The sun flamed out over the fringe of trees that comprised the mansion's horizon as Scott set foot on the vastness of the clipped lawn. He'd timed it right and there were no kids or teens running about, flitting through basketball court, water garden, fountain, or hedges by virtue of power or youthful enthusiasm. It was dinner time, and he was alone for this walk he'd put off for so long.
Considering how closely the memorials were situated, it had been more a matter of actively avoiding the site during the time since he'd returned and regained his mobility. Simply looking out the French doors at the rear of the mansion put one in clear view.
Scott paused on the grass for a moment and his eyes traveled over the series of terraces that led down from the back of the mansion and into the various parts of the ten acres that surrounded the estate's buildings. He glanced at the basketball court off to his right, then the nearest gray-granite fountain to the left, before he could bear to set his eyes on the enormous, resplendent white obelisk again. Scott took a breath, hand clenching around the bundle of flowers, and circled the two memorial stones.
He knelt before Xavier's and ran his fingers over the deep-scored letters of the epitaph. As Logan had related to him, Xavier had fallen under the onslaught of Phoenix's power and there'd been nothing to recover. No body to lay to rest, but here was where he would have lain, if there had been one. Scott extracted the single white rose from his bundle and laid it beside the flame that guttered and rose at the base of the obelisk. Storm had made arrangements for one of the kids to replenish the oil every day, so that the memorial's flame would never go out.
A smile faltered its way onto his face, slow to find at first. "Sorry it took me so long," Scott said, and his voice cracked. He cleared his throat. "I got a little...held up." He glanced at the other memorial, the simple gray headstone where Jean would never lay. Her ashes had been given to her parents.
"I told you I'd take care of them," Scott spoke to the profile of Xavier. Against the pale surface of the marble his profile was carved in relief on the memorial, staring serenely to the north. "I haven't done that great of a job, so far. But I'm still here, and I can do it now. I can become their strength. There's still work to be done."
He dwelled briefly on all the news he'd caught up on in between other tasks. A fiery Republican senator had re-introduced the Mutant Registration Act. Mystique was secretary of Mutant Affairs. Magneto's whereabouts were unaccounted for. And after talking with Alex, he knew there were people in Washington who'd seriously considered backing a mutant task force to openly bring other mutants to justice. A rising tide of hysterical public opinion called for the government to control the 'mutant threat.' The stocks of the cure were gone, but if someone figured out Jimmy was at Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters...well, one invasion had proved successful so far. They had to make the mansion defensible, but even more than that, see what steps they could take to make the world safer for all mutants besides their own tenuous haven.
He lifted a hand to the obelisk and set his palm against the marble, soaking up its sun-warmed radiance. "Thank you for trusting me." He bowed his head.
Xavier hadn't changed his will, even though Scott knew there had been misgivings in the months following Jean's death. Storm was ample proof of that. Even so, though his mentor had reached out to him many times and Scott had rebuffed him with each attempt, Xavier had waited patiently, understanding in his gaze. He hadn't given up, right up until time had run out.
"Jean," he murmured at last, turning to the other stone, stepping before it and laying the bundle of tiger lilies at the foot of her headstone. He closed his eyes for a moment, overwhelmed. No one had ever loved him so deeply, pursued him so fiercely. He'd done his best to live up to Xavier's ideals - and Jean's love. They had been the twin spurs that drove him, dual beacons to guide him.
He'd proven himself unworthy of both.
"I was never unfaithful to you," he said, and hesitated. He set a hand to the top edge of the headstone, rubbing a hand over its smooth-hewn gray surface. "But you knew...you knew anyhow. That I..." He bit his lip. It was too hard to say, even to himself. He shook his head and sucked in a breath that transformed into a ragged sigh.
All their plans and hopes and dreams were ashes, a bit of which were interred not in this grave but an urn far from here. So he'd been told, anyhow -- all of it had passed him by while he foraged in northern woods and tried to survive the fact that she'd flung him away.
"Jean," he tried again. "I love you, Jean. I love you more than any woman I've ever known." It had been enough for them. But she was gone now and it was impossible for him to keep fighting against himself without her there. He'd buried it deep enough no one but maybe the professor had known. Jean had always understood him; she'd never asked, or hinted, but living with a telepath whose powers had increased daily near the end...well, she'd known every part of him. She'd loved him anyhow.
