Fly By Night
An X-Men: Evolution Fanfiction by Seriana Ritani
It was May, and the students were restless with the promises of approaching summer. Professor Xavier could feel their unrestrainable energy making the air snap and sizzle all through the suddenly-too-small house. Even the psychic blocks he'd erected around his mind, both for everyone's privacy and for his own sanity, weren't enough to protect him from their madcap anticipation of three months of liberty. It was very difficult to concentrate.
Finally he closed his computer and left his office. If he couldn't work, at least he could watch training. He'd been leaving it too much to the teachers lately.
The observation room was ringed almost entirely by windows, but the Professor hardly needed them. His students' physical technique, their timing and strength and flexibility and balance, were the teachers' responsibility. His domain was their minds, and those he could see without any eyes at all.
The brightest flair was Jean's—Jean, his telepathic protégée, who knew how to close off her mind but was too trusting to ever actually do it. Her personality burned like a candle, cheerful and dancing and warm. And beside her was Scott, the raised and trained leader of the X-Men, all bright red determination and focus to smother his fears of failure. Then there was Storm, cool and smooth, like a stone in a river, her heartbeat and breathing in perfect rhythm with the slow and inexorable heartbeat of the earth. There was Logan, gray with old wounds and hazy from his long-practiced psychic resistance . . . there was Kurt, blue as the ocean on a sunny morning, sparkling with life and fun . . . there was Rogue, an emerald-green flare of defiance and pride and fierce joy . . . there was Kitty, bright and unrestrained as a butterfly, her mind a light and dancing sparkle . . . there was Gambit, less than a shadow, his secrets shielded behind his own mutant abilities. His X-Men. His students. He knew them all, and loved them . . . for their strengths, for their imperfections, for their love for one another and for him.
Logan flared. The flash of emotion was gone in a second, before the Professor had time to identify it—tucked away behind Logan's shields and invisible without a deep mental probe of the kind Xavier never used without permission. But he didn't need a mental probe to discover what the emotion had been: annoyance. "Drat it, Cyke, if you let them get you from behind one more time I'm letting the Popsicle take over as field commander!"
"Really?" Bobby wanted to know. No one paid any attention to him.
"Sorry, Logan," Jean chimed, gasping as she struggled to recover her breath. "That one was my fault."
Professor Xavier moved to the window to look down onto the floor of the Danger Room. The exercise had paused, and the students stood in an awkward ring surrounding Scott, Logan, and Jean.
Logan didn't spare a glance for the apologetic redhead. "You're field commander, Cyclops. You've gotta be beyond this sort of stupid rookie mistake. Other people's lives are depending on your judgment and you cannot afford to be caught off-guard like that!"
"You think I don't know that?" Scott snapped back, furious now. "Jeez, Logan, I'm not stupid. I know the risks!"
"Logan, it was my fault!" Jean insisted again. "I wasn't in place to finish the maneuver. I screwed up. Yell at me."
"Okay, everybody, run's over," Logan announced. "Got get changed and get to your homework. You, Four-Eyes, are staying right here and running the drill until you get it right."
"C'mon, Logan, my trig final's in the morning! I've got to study—"
"Your trig final can wait. Until three a.m. if it has to."
"Logan!" Jean snapped. "What am I, invisible? It was my fault! Scott has to study or he's gonna bomb."
Logan turned to look at her, as if only just noticing that she was in the room. "Go upstairs, Jean. That's an order."
She glared daggers at him. "You're not field commander, and I don't take orders from you."
"It's okay, Jean," Scott told her, rearranging his face with the admirable self-control he'd had to develop as part of his leadership role. "Logan wants to dish it out, that's fine. I can take it. You take everybody upstairs and I'll see you at dinner."
Jean nodded, acknowledging the soft-spoken order, her jaw still clenched in anger. She raised her arm and flashed the hand signal for 'fall back.' On her cue, the other students headed for the door, shooting worried glances over their shoulders at Logan and at Scott.
Professor Xavier moved away from the window and towards the door. Sometime very soon, he was going to have to have a discreet talk with Logan.
Kitty sighed, debating whether to jump over the obstacle in her path or phase through it. Finally she settled for phasing: though she knew Rogue would hardly feel it if Kitty fell on top of her, she couldn't bear the thought of disrupting the warm contentment of the people-pile on the floor.
Gambit was sprawled on the living room carpet, propped up on his elbows as he read over the sloppily scribbled study guide in the back of his notebook. Rogue lay perpendicular to him, her legs draped across his back, her head propped up on a sofa cushion and a textbook on her chest.
