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Minisinoo


 

CLIMB THE WIND 7

Please Read the Warning and Notes at the beginning of Part 1
Part 7 Notes: The names and details of Jean's family come from comic canon, though I've raised their socio-economic status and, as with Scott's family in other stories, I've felt free to alter their personalities. Warren's early interest in Jean is canon but I've intensified the antagonism between Warren and Scott. Please remember that my take on film-Scott's teenaged years makes him a good deal less insecure than the usual comics-Scott. The pool scene is for Sarita. And EJ, like Frank, is an original character who pops up periodically across various stories. He was Scott's college roommate, and is still his best friend.

Thanks to Domenika and Mo for the math assistance, and to Naomi for reading when I'd reached the point of absolutely hating the whole thing (as often seems to afflict me at some point in the novel-writing process). She also cleaned up my grammar and made me re-think Scott and Warren in the professor's office ≠ with, I think, far better results.

Hint:  If you'd like to read the image captions, hold your pointer over the image



ScottIt was much later that I crawled out of the closet in which I'd hidden, and let restlessness drive me above ground. The sun had set well past the horizon as I haunted the mansion's halls like a shade. April rain beat on the window glass and lamps on lowboys cast my shadow large on the walls as I trailed fingers over oak paneling, interrupted at regular intervals by casements. My footsteps echoed. Polished wood was live. I remembered the click of Jean's heels down these halls; I'd always laughed at her for wearing ridiculous shoes while she stood on her feet half a day, but I'd rubbed those feet for her, at night. Now there were only my steps, and the echo was solitary. I stopped before I reached the den. Out the open door, a pearl grey wash on the wainscoting and a low buzz reflected the television. Hypnotic, it drew me. Light in the shadows. I couldn't quite make out the program till I reached the doorway. Logan and some of the kids were watching an old rerun of M*A*S*H -≠ Hawkeye harassing Hot Lips.

Logan will sit and watch that show and just laugh; he may have seen the same damn episode five times but he still laughs at it. So do I. He snorts at my German wheat beer, makes fun of my D'Amico briefcase, and despises my Piombo tailored shirts. But we both laugh at M*A*S*H reruns, and he gave me his food when I needed it. He ignores me when I snarl at him and talks to me about Jean when I feel like talking. I put up with his cigars and his tendency to patronize me. I guess that's friendship.

He heard me enter, or smelled me, and twisted to look, hiding his surprise well. "Hey." He gestured at the television. "It's the one where the unit gets student pen-pals back in the States, and the girl sends Winchester that maple leaf so he can remember fall in New England?"

"Yeah? I like that one."

Some of the other students had turned as well, to see who Logan was speaking to.

They didn't recognize me. Confusion, and that automatic wariness of the outsider which all mutants learn fast, was evident on their faces. Jubilee, Kitty, Dani and Kurt Wagner. They were trying to place me, wondering if they should know me, the familiar stranger in the heart of their home. Hide the eyes and hide the man. They'd never seen Scott Summers, just Cyclops in visor or glasses. I looked completely different.

Marie was there, too, tucked against Logan's side, as she often was. She saved them. "Hey, Scott," she said. "You want some popcorn? Kitty made three bags." She held one up, offered it to me; I came to take it.

Dumbfounded recognition dawned on the faces of the rest. I should have laughed, but all I could manage was a thin smile. "Mr. Summers?" Dani said, as if none too sure of my identity, and Jubilee blurted, "Mr. Summers, your eyes are blue!"

Despite everything, I grinned. Jubilee would be Jubilee. "They were blue last time I checked. Which ≠ until two weeks ago ≠ was about ten years ago. Funny, they hadn't changed. And here I was, hoping for a nice shade of chartreuse."

They all giggled and Kurt asked, "What color is chartreuse?" His English is good, but has its limits.

"Green," Jubilee told him. "Like, yellow-green caterpillar color. Ick."

"You shaved the beard off," Marie said.

"Yeah." Sitting down on the couch arm, I dug in the popcorn bag for the tacks at the bottom. I like biting them for some stupid reason. "Jean would've hated it."

I watched their expressions as they scrambled mentally, trying to decide if or how to respond to that. Marie saved them for the second time. "Oh, I don't know," she said. "She coulda kissed you and found out what you'd had for lunch without reading your mind."