He bowed his head and sucked in a breath that frayed, dissolved more into sob than any other utterance.
When he opened his eyes, there were endless, lithe denim-clad legs beside him, a pair of sensible sneakers lining up with his own solemn vigil.
"You okay?" Lorna asked him softly, reaching out and resting a hand on his shoulder.
Scott's chin jerked, a pre-emptive 'I'm fine' rising to his tongue, then he tilted his head in the woman's direction and slowly began to shake his head. "I'm not sure I know what that means anymore," he said, mouth turning up in the approximation of a smile.
He'd had a few opportunities to speak with Lorna Dane in the past few weeks, mostly at meal-times. They hadn't had what Scott would term a deep conversation but he felt as if he knew her already -- in part, he was sure, because of her connection with Alex which he recognized as being closer than either would admit to. From the way she'd so casually rested her hand on his shoulder, she felt the same way.
The hand tightened on his shoulder. "Scott. You can talk to me," Lorna said, vivid green eyes searching the surface of his ruby quartz glasses. "I thought I'd throw that out there. If you're anything like Alex..." She trailed off and her generous lips quirked.
Scott chuckled, the sound hoarse and unrecognizable as humor. "We Summers men have turned repression into a fine art?" he said, and it wasn't really a question.
"Oh, yes," Lorna confirmed, her pale green eyebrows arching. "Look, I know that we haven't known one another very long, but...well, you're Alex's brother. That makes you family, to me. Besides, sometimes it can be easier to speak with someone who doesn't have the same history."
Scott looked to the memorial stones, then his gaze shifted to a point far distant as he mulled over her words. When was the last time he'd taken someone's advice to open up about himself? Even with someone there, offering, it was all too easy to put the mask in place and pretend nothing was wrong. Where did that get him, in the end? All these years later, all he had now was a mountain of unsorted issues and no one left to confide in.
Scott pulled away from Lorna's hand, pivoting for the pathway that ran around the perimeter. Something enclosed and tied down inside of him, long denied, had burst free and battered at him for the past few weeks until he could no longer deny it.
He had to deal with this and move on or he'd be frozen in one place forever.
He flicked a glance over his shoulder to see Lorna standing there, hands in her pockets, with the air of one caught intruding. "You coming?" Scott prompted, and a tentative smile crept over Lorna's face that proclaimed her unsure of her welcome.
"How's your training coming along?" Lorna offered for a conversation opener after they had walked past the short-clipped green sward, reaching one of the gravel pathways that looped around the grounds.
Scott opened and closed his mouth once or twice as several different answers jostled for prominence, leaving his tongue immobilized by a surfeit of speech. The work-outs went well, but it was close daily proximity and the heat of the tussle in hand-to-hand that made up the other half of his problem. His hesitation was a beat too long.
"Alex has been saying it was a mistake to allow you to train with Logan," Lorna observed, her tone impartially distant. "I'm not going to repeat everything he's said about that. Gist of it seems to be there was bad blood between you and Logan, back before we came here."
"That's not it," Scott replied. He rubbed at one temple where the throb of a sudden headache had made itself known. "It's not Logan, not at all." That wasn't a complete and utter lie, Scott mused to himself ruefully, but there was a different kind of truth he needed to impart to Lorna today, and he didn't want any peripheral issues clouding the air.
"Okay," Lorna said, casting him a brief, penetrating look. She clasped her hands behind her back, stretching her arms behind her, as they continued along the gravel path. The silence reeled out into a long, fragile thread between them.
Breath hitched in Scott's throat. He made a couple of false starts. "I -- I've never--" he began, broke off and tried to think of a less pathetic way to begin, then plowed ahead. "I've never told anyone. I mean, I think Xavier probably knew but we never...talked about it. I walled it off and did my best to forget about it. Then Jean was in my life, and I couldn't think about anything past my duties, and her."
"Talked about what?" Lorna picked that out of Scott's rambling, holding it up for further inspection.
