X-Men fan fiction
part 1: Gifted Students
Chapter 1: Homecoming
Chapter 2: Recharge
Chapter 3: Regenerate
Chapter4: Xavier's Decision
Chapter 5: X-Men in Training
Chapter6: Mission Fatigue
Chapter 7: New and Improved
Chapter 8: Fear Itself
Chapter 9: Through the Glass
Chapter 10: Mourning Glories
Chapter 11: Ghost Stories
Chapter 12: The Devil and Despair
Chapter 13: Spuytin Dyvil Falls
Chapter 14: Evil Spirits
Chapter 15: Heart Stone
Chapter 16: The Rubble O'r Our Sins
Chapter 17: Shadow Boxing
Chapter 18: House Rules
part 1: Gifted Students
The Rubble O’r Our Sins
In Ororo’s vision of the Cairo museum, N’Dare was telling her young daughter about the legend of the Heart Stone; Adult Storm was watching as she spoke. Then the museum was under attack.
“Goddess, be merciful!” N’Dare tried to shield her daughter as the display case in front of them shattered. Something made Ororo’s younger self reach out for the stone as it fell.
“Mama!” She pressed the sacred stone into her mother’s hand. The entire room shook. Everything was collapsing around them.
What Ororo saw now was Candra’s account of that day and, unlike when she had been a small child, this time Ororo understood what she was seeing. There were two ferocious forces at battle. They left massive destruction in their wake. But these were not natural forces. They were the disembodied forms of two supernatural beings, and they were fighting to possess the Heart Stone
“My child,” N’Dare whispered, “take this, that you might live.”
Young Ororo’s fingers curled around the stone. And, as they did, N’Dare’s fading life force flowed through the stone and into her daughter, granting Ororo the strength she would need to survive until she could be pulled from the rubble.
Candra and Shadow King battled furiously, Shadow King laying waste to everything around them in his attempt to prevent Candra from possessing the Heart Stone. Candra was wounded just as she sensed the exchange between N’Dare and Ororo. When N’Dare’s life force flowed out, Candra’s fled into the crystal.
Ororo remembered taking the stone from her mother’s hand after the collapse but, as the battle had raged on around her, young Ororo lost the stone, buried among the debris.
It was Shadow King who recovered the gem. The Shadow King laughed as he held the Heart Stone up to the light and tapped a finger against one side. “You cannot hide in there forever, Candra.”
“It turned out I could not ‘hide’ at all,” Candra explained to Ororo. “I needed a priestess to serve as conduit between the realms, to open the gateways. Without N’Dare I was trapped within the stone.” Ororo shuddered at that imagery. “And there I remained– until now. When Shadow King pulled you into this haven he built for himself, he was able to bring me here as well– through your physical connection to the stone.”
“Now we are both trapped within this... illusion.” For a moment Ororo’s fears got the better of her. A moment was all it took for Shadow King to strike, and Ororo was no longer an objective observer. She was a small child, trapped under the rubble. The Heart Stone fell from her hand as she instinctively tried to dig her way free. But the harder Ororo struggled, the more jagged remains of the museum pressed in all around her, closing off the air, forcing the life from her body.
Storm. Jean shifted all of her focus onto Ororo in a reaction both instinctive and intense.
Scott felt Ororo’s plight from Jean’s perspective, but he saw the collapse from Hank and Warren’s position. Cyclops immediately ran out into the street and fired one long optic blast into the darkening sky. This time he did so with purpose. It was a beacon to lead the others back, it was an order to retreat. The building Ororo had entered, Farouk’s Cairo stronghold, had collapsed to the ground. For all they knew, Shadow King meant to destroy the entire city in an attempt to wipe them all out.
“To me, X-Men!” Fall back, immediately.
Fall back! Her body isn’t under that rubble, and you two can’t free her from it by going in there. We do that, we play into his hands. Remember where you are! Jean has a hold on her mind; Ororo is safe. And Cyclops could feel through Jean’s mental link how volatile all of their emotions were right now. This was too big a risk for any of them. Seeing one of their own in such heart-wrenching pain and danger– it was impossible to forget this was not real, giving Shadow King the exact, undeniable advantage he needed.
Scott returned inside. “Jean, we’ve done all we can on our own. We need Xavier.”
“Working on that, Cyclops!” I’m going to try to open the mental link to him. I think we can reach him, but there is a risk. D’Spayre will try to use us against Xavier.
You want us to overpower a demon? Angel asked incredulously.
For all his power and persistence, he has only Xavier’s doubts and fears to feed on. But when Xavier’s thoughts shift to us– that’s when D’Spayre has the most difficulty holding on to Xavier. If all of us remind Professor Xavier – with all the weight of our thoughts and emotions – of the good he has done, we might be able to drown out D’Spayre.
With what?! Angel countered.
The one thing he’s trying his hardest to rob Xavier of, Beast concluded. Hope.
Hope for the future, Jean concurred. Hope for our shared future.
