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Minisinoo


 

CLIMB THE WIND 9

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

Part 9 Notes:
WARNING: From here on out, brace yourselves. The rollercoaster is about to go on its downward spin, and since this story went AU on the second page with the death of Jean, all bets are off.

Notes: There's lots of information out there on the SR-71 Blackbird and I pretend to no real expertise. Yet I have been struck, several times, by the complexity of maintaining such a craft, given the small number of people at Xavier's available for prep. It doesn't seem feasible, but then, this is science fantasy. :-) Information about Scott's father comes from the comics. Dani Elk River is the same as Dani 'Moonstar" from Generation X, whom we saw in the film (professor's office during the physics lesson), I have not retained her last name from the comics. John 'Proudstar' was bad enough, but don't the people at Marvel have any creativity? Instead, I've chosen Elk River, an old Cheyenne name. The song lyrics Scott sings (in order) are from Janis Joplin's famous "Me and Bobby McGee" (written by Kris Kristopherson), Sting's "Desert Rose" (Brand New Day) and "The Secret Marriage" (...Nothing Like the Sun). The latter is reproduced in full, with apologies to Sting. It's short. This ain't songfic.



Scott's mistressI'm not sure who was dreading the first of May more - me or the rest of the mansion. May Day. My wedding day, or it should have been.

The days leading up to that Sunday were tense. People walked on proverbial eggshells around me, but oddly, I was looking forward to it as a corner to turn, a hurdle to leap. Once it was past, I could forget about it. I got up late, even by my standards, and then went to the hangar to work on the Blackbird - something to keep my mind occupied.

People have no idea what it takes to keep a plane like that ready for take-off. Ours isn't precisely an SR-71. For one thing, the flight deck - or cockpit - is larger, which means the body is wider. For another, it's a jump jet. That is, it has vertical take-off and landing capability - VTOL - like a British Harrier. And like a Harrier, it's hard as hell to manage, worse even because the basic body, which is an SR-71, was never designed for VTOL. The balance is screwy. Logan had laughed at my landing out near the Statue of Liberty, but I'd like to see that son of a bitch set this plane down, much less make it hover or fly backwards. It's not a damn helicopter. The power it has makes landing it like wrestling greased snakes apt, given it's nickname of Habu, or cobra in Japanese.

Just one bit of trivia picked up by an Air Force brat. And I can recognize every plane the USAF had in operation from 1982 to 1992, front, back, or underside. My favorite always was the Blackbird.

I don't even want to think about how the professor acquired one; I'm sure it wasn't legal. Most of these birds may have been decommissioned, but the Strategic Air Command is a little touchy about where their Blackbirds end up. Each cost about thirty-four million dollars, and the molds were broken so that the thirty to forty Blackbird frames that were built are all there are. It prevented them from being copied. My father - retired test pilot and Air Force officer - would have conniptions if he knew we had one. He doesn't even know I have a pilot's license, much less that his eldest son is flying the same plane he did. I wish I could tell him, but I don't dare.

In any case, the Blackbird frame that Hank used is what permits our modified version to have the speed it does, and the altitude capability. We also chose it because it's a spy plane, designed to escape radar detection. Hank increased our invisibility further by using the same radar-absorbent materials found in the skin of a B-2 Stealth Bomber, among other things. I hadn't been kidding when I'd told Logan that if anyone could detect us, we deserved to be caught. Ours doesn't run at the speed of a real Blackbird can - it's too big and wide - but we've passed mach 2 on test runs and once came close to mach 3. The engine and body must expand when superheated, so the joints don't fit flush. Thus, when it's on the ground, we have to keep pans under it to catch the fuel and fluid leaks. At a base, it takes a hundred people to put a Blackbird in the air. The flight crew is up before the sun to get it ready for a mid-morning launch. We don't have a hundred people at the mansion, much less a hundred able to service a 'bird. Hank, Ororo, Logan, and I spend a lot of our spare time keeping it primed as well as we can, especially these days.

