Things seemed so empty that first week without Tommy and Billy. Before, Jason had wondered how he was going to fit them in on top of his studies and his regimen.
Now he seemed to have oodles of time.
And it seemed like Logan and Scott had the same idea on how to deal with how to fill it. They both pushed him twice as hard, twice as long.
"You cold-cocked Mystique, Jason, and yeah, it's because I taught you how, but it was a lot of luck, too. And if she ever crosses your path again she's going to be itching for payback. She's going to be out for blood. When I go against her, she's scary good. It's everything in me to match her. You? A guy in a wheelchair who sucker punched her and laid her out?"
"Why bother, if she's just going to gut me?" Jason snapped.
"Because she's a vain bitch who's going to think that you got her once, through luck, but you're nothing more than a cripple in a wheelchair. And that's your opening. She's overconfident and will let her guard down at some point. And you've got to know that moment and seize it."
"Like I can take her."
Logan's fingers dug painfully into his shoulders as he hissed, "You already did. I want you to know every possible way you can drop that bitch how and when she least expects it. You life may depend on it. The lives of your friends and family may depend on it."
Things weren't much better with Scott, who had him watching oodles and oodles of hockey and football games, having him analyze strategies, point out various strengths and weaknesses, drilling him on what he would've done different, and why. And when it wasn't football or hockey, it was famous battles in history.
"I almost feel as if you're grooming me for some sort of field command. Except I know you're not," Jason grumbled after he lost (as Napoleon) the battle of Waterloo -- again.
Scott looked almost hurt as he replied, "And why do you say that?"
Jason felt his jaw clench. "Look. Please don't patronize me."
"I don't believe in busy work, Jason."
"Then what is this?"
"It's teaching you to think, teaching you to lead. What do you think coaching is?"
"Scott, do you really think I'm ever going to be a coach? Do you think the little town of Dillon is going to welcome me back? Do you think I'm really going to get my little bit of Texas forever? Because let me tell you, I've heard it from both my parents and from Tim and it's the juiciest gossip in town -- my being a mutant -- and the reaction is decidedly mixed. They retired my number after we won State. Well, a few of the Boosters have moved to un-retire it, but a more than a few kids have said they wouldn't wear it if assigned to them."
Scott slid his glasses up and rubbed at his eyes. "Okay, no shitter here. No, I don't think you're ever going to coach, not the way you dreamed of it. But I think you're a damn good leader and strategist -- I've watched your game tapes -- and a lot of being a good leader? It's a lot like coaching in some ways."
"Yeah, like I'm ever going to be on the front lines."
"Probably not. But the generals seldom are. You think that I never have Professor X in my mind, calling shots, showing me the big picture?"
"So ... you're grooming me to be Oracle?"
Scott snorted at the comics reference. "Yeah, Oracle."
"Does this mean I'm getting my own team of hot super babes to secretly lead?" Jason asked in a tone both flippant and sarcastic. "And that means I'll be Charlie, not Oracle."
Scott frowned in thought. "Actually, that may not be such a bad idea. Let me talk to the Professor about this."
"You're serious." Jason blinked in shock.
Scott shrugged. "I don't see why not. I mean, off the top of my head, I'd like to see what you could do with Lorna, Jubilee, Boomer, Kitty, and Rogue."
Jason felt a wave excitement rise in him. He didn't want to get too hopeful, but .... "Scott," he said with a smile, "I have a confession to make. My first time coaching was my Junior year. The powderpuff game."
"Hell no. Got my ass handed to me by the other team."
Scott lay back on a bench next to him, pillowed his head on his hands and smiled up at the sky. Jason tried to keep his glances surreptitious, but it wasn't exactly easy. And frankly, he also envied Scott's toned, tanned legs, wished his own weren't so white and spindly. The breeze ruffled Scott's short brown hair and when he smiled over at Jason, his heart skipped a beat. Because Scott was so ....
"Did you even hear a word I just said, Jason?"
Jason felt his face flame. "No." Pause. "I was lost in thought -- unfamiliar territory."
Scott laughed. "As if. Look, Professor has given the go ahead to you trying to meld Lorna, and the rest into a team, but, other than powderpuff, you haven't really coached girls before, have you?"
"It's different than coaching guys. I'm telling you now that it's not going to be like when you were on a team and there was one leader and there was this nice neat chain of command. Women do it differently. There is going to be an alpha girl, but it's going to be more about consensus and ... there's going to be a lot of talking. Ooodles and oodles of talking about how to accomplish things that you as a guy would just tell the rest of the guys on your team to do and they would.
"You'll be questioned at every step of the way. Not because they're trying to undercut you, but because they'll just want to know why you want them to do it. It's just the way women are. I mean, you will be issuing orders, but the way in which they're going to come together to carry them out is going to be very different than the way guys come together to get things done."
"Uh-huh." Jason studied his hands.
Scott squeezed him on the shoulder. "This isn't some sort of second thoughts or vote of no-confidence. I'm just letting you know that you're going to have to do things differently, but you'll figure out the dynamics of this particular group of girls, and you can knock on my door anytime you need to vent."
