It’s late at night and I’m lonely. My fiancé is out
of town and I’d like to have someone to talk to.
There’s no one I can call this late, so I’m watching
bad movies on TV with all the lights off and somewhere
in there I guess I must fall asleep, because I snap
awake when the door to the hallway is quietly opened.
I was sure that door was locked, too. I must still be
asleep, dreaming, because it doesn’t scare me when a
figure blocks the light from the hall. In fact I
recognize him right away.
“Scott,” I say. “Come in, sit down.” He closes the door behind himself, his glasses winking redly as he turns. He sits in the chair across from the couch and leans back just a little. Only a little, of course, because it wouldn’t do to get too relaxed. And for a while he just sits there. I can feel him watching me even though I can’t see his eyes.
After a while I say, “I hate to say it, but I never liked you.”
He smiles a little. “That’s all right. You can’t like everyone.”
“Some people you don’t like, I guess.”
“That’s one thing the movie got right,” he says.
“’You’re a dick,’” I quote, and his smile broadens for a moment. I go on, “Well, you have to admit that changing the uniforms was a good idea.”
The corners of his mouth quirk up again. “But my big yellow ‘X’ made such a wonderful target.”
“I can see why that would be an advantage,” I say gravely.
He chuckles. “Why don’t you like me, then?”
“You’re just so…stiff. It’s like you never have any fun.”
“Lots of people say that about me.”
“You don’t sound like it bothers you.”
“I’d rather be seen as too serious than too frivolous, I suppose. But that isn’t all of why you don’t like me.”
“Well…you don’t like Logan. And you stand between him and Jean.”
Now he looks a little unhappy—it’s hard to tell around the glasses, and he’s not a very demonstrative guy, but his mouth gets tight. “Now, why do you think I don’t like Logan?”
“You’re always giving him a hard time.”
“I only give him a hard time when he’s doing something that deserves it. That doesn’t mean I don’t like him. In fact I have a lot of respect for him.”
“Respecting someone isn’t the same as liking him,” I point out.
He thinks that over for a moment, then says, “That’s true, and I have to admit that when he first joined the team I didn’t like him. But since then my opinion has changed.” He smiles again. “I find it hard to dislike someone who cares about Jean as much as I do.”
“You’re not jealous?”
“Why should I be?” he asks. “After all, I’m the one she married. And if she wanted him, she could have him. I wouldn’t stop her.”
“I suppose,” I say, and even to myself I sound petty.
He grimaces. “I don’t want to argue it with you.” “I’m sorry,” I say.
“It’s OK. Logan and I are so different that liking one of us almost guarantees you wouldn’t like the other.”
“I really do think you do a good job, even if I don’t always agree with you.”
“That’s good to hear.” He sounds like he really means it.
I slap myself on the forehead as something occurs to me. “I’m so rude—I haven’t even offered you something to drink.”
“That’s all right,” he says, and stands up. “I should be going anyway.”
“Don’t go away angry,” I say. He smiles over his shoulder as he walks to the door.
“I think the rest of that is, ‘Just go away’?” I shake my head. He continues, “I’m not angry, really. It takes more than someone not liking me to make me angry.”
“You’re not so bad,” I say, trying for a teasing tone.
“Thanks,” he replies, his hand on the doorknob.
“Don’t go to bed just yet.” He opens the door and walks out.
I doze for some time until the door opens again. This time the person in the light is a woman, and I’m pretty sure who she is. So I think at her, and sure enough, she says, “Thank you,” and sits down. I spend a few seconds lost in the greenest of envy. It’s not just that she has a perfect—and gravity-defying—figure; she’s a comic book character and they’re all like that. What really gets me is her hair. I’ve always wanted hair that color. It’s too red to be real.
“It isn’t real,” Jean says, smiling, and for a second I struggle with the concept that she just read my mind. I mean, of course she can do that, I just didn’t realize I was thinking quite that loudly.
“What? You dye your hair?” I ask out loud. That would be an interesting twist.
“No—I meant, it’s not real because I’m not real. Not the way you’re real. Someone decided my hair would be this color, drew me this way.”
“Oh,” I say, and can’t think of anything else.
“Don’t worry about it,” she says. “I don’t mind not being real. I know my life has meaning, which is more than you can say.”
