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Minisinoo


 

CLIMB THE WIND 10

Please Read the Warning and Notes at the beginning of Part 1

Part 10 Notes:
WARNING: All bets are off. Irreversible things happen, and people die. This is another bloody chapter. I do not recommend eating your dinner while reading it, especially the end.

Notes: Yes, I know that when Iceman fights, he transforms, but we didn't see him do that in the film, so I haven't used it here. Thanks to Jenn for info on St. John. See Jenn, I gave him something to do. :-) Also, there are kids mentioned here who were in the film but rarely appear in film fanfic. Neil Sharra (India-Indian boy Thunderbird III), Fred Dukes (overweight kid Blob), Dani Moonstar (American Indian girl in the professor's office Mirage). We also saw Piotr Rasputin (Colossus) drawing by the reflecting pool, and the American Indian boy watching the X-Jet take off was either John Proudstar (original Thunderbird) or his brother, Jimmy (Warpath). I'm guessing the fast kid on the ball court was Peitro Maximoff (Quicksilver) though he didn't have white hair. And although the professor in the comics sometimes seemed to be a mega-mutant, that's always bugged me. I gave him limitations. Some things he can't do, some things he won't do, and he's not invulnerable as the film showed. "Absolutely Sweet Marie" can be found on Bob Dylan's classic album, Blonde on Blonde.



Cyclops aimingBefore taking off for the rear wall myself, I dashed around to see what was happening at the front gate. It had been blown in so that black iron hung twisted on the hinges. Yet across the gateway, the explosion's fire now roared out of control, forming a barrier more effective than the metal. Allerdyce. "Good thinking, John," I said for the professor to relay. "Keep them back as long as you can, but don't drain yourself completely." Then I headed for the rear as more lightning came down out of the sky. Off to the left - the direction in which I'd sent Elk River - I heard someone screaming in abject terror from one of her psychic arrow-bolts. "Storm," I called, "when John can't hold the gate any more, send in the rain - hard downpour. Let them try to drive in mud."

Roger, Cyclops.

I'd reached visual range of the back wall of the estate and the infrared sensors in my visor showed me shapes near the top, working to cut through the electric fencing that I'd put up. A few tight-beam shots from my visor ended that, and without damaging the wire. I heard them hit the ground on the other side. They didn't try again immediately. I moved on, finding Drake by his infrared signature - one much lower than anyone else's would have been. He'd iced the top sections of the wall for a good three hundred yards and was working his way back towards the gate. Even if the invaders did get the wire cut, they'd have a hard time scaling that. "Good job," I told him. "Ice the whole of it, if you can. I'll police your section and mine." Then I headed back to check on Elk River. They were doing good, my kids. They were thinking on their feet, thinking of things I hadn't - Allerdyce at the gate, and now Drake with the walls.

Soldiers were trying to scale the wall again at the same place I'd shot them down before. How the hell long could we keep this up? Knock them down and they came right back. They weren't going to pack up and go away like the helicopters. This was an all-out assault, and they obviously didn't care what the neighbors' thought. They were here tonight to take us, or kill us trying, and tomorrow there would be lies for the media. Was this what the men at the Alamo had felt, holed up in their fort in Texas? Or the Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, or the members of the American Indian Movement at Wounded Knee, surrounded by FBI and US Marshals?

What do you do when you know you can't win? It was just a matter of time before they wore us down and carted us off. Dammit, the professor could have reprogrammed their minds and sent them merrily on their way back to whatever rock they'd crawled out from under. It would have been hard on him, but he could have done it.

And I knew he wouldn't, not even to save himself. Not even to save us. He believed too strongly that there were some lines you didn't cross, no matter what. In his heart, he was still a Quaker. But I wasn't Charles, and I didn't have the same lines. I loved him still, admired him. But I no longer adhered entirely to his ideals. I'd been hurt too much, lost too much. As I'd told Ororo over two months ago, the old Cyclops had died in Baltimore. I'd become someone else, someone I wasn't sure I liked - he was a ruthless bastard. But he was going to save his kids.

Reaching up, I got hold of the little Xs on the collar of my jacket and ripped them off, dropped them on the ground. Then turning up the dial on my visor, I punched holes straight through the soldiers on the wall. The sons of bitches weren't going to get up again this time.

I moved on to find Dani. She had her own methods of troop control: psychic bolts and mirages. Fire ran along the top of the wall, glowing blue-white hot. It wasn't real, but the troops below didn't know that. Phantom fire glow reflected off her face. "How tired are you?" I asked her.

"Not tired at all. I can keep this up a while, just can't extend it very far. And if they figure it out, I may have to retreat."

"Do what you need to do. But Dani - don't let them take you." I didn't waant to tell her about the ova harvesting, yet it bothered me to have any of the girls out here at all, even one as tough as Dani. It wasn't that the boys weren't in danger, but the idea of faceless men turning our girls into egg banks for insane experiments pushed me past rage into something explosive.

Now, Dani just said, "They won't take me. I'll scare them so bad, they'll shit themselves."

Grinning, I left her. If we got out of this alive, she'd make a potential leader.

In my head, the professor relayed Logan's warning: Allerdyce is running out of steam, kid. Jubilee and Sharra are ready to give 'em a light show, but I don't know how long that'll keep 'em back.

I looked off towards the front. From what I could see, the fires were indeed much lower. "On my mark, tell John to cut the fires and head back to the mansion," I said in reply. "He can catch his breath with Kitty, and Peter can take his place for the moment. I think we've reached a point that we can't keep the troops out any longer. But I want to control their point of entry."

