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
Scott Summers was more than a little surprised when he woke to find neither Hank nor Jean, but Professor Charles Xavier watching over him. Honestly, his immediate thought was to wonder what was wrong.
Xavier smiled, picking up on Scott’s concern. “Not to worry. I just came in to relieve Hank about an hour ago. He assures me you’re doing fine, and if that wasn’t the case I think this room would be a lot more crowded,” he concluded with a wry smile.
Scott smiled too. “Yes, sir,” he answered, feeling chagrined and a little guilty for jumping to the wrong conclusion. Professor Xavier had taken a strong interest in Scott from the start, and Scott knew it was no accident that his mentorship had fallen to Xavier. In the beginning that choice had puzzled Scott; Jean’s talents were far more in line with Xavier’s than were Scott’s own powers. But most of what Xavier taught Scott centered on Xavier’s vision of leadership and responsibility: their duty to lay a foundation for the future, to build toward a world in which mutants could be openly accepted by the rest of human society.
Though Scott had spent more time in Xavier’s company than had his classmates, and Scott felt that he understood the goals and motivations of the man who had changed his own life to the point of saving it... Charles Xavier was still a difficult man to know. Scott wouldn’t have characterized the interaction as friendship. Family, perhaps, in a formal, patriarchal sort of way. Xavier was clearly invested in Scott and greatly concerned for him. Xavier was totally committed to the success of his school and the growth and well-being of all of his students. But, beyond that, Xavier wasn’t particularly close to anyone. That too, Scott understood. It seemed Xavier did not easily let down his guard to personal relationships. Scott didn’t mind that shortcoming since he shared the same tendency, especially when it came to expressing his emotions.
“How long have I been asleep?” Scott thought to ask a moment later.
Xavier glanced at his watch. “It’s nearly noon, so about eight or nine hours. But Hank is going to keep you here for a while longer, so you should try to get as much rest as you can – particularly before the painkillers wear off.”
Scott grimaced half-heartedly. “I think I’m already there. My arm feels like it’s on fire from shoulder to elbow.” The truly amazing part was that Scott said that with almost cheerful acceptance, knowing there wasn’t anything to be done for it.
But knowing what he knew of Scott Summers, that didn’t particularly surprise Xavier. The professor had first located Scott when Scott’s mutant gift had emerged at the age of fifteen: a bright light overflowing with rare strength. Scott was full of determination, bravery, and a remarkable selflessness. Xavier had seen in Scott Summers the kind of person who would stand like an immovable object in defense of others, fight with unyielding tenacity for what he believed in. But all of that had been in the abstract recesses when Xavier had first touched the boy’s mind, buried by an avalanche of hardship that had left Scott oblivious to his own unique value and unaware of his enormous potential for greatness.
Scott was smart and focused. He operated logically and methodically, never rash or impulsive (quite the opposite of what one would expect from a teenager who was still assimilating the kinds of alienating, life-altering changes that could only be understood by other mutants who shared that defining experience). He was eager to learn, open-minded, willing to accept other points of view but also unafraid to stand for his own convictions. Scott was passionate about anything that he believed in, but his emotions he kept tightly guarded. Scott’s young life had been marred by tragedy almost from the start, and his formative years had been shaped more by hopelessness and neglect than anything else; well before he had come into his mutation there had been no one to care what became of the boy. Perhaps worse, Scott had learned that when interest did come it was usually coupled with selfish intent. As a result he had become guarded and withdrawn, self-contained, and stubbornly self-reliant.
But every day Xavier saw more and more of the person he knew Scott had the potential to become emerging from that protective shell the young man had relied upon all his life. He saw the miracle of Scott realizing his potential for greatness and embracing it as his own. It filled Xavier with pride to see the boy who had endured so much misery and misfortune that he had acclimated himself to those things finally seeing the benefit of positive influences in his life. Here he had friends and mentors who had guided his education and helped him to choose his own direction. Here he was learning to use all of his unique talents and gifts. Young people like Scott Summers were precisely the reason Xavier had started this school, and it had paid off immensely for Scott.
So how was it that Xavier found himself already back at a second crossroads in the Institute’s brief history... trying to keep the school’s purpose pure without closing his eyes to the harsh realities of the outside world?
“Professor?” Scott’s question easily interrupted Xavier’s thoughts. “Have you given any more thought–”
“Yes. A great deal, in fact.” No psychic skills were necessary for Xavier to answer Scott’s question. He knew Scott hadn’t stopped thinking about the events of last evening any more than Xavier had. “Something tells me this may be one of the most important decisions I’ll ever make; I want to be sure I get it right.”
Scott nodded, taking that in thoughtfully. Despite the fact that he had just woken up he was swiftly becoming tired again... but he wanted to have this conversation, so he doggedly persisted.
“You know the night you found me?”
Xavier smiled affectionately. “I remember it well.”
“I knew that night, the police would never catch Jack Winters. I always blamed myself for that. I always knew he got away with murder and I did nothing to stop him– until tonight. Professor, I know that what happened tonight wasn’t what you intended, but you, and Hank and Warren, have taught me, taught all of us, to use our gifts and to use them wisely. I still believe that what we did tonight was right, and it was necessary. I already told you, I think we need to continue. But no matter what you decide, I want to say, ‘thank you,’ for giving me the chance to go back and do the right thing.”
Scott had barely finished that thought before his eyes fluttered closed. For a moment he continued to stubbornly resist his own exhaustion... but it quickly overpowered him and he fell back asleep. Xavier leaned forward, affectionately placing his hand against Scott’s forehead.
