"You should come," said Charles. "Listen to Jean speak."
Erik sipped his coffee. "I've been to Senate hearings before, Charles. We both know how it will go. Jean will say some sensible things to which Kelly will reply that none of that matters because Mutants are dangerous, which, of course, he's quite right – Charles?"
Charles' smile had slipped, and he sat rigid, no longer seeing Erik. After a couple of seconds, he took out his cell phone and dialed an international number (UK code) that he knew be heart but did not have on speed dial. As the phone rang, he looked at Erik and made a little gesture for him to wait.
Charles got voicemail, tried another number, gave up after ten rings. Then, he speed dialed 8 and left a message:
"Gabby, it's Charles. Please give me a call right away; it might be important. Thanks."
He gave Erik grave look.
"David?" Erik knew Charles rarely talked to Gabrielle about anything other than their son, a strong enough telepath that Erik well believed Charles might feel him from the other side of the world. Moreover, if there was a problem with David, it would require an urgent response. His power was potentially devastating (precisely the sort of thing Kelly brought up in defense of Mutant registration).
"Maybe. Excuse me." He speed dialed 7, which Erik happened to know was Moira, though he couldn't recall where he'd gleaned that piece of information. Moira picked up. Charles asked her if David was in his room at Muir Island.
"No, I've tried his flat…." His phone beeped. "Hang on. I've got another call." He switched over. "Gabby, have you talked to David today…? Was he home for the night…? Yes, there might be…. I've tried his flat and his mobile…. Can you get over to his flat right away…? And call an ambulance… just to be on the safe side…. Yes, call me when you get there. Thanks."
Erik waved over the waiter and thrust a couple of twenties at him. "Keep the change."
"Oh, thanks! You guys have a nice day."
They'd intended to part ways after lunch, but under the circumstances, Erik decided to drive back to the school with Charles. Halfway there, Charles' phone rang. He pulled off on the shoulder to answer it – abruptly enough for the car behind to honk.
Erik could hear her voice on the other end, talking at some length.
"I suppose it was." Charles listened a little more. "I'll make travel plans as soon as I'm home…. Yes. I'll be there soon…."
He closed the phone and squeezed his eyes shut. For several seconds, the sound of his breathing, thick and harsh, filled the car. When Erik pressed his hand, he looked up him as if coming out of a trance. "David shot himself," he said.
A week later, Erik received a letter via one of his P.O. boxes. The envelope contained a brief note in Charles' hand and a photocopy of another handwritten letter.
The note said:
I don't know why I'm sending you a copy of this. Yes, I do: you're my friend, and I want you to see it.
The letter read:
Dear Mum and Dad,
By the time you read this, you'll know I've killed myself. That isn't a sad thing. I'm really quite relieved about it, and I'm not doing it because I'm feeling particularly bad. On the contrary, I'm doing it because I'm feeling well enough right now to be able to sit down and think fairly cogently about my life, and this is what I come up with:
I'm 42 years old, and ever since I first had that mental break when I was 5, every day of my life has been a struggle. You both know that, but maybe as you read this, you need to hear me say it. I've spent my whole life in one of three states of being: 1) shut up in a telepathically sealed room at Muir Island in isolation from face-to-face contact with other human beings, 2) drugged up to my eyeballs and trying to wander around and function while more than half asleep, or 3) (thankfully rarely) in the unfortunate happenstance of encountering other people in the raw, sucking up their brains and powers and having no damn clue who I am or what I'm doing – which has generally been wreaking havoc on everything and anything in the vicinity.
Now, Mum, you'll be saying, 'But it's gotten so much better over the past five years'. Yes. Yes, it has. Moira came up with a much better treatment regimen, and I've managed to be a lot more alert while still having my powers mostly damped. And if that sort of treatment had been available when I was 10 or 20, maybe I would pulled a decent quality of life out it.
But the fact is I'm tired. And these drugs won't work forever; it's always just a matter of time until I've built up a resistance. So while I'm actually awake enough to have some coherent sense of who I am and how I want to live, I need to make a decision. And I've decided that this is the time to go, on the upswing rather than the
I want you both to know you didn't fail me. Mum, you are possibly the best mother in the history of the world. Sure, that's hyperbole, but I don't know how else to express it. It's tricky enough to be a single, working mother, all the more when your career is demanding, and all the more if your child is mentally ill – and when he's liable to kill people just by standing around on the same street block with them, well, most parents would have run screaming. But you have stood by me for all of my life. There's rarely been a day we didn't at least talk on the phone. Everything that could humanly be done for me, you have done. I would say you are my best friend, but I don't think we're far enough apart for that. You are an integral piece of my awareness of who I am and what the world is. I rely on you like I rely on oxygen. Maybe that's an elaborate way of saying we never cut the apron strings, but given what we had to go on, we've managed well, I think.
