Mr. and Mrs. Blanding are a nice couple. They’re good parents. Alex will be happy with them. Alex will be safe. Alex doesn’t even matter. Alex isn’t even real.
Lefty, he knows how hard this is for Scott. How tough it is to see Alex get taken away. Lefty keeps a hand firm on Scott’s shoulder to comfort him. Scott doesn’t cry out, doesn’t move forward, doesn’t try to grab Alex’s hand or hug him goodbye. Lefty holds him back. Lefty is Scott’s best friend. Lefty is Scott’s only friend.
“I miss Alex,” Scott says one day. Dr. Milbury tapes gauze over the spot of blood on his arm and asks him who Alex is. Scott can’t remember.
Sometimes when airplanes fly overhead, Scott covers his ears and tries not to hear the roar-rush-groan of the jet engines. Sometimes he runs to the window and presses his face to the glass and watches the planes until they are just dots in the distance.
Thinking about his childhood is like squinting at a solar eclipse. Scott looks away, focuses on the corona and never on the thing itself. Scott looks at the distorted images in the pinhole camera of his memory and tries to build something that makes sense.
He’s always thinking thirteen steps ahead in any given situation, running odds and strategies, considering possible scenarios that might occur. Sometimes he does it backwards, too. Sometimes he runs through possible scenarios that might have occurred .
The Mosquito goes down when he is 10 or 11 or 12. He spends a week or a month or a year in a coma. His best friend is Nathan, or maybe Lefty, or maybe it was always just him alone. He is given ruby quartz lenses by Dr. Milbury or Dr. Tieri or Jack Winters. The glasses keep his headaches at bay or maybe they hold back his optic blasts. Alex dies in the plane crash. Alex gets adopted. Alex is someone he made up in his head.
His powers emerge while he and Alex are plummeting toward the ground.
His powers emerge when he wakes up in the hospital.
His powers emerge and he blows a hole in the roof of the orphanage.
Sometimes Scott hates him, hates him for going away to a beautiful island with a beautiful family and leaving Scott alone.
“You’re a sissy, Summers, you always were a sissy,” Sinister leers, and Scott’s mind stretches and snaps. What if he never really left Nebraska?
On the way back to Westchester, Scott sits in the back of the Rolls Royce with the Drake kid. He’s putting on a brave face, but it’s obvious he’s upset. The Professor knows. The Professor always knows what everybody’s thinking.
“So,” Drake says, “did he make your folks forget about your powers, too?”
“I don’t have parents,” Scott explains.
Dr. Hanover gives him a jacket and a tie and a home. The suit is one size too small. Scott’s only used to seeing suits like this at funerals. Nathan wears a suit like this one, only sometimes he wears a bow tie with it. Sometimes he wears a hulking black coat that melts into the shadows and the floor.
Nathan promises Scott that no one is going to take him away, ever, and Scott feels lucky to have a best friend who cares so much.
Rick Bogart is a pilot. His wife Trish brings new comics and novels for Scott every time she visits. They are kind, and they haven’t figured out yet that Scott is broken. They still want him.
Scott knows the horsepower on the Devillahand Mosquito, knows the names and schematics of ever bomber and fighter and transport plane, doesn’t know where his brother went.
Scott tells Rick the truth— that he’s a head case, that he’s broken, that nobody wants him. He likes sitting in the cockpit and talking about planes, but he doesn’t like to lie. It’s about time, he decides, that he confess it all to Rick, the holes in his thoughts, the things he knows are written on his files.
But Rick doesn’t look angry or disgusted. Rick takes him out for ice cream and lets him pick out as many toppings as he wants. “Alex likes chocolate sprinkles but not rainbow sprinkles,” Scott says. Rick asks him who Alex is and Scott says he can’t remember.
Scott has watched countless kids from the state home go home with parents. He stands in the courtyard with Nathan and watches kids ride away with shiny new families. Nathan always went on and on about how those kids were going to grow up soft and weak, but he and Scotty would be strong.
Scott mostly just wondered what it would feel like, to have people like him enough to take him home. To be a cute, likable kid. To not be a head case. At this point, he’s mostly just hanging on until he ages out of the system.
And then Rick and Trish give him hope, and an ugly little part of him hates, hates, hates them for that.
Rick and Trish like planes and get along well with Dr. Hanover. And they like Scott, genuinely enjoy his company. He can tell. He can tell when people are just tolerating him and when they actually care for him. A lot of the kids at the orphanage just tolerate him.
Nathan cares about him, but it’s not in a way that Scott likes. Nathan cares about him the way other kids care about their favorite toys.
Alex cared about him for real. Alex loved him. And he loved Alex.
He can’t remember who Alex is, but sometimes Scott gets brief little bouts where he knows he loves his brother, and his brother loves him back.
Rick wants to be Scott’s dad. He and Trish are going to adopt Scott and bring him home and buy him new clothes and go to air shows with him and take him far, far away from Omaha and Dr. Milbury.
