Scott put down the telephone, his mind spinning with what the Professor had told him. Jean was alive... alive again. Jean, who'd been that irritating, smugly confident red haired girl that had been taking the Professor away from him when they'd first gone to the school. Jean, who'd been awkward and gangly along with him, though he'd thought she'd handled it so much better, with humor rather than the painful shame he'd felt every time he'd tripped over his feet or his voice had cracked when he'd worried. Jean, the first girl that he'd really known that he'd had a crush on - a fascination with Marilyn Monroe didn't really count, damn it! The first girl he'd dated for more than a month, the first girl he'd seriously considered marrying.
Jean who had died to save them all. He'd barely been able to stand up during her funeral.
Jean was alive again.
And the Professor had asked him to come back to New York. Back to the team. Back to Jean Grey. Talked about old friends reunited, and the familiar teamwork and connections coming into play once more.
Scott Summers was stunned.
For a moment after hanging up the phone, he just sat there, his mind spinning in circles. Jean was alive again - how could that be possible? Jean was alive again and the Professor wanted him to go back to them, back to Jean. Jean was alive again, things could go back to how they'd been before.
He could go back to New York, back to being an active X-Man, back to Jean. It was what the Professor wanted, what the Professor had hinted that Jean wanted.
Except... except that it couldn't go back to exactly the way it had been. Things had changed. He had changed, hadn't he? Grief, and a real job and... Nothing would ever be the same as it had been before.
If he hadn't already been sitting down, he would have collapsed. He was married and a father now. Married, and not to Jean. Going back to Jean would mean leaving Maddie. Leaving his wife, leaving his son who couldn't even walk yet.
His mind spun in circles, comparing Jean and Maddie. Comparing his quiet life here in Anchorage with the excitement of Westchester. Compared seeing the world with a quiet job, returning to a small home every night. Comparing life as Cyclops of the X-Men to life as Scott Summers, husband of Maddie. Jean had been so many firsts for him. At one time, he'd wanted her to be his everything.
Maddie had wanted them to build a life away from the X-Men. A life as Scott and Maddie, not a life as Cyclops of the X-Men and his not-a-mutant fiancé. She wouldn't want to go back to New York, especially not back to a place where his no longer dead former girlfriend was staying. The dead girlfriend Maddie knew that Scott had loved, that Maddie feared Scott compared her to every day.
If he went back to Westchester, it would be alone. It would mean leaving Maddie, leaving Nathan Christopher. Leaving everything here to return to the past.
A part of him wondered if it might be worth it, to be with Jean again.
Glancing around, he realized that Maddie had left the room, taking Nathan Christopher with her. He didn't know how long ago she'd left the room. Didn't know how long ago he'd hung up the phone.
"If I go back, it would be alone." The words sounded worse when he spoke them out loud. He didn't know why they sounded worse, harsher. Almost ugly.
Why did the words sound so ugly?
Scott pondered for a few moments. "Going back would mean leaving Maddie and Nathan Christopher. Leaving my wife and son."
Yes, the words sounded awful spoken.
If it wasn't him going back, how would he react to hearing about someone making the same choice? Hearing about a man abandoning his wife and their child who hadn't even reached a year old? Abandoning his wife and infant to go back to an old girlfriend?
Scott winced, knowing that he'd think very poorly of anyone else doing such a thing. A wife meant a marriage, meant promising to stay together and build a future. Promising to forsake all others. An infant made them a family, meant there was a helpless someone counting on their parents to take care of them in all ways. Meant the start of something new.
He hadn’t promised forsaking all others except Jean Grey.
"I'd think some other man abandoning a wife and infant son in favor of their old girlfriend was an ass. A selfish, obnoxious jerk who didn't deserve to have a family, who shouldn't inflict their issues on the rest of the world and definitely not on the next generation." These words were equally harsh. Equally true.
The Professor had wanted him to come back and be a leader, a teacher for the next group of students.
"How would I be able to lead and teach, to be a good example if I could do something like that? And if I then talked about the need for loyalty..." Scott shuddered, imagining the hypocrisy of such behavior.
Loyalty was important. Trust was important. Promises were important, and meant to be kept.
"A real man keeps the important promises. Marriage is an important promise," Scott whispered, feeling remarkably like he was tip-toeing through a mine field.
He couldn't leave Maddie. Not if he still wanted to call himself a man, to claim any shred of honor, to be able to face himself in the mirror.
"Maddie doesn't deserve to be abandoned," Scott whispered into the dark house.
He doubted she deserved a selfish man like himself either. A man who constantly compared her to someone else, even if only in his head. A man who'd actually considered leaving her, not out of any failing on Maddie's part, but just to chase after dreams of yesterday and what might have been's.
"She deserves a better man." Scott felt his eyes burning, and tried to fight back the tears. Maddie might deserve a better man, but he didn't want to give her up. He enjoyed time with her, enjoyed the way she looked to him for so many things...
"I have been such a selfish ass..." Scott rubbed at his temple, not seeing the walls, not seeing the furniture. "Maybe I'm being just as selfish if I stay as if I go."
"But I made a promise to Maddie. To be here for her, to be her husband. To forsake all others, even Jean. Even if Jean isn't dead anymore." Scott stood up from his chair and made his way to bed.
Maybe he wasn't as good a man as Maddie deserved. He'd have to try to be a better man.
But he wouldn't become that hypocritical abandoning bastard.
end part 1.
