THE WIND 6
Please Read the Warning
and Notes at the beginning of Part
My hand dropped to the knob. The lock had been cut, courtesy of an impatient Logan. I'd have to take the whole damn door off the hinges and replace the lock Not that it really mattered. I doubted anyone at the mansion wanted behind this door except me. I pushed it open. Logan had been in here. Ororo and Bobby, too. I wasn't sure what I felt about that, but I'd been violated so often in the past few weeks, in so many different ways, that having people break into my bedroom to fetch things for me, even without asking first, was trivial. I'd spent too much of life worrying over the trivial. I had perspective now. Expensive perspective.
Switching on a light by our bed, I found the room exactly like we'd left it down to the unmade sheets she'd dragged me out of to shower and get ready to go that morning. A Saturday morning, normally my day to sleep in. I'd been grumpy. Jean had left her clothes on my desk chair, which annoys me. I'd left my pyjamas on the floor by my side of the bed, which annoys her.
Annoyed her. God, when do you stop using present tense? At least I didn't do it aloud. Much.
Now, picking up her black sweater off my chair, I collapsed backward onto the bed and laid it over my face, crushed it to my skin. The scent of her made me dizzy, made my whole body ache, my groin most of all, a sudden hot focus for pain. I crawled further up the sheets and wrapped myself around her pillow, refused to give in to the physical need, refused to hump the goddamn bed like a sixteen-year-old. Control, control. I'd forgotten my body could flex itself for reasons beyond the prevention of morning bedwetting. Maybe I shouldn't be surprised -≠ I was young, I was nominally healthy again, I was in my own room surrounded by the scent of Jean, and I hadn't had sex in too long. Rape didn't count as sex.
I shouldn't be feeling this, even if I was thinking of her. She was dead. I'd never hold her again. I'd never make her gasp and hiss my name. I'd never feel her buck against me convulsively when she came. I shouldn't want like this; she was dead and what was wrong with me that I could want like this? Obscene, obscene. I was sick. They'd hurt me, they'd fucked me, and I was sick, messed up in the head. Messed up in my soul.
I found I was humping the bed anyway, slow like I was fighting myself. I slipped a hand under the waistband of my sweatpants, down between my legs to grip myself, press into my palm, brought myself right up to that edge which drops off beyond thought and breath -≠ but I didn't let myself go over, took my hand away and waited for the body rush to cool. Then I did it again, and again, until my pelvis ached, my body strained, and my penis was hard and numb. Punishment for desire, rough and no release. Maybe my body would be pushed past saturation, give up and be as dead as the rest of me.
It failed. I got up finally and went into the bathroom, turned the shower knob to cold, peeled off my shoes and clothes and got in to stand under the water until everything was shriveled and I shook, my skin livid pale and the only heat coming from tears, washed away as soon as my eyes released them, washed away like all trace of her. Nothing left.
God, nothing left. I sank down until I was kneeling on the floor of the shower, freezing water pouring over me, running too-long hair into my face and tickling my cheeks. I needed a haircut.
What a goddamn stupid thing to think right now.
Everything that had been done to me . . . . I could have survived it if I'd just had Jean. But if I didn't, why bother? And for whom? The students? Xavier? The Dream?
Fuck the dream.
Whatever Bobby Drake had said, the school didn't need me. No one depended on me like Marie depended on Logan. I didn't begrudge him that; I was glad. She gave him something to live for. I had no children, no family. My own family had cut me off and Jean's had never accepted me; they'd put up with me as their daughter's unfortunate fascination. Xavier was the closest thing I had to family.
But I wasn't going to think about Xavier, or his insane explanation for what had been done to Logan and me, and Jean. It had all sounded like something out of a bad space opera crossed with Robert Ludlum. Most of my current life sounded like that. How many normal people put on black leather to go fight a guy calling himself Magneto? Of course, how many normal people could blast a hole through a mountain if he opened his unprotected eyes, either?