“You’re welcome, Scott,” Xavier whispered. His mind reached out to Scott’s as certainly and as easily as his hand and his voice reached out; he wanted to make sure Scott heard his reply. But beyond that, Xavier remained oddly reluctant to break the contact. He told himself it was nothing more than an effort to help ease the pain, to let Scott sleep peacefully. But he knew it was more. Scott was special to him, something more akin to a firstborn son than simply his school’s first student. He was so proud of Scott... and so torn over what to do next.
Charles Xavier remembered vividly the night he had found Scott Summers. He had picked Scott, chosen him. From that first moment, he had known that this extraordinary young man would be the bright center around which he would build his school for mutants, around which Charles Xavier’s dream for the future – for the peaceful coexistence of humans and mutants – would coalesce.
Xavier had never wavered in that determination – that confidence – and in every measurable way, Scott had exceeded his expectations. Scott wholeheartedly embraced Xavier’s greatest hopes and dreams, making them his own. But now they were on the verge of something entirely different. Down this difficult and uncertain path, Xavier knew he would have to ask even more of the young man, far more than expected, more than anyone had a right to ask.
Behind him a door opened. Charles Xavier straightened and sat back. Hank quietly made his way across the room and began checking Scott’s condition.
“Has he woken again?” he asked.
“Only for a few minutes,” Xavier answered.
Hank grimaced, reading between the lines and drawing his own conclusion. “Were you able to do anything for him?”
“He fell back to sleep on his own. The pain seemed tolerable, at least for him.”
Hank’s worry didn’t slacken. “His pain will continue to worsen.”
“Scott can tolerate a great deal,” Xavier murmured, though it was a bit distractedly. Charles Xavier had seen worse, and perhaps grown numb to it.
Xavier had served as a search and rescue operator in the Army, before he and Hank had met. That experience had given Xavier a healthy respect for emergency medicine and the treatment of severe psychological trauma. But it had also trained him under the hardest and most difficult of conditions. Like any medic on the front lines, emotional burnout was a severe risk... especially when combined with a tendency to keep people at arm’s length emotionally.
That attitude was perfectly understandable, given the circumstances which had born it, and given the fact that Xavier’s vast psychic abilities meant he was quite unlike any other trauma medic serving on the front lines. Still, the discrepancy sometimes troubled Hank: the deliberate lack of personal emotional engagement coming from someone who had so much access to the thoughts and emotions of everyone around him.
“Would that he was not further tested,” Hank decided.
Xavier nodded. “From your lips....” Both men were in agreement on that point. Scott had already born too much pain not of his own making.
If worse came to worse, Xavier could use his powers to block the pain. But Xavier was hesitant to even consider such an encroachment. To do so every minute of every day would be a near impossible thing, not beyond the reach of Xavier’s expansive mental powers, but an imposition that neither of them would welcome. He knew Scott would only submit to it if the pain truly was intolerable. And even then, the blot of resentment (for his own weakness and for Xavier’s intrusion upon Scott’s mind) would remain between them long after Scott’s body had healed from this trauma. Just because a thing could be done, that didn’t necessarily mean it should be done. Xavier had well-learned the often excruciating necessity of restraint.
Xavier glanced up to see Hank studying him curiously. “I sit here thinking, wondering,” Xavier mused softly, “if we continue down this path, how many more nights will we have to endure, like this one... or worse? Jack Winters is not the first dangerous mutant I have ever encountered; I certainly don’t expect him to be the last. You and I both know our numbers are growing exponentially now.”
Hank nodded. “For the foreseeable future, I believe that the emergence of mutants like Jack Winters will present a very great challenge, a grave threat to the anonymity of all mutants.”
Xavier suppressed a sigh. “I had hoped that greater strides could be made toward coexistence before we began to reach this tipping point.”
Hank considered that for a few moments. “The Institute will soon be ready to accommodate this new generation, young mutants just coming into their abilities. As those young people go out into the world – just like Scott, and Ororo, and Jean – as well-educated young adults, also well in control of their abilities, we begin to lay the groundwork for a more informed, more tolerant society, one which will more readily accept their friends, family members, and coworkers being different from themselves.”
“Yes,” Xavier acknowledged. “As you say, we will soon be ready to begin that important work. In the meantime it is essential that we guard, more stringently than ever, mutant anonymity.”
Hank nodded heavily. “Though their results were somewhat haphazard, Scott, Ororo, and Jean acted bravely tonight. You know as well as I, they won’t back down from this challenge. They too have now seen the need to combat mutants of evil intent, those whose powers violently threaten humanity and risk the harmful exposure of mutantkind.”
Xavier lowered his head briefly. Hank thought, for just an instant, he could visualize the weight of this moment resting so heavily upon his friend.
“Charles, I feel that now is an opportune time to express my own intentions.” Hank placed his hand on his friend’s shoulder. “I would like you to know that, however you decide to proceed with this school and its mission, you will have my fullest support.”
Charles Xavier nodded, smiling, though it was grimly. Hank had walked his own difficult path before finding his way to the Institute, and the two men had not always seen eye to eye, even while here. But through difficult times, and sometimes through impossible decisions, Xavier had come to value Hank as a friend and a trusted adviser. One thing was certain: though Hank had struggled to find his place, his peace, even his self-acceptance at times in the past, Hank truly was in his element here as a scientist, doctor, and teacher. Xavier wondered if their future roles would fit any of them as securely as their current roles did... and he wondered if they would have any real choice in the matter.
