"The Approach of Splendor"
Summary: Mundane grace is underrated.
Series: Special: the Genesis of Cyclops, #9
Warning: Some discussion of unpleasant topics.
It's a mystery to me, how the heart works. One minute, you feel
nothing. The next, you feel everything; it boils up like magma, just
seeking a crack in the surface.
Wednesday afternoon, June 22nd . . . the wind off Breakstone Lake
brought the stink of fish and decaying cattails that choked the
water's edge, their long leaves rasping in the wind. A red-winged
blackbird exploded from the foliage, skimming the water's surface
across to the other shore. The gnats swarmed and the deck wood
burned the soles of my bare feet. I sat halfway down the pier with
my knees up and arms around them, just looking out at the water.
Sunlight scattered across the lake, glinting bright enough to make me
squint even behind ruby quartz. But it was all red, not gold.
Everything was red. Hank said it wasn't the quartz. If it were just
the quartz, my brain would have adjusted to filter it out, returning
the world to normal shades. But all I saw now came in red and black
and gray. Two weeks, and I so *missed* green and blue, yellow and
white and simple brown. It had become an ache.
*But you can see.*
After weeks -- months -- of blindness, sight itself was a miracle,
and it seemed ungrateful to resent that. If the cost was color, who
was I to complain? When I felt pity for myself, I simply recalled
where I'd been, only a year before, or that millions of people in the
world still lived worse off than me. Would a starving man give up
colors for certain knowledge that he'd have enough to eat? Or a
lonely man, for the touch of a friend's hand?
I was lucky. I was insanely lucky, and to weep for lost colors
seemed petty beyond bearing.
And yet, and yet . . . The losses kept piling up and I wondered if
loss would become the stick by which I measured my life, or what was
left of it. It had been two weeks since I'd regained my sight, and
shouldn't I be thankful? But it was also exactly eight years since
the day I'd lost my parents, and every year before on this day, I'd
struggled to keep busy, not think, not remember, not be alone. Yet
here I was, sitting on the boat dock down at the lake, doing nothing.
The thing is, after a while, anniversaries sneak up on you. You
never forget the day, the date. You know it better than your own
birthday, and the first year, you wonder if you can even get through
it at all, wish that week would just disappear off the calendar. The
next year, you think, 'I did it before,' and that becomes your mantra
to make it through again. The year after that, you dread it, but you
figure you've already survived twice. And that's how the years pass
until one year, it's *that day*, and you realize it just . . .
arrived. And you forgot to worry. That happened to me for the first
time two years ago. I was on the road at the time, running from
Nebraska, from Boys' Town, and I woke up on June 22nd, realized what
day it was, packed the few things I had with me, and just . . . kept
going east. I didn't have time to dwell on it, so I didn't.
But today I have no place to be, nowhere to run, and it's snuck up on
me again. Everyone is gone. Hank's at the hospital, Warren's on
vacation with his parents somewhere in Europe, Jean's home visiting,
and even the professor had business today in the city. He'd invited
me along, but the glasses on my nose are too new -- I feel
self-conscious -- so I'd said I'd rather stay here, and he hadn't
Now, I wish I'd gone after all, gotten out of that empty, echoing
mansion full of Xavier family ghosts. They're not my family ghosts,
you see. I came out to the lake because water draws me like a
magnet, and I remember.
Not the crash. I have no memory of the crash, even if I'd wanted it;
brain damage is like that. You lose things, bits and pieces. What I
remember is small stuff.
My mother's hands. I can't recall her face anymore, and that
frustrates me -- angers me. But her hands . . . I remember her hands
so well. They were small and rather veined, and always looked older
than her age, tough hands made rough by cleaning liquids, but she'd
had nice nails, hard and perfectly oval with little pink moons at the
quick. She'd never painted them. And I'd loved her hands because
she was always touching me with them, petting and stroking me, but I
hadn't wanted to admit that, at eight. I was too old for being
petted, wasn't I -- a big boy ready for fourth grade? I suppose it
was those hands, too, that had laced the jump vest on me and Alex,
tied it tight, and then pushed us out of the plane hatch on June
Strong hands. I wonder if I resisted. I don't remember.