It sounds too good to be true, so Scott keeps waiting for them to call and change their minds. Dr. Hanover helps him start packing and lets him know that all the Bogarts need to do is submit the paperwork. She even lets out a little cheer— that’s how happy for him she is, how excited.
Scott tries to tell her not to get her hopes up, but he can’t make himself say it. His own hopes are up, for the first time since he arrived at the state home. Scott packs away his books and socks and waits for the call.
They never call.
Dr. Hanover changes. She is cold and different now. She used to be so insistent that she would find Scott a home. These days, she acts like she doesn’t even notice him. Or care.
Scott puts his socks back in his drawer.
“Don’t worry,” Dr. Milbury promises, “I’ll never let anybody take you away from me.”
It isn't until centuries later, when Scott is raising his child in a time that doesn't belong to him, that it clicks for Scott what must have happened to Rick and Trish.
"I always just figured… they realized I wasn't worth the trouble," he tells Jean. "But that was Sinister, wasn't it?"
It's not like she knows any better than he would, but saying this out loud to Jean always makes them make more sense. She helps him notice holes in his memories that he doesn't even see.
Scott finally runs from the orphanage, headlong into another nightmarish scenario. Jack Winters uses him like a weapon and he just lets him. In some ways, it’s better than the way Dr. Hanover and Dr. Milbury and Dr. Essex treated him like a science experiment.
Charles Xavier shows up and offers him help because he’s a mutant. Grateful as he is, Scott never forgets that.
He wonders if he’d been just an ordinary kid, whether the Professor would have helped him or just let him go.
Scott becomes Cyclops and things finally start to make sense.
He has a room that belongs to him. He has a visor that keeps his terrible eyes under control. He has books and socks and a place to put them.
He has friends, real ones. Bobby and Hank and Warren and Jean. He has friends who don’t treat him like a science experiment or a weapon. He doesn’t talk about the orphanage, and they let him not talk about it.
And one day, the Professor sends him a telepathic message to come to Cerebro. He’s still not used to that, the mental messages beamed right to his head. Still, having Charles Xavier in his head is better than having Jack Winters or anyone else in there. He goes to Cerebro.
“I know this may come as a shock to you,” the Professor prefaces what he’s about to say. “But… I found your brother.”
Scott doesn’t even react, just stands there while his train of thought skids and skips. “My brother’s dead.”
“Yes, that’s what you told me,” the Professor says. “But I believe you were misinformed. I’ve detected his unique signature on the island of Oahu.”
“With the Blandings,” Scott says, not even thinking about it.
Charles stares at him. “With whom?”
“The Blandings, the family that adopted him,” Scott says. “They… wait. Wait.” The Professor doesn’t push him, just watches him with a concerned expression. “Alex. My brother’s name was Alex.” That, alone, is an achievement. Remembering that.
Parachutes, planes going down. Screaming. Alex .
“Alex died in the plane crash,” Scott says, speaking slowly as his brain moves sluggishly through the muck of his memories. “But… but he… the Blandings, the family from Hawaii. They adopted him.”
“Both those things, I remember both of them,” Scott says, sliding his hands over his scalp like he might be able to pick up the memories and shake them until they make sense. “I don’t understand. I don’t understand.”
“I don’t know how long you were with Jack Winters,” Charles says gently. “Or even if he was the first telepath you encountered. It’s possible your memories were tampered with.”
“Is Alex alive?” Scott asks. At the same time, he’s remembering yelling the same question to Nathan, except Nathan was too tall and too pale, with a red diamond on his forehead. His mind is a Jenga tower, and it’s tumbling. “ Is Alex alive ?”
“He is,” Charles says. “We… we can go see him.”
Charles handled all the communication, booked the flight, scheduled a meeting with Alex. He’s 18 now, so they didn’t need to go through the Blandings. Now, Scott waits beside Charles at the airport in Honolulu, shifting from foot to foot.
“Did you tell him I’m— that I have brain damage?” Scott says, fidgeting with his glasses. “Did you tell him about me? I just… I don’t want him to be disappointed. I don’t want him to expect…” Someone better. Someone whole.
“He knows you, Scott,” Charles assures him. “He’ll be glad to see you.” And then— “He’s here.”
Alex is tall and tan, but his hair is still just as messy as it was when he was eight years old and suddenly Scott is remembering — Alaska, the plane crash, the stuff from before the plane crash. Nathan once told him Alex was his imaginary friend and like an idiot, Scott believed him.
But Alex is real. Alex is alive. All the contradicting lies that Dr.EssexMilburyNathanLefty told Scott crash into each other and leave him reeling.
And then Alex yells his name and sprints the rest of the way toward him, pulling Scott into a tight hug. “Scott, Scott, it’s really you,” and Alex is crying and Alex is real, was always real.
“I can’t believe it,” Scott says, but he can.
He finally can.