Wanda kept her fingers pressed tightly to either side of Scott’s eyes as they walked through the protestors. She couldn’t force him to keep his eyes open, of course, but she certainly made no offer to remove her hands. Nor would he have been happy if she had let up. He didn’t really want this to be easy. It wasn’t that he felt he shouldn’t be doing this, exactly, but he was aware that, at the very least, he wasn’t setting the best example. It was proper that he be reminded of that.
He joined the long line behind a woman with pouches of flesh that protruded from her elbows and hung down her arms. She looked at him, at the crowd, at the line, and commented, “Welcome to the mutant abortion line, both of you. What’s your poison?”
Scott wanted to tell her not to call their mutations that, even in jest. But it seemed kind of hypocritical to do so at the moment.
“I’m just here with him,” Wanda said hastily. “He needs me to restrain his eyes.”
“Have you been doing that all your lives?”
“Not quite. I had a special pair of glasses, but...” he drifted off.
“But?” the woman repeated dubiously.
“He’s misplaced them at the moment,” Wanda explained lightly.
“That’s why you’re taking the cure? Because you lost your glasses? Don’t you think you should try looking for them instead?”
“There are more reasons than that,” Scott told her. “It’s a long story.”
“Talk away,” replied the woman. “In case you haven’t noticed, we’re going to be here a while.”
She had an undeniable point there. But Scott wasn’t sure if it was an especially good idea to mention his affiliation with the X-Men at the moment. During the on-spot interview that Ororo had submitted to at Alcatraz, she had made her disapproval of both the cure and those who took it clear. “I would never attempt to stop a mutant from taking this so-called ‘cure,’” she had said, “or attempt to destroy it, but I think it’s in most cases unnecessary, even cowardly.” He only hoped she wasn’t speaking that way to mutants like Rogue, who might want the cure for reasons that had nothing to do with being accepted.
Come to think of it, he was one such mutant himself at the moment. It was still strange to think of himself that way. He wasn’t about to assume he was some unique special case, especially when anyone in his situation probably wouldn’t make their emotional state known to too many strangers, but even so, he didn’t think his motives could be that common, in the end.
The woman was still staring at him expectantly. Scott heard Wanda sigh and snap, “Will you please stop staring? Someone like you ought to know very well how rude it is.”
“Chill out!” said the woman incredulously, and turned away.
The line inched forward in a manner rather ominous, if one thought about it, and most of the mutants in the line had the time to as well. Because every time they moved forward, it was with the awareness that it was because another mutant had just been injected with the cure, opening up the operation room for the next. Or at least it seemed that way to Scott.
“Aren’t your arms getting tired?” he asked Wanda after some time.
“No,” she replied crossly, and he didn’t ask again.
The line moved, the protestors yelled, the woman in front of them yelled back, but of course she couldn’t be heard over them. Even Scott couldn’t make out her words, when he was standing next to her. It didn’t seem to be just his imagination that they were louder nearer to the building entrance.
Even inside the building their voices traveled through the walls, and woman sighed and said, “Don’t they ever get bored out there?”
“Probably not,” replied Wanda icily, before Scott could say anything.
“Oh, if you’re so self-righteous,” the woman sneered, “why are you helping him? You could take him away from here if you wanted to. Or is it just that his is the only justifiable case of taking the cure in the world?”
“I’ve chosen not to judge him. At least he’s not judging them.”
The voices died down eventually, when they got further down the corridor. At some point Scott let his eyes close, and Wanda let her arms relax. She kept her hold on him though, wrapping her right arm around his left to steer him. He heard the woman laugh and ask, “Why didn’t you do that earlier?” Neither responded.
“We’re reaching the end of the line.” As she said this, Wanda moved her hands back and Scott opened his eyes and saw she was right. They were now in sight of a metal door, through which a doctor was ushering a nervous-looking mutant. “If you’re not absolutely sure you want to do this, you really should turn back now.”
“I’m sure. I need to start my life over.”
As Scott said this, he knew it was true, but now that things were imminent, he found himself feeling regret, and much more surprisingly, fear. To walk in the world without the power behind his eyes suddenly felt like a daunting prospect.
When they came for the woman in front of him, he suddenly found himself asking, “Wait. What’s your name?”
She looked at him funny, then said, “Pam.” She then hurried through the door before he could give her his own name.
Less then five minutes more of staring at that door, reminding himself that yes, he was sure he had to do this, that yes, he was going to miss his power, but that didn’t change the fact that keeping it would only bring him down to where he’d been, it opened again. “Next,” called an indifferent voice.
