Exaggeration and Blank Verse
What They Want To See
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They called it "re-education."

He called it that, in his drawling liquid voice that crawled past my blinded eyes and into my ears and through my brain like a slow trickle of acid. I could still hear him in my dreams, telling me about my re-education in his country-boy voice while she held my head down with effortless machine strength, dripping something that stung and burned onto the back of my neck. It had scarred; I could feel it over my vertebra, a perfect little circle like a cigarette burn.

I don't know why they called it that, Stryker or the woman. They didn't try to tell me anything I didn't know. She barely spoke the entire time she was there, only monotone commands that my body obeyed while my disconnected brain screamed in silent horror. But I'll still remember her voice until the day I die.

The two voices- drawl and monotone, liquid and glass- played over and over in my mind when I slept, when I taught, when I walked around the mansion. The only thing that made them stop was complete physical exhaustion, working till I collapsed. So every day I swam laps. I did sit-ups and push-ups for hours. I lifted weights until no one would agree to spot me. And I ran. I ran for miles through the woods around the school. I imagined they were chasing me, Stryker and his dark-haired woman. But they didn't have to run; they strolled down the dirt roads watching the flowers bloom, knowing that I couldn't run forever. Eventually I would have to stop, and they could catch up to me at their leisure. But it had been a month since Alkali, and I was running further every day. Maybe soon I'd be able to go on forever and leave them in the dust- or maybe my heart would burst from the strain and it wouldn't matter anyway.

I knew the others thought I was running away from grief, from Jean, from the wave of agony and sorrow that was crushing me, a sick twin to the water that had taken her away from all of us. But I wasn't, not really; I embraced that pain. I deserved it, I had earned it, my failure as a leader had brought it to me. If I had been stronger, if I had done my job and gotten us out from under the dam faster…no, if I had protected the Professor at Magneto's prison, like he trusted me to do…

Well. The pain I brought on myself, I could bear. I could even come to love it, holding it to me and cherishing it as something that was mine. The voices, the other grief from Alkali Lake, had been forced on me. And it was trying to eat me alive.

None of the others knew about it; no one had asked. Somehow in the mess of rescuing the Professor and escaping and grieving for Jean, no one had thought to look down the table at old Cyclops and ask, "Hey, Scott, what exactly was going on with you in between your miserable failure at the prison and your staggering betrayal of the woman you loved? You know, when you tried to kill her? Repeatedly? What happened before that?"

I was profoundly grateful to whatever gods looked out for mutants that no one had asked.
***
I was kneeling in the dark, head down, arms cuffed behind me and lifted painfully high by the thick chain running from the cuffs to the ceiling. A wrong move would dislocate both my shoulders, so I held still, trembling with strain, blind in the dark. They'd taken my visor and wound a metal band across my eyes; letting my force beams pound into it would just echo back to hurt me. So I clenched them shut as I knelt there in the dark, listening to Stryker's liquid voice and her light footsteps. She was circling me, slowly, six paces at a time, and then her hand was on the back of my head and she pushed it down farther, holding me still while she let liquid agony fall against my skin…
***
Stryker's soldiers had scarred the walls of the Mansion. I scowled at the marks every time I walked through the halls, hating the reminder of how we'd been violated, how illusory our safety was. All of the kids were back, safe and sound; Colossus had rounded up and protected all of those who'd escaped. He had been glowing with pride ever since Professor Xavier had personally commended him for his actions, and I wanted to laugh in his face. He'd be graduating soon, wanting to join up with the X-Men, knowing that he had all the earmarks of a future leader, agonizing over how to balance his take-charge instincts with his rookie role. If he wants to lead the team so badly, let him have it, Professor, I thought. Let him see how it goes. It'd be a weight off my shoulders, anyway.

"…and I think the burden's beginning to get to him, Logan." Xavier's voice floated down the corridor from his office. I paused in a shadow to listen. "I'm terribly worried about him."

Wolverine's voice replying, gruff and twisted by the fact that he was talking around his cigar. I didn't have to be able to see him to know that; the damn thing was practically a growth. "Scott seems to have it pretty together…well, what I've seen when he's actually here, and not out in the woods somewhere or down in the training rooms."

