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
Through the Glass
Xavier Institute. Tactical Room.
Scott Summers was reviewing training footage from yesterday’s Danger Room session. Or at least he had been. Right now the recording was paused on a still frame. It was the first time he had seen for himself what had happened after the Danger Room had taken his visor. In a matter of seconds – traveling at the speed of light – the force of his optic blasts had ripped open concrete and steel as if it was nothing more than paper. He’d reacted immediately – curled in on himself, eyes wedged closed into the crook of his elbow, knees reinforcing the position – but still, if not for the Danger Room’s heavily reinforced structure he would have completely gutted the building’s foundation before he had been able to close his eyes. Scott had paused the footage there, feeling a little sick.
Since his mutation had first manifested, Scott had been haunted by this possibility: that something could go wrong, that he could lose containment over the blasts, that his loss of control would put people in danger. Yesterday he’d faced the very real threat of his uncontrolled optic blasts. And, to make matters worse, he’d done so surrounded by people who meant everything to him: his team, his friends, his family. Seeing it happen in real time was more disturbing than he had expected. At least this time, unlike with the Bogarts, he had understood what was happening. He knew how to stop it. Balled up on the floor like a sack of potatoes wasn’t the most dignified line of defense, but it was effective. He didn’t know for how long he was down, or how long the room’s follow-up attack had lasted; he guessed only a couple of minutes combined... but it had felt like forever. The same way time seemed to stand still when you were falling.
“Hey. You alright?”
Jean’s voice caught him by surprise. For once he hadn’t heard her coming. He’d lost track of how long he had been staring at that image on the screen.
Scott sat back in his chair. “Yeah.”
“I just came from the infirmary. Thought you’d want to know, Hank has released Ororo.”
Scott nodded. “That’s good news. I’ll tell the professor; I still need to have a talk with him about all this.” Scott motioned to the still frame monitor.
The image gave Jean a chill, unexpectedly reminding her of everything she’d felt then: a shared sense of terror through her open mental link. Frozen in place. Helplessness. With all of them under attack. But Scott in particular, instinctively curled in on himself in order to protect the rest of them. It had been a horrifying experience.
“That was brave,” she said instead, nodding toward the screen.
When faced with the choice to protect himself or to protect those around him, Scott had chosen them. That was an essential truth of Scott Summers, and his team – his friends – knew that about him. They’d lay everything on the line for him because he would do the same for them.
“It didn’t require any bravery to cover my eyes. I know the blasts don’t hurt me.”
“You didn’t know if the room would continue to attack you while you couldn’t see. It did, and you still didn’t open your eyes,” Jean gave him a wry smile, “even when I wanted you to.”
Scott shook his head warily. “That wasn’t a choice. There was nothing I could do without the visor, nothing constructive anyway. Besides,” he gave her a smile in return, “I had you and Ororo at my back. I wasn’t afraid of the room....” His smile faded into frustration. “It’s really maddening, sometimes,” he admitted. A tiny bit of soft tissue, thin as my eyelids, is enough to stop them... and yet the blasts will take advantage of even the slightest gap. I can never relax my guard.”
Jean frowned as she sat down beside him. “Even with the glasses?”
There wasn’t a moment of the day when Scott wasn’t at least marginally aware of his eyes. The ruby quartz glasses were a constant, as much as the red tint they cast on the world around him. He was used to it, but he didn’t ever forget it. Even if he could, Scott refused to let himself forget. He couldn’t afford that luxury. But yesterday in the Danger Room, that was the first time since he’d gotten the glasses – actually it was the first time since that moment everything had collapsed into chaos, destruction, and darkness around him, that day in the Bogart’s living room – that Scott had experienced that horrible heart-stopping panic all over again.
“The glasses are a life-saver, of course. They contain the blasts, and that lets me manage my mutation enough to live a normal life in spite of it. But keeping the blasts contained, that part is still my responsibility; and it always remains, dangerously, maddeningly, beyond my ability to control.” He fell silent for a moment before adding, “What you and Ororo did, continuing to fight the room while it was still trying to capture you, that was far more impressive.”
Jean saw it as a deflection, but she allowed his changing the subject, shifting the focus away from his own actions.
“It wasn’t so successful,” she countered, shifting his argument as well. They had fought hard but hadn’t managed to free themselves or each other, at least not without inducing catastrophic damages.
Scott noted her familiar hesitation. “It could be,” he insisted, “with practice.”
Jean heard the words of encouragement he intended; she also heard the tired strain of bitterness that shortened his carefully controlled voice.
“Scott– your mutation–”
“Is a part of me, and a gift. Yes, I know.” He cut short her own words of encouragement, veiled bitterness giving way to muted sarcasm. The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. Self-control, in my case.”
“Do you believe that,” Jean challenged him, “about God?”
He gave a shrug. “The Home was obligated by some well-meaning donor to try to save our immortal souls as well as to provide for our mortal bodies. As a kid, I remember identifying with Huck Finn on matters of charity, religion, and ‘sivilization’ in general. Do I personally believe in a benevolent higher power that bestows generous blessings as readily as piteous misery upon his creation, seemingly at random?”
“Hmm. I’ll interpret that note of mild skepticism as a ‘no’.”
Scott shook his head. “It’s an ‘I don’t know’, to be perfectly honest. I prefer to focus on the parts of my life that I can control, change what I can change instead of praying over what I can’t change. I am a skeptic, but that doesn’t mean there’s not more out there. It would be a shame if there wasn’t, really, if this one life, this one world was all we had, especially when we’ve done such a poor job with much of it.”
“Cheerful,” Jean noted.
Scott laughed at her sarcasm. “I’m sorry. So I’m not much of an artful theologian, but I do think it’s worthwhile to study faith. If for no other reason, you can’t properly understand society and history without an understanding of how people are influenced by religion. The truth is, I find many teachings of various religions to be challenging and inspiring. It just seems to me that the majority of those who call themselves believers don’t focus on the most morally challenging aspects of their own faiths. It would be a better world, with a lot less suffering, if they did.” Scott paused for a moment before asking, “Do you believe in a higher power?”
Jean shrugged. “I was raised to believe in all of it. Hellfire and brimstone as well as eternal salvation.”
“And you don’t question it?”
“Sometimes, but for the most part it makes sense to me. I think there has to be more than just us. The universe is so vast and so complex, it seems almost arrogant to believe our species is the most advanced form of life ever to exist. So why not some higher power?”
“To some people, your abilities would cast you as a higher power,” Scott countered.
Jean winced. “I wish you wouldn’t joke about that.”
“It’s not a joke, just an observation. Ororo actually was worshiped as a god before she came here. I’m sure she wasn’t the first and won’t be the last mutant ever to have that experience.”
Jean nodded warily. “What we understand as genetic mutation, the result of millions of years of evolution, easily appears as godlike supernatural powers to others who have less scientific understanding.”
“Or to those who choose to distrust science in order to preserve their faith in god – a faith which, by its very nature, cannot be scientifically proven or disproven. So how does one tell the difference between a higher power and an advanced life form except through science?”
