Take a Year

By Izzy

Part 5: The News Breaks

A matter of weeks, they had said. Scott was determined to put them to good use. Had he still been an X-Man, he knew, and one not broken by Jean’s death, he would have been exercising continually in the Danger Room, monitoring the whereabouts of anyone who might try to do something bad in response to upcoming events, making sure everything was in order on the jet, and so on.

Since there was none of that to do in his new position, he instead began assessing, as much as he could without drawing attention to himself, how everyone would feel about the news. One thing he discovered early on was that there were indeed students that now regretted taking the Cure, so at least the news would make them happy. He was left worried about the staff, however. Another thing he discovered early on was that he was the only teacher in the entire school who had ever even been a mutant, with the possible exception of one history teacher who did everything possible to avoid ever talking to him. Even around him, they often expressed how relieved they had been to have fewer mutant students to worry about, and he shuddered to think what they might say when he wasn’t around.

He also now spent nights searching for news articles about the mutant phenomenon, especially ones about it in the U.S., but also around the world. It was both shocking and unsurprising to learn that six of the world’s nations, mostly in the Middle East but also a couple in Eastern Europe, had, as Magneto had feared, forced their mutant citizens to take the Cure, with those who refused being thrown into prison if they were lucky. (It wasn’t necessarily easy to keep them there, though; there was at least one escapee who had turned vigilante). There were also accusations that the company responsible for selling the Cure overseas had secretly lobbied those laws into existence, which could just as easily be either true or absurd. Though Scott supposed this news would probably just mean more profits for them anyway.

He eventually concluded that he was largely in the wrong place to help out victims of backlash. There were multiple articles all insisting having less mutants on the street hadn’t changed New York City that much, although the statistics might have left it unclear whether or not NYPD harassment of mutants had gotten worse since remaining one had become a choice. Most of the consequences within the U.S. were going to be much worse in the south, and also in those other states that were denying their residents as much health coverage as possible. Although the debate as to whether the Cure counted as “preventative” treatment was still raging on with no clear resolution in sight.

Most of December 2 was ordinary enough a day. Scott woke up that morning from a dream where he and Jean were now traveling through snowy Catskills, and kissing several times. He breakfasted while watching the morning news; with the awareness that the story was going to break any day now, he had started watching morning and evening news both without fail. The first snowstorm of the year was expected later in the week, a New York State Government official had been caught saying something embarrassing on tape, and someone had been arrested in White Plains for murder. In national news, the president and congress were at loggerheads over several funding issues, a certain type of cranberry juice was being subjected to a recall, and the Prime Minster of Australia was coming for a visit.

Throughout the morning his classes were normal. He didn’t even have more than a handful of students who hadn’t done their homework. That did leave him with a lot of work to do, though, to the point that since he’d brown-bagged his lunch, he decided to eat it at his desk while working.

It was about twenty minutes since he’d sat down with his sandwich in one hand and a red pen in the other that one of his fellow teachers, a history teacher named Yonting Zhang, known to her non-Chinese colleagues as Alyson, came in, calling, “Mr. Summers? Mr. Connors needs to see you immediately. Bring your lunch.”

Scott’s first reaction was simple annoyance. It wasn’t easy to carry his sandwich somewhere when he’d already started eating it, and if this meeting took too long, it was going to leave him with a lot of grading to do in the evening. Then it occurred to him what the principal might want to see him for, and that required him to hide his anxiety over it as he thanked her and wrapped it up as best he could.

At least Mr. Connors apologized when he saw he’d interrupted Scott mid-meal. “I figured she’d find you quicker,” he explained, which sounded reasonable enough.

Scott took a large bite of sandwich before sitting down, swallowing as he did so. He thought he might not get around to eating much more of it.

He was right. Without any preamble, Mr. Connors said, “Look, Mr. Summers, I called you here because I just got a call from the superintendent; I was talking with Ms. Zhang, and I ended our meeting and sent her to get you immediately; that’s how important this is. Now he’s a guy who knows a lot of people, and will sometimes get big pieces of news a few days or occasionally an hour or two before they go public, and this hasn’t yet, so before I say anything else, I want you to promise you won’t repeat what I’m about to say to anyone.”