I heard a scraping sound behind me at the wall and glanced about. More climbers. They joined their fellows on the ground on the other side. "They're not making any real concerted effort back here," I added. "Mostly trying to keep us off balance. On second thought, send Peter back here to take my place. I'm coming to the front. Storm, can you hear me?"

StormI am here, Cyclops.

"When Jubilee and Neal start the Fourth of July, I want you to strike the vans with lightning. By then, I'll be in range to blast them, too. And Storm, don't forget the rain. Dani that means you may have to come up with something else."

Understood.

"Beast? How are you doing?"

Ready and waiting, Fearless Leader.

I snorted. "Fire at will as soon as the vehicles are in range, but then I want you and Kurt off the roof. Remember our surprise?"

Ah, indeed.

"When you see it, get down to Kitty, so she can phase you into the basement if necessary. Kurt can teleport."

And Allerdyce, if I send him back there? Logan's voice.

"I need John still. I just want him to rest for a bit. I'll let him know what to do. Here comes Phase Two, people. John - NOW!"

I was already sprinting back across the lawn. I could see Rasputin coming this way, his body gun-metal gray in the dark. The fires at the gate whooshed out, leaving startled silence. Then I could hear the enemy shouting orders, clear in the night air, and the caravan started forward.

That was when the rain came down.

It made mud fast; I found myself sliding and almost went down. At the gate, Jubilee and Sharra had cut loose with explosives and plasma bursts while Storm followed with spears of lightning. Yet they were still trying simply to scare them, refrained from striking the vehicles. That wasn't going to be good enough. Scrambling for balance, I got into range and hit the engines of the lead vans with a full optic blast. Two exploded, troops and all.

Scott!

That was the professor. I tuned him out. He could read my reasons out of my head. I aimed for a third van, hit it, but the troops had already bailed from all remaining vehicles. They had their objective - entry into the grounds - and they scattered like black roaches.

I had a few roach bombs ready. "Logan, get your kids clear, outside the walls. Quickly!" Things were becoming uncontrollable, fast. The invaders fired - at me, back towards the gate where Jubilee and Sharra had been, and up into the air at Storm. Yet they weren't aiming to kill. Bullet spray came low, directed at my legs. I was sure their orders were clear:  wound or contain, and capture. As with our knowledge of the grounds, that gave us the advantage as long as we were willing to use it. I was; I'd set my visor to full power. Running for the fountain's concealment, I heard Jubilee shouting in the distance. "Storm, get the hell out of the air!"

My order came too late. Over our heads, she screamed and plummeted out of the sky. Lightning exploded in random bursts, as dangerous to us as to the troops. The rain stopped abruptly.

"Storm!"

I'm on it, Cyclops! Beast's voice. Kurt, take over! I could see Hank's dark form practically throw itself over the edge of the mansion roof and down the side faster than a body had a right to move. Soldiers fired at him but couldn't hope to catch him. They were also running for the place where Storm had crashed. I shot at them to block their way, sending gouts of earth up in their faces, even while preparing to set off the mines. Now that they'd distracted us nicely, some men had returned to the remaining vehicles, which began to move towards the mansion once more. From the roof, Kurt fired at them, but without much success. They were armored against bullets.

"Stay away from the road," I warned everyone, via the professor.

I flicked back the first of four safety covers on the detonator I'd been wearing on my belt. Such a light press of my thumb, to set off the beginning of Armageddon.

All along the road, mines blew, and a few set out randomly in the lawn. Half the remaining vehicles went up - one van and two of the cars. A few soldiers were caught as well. There was much shouting.

"Surprise," I muttered. Flicking back the second safety, I pressed that button and air sirens started in the stable, screaming out into the night. A few minutes later, shadows burst through the stable doors. "Watch out for the horses." And I grinned.

I've reached Storm, Beast sent. Her arm is broken from the fall and she's unconscious, but the bullet wound is minor. It only grazed her hip. She'll be fine.

"Get her below. Get to the mansion and get below with Kitty and Kurt. Dani, Bobby, Piotr?"

Here, each said.

"Abandon your posts and scatter. I mean it. Piotr, punch through the wall and get them out. Run until no one's chasing you, then work back to the pre-arranged rendezvous point."

Sir? From Dani.

"Don't argue!"

Yes, sir.

"Logan?"

No answer.

"Professor!"

He is alive, Scott. He's occupied.

"They need to get off the grounds!"

I shall relay the message.

"Stay below, Charles. Keep everybody below and get John out of the building." The remaining troops had already reached the mansion. I saw one kick in the door. Others broke out windows and climbed through. Had Beast gotten back in time with Ro? "They've got men in the building. I don't know where Hank is, but Kurt and Kitty are in there and they need to get below."

I will be certain that they do so, but what else are you planning - ?

"I don't have time to explain," I interrupted. "Let me know when everyone is underground and secure. . . ."  I trailed off because I saw something new that scared the hell out of me.

Figures were emerging from the remains of the burning vehicles. Three of them.

Good god.

"Professor!"

I sense them. Be careful, Cyclops. This is what Walter Skinner warned us of. And there may be more besides.

The three figures were black all over from burning, but it didn't seem to stop them. Triggering my visor, I blasted one to pieces. Little pieces. But before I could turn to a second, a shadow-figure had leapt on him from behind and they went rolling in the dirt. Light from fires all around flashed off metal claws.

"Wolverine!"

The third had almost reached me. I readjusted my aim, but never got a chance to fire. The figure was blown off its feet by a plasma burst from Neal Sharra. I could hear Neal screaming as he seared the figure over and over with balls of plasma. "You killed her! You killed her, you son of a bitch!"