I recall my father's face better (perhaps ironically) because I saw
less of it. He'd had angular features with wide, high cheekbones,
black eyes, black hair and a bushy mustache under a fleshy nose. But
what I remember better than any of that is his voice; it had carried
all over our small house. You could hear every word he said. I
can't say if its pitch was high or low or in between, I only remember
the quality of it, insistent, not to be denied. For me, it will
always be the voice of command, and among the strangest experiences
I've had in my life was once to hear *myself* on a good recording
machine. I have my father's voice. A little lighter, younger, but
There are other things I remember, too -- fighting with my brother in
the sunroom. Only one of many times, I'm sure, but that was
Halloween (my birthday) and we were dressed in our costumes, swinging
plastic pumpkins at each other. Dad had walked in to pick us up --
one under each arm -- and carry us out. I can't remember if I were
screaming or laughing harder. I remember how he taught me to ride a
bike, running along behind me and telling me to trust my balance.
And I remember my mother sitting on my bed, patiently rubbing my back
100 times while I listened to the drone of her voice counting each
pass and tried to fall asleep. I remember our dog, and the
blackberry bushes along the fence at our last house in Bellevue. I
remember following my father while exploring the gypsum dunes of
Tularosa Basin at Holloman Air Force Base. They really are white.
Blinding in the sun. So many small things, to make up a life.
Because we moved so often (military brat), I don't think I grew
attached to any particular house, but there was a wide rock bed in
the backyard we had at MacDill, in Tampa. The house itself had been
a flat, ugly, Florida ranch-style with a single-car garage and a
porch we never sat on because it was too damn hot most of the time.
But in back, there were beds of bushes with river rocks. Most were
white or gray or brown, but glittering flecks of quartz or mica had
laced a few. I'd loved those rocks for some reason, and had painted
animals on them. Child petroglyphs. My mother had saved some, kept
them on the window ledge in her kitchen. They'd moved with us, when
we left MacDill for Holloman, and then to Offutt. I have no idea
what happened to them after the accident. Someone probably threw
them out. Our caseworker had gone through the house, looking for
personal items, but she hadn't saved my rocks.
And now, strangely, it was lost rocks that broke me apart. Worthless
but cherished, and given pride of place on a kitchen windowsill. I
felt the burn start behind my eyelids but the tears never fell. The
goddamn beams blew them away before they could form, and, angry, I
squeezed my eyes shut. This was the only way I could cry -- eyes
So I did. Laid out on my side on the boat dock in the sun, I cried
until I was dehydrated and my stomach hurt and my eyes were swollen.
The orphaned child I'd been had cried for lost security, a lost
future, the terror of the unknown, and a stolen brother. The
orphaned adult cried for everything I'd never know about my parents,
for the stories I could only dimly recall, for any sense of belonging
or origin . . . and also, maybe just a little, for the child I should
have been but had lost along the way.
Mostly though, I just cried, and once uncorked, a hundred other
things squeezed out, too -- loss, yes, but also fear, and rage at the
fundamental injustice of life. It came in waves, peeling away from
me like layers of old paint. I'd weep, recover, catch my breath,
remember and weep again. I wondered if I'd ever make it down to bare
Finally it was over and the sun was going down. I was almost too
weak to move, yet felt clean -- pellucid and hollow, like blown
glass. My knees shook when I stood, and I stumbled over to the
boathouse door, let myself in and grabbed a glass in the kitchen,
filling it with water from the tap. I drank it all, then two more
glasses after. Finally, I just sat down on the linoleum floor of the
little kitchen and tried to catch my breath. I wasn't sure what had
just happened to me, but something had. I felt newborn.
As it turned out, 'newborn' was right. It was just the beginning of
a long process.
"Good heavens, what is that? A jigsaw puzzle motorbike?"
I looked up from the book in which I had my nose buried. Jean had
entered the garage, and now stood staring at the disassembled 1968
Suzuki T500 spread out on the floor. "It's got a cracked cylinder
head and one of the main seals is leaking," I explained.
"So you reduced the whole thing to its component parts in revenge?"
But she was laughing.
My lips thinned in a mixture of annoyance and amusement. "Hank's
been busy. I told him I'd start taking care of the vehicles out
"Since when do you know anything about cars?"
"Since now." I held up the book I was looking at, then pointed to a
stack of them spread out on the worktable. Library books, mostly,
about cars and motorbike repair. She went over to thumb through
them. "You're going to learn to fix cars by reading books?"
I shrugged. It had seemed like a good idea at the time. Now,
though, looking at the motorcycle pieces spread out around me, I
wasn't so sure. Still, how hard could it be? It was like a puzzle
in 3D. I really hadn't needed to take it apart, but I'd wanted to.