All the players were in place. Jean looked up at Scott. It was now or never.
“Cyclops. I need you to take the lead with Xavier. I’m going after Storm.”
Cyclops nodded. Her decision didn’t come as a surprise to him, thanks to the open mental link between them; thanks to the same link, they both understood what needed to be done.
“Be careful,” he admonished
Jean gave him a wicked smirk. “To hell with careful. I’m going to make Shadow King sorry he ever thought he could mess with us.”
Her iron-clad determination made Scott chuckle in cautious approval.
“You three just hang on to Xavier until I can free Storm,” Jean finished.
Scott nodded again. His approval of her plan came more cautiously, but admiration for her unflinching determination to carry it out was obvious and given freely.
Hank confirmed, We’ll keep wrestling his attention away from D’Spayre until you and Ororo can rejoin our efforts.
Jean nodded. For a moment she didn’t know what else to say. “Good luck, Cyclops”
Cyclops only smirked. “Go get ‘em, Marvel Girl.”
After a few minutes the initial panic faded. Storm closed her eyes. It is not real, she told herself firmly. But rational thought was not enough to drive out the fear. She needed to place her focus on something tangible.
“You know how to fight him in this place. Tell me how to defeat the monster in this land of its own making.” At first Storm was afraid silence would be her only answer. Then Candra began to speak to her.
“The mutant, Farouk, was one of many to become obsessed with the legend of the four Life Stones which guarded our four ancient realms in the old times. According to that legend, possession of the stones was said to grant great strength, enhanced power, even immortality to a worthy holder. Many of our people interpreted the legend to mean: only a chosen Immortal. They saw the Immortals as a race descendent from the chosen ones of legend. Others took the legend at face value, insisting that anyone could be chosen worthy to wield the stones and guard the realms, based on nothing more than the unseen immortal qualities inherent in their characters.
“In a time of great turmoil, that legend created chaos among the realms. Shadow King, and others, stoked the fires of greed, intolerance, hatred, and aggression, convincing many that their rightful seat of power was being denied to them because their leaders preferred to coddle lesser beings: humanity. When war broke out the four stones were sent out into the world, for safe-keeping, until peace could be restored. The Heart Stone went to Africa, the Mind Stone to India, the Soul Stone to China, and the Spirit Stone to South America. Each stone was entrusted to priests and priestesses who would watch over them faithfully. In some cases those priests and priestesses were human, and some were mutants. In all cases, the possession of the stones enhanced the qualities within them that made each of them worthy guardians for the stone entrusted to them. And these enhancements were passed on to their offspring, oftentimes growing stronger with each successive generation, until the guardians could themselves be considered Immortals.
“But these priests and priestesses are far more than simple guardians. When wielding the Life Stones, they also serve as a link between the sacred realms, and a means to one day reunite the realms. The stones are the physical link – the door – but a spiritual link is also needed. That feat requires a powerful Immortal body – what you would call a ‘mutant’ – one strong enough in mind, heart, soul, or spirit to wield power enough to hold open the gates between human and Immortal worlds.”
“Gates?” Ororo was trying to absorb the words, but it was becoming difficult to comprehend. She felt light-headed. There was so little air, and the spaces so small.... Focus, she told herself firmly. Understand Shadow King. Understand yourself. So you can free yourself, and destroy him.
“Remember,” Candra continued. “Immortals and Externals – gods and demons – are free to walk among mortals but Immortal realms are closed to mortals. Externals can only reenter the realms accompanied by an Immortal hunter or huntress. And most Externals prefer to die in battle rather than face the realms’ judgement.
“They are... great sanctuaries,” Candra whispered. The sound of her voice made Ororo remember what it meant to be far from home, and to ache for a place. “They are also bastions of knowledge and technology. We Immortals are sacred guardians of all that has come before us. Protectors of the Earth and of its mortal inhabitants. There is a sacred bond of life between the Immortals and the Life Stones. The guardians of the stones feel that bond as well. You have felt it, Ororo. Between the Priestesses who guard the Heart Stone and the Living Earth. You are part of that eternal bond. That connection marks you as a worthy guardian: your sacred connection to the Living Earth.”
“And what of Shadow King? What happens if he possesses the Heart Stone?”
“Shadow King.” Candra spoke the name with disgust. “He may possess the stone, but he cannot wield it.”
Shadow King materialized from Ororo’s thoughts with frightening ease. He walked casually amid the destruction of the Cairo museum, taunting Ororo with his ease of movement as well as his presence.
Ororo cursed herself, trying with all of her strength to shut Shadow King out... but so long as she remained trapped in his illusion, unable to free herself from his cursed trap of crushed stone, he retained access to her mind.
“I will possess the Heart Stone. And then I will deal with its former master, the so-called Immortal, Candra.”
“You will do no such thing,” Storm insisted angrily.
Shadow King ignored her threat. “You will find much has changed, Candra, and that change began with you. After your capture I studied the Heart Stone – and its peculiar effects on the mutants around it.”
