I spent a lot of time with Charles over the next few days. It was what he wanted – to talk, to listen, to just spend time together by ourselves. He would call me to his office telepathically or come and find me pretty much any time I wasn’t occupied with leading the team or teaching or in advisement sessions. The rest of the team backed off and just left Charles and me alone.
I was surprised he turned to me. I’d prepared myself for just the opposite – Charles avoiding me.
It’s not that being alone together was an unusual pattern after a traumatic mission. We’ve done this before, particularly after an unsuccessful one, or a successful one with a fatality. It’s a hard time for all the team, but as their leader it hits me a little differently. The official post-mission debriefing was only the beginning of the process I’d have to go through. Charles generally was my main support and sounding board. He has been ever since I became field leader.
It’s a complicated relationship – he’s my boss, my teacher, my friend. My father, too. The only parent I have left. Not a biological tie, but a real kinship nonetheless, one born of caring and commitment and all we’ve been through together. He and I are very close – we always have been – but I still didn’t expect him to be there for me this time and was surprised he wanted me there for him, too. I didn’t know what this would do to our relationship. What do you do when your son kills your oldest friend?
“I know what you’re thinking,” Charles had said after we’d returned from Vermont, after the official debriefing, as soon as he and I were alone.
“That’s what everybody says about you,” I answered, and he laughed.
Then he turned serious. “It wasn’t your fault.”
“I know that. Well, part of me does. I didn’t even mean to do it. I wanted to stop him, to protect Johnny and Jean. I didn’t want to – ” My voice cracked a bit at the last part and I didn’t finish the sentence.
“Not just because of you. That was part of it, but not all. It’s just – well, I can’t get used to it. He’s the sixth death of an adversary on a mission I was commanding. The second death at my hands – or eyes, really. Six under my command in all these years, two that I killed myself. I know them all. I know their names; I know how they died. They were all necessary deaths, I know that. It’s not even bad stats, really. I haven’t lost one X-Man – now that we have Jean back – and we’ve only had to kill six times in more than fifteen years.”
“They are remarkable statistics, Scott. Amazing, really, when I think of what you’ve been through, the missions you’ve commanded. No one else could have done as well, managed with so little loss of life. You bring them back alive and you do it with the absolute minimum of damage, even to our enemies. I couldn’t have found a better leader for the team.”
I smiled at the compliment. “I still lie awake nights thinking about how those six deaths could have been avoided. I’ve relived each of those battles so many times, thinking that a few seconds here or a different order there and it would have come out differently.” I shook my head and said it again. “I can’t get used to it, taking human life. I should be accustomed to it by now – how long have I been leading a combat team? How many times have I made that same speech just before we go into battle, the one about using deadly force if you have to? And it’s as true as anything I’ve ever said – we only do it when we must. But I just wish to God we didn’t need to. I’ve spent half my life trying my damnedest not to kill people.” I pointed at my eyes. “I still have nightmares about doing it accidentally, at least weekly. And every night since Magneto’s death.” I stole a glance at his face when I said that. I hadn’t said it so baldly before – “Magneto’s death” – not to Charles. I wondered if he’d flinch, but he didn’t. He looked straight at me as I said it, expression open and listening. If he could look into my eyes, that’s what he’d be doing. “I’m still terrified of my power,” I continued, “terrified of my own damn eyes. I hate them, you know. I want to pull them out half the time, like Oedipus. It tears me up when I use them and somebody dies, even when it’s necessary.”
“What have I done to you, Scott?” Such sadness in his voice.
“You gave me my life back, Charles. You taught me everything in life worth knowing. That’s what you’ve done to me. And for me. Don’t think otherwise, not even for a minute.” He shook his head. “Don’t think like that,” I repeated. “I don’t really want to be someone who finds it easy to kill, you know. That’s not the man I want to be.” We sat in silence for a little while. “I don’t think I did anything wrong. I do believe I acted the way I had to, that what I did was necessary to save them. Still, I’m sorry he’s dead.”
“I’m not sure I am.” I looked up, surprised. “He tried to kill you – all of you – and it wasn’t the first time. If he’d succeeded – at the Statue or this time – if I’d lost you, well I would have killed him without hesitation, without regret. And it wouldn’t have been the easy and quick death he had.” His grim expression said he meant it. “He fought on our side against Stryker, but it was only a temporary alliance. I knew that. I know you would have captured him if you could, but I don’t know what I’d have done with him if you had. Turned him over to the authorities? I doubt they could have kept him any better this time. He would have found a way to escape.”
“Yes, he would have. That’s why we let Mystique go. And that Multiple Man, whoever he was. We didn’t think a prison could hold either of them. Well, that and not wanting to let law enforcement in on all that had been going on there.”
He nodded. “The mutagenic machine was destroyed before it was built. Its creator is... gone. The animal that could power it died, as well. Why let the normal population know they might have been forced into becoming mutants?” He sighed. “In some ways I do think Erik is better off dead. He’s not the man I once knew.” He got that faraway look in his eyes and I saw a younger Erik Lehnsherr in my brain, smiling, talking animatedly. “He was... unique, like no one else I’d ever met. He knew what he wanted; he had a vision. We had a vision, a shared one. But over the years it diverged.” The image disappeared and there was just Charles, smiling sadly. “He was the first mutant besides myself I’d ever met. You can’t imagine what it was like, Scott. I was no longer alone.”
“I don’t have to imagine it. That’s how I felt when you found me. I would have done anything for you, Charles.”