"I got fostered out," Scott said, and clenched his jaw. They walked in silence again for several steps. "I stayed at the orphanage for a while, but there was a limit to how long anyone could stay, so I got sent to a foster family, in the end. Alex got adopted but I was too old." He'd been too intractable, too untrusting, too angry...at their parents, for leaving the two of them alone and forcing him to try and make the best of the worst situation; at the state, for separating him from Alex.
"So you were in the system," Lorna prompted, looking straight ahead as they walked side by side.
"Yeah," Scott said, and his jaw clenched. He tried to speak, and his breath hitched. "The place I got sent to had more than a few kids already, but I was the oldest." He didn't want to be there, in that place; he didn't want to return even in his thoughts.
"How old were you?"
"Fourteen," Scott said quietly. He tipped his head to the side, catching a glimpse of Lorna at the edge of his vision. Her profile was solemn, partially obscured by a wing of long hair. "I had... There were some bad experiences while I was there." He clenched his jaw. That was all he could get out on that subject.
"Abuse?" the word escaped Lorna like a soap bubble, and she clasped a hand over her mouth.
Scott's mouth tightened to a grim slash. He shook his head -- not to deny Lorna's exclamation, but to shut down the subject, though he knew she'd take it as a negation. "I learned some things about myself during the time there," he said evasively, though he knew she'd take it for more truth. "I learned I'm not always proud of who I am and being...well. This was something that really messed with my sense of self."
Her eyes studied the reflective surface of his glasses intently, searching for his eyes. "What do you mean, Summers?" she prompted him, folding her arms.
He shook his head and turned away from her, seized with the sudden urge to rip his glasses off, to blast the nearby trees from their deep-seated roots or fire off a jet of destructive energy into the sky. His hands curled into fists, hard. It was poisoning him, deep inside his gut. He'd kept it inside too long. "I'd wake up from vivid dreams, I'd see other guys in the locker room, and that was..." He fell apart mid-sentence, covering his face with his hands.
"You started liking guys?" Lorna filled in the blank, her voice quiet and non-judgmental.
Scott scrubbed at his face, the rasp of stubble catching at his hands. The sun wasn't even gone yet and already he could use a shave. He'd always had thin skin and heavy beard growth.
"I couldn't," he said, his voice desperate. "Could I? How could I like that? It wasn't right, it wasn't..." He trailed off again. Given what else had happened during those six months, how could he?
Lorna moved closer to him, arms still hugging around her curvy body as though she were cold. She moved into his range of vision, and being slightly taller, she captured his gaze -- or would have, if his eyes were visible. "Oh, Scott," she said, and the sympathy in her voice was understandable, and unbearable. "So you repressed it."
"Yes, I did. Until I left that place, and Xavier found me."
They stood side by side as the sun collapsed over the fringe of trees, leaving behind a haze of purple and gray. Shoulder to shoulder they watched the sunset, and Lorna was quiet. For his part, Scott couldn't not think about it anymore. It had been so long, and he thought he'd shut up those squirming uncomfortable thoughts in an impenetrable box, thrown away the key, and dumped the box in the lake out behind the grounds. Xavier had never asked. At the time, maybe that was what he needed. But after awhile...maybe Scott should have broken through that shell, needed that catharsis. In pretending everything was fine, that those feelings had never been, he'd stumbled into a worse trap.
"So how's that working out for you?" Lorna said, her voice light. "Not thinking about it, I mean."
"Great," Scott said, heavy on the irony. "I got married. I clung to that so hard I ended up pushing her away, or she pushed me away; in the end there wasn't a difference. I wasn't there for her, and she died."
Lorna turned on her heel to stare at him incredulously. "What happened to Jean was not your fault, Summers," she said.
"You weren't there--"
"No, but I read the reports," she shot back. "All of the first-hand accounts, including yours. It's part of being an X-Man, or so I'm told. What we don't know could kill us. And what I know is that Jean made her own choices. She chose, Scott, and it was her alter ego that killed her. Not you. Not Xavier. Not even Wolverine, in the end."
"Summers men!" she interrupted him with a theatrical groan, throwing up her hands. When she turned to him, though, her eyes were sparkling with good humor. "You think your mistakes must somehow account for everything. Even if there's other people perfectly capable of sending everything to merry hell."
Scott's brows bunched and he opened his mouth.
"Don't say it," she overrode him before he even spoke. "Let's get back to the real issue, Scott."
