect everyone's behavior, he hadn't bothered to examine any of the simpler explanations. There were hundreds, no doubt. Maybe Gambit had a good reason for being there. Maybe he was being set up, and had never been there in the first place.
*Maybe I'm hallucinating. Maybe this is all a dream.* Was he crazy, or masochistic, that he clung to the theory that would mean the worst for him and the team?
Yes, so Gambit didn't do it. *That doesn't mean that someone else on the team didn't do it.*
Scott suddenly felt a bit sick.
* * *
There was piano music, coming from somewhere. 'Somewhere' probably being the room with the piano in it, Jean reflected. The notes were slow to come at first - obviously it was a novice at the keys - but eventually they came with more speed and confidence, and a song begin to form. A familiar song.
Jean followed the music to its source. As she entered the room, she found Bobby behind the piano, playing the same three keys over and over, and regarding the keyboard as if it were a difficult equation.
"I know that song," she commented.
"Well, good for you. I seem to have completely forgotten it." He tried another key, and shook his head. "I learned it for my mom, to make her feel better about money wasted on my piano lessons. It was the only thing I knew how to play. Damn, what comes next?"
Jean leaned against the piano, and helped him by humming at first, and then singing, "You must remember this, a kiss is just a kiss..."
"Ah-ha! Got it. Here we go." He began to hammer out the whole thing, when he was interrupted by the arrival of Logan on the scene.
Logan went towards the liquor cabinet, darting an irritable glance at Bobby as he did so. "What are you trying to do to my ear drums, playing like that?"
Bobby wrinkled his nose at the older man. "Hey, it's a nice song."
"When it's played well, maybe."
"Be nice, Logan." Jean turned back towards the piano. "Play it again, Bobby. Play 'As Time Goes By.'"
"If she can stand it, I can," Logan shrugged. "Go ahead."
Bobby began to play, and then started to warble in accompaniment to his shaky playing, "You must remember this ... A kiss is still a kiss ... A sigh is just a sigh... The fundamental things apply, as time goes by..."
"You have no shame, do you, Drake? Drink, Jean?"
"Now that you mention it, a gin and tonic would be nice."
"...And when two lovers woo, they still say, 'I love you'... On that you can rely..."
Jean joined in, her singing softer and more tuneful, but just as unprofessional, "No matter what the future brings... as time goes by...."
Logan handed Jean her drink.
"Join in," said Bobby brightly. Logan glared at him, silently declining the invitation, and sat down with his own drink.
"So, Jean, how's the investigation going?"
Bobby resumed singing, "Moonlight and love songs, never out of date..."
Jean hoisted herself on to the piano. "I don't know. It's Scott's, not mine." She had to raise her voice to be heard over Bobby's exuberant performance. "But I gather none too well."
"'Course not," said Logan. Jean decided not to ask what he meant.
"...Hearts full of passion, jealousy and hate, Woman needs man..."
"Logan...? I was wondering about, well-"
"...And man must have his mate, that no one can deny..."
"You're rather close to Rogue." Bobby's singing became momentarily deafening, and Jean spared a moment to frown discouragingly at him before continuing to Logan, "I don't suppose she's confided in you about, well, anything? Not that I would want you to betray any confidences, of course."
"But you're worried about her, I know. And, no, she hasn't told me anything."
"...Well, it's still the same old story, a fight for love and glory, a case of do or die..."
"That's too bad."
"I think so, too."
"...The world will always welcome lovers, as time goes by..."
"That was lovely, Bobby."
"...Oh yes, the world will always welcome lovers... as time goes by."
Logan glanced dispassionately at the piano. "Thank God that's over with."
"And now," Bobby declared cheerfully, "from the top!"
Logan threw the rest of his drink back, and rose. "In that case, I'll see you later."
"Thanks for the drink," Jean called after him.
As soon as Logan left, she stretched herself over the piano, extending her hands to rest on Bobby's and still his playing. "Bobby, I don't suppose you know what's going on with Rogue?"
He shook his head. "Your guess is as good as mine. In fact, your guess is probably the same as mine."
"Always Gambit," said Bobby bitterly.
Jean ran a finger over some of the higher keys. "Not necessarily."
"Yes, necessarily." He looked up at her, and said pointedly, "Hey, Jean, you've seemed a little distraught lately. Why's that?"
Jean fixed a blank expression on her face. "Have I really? *Distraught*?"
"It's something to do with Scott, right?"
She returned his unflinching gaze for a moment before nodding reluctantly.
Bobby seemed to think he had just made an important point. He looked down at the keys, and began to run his fingers over them. "It's always Gambit," he pronounced, "because she's in love with him. It will always be Gambit."
* * *
Scott sat at the study desk, in the dark, and tried not to think.
It was an interesting exercise. Some people devoted their whole lives to trying not to think, and said that they had found God, or at least inner peace, when they succeeded in doing so. Scott could see what they were getting at.
He leaned back in the chair and pulled his fedora down over his eyes. Of course, his glasses got in the way. Experimentally, he tried resting his feet on the desk, but the position was very awkward, and he gave up.
The door opened, and he saw a figure silhouetted against the light of the hallway. He couldn't see her face, but he would have known that figure anywhere.
"My, it's dark in here," she said, and switched on the light. She closed the door behind her.
Scott now saw that Betsy was wearing something dark and slinky. It rippled like a snake's skin as she moved. "Warren and I were going to go out," she explained, "but I have a headache."
He tipped his hat slightly to get a better view of her, but didn't say anything.
"Scott..." She paused, seemingly at a loss for words. Scott wasn't about to help her. At last she said, "Do you really know what you're getting in to, with the Gatsburg case?"
"No," he said bluntly, "but I'm getting into it all the same."
She sighed. "I was afraid of that. I don't even know why I came." She approached his desk, and rested one hand on it, affording him an excellent view of her cleavage. The other arm reached out and, with one finger, she flicked off his hat. "Shouldn't wear hats inside," she said. "It's rude."
She was leaning so far forward now that their noses were practically touching. She lifted her chin, and gently touched her lips to his forehead. "Good luck, Scott," she murmured into his hair. She straightened, slowly, and begin to walk out.
Scott could feel annoyance rise in his throat. He was tired of being danced around. "Psylocke?" he called out, in his drill sergeant voice.
She stopped, hand on the door knob, and didn't turn to look at him. "Yes?"
Telepaths. They always smiled like they knew what you were going to say. Maybe they did, most of the time, but surely sometimes they had to be taken by surprise. He smiled tightly at her. "Give me your professional opinion, Betsy - who on the team do you think is capable of murder?"
He asked the question merely from an urge to throw her off balance, and, of course, it didn't work. "Oh, Scott," she murmured. "What a lovely question." She glanced at him now, her eyes glinting briefly. "Everyone. I think everyone on the team is capable of murder." She switched off the light and stepped out of the room, calling over her shoulder, "I hope that helps."
* * *
Statistics show that there are more women in the world than anything else. Except insects.
-Glenn Ford, "Gilda"
This is not the first death I've seen. It won't be the last. But I sincerely hope it's the bloodiest. I can handle a lot, I honestly can, but I rather doubt I could handle anything more gruesome than that.
His head simply exploded. It was rather like he'd been a pumpkin. I still can't believe it was that simple. I wish it hadn't been.
Scott pretended to read the newspaper at the kitchen table. Across from him Hank was actually reading his section, having emerged from the depths of his lab in order to grace them with his silent presence. Bobby finished pouring himself a bowl of cereal, then sat down at the table and took the Sunday comics.
Rogue came in, rubbing her eyes, and poured herself some coffee. Scott stopped his fake reading for a moment, and observed, "Everyone's up early today."
"Naw," said Bobby. "This isn't early for me. I usually get up at four AM so I can spend the morning training, before taking a brisk five mile jog. That's why you never see me."
"Ah actually *have* been up since four AM. Ah couldn't sleep."
Hank gave her a look of mingled concern and professional interest. "I hope you don't usually find it difficult to sleep."
I do, thought Scott.
"No. Sometimes, of course, but who doesn't?"
Vague suspicions of murder and tumultuous emotional atmospheres aside, it was right after she said this that Scott got his first real shock he'd had in a long time. It was well before nine o'clock, yet into the kitchen stumbled Remy LeBeau, mostly awake and relatively clothed. He paused at the wide gazes of the four people in the kitchen, and said defensively, "I'm just here for de coffee."
"Please," Rogue said in a perfect monotone, "help yourself."
Scott tore his eyes away from the always fascinating Rogue-Remy interplay, and realized with surprise that Bobby had his arms wrapped around his stomach and was regarding his cereal with something like disgust. Or horror. "Excuse me," he said in a choked voice, and rushed out of the room without further ceremony.
Hank shook his head. "I think he's sick, but he won't believe me."
Scott could sympathize. He was getting quite adept at sharing afflictions with his teammates, it seemed. Insomnia, nausea, paranoia.
Then there was Hank. Hank seemed calm, put together. Hank was unaffected by any empathic or telepathic vibes, completely without bitterness or suspicion. *I wouldn't mind catching some of that.* If you thought you might be going crazy, Hank was the best person to ask.
He followed Hank down as the man returned to his lab, receiving an update on his research. When they finally reached their destination, Scott closed the door and confessed, "I actually had something to ask you, Hank. Have you noticed any of the team members acting strangely as of late?"
It was, Scott realized as he said it, a supremely stupid sounding question.
Hank appeared to consider. "I haven't had an opportunity to closely observe anyone, hidden away as I am down here, but I couldn't help but notice the particularly haggard faces of Gambit and Rogue. Has there been some sort of rift between them? What a silly question. Don't even bother to answer it. And then, of course, there is Bobby's uncharacteristically stubborn refusal to believe he's sick, though he can't keep a meal down." Hank frowned.
"And Warren? Is it just me or is he more, uh, broody than usual?"
"He certainly looks particularly morose as of late. While we're on the topic, young Sam Guthrie has also been looking rather broody and red-eyed. Maybe you should speak with him, or have someone else do so..."
Scott waved Sam aside. "But I haven't been imagining all this?" he said, torn between relief and a stomach-churning fear.
"Unless we've both been doing so. But, flattered as I am that you value my opinion so much, couldn't you just as easily have asked Jean?"
That was, of course, the obvious question. Scott cursed himself for not having thought of an answer to it ahead of time, and shrugged. "I suppose I could have."
Scott stared at Hank for a long, long moment.
Hank stared back.
Scott knew he had to ask it.
"Hank, where were you on Thursday, between six and ten PM?"
Hank's eyes widened. "Are you serious?"
