Logan and I were in the Danger Room, but it wasn't in the middle of the night and this was no chance meeting. I'd been spending my Sundays there for several weeks now, but this was the first time Logan had joined me. He'd agreed when I'd asked him, but he was showing signs of regretting that now.
We had been spending the last few hours working on a particularly nasty simulation, based on discovered, never-executed plans of Stryker's. I was determined to complete it successfully, although my confidence in my ability to crack it had been wavering the last couple of weeks.
It was just one of several new drills Charles had given me a couple of months ago, and I'd been working through them methodically until I got to this one. He had called me into his office a day after I'd confronted him about the MPP project. He had handed me outlines of the new simulations he wanted me to work on, telling me to call a team meeting as soon as I'd read through them and to work out a project plan to master them all. Charles was concerned, he said, that we'd mostly been focusing on rebuilding and kind of continuing as normal, but that we needed to make sure we were ready for any future attacks or other emergencies.
I couldn't argue with that. We hadn't had any new exercises in a long time, and I'd seen for myself many times in close to 15 years as an X-Man how important continuing practice on both strategy and tactics are. Still, I didn't find the timing of the release of the new simulations coincidental. Charles was trying to do more than just upgrade our preparedness, I was sure. I didn't know whether he was trying to distract me from my musings about Jean or just to demonstrate confidence in my leadership abilities. Maybe both.
I had found most of the simulations challenging, beyond what we'd done in the past, but ultimately solvable. I'd also thought they were excellent preparedness exercises in case the political tide turned against us and we were again under siege. They were also turning out to be great for morale. Details of the simulated missions were never shared beyond Charles, the team members who participated in the exercises, and me. But successful drills were announced at dinner following their completion, with some anecdote about a team member whose contributions had been essential to the drill's success. Those who participated stood and received thundering applause. It helped the team to feel competent and appreciated and I think the kids felt protected and more secure, as success followed success, helping to heal the scars of the siege.
This Stryker exercise, though, was something else. It had had me stumped for close to two months. I was determined to conquer it. I knew that the assault had never been executed as Charles had found it detailed in the discovered plans, but that didn't mean someone else wouldn't try the same type of attack. I wanted to feel sure I could handle it if they did. Well, I knew I could take it on with all of the X-Men, but Charles assured me this one could be beaten by a two-man team, although I had my doubts, having tried it numerous times without success.
Several of the new simulations had been designed for one or two of us to combat them, a change from our usual training, where we practiced with larger teams. As Charles had explained when he gave me the new training assignments, the MPP project was going to require a lot of one- and two-man missions when it went live, since both the rescue and resettlement operations had to be done without attracting attention.
I've no doubt that Charles really did think it was important that the X-Men improve our ability to work singly and in pairs. Still, as with the timing of the new exercises, I was equally convinced that he had ulterior motives for giving me these particularly thorny two-man simulations. Working on them was forcing me to spend time with each of the X-Men one-on-one, breaking the pattern I'd fallen into of avoiding spending time alone with my friends and teammates. At first I'd been somewhat annoyed, feeling manipulated by Charles, certainly not for the first time. But I soon saw the wisdom of his plan, as my somewhat strained relationships with many of the team warmed as we worked together one-on-one. The Stryker Exercise was an important step in this improvement, although it was frustrating me no end in the process. I'd worked out plans during much of my spare time during the weekdays and had spent several Sundays on it already, trying different approaches with 'Ro, then with Hank, then with Kurt, and finally with Pyotr. A few times we came close to success, but the end result was always both of us "dying" or getting captured.
Logan was pretty much my last hope on this one, so I refused to quit even after we got 'killed' a dozen times in a row. We'd conferred after each attempt, thinking we had a new approach that would work, but no dice. He wanted to stop, at least for this particular Sunday, but I wouldn't hear it. We screwed our courage to the sticking place and gave it one more shot. And damned if we didn't get them that thirteenth time! So, there we were, sitting on the floor of the Danger Room, catching our breath and feeling pretty pleased with ourselves.
"You just don't give up, do you?"
We were sitting side by side, our backs to the wall. I turned to look at him, not sure if he'd meant it critically, but he had a great big smile on his face so I chose to interpret the question in a positive way. "I admit to being indefatigable, occasionally," I replied, smiling back at him as he rolled his eyes.
"I'll look it up later. Anyway, you can be a pain in the ass with this 'never say die' shit, Cyclops, but it paid off this time." He chuckled and shook his head remembering. "Fuck, we were good!" he said, slapping my thigh for emphasis. And then, just leaving his hand there. He turned and looked at me, his hand still on my leg. The look in his eye and the feel of his fingers on my thigh were suddenly riveting. Uncomfortably so. I looked away.