That afternoon, I worked alone, checking seals along the wings and changing fluid pans. Then I moved on to the engines, which is what occupies most of my time on upkeep. This plane has three engines. The first, a Pegasus turbofan with four swivel nozzles, is designed to lift it up and set it down, then shift around to propel it forward. Once it's moving forward, the main pair of engines cut in: beautiful Pratt and Whitney J-58 air-breathing turbo-ramjets that let us reach a ceiling of eighty-thousand feet and approach mach 3. But most of what we use her for amounts to walking a greyhound with a toddler, and sometimes we don't even cut in the ramjets, just use the turbofan. There are days I want to take her up and open her out, just to let her play, but indulging my need for speed on a whim is out of the question. It's just not necessary to fly to London in under two hours most days. Still, I have flown her enough now that she talks to me in the air, and I understand finally why my father loved to fly these 'birds. I breathe with this plane. She sings to me, whispers under my hands. Jean was never jealous of any woman, but she used to say I had a mistress of black titanium.

Ironic, that I was spending my wedding day with my mistress.

Rogue and Dani Elk River interrupted my intimate communion with the engines. They were so quiet, and I had on Sheryl Crow so loud, that I wasn't aware of them until Rogue tapped me on the shoulder. She nearly got a screwdriver in her eye-socket for her trouble. I aborted the attack at the last second. "Sorry," I said. "But don't sneak up on a trained fighter." It was lame and we all knew it. I'd been a trained fighter before my captivity, too, but had never reacted like that.

"S'okay," she said, although I could see that she was shaken.

"We were wondering if you're coming upstairs tonight?" Dani asked.

I looked down at my hands, covered with grease past the wrists, and wondered what on earth they wanted. And I was sure they wanted something, because people had been actively avoiding me for the past three days. "I need to clean up first," I said, lifting my hands and reaching out to pat the girls on their chins with my greasy fingers. They squealed and ducked away, laughing, then sprinted for the hangar door.

"We'll see you in half an hour or so," Rogue called over her shoulder.

"More like forty-five minutes," I yelled back.

I finished what I'd been doing to the engine, then put back on the casing - quite a trick for one person - and went to wash up. I wound up taking a shower before wandering upstairs.

No one was in the den, where I'd half expected to find them. Instead all the kids left at the mansion - about twenty five total - had gathered in the dining hall. Despite my protests, Warren had moved the youngest children to his Boston location, taking them in twos or threes over the past two weeks, so it might have escaped notice, especially since there were only about a dozen of them. The nature of mutation manifestation meant that most of the kids we got were over fifteen.

In any case, when I entered the hall, the faces of the ones waiting were apprehensive. Jubilee, Kitty, and Rogue sat on the edge of a wooden table in the middle, with something spread across their laps. A big piece of cloth. I spotted Logan standing in a corner. I'm sure he was watching over Rogue. The professor was there, too, with Ro, Frank, and Hank. Every muscle in my body had tensed to bear whatever I was going to have to bear. And here I thought I'd escape this day relatively unscathed.

They were all looking at Jubilee. It must have been her show. I leaned into the jamb and crossed my arms, raised an eyebrow and waited. She cleared her throat. Jubilee at a loss for words: would wonders never cease? "We, um, have a present for you," she began. "It was supposed to be for you and Dr. Grey - " Abruptly, her fair-gold skin went red. "I mean, um, I mean - "

Scott in black"It was supposed to have been a wedding present," I supplied.

"Yeah." She glanced over her shoulder at Bobby, who just nodded his head at her, his face solemn. That explained a lot. Jubilee might be running the show, but Drake was behind it.

"And?" I said, trying my best not to sound snappish. I didn't succeed.

"We weren't gonna finish it," Rogue said, taking up the narrative, "but then we decided we might should. What's the point of letting it rot in the attic?"

"Rogue did most of the work," Kitty added, and taking the cloth from Rogue and Jubilee, she hopped down from the table to walk across and offer it to me. "Piotr designed the top and all the rest of us sewed on it a little, even the professor. But I think Rogue had to rip out most of our stuff and sew it all over again." Smiling, she glanced back at her friend. "We even got some of the pictures on the back from students who'd graduated already, like Mr. Worthington and Mr. Placido. So it was kinda a whole school project."