Correction: could have blasted.
Cyclops was as past tense as Jean. I'd spent ten years struggling with my power, learning to control it like a man learns to handle a wheelchair. I'd even come to take pride in what I could do. But I'd still hated the goddamn motherfucking glasses. I hated being stared at. I hated never being able to take them off. I hated living in fear of what would happen if I lost control, even for a second. If I could be rid of the glasses ≠
I'd always been more than a little nocturnal, and now I had the night vision to go with it. Maybe I could spend the rest of my days like a character in an Anne Rice novel, coming out when the sun went down.
I shut off the water finally, but stayed on the floor of the shower. I hadn't wrapped my burned arm this time and the bandages were soaked, heavy and sagging. I ripped them off and flung them in the trash, stared down at the ugly round circles left by cigarettes. They'd never go away, lifelong souvenirs. None of this was going to go away, go back to what life had been three weeks ago. My future was as scarred as my arm, burned full of holes.
Getting out of the tub finally, I dried myself off and studied my reflection in the glass above the sink. I still glanced twice every time I passed a reflective surface. My eyes were blistered from crying but at least the bruising on my skin had faded or was half-concealed by beard. I wasn't sure what I thought of having a beard. I looked like a folk band refugee. Certainly, I didn't look like myself. But then, I didn't feel like myself, so perhaps that was fitting.
I dropped my eyes to the scattery on the counter. It made me smile for some reason; what a mess we'd been sometimes. Jean's jewelry had been tossed in a haphazard pile near the back edge; she must have dumped it out looking for something, and I opened her little blue pillbox where she kept earrings, to put it back. Stopped dead.
Inside was a small collection of her hair.
It was a good thing I'd been leaning against the counter or I might have simply fallen to my knees. As it was, my sight tunneled and I had to grip the counter edge. The blue porcelain lid dropped out of my fingers onto the sink edge and clattered down to the bottom of the bowl. One corner chipped a little. Putting out a hand, I let my fingers touch the hair. Her hair. Exquisite fragility in red-brown like a wash of autumn folliage -≠ auburn was a shade I could actuallyy see now. Who'd done this? Ro? Not likely. Logan. It must have been Logan.
Picking up the threads of hair, I laid them in my palm. Jean's hair. I closed my fingers around it. All I had. All I would ever have. Very, very carefully, I put it back in the pillbox, every strand. There was a little more on the counter; I picked that up and added it, put the chipped lid back on. The box would do for now, though I'd have to find somewhere safer to keep it.
I left the bathroom, left my dirty clothes on the floor and went back into the bedroom to dress. I'd lost a good deal of weight, so my pants didn't fit, but for the first time, I put on real jeans, not sweatpants. I suppose I could have climbed into pyjamas and just gone to bed, but I couldn't sleep in this room. Everything in me was screaming to get out of here before I lost it completely. The shower had been bad enough. But I had one thing I needed to do first, what I'd come to do. Opening my sock drawer, I pulled out a small jewelry case tucked into the left corner, opened it.
Our rings. Jean's had matched her engagement ring, molded to fit around it ≠ the ring that had been lost with her. I touched the half that was left, incomplete, like me. She should have died with this. It should have been on her finger. Instead, it lay in the coffin of a black jewelry box.
The other ring was mine. Plain gold band, not too narrow, not too wide. That's all I'd wanted. A simple symbol to mark me taken, to say that I belonged to someone. I still did, even if that someone no longer lived. I was a widower in fact, if not in legalities. What the hell difference did two months make? I could still feel her near me, almost a physical presence, as if she stood at my side in death as she had in life. I'd never believed in ghosts, wasn't even sure that I believed in life after death, though I knew Jean had. But now I found myself unsure. Maybe it was just wishful thinking ≠ my own inability to let her go, to admit that "Jean" had stopped with her breath and her mind. I needed to feel her, wanted to feel her, so I did. I stood here now with the box containing our wedding bands and it was like she had her arms around my chest from behind, holding me up. Tangible. I could feel the weight of her head on my shoulder, the strength in her arms, the press of her wrist against my sternum and her pelvis against my buttocks. So damn physical. I had a hard-on again, and leaned into the counter, closed my eyes. "Don't," I whispered to the air. She wasn't really here. I was just talking to myself now. After a moment, the feeling receded.