"Really." He rubbed his chin. "As it happens, I do have an alibi."
Scott leaned forward, and said breathlessly, "What is it?"
"Who, actually." Hank cleared his throat, "Her name is Joan Perske. Would you like her number?"
Scott took Hank by the shoulders. "Are you sure, Hank? She's a real, honest-to-God alibi? I mean, she is a respectable alibi, isn't she?"
Hank looked slightly affronted. "Of course! Don't tell me you don't recognize the name. She's Brooke Taylor's lawyer." Scott looked blank, and Hank continued impatiently, "Brooke Taylor, the Olympic contender whose gold medal they took away on account of her being a mutant?"
"Oh, *that* Joan Perske," said Scott. "Um, Jean is following that case more closely than me."
"Philistine," sniffed Hank.
"Regardless, she's my new best friend, so long as she doesn't deny she was with you or anything."
"I don't think that will happen. But tell me if I understand correctly - you think someone on the team might have had something to do with the murder of Marvin Gatsburg?"
*No, I'm positive someone on the team had something to do with it.* "I think it's a possibility, and I have a duty to look into all possibilities."
Hank, a scientist, nodded. "Who else have you eliminated, if I may ask?"
"Just you, Hank. Just you. That is, if this Perske thing pans out."
Hank nodded again. He didn't seem to be taking this murder thing too seriously, which was reassuring in as much as Scott would have loved to find himself mistaken. It was not reassuring in that finding himself mistaken would mean he was a paranoid idiot. After taking the number Hank scribbled down for him, Scott, finally feeling he was making actual headway, left quickly to call it.
On his way out, he practically collided with Bobby.
"Hiya, fearless leader. Where are you off to in such a hurry?"
"Hopefully to see a Miss Perske," said Scott.
Bobby looked pleased. "You mean Joan? Cute, isn't she? Sharp as a tack, too. I think she might be the one."
"The one?" Scott repeated blankly.
"The one for Hank! Sheesh, keep up, would you? Admittedly, I don't know that Hank feels *that* way about her, but he likes her. How couldn't he? I mean, this case will in all probability ruin her career, and she took it anyway. That's class. Brooke's nice, too. She does temperature. Hank and I had lunch with them, and Brooke and I talked shop. I *never* get to talk shop. It was fun, really. Scott, are you listening?"
"No. Sorry, Bobby, I was thinking of something else." Like, that Bobby in iceform would be very tough, essentially like rock. Easily able to make holes in people's faces.
"Scott? You look like little pointy-toothed creatures are nibbling at your brain. Maybe you'd better go rest, or something."
"Yeah. Maybe I will, after I talk to Joan Perske."
* * *
Scott called up Miss Perske and left a message on her machine. Then we went to the study on the first floor, to get some paper. On his way he passed Sam sitting in the living room, watching television with Rogue.
Rogue could have easily killed Gatsburg. And Sam... Scott bet that if he flew with a fist in front of him, he could have about the same effect.
*That would take incredible coordination. I hope you realize you're crazy.*
Scott took a deep breath. It was about as useful as taking a breath when you were about to dive into an active volcano. "Hey, Sam, Rogue. Could I ask you a question?"
"Fire away," said Rogue.
"Do you guys remember what were you each doing on Friday between six and ten PM?"
Sam looked flabbergasted. Rogue's brow furrowed.
"Ah... day before yesterday, right? Ah was just kind of lounging, Ah think. Went out and flew around a little."
"Ah was with friends some of that time, but not all of it..."
"Get a paper and write them down for me, and, where necessary, how I can contact them."
Scott was extremely grateful when Sam simply nodded, and hastened to obey. Rogue looked suspicious, though. "What's all this about, Scott?"
"It's routine," Scott intoned. "Just routine."
He continued on the way to the study, and took out his folder, containing the background information on all the victims. Family, history, disposition in as much as that could be assessed. Feeling a bit depressed, got some blank paper, and sat down.
After an inner struggle, he at last managed to write at the top 'Suspects'.
* * *
*Let's review the facts.*
Gambit was in the right place at the right time for the murder. Well, wrong place, and wrong time, depending on how you looked at it. Anyhow, he was probably there, though he didn't do it.
At least not using his powers. Was the injury to Gatsburg's face one that could have been made by a very fit, angry man, wielding a blunt object?
He made a note at the bottom of the paper to check on the force needed to crush Gatsburg's face. What fun.
Okay, moving on. Assume Gambit did, indeed, have an accomplice. That could possible explain why none of the security cameras, which were at all the exits, showed him leaving. The camera in the elevator - which Betsy had not brought, but had asked the police about - showed him getting off on the third floor, but he had never left it by conventional means. Perhaps he had had someone's help doing it. Perhaps someone who wasn't an X-Man, someone else Gambit knew.
But that didn't seem too likely.
Jean could yell at him all she liked, but, in Scott's experience, when bad things happened, they almost always revolved around the X-Men.
* * *
Scott needed a distraction. He had a one-track mind, and it had come in handy often enough, but it could be damn depressing. He decided to watch something. Something more potent and less legal than images on a screen probably would have done better, but you took you escapes where you found them.
He found Bobby in the living room, watching TV. Scott sat down next to him, silently. Something about Bobby's face inspired silence. Even the television was relatively quiet.
After about ten minutes of silence, in which Bobby was seemingly oblivious to anything but the bright screen, the doorbell rang. For half a second, Scott couldn't place the sound. He wasn't used to the bell. Usually, people coming to the mansion either lived there, in which case they had keys, or were attacking the mansion, in which case they didn't usually bother with the doorbell. Maybe someone had ordered a pizza...?
The doorbell rang again. Scott started to rise. "I'd better-"
Bobby looked at him, as if mildly surprised by his presence, and held up a hand. "The door? No, no. I'll take care of it." Bobby cleared his throat, and shouted, "SAM! GET THE DOOR!"
"COMIN'!" came the distant reply. There was the sound of running, then the rushing noise of Sam using his blasting powers, then a thud. A panting Sam peered into the living room. "The door?"
"Yeah. Better hurry. They rang like ten times, and they're probably getting angry." Sam nodded, and disappeared from view. Scott shook his head, and murmured, "That's just wrong."
They heard the door open, and Sam conversing with someone female. Then Sam ushered a gracile, and - Scott thought it over - blond woman, into the living room. "Wait here a moment, miss. I'll go get him."
At the sight of the woman, Bobby sprang to his feet and went forward to greet her. Scott also got to his feet, waiting politely in the background.
"Joan!" said Bobby. "Scott, this is Joan Perske, Joan, this is Scott Summers. Or did you already meet...?"
"I haven't had the pleasure, yet," Miss Perske murmured in an attractive, trombone-like voice. She extended her hand, and Scott took it. She had a confident grip, to match her eyes.
"The pleasure's all mine. But, really, you didn't need to come all the way out here..."
"No, it was nothing. I was already visiting someone near here, and I wanted to speak to Hank."
"Good. So long as you weren't inconvenienced. If you don't mind talking now before you see Hank, this won't take above five minutes. Would you like anything to drink? Coffee? Coke? Water?"
"Nothing, thank you."
"Bobby, go check about Hank, would you?"
"But Sam-" He stopped at a glance from Scott. "Oh, sure. Be back in a few minutes."
Ha. Telepathy, who needed it?
They both sat down, and Scott bluntly asked her if she could verify Hank's alibi, which she did very graciously, even if there was a hint of sarcasm in her eyes. She then leaned forward, and said in a quiet tone, "Let me get you straight, Mr. Summers. Are you worried that someone on your team might be connected - or be accused of being connected - with the murder of Marvin Gatsburg?"
"I have to examine all possibilities," he said neutrally.
"I'm not asking this out of vulgar curiosity." Her shoulder length blond hair fell in front of her eyes, and she pushed it back. "In light of my client's identity, I'm very interested in anything that might influence public opinion concerning mutants."
"I understand completely." After all, Xavier had first stuck them with this case because of the possible political repercussions. "I don't think the police's investigation has lead them to believe that any of the - of my team were involved, and I certainly have no good reason to believe so." He paused to collect his thoughts, and said slowly, "Of course, I think all the damage that can be done, has been done, since the natural assumption was that a mutant killed Gatsburg... Hello, Hank."
Hank beamed. "I see you've met Joan."
"Yes. I was thinking, Miss Perske-"
"Joan. If you have time, I think my wife would like to meet you. She's been following the case closely."
"That's actually a good idea," agreed Hank. "Jean might have a few insights that would useful to your case."
Joan raised her eyebrows curiously. "Is she an expert in genetics, too?"
Hank smiled. "No, better. She's an expert in humans."
* * *
It was Professor Xavier.
"I think we should have chocolate cake," he said to Jean, seated next to him on the bed.
"But tiramisu is so *classy*," she objected.
"I can count the number of classy X-Men on one hand, with three fingers cut off."
"This party isn't for the X-Men," Jean pointed out. "It's for Charles."
"True, but I'm sure he would prefer us to enjoy ourselves."
"Scott, over the years I've sensed many an emotion coming from Charles Xavier, but never once did I get an 'I just want you guys to have fun' vibe. Anyway," she said sulkily, sticking out her lower lip, "tiramisu *is* fun."
Scott burst out laughing. Jean kept up the pout for a few seconds before it dissolved into a grin.
"You know what? We should have two cakes. We need that many to feed the X-Men, anyway."
"All right. I'll leave it up to your discretion. Excuse me. I have to go."
He was out in the hall when he heard a soft tread. He turned to see Jean standing a few steps behind him.
"Why do you have to go?" she whispered.
He almost replied that Xavier wanted him, but then stopped himself. She looked smaller than usual as she stood in the hallway. Surely this self-inflicted telepathic blindness was taking its toll on her as much as on him.
What was so important to hide, that she was willing to do put herself through this? Why did he assume that it had to do with Gatsburg's murder? There were many other things a woman and a wife could wish to conceal.
He took a step towards her and pulled her up against him with one arm, using the other hand to raise her face to his. He kissed her deeply, and, after a moment, she kissed back, her arms going around his neck. His hands went back to twist through her hair, no doubt tangling it horribly. They must have been meant for each other, Scott reflected, they must have been because he saw everyone else with the wrong hair color, but hers he saw amplified.
Her kisses grew more frantic, but he didn't mind. They also seemed a bit fearful. He didn't mind that, either.
said Xavier's voice.
Scott cursed, and let go of Jean. She wobbled slightly, and Scott realized that her feet hadn't been on the ground.
he growled back.
"What is it, Scott?"
"Xavier wants to see me," Scott said, smiling viciously.