“Ororo,” Candra whispered, “I am but a shadow of my former self, a wounded life force stored inside a sacred crystal. But you, you must not yield to Shadow King.”
“I have promised D’Spayre your soul, Candra – warped, such as it is – as payment for his efforts to help me regain my place in the physical world. We will see how immortal you are, once the demon delivers you home.”
“That threat is an empty one. Your pet demon has no place in any realm.”
“You still remember things as they were. Much has changed since I trapped you.” Shadow King turned his attention to Ororo. “Candra speaks the truth, Ororo, but there is one thing Candra neglects to tell you. She speaks of sacred vows – which she knows she has broken. She speaks of a sacred bond of life – which she, herself, has corrupted. For your crimes, Candra, there should be a place in my demon army marked specially for you,” Shadow King insisted.
Storm saw the image in her mind: Shadow King was holding up the red stone to the glint of the bright blue sky above him. But Ororo could see a flaw. The crystal, corrupted. Cursed. A thing not of life, but of death. Her stomach turned. Ororo had felt the same wrong instinctively. She remembered Kenya. Ororo had become convinced over time that her tribal elders were right about the stone. She had tried to destroy it, but each time she failed, unable to break the connection she felt to the stone... even when she could feel it ruining her.
“What Shadow King says shames me, because it is the truth. The stone once kept you alive through the willing sacrifice your mother made for you. While trapped within the stone, I drew strength from the deaths of many in a vain attempt to free myself.”
“Goddess, no,” Ororo whispered in disbelief. “You manipulated my weather-making powers, before I could control them, long before I even understood them. You manipulated me for your own selfish purpose.”
“Selfish, perhaps. Desperate, certainly. I had– no other option.”
Storm shook her head. “As long as there is life, there is always another way. Because of you, many died in famine and in flood. For all your talk of human suffering–” Ororo stopped in horrified speechlessness.
Shadow King smiled, a sickening smile. “I owe you a debt of enormous gratitude, Candra. Your actions showed me that I could similarly create a rift in the Mind Stone, which the demons could exploit, enough to regain entrance to their rightful realm.”
“No! The gates are closed to them– they are Externals– they cannot–”
“I owe you a debt of gratitude,” Shadow King continued, indifferent to Candra’s outrage. “Thanks to you, the demons again have a home in the realms. I should indeed have a place in my demon army for you,” Shadow King repeated, almost fondly, then his smile abruptly vanished into icy fury. “But what I will instead afford you is defeat, and a death that will last forever.”
Storm did not know which of them struck first, she only knew that the battle begun so long ago had once again been joined with furious intensity. She felt the remains of the ruined Cairo museum shake violently around her. Outside, the tempest resumed as two immortal foes met again in battle. That logic brought little comfort. Inside this prison of Shadow King’s making, it still felt as though she was slowly being crushed and suffocated to death, trapped by the horror within her own mind.
She closed her eyes tightly against the fear. “Goddess, grant me the strength of the mountains and the certainty of the ever-flowing river, that I may stand strong and unflinching through this trial.”
As she closed her eyes Ororo saw familiar images unfold, just as they did in her dreams. She and her mother were in the Cairo museum. She was a small child, trapped under the rubble. The Heart Stone fell from her hand as she tried to dig her way free. Jagged remains of the museum pressed in around her. Ororo did not know for how long she was trapped under the rubble.
Then Achmed was training her as a thief. Ororo smiled. Those memories were not as hard to remember. She had been found, miraculously alive, with nothing more than the clothes on her back and – Ororo remembered – the ruby. Achmed hid her and the stone from the corrupt authorities who ran the Cairo thieves quarters on Farouk’s orders. Eventually they did manage to take the stone away from Achmed. But Ororo used her skills as a thief to steal it back again.
Her hands tightened to fists. In one hand she held her Heart Stone. Its reality was comforting. It reminded her that at least part of herself was safe, in the cave, on the grounds of the Xavier Institute. And it also reminded her of her mother. Ororo wished she could feel the comforting strength of N’Dare’s presence again now... but if she could do little else, trapped in this landscape of Shadow King’s ruin, she would refuse to let go of the stone, her legacy.
Storm would refuse. Even as two gods fought with a rage that that split the air and shook the ground with their fury, she would refuse to be moved against her will.
Then a rock moved above her, and another. Storm opened her eyes. She could see daylight. Achmed’s urchins had once dug child Ororo out from the rubble of the ruined Cairo Museum. Was she remembering the past, desperately hallucinating a rescue?
“Storm? Can you hear me?”
It was Jean Grey who telepathically dug Ororo out of Shadow King’s illusion, laboring immensely over each stone, as each one was held in place by the power of Ororo’s own will.
“Here!” Ororo took a breath, feeling the glorious rush of fresh, cool air on her face. “I am here.”
