If the Fates Allow...
The Subcafe usually does a brisk business in the holiday season. Christmas 2001 was no exception. But when the Bouncer caught sight of the crew of five coming up to the door, one of them in a wheelchair, he stood a bit straighter and waved them right in.
The bartender looked up, catching the cue from the Bouncer's posture, and smiled gently at the newcomers. "Evening, Professor Xavier. Which reality?"
"Mainstream," sighed the Professor.
"Table 12's ready for you," the bartender replied, and waved them on.
The Beast, clad in a knit sweater and khaki pants (but no shoes), stepped nimbly from behind the Professor's wheelchair and threaded his way through the half-filled tables to the bar. "Major, if you'd be so kind," he said, producing a twenty-dollar bill from his pants pocket. "None of us from alternate realities, please, until we've moved on."
"I'll make sure of it," said Major Mapleleaf, pocketing the bill. "What'll it be?"
"Singapore sling for me. I feel like something sweet and rummy. Can you have a girl take the others' orders?"
"Without doubt, Mr. McCoy. Without doubt. And Merry Christmas."
The Beast looked at him with a fleeting look of sadness.
"Something wrong? Did I misspeak?" asked the barkeep.
"No," said Hank. "Not your fault. Just...never mind." He ambled over to Table 12.
Jean had already gotten the Professor in place at the table and locked his wheels. The rest of them were seated round the table already, Wolverine and Storm and Iceman and Angel filling out the tableau. A waitress took the others' orders, which ran to beer, wine, or eggnog, and was gone. The heroes were in civilian clothes, but everyone knew who they were and respected their privacy.
Bobby Drake, resting his chin on his clasped hands, broke the silence. "One of these days, we should do this at Clark's Bar. Really. Or at Munden's."
"Cool it, Bob," said Warren, setting back and arranging his wings a bit more comfortably. "No pun intended. The Subcafe's where we come for Christmas."
"Yes," said Storm, with a note of regret. "Where those of us come who are left."
"Yeah," said Jean, and hid her eyes with her hands, turning her face towards the table.
Xavier touched her shoulder, somewhat awkwardly. "The holidays are...usually a time of hardship, Jean. Rest assured, we...I...feel the loss as well. The losses."
"Yeah," said Jean, and didn't look up.
Luckily, the waitress came by with their drinks, giving them another excuse for silence. "Now," she said. "Ready to order dinner?"
"Uh, thanks, but I think we'll have the buffet," said the Beast. "That okay, gang?"
"Buffet's fine by me," said Wolverine.
"Similar," said Warren.
Professor X said, "We'll all have the buffet. But we'll wait a few minutes, if that's all right."
"Oh, it's...well, whatever you like is our greatest wish," said the waitress, trying to hold a smile. "I'll put buffet down for all of you. Separate or..."
"Together," Storm said. "Together."
"All right, then," said the waitress.
"And honey?" said Wolverine. "We got two more of our party showin' up later. Make sure they get here, okay? A guy and a gal. You'll know 'em when they come."
"Of course," the waitress said. "And from the Subreality Café, we'd like to wish you all a merry Christmas."
"Thanks," said Logan.
The girl turned and went back to her rounds.
"You know," said the Beast, sipping at his drink, "you know, I used to keep up with the comic strips a lot. In the newspapers. I read up on their creators, too."
"You, a fan of low culture," said the Angel. "Boggles the mind, don't it, Bobby?"
"Stop it, Warren," said Jean. "Keep going, Hank."
"I remember a bit about Chet Gould, the guy who did Dick Tracy. He had a little ritual that was kind of odd, unique you might say. Dick Tracy went through a lot of villains...Flattop, B. B. Eyes, the Brow, more than I can remember. And every time one of them died, he'd take a piece of wood in the shape of a tombstone, write their name on it, and plant it in his backyard. He had a regular graveyard of bad guys back there. I wonder if the guys who do Tracy now still do that, now that he's gone. Probably not."
"Probably not," said Bobby. "The guy who writes it, I read a lot of his mysteries. Nate Heller."
"Nate Heller's the guy who writes Dick Tracy now?" said Warren.
"Nate Heller," said Professor X, "is the name of the detective he writes. The author is Max Allan Collins."
