Disclaimer: The X-men and their world belongs to Marvel/Fox. No profit or copyright infringement is intended

NOTE: This story is Movie-verse AU

Alligators and Windmills




Warren didn't miss the incredulity in Jean's voice. He was quick that way.

"Yes. Golf. Outdoors, clear skies, pleasant company." He smiled at her then and was pleased at her blush. Warren was aware he was on the losing end of the three way relationship between Scott, Jean and himself but he'd never learned to lose gracefully. He wanted - maybe even loved - them both and he'd never hurt either of them. Everything else could be managed.

Jean rolled her eyes, propping the red plastic cooler briefly on her hip while she flipped the top open and a line of soda cans obediently floated from the counter into it. "You mean grass clipped to an inch of it's life, risking life, limb and dignity with flailing metal clubs and speeding golf carts. If you want to go to a park, we can go to a park."

Now Warren rolled his eyes. "A golf course and a park aren't the same thing. For one thing there's -"

"Dog shit in a park?" Scott interrupted, tucking his shirt in as he came into the kitchen. Clearly he wasn't awake yet - the language, if not the hour - proved it. And his hair. Warren's fingers itched with the impulse to touch Scott's rumpled hair and he went to search the refrigerator instead.

"I wasn't going to say that." Warren said with dignity.

"But you were thinking it." Jean teased.

"What are we talking about anyway?" Scott asked over the clink of mug and pot as he poured himself some coffee.

"Something to do today." Hands full of Pelligrino Warren emerged to see Jean smoothing a palm over Scott's hair. He plunked the bottles in the cooler, wings stirring restlessly. "Away from the house."

"God, yeah. I'm starting to go stir crazy."

Warren brightened at that. Scott wanting to go out was fairly rare - he was more of a stay-at-home than he was willing to admit. "I suggested golf. It's a beautiful day."

Scott looked interested.

"Please -" Jean scowled. "I hate golf."

"How about miniature golf?" Scott suggested then and Warren groaned.

"You can't be serious."

"No - it'd be fun. We can all go, if we can drag Hank out of the lab." Scott tossed back the last of his coffee and made a beeline for the door.

"Breakfast." Warren and Jean chorused.

Warren made scrambled eggs and cheese and by the time Scott had finished they were somehow making a day of it at the Coney Island miniature golf course. It was a far cry from what Warren had planned. He'd been hoping for a day with Jean out from under the watchful eyes - and minds - at the mansion.

"It's only because I'm an incredibly gracious loser that I'm going along for this." Warren groused in the garage, brushing imaginary lint from his cream colored linen jacket.

Scott burst out laughing. Warren glared at him for a moment then chuckled softly himself. "Fine, fine. But I'm driving."

Scott loaded the drinks and lunch in the back while Warren hit the remote for the door. The morning sun poured in and he went to stand in the driveway for a moment, eyeing the clear summer sky. It really was a beautiful day - clear and bright and not too hot. His wings flexed in the harness and he tugged uneasily at his jacket. He'd loathed the heavy leather and canvas nightmare his family tailors had cobbled together all his life but the new, lightweight harness Hank had devised made him feel oddly - naked. Intellectually he knew it was secure enough but - having his wings spring suddenly free in public had been a nightmare of his for years. He smoothed a nervous hand down his shirtfront, wondering if anything inappropriate showed.

"There's nothing wrong with being comfortable, War." Scott said softly as he came up beside him. "You look fine."

Warren turned and searched for Scott's eyes behind the red quartz. His voice dropped, looking for an answer that had nothing to do with the day or what he was wearing. "Do I? You make me wonder."

Scott scowled and stalked back to the car. "Knock it off. I told you it has nothing to do with you."

It doesn't feel that way to me, Warren thought resentfully but swallowed any comment as he heard the door to the back hallway open.

"Look who I found, playing Igor in the basement." Jean said, too brightly, after a brief pause.

"Well, it's all very cryptic work." Hank said, with a twinkle in his eye as everyone groaned.

"Shotgun!" Scott yelled and they all bolted for the car, eager to avoid being trapped next to Hank when he was in a punning mood.

The drive to Coney Island wasn't short - even with Warren speeding - and Jean was the one to bear the brunt of Hank's awful one-liners and quips. By the time Warren parked the car, she had the hiccups from laughing so hard.

