I was going to tell Jean. There was never any question about that. Not in my mind, anyway. And there shouldn’t have been any in Logan’s, either. I’d told him – long before anything had happened between him and me – that Jean and I didn’t keep secrets from each other. I would have told her about Logan even if he and I had just been fuck buddies. Which, of course, was all we had been when this whole thing started.
Now it feels like we have – or at least had – something more than that. I’d told Logan I was in love with him and I’d meant it. I’d believed him when he told me he felt the same. My feelings haven’t changed. I don’t know if his have, although I worry that he’s cooled towards me. We haven’t spoken about it since Vermont.
We haven’t spoken much at all, Logan and I. He’s avoiding me, it’s clear. He hasn’t said a private word to me since we got back.
Well, maybe I’m avoiding him, too. Or at least I’m accepting his avoidance of me. I certainly haven’t sought him out.
I should talk to Logan. I want to talk to him. I just don’t know what to say to him. I don’t know how to explain how I feel about Jean. I’m not in love with her, that I’m sure of. Still, l feel responsible for her well-being, at least until she’s back on her feet, in all senses.
I want Logan to understand that. I want him to know that what happened with Jean doesn’t affect how I feel about him. I still want what we both said we wanted together – love and sex and facing the world as a team of two. An army of lovers can conquer the world. That’s how I had been thinking of Logan and me - a warrior/lover pair, like in the Theban Band. I don’t think I’ve ever been happier than I was when he told me that’s what he wanted, too.
We’d thought Jean was dead at the time, thought that we’d had an imposter in our midst. Maybe that’s what it took to really open our minds to the possibility. At least I think that was what it took for me, as defended as I was against loving another man.
It’s been a long time since I’d even considered the possibility. I’d come out the first time when I was fifteen, but once Jean and I were together I’d settled into this half-closeted state. I’m not one of those fundie crazies who try to go straight, even if it looks like that on the surface – gay through my teens and then at age twenty I get involved with a woman. It wasn’t because of some religious conversion, and I didn’t think of myself as an “ex-gay man.” I mostly just didn’t think about my sexuality at all.
Jean and I had gone through so much together, shared so much. We loved each other and although we’d kind of fallen into the relationship, it felt to both of us like it was worth working on. I’d had sex with a lot of guys, but I’d never had the kind of closeness I had with Jean, and I didn’t want to risk what we had.
“That way madness lies, let me shun that.” I knew that if I had sex with a man it would damage what Jean and I had, and our relationship was very important to me. Love was something I shared with Jean, not anyone else. That’s how it was until she died. Well, until I thought she was dead.
I was so sure that this woman who showed up was someone else, someone who inexplicably looked like the woman I’d loved and lost. We’d since found out otherwise, now knew that Jean had been invaded or possessed. Whatever had taken over her body and her mind was gone now. Jean was back, really back this time.
That didn’t change anything. Not for me, not for how I felt about Logan. I’ll always care about Jean, I’m sure. We’ve been friends since we were kids and we were lovers for years. We’d planned on marriage. I feel a great warmth and fondness towards her. In some sense I’ll always love her, but I’d known for some time that I wasn’t in love with her anymore.
I knew I wasn’t going to try to live a straight life again. That’s a decision I’d made over a year ago and one I’ve never wavered on. It had taken me some time to clearly understand that the relationship Jean and I had tried to build was a mistake, but I did understand it now.
It never would have worked, I realized. I hadn’t been true to my nature. Now that I was in love with a man, I’d learned something essential that had always eluded me before. Now I understood that deep love and intense desire could have the same object, and it was a life-changing realization. It was very clear to me that there was never going to be anything but friendship between Jean and me. This was information Jean had a right to know and I was definitely going to tell her.
Still, it was something I needed to do carefully, not just blurt out. Jean was in no condition to hear news like that without some preparation. Logan should have understood that. He knew what had happened to her. Well, as much as any of us knew, which wasn’t a whole lot.
