Cel (c_elisa) wrote,
Cel
c_elisa

DVD Commentary: "For the Kingdom of Heaven" (Part 2)

ETA: Okay, I think the formatting on both of these is fixed now.

DAY 14

“Observe,” Dr. Rao says. “Verb. From the Latin observare via Middle French observer. To make observations; to watch.”

When Hank gets mad, he quotes Hamlet. When Rao gets mad, she opens a dictionary. I'm sure there's some alternate universe where they're married and have the world's cutest blue, furry baby.

“To what do I owe this drive-by lecture on etymology?”

He knows perfectly well. He just wants to make her work for it.

“The next time something happens while you’re in the room, do not take it on yourself to treat the patient. Press the call button and wait.”

“Will the button summon someone who has past experience with human moulting?”

The phrase human moulting is rather pointed. Sometimes Hank and Rao don't converse so much as they stand around and frame at each other.

“Hank, you are not authorized to perform a medical procedure in this facility. We aren’t insured for it. You are jeopardizing—”

She's always "Dr. Rao" and he's always "Hank." Hank likes people to just call him Hank -- he mentions somewhere or other in canon that when someone calls him "Dr. McCoy" he always feels like saying "He's dead, Jim!" But it's also Rao's way of emphasizing his unofficial status.

“Removing a moulted shell,” I say, adopting the patient tones of someone totally in the wrong, “is no more a medical procedure than clipping your fingernails. In any case, I doubt I could have prevented Victor from doing it himself without restraints, which I am probably not authorized to apply either.”

“Then write it up,” she says, pushing the folder she’s carrying at me. “If you’re going to be a part of this, then fill out the chart, sign your name to the reports, and go on record.”

I confess that had not occurred to me. My medical experience has been somewhat unconventional, and I am used to doing what must be done and deciding what the records will say afterward. Even now, we keep a secondary set of false charts for any student who might someday wish to pass.

“I’m afraid I must decline for medical reasons,” I tell her. “A pulmonary condition. Wolverine would rip my lungs out.”

She probably thinks he's exaggerating.

She sighs and takes off her glasses, closing her eyes. “‘The patient began to remove his own exoskeleton and was assisted to complete the process.’”

It’s appalling prose, but I’m in no position to complain. “The passive voice can cover up a multitude of faults.”

That's an apology, and she knows it is. I repeat: blue, furry baby.

When I have composed myself, I go to visit Victor. He asks if I want to play Clue. He is halfway through The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

The fragile cards. The new, smooth covers. His hands look far more deformed to my eyes than before; as lobster claws they had a certain animal integrity. Now they are misshapen, the skin like a mitten of flesh over the single clublike finger. But at least they are soft, and will not leave scars.

DAY 28

I have not been able to visit for some time. How pleasant it is to have saving the world on one’s list of excuses; ever so much more impressive than the dog ate my hard drive.

I am troubled that Victor still suffers from itching, nearly two weeks after losing his shell. Dr. Rao dismisses this, speculating that the cells are still—as she puts it—“healing.”

More framing: to Rao, mutation is always and only a disease. Hank would have said something more neutral, like "changing."

His hands and the joints of his feet ache, and he tends to run a very slight fever: both are being treated with an NSAID.

NSAIDs are Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs -- or, as I'm positive Hank would say, "New Sorts of Aspirin In Disguise." Ibuprofen, or something very similar.

Again, Dr. Rao considers these symptoms normal, and I am uneasy for some reason that I cannot touch a claw to. He is, however, making astonishing progress on bone mass. I do not expect that skiing will ever be advisable, but I begin to hope that everyday activity will not put him at risk of fractures.

We play Clue. It is pointless as a two-player game, but he seems fond of it.

In two-player Clue, both players get the information needed to solve the mystery at the same time, so it normally devolves into a race to the room where the murder occurred. Victor just likes the fact that the mysteries get solved over and over; he doesn't need it to be complicated or competitive.

As he is taking the secret passageway from the conservatory to the drawing room, I notice him raising his hand, with Mr. Green still clutched in it, to rub at one eye.

“I’m not crying,” he announces.

