He walked past at least once a night, hoping for... who knows? The door to be open? So he could pause, say hello. Occasionally it was. Not tonight. And, like every time, he hesitated, just half a second, a pause in his stride, outside her door. Wondering if maybe he should...
"Just knock, will you?" The voice made him falter, stop, turn around quickly. Storm, coming down the corridor in pyjamas and fluffy white bathrobe, a steaming cup of coffee in her hand. "You're driving me nuts."
For a moment he was struck dumb. "Uh... sorry." Anyone else he'd ever run into had never asked why he was there, or had accepted his excuses even if they guessed the real reason, but Storm... well, of course she was blunt enough to come right out and say it.
"Don't apologise, Cyclops," she replied. "Just knock. Of course, it won't do you much good at the moment. Jean's downstairs with Beast. I think he's talking her into letting him into the Blackbird." Her smile broadened as she opened the door to her own room, just across the corridor. "She doesn't lock the door or anything, though. You could just go in and lie in wait for her."
He was recovering now, able to smile inwardly at that. "That might not be the best beginning."
Storm snorted indelicately. "You've known each other, what, a year? More? The beginning is long gone, Cyclops." She nudged the door further open with her hip as she stepped inside. "Come in. I'm not going to have a conversation in the corridor. And I think I've got enough biscuits for two."
"What?" Scott asked, stepping into the doorway as she flicked on the light, and set her coffee down on her bedside table.
She turned, pulling an unopened packet of chocolate-chip biscuits out of her pocket with a flourish. "Once a thief, always a thief, right?" She laughed, and tossed the packet on the end of the bed as she sat down near the head, scooting up onto her pillow. "Like I said, come in, sit down."
It could have been the room of any girl in her late teens, anywhere in the country. There were clothes scattered around the place, the chair taken by a tracksuit and a pair of jeans, one of her uniform boots on top of it all. Scott sat on the floor near the door, leaning back against the wall and resting his arms on his bent knees.
Well, it could have been the room of any girl apart from the huge picture on the wall opposite her bed. Not an actor, or a boyband, but a car, long and low and sleek. He nodded to it as she blew on her coffee to cool it a little. "Nice car."
"1966 Corvette," she supplied quickly, looking up at the picture. "She's beautiful, isn't she? Great ride. Of course, you can say anything you like about American being superior, but the fact is that the Germans make the best cars." She leaned over to take up the packet of biscuits, tossing it over to him with a laugh. "Don't look so surprised. I'm a car thief, remember?"
"Was," he contradicted firmly, catching the packet. It was one of the things he stressed to himself. The past was over, now. Here, you were safe. You didn't need to do what you had done before.
Some days, that was the biggest relief of his life.
Storm may or may not agree with him. Difficult to tell, really. She was good at hiding it all under that clever, almost brazen exterior. "Old habits die hard," she quipped. "But regardless, there are easier and more lucrative things to steal, you know. I just like things that go vrooom."
"Vrooom, huh?" Scott repeated, unable to stop a slight smile. "So why aren't you slavering over the Blackbird alongside Beast?"
She laughed, and took a mouthful of her coffee. "Can't fly. If I can't drive it, I'm not interested. Boats are the same."
"Remind me never to teach you to fly, then. Or the Blackbird will end up on the black market and we'll be walking everywhere."
They were still laughing when there came the sound of quick footsteps in the hallway, and then a door opening and closing. Just across the corridor.
Silence descended, and Storm looked at him, one eyebrow raised. "You're not going to go and knock, are you?" she finally asked.
Gritting his teeth, he pulled open the packet of biscuits, taking one before leaning forward to pass them to her. She dunked one into the coffee as he bit into his own. And said nothing. There wasn't really much to say that he hadn't said to himself a hundred times.
"You know, there's shy, and then there's just fucking ridiculous." He never said it with quite the bluntness Storm could muster, however. Before he could say anything, though, she continued. "I think you're enjoying it. This pining stuff. It's something so amazingly normal that it blows your mind. Something you never thought you could have been doing."
He tried not to gape at her as she calmly dipped her biscuit into the coffee again, biting off the sodden part. Of course, of all of them, she was one who would really understand. They had all led harsh lives before being plucked out of them, but only Scott - and Storm - had truly hit rock-bottom. Scraping a living out of the gutters left no room for being a child. You weren't a teenager, you were the scum of society. "Like dunking chocolate-chip cookies into coffee before bedtime?" he shot back.