Vehicular vivisection. Still grinning, she came over to plop down
next to me on the garage floor. She was wearing jeans and a tank top
in a shade I couldn't discern. It had horizontal stripes. "Can I .
. . uh . . . hold something?" she asked.
"Not right now," I said, running fingers over the unseated valve I
was studying. "I can't do anything until I take this to a shop and
get them to replace the seat. I think. Look at it."
She dutifully looked, then raised an eyebrow at me. "And?"
"And it's a mess, totally loose. Seat height's screwed and the
spring pressure's just gone."
"Scott . . . you're yattering. What's seat height and spring
pressure? Do you even know? Really?"
I grinned at her. She had me. "Well, I sorta know. I know enough
to tell it's fucked up."
She rolled her eyes, then made an all-encompassing gesture with one
long hand, taking in the scattered bits of greasy motorcycle on the
concrete floor. "Do you actually like this, or are you just trying
to prove something?"
My eyes narrowed. "What the hell does that mean?"
"Turning into a grease monkey doesn't make you any more of a man --"
"Well, no, I didn't think it would. And yes, I like it." I turned
back to the book.
"Yes, really!" Looking up, I glared at her, then leaned closer until
we were nose to nose. "What? You think that because I took it up
the ass, I'm too much of a pansy to get my goddamn hands dirty?
Maybe it's you who don't think I'm a man."
"Scott! That wasn't what --"
"Yes, it was. You're the one who made that crack about being 'more
of a man.'"
"I didn't mean --"
"Then what did you mean?"
"*Shit!*" She pulled at her hair, and her shouted obscenity stopped
me, mostly because she rarely used such words. "When are you going
to forgive yourself? When? You just did what you had to do to
survive! I didn't want you to think you had to *prove* something to
the rest of us, that we'd think less of you, or . . . or . . ." She
stopped, as if realizing that she was just digging herself deeper. I
watched, feeling strangely removed. I had long practice at going
cold inside when upset.
The silence stretched. Getting up, she walked among the bike parts,
swaying almost, head down, shoulders slumped. "You really like it?"
she asked finally, as if unable to let go of that question.
"What? Mechanics? Yeah, I think I do."
She paused somewhere between the oil tank and the muffler, looking
back at me to size me up. But it was visual purely; I felt no
tell-tale touch on my mind indicating that she was checking my
thoughts. "Okay. I just --"
"I know. Drop it."
She sighed and walked back to where I sat on the cold concrete floor,
kneeling beside me. "I can't drop it."
"I'm your friend."
"If you *were* my friend, you'd drop it!"
"No." Reaching out -- slowly -- she ran a hand through my hair.
"We've been tiptoing all around it ever since that night. First, it
was the blindness; you had enough on your mind. Then, it was
figuring out the glasses. Now, it's just a habit. We haven't talked
about what you did out there before you came to live here."
Annoyed, I pulled away from her fingers. "So what do you want? The
nasty details? A lecture on how to give good head?"
She rolled her eyes and let out her breath explosively. One of the
things that most irks, and most intrigues me about Jean is how she
runs roughshod over my wiseass comebacks, refusing to get offended.
Impatient, yes. Offended, no. When I once made a (snide) comment
about that, she'd replied with, "I'm a telepath," which both did and
didn't explain it.
"I want to know if you can forgive yourself," she said now, plopping
down on her ass right in front of me and crossing her ankles. And
although it was a repeat of something she'd screamed only a moment
before, it caught me off-guard.
"What do you mean?"
"Just what I said. You can't just run away from it, y'know."
"The hell I can't!" My turn to explode to my feet and stalk away. I
circled the area restlessly. "Jesus Crippled Christ! Can't I *move
on*? Do I have to be a freakin' sob story forever? I just want to
get *past* it, dammit!"
"But you can't until you deal with it. You've had *so much* happen
to you, Scott --"
"-- so you're setting yourself up as my fucking *head-shrink*?"