For two people who couldn't touch each other, it was astonishing how touchy-feely Gambit and Rogue had become. If they were in the same room—and they usually were—they had to be in some kind of physical contact. It wasn't that they'd gotten mushy; Gambit was still cocky and Rouge still defensive, and they got on one another's nerves as much as they ever had. But when they were apart, they were restless, and when together, they were content. It was as simple as that. At least, as far as Kitty could see.
She phased through them and flopped onto the sofa. "Guys, Hank says you gotta work on college apps tonight after dinner."
Rogue groaned and dropped her textbook onto her face. "College sucks, and Ah'm not even in it yet. Tell Hank Ah already did three, which is two more than Ah need."
"He said you'd say that, and he said you have to do another one anyway. I think he wants you to try for Harvard."
"Cuz they love mutants at Harvard. Especially mutants with a 3.3."
"If it's you, dey will," Gambit told her, twisting around to give her a wink over his shoulder. "I hear dey give scholarships for bein' gorgeous."
Rouge grinned and shoved his head back towards his study guide. "Then Ah guess you're just gonna have to hit the Professor up for full tuition."
"All scholarships are given based on need and qualifications," Jean offered, looking up from her flash cards. "Entrance, too. If you wanted to get into Harvard, Rogue, I'm sure you could. With a handicap like yours, all you've overcome . . . they'd be begging you to enroll if you worded your essays right."
"And if the entrance committee isn't on the 'Friends of Humanity' e-mail list," offered Kitty.
"That's why X-Men don't apply to schools down south," said Jean.
"Did I just hear you take a crack at de South, Miz New England?" asked Gambit. "Cause you know de penalty fo' takin' a crack at de South."
"Don't even try it, Swamp Rat," said Jean casually. She flicked through a few flash cards that she'd already memorized, flipped one over to see the correct answer, snorted, and stuffed it to the back of the deck. "Ugh! Stupid nerve holes."
No one commented. Jean had been making comments like that all semester as she slogged through the vast amounts of memorization her anatomy class required.
"Dinner!" Hank called from across the hallway. Everyone slammed their books shut and shoved them away with groans of relief.
Rogue rolled off Gambit and lifted herself into the air and onto her feet. "Good thing. Ah'm starved. And mah head's gonna explode if Ah look at that book for one more stinkin' second."
"Do I detect a note of stress?" Hank asked, sticking his massive, shaggy blue head through the door. "Come on, it's getting cold."
"It's May," Kitty moaned as she left the room with the other students. "Everybody's stressed."
"So I see," Hank observed. "Rogue, did you get the message about your college applications?"
"Yeah, yeah, Ah got it. Stupid college."
Hank looked her over, then eyed all the other students speculatively.
Everyone pulled up their usual spots at the table. Dinner was already in place: a large and gleaming honey ham, with half a dozen generous side dishes. A household as large as the Institute took a lot of feeding.
"Looks good," said Kurt approvingly as he pulled up his chair.
"Thanks," said Amara, pulling off her apron and hanging it on the back of her chair. "Kitty, there's turkey for you. It's only leftovers, but . . ."
"It's okay. I like turkey." Kitty smiled at Amara to let her know she appreciated the trouble that the cooking team had gone through to give her a non-pork alternative.
"And Sam, don't eat the bean salad, it's got lemon juice in it."
"Check," said Sam, who was allergic to citrus.
"I think that's everything. Let's eat."
Kitty rested her forearms on the edge of the table and held hands with Kurt on her left side and Storm on her right. Around the table, everyone was doing the same, joining them into one circle of friendship and mutual responsibility.
The Professor bowed his head. "May we all be thankful for the efforts of our friends in preparing this meal, and may it strengthen us that we may serve and protect our fellow men to the best of our collective ability."
Everyone nodded; a few people murmured their assent, and Kurt crossed himself. Then the hands dropped and everyone reached for the nearest serving dish.
"It sounds to me," Hank observed as he took a spoonful of bean salad, "that the students have been under a lot of pressure this week. I think we might want to cancel Saturday's training and do something else."
"Like what?" asked Ray.
"Sleep in!" Bobby cheered.
"Pool party!" Kitty suggested. She would be happy to have a pool party every day of the week.
"More study time," Jean suggested. Her eyes were downcast, fixed on the edge of the table.
Storm reached across Amara and took the deck of flash cards from where Jean had concealed them in her lap. "Jean, it is dinner time. You can continue working after your dishes are done."
"I was thinking a field trip," Hank clarified. "Let everyone get out of the house for a while."