“Thank you, very much, Hank.” Xavier still did not know if this new way forward was the best course of action. It disturbed him that, increasingly, it was beginning to seem like the only acceptable course of action. “Now, if you will excuse me,” he said quietly, turning to go.
“Of course,” Hank answered. Releasing his grip on Charles’ shoulder, Hank drew a nearby chair up to Scott’s bedside with one foot. His large hands soon began flipping through the pages of several books as he seated himself and then began making notes (with toes as ambidextrous as fingers). “I don’t think I’ll be alone here in my worries for very long,” he concluded with an agreeable smile.
As Hank had predicted, visitors came and went throughout the day, keeping a steady vigil as Scott slept. Then Hank watched over Scott most of the night, with Warren taking a turn around daybreak. The following morning they were all back in the infirmary. It was Sunday morning. Hank continued his research in the lab, Warren and the professor curiously overlooking his progress. Ororo and Jean sat beside Scott, speaking quietly between themselves. Well, technically Jean was doing most of the talking, to herself, actually, while Ororo chimed in once in a while with a note of measured reassurance.
“We can’t check his eyes, obviously, but we should’ve thought to scan him for possible head injury. What if there’s swelling?” Jean asked worriedly, but the question was a rhetorical one. “He took a hard blow to the head, enough for him to lose consciousness; it was briefly, but still....” She trailed off, biting her lower lip.
It didn’t help to remind herself that Scott’s head had hit the wall (the same blow had broken his arm and dislocated his shoulder) because Jean had telekinetically thrown him across the room. She’d had no choice; if she hadn’t pulled him out of harm’s way when she did, Scott would have suffered dangerous levels of radiation exposure. But still... she hated that her own actions, no matter how well-intentioned, had left him lying injured in the infirmary.
Jean turned in her seat and called to Hank, “Is it normal for him to sleep this long?”
Hank answered her calmly, as always. “Scott has been awake and alert, talking to us at regular intervals. If he was suffering any cognitive impairment, we would have seen the symptoms before now.”
Jean sighed, and not in relief. It sounded like a medical lecture, and Jean was impatient with that assessment. Her worry was more personal. What she wanted was to hear that Scott was going to be fine, be back on his feet in no time. And even then, she wouldn’t believe it until it was a reality.
“Rest is the best thing for his recovery right now,” Hank concluded. “There’s no need for worry, and nothing more to be done,” he added.
Jean sighed again; this time it came out in a huff. That was the hardest part. There should have been something to do. “Are you sure?” she persisted, “about his condition, I mean.” If Hank wanted to keep this a medical debate, she could do that. “Given his history, shouldn’t Scott be more susceptible to head injury than the average person?”
When Hank didn’t readily agree, she hurried on with the logic behind her assumption. “That’s the case with concussions, right? So when a patient has experienced an even more severe head injury – like the one Scott suffered as child, leaving him in a coma – the same rule should hold true, shouldn’t it?”
Hank released a sigh of his own (Jean thought even his sigh sounded patient) before leaving his lab and crossing the room to address Jean’s worries face to face.
“I can assure you, that won’t be a problem for Scott.” Hank’s large brown eyes lowered for a second, studying his sleeping patient. “Scott’s unique metabolism, coupled with the effects his optic powers have on his brain function (the whole process is closely related, given that his brain and his eyes are intricately involved in channeling the metabolic energy which fuels his optic blasts), produces an extraordinarily high rate of regenerative processes in those tissues. So, barring an unforeseen glitch in his metabolism or the physical depletion of metabolic fuel, Scott should remain highly resistant to brain injury.”
Jean nodded uncertainly. That was a lot more explanation than she had bargained for and she was still processing all of it.
“You begin to appreciate the unique position we’re placed in,” Hank noted dryly, “learning the proper rules of medicine only to ignore them. But,” he remained engrossed in that train of thought, “I’m still unsure if Scott’s resistance to sedative and analgesic medications is a part of his mutation – just another aspect of his enhanced metabolism – or more of an acquired trait.”
Ororo and Jean traded looks which severely questioned that statement; neither liked the sound of that word, acquired. Hank, immediately sensing that he had said too much, offered a weak smile in response to their suspicious looks. He turned, about to make a quick escape back into his lab. He could tell that Jean was only a second away from asking exactly how such a trait was acquired. But it was Scott’s voice that brought Hank to a standstill.
“You don’t have to worry about my head. It’s fine. Doesn’t even hurt.”
Scott had come awake more slowly this time, hearing bits and pieces of the conversation. He recognized Hank’s voice doing much of the talking, and that the conversation sounded more like a medical report which focused on him. Scott had known where he was but he hadn’t been as clear on when. So he’d kept his eyes closed and continued to listen until things made more sense. Other familiar voices had joined Hank’s just about the time Scott had started to realize that his shoulder and arm were why he was here, and the drugs Hank still insisted on giving him for pain were what made it so hard for him to make sense of things.
“That will likely change once you begin to recharge,” Hank warned him.
Scott opened his eyes and looked around. As expected, he found himself in the school’s infirmary. They had moved him out of the surgical recovery suite and into the medical ward adjacent to Hank’s lab. He had been here before, but this time Scott was able to open his eyes and see his surroundings, even if everything was red-tinged. Actually, he hardly noticed the red tint anymore; losing most of the color spectrum was a small sacrifice in comparison to his only other viable option. Even the current condition of his shoulder and arm were nothing compared to the pain he’d experienced when he was last here: the way his head had hurt constantly, not just bad headaches, but like his head was threatening to split open at any moment. He’d sometimes wondered if it would have eventually split open had Hank and the Professor not found a safe way to dissipate the enormous energy of his optic blasts.