I had not thought that he was. I do, however, notice that he is blinking more than usual. As a test, I look up at the ceiling as if I had noticed something odd there. Victor, falling for this simple ruse, looks up as well, but instantly has to shield his eyes from the weak fluorescent light.

Being a wise Beast and capable of learning behavior, I press the call button. The nurse comes in, listens, checks his eyes with an ophthalmoscope, shrugs, and leaves to summon Dr. Rao, who does exactly the same thing. I follow Rao to the front desk, where she picks up the phone and tries to arrange an on-site consultation with an ophthamologist. I wait twenty minutes for an opportunity to ask that she call Maintenance to do something about the light.

There *has* to be time for Rao to turn away for a moment. She shuts him out because she doesn't want him to start in on her.

Finally I go back into Victor’s room, remove the covers from the light fixtures, and unscrew every other fluorescent tube—no doubt violating any number of union rules. Well, it’s the least of my sins.

“It’s just a little water,” Victor is complaining. “Why is everybody making a big deal out of it?”

Having nothing else to do—being, in effect, the helpless parent of the patient forced to sit around and wait while serious people do serious things—I sit back down with him and play Clue in the dimness. It seems to calm him. By chance I have been dealt all the implement cards, and know at once the crime was done with rope, but the question of which suspect killed Mr. Boddy is not the mystery that compels my mind.

“How is your night vision, Victor?”

“I don’t know,” he says guardedly. “Normal.”

“Have you ever felt that you might see colors differently from other people?”

Hank correctly guesses that Victor might be a tetrachromat, with four different kinds of color-sensing cells in his eyes instead of the normal three. Victor doesn't realize this himself; he just knows that his night vision is better than most people's.

“How would I know?”

That is a very good question.

This is kind of an odd scene ending. Hank is thinking that Victor might not realize his eyes are different from other people's, but we'll find out in just a moment that that's not true. I suppose it connects to the fact that Hank, Victor, and Dr. Rao do all see the world very differently, but I've still never been completely satisfied with this.

DAY 34

I come to visit Victor, but he’s with his physical therapist. I go to find Dr. Rao in her office instead.

“How is his eyesight?”

“Worse,” she says, simply.

“How could you not have known that he had mutant vision?”

Hank and Rao are both horribly disappointed and looking for excuses to pin the blame on each other.

“He lied to us, Hank. He must have known we wouldn’t take him.”

“You should have checked.”

“The only abnormalities you can visualize are around the edges of the fundus. Tell me you’d have looked at that child’s eyes and dilated his pupils to check for screening pigment. Maybe if your school had sent his records when we asked for them—”

Originally, Victor's eyes were going to be compound, like a crayfish's. This is possible because his eyes are closed in his one canonical appearance. But I decided that Rao wouldn't accept him as a test subject in that case -- she's not *that* overconfident -- nor would Hank go along with it. So I wound up with this idea of an eye that's mostly baseline-human, but has adaptations for greater light-sensitivity around the edges. You know how if you look straight at a dim star, you can barely see it, but if you look away a little it seems brighter, because the edges of the retina are more light-sensitive? That effect would be much more pronounced for Victor.

Human eyes adapt to bright light by contracting the pupil so less light gets in. Crayfish eyes have granules of a dark screening pigment inside the actual sensory cells that move around and blocks the light to a greater or lesser degree. Victor has a combination of both systems, which is exotic and weird ("on crack" would be a less charitable description). The pigment is only in the cells around the edges of the retina, though, not at the very center.

An ophthalmoscope (Latin for "that thing the doctor looks in your eye with, and which I can't spell so I had to cut and paste the name") only gives a view of about a third of the retina, even if the eyes are dilated with drops. Without dilation, less than that. If the patient is nervous and physically standoffish, and the person doing the examination doesn't feel like pushing it because she really doesn't expect to find anything unusual about his eyes, and doesn't get in as close as she could have... it's easy to miss this.

The blinking and eye-watering happened because the screening pigment wasn't migrating around properly anymore. The loss of vision happened because the X-Gene was expressed in all the rod and cone cells in his retina.

“Well then, on behalf of the Xavier Institute for Higher Learning, I apologize for our inexplicable lack of trust.”

