Disclaimer: Textual poaching zone. Marvel owns, I'm squatting.
I always loved fairy tales. Cinderella, Snow White, Jack and the Beanstalk, it didn't matter. My sister and I always used to pretend we were the characters in whichever story caught our fantasy that day. Later on, I used to get as much joy out of them as did Nathan back when he was a baby and would crawl onto my lap and beg for a "stowy".
When I was younger, I think I loved them for their exoticism – the beautiful princesses, the scary monsters, the witches and goblins and all of the other beings that showed up in every little town in fairy tales, but never seemed to visit Annandale-on-Hudson, New York.
When I was older, I think it was a love born of nostalgia – nostalgia for a childhood when the bad guys could be put back on the shelf and saved for another day, instead of being chased with plasma weapons. I missed the simplicity of it all. The bad guys always lost, the heroes saved the day, and nobody ever had to call in the claims inspector to assess the damage for insurance purposes.
Most of all, I missed the simple fact that if I didn't feel like playing hero on any particular day, I didn't have to. Now, I'm not allowed to leave the book on the shelf any more than I'm allowed to let the answering machine pick up for the emergency phone line.
Even after I got married, I used to keep a few of my childhood books around, theoretically for the children I always assumed we'd be having. Scott used to make fun of me for reading Cinderella after we returned from yet another battle against Sentinels or the Hellfire Club or whoever the opponent for the day had been. But he understood why I did it – I needed to be reminded about how good it could feel to be a hero. Especially after you get chased away by the very people whom you've just saved.
But I haven't touched any of those books for a while now. I can't bear to think about fairy tales at all. Because in fairy tales, the heroes get to live happily ever after.
Maybe it was naïveté, but even after all my other illusions about heroes and villains were shattered, I always held out hope for the happily-ever-after. I never, ever doubted that Scott and I would grow old together. Even in my most fatalistic moments, I always had a sneaking suspicion that Scott and I would at least be killed in the same explosion. Widowhood was never in the cards.
I know heroes die. I have always known that, even before I had to watch friends perish before my eyes. I just didn't ever imagine that it would be my hero. Not Scott.
So now, instead of fairy tales, I have the dreams to remind me of all that I used to believe in and all that I've lost. Not every night, but often enough to make me dread closing my eyes.
The dreams aren't identical, but, like fairy tales, the theme is the same. In them, I always wake up next to Scott, opening my eyes to see him watching me like he sometimes did. And he always has some disturbingly cheerful thing to say after 'good morning' – to me, Scott's greatest flaw was that he was a morning person – and then it's a peck on the forehead and he swings his legs out of bed.
In the dreams, life goes on as normal, as normal as it used to be around here during downtime. Arguments over who made coffee, Danger Room sessions, dealing with whatever angsty crisis someone is invariably having right before lunch, everything is like it always is. With one exception. I know what's going to happen. I know that Scott is going to die before the day is done.
How we get to Akhaba differs in each dream, but that's where we invariably end up. And I'm standing there with Scott just out of arm's reach and we're watching Nate Grey face off against Apocalypse. And I feel the same flash through the psi-link that I felt on that day.
I didn't know what it meant then, but now I do. It was Scott doing the lightning-fast calculation that added up to him pushing his love for me through the link just as he took that flying leap towards Nate. It was Scott knowing that he was sacrificing himself and not giving a second thought about the rightness of it, only to the necessity of it.
But if I didn't know what that red-amber flash on the link was the day it happened, I know what it is in my dreams. And the instant I feel it, I try to stop him. Sometimes, I scream for Scott to stop. Sometimes, I run and try to catch him, either physically or telekinetically, before he can get to Nate.
Nothing ever works. Those times that I cry out, the best I've ever done is get Scott to say 'I'm sorry' as he flies through the air, which is close enough to what he actually said on that day. I can't physically catch up with him and if I try a telekinetic grab, it's like I've suddenly realized that I'm not a telekinetic anymore. There's no effect whatsoever.
I know what happens next. There's the flash of light, that burning, hot wind, and then nothing. Nothing until I feel Nathan's hands on my shoulders, pulling me into his arms and whispering over and over that he's sorry, he's so sorry, that it should have been him. When Nathan whispers like that, he sounds just like his father. And so the last words I hear from Scott are the first words I hear after he is gone.
After that, it wasn't the silence around me that I noticed first, it was the silence inside me. The psi-link going dead. No matter how angry Scott and I ever got at each other, we never broke that link. Sure, we'd block it off, but you couldn't stop it up completely. There would always be background noise seeping through.
But this time, there is silence.
And then I wake up.
It's not a mercy that I do. The pain doesn't ebb along with the dream. I wake up with a lump in my throat so big that I can barely swallow, and then there's that half-second before I look over at what used to be Scott's side of the bed and expect him to be there, expect this all to have been a nightmare.
But of course, he's not there. Had he been there, there would be no nightmares – Scott would have woken me up long before they got too far. He would have mumbled something about being a little concerned that his wife was dreaming about his own demise and what would Freud think about it. Then he would have pulled me into his arms and kissed my cheek and sent images of candy canes or pink ponies or some other truly ridiculous image of harmless happiness. That, or some decidedly more mature images of happiness and he'd offer to prove most definitively that he was quite alive and well.
But there is no Scott, there is no sex, no candy canes, no pink ponies, no relief from this hell that I haven't figured out a way to get out of.
I know I should talk to Nathan – for his own good as well as my own. Nathan's already dealt with losing the love of his life and if he can learn to move on, then I should be able to as well. Especially since he got his obsessive need to fixate from Scott's genes, not mine (through Madelyne).
But I'm not ready to move on, no more than Nathan is ready to discuss losing his father during a mission that was supposed to be his own. He got that perverse sentimentality from me.
That's not to say that we don't talk, Nathan and I. We dance around the subject, be it when he catches me over coffee when I'm bleary-eyed from another dream or when I see him slipping into one of his funks. Neither of us has gotten very far on the seven steps to dealing with loss.
But we've both learned the same lesson from Scott – that personal anguish cannot get in the way of effective leadership. And like it as not, Nathan and I are very much leaders here in our merry band. Rogue and Gambit call the shots – and how's that for watching history repeat itself, as Warren likes to ponder aloud when he thinks I'm not listening – but when it comes down to it, the Summers family is the first family of soldiers.
I suppose it's a fitting homage to Scott that his son and widow hide their grief behind masks, to be taken out and kicked around only when there is nothing more pressing to deal with. We are a warrior clan, after all, be we Dayspring Unit or X-Men.
But we have, I think, learned a second lesson from Scott. Never give up. Not to anguish, not to enemies, not to self-pity. I'd like to think that that is what we are doing. I'd like to think that that is why we continue to fight – because it is what we believe in, not just because it is what we have always done. Maybe because of it, someday, some other set of heroes will get their own happily ever after.
And when they do, I've got a great set of books on a shelf in my bedroom just waiting for them.