“I can handle that,” he answered Hank’s worry, and he meant it. Now that he understood how the optic blasts worked, he knew the associated pain was only temporary; it would pass. As long as he had his visor or his glasses to safely absorb the blasts, his mind and his eyes would quickly acclimate themselves to the energy conversion that was always happening in his head, and he could get back to normal – at least normal for him.
The stunned look on Jean’s face betrayed the fact that she’d given little thought to the science behind their emerging gifts. Perhaps that was because her powers were more abstract. She tended to think that her telekinesis hinged solely on her own levels of concentration, but it had to be more than that, didn’t it? Somehow thought was physically converted to action, potential to kinetic energy. She shook her head warily. Perhaps it was because she tried not to dwell on her own abilities. But Scott’s she wanted to know about, especially if something about his mutant ability was going to be affecting his recovery, causing him pain.
“What do you mean, recharge? And why is that painful for him?” She expected Hank to answer, but it was Scott’s response that drew her attention.
“It’s a long story,” he argued, avoiding her question.
“You’re not going anywhere,” Jean pointed out stubbornly.
“We have plenty of time to hear it,” Ororo lightly agreed.
Scott’s gaze flickered between Jean and Ororo. Hank had already returned to his lab, and the two of them were waiting for Scott to continue. He knew when he was beat, even before Jean raised one eyebrow; there was no arguing with that particular look.
Scott took a couple of seconds to remember the path that had brought him here. Jean and Ororo already knew the basic outline of his life before the Institute, but it would be beyond difficult for him to talk about all of that in specifics. He could answer their questions easily enough: tell them about the headaches, his glasses, and how Hank had figured out the connections between the two. They already knew what came after: the Institute and the last two years spent here, learning to safely use his optic blasts. They also knew that Scott was a very private person; he rarely talked about himself, and he brought up his past – anything that had happened before his coming to the Institute – as little as possible.
They wouldn’t press him beyond what he offered, but his closest friends could already feel the void between the difficulties they suspected in his past and a true understanding of those years. He wanted to shield them from all that and, truthfully, he wanted to shield himself as well. He couldn’t understand why they would want to dig any of it up in the first place, but he knew it was out of concern. He looked at his friends, sitting here with him, worrying over his recovery, and Scott gave a sigh. They wanted to support him, they wanted to understand him. Sure, he could keep his story to the bare minimum, but it would taste a lie to leave so much unsaid. They deserved more; he trusted them with more... just maybe not the worst of it, not yet. He wasn’t ready to dredge that up right now.
“I always had headaches,” he stated, “for as long as I can remember. I figured it was just something that came along with the accident, and for the most part it didn’t bother me. They came and went,” he shrugged nonchalantly.
“And didn’t respond to medications,” Jean guessed, her voice wary.
Scott smiled. “They came and went. They were only headaches,” he insisted more softly. Clearly, he was trying to ease her worry, and, just as clearly, she wasn’t buying it. Scott shook his head before he continued on. “It started to get worse when I was fifteen. By that time I’d been living on the streets for three years; I’d spent two of those years working with Jack. My head hurt almost constantly. Most of the time I wrote the ache off as kind of a background noise in my head, and just willed myself to keep functioning through it. When the light started to hurt my eyes I took to wearing dark glasses to block out the sunlight, and I did my best to ignore that too.
“I had no other choice,” he answered the objection Jean was about to make. “I was living day-to-day, barely scraping enough together for luxuries like food and clothing. I didn’t have the money to go to special doctors. I couldn’t even spare time enough to visit the free clinic.”
Jean swallowed her argument. They all knew it hadn’t been as simple as time or money. Those things were factors, but the deeper truth was that Scott had been in over his head in more ways than one. Sure, he’d been so caught up in the drama of day-to-day survival that mysterious, unexplained pain hadn’t warranted much of a danger to him, but then he’d known that the pain wasn’t entirely unexplained. Scott had had no way of knowing that his mutant abilities were beginning to emerge, but he did know that he’d suffered brain damage from his injury as a child. That experience had ultimately orphaned him and landed him in a children’s home, a place he’d run away from, a place he wasn’t about to let some well-meaning child welfare advocate send him back to.
Scott took a deep breath. “Then, one night Jack and I crossed paths with Richard and Trisha Bogart.” He paused again, finding it hard to say their names and still keep his voice steady. “To make a long story short, they saw that something was up with me; he was a doctor and my headaches got his attention. They offered to take me in,” Scott shrugged, “at least long enough to figure out the headaches and get me treatment for them. Eventually the specialists stumbled across some glasses with quartz lenses, meant to protect against a rare kind of UV light sensitivity. As long as I wore them the headaches disappeared.”
Scott fell silent. Clearly the next part of the story was harder for him to tell.
“But those glasses could not address the real cause of your headaches,” Ororo ventured.
“No,” Scott said quietly. “Things got more complicated after that. For one thing, Jack came back into the picture.”
Jean hissed audibly under her breath.
“He saw the good fortune I had stumbled into and he wanted a piece of it. He thought he’d easily get me to take the Bogarts for everything they had, but I wouldn’t do it. And I wouldn’t let him do it either.” Scott fell silent again. “Things got ugly after that... they got really ugly. The argument between Jack and me turned physical. My glasses got smashed in the process. The Bogarts tried–” He paused and took a deep breath. “The next thing I knew, it felt like half the house had caved in on us. I had no idea how, but I knew I had caused that.”
