A moment comes in every man's life when he must either transcend his past, or become the victim of it.
It was the tail end of summer and the school year at Xavier's had just begun, but now I was a teacher, not a student -- a fact that still dimly amazed me, though it had been twelve years since that September afternoon when a skinny boy in black leather pants and a muscle shirt had rang the doorbell at a Westchester mansion. My own students wouldn't have recognized my younger self, which is a good thing. I've become respectable in khaki and cardigans. And perhaps it's sheer chance that the most fortunate changes in my life have all occurred under the light of the Dog Star, which is supposed to be ill-omened. Still, I suppose in the larger sense, that fall wasn't an auspicious time to be a mutant, with congress back from recess and Senator Kelly's Mutant Registration Act on the block. If it passed, by 2006, I'd be carrying a little card with my picture on it -- and a danger rating.
Jean had been asked to speak before the Senate -- give a presentation on mutancy. To me, she's just Jean of the irrepressible smile and unexpected temper, but to the rest of the world she's Dr. J. E. Grey, M.D., Ph.D., among the leading U.S. experts on mutant evolution even though she's not yet thirty-five. She publishes articles with such titles as, "Genetic-environmental Interactions Leading to the Activation of the X-Factor Gene," and "X-Factor Positive: a multifactorial inheritance hypothesis." She wears little square glasses and fashionable suits under her white lab-coats. But she still laughs if I tickle her ribs and still gets excited over Christmas lights. And when she's nervous, she chews her hair.
"Stop it," I told her now, pulling the lock out of her mouth and smoothing it down.
She fluttered the fingers of her free hand in frustration. The other gripped a folder with the CD for her PowerPoint presentation, and her laser-pointer. "I can't help but think this is all an exercise in futility. They've already made up their minds."
"No. Even if the act passes, this isn't futile. If you change just two minds today -- that's two minds. The Mississippi River starts as a trickle in northern Minnesota."
She grinned briefly. "Exercising your philosophy degree, Mr. Summers?"
"He just likes to sound profound," said a familiar deep voice, and we both turned, Jean with an excited squeak, throwing her arms around Warren.
"Wouldn't miss it." He let her go, then turned to smile at me, but I could see the smile was a bit forced and his eyes were tired. Jean had spent the past month working on this paper, and Warren had spent it on the phone with his Yale cronies from The Order of Skull and Bones, trying to gain support from the pillars of government, business, and media who make up its alumni -- and who could put pressure on their Congressmen. Normally, such privileged lobbying disgusted me, but in this case, I was grateful for it.
His senior year at Yale, Warren had been invited to join The Order, and we'd discussed the matter before he'd accepted. He'd been reluctant, because we both knew I'd never be asked. It was the most exclusive club at Yale, still a preserve of wealth and conservatism at a college otherwise famed for its liberality. That Warren would be tapped had been, perhaps, predictable; just as predictable as the fact he hadn't wanted to accept, because he dislikes such exclusivity. I'd convinced him to. A strategist even then, I'd thought it might prove useful in the future.
And it had.
Just now, Warren gave Jean another hug and kiss, then released her so she could go backstage in preparation. The session was about to begin and he and I needed to find seats in the viewing balcony above. The professor was somewhere on the left, while we took seats on the balcony right, the better to spread out our observation.
We still had a few minutes before the session was called to order. "Do I need to think about moving to Canada?" I asked him -- only half joking.
His lips thinned, though he didn't look at me. "I don't know, Scott. I'm doing my best --"
"Hey -- I know." I gripped his shoulder. "Not a complaint. We're damn lucky to have you."
He glanced over at me. "You make it sound like I'm a sympathetic outsider." It was pained.
I squeezed the shoulder again, then let go. "Definitely not that." Reaching under my glasses, I rubbed at my closed eyelids. "So what are people telling you?"
"That they're scared."
"Don't be dense, Scott. People worry about everything from mutant criminals to mutant terrorists."
"Terrorists . . ." I snorted. "People are goddamn paranoid since 9/11."
"Maybe. But you have to admit it's not entirely unjustified. Imagine the damage you could do if you weren't on the side of the angels."
Behind my glasses, I frowned, unhappy to be reminded of the fact I was an unwilling weapon. "Any man with a gun is dangerous, War. That's why we have cops. Instead of alienating us all, maybe they should try asking us to help police our own."
He frowned, but didn't look at me. "You're thinking about black leather suits in a basement, aren't you?"
"For now, it's all we've got."
He might have said more, but the vice president had risen to call the Senate to order.
