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
“I’ve got another word for it,” Warren grumbled mutinously. He and Hank had just joined Xavier upstairs in the Control and Observation Booth.
Hank continued on, his enthusiasm undeterred. “The Danger Room is using its new programing parameters in ways I never anticipated. A holographic false floor. Ingenious.”
“That name’s gonna stick, isn’t it?” Warren ruffled his feathers, pausing to straighten one or two feathers that had gone askew. He wasn’t entirely over the indignity of his sudden elimination from their latest training exercise. “Only slightly catchier than ‘Death Trap Room’.”
“Whatever we decide to call it, it’s immobilized Jean, and Storm,” Professor Xavier noted, never glancing away from the COB’s observation window.
“And now Cyclops is out too,” Warren noted.
“Wait–” Xavier breathed.
From the very beginning Xavier had possessed insights that the others did not. Unlike the team, he’d known from the start that this would be a separation session. Now he continued to watch as the Danger Room began to refocus its attack on Scott, apparently coming to the same conclusion as Xavier: Cyclops was still in play. But even if Cyclops managed to free himself, there was little he could do while blinded; he would need to be eliminated before he had the opportunity to regain possession of his visor.
Hank moved forward. “Charles, he can’t defend himself.”
“No, he can’t,” Xavier quietly agreed. “But he’s not alone in there.”
Scott! It’s okay! Xavier could hear Jean reaching out to Scott telepathically. His initial panic quickly began to subside as Jean provided him with an update on the attack he was under and, most importantly to Scott, the possibility of regaining his visor. Cyclops’s first instinct was to defend himself and his teammates. But he refused Jean’s attempt at helping him free himself without the use of his visor. He wasn’t willing to risk the uncontrolled use of his optic blasts.
Thus far Jean was proving unable to help Cyclops or herself telekinetically. Worse, her prolonged, unsuccessful efforts to free herself were only weakening her further, leaving her increasingly more susceptible to elimination. And Storm. Storm was all but dismantling the room in an attempt to protect her two teammates, but foolishly placing herself at greater physical risk in the process. Meanwhile the room was once again zeroing in on Cyclops, who would soon be eliminated, leaving Jean and Storm to fend for themselves.
Then there was a sudden burst of energy; it hit with the intensity of a shock wave.
“Oh my stars and garters.”
The power flickered. Everything came to a stop an instant later, the room going dark.
“What was that? An electrical storm?” Warren guessed.
Hank was checking emergency systems’ readings as the power cycled back to life. “No. It was an electromagnetic burst, but–”
“Not Storm. Jean.” Xavier whispered. “Jean released enough concentrated psychic energy to short out the electrical systems.”
“Charles?” Hank noticed his slumped posture. “Are you alright?”
“Were you harmed by that psychic pulse?” In the shadows his features seemed to darken, the lines of his face sharpened. For a moment Hank was unnerved by his appearance. Xavier had an almost fevered look about him.
“The sensation was a little jarring. I’ll be fine in a moment.”
Then the lights came back. “Back up generator is coming online now.” Warren hit the comm. “Everyone alright down there?” He taped the button again, no response. “Comm system’s still offline.”
“We’ve got essential emergency systems only,” Hank assessed. “The room should still be monitoring their vitals.”
“Two subjects: vital signs elevated but within normal limits. One subject reads: in distress. I’m shutting it down.” Warren hit the kill switch.
Xavier wheeled. “No–” He looked down on the Danger Room floor in desperation. “How dare you!” He could no longer see Storm, nor the others. So much fear. Such primal terror. Such absolute despair. Such wasted effort.... Jean’s psychic pulse had knocked him from Storm’s mind, his work unfinished. Now– “What have you done?!”
Down in the Danger Room, Cyclops looked around, puzzled. The brief loss of power had been restored within seconds; he’d expected the Danger Room to come fully online again after that. Why had the room instead suspended its attack?
“Storm?” Cyclops called. He remembered where he had last seen her, not with his own eyes but from Jean’s point of view. Storm, still immobilized, had taken cover against a section of exposed scaffolding to make her stand against the room. Before that, Jean had shielded the same place from falling debris when his uncontrolled optic blast had ravaged the wall behind Storm.
Jean shook her head, as if trying to clear it. “Storm’s in trouble! C’mon.”
They both ran toward the place where they had last seen Storm. Now there was nothing there but debris.
Xavier stared after Warren, who had already gotten to his feet. “This session’s not over.”
“The hell it’s not!” Warren responded as he walked swiftly for the door. By the time he made it inside the Danger Room Scott and Jean had already rushed to the place where Ororo had fallen.
“Storm? Are you hurt?” Cyclops called as he tried to move a section of the heavy debris that was covering her. He could barely shift the pile. “Can you answer me?” There was no answer to his call. He stepped back to evaluate. One shot would take care of the heavy cement block across the top. After that they could clear the rest by hand. “Stand back,” he told Jean.
“Cyclops– wait.” Jean stopped him, taking hold of his arm. She could feel Ororo’s panic, and she was beginning to more fully understand it. The impact of Scott’s optic blast would make Ororo think there had been another collapse, only worsening her panic. “That won’t work. We need to lift it away.”
“Cyclops– maybe you and I together.”
Scott nodded, glad to find Warren standing at his shoulder. If the two of them couldn’t lift it, then certainly they could with Hank’s help... but before they could even give it a try, the debris lifted entirely of its own accord. For a moment Scott wondered if this had all been part of the training exercise, some trick of the room. Scott wheeled around, stunned, to find Jean lifting the heavy debris with her telekinesis alone.
A second later her mind reached out to his in a burst of incoherent thought and emotion. She couldn’t believe what she was doing, she didn’t know how much longer she could hold it, but she was damn sure going to hold until they could get Ororo free!
And you’d better do it soon. Scott!
Jean’s mental link made obvious to them both the pain and fear which had galvanized Jean into taking such extreme action. Ororo needed their help now! Jean had been able to lift the debris enough to create a crawl space but, even given an escape route, Ororo was in no condition to free herself. Scott acted instantly, plunging himself head and shoulders into the narrow space. He wedged himself inch by inch into the gap Jean was holding open, even while he was thinking: Warren or Hank would be better able to safely navigate a challenge like this... strong enough to help stabilize the debris, resilient enough to withstand injury to themselves. But this space was too small for either of them to fit into without risking a shift that might compromise Jean’s hold or Ororo’s safety. That left it up to him.
