Enduring Maxims
Roleplaying Log: Enduring Maxims
Participants
IC Details
Synopsis:

Angel plays mediator when Dazzler finds an old enemy making herself at home at the Institute.

Other Characters Referenced: Jean Grey, Scott Summers, Charles Xavier, Magneto, Pietro Maximoff, Wanda Maximoff, Wilson Fisk, Daredevil
IC Date: December 15, 2018
IC Location: The Xavier Institute for Higher Learning, Westchester, New York
OOC Notes & Details
Posted On: 16 Dec 2018 14:14
Rating & Warnings: PG
Scene Soundtrack: [* ]
NPC & GM Credits:
Associated Plots

There is no shortage of cars in the multi-car garage at the mansion. Usually they're nice. Or at least decent.

One lone car at the end of the row is not. It is what may have once been a 1969 Shelby Mustang. With a little TLC it might again become a 1969 Shelby Mustang. Right now it is a sad sack rustmobile propped up on some cement blocks, all tires removed.

Usually it's a fairly quiet place, this garage. People are in and out of the thing. They get their cars, they go. It's not exactly a spot for congregating most of the time.

Today, not so quiet: Taylor Swift is playing from the Ipod deck next to the sad sack rustmobile. It's not loud enough to blast out the garage, but loud enough to be heard. And someone's singing to it. A little off-key, to the rarified ear. Someone whose coverall clad legs stick out from beneath the car. Off-key but enthusiastic. Shower singing, a little muffled by the sound of a socket wrench squeaking and creaking away.

"Yeah, babe we got bad blood. We used to have mad love. But now we got problems! Whoa-oh-oh-ohhhh…"

This is the kind of singer who just inserts random emoting whenever the Hell she wants to, as well.

One grease-spattered sneaker taps out an off-beat drum rhythm. The other foot is propped up, holding the singer steady on her creeper. The voice might sound vaguely familiar, but probably the last couple of times it was heard it was not, say, under a car belting out any songs.

* * *

The mansion is overall a very nice place — it's a mansion, after all — but the garage is particularly nice, perhaps owing in part due to the fact certain prominent associates of the Institute just really love cars.

The recent re-organizations at the Institute have left the garage a little more empty than it might have been a few months ago, but there's still a decent number of cars parked within, of varying levels of quality. There is one car among the rest, in particular, which is extremely nice — pretty much the opposite of the rustmobile currently propped on the cement blocks in the middle of the floor — and also looks like it has not actually been driven in years.

It sits. It waits, dustily.

And today, finally, after years and years, someone comes back into the garage that might actually be its long-lost owner.

The door leading back into the Institute audibly opens and shuts. A semi-familiar male voice says, "I might have left it here. I really can't remember. It was a while ago. I should really…"

That is when Warren Worthington trails off, because Taylor Swift. He looks at his companion, raising his brows, before rounding a row of cars to get a look at the mystery greasemonkey.

* * *

Three weeks back in New York after her very public fall from grace — the famous Dazzler, outed as a mutant — and now is her first appearance at the Institute.

Should have been done a while ago. Should have been done days of getting off the plane. Alison Blaire wanted to, desperately —

Time, distance, and guilt do strange things to the soul. And if not for Warren Worthington, it may have taken her even longer to see this awkward visit through.

How things change; how things stay the same. The Westchester mansion embodies all of that in spades. What Alison notices first, and foremost, is the void that has settled in place of the missing Professor Xavier. She visited when he freshly disappeared, distraught with the rest of the members — and this is her time back since then. Jean Grey, and the others of the old guard, have made considerable gains to fill in for his absence — but Alison feels it.

It is also its own strange grief not to hear children any longer. They are gone too, safe from state registration. All that's left are those who are committed to the fight — to the cause.