“I don’t think it has to be one way or the other, science or religion,” Jean offered. “Sometimes science makes more sense than superstition: the random wrath of gods and demons, angels and devils. And sometimes human beings need to believe in something more: mysteries we can’t comprehend and puzzles we can’t solve. Maybe even a benevolent higher power directing everything.”
Scott gave a shrug. “Maybe society does need that, but maybe it’s a way to keep ourselves from behaving as gods. We rely on religion for setting universal moral limits apart from the changing laws of man.”
“Do you believe mutation is a gift,” Jean countered, “of God, nature, fate, whatever?”
“I believe it’s a part of us, not a definition of us,” Scott answered carefully. “Why, or how, or if there is a greater purpose, I don’t know. Gift or curse, I think we decide that part for ourselves more than any god does. But I think the same rule holds true for everything else in life, not just mutation. There’s good and bad, and things beyond our control. Life is full of gifts and curses. We define ourselves by how we chose to react to them.”
“But you believe your life has a purpose. How do you know it wasn’t meant to be this way all along? A divine plan.”
“Maybe it was.” He paused for a moment. “But if there is a god, he’s taken his hands completely off the wheel.”
Jean laughed at his turn of phrase.
“I’m not trying to be flippant about it. But if god created man, as part of the arrangement he gave his creation free will, the ability to reason, and the ability to recognize right from wrong. At that point god stepped back to see what would happen, what his creation would make of its own god-given destiny. For much of human history, what happened hasn’t been pleasant. But god allows it. Otherwise, his creation wouldn’t really have free will.”
“So God’s function in the universe is, what?”
“To inspire, to guide, to give his creation hope and comfort. If faith helps people to cope with hardship, helps them to live better lives, then it’s a good thing, no matter which faith they believe in. But there is also a lot of misuse of faith, as easy justification for everything from war and conquest to social discrimination and oppression.”
“But that’s not God, so much as how we interpret God,” Jean argued.
Scott smiled, enjoying the impromptu debate.
“That’s our problem, exactly. We interpret the teachings of faith and we call our own interpretations divine will, infallible. What if we’re completely missing the point of the teaching, or ignoring another contradictory teaching? We’ve chosen to focus on the part that suits our purpose, not god’s.”
Jean nodded, understanding his meaning. “By its very nature, God’s purpose is unknowable, or perhaps incomprehensible. But it’s hard to argue against the ‘word of God’, even if you see that it’s being distorted for unjust ends.”
“Add in the fact that true believers are often taught that to question any aspect of their faith – and by extension their religious leaders, who are still flawed human beings like the rest of us – leads to the eternal damnation of their immortal souls. Mix in a few fanatics willing to die or kill in order to prove their allegiance to their particular religious causes... and I’m not certain we even have free will anymore. It’s been corrupted into a system of forced obedience, decision-making held hostage by fear and extremism.”
Scott paused. “I think that’s the breaking point for me. You can’t simultaneously ask a person to believe while you threaten them with punishment for disbelief. The two are incompatible, faith and fear. Yet many religions rely excessively on fearful obedience, upholding that as a good thing: to be ‘god-fearing’.”
Jean shook her head, smiling at him. “You don’t have a problem with faith, Scott, or even with God. You have a problem believing people. You’re a skeptic.”
Scott laughed. “I won’t argue that, with or without invoking god.” He paused again. “But, before this place, I didn’t believe in anybody. So I’m getting better about that, slowly.”
“Before you came here you believed in the Bogarts,” Jean suggested carefully.
“For a very short time,” he admitted. “I was only with the Bogarts for one week.” But that week was like nothing he had experienced before it. Scott shook his head in mild frustration, unable to find the proper words. It was very hard for him to explain what the Bogarts had meant to him, especially to Jean, who had spent her entire life surrounded by a loving family.
Jean waited for him to continue. She knew it was still very difficult for Scott to let down his guard and show what he was feeling, much less talk about it, even to his closest friends. And Scott so rarely talked about his past. It was like there was a part of his life, parts of himself, that he preferred simply to leave in the shadows. Jean had never understood why that was. Scott was usually fiercely determined to face his reality head-on.
“Don’t get me wrong,” he added. “This place is the only home I’ve ever known, and you guys are the only family I can remember having.” But for a short time, the Bogarts had filled that empty space in a way that nothing else in his life ever had.
Richard and Trisha Bogart had made a very strong impression on the troubled fifteen-year-old boy they had tried to help. Even while being careful to maintain a distance, an objectivity toward the fact that the boy they had taken in was a con artist and a thief, they were still parents and they could not entirely keep themselves from treating Scott the same way they would have treated one of their own grown sons.
“They never even really made a commitment to me,” he admitted softly, like that fact still pained him. “Even if they hadn’t died, I know it wouldn’t have lasted. The professor’s the only person in this world who’s ever given me something that lasted – something even more than it was supposed to be. But for a while there...” Scott trailed away, leaving hopeful possibilities unsaid. It was the kind of wondrous hope only felt by someone who had previously given up on hope as something unrealistic, too disappointing and too painful an exercise to be continued.
Jean felt her eyes sting with tears. She had never understood why Scott hated to talk about the past... but in that moment she did understand it. It was too painful for him to look back. And she hated that. Scott expended so much energy stubbornly refusing to give in to the past and its pain. But burying the pain didn’t make it go away. It was still there, and it still hurt.
He didn’t know why he was telling her these things when he hated to talk about them in the first place, and it hurt her to hear them... except that he wanted her to understand. That was something he had never felt before. Scott had always insisted on keeping his thoughts to himself and keeping his emotions tightly under wraps. He’d always had to do those things; it hadn’t been safe to let anyone in. He knew that simply wasn’t true anymore, and it was still hard to break the old habits that had protected him for so long. Yes, keeping everyone at a distance was the smarter play. It protected him emotionally, while it protected everyone around him physically. But there were times when he felt completely exhausted, just from being on guard all the time.
That was when he felt Jean’s hand on his. Before he had time to reign in his thoughts or to try to compose himself he was distracted by the way her hand didn’t just rest over his; her fingers curled, intertwining through his, and it felt like warmth, almost electricity, spreading from the tip of his fingers up toward his shoulder. It almost reminded him of when the pain had been at its worst in his broken arm, except this fire was more like a tingling warmth instead of a burning pain. It radiated through him, from the palm of her hand gently pressed to the top of his hand. And after a second Scott gently interlaced his fingers with hers.
When he had told this story before he’d deliberately left out the worst parts; he hadn’t felt able to tell anyone the worst of it. He didn’t know what had changed since then, why he felt better able to say those things to Jean now. He just knew that he didn’t need to hide anymore, and he didn’t want to hide anything from her; it felt safe for her to know. Somehow, despite all the pain it caused, it also felt natural to tell her. Scott sighed helplessly. Just one more thing he didn’t understand about himself when Jean was near him.
He closed his eyes and let the memories rush over him for a couple of seconds.
“I couldn’t stop everything from going bad after that. Jack was determined to get–” Scott shook his head, “whatever he thought he had coming to him. But the Bogarts resisted. Jack thought he could use me as a hostage. He pulled a gun, intending to rob them.”