I looked back at the ring, remembered the day she'd bought it for me. We'd tried it on to be sure it fit and I'd made her slide it on my hand because I can be stupid and superstitious that way. "When you put it on for real," I'd said, "I'll never take it off."
She'd smiled and kissed my cheek and whispered, "You can be a romantic sop, y'know?"
"I'm serious," I'd replied, a little offended.
Laughing at me, she'd slipped off the ring and set it on the counter to be boxed by the jeweler. "That's why I love you, Scott Summers. You say stuff like that and you're completely serious."
Now I lifted out the ring. She wasn't here to put it on me, except in my imagination. So I put it on myself, flexed the fingers. It felt right. "I'm yours, Jean. I always was. I always will be." Closing the box, I put it way, shut the drawer and left the room. Outside, it was storming. I could hear the rattle of rain against glass panes, the occasional scratch of branches. Lightning flashed, the thunder right on top of it. Close. Ororo or nature?
Back downstairs, on the way to the lab and Jean's office where I slept now, I passed the Danger Room, saw the in-use light on. Curious, I keyed in my code. The exterior door slid aside and I took the stairs beside the inner door, up to the observation deck above the arena.
Storm, fighting alone. Angry, I flipped the program off and the intercom on. She jumped, looked up at the window. Speaking into the mic, I said, "You know damn well you're supposed to have a second somewhere, if you're running a full simulation. Where's Frank? Or Warren? Or even Logan?"
"I hear the pot calling the kettle black, thundermouth." Her breath came hard; I wondered how long she'd been at it. "Who broke his arm in here while he was practicing -≠ alone?"
That had been almost three years ago. "Why do you think I instituted the rule?"
She smiled at that, didn't reply.
"Is the storm outside yours, too?" I asked. Looking off, she nodded absently. I'd embarrassed her. Ororo doesn't usually lose control and affect the weather. As she'd explained to me once, altering weather patterns in one place at the whim of moods can have dangerous consequences in other places. That's why she practices calm. "What's wrong?" I asked.
"You asked where Frank is. Frank is in Cerebro."
She studied me through the glass. "Wait a minute. I will come up." She ducked out the inner door and I heard her feet on the stairs. Entering the observation deck, she flipped on the light. I'd been standing in the dark. "The professor scared him this afternoon," she said. "He did not know anything of this conspiracy. And you know how he hates to be taken by surprise."
"He really believes there is one?"
"Well, someone had you. Someone with access to government files, government level security, testing equipment, a lot of firepower, and FBI jackets. Not to mention that the media admitted it was a government installation that you blew up."
Uncomfortable, I ran my fingers along the simulation machine, played with dials. "That's not the same thing as little green men in UFOs. What the professor told us sounded like a Fox television special or an issue of The Star. I'm inclined to agree with Warren's assessment of 'claptrap.'"
"What? I may faint. You and Warren agreeing on something?" That won a rueful grin out of me. She grew serious. "As Frank said, it is not important if it is true. It is important that they believe it to be true. The professor's contact believed in this consortium, and the professor would know if he were being lied to."
I sighed. "Fair enough. But it's too fantastic for anyone sane to take seriously."
"This from a man who devours science fiction."
My breath went out, explosively, and I set my hands on the machine, glared down at the controls. "It's not the idea of aliens, Ro. I'm like Hank ≠ theoretically, I think the idea of life out there" ≠- I gestured vaguely at the roof -≠ "is not just possible, but likely. But that's not what we're talking about. We're talking about a shadow organization whose sole purpose is to keep the public in the dark about alien visitors, an organization who captured us, killed Jean, held us prisoner and tortured us, all supposedly as part of an elaborate plan to defeat the Evil Alien Visitors. That's not just paranoid, it's ridiculous."
