The most vivid memory Scott Summers had of his mother was of her scent, a spicy, warm cinnamon smell, comforting in its simplicity. She had been tall, almost as tall as Dad, but she was rounded and curved, no sharp angles anywhere when she pressed you to her, imparting a kiss, a hug, a joke, a story. He could never quite remember her face without looking at a photograph; but he knew that her eyes had been blue, like Alex's, her mouth pensive like his own. He recalled how she would sweep her thick, blonde hair into a ponytail as she scrubbed the floors and bandaged scraped knees and worked at her easel and planted tomatoes in the garden, wearing her paint splattered bell bottoms and faded hippie tee shirts, humming a nameless tune under her breath.
During the long months that followed the end of his childhood, as he lay isolated in a red nightmare world of pain and heat and fear, it was that remembered strain of music, that soothing perfume, that pulled him through, that gave him the will to heal. Later, when the bandages came off and his prison changed its name from hospital to orphanage, when he learned he was alone, that his parents were dead, his brother given a home, his brain damaged from the fall - it was those same now vague memories that became the foundation on which he braced all of his strength as he was ignored by the adults and tormented by the other boys.
The day he turned eightteen he had walked out of that place with everything he owned in the world on his back and nowhere to go; but with a cool, too calm gladness in his now perfectly controlled heart, quietly rejoicing his new found freedom. Nearly a decade later, as he gathered his thoughts outside the Professor's door, he was not entirely surprised to feel an anticipatory twinge of the same emotion.
Charles stood by the windows, his hands clasped behind his back, his shoulders stooped forward and his head lowered; and Scott was struck by how aged he looked in that moment - not old per se, but worn down.
And then he turned and smiled tiredly but warmly, and reached out his hands, beckoning the younger man in; and he was himself again, a pillar of strength and support on whom you could depend and put your trust. A mentor, a teacher. A father.
"Something's weighing heavily on your mind," Charles stated. "What can I do to help?"
Scott shifted his lanky frame uneasily, trying to find the best way to begin. Be blunt, get it out. Then talk about it. "Sir, I'm not coming back to the X-Men."
Too blunt. A light went out in Charles' eyes. He stiffened. "I see. Well, I must say this is quite a surprise, Scott. I had assumed --"
"That's part of it, Professor," Scott interrupted. "You assumed that I would be coming back. Everyone assumed; and that made me realize that any notions I had of rejoining the team were based on other people's assumptions, rather than on anything within me."
"Where is this coming from, Scott?" Charles asked heavily. "I thought being an X-Man was what you wanted."
"It is. But it's not all I want." He had gone over this speech in his head a dozen times. "I'm more than just a soldier, Professor, more than just a leader. More than just an X-Man. Being out there...in the the 'real world'....it made me aware that I've neglected the other parts of myself for far too long - parts I didn't even know existed. I have to do this. I need to."
"If that's the way you feel," Charles responded flatly, "I wish you luck." Hating himself, he turned away, hiding his pain. Seeing the truth of the boy's words in his mind only made it worse.
Scott took off his glasses for a moment, rubbing his eyes. "This is hard for me too. Please try to understand."
"I am. Trying. I'm simply taken aback," Charles said. "I suppose I should have seen it coming; but the fact is it's the very last thing I would have expected."
Scott smiled wryly. "Maybe that's the best reason of all for me to do it." Silence. "Professor, for what it's worth, I'm sorry. Not that I made this choice; but that it's hurt you." Still nothing. He moved to the door, speaking so quietly and reflectively that Charles had to strain to hear him. "I know that you've always wanted me to follow in your footsteps. You've made that very clear; and because you were the only person who cared back then, who saw something worthwhile in me, I did what you asked, became what you wanted me to be....I have to tell you that if I could go back and do it all over again....I would.
"I'm proud of the man you helped me to become, Charles. I'm proud that because I followed you, I have helped make the world a better place. I am proud to say, 'I believe in this man, and what he stands for'; and we can disagree over the little things and grow apart in terms of where our lives take us; but nothing will ever change the fact that at this moment, I am proud to be your son."
"I think I ought to be going now, Daddy."
"But you just got here," John Grey protested. "Please, Jean, stay awhile longer. For dinner at least."
She shook her head, already buttoning up her coat. "Dad, I can't."
"Is this about your mother? She loves you, baby, she's glad you're back. She's just in shock." Elaine had hardly been able to look at her daughter, and after their talk she had locked herself in her room with the holempathic crystal, an action that had cut deeper than Jean was willing to admit even to herself.
"I know. I still have to go." She paused, arranging her scarf around her neck "I'll visit again soon."
"No you won't."
No, she probably wouldn't. But it was the right thing to say. "I'll call." She bent down to pick up the kitten that was busy rubbing against her ankle, telepathically inducing sleep in the animal as she did. "I already said good-bye to Sarah. Give my love to Mom? And tell her....tell her that I'm sorry. For everything."