“Last chance,” said Wanda.
“I have to do this.”
As they passed through the door, the woman who had called them in placed her hand on Wanda’s arm to stop them and asked, “Are you family to this man?”
“Yes,” said Wanda, as Scott said, “No.”
“His mutation sometimes interferes with his mental functions,” Wanda told the woman hastily, while glaring at Scott. Scott personally didn’t see the need for the lie, but he doubted he’d be believed if he tried to override it now. It probably played straight to the prejudices of these people.
“A non-mutant sibling to a mutant? That’s unusual.” Neither gave any response to that, though Scott could have pointed out several examples he knew of it happening.
He closed his eyes again as they helped him into the operating chair. It didn’t bring him relief from the heavy knowledge of what was about to happen; he could still hear the rattle of instruments and the donning of rubber gloves, and his sleeve was rolled up and his arm swabbed.
Yet for all that, it was a good thing his eyes were closed, because he knew if he had known exactly when the syringe would connect with his vein, he probably would never have let it. But as it was, he only knew as he felt it go in, and it was, at last, too late.
He felt the needle withdraw, a hand slap a bandage on. Then he felt a chilly sensation around his eyes, sharp at first, then the feeling of something changingin his eye sockets, something draining away. Very cautiously, fighting ten years of reflexes, Scott Summers opened his eyes.
It was more colorful than he remembered. Wanda had done a pretty good job of reducing the red but now he could see colors he hadn’t even remembered existed. The sky outside the window was blue. Blue, and ridiculously bright. After a moment or so he had to close his eyes again against it.
“Is he all right?” He heard the male doctor ask Wanda. “Do you think it might not have worked?”
“If it hadn’t worked,” said Scott, fighting back annoyance at being talked over, “you’d have a smoking hole in place of that window. I just need a moment to get used to it.”
“Well, if you’re done here, we do have other patients to see to, sir.”
“Hey, what do you think you’re doing?” On hearing Wanda’s frightened snap, Scott hastily rose and whirled around-then next thing he knew, Wanda had scooped him up and they were crashing through the window. He thought he heard someone yell, “Ah, not again!”
They were hovering up above the crowds, and it seemed Wanda had changed things so that it was now very probable that the wind would catch them, or gravity would suddenly stop working, or something like that would happen to prevent them from falling to their deaths. “You’re reckless,” he observed to his companion.
“Pietro’s even more so,” she retorted, but at least they were headed to the ground now, the wind lightly carrying them down. “One of them grabbed me; and he was hold a syringe. Who knows that he wouldn’t have injected me.”
“That’s ridiculous; the lawsuits alone would keep him from doing that!” If they wanted to join the X-Men, Scott found himself thinking, they had no learn not to have hysterics and break other people's windows on reckless assumptions of absurdities. Even if it had sounded like that was something that happened sometimes in that particular operating room.
“Say what you will.” They glided over several tree tops before landing neatly on the pavement of a street several blocks away from the facility. “Have you thought about what you’re going to do with yourself, now that you’re no longer an X-Man?”
“I think I’m going to do what I’ve actually spent most of my adult life doing: teaching. I have the degree in Math, and the certification for New York State, which I think is accepted in some other states too.”
“Well don’t try to teach in Alabama; they’re strongly discouraged from hiring mutants there-some sort of law makes it harder, though I don’t know about ex-mutants.”
Scott had heard about that, and had already decided he wasn’t going to try to teach there. So one state down, 49 to go.
The two of them had agreed to meet Pietro at a nearby park, and Wanda had already identified the nearest subway station. As she led him towards it, Scott found his eyes drawn to the vivid colors surrounding him. The blue of the sky. The white of the clouds. The green of the grass. The green and brown of the trees. The tan of the pavement. He walked past a house with rose bushes and had to stop himself from staring at the flowers. And the cars. He had never in his life noticed that cars were so many different colors. Each was a block of silver or blue or white or yellow or some other color, and he wondered what it would be like to see them all on the highway, little multicolored rectangles streaming over the dark road.
All too soon, they reached the subway station, which had bright beautiful colors on the sign that identified it, and what lines it was tied to, but it saddened Scott to have to go below, into the darkness. As they stepped onto the escalator he looked back, over the heads of the people getting on behind them, trying to keep the blue and white and green within his sight for as long as possible. He craned his neck until he nearly tripped into Wanda. She seized his head and forced it forward.
For a moment he panicked at his inability to see; the light seemed inefficient, and he wondered how anyone could navigate. Then he remembered that normal eyes adapted to darker environments if one just waited a bit.