Startled silence, then everyone burst out laughing, even Logan and I. Jubilee howled, "Double-ick!" In the background, Hawkeye and B.J. traded jokes while they sewed up patients so their guts didn't spill out onto the floor. It's the only way to keep from going crazy. We are the 4077th at Greymalkin Lane, under siege.
 
 
 
 

After M*A*S*H, I was commandeered and led off to the mansion dining room to help Jubilee and Kitty sort out their calculus. My classes had been taken over by Hank, who's an adequate teacher. Curiously, the simpler the math, the better he handles it. But once students reach a certain level, he forgets they aren't his intellectual equals and leaves them in the dust. Thankfully, only a few of my kids qualify, but Kitty and Jubilee are among them. Their faces bore faintly shell-shocked expressions as they showed me their homework assignments and bitched about Sturm-Liouville problems and boundary conditions.

In retrospect, I wonder if an ulterior motive lay behind their pleas for tutoring. Jubilee is more savvy than she likes to pretend, bubblegum and death-by-yellow notwithstanding. But whatever plots they may have hatched to lure me back into the classroom, Hank's idea of "homework" really was appalling. The big blue idiot had thrown partial differential equations at them, for god's sake. Partials are fun, but I'd barely introduced ordinary differentials as part of the BC Calc sequence. Even Kitty, my math geek, was completely thrown. They were used to solving equations, not coming up with them.

In the midst of my attempt to explain when one might use Fourier analysis, Ororo entered with the phone. Wordlessly, she handed it to me. Too deep into what I was saying to suffer the distraction gladly, I took it with an annoyed, "Hello?" into the mouthpiece.

"Scott?"

EJ Haight.

Immediately I dropped the pencil, rose and walked into the kitchen for privacy. How appropriate, to talk to EJ the dietician in a kitchen. I should have called the man a week ago, at least -≠ he was my best friend, even if he did live in San Jose -≠ but I hadn't thought about it. It was as if my brain had checked out with the rest of me. "Hey, man," I said, then stopped, unsure where to begin.

He didn't give me a chance. "I called to let you know I'm coming out there. I got tickets. I'll be in New York in a couple days."

So. He knew. I wondered who'd told him. "You don't have to do that."

"Of course I don't. But I am anyway."

Typical EJ. Bully me. But. "I'm not sure it's safe here right now, Eeej."

He didn't reply immediately, and then I could hear the shrug in his voice. "Don't matter."

"It does matter."

"I'll take my chances. See you in 48, my white brother." And he hung up before I could argue further. I stared at the phone a few minutes, wrestling with mixed feelings. The Scott who had been EJ's partner in crime for four years at Berkeley didn't exist any more. Maybe that's why I'd forgotten to call him ≠ subconscious separation. EJ represented the innocence I couldn't reclaim, the youthful belief that justice would eventually prevail. "The arc of history bends slowly, but it bends towards justice." Martin Luther King. Once, EJ and I had both believed that. Now, I was no longer so sure.
 
 
 
 

Some time later, past midnight, I was playing pool against myself in the game room when Logan wandered in. He had two beers, handed one to me. Molson. He's Canadian down to his liquor. "You're the only one at the mansion who'll still play you," he grunted, watching me clean up the table and then rack the balls again.

Sometimes I play badly on purpose.I paused to chalk the cue. "Sometimes I play badly on purpose."

"Hustling your friends, One-Eye?"

I smiled tightly. "It's no fun to play alone, Logan."

I'd meant it as a comeback, not a plea, but he set down his beer to go get a cue from the wall-rack. "I break. At least that way, I'll get to kick around the balls for a while."

We played five games. He's good. I'm better. I have an unfair genetic advantage. "I used to let Jean win," I said at one point. "When we first met, she didn't realize that I could actually play pool."

"How'd she find out?"

"I forgot myself. She came to Berkeley to visit me -≠ my last year there. I took her to a party and we all got pretty smashed." I glanced up to see if he would make a crack about that, but he didn't. "EJ -≠ he was my roommate -≠ bet that I couldn't still clean up a table while drunk. So I proved him wrong. She figured it out after seeing that. Yelled at me for ten minutes for letting her win all those times. That woman had a temper."

He laughed and leaned over to make a shot.

"It's time to plan her funeral, Logan. It's past time."

His shot went wild and he turned to stare at me. At moments like this, when he's unguarded, I see his pain. He's just better at masking it. I took my place at the table, sank everything methodically and at crazy angles, then laid the cue on green felt. "Will you help?" I asked.