Everyone looked up as Scott walked into the dining room. He'd changed out of his training uniform, but his face was still shining with sweat. Without comment, he pulled up his chair at Professor Xavier's right hand and sat down. "So where do you think we should go?"
"Scott." Jean put her hand on his arm, worry written across her face. "Are you okay?"
"Sweaty. Sore. You know—training does that. Can somebody pass the water down here?"
Silently, the X-Men handed the nearest water pitcher up the table towards their field commander.
"Where's Logan?" Jean asked.
"In the observation room. He said to tell you he wants to look over some of our Danger Room footage, and that he'll eat later." He poured himself a glass of water, drained it in one go, and then repeated his earlier question. "So where are we going to go on Saturday?"
Friday night was one of the few nights of the week when Rogue had permission to be in Gambit's room. The teachers had turned a blind eye to her frequent sleepovers until both Rogue and Gambit had started falling asleep in class. Now the rule was Friday and Saturday nights only, and all their grades had to stay reasonably high. So after a long week of diligent slogging at her schoolwork, Rogue was comfortably snuggled up in Remy's coat and an afghan, her head on his shoulder, enjoying her weekly reward.
Being with Remy made her happier than she had any right to be. She knew it was too good to be true, but she defied the universe to try to take this happiness away from her.
"So," she muttered, wiggling a little so she was settled more comfortably against his side. "What was up with Logan today?"
Remy chuckled, and the sound was a comforting buzz that reverberated through his body and into hers. "Mebbe he's possessed." His hand combed absently through her hair. The mess of dark red curls fell just past her shoulders now—that awkward length where it was too short to do anything with but too long to ignore. It was driving Rogue nuts, but Remy loved it, and stroked and played with it every chance he got.
"That's one way to explain it. Ah mean, the way he tore into Scott . . . Ah haven't seen him get that mad at a student since the time the house blew up. What'd Scott even do to tick him off so bad?"
Remy lay his free arm across her waist and pulled her a little tighter against him. Rogue hummed her contentment, happy to let the conversation drop for a while. She turned her head to prop her chin up on his chest.
They hadn't touched since that morning in New Orleans, months ago now. They never talked about it, but it was always there, in every glance, every touch, every smile. They had kissed. More than that. For a few breathless, never-to-be-forgotten moments, they had been the same person, each absorbing the other's being . . . memories, character traits, desires, fears, secrets. An echo of everything Remy was lingered inside Rogue, and a trace of her was part of him. That kind of closeness and mutual comprehension was something no one else could possibly have: not Scott and Jean, with their psychic bond, not Kurt and Amanda with all their openness and trust. This was just for the two of them, Rogue and Remy—their treasured, binding secret.
The moon was nearly full outside, and the cool silver light came beaming in through the window, letting Rogue make out the contours of Remy's face. His eyes glowed gently, reflecting off his cheekbones and the strands of hair that fell across his forehead. Rogue could feel them on her face, not as heat, but as knowledge. She could see in his gaze how much he loved her. He never said it; neither did she. They didn't need to. A look, and a memory, were enough.
At least, enough for now.
Rogue didn't care about tomorrow: just being this happy, right now, was more than she'd ever believed she could have. But Remy was a planner, a schemer. He was always thinking about tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that. But he knew Rogue wasn't the same, so he never talked about them with her. And Rogue never asked. Speculating about the future would only mar the present, and she was determined to hang onto the present with both hands for as long as she possibly could.
He combed her hair off her forehead, his careful fingers coming within a breath of her skin but no closer. "Logan's been actin' weird fo'a long time, chère. I don't think Scott did anything. I think he was just in de wrong place at de wrong time."
"What'd'you mean, actin' weird? Ah haven't noticed anything."
"Well, you been distracted."
Rogue grinned, and Remy grinned back.
"He's got real quiet over de last couple months. Skips meals. Spends more time dan usual outta de house, in de woods or down at MacGuire's. Storm and Hank been covering for him, so nobody's noticed much, but it's gettin' worse. His little breakdown today might be jus' de beginning."
"Or it might be he just had a bad day. Ah mean, there's so much we don't know about him. Could be anything. He could be diabetic, and he had low blood sugar. He could've just got a letter from his long-lost Canadian girlfriend telling him it's over. He could've lost a fortune in the stock market."
"Mebbe he's secretly in love with Storm and caught her makin' out with Professor X."
Rogue buried her face in the blankets to muffle her giggling.
Jean was tired. Really tired. No wonder: it was nearly three in the morning. Her endless flash cards were blurring in front of her eyes.
