I sit and watch the fire die down and then out, my son asleep with his head in my lap. He is at peace, for the moment. And I want nothing else from the world so long as he remains that way.
I used to dream of moments like this, back when I was a prisoner, a slave. Even after I founded the Starjammers and could sleep as a free man, a warm and willing Hepzibah curled up and purring next to me, I would still dream of moments like this. Moments when I could be the father I always wished I could have been, the father my father was to me.
But real life doesn't like to play along like that. At least not with my family.
The worst thing a man can ever endure is the death of his child. When I watched Kate be killed... my heart broke. But when we had watched that flaming parachute fall through the sky at a rate too fast to do anything but guarantee Scott's and Alex's deaths at our own hands, despite our best intentions... my faith in all that was right and good shattered. And I haven't found all the pieces yet.
Earlier this evening, Scott railed at me for my coldness, for being aloof and for disappearing at the wrong times and for not being the father that he always dreamed I would be had I been around... in short, he repeated everything that I secretly use to beat myself up with when nobody is looking.
What, did you think Scott and Alex got that from their mother?
As usual, Scott is right and Scott is wrong at the same time. And as usual, I handled it with a startling lack of grace.
Scott compared me to himself and found me wanting - he had gone after Nathan, why hadn't I gone after him and Alex? And even if the analogy broke down somewhere earlier along the line, it wasn't a fair comparison because at the end, Scott had no reason to believe that Nathan wasn't alive somewhen and I had no reason to believe that my boys weren't dead.
In general, however, Scott understands me better than he thinks he does, better than I have any right to expect considering all of our time apart. But he doesn't understand one integral part of me that I pray to a god I'm not sure even exists that he will never, ever understand.
I am a man who has watched his only-born children die. Over and over again.
The X-Men may be able to deal with the idea of their dead comrades "getting better", but I can't. Every time one of my sons died - and the scoreboard reads Alex 3, Scott 2 - I felt the same pain, the same anguish, the same gut-wrenching numbness. How could I not mourn the loss just in case it turned out to be just another false alarm? I don't have that kind of faith anymore, haven't for years.
Instead, all I've been able to do is internalize my grief, which doesn't really fool anyone but gets me out of having to talk it through with people. And that's made me cold, and it's made me aloof, and it's made me a failure in my son's eyes. But it's the only way I can get through it. And Scott, my first born son, understands that even as he condemns me for it.
When I was young, I thought I understood the concept of responsibility. I had a responsibility to my country to fight for its beliefs. I had a responsibility to keep in one piece those marvelous planes they kept letting me drive. I had a responsibility to Kate to keep the oaths that I had taken on our wedding day.
But nothing prepared me for the responsibility that presented itself in one burping, pooping, caterwauling package.
How do you put into words the surge of emotion that goes through you the first time you behold your child, the first time you realize that you are one-half entirely responsible for this little thing's existence?
But while I have felt that wondrous feeling twice, I have felt its opposite more times than that. And each time the weight of failure crushes my soul a little further, already too far past the point I thought it could go and still exist.
I try to convince myself that I'm not completely at fault, that I did try to build a relationship with my sons. They came around with me and the Starjammers for a while and we went to Alaska to see my folks. But the former turned into a constant reminder of what was lost, rather than what could be gained. And the latter was overshadowed by what Madelyne, damned shadow-of-a-woman, turned out to be.
Alex and Scott have seen the pictures, have tried to draw a correlation between the photos and their own vague memories. I've tried to tell them the stories behind the pictures, to give my side as well as Kate's. But it's hard. I'm not a casual story-telling kinda guy and the boys... the boys were too eager for information. They didn't just want the stories, they needed them to complete the visions of the ghost family they both had in their heads.
But while the three of us got a good chuckle out of the picture of Scott feeding Alex a tube of toothpaste and the movie of Alex chasing his brother around the backyard with a stickball bat, I haven't had the courage to tell the other stories. The stories of how Kate used to get angry with me for leading the squadron in flight time when I had two young sons at home. Or how both of the boys were always wildly happy to see me not because I was such a great father, but instead because I was like a favorite uncle, someone who came around every once in a while and took them out for ice cream sundaes two hours before dinner.
I should have told them, they were both old enough to understand and deserved to know. But I didn't. I thought it was better for them if they didn't know that Major Chris Summers was no Ward Cleaver, that the whole reason we went on that ill-fated vacation was because Kate said that if we didn't spend some family time together, she was taking the boys and moving to her mother's. Kate and I loved each other so much, but I loved flying, too, and Kate could never understand that without the second, I couldn't best appreciate the first.
Because if I had said anything about that, I would have been bursting those dream balloons. And I've caused my sons enough pain. So it was better to let them think I'm just a macho, insensitive sonuvabitch. Because then, at least in their pretend worlds, I'm a good father.
I have my dream world, too. That maybe, had we returned from our vacation without incident, I would have taken to heart those long talks Kate and I had had. That I would have spent less time with the planes and more time with the boys (or, more likely, I would have taken the boys to the planes). In my head, the images I have of the boys are just that - of the boys, whom I knew so well. Not the men they became, whom I struggled to understand. That's why I forgot whether it was Scott or Alex who did the fire thing. Alex was terribly pyrophobic as a kid.
I think Scott understands a little bit of that now, after tonight. At least he understands that I care, no matter what I may do or say. Alex... I don't know if Alex ever understood. And despite Scott's pleadings, I can't bring myself to hope that I'll get the chance. Alex was always less patient than his brother, even as a kid. Alex always had cuts on his forehead because he was so busy trying to run before he had learned how to walk. He'd have taken longer to understand, which is precisely why I ended up with less time to talk to him. Life's a bitch like that.
But I've got Scott here, now, again. And if I can get it right - or at least something approaching right - with him this time, then it'll be a start. Because if Scott and I can make things better, Scott won't feel so miserable about Nathan. And I can tell in the way he talks about Nathan just how much that would mean to him. Especially after this whole Apocalypse thing.
I've got Scott here, now, again. For how long, I don't know. We might piss each other off again this weekend - check that, we will piss each other off again this weekend - except we might not be able to fix it without going off and sulking until our better halves browbeat us into calling the other. On the other hand, we might do so well that Scott convinces me to go with him and Jean up to Alaska to visit my folks. Jean warned me he was going to ask.
But at the moment, I will take what I can get. Which is my only surviving son, head in my lap, sleeping peacefully. And me, with a moment of grace in a life of fatherhood that has deserved very little of it.
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l take what I can get. Which is my only surviving son, head in my lap, sleeping peacefully. And me, with a moment of grace in a life of fatherhood that has deserved very little of it.