"Then how would you explain it?" Her voice was quiet.
"Christ, I don't know. What do you think I've been asking myself for three goddamn weeks?" I yanked out a chair and lowered myself into it. It no longer hurt to sit down, as long as I did so carefully. I leaned back in the chair.
She'd put a hand over her face, now whispered, "I'm sorry."
I shook my head. "No, it was a fair question. I just wish I had an answer. It's ≠ What the professor said ≠ It's too big, Ro. It's too big to believe."
Her hand dropped. "That is what makes it frightening, no? This is not a single enemy to defeat in an isolated battle."
"We'd have to keep fighting them over and over." I nodded. "Be on guard all the time. We'd never know if or when they were going to try again. Christ," I said once more and leaned over to rest my elbows on my knees because a sudden panic-flash of fear made me weak. She squatted down beside the chair, took my hand and gripped it. I realized that I'd flipped suddenly from skepticism into belief and I wasn't quite sure why. Maybe just because Storm was right. We'd been taken by people with too much information and too many resources. It beggared simple explanations or wishful thinking of isolated, mad experimentation. This was big. Their rationale didn't matter. What mattered was that we weren't facing a single enemy. We were facing a black ops unit of the 'the government' with all the personnel and resources that could be brought to bear by such a group. "Christ," I said a third time.
"Now you know why Frank wishes to use Cerebro." She was still rubbing her thumb over my fingers. "He needs to learn what we are up against, if he can. He is angry, that he did not see it before. He blames himself that Jean died, and that you were so badly hurt."
And the fact that he did blame himself allowed me to stop blaming him. "He's not our early warning system."
"I know that. He does not. He is too much like you; he takes on too much responsibility."
I recognized her covert warning and her rebuke both, got to my feet. "I'll go wait on him."
She nodded. "I will stay here." Frank didn't like for Ro to see him, when he first came out of Cerebro.
I moved to the stairs, said on my way out, "Don't run the sim alone, Ro."
I stopped. "That wasn't an order. I'm not your field leader any more. Cyclops is dead. It was a request from Scott to a friend."
"It sounded like an order to me." But the tone was light, not accusing. "You are my field leader, Scott. By whatever name you want to call yourself."
I turned my back and got out of there.
Francesco was already in Cerebro when I arrived, Hank and the professor waiting outside the closed steel doors. They looked around at me, tried to conceal their surprise at my arrival, did so badly. "How long has he been in there?" I asked.
Hank glanced at his watch. "Twenty-two minutes."
"Goddamn," I muttered. That was a long time to control and direct the immense power of Cerebro, and I glanced sideways at the bowl, towels and bottle of water waiting for him to finish. Using Cerebro always made Frank violently ill. Just one of many reasons why he detested the machine.
If Cerebro magnifies the professor's telepathic talent, allows him to sense minds more easily, it magnifies and organizes Francesco's precognitive ability. Time is a strange thing. What Frank sees are branching threads running in either direction -≠ back and fore -≠ all drawn together in one place as if pulled through a hoop which is the present moment. Each second forward involves decisions which cause the thread to branch, until there are so many possibilities, one can't possibly track them all. The past is the same. Not a single rope of "accomplished," but millions of past possibilities that stem from decisions made instead of decisions to make. On his own, Frank can follow only a thread or two at a time ≠ usually that of the most likely future. And it is a vision more suited to macrohistory than the personal. He foresees the tomorrows of nations and public figures, those who determine our collective destiny. He'd seen the assassination of Yitzak Rabin, and almost a decade later, of Castro. He'd anticipated declaration of war by Israel on Palestine, and the attack by Pakistan on an Indian nuclear testing facility. He'd watched as a young boy had walked up to Slobodon Milosovich and triggered an explosive device hidden in his own body, killing himself and seven other men, including the ex-dictator. He'd known the Albanian rebel National Liberation Army of Macedonia would firebomb seven apartment buildings in Tetovo, and that civil war would break out in Peru between the factions of Fujimori and Toledo.
