Wishes and Shooting Stars
Through Death and Through Life
Through Death and Through Life
(A Homage to Mixed Blessings)
Summary: Scott Summers and Jean Grey look back on their past as they mark the first anniversary of their marriage.
Written in honor of the 50th Anniversary of the X-Men (1963), and the 20th Anniversary of Uncanny X-Men #308 (Mixed Blessings, released Jan. 1994).
Vows are taken from: The Wedding of Jean Grey and Scott Summers, X-Men #30 (The Ties That Bind, released Feb. 1994).
There were times I was lost, and you found me.
There were days which were heavy, and you lightened my heart.
Through it all, since the day when we met, there was you for me, and me for you. That hasn't changed. That will never change.
Through pain and passion, through sorrow and hope, through death and through life. No matter what tomorrow may bring, we will face it together.
Through Death and Through Life
Boathouse. Xavier Institute.
Before she even opened her eyes Jean was smiling. She smelled roses. Scott had left a single red rose on her pillow. She lifted her gaze to the nightstand beside their bed. Without pausing to count them, she knew the other eleven long stem roses were standing there. She knew that because she knew Scott. Of course there would be one rose for each of the twelve months since she and Scott had gotten married. She had figured out a long time ago that Scott was never going to be spontaneously romantic, but he was very good at being what she liked to think of as practically romantic.
Jean held up the single rose, smiling as she inhaled its sweet scent, and she reached out telepathically.
~Good morning, husband mine.~
Scott smiled at her greeting. She felt his mind light up with joy at feeling her presence.
~Good morning, my beautiful wife. I hope you’re hungry.~
Jean laughed. ~Starving.~
A few minutes later he had brought up a plate of french toast, fruit, and juice. He set the tray down on the bed and leaned across to kiss her, smiling.
She kissed him in return, affectionately sliding her hand against his face before she whispered, “Happy Anniversary.”
“Happy Anniversary.” Scott settled into bed beside her.
“This looks delicious.”
He grinned happily. She’d never expected Scott to be able to cook. Could have knocked her over with a feather when, after just a few days at the mansion, she’d come down for breakfast on Saturday morning (searching the kitchen for a box of cereal) and found Scott cooking himself an omelet.
“Where did you learn to do that?”
There was a typical awkward pause before he’d answered. “I worked in a diner, for a while.”
He didn’t elaborate any further. She had assumed at the time that he was talking about an after school or summer job... it was a long time before she learned that he’d once worked the graveyard shift at a 24 hour diner so that he could eat there and have a warm place to stay at night. It hadn’t lasted very long before they figured out he was lying about his age, but it had gotten him through his first winter on the streets. Jean hadn’t learned that whole story for years. That was the way Scott was. You had to ask him the right questions. Otherwise he’d only tell you what he thought you needed to know. All the rest... he just kept bottled up inside him.
Back then Scott had been a shy, quiet kid who didn’t volunteer any information and hated answering questions about himself. The only time he’d seemed completely comfortable in his own skin was when he was acting as Cyclops. Bobby had been the quick-thinking joker of the group, Hank the easy-going genius, and Warren the dashing aristocrat. But Scott had always been the one Jean was attracted to, the mystery she couldn’t quite solve. She had always sensed that there was more to him, kept hidden underneath that stoic exterior.
“Thank you for the flowers. They’re very beautiful.”
“You’re very welcome.” He laughed softly. “I should thank you for marrying me.”
She just shook her head at him. “I love you, Scott Summers,” she replied and kissed his cheek. ~But you already know that,~ she teased him, sipping her orange juice.
“I know.” He smiled at her and ate french toast. ~You know I love you too, Jean.~
She nodded happily. “I know you do.” ~Why else do you think I married you, silly?~
Scott laughed. “For the breakfasts in bed?”
“Exactly.” They both laughed. Then Jean leaned in to kiss him.
Scott slipped an arm around her, rubbing her back. “Actually, those are just a signing bonus.”
“Really, Mr. Summers? I think I'd like to see a few more of the, um, incentives.”
Scott smiled and kissed her lips. “I think that can be arranged, Mrs. Summers.”
With that, Jean telekinetically set their half-eaten breakfast tray aside and the two of them went back to bed.
Scott sat on the edge of the bed, getting dressed for the day. Jean wrapped her arms around him from behind.
“I have a gift for you, but you have to wait until tonight.”
“Ah.” He looked over his shoulder at her. “The mysterious date I cleared my calender for tonight.”
“I made dinner reservations. Dressy.”
He wrinkled his nose. “A dressy date.”
She shifted to face him and started buttoning up his shirt buttons. “I want to see you looking all handsome in that tux again.”
Scott opened his mouth. Jean quickly covered it. “And don’t you call it a monkey suit.”
“Of course not.” He grinned, giving her his best innocent look.
She kissed him again. “I know what you were thinking,” she insisted.
He laughed. “You have no idea how long it took me to get that bow tie right.”
“I don’t think you’ll be quite as nervous for this dinner as you were on our wedding day.” She finished the buttons and straightened his shirt collar.
“You make a good point.” He pulled her in for one more passionate kiss. “I’ll see you tonight, Mrs. Summers.”
Jean was right. Scott found the insidious tuxedo bow tie far easier to manage when he wasn’t preoccupied by the fact that he was about to marry the only woman he wanted to spend the rest of his life with. He’d been so nervous that day it was all he could do to make himself stand or sit still, much less master tying a bow tie. He’d been so anxious, several of his groomsmen had taken to ribbing him over the fact that it wasn’t too late to avoid giving up his freedom. But just because Scott could have jumped out of his skin waiting for the moment at hand, didn’t mean he was having cold feet about getting married.
For so long, he had wanted to tell Jean Grey how he felt about her, but he’d held his silence for a variety of reasons. Earlier this morning Jean had jokingly asked him, “Why else do you think I married you?” Truth was, that was a question Scott had spent a long time asking himself. Not the marriage part; by the time they’d finally made it to the alter, he hadn’t had a shadow of a doubt left in his mind. At that point, it was nothing but pure joy and enormous relief that the wedding was finally happening. Then she was walking down the isle toward him, the most beautiful thing he had ever seen in his life, and he had wanted more than anything to be the man who was married to Jean Grey.... But before then, he’d spent – Jean would say wasted – a lot of time asking himself why she would want him, how she could possibly love him.
For a long time he’d been certain that he wasn’t good enough for her, that she deserved more than he could give her... more than him. Deep down, he’d always suspected she’d come to her senses about that eventually, and he’d tried not to let himself get too attached in the meantime. That last part, of course, was a useless effort. He’d loved Jean from the moment he’d first set eyes on her, and no amount of denial or disbelief on his part would ever change those feelings.
Scott tightened the bow tie into place and pulled on his jacket before he walked over to the bathroom door and gave a light knock.
“Jean? You almost ready, hun?”
“Just a minute, Scott,” she called.
“Okay.” He grinned mischievously. “I guess your surprise can wait another minute.”
“Surprise?” The door opened enough for Jean to peek out at him. “Did you say the magic word?”
“I did.” Scott grinned at her. “Wow.”
Jean came the rest of the way out, smiling.
She was wearing a black dress that showed off every curve of her lovely figure.
“You like it?” She gave a twirl to show off the dress.
He nodded. “You look absolutely incredible.”
“You too, Slim.” She smoothed the edges of his jacket over his broad shoulders. “Bow tie and all.”
“I don’t think anything can improve on the way you look tonight, but....” He took a small jewelry box from his pocket and offered it to her. “I got you this.”
Jean gasped and took the box from him excitedly. He grinned, watching her open it like one of the kids at Christmas.
“Oh– Scott.” Jean ran a finger over the diamond heart pendent before she gave him a kiss. “Baby, it’s exquisite.”
He smiled happily. “I’m glad you like it.”
“Let’s see how it looks on!” He laughed at her contagious excitement and followed her over to the dresser mirror. She held the little pendent affectionately in her palm for a moment before handing it over to him, still smiling brightly. Scott smiled back at her and carefully fastened the necklace at the back of her neck before pausing to place a kiss there as well.
“How’s that?” he whispered.
“It’s perfect.” She smiled and turned to kiss him.
“Now we’re ready to go?”
Jean laughed. “Now we’re ready to go.”
A short time later they were in the car, turning off Graymalkin Lane and heading toward the city. Jean watched a little pizza parlor go by as they drove through Salem Center, not far from the Institute.
“This place is a bit of a step up from our first date,” she noted, nodding in that direction.
Scott chuckled. “It’s not too late to stop,” he offered teasingly.
“We may be slightly overdressed for pizza and sodas, don’t you think?” Jean teased him back.