The next morning, Scott Summers made what might have been the most difficult phone call of his life. He called the School, the place that had been home. Called the Professor to tell him ‘no’. He couldn't remember the last time he'd seriously disagreed with something the Professor wanted when it was important. Debates over 'real music’ and good dinner choices were common, but important matters? He couldn't think of... no, it had been when he'd left the team to start a family with Maddie.
He was just so glad that Maddie and Nathan Christopher weren't there right now. She’d felt guilty that their marriage had caused so much friction. If that had come up in the discussion – staying because of Maddie and Nathan would make it sound like they were obligations. Claiming that he wasn’t staying because of them would make them sound insignificant. Neither word should be anywhere near describing his wife or son.
His tongue felt thick and heavy as he gave the numb greeting, one that he was sure he managed out of habit.
"And when will you be returning, Scott? I can have Hank or perhaps Bobby pick you up at the airport," the Professor asked.
"I'm not coming back, Professor," Scott tried not to sound like he was apologizing. Tried not to sound like the scared, confused teenager that he'd been when the Professor had found him.
"But... but why not come back to the school, to the team? Back to Jean and how things used to be?" The Professor sounded honestly confused.
"Professor, I'm a married man. I promised Maddie that we'd build a future together, and we've started on that future. We have jobs, have a house, and a son. I can't just drop everything and leave. I can't abandon my wife, my son." Scott tried to explain.
"But what about the team? What about Jean? I know how important she was to you," the Professor spoke again.
"I'm astonished that Jean is alive again... that still sounds so impossibly weird. It's wonderful, and shocking, and I'm happy for her. But I am married, and not to Jean." Perhaps the words would be a good reminder for himself as well. "I will not break my marriage vows. I will not abandon my wife and son, leaving the state to run back to my ex-girlfriend."
"I didn't ask you to abandon your wife," The Professor objected.
"You did. Maddie and I left Westchester to make a life for ourselves, and we have that here. She wasn't happy there, we weren't happy as a couple there." The more Scott spoke of how it had been the more he realized that Maddie had blossomed away from the X-Men. The more he realized how much going back would kill Maddie by inches, even without the constant comparisons to Jean. Inevitable comparisons, especially if they were both there.
"Maddie and I have been building a life here. She doesn't want to leave that, and I won't leave her." Scott took a breath, counting to ten before adding, "Besides, how could I teach about loyalty and keeping promises if I broke such an important one as my wedding vows?"
"I'd never imagined that you wouldn't come back, Scott." The words were soft, almost regretful.
"And I thought you wanted us to be people who kept our word, people who could live our lives without shame. I'm glad for Jean, but my time there is over. Goodbye, Professor," Scott hung up the phone and hoped that the regret was real, or perhaps all in Scott's head. That it wasn't just another strategy to make him change his mind and go back to Westchester.
That the Professor wouldn't try to manipulate him. That Professor Charles Xavier was a man of too much moral and ethical integrity to try to manipulate someone into abandoning their spouse and child to follow someone else's dream. Even if it was a good dream, for a better future.
He also hoped that he could keep being the man who kept his promises, the man who stayed with his wife and son.
A man he could face in the mirror, even if only with his glasses on and everything tinted red.
Scott also hoped that he could keep fighting the temptation to go back to Jean and all the memories and could-be's that went with her.
end part 2.
Scott wished that the small expression of surprise on Maddie's face when she returned home and he was still there hadn't hurt as much. Or that he had been more surprised. That he didn't feel like he deserved her quickly concealed surprise or the way it reminded him so much of sharp claws digging into his stomach and twisting. A small part wondered just what could be so appealing about his past, when it was that same past that gave him the knowledge of exactly how it felt to have claws tearing at his insides.
"I'm not going back to Westchester," he offered.
"Even though Jean isn't dead anymore?" Maddie's words were soft, and the surprise clear.
"As shocking as it is that she's alive, I'm staying here," Scott reached out, one hand resting on her arm as he took Nathan with the other. "With you, with Nathan. We have a life, a family. A life where nobody's shooting at us, nobody cares what twists of genetics we have, and where we can just be Scott and Maddie and Nathan, where we can try to be happy."
Maddie managed a small smile, "I thought we were doing a good job of that."
Scott wanted to believe her. Just like he'd wanted the look of surprise when he'd still been here to be a painful surprise instead of something that hadn't surprised him at all, despite the way it had hurt. Hurt because it had matched so well with his own guilty self-reflections. But they had been starting a good life here, even if it wasn't perfect.
Pulling Maddie close, he breathed in the scents of his wife and child and the hints of the outdoors, and sighed, "Life is never quite as smooth and perfect as the movies. We need to work to get what we want."
Just like he needed to work at being a good man and a good husband. He hoped it would be easier to be a good father.
"I'm willing to work for the future that I want," Maddie's words held an odd weight to them, as if this had been on her mind for quite a while. "Even if it isn't quite what I'd planned, or what I expected. I will make it become a future I can live with."
Scott dismissed the chill those words gave him as a side effect of being in Alaska.
"Maddie?" He didn't know what to say, what to ask.
"I can't teach Nathan everything he needs to know. And I'd wanted a big family," Maddie might have been blushing. "I certainly can't do that on my own, now can I?"
Maybe it wouldn't be so bad that it took work to be a good man. And if he kept at it, maybe it wouldn't always be so difficult. Maybe it would stop being an effort and become habit to be a good man, the sort of husband that Maddie deserved. The sort of father that Nathan deserved.
"Destiny can find someone else," Maddie murmured.
Scott decided not to ask. He had a family to focus on instead.
end part 3.
end Promises Kept.