Scott shook his head. “I always knew Jack was– volatile, but I never thought him homicidal. That was just a part of what Jack did– he bullied, he beat, he threatened. He would lean on people, as hard as he had to, to get what he wanted from them. I was the flip side of that equation. I worked with the marks, tried to get them to cooperate....” Scott’s voice trailed off as he returned his attention to what had happened with the Bogarts.
“I had never seen Jack pull a gun on anybody. That scared me. But I never imagined he would try anything beyond intimidation and robbery. I just wanted to diffuse the situation enough to get Jack out of there, let him take what he wanted and just go. I didn’t want to risk their getting hurt. But the Bogarts, they tried to help me. They tried to get me away from Jack instead of just cooperating with him, and Jack– he shot them, in cold blood.”
“Scott–” For a second Jean couldn’t catch her breath. When Scott had told them this story before, they had assumed his optic blasts had caused the Bogarts’ deaths. Scott had let them assume that.
He remained silent until Jean spoke.
“Scott, you didn’t know that was going to happen,” she said softly. “There was nothing more you could have done to stop it.”
He nodded slightly, acceptance.
Jean offered a grim smile. That was very much like Scott. He saw things very clearly, exactly as they were, without ever losing the ability to see things as they should have been. Sure, technically, it wasn’t his fault. He’d never wanted them to be hurt. He certainly hadn’t pulled the trigger. But he would always blame himself for putting them in danger with his presence, for not giving up the one bright spot in his existence before he’d seen it destroyed. Scott knew that if he could have walked away, those good people would still be alive.
“Fault. Responsibility. Control. Doesn’t really matter what you call it. Not for them, anyway. It doesn’t matter why. It doesn’t mater how. Dead is still dead.”
Scott lowered his head. “After that, it felt like everything in me just– exploded. All those headaches I’d been having, all of that pain, then the shock and the horror of seeing Winters– murder those good people for absolutely no reason. It just piled up until there was too much to keep in.”
“The trauma triggered your optic blasts,” she whispered.
Scott nodded and fell silent again.
“So... what did you do after that?” She realized she’d never really asked him about the practicalities of his life before he got the glasses. She already knew most of the facts about Scott’s mutation and how it had manifested, but she’d learned those things from Hank, as part of a discussion about mutation. That was very different from simply asking Scott how he’d survived between the time his blasts had manifested and when Xavier had found him. “What happened when...” Jean prompted hesitantly, hiding the question.
“I didn’t,” he answered. “I learned that day that I never want anyone else to die because of me.” He motioned to his glasses. “It wasn’t a choice. I didn’t open my eyes at all after that.”
“So that’s when the professor found you.”
“After that,” he agreed.
Now he was calm and collected, objective. Speaking very deliberately.
She read between the lines. “How long after?” Jean had learned that with Scott you had to ask the right questions. Otherwise, he told the truth, but he strictly limited himself to the absolute minimum of what he thought you needed to know.
“He tried contacting me telepathically, but I was running scared. I didn’t want to listen, and he didn’t force it. I just ran, and kept running. I doubted I’d ever see again,” he explained quietly. “I was afraid I’d be blind for the rest of my life, but I was scared to death of what would happen if I did open my eyes. My head hurt so bad I could hardly think straight. But the worst was not understanding what I was, or why, and knowing that if I slipped and opened my eyes... well, you know,” he trailed off softly.
“Yeah, I know,” she agreed. Not only did she understand his conflict over the harm he knew he could inadvertently cause with optic blasts that were beyond his control, she also understood something about coming into mutant powers she didn’t understand, couldn’t control, and fearing the harm that she could inadvertently do. Jean shivered. That didn’t even begin to touch on the experience of seeing death.
“The professor just kept tracking me until he finally caught up with me. He got me out of police custody and he brought me here.”
Jean shook her head slightly. She didn’t want to ask how Xavier had managed to convince the local police that Scott was innocent of the Bogarts’ killing.
“You lived like that, unable to open your eyes, for months.” Her gaze had inadvertently fallen back to the still monitor screen.
Scott nodded. He could sense the question she didn’t know how to ask, why he would have been in police custody in the first place. Strangely, it bothered him more now than it had before. Two months ago, he hadn’t minded letting Jean and Ororo assume him guilty of manslaughter. He hadn’t done it, but he very easily could have. That no longer seemed like the important part of the story to him.
“For two and a half months. I actually used to sleep exactly that way, that summer, before the glasses.” He finally smiled at her speechless shock. “Believe me, if I’d known at the time it was only going to be a couple of months, that would have been amazing news.”
She knew what his eyes could do; she’d seen it for herself and Jean hadn’t flinched, hadn’t faltered. Just the opposite; Jean had been the one pushing him to act in spite of his fears. But that had been yesterday. Now they’d all had time to process what had happened to them in the Danger Room, good and bad. At the moment Scott didn’t want to push Jean away for her own safety, nor was he worried about her feeling sorry for him. What he wanted right now was for her not to be afraid – not of him, not of his mutation, not of her own mutation.
Jean shuddered. “I can’t imagine.”
She didn’t like seeing Scott so vulnerable, unable to stop his optic blasts except through his own blindness, which he hated intensely – but he still chose that. His own flesh and blood and bone became a shield from the destruction his eyes unleashed. He chose that over the possibility of doing anyone else harm. That cut her to the bone, but at the same time she admired him for it. When action was needed Scott was fearless, and he put others first. His single-minded determination in the face of danger– as far as Jean was concerned, that was the definition of bravery.
“I think maybe you can,” Scott countered. He understood that both of them were dealing with more power than they could control right now. What they did next, knowing that, was very important.
Jean gave him a puzzled look.
“Right or wrong, I blamed myself for what happened. Jack, the Bogarts, my eyes, everything. I know now, it wasn’t my fault. But I thought if I could keep running, keep hiding, then no one else would ever get hurt because I couldn’t control the blasts.”
“Scott–” Jean was beginning to see where he was going with this, and it was a conversation she really didn’t want to have.
“I know you can do more,” he persisted. “I’ve seen it, Jean. And I get that you don’t want to do harm. I think that’s why you like medicine so much, and why you’re so good at it. It’s proactive, and it lets you keep your focus on others, on helping people, on healing what’s physically wrong. But maybe that also keeps the focus off of things that can go wrong mentally.”
“Make your point, Scott,” she challenged him.
“My point is, turn and face it. Learn to control it. Then you don’t have to keep running.”
“No offense, Scott, but you are the most massive control freak I know.”
“I know that,” he conceded. “But, if you’ll remember, you also told me I was good at understanding what motivated people,” he added, repressing a smile, because he knew she was partly teasing him about his control issues. But he also knew better than to ignore the familiar biting tone to her voice, a warning for him not to push her too hard over her own issues.
“And trying to control things you can’t possibly control? That’s not healthy, you know.”
He nodded. “But it’s not just control for the sake of having control.” There was a moment where he registered the fact that her fingers were still curled around his, and he gave her fingers a squeeze. “I don’t want fear over what can go wrong to hold you back.”