"Why're you asking me?"

I looked off and didn't answer. Finally, he said, "What do you want me to do?"

"I'm not sure." Looking down, I rolled the pool cue on the tabletop, back and forth under my palm. "We talked about our funerals, Jean and I. Maybe that sounds morbid, but we did. It was sensible." Faint smile. "We were always sensible ≠- Living Wills, registered to be organ donors -≠ all that jazz. We even wrote it down. So I know what she wants. Wanted." Verb tenses again.

He waited. I clenched my jaw and frowned, then made myself continue. "No burials. I don't suppose that matters now, but we both decided we didn't want to take up space that way. It seemed selfish. She wanted to be cremated." I thought of a bunker blown sky high in a Maryland field. "I guess she got it."

I broke then, wound up sitting on the carpet, bawling my eyes out. He came to sit by me, put a hand on my shoulder and let me cry. Finally I quieted and wiped my face. He'd been crying, as well. Light from the Tiffany lamp over the table shone on his wet cheeks. Two months ago, I'd have died and gone to hell before I shared Jean with Logan. But then I did go to hell. And he went with me. So it was Logan who helped me plan Jean's funeral.

At least it was Logan until Jean's family got involved, then we were both superfluous.

Ororo had said that they were waiting on me, but I'm not sure for what they were waiting, since they didn't want to listen to anything I had to say. But then, they never had, so that was nothing new. Against my will, they'd turned our wedding into the Social Event of the Season, and Jean hadn't had the fortitude to stop them. She never could stand up to her mother.

Elaine Grey is a force of nature disrupting the lives of everyone around her with gale force whims and neuroses, and Sara, Jean's elder sister, is a more strident but less powerful version of Elaine. John Grey survives them by living in his office at the university. Being head of the history department gives him an excuse. Jean has always seemed to me the changeling of that family. It was only after I'd gotten to know her that I'd learned how much of her urbanity was a front. She'd never dated until her senior year, never been to a football game, never gotten drunk, never slept over at the house of a friend. Some of that had owed to the fact that she'd been in and out of sanitariums until her father had contacted Xavier. Nonetheless, our teenaged years couldn't have been more different, and she hadn't come out of her shell until college, when she'd escaped the clutches of her mother by the expediency of moving three states southwest to Nashville where she could attend Vanderbilt. Then she'd gone wild ≠- predictably -≠ and had been hauled home to New Yorkk in disgrace. Drug rehab and a semester later, she'd enrolled at Columbia to finish her undergrad degree, then enter med school like a good little girl.

All that, I'd learned only later. To me at eighteen, she'd been perfect: the self-assured, beautiful, poised older woman. I hadn't loved her, I'd idolized her. I'd learned to love her after her hellish first year of residency and the re-manifestation of her suppressed telepathy had pushed her to the brink of a nervous breakdown. Then I'd gotten to know Jean -≠ not the fantasy woman in my head -≠ through email, phone calls and finally, by just coming home to be there for her. My own middle-class adolescence had seemed so humiliatingly ordinary, but she'd prized it. "You're my Trixie Belden," she'd said. I hadn't known what the hell she was talking about until I'd looked it up. Trixie Belden -≠ spunky girl detective extraordinare -≠ had been the farm child best-buddy oof poor, sickly Honey Wheeler who'd lived up the road at rich Manor House. Leave it to Jean to draw a parallel from a childhood mystery series. And I guess it fit. I'd taught her to play darts in a bar, and baseball, even how to use coin laundry. I'd been eight years younger and three times as experienced in bed.

In any case, Logan must have said something to Charles about our funeral discussion in the game room, because the next evening after the sun had set, I was summoned to the professor's office.

By now, everyone had discerned that I didn't go above ground until dark, and that night not only Kitty and Jubilee, but all five former members of my calc class had been waiting by the elevator to ambush me. "Help," they'd said in unison as soon as I'd stepped off, Kitty adding, "Please take us back, Mr. Summers. Dr. McCoy is trashing our grades." Maybe they had conspired, but if so, their timing was impeccable. I'd reached that point when I needed to do something or I'd climb the walls, and these were my kids. I felt protective. So I'd herded them into our old classroom -≠ I'd have a talk with Hank later ≠- when the professor's mental call had interrupted. Frustrated, I'd left them with a promise to meet them the next evening, same bat-time, same bat-channel. As I'd walked away, I'd been smiling. And guilt had immediately had crashed over me. Why should I get to look forward to anything? Jean was dead.

