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Minisinoo



I Guess It's All Right - Part IV
Hephaestion

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I'd been sitting in my recliner in the den, arms crossed, brooding over the disastrous practice, when Storm planted herself in front of the seat, looking . . . stormish. Her eyes were white. Not a good sign. But I wasn't in a mood to coddle her. "Did you want something?"

"Yeah." She sat down on the recliner foot without being invited. "You know where your girlfriend is?"

I just glared back. The last time I'd seen Jean, she'd been in the kitchen. Talking to Logan. So now I was afraid to ask where she is, afraid of the answer. If she'd gone somewhere with him, could I blame her?

When Ororo realized that I didn't intend to reply, she leaned in over the recliner. "You might try looking in her room, where she hasn't slept for how many nights now? And oh, gee - I wonder why she might be there right now? Maybe because you were a bastard to her at practice?" She stood up and crossed her arms. "Get down off your high-horse, Cyclops. See what the world looks like for the rest of us." And she stalked off.

I sat there a few minutes longer. Hank and Bobby were playing darts in the corner. I could hear the thunk of steel tips penetrating corkboard, and the yelp of triumph or groan of failure. Ororo had retreated to the couch to read and listen to Peter play "Dust in the Wind." They were all ignoring me. I hadn't made points this evening, although, ironically, I'd been trying to assure them that I wouldn't play favorites.

Guilty, irritated, and more afraid than I wanted to admit - afraid that I might have screwed up past repair, despite the promises Jean and I had made to one another in the hammock - I got up and left the den. After wandering the halls meaninglessly for fifteen minutes (doing my best to avoid Wolverine in case he made good on his threat to gut me if I hurt Jean), I wound up back in my own empty room.

How had I become so used to another's presence in a mere matter of days? Normally, I prized my privacy. Yet having Jean around didn't feel like an invasion - quite the opposite. She was my Athena, animating Promethean clay. She skittered like fire over my rushing sea. My flame heart, she burned me, purified and incinerated. I needed her in my life.

Looking around, I spotted her pillow, still on my bed with her favorite flannel nightgown on top. I doubted the Wolverine had ever seen her in that. Funny, how I measured her love for me in the fact that she didn't feel compelled to dress like a model for Victoria's Secret. I checked the bathroom. Her personals were still there, including her toothbrush. Jean had spare shampoo in her room, but she wasn't likely to sleep there if she'd left her toothbrush here. I'd never met a person who brushed her teeth as often as Jean did. We all have our own little quirks. I read the newspaper in order from front to back; Jean brushes her teeth five times a day.

Returning to the main room, I sat down on my side of the bed and picked up one of the books from the stack on my nightstand. Small and green, it was a text in translation that Xavier had assigned me during our bi-weekly independent study session on military history. He didn't inflict that course on the rest as I seemed to be the only one really interested in diagraming Hannibal 's victory over the Romans at Cannae. Only 14,500 legionnaires had walked away from that battle out of two over-strength Roman armies, plus allied troops. And Jean wondered why I found Hannibal fascinating? To quote a famous historian, "Rome ever only feared two things. One was Hannibal, and the other was a woman." Cleopatra of Egypt, to be precise. She'd captured first the heart of Julius Caesar, and then of Marc Antony.

And which of those men was I? The brilliant general who'd defeated the Gauls and pushed the Roman boundary north to the English Channel? Or the drunkard playboy led around by his dick who'd lost a whole fleet at Actium?

I looked down at the book in my hand. Plutarch's Lives. In this volume, Caesar was one of the pairs written about, but my interest lay with the other: Alexander the Great. The man who'd conquered all of Persia before he was twenty-six, dragging an army on foot across several thousand miles and ten years, all by the force of his vision and the magnetism of his personality - not to mention the magic of his amazing ability to win, no matter what the situation.

I didn't have that kind of charm, and never would. I had no illusions about that. But one thing I did have in common with Alexander: a great love. Or I'd like to think so. Jean wasn't my Cleopatra. She was my Hephaestion.

"Do you know who Hephaestion was, Scott?"

Xavier's question to me, three days ago during our lesson. "Yeah," I'd replied cautiously. I wouldn't have, if not for the book he'd assigned me about Alexander's officers. "He was Alexander's second in command and best friend." The one person Alexander had been able to count on to tell him the unvarnished truth. There weren't many people in Alexander's position who'd been lucky enough to have a friend like that. But . . . .