Dad, you have so much irrational guilt over me that it would be funny if it didn't make it so very painful for us to be anywhere near each other's minds, even when I'm on the drugs. So for the record, let me state:
First, my powers are not your fault. Intellectually you know this. Emotionally, you probably never will, but I'm going to say it anyway.
Second, we both know you love Jean and Scott and Ororo more than me. You are prouder of them. You are closer to them. (Mum, this is honesty among telepaths, but you know that.) Dad, it's OK. You have more to be proud of them for. You are able to be closer to them. But you have always been there for me. You have put your intellect and resources into finding me the best possible treatments and much of the (what passes for) freedom I have been able to grasp in my life is due to your actions. Without your help, I would probably never have been able to spend more than a few hours at time outside of my 'cell' at Muir. You have supported me and you have been kind to me despite the fact that knowing me has caused you a great deal of pain. No one can ask more of another person.
As for me, I'm glad I have a way out. I'm not doing anything particularly useful, and frankly, I deserve a rest. And so do you two. Please go on being kind to each other, even without me to keep you in touch. And all my love and gratitude to Moira for all her years of work on my behalf. God bless you.
Erik had met David on a handful of occasions. He thought of him mainly as a very stoned boy lying on the couch, looking like a younger, darker version of Charles. Once, he'd had the misfortune to be there without his helmet when David's drugs had begun to wear off, as a result of which he had a shaky memory of going dizzy and delirious while watching a teenager shouting insanely in some cross between Erik's and Gabrielle's voices.
Erik would never have thought David capable of writing such a letter. These were the words of a man he'd never known – but who, in those delirious moments, may well have known Erik quite literally as he knew himself.
Later, Erik went to Mystique's room, where she was running computer simulations of the defense mainframe. He handed her the letter.
When she finished reading, she let it dangle in her hand. "You know, way back when Charles and Gabby were having their fling, I told him it was pretty fucked up. He didn't listen to me. He never really listened to me."
Three months later, Gabrielle walked into Erik's prison cell and set her plastic briefcase on the plastic desk. She took the chair opposite and crossed her arms, a bent little old woman with red earrings and white hair still clipped back that single big clip. It had been fifteen years since he'd seen her.
"You will never learn, will you?" She spoke German, as they usually did when they were alone.
Erik laughed. "It is good of you to come, Gabrielle. I'm daily assured that I'm going to need the finest attorney in the world."
"Fine. I'll just go find him for you, shall I?" She made to get up, then sat back with a smile. She leaned in toward him. "You have really done it to yourself this time. The best line of defense I can come up with is when you tried dose thousands of people with lethal radiation, you weren't actually intending to kill them but merely turn them into Mutants against their will."
"Desperate times call for inventive measures."
She pointed a finger at him. "That sort of talk is not going to help you in court. In fact, I categorically refuse to defend you unless you shut up and let me do the talking. At best, you'll be looking at life in prison, but if you let me do my job, you may just avoid the death penalty."
"Gabrielle, if you keep me off death row or even in appeals, that's all I'll need. Give me a little time, and I'll be out of here."
She shot him an impatient glance. "Part of me hopes you're right though you're guilty as sin and I am an accomplice in spirit for defending you. I don't like to see you locked up."
They passed a moment in silence, probably both thinking of David's room at Muir Island.
"I was very sorry to hear about David," said Erik.
Gabrielle didn't reply.
"How are you holding up?"
She shook her head a little. "It's hard to say. He said he was better off…"
"Charles showed me his letter."
"Did he? I do think he did what was best for himself. He'd been through enough. And if I'm going to be perfectly honest, having him gone – not having to watch over him – is gargantuan weight off my shoulders. I believe that was part of it, you know. He didn't say so in his letter, but I think he saw me getting old and wondered how much longer I'd be able to keep looking out for him, and he thought I had earned a few years of retirement. I really think that."