So it was in a state of no little emotional turbulence that I entered the professor's study to find Jean's parents there already, along with Jean's sister, the professor and, of all people, Warren Worthington. Logan hung about just inside the doorway, as if unsure of his welcome at these proceedings. They had apparently been waiting on me. I wondered what had been said before I'd arrived. Warnings about the mental fragility of the grieving widower?

Elaine grabbed me as soon as I got in the door, threw her arms around me and proceeded to cry mascara all over my shirt. What she said wasn't coherent, though it did include much repetition of my name. The woman can turn on tears like a faucet, but I just wanted her off me. Her resemblance to her daughter bothered me as much as her histrionics.

I finally got her to sit down again. She'd pulled out one of those slick, advertisement brochures and was trying to show me something in it, yet her hands shook so badly that she couldn't get the pages apart. I took it from her to help, then saw what it was. "What in hell do we need a casket catalogue for?"

Scott, warned the professor in my head.

"There's no body," I added, ignoring Xavier.

John Grey had flinched and looked away, but Elaine took a small breath before replying, "We should still have a funeral. I'm sure you agree that she deserves a funeral. We thought you might like to help us pick out a casket, Scott. I know there's nothing to go in it, but it's symbolic. It can give us all some closure."

Classic psychobabble. Elaine must have been talking to her shrink.

But as much as Jean had hated her mother, she'd also loved her. I owed Jean to try. "I agree that she deserves something." I forced my voice to remain even. "I'd like to have a memorial service here, at the mansion, so the students can attend. We had talked about funerals before ≠- just in case. She had my instructions and I have hers. It should be something quiet and simple. No sermons, no fanfare, no suits and ties ≠- nothing like that. Informal. People can tell stories and remember her. No flowers, either. She wishes -≠ wished -≠ for any money to be donated to genetic research and a few environmental causes. She gave me a list."

Despite what I'd implied to Logan yesterday, discussing our funerals hadn't been an easy thing for me. Jean had bullied me into it. When she'd told me what she'd wanted, though, I'd said, "It sounds more like my funeral than yours." I'd expected her to ask me to throw a goddamn party, or an Irish-style wake. Jean hadn't been a woman who'd desired others to mourn. But that day, she'd smiled and touched my cheek. 'Funerals are for the survivors, hon. This is what you'd need.' She'd known me so well. And it's in the small ways that we reveal ourselves, whether our love is selfish or selfless. Jean's had been selfless and this was her last gift to me. I'd be damned if I let Elaine spoil it.

"In any case," I added after a moment, "and even if we did have a body, she didn't want to be buried." I could see incomprehension in their faces. Hadn't Jean ever told them? Apparently not. "She wanted to be cremated. We both did."

Silence. It was Sara who broke it. "That's absurd! We have a family crypt!"

"But she didn't want that. I was supposed to keep the ashes until I was ready, then spread them on the lake, here." From the spot on the pier where I'd asked her to marry me. "It's moot anyway. I won't bury an empty casket. I won't permit that kind of farce."

Elaine's control faltered, let slip the anger and the strain. "Maybe you can do without a gravesite to visit, Scott, but I'd like to have one, body or no." She dug her cigarettes out of her purse, fished one free and tried to light it three times. Warren finally had to bend forward to help. She smoked nervously a minute -≠ the room was silent -≠ then she said, "I don't understand why she would have wanted to punish me this way."

...punishing you wasn't Jean's motivation.Colossally annoyed, I snapped, "Believe it or not, punishing you wasn't Jean's motivation. She didn't see any point in her dead body taking up space. It's just a body. It's not her. Don't you get it? She's gone. Her mind is gone. Who the hell cares what happens to her shell?"

But if that were true, why did I keep that small collection of her hair tucked away in a pillbox in our bathroom?

Warren had gotten to his feet, wings fanning out slightly. "These are her goddamn parents, you jackass! If they want to give her a grave, let them. It's not your choice anyway. You weren't her husband, even if you insist on wearing the ring she didn't put on your finger."

I started up from my chair but felt the metal-weight of Logan's hand on my shoulder. "Easy," he said even as the professor snapped at Warren, "Silence!"

Warren took a deep breath but didn't sit down. "No, Charles. I respect you, but no. I'm sick and tired of his posturing. Everything is always about what Scott wants."