"He wasn't a very good commander," I'd added. "He got ahead because of their friendship." That's what the book I'd read had claimed.

Xavier hadn't replied directly; instead, he'd leaned into his desk and steepled his hands. "I want you to do a special study, Scott. Come back in three days and tell me exactly what kind of officer Hephaestion was - what he did well and how Alexander utilized him, what his assignments were. Use only these primary sources." And he'd pushed a stack of little green books across to me.

Three days had been up this morning. "He was a logistics officer," I'd said as soon as I'd entered the professor's office, the books and a stack of paper in hand. "And a diplomat."

"A good one?"

"Apparently. Alexander kept giving him the same kinds of assignments over and over." I'd plopped down in my chair across from the desk and set my papers on my lap. "But that book you assigned me didn't think he was very good."

"Line up any ten historians against a wall and ask them the same question, and you're likely to get eleven different answers." That had made me smile. He'd shifted in his wheelchair. "So, it seems that Hephaestion was not advanced purely for reasons of sentiment, but reasons of competence?" I'd nodded, awaiting the point. Xavier doesn't assign busywork without a reason, and more often than not, I could anticipate his reason. Not this time.

"Why do you think Hephaestion is perceived by historians as advancing on friendship then, rather than on his merits as an officer? The historians can do the same work you did, track down his assignments - and come to the same conclusion."

"I don't know," I'd replied. "Because they didn't bother?"

"Exactly. They didn't bother. And why didn't they bother?"

"I have no idea!" I'd started to become annoyed.

"Perhaps because the historians were inclined to accept the ancient testimony about him written by others at the court?"

"Who were jealous of Hephaestion."

"Yes, precisely. But my real question is this: why would historians - who are, after all trained to question bias in ancient sources - not think to question it in this case?"

Saying 'I don't know' wouldn't likely get me anywhere, but I hadn't even been sure where to start. "Can you give me a hint, sir?"

He'd smiled faintly. "Besides being Alexander's best friend, what else do most modern historians believe him to have been to Alexander?"

For a moment, I'd been baffled. Then, like the proverbial bolt from the blue, I'd gotten it. And I'd understood exactly why Xavier had brought him up. "He was Alexander's lover."

Xavier had nodded. "Exactly."

First cold had flashed through me, then red hot anger. I'd stood. "If you're implying that - "

"Sit down, Scott." The voice hadn't been raised above its normal timbre, but there had been steel in it. "My point is simply that certain relationships will arouse certain assumptions, whether or not those assumptions are true. Modern historians have been predisposed to assume that because Hephaestion was Alexander's best friend, it was favoritism - not competence - that lay behind his career advance. Nonetheless, Alexander didn't cease to be king, just because he was also a friend and, perhaps, a lover. You don't cease to be Cyclops, either."

Then he'd picked up one of the small green books from my pile and flipped through it, tagged a page and handed it back to me. "Read what I've marked. And think about how Alexander handled the situation. I'll see you tomorrow at this same time, Scott, and you can give me your answer." That had been my dismissal. I'd left, found a quiet spot and opened the book to read:

Moreover, when he saw that among his chiefest friends, Hephaestion approved his course and joined him in changing his mode of life, while Craterus clung fast to his native ways, he employed the former in his business with the Barbarians, the latter in that with the Greeks and Macedonians. And in general, he showed most affection for Hephaestion, but most esteem for Craterus, thinking, and constantly saying, that Hephaestion was a friend of Alexander, but Craterus a friend of the king. For this reason, too, the men cherished a secret grudge against one another and often came into open collision. And once, on the Indian expedition, the actually drew their swords and closed with one another, and as the friends of each were coming to his aid, Alexander rode up and abused Hephaestion publicly, calling him a fool and a madman for not knowing that without Alexander's favour he was nothing; and in private he also bitterly reproved Craterus. Then he brought them together and reconciled them, taking an oath by Ammon and the rest of the gods that he loved them most of all men; but that if he heard of their quarrelling again, he would kill them both, or at least the one who began the quarrel. Wherefore after this, they neither did nor said anything to harm one another, not even in jest.
Now, alone in my room, I read that passage again.

