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Minisinoo


 

CLIMB THE WIND 5

Please Read the Warning and Notes at the beginning of Part 1
Part5 Notes: According to the comic, Scott is a tall man while Wolverine is unusually short, but Marsden is not notably tall while Jackman is. They used a few tricks to get around that in the film, but and despite canon I won't even attempt to pretend that Wolverine is shorter than Scott. Live with it. :-) Regarding (non-film) people who keep showing up in my moviefic: Warren Worthington (Angel), like Hank McCoy, was a member of the original five. In the comics, Bobby Drake was the youngest of that group and Ororo wasn't part at all. Obviously, the movie played fast and loose with canon, and has made some adjustments necessary, but I did my best. Frank Placido is not from comic canon, of course.

Just a reminder: this is not an X-Files crossover precisely. You do not have to watch the show to understand the chapter. If you are familiar with the X-Files, great. If you aren't, it's not important. In any case, what occurs in this story would happen several years after events in the current (2001) season. Please also remember that this is movieverse, so all comicverse plotlines are moot The X-Men have never dealt with aliens. Why involve the X-Files at all, if it's not a proper crossover? I'll explain at the story end. Don't want to give it away.



Eight days had passed since we'd blown up a bunker and saved ourselves by killing in the final count one hundred thirty nine people. Then we'd walked this slow taper of days down into a frozen frenzy, all the mansion at alert like it was Defcon 2. I don't know what Xavier expected, if he really thought we could hold off a siege from the US government should it come. This was a school, not a military installation. The kids were scared shitless. Marie had told me that the little ones cried at night, and slept in the rooms of the older students.

But nothing had happened. And anxiety had grown cold, lingered in the air like stale smoke in a bar. For five days, the news story remained the same. Unknown terrorists had blown up the bunker. Then on the fifth day, the terrorists acquired a name. "A group calling itself the Mutant Rights Organization has laid claim to the bombings at the government facility in the Maryland countryside . . . " CNN blared it upstairs in the den, and down in the lab. We'd become some X-gene IRA. But no one publicly linked the 'MRO' to Xavier's Academy, no dark government rental cars or black vans followed winding roads to Salem Center. All that happened was a rise, around the country, in mutant-related hate crimes, while police looked the other way.

Xavier's face wore an expression of permanent haunting. Theoretically, he could stop it. He could turn us over, could make it known that there was no 'Mutant Rights Organization.' He could reveal that it had been merely two men, one with a gun and mutated precision-sight, the other with unnatural healing and bone-grafted knives in his fists. Two men had killed one hundred and thirty-nine government employees.

And that would calm things down? Who are we kidding.

I had a little cot in a room the size of a closet. It had been a closet, before Ororo had emptied it out for me. I tried not to dream, didn't succeed. I slept little. Sometimes when I did sleep, I woke to find that I'd put new holes in the steel wall. By contrast, Summers seemed to sleep all the time. Shock and depression. Body weakness, too, but largely depression. Even despite the pain, he slept, wiped out reality like a man might step off a ledge and plummet to his death.

I wondered sometimes if that's what he dreamt of. If that's what made him smile in his sleep.

I paced at night, and kept watch. He was never left alone, though we didn't invade his privacy unless Hank had a medical procedure to perform. But always, someone stood watch. Me, often as not. Yet had he tried to take his own life, I wonder if I'd have stopped him?

It was on the third day that Summers had taken his only shower. We'd gotten his burned arm wrapped in plastic because McCoy hadn't wanted it to get wet, and then peeled him out of his bandages and let him clean up. The shower stall had hand rails and a ledge to sit on, but he hadn't been able to sit any better than he could stand. I'd had to get in there with him, hold him up and scrub him like a child. I hadn't minded but he had. He'd let me do it once because, like that first night for me, he'd needed to get clean of the smell. He'd probably have stayed under the water a long time if he'd been alone. As it was, he'd gotten out as soon as I was done. He hadn't shaved, hadn't had the strength. And he hasn't asked to shower since. His hair has gotten greasy all over again.

On the fifth day, McCoy had badgered him out of bed to walk around the lab. He no longer had his IV in, took his liquid lunch down his throat, not through a needle. When he ate at all. McCoy gave him chocolate Ensure. The stuff tastes like shit. I'd caught him once, dumping a can of it down the toilet. After that, I'd sat in the room until he finished each assigned ounce, ignored being sworn at and flipped off. I'm every bit as stubborn a bastard as he is.

But on that fifth day, McCoy had forced him up, made him walk around on McCoy's arm, then on mine when he'd noticed I was there. I'm still the only one he lets touch him without argument. He'll put up with Ro, and suffer McCoy. But if I'm around, he just looks at me with those eyes I've come to hate. Pale gun-metal blue. Sometimes flat and feeling-less, sometimes so full of pain, they make you want to hurt yourself. Watching him is like standing at the grave of a child.

We'd passed the door to Jean's office as we'd circled the lab; he'd hesitated, then gone on. Later, when I'd come out of the bathroom after taking a piss two minutes at the toilet maybe, three tops I'd found his room empty. Panicked, I'd called McCoy and the professor, then gone up and down the hall, looking in every nook and cranny until McCoy came barreling down to join me at the same time as I'd felt the brush of the professor's mind. He is in Jean's office.