"Stop -p. Hank -!" Jean panted, leaning against the car, arms folded around her stomach and gasping for breath. She hicced several times, giggling, and Hank patted her solicitously on the back.

"My dear, if laughter is the best medicine - you'll never be sick again."

"Only because you're our miracle worker." Jean said, breathing deeply, and clearly trying to will her hiccups away. She looked up and caught Hank's eye, laughter still tipping her mouth up but her dark eyes were serious.

"Gracious - surely not." Hank blushed but Scott came up and clapped him on the shoulder - having to reach up quite a bit to do so.

"Nope. Jean's right." Scott tapped his red glasses; ones Hank had designed, ones that had freed him from the nightmare of self-imposed blindness. Hank's sweet, shy grin made a brief appearance at the honesty in Scott's face.

Though it was summer, it was also a weekday, which meant that - while it was crowded - Coney Island wasn't mobbed. The miniature course was near the boardwalk and Warren eyed the plywood trees and plaster gnomes with a certain amount of trepidation. There were a lot of children running around on the plastic grass, waving golf clubs and yelling with excitement.

The ticket seller gave them a hard look over and Warren stiffened. He didn't like being looked at like yesterday's dinner - no matter that the four of them were quite a sight. Everyone's attention always went to Hank first; he towered head and shoulders over everyone else. His bulk and height intimidated almost everyone except, oddly, small children who seemed to know how gentlehearted he truly was. Jean hicced, then bit her lip and flushed red as the man's eyes went to her - dropping immediately to the cleavage revealed by the dip of her cropped red T-shirt. He and Scott didn't even register, which offended Warren nearly as much as being stared at.

Warren slapped his plastic onto the splintered wooden counter with a snap that brought salesclerks running the world over. The clear plastic 'diamond' card shone in the summer sun. The man blinked at it and Warren guessed, irritably, that he'd never seen that level of credit. With the way things looked around here, perhaps he was used to being paid in chickens.

"Four adults. Clubs - one extra large." He said firmly. Most of the clubs he could see racked in the back were child sized but there were a few adult ones as well.

"Big ones cost extra."

Warren's attention flicked up to the prices painted on the back wall, there was nothing about extra charges. "Fine."

"Forty-five bucks."

For all the worn squalor, the ticket seller had no problem running his card and they waited while the man rummaged in the back for clubs.

"I can pay for the extra charges." Hank said softly, proffering a five-dollar bill.

"I don't carry cash." Warren said blandly, ignoring the money. "Don't worry about it."

"What a filthy old man." Jean whispered as they collected their clubs and pushed open the gate to the golf course. She was still quite red and Warren glanced back to see the man still watching them or - more accurately - her.

Scott's jaw tensed but then he sighed explosively. "I guess that's why the professor is always bothering you about your shields, Jean. You can't punish people for how they feel - only how they act."

Jean frowned then shrugged, casually tucking an arm into the crook of Scott's elbow while Warren and Hank closed in behind her. Warren watched Scott lean subtly into Jean's touch wistfully.

"Well - " Hank said, looking around at the painted plywood and the potted trees that were the first 'obstacles' in the miniature course. A recycled stream meandered through the small forest and went off to the next section. "If this were a football field, or a laboratory, there'd be no problem at all."

He inspected the club which looked ridiculously tiny in his huge hands.

"You've never played golf?" Warren asked, mildly surprised. One of the things they amused themselves with on rainy days at the mansion was trying to find something that Hank didn't know in sports, science or literature. Even the professor rarely got the better of him.

Hank chuckled. "My mother insisted on a well rounded education but there are still a few gaps here and there."

"Hah - another victim, War." Scott laughed and tossed several balls rapidly in his direction. Warren caught them easily enough; Scott was slow by his standards, physically at least. His mind was a different thing entirely and Scott regularly ran mathematical rings around him, despite the school years he'd lost on the street.

Warren smiled good naturally, gesturing grandly at the course. "You'll never be the same after this."

Strangely enough, Hank wasn't a quick study at golf. It wasn't the rules - he picked those up right away. It was the knack. It was also an impossibly hilarious sight. Hank, enormous shoulders bunched with concentration as he glared at the tiny white golf ball, then it would go zipping off in some random direction.