Trusting Logan to deal with his own opponent, I raced for Neal, who'd lost complete control. There was nothing left of the third figure but wind-scattered ash and metal slag, yet he continued to blast away at full intensity. I grabbed him from behind - where he couldn't take me out by accident - and shouted, "Storm's fine! Cut it out, Neal! Storm's alive!"

The plasma bursts stopped and he seized up, then started shaking all over, collapsing to his knees. "It's not Ms. Munroe!" he wept. "They killed Jubilee!"

I knelt beside him. "Jubilee?" I turned at the sound of feet. Logan. We seemed to be the only ones still on the lawn. "Jubilee?" I asked him.

He shook his head. "They hit her in the leg and caught her. She panicked before I could get to her, and suicided. Took three of the bastards with her. I put her body where no one can find it."

I'd told them not to let themselves be taken, and they'd all seen what I'd come back looking like. This was my own damn fault. They were just kids. Of course she'd over-reacted. "Charles, you didn't tell me!"

No, I didn't, came back the simple answer.

"Why?"

You had other things to worry about.

"How many more?"

Silence.

"Tell me!"

Kitty, also. I'm sorry.

"Kitty?" Oh, God in heaven. My little math genius. Kitty, who didn't have a vicious bone in her body. "What about Hank and Ro?"

Kitty phased Beast and Storm through, one at a time. They are here, safe. Then she returned to find Kurt, and her mental signature disappeared.

They must have gotten her from behind when she wasn't looking to know to phase. "Sons of bitches. Did Kurt make it?"

Yes. He teleported in only a minute after Kitty had left to find him. He never saw her.

I looked back at the mansion, tensed my jaw. They were going to pay for this. "Logan, get Neal to safety off grounds. I'm going to find John "

I didn't get any further. With a hiss, three gas canisters exploded around our feet. We'd been careless. "Tear gas!" Logan yelled, even as I felt the pepper sting on my exposed skin.

Yet against me, tear gas was the best possible tactical error. "Close your eyes!" I quit breathing, grabbed Neal and Logan, and ran. My visor seals to my face to contain the force of my blasts so as long as I wasn't taking in fumes, I could see. Out in open air still windy and damp from rain, the gas dissipated rapidly. I was coughing a little, but otherwise, fine. I made for a line of bushes, practically flung the other two through the branches, and spun to start firing back in the direction from which the canisters had come - took out three trees and some ambushers in one sweep. Logan coughed heavily behind me, but his healing factor had taken over. It was Neal who was in trouble. We had no water to wash out his eyes and sinuses. He'd curled into a ball, coughing and choking and rubbing at his face. Logan tried to calm him down but to no avail. The remaining ambushers were firing at us once more, still not aiming to hit but trying to pin us in one place until they could ready more chemical weapons. "Logan - " I began.

"I know, kid," he said. "If they hit us again, we're in trouble. You get away if you can."

It was the wrong thing to say in front of Neal. I turned back to fire at the troops even as Neal jerked himself up and sprinted out from our cover, hands extended and plasma exploding at crazy angles, doing no good whatsoever because he couldn't see at what he was aiming.

They are just kids - Jubilee, Neal . . . .   And there's no way to know how people will react under fire until you put them there. The Danger Room isn't a real combat situation. I grabbed for Neal -- missed. The troops might be trying to capture, not kill us, but solar plasma was more than they'd bargained for. And Beast's vest couldn't save him from their concentrated rifle-fire.

Cyclops firingSeeing him fall, I let loose, taking out trimmed bushes, birch trees, a decorative bench, and troops. Then Logan and I ran to Neal, dropping down beside him and rolling him over. He was dead, dark eyes staring, blood trickling out of his mouth. "With Kitty, that makes three," Logan said.

"Goddammit!" I felt the tears start behind my visor and blinked them back. I couldn't afford to cry. "What the hell kind of leader am I if I can't even stop one kid from panicking? I lost Jean! I got us captured! Now I've lost Jubilee, Kitty, and Neal!" My control teetered on edge and I shivered hard, wrapped arms around myself and hung on tight as if I might fly apart otherwise. I was having trouble breathing, my chest felt as if a great metal band were crushing it. I whispered, "I just kill people, I just kill people - "

Logan grabbed my arms and shook me, and I could feel the professor inside my head, trying to calm me down. I fought them both, Logan physically and Charles mentally. They fought back. "Snap out of it!" Logan was shouting. "Come on, kid, snap out of it. We need you."

"Leave me alone! I just get people killed!"

"Like hell! We need you, dammit! I need you; I can't do this alone. I haven't got your gift for tactics." Then his head jerked up, nostrils flaring. "The choppers are back." I heard them myself a few seconds later. And no one now to stop them from landing. They would bring more troops.

"There's nothing we can do," I said, and at that moment, I really believed it.

He yanked me close, put his face right in mine. "So you're just gonna give up? You are right, then! You're no kind of leader if you give up!" And he shoved me backwards. I landed on my ass. "I'm going after the kids."

The fall knocked me out of my self-pity, and I glanced towards the mansion. I did still have some tricks left, and to quote Yogi Berra, It ain't over till it's over. There were no troops outside that I could see, though there might be men around back. It was time to end this. "Logan, don't go." He looked back at me. "This is it. Phase Three." I pulled myself together and stood up, took a breath. I still felt jittery and weak from adrenaline-induced panic, but it was passing.

"Most of their men are in the building. They'll have discovered by now that there's no one there. I don't want them guessing where we went. The sub-basement's best protection is ignorance of its existence. Scout the yard to be sure there are no witnesses when the backup arrives, then go after Drake and the rest. Meet them at the rendezvous. You'll need Piotr to help you dig out the basement eventually, but don't try until you can be certain that no one is watching."