I took the gift from her and unfolded it to reveal a beautiful quilt, the top a pattern of interlocking circles. "It is from the Amish wedding ring pattern," Piotr explained. "I did change it a little bit." He'd put Xs in some of the circles, and the colors were red, black and white. Colors I could see.

I ran my palms over it. The stitches had all been done by hand, no machine work this. My God. It was a labor of hours and hours. How many nights had they sat up to work on this quilt, then come sleepy to class the next day? "It's beautiful," I whispered.

"Turn it over, Scott," Bobby said.

I did so. Drake rose to help me spread it atop a table, displaying the backing. It wasn't standard plain-cloth, and I had to sit down on one of the benches before my legs gave way.

They'd had it silk-screened with a collage of pictures. Jean was in all of them, but I was in quite a few despite my policy of avoiding cameras. The pictures marked the passage of the past ten years - this was the story of us, of Scott and Jean. Where had they found some of these? They must have snuck into our bedroom to go through our old photo albums. And EJ had to have supplied a few, too, from my college years. "I like that one," Bobby said, pointing out a photo where my hair had been long enough to brush my jaw. "We wouldn't have believed it was you, except for the glasses." It had been taken during Jean's visit to Berkeley to see me, in the spring of my final year. Jean with hair shorter than mine - "Easier to take care of on-call" - and dyed an artificial fiery red. We'd been caught candid, playing darts. I'd never seen that picture, or if I had, I'd forgotten all about it - though I hadn't forgotten that night. In the photo, I stood behind her, bracing her with an arm around her shoulders, my other hand on hers, helping her aim. She'd been leaning back into me, and side on, I could see that she'd been grinning like an imp. But from behind, I hadn't been able to see her grin at the time. It struck me hard, to see it now. She'd been falling for me even then, and maybe our first date, six months later, hadn't been merely her concession to my persistence.

But in truth, that hadn't been our first date. Our first date - though we wouldn't have called it that then - had come almost five years earlier when I'd taken her to see Phantom of the Opera on Broadway. And in one corner of the quilt back, covered carefully in plastic, were the old ticket stubs. The kids must have filched them out of our scrapbook. I'd been eighteen and trying to apologize for having wrecked her car, so I'd made a pact with Hank to get me tickets; I hadn't realized that nobody but tourists went to see that show. Nonetheless, she'd gone with me and said she'd enjoyed it. I don't think she was lying, but the show hadn't been the reason. Afterward, we'd walked around midtown window-shopping in a newly revitalized and Disneyfied Times Square, visited the rotating bar atop the Marriott to overdose on caffeine with coffee and Death by Double Chocolate cake, and then went to hear a band in the Rockefeller Center plaza. She'd laughed at my stupid jokes, and danced with me in the crush of the plaza crowd. And once, for just a few minutes, she'd let me put an arm around her. I'd lived in a glittering cloud for a week after. And I'd decided that night that I was going to marry Jean Grey. Stupid thing to decide at not-quite-nineteen, but I'd never changed my mind. Sometimes you just knew.

But I hadn't married her, had I?

"Can I be alone, guys?" I asked them. They slipped out quietly, vanished like fog. Rogue hugged me from behind on her way and I gripped her arm atop her gloves, whispered, "Thanks, Marie. I'm glad you finished it." I felt her nod, then she was gone, too. They were all gone, leaving me alone with the quilt.

I spent a long time going over each of the pictures. Jean would have loved this. She'd always wanted a hand-made quilt. Had the girls known that, or was this just a lucky guess? "Look at what they did for us, hon," I whispered at one point into the empty room.

"It makes everything else worth it, doesn't it?"

I spun around. There was no one there. "Christ, you're hearing things now," I said to myself. Folding up the quilt, I headed out and started to go downstairs, but changed my direction and went back to our room instead. This was where the quilt belonged. On our bed.

I hadn't been in here since the day I'd come to fetch my wedding ring, and my dirty clothes were still in the bathroom where I'd left them in a heap after I'd showered. I picked them up now and dumped them in the hamper. Then I just stood there in the middle of the room, the quilt over my arm. Unfolding it, I laid it out on the bed, then collapsed atop and wrapped myself up in it. That was when I cried.

