Title: Portraits in a Gallery: The Truth
or Anything Close
The Blackbird landed, and, as was protocol, Jean was the first out the door. Upon seeing the group gathered to greet them, she immediately kicked in to the duties she'd been trained for – observe, assess, subdue any threats with her powers. What she saw was one ex-lover, one prize mutant who looked even more exotic than the Professor had described, and one small young girl holding something in her arms. After a moment, it registered with Jean that it must be the cat. No threats that she could sense, at least none of the usual kind. She proceeded down the walkway, signaling to her teammates that the coast was clear.
As she neared the group, Jean took a better look at the girl. This must be the 'Marie' that Logan had found in Vancouver. Whatever uneasiness or jealousy Jean might've felt about the girl was erased by the sight of her - she wasn't more attractive or better built than Jean, and she certainly didn't appear to have Jean's class or maturity. The only thing was that she was younger, but that was offset by the two white streaks framing her face that just screamed 'adolescent rebellion,' an overly-obvious effort at attracting attention to compensate for her average looks. In sum, Jean just didn't consider Marie a match for her on any level, and that eased her mind greatly.
For her part, Marie was equally unimpressed with Jean. To Marie, she seemed cold, haughty, and transparently trying too hard to impress as she strode down the walkway in long, deliberate strides, swinging her hips and looking down her nose at everyone along the way. There was just something about her that Marie found lacking; she couldn't put her finger on it, but there was something about her that seemed empty. Marie cuddled Binky as Jean came to a halt in front of them.
"Logan," Jean greeted coolly.
"Jean," he returned, putting a hand at Marie's back. It was done unconsciously, but it still made Jean roll her eyes. Logan decided to ignore it and just go on. "This is Marie. This is Hank – Henry McCoy. Thanks for comin' out to get us." Scott and 'Ro had emerged from the plane by now, and Logan next turned his attention to them. "This is Cyclops and Storm. They'll be flyin' the plane back."
Scott and 'Ro came to rest next to Jean and nodded their greetings. Scott, with the detached, professional formality that was his usual demeanor where Logan was involved, asked, "Is there anything that needs to go with us?"
Logan quirked his head backwards to the SUV. "Got some luggage in back. I was hopin' you'd be able to help the cat here." He gestured to Binky and Marie looked to Scott for the answer to that question, not Jean. Logan credited her for that – she knew Scott was the leader, and that the decision would be his.
"We'll see what we can do," Scott said, purposefully infusing his tone with a little more warmth as he directed the comments to Marie. "Jean – why don't you take him?"
"It's a cat," she responded, fixing Scott with a look. "The equipment isn't veterinary in nature, Scott." Scott frowned at the use of his given name, not his code name. Logan looked impatient, and Marie looked downright mad. Hank decided he'd better chime in.
"I have some…experience in animal care," he began, omitting that the entirety of his experience was what he'd done for Binky thus far. "I would be happy to care for the cat using whatever of your equipment may be suitable, if that is all right with you."
Ororo, the other cool head in this situation, replied, "Of course. Allow me to show you to it." She motioned for Hank to come up the walkway to the plane, and Marie followed, carrying Binky. Jean huffed, Scott tried to recompose himself and Logan – well, Logan still looked impatient. He gave his teammates a derogatory snort, then moved to get the luggage.
"What?" Jean questioned, following behind him. "It's a *cat*."
"It means somethin' to her," Logan grunted, hefting out the largest of the bags, "and we're supposedta be makin' a good impression on Hank."
"How would making proper use of the equipment that we have make a bad impression?" Jean challenged.
"I don't think he gives much of a shit if we know what the proper use of the equipment is – he's gonna give more of a shit whether we're compassionate people."
Jean gave a snort of her own at that. "Can't you put together one sentence without using foul language?"
Scott stepped in, verbally and literally, coming between them to pick up a bag from the vehicle. "That's enough. Bickering between ourselves definitely won't impress him. We've got the mission to think about. Let's save the post-break-up sniping for later, all right?"
Both of his teammates grumbled, but they did as Scott asked, silently carrying the rest of the luggage back to the plane. Once everything was on board, Logan went to check on Marie. She was hovering over the cat, Hank by her side. "How's he doin'?"
"Better," Hank replied. "We were able to get an IV into him with some fluids. It is not as good as a pint of feline blood, but it will improve his condition." As if on cue, the cat's eyes fluttered open, then searched out Marie.
