X-Men fan fiction
Wishes and Shooting Stars
Through Death and Through Life
Wishes and Shooting Stars
First person. Character study. Scott Summers.
"My own belief is that the universe exists as a miracle and we have been born here to witness and celebrate."—Ray Bradbury.
I first started sneaking up to the roof at night when I was living at the Home. Other kids at the Nebraska State Home for Foundlings snuck up there during the day to smoke cigarettes; I went at night to see the stars. I never told anybody that, of course. Let them think I was sneaking a smoke. But I never touched the damn things, not at the Home or on the streets, even when it was more of an oddity that I didn’t smoke.
I understood the reasons why most of them did it, despite knowing it was an addictive and potentially deadly habit. It was a live-for-the-moment mentality. There was rebellion, the search for self-image, and the recklessness of youth. But for most of the kids at the Home or on the streets the “immortality myth” was replaced by a much darker myth: the deep-seated belief that no one really cared if they lived or died, and they likely wouldn’t live long enough to see any long-term consequences from their actions. They just wanted to make it through another day. Whether it was cigarettes, alcohol, or harder drugs, even though the habit was addictive, there was a self-delusion about it: believing that the vice was a thing of their own choosing. I never bought into that, the vice or the self-delusion. I’m too much of a realist to overlook cold, hard facts.
There have been plenty of times when I wanted an escape, even times when I honestly didn’t want to live anymore, but the slow route to self-destruction never appealed to me. And, thankfully, neither did suicide. I refused to kill myself outright, and I refused to do it slowly with cigarettes or anything else. I stubbornly refuse to be addicted to any substance. I’m not saying that makes me any better than anybody who does struggle with substance abuse or thoughts of suicide. I’m not trying to act stronger or braver. I’m just stubborn that way. I steel myself against the world, and even against my own feelings, and I refuse to give in.
Jean tells me (and she’s only partially joking when she says it) that the way I obsess over practically everything should count as a serious addiction, and maybe she’s right about that. If I do have an addiction, it’s my need for control. I spent too many years feeling out of control, feeling helpless and alone in the world. And feeling alone in the world is the worst. It’s like being locked in your own private, self-contained hell.
I know. I’ve spent enough time in mine.
But watching the stars from the rooftop at the Home made me feel better.
I wasn't just an orphaned kid, alone in the world, anymore. Instead, I was a teeny tiny speck of dust, alone in a great big universe. And the latter wasn’t something owed to a cruel twist of fate; that was exactly as it should be. The fact that something in my life was “as it should be” calmed me. My ordered mind latched onto the predictability of something that could be visually recognized and memorized. The stars moved in set patterns, their arrangements in the sky shifted throughout the night. Constellations shifted with the changing of seasons, and then came back again from year to year. I loved that too. The helpless kid that I was latched onto the stability of something that couldn’t be changed. And, to this day, I still love that the sight of the heavens above my head is steady and constant (even while constantly changing within itself, moving all of its own accord).
For a long time, my life had no other source of stability. The first night I spent on the streets – after the initial panic had passed – it was lying out under the stars that calmed my fears. I’d spent most of the day wandering the streets of downtown Omaha. Not a cent to my name, not a possession in the world, no longer reliant on the bitter charity that had always classified me as a “ward of the state” instead of as a human being. I had chosen this. I no longer had a bed to sleep in, I didn’t know where or how I would get my next meal, but I was determined to survive on my own.
Lying in an overgrown abandoned lot on the banks of the Missouri river, I knew there would be no going back to the Home. That reality was equal parts liberating and terrifying. I vividly remember feeling the warm night air turn cool around me as the stars came to light, and feeling amazed that the stars over my head looked exactly the same as they had from atop the roof at the Home. I watched them move slowly across the sky until I finally fell asleep, and I felt reassured by their presence.
Then my life changed again.
Learning you’re a mutant who possesses a potentially dangerous, uncontrollable gift is a pretty big curve ball to throw anyone. Add in going to school in a mansion, being taught by a telepathic professor in a wheelchair, and training to be X-Men... well, it was all pretty overwhelming. But simply being plopped down in unfamiliar surroundings, while blind, and forced to rely upon the good will of people I’d just met, only because they said they wanted to help me.... Making that adjustment was the hardest thing I’d had to do in my life up to that point.
But I had no choice. I had no chance of solving this mystery on my own.