The subway system had its own share of colors, mostly on the walls, mostly in advertisements. Down on the platform, waiting for the train to arrive, he stared continually at one of them, a poster for some local play with pastel rainbows in its design. In the past, he didn’t think he would have been able to discern the colors from each other. Now it was easy.
Wanda herself, he now observed, was indeed dressed all in red, and her hair was a dark brown. Her skin was peach, and her eyes were blue, and once again Scott thought they reminded him of someone, though not by their color; he was pretty sure it was of someone he’d only met after his mutation had manifested.
Pietro was waiting in the park which had green grass and tan walkways and a couple of white marble sculptures and brown patches of dirt in which blue and yellow and red flowers grew on green stems. He had on a brown jacket and dark blue jeans and white sneakers. Physically he was same colors as his sister: dark brown hair, peach skin, blue eyes. He was holding two beige suitcases.
“Ms. Monroe packed some things for you,” he said to Scott, holding the suitcases out. Scott took them, noting their weight. “She wrote you a letter too.” He handed that to Scott also.
“And that’s it,” said Wanda. She shifted awkwardly. “This is goodbye, and I don’t suppose we’ll see you again.”
“You never know,” said Scott, though he had to admit at the moment it didn’t seem likely. “If for any reason you ever have the need to seek me out, feel free.”
“Thank you,” said Wanda. “I’ll remember that.” She hugged him, and to his surprise he could feel her shaking.
Then she pulled away, and Pietro took his hand and shook it. “Good luck,” he said.
“And to you both,” answered Scott. Then he took a hold of Wanda and they were off, so quick there was only a split second’s blur in front of Scott and then it was if they’d never been there.
He dragged the suitcases to the nearest bench, sat down, and opened up the letter. He read:
I will not pretend I was not shocked, and deeply disappointed, to hear of your choice to not only leave us, but to turn your back on your very nature by taking the cure. I don’t understand it, and I don’t think I ever will. Nor am I sure I can even forgive you. Nonetheless, I wish you well in whatever you choose to do with yourself now, and if you ever need help, or even want to help is some way, you need only contact us. As a parting gift, I enclose some money for you to live off of while you look for a job, as well as some information you may find useful.
He couldn’t have expected any better, he knew. It wasn’t the first time Ororo had formed an opinion and then simply refused to entertain any contrary views. It was something that she’d even written to him at all.
There was indeed a check enclosed, and also a piece of paper in which Scott found notes about all fifty states: what they required, what their anti-discrimination policies were, and her general impression of each. On the top she had written The Northeast is probably your best bet.
The other three he thought had actually gone pretty well. He’d managed to establish himself as someone who actually had taught from the time he’d been nineteen and knew how to do it, and skirt around the reasons for his leaving his previous posting. But none of them has resulted in anything more. He had heard some of the students who had come to Xavier’s at an older age talk about how it had been perpetaully hard to get a job for well over a decade now; it was something he’d been shielded from at Xavier’s, and now something he wished he’d paid attention to.
The seventh brought him back to New York, and to the city, to a high school in Elmhurst with a heavily Chinese student population, where the rudimentary Chinese he’d had to teach himself once was a bigger asset than it had any right to be, and he as he stood there waiting, he contemplated that he liked the look of the place, but it was a little too close to home for his emotional comfort. He knew the Professor and Magneto had even lived together elsewhere in the city when they’d been younger, back when they’d thought themselves the world’s only mutants.
But such thoughts were dispelled when he first saw Richard Connors. He was a big, burly man with a jovial way of moving, who looked odd when his grey suit and black hair and dark brown shoes and white socks were so impeccably crisp. His eyes were the intense kind of green that might have given Scott a headache back when the colour would have combined with his ocular filters to confuse his brain.
“A real pleasure, Mr. Summers.” His hand was big, but surprisingly soft. “I must say, I’ve been curious about you.”
“I hope that’s not why you asked me here,” said Scott with a smile, but he already had the feeling it wasn’t. There was something about the man that made him relaxed, perhaps more so than he had been since before that day over a month ago(had it really not been more? It felt like ten years ago) he’d first driven out in response to Jean’s disembodied call.
“No, but getting to meet you is an added perk. Come in, sit down.” His office was disorderly, but not at all dirty. A computer hummed in the background. The desk was steel grey, Mr. Connor’s chair red mahogany. The chair Scott sat down in was brown, with extremely minor damages. The whole place felt in use and alive.