The impromptu tour ends here, with Warren's mention of his missing car, all met with a woman's sharp, exasperated laugh. "You don't remember where you parked a car? It's probably Scott's, now. If the seats are starched, let it go. It's lost to y —"

There is singing. Alison tilts her head. This is one of her gifts. She knows sound. She consumes sound. She is sound, in many ways, and each pitch, each tone, each frequency — she can localize, track… recognize.

That voice. Her.

Warren goes on ahead; a second later, heat SEARS up behind his turned back.

Dazzler sheets with burning, blinding light, licking off her body. Her eyes burn white with it. "Warren — get back."

* * *

The sound of voices has the woman on the creeper pushing out to have a look.

In some ways, she couldn't look less like the woman who gave Dazzler a concussion on the penthouse floor of a swank hotel three years ago. Then again she looks exactly like her, because she is her. The lack of make-up, save for a bit of lipgloss, doesn't change that. The fact that a streak of grease is across her nose like some sort of Champion of Kirkwall warpaint can't change it. The coveralls and the gloves don't. Nor does the fact that her hair, with its shock of white, is in a high ponytail that's stretched out like a flag at the top of her head, stretched across the back end of the creeper.

The response isn't exactly the confident terrorist at the top of the high tower either. That Rogue had nothing to hide, nothing to fear, nothing to feel ashamed of. That Rogue saw herself as a visionary, a hero, a freedom fighter.

This Rouge? Sort of acts like a box turtle. She rolled out? And now she rollllls back in. Maybe they haven't seen her. Mayyybe if she rolls a little further in, they won't see her. Maybe they won't be that curious about who she is…

And then she hears doom.

'Warren — get back.'

Welp. So much for that plan.

Rogue rolls out from under the car again. What's left to do? She turns on her thousand-watt smile.

"Aw, now, sugar," she tells Dazzler, just as if she isn't splayed out like a particularly vulnerable bug and armed only with a socket wrench (not even a good heavy wrench, but a dadgum socket wrench) when the woman is all charged up and good to go. "Most I'm gonna do these days is ask him for a jar of Grey Poupon."

Charged up and good to go on Rogue's own music no less. As Taylor sings obliviously on. Bandaids won't fix bullet holes, she sings.

Thanks, Taylor. Thank you so very, very, flippin' much.

But she perserveres, turning the smile onto Warren and batting her eyelashes. "You got any? I think odds are real good I'm about to need some to spice up my last meal."

* * *

Scott wouldn't take it," is the answering remark. "Same as I wouldn't be trying to take any of his cars. No self-respecting man tries to take another man's car…"

And that's when the conversation trails off, because Alison has heard something. Warren hears it too, a moment later, but he doesn't recognize it the way she does. He ventures ahead… only for Dazzler to light up suddenly like a torch behind him. Warren, get back, she says.

"Why am I the one getting back," Warren wonders to himself, annoyed, without actually doing anything of the sort. He stays right in between Alison and Rogue, because that is what he does.

Nonetheless, it takes Warren a minute to parse the entire unfolding Situation, due to its particular nuances. See, he knew the woman named Rogue had turned sides — had come to Jean for help, and been granted said help. He knew her story of growing empathy and repentance and madness. He had been around at the time it was all decided, though he had not weighed in significantly on the matter save to express his reservations. Still, the thematic the Professor had always espoused had been openness and forgiveness, and Warren tried to live by it.

He just forgot that Alison wasn't here to hear any of that, and no one told her quite yet, and she has an especial reason to need to know.

Rogue does… not help to diffuse the situation. Warren straightens up, and his wings open slightly in a gesture half an instinctual tension response, half a conscious desire to put up a palpable barrier between the two women in case things get Rowdy.

"I think she has fairly good reason to be on edge, Rogue," Warren says neutrally, in one of the few occasions he will not answer the sass of a woman in kind, his wings still lifted as if they could shield much of anything. "Be a little cooperative?"

He glances over his shoulder, past his own spread feathers. "I should have told you earlier, but with everything else it slipped clean out of my mind. She wanted to leave the Brotherhood, and Jean took her."