Jean and Scott shouted tips from the sidelines while Warren adjusted his grip. 'Stand taller!' or 'Its all in the wrist!'

Of course, if Hank stood all the way up, he couldn't reach the ground with the club - extra large or not. But that wasn't really the point. Jean's bright laughter was and Scott's rare grin, Hank's quick wit. It was, Warren had to admit, a great deal more fun that most standard golf games.

Scott took his turn and, with an exaggerated waggle of the club, popped the ball clear over the first hole and well towards the second.

"Hey!" Jean protested cheerfully. "I don't think that's kosher."

Scott ran a hand through his hair, though it was far to short to fall into his face anymore and grinned at her. "Kosher smosher - I'm winning."

"Said the rabbit." Warren said dryly.

Scott only slung his club over his shoulder and rocked on his heels. In the beige button down short sleeved shirt and too-pressed khakis, he looked the perfect image of a fifties father - except for the bright red 'sunglasses'. Warren wondered if he'd actually raided the professor's closet for his clothes or only wanted to look like he had. Jean whacked her ball a little too enthusiastically and had to go off searching among the potted fir trees, grumbling.

"It's all about control." Warren explained, delicately tapping the ball. Even with the bent and battered club it rolled neatly over the green and into the cup with a small rattle. Jean, watching over the baby trees, cheered him and Warren didn't look up until he was positive he wasn't blushing.

Jean's golf ball suddenly shot out of the forest and stopped abruptly over the first hole, hovering for an instant before dropping on top of Warren's ball.

"Jean." Scott warned, glancing around. There wasn't anyone particularly close but in broad daylight, Jean's casual use of her powers was far to visible.

"Kosher-smosher." She said, marching out of trees with a grin. "Warren's right. It's all about control."

She scooped the balls out of the cup and they wandered on.

The next few holes were a sea of small, shrieking children and they skipped them and went onto the miniature mountain range that was the next stop. Warren settled next to Scot and Jean as they called out advice to Hank who was chasing his ball around the shallow slopes. It was starting to warm up and he was hot in the harness - and his feathers were holding his body heat against his back nicely. Warren envied Jean for her shorts and abbreviated T-shirt - and appreciated it as well. She was a beautiful woman; he liked to look at beautiful things but he wanted to do more than just look. Warren wanted to have. He wanted Jean and Scott both and the longer he waited, the more he wanted.

There were times, like now, where that hunger washed over him like the sea. It wasn't just the drawing, sweet ache of desire. They were his friends. His closest friends. Warren wanted to taste Scott's smile and hold Jean while she was laughing and know he was the one to make her laugh. He glanced sidelong at Jean to catch the faint, unhappy turn to her mouth. She wrapped her arms around herself as if she were ashamed. It was nothing he wanted to see and it maddened him that the very reason he wanted to make her happy was what was making her sad.

"I can't help how I feel." He snapped, humiliated and frustrated then stalked off.

Pushing his way through a few potted palms, Warren sat on a concrete 'rock' near the water feature that featured mechanical plastic alligators. Their jaws clacked endlessly, uselessly open and closed, occasionally splashing water onto his expensive Italian leather loafers. For once he didn't care. Warren poked dispiritedly at the water with his club, fishing out a stray golf ball. In a bit he heard the palms rustle as someone came after him; he bet on Scott with his overdeveloped sense of responsibility. Jean would be too embarrassed and Hank was choosing the wiser part of valor and staying clear of the whole mess.

"Warren -" Scott came up - close but not too close, Warren thought bitterly - and frowned at the alligators. "I know -"

"- how difficult this is." Warren finished sharply. "I've already heard that speech from the professor, Scott. I'm not interested in a repeat."

"What do you want then?" Scott asked helplessly. All Warren could see was his own reflection, distorted and demonic, in the red quartz and nothing beyond that. "From me? From Jean?"

"I want you. I want Jean. I want both of you."

"And you have us. You're my best friend. Like a brother to me. Jean too."

"That's not all I want." Warren said tightly, half begging. As close to breaking down and begging as he'd ever been in his expensive, indulgent life. "You are my closest friends too and it could be - we could be - so much more. You know - you've got to know - I'd never hurt you. Or Jean."