"What're you going to do?"

"Find John, then give them nothing left to look for." Mentally, I clamped down hard in a way that Jean had taught me to do, to shield my thoughts for a second and hoped Charles' attention was divided enough just now that he wouldn't notice. There were some advantages to having lived so long with telepaths. "Remember what I told you about Masada?"

Logan just stared at me a moment, then offered a hand. I gripped it. "That sounds more like you, kid. Good luck and give 'em hell. I'll see you at the rendezvous." And he was gone, fading into the trees like the animal he almost is. A predator with the soul of a man.

"Good bye, Logan."

I went after John then, using the professor's telepathy and my infrared sensors to lead me to him. I ran across a horse on the way, one of the mares, and smacked her hard on the flank to make her bolt. Maybe she'd find her way to a neighbor's stable. When I finally located John, he'd hidden among underbrush in the wild scrub near the northwest wall. His face was scared but resolute. Like Dani, he's a tough kid. "How's Bobby?" he asked as soon as I dropped down beside him.

"He's safe. How are you feeling, John? Up to a last show?"

"Yes, sir."

"Good." This was the part I'd been hiding even from the professor, and with a half-formed mental apology, raised my shields permanently. There were no more orders to give, no reason to maintain a link, and I didn't want Charles to know what I planned next. He wouldn't approve, but he couldn't spare the effort to force my mind, even if he would have.

The choppers had arrived, setting down on the lawn and the mansion roof. Unclipping the detonator from my belt again, I flipped open the third safety of four. "Now listen. What I'm about to ask of you is unfair, John, and you have every right to tell me to go jump in the lake." I tried to catch his eyes, but like so many, he wasn't sure where to look through my visor, focused on my nose instead.

"What do you need me to do?"

"If anyone manages to make it out of the mansion alive, I want you to make sure the fire swallows him. No one escapes. Got that?"

He stared at me and swallowed. "I -   Mr. Summers, are you sure?"

John isn't as apathetic as he sometimes wants to appear. "I told you it was unfair. Tell me now if you can't do it."

He swallowed again, but then his jaw hardened. "They killed Jubes and Kitty." He didn't know yet about Neal. "I can do it, sir."

I laid a hand on his shoulder, couldn't say, 'Good.' so I said, "Remember: I gave you this order; it's on my conscience. When you're sure there's no one left, I want you out of here. Make for the rendezvous point. Logan will protect you."

I glanced behind me, at the two helicopters on the lawn. The other two were on the roof, and the troops mostly inside the house. Good. Here was my own little twist on Odysseus' Trojan Horse. I hit the third button, whispered, "I'm sorry, Charles."

Explosions went off one after the other in staccato bursts. All over the mansion, windows blew out, scattering glass and streamers of flame on the lawn. Fire roared skyward, consuming old oak and mahogany; there was a lot of wood to ignite. Terrible and beautiful. That was my home, and I was burning it to the ground. God forgive me. I doubted the rest would be able to.

Mansion exploding"Holy Christ - " John whispered beside me.

"Remember what I said," I told him and left the concealing shadow of wild scrub to begin walking forward. There were still the choppers on the lawn. Palming the detonator, I raised my hands over my head in apparent surrender.

"Mr. Summers!" Allerdyce hissed behind me. I ignored him and hoped he had the good sense to stay hidden. I thought he did. Drake would have come after me. Allerdyce was more pragmatic.

All I needed to do was get near enough to the choppers. Then this would all be over. Strangely, I wasn't afraid. I just hoped the pain was quick. Men ran forward, rifles at ready but not coming near me. They must have known who I was and what I could do. There were ten of them with sights trained on me. Kevlar couldn't stop that much concentrated fire and I kept my hands up, away from my visor. No sense in spooking them. With the mansion burning two hundred yards away, it was like a scene from Dante, cast all in red and black. Fitting. Let the damned take out the devil.

I heard them then. More helicopters. And weapons fire. Had they found Logan despite all his training? Three more helicopters, in fact. Damn. I looked up along with everyone else on the lawn to see where they were shooting. But it wasn't at the ground at all.

Spotlights caught wide white wings spreading sixteen feet from tip to tip against a storm-black sky. Gabriel descending. Our Angel. Warren Worthington.

That fucking idiot! Who was guarding the other kids?

He was evading the choppers easily. They couldn't hope to catch him any more than they could catch a falcon. He led them on a merry chase right over the burning mansion, probably hoping for a backdraft to suck one in.

And then I saw what I wouldn't have believed, if I hadn't been looking right at it.

The flames rose up and up like a living being, like some great bird twenty times the size of Warren - a phoenix made of fire, with the face of a woman and the beak of a bird. She plucked a chopper right out of the sky, consuming it in a fireball burst that seemed only to add to her immense power. And then she screamed.

John could shape fire sometimes, but nothing like that. The Firebird screamed again and beat her wings, sending the two remaining choppers spinning out of control as effectively as any wind Storm could have raised. One crashed into the trees outside the wall, and the other went into a death spiral down into the mansion itself. I could feel the heat from her fire-wind all the way out where we were standing around on the lawn.

"Holy fuck. What in hell is that?" I heard one of the soldiers mutter.

"I'd like to know the same thing," I replied.

And it was while everyone was distracted and gaping at the Firebird, that I felt a sudden rush of much cooler air wash over me, and then I was being lifted right off the ground at dizzying speed. A few soldiers recovered enough to shoot upward, but they were too startled to aim. Hand free, I adjusted my visor to fire back rather more effectively. "Warren, dammit! Put me down!"