* * *

There are so many questions one would ask, in a situation like this. Questions Alison would be asking herself — if she only had the time.

Why is the Brotherhood in the Westchester garage? Why is Rogue working on an Institute car? Why is she SINGING? Why does no one seem alarmed about this?!

A logical answer is there, just out of reach, waiting on the wings. Alison ignores it in favour of raw, visceral panic, already formulating in her mind how she'll do this. Get Warren back; he can get touched. She remembers being touched.

That pain…

Get him back, stay forward, BURN her if Rogue feels compelled to get handsy, and —

Warren doesn't get back. Anger leeches into Dazzler's voice. "Warren!" she snaps, focusing the light to her hands, ready to hold the other woman at a safe, ranged distance. Why isn't he —

Rogue de-turtles from under the car. It's been years, but seeing the woman's face, Alison is right back to that night. Her expression locks down. Her flaring light singes with colour at the edges, the spectrum distorting with her moods. It's odd — she's not attacking. She's not bearing out the rest of the Brotherhood in some attack on home ground. She's just — sassing. Something's up, and Dazzler is confused.

That is until she bats lashes at Warren, and Alison's temper snaps. She lifts a hand. "THAT's it," she snaps, "BACK OFF befor —"

Spreading wings cut off her path. Alison's attention turns on Warren, incredulous, questioning, as he labours on to fill the gulf with what she's missed in the last couple years.

Her lips part, but she doesn't speak. Gobsmacked. "—Seriously?" she blurts. She wants to say more. She burns to say more. But Warren invokes a loaded word — Jean — and it shuts her up. How do you furiously tear apart the decisions of someone who had died?

Rogue. At the Institute.

Alison exhales, and though her light dims, it does not disappear, still on alert. Still not trustful. Her pure-white eyes are back on Rogue. "So you remembered you have a soul? How many people did it take? That you hurt?"

* * *

'Be a little cooperative?'

The request brings a slight, 'yeah, okay' look of faint repentance to the Southern Belle's face. She nods to Warren, sits up, rests her elbows over her knees, puts the wrench aside. Sass and smiles have been her defense mechanisms for so long she hardly knows how to function without them. Hardly knows how to be real, even for half a second. Moonstar got it out of her, but only after they had come to shouts and probably to near blows. But Warren's mild reproof seems to guilt it out of her here as well.

Dazzler's question produces a more genuine quirk of her lips. It's not a happy one.

"Maybe I remembered. Maybe someone reminded me. Seems to me you told me I did. But in answer to your question…"

She stands up, but she's just going to an oil rag some distance away from them. She wipes her gloved hands off, then turns off the iPod.

"Too damned many."

* * *

Things start heating up — literally. Warren's wings transition from slightly-open to a nearly full spread. They are not a sight to sneeze at — sixteen feet, overarching, and strong — but ultimately it is Jean Grey's name which temporarily shuts everyone up.

The tension in the room breaks, at the least, even if it doesn't quite go away fully. Warren's wings lower slightly from their barriering spread, though they don't quite fold down at his back again. He holds them at a half-open half-mast, the display just enough to say that he's still fully prepared to referee any kind of scuffle that might break out.

At the least, Rogue seems to be showing some repentance, courtesy of a mild guilting. Warren Worthington is surprisingly good at those; perhaps there's something extra-effective about an angel looking disappointed in you. Perhaps it's just his natural charisma, that way he has of being practiced enough with the social dances to smooth over most situations.

Either way, he's silent as the women trade some cryptic words — he got the story of what transpired that night, but nothing substitutes for being there — but his blue eyes move back and forth between them. Rogue's final words are what ultimately get those white wings to fold fully back down. "Too many," he agrees, "but one of the pillars of this place is second chances." Within reason.

