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
X-Men in Training
“Remember, this is just an initial test run,” Hank warned. Scott, Ororo, and Jean were making their way into the lower levels of the Xavier Institute, accompanied by Hank McCoy. “The holographic interface technology is not yet online, but the programming for simulating atmospheric conditions should be operational.”
Scott and Ororo exchanged cautious looks.
“So, what exactly are our limitations?” Scott asked. Until now he and Ororo had only worked on their abilities outdoors, where there was a lot of open space and not nearly so much potential for catastrophic damage.
Hank gave a light chuckle. “Not to worry. The Professor will be monitoring your progress from the observation booth and he will be in constant telepathic contact with you throughout the duration of the exercise. You’ll be safe.”
“I think Scott’s greater concern was for the structural integrity of the Institute,” Ororo offered an amendment. They were both a little worried about inadvertently bringing the school’s upper levels down on their heads.
Hank seemed unconcerned by that possibility. “As you may know, Dr. Brian Xavier was a preeminent nuclear scientist of his day. What you may not know,” he continued conversationally, “was that he oversaw extensive renovations to the lower levels of the Xavier Estate so that these underground facilities would be as adequately equipped to house his scientific research as any professional facility. So, what we have down here is the ability to withstand a magnitude 9.0 earthquake, weatherproofing sufficient to withstand extensive flooding and electrical damage, and overall construction in accordance with the highest standards for atomic shelters of the 1950's.”
Hank opened a door for them and the group entered a service elevator, which began ascending what felt like at least two stories.
“Of course, we will continue to adapt the room to our particular specifications,” Hank added, “but, its current construction is strong enough to meet our immediate needs.”
The elevator opened and they stepped off into a small, rectangular room.
“Welcome to the Control and Observation Booth.”
“COB, for short,” Warren quipped.
There, Professor Xavier and Warren were studying a series of computer consoles which were situated beneath a wide bank of windows. On the other side of those windows lay the room that was going to house their training facility.
Jean peered through the thick glass. Only a small section of the room was currently illuminated, leaving the rest of the massive expanse in darkness.
“So, if the holographic interface isn’t operational yet, what exactly will we be facing in there?”
Warren turned to smile at her. “Oh, Hank and I have worked out a little something to test your abilities.”
“It may be a bit crude,” Hank conceded, “but it should suffice for now.”
“You two aren’t coming in with us,” Jean realized.
“Not this time,” Professor Xavier explained. “This session will be as much a test of the room’s ability to function as it is a test of your own abilities. So while I am monitoring the three of you, Hank and Warren will be monitoring the room.”
“And what will be our objective?” Ororo questioned.
“The objective is simple,” Xavier responded. “Start at one side of the room and make your way across to the other side.”
“Why does that objective sound too simple?” Jean asked under her breath.
Xavier smiled. “The room will try to stop you.”
“Right,” Scott acknowledged dryly. He glanced toward Jean and then Ororo. Neither appeared to have further questions, nor did the professor seemed inclined to offer further explanation. “Well then, let’s get started,” he decided warily.
A short time later Scott, Ororo, and Jean had made their way back down in the service elevator; the trio now stood outside a set of double doors marked only with the mansion’s X insignia. Scott took a deep breath and glanced to each side. Ororo and Jean looked just as nervous as he felt.
“Ready?” he asked. They each nodded. Scott placed his hand to the door’s entry pad.
Remember, the room will activate and the session will begin as soon as you cross the threshold.
Scott gave a curt half nod in acknowledgment to the professor’s reminder before he opened the doors. As they had seen from the control room upstairs, only a small section of the room was illuminated, making a mystery of the rest of this massive training room and whatever challenges it might pose. Scott scanned the darkness but could see nothing beyond the small bit of light extending no more than ten feet out from their current position.
“Alright, everybody stick close together,” Scott instructed, “keep your eyes open and shout out as soon as you see something. Got it?”
Ororo and Jean each answered affirmatively. And the three of them stepped inside the training room with Scott leading the way.
“They’re in,” Xavier noted. “Let’s start them at the lowest level of difficulty.”
Hank nodded, keying in the proper commands.
“Things are about to get interesting,” Warren said with an expectant smile. And he leaned over the controls to flip a series of heavy circuit breakers into position.
Inside the room, there was a popping sound from overhead as a series of heavy, industrial-strength lights activated.
“Well, it looks like someone is showing us the way forward,” Ororo noted.
Of one accord, they began to walk forward into the new light. Almost immediately the air around them filled with the sound of grating, stressed metal and the hum of heavy machinery. Instinctively, Scott tracked the sounds overhead, his hand at the ready by his visor. Ororo felt the wind shift.
“Something is coming this way,” she warned. “Be alert.”
There was no time for further warning. A huge, metal support beam swung down from the ceiling.
