This issue reprints X-Men (1st Series) #135.
Many years ago at the playground of the Nebraska State Home for Foundlings, a group of children surround two boys in a fight. 12-year-old Scott Summers runs to join the group. Somehow, he knows, when he hears the sounds of a fight, that Nate’s involved. He always is. And he’s always getting the worst of it. And, as always, Scott Summers charges to the rescue. Scott appeals to the stronger boy, Toby, to cut it out. Nate’s half his size. No problem, Toby replies and hits Scott. He’s bigger, so he can take Nate’s place. Scott does his best but it isn’t enough as he receives a fierce beating.
Finally, the fight is broken up by a teacher, who shouts at the boys to stop it. Anderson steps between the boys, while Scott shouts to let him go. He wants to finish it once and for all. Toby Rails shoots back that he has a suicide complex and goes on to insult the teacher. Angrily, Anderson sends him to the administrator’s office and Scott to the infirmary.
There, he meets the new doctor, Robyn Hanover. Scott sulks that he really doesn’t need any treatment. Robyn, a young and charmingly unconventional woman, jokingly tells him that he didn’t lay a finger on the other guy while she treats his injuries. She suggests that the sweet science of pugilism may not be the right career choice for him. When Scott accuses her of making fun, she tells him that he is taking himself too seriously. She asks what happened and why Scott played the hero. Scott doesn’t know. Nate was in trouble, so it seemed natural to help. Robyn tells him that Nate can consider himself lucky to have a friend like him. Scott admits that they are both born losers and only have it each other, but actually he doesn’t even like Nate all that much. Something about him rubs him wrong. A lousy attitude, he knows, but it comes natural around this place.
At night, Robyn takes a walk outside and notices a moan coming from one of the above dorm rooms. It’s the room Scott shares with Nate. Scott is suffering from his recurring nightmare, that has been occurring more and more frequently lately. It’s always about fire, open space and cold. In his dream, he hangs from a ceiling holding on to Nate who begs Scott not to let them fall. Shapes in the fire are coming closer and Nate asks Scott not to let them get him.
But as Scott starts to see the face in the fire, the frightened faces of a man and a woman, he knows it’s not Nate they want. He tries to hold onto Nate, but the boy falls.
Scott wakes up screaming “No!” Nate sits at his side assuring him that everything’s fine and it was only a dream. Robyn joins them as well as several other boys alarmed by Scott’s scream. Nate haughtily tells Robyn that Scott has a nightmare but he will be ok. Robyn steps between the boys telling Nate that she’d rather determine that for herself. Angrily, she thinks to herself that Nate acts as though he runs the place.
She examines Scott while, in the background, Rails and his pals are cracking filthy jokes about Nate and Scott. With mock-concern he tells Roby she’d better check them for drugs. Robyn admonishes him to quit, he’s had his fight for the day.
Nate impatiently asks if Robyn is finished and she replies that Scott will stay in the infirmary that night. Watching them leave, Nate declares that she is making a mistake. But Toby has made a bigger one… A while later, Toby who is heading for his room suddenly finds himself in the clutches of Mr. Sinister. The villain gloats that he tolerated Toby’s actions because they suited his purposes, but he has gone too far and become counterproductive and now must be dealt with as he deserves…
On the next day, Robyn does some investigations on Scott’s background, rifling through the orphanage’s files on him. A secretary informs her that Scott has been with them for over four years. Seems like just the other day he was brought over from County General. Why was he in the hospital? Robyn asks. The secretary tells her that he had a skull fracture and was in a coma over a year. With his medical history, he’s never been adopted. Brain-damage…The combined effect of his injury, plus exposure from being out in the prairie in the middle of a blizzard. It’s a miracle he survived at all! How did he get there, Robyn wonders. Story is he was almost kidnapped by space aliens, the other woman jokes.
Robyn exits the office, mulling over her meager findings. There’s no sign of physical or mental impairment… Chief Adminstrator Pearson addresses her asking pointedly whether her feet are bothering her. Robyn explains that she is wearing sneakers out of habit from med school. They are more comfortable. Pearson stiffly points out that this isn’t med school and a more decorous length of skirt would also be appropriate. That aside, he trusts, she’s settling in well. Robyn gives a polite reply and Pearson tells her that while he may originally have opposed her appointment, now that she’s here they’ll do everything to make sure she’ll fit in.
He is however concerned that she’s focusing her interest on one child to the possible detriment of his fellows. They pride themselves on playing no favorites. Robyn politely thanks him for the advice and he urges her to come to him if there’s anything she needs.
Perfectly legit and respectable, she thinks as he walks away but something about the man makes her feel creepy.
Absolutely ignoring his advice, she asks Scott to help her move in her stuff into her office in an attempt to get him to open up. Everyone needs friends, she tells the shy boy, to which he bitterly replies that they’ll only hurt him. He becomes curious when he sees Robyn hanging up a picture showing her with a small plane.
She can fly? he asks exited. Robyn realizes she’s found her opportunity with the boy and asks him if he likes planes. He loves them, he tells her enthusiastically. Has he considered applying for his own license? For one moment, Scott considers it but the happiness fleets: He has no chance of passing the physical. The brain damage. He still gets these headaches like something inside is trying to smash his skull to bits. He couldn’t risk this happening while he was in the air. Robyn commends him on his responsible attitude, when they hear some kind of commotion outside. The other children are shouting that Toby Rails is in trouble.
Robyn and Scott hurry outside and see Rails standing on the roof of one of the buildings. A crowd has gathered but nobody is doing anything. What if he jumps? Scott asks. No great loss, Nate states cynically. Scott angrily swears at him and runs up the fire stairs. Robyn asks Nate if he doesn’t think he is being too harsh. It’s what Toby deserves, Nate replies. Robyn tries to appeal to Nate’s conscience but the boy blows her off. She offers her friendship, but he grimly tells her that he isn’t going to be hers like Scott. Robyn wonders if he truly dislikes her or resents the fact that she’s come between him and Scott.
She suddenly notices that Scott is on the roof. Scott tries to talk with Toby, but the other boy won’t be dissuaded. He doesn’t seem to be in control of his faculties as he jumps. Scott reaches for him and manages to grab the other boy’s arm. Scott pleads with Toby to help him pull him up but, instead, Toby hits him and Scott has no choice but to let him fall to his death.
Later, Robyn climbs up telling Scott not to blame himself; it’s not his fault. Easy for her to say, he replies glumly as the ambulance drives off.
Changing the subject, he points out the sunset. Has she ever noticed how sometimes the sunset’s colored so the sky seems to be on fire? It’s lovely, she agrees. All he can think of, Scott confides, is that, somewhere, something is burning. And somebody is losing something precious to the flames. He can’t hold onto anything. The harder he tries, the more easily they slip through his fingers. She’d said he’d acted like a hero but, if he were any good at it, maybe Toby would still be here. He doesn’t listen, as she says that he did her best.
Robyn watches as he climbs down to where Nate is waiting for him. Robyn wonders why he is being so hard on himself and what falling and flames, the key components of his nightmare have to do with it. As the boys walk away, Nate looks back and shoot her a murderous look. The same kind of look, she realizes, he gave Toby the other night…