"We could use more people in the Brotherhood coming to such epiphanies," he continues, "though I gather that's not very likely. The twins have only doubled down, judging from the mess in Foley Square." His eyes turn to Rogue. "Had you heard?"

* * *

No sight to sneeze at — and Alison hasn't seen Warren's wings at full length in years. At any other time, that sight would arrest her totally; now, it earns a twitch of her eyes, but otherwise stops her, impeded from her panic, her fury, her retribution.

Jean Grey's name seals the deal.

For a moment, she seems apt to argue — but her anger falters, and deflates. Not even Alison has the stomach to run opposition to Jean's decisions — made in the absence of the Professor. Jean died for them. And Jean is back, having gave her life for so much — how can someone question her?

Alison cannot.

That blinding light and heat cools, though Alison still frames with a halo — she does not have Warren's wings, but she looks the other half of an avenging angel, white light burning from her eyes. A good tell for her, paranoid and distrustful not to suppress it, or just too upset to remember her usual focus.

Her gaze tracks Rogue, watchful as she bows a little under Warren's minding, her voice heavy with penance. Alison, despite all her light, is ice, expression hard, guarded, unwilling to be convinced. Of all the people they would bring to the Institute — her? Her?!

'Too damned many,' admits Rogue, matter-of-fact, and Alison's mouth thins. It's hard even to remain anger at this; you can't direct fury down at someone who isn't arguing, who is /agreeing./

Warren speaks, and Alison stays quiet, her eyes turned away. She burns as much as she seethes, taking the time, possibly, to find her composure.

* * *

It's an oddity of her situation. Rogue misses the twins. She can readily call to mind good times with the twins. Times between missions. Rogue tilts her head downward as they come up. Gives a shake of her head when she's got her expression under control. Emerald eyes seek Warren's. "What they done did in Foley Square?"

She leans on the hood of the rustbucket, sliding her hands into her pockets, crossing her legs at the ankles. On one hand, it's as ladylike of a pose as a woman can get while covered in grease stains and wearing a mechanic's coverall. Even one with a little butterfly and heart combo embroidered where the name patch might normally be. It's concession. Cooperation, like Warren asked. Her 'weapons' sheathed. Her body positioned so that it would be impossible for her to make anything like a sudden move, even in self-defense. Noting Alison's continued fury just fine. Communicating in response to it as much with her entire body as she ever does with her mouth. Which is par for the course, even if that communication has, in the past, been…ahem. Not always the classiest.

* * *

That hesitation doesn't escape Warren, nor the reason for it. He's been X-Men from the start, and he's fought the Brotherhood since day one. He's fought Rogue too, any number of times. He knows the oddity of the situation, for her to be away from her friends there, and here now among her enemies. He knows the vulnerability of that state.

So he doesn't push her when she averts her eyes… and when her gaze lifts again, it will be to find no particular acrimony in them. He won't be the one to undermine what Jean is trying to do here by being a hostile wall. But there's a balance here to be struck, too; Alison keeps her finger on the trigger as she searches for her composure, and Warren doesn't tell her not to. "There was a man being sentenced," he says quietly. "He was funding experimentation on mutants. They tried to drag him out of court and kill him in the square."

He notes the concession in Rogue's body language. It makes his tone a little gentler when he says, "You may wind up facing them sooner or later, if you mean to someday help in the field." There is an unspoken question there. He is making no assumptions; perhaps she'll just be in Jean therapy a while.

He glances back at Alison, checking on her tacitly.

* * *

In a span of several seconds, Alison runs the gambit of several emotions. And it's all so exhausting.

With no outlet for her anger and upset, her mood sours like bad milk — curdles into an irrational emotion even she, later, will be ashamed to feel. Betrayal, bright and vivid and unreasonable: how could the team do this to her? How could they give all this forgiveness and belonging to someone who hurt her? Didn't just attack, didn't just make her bleed — but touched her. Left her feeling hollow for a week after. Left her wondering, for days, if that terrifying power had carved out a piece of her soul.