She shook her head, looking away. But her hand tightened on his in response. “It’s completely different for me, Scott. Worst case scenario, even when you didn’t have control, you knew what to do. You still had options. I don’t. I’m still trying to find my limits. The more I do, the more I can do. I haven’t even scraped the bottom yet, and that’s scary. That terror you felt without your glasses, the lack of control, with all the worst possibilities spinning through your mind– that’s my everyday normal, every time I open my mind, and it is paralyzing.”
Scott sighed helplessly, but he stayed stubbornly on topic. “All the more reason not to stay in that place.
Jean nodded, but he got the feeling he hadn’t really gotten through to her.
“This–” he motioned to the screen. “Always scared. Always on defense. This is no way to live. I know it’s easier said than done, and in a lot of ways I know I’m very lucky. Yes, the glasses give me a back up plan. And the lack of control, as much as I hate it, it gives me the push I need to face this. I’m not content to settle for hoping I can just– move through life limiting the damage I can do.”
Jean nodded, not so much in agreement, but because she understood why he felt the way he did, Scott and Ororo both. They believed in facing obstacles head on. Like Ororo, Scott didn’t want to be shielded from the truth. The optic blasts couldn’t be controlled; they had to be contained. He preferred constant awareness of that fact to figurative or literal blindness. And he would readily accept the burden of remaining constantly aware of the threat he inadvertently posed – to everyone around him, every moment of his life – if that meant he could keep the people around him safe.
Jean frowned at that realization. “I know you’d give anything just to be able to control your mutation. So I get how my reluctance to take control over my own mutation must drive you a little crazy.”
Scott repressed a mischievous smile. “Well, that would turn the tables nicely, wouldn’t it,” he teased her, “something about the Marvelous Girl Marvel driving Fearless Leader Cyclops crazy for a change.” She shook her head at him, but she didn’t rise to his joke. Instead she answered very softly, keeping her eyes on the still screen.
“What if the alternative isn’t any better, Scott? What if I open my mind and– I can’t close that door behind me. What if it’s like your glasses are off all the time?”
“I know you’re right about me being a control freak. I’ve been trying to control things that were beyond my control all my life... and blaming myself when that didn’t work. But this is different, Jean. You’re forgetting one thing. I am the way I am because of a random head injury. You– you are exactly what you’re supposed to be, and I refuse to believe you would ever back down and let this beat you; you’re too damn stubborn for your own good, just like I am.”
That made her laugh, and her laughter encouraged him to keep going.
“I want something positive to come out of all this. I want to make something positive out of my mutation, my life. But it can’t stop with just me. I want that for all of us, and for everyone like us. Yes, that means taking risks that, sometimes, I wish I didn’t have to take. But risk is not necessarily a bad thing. You have more options when you’re playing offense than you do when you’re playing defense.”
“Okay, okay, I get it,” Jean grumbled, letting go of his hand to give his shoulder a playful shove. “You can stop Cyclops-ing me already.”
Scott laughed, and they sat silently for a few moments before he spoke again.
“It’s also different for me now because I’m finding things I actually can control, and I have people I trust to tell me if I’m out of line, to let me know when I need to step it back. You guys are my limits, checks and balances on what I should expect from myself. If I’m going too far, or not far enough. And I know you’ll tell me the truth even if I don’t like it, even when I don’t want to hear it. I don’t know how to thank you for that. So I just hope I can return the favor.”
“Scott. I don’t want to be afraid... but I am. Sometimes I’m afraid it’s too much power. What if it’s more than I can handle?”
After a moment he motioned to the screen. “If I had known that was going to happen in there, it would have paralyzed me. I would never have stepped foot inside that room yesterday. I still wish it hadn’t happened. But– I have to push through it. It’s like Ororo said, knowing is better than not knowing. We have to find ways to move forward in spite of our fears. So I’m going to sit here, and study the footage, and learn from my mistakes, do my best to make sure that doesn’t happen again.”
“We.” Jean looked up at him. “We’re gonna push through it. Make sure our mistakes don’t happen again.”
“Right.” Scott smiled. “Thanks, Jean.”
Jean nodded. “Of course. Just– don’t Cyclops me. And I still don’t know about ‘Marvel Girl’, Marvelous or otherwise.”
“Deal.” Scott laughed quietly. “What about ‘Jeannie’?”
“That’s my actual name, Scott.”
“Yes, but it’s also a play on words because your telekinesis–”
“Yes, because I’m an all-powerful genie with the mind-reading and the levitating things, I get it. But it’d be like us calling you ‘Summer’.” Jean giggled suddenly. “What about ‘Mr. Summers-time’? It could be a catch-phase too.”
Scott leaned forward and hit the play button, resuming the footage.
Jean was still giggling.
“You’re right,” he admitted. “That’s awful.”
A short time later Scott knocked on the door to Charles Xavier’s office.
“Come in, Scott.”
Scott took a couple of steps inside, standing across the desk from the professor.
“Ororo was released from the infirmary earlier this afternoon. Hank’s given her a clean bill of health. We’ll be back in the Danger Room starting tomorrow morning,” Scott concluded.
Xavier nodded slowly, appraisal and approval. “I was hard on you, Scott,” Xavier noted a moment later, and the two studied each other silently. “That won’t change.”
Scott nodded. “I can take it,” he answered evenly. “I stand by what I said, though. You should have stopped the session sooner.”
Xavier nodded. “And I stand by my reasons for not stopping it.” He raised his hands in a gesture that acknowledged the impasse.
Scott came the rest of the way inside and sat down. They could disagree without making this personal. It was about the good of the team, not about either of their egos. “Hank has a few ideas he believes will help Ororo as she begins working to overcome her claustrophobia.”
Xavier nodded. “He mentioned immersion therapy.”
Scott shrugged. “I’m no psychiatrist, but it makes sense to me.”
Xavier smiled tightly. “Something very similar helped you.”
Scott nodded. “A controlled environment can help build up resistance.” He had once spent hours sitting in a simulated cockpit at the Omaha Air and Space Museum, until the experience of flight didn’t scare him anymore. However, Scott also knew simulation wasn’t the real thing. His first time up again in an actual plane had proven that to him. “But there’s no substitute for the experience of facing the thing you fear in real life, and knowing it’s real.”
“Once something has almost killed you – or killed people that you love – you would be a fool not to fear that thing,” Xavier conceded.
“But you can make a choice not to let the fear control you,” Scott argued, “to keep fighting your instincts until you gradually master your fear – at least enough to keep yourself functioning through it. Ororo has made that choice.”
“Yes, she has,” Xavier acknowledged, pleased to hear Scott continuing to defend his teammate. “We cannot allow our weaknesses to overpower our strengths. After all, we all have weaknesses.”
Scott smiled. “That’s what Jean said to me.”
“And what you two said to Ororo, so I hear,” Professor Xavier countered.
Scott only gave a nod. He found himself remembering an earlier conversation with Xavier: Do you think she’s going to continue to need that kind of help? Scott had learned since then that he couldn’t afford to overlook his team’s weaknesses or miss seeing their vulnerabilities.
