It was my first time back in Indiana in almost twenty years. I was feeling profoundly homesick – I couldn’t wait to get back to New York. I was only allowed two hours for the visit, but it wasn’t possible to do this in one day, given flight schedules and my inability to drive at night. Logan and Jean had both offered to come with me. Either of them as companions would have taken care of the night driving issue, but I wanted to do this alone.
So, I’d be spending the night in the state where I was born for the first time since I was fifteen. I’d flown into Indianapolis early in the morning, so I could get to Terre Haute in time for my appointment. I stopped to pick up the rental car and directions, and drove straight there, going over in my head what I’d say to Alex, how I’d try to make amends.
“You’ll do what you can for him. It’s not your fault,” Logan had said, just before I left. And then, when I didn’t answer, he’d added, “Don’t get your hopes up, Cyclops.”
And he was right. On the last part, anyway. I wanted to think that this could be the beginning of a new relationship with my brother, a chance to help him and grow close to him. Still, I knew I shouldn’t count on Alex being amenable to a relationship with me. I hoped that self-interest would at least ensure that he’d let me help him. I shouldn’t let myself hope for more than that. It was unlikely that my little brother was very kindly disposed towards me, given what had happened the last time we’d seen each other.
Which brought me to the not-your-fault part of Logan’s parting words, the part I couldn’t quite buy. I knew that Alex had spent his teen years in a maximum security juvenile detention center after being convicted of killing our father. That incarceration had pretty much ruined my brother’s life, leaving him without home or family or any non-criminal livelihood. That would have been bad enough, but worse was the fact that he’d spent his adolescence locked up for a crime he hadn’t committed. A crime he and I both knew that I’d committed. Committed and then run away from the consequences. Worst of all, I’d never thought to find out what had happened, never followed up on the investigation and trial. I hadn’t been in a position to at first, but once I was with Charles...
If I’d had the courage to tell Charles the truth, we might have been able to get Alex out of there. If not, at least we’d have been able to offer him a home and a continuation of his education when he was released. I was hoping to offer him what I could now, but I was well aware that it was too little, too late.
As I approached the prison I had the weirdest feeling of déjà vu. It looked so familiar and I didn’t know why. I couldn’t figure it out at first. Then it hit me. In addition to being a prison for those convicted of federal crimes, Terre Haute houses the Special Confinement Unit for federal prisoners awaiting execution and those awaiting trial for capital crimes. Pictures of the facility had been in the news numerous times, from the McVeigh execution up to – most recently – Callahan’s attempted transfer there. If Callahan hadn’t committed suicide, he would have been in the same facility as my brother. Mutant killer and mutant locked up together.
Yes, I knew now for sure that Alex was a mutant, although I had no idea what his power was. His mutant status wasn’t marked in his records, so it had to be something that didn’t show. But there was no doubt that he’d come into his powers some time ago and that, whatever his gift was, it was well into the Alpha range of intensity. Jean had had no problem locating Alex on Cerebro. He was one of only two mutants in the facility, the other a guard.
I wondered if I’d meet the mutant guard and if I’d know it if I did, as I pulled up to the guard station at the entrance and showed my visitor’s application form and appointment letter. The man in the booth waved me in, telling me where to park and to go to the Visitor’s Waiting Room.
As I got out of the car and approached the building, I traded glasses for visor. I was wearing civilian clothes, but this wasn’t just a social visit. I felt a little silly putting the visor on; I certainly wasn’t expecting to use my powers. Still, wearing it made this feel more like a mission.
There was a guard in the Visitor’s Waiting Room. He asked for my form and looked it over. “You’re a mutant, huh?” he asked.
“That’s not supposed to be on the forms anymore. You’re allowed to ask the inmates, but not the visitors.”
“We haven’t gotten the new forms yet.” He told me to empty my pockets and gave me a plastic tray to put personal possessions in. He patted me down thoroughly, then told me he wanted to examine the visor. I retrieved my glasses from the tray so I could watch what he did with it. “What is this thing?” he asked.
“I need it to see. That or the glasses. Please be careful with it,” I added as he pressed the temple controls, watching it open and close. He handed it back to me and I closed my eyes, switching back to the visor, putting my glasses in their case and in a pocket. The guard didn’t argue.
“I just need to go over the rules with you,” he said, in the bored tone of someone who has given this speech thousands of times. “You can hug or kiss at the beginning and end of the visit. Other than that, no physical contact. You must sit the entire time of the visit. No shouting or foul language. There will be an officer in the Visiting Room at all times. If at any time the Visiting Room Officer feels that the situation has become unsafe, the visit will be terminated immediately, at his discretion alone. Any questions?”
I had none. I went into the Visiting Room and saw my little brother for the first time in nineteen years.
He looked old. Well, I didn’t expect him to look thirteen. At least I don’t think I did. I don’t know what I expected. He looked older than I thought he would, anyway. At thirteen Alex had looked ten at most, always a source of great frustration to him. In our family we all had a tendency to look younger than our years. He’d lost that somewhere along the way. He had small lines at the corners of his eyes and mouth, his hands had protruding veins. He also had a world-weary look that usually takes more than thirty-something years to acquire. He looks years older than I do, I thought. We didn’t hug or kiss, but we did shake hands.
It wasn’t like in the movies. There was no glass between us. We sat across from each other at a wooden table. The guard sat in the corner, close enough to see us, but unlikely to hear what we said if we spoke softly. “Did you recognize me?” was the first thing he said. “Would you have known it was me if you saw me somewhere else?” I shook my head. “I’d know you anywhere,” he added.
