He looked tired most of all. And I can’t even say what made me think that. Usually it’s the eyes that show fatigue and of course his weren’t visible. But there was something about his face that just looked so completely weary. Well, grief can wear you out.
“Thanks for coming here,” Scott said, finally. “I know how busy you are and I really appreciate you taking time for us.”
“I want to do what I can,” I told him, meaning it sincerely.
“Are you settled in?”
“No, my flight was late. I came straight here. I don’t even know where I’m staying.”
“Rogue will know. We have so many extras these days. She’s been managing room assignments, and a lot more.” He thought for a minute. “Wendy and Arthur are here for a few days. They’re in the room where you usually stay. I think you’re in Charles’s guest suite, with Anjuli and little Hank, but check with Rogue.”
“Yes, didn’t you know? She arrived a couple of days ago. To consult with Jean about Hank.”
“What do you mean? What’s going on?”
“It seems he might be coming into his powers. I thought you would have known.”
“I’ve been out of town.” I thought about what he’d said. “Coming into his powers? He won’t even be two until September.”
“I know. It’s very unusual. I don’t really know the details.”
“I’ll talk to Anjuli later and get the whole story. I know you’re busy – I don’t mean to take up your time with this. Let’s talk about what you’d like me to write for the memorial service.” I took out some papers, as well as a pad and pen. “I made some notes and I want to hear more about what you’d like included.”
“Good. There are some other issues I wanted to discuss with you as well.”
“I thought there might be. And Scott, before we get down to it, I just want to offer my condolences in person. He was a very special person and a great loss to us all. I feel it acutely myself, having known him so little. I can’t imagine what you’re going through.”
“It’s not an easy time. Still, I’m managing. We all are.” He sighed. “Sometimes it feels like just yesterday he was alive. And sometimes it seems like years, like I can barely remember him well.”
“Time gets distorted during mourning.”
He nodded his agreement. “Grief makes one hour ten,” he quoted.
“I know this is a hard time for all of you. I want to do whatever I can to help. The memorial service program and any other way you can use my skills.”
“Thank you. And thank you for the beautiful letter, too. It really captured just who Charles was. That’s how you got roped into writing the program for the memorial service.” He smiled at me, then continued. “There’s something else I’d like to talk to you about before we discuss details of the program, though.” He paused, as if gathering his thoughts. Or perhaps steeling himself to say what was on his mind? When he began, he seemed to be stalling. “I want you to know that Charles always considered you a member of the team and I do, too.”
“I’m glad to hear that. I’ve sometimes thought of myself as sort of an auxiliary X-Man.”
“As far as I’m concerned you are an X-Man, no auxiliary about it. I hope you’ll continue to do work for us, as you can. I recognize you have a full-time job, of course.”
“You have a couple of full time jobs.” He laughed at that. “I can make time for you, for the X-Men," I continued. "I want to. And Scott? I’m glad that you’re still looking on me as part of the team, that you’re not seeing me as just having been affiliated with the X-Men when I was with Jean-Paul.”
“I had meant to tell you how sorry I was to hear of your break up.”
“Thanks.” I wasn’t sure how much to say. “It’s still new,” I said, finally. “We’re kind of finding our way. While I’m here we’re going to talk about how we can manage co-parenting, particularly if he’s staying here.”
“Good. I hope you can work it out. I have a vested interest in that,” he said, smiling again. I laughed. “I’m not just thinking of the X-Men, you know,” he added, more seriously. “I hope for all your sakes you can make this work. It’s very hard, I know, forming a post-break up relationship, but it’s worth it, I think.” He paused, as if wondering whether to say more. “Jean and I never had a child, but we had a lot that tied us together after we broke up, too. It was difficult, very much so for a while. But I’m glad we persevered. I’m thankful we were able to develop the friendship we have now. I hope you and Jean-Paul can find your way through this.”
“Thanks. I really do care about him still. We’re talking. We’ll work something out. It’s just... there are a lot of hurt feelings.”
Scott nodded. “There always are. In my case, it was complicated by my coming out, and by my relationship with Logan. I realize that was incredibly difficult for Jean to accept. Yet she did accept it, and with such grace and kindness. And patience, during a pretty protracted period where I was trying to figure out what I really wanted in life. I’ll always be grateful to her for how she handled that.”