“Ororo’s claustrophobia worries me, but I feel confident we can overcome that. The challenge will be a personally difficult one for Ororo, but for the team – we can face it much like any other challenge. It’s a limitation that can be overcome with time and with training. Honestly? It’s Jean whom I can’t understand. Everyone struggles with their powers, but Jean– Jean hesitates, deliberately. She’s more uncertain than any of us, yet when she acts – without restraint, without hesitation – she’s stronger than all of us put together.”
“Jean doesn’t possess your sense of overriding conviction, Scott.” Xavier held up one hand before Scott could protest. “There’s no questioning her strength or her determination. She simply doesn’t commit to an ideal, Jean commits to people. It’s what makes her a passionate friend, it will cause her to excel as a doctor. And she will succeed on the team because she’d move heaven and earth for her team members, her friends. But part of herself she always holds in reserve.”
Scott shook his head. “That’s exactly what I don’t understand. Jean seems almost determined to avoid using the gifts she possesses. Why should she be?”
“But she does use her gifts, and she has used them to the fullest of her ability, Scott, twice now. Against Winters, when you were in danger. And again, in the Danger Room, when Storm needed her help. Her abilities are a part of herself that Jean has to be comfortable using, and it’s not in her simply to hone her skills for the challenge of their own mastery, the way you and Ororo have done.”
“So, she tends to avoid using her powers to their fullest – until she has no other option. And, when that happens, she can’t always control them. If I had asked her to do what she did in the Danger Room yesterday, she would have balked.”
“But you didn’t ask.”
Scott bit back a laugh. “Of course not. I had no reason to think that knocking out the entire Danger Room with a psychic blast was something Jean would be capable of.”
Xavier smiled knowingly. “Nor would have Jean.”
“I would have assumed either Jean was not that powerful or she would be unable control it.”
“You would have been correct on the second count. I don’t believe completely disabling the room was Jean’s conscious intention. What she wanted was to disable the force fields that were holding you three captive. She didn’t anticipate the physical force of her shock wave, nor the physical damage done to the room. Much like her instinctive reaction during the fight against Jack’O Diamonds, her overreaction proved both helpful and harmful.”
“How then?” Scott challenged. “How does she learn to trust herself enough to use those powers when it’s not an emergency situation? How does she get there when her preference is not to push her limits? How do I get her there, as her team leader, when I don’t know how much I can push her forward, and when she already resents my pushing her?”
Professor Xavier fell quiet for a moment. Scott was obviously frustrated by this impasse.
“I don’t have any easy answers for you, Scott. Only Jean can determine how best to use those gifts. The problem, or perhaps the complication, rests in the fact that Jean possesses great strengths– far greater than she yet realizes. Remember that I understand what Jean is facing. For yourself and Ororo, the process of discovering what you are capable of is more straightforward; your physical limitations are more well-defined. The same is not necessarily true with psychic abilities. They can be like opening Pandora’s Box, and given Jean’s particular combination of telepathic and telekinetic skills... her limitations are dependent greatly upon her own motivation, and perhaps little else.”
“But isn’t that the whole reason why we’re here, Professor, to learn what we’re capable of?” Scott argued passionately.
“That’s a fair question, Scott.” Xavier had to smile. It simply wasn’t in his nature be passive; Scott would always push forward. “Yes. Learning to use and properly control our gifts is a vital part of our growth as mutants. But even more important than understanding what we can do, is learning what we should do. You know that.”
Scott nodded. “Yes, sir. But the question still stands. How can you decide what you should do if you don’t know what you’re capable of doing? Before yesterday, I would never have asked Jean to knock out the Danger Room’s operating systems, and I would never have expected Jean to lift and hold a massive concrete block while Ororo and I were underneath it; if she had wanted to try that, I’d have told her it was too great a risk. But Jean proved me wrong. On both counts, she acted without hesitation and without doubt. She did what was necessary.”
“She carried out those tasks on sheer force of will, and I daresay Jean would be unable to repeat them on demand.”
“This doesn’t surprise you,” Scott stated.
“No,” the professor admitted. “Jean has been consistent in that. When her action is needed, she doesn’t hesitate to use her gifts to the fullest of her ability. Learning to make that commitment and trusting herself to act on it is perhaps the most important part her education.”
Scott only nodded, but Xavier’s words gave him a cold chill. In that moment Scott fully understood that Xavier had put Jean into precisely that position for precisely that purpose. And he had continued to pursue those ends, despite the distress it had been causing Jean for months now, despite the distress it had caused Ororo in the Danger Room yesterday.
“Is that all, sir?”
“For now, yes. I’ll meet you in Tactical tomorrow morning, early, before the team trains. I’ll expect your analysis of the team’s performance from yesterday’s session, as well as a structured plan moving forward.”
Scott nodded. “Actually, I– we– started going over the footage today. I’ll have a plan ready.”
Xavier raised one eyebrow, both surprised and impressed. “Very well.”
Scott left the room more certain than ever that Xavier was not the open book Scott had once thought him to be. Scott deeply respected Charles Xavier. He owed Xavier a debt of gratitude that he would never forget and could never repay, but Scott also knew better than to trust anyone blindly.
Xavier knew much more than he shared with Scott and the others, he had shown that he would keep his own council when that suited him, and he would continue to pursue his own agendas regardless of whether or not he shared information with those it affected. Despite Xavier’s repeated professions that he would protect them, he had shown with Ororo and with Jean that he would do what he thought was best for them, and best for the team as a whole in the long term... even if that meant trampling their individual well-being in the present.
As he turned to go, Scott noticed that the crystal which had been sitting on Xavier’s desk since Scott and the rest of the team had retrieved it from the mountain cliffs above the caverns, two months ago, was now gone.
That night’s dinner table discussion revolved around Hank and Scott’s progress in exploring and mapping the network of caverns underlying the Xavier Institute grounds. Scott estimated they had nearly all of the caverns mapped out on paper, and Hank was excited about a program he was working on to translate that two-dimensional map into a life-size simulation for the Danger Room.
Jean was missing Ororo’s company. Ororo had decided to take her dinner outside on her rooftop patio, surrounded by her garden. Warren had gone up there, cheerfully declaring he didn’t know if winged food delivery classified as room service or air mail. Jean was increasingly tempted to join them. She tried changing the topic of conversation instead.
“Scott, Ororo, and I were exploring down by the lake earlier and we saw an inscription over the door of the old boat house.” They all knew the history of the Victorian-era Xavier mansion, built on the shores of Breakstone Lake in the late 1700's. But according to the inscription, the boat house had been built a good century later. “Do you know who lived there, Professor?” Jean asked.
“Ah yes, I had forgotten about that inscription,” Xavier confessed. “My grandfather was just a boy when the boat house was built, but I know the story well. Actually, it’s quite the tragic tale. Old Spencer (people had nicknamed him Spencer the spinster) kept grounds here for the better part of fifty years, since he was a small child working alongside his father. Rather late in life, Spencer finally got around to marriage, and he married a lovely young bride. Spence was a simple man, he had little to give his new bride, so instead he insisted on building her a proper home with his own two hands. So the house was built, the two married, and they lived happily at the boat house for some time before they came to expect a child. Sadly, mother and child were both lost in childbirth. Spencer left quite suddenly after the funeral. Some women from the local church came to bring him dinner and found his note of resignation. It simply stated that he couldn’t bear to live in this place without her, so he was leaving.”
