Scott found himself saying that at least once a day. Some days it was his first thought on waking and his last before – mind racing with all he hadn’t accomplished that day – he fell into an uneasy sleep. It had almost become his mantra. Sometimes he even said it aloud. Not this time, but it was reverberating in his brain throughout the X-Men team meeting. He tried to keep focused on the business at hand, but his mind kept wandering to the distressing surprise he’d found in his – formerly Charles’s – office earlier that day. And he tried to keep his musings behind mental shields, not wanting to distract Jean from the meeting by broadcasting his concern. He wasn’t sure he was all that successful. She kept looking at him intently, even when what he was telling the team about was not particularly interesting.
He turned from Jean to Warren. With Hank and Charles both dead, the three of them were the only survivors of the original team. Clearly the two remaining original X-Men were the ones to consult about this new development. Scott decided to push his dilemma to the back of his mind for the duration of the meeting. Dwelling on it now would accomplish nothing and would likely worry Jean unnecessarily. He’d focus on the business at hand and then ask Jean and Warren to stay after the meeting and tell them about it then.
Sasha Cherevko found his attention wandering as the X-Men team meeting went into its second hour. He stole a glance at his wife, sitting next to him, but Jean’s listening expression and the lack of her presence in his brain suggested that she was still fully engaged in the meeting. She always was when Cyclops was speaking, he reflected with a twinge of jealousy.
He tried to suppress the twinge, patting his wife’s growing belly, reminding himself that both the baby in that belly and the ring on her finger were his. She took his hand and squeezed it a bit, but her attention still seemed totally focused on what Scott was saying.
It wasn’t as if what he was talking about was all that interesting, either. The mission post-mortems, planned missions, and training plan portions of the meeting were over, and they had moved on to housekeeping and administrative details. Sasha always listened attentively and asked plenty of questions when missions were discussed, as did they all. It was one of the first things he’d learned when he’d unexpectedly found himself a member of a paramilitary organization: what you can learn in a meeting could keep you and your teammates alive during combat. Everyone profited from mission post-mortems and everyone was profoundly interested. On the other hand, details about changes in duty rosters, uniform cleaning procedures and updated rules about recreational use of mutant powers en route to and from a mission were profoundly boring to most of the team, judging by the reactions around him.
Even Alexander Summers, the newest X-Man and Scott’s brother, seemed bored. Sasha thought that fact significant since unlike the rest of them, this was all new to Alex. A couple of the others were even nodding off. But as long as it was Scott speaking, Jean acted as if it were something fascinating being said.
He knew what she’d say to him if he’d mentioned feeling jealousy, or if she’d caught it in his brain. “I love you” would be part of it, for sure, but so would “You knew the deal.”
And she would be right to say it. He’d known the deal from the beginning. The deal about being in love with an X-Man, the deal about being an X-Man. He’d married Jean – married into the team – with his eyes wide open.
A big part of the deal was complicated relationships. Nobody was ever just one thing to anyone else. Jean was his wife, but she was his teammate, too. And his colleague on the faculty at Xavier’s Academy. The times he’d been injured in combat she had been his doctor, as well. Such multifaceted and entangled relationships were the stuff the X-Men were made of, and Sasha had known that long before he’d been recruited, known it as soon as he’d recovered enough from the trauma and deprivation to pay attention to the people around him.
Mostly he liked that complexity, the feeling of community and belonging that comes when your friends are your colleagues are the people you live with. But sometimes it made him a little bit uncomfortable. Sometimes the relationships seemed a little too complex, almost inbred.
Jean’s relationship with Scott was about as complex as they come. He was her boss, both as Field Leader and – since Charles Xavier’s death – as headmaster of the Academy. She was his doctor, and the head of the science department at the school. She was a member of the combat team Scott led and had been since she was 16 years old, although she was functioning in a support role for the duration of her pregnancy. She and Scott had fought in untold numbers of combat missions, side by side.
Jean and Scott were old friends, too. The first two students at the school, before it had even been a school, they’d been close since their teens. All that was easy to assimilate, easy to accept. If that’s all they’d been to each other, Sasha wouldn’t be getting this knot in his stomach watching Jean watch Scott as he stood up and went over to his desk to get a document he’d forgotten. Others in the meeting used the brief break as an opportunity for side conversations, but her eyes tracked Cyclops the whole way.
It was at times like this that Sasha was reminded that Scott Summers was not just his wife’s boss, and patient, and colleague, and friend, but also the man she’d wanted to marry. Her first serious boyfriend, her first lover, the man she’d lived with for years. The man she’d been engaged to. The ring she’d worn when she and Scott were together was still in her jewelry box, on the dresser in the room she shared with her husband.
And it wasn’t Jean who had broken off the engagement, but Scott. She’d been devastated when he left her, Sasha knew. She’d considered leaving the X-Men, starting over elsewhere. But those complicated ties are of the kind that are hard to sever, try as we might. A little more than kin, a little less than kind. So, Jean had stayed and mourned the relationship and bit by bit recovered from the breakup.
All of this added up to occasional worry over Jean’s continued attachment to Scott. Sasha felt silly to worry like that. She’d married him, after all, and had done so with joy and conviction. Scott Summers had never seemed anything but thrilled that Jean had found new love with Sasha. He’d even been their best man. So, as Scott turned the meeting over to Warren Worthington to give an update on the X-Men’s financial picture, Sasha resolved to quash any feelings of jealousy, preferably before Jean picked them up telepathically.
