Disclaimer: The X-Men belong to a rich and famous person. I'm currently known to a handful of friends, family members, and the like, and am also teetering dangerously on the edge of bankruptcy. The conclusion should be obvious to anyone with a logical bent: I own nothing within. Please do not sue the starving student.
Set several months after the events of X-Men 2. Also set after my other X-Men stories, although knowledge of them is not required for reading. Incident from Scott's adolescence (as well as the concept of the Original X-Team attending school in Salem Center) inspired by X-Men:Evolution. Comic/movie purists may direct all complaints to their nearest houseplant.
The Walking Wounded
There are, I realize as I roll over for the three thousandth time tonight, a lot of pretty stupid decisions I've made as a staff member at Xavier's. Volunteering to teach Freshman Algebra, for example. Or believing Jubilee when she told me The Ring was a romantic comedy. But one of the stupidest decisions I've made so far was supporting the no-in-house-curfew-on-weekends rule.
"Come on!" A voice drifts up through the floor, punctuated by the sound of video games. "You gotta be kidding!"
Of course, at the time I was thinking of how much Jean, Warren and I hated having to be in bed at eleven on Friday nights when we were teenagers – not about the fact that I'm not a teenager any more, but a grown man who tends to like being asleep at 12:40 on Saturday morning. Nor did I consider the fact that our room is directly above a student lounge equipped with a video-game console . . . .
"C'mon! Just use the level-two code and get on with it!"
I burrow my head into the pillow, knowing exactly what Jean would say if she "heard" me thinking about the curfew. She'd raise an eyebrow, give me that infuriating I-told-you-so half-smile, and let the phrase It was your idea, Scott drift through my mind . . .
Arrgh. I roll over, irritated with myself.
I have to stop doing this – stop turning every single event and thought into "Jean would say this" or "What Jean used to do." I have to stop dwelling on . . . on . . .
Another roll. Who am I kidding?
The room, even after all these months, still smells like her. This room, and every room of this mansion, is permeated with memories of Jean. There's no more chance of me not dwelling on her than there is of me not wearing my shades in public.
I half-heartedly roll over once more and then give up. I kick the covers off, roll out of bed, pull on a t-shirt and a pair of school-issue sweats, and wander out of the room. The twin distractions of Jean's memory and the video-game tournament are obviously not going to let me sleep.
The halls on the third and second floors are pretty quiet, except for the video games and the fainter noise from the TV on the first floor. From the voices echoing up along with it, I'd say Jones has some company for a change.
As I descend the stairs to the first floor I catch a flash of movement out of one of the front windows. For a moment I tense up, then relax. It's probably just Logan, prowling the grounds as he tends to do. Not long after we got back from Alkali he marched into the Professor's office and announced that 1) He would be staying, 2) this School needed better security measures, and 3) he'd be seeing to it that those measures were put into play. The amused look on Professor Xavier's face had me almost convinced this had been part of some sort of plan all along.
I'm not going to comment on what I was thinking at the time, except to say that I for one wasn't sure I'd feel that secure with Logan on guard. But the ideas he came up with are awfully sound, and his patrolling the grounds himself is really cutting down on the number of students who try to sneak out at night. Apparently even doing your homework is less scary than a midnight meeting with an alert Wolverine.
I pass the first-floor TV lounge on my way to the kitchen, and pause to look in on the kids. The lounge is packed, with students sprawled on the floor and perched on the back of the couch. Artie, I notice, is sitting on the end table –I'm not sure I want to know what happened to the lamp that should be sitting where Artie is sitting now. More than a few of the kids are asleep.
Right now the musical Chicago is playing onscreen, and I notice a scattering of DVD cases on the floor by the TV. It looks like some sort of movie marathon –I remember Ororo telling me that Wanda Maximoff won a drawing for a dozen free movie rentals at the local Blockbuster. I'm not sure that Wanda's tampering with the odds of a drawing counts as a ethical application of her powers . . . but at least they're staying out of trouble.
No sooner do I finish the thought than one of the girls – Jodie, I think – plows past me, wiping a tear-streaked face on her arm as she heads for the kitchen.
Jubilee comes wandering down the hallway, guzzling a Dr. Pepper. She glances back over her shoulder at Jodie's retreating form. "Oh."
"Yeah. Oh." I hold out my arm to block her from entering the TV lounge. "Hang on a second. Why is Jodie crying?"
Jubilee snaps her gum (I'll never understand how she manages to drink soda without swallowing the gum). "Okay, so, like, this is what happened. Marie told me that Piotr heard from Kitty while they were, like, doing art lessons – 'cause Piotr's a really good artist and plus Kitty has like an enormous crush on him, even though she's so not admitting it – anyway, Kitty said Siryn told her that Jamie like, overheard . . . ."
"Jubilee," I interrupt, feeling the beginning twinges of a grapevine-induced migraine, "Could you please just tell me, with a minimum of 'likes' and without relating the route by which you heard it, why Jodie is so upset?"
" 'Kay." I can almost see the wheels turning in Jubilee's head as she processes who told what to which person. Finally she snaps her gum and says, "Jodie got dumped by David for Cassie Schroeder."