Storm looked at Xavier. "I never knew you were a mystery fan, professor."
"I read everything," said Xavier. "Almost everything."
Wolverine flicked a claw absently in and out of his hand a few times. "I'm just about up for the buffet. Anybody wanna come?"
"Go ahead, Logan. We'll be there in a minute," said Jean.
"Suits me." The little Canadian shoved his chair back and went to grab a plate on a stack at the end of a table full of turkey, ham, dressing, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, pumpkin and apple pies, and other such things. He was third back in line but he didn't mind waiting.
"Crap," said Jean. "Merry freaking Christmas to everybody. Ho ho ho."
"Jean, stop it," said Storm, irritably. "Don't ruin it for everybody."
"Why the hell shouldn't I?" She sniffed, not looking at the others. "Why shouldn't I, when it's been ruined for me?"
Storm grabbed her by the shoulder and looked viciously into her eyes. "Oh? Just for you? And am I to forget about Forge, to make you the only one here with a broken heart?"
"Ladies, please," said Hank. Professor X quieted him with a look.
"That's not what it's about," Jean said, defiant with anger and pain. "You weren't married to him. And when he comes back, he'll be the same man. Not like–"
"Hey," said Warren, leaning forward with a terrible energy. "Anybody here ever hear of a woman named Psylocke? Anybody forgotten her, all of a sudden? Well?"
"No one's forgotten Betsy, Warren," said Xavier. "Least of all, myself."
"Or any of the rest," said the Beast, softly. "Every one of them."
"Colossus," said Storm, remembering the big Russian who had joined the X-Men with her years ago. "Illyana. Even Thunderbird."
"We need not compile a list of the dead," advised Xavier. "Nor do we need to erect wooden tombstones for them. I know them all. I mourn them all. Even Magnus."
"This was a mistake," said Jean. "It really was a mistake."
"What's a mistake, chere?"
The X-Men turned towards the sound and saw Gambit and Rogue, holding gloved hands, dressed for the weather, their heads the only exposed part of them. Both were smiling.
"Oh, hi, Remy," said Jean. "Come on, we saved you both a couple of seats."
"Thanks muchly, sugah," said Rogue, and stepped towards the table with her swain in tow. The two took their seats.
As if on automatic pilot, the waitress was back. "Good evening, and welcome to the Subreality Café," she said. "What'll you have to drink?"
"Scotch, straight up," said Gambit.
"Mint julep, please, honey," said Rogue.
"Thanks. Will you have the buffet, like your friends?"
Gambit grinned. "Try an' keep me from it. Merci beaucoup."
The girl smiled back. "Very well. And merry Christmas."
"Merry Christmas back at y'all," said Rogue. When the waitress was gone, Rogue said, "So. What's the problem?"
Wolverine was making his way back, with a plate piled full of foodstuffs. "Cajun. Belle. Good'a see ya."
"Likewise, mon frere," said Gambit, and shook Logan's outstretched hand. "Glad to see someone ain't a Gloomy Gus around here."
"Some of us are just better at hidin' it, junior," said Logan.
Xavier said, gently, "We were remembering our absent friends, Rogue. Our absent friends."
"Oh," she said. Then, more softly. "Oh. Jean, ah am sorry." She put a gloved hand on Jean's arm. "Really, ah am."
"Thank you," said Jean Grey.
After a pause, Gambit said, "Professor. I want ya to know I hasn't forgotten Moira, either. Do not feel yourself alone there, mon brave."
"Thank you, Remy," said Xavier. "It is appreciated."
The Beast said, "Well, is anyone coming to the buffet table with me? You, Bobby?"
"In a minute, Hank," said Bobby Drake.
"How about you, Warren?"
"I'll be there later, Hank," advised Warren.
"Okay," said Hank, and didn't move.
"Why aren't you getting anything?" asked Bobby.
"Because it'd be rude to leave before we get anything resolved," said the Beast.
"In that case," said Jean, "be ready to stay there for the rest of my life."
Remy cleared his throat, softly. "Y'know, stop me if you don' want to hear. But I remember somethin'. Somethin' I heard. About Christmas."
Wolverine said, "Y'want I should give you a blanket so ya can stand in front'a the tree and pull a Linus?"