Erik reached out for her hand and she gave it. "Yet?"
"Yet – it isn't so much that I miss his company, though I do. David was good company sometimes, especially in the later years, but a lot of the time he was a recumbent lump I had to vacuum around. But very often I still wake up in the morning, and my first thought is I must call David. I must let him know I'm thinking of him and make sure he's medicated or safe in his room till he can be. Why are you laughing, Erik?"
"Do you the remember the night we spent together?"
"I remember two nights we spent together."
It had been at a conference on Mutant affairs in the Middle East they'd both attended in the '70s. They did not have sex but spent two nights in the same bed, holding each other.
"It was that first night," said Erik. "The next day was Sunday and there were no meetings before 11:00, so we didn't set the alarm and woke up at 8 a.m. or something. You stared at the clock with this look of horror, and the first words out of your mouth were 'I have to call David.'"
"And you said, 'He's seventeen. He'll probably be all right for a morning.' And I said, 'You're probably right,' but what I was thinking was 'He really doesn't understand.'" She gave him a sad smile. "Sometimes, Erik, when I wake up and realize I don't have to make that phone call, I'm not sure what I'm Earth for. I think it's the way that a flower must feel when it's been plucked but hasn't quite got around to being dead yet."
A few days later, after an hour refining their list of witnesses, they paused for lunch – Erik's lunch; Gabrielle said she was quite content to grab less puréed cuisine after their meeting.
"Have you seen Charles since you've been in the States?" he asked her.
"No, but I will before I go though."
He waited for more but nothing was forthcoming. "You know," he said, "I think they save soggiest of the frozen carrots just for me."
"Well, never mind. 'Just give me some time and I will be out of here.'" She did an imperious impression of his voice.
"Raven is working on it as we speak."
"It amazes me she's still with you. When I first met Raven, I thought she was very sweet. She must have been – Lord, at least twenty. She didn't seem that old."
"Charles had a remarkable gift for preserving her in adolescence."
Gabrielle leaned in with her chin in her hand. "As opposed to you, who have transformed her into such a sage old lady."
"I prefer to think of her as a supremely talented, eternally young lady."
Gabrielle smiled weakly. "I will see him, because David wanted Charles and me to stay in touch. But it's hard."
"Yes, I know."
She watched him eat with his plastic spoon. Damn plastic everywhere these days, even outside of prison. "You know" she said, "I only told Charles David existed after he had his first break. I forget how much we told you about that."
"A little bit."
"Dear God, it was terrifying, Karami threatening to kill us, and David was so terrified, and suddenly people were collapsing and there was David, five years old, shouting political extremism at us as if he were Karami, and I could feel my mind start to melt, and then he was shouting, "David! David!" as if he were me. The only reason any of us survived is that someone was able to clock him over the head and knock him out. And I thought, well maybe it's just a freak thing – that sounds crazy, but what else could I think? But then he woke up in the hospital, and it was exactly the same – like a sucking sound in your brain. A nurse managed to get a sedative in him, and I called Charles because he was literally the only person I could think of who might have some idea how to help."
"You'd kept his number, then."
"That was the end of '63; the school was in the phone book. He came right over to London within 24 hours. He cried; I felt terrible about that. We spent days letting David start to regain consciousness, and Charles searching around in his mind, trying to find out what was happening and how to stop it. But he couldn't, and we kept having to knock him out again. I remember Charles looking at me and saying, 'I don't know what to do,' as if he'd never had that experience before in his life. That first year was a combination of keeping David in a coma or in a bunker – I mean, a nuclear bunker – to block out his telepathy. Finally we got him placed at Muir Island, and when Moira became one of their researchers, it got much better." She wiped her nose on her sleeve.
Erik handed her his napkin. "Only slightly used."
She wiped her nose on it too. "Now more used. Thanks. The truth is, if David had not been a Mutant, or even if he had been a manageable Mutant, I don't know if I would ever have told Charles about him. Back when David was a baby, I thought a lot about what I should do about Charles, and I had it in my mind that I would tell him someday, if only because David deserved the chance to know his father, but I would track him down when David was in high school or something and way too old for Charles to be a really deep influence, deeper than me, I mean."
Erik studied her. "Were you worried Charles would take him from you?"