"It is not! "

"Bullshit. Her family's waited for more than two weeks for you to get your act together so you could be involved, but now you waltz in here telling everyone what you will and will not 'permit.' You never could work with people, Scott. All you know how to do is order them around. What god died and left you in charge? That's why I friggin' left the mansion in the first place. I was sick of taking orders from you."

"You left because Jean started dating me."

"Don't flatter yourself, Gamma Gaze."

"It's not flattery. You say I can't work with a team, but the truth is, you can't stand to lose."

"At least I don't get people killed when I screw up."

"That is quite enough!" The command was both verbal and mental at once, so powerful it rang in my brain like a bronze bell. Despite Logan's retraining hand, I'd been out of my chair and headed for the door before I put Warren through a wall. "Come back and sit down, Scott," the professor said behind me.

Spinning in the doorway, I said, "Why? It's clear you don't need me." I turned to glare at Elaine. "You have it all planned out already. You don't give a damn what Jean wanted, or how I feel. I'm just your life-sized cardboard prop to wring pity from the guests. 'Isn't he so sad? Pity for poor Scott. Yes, they were two months from their wedding, what a shame.' How fucking trivial! I loved her too much to let you turn this into a three-ring circus." Elaine's face was stricken, and John and Sara wouldn't meet my eyes.

"I loved her, too," Elaine whispered finally. "She was such a fragile girl. Every night, I checked on her in her bed. Every night. I'm the one who watched her 'gift' drive her insane. I'm the one who fed her because she wouldn't eat, I'm the one who bandaged her hands when she tried to scratch out her ears to stop the voices in her head, and I'm the one who gave sponge baths to a catatonic fifteen year old. How can you think any of this is trivial to me? You're burying a fianceť. I'm burying my child."

Shame scalded me, as hot as grief, and I bowed my head. "I'm sorry." I still didn't like Elaine ≠ I'd never like her ≠ but for the first time in the five years since we'd initially met, she actually sounded maternal.

Logan patted the chair I'd vacated. "Come sit down, kid." I did as he asked. Arms crossed, he stayed at my back. To Elaine, I said, "We can hold the memorial here." We'd get back to the matter of the empty casket later. "I have the names and addresses of her colleagues who might be able to attend."

But the mask of patrician socialite had slipped back into place, hiding all trace of the mother. "I'm quite sure you mean well," she said, "but it's impossible to have the funeral here. Your chapel is just too small. That's why we didn't opt for the funeral home, either. Jean was an important woman, both in her field and in the community. It wouldn't be fair to leave people out, just because they aren't mutants."

"I said I had addresses for her colleagues. I didn't intend to leave anyone out -≠ "

"We need to have the funeral in a more public location." Her precise enunciation told me that she was hanging on to her temper with both hands. Jean had gotten her hot-headedness from Elaine. "I understand that Westchester is closer to New York than Annandale, but I think it's imperative that we hold the funeral where anyone is welcome. The Church of Saint James the Less is in Scarsdale. It's a lovely old church with wooden pews and stained glass windows -≠ you know how much Jeannie loved stained glass. It's a sizable place, and I spoke with the rector before we came here ≠- "

"Absolutely not!" It came out harsher than I'd intended, and I rubbed at my forehead, right between the brows, trying to calm down. Yet all sense of sympathy I'd had for Elaine was rapidly evaporating. "Jean didn't go to church. Neither of us did. It wouldn't be appropriate."

"You were willing to be married in a church!"

"I'd have done it for Jean; it was her childhood church. I'm not going to some strange place just because it's fancy, to have a memorial we can hold here. This is where she taught and worked and lived. This is where it ought to be. We're not doing this in a church."

"See what I meant?" Warren muttered under his breath, at the same time Elaine said, "I don't understand what you have against the church, Scott. You've always been so hostile to religion."

I rubbed my forehead again. Headache. And I couldn't even blame my power. I was going to ignore Warren. To Elaine, I said, "My best friend is a PK -≠ a preacher's kid. I don't think I'm hostile to religion. But Jean and I didn't go to that church, didn't go to church at all, and I'm not driving thirty miles to hold Jean's memorial service in a church. I want it here, dammit!"

"There's no room here -≠ "

"Actually, there is," the professor interrupted. "A memorial service could easily be held in the gardens."

"What about the weather -≠ ?"