“Hit the ground!” Scott commanded.
They fell to the floor as the huge chunk of heavy metal grazed past them. Scott quickly rolled onto his back, his hand again at the ready by his visor.
“Everybody keep down!” Ororo yelled. “It’s coming back...” like a deadly pendulum, pinning us to the ground.
Jean heard that thought, tinged with the raw fear underlying it, and she glanced worriedly in Ororo’s direction.
“I can see the support rigging,” Scott responded curtly. “Once it’s past us this time, I’m going to fire on those chains. That chunk of metal’s going to fly right. As soon as I fire, everybody scramble left. Got it?”
His last words were hurriedly clipped, and mostly drown out by the woosh of air and the grinding of stressed metal as the heavy beam soared past them again. Then Scott fired twice in quick succession, taking out two metal chains that bound the beam to its support rigging. As soon as he fired the second shot Scott was scrambling to his feet, just behind Ororo and Jean, who had already started moving.
Seconds later, the floor shook under them when the heavy beam crashed and slid to its rest against a nearby wall.
“Everybody alright?” Scott asked reflexively.
They were all breathing hard, and looking a bit shaken, but were otherwise unharmed.
“Now we see the type of tests this room has in store for us,” Ororo acknowledged heavily.
“Like Hank said, crude, but effective,” Jean concurred.
Just then there was a familiar popping sound. Another series of lights were activated, illuminating another small swath of the room ahead of them.
Scott nodded in agreement. “Let’s keep going.”
Scott, Ororo, and Jean spent the next several minutes facing a series of similar tests where they were fending off various obstacles sent falling, flying, collapsing, or rolling at them. Meanwhile Warren, Hank, and Professor Xavier observed the exercise from the control room high overhead.
“Nicely done,” Hank noted proudly.
Scott was firing at projectiles in the air, Jean and Ororo deflected crushing attacks, and all three of them were working together to remove obstacles from their path.
“Now we’re starting to see some teamwork,” Warren concurred.
“Let’s see how they fare when we increase the level of difficulty,” Xavier prompted. Thus far they had handled the room’s challenges extremely well, but they were only about half way through. There were plenty more surprises still in store.
The popping sounds Scott, Ororo, and Jean had all become familiar with over the course of this exercise filled the air once more as lights were again activated. But before they could move in the new direction, there was another, more muted series of popping sounds. All around them lights dimmed. The three of them were effectively herded into a tight circle where they stood looking out into the darkness, waiting for the next attack to launch.
“Stay sharp, everyone,” Scott breathed. “Incoming–” his warning was drown out by two other like-minded cries. He quickly glanced over each shoulder; the three of them were standing almost back-to-back in a tight triangle formation, and facing incoming attacks from all three sides.
Professor Charles Xavier watched in silence over the next few minutes as Scott successfully coordinated himself, Jean, and Ororo against all subsequent threats, and Xavier spared a tight smile at the sight of their success. The room would ask steadily more from them, its challenges becoming more complex as the young team members advanced. But this was exactly the sort of progress he had been hoping and expecting to see. He watched the scene down in the training room progress through another series of similar challenges before he spoke.
“I’ve been considering asking Scott to lead the team,” Xavier stated.
Warren nodded, unsurprised. “I’ve been having similar thoughts, as much as I hate to admit it,” he tacked on with a rakish grin (Warren didn’t like authority figures in general). “Out there on the cliffs, Scott seamlessly took charge of the situation. And he’s doing the same thing now: taking the lead, making good decisions.”
“Scott has displayed an impressive ability to effectively break down a mission objective in such a way that he allows each of his teammates to work from their strengths,” Hank assessed. “Furthermore, he can effectively communicate that intention, and motivate everyone to do their parts collectively.”
“He’s a natural leader,” Xavier concurred. “It’s inherent in his personality.”
“His mutant abilities only further predispose him,” Hank offered. “Scott’s brain processes information in an entirely unique manner in order to utilize his optic blasts. He sees divergent variables and understands how they fit together.”
Xavier nodded in agreement. “Strategy comes naturally to him; he already thinks like a general.”
“You wouldn’t think he has it in him,” Warren offered curiously, “as quiet and unassuming as he tends to be. But we’ve all seen it. When the chips are down, Scott shifts into a different gear. He’s not afraid to take risks, and he doesn’t hesitate to take action. He knows what he wants to accomplish, he knows what it takes to get it done, and the more tense the situation gets around him, the more certain he becomes of his decisions, his actions.”
Hank nodded. “Without Scott’s willingness to take risk and act decisively, even in the face of extraordinarily grave danger, I doubt our recent encounter with Jack O’Diamonds would have reached the satisfactory conclusion that it ultimately reached.”
“Will age be a problem?” Xavier asked.