I frown, rubbing at what is almost certainly going to be a killer migraine by sunrise. "And she didn't take it very well."
"No." Jubilee gives me the what-planet-are-you-from, and-when-did-you-touch-down? look. "I mean, they've only known each other since like their first year and everyone knows that David was the first guy Jodie ever kissed, and then like out of the blue he leaves her for Cassie. And all I can say is that it's pretty low for Cassie to go along with it, 'cause anyone who'd just take another girl's man is really a total bi- . . . ."
"Jubilee." I give her my best Patented Death Glare, the one to remind her that while curfew may not be in force, the other rules are and using profanity to describe other students will find her scrubbing the kitchen floor for a week.
She grins meekly (or, at least, as meekly as Jubilee is capable of grinning) and snaps her gum. " 'Kay, so now you know. I'm gonna go back before I, like, miss the movie."
I nod, take a deep breath, and turn for the kitchen. I would rather let Logan remove my wisdom teeth than have the talk I'm about to have with this girl. But I, of course, don't have that choice. Like it or not, I'm the fearless leader.
And I'm also the only one who can talk to her–there really isn't anyone else. The Professor is the last one in the world you want to talk to about these things. Not that he isn't sympathetic, of course but the man looks at you with those calm eyes and speaks in that Oxford accent, and suddenly being all worked up over some member of the opposite sex seems absolutely ludicrous. You're left with nothing to say that won't make you sound and feel like an idiot.
Hank? Let me put it this way; Hank didn't have much of a love life before he was fanged, blue, and hairy. Things are not looking up for Hank in the romance department. Any advice he'd have to give on the subject would probably involve a lot of in-depth discussion of pheromones and genetic markers, and this girl is looking for advice, not a chemistry class.
Ororo is one of the best listeners I know, but there are more reasons than one that the tribe she lived with worshiped her. The last thing a teenager with low self esteem wants to do is talk to some woman who looks like a supermodel about her difficulties with her ex-boyfriend.
Kurt is, again, a great listener. He also makes the best pancakes ever, but there are some things about which the man has not a clue. Romance happens to be one of them.
Then there's Logan. I confess I know next to nothing about the guy. For all I know he was happily involved with a number of women before he showed up and tried to move in on mine. But the Logan I know and love (well, know and try not to strangle) has the temperament and charm of a disgruntled badger and the personal grooming habits to match. Even if he does know all there is to know about personal relationships (which I doubt), something tells me he'd rather remove his own appendix with his healing factor shut down than talk to anyone about that sort of thing. Especially a crying fifteen-year-old.
To all the above reasons, add the fact that everyone I just mentioned is either asleep or prowling around in the bushes outside and guess who that leaves?
Yeah. Lucky me.
I push the door to the kitchen open and peer in, half-expecting Kurt to be in there at the stove, making pancakes. Instead I glance a tousled head of mouse-brown hair buried in crossed arms on the tabletop. It doesn't take an expert to tell that Jodie is crying.
Okay, Scotty, get yourself psyched up. This is going to be a tough one.
I swing the door the rest of the way open and walk in, shutting it behind me. Jodie's head shoots up at the sound, and she wipes frantically at her eyes with the palm of one hand. "Oh. H-hi, Mr. Summers." She sniffs deeply and tries to act like nothing's wrong. "Wh - what's going on?"
"You tell me." I pull out a chair and sit down across the table from her. I meet her eyes – not that she'd be able to tell –and say, as gently as possible, "You want to talk about it?"
Say no say no oh please just say no . . . .
She doesn't say no. Instead she takes a deep, shuddery breath and says "I just don't get it. They're in there, and they're so happy, and that was us just a couple days ago, and I don't know if I did something wrong, or did I not do something, or . . . or . . . or . . . ." Another deep breath and another attempt to wipe the still-flowing tears. "Or . . . am . . . I . . . just ugly?" Then she buries her head in her arms again, sobbing.
"Jodie, you are not ugly." I pause, searching for words and drawing an absolute blank. Jean. Jean was the one who used to handle these situations. What would Jean do . . . .
And, oddly enough, I suddenly know exactly what she'd do.
She'd raise an eyebrow, give me that infuriating half-smile, and let the phrase Quit asking yourself that and just do what you'd do, Scott, drift through my head . . . .
Not that that helps me much.
I try desperately to come up with something, anything, I can say. Jodie's looking at me uncertainly, like she expects math problems to be forthcoming at any moment instead of advice. So I take a deep breath, and I plunge in headfirst.
"Y'know, when I was a student there was a girl who went to High School with us – with Warren and Jean and Hank and I – in Salem Center. Lora, her name was. She was blonde, gorgeous, a cheerleader with her own car . . . ." Good Lord, was it that many years ago now? "I would have done more or less anything to get this girl to notice me."
Jodie's not crying any more, which is an okay sign I suppose. She's also, however, looking a little mystified at the idea that Mr.-Summers-the-Terrifying-Authority-Figure was ever a teenager with a crush on anyone except Jean Grey. "Did she?"