“The Bogarts?” Ororo asked gently. Her elegant voice was whisper-soft.
Scott shook his head in answer.
“I am, so sorry, Scott,” Ororo offered.
Jean couldn’t seem to find her voice.
“I am too,” he replied, then he swallowed hard, regrouping. “I didn’t know what else to do. So I ran. I kept running until the professor found me. He brought me back here, and he and Hank set to work figuring out my optic blasts. It got easier from there forward, just understanding what I was, what was happening to me.
“The blasts get their energy from sunlight; that’s what Hank meant when he said I’d recharge, and it’s why the light hurt my eyes before. My body hadn’t completely adjusted to the process and–” he paused over his next two words, “the damage to my brain was making everything more difficult than it would have been otherwise.”
“Then Hank knew, from the beginning, that you couldn’t control it,” Jean said quietly.
Scott nodded. He was obviously grateful for that. “That was one of the first things the scans showed him. After I told him about how the quartz glasses had helped me before, he started working on another, stronger, pair.” Scott took a deep breath. “The first time I opened my eyes again... it felt like a miracle.” He smiled appreciatively in the direction of Hank’s lab. “The ruby quartz lenses are able to safely absorb and dissipate the impact of my optic blasts. No more pressure in my head; no more headaches.”
“Except for the recharging,” Jean contradicted him, saying the last word carefully.
“I can handle that,” he answered her the same as he had Hank, then added, “It shouldn’t last long.”
She bit her lip in worry. She didn’t want to contradict him, but Jean was obviously wishing there was a another way, a way to avoid what caused him pain.
Scott gave her what he hoped was a reassuring smile. “If you fight this hard for every patient, you are going to be one amazing doctor, Jean.”
She blushed at his complement, but also managed a smile. Scott laughed under his breath when she quickly started babbling in what he liked to refer to as “medical mode.” He hardly understood a word of it except at the end, about there being something she needed to ask Hank. Then she rushed off toward his lab. Scott, shaking his head, turned to smile at Ororo.
Ororo was watching the whole strange scene unfold with a knowing smile on her face.
“I know this is difficult for you, Scott. Please, try to be patient with me for just a little longer.”
As soon as Jean opened the door to the infirmary she saw that Scott wasn’t in his medical bed. It was Hank’s patient voice that she heard (coming from his lab, just off the infirmary), and she quickly got a handle on her worries. Judging from Hank’s tone, nothing was wrong except for the fact that Scott was still here – and he did not want to be.
After four days in the infirmary, Scott wanted out. Even though she couldn’t see him, Jean could picture him tilting his head back toward the ceiling in what she often guessed was Scott’s equivalent of rolling his eyes in either exasperation or frustration.
“I don’t get why you can’t just give me a transfusion– see if it works.”
Hank, his voice filled with characteristic warmth and patience said, “Scott, there is very little that I can actually guarantee you in this process. But I can guarantee you, that would not work.” A smile turned at his lip. “You and Warren are not exactly what we would classify as belonging to the same blood type.”
Jean stifled a laugh at hearing it put that way. She knew that bridging that compatibility gap was exactly what Hank’s scientific efforts were geared toward at the moment. There was no way it could be so simple as just giving Scott (or anyone else) a transfusion of Warren’s blood, then having them readily heal, as Warren could. For anyone else, the body would reject the transfused blood and things would go downhill quickly from there.
Even Scott laughed and, considering the sour mood he had been in while confined to the infirmary for the last couple of days, Jean admired Hank’s “bedside manner” all the more. But Hank’s ability to put those around him at ease was only one of the many characteristics Jean had come to admire in Henry McCoy. Hank was brilliant, expert in a variety of fields including mathematics, the arts, medicine, and a wide range of sciences. Jean was especially fortunate to benefit from his knowledge and his skill as a teacher because, in addition to being the Institute’s unofficial doctor, he was primarily Jean’s mentor.
But far beyond simply absorbing and relaying information, Hank was intuitive and inventive, constantly applying his knowledge in new and innovative ways. His scientific research had been published in many prominent scholarly journals. And yet, despite all his many attributes, Hank would have difficulty finding acceptance into polite society. Even many scholarly societies shied away from him once he showed up in person for a conference or an interview – hence the reason he was the Institute’s unofficial doctor. Despite having more than enough knowledge and experience to earn a medical degree, he had never made it beyond the interview process for admission into medical school.
Those close to him knew that his appearance, and specifically other’s reactions to it, was a source of great disappointment for Hank. Despite his possessing the outward appearance of an overgrown human, apelike in size and proportion, Jean had never met a greater gentleman than Henry McCoy. His manners were flawless, he was well-versed in virtually any topic that might enter conversation, always kind and polite... and yet most people would never look closely enough to see even a fraction of those extraordinary qualities.
Though Hank accepted his reality (and the resulting limitations) graciously, to Jean’s way of thinking it was nothing short of an injustice. That injustice provided just one further incentive, added one more piece to the puzzle, for Jean. She wanted to go on to medical school, to follow in Hank’s footsteps and take her shot at fulfilling the dream that had been unfairly denied him. She felt a strange sense of vicarious victory in the knowledge that she was just as much a mutant as Hank was, only those ridiculous, stuffed-shirt bureaucrats, so concerned about their precious images, would never see that truth – just as they chose not to see the truth about Hank. It was probably as close as they would ever get to a turn about of fair play.