He nodded solemnly. "I know that the way in which you've chosen to live is a very dangerous one; but I also know that you love it and that it's a part of you. I may not understand your motivations or your life, but you're an adult whom I respect, and I won't ask you to change. But, Jean, I'm begging you, don't take the unnecessary risks. Burying you again would be more than I could bear."
As he stepped off of his private Learjet and entered Westchester County Airport, Warren glanced at his watch and scowled, the expression of displeasure marring his angelic features. The air had been turbulent over the plains, and as they had neared the coast the rain had swept in, delaying them even further and increasing Warren's anxiety. Airplanes had always given him a caged, uneasy feeling, and the prospect of seeing Jean again only served to augment his apprehension.
It wasn't that he didn't want to see her. He was genuinely thrilled that she was alive, and with each moment that passed he grew more excited at the thought of being reunited. She had been a valued teammate, one of his best friends, the only girl that he, the suave, shameless, billionaire playboy had ever had a crush on; and yet something gnawed at him, a dim guilt that was all too easy to explain.
When called upon to fight the Imperial Guard for her life, he had discovered reasons why he, as a hero, could not, in good conscience, defend a woman who had committed the unspeakable crimes she had, regardless of the excuses offered in her defense. Nor could he defend her based on the person he knew her to be because he suddenly wasn't sure if he had ever known who she was. In the end he had fought only because he could not ignore the shattered, stricken look in her eyes.
But he could doubt it.
It wasn't until he was dressing for her funeral that he realized how wrong he had been, that any facade he had suspected had sprung entirely from his own mind and that her regret had been both sincere and profound. Acknowledging his mistake, he had cried bitterly until it was time to leave for the cemetary and the torturous ceremony that had seemed to cement his failure.
Over time his guilt had lessened, but he had never entirely let go of the notion that if he had truly believed in her, she would have lived. If he hadn't held something back in the battle, if he hadn't made stupid mistakes that were perhaps intentional, if he had fought as diligently and fiercely for her as he had for countless strangers, perhaps that would have made the difference --
The unpleasant sensation of Candy's nails digging into his arm brought him back to the present. "Have you heard a word I've said?" she asked, obviously irritated with him. He turned his head toward her, saw the look in her eyes, and correctly guessed the true reason for her ire.
"Don't ruin this for me, Candy," he warned as he halted their progress. "I'm sick of this petty jealousy you wallow in whenever I have anything to do with Jean."
She rolled her eyes. "And I'm sick of watching you disrespect me whenever she's around."
"Then don't watch", he replied brusquely, pulling his wallet out and pressing a credit card into her hand. "Go buy yourself a new dress or something. I'll call you tomorrow." She fingered the cool plastic for a moment, considering her options, then flounced off, black curls bouncing against her back.
He watched her go, more frustrated than angry. Neither woman had ever done anything to hurt the other, as far as he could tell, why couldn't they just get along? He shook his head, perplexed, and caught a glimpse of Scott by the bank of phones, his nose buried in a worn paperback.
"Scotty!" he called enthusiastically, picking up his bag and crossing the corridor to shake hands heartily with his friend. "I hope I haven't kept you waiting long."
Scott shrugged. "I was early. Hank and Bobby are here, and Ororo called about an hour ago, so we should hurry."
"Any word from Alex and Lorna?" As they stepped outside into the rain he covered his head with his newspaper, for once glad that his wings were concealed beneath his suit.
"Apparently Alex went into Albuquerque for supplies yesterday and Lorna doesn't want to leave the dig unattended at this stage," Scott replied, digging in his pocket for his car keys. "She sends her regrets."
"Don't regret seeing your parents tonight," Ororo said thoughtfully. "You should never regret seeing your parents, no matter what the circumstances."
"It's not that I regret seeing them," Jean explained, "not really, although I haven't been very close to them since I was a kid....I do regret seeing the pain this has caused them. I regret finding out that my mother would rather hug a tacky knick-knack than me --"
"You may not care for it; but the holmepathic crystal was a rare and wondrous gift that helped alleviate your parents' grief. It gave them strength when they needed it most; and it took a great deal of courage for Lilandra to come to the funeral and present it in person."
Jean looked surprised. "Lilandra came to my funeral?"
"She was deeply distressed."
"I'll bet," Jean muttered sarcastically. "I sure hope the crocodile tears didn't muss her make-up."
"Nothing. Can I drive the rest of the way?" she asked, turning pleading eyes toward her friend. "I've been itching to get back behind the wheel."
"Thank you, I'm fine," Ororo replied sweetly. "We're almost home. I would like to make it there alive."
