N.B.: As this takes up directly where "Diamonds in the Rough" left off, and re-reading the final scene there, or at least the final few paragraphs, is advised. (Other notes at end.)
I had to get away. Get away from what I'd done, get away from anything and anyone else I could hurt, because my whole fucking life, I'd been nothing but a jinx.
That was the only thought in my head as I fled the shattered mansion den. I could barely think at all, in fact, and stumbled about in the rain, sliding on wet, muddy spring grass and driveway gravel, blind and stunned. Once or twice, instinct made me open my eyes as I went crashing to my knees and each time, the same twin red beams lashed out, ripping through whatever lay in front of me: grass, gravel, dirt, bushes, trees, the stone wall around the grounds itself . . . it was as if nothing could stop them. Nothing except the fragile skin of my own eyelids.
But it didn't take me long -- even in my stupefied state -- to come to three conclusions. First, no matter what, I had to keep my eyes shut. Second, I really was a mutant. And third, I had no place to go.
It was bottomless desperation that kept me walking anyway. Just walking. I wound up in the orchard, tripping over tree roots until, furious and trapped, I sank down on my knees to beat at the loam, digging up clumps of it with my fingers. This was what the fox felt when cornered by baying hounds. My hounds came in the form of police sirens screaming through the night up Greymalkin Lane, and I sure as hell didn't want to get caught. If I were caught, there would be an interrogation, a trial, and probably a shrink or three, then they'd lock me away in some cell to rot.
"Get up and walk, Summers," I told myself. The cops might question Xavier and the rest for a while before coming after me, but come they would, and I had to get somewhere fast. "Think." I didn't have time for panic.
The orchard was close to the lake, and chances were the cops didn't have dogs. Even if they did, water killed scent and between the rain and the lake, I had a chance if I could just get to the boathouse dock. I could wade out under it and hide. In the dark, they likely wouldn't see me, and any dogs couldn't smell me. Maybe, if I were lucky, I'd pass out from the cold and drown, and that would solve everyone's problem.
So I headed in what I hoped was the direction of the lake, but I was so utterly disoriented, I had to open my eyes three times, damage be damned, just to get my bearings from a few seconds of sight. The ancient apple trees paid for it. Finally I found the lake, though the skin of my hands and face was cut, and my clothes were soaked and torn. I couldn't hear sirens now, or any sound of pursuit. It was funny how preternatural my hearing had become in half an hour, but all other senses were reaching out, compensating. My nose brought the scent of water and decay and my ears brought the peculiar flat echo of sound off water to my left as I walked along the lake shore, then the distinctive lapping of water against something. I slowed, moving forward with caution, feeling for the foot of the pier by the boathouse. I should be approaching on the far side, and that seemed to be the case when my shoe finally struck wood. Despite my care, I almost stumbled, but still heard no sounds beyond the water lapping and my own breathing, harsh, scared. My hand found the pier rail, just enough for direction, then I waded out into the water before turning to find my way beneath the walk. In the night and the rain, everything was uniformly dark, but I could sense the enclosed space, smell rotting wood, and feel the cobwebs that clung to my fingers. I made a startled, disgusted noise, shoving my hand under water to wipe them off on my jeans. I hate spiders -- creepy, crawly things. There were goddamn spiders under the pier and it made me shudder. "Stay away from me, Charlotte," I whispered.
Then I tried to hunker down and be quiet. The water was freezing and before long, my teeth were chattering. I still heard nothing, but I couldn't believe they'd let me get away. I'd just killed three people and wrecked a man's historic, family mansion, plus I was the reason Jack Winters had come there in the first place. No way would anyone help me after this. I'd never really grasped why Xavier was helping me in the first place, and now, I'd nearly caused his death. Let a snake into the house and eventually it bit you. I could have told him that six months ago, but I'd been too . . . too what? Selfish? Bent on my own survival? Survival had become a habit, like the words I'd memorized from *Angels in America: "Death usually has to take life away. I don't know if that's just the animal. I don't know if it's not braver to die. But I recognize the habit. The addiction to being alive. We live past hope."*
I'd lived past hope. Or maybe, in these past six months, the desire really to live had finally granted me the courage actually to die. People on the street survived; they didn't live. I'd learned -- just a little -- how to live. And it seemed to me, in that moment, that my death was the best thing I could give the people who'd done so much for me.
And I wasn't afraid.
The shaking had become so bad, I could feel my muscles spasming. Let it go, let it go, let it go . . . If I could just slide down under the surface, too cold to resist and too rigid to fight to breathe, that would be the end of it. I'd never hurt anyone again. I'd never hurt again.
Let it go . . .
Don't you dare!
A voice in my mind and it wasn't my own. It startled me so much I made some squeak, like a mouse.
Dammit! Don't you dare give up on us, Scott Summers!
The words were full of a fear and anguish as great as my own, but distinctly not mine. Rage, too, but a rage born out of dismay. And now I could hear the sound of someone moving out of the orchard trees and down the path at a run. Just one person, loud. No dogs. Where are you, you stubborn son of a bitch?
Who are you?
JEAN! Who'd you think it was?
