They all belong to Marvel. No money. Don't sue.
This is a prequel to Tombstone, but can certainly be read on its own. Any archivists who have "Tombstone," I'd prefer you put this story after that one, even though the events chronologically happen prior to it.
Comments to Kayleesama@aol.com.
X's on posterboard.
That's what they'd remember afterwards. X's on posterboard. Wavering lines drawn as steady as trembling hands could make them marking the days as they passed, one by one by one.
It had been Jubilee's idea; the calendar. She'd gone into his room, all brash confidence and patently false invulnerability, and she'd come out with silent tears tracking down her youthful face. Scott had expected her to seek solitude as she did so often when the pain of reality got to be too much...to go off alone, where Logan would doubtless find her sooner or later and give her the emotional outlet she'd never admit she needed.
But instead she'd come to him -- an orphan to an orphan -- and she'd sat down silently across from his chair in the study, all mischief and sarcasm missing from those delicately slanted amber eyes.
And she'd said, "We need to get him a calendar."
"Why?" he'd asked. It seemed to him at the time that Charles wouldn't want a reminder of the passing days. It would only serve as a cruel, taunting image to enforce upon his mind every sunset what Scott himself knew down to the core:
One more day gone. One more day that they'd never get back.
One less day.
"He wants to make it 'til Christmas," she'd answered in a hoarse voice. "It's...it's his goal. He doesn't want everyone cryin' over the holidays. He just wants--" Her voice had choked off with a sob. Furiously, she'd chased it back down in her throat. "He just wants to live three more weeks. We gotta give him somethin' to keep track of the days."
Scott hadn't wanted to. The thought of watching the days get marked off -- get marked away -- closed an ungentle hand around his chest until his heart thud-thudded in pained rebellion. Of all the trials he'd faced in this life, this was the one he knew he couldn't confront.
But when Jubilee came up to him the next day with a plain white posterboard carefully magicked into a calendar with the help of red and green markers, Scott found himself nodding ever-so-slightly and saying in a quiet voice-- "It's perfect."
X's on posterboard. Every day someone would help the Professor sit up unsteadily in bed. The calendar would be brought. A thick magic marker would be uncapped, then carefully pressed into one shaking, twitching hand. With studied slowness the Professor would press the tip of the marker against the poster, dragging a slow, slow line diagonally across the day's square, frowning in frustration as every uncontrollable jerk of the hand marred the smoothness of the line. Then the other way, unsteady, painstaking. The alcohol stench of the marker would permeate the room. The scratchy squeak of the implement against posterboard would be heard over the labored breaths of the dying man.
And then the X would be complete for another day, and the Professor would lie back, gasping, staring at the mark and counting through a drug haze how many more marks would have to come before Christmas.
A week and a half shy of the day, Hank pulled Scott aside and spoke in the quiet tones reserved for doctors and librarians. The deep and melodic voice caught once as the man spoke. He didn't say much -- for once the effusive words didn't flow. Instead he answered the unvoiced question simply and directly.
Christmas was out of reach.
X's on posterboard. Too many. Not nearly enough. Black crossing cheery red and green. Christmas a mere hop down and over on the calendar.
Out of reach.
Scott took to spending most of his time in the Professor's room. Hank showed him how to handle the morphine pump...which IV medicine was given for nausea...how to support his body when he threw up bile...how to clean the bedpan...how to bathe the man. All the things some part of Scott had always seen as demeaning -- as something that robbed a man of dignity and pride -- he now saw as the greatest service one person could do for another.
It was easy to be there when the going was good. It was easy to be available when threat loomed on the horizon.
It was so very, very hard to walk beside a person whose journey would only go one way, and with whom he could only walk so far...
...counting the days with crooked X's on posterboard, and witnessing the miracle as a determined spirit propelled a dying body onward...if only to draw the next X.
The morning came at last. Scott knew there wouldn't be another. Yet somehow he kept his voice steady...kept his hands from trembling when he carried the calendar and the magic marker over to the bed. It took three efforts to wake the Professor. On the third, he opened his eyes and blinked dazedly at the ceiling for long minutes.
"Another day, sir," Scott managed eventually. "A special day. Here...let me put your head up..."
The quiet whir of machinery as the top of the bed pushed upwards. Oxygen hissed with its rhythmic whisper.
"Professor...can you see what day it is?"
Eyes fixed blearily on him, then blinked once and slowly focused on the posterboard. A violently shaking hand lifted to press at X after X after X, counting. Scott tightened his jaw, feeling the burn in his throat, and made himself nod once as the man's eyes again shifted to his ruby-shielded ones.
A tear slipped down the Professor's cheek. A smile stretched across his lips -- unfettered and peaceful.
"I did it," he whispered.
Scott couldn't manage words. He only nodded again, then gently placed the marker in the unsteady hand. The Professor was trembling too much to draw the X, so Scott closed his own strong fingers over the other's and guided one steady line...two... In hardly any time at all, December 25th was clearly crossed off.
As if that released him somehow, the Professor sagged back with a sigh that came from deep within tumor-ridden lungs. Scott stood and took the marker from his hand. With methodical motions he returned calendar and marker to their proper places, listening with every ounce of his attention as oxygen-aided breathing slowed, slowed, slowed...
If it hadn't been for the drugs -- if it hadn't been for the confusion caused by that -- he never could have managed it. Had much of the Professor's awareness not been subdued beneath massive quantities of morphine, the man would have instantly seen, instantly been aware.
He would have noticed that for every X he drew, another was drawn by a different hand.
Scott returned to his bedside and took a cold palm between his, watching the withered chest rise and fall in a decelerating rhythm. The man's life had been spent fighting for a goal that was never -- yet -- achieved. In so many ways, despite all he'd accomplished, Charles Xavier had thought himself a failure.
But not in this final, grueling battle. Not when his strength of will had carried him on long past the time medical knowledge allowed him. With X's on a posterboard, he'd made it through until Christmas. He'd won.
Christmas. December 20.
Christmas came early this year.
continued in To Guard A Gate
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