Months had gone by, and life was achieving a semblance of normality for us all. With spring, 'Ro's landscaping efforts were showing, and the gardens and fields looked much as they had before the siege. To me, anyway. She told me she was trying a new color scheme in the South Flower Garden. I, of course, couldn’t tell the difference. "I'm still looking at the world through rose-colored glasses," I reminded her, the old joke sounding less bitter than it had lately. To my ears, at least.
We began thinking about what, if anything, we should do to commemorate the battle anniversary, which was approaching. And which day to use as anniversary, anyway. When Kurt had, against his will, attacked the White House? When Charles and I had been taken captive? When Jean had sacrificed herself to save us all? Ultimately we felt that the first anniversary of the siege of the school was most important to the students, and planned a general assembly and moment of silence for that day. We expected it to be a difficult day, but cathartic. Necessary. We were taken aback a little at how hard most of the school found the day before the anniversary, though. More weeping, more hollow-eyed blankness then than the anniversary day itself. Perhaps reflecting on the last day before our world fell apart was harder to take than remembering the first day after.
I had a tough day, too, the day before. And the anniversary itself, and a few days after. Reliving those days of a year before, thinking what I could have done differently. But I wasn't worried that I was sinking into depression again. I was cutting myself some slack and giving in to the melancholy for a few days, recognizing that I had healed a lot, but still needed to grieve some, one year later.
Mostly, I was functioning very well. Not just functioning, enjoying my work in a way I hadn’t for some time. I was teaching my classes with a renewed zeal, working effectively with Alpha Flight, our affiliate team in Canada, and the FBI reps on our MPP project, training with the team and with students in the Danger Room, directing the school play. I was starting to feel like myself again.
A lot of feeling better was just letting time work its magic. Some of it was the result of getting over the stubborn insistence that I had to handle all this myself, and truly enjoying and benefiting from the comfort that my old friends could give me. Charles, ‘Ro, Hank – they all shared my loss and I found, over time, that talking and listening to them was more consoling than painful. There was a healing factor in just being in my own home, doing my own job with the people who cared about me and had cared about Jean, and once I opened myself to it, I profited from it.
There were still times I missed Jean so much I could taste it. Even worse were the times when I forgot she was gone, tried to say something to her in my brain or rolled over in the night reaching for her. But, as time went on, those were fewer and farther between. Jean’s absence had felt like a sharp wound for months after her disappearance. But lately it seemed only a dull ache most of the time, and even that was receding.
No, it wasn’t Jean’s absence that was worrying me lately, but what seemed to be her presence. Or the presence of someone or something that called itself Jean. The dreams, and even waking impressions, of Jean speaking to me telepathically became quite frequent in the first few months after she was lost. She’d tell me she wasn’t dead, that she’d be coming back. At first I thought they were just an expression of my own longing, wish fulfillment in dream and fantasy. But they were too insistent and too real for that.
Charles had alluded to similar experiences, saying he wasn’t surprised that I thought Jean might be alive but we hadn’t talked about it much. He’d tried to raise the subject once or twice after I told him what I suspected, but I wasn’t ready to discuss my experiences or let him into my brain and he’d backed off. Time had passed, though, and the messages from Jean were getting more and more frequent. I brought the topic up again with Charles and he confessed that he, too, was hearing thoughts from Jean. Only he wasn’t sure that they were from Jean. He wasn’t able to articulate exactly why he doubted the messages’ veracity, but he said that somehow it didn’t feel like Jean in his brain.
He told me that the last moment he'd felt Jean as herself was when we were all in the Blackbird and she was outside. He'd tried to convince her to join us in getting to safety, assured her that she could move the jet and escape, too, if we all worked together. And then it was as if another being was there, along with Jean. When Jean took over his mind and spoke through him to me, saying "Good-bye," something happened. He was sure there was someone else there in his brain, too, along with her. Jean had never had powers that could overcome his. He wasn't sure what had happened then and he wasn't sure what was left now, but it wasn't Jean as we knew her. An enhanced Jean, a mutated Jean? Or was Jean dead and someone had absorbed all her memories and was impersonating her? He didn't know the answers, but he felt sure that the being that was contacting him was someone other than the woman I'd loved.