As much as Hank baits Dr. Rao, there are still some topics he's studiously avoiding -- "Piotr Rasputin was tortured for your research," for one. He's not actually saying that now, but he's threatening to say it if she keeps pushing.

“He was going to take the cure anyway. What could it possibly have hurt for us to have more information?”

“There was nothing about it in his file,” I admit, sinking into a chair. “That child has spent his life lying about a trivial mutation when an obvious one was staring everyone in the face, simply because he was ashamed.”

Much more comfortable for them both to blame Victor.

“He’s a Christian. He believes his mutation is the work of the Devil.”

Rao gets her ideas about Christianity from yahoos on the news.

“There’s nothing Christian about believing that the Devil is a creative force. It’s the Manichean heresy. If the Inquisition were still around, his parents would have been burned at the stake a long time ago.”

Hank gets his from scholarly treatises on theology.

This is something I'd been wondering for a long time: how is it Christian to believe that being born with a physical difference makes you evil? I don't doubt that some people would find religious excuses for their fears, but it seems like a very difficult fit -- tantamount to saying that an evil demiurge had a hand in creating the world, which happens to be an idea condemned, as far as I know, by every major Christian denomination. I'm sure there'd be ways to argue that this isn't *really* Manichaeism. But there must be Christians who find it not only uncharitable but actually heretical. I'd like to read a story about that, though I don't think I could write it.

“I’ll take your word for it.”

“Those eyes were a labor of love. The God who arranged for Victor to have them didn’t want them to be destroyed.”

"Arranged for Victor to have them" rather than "made them" because Hank certainly believes in evolution (I mean, duh).

This is something Hank believes very deeply: the diversity of mutants is an expression of God's creativity. He'd like to believe it's an expression of God's love, but sometimes it seems more like God's sick sense of humor. And yet, curing mutations is like burning the manuscripts of previously unknown books of the Bible.

“They are extraordinary. Under different circumstances, I’d be thrilled at the prospect of publishing a description.”

I badly want to tell her that she’s being insensitive, but the truth is the same thought had crossed my mind.

For once, Hank is being too generous to Rao. His desire to study Victor's eyes is a form of reverence, but not all curiosity is morally equivalent. I give no points to a hunter for having an aesthetic appreciation for the last black rhino he's about to shoot. But Hank's spent most of his anger for the moment and is now just feeling depressed about what's happened to Victor; he doesn't have the energy for a fight.

“Given your history of publication by press conference, I have to wonder how long you’re going to wait for a baseline-human retina to spontaneously generate before you announce that the cure is a failure.”

He can manage a little snark, though.

“Even if his vision doesn’t come back, it’s not a complete failure. There’ll be some adults that we can’t use it on. But 85% of mutants have a normal phenotype in childhood. We can test for the X-gene and give the treatment before adolescence.”

“Perfect. The majority who’ll be given wonderful gifts can be persuaded to throw them away, out of fear that they’ll be one of the unlucky ones.”

There are a lot of different ways for the cure to be a disaster, even without the government forcing it on everyone.

“We can stop secondary mutations, too.” She leans back in her executive task chair. “What happened to you, Hank? I’ve seen pictures of the old X-Men. You had large hands and feet, but you could pass for human. If the cure had been invented then, you could have stayed that way. Doesn’t that show you it would be a benefit?”

“I got my fur by testing a new drug I’d invented on myself. The only moral of my story is that scientists should try not to be idiots.”

This is the same kind of half-truth that he puts off Victor with in the second scene -- he did originally get his fur this way, but he also underwent a secondary mutation later on.

Hank gets his fur in Amazing Adventures #11. He leaves Xavier's for a research job, where he creates a drug that will allow anyone to become a mutant for a strictly limited period of time. (He is *not* looking for a cure for mutation, as Wikipedia used to say; he just seems to want to understand it.) Then he overhears a fellow scientist planning to break into his lab and steal his research. If he goes as Beast he'll be recognized, so he drinks his own discovery in order to disguise himself and foil the plot. Unfortunately the drug messes up his time-sense, so he waits too long to reverse the process and is permanently trapped in furry form.