I'd gone all day without crying - mostly by dint of distraction. Now, it hit me full force and I cried until my belly hurt and my face was raw. This should have been my wedding night. I'd waited for this for nine years; I'd waited for Jean. Frank, our resident Italian romantic, had told me once that Jean and I had the love affair of a lifetime. Maybe so. But when it's gone, what's left? Lightening doesn't strike the same place twice.

So I cried myself to sleep and woke again with the moon at its zenith. The room was faintly white from reflected light coming through our east window - one of the outdoor security spots. It fell on the bed and quilt, still wrapped around my body. It fell, too, on the body beside mine.

At the funeral, I'd asked Logan if he believed in ghosts because I wanted to know I wasn't going crazy. I'd woken before to the smell of Jean, to a physical awareness of her pressing up against my side. Maybe they were hallucinations, but if so, I was happy to keep hallucinating. Yet none of the previous times had ever felt this real.

Reaching out - barely breathing - I ran a strand of her hair through myy fingers. So soft. So fine and soft.

She moved and I jumped, caught my breath. Her body rolled over and her dark eyes met mine. Our faces were close enough that I felt her breath on my skin. Abruptly she smiled and raised a hand to touch my temple - no glasses in the way. "You have such beautiful eyes," she whispered and ran a thumb over my eyebrow. "So blue."

"How can you see them in the dark?"

But it wasn't the question I wanted to ask - the obvious question. Had I finally lost my mind?

"Shhhh," she said instead and kissed me. "I was waiting for you to wake up."

There was so much I wanted to say but it all balled up behind my teeth, tripped by my own inept tongue. I settled for the simple. "I love you."

"I know," she replied, still smiling, and propped herself up on an elbow. Then she reached down to hunt for my hand - my left hand - and raised it, kissed my knuckles and the ring on my finger. "I'm glad you put it on."

"It should have been you who put it on me. Do you remember what I said when we bought it?"

Ghost Jean"Yes." And she pulled the ring off, had to tug a little to get it free. Then she sat all the way up and raised me after until we were kneeling in the middle of our bed, facing each other. She ran fingers over my cheeks, my neck, my shoulders and down my arms. I held my breath, afraid that at any moment, she might wink out of existence like a dying star.

This felt so real. Not a dream or hallucination.

Don't think about it, I told myself. For once in my life, I wasn't going to analyze, just accept. If this gave me back my Jean, I didn't care what it was.

"Where's my ring?" she asked now.

"In my dresser."

"Go get it."

I did as she said, stumbling a little over the tangle of sheets trailing on the floor. And didn't that prove this was real? You didn't trip in your dreams.

My hands were shaking as I pulled open my sock drawer to dig for the ring box, fished it free and opened it to pull out the ring and take it back to the bed. She still knelt there, turning my own ring in her fingers. Her hair was down and she was wearing a nightgown. Silk in some pale shade, maybe ivory. She smiled and took my free hand as I knelt down again in front of her. Leaning in, she kissed me and offered me her left hand, the hand with the engagement ring. I took that off and fitted it into the slot made for it in her wedding band, then slid the whole thing back on her finger. "You're mine," I whispered.

She laughed a little. "I always was yours." And taking my own hand, she slid my ring home. "And you were mine."

"I still will be, until the day I die."

"No, Scott." She looked up at me. "The promise was only till death parted us. It already has, love."

"Then I'll make a new promise," I said, gripping her by both her arms.

"I won't accept it. I'm not binding you with vows tonight. I'm only giving you the ring you should have had two years ago, if I hadn't kept putting you off."

I let her go. "I understood. It was okay "

Her fingers stopped my mouth. "It was not okay. I was scared. Strange, isn't it? I was older, I was the woman, yet I was the one who kept putting off our wedding. So much for men afraid of commitment." She smiled. "You were so intense, so devoted. I wasn't sure I deserved you."

"What?"

"Don't laugh. It's true. You scared me. But I loved you, too."

"I never felt like I deserved you."

Still smiling, she shook her head. "Silly man. You were my knight in shining armor. You kissed me awake from my curse, helped me find myself when I was drowning in others. You saved my sanity, Scott."

A sudden water-weak flash ran through me. "Was that all it was, then? Gratitude?"