"*No*," she shook her head, "no. I'm not qualified. It's just that
ever since . . . that night --"
"-- you mean ever since I blasted a hole through Jack Winters and two
"Fine." The word was very precise, enunciated with the click of
thinning patience. "Then ever since the night the mansion was
invaded and we *defended ourselves*, you have run from one project to
another. First, it was the glasses, which I could understand. Next,
it was cleaning up the boathouse. Then it was repairing some barn
stalls. After that, it was sorting boxes in the attic. And now,
you've taken up car repair. Scott, when are you going to let
"You don't know what I let myself feel," I snapped with the same kind
of clear enunciation she'd used a minute before. Jean hadn't been on
the boat dock the day I'd come apart for a couple hours. Ever since
(and even before, if I were honest with myself), the feelings hadn't
been far from the surface. I kept them at bay by dint of
distraction. "There are days I don't think about it at all, what I
did -- that I was *whore*. Let's use the right terms, shall we? And
other days, I can't think of anything else. And none of that is your
She folded her hands in her lap and stared down at them a moment,
then pursed her lips and tipped her head to the side, not looking at
me. "I don't see much evidence of your feelings, Scott -- besides
anger when I try to talk about it -- and it worries me. What I do
see is this . . . manic need to *do*. As if you're trying to prove
yourself, or keep too busy to think -- or both. I want to know if
you can forgive yourself, not prove yourself."
"Forgive myself for *what*?" I yelled, frustrated.
"For doing the best you could do, even if it meant selling your body
so you could eat. Yes, you were a 'whore.' But you were also a
child alone, and didn't have a choice."
"Holy, fucking . . ." I slammed the book I still held down on a work
table. "Good God! Is that how you see it? You think this is some
LIFETIME SPECIAL and I'll be all pretty and pitiable if I get a good
cry and you shine a little dirt off? That's not how it works! I
sucked cock for money, Jean! I stole stuff and hocked it! I ran
cons at pool! I smoked pot to get through a day! I was an ugly,
smelly, shit-mouthed street rat, and I haven't really changed!"
She ignored all that to ask, "Did you want to become a prostitute?"
"Did you ask to become an orphan?"
"No, but --"
"Did you choose to get shunted around foster homes until you didn't
"*No*, but --"
"But what, Scott?"
"Didn't you hear a word I just said? I'm not some saint!"
She smiled. "Definitely not. You're just a person. So am I. You
made the best choices you could at the time you made them. But you
survived, okay? You survived." She peered up at me from where she'd
remained sitting. "I just want you to forgive yourself for doing
what you had to do, to survive. And you have changed. You've
started hoping, trying, caring. And you're allowed to be mad about
what happened to you out there -- feel sad, feel cheated. God knows,
I would. You amaze me, y'know. You're like steel inside. I wish I
could be more like you."
Without the last sentence, it would have been just another pep talk,
a bit of psychobabble none too different from things the professor
had said to me at one time or another, but that last remark caught me
by surprise and dropped my mouth open. I couldn't imagine that
anyone like her would want to be someone like me. She grinned at my
expression and rose, coming over to push my chin shut with a finger.
"You're catching flies, Summers. And you really are tough where it
counts -- in your spirit. Nothing stops you. I want to be tough
Which meant more to me than anything she'd said about my past, or
forgiveness. I didn't wish to be pitied, but even more, I needed to
be thought well of for something, and the idea that she might think I
was strong or tough . . . It surprised and pleased me at once. I
thought I might even be *blushing* (which was yet more embarrassing).
She just smiled. "So you really like being a grease monkey?"
"Yeah, I really do."
"Okay." Abruptly, she laughed. "Mechanics, war games, math . . . .
You know, Scott, you really are a guy."
"Well, yeah, last time I checked. Dick, balls, no tits -- I guess
that makes me a guy."
She rolled her eyes again. "You do that on purpose sometimes, don't
"Be rude, crude and socially unacceptable? I try."
Swatting me on the head -- lightly -- she walked off. "Boys and
their toys . . . Play with your hotrods, Summers. I'll go find a
chick flick on LIFETIME."
Chuckling, I scratched my cheek and returned to the panhead.
Death had been on my mind quite a bit of late, and not just because
I'd likely be dead before thirty, but because Mariana already was
dead, and because I'd killed. Even if killing those men had been
accidental, I'd killed. Three people were gone from this earth
because of me, and if I suddenly needed to know that death wasn't the
end, I think it had more to do with killing than dying.
"Do you believe we have a soul? That any part of us goes on after we
Xavier and I were sitting at the puzzle table in his suite after
dinner, working on a new project, this one a 3D representation of the
Taj Mahal. Lately, I'd noticed that our choice of puzzle material
didn't require color discernment. I picked up shoes and straightened
rugs in the path of his wheelchair, and he chose puzzles that I
didn't have to see colors to solve. It was through such small
courtesies that we had built our mutual affection.
