Saving Cain: Chapter 7

"I know you're awake, Alex," Scott said.

Alex didn't care. He wasn't going to open his eyes and face Scott after this latest defeat.

When he was in eighth grade, a junior from his school who couldn't deal with the pressures of keeping his grades up and had been disappointed with his SAT scores had jumped off of his apartment building roof. It had only been three stories and he had taken a whole day to die, but he did.

Suicide was tricky that way. It was like carrying out the death penalty - something you wanted to get right the first time. Improperly tied nooses, dull blades on the guillotine, a too-small axe... history was filled with botched death. Alex, being a student of history, was attentive to such details as a member of the Friends of Humanity's strategy committee. Apparently, his planning abilities did not carry over to his mutant life.

"What the fuck were you thinking?" Scott asked, sounding somewhat between pissed off and curious. "Why are you so set on sticking to principles that it didn't even make sense to hold when you thought you were 'normal'? Is being a mutant so disgusting to you that you'd rather die than try it out?"

Alex didn't want to open his eyes and acknowledge Scott's presence, so he had to settle for attempting an internal catalog of injuries. He could move toes and fingers, so there didn't appear to be severe spinal injuries. The pain was all over, but he couldn't really tell much beyond that.

"You're damned lucky you didn't break anything," Scott continued. Alex wondered if Scott had noticed him wiggling his digits. "You're also probably lucky that you didn't get hypothermia and die from Bobby's attempt to save you, but he did save you. You scared the shit out of him, you know. He blames himself for you jumping. He thinks I blame him for you jumping. He shouldn't, but he does. So if you're going to ignore me, you should at least tell Bobby that there was nothing he could have done to stop you. Because we both know that's the truth even if he doesn't."

Alex continued to lie still and Scott didn't say anything else. Eventually, he fell back asleep and when he awoke, Scott wasn't there. Marvel Girl was, however.

"Stay still," she hissed as she concentrated on taping the gauze over his eyebrow.

Alex watched as Marvel Girl - Jean, Bobby had said her name was - picked up a small spray bottle.

"This is peroxide, so it's going to sting," she warned before spraying a spot on his chest.

And it did. Enough so that Alex sucked in air between his teeth and released it slowly.

"You don't even care what you're giving up, do you?" Jean asked as she finished with that wound and went on to the next. There were no broken bones, but Alex was apparently a mess of abrasions. "Does anything register with you? Not Scott, obviously. And you don't even care about yourself either. What do you care about?"

"Humanity," Alex whispered.

"Well guess what, hot stuff? They officially stopped caring about you as of Tuesday night," Jean retorted sharply. "The line between charity and stupidity isn't that fine. You keep trying to off yourself and you're doing them a favor they wouldn't do you. Scott keeps telling everyone you're smart. You go to a school for smart kids. Time to act like one."

The rest of Jean's nursing duties passed in silence except for Jean's quiet requests for him to move or shift so that she could continue to work. And then she left him.

Scott came back an hour or so later carrying lunch on a tray and a couple of books.

"Alex, stop acting like a baby. You were cute then. You're not cute now," he said testily as he set down the tray at the foot of the bed. "I'm not asking you to talk to me. Just sit up so I can leave you your tray. It's soup and I don't want to make a mess."

Alex was about to growl out that he wasn't hungry when his stomach, not wanting to risk his brain being too spiteful, decided to loudly announce otherwise.

Scott waited patiently for Alex to move the bed into a sitting position before he set down the tray. There was soup and some sort of soft bakery bread and milk and applesauce.

"Your jaw is pretty bruised and, since you're not talking, nobody knew if you'd be able to eat hard food," Scott explained without prompting. "If you're fine, you can have whatever it is we're having for dinner."

Scott left him then and Alex began to eat. His jaw was very sore and chewing (the soup was some sort of thick chicken and vegetable combo) was done gently. He finished everything on the tray, however.

The books were within reach and, with nothing else to do but stare at the walls, Alex reached for them. One was Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose and the other was a collection of Michel de Montaigne's essays. Not trusting his attention span, Alex went for Montaigne purely because the essays were shorter than the fat novel.

He had completely lost track of time when the door swished open. Xavier rolled in and Alex acknowledged his presence by watching him.

"Montaigne," Xavier said with a nod. "I thought it would be appropriate, if not necessarily subtle. Did you study his work in school?"

Alex debated whether or not to answer. He really didn't have any reason not to apart from sheer rudeness. If this was yet another attempt at bringing him over to the cause, Alex didn't have to make it a successful one.

"Eighth grade. I don't remember much of it."

