X-Men fan fiction
part 1: Gifted Students
Chapter 1: Homecoming
Chapter 2: Recharge
Chapter 3: Regenerate
Chapter4: Xavier's Decision
Chapter 5: X-Men in Training
Chapter6: Mission Fatigue
Chapter 7: New and Improved
Chapter 8: Fear Itself
Chapter 9: Through the Glass
Chapter 10: Mourning Glories
Chapter 11: Ghost Stories
Chapter 12: The Devil and Despair
Chapter 13: Spuytin Dyvil Falls
Chapter 14: Evil Spirits
Chapter 15: Heart Stone
Chapter 16: The Rubble O'r Our Sins
Chapter 17: Shadow Boxing
Chapter 18: House Rules
part 1: Gifted Students
Jean Grey walked downstairs, well aware that the mansion was more awake than usual in the pre-dawn hours this morning. None of them had been sleeping particularly well since that last, unnerving Danger Room session. She started a pot of tea and got herself a slice of pie from the kitchen before she was joined by Ororo.
“Dessert?” Ororo asked curiously. “It’s almost time for breakfast.”
“It’s kind of a Grey family tradition for sleeplessness,” Jean explained with a shrug: “something hot to drink, something sweet to eat.”
Ororo sat down. “And so you feel closer to home.”
Jean nodded. “I guess so.” There had been a lot of sleepless nights after Jean had come home from the hospital. The blocks Xavier had placed on her mind had been essential, but they didn’t block out everything, nor were they meant to. The self-control that had been a struggle for her during the day often became unmanageable by night.
“Do you want to talk about it?”
Jean shrugged evasively. “Just bad dreams. You?”
“The same. I dream often now of bad experiences: being trapped under the rubble, being unable to properly control my weather-making, being driven from my home.” She took a deep, cleansing breath. “But the memories are not all bad. When I awaken I remember better days. I remember the joys of my little family in Cairo. I remember Achmed’s training, and the sense of power and independence it brought to me: outsmarting corrupt local authorities who ran the Cairo thieves quarters with cold-hearted greed. I was able to steal away what they had no right to hold.” Ororo smiled as she set her prize on the table.
“It’s beautiful,” Jean said, gingerly picking up the ruby.
“It was once given a place of great honor within my tribe. I intended to take it back with me when I returned to them, to restore that tradition. After Achmed’s death, I did return to my mother’s home, taking the ruby, both as tribute and as proof of my proper place within the tribe.” Ororo shook her head slightly. “It was not as well-received as I had hoped, neither it nor I,” she quietly admitted to Jean.
“That’s horrible,” Jean reached out to squeeze her friend’s hand in reassurance.
Ororo had argued with the tribal elders. They believed the stone corrupted by N’Dare’s death. They had commanded Ororo to destroy it. Ororo resisted, before finally relenting and agreeing to throw the stone into the river... but she could not follow through on that promise.
“It was meant to be a thing of life, not death. But sometimes I wonder if they were not correct. Perhaps they saw things I could not. The coming of great misfortunes.” Ororo remembered being trapped under the rubble, surrounded by death. Could a mystical object take on those properties? “Maybe it is cursed.”
“Do you believe that? Curses, bad omens?”
“Of course not, nor ghosts,” Ororo answered, covering Jean’s hand with her free one. “Those things are only nameless, faceless fears.”
Jean wasn’t sure either of them were so confident in that belief.
Ororo smiled. “So why then should we be awake?”
“I don’t know, but it’s not just us. Everyone has had trouble sleeping, bad dreams and bad memories, since–” her voice trailed away. Jean stood and took the tea kettle off the stove. “Well, all of us were shaken by that last training session,” Jean finished, pouring cups of tea for Ororo and herself. “I can tell you, right now, Scott is going over training footage, Warren is flying, Hank is working in the lab, and Xavier– he’s awake as well.”
Ororo lifted her eyebrows slightly in question.
“I know.” Jean sat down opposite her. “It’s becoming second nature to me, keeping tabs on you all. Soon I’ll be as practical about all this as Scott is.”
“Is practical such a bad thing to be?”
“No. I guess not,” Jean admitted begrudgingly.
When Jean had last spoken to Professor Xavier, she had asked him, What if I don’t want these powers? As much as her abilities sometimes frightened her, Jean believed Xavier when he said her gifts were her own, and that Jean would learn to master them in her own time. At times like this, Jean was honestly grateful for them. Instead of being awake, mindlessly worrying, she knew that everybody was okay. They were all feeling a little ragged, but they were okay.