“Yes, I do,” he conceded. “But you have to admit, at the time...” he trailed off, smiling.
She nodded. “At the time, it was the best.”
They’d sat in a corner booth, eating pizza and discussing the movie they’d just come from seeing, and it had been perfect because they were there together. Finally.
“Of course, it took you long enough to ask me out,” she reminded him.
Scott laughed, shaking his head. “I know it did. I’m lucky you never gave up.”
“On you? Never. It just took me a while to convince you of that.”
“The way I remember it, there was always one voice in my head telling me it was meant to be... followed by another voice telling me you’d have to be crazy to even want me.”
“I always wanted you.”
Hearing her say that still gave him chills. Jean smiled at him, that smile that always melted him.
“I know that... now,” he admitted, smiling back at her. “At the time, I couldn’t understand why on earth you would.” Truthfully, it still felt like he’d won some sort of cosmic lottery every time he stopped to really think about the fact that she loved him. It still felt like a miracle.
Jean remembered the way he had been when she had first met Scott. It would be more accurate to say: At the time, Scott couldn’t understand how anyone would want him. Sometimes that knowledge absolutely broke her heart, but she didn’t think it would ever completely change. He couldn’t help it; he saw all of his own faults and flaws in sharp relief. That was one of the downsides that came hand-in-hand with all the strategic strengths that made him so effective as Cyclops. He saw everything.
But he had also grown up enough to accept that his own doubts could exist side-by-side with the undeniable truth that she did love him, and only him. For Scott, his own doubts and insecurities were no longer an indictment, condemning him. Instead they served to remind him of how lucky he was that she believed otherwise.
Years Ago. Pizza Parlor, Salem Center.
“You always see the best in me.”
“Well somebody has to,” she teased me, “because you certainly don’t.”
I laughed at her teasing, just as I was intended to. Jean always had a way of taking me off my guard without making me feel vulnerable.
“Can I ask you a serious question, Scott?”
“You want to know why that is,” I guessed, having a pretty good idea where she was going with this.
She nodded. “You have strength. You have self-confidence. I’ve seen that, a thousand times over. You couldn’t do what you do as Cyclops without it. You believe in your abilities, so why not just in you, Scott? Why doesn’t it carry over?”
I hesitated for a long time. She didn’t rush me. She understood I was just trying to figure out my own thoughts enough to give an honest answer.
“I guess I need something measurable, something concrete, to have confidence in. In the Danger Room or the in the field, success is clear. Failure is clear. If something doesn’t work you find ways to improve it until it does work... but people are different. For the most part, you are what you are. There’s always room for improvement, but,” I paused, “most people don’t change much.”
She nodded thoughtfully. “Most people don’t want to change. They only do it when they think they have to... and when they believe they can. You know, it’s more than just believing in what you do or see. It’s believing in what you are, in who you are. Part of the reason we all work together as a team is the way you make us all believe in that. And not just in the mission. You believe in us. That kind of confidence makes us believe in ourselves as well.”
I looked down. I knew what she was getting at. And she was exactly right about me, as usual. That was the way it worked in the field, with the team... but out of the field was a totally different matter. I was a different man as Cyclops. Cyclops was easier. He was all focus on the mission, and the team, and Professor Xavier’s vision for the future. Maybe that was why I tended to stay in Cyclops-mode as much as I possibly could. It was insulated.
Honestly. I once spent prom night taking apart Cerebro and putting it back together again because I couldn’t get up the nerve to ask Jean to go to the prom with me, and I couldn’t handle thinking about her being there with Warren all night. So I was Cyclops, training, instead of Scott Summers, wishing he could be with Jean Grey.
Leave it to me to find a role for myself where I didn’t have to feel.... But honestly, that wasn’t such a new skill for me. I learned not to feel early in life: when you didn’t feel you didn’t hope, and you didn’t get hurt. When I was Cyclops it was the same thing; that mentality just came with a valid reason now. I was running toward something instead of hiding away from everything.
Jean was still waiting on my reply.
I never talked about myself and my past to anyone, not in any more depth than I absolutely had to. And as much as I hated doing it now, I knew I couldn’t put it off anymore. This was the two of us moving forward, or me shutting down to protect myself. I couldn’t have it both ways any longer. If I wanted Jean to be a part of my life, it was time for me to stop playing it safe and tell her the whole truth.
“I guess it’s just... a side effect, of the way I grew up. The first clear memories I have are of waking up in the orphanage. I was a scrawny kid, traumatized as hell by the plane crash and the loss, still recovering from months spent in a coma. The physical injuries healed, mostly; I always had terrible headaches. And eventually the trauma faded. But I would always come with a scary warning label: brain damaged.
“Years passed, and I watched other kids get adopted out. Wishing it was me. But it never was. A couple of times people were interested... but something always fell through in the end. I always felt like I wasn’t good enough. Eventually I ran away. I already knew nobody cared what happened to me; it didn’t make any difference if I stayed there or if I left. I thought I had something I could prove, out on my own. But being on the streets didn’t change anything either. It wasn’t all that different, really, just more dangerous. I got used to being knocked around by people, by life. I did a lot of things I’m not proud of now, just trying to survive. Through it all, I never had any real appreciation of my own worth.
“Then the optic blasts manifested. Suddenly I knew what I was. A mutant. A danger.”
“Scott– You’re not a danger–”
“Alright.” I made a surrender gesture. We had gone over this ground before, many times. It was an old argument, and one Jean had no patience for. I knew better than to open that can of worms. “Just, let me finish, please.”
She nodded, yielding. “Okay. Keep going.”
“When Professor Xavier found me, he was the first person in my life who ever believed in me. He more or less whipped me into shape with a combination of strict demands and unwarranted generosity. He showed me what kind of man I wanted to be, and what I wanted to do with my life. But still,” I paused. “I never really fit in here, until you. You were the one who broke me out of my shell, refused to let me keep hiding away in my self-imposed prison.”
“Even if it was just hanging around with you on Saturday mornings until I could get you to cook me breakfast?”
I laughed. “Even if it was spending my Saturday mornings hanging around the kitchen, hoping to make you breakfast, so I could have an excuse to be near you.”
She smiled at me... and her smile made my heart soar and melt all at once.
“I was just trying to clue you in on what I saw, from the first moment I met you, Slim.” She reached out her hand to me. “You have always been special, Scott Summers.”
She told me everything I had always been desperate to hear, and unable to believe... until I heard her say it. Then suddenly, anything seemed possible.
I smiled back at her. And almost without thought, I was reaching out to take her hand in mine. Nothing in my life had ever felt so right.
Present Day. Upscale Restaurant, New York City.
Scott casually reached across the table. Jean smiled and held his hand while they were waiting on their dinner order.
“You were right,” Scott glanced around the room, “this is a very nice place.” He nodded. “Very dressy.”
“It should be.” Jean smiled mischievously. “Warren recommended it.”
Scott raised his eyebrows. “He did, huh?” Scott’s free hand moved over his jacket pocket, patting his wallet. “I hope my credit limit’s up to the challenge.”
Jean laughed. “I have confidence in you, my love.”
Scott smiled. “You always do.”
“Well, somebody has to,” she reminded him playfully.
He laughed, responding to her manner as much as the familiar words... the way she spoke even uncomfortable truths with a familiar teasing inflection. He loved that about her, the way she so easily reminded him of how well she knew him, and how well she loved him.
“And I will forever be grateful to you.” He shook his head. “I certainly never appreciated the good in myself until you made it your mission to rehabilitate me.”
She smiled back at him knowingly. “I think you still don’t really see it. You just humor me about its existence.”
“I trust you,” he replied simply. “If you say it’s there, then I believe it is. For you to love me the way you do, it makes sense that I must be pretty special.” He gave a reluctant smile. “I guess I don’t really understand that,” he admitted. “I just accept it on faith.”
Jean smiled, shaking her head at him. It wasn’t exactly the answer she wanted, but the leap of faith that he was willing to make for her meant more to her than a thousand empty votes of confidence.
“You are a very special man, Scott Summers.” She kissed him softly on the cheek. “And I love you very much.”
He answered at a whisper. “And I love you, Jean. More than anything.”
Scott knew full well how his own hesitation had created a lot of unnecessary roadblocks in their path early on, but somehow it had all worked out for the best. Along the way, through all the chaos and the false starts, while he was struggling to accept her feelings for him and to admit his own feelings for her, she had become his best friend. By the time he was finally ready to admit what he felt for her, Jean knew him better than anyone, and he knew her equally well.
They had both figured out they belonged together.
~Forever.~ He heard her voice in his mind, effortlessly finishing his own thought.
Scott nodded, his smile widening as he tightened his grip on her hand. ~For as long as we both shall live.~
Because even death, itself, could not part them. It had already tried and failed.
