AN: I know this comes late, but it's the first in a pair or possible series of holiday-themed oneshots that came to mind. I just haven't had time to write them out yet. Merry Christmas, Happy Chanukah, Happy Boxing Day to Shadow and Tails, and to anyone whose holiday I missed… hope it was or will be wonderful.
Also, for any Scott lovers or haters who are familiar with my portrayal of him in A Bottle Can't Hold You, know that he's going to be much more compassionate here. Read or don't read accordingly.
Disclaimer: I own nothing related to the X-Men. In researching, I borrowed and modified some information from the New York Foundling. The orphanage in this piece should not be seen as representative of theirs in any way. While the information on glaucoma is true to the best of my knowledge, I may have made some mistakes. If you see one, please let me know so I can fix it.
Scott Summers wandered down snowy streets, vaguely aware of the cold that was gnawing its way through every layer of his clothing to nip at his skin. The snow underfoot did not crunch so much as click, so compacted was it by the footsteps of thousands of Manhattan's other inhabitants. Dirtied and hardened by the uncaring passage of so many, it was all but ice now.
Christmas lights hung on every uncovered inch from which they could be draped: weaved through hooks along moldings, duct-taped down the sides of brownstones, twined across old and rusted fire escapes. Garish decorations blasted sound and color from every angle, turning the normally shadowy streets into East-coast answers to Las Vegas. Scott imagined for a moment that it was the lurid glow of the lights that had crushed the snow into its current form, not the passerby. It fit better somehow.
He was out for some last-minute Christmas Eve shopping, ostensibly; a lie, and an obvious one if anyone cared to consider it. All of his shopping had been done weeks ago, each gift meticulously planned and purchased with the perfect recipient in mind. Scott was nothing if not thorough in looking after his family. After all, the concept of having a family was, while not necessarily unfamiliar, certainly something he had not been allowed for many years of his childhood.
No, all of the residents of the Xavier Institute had been checked off of his list, all the presents wrapped and tucked away in his closet. Even the contents of the canvas bag that hung from his shoulder had been purchased weeks earlier.
Turning the corner, Scott noted that the snow underfoot now was fresh. No one had passed this way for hours. It was unsurprising; he was going to a place that few people visited. Most preferred to pretend it didn't exist.
He came to a stop outside of a dilapidated brownstone with a sign that had aged just slightly more gracefully than the building itself. The brass had grown dull, but the raised lettering was still legible: "The New York Community Hearth. Agency Operated Boarding Home." According to the agency's website, it was, "A community residence for children, teens and young adults with special needs that are less suited to a traditional foster home setting." Scott recognized the euphemism; it was a home for problem children, many of them possibly mutants who had found themselves without homes when their powers manifested. Even after the recent expansions, Xavier's school could never take in all the mutants in New York. Some went to the Morlocks; others fell through even those cracks.
After a push of the call button on the intercom and a few moments of waiting, a response crackled through the speaker. "Yes? How can I help you?" It was a man's voice, somewhat high and unsure.
"Hello there," Scott began, trying to find the right balance of professionalism and humanity in his voice… and probably failing. He always sounded too stiff, and he knew it. "This is Scott Summers. I believe I spoke to someone on the phone earlier today?"
Silence. Just as Scott opened his mouth to try a different approach, a woman's voice came through, husky and jaded. "Summers… toy guy, right?"
Scott nodded, aware that the woman probably couldn't see him but somehow unable to stop the superfluous motion. "That's right, ma'am. Unwrapped, as per instructions. May I come—"
His request was cut off by a harsh buzz at the iron grate over the door. He pulled open the grate and reached for the doorknob, only to have it open in front of him. A woman who could have been anywhere between forty and sixty stood silhouetted in the doorway; sixty if the years had been kind, forty if they had not. Scott thought that a not was more likely. There was a brief burst of yellow light at her mouth, then a puff of smoke gave way to a small orange ember.
"Come on in. Someone will take the bag at the desk," the lady said, smoke billowing out of her mouth and nostrils with each word. She brushed by him and wandered out to take in the cold air and nicotine.
Scott stepped inside. The place was a converted hotel, closed down when the inhabitants had complained of inhumane conditions one too many times, then reopened as the Community Hearth. Orphans didn't complain.