After a few seconds his eyesight had adjusted to the darkness enough to make out Ororo’s position and get a read on the debris surrounding them. He immediately realized that Ororo was in bad shape. The scaffolding had collapsed around her, trapping her within its framework beneath the heavier debris; that had likely saved her from serious injury. While she didn’t appear to be physically injured, she was unresponsive, hardly conscious, mumbling to herself about small space and no air. Scott had never known Ororo to let any set of circumstances shake her, much less shake her as severely as she was shaken now. A surreal sense of calm took over Scott’s emotions.
“I know, it’s tight in here, Ororo. We’re gonna get you out. Just breathe normally.” He kept reassuring her they were going to get her free. As Scott spoke, he set to work systematically digging her loose from the heavy metal framework and jagged cement that had collapsed around her. “I promise, we’ll be out in the open air soon.”
Professor Xavier rolled into the room, with Hank trotting ahead of him.
“Of what assistance may I be?” Hank asked.
“I think we’ve got this part under control,” Warren replied, referring to the debris field.
Hank addressed Scott next. “Scott, can you assess injuries for me?”
“Physically, nothing obvious,” Scott answered. “Cuts and scrapes.”
“I don’t think so,” Warren answered.
Scott paused to glance up, and was surprised to see Warren wedged into the razor-thin space above him, one powerful wing set in between Scott and the grated stone and jagged metal above his head.
“It looks like the wall took most of the impact when this scaffolding broke loose,” Warren continued, “but her ankle is wedged in against the floor.”
“I’m still trying to loosen the rest of the debris,” Scott called. “I’m afraid if I try to pull her out, I will do damage. Storm, can you move your left foot for me?” Scott tried again to get her attention, without success.
“Ororo– can you hear us?” Warren called to no response. He turned to Xavier. “Can you reach her telepathically?” he demanded.
Xavier shook his head. “I have been able to calm her panic, somewhat, but at the moment she’s not capable of communication on a conscious level.”
“What’s wrong with her?” Jean asked.
“Ororo suffers from claustrophobia. She is experiencing a dissociative panic attack.”
Hank excused himself to prepare the infirmary for a patient.
Scott stifled a curse.
“Tell us what you need, Scott,” Warren instructed calmly.
“I’ve got her cleared except for her ankle. One shot would do it, but I’m wedged in here so tight I can’t reach the control switch on my visor.”
“I can do it–” Jean insisted. If you’ll trust me, she added privately.
“I thought you were already stretched thin,” Scott countered warily.
“Warren’s taking most of the load now. I’m just keeping it from shifting.”
I can’t explain it, Jean, Scott warned, it’s all intuitive for me. And it has to be exact; there’s no room for error.
You don’t have to explain. Just think it through as if you were taking the shot yourself.
Scott did so, instantaneously calculating the necessary force and imagining himself taking the shot, physically feeling his finger set the dial.
I got it, Jean concluded.
“Then do it now,” he said, making the commitment before he lost his nerve.
Don’t blink, or I’ll miss, she quipped.
And Scott fought the urge to laugh out loud at her biting response. They could have been bickering over something completely inconsequential, the same as they always did. He took courage in her familiar confidence, the almost playful way she goaded him... and he tried not to think about the deadly, nearly unstoppable and completely uncontrollable force he was giving her access to. Instead he looked straight at the metal frame, focusing on the weakest point in the scaffolding that pinned Ororo’s ankle. He felt the visor activate, and watched the stressed metal neatly snap in two as it was hit with the proper force. Then the beam shut down, and Scott breathed a sigh of relief.
“Good work, Jean.”
Ororo was freed, physically unharmed, but still terribly frightened. Her arms were locked in a death grip around Scott’s neck from the moment he moved her.
“It’s alright. I’ve got you,” Scott reassured, keeping his voice low and even, calming, as he pulled her free. “Jean, Warren,” he called, “can you give us some more space?” The debris lifted further as Jean telekinetically pushed the unstable top layer off to one side, allowing Warren to pull the remaining scaffolding away from Scott and Ororo.
Scott emerged a moment later, cradling Ororo against his side. Warren breathed a sigh of relief, but his relief was short-lived as he listened to Scott’s voice. He’d never heard Scott sound like that, like he was trying to reassure a small child, a small, terrified child. Jean quickly moved forward to take Ororo’s other arm over her shoulder. Warren stayed where he was, carefully holding his position until Scott and Jean had gotten Ororo clear.
“Just breathe, easy now. No more small space, I promise,” Scott whispered as he and Jean helped Ororo to the infirmary.
Warren pulled his wing free from the wreckage, dropping the heavy debris to the floor with a horrible crash. No one was there to hear it but him. He stood motionless for a moment, trying not to imagine Ororo trapped underneath that, trying to control his growing anger. Warren knew he wasn’t going to let this pass. He turned and followed his teammates toward the infirmary.
They all watched as Hank examined Ororo for injury, after first sedating her. “A mild sedative,” he assured them. “It will give her mind time to recover.”
A few minutes later Hank found no injuries beyond minor scrapes and bruises.
Xavier nodded. “Keep me apprised, let me know the moment her condition changes.”
Scott had been watching Professor Xavier closely, taking note of his reactions to the situation since the moment they had entered the infirmary. He knew what Xavier had done. He had made the decision to continue the session instead of suspending it, even after it looked as though the room had won a clear victory by successfully removing each of them from the fight. Xavier had allowed Scott, Ororo, and Jean the opportunity to work their way out of defeat... but he had done so at Ororo’s expense. Scott found that he couldn’t accept that decision.
Warren’s anger boiled over as he watched Xavier calmly roll his way out, like this was no more than a minor setback. But before Warren could open his mouth to speak, it was Scott’s voice that rang out, confronting Xavier on behalf of them all.
“Why didn’t you stop the simulation sooner?” Scott demanded, his normally quiet voice ringing unnaturally loud and clear in the unnaturally silent room.
Xavier slowly turned to face his students.
“The room stops only in situations of extreme emergency, in order to prevent gravely serious injury. Otherwise it becomes useless as a training tool. Ororo knows this,” Xavier countered, “just as you all do.”