Yes, of course. I should have recognized her mental signature but hadn't often felt her mind -- she was scrupulous in her respect of other's mental privacy -- yet it was her impatience, her irritation, and beneath, her innate warmth that had always drawn me like a moth against my will. I hadn't wanted to like her, but she'd made me. And now, I didn't want to reveal myself, but the force of her concern made me. "Here," I said aloud. My voice sounded funny to my own ears.
Her feet drummed on the pier overhead. "You're in the water? You idiot! Get out of there right now!" Then to my astonishment, I heard her leap off the pier into the lake, cursing the cold as she waded beneath the pier to pull me out bodily. "Do you want to catch your death? It's freezing!"
And then . . . something. Some hint she caught fluttering in my mind, and she just stopped. "My God," she said. "You were. That's what you meant to do. Die." And, in a softer voice, almost broken, "How could you?"
"How could I not? I just fucking killed three people, Jean! I fucked up! I fucked up so bad I almost got all of you killed! Just leave me the hell alone -- it's better this way!"
Heartbeats of silence, stretching out, then she was yanking me off balance and out from under the pier. I could hear her sobbing, but also cursing through chattering teeth, "Fuck, fuck, fuck! You goddamn stupid little shit! I refuse to let you die just because you think it's convenient." She was like a force of nature, and all I could do was follow as she hauled me towards the shore, half by her grip on my arm, half by her telekinesis. I was reminded of the whirlwind she'd created with her powers in the den, in defense of us all. Never underestimate Jean Grey.
"The cops -- "
"The professor's taking care of that. You shut up." She was still crying -- I could hear it in her voice -- and she was hauling me somewhere. Then I tripped -- on a rock or a root -- and fell. She was immediately at my side, helping me to stand, wrapping one arm about my waist and stroking my hair with her free hand. "I'm sorry, I'm so sorry. I've got you, okay? Do you trust me?"
"Do I have a choice?"
"Yes, Scott -- you do." The hand was still stroking my wet hair. "I'm furious at you -- you scared us to death -- but yes, you have a choice. Do you trust me?"
The words surprised me, but I answered, "Yeah." And I did trust her. And suddenly . . . I could see.
It wasn't my own vision. For one thing, I was seeing myself in the dark -- sopping wet, bruised in the face, eyes squeezed shut in panicked desperation, and very, very pale from the chilled lake water. "Wow," I whispered, amazed despite everything.
"I'm taking you to the lake house."
"Aren't the cops after me?"
"No. I told you, you don't need to worry about that."
"But how -- "
"Don't ask questions. Just let me get you there." And hauling me up, she led me the rest of the way, propelling me through the door of the boathouse.
When I'd first heard the term 'boat house,' my working-class background had assumed it to be a machine shed for engine and equipment storage. But it's a house, or cabin, really. Once, a butler or groundskeeper might have lived there, but these days, guests used it, the decor woodsy-rustic with exposed ceiling beams, dark paneling and wooden pillars, a red brick fireplace, lattice windows and comfortable furniture. Upstairs were two bedrooms and a bath, and downstairs, a modern kitchen and a dining nook off the living room. Because it used pillars instead of walls to separate areas, the open space made it seem larger than it was.
It was a bit dizzying to see out of her eyes, but so much better than being blind. I hadn't realized just how much sightlessness had contributed to my panic, but with the solid feel of her grip around my waist, her body heat, and her vision, my terror eased and adrenaline faded. I was very, very tired, and still so cold my tremors were a constant thing, making my muscles ache. Jean sat me down on a footstool by the fireplace and said, "Don't move," then (gently) broke the mental link and my world went black again. "I'll be right back, okay?" Her hands withdrew and I listened to the sound of her moving about the bottom floor, then up the stairs, the creak of steps overhead, and back down. A soft fleece blanket was dropped around my shoulders, very big. "Get out of your clothes, Scott, and wrap up in the blanket. Drop the wet stuff on the carpet and I'll take care of it. Then I want you to go lay down on the couch. It's right behind you, about two feet. I won't be watching you undress. I'm going to find some wood for the fireplace."
I could have cared less if she was watching, and grabbed for her arm, caught it more by chance than design. "Your clothes are wet, too." But what I meant was, I'm scared. Don't leave me.
She laid a hand over mine. "Don't you worry about me. I need to get a fire started, then find some food. I looked for clothes but couldn't find anything besides spare socks." She seemed amused by this. "But I was in a hurry, so I'll check again. There are lots of blankets, so we'll be fine, just not fit for a Paris runway."
"Thank you," I whispered.
"Don't worry about it." Then to my surprise, she bent and kissed me on the cheek. "Everything's going to work out. You'll see."
I almost laughed at that. She was either crazy or as nave as a newborn kitten. And why was she here? What had I ever done to deserve her protection, or her care? To deserve anyone's? Hadn't she realized what I'd been and what I was? Could I still get away when she wasn't looking?
Not damn likely. She'd found me with her telepathy once; she could do it again. I felt as trapped by that as by the cops back at the mansion, and it mutated my relief and gratitude into anger and resentment. I couldn't leave, so I did the only thing I could do: refuse to comply. I sat on the rug in my wet clothes and my darkness and clenched my teeth, trying to stop my shaking. Even my body wouldn't obey me.