The hell of it is that there's not much he can do about most of these things. He'd sent an anonymous tip to police in Tetovo, but none had taken it seriously until a lot of people were dead. Like Cassandra, he foretells the fall of Troy and no one listens. Perhaps it's just as well. If people really knew what he was capable of, his life would be hell. We try not to take advantage of him, but we also know his limitations. And we see what his gift does to him. Others wouldn't care.
The door seal cracked and metal hissed apart. Inside, Francesco was on his knees by Cerebro, shaking and gagging, the helm dropped beside him. Hank hurried in, ceramic bowl and towels already in hand. I grabbed the water. Frank managed to keep down the nausea until the pot was in front of him, then let out what was left of his lunch. In between retching, he said, "Niente da fare." Nothing of use.
The rest of us exchanged a look. Almost twenty-five minutes and the answer was nothing of use?
Hank got Francesco up on his feet and I handed over the water. "Shall we adjourn to the lab?" Hank asked. "Francesco can sit down and I can replace Scott's dressings." He glanced at my arm. "You seem to have lost some of them." I knew better than to argue. It wouldn't get me anywhere.
Francesco leaned on Hank and I followed, resting part of my weight on the back of Xavier's chair. I was exhausted, both physically and emotionally. This was the longest I'd spent on my feet since I'd gotten back. I doubt that I'd have been able to stay up at all, had I not eaten some solid food at lunch. Just oatmeal with syrup ≠ Hank hadn't wanted to shock my system ≠ but it had made me feel better, at least until it came out the other end. Hank had warned me that the first time would hurt like hell, even with a laxative. Pleasant thought to look forward to.
Logan was pacing about the lab when we arrived. Seeing me, he approached. "Where've you been?"
"Upstairs." I didn't feel like giving an account of myself. "I thought you were watching football with the kids?"
He shrugged. "I did for a while. When Ro said they were modifying Cerebro for Nostradamus there" -≠ he nodded to where Frank had collapsed in a chair, head back, bottle of water in hand ≠- "I figured I'd come see what he found out. Where is Ro anyway? I thought those two were joined at the hip? And Bird-boy. He disappeared after the meeting."
I started to reply when the door swished open and Ororo entered, took a seat beside Frank. I just gestured with a hand. It was my left; overhead lights winked off gold. Snagging my wrist, Logan stared at the ring, then up to my face a moment, let me go even as Hank called me over to change my dressings. I didn't feel like defending myself to Logan anyway. If he thought the ring was inappropriate, he could go to hell.
Hank noticed it, too. My left arm was the burned one. He frowned as he disinfected the burns and might have spoken, but the professor had turned to Frank. "What can you tell us?"
Francesco sighed and sat up. "Not much. That is why it took so long. I had to stop finally."
"I meant no critique," the professor said as Ro rubbed Francesco's back. "Please tell us what you did see."
"Mostly confusion," Frank replied. "There are -≠ " He cut off and, eyes shut, rubbed at the bridge of his prominent nose. "We stand at a cross-roads, my friends. There are always many futures. You know this. Now, the roads are more tangled, and shifted away from what was. Down one thread, there is the war between mutant and non-mutant that I have always feared, with the X-Men caught in the middle. Yet now the colors are . . . faded. I cannot explain better. That future no longer shouts to me as the story of what will be.
"Down another thread -≠ I do not know. I do not understand what I saw. A kind of anarchy, a collapse of governments into small ethnic divisions and isolation. I see little of mutants, either to our good or ill. We seem to be only one of many, living on a country called Genosha. I cannot say much to that future. It seems like a kind of dark age when none gain the upper hand. It is new. I have not seen that future before.