Scott took a half step forward. “It was a training exercise. She didn’t have to suffer like this,” Scott insisted. “Not for a training exercise.” He was trying hard not to let his emotions get the better of him, but remembering the way Jean’s thoughts – linked to his own – had made the pain and fear Ororo was experiencing obvious to them both. That made objectivity very difficult.
“It is not just a training exercise,” Xavier responded heatedly. “If the room shut down every time one of you were in trouble, you’d never learn to save yourselves when your lives really are on the line.”
Scott didn’t back down. “You knew about her claustrophobia. You knew what she was going through under that pile of rubble. And instead of stopping the exercise you chose to let it go on until she was reduced to this.”
Xavier fired back: “You were in charge in there, Scott. Not me! Ororo and the rest of the team are your responsibility in that room. Your responsibility – life and death – in the field.”
The others gathered around Scott, almost unconsciously. He was their leader, and his willingness to fight for their fallen friend and teammate only further cemented that fact. Even under these strained circumstances, seeing that sight filled Charles Xavier with pride. Ironically, he was seeing the team finally gel.
“If you can’t handle that responsibility–” Xavier concluded with an open-ended challenge.
“I can handle it,” Scott answered, his voice now icy calm.
Xavier gave a tight nod, and the matter was closed.
“Keep me appraised,” he reminded Hank as he turned to leave.
In his wake, the four of them gathered around Ororo’s bedside.
Warren placed a hand on Scott’s shoulder. “You did the best you could in there, and short two team members. There’s no use second-guessing it.”
Scott nodded in appreciation, though his answer came bitterly. “Best I could do wasn’t good enough for Ororo this time,” he said shortly. He reached down to gently squeeze his friend’s shoulder in silent apology before he turned to leave. He needed some space to sort all this out.
Jean winced, glancing worriedly between Hank and Warren.
“Ororo is going to be asleep for some time,” Hank reassured her.
“And Scott could use someone to talk him through this. Go with him,” Warren offered.
Jean gave them a nod of thanks. “We’ll both be back soon.” Then she paused to squeeze Ororo’s hand tightly. “Just rest, Ororo. You’re safe and sound now,” she promised her friend before releasing her grip on Ororo’s hand and turning to follow after Scott.
Hank and Warren watched her go.
“You know,” Hank offered thoughtfully once the door had closed shut behind Jean, “even though Charles has had the greater hand in mentoring Scott, he’s very much like you, Warren.”
“Like me?” Warren asked skeptically. “No offense, Hank, but I don’t see it.”
“Well, certainly, the two of you are different in many ways,” Hank conceded. “Scott is almost relentlessly calm and methodical in his reasoning, and he whole-heartedly embraces the structure of authority, whereas your approach to life tends to hinge on windswept abandon fueled by a flamboyant spirit of rebellion. But still, you two are quite alike in other ways,” he persisted. “If you don’t mind my saying so, you are both deeply passionate individuals who tend to hide those passions under a calm and cool public facade.”
Warren smiled in concession. “Alright, that’s a fair assessment.”
“If any among us were to challenge Charles, quite frankly, I would have expected that challenge to come from you.”
“It certainly would have!” Warren answered heatedly. “Scott was right, calling him out over this– and I still think Xavier was wrong. Treating something as serious as this like just another part of the training? Charles, of all people, should know there’s no telling how intense trauma can affect a person, physically and mentally. He could have done Ororo serious damage.”
Hank nodded. “Then perhaps it was overconfidence in his ability to deal with these sorts of psychological traumas that affected Charles’s decision-making today.”
“Regardless of his confidence, he should recognize that it’s wrong to use Ororo, or any of us, this way. Sitting up there watching us, like rats in a maze, to see how we react to adversity, to fear and pain.”
Hank surprised Warren by laughing.
“That’s exactly what I was referring to, my friend: this deep passion, coupled with enormous protectiveness over those in your charge. These are qualities that Scott, Ororo, and Jean all emulate from your example.”
Warren smiled, unexpectedly letting go his anger. “And the ability to set aside passion in order to calmly and agreeably diffuse a tense situation is a great strength of yours, Hank. Thank you for sharing it with me.”
“You are more than welcome, my friend.” Hank glanced down at Ororo. “I assume you plan to remain here for the foreseeable future.” Warren nodded in response. “Very well. I’ll retire to my laboratory. If you or she require anything, don’t hesitate to alert me.”
Warren thanked Hank, then pulled a chair over and seated himself at Ororo’s side. He sat silently watching over her for a few minutes, wondering what to say.
“Endless Plains. Remember?” Warren finally asked her. “You told me that’s what Serengeti meant as we were flying over.” He smiled as he took her hand and held it lightly between his own hands. “That was one of the most beautiful sights I’ve ever seen, Ororo. Flying high over the Serengeti. Nothing but wide open spaces. Endless Plains in every direction....”
Jean caught up with Scott on the mansion’s back patio. He was standing there, leaning with both hands against the waist-high stone that walled off the patio from the grounds beyond, staring out over the courtyard and gardens below him, and the lake off in the distance. Lost in thought.
Scott was thinking about Xavier, and about the decisions that had been made today. Xavier had proven that he would put the team and its mission first, even at the expense of individual team members. That was Scott’s dilemma: which one should come first? The team couldn’t function unselfishly if its first priority was self-preservation. If they were to have any hope of success, the mission had to come first, before any one of them.
Then he remembered the way the others had gathered around him when he had confronted Xavier. No team would follow a leader whom they believed willing to sacrifice them needlessly. If every member of the team didn’t believe that they were in this together, and willing to lay down their lives for each other every single time they went out into the field, then there was no team. The success of the team and the safety of its members would rest on Scott’s ability to strike a balance between those two dueling and irreconcilable priorities.
“Hi, Jean.” He greeted her without turning to see that it was her.
Jean shook her head as she came to a standstill beside him. “No matter how many times you do that, it still amazes me that you can tell it’s me by the sound of my footsteps.”
“Old habits,” he admitted, giving a shrug, “and new ones too,” he amended. “I knew you’d be the one to come after me,” he said, turning to smile at her.
“Does that mean I’m getting predictable?” she questioned.