She came back after a while. Without vision, time seemed to stretch. I heard the door open again and the smell of rain and the lake, then the clatter of logs in the hearth and her voice. "Scott? What's wrong? Why didn't you get out of those clothes?"
"Why do you fucking care?" I snarled back.
Silence, then she knelt down in front of me and her hand touched my face. I jerked back. "Scott? What is it?"
"Why won't you leave me alone? Why do you think you have to save me? Maybe I damn well don't want 'saved,' okay?" And I was reminded of the guy in the silver jaguar, who'd once told me that he saved people like me, all while he lay naked in bed after I'd blown him. 'Save' me, indeed. "I'm not your fucking toy," I told Jean now. "Or your goddamn 'project.' I don't need your pity."
I'd half expected her to yell at me again, or slap me, or even to cry, but she remained silent. Finally, she asked, "Do you really want to be left alone? Or are you just scared?"
"Don't play the shrink; you're no good at it." I wanted to make her mad. I wanted to make her go away. "You're just a pampered little upper class bitch who thinks she's Mother Teresa."
"And don't you play the bastard; you're no good at it." But she sounded amused instead of hurt, and that just made me angrier.
"I'm not fucking around! Get the hell away from me! I never liked you from the first time I laid eyes on you!"
She sighed. "Scott, quit trying to lie to a telepath. I thought you had better sense than that."
Her words stopped me cold, and I hissed, "Stay the fuck out of my head!"
"I'm not in your head. But I can still tell a lie. You're scared to death." Abruptly, I felt her grab my hand, hers atop the blanket, mine beneath, and I was glad for that thin skin of cloth insulating me. "I'm your friend, Scott. Nothing is going to change that."
"You don't fucking know me!" I pulled my hand free.
"Oh, yes, I do."
"No, you don't! You don't know anything about me! You don't know who I was!"
"I know who you are."
She gripped my chin with her other hand and for the first time, an edge of irritation entered her voice. "Quit arguing for half a minute, would you? I know you. Underneath all that bravado, you're the kindest person I've ever met. The house cats follow you around, and I see you with the horses -- how you take care of them. You feed the birds, and the squirrels, too, and I remember the time you made Warren stop the Boxter, so you could move a turtle off the road. I see all the little things you do -- pick up after the rest of us, keep the floors clear for Charles's chair, bring Henry food when he forgets to eat down in the lab -- put more Coke in the fridge . . . You thank the cook for making you dinner, and the maid for cleaning your room. The rest of us, we take it all for granted. You don't. You notice things, and I admire you so much for that."
Embarrassed and a little humiliated, I struggled to answer, and finally said, "I'm just trying to pull my weight. It's not like I've got anything else to give, no money, nothing of value. How can I pay back the professor except to do stuff? I'm not worth anything."
And then she did cry. She hadn't cried when I'd insulted her, but now she cried. I wanted to ask what was wrong, but I was already confused enough. After a minute, she moved a little closer to me, pulling my head onto her shoulder, the blanket still between us. I wanted to resist, but was so tired, and still so very cold. She was warm. She just held me, patting my back. "Listen to me. You are worth something. The professor loves you, Scott. I think he cares about every student he's ever had, but you -- you're special. You're special to me, too."
Her words bowled me over. "Why? Why do any of you care?" I whispered. "You don't know what I was."
"You keep saying that like it matters."
"No, it doesn't. And you're wrong, too. I do know. It still doesn't matter." Her hand moved from my back to my hair. "I had to ask Warren what a 'peach boy' was."
"Stupid name," she continued. "But yes, I know."
I couldn't move. I thought I might die of shame.
"It makes me so mad, I want to scream. I want to go out and hit something. But it doesn't change our friendship -- except to make me realize you're stronger and braver than I ever knew."
Hope beat wings against my ribcage, as if trapped inside Pandora's box. But I've often wondered, is Hope an amelioration, or the greatest evil of all, teasing us with impossible possibility? "Please don't mock me," I begged.
"Never." she replied.
"I don't know if I can trust anymore. I'm so tired, Jean."
"I know." She was still stroking my hair. "How about if we make a deal? Trust me just a little --enough to take care of you tonight. Can you trust me that far? I won't let you down."
I thought about it, finally said, "Okay."
So Jean undressed me down to my skivvies, her touch as impersonal as the doctor she wanted to be someday. Then she wrapped me in a second, drier blanket and went about lighting the fireplace. She found food, too. I hadn't realized I was hungry until she brought me some crackers and cheese, and a glass of apple juice.
She also fashioned a makeshift blindfold. "You're making your face muscles tired from squeezing your eyes shut, Scott."
"I don't know if I can keep them shut otherwise. I can feel the . . . whatever they are . . . pushing."
"I think I know something to take care of that." And she disappeared, returning a few minutes later to lay a heavy weight across my eyes. It smelled wonderful, sharp and cool with flax seed. "I saw this upstairs when I was looking for blankets and clothes. It's one of those eye pillows you see advertised." The 'pillow' was heavy and helped hold the eyelids shut. She bound it in place with a second tie. "That should hold it. Now, will you try to get some sleep?"
