"You're always hungry. Stop surfing and choose a channel."
"It's all the same crap, anyway."
"So stop surfing and choose."
"Bah." Peter tossed the remote in my direction and reached for the hotel's room-service menu.
I took up the remote, skipped back four channels to what had seemed to be 'Princess Mononoke' on the way through. It still was. "Hey man, order some coffee for me while you're at it."
"Sure," Peter replied, and stood up. "I'll go check if 'Ro wants anything." He wandered out as I tried to remember whether I'd seen this part before. Not easy when your Anime-Japanese vocab extends only to a handful of words, such as 'die' and 'evil demons from the nether dimensions'.
That got my attention, and I swung around completely to face him as he came out of the bedroom. "What?"
"Ororo. She's not in there."
Of course she hadn't taken her communicater wherever she'd disappeared to, and I certainly wasn't going to contact the Professor to use the Psychic Hotline. So Peter stayed at the hotel in case either she or I called, and I headed out into late-night Tokyo in search of our missing teammate.
The search was far too easy, which should have told me something. Asking reception gave me the same directions to a club they'd given her. It was a strange industrial-retro joint full of Japanese teens wearing studded denim and black lace. I drew a few looks and a comment or two, but from the tone, I gathered they were compliments on the uniform jacket. Maybe I'd just started a fashion, and kevlar would be all the rage next spring.
I found her by her hair. Even to eyes that saw in only one colour, it stood out on the dancefloor. Swinging, lustrous, luminous... exquisite. It flowed around her, the only dance partner she needed, as she tossed her head, sending it flying in shimmering waves. It showed stark against her clothing, all black, boots, pants, top and long, flaring jacket.
She started when my hand closed over her wrist, whirled around to glare at me with suddenly-white eyes.
"We're leaving," I told her bluntly.
I waited until we were outside the club, slightly down the street, before I used the comm-unit to call Peter, still holding her wrist with one hand.
"What's up, Cyke?"
"I've found her."
"I wasn't fucking lost." From beside me, hand clenched into a fist and yanking at my grip, but I ignored her for now.
"That's great. Bringing her back?"
"Not just yet."
And I was so glad Peter was with us on this jaunt, because for him, it was cool. Hank would be wondering what he'd done to be excluded. Jean would be ballistic and halfway here already. If she'd let me out in the first place.
"Go the fuck home, Cyclops. I'm fine."
I clipped the unit to my belt again, and turned to face her. Eyes white, hair almost sparking in the static surrounding her. "You're fine?" I repeated. "'Hey guys, I need to get out of here, maybe dance, you want to come? No? Well, I'll take the comm-unit in case anything happens.' That's fine, Ororo. Sneaking out like some pre-pubescent is-"
She really heaved this time, and broke my grip. "Fuck you!" And she was storming down the street before I even regained balance.
I swore and started after her, kept up with her, long strides matching hers. "Ororo." No sign of slowing, or even that she'd heard me. "Ororo!" That got a response, the bird flipped over her shoulder and she never slowed an inch, long jacket flapping around her knees and her hair flaring and sure, she looked fabulous, but I'd had enough of her shit.
"Storm!" Two running steps and I caught her by the elbow and shoulder, spun her up against the wall of the building we were passing, not hard, just enough to knock the wind out of her, the fight, the crap. Her eyes were white and I held her there by the shoulders as she glared daggers at me. We got interested glances from passers-by, and there were a few of them, but no one seemed about to do anything other than watch the foreigners having their domestic.
I ignored them. "What the fuck is wrong with you?"
"Nothing's wrong with me."
"Yeah, sure. And you skip out on your teammates everyday. And you waste a couple thousand bucks on clothes every day too." It had just occurred to me as something strange, hadn't registered earlier in the day, but I could see on her face that I'd hit bullseye. "You're not acting like yourself."
She leaned forward, as far forward as my restraining hands would let her, and hissed: "You don't know anything about me, Cyclops."