“Absolutely not,” Scott laughed, but his smile faded as he shook his head wearily. “Predictable is not a word I would use to describe any of this. Not what you did in there today, or the fact Ororo has a serious problem that none of us knew anything about–”
“Apparently the professor knew,” Jean pointed out.
“Or the way Xavier handled it,” Scott finished coldly. “I don’t know what to make of that. Part of me is disappointed, and just– appalled. But there’s a voice in the back of my head that keeps asking: doesn’t it have to be that way? Doesn’t that line have to be there?”
Deep down, Scott knew he would have to learn to put his personal feelings aside and draw the same line. There had to be a line between Scott Summers who had friends, commitments, goals, and dreams that were all his own... and Cyclops who was the leader of the X-Men, and able to place that one responsibility above and beyond everything else.
“Let me guess, that voice sounds a lot like my friend, Cyclops.”
“I don’t have to like it,” he conceded, “but I understand it.”
“You can’t shut down the parts that make you human, Scott. The team needs you, not just Cyclops.” Her voice lowered. “You can’t be the fearless leader all the time.”
“Sometimes I wish I could be.” He surprised himself with that admission. “Strategy is so much simpler–” Scott gave a bitter laugh as he tilted his head back, trying to rein in the onset of raw emotion. “Some fearless leader I turn out to be, anyway,” he scoffed. “Immobilized by his own blindness.” He bit down on that last word. But in the space of a heartbeat, all of his objectivity vanished and he was left with just the raw, emotional, fall out of everything that had gone wrong today.
Jean gave his shoulder a squeeze. His anguish was heart-wrenching, and all the more so because the anguish so thoroughly betrayed Scott’s usual stoic reserve. As often as Jean found that particular trait of his maddening, she realized that she also had come to depend upon the steady strength and quiet confidence that always seemed to be underlying Scott’s trademark stoic reserve.
“Damn it all,” he cursed, gripping the stone wall under his hands. He’d lost his visor and been unable to defend himself, unable to help his teammates. He could still hear the fear and desperation in Ororo’s voice while he’d tried to rescue her from under the debris. That was his fault. “If I hadn’t lost my visor–”
“You know it’s not that simple,” Jean responded calmly.
“How long was Ororo suffering under there– while I was helpless? I was a split second away from blasting the last of those damn tentacles, and Ororo knew it; I saw her shift her focus away from freeing herself because she thought I had her covered. I should have been able to stop all of that from happening! And instead–” Scott stopped and swallowed hard. “Instead of helping her, I was a liability. To her, to the team. That’s completely unacceptable.”
“You think you’re the only one who screwed up in there? Every one of us played a part, and every one of us is responsible.” Jean drew closer to him, her hands on his shoulders. “We all have weaknesses and limitations. We’re all strengths and liabilities to the team. And we’re all responsible for each other in there, Scott. We can’t allow our weaknesses to overcome our strengths.”
Jean had an uncanny way of cutting straight through to the heart of things. Scott nodded, acknowledging the truth in her insights, and he took a deep breath, refocusing.
“Xavier was right about one thing though. When that happens out in the field, when there’s no way to safely stop it, what happens then?”
“That’s why we keep training,” Jean reminded him certainly. “The more we work together, the stronger we become as a team. And when all the chips are down– that’s when we trust in the rest of the team to pull us through. We’ll believe in each other, and we’ll protect each other.” She gave him a little nudge. “How many times have you used your powers to save me? To save any of us? It’s not just knowing what to do, Scott, it’s believing in ourselves, believing in each other. It takes both.” Jean had a feeling it was going to take everything they had, really.
Scott nodded, listening, but not quite convinced.
“Honestly?” her voice lowered. “I know I give you a hard time over this whole ‘fearless leader’ thing, but you are our Fearless Leader, Scott.” She smiled. “And I know there’s nothing this team can’t make it through, as long as we’re in it together. When all of us are working together– we’re unstoppable.”
Scott nodded again. He was coming around, he just needed a little time to absorb everything. Jean tugged on his arm.
“Come on. Come walk with me.”
He didn’t resist. Whether he really wanted to be dragged off on a walk or would rather stay behind – distracted, worried, and brooding – Jean couldn’t tell. But she wasn’t willing to let him keep beating himself up over his perceived failings, so he got a walk. And Jean settled for watching him out of the corner of her eye as they walked slowly through the grounds.
Despite having known Scott for years and considering him one of her closest friends, Scott so rarely let down his guard that at times Jean felt like she was still just getting to know him, only beginning to see him for who he really was... pieces of a puzzle that she was still working to assemble. And, as of late, it seemed like every time she started trying to fit more of those pieces together, beginning to see the more emotional, more vulnerable sides of Scott emerging from his always focused, always guarded shell... that’s when Cyclops would quickly surface to smother Scott out again. Even now she could see it starting to happen, and Jean tried not to scowl.
Scott glanced in Jean’s direction as he made an effort to compose himself, trying to figure out what he should say. From the beginning, he’d watched her push back against her own failures and against the team, but she’d mostly pushed back against Scott’s leadership persona. Cyclops had somehow become the embodiment of everything she didn’t like about the team and its mission. He didn’t know to address that, but he also knew it had to be addressed.
“Jean, I know this has been hard for you... and not really what you wanted.... I know I don’t always help.”
Jean shook her head, though it was a bit tiredly. “I just don’t always understand, Scott.”
He gave a questioning look.
“I understand why. I mean, we’ve gone through all that. It’s necessary. But I still can’t help feeling, sometimes, like I’ve lost my best friend... friends,” she quickly amended, trying after the fact to make that statement sound less personal.
Scott was speechless for a moment, then stammered, “Jean–”
“I know–” She stopped him before he could tell her it wasn’t true, because she knew that it wasn’t entirely true; she could at least register her own bias. “I just miss you sometimes, even when you’re standing right in front of me,” she admitted quietly.
“It’s– still me, Jean, just– a little different than before.”
She managed a nod. She simply didn’t understand him as Cyclops... and she wasn’t sure she wanted to. It was easier to have someone to blame, someone she could dislike. Jean fell silent.
Scott suspected why.