Xavier nodded. "The ideas he introduces have a strong resonance with me, more so than you might imagine, although I suspect that most people would feel the same were the essays more widely read. But it is with Montaigne himself that I thought you might... find your own resonance. There's a short biography in the front of the volume if I recall correctly."

Alex checked and there was. He was also most amused to think that the mutant version of Watchtower was one of the great authors of French literature.

"One of the most fascinating parts of the Essais is that Montaigne never finished them," Xavier continued conversationally. "Oh, there is a beginning and an end, but Montaigne never finished editing them. He wanted them to be a current portrait of himself and his state of mind. But - and this is an important but - he never erased what he had already written. The old words were his past and that could never be erased. Only incorporated into a new and ever-changing whole."

"You're right," Alex said sarcastically. "Not subtle at all."

"Be that as it may," Xavier replied with a smile and a shrug. "Think about it. And think about Montaigne's biography."

"It's not like I have anything else to do, right?"

"If it were your wish, I'm sure Bobby would be willing to bring in a television and plug in his video game. Playstation, I think it is," Xavier said, waving his hand as if the whole concept of video games was too abstract for him. "But that's not your speed. At least not all day. If you have a request for a different book, I'm sure someone can get it for you."

"How long am I supposed to be here?" Alex asked, waving his hand around and pretending the action didn't hurt like hell.

"You would have been re-located to a room of your own had you not... Had you not been so rash," Xavier sighed. "As it stands, you should probably be in bed another two to three days. As you have no doubt noticed by this point, your injuries are miraculously minor considering what happened, but nonetheless significant."

Alex nodded. He had also learned that the clinic door was locked at all times and there was very little chance of escape so long as he was down here. Not that he'd get far crawling, which was all he might be capable of right now.

"Alex, as a favor to no one but yourself, take this time to think about your options and your future," Xavier said after a long pause. "You are a mutant. You are not a menace to society."

"Aren't I?" Alex asked with a bitterness that surprised him. "I'm going to explode again. What if I'm near somebody? How do I live anywhere when I could vaporize my surroundings at any given moment? Try getting that past a co-op board. Should I live alone, never letting anyone within my blast zone? That's not a life."

"No, it's not," Xavier agreed quietly. "And it won't be yours, either. We'll figure something out."

"How?" Alex knew he sounded frantic and probably a little hysterical.

Xavier rolled closer to the bed. "Do you see that machine, the one next to the EKG monitor?" he asked, pointing. "Your power has something to do with radiation. That's a modified Geiger counter. I've been testing radiation levels. Your powers are linked to your brother's. Scott is an energy converter, so it stands to reason that you are as well. All we have to do is figure out what sorts of energy to block and how."

Alex didn't say anything. He didn't know what to say. He didn't understand how Scott's power worked - as far as he knew, Scott always was shooting his optic blasts - so he had no concept of how his own might work. He had never wanted to understand it. He just wanted it gone.

"The Friends of Humanity like to draw a comparison between mutation and disease," Xavier said after a moment. "But it is really a gift. Like eyesight. Some people need glasses for reading, others for distance, and some for both. But nobody puts out their eyes solely because they don't have 20/20 vision. They go to the optometrist and get glasses."

"But what happens if you can't make everything all right?" Alex asked, not sure if he was being skeptical or scared.

"Then you hold on and hope that someday someone will," Xavier replied firmly. "One of these days, I hope to get up out of this wheelchair. But my life hasn't stopped in the interim. Your life shouldn't stop in the interim."

Alex didn't say anything and eventually Xavier turned his chair around and headed for the door.

"You come from strong stock, Alexander Summers," Xavier said as he stopped and turned around to face Alex again. "In that way you are no different than your brother. Even if you will not learn from him."

And with that, he wheeled himself out and left Alex to battle his demons by himself.

About a half-hour later, one of the others came and took his tray. Storm, whose real name Alex had yet to learn. She asked him if he needed anything, wanted anything, and whether he thought he could handle salad with dinner. He bit back his more sarcastic replies and merely asked for something to drink. Salad, he decided, was a little much for his sore jaw.

After Storm came and went again, depositing a glass and an insulated carafe of apple juice, Alex flipped absently through the Montaigne before closing his eyes. There was a low-level painkiller being fed to him intravenously. Not quite a morphine drip and nothing strong enough to screw around with his ability to think clearly, but enough to take the edge off of pain that should have been at worst unbearable and at best distracting. If he let it, however, it could make him a little drowsy. And Alex wanted the peace of semi-consciousness for a while.