We'd burst in there. He'd looked up at us from where he stood by her desk, his fingers stroking the carved wooden nameplate. He'd made it himself. Dr. Jean E. Grey. Letters etched fine in wine-brown cherry, cut by the power of the sun channeled out his eyes. He carves wood to remind himself that he's more than an organic weapon. He did the main banister pillar last summer. Young Piotr Rasputin our resident artist had drawn the pattern thin in white chalk, then Summers had cut it out. A dragon coiled about an X. It had taken Summers a week. It was beautiful.

Now, he'd picked up the nameplate, fingers closed convulsively around it, his palm obscuring her surname as if he would claim her finally. Dr. Jean E . . . . "Get out," he'd said, very calmly.

There was nothing amiss; I'd taken stock as soon as I'd entered. He'd touched nothing beyond the nameplate and the pictures on her desk. She'd had two pictures, one of him, one of them both sitting on a bench together, her in his lap. He'd turned the pictures face down, but that was all.

"Get out," he'd repeated. "I'm not going to do myself in." It was said sarcastically. "If I'd really wanted to, I'd already be dead. You're not that good. Now leave me the fuck alone." So I'd grabbed McCoy's arm and hauled him, protesting, out the door.

Summers now slept at night in Jean's office, made the leather couch his bed. He spent most of his time in there, in fact. Sometimes, he locked the door on us. Sometimes he left it cracked and I would find him reading her mystery novels, the ones she'd left down there, though he'd never much cared for them before. John Le Carre and Tony Hillerman.

Today day eight he'd walked out of the office, a book in his hand: Donna Tartt's The Secret History. "'Does such a thing as 'the fatal flaw,' that shadowy dark crack running down the middle of a life, exist outside literature?'" He read from the book, right at the beginning. "'I used to think it didn't. Now I think it does. And I think that mine is this: a morbid longing for the picturesque at all costs.'"

He'd snapped the book shut. "What do you think mine is, Logan? Fatal stupidity?" His voice was tight, like he balanced on the edge of something. He suffered wild emotional swings these days: apathy into sudden anger, cynicism into sick humor.

I could've ignored him and probably should have, but couldn't resist replying, "No, your fatal flaw is your own sense of honor." I'd kept my eyes on the newspaper that I'd been reading. "You lived by it, built your world on it, until it broke you. Now you're trying to get it back."

Silence. He hadn't expected that. He'd expected me to be snide, or to coddle him. I'd heard the office door open, then snick shut.

And so time has passed. Eight days.

But it hasn't healed.
 
 
 
 

"Logan? You busy?"

I turned. Marie, with Bobby Drake, who held something in his hand: big, rolled-up piece of paper.

"What are you doing down here?" I grunted. The kids knew about the lower levels, and they all had the elevator codes these days in case of emergency, but they weren't allowed to wander around down here like lost cattle.

Now, the pair of them sidled into my closet room which fit only a cot and the suitcase that Marie had packed for me. She settled down cross-legged on the bed like she owned the place, said, "Miss Munroe told us where you were."

Drake remained standing near the door, looking nervous. I wasn't sure if he was nervous of being in a room this small with me or of nervous of whatever he held. I nodded to it. "What is that?"

"That's what we came to talk to you about," Marie said. "It's for Mr. Summers."

Drake unrolled it so I could see. A big piece of newssheet full of hand prints in different colors. God, didn't the kids realize that Summers couldn't see colors? Signatures and notes had been penned beside each pair of hands. Every student had signed, it looked like. A personalized, homemade get well card. "Why are you showing this to me?"

"Should we give it to him?" Marie asked.

I glanced at her. She was deadly serious. They both were.

"We don't want to upset Scott," Drake added. He tended to call Summers by his first name these days since he was no longer a student and they'd known each other for years. Of the younger kids at school, Drake had been here longest, a big brother to the rest. He made it his personal duty to welcome all newcomers, as he'd once welcomed a girl named Rogue. "We just want him to know . . . . " He trailed off, shrugged. "We want him to know that we haven't forgotten he's down here."

I settled onto the bed beside Marie, rubbed a hand over my face and sighed. Last night, I'd stolen upstairs to watch football in the den on the couch with the kids. Not because I gave a shit about the Cowboys, but because they'd needed to see me. And maybe, just maybe, I'd needed to see them. Xavier hadn't said a thing about my breaking his orders to stay underground. If the FBI was going to arrest us, they'd already have tried to do so. I wondered if he'd gotten anything yet from his contact in the Bureau. He was supposed to meet with someone later this morning.

Now, I studied the newssheet that Drake held. Some of it made me laugh. "I can't believe the kids want him to come back and give them tests. I thought he gave the tests from hell?"

"He does. But you haven't seen Hank McCoy's," Drake said. "Of course, I haven't seen them either, but I've been told. I love Hank, but he's too smart to teach normal people."

Inclined to agree, I laughed at that. "Should we give Mr. Summers the poster?" Marie asked again before Drake could get distracted. "And will you take it to him for us?"

"Hell yes, you should give it to him. As for me taking it you can take it yourselves. But wait here. I need to check out a few things first." Rising, I headed for the door, then paused in it with my hand on the jamb. "I may be a bit; make yourselves comfortable. And if he absolutely refuses don't take it personal, okay?"