But even Alison cannot stay irrational for long, not even in the theatre of her own mind: maybe Warren didn't tell the rest of the team, when he found her. She begged him enough times to keep her part in it private; her wounded pride could barely take any more. She hasn't been a part of the team for years; she left them, to play pretend at being human — why do they need to consider someone who told them she wasn't coming back?

Again and again, she tries to foster her rage; again and again, it cannot seem to stay.

The rest of her light folds into her body, dissipating away, bringing back the blue in her eyes. An act of armistice. However, Alison crosses her arms; her back is tense, and when her eyes turn back, she's cool — composed. She meets Warren's glance, communicating it: she's fine. She's pissed off, maybe even hurt, but she's not going to be blasting anyone.

Experimentation on mutants. Brotherhood murder attempts. All of it makes her exhale. "Is that what you mean to do?" she inquires sharply, off the back of Warren's question — this, too, directed to Rogue. "You're here to be an X-Man?"

* * *

"That'll be about Wilson Fisk then," Rogue says, in soft tones.

"They can't get to him, but they surely can get to a whole lotta people who supported him. Fisk didn't just fund them experiments. He used us— them. On one side of his mouth had just wrapped up havin' mutants all in a row of induced comas, sucking 'em dry to make their powers into pills. On the other? He done gave the twins resources and hiding spots just so he could set the Brotherhood against them Defenders. Who ain't mutants, I guess, mostly, but products of IGH science experiments, quite a few. What that actually means depends on which Brother you ask, I guess, but. Meanwhile here's this flat— this norm. Keepin' two problems busy for the price of one. Never guessed one of them Defenders, that one as goes and plum dresses up like Lucifer, would not only tell them what Fisk had been up to, but provide proof."

Intel, at least, is freely and easily given. She has to pay her way here somehow, and right now, that's the way she's choosing to do it. She's warned that the moment she was recognized as having disappeared and maybe defected, certain protocols would change. But that doesn't mean she doesn't know some things.

Meanwhile, the question. Unspoken by one. Spoken by the other. Does she mean to help in the field? Can she face her friends? Her family? Does she mean to be an X-Man?

"I aim to help, yeah. Can't make nothing right by hiding, I reckon. Just figured I wouldn't go trying to push myself into watching nobody's back until folks was more or less sure I didn't aim to take a stab. But I ain't presuming neither. I ain't no X-Man unless y'all say I am. Till all y'all say I am. But help don't rest on that."

She pushes off the car, starts putting away her tools, not really looking at either one of them. Pissed and hurt Alison, guarded by somewhat accepting Warren.

"For what it's worth, Dazzler, I'm sorry about how I done did you that night. But thing is, I came to respect you over that night, too. That's a thing as bears saying."

* * *

Warren's glance back at Alison yields the sight of her with her hackles back down — slightly. Slightly appears to be good enough for him. He makes a note to talk to her separately, in private.

But he doesn't keep his eyes off Rogue for long. Instinct, perhaps, or long habit; either way, it's a plain sign that despite his determination to embody the principles his mentor left him with, he still nurses a certain wariness to be in the presence of someone who — up until recently — was batting for the other team. His blue eyes return soon enough, with a distinct aquiline acuity: an impression strengthened by the loom of the wings at his back. Warren can read a pedestrian's book from two miles up. He seems, for a few moments, to be trying to read Rogue too.

That gaze lingers as Rogue freely offers what she knows about the twins' motivations for the attack. "Wilson Fisk," Worthington muses, with the sort of patrician disdain only old money can have for the new. "I suppose they'll be targeting anyone else with ties to Fisk, then, in the coming months. Seeing as they can't reach the man himself. Something to keep an eye on."

Alison asks, then, much more directly what Warren was merely implying. He falls silent to let Rogue answer, one wing shifting to curl slightly around himself as he listens. He picks absently at the feathers in what seems to be a habitual, not-really-thinking gesture, pulling and straightening them and rehooking them back into place after their earlier spread.