Jason smiled. "Hopefully that won't happen too often."
Something brittle entered Scott's expression as he said, "I mean, I know I don't have quite the easy rapport you've got with Logan, but --"
Jason looked him in the eye. "There's a reason you're the team leader and Logan isn't. Sure, he can handle things on the fly, but he's too much of a lone wolf to build a team. He'd crack under the pressure. My friend Tim's a bit like him. But they both make great lieutenants, though."
"Yeah, that they do." Scott sighed morosely.
"So, like, we're all yours?" Jubilee said in a tone of utter disinterest and blew a huge bubble.
"Like, could you be more rude?" Boomer snapped at her.
Jubilee put her hands on her hips and stuck her lip out mulishly. "I don't know. Wanna find out?"
Jason knew fighting words when he heard them. "Both of you, quit it. Now."
Reluctantly they turned and looked at him.
"Yes, you are all mine and if you hate that with what Kitty calls 'white hot stabby rage' then quit now because I see some other potentials I can tap like Paige or Dani."
"Okay, here's what we're going to do ...." God, he hoped that Scott knew what he was doing when he said to assign his team a series of tasks and let them sort out the pecking order amongst themselves. Plus, Scott wanted to see notes and observations from Jason about how they worked and who did what well.
Two hours later he felt ready to beg for mercy when Scott ambled over.
"Okay. Lorna's definitely our team leader, but beyond that?" Jason put his head in his hands and sighed from the bottom of his feet. "It trades between Rogue and Kitty depending on what the task is. Oh, and the three of them are ready to kill Boomer and Jubilee -- and frankly, I am, too -- and we've got to come up with code-names for Kitty and Lorna."
"Rome wasn't built in a day." Scott replied. "I think you're off to a fairly good start."
"Really?" Jason asked, squeezing his eyes shut and massaging his temples against the pain.
"Yup. By the way, Jean said you might want this." He held out bottle of Advil.
"God bless her. I think I should make this a part of my permanent kit." Jason patted the fanny pack slung around his waist.
Scott laughed and said, "Why do you think she sent the bottle?"
Two hours a day five days a week spent in the company of five really beautiful teenaged girls. An hour a day five days week, plus bits and pieces here and there on the weekends spent in the company of a guy who had it all -- good looks, charm, brains. A guy who genuinely treated Jason like an equal, not a stupid teenager.
UTIs be damned. Jason had to have some relief.
And even when he wasn't taking matters into his own hands, the triple X cinema of his dreams took care of things quite nicely.
Not that waking up and discovering you were damp and sticky down there from come was that much better than it being from leakage.
"So, is your team going to have a name?" Scott asked one morning at breakfast.
July had come and school wasn't really in session -- Jason had a few classes because of college summer sessions, and he wasn't going to go home until August -- but all of his team was still, for one reason or another, at the Institute. Since they were all still in High School, they didn't have classes, but Jason still insisted on his two hours a day. He felt almost ready to put them in the Danger Room. Boomer and Jubilee bickered constantly about everything, but were somehow best friends now. Jason had no idea how that worked, but figured he should just leave well enough alone.
"I was thinking something humble like Jason's Angels."
"Old school. I like it."
"Yeah, it beat out Stigmatalingus."
Scott did a spit-take.
"Long story," Jason said. He dropped his voice to a whisper and continued, "By the way, Boomer and Jubilee are going to put on a 'fireworks' show in slightly belated honor of my birthday down by the reflecting pond tonight. I'm not supposed to know, but ... there was a lot of whispering about something going on and I figured --"
"That you'd better find out what it was all about. Yeah. Sometimes you've got to do that as a Coach."
"So you took the gloves --" Scott began disapprovingly.
"Hell no, I did it the old fashioned way." Jason smiled. "I eavesdropped. If I'm careful, this chair is practically silent."
Jason may have had to pretend to be surprised by the fact that his team had worked up a show for him, but his gasps and wows of amazement were genuine. As were everybody else's.
Because, even though this was all for show, seeing Boomer's plasma balls and Jubilee's plasmoids phase through Kitty was quite the feat, as was seeing Boomer make "bombs" of all sizes, from marble to beach ball -- which was big and bright but not powerful -- and Jubilee did several variations with her plasmoid streams -- thin little ribbons, pulses in time to the beat of music, huge sprays of sparks -- it all of it had applications in the field, and the girls had clearly pushed themselves to find out new tricks. Plus, and perhaps most importantly, the three of them worked as a team. Then Rogue stepped in and Boomer lobbed her a few plasma balls which she juggled. And when they went off? Everybody's jaw dropped at the reveal of yet another power from Rogue -- invulnerability. Lorna joined in at the finale, using her powers to levitate and move Boomer and Jubilee, who kept up a steady stream of fiery lights despite being moved in several directions.
"You just might have something there, Bub," Logan whispered in his ear.
::Impressive. Very impressive:: Jean sent.
Professor X's and Ororo's eyes glowed with pride.
But I didn't do anything! Jason thought. It's all them.