Years Ago. Amid Wreckage of the Starcore Space Station, Solar Orbit.
Scott grabbed hold of my shoulders. He was shaking me as he ran through a whole list of reasons why this crazy plan of mine wouldn’t work. He wasn’t thinking about what he was doing physically while we were arguing over the specifics; I don’t think he even realized what he was doing physically. It really wasn’t Scott’s style to try to manhandle somebody into doing what he wanted them to do. Scott relied on reason and persuasion, and when Cyclops gave orders the team followed his orders out of loyalty to the man and respect for his ability to lead them... not fear. I had never known Scott to be rough with anybody that way, and especially not with me.
But at the moment he was desperate. The shuttle was in danger of going down, just like the plane had gone down when he was a kid. He was in danger of losing everything all over again. I wasn’t going to let that happen. I knocked him out cold with a psionic burst. It was the only way. I wasn’t going to talk him into letting me risk my life. He wasn’t going to talk me out of taking this chance when we all knew I was the only person aboard the space shuttle with the power to pull off a miracle.
People always describe near-death experiences as life-changing events.
I wasn’t trying to play the hero and I certainly didn’t have some suicide wish. It was a desperate situation and I had the best chance – slim as it admittedly was – of getting all of us out of it alive. My life, the lives of my teammates – my dearest friends – and the man I loved with all my heart... they were all in my hands.
I felt the helpless anguish in Scott’s mind as he came to and realized what I had done. But at least he was physically safe, along with the others, locked away inside the shuttle’s heavily shielded life-cell, while I was outside manning the flight controls. I told myself I’d be with him again, I’d be with all of them, soon. If I could just keep the solar flare’s deadly radiation at bay long enough to pilot the shuttle through it....
But the radiation started to seep in, eventually, as layer upon layer of the telekinetic screens that shielded me began to weaken under the weight of the constant barrage. I could feel a million little pinpricks of lethal radiation, tapping like driving rain against the screen. And then my screen gave way.
I cried out for Scott, trying to latch on to what meant the most to me in this moment, fighting desperately to keep myself here. Alive. But for the second time in my life, I felt myself die. The first time hadn’t been my death; it had been Annie’s, but the experience was the same. Indescribable. Tangible things like time and space ceased to have meaning... or maybe it was that they ceased to have boundaries. I ceased to have boundaries.
Coming back to being human after that was equally indescribable. It was like returning to your childhood home, your childhood room, as an adult. Somehow you still expect everything to be the same as it was when you were a little kid, but you realize too late that it isn’t the same at all. You’ve outgrown it.
That had very nearly been my experience after Annie’s death. I tried to go home again, grieve my loss, and be a normal ten-year-old. As normal as I could be, anyway, after meeting Professor Xavier and learning that I was a mutant. But somewhere between life and death, the better part of my childhood had slipped way from me.
Coming back from my own death was a similar experience. Only this time, somewhere between death and rebirth, I had outgrown... everything.
Present Day. Upscale Restaurant, New York City.
The sound of Scott’s voice, along with the motion of his thumb against the back of my hand, brought my thoughts back to the present. The touch was gentle, the feel of his hand in mine was warm and relaxed, but I could tell by the hard set to his jaw and the tense posture of his shoulders that he knew exactly where my thoughts had just wandered off to.
I released his hand and sat back; luckily our dinner had just arrived. By the time the waiter left us alone again I was composed and Scott was looking more relaxed. Well, as much as he could look relaxed in that tux. We didn’t talk about my wandering thoughts. We ate dinner, and made light conversation, and I settled for sliding the inside of my foot against his leg every now and again since I’d had to let go of his hand in order to eat. And the discrete bit of physical contact made him smile.
It was amazing how much you could see in a smile. Same goes for body language, but I could read Scott’s mood exceeding well just by how easily I could get him to smile. Maybe Scott’s smiles were as expressive as his eyes ever could have been... or maybe that interpretation was just an added skill I’d never have needed to learn if not for his glasses. I like to tell myself the former is more true than the latter, but of course I’ve never had the opportunity to test my theory thoroughly.
Either way, I’d fallen in love with this serious, somber, brooding team leader who was known for rarely smiling. And I absolutely loved to see him smile. That smile was my proof that there was far more to Scott than he was willing to show most people, and it was my reward for not giving up before I found it.
After the shuttle crashed down, for a while, Scott and I each thought the other dead. Scott had survived a lot of losses in his life, but sometimes he still didn’t know how he had survived mine. Living without me was the hardest thing he had ever had to do. He didn’t like to think about that, but I caught glimpses of it in his mind... far more of them than he would have been comfortable with my knowing at the time. He always tried to push those thoughts back into the background of his mind as quickly as they arose, eager to remind himself that, by an even greater miracle, he had gotten me back.
But as ecstatic as Scott was to have me back, alive, he was also worried. He was afraid. He was in denial. My powers were so much stronger than they had been before. He didn’t like to think about that either. Eventually I’d realized what he was doing was self-defense. He’d once pushed me away from him in an effort to keep me safe from his optic blasts. Now he wanted to deny that I had changed because he didn’t understand the change and he was afraid of what it might mean... especially if it put me in danger again.
His smiles, once so filled with unmeasurable joy, had become strained. Not false. Just... complicated. At the time, I absolutely hated that. All of his angst, and doubt, and always dwelling on the negatives, while I saw so many beautiful positives that he all but refused to acknowledge. It reminded me of the way he had always half feared his own power, refusing to see the good in himself. I didn’t think I could handle having him be scared of my powers as well. So I pushed him past his comfort zone as often as I possibly could, trying to change his mind, trying to make him see that I wasn’t some threat of danger that he had to constantly reassess every time the new reach of my powers surprised him.
In my mind, I was still the woman he loved, no more, no less. I also didn’t have a clue what it really meant to think of myself as a deadly threat... not yet anyway. And neither did Scott. It always came back to the fact that he trusted me. Even if what I was capable of sometimes freaked him out a little, it was still me. And he trusted me, as an article of faith. He trusted me even more than he trusted himself. The glasses were a perfect example of that, all the proof I could ever have asked him for, and more.
Years Ago. Desert Southwest, New Mexico.
He was willing to trust me when I told him I could do what he couldn’t do: I could hold back the deadly optic blasts that, unchecked, would easily kill me... just because I wanted to see his face. Scott, who always had to be in control. He trusted me, despite knowing full well what would happen if my efforts went wrong. That possibility terrified him. But he let me try it anyway, on no more than my word that I could do it.
It was worth it. He has a good face.
He was willing to trust me again when I told him I wanted to create a psychic rapport between us. Private, reserved Scott. He trusted me enough to let me into his mind, to see him completely as he was... and far more than that. He trusted me enough to let me stay there, to make myself a part of him and him a part of me through the psychic rapport.
And I did finally see him as he was. I had always sensed that there was more to him... and I had spent years trying to uncover that truth, to excavate the depths of Scott Summers. What I finally found, hidden away beneath that stoic exterior, was a really big heart... and a very gentle soul. The rest of him was torn between a lot of lingering pain and insecurity, the ghosts of a very painful childhood, plus a great deal of uncertainty and fear for the future, the harmful legacy of an adolescence that had been defined for him by the knowledge that he was a mutant possessing uncontrollable powers. Dangerous and potentially deadly powers. He could have chosen to wear the glasses, go out into the world, and simply do his best to go unnoticed. But instead he donned the visor as Cyclops, embracing that same potential for destruction that he hated, in order to use it for a greater good. He chose to fight to make the world a better place. He did that not for ego, not for the rush of risk, nor the hope of reward. He did it because he could... and somebody had to.
Here was someone who longed for love, but feared further rejection and loss with equal parts desire and desperation. He had already had his fill of pain early in life. And he kept everyone at a distance because he didn’t want any more pain, not receiving and especially not causing. That was perhaps the most amazing part of Scott that he kept hidden, and it was perhaps the part I most loved, and had always loved. He was more afraid of hurting others than of being hurt. Deep down, he felt like he had mastered being hurt; he knew that he could take and survive a great deal of hurt and injury. Now what he wanted was to protect others from hurt and injury.
And all of this from someone who tries as hard as he can not to show any emotion.
There are no words to describe the intimacy of a psychic rapport. You really do share all of yourself, and in ways you didn’t always plan on. I had expected that reality to scare him, at least a little at first. It never has. Maybe that shouldn’t have surprised me. My fears are usually of the mental variety. Scott’s are more physical. We understand each other excruciatingly well on that level... fear of the absolute carnage we’re each capable of when we’re uncontained.