Presently, once she finishes, he pulls his wing back behind himself with a slight shake of the preened feathers. "We appreciate the sentiment," he says. He probably means it; but then, a man like Warren Worthington probably learned to talk nice for cameras a long time ago, too. "If that's what you mean to do, then I'm certain soon we'll ease you into some of the missions we have to run. Many are quite literal: outreach to young ones who need guidance." Read: safe operations where they can test how she works in the field, with low likelihood of crossing the Brotherhood.

Her apology to Alison silences him. He glances towards her, his wings held tightly against his back.

* * *

Though her thoughts — her discomfort — keep Dazzler quiet, sequestered from the larger conversation about Wilson Fisk, she listens.

A lot of it is news to her, who's been too far away too damn long, and still in an information diet since New York's invasion. She forgets her own upset to consider it — mutant experimentation — and the sickening reality it presents. The uphill battle the X-Men have to face.

A stray thought in her, bitter, cannot fault the Brotherhood for wanting to remove a monster like that from the planet. Alison pushes it back down. Unnecessary. Unhelpful.

She offers no present thoughts on it, however. No mood to talk shop with Rogue. Maybe, someday. Not today.

Instead, she awaits an answer to her pointed question; Alison does not have Warren's eyes and hawk-like focus, but her gaze is firm, absorbing the sound of Rogue's voice as much as she does weigh the words. Her gaze cuts away, distracted by Warren arranging his wings — is it a relent? Is Dazzler easing down?

One will never know — because Rogue dares the waters, and makes an apology. And Alison?

I came to respect you, is said, and her expression chills — ice over a pond. Rogue came to respect her?! Alison can't even respect herself — all of it was a mistake! A mistake that led to her getting —

"Cut the crap," she replies, voice hypothermic. The halo is back on Dazzler, flaring off her, before she suppresses it back down. "You are being given something here — and you don't —" Alison cuts herself off, fighting back her temper. "If you ever hurt anyone here."

The statement cuts short. Alison refuses to finish it. "Warren, I need some air."

* * *

Alison's temper flares. And abruptly, that smile is back on Rogue's face, pulled in place like a mask. Green eyes sparkle. Dazzler retreats to fury, and Rogue retreats right back to humor with a side of mild mockery. "Oh, now, don't go leaving on my account. Y'all came up in here for a reason, and I'm on my way out."

Rogue snaps her toolbox shut and picks it up. She chins towards the row of cars. "By the by, Feathers. Forget dust. If that car of yours sat for awhile it's gonna need a jump or a new battery. Cars ain't meant to sit. Though right about now I reckon you could probably use the top of Alison's noggin, if you aren't sure how them things get done."

And with that she steps through the garage's side door, making her exit, letting them get back to business.

* * *

Warren's own thoughts on the matter of Fisk's mutant experimentation — beyond the meaningless surface disdain — are kept guarded. Warren Worthington: adept at hiding his true thoughts and feelings about anything. He's had to hide the physical pain of his bound wings for half his life; he's got practice.

Besides, his attention is hooked by the growing tension between Alison and Rogue. He holds his silence as Rogue offers an apology — and Alison immediately slaps it away, gone hypothermic. Warren can't guess at the intricacies of why Alison reacts in such a way — despite their years working together, there are still layers to her he does not know — but he can tell when a nerve's been hit when he sees it.

He can also tell a facade going back up, and one snaps back up on Rogue. His wings lift again, a little, at her returned jabs.

"That's enough," he says. Warren doesn't assert often in the context of the X-Men, not with Scott and Jean around: barring some jousting in the early days, anyway. When he does assert, though — he means it. "Both of you."

One takes her leave. The other stays. Warren's feathers stay raised a few moments, before deflating in a rustle of his wings drooping. "This is going to be a headache," he sighs.