“I promise I won’t repeat any big secrets I learn from you,” was Scott’s reply, as he internally hoped Mr. Connors wouldn’t tell him any secrets he hadn't known and then would feel the need to email Ororo about, but he doubted he would. When the news wasn't going to break didn't really count as that, he thought.

“All right, prepare for a shock.” Scott watched him scrunch himself up, and wondered if he could fake shock. “The superintendent claims he’s just heard the effects of the Cure have started to wear off for those who first took it behind closed doors, before it was made available to the public, and this morning someone in some lab somewhere came up with some scientific proof that it doesn’t suppress the X-gene permanently. I don’t know when they’re going to announce this, but I think it would probably have to be within a couple of weeks at most, and they may even do so today. And when they do, the superintendent wants to know what all affected faculty and staff in his schools intend to do about it.”

“He expects me to have an answer for him possibly as early as this afternoon?” Scott demanded; he didn’t have to fake shock after all.

“Look, I told him you might want time to think it over, but he’s insisting you should at least have some idea as to whether you’re going to take the Cure again or not. You’ve got to understand, Mr. Summers; most of the mutated teachers in this public school system took the Cure, and the exceptions are mostly language teachers and other people specially qualified to teach certain electives, and that is something that has made his life much easier. Of course we didn’t force them to, but, well, I suppose that most of them did tells you something you probably don’t like about this system, but it’s not something that’s easy to change. We can’t do anything to you officially if you refuse to take the Cure again, and I, for one, certainly wouldn’t want to. But that doesn’t mean he won’t make both our lives difficult in every way possible if we don’t at least give him a solid idea as to whether you’re going to be an actively mutant teacher he has to deal with.”

To a point, Scott sympathized with the principal. He obviously saw himself as on Scott’s side, and he knew the superintendent probably could make his life absolutely miserable. But still he felt the anger rise, over this issue that never should’ve been an issue, and yet was probably about to get worse, now that people could say mutants *could* help being mutants, and here he was, already enabling all that against Scott himself. Especially since, as the weeks had passed, he had become more certain he wasn’t going to take the Cure again, at least not right now.

He supposed he might as well tell the guy that. “I’m not going to run out and dose myself again immediately,” he said, “that I can say right away. For one thing, I’d like to know if that’s even safe. We can’t know yet whether these scientists have even determined that or not. I’m sure they haven’t talked with your boss’ source about if even if they have. Think of the example that would set for our mutant students, if one of their teachers prioritized not being a mutant over his own health.”

“Fair enough,” said Mr. Connors. “I suppose that’s another thing you’re worried about, even outside any health risks.”

“Exactly,” said Scott. “I don’t want to make them think they must keep taking the Cure either. Especially not if it proves expensive to keep taking-and that’s another thing I’m worried about, by the way. You know perfectly well we teachers don’t get paid much.”

“I know,” said Mr. Connors, and Scott wasn’t pleased with how resigned he sounded. Especially not when he said, “Although the way you’re talking now, Mr. Summers…of course you may always be frank with me. But I want you to be a little careful about what you say to the students about this. You must realize how some of their parents will react if they see a mutant teacher as preaching to his students against taking the Cure again.”

“What?!” Scott felt dangerously close to a rare genuine loss of his cool on hearing that one.

“Of course you can express your concerns to them,” Mr. Connors said hastily. “Especially if they ask you any questions. But, forgive me, Mr. Summers, but I need you to avoid making statements too strong about it. One of them goes home and tells his or her parents he or she was bullied into taking it the first time, and, well, you know exactly what that parent will say.”

And that parent, Scott had to keep himself from yelling, would probably be dead wrong. “I will not advocate for it,” he said. “And forgive me, Mr. Connors, but I will not do so even with my silence, especially if I have any reason to believe one of my students might even being especially endangering his or her health. Surely that’s more important than avoiding an angry parent.”