::Nonsense,:: Professor X gently chided. ::You got them to work together as a team. You motivated them to find new ways to push themselves. And in under two months. Quite the accomplishment.::
Jason smiled and blushed at the pride he heard in Professor X's tone.
His biggest grin was reserved for Scott, who ducked down next to him and said, "Color me flabbergasted, Jason."
"It was all the Advil."
They both laughed at that.
Jason reached for his water bottle, the condensation on it made it slip from his grasp. He had slipped his hands out of the mitts because the evening was warm and he didn't feel like getting his mitts damp. This wasn't West Texas; everything took longer to dry out here. "Shit." It rolled a few feet away. Going to pick it up ...?
He saw Scott reach for it -- a reflex action -- but before he could get the words out, remind him, warn him ....
"Here," Scott said absently and pressed it to his hand, eyes on Jubilee, standing in front of Logan, making little bursts of plasmoids arch between her hands, a new trick.
Jason gasped as it slammed into him. OH. MY. GOD. "Sc-Scott --" he choked out.
Scott's head whipped around and Jason watched it dawn on him a split second later. "Excuse me," he whispered, face stricken, and briskly walked away, hands shoved deep into his pockets.
"Wait, Scott, I --" But before Jason could get anything more out, Alex and Lorna rushed over and asked about the possibility of a boys versus girls match in the danger room.
Still reeling from what he had just discovered, Jason forced his mind back to the present and said, "Um ... I'll have to clear it with Professor X and Logan and ... Scott." Oh God, Scott. "Look, I don't mean to be rude, but something's just come up and I have to go and --" He spun and wheeled after Scott, who had made it to the door of the mansion.
He felt almost giddy with anticipation as he ghosted his hands over the door to Scott's room and, yeah, he was in there, cringing with shame and embarrassment and, worst of all, fear.
Jason knocked on the door. "Scott, can I come in?"
He knocked again.
He pounded on the door and yelled, "Goddamnit, Scott! If you don't open this door right now I'll get Kitty to phase me in."
The door opened a crack. "Jason, I --" Scott rasped
"Let me in." Jason bumped his chair against the wood to show he meant business. "I mean it," he said, glaring up at Scott (who looked miserable) "I'm not kidding, I will go get Kitty."
Resigned, Scott hung his head and opened the door, allowing Jason to enter. Scott shut the door and then silently sank to the bed. "Jason, I am -- I didn't mean."
"Scott, just shut up and listen." Jason rolled over and took one of Scott's hands. "Look at me." When Scott didn't respond, Jason softened his tone and said again, "Look at me, 'cause I'm only going to say this once.
"For many years my best friend, Tim, was in love with me. And I knew it, and I wanted to, but I told myself that I couldn't act on it because Lyla was my girlfriend and ..." he sucked in a deep breath. "That's what I told myself. But Lyla wasn't what was stopping me. Not really. I was afraid. What would everybody think? What would happen if people found out? What would mom and dad do? And Coach? And a million other worries.
"And because I was scared -- too scared to talk about it, at all -- I lost a chance at something that could've been really good. It could have been a flaming trainwreck, too, or maybe even just fizzled out, but it could have been really good, too. And I'll never get to know.
"So yeah, Scott, I mostly like girls, but guys -- some guys -- too, and what I'm trying to say here is," he stroked the back of Scott's hand with his thumb, "is I'm not afraid. Not any more. And I feel pretty much the same way about you, too. You're amazing and wonderful and ... let's just try this and see where it goes. Because, yeah, it could crash and burn, or fizzle out, but ... what if it doesn't?" His voice broke on that last bit.
"Jason," Scott whispered, voice barely audible.
In desperation Jason threw his hand around the back of Scott's neck and hauled him in, kissing him with everything he had, trying to show him, make him understand. And after a moment's hesitation, Scott responded. When they broke for air, or more accurately, when Jason let them break for air, Jason said, "I'm not a boy, Scott. I haven't been a boy since September of last year. I'm a man, and I make my own choices, and I choose you."
Scott smiled and stroked Jason's hair before finally cupping his face and saying, "So, what now?"
"More kissing would be good." Because you're a hell of a kisser.
"And some cuddling would be nice."
Scott snorted gently and said, "What, you don't want to jump right in?"
"A part of me does, but the other part of me -- the big brain -- says to start slow, because this is a pretty big step for the both of us. We're going to surprise a hell of a lot of people. Probably ourselves most of all." Jason laughed as a thought occurred to him. "Besides, a large part of a successful strategy is about learning the lay of the land before committing all the troops."
Scott smirked and said, "Well, it seems I have taught you something. Now, let me get you over here so I can get my scouting session started." And he pulled Jason to him as he lay back on the bed.
Oh yeah, a hell of a kisser indeed, and certainly had some good ideas about what to do with his hands, too.
It wasn't the Texas forever he had dreamed of. It might go down in flames, but as Scott's tongue found a particularly good spot on his neck -- one that made him gasp and stiffen -- Jason knew he'd never regret taking the chance.