"You had better go, then," his wife said softly. She turned and began to walk away.
Scott watch her until she was out of sight, and then went to see - kill - Xavier.
* * *
Charles Xavier smiled brightly as Scott entered his office, scowling.
"Good afternoon, Scott."
"You wanted to see me, sir?" Scott bit out.
"Yes, Scott, sit down. It's about the Gatsburg case."
Scott sat down, sprawled over the chair, before he realized he had taken up the same posture Gambit used in his more rebellious moods. He sat up straighter. "What is it?"
"I don't think we should stop, or at least suspend, the investigation. It seems to be a waste of manpower, and it is also taking its toll on you."
"But we still don't understand why any of the three murders were committed. That could be critical information. We can't just stop now."
"Yes, we can," said Xavier with maddening assurance. "I'm not so sure that this will affect us in any way, if it does, we can cross that bridge when we come to it."
"Do we have another mission to go on, sir? Because if we don't, I can't see a better use of our energies-"
"Scott, let me be blunt. It's not *our* energies I'm worried about. It's yours. You've seemed very tired lately."
What was new about that? Where had Xavier's concern been all those other times when Scott had been stretched so thin he was about to snap?
"You've also lacked focus," Xavier went on. "When was the last time you trained, or organized a training session?"
"I don't know. A week ago, maybe, but that has nothing to do with the case-"
"Regardless, I want you off it."
Scott stared at the man who had been like a father to him for most of his life. If this had been a movie, Xavier would've been the murderer.
He couldn't abandon the case, especially now, and not only for the reasons he had told Xavier. His instincts told him that if things were allowed to continue the way they were going, it would have disastrous effects on the team. The X-Men could cope with a frontal attack, but this was more subtle than that, this was...
"A figment of your imagination," said Xavier suddenly.
Scott stared at Xavier in horror, an indignant, "What?" wrenched from his lips.
Xavier seemed oblivious to Scott's reaction. "I can see that some things are bothering you, but they aren't real, aren't tangible. You're worried that there will be consequences where there are none. You aren't thinking clearly, Scott. I sincerely think you should take a sabbatical."
Scott, thinking rapidly, replied, "Okay."
"I think it would be-" Xavier stopped abruptly, and eyed Scott askance. "What?"
"I said, okay. You're right. I've been seeing enemies where there are none, and we can't have that in a commander. For the next few days, I'll just relax."
"Good." Xavier nodded slightly. "Good, I'm glad to hear that."
Scott hoped his glasses hid the calculating look he knew must be in his eyes. *What are you afraid of, Charles? Do you even know?*
"I'll see you later, then, Charles."
"All right, Scott. Take care."
They were afraid. Every single one of them. The knowledge twisted inside Scott like a particularly lively tapeworm as he left the office.
There was no one to trust, no one to turn to. He was on his own. He was a leader without any followers.
And somewhere, deep down, buried beneath the hating it, he loved it.
As Scott walked down the hall, he was very surprised to find himself whistling.
* * *
"Do de police have *any* suspects?" Gambit asked Storm.
She shrugged. "None by name. They suspect that it was mutant friends of the victims."
"Huh. Have you found anything out about dis Nicholas Beal? He could very well have had more to do wit' it den anyone thinks."
"No, I have not been able to. Didn't I tell you? Charles wanted us to stop the investigation."
Remy's eyes widened. "Did he?" he breathed.
Storm held out a hand to him. "Yes."
He took it, and clutched it tightly, not even looking at her. "Dat's... interesting. Why?"
"He feels the case is affecting the team's concentration and morale. Especially Cyclops's."
"He's right, of course. But Scott is nothing if not persistent."
"I know." He raised her hand to his lips. This time, his eyes never left her face. "T'ings could get really weird, really soon, Stormy."
"I know, Remy. I admit I do not quite understand what is going on, but be careful. And for the love of the Goddess, don't call me 'Stormy'.
* * *
*Let's review the facts.*
"Of course, we can't go through the whole day acting like we all forgot his birthday. We'll go through the motions, wish him happy birthday-"
There were so many ways to get out of a third story window. Off the top of his head - wings, iceslides, telekinesis. Riding on the wind and rocketing and Rogue's own unique brand of gravitational defiance.
"-mention a birthday dinner, but there will be no presents, and people will be off doing their own thing during the day. Maybe a few people can say they have previous engagements. They'll be really apologetic about it, of course-"
"It won't work," said Scott.
The eight eyes of the impromptu party committee turned to him.
"Why not?" demanded Warren.
"We have Jean and Elisabeth to help keep it secret," added Ororo, nodding to the two women.
Scott removed his hat, and fanned himself a couple of times with it. "You just can't keep a secret in the X-Men."
"We don't want it secret from other X-Men. Just Xavier."
"The most powerful telepath on the planet?" Scott smiled, then shrugged, firmly setting his hat back on his head. "Well, I suppose it's worth a shot."
"Do you have to wear that stupid hat?" Warren asked plaintively.
"Jean got it for me." He flicked the brim. "I rather like it."
Storm looked stern. "You should not wear it inside the house, though."
Obediently, Scott removed it again and placed it over his heart. "Funny, Betsy said much the same thing to me." He then became absorbed in examining his feet, and, after an awkward pause, the other four resumed discussion. After a while, Scott excused himself. He had a birthday present to buy, God help him.
He was going upstairs, to pick up a book he had half-heartedly started, when he heard yelling. There was nothing new in that, of course. The thing that made him pause and listen, though, was that both people yelling had southern accents. He couldn't make out most of the words, but the inflection was unmistakable.
Why the hell would Sam and Rogue be arguing?
Scott suppressed a very inappropriate grin and, after putting his hat back on, he followed the voices to their source.
They were standing in the kitchen. Rogue had a knife. It would have been more alarming if there hadn't been a chicken breast on the cutting board, but nonetheless it didn't exactly add to Scott's comfort. Sam seemed oblivious to the fact that the woman yelling at him was holding a large knife.
The both froze when Scott came in, and regarded him with flushed faces. Scott walked past them and took an apple out of the bowl in the middle of the kitchen table. "You guys all right?"
Sam nodded, once, and looked to Rogue.
"Yeah, we're fine. Sorry. We were discussing... something."
"So I heard." He bit into the apple and then grimaced. It was green. They always bought green apples. Scott was apparently the only X-Man who preferred red.
"Ah've... got to go," said Sam. "G'bye."
"Sam..." said Rogue.
He stopped, turned, and grabbed her gloved hand. "Ya know what? It's okay? It doesn't matter. None of it matters."
She blinked at him, and managed a small smile.
After Sam had gone, Scott said, "Well, I'm confused."
"And you're gonna stay that way." She turned back to the cutting board, and resumed chopping.
Scott took another bite of his apple, and tossed it in the direction of the trash can. By some miracle, it landed right in the middle, on top of an empty milk carton. "Need any help?"
"No, thanks." She was chopping quickly and recklessly, her fingers perilously close to the blade.
"Better slow down, or you'll cut yourself."
"Maybe I don't mind."
"Maybe I do." He reached over, and placed his hand over hers. She stopped chopping. "I need you all in working order, in case of emergencies. Let me do this, while you do something else."
She looked resentful, but went and sat down at the table.
"You still having trouble sleeping?"
She glanced back at her, to see her nod. "Yeah, but don't worry about it."
"I do. Maybe you should drink less coffee."
"Ah rarely have coffee," she objected.
The knife made a very satisfying sound, hitting against the wooden cutting board. "Except when you come down at night."
"How do you know Ah do that?"
"I hear you. I don't sleep so well, either. And you leave the coffee pot partly full."
She sighed. "That's 'cause it's early morning, not night, and Ah know Ah won't be gettin' back to sleep, anyway."
Suddenly, she laughed. Loudly and, if he was any judge, sincerely.
"It's just - ya look so funny, chopping things in that hat." She went off into another peal of laughter. "Oh, God, Ah wish Ah had a camera..."
Of course, he should have known she was laughing at him. He frowned up at his fedora. "I like it."
"It's a lovely hat," she reassured him, and went off into another peal of laughter. She stood up, and pushed him away from the cutting board. "Thanks, shug, for the heart to heart. Ah can take it from here."
He released the knife into her custody, and tipped his hat solemnly to her as he left.
* * *
It was just Scott's luck, that his favorite suspect was also the man with the least going against him. Because, quite frankly, you couldn't count annoying personal habits as evidence against a person, no matter how much you might want to.
He could still ask questions due to the fact that the man could probably come out of a three story drop relatively unscathed, though, and that was quite enough for Scott.
Scott's favorite suspect tapped the ashes of his cigar onto the concrete pathway which lead through the yard. They danced in the breeze, before being borne off into the grass. "Whaddya want, Summers?"
"I just wanted to know-"
"I've got nothing for you. I know what you're up to, and I don't have an alibi."
Logan cast the taller man a contemptuous glare. "No."
*Don't play the rebellious loner with me. I out-lonered you long ago, 'Wolvie'.* "All right. Well, thank you for your time."
"No problem. Just don't waste any more of it, okay?" He brushed past Scott, and went towards the door, tossing his cigar butt onto the porch before he entered. Scott flinched.
Scott knew it was rather perverse, but he always gained confidence from Logan's opposition. Sometimes he thought he wouldn't stand nearly so firm in his opinions if not for Wolverine arguing with every word out of his mouth.
After giving Logan a few minutes' head start, Scott started back inside.
The place seemed completely empty, but Scott almost felt like he could sense the others - Hank working diligently in his lab, Logan grabbing a beer from the fridge. Warren was probably brooding with the occasional irritated interjection from Betsy. Jean was no doubt skittering around the room nervously, hiding presents and making plans to herself. Bobby was probably playing computer solitaire, while Rogue was off in some corner crying, and Sam was busy pointedly avoiding everyone, red-eyed and twitchy....
God. Why couldn't he just think happy thoughts?
Scott spun around, to see Warren watching him. It felt strange, seeing that he was not where Scott's mind's eye had placed him. "What?"
"Are you all right?"
"Yeah, fine. Just thinking."
"There seems to be a lot of that going around. For a change. It's not like you to brood in doorways, Scott." Warren's tone was light, but he was darting quick glances at Scott beneath lowered lids.
"I was thinking, not brooding."
"Looked a lot like brooding to me."
"I suppose you would know."
"Scott, I know this is everybody's job but mine, but I have to ask, have you been getting *any* sleep lately?"
"About as much as usual," Scott lied.
Warren caulked his head to the side. "The bags under your eyes extend beneath your sunglasses."
"Really?" Scott walked over to the hallway mirror, and peered into it. "Maybe I'm just getting old."