“I hadn’t thought of it quite that way,” I say, frowning. She is silent for a few moments, then says, “You were talking to Scott about me and Logan.”
“Yeah,” I reply. “I mean, to each her own and all, but for me there’s just no contest. I’ll grant you, Scott’s handsomer, but…I just can’t describe it.”
She draws a deep breath before she speaks. “I can’t either. Logan…I love Logan. He’s one of my dearest friends, and I can’t deny that something about him draws me, always has. He’s such a contradiction.
“But Scott, now. I can’t say it was love at first sight, but one day I just realized that I couldn’t imagine my life without him in it. Do you know what that’s like?”
I yawn in the middle of my nod, but of course she knows I agree with her.
“So I can’t say what might happen if Scott weren’t around, but he is. And that means that Logan is going to stay my dearest friend.”
“But what about—“ I cut myself off, as it occurs to me that perhaps Scott hasn't yet sacrificed himself for Nate whenever she's from.
“I was in mourning,” she says dryly. That answers that question.
“Lots of people want comfort when they’re in mourning,” I say, matching her tone, but the effect gets spoiled when I yawn again.
“Not when they live in a comic book,” she says, and there’s logic in them thar hills.
“What’s that like, anyway?” I ask, only a little bit because I want to change the subject.
“You mean, to live in a universe with rules like mine? It’s never dull.” Her smile is bittersweet.
“That’s not quite what I mean. What’s it like to always live by those weird rules? Do you ever want to do something, and then realize, no, the censors wouldn’t like it?”
“No, not at all. If you think about doing something out of character, you just decide not to. Then, too, the censors aren’t always watching. My marriage would be pretty boring if they were.” The smile widens into something that I’d call a grin if it weren’t on the face of Jean Grey, aka Marvel Girl.
“So, you’re the heroine, you always act heroically?”
“Am I a hero?” she asks, and I am startled to see that she means it.
“Of course you are!” I say.
She shrugs. “It’s just that I’m not always as perfectly, driven-snow pure as I imagine a hero to be. I make bad calls, mistakes, I do things that aren’t as ‘good’ as one might like.” She pauses for a few seconds. “I plotted to kill Magneto.”
“You should have plotted to kill Magneto a long time ago,” I say, just a little grimly, and she laughs. I raise an eyebrow—this must be a dream, I can’t do that in real life—and she waves a hand.
“You just sound like Logan,” she says. “The inflection, everything. It was perfect.”
“Thanks, I guess,” I reply, trying desperately to keep the thought in that I don’t want to be like him. Not usually, anyway.
“Oh,” she says. “I see the problem. You want me to be with Logan because—“
“—because I identify with you. Yeah.” I am embarrassed to discover I’m starting to blush. “Don’t tell him, OK?”
“I won’t, but he’s a pretty good judge of character, no matter what he thinks.”
“You mean he’s next?” I ask, and I can’t decide whether I’m eager or scared.
“No, he won’t be coming for a while yet,” she says, smiling. I sigh in relief and yawn again.
“You’re kinda like Scrooge’s ghosts,” I say.
“Everyone tells me when the next will be along.”
“Yes. And the next will be along shortly, so I should be going.”
“Nice of you to drop by,” I say as she stands up and heads for the door.
“It’s been nice talking to you,” she says. “Just remember this the next time you feel like writing about us.”
“I will,” I say, and she’s gone.
Again, some indefinite time passes as I doze, but this time what wakes me is the sound of a knock. I get up from the couch and walk to the door, noticing idly that I have to undo the deadbolt to open it. Professor Xavier sits in his wheelchair in the hall.
He looks up at me and says, “Thank you.”
“No problem. Won’t you come in?”
“Thank you again,” he says, and he really does look quite a bit like Patrick Stewart. He maneuvers his chair over so that it’s right next to the one the other two sat in.
“Jean said something I thought was interesting,” I say once he’s settled. “That plotting to kill Magneto made her feel like she wasn’t a hero.”
“I wish it hadn’t come to that,” Xavier says, looking pained.
“I’m sure you do, but the thing that bothered me was that it made her doubt herself.”
“Shouldn’t it make one doubt oneself to scheme to murder a man?” he asks, one eyebrow raised.
“Sure, but think of the lives you saved. I should think that thousands or millions of innocent people far outweigh one madman who’s shown himself more than willing to kill them.”