I'd really botched it this evening at practice. I'd chewed out Jean publicly in front of the rest, embarrassing her in an effort to prove my impartiality when she'd simply been tired and off her timing, just like the rest. She hadn't pulled a sword on anybody, or gotten into a quarrel with another X-Man. But I'd had this passage fresh in my head, and I'd been mad at them all, so I'd taken it out on Jean because I could.

That wasn't the action of an unbiased commander. And maybe, now that I looked at the Plutarch passage again, Alexander hadn't been unbiased himself. He'd done exactly what I'd done - embarrassed his lover in public, in front of his own soldiers, because he was angry and knew he'd get forgiveness. And it made me wonder just why the professor had given me this passage - what kind of a warning was it? Had Xavier seen what Alexander had really done here, or had he misunderstood, too? Had he known I'd misunderstand? Had he planned on that? Had he hoped that I, by my own actions, would drive Jean away from me?

You're paranoid, Summers.

The professor was my teacher. He'd been trying to teach me something, not wreck my love life. It didn't seem that I needed any help, doing that. Now, if I could just get Jean to forgive me. Snapping the little book shut, I set it on the nightstand and headed upstairs to talk to her. When I left her room ten minutes later, I was smiling.

The smile didn't last. Five minutes passed, then ten, and Jean didn't show up.

You blew it. You really fucked up, I told myself while pacing around waiting for her. She wasn't coming. She's reconsidered after I'd left, and was going to stay there in her room, and I could probably count out tomorrow's date, too.

So I jumped like a deer when the door opened and she stood there, grinning at me. "Hi!"

"What took you so long?"

The smile disappeared and she blinked, then sighed and ran a hand through her hair, entered and shut the door behind her. "You're angsting again, aren't you, Slim? You thought I wasn't coming down." She dropped the hand to glare at me and leaned back into the dresser. I was standing near the armoire. It put the whole width of the bedroom between us. "You've got to quit that," she said. "I can get mad at you, not want to talk to you for a while - but it doesn't mean it's over." She raised both hands and shook them, frustrated. "You've got to believe in us a little more. I can't believe for us both, Scott. That's why I gave you a promise, and why I asked for one - that we wouldn't throw in the towel when things got hard. Remember that, next time your paranoias run away with you, okay? Or did you not mean to keep your promises?"

I was calming down, my heart not beating so hard. Instead, the guilt had come back - this time in spades. "I keep my promises."

"And you assume I won't? That's really insulting, Scott."

"I'm sorry, I didn't mean - "

She just rolled her eyes and held up a hand. "I know you didn't mean to insult me, but you did by implication. You just didn't think about the other side of the coin."

I rubbed my forehead and asked the question that tore at me. "Why do you want to stay with me? I'm such a fucking idiot."

Her mouth opened to protest, or swear at me, then she shut it and walked across to pull my hand down and grab my other one, put both my arms around her body and lay her head on my chest. You're not an idiot. And I want to stay with you because I love you. I'll keep telling you that until you believe me."

Pulling her closer, I pressed my mouth to the top of her head. I felt so very, very lucky. I didn't know what else to say, so I settled for, "I love you, too."

"Good. Because I saw the professor in the hall and told him I was moving in with you Saturday."

She couldn't have surprised me more if she'd stripped off all her clothes and gone running naked through the mansion. Actually, that would have surprised me less. I pushed her back a little to stare at her face. "You want to?"

"Scott!"

"I mean, you're sure?"

Irritation melted into a smile and she reached up to cup my cheek. "I'm very sure. Unless you don't want to."

"No! I mean, yes! Oh, hell - "

Her smile had turned to laughter and she moved her hand to cover my mouth. I kissed the palm, then spoke between her fingers. "Yes. I want you to move in with me. It just seemed kind of sudden."

"How long have we known each other?"

"That wasn't what I meant."

"No, but it's what I mean. I've known you for three years, and you've been my friend for most of that. We shared a cell in Weapon-X for over six weeks. This isn't sudden and we're not strangers, Scott. I know all your wacky little eccentricities. I think I can live with them, if you can live with mine."

I pulled her to me again and kissed her forehead. "I love your wacky little eccentricities."