She yanked me close and - her mouth almost against my mouth - hissed, "You idiot ass! I loved you to the bottom of your dense, stubborn soul."

I didn't know what to say, so I leaned in to kiss her. If my kiss had woken her once, maybe hers would put me to sleep forever, a dream-world inhabited by two. My hands gripped her upper arms again, and hers were unbuttoning the black shirt I'd fallen asleep in, the dragon shirt she'd given me for my birthday last year. Then her palms slid over my bare skin. After a minute, I pulled away and rested my forehead against hers. "Have I gone nuts?" I whispered, because I had to know. Her words had made it clear that she was aware she was dead. "Or are you really here?"

"Does it matter?"

"Yes."

"You're not nuts."

"How are you here, then?"

"Who knows? I'm a telepath. Maybe the professor has a theory; I don't. For now, I'm here, but I can't say for how much longer. It's gets harder every time. But I had to stay, at least until tonight."

I gave up being gentle and clutched at her, strong in my desperation. "Don't leave me, Jean. I can't live without you."

So it was corny as hell. I meant every word.

"Shhh." She stroked my hair, rocked me in her arms as if I were her child, not her lover - her husband. "Don't cry. You owe me a wedding night." She let me go and pushed me back, pulled her silk nightgown over her head and tossed it on the floor behind her.

My throat went dry. "I thought I got to do that." My body had reacted, quick as a blush, to the sight of her naked skin.

Her smile was coy. "I'll put it back on, if you really want to divest me of it."

In answer, I bent to kiss her bare shoulder, let my hands fall to her hips and stroke up to her breasts. She got my shirt off, then my pants.  And I made love to a ghost on my wedding night.

By whatever miracle or magic, or just by the power of my own desire, I had her one more time.  And without the constraint of my glasses, I was free to love her as hard as Id always wanted to.  Janis Joplin, queen of the blues, had a song about that. When we were finished, I sang it to her. I held her in my arms and sang to her. "I'd trade all my tomorrows for one single yesterday, to be holding your body next to mine. Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose - "

"Sing something else," she interrupted. "I always hated that song."

"What do you want to hear?"

"Sing me Sting."

I laughed, but did as she asked - sang soft and low, in her ear. "I dream of rain / I dream of gardens in the desert sand / I wake in pain / I dream of love as time runs through my hand . . . This desert rose / Each of her veils, a secret promise / This desert flower / No sweet perfume ever tortured me more than this . . . ."

"You're morbid tonight."

"Can you blame me?"

"No." She stroked my cheek and said, "How about something else?"

Rolling onto my side, I tried again, "No earthly church has ever blessed our union / No state has ever granted us permission / No family bond has ever made us two / No company has ever earned commission / No debt was paid, no dowry to be gained / No treaty over border land or power / No semblance of the world outside remained / To stain the beauty of this nuptial hour / The secret marriage vow is never spoken / The secret marriage never can be broken / No flowers on the altar / No white veil in your hair / No maiden dress to alter / No bible oath to swear / The secret marriage vow is never spoken / The secret marriage never can be broken."

She was smiling now. "Much better." And she snuggled in next to me, ran fingertips through the hair on my chest. It tickled a little, but I wasn't going to stop her. After a long silence, she said, "It's time to come out of the basement, Scott. They need you back. Charles needs you back."

I didn't reply to that, just held her closer. Her fingers crawled up to thread through my hair at the base of my neck. "I can't do it without you," I said finally. "You're my compass, Jean."

"Yes, you can do it. You're the strongest man I know, to have survived what you did and stayed sane."

"I'm still not sure that I am sane."

Raising up on an elbow, she studied my face and traced the pads of her fingers over the echos of my bruises, first on my face, then on my body, as if she could erase my wounding that way. She kissed the burn scars, too, and the scars from the bullet holes, then slid a hand down my hip and over my ass. She hadn't done that all night and even now, sated and sleepy, I tensed up like steel wire as her fingers brushed over the base of my balls, up the sensitive perineum to my anus. But it wasn't pleasure that she elicited. I'd begun to sweat all over. "Jean, don't."

"Relax, Scott. Let me touch you there."

"I don't know if I can."