"For god's sake, War - " Scott sighed and rubbed his hand over his hair. "You said it yourself. You can't help how you feel. I can't either. I don't want to have sex - to make love - whatever - with you. If there were such a thing as a Kinsey 0, I'd be it."

Warren stared at the alligators endlessly gnashing their teeth.

"I - love you. I swear it but I'm never going to have sex with you. I don't want to lose our friendship over this, War. I'd do anything to make it easier - anything I can."

"But not that."

Scott shook his head unhappily then awkwardly put his hand on Warren's shoulder, squeezing gently. He was red with embarrassment and clearly as miserable as Warren. "You're like a brother to me. Not a lover."

"I can't just - turn it off. I don't want to make it easy, Scott. I've never felt the way I feel for you and Jean before. Not with anyone. Jean is attracted to men - she's attracted to you. Why can't -"

Scott's hand fell away and he paced the edge of the little pond. His hands were clenched into frustrated fists behind his back. "I'm not going to speak for Jean. What do you want from me War? To get me into bed and find out just how uninterested I am when I don't get it up? Is that going to make you feel better - holding my limp dick?"

Warren reared back, flushing. Then his chin tipped arrogantly. He knew he was an excellent lover and he was certainly motivated where Scott was concerned. "I don't think I'll have a problem handling you, Scott."

Scott turned on him then, temper flaring.. "So that's the price then? For your friendship? Hop into bed with you like some kind of - of - whore? I did a lot of things to get by on the street - but I managed to avoid that. Guess it's about time."

"No! Scott - you aren't - I'd never - it's not like that!"

"No? Well, that's how I feel. Like - like you're pushing and pushing. Like until we give in you're going to make us all miserable. Like there's a price on your friendship - just spread my legs and it'll be so much easier and think of something else and 'you'll handle me.'"

Warren slid off the rock and went after Scott, trembling with nerves. Frustrated - not just physically - but simply desperate. He wasn't going to lose. Not in this. "That's not what I meant, Scott, and you know it."

Scott only shrugged, mouth tight - Warren wasn't sure if it was anger or pain. It was so hard to read Scott now - with the glasses hiding half his face. Not being able to read him made everything so difficult.

"Why me?" Warren finally burst out, almost throwing the words at Scott. Words he'd been thinking for months, never voicing and finally unable to hold them back any longer. "Why do I have to be the one who doesn't get what he wants?" You could have Jean - if you had the balls to say something instead of mooning after her like a hormonal teenager! You could have me -"

It's not fair! He wanted to shout. Scott had gone very white, his head jerked to the side and he swallowed hard - then turned sharply and left, silent, back very straight.

"Scott -" Warren breathed, watching him leave, not willing to follow. He didn't want to know what Scott would say when he found his voice. He'd said things that he'd been careful not to say before. Warren rubbed the bridge of his nose; the sun was bright - reflecting off the white painted concrete and water and it made his head ache and his eyes sting.

Finally, Warren ran his hands uneasily through his hair. He couldn't stay here all day. When he returned to the miniature mountain range though, he found Hank amid a sea of excited children. Warren hesitated, there was no sign of Jean or Scott and his lips thinned. Not only had he made himself miserable, but everyone else too. He'd wanted to have a good day.

"Ah - there you are." Hank said cheerfully enough though his calm eyes were knowledgeable. "I think I've finally figured it out."

"Ah." Warren sidled around a hip high, dark haired little boy uncomfortably. He wasn't used to children. "Good. Where did Jean and Scott go?"

"To talk." Purposely ignoring Warren's questioning glance around as he looked to see where they might have gone Hank went smoothly on. "Yes. From the mouths of babes - change the rules."

Hank's big grin widened and the kids around him yelled in chorus. "Soccer -!"

Everyone exploded into motion and Warren could see several golf balls, in a variety of colors, being kicked around. He attempted a dignified retreat but Hank pointed and called out 'team captain' and he suddenly found himself attempting to control a group of children who attached themselves to him. While he was quite able to manage a roomful of adults, Warren had no clue how to extract himself from a group of small children. He knew Hank intended to distract him but found himself drawn into the game despite himself - he wanted to see if he could beat Hank with nothing more than a handful of hyperactive children. He was losing quite enough today.