Seeing the remains of a front desk, he walked toward it in hopes of finding someone with some authority. Scott rang the tarnished brass bell, and within a few moments a young man appeared.
Tall and gangly, he seemed out of place even in his own body. His eyes shone with a sort of innocence that told Scott he hadn't been working at an orphanage very long, especially not this one. The young man gave Scott a public-relations smile that couldn't chase away the deer-in-the-headlights look in his eyes. "Mr. Summers?" he asked in a quavering voice.
"That's right," Scott replied.
"I understand you have, ah, some things for the children?"
"Yes, that's correct. Twenty-three children, right?"
The man glanced at the floor. "That was the count given to you, yes."
Scott tilted his head. "Meaning?"
"There was a… new arrival. Just today." He quickly brought up his hands in a placating gesture. "There's no trouble, though. Twenty-three toys will be perfectly fine."
"All right, then… can I give the toys personally, or would that not be allowed?"
The young man looked around again, apparently believing there were answers written everywhere except Scott's face. "I'm afraid that's out of the question, sir. Some of the children have very… special needs. They can be very difficult at times, and they don't do well with visitors."
"Is your new arrival that kind of kid too?" Scott asked.
"Excuse me?" The man blinked owlishly, then settled again. "Oh, no, he has a different set of needs from the other children."
"In other words…?"
"Well, it's actually the reason for his transfer. You see, he has juvenile glaucoma. The pressure in his eyes is building up and causing irreparable damage. At this point, his vision has degenerated to the point where he requires special care, and that's why he's been brought here." He paused for a moment. "So far it's made him… a target. He's in a separate room for the time being."
This time it was Scott's turn to look down. Blindness and persecution were both all too familiar to him. "Is there any way I can see him?" he said as he raised his head again.
The young man stared. "Well…"
"I'll leave the toys at the front desk. I can understand the reasoning for the others, but I at least want to give him a visitor on Christmas Eve."
"We don't generally allow visitors for the children unless they are prospective foster parents. It's against Community Hearth policy, and I—"
"Please," Scott said. "It's Christmas Eve. And I know what it's like to be alone in an orphanage… going blind." He tapped his glasses for emphasis.
The man was sunk. He really was too innocent to be here, but Scott was glad of it. "All right," he said. "I'll assume this once that perhaps you're older than you look and might be looking to adopt."
"Thank you so much," Scott said. Inwardly he was disappointed that he had had to imply that he was still blind, but his time in the dark had made the decision for him. There was no way he could leave this child to spend Christmas Eve alone with dying eyes.
The climb to the second floor was a short one. As the young man opened the door to the boy's room, Scott saw two rows of bunk beds lining the walls. The boy, however, was kneeling at the windowsill. He was looking out so intently that he didn't seem to hear them enter.
"The door stays open," the man whispered in Scott's ear. "I'll check in at random to make sure you're not up to something. Don't make me regret this decision." With that, he exited.
Scott walked to the window, then kneeled down at the boy's side. He glanced over at him, hoping to see some acknowledgment of his presence. There was none.
The boy looked about six years old, perhaps a bit younger. His sand-colored hair was cut short, haphazard; a rush job by someone at the previous orphanage in an attempt to make him more presentable. A short button nose that was slightly upturned and ears that were a little too big for his head gave him an almost mouse-like appearance. He seemed completely focused on something outside.
"Room for one more here?" Scott asked in a quiet voice, then immediately regretted it as the boy whirled in panic to face him. "It's ok, it's ok! I'm sorry. I shouldn't have snuck up like that." Mentally, he was berating himself. Glaucoma, Summers! Bad peripheral vision! You should know these things!
"Who are you and what are you doing here?" the boy asked.
"My name is Scott Summers. I came here because… well… cause it's Christmas Eve, and I thought you might want company."
"Company? Nobody ever wants to spend time with me… not even the other kids. I'm different."
Scott nodded. "I know about being different."
The boy looked him over, and Scott noticed that his eyes were cloudy, as though a layer of fog had come to rest over his pupils. "But why here? No one comes to orphanages. Not on Christmas Eve."
"Not unless they grew up in one."
The child was silent for a moment, then offered his hand. "I'm Evan."
Scott took the little hand in his own and gave a gentle shake. "Scott. Evan's a good name. I have a friend with that name… a really good friend." He looked down for a moment, thinking of Evan living down in the sewers.