"On the third thread, our kind rules under Mageneto and the normal humans are slaves. The X-Men do not exist. This is not likely, but it is more likely than it was, just a few weeks ago. An on the last -≠ also new -≠ our kind are fugitives, but I cannoot see from whom, or what." He stopped and looked right at me. "You lead a resistance, Scott. It is the only future in which I saw any of us clearly. Scott leads. Logan is there with him, and also Ro, and Warren, and Bobby. That is all I saw. This school does no longer exist." He was holding something back, I could sense it. He shook his head and continued, "But in no future did I see this shadow government of which Charles spoke, or these 'aliens.' And" -≠ he looked up, swept all of us with a glance ≠- "in none did I see peace."
Momentary silence. Until now, there had always been at least one future in which there had been peace.
Xavier recovered first. "Could the shadow government be what Scott and Logan and the others were running from?"
"It is possible. But I did not see that. I saw only that we are fugitives." He sighed again, rubbed his face. "What I did see that disturbs me ≠ in all of these futures but one, this school has ceased to be. I think we must begin to consider where we can take the children, that is safe."
"If any place is safe," Hank muttered as he finished up the dressing on my side.
"If any place is safe," Frank agreed.
"How soon?" Xavier asked.
"I don't know. Not immediate. There was no urgency. It will not happen tomorrow, or the day after, or even next week. But something will happen." He sighed and leaned back, ran a hand through his hair. "I will look again in the morning."
"No," Ro said. "You need to rest a day."
He shook his head and pushed her arm away. "Tomorrow. The threads of the future change, baby. I must follow the new ones. I must see if there is any way to regain peace."
Frank was the only person alive who could call Ro "baby" and live to tell about it. As for the rest of what he'd said, I wasn't sure what I thought. I knew better than to laugh. But the idea that I might lead an underground mutant resistance movement seemed almost as absurd as aliens and shadow governments. I could barely get out of bed in the morning, and half the time, I didn't want to. Pulling my shirt back on over my head, I dropped down to my feet and headed for Jean's office off the main lab. "Where are you going?" Hank called.
"To sleep," I replied, and slammed the door shut behind me. Picking up the book I'd started that morning, The Secret History, I switched on the light beside the couch, turned off the overhead and laid down. Chapter Five. When the lights came on, and the circle of darkness leaps back into the mundane and familiar boundaries . . . .
There were no familiar boundaries for me any more. I was living a
modern secret history in a world as mad and labyrinthine and paranoid as
anything Procopius could have dreamed up at Justinian's court. Wheels
within wheels. And all I wanted was Jean. I could sense her presence
here in her office, as I had in our room. That's why I could sleep only
in this place. She watched over me. The next morning, early, I woke
imagining her body lying against mine, so real I could stroke her skin,
smell her shampoo, feel her chest rise and fall with her breath. Maybe I
was going insane, but the ghost in my bed comforted me and I went back
Whatever history-altering events loomed on the international horizon, it was the mundane that interested me. Small matters. Like a funeral. It took another week, however, before I was ready to think about that. A week of keeping to myself in Jean's office, reading or playing guitar, while Frank sought some guidance for the future in Cerebro, with few results. Warren had disappeared back to New York for a few days, and I was content to see the back of him. Logan continued to hang out in the lab like he always did. I found it both familiar and annoying. We'd loved the same woman, we'd shared the same captivity, and now he seemed to have appointed himself as my personal watchdog.
I think I'd have been mad at him if he'd disappeared.
"Morning," he said when I came out that Wednesday. He was reading the newspaper. It's part of his morning ritual: coffee, cigar -≠ unlit down here -≠ and The New York Times which he reads front to back, even the obituaries. God knew why; it's not as if he's familiar with anyone in the city. But Logan doesn't like to be caught off-guard, so he reads the newspaper obits, listens in on conversations which people forget his ears can hear, and knows more about what transpires at Westchester than most people credit ≠ including me, once.