"Which is?" Scott said, bemused. If she had such clear vision she should be able to cut to the heart of the matter, right?
"You repress, Summers, and I know where this conversation's been heading," she said lightly, stretching her arms out before her and lacing her fingers together. The movement pressed her ample breasts together and up and Scott looked away. It wasn't the fact that she was his brother's girl that sealed the fact he wasn't interested. "You were alone, Scott, foster family or not. Not everyone has an understanding and supportive family, and you...well, you didn't. So it must've been confusing as hell when you started to get interested in guys." She stopped.
Scott glanced over at her and noted that the fair skin over her cheekbones had flushed a darker tinge. "Yeah," he muttered, his fists clenched.
"So, do you think you like guys?" she said, dropping her arms to her side and turning to face him again. There it was.
That was the crux of the matter.
"I've spent the last fifteen years convincing myself I couldn't possibly like guys, given...everything," he told her, frowning. He looked away from her penetrating green eyes and out toward the lake, screened from view by a fringe of trees. "You said it yourself, Summers men repress really well. When I left the place I'd been, when I came here to this school, I slammed the lid on that part of my past and channeled everything into learning about my powers, then being with Jean when she made it clear she wanted to be with me. I was, well, I was never in a co-ed school again with showers and so forth, so I was never really in the situation. I managed to avoid thinking about it completely, until now."
Lorna's eyes widened. "So something must have happened to trigger -- something recent--" She squeaked and turned her back on him, hands flying up to her face or mouth, he couldn't quite tell with the movement of her curtain of hair.
"Yeah," Scott said dryly, unclenching his hands. He sighed. "I must be a masochist."
"My god, Scott, I'm so sorry," she said, her voice muffled and gratifyingly embarrassed. "I even hit on him and everything...oh my god. Does Alex know? Geez, how the hell did I miss that, I'm usually more, uh, observant...crap."
The laugh, though it felt dragged out of him, was surprisingly hearty. "I don't think even he knows yet," Scott said reluctantly, loathe to say the name.
Lorna turned around, big bright eyes peering up at him over the double shield of her hands. "I wouldn't be too sure of that," she said, the cryptic nature of the words spoiled somewhat by the fact that she was still talking through her fingers, and accordingly muffled.
It was too ridiculous. Even though he'd been immersed in less than humorous thoughts only a moment before, Scott found his mouth tilting upward, then he was smiling, and now he couldn't help but laugh.
Lorna put her hands on her hips as if she'd scold him but she grinned too, and just looked at him. "So long as there's laughter, there's hope," she said, tipping her head to one side.
Scott caught his breath and she raised her brows. "Someone I knew would've said the same thing."
"Yeah? Well, he was a smart man, that Xavier," Lorna said, surprising him yet again. "I think that the fact that you're trying to work through all of this is a good sign, Scott. Honestly. It's healthy and normal to have these doubts, to struggle with it even. One in ten still isn't a majority by a long shot and everyone who's ever questioned their sexuality is going against human norms. Whatever those are."
"Whatever those are indeed," Scott echoed, scanning the grounds. Lights had bloomed in most of the windows now and he turned toward the mansion, tucking his head down. It had occurred to him with painful irony more than once that the mutant condition and its lack of acceptance in the general populace was analogous to his other little secret. "Lorna...thanks." They should get back, he thought; there were bed checks and paperwork waiting for him.
"It's not going to work itself out all at once, Scott," she cautioned him. "Not if I'm the first person you've ever told. But you're a strong person. Way stronger than Alex."
Scott's head jerked up and he caught the tail end of her grin.
"Don't tell him I said that, of course. My last word would be: if you want it, go for it," she said as they began ambling toward the mansion. "Advice I wish I'd taken myself, a long time ago."
That surprised another laugh out of him. "Well, you and Alex are a different story, you'll be fine."
"Provided he doesn't act like a damn fool again," she said, her tone light but with an underlying grimness to it. "I mean it, though, Scott. Whatever makes up who you are is not your fault. It's just who you are. You have good instincts -- you should trust them, and go from there. Everything else will work itself out."
Scott nodded, slipping his hands into his pockets. If you want it, go for it. Maybe it was time to do the selfish thing, for once.