"Hey there, brave kitty," she cooed to it. Jean's huff at her words escaped her notice, but Logan caught it. "You're going to be OK. Hank's taking good care of you." She petted Binky gingerly, while Logan clapped Hank on the shoulder.
"I am glad I was able to help." Scott wandered over, indicating with a smile and gesture that it was time to take their seats for take-off. "Shall I stand and secure Binky during the take-off?" Once Scott caught on that Hank was referring to the cat, he nodded.
"Sure. Just hold on to something." He returned forward, with Ororo trailing him. Logan waited for Marie to sit, then settled in next to her. Soon, the plane was moving, and they were headed back to Westchester.
Hank was taken to meet the Professor almost immediately upon landing; Logan reassured him with a gruff nod, and told him that he'd find him after he was done with Chuck. He then ushered Marie and Binky, who had perked up considerably on the flight over, to his room. That got a raised eyebrow and huff from Jean, and Logan knew he'd better take a few minutes to have it out with her. He needed to talk to Marie too, about all he'd learned about what had happened to her, but dealing with Jean first would clear the way of any interruptions. He told Marie to make herself comfortable, and that he'd be back in a little while.
He found Jean, predictably, in the kitchen. It was one of her favorite spots to 'hang out' although the idea of doing something like that seemed antithetical to her personality. He hadn't thought about how to begin the conversation, so he settled for a clipped, "Jeannie."
"I'm not really up for another round of cat talk at the moment," she snapped back. Logan could tell that her mood had not improved. Part of him knew that wouldn't be conducive to a productive conversation, but part of him was tired of catering to her mood.
"I didn't come down here to talk about the cat."
"I don't think we really have anything to talk about, Logan." There was more than a little tired in there with the mad, and Logan took note of it – it was unusual for her to sound like that. Jean usually met fights head on, and more often than not, even with anticipation. "Why don't you go upstairs and babysit – what is it's name?"
"Binky," Logan supplied, feeling a little silly saying it. Of course, he thought, that was what Jean had intended.
"Right, Binky." She let out a snort of laughter at that. "What a name for a cat."
Logan decided to just cut to the chase – he wasn't going to beat around the bush with defending Marie's choice of name for the cat. "Look, Jeannie – I know you ain't too happy about me bein' the one to bring Hank in or about me bringin' Marie back here. But Chuck's right – Hank's a damn genius and we need him on our side. And Marie – well, she's – "
"You really don't have to explain what she is to you, Logan," Jean retorted, with a healthy dose of her familiar fire. She rose from her chair and paced to the opposite end of the kitchen as she continued. "I can see what she is."
"I don't think you understand."
She heard a note of condescension in his voice and that got her back up in full. "There's not a whole lot *to* understand when it comes to you, Logan. You're fucking her."
That, in turn, riled Logan. "No, I ain't." It wasn't that he didn't think they'd eventually grow into lovers – hell, he didn't like the idea of *not* being able to have that with Marie now – but he didn't like the association of that vulgar word with Marie. It was somehow wrong, and it went to show that Jean really *didn't* have an inkling about how things were between him and Marie. Still, he didn't really care to correct her past his flat denial – things he and Marie talked about in private should remain that way and using Marie's confidences or the nature of their relationship just to win an argument with Jean seemed cheap and petty.
"Sure. Right. Logan, have you ever even *known* a woman you didn't end up fucking or that you wanted to?" He winced at that word again, and Jean, sensing an advantage, pressed forward. "I just hope she's at least eighteen. I never knew you liked them so young. But I can see why you'd want her – she's naive, clueless, nowhere in your league – hell, she probably worships the ground you walk on. She probably thinks that she's lucky to find anyone as handsome as you who wants to screw her more than once and she probably thinks that anyone who can give her an orgasm is some kind of god. Well, enjoy it while it lasts, Logan – she'll grow up and wise up sooner or later."
Logan bit back a harsh retort of his own. "She's gonna be stayin' here with me for a while. That's really all I wanted to tell ya, Jeannie. Well, that, and – I'd appreciate it if you didn't make it hard for her while she was here."
"I don't exactly owe you anything, Logan."
"All I'm askin' for is a little common decency."
"You wouldn't know what that was if it bit you on the ass."
Logan scowled, and took a step closer to her. "You know what? I shoulda known this was fuckin' pointless." He turned to go, but Jean grabbed his arm, staying his progress.