So I took a leap of faith that Professor Xavier really could help me. Now, looking back, I’m not sure I would have accepted his help, generosity, charity if I had had any other choice. I told you I was stubborn. It took losing everything I had left – giving up my pride, sacrificing all my stubborn self-reliance – before I could finally find something new and infinitely better. Now I’m part of a team, part of a family.
It’s a lesson I’ve never forgotten, and one I often share with the kids at the Xavier Institute for Gifted Youngsters. Many of them are in the same boat I was in. They’re here because there’s nowhere else for them to go. Scared to death to trust. Unwilling to let themselves hope that this place might actually be what it promises to be. Because no matter how much hell you’ve been through in life, nothing hurts quite as much as the hell you can put yourself through when you risk believing in something... only to have the hope you’d been clinging to slip through your fingers like a mirage.
I tell them about being functionally blind when I came here. I also tell them about getting my glasses. And when I opened my eyes this place didn’t vanish. It was still here, and so am I.
I believe in it that much.
And I know what it feels like not to believe in anything. That’s one of the reasons why I stay.
The day I got my glasses is one of my most vivid memories, all heightened awareness and keyed up nerves. I remember all of the sounds, the smells, the physical movements and sensations. And I remember the emotional turmoil of stepping into the unknown as I opened my eyes again. That moment was the ultimate leap of faith, for me and for everyone around me. It could have been a terrible disaster, but it wasn’t. The glasses did what they were supposed to do. They contained the optic blasts and gave me back my sight. After that it was all sensory overload. I was so caught up in the wonder and relief of simply seeing the world again. Even if everything was in shades of red, it didn’t matter to me. I could see!
But once that first day had passed in its initial rush of joy, I found myself lying awake that night, intimidated by the prospect of these glasses. They would be a part of me now – permanently – every minute, day and night, for the rest of my life. This relatively thin barrier of metal and ruby quartz now separated normal, functioning sight from catastrophic destruction....
I closed my eyes a couple of times, trying to sleep, but I kept waking with a start: fear. I had been living in a state of gut-wrenching fear for months. But, before the glasses, I'd been focused on holding my eyes closed every waking second. And I’d worried constantly about what would happen if I couldn’t keep them closed. The constant pain in my head had served as an inescapable reminder, fueling my own vigilance and determination. Now the pain was blissfully gone and I could see again. Now I was relying on these red lenses instead of my own self-control.
But, as incredible as they were, they were just glasses. What if they slipped? The optic blasts never turn off, they just keep pushing, relentlessly, through anything in their path. They would take full advantage of the slightest slit in my eyelid, the slightest shift of the glasses away from my face. And there was no room for accidents, no such thing as a slip. I could destroy half the mansion in my sleep.
I got out of bed, padded downstairs in my bare feet, and headed outside to sit under the stars. And again they calmed me with their stability. Perfect little pinpoints of light that hadn’t changed, no matter how much I had. I sat outside for hours, watching those little pinpoints move across the night sky, feeling small and insignificant. They continued on, same as always, no matter whatsoever that I now saw them in red.
At that point in my life, I hadn’t yet come to terms with what I was any more than I had come to terms with the glasses. I remember thinking that it made a perverse sort of sense for the stars to be red now, for my world to be colored red. A constant warning of danger.
But even if I took the glasses off and opened my eyes... I couldn’t destroy the stars.
Eventually I went back inside the mansion and fell asleep in my own bed, glasses securely in place.
I’ve always kept people at a distance. I learned early in life to push people away, not trust anyone. The glasses, and the mutation they hid from sight, provided me with a convenient excuse to continue keeping everyone at a distance. It was an appropriate physical representation of my mental state at the time, and it became my emotional fall-back for years. I didn’t have to admit to myself that I didn’t want to let anyone get close to me because I didn’t want to give anyone the power to hurt me. Instead, I could tell myself that I was making a selfless sacrifice; I was protecting everyone around me... from me.
I’m not saying the excuse wasn’t also the truth. There are still few things in life that terrify me as thoroughly as knowing how much damage I can do if something goes wrong. An instant of lost containment over the blasts could do irrevocable damage. The space of a heartbeat could be deadly, even a spit second could be disastrous. By relentlessly pushing people away, keeping them at a distance physically and emotionally, there was less chance that I could be close enough to anyone to accidentally hurt them physically. I clung to that mantra with all of my rigid self-control, like a man stubbornly trying to hold back the tide.
