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Lives and Fortunes - Chapter 2
The living room in the main house at the Outpost was large and inviting. It had a two-story ceiling, a wood-burning fireplace along one wall, and a picture window along another. An oak table near the picture window was used for meetings, and occasionally for meals, when some of the residents grew tired of the dining hall and wanted to eat in smaller groups. Couches and arm chairs were scattered about, allowing for several groups of people to sit and talk simultaneously. There were lamps in several of the sitting areas, well placed for reading, but the main light was supplied by three rows of halogen track lights, 20 feet above the floor.
Jean-Paul Beaubier was hovering near the ceiling, a messenger bag slung over one shoulder. He had a flashlight in one hand, pointed at the lighting track closest to the outer wall. He was changing light bulbs.

Wendy Ringsmith walked into the room and looked at him. “How’s it going?”

“Almost done,” he replied. “Two more,” he added gesturing with a light bulb as he flew over to the last track and started unfastening the spent bulbs.

“Good, I’ll bring in tea. And brownies?”

“Oui. Definitely brownies.”

When she returned with the tray, Jean-Paul was done. He had landed and was flipping the light switches to make sure the bulbs were all functional. Wendy and Jean-Paul both looked up and smiled. “Thanks,” she said. “It was getting kind of dark in here.”

He chuckled. “Did you think I was going to live here forever when you designed the lighting in this room? You knew I was seconded here on a temporary assignment. It seems bad planning to have lighting that requires a flying mutant to change the bulbs. Not up to your usual design standards – between you and Arthur, you always think of everything.”

“I thought we did think of everything. I was planning on changing them telekinetically. The ceiling is well within my reach, but those latches on the bulbs are tricky. I can never remember how to open them and I can’t really see them well enough from down here to figure it out.” She looked up again and then at Jean-Paul. “Well, you’re not the only flying mutant in the world. I suppose if you don’t visit often enough we’ll have to recruit another to live here. Or recruit someone with superhuman vision to look at them close up and tell me what to do.”

“You could get a taller ladder.”

“I suppose. Anyway, you’re here now and I thank you. With tea and brownies,” she added, putting the tray down on a table in a corner of the room, with two armchairs next to it.
They sat down and she poured the tea. Jean-Paul sighed happily. “It is so good to be on vacation,” he said.

Wendy laughed. “Some vacation. So far you’ve fixed the water heater, tore your hair out trying to fix the mess that is Arthur’s attempt at bookkeeping, and changed diapers on I don’t know how many babies and toddlers – which I would think is a bit hard to go back to now that Ezra is toilet trained. And now that the Outpost kids are all in bed and there are no more diapers to change, you’re changing light bulbs instead. I’m glad you decided to spend Spring Break with us, but it doesn’t seem like much of a vacation to me.”

“I’m happy to do all that. It feels like vacation to me. And Adam and I will get some more traditional vacation time after he arrives. Thanks for agreeing to take Ezra while we’re off at the inn.”

“Arthur and I owe you for all the times you took care of April to give us some privacy.” She smiled. “It’s a great place. I think you’ll love the Hillcrest Inn. Beautiful setting, lovingly restored and furnished, great big beds. We felt like honeymooners again.”

“The Hillcrest – it’s gay friendly?”

“And mutant friendly. Not that easy to find in the prairie provinces.”

“Thank you for finding it then, as well as for babysitting.”

“I’m glad to do it. Particularly since I’m making you work for your time off.”

“This feels like time off, too, bien sur. A change is as good as a rest. And I needed a change.”

“I suppose it’s a bit of a relief – no combat involved, other than battling Arthur’s books.”

“Oh that’s not the part that I need a vacation from. I’m used to combat missions. Not so different with the X-Men from when I was with Alpha Flight. It’s teaching high school that I want to escape.” He shook his head. “I don’t know why I let Scott Summers talk me into that.”

“He can be very persuasive.”

“Oui. He is so like Charles Xavier that way. I don’t know how many times I’ve gone into that office determined to listen politely and then say ‘no’ - and then an hour later I’m leaving having agreed to do whatever he asked.” He took a sip of tea. “The only difference is, when Professor X talked me into something, I always had the sneaking suspicion I got convinced through mind control.”

She laughed at that. “So how bad could teaching French be? You’re a balanced bilingual – they’re lucky to have you.”

“That’s what Scott says. Every time I want to just chuck it, he tells me how lucky they are to have someone fluent in both French and English. But fluency isn’t enough. Talking isn’t teaching.”

“You taught Oliver when he was here.”

“That was different. It was just conversation and reading together, not lesson plans and lectures and trying to keep a disciplined class when kids are talking and giggling. And half the time I’m sure they’re talking about me and laughing at how incompetent I am at this. It leaves me feeling like a complete imbecile. Bien sur, I’d rather be in combat.”

Wendy laughed at that. “Assaults on your body easier to take than assaults on your pride?”

Jean-Paul nodded solemnly. “I’m sure it will get easier as you get used to it,” she said.