"Yeah," she answered, looking straight at him. Almost uncomfortably straight. "Just like that. Except I'm not scared about going to bed. I still worry that when I wake up, I'll find this was all a dream. But if it isn't, I'm not going to waste it."
He accepted the biscuit packet from her again, his head falling back against the wall. She was as grounded, as steady, as he wished he could be. Irony was that he was the leader of the team, and she the flippant one. "Yeah well, it's a lot to waste," he said faintly, then sat up straighter, pulled a biscuit out of the packet. "Anyway," he said, forcing brightness into his tone. "What is this? Pick on Cyclops night?"
"Hey, you're the one mooching around the wrong corridor like a poor little lost puppy!"
He threw the biscuit at her, and she caught it, laughing even as she took a bite out of it. "Yeah well, what about you?" he shot back. "It's Piotr, isn't it."
To his satisfaction, Storm almost choked on her mouthful. He calmly stretched his legs out in front of him, and ate two more of the biscuits as she coughed. Finally, red-faced, she managed to gasp: "What makes you say that?" And then hid her face in draining the last of her coffee.
Scott smirked. "Maybe the way you keep managing to be wherever he is?" He shrugged, took a final biscuit before offering the packet back to Storm. "Besides, he's tall, dark and handsome. Girls go for that sort of thing, right?"
She snorted as she took the last biscuit out of the packet, hurling the packaging at the bin. "Oh, yes, of course we do." She set the empty coffee cup on her bedside table before sprawling out on the bed, one hand holding up her head. Her hair spilled across the bed, over the edge. He'd never realised quite how much there was of it, before. A veritable tide of white strands, tangling together in neverending streams. "Anyway, you're tall, dark and handsome yourself." She smirked. "But you also practically have this big 'Property of' stamp on your forehead."
Scott tried to hold onto his smile, but it was slipping. "Property of who?" And he couldn't keep the slight edge out of his voice.
Storm could feel it, from the way she shrugged uncomfortably. But she wasn't going to be put off by it. "Jean? The Professor? Both, I guess. You're like... You have this duty, this strength, because you're one of them. The original ones. The ones who really understand what's going on."
It was a genuinely amused bark of laughter that escaped him. "Hell, most of the time I don't have a clue either." The laughter faded. He didn't know. Was never sure. Just a kid, pulled out of a nightmare and into something he could never even have imagined. A chance. Hope. He owed the Professor more than just a life. He owed him a dream. But he still added, very softly: "I'm not anyone's property." Because she would understand what he meant, and what he didn't mean.
Silence, for a long minute, and then Storm lay her head down, pillowed by her elbow and a spill of white hair. "You know, I never did thank you properly for what you did the other night. When we were rescuing Bobby."
He was grateful for the change of topic. "What, carrying you out of there? Like I was going to leave you behind."
She shook her head. "No, not that. For bullying me into using my powers in the first place. It was... It felt good, you know? Like I was finally doing something worthwhile." She laughed. "Well, for that split second before I lost consciousness, anyway."
Two words couldn't possibly encapsulate how much that meant to him. On how many levels it hit home. But he tried anyway. "You're welcome." Storm just smiled at him. He smiled back, and added: "It was pretty terrifying, actually. You're a scary woman."
She laughed. "Good thing you're on my side then, isn't it?"
With everything that had happened, Scott wasn't feeling particularly like celebrating. His champagne flute was still half-full when the Professor went back inside. The sun, almost entirely over the horizon now, struck sparks out of the depths of the bubbling liquid.
Despite the Professor's assurances, and the warm welcome he'd received back from most of the team, it was difficult to simply slip back into life here. Things had changed. He had changed. Seen things, done things...
With a sigh, he gathered up his glass, the Professor's empty one, and the half-full bottle of champagne. He was heading back inside when Beast burst out through the doorway, clutching a ball, with Bobby whooping after him. Colussus ran out last, giving Scott a grin.
"Basketball," he explained shortly. "Do you want to join us, Cyclops?"
Scott raised an eyebrow. "But it's going to be dark soon."
"Details, details!" And Piotr was off, sprinting after his two teammates.