"Logan," said Rogue, "shut up."
"No, chere, don't talk like that," said Gambit. "Not tonight. But what I heard. This comes back from the Quarter, from some o' the oldsters I used ta talk with. 'Course, it was just a sayin'."
"Saying what, Remy?" asked Hank. "Go ahead, you've got the floor."
"Well," Gambit said, one arm resting on the back of Rogue's chair. "They said somethin' about a Christmas Wish."
"Oh?" said Storm. "Like the little ones wishing for a bike or a doll set under the Christmas tree, perhaps?"
"No, Ororo. Nothin' like that. It's said by them that, maybe once a year, a Christmas Wish is granted. If it's wished by the right person, in an humble enough spirit, with enough faith. An' if he's deemed worthy. Only once for each person. But if the wish is made, an' made properly...there ain't no tellin' what could happen."
Jean looked at him with red-rimmed eyes. "That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard of, Gambit."
"Jean, please," said Xavier.
"And I'm damned if I'm not going to try it," she continued.
"Jean, really," said Angel. "It's only a legend. Only a story. That's all. It doesn't mean anything."
"Who are you to tell me what means anything, or what doesn't?" Jean retorted. "I can wish for anything I want to. If it comes true, that's fine. If it doesn't, I'm no worse off. But I'll wish it, and hope that it comes true."
"Maybe you should click a pair of red slippers together three times while you're doin' it," said Wolverine, a tad acidly.
She looked at him. "If I could, I would."
Xavier jumped into the breach. "If I may, my friends, I would like to propose this. That all of us join hands here, and join in silent prayer. That the new year may bring us more happiness than the old...and that, if a Christmas Wish be granted, it be granted tonight." A pause. "Also, that we may have faith enough to properly make that wish."
The others looked at each other, trying to gauge their fellows' skepticism and faith.
"Well?" said Xavier. "Any objections?"
"I got none," said Logan.
"I will agree," Storm announced.
"Don't think you have to poll the rest of us, Professor," said Hank McCoy. "Put your hand in the hand."
So the lot of them joined hands with those on each side of them, Xavier, Jean, Ororo, Logan, Warren, Bobby, Hank, Rogue, and Remy, and closed their eyes, and bowed their heads.
They kept in that position for a good long while.
Finally, Xavier audibly exhaled, and brought his head up. The others followed suit, as he said, "Amen."
The X-Men looked about and some of them seemed embarrassed that they were doing so. Jean was about to say something. Remy held up his hand. "Don't say nothin', Jean," he said. "Nothin' that smacks of doubt."
"Faith," said Hank. "The substance of things not seen."
"Thanks, Reverend McCoy," said Wolverine.
"I'll go to the buffet with you, Hank," said Bobby. "If you're ready."
"Absolutely," said the Beast, and the two of them got up and went to the long food table.
After a pause, Jean said, "Professor. I want to thank you for what you did."
"You're welcome, Jean," said Xavier. "But don't think I just did it for you. If such a wish were to come true, there are those that I would love to see, as well."
"Maybe it's just because we're not on Babylon 5, and we're not in the 'Day of the Dead' episode," said Warren, laconically. "But if Betsy were here...my God, if she were only here."
"Angelo, too," said Jean. "He died, too."
Remy got up. "Tell ya what. Before we fill our plates, y'wanna do somethin' with me?"
"Like what, Cajun?" said Logan. "Meanin' no disrespect, o' couse."
"None taken, Logan. The piano's kinda empty. Anyone wanna go with me and try a couple 'a Christmas songs?"
"Christmas songs?" said Jean. "You know how to play?"
"He does, Jeannie," confirmed Rogue. "But don't do any of that Dr. John or Professor Longhair stuff tonight, okay, darlin'?"
"Not even a Leon Russell, chere," grinned Remy.
Remy LeBeau pulled the stool out and sat in front of the old upright. Tentatively, he struck a middle C. It sounded in tune. So far, decent.
"What'chu want to sing?" he asked the others.
"Shouldn't we be asking what you want to sing?" said Ororo.
"Shucks, no. Dis t'ing has got to be sung by all of us. So, what? 'Silent Night'?"
"A nice song," said Xavier. "Perhaps later. We might start out with something more secular, for all of us."