That was a point the principal couldn’t deny. “If it really goes that far,” he conceded, “I suppose you can say and do what you must. But just…” He held out his hands and jerked them back and forth, as if trying to make himself understood while groping for the right words. “Use common sense. Please.”

“That I always intend to do,” said Scott, still coldly. “In any case, there will be some time to decide; I don’t *think* any of the students I have regular contact with took the Cure during the first week, and of course I took it very late. And rest assured that if I decided to take it again, or that I definitely won’t again, I’ll let you know immediately.”

“Thank you for that, Mr. Summers,” said Mr. Connors. “And of course, if you have any more questions or concerns about the whole business you feel a need to discuss with me, my door remains open.”

Scott thanked him in return for that, but he didn’t think he would be discussing such concerns with him unless he had to. He had just shown himself to not be the man for that. He regretted it, though. He hoped at the end of this, he’d still be able to like the principal.

Back in his classroom, he spent a few minutes not exactly regaining his composure, since he’d never lost it, but just centering himself, getting himself to a place where he knew he’d keep his head should the pending news break and cause chaos in the middle of any of his afternoon classes. He sat with his fingers interlinked together in his lap and his head bent down and his eyes closed, and he couldn’t help but notice he was only now not feeling even a split second of panic over his glasses being missing. Not the first time he felt the bit of regret over what he was about to give up. It would be harder too, now, when he was no longer used to not being able to see colors, to always having that little bit of anxiety that came of only having a pair of glasses keeping the world safe from one’s eyes, to enduring the looks of everyone who saw him and knew he was different, which now would be an everyday occurance.

When he felt capable, he took his new phone out, glad now he had gotten it, partly in anticipation of this day, although he’d been planning on it already. He considered an email to Ororo, but ultimately settled for a simple text: News to be out soon. Possibly today. Perhaps at some point in the future he might have cause to tell her about his meeting the principal, and what he had been told, but for now he would at least sort of keep his promise of silence there.

He was good and smiling, and had even gotten most of the homework assignments graded, when the lunch period ended and the first of his afternoon classes filed in, and his ordinary day resumed. He kept more of an eye than he usually bothered with on those students in the back who were obviously playing with their phones under their desks (they were rarely as subtle as they thought they were), but none of them showed any sign of receiving remarkable news of any kind. There were no murmurs or exclamations outside his classroom that he could hear; the buzz between periods was its normal unelevated self. When the final bell of the day rang, everyone looked their usual mix of tired and relieved. Plenty of them had their phones out before they were even out the door, but no exclamations came from them either.

He followed the students out of the building shortly afterward, but a comfortable amount of time before the next bus was to arrive. Here, too, the world was carrying on as usual, most of it still unaware of how the course of events was about to take a huge turn, especially for those of them with an X-gene. It was only when he was standing with the rest of his fellow commuters at the bus stop that something a little more unusual showed up: Emma Frost walking out of the adjoining building, accompanied by a man in black Scott had never seen before. Before he could think to turn his head away their eyes met.

You know already, don’t you? Her voice was in his head, obviously a telepathic transmission. She turned her head back towards her companion, was whispering to him, and he clearly had no idea he wasn’t the only person she was talking to, but he could still feel the presence of her mind focused on his.

He didn’t have to actively answer her question; he was sure she got a confirmation all on his own. Instead, he actively thought anger anger anger at her, only to be brought to awareness of her amusement.

The bus was thankfully approaching the stop, kept slow by traffic that had never seemed as annoying to Scott as it did then, when she broke away from her companion and went to cross the street, standing mere feet away from Scott as she waited for the light to change. He watched her toss her head as the man in black called something out to her which sounded like it was about the boss being mad again. The afternoon sun caught her neck and hair, causing them both to gleam as the breeze caught the latter, making it flutter around the former, streaks of pale flickering in front of a canvas of paler, caressing her throat as it rose and fell with her breathing.