Jean was always the exception. She pushed right past all of my carefully ordered barriers, and somehow I never minded the intrusion... just the opposite, I enjoyed it. I loved the way she just had to touch me when she talked to me, making sure with her hands as well as her words that I understood when she was making a serious point. I loved the way she’d hold on to my arm whenever we walked together around the grounds at the Institute, making sure she had my attention all to herself... as if anything short of a natural disaster had any hope of distracting me from her.
I loved Jean Grey from the moment I saw her. Of course I wasn’t ready to admit that for a very long time. We were students together, and teammates, and friends. It took forever for me to get up the courage just to ask her out on a date. And then, after dinner and a movie, we walked around the grounds together, just trying to delay the inevitable ending of a perfect evening.
It felt like we walked aimlessly for hours, my jacket draped around her shoulders, her arm curled around mine. Talking about whatever came to mind or saying nothing at all, simply enjoying each other’s company. I still remember watching her bare feet in the grass, carrying her delicate high heeled shoes in my hand (She said she didn’t want to get them dirty; I think she didn’t want to admit they made her feet hurt.).
I held her hand in mine when we walked down to the lake. She paused to put her shoes back on (so her feet wouldn’t get splinters on the dock; I remember wondering if she chose heels that high because the extra inches nearly brought her up to my height). We walked out onto the docks and stood hand in hand looking out over the perfectly still surface of the lake. It was like time itself stood still, not even a whisper of a breeze, my heart pounding like mad in my chest... until I finally kissed her, standing out under the stars.
From that moment on, I had two sources of stability in my life. The one over my head, and the one in my arms. She’s my emotional stability, my internal compass, as much as the stars in the heavens are my external stability. She’s the heaven I can hold on to, and the one that makes the rest of the world make sense to me.
I’ve never been a touchy-feely guy by any stretch of the imagination. I’m still not. But I’ve basically learned to make exceptions to the rules of my own nature. I make them for my friends, my teammates, my students, until it becomes accepted. It becomes habit. But Jean is the ultimate exception to the rules of my own nature. I hold her as close as I can: physically, mentally, emotionally. Her presence is comfort and reassurance at its most basic level. Not only am I not alone. With her I know I am loved, and valued, and needed. I don’t think I’ll ever get enough of those feelings... maybe because I spent so much time without. I learned all the wrong things in my childhood, and it took me years to unlearn those rotten beliefs and gradually replace them with healthier self-perspective.
That, too, Jean understands about me. There are times – even now, all these years later – when I have a hard time absorbing the reality of her feelings for me. At the same time, I’m desperate to feel those things. I want more than anything to know that I really am the most important man in her life. I can react like a jealous ass when I feel like that’s been threatened. And, deep down, I can doubt myself so severely that I can’t imagine why she would even want me in the first place.
Sometimes the old scars just don’t heal.
It doesn’t help that I know first-hand how empty my life feels, how broken my heart and soul are, without her. That wound isn’t even a scar. It’s fresh, and always close to the surface. I know how much I need her because I know that it’s damn near impossible for me to live without her.
Of course I try not to let any of that internal chaos show through. On the surface I’m calm and cool, almost detached from emotion. I know, It’s a defense mechanism. I control what I can – myself, my actions, how I display emotion – because there are so many things in this life I simply can’t control.
The only time the stars didn’t help me was when I refused to look at them. In the dark times. After Jean died. I didn’t want to see them. I didn’t want life to go on without her. I didn’t want to remember.... Even though I couldn’t forget that she was gone, I also couldn’t bring myself to remember how happy she had made me. I was paralyzed. It hurt too much to remember life with her. It hurt too much to imagine life without her.
And when I’m hurt my first instinct is to shut down. I used to think that was acceptable, even preferable. I used to think it didn’t hurt anyone but me. Another bit of misbegotten logic from my childhood. I have to remember that people care about me. My pain and angst affects them too, and turning those emotions in on myself doesn’t spare anyone. It just makes it harder for the people who care about me to help me. Logically, I know all that. Doesn’t mean I’m good at doing what I should do. It’s still hard for me to accept help and not think of it as admitting weakness. I still tend to keep people at a distance.