“The needs of the many?” he asks, looking skeptical. I sigh.
“Look, I’m a writer, and from that point of view I understand why you don’t just change the minds of your enemies—or rather the normals who are violently intolerant, or crazy mutants like Magneto. It’s even in a roleplaying book I own. ‘Step one, we see the villains. Step two, the Mastermind takes over their minds. Step three, they turn themselves in to the police.’ There’s not much room for conflict there, and conflict makes the story. I just wonder why you think you won’t do it.”
He takes a minute to think about it, and I’m absurdly flattered—I’ve managed to make the most powerful mind on Earth work a little. After a while he says, “It’s mostly a matter of ethics, I suppose. It would be unethical of me to use my power to make people do something they didn’t want to do—to take away their free will. I have done it several times, and I am deeply ashamed of every single time, even when I saw no other alternative.”
“What I don’t get is why you let your ethics get in the way of saving peoples’ lives. It seems—if you’ll pardon me—a little hypocritical.”
“And I can see how you could think that. I can only say that I do not think the end justifies the means. If I created Utopia by ‘changing minds,’ it would be a flawed and failed Utopia.”
I sigh again. “I guess we’ll just have to agree to disagree on this one. I’m a justifies-the-means kind of girl. At least up to a point.”
“That is your privilege,” he says, and I smile and think, Touche. He continues, “Though the first point you raised is also an interesting one. Like it or not, my universe is one in which everything is subservient to the needs of the story. I cannot change peoples’ minds because to do so would kill the story. Without the story, I would have no reason to exist, and neither would any of my students or friends.”
“But Jean said that you have lives which go on ‘outside’ the story, so to speak,” I note. “That means that, now that you exist, you’d continue to do so.”
“You can be sanguine about that. I admit that I cannot. We have lives outside the story now, but there’s no guarantee that we would continue if the story were to end completely.”
“So you’ll just go on, fighting a war you can never win, needing to know the plural of ‘apocalypse’?”
He shrugs. “What else can we do? At least we are always guaranteed that we will save the world, no matter what sacrifices must be made to do so. But the world will not be saved if we don’t fight, that much is certain.” He catches my tone of mind, I guess, because he looks at me shrewdly. “You wish that you could fight, too,” he says, and I blush a little again.
“Well…yeah. I hate being so relentlessly ordinary. I’d like to be the person the fate of the world hangs on once in a while.” I chuckle at his expression. “I don’t have to be a telepath to know what you’re thinking. You might as well have a sign reading ‘You wouldn’t like it if it happened.’”
He laughs too, then says, “I am glad it’s a desirable profession from the outside—at least someone gets pleasure from it.”
“You’re saying you’ve never been pleased with yourself for averting some catastrophe?” I ask.
“Of course I have. I should think we all have. But it isn’t something one should grow to like.”
“Why not? There are always going to be more catastrophes—the rules of your world demand them. So why shouldn’t you enjoy stopping them?”
“That way lies madness,” he says seriously. “One begins to see catastrophes everywhere, simply so one can enjoy stopping them. Often the cure is worse than the disease, as witness Magneto’s aborted war.” “I’m not sure Magneto is the best example here,” I protest, and he holds up one hand in agreement. “Certainly,” he says, “I’m not maintaining that your enjoyment idea was the source of Erik’s problems. But he surely saw a coming catastrophe and in moving to stop it, almost caused it instead.”
“I see what you mean,” I say, and yawn again.
He smiles. “I won’t keep you any longer,” he says, and his chair rotates to face the door.
“So tell me, oh Spirit, who’s next?”
“I suspect you know,” Xavier says, and I think I see a hint of mischief in his eyes. I drop my gaze and mutter, “Oh.”
“Don’t worry,” he says. “After all, if it’s a dream nothing will come of it; even if it’s real he lives in another universe.”
“You’re right,” I say. “It’s just—how do you tell a guy you’ve got a weird sort of crush on him when he isn’t even real?”
“The same way you do if he is real, I imagine,” Xavier says. He can tell I’m nervous, of course, and his voice is very gentle as he says, “Logan won’t laugh at you, if that’s what you’re worried about.”
“No, I know him that well. But whether he actually laughs or not, I want him to take me seriously. I’m not even a mutant.”