"You know what's pointless? Wasting my time with you was pointless. I don't know what the hell I was thinking."
"Me either," he growled back, shoving her hand off of him.
"I should've known, Logan – I should've known that you couldn't handle a real relationship. Look what you ran to – some young kid, someone who you can bend around your little finger, someone who probably doesn't have the brains or experience to question how you do things. Someone who won't try to change you, someone who'll give you all the hero worship you want. That's not a relationship – that's you getting off on Marie's silly little fantasies about what a relationship should be like. Those ideas – that's not how it really is. You're no prince charming."
"Dammit, Jeannie – "
"Or, maybe she's been smacked around by her father all her life and she's just grateful you don't beat the hell out of her. There's something about the look of her – something that seems like she's taken some punishment." Logan's lips thinned and went white, and Jean knew she'd hit a truth in there somewhere. "Not getting smacked around – well, that's not too much to ask for, is it, and that's probably why she's happy with you. Just wait until she pisses you off and you throw how well you fuck her back in her face, just like you did with me. You won't be the knight in shining armor then, Logan. No, I can see why it didn't work out between us – you never wanted a real woman, a real relationship. Jumping into that little girl's bed proves it. All you want is some naïve, submissive, stupid – "
"You stop right there," he growled, pointing a finger at her for emphasis. "Just stop. You've said enough, dammit."
"Don't like to hear the truth, do you?" Jean hissed.
"That ain't the truth or anythin' close," he flung back, with a surety that surprised Jean. "You don't know what the hell you're talkin' about. The only truth in there, Jeannie, is just how ugly you can be, how low you can sink when you wanna. I never knew *that's* what you liked." He turned his back on her and stalked away.
"I am glad that you have decided to come for a visit," the Professor ventured, after introductions had been made and he and Hank were alone in his office. "Please permit me to apologize for both the nature and the tone of the response you received from us earlier. I very much regret that."
Hank smiled a little, and sipped at the tea the Professor had offered him. This all felt pretty surreal at the moment – sitting in some well-appointed office, sipping Earl Grey, having this esteemed man talk to him like he was normal, like he wasn't shedding blue fur all over the nice arm chair. It was freaking Hank out more than a little, truth be told.
"I hope that your time here will be enjoyable," the Professor continued. "I have arranged for guest quarters on the third floor – I hope you will be comfortable there."
"Where – ah, where will Logan and Marie be staying?" The question gave Charles a little pause, but he answered it smoothly.
"Logan's room is on the second floor. There are other guest quarters there, although none are as spacious as the suite we have set aside for you. Would you prefer a room nearer to his?"
Hank nodded. "If you do not mind."
"Of course not. I will have the arrangements made immediately." Charles fell silent for a moment, concentrating, and Hank realized he was sending out the instructions telepathically. "You will be next door to Logan's room. Will that be agreeable?"
"Yes, thank you."
The Professor gave him a warm smile. "I was hoping that, after having this evening to settle in, of course, that I might give you a tour of the school and grounds tomorrow after breakfast. I am sure that you will be interested in our medical and scientific facilities."
If they were anything like the plane, and the medical equipment Hank had used on Binky, he most definitely would be interested. "That sounds, ah, nice."
"Very well," Charles intoned. After a brief silence, he said, "You know, I realize this must all be a little – well, a little overwhelming. I wish for you to know that you are in no danger here, not from any of us. You are among friends." Silently, Charles wagered that the young man before him only counted Logan among his 'friends' at the moment. "We are very glad to have you here, and think that you would make a fine addition to the school."
"And the team?" Hank ventured.
"Yes. Whether and to what extent you decide to join in either is up to you, completely. I would be lying if I told you that we did not have a critical need for someone of your intelligence and talents."
"What, uh, exactly do you know about my intelligence and talents? If you do not mind my asking, that is."
"I don't mind," Charles smiled. "We have a machine here, one I will show you should you decide to stay with us, that tracks and assesses mutants and their capabilities. We discovered you shortly after your, ah, self-experimentation, using the machine. We also gathered some ground intelligence, which is not nearly as threatening or odd as it may sound." The Professor smiled again and consciously relaxed his body language. "It has been my mission, and that of the team and the school, to aid mutants however possible, to give them a safe haven, and to keep the peace between humans and mutants. We do not take this mission lightly; in fact, we invest a great deal of time and money in it. Discovering someone like you, someone who can help us further that mission, is always a cause for great happiness and great effort." He fell silent, and let Hank mull it over for a while. He didn't think he'd scared the young man off – he wasn't projecting any fear, just uncertainty, which was to be expected. "Well, I shall leave you to your rest. Shall we meet here, say, at ten tomorrow morning?"