"No. Maybe. Not in the sense of seeking custody, or even in the sense of David loving him more." She frowned, rifling through Erik's legal files; she had a habit of rifling papers when she was agitated. "Charles is a very frightening man, all the more so because he is attractive on so many levels: he is brilliant and caring and understanding, and he can get such power over you – over your heart – that one day you realize that, if you are going to own your own life, you have to run so far away that he can't ever find you."
"My dear Gabrielle, you put it very well."
As he got older, Erik realized that there were a limited number of conversations, and one kept having them over and over. This particular conversation they'd begun that first night in the hotel in 1974 or '75. By the time they reached the "Charles" part, they had already been in bed for a couple of hours, her back tucked up against his chest.
"The funny thing is," she'd said, "the camps never broke me."
"That's funny?" he'd said.
"We never know what the last straw will be. I got up every day in the camp and did what I had to do to survive. Then, I went to the DP camp; I went to Israel; I finished high school; I went to England; I went to law school; I went back to Israel as an attorney – I got up every day and did what I had to. Then I became a diplomatic attaché and made some enemies, the way you can't help doing no matter where you are on the political spectrum. They took me hostage, but they didn't really do very much to me. They mostly kept me in a little room for a couple of weeks, flashed lights at me, shouted at me, that sort of thing. And that broke me. Maybe it was the sense that you can put away a nightmare as long as you can consign it to the past, but once it starts threatening to resume… I don't know. I only know I gave up. By the time the police found me, I'd decided I'd just sit there. I felt like the world was a crust of ice over the jaws of hell – it's an over-the-top simile –"
"No. No, it's not."
She pressed his arm. "I'm always worried in the back of my head that I'll break again and I won't be there for David. But I won't break because I have to be there for David."
"But back then…?"
"Back then, I felt like whatever I did life would just punish me for, so I did nothing. I suppose it was my way of telling God that he'd pushed me too far, and I wouldn't give him anything ever again. So I just sat – until Charles found me."
So that was it.
"He's probably told you about it?" she asked.
"A little. He told me was doing his master's in psychology and went to Haifa as an intern, where he met you. Actually, he's never talked about it much, I think it makes him think of the Shoah, and we don't generally talk about that."
"He got inside my head and told me it was all right. That's a dull way to put it but –"
"I know what it's like."
"He made the good in the world real again. The evil didn't go away, but the world around it stopped being this shell about crack. He taught me to stand on firm ground again. I fell completely in love with him, and he did with me too, for a while. We had about two months of absolute bliss."
Erik had been ticking this story over in his head while she was speaking. He'd heard parts of it from Charles, but not the part where she had been catatonic in a mental hospital. "He was your therapist."
She barked a laugh. "Yes. Wasn't he just though? It took me a long time to put that together. It was after I left and went back to England, after I decided I needed to start my life over and make a clean break from him. It was when I was about six months pregnant that it really came home to me that he had taken advantage of my feelings for him when I was the most emotionally vulnerable I have ever been in my life. I know he didn't see that way, of course."
"No. He never does."
"But that doesn't change the facts. I was dependent on his guidance, and he got into my head and my heart, and he got me pregnant and changed the entire course of my life." She took a breath and forced her calm back. "And I can never forgive – no, forgiveness isn't really the issue. I will never trust him with my self again."
At some point in the 1980s, Charles had written Erik a long, hastily typed and typoed letter on a wide range of subjects from the serious to the chatty. Lying in his cell with too much time on his hands, Erik recalled that part of it had been about visiting David, who must have been pushing thirty at the time. He remembered it something like this:
Well, that evening while Gabby was watching the news, she started cutting out all these shapes in colored paper, and I asked her, "What're you doing?" and she said, "Working on this art project I said I'd help David on." It turns out that
Dvid David has been doing visual arts in his room at M.I. for quiet a while now. So when we up there the next day, I took a look around his room, and he's been d doing these seascape murals that are really quite beautiful and intricate a little surreal. They remind me of Escher, but not like knock-offs of Escher. I'll enclose a photo so you can see.
I never guessed that David had this in him. I've no idea where he gets it. Gabby and I are certainly not artists, and parental pride aside, I don't guess David is the next M. C. Escher. He's quite good, but I suspect he wouldn't pass as professional. (Or maybe I'm being overly critical to counteract parental bias?) In any case, it makes perfect sense: he spends a large part of his life alone in this room without other people to
dinter interact with, so he's occu[pying his brain with activities he can do by himself. I'm very proud of that; it's a fine example of making the most of a situation.