A sad silence fell. Scott waited, but when the story didn’t continue he blurted, “So no one used the place after that?”
Jean glared at him.
“Oh c’mon,” he deflected her anger, “I mean, yeah, it’s sad, and I feel for the guy, but that was a long time ago.”
She planted her hands on her hips. “Do you always have to be so practical?”
“Yes. This is real life, not Romeo and Juliet.”
The adults grinned at their characteristic bickering.
“We were just there, Professor. You’d never think the place had been standing for more than three quarters of a century, and hardly a broken board to show for it. The craftsmanship is amazing.”
“Craftsmanship you appreciate. Romance is lost on you.”
Professor Xavier smiled. “I think you’ll appreciate this last bit of the story, Jean. About six months passed before the household finally conceded that old Spence wasn’t coming back and hired a new groundskeeper. The new groundskeeper quit after a month. The next groundskeeper lasted two weeks and gave no reason for quitting except to say that he couldn’t sleep. The third groundskeeper finally fled to the main house in the night, telling tales of a woman with swaddling child prowling the docks outside his window.”
Jean’s mouth fell open. “She was looking for her husband.” Jean turned triumphantly back to Scott, who was unimpressed.
“A ghost story, Jean?”
“Scott Summers–” she crossed her arms and huffed in frustration, giving him up as a lost cause.
“If anything save the immortal soul be freed the cords of death, may it be true love that comes to conquer the grave’s decay,” expounded Hank.
“Hank, that’s beautiful,” Jean whispered, and she kissed his cheek affectionately before she strode briskly from the room, wiping her eyes as she went.
Scott frowned as he watched her hasty exit. Jean was as tough as nails. He had seen her face down a homicidal mutant, saving his life in the process. Then, with hardly a second thought she’d helped Hank cut him open and stitch him back together. Knowing all that, he found it hard to believe she would get weepy over a sad story and a bit of poetry.
The professor chuckled at his obvious confusion. “Don’t worry, Scott. For most of us mere mortals, romance, like poetry,” he lifted his eyebrows toward Hank, “is an acquired trait.”
“And well worth the time taken to acquire it,” Hank pointed out.
Xavier readily agreed, and dinner conversation resumed normally.
Scott was still trying to figure out why a glorified ghost story would bring Jean Grey to tears.
The door to her dorm room was standing open, but Jean Grey wasn’t necessarily expecting visitors. At the moment Jean was seated at her desk but staring idly out a window overlooking the grounds, watching Breakstone Lake off in the distance.
Charles Xavier smiled. “May I come in?”
“Sure, of course.” Jean looked at him a little sheepishly. “I’m sorry for storming away after dinner.”
“It’s alright.” He wheeled himself inside. “But I thought it was probably time we had a talk.”
Jean shook her head. “I know I shouldn’t have lost my temper. Scott– just manages to push all of my buttons sometimes.” She managed an exasperated laugh over that fact.
Xavier suppressed a smile of his own. Despite the push and pull of their near-constant bickering, Jean and Scott were good influences on one another. He had a long-held theory that Jean and Scott were mirror reflections of each another. Both were self-contained, and constantly struggling for self-control. Jean pushed her focus outward in reaction to psychic powers that made her mind feel less and less her own. Scott focused himself inward in an effort to rigidly contain the impact of optic blasts that, if left unchecked even for a moment, would devastate everything around him.
Jean was just as afraid as Scott was of her own capacity to do harm with her powers, but it was not in her to self-isolate or withdraw. As a result, Jean (with Ororo’s help) had pushed Scott out into the world, into human interaction that he would otherwise avoid. Scott, as Cyclops, would push the both of them past their uncertainties, insist that they be all they could be. Scott had a leader’s capacity for building people up, and he believed in Jean and Ororo just as fully as they believed in him. Jean and Ororo would make sure Scott didn’t get left behind while Cyclops was pushing the rest of them forward.
“Scott prefers to place his focus on what lies squarely in front of him.”
Not that Scott wasn’t an apt pupil at more abstract matters: logic and philosophy, as well as literature, when he applied himself to those things; he just attacked those subjects with same sensibilities as The Art of War. But Scott liked to solve puzzles, and strategy naturally made sense to him. Whereas people presented far more illogical and incomprehensible puzzles.
When he was faced with a problem he didn’t have a solution for, Scott set himself with concrete tasks that he could work his way through. Ororo would retreat into the comfort of nature to recharge and refocus herself. Jean would escape into books. Ironically, books were a way of coping with the voices in her head, a non-invasive version of living other people’s lives, hearing their thoughts. In a strange way, it normalized what she was experiencing. Xavier understood that as well. He had relied upon the same escape as a child. It was part of the reason why he had amassed a huge library over his lifetime.
That knowledge also explained why Jean had gravitated toward Hank during her time as a student. Hank allowed her to focus on academics whereas Xavier reminded Jean more directly of the abilities that had brought her here in the first place, in all of their uncomfortable complexities. It was in that shared language of other lives that Xavier chose to speak to her now. He rolled across the room and gingerly removed The Once and Future King from its resting place on the dresser.
“But it’s not Scott that I wanted to talk to you about.”
Jean noticed his focus on the novel. “I’ve been meaning to return that book to you.”
Xavier turned to face her. “What did you think of it?”
“Is this how you see us all turning out: harnessing our potentially destructive Might for the cause of Right? Merlin’s X-Men as Knights of the Round Table?”
Xavier gave a cautious smile. “How I hope to see myself, perhaps: the wise guide and teacher who leads you all to great deeds. Hopefully wise,” Xavier amended, “but far from clairvoyant. Did you see yourself and your teammates as knights, setting forth to do great deeds?”
“I don’t know if I’m ready for great deeds. I’m still daydreaming about normal deeds.” Jean laughed, shaking her head. “I know I probably should have given up on that by now, but I can’t seem to let it go.”
“Do you think I’m being foolish, clinging to daydreams?” Jean asked pointedly.
“Not at all.” Jean was seemingly the most well-adjusted of his three students, as far as having had the benefits of a stable, loving family and a relatively normal childhood, which Scott and Ororo had lacked. But Xavier knew appearances could be deceiving. “Our dreams are what define us, and they have the power to change the world.”
Despite her affectations of normalcy, Jean had faced her own set of dire formative circumstances. She had emerged from those struggles headstrong, stubbornly defiant, and unafraid to challenge authority; she had carried that set of traits since she was a child. And, when it came to finding her way in the world as a young adult – daydreams or not – Jean would never be content simply to blend in or to go with the flow.
“It’s not your future expectations that are at fault, Jean, but the world we live in. The problem being that we have to walk a line between both sides. Your focus can’t rest wholly on being a mutant any more than it can manage to ignore the fact that you are a mutant. It’s important that you pursue goals in the outside world; we would accomplish nothing by cloistering ourselves away here. But we cannot afford to neglect our unique perspective on the outside world.