As for Scott... well, Jean wasn’t quite ready to embrace Cyclops-level practicality toward her powers or her place on the team, but Scott was Scott, and she could only manage to stay mad at him for so long. The tables seemed to have turned completely from earlier in the summer. Now she saw Cyclops in his actions, but she still felt Scott... even when she wished she didn’t, because she really wanted to stay mad at him for being a big dope. But Scott was still Scott, complete with all the honesty, devotion, and loyalty that shaped his friendship. Maybe Ororo had been right all along; maybe the two sides of his personality weren’t so far apart after all.
“It makes him a good leader,” Jean finally concluded, “even if he is too stubborn and too damn practical to appreciate a tragic tale of doomed lovers.”
Ororo sipped her tea, quietly grateful for the change of subject. “I take it you two are still not on the same page.”
Jean sighed. “It was just the most beautiful place, and the most beautiful story.”
“But–” Ororo prompted with a smile.
“But that big dope is too stubborn to admit it! ‘This is real life, not Romeo and Juliet,’ he says.”
Ororo kept her eyes on her tea, carefully hiding a smile. “Are you sure it’s the story?”
Jean raised one eyebrow.
Ororo shrugged innocently. “Perhaps you are bothered that he’s not thinking romantically because you want him to think romantically.” Ororo said that just as Scott entered the room. Her eyes flickered toward Scott. Jean abruptly fell silent. After that, conversation turned to anything but the events of the previous evening.
Scott stood in the doorway for a moment, feeling like he had interrupted something and not knowing how to reverse that unfamiliar feeling of intrusion. There had never been any awkward barriers between the three of them. He settled for putting on some coffee and leaning against the counter while he waited for the coffee maker to percolate. He could see through the kitchen windows; it was beginning to get light outside. A shadow skimmed the trees, looking suspiciously like Warren in flight. Well, since the team was all accounted for....
“We’ll hit the Danger Room in half an hour,” Scott announced. “Just a light workout to get ourselves back into the routine.”
“Jean, I wondered if you might stay after today?”
Jean gave him that patented one eyebrow raised that said, “Are you sure about that?”.
Scott didn’t back down. He couldn’t help remembering earlier in the summer, the first time they’d had this conversation. Jean hadn’t been any happier with him then:
“Jean could you stay back for a moment?”
“You have got to be kidding me,” had been her response once he had explained why.
He had known it was going to be hard on Jean’s ego, being mission-dependent on anyone for protection. He’d told Xavier Jean wouldn’t tolerate being treated as a weak link; her anger hadn’t disappointed.
“I don’t need a bodyguard, Scott.”
“I know you don’t like hearing it,” he’d insisted, giving a grim smile, “but what happened last time in the training room says otherwise. I’m not gonna pad your ego and watch you get beamed for it. Like it or not, we do what we have to do to keep each other safe.”
Jean had narrowed her eyes at him. “Like it or not, you have to babysit me.”
“I’m not babying you, Jean. This is tactical support–”
“You’re making sure nothing beams me unconscious while I’m busy picking brains for information,” Jean had countered.
“While you’re monitoring the rest of the room,” Scott had clarified, patiently rewording her aggravated explanation, “in order to provide me with valuable strategic information, yes,” he concluded.
She’d crossed her arms, still glaring at him, unconvinced.
Scott had smirked, offering a concession. “Which I will use to fire, long range, on any incoming targets before they can beam you.”
“Exactly.” Jean was trying hard not to crack a smile at his intended humor.
“Remember, the professor told us we needed ways to combine our individual efforts into one successful cohesive effort? Well. This is one way to do that.” He’d watched her for a moment, completely unsure which way this was going to go.
Finally, Jean nodded warily.
She trusted him. Trusted him to physically protect her but, even more than that, she trusted him to tell her the truth and to treat her with respect. That was why she conceded, and it was one of the first real leadership lessons Scott had learned. You couldn’t always tell people what they wanted to hear, but if they trusted you to tell them the truth and still respect them regardless of their faults, they would listen. And more importantly, they could begin working to overcome those faults instead of fighting to defend themselves from criticism.
It hadn’t taken Jean very long to learn to use her telepathy and telekinesis effectively in combination, but they had continued working on this exercise weekly ever since.