"What time is it?" I asked as I crossed to the bathroom with a change of clothes.
"Almost noon." He didn't make any of the cracks he could have.
I shut the door behind me, used the toilet, brushed my teeth, and took some Tylenol. I still ached in places I didn't want to think about and couldn't do even twenty pushups, but I no longer felt so weak, nor did I wear bandages. Peeling out of my clothes, I showered, redressed in something clean, and prepared to shave. The bruises beneath the beard were mostly faded, and the damn thing had started to itch from dandruff. I hadn't realized one could get dandruff in a beard, but it had no doubt been helped along by recycled air in the basement that dried out my skin. The beard was a different shade from the hair on my head, too, a chestnut auburn in places as if I'd dyed parts of it. Piebald. Marie might like it, but Jean wouldn't have.
Abruptly, I grabbed the shaving cream and lathered my face, then methodically took off the whole thing. Twenty minutes and two razors. When I came out again, Logan stared a moment. "I wondered what took you so long," he said by way of comment.
"It itched," I replied. "My skin was getting dry."
He shrugged and went back to his paper. "Beard's not for everyone." It wasn't an insult, just an observation. "Made you look older, though." A smile tugged at his mouth.
"Fuck you." I held out a hand for some of the paper. He passed it over. After a minute, I added, "Jean wouldn't have liked it."
His answer was a grunt, but I felt his eyes on me. I didn't look up.
I couldn't read for long. These past few days, I could do nothing for long and leaving the paper and Logan behind, I spent the afternoon prowling the lower levels. Instead of feeling dead as I had for the past two weeks since we'd returned, I felt jittery, like I'd drunk two pots of coffee, or like a pressure cooker about to blow. Something was building up in me, the need to act, to get some kind of closure. It had been a month, for god's sake, and Jean still hadn't had a funeral. But then, if our lives weren't normal, why should I expect that our deaths would be? We had no goddamn body. When do you stop waiting, though? It was time to stop waiting.
I wandered at loose ends from room to room and thought about funerals. I might have gone above ground, but then I'd be condemned to the glasses again as soon as the energy built up enough in my body. I didn't want that, so I stayed below.
At one point, I turned a corner to find the professor sitting there. No chance encounter. He was clearly looking for me. Backing up the chair, he said, Come Scott, inside my head, and motored away. Perforce, I followed. I'd known this would come eventually; I couldn't avoid him forever. He'd let me for a while, or maybe he'd been avoiding me. I don't know. I'd hurt him, two weeks ago. I'd said words that couldn't be unsaid. I wasn't sure that I wanted to unsay them, however. Not because I wanted to hurt him -≠ though if I were honest, a part of me did want that -≠ but because I'd spoken the truth. HHe wasn't my father. Teacher, mentor, and once, hero. Maybe he still was my hero. But he wasn't my father. I had a father, much as we might not get along, and I didn't feel like playing games of nomenclature any more. Jean's death had imploded the fairy-tale we'd all constructed here. I wasn't Cyclops and I wasn't his son. I was Scott Summers, math teacher, mutant vigilante, apparent government target, and now, widower. Let's call things what they were.
We wound up in the Situation Room and I smiled with taxed irony. I suppose we had a situation here to sort out. He turned the chair to face me across the length of the room and gestured to a seat. I took it. He waited. He knows I have no patience for silence but anger was replacing restlessness, a feeling of being cornered, so I just stared stubbornly at a metal wall, as intransigent as I'd been at our very first interview, eight years ago. I'd been bitter with loss, then, too, but it seemed laughable compared to now. What had I lost at seventeen? My popularity and shallow high school life? Pity for poor Scott. This time around, I'd lost my wife and my innocence, and my hope in the bargain.
He must have realized finally that he'd have to nudge me. "Nothing to say, Scott?"
"What do you want to hear?"
"Whatever is on your mind."
