Saving Cain: Chapter 6

Piotr, Henry, and Ororo are already sitting in the kitchen by the time Jean wanders down to breakfast. Morning events have been cancelled, so there is no reason to expect to see Bobby (who is still very much in that early teenaged mode of going to sleep at 3AM just because he can) much before lunch.

But Scott wasn't there. And that made it odd, Jean decides. Scott was always up before her. Always.

She knew where Scott was - downstairs in the clinic, still asleep along with his brother. And that only added to the strangeness. She'd known about Alex -- at least, about the theoretical existence somewhere of an Alex Summers -- for a few years; she had been there when Xavier had helped Scott investigate his family. There had been no records of what had happened to Alex once he'd disappeared into foster care -- the records had called them Alex X and Scott X, the younger brother unable to provide any sort of identifying information beyond his comatose brother's first name. There had been no records... or the Professor had simply said that there were none. She understood the logic if that were the case -- Scott would have tried to contact Alex and Alex would have tried to kill him. And Scott, desperate for a family, might not have fought back hard enough to save himself.

"The coffee's drinkable this morning," Ororo says by way of greeting to Jean. "We think Xavier made it."

She's sitting next to Henry and Piotr's across from them and it's Piotr who re-arranges the newspaper he's spread out over the breakfast table so that Jean can find space.

The coffee pot is still mostly full - Scott's the real reason they have had a twelve-cup carafe even when it was just the three of them. Jean's still feeling lazy in that just-gotten-up way and uses her telekinesis to bring both a mug from the cabinet and the whole milk from the fridge.

"It's... not even diner coffee," she half-sputters after her first sip. It's weak, beyond weak, and with her usual amount of milk, it's barely got a taste at all. "Brown water."

Piotr chuckles, although Jean's still shielding and isn't sure if he's amused by her or by the box scores he's currently squinting over.

"You like Scott's rocket fuel?" Henry asks, surprised. Scott's not a coffee snob, but he makes it strong.

"I've gotten used to it," Jean replies, her face still screwed into a mask of distaste. She had initially groused about the industrial strength brew Scott would produce each morning, but since doing anything about it meant getting up earlier than him, Jean had instead learned to add more milk. "This is just a waste of good beans. I'm going to put this in a thermos for you wimps and make something closer to real coffee. Scott's going to be pissy enough this morning."

Nobody comments on Jean's concern for Scott's happiness and for that she is somewhat grateful. Things are no longer awkward between the two of them, but Jean understands that the others don't understand the dynamic between her and Scott well enough to be comfortable acknowledging it yet.

"I'm not having any more, so you might as well pour it out if the guys don't mind," Ororo says. "Unless... we could turn it into ice cream." They have an ice cream maker, one that still gets some usage because Bobby still has issues when it comes to cooling things down gradually. He makes a great orange juice Popsicle, though.

"Good idea," Jean agrees and a plastic container floats toward her.

Ten minutes later, a new pot of coffee is ready. Piotr brings Jean (who is most of the way through her bowl of Lucky Charms) a cup along with his own and she is pleased to note that he's even put the right amount of milk in it without having to ask. Piotr's sneaky-observant like that and it still weirds her out that he can be headblind and still see so much of what goes on.

"So now that we've baited the trap," Henry begins, gesturing toward the coffee pot, "Where's our Fearless Leader?"

"Downstairs," Jean replies around a mouthful of marshmallows. She still tends to leave them to the end, eating the floating cereal bits first if she can. "The two of them are still out."

"Scott's sleeping in?" Henry chuckles. "Although he certainly deserves to do so."

"But he has in the past as well and has never indulged himself," Piotr counters.

"He didn't sleep very much last night," Xavier says from the entryway as he wheels himself into the kitchen. Piotr hops up and re-fills Xavier's coffee mug and the group at the table fail to swallow their amusement as the Professor stares at his mug strangely after his first sip.

"The painkillers didn't last as long as they should have and Scott stayed up for a while to talk to Alex," Xavier finishes.