He pulled his hand back and kind of stumbled over his words. "I didn't mean... I'm not... I wasn't..." I didn't say anything and he stopped after a minute.
We just kind of sat there, the easy camaraderie of a moment before gone, replaced by an awkward silence. I broke it. "I know you're straight," I said.
"I know I'm not your type," he said, head cocked to the side, expression open, questioning, friendly.
I shrugged. "It seemed like the thing to say at the time. I don't think I have a type, really. I don't think my attractions are all that predictable."
"Can I ask you something about that?" I nodded. "Jeannie? You and her? I just keep thinking about that. I know it's none of my business, but...well... what was it like? For both of you, I mean?"
I sighed and thought about how to answer. "It was good. It was good in lots of ways. We loved each other. We had a shared vision, a purpose, a life we built together.”
“Was that... well, enough?” he asked.
“We did enjoy making love, both of us, if that's what you're asking. Did you know we had a continuing telepathic link? We always could hear each other's thoughts, any time we wanted to. It kind of adds something to sex, another dimension." I paused, not knowing what else to say. "She was the first woman I ever slept with," I said finally.
"How'd you get together?"
"We were friends first, from when we were kids. Hank, Jean, and I, and Warren - you don't know him, he left years ago - we were the first X-Men and we kind of did everything together. I was 16 when I came here. I was the first. Jean showed up a few months later. Then the other two." I looked around. "The place wasn't like it is now. The Danger Room was here, and the labs, but not the classrooms or the dorms. We weren't a real school then. There were just the four of us, and Charles taught us academic subjects in between training us for combat and sending us out to fight."
"Fight?" he asked, sounding surprised. "You were a combat team then, when you were kids?"
"Yeah, that's how it started; that was Charles's original concept. And that’s how he chose us – for our potential as members of a fighting force. He started building a school and taking more kids in a few years later. I think he really conceived of Xavier's Academy as just a front for the X-Men at first. Gym and pool hiding the Danger Room, Blackbird taking off out of the basketball court. Stryker wasn't so far off when he called it a mutant training facility. That’s what it was when we were kids. But we all kind of got into having a school for its own sake, not just to train new X-Men. We all wished we'd had schooling where mutants were accepted and we wanted to give that to the next generation, you know?”
Logan nodded solemnly. “It’s a great thing you’re doing for mutant kids here.”
“*We’re* doing. You’re part of it.”
He shrugged. “For a while,” he said. “So what happened with you and Jeannie?”
"Jean and I went to college together. We'd racked up enough AP credits that we could both get in and out in three years and come back to Westchester. We had it all planned out. She was pre-med and I was an English major and I was going to run the humanities program for the school and she'd be head of the science department." I looked at Logan to see if he was still listening, still interested. He motioned to me to continue.
"Neither Jean nor I could bear the idea of living in dorms. I think we felt too old for all that. We weren't that much older than the other freshman, but we'd been on a mutant fighting force for three years by that time, risking our lives daily. Other kids seemed like... kids.
"So Jean and I got an apartment together. In some ways it was the stereotypical gay man/straight woman friendship - we were often lusting after the same guys." I laughed at that, remembering. "But then our second year in college it changed. Maybe we'd both gotten our hearts stamped on too many times, or something. We already had each other as companions, study partners, roommates. It didn't seem that strange to add sex to the mix. We definitely looked on it at first as just friendship, friends who fuck, you know? But over time it felt like more. And when we came back here, after graduation, well we came back as a couple. Got a room together. I started building the school, with Charles. Jean was commuting to the city for med school. My life seemed sort of normal, all of a sudden. Respectable."
"And you wanted that."
It wasn't a question, but I nodded agreement anyway. “Does that bother you?”
“Why should it bother me?”
“I don’t know. You might feel like you wanted Jean for her own sake and I wanted her for respectability.”
“None of my business. Anyway, it’s what she wanted, too, right? Love, marriage, family, a life with the good guy.” He shrugged. "Nothing I could give her.” He thought some more. “Did you think it would last? Did you think you'd... change?"
"I don't know, really. Maybe. I was pretty disillusioned with gay life by that point. There's a kind of idolization of physical perfection, at least in the circles I was running in. And being a brain-damaged mutant didn't fit in very well with that. I'd meet guys who were interested in me, guys I was interested in. But when they found out..." I laughed ruefully. "And it's not like I could keep it a secret for very long. A guy knows something's up when you won't let him see your eyes, not even during sex." I sighed. "And I wanted a more regular life. I was feeling like two big things that were different about me was one too many. And maybe this one was malleable."