"Well, I know 'Do They Know It's Christmas?'," said Bobby. "I can do that one."
Rogue frowned. "Wherever were you brought up, boy? We don't start off with rock 'n' roll carols, no way!"
"How's about...'Chestnuts roasting on an open fire'?" Hank McCoy sang the line, and did it well enough to surprise those who had never heard him sing.
"That's a nice choice," said Xavier. "What about it?"
"Well, nothin' to stop us tryin'," said Remy, and picked out an intro.
"No," said Jean, laying one hand on his right hand, over the piano keys. "There was one that was our favorite carol. I'd like you to start with that one. Would you do that for me, Remy?"
"One needs but ask, ma'am," said Remy. "What would the song be?"
"Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," said Jean. "Do you...know that one?"
"Do I ever," he said.
"Ah, yes," said the Beast. "Originally from the movie, 'Meet Me in St. Louis.' 1943. Written by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blaine. The plot concerns..."
"Beast," said Wolverine, "will you put a sock in it and sing?"
"You like to start, Jeannie?" asked Remy.
"Well," she said, "I'll try."
A pause, then Remy gave the ivory intro and vamped till she was ready. Jean took a deep breath, then began to sing.
"Have yourself...a merry little Christmas.
Let your heart...be light..."
Storm put her arm around Jean and joined her.
"From now on, our troubles will be out of sight."
Angel and Iceman gave each other a cynical look at the line, but said nothing.
"Have yourself...a merry little Christmas..." Jean's voice was faltering a bit. "Make the Yule-tide gay..."
She couldn't go on.
The Beast took it up, and sang clearly and loudly. "From now on, our troubles will be miles away."
Remy began the bridge, and sang. Rogue joined him in harmony.
"Here we are as in
Happy golden days of yore..."
The next voice they heard was rough, and untrained, and probably unsuited to singing anything you couldn't pull out of a c & w jukebox. But damned if he didn't seem to be singing with feeling.
Wolverine was the one who sang, "Faithful friends, who are dear to us, gather near to us, once more..."
Bobby thought he saw something near the door. A movement. Hell, he did see it. The Bouncer was staring at something and drawing back, as if in shock.
Warren nudged him with an elbow. Bobby sang, "Through the years, we all will be together, if the fates allow..."
Xavier joined in with a pleasing baritone. "Hang a shining star upon the highest bough..."
They hesitated, and Jean knew the finish was up to her. "And have yourself..." (pause) "a mer-ry little..." (pause) "Christ...mas..."
She heard gasps and looked up.
Walking across the floor, looking as if all color had been washed out of him, but otherwise just the same as the day before he had...
...was a brown-haired figure with ruby-quartz sunglasses and a casual suit, certainly not one for going outside on such a cold night as the one currently in progress.
Her voice caught as she sang the one last syllable, without being aware she was doing it.
And as the last word hung in the air and began to fade, the figure walking towards them with a smile began to fade as well. The X-Men saw it.
They were too shocked to know what to do about it. All of them, save one.
Xavier began to sing again. "Have yourself a merry little Christmas...Blast you, Remy, play!...let your heart be light..."
The Cajun's hands found the keys and he began the melody anew. "Uh, from now on...your...our..."
"Our troubles will be out of sight," sang Rogue, taking it up again.
Scott Summers, or what appeared to be Scott Summers, or what was undoubtedly the best thing next to having the Scott Summers she knew around again, crossed the floor to stand before Jean Grey. He still smiled.
She reached out tentatively. He began to fade again.
She sang, "Have yourself...a merry little Christmas..."
He solidified again, and she touched him. Solid. As flesh-like as her husband had been. Was this a fake? Was it some mad scheme of an evildoer who had crashed the party?
She threw herself into his arms and hugged him and was hugged in turn.
Beast and Angel were continuing the song. "Make the Yule-tide gay. From now on..."
The Bouncer was acting funny again. Beast found himself singing, "Our troubles will be miles away," alone. Warren's jaw was dropping.
Another figure had entered. That of a beautiful Asian woman in a skimpy outfit and high boots, as washed out in coloration as Scott was, but giving a warm smile nonetheless. She continued to walk towards them, but began to fade.