“I know this isn’t what you want to hear, because you want me to be satisfied just being Scott... but maybe Cyclops is more me than the Scott you know.” He paused, partly expecting another of her heated outbursts, but mostly he just didn’t know how to explain this. Himself. For as long as he could remember, he had felt this restlessness, a longing to make a difference with his life. For most of his life, he had never been able to make sense of that longing, any more than he had known what to do with his life.
Jean shook her head slightly. “Tell me what you mean by that, Scott.”
He took a deep breath. “I know that Xavier saved my life when he brought me here. He changed my life by believing in me. And he’s given me a future to look toward. That’s something I never had, something I could never have imagined for myself, before.” He paused again. “I’ve spent the last two years trying to figure out what to do with that life, that future. But underlying all of those plans was this thing that most defined me, most set me apart from rest of the world. My power was something I worked to accept and worked to master, but no matter how many times Xavier told me it was a gift, it just looked to me like another part of my life that I had absolutely no control over.”
“Until now,” Jean prompted, beginning to understand where he was going with this.
Scott nodded. “Until now,” he agreed. “My entire life has been action and reaction. Before the Institute, I spent years being knocked around like a pinball, never having any real control over what was happening to me. Always reactive, never proactive. Even after I came here, I had a purpose for my life, but I still didn’t have a purpose for my mutation.” Scott motioned to his glasses. “I was just reacting proactively, trying to keep my mutant power contained before it could break loose. That was all I thought I could do, until I began finding my role as Cyclops.
“Now, it’s not just about containing the optic blasts. I’m capable of more than that: things I’ve always been able to do but I never understood why, or realized those things were all connected. Now I’m starting to understand. Everything is starting to fit together, for once. This is me, finally, not just taking what’s come at me – good or bad – and dealing with it. Cyclops is me, really and truly taking charge of my life.”
Jean resisted the urge to interrupt him when he came to a thoughtful pause, and said instead, “Keep going.”
“I know it’s hard for you to really embrace all of this because you already have a set of goals. You’ve known for a long time what you want your purpose to be. You have being a doctor to look forward to. But this, this is my purpose, this is my opportunity to use all of my abilities for something good, something meaningful, something only I can do.” His voice lowered. “This is my gift. It’s not just accepting what I am, but figuring out what I can be. Who I want to be. I have to seize this opportunity, Jean.”
Jean nodded, understanding. Hearing him out, that made sense... but just because she understood it didn’t mean she liked the change in him any better. Maybe it just didn’t annoy her quite so much anymore.
“In all honesty, Scott, I really, really prefer Scott to Cyclops.”
Scott laughed under his breath. “Believe it or not, I picked up on that.”
“But, I accept that he’s a part of you, and I’ll always accept you as you are.”
“Thank you, Jean,” he responded hesitantly. “I’m really grateful for that.... As Cyclops, leading the X-Men, I know I won’t always get it right.” He gave a bitter little laugh. “Hell, I’ll probably mess up way more than my fair share... but, for the first time in my life, I know I have the chance to make a real difference in this world. So I’m going to give it everything I’ve got.”
Jean nodded. For the first time, she found herself willing not just to admit but to accept that this course they were all on was as permanent and as serious as Cyclops– as Scott was always taking it. And she realized that she had complete confidence in him.
“I know you will, Scott.” She smiled at him. “You always do.”
“I– I feel like I have to move forward with this,” Scott continued, “with Cyclops, regardless of the cost....”
Jean remembered the way he’d confronted Xavier, and she realized with a bit of a shock: that was something Scott would never have done. Scott felt too intense a loyalty and obligation to Xavier to challenge him that way. But Cyclops could, because his only obligation was for the good of the team. Suddenly Jean found herself not only understanding the intensity she saw in Scott as Cyclops, but she was beginning – a little begrudgingly still, but beginning – to appreciate that other side of him.
She could see and hear Scott’s quiet confidence, his familiar, unyielding determination. It was all there in the way he carried himself as Cyclops – quiet confidence became command, and unyielding determination became unrelenting drive. In that combination, she understood what he meant about Cyclops being more him than Scott was. Cyclops gave him an outlet for parts of himself that he would otherwise hold back, keep inside. What he wasn’t willing to do for himself he was willing to do for the good of others. That was very much the Scott she knew.
He paused, coming to a standstill beside her. “But if the cost was our friendship–”
“That’s not possible,” Jean stopped, turning to face him. “I’m not willing to let that go, Scott,” she told him, “not for anything.”
He smiled, obviously relieved to hear her say that. “Good. Neither am I, Jean,” he added.
They walked arm-in-arm in aimless silence after that, until they found themselves walking the docks along the lakefront. Jean smiled. They all had their favorite haunts. Ororo’s was the orchard, Jean’s was the garden maze, and Scott – when he wasn’t in the game room – could always be found near the lake.
Jean came to a curious pause as they passed the boat house.
“I never noticed that before.” There was an inscription engraved on a small plaque mounted over the front door. “With you here, I am home.”
“23 August 1902.” Scott read the date. “That was the same day–” He barely stopped himself before saying, “we met”.
“The same day I arrived at the Institute,” Jean finished. “What a strange–”
“Coincidence?” Scott asked.
“I was going to say, connection,” Jean finished, giving him a smile. They walked to the other end of the docks and Jean relinquished her hold on Scott’s arm as they spent a few minutes exploring the old carriage house, just wandering idly through the empty structure.
“I always liked this old place,” Scott confessed, running one hand over a heavy wooden support beam as he looked at the lake outside. It reminded him of the historical district in Omaha, along the river, where the city had tried to preserve the old landmarks and everything felt like something out of a Mark Twain novel. “Everything seems so simple. You can almost imagine what it must have been like to live here a hundred years ago.”
Jean had asked him once, soon after she’d arrived here, about Omaha. What was it like?
He’d shrugged and replied, “Midwestern.”
She’d laughed. “I didn’t ask where, I asked what. What did you like about it?”
He’d paused to consider that for a moment before replying: “The Air and Space Museum and the Historical District.”
She’d laughed again at the specificity of his answer. She had expected more generalized descriptions of weather, people, geography. But in a way that had been her introduction to Scott Summers. He didn’t waste time on generalizations. He gave simple, honest, direct answers to questions he was asked, and he didn’t volunteer additional information. It hadn’t taken her too long to figure out Scott’s specificity. That was due, in part, to his own very straightforward personality, and it was in part because he didn’t have much to say. He didn’t have many good memories of his life in Omaha. There were only two places in that city he’d really loved. And both of them had served to completely remove him from his present-day reality.