Jean watched Hank steer Scott back toward the infirmary’s medical ward as he expanded upon his explanation, assuring Scott that the regenerative extract he had cultured from Warren’s blood would have to be proven both safe and effective before Hank would administer it to anyone. Scott nodded reluctantly as he listened; he was still feeling enough frustration to want to persist in his argument but, with characteristic restraint, he kept silent. He understood that Hank was doing everything possible and, on some level, Scott probably understood that his show of frustration wasn’t helping anything. He just wanted some kind of action, something more than waiting.
Their conversation came to a pause, if not a conclusion, and at that point Scott caught sight of Jean. “Again?” Scott half growled, half groaned. She stood there waiting for him, sunhat in hand.
Jean didn’t take his reaction personally (even though she was tempted to). She and Hank had figured out several days ago that Scott simply wasn’t going to be himself until he was more fully recovered.
“I thought you’d be a bit happier to get out of here,” she challenged him dryly.
“I would be happier, if it were for more than a half hour at a time.”
She and Hank had devised this ridiculous schedule as a way to slowly recharge his powers, the idea being to cause him minimal discomfort in the process. Scott wasn’t impressed.
“So impatient,” Jean quipped, tossing her red ponytail over her shoulder as she gloatingly said the last word. Impatience was one of Jean’s primary character traits, and Scott routinely gave her grief over that fact.
“Yes,” he agreed, deliberately keeping his voice short. “I hate taking five days to do what could be accomplished in one lunch break.”
“Objection noted, and overruled,” she snapped cheerfully. “Now, are you coming or not?”
“What’s new?” Scott countered, grumbling, as he followed her from the room. “All of my objections are overruled.”
Jean pretended not to hear that one.
It was a beautiful day outside, complete with bright blue sky overhead. The early morning sun had just risen over the trees. Jean threaded her arm through Scott’s healthy one as they navigated the steps leading from the back patio into one of the formal gardens that surrounded the mansion.
He insisted that he could walk on his own (he had shot Hank an equally dirty look when Hank had accompanied them outside yesterday, and Jean had heard him mumble something under his breath about having a broken arm not a broken leg, but Scott had been more careful to control his irritation in front of Hank). Jean ignored his objections as thoroughly today as she had yesterday.
“I’m not going to fall down the steps,” he informed her bitterly.
“Humor me,” she quipped, stubbornly keeping her grip on his arm.
“Fine,” he growled, but otherwise allowed it.
They sat down on a bench that lined the walking path and Jean tilted her head back to take in the morning sunshine. Warm, but not too warm, just as intended. They had begun his acclimation process yesterday, Monday. The plan was to keep Scott’s exposure to off-peak hours and short blocks of time. To the best of Hank’s calculations, given two half hour sessions a day, Scott’s powers should be back to normal after Friday – if not fully recharged, then at least close enough so that further sun exposure wouldn’t cause him pain.
Scott scowled at Jean’s smug satisfaction; did she really have to be so proud of herself for convincing him to participate in this pointless exercise? He knew his own attitude was a bit immature, but at the moment everything was annoying him beyond reason: from Hank and Jean’s conspiring against him to the tepid morning sunlight. And he would still have to endure another three days of these stunted, supervised outings. He gritted his teeth and sat there in silence, nursing his aggravations.
Jean watched him, amused. “Now what are you brooding over?” she finally prompted.
Scott shook his head. With the mood he was in, it was probably better if he stayed silent.
“Spit it out,” Jean insisted, her amusement increasing.
“First Hank, now you; I’m beginning to feel like a science experiment.”
“So grumpy without the pain meds,” she noted with false surprise. Scott turned so quickly she thought he might give himself whiplash.
“Don’t you dare tell him that– he’ll have me back on those things so fast–”
“Okay,” she backed off agreeably, patronizing him. He hated this.
“It’s not the pain–” Scott stubbornly insisted, “I know you don’t believe me when I tell you that. But, really, it’s not.” He was accustomed to pain. Be it the endless string of medical examinations he had endured at the Home after waking from the coma, or the horrific headaches that had come with the onset of his optic blasts, or a broken arm and dislocated shoulder – pain was pain and you dealt with it. If you were Scott Summers you dealt with it stoically and didn’t expect or even know how to handle sympathy.
“Okay, then what?” Jean asked, a hint of a dare underlying her voice.
He cringed. How was it that every time he tried to reassure her he ended up explaining things he didn’t want to discuss in the first place? He didn’t answer right away, and he half expected more instigation from her as a result. But she waited, patiently, especially for Jean. Jean was actually showing a lot more patience than he had over the last couple of days, and patience was usually one of his strong suites.
“I don’t like pain, but I can tough through it; I’d rather tough through it.”
She abruptly understood. “You’d rather tough it out than have us take care of you.”
He winced again. How had that come out in a way that hurt her feelings when he’d been trying to avoid doing that?
“Don’t be,” she said simply. “I’d rather hear the truth. Why is this so hard for you?” It was weird, Jean thought to herself. She could see the effort it took, the patience he expended just to somewhat tolerate their care and concern; he didn’t like any of it. For everyone else, Scott was patient and tolerant to a fault. But not so for himself.
“I don’t like being side-lined,” he admitted quietly. “I feel– defective.”