I leaned in until our noses were almost touching, but she didn't move back, carved from granite. "So tell me, Ororo."
And because I was that close, because I was staring right into her face, I saw it when it happened, when her entire front collapsed like a cave-in, folded up into itself. She sagged back against the wall, my hands the only thing holding her up now. Arms folded, hands gripping elbows, sliding up to grip shoulders, hugging herself. And tears on her face, sliding from white eyes.
I didn't even think, just pulled her towards me, gathered her close, hugged her tight. She held onto my shoulders like her life depended on it, body heaving with the sobs she poured out against my shoulder.
"Shhh, it's all right, it's OK," I repeated soothingly, stupidly, because it's what you say in circumstances like that. Stroked her hair, that wonderful soft hair.
"Take me back to the hotel, Scott," she asked.
So I did.
We walked back in silence, falling into step. It was a busy night in Tokyo, and couples and giggling groups brushed past us. We walked close enough together not to be jostled too much, not close enough to touch.
The hotel suite was dark and quiet when we arrived, the only light the lamp on the table near the sofa. Peter had gone to bed, taking the room with two singles. He'd folded out the sofa and made it up for me already, though. Ororo had wasted no time in claiming the queen bed for herself when we'd first arrived. But she didn't head into the master bedroom as I tossed my jacket onto another chair, settled myself on the sofabed and turned on the TV, turning the volume down to almost nothing. I looked back at her, loitering between doorways, fiddling with the buttons on her long coat.
"Pull up a patch of blanket," I said, forced casual. "Want to know what a Japanese infomercial looks like?"
She laughed vaguely, dropped her coat on top of mine. The springs clinked as she sat down on the edge of the thin mattress, paused to take off her boots, and then scooted across to sit next to me, stretching out long, leather-clad legs. I channel-surfed vaguely for a few minutes, pausing any time something looked vaguely interesting, and then abruptly turned the box off, tossing the remote onto the blanket between us.
And didn't say a thing. Didn't even look at her.
There was dead silence for five minutes, but I could outlast her if I had to, watching from the corner of my eye as her fingers picked at the blanket.
"It was a car wreck," she said, voice quiet and calm and the bland consistency of someone speaking just to break the silence. "Nothing spectacular. No drink drivers, or speeding. Just a dark, wet night and bad tyres. At least, that's what the cops said. They also said that they probably died instantly, but what the fuck would they know? They could have suffered for hours and it would have been all the same by the time the authorities got on the scene."
I didn't have to look at her to know that her eyes were white. There were slight tremours creeping into her level voice. But I just stared straight ahead, and let her talk.
"I had a babysitter that night, and she cried. But I just sat there on the stairs, staring at these cops in our front hall where my parents should have been."
Another long silence, and then: "Ten years ago tonight. I don't tell people because they always fucking overreact. Walk on eggshells, treat me like I'm fragile and going to break or something. You OK, sweetie, it's OK, I know the anniversary's hard; bullshit like that. Like I don't feel it every day just the damn same. Every fucking day is a day without them."
I picked up the remote, leaned over to place it on the table. "I know," I said simply. My sleeping goggles on the table, and I switched my glasses for them. Flicked off the light, and shadows settled more firmly into the room.
I slid down, rolled over until I was lying on my side, facing her. She hadn't moved, was staring straight ahead. "Go to sleep, Ororo. We have to get up too damn early in the morning."
She only hesitated a moment before sliding down beside me. When I stretched out an arm, she shuffled towards me, into my arms. Buried her face in my shoulder with a sigh.
I didn't say a thing, simply held her until sleep staked its claim.
"Wake the hell up already, Cyke."
"We've got an hour before we have to be at the studio. Get up."
I tried to burrow under the covers, but they were wrenched out of my grasp. I still held vague hopes of holding out, until hands gripped my ankles and pulled. Hard.
I hit the floor with a thud. "Ow. Fuck, Peter." I blinked blearily up at him, rubbed my face. "Was that really necessary?"
