Title: CEREMONY OF INNOCENCE

Author: Marvelous

Chapter Summary: Scott & Logan sort things out. Jean is the world's best girlfriend.

Chapter Seven

Everything considered, Scott could have done without the visit to the White House. Hard enough to survive the wonderful, terrible reunion with Jean and the others and the baffling introduction to Nightcrawler, to deflect Jean's delicate mental queries, to get out of the dam in one piece and find Bobby and Rogue and the Blackbird, to pretend he didn't notice the professor's grave sidelong glances in his direction. He and Wolverine hadn't exchanged words since reuniting with the others; the only time Wolverine acknowledged his presence had been on the Blackbird. When Scott automatically headed for the pilot's seat, Wolverine shifted in his own seat and said, "He shouldn't be flying. He's injured." Without complaint or explanation, Scott let Jean take his place. No sense squabbling with Logan in front of the kids, and besides, he didn't feel much like flying anyway. He spent most of the flight to Washington in the back of the jet, checking on the condition and spirits of the kids and listening to Bobby and Rogue's jumbled, excited account of their part in recent adventures. Pyro - John - had taken off with Magneto, which surprised Scott more than it probably should.

They couldn't return to the mansion without settling matters with the authorities. Thus, the unscheduled visit to the President. It worked out well enough - after revealing details of Stryker's unauthorized exploits, they received conditional immunity on the spot - though it laid bare more of their activities than Scott was comfortable with. There would be numerous future inquiries and investigations; no telling if the X-Men would really come out ahead when all the dust settled.

By the time the Blackbird landed at the mansion, Scott was exhausted in body and spirit. The first order of business -- finding the rest of kids -- proved to be the easiest. At the sight of the jet landing, they emerged out of the woods surrounding the mansion and waved their arms wildly as the Blackbird touched down. They looked tired and bedraggled and relieved beyond belief. As their teacher, Scott knew he should be concerned about their lack of caution, but it was no time for a lecture.

The days ahead were going to be rough - there were frantic parents to reassure, local authorities to placate, a school to repair, Cerebro to rebuild from scratch - but the only task tonight was to get everyone fed and comforted and put to bed in whatever areas of the mansion had sustained the least damage.

It was in the middle of this process that Scott finally gave up. Jean found him sitting on the back stairs to the kitchen, head drooped forward, eyes closed. She slipped onto the step beside him and placed an arm on his shoulders. He leaned into her, resting his head in the crook of her neck. They remained that way for a long time until Jean moved her hand to the collar around his neck.

"Let's get that off of you," she said.

Scott nodded. He had long forgotten about the constant pain from the prongs in his neck. The kids had made a great fuss about his eyes, which was oddly sweet, but he missed his blasts. More specifically, he was tired of feeling useless and helpless. He rose to his feet. Jean didn't comment on the way he grabbed the stair railing to help him stand, or how slowly he moved down the hall to the elevator leading to the medical lab.

Neither of them spoke until they were in the lab, alone together for the first time, secure in the depths of the mansion. The lab had been untouched by Stryker's forces. A rare lucky break. Jean directed Scott to sit on the examination table, then took a close look at the collar. Her cool hand pressed against it lightly. "I'm sorry if this hurts," she said.

"It's okay," he said. "I'd rather have it off."

Jean smiled. "I'll miss these," she said. She trailed her index finger delicately around the outline of his eye socket, then stroked her hand across his face. Scott caught her hand and kissed her fingertips.

"I remember I used to pester the professor all the time to find some way to turn off my blasts," he said. "And now I just want them back."

Jean smiled again, rather wistfully, and bent to her task. After examining the structure of the collar and figuring out how it was attached to him, she carefully disconnected the electric lock at the side. With a final look at her through his unobstructed vision, he donned his visor. "Go ahead," he said.

She eased the prongs out of his neck. It didn't hurt at all; the tickle in the back of his head probably meant she was telepathically suppressing his pain receptors.

Almost immediately, he felt the force of his optic blasts erupting from his eyes, threatening as always to burst out of the visor if given the slightest chance. Jean looked at him. "Back?"

"Back," he said, and smiled at her.

She set the collar aside. "I suppose we'll want to study that later. Might be useful sometime."

"Rogue asked me all about it on the Blackbird. Whether it'd work on any mutant power." Scott grinned. "I think she wants one of her own."

"Does she, now?" Jean raised an eyebrow. "I suspect Bobby would be in full support of that."

She examined him in silence. "I don't want to push, but you know you can tell me," she said at last. "Or just let me into your head. That'd be easier."

"Easier for me. Worse for you," Scott said.

Jean took his hand and locked her fingers in his. "You were tortured," she said. It was a guess, but she said it as a statement of fact.

"Yes," he said.

She looked directly at him. As always, Scott was struck by the depth of wisdom and intuition in her expression. "Were you raped?"

"Yes," he said.

Her hand tightened. "Can you tell me about it?" she asked.

He thought for a minute. "One of the soldiers. And... it was the serum Stryker used on Nightcrawler - Kurt - to get him to attack the President." He paused, choosing his words carefully. "He used it on Logan."