“So,” said Mr. Connors, “tell me about teaching at Xavier’s. I understand the faculty of the school has always been very small, and ironically only started to increase in number after the first Headmaster’s death and your own resignation.” This was true; Scott had given up trying to not keep track of events at the school, and so he knew the Maximoff siblings had indeed now settled there, Hank and Logan were both now more involved in the school than they had been, and, perhaps most significantly, Rogue, Jubilee, Bobby Drake, Piotr Rasputin, and Kitty Pryde had all decided to stay on after graduation, the first permanent additions to the staff since Scott himself had joined their number. “Something tells me it’s a little different than teaching in a school such as this one.”
“It didn’t seem that hard at the time, actually,” said Scott. “Remember our student body was very small.” He’d gotten the impression it had grown in the past month; mutant children now knowing it was a haven causing them to seek it out, but he wasn’t following that closely. “The bigger challenge was less the student:teacher ratio than the age differences between the students; most of them had gone through puberty, of course, but we even had a couple of younger children whose powers had manifested early, so I taught everything from basic arithmatic to college-level calculus. And yes, we had to be ready to teach a range of subjects, though when we, as the first generation of Professor Xavier’s pupils, began working on our degrees and certificates, we delibrately chose different general subjects.” He didn’t mention that he’d pretty much been handed the Math track after Mystique(and Toad) had left with Magneto.
Though he was also starting to think there wasn’t much that wouldn’t go over well with this guy. His smile was different from the five smiles he has seen so far(the man who had disparaged him about the X-Men hadn’t bothered smiling); there was not only a genuineness to it, but a serious warmth. For some reason he just liked Scott. “So you were pretty much there setting the school up, weren’t you?”
“Yeah, we were.” It seemed a bigger accomplishment in retrospect than it had felt like at the time, day to day. “Though I think the Professor-Professor Xavier, I mean, took on more than his fair share. My main focus was developing the math curriculum.”
More talk about his curriculum, comparisons to what was taught at each age in this school; it wasn’t a dissimilar setup. They’d managed to slip into talk about standardized tests, which neither of them approved of, when they were distracted by what sounded like an explosion come from so close by the windows rattled.
A lifetime’s training as a X-Man caused Scott to jump up and raise his hand to his eyes, before he remembered they were no longer a weapon. “What was that?” he asked.
Mr. Connors gently gestured him back down. “I don’t know, but we’ve been hearing them every now and then from the new office building you probably saw while coming in here. I don’t think it’s a real explosion; we’ve never seen or smelled anything like a fire, after all, but I do wish they wouldn’t make those sounds; terribly distracting for the students. Though then again, I suppose at Xavier’s the students are used to oddities.”
His laugh was warm rather than malicious, and Scott knew he meant no harm in the remark, but he was still displeased. “We did everything we could,” he told the man, “to make as peaceful and uninterrupted a learning environment as possible. The school and the X-Men’s base were cleanly divided from each other within the mansion, and I can proudly say that none of them ever heard an explosion during class hours.”
“I meant no offense, Mr. Summers. And I certainly know better than to insult Xavier’s standards of learning; I’ve met a couple of your alumni here in New York.”
“Did you know they were mutants?” Scott managed to smile.
“I knew one of them was. The other wasn’t out at the time. Of course, now...”
Of course, now, since Stryker and Magneto’s double-whammy on the world, mutants everywhere were out. Except that reminded Scott of Jean again. Don’t succumb, he told himself. Lead the conversation away from it. “How does that influence the kids here, though? Now that they know when their peers are mutants?”
“It has caused some difficulties, I’m afraid,” said Mr. Connors. “We’ve had more problems with bullying since the Mind Explosion. Of course a number of students took the cure, but some their parents wouldn’t let them, and others just didn’t want to, and tell the truth I sometimes think it’s made things worse for those who remain mutants. I’ve known a number of students to transfer to somewhere where they’re not known, but now that means transfer students of all kinds are looked upon with suspicion. It’s not an easy situation, Mr. Summers.”
“And how would my presence influence it?” This was a question that had already been nagging Scott, and this speech had brought it to the forefront. “A mutant’s who’s taken the cure? There’s no hope in concealing who I am, I think; one buff on mutant politics hears my name and that’s it. Will it put pressure on those who remain mutants? I don’t want it to.”
“That, I would think,” said Mr. Connors, “would depend on how you present yourself. Done right, I think you’re being in the classroom could do both mutant and former mutant students a world of good, the latter especially, of course, since, they’d not immune from bullying either, but both groups. The question, of course, is if you’re up to that challenge.”