She hadn't stayed up to study, but as long as she had to be up she figured she'd get some more cramming in. That had been the plan, at least. It wasn't working very well. Every part of her wanted to close her eyes and flop over into the impossibly inviting softness of the couch—every part but the part that was still mad at Logan. It didn't matter how late he stayed out, trying to avoid her: she would out-wait him. They were having this thing out tonight. Well, this morning.
Finally, she heard the growl of his motorcycle as it pulled into the garage. She didn't check her watch. It was probably better not to look.
He heard him enter the kitchen, and went to meet him. Although the key rack was closer to the garage door than the kitchen counter, he tossed the keys onto the counter anyway. He reeked of alcohol and tobacco smoke. Jean wrinkled her nose in distaste. "Are you drunk?"
"If I ain't, that's not my fault," Logan snapped at her. "Go to bed."
"Yeah, I really stayed up until this ungodly hour of the morning because I wanted to hear you tell me to go to bed."
"I don't care why you stayed up. You're going to bed now."
"No, I'm not."
"Fine, you're not. But I am. 'Night."
"Logan, we need to talk. About what happened today."
"Nothing happened today."
"Don't lie to me! How dare you! Something's wrong with you, and I need to know what it is."
"No, you don't."
"You made Scott train for four extra hours for a mistake I made, then you practically bit my head off in front of the whole team. Even for you, that's being a jerk. And that's just this week."
"You don't like the way I talk to you, then stop talking to me."
"I just might, you know? Ten years of telepathic training aught to be enough to squeeze a straight answer out of your brain without bothering to talk at all."
"You wouldn't dare."
"What, Little Miss Perfect Jean Gray breaking the Professor's rules? That I'd pay to see."
"Don't you dare push me. Not at this hour of the morning. You have no idea what I'm capable of."
"What, gonna try a mind probe? Go for it, hot stuff. See how long ten years of psychic training can last against decades of special ops conditioning and a couple fists of sharp pointies."
Logan headed for the hallway, but Jean stepped in front of the door. "You don't get to blow me off. Not again. Not this time."
Logan became very still, and when he spoke, his voice was low and rough, the way it got when he was at his most dangerous. "Get out of my way, Jean."
She didn't flinch. She knew him too well. She knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that he would sooner stick his claws through his own chest than raise a finger against her. "We. Need. To. Talk."
Logan pushed her.
He pushed her!
He pushed her hard enough to make her stumble and hit her hip against the counter—hard enough that he had time to get out the door and halfway down the hall before she recovered enough to retaliate. But when she got her balance back, she was terrified, and the terror made her furious, and the fury made her powerful. She reached through the kitchen wall with her telekinesis, found Logan, and held him. She heard his snarl of frustration echo through the hall.
Limping a little on her sore hip, Jean left the kitchen and advanced on Logan, spinning him in midair so he would have to look at her. "If you wanted to convince me that everything was fine, you just blew it. The Logan I knew would never have done that. Ever. So tell me again that I should just go to bed and not worry about you, if you can do it with a straight face."
Her hip throbbed, straining her concentration, and she winced. Logan's feet hit the floor with a soft, catlike thump. She tried to grab him again, but her telekinetic grasp wasn't as strong as before. Logan could break it without even trying.
But he didn't try. He held perfectly still, just as she was willing him to do. In a half-choked voice, he asked, "You okay, Red?"
She looked up, one hand still cupped protectively over the bruised spot. "Now that you're calling me 'Red' again, I think I'll live." She let go of him.
He walked up to her and hesitantly pulled her arm across his shoulders. "Come on. Let's get you fixed up."
Jean limped a little more than she needed to; if her injury calmed him down so much, she might as well press her advantage. Logan led her to a kitchen chair and eased her down into it, then went to get an ice pack out of the freezer.
Jean accepted it quietly and pressed it to her hip, keeping her eyes down. She was afraid of what she might see if she looked up into his face.
There was a soft clatter of crystal; Logan had poured her a glass of water and set it down on the table next to her. Jean gratefully took a sip. Gesture of apology aside, the stress of the last few minutes had made her thirsty.
Logan took a chair, setting it at least four feet away from hers. "I'm . . . I'm so sorry, Jean. You have no idea. You know I'd never . . . well, I guess I can't say that anymore. Oh, God . . ."
"It's hardly even a bump," Jean assured him, setting the glass down and dabbing water off her upper lip. "I get worse in the Danger Room every day."
"Not from me, you don't. Not like that."
Jean pulled up the hem of her shirt and peeked under the waistline of her pajama pants. There wasn't a mark yet. With any luck, there never would be. She'd never bruised easily—tender skin didn't go well with daily Danger Room workouts and midriff-baring shirts. "So do I have to play the 'ow-you-hurt-me-you-owe-me-big' card, or will you just stay calm for a second and tell me what I want to know?"