"We won't," Drake said.

I headed then for the lab, ran into Ororo in the hallway. "Did they find you?" she asked.

"Yeah. Did you know what they wanted?"

"Yes."

We just looked at each other a minute, then I said, "I'm going to let them in to see him."

She gave me that placid Storm-smile. "I thought you might."

"That's why you sent them to me."

"Yes." And she went on her way.

Ororo likes to play with the lightning.

McCoy wasn't in the lab; it was Xavier's turn to do guard duty. He was working at a laptop, glanced up as I entered and nodded, returned to whatever he was doing. They were used to me prowling around, even when it wasn't my turn.

Now, I paused by the door to Jean's office, but didn't find Summers in there. He was, wonder of wonders, asleep in his hospital bed. I still wasn't sure how he could sleep given the pain he was in, but he did. He'd refused strong painkillers, wouldn't take anything more than regular Tylenol. Surprisingly, Xavier had come down on his side. "They interfere with his ability to process loss," Xavier had said. "Grief is a wound no less than any other, and unlike physical wounding, stopping the pain won't help. It simply delays his grief, and that complicates it. The passage of bereavement must be traveled, not avoided."

And that was how Xavier had been dealing with it all. After the first terrible night, he'd put on his psychologist's hat and hadn't taken it off since. He seemed to have forgotten that he might want to apply a little of his head-shrink wisdom to himself.

Now, I walked over to pause by his chair. "Could I speak to you on the room's other side for a minute?" I asked softly. Since that one time Summers had overheard us, we'd stopped assuming that he was out when he seemed to be out.

The professor followed me in his chair across the lab. "Yes, Logan?"

"I got two kids in my room with something for Scott. I could bring it down myself, but I don't want to. I want them to do it."

He blinked at me, then sighed. "We should ask Scott first."

"I'm not going to ask him. I'm going to tell him. I won't spring them on him without warning, but I ain't going to ask him. We both know what he'd say."

"Who are the students?"

"Marie and Drake. Drake's known Scott a long time, and Scott and Marie " I shrugged. In the year and a half since Marie had arrived at the mansion, she'd developed a special affection for Summers, an affection which had annoyed me. But he'd been around when I hadn't. And like Marie, he had a power that he couldn't control except by artificial means, a power as destructive as hers. I suppose it made sense if she looked up to him. I'd put up with it. Now, I thought it might be useful. "Marie saw him that first night anyway. And neither is likely to chatter."

Xavier nodded. "I agree. I won't stand in your way."

"But you won't come in, either."

He looked off at a rack of drugs, labeled in their glass bottles behind glass doors. "I have an appointment shortly. And you don't need me there in any case."

I decided to push it. Unlike the rest of them, I'm not scared of the professor. I respect him, but he doesn't awe me. "That ain't why, Chuck. You know he didn't mean it. What he said to you."

"I know, Logan. And yet, a part of him, in that moment, did mean it. He needs someone to blame, in order to quit blaming himself quite so much. I can be that for him."

"You're both so damned willing to hurt yourselves 'for the greater good,' aren't you? I can see where he learned it. It's stupid. If Jean were here, she'd tell you the same thing. Blame games are too fucking easy to play. They're also pointless."

He looked back at me again. His eyes are hazel, like mine. All colors and no color. "And you, Logan? Would you take your own advice? It might permit you to sleep at night."

Goddamn.

I stalked away. I hate telepaths. Especially jealous telepaths. Scott was talking to me, not him. And however much Xavier might 'understand' that, he was still human enough to resent it.

I wasn't quiet going in to Summers' room, saw him flinch, almost imperceptibly. So. He was awake and pretending to sleep. "You might want to sit up and run a comb through your hair. You're going to have company."

He rolled onto his back and looked up at me; at least he didn't try to play opossum. "What are you talking about?"

"Marie and Bobby Drake got something for you. Sit up."

He did. A mix of panic and anger flashed over his bruised face. "Are they out there?"

"They're waiting." I didn't specify where.

"Logan, I'm a fucking mess. I don't want them in here! I haven't taken a shower in days - "

"So take one."

He blinked at me. If I'd been a superstitious man, I'd have crossed my fingers behind my back.

But it worked. For whatever reason, it worked. He got up. I didn't help him. He can't abide that. I let him do what he can for himself, then assist with the rest without asking his permission. Asking pisses him off and gets his back up. He needs less help these days, anyway. He gets to the bathroom on his own, and walks around the lab, even made it once or twice down the hall. His chief problem has less to do with strength than with interest. He can do a good deal more than he wants to do. After examining him this morning, Hank had said that it was probably time to put him back on solid foods. Which had been a politic way of saying that Summers was healed enough to take a shit, and needed to build his energy. He could sit down, too, as long as he did so carefully.