And it was Warren, of course. His relative strength to his size is the same as a bird of prey's an easy thing to forget when looking at him. "Like hell I will!" he was yelling in my ear. "What did you think you were doing?"

"Protecting our people! What in hell are you doing? Who's watching the kids in Boston?"

"Sean and Moira took off with them as soon as you called. I headed here."

"Put me down and get the fuck back there! I have explosives in my jacket. It's the only way to end this, once and for all! They have to think we're all dead!"

"What!" he screamed into the teeth of the wind. "You jackass!" But he headed back toward the choppers. The Firebird was still raging over the burning mansion and tiny figures ran about on the lawn below us. Some shot at us. A few shot - illogically - at the Firebird. "Take the jacket off and drop it on a chopper," Warren ordered.

"That won't be enough - "

"It'll have to be enough! If you think I'm going to let you play the martyr, forget it! You'll break Charles' heart, you bloody cold son of a bitch!"

I thought about struggling - I could probably free myself if I caught him off guard - but the fall might kill me before I could set off the bombs in my jacket, and it would be too far away to do any good in any case. Not to mention that fighting me would distract Warren from dodging our enemy's fire, and could get him killed.

He was still yelling at me, "Get the freakin' jacket off, damn you!" and for once, I did as Warren said. It was a trick with his arms braced across my chest, holding me fast. But I managed and he swooped low over one of the choppers so I could let go of black leather. It fell onto one of the floppy blades. The troops were still shooting at us, but none thought to remove the jacket. It was just a jacket.

I slipped the safety off and hit the fourth button, triggering seven tiny bombs that I'd sewn into my jacket lining. Behind us, a great ball of fire bloomed outwards, consuming the chopper.

Warren was climbing altitude at a frightful pace and behind us, I could hear the blades start on the second chopper. They were coming after us. Shivering in the freezing wind of our speed and swallowing my nausea, I tried to make my mouth function. "Get behind the Firebird!" Whatever it was, whoever was controlling it, the apparition seemed to be on our side. And if this was John, that boy and I were going to have a little chat later about concealing abilities.

Warren took my advice and aimed for the mansion, the helicopter following. I just hoped my hunch was right and the seemingly sentient fire didn't consume us as cheerfully as she had the choppers.

She didn't. One wing dipped down to let us zip past through black billowing smoke, then raised up again to block the chopper. It was insanely hot up here, the oxygen thin, and the fire's sucking pull of air was almost too much for Warren to fight. I was sweating like a pig and Warren's arms around me were slick. I hoped he didn't lose his grip as he beat his wings furiously. Too much of this and we'd be cooked well done, but there was no-where else to go. The helicopter had veered off to circle around, trying to get us from another direction. This pilot was no fool; he wasn't getting near the bird. I could hear a second set of engines, too. Damn. More back up. Did these people have no end of resources?

Of course not. This was the government, or as close as made no difference.

The chopper had swung wide, coming back in from the south, where Ororo's gardens and the maze had been. Both were on fire now. Warren was climbing once more, trying to get above the chopper's bullet spray and the sucking heat of the fire - and trying to lure the pilot back within striking range of the Firebird. But it wasn't working. He stayed put and the bird screamed in frustration, then tried to reach out with her beak to snag him, but he danced his chopper away. Damn, that guy was good. Or gal. Storm would tell me not to assume.

A sudden hooded shadow rose up from behind the chopper like a striking cobra. Black Habu.

The Blackbird, my mistress.

A missile turret opened and orange fire streaked out towards the helicopter. Caught between Firebird and Blackbird, the pilot didn't have a prayer. The missile struck, there was a second's pause, then the chopper exploded in a shower of twisting metal and tempered glass. Warren managed to turn to protect me, but no way could he protect all of sixteen feet of wings, not and stay aloft. I heard him scream and the world wrenched as shrapnel tore through his right wing.

Then we were falling towards the burning mansion. "Warren!"

"Sorry, Scott," I heard him breathe past clenched teeth. We continued to plunge down as he tried valiantly to lift us despite his shredded wing.

The PhoenixSeeing us fall, the Firebird screamed once again and lifted herself to spread wings and . . . tip them. Just so. Powerful hot currents knocked us end over end, singeing us good but tossing us well free of the mansion fire, towards the back lawn where the few remaining soldiers weren't. Warren tried to break the fall, but there was no way to soften it. We hit hard. I heard one of his wings snap and he cried out yet again. I was lucky I hadn't broken anything or gotten knocked silly. I must have rolled twenty feet and had barely picked myself up when the few remaining troops came tearing around the south edge of mansion. As soon as they saw us, they opened fire.

I shot back in a full force, wide-beam sweep. It blew them all to hell.

More shadows were coming around the north edge; my hand went back to my visor. "Don't shoot!" screamed a high, male voice.

Bobby Drake? What the fuck was he doing here? I recognized the others, then. Dani and Piotr, and St. John with Logan at the rear. They pounded up as I moved back to where Warren lay writhing on the grass. Dani was limping on what was probably a twisted ankle, but she didn't make a sound. That stoic Plains training. Nonetheless, she looked grateful to collapse to the ground. The Blackbird was setting down behind us all. "I thought I ordered you to head for the rendezvous!" I snapped at Logan as I helped Warren sit up a little and get off his wounded wing.

"And let you have all the fun? Forget it," Logan replied. He looked almost cheerful, despite everything.

Drake and Allerdyce had collapsed beside me, too, panting, their silhouettes dark against the mansion fire - which had finally starting to burn down. It was just a fire now. No ethereal phoenix to be seen. "John," I said, "was that bird yours?"