"You've been getting old since you were fourteen, Scott. I'm just worried you're getting tired. Don't fall asleep on the job, okay? We count on you having both eyes open."
Scott tore himself away from the depressing contemplation of his reflection. "You doing anything, Warren?"
"Let's go get a drink. My treat."
* * *
Despite evidence to the contrary, alcohol was in fact a depressant. A very pretty depressant. Like liquid amber. Scott had heard that even experts had trouble telling amber from plastic just by looking at it.
"Yes, my son?"
"I've got a philosophical question for you."
Warren's brows lowered. "Philosophical?"
"Yeah. Do you think it matters if something is fake - like a gem stone or an antique - so long as you think it's real?"
Warren considered. "I guess not."
"That's what I thought. But what if you're not sure? What if you've got doubts?"
"Well, that takes all the fun out of it. Then it matters. Then you have to find out. And if you find out it's fake, you return it and get your fucking money back."
Scott nodded. "That's what I figured, too."
"Great minds think alike."
"And so do we. 'Nother drink?"
* * *
Do I laugh now, or wait
'til it gets funny?
-Fred MacMurray, "Double Indemnity"
It was a lovely night, if you had a fondness for complete darkness. Saturday night. I usually had better things to do on a Saturday night.
I've got no right to complain. It was my own fault that I had to do this.
I looked at the pile of clothing for a moment, and then added the trench coat to the top of the small pile. I stared at the heap for a moment, and then lit one of the cigarettes from the box I had just drawn from the trench coat pocket. I watched the flame of the match for a brief moment, to make sure it burned true, and then tossed it onto the pile of clothing.
* - * - *
The next day saw a suppressed whirlwind of activity within the mansion. It took Scott a moment to realize that the source of activity was Xavier's birthday party. His surprise birthday party. Could it be that the man didn't actually know what they were planning?
Scott lay low for the entire day, since his few attempts at helping the party effort were not received with much enthusiasm. Though he was inactive, his mind wasn't. The day brought a number of unwelcome revelations.
It was a very select guest list; it wasn't one of those occasions where they brought every one who was, is, or would be an X-Man. However, a few former X-Men were still coming, though Scott had been so oblivious to the plans for the party that he didn't realize they were coming until the day of the party. Jubilee would be arriving in the evening, and Kurt and Piotr and Kitty and Moira were expected some time in the afternoon, giving them some time to rest before the dinner started. Hank had, with permission from Jean, invited Joan Perske, thinking Charles would be pleased with her presence. Scott expected he would. Altogether that made - Scott pulled out his folded list of suspects, and mentally added four women (did Jubilee count as a woman?), two men, and himself to the guest list - eighteen people, excluding Xavier.
Jean spent the day playing interference to Xavier. The Excalibur members arrived without a hitch and were promptly hidden in rooms upstairs which also, incidentally, gave them a chance to rest after their trans-Atlantic flight. Jubilee and Miss Perske appeared in the evening, and the latter was quickly monopolized by interested X-Men. Scott would have liked to talk to Joan Perske a bit more, but he didn't particularly mind not being able to do so. He was keeping an eye on Gambit.
Gambit couldn't have done it. He didn't really *regret* that, but... things would have been so much simpler if Gambit had done it.
"You think it was Remy LeBeau," said a husky voice in his ear.
Scott looked up in surprise to see Joan Perske standing there. "What makes you say that?"
She sat down next to him, watching Gambit. "Would you believe, instinct?"
"Not in this case, no."
She sighed. "Well, I was talking to Hank about your investigation, and you were watching Mr. LeBeau just now. What's more, with his powers and skills he could easily have done the job." "There, you're wrong. Gatsburg's head was crushed, not exploded."
"Well, yes," she replied, raising her eyebrows.
They stared at each other blankly for a moment.
"Hank was telling me about everyone's powers. As I understood it, Gambit - that's his codename, right? - Gambit can charge objects but not necessarily explode them. It would give a blunt instrument enough force to deliver the blow that killed Gatsburg."
Scott gaped at her for a moment before collecting himself. "Yes, I suppose he could have. I didn't even think of that.
It would be so simple if Gambit could have done it himself.
He always overlooked the simplest explanation.
* * *
Scott would never know if Xavier was genuinely surprised, but he certainly put on a good show of being surprised if he wasn't. And there could be no doubt that the man was pleased.
He had good reason to be. Scott had seen more X-Men in the same place at the same time, but never with so little friction or chaos. All their energy seemed to go into smiling pleasantly and *not* messing things up, so they didn't have any left over to do something stupid.
Dinner was delicious. Or so Scott had thought at the time. Who was he to know that betrayal tasted like Caesar salad? It was rather funny that Bishop had thought Gambit was the X-Traitor, when all along it was Scott Summers. He would have to remember to laugh about that someday.
Scott scanned the faces, watching the others like a chaperone at a middle school dance. A laugh came from Kitty Pryde's direction, where she was seated next to Logan. It was a party for Charles Xavier, but so much of the Wolverine Fan Club had shown up that it was something of party for him, too. Scott didn't begrudge him his fans. It was a pleasure to watch how much they enjoyed his company, and he theirs. Anyway, who needed fans when you had followers?
"Isn't wonderful to see them all together?" Storm whispered from beside him.
Scott smiled, he was afraid not very convincingly, and nodded. It *was* wonderful, but he just couldn't summon the correct emotional reaction.
To his surprise, he felt Ororo's long, silky fingers creep into his. She tilted her head towards him and whispered, in a breathy voice that tickled his ear, "Just go along with it. You will feel better if you do."
Storm released his hand and turned away to resume her conversation with Piotr on her right hand side. Scott, looking around at all the smiling faces, thought that she maybe had a point. He could use this. Like a drug. What was the worst that could happen? He could relax for a few seconds?
"What are you doing about that murder in the FOH heirarchy recently?" Kurt called to Xavier from his seat a few seats down. Scott flinched and decided that, though Nightcrawler had a pleasant voice, good for preaching, it was a lousy one for asking questions.
Xavier didn't seem to mind at all, damn the man. Didn't he know how awkward it was? That it was taboo? "We're hoping the police will come up with something." And didn't he realize how stupid that sounded?
"Do you know why he was killed?" persisted Kurt.
"For murdering his son," said Scott. Beside him, Storm twitched like an animal hit by a car.
Kurt blinked, and asked more softly, "Why did he kill his own son?"
"What do ya think?" asked Rogue harshly. "For being a mutant."
After a beat where no one did so, Scott took it upon himself to correct her. "Well, in this case, for being friends with a mutant."
"Yeah," said Rogue. "That might even be worse in some ways."
He knew what she meant.
After dinner and dessert, there were presents, and Scott was pleased to see that he had gotten Charles a lovely antique chess set. No doubt it had cost him an arm and a leg, too. Toasts followed presents. Charles warmly and eloquently thanked everyone, and, for once, Scott was grateful for his glasses. No one could see the tears welling up in his eyes.
Hank was next up to bat, beating Scott to the punch while Scott was busy wiping his eyes in as subtle a manner as possible. He began, in his unmistakable, resonant voice, "I won't launch into a monologue about the dream for which this school was created and this team assembled. That has been spoken of *ad infinitum*..."
"Hear, hear!" called Bobby, in his unmistakable, piercing voice.
Hank frowned at him and continued, "However, I will say that never before has any one cause boasted so many devoted and praiseworthy individuals amongst its followers. This isn't because it is a worthy cause - though it undoubtedly is. It isn't the free room and board, either. In fact, those of us who rally to this cause..."
"You won't launch into a monologue, huh, Hank?" murmured Warren.
Hank frowned at him, too, and went on, barely missing a beat, "... are actually rallying to a man. A man who embodies all the best qualities of this cause, any every worthy cause throughout history. You all know to whom I refer. And with that, let me propose a toast..."
"To Hank's shortest speech ever," interrupted Bobby. His efforts were rewarded by a slap from Jean, though Scott wasn't so sure he wouldn't have drunk to that.
"To Charles Xavier," finished Hank. Which was good, too. Watching his friend and teammates, some far off corner of Scott's mind wondered how he could ever have suspected any of them of murder or conspiracy or anything else. Now he knew where Jean's annoyance at him came from. He was annoyed at himself.
The toast was drunk, and Hank sat down. "Pearls before swine," he sniffed.
Warren reached around Joan Perske to bat Hank on the shoulder, and said solemnly, "This table is not deserving of your presence, Dr. McCoy."
"Yeah," grinned Bobby, "we haven't done anything *that* bad."
"Stop it, both of you," said Jean, wacking Bobby on the head for emphasis. "It was a lovely speech, Hank."
"Good wine, too," added Scott, gazing at his glass. "We seem to have brought out the best stuff for this occasion."
"Which probably means you should be savoring it," Xavier said with a meaningful glance at Bobby, who looked up guiltily from his now-empty glass.
"Anyway," Jean rose, glass in hand, "ladies, gentlemen, Bobby, I will now be saying a few words, if you don't mind. Charles, my first instinct is to reiterate what the others have said, because every word resonated with me. Excepting the interruptions, of course. But that wouldn't do justice to you, since there's so much more that could be said at this, your-" she smiled, "which number birthday, again?"
Xavier cleared his throat. "Never mind, that."
"All right. If you can't remember, either. Charles, I think I - I..." Her brow furrowed, and she glanced at Scott. He nodded encouragingly to her, but she only frowned and then, looking vaguely in Logan's direction, she fell to the ground, taking her chair with her on her way down.
Half the X-Men were on their feet in an instant. Scott was a second faster, but he took his time getting to her.
"Move," he instructed the many X-Men standing around her.
They did so, except for Hank, who was kneeling beside her. The doctor looked up at Scott and pronounced, "She's fainted."
Scott knelt beside her, too, and, satisfying himself that her breathing was regular, he righted her chair.
Jean's display was made slightly less impressive by the fact that she regained consciousness a few minutes later. At first she just lay on the ground, staring up at them, but after a moment she propped herself up on her elbows, with the help of Hank's hand, pressed between her shoulder blades for support.
"Oof. My head," she murmured inanely. Bobby iced up his hand and placed it gently on the back of her head. She smiled at him, and extending a hand to Scott, said, "Help me up?"
"Are you sure you should be getting up just yet?"
"I think I can manage. If I start to faint again, this time at least you'll catch me."
That was true.