“I guess I’m kind of in that period of figuring out what I want in life right now. Jean-Paul has been really patient, as well.”
“Is it not a permanent separation then?”
“I don’t know.” Neither of us said anything for a minute.
“I hope it works out some way that makes you both happy, whatever that is,” he said finally. “I am glad to have Jean-Paul on the team full-time. Actually, I want him to have two full-time jobs, too,” he added. I looked at him quizzically. “I’m hoping he’ll teach French at the Academy, as well.”
“I had no idea. He hadn’t mentioned it.”
“Well, I haven’t had a chance to talk to him about it. Or maybe I figured I’d get him on board with one job before I spring my plan on him and completely inundate him with work.”
I laughed at that. “You’re your father’s son.”
He laughed, too, but then turned serious. “That’s related to what I want to talk to you about. There’s a reporter from the Washington Times. He’s... well, he’s investigating me, starting with my relationship with Charles. He called me up to ask how we’re related. ‘Are you his natural son?’ was the exact question.” Without seeing them, I was quite sure he rolled his eyes as he said that.
“I know about him – Rick Kapell. I was going to tell you he’s looking into that. I didn’t realize he’d called you directly. What did you tell him?”
“Nothing. I said all the information about Charles’s life that we were giving out was in the press release and I wasn’t giving any interviews. But obviously that didn’t dissuade him.” He thought for a minute. “How do you know about this? Do you know him?”
I shook my head. “No, I’ve spoken to him on the phone but never met him. Believe me, I didn’t tell him anything. He got my number through the journalist’s grapevine – he’s a friend of a friend. It’s a slimy paper, but he seems like a pretty nice guy. Still, I don’t think he’s giving up. He’s looking for something, and he’s not going to be satisfied until he finds a story the Washington Times wants to print. You know what that paper is like.”
“Unfortunately, yes. And I know that he hasn’t given up. He’s been calling other people – Jean, some old professors of mine. Even Martin Kline.”
“Shit! So that means he knows about the X-Men role in Callahan’s capture?”
“Suspects, anyway. They’ve printed innuendo about it already.” He took a deep breath. “I need your help, Adam.”
“I do want to help, but I don’t think I can do anything for you. I can’t get him to stop, Scott. I don’t even know the man. Anyway, it wouldn’t matter if he were my best friend. I wouldn’t back off of a story just because someone close to the person I’m investigating asked me to. It just doesn’t work like that. I wish he weren’t on this, but I don’t see any way I can stop this investigation.”
“No, I didn’t think you could. That’s not what I want from you.”
“I want you to do your own investigation.”
“What? You want me to investigate Rick Kapell? To what purpose?”
He shook his head. “No, you misunderstand. I want you to investigate me.”
The team meeting went well. I had been worried that it wouldn’t. I hadn’t really had time to prepare much. Plus, I’d been so distracted with worry about this reporter and what he might find that I didn’t use what little time I did have well. But Logan’s idea of sending Adam to investigate me was a sound one. Meeting with Adam about that relieved some of the anxiety. I found that as soon as he’d agreed to do it, I relaxed considerably. I went into the team meeting in a better frame of mind, and that helped.
I began by welcoming Jean-Paul as a full-time X-Man and announcing that Jean would be hors de combat, for at least the duration of her pregnancy. “And I’m pleased to say,” I added, “that Rogue has been persuaded to rejoin the team.” They all cheered, led by Bobby, and she stood up and took a bow. “So we have two more who will be in the field, and Jean remains a key member of the team, albeit a non-combatant.”
We still had some difficult topics to cover. I let Warren explain the financial constraints we were operating under. He gave background on how the war and its aftermath had affected the holdings of the Xavier Foundation, and the austerity measures that needed to be put in place for the time being. No one balked when he got to the part about salaries being cancelled. He was careful to say that it was only a temporary measure, and that records of salaries owed would be maintained and everyone made whole once the financial situation improved. “If any of you have personal financial concerns,” he added, “you can discuss them with either Cyclops or me privately. We will work something out.”
They all seemed to take it well. John quipped that if the X-Men were working for room and board now, the food had better improve. Jean-Paul said that it was just his luck to sign up right when we stopped paying, but he smiled when he said it. Everyone seemed to be pretty good-natured about the whole thing, and not too alarmed. Warren had done a good job of presenting the situation as serious, but temporary. I made a mental note to congratulate him on how well he handled it.