It's obviously a formative experience for Hank, and directly relevant to this story. Too bad it doesn't make any sense. This is a totally non-superpowered act of espionage; why can't he just call security? Or the police? In fact, the robbery does get foiled without his help. The narration seems to recognize the inadequacies of the plot, and suggests that he's driven by ego, which sort of works if you squint a lot. I decided that for Hank, the story is about scientific hubris -- not in the sense that there are things we aren't meant to know, because Hank doesn't believe that, but just that you shouldn't put too much faith in simulations; you shouldn't assume you can control everything; you should expect to be surprised by the real world.

DAY 37

I pause at Victor’s door, hearing voices inside.

“I want you to know that we’re not giving up,” Dr. Rao says. “If there’s anything we can do to restore some of your eyesight.... We’re going to do anything that we can.”

This scene was the last one written. I needed to show Victor's reaction to being blinded, and I also felt I was leaving out a lot of Rao by only having her interact with Hank. This scene is here to humanize them both. They're both hiding how badly they feel about what's happened because they don't want to give any ground to Hank.

There is a silence during which I suppose that he nods.

“In the meantime, if there’s anything I can get for you. One of my lab assistants was telling me that with satellite radio you can listen to football games all around the world.”

Hank has been imagining himself as the only one who cares about Victor or pays any real attention to him, but Rao's paying at least enough attention to realize Victor is a soccer fan. She certainly cared about Tildie Soames. But just like Hank, she finds it harder to make a connection with Victor because he's not an easy child to like.

Another pause, perhaps a shrug.

“Well, we can try it and see what you think, all right? And I’ve been looking into talking book libraries. It’s amazing what they have. Is there something in particular I can pick up for you?”

“The Bible.”

“Oh. Of course.” Somehow she fails to hear my urgent telepathic message to ask him which translation he prefers. “Anything else? Some light reading, maybe?”

I'm sure Rao knows there's more than one translation of the Bible; it just doesn't occur to her how important that is.

“I don’t know,” he says dully.

I back away from the door and walk out, returning my pass to the puzzled guard. I can’t believe I would have done him any good by visiting today. Victor would like me to believe he’s weathering the loss of his vision with the serenity and hope of Mary Ingalls on Effexor, but I am a mutant who must be persuaded to take the cure. From her, he has nothing to hide.

DAY 57

I would like to say that it was I who diagnosed him. I would like to say I noticed the worsening rash on his skin, the pain that he complained of in his hands, the swelling of his ankles, and put the pieces of the puzzle together. I did, in fact, worry about all those things, but it was a blood test done by Dr. Rao that pointed the way to an explanation.

We had both of us grievously misunderstood how the cure works. It does indeed, as in the simulations, stop the expression of the X-gene, triggering a cascade that can shut down mutant powers. Unlike in the simulations, this effect is transitory. The lasting effects of the cure come from a mobilization of the immune system against the tailored virus, against the cells expressing the inactivated X-gene, and, ultimately, those expressing the genuine article. The mutant cells in Victor’s retina did not simply fizzle out and die. They were sacrificed—ordered to commit suicide by an immune system that saw them as diseased.

One of the ways the immune system cleans up infections is by inducing apoptosis, or cell suicide.

The X-gene is expressed in Victor’s kidneys, although no mutant phenotype is manifested there. Sometimes it happens that way. Now the witch hunt of the white blood cells has extended even to this blameless organ.

It sure is good that Hank uses phrases like "the witch hunt of the white blood cells," because I'd have a very hard time giving a convincing account of how all this works in scientific language.

He is taking a cocktail of immunosuppressants that costs roughly a small car per year, but they’ve been unable to entirely stop the damage. Unless a kidney can be acquired from someone in his family—and don’t think I haven’t considered harvesting one with my claws—he’ll be on dialysis soon, and most likely for a very long time.

With a family donor, he could get a preemptive transplant before the last of his native kidney function is gone.

“You’ve taught his body to hate itself as much as his mind does.”

“That’s a melodramatic way of putting it,” Dr. Rao says. We’re standing in the hall. She’s just come out of Victor’s room and I was on my way in.

“Well then, you’ve invented a new autoimmune disorder, if you prefer that.”

“We’ll still be able to cure some mutations, if they’re localized enough. Children like Tildie Soames.”