“That’s what Cyclops says – that that’s just what teaching is like. Everyone wants to give up half-way through their first year, but the second year goes much smoother. I don’t know - maybe he’s right. I’m just not sure I’ll survive until then. I was so glad when we got to the end of the first semester. And totally dreaded going back after the New Year.”

“Why didn’t you go on vacation over Christmas break?”

“Too busy. That’s when Scott schedules all the non-urgent X-Men missions, since we’re all available for a couple of weeks with the school closed.”

“He really is a slave driver.”

“He’s his father’s son.” Jean-Paul thought for a minute. “With both of them – Charles then and Scott now – it would be a lot harder to take if not for the fact that whatever demands he makes on staff, he’s doing as much and then some. I don’t know when – or if – Cyclops sleeps.”

“He hasn’t named a new Field Leader?”

“No, and it looks like he won’t. Storm has taken over the X-Men training program – although Cyclops often shows up and trains with us, anyway. And Jean’s taken over a lot of the school administration, although Scott certainly keeps his hand in there, too, particularly now that she’s on maternity leave. Warren’s taking the lead on the Foundation business. But Scott’s leading as many missions as he used to. Maybe more. A whole lot are missions for the U.S. government. That’s a big change.”

“Sounds like a change you don’t like.”

He shrugged. “The X-Men used to be really independent.”

“Aren’t they still?”

“Yes, I suppose. It’s not like when I worked for Alpha Flight – we were part of the Canadian government. The X-Men were always Charles’s private army, and now Scott’s. But more and more what he’s taking on is under a request from Washington.”

“That started while Professor X was still alive, right?”

“Yeah, Adam and I always figured that’s part of how he got a lot of the legal restrictions on mutants repealed – developing this close relationship with the president. Obama was motivated to make the changes he could do on his own by executive order and to put pressure on Congress for the ones he couldn’t. Scott seems to have picked right up with that. He’s got some kind of arrangement with Obama, I think. It seems like half the missions we do are for the White House.”

“You can’t talk about them, I suppose?”

“No, sorry. The details have to remain confidential. But it’s not a secret that it’s happening. It’s all over the news, the X-Men/Obama connection. With various spins depending on who’s reporting.”

“Yeah, Fox News is having a field day. ‘Palling around with mutants’ – they make us sound so sinister.” She paused a minute. “What’s your old flame saying about the X-Men and the White House in his paper?”

“He’s not an old flame.” Jean-Paul’s sour expression matched his tone. “I picked Rick Kapell up in a bar and spent one night with him. I haven’t seen or spoken to him in months. Not since Adam and I got back together. And believe me, I don’t read the Washington Times so I don’t know what he’s saying or whether he’s even still there.”

Wendy concluded this was a sore point and didn’t press him. She changed the subject. “I saw a great picture of Scott and the President in the paper the other day, at that dinner honoring the poet laureate. He looked so good all dressed up.”

“Which one?”

“Well, both of them, I guess. I wouldn’t kick either of them out of bed,” she added, garnering raised eyebrows from Jean-Paul. She ignored that and continued. “But I meant Scott. It seems weird to me, still. I pick up my morning paper and start reading it as I drink my coffee and suddenly I’m staring at someone I know – someone who lived here for a while – at an official White House event.”

“Get used to it. Scott’s at official events often enough these days – and, as to the less official ones, he’s got special permission to land the Blackbird on the White House lawn just so he can get there in a hurry when he’s called.”

“He should get you to take him if he needs to get there in a real hurry.”

“He has, when it’s really urgent.”

“But you get what I mean about it being strange? The X-Men have always been out of the spotlight, trying to work quietly and independently, and then first Charles in his last year or so and now Scott after his death with such a public presence.”

“Well, the missions are still secret, and the school is still off-limits to reporters. And Scott doesn’t give interviews.”

“I bet there are plenty of requests for them.”

“Yeah, but Rogue has standing orders to say he doesn’t talk to the press.”

“Is it because of Logan, do you think?”

“No, I don’t think so. They’re not closeted. Not exactly. It’s not a secret that Scott’s gay or that Logan’s his lover. I just think he’s trying to carve out some private space for himself while his work becomes more and more public. He’s in the news as Field Leader of the X-Men and informal advisor to the President, but his private life – and especially the school and the kids’ private lives – remains off-limits.”

“And he’s doing all that and still teaching, too?”

“Yeah, not as many classes as he used to, and he needs subs more often, but he won’t give it up.”

“Do you think he should?”

“I don’t know. Something’s got to give, though. I don’t think he can keep up like this indefinitely. Cyclops has always been driven, but since Professor X’s death he seems to have gone into overdrive or something. He’s constantly working – the team, the school, the Foundation, political work. He just doesn’t stop.”

“And expects the same of the whole team?”

“Oui. And vraiment, that’s okay with me. I may complain to you, but I’m happy to do what I can. So is Adam.”

“He’s still working for the X-Men on the side?” Jean-Paul nodded. “Is that what’s keeping him in New York until tomorrow?”

“No, this time it’s not X-Men business. He’s speaking at a panel discussion. At the 92d Street Y.”