When Scott got on the bus and sat down, he saw her walking across the street, and when she had reached the far curb she turned around and looked at the bus. He was pretty sure she couldn’t see him; he was in one corner, and the sun’s glare would make it harder. But maybe she could detect his mind and tell it apart from the others, because she looked at the right window, and he saw her mouth form the words, See you again soon. He was not looking forward to that.

It was about ten minutes later, and he’d spent most of them lost in thought, unable to stop speculating on just what that woman’s next move might be, when at last he heard two exclamations within ten seconds of each other, both from people who had been looking on their phones, although nobody else did more than glance at either of them. He pulled his own phone out. A look at the news website he’d been reading en route to work each morning confirmed it: Worthington Labs Announces Cure is Not Permanent.

The article was pretty much what he had expected, probably copied from the press release from the labs. They were trying to downplay the fact that this had gone undiscovered until the first cases had started to wear off, and emphasized that the Cure could be taken again, so anyone who didn’t want to live with their mutation still didn’t have to. Indeed, there was even some talk of their plans to expand the availability of the Cure, possibly try to make it in pill form and get it into pharmacies so it could be gotten easily with a prescription.

When he finished reading, he looked up, although very slightly, not wanting the other passengers to notice. People having their eyes glued to their phones was nothing unusual these days, but he saw one woman’s hand fly to her mouth in shock, and a man’s eyes bug out, before he started furiously typing something. Behind him someone murmured a soft, “Woah,” and further behind him, he heard furious whispers going around. He also noticed more than one person was showing the contents of their phone to someone else, and the people having things shown to them were also having shocked reactions.

He was so absorbed in following the news as it traveled around the bus that it took him a few minutes to realize more than one person had started looking at him. Careless of him, really, especially when he should have expected it. Even if he didn’t really know most of the people who rode the bus with him, inevitably there’d be someone who was going to recognize him, and from there they’d let the others know, especially with a story involving mutants having just broken.

The seat next to him had been empty, but after a furious conversation between a trio of teenage girls, one of them, a black girl with a grey-green coat that was way too big on her, came over, sat down, and said, “Excuse me, sir, but are you Cyclops?”

She looked so nervous that Scott didn’t have the heart to refuse to talk. “I’m not him again yet,” he told her. “But yes, I am Scott Summers.”

“Then can you believe any of this?” asked one of the other two girls. “I mean, obviously if you’re Scott Summers, you took the Cure, so you have to agree this false advertising was terrible. Do they really expect anyone to believe they had no idea that this free Cure that was going to fix any mutant who wanted it-or could be forced to have it-wasn’t going to conveniently going to need to be taken again and again, when they would be charging for it, of course?”

“I bet they were behind those laws in the Middle East, too,” one of her friends called over to her. “They probably lied to them too, of course.”

That one actually wasn’t something Scott had thought of. He wondered how many people back at the school had thought of it. Although Ororo might have; she had developed the good habit of thinking about everything. Even if she certainly wouldn’t assume any corporation would automatically go so far as to push such horrible laws in other countries-not that she’d rule the possibility out either.

Then there were other things to worry about, such as the fact that there was a boy on the bus who was in one of his classes, a certain Xiu Yu, who went by the name of Bernie, and he was staring at his phone and very obviously trying not to cry. What he said now, Scott knew, might play a vital role in what that boy thought about his current situation. He hadn’t been aware Bernie was someone who had taken the Cure, which made him think he was someone who absolutely had wanted nothing to do with his mutation.

The one who had made the suggestion about the laws in the Middle East continued, “I wonder how they’ll handle it in Russia, though. They didn’t make it mandatory there, of course but things are bad enough there for those who don’t take it, and this will probably just make them worse. Have you heard those stories, Mr. Summers?”

“Some,” said Scott. “Enough to agree it’s terrible what they’re doing over there.” This was all true, but he was sure to put more emphasis on it. Even though he still felt the need to add, “Though some of them seemed to me to be unsubstantiated allegations, and we want to be careful of those, especially right now. When a story like this happens, it always gets accompanied by all sorts of stories that turn out not to be true.”