But for all of his fears, letting me be this close to him mentally has never been one. It pales in comparison to what he really fears. Scott was, and still is, most afraid of loss. Since I’m the person he loves the most, and allows himself to need the most, he’s most afraid of losing me. I’ve held him tight, pulled him close to me physically, mentally, emotionally, and tried my best to smother those fears. So many times, just as I did on that day, when it was the two of us in the desert... I’ve pushed his worries aside, as only I can, as he only allows me to do, reassuring him that it was just the two of us. And that was all we needed.
No questions, no words, no worries.
There, in the fast-fading light of the lonely southwestern desert, that simple truth was enough for us both.
That much has never changed. That will never change.
Present Day. Upscale Restaurant, New York City.
“What is that look?
“That look,” Scott smiled, amused, “like you’re a million miles away.”
“Hmm.” Jean smiled playfully back at him. “Maybe I’m hoping you’ll dance with me, husband.”
“Dancing, huh? Somehow I don’t think that look was about dancing.”
“Maybe that depends on the dancing,” she teased. “You up for it, Slim?”
Scott laughed. They both knew he couldn’t resist a challenge, especially from her.
“Hope you wore your dancing shoes, beautiful,” he responded.
Jean shrugged. “If I didn’t, I can always levitate us around the dance floor.”
Scott quickly glanced around to make sure no one had overheard that. The reaction was purely instinctive, and it made Jean laugh. She would know it faster than he would if anyone here was going to cause them trouble, but it was always hard for him let go of that knee-jerk impulse to protect her... and she hoped that he never did.
“Haven’t you ever heard the expression, ‘walking on air’?” she persisted.
“That might be, ill-advised, if taken literally, don’t you think, hun?” Scott warned. But, having identified no immediate threat waiting in the wings tonight to crash romantic mutant dinner parties, his tone was again playful.
“Nothing is getting in the way of this night,” she insisted, smiling at him.
“Not even sore feet,” he kidded.
“Not even these amazing shoes,” she responded. “Now, come on, handsome. Let’s see what you’ve got for me on the dance floor.”
“Yes, ma’am,” he responded, grinning as he led her out to dance.
Years Ago. Annandale-on-Hudson, New York.
When Scott first proposed to me he was holding me in his arms, waiting anxiously to see if I had survived. We had just been through the battle of our lives. His proposal was even more amazing when you consider that the battle he and the team had just been fighting had been against me. Well, against Dark Phoenix, the cosmic entity that had possessed me.
“If something doesn’t work you find ways to improve it until it does work... but people are different. For the most part, you are what you are.” He said that to me when we were first starting out. Things were simpler then. Now it seems I’ve never followed that rule.
He fell in love with Jean Grey. He didn’t know he was getting a package deal: Marvel Girl. Phoenix: Fire and Life Incarnate. Dark Phoenix: Destroyer of Worlds. He’s rolled with the punches. He’s loved me through it all.
Scott first put his trust in me when we were little more than kids in love, and he was still learning how to trust. He put his heart and his mind into my hands when he knew I had the power to break them. He put his life in my hands when he knew I might not have he power to stop Dark Phoenix from taking it.
He was willing to sacrifice himself for me.... I wound up sacrificing myself for him.
The battle couldn’t be won by force. It came down to reason and it came down to love. His for me and mine for him. Enough to overcome anything. Remember when I said I didn’t have a clue what it really meant to think of myself as a deadly threat... not yet? Well, on that day, when Scott first asked me to marry him, I understood.
He’d seen the worst in me. But he didn’t give up. He still loved the best in me.
Everybody pokes fun at Scott for being uptight and a boy scout. But the truth is, Scott was a very poorly adjusted human being for most of his early life. He knows that as well as I do. Ours was the first positive, loving relationship that he could ever remember experiencing... and it was like pulling teeth to get him to the point were he could have that relationship.
I knew he would obsess over his personal life just like he does everything else. That doesn’t exactly make him easy to live with, but it’s not always a bad thing either. Scott is all or nothing. He doesn’t make those kinds of commitments easily. But once we got to that point, where he wanted the commitment, I knew it was forever.
I know he’ll never let go. Never lose interest. Never fall out of love. He’s just not wired that way. He’s decided to go all-in with me. And there’s no force in existence powerful enough to change his mind or his heart.
He refuses to give up.
There have been times even I wasn’t sure if I deserved that. He was certain enough for both of us. Before the battle on the Blue Area of the Moon, I asked him if I was worth it. I knew he had doubts, the same doubts that had clouded his mind on that desert ledge in New Mexico, the same ones that weighed heavily on him as he stood aboard a Shi'ar ship, facing the prospect of a strange, alien duel of honor that would determine all of our fates. But when it came time for him to chose sides, there was no choice. He was on my side, no matter the consequences. Right or wrong. Life or death. He would stand at my side, and he would face with me the consequences of what I had done as Dark Phoenix, even if it cost him his life alongside mine.
It was true then, and I know it’s still true today. For both of us.
He is my hero. My most stalwart protector.
Neither of us is perfect. We certainly don’t always agree, but to the rest of the world, it usually doesn’t look that way. I know he’ll always stand with me, even when he disagrees with me, because he trusts me. My logic, my judgement, my heart. I keep him honest with himself. Methods can be discussed, argued over, disagreed upon. Love. Trust. Faith. Those things remain despite their circumstances.
He knows me, the best and the worst of what I am capable of, and he chooses to place his life in my hands. I can’t express how much that means to me. I can only say I rely on it. I rely on him like I rely on the air I breathe and the solid ground under my feet. Without that I would crumble.
Present Day. Upscale Restaurant, New York City.
“Hey, beautiful,” Scott whispered in her ear.
Jean brought her thoughts back to the present. Only then did she realize (a beat late) that the music had stopped. And Scott was waiting for her to unwind herself from him. She let go of his shoulders and slid her hand into his.
“Sorry,” she smiled, looking down. “Guess you caught me daydreaming.”
He tilted her chin up with a touch of his index finger, then whispered, “Don’t get too lost in the past. We’ve still got the whole night ahead of us.”
Jean smiled back at him, nodding. “So, do you think our dessert is ready?”
Scott laughed. “I think we should go find out.”
“Because you want off the dance floor or because there’s chocolate involved?”
“Hmm. Is this a trick question?” he asked.
Jean laughed. “Nope. Let’s go.”
Scott nodded, but he took his time unwinding his arm from around her waist, and he leaned down to brush his lips to hers in a quick kiss before they returned to their table in search of dessert.
I’m watching the man I love devour chocolate pie.
“You sure you don’t want another bite?” he asked for at least the third time.
I laughed at him and sipped my coffee. “I’m fine, hun. You enjoy.”
He shook his head in utter disbelief before finishing the last bite.
The pie had been delicious, but it was so rich I’d had my fill after a couple of bites. Scott was polishing off mine in addition to his own. The man had never met a dessert that was too sweet.
“It’s supposed to be sweet,” he had argued with me just a few minutes earlier. He clearly didn’t understand the concept, but he was more than happy to finish off my pie since I wasn’t going to eat all of it myself.
So I sat back in my chair, happily sipping hot coffee, and enjoying the pleasant novelty of being out on the town for a fancy date with my hubby.
The second time Scott proposed to me it was on a night a lot like this one. I turned him down. Not because I didn’t want to marry him. I loved Scott and I knew he loved me. I also knew he had loved the Phoenix when he had thought it was me, and he had loved Madelyne Pryor, a clone of me created by Sinister. I knew all of that because I had absorbed memories belonging to each of them.
I know. Things have never been simple for us.
Scott once told me that she, Madelyne, should have been me. And he meant that... but in a weird way she was me. When Dark Phoenix perished on the Blue Area of the Moon, a part of my soul that it had possessed somehow got passed on to Madelyne. I tell myself it was that part of me that Scott recognized, and loved. I try not to blame him for falling in love with this stranger he secretly suspected, or secretly hoped, would turn out to be me... but still. The memories of those times aren’t mine, they’re hers.
And I know, it almost killed him, each time he was powerless to prevent my death, and each time he was the one left alone to face living the rest of his life without me. That was never what I wanted for him... but it almost killed me to learn that he had moved on. A wife that wasn’t me and a child that wasn’t mine.
So, yeah. I’ve rolled with the punches too.
As much as it hurt me to see another woman take my place, in a way I understand that things weren’t much better from Scott’s position, and they certainly weren’t any better from Maddie’s. Scott’s reality had been manipulated, just as mine had been with the Hellfire Club. This time Sinister had seen an opening and had exploited Scott’s weaknesses, just as Mastermind had seen an opening and had exploited mine. Only this time I hadn’t been here to break the spell and pull Scott out of that trap, the way he had been there to pull me out with the Hellfire Club.