"Don’t take this the wrong way, but did Jean feel... used?"
I shook my head. "Believe me, I agonized over that one. She'd have had every right to feel exploited. But we did love each other. That was always there and it was a big part of who we were. And, remember, we had that telepathic link. We each knew what the other was thinking. I wasn't deceiving her. She knew I was still attracted to men, and she knew I wasn't having sex with men. Mostly I wasn't even thinking about that, was determined to just not let my mind go there. 'That way madness lies; let me shun that.' I thought maybe after a while I'd just forget about that part of me." I mused on that for a minute. “You know, I’ve never talked to anyone but Jean about this. Not even Charles.”
“Why are you telling me?”
“You asked.” He laughed at that. “Okay, that’s not it, really. I never said enough for people to ask. Maybe I just needed somebody to talk to. And you were here.”
He didn’t say anything for a long time. I wondered if he was offended at my suggestion that I was talking to him just because he was around when I needed to talk. But his mind didn’t seem to be on that at all. When he did speak, he referred back to what I’d said before. "Do you still think you could change, forget about that part, like you said? Could you meet someone else, another woman? Fall in love?"
I shook my head. "No, I'm pretty sure I couldn't. Even if I did meet another woman, I wouldn't try to live like that, not again. It was a mistake, what Jean and I tried to do. An honest mistake, a loving mistake, but still a mistake. I've given it a lot of thought. It's not just about sex for me. I think I notice men more, am drawn to men more in lots of ways. But a whole lot of it is sex. You can't help what turns you on, and it's men's bodies that turn me on. I spent so much time fighting it, and I want to be true to myself now. It feels good not to fight it anymore. I can’t go back. Sex with men is the only kind I want. It's different, there’s more to it – for me, anyway – than there is with a woman. It's hard to explain. I don’t know if you could understand, really."
"I know the parts are different."
I laughed. "Yeah, and that's certainly a lot of it. But it's not all. As close as telepathy during sex made me feel with Jean, we weren't really sharing the experience, not in the same way as when I'm doing it with a man, even a man I didn't love or even know well. There's something about having sex with another guy... it's hard to explain.” Well, that’s what I said, but what I was thinking was that I didn’t know whether or not I ought to try to explain. I wasn’t accustomed to talking about my sexuality at all, not having done so for a long time. And it felt a little bit risky to discuss it with Logan, although I wasn’t sure why. I took a deep breath and continued. “There's a shared understanding that I just don't think men and women can have, or at least that I can't have with a woman. Can I be specific? Or is that going to make you uncomfortable if I talk about homosex?"
"Okay. Here's an example: I love giving head. And some of that is just being totally turned on by men's bodies. There's little that feels as good to me as a big, hard cock in my mouth, down my throat." I sneaked a sidelong glance at him, checking to see that he wasn't getting upset with the graphic description, but he looked interested and listening. "It's more than that, though,” I went on. "I have this really intense impression every time I do it. I find myself thinking 'I know what this feels like; I know what he's feeling.' And there's an erotic charge and a connection in that knowledge that I just don't think I could have with a woman."
"Well, that's true. I can see that there's something there with a man that there isn't with women," he said, not seeming disturbed by the conversation at all. "But there's something else with women that you can’t get with a man. Some mystery or something. I don't know how to say it. Do you know what I'm talking about?"
"Yes and no. I do know that, for many men, that sense of 'otherness' about women is profoundly erotic. It doesn't matter that you don't know how to express it, Logan," I added with a smile. "I've heard it enough. Much of Western literature is devoted to expressing just that." I shook my head. "I understand it, in a way. I can teach it, I can write about it, but I don't feel it. It doesn't touch me the way it does you, or most men." I sighed and continued. "I've thought a lot about this, since Jean was...lost. I loved her so much, but not having her I've thought more about what kind of love it was, what kind of feelings I've had. I did think sometimes that I would change, when Jean and I were together, but I don't think it now. We loved each other and that was no small thing. But sex, even with some guy I didn't know, didn't care about, wouldn't see again, was always more intense, more fulfilling, more... complete than it was with Jean." I smiled wryly at Logan. "So, I really am gay."
He smiled back. "I guess so."
I'd been uneasy talking to Logan about this, and was glad he hadn't freaked out on me. I was feeling good about the conversation now. These were issues I'd been mulling over since Jean's disappearance and I'd felt the lack of someone to talk to about them. It wasn't until later that it occurred to me to wonder what he'd meant when he agreed with me that there was something different about sex between men, something you couldn't get from a woman. Was he speaking from experience?