I’m a lot better than I used to be though... getting me to show any emotion at all used to be like pulling teeth. Same basic principle: never give up any leverage that can be used against you. It’s never been easy for me to show my feelings, but I’m no longer afraid of showing them. That doesn’t mean I wear my heart on my sleeve. It just means I’m not afraid to feel, and I’m not afraid to show what I feel. Letting people in is still... difficult, for a lot of reasons.
Being unable to turn off my mutation makes self-control an obsession for me.
That means I’m never going to be a touchy-feely kinda guy. I know how to be polite. I’ll shake your hand, but don’t expect me to hug you like we’re old friends... unless we actually are old friends. And if we are old friends, you probably realize that while you’re hugging me I’m making sure my eyes are closed, and as long as you’re at close range I’m worried about my glasses staying in place.
Yeah. Most of my close friends don’t hug me. Or, if they do, they’re careful about it. They know I don’t mind the gesture, but the proximity makes me uncomfortable.
For me, loss of control is not just an accident. It’s deadly.
If I’m not careful, I’m deadly.
Her hand, soft on my face, distracts me from that thought. As it’s meant to. I know she hates when I think that way, coldly assessing the threat and classifying myself as a danger. I’ve never been that to her, not even for an instant. So for her, and only for her, I put my fears and my worries aside and I stay still to let her fingers slide against my face. For me, this is what trust looks like. For her, it’s just a small show of affection, support, comfort. Either way, it’s unwavering love.
Any time she’s this close to me, it will never be a simple gesture. But I trust her enough to simply enjoy the touch, because it’s Jean’s and because I love her to distraction. Her love has always had the truly amazing ability to make me forget myself; all my pain, and angst, and worries somehow lose their crippling weight when compared to the intensity with which I love her... so much more than anything I have ever felt in my life, I love her.
She smiles as she picks up on my feelings. Far happier with those thoughts than the others, Jean strokes her fingertips against my hair as she leans her head into my neck. I kiss the top of her head before resting the edge of my chin there. Now we’re alone together. The students are safely inside for the night. Even given the chance to (legally) break curfew, they’ve gradually lost interest with the late night meteor shower, gotten cold, or sleepy, or just bored, and wandered back inside. For the life of me, I don’t know why. I could watch this forever.
But, of course, I’ll never complain about having privacy (It’s almost as rare a thing to come by around here as peace and quiet.). Right now I’m holding my girl in my arms. Just the two of us, and the star-strewn midnight sky above our heads. And all is right in my world. I know that sounds corny as all hell, but there’s no better way to explain the feeling.
If everything else in this world went to hell tomorrow, all I would really need is her. I know that as long as I have her standing by my side, there’s nothing the two of us can’t face together. But really, it’s even simpler than that. As long as I’m holding on to her, I don’t need to worry about the rest of the world.... For just this moment, all that matters is our little corner of the world. For the moment, this is all I need to know.
Part of me couldn’t believe it when Jean first suggested the psychic rapport. I think she was just as surprised when I accepted on the spot. She told me that day, it was a lot to ask: total sharing, total intimacy, total trust. She was right, but it didn’t matter; I already trusted her.
That’s another thing about me. I don’t make commitments lightly. I’ll overanalyze any decision half to death if given the chance. But once the decision is made and it’s time to take action, I don’t keep anything in reserve. Once I’m in, I’m all in. Trust was never my problem. My problem was not being able to show it. I wanted her to know what I felt. Not being able to properly express to her how much she meant to me frustrated the hell out of me. I didn’t have any doubts. I didn’t have to think twice; the psychic rapport sounded to me like a perfect solution: part of her in my mind, part of me in hers.
A part of me lives and dies with her... and I don’t want it any other way. I want to curl up beside her and hold her tight until I fall asleep at night. Then feel her again, close beside me, when I wake the next morning. I hold her hand in public for the same reason. I don’t want to water down what I feel for her. It doesn’t matter to me if it makes the students giggle, and roll their eyes, and tease us about public displays of affection. I love and adore her way too much to push those feelings aside for some arbitrary social standard that says I should act more reserved.
I know, I know... I’m reserved enough already. Ol’ stick-in-the-mud Cyclops.
I can be pretty intimidating. As Cyclops – in the field, leading the X-Men – it’s completely intentional. But sometimes it carries over into my personal life more than I intend for it to. Most of the students figure out pretty quickly that I’m more approachable than I might seem. And on the rare occasion when they don’t, it’s usually Jean who lets them in on the secret.