We learned that Maddie was Sinister’s doing, his creation, a means to an end, to get his hands on Cable. At first, I was dead and Scott was grieving me. Thanks to the Phoenix, Maddie had been given some of my memories and skills, further clouding the matter of her true identity. Thanks to Sinister, Maddie had been positioned as a pilot in Alaska, working for Scott’s grandparents, making her someone Scott would take notice of, placing her somewhere the two of them would be sure to meet. As time went on, Scott was half convinced that Maddie actually was me reincarnate or the Phoenix come back again. She even had memories of surviving a plane crash whose timing had coincided perfectly with the moment the Dark Phoenix had perished on the Blue Area of the Moon. When he told me "she should have been you" he meant that on a lot of levels, including literally.
I try not to blame her for the carnage she caused Scott and the rest of us. Her life was never her own. Then, when she finally took control, of sorts, all hell broke loose... literally. Madelyne Pryor became the Goblin Queen, went mad, tried to sacrifice baby Nathan, and finally died in battle from the force of a psionic blow which she had intended to kill me.
Instead, I took the place of the woman who had taken my place.
After all of that insanity, it took a long time for both Scott and me to absorb what had happened and recalibrate enough to continue moving forward with each other again. After so many serious missteps, we were both a little raw. When he asked me to marry him I wasn’t ready. But when I asked him to marry me we both were. He said yes. And I know he had never been happier in his life than he had been on the day we got married. I still remember his anxious thoughts from that day pretty vividly. He wanted, urgently, to ‘get through this day and finally be married to the only woman he wanted to spend the rest of his life with.’ I knew on that day that he had always loved me, and that he loved me more than anything in this world.
I wish I could say that one year into our marriage everything has calmed down into nice, normal, boring married life... but no. Our lives are still never simple. If we aren’t risking everything with the X-Men, trying to save a world that hates and fears us, then it seems there is always someone waiting in the wings to try to tear us apart from one another.
Psylocke was only the most recent example, using her psychic ninja voodoo against Scott to try to steal him away from me. She tried her best to turn his head, make me jealous, take him from me. But she couldn’t. Just like Logan tried to get my attention, turn my head, take me away from Scott. But he couldn’t. It had been the same story with Warren, a long time ago. He’d made his play for me too, tried to sweep me off my feet, tried and failed.
Scott and I have spent so much time finding ourselves, finding our way to each other, and then finding our way back to each other again. So what do a harry little Canadian, a Goblin Queen Clone, a Cosmic Force of life and death, and saving the world from more supervillains than I care to recall all have in common? Just bumps in the road.
We’ve faced more than our share of obstacles along the path to true love. Through it all, the only thing I’ve always known for sure is that Scott has my back and I have his. No matter what. I don’t know how to live in a world where that isn’t true. Either you believe in the person you love most, or you don’t. Either you sit still and pick apart the old hurts and injuries until they paralyze you with indecision... or you learn to let go of all the ‘who did what to whom’ and run full speed ahead with and into the fairy tale. You can’t have both.
So I believe. I choose to believe. In him, in us, in the fairy tale that is true love. Because I know, ‘through it all, since the day when we met, there was you for me, and me for you’.
Once Scott had finished demolishing the chocolate pie, once the dessert plates and coffee cups were all cleared away, and once the check had been paid (luckily, Scott’s credit limit was up to the challenge), Jean finally gave him the surprise she had been saving for him tonight. He carefully unwrapped the small box she handed him. Inside he found a wristwatch, which Jean had had engraved specially for the occasion. She watched him smile as he read the familiar inscription.
“Through pain and passion, through sorrow and hope, though death and through life. No matter what tomorrow may bring, we will face it together.”
That was the final line from their wedding vows, exchanged a year ago today.
“What do you think?”
He smiled. “It’s perfect,” and he leaned in to kiss his wife. “I love it.”
Just then there was an interruption from his other wristwatch, the one that served as a discrete comm link for the X-Men.
Jean couldn’t help groaning in response.
Scott gave an equally exasperated chuckle and kissed her once more before sitting back slightly to press a button on the side of the watch, answering the comm signal.
Hank McCoy’s image appeared on the watch face.
“Deepest apologies for this evening’s unscheduled interruption, O’ Fearless Leader.”
Jean gave a sigh and indicated to one of the restaurant staff that it was time to collect their jackets. Scott gave her a grim but appreciative smile before returning his attention to the comm.
“What’s the situation, Hank?”
Present Day. The Blackbird (X-Jet). Airspace Above New York City.
Within five minutes of Hank’s comm, the jet had picked us up. Jean and I quickly changed out of our fancy clothes and into our X-Men gear. Within a couple of minutes of getting on board, I’d assumed my regular place at the Blackbird’s controls and we were being brought up to speed on the mission. Right now we still didn’t know a whole lot beyond the fact that Professor Xavier had picked up two new mutant signatures on Cerebro. Both of them kids. He had reason to believe they were in danger and on the run.
The professor was still monitoring them. We were in route to Beijing to intercept.
“It’s an extraction. Urban setting,” I surmised coldly, and I began running through a wide variety of urban exaction plans in my head, pitting them up against what I knew about the city, and weeding out some of the weaker options in advance of our arrival.
I’d make the final call for our approach once we were on the ground and had a better idea of what we were dealing with. But for now I knew I didn’t have to tell the team anything more than the basics. We trained for these scenarios. They all knew their roles. Beyond that, there was very little practical preparation to go through when you didn’t know the specifics of what you were preparing to face. And I knew, with this kind of mission, the rest of the team was just as keyed up as I was. We all wanted to get in there and pull these kids out of danger quickly, before they could be hurt, or worse, as a result of their own powers or as a result of other’s reactions to their powers....
It’s the big, saving-the-world missions that everybody tends to associate with being X-Men. But these missions are the hardest ones we go on. No evil plans or terrible supervillains to thwart. Just young mutants armed with new powers that they have little-to-no control over, and people around them who are reacting... badly. These missions are the ones that stick with you the longest, no matter the outcome. Because one way or another, someone’s life is going to be changed forever. And it always seems that no matter how hard you try, you can’t protect everybody.
Years Ago. Danger Room. Xavier Institute.
Jean was waiting alone for me outside the Danger Room after the session. She was as mad as I had ever seen her... and that was saying something. “You can’t protect me from everything, Scott!” she yelled at me. “And you should know by now, I don’t want or need that. Not from you, not from anybody! That hasn’t changed just because–”
“You’re right!” I yelled back. I’d cut her off, partly because she’d already made her point and partly because I didn’t want to hear what was on the other side of that ‘because’. “I know, Jean. I was out of line,” I admitted more quietly.
Her anger calmed a bit, hearing that, but she still looked confused.
I was confused too. I nervously ran a hand through my hair. It wasn’t like me to let personal feelings affect my judgement in the field.
“I don’t know what I was thinking.” But I did know, and she called me out on it.
“You were thinking as yourself instead of as the team leader.” She smiled begrudgingly, adding, “For once.”
That made me laugh unexpectedly. She knew me so damn well. And I was enormously grateful that we never could seem to stay mad at each other for very long.
“I was.” I nodded and took her hand in mine, a little hesitantly. This was still so new to me. I’d taken her out for the first time last night, after years and years of wanting to tell her how I felt (and something always getting in the way of that). We’d had a wonderful evening, and at the end of the night I’d kissed her, standing out under the stars by the lake.
I didn’t know how to go back to normal today. I didn’t know if she felt the same way I felt. But I didn’t think I could go back to pretending that we were no more than friends and teammates.
“Jean... I know you don’t need me trying to protect you from everything– I just–” I mumbled something.
“Spit it out, Fearless Leader,” she insisted. But she was smiling.
“I’m supposed to keep you safe, not be a danger to you; I don’t want to be a danger to you.”
“What are you talking about Scott?” Her smile quickly evaporated again. “You’re not a danger.”
“Without the glasses, I am,” I persisted. She shook her head in silent protest. I knew she was getting mad again. I took a deep breath and said it anyway. “I already know I’ll never be able to protect you from myself. I guess that’s why I want so much to protect you from everything else.”
“Scott. You are not a danger. Not to me or anyone else,” she told me firmly. She was trying very hard to stay calm this time. I knew she hated having this conversation with me. This wasn’t the first time we’d had this talk, and she thought it was completely unnecessary to begin with. “Don’t you even think that.”
“But I am!” I responded with a rare burst of pent up emotion. “How can I not think about that, Jean?! When one second is all it would ever take, and I could hurt you, I could ki–”
She put her hands on my face to silence me. It worked. I stopped talking and instinctively closed my eyes as tight as I could. But I didn’t pull away from her. I couldn’t pull away from her; that much was instinct for me too.