“Not to us. It may give him pause when he starts ordering his teachers around,” Warren admitted with a grin, “but I’d follow him.”
“Personally, I believe Scott will prove a worthy leader,” Hank readily accessed. “And it would appear that Ororo and Jean are already on board.”
Hank, Warren, and Xavier returned their collective attention back to the training room below, where Scott was again taking the lead. The three teenagers were sprinting through a wind tunnel that Ororo had created in order to shield them from a veritable rainstorm of falling and flying debris. Physically, Scott was in the lead position, firing optic blasts on any debris that threatened to break through the heavy winds protecting them. But more importantly, he was coordinating their attack: directing Ororo’s path in order to avoid the larger debris, and having Jean use her telekinesis to clear any smaller debris from their path.
They worked in perfect unison until Scott finally brought them to a halt, pressing his hand against the wall in front of them. All three released a collective sigh of relief as the attack immediately died away, the room falling silent. Ororo’s winds quietly dissipated. They had made it through.
It was hard not to instinctively brace for the next challenge as that familiar popping sound filled the air. But this time the lights only illuminated their path back to the room’s entrance, bringing more of their surroundings into view than had been visible at any earlier point in the exercise. It looked like a war zone, or at least the sight of some natural disaster. Exhausted and a little shell-shocked, the three young X-Men silently retraced their steps through the training room before returning to the control booth where Xavier, Hank, and Warren awaited them.
“I’d call that a successful dry run,” Xavier declared once Scott, Ororo, and Jean had entered the control booth. “Now the real training can begin, first thing tomorrow.”
His three students exchanged wary looks. That session had felt real enough to them.
“Scott, I want you to lead the team.”
Scott turned a stunned gaze back toward the professor. “But, I thought you would...” he trailed off delicately, not knowing how to finish that sentence.
“Oh, I will still be in charge of the overall mission, but I will need someone in the field to take the lead, evaluate the situation on the ground, relay instructions to the team: manage the situation. Think of it as the difference between a head coach and a quarterback. A strong team needs each one, doing his part, in order to succeed.”
Scott nodded thoughtfully. “I can understand that part, but,” he glanced toward Hank and Warren. Neither of them looked disapproving, or even surprised. Xavier must have already discussed this idea with them. “Why me?” Scott questioned, and he listened as Xavier gave polite explanation as to why his teammates were being passed over for the lead role. But Scott didn’t believe for a moment that Professor Xavier had made this decision through a simple process of elimination. He must have thought Scott well-suited to the task, and that was the part Scott honestly didn’t understand.
Privately, Scott asked: Is this about what happened the other day? Because anyone could have done what I did, Professor.
Yes, it is, Xavier answered in kind. And perhaps anyone could have, Scott, but you were the one who did. You stepped forward. You took action. The team followed you then, and they are willing to follow you now.
Scott realized Xavier was right. The rest of the team were all watching him expectantly, awaiting his decision. His team. They would follow him.
“The lead is yours, Scott. What do you say?”
“Yes, sir,” Scott accepted.
“Good,” Xavier concluded.
“Now, Jean, I have an expanded role for you as well. I want you to act as team communications leader on the ground, in much same way Scott is the physical leader on ground.”
“But, Professor, you’re much better able than I am–” Her protest was quickly muted.
“Yes, but it will be easier and more effective for me to monitor the team as a whole, then relay my thoughts through one person instead of trying to monitor and direct each of you on an individual basis.”
I know this will be an added strain on you. But I think operating this way is best for the team’s cohesion and for the overall safety of its members. And I know that you are capable, Jean.
She nodded numbly.
“Also, each of you should give thought to choosing a codename. Start using them anytime you’re in the training room, until it becomes habit. That way you better protect one another’s anonymity in the field.”
Scott, Ororo, Hank, and Warren each nodded attentively. Jean stared down at the floor. It had taken years for her to become comfortable using her telepathy within the bounds of simple communication. Now she was going to be expected to maintain a constant connection to and simultaneous awareness of her four teammates. She didn’t have any idea how she was going to do that.
The following day all five of them were standing outside the training room, while Professor Xavier remained upstairs in the Control and Observation Booth.
“All right, X-Men–” Scott addressed the team.
“X-Men?” Jean protested at a grumble. She hadn’t realized that name was going to stick. “There are two women on this team.”
“Don’t take it so literally,” Warren encouraged. “Think, man, as in mankind.”
Hank agreed. “Exactly. The moniker is meant as an expression of our shared nature. Unity, solidarity. It shouldn’t be interpreted as a slight upon the fairer gender.”
“Right,” she murmured. “And I’d like to see how you’d feel about joining a team called the X-Women.” Ororo laughed. Scott didn’t even crack a smile. It was a moot point anyway. The team name was Xavier’s call, and it was already made.
“Codenames?” Scott continued, ignoring the brief debate Jean had initiated.