Of course, when we were in his room, he was pretty sedated, so we couldn't see him at work at his best, but he was cutting out some of those peices of paper. He gave us that lopsided smile and said, "Doesn't take much brain to do this." I said, "But it takes a lot of brain to do that" (the murals on the walls). He said, "It takes hands, Dad." I'm not entirely sure what he meant.
It hink I think he meant he was using his sensory more than cerebral functions, but maybe something more. He looked happy with himself anyway. His mind was very soupy.
Erik didn't care about David's murals. What struck him was Charles' gush of enthusiasm, for which David seemed an unlikely object. Charles frequently waxed enthusiastic about Jean or Scott or his other students, never David.
In fact, he'd rarely talked about David at all after the Great Cockup of 1969 when someone forgot to lock the door to David's room and he ended up killing about twenty people while burning down a town, and had to be put into a coma for two weeks for the thought patterns he'd absorbed to subside enough for his normal treatment regimen to get him vaguely coherent again (and to stop turning blue when he thought he was Hank).
Both Charles and Erik had deployed their people to get that situation under control, and when David was finally unconscious and back at Muir, they'd retired to the same hotel. Throughout the crisis, Charles had been quite gamely himself, right down to the words of paternalistic encouragement as he thanked his team for a job well done and sent Sean off to order twenty pizzas.
After settling his own people safely away from the authorities, Erik had gone to Charles' room, not particularly surprised to find him disheveled and halfway through a box of Kleenex.
"He'll be all right now, Charles," he said, taking a seat.
"It could have been much worse, and this is cautionary tale for his caretakers not to let it happen again." Erik had always disapproved of locking David in his room: it seemed to him tantamount to imprisonment for being a Mutant. Now, he was beginning to understand that David was imprisoned either way.
"Are you all right?" said Erik, having run out of anything to say that wasn't stupid.
Charles' shoulders began to shake. "I am such a terrible father. I can't even stand to be in the same building with him. I should be there –" He flung a hand toward the window. "There at Muir Island right now by his side the way the Gabby is, and instead I'm here in this bloody hotel because I can't bear to be in the same building. And the real crowning glory is that he knows. Even in his most drugged up stupor, he climbs right into my mind and knows exactly what I feel about him."
Erik was stuck for a response. "Charles –"
But Charles rolled up to his side and reached out to him, and Erik held him while he sobbed.
"You are damn lucky you're high profile," said Gabrielle in Erik's cell after the verdict. "I'm amazed that they took the assault plea; it's ridiculous. But you have something of that celebrities-live-by-a-different-set-of-rules, so enjoy it and congratulations." She shook his hand.
"Thank you, Gabrielle." He could hardly stop grinning.
They sat down, Gabrielle smiling too. "Now you're just waiting for Raven, eh?"
He laughed. "You don't need to make it sound so easy; it is prison." Now that the trial was over, Charles could visit him without compromising the case. And Gabrielle would be leaving; the thought tugged at him a little. "Where are you off to next?"
"I have some friends to visit, then home to London. But I'm looking at buying a house in Haifa since I don't need to be close to Muir Island anymore. I'd like a garden to potter in. I hear retired people do that."
"That sounds immensely boring."
"Not as boring as prison, my adventurous friend."
"It was good of you to defend me," he said.
She gave him a rather tender look. "You – oddly enough – have been a good friend to me. And I have not forgotten after that thing in '69 when you let us analyze your helmet to improve David's room. We even tried fitting him out with a helmet, but decided there too many ways it might get taken off. In any case, it was very helpful."
"I remember asking Charles, if I let Hank's team analyze my helmet, would he promise not to use that information against me, and he said he couldn't possibly make a promise like that."
"And yet you let them."
"It was the right thing to do, Gabrielle. David was a Mutant, and if he couldn't count on the support of his fellow Mutants, he couldn't count on anything."
"Well, he could count on me, and Moira, and a lot of other people – but thank you all the same." She fell into thought. "Erik, I asked you something, oh, twenty years ago, and I wonder if you still feel the same."
"Do you consider yourself an enemy or a friend of my country?"
That had always been one of Erik's least favorite political questions. "I don't consider myself the enemy of any particular country unless its policies make it my enemy."
She raised her eyebrows, waiting.