“Storm. You can free yourself,” Jean told her friend, still panting from exertion over the effort required to dig through to Ororo. “You know it’s not real: these rocks, Shadow King’s reality. Remember, it’s only real for you so long as you think it and believe it to be so.”
“I try, only to have the fear overwhelm me again. Perhaps my thoughts are not powerful enough, Goddess help me. Jean, I cannot make this tomb of crushed rock cease to exist.”
“You can, Storm– I know it–”
“Jean– You easily use the power of your mind. But mine is the power of the elements.”
“Listen to me. You are Storm. You have your own mind, and you have power over all the elements of the Earth. Shadow King fears you, fears you enough to try to bury you alive. Remind him why he fears you!”
Ororo’s fingers closed determinedly around the Heart Stone as she listened to her friend’s words, as she made up her mind, her determination set in stone.
“I. Am. Storm. And I call on the elements. The bonds of Earth will release me, and the currents of the sky will embrace me!” With those words, Storm burst forth from the rubble, her blue eyes awash in white, tinged by flashes of lightening; the air around her crackled with electricity.
Jean looked up. Storm remained aloft, savoring her newfound freedom, hovering high above the collapse of Farouk’s Cairo stronghold. Master of the elements.
But Jean’s joy for Ororo’s newfound victory was quickly dampened. The sky above them was no longer a brilliant, cloudless bright blue. It was now an unholy sight. Deep purple and blood red, awash in the tides of ferocious battle.
I’m going to finish this fight. Jean heard Ororo’s thought.
Ro– wait! I need your help first.
Professor Xavier! Can you hear me, Professor?
Xavier was trying to focus, but her voice kept slipping away from him. Her call sounded like an echo of its former self, coming from much farther away than it had before. Xavier remembered the hopeful little girl he had once rescued from the frightening abyss of her own mind.
“Do you think there are others out there, other kids like me?” young Jean Grey had asked him.
You really think you have improved her? Another voice had returned to taunt Charles Xavier.
Xavier wanted that voice to be silent. It was the same voice that kept telling him there would be no one to come to his aid. Telling him it was his fault, for driving them all away. Telling him he deserved this fate, the crushing weight that was his failed life collapsing all around him.
She needed me, Xavier stated certainly. He still remembered startling green eyes staring back at him. There had been a blinding combination of hope and certainty behind that question, so intense she was almost afraid to express it in words. Xavier had known then what he had to do....
You really think you have improved any of them?
He remembered Ororo, the child thief in Cairo who’d once stolen his wallet in order to survive. And years later, the young mutant goddess he’d glimpsed while using Cerebro. By then she was facing increasing hostilities from her own people simply because she could not yet fully control her abilities. He had helped her, hadn’t he? And Hank. And Warren.
You really think they needed you to rescue them?
Hank and Warren would likely still be in government custody, locked away somewhere, if Xavier had not intervened.
Hank McCoy was dedicated to a life of science long before he ever met you. Warren Worthington III was dedicated to a life of justice. The two of them didn’t need you. They still don’t. You hold them back from living out their own lives, from achieving their own potentials. All for the sake of a dream that is inherently doomed to failure.
They needed me, Xavier repeated certainly. They are my dream. And none of them are doomed to failure.
Listen to me, Professor. This was a new voice.
He remembered Scott Summers, blind and alone on the streets of Omaha. So full of potential.
And yet so completely damaged. The other voice was taunting him again.
Has no idea how damaged he truly is, or why. That was your decision, to hide the truth from him. You still haven’t learned from your mistakes.
Xavier was seated alongside Hank in the infirmary. “I can’t tell you how tempted I was to tell him, all of it, Charles.” And then, years earlier, a compromise which came with Hank’s warning: “I won’t volunteer the truth, nor will I withhold it from him. I cannot lie to him, Charles. I will not. Not as his doctor nor as his friend.”
He wasn’t ready, Xavier argued.
Laughter nearly drown out Xavier’s reply. Of course he wasn’t ready. When does someone become ready to hear they were the subject of such – what was the word that first sprung to your mind – atrocity? Surely it will be easier after those closest to him have hidden their knowledge of it for years, or decades?
Neither of them had ever seen anything like the initial brain scans taken shortly after Scott’s arrival at the Institute. Hank had been able to quickly determine the active centers of Scott’s brain, focused around his optic nerves. He’d also been able to quickly identify the dead zone where there was no activity, and signs of an old skull fracture. He was able to put two and two together and determine that a childhood head injury had cost Scott the ability to consciously control his optic blasts, probably for the rest of his life. But beyond that....
“I have no medical explanation for these results,” Hank had admitted.
Xavier had moved his chair closer to the wall where a series of CT scans were displayed.
“Because this is no naturally occurring medical phenomena.”
He is as damaged emotionally and psychologically as he is physically, the voice persisted. Do you really think that damage can ever be overcome? Or are you just hoping the truth will stay hidden forever?
And just a few short months ago: “I’m still unsure if his resistance to sedative and analgesic medications is part of his mutation – just another aspect of his enhanced metabolism – or more of an acquired trait.”
