|Location||Offices - X-Factor Solutions|
|Summary||Jeremy makes an overdue call.|
| It is a fall night. The weather is cool and clear.|
The office is quiet by this time of night. It's not too late to call, but only because of the magic of time zones. Jeremy stalls a little before he keys the code, and settles back into his chair with a faint smile on his face, half-shielded by fingers resting against his lips.
She blinks into being on the screen of the computer. It's an old-school kind of video call, rather than through Eyes. It helps: he doesn't need the immediacy of seeing her directly before him, like some sardonic-mouthed illusion ghost.
"All right, what are you calling for?" Her arms are folded across her chest. She looks tired. She's wearing a floral print blouse and a tan skirt. It's probably a skirt. It could be pants. He thinks he's seen it before.
"C'mon, Kyoko, don't be that way," wheedles Jeremy.
"You know how this works," she says, "and don't call me that. That was a privilege, okay."
"Did you check your bank account?" Jeremy spreads his hands, showing her his palms. "I made it!"
"Yeah, you made one child support payment on time. Am I supposed to be excited? Jer!" She drags her fingers back through the short chop of her dark hair.
"Look, I know I was late last month," Jeremy says, "it's just that my capital was really tied up--"
"Yeah, well, the month before that and the month before that we got diddly squat. I can't afford to raise this kid alone. I'm lucky they're even keeping me part-time at the garage. We'd move but nobody's hiding these." She bares her teeth, showing the sharp fangs that once made her terrified to kiss. "I've got Mom's inheritance and your shitty little dribs and drabs do not impress me, on time, once."
"I know. You could come here. You could--" Jeremy stops before she can even interrupt him because her face is already melting into disgust.
"Stop wasting my time. Like they're gonna let me on a plane. Even if I wanted to go anywhere near New York." She leans forward on her knuckles and gives him the faint hook of a smile. "You get visits when we modify the parenting plan. We modify the parenting plan when you've paid your damn child support three months in a row."
"C'mon. Jane." Jeremy gives her his most earnest pleading look. He knows it will work. He goes through one of the few lies he allows himself, which is that he doesn't mind that she's making him beg. This is a ritual. "Let me talk to him. I don't want him to think his daddy doesn't even want to talk to him."
Jane bites the curve of her lower lip. Her teeth flash in another fanged smile. "It's not him today."
Jeremy squints. "Her?"
Jane opens her hands.
"Gray, then. Let me talk to Gray."
Jane runs her fingers through her hair again. "You really think this is going to work on the regular? This mini X-Force on a shoestring?"
"Working so far." Jeremy grins.
"You are so stupid. You were always so stupid." Jane makes a fist, waves it at the screen, and then moves off.
Jeremy spins in his chair. He's still spinning when the young voice pipes behind it.
"Hey! Gray!" Jeremy leans forward on his elbows, letting his chin rest on the pillow of his hands. "Mom says you're doing good in school. You wanna talk about it?"
Gray looks superior. Gray started years ago, when Jane read something in a book and started asking every day how little Grayson wanted to dress, whether he wanted to be Grayson or Grace. Some days one, other days the other. An increasing number of days, they just wanted to be Gray. Now, Gray sits before the keys of the computer screen, intent-faced, their features a blend of Jeremy's and Jane's. Black hair, too much of it, in a ponytail; dubious eyebrows; eyes that look way more Japanese than Jeremy's white guy hazel; the softness of his features that seems inclined directly to Jeremy's roundness. Sorry about that, kid.
"School's pretty lame," says Gray. "They've got classes you can do online now. You just do the homework and you turn it in. You don't have to go to a dumb place full of dumb kids."
"Yeah, they had those when I was a kid, too, but you gotta go to real school. You know why?" Jeremy raises his eyebrows at Gray.
"'Cause Mom is a tyrant and you're too chicken to say anything about it," Gray challenges him.
Jeremy laughs. "No, kiddo, your mom's just being a good Mom, and I'm not afraid of anything, 'cause I'm an X-Man."
"Whatever," Gray sniffs. "So why?"
"'Cause it's your job. You gotta go in to work every day, even if you don't like to. That's what school teaches you, to do what you don't wanna do."
"Mom says your school was like a mutant summer camp and that I'd be better off if it was still real," Gray says. "How do you go to an imaginary school?"
"Well--" Jeremy looks off into the middle distance, and then back at the child who is both son and daughter, and shrugs. "Sometimes you get lucky. I'm sure your school is OK, though. Your mom sent me the link to your assignment list and it looked pretty reasonable to me. Your art project looked badass."
"Eh, it was okay. I want a better tablet." Gray scratches at their neck. "Did you really make your own job?"
"Kinda," Jeremy says, wondering what in the world she told the kid now.
"Can I?" Gray asks. "What if I make my own school?"
"You've gotta show your stuff at the one that exists first," Jeremy says with a warm chuckle on his breath. "You'll get there one day, Gray. No need to short cut."
Gray wrinkles their nose. "Whatever. I got homework to do. You're going to call again, right? Mom says you can call again."
"Of course I will, Gray." Jeremy sits back in his chair. "I love you."
"Hnh." Gray considers for a moment, and then answers, "Yeah. Love you."
"Okay, munchkin," Jane's voice comes from off-camera. "You're done?"
"Yeah. He's a doofus," Gray's departing voice sounds.
"Always," Jeremy calls after.
Jane peeks back around to the camera pickup, and glowers at him a little. "For the record, I still hate you," she says. "And you're still stupid."
Jeremy grins at her again. "I know."
"But you can call again. Next week." Jane reaches to key off the feed. The last thing she says, lips pursing a little, is: "Good luck."
The call ends.
Jeremy slouches back in his chair and folds his hands over his stomach. He looks at the ceiling. He draws a deep breath through his nose and lets it trickle out through his teeth. Then, just a little, he smiles in the gloom as the computer monitor shuts itself off."Yeah. I'll need it."