"What time is it?"
"Almost four in the morning."
And the cops still hadn't come for me. "What happened, up at the mansion? Is the professor okay?" It was the first time I'd thought to ask.
"Charles is fine. He came to not long after you ran off and sent me after you. Then he called the police."
"What's he going to tell them?" There were at least three dead bodies in the mansion den.
"I don't know what he told them, but I don't want you to worry about it. It's being taken care of."
"That was before the police got there."
"No, Scott. I'm a telepath, remember? And so is he. He knows where we are, and that you're safe. He was so very worried about you. He wants us to stay here and sleep. He'll see us in the morning. You have nothing to worry about." And she led me upstairs, helped me into a bed and tucked me in, as if I were her child. She even rubbed my back. But it reminded me of touches I'd rather forget, and after a minute or so, she registered that I'd tensed up. Letting her hand fall away, self-conscious, she muttered, "Sorry."
"It's okay," I said, embarrassed to have embarrassed her.
But I had a hard time sleeping. Whether or not I had to worry about the police, that didn't change the fact that I'd killed three people tonight. Yes, I'd hated them. Yes, they'd hurt me, and had been trying to kill me and my own. And yes, I'd probably do it again to save the others. But dead is dead, and a body without a head is a horrible thing. So is a body cut in half. I'd done that, and the weapon had come from inside myself.
I was the weapon. I had killed. After everything I'd done in my life, every way I'd been used as a sex toy, nothing had polluted me like that. I would never be the same.
Parts of the next few weeks, I have no memory of, just as there are parts of my time on the street that are simply erased. But in this case, it was the uncertainty of blindness and a powerful grief that rendered me insensible. Who had mourned for the dead Mariana, I wondered? Had anyone missed her? Was she buried in a pauper's grave? Even the knowledge that I'd killed the man who'd killed her didn't help. The death of Jack couldn't resurrect my friend; it only made me a murderer on top of being a whore. Some days, I simply didn't get out of bed, having no energy to face the chore of making my way around blind, and I ate little. It was easier to sleep, or at least to vegetate. I listened to the noise of reconstruction downstairs, the buzz of saws, the pound of hammers, repairing the damage I'd caused.
To this day, I don't know how Xavier kept me from being arrested, how the bodies were explained, or what became of the four goons who'd survived. I've never asked, either; I don't want to know. It was nebulous, and I was content with that. True to the promise Jean had given me, Xavier protected me, probably through highly illegal means. But the law isn't always about justice; it's about the law. I suspect that a few cops had their heads messed with, a few were lied to outright, and a few knew the truth but kept their own counsel, glad to be rid of the burden of Jack O' Diamonds. That his death would almost surely instigate internecine gang warfare among his lieutenants . . . well, that was the way of the streets. But the new alpha wolf would be weaker, with less influence and fewer contacts, and the police were happy with that. Sometimes, one must settle for the best one can hope for.
That was the lesson I was learning. The best I could hope for.
Xavier had hoped that my manifestation would be a cause for celebration. I learned many years later that he'd had a private dream all his life of making the manifestation experience of at least one child a time of joy and fulfillment, not fear and uncertainty and self-loathing. He'd planned to throw me a party. But no one had anticipated the fatal devastation of my power's genesis. I suppose, in a perverse way, I was lucky. Given my dicey mood at the time, I could just as easily have blown my top at Jean, or Warren, or Hank, or even the professor, and my power might have manifested against one of them. That, I couldn't have borne.
I was the first energy converter Xavier had ever seen. Erik Lehnsherr manipulated magnetic energy, but didn't convert it. Hank and Warren had physical mutations, and Jean's was like Xavier's -- psionic. But my body was one giant solar battery. Apparently, I have a tertiary system right alongside my circulatory and limbic systems that absorbs solar radiation through my skin, then conducts it to part of my brain that converts it into concussive force that's emitted back out through my optic pathways. Why the eyes, I have no idea, though I suppose if mine worked right, it'd target and fire instantaneously, with no need for eye-to-hand coordination.
But of course, it doesn't work right.
None of us knew that then, and almost the first words Xavier said to me on the morning after I'd blown up his mansion den were words of reassurance, not rebuke. "Most young mutants have to learn to control their powers, Scott. Warren couldn't immediately fly, Hank couldn't immediately climb walls, Jean couldn't immediately control either her telepathic shields or her telekinesis. But they learned. In my experience, just as babies are born with an instinct to pull up, to crawl, and then to walk, so each mutant is born instinctually knowing the proper way to manage his or her powers. You'll have to trust yourself."
But two weeks later, the news was different. It took that long, and that many failed attempts by me to command the beams, to reach the conclusion that there was something seriously wrong. My old medical file, sent by Children's Hospital in Omaha -- where I'd spent five months in a coma after the accident that had orphaned me -- only confirmed what they'd begun to suspect.