He grinned, offered a hand to pull me up. "Told you; we've only got an hour."
I climbed up with his help and sat on the edge of the bed, trying to wake up enough to function.
"Ororo's fine, by the way." I looked up quickly; Peter had paused in the doorway to his room, grinning back at me. "In fact, she apologised for worrying us last night. Right before she told me to get the fuck out of the bathroom so she could have a shower. So she's right back to normal. You really look after us, don't you, Fearless Leader?"
Before I could say anything, he'd stepped inside the room, closed the door behind him, leaving me blinking. Did I look after them? I didn't know; I just tried to do what needed to be done. I thought, what with everything that had happened with Magneto and all, that I'd fucked up fairly comprehensively.
Whatever. Too early.
A door opened, and Ororo came into the main room, wrapped in a towel. "Bathroom's free," she commented casually, taking her jacket up from the chair where she'd dropped it last night, disappearing into the other bedroom.
There didn't seem to be much else to do, so I went to have a shower.
This is a test of your leadership, Cyclops. Your time starts now.
One of your teammates appears to be highly uncomfortable with you. Evidence: a) she hasn't spoken more than six, terribly polite words to you all day; b) she's currently sitting next to you, arms folded, body turned away. Bad sign.
Possible reasons: a) You shared the same bed last night, and you're not her current boyfriend. Nice going, moron; why didn't you think of that at the time? b) The pillar of strength and independence broke down in front of you last night.
Shit, too tired to deal with this. Damn, damn, damn.
Either way, you're going to have to talk to her, Cyke.
Hip, hip, hooray.
Immediately out of the studio, Peter was grabbed by a technician who wanted his autograph, or something. Ororo just kept walking, and I hurried after her. "Ororo, wait."
She spun on her heel so fast I almost ran into her. "Scott, look, about... everything. I just..." She took a breath, clenched her jaw. "The whole thing last night. It's... not..."
"What?" I demanded, exasperated now. "Not something you want to happen again? Not something you want to become public domain? I'm not going to tell anyone! Jesus, Ororo." She'd stiffened now, but I was too tired, too anoyed to care. "It's all right to not have it all together, you know. None of us do; it's no big fucking surprise. Just come down from the clouds and realise that we're all here for you, OK? I'm not going to let you suffer nobly in silence, so just get over it already."
Shit, I'd gone too far. In front of me, Ororo's bent head was shaking slightly. I took a deep beath. "Ororo, I'm sorry, I-"
When she looked up at me, I realised she was laughing. Helplessly.
My mouth opened, but I couldn't think of a thing to say. Talk about feeling stupid. I was pushing past her when she stopped me by the simple expedient of grabbing me in an almost ferocious hug.
"Idiot!" she hissed in my ear. "Idiot, idiot, idiot!"
"Me or you?" I asked, startled.
"Both. Shut up and let me talk, Scott." She was still hanging off my neck, speaking straight into my ear, and where the hell was I supposed to put my hands? "I'm trying to fucking thank you, all right? I'm not good at this. Complicated relationship shit. Stuff. Last night... you were there for me. It was what I needed. Hank would have fussed, and... Thank you, Scott. Just thank you."
My hands had come to rest on her back, and I hugged her briefly before letting her go again. "Hey, that's what friends are for."
She took half a step back, a smile on her face, arms falling back to her sides. "Yeah, friends."
Just a moment, as we smiled at each other in the corridor, then Peter stepped up, slinging an arm around each of us. "Let's get the hell out of here or we'll never make it back to America."
We turned and walked out of there, side-by-side.
And know what? It felt damn good.
Necessary Care by dee
All stories are works of fan-fiction by Dee. "Fan-fiction" means that she does not own any of the core creative concepts and characters, but she does heap adulation, appreciation and awe upon those people who do hold the intellectual property rights to those concepts and characters. Further, any instances of real people are fictional, and the author does not wish to suggest any truth should be attached to the actions, emotions and words attributed to them in these fictional stories.