The way he said that reminded her of the conversation they’d had the other day in the infirmary. He hesitated over that word the same way he had over the word damage when he’d spoken about his condition, his mind’s inability to control the optic blasts.
“You are not that,” she told him certainly. “I don’t care how long you take to heal.” Her expression softened. “I know you hate all this, Scott, but we’re just trying to help you– and you don’t always make that easy for us.”
He swallowed his frustrations because the concern and regret on her face were impossible to ignore.
“I know I don’t. I’m sorry, Jean. I just don’t like being fussed over.”
“Too bad,” she quipped, leaning playfully against his good shoulder before she sat back and slipped on her sunhat. “That’s what happens when people care about you.”
He smiled shyly. “Yeah, I know,” he admitted, but his gaze wandered, his mind elsewhere. Before she could ask, he continued. “You know I’m not mad at you guys; I’m mad at myself.”
“That makes no sense, Scott.”
“Maybe not,” he admitted with a weak smile, “I just want to be back to full speed, and I hate that it’s taking so long.”
“If Hank’s experiment works, you’re going to heal a lot faster than expected: days instead of months.”
“I hope so,” Scott said, leaning his head back to stare at the sun, then closing his eyes to feel its warmth on his face. He did feel better, getting all that off his chest. For a few minutes there was nothing but the quiet sounds of the garden surrounding them.
“Are you sure it’s not really me you’re mad at?” Jean asked quietly, too quietly. Her tone got his attention more than her question.
“Yes,” he answered immediately, returning his gaze to hers. She was worriedly studying his face for any sign of contradiction. “You saved my life, Jean.”
“And I mangled you in the process.”
He laughed. “Just a little.” She laughed with him, in spite of herself, and that made Scott feel better. “It wasn’t your fault. I don’t blame you.”
“Maybe you should.”
“Well, I don’t,” he concluded simply, “so if you’re getting all overprotective just to make amends for your mistake–”
“I am not getting overprotective,” she protested.
His grin widened. She realized a second too late that he was teasing her, and she had taken the bait. Jean huffed in frustration and mumbled something under her breath that sounded like, “so annoying.”
“If you’d known I was going to be this difficult, you would have thrown me a lot harder.”
Her eyes widened in shock, then she quickly looked away.
His grin grew remorseful. He’d gone too far. “I’m sorry.”
“You should be,” she bit back, crossing her arms over her chest. “That was a low blow. You know I feel horrible that I hurt you.”
“And I’m trying to tell you, you shouldn’t, Jean. I’m alright, really.”
Then, almost on cue, he winced. Scott’s entire body slumped like he had just taken a shot to the gut; he couldn’t even breathe.
In one smooth motion, Jean removed her sunhat and used it to shield him from the mild morning sun.
His breathing regulated as the sharp burst of pain faded from behind his eyes. Now he only had to contend with the dull ache that throbbed mercilessly through his head, like someone was using it for a bass drum.
“Come on,” Jean said easily, threading her arm through his again. “Time to go in.” She helped pull him to his feet while her sunhat floated like an umbrella over his head.
“Yeah,” he agreed, holding his hand up to his forehead, further shielding his eyes from the light that was nearly blinding.
He hardly noticed it this time when Jean led him inside. The pain was such that he could hardly keep a thought in his head... but one remained there anyway. He remembered the events of two years ago like they had happened yesterday. Sitting in the infirmary, nothing to do but listen and wait while Hank ran tests on him... all the while it had felt to Scott like his head was going to explode, to split clean open. How many times had he nursed the same thought? It had played over and over in his head, a question without answer. What kind of strange mutation is this– when I can’t control it, and it feels like hell?!
Now he understood the awesome strength of his optic blasts, he understood how they worked and what powered them. He also understood why they didn’t work the way they should. Because of the damage done to him in the crash, he would never be able to control the blasts, and the metabolic process that fueled them would never be entirely painless for him. But even when he knew full well what was coming, the acclimation still hurt like hell.
He’d thought he would be ready to handle that this time around. He certainly hadn’t wanted Jean to have to see him like this. The pain did gradually become more manageable as they moved inside and then made their way into the mansion’s lower levels, far removed from the weak morning sunlight. Jean was periodically stealing worried glances at him. Scott knew he should say something to reassure her; he would have if he thought that would work, but it seemed beyond pointless at the moment. She could see the truth for herself, so why bother wasting his energy on empty reassurances; he was already exhausted.
Back in the infirmary, Hank saw Scott and Jean come through the door and he took a couple of hurried steps toward them. Scott waved him off, mumbling that he was alright and (more resentfully) that he could walk by himself. Jean still didn’t release her grip on him until he was seated.
“Don’t push yourself if you want to keep that spotless record intact,” Hank warned lightly.
Scott gave a humorless grin as he lay down. “What are you going to do, drug me some more?”
Jean fought back a laugh. Apparently Scott had recovered enough to argue with Hank just for stubbornness sake.
Hank shook his head. “Not unless you need the drugs to help you rest.”
“I’d rather be awake and in pain than knocked out cold,” Scott quickly countered. Jean frowned. It was then that he remembered her earlier admonishment. “Sorry, Hank,” he offered belatedly, “I know you’re doing your best.”
Hank chuckled. “And I more than understand your impatience with the pace of this convalescence. I hope to correct that soon, Scott. But, in the meantime, it probably is for the best that we continue weaning you off the pain medications as much as possible. Believe it or not, I don’t like these excessive dosages any more than you do. But– if the pain becomes too great–”
“I can handle it,” Scott insisted.
