Riding didn't come naturally to Scott. It took him a year before he could trot without feeling like his spine was going to get shoved through his skull and another year after that before he stopped butting heads (sometimes literally) with his mount about who was really in charge.
Eventually, going for a ride became less of a chore although it was never a pleasure unless Jena or Warren was around to get his mind off of things. Still, there was something about being on a horse that-- cheesy as it sounded-- connected Scott to the mansion and the land surrounding it. Xavier's great-great-grandparents bred horses; a few of those bloodlines still lived here. The animals responded to his presence, if not well or predictably, and they always showed their appreciation for the visits whether he came to give them exercise, brush them down, or just feed them apples while he talked.
Scott did have a favourite though: Boromir, a buckskin. He was a Morgan, the only American breed in a stable of Old World Trakheners, Andalusians, and one Shetland pony that had delusions of being a Shire. He sympathised with the Morgan's position-- a working-class type surrounded by royalty in the same way that Scott himself had been surrounded by old money and nouveau riche.
Scott dismounted a few yards into the forest trail. Boromir whickered; it had been too short a ride.
"Give me a sec," Scott told him. "I haven't ridden in a while. My quads are killing me."
Nickering patiently, Boromir lowered his head to lip at the field grass.
"Lookin' dead sexy there, preppy."
Scott twisted around to look for the speaker, his hand at his visor. In a sycamore tree just out of his peripheral vision was Remy, lounging at a fork between two large branches, a cigarette smouldering between his index and middle finger.
Scott relaxed. Barely. "How the hell do you do that?"
"Manage to appear wherever I go. It's like having a persistent wart." He patted Boromir's neck, easing the horse's surprise.
"Learned the trick at Annoy-UR-Big-Brothers-R-Us. Can't reveal. Gonna take away my secret decoder ring." He flicked ash from his cigarette and took a long drag. "Horses hate me."
"Maybe because you smell like a chimney," Scott pointed out.
Remy shrugged. "I always thought they knew how freaked out I am by the idea of being gelded."
"I could have used a pair of gelding shears once you hit junior high," said Scott.
"You're just jealous 'cause I always got picked to play spin-the-bottle."
"Considering how indiscriminate the spin-the-bottle crowd was, I'm kind of glad I missed out."
"Hey, I missed out on plenty, too," Remy said. "Meeting your red-head, for example. Sure would've loved to check her out."
Scott snorted even as his head started to throb. "There was a reason why I kept her away."
Remy clutched his heart. "Well, hell, Baby Brother, if you were that threatened, no wonder you didn't even tell me that she'd died. Made a beautiful corpse, did she?"
Taking a deep breath that somehow managed not to be broken, Scott said, "Fuck. Off."
"No, you fuck off." Remy pointed his cigarette at him and Scott knew that if he was a ten feet closer, the business end of that cigarette would have burnt a circle in the middle of his forehead. "Is that why that over-grown pigeon is here? You had him at the funeral and not us?"
"Oh, please, dramatize," Scott said. He continued as evenly as he could. "What were you going to do if I told you anyway? Dad's still stationed in Kuwait, Alex is in the middle of field research, Adam's completely useless when it comes to planning anything, and you..."
"I'm what?" Remy asked, his voice low.
Scott shook his head. "Warren knew how to arrange... things."
"He's buried a lot of fuck buddies?"
"Jesus, this is exactly why I didn't call you!" Scott rubbed his forehead, feeling a migraine coming on. "Listen, Remy, just... back off, all right? I can't handle you guys right now."
"Sure thing, Scotty. Whatever the hell you say." Propping his legs high on the branch, Remy wedged his cigarette between his lips and folded his arms under his head. "As long as you remember the longer I'm here, the prettier your little students get."
With a shake of his head, Scott tugged Boromir deeper into the path, cursing Remy's ability to get on his second-to-last nerve.