Now, he didn't answer immediately. Instead, he went through seven
pieces, looking over each for the one he was after. Finally, he
said, "Yes, I do."
"Do you know? I mean, by being a telepath? Can you see if we have
"No, Scott. I sense minds -- consciousness. I cannot sense someone
brain dead, nor a mind too deeply unconscious. If I knew a mind well
and was looking specifically for it, I might find it even if the
person were sedated. But casually? No. It relates to the amount of
brain activity. Sleeping minds are working minds, and in REM sleep
may even be rather noisy -- mentally speaking. But the less brain
activity occurring, the less there is for me to sense."
He stopped and studied me a minute. "I can't say that I *know* we
have a soul, but I do *believe* we have one. There are many things
in this universe that exist beyond the realm of the senses . . . even
mutant senses." He smiled. "In that respect, I am neither a Stoic
nor an Epicurean. I do not subscribe to Sensism."
I rolled my eyes, but had to laugh. Nothing was safe from school
lessons. We'd been reading ancient philosophy lately, and although
it was now mid-July and technically my 'summer vacation,' I'd
discovered that I liked learning and saw little reason to stop doing
what I liked just because some calendar said so -- not to mention
that I'd been unable to do anything much while blind. These days,
both my schedule and my schooling had passed so far beyond anything
that resembled traditional education that the only way I was still
sure I was in school was that the professor made me study things I
didn't really want to.
"In any case," Xavier continued now, "knowledge is empirical, but
belief *existential*. No experiments will confirm it, no proofs will
convince. Only experience."
"Then how can you believe if you haven't died?" I asked, frustrated.
He smiled. "Fair enough. Unfortunately, your question has no easy
answer, since it's not a single event or experience that convinced
me, but a lifetime of them. Yes, the telepathy does figure into that
equation, but not as . . . psionic proof. In the end, it's the sum
of what I've seen that tells me, yes, we are more than complicated
bio-chemical reactions and a random firing of synapses."
Reaching out, he tapped my forehead gently with his forefinger.
"There is a 'you' in there who has been shaped by your body and
brain, yet remains more than the physical. When the physical is
gone, that 'you' will still be."
He looked away again and went back to the puzzle pieces. "But that
is what I believe. What you believe is a journey for you to walk."
Getting up, I strolled over to stand in front of the dark fireplace,
hands in my pockets. Outside, I could hear a rumble of thunder from
heat lightning, and the professor continued to work at the puzzle,
not interrupting while I mulled over what he'd said. If he hadn't
convinced me, he had . . . calmed me. It helped just to know that he
believed, and that Jean believed, too. The professor might not
subscribe to Sensism, but I suppose I did. I believed only what I
could verify with my eyes, ears, nose, tongue, and sense of touch.
And yet, and yet . . . was that entirely true? There were elements
of trust in my world now. After I'd regained my sight but lost
colors, Warren had helped me go through my closet to reorganize it,
so I didn't wind up wearing a Dutch blue button-down with olive green
slacks, and it had never occurred to me that War would have a joke at
my expense, or lie about colors. That wasn't Warren; I trusted him
to look out for me. Just like I trusted Jean, and the professor, to
stay out of my head uninvited.
That was belief, wasn't it? Belief in my perceptions of what others
would do? Yes, those beliefs were based on previous evidence, but
the evidence had come from *experience* -- that existential life of
which the professor had spoken -- and those beliefs governed what I
thought *would* happen, not just what I knew had happened.
In truth, I'd been trusting my perceptions for a long time -- that
hustler intuition that had let me survive the streets long enough to
escape them. But rather to my surprise, I now found myself trusting
*others* -- Warren, Jean, Hank, the professor . . . I'd come to
believe that they wouldn't betray or hurt me. For eight years, 'me'
was all I'd had to rely on unconditionally, yet now I *belonged* to
these people, not by obligation, but by choice. Whatever I could
give, I would give it without hesitation. It was more than gratitude
for a debt owed beyond what I could repay. It had become loyalty,
kinship, love -- all those deep, deep words I'd been so terrified of
since June 22nd, 1986. I belonged to them, and -- astonishingly,
miraculously, marvelously -- they belonged to me.
Going back finally, I retook my seat at the table and returned to
studying the pieces we'd organized so carefully. "You believe for
me," I said to Xavier.
I doubted that really made much sense but he just nodded. "I shall,
Scott. I shall believe for you . . . and believe in you, even when
Continued directly in part 2/3....
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