“Telepaths, telekinetics. High-draw mental mutations. The most powerful mutants on earth can be neutered, while those who actually need help will be unable to receive it.”

Hank fears that mutants, like Victor, will wind up armorless, with no one left to defend them.

“Not necessarily,” she says.

She probably should have kept her mouth shut here, but she can't stand to go along with the idea that her work is a complete failure.

“What do you mean?”

It’s obvious that she regrets having spoken. “I’m just beginning simulations. It’s nothing I can discuss yet.”

“What have you got up your sleeve, Dr. Rao?”

I watch her steel herself to meet my eyes. “Prenatally. We can treat those mutations prenatally. Preferably in the first trimester.”

This completes the catalogue of Ways The Cure Can Send Us To Hell in a Handbasket. I'm sure there are some I missed.

“It won’t work. A three-month fetus has no immune system.”

“But the mother does.”

I don’t know if it will work, but I can picture it. Let the cure teach the mother’s immune system to produce antibodies against mutant cells, then hope they will cross the placenta, not single spies but in battalions.

Hank quotes Claudius this time: "When sorrows come, they come not single spies / But in battalions." (Hamlet IV.v.)

If they do, and if the mutation is minor, then perhaps the child will be born baseline human. If it is systemic, then the fetus will most likely be aborted—and please, God, save me from the allies that I’ll have then.

That's not a very noble thought on Hank's part -- she's talking about potential genocide, and he's worried about maybe having to work with pro-lifers? But he's seeing a whole complicated disaster; that's just one small detail that he seizes on.

“You’d do anything to exterminate us, wouldn’t you?”

“Do you really think it’s better for mutant children to be born to parents like Victor’s?”

I've seen this seriously advanced as an argument for surgical modification of intersexual infants' genitals: it may not be good, but it's better than letting them be raised by parents who think they're freaks. Oh, well then.

“You don’t care how it happens. You’d do absolutely anything.”

“Hank, be reasonable.”

“What sort of drugs do you keep on hand here, Dr. Rao?”

“Excuse me?”

“Barbituates. Opioids. Whatever you like. You must have something that would be reasonably painless. I recommend ten times the human lethal dose, just to be sure. I’ll write enough backdated prescriptions to satisfy the DEA. I’ll even shave my forearm for you, but you find the vein and you push the plunger if you really think that I should never have been born.”

He's furious with her, but somewhere in the back of his mind is a genuine wish not to live to see the future that he's just foreseen.

“Dr. McCoy.” Her voice is sharp, commanding. It’s the voice you use on a large unruly dog that you’re a bit afraid of. “Back off.”

I fell in love with Dr. Rao when Hank McCoy broke into her lab and she stood nose to nose with him and told him she'd die for her work. She's still willing to stand up to 600 pounds of angry mutant.

I become aware of my position. I’ve backed her against the wall, between a fire hose cabinet and a wall-mounted phone, leaving her no easy escape. My face is just inches from hers.

In my head, this scene corresponds to the bedchamber scene in Hamlet, where Hamlet confronts Gertrude. I don't care for the overtly sexualized blocking of that scene in the Olivier movie (which to me is a triumph of shallow Freudian analysis over sense and taste) but I definitely see Hamlet breaking Gertrude's personal space in a way that's disturbing and unfilial -- his pent-up anger breaking through as Hank's does here.

I take a step back. She slips out and walks away toward the security station without another word, quickening her step but not breaking into a run.

Come back, I want to call after her. For God’s sake, I’m not like that. I only wanted to hurt you with words.

Hank's God is not going to be impressed with that distinction.

DAY 58

“‘And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story, which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.’”

These are the last words of Lewis's The Last Battle.

I put the book down. Victor has been sitting up to listen, and he stays that way, his chin on his fists and his elbows on his knees.

“You don’t believe that, do you?”

“You mean, do I believe in Heaven?” I say—temporizing, since the question he’s asking is obvious.

“Yeah.”

“I hope it’s real. I don’t think I can say that I believe.”

“But you believe in God.”

“Yes.”

“And the Bible.”

“Actually, if you consider the historical circumstances under which the books of the Bible were written and the means by which they’ve come down to us—” I stop myself short of a lecture. “No, I’ve always thought that God was much too clever to put anything in writing.”