Right now, he'd gone into the bathroom to turn on the water, was pulling his sweatshirt over his head when I entered behind with a plastic bag to cover the burned arm. I wrapped it for him and took off his bandages. I knew how to do all that, didn't need McCoy any more. The bullet wound had stopped seeping days ago and was starting to close, though he'd have a dimple scar. The bruises on his face and body were fading, too; they'd gone to that ugly, mottled pea green. He looked underfed still, the bones of his face sharper, his ribs and pelvis and collarbones jutting out like exclamations. And while he had a surprisingly heavy beard along jaw and chin, and hairy legs with narrow calves, there was almost no hair on his chest. I might have believed he shaved it for effect, but knew better. He had long, elegant feet, too, but square hands with short nails. It was as if parts of him didn't quite match up. And he seemed taller than he actually was. When I came up next to him, it always surprised me a little to look down.

"I can do this myself," he said without glancing at me as he dropped blue pyjama bottoms.

"Fine. I'll be out here." Leaving unspoken: In case you fall. He just snapped the curtain shut in my face. I waited.

After about five minutes, he said, "Get out of the fucking bathroom, Logan." Since he hadn't fallen yet, I did as he asked. I didn't keep tabs with my watch, but he was in there a long time. I understood, didn't rush him. I was too freaking glad he was in there at all.

When he finally shut off the water, I had a towel ready, handed it to him without comment. Assistance parading as courtesy. "You want to shave?" I asked.

"Was that a question or a suggestion?"

"Both. You don't have to take it all off. Square it like so." I drew a finger along my jaw to illustrate. "Wouldn't look too bad." It would also be easier for him to take care of.

He moved to check his reflection in the mirror. Then without further comment, he picked up his razor, turned on the water, and did as I'd suggested shaved cheeks and neck but left the beard along his jaw and around his mouth. It made him look ten years older.

"Well?" he asked. I just nodded, and we got his bandages back on him, then some loose clothing and he crawled into the clean bed. I'd changed his sheets while he'd showered. "Christ," he said, "I feel almost human."

I could kiss those two kids. "I'll go fetch Drake and Marie."

They were still in my room, talking, and both looked up as I entered. "That was 'a little bit'?" Marie asked, perturbed.

"He needed to shower, but he's ready. Now, listen he's going to look bad."

"No kidding. I saw him, remember?"

"Yeah, well, I didn't know what you'd expect. He's pretty wiped out yet. Don't comment on it. I won't let you stay long, either. No more'n about ten minutes. Now let's go. He's waiting." They filed out in front of me and we headed for the lab. I felt like a sergeant mustering troops for battle.

Summers had propped himself up with pillows and was reading trying to look nonchalant, or at least in control. He even managed to smile. "Hey, guys." He offered Drake a hand and let Marie kiss his cheek through her scarf. She gets away with that. Southern belle charm.

"I like the beard," she said, grinning and running a gloved hand down it. "Very mysterious, sugar. Makes you look like Heathcliff."

She'd meant it as a compliment, as a joke. But everything in the room froze, and it wasn't from Drake.

Bad choice of metaphor. Very bad choice. Even I knew enough to know that.

Heathcliff had lost Catherine, and gone mad with grief.

"Sorry," she whispered, looked ready to cry. I wasn't sure what the hell to do, wasn't sure how Summers would react.

He put an arm around her shoulders and pulled her against him, heedless of her skin. "It's okay. You don't have to avoid talking about Jean." He looked up to pin Drake, his eyes gone slightly red. It made the blue irises that much starker. His voice came raw. "I don't want that. I don't want her to disappear like her body did - for people to act like she never existed. I couldn't take it, you understand? I couldn't take that."

Drake shifted from foot to foot. "Okay." But it was said mostly to shut Scott up. He didn't know what to do with a Mr. Summers on the verge of tears.

Scott seemed to sense that, let go of Marie to point to the rolled-up paper in Drake's hand. "What have you got?"

Drake handed it over. "The students made it for you." Marie helped him unroll it.

He smiled when he saw what it was. Really and truly smiled. And he read everything, seemed to find the comments about tests as amusing as I did. But he'd started to look a bit distant, too, as if he were phasing out or withdrawing. I was about to suggest that they let him be, when he asked, "Why on earth do they want me back? I'd think they'd be relieved to get rid of me."

Drake's face was shocked. "You're the best teacher this school has!" he blurted. "Even with the periodic torture you call tests." It wasn't a kiss-up. Drake didn't need to kiss up any more.

Clearly uncomfortable in his own turn now, Scott looked away. "The school's the professor's."

"And he's a fine teacher. I didn't say the others were bad; I said you're best. You make it real."

"Anybody can do that. You don't need me."

"But 'anybody' doesn't. You do. You dragged us all over the mansion, taught us how to repair a carburetor, rewire an electrical outlet, balance a checkbook, fill out a tax form, and fix a toilet. That's a lot more than just math. And you taught us how to act right, Scott. You taught me how to think about others first, and how to be brave."

Summers kept his face turned sideways. He'd closed his eyes. I could only imagine what must be going through his head. What he'd seen done and what had been done to him and what he'd done himself in revenge.

Drake was inexorable, like a glacier, his expression earnest with old pain. "You remember the Christmas I arrived? I was twelve years old. You and Hank kept me alive. You guys kept me from jumping off the goddamn roof. You remember that? I do. It was, what, fifteen degrees out? I didn't feel it, but you two did. Still, you both sat there in nothing but sweatshirts, talking to me about dying and living. I remember you telling me why you'd considered killing yourself, and how you'd planned to do it when it had seemed like all you had left was a choice between being blind or being dead. And then the professor had showed up and you'd had a third choice. It wasn't what you'd started with, but it was better than the other two. You talked me down off the roof that night because you were honest. You didn't promise me that life would go back to normal. But you said there were people around who cared if I lived or died, y'know?