Jean wasn't the first to speak. In fact, she was scheduled last. They had a variety of others, from a psychologist to the mother of a boy who'd been accidentally killed during another mutant boy's manifestation, which was apparently the ability to create earthquakes. Part of a house had collapsed on the kid, and while I grieved for his mother, couldn't imagine what she was feeling, I could imagine what the mutant boy was feeling. I knew what it was like to kill accidentally; I knew what it was like to live in fear every day that one wrong move could be deadly for someone else. But. "Registering mutants isn't going to stop accidents during manifestation," I muttered to Warren under my breath.
His eyes drifted my way, though he didn't turn his head. The high, overhead lights glittered in his golden hair. "Registration is just the first step," he said softly. "If it passes, they're already lining up a law to permit X-gene testing in the womb during amniocentesis."
"Abortion's a sin unless it's a mutant?"
"It'd present the evangelicals with an interesting theological quandary, wouldn't it?"
"Too easy," I replied. "We have to be considered human for it to be murder. Hunting Indians was perfectly legal once; they just classified them as 'wild animals.'"
Warren snorted. "Well, if they can get the amniocentesis check passed, then they're planning to require genetic testing before visas are issued to resident aliens. Fetuses and foreigners make easy targets. Once all that's in place, they'll start pushing for general genetic testing of all U.S. citizens, particularly children and teens. They'd have support for that from groups who don't give a flying fuck about mutants."
"Let me guess -- insurance companies?"
"Hole in one. But that works in our favor. We can reminding people that compulsory DNA testing could have much wider applications, resulting in higher insurance rates for those with certain genetic predispositions -- diabetes, cancer, heart disease -- or even denial of coverage altogether."
"They'd be assured it wouldn't be used for that. Privacy policies."
"Sure. But once the tests are made and the DNA reports a matter of public record, they can't be undone. If they're going to play the fear game, we can, too."
"I hate the fear game."
"But it works, Scott. The unfortunate truth is that it works better than education or positive campaigns. Why do you think politicians are so fond of it?"
"I hate politics, too."
He snorted, but Jean was being introduced, so he didn't reply. Her presentation went just fine -- right up until the end. She's a scientist, not a lawyer, and debate isn't her thing. Robert Kelley, who'd introduced the act, just used her as a convenient springboard for his now-familiar rhetoric.
And people were clapping. They'd been polite but silent through her presentation, yet for him, they clapped, and her expression had turned angry and disgusted. I'm sure mine mirrored it, arms crossed and chin tucked in. On the other side of the balcony, I could see the professor glancing around, watching people, as did the senators below, measuring support for or against the act.
And it was while I was studying the observers that a particular movement on the opposite side caught my eye -- a man dressed in a long coat, putting on a hat and heading for the exit.
I blinked, doubting my eyes. It had been twelve years and my memory might be wrong, but the gestures, the ramrod posture, even that beak of a nose . . . they were his. And if ever there was a place and time he might show up, this would be it.
"I've gotta go," I said to Warren, already moving.
"I'll tell you later. Find Jean, stay with her. I'll be there as soon as I can."
"Scott -- !"
But I was halfway to an exit.
I didn't find him immediately, and feared I might have missed him entirely if he'd left by a side exit. But finally I saw him at a distance down a wood-paneled hallway, his back to me, the edges of his dark coat flapping in the wind of his passage. "Erik Lehnsherr!" I called.
The click of his shoes on tile ceased and he stopped to turn, his expression curious. I trotted forward until about ten feet separated us. "Do I know you?" he asked.
He'd been a handsome, dignified man once, and still was, but now his age was showing. Like the professor, he was past seventy, though he hadn't turned sixty the first time we'd met. Nonetheless, compared to me, he hadn't changed at all.
"You might recognize me better with longer hair, kohl around my eyes, leather pants, and fuck-me boots."
His reaction to that was an utter bafflement I didn't think feigned, and I wondered how many other boys in leather pants he'd bought.
"I'm Scott Summers."
At this, his expression altered subtly but profoundly, the slight frown smoothing, his chin going up and his shoulders back, and he looked me over from crown to toe. "I hear you're teaching now for Charles."
"Math," I replied. "Sometimes shop."
"The shop instructor with a Yale degree in philosophy. How quaint."
"You don't approve."
"I think you're wasting your talent, yes."
"Wasting my talent helping kids? Well, fuck you and your intellectual elitist crap."
"I hardly said it was wrong to teach, now did I? I said you were wasting your talent. Those are not the same thing."
"So what do you think I should be doing?"
"Writing. You wrote brilliant editorials for the Yale Herald. You wanted to be a journalist and a philosopher. You wanted to change the world. Where is that boy, now? You were special once. Now you teach high school. You've grown comfortable. You fear exposure. You've forgotten how to risk."