The conclusion Hank would have drawn if he'd finished his speech isn't "therefore, we can't know exactly what God said," but rather "God wouldn't use such an unreliable method to communicate anything important." Turning that into too clever to put anything in writing is another example of Hank using jokes and half-truths to avoid conversations he doesn't want to have, but Hank does also believe it's foolish, if not blasphemous, to claim to truly know the mind of God.

“Then how are you supposed to know what God wants you to do?”

“I think that if God is the Creator, then everything we have is from Him. Or Her,” I can’t help adding, though it won’t help my case with Victor. “So we have to look at what is to find out what should be.”

“Like how?”

Dangerous territory. “Well,” I say carefully, “I believe that we’re supposed to love each other, because everything seems so much better when we do.”

“Okay. That’s in the Bible. Like what else?”

Victor's close to a point here, though he doesn't press it: Hank claims to understand God by reading nature, but he's kidding himself if he thinks he's come up with a cleanroom religion, totally uninfluenced by his Christian cultural background.

This is wrong. The time for this conversation was before he took the cure. Not now when he’s given up so much, not now when an inflexible faith is the only armor that he has. But he’s asked me a question, and I’m going to answer.

“Well then, for another example. I’ve never been able to believe that the God who made so many different kinds of beetles wanted there to be only one kind of person.”

The choice of beetles as an example isn't random; Hank's thinking of a story told about J.B.S. Haldane, who was asked by a group of theologians what Nature could teach us about the Creator. Haldane replied, "He has an inordinate fondness for beetles." (He probably said something slightly less snappy under less apt circumstances, but it's still a good story.) This is a load-bearing beam in Hank's belief structure: it's hard to imagine God arranging for 8 million different kinds of beetles, with all kinds of different shapes and elaborate horns and so on, and yet wanting human beings all to be as homogeneous as possible. The diversity of animal reproductive behavior also does not lend itself to the idea that God would get upset about what humans do in bed. (It's no coincidence that Alfred Kinsey was a wasp biologist.) The God responsible for these things would more likely be found poking human society with a stick, saying "do more weird shit! You're still not strange enough!" Which explains a lot about history. But I digress.

He sinks back against his pillow, disappointed. “We’re not bugs. We’re supposed to be people. We’re supposed to overcome whatever’s wrong in us.”

Comparing Victor to an arthropod was a tactical error.

“But that doesn’t mean turning ourselves into something we’re not.”

“No, because you can’t. But you’re supposed to try.”

I confess I am relieved that he did not agree with me. And after all, it was only pride anyway, to think it would make any difference what I said. Did I imagine him being struck by the lightning of my rhetoric and wandering away a happy Deist? If so, I was a fool.

Self-awareness is a bitch.

You’re supposed to try. In a way, it’s a forgiving credo. I’ve always thought of God as being more interested in results than in intentions. I can see myself now, in the office of the celestial Headmaster, clutching at a straw of self-defense: “At least I tried to love him.”

Her hands are steepled, and her voice comes across the desk, gentle but very firm: “Hank, pity does not count as love.”

I heard this line in a very specific voice, but for the longest time I couldn't figure out whose voice is was. It was only when Jeff mentioned discovering Sports Night that I realized God had the voice of Dan Rydell's therapist. That's *my* association, though; I don't think Hank has seen Sports Night (though he'd enjoy it). I would say that Hank's image of a God who sits behind a desk, who sees right through you, and who likes you but is virtually impossible to satisfy, is probably a child's view of Charles Xavier.

DAY 61

I don’t know what sense of penance brings me back here one last time. They’re releasing him today, to a residential program for the blind. So in the end it comes down to a transfer from one special school to another. I came to say goodbye, but found myself walking into the observation room instead, to watch him without being seen. Has the false acceptance that he showed me started to become real? I cannot say. He fidgets a great deal, but that could be some lingering itchiness, or boredom with his audiobooks, or simply the fact that he’s a fourteen-year-old boy who’s been confined to this place far too long. Can the security staff, in their glimpses of me through their cameras, find my mind’s condition in my face?

This is a somewhat random reference to Macbeth -- "There's no art / To find the mind's construction in the face: / He was a gentleman on whom I built / An absolute trust."