“A day will come when the world will see us for what we are. What we do now, what we build now, has the power to define that future day. Everything we do will help determine if that day will be a good day: an exciting, hopeful day, or a tragic day: a day of fearful panic and senseless aggression.”
“When I first came here, all I wanted was to make the voices stop. Now I’m training to be an X-Man. Some days I, honest to God, don’t know what I want anymore. Yesterday... when I felt Ororo’s fear and panic....” Jean shuddered. “I had to help her. That was the only thing that mattered. Now that I’ve had time to think about what I did – everything I did, good and bad – it scares me. Professor. What if I don’t want these powers?”
“I think you know the answer to that question, Jean. You can make the voices stop now.”
Jean nodded. “But the powers will always be a part of me, whether I want them or not. Professor– in the Danger Room– Why didn’t you just pull Ororo back?”
Xavier smiled. “I wondered when you would ask me that.”
“I wanted to ask it then. But Ororo was alright once we got her out from there, and–”
“And that would have brought up things you didn’t want the others to know.”
Jean looked at him, unflinching. “You and I both know you could have done that. You could have brought her mind back. Why didn’t you?”
“Because it wasn’t necessary,” he said softly. “This dissociative event was something created by Ororo’s own mind. It was traumatic, but it was also her means of self-defense. She didn’t need my intervention to help her, she merely needed time to allow her mind to reemerge from its protective state.”
“But even now, you can do more to help her,” Jean persisted.
“Yes, I can, but that decision is Ororo’s to make, not mine. She is independent and self-sufficient, and for now she is more comfortable sorting through this trauma on her own, at her own pace. I have to allow her that.”
“I don’t understand,” Jean confessed, and with a shred of anger. “There was none of this self-reliance trip with me.”
“You were ten years old at the time, and struggling with the emergence of gifts that would have been difficult for you to learn to control under any circumstances. Under your specific set of circumstances, they were dangerous. I had no choice but to intervene.” He hesitated. “Frankly, I thought you had always been grateful for that intervention.”
Jean shut her eyes. “I was. I am. But now, things are changing so fast, I feel like I can’t keep up, and I don’t know how much of that is me and how much–”
“Your gifts are your own, Jean,” Xavier whispered. “They always have been. And you will learn to master them in your own time, when you are ready shoulder that weight and to accept that responsibility. Whether they are a gift or a burden to you, in many ways, that decision is your own as well.”
Jean laughed. “Scott said that too. Are you two comparing notes?”
“Drawing on common experience, perhaps,” he conceded with a smile. “Earlier tonight, I told you the story of the boat house’s first two inhabitants, but not the second two.”
Jean listened curiously.
“The boat house’s second inhabitants were myself and a lady named Amelia Voght. Amelia was a nurse, and it’s not an exaggeration to say that she saved my life. Little more than a month before we moved into the boat house, I had been rescued from a rockslide.
“At that point in my life I had come to terms with being a mutant. I’d found a few others like myself. I’d traveled the world and found it an exciting and promising place for mutants, even a playground at times. As a young man I studied ravenously: literature, science, philosophy, sociology, history, art, languages, and I wasn’t above using my telepathy to get ahead in my studies. I justified those actions with my own desperation to get out of high school and away from home, into an environment where I felt I could thrive, at long last. After my admission to Pembroke College I made a deal with myself that I would succeed there strictly on my own merit.”
Xavier came to a pause and smiled. “I thought I had come to terms with the need to use my powers ethically, but that would prove a constant temptation. Nonetheless, I earned my way through Pembroke and into Oxford. I had plans to go into medicine until I met and became friends with Moira Kinross, a fellow student who was already researching genetic mutation. Fascinated by her work, I began to focus on Genetics, Biophysics, World History, Anthropology, Psychology. We were certain our research was going to change the world. Then the war came.
“The Cold War heating up changed our world views. It became clear that in such turbulent political times, mutants could too easily be exploited as weapons. Moira put her research on hold and returned home to her native Scotland. Eventually I learned she had gotten married to an up-and-coming local politician, trying to change the world in a different arena, perhaps.
“I was drafted into the Vietnam War and I fought, for the cause of freedom and democracy, or so I thought. The objectives and the end results of any war are rarely so clear-cut. But during my time in the Army, I also fell in love. She was an aid worker named Gabrielle Haller. Her family had gone into hiding and eventually been liberated from Nazi Germany when she was a child. The family fled to Israel after the Second World War. Her family’s experiences as prisoners and as refugees led her to devote her adult life to helping other refugees of war.
“While still a solider, I was assigned to her security escort. Moved by the work she was doing, I went out of my way to help her, sometimes using my psychic abilities to do so. The war was creating refugees by the thousands. There was never enough food, shelter, or medicine for all of them, and what little they did have access to was too often subject to the corruption of greedy and power-hungry bureaucracies.” He paused to smile once more. “Or so I told myself, at least. A great deal of it was the truth, and we did manage to help a lot of people in need. But it was also true that I liked having that power for myself. I liked having the power to turn the tables on the corrupt, greedy, and power-hungry. And I liked simply being able to play the hero.
“After my service in the Army was up I followed Gabrielle back home to Israel. For a time we were happy, very much in love. We traveled the world helping people. She was close enough to me to suspect that my abilities of persuasion, as she called them, were supernatural. But it was never more than a suspicion. She was happy to chalk what I could do up to coincidence, luck, providence.”
“You never told her you were a mutant?”
“I wanted to, but I lacked the courage. I was on the verge of making that revelation when I asked her to marry me. Unfortunately, my timing left something to be desired. It was April 1975. Saigon. We were working frantically to get people out of the city before it fell to the North Vietnamese. By the time I managed to get her on board a plane headed out of the country, I knew I was never going to see her again....”
He still remembered the look on her face: “Don’t follow me, and don’t try to contact me, Charles,” Gabrielle implored him desperately, pushing his ring back into his hand. Xavier’s fist had clinched around the diamond, even as he released his hold over the mind of the C-141 pilot, allowing him to resume taxiing the plane away.
“She was unable to accept me for what I was. Despite all the good she had seen me do, she saw my mutation as a frightening aberration of nature. A threat to normal people.”
“I won’t sugarcoat it, her rejection was incredibly painful. But I learned a great truth that day. Close-minded people will see what they want to see, despite all evidence to the contrary. They will go to great lengths to avoid facing uncomfortable truths. And there are few truths more uncomfortable than learning that Homo Sapiens are no longer the most advanced form of humanity in the world. When finally, and unexpectedly, confronted with such a truth, it is frightening on a instinctive level. Fight or flight. Gabrielle realized what I was and she ran from me. I never saw her again after that day.”
Jean shook her head. “I don’t understand how anyone can be so close-minded, to turn their backs on someone they loved just because that person is different. It’s horrible.”
“Close-minded doesn’t necessarily mean ‘bad person’. It simply means that people are comfortable within their own established boundaries. We have to push those boundaries in ways that will be non-threatening. We have to strive toward a common fight for acceptance, and not a war for survival. Others will want to make it a battle, and they will push equally hard or harder toward that end: pitting one extreme against the other. We have to hold our ground in the middle, between the two sides, denouncing both willful ignorance and violent aggression.”