“I know. I feel like I’ve asked too much of you.”
“Don’t. This is the life I want.”
Several days with Charles left me feeling like he and I would survive this one intact. I still had unfinished business with Jean, though. After dinner one night we found ourselves in the garden again.
“Can you enjoy it at all?” she asked.
“The garden. The flowers. ‘Ro’s color scheme is really striking, but without that...”
“Yeah, it’s still beautiful.” I shrugged. “I like the patterns, the geometry of it; I like the smell of the plants. And just the quiet out here. See for yourself,” I added, and let her into my brain so she could see the garden the way I do. “How are you holding up?” I asked her after a bit. “A pretty traumatic mission for your first combat one since you’re back.” I smiled at her and added, “I wish I could have arranged a nice quiet battle where nobody gets hurt,” which made her laugh.
“I’m okay,” she said. “A little worried about you and Charles. Is it a good sign or a bad one that you’ve been basically closeted with him since we got back?”
“A good one.”
She smiled at that. “Ordinarily I’d assume it was a good thing, but this time...”
“I know. It’s different.” Neither of us said anything for a minute. “There’s something I need to tell you, something I should have said before.”
“You’re gay, right?”
I laughed and then had trouble starting. After a minute I said, “We talked before about what happened while you were gone. I didn’t tell you everything I should have. I know you thought I was involved with Jean-Paul, but I wasn’t. I was with someone, though. Logan.” I looked away from her and continued, “I loved him. Still do, if I’m going to be honest, but I’m working on getting over it. And I understand it wouldn’t have worked. I’m not saying it’s easy for me to know you and he are together, but I really do wish you the best.”
She didn’t answer for a while. When she did, she said, “That was really good. I’ve been practicing that same line, but I couldn’t manage to say it without sounding bitter, so I haven’t. You sounded really sincere.”
“What do you mean?”
“Logan and I aren’t together.” She sighed. “We never were, really. It was probably 90 percent wish fulfillment on my part and 10 percent rebound on his part, after things fell apart with you. But he’s not really interested in me. So yeah, I’ve been practicing that ‘wish you the best’ line but it always seems to be accompanied by bitter asides about how it feels to find out that the two guys you thought were fighting over you are really hot for each other. That, or world-weary comments about all the good ones being gay.”
“Logan’s not. Gay, that is.”
“No, I think you’re right. He’s not, exactly. Not like you, anyway. But he is in love with you.”
“He told you that?”
“Logan? Get real. He did talk to me about it, and I give him credit for that. But it was more along the lines of ‘Scott and me, we were fucking for a while and then we weren’t and then I was mad at him and then you were there and I always liked you and you and me, well it just kinda’... You get the picture. Anyway, he let me into his brain. And you’ve let me into yours now.” I realized with some embarrassment that I’d let on more than my feelings about the garden. “I have no idea if you two could ever make a go of it. I can’t even picture you as a couple, and I don’t think it’s just my jealousy talking. I’ve thought about you being with a man a few times over the years. Hell, I couldn’t help it. He’s not the guy I’d think of you choosing.”
“I know. It was a surprise to me, too,” I replied and she chuckled a bit.
“Well, it’s a surprise to both of us – all three of us – but it’s real. Scott, I loved you, I really did. And I know you loved me. Being a telepath has its advantages,” she said with a smile. “Disadvantages, too. I know what you’re feeling when you think about him. I know what he feels, too. All I can say is I hope I have that with someone before I die.”
Neither of us said anything for a minute. “Where do we go from here?” I asked.
“Don’t! Jean, this is your home.”
“It is. A lot more than my mother’s house. This is where I really grew up. I’ll be back. To visit, maybe eventually to live. But there are things I need to do. I can’t do them here. Not now.”
“Where will you go?”
“Burlington, Vermont. UVM is starting a Department of Mutant Medicine at their med school. Ethan hooked me up with them. There will be some teaching, some clinical work. It’s the right job for me right now.”
“Are you sure?”
She nodded. “I’m not really over you, you know. I should have known that was Mystique. If there were telepathy licenses, I’d have to turn mine in for missing that one. But I wanted it to be you, so I didn’t really pay attention.” She shrugged her shoulders. “And it’s not just you. It’s me. I need to understand what really happened to me. I need to get that year I lost back and know that I’ve got the defenses so it won’t happen again. Ethan thinks we can get there together. I want to be near enough to keep working with him.” She smiled at me. “I’ll still come on missions with you, when you need me. Once an X-Man, always an X-Man.”
I found Logan in the Danger Room. I’d had all sorts of plans about what to say to him, but when I saw him they all disappeared from my brain. We just looked at each other in silence for a minute.
“Jean’s leaving,” I told him, finally.
“When you attacked Mystique, did you know it was her?”
“Yeah. She don’t smell like you.”
Neither of us said anything for a while. “Logan,” I said, finally, “I want to try again. Do you?” He nodded but didn’t speak. “Do you think we should talk about what happened?” He shook his head. “About where we’re going? About us? I love you, Logan.”
He shook his head again and took my hand, put it to his crotch. I could feel him through his pants, getting hard as I touched him. “I don’t want to talk. I don’t want to hear you talk. Not now. I got something better for you to do with your mouth. Suck on that, okay?”
“More than okay.”
This series begins at http://mofic.livejournal.com/31235.html and is also available here
Summers in a Sea of Glory is a sequel to Returning Spring, which in turn was a sequel to After the Fall.