Scott poured himself a cup of coffee and took a sip. “I just spoke with Hank on my way up here. There’s some new equipment. I could use your help testing it out after the regular session.”
Jean gave him a smirk. “I’ll try not to let you get hit– too hard,” she amended.
“Thanks,” Scott answered dryly. He glanced at Ororo, who was smiling in familiar amusement at their bickering.
“Good luck,” she offered.
“I know, I’ll need it, right?” Scott shook his head, also amused. Jean didn’t generally stay mad at him for long, but he wouldn’t put a couple of hard hits past her either.
The three of them finished their drinks, then took the elevator down to the second sub basement.
The X-Men had just entered their newly renovated but currently deactivated Danger Room for a brief walk through. It was the first time any of them had been back in the room since the last session had ended with all of them being captured, Ororo being incapacitated, and a section of the room being demolished.
“Suddenly I am overly aware of how deeply underground we are here.” There was an uncharacteristic hint of fear in Ororo’s normally serene voice.
“Ah, I have just the thing.” Hank handed her a small electronic device. “Think of this as your emergency exit.” With the push of a button, reinforced concrete walls were replaced by vibrant colors, as if they were out on the Institute grounds, surrounded by the orchards in full bloom. Even knowing it was no more than a holographic illusion, the sight still helped Ororo breathe easier.
“Thank you, Hank.”
He gave a little bow. “My pleasure.”
Hank handed them each a small, round disk marked with a red “X”, and he demonstrated how to attach it to their uniforms at the shoulder.
“One tap activates the ‘emergency exit’ for a short window of time, resulting in a pause in the action – like a bubble surrounding the person who tapped out. If more than one of us taps out of the exercise, that will bring the room to a complete halt, also for a short time, unless an official stop command is given. The goal here is not to stop the session entirely, simply to allow enough of a pause to self-evaluate. Also, two quick taps,” Hank tapped his disk twice, “and we have an open communication channel transmitting audio to the entire team. Given these measures, we can properly evaluate and communicate to one another in the event that need arises to end a training session prematurely.”
“Excellent, Hank,” Scott offered, just as the room around them reverted to its normal state. “Okay, team. Everybody, back to basics today. I want to see a good workout. Remember your coordinated efforts, teamwork–”
“Don’t get hit by the flying, electrified projectiles,” Warren finished.
“Exactly,” Scott conceded dryly. His team knew what to do. He gave them a confident nod. “Now let’s go.”
Up in the Danger Room’s Control and Observation Booth, Professor X watched the room spring to life and his X-Men move into action against it. He watched their obvious progress with great pride... but there was also a part of him that saw their flaws, knew their weaknesses. And it was occasionally startling, how easily those thoughts occurred to him, how quickly they came to mind. It would be so easy to prey upon their deepest fears and use those fears to defeat them.
He could envision Cyclops: his optic blasts completely out of control. Storm: trapped by the damage from Cyclops’ blasts, incapacitated by her own fear. Angel: likewise grounded, his wings immobilized. Beast: battered until his body was bound and broken, his mind unable to function through the pain. Jean Grey: paralyzed by her inability to stop her teammates’ suffering, driven mad by her inability to prevent herself from feeling their pain.
Xavier shook his head vigorously, as if to clear it. Like a predator who had inexplicably lost the prey he’d been stalking, or a bloodthirsty crowd interrupted while watching a battle to the death, there was a twisted, hungry, desperate look about him. It had been so easy last time. And now those fears were even closer to the surface than before. They seemed to jump out at him, waiting to be exploited. It was difficult not to act... but these were not his target... not now anyway.
Charles Xavier placed a hand to his forehead. It wasn’t right. These were his students, his friends, his X-Men. He needed to collect his thoughts. Xavier retired to his study as the team wrapped their session.
“Alright, team. Good work,” Cyclops dismissed them.
Jean shook her head, looking up at the COB, trying to clear the fog from her thoughts. Xavier was no longer there but she could still feel bits and pieces of his thoughts, his emotions. Something felt very wrong.
“Jean? Are you alright?”
“Scott– what happened in the Danger Room last time. Maybe it’s nothing....”
“But maybe it’s something?” he countered, a prompt.
Jean looked around. Ororo, Hank, and Warren had gathered around them as well.
“We all had the same experience of intense psychological terror when we were captured by the room’s force fields. I asked Hank about that and he said there was nothing in the room’s programing that should allow it to manipulate our minds, memories, emotions.”