The rules were fluid at best and there was only one goal. Warren found himself, to his surprise, rather enjoying himself. The children were unpredictable but that wasn't necessarily a disadvantage, they distracted Hank wonderfully well. Warren dodged carefully through them with a sharp grin and, slipping a little on the concrete, managed to sneak a bright green golf ball into the hole.

"Score!" A half dozen shrill voices rang out. The next point went to Hank's side as he kept Warren from protecting the goal while some of his kids made the score. Shortly after that, Warren managed to extract himself from the game and settled on a low wall to wait for Scott or Jean to show themselves again. The game broke up shortly and most of the children wandered off to find their parents, presumably.

"Are you Quasimodo?" One of the little girls piped up suddenly as she ran over to him. Warren frowned, confused.

"Quasimodo? No, my name is Warren."

"Like Quasimodo -" She pointed to his back where his wings left a noticeable hump under his specially tailored jacket. "A hunchback. Does it hurt?"

Warren flinched slightly. The girls eyes were full of nothing but curiosity and he wasn't sure how to answer. He had no real idea what she was talking about.

"A hunch - like the movie." She explained impatiently. Then she spun around to show him her plastic backpack. A cartoon girl with dark hair and green eyes was on the back, along with a grotesque figure. She pointed at it. "Quasimodo had a hunch too, see?. Do you live in a church?"

He finally grasped, he thought, what she was talking about. Though how Disney managed to turn the Hunchback of Notre Dame into a children's cartoon he couldn't imagine. "No. I live in a house. A large house with my friends."

My friends who cannot stand to be near me right now, he thought. He shifted uneasily. In many ways, he was a guest at Xavier's mansion. Jean and Scott lived there. If he pushed too hard would he be asked to leave?

"Neat!" She pulled herself up to sit next to him. "Not with your Mom and Dad? That's like Quasimodo too! That would be really neat - I could stay up late as I want. They couldn't tell me what to do then."

Warren's eyes went chill. "They never told me what to do."

"Can I touch it?"

"Touch it?" Warren drew back a little, startled. It was perhaps the first time anyone had asked that. It was the rudest thing he'd ever heard - evidently the child's parents had never taught her manners. But he didn't want to upset her - the thought of her bursting into tears horrified him. He controlled his irritation with the whole situation - including Hank's scheme to obstruct him by inflicting these children on him - and tried to remain polite. "Ah - yes."

She clambered up onto her feet on the wall and, alarmed, Warren put a steadying hand on her waist. God help him if she fell and hurt herself; images of lawsuits danced in his head. And, please, don't let her parents appear and think him some sort of predator. He felt the light pat of her hands briefly then she jumped off the wall with a grin. "It's soft - neat!"

Warren only nodded. Neat wasn't the word he would apply to the miserable necessity of hiding his mutations.

"Are your parents going to be worried about you?" He asked after an awkward pause, while the girl started at him expectantly.

"Dunno." She shrugged. Warren glanced around, there was still no sign of Jean or Scott but he found Hank and stared helplessly at him. Hank grinned and came to his rescue.

Within a few moments, Hank had established the child's name - Brianna - teased her into helpless giggles and managed to conjure up her parents - who were looking a tad frantic when they came to collect her. They had twin infants in a stroller and Warren didn't imagine that the parents were looking forward to the day those two could walk as well. Though they didn't look pleased at the sight if either him or Hank but the fact that Hank had sought them out short circuited the 'what are you doing with my child' accusations.

"So, where did they go?" Warren asked as soon as they were alone (more or less) again.

Hank grunted and collected some stray golf balls. "You can be remarkably single-minded, Warren."

"I prefer to think of it as persistent."

"That isn't always a virtue." Hank said gently. "I believe they went on ahead, shall we find out?"

Sighing, Warren trudged along and they passed out of the mountain range, over a recycled stream and into a false townscape. "I gather from Brianna's backpack that Disney managed to farm some profit out of The Hunchback of Notre Dame."

"Goodness, that was a horrible, horrible thing. It was terribly baudlerized."

Warren sniffed. He wasn't surprised that Hank had seen the movie. "No doubt. Somehow I can't see the Hunchback getting the girl in Disney's clean and tidy world."