I’d called Charles as soon as I could, as soon as we were sure that thing was truly gone from Jean. As soon as we’d established that the inhabitants of the Vermont house it hadn’t killed were safe and well, as soon as I was sure the house was secure. I’d explained to Charles what had happened to Jean and told him about the deaths of the FBI agents assigned there. I don’t know what he’d told the G-Men’s superiors, but he assured me that Jean would not be arrested for their deaths. Then he and Hank joined us in Vermont, to run interference with the FBI as needed, as well as to try to get a better sense of what had gone on there and to formulate a plan for what to do next.
Two more grim-faced FBI agents showed up shortly after Hank and Charles, looking almost exactly like the ones who had died. They interviewed us all and took extensive notes. Neither of them betrayed any emotion, even when Logan and I described finding their colleagues dead, hearts pulled from their chests and placed neatly on the hall table. Logan and I exchanged glances while they muttered about satanic cults and ritual murder, but didn’t try to correct them.
The G-Men left with the bodies of their fellow agents, and no local law enforcement showed up. I checked local newspapers as long as we were in Vermont, and nothing about two gruesome deaths interrupted the articles about school funding and ski tourism.
We stayed on for a few more days, in order to look for clues as to what it was that had taken over Jean’s body, and in order to interview our Alpha Flight reps and Cassandra, our Mutant Protection Plan resident. They were the people who had been on the spot and knew best what had happened. Logan and I had come into it too late to have the whole picture. Both Sasquatch and Cassandra had been attacked by “Jean” and we hoped we could find out more from them about the being that had invaded her.
It quickly became clear that Sasquatch would be no help to the investigation. We’d found him unconscious, but without a mark on him. He awoke a couple of hours after Jean became herself again, but with no memory of anything that had happened that day.
His memories before jibed with the rest of ours, but added nothing. He’d noticed a difference in “Jean” from when he’d first arrived in Vermont to work with her. She had seemed changed, unlike the woman he’d known for years. He and Northstar had compared notes, speculating that she might be an imposter, a shape-shifter taking Jean’s form. That she was Jean but possessed by some inhuman entity had never entered their minds.
By contrast, Cassandra’s memories were clear and complete. She was able to tell us exactly what she’d experienced. Her mutant power for predicting catastrophe had warned her that she’d be attacked by Jean. As soon as she had the vision, she’d tried to escape, planning to return to Westchester. Jean had tried to stop her and Cassandra had taken refuge in the panic room. We’d had to coax her out of there afterwards. It took some doing to convince her that Jean hadn’t really been the one who attacked her, and was no threat to her now.
After we’d learned everything we could on site, we returned to Westchester. We brought Cassandra with us, and also Ethan Leeds. Charles had asked him to take a few days off to join us. We needed his expertise and his established therapeutic relationships with both Cassandra and Jean.
Hank examined Jean carefully and did pretty much every test modern medicine had available to assess her physical and mental state. Charles examined her telepathically, and assessed her mutant powers with Cerebro. Ethan Leeds interviewed her at length, bringing his professional expertise, his experience with mutant psychology, and his long professional relationship with Jean to the table.
The three of them were a formidable team. If anyone had been able to figure out what had happened to her, it would have been that trio. Still, with all the expertise, intelligence, and mutant power brought to bear, we weren’t clear on just what had invaded her body or what that being had done to her. We were referring to the invader as “the Phoenix” – a reference to the fiery, bird-like shape that seemed to be coming out of her body when Jean became Jean again. But giving it a name wasn’t getting us any closer to figuring out who or what it was.
As far as they could tell, Jean seemed physically unaffected by more than a year of having her body and mind under Phoenix control. It also seemed that it hadn’t diminished her mutant powers at all. If anything, it seemed to have intensified them. Her telekinetic ability was exponentially stronger than it had been. And Charles said her telepathy was now so strong it was rivaling his. It wasn’t clear how that had happened. Had possession by the Phoenix had an intensifying effect on her gifts? Or was it a natural progression that had just coincidentally happened at the same time as the possession? I tended to think the latter.
Ever since we’d fought Magneto at Liberty Island Jean’s powers had seemed to be growing by leaps and bounds – growing faster than her ability to control them at first. I remembered the bed shaking while she dreamed, objects flying when she was frustrated or unhappy. She had told me nothing was wrong, but it was clear that something had changed in her. It seemed that her telekinetic gift was growing and developing almost as if she had just come into her powers. She was exhibiting the same lack of control our students often experience during that period of change. During more than a year of Phoenix possession, perhaps her telekinetic ability had continued to grow, and to stabilize, so that she was now in better control, now that she had her body back.