Jean wrapped her arm around Scott’s again as they left the old carriage house and walked slowly past the boat house, headed back up to the mansion. She was still thinking about what Scott had told her earlier, about how most of his years before this place had felt like little more than a long series of uncontrollable circumstances that had made up his life and determined its course independent of his will. That understanding also made what had happened in the Danger Room today mean something more to her.
“Thank you, Scott.”
He paused. “For what?”
“For trusting me in there today, enough to give up your own control.”
He smiled at her. “Aren’t you always telling me how I need to accept help?”
She smiled back. “I thought that was it, but–” her expression became serious again, “I don’t think I really knew how much I was asking, Scott.”
“I trust you, Jean. I know I don’t always show it,” he admitted, “but–” he stopped, simply run out of words.
Jean smiled. “I know.” She leaned effortlessly against his side, and she put his own thoughts into words just as effortlessly. “Scott, you’re the one person I know will always be there for me, no matter what. I’ve never trusted anything more than I trust that.”
He sighed. “Sure you’re not reading my thoughts?” Scott kidded, “because that’s exactly what I meant.”
She laughed and gave his arm a playful squeeze. “I don’t have to read your mind, Scott. I know you.”
“Thanks, Jean,” he finally whispered. Scott envied that, her effortlessness. With him, the simple act of putting his emotions into words, or into actions, always demanded an excruciating effort. Jean was no exception to that rule, but she was the only person who made him actually want to keep up the excruciating effort.
Jean just smiled and held onto him a little tighter as they kept walking.
Scott smiled too. Because when she smiled at him, or held onto him the way she did... hell, just when she was near him, he felt like he had nothing to hide. There was nothing he feared having her see. No one had ever made him feel like that before.
The rest of the world was an ocean whose currents he had to navigate. But with Jean, he could just let himself be adrift. He wasn’t even aware of the ways he let his guard down when she was near him. It just happened that way. And it made him feel whole.
Scott and Jean returned to the infirmary and stayed there, along with Warren, for the rest of the day, until Hank chased them all out so they could get some rest. Hank took the night watch, but when Ororo awoke the following dawn it was Xavier who was keeping vigil. She blinked her eyes a couple of times, looking around herself, gradually getting her bearings.
Xavier smiled reassuringly. “How are you feeling, Ororo?”
“Like the great goddess has decided to remind me that I am very small and frightfully insignificant,” she finally decided. “How are the others?”
“They are all well, aside from their worries for you. What do you remember?”
“We were in the Danger Room... I remember Scott and Jean were under attack. I was fighting to free them... then everything was falling in on me. After that... I was someplace else. Trapped. It felt like I was dying,” she shuddered, “already buried in a tomb of cold, dark, shattered stone.” She paused. “After that– everything is blank.”
Professor Xavier reached out to her mind, sharing those same events from his perspective, allowing Ororo to see what her teammates had done for her, in the Danger Room and also afterwards. He made clear to her what he had done as well, acting to help Ororo within her own mind while simultaneously dampening her mental projections. Preventing Jean from reading her distress until it was more controlled; even while Jean sensed her very intense fear, it was a non-specific fear which did not compromise Ororo’s private thoughts and memories.
Ororo inclined her head to Xavier, moved by and grateful for all of their efforts to aid her.
“I understand, how truly horrific the experience of being buried, helpless,” Xavier admitted. He laid a hand on his knee. “I owe the use of this chair to a rockslide in the Himalayas. That came a short time after our meeting in Cairo. I always regretted that, as a result, I never made it back to Cairo.... You see, over the course of my travels, I’d heard tell of a priceless gem which belonged to an ancient monastery.
“According to legend, possession of this particular stone would provide great power, enhance focus and strength, even grant immortality to one who was able to wield it, to focus his or her self through that prism.” He gave a dry smile. “Well, I gave up on that legend fairly quickly. Facing my own death, the only ‘enhancement’ I felt was fear, pain, and sheer desperation to escape.” He rubbed his knee, a nervous habit, as he remembered the phantom pain of a boulder that had long ago been smashed to bits, or more accurately: imploded, as its metal components converged on one another with enough force to compact the remaining stone into fine powder.
“But while still in Cairo, I came across a very powerful mutant who called himself the Shadow King. It seemed he mistook my interest in a certain little street thief for interest in a particular stolen local artifact, one he was unwilling part with. I found him to be quite unconcerned with keeping his powers hidden from general knowledge. Instead, he believed that those powers granted him the right to rule over his chosen domain in any way he saw fit. I disagreed.
It was a hard-fought battle, but in the end I was able to mentally suppress his mutant powers, placing them beyond the control of Shadow King’s conscious mind. Afterward there was still the matter of the artifact. I went searching for the monastery, and that search led me from Cairo to the Himalayas.
To your doom. Xavier shuddered at the strength of that memory, the sound of a ragged voice in his head, not entirely his own. For an instant Ororo felt firsthand, the experience of being trapped under rubble, holding on to a jagged piece of crystal for dear life.
“How terrible,” she whispered.
Xavier nodded grimly before continuing his story. “Years later, I asked Hank to analyze the thing. He found nothing mystic about it, just a stone, like any other valuable stone. I held on to it, none-the-less, for– sentimental reasons.”
Ororo nodded cautiously, understanding that impulse. “We are survivors.”
“Survivors overcome,” Xavier agreed. “I knew that from our very first meeting in Cairo.”
“Resilience is a trait essential for a pickpocket’s survival on the streets of Cairo.”
“Do you remember how it is you came to be in Cairo?”
She shook her head. “From stories, only. My mother’s sisters told tales of how the high priestess had fallen in love with the strange man from the cities, from far off America. Some said she bewitched him with her looks, or with her ability to wield the sacred magic. Some say he captured her spirit away with his photography and she followed him to steal her soul back again. To them the story was just another piece of lore, a hybrid of true fact and legend. I suspect they embellished the stories for my benefit because, like my mother, I had the markings of the high priestesses. The tribespeople were as wary as they were enamored by the supernatural abilities of the high priestesses.