"Look at me, love. Keep your eyes on my face and don't close them." I did as she said. Her eyes were black in the shadowed room, wells swallowing light, swallowing fear. She made the dark safe. "It's me," she whispered. "You're okay. You're with me now and you're okay. Keep your eyes on my face. I want to see those beautiful eyes."

She lifted my knee onto her hip, opened me up to her. Her fingers were very gentle and she didn't try to enter me, just massaged the root of my cock and the perineum until I quit panting in fear, until it had started to feel good. She talked to me the whole time, kept me grounded in the present. She was the only one who could have gotten away with this. After a while, when I no longer felt on the verge of screaming, she moved her hand around to the front, rubbing my cock and playing fingers over the glans. It took a while to arouse me the effects of fear barely surmounted and an orgasm already past, and I was twenty-seven, not seventeen. The hormones didn't burn quite so hot.

But my body did wake up. We lay face-to-face, breathing into each other's mouths and touching each other all over. Then she drew me on top of her and inside her, her legs around my hips. There is nothing in the world like the feeling of sliding into hot satin. I wasn't in a hurry, so I moved slowly and watched her face. Her palms had come up to cup my jaw. Sometimes we kissed, but mostly, we just looked at each other in the dark. I could feel her climax nearing, heard her breath go rough and catch, the walls of her vagina clenching around me rhythmically, thighs squeezing my hips to hold me still while she bucked up against me, trying to get the right friction and pressure. I bit my lip to keep from coming. I wasn't ready to let her go yet. When she was finished, panting down from her high, I resumed my rhythm. She ran hands all over my back and ass and I didn't flinch, though I wasn't under any illusions that everything was all better. She'd just desensitized me for the moment. She bit at my neck and jaw, my earlobe and lips, as her body undulated with mine. "Come, you stubborn bastard," she whispered. "I want to see you come hard."

Finally, I did. It started at the base of my spine and radiated down through my groin, crawled up my back. The sky was falling behind my eyes in streaks of flourescent color that I couldn't see otherwise any more. My toes curled involuntarily and I cried out. Her name maybe. Or a protest because this was the last time. Then it was past, and I sank down on top of her, felt her arms brace across my shoulder-blades, hands splayed on my skin. "I love you," I whispered, weeping. "I'm so sorry, Jean. I'm so sorry I wasn't there at the end. I closed you out."

"No, you didn't." Her breath stirred the hair behind my ear. "You just wouldn't listen to me. But you couldn't close me out, love. It wasn't possible. You were there with me at the end. I felt you there. And you felt me go. Remember?"

And I cried harder. Because she was right. I had.

"Shhh, Scott, shhh. You're going to be all right."

I don't remember anything after that. I must have cried myself to sleep again in her arms because when I woke, it was morning. I was naked, wrapped in our quilt, and alone. The sun shone in the window. Sitting up, I wiped hair out of my face and stared around. Everything looked bright and the light hurt my eyes a little. They were used to red shades.

I couldn't feel the energy in my head yet, but it would build back up soon enough.

Rising, I went to open the window and lean out, look down on the lawn. There was no one below. Sun scintillated across the reflection pool, and in the flower-beds, tulips and hyacinth were giving way to white peonies and red geraniums. Spring had come a little late this year, and the dogwood were still blooming, like grounded clouds, their petals blown by the wind. A few drifted lazily to land on the backs of my hands where they rested on the casement. I looked down. My wedding ring winked in the sunlight. Red gold.

Pulling my head back in, I took a deep breath. Had I dreamed it? I must have dreamed it. Or hallucinated it. I went back to the bed, ran my hands over the quilt. It was stiff in a few places, but that could be explained easily by a nocturnal emission without any ghostly intervention.

Turning my head, I looked over at my dresser, at the sock drawer. Standing up straight, I went to open it. The ring box was there, where I'd left it. I lifted it out, and started to pop the lid.

Then I stopped, put it back.

Sometimes, it's better just to believe.
 
 
 
 

Scott in daylightThe professor was outside when I emerged that morning. He was supervising some of the oldest students as they worked with their powers, just as he'd supervised me once. We'd started their training a month ago, just in case. Hearing my step or just feeling my presence, he looked around at me. Eyebrows went up, then he smiled. "Good morning, Scott."