“It is possible,” Hank hypothesized, “that the unexpected juxtaposition of being captured by a seemingly inanimate object triggered some sort of shared primal fear response.”
Jean nodded. “Like the way watching a horror movie taps into our fears and makes us feel afraid even though our conscious minds understand that we’re in no real, physical danger.”
“Could it be another of the professor’s tests?” Scott asked. “He said something once about trying to give projections inside the Danger Room the illusion of conscious thought.”
“Maybe,” Jean answered. “But there’s something else. Warren and Hank said the professor acted strangely in the control booth too. Out of character,” Jean concluded.
Warren nodded. “He seemed irrationally angry when I stopped the session. I didn’t think much of it at the time. I assumed it just rubbed him the wrong way that I had overridden his authority.” Warren shook his head. “But still,” he glanced toward Ororo, “something about his reaction seemed off.”
“Moments earlier, I thought he looked physically unwell,” Hank admitted. “He was able to explain it objectively afterwards, but in the moment his entire manner seemed almost– foreign.”
“And since then–” Jean paused.
“Go on,” Scott insisted.
“Since then, his mind has felt– different, at times.”
“How so?” Ororo asked.
“Hard to explain. Normally I don’t get anything from him. Now, sometimes, I get little bursts of thought or emotion that just feel... misplaced.”
“Bursts?” Ororo questioned curiously. “Like he is projecting enough of his thoughts for you to pick up on them telepathically?”
Jean frowned. “Not exactly projecting.” She scanned each of their faces. “I’m aware of all of you. Not actively reading your thoughts, but, I catch glimpses of your minds.” Jean focused on Scott. “When I walk into the room you can read my body language before you ever see my face. You can tell me apart from Ororo or Hank or Warren by the sound of our footsteps; it’s like that.” Then she looked at each of her teammates in turn. “Each of you feel different to me mentally. Without having to read your thoughts I can tell when something’s ‘off’ with any of you, just from getting a glimpse of your mental signatures.
“The professor is usually much harder to read than any of you. But lately, Xavier.... There are times when he’s not quite himself. I felt that again today, before he left the COB. I think, whatever it is that’s affecting him, it’s getting stronger.”
Scott nodded. “I’ve noticed some instances of erratic behavior as well. Actually, he was supposed to meet with me earlier today,” Scott admitted, “and it’s not like him to forget.” Scott looked puzzled, thoughtful for just a moment, then he refocused: thanking everyone for their input and agreeing to talk with Xavier, himself, after the session. With that, Cyclops disbanded the impromptu team meeting. Jean stayed behind.
“Thank you,” Jean offered, “for taking me seriously.
Scott looked surprised. “Why would I not?”
Jean shrugged. “I know I don’t have facts to go on, just impressions. I thought you might be more skeptical.” She grinned, teasing him. “You know, more Cyclops.”
“Right now we have clues, anomalies, and it definitely looks like something doesn’t add up. That’s more than just your impressions.” Scott punched in a command on the keypad beside the door and a small folding table appeared. “But even if that wasn’t the case, I trust your judgement. If you’re worried about it, it’s worth investigating further.”
Jean walked over, studying the contents displayed on the tabletop.
“I take it you didn’t ask me to stay for a game of frisbee.” She picked one up. They looked like discuses, but light-weight and thin. Bright yellow, but also made of far sturdier stuff than the average frisbee.
“In a manner of speaking... maybe,” Scott answered. He pulled off his uniform gloves and took a new pair from the table. “Hank showed me these this morning but I haven’t had a chance to try them out yet. There’s a control pad set into the palm of each hand, reactive to pressure. One side controls the intensity of the blasts, the other controls the scope of the beam, and both can be manipulated incrementally – once I get the hang of it.” Scott held one of the gloves, studying the activation switch. “It won’t be nearly as responsive or as flexible as the dial on my visor, but....” he trailed off.
“Good if you can’t reach your visor,” Jean supplied.
Scott nodded. “For a single, precise blast, the hand controls should be more than ideal. But right now, I don’t know what my learning curve is going to be here. I’d appreciate if you could help me test them.” He glanced in Jean’s direction as he pulled the new gloves on. Truthfully, he was also hoping a little aggressive exercise would help Jean work out some of her recent frustrations with him. “But– keep yourself out of the line of fire,” he encouraged her, “just in case.”