You’ll never tell him the truth. But someone will. McCoy nearly spilled the beans, and the others suspected something. Even if the boy remains so foolishly loyal that he is unwilling to doubt you, it’s only a matter of time....
“Scott, how much do you know about a man called Nathaniel Essex?” Xavier remembered that conversation, a little over two years ago, the night he’d found Scott.
He wasn’t ready, Xavier repeated certainly. He didn’t need another hard truth. He needed someone to believe in him. They all did.
Listen, Professor! The new voice insisted. You are under attack, and you have to fight back.
Again, Xavier’s mind slipped into the past. He found himself sitting in the back of a car outside an Omaha police station. Scott was seated beside him, his eyes tightly closed.
“It was foolish of me–” Xavier remembered Scott’s voice; the underlying weight of deep discouragement came through very clearly.
“Never foolish to hope, Scott,” Xavier had told him gently, but certain of that fact.
“Foolish to wish for the impossible,” Scott bit back.
“Only until the impossible becomes possible,” Charles Xavier had countered.
The young man smiled. Xavier saw Scott as he was now, years older and wearing his ruby quartz glasses. I’ll never forget what you said to me that day: Family is not just flesh and blood, but people who care deeply for one another. Those connections can be built as readily as they can be born.
“You don’t have to be alone in the world any longer, Scott,” Xavier whispered, finishing his own past thought.
You taught us that there are many ways to make a difference in this world. And none of us are in this fight alone. Warren was next to share his memory: “You see,” the Xavier of three years ago explained, “I believe that as we prepare mutants for the world, we simultaneously prepare the world for mutants.”
You taught us that all of our unique gifts, perspectives, visions, were not only necessary but irreplaceable, Hank continued Warren’s argument. You taught us to believe in ourselves, as well as in our abilities, Hank insisted.
And you were right, Professor! Scott echoed, latching on to those encouraging thoughts. You were right about us, all of us, working together, using our gifts for the greater good.
Professor, Jean joined them, you taught us that the two are one in the same – who we are and what we can do – even when I didn’t want to hear that. Jean continued with a wry smile. You taught us all to fight our fears, she added certainly. But now, D’Spayre knows your fears and he knows how to exploit them. He intends to paralyze you with fear.
Of course. Xavier heard her words, but his mind remained stubbornly entrenched in the past. Again, Xavier remembered Jean as her younger self. “You can use your mind to hear other’s thoughts, or to speak without saying a word. You’re telepathic, Jean.” Xavier placed a hand over hers, in comfort, but also expressing an emotion that young Jean did not yet understand (and one that came entirely unexpectedly to Charles) – solidarity. “I know because I have that gift too....” In time, you will learn to use your gifts, just as I did, he reassured Jean’s younger self. Xavier smiled. I will help you.
You must listen to us carefully now, Professor, Ororo stated firmly. When I had no way out, when I was in fear for my life, you gave me a new life. New home. New family.
You have done that for all of us, Professor, Scott readily agreed.
You remember what I asked you that day? Jean insisted.
You asked if there were others out there, other kids like you. “I’m certain there are, Jean,” Xavier had replied.
She had not hesitated to ask, “Will you find them too, and help them?” It wasn’t a question, it was an expectation. Xavier remembered. The strength and simplicity of child-like expectation behind that question had cut him all the way to the quick.
“I will try my hardest. I promise.”
You’ve kept that promise, Charles, Warren reminded him, and we’re all better for it.
You taught us not to give up, Charles, Hank added. You must listen to us now.
The other voice came back. If you do this, Charles, you will lose them all.
You once told me there would come a time. Now, Charles, Hank insisted calmly. Now it is time to act.
If you do this, the other voice threatened, you will lose everything.
Charles. Where is the stone?
Xavier’s smile was full of fondness and pride as he listened to the voices of his students, his friends... but there was another voice that refused to be silenced. A voice of doubt, a voice of dissension, one deliberately sowing discord between Xavier and all that he loved. That voice insisted that Xavier could offer nothing but a corrupting influence upon everything he touched.
Hank was seated beside Xavier in his study, the two men enjoying a pleasant conversation over afternoon tea. Xavier remembered. This was not very long after Hank had officially joined the Xavier Institute.
“I used to think science was pure logic, no right nor wrong beyond what could be proven or disproven. I soon learned that anything so dependent upon flawed persons was far more complex, and full of dangerous pitfalls.”
When I was at my lowest point, I felt betrayed by science, Hank reminded Charles. Now I feel invigorated. I’m defending science. The same is true for mutation and mutants. I had been betrayed. But you taught me, Charles, that science and medicine – like life – is only as honorable as those who practice it, only as strong as those who protect it. But the Hank of present day could not keep his friend’s memory from slipping back into the past.
“You taught me that those pitfalls could be avoided, but only through constant and vigilant self-awareness. Science, medicine, leadership, humanity... it is a rare man whom can combine all of the above.”