It was a Thursday afternoon in mid-April, and I could hear the sound of rain striking my window. April showers bring May flowers, but I was beginning to fear I'd never see them. Xavier came motoring into my room where I lay alone on my bed as I often did, listening to music. Music had replaced books. Though Jean and Warren read to me sometimes, Jean was still in class and Warren had other things to do than entertain me. I had my CD collection. I'd come up with a marking system on the jewel case spines that let me sort them according to type, and with Warren's help, we'd alphabetized those. I had a good memory for what I had, but it still often took three tries before finding the one I was after. Strangely, I resisted audio books, as if borrowing them from the library would be an admission that this state wasn't temporary.
Now, I could hear the whine of the professor's chair even over the earphones. I'd become extremely sensitive to sound and the disturbances of air in a room. It was hard to surprise me, blinded or not, and I removed the earphones, sitting up and turning my face in his general direction. The professor rarely came to my room, so I figured he had important news, but he began with small talk. "What are you listening to?"
"Bimbetta -- The War of Love." Despite the group name and album title, the music had been composed by Frescobaldi, Purcell and Monteverdi. Hank's fault. I'd never like his opera, and composers such as Wagner and Tchaikovsky drove me insane with their bombastic style, but I'd discovered that I enjoyed early modern and baroque very much -- the clarity of it. It pierced my soul in a way that later classical music didn't.
"Have you ever considered joining a chamber ensemble, Scott?"
"Me?" The idea struck me as absurd. "What for?"
"Every now and then, I've had the pleasure of hearing you sing to yourself in the kitchen. You have a fine ear and nice tenor."
That embarrassed me. I hadn't been aware that anyone had been listening. "I can't read music," I blurted. "Not that it matters now."
Normally when I made remarks like that, Xavier would admonish me with, "It's just a matter of time until you learn to master it." That afternoon, he didn't. Instead, he moved his chair closer and I felt his hand rest on my knee. In another place and time, I might have construed it as a come-on. "Henry is finally finished with his comparisons of your old medical charts to what data we can glean now."
Xavier's tone told me that whatever they'd found wasn't good news. "Apparently, your effect on medical equipment isn't new." All those fancy machines in the medbay didn't like my body much. X-Rays came back entirely white; MRIs and CAT scans were nearly indecipherable. "But the effect seems to have been intermittent when you were younger, so they did have several brain scans. You suffered severe injuries in the fall from the plane: multiple pelvic fractures, two broken legs and one broken arm, plus internal injuries -- it's a miracle your back wasn't broken. You also had fractures to both shoulder blades and the rear of your skull."
All the damage he listed was old news. Involuntarily, I touched a spot behind my ear where one of the scars lay from the holes they'd been forced to drill to relieve the pressure on my bruised and swelling brain. I'd always worn my hair longer to cover them.
"It seems the severe concussion that partly accounts for your lengthy period of convalescence did damage to the occipital lobes of your cerebrum. One of the doctors even wrote in your chart at the time that if you did regain consciousness, it was possible you'd suffer from vision problems or reading-related dyslexia of one stripe or another."
That, I'd never been told. "My sight's always been fine. Better than fine. Except for the sun headaches -- but that's new. And I've never had trouble reading." That was an understatement.
"Yet the damage is clear, according to Henry." Xavier hesitated, then said, "He thinks the damaged part of your brain isn't the part that controls sight or reading comprehension, but the part that would have controlled your mutant power."
He stopped, but it took a moment for the import of his words to register. "You mean I can't control it?"
"We're beginning to fear that's the case. As you know, scans of your cranial area are only nominally useful, but the MRI, at least, gives enough data that Henry can pinpoint the damaged section when he compares it to MRIs made at Children's Hospital nine years ago. It does show up a different color, which seems to reflect less activity."
"It's dead, you mean."
"Not dead, merely damaged. Obviously, part of the area still functions, or your mutation would never have manifested at all."
I pulled in my legs against my body and wrapped my arms around them, chin on knees. I didn't say anything for a while and Xavier didn't press me. "So what does that mean?" I asked finally. "I'm going to be blind forever?" Or effectively blind, as my sight destroyed whatever I looked at. For the past two weeks, uncertainty had driven me into increasing depression, but now I had the very truth I'd feared the most. "I hate it," I said now, ready to scream with rage, though I refused to lose control like that. "I hate being helpless like this!"
"I know." Xavier's voice was soft and I could hear him shift in his chair; that gave me pause. If anyone at the mansion understood what it was like to be told "never again," it was the professor.
"How do you stand it?"
He seemed to follow what I was asking, but then, of course he would. "Time," he replied, his voice gentle. "You adjust, relearn . . . But Scott, it is still very early. We have only just isolated the problem, and there may yet be a way around this. Please do not give up hope."
Unsure of what to think, I pressed one hand over the blindfold secured across my eyes, there to help hold them shut as much as to remind me not to open them. Fear suddenly filled me. "What'll happen if there's no way around it? Can you sew my eyes closed? Or just take them out?" Could they even do that without my blasting through the medlab roof?
"Absolutely not!" Xavier's tone was shocked and -- I could tell -- deeply upset. "I would never permit you to be mutilated, Scott. We can't know what the future will bring. I don't want you even to think about damaging your eyes permanently. Promise me that you'll attempt nothing drastic."