“So these are all lies then?!” The black girl got close to blowing up. “You’re just going to tell yourself that now so you don’t have to do anything anymore? I bet you never would’ve done that back when you were Cyclops!” The other two echoed their agreements.

“Actually,” said Scott, “back when I was with the X-Men, whenever something happened, we would sometimes here multiple stories about things happening that we ought to go and intervene in, and it was very important for us to be able to sort out the truth from the fiction right away, so that we wouldn’t waste time responding to the wrong report. And that’s true even when you aren’t going out to be superheroes and rescue people. I think it’s something every responsible citizen should do.” He was pretty sure these were girls who would respond to the phrase “responsible citizen.”

Indeed, the black girl did look a little chastised. Still she pointed out, “But even if you can’t assume everything is true, I don’t think there are *that* many stories that can be dismissed out of hand, and anyway, they often have roots in things that actually are happening, I think.”

“Smart girl,” said Scott, and he meant it too. “We did often find that to be true, but that takes time. And if the exaggerated tale is touted as the truth, and then turns out to be false, it makes it harder to get people to believe the truth, so keep that in mind.

Anyway,” and here he deliberately spoke a little louder to make sure Bernie Yu heard him, “it is true that this is going to change the way things work around the world again, just like the introduction of the Cure did, in fact, just like the mutant phenomenon becoming public knowledge first did, and so did what happened when first all the mutants, and then all the humans were nearly killed.” He was very proud of how he kept his voice rock steady, even though the thought of Jean still flared bright and sharp in his mind. “But we’ve been through those before. We’re going to get through this one too.”

“That’s nice,” said the black girl, and she was clearly very unimpressed, and she turned and walked back to her friends. But when he looked over at Bernie, he looked comforted.

He went back to his phone, opening his email. Ten new messages already; the news had probably spread around Xavier’s pretty quickly. He opened the one from Ororo first.

It was simply, “I will have your full set of glasses and goggles sent to you. You may need any and all of them.” She didn’t mention his visor directly, but he’d be shocked if that didn’t show up in the package. Nor would he mind having it. Right now, it definitely felt like anything might happen, and it was best to be prepared.

That Evening

He intended for his evening routine to be pretty similar to usual. He even turned his phone off while doing grading. This was one school where classes would continue on as usual the next day, even if perhaps he did take a few minutes to answer questions and such if his students wanted him too, and he did not want distractions. Further news could wait until its usual time when he was cooking dinner.

It turned out to be a good thing he’d turned the phone off. When at least he had put his pen down and taken a moment to breathe in and out, a habit developed back when opening himself back up to communications meant possible news about the world needing saving, he turned it on and found he’d gotten a whole new deluge of emails. He thought just about everyone who knew about his current status had contacted him at least once, and more than one of his former students had asked him if he was coming back. He had to fight down an angry impulse to respond first by calling Ororo and demanding to know why she had given them his contact information. That could easily be the wrong message to send to the students right now, and besides, it was entirely possible they’d gotten it some other way.

Missives from Wanda and Pietro were included, of course. Pietro’s was short, and asked if they’d see him again. But Wanda’s was longer. It wasn’t the first time she’d contacted him; before this she’d written him a couple of short emails asking him how he was doing and telling him how she and Pietro were in training and also working towards become teachers. It would probably be years before they got certificates, but they could be ready to give some instruction in the right subjects earlier. She’d even expressed a regret he wasn’t more comfortably texting.

Now, she wrote to urge him not to take the Cure again, to find some other way to live with himself, and he found himself staring at some of her words: “I, too, have now spent these past few months trying to get away from a heartbreak that happened in my past. I’m still not ready to tell you about that, though maybe someday I will. For now, let me just say, it doesn’t work. You never forget. The only thing I’ve found to help is to keep busy doing productive things. I’ve also spent the fall hearing from the students how good you were to them as a teacher. Even if you don’t come back to us, you should do what you used to do at your current school. And you should do it as a mutant.”