Ororo nodded. “I will be Storm.”
Warren smiled appreciatively at her choice before offering his own. “A little obvious,” he conceded with a flex his wings, “but why not keep it simple? I'll be Angel.”
“Hank, Jean?” Scott prompted when neither of them spoke up.
“I believe Miss Grey and myself remain undecided at the present time,” Hank answered.
Scott nodded. “All right then.” He turned and opened the double doors to the training room. “You can call me Cyclops.”
“Your codename is a brutal mythological giant with one eyeball stuck in the center of his forehead?” Jean challenged him.
“Yes,” Scott answered simply, unflinching.
He didn’t turn to look at her, but Jean saw the slight slump of his shoulders that betrayed him. His choice fully acknowledged the brute force and indiscriminate destruction of his optic blasts, characterizing himself as something inhuman. Jean hated the name immediately.
“The mythological creature, Cyclops, is not always portrayed as the ‘brutal giant’ as seen, in Homer’s Oddyssey, for example,” Hank offered thoughtfully. “Remember the Greek poet, Hesiod, credited the Cyclopes with procuring the thunderbolt of Zeus, the invisibility helmet of Hades, and the trident of Poseidon, all powerful tools of battle which enabled the Olympian gods to overthrow the Titans. In this way, one could surmise that the work of the Cyclopes tamed the heavens, earth, and seas, bringing them under the mastery of the gods.”
“And bringing humans under the mastery of superhumans?” Warren asked, sporting an ironic grin.
Hank shrugged. “Well, I wasn’t going to carry the metaphor out that far, but, in the case of Greek mythology, yes. From that point forward, human lives were subject to the whims of the gods.”
“I’m fairly certain that’s one of the outcomes we’re trying to avoid here,” Cyclops abruptly concluded that impromptu discussion.
Hank smiled at Scott’s characteristic deadpan humor.
“Now let’s focus, team.” He quickly scanned the faces of his teammates before turning back toward the training room. “Ready, X-Men.”
Cyclops stepped across the threshold, activating the room. Chaos immediately ensued. Everywhere they looked there was danger: collapsing walls, pressing walls, dart throwers, flame throwers, rotor blades, pendulum blades. Fog, mist, and shadows obscured their surroundings and made incoming attacks hard to spot. And often, once the danger had become apparent, their potential escape routes were blocked by obstacles they had to clear by ducking under, climbing over, or running through.
Cyclops quickly began coordinating the team against the room.
“I’ve got point. Hank, you bring up the rear. Angel, give us the areal view.”
“You got it, Cyclops.” Warren was in the air almost before the words were out of Scott’s mouth.
“Stay close!” Cyclops admonished him. “I don’t want us getting separated.” Scott turned his attention back to the ground. “Storm and Jean, take flanks. And Storm, see what you can do about the visibility in here,” Cyclops added, a note of irritation coming through in his voice.
“Already working on that,” Storm confirmed. As she replied a slow, steady breeze began to increase in intensity as it circulated its way through the room, scattering the mists and breaking up the patches of dense fog.
Scott turned to Jean. “Jean, I want input from everyone’s positions as best you can give me.”
“I’ll do my best, Sc– Cyclops,” she corrected herself.
He gave a curt nod. “Alright, team. Form up. Let’s move.”
Jean took a deep breath and tried not to wince. She hated this part. One moment she was safe and secure in her own mind. In the next moment everything exploded with a cacophony of outside thought and emotion. For a couple of seconds it was like being caught in the rising waters of a flash flood. Then she began to manage it: to recognize and differentiate between the different voices in her head, to focus herself on just the parts she needed, straining the deluge down into cascading raindrops of useful information.
She could see Warren’s view of the team and the room from overhead, feel his unbridled exhilaration for being in flight. Ororo’s emotions held similar strains of exhilaration as she used her powers to manipulate the room’s atmosphere, but her joy for the task was weighted with concentration as she worked to keep careful control over the winds. Hank was falling back to take his position, a combination of wary and excited for the task ahead. And out in front of them all was Scott– Cyclops. Jean had to correct herself because at the moment he honestly didn’t feel like Scott. The Scott she knew was calm and confident, focused but easygoing. Cyclops was all serious business: tightly focused, single-minded determination. The shift should have been understandable, but there was an unexpectedly hard edge to his familiar focus that caught Jean off guard.
Jean wasn’t really aware of the fact that she had fallen behind as the rest of the team moved forward. And she didn’t see the projectile headed straight at her until it was only moments away. She gasped as she threw up a telekinetic shield to protect herself, and realized too late that the blanket effort required of this open-channel telepathy was so completely counter-intuitive to the intense, pin-point focus her telekinesis required of her– she couldn’t physically do both things at the same time.