Scott helped her to her feet and over to her chair. Xavier watched with concern. "Jean, are you sure you-"
"I'll be fine," she interrupted him. "Head rush, I think. That, and tiredness from all the planning for this party. I'll be fine. Just don't try to make me go away. I'd never forgive you." She spotted her half-empty glass on the table and said, "Oh, yes. My toast. I think I'll try sitting down for this one, if you all don't mind." She paused, and glanced back at Scott, who was still standing behind her chair, hands resting on its back. "You can sit down now."
Scott returned to his side of the table and Jean finished her toast. It ended up being a very nice speech.
* * *
When the dinner was over, along with the ensuing socializing, Jean went straight to their room without cleaning up and threw herself back on the bed.
Scott, following her in, demanded, "What happened in there?"
"Head rush," she said. "Oh, don't you love it when you first get in bed, and she sheets are *so* cool and straight?"
"Yes. Why did you faint?"
"I just told you. Honestly, it was all true. You're so suspicious lately. Stop it."
"There was more to it than that, Jean."
Seeing that he wasn't getting into the bed immediately, she stretched herself out, taking as much room as possible for a slight woman such as she. "It may have been all that, coupled with a shock on my psychic link with Ruby Stevens. I dimmed the link, now - though if anything really horrible happened I'd still know." Jean turned on her side, and burrowed into her pillow. "I wouldn't be surprised if we heard from her tomorrow, by the way."
* * *
As it happened, they did hear from her the following afternoon, and a rendezvous at the Salem Center Mall was arranged. Scott at last convinced Jean to stay home and rest while he went to meet the woman.
"She should be able to pick you out," said Jean, "but for your reference, she's a small blonde who smokes like a chimney."
"Right. Chimney. I should be able to spot her."
"Be careful handling her."
Scott didn't drive often. It was dangerous, because he couldn't make out the lights. At night it was easier as far as the lights were concerned - he could discern the red light by its brightness. During the day, it was nearly impossible to tell which light was lit. Luckily, there were not many stoplights on the way to the mall.
Nonetheless, he drove at a grandpa pace. The cars around him resented it, but he was sure an informed pedestrian would be the first to agree with his choice in speed.
It was a Thursday, so there weren't that many people at the mall when he arrived. He killed some time looking around before going to the foodcourt a little before the arranged time of four o'clock.
"Are you Scott Summers?"
Scott looked up from his cherry slushy, fortunately lidded so that it could be mistaken for a respectable drink. A small blonde stood beside him. She lacked cigarettes, but there didn't seem to be anyone else in line, so she'd have to do. "Mrs. Stevens?"
"Call me Ruby. You might as well, seeing as how you're going to be saving my life."
She sounded rather bitter about the whole thing. Scott hadn't realized he was in charge of saving her life, but he doubted a bewildered "I am?" would do much to inspire confidence. "Would you like something to drink? Eat?"
"No, I'd just like to get going, if you don't mind."
"Not at all. My car is out front."
"Mine is, too. I'll leave it here." She glanced around. The look was too confident too be called nervous, but she certainly wasn't at ease.
"Do you think someone is following you?"
"No, I don't think so. I'm just afraid so. Let's hurry, why don't we?"
They walked in silence until they reached the car. Scott opened the door for her.
"That's a nice anklet you're wearing."
"Would you believe, I get told that all the time?"
Scott went around to his side and got in. "Why this sudden need for our help, Mrs. - Ruby? Seatbelt, please."
"Mrs. Ruby, that's a new one. I'd prefer to explain everything when we get where we're going, Mr. Scott."
The drive to the mansion passed in silence. Mrs. Stevens seemed to have no inclination for idle chatter, and Scott had no talent for it. When they arrived, Jean was outside, waiting for them. They took her to one of the seldom-used, but less dusty, parlors - the blue parlor, as it had been called when people still knew what parlors were.
The first thing the woman did was pull some cigarettes out of her purse.
"We don't seem to have an ash tray in here-" began Jean.
Mrs. Stevens shrugged. "I'll just tap the ashes into my purse. Oh, damn. I don't suppose either of you have a light?"
Scott headed off Jean's negative answer by pulling a lighter out of his pocket. He held it out to Mrs. Stevens, and she leaned forward and lit her cigarette, watching him as she did so. Jean caught her husband's eye with an utterly confused gaze. Scott ignored it.
"I'd better explain everything now," said Mrs. Stevens wearily. "Thanks for taking me in, by the way."
Scott waved her thanks aside. "That's what we do."
"That's what I figured." She took a drag on her cigarette. "You see, I've been driven to drastic measures by the police. They're keeping an eye on me. They say I might be in danger."
"So?" said Scott.
"What do you mean, so?" she spat. "So the police don't go out of there way to protect people when there's no solid evidence that they have any reason to do so. I could be getting death threats, and they wouldn't be following me, and watching me. I'm not that important. The FOH is behind this. They think I know too much, and if I let slip that I do, by accident or design-"
"Stop," commanded Scott.
Bewildered, she did.
"How do you know they didn't follow you here?" Scott asked frowningly.
Ruby Stevens reached into her purse and took out a powder compact. She snapped it open and tapped her cigarette ashes into it before answering, "I drove to a store, and then I went out the back and way and caught a cab. I'm not a professional at this, but it seemed the thing to do."
"Very clever, Mrs. Stevens," Scott assured her.
"I need to get out of here," said Mrs. Stevens. "You need to help me. You have connections, right? You can arrange a disappearance?"
"What about your husband?" Scott inquired politely.
The woman looked flustered. "He's in no danger."
"And your daughter?"
"Daughter?" repeated Jean.
"She's in no danger, either," said Mrs. Stevens sharply. "I am."
Scott sat back, putting his hands behind his head. "They'll continue to have a hold on you, if you leave them such handy hostages." He wished he had his hat.
"Hostages? Oh." She laughed shakily. "I don't think they'd go so far as that."
"I hope not, for your sake, and your family's sake, Mrs. Stevens."
Jean's tone was faintly accusing.
"Mrs. Stevens, I don't think you're in any danger."
"I told you to call me Ruby!" It was almost a growl.
"I'm sorry. Ruby, I don't think you're in danger. In fact, I think you'd better go home."
"Oh?" Her savage look vanished suddenly, to be replaced by a rueful smile. "Maybe I should. The jig is up?"
She pulled a small device off the inside of her collar, and tossed it to the floor. She stood up to crush the bug deliberately under one black pump, and then walked towards the window.
"Why did they send you?" Jean asked softly.
Mrs. Stevens tossed her cigarette into a lovely ornamental Japanese bowl nearby. Then she rummaged through her purse, and pulled out another. "They needed mutants, to take the fall. They saw you visit that day, Mrs. Summers, and they knew who you were. They thought if I could get into a position where it appeared that you had kidnapped me, they'd be able to set this up to their advantage. Even if they never had any proof, it would be useful for influencing public opinion." She glanced around her. "I don't suppose-"
"Catch," said Scott, and tossed the lighter to her. She caught it, smiling slightly.
"And why did you agree?" Jean inquired.
"To prove my loyalty and," she smiled, "my uselessness. They should leave me alone after this." Adam Stevens's mother's smile grew bitter. "And also... Mr. and Mrs. Summers, do you have children?"
Jean and Scott exchanged glances.
"Sort of?" ventured Scott.
She wasn't paying attention. "Well, I had children. Now I have one child, and for all I know, she'll turn out to be a mutant, too. I want safety."
A gloomy silence descended over the blue parlor. It was broken by Scott.
"Did you say, 'A mutant, too'?"
"Adam was a mutant?"
"Well, *yes*. Why else did you think he was killed?"
Scott didn't answer, but glanced at his watch. "It's after five already. Care to stay for dinner? We're having it early tonight."
Both women gave him practically identical looks. Looks that said, "Are you crazy?"
"You might as well," shrugged Scott in response to their unspoken questions. "I doubt anything horrible will come of it, and if you leave now you'll be stuck in traffic. If you stay for dinner, we could even take you back. You came in a taxi anyway, right?"
Suddenly, Mrs. Stevens smiled. "You know, I believe I'll take you up on that, Mr. Summers."
They stepped out into the hallway and went towards the front stair case so Jean could show Mrs. Stevens where they could freshen up. As they passed the entrance to the living room, she stopped suddenly, and leaned her head inside.
"Why, hello, Sam." She sounded pleasantly surprised.
Sam, on the other hand, looked shocked. "Um, ma'am..." Recalling his manners, he scrambled to his feet, sparing nervous glances for Jean and Scott. "Hello, how d'ya do?"
"Very well, thank you. I didn't know you lived here. I'll be joining your for dinner, tonight, apparently."
"Oh?" Sam choked out. "Ah mean, that's great."
Jean reached out and grabbed Scott's hand, squeezing it hard. Scott had a feeling it wasn't meant as a gesture of affection, and his instinct was confirmed as his wife told him telepathically,
"Excuse me, Ah need to go do something. Ah look forward to seeing you at dinner, ma'am."
"Obviously," said Scott.
Sam didn't look at any of them. He just scampered off like a scared rabbit.
"Strange boy," said Mrs. Stevens.
"Come with me," said Jean, beckoning as she started towards the stairs.
Scott, finding himself at something of a loss, went to sit on the swing on the front porch.
About twenty minutes later, his attention was drawn from contemplation of his feet by the sudden arrival on the porch of Remy LeBeau and Ruby Stevens. Mrs. Stevens looked surprised at seeing Scott, but she said, with perfect composure, "I'd better get home instead. It might look odd if I stay here. Thank you for your kind invitation, though."
"You're welcome," said Scott, glancing covertly at Remy's face. There was nothing to be found there. "How will you be getting back?"
"I have a taxi, waiting for me at the front gate."
"Well, then, God speed Mrs. Stevens."
Remy nodded to Scott and offered Ruby his arm. They descended the porch steps, and walked towards the gate. Shortly after, Gambit returned alone. Scott was still there. He was waiting for him.
"You talked her out of staying," said Scott.
Remy shook his head. "No."
"If that's how you want to play it, Remy..."
"It is," said Gambit, and went inside.
* * *
Scott sat in the arm chair, staring at the bed.
The figure in it stirred slightly, and then stilled.
Scott didn't mind. He was good at waiting. Let the kid sleep a little longer.
The figure whimpered. Then, suddenly, he began to thrash around and sat up abruptly, the sheet falling to reveal a slight but well-toned torso. Sam glanced around bewilderedly, before his surroundings registered.
"Scott?" he said blearily. "What are ya doin' here? What time is it?"
"About," Scott glanced at his watch, "six. I just need to ask you a few questions, and then you can go back to sleep."
"How did you know Ruby Stevens?"
Sam closed his eyes. "Through her son. Ah only met her twice, actually."