"Well, now I'm telling you. There are people around who care what happens to you, Scott."

Jesus Fucking Christ. The kid had more chutzpah than the rest of us put together. I didn't ask Summers' permission; Ro didn't take Summers' crap. Drake just confronted him head on.

And got away with it. Excruciating emotion tore up Summers' face, but he said not a thing back. Reaching out, Drake pulled Marie up from the bed. "We should go and let Scott rest." They headed for the doorway.

"Bobby," Summers called.

"Yeah?" Drake didn't glance around, whether from fear of Summer's anger or concern for Summers' pride.

"Bring me my guitar."

Drake grinned then and did look about. "Which one?"

"The guitar, jackass. If I'd wanted a bass, I'd have said a bass."

Drake shot him a bird, but replied, "You got it, Boss-man."

I followed them out, led them to the elevator and went up with them. "I'm not sure," I said, conversationally, "if you're brave or just plain crazy, Drake."

"Protected status," he explained, grinning. "I'm the kid brother. Scott can be a real bastard when he's hurting, but he only goes after people he thinks are his equals." Then the smile fell off his face. "God, what'd they do to him, Logan? I've never seen him look like that, like he didn't know if he wanted to live or die."

I didn't reply; the elevator doors had opened in any case. It was still light out, only about noon. This was the first time I'd seen the sun in weeks. I emerged into the hall that led to the solar like Rumpelstiltskin waking from an age of sleep. Marie went off to give her report on the visit to the other kids while Drake went to fetch Summers' guitar. I waited by the elevator until he came back with it. "He's probably asleep," I said reaching for it.

A bit reluctantly, Drake handed it over. Hard-shell case. Heavier than it looked. "The guys are kinda wondering - are you coming up to watch football with us tonight? It's Oakland versus Tampa Bay."

"That's a game? I thought it'd be a joke."

He grinned. "So you coming?"

I studied his face. Just who had left Drake in charge of morale? "Yeah, I'm coming. Tell Marie to save me a spot on the couch."

I went below then with the instrument, ran into McCoy in the hallway. He looked at the case, then at my face, a slow smile spreading on his lips. "I heard," was all he said.

"When did our students get to be wiser than us?" I asked him.

He shrugged with one shoulder. "Norman Douglas: 'If you want to see what children can do, you must stop giving them things.' We have not been able to give them much, in the past few weeks. Perhaps they are attempting to show us what they can do that they are capable of taking care of each other. Even of taking care of us."

"They shouldn't have to be our parents, Hank."

"Nor have we asked them to be. But that isn't the same thing as occasionally permitting them to be strong. Part of being a teacher is knowing when to quit being a teacher."

He might have said more, but the elevators opened behind us and we both turned. Ro emerged, trailed by two men like a matched pair of chariot horses, the light and the dark, collar-length blond hair and great white wings trailing feathers on the hall floor, black hair and a pair of the kindest, saddest eyes I'd ever seen. Ro clung to the hand of the man with the sad eyes.

"Stars and Garters!" McCoy grunted. "Warren and Frank! When did you two get here?"

The dark-haired one released Ro to step forward and embrace McCoy, kiss him quick on either cheek. He was almost as tall as the blue guy, but skinnier than Summers. This was the one they should call 'Slim.' "Ciao, ciao, il mio amico! Warren" - he gestured behind him - "camee to fetch me."

"I was in Bangkok on business," the blond one Warren said, "when the professor called. I had to get away first. That's what took so long. I flew from Thailand straight to Rome, met Frank. Then we came on here together."

So this was Warren Worthington III and Francesco Placido. Worthington, I knew about, had seen pictures of minus the wings. It's hard to evade Worthington Enterprises in the States, like ducking the Microsoft Monster or Time-Warner. In press photos, the crown prince had always struck me as pampered, bored and cavalier. Now, he showed a different face. The arrogance remained, but muted behind a tired, frazzled, spent expression. His perfect hair was mussed, and he had bags under his eyes from lack of sleep. He noticed me immediately, the stranger in their midst, but didn't put back on his public mask. He didn't have to here, any more than he had to hide the wings (though how he could hide them at all puzzled me).

Placido I'd never heard of except in passing reference until McCoy had spoken of him the other night. I'd asked a few questions since. I was looking at the only alpha mutant on the planet under the age of thirty to be rated a ten. But his power wasn't combative. Francesco Placido walked through time like anyone else might stroll down a boardwalk. He had aristocratic features but nothing of arrogance in his face. Just those sad-intelligent eyes. And whatever his fine looks, I knew Placido to be the son of poor Genoan dock workers relocated from Southern Italy. Xavier's money had sent him to law school so he could eventually work in the Italian government, protect the rights of mutants in Europe.

Ro started to make formal introductions when Placido jerked up his head to look off down the hall past the rest of us. "Scott," he breathed. "Cosa gli successo? Merda!"

Worthington echoed a similar sentiment: "Holy fuck. What the hell happened to his eyes?"