A pause. Then, annoyed: "And I do know how to jump a car." Just because it needed to be said.

* * *

Against the return of Rogue's smile, Dazzler turns to stone.

That slip of anger, she realizes, was a one slip too far — and has already calibrated herself into a quiet lockdown. She'll regret all of it later, with time and plenty of hindsight, and wish she'd controlled herself better. But Alison was expecting safety within the Institute, come home with her guard down — all to be faced with Rogue here.

The superego tells her that the school is bigger than her, not about her at all — possibly, especially so, after she spent so many years running away. But the heart wants to hurt.

Alison is silent as Rogue leaves; she doesn't answer any of those taunts.

But she does remark, when they're alone: "'Both of you?'" Alison's eyes are back on Warren, unable to hide her hurt. "Really?"

* * *

Warren watches Rogue leave. His attention doesn't split until she's gone. When it does, he becomes gradually aware of the disquiet on Alison's face; the way she looks at him with that hurt in her eyes. Really?

He glances at her. His keen eyes take in her expression in one flick of a look.

"I should have remembered to warn you before we ever returned here, so that you could prepare yourself," he allows. "But we have a purpose here, and it's not to burn the penitent." Half a beat. "Not until they have proven the penitence is a lie."

He is silent a moment, his wings held cinched in a tense sort of way. His gaze averts, his sharp profile still and thoughtful. "Did you find her insincere?" he asks presently. "Help me understand."

* * *

There is little threat of that anger returning: Alison Blaire's temper, never a formidable thing, is put to rest. Packed away neatly, compartmentalized, out of reach.

Unfortunately, she cannot yet do the same for the rest; more importantly, she finds herself with little desire to. With anyone else, it would be simple to do as Alison would — apologize, give the fake smile, and run, run, run away. But this is Warren.

Her arms cross as he speaks; old habits from a lifetime of arguments, all to help gird her against the prospect of being told something she doesn't want to hear. We have a purpose, reminds Warren, and the words seem to hit the mark, and shame turns Alison's eyes away. In the battle between hurt and guilt, guilt is swiftly winning out. It is true, and the Professor's goals. They do have a purpose. And to be part of a team is to put desires aside.

Alison rubs discontently at her face. And answers Warren, honest, "Yes."

But to help him understand, first she glances off in the direction Rogue left, and spends three heartbeats carefully listening. She doesn't want this overheard, and especially not by her.

"She made me feel helpless in a way —" Alison isn't sure how to finish that. She cannot look at Warren to say it. "When she touches you — it felt like someone went in me, and took something out. I won't question Jean. But I don't know how to forgive that."

* * *

Though he has been gone for years, the Professor's ghost still lingers: especially in the form of those who were his first mentees. Warren led a life of bound wings, repression, and pain until he met Xavier and was taken into the X-Men. He learned not only to be at peace with his nature from the man, but more than that, also to turn his life to a purpose: to ensure others would not have to go through the same. To crusade for some day when mutants and humans might be able to understand one another.

There were controversial aspects to such a stance. There always are, to any kind of strong stance. But the core of Xavier's dream was always understanding and tolerance. In the man's absence, Warren still tries to live it. Even if it is sometimes very difficult. Even if sometimes there are still lines in the sand which must be drawn and defended.

Warren is pensive to contemplate whether this might be one. But in the end, he speaks from his instincts. Shame turns Alison's eyes away; Warren reaches, silently, to turn her face back towards him. "None of that," he says.

His touch is brief. He takes his hands back to himself as Alison begins haltingly to speak. His blue eyes shade with a troubled look.

She doesn't know how to forgive that, she says. "There is nothing that says you must," Warren answers. "Not now, and perhaps not ever."