"How did you know her son?"
"Though a mutual friend. A mutant. Ah really didn't know Adam that well, either."
And now, the important question. "Why didn't you mention the fact that you knew him?"
"Ah didn't know we were investigatin' the murder at first and then... well, it wasn't important. Ah was going to tell you if it became important, but, far as Ah knew, it didn't. Except to me, of course."
Scott frowned. That was the most spurious explanation he had ever heard - which was why it rang of truth.
"Hey, Ah got somethin' for you. Ah forgot to give it to you earlier. One sec." Sam slipped out of bed. He was wearing boxers. Her rummaged around in a drawer before pulling out a paper to hand to Scott. His eyes met Scott's, and they seemed fully awake, now.
"That's the list of people Ah was with on Saturday night," he whispered. "My alibi."
Scott nodded, tucked the paper in his pocket, and left so the poor kid could get some sleep.
* * *
That had been his first mistake, to place any reliance on facts. This was a case based on his paranoia, on Scott's knowledge and ignorance of his fellow X-Men, on telepath's feelings infecting the thoughts of others. He wasn't going to figure it out based on *facts*. He didn't *have* the facts. All he had was suspicion. Suspicion and psychiatry.
Sam's alibi had panned out. That, at least, was a fact he had. It also meant he didn't have anyone with an ounce of motive, but Scott had decided to ignore motive. It helped maintain his sanity. Gambit had everything but motive and, of course, a way out of the building, but no doubt a thorough examination of the FOH headquarters could produce an unmonitored exit that the skilled thief could have used.
If Gambit had done it, though, that wouldn't explain the rest of the team's behavior. Rogue's, maybe, and it would also explain Storm's guardedness, though Scott doubted she would help conceal a murder. However, if she had nothing but vague suspicions, she might make a point of hiding them... Damn it all. He had known these people so long, all of them. Surely he could figure this out. Failure to do so wouldn't be mere failure at playing detective - it would be a failure at knowing his team, and that would mean his failure as a leader. Leader was all he was cut out for, really. What else could he do? Be a pilot? Everything would seem tame after the Blackbird. Being a chef would be kind of fun. Too bad he couldn't cook. He could be something dull, like a number processor, except his math skills were less than impressive. The only skills he had acquired during his adult life involved keeping a lot of energetic, rebellious, super-powered beings under control. High school principal, maybe?
Scott pushed the brim of his hat up to get a better look at the person that had intruded on his solitude.
"For God's sake, take that hat off when you're talking to me. I can't take you seriously when you have that on."
"Sorry," said Scott humbly, removing his hat.
"'S'okay. I was just wondering if you'd care to join me 'n' Hank 'n' Warren for dinner. We've got pizza."
"No. But thank you."
"Storm says to tell you there's soup on the stove if you want it."
"Thank you. I'll bear that in mind."
Bobby nodded, smiled nervously, and disappeared.
And that was when it all clicked.
* * *
Warren took a bite of pepperoni pizza. "Ya know," he said in a distant tone, "I could be eating at a really expensive restaurant with my beautiful ninja girlfriend, but being stuck here, eating greasy pizza with you two, is probably better from a karmic perspective."
"Putting up with us won't be enough to save *you* from being a cockroach in your next life," said Bobby.
Hank nodded. "I'm afraid you'd have to save a few hundred puppies from burning buildings to have any hope of being resurrected as something decent, Warren."
"And you owe me for the pizza, by the way."
"What? I didn't want the pizza."
"But good thing I had it, seeing as how you’re not going to an expensive restaurant with your beautiful ninja girlfriend. Sam was going to split with me, but Rogue bore him off and he seems to have forgotten about it." Bobby finished off his fifth piece, and reached for his sixth. Hank was watching with covert approval - Bobby *had* been looking a little wan lately, reflected Warren. He seemed to be feeling much better now.
Gambit came in. He had been underfoot a lot lately. He eyed the boxes on the table. "Mind if I take a piece?"
Hank looked at the other two, saying it was up to them. Warren's brow furrowed. Bobby looked flustered, and hurried to swallow the bite in his mouth. All in all, it was more of a reaction than such a simple request merited.
Bobby at last succeeded in swallowing. "Go ahead, please. Take whatever you want."
There was a brief silence but Bobby, who, like nature with vacuums, abhorred silences, started talking, loudly and quickly, with the occasional chuckle thrown in.
Gambit was on the way out with his pizza, but he paused in the doorway and glanced over at Bobby. "'Je me presse de rire de toute, de peur d'etre oblige d'en pleurer,'" he murmured.
"What's that supposed to mean?" demanded Warren.
"Just a quote, Wort'ington, and not to your address."
"I don't see the point of quoting things if no one's going to understand them," Warren said angrily.
"I understood," said Hank, ignoring a glare from Warren. "But you are a show-off, Mr. LeBeau. A very astute show-off."
* * *
It was chicken noodle. Nothing exciting, but certainly reliable. Scott ladled some soup into a bowl, and sat down at the kitchen table.
Ororo entered the room. Scott looked up and complimented her on the soup.
"I did not make it, but I am glad you like it. How is Jean?"
"I mean, is she doing well?"
"Oh, yes. Just a bit tired."
"I expect so. Arranging that dinner was no small matter."
And Scott had barely realized she was doing so. Was there faintly accusatory note in Ororo's voice? No, probably not. She was not the judgmental type.
"You are looking much more relaxed today, Scott."
*I'm not relaxed, I'm resigned. They're very different things.*
But he just smiled and didn't say anything.
* * *
Suddenly it came over me
that everything would go wrong. It sounds crazy, Keyes, but it's true, so help
me. I couldn't hear my own footsteps. It was the walk of a dead man.
-Fred MacMurray, "Double Indemnity"
His hat was sitting on the table at his elbow. He thought it would be in poor taste to wear it now, all things considered. It was about 2 AM, and the house was still and silent, except for the soft sounds of someone settled in the kitchen, and the occasional toll of the godfather clock. Each deep note it struck sounded ominous, as if it were conscious of what was happening, and was counting down to... the testing of a hypothesis, really.
He could easily be wrong. He hoped he was wrong.
*Don't think about it.*
The seconds ticked by. It would have felt like a long time, except that each passing second was just Now, bearing no connection to past or future. The past was over and the future bleak, so Scott did his best to ignore them both and concentrate on the ticks.
Finally he heard the front door open, and he wistfully recalled a time when all that existed was the beautiful ticking of the grandfather clock. A shadowy figure slunk down the hallway, pass the living room door. Scott swallowed his discomfort - and any other human feelings he had - and called, "Remy?"
Gambit's face, cloaked in shadow, turned towards him. His eyes briefly glinted as he regarded Scott. He slipped into the room, barely making a sound, as if he was a shade of Gambit, devoid of substance.
"You didn't have to wait up for me, Scott." He was just kidding. You had to admire that.
"It seemed the least I could do."
"Ah." Remy sounded amused, in a morbid sort of way. He reached over to the lamp near Scott's elbow and turned it on. "Dat's better."
"Sit down, Gambit."
"Yes, sir." His tone lacked the mockery Scott would have expected to accompany the respectful title. He should have known better than to have expectations where Remy LeBeau was involved.
"You know why I want to talk to you?"
"I can guess. Might as well tell me, anyway."
They had been whispering up until now. It made for a rather eerie, secretive atmosphere that wouldn't do during this conversation. He said, in a clear voice that seemed to him to fill the room and all the rooms beyond, "It's about Marvin A. Gatsburg's death. I want to know why you killed him."
Remy blinked. "Do you, Cyke?"
"Dat might be hard to answer. Let me collect my t'oughts, why don't you? What makes you so sure I did it?"
The sound of a door opening, ever so softly. "We saw the surveillance photographs," Remy flinched at the volume of Scott's voice, "and I spoke to the receptionist who admitted you. You were there at the FOH building, on the day of the murder. Do you deny it?"
"Guess I can't," murmured the other X-Man. "Can you tell me why I killed him?"
"No," admitted Scott.
"Maybe 'cause he didn't," came a whisper from the doorway.
Gambit looked over at the doorway, and then turned back to Scott, comprehension dawning on his features, and, with it, fury. "You son of a bitch," he hissed.
Scott knew he deserved that. Another time, he would have been hurt, or at least indignant. Now he just felt wary. He looked past Gambit's angry countenance and said, "Come in, Rogue. Sit down."
For once, Rogue's face was expressionless, while Gambit's was alive with all sorts of emotions, none of them pleasant. Rogue drifted in like a sedated tumbleweed, and sat down next to Gambit. "He was there, but he never touched the man," she said, with admirable composure. God, but she was a good person to have on your team.
"Yes. Go on. Tell me the whole thing, Rogue. Why you did it, what happened, and how Gambit got so involved."
Her facade melted away, and her voice was tiny when she spoke, "Now?"
* - * - *
Adam Stevens was a great kid. He was bright and cheerful and friendly and ambitious. He was goin' places. Places the rest of us couldn't even dream of, much less achieve.
Some people might think that I was romanticizing his memory, what with him being dead and all. I'm not. Just ask Sam.
Aside from his other impressive qualities, Adam was also a telepath. A powerful one by my estimate, but we'll never know. He didn't want training, didn't want to tap into his potential. He had finally figured out how to shut the voices out of his head, and that was enough for him. His friend, though - Nick - he needed more help. So Adam set out to get it for him.
I still don't know if he meant to meet me, or if it actually was just an accident like he said. The point was, he spotted me, and he knew I was an X-Man. He thought I could maybe help convince his friend to get some training about his powers. That's it. That was my part in Adam Steven's life. And we had coffee a couple of times. And I introduced Sam to them, which I regret now, because if it hadn't been for me Sam wouldn't have lost two friends. But I'm not gonna think about that.
If it were up to me, I wouldn't think about any of it, but Scott's demand that I tell the story brought it all bubbling to the surface.
Gatsburg's office didn't have that crisp, inviting smell that pervades the offices of honest, hard-working people who drink coffee and make photo-copies and use Post-its. In fact, the place was a smell vacuum - and that was much more daunting than a bad smell. The furniture was modern and undoubtedly expensive, but ugly nonetheless. For some reason, I was pleased to find this man whom I hated so had bad taste in furnishings.
He was obviously surprised when his window was flung open, but not thrown off balance so much as he would've been had he been someone who didn't work at a building where they lived in daily expectation of a mutant attack.
"Ah'm here about your son."
He blinked. "My son?"
I wanted to strangle him right then. "The one you killed."
"*I* killed?" he repeated, looking oh-so-shocked.
"Had killed," I amended.