He was still worrying about that when Jean smirked at him. “Same to you, Cyke,” she quipped, deliberately ignoring his warning. Half a dozen yellow discuses had risen into the air, hovering around Jean, awaiting her command to strike.
Scott knew he was in trouble, yet his lip raised in a smirk of his own. Neither of them liked backing down from a challenge, nor tended to show hesitation in the face of one.
He didn’t have much chance to reconsider his thoughts or worries after that. Jean telekinetically sent the first in a long series of discuses flying directly at his head, and soon his only remaining worry was blasting each one before it could beam him. All of his concentration was needed on the task at hand – literally – and they continued the exercise until all of the discuses had been used up.
“Well, I’d call that test session a success,” Scott decided. Maybe not as clean or as quick as he would have preferred (Jean had managed to tag him a couple of times before Scott had finally pulled the gloves off and returned them to the now-empty equipment table), but he did think he had a good feel for the new hand controls, and he was confident they would be a valuable tool moving forward. “Thanks, Jean.”
Just as he set the gloves down on the table, the room around him reverted to orchards. He turned to find Jean playing with the emergency control switch. She was sitting in the new grass, running the palm of her hand over the blades. When they reverted back to empty Danger Room floor she pressed the button to turn the orchard on again.
Scott walked over to her but she didn’t look up at him. He frowned slightly. He knew she was still frustrated with him, but he couldn’t tell if her current silence was owed more to troubled distraction or lingering anger. Her control over her telepathy had improved to the point where he was no longer getting stray input from her. Lately things had been a lot easier between them than they had been earlier in the summer, but he knew she hadn’t been happy with the turn their conversation had taken yesterday... and he hadn’t helped his cause by arguing with her over dinner.
“Are you still really mad at me?” Scott asked. “Over yesterday.”
She was still a little mad, honestly. He’d given her plenty of reasons to be mad at him over the years (or even just over the summer). This one seemed pretty small by comparison. Still, she wasn’t quite ready to let it go. She didn’t like admitting that there might have been something to Ororo’s theory on why his recent behavior bothered her.
“You were just being – you.”
He grinned. “And that’s a bad thing?”
“No,” she laughed, keeping her attention on the blades of grass under her hand, “just exceedingly frustrating sometimes.”
That made Scott laugh too, though his laugh came a bit resentfully. Jean was still avoiding his argument, refusing even to look at him; her refusal to engage only pressed him to try his case again.
“But, Jean, it was just–” His protest was quickly cut short.
“I know it was just an old story, Scott,” Jean countered, “but–” She stopped short.
“But what?” he asked.
“I don’t know.” She shrugged evasively.
“Yes you do,” he insisted quietly. “C’mon,” he encouraged her, no longer challenging.
“Really?” She lifted her eyes to him.
Scott nodded. He was concerned, and he was honestly curious. “Tell me what’s bothering you.”
“What do you think happens to a person when they die?” Jean asked him.
Scott shrugged hesitantly. “I– I don’t know,” he admitted.
“I do,” she whispered. “My best friend died when I was ten years old. Annie. It was a hit and run driver.... I felt it when she died.”
His mouth fell open. “Jean.”
Jean shook her head and looked away.
“I was in shock. I didn’t know what I was doing, or really even what was happening. That was the first time I ever used my powers, the first time I ever felt another person’s thoughts in my head. My mind latched onto hers instinctively, trying to hold on to her, trying to keep her with me. But I couldn’t hold her. I didn’t just feel her die, Scott, I died with her.”
Scott didn’t know what to say. “I– didn’t know. I’m sorry, Jean.”
“I wasn’t afraid when it happened. I was too determined to be afraid; I knew I couldn’t let go– not when she was so hurt and so scared. Annie pulled me after her, until I couldn’t hold on to her anymore. She was something different than she had been – more than just her mind – it was like her spirit, thoughts, energy had all combined into a single form.” A tear slipped down her cheek. “I remember being glad that all the hurt and fear had vanished.” She shook her head. “But, glad, it’s not a strong enough word. It was indescribable joy. And she was so beautiful... I could hardly stand to look at her anymore. Then I felt her just, slip away, into someplace I couldn’t go.”
Scott sat down in the grass beside Jean.