And once he’d told me that, I attended to the dreams more and found the same thing. The words were Jean’s – the references to things we’d done were ones only she would know – yet somehow the presence in my mind was not Jean’s, not what I remembered. I didn’t know what to make of this. If not for Charles, I might have thought that I was just imagining the difference, not remembering anymore just what it felt like to be telepathically connected to her. But I didn’t think we could both be imagining this. And, then it wasn’t just Charles and me, but Logan, too. Still, it took me a while to realize that he was experiencing something similar.
Logan certainly had a role in my improved state of mind, as well. We weren’t lovers, not in any real sense. I think I could have fallen in love with him. I was certainly needy enough and he was appealing enough. But he had made it so clear that love was out of the question for him and that kept me at arm’s length, emotionally. He was friendly, and he was a valuable team member, and we were having sex several times a week, but there was still a certain reserve about him that made clear the boundaries of the relationship.
And, truth be told, that was fine with me. I was increasingly sure that I didn’t want to go back into the closet, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to step out so far, either. If I’d been involved with someone where we were kind of a social couple, I’d have to deal with that with my colleagues and students in a way I wasn’t ready for.
With Logan – well, we certainly weren’t an acknowledged couple and I think it unlikely that most people even realized we were friends. The time we spent together was out of the watchful eye of students and faculty. I wasn’t suffering from insomnia so much anymore, but I was still meeting Logan at night, to train together and to talk, as well as to have sex. We’d often start with one activity and end up with another: swimming laps or working simulations and then, in the flush of success and exertion, sucking each other off or fucking on the Danger Room floor or by the side of the pool. And long conversations afterwards, with him telling me his fragmented memories of long ago times, often spurred by poems I’d recited to him or books of historical fiction I’d lent him.
So, I was getting the advantages of regular sex and the excitement of getting to know Logan in ways I hadn’t before, in ways I don’t think anyone else at the school did know him. And I didn’t have to deal with the potential changes in how colleagues and students would view me if I came out more publicly. I was getting annoyed, yet again, at the girls in the poetry class and their crushes, but I also saw their mooning in class as a good thing, as a sign that they saw me sort of coming back from the dead, not thinking about Jean all the time.
That Logan might be disturbed by thoughts of Jean hadn’t occurred to me. He’d gotten into the habit of knocking on my door at night when the aftereffects of a nightmare were bothering him. I hadn’t seen the full-body shaking again that had so alarmed me that night in Vermont, but he often seemed shaken and worn out by the time I saw him. He said that sex helped and I was only too happy to provide that kind of assistance, for my own sake as much as for his. I never thought much about the fact that he seemed not to want to have sex, or even talk much, in my bedroom – that we always had to go to his room or the Danger Room or the pool or the gym. My room was on a student floor and more in the thick of things than his, which was right near the Danger Room. So, I figured he just wanted more privacy than we could have in my room. But one night when he knocked on my door just past midnight I felt kind of settled in bed, and asked him to stay there with me.
“I can’t.” He shook his head.
“It’s okay. The soundproofing is good here. No one will hear us,” I said, with a smile, gesturing to him to sit on the bed. He just shook his head, looking nervously around. “What’s wrong, Logan?” I asked, feeling suddenly like there was more to his refusal than worry that some student would hear us having sex.
He kept looking back and forth, not meeting my eye. “I can’t tell you.”
“You’ll think I’m nuts.”
“I haven’t yet,” I replied, trying to reassure him. “And you’ve told me some pretty crazy-sounding stories. Imprisonment and torture at the hands of two governments; fragmented memories that seem to span well over 100 years from a guy who doesn’t look a day over 30. You’re not nuts – you’ve just had a lot of crazy things happen to you.”
“Yeah, well, this is different.” But he did sit down on my bed.