Warren found himself stabbed lightly with an icicle. "Sing, you blockhead!" snapped Iceman.
Obligingly, Warren sang, "Here we are, as in olden days, happy golden days of yore..."
Psylocke crossed the gulf between him, took him in her arms, and all was well.
Storm took up the chorus with, "Faithful friends, who are near to us..."
The Bouncer gave up trying to keep the next two arrivals away. Storm's eyes widened when she saw them, but, pointedly, she did not stop singing. "...Gather near to us once more."
Piotr and Illyana Rasputin, beaming and pale, came across the gulf between and each took Ororo by the hand.
"Through the years, we all will be together," said Wolverine, in a state of total conviction. "If the fates allow..."
A whitened Thunderbird was the next to enter, and paid homage to Logan.
"Hang a shining star upon the highest bow," Rogue delivered, as strong as Streisand.
"And have yourself..." Xavier started, then stopped.
The very image of Moira MacTaggart was coming towards him.
"A...a merry..." Xavier couldn't get any farther. The words stuck in his throat. The others were hesitant.
Moira began to fade.
A new voice rang out. "A merry little Christmas now!"
Major Mapleleaf had been the contributor. He was smiling, himself.
Moira MacTaggart solidified, went to Charles, took his head between her hands, and kissed him.
Xavier didn't dare read her mind.
Remy LeBeau continued to play, and wondered who would be the next to sing. Before he could decide to sing the first line again himself, another person cut in to sustain it.
The Bouncer himself sang,
yourself a merry little Christmas,
Let your heart be light,
From now on our troubles will be out of sight..."
A blue-suited reporter in glasses and his reporter wife joined in with two-part harmony.
"Have yourself, a merry little Christmas,
Make the Yule-tide gay,
From now on, our troubles will be miles away..."
A boy in red sweater and blue pants said a magic word, was transformed into a red-clad, white-caped super-hero, and sang,
"Here we are as in olden days,
Happy golden days of yore..."
The youth next to him, with a crutch propped against the wall beside him, said two words, made lightning flash, and, as a blue-and-yellow dressed hero, sang,
"Faithful friends, who are dear to us..."
The girl beside him did her own transformation, and, linking arms with him, harmonized:
"Gather near to us once more..."
"Through the years, we all will be together," sang the Batman, sitting at the bar beside the Catwoman, "if the fates allow..."
"And they better," allowed Selina, and took it up with, "Hang a shining star upon the highest bough..."
Everyone in the room seemed to join in the chorus, "And have yourself a merry little Christmas now!"
Remy LeBeau wasn't about to stop. "Have yourself...a merry little Christmas..."
And it went on.
For a very, very long while.
By the time dawn came around, everybody had a crack at almost every verse of the song. And many had benefitted from it, or believed they had, which was one and the same thing.
Miracleman had been visited by a youthful Johnny Bates, all of the innocence still in him, as he was before the Change.
The Huntress met with and embraced the shade of her father, the original Batman.
The Sub-Mariner had shared a dance with his lady Dorma, and left with her early, though it was not known how long she continued to exist.
The two living Green Hornets were greeted by the two Hornets who had died, and by the masked man of the plains who had been their prototype.
Hawkeye was visited by the ghost of Mockingbird, or what appeared to be her ghost. He hesitatingly confessed that he had been with other women in her absence, and she stroked his head, indicating that she understood.
And the X-Men continued to sing, not daring to stop, taking turns to allow each other what respite they could, surrounded by their friends and lovers, those who did not spoke, but smiled. The smiling was enough.
One last guest appeared at the door.
The Bouncer had long ago quit trying to ask ghosts for their i.d. "Go on in," he said.
A spectral presence in a metallic helmet and a familiar costume crossed the room. Xavier was stunned. "And..." he tried to sing. "And..."
No one sang, but the ghosts continued to exist.
The figure crossed the room, stood before Charles Xavier, and took off his helmet. Erik Magnus Lensherr smiled warmly, though palely, reached out, and embraced Xavier with both arms.
Xavier returned the embrace.
None could tell if either wept or not.
Jean Grey, still holding tight to her Scott, saw Magneto lift his head from Xavier's shoulder. He mouthed two words to her, and she knew what he was trying to say.
Finish it, he said, soundlessly.