We did our standard post-mortem on missions embarked upon since the last meeting. All had been successfully accomplished during this period. Still, there are always things that went wrong and others that could have been done better, so it took a while. Then I gave a briefing on known upcoming missions. I handed ‘Ro a list of new simulations and told her to work them with sub-groups of her choosing. “These are the last ones Charles devised,” I told them all, my voice steady with some effort. “I’ll come up with some new ones by next month. Let’s see if you can get through them all by then.”
Jean discussed plans for the memorial service, and explained what it would be like, and the role the X-Men would play. “We’ll be in uniform,” she said. “And not just us. Everyone who’s ever been an X-Man, ever gone on a mission with us. There will be a moment of silence near the end, and we’re all going to stand up for it. It’s a tribute to Charles’s vision,” she added, voice shaking a little. “Everyone who has been an active part of enacting that vision will be standing there, in one room, visible and proud to be part of our team. It’s what he would have wanted.” She took a minute to compose herself and added, tone changing to a sardonic one, “And I know – August in New York is not a great time to be wearing leather. We’re hoping the air conditioning holds. If not, we’re counting on you, Bobby.” The laughter that followed that broke the tension.
They all left but Logan afterwards, although it took a while, a few of them lingering as if they weren’t sure it really was the end of the meeting. “What were they all waiting for?” he asked.
“I think they were expecting me to announce a new field leader.”
“Or announce that you’re not gonna have a new one.”
“Maybe. I really wish I could talk ‘Ro into it. She’s been second in command for a long time. She’s the obvious choice.” I sighed. “But she’s adamant she won’t take it on. She says she’ll sub for me any time, but she doesn’t want it as a full-time position. Maybe she’s afraid I’ll second-guess all her decisions in the post-mortems.”
“Where would she get an idea like that?”
I laughed. “Logan,” I said, “What about you?”
“What about me?”
“Field Leader. You could do it. You’re the only one other than ‘Ro I’d trust with the job. You’ve got more combat experience than any of us. You’ve led plenty of missions.”
He shook his head. “Not me. I’m not a leader. Not much of a follower,” he added, with an ironic smile, “but I’m not a tactician. That’s your strength, not mine.”
“Well, do you have any ideas? If not ‘Ro or you, who can do it?”
“I don’t think you should give it up.”
“I hate the idea of giving it up. But I can’t do it all.”
“That’s right. You can’t. But why give up what you’re best at? You are the Field Leader. I’m not big on following orders, but I follow yours. We all do. Who else could get that unruly crowd all doing what they’re told? You keep them alive and you get the job done. It’s your greatest gift, Cyclops.” He put his arms around me, held me close for a minute, speaking in my ear. “You don’t have to try and be him just ‘cause he’s dead. Do what you’re best at. Use the rest of us for what we’re good at. You got Worthington doing the financial shit. Let Jean take over some of the management and the school stuff. And let me do what I’m best at – fighting and teaching the kids how to fight. You just keep bringing them back alive, Scott. It’s what he’d want you to do.”
I was lying on my bed, reading. Well, trying to read would be more accurate. I could hear the sounds of two happy toddlers bathing in the adjoining bathroom, and Anjuli’s voice, as well. I’d offered to bathe them, and to do it in my room, since I’ve got a big tub and she was in Charles’s guest suite with just a shower. She took me up on the offer of the bathroom but said she’d handle the bath. I was wishing I’d insisted, bien sur. I needed something to keep my mind occupied and this book wasn’t doing it. Ezra and Hank are not only adorable together – they’re absorbing. You have to keep your wits about you with those two. They’re at the age where they can do untold damage if you blink. Yes, two almost two-year-olds can be an exercise in barely averting calamity at all times, but maybe that’s what I needed to keep my mind off of Adam.
He was here, I knew, although I hadn’t seen him yet. Anjuli said they’d be rooming together while they were both in Westchester, just like in DC. Earlier in the day, before the monthly team meeting, Adam had met with Scott. Later, after Ezra was in bed, we’d talk about our future. Our future as co-parents, not as lovers, in all likelihood. I was having a hard time accepting that.