McCoy thought he found some sort of scientific messiah in you.
And I found a counterbalance in Hank. A man of science who recognized the need to couple science with ethics, progress with restraint.
Past Xavier smiled politely. “You are a good influence on me as well, Hank.”
Past Hank offered his tea cup in a toast. “To a bright future.”
Past Charles echoed that sentiment. “A bright future.”
Ironically, Xavier was counting on Hank as much as Hank was counting on Xavier.
You required a check on your own need for power.
Xavier wanted to curse that voice, to rant and rave and force it to be silent. Instead he answered calmly, tiredly. I needed someone to remind me of the value of compassion, ethical action. Faith in people.
You desperately needed him to reinforce you, to give you direction. Just as you needed Moira and Eric to give you direction and reassurance. Just as you needed Gabrielle and Amelia to prop you up emotionally.
Xavier fought off that line of attack, not allowing D’Spayre to pull him away from the present, to push him back into his past doubts and failures.
But you soon began eroding him of the very values you claim to admire in him. Even now he wonders where the line is: ethics and restraint... and has he already crossed it, trampled under foot?
Confronted with yet another person who had suffered in the wake of Xavier’s selfishness and inaction, Xavier fought, only to be dropped back into the past. The scene shifted. Hank now stood in Xavier’s office. Xavier had just made his first overture toward Hank to join his fledgling school. This was in the wake of Moira and Eric’s sudden departures; perhaps it was too soon. Hank had jumped to the wrong conclusion, his voice raised in angry distress.
“Is everything a crass manipulation?!”
I was quite close to losing hope then, Hank reminded Charles. I certainly didn’t want to risk myself again, but Charles, you didn’t give up on me. More importantly, you didn’t let me give up on myself, my own potential for good. Your faith in me changed me: changed my direction, changed my life for the better.
Xavier remembered his own words to Hank. “It’s not what our mutations can do, but what we choose to do with them which will define the course of our lives as mutants.”
“Precisely!” Hank nodded, now seated quietly across from Xavier in his study. Sometimes a leap of faith is required. Hank remembered the remainder of that conversation, Xavier’s words to him, years ago: On those occasions we have to trust in ourselves, and we have to trust in others as well. “I need you to trust now, Charles,” Hank said aloud, calmly facing his friend. “In me. In yourself.
“The stone, Charles,” Hank insisted.
“I remember,” Charles whispered in reply.
Charles Xavier could remember. But he could not seem to focus. As he listened to Hank’s voice, there was another voice he remembered.
Dundee, Illinois circa. 1970
“The mutant in question?”
“He’s a fifteen year-old boy, Erik.” Charles cast a chastising glance at his always-suspicious companion. “His abilities don’t appear to pose any serious danger–”
“At that age, they are always a danger,” Erik insisted.
Charles Xavier picked up on the double meaning in his friend’s statement. “It is a dicey time,” Charles agreed. “An unpredictable and volatile age for mutants still coming into their abilities.”
“It is the most dangerous time for them, Charles,” Erik insisted passionately.
This time Xavier heard more personal worry in his voice.
“How is your Anna?”
“Anya?” That question brought a rare smile to Erik’s face. “She is perfect.”
“Does Margaret know?”
That question chased the previous smile away a bit. “She knows what I can do. Magda has seen it. And I have told her that Anya might be special as well. I’ve always told her that, for years, even before Anya was born. But she is more reluctant to believe it now than she once was.”
“That must be difficult.”
“I don’t blame her. We have seen how much of humanity would reward those who are different. Of course she wants a better life, a better world, for her child. She wants to believe that things have changed over the years, that Erik, Margaret, and Anna live in a safer world than the one Max and Magda knew... but it is far easier to leave old names in the past than old ways.” With that, Erik changed the subject. “I take it you still haven’t told Gabrielle.”
Charles winced. “I’ve tried, many times.”
“It won’t get easier with time, Charles. Like my own Magda, your Gabrielle has seen for herself what you can do. And she knows, just as well, how the world reacts when threatened, what happens to innocents who get caught in the crossfire.”
“I just can’t tell if....” Charles’s voice trailed off uncertainly.
“If she see what she sees?” Erik offered with a dry smirk. “Charles, trust your gut not your heart. If your gut tells you she cannot handle the truth,” he shook his head, “no amount of heartsick rubbish will change that.”
Xavier laughed, shaking off the seriousness of his friend’s warning to focus on his delivery instead. “By ‘heartsick rubbish’ I can only assume you mean ‘love’. How does Margaret tolerate your excessively romantic nature?”
“She knows full well that I would kill in order for her to live.”
Charles stared back in speechless silence for a couple of seconds before Erik laughed, and Charles shook his head at him. This was the line they walked increasingly often now. Erik tried less to hide the most extreme of his views from Charles’s sight, and Charles tried more to overlook them, hoping that in the end his friend would not be tested, and aggressive words would prove themselves to be no more than empty, angry talk.