The emphatic nature of Xavier's concern took me by surprise, but I said, "Okay," intentionally vague about what I was agreeing to.
He left me then, and I lay down, sleeping through until early afternoon the next day. Once, Warren came by to sit with me a while, though he said nothing. I was too depressed even to cry, but his presence was the bulwark that I'd come to associate with him.
Deprived of sight, I'd developed new ways to see my friends. Warren had become the wall that enclosed and protected me, just as he did sometimes with his wings. He was scrupulously careful when I went walking with him, warning me of everything in subtle ways that spared my dignity; accidents rarely happened with Warren, and the few times he failed to warn me fast enough, or I failed to listen, one of those great wings would snap out to brace me or keep me from jeopardy. That, I thought, was Warren's nature. Maybe he'd taken the whole 'guardian angel' thing to heart, but it was just the foundation of his personality. He was a protector, a defender of those weaker than him. He embodied the absolute best of the old aristocratic ideal of social obligation. With power and resources came responsibility.
Hank was my educator, now no less than before. If the professor taught my classes, Hank taught me that the heart of learning is a spirit of adventure. For him, there truly were no stupid questions except the one that went unasked, and if he sometimes seemed childlike, it was because he'd never fallen into the sin of a cultivated apathy. From Hank I learned to enjoy life, whether sighted or blind.
One day while running errands for the professor (an attempt both to get me out of the mansion and to force me to function blind in public), Hank pulled off the highway unexpectedly, parked the car, and led me across a field. I wasn't at all sure where we were beyond someplace with a lot of squealing kids. Then he halted, took away my cane, and placed my hands on a set of what turned out to be monkey bars. "Climb, Scott."
"I can't fucking see!" I snapped back.
"You don't need to see, you only need to feel. I won't let you fall." And he didn't. By the end of the afternoon, I'd been on every toy the yard had to offer and had even caught myself laughing a time or three. What the children thought of two grown (or nearly grown) men playing on monkey bars and slides, I have no idea, but no one said anything to us.
Thus, when a few days later Hank arrived at my room with a handbook for Braille, braille flashcards, a braille keyboard and voice recognition software for my (unused for four weeks) computer, I didn't snap his head off. "You love to read, Scott. There is absolutely no reason to deprive yourself of that joy." Other things Hank brought included a currency scanner, a talking calculator, and a hinged-face pocket watch for telling time by touch. So I sat down that evening and began to memorize letters. When I got my sight back a month later, I kept it up anyway. Today, I read American Literary Braille fluently, and still use a braille keyboard. It's not an affectation. I'm at the mercy of my glasses or visor; without them, I am blind. And I refuse to be helpless. Besides, by the end of the day, their weight can give me a headache. It's a relief to take them off and read a book by touch.
Touch. What the blind can't do without, and what I had the most difficulty accepting. If Warren was my bulwark, and Hank my teacher, then Jean became my open door. It had been Jean who'd come after me that first night in the rain, who'd dragged me bodily back to land, and who, even before that, had taught me to accept a touch or embrace without flinching. She still touched me afterward, despite what she'd learned of my past, as if she knew how much I needed the reassurance of human contact. There was an added benefit -- when she was touching me, I could see. It proved, however, to be a double-edged sword. When I saw, I saw through her eyes, not my own, and the result was a tendency to misjudge distance. I ran into things. With more time, I might have learned to adjust, but Jean could only visit on weekends and about a month into my blindness, I realized that it was neither fair to be her visual parasite, nor useful. It only fostered dependence, which I despised. So I told her that I'd accept the gift of sight only occasionally. She didn't press the matter, but when she was around me, she was always touching me.
And thus I didn't associate Jean with sight, but with the warmth of skin and an enthusiastic grip. She grounded me, dragged me back to the shore of social companionship. I wasn't an island in a blind lake. Strangers who saw us probably assumed we were lovers, but it was never that kind of touch, not then, though I have no doubt that my complete ease with the feel of her body bled later into the sexual, not merely the sensual. At that point, she was simply my door. I passed through her back into the human race.
For convenience, I say I was blind for two months. In fact, I was blind for seventy-one days. I lost my sight about midnight on March 29th and regained it fully on June 8th. But the process started weeks before that, and like most important discoveries, it happened quite by accident.
'Try it again, Scott.' 'Concentrate, Scott.' 'Isolate the feel of the beams themselves.' 'Experiment with contracting and releasing the muscles of your eyes.' Probably all good advice, if things had worked right, which we eventually discovered they didn't. In those first weeks, I tore up a lot of lawn, a few trees, and probably confused a number of locals with the 'laser show' in the sky up at Xavier's estate. The difficulty with learning to control my powers (even if they had worked right), lay in their sheer destructiveness. I could dig a twenty-foot trench in seconds, and seconds isn't long if it's all new and you're trying to get a sense of how it feels. Aiming at the sky gave me more time, but I couldn't really determine relative force because the beams weren't striking anything (we hoped). The end result was that I usually stormed off inside half an hour, upset and frustrated past bearing. I was a walking weapon, my body good for nothing except destruction. It was hardly the mutant gift I'd have chosen. Warren got to fly. I got to punch holes in things.