So, physically Jean was perfectly well, surprisingly so. And her powers were stronger than ever. Still, that didn’t mean she was emotionally healthy. It didn’t mean she was ready to take what was bound to be hard news without some preparation.
Psychologically – well, it would take time to know just how badly hurt she was, but she had clearly been traumatized by the experience. Ethan reported that she was suffering from acute anxiety – trouble sleeping, having panic attacks, nightmares when she did manage to sleep. And the way she had clung to me, shaking, when the Phoenix finally left her body didn’t leave me thinking that it was a good time to tell her I had a new lover. A man. A man she’d thought had been in love with her, thought I’d been jealous of.
Jean certainly knew something was up. In Vermont she’d been assigned a room by herself. She’d looked at me questioningly when Walter said he’d show her which room was hers, but said nothing. When we returned to Westchester, she asked Ororo where she was staying, not looking at me. ‘Ro took her to the room that she’d lived in – under Phoenix possession – for the last several months. All of her things were already there. She had no need to come back to our room, and didn’t. I wasn’t finding myself alone with her. If I’d wanted to explain about Logan and me – and I really didn’t think it was a good idea to do so yet – I’d have needed to ask to speak to her privately.
She didn’t spend much time with me, in general. I saw her at faculty meetings, in the dining hall, at team meetings. She didn’t sit with me and she didn’t look at me.
It wasn’t to me to whom she turned to find out what had happened while she’d been possessed. She gave an overview of her experiences of the past year at the first team meeting after her return. Or more accurately, her non-experiences. “It feels like I fell asleep at Alkali Lake and woke up the next morning in Vermont,” she said. “I know over a year went by, but I only know it intellectually. I have some moments of memory – at Xavier’s and in Vermont – but it’s like little bits of a dream. Incomplete, hazy, only barely remembered. I’ll look to you,” she added, turning from me and towards Charles and ‘Ro, “to fill me in on what I did during the time after I came home.” She shrugged. “I hope none of you will hold me responsible for my actions.”
Everyone quickly assured her that she was in no way responsible for her Phoenix-controlled behavior. Charles added, “We’ll do our best to fill you in on what happened while you were with us, Jean. It’s also possible that Ethan and I can help you fill in some of the time before you showed up here.”
“How could you? I’ve really tried to remember. I know that may well be the key to finding the Phoenix, or at least figuring out what its intentions were. But there’s nothing there, no matter how hard I try.”
Dr. Leeds weighed in. “It’s possible there is something there, some memories, but they’re not accessible to you. Maybe the experiences were too traumatic to remember. Maybe the Phoenix has walled off the memories, hidden them from your conscious self. Maybe both are operating. I think that with a combination of hypnosis and telepathy, Charles and I may be able to help you recover them.” He paused, as if unsure whether to continue. “It wouldn’t likely be a pleasant process. Ultimately I think you’ll find that the more you know, the better off you are in the long run. Still, revisiting trauma is never easy, and can often be re-traumatizing.”
“I want to do whatever I can to get answers,” she’d replied without hesitation, “for all of our sakes.” She smiled weakly. “I’ll count on you to pick up the pieces, if necessary, Ethan.” As always, I admired her courage, persistence, and commitment to the team.
I tried to talk to Jean after the meeting, following her to her office. I began by expressing my admiration for her fortitude and telling her I wanted to do what I could to help her. I told her to let me know when she felt ready to rejoin the team, but that she shouldn’t feel under pressure to do so right away.
She didn’t say anything for a long time. When she spoke, it wasn’t in response to what I said. “It’s over, isn’t it?” she asked.
I nodded. “I’m sorry.”
She shrugged, smiling sadly. “Nothing to be sorry about. We always knew it was a long shot.”
“Jean, I’ll always –”
“Don’t, Scott. Don’t finish that sentence. I don’t think I can take hearing that right now. Maybe some day.” She turned her head away. “I think I need to be alone now.”
How could I have told her then?