"You've been listening to Scott, haven't you? He's been filling your head with all kinds of crazy stories about what a terrible driver I am, hasn't he?" Jean sniffed, feigning injury.
"Jean, you are a terrible driver."
"I am not! I'm just more.....adventurous than most people."
"I suppose that's one way of putting it."
"You know, some people enjoy my driving," Jean ruminated. "Logan says it's exhilarating."
"Thank you for making my point for me," Ororo replied, turning off the highway and into Salem Center. "Would you like to stop at Harry's for a drink?"
"Sure. I'm getting kind of hungry too." She stretched her legs and shifted sideways in her seat. "So, who are we meeting?"
"Jean, you looked!" Ororo accused, appearing slightly aghast.
"No, no," she laughed, "I swear, I didn't peek. My ordinary human intuition tipped me off."
Ororo slid into a parking space across the street from the popular tavern, turning off the headlights but leaving the wipers on. "I suppose that's allowed," she responded, mollified, "but I'm not doing anything else to ruin the surprise. If you want to know who's there, you'll have to go in and see."
"It's my boys," she grinned. "Am I right?"
"Goddess, Jean, just go."
Harry's was busy for a Sunday, hazy from smoke and pleasantly loud. Jean hung her coat by the door and scanned the room with eyes and mind, searching for her friends and sighting them gathered around a table at the back, laughing and talking; and for a long moment she stood there, motionless, content for now to simply watch them be.
While her husband had turned his grief over their son's death into anger and a thirst for vengeance, Rebecca Essex had sunk into a deep despair that had quickly eroded her spirit, leaving her broken and empty.
Adam had been her soul, her every hope and dream, the sum of her being. She couldn't even begin to deal with his death, with this pain that was so great and consuming that at times she imagined she could feel each individual cell in her body as it withered and died, having been kept too long from her child.
In her mind, Nathaniel had simply ceased to exist, the last clear memory she had of him was when he had told her he had come back without their baby, that she would never see him again, ever, not until she died and oh, she wanted to die almost more than she wanted Adam back but she barely had the strength to keep breathing....she couldn't think about lifting her hand to pick up a razor or a knife or a gun or even a bottle of pills.
She heard the door open and burrowed down into her nest of blankets, the air around her head quickly becoming almost unbearably humid. She prayed she would suffocate.
You took my baby. Go away.
"Rebecca, please, please," his voice cracked in agony, catching her attention for the briefest moment. "I need you. I think I've made a terrible mistake."
"Shhhhhhh. You're going to wake everyone up," Scott whispered, pulling Jean by the hand through the darkened foyer.
"Sorry." She clapped her hands over her mouth and dissolved into peals of muffled laughter, losing her balance and crashing into an end table. "Ooops."
Miraculously, no one seemed to stir. Scott sighed, pulling her to her feet and swinging her over his shoulder. She giggled as he felt his way up the staircase and down the hall to her room where he switched on her lamp and dumped her unceremoniously on the bed. "I had fun tonight," she announced as he took off her shoes and socks. "It was so happy. Are you happy?" She arched her back helpfully as he undid the buttons on her pants and slid them down her legs.
"Yes, I'm happy. I'd be happier if you made me a promise though."
"I can do that," she slurred as he pulled her into a sitting position and tried to manuever her arms out of her sweater, "I can do anything." The difficult garment disappeared into thin air. "See?" she asked, obviously pleased with herself. "I helped!"
"Thank you," he said wearily, deciding to forego pajamas and just let her sleep in her underwear. "Please don't try and drink Hank under the table again. He's four times your size."
"Okey dokey." She saluted him sharply and fell back on the bed. "Ow!"
"My hairpins." She felt for the back of her head and missed.
"I'll get it." Gently he reached into the tangled mass of hair and pulled out three long pins that had held her bun in place. "Are these all of them?"
She squinted up at him. "You're going to have to put some back. I only had three."
"Good night, Jeannie." He kissed her tenderly on the forehead, turning out the light and opening her windows as he left for his own room.
Slowly the cold night breeze helped sharpen her focus enough to concentrate and she closed her eyes, allowing her mind to fully enter the astral plane, it's cleansing properties stripping the effects of her intoxication away as though they had never existed. She stretched languidly as she entered her body again, going to the window and perching herself on the sill, feeling the first stirrings of a familiar yearning.
The rain had stopped some time after midnight, leaving the sky brilliantly polished, allowing the moon to bathe her with it's radiance, and she shivered with delight, an anticipatory thrill coursing through her body. She cocked her head, the whispering of the stars growing louder as they called to her, the song in her soul responding in kind, all awareness of anything outside herself melting away as she drifted into the sensations, embracing them, wrapping herself in the unearthly pleasure they brought, rediscovering herself, the desire inside her intensifying until she gave in, leaving her window her room her world, blessedly, joyously free within her element.
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