The incoming projectile wobbled slightly in midair where it should have stopped cold, and Jean barely had time to utter a curse. She knew there wasn’t enough time to shift gears between the two mental disciplines; she wondered if she even had time to duck. Absurdly, she still processed everything that was going on with the others, like some kind of bad joke, like a TV channel left on after someone had left the room. Perfect. Now she had all of that in her head, but she couldn’t do a damn thing about that projectile flying right at her!
Then, with a flash of motion and a hard metal crack, the projectile was batted away like a major leaguer had just connected with a hard fastball. Hank was wearing a massive grin as he dropped agilely to the ground beside Jean, laying down a heavy length of scaffolding pipe as though it were nothing more than a wooden baseball bat.
“And ‘Goodbye, Dolly Grey!’ says Mr. Durocher,” Hank concluded, proudly pausing as if to admire the view of his home run leaving the ballpark.
“Thanks, Hank,” Jean breathed, her fingers nervously twitching against the side of her head as she fought to regain her focus. “This might be tougher than I thought.”
“Don’t worry, Jeanie.” Hank leapt back into the air, dangling by one hand from a section of metal scaffold overhead. “You’ll get the hang of it.”
She laughed in spite of herself, both at Hank’s pun and at his characteristic optimism.
“Sure, if I don’t get myself beamed first.”
“I wouldn’t let that happen,” he responded warmly.
Jean nodded back at him, grateful for the reassurance. Hank would be looking out for her. She returned her attention to the others up ahead.
Cyclops was leading their forward charge, finding, or (more literally) blasting, the way forward. And it seemed he was constantly giving orders and barking instructions. Scott had tasked Angel (as well as Hank) with scouting out the locations of the launchers that kept pelting them all with projectiles. Thus far Hank had found and disabled two launchers. Angel was busy dodging the projectiles more than anything else... and feeling quite impressed with his own show of areal agility. Meanwhile Storm was struggling to conjure up just enough of a headwind to block incoming projectiles without wreaking havoc on the rest of the room and her teammates. Jean narrowed down her focus to share that snapshot of information with Cyclops.
Got it, he responded in kind.
You’re welcome! She couldn’t help tacking on the admonishment, but he paid it no attention. And Jean went back to dodging her own incoming projectiles while Hank began attacking a third launcher.
Storm glanced up to see Angel swoop overhead, continuing to dodge projectiles almost playfully.
“It’s like the Temple of Doom in here,” Angel cracked. “All we’re missing is the giant, rolling boulder.”
“Don’t give Hank any ideas,” Storm quipped in return, pausing to smile at him.
Angel grinned back at her before dodging a new attack.
A moment later Cyclops had doubled back to shoot down the offending launcher.
“Hey, I wasn't done with that one,” Angel protested wryly.
“Less kidding around,” Cyclops cut off his teammate’s protest as he rushed past them, once more pushing the forward position. “Keep your attention on the room.” He paused to shoot a couple of incoming projectiles out of the air. One of which crashed to the floor, disabled, in front of Cyclops. It was metal, and looked kind of like a skinny football covered with protruding metal studs.
“Dodging these things is better than getting hit by them, but whenever possible you should be trying to destroy them.” Cyclops nudged the fallen projectile with the toe of his reinforced boot. As if in protest, it gave off an ominous burst of electric discharge. Within seconds, the sparks of electricity spread to connect all those metal studs like a grid, covering the projectile with an eerie, crackling blue glow.
“Ouch,” Angel conceded.
“If one of those things hit you, you'll know about it. This is serious business, people. Let’s treat it as such.” Cyclops turned back to evaluate the rest of their progress. “Pick up the pace, Hank,” he called. “You’re too far back, even for bringing up the rear.”
Jean scowled. She knew the primary reason Hank was hanging so far back was to help her out of any jam she might run into.
Hank only aimed a mock salute in Cyclops’ general direction before darting in to rip another launcher out of its embankment. But seconds later Hank was making a quick break for it as several new projectiles were launched. Jean took a couple of quick steps in his direction, thinking to help cover Hank’s retreat. Then a series of optic blasts hit each of the newly launched projectiles as well as their launcher in quick succession, disabling them all.
Cyclops had promptly shot the impending danger off Hank’s back.
Jean turned to stare at him, but Scott didn’t give her a second glance.
“Keep moving,” Cyclops concluded. “We’ve still got a long way to go.”
“Jean?” Hank questioned her momentary distraction as he dropped down to the floor beside her. Her stunned stare had turned into another scowl.
“I just realized I don’t really like Cyclops very much,” she told Hank under her breath.
Hank chuckled. “He is a bit abrupt, isn’t he?” Hank asked rhetorically as he began moving forward to catch up with the rest of the team.
Jean stood there staring for a couple of seconds. “You could say that,” she replied as she followed Hank. All she could think at the moment was: Who is this arrogant jerk, and what has he done with my friend, Scott?