He didn't bother to hide the bitterness.

"No." Hank said, shooting him a sharp glance. "But neither was he killed at the end."

Warren only grimaced.

Jean and Scott were ahead, talking, heads bent close to each other. No doubt Jean was giving Scott all the comfort and reassurance he needed after Warren had gone after him like that. Uncomfortable and beginning to realize that he was rather ashamed of himself, Warren hung back as Hank waved and boomed out a hello. Jean and Scott met them in the town square of hip high houses, like a group of uncomfortable giants.

Scott was avoiding looking at him, which meant that Warren really needed to apologize.

"Scott -"

Scott tipped his face to him, mouth set and hard. There was pain in Jean's eyes too - deepening as Warren approached. Even if Scott had not spoken to her, she knew. She always knew.

"I'm sorry." He said simply, managing to keep his gaze on Scott's face and finding the glasses a relief for a change.

Scott sighed, line of his mouth softening into sympathy. "I know War. So am I."

They both made a nearly identical awkward gesture, at the same moment; half understanding, half apology and a bit frustrated as well. Scott laughed and even Warren's mouth tipped slightly. It wasn't funny, really but it was - comforting in an odd way. They were so alike, so different and so close. Which only brought Warren's mind around to precisely how close they weren't. He glanced briefly aside to hide the expression in his eyes.

Jean, standing beside them, stirred uncomfortably.

"I do believe this is the piece-de-reistanse." Hank broke in with timing that was too perfect to be accidental. Warren gratefully turned his attention to him.

Hank gestured at the town, with its tiny winding streets and the windmill that graced one end of the course. A mechanical contraption of some sort replaced the normal golf hole and the windmill's moving arms had cups on each end.

"So it seems." Warren said, eyeing the set-up. Near as he could tell, the windmill carried the golf ball to a chute with ran through most of the little town, ending in a basket. It didn't look particularly challenging to him however, he'd been playing golf for almost ten years. It was one of the few sports he was able to do with his wings bound down, not to mention its future use as social glue among businessmen. And he liked it.

The town wasn't as easy as it looked, getting the golf ball to stay in the contraption took some effort. That wasn't necessarily a bad thing because it gave them all desperately needed time to get comfortable with each other again. The words spoken were not forgotten but - with Hank's persistence - they all managed an awkward peace. Scott discovered to his delight that he could use the corners and angles of the plywood buildings to ricochet the ball around the entire area before sinking the ball neatly into the device.

"Well - you could start the golf version of the Harlem Globetrotters." Warren said, watching Scott's ball dance it's complicated way across the astro-turf before ending up precisely where Scott wanted it.

"Golf tricks?" Hank chuckled. "I must say I find the thought more appealing than any golf tournament I've seen so far."

"Maybe you could take your shots on a uni-cycle?" Jean chimed in with a teasing smile. Scott smiled back and their look held a heartbeat too long.

Warren couldn't help it. He knew better but he couldn't help the pang of jealous loneliness. He wanted that look. It was so close he could practically touch it. Jean's gaze fell uncomfortably from Scott's sliding across Warren with sorrow and exasperation. Warren went and started collecting golf balls.

Jean came up to him and slid her arm through his. She tugged gently. "Hey, War - lets walk for a minute alright?"

He nodded silently and let her lead him away from the others.

Off behind the windmill, where the gears and wheels creaked softy, Jean released him and went to lean on one of the plywood houses. The sun was brilliant, standing overhead and the sky was pure blue. Warren glanced up for a moment, longing for the chill relief of the sky, down here it was hot and windless and stifling. The look on Jean's face made Warren fold his hands behind his back and tip his chin up slightly, habit from long years of facing his father down. Jean's mouth tightened.

"Warren -"

"I'm sorry I upset Scott." He broke in. That was why they were here, Jean speaking for Scott, trying to hold the peace between them all, reminding them all that they cared for each other. She probably did the same thing with Scott, as if she was the fulcrum they balanced precariously on. Warren knew he'd hurt Scott with what he'd said, knew it just like every other time. But he could not stop trying - it wasn't in his nature to lose.

Jean's fine red brows snapped down at his interruption and Warren could practically feel her temper break.

"Warren, this is enough."