"I wish nothing but good for the state of Israel, and I am… relieved, for its sake, that so far its incursions against Mutant rights have been relatively minor. But it is my duty to fight those incursions, wherever they are, by whatever means necessary."
"So much the same answer as twenty years ago."
"I'm an ideologically consistent person."
"That's one way of putting it." She glanced at her watch and stood up. "I should be going." In the act of hefting her briefcase, she paused and looked at him. "I will protect my people too, you know. You used to be one of us."
He came to her side. "I still am." He bent and kissed her cheek.
Charles came to visit a few days later. Over chess, they had the Mutant registration conversation for the five hundred and fiftieth time. Erik had just re-observed humans would never accept Mutants.
And Charles said, "But Gabrielle defended you."
"Gabrielle is one of the few."
"Not so few as you think."
"'Not so few' – oh, come, you can do better than that."
Charles took his rook.
"Have you seen each other since she's been here?" Erik asked.
"No. But she'll come to see me before she goes."
Erik chuckled at the echo of Gabrielle's words. "You two are hilarious."
But Charles' smile was very small.
"How have you been?" asked Erik. It had been four months since David's death, but Charles would know what he was referring to.
"I'm fine. David wasn't part of my routine. Most of grieving is about coming to grips with a change in routine, a loss of supports. Most days I don't really notice he's gone."
Erik leaned back in his chair and studied him. "Do you happen to know what the time is?"
"For some reason, they insisted on taking my watch at reception. But I figure it's about four. Why?"
"Visiting hours end at five, which means you have just about an hour to decide to tell the truth."
Charles gave him a wry look. "The truth. I saw him so seldom I never learned who he was. That came as a surprise to me, given that every time I saw him, I could feel his mind. But what I felt there was confusing. For years, I assumed that David didn't have much of his own identity, and there was some truth to that. His mind got splintered up and crossed with other people's when he was so young; he always had trouble parsing what was him and what was someone else, even when he was alone in his room. And he spent so much of his life in a drug-induced stupor that it literally cut years off his cognitive development. He didn't do his O-levels till he was twenty-five, just because he lost so many school hours."
Erik nodded. "I remember at that conference on Mutant affairs in '70-whatever-it-was—"
"Seventy-four. That time you slept with Gabby."
"I find it charming that that's how you think of it. She brought David down from Muir Island that for the final session, said he needed to get some exposure to large groups of people. We took him to the hotel restaurant, and throughout lunch, he did the voice of anyone who got near him. He spoke German with Gabrielle and me, but every time she spoke, he answered with her inflections; when I spoke, he answered with mine. When the waitress came by, he was instantly cockney. It was like a party trick. But it wasn't a trick; it was the way we got into his head, even through the drugs."
"He must not have been terribly sedated if he could carry on that much conversation."
"Yes. By the end of lunch, he had a splitting headache, and we went back to Gabrielle's room to dose him up. After she injected him, he flopped on the bed like a heroin addict, and I had one of those awkward moments you get when you see a kid sprawled on the bed you've just been sharing with his mother, and David gave me this ironic little smile – that was very like yours – and he said, 'Oh, don't mind about me. Please yourselves.' And then he completely conked out. And I thought, 'I like that boy. I really like him.'"
Charles smiled. After a time he said, "When I got that letter, I realized he'd grown into a person I never knew, grew slowly, I think, and differently from the rest of us. But I liked him too, the person I met in that letter. It's a tragedy I never got to know him. It's a tragedy that he felt he had to leave just when he learning to become such a person. I will miss him terribly, not for who he was in my life but for who he would have been if I hadn't looked away."
After nursing a coffee for twenty minutes, Gabrielle gave up and ordered quiche.
"Sorry to keep you waiting, Gabby." No sooner had she placed her order than Moira slid into the booth opposite her. She'd cut her hair again; it was now a very short mass of gray spikes that made her glasses look bigger.
"Is Holly all right?" She knew Moira had been visiting her great-niece while in the States.
Moira waved a dismissive hand. "MacTaggart family drama. It's all sorted out now."
Gabrielle motioned the waitress over. "You're a saint, Moira, for keeping in touch with the MacTaggarts all these years."
Moira ordered a club sandwich and tea without glancing at the menu. "I wouldn't say that. The only one who was really a piece of work was Joe – well, and his father, but they've both in dead for years. And I don't feel like I'm in touch with Holly enough. This is the first time I've been to Connecticut in two years."
