Cold Comfort (After the Fall 1/8)
It's a tough class to teach, even at the best of
times. These aren't the best of times, not by a long
Jean had told me the class would be a challenge, and
she was right, as usual. This was way back before the
semester started, when I was reviewing the rosters for
all my upcoming classes. "Oh no," she said, looking
over my shoulder at the list for the poetry survey
course, bending down to hug me. She pointed one
finger at the roster. "This one's bad news."
"All girls, and all interested in you for reasons
unconnected with your knowledge of Victorian
literature, love." And she had read all their minds,
so she should know. I groaned and said I'd try to get
someone else to teach it, but Jean talked me out of
that idea. She told me I'd get through the semester
and even manage to teach them something about poetry.
Now I don't have Jean to tell me anything, anymore.
I've been trying to just keep going, to give the kids
a normal life. Well, as normal a life as possible,
after their world fell apart. We all have been
working to make the school what it used to be. Pyotr
coordinated the repairs on the mansion and it looks
almost as good as it used to. 'Ro's back to teaching
history and spends her spare time replanting the
gardens and the lawns. The new guy - Kurt - is
teaching comparative religion and circus arts. He's
an odd one. Charles called Hank and told him we
needed him, so he came home and took over as Medical
Director. He's teaching Jean's classes, too.
Even Logan's teaching. Nominally he's the phys ed
teacher, but he's really teaching self-defense classes
and we just call that gym. It's good for the kids,
helps with the after effects of the trauma. It makes
them feel powerful, more in control of their fate. At
least that's what Hank tells me, and he's fresh from a
post-doc year studying PTSD sufferers.
Hank thinks I could benefit from doing something that
makes me feel more in control, too, although he's
recommending therapy rather than self-defense classes.
Funny, he always told me I was too much of a control
freak. Well, I don't feel like I've got power over
much of anything now. But I'm not looking to a shrink
to help with that. Therapy isn't going to make the
desperate feeling go away. It isn't going to bring
I keep busy. Teaching and leading the team are both
full-time jobs, lately. I barely have time to sleep.
I can't sleep anyway, much of the time. Work has
always been my drug of choice. It's not a cure for
insomnia but it's a good way to avoid thinking.
I can't always work, though. Sometimes I try alcohol,
drinking myself to sleep. If she's with me again for
a little while, it's worth the hangover. If I dream
about losing her, I curse the bottle. Mostly I just
do without sleep, lie there wakeful, reliving those
last few moments, trying to figure out what I could
have done that would have made it end differently.
Then I give up and do some work. Like I said, there's
generally plenty to do.
The President took what Charles said to heart, and he
- at least - is trying to combat the anti-mutant
fervor. Charles spends a lot of his time in
Washington, now, arguing our people's case, trying to
win the hearts and minds of enough of the government
that this country will feel safe for our kind. I used
to believe in that vision of peace - now I think it's
a losing battle and we�ll have to stiffen the sinews,
summon up the blood again and again. But I don�t tell
Charles that I think he�s wasting his time. It gives
him something to do.
So I add running the school to my responsibilities,
while he's away, as well as our more and more frequent
mutant rescue missions. I'd gotten an emergency call
late Tuesday night, and Logan and I had managed to
stop an incident of anti-mutant violence before
anybody got killed. That took most of the night.
When I came back, it happened again. This time I
wasn't even asleep. Maybe I was hallucinating from
lack of sleep? I thought I heard her voice in my
brain, like I used to. "Scott," she was saying, "It's
going to be okay. I chose you. We chose each other.
I'll never leave you, not really. It's not what you
think." That was it, a moment and then it was over.
I waited up all night for another glimpse of her,
feeling totally pathetic, living on dreams. Fruitless
dreams - that was the end of it.
I don't know where the dream - if that's what it was -
came from. Maybe it was born in what Logan had told
me, about Jean making a choice. He'd said that she'd
made it really clear that she had been just flirting
with him, that she was still going to marry me.
I'd known that she was interested in him, knew it from
when he first showed up here. Sometimes I worried
that it could become more. I never worried that she'd
do it behind my back, though. Jean and I didn't keep
things from each other. I was waiting, though waiting
so be hell. I was determined to just give her the
time she needed to see how she really felt for Logan.
I wasn't going to fight for her. It always was her
choice, and we both - all three - knew that. And I
never asked her what he had that I don't, since I
already knew the answer to that one. Ultimately, I
guess, it didn't matter what she chose, whom she
chose. She chose to save us all. She chose to leave
us both. Part of what keeps me up nights is knowing I
didn't want to be saved if losing her was the price.
So, there I was, teaching Wednesday's poetry class on
next to no sleep. And not for the first time. The
students didn't know the difference. It's not like
they could tell if my eyes were bloodshot or had dark
circles under them.
They sat there looking at me warily. They don't know
what to do with me now, how to talk to me. So they
pretty much said nothing and I spent the whole hour
listening to myself talk. The students tried to look
down, out the window, anywhere but at me. They didn't
want to stare. The irony of it is that what made this
class hard to teach from the start is they were
*always* looking at me, and rarely paying any
attention to the subject matter.
I was keeping to the lesson plan, which meant I was
teaching "The Ballad of Reading Gaol." I'd told the
kids a little about the circumstances surrounding its
writing, how Wilde came to be in that prison. I used
to find that kind of thing embarrassing to talk about.
Now I think it's good for the kids to be reminded
that it's not only mutants who've suffered for being
different. So, we'd talked about Oscar's trial and
imprisonment, and how the experience really broke him,
turned him from a witty bon vivant into a bitter old
man, before his time. And a social outcast, as well.
The school play last year had been "The Importance of
Being Earnest" so most of them had seen the Wilde of
the bon mot and clever rejoinder. Now they were
seeing his darker side.
The class was going pretty well, I think, under the
circumstances. I can't say it was one of my best
lectures, and I sure like it better when the kids
discuss what we're reading than when I'm just talking
at them. Still, the students seemed reasonably
interested and I was doing okay. At first, that is.
Then it happened. I wrote one of the central lines of
the poem on the board, hoping to begin a discussion:
"Each man kills the thing he loves, but each man does
I looked at what I'd written and I just couldn't go
on. I sat down at the desk at the front of the room,
put my head in my hands and sobbed. I was pretty much
dying of embarrassment, crying like that in front of
the kids, but I couldn't stop myself. It's not like I
really think I killed her, you know. More like I
should have been able to stop her from dying. And if
I couldn't, well why was *I* alive? That's what I
kept asking myself as I sat there crying, forgetting
about the students, the class, the team and just
focusing on what I'd lost.
The kids didn't know what to do. Kitty asked if I was
okay, but I couldn't manage an answer. We all sat
there in silence for a while. One of the telepaths in
the class must have contacted Charles, because a few
minutes later, he came in, with Hank pushing his
wheelchair. "Class dismissed," Charles said in his
most professorial voice, and the kids scurried out.
"Come on, Scott," Hank said, taking me by the arm.
"Let's get out of here."
I thought he was taking me to back to my room, or
maybe to the infirmary. But we went the opposite
direction, towards Charles's quarters. I was ushered
into the guest room in his suite and told to lie down
on the bed. Sun was streaming in through the open
Venetian blinds. "You're going to sleep now," Hank
said, underscoring the order by taking out a
hypodermic needle from his bag and rolling up my
There weren't any dreams. When I woke up, I was
having trouble seeing. "Damn you, Hank," I said,
thinking the aftereffects of his drug were clouding my
vision. Then I saw the clock by the bed. I'd gone to
sleep in the morning and woken in the middle of the
night. The room was dark. My night vision's always
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