Placido had shoved past us to reach Scott, envelope him in a full-body embrace while speaking turbo-speed Italian. Summers isn't the touchy-feely type. He'll touch, but more as if it's something he knows he ought to do, rather than as a matter of instinct. And he wears personal space like plate armor. Being physically engulfed would've rendered him a little uncomfortable no matter what. Under present circumstances, it was intolerable.

Ro and I were moving at once, while Summers, face stark, made no move at all, not to greet Placido nor to shove him away. He just stood stiff, eyes wide as if it took all his concentration not to fly apart. Placido felt Summers tense at the same time Ro reached him, and he stepped back of his own accord. Then he transfigured, without moving a muscle. It was all in the eyes, and I recalled McCoy's comment that talking to Frank was a bit like talking to God. I couldn't have said it better. His face became incarnate compassion, both present and distant at once. He spoke in that lilting English. "You could not have avoided this thing, il mio amico." It was not a consolation, not a reassurance. It was a pronouncement.

"Shouldn't you be the last one talking to me about predestination? How many futures are there?"

"But the choices we make in our life are a part of our selfs. You believe. You trust. You hope. To do other, that would not be our Scott Summers. Past a point, there is only the one choice for you. The only way for this not to have happened, would have been for you not to have gone. And you couldn't not go, s?"

The rest had drawn up around us and Summers shot a glance at Worthington. If he hadn't had an audience, he might have been more open, but pride and anger were all the favored son retained. He drew them about himself like Joseph's fatal cloak of many colors. "Maybe who I was, was wrong," he said, and reaching out, took the guitar handle from my fingers, turned away and headed back to the lab as if he'd had enough of us.

Worthington watched him go with a glower, while Placido and Ororo exchanged a glance. She rolled her eyes; he smiled faintly, shook his head. A covert conversation conducted in small gestures. The Goddess and the God. Seeing these two together, the notion that Storm might be in love with Cyclops did seem ludicrous.

Before Scott could get back inside the lab, however, the professor's voice rang inside our heads. All of you, please attend me in the Situation Room. Scott, too, if he feels strong enough. And the touch was gone. We stared at each other a moment, then wordlessly followed Ororo and Placido down the hall. Almost automatically, the balance had shifted to place them at the center. Summers hesitated a moment, then set down his guitar case and followed as well, bringing up the rear as if he hadn't entirely committed himself to participation.

We filed in to find Xavier seated at the oval table with its central holographic display, quiescent now. He appeared unusually troubled. "Please have a seat. And welcome home to Frank and Warren. I'm sorry I wasn't there to meet you when you arrived."

"Ororo was," Frank said, as if that settled it.

Yanking out a blue padded chair, I plopped down, and Summers came to sit beside me, his hands folded tightly on the top. The others took their own seats, Warren raising his wings over the back of his until they brushed the wall behind. I noticed that Placido, beside him, took care not to roll chair wheels over the tips, like watching for a cat's tale. Living with mutants was an adventure.

"How the hell do you hide those things?" I asked Worthington. It had nothing to do with the matter at hand, but curiosity killed the wolverine.

"They fold up against my back,"he replied. "It's not comfortable, but I can pass."

"Just not at the beach," Summers said, beside me. A wash of momentary surprise from the others, then smiles. It was good to have the punctuation of that dry wit, however fleetingly.

"You remember the time we snuck out of the mansion at midnight to drive to the beach so Warren could go shirtless?" Ro asked.

"I remember," Xavier muttered with a faint smile. He seemed content for the moment to follow Ro's lead and let the conversation wander. "I remember that I grounded you all for a week."

"It was Warren, Frank, me and Scott," Ro explained to me. "Scott wouldn't let Frank drive."

"Nobody sane lets Frank drive," Worthington said.

"And what is wrong with my driving?"

"You're Italian, Frank. What isn't wrong with it?" That from Summers, delivered deadpan.

"Ta-dum-dum." Ro rapped the tabletop. And I had to admire them; they knew just how to set him up so he couldn't resist the verbal spike.

"I remember flying above the sea with the moon overhead," Worthington said. "It was fantastic."

"What I remember is you dive-bombing me in the water and trying to yank my bikini top down," Ro replied. Worthington laughed, wings fanning out behind him like a feathered smile. Placido grinned, too, and - after a brief pause - so did Summers. They'd woven him back into their tapestry.

Yes. The professor's voice in my head. Storm has reminded him of a time when he was a part of us simply as himself, not one half of a couple.

Good observation, but I wasn't sure I wanted the professor skimming around in my brain.

You were projecting, Logan.

Then you'd better teach me how not to do that, I shot back.

I would be happy to. Tinged with amusement. I don't necessarily want to read your every idle observation, you know.

It was, I supposed, a form of apology after the ending of our earlier conversation in the infirmary.

"Children," the professor said aloud then, interrupting the continued reminiscing, "I am afraid that I must bring us back to business."

"You have news about Logan and Scott's abduction," McCoy said. It wasn't a question.

"Yes, I do." Xavier paused, whether to gather his thoughts or to gather our attention, I wasn't sure. "The group responsible is not, in fact, a part of the FBI, although they do have access to government resources and classified information, including FBI documents which is how they became aware of the X-Men. They refer to themselves as a consortium to represent certain global interests, and are related - as near as my source can tell - to the Majestic Project founded in 1947 by President Truman after UFO wreckage and alien corpses were recovered near Roswell, New Mexico."