Upon reflection, it probably wasn't the best idea to call on a guest that you'd kicked in the face. The only other volunteer had been Jubilee and God knew she'd only use that time to gawk and flirt.
Piotr patted her shoulder. "It's all right, Rogue. He didn't seem to be angry when we left him with Mr. Summers."
"I guess," said Rogue. "But he's Mr. Summers' brother and I kind of kicked his face. I'm not sure he'd want to eat dinner with us after that."
"Our peace offering is dinner. And he tries anything, use me as a shield," said Piotr. He offered a quick smile, shy smile. Funny how someone so huge could be so gentle.
Her first week at the school, Rogue had avoided Pete, leery of both his size and apparent stand-offishness. Soon after Logan nearly killed her (not to mention that Statue of Liberty incident), he asked her to star in one of his photoshoots. He needed to restock his collection of reference pictures and, Pete told her, she was the perfect model for this set. He took her all over the house and the grounds, casually introducing her to the rest of the kids and making a bit production out of her poses, letting the others get used to her presence. If Logan helped her feel safe and Bobby, loved, it was Pete who made her feel normal.
Gentle as he was, when Piotr rapped firmly on their guest's door, it sounded like machine guns going off. "Mr. Summers? It's dinner time."
"It's open," came the muffled reply. Piotr obeyed to find Remy standing next to an open window, blowing cigarette smoke out into the damp night. Even though his room was dark, he wore shades but they didn't look like Cyclops' special glasses. "I never lock doors. Most locks are practically useless, y'know."
"The professor wanted us to tell you that it's time to eat, Mr. Summers," said Rogue. Then, in a rush, she added, "And I really want to apologize for kicking your face and pulling your hair."
"Forget it, Stripes." He tapped his cigarette thoughtfully on the window sill. "You from down south? Mississippi or there abouts, right?"
"Meridian," answered Rogue. "Most people can't tell the difference."
"I lived in New Orleans until I was ten. Have a place there now." said Remy. "I'd've gotten thumped good if I couldn't tell a river rat from a cowboy. And call me Remy; don't want to be mistaken as Scott."
"I'm Rogue," she said, holding out a hand.
"Piotr," said the other student. "Welcome to Xavier's School, Mr...uh... Remy."
Remy whistled. "Damn, I'm glad you're the one who went for help. If you'd kicked me in the face, I'd still be picking my teeth out of the carpet. Probably groping around for my eyeballs, too."
"Maybe next time you'll use the door," said Piotr with a slight smile.
"Doors are boring." He crushed the cigarette out on the sill and threw it in a trash can. "What's for dinner then? Mystery meat? Casserole surprise?"
"Stuffed turkey breasts, pasta salad, three-bean salad, and vegetarian lasagne," Piotr recited.
"I'd skip on the pasta salad," Rogue said quickly. "I was in the Foods class that made it and we had a little trouble with the concept of al dente."
Remy nodded in appreciation. "Gotcha."
They were halfway to the stairs when Rogue's curiosity overcame her. "Do you have powers like Mr. Summers? The other Mr. Summers, I mean? I don't mean to be nosy," she added, "but you've been wearing those shades all day. The only other person who does that is Mr. Summers and seeing as you're brothers..." She shrugged. "I was just wondering."
"No harm in it," said Remy. He drew his shades off and tucked them in his breast pocket. Even after seeing mutants like Mystique and Mr. Wagner, his eyes were a bit of a shock. His irises were red, like blood had leaked into them and solidified. Even his pupils had a red tinge. His black sclerae reminded Piotr of a rock in the reflection pool, perfectly smooth, barely glistening when wet.
"I can't see too well when there's too much light," Remy said, "so I wear the shades. They're fantastic for sneaking around in the dark, though."
"So, you're kinda born to be a thief," said Rogue.
"Rogue!" Piotr said admonishingly but Remy only laughed.
"I guess you can say that."