The two men walked up to a quiet, well-kept suburban home that looked like every other home on its street. Charles Xavier knocked on the front door.
“We aren’t the only ones interested in young Mr. McCoy today.”
Erik casually looked over his shoulder and spotted a government-issued sedan parked a few houses away. “Ah, Fred Duncan, FBI,” he noted with a hint of disdain.
“He’s one of the good guys.”
Erik snorted. “When will I ever break you of this trusting nature of yours, Charles?”
“Never, I hope, old friend.”
Fred, you might as well join us, talk to the boy instead of surveilling him.
Fred Duncan exited his car and joined Xavier, who met him on the sidewalk, while Erik began making their introductions to the charming Edna McCoy.
“Fred Duncan, FBI, ma’am.”
Edna’s smile cooled considerably. “What is this about?” she asked, stepping outside onto the porch. “Has there been some problem at the plant?”
“Not at all. We’re not here about Norton,” Xavier explained, “we’d actually like to speak to Henry.”
“Henry.” Edna’s voice cooled to match her smile.
“It’s nothing to be alarmed about, ma’am,” Duncan reassured her. “Just one of his, um, science projects, got our attention.”
Edna agreed warily. “Yes, well, Henry is a very bright boy.”
A few minutes later a teenager jogged downstairs, wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with an image of Albert Einstein, and sporting a similarly haphazard hairstyle.
“This is our spy?
Erik chuckled in amusement at Duncan’s disbelief. “Actually, this is the FBI’s famed ‘Soviet Cybernetic Threat of 1970'.”
“Excuse me, did you say ‘spy’?”
“FBI Agent Duncan has been quite worried about your recent covert activities,” Erik explained, still smiling, highly amused.
“Erik, don’t alarm young Henry,” Xavier chided. “This is Mr. Erik Lehnsherr, and I am Charles Xavier. We’re quite interested in learning more about your work.”
Hank’s worries evaporated quickly, given an audience for his scientific theories. “I’ve been looking into worldwide trends in human genetics. I’ve found a number of very intriguing patterns. I believe there are certain mutations in human DNA, which were just beginning to emerge a few decades ago, but their advancement has become greatly accelerated by worldwide nuclear activity. Nuclear power plants are becoming increasingly more common, and of course military research into the development of atomic weapons.”
“Henry. It’s very nice to meet you,” Duncan interjected himself into the conversation. “I was wondering if we could talk about some of your recent overseas communications.”
“Oh.” Henry seemed to put two and two together at that point. “Governments around the world have been conducting secret nuclear experimentation for years. Any major test site is of particular interest to my research, but of course they are very secretive. Hence the unfortunate necessity of communication with the Russians. But I’m not a spy, or anything like that, I simply found the correct codes and requested the files I was interested in, for research purposes.”
“Code breaking and espionage.” Erik laughed. “I like this kid.”
Henry looked all the more confused by the newly occurring concept that he’d done something illegal.
“It’s really quite easy to make requests once you realize their automated information systems are literally overflowing with documents. With little centralized control, each separate ministry runs itself and avoids power sharing; poor management and communication practices lead to even greater dependence on automated systems, resulting in document duplication and lax oversight....”
“So you simply requested information,” Duncan said, obviously floored, “from the Soviet propaganda machine.”
“Well, they, um, may have been under the impression that I was a U.S. Army officer who was considering defection.” Hank rubbed the back of his head warily. That sounded a lot worse once he said it out loud. “Am I in a lot of trouble?”
Erik was laughing openly as he sat back in his seat.
Henry blinked curiously, as if he didn’t believe his eyes for a moment. A cup of tea, now sitting unattended on the table in front of Mr. Lehnsherr, was slowly but very deliberately stirring itself.
No need to worry, Hank, Xavier spoke to him telepathically. “We’re like you, Mr. Lehnsherr and myself.” Mutants.
I need to know where the stone is, Charles. We all need to know. Remember what you told me.
Xavier remembered another conversation he’d had with Hank, years later, discussing the legend and the reality of the Mind Stone. Xavier had asked Hank to examine the crystal – no unseen properties, Hank had reported. Though Hank found it more troubling that Xavier would be seeking them in the first place.
“I find no evidence of any supernatural properties. Let me be clear, I see no need to enhance mutant power in any such way.” Hank followed up with an ultimatum: “If that is your objective here, then I am in the wrong place. My own objective is to prevent the exploitation of mutants and their abilities. That includes those seeking to enhance their own personal powers.”
It was a direct and open-ended warning, and one that opened Charles Xavier’s eyes to a new direction. He had spent several years hunting for this artifact, and ones like it, simply to keep them from falling into the wrong hands... into Erik’s hands, among others. It was an unexpected relief to be able to let down that guard.
“No. I assure you, you are in the right place, and I very much need you here, Hank.”
Hank considered that statement for a moment. “I’m not particularly interested in playing the cricket to your Pinocchio either.”