“If it becomes too great, tell me,” Hank insisted just as stubbornly. Then he winked at Jean.
Jean smiled back gratefully.
Scott nodded, but the movement came slowly. He was worn out.
Hank patted his good shoulder. “Get some rest.”
Scott was out like a light almost before he could acknowledge Hank.
“How’d he do?” Hank asked once Scott was sleeping.
“Good up ‘til about the twenty-eight minute mark. Then it hit him like a Mac truck.” In each of the previous two sessions, he’d made it the whole half hour with no ill effects. “I didn’t expect that,” Jean admitted. A couple of times today she had started to wonder if Scott was right to be frustrated; their caution had seemed completely unwarranted, until now.
Hank nodded thoughtfully. “Nor did I. Perhaps the sun exposure is having a cumulative effect.”
“With each session, the power builds up a little faster than before?” Jean surmised.
“We should try slightly reducing the exposure time with each consecutive outing so that he doesn’t reach his tolerance limit again so suddenly.”
Jean repressed a snort. “He’ll love that idea,” she admitted sarcastically. “But I’ll make sure he sticks to it.” She didn’t care how much Scott protested, she wasn’t going to let what happened today happen to him again.
Hank nodded appreciatively in response to Jean’s fresh determination.
“One more question,” Jean prompted him.
“Just one?” Hank didn’t say it condescendingly but ironically. He recognized how complex all of this was.
“Well, for the moment,” Jean conceded, and Hank chuckled as he waited for her to continue.
“When Scott was just coming into his mutation, he said that the quartz glasses stopped his headaches. Why aren’t his glasses alleviating the pain now?”
“When his optic blasts were gradually emerging, the plain quartz lenses were enough to safely absorb the very small amounts of energy his eyes were then emitting. So their effect on Scott was similar to the way normal eyeglasses relieve eyestrain for those of us with less than 20/20 vision. But it’s not the emission of the blasts which primarily cause Scott pain; it’s the energy reaction taking place between his mind and his eyes to convert raw energy into concussive force. The ruby quartz glasses do, under normal circumstances, alleviate his pain because they are able to absorb the full power of Scott’s optic blasts. That action neutralizes the pressure which builds as a side effect of the energy conversion. Are you following me so far?”
Jean nodded. “The glasses control the blasts once they are emitted from his eyes, but they have no effect on the energy conversion that creates the blasts.”
“Correct. Usually that’s not a problem either; the conversion works like any other metabolic process. It happens constantly, so slowly that Scott remains unaware of it. But now, so much of his energy has been depleted that the process has increased in pace to the point where it does affect him. Even under these circumstances, if not for his head injury as a child, I suspect that Scott would still be only marginally aware of the conversion. He might feel more tired than usual after such a depletion and additionally fatigued while his metabolism is working overtime to set the imbalance right. But unfortunately for Scott, the parts of his brain that were damaged should not only allow for control over his use of the blasts but also aid in their creation. Without those pathways behaving functionally, other areas must overcompensate, and Scott feels the results. Even under the best of circumstances, headaches will always plague him from time to time – with stress and overexertion – like sore muscles protesting a strenuous workout.”
Jean nodded in agreement, showing that she understood, but she knew in her gut that the pain itself was not so innocuous as what Hank described. As high as Scott’s threshold for pain seemed to be, she found it hard to imagine just how intense this reaction – the energy conversion going on inside him – must be for it to hurt him the way it obviously did.
She had to ask, “How bad is the pain, really?”
Hank hesitated, searching for an answer, then finally said, “There’s good reason why Scott is annoyed with our efforts at pain suppression for his arm. We rightly consider his level of postoperative pain intolerable. But what Scott had to become accustomed to as his abilities were emerging– well, comparing the two is roughly the equivalent of comparing a stubbed toe to a gaping wound. And, unfortunately, that pain intensified even further between the time his optic blasts fully emerged and the point when we were able to safely harness that energy with the use of his glasses.”
Jean knew her mouth was hanging open in shock. She couldn’t seem to correct that.
“Try to look at it positively. He’s already been through the worst, and he knows that. As far as Scott is concerned, it’s all downhill from here. Hardly worth a second thought.”
Jean laughed in spite of herself. “Well, if we’re taking him off the meds for good, I’d guess we’d better brace ourselves for more of grizzly Scott.”
Hank chuckled. “Actually, counterintuitive as it seems, I expect his mood will improve greatly once he’s off the pain medications.”
Jean blinked, stunned. “You mean he wasn’t like this before?”
“No, and again counterintuitivly, I prefer this version. Scott is as impatient as a hungry grizzly bear right now because he knows he’s going to get better. Last time,” Hank sighed heavily at the memory, “he had no reason to believe that his condition would change, and even less reason to trust in our reassurances that we could find a way to help him. This time around Scott finds it hard to tolerate the pain medications, hard to tolerate our concern over his acclimation, simply because he sees those things as obstacles which unnecessarily impair him and slow the progress of his recovery.
“Additionally,” Hank continued on eagerly, “we’re making great strides with the regenerative serum. I didn’t want to get Scott’s hopes up in case I encounter some sort of a setback, but, at this rate, I may have a working compound ready for him try within the next twenty-four hours.”
“That’s– really great news, Hank,” Jean acknowledged.
“Indeed it is.” He moved off toward the lab, eager to show her the latest results.
Jean paused to gently lay the back of her hand against Scott’s sun-warmed cheek before she followed after Hank.
So Let it Be Written Publishing © 2004