Unlikely. Thou wouldst not think how ill all’s here about my heart.

Hamlet says this to Horatio in the last scene of the play, when he's about to go to the duel with Laertes.

As I watch him I hear Dr. Rao’s step in the hall. She approaches Victor’s room and pauses. Then she opens the door to the room where I stand.

“Hank.”

“You’ve started keeping tabs on where I go. That’s prudent.”

She sighs and closes her eyes for a moment. “I just wanted to tell you. The other day. I was upset, I wasn’t afraid of you.”

“Thank you for saying so.” I know she’s lying, but it’s kind of her to bother.

It really is. She's letting him off the hook, even though it means admitting he got to her with what he said, not just through physical intimidation.

“Supervillains have been known to void their bladders when I got that close to them.

DOOM DENIES IT.

You might have made a good X-Man.”

This is kind of nice too, acknowledging her impressive physical courage -- though there's an edge to it: you'd see things differently if you'd been born a mutant.

“I don’t qualify.”

“Well then,” I say, nettled by her willful or obtuse failure to get the point, “you could apply to the Avengers. They take anyone.”

Hank still thinks he should get more credit for having saved the world repeatedly. Stars and garters.

Our mutual apologies being thus concluded, we stand in the companionable silence of good enemies until her mobile phone rings.

“She’s here,” she says when she hangs up.

“Is she coming in to fetch him?”

“No, I’ll take him out.”

“I’ll be on my way, then. I recommend changing the locks.”

He's making it clear that having one relatively civil conversation doesn't make them friends. I'm confident that she already knew that.

“You came all the way here just to leave again? Come say goodbye. It’s only right.”

Again, she's being unexpectedly sweet. She certainly understands Hank better than she did at the beginning of the story; she maybe even understands his feelings about mutation a little better. I don't think she's going to do anything differently as a result.

I follow her to Victor’s room. We both say hello so that he’ll know we’re there. He slides out of bed. He’s already wearing his clothes, and she hands him his sneakers, which, naturally, fasten with Velcro. When he straightens from putting them on, I let a hand rest on his shoulder. He shrugs it off like a child embarrassed by an overaffectionate aunt.

That's progress.

“Is there anything you want to take with you?” Dr. Rao asks.

“No,” he says. “Let’s go.”

As they leave the room he turns, keeping the door open with a shoulder, facing a spot that’s not quite where I am. “Dr. McCoy?”

“Yes?”

“The Narnia books. You could give them to another kid.”

“I will,” I promise. “Goodbye, Victor.”

He nods, turns back around, and disappears behind the closing door.

I follow at a distance, slip out the door behind them, and watch from behind an uninteresting sculpture resembling a paper wasp’s nest as he emerges from the shadow of the building into the light. He tilts his face up and holds up his hands, feeling the warmth of the sun on them for what I suppose is the first time. The light is unforgiving to the cochineal rash that still covers his fused fingers. The emissary from the school approaches, as so often Jean or Scott or the Professor has approached some new student they planned to recruit. She, however, is not experienced in meeting mutants. I must try to make allowances.

She crouches to his level and invites him to touch her. He can’t see her, I remind myself. He finds her only by the direction of her voice. And so maybe it doesn’t matter if she flinches, just a little, as his hands approach her face.

She's prepared herself to meet a child with physical mutation -- or at least tried to -- but is having trouble controlling her reaction, not just to his claws, but to a rash that looks as if might be contagious, even though she's been told that it isn't.
 

Now that I've buried this story in notes about every little detail, I guess it sounds like my writing process is very conscious. *Parts* of it are, certainly. But as I read this story over I keep thinking "How did this happen? And how can I make it happen again?" I mean, I have no idea where that Hank voice came from. It just showed up one day and said "Hello, you might want to write this down." Everyone seems to have recognized it as his voice, though I don't think there's anywhere in canon where he really sounds like that. I wish I could figure out how to make up an equally convincing voice for movie Mystique. I wish I could write more gen, too, but I rarely have any good gen ideas. I feel like this story must have been meant for some other writer -- like I took the wrong baby home from the hospital. But I'm attached to it now, blue fur and all.

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