Gabrielle felt a surge of profound empathy. "It's impossible to be everywhere."
"I don't know. I always thought you were pretty good at it."
"The miracle of the telephone."
Moira gave her a deep, soft look. "You look better."
"Do I?" That surprised her – though, of course, she was better than she had been when they'd last met in Scotland three months before. "I've been going through the motions."
When the waitress came with Moira's tea, Gabrielle admired the genuineness of the brief smile Moira gave her. "That's how everybody starts putting a life back together," Moira said.
Gabrielle studied her coffee. "I'm not sure what I should be doing. I told Erik I wanted to garden, but I think I was joking."
"Well, what do you want to do? You're retired and you've certainly paid your dues."
Gabrielle gave a dry laugh. "I want to look after David."
Moira reached across the table and squeezed her hand.
Tears welled behind her eyes, for the first time in a week or more. "I miss him so much. I don't know what I'm supposed to do. It was better while I was defending Erik; I had something to get up for." She sniffed and pulled herself together while the waitress served her quiche. "You asked the wrong question," she told Moira. What do I want to do? That's not the point."
Moira's eyes were intent.
"When I was child," said Gabrielle, "I thought about what I'd like to do when I grew up. And then the war came. And after that, I thought, 'By God, I am going to do something with my life. I'm going to live the life I want to live. I've paid my dues,' like you said. And I believed, then – when I was fifteen – that there was some measuring cup of human suffering, and when God had filled your cup up, he'd reward you for taking your beating. Like in a book: the hero overcomes problems and goes on to fame, fortune, and marriage happily ever after."
"You hadn't read about Job?" said Moira.
"Job, for whatever reason, has never felt very close to me. It's a powerful story, but it's never been mine. It was around the time I was pregnant with David I began to realize that my story is the story of Jonah."
"You were going to be eaten by a whale?"
Gabrielle replied with a little laugh. "Do you remember a long time ago, not long after we met, I'd been complaining about the trials and travails of being a single mother at the end of the '50s, and I must have been complaining at great length because you asked me, very gently, if I'd ever considered having an abortion."
"Funny, I don't remember that conversation," said Moira.
"And I told you that I had considered it, but it struck me that that child might be my only chance to have a family again, and I wanted very much to not be the last survivor of my family. And that was true, but it wasn't the real truth. The truth is I came to believe that God had a plan for me, not a grandiose plan like saving the world, but things that he wanted me to do. And all my life I had been fleeing God, pursuing some dream of a happy life with a nice career and a nice man. And every time I turned from him, yes, God sent a great fish to swallow me – to remind me that my purpose here was not to please myself but to do his will. So I had the child he wanted me to have, and every problem God sent David had I stumbled through with him. And while I certainly didn't stop complaining about my life, I stopped trying to escape it. I stopped asking why God had sent me so much suffering. That isn't the point. The point is to do what you're called to do. So I took care of David and I became a diplomat for Israel because those were my callings. But now the one is gone, and I'm too old for the other. No, Moira, I am: I'm too tired for all the yelling. So the question is not what do I want to do, but what I am being called to do, and I don't know the answer. I don't hear the call."
Moira's sandwich had arrived and they ate for a while in silence.
"Hey," said Moira, wiping her fingers on her napkin, "do you think God called you to defend Erik? Because that makes me wonder about God's judgment."
Gabrielle chuckled. "I think Erik called me to defend Erik. And yet much of my love for Erik comes of his acceptance of David, and God sent me David, so who knows? I'm glad I took his case, Moira, even though I'm fairly sure that objectively it was the wrong thing to do. At least it reminds him that not all normal humans are out to get him. I think Charles would agree."
"How is Charles taking David's passing? He's putting on a good face for me, but then again, he's pretty adept at that good face."
"I haven't seen him since the funeral."
Moira nodded and went back to her sandwich. "Well, it's a platitude but it's true: when you don't know where you're going, you start by putting one foot in front of the other."
Gabrielle nodded. "And stop running from what you ought to do?"
Breakfast with Charles in his office proved a weird inversion of thirty-five years of their relationship. Ever since David was a child, they'd had a tacit agreement that their interactions would center on him. Now an hour had gone by, and they'd scarcely mentioned his name. They'd talked about Jean's accomplishments; Mutant registration; Raven impersonating Senator Kelly; real estate in Haifa; Netanyahu; Gaza; Moira's great-niece, Holly; and how it was only a matter of time until Raven busted Erik out.