She snuggled against me for a moment, then slipped out of my grasp to head for the bathroom. "I need to brush my teeth." I almost burst out laughing at that. Speaking of eccentricities . . . . "And I wasn't kidding about having a headache," she added.

"I wasn't kidding about just sleeping, either." Well, I wouldn't have objected to something more, but I could survive a night without. I picked up her nightgown off her pillow and tossed it at her in the bathroom. She caught it one-handed.

"Good," she said, and I could hear the water turn on. "Go on to bed, hon. I'll be out in a minute."

How very . . . domestic. I could get used to this. Smiling, I pulled my shirt over my head.
 
 
 
 

The next morning, little book in hand, I was in the professor's office as soon as practice was over and I'd showered. Shutting the door, I balanced the book upright on his desk, title facing him. "Why'd you make me read that passage?"

Xavier leaned back in his wheelchair, hands folded over his abdomen. "Why do you think?" So, he wasn't going to tell me; he was going to make me guess.

"Alexander screwed up. He humiliated his best friend in public, in front of his own officers. I don't see how that's an example of Alexander handling their friendship in an unbiased way."

"Who said that it was, Mr. Summers?" A very faint smiled crossed his mouth. "You assumed that was the reason I gave you the passage to read."

Okay, he had me. I had assumed that, but after our conversation, he'd known that I would. I sat down in the chair, crossed an ankle over my knee and folded my arms across my chest. It was my turn to wait him out. Finally, he sighed and said, "There are many kinds of bias, Scott. You can favor a friend under your command, or you can expect more out of them than you otherwise would, trying to prove that you are not expecting less. That is no less a kind of bias."

Which was exactly what I'd done to Jean last night, because (ironically), I'd read this passage. Sighing, I unfolded my arms and uncrossed my leg, sat forward a little. "Did you know I was going to misunderstand it?"

He watched me a long minute. "No, Scott, I didn't."

But did I believe that? I'd never quite trusted Xavier again after the Savage Land incident. When I'd returned only to learn about the tracker in the Blackbird that had allowed the Savage Land to be pinpointed by the Pentagon, it hadn't taken me long to realize that Xavier had put the idea to go to Magneto in my head. I wouldn't have done it on my own, much less have stolen the 'bird.

And that kind of mental manipulation both alarmed and pissed me off, even if - from a strategic point of view - I understood why he'd done it, even reluctantly admired the Machiavellian nature of it. I still couldn't approve of it, and I couldn't trust him entirely any more. I knew now that he'd use me, even against my will, if he felt it necessary to accomplish his goals. That made me wonder how else he might manipulate me. If he thought my relationship with Jean was a bad idea for the team, would he do his best to break us up?

I knew the answer to that.

"The other thing to consider," Xavier went on now, is to what degree any commander can remain unbiased. Do you think that, in the end, Alexander would have killed Hephaestion had he quarreled with Craterus a second time?"

"He'd said he would, and they apparently believed him. They never fought again."

"Yes, but which of them do you think he'd have ordered executed? Wouldn't he have found some way to be sure it was Craterus who was blamed? Put simply, he loved Hephaestion too much."

I didn't like where this was going . . . and I had a pretty good idea where it was going.

Xavier picked up a nick-knack from his desk, a little globe of the world done in glass, and turned it in his fingers - looked at it, not at me. "Now tell me. If it had been your choice, in India, to kill the scientist or to let Jean die, what would you have done?"

"I don't blame Jean, professor. She's done enough of that for herself."

"Indeed - but don't side-step the question. You gave her a direct order and she disobeyed it. Out of love, or friendship, or whatever name you wish to give it. But could you have carried out your own order, and let her die?"

I didn't want to hear Jean condemned. "The guy was a bastard. He created a monster to be used as a tool for butchering innocent people. Even if she'd refused, they'd have killed him anyway. Her refusal wouldn't have made a damn bit of difference."

"And that is why you ordered her not to 'give in,' yes?" He finally looked up at me, pinned me with his gaze. "Of course they would have killed him anyway. That isn't the point. The point is, it wouldn't have been Jean who did the killing."

My jaw clenched shut.