“What’s the topic?”

“Intermarriage. I guess he’s Exhibit A.”

Wendy laughed, then stopped and thought. “What kind of intermarriage? Mutant/Normal? Or Jewish/Christian?”

“Jew/Gentile. It’s a Jewish Y – YMHA. Although I’m sure the mutant angle will come up, too. And the gay dad thing, no doubt.”

“Well there’s an angle where you’re not intermarried!” Wendy said brightly.

Jean-Paul’s expression showed the joke had fallen flat. “I wish he wouldn’t do this kind of thing. He sees it as increasing understanding, but basically I think it’s likely to be two hours of people sneering at us.”

“Is it a hostile group? Really?”

“Not necessarily. And anyway, not all of them. Miriam will be in the audience and she’s our biggest defender.”

“Next to me, that is.”

“Sometimes I think Adam just reconciled with me to get the two of you off his back.”

“You don’t really believe that, do you?”

“No, of course not. He finally realized what we had was too good to give up. I knew it all along, although I was pretty close to giving up anyway, bien sur. Particularly when he was spending all that time with Jake Patterson.” He shook his head. “I still can’t stand to hear that name.”

“Do you hear it much?”

Jean-Paul smiled sheepishly. “Mostly coming out of my mouth,” he admitted. “But I’m really working on getting over this, this time. I know things fell apart between us because I couldn’t before.”

“It’s hard, isn’t it?”

“Oui. Very hard. But not getting over it proved to be harder in the long run.” He thought for a minute. “Did Arthur ever cheat on you?” And then, quickly. “Or is that too personal to ask?”

“Please. With all you and I know about each other I can’t imagine there’s anything you could ask that would be too personal.” She smiled. “But why ask about Arthur and not me?”

Eyebrows raised again. “Okay, have either of you cheated?”

“No, not since we decided to get married.”

“That’s a lot of years.”

“Yeah, it is. And I’m glad we haven’t had to deal with that. I know how hard it has been for you; I’m happy you guys seem to be over it. But you know – I think with Arthur and me it’s at least partly luck, or circumstances or something. We’re almost always together; that’s how it’s been for years with us. We live together; we work together. We wear wedding rings, so anyone who meets us when we happen to be apart knows we’re married. We never encounter anyone who doesn’t think of us as a couple. It sets a kind of expectation. I would like to think that we’d both be immune to the charms of a straight equivalent of Jake Patterson under circumstances like Adam encountered him, but I’m not so sure.”

“Yeah, I know. Adam was forced into a position where he seemed to be unattached – forced by my refusal to come along. Plus he was mad at me and drinking and feeling lousy about himself.”

“It was kind of an accident waiting to happen.”

Jean-Paul nodded. “I know that now. If ever there were a circumstance in which Adam was going to cheat on me, that was it. I still wish he hadn’t.”

“But you can forgive him one mistake?”

Jean-Paul nodded. “I have to, for us to stay together. And that’s what I want, more than anything.”

“Good. If you’ve got to hate on someone for it, blame Jake.”

“I’d like to – I did – but it was hardly his fault. Why shouldn’t he hit on an attractive man he meets at a convention? And between Adam and me – there was plenty of fault to go around that our relationship got to that point. So hating Jake wasn’t really getting me anywhere anyway.” He sighed. “Adam has seen him – professionally, not personally – a few times. Their paths were bound to cross occasionally. And he’s very careful to tell me any time they do. I believe there’s nothing going on between them. See, I even left Adam alone in New York with Jake there.”

“I thought he lives in San Francisco.”

“He did. He’s back in school, in New York, getting a master’s in journalism. At Columbia.”

“Adam’s alma mater?”

“Yes, and Adam just started as an adjunct there now, too.”

“I didn’t know that. Good for him! I bet he’s a great teacher. He’s got so many stories to tell.”

“Yeah – journalism students love the war stories.”

“Is Jake one of his students?”

“No, not yet anyway. But they run into each other.”

“I guess they’d have to. But you know you can trust Adam.”

“I do. I do trust him. And I’m so glad he’ll be here tomorrow. I’ll even try to be supportive about this panel thing. Maybe he is managing to increase understanding.” The phone next to Wendy rang. Jean-Paul looked at the caller id. “It’s Xavier’s. If that’s Cyclops, come up with some excuse for why I can’t talk. Or at least find out what it’s about before you let him talk to me. With my luck, he’ll talk me into coming back just as Adam gets here. And then we’ll never get to that inn.”

“Hi, Scott,” she said. “Yes, he’s here but no, you can’t talk to him.” She smiled at Jean-Paul as she continued. “I know you. You’ll just convince him to go on some mission or take on some school-related assignment. Jean-Paul’s on vacation. Nobody gets to make him work but me and Arthur. Tell me what you want him to do and I’ll take it under advisement.” And then her smile disappeared. “I’m sorry, Scott. Yes, of course.” Jean-Paul watched, worried, as she passed the phone to him, saying “You’d better talk to him. Something awful happened.”

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