“I once read someplace that a soul is transformed by death. I never believed that; I never really believed there was anything after. I always thought it was just one of those things people like to say to make themselves feel better about death. It all felt like wishful thinking, you know. Like saying, ‘they’re at peace,’ or ‘they’re in a better place now,’ feels better than saying, ‘sorry, kid, they’re gone forever’.”
Jean looked up at him. “I know death isn’t the end.... I died when Annie died, but I came back again. I didn’t want to let Annie go. I fought with everything I had to hang on to her. But I couldn’t hold her here, and she couldn’t stay.” Jean shuddered. “The dead aren’t meant to remain among the living....” She tried a smile, and wiped more tears. “I never have been able to properly enjoy ghost stories, knowing that.”
“What happened to you, after?”
Jean shrugged. “I wasn’t alive and I wasn’t dead. The rest of me – what I left behind – was in a coma. No one knew why; there was no medical explanation. I was trapped between life and death, unable to go forward, unable to find my way back. Until the professor found me. He was able help me, guide me, bring my mind back to my body.” Jean shrugged again, refocusing her thoughts on the present. “I know it was just a ghost story, Scott. But I’d like to think that someone could come back from that, you know. Not just left, wandering, lost and alone, on the other side.”
She shuddered again, and wrapped her arms around herself. Without a word, Scott slipped his arm around her shoulders.
“Do you think love could do that?” she finally asked him, “if it was strong enough... like a beacon always drawing you back home.”
Scott sighed. “I don’t know, Jean,” he admitted softly. “I’ve never felt anything like that.”
She laughed in spite of herself. Stubbornly practical Scott. It wasn’t concrete for him, he had no frame of reference to imagine it, there was no use dealing in hypotheticals.... Maybe he was right. Maybe some things in life you just couldn’t grasp without experiencing them firsthand.
“Yeah. Me neither,” she said as softly.
His arm tightened around her shoulders after a few minutes had silently passed; she could tell he was starting to worry about her.
“Okay?” Scott asked.
Jean nodded. She didn’t speak, didn’t move except to close her eyes, resting her head against his shoulder. Scott tilted his head so that his chin rested softly against the top of her head, but he didn’t move either, just held her a little closer. Jean could feel the concern that had been pushing against her mind just a moment ago begin to fade a bit, giving way to the unique blend of warmth and quiet strength that normally characterized Scott’s presence. That made her smile. And there, too, was that increasingly familiar intensity of focus and determination that she had come to associate with Cyclops. But she didn’t mind that so much anymore. It was still Scott.
She wasn’t trying to listen, just soaking in the comfort and reassurance of his presence, but she felt more than heard the intensity of his unspoken thought: I’ll always be here to draw you back. She leaned against his side, giving in to that emotion, letting the comfort of his presence chase the cold and the dark from her mind. And Scott was just as content to sit beside her.
Silent promises and silent comfort.
“He put his arm around me. It was nothing. It just made me think....”
“What if it was something,” Ororo finished with a mischievous smile.
Jean nodded, trying hard not to smile. “What if it was something.” Jean was inside Ororo’s rooftop greenhouse. Ororo had just thrown open the doors in the wake of a summer thunderstorm, letting in a welcome breeze. Jean curled her legs up on the bench where she was seated, watching the sun start to peek through clouds as thunder rumbled off in the distance. Jean had been distracted, thinking over what had happened with her and Scott in the Danger Room. Naturally Ororo had noticed her distraction and called her out on it.
When Scott had put his arm around her, Jean knew three things. First, she felt proud of him; Scott never reached out to anyone of his own accord. It just wasn’t in his nature. When it came to his personal space Scott Summers was always rigidly self-restrained. He lived with a constant low-grade paranoia about keeping everybody out of the way of his optic blasts. But even without his mutation complicating things, Scott had spent most of his life learning to be self-reliant and self-contained. And for as long as Jean had known him, she had been pushing against those restraints, determined to remind him that he wasn’t alone anymore.
“You were right, you know?”
“Of course,” Ororo replied calmly and with confidence. “About what, in particular?”
“The two sides really aren’t so far apart, Scott Summers and Cyclops.”
“Of course they aren’t. Certainly, Scott is stoic, reserved, guarded. But he can be quite the charmer when he wants to be. He has learned to be a chameleon. And there is very real danger in that, in constantly transforming yourself to meet the challenges of a world that is constantly changing around you. It becomes too easy to lose track of who you really are on the inside, and too difficult to find your own direction apart from that of the outside world.”
