Man! challenge in a can Man!





Left Of Center
Catlin O'Connor

He bought her a music box.

It's short and dark and glossy -- he says it reminded him of her hair in the sunlight when he first saw it, and she wonders if that's why he decided to buy it, but can never quite muster up the courage to ask -- the wood is too inexpensive for her to know it by sight or feel, and the grain is rough against her fingertips and embeds splinters beneath the skin when she tries, and that makes her curse and vow to put it in some dark corner of her closet and forget all about it, and yet...

She always ends up with it on her bedside table, gleaming like some dark sin -- chocolate or leather or the mud-facials Jubilee is always trying to persuade her to try; something wicked or luxuriant, something tempting that certainly shouldn't be in such close proximity to her at night -- and whispering to her to touch it, to open it, to simply indulge in the sheer delight of it.

Her hand hovers over it every evening before she moves to switch off the light and the tip of her nail brushes over the lid for a moment, sending vibrations, silky and pleasant, down her fingers to her palms. Then she presses her hands together and closes her eyes; she's imagining his hands on her body, his lips soothing the abrasions his gift has left on her skin. She falls asleep thinking about his touch, cool and lovely, and the music box, gleaming with heat and desire. The two entwine together in her mind until her dreams are filled with images of making love in the chill of the Arctic, thrusting and plunging and rolling into fire and sweat and overwhelming passion.

She wakes up after those dreams with her palms and her belly and her thighs moist with sweat and something more. She wants something more, and on those days it's easy to forget that she isn't beautiful or sexy or intriguing, it's easy to forget that she's not the sort of woman to inspire men to heights of overwhelming ardour or to be overwhelming, period.

Her reminder comes in the form of Jean and Ororo and Rogue, the truly lovely, the everything, and she glances into the mirror after brushing her teeth, knowing that she won't see what they're seeing, she won't see beauty; instead her reflection gazes back at her with tired brown eyes, with acceptance, of all that she isn't, and all that she'll never be.

Still, she sits on her bed in the warmth of the afternoon sun, placing her gift just out of the sun's reach, and it catches a stray shaft of light and glistens to her like a promise, a fantasy, a decadent dream. She smiles and shakes her head at her fanciful thoughts and gently leans the lid against the wall as the music begins to play.

And she doesn't recognize the tune, but it's slow and sweet and something she can hum along to as she paints her toenails Princess Pink and reads the next chapter of her molecular biology textbook. She's a few chapters ahead of the class, but it can't hurt to be prepared and besides, knowledge is the one thing she has, intelligence is her defining characteristic.

Who would she be if she wasn't the Brain? Who would need her then, who would want her? The knock on the door is an only too-welcome interruption of her thoughts, and when his baritone ripples through the air to her, she flushes and quickly sets the nailpolish down on her bedside table, too excited at the thought of his presence in her room, with her, to remember to place the wand back in the bottle and screw it shut.

"Hey," he greets, calmly, surveying her form half-reclining on the bed, toes spread apart by cotton balls and carefully lifted away from the bedspread. He asks, with that endearing quirk of his lips, "You busy?"

She can feel her cheeks heating and closes the textbook, then motions him forward with a flip of her hand that, naturally, slaps into the table with an embarrassing knock of knuckles and scrape of skin before her hand phases through the wood, too late. She hears the sound of a slick roll and a thump and realizes, too late, what it is that created that precise orchestra of noise.

She doesn't want to look, doesn't want to see what her carelessness has cost her, yet finds she's unable to cast her eyes in any other direction.

The music box twinkles on, lovely as ever, and she discovers that the nailpolish bottle has spilled a drop of color onto the table, but the horror, the true destruction, is that the wand has brushed the side of the box with a line of pink. It's faint, barely a smudge, but she can see it, and she'll forever know that she could have prevented it if she'd only, only been...


She closes the nailpolish bottle, then, not wanting to see it again, drops it into the wastebasket beside her bed. She vows to remove the color from her toes, but she doesn't know how to fix the box. She doesn't know how to undo what she's done.

"I'm such a klutz," she says miserably, and thinks that this is a fitting ending to her not-even-begun relationship with Bobby; her clumsiness destroying her one true thing of beauty. Typical. She manages to ruin everything of worth that she has ever had, why does she keep expecting that to change?

"Kit," he sits down on the bed and places his hand on hers, and she's ashamed that while she should be castigating herself, instead she's remembering her dreams of flames and lust and wanting.

He reaches over and closes the lid of the music box, picks it up, rests it between them. "It hasn't been sanded down," he says, running his forefinger over the top and wincing at the rough texture. "I should have done it before I gave it to you, but... I was too eager, I guess. Thank God I have an excuse to do it now."

"I'm sorry." She whispers it and knows that the words are inadequate even as she's speaking them, but she doesn't know what else to say, she doesn't know how to make it right again.

"For what?" He asks, sounding surprised. She keeps her gaze locked onto the pink smear on the dark wood and tries to ignore the faint dread swirling around her breastbone. "For this?" he taps the nailpolish mark and lifts his hands to her face, forces her to look at him. "Kit, I know I haven't exactly been Mr. Clarity, but you know why I gave you the music box, right?"

"It- it was a gesture of friendship," she says, though she's always hoped it was more than that, because it's always meant more than that to her.

He shakes his head and says, "You're smarter than that. It's not just friendship, not just me telling a girl that I like her, that I want to be with her. I have... well, I have feelings for you, Kitty. God, how could I not? You're so... you're so special; you just pour your warmth, your light, into the world Even this, this nailpolish mark, it's proof of how unique you are, how everything you do improves the quality of your surroundings, makes life remarkable. Beautiful."

He leans forward and kisses her, a soft brush of lips, smooth and cool against her own, and she knows she's going to cry soon, because his words are so lovely, so perfect, and the very thought that he might like her even half as much as she likes him fills her with something she doesn't recognize at first, because she hasn't felt it very often.

Contentment. Not a feeling she has when she's alone, but a feeling he evokes in her, along with the fire and the emotion she's now willing to admit to herself is love; it's as though he fills her empty spaces with himself and joins the pieces of the jigsaw that have never quite fitted together.

She smiles, because she might not be beautiful or sexy or intriguing, but Bobby cares about her, he wants her as she is. And for the first time, she thinks that perhaps simply being Kitty Pryde is enough.

Kitty Pryde. Nail Polish. Content.

Man! challenge in a can Man!