“As if that would matter,” he says scoldingly, and opens the door. I think, ‘Goodbye,’ as loud as I can, and the answer comes back, ‘Farewell.’
I sit on the couch, starting intently at some horrible late-night movie, for a long time. Finally my eyelids begin to droop again, and for a while I wake up periodically when my chin sags to my chest. And at some point I open my eyes and discover that someone’s come in while I was asleep. He’s sitting in the chair across from me; his feet are up on the hassock and he’s gotten himself something out of the fridge.
“You oughta be more careful,” he says, and his voice is instantly familiar.
“No one but fictional characters can get through the deadbolt,” I reply, with the slightly muddled logic of one who’s just been dreaming.
Logan laughs just a little and says, “Suppose you’re right. You mind if I smoke?” I shake my head. He pulls out a cigar and a packet of matches and spends several seconds getting things lit to his satisfaction. The smell is not as awful as I was expecting, really.
“So Charlie tells me you want to be a mutant,” he says at last, and I search his tone for mockery.
Finding none, I reply, “Not necessarily a mutant. But just once I’d like to have a problem for which an effective solution was to kick someone’s ass. Or at least blow something up.”
“It ain’t all it’s cracked up to be, darlin’,” he says.
“I guess we always wish for what we don’t have,” I say.
“And you wish for a comic-book life.”
“I do. Life in comics is so much simpler.” I shake my head. “And it doesn’t change as much as real life, either.”
“You mean, you can count on it.”
“Well, yes. I imagine it must be comforting to know what life will be like tomorrow, even if it’s not perfect.”
“Comfortin’? Yeah, if you like that kind of comfort.” He is studying the glowing tip of his cigar carefully.
“I must sound awfully naïve,” I say glumly.
“A little,” he replies. “On the other hand, I’ve heard worse from people who had a lot more reason to know better.”
For a while I can’t think of a reply to that, so we sit in companionable silence. Every once in a while Logan knocks the ashes from his cigar into an ashtray that materialized from somewhere, or takes a drink from his bottle of hard cider. At last I screw up my courage and say, “Logan.”
He makes a go-ahead gesture with his cigar, and I take a deep breath. “I just want to tell you that I find you fascinating.” He snorts laughter, and for a second I’m totally mortified, but then he says, “I’m sorry, darlin’, I’m just not used to that word bein’ applied to me. Annoyin’, brutish, and homicidal are more my style, y’know?”
“Which is one of the things that does it,” I reply, glad that it’s dark in here. Of course he can probably smell that I’m blushing again. “You’re just full of contradictions. Violent yet honorable, a killer with a heart of gold. It’s fascinating.”
“If you say so,” he replies, and though he still sounds amused it’s not the kind of amusement I was dreading: the kind that means, you’re being too silly to be taken seriously.
When I speak again my voice is no more than a mumble. “My problem is, I don’t know whether I want to be with you—or be you.”
He spends a few seconds looking me over, taking in my overall appearance, and nods. “I can see how that last would cause you a problem,” he says. I am, after all, the image of a girly girl, what with the nearly waist-length hair and long skirt.
“I told Jean I identify with her, and I do,” I say. “But she’s not the only one I identify with.”
“What you gotta look at is what parts of me you like,” he says, and grins at me. “Probably not the facial hair, for example.”
“You got that right. It’s bad enough I’m half Italian.” This startles him into laughter. I continue, “I’ve actually got a decent handle on it.” He waves me on again and I say, “It’s pretty simple: you’re the best there is at what you do.”
He nods as if I have just said something profound, and I go on, “It just so happens that what you do is something I want to be able to do, to wit, kick ass when necessary. Physically and metaphorically.”
“It’s not the safest of talents, darlin’,” he says, and he sounds very serious.
“I know that. I went through this with the Professor. I’d probably hate it if suddenly I were Wolverine-ette. But that doesn’t stop me wanting to be special.”
“You can be special without kickin’ ass.” That last word sounds incongruous, given that the comic book Logan isn’t allowed to say it, but I get his meaning, and suddenly I get a bit angry.
“Well, is there something wrong with wanting to be that kind of special too?” I snap. I’m kind of amazed at myself, to be honest—I’m snapping at the most dangerous person I’m ever likely to meet.