"Miss, Miss - " I didn't supply him with a name, and he stumbled on, "I didn't have my son killed. I don't know where you came up with that idea."
I dove across his desk abruptly, and his face registered real fear as I grabbed his arm and used it to fling him - gently, really - to the other side of the room. He slid to a jarring, but harmless, stop against the bookshelf. "Don't you dare press that button."
"Button?" he croaked.
"Yes, button," I replied impatiently, annoyed by his insistence of dancing around everything I said. "Or were you reaching for a gun you have stored away under there? Ah don't really care, either way. All Ah want from you is a nice, succinct explanation as to why you're such a son of a bitch. Ya got," I glanced at the clock on the wall, "thirty seconds."
The tick of the second hand grew audible. He stared at me, aghast, face twitching like some dying rodent.
"Twenty," I said amiably.
He closed his eyes.
I was surprised when he actually spoke. "You're an X-Man, aren't you? This isn't quite your style. I didn't recognize one of you, out of uniform. And probably AWOL, too."
Without knowing what I was doing, I ran my hands back through my hair, pulling it so tightly at the back that it hurt my scalp. I don't know why I did that. "Ah just want some answers."
"I don't know how you knew my son, Miss - Rogue, isn't it?"
"Doesn't matter what Ah'm called. Just tell me why you did it."
He looked toward the window, which I hadn't bothered to close. It was a fall evening, the light almost completely gone and the air growing chiller by the second. "I didn't like that he had to be killed," said Gatsburg slowly, "but - he had to be. I'm working for a cause here. He was going against that cause, endangering it and my - my fight. I wish that people weren't born like that, with that kind of power. They wouldn't be, in a just world. It's not a just world."
I wanted to cut him off, tell him I wasn't here for his goddamn speech, before I remembered that I *was* there to hear his goddamn speech. At least, so I told myself.
"You know the ones that bear the brunt of the stigma, the ones with obvious mutations, they're usually the most harmless. It's the others, the ones with hidden power, you have to watch out for. I mean, look at you. You look almost normal..." He trailed off, at a mere narrowing of the eyes from me. Sometimes it's good to be feared. "You know about my son's power?"
"He was a good kid. He used it for good."
"Even the Devil can quote the scripture," he replied, even more quietly. He began to get to his feet. "There, I've given you your answer. I hope you're satisfied." He walked past me, rather shakily, towards his desk, his steps growing more confident as I made no move to stop him. He stopped, suddenly, just out of arm's reach. "Anyway, maybe it's better to be dead than living as what he was. Maybe now he has a hope of heaven."
That was when I killed him. My left hand grabbed his shoulder, turning him to face me directly, and my other hand slammed into his face.
I didn't quite recognize what I was thinking at the time. It was just a nebulous, nameless sort of knowledge. Later, when I forced myself to think it over, I realized it was a combination of three things: one, that he could and would use his cause to justify thousands of deaths if need be. Two, he had killed his son to save his career, no more, no less. And three...
That I was angry as hell at him for being so quiet, almost... reasonable. I was angry at him for being a bad man instead of a villain.
And it was probably that anger that powered my fist. As if I needed more power.
Of course, the version I gave Scott was a bit edited.
* - * - *
"Ah went to talk to him, find out why he had done what he had done. Ah wasn't planning on killing him, Ah just wanted closure of some sort, ya know?"
She looked up from her hands, to try to meet Scott's eyes in a plea for understanding, but they were masked by the red glasses. "How did you know that he had killed his son?"
Both she and Gambit involuntarily flinched back as Scott removed his glasses. His eyes were closed, though. There was silence as he rubbed the ruby quartz lenses with the end of his shirt, and then slid them back on his face.
"Oh," was all he said.
Gambit frowned in apparent resentment of Scott's tactics. "Shall I tell my part now, Cyke?"
"If you don't mind."
* - * - *
I watched Rogue, seated in an armchair, staring blindly forward. It wasn't like Rogue to go three days without hurting me. Something was wrong.
If I had been in a funk like Rogue was, I would have insisted upon being left alone. I bet Rogue would prefer to be left alone, too, but I try not to let her preferences influence my decisions.
"Somet'ing got you down, *chere*?"
She didn't respond at first, but then she turned to look at me, and I froze at the look on her face. Her eyes were wide and scared and frightening, but for the life of me I couldn't tear my own away.
Suddenly, she took a deep breath. I know now that in that moment she was summoning all the courage and audacity and insanity she could, but at the time I was completely oblivious. I thought it was breath like any other. "Ah hafta go," she said, and suited her actions to her words.
When people who have that kind of look on their faces leave, they have a tendency to never come back. Years of being Remy LeBeau, surrounded by the depressing sort of people I have a tendency to attract, had taught me that.
I heard the door slam, and glanced out the window in time to see Rogue driving away. I figured that if I took the Harley I had a chance of keeping up with her and not being seen.
Looking back I know that if I had called to her, gotten her attention, that all of this would never have turned out like it did. I have to admit, if only to myself, that my main reason for not doing so was curiosity. I wanted to see where she would go, what she would do.
Years of being Remy LeBeau has also taught me that I'm a fool.
I'm pretty good at following people. I managed to keep track of Rogue all the way to New York, and then to the FOH building. I don't know how she knew which office the man was in; I never asked her. Maybe she knew it from that Adam kid. I don't know. I don't want to know.
When I saw her go in, I went into the lobby immediately. Right about then, I was starting to get an idea of what she was up to. Not that I thought she'd kill someone, but Gatsburg's name had been on the tip of everyone's tongues.
So I went on in, asked the cute receptionist where the man's office was, and went right upstairs in the FOH headquarters to become accessory to a murder.
* - * - *
Rogue leaned forward, lips parted, and whispered incredulously, "You knew 'cause of a look in my *eyes*?"
Remy shrugged his should-be-patented Remy shrug. "Sure." He met her gaze as he uttered the one syllable, and they stared intently at each other.
Scott cleared his throat. "And then?"
* - * - *
I don't know what I expected at the time. A big musical build up? Or maybe just a drum roll? A flash of light? Ripple dissolve?
Screams of pain. That's what I had expected. But he didn't have any time for that.
I thought things were as bad as they could get, me there all alone with the corpse I had just made, but then Remy burst in. I stared at him, first in disbelief, and then in horror, and then...
I suddenly felt very relieved. I've never been so happy to see anyone in my life. He slammed the door and locked it as soon as his eyes took the scene in; chalk one up for the Cajun's reflexes.
"*Mon dieu*." He said it like a prayer.
I've never seen the man thrown so off-balance before. I didn't know why. I was having no trouble maintaining *my* equilibrium.
Remy knew nothing if not how to behave in these kind of circumstances. "Rogue, Rogue, Rogue, we've got ta get outta here. *Chere*? Rogue?"
I blinked at him.
"*Chere*, can ya stand?"
I hadn't realized I wasn't. I glanced down at my folded legs. They didn't seem inclined to make any sort of movement. My gloved hand was resting on my thigh; it was still bloodstained from the literal blow I had just struck for justice.
You know, you evade death, and you evade, and you evade some more, and you think that's all you do, evade. You forget that it's because, if you stop evading, that's it. You never get another chance. You're down for good.
I looked at the bastard lying near me on the floor, his head a bloody pancake. No loss to the world if *he* was down for good.
Remy grabbed me by the arm, and pulled me to my feet. He was slightly wild-eyed, and looked around, muttering things. I tried to listen before I realized he was speaking in French. The only thing I made out was something about the door. He went over, and unlocked it.
"No, ya idiot," I hissed. "We're goin' out the window..."
Remy managed a look that bore some semblance to his usual subtly mocking glare. "I know dat, chere, but I'm unlocking it so *dey* don't."
"Oh. Of course."
Remy took a deep breath. "Out de window?"
We stood staring at each other for a moment.
"Uh, *chere*, are ya gonna carry me or do you expect me to jump?"
"Of... course." I took a deep breath of my own, and scooped him up, probably getting some brain and bone bits and such on his trench coat. We left it open, since it was that way when I came.
I landed as soon as possible, and we walked a block over to where I parked the car. It was good to be walking, out in the air, no bodies - I glanced quickly around - lying prone on the ground. I loaded Gambit's bike into the trunk, which wouldn't close over it, and got into the driver's seat.
"You want me to drive?" asked Remy as I fumbled with the keys.
I shook my head. "Ah don't think you're in any condition to."
His eyebrows shot up, and darted to my bloody glove on the steering wheel, but he didn't argue. Instead he leaned back in the passenger seat and closed his eyes. I began to drive, and then stopped so suddenly that Remy almost hit the windshield despite my slow speed. "Wait, Remy!"
"Are you sure - sure Gatsburg's dead?" His eyes began to widen, and I rushed on, "People survive the most horrible things. If he's still alive, dying slowly, Ah should maybe go back and kill him. A mercy killin'. Can you imagine living even for a little when-"
"Rogue, he's dead," said Gambit flatly.
"Are you sure?"
I resumed driving, resisting the temptation to make the car go as fast as was physically possible, since I didn't want to attract attention.
Getting out of New York City is always bad, even when there's not much traffic, so we didn't speak for a while, me concentrating on the driving and Remy no doubt trying not to concentrate on anything at all. We were about a quarter of the way home when he spoke suddenly. "Do you want to come clean when we get back?"
My stomach twisted. "Ah - Ah... of course Ah do."
But I didn't want to at all, and it was suddenly borne upon me that I had just smashed a man's skull in. God, what was I thinking? I must've been insane... Oh God oh God oh God.
"Pull over," Remy said gently. I did so, and then I sat there staring into space for a moment before leaning against the steering wheel and sobbing frantically into my arms.
* - * - *
"It was really rather neatly done, for something that wasn't planned," opined Scott.
Remy cast him a glare, but Rogue just nodded. "Ah thought so, too."
"I was the weak link, I'm 'fraid," said Gambit.
"Remy, don't even - ya didn't even need to help me out."
There eyes met again, and this time there was a faint gleam of hope in Gambit's expression. Hope for what, for God's sake? Scott wanted to smack them both. "Go on," he instructed them coolly.
* - * - *
Beast once hypothesized that the effect of Rogue punching someone in the face with the full force of her strength would have roughly the same effect as shoving a grenade in the person's mouth.
I never expected her to test the hypothesis.
Seeing Rogue with the body at her feet had made me realize something. Every time she punched me, every time she fought or did anything, she was holding back.
I can't imagine doing that.
"You don't want to tell them," I said to Rogue.