"He's gone now, isn't he?"
"What?" Scott was taken aback by the bluntness of the question.
"Your friend. Kids in the last orphanage got that look on their faces when they talked about their parents."
After a moment, he managed a reply. "Yeah. He's gone."
Evan looked back out at the window. "Some of the other kids said when the people you love go away, they go up in the sky with the stars. My parents always told me people turn into light, and all the lights you see are people who you love and love you back."
"That sounds really nice," Scott said.
Kneeling down, Evan started looking out the window again. "That's why I want to keep looking at the Christmas lights for as long as I can. They say I'll be blind soon."
Scott ran a hand through his hair, searching for the right words. "Yeah… I was blind too once. My eyes were… not doing what they were supposed to, and I had to keep them closed for a very long time."
"Everything around me is getting darker. What happens when I can't see the people who love me anymore?" The child's lip was trembling despite an obvious effort to be brave. A few seconds later, his six-year-old's resolve failed him, and tears began to slide from his eyes.
On instinct, Scott knelt down to wrap the boy in a hug. "At first it's scary. But you have to remember that even if you can't see the ones you love and the ones who love you, they're still there."
A few sniffles escaped from the crook of Scott's shoulder, but two tiny arms were hugging him more fiercely than he could have expected. Moments or minutes or hours later, the tears subsided, and Evan pulled away, looking Scott in the face.
"How'd you get better?" he asked.
Scott paused, groping yet again for the right thing to say. How could he explain that long and convoluted mess? I ran away, got caught up with a crazy criminal father figure and almost killed people, but everything turned out all right because of one incredibly generous man? He chose to skip to the end of that particular story.
"A man… found me… and took me to live at his home; he said he wanted to start a very big family, and he wanted to make me part of it. The man took me to live with him, and he gave me special glasses just for me that made my eyes better."
"Are those them?" the boy said, running his hands along the frames of Scott's glasses.
"…Would they work for me?"
Scott looked down. "I… don't know. Some things work for some people and don't work for others, cause everyone's different and special."
Evan's face fell, and his milky eyes began welling up with tears again.
"Wait. I have an idea," Scott said, an idea coming to him as he spoke. Closing his eyes, he removed his glasses. "These might not make your eyes all better, but maybe they'll help just a little bit. You've got to believe that they can, though, okay?"
Scott didn't need to open his eyes to sense the boy's vigorous nod.
"All right. Close your eyes," he said. Feeling out Evan's face with one hand, he placed the glasses on the bridge of the child's nose. Scott reached into his pocket for his visor, then looked at the boy after he had shielded his eyes behind ruby quartz again. The glasses were far too big for the child's small face, but it made for an adorable picture.
"Now go ahead and open them."
The boy's gasp let Scott know he had complied. A gigantic grin spread across Evan's face, and he grabbed Scott for another hug.
"It works!" he said with a giggle. "Not perfect, but a little bit, just like you said it might!"
Scott smiled for the first time in a long time, eternally grateful for the power of suggestion.
"Hey!" Evan exclaimed. "You've got another kind of glasses, and they're cool too!"
Chuckling, Scott nodded. "These are my backups in case something happens to the ones you have on."
"Wow… that man must have been really nice to you."
"Yeah…" Scott looked away for a moment, a smaller smile settling on his mouth. "He really is a nice man." Checking his watch, he found he had probably been gone for too long already. "I've got to go, Evan, but… remember that the light is still there, okay?"
"All right," the little boy said, obviously crestfallen at losing his visitor. He removed the glasses. "You need these back, don't you?"
At seeing the little hand outstretched, offering his glasses back to him, Scott couldn't help but think of himself at the boy's age. Would he have even given the glasses back, or would he have run off with them, desperate to keep another good thing from being taken from him? In spite of everything, this boy still retained a sense of responsibility. Even before Scott reached his hand out, he had made his decision. He closed the boy's fingers around the glasses.
"These are yours now. They aren't perfect… nothing ever is. But maybe they'll help just a little. I can't promise you anything about the future, but whenever you wear these, I hope they remind you that there's always light out there."
The boy looked at him for a moment with his mouth wide open, then seized him in a ferocious bear hug.
Scott smiled again. It was becoming a habit.