Xavier laughed. “No. Nor do I want you to be the better angel on my shoulder, just an honest voice in the chorus, an occasional sounding board of good intention and integrity.”
Hank studied Charles before offering a cautious nod of agreement. “That I will endeavor to be,” he agreed. And with a handshake it was decided. Hank took his place at Professor Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters.
“Charles. You told me you were meant to keep it safe,” Hank reminded him.
Henry McCoy. Xavier’s smile was full of fondness and pride as he focused on his friend. Hank was standing in front of him in Xavier’s study – no longer miles away, or years away. Xavier’s thoughts were no longer distracted by time and distance, nor muddled by the fog of memory.
“This... it’s the Sword in the Stone.” Past Xavier held the Mind Stone in his hand; he was showing it to Hank. But there was a difference. Present Xavier felt lighter now, clearer. He remembered clearly; he understood what was past and what was present, and he understood why the difference was important. “I’m meant to discover it. I’m meant to keep it safe, but not to use it.”
“I remember, Charles. Stay with me now. How do we use it?”
Xavier nodded. “How.” He repeated the word, as if trying to sound an answer from it. He remembered holding the Mind Stone, and the connection of that missing piece gradually brought all the rest into sharp focus.
He remembered his first meeting with young Ororo on the streets of Cairo. He remembered Farouk, and his psychic duel with Shadow King. Those events had been connected. Xavier had been actively searching Cairo for Ororo Monroe, but Farouk had thought him looking for the Mind Stone. Farouk had attacked, knocking Xavier out with a physic blow. When he came to, Farouk’s henchmen had delivered Xavier to the Cairo back room which served as Farouk’s headquarters. Farouk first tried to recruit Xavier. When Xavier refused the two psychics battled. Xavier won, succeeding in mentally suppressing his opponent’s mutant powers, placing them beyond the control of Shadow King’s conscious mind... or so he thought. Xavier defeated Farouk, and he took the Mind Stone.
You underestimated your opponent then. You do the same now.
Xavier blinked, deliberately shifting his mental focus away from this latest attempt at distraction. And he found Jean, now standing alongside Hank in Xavier’s study.
What is it about the Mind Stone, sir? Jean asked.
Shadow King fears it greatly, Xavier offered with a tight smile. One of his previous hosts took possession of the stone by striking down its previous guardian.
But Shadow King could not use the stone?
The stone requires a powerful telepathic mind to wield it, and Farouk’s misguided gifts were not telepathy but possession and mind control. Shadow King blamed that discrepancy, the shortcoming of his host, for his inability to wield the stone. It was why he tried to recruit me to his side, and why he tried to defeat me after I would not be recruited. He did not want to risk my using the stone against him. Together, I think we will be well-equipped to take the fight to Shadow King.
Together? Me?! Jean asked in obvious surprise.
Xavier smiled. Shadow King – I did not understand before – his true nature was supernatural, not just superhuman. And when his powers are joined with D’Spayre’s–
D’Spayre. Xavier remembered D’Spayre. Trapped in the rockslide, possession of the Mind Stone had enhanced Xavier’s fear, desperation, despair... because that was what the demon knew. Those were his powers, and he used them to do Shadow King’s bidding, seeking his master’s return to glory. D’Spayre had followed Xavier from that day forward. He had followed him because Xavier carried the Mind Stone and because the Mind Stone opened the gates to the demon’s home realm, and D’Spayre followed Xavier because he had made a pact with Shadow King. When Xavier had defeated Farouk, a tiny piece of the Shadow King’s vanquished consciousness attached itself to Xavier, seeking revenge.
But Shadow King was no more than a disembodied life force embedded within the Mind Stone, lying in wait, until he could regain his former strength, until he could strike back against the enemy that had vanquished him. D’Spayre had begun to put Shadow King’s plan into action that day in the Danger Room. He had seen an opening and he had attacked. He attacked Ororo and he attacked Xavier: purposefully altering their minds, their memories, their mental and emotional states. D’Spayre had used the rest of the team as well, preying on their fears, their anger, their insecurities; bringing to light the worst of their memories and using those as weapons against them. Infiltrating and tearing down those dearest to Xavier. Building Shadow King up at their expense. Clouding Xavier’s own thoughts and memories in order to blind him to the truth of Shadow King’s attack. And it had nearly worked. If not for the efforts of his X-Men....
Anger and outrage were palpable things to Charles Xavier in that moment, but he did not have time nor energy for either. He needed to focus all of his attention on one single task, one illusive puzzle.
“How do we use it, Charles?” Hank asked again. “How do we defeat D’Spayre?”
The Sword in the Stone.... The sword and the stone.... The stone....
The Mind Stone.
All the pieces fell into place.
She is the King Arthur to my Merlin.
“I am meant to guard the stone and to show the way forward. Jean is meant to wield it.”
Xavier knew how to defeat D’Spayre. He knew how to stop Shadow King.
Jean. I will need your help.
So Let it Be Written Publishing © 2004