“I must have changed some since I was fifteen,” I said, smiling at him now.
“Yeah, sure. But you look just like my father. Like Dad.” Neither of us smiled then.
“I want to help you,” I said. “I want to get you out of here.”
“Good.” He lowered his voice. “They know you’re a mutant, right?” I nodded. “They don’t know about me.” He thought for a minute. “That helps, but still. I don’t think we can take them, not just the two of us. We could kill a few, but not all of them. We’d never get out. You need to come back, with your X-Men.”
I shook my head. “I didn’t mean like that. I’ve got a lawyer for you. He’s reviewing the case and then he’ll arrange to meet with you via videoconference. He’s got a few avenues he wants to explore.”
“I don’t have money for lawyers.”
“That’s taken care of.”
“You’re wasting your money. I did it; they caught me. Most of it’s on fucking videotape.”
“We have to try, Alex. If this doesn’t work, I’ll come up with something else. I have to get you out of here.”
“Yeah, well you’re close to twenty years too late.”
“I know that. I just found out.”
“Where were you when they locked me up?”
“I didn’t know what happened. Really. I had no idea they’d arrested you. I thought they were after me.”
“It wasn’t a rhetorical question. Where were you? New York?” I nodded. “With Charles Xavier?”
“No, that was later. I was... homeless.”
“A little over a year.”
“What did you live on?”
“I got by.” I didn’t know how much to say. “Men gave me money for sex.”
“And then Xavier found you?”
“He had a machine. A kind of mutant detector.”
“So you struck the jackpot? He was your sugar daddy?” I shook my head. “What then?”
“My friend. My teacher. Eventually my father.”
“Yeah, I saw that in the paper. ‘Survived by his son, Scott Summers.’ Did he know what you did to my fa-... to Dad?”
I took a deep breath. “I never told him. I wish I had. If I had, he would have found out about you. We would have helped you. But I was... I worried that if he knew what I’d done, he wouldn’t want to keep me there. I’d been homeless for over a year. This was the best deal I could imagine. I was scared to lose it. I was only thinking about myself. I’m sorry.”
He didn’t say anything for a long time. When he spoke, he didn’t acknowledge what I’d said. “I thought you’d come for me, you know. My big brother with the lethal eyes. He’d come and save me and thank me for keeping his secrets. It was the bedtime story I told myself every night. I believed it, too. For a long time. I was just waiting. And then, when you didn’t come, well I figured you were dead. You had to be. Nothing would have stopped you otherwise. That’s what I thought all that time, that you’d died. And then I see you in the papers, on the fucking TV news. Living in a mansion. Private jet. Just inherited a fortune.”
“I’m sorry, Alex. I didn’t know. I know I should have. I have no excuse.”
“It should have been you. Do you have any idea what it’s like to be thirteen years old and in a place like that? Do you have a clue what my life was like?”
“No, probably not. But I want to do what I can for you now.”
“You still a faggot?”
“It should have been you.”
“Why did you say you did it?”
He shrugged and smiled. Smiled. He shook his head, flashing me this what-was-I-thinking kind of amused smile. “I don’t know, really,” he said, still smiling. “It’s something I’ve asked myself more than a few times over the years. I didn’t want them to know what you did. And I did hit him. He was dead, already – you bashed in his head real good – but I did hit him. So, they kept asking me what happened and I figured you’d be in big trouble if I told. And I didn’t think they’d do much to me.” He shook his head again. “Pretty dumb, but that’s what I thought. I mean, I was just a kid. You were in high school, practically a man. I guess I thought they’d go easy on me. I don’t know what I thought, really. Maybe that they’d let me go home after I told them I did it, and then I’d have to deal with my mother being really mad. Bed without supper? Grounded for a week? Crazy, huh? I don’t know. I didn’t know what kind of punishment you get for killing your father. It took a long time to believe I wasn’t going home.”
“Did Mom write to you? Visit you?”
He shook his head. “They made us write a letter a week. I wrote to her. Who else did I have to write to? I never got one back. Five years.” I didn’t know what to say. “How does it work?” he asked abruptly, pointing at my face.
“The visor?” He nodded. “There are electronic controls. Here, by my ear. It opens it up a controlled amount.”
“Look at me, Scott.”
“I’m looking at you.”
“No, without the visor in the way. Open it up.”
“I can’t do that.”
“Yeah, you can.” He raised his hand and gestured towards me. The guard in the corner looked up from his magazine, verified that there was no physical contact, then went back to the puzzle he’d been doing. No physical contact, but something. Something sort of shimmering and floating in the air. Moving towards me from Alex’s hand. Not quite there, not quite visible, but something. And then it was gone. My chest felt a little tingly for a minute, as if it – whatever it was – had touched me there.
“What was that?”
“If I’d done that to him,” gesturing to the guard with his head, “he’d be dead.” He waited a minute for that to sink in. “Open the visor. Only when you’re looking right at me. We can’t hurt each other.”
And I realized he was right. That’s why nothing had happened when I’d looked at him after I’d killed Dad. The blasts didn’t affect him.
I looked straight into my brother’s eyes and opened my visor. Just for a couple of seconds – any longer and the guard might have looked up and seen what I was doing. Still, long enough. Long enough to see a human being up close and in color for the first time in close to two decades. His hair was starting to turn grey. His eyes were as blue as ever.
Alex had been right, yes, but he’d been wrong, too. We could hurt each other. Just not with our powers. I’d hurt him terribly. I’d damaged him in untold ways, damage beyond healing. And I knew beyond a doubt that he had the ability to hurt me, too.