A public high school wasn’t like Xavier’s, of course. The students Scott was teaching now mostly wouldn’t think to look to him for guidance in anything besides mathematics. But he was aware that the mutant students, of which there might be about to be more again, might.

He wrote back a simple note to Pietro and to most of his fellow X-Men, saying he didn’t know if he’d come back to the mansion, but that it was far from impossible. Wanda he put off writing to; his head was too muddled with thoughts to come up with words too easily. After dinner and the news, maybe. This students he would respond to after he’d given some proper thought about what to say to them.

At first the evening news was a repetition of everything he’d read already. There were a few more statements from big important people, including the President, but those were mostly bland. He did pay a little more attention to the statement released by Xavier’s. It was one he thought to be Hank’s creation, with its diplomatic vocabulary. It reminded everyone that anyone born with the X-gene was welcome at the school, no matter whether those genes were currently active or not, that their top priority was the wellbeing of their students, and that they hoped that Worthington Labs would release all information they had pertinent to the Cure and the health of all those who took it. The subtle accusation in that last part might have been more Ororo’s doing than Hank’s.

Then Hank himself was on Scott’s TV screen, in his office at the school, split with the news anchor, labeled as a representative of both Xavier’s and the Bureau of Mutant Affairs. Or maybe of mutantkind in general, since the first question was how the mutant community was taking this news.

“Well,” he said, “I am currently at Xavier’s School for the Gifted. The mood here is generally that this is good news. You know, of course, that a lot of mutants were especially worried the Cure might at some point be forced on them, or, even if it technically wasn’t, social pressure would take its toll. Although we did, of course, choose to forcibly subject Magneto to the Cure, that the government was doing it the way they were to his followers is also a practice which on their part we were concerned about. You must admit that authorities doing such things sets a disturbing precedent. But if one such act can no longer deprive a mutant of their birthright and choice for the rest of their life, well, I believe many of our students will have far fewer nightmares now.

Not that it changes what the government did, mind you,” he added, and Scott could tell he was definitely restraining himself now.

He thought the news anchor could tell too, and she apparently decided that wasn’t what she wanted, because she said, “You speak as if there is a lot of anger in the mutant community,” which was so painful and provoking a remark Scott wanted to snap something to her himself.

Hank tried not to rise to the bait too much. There was definitely a growl to his voice, though, as he said, “With all due respect, m’am, just yesterday I was called upon to testify as an expert witness in a case where a man was trying to get a judge to force his mutant ex-wife to have their pre-pubescent children injected with the Cure. Last week, we took in a student who had first been expelled from her city’s public school system after her mutation manifested, for the crime of failing to instantly figure out how to control her powers, and then kicked out of her private school too for refusing to take the Cure. And if you think those were the only two cases of such things happening, or that either of these were any kind of isolated incidents, well, I could go on for quite a while.”

“I understand that, Dr. McCoy,” the anchor said, semi-placating. “But you do know that there are many, many mutants in the world for whom the Cure has been, well, kind of a miracle. And this is not good news for them. The expense of the drugs are such that many of them won’t be able to take it constantly after all-”

Hank did lose a little bit of his patience, then, and interrupted her to explain as quickly as possible exactly why this was one drug insurance companies would be required to cover, thanks to the amount of influence Worthington had in Washington. Scott hoped he was right there/ That was a level of frankness Hank usually didn’t talk to reporters with either, and when Scott heard him come dangerously close to admitting he’d be going down to DC and practically stalking Worthington’s lobbyists in the upcoming days, he found himself worrying about the consequences of Hank’s words getting around. He’d be penalized for them by people far more than most people saying them would be.

Still, he thought, as the interview wrapped up and the news finally moved on to the day’s other stories, at least they’d all gotten through this day without any major disasters. Provided Emma Frost didn’t suddenly show up and cause one, but he had the feeling she was done with him for that day.


To Be Continued...