"No, sir. I couldn't possibly do that. Maybe some day, but not now. Not even close." His eyes were wide. John actually awed by something. "You can't imagine the kind of control and power that bird would have taken, sir."

Which was what I'd thought. Did one of the other kids have gifts we didn't know about, or were we getting help from unknown quarters? I remembered the woman's face I'd seen in the fire. It had looked almost like Jean. Yet she'd never had that kind of raw strength. Control, yes, but not that kind of strength.

Scott, the professor's voice in my head. I was no longer shielding against him because there was no reason to. Jean had enormous reserves of power into which she had only begun to tap, he told me, reserves that I had to lock away from her when she was a child, because she wasn't able to control them.

"Are you saying that Jean was the Firebird?" I asked aloud, and all around me, faces went blank with shock. Even wounded Warren raised his head.

I am saying that I do not know what Jean might have become capable of.  Had she lived.

And that was the catch, of course. Jean was dead. It couldn't have been Jean.

Could it?

In potential, Charles went on, Jean was a stronger psi than I am. He'd never told us that. I cannot say if that apparition was Jean. Nor can I say it wasn't. Yet it felt somehow . . . familiar.

I thought of the ghost in my bed two weeks ago. Jesus H. Christ. What had she become?

Hank was running up, Storm trailing with her arm bound and braced. Despite her injury, she must have played co-pilot. "More troops may be on the way," Hank said, expertly running hands over Warren to check him for further broken bones before scooping him up. "We must get to safety quickly." But we didn't get a chance to move before more soldiers fired at us from the cover of the west trees. I fired back as Storm whipped up winds and Dani Elk River pulled her bow from her shoulders, knocking a glowing bolt that she had drawn out of the very air with the power of her own psionic gifts. She let it fly, and had more luck than I did. She doesn't have to see her target to hit it, just be able to feel her opponent's mind. There were screams and a man came bolting out from cover, followed by two more. One carried something. A body. We dashed across the lawn to surround them and take their weapons as Hank carried Warren back to the Blackbird with Dani limping beside him. We didn't have much time. Released from Dani's control, and unarmed, the men raised hands in surrender. Logan recovered the body.

"It's Kitty," he said, jerked his head around to meet my eyes. "She's alive! I think they just knocked her out when she wasn't looking."

That would have been the only way to capture her. And it also explained why the professor had lost mental contact with her; his powers were too extended at the moment to read an unconscious mind. I glared at the three waiting on the lawn. Looking at my face, or Logan's, I'm sure they realized they were dead men, but one held out his hands to me anyway, desperate. "I have two little girls at home. Please! If you have any kids of your own, you know . . . . Please!"

"I have a whole school full of kids to protect, you son of a bitch." I raised my hand to my visor.

Bobby grabbed my arm and wrenched it down. "Scott, what are you doing?"

"He's doing what he has to do, Drake," Logan said. "Let him go."

"We can't let them live," I explained. "It needs to look like we suicided rather than be taken. If they think we're alive, they'll never stop looking for us. These three know we're alive."

The man had quit pleading, but now dropped his head and started to weep. His shoulders shook up and down. I remembered weeping hopelessly like that for Jubilee and Neal not half an hour ago. "So you're just going to kill them?" Bobby asked me, mouth twisting and eyes darkening as he looked at me. I don't ever want to see that particular expression of betrayal again on a young man's face. I remembered what he'd said to me when I'd been healing in the basement. 'You taught us how to act right, Scott.' And every claim I'd ever had to honor shattered into a million pieces as Bobby Drake - my little brother in every way but blood - turned his back on me. For the first time, I felt well and truly ashamed. How many people had I killed since Baltimore?

There are always alternatives, whispered through my mind. It wasn't Charles' voice, just my own reviving conscience. That man was crying for his children like I'd cried for mine. And I made my choice. Maybe I wasn't Charles. But I wasn't Magneto, either. And for once, I was going to make Charles do it my way.

"Wait, Bobby." I closed my eyes so I could concentrate on putting every ounce of force behind my mental demand. I wasn't going to let the professor turn me down. We've captured three men out here, Charles. I need you to wipe their memories. Or I'm going to have to kill them.

There was silence in my mind; I could sense his resistance. But he could sense, just as clearly, that I wasn't bluffing. This was a battle of wills. I'm not asking you to wipe their memories of everything - only of this night. Don't make me kill them. Please, Charles.

The resistance eased. Very well. And I felt the sudden absence of his mind as he withdrew to focus his attention on the three men. His touch is so light, you forget it's there until he pulls out. All of us blinked and wobbled a little, as if regaining our balance.

"Get back to the 'bird," I ordered as the three men collapsed, unconscious, into the grass. The professor still wasn't back in my head. It would take him a bit to recover from the exertion.

We boarded the Blackbird and I settled into my pilot seat - Hank was looking after Warren - when the almost-forgotten communicators on our wrists squawked loudly and spit out Rogue's panicked voice. "Mr. Summers! Mr. Summers! There are men in the basement! Or things! Or something! They're attacking us!"

"Son of a bitch!" I yelled and shot a glance at Logan beside me in the co-pilot's seat. "How in hell did they get into the sub-basement? We left them in pieces! Even if they do regenerate, can they do it that fast?"

"Who said it was those same three?" Logan snapped, already half out of his seat and headed for the hatch. "We have to get down there."

Dani & St. JohnBut he didn't make it any further than three steps before the very ground shook beneath our feet and sent sprawling anyone on the plane who wasn't strapped down. "What the hell!" Allerdyce snapped. "This isn't fucking California!"