"Jean -"

"No, you listen for a change." She interrupted sharply. "This isn't about Scott. I've had quite enough of listening to you."

Warren flushed, knowing precisely what she meant. All the unspoken thoughts, longings, desires rushed to the forefront of his mind then - those things he most wished to keep private. He had never grasped the knack of what the professor called 'shielding', he could not understand how one could protect your very thoughts - it was the nature of the human mind to think and the inside of his skull should be private.

"I cannot help how I feel, Jean." He echoed what he had told Scott not long ago.

"Yes, you can." Jean tossed her hair back impatiently. "You're not a child Warren. You know how to focus and how to avoid distractions."

"And I'm not Charles. I'm not going to live my life pretending I can't hear you, feel you. You're my friend, the flow of your thoughts and emotions are part of who you are. I won't ignore them." Jean went on, voice softening but no less determined. "The professor grew up alone, in secret and he lives a life of polite pretense. That's not me."

Her eyes lifted to his. "That's not who I am."

"I know, Jean." Warren said heart wrenching with longing. "I never want that to change."

"Do you want me to feel ashamed then? Do you want me to hate being around you because I feel like - like I'm leading you on when I'm not?"

"No - "

"Do you want us all to drown in guilt until we can't stand the sight of each other? Think of - math. Think of stock options. Something, Warren, besides how much you want to get in our pants."

"It isn't just - lust, Jean." Warren finally broke in, feeling badgered. "If you know what I'm thinking, then you must know that. I - love you. Both."

"I know. I know." Jean said gently. "And I love you and so does Scott and you're never going to be our lover. And that's the way it is."

"I know it's not fair." Jean said quietly, picking his thought from his mind. "Scott knows it. Don't you realize that we wish it were different? That I wish I could give you what you want - what you deserve - and what I don't have. You talk about how much you love me. You must know I love you too."

"But I don't want to feel ashamed, Warren." Jean said and her eyes shimmered with his pain and her own. "I don't want to feel guilty. I can't - not live my life for you. I know it's painful, I know its not fair. I know you want to win us."

She blinked, slow tracks of tears trailing down her face. "But I'm not a prize, Warren and neither is Scott. What are you willing to pay for your supposed victory? Our friendship? Because I won't. I won't lose that. If you can't - if you can't find a way to accept what isn't going to happen - I can't bear to have it drag out until we hate each other."

"Jean, no." Warren breathed, blinking hard and struggling for self control. He couldn't - didn't dare - let her finish. "No."

He cradled her face in his hands, elegant cheekbones wet with tears. Warren rubbed his thumbs along her skin, feeling the tremor under his hands. There was no desire in him now, just tenderness and grief. "I never want you to be ashamed - of anything. Never guilty. Not for - not for anything. Not for Scott -"

He knew Jean loved Scott, just as he knew Scott loved her. And he loved her - even though it felt like his heart had stopped beating as he'd listened to her.

"- not for me."

Warren drew her close for a moment, inhaling the scent of her hair, knowing it was something that was not his. Never was going to be his and - never had been his. No more than that particular smile of Scott's was his. And he could do this - he could accept this. He had to - the alternative was unbearable. He could not bear to lose them. The rest was - manageable.

"You're not a prize to be won, Jean." Warren whispered to her bright hair. "Not a game to be played. Never that."

He stepped back, releasing her to fly free. "I'll - be along in a minute."

Jean's hands tightened over his for a moment, long fingered and strong for a woman. She nodded and turned away, leaving him there, clinging to the remnants of his dignity. Warren fumbled out his handkerchief, wiping at his sweating forehead and his wet face. It had gotten ruthlessly hot, the air still and breathless. They'd never spoken so openly about any of this. He'd never told them he loved them before. He'd never told anyone that. And those supposedly miraculous words had solved nothing. It felt like the wind had been pulled out from beneath him and there was just the long fall left. Warren struggled for a breath, then another, tugging on his harness. He could manage this. He could. Because he had to.

The game was nearly over when he returned, with Hank struggling with the brunt of the conversation while Scott and Jean stood close together, faces wrung with unhappiness. Warren took his final shots with no problem, watching as the golf ball travelled it's path through the imaginary homes. As he'd told Hank at the begining of the game, it was all about control.

END (073003)