"Aliens?" That from Worthinton. "You are kidding, right?"

"Not at all," Xavier replied.

"It's not impossible," said Ro. "I see little reason to assume that we are the only intelligent life in the universe."

"Theoretically, I agree," McCoy spoke. "Yet for the last half century, we have been doing the equivalent of shouting into space towards any neighboring main-sequence star of the spectral type, stability, and age to support intelligent life, such as Tau Ceti, Alpha Centauri, and Epsilon Eridani - all to no effect. You have heard of SETI, have you not? It proved a dismal failure."

"Perhaps they do not wish to talk to us," Ro corrected. "If we persecute our own, are we ready to greet aliens? Were I an alien, I would think twice before replying."

"Whatever," I snarled. "Just get on with the damn explanation."

Xavier nodded. "This organization is not a part of the US government, although it is US based. The membership is international." At that, I saw Placido shift and sit back in his chair, crossing his arms. Xavier caught it. "Yes," he said, "the Italians do appear to be involved, Frank.

"In any case," he continued, "they concern themselves primarily with the recovery and study of alien technology, including a number of secret projects which involve implementation of said technology, and something called 'Operation Paper Clip' - the attempt to create a viable human-alien hybrid by gene splicing."

Beside me, Summers started to giggle with a freaky, manic edge that stopped Xavier cold. The kid's moods swung wildly of late. His injuries were healing, and Jean had been dead for three weeks. So however unsettled things had been, the shock was pealing away to reveal a purer grief beneath, at once less dramatic and more profound. His thoughts were clearer now, but he had less control over his emotions because nothing protected him any more. "Scott?" the professor asked.

"And Logan thought we were strange, strutting around in black suits and fighting a group called the Brotherhood of Mutants. This is too weird." Then the humor fell off his face with equally disturbing abruptness. "What in hell would such a group want with us?"

The professor sighed and rubbed at his eyes. "The obvious thing, Scott. Our special DNA."

Jerking to his feet, Summers slammed both fists into the table. "What they did to me - to us - had nothing to do with stealing our DNA, Professor! They tortured us!"

Xavier made a motion for Summers to sit down. "DNA samples would have been acquired quickly, no doubt when you were unconscious initially. The rest of it . . ." He sighed and looked off. "From what I have been able to gather, they were testing you for your potential use as living weapons against what they believe to be a threat of alien invasion and colonization. You and Logan are of particular interest as a fighting pair, each having strengths which the other does not. Your 'escape' was engineered as a test."

"What?" I snarled. "They let us run?"

"Yes."

I glanced at Scott, said, "I don't believe it. We caught them with their pants down. Literally."

Xavier's face had gone very sad. "That was part of the plan. Everything that happened they were driving you, testing you to see what it would take to de-power you both physically and emotionally - particularly Scott as field leader - but also to see how quickly you could recover. If you could effect an escape given the opportunity, and without Scott's optic blasts. In space, blocked from sunlight on a ship, he might not have them."

I didn't want to believe this; it was too dehumanizing. But, "It makes sense," Summers said beside me, his voice tight. "Getting out was too easy."

"Easy?"

"Relatively speaking. They made mistakes they shouldn't have made." And I couldn't argue with him there. "They should never have left us together in the first place. We both commented on that at the time. Remember?"

"I remember." Whatever they'd done to us, they obviously hadn't wanted us dead. And if their mistakes hadn't been obvious, they had been mistakes nonetheless - from failing to blindfold me on the way to Summers' cell, to failing to keep any guards covering the door while they had their fun with Summers. And we'd used every mistake against them. "Are they pleased with their little lab rats' performance?" I asked. "What the fuck makes them think we'd fight for them anyway?"

"They don't care if you fight for them," the professor said. "But they assume you would fight for the sake of humanity, if their fears of alien colonization come to pass."

"I'm not listening to any more of this claptrap," Worthington said, pushing himself to his feet and starting around the table to storm out.

Placido reached over his shoulder to get a fistful of feathers. "Sit down, Warren. It doesn't matter that you believe it. It matters that they believe it, no?"

Xavier glanced at Placido. "Precisely. And they most certainly do believe it."

"But do you?" Worthington asked.

The professor shifted in his wheelchair. "I don't know. What my contact has revealed to me, what he himself witnessed, and what I saw in his mind I think that there may be some truth to this. Exactly what truth, and what threat to the Earth, that is harder to determine. I reserve my judgment until I have more facts."

Summers had been staring at the table top, at his fingers spread out against oak. Now, he looked up, his smile bitter and smug at once. "They didn't expect me to blow up the building, did they?"

"No," the professor said. "All the data and samples they had gathered from you were in that building, and were thus destroyed with it."

Summers just grinned vicious. But the implications worried me, and I could see that they worried the professor, as well. "And the people we killed?" I asked.

"The personnel were expendable, from their point of view." He flicked his eyes from my face to Summers' and back to me. "The number of persons murdered by this organization in pursuit of their larger goal is staggering. It's the loss of data that concerns them, and thus, concerns me."