Still chuckling, Scott continued inside, into the darkened rec room. The fading sunset painted the ceiling in burning tones, but the only other light came from the snowstorm on the television, which they'd left on in their haste to get outside. He shifted the bottle to the same hand as the glasses to turn it off, and the room was plunged into orange-tinged darkness.
A rustle from the couch almost made him jump, and he whirled to see Storm there, stretching like a cat as she blinked uncertainly. "Where'd everybody go?"
"Outside," Scott replied, jerking his head in the direction of the windows. "They want to try their hands at night-time basketball, I think."
She yawned, the bracelets on her wrist jingling faintly as she raised a hand to cover her mouth. "And who are you off to serenade with a bottle of champers?"
He laughed a little as he raised the open bottle. "Celebratory, or welcome back, or something drinks with the Professor. I wasn't really up for it. Do you want some? It's only going to go flat."
"Sure," she replied easily, swinging up into a sitting position on the couch. "Can't have it going to waste, can we?"
He set the glasses down on top of the television, topping his up before filling the other glass. He balanced the bottle there as well, before he handed her a glass.
"Here's to having you back with us," she said, raising the glass. "And to the humans proving to not be so damn ungrateful all the time."
"I can drink to that," he replied with a smile, raising his glass in return.
She took a delicate sip, and then spoke again, still in that casual tone. "So, did you prove you weren't anyone's property?"
The champagne almost came out his nose, and he set the glass down on the television. Looked over at her, red light glinting off red glass. "That's not why I did it."
"Good," she replied firmly. "Because it's a fucking stupid reason to do anything."
"Yeah, well." He paced slowly across the room, eyes watching the sun disappear completely. "I'm not so sure my reasons weren't that stupid."
"You know," Storm began in the darkness behind his back, "the car I got arrested in, it was a useless steal. A 1978 Mustang coupe. It was a work of art. Someone had spent so much time getting her looking perfect. You knew, just looking at her, that she'd be a dream to drive. But worse than useless to sell. Something that personalised is impossible to move; dealers won't touch it, not even for parts. So there was no reason to steal it. I just couldn't help it, though. Couldn't walk past such an amazing car."
Silence, and Scott turned back to her, a small smile on his face. "And the moral of the story is...?"
She smiled back. "Even though it's stupid, sometimes there're things you just have to do."
He sat down on the low steps, resting his elbows on his knees. "Is that so?"
She stood and stretched, raising her hands over her head. "Yes, it is. And in my situation, everything turned out, surprisingly enough, for the best. Jean busted me out of the lock-up and I ended up here. It's almost enough to make you start believing in fate, you know?"
"Are you suggesting that my going over to Magneto was fate?" No one had said it out loud. It had just been 'your departure' or 'your absence'. Even Jean had been circumspect, in the one brief conversation they'd had since he'd got back. Like she was maybe feeling a little guilty. But with Storm, it felt right to be blunt. To be honest. Anything else was letting her down, almost. "That I was destined to be there so I could provide warning of the attack?"
She took his glass, and the champagne bottle, off the top of the television, and walked across to where he was sitting. "I'm saying that things happen. Every minute of your life is important. Every minute counts because you choose what to do with every single second. Your life is your property, and no one else's. But the seconds pass, and time moves on. You should too." She leaned over to set the bottle on the step beside him, and passed him the flute with a smile. "I won't let you sweep it away like nothing happened. But I'm not going to let you wallow in it, either."
He curled his fingers around the glass and returned the smile. "You are a scary woman, you know."
"Good thing you're back on my side then, isn't it?"
He stifled a laugh and took a sip of the champagne. "So what are you going to let me do?"
"Well, if you ever finish drinking that, you can pour us some more, and then..." Storm walked over to the television and turned it on again, picking up the game controllers as she came back. "Then you can teach me how to play this damn thing. The guys never give me a go."
Scott set the glass down on the step beside him to take a controller. "I don't know how to play either," he admitted. For much the same reasons she didn't, he guessed. It was something too normal to be a part of their nominal childhoods.
"In that case," she said, sitting down beside him with a smile, "we can learn together. It can't be that hard, right?"
"Not compared to some things," he agreed. Like life. But maybe, just maybe, he could get the hang of that too.
Property by dee
If Scott wasn't sneaking into Jean's room, why did Storm say he was?