He’s not always so serious.
I’ll gladly take that as a complement, and one of the nicest ones I’ve ever been paid.
It’s the truth. I love to play pool, and I’ve been known to get into elaborate water gun/water balloon fights, and can quote every line of Star Wars. I play sports with the students, and take them hiking, and if I give a detention it’s not so much because a rule was broken but because I want a lesson to be learned from it. I try really hard to be strict but fair. I feel strongly that our kids need to have structure and boundaries, but what they need most is to know that we’re all on the same side here. No matter what, I’m always on their side.
Scott Summers is actually a pretty laid-back guy these days. I’m comfortable at the Institute. I like being a teacher; I like having the opportunity to make a positive impact in my students’ everyday lives. But I’m also Cyclops; I have to be that guy too. I have responsibilities to the school, to the Professor, to the students, to my team. All of them are my family, and that’s something I will never take lightly. I’ve sworn myself to protect them, to take care of them, no matter what. In the end, that’s the thing that always keeps me going... even through the dark times.
My life has changed, a lot. Once, my only goal was to protect myself. But that was before I had a home, and a family, and a purpose. Now, the most important thing in my life is protecting others. And the most important person in my life is Jean. I’ll never know how in the world I got so lucky... to be completely, head over heels, in love with the most amazing woman in the world. My partner, my hero, my lover, my best friend.
I laugh softly, feeling her hold her breath as a fresh round of meteors begins to streak across the night sky. Keeping with our own time-honored tradition, I simply count them, while Jean makes a wish for every shooting star. I think it’s as accurate a description of the two of us as you’ll ever find. I’m the practical, logical, methodical one. I ground her, like an anchor to the ship in the storm of her telepathy. Without me, she’d be tossed about on the ocean. She’s the imaginative, intuitive, impulsive one. Without her, I’d be trapped at the bottom of the sea, weighed down by my own chains. But working together, we master the same waters that, alone, would have drowned us.
It’s not just a matter of opposites attracting. It’s far more than that. We connect, like two pieces of the same puzzle, made to fit perfectly. We know each other better than we know ourselves, well enough to be completely comfortable and secure in our own skins. And we work seamlessly together, far stronger together than either of us are apart.
We bring out the best in each other. We always have.
Aside from the slight movements that make up a seamless exchange of small, affectionate touches, both of us are quiet and still, watching the sky... feeling at home and utterly content. I find myself marveling over the sight and the feelings alike.
No matter how much my life changes, the stars don’t change. It’s still a wonder to me that the sight of the heavens above my head is always steady, always constant... even while constantly changing within itself, all of its own accord. I still long for that stability. I’ve done everything I can to instill it in my life, to all but embody it for the kids at the school, and for the team in the field. But anytime I feel like I’m losing that battle, I need only look to the stars. Their immutable stability strengthens me and refreshes my resolve.
And the heaven in my arms? The circumstances change, much like the seasons change. The relationship changes, and even the feelings change, as our journey progresses. But we still keep moving forward, side by side. Like two set constellations crossing the night sky together... shifting subtly with the seasons, but remaining constant despite the passing of time. As constant as anything can be in this crazy life.
The night is turning from cool to cold, but neither of us are tempted in the least to go back inside, not yet anyway. The chill in the air is pleasantly buffered by each other’s arms and the comforting warmth of body heat. I wrap another blanket around her and hold her closer as Jean leans back against me in return. Then she laughs and gives my hand a squeeze because I’ve started playfully humming a familiar song in her ear. I love that we can somehow manage whole conversations made up entirely of nonverbal communication; we practically have our own matching vocabulary of inside jokes as well.
Sure, the psychic rapport helps, but it’s not a matter of knowing what she’s thinking or feeling. It’s all about shared history, and lasting friendship, and a kind of comfort that you can feel in your bones. This is what we’ve built together, through so many years of shared experiences and more sleepless nights than I can count: the romantic kind, and the sharing deep dark secrets kind, and the saving the world from the brink of disaster kind. The one thing they all have in common is this: the two of us, together. I wouldn’t trade even one of those experiences for anything in this (or any other) world.
I know she loves me. That heaven is always steady, always constant.
I always love her. She knows that will never change. It might as well be written in the stars.
So Let it Be Written Publishing © 2004