Jean stood there for a long moment, watching my reaction, before she whispered, “You’re a good man, Scott Summers. A kind, gentle man. I trust that.”
I stood still, eyes closed, heart racing, just feeling her touch and hearing her words. Terrified and hopeful all at the same time.
“I’m not afraid, Scott,” she whispered. “I care about you, far too much, to be afraid of being this close to you.”
And she was very close to me. I could feel her breath on my face. She stroked her thumb over my cheek... just a fraction of an inch away from my glasses. A stab of fear cut through me, and the motion immediately stopped. Her mind pushed against my own, letting me feel her caution, not so much for her own safety, but for my peace of mind. She didn’t want to frighten me like that again.
“Shh,” she whispered, “I promise, I’ll be careful. I don’t want you be afraid now, Scott.”
I didn’t like standing there with my eyes closed, and having no way of knowing what Jean was going to do next, but I had to decide if it was worth it. Did I need to be in control right now, or could I trust her to be? For my part, I knew this wasn’t thrill-seeking for her. She wasn’t testing me. She would be careful with me, but she’d be careful because it was me and I needed that, not because she was afraid of what was behind my glasses.
I took a deep breath as she touched me again, her fingers soft against my face. My fear fading, quietly replaced by trust in her. By love for her. I took another breath. I wanted to feel her close to me... even when it scared me, I still wanted that.
I felt her smile against my lips. She kissed me softly, and everything seemed to stop as I kissed her back. I felt her mind open to me as we kissed, and I smiled, offering my own thoughts and emotions to her in return.
When I opened my eyes again she was smiling back at me.
“I love you, Jean.”
I had never said those words to anyone in my life. And I didn’t hesitate to say them now. I’d just felt her thoughts and emotions every bit as clearly as I had felt the touch of her hands and her kiss. Her feelings couldn’t have been more clear. I already knew what I needed to know, everything that I needed to know.
“I love you too, Scott.” She smiled, so happily, as she said the words back to me.
I laughed and hugged her tight. I knew I was never going to let her go.
Present day. Forbidden City. Beijing, China.
I was able to set the jet down in Jingshan Park, putting us in just north of the Forbidden City, which was the last location we had on our new mutants.
“Forbidden City? Really?” Jubilee asked. “That sounds like something out of a ghost story.”
I smiled. “No ghost story here, and let’s keep it that way.”
With that, I started putting the extraction team in place. It seemed that the kids had managed to loose their trackers once they had slipped inside the city walls. I assigned Storm, Rogue, Gambit, Wolverine, Psylocke, and Colossus to assess that threat and disarm it as necessary.
Naturally that got me a smirk and a snikt of bared claws from Wolverine.
“As necessary, Wolverine,” I reiterated. It was clearly a warning.
“Oh, it’ll be necessary.”
I gave Storm a look that needed no interpretation.
She nodded discretely in my direction. She would keep Wolverine in check.
“Jubilee, Phoenix, Beast, Iceman, and Archangel. You’re with me. We’re gonna find these kids.”
“As you say, O’ Fearless Leader,” Hank concluded, snapping an image inducer onto his wrist. His appearance instantly transformed from the fuzzy blue version back into the Hank McCoy I had first met as a student at the Xavier Institute. “Now, let us explore the Forbidden City.”
With that, the two teams set out on their missions into the Forbidden City.
“This place really has quite the fascinating history,” Hank simply couldn’t keep himself from expounding upon his earlier conversation with Jubilee. Sometimes I think there’s not a subject in existence that man doesn’t find endlessly fascinating. But appearing to be American tourists wasn’t bad cover, so I didn’t see any reason to stop Hank from playing tour guide. “This place has been home to twenty-four emperors since its construction in the 15th century.”
“Um,” Jubilee gave a worried look around, “does that mean we’re gate-crashing at the Chinese version of the White House?”
Hank chuckled. “Not at all. China hasn’t had a ruling emperor since the end of the Qing Dynasty in 1912.”
I’m sure Hank would have continued on if Bobby hadn’t chosen that moment to hit him in the back of the head with a snowball.
“Let’s focus, people.” I trust my team with my life. But, I swear, sometimes it can feel like I’m leading a bunch of five year-olds.
“Phoenix, are you picking up anything telepathically?”
“I’m scanning the area for any mutant signatures, but I’m having to keep my scans at close range.” She shook her head, as if trying to clear it. “Eleven million people packed into the city makes focusing in on two unknown minds a little difficult.”
I nodded. Like trying to find a needle in a haystack. Time to try a different approach.
“Archangel, let’s see what you can detect from the air. If you see anything suspicious, Jean can focus in on that area, confirm if it’s our missing kids.
“You got it, Cyke.” He quickly shed the trench coat and hat that had been disguising his appearance and took the sky.
And I bit back the knee-jerk admonishment to tell him to try to keep out of sight. Luckily it was a cloudy, overcast morning in Beijing (favorable conditions which had been even further favorably enhanced by Storm to help mask our arrival when I put the jet down). Visibility would be low for those of us without enhanced, bird-of-prey-like eyesight. So Phoenix, Beast, Jubilee, Iceman, and I made our way inside the city walls with the rest of the crowds, then we split up to begin a grid search of the 980 buildings inside.
It was a needle in a haystack. But we’d find them, eventually. My only concern was making sure we found them first.
I didn’t like the sound of that. I looked across the square, where I could see Jean emerging from the building she’d just been searching. She started moving in my direction.
~Scott. Good news and bad news.~
~Good news is, I might have a location on the kids.~
~Hiding about two blocks up, in a deserted bell tower.~
~And the bad news.~
~Ororo’s team has engaged their trackers and they’re coming in this direction. Coming in hot.~
I suppressed a curse. ~How hot?~
I heard a collective gasp from the crowd as a body was thrown across the square. This, followed seconds later by another body sent flying after the first, fastball special style.
~Dammit.~ “Let’s get the civilians out of here before there’s a full scale panic.”
Only trouble was, the civilians didn’t like seeing one of their fellows thrown around by the likes of us. Most of them were fleeing, but some of them were going to join the fight on the opposing side.
~Jean, do you still have a lock on those kids?~
~Yes, but– ~
~Good. Take Jubilee with you and go get them.~
~I’ll get this under control.~
I could feel her hesitation. I didn’t much like being separated from her in the middle of this either, but we had a mission to accomplish and this was the best way I could see to get it done and get all of us home. I knew she trusted that. I didn’t have to tell her again.
~I’m on it, Cyclops,~ she responded. And she was.
I joined my team in the fight.
Over our heads, Storm made her presence known with a flash of lightening wish-boned across the sky. I knew she was thinking as I was, trying to scatter the civilians to safety as much as possible.
Of all of my teammates, Storm was the one who most thought like I did. Calm and cool-headed, reasoned and methodical. But with an easy-going, always-compassionate nature that I wish I possessed. I respect her immeasurably.
Wolverine and Colossus seemed to be at the center of the fight, the most visible targets. I didn’t know if they had managed to put their own targets out of commission before the fight turned on them, but it didn’t matter anymore. Now there was only us: my team, the mutant kids, and the attacking crowd. Those were my priorities, and I was firing optic blasts on anybody who didn’t fit into the first two categories.
From my vantage point, I could see Wolverine slashing his way through any weapon the oncoming attackers managed to place within his arm-reach. Accordingly, they were smart enough to keep themselves clear of his lethal adamantium claws. Colossus was another matter. He was fighting at Wolverine’s back, and fending off several men who were trying to attack him, martial arts gang-style. But Colossus wasn’t so worried about their onslaught that he couldn’t pause to lift a fallen bit of masonry off of a child who had gotten trapped beneath it.
Wolverine jokingly calls Colossus ‘Tin Man’, but it couldn’t be further from the truth. Hearts don’t come in any bigger sizes. I fired several blasts as I advanced, picking a couple of the attackers off Colossus until he could properly return his attention to them. He gave me a wave by way of thanks for the cover and went back to clothes-lining the next attacker who had been charging at Wolverine’s back.
And Wolverine. Underneath all that swagger, there is a real-life Samurai warrior, code of honor and all. He’ll deny it, but I know he’s committed to the team. He’ll say he only sticks around to keep an eye on things, meaning the students, or Jean (especially if he’s trying to annoy me). Jubilee already thinks he’s the best thing since sliced bread, and before that it was Kitty Pryde who was Wolverine’s unofficial junior partner. He’ll fight to the death for them... but he’d fight to the death for any of us. You don’t get much more committed than willing to die for who and what you believe in. For that, he’s earned my respect.