The implication sunk in immediately. "God," Jean said softly.

"It wasn't his fault," Scott said. "It wasn't really him. And he feels... I have a pretty good idea how he feels."

He left it at that. He'd give her the particulars - more details than she could possibly want - when he was ready to let her into his thoughts. For now, she settled for wrapping her arms around his waist and pressing him against her. Scott surrendered to the comfort and love in her embrace, feeling some of the weariness and tension leave at last.

"You'll get through this," she said. Another statement of fact.

"I know," he said. It was muffled against her hair, but she would understand his meaning. As she understood everything, always, about him. "We both will." He didn't know if he meant himself and Jean, or himself and Logan.

The immediate future would be rough. For this moment, however, in Jean's arms, everything was all right with the world.

Cyclops wasn't anywhere in the mansion, which meant he was probably in the garage. It was where he retreated in times of stress, either there or in the hangar to work on the Blackbird, where he could work by himself, putting things back together in that precise, methodical way that so irritated Wolverine.

Sure enough, there he was. Wolverine knew it before entering from the smell of soap and citrus lingering in the air. He pushed open the side door and walked in.

The kid wasn't working on any of the cars, for a change. Wolverine remembered he had left the burnt-out shell of Cyclops' car in Bobby's driveway back in Boston. Small potatoes compared to all the grudges he could be holding against him. Cyclops was rebuilding a destroyed wall, and doing a damn professional job of it, from the look of things. He wore a crisp Oxford shirt and pressed slacks. Wolverine almost smiled. The Scott Summers idea of what to wear while spackling. The kid probably didn't even own a pair of jeans.

Cyclops straightened up and glanced back at the sound of the door closing. He was wearing his red-tinted sunglasses again, those oddly beautiful eyes once more hidden from the world. He paused at the sight of Logan, then carefully set down his hammer and turned to face him. Behind the glasses, Wolverine didn't have a clue what he was feeling. He sensed his pulse had quickened, but he wasn't picking up on any fear. Just... caution. Wariness.

"You want me to leave, say the word. You'll never see me again."

Cyclops was silent for a long time. "I don't want you to leave, Logan." Perfectly composed.

Wolverine stepped a little further into the room. Cyclops watched him closely. Logan leaned back against the professor's Bentley and crossed his arms over his chest in a deliberately casual display. Just two guys hanging out in a garage, talking about stuff, nothing big. "You sure about that?"

"If you left, Rogue would probably blame me. I don't think Storm or Jean would like it much either."

"I don't care about that right now," Logan said. "You okay with having me around after... everything?"

"You didn't do anything," Scott said. "It was Stryker. Not you."

Logan looked at him. "Pretty reasonable way of looking at it." Too reasonable.

"What were you expecting? Hysterics?" Scott gave him a tight little grin. "I hate what was done to me. And I hate the part that you played in it. But I'm trying to make sure I hate the right people." He exhaled heavily. "I need to sort this out, and I can't do that if you take off again. So stick around."

Wolverine looked over at the wall the kid was rebuilding. He'd already laid in the insulation, rigged up the new support posts. A neat stack of lumber rested against the wall, boards cut to size, ready to be fitted into place. He must have been up at dawn to get this much done. "I knew what was going on the whole time, you know. When Stryker used that shit on me. I thought I could control it, if I tried hard enough. I couldn't. And I hurt you because of it."

"You overcame it enough to kill Stryker and... him," Cyclops said. "Magneto and Kurt couldn't control the effect it had on them at all."

"You could." The words came out with a bitterness Wolverine hadn't realized he was feeling.

Cyclops smiled. "Brain damage," he said.

"What?"

"I have brain damage. Why the stuff didn't work on me." He looked directly at Wolverine. "I was in a plane crash as a kid. Hit my head, was in a coma for a while. That's when I lost control over the blasts." His jaw twitched. Even with the sunglasses, Wolverine could tell the memory pained him. "Not something you need to envy."

"What happened after I killed Stryker, though. When he wasn't controlling me." This part was harder. "I wasn't under any orders then, and I still tried to... attack you."

"But you didn't." Cyclops looked at him levelly. "You protected me instead." He shook his head. "I don't pretend to understand what was going on with you then - that's something the professor can probably work out with you, if you'll let him - but you were still under the influence of the serum, and yet you protected me. I'm grateful."

Wolverine met his gaze, wishing he could see the eyes behind the visor, then nodded. "So, you and me, we're okay?" he asked.

Another smile, genuine this time. "You and I have never been okay with each other. We're not necessarily worse off than before. That's all I can give you."

It was probably enough. "Okay, then." He turned and started toward the door.

Scott's words drew him up short. "Did you have a nice time in the tent with Mystique?"

Logan stopped, but didn't turn. "Not really. Mystique doesn't smell anything like Jean." Or you, he thought.

Scott snorted, then turned his attention back to his wall. Logan left the garage and walked across the front lawn. The cold and dark of Alkali Lake was a universe away.

He walked toward the front gate of the mansion, intent on starting down the long drive that led to the road into town. He didn't know where he was heading. It didn't matter.

He'd be back.

THE END