“The libraries of Cairo more objectively recounted how the photojournalist, David Munroe, had lived among our tribe for a time, seeking to document them and their way of life. I spent many happy hours there, reading my father’s words and pictures, remembering my mother’s stories, dreaming of one day going home. She recounted the story from memory: ‘While there he fell in love with the tribal priestess, N’dare, and she with him. She was brave and adventurous and willing to run away with him. They were married, first in her tradition, and then in his, settling for a short time in Cairo before returning to New York City, where a daughter, Ororo, was born to them.’ They returned to Cairo when I was five years old. And they died there when I was seven years old.
“I always remembered being trapped in the rubble, but never had a real memory to affix with that experience, only the terror of being trapped so near to death. I know that I was plucked from the rubble by some of Achmed el-Gibar's street urchins. They took me home to their master. Achmed taught me to survive on the streets of Cairo. He and his urchins became my new family.”
Survival had given Ororo a finite purpose in the mist of grief and desolation. Her new life had been one of thievery, but to Achmed those things were also arts. Ororo soon became the most skilled among his little artisans at picking pockets and picking locks; Charles Xavier had learned of the former skill firsthand. But even more than the skills she took pride in mastering, Achmed had given Ororo a family to provide for. Her skills kept them alive and, to this day, she refused to apologize for that.
“If you wish it, I could probe your mind, help you to remember more of the past, perhaps even come to terms with the trauma underlying your claustrophobia.”
Ororo studied Xavier, evaluating that proposal for a few moments before she answered, “Perhaps. Another day. I do not believe I am ready to take that step just yet.”
Before Xavier could respond the door opened behind him. Xavier retreated slightly, allowing Jean to sit down; Scott and Warren stood behind them, all gathering around Ororo’s bedside.
Jean gave Ororo’s hand a squeeze. “How are you, Ro? You look much better.”
“I am feeling better as well.”
“Hank will be glad to see it,” Warren noted. “He stopped by the kitchen to bring up some breakfast.”
There was some tension in the air but no hard feelings following yesterday’s heated exchange. Xavier was both pleased and relieved by that. He had known yesterday, the team was gelled. Today he had no doubts: the team was not just gelled, they were set in cement. That knowledge made Xavier proud. His X-Men would be ready to move forward together, once Ororo was well.
“I’ll go see if Hank needs any assistance,” Xavier decided, excusing himself.
Professor– How is she, really? Jean asked Xavier mentally.
If he was surprised by her question Xavier didn’t show it. Ororo is still a little shaky, but feeling much stronger. Xavier paused to look back at Jean before he wheeled out of the room. I offered to probe her mind in an effort to help her come to terms with the underlying trauma, but Ororo told me she did not feel ready to take that step, not yet.
“Do you remember what happened?” Warren asked hesitantly.
Ororo glanced in Warren’s direction, speaking carefully. “I remember the collapse, but not much after that point. Afterward, it was as if... I was somewhere else.” Ororo blinked, redirecting her thoughts. “Scott, I heard you were adamant that the professor should have stopped the session.”
“Yes,” Scott said without apology. “But he put me in my place, reminded me that what happened in there was my responsibility. I’m sorry for that, Ororo,” he added quietly.
She placed a hand on his arm. “I am grateful for everything you all did to help me. And I am grateful that Professor Xavier did not stop the session prematurely on my account.”
Scott’s mouth fell open in surprise. “You are. Why?”
“What good would it have done for him to protect me from myself, shutting this fear off before I could feel it? That would only have kept me in the dark. It is always better to know the truth,” she concluded. “Now that I know this part of myself exists, I can face it. Step into the light and learn to deal with my fears.”
“Now we can deal with it,” Jean said softly, “we all want to help you.”
“We’re all behind you, Ororo,” Scott confirmed, “anything you need.”
“Behind me.” She shook her head. “You might well do better to go ahead without me,” she argued. Her biting tone showed that despite more accepting words Ororo was still angered by what she perceived as a weakness in her warrior’s armor.
Scott gave a lopsided smile; he understood that emotion perfectly. “As Jean recently reminded me,” he paused to glance at her, “all of us have weaknesses.”
Jean nodded, smiling back at him. “We can’t let our weaknesses overpower our strengths,” she finished determinedly.
Ororo took a deep breath. “Then there is nothing but to face them. Together.”
“Well said.” Warren smiled, proud and amazed by his students.
“Breakfast is served.” Hank returned, balancing two large serving plates as he opened the door with one foot. Everyone spent the next few minutes helping themselves to juice, fruit, and pancakes.
“While I deeply appreciate your determination to stand alongside me,” Ororo decided, “I cannot in good conscience allow my own faults to put the rest of you in jeopardy. I will have to learn to deal with this fear, and to function despite it. That will require time, and effort. Though, I admit, I don’t know precisely how–”
“Ah, I have been contemplating that very dilemma,” Hank spoke up. “Jean, I was considering a form of immersion therapy using the Danger Room.”
Jean nodded at him before glancing back to Ororo. “It would be a way to limit your exposure to frightening stimuli, in this case: enclosed spaces, within a carefully controlled environment.”
“Precisely! Within the Danger Room’s virtual parameters–”
Ororo looked equal parts intrigued and nervous, prompting Warren to interrupt before Hank could go further.
“But that challenge can wait for another day. Perhaps a day outdoors would be ‘what the doctor ordered’ at this point.”
“I would like that very much,” Ororo agreed, already looking more relaxed.
Hank nodded. “I see no reason not to order. If an apple a day keeps the doctor away, surely there must be some medicinal benefit to be gained from an entire orchard.”
“We’ll go along with you,” Jean volunteered, “if that’s alright.”
Ororo inclined her head in one of her regally gracious nods. “Thank you. I would appreciate the change of scenery, and company would be most welcome.”
“Just, take it easy, as the old saying goes,” Warren admonished.
Hank nodded. “You’ve undergone significant mental and emotional trauma, and for the moment you are still a patient. But I know you’ll find the wonders of the great outdoors a more healing environment than the scientific wonders of a cold, sterile medical lab.”
“Perfect!” Jean jumped up and gave Hank an exuberant hug. “We’ll bring back some apple blossoms from the orchard, brighten up your sterile medical lab.”
“Lovely.” Hank chuckled. “I am quite fond of Malus domestica flora as well.”