"Scott, you were correct in your original order. As painful as it is for me to say, as cold as it is for you to hear - she should have let you die. As you note, they would simply have found another means to kill the scientist, but that death would not have been on Jean's conscience. To have made the opposite choice would have meant letting you die, but the choice she made meant that she had to kill a man. That is a different thing."

"In theory." I could feel the anger and frustration building in my gut, pushing up, up. "But she'd still have blamed herself - and for two deaths. She knows what she did, professor. She felt him die. It took her weeks just to keep from crying herself to sleep at night and then screaming herself awake later. I don't want to see her sent back down into that hell!" I stopped to rein in my temper. "It helped her get over it, for me to point out that the guy would've been dead either way. She couldn't have saved him."

"No, she couldn't have saved him. But she could have not killed him. You have told her a half-truth to help her 'get over it.'"

"And you want to break her spirit instead?" I shouted.

"Of course not. What's done is done. I'm concerned with it now only as an object lesson. And your very willingness to shield her by lying to her makes my own point. So I return to my original question - if it had been you, what would you have done? Especially now?"

Gnawing at a knuckle, I slouched in my chair and looked off. My heart hurt with the question. What would I have done? What would I have done? "I don't know," I bit off finally. "But being Jean's lover now doesn't change anything because my feelings haven't changed. I'd have made the same choice even before she slept in my bed." A heartbeat pause. "I couldn't have done it." I looked back at him. "There. I said it." Standing up, I pulled the red X communicator off my belt where I sometimes wore it when out of uniform, and tossed it down on his desk. "Maybe you need to choose a different field commander."

Sighing, Xavier picked up the round circle. "So melodramatic, Mr. Summers. Sit down, please. As I said, it's not Jean's choice during the Indian mission that concerns me. That choice was the human choice, especially given the very short time Jean had to consider it. What is rather more important is how others would have perceived that choice. As with Hephaestion, the kind of commander he actually was has proven less important than how his relationship to the king has colored historical perceptions of him - to the negative. And all of that brings us to the larger issue, one which, as field commander, you must face.

"Consider this hypothetical scenario: you must make a choice between two of your X-Men - who to send on what you know will be a fatal mission. Your choices are Jean or Storm and, given the circumstances, you know it more likely that Storm would succeed. So you order Storm to her death. Now . . . how would Henry McCoy perceive that choice? How would Peter, or Robert? Would they see it as you sending the best woman for the job? Or would they believe that you had protected your lover?"

"They'd know, when they heard the whole story, they'd - "

"No, Scott. They would grieve, and their grief would interfere with their ability to hear what had actually occurred. And that is why commanders are advised against becoming involved with those they must command. It doesn't matter how unbiased you can be. What matters is how unbiased you are perceived to be. And in certain situations, there would always be doubts."

He tossed the little red circle back across the desk towards me. It wobbled down into silence. "Take your communicator, Cyclops. And consider what I've said."

I hesitated, but then picked it up. Yet I didn't put it back on my belt. Instead, I walked out of his office without even asking his leave, still numb and a little shaky. Emotionally ripped up. I wandered in a daze for a while, trying to process what had just occurred, to decide whether or not I really deserved to put back on the communicator. Whether or not I wanted to.

I still hadn't made a decision when I returned to the room I shared with Jean. But she wasn't there, and I hadn't seen her anywhere in the mansion, either working or studying. I set the red X badge on the dresser and stared at it a few minutes, then left, stumbled over Peter working down in the computer lab. "Where's Jean?"

He looked up. "She went clothes shopping."

"What?"

Jean hated to go clothes shopping.

"Yeah." Peter grinned. "Ro dragged her off."

I blinked. The notion that Jean would go clothes shopping with Ororo was even more astonishing than the notion that Jean would go clothes shopping by herself. "Why?" I asked.

"She said something about needing a dress for tonight." He winked at me.

"A dress?" To my knowledge, Jean had put on a dress exactly once in the last three years, and then only because she'd been forced to by her mother for her sister's wedding. I must have taken a left-hand turn somewhere into The Mutant Twilight Zone if Jean had gone dress shopping with Ororo while I tried to decide if we should even continue this relationship despite how badly I wanted it. Would I have to choose between Jean and the X-Men? "I'll be damned," I muttered, and walked out again.

 


Go on to Chapter Five, "Lean On Me"


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