He didn’t quite make it. Warren was explaining that although the Xavier Foundation’s financial picture was improving, they were still suffering significant after effects of the War on Mutants, including reduced cash flow. Warren was giving the bad news, but Sasha was not entirely attentive.
“I’m afraid we won’t be able to resume X-Men salaries just yet,” he was saying. “Those who have specific needs, though, should speak privately to Cyclops or me and we will work something out to provide for you.” Jean’s brain reached out to Sasha’s as Angel spoke. Sasha quickly clamped down on the reason for his concern, but a whiff of worry must have remained.
“Are you upset about the money, love?” she asked telepathically.
He shrugged mentally, knowing she’d pick it up. “I had nothing when I came to this country,” his brain said to hers. “I got used to that – even the clothes on my back were not really mine, just due to the kindness of relief organizations, and later of Charles Xavier. But then it felt good to know I was working for a living again, pulling my weight. Now? Not so much.”
“You are pulling your weight!” Her voice in his head was insistent. “We’re earning the money and we’ll get it eventually. It’s just that the Foundation is under temporary financial constraints right now. It’s nothing to do with our work.”
His mind acknowledged the truth of what she said. “Still, with the baby coming,” he added, “Perhaps we will need money. Do you think we should talk to Warren, as he said?”
“I can discuss it with Scott, if you want, but I don’t think we really need the money. I have savings, and there’s not that much we need for the baby. We’ll get gifts; there are plenty of hand-me-downs and baby equipment around here.”
“Yes, you’re probably right.”
“Don’t let a paycheck be the measure of your self-worth, darling,” she added, and they both directed their attention back to Warren’s presentation.
Jean wasn’t the only one watching Cyclops carefully. Logan’s eyes never left Scott, and the scowl on his face during Warren’s presentation suggested he didn’t like what was going on. A lot of the X-Men had similar scowls, but they were concerned with the content of the presentation. Cheerful acceptance of the austerity measures undertaken six months ago had eroded over time, and disgruntlement had set in. What had felt like a necessary short term measure, due to the recently concluded War, was now starting to feel like a way of life, long after peace had been declared. A lot of the X-Men didn’t like it.
They weren’t mercenaries, of course. They believed in their mission, in the vision of Charles Xavier. They felt a loyalty to one another, and to the team as a whole, that motivated their every action. They were all willing to work crazy hours, risk their lives, run into danger while others ran away. They just thought they ought to get paid a salary, even a small one, for doing so. And the scowls on their faces as they looked at Warren, telling them that the austerity measures - including working for room and board – would have to continue for a while were evidence of their dissatisfaction.
Logan’s dissatisfaction was of a different character. He didn’t care about the money. Logan had lived hand-to-mouth a lot of years. Life at Xavier’s – even without any income – was more secure than he’d been accustomed to for much of his life. Sometimes more secure than he liked. Still, food whenever he was hungry and a warm place to sleep were just fine with him, and combat missions satisfied his cravings for danger most of the time. Sometimes Xavier’s felt too crowded, clashed with his solitary nature. When that happened, he up and left. Always came back, though, which said something.
Yeah, being an X-Man was pretty much just fine with him, and nobody had to pay him to fight. He’d be doing it anyway. A few years of cage fighting made him appreciate being part of a mutant combat team. At least as a member of the team he could use his powers openly and the combat had some sort of point beyond amusing onlookers and enriching some cheesy promoter. No, Logan wasn’t scowling because of what Worthington was saying. Logan’s frown was entirely due to Scott Summers, who was not only his Field Leader, but also his lover. And Scott was clearly hanging on every word spoken by the X-Man known as Angel.
Logan was the only one, he knew, who could tell what Scott was looking at. Partly that was due to his heightened senses, and partly due to paying close attention for a long time. Logan alone had learned how to “see” behind the dark glasses Cyclops wore. He’d taught himself to track the faint glow behind the ruby quartz lenses. Watching slight variations in intensity told him what Scott’s eyes were focused on. And he was none too pleased to see how focused they were on Warren Worthington.
None of what Angel was saying was news to Scott, that was for fucking sure, he thought to himself. In fact, Scott had turned Logan down when he’d wanted to have sex before the meeting, saying he didn’t have time because he was meeting Warren in his office. Scott had said they were meeting because he’d wanted Warren to practice his presentation one more time with him. He knew the damn presentation by heart by now. He didn’t need to listen to it, didn’t need to watch Worthington deliver it. Scott should have been – usually would have been – looking around the room, seeing how the other X-Men were taking the bad financial news. So, why were his eyes entirely focused on Angel? And what had they really been doing in this office before the meeting?
Logan continued to scowl as Warren finished speaking and Cyclops regained the floor. Scott was wrapping up the meeting now. Logan’s frown deepened as he decided to pull Scott aside afterwards and ask him some pointed questions. Only he didn’t get a chance to. As the meeting ended, and the X-Men started to leave, Cyclops stopped Angel by the door. “Warren, can you stay for a few minutes? There’s something I need to talk to you about.” A low growl escaped from Logan’s throat, startling Northstar, who was standing next to him. “Jean?” Scott continued. “You, too. It will just take a few minutes.” The rest of the X-Men walked out, leaving the three of them alone.