Jean and Hank quickly found cover positions, but for the moment they hadn’t come under attack. Up ahead of them, Cyclops, Storm, and Angel found themselves pinned down, under heavy fire from what looked like some kind of laser weapon. Jean felt her teammates’ inward panic, but the panic was well-controlled. Almost immediately the three began brainstorming ideas to get them out of the jam they currently found themselves in.
Jean was able to provide Scott with locations on the guns from her and Hank’s perspectives. Cyclops and Angel took turns testing the guns but couldn’t gain any traction on an escape route. Every time they ventured out from their cover position they had to immediately retreat in order to avoid more laser fire.
“I can’t get a clear shot.” Cyclops cursed. “Storm. Think you could arrange cover?”
“Enough to block the sight sensors on those things? That approach hasn’t worked so far with the projectile launchers.”
“I agree,” Angel offered. “It’s going to take something physically blocking at least one those guns to give us enough of an opening to attack them.”
Cyclops scanned their surroundings, focusing on anything overhead that he might be able to bring down with an optic blast.
“I believe our assistance may be required in this instance,” Hank said to Jean.
Jean nodded. “Cover me, Hank?” she prompted.
“Certainly. What do you have in–”
As soon as she heard Hank’s assurance Jean closed down her telepathic contact with the others and focused all of her attention on her telekinesis. She extended one hand, her eyes narrowing in intense concentration, as a crumpled a piece of sheet metal rose from the floor and maneuvered itself to block one of the guns closest to their trapped teammates.
“–mind?” Hank belatedly finished his thought.
Scott gave a quick double-take in their direction. Jean had just provided exactly the cover Cyclops needed in order to attack the other guns. And he felt his enthusiastic smile of approval quickly evaporate, met only with her angry glare.
“Okay, Cyclops – Fearless Leader – take the lead!” she shouted.
He responded with a curt nod, put aside his lingering surprise, and moved into action, swiftly blasting each of the laser targeting positions into rubble. Once they were all destroyed he glanced behind himself to find Storm and Angel standing at each of his shoulders, ready.
Neither spoke, but a curious glance passed between the two of them before they were rejoined by Hank and Jean.
“That will be all for today’s session,” Xavier announced. “Please report to the control booth for debriefing.”
“Ya could’ve saved a few for the rest of us to practice against,” Warren kidded, clapping Scott on the shoulder before leading the way out.
Scott snorted, repressing a smile. “Next time, then.”
Jean only briefly met his gaze before she followed the others out. Scott winced. She no longer looked angry, just exhausted, and.... He ignored the knot in his gut and followed the rest of the team up to the debriefing, wishing that he didn’t understand what was going on with Jean.
“Alright,” Xavier began the debriefing as soon as the team had entered the room, “we have a lot of work ahead of us, but nothing the five of you aren’t up to. Let’s begin with the positives.
“Hank, Warren, you displayed excellent speed and maneuverability. The two of you also possess great strength; don’t be afraid to use that as well.
“Ororo, you showed good control and a great deal of versatility.”
“Jean, a very good job for your first attempt at handling telepathic communication in addition to your telekinesis.
“Scott, very effective in your long-range targeting, and you showed real tactical skill in neutralizing multiple and varied threats.” Xavier’s gaze settled on Scott. “What we need to do now is find ways to put all of those pieces together into one successful cohesive effort.”
“And the negatives?” Scott prompted.
“You’re trying to do too much in there, Scott. Don’t be so quick to interfere in the other’s efforts. If you’re having to constantly intervene, then something is wrong either with the orders you’re giving or in the team’s execution of your instruction.” Scott nodded, soaking in the criticism as readily as he had the words of praise. “You need to lead more, and sometimes that means doing less.
“Jean, Hank, I want the two of you, on the other hand, to do more. I saw a lot of hesitation on your parts. Hesitate less. Each of you is capable of far more than you showed me in there today.
“Warren and Ororo, each of you need to work on your confidence issues. Ororo, don’t let uncertainty over your self-control keep you from taking chances, especially in the training room. That’s exactly what it’s there for. Finesse and fine control will come with practice, but only if you chance the effort. Warren, yours is the opposite problem. When you get overconfident, you also become reckless. If you don’t guard yourself against that tendency, it will land you in trouble.
“Alright. Good session, my X-Men. It will only get harder from here on out. Right Hank?”
Xavier’s question was met with a combination of groans and dry laughter.
“I am afraid so,” Hank conceded. “I never knew success could be so trying.”
“But you have all proven that you are well up to the challenge,” Xavier reiterated. “Get some rest, everyone,” he dismissed them. “We’ll reconvene here tomorrow morning.”
“Scott, I’d like you to stay behind for a moment.” I have a few more points which I’d like to discuss privately.