She took a deep breath. This had to be done slowly. She wanted to hang onto every last second of it, but it had to be done.
Silence. She let it stretch for five seconds.
"A mer-ry lit-tle...
Jean closed her eyes, and, finally, finished the job.
It was barely more than a whisper.
She dared not open her eyes. She didn't want to. The curtain should not rise on the next scene, she thought to herself. Lord, let me keep my eyes closed forever...
"It's over, Jean," said Xavier, in a tone of infinite gentle sadness. "It's over."
She opened her eyes.
The X-Men sat there, or stood there, around the piano. They were by themselves, once again. No pale companions stood beside them, or beside any of the other guests in the house.
"Is it..." began Iceman. "We really saw..."
"The substance of things not seen, chum," said the Beast, with a diffident smile. "And, perhaps, of things seen, as well." He chucked Bobby Drake under the chin.
Storm was sitting beside Wolverine. "They were there, Logan. Goddess, they were there. We touched them. We did touch them, didn't we?"
"We touched 'em," said Logan. "I smelled 'em."
"They checked out," he said. "Real."
Remy and Rogue were consoling Warren, who was in tears. "She came back," the Angel was saying. "She came back. To me."
"And you should feel grateful she did, Warren," Gambit said. "That you were the one to whom she came back."
"We'll help you, Warren," Rogue said. "Once we get back to the mansion, we'll help."
That left only Xavier and Jean to be heard from. "Professor," she said. "I know what I saw."
"Perhaps," said Xavier.
"I know definitely what I saw."
"Perhaps you could tell me, then," he said, not unkindly, but in the tone of the professor he was.
"I saw," she said, "the reason why we should go on believing. The reason that we shouldn't give up, or despair. The reason to think we should rely on something ahead of us, no matter how bad it gets here. The...oh, God, I'm sounding like something out of Frank Capra here." She wiped her nose, and giggled despite herself.
"Well, there are worse directors to sound like," Xavier said. "Sam Peckinpah would be totally inappropriate. Continue."
"I saw the man I loved. And the reason I loved him. And the reason I'm still an X-Man. And..."
"And the reason I'm glad there's a Christmas. That's what I saw, Professor."
"Very good, Jean."
"And you, Professor? What did you see?"
He paused. Then: "I saw love. From two perhaps unlikely directions. But love, nonetheless. And I can only hope they saw it from me."
She took his hand. "I know they did, Professor. About that, I'm sure."
"Yes," he said. "Well...shall we get back home, and sleep till lunchtime?"
"I think we can manage that. But, my Lord, with all that singing, I forgot to eat anything! Maybe we can hit someplace along the way for breakfast."
The Major seemed to materialize before them, with a large cardboard box.
"Won't be necessary, madam," he said. "In between the singing, Matilda helped me fix up a few plates for you. Not exactly plates, but styrofoam boxes. They contain what you would have eaten, had we not had...the entertainment."
Jean took the box from him, sat it on a nearby table, and hugged him. "Thanks, Major. Thanks, definitely. And merry Christmas."
Xavier produced his MasterCard and the bartender took it back to the register, swiped it, and returned it with a smile.
Then the nine of them piled into two cars and began the journey back towards home. The sun shone brightly through their windshields. Mostly, at first, they were silent.
Bobby Drake cleared his throat and began, "Do they know it's Christmas after all?"
Wolverine grabbed him by the shirtfront. "You'd better believe it. They know it's Christmas. We know it's Christmas. Got that?"
"Yeah," said Bobby. "Oh, yeah."
"Good," said Logan. "Now lemme sleep." He nestled against the side of the door. "And Drake?"
"To you, too, ya hoser," said Drake. "And God bless us every one, too."
That was all they felt like saying till they got to the mansion.
The X-Men, Hawkeye, Sub-Mariner, and Mockingbird are property of Marvel Entertainment Group. Batman, Superman, Lois Lane, Catwoman, and the Marvel Family are property of DC Comics, Inc. The Green Hornet is property of the Green Hornet, Inc. Miracleman is property of his current copyright holders. If I missed anyone, I'm sorry. No money is being made by this story, no infringement is intended.
"Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" was written by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane and is used without permission.
Have yourself a merry little Christmas.