“I am,” said Scott without a second’s hesitation. “Whatever I can do. That’s always been my job. Not just to teach math, but to teach acceptance, both of oneself and others, and how to adapt and live in the world. At Xavier’s it had to be, but it would have been anyway.”
“Very well spoken, Mr. Summers,” said Mr. Connors, and Scott was left with a very strong feeling that he had the job. The interview went on a little longer, he learned more about the school itself, and he made sure to ask the questions he’d prepared beforehand because he knew he was supposed to ask questions at the end of the interview, but as he walked out of the office and down the stairs, stepping out of the way of pieces of used gum and nearly slipping on the last half-broken step, he found himself looking at the building as his new operating base, which he would soon become as familiar with as he’d been with the twists and turns of the great mansion he’d lived his adult life in before then.
Outside it was with a similar mindset that he took in the city street. It was a place mostly of old brown apartment buildings, with trees planted on the sidewalks and a line of shops across the way: drugstore, food, Chinese food, Kosher food, dry cleaners.
He had noticed the office building, if only because it definitely stood out. Placed in front of the bus stop, it was five stories high, and was pristine and metallic. Looking at it again, he noticed for the first time that the fifth floor had only two windows, one on each end of the building, though of course there might have been more windows in the back and the sides.
The proper thing to do, he was aware, was to just go to the bus stop, wait for the bus, and forget about it. He wasn’t an X-Man anymore, after all; it was no longer his job to meddle with affairs that involved explosive sounds. But on the other hand, since it was so close to the school, it could end up being his business very easily, and anyway, he couldn’t change who was that way so easily; as a human being, he felt as if there was possibly something dangerous threatening high school students, well, he ought to do something about it.
He would take the briefest look, he told himself. Go in, look at the directory, and see if there were any suspicious-sounding organizations listed as renting the space, especially the fifth floor.
It really would be trouble to do more, he knew as soon as he stepped in. His entrance immediately attracted the attention of a security guard seated at the front desk, who asked if he could help him in a very polite but underlyingly dangerous voice that hinted there would be very bad consequences if he attempted to linger very long in the building without stating his purpose.
“Just want to see if it’s here first,” Scott bluffed. “I’m starting to think I got on the wrong bus.” So with that excuse he was able to study the directory, and the first thing he saw, below listings of various companies with suite numbers placed before their names was: Fifth Floor: Hellfire Club.
That guard was really starting to stare, so he said, “No, wrong building,” and turned and walked out. He could feel the man’s eyes cutting into his back, though, and he was even glad the bus arrived quick.
He was aware he ought to know more about the Hellfire Club than he did. He knew that they were a group of mutants, that the Professor had been keeping an eye on them before his death, and that he thought they might be dangerous, but had not been entirely certain just what their purpose was. Ororo would probably know. He’d have to email her as soon as he got back to the hotel.
And then, with his face leaning against the bus window, looking at the names of the streets and the locations of the stores and apartment complexes, the bus moving very slowly because of traffic, he met the hard grey eyes of a woman on the sidewalk.
She was pale, blonde, and tall, maybe a little taller than him, though he couldn’t quite tell. As the bus moved she walked beside it, and there was an elegance to her movement-not grace, exactly, but highness and haughtiness. She was dressed rich, too; entirely in white; her blouse was silk and her neck and ears were adorned with large pearls.
She was a mutant. Scott didn’t even know just how he could tell, but he could. He wasn’t sure whether she realized what he was; was he still giving something away, even to those who weren’t looking at the history at Xavier’s on his curriculum vitae?
But even more than her being a mutant, he was dead sure she was bad news. That was a sense that didn’t need explanation; it was one he’d developed through experience.
He wondered if Ororo might be able to identify her for him. But as soon as the bus pulled away and he lost contact with those strange, terrifying stone eyes, he tried to think of a good description of her, a simple, factual one of her like he’d developed the ability to make as part of doing reconnaissance, he found he couldn’t. No matter how he tried, he kept getting distracted by the thought of her diamond-cold stare, the arrogant bounce of her blond locks with every movement of her smooth, pale head, and the strange, inexplicable thrill that mixed with his almost irrational fear of her. For the first time, he wondered if the cure had taken away a few things of his he hadn’t expected to have to give up. Such as his ability to keep his head together in a situation like this one, where great power was needed and great responsibility was to be exercised. Or maybe he’d just lost that along with Jean.
He finally had to resort to scribbling notes on the back of his curriculum vitae, about the Hellfire Club as well as her, because he had to send Ororo something. He just hoped the X-Men would be able to make use of it.