Hank nodded. "Yes. Thank you."
"You are quite welcome." Charles began wheeling himself back behind his desk, and Hank saw the door open a crack. "Ah, Katherine, thank you for coming. Would you mind showing our guest to the second floor room next to Logan's?" The young woman revealed by the opening door nodded, and smiled pleasantly at Hank. He was suddenly frozen in place, and it took him a moment to smile back. She was beautiful, absolutely the most beautiful woman he'd ever seen. And she was smiling at him. It was more overwhelming than everything else he'd experienced today put together. "Hank – you do prefer Hank to Henry, do you not?"
"Y-yes." His yellow eyes hadn't left the girl, but somehow his voice had kicked in.
"Hank, this is Katherine Pryde. We call her Kitty. She will show you to your room and serve as your resource person while you are here. If you have any questions, or have need of anything, please feel free to ask her. She is a former student, one of our brightest graduates, and she is currently working on her undergraduate degree."
"Hello," Kitty greeted, extending her hand. Hank's eyes slid downward to her outstretched hand. After a nervous glance at the Professor, Kitty added, "It's nice to meet you." The Professor had instructed her to be unfailingly polite to this new arrival, and had confided that he was an important mutant, one that they were trying to get to join their side. He'd also told her about his appearance, and said he'd done so in order to avoid any reaction of surprise or unpleasantness that might escape her – not, he added, that she would be one to judge by appearances, but this mutant was exceptionally unusual. Kitty was proud that the Professor had chosen her. It was a nice boost to her confidence in the wake of the debacle with Scott. It was good to know the Professor still thought well of her, and was willing to count on her for something important. She looked back up at her charge, who was still simply standing there, looking at her outstretched hand.
"Ah….." He still wasn't shaking her hand, so she gracefully withdrew it.
"I can show you to your room if you're ready."
"Of course. Ready. I am ready. I – I apologize." Hank finally seemed to get it together, and Kitty gave him an understanding smile. "Please, lead the way."
"Good night, Hank," the Professor called to his retreating form. "I look forward to seeing you tomorrow morning." Hank gave him an absent, backwards nod before following Kitty into the hall.
Scott arrived in the kitchen to find a very distraught Jean slumped over a cup of coffee at the kitchen table. "Everything OK?" he asked in an even tone, as he leaned against the doorway. Scott wasn't exactly sympathetic to whatever distress seeing Logan's new babe du jour had caused, and he did take a small satisfaction in seeing Jean get a taste of her own RapidDumpingActionMedicine from the man she'd left him for, but there was also a part of him that had always hated to see Jean upset. She so rarely showed her emotions, and he knew visible distress was a serious matter.
"Fine," she mumbled.
Scott sighed, and instead of the cutting remark that sprang to mind, he tried to keep on the path of the high road and tried to joke Jean out of her mood. "She's not prettier than you, you know."
"I know," Jean replied, serious. "She's younger."
"And? She'll get older one day too. Logan won't."
"Why are you taking my side?" she asked, raising her head for the first time. "Why have you been nice to me today, Scott?"
"It's just niceness, Jean," he shrugged. "I really don't have an ulterior motive."
"You're not usually nice," she countered, bitterly. Suddenly, it all fell into place for Scott – Jean had just lost (or at least not won) whatever fight she'd had with Logan over the new girl, and now she was looking to take it out on him. He wasn't interested in playing, not tonight.
"I try to be," he sighed, turning to go. "Good night, Jean." He left before she could get another word in, knowing that was the best he could do for now.
"So, uh, this is the second floor – residential rooms are up here, and there are two bathrooms on each end for the rooms that don't have their own. I think yours has it's own." Kitty narrated as she made her way up the stairs with Hank, who still seemed a little on the unresponsive side. He was following along, but he hadn't said much, and he seemed a little dazed. "If not, you'll, uh, know which one is the guys'. They're marked." She planted her foot on the top step, and turned toward Hank. "Any questions so far?"
He shook his head no, then asked one anyway. "Do you – ah, do you reside here as well?"
"Yes. I'm on the opposite end of the hall from you, down that way. It's room 214, if you need anything. I'm usually in – I have a big physics exam coming up and I really need to study." She hoped her casual, friendly tone would relax him.