"I'm calm," Logan promised her. "And I'll talk to you all night if you want."
Jean laughed. "Well, not all night. I really do want to go to bed. I just need you to answer one question for me."
"And what's that?"
"What did I do wrong?"
He raised his head to look at her. "Don't you dare think that. This is not your fault, it's mine."
"I don't mean this. I mean everything, the whole last few months. You've been avoiding me. And don't tell me I'm imagining it; I'm not stupid. You don't talk to me except when you have to, and then you call me 'Jean,' which you haven't ever called me on a regular basis before. And today, during training . . . I was the one who screwed up. We both know it. But you took it out on Scott instead, like I wasn't even there."
He didn't answer this time.
"I've known you for a long time, Logan. I trust you. And I've never seen you dodge a confrontation. So just tell me what I did to tick you off so completely. I promise I won't get mad. Just tell me. You used to trust me enough to give me criticism when I needed it."
She reached across the empty space between them, trying to take his hand. He pulled both hands away as though she'd burned him, but he met her eyes and held her gaze.
"You listen to me very carefully, darlin'," he ordered, and his voice was surprisingly steady. "You did nothin' wrong. Nothing. Don't ever think you did. No matter what happens—"
"Why? What do you think is going to happen?"
"Doesn't matter. What matters is that you know you're a good kid, and that you've got a ton of people who care about you."
"But you're not one of them anymore? Is that what you're saying?"
"Logan, you're scaring me."
"Good. That's healthy."
Jean managed a weak laugh. "No, it isn't. You've been training me since I was little. I don't think there's anybody in the world whose good opinion I value more . . . not even the Professor or my dad. When I thought you might be mad at me, I just . . . just panicked. It's been awful. I can't sleep right, can't concentrate on studying for my stupid finals. I'm just worried and stressed about this all the time. I don't think I've had one night without nightmares since . . ."
"Since New Orleans," Logan finished for her.
Jean nodded. "Yeah."
There was silence in the kitchen for a long time.
Finally Logan asked, "Can you make it up the stairs to bed now?"
"Sure. If I can't walk, I'll levitate. But I can walk." She pushed herself to her feet using the kitchen table for support. "I just . . . I didn't want to go to sleep thinking you hated me. You can be mad at me all you want, just . . . as long as you still love me."
"You can be a real drama queen at four in the morning."
"I know. Just say it, though. Please? Just so I don't have one more nightmare."
He looked at her for a very, very long minute. Jean only realized how long it was when her head started getting fuzzy from holding her breath.
"Love ya, Jean. Now will you finally go to bed?"
She smiled, relief flooding her heart. "Aye aye, cap'n. Just take a shower before you crash, okay? You smell awful."
Jean was at the top of the stairs before she realized that Logan still hadn't given her a straight answer.
Logan managed to hold perfectly still until he heard Jean's bedroom door close behind her. Then, with an inarticulate snarl of frustration and pain, he lashed out with all three claws of his right hand. The blades sang as they cut through the air. Jean's half-empty slid apart in four bias-cut crystal rings, and water splashed across the tabletop.
First: I'm sorry! I know this was supposed to be finished with the last story . . . heck, come to that, it was supposed to be finished with the FIRST story . . . but the last of the loose ends just wouldn't let me go. So yes, here you have the fourth installment of the increasingly-inaccurately-named Flight Trilogy. I don't know what got into me.
Second: Yeah, what can I say, I'm a sucker for Jean/Logan. It's the lost cause addict in me. (I'm such a liar: it's the Logan addict in me, pure and simple.) And, unfortunately, that storyline took center stage in this first chapter. Sorry, that's just the way the pacing worked out. Don't worry: J/L is still a subplot to R/R, and it's all tied together. Have patience. We'll get there.
Third: When my sister took anatomy, my entire family had to endure many comments similar to Jean's.
Fourth: MacGuire's is the name of a bar that used to stand on the shores of Woman Lake in Minnesota. In honor of its being the only bar I've ever been in (also the only bar I've ever canoed to), I have named Logan's seedy pool hangout after it.
Fifth: As with all my stories, this one is in flux even as it's getting published, so if you happen to think "Hm, I hope we get to see so-and-so reacting to this" or "I really hope we get another scene with X and Y," let me know. Y'all would be astonished at how much such comments have shaped previous Flight stories, always for the better.
Hm . . . this 'Author's Comments' section is competing with the actual chapter for length. Must be more taciturn in future chapters.--Seri