I just laughed -≠ a strained sound. I still wouldn't look at him. "There's nothing to say, Professor. Or so much to say, I haven't got a clue where to start. Why not read my thoughts? It'd save us both some time."
"I'd prefer it if you'd talk to me. Your anger might be one place to begin."
I finally did turn, glared hard. "Don't fuck with my head, dammit! I'm not your patient!"
He sighed and put up a hand to his forehead, rubbed it. The gesture made me feel guilty, which made me even angrier because he knew that would make me feel guilty. Suddenly, everything inside me just exploded. Hate, rage, guilt, grief. I couldn't hold it back. I hurt too much.
"You pull my strings like I'm Pinnocchio," I said. "You call me son, but I'm just your wooden puppet. I've always done exactly what you asked me to, believed in your dream more than you do. Jean used to say I was your favorite. She'd tease me, call me Teacher's Pet. But I wasn't, was I? She's the one you loved best, trusted most, the one you understood and who understood you. I was merely your stand in. You couldn't fuck her, so you let me do it."
A million emotions were flitting over his face, but I just kept going. "At first, you didn't want us together. I remember. You talked about the age difference, about 'inequality of life experience.' But that wasn't it, was it? You were jealous. Then it changed. Did you decide that you liked reading my mind when Jean and I were in bed together, Charles? Did you get off feeling me come inside her body? Feeling me do what you couldn't? Maybe she liked it, too. Maybe I was just a stand in for you both."
I cut off abruptly. If I thought I'd said the unforgivable before . . . . He could kill me if he wanted to, kill me with a single thought. Stop my heart, stop my breath. I almost hoped he would.
I've lived with telepaths too long. I may not be able to read thoughts, but I've learned about the dark things that hide in the mud of our minds, the things we don't say in polite company ≠- or even dare to think. Wishes, desires, secret perversions. I've learned how much they motivate us.
I watched him pull back from the edge, watched him regain control of himself. He even smiled. "You want me to punish you, Scott, so you can stop trying to figure out how to punish yourself."
"Don't tell me what I want."
But he, unyielding, ignored me. "You want me to hate you as much as you hate yourself, blame you as much as you blame yourself. You doubt that you were good enough or strong enough, because you couldn't save her."
"You've always felt that way, feared that you didn't deserve her. She was older, a doctor -≠ That was what worried me when the two of you began dating, and it never stopped worrying me. I didn't want you to feel inadequate, unequal, feel that she was somehow doing you a favor."
"You never understood what she saw in you, spent four years waiting for her to leave you. You saw yourself still as an eighteen-year-old boy head over heels for the beautiful med student in her twenties -≠ impossibly out of his reach."
"I said shut up!" I jerked to my feet. "You don't know -≠ "
"But I do know." He tapped his head.
That enraged me past any attempt at cold logic. "You said you weren't reading my mind!"
"Nor am I right now. But I don't need to read your mind. I only needed to watch you whenever the two of you were out together for the past four years. The tension in you, the banked hostility as soon as any other man looked her way with more than passing interest. You said you didn't own her even while trying to put her inside a fence to be admired at a distance ≠- "
Rising, I stormed out. I should have known better than to instigate mind games with a telepath. But he doesn't have to be in the same room with you to keep arguing.
Scott, she adored you with all her soul, even when you exasperated her because she didn't know how to make you see yourself as she did: a good man, a born leader, strong enough for her to lean on when the voices in her mind become too overwhelming. She would never have gone to anyone else. Not even to me. Her death was not your fault.
"Would you just shut up!" I screamed to the empty hallway. It echoed off steel and I started running to get away from his voice in my head.
This conversation isn't over. You can't make me hate you, Scott. I don't throw away my children.
I found a storage room door and opened it, fled inside. Then I sat sobbing on the floor in the dark, pressing my burned arm and hitting my head against a wall.
Anything to make it hurt somewhere other than my breaking heart.