“Hey, don’t get me wrong,” he says, and amazingly his tone is conciliatory. “The way I am works for me. I just wonder if it’s the way you want to be.”
“Why not? The way I am is such a great success, after all.” I lean back, put my head against the wall behind the couch, and close my eyes. This is not going like I imagined it. I’m not sure how I imagined it, honestly, but I’m pretty sure there were passionate kisses involved. Airing my insecurities never entered into it.
I hear him stand up and I’m sure he’s leaving, but instead he settles onto the couch beside me and says, “Come on, darlin’. What you need is a little more faith in yourself.”
Ah, pop psychology, I almost say, but I’m too tired for sarcasm. “I just want to be a hero,” I say. “And I’m not equipped.”
Logan pulls me over until I’m leaning on his shoulder—and by the way, this is fitting in with my fantasies quite nicely, thanks—and says, “I’m gonna leave out the bits about being a hero in real life and concentrate on the kind you mean, OK?” I nod. “There’s not a whole lot of unambiguous evil for you to fight in this world,” he continues. “Has it ever occurred to you that that’s why you’re a writer? You can be a hero, when you write about one.”
“Great,” I say, and to my horror tears are beginning to leak out of the corners of my eyes. “So I can make life worse for people like you.”
“That’s our job. That’s our reason for existing. If there weren’t any evil, we’d be useless.”
I push off his shoulder and turn to face him, the tears under control now that I have a topic. “Doesn’t that ever bother you?” I ask. He looks confused, so I elaborate. “You can’t ever win. There will always be a new menace to combat, no matter how many you beat. Hell, people are already taking bets on when Magneto’s going to be back.” He raises an eyebrow at that as I go on. “And…personal things too. The Professor will always be in a wheelchair. Scott will never be able to control his optic blast. Rogue will never be able to touch other people. You’ll never get—“ But I cut myself off, and don’t say, You’ll never get Jean.
He says philosophically, “I guess I could get angry about it, but what good would it do? Do you get mad because stuff falls when you drop it? Usually I like to reserve my anger for people I can get my hands on.” At this three claws, gleaming subtly in the light from the TV, slide smoothly from the back of his right hand, snikt, and back. I spend a few seconds gaping at this; movies and comics are one thing, but right in front of me? That’s a new experience.
“Dude,” I say enthusiastically, and he laughs again. I grab his hand to watch it--the cuts fade almost instantly.
What is it about men that they’re a degree warmer than women? It’s not just Logan, I’ve noticed it with every other man I’ve ever been attracted to. While I’m pondering this, still holding his hand, he says, “Scott says you’re mad at him because he stands between me and Jeannie.”
I look up from his hand and meet his eyes, embarrassed again. “Well, not mad exactly, and he kinda set me straight on that one.” I have to look away as I say, “The bit of me that identifies with you is mad because you don’t get her, and the bit that identifies with her is mad because she doesn’t get you.”
“That’s flatterin’,” he says, and sighs. “It’s too bad about Jeannie. I’ll tell you what, though, I may not be the best judge of people, but even I can tell when someone’s in love. They’re in love.”
“I know,” I say. “I can dream, though.” He puts his other hand under my chin and lifts so I have to look at him again.
“Thought you were engaged,” he says, mock sternly.
“Celebrities and fictional characters are special cases,” I say, trying for flippant and not quite getting it. He’s starting to look skeptical, and I look away again. He sighs.
“I’m not denyin’ I’ve got a thing for redheads,” he says, “but you’re havin’ an identity crisis or somethin’. Wouldn’t be right of me to make it worse.”
“’Don’t need a course in self-awareness to tell me who I am’,” I quote, from a Weird Al song.
“That’s not an answer,” he says.
I think for a second. “What bothers me,” I say at last, “is that all the characters I really identify with are men. I have dreams where I’m a man: Luke Skywalker, Indiana Jones, James bloody Bond. Wolverine. It’s disturbing.”
“But is it important?” he asks, and stands up.
“What do you mean by important?”
“What do all those people have in common besides being men?”
“Shall we play at questions?” I ask, and smile. He says, from the door, “Think about it.”
“I shall, Socrates.”
“There’ll be a quiz later,” he says, and leaves.
The next shape in the door is one I sure wasn’t expecting. He’s tall, broad-shouldered, and all around huge.