I reached over and started rubbing his shoulders, which were terribly tense, talking to him reassuringly. “Did you have another nightmare?” I asked, and he nodded but didn’t say anything. “Lie down,” I said. “I’ll rub your back.”
He lay prone across my bed and I got on top of him, straddling him as I rubbed his shoulders and back, feeling some of the tension go away as I massaged and talked to him softly. “That feels good,” he said, sounding sleepy and relaxed.
I, on the other hand, was feeling more and more awake. His body under me was giving me ideas for more than just a back rub. I leaned down to his face, turned to the side, and tried to kiss him, but he turned away. “Not here,” he said. And then he was asleep.
I wasn't quite resigned to just let him sleep. I kept rubbing his back, thinking it might wake him a little and lead to something else. He turned on his side in his sleep and after a while I lay down next to him, pressed against his back, spoon fashion. Nuzzled his neck a little, reached around and started stroking his cock. He was getting hard, seemed to like it. He was maybe sort of half asleep and half awake, moving into me, sighing happily. But then he stopped suddenly, took my hand away and said, "Stop it."
“Why?” I asked.
“She doesn’t want us to.”
He sat up and turned on the lamp. "I didn't mean that. I was half asleep."
"I know you were half asleep, but I think you did mean it. You're talking about Jean, aren't you?"
He nodded, slowly. We looked at each other. "I don't believe in ghosts," he said.
"No, me neither. She's not a ghost."
"She’s talking to you, too?”
"Yeah, except I'm not sure it is her." I explained what Charles had told me about that time in the Blackbird and how her telepathic presence had felt since.
"Jean never talked to me in my head, before. I guess I wouldn't know how it should feel." He looked me in the eye. "What do you think it means?"
"I don't know. But this I know for certain sure: Jean wouldn't tell you not to have sex with me. Is that what she's telling you?"
"Yeah, but I figured I'd just agree not to do it in your room. Her room."
"So, you're compromising with a ghost? A ghost you don't believe in?"
"Okay, when you say it like that it sounds a little strange." I laughed at that. He thought some more about what I'd said before. "Why not? Why do you think she wouldn't tell me not to? Don't you think she'd be pissed off about you and me?"
I shook my head "If she was, she wouldn't let it govern her actions, anyway. That's not how we were with each other. I told you - we didn't know if it would work out between us. But what we did know was we wouldn't stand in each other's way." I stopped talking, mulling over what he'd said before. What he said about ghosts was bothering me, making me think of something. "Nineteenth Century American Literature."
"What are you talking about?"
"It's a class of mine. We're reading The Turn of the Screw. There's all this whispering and muttering in class. Three kids transferred out of class, saying they couldn't read it, that it’s giving them nightmares. I meant to talk to Charles about this - I've taught this book before without trouble. I was figuring it was indicative of more after effects of the siege. But now I don’t think so. It's a ghost story. I never thought of it that way, but yeah, somebody who wasn't familiar with how telepathy feels might think it's Jean's ghost talking to them."
"So you think Jean - or whoever it is - is talking to some of the kids, too?"
"Maybe. And scaring the shit out of them in the process. That’s not like Jean at all. If it were Jean, she’d assure them she’s not a ghost. Or stay away from the kids altogether, not wanting to scare them. But this being isn’t showing that kind of judgment. Charles, you, me. Students, too. What does she want? Who is she?"
"I don't know. I'm just relieved to know I'm not the only one she's talking to." He thought some more. “Do you think Jean’s alive?”
“No.” I shook my head. “I think it’s someone or something else. But that somehow whoever it is got hold of her memories. Because if it were Jean in my brain, no matter how she’d changed, I think I could tell. And if someone had her captive she’d be in my brain. If she were alive, nobody could stop her from talking to me. And the other stuff – telling you not to do it with me, scaring the kids – none of that gibes with the woman I knew.”
I was convinced and I think I managed to convince him. We needed to be on guard, I thought, from whoever this presence with Jean’s voice and memories was, since we didn’t know her intentions. But she wasn’t Jean. That’s what I thought and what I kept on thinking. Until the day Jean walked in the door.