"And that was not an earthquake," Hank replied. "That was an explosion in the sub-basement."

I'd already yanked my straps free and shot out of my seat to run to Kitty. "Wake-up!" I shook her. "We need you, little sprite!" More tremors rocked the plane. Storm was struggling forward to the co-pilot's seat. To Hank I said, "I'm taking Logan, John, and Bobby. And Kitty if I can wake her. You've got Storm, Warren, Piotr, and Dani. Get the 'bird up in the air, away from here. If you see more choppers or troops approaching, stop them before they get here." To Piotr - who looked ready to protest - I said, "You go with them. We might need someone able to punch his way into the sub-basement."

Lips thin, he looked away but nodded.

"Charles," I said under my breath, "What's going on down there?"

I got no reply.

Kitty was starting to stir. "Come on, Kitty Pryde," I said, slapping her lightly.

Her eyes fluttered open. "Mr. Summers? Cyclops?"

"We need you." More explosions under our feet. What in hell was happening down there? "We need to get into the sub-basement. They're under attack down there."

She could feel the tremors now herself and nodded, letting Piotr help her sit up. I hoped she didn't have a concussion, but her pupils appeared normal. "Out of the plane," I said to the ones I'd tagged for rescue operations. Logan picked Kitty up to carry her, letting her conserve her strength. We were a hundred paces away when the 'bird lifted off behind us and shot away. The ground convulsed twice more before we reached the remains of the mansion, and I still wasn't getting any response to my mental queries. The professor must be too preoccupied to answer.

The mansion was a brick shell now with a few fires going still and the scattered wreckage of a chopper. "Can you put out the fires, John?" Instead of wasting breath to answer, he closed his eyes and stretched out his hands. He doesn't need to do that, but it helps him focus. One by one, he took control and doused the burning. I looked at Bobby then. "We need a path. Don't cool it all, just enough for us to pass." He nodded and extended his hand, sent an icy mist forward and led us through, froze the walls to keep charcoal timbers from falling in on us as we moved past. There were no more explosions under our feet, but I kept waiting for another to happen. I didn't see an obvious breach in the mansion floor, but it was impossible to see everything. When we reached the place where the hidden elevator had been, I told Logan, "Trash it until it doesn't look like an elevator shaft any more." I couldn't be sure the secret of the sub-basement wasn't past concealing, but there was no sense in leaving extra clues. He set down Kitty to do as I ordered.

I turned to her. "Can you take Logan and I down at once?"

She shook her head. "Not without maybe phasing one of you half into the rock."

Before I could even say, 'Then take me first,' Logan stepped forward to grab her hand. "Let's go, darlin'." He glared at me to shut me up, but I didn't argue. He was better at hand-to-hand.

They phased; we waited. It was only a minute before Kitty crawled back up through the floor, but it was a long minute. "There's nobody down there," she said and reached for my hand. I barely had time to breathe before she was pulling me through.

All I could think in those few seconds of passage was that Storm, conscious, could never do this. It was like being encased in stone. I couldn't feel, see, hear, smell or even breathe. I wasn't sure I existed. I wanted to scream but couldn't open my mouth. Then we were through and falling to the floor in the dim glow of emergency lights. "Main breakers are out, and maybe the generator," Logan said by way of greeting. He was crouched down, claws extended, waiting. "Nobody close by." A hundred yards further down the corridor, the metal wall had been breached and rock had fallen in, closing it off almost completely. I found myself wishing for Rasputin. Kitty had gone back for the boys.

Cyclops & Wolverine in the sub-basement"Do you smell anything?" I asked Logan.

"Lots of burning. Air's going bad fast without the ventilation system. John's gotta put out those fires as soon as he gets here."

I nodded. "Agreed. After that, we head for Cerebro. If the invaders reached the basement, everyone was to hide in there. It's the most secure place in the entire mansion."

It was Bobby, though, who Kitty brought through next, and we had to wait on John. As soon as he was down, Logan barked, "Fires. Out. Now."

He closed his eyes and concentrated, while I sent Kitty to phase through the stone blockage, see how far it extended and what was on the other side. "Be careful," I told her.

She was gone for ten breaths before reappearing. "There's nobody on the other side. The walls are all charred and it's almost black - most of the emergency lights are out."

"But no one's there?"

"No one's there."

"Back up," I told the rest, and blasted through the rock. We went on.

It was hot on the other side and smoke hung low, choking us. Bobby did what he could for the air, crystallizing smoke into cold ash. It fell and crunched under the passage of our feet in the unnatural silence of absent generators. A few emergency lights were humming, but that was all. The fighting was clearly over, and I feared what we would find. We reached the turn leading from Cerebro and the lab. This had been the heart of it; I could smell the iron tang of blood and charred flesh, and held up a hand to the kids. "Stay here." Logan nodded faintly in approval. God knew what would be waiting around the corner. We took it together, his claws out, my hand at my visor - prepared for anything.

But nothing shot or jumped at us. What was waiting was worse; I had to swallow back bile. Poor Rogue sat right in the middle of it - alive but her face blank in a mask of shock; the lights were on, but no one was home.

Logan disregarded everything to make straight for her as I stepped back and spoke to the three kids waiting around the corner. "Stay there. That's an order." They nodded. I don't think they really wanted to see. I picked my way then over rubble and bodies, some of ours, two of theirs. Those two were stretched out flat to either side of Rogue, and I began to have an inkling of what had finally stopped them.

They'd been prepared to regenerate after anything but the absolute death of Rogue's mutant touch. She'd simply absorbed them.

