"Who am I?"

Scott Summers, the leader of the X-Men, stopped writing, freezing in place for just a moment as the inquiry registered within his mind. He was torn—it was the last question that he wanted to hear, but simultaneously, it was the question he had been waiting for her to ask. It wasn't as if he had been avoiding the topic, it just simply fell to the backburner, buried beneath the other more pressing matters, like the survival of mutantkind.

He patiently set his pen down and gazed at his visitor through his standard civilian pair of ruby quartz glasses. Leaning back in his leather-cushioned chair, Scott returned, "What kind of a question is that, Hope?"

Her emerald eyes flashed with annoyance and her full lips pressed into a frown. "When did you start answering questions with questions? I spent the afternoon researching in Cerebro and with the Stepford Cuckoos."

It was Scott's turn to be annoyed. "I asked them not to meddle."

The young redhead pushed a few lone strands of hair from her fair face. "It's not their place to withhold information from me. And it's not yours. Not when I want to know. I want to know why I'm here. Who my parents are. How this crazy string of clones, reincarnations, and family history tie in with me," she said, keeping her voice as steady as possible.

Hope Summers too had busied herself, trying not to think about her surrogate father, Cable, being killed for her sake. She pushed away any thought of the other mutants that lost their lives during the tumultuous battle that was ultimately caused by her presence. But there was only so much ignoring that she could do—the questions kept coming back, stronger and more pressing every time. Getting them answered was way overdue.

Scott answered, "It's complicated."

"What isn't? Why have you been avoiding this conversation with me?" her voice sharpened and her brows arched in anger. She wished that Scott's glasses were translucent, so she could see his eyes. Right now, he looked way too cool, nonchalant, and uncaring, which only made her angrier.

"I haven't had time."

Hope's jaw clenched. "You haven't had time for much, have you?"

"Are you being sincere or was that a cheap shot?"

"The latter suits my mood."

Scott shook his head. "I should get back to—"

"No!" she slammed her hand on his desk, and a picture behind him toppled. "Cable is dead! He was the closest thing to a father that I knew! And he was your son! You act like you don't even care! I know exactly why you've been avoiding me...this conversation...it's because of Je—"

"Enough," he calmly replied.

"No, that's not enough. I see it in all of you, the hidden glances, the delicate treatment, the awkward conversations. They won't say anything because you won't. They may not like you, but they at least respect you enough to obey your unspoken laws. But I'm not an X-Man. I don't have to obey your strict rule over Utopia and the others."

Surprised at her frank comments, Scott reared back in his seat. With Logan and Emma having similar outbursts at least twice a week, he was used to the scathing tone and pointed words. In response, he coolly said, "It's not like that."

"It is, whether you realize it or not."

An uneasy silence fell between them. For Scott, it was a moment of contemplation over her words. For Hope, it was a moment of reflection to determine whether she had said too much. They locked eyes, and for a moment Hope felt that Scott actually understood her.

"There are things about you that I don't want to know," he began. "And there are things that you aren't ready to know, Hope. I can answer some of your questions, but I've always wanted you to be your own person, free from the manipulations and desires of everyone else. Jean didn't have that chance. She was always at the mercy of something far greater than her. She was a strong woman—a strong person, stronger than I can ever be. But because of others, she was never free to be that woman—to live her life without complexities. The cycle of life and death, complications, manipulations, loss—that's all she experienced."

Hope heard the tenderness and sorrow in his voice, and for a moment, regretted her initial approach. She couldn't tell for sure, but it seemed that he needed to grieve, but wouldn't let himself, which only saddened her.

Understanding, she responded, "You can't ignore the times that she was happy, Scott."

"What do you want me to say?"

"The truth."

"I don't know what the truth is about you. You look exactly like her—Jean. It pains me every time I see you. You're a constant reminder of how I failed her. I can't fail anyone else like that ever again. I've asked the medical staff to refrain from doing any tests on you because I'm afraid that they'll tell me that you really are Jean. If we knew that for a fact, we would shape you to be the woman that we lost—a friend, mentor, teacher, mother, confidant...all those things she was. But is that fair to you? I look at you, and I see Jean. I talk to you, and I hear Jean. But I know that you are different, somehow. You're Hope. And you should have that chance to be who you are, not who we want you to be."

"Are you doing this to protect me or yourself?"

"Both."

The answer stunned Hope, changing her mood drastically. "I wish she hadn't died. Just like I wish Cable hadn't died."

"I abandoned Charles because it seemed that all people did is die for his dream. The situation hasn't exactly improved. I lost Jean. I lost Cable. I lost Nate Grey. Rachael and Alex are lost in space somewhere. My father was killed by Vulcan, my brother. Then he was killed. Jean's entire family was slaughtered. I've lost so much—we've lost so much. This is what I have now...the task of saving mutantkind."

"That won't bring them back."

"I don't expect it to. I just don't want anyone else to lose everyone they love."

Taken aback, Hope couldn't find anything to say in response that didn't sound trite or condescending. Her fiery momentum had dissipated, replaced with sympathy and a level of understanding she couldn't quite grasp. But she realized that Scott was more than a cold, calculating leader and had probably experienced more grief than anyone on the island. But for the greater good, he simply packed his feelings into a little box and shut them in a closet, never to be opened again.

Hope decided that every day, she would say something to Scott—something pleasant to remind him that there was still some good and positivity in the world. She stood and crossed the room, and wasn't surprised when she wasn't stopped.

"I'm sorry," she said over her shoulder before departing, shutting the heavy oak door behind her.

"Yeah. I am too," Scott whispered.

Notes:

This story takes place between Second Coming and Schism.