"You have no fucking idea what I risk. As for exposure, it's a little late to worry about that. I've never hidden that I'm a mutant. Anyone looking could find it out, and if this damn act passes, I'll have to register. What about you? Which of us is really the one hiding?"
His lips tipped up. "Ah, Scott. Why don't you simply ask the question you came to ask?"
"How do you know I want to ask anything?"
"Because you expended no little effort to find me."
My jaw clenched. "All right. It was wrong, what you did to me all those years ago, and you're smart enough to know it. So why?"
"Do you want an explanation or an apology?"
He shook his head and I watched shadows catch on the craggy planes in his face. There was still no one in this hallway. "'Why,' is very simple, and you can already answer it for yourself. When I met you, you weren't ready yet to be saved. You trusted neither me nor my motives -- nor did you have any reason to. It required time."
"Time, yes. That, I'll buy. But it didn't require fucking me."
He drew himself up a little straighter and crossed arms over his chest. "Sex was the medium of exchange with which you were familiar. I had to win your confidence before I could bring you to Charles, and I had to do it as quickly as I could. I think you know just as well as I do that you were far too clever, and too cynical, to trust easily. And I had no idea how much time was left before your mutation manifested. Charles had told me it could happen any day."
"I didn't manifest for almost a year, you ass."
"But we didn't know then that such would be the case. To borrow a clich, the clock was ticking. So I spoke to you in a language you were ready to understand. I became a 'good john,' so that you would trust me faster without suspecting my motives. After all, you thought you already knew what my motives were. You still think you know."
"A good man would have done better than a good john."
"Double meanings, Scott?"
"Swords have two edges, and both cut."
"Ah -- aphorisms, too. Tell me, my philosophy student, do you believe in ontological truth?"
I turned my head, just slightly. He was going Socratic on me, which could be dangerous. "Maybe. But if there's ontological truth, we can't know it."
"So -- truth is relative, and ethics are situational. Yes, as I recall your editorials, that was always your position."
He'd read them? I resisted feeling flattered. "That doesn't mean I think there aren't boundaries -- lines in the sand. You crossed them."
"'The boundary is the best place for acquiring knowledge.'"
He was quoting Paul Tillich at me, just assuming I'd recognize it -- and I did, which annoyed me that he could guess so well what writers would have appealed to me. "You're playing at eristics, Erik. I'm not impressed. Stick to the point, don't twist it to sound clever."
"I wasn't. The point is that the boy you were couldn't have gone from Alphabet City to Westchester County in a single step, yet I had to get you there as fast as I could. My choice was not ideal, but it worked -- the best option available at the time. You've lived on the street enough to know that ideals are what we have -- but not the world we live in. As you said, there may be an ontological truth, but we can't know it. And sometimes we must choose the lesser of two evils."
He smiled, very faintly. "You wanted an answer. That's my answer -- and my apology, as well. But I can't give you regrets because looking at you now, seeing the man you've become, I don't regret for a moment what I did."
I just stared. "And you think I'm going to forgive you for that?"
"Not at all. Nor did I ask you to."
That wasn't the answer I'd expected, though I should have. And if I were no less angry than I'd been when I'd first spotted him, and no more inclined to accept what he said, I suddenly felt sorry for him, even though I knew he'd despise my pity. Yet there was a point at which intelligence betrayed wisdom, and he'd passed it.
"You told me once that I reminded you of someone," I said. "Do you remember that?" He just nodded. "Who was it?"
I'd thought he'd say the professor, but he didn't.
"Me," he said. "You reminded me of me."
For almost a full minute, I didn't respond. We just looked at each other. Finally, I said, "But I'm not you." And turning on my heel, I walked away.
Notes: In the comics, Scott's degree was in journalism, but as Yale doesn't have a journalism degree, I settled for philosophy, with experience on one of the (many!) student-run publications. Scott and Erik use some philosophical jargon in their debate, so quickly: onotological truth is absolute truth; aphorisms are (sometimes cliched) truisms; a formal apology is an explanation/defense, not "I'm sorry"; eristics is the art of argument aimed at winning; and Socratic method is question and answer, designed to lead the student to a new revelation. The Order of Skull and Bones is a real club, the most prestigious at Yale, and its alumni include both George W. Bush and John Kerry.
Briefish endnotes filed separate as "Special: Endnotes"
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Title: In These Hallowed Halls (Special 18)
Series Name: SPECIAL: the Genesis of Cyclops
Author: Minisinoo [email] [website]
Details: Series | 15k | 01/15/05
Characters: Scott, (surprise)
Pairings: Scott/Jean assumed
Summary: Years later, unexpected meetings.
Notes: This entire series is ADULT.
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