"Do you think he'll ever slow down?" asked Gabrielle. "I mean, if or when he does get out, will he ever just bow out a bit? He is almost seventy."
"Everyone bows out eventually," said Charles.
Gabrielle wasn't sure if he'd made that turn intentionally, but there it was, their dead son, hovering between them.
After an awkward pause, she said, "Moira said you seemed to be doing well."
"And how about you?"
A clean deflection. All right. If he wanted to talk about her, they could talk about her. "As well as any parent who's lost a child, I suppose."
"Better," he said.
"I think you're doing better than most. Maybe because you – we both – were prepared on some level for David to die young. You had to be a little bit prepared for anything with David."
"Maybe." She helped herself to another piece of toast, feeling guilty that her appetite was so robust and David gone. "I was telling Moira how I'd always felt that looking after David was part of the work I was put on Earth for. But if that, indeed, is the case, I have to wonder why. Now he's gone, and looking back on his life – I loved him as his mother – but why was he here? What did he do for the world? He killed more people than he saved. Did he ever save anyone? As far as I know, he had no especially close friends, except me, and Moira. Moira likes to say that the technologies developed to help him will help others, and I'm sure that's true, but it seems an odd, incidental reason for a life; it's more Moira's and Hank's contributions than David's. Was he put on Earth for me then? Were we a strange, little closed loop in God's plan?"
Charles gave her a long look, then drifted away into his own thoughts. Gabrielle ate her toast, having vague, Existential thoughts about the importance of toast to the human experience.
"Are you thinking of suicide?"
The question jolted Gabrielle out of her toast. She gave a sharp laugh. "Don't you know?"
He hesitated. "I think you're not. But you talk as if you might be."
That was a pretty good summation. She had thought of suicide, of course. It was the logical culmination to purposelessness. But at bottom she had never been a suicidal person, and while the idea carried a certain logical sense, it didn't feel like a real option.
Charles nodded as if her answer was sufficient, and for a second she wanted to slap him. She reminded herself that it was hard for him to stay completely out of people's minds; he was a little like David that way. The thought helped her.
Charles reached out and took her hand. "I don't have any answers for you."
"I'm not asking you for any."
"But I do know that David shaped part of every life he touched, and the ramifications of that are incalculable. If you want to attribute it to God's plan, I'd say any such plan must be far too intricate for us to assess."
Obvious truths and yet somehow not the direction Gabrielle had got used to thinking. Perhaps she'd become too attached to needing meaning.
"I did love him," said Charles. "I don't know that I was fully aware of that until after he was gone, but there's no question in my mind now."
A rush of affection got mixed up with her reticence, and she moved her chair to his side and embraced him, surprised how comforted she was by his arms. "Charles," she said, her chin on his shoulder, "I'm sorry I kept you away from David. I'd do the same thing again, but I'm sorry I hurt you."
He drew back and met her eyes. "You didn't keep me from him. Well, yes, you did for those first five years, but everything after that was my choice."
"That's a naïve thing to say when I pushed you away so hard for so long and made it so clear you were not welcome. I did it to protect myself and David, but I did it to hurt you too, not really intentionally but not innocently either. I wanted to show you how much knowing you cost me, and I did, didn't I? That is one of the most frightening things in this life: that we can set out so systematically to hurt someone and succeed so precisely at our aim."
After a moment, he said, "I forgive you."
"I forgive you too." As she spoke, she had the uncomfortable sense that she was lying, but the words being out, the release in her heart said they were true. "You know, I find that now there is nothing to hold us together, I do not want to lose you."
He smiled. "There will always be something holding us together."
She sank back in her chair, feeling calm and useless.
"So what are you being called to?" he asked.
"I don't know."
"Come on, Gabby. You know who you are. Where are you meant to go?"
She laughed a little. "Well, there's that nice bit of real estate in Haifa."
"In your mind – no, let me finish – in your mind, that image is very bright."
And he was right, of course. In her mind, it was warm and sea-swept, and she needed to be home in Israel. "Then, maybe that's the next step," she said. "And then, God will send me the next one, I suppose. He always has till now."
"In a way, I envy you that kind of faith."
"It finds us, sooner or later," she said. "Not faith in God; that's not given to everyone. But our callings: they always find us."