“But this was a good person, someone who went out of her way to help others in need, someone you loved, and whom loved you. Weren’t you tempted to just– show her the truth. Prove yourself to her, make her understand that the differences didn’t matter! You were a mutant, but you were still the same person she had loved.”
Xavier nodded. “That is always a temptation, to err on the side of ‘Might for Right’. And the temptation can be especially strong when strong emotions are at play. Love, devotion, even friendship, can prove dangerous without objectivity. It’s easy to lose your focus, lose your head – and this is quite literally true in the case of telepaths. The pain and desperation of heartbreak or betrayal can prove even more treacherous territory to navigate.”
For a moment Jean wondered if that warning was meant specifically for her, and she bristled against the implication. She was well-aware of her tendency to lead with her emotions, especially in comparison to Scott and Ororo, who were more reasoned and measured than emotional in their responses. But Jean refused to believe that love and friendship were dangers to guard against.
“I once had a professor at Oxford who was fond of saying: ‘No one can relax around Dr. Jekyll after they have met Mr. Hyde.’ Once your actions take away another person’s free will – even for their own good, as you perceive it – there is no coming back from that. Not for you, and perhaps more importantly, not for the other person. Do you understand?”
Jean nodded. “I understand.”
“Inaction can sometimes be painfully difficult, but it is often the wiser and more necessary course of action. Over many years, and over the course of many painful missteps, I have learned not to interfere. That is why you must uncover your own abilities at your own pace, that is why Scott had to endure the process of his optic blasts reemerging, and it is why Ororo must learn to master her fears, all without my trying to tweak your minds in ways that would lighten or remove your hardships. I could easily act, intending to help. But I have learned that it is neither wise nor appropriate for me to take those experiences away from you.
“Human beings are curious creatures. We need to make our own mistakes, and create our own hurts. We have to take responsibility for them and learn from them in order to move forward and better ourselves. And though we may well regret our own actions later, we will resent anyone who tries to take our hurts and our mistakes from us. Understand?”
Jean nodded cautiously. “So, what did you do after Gabrielle left?”
“I started over. Traveled the world. At first I was half-heartedly looking for Gabrielle, telling myself that some chance encounter could remind her of what we once felt for one another, and set things right again. But deep in my heart I knew there would be no chance encounters, no going back to the way things were. Then, eventually, I was looking to forget about her. I searched for fellow mutants, sought out local legends, saw new places, had adventures.”
“You didn’t want to go home?”
“No, not at all. I had become quite content with my rootless existence, right up until our traveling party was caught up in an avalanche in a remote part of the Himalayas. We raced down the mountain, seeking safer ground, but were trapped by a rock slide. While the others were relatively unharmed, my legs were crushed under a boulder. I was rescued by another mutant, a friend, who had been traveling with me. He was able to use his own abilities to free me and to clear us a path down the mountain. But his actions had exposed us as mutants. Our guides fled in fear. We narrowly made it down to safety. Though I will confess, my safety wasn’t my highest priority at the time. All I could think about was the fact that even if I made it to safety I would never walk again, and that seemed a fate worse than death.
“Losing the use of my legs is the most difficult thing I have ever faced in my life. It caused me to question everything I thought I knew: my abilities, my purpose, my entire self-worth. I felt like I had accomplished nothing. All of my studies, the war, so much suffering and sacrifice. All of my trying to make a difference in the world. Loving Gabrielle. Nothing. I was lost after that. I had lost the woman I loved, lost the use of my legs, lost any sense of meaning, mission, or purpose.
“Once I was well enough to travel they shipped me home, to a home I’d spent half my childhood trying to escape.” Xavier paused, remembering. His childhood had effectively ended with his father’s death and his mother’s remarriage. His mutant powers had emerged soon thereafter, and there had been no escape for him anywhere after that. “For a man newly confined to a chair, this mansion seemed little more than an elaborate prison.” Xavier smiled a thin smile. “So I chose to stay at the boat house. And Amelia quickly became my lifeline.
“I was lucky to have her. But even as I recovered physically, I became more and more dependent upon her emotionally and psychologically. I fell into something of a reverse Nightingale Syndrome. Still raw from my losses, I was looking for a way to feel whole again. I wanted to believe that my attachment to Amelia – my complete reliance upon her – was grounded in romantic feelings rather than the reality of patient and caregiver. My fantasy quickly became obsessive, deeply unhealthy. I learned the hard way that just because you need someone doesn’t mean they will need you in return. Just the opposite; the more I needed her, the more my need for her pushed her away.
“When it became clear to me that she was going to leave, I made the fatal error of trying to force her to need me in return. I told myself it was for the best, and she would understand that eventually. She would be happy, if only she would stay with me. I told myself I was using my power only to slightly exaggerate what she was really feeling, to bring her true thoughts and emotions to the surface, not to change or control them. But that was a lie. My actions were those of a selfish and desperate man, meant to serve only my own comfort and protection.
“It was a terrible betrayal of trust and a terrible abuse of power. That was the lowest moment of my life. Luckily, I came to my senses enough to realize that what I was doing was horribly wrong, and I relented. I allowed Amelia to leave of her own free will. At the time, it felt like the end of my world. But her leaving put me on a path that would eventually rebuild my own independence. It was out of the ashes of many painful losses that I returned to my family’s home and decided to make it my own. To embrace my heritage and do good with it. I earned an M.D. in Psychiatry, took an Adjunct Professorship at Columbia University. As a result of my slowly rejoining the world, I found myself in a position to later help you.”
Xavier smiled, and Jean smiled back a him.
“And that experience put me on this path, building a school to help young mutants.”
“Professor,” Jean confessed, “there was another reason why I didn’t say anything before– about your decisions toward Ororo. I understand, what you were saying about power and control. When you have the power to do nearly anything, even to control people’s thoughts... it must be impossibly hard to sit back and let people make their own decisions, even their own mistakes.”
“That it is, Jean. But that restraint is absolutely necessary. There are few things in life more essential than free will. Without it we are neither free nor human. I know you sometimes get annoyed with my insistence on reminding you all that the two are inseparable, but our mutant gifts are an indelible piece of who we are: not a weakness, nor a strength, nor a power that comes and goes – far more than that. Truly a gift. But it is a gift very much dependent upon our humanity, our free will. How we use our mutant gifts is often the greatest single determining factor between that gift becoming a blessing or becoming a curse, to us and to everyone around us.
“Power, on the other hand, is a very different thing. I have learned that power is inherently a dangerous thing. The more you use it, the more you are tempted to use it, the more you justify your use of it. One small abuse of power can very quickly become an endless cycle of abuse, regardless of its well-intentioned starting point. That way lies disaster, for us all.”
“That scares me,” Jean confessed, “crossing that line between trying to control my abilities and having too much control over them.”
Xavier smiled. “That fear is very wise, Jean. I’ve also learned, one of the clearest indicators to whether or not you’re on the right track is the council of the people you most trust.”
Jean smiled, remembering her earlier conversation with Scott: his challenging her to face uncomfortable truths. “Even when you don’t like what they have to say?”
Xavier nodded. “Oh, especially then.”
So Let it Be Written Publishing © 2004