* * *

Heavy words spoken from Alison, confessed to Warren under implicit trust: for his ears alone. She hesitates to say them, raw, and inexperienced when it comes to revealing such things —

Even then, now, her eyes are dry. Can anyone attest to ever seeing Alison Blaire cry? Even the night, years ago, he had foud her, she was shaken, self-deprecating, hollowed-out, but had held herself together.

Eventually, her gaze breaks, weighted with shame. She cannot ignore the impulse — a hope for some measure of blind loyalty. But even Alison knows it's an unreasonable thig, and more than that — a dangerous thing. Loyalty inherently asks one to choose a side, and such things can run against a dream of unity — of mutual understanding.

And Alison, in the middle of it, with the memory of her father's voice in her ear. Selfish girl, wanting selfish things. She should endure for the team. The Professor would forgive this; did he not, with the stories she heard with Magneto? Two men who were once friends?

Her eyes avert. Warren seems to know exactly why, and guides her back. Alison concedes to that touch to her face, perhaps surprised to feel it at all; her eyes hold Warren's for a beat.

His words come met with her relenting. "I'll deal with it," Alison feels the need to promise, quietly appalled at the idea of freshingly returning, and thought of some — anger case, unable to control herself. "I won't make it a problem."

* * *

Warren regards Alison in silence. He understands well enough, or thinks he does, the heart of this matter: Alison wanted to be unequivocally defended, and ran up instead against the Institute's enduring maxims of tolerance, forgiveness, and understanding. Xavier was still forgiving and reaching out to his old friend, even after a decade of bitter fighting. He was just that sort of man, and what he built strives to exemplify that.

It is an idealistic sort of dream. It also runs up, hard, against a personality that just wants, for once, to be stood behind without hesitation; that just wants to not feel selfish for her own emotions.

These things are not things of which Warren is even fully aware. He has worked so long beside Alison without ever truly getting to the heart of her. He only ever saw enough to be aware that there were many things beneath the surface that reminded him of himself. He seems intent to change that. The Professor is gone, and so now they must all cling together the more tightly.

Alison promises to deal with it — to not be a problem. Warren regards her silently a moment, his hands hooked in his pockets. The lack of movement from his hands might make it doubly startling when she suddenly feels something touching her; a glance up will reveal it is his right wing, unfurled and folded in around her to take her rather literally under his wing.

"I know that you will," he says. "But there are things that can be done to help with however you choose to deal with it." He makes a private note: perhaps talk to Jean. "The car can wait, and so can this. We can go back to the city for the night."

* * *

For now, the guilt seems to have slipped back to take Alison's reins: steering her with many, corrective tugs away from what she would like — and what feels right for her to request, and take.

Even when she's not expecting it, it throws her to realize how this is a persistent theme in her life; a running problem that trips her up, again and again. Music seemed to be the only exception to it, something that chose her beyond all — and, even then, her choices had it taken away. Makes her think her father had a point, and for that, she needs to be careful; Alison may be one flight of fancy away from turning into her mother, and walking off permanently from others who need her.

Either way, whatever her feelings, Alison can make an infallible promise. She is restraint and self-control, and can make it less of an issue. Suck it up, stiff upper lip it like they did in London — all that jazz.

Her eyes search his for that moment, perhaps needing to be assured he believes her; or that some faith in her ability or goals is not irrevocably destroyed. If Warren lost trust in her, or worse, thought her a liability —

He holds silent before her. Alison shifts, deliberates how to mitigate the moment away, and then — pauses, feeling a shroud of softness ad warmth yielding to her body. Or, perhaps, her body yielding to it. She can see the tips of his white feathers to know what Warren is doing, embracing her into the curl of his wing.

Alison's heart lurches; a glow flickers briefly against her skin until she smooths it back down. He can feel her, from the beat of her heart, to the shaky breath she lets go. "You guys have done a lot for me," she says, whether in appreciative fact, or reticence to ask any more. Her right hand closes lightly on some of his feathers. His last suggestion comes to her relief, exhausted from today. "Please. That sounds divine."

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