"Weather isn't a concern." Amusement touched Xavier's voice. "I am inclined to agree with Scott in this, Elaine, John." He made sure to catch Jean's father's eyes, too, in an attempt to diffuse it from becoming a battle of wills between Elaine Grey and me. "Although the school isn't normally open to the public ≠- to protect our students -≠ we have hosted the occasional community event in the past. Quite successfully, I might add."

And for once in his life, John Grey found a backbone. Patting his wife's hand, he said, "We should listen to Charles, honey."

Faced by this semi-united front, Elaine backed down. "All right. We'll hold the memorial here at the mansion." But she was clearly unhappy about it and her concession was followed by a small skirmish over what would be involved in the service itself, and who would conduct it ≠- Elaine wanted clergy; I didn't. The 'discussion' continued another hour, and we hadn't even returned to the question of the empty casket. Exhaustion postponed further quarreling, but I knew it wasn't over.

Finally, Warren showed out Jean's family, leaving me to sit in the office with hands dangling between my knees, my head down. I felt like a horse run full-out and put away wet. Logan still had a hand on my shoulder. I glanced around at him, over to the professor, then rose and stalked off without a word.

I didn't get far down the hall before Logan had caught me up and we took the elevator to the lower levels together. He was chewing on an unlit cigar and I could tell that he had something he wanted to ask, but I ignored his shifting feet until he finally said, "What's up between you and Flyboy?" The elevator doors opened to spit us out near the lab.

"Warren and I don't get along," I replied as I headed for the lab doors.

"Yeah?" he called after me. "Well, I'd never have guessed. Thanks for clarifying that."

I didn't reply and he followed me into the lab, where Hank was crouching on a stool in front of the computer monitor for the lab's new baby: a field emission scanning electron microscope ≠- so critical to the type of high-tech biochemical research that Hank and Jean had conducted. It could show each protein fiber in a strand of hair and I didn't even want to think about what it had cost, but I remembered the day it had arrived. Jean and Hank had squealed like pre-schoolers at the zoo, and I'd barely seen her for a week afterwards. My almost-wife had gone bonkers over a machine with a fully-automatic vacuum system, and ion and turbo-molecular pumps. My own poor pump, which wasn't turbo anything, had seemed woefully inadequate in comparison.

...head tilted sideways in that way she had when she was concentrating.But I'd loved watching her use the microscope, glasses perched on her nose, hair twisted up with a pen through it, head tilted sideways in that way she had when she was concentrating. Jean's passion for her research had always dwarfed anything I'd felt for teaching. I was a good teacher, but didn't live for it. Jean had been a scientist first, everything else second -≠ even Scott's lover. I didn't resent that; I'd fallen for her because of it. And when I'd seen her so completely caught up in what she was doing, then I'd realized that part of my place in the cosmos was to support Jean Grey. We'd been the king and queen of gender role reversal. Sometimes that had bothered me a bit, occasionally it had bothered me a lot, but when I'd seen her working, it hadn't bothered me at all. Yet what good is a clay base when the work of art it shows off shatters? I'd lost my purpose.

Now, Hank twisted on the stool. "So how did the meeting go with Jean's parents?"

"Elaine was her usual bitchy self," I replied.

"And he and the Human Eagle about came to blows," Logan added.

Hank sighed, grandly. "I had feared such an outbreak of unfortunate violence would occur between them before long."

"Why?" Logan asked. "I'd reckon it's a bit more than Worthington being unwilling to take orders from the Boy Scout. I take his orders, and I'm an ornery son of a bitch."

"Oh, it is more, indeed. Why not enlighten him, Scott?"

I'd been headed for Jean's office, but halted now, turned back to scowl at Hank. Then I spoke to Logan, "Warren and I once competed for Jean's attention. She chose me. Warren left."

"And Scott has, predictably, bypassed the crux of the tale," Hank said. "At the time Scott and Warren were, in Scott's words, 'competing,' Warren was already dating Jean. Scott stole her away."

Logan gaped at me, then laughed. "'Stay away from my girl,' eh, kid? You were afraid I'd give you a taste of your own damn medicine, weren't you?"

"It was a different situation, Logan. They weren't engaged." I shot a glare at Hank. "And they were not 'dating.' She'd gone out with him a couple of times. Jean wasn't an object for me to steal. She made her own decisions."

"Yeah?" Logan asked. "And would you have said the same thing if she'd picked me a year and a half ago?"