"So, you're older than Mr. Summers?" said Piotr, desperate to lead the conversation back into proper small talk.
Remy shrugged. "Officially, I'm younger but that's a story you're better off asking your teacher for details. Let's say we're half-brothers and leave it at that. There's two others younger than us. Adam, the baby, is about your age."
"So, not all of you have powers?" Rogue asked as they descended from the second landing.
"Just us two older kids," said Remy. "Guess the Powers That Be thought it was bad enough Adam and Alex are ugly as the south end of a north-bound warthog without adding mutations to the mix."
"What was Mr. Summers like while you went to school here?" Piotr wanted to know. "My little sister is coming next year; she's upset that I won't be here to show her around."
Jogging down the last few steps to the main floor, Remy said, "Again, you're better off askin' Hank McCoy or Worthington the Winged Wonder Lad. I only stayed here a month."
"You really lucked out then," said Rogue. "All you have to do to control your power is wear glasses."
As they reached the base of the steps, Remy smacked his palm against his forehead. "Dang, did I forget to tell you? The eyes aren't the only mutation."
The two students stopped, matching quizzical expressions on their faces.
Remy swooped down to pick up a small white feather. "Damn over grown chickens. They make terrible pets."
The feather blushed deep pink, crackled and darkened to an angry red and then exploded with a soft bang, leaving Rogue and Piotr to cough in the smoky wake.
"Oh, crap, now I've dirtied up my good shirt." Remy slapped ash away with both hands. "Never could get a hang of dinner time around here."
While breakfast was optional and lunches, informal, dinners at Xavier's were mandatory. On Fridays, the teachers sat with the students and on Saturdays, the dress code was dropped but normally, like this evening, all the men were in dress shirts and slacks and the women in blouses and skirts or dress pants. A group of students, led by one of the teachers, organized every dinner for a week: the menu, seating arrangements and, on Sundays, the china patterns. Xavier called it Applied Communications and Group Dynamics and graded the students based on teamwork, the smoothness of meal dynamics, and how closely the dishes followed the food pyramid.
The teachers sat on either side of two long tables that were curiously but comfortably empty. Xavier, Kelly, Logan and Remy had one table; Scott, Ororo, Warren and Hank sat in the other. Thirty students were spending their summer at the school this year, double the size of last year's semester.
Drinks lined the side table under the main bay window. Entrees marched down the centre of both tables. This week's group added small flower arrangements-- magnolias blossoms and their thick, dark leaves-- between each place setting for a more formal touch.
"We're lucky we have Teresa in our group this week," said Rogue as they slipped through the entrance. "She worships Martha Stewart."
Remy tilted his chin down and ran a hand through his hair. "Didn't anyone tell you guys it's summer vacation? Why are all of you still here taking classes?"
"Remedial courses," Rogue answered.
"And some have nowhere else to go," Piotr said with offhand casualness.
Rogue chewed her lip and headed for her seat beside Bobby, shoulders hunched.
Blushing, Piotr tried to fix his gaffe by saying, "A lot of us are here by choice, though. I mean, I'm not here for remedial classes but I'm still staying because I like the school environment. Not that home is terrible but I just--"
Remy patted his arm. "It's okay, big guy. Switch me seats and I'll handle it."
Flustered, the young man didn't even argue as he made his way to the seat next to Ms. Munro. Remy rushed to Rogue's side, pulling out her chair and bowing gallantly.
"Après vous, ma'amselle."
Rogue sulkily took the seat, opened her napkin, and placed it on her lap. Bobby was still talking to Jamie about the upcoming season of "Lost" but he squeezed her hand in greeting.
"Man, will you look at this spread." Remy clapped his hands and rubbed them together with glee. "Reminds me of the time Pops got me from the foster home. He took all of us to a posh hotel restaurant straight away. Guess it was a buffet or something. All I can remember was miles and miles of food all decked out pretty and a table set with seven forks and four knives, five spoons and ten glasses, six plates and two bowls and a little dish that I thought was vinegar but was actually for washing your fingertips with. Nothing makes you feel like more of an outsider than having to figure out which fork to use when you're starving enough to use your hands."