About four weeks after my beams first manifested, Hank and the professor took me out to a corner of the estate that sported a shallow cliff of exposed granite, hoping that by trying my beams against such hard rock, I'd have more time to feel them. The professor still thought my lack of control might be 'mutant dyslexia' rather than an entirely dysfunctional 'on-off' switch. (It isn't.) And Hank was trying to discover if the density of an object had any containment effect. (It doesn't.) They'd had no idea just how much force the beams wielded, but when I drilled a hole twenty-five feet deep in the side of that cliff in ten seconds, they realized my 'optic blast' was a whole order of magnitude stronger than they'd thought. They also made a startling discovery.
The igneous granite had been riddled with veins of brown tourmaline and one massive deposit of SiO 2 -- silicon dioxide, or quartz. In this case, rose quartz, common to New York and Connecticut. The hole I'd made was clean-drilled, slicing through both granite and tourmaline, but leaving half-exposed that clump of raw, glittering, tectosilicate pink.
Rose quartz is my friend, so I've read a lot about it. The name comes from the Saxon word querklufterz, and the mineral has traditionally symbolized love and beauty. Romans believed it to be a fertility aid, it's the gemstone of the zodiac sign Libra, and South Dakota's official stone. Yet in terms of geology, it's . . . quirky. First, unlike all other forms of quartz, it rarely occurs in hexagonal prisms, only massive chunks. There's no scientific reason for this. Second, no one is entirely certain what gives it the distinct color. Mineral impurities, yes, but what impurities? Iron and titanium used to be thought the culprits, but more recent X-ray defraction tests suggest it's a previously unknown fibrous mineral related to dumortierite.
Whatever it is, it likes me, or my beams like it. A few more tests were conducted before they said anything, but on the five-week anniversary of my manifestation, Hank called me outside, sat me in a chair and told me to open my eyes. Still docile in my depression and used by now to being a guinea pig, I complied.
In front of me, I saw a wall of pink as the beams lanced out. They struck the wall -- and disappeared.
It startled me so much, I jumped to my feet, knocking the chair over backwards and blasting part of the lawn before I snapped my eyes shut. "What the hell just happened? What is that stuff?"
"Rose quartz," Hank said, sounding very pleased with himself as he righted the chair and guided me back down into it.
"Is it still in front of me?"
I opened my eyes again to the same astonishing result. The beams disappeared into the crystal -- mostly. A bit leaked around the edges, and I asked, "Are you sure this is safe?"
"As long as you don't shift your head much, we should be fine. Move in closer. I want to see the approximate width of the beams at close proximity." He didn't explain why and I was still too amazed to ask, just pressed my nose to the quartz. It was the gemmy kind, milky and opaque, like looking into a pink cloud. I could pick out the threads of it, capillaries under fair stone skin, and caught Hank in my peripheral vision moving about beside me, taking careful measurements with calipers. Everything was tinted red, but what I noticed most was the sensation of the beams releasing. Before, the longest I'd held my eyes open had been 20-30 seconds, but now, almost a full minute had passed and the sensation had gone from a sudden thrust to a steady pressure, not at all painful. Vaguely erotic, in fact. It had given me a partial hard-on and realizing what was happening, I shut my eyes.
"What's wrong?" Hank asked. "I wasn't quite finished."
"Sorry." I swallowed and concentrated, trying to make the erection go away, but of course, and perversely, concentrating only made it worse. One's mutant gift wasn't supposed to be a turn-on, was it? But the unexpected power of it, pouring out of me, felt bright like ejaculation.
I opened my eyes again and concentrated on feeling the beams. I could master this. My body didn't rule me, dammit. After a few moments, the sensation faded into physical background noise. Hank finished his calibrations and the blindfold went on again.
Thus began steady days of experimentation. Having something positive to concentrate on, I could drag myself out of bed in the morning. (Well, late morning.) I didn't want to think about my present blindness, my unsavory past, or dead people -- Mariana, Jack . . . my family. I only wanted to think about rocks. Hard, crystalline, impassive rocks.
Henry hallowed out a practice mask for me from the rose quartz I'd accidentally excavated from the hillside. The whole block had been ten inches by twelve, exceptionally large. He created a shallow bowl that curved over my face from chin to forehead and around to my ears. I had to hold it there, and it was heavy, but it gave me something to work against that didn't explode. I found that if I couldn't shut off the beams, I could control the power of their impact by pushing or relaxing, and I could vary their size by widening or narrowing my eyes. As we moved the mask closer to and away from my face, we could measure the beams' dispersion and project the width of the ray. Using the left-over quartz, Henry also began testing how thin the sample could be before it cracked under impact, and determined the effects of varying the aperture in the quartz. If the slit were long and narrow enough, the beams were pushed together until they made a single blast. I wasn't sure what the point of all that was, but Hank was about six steps ahead of me.
Experimentation proved that any type of rose quartz was resistant, but the thickness required to block the beams before the sample shattered depended on its impurity level -- suggesting it was the mysterious 'something' in rose silicon dioxide that absorbed my power.