"I would. I wouldn't have liked it, but I'd have respected her decision. I told you the first time, if I'd had to tell you to stay away from her, she wouldn't have been my girl. And that's why she ended up with me, not Warren. I never pretended to own her." Turning on my heel, I headed for the bathroom to get ready for bed.

"She may have chosen you," Hank called out behind me. "But you certainly staged an all-out campaign to win her, like Alexander before the walls of Tyre!"

I flipped him the bird. "It was still her decision."

That night, I dreamed of Jean and electron microscopes and the afternoon I'd gone down to lock the lab door and kneel between her knees because it was the only way I could get her attention while she was awake. We'd made love in front of the monitor but I'd known she'd been thinking about her current research (on frog heart cells or something like that), and for some reason, that had excited me. Not the frog heart cells, but the challenge of distracting her enough to make her come. With my mouth on her, I'd managed. She'd confided to me a month later -≠ just a week before she'd died -≠ that she still had fantasies about that afternoon, so I'd been planning a repeat performance, but had never found the time. I had time now. I had all the time in the world and I loved her in my head and my memory and wondered if her ghost could feel it, if a ghost could come. Would that kind of ghostly wail sound different from any other? And when had I started believing in ghosts? Abruptly, the force of my own nocturnal release roused me and I realized that I was face down on the couch. Still only half-awake, I panicked, started yelling and rolled off the seat onto the floor, knocking over the chair that usually sat in front of her desk.

The door opened and the light flipped on and it was Logan standing there, claws out. Seeing that I wasn't under attack from anything more dangerous than an afghan, the claws retracted. Snick. "Bad dream, kid?"

No, very good dream, but ≠- "I woke up, and I was face down. I must have rolled over in my sleep." I didn't explain that I'd been humping the couch; Logan could probably smell the result of that. And I also didn't need to explain why being face down would elicit panic. We both recalled the cell. And the bed.

"You want a glass of water?" Logan asked, like a parent with a child.

"Yeah. Thanks."

He got it for me. I was shaky still as I drank it, and then handed him back the plastic cup. "You should go upstairs and sleep in your room, Logan."

"I will when you do."

I laid back down, face in towards the couch back. "G'night 'Dad.'" I heard him laugh as he backed out.
 
 
 
 
 

EJ arrived the next evening. I'm not sure who had gone to pick him up, but he sauntered without fanfare into the room where I was conducting class and plopped down among my students as if he belonged there. The kids stared at him. "What the hell happened to the shades, man?" he asked me.

"Welcome to Westchester, Eeej." I glanced around at my students. "Class dismissed. I'll see you guys tomorrow night."

Reluctantly, eyes on the newcomer, they gathered their books and pads and headed for the door. Before exiting, however, Jubilee turned back to inquire of EJ, "Who are you?"

"An old friend," EJ replied. Jubes waited but he didn't elaborate, and shrugging, she slipped out finally, shut the door behind her.

"The eyes?" EJ asked, when she was gone.

I packed up my notes. I had no idea how much he knew, aside from the fact of Jean's death. "I was held underground," I said. "If I'm kept out of the sun's radiation long enough, the power drains."

"'Held'? Who held you?"

"Men." I didn't explain further, asked my own question instead, "Who'd you talk to at the mansion?" 'Who' would have a lot to do with what he'd been told.

"Xavier. He called to let me know about Jean."

Of course. "And to ask you to come kick my ass out of self-pity."

Slight smile. "That, too." The smile faded. "He's worried about you, man. He loves you."

I looked off at my own highlighted reflection in the window glass; the world was dark beyond. "Did someone find you a room here?"

"Yeah, I'm just dandy. Luggage deposited. Now tell me who held you, and who killed Jeannie."

"I don't know. I wish I did." It was, more or less, the truth.

EJ was aware of the X-Men -≠ knew that Jean and I and a few others had rescued endangered mutant kids, and fought such hostiles as Magneto. I'd even given him an abbreviated account of the battle on Liberty Island a year and a half ago, since it had been all over the news. But there were things EJ didn't know, and I wasn't free to tell him. Not because I didn't trust him. He'd become for me the brother Alex had never quite been; I'd become for him the brother he'd always wanted. But some things weren't my secrets. And in this case, I still wasn't sure how much of the whole story I believed myself. As for the part I did accept ≠- that there was a group of faceless men intent on using mutants for some kind of bizarre genetic experimentation ≠- he wasn't in danger, and he couldn't help. I saw no point in alarming him.