"Not in the way I wanted." I sigh. Dredging up long-buried memories of my worst moment of high school was not what I wanted to do this evening. "I finally screwed up the courage to ask her out. She laughed. In my face. In public." I wince. Hard to believe old scars still sting after all the years since.
"What'd you do, Mr. S.?" Jodie's grey eyes are red-rimmed, but her face is slowly regaining a normal color.
I shrug. "Came back here, ripped the Danger Room to shreds, and tried to pretend everything was okay. But Jean . . . ." Oh, Lord. Jean, when we were kids . . . . "She knew enough to see through that. She finally got me to tell her the whole story. And she listened, stupid as it was. I . . . used to think that if it weren't for that, Jean and I wouldn't have . . . well." I clear my throat. "The point is, my life went on. That girl wasn't the end of the world."
She's watching me, staring at where she thinks my eyes are – hardly anyone ever makes real eye contact with me, because of the shades. She hasn't burst into tears again, or stood up to run out, so I guess I'm doing all right. I decided to go for the home stretch.
"I know you don't believe me now – I wouldn't have believed it at your age – but none of the sorrows you're facing right now are permanent. They're lasting, they're ugly, but they're not permanent. I know it hurts. But it's going to get better." I sigh. "Not quickly. But it's going to get better. You just have to believe that, and hold on when it hurts. It will get better."
Jodie sniffs and hiccups. "You think so?"
"Yeah." I reach out and touch her shoulder. "I do."
Jodie smiles then, showing the pink-and-green rubber bands on her braces. It's a tentative smile, the kind that might melt away at any moment – but it's a smile. It's a start. "Thanks, Mr. Summers." She scrubs one more time at her eyes with the back of her sleeve, then pushes back from the table. "I . . . I guess I'll go back an' finish watchin' Chicago."
"You do that. Show him he's not the end of the world."
I follow Jodie out of the kitchen and down the hall, feeling like I'm finishing up a marathon session in the Danger Room. Well, Jean, that wasn't so . . . .
Jodie pauses at the door to the TV lounge, looking up at me like she's not sure she should say what she's thinking. But at last she says, "Y'know . . . . Dr. Grey usedta give me advice about stuff like this, too."
I wonder if the dagger in my heart shows itself in my eyes. I guess it doesn't matter, since Jodie can't see them, anyway.
Jodie shuffles her feet in their furry green slippers. "I . . . I know you miss her. I do, too. I just . . . ." She shrugs. "You're almost as good at it as she was, Mr. S."
There's honor in that statement, and sorrow. And somehow, as strange as it seems, there's hope. I smile at her – an action that feels somehow alien. Has it been that long since I've smiled? "Thank you, Jodie."
She bobs her head once, still examining the slippers. "Okay. Well . . . . G'night." And she's gone.
I don't make any other move for a second. I'm just trying to process, somewhere in my sleep-deprived brain, what just went on. Before I can, however, a gravelly voice breaks in from the shadows.
"Handled that pretty well, bub."
I turn quickly, startled – but it's only Logan, of course. He raises an eyebrow at the look on my face. "Hey, someone's gotta keep an eye on things 'round here."
"Is that why you're always crawling around in the front bushes?" The retort is an automatic reaction – no real venom in it, not any more. Just the words we use to tell each other what we don't want to say out loud.
Logan knows that as well as I do. He grins. "Maybe." Then he leans up against the wall. "Good advice ya gave the kid."
I shrug. "Thanks."
"You gonna take it?"
It takes a long pause before I finally say "Yeah. I am."
"Good." Logan straightens up. " 'Course, I probably woulda just advised her ta kick the crap outta the guy."
"And that," I reply, "Is why I'm handling the hormone-driven trauma patients and you're lurking around in the front hedge."
Logan gives the snort that is as close as he ever comes to a laugh. "Fair enough." He turns and heads down the hall, then stops and turns to look back over his shoulder. "Hey, Scott."
"Welcome back to the land of the livin', kid."
I pause, then nod. "Thanks, Logan."
He saunters off down the hall and I head for our –for my room.
No, it isn't always fair. No, it isn't always fun. But it's life, and it goes on, and it gets better.
And if I'm lucky, I may actually get a little sleep tonight.
The Walking Wounded is my fourth X-Men moviefic, and the third in a sort of quasi-trilogy that began with Shelter From the Storm and is continued in Pancakes, Paradigms, and The Princess Bride. The three share only canon characters, but they each feature original female students whose appearances and powers are only loosely defined.
That's because Angela (SFtS) Holly (PPaTPB), and Jodie (In this fic) are really just people. The fact that they're at Xavier's is to me only important because of the individuals it brings them in contact with – not because they melt tables with their mind or somesuch.
The theme of this "Trilogy" is really driven home in Walking Wounded, although it's repeated throughout. It's going to be okay. Life is hard, life is ugly, life is painful and life is wrong. But it's going to be okay. For me this assurance is rooted in my Christian faith – the reason that Shelter From the Storm features Kurt Wagner's faith so prominently.
But I hope that even if readers don't share that faith, they'll at least be open to the assurance. "Now these three remain – Faith, Hope, and Love." The Greatest of these, it says, is Love – but Hope is essential as well.
Take Hope. It's going to be okay.