"I can't believe Scott's got a brother," Ororo muses aloud. "Let alone one who..." she trails off, but the meaning is understood.

"It does present an interesting study in the nature-versus-nurture argument," Henry muses.

"More than we might imagine," Xavier agrees. "Alex was not raised by mutant haters. He is, in fact, the product of a rather liberal environment both academically and personally."

"So he's a reactionary?" Piotr asks.

"After a fashion, I suppose," Xavier answers. "But it's not that clear cut. And I'm afraid that that is why his... re-education... might prove somewhat difficult."

That was a loaded statement if there ever was one, Jean muses to herself. But a telepathic query is gently rebuffed as the Professor put his travel mug in the slot on the side of his wheelchair and rolls off in the direction of the elevator.

"Is this where we're supposed to say that we trust the Professor and know that he's only looking out for everyone's best interests?" Ororo asks quietly after Xavier has gone. She looks concerned, as does everyone else. There was an unspoken threat in the Professor's words. An unspoken threat that sounded uncomfortably like something that might have come out of Magneto's mouth.

"I don't think the Professor meant it like that," Henry says, not with his usual bravado. "Embracing our differences was our salvation, more or less. It got us here and now. Which, chasing down bad guys aside, is a good deal better off than where we were before. Alex was doing pretty well before. He has less reason to embrace... change."

"Just life or death," Piotr murmurs.

The quartet stays in the kitchen for a while, a comfortable silence slowly appearing out of the nervous quiet. Eventually, however, Jean goes off to shower and Piotr wants to read the newspapers online and Henry has to see if the battery re-charger he built for back-up for the Blackbird is working and Ororo has to stop procrastinating and finish reading the Kant that she'd been putting off because yes, the Professor probably will quiz her on it this afternoon. And so the kitchen is empty by the time that Bobby stumbles in.

Bobby makes a face at the mostly-full coffee pot on his way to the fridge and grabs the orange juice and milk and fills up a glass with the first and drenches his Oreos cereal with the other and opens up the newspaper to read about the Mets.

He's still sitting there, the last of the cereal turning the milk an ugly shade of gray when Scott appears.

"Omigod, I'm up earlier than Cyclops," Bobby mock-gasps as Scott gets his special mug (a 24-ounce job with Burne-Jones's "King Cophetua and the Beggar Maid" on it that comes with its own cover; Jean got it for him from Macy's the other Christmas) out of the cabinet and pours himself coffee.

"Ha, hah," Scott grumbles and rolls his neck. He has showered down in the gym and put on the clean clothes that someone (probably Piotr) brought down for him, but it still doesn't feel quite right. "Did Jean finish the Lucky Charms?"

"Dunno," Bobby says with a shrug. "They were all gone by the time I showed up. It's almost lunchtime, though."

"So why are you eating breakfast?" Scott asks as he decides not to hunt down the cereal. They are running low on Lucky Charms and Jean probably left four marshmallows in the box so that she doesn't have to be the one to finish it and thus be the one who has to go get more.

"Because I'm a growing boy," Bobby replies cheerfully. "The Professor says I should keep up my strength. So I am. Food energy."

Scott yawns and shakes his head and takes away all of the newspapers (Bobby's finished with the sports sections) from the table, tucking them under his arm as he picks up his coffee with one hand and an orange with the other and heads for the back porch.

Setting up his spread on the patio table, conscious of the disaster area a few yards to his right, Scott is almost basking in the sunlight of the surprisingly warm day by the time Ororo shows up.

"Can I join you?" she asks, gesturing to the chair opposite Scott with her book. "It's too nice to be inside and I have to finish this."

"Sure," Scott replies, eyeing her book. "Kant. Ugh."

"Xavier made you read it?" Ororo isn't sure how the Professor divvies up assignments. Not everyone gets the same material and not in the same order.

"Everyone does," Scott says after a sip of coffee. "Apparently the Professor has an affinity for the categorical imperative."

"Ah. So you can help me with it?"

"I Kant remember too much apart from the categorical imperative," Scott replies, failing to keep the smile off his face at the bad pun.