“Warren,” Jean asked, “are you coming?”
“I’ll be along in a while. But first... I want to talk to the professor.”
Warren was not surprised to find Charles Xavier in his office. He was surprised to find him engrossed in the study of a familiar crystal. Even more surprising was the sensation of deja vu that sight evoked. This was the same crystal the team had retrieved from the cliffs earlier this summer, in the first training task Xavier had set them as X-Men. The crystal normally rested on a corner of Xavier’s desk, but that was not the extent of Warren’s deja vu.
Years earlier, the first day Warren had stood in this office, with Fred Duncan waiting outside in the hall... waiting to see if Warren would choose to join Xavier’s Institute or if Duncan would take him away to face criminal charges. On that day too, Xavier had been studying a certain gem very intently, as if he had been trying to unlock some mystery within it.
Xavier placed the crystal on his desk and fixed his attention on Warren. “Legend holds that precious gems were once scattered across the four corners of the Earth.”
Warren had heard this legend before. He had no more belief in it then than he had patience for the retelling now.
“And we just happen to have one growing on our mountain?”
“No. Crystal formations, even expansive ones, are hardly rare. Nor are they terribly valuable. The rest is the stuff of legend.”
Warren scooped the crystal up from Xavier’s desk and clinched it in the palm of his hand.
“I’m not interested in artifacts, ancient or modern, and I didn’t come here to talk about crystal formations or legends. I came to talk to you about Ororo.”
Xavier’s expression darkened slightly, but he sat back in his chair. “Very well.”
“Ororo’s well-being has been my responsibility since you sent me to Kenya to find her. She’s bright, tough, and wise beyond her years. Because of all that, it’s sometimes easy to forget her singular uniqueness. I know Hank and Jean want to ‘help’ and I suspect you’ve already offered her your ‘help’ as well. But her recovery cannot be artificially managed. Ororo needs time to recover, naturally, on her own terms. She doesn’t need elaborate tests or psychic band-aids pushing her past her own limits.”
Xavier gave a curt nod. “Consider your objections duly noted.”
“Did you have further objections?”
In a fit of temper, Warren turned and threw the crystal. It hit Xavier’s office door and shattered. Warren looked down at the pieces, feeling both calmer and more confused after that unexpected outburst.
“I won’t stand for a repeat of what happened last time in the Danger Room,” he told Xavier calmly. “I won’t see her suffer another set back like this one because you’re too arrogant to stop a damn training simulation,” Warren added on his way out the door.
The sound of crystal fragments crunching under Warren’s footsteps made Xavier wince. He wheeled toward the door, looking down upon the shattered crystal. It is a weak vessel for a thing of timeless legend.
“Charles?” There was a light knock at the door before Hank opened it. “I thought I heard–” He looked down. “Ah. That’s what I heard.”
Xavier gave a dry smile. “Warren and I were just having a slight difference of opinion.”
“Would you like some assistance cleaning that difference up?”
“A hand would be appreciated, thank you, Hank.”
“Do I need to ask?” Hank prompted.
“It would seem Warren is still angry over my decision not to stop the Danger Room session.”
“A shame,” Hank noted as he swept up, “it was a lovely specimen.”
“Have you been able to analyze the rest?”
“The fragments Scott has recovered from the caverns appear to be of the same consistency. I have made note of one rather curious property.” Hank hit the light switch. The crystal fragments glowed in the newly darkened room for a few seconds then gradually diminished. Hank cut the lights back on.
“That is curious,” Xavier acknowledged.
“It seems to act as an energy reservoir.” Hank paused, sweeping up the last of the remnants. “I wonder if the added strain of photochemical luminescence somehow weakens the crystal’s integrity....” Hank wrapped up the fragments in a handkerchief. “I’ll take them back to the lab for a closer look.”
Xavier raised an eyebrow questioningly. “Anything in particular you’re looking for?”
“No, but I may find something of use,” Hank answered. “I certainly never thought ruby quartz would come in as handy as it has.”
Ororo, Jean, and Scott spent the remainder of the morning enjoying the garden and orchards before walking down to the lake for a lazy afternoon by the water. Jean was telling Ororo about yesterday’s discoveries while the three of them walked along the lakefront. Today Jean tried the boat house door but, unlike the carriage house yesterday, she found it locked.
Ororo smiled mischievously, pulling a hairpin. “Let’s see if I still have the touch.”
Jean glanced over her shoulder at Scott, who only smiled as the old lock quickly proved no challenge for Ororo’s particular skills.
“We’re lucky she uses these powers for good and not cat-burglary.”
Jean scowled at him. “Real funny, Summers.”
He laughed. “I thought so. Well, let’s take a look.” Scott pushed the door open despite its protest of squeaky rusted hinges, and walked inside
Ororo paused uncomfortably. “You two go ahead. I will remain out here for the time being.”
Jean nodded in agreement. “Hank said you’re supposed to take it easy today.”
Scott unlocked and opened a window to let in more light, and to allow Ororo to better see inside.
“Now Ro can be our lookout.”
Jean rolled her eyes, following him inside. Ororo only laughed quietly. Scott and Jean explored the boat house at length, reporting their findings to Ororo as they fanned out through the old structure. The downstairs had the same open-air appeal as the carriage house: great open spaces and large windows overlooking the lake. But where the carriage house was designed for work space, this was clearly living space. A cozy hearth rug covered the wood floor beside a great stone fireplace. Somewhere over the years, the property had been modernized to include a small kitchen and all the prerequisite appliances. The kitchen, a small dining table, and a sofa occupied the downstairs. Upstairs there were two small but comfortably furnished bedrooms and a bathroom.
Scott was fascinated to find this place thoroughly livable by modern standards. That wasn’t what he had expected. Still, the upgrades had clearly been made years ago. Care had been taken to preserve the rustic quality of the original property, but the finished result hadn’t been lived in, not for many years.
“Now I’m really curious,” he admitted as they closed up behind themselves.
Jean nodded. “It’s a bit of a mystery, isn’t it?” She took one more look at the plaque mounted over the door before they began walking back to the mansion. She wondered who had lived here, in this little house by the lake, all those years ago. What had become of them? And what had become of this place in the years since?
So Let it Be Written Publishing © 2004