"I think there's something wrong, something he isn't telling us." Xavier's voice was full of sorrow, and I wondered irritably why he had to be so damn touchy-feely all the time. Suck it up, old man, life is hard.

"Well, his girlfriend did die, Charles." Logan's pointed tone cut through Xavier's saccharine concern like adamantium blades. Sometimes I did like the guy, after all.

"Something else." I could hear the soft whir of his wheelchair as he restlessly moved about the office. Like any blind person, or differently-sighted perhaps, my hearing was sharpened. Not as good as Logan's, of course, but what was. "I wish he would talk to me, but whenever I try to sit him down, he runs away."

"Couldn't you just, you know…" He trailed off, and I imagined he was using some sort of gesture. Logan did talk with his hands a lot. "Look into his mind?"

My fists clenched. Thanks for giving him ideas, Logan, remind me to kill you.

"No, of course not. That would be a gross betrayal of trust." Ah, yes, the Professor's crisply starched and pressed morality. Every once in a long while it comes in handy. "Scott and I have known each other for a very long time, Logan…he's very familiar with the feeling of my mind in his. He'd know immediately if I went searching, and it would hurt his feelings terribly. I won't do that to him."

"Well, then, we're at an impasse." Something thumped against the Professor's desk; possibly Logan's fist. "He won't talk and you won't snoop. I guess all we can do is wait and let him work through it."

"I'm not just worried about Scott's emotional health." No? I looked up at that, wishing my eyes had mutated into a useful ability like seeing through walls instead of just being menacing impediments to daily life. "I'm concerned that in his…fragile state, he might be vulnerable to outside influence."

"You're talking about Magneto." Logan really was a refreshing contrast to the upper-crust vagueness Charles cultivated here. He knew how to get to the point, at least. Fitting with the claws. I pressed my forehead against the hallway paneling and listened, my whole body tense. What doesn't the Professor trust about me now?

"If he could twist Scott's pain around and poison his mind, if he could turn him…" Charles sounded sad but resigned- I could hear in his voice that he'd thought about this often. He'd thoroughly considered the idea that I'd betray everything I'd lived with since I was eleven years old. Nice to know who your friends are. "Cyclops would be a devastating weapon."

I really was. A devastating weapon that walked and talked and smiled and combed its hair. The poster boy for Mutant Nation.

"Scott seems pretty dedicated to your side, Professor." Clear-eyed skepticism, the voice of the Wolverine.

"Eric is a master at manipulating the heartsick and weary." Ah, my poetic Professor. I saluted silently from the dark of the hallway.
"Perhaps…I haven't had any luck, Logan, but perhaps you could try talking to him. A different approach might help."

"My approach certainly would be different." Steel in Logan's voice- no, adamantium, of course. "I definitely won't ask him to sit down and discuss his feelings over a cup of tea."

You'll have to catch me first, I thought, turning on my heel and slipping away into the shadows of the scarred mansion. And I guess the Professor has a new favorite pet and right-hand man.

Good to know.
***
I didn’t flee the school or anything. I wasn’t going to shirk my responsibilities again, not until there was someone set up to replace me. But I wasn’t going to make it easy for Logan to corner me for a little heart-to-heart, either. If he wanted to talk to me so badly, he would have to put some effort into it.

After a few days, he found me. I don’t know much about wild wolverines, but this one was a patient predator. I was in one of the training rooms, punishing a punching bag for being in front of me. I heard him slip into the room, his cat-light footsteps that he probably thought were silent. “What do you want, Logan?” I snapped, catching the bag with one hand and steadying it. I wiped my forehead on the back of my other wrapped hand and looked over my shoulder at him. “If you need the bike, just take it.”

“I always do.” He dropped down onto one of the benches lining the room and just sat there, looking at me. I didn’t like his eyes.

“What do you WANT, Logan, I’m busy.” I turned away and punched the bag, letting it spin away and come back, then turning it back again with a high kick.