Psylocke was moving in and out of the shadows, striking fast and then disappearing again, with her own display of ninja speed and agility. Her efforts had broken up a series of attacks while they were still in the plotting stages, before they had a chance to launch themselves at Wolverine and Colossus. Archangel chose that moment to dive low over the crowd, splitting it, and further scattering people out of the square. And, on his way out, he grabbed one of the attackers that had just engaged Psylocke, depositing him elsewhere.
Psylocke is the most recent wildcard member of the team. Still trying to find herself, and fighting a lot of personal demons. On again off again with Archangel, who’s also fighting a lot of personal demons. But I think she’ll find a place here... and I hope she may be able to help Archangel find his place again as well.
At a right angle across the square from me, I see Rogue and Gambit making their way into the fight alongside Wolverine and Colossus. Rogue took to the sky to avoid two attackers, who then crashed unceremoniously into each other, just as she had intended. She brushed her gloved hands together as if dusting them off, and looked around to survey the damage.
“A good ‘ole fashion angry mob. We ain’t seen one of these in a while.”
Gambit’s signature playing cards flashed through the air as he unleashed a handful of them on three incoming attackers. Rogue dropped back down to the ground beside him, and Gambit grinned at her as his cards found their marks.
“Been over a week, chere. Gambit was startin to worry.”
“Less yappin’,” Wolverine growled at the new arrivals, “more thrashin’”.
Gambit and Rogue are cut from a similar cloth to Wolverine’s. Loners who have a home with the X-Men, and it means more to either of them than they want to let on. I get that. I was the same way about this place in the beginning.
But now the X-Men are my family. I hardly have to glance back to know that Beast and Iceman are right behind me. As far as I’m concerned, they’re my brothers, maybe even closer to me than my biological brother. I love Alex, we just never seem to see eye to eye... on anything. So Hank is my sometimes annoying older brother and Bobby is my often annoying younger brother. The know-it-all and the trickster. But we’re family, and family sticks together. Same with Archangel. We’ve had our ups and downs and, thanks to Apocalypse, Warren’s not the same man he once was, but he’s still my brother.
Beast, Iceman, and I had almost cleared the square of civilians and were working on finally making our way over to rejoin the rest of the team when I got the update I’d been waiting for.
~I’ve got them, Cyclops. We’re coming in your direction.~
“Storm. Archangel.” I shouted to them, then followed up with instructions. “Phoenix and Jubilee have the kids. They’re in route to us from that bell tower two blocks south from here. Cover their approach. And everybody else, let’s work on getting ourselves the hell out of here!”
I learned a long time ago, no matter how hard you try, you can’t protect everybody.
You have to trust your team. It all comes down to that.
Sometimes it all comes down to the space of two city blocks in Forbidden City, Beijing, China. There’s a fight raging between humans and mutants, set amid an innocent crowd. All hell is breaking loose. Then tear gas canisters start to fall. Security troops have arrived: Special Police Units. They’re the Chinese version of a militarized SWAT Team.
Immediately, the canisters were rolling in all directions, traveling along two dozen different telekinetic trajectories as Phoenix sent them racing away from their intended targets. Storm kicked up a wind to disperse the gas. But I knew this situation was still bad. How long would we have before they realized we weren’t going down and started shooting? I gave it less than three minutes.
Then Jean was beside me, along with Jubilee and the two mutant kids we were here for. Without words spoken or orders given, we all formed up in a tight circle to put the kids at our center. All the while, the security forces moved in to cordon us off, forming a perimeter around us.
“Phoenix, does anybody here speak English?”
The professor had a nice psychic trick that eliminated the language barrier. Jean could do it as well, but I had always preferred to speak simply and directly, face to face, whenever that was possible. If everyone here heard my words spoken perfectly in Chinese that matched their own specific regional dialect, I might as well wave a red flag that said I was using psychic tricks on them... and I’d trade the risk of misunderstanding due to translation over the risk of mistrust due to mental manipulation any day.
Jean concentrated for a moment then pointed out one of the soldiers.
I stepped forward toward him, just slightly, my hands raised defensively. Even as I moved forward, Jean was downloading the facts I needed to know into my brain, telepathically bringing me up to speed on what she had learned from the kids we had just rescued.
So while I was the one who stood there, out on my own, exposed, Jean was the one giving me what I needed in order to stay safe out there. Factually, tactically, she was supplying me with vital information I needed if I was going to have any hope of negotiating our way out of this. I knew the entire team was watching my every move, and they would be ready to act in my defense the second action was needed. But it was Jean who stood at my side, even when I stood alone.
I know that, at gut level. That’s the way it’s always worked between us.
She’s always with me. Watching. Listening. Doesn’t matter if I’m speaking to friend or foe, calmly negotiating or bellowing orders. She doesn’t react to what I say or how I say it; she already knows what I think and what I feel. She reacts to the thoughts and feelings of everybody around me. Ready to talk down a wary friend. Ready to stop an attacking enemy cold. She’s my most trusted advisor, my closest ally.
I feel strong with her beside me. Cyclops and Phoenix. Her eyes flash with fury at even the possibility that someone could defy me, could hurt me. My Firebird. My most fierce protector. She lifts me up. I keep her grounded.
We don’t always agree, but here, to the outside world, it doesn’t look that way. Even when she thinks I’m wrong, she stands with me. Because she believes in me, more than in any decision I can make. Decisions can be debated, fought over, disagreed upon. Love. Trust. Faith. Those things remain despite their circumstances.
She knows me, completely, and she chooses to place her life in my hands. I don’t have the words to explain how much that means to me. I can only say I rely on it. I rely on her like I rely on the air I breathe and the solid ground under my feet. She’s my whole world, and without her I crumble.
That’s the way it always has been between us. That’s the way it always will be.
She stands at my side so I can stand there, out on my own, and I tell them our story. I tell them these kids’ story.
They listen to my explanation: that the kids are mutants, that the violence here started because these kids were being tracked down by members of their own extended family who had been seeking to carry out highly illegal ritual honor killings, meant to spare the family the ‘shame and indignity’ brought upon their house by children whom they called abominations.
They had no home to go back to that wasn’t a death sentence.
“Their entire community has turned its back on them. But we have a facility, a school, that takes in children just like these children. I humbly implore you to let us return home to our school. Let us leave here, taking these children with us, and saving their lives.”
There was a few minutes of conversation, I assume fact relay and consultation. Again, I know we could have skipped this step. It might not have been strictly necessary, but it was important. It made them feel more in control of the situation, simply because they could consult among themselves instead of being dictated to by me. Likewise, by asking them to show us mercy, I presented them with a way to meet my terms that also preserved their sense of honor.
The conflict was over, but not without a good bit of property damage. No serious injuries. As it stood right now, this could all be repaired, explained away, covered up. They had to decide if they wanted to renew hostilities by trying to take us into custody... killed or captured (a feat they knew would not be accomplished easily). Or they could end the hostilities here and now by simply allowing us to leave.
After a few minutes, they returned with a demand, and it was one I was more than happy to agree to.
“We swear to leave here at once, and never to cross this threshold again.”
Once more there was a brief moment of conversation, after which our team was allowed to leave.
Present Day. Xavier Institute.
It was the early hours of the morning in Westchester, New York by the time we returned to the Institute with our two new students in tow. I powered down the jet and went through a short debriefing with the rest of the team while Hank (accompanied by Jean and Jubilee) took the new students down to the infirmary to give them an equally brief medical check up. Once the team was dismissed for the night I took a quick look at the news (to make sure we hadn’t made it; so far we hadn’t), then I got out of my X-Men gear and into some casual clothes before I headed upstairs. There I stood silently by, watching while Jean did what she does best, patching up minor injuries and wounded spirits alike.
That was part of the reason why I sent her after the kids in the first place. Telepathy not withstanding, Jean has a very reassuring presence, and an impressive ability to put people at ease, even in very tough situations. When I have more straightforward first contact scenarios, I’ll usually send Ororo, or Bobby, or Hank. They all have easy-going, non-threatening personalities. And it doesn’t hurt that they can show off their powers a little, let the new mutant we’re making contact with see that being a mutant doesn’t have to be such a scary thing. But Jean generally gets the more complicated scenarios.
I sent Jubilee as well because Jubilee is the junior member of our team, closer to these kids’ ages, and kids will generally trust another kid easier than they will an adult. When we have limited time to make first contact, that can be an important inside track. Plus Jubilee is easy to trust. She’s refreshingly honest and straightforward. But her presence can argue in our favor just as easily as her words can (and, trust me, Jubilation Lee is never short on words). Let the kids see that someone their age understands what they’re going through. Let them see that we mean what we say when we offer them a safe place to live and a formal education. And in addition we can offer them training that will help them lean to control their newfound mutant abilities, and use them wisely. We offer them a future.