"I just don't know," I said again.

He was watching me. Next to Jean, he knows me better than anyone. "What the hell did they do to you, Slim?"

My glance up was sharp. "Why do you ask?"

"Maybe because I see bruises on your face that are still not quite healed. Pitfall of white skin, my brother, especially skin as pale as yours. You're thinner than I've ever seen you, too, and your eyes are flat, like somebody beat all the fight right out of you."

I didn't know what to say. I couldn't tell him what had been done to me; I didn't have the words. I'm not sure I'll ever have the words. "Somebody did beat the fight out of me," I said at last.

He didn't push further, but his dark eyes studied me very intently. "How did Jeannie die?"

I managed to tell him that, at least. It was only the second time I'd forced myself to repeat the story. After, he put his hands over mine on the seminar table and waited while I cried. Tears don't make him uncomfortable. He's never turned away from them like most men. Odd, now that I thought about it, neither did Logan. For all his gruff manner, strong emotion doesn't scare him. "Can you stay for the memorial service?" I asked finally.

"It wasn't why I came, but yeah, I can stay for it. If you need me, I'm here." He'd gotten up to hunt around the room for Kleenex.

"Never mind," I told him and rose, heading for the little public restroom in the classroom wing. I needed to wash my face anyway. My eyes felt swollen. He followed. There was no one in there.

"Jean's mother wanted a rector to direct the memorial," I said as I splashed icy water on my face. "That was one of several battles in our private little war. You missed most of the shelling, Eeej. Heavy artillery and big guns." Shutting off the faucet, I straightened up and wiped my face on my sleeve, then turned around and leaned back into the sink, crossed my arms and ankles and stared at the dun tile floor. "If it was your dad, it'd be one thing -≠ "
Do you want him to come?
"Do you want him to come?"

My eyes flicked up. "He has his own church. And he's in LA."

"Yeah, well, he's in LA. So the hell what? Funerals happen. Preachers are used to it. If you want him, I'll call him. He'll come. You're family. He always liked Jean. And he was supposed to be out here in a month anyway."

For a very different kind of ceremony.

But I thought about it. Elaine wanted her man of the cloth? All right. I'd provide one. "Fine, call him and ask if he'll do it. I'll get him a plane ticket."

Grinning, EJ pulled his cell phone from its belt-holder.
 
 
 
 

Later that evening, I called Elaine Grey to let her know that Jeremiah Haight would be officiating. "You're bringing in a priest all the way from LA?" she asked, dumbfounded. "I thought you didn't want any clergy! We could have had Jean's own rector drive down from Annandale -≠ "

"First, Jean didn't have a rector, Elaine. She didn't go to church. Second, Baptists don't have priests. He's a pastor. Third, he's a personal friend of myself and Jean."

"Oh, I see. This is that man you demanded had to assist at the wedding."

"Yes, this is that man." And Christ, that had been another battle, but I didn't even want to think about the wedding or the fact that Jean and I had spent most of our last night together arguing about some trivial detail yet again, and had slept with our backs to each other. It made such a classic, 'God, if only I'd known . . . . ' "You wanted clergy to direct the memorial. Jeremiah has graciously agreed to fly in to do it."

"But we could have our own rector do it ≠- "

"It's not at your church. I agreed to let your rector perform the wedding because Jean wanted to have it at the church she grew up in and that went with the package. Her memorial is being held here. Jeremiah knew her, and Jeremiah knows me. Besides, he's the head pastor of a big church out in LA." I figured that would get her attention. "Three thousand members. I think he can handle this without any help."

"Three thousand members?"

She was so fucking predictable. "Yeah, last time I asked. He's a good preacher, and he's a good man." He'd taught his son to accept all persons, including one who wore red shades to keep from blasting a hole in his dorm room wall.

Mollified, Elaine agreed to have Jeremiah officiate. And when we all met again the next evening to finalize memorial plans, I was able to use my 'concession' on the clergy issue as leverage to refuse the empty casket, without looking like a tyrant. By that point, she seemed to have forgotten that I'd maneuvered her into accepting Haight in the first place.

I'd been Cyclops too damn long; I could never turn off the tactical thinking. But if it kept Jean's funeral like she'd wanted it, then I'd play field leader this one last time.

Part 8

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