Jean shook her head slightly. “I don’t follow. I don’t think I’ve ever known anyone who’s more sure of themselves or of what they want than Scott is.”
“Scott knows what he’s supposed to do and who he’s supposed to be; he has a plan for his life just like he has a plan for the Danger Room. But life runs far deeper than that. Who he really is, what he really wants, deep down in his own heart: that is still something of a mystery, especially to Scott. Being Cyclops is helping him though. He is beginning to take back some of the control he lost starting with the plane crash that orphaned him.”
Jean understood that impulse, the struggle for control. She worked hard at having it all, determined to excel at the parts of her life she could control, desperate to shut out the parts that remained beyond her control. But something about seeing Scott as Cyclops made her realize that her approach wasn’t working as well as she thought. That was one of many reasons she had spent a lot of time resenting Cyclops.
“He told me something along those lines the other day. That Cyclops gave him a purpose for his gift, an opportunity to figure out what he can do with his life and his abilities.”
Ororo smiled. “He’s letting his guard down, as frightening as that is.”
Jean nodded. He’d let his guard down for her. Jean remembered that conversation, when she and Scott had walked the grounds. They’d spoken about their unwillingness to let the team, life, their individual decisions, come between them and their friendship. He had smiled then when he confessed he wasn’t willing to let go. He had a choice now. Scott was holding on.
The second thing Jean had known was, feeling Scott’s arm around her gave her an incredible sense of well-being. For once, she hadn’t worried about what it meant or how he’d react; she’d just wanted to hold close to him and enjoy the moment.
“So,” Ororo prompted, “what happened?”
He’d let his guard down for her, and he’d asked the same of her.
Jean shook her head. “I know it’s foolish. But there’s a part of me that couldn’t help but wonder what it would feel like, to have that all the time.”
“Why foolish?” Ororo asked.
Jean laughed. “This is Scott we’re talking about.”
For as much as Jean pushed Scott – when it came to his rigid self-restraint, when it came to his tendency to stubbornly keep everyone at emotional distance – she didn’t want to push him on this. Part of that was not wanting to risk having him push back, and part of it was Jean not being sure if she was ready to bring her own self to fully admit her own feelings.
Then there was the third thing Jean had realized when Scott put his arm around her: she couldn’t feel this way. That part of her that wanted to know how it would feel to have him care for her, that wanted him to pursue her, that wanted to be his girl– Scott would have a hard time even imagining that she could feel that way about him. Scott had chosen to face himself head on – with brutal objectivity – starting with the code name he’d chosen for himself. The name Cyclops embraced the parts of his nature Scott most hated instead of denying them.
Maybe it was the obviousness of his mutation, something he couldn’t hide, so why try? But, as Cyclops, Scott could and would face himself and the world around him, head on, exactly as he was. Sometimes that determination made him seem brash, overbearing, unyielding. Certainly, it had in the beginning, before Scott really started to understand the complexities of leadership, when he’d been relying excessively on sheer determination: will it to be, and make it happen. Sometimes Jean admired that: his uncompromising, straight-ahead directness. But sometimes his single-minded determination also terrified her. She didn’t want to look in that mirror. Where Scott saw Cyclops, Jean wasn’t sure what she would see.
Cyclops tapped directly into Scott’s driven nature – always pushing himself harder, always expecting more – because Scott felt a need to constantly prove himself. That, too, was something deeply rooted, as Ororo had said, in Scott’s past. Scott still tended to rely on concrete measures of success; he still had a hard time quantifying his own worth otherwise. And he still had a hard time objectively understanding something as abstract and as complex as other people’s feelings for him.
“And,” Ororo persisted.
“And, you know,” Jean evaded, “it was like pulling teeth to get him this far. Maybe it’s selfish, Ro, but I don’t want to lose what I already have with him.”
“Like sand through his fingers, loss has been a steady trickle for Scott all of his life. He’s learned to protect himself against it by walling off his feelings. We had to keep scaling that wall, day by day, until Scott learned he could trust our friendship.”
“But he learned.”
Ororo nodded. “Now he understands friendship, and he’s comfortable here. Something more than that will be harder for him to understand, harder to accept, harder to risk.”
“The walls didn’t come down entirely, they just moved.”
“If you want more than friendship from him, you’re going to have to fight for that too.”
Jean nodded. “I know.” Maybe she wasn’t ready to take that step either.
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