"Why?" Summers asked. "I'd think you'd be pleased."

I was the one who answered. "They'll want to replace it, Scott. They need more DNA."

He got it then. "Son of a bitch - " And for the first time since our escape, I saw absolute, total terror take his expression. "I put the school in danger."

Not fear for himself. Fear for the students who might become inadvertent targets. Even now, he was worried about someone else. I gripped his shoulder. "We had no idea."

"I shouldn't have blown it," he whispered. "I shouldn't have blown up the building. I wasn't thinking, just reacting. I wanted to destroy them. But it was stupid. Ro was right - it was stupid."

"You didn't know. We didn't know. I went along with it, too."

"It might have been the best choice anyway," McCoy said, leaning in to catch Summers' attention. "I'm not sure we want samples of mutant DNA in the hands of an organization whose goals we may not share, and whose methods we most surely deplore. To what end would they employ it? I don't even want to think of the possibilities. You did the right thing, Scott."

Xavier was nodding as well. "Henry is correct. It may have created certain problems, but if it were a choice between leaving our tissue samples in their hands, or destroying them, I would have ordered the latter - despite any danger to the school. There is no guarantee that they will attack the school; there are other mutants less well protected from whom they could acquire necessary DNA, if it comes to that. And we have always known that attack from the outside was a distinct possibility here. Nothing, really, has changed. The children are not any more at risk than they have always been, Scott.

"But," Xavier continued, "this consortium does have their own internal security division, called Garnet: a multinational black-ops unit. They are in charge of cleaning up messes left behind in the event of a leak, and I fear that you and Logan may have become a 'leak' of sorts. You both did more damage on your way out than they intended, and they lost all the data they had gained. Since they are particularly interested in your optic blasts and Logan's healing factor, I fear that they may attempt to recapture you. I also fear that they may try to take Storm as well - though not for her powers."

All eyes shifted to Ro. She'd sat up and Frank gripped her hand. "Why?" he snapped.

"Because their mission had three objectives. The first was acquisition of mutant DNA. The second was to test Scott and Logan as a paired team. The third was to acquire the ova of an alpha-level mutant in her twenties or thirties for Operation Paper Clip."

Complete and stunned silence. "What?" Placido asked quietly.

Xavier shifted again, and for a moment, the mask slipped, revealed a man furious and afraid. "This organization, this consortium" - he spit it like a curse - "has been involved in, among other things, the abduction of young women for the purpose of acquiring their ova. All their ova. They have the technology to preserve and mature human ova, which then become the basis for human-alien hybrids, fertilized by artificial means and implanted into the wombs of human women who bring them to term. This is what they had planned for Jean: remove her ova, fertilize one, and re-implant it, leaving her pregnant. The fact that she was in a permanent partnership" - he nodded to Scott - "would haave reduced suspicion. Their past pattern has been to recover the hybrid at birth, with a stillborn infant switched in its place for the parents to bury."

Summers had gone deathly pale and McCoy had half-risen to his feet, looking as feral as I ever could. For the first time, I understood his code name. Across the table from Xavier, Ororo had gripped the arms of her seat, her eyes wide and white. Frank had an arm around her, speaking to her quickly and quietly in Italian, trying to calm her, both her fury and her fear.

"So why did they kill her?" Summers asked finally, his voice small and his jaw working hard as he tried to come to grips with the enormity of it all.

"It was an accident," Xavier told him. "None of you were meant to die."

"Can we get her body back?"

"No." Quiet, but final. "Her body and tissue samples, like your DNA samples, were destroyed in the explosion." A breath of a pause. "I'm sorry."

Scott laid his head down on his arms and just wept. The sound echoed in the metal-walled room, more terrible than Xavier's recitation of the consortium's evil. This was the human face on it.

I set a hand on his shoulder and squeezed, but turned my eyes to where Placido and Worthington were attempting to comfort Ro. Would this organization go after her next? Over my dead body. I wasn't sure that I believed any of this alien-invasion shit, but as Placido had said, it didn't matter if it were true. It only mattered that this nutcase group believed it to be true. There were days I didn't believe in the mythical metal lacing my own bones until I popped adamantum through my knuckles and felt the pain.

Now, absently, I held up my right hand and released the claws. Everyone jumped but Xavier, and even Summers glanced up at me. I turned my wrist so that overhead halogens flashed off silver. "This wouldn't be the first time that a government has used people like us for guinea pigs. But just let them try to take Ro." And for emphasis, I drove my claws through the solid wood tabletop.

 



So why drag in the X-Files Mythology arc? Well, my original plotting included something very similar to what's described above, at least in terms of secret international organizations no doubt subconsciously influenced by X-Files paranoia. As I thought about it, I realized that I may as well just use the original source of my inspiration. The reason I say this isn't a true crossover is because everything a reader needs to know about the X-Files is explained above.

Would I do a full-scale crossover sequel with the X-Men going after the consortium? I don't know. I have a lot of things on my plate to finish first. I'm also unsure if such a crossover sequel is advisable. Crossovers automatically leave fewer readers who can (or want to) follow you. It would depend on the feedback I get. I would like to do an X-Men / X-Files story featuring Jean Grey and Dana Scully at some point just because I like competent women who kick butt but that obviously isn't this universe. :-)

Part 6

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