It's a tough class to teach, even at the best of times. These aren't the best of times, not by a long shot.
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 Jean back.
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 not die."
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 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 sleeve.
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 been lousy.