She ran her fingers around the steering wheel, which would have to be cleaned later, though she had taken off her gloves. "Remy, how come you're sure he was dead when we left? Did you check his pulse? Did he have a certain look, like they say dead people always have in books, even though there are no other signs that they're dead? Remy?"
"He. Was. Dead."
"How do you know?" she persisted. "Ah'm not being paranoid. Ah'm just interested."
"If he wasn't den, he's dead now," I snapped, hoping firmness would get her back on track. A mistake, now that I think about it, because later I learned that the thought of him dying slowly in that condition was haunting her. "Rogue, you don't want to tell the ot'ers what happened, do you."
Rogue shook her head in agreement. She looked down at the bits of blood and such on her clothing, frowning at it. She was completely splattered. Looked like a modern painter. I resisted one of my usual badly-timed urges to kiss her and went on, "It's not like I haven't ever kept secrets from de team before. It's up to you, Rogue, whatever you want."
"I don't want to pull you into this with me." Her tears had stopped now, she was sitting up straight and thinking reasonably. Or as reasonably as someone could under such circumstances. It takes a lot to break that woman. I keep trying, though.
"Don't t'ink of me. Just you."
"It was... murder. Ah don't want to give Xavier that kinda dilemma. Ah think... Remy, stop me if Ah'm doing something horribly wrong. Ah don't want to tell them anything."
"Who'm I to judge-"
She cut me off. "Ah'm asking you to tell me, 'kay? As Ah see it, a long time ago, Xavier took a chance on me when no one else would. Trusted me. Ah've betrayed that trust, no denyin' that, but... Ah don't want him to know. Okay. Tell me. Tell me Ah'm wrong. Tell me Ah'm crazy."
Maybe, but I can out-crazy that girl any day of the week. So I slipped out of my trenchcoat. There was bit of blood on it, but it was the best I could do for her. We'd be having a helluva bonfire, later.
She took it, and put it on, watching me sharply as she did so. "What do ya say? Remy?"
"I think it was a good call."
I did think so. And I would have been right, too, if we hadn't been found out.
* - * - *
"After you got back, what happened?"
"You know that stuff," evaded Rogue. "We tripped around the house like people trapped in a nightmare."
"No. I mean with Sam."
"How did you know about Sam?"
"Ruby Stevens was over at the mansion. She spotted him."
"She was *here*?" Rogue looked from one to the other, and Gambit nodded confirmation. Her eyes widened. "You knew?"
"Gambit here talked her out of having dinner with us."
"You didn't tell me, Remy," stated Rogue, no accusation or appreciation in her voice. She turned back to Scott. "Why did she come here?:
"For no reason that need concern you. So, tell me about Sam."
* - * - *
Sam had met Adam Stevens. He knew Adam was a mutant. He also knew that the X-Men were investigating Adam's murder, and that I hadn't come forth with her connection to him.
He wouldn't give me away. Sam doesn't do that, though he's responsible as hell. But he did confront me. I hated it. I hated making him an accessory. But at the time I didn't think I could do otherwise.
In all fairness to him, he had no idea I had killed Adam. He just knew I was afraid of being suspected of doing so, and knew I was rather unbalanced about the whole thing.
"Rogue, go tell 'em. Tell 'em everything. You have to, now, before they find out themselves."
"Ah can't, Sam. If they ask, Ah'll tell 'em but... Ah don't want to get involved."
"That doesn't make any sense."
"No, it doesn't. And it won't. Ah'm sorry."
He talked to me again, later, in the kitchen. Yelling at me. Then I think he was starting to suspect, but he was having trouble wrapping his mind around the concept. I yelled back and in the end, right under Scott's nose, we came to an understanding.
I wish to death I had never introduced Sam to Adam and Nick. I didn't know Nick, but Sam says nice things about him. I hope Gatsburg is in hell. I regret killing him but - not so much, ya know? I'd rather go back and kill Gatsburg all over again then ever completely absorb someone's personality again. Though, God knows, Carol did me some good in many ways, and I can find a little comfort in the fact that I did my purgatory for absorbing her. But even Carol and the knowledge of what I had done to her couldn't keep the murderer in me from surfacing. God. *Murderer.*
I wouldn't be the only one on the X-Men. Just the least honorable. Killing a defenseless man. Logan would be ashamed of me. In fact, why isn't he? Couldn't he smell the fear, the murder on us? Probably. Just as Jean and Xavier and Betsy probably sensed it.
Here I am worrying about Sam, but Sam was just one X-Man. I might have turned the whole team into accessories, one way or another.
* - * - *
Scott had stood up while Rogue spoke, and was staring out the window. "I'm impressed." He spoke it to the lamp reflection on the window. "Living with this for almost a week and not tearing each other apart. That's impressive."
"We mostly avoided each other," admitted Rogue.
"Yeah. I didn't like dat."
Scott was glad he couldn't see whatever look they exchanged.
"It was the only-" Rogue began.
"Cut the crap," Remy interrupted her. "I've done worse than anyt'ing you could do, *chere*."
"Have you? Don't tell me."
"At least you were doing it for someone else."
"Adam," the words slipped out in the same soft tone a little girl might use to talk to her dolls, "Ah was doing it for Adam."
Scott turned suddenly to face both of them, and ground out, "What? Come his next birthday, you're gonna lay a nicely wrapped box with a smashed head in it on his grave?"
They both had identical looks of shock on their faces.
Scott closed his eyes, and took a few deep breaths before speaking. "Rogue," his tone was clipped now, professional, "I want you gone by tomorrow morning, before I get up. Take what you need. We'll store the rest for you, but don't expect to be coming back for it any time soon."
"If Rogue goes," said Gambit, "I go, too."
"I expected you to," replied Scott bluntly.
Gambit took the dismissal, and started out of the room. Rogue lingered a bit longer, and, once Remy was through the door, she went to Scott and demanded, her voice pitched low and breathy, "How did you know?"
What a question. He couldn't possibly answer it.
*Because it fit. Because you were at the center of everything, and it explains everyone's behavior if you did it. Because you were fighting with Sam, who knew the victim. Because Bobby was sick and Gambit looked like hell, and Bobby loves you and Gambit is in love with you. Because you could have done it. Because I can think of no one else, except Storm, who Gambit might follow and aid and abet in a murder. And because you confessed.*
"Instinct," shrugged Scott.
She was less than satisfied with the answer, and the look in her eyes made it clear that she thought she at least deserved an honest explanation. "*How did you know?*"
"That slip at Xavier's birthday dinner, where you said that Adam Stevens was killed because he was a mutant. Ruby Stevens told us that he was."
"That... oh. That little slip, and you knew me for a murderer?" She laughed unpleasantly. "Guess you knew me better than Ah did. Well, good work."
*Good work?* He felt like he had been struck, but trying to reassure her would just make it worse. He glanced over at the godfather clock. Two thirty. They didn't have much time until Scott was planning on waking up, and he had told Gambit and Rogue they had to be gone for then. "Better hurry and pack. Goodbye, Rogue."
He stood there for a little bit, listening to her ascending the stairs, before deciding on bed. But when he got to the stairs he found Remy standing at the bottom of them.
Scott's brow furrowed. "Gambit?
He should have seen it coming. Gambit's fist connected with the lower half of his face with amazing force. Scott's head snapped to the side, and he stumbled. His glasses went flying, but luckily his eyes were already squeezed shut in reflexive response to the blow.
He found his balance and straightened, probing the inside of his mouth with his bleeding tongue. "Dab, Reby. By jaw."
He felt his glasses being slid onto his face. He reached up to adjust them before opening his eyes, and regarded Gambit. Through the red lenses, nothing in the room appeared as bright as Remy's eyes did.
"Dat was for de trick you played on Rogue," he whispered.
Scott wiped the blood of his chin with the back of his hand and replied tonelessly, "You two take good care of each other, okay?"
Without another word or gesture, Remy turned and stumbled up the stairs. Scott went to the kitchen to pour himself a drink.
"Why did you have to go on?" "Too many people told me to stop." -Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart, "The Big Sleep"
The night was cool; it helped to wake them up a bit as they walked towards the garage. Maybe it was the reason Rogue was shivering, too, but Remy doubted it. She was holding her suitcases, one firmly in each hand, and she was staring up at the house.
"Shouldn't look back," he whispered.
"Ah can look back if Ah want."
Remy shrugged, and resumed walking, while Rogue resumed her staring. There were no lights on, except the kitchen light which she hadn't turned off, but she couldn't see that from where she was.
Suddenly, one switched on in one of the rooms. A figure was silhouetted against the orangeish light. A shiver ran down her spine; it was the same room that had held the person who had seen her on the night of the murder, in Gambit's blood splattered trench coat.
It was Bobby's room.
He didn't wave, or call anything, he just watched her, and she watched back. A silent goodbye. It would have to do.
Remy had gotten his bike from the garage, and had it revved up. It seemed to be growling impatiently at Rogue, so she turned from the house and flew quickly to the garage to get her car.
When she drove out into the driveway, Gambit was still there, waiting. She pulled up alongside him.
He smiled at her. Not a bitter smile, or even inappropriate. A hopeful one. "So, where do you wanna go, *chere*?"
Rogue considered. "Not anywhere that you or Ah grew up in."
"But dat leaves pretty much the whole world."
"Yeah, that's it. That's where Ah wanna go, Remy."
"*Si vous insistez, chere*." The motorcycle roared down the driveway, and Rogue pressed down on the gas and roared after him.
* * *
Xavier was staring out of his office window. He seemed incapable of looking her in the eye. He looked so tired, and Jean felt momentarily bitter. *A fine birthday present you've given him, Scott Summers.*
"I didn't know exactly what had happened- "
"But you sensed something was wrong." She let her words float gently in the air. No projectile phrases, no attacks here. This was the aftermath. This was the part where they gathered up the dead and sent them back home in wooden boxes. "I know. I sensed it, too."
"I never guessed that Scott would send them away."
Neither had Jean. But of course Scott had. *We should have known.*
"This wound will take a long time to heal," Xavier went on.
*It will scar.* "Yes. Nothing new in that."
"I could countermand the order," Xavier mused. "Tell them to come back."
"You know you can't. Things never would have been the same, if they left or if they stayed. Or even if Scott had left everything alone." *I wish he had left everything alone...*
"But he did what he thought right." Xavier frowned, and said more softly, almost to himself, "He did what *was* right."
*Oh, my Scott, how come we haven't broken you yet?* But Scott hadn't broken since the plane crash, not even when she was thought dead, or so Jean had heard. "Yes, he did. And that's all we can ask of him."
And they both fell silent
and listened to the breeze outside. It was shaping up to be a very sunny day.