Scott responded to Xavier’s mental contact with a slight nod, falling behind as requested while the control room slowly began to clear.
Jean walked out with Ororo at her side. Naturally, Scott was so preoccupied with the professor’s team evaluation that he didn’t pause even to speak to her, or to anyone else, following their dismissal. She had to begrudgingly accept that for the best. She was exhausted, stressed, agitated, and she’d had about all the Cyclops she could take for one day. Ororo was far more welcome company at the moment. Just walking together in silence, Jean could already feel herself decompressing.
“Are you alright, Jean?”
Jean smiled. “Sure. I’m sore, I’m exhausted, my head hurts, and I only want to soak in a hot bath for the rest of the day. I didn’t deluge you guys in there, did I?” she asked Ororo, in what she hoped passed for a casual tone.
“No. Once in a while, I had a vague impression of another point of view. And once or twice, when you were watching me, I got some of your thoughts on the matter. Nothing so extreme as a deluge.”
Jean took a deep breath, relieved for that. “Well, I guess that’s about as well as I could hope for. I promise, I’m trying as hard as I can to keep it focused,” she reassured her friend. But Jean was still finding her telepathy much harder to master than her telekinesis. Even now, long after she thought she had shut it down, she still kept getting stray thoughts. It was maddening!
“We know that you are. Now, why don’t you tell me what else is bothering you. You nearly bit Scott’s head off in the training room, and I saw you scowling in his general direction all through the debriefing.”
“Cyclops,” she hissed in correction. “Overbearing, pushy, demanding– Cyclops!” She sighed in exasperation. “I was just, barely, starting to get through that wall Scott still hides behind. Now, this guy's nothing but a wall.”
“I wouldn’t go quite that far.”
“You don’t think the guy’s obnoxious?”
“Perhaps so, but you make it sound as though he’s not Scott.”
Jean shrugged. “You and I have struggled, tooth and nail at times, just to get to know Scott over the past two years. And when I look at that Cyclops I see absolutely no resemblance to Scott Summers.”
“I have to disagree, Jean,” Ororo replied thoughtfully. “I see the same change you see, but I see that change as a reaction to the circumstance and environment that he’s been placed into, not a deviation from his core character.” Ororo smiled. “You know, I still characterize Scott as a charmer; that means he can be a chameleon at times, changing himself as needed to match his surroundings. But it’s a change that occurs only on the surface: how Scott carries himself, how he chooses to interact with others. The person he is underneath is still there, as calm and steady as he always has been.
“I think Cyclops is just a part of Scott that he hasn’t been able to show us until now. He’s finding his own voice and his own strength in taking on a role of leadership. To be sure, we can expect a few growing pains in the process. This is something entirely new to him, new to all of us, for that matter. But Scott is still Scott, even when he’s acting as Cyclops.”
Jean bit back her annoyance and frustration. It only left her feeling further isolated that Ororo didn’t see this the same way Jean did. Of course that was nothing new. Everyone at the Institute, including Ororo and Scott, was totally on board with this whole X-Men thing. Jean was the odd one out. Ororo and Scott were her best friends, and it wasn’t often that they were at odds with one another. That only managed to make Jean feel more miserable.
“Maybe you should consider his reaction as a challenge for you to do the same,” Ororo suggested carefully. “You know, it’s not easy for any of us.”
Jean winced at the slight accusation in her friend’s voice, but Ororo only continued evenly.
“We’re all afraid. We’re all balancing the fear of failure and the fear of doing harm– well, all except Warren, perhaps.”
Ororo laughed, shaking her head, and Jean laughed in agreement. Warren was the daredevil of the group, the one who liked showing off his abilities.
“You’ll improve,” Ororo reassured her friend. “We all will. It will take time and hard work, that’s all.”
Jean nodded. “Thanks, Ororo. You know, you would have been good in the lead role. I mean really leading, not just barking orders at everyone.”
“I appreciate your vote of confidence, Jean, but I am not so certain. Like you, I am still trying very hard simply to master my own abilities. And, besides, Scott’s tactical strengths give him an incredible advantage when it comes to leading the team.”
Jean couldn’t help but scowl. Ororo smiled at the tell.
“Even if his people skills do leave something to be desired,” she conceded, laughing quietly.
“Thank you!” Jean laughed too, her mood lightening. “You didn’t tell me you had settled on Storm. It suits you.”
“And what about you, Madam Marvel? Any serious ideas?” Ororo asked with a mischievous smile.
Jean sighed tiredly. “No. Nothing fits.”
“Including you?” Ororo asked quietly.
“Oh, especially me,” Jean replied with a note of forced lightness.
All right,” Xavier prompted, “we’ve had a chance to go over everyone’s individual strengths and weaknesses, as seen in the session today. Now let’s tackle the performance of the team as a whole, and your leadership of it.”