"So what did you do?" Rogue asked politely.
"Dove right in," said Remy with a wink and a grin. "Who cares about forks when you're starving enough to use both hands? Not that Tante Mattie starved us-- Tante Mattie was my foster mom at the time and, bless her, she had her hands full with six of us kids running amok in her place. We had enough to eat but never this much and I'd always had two hollow legs.
"There was this salmon--" Remy spread his hands three feet apart to illustrate the size of the fish "-- hugest damn erm, dang fish I'd ever seen. Skinned and steamed with these paper-thin slices of lemon and specks of pepper and onions and a nice tart sauce next to it. I almost passed out, I was so excited about eating that fish. I swear to you, they had to hold me back by the arms; I was totally willing to just gnaw on the salmon right then and there."
Rogue giggled despite herself. She served herself a few scoops of three-bean salad then passed it to Remy, who continued his narration.
"And on the other side of the buffet was a cow."
Jubilee nearly spat her mouthful of lasagne out. She coughed, her cheeks bright red at being caught listening in on the conversation. Remy winked at her as well, tacitly including her in the conversation.
"I kid you not, it was a whole cow just sitting there under giant heat lamps while this Hannibal Lector guy with the ginsu knives carved out chunks of meat and plopped them on people's plates. That cow should've come with warning signs because vegetarians were just dropping down like flies in disgust. Me, I was salivating all down my shirt front. They gave me a bib and told me it was for the lobster but I know it was 'cause my clothes were wet all the way down to my knees."
By this time, Remy had the entire table's attention. Utensils quieted and, other than the occasional chuckle, no one else made a sound.
"Scotty there was no help." Remy pointed his butter knife at his brother who sat at the head of the other table. "He was so tickled by me and my amazing Hoover-mouth that he kept refilling my plate. Reams and reams of food piled up to my chin and me, being the polite sort, kept eating and eating everything he'd put on it. I tried everything on that buffet three times over. And that was before we got to the dessert table!"
"Don't blame the dessert table on me," Scott said, letting his voice carry over the quiet murmurs. "I told you to stop after that chocolate with chocolate on chocolate cake."
Jubilee moaned. Remy nodded in her direction. "My thoughts exactly. How do you stop after that chocolate cake? If that first try was good enough, the rest had to be better right? So I filled up on Jell-o and pudding and all these little fruit tarts and ice cream with all the toppings and cream puffs and fruit."
"Fruit are the natural dessert," Rogue interjected slyly.
"Exactly. I was just looking after my health."
Kelly snorted again. "I'm sorry. Please, keep going. This is really entertaining."
"Okay, so here I am after putting away twice my weight in food, sauce and drool running down my shirt, probably more gack on my face and it occurs to me that I hadn't drunk a drop of anything all that time."
"Oh no," said Bobby. "I think I know where this is going."
"You'd be guessing right," Remy said. "Seeing as how we're at the table, Big Brother's giving me the evil eye and your headmaster's just six feet away looking mighty posh in his Ralph Lauren suit, I'm going to leave the ending to your imagination. Pass the white wine, please?"
From his position, Warren barely restrained his urge to gag. "Does he go into the hokey accent for your benefit or mine?" he asked Scott.
"Definitely yours this time around," Scott replied. "I had my quota a few hours ago." Quickly shovelling the contents of his plate into his mouth, he got up, thanking the group for the meal.
"Where are you going?" asked Xavier.
"I've got a lot of things to finish up before we start the teacher interviews next week," said Scott, "especially if we're going to look for Adam, too."
"Nice of you to remember his name," Remy murmured.
Scott's smile tightened. With a final farewell, he escaped to his office for a few hours of heavenly computer crunching.