Of course, first we have to safely extract them, and quickly. That was the main reason why I sent Jean. She’s hands-down the strongest member of the team. With nearly unlimited telepathic and telekinetic abilities, I know she can handle absolutely anything. But tonight, the mutant codenamed Phoenix is simply filling in the role of den mother for our newest students. Tomorrow I’d get to do my part as Mr Summers. Get them settled into a new routine, walk them through their first day of school, try to make this place feel as normal to them as I possibly could. That was what I was best at. Tonight was just about making them feel safe, and I was still in Cyclops-mode, standing rigidly by the door as Jean tucked our newest students into their beds.
Physically, they looked like any other kids. Kids who likely wouldn’t be alive tonight if we hadn’t arrived to help them when we did. They were two completely beautiful, identical twin, eleven-year-old girls, both of them with gifts seemingly centered around a sort of psychic precognition that was triggered by physical contact.
Jia Wen touched things. Jiao Wen touched people. When they used their powers they got jumbled images of past, present, and possibly even future experiences involving the person or object they had just contacted. I knew all of this from Jean’s thoughts, even without getting the practical demonstration.
Jean smiled. “It is, isn’t it? It was a gift from Scott.”
Jia reached out hesitantly to touch Jean’s necklace... and she winced like it had bitten her.
“Oh no! We ruined your special dinner.”
“Not at all.” Jean stroked the girl’s hair reassuringly. “Nothing was ruined, just a little interrupted. Believe me, we’re used to it. Things like this happen to us all the time.” Jean finished tucking Jia in and started going through the process again with Jiao. “It’s what we’re here for; this is what we do. And you know what,” Jean added. “You’ll never see anybody get out of a tux and into a flight suit faster than my husband. I think you rescued him,” Jean whispered.
The little girls laughed.
And Jean finished settling them into their new beds in a dorm at a school for mutants, because they didn’t have a home to go back to anymore, because their own family had decided their lives were forfeit. Then, before they would let Jean leave the room, they each hugged her, thanking her for bringing them here.
~Scott. They have something to say to you too.~
I came inside, stood beside Jean as she wrapped an arm around my waist. And they thanked me for saving their lives.
What the hell do you say to that?
I sat down on the edge of a bed and I told them they were welcome. What I really wanted to tell them was, they were worth it.
“I know all this is scary, and it’s a lot to take in.” What I really felt like saying was, ‘Sometimes life sucks. I know. Sometimes you just can’t have what you want, and nobody understands or even cares how much that hurts. And it hurts so damn much you just want to curl into a ball and give up on life the way it’s given up on you.’
Yeah. And that’s why Jean normally handles the pep talks. So, I don’t say all that in quite so many words, but I do manage to make them a simple promise.
“But I promise... if you can hang on, just a little longer, it gets better. This place is better.”
After that was said, and there were a few final goodnights, Jean and I began making our way out. As we did, Ororo stepped in to promise the girls she’d be nearby overnight, her room right across the hall.
Nights like these were the only times I really regretted our move to the boathouse. Protector that I was, I wanted to be here when there were nightmares and sleepless nights. I wanted to be able to chase away those dangers and uncertainties as readily as I had the physical ones that had brought them here in the first place.
But Ororo assured us she was on duty watching the girls’ dorms tonight, and Jean assured her that she could contact us if she needed us. So Jean and I walked back to the boathouse.
Home. Our home.
One Year Ago Today. On the Grounds of the Xavier Institute.
Jean and I were walking, hand-in-hand, across the grounds toward the boathouse, still decked out in all our wedding finery. That was the moment when it really hit me. This new chapter in our lives, this new beginning for us. Married. Suddenly I was thinking about the past, about how Xavier had taken me in all those years ago, about how this place had completely changed my life, about how it would become my home.
Jean paused and gave me a smile, then stopped to kiss me. And we both stood looking back at the mansion for a moment.
I felt guilty for leaving. It was silly. I was only walking across the grounds to the boathouse, but in that moment it might as well have been half a world away. This was me leaving home for the first time... the only home I’d ever known.
Sure, I’d taken time away from this place before, but never simply by my own choice. It had always been some monumental moment of crisis prompting a leave of absence, or a need for physical recovery, or simply needing time away to get my head back together. The only time I really convinced myself there was another place, another person for me, I had let Maddie convince me to go back to Alaska. And, god, what a disaster that had turned into. Never had I simply left because there was somewhere else for me be... there had never been anywhere else for me, nowhere else I felt I belonged.
Jean squeezed my hand. I knew it was a prompt, her way of politely asking me to spill whatever she could tell was going on inside my head. I opened my mind to share all the specifics of my tumultuous thoughts and emotions with her.
“I’m sorry.” I felt even more guilty after I had done that. This was a happy day; it should have been a happy moment, a happy transition for the two of us. I don’t guess I’d ever really had one of those before.
She ignored my apology. “It’s okay. I know how much it means to you.” She held on to my hand. “It’s home.”
I smiled. “It’s always been home, but now....” I turned toward the boathouse, taking a deep breath. “Now this is our home. Yours and mine, together.”
She nodded, standing beside me, proud and happy tears pooling in her eyes.
I kissed her softly. “My home is where you are,” I whispered. “It has been for a long time. Now it just has its own place.”
She laughed and gave me that look of disbelief that I’d come to associate with the rare moments when I managed to say something romantic. I’m not very good at being romantic; I know, I’m too practical. But I have gotten better at saying what I feel. And sometimes, saying what I feel manages to coincide with saying something romantic.
I laughed too, and I took advantage of her momentary surprise to scoop up my bride and carry her the rest of the way down to the boathouse, over the threshold, and into our new home. Into our new life together.
Present Day. Boathouse. Xavier Institute.
We went through the motions of getting ready for bed, just like we had every night for the past year. Sometimes it seemed like only yesterday... sometimes it seemed more like a lifetime ago. I was still remembering things we’d said to one another a year ago, here, when it was just the two of us, contemplating the rest of our lives together.
We had already talked about the past and the present, and then she asked me what I wanted for the future. I told her, without giving any thought to how completely outlandish it sounded.
“I guess I’d like a future where I could just be Scott Summers.” She smiled, and stroked my face, and listened to my silly daydreaming. “You and I could run off to some deserted beach and just–”
“Disappear from the rest of the world?” she finished, making me smile.
That was, for lack of a better description, my happy place. It was where I would go tomorrow if I had no ties, no responsibilities, no commitments. Jean was the only other person on the face of the earth who knew that, and she was the only person I would take with me.
Sometimes that seemed like the most beautiful dream... and sometimes it felt like a nightmare, taunting me with its utterly impossible simplicity. Nights like this one made it hard to believe that there would ever be anything for me except this reality. We would be fighting this battle our entire lives. And for what?
We helped where we could. I know we made a difference to the people we helped, and especially to the kids here at the school. But some days it felt like there were never any winners in this fight. We could only keep fighting because if we didn’t it would be worse. Somebody had to fight for those who had no one to fight for them.
“Come on, Scott.” Jean wrapped her arms around me, hugging me from behind for a long moment. ~Come to bed.~ She slipped her hand into mine, pulling me toward bed. Our bed. My love. My wife. She tugged at my hand and I followed her without argument, slid into bed beside her, grateful to wrap my arms around her.
But I didn’t sleep. I lie awake, thinking and re-thinking the mission. Wondering what I should have done differently. Sometimes it’s impossible for me to switch off from being Cyclops... and honestly, there are times when I prefer that. Overanalyzing the mission will always be preferable to lying awake wondering if anything I do makes a lasting difference. Thinking about the sacrifices. We’ve made so many terrible sacrifices for the sake of this better tomorrow I keep reminding everyone of. I feel such pressure to make sure that hasn’t all been in vain.
She reassures me again, with a simple whisper, promising me that it will be alright.
I haven’t believed in that simple promise since I was a small child... except for her. I believe. If it’s not right, the two of us will make it right.
She makes me right.
Jean lifted her head to look at me and idly stroke at my hair before she spoke:
“There were times,” she whispered, “I was lost, and you found me.”
I answered her without thought:
“There were days which were heavy, and you lightened my heart.”
“Though it all, since the day when we met, there was you for me, and me for you. That hasn't changed.”
I smiled. “That will never change.”
She softly kissed my lips.
Those words we had spoken to each other, a year ago today, they were still the truest words I had ever spoken or ever heard.
There were a million things I wanted to say... from telling her how much she meant to me, to apologizing to her for keeping her awake with my endless worrying. Instead I whispered that I loved her, and tried not to think about all the many faults and flaws that make me so painfully imperfect.
I know she deserves more than me. But when she whispers that I’m the one she wants... even that flaw fades.
All that’s left is me, just as I am.
And I hold her tight, because she’s all in this world that I need.
So Let it Be Written Publishing © 2004