Scott nodded. “Yes, sir.”
“I trust you realize the favor that Hank and Jean inadvertently did you by falling behind?”
Scott nodded. “If they hadn’t, we all would have been pinned down by that ambush. In the future we’ll need to keep close enough to work together and watch out for each other, but also stay far enough apart so that we don’t all get into the same trouble together.”
Xavier nodded. “That task is going to fall squarely under your responsibility, Scott. Jean and I can help you by providing information and insight, but you need to be aware of what’s going on with the rest of the team, moment-by-moment. You need to build that habit of awareness, of knowing your team every bit as well as you know yourself, until it becomes a sixth sense to you.
“Instead, what I saw from you, Scott, was a relentless barreling forward on the offensive, while pausing intermittently to issue orders to the rest of the team. You have to do those things – but you need to do them better. The team needs to see you leading the way forward; they also need you to bring them along with you.
“Also, at times today, your offensive efforts were interfering with Storm’s and Angel’s efforts. And when you shot down that projectile launcher that was attacking Hank, that would have been a good intervention if you were in the field and the goal was to free Hank up so that he could face other threats. But, in this instance, I’m not certain Hank couldn’t have gotten himself out of that situation. Within the confines of the training room, I believe he needed the chance to try.
“Hank, understandably, is a little afraid of his own strength. For that reason he’s more comfortable playing defense than offense. I doubt this will be the last time that he fails to use sufficient strength to ward off an attack, but again, this is the purpose of these sessions. You all must learn your strengths and learn to master them so that you can act confidently and appropriately in the face of serious threats. And that goes twofold for you, Scott. It’s vital that you not only learn your own strengths and weaknesses, but you also learn the strengths and weaknesses of each of your teammates.
“For example, you realize Hank was hanging back in order to help Jean out of any trouble that she couldn’t handle on her own.”
Scott nodded numbly. He had suspected as much, but it still stunned him a bit to hear it put so bluntly.
“Do you think she’s going to continue to need that kind of help?” Scott asked.
“I think concern is warranted,” Xavier answered frankly. “Jean is having difficulty managing her telekinesis while she’s utilizing her telepathic abilities. That opens a serious vulnerability, which I fully believe she will learn to overcome in time. But, at this point, I would suggest a two-person offense-defense combination, much like the one Hank and Jean incorporated today. Either you or Ororo would be better suited to fill the offensive slot than Hank, for your long-range offensive capabilities, as well as for the reasons we already covered. Since Ororo’s fine control still needs work, it should be you.”
Scott nodded, though it was unenthusiastically. Somehow he didn’t think Jean was going to like the idea of having him guard her. Xavier seemed to pick up on that thought.
“You can tell her it’s for the sake of team communications, and that won’t be untrue. It will be less strenuous for her if she is able to verbally relay her telepathic observations to you.”
“We both know Jean is very proud and incredibly stubborn.” The look that passed between the two men clearly acknowledged that Jean would know the difference. “Even if the rest of us don’t see it this way, Jean won’t tolerate herself as being the team’s weak link.”
Xavier gave a slight shrug that Scott took to mean, “The lesser of two evils.”
“But I guess she’ll get used to this idea,” Scott conceded dryly. This was going to give Jean one more reason to be very unhappy with him. But, for a while at least, it was going to be necessary. Scott was painfully aware that Jean’s telepathic skills were still dicey. She was struggling to control and regulate how much input she was getting every time she tried to communicate with them telepathically. He had felt that. Each time she’d shared information with him today, Scott had gotten a dose of her feelings along with her thoughts.
Mostly those feelings came through in a jumble of anger and betrayal, fueled by Jean’s helplessness over her inability to stop herself from projecting her own thoughts and feelings. But all of that was overridden by her single-minded determination to make this work, to do her part for the team in spite of her personal doubts or shortcomings. Scott had nothing but admiration for her strength, will power, determination, even her stubbornness. He would have to find a way to make his part in all this work without undermining her progress.
“Is that all, sir?” Scott asked.
Xavier watched him curiously for a moment before he smiled. “Yes, that will be all for today. Good job, Scott.”
Scott nodded and accepted Xavier’s dismissal. He was still thinking about Jean. He’d been trying to convince himself that those feelings he’d picked up from her could all be attributed to frustrations over her faulty control. He understood that; that reasoning made sense to him, but he didn’t believe that was entirely it.
There at the end, when she’d saved them, when she’d yelled at him, her anger and her feelings of betrayal weren’t over her own powers. He was the source of the betrayal; he’d felt that from her, clear as day. He wasn’t who she thought he was. And Jean felt hurt, angry, and betrayed by that... by him.
Scott didn’t know how to undo that. He didn’t know how he could make things right between them again.
So Let it Be Written Publishing © 2004