Not that it was certain. I’d told him on the day of Jean and Sasha’s wedding that I still wanted him. I said that I hoped he’d be willing to give Jake up and try again with me. I tried to tell Adam I loved him in every way I could – with my body, with my words, with my unshakeable resolve to make amends for how I’d hurt him. With my complete forgiveness, for real this time, for how he’d hurt me. He’d said he wasn’t ready to make a decision yet.
It had been two months since that day, the last time we’d had sex, the last time we’d touched. The last time we’d talked about the possibility of a future together.
He’d never told me that he had decided. But he’d been spending more and more time with Jake and we’d fallen into a routine, albeit an uneasy one, at least for me. We spoke on the phone every couple of days, saw each other less frequently. We talked about Ezra; we talked about work. We were cordial with each other, friendly. He told me about his assignments and I told him about my missions. We talked about mutual friends. We’d spent the evening together – Adam, Anjuli and me – the day we’d heard of Professor X’s death, drinking cheap wine late into the night and reminiscing about him. I consulted with Adam when Scott offered me a full-time position with the X-Men. He’d offered good advice and said he was sure we could work out the issues with Ezra. He was clearly willing to be friends.
I didn’t want to be his friend, not only his friend. My body ached for him - I could barely stand being near him and not touching. It had felt wonderful the one time we had had sex. And then I had felt completely empty afterwards when I’d asked him if we were getting back together and he’d just joked about it.
At this point I just wanted to know. I wanted him to decide already. Either we had work to do to rebuild our relationship or I had work to do to get over him. I wanted to know which kind of work was in store for me and I wanted to get started on it. Every day I told myself I’d tell him it was too long, that he had to decide. Too long, mon ami, I’d say. Give up Jake or make this separation permanent. And every day I realized again that I couldn’t face what I feared would be the result of that ultimatum.
So, I’d read very little of my book as I went over all that for the millionth time. Anjuli’s call from the bathroom would have been a welcome distraction if not for the urgency in her voice. “Jean-Paul! Come in here – right away!”
The boys looked fine. They were sitting in a bubble bath, playing with rubber ducks and buckets and sponges. Ezra was chanting something over and over again, as he tends to. Everything looked perfectly ordinary, from the waist up, anyway.
Anjuli cleared some bubbles away and pointed at Hank. “See? It’s just like it happened before. Just like this.”
Without the bubbles blocking my view, Hank’s feet and legs were visible now. And they were blue. Not the slightly bluish tint of a child whose bath has gotten too cold. Not the blue of a robin’s egg or a blueberry or a bluebell or a cloudless sky. Not a blue I had ever seen in nature. Not even the dark blue/black of the fur that had covered the skin of his father and namesake. No, little Hank’s skin was the bright, clear unnatural blue that children loved, or at least toy manufacturers thought children loved. The blue of blue Playdoh, of bright blue balls and color block primary color crib toys. Blue of blue buckets and shovels for playing at the beach. Hank was holding just such a bucket right now, and he stood up to pour the water in it over Ezra’s head, making them both giggle. As he did, I got a better look at those bright blue legs, matching the bucket as if they’d been dyed in the same lot.
The blue on his legs was spreading. At first glance, he was blue only just past his knees. Now it was up to his thighs and moving. It was spreading in a sort of web-like pattern, with tendrils of blue taking over his skin and then the spaces between them filling in. It was mesmerizing to watch, the bright color spreading over buttocks and genitals now, inching up to his waist. I realized what Ezra had been chanting before, as he resumed now. “Blue Hank! Blue Hank! Blue Hank!” Over and over. And now Hank was joining in, and they were saying it together.
“It’s a two word utterance,” Anjuli said, irony in her voice. “A milestone. We need to tell Dr. Cohen.” We didn’t look at each other, both staring as the transformation was complete.
“What do you think it means? Is he manifesting?”
“What else could it mean?” she answered, a little too sharply. Then, “I’m sorry. I’m just having trouble adjusting. I didn’t think I’d be dealing with this so soon.”
“I know. It’s hard even later.”
“Yes, particularly when it’s a manifestation that’s so... obvious.”
“Can I do anything?”
“Get Jean,” she said to me. “I don’t know how long it will last this time. I want her to see it.”