In short, the darker the gemstone, the thinner it could be.
That presented a problem. Unlike other varieties of quartz, high-grade transparent rose crystal is damn rare, and most comes from Brazil. It's pale, too, with fewer impurities, and thus, less resistance. No piece of natural transparent stone is strong enough to withstand my beams, yet still be thin enough that I could see through it. Hank's solution? A synthetic. Synthetics, like cultured pearls, are real, just artificially created. The quartz used for my visors and glasses is lab grown, stabilized, and then enhanced by irradiation -- creating perfect, flawless crystals with a high level of mineral impurity, making it deep pink. Hank calls it 'ruby quartz.'
I remained intensely interested in the entire process, as it gave me something intellectual to latch onto, a raft in an emotional sea. I'd been drifting. Even so, science isn't a steady march forward. For every breakthrough that Hank made, he ran into another problem, yet he was determined to find a way for me to see again and spent hours in his lab, even though he was also juggling residency rotations. "Why are you doing this?" I asked him once. "I got you shot, almost killed."
"Don't be ridiculous. The bullet merely grazed my shoulder. And you did nothing." I could hear his motion cease. He'd been polishing yet another stone. "Listen to me -- you must cease to blame yourself for the actions of a hardened criminal, Scott. Yes, perhaps you erred in returning to visit your old roommate." By now, they all knew how Jack had gotten my cell number. "But it was an error, and a compassionate error, at that. Would that all of us made mistakes of that kind. Let blame fall on the right shoulders -- and they aren't yours."
I heard him out, but maintained my doubts. Instead, I said, "That still doesn't explain why you're helping me. Every spare hour you don't spent at the hospital, you're down here playing mad alchemist."
I could hear the smile in his voice. "I delight in a challenge, and this is a massive challenge." Then he grew serious. "But more than that, you belong to this little mutant family, Scott. Your burden is my burden, and in this case, it's a burden I can do something about. So I am."
I pondered that, remembering what Jean had said to me on the night she'd come after me -- that she admired how I noticed and did things for people. I'd replied that it was all I had to offer. And it was -- but I'd been looking at it wrong, as a payment, not a gift. We each had something to give. Mine was noticing things. That encompassed who I was, though I'd never thought of myself in those terms. Always before I'd been an orphan, a runaway, a street-kid, a hustler . . . a problem. But I was also a shepherd of sorts, an organizer, and -- if Xavier could be believed -- a budding tactician. I saw patterns in things, how they held together, and what was required to make them work. Hank's gift was ingenuity, Warren's was compassion, Jean's was enthusiasm, Xavier's was vision, but I was the glue that held them all together.
I liked that thought a lot better than being a whore.
Three days later, Hank caught me in the kitchen on a Sunday morning. It was brunch; Warren, Jean and I were quarreling over whether pancake syrup should be hot or cold (surely a topic of epic importance), when Hank burst through the door, shouting, "Eureka!"
"Whathefuck . . .?" I heard a loud clatter as something fell. "Don't scare the shit out of me like that!" Warren snapped, presumably at Hank.
"What is it?" I asked, frustrated yet again at my blindness.
"War dropped his plate of pancakes," Jean explained
"Forget the pancakes!" I heard Hank bound over to undo my blindfold and put something else on my face instead. It was heavy and cold, like metal, and it fit snug over my ears and across the bridge of my nose. "Wholah! Open your eyes, Scott!"
"Are you fucking crazy? Not in the house!" I'd been through a couple of Hank's experiments before, enough to be cautious.
"Okay, so let's go outside."
"Shouldn't the professor be here?" Jean asked.
"I don't know --" I began even as Hank said, "Yes, yes!"
So Xavier was summoned from where he'd been taking quiet time in his office, and we all exited the kitchen's servant door, Jean guiding me by the elbow. I tried not to think while we trooped out onto the lawn beyond the herb garden. This would probably be another failure; no reason to get my hopes up. When we stopped, Hank said, "Open your eyes, Scott!" And cautiously, I cracked them a little inside the new contraption on my face. Nothing happened. No exploding quartz, no deadly optic blasts.
It was marvelous.
Everything was red and distorted and dark, even outside at near noon, and the visor itself lay heavy and uncomfortable on my face. But it was marvelous. After months of blindness, the power of vision felled me.
Dropping to my knees, I whispered, "I can see."
Notes: Thanks to Cyclops&Phoenix, especially Lelia and Naomi, for a long-ago discussion of Scott's injuries and the discovery of his glasses. Thanks to Heatherly for reading over it. Bimbetta is http://www.bimbetta.com/ -- "a blend of cabaret, Commedia Dell'Arte, and MTV Unplugged."
Story IX is "The Approach of Splendor"
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Title: Rose-Colored Glasses (Special 8)
Series Name: SPECIAL: The Genesis of Cyclops
Author: Minisinoo [email] [website]
Details: Series | 46k | 10/08/04
Characters: Scott, Jean, Hank
Summary: A dark night of the soul.
Notes: The entire series is ADULT. This story contains the only fanfic explanation I know of for how Scott's ruby-quartz glasses were discovered. ;>
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