"Logan," I said, low. "Be very careful. They're inside her."

"I know. But Marie's still in there, too. She's fighting them - aren't you, kid? You can fight them. I know you can. Come back to me, sweet Marie. Absolutely Sweet Marie - I'll make One-Eye sing you Dylan."

And I would sing her Dylan, too. She'd saved us all.  But where are you tonight, Sweet Marie?....  Not too many can be like you, fortunately....  To live outside the law, you must be honest.  I know that you always say that you agree.

JohnI made myself look around then at the rest of it. John Proudstar wasn't far from Rogue, his lower body crushed under a collapsing wall. Lots of blood. He hadn't died easy. Further up the hall, not far from the bend beyond which the kids waited, Pietro Maximoff had been ripped apart. His legs lay in a different spot from his torso and his intestines had spilled between, glistening even redder under red lights. How they'd managed to catch him, I had no idea. I'd thought only Pietro could catch Pietro in motion. I knelt and closed his eyes. Magneto had sent his children to Charles to be protected, taught, and Charles had accepted that charge long before he and Erik had become enemies. You don't visit the sins of the father on the sons, and Erik had never asked for them back. He'd trusted us to protect them better than he could. How were we going to tell him that he'd lost his only son? I only hoped Wanda was still alive.

But it was at the back of the hall, up against Cerebro's door, that I found the worst of it. I dropped to my knees and touched the still, smooth skull, half buried under the bulk of Fred Dukes, who must have attempted to shield him at the last. I couldn't see a mark on him, but he was dead nonetheless.

Charles Francis Xavier. The man who'd saved my life, made me who I was, taught me everything of value. In bitterness and spite, I'd said he wasn't my father, but if that were true, why did I feel like Chicken Little under a falling sky? And why hadn't I felt him die?

I bit my hand to keep from sobbing, and heard a moan at my elbow. Fred, "the little blob" as some of the other kids had unkindly dubbed him because of his weight. He was still alive. His fat was his mutation; it made him nearly invulnerable. Nearly. His skull was a different matter, if hit hard enough. And it had been hit hard enough. He might still be alive, but not for much longer. He'd heard my feet, and the sound of my breath drawn in. "Is somebody there?" he whispered. Near death and severely dehydrated from blood loss, he'd gone blind.

"It's me, Fred," I said, kneeling down and stroking the hair back from his brow. It stuck to my hand but I kept stroking anyway, focusing on his face to keep from looking at Charles. "Can you tell me what happened?"

"I don't remember a lot," he whispered, voice cracking. I wished I had some water to give him. "It happened so fast. There were men down here, and then it all just happened so fast."

"Where are the rest of the students?" There weren't enough bodies here to account for everyone in the basement.

"They're with Mr. Placido, inside Cerebro."

I glanced up. The door was still sealed, if dented badly; they must be alive in there. But why in hell hadn't Charles gone with them? Why had he exposed himself?

Of course I knew why. He wouldn't leave the kids out here to face their attackers alone. He must have thought he could control these inhuman things with his mind. He'd been wrong.

Fred was talking again, his voice growing more distant. "John Proudstar went down first because they set off a grenade to make the steel wall fall and block off Cerebro, before Frank could get us inside. John held it up long enough, but it must have been too heavy even for him. Rogue went to pull him out but it was no use. He told her to absorb him so she could have his strength. So she did, and stayed out here with us."

He stopped and I thought him gone because his blind eyes had slipped closed, but he continued, "After that, I don't remember. The professor was trying to control the creatures, but he couldn't. He said their minds weren't like human minds. Explosions kept going off. They were trying to pin us in. Pietro caught as many grenades as he could before they landed, and threw them back out into the other corridor, but one blew up in his hand."

So that was what had finally caught the quicksilver, his own miscalculation, just as John had miscalculated how heavy the wall was. But I don't think either would have made another choice.

"I don't remember anything else, Mr. Summers. The wall here blew out and I threw myself on the professor. A rock must have hit my head." In fact, a rock had half smashed his skull; I wondered if he realized he was dying. "Will the professor be okay?" he asked. It was so plaintive.

"The professor will be fine," I lied. Or maybe it wasn't a lie. Maybe it was better that he hadn't survived the destruction of his home, his dream. "You did good, Fred. Rest now."

He nodded and, his story told, relaxed. I stroked his hair until I felt his body shudder; his breath rattled in his throat, then stopped. I was the only one still breathing in the hall. Logan had taken Marie back with the other three. Rising up out of the devastation and wiping my bloody hand on my jeans, I went to the door of Cerebro, with its battered, dented X. Ironically, the retina-scan computer had escaped destruction, but I was the one adult at the mansion it couldn't read. Pulling out a little retracting tray, I laid my hand - the one with Fred's blood - down on it and let it read my palm print.
Frank in Cerebro, weeping
The doors slid apart to reveal Francesco, twelve kids, and three of the staff who'd stayed behind with us, including Frank's mother, Valeria the cook. Frank was holding a nearly hysterical Ilyana Rasputin on his lap. "It's over," I said, took a breath, and finished, "The professor is dead."

And then I started crying.

 



Endnotes:  As all comics people know, Jean died in X-Men 100/101only to resurrect as the Phoenix. I've altered that, and borrowed a page from Sequoia's Risen, because her interpretation of Phoenix as an aspect of Jean's own power that the professor had walled off not an cosmic entity who stole Jean's physical form seems a lot less silly. But in my story, Jean is still dead. She's not coming back in a real, permanent physical form as she did in the comics. Oh, and Kitty's original code name was Sprite, not Shadowcat.

Epilogue

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