“Turn around.” I heard him push off the bench and walk towards me.

“What for?” I kicked the bag again, then struck with two quick punches before it could rebound. It spun crazily in place.

His hand landed on my shoulder and forcibly turned me. “You can whale on that bag all day and not change a thing, Scott. You need to hurt something, you need to engage, that’s fine, but do it right.” He let go and took a step back, dropping his arms to his sides. “Go ahead and take it out on me, Cyclops.”

“What?” I stared at him blankly. This certainly was different than the Professor’s style.

“Come on. Hit me.” He was staring at me with those dark bottomless eyes. “You can’t hurt me, if that’s what you’re worried about. I bounce back.”

I let one hand drift upward and hover at the edge of my visor. An idle threat, and we both knew it, but I had my pride. “I think I could hurt you, if I were so inclined.”

He shrugged. “But it won’t go that far.”

“Go away, Logan.” I turned back to the bag. “This is ridiculous. Leave me alone.”

He grabbed me again, spinning me around and shoving me this time, and I felt white-hot anger burst forth in my brain- touching me, not asking, why won’t he leave me alone why won’t they leave me alone-

I hit him, hard, a right cross to the temple that made him stagger back a step. But then he was back in my face again, breathing hard and shoving at me, stepping up within my space and taunting me until something broke in my mind and I was on him, kicking and punching and pouring everything I had into pounding his body.

I wanted to kill him, but I wanted to do it with my hands, which probably saved his life. If I had been willing to use my power, he would’ve been a bloody mess on the training-room floor. But I wanted to do it myself, and despite all of these years of listening to Charles preach the acceptance and natural beauty of our gifts, I didn’t think of my eyes as self. What they could do was something alien, foreign, other. Not mine. I would never do the terrible things I’d seen them do.

“Shit, man,” groaned Logan when we’d both collapsed into bruised and panting heaps on the floor. “Guess it figures that someone wound as tight as you are would be something else when he loses control.”

I pressed my hands against my temples, willing the steady ache of holding all that power back to go away. “Yeah. I guess it makes sense. That’s why I try not to do it too often.”

He flopped back on his back on the floor, stretching slowly like a cat. “Maybe you should. Can’t be good for you, holding all that tense shit inside. That kind of pressure, things break, you know?”

I stared at the floor between my feet, wondered if I should just call him on it. I knew where he was going with this roundabout route. But fuck it, I was too tired to move so I might as well talk. “It’s worse for me to lose control, Logan. People get hurt, then.”

He turned his head to the side and looked at me. “So it’s better to hurt yourself than people around you.”

“Of course it is.” I let myself fall back onto the floor and stared up at the ceiling. “You wouldn’t understand, Logan.”

“Try me.”

“All right.” I held my breath for a count of three, then released it. He’d asked. “Yours is a passive gift, right? Healing. Generally considered a positive force, as well, but at any rate passive. Self-contained. It doesn’t act on those around you.”

“Nobody but Marie.” He started fumbling through the pockets of the leather jacket he’d never taken off through the whole fight, searching for his cigar.

“She’s a special case. The point is, Logan, you can’t hurt anybody with it.”

He raised an eyebrow at me. “What about the rest of it?” He indicated my knuckles, bruised and swelling from pounding into adamantium bones.

I shook my head. “That was done to you. That’s not yours.”

“All right. So my mutation is passive. I’m assuming that your next point is that yours isn’t.”

“Has the Professor told you about how he found me?” I deliberately addressed the ceiling. I’d never told anyone this story while looking them in the eye, not even Jean. I wasn’t going to start with Logan, of all people.

“No.”