"Physics, you say?" Finally, Kitty could merely nod while Hank spoke, puffing his chest out a little as he did. "I am extraordinarily well-versed in all sub-topics of physics. Quantum mechanics is a special interest of mine, and the field in which I most strongly excel."
"Maybe you could tutor me, then," she suggested lightly. Now that he was talking, she wanted him to keep it up. That had to make a good impression on the guy, right? "I can use all the help I can get. Math – not my strong suit, and you have to do all that calculating areas of a curve and things in physics."
"It is not difficult at all," Hank countered. "Actually, if one simply takes the time to study – ah, I – I – I meant to say that I am quite good at higher math as well. No! I, ah, mean to say that – that my expertise is – I mean to say that – I, ah…."
"If you mean to say that you'd be open to tutoring me in math too, that would be great," Kitty smiled. Hank was back to simply staring at her again. "The Professor said that you're really smart, and I know he was being nice in saying I was one of the brightest students, but – well, let's just say I've seen a B or two in my time. I can use the help." He still didn't respond. More staring. "If you'd like, that is. If you have time."
"I shall make time," he replied softly. "I mean – that did not come out right either. I – I do not mean to sound so pompous. I am sorry." He looked genuinely downcast, and Kitty was moved.
"No big. Tutor me through the midterms, and we're more than even." She took a step closer to him, and focused on making her expression and body language open. "And you didn't sound pompous. Well – maybe a little, but that's OK. You're new here, and everybody's a little edgy when they're new. I kind of hid in my room for about a month. Believe me, if the worst thing you ever do is brag a little about your abilities, you're not doing too badly."
"I am not bragging," Hank corrected softly, before he could stop himself. "I am a genius." He didn't say it like it was a good thing, not at all.
Kitty's face took on a serious look. She leaned towards him. "I know. I'm – well, not a genius. I meant it about being able to use your help." When he met her eyes, she gave him a quick grin. "You let me know – no rush."
"If I may ask – what is – what are your……..talents?"
"I can phase, go right through solid matter. That's why physics – I want to know what I'm doing, on a molecular level, on a sub-atomic level, when I'm using my powers. I'm curious. My academic talents – well, they're really more in the computer science realm than the science-science realm. They're definitely not on speaking terms with math." He smiled at that, and she rested her hand briefly on his arm. "Come on, let's get you to your room."
"Katherine – "
"Please, call me Kitty. All my friends do." She noticed his expression waver, and for a moment, she thought he was going to cry or something.
"Kitty – thank you for the tour. I appreciate it. I would be – I would like to tutor you, and I am certain that I shall have time. I will attempt to be less of a – a know-it-all."
"I'd be thrilled if you knew everything, Hank. That way, you could teach me."
"I can see that you are an exceptional woman." Something about the way he'd whispered that and the look in his eyes made her catch her breath. But he broke the moment by lowering his head and breaking their gaze. "I know that Professor Xavier must have instructed you to disregard my appearance, but I do appreciate the effort at making me feel accepted here. You, especially, have gone above and beyond the call and have been very friendly. I shall be sure to tell the Professor so."
"The Professor did tell us what you looked like," Kitty offered gently. "He missed the mark a little – all he told us was that you had blue fur and claws and maybe fangs. He didn't say your fur was such a nice shade of blue, or that you'd be tall and strong. I know that those of us who look really different can have a very hard time, and I'm sure that your appearance has given you more than its share of problems, but Hank, you'll find that here, things like that don't matter as much. I won't say they don't matter at all because that's not really true. But to most of us, what you look like is less important than who you are. The Professor, he teaches us not to hate our gifts, no matter how much trouble they might've caused us in the past. They can be strengths, not some millstone hanging around our necks. I've learned recently that – " Kitty's voice tightened a bit as she continued, " – that what you think about someone, what you think they might be like – well, suffice it to say that sometimes you don't really know what someone's like until you really *get* to know them, the good and the bad. Sometimes you find out that they're not who you thought or that they're – maybe they're better than you thought. I'm not going to look at anyone and think I can know a thing about them from how they look, not the things that matter most."
"You are certainly not lacking in smarts in the least."
Kitty smiled and laughed and, after a beat, so did Hank. "Can I get that in writing to show to my physics prof?" They both laughed again, and Kitty finally headed them off toward Hank's room. "Come on, you're down here."