"I'm going back inside," Ororo sighs dramatically, feigning irritation. "At least there I only have to deal with Piotr arguing with his history book."

Piotr's nominally finished with classes -- he took and passed a GED before the incident with Weapon X -- but pursues his own studies now, with the Professor's occasional guidance. Ororo can't imagine wanting to study anything school-like if it wasn't mandatory -- she doesn't plan on picking up another textbook the minute Xavier tells her she can stop. That the Professor suspects this and keeps postponing her 'graduation' has crossed her mind.

"Stay, stay," Scott says. "I'll be good."

"I guess this means you're doing okay," Ororo ventures after a pause.

Scott shrugs, then winces at the reminder that his body is bruised and even broken. "There's nothing else I can do," he says and Ororo can sense the regret. Scott is not the passive type when it comes to business. "The next step has to be his if we're going to get anywhere. I can't force him to accept this."

"The Professor can," Ororo replies. She's still a little disturbed by Xavier's earlier comment.

"He could, but he won't," Scott answers. "He'll make sure Alex doesn't hurt any of us, but... he won't. It wouldn't do any good - whatever he did wouldn't stick. Alex is smart. Really, really smart. Besides, he'd figure out something was wrong if he's a member of the Friends of Humanity one day and an X-Man the next."

Ororo is only partially comforted by this logical reasoning, but suspects her own reluctance comes from a more personal concern. Alex would notice. But would she?

Something moves out of the corner of her eye and Ororo looks up to the gaping hole in the mansion. "Look. Alex and Bobby are at the opening."

Scott turns around gingerly and leans forward. They can see Alex moving around the edge of the building and can catch glimpses of Bobby behind him. "Alex said he wanted to see things for himself. I'm hoping this will help him come to terms with things instead of freaking him out further."

"How was he this morning?" Ororo asks.

"Quiet. Quieter. He's not going to talk much. He still thinks we're the enemy."

"Even you?" The book is now closed and resting on the table.

"Especially me," Scott returns with a sigh. "I'm not only the symbol of how screwed up his present and future are, but also how messed up his past is."

"It'll get better," Ororo says, trying to sound sure. She doesn't know though. An only child, she has no experience with siblings, let alone long-lost ones. But if Scott's going to venture any sort of personal information at all - Scott, who is so protective of his privacy - then Ororo is going to do her best to justify the confidence.

"I hope so," Scott says.

Alex must have noticed that they were there because Ororo can see him leaning out and waving. She's about to make a comment at how cheerful Alex seemed when pure horror replaces every thought she's considering.

Alex has jumped.

The next moments move like hours for Scott, in a slow motion he doesn't think he'll ever forget.

Scott runs all out, Ororo right behind, but knows that he can't catch Alex. The winds are still blowing from where Ororo tried to slow his descent, but she didn't react fast enough or with enough control. The only thing that prevented Alex from splattering on the ground after his almost thirty foot drop was Bobby having encased him in a snow cocoon.

Alex is sprawled indelicately in the blood-spattered snow (it was enough to keep the fall from being fatal, but not enough to prevent injury) when Scott gets to him. Mindful of spinal injury or broken bones, he doesn't try to move his brother. Instead he kneels by Alex's head, brushing hair away from his forehead.

Silence falls over the group (and by now it is one as Bobby has raced down the stairs and Henry, Piotr, and Jean have materialized.

"How could you let this happen?" Scott finally asks in a whisper. He looks up to face Xavier, who has wheeled out onto the patio. "He can't shield. He couldn't have hidden his intentions from you. How could you let him do this?"

Scott sounds broken, sounds betrayed even, and Jean can't help but feel for him as she gently lifts Alex with her TK and moves him onto a stretcher for Piotr and Henry to carry back into the house.

"He wasn't thinking about this," Xavier replies quietly. Sure of his own innocence even as he knows that there is no way he can be truly innocent. "He was distraught, he was upset, but... not this."

The answer was of no comfort to any of them.