I nodded to myself. “I didn’t think he would have. He respects privacy and all that.” I swallowed, suddenly uncertain about going on. But pride, again; I’d be damned if I wasn’t the stronger man here, even with merely mortal bones. “I was eleven.”
***
“Mama, mama.” I ran through the house, looking for her, needing her arms around me, her reassurance, her warmth. “Mama, it hurts.”
She was there, kneeling down in front of me, holding me close. “What’s the matter, Scotty?”
“My eyes, they hurt, Mama.” She sat back on her heels and took my face in her hands, tilting my chin up so she could look down into my eyes. “They sting and they burn and they itch...they’re hurting me!”
“Hold still, Scotty, let me see if you’ve got something in them...look at this, they’re all red around the edges, and swollen...did you splash something up into them, Scott?” Concern in her voice, a little bit of fear, and I was opening my mouth to reply when suddenly I felt a wave of something go through my head and she was screaming, falling back to the floor and screaming, and then the screaming stopped and it was quiet...

***
“The first thing I did with my power,” I said, staring down at my hand against the padded floor. “Killing my mother.”

“Shit.” He exhaled slowly, smoke wreathing up around his head. “That’s hard.”

I had to laugh at that. “At least you didn’t say ‘I’m sorry.’ That’s what most people say. I want to ask them, how exactly do they think that it’s their fault?”

“Huh.” He snorted and exhaled more smoke. “What happened then?”

I shrugged and looked back up at the ceiling. “I started screaming. My dad came running in. I turned to face him and...it happened again.” Suddenly restless, I stood up and began to pace the room. “The next day, a car pulled up in the driveway. Two old men came in, one of them in a wheelchair. He rolled up to the edge of the porch and waited, and the other man gestured, and the chair just floated up over the steps and into the house.” I swatted at the punching bag as I passed it. “They found me, hiding under my bed, and the Professor held me until I stopped crying. He told me things were going to be all right, that he was there to help...” I absently reached up and touched the side of my face. “Then he touched me, like this, and I fell asleep. When I woke up, it was two months later...Magneto was gone by then, but they’d figured out what kind of crystal they needed for the glasses.” I shrugged and threw my arms wide theatrically. “And the rest is history! I became Professor X’s best boy, up here in lovely New York state. Chief pupil and leader of the X-Men.”

He was sitting up now, staring at me. I wondered if there wasn’t some power in his eyes that no one had noticed before, one that made them absorb the light instead of reflecting it back. So dark. “That wasn’t your fault, Scott. It was an accident.”

“I know that.” I watched the bag swing back and forth in front of me, giving it a little shove whenever it slowed.

“You can’t blame your mutation. It’s a part of you.”

“I KNOW that.” I caught the bag, stopped it. “I teach that, to all of the children that come here. All of the ones with outward-acting gifts, the ones who don’t understand why we drill and drill and drill. The ones who just want to let it come naturally.” I hit the bag, hard, and watched it spin away. “I teach them. I explain that it’s a part of them, a muscle that has to be trained or it’s going to hurt people. You can’t just let it do its own thing, because then people die. Then accidents happen.”

“You can’t go on hating who you are.”

I turned to face him. “Who I am is a leader. A leader doesn’t let his people down. I have responsibilities, and I won’t let them down, Logan. You don’t have to worry, and you can tell the Professor that he doesn’t have to worry. I’m not going to betray anybody. I don’t want to see innocents get hurt. I don’t want Magneto’s world.”

He nodded slowly and stood up. “I smelled you out there listening, that day. I knew you’d heard it all.” He headed for the door, moving with that slow, lazy, graceful stalking-stride of his. Such a predator. “If that’s how you want it to be, I’ll take your word for it, kid. But can I say one more thing?”

“Shoot.” I folded my arms across my chest, staring at the red and black image of him against the open door.

“Carrying around hate in your heart- even a little bit of hate, even just for that one part of yourself- gives them a way in.” He stopped and looked over his shoulder at me. “You can’t control everything, Scott, no matter how hard you try. That’s not how the world works.” I opened my mouth, but he went on. “You’ll slip up sometime, and they’ll get in, and they’ll work on that hate till it starts to grow. And before you know it, you’ll be shooting down strangers and laughing when they fall.” Dark eyes boring into mine. My fingers twitched. “So maybe you should think about what really needs controlling, Cyclops...and what needs to be healed and let go.”

He walked out the door and I stood there alone. All that was left in the room to prove that we’d ever talked at all was the smell of smoke and a trace of ashes.

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