"Professor." I squatted down beside him, resting one hand on the wheel of his chair, for balance. I kept my eyes on where John Proudstar and Kurt Wagner were pushing themselves through our second level obstacle course. Natural strength and natural agility assisted each, respectively.

"They've improved," Xavier said. "Do you want to show them how it's done?"

"I'm not sure I'm up to it yet, frankly."

He didn't reply to that, just nodded. He understood what I hadn't said: that I planned to get back up to it. We stayed there in companionable mostly-silence for a while. The only things we said were about the kids, where their strengths lay, and weaknesses. At last, still not looking at him, I began, "What I said to you, a couple weeks ago in the basement - it was way out of line."

"It's forgotten, Scott."

"Not by me. I'm sorry, sir."

He moved his hand down to cover mine where it still rested on the wheel of his chair. "I said it is forgotten. And don't you think it past time you quit calling me 'sir' and 'professor'? My name is Charles, Scott."

"All right. Charles."

He patted my hand.
 
 
 
 

I saw one sunset and one sunrise without glasses before my power came back with a vengeance on Tuesday at dinner-time. I'd been feeling the build-up all day, the buzz in my head and the remembered pressure building at a point right between my brows. "You are frowning a great deal today," Ororo had said to me, around noon. We were both outside, sitting at an old stone picnic table under one of the dogwoods, grading homework that had been faxed in from the Boston school, and eating lunch. I'd gone back to teaching full-time on Monday, but spent as many of my free hours as I could outside, which was probably speeding up the reacquisition of my power but it was worth it to feel the sun on my bare eyelids and the wind on my blank face.

"Headache," I'd replied then to Ororo's observation.

"Your glasses?"

I'd tapped my breast pocket. I'd been carrying them with me since yesterday evening. And I turned my face up to the canopy of fading blossoms over our heads. Simple white is a beautiful color when you know you're about to lose it again.

When my power did hit, I was in the dining hall, walking back from the kitchen counter where I'd picked up my supper plate. It felt like a lightning strike to my eyes overwhelming pain. "Holy Christ!" I screamed and dropped to my knees, hands over my face, eyes squeezed shut against the agony and the force of the blasts. My plate and cup of coffee had crashed to the floor beside me and I could feel hot liquid seeping through my trousers but it didn't hurt half as much as my eyes.

Around me, "Scott!" echoed together with multiple cries of "Mr. Summers!" Then I could feel Hank's huge palm on my shoulder. "Glasses?"

"In my breast pocket," I said as - abruptly - the pain vanished to be replaced with that feeling of sparking energy, circling around in my head. God, I'd forgotten was this was like. Almost erotic when it first came, rushing through my body and charging my blood like the cocaine I'd tried once in high school. It gave me a hard-on. As much as I hate my uncontrollable power, I must also confess that I love it, love the charge of it. Hank was pressing my glasses into my fingers and I put them on and - face down - opened my eyes, feeling the energy flow out to be dissipated by ruby quartz. My breath went out with it and I was momentarily dizzy.

Then my balance centered and I looked up. The kids had gathered all around me. None flinched back. How different from the last time, when my high school peers had fled in terror. Some of my students looked worried, but out of concern for me, not fear of me. "I'm all right," I said.

Abruptly Jubilee grinned. "Looks like Joe Cool is back."

I laughed.
 
 
 
 

An old rule of strategy states that, if you can't strike back at your opponent immediately, you wait until their vigilance has worn them out and they've lost their edge. That approach might have worked on us, too, without Frank's prescient-driven anxiety.

So we were ready.

Theoretically speaking.

At the time of the actual attack, we weren't ready at all. It was two-twelve in the morning and most of the mansion was asleep, only Logan and I still up. I'd been reading a book in my room when the far perimeter alarms started whooping inside the house, and seconds later, Logan's voice came loud over my room intercom. "This one ain't a false alarm, kid. We got company."

Inside ten seconds, I had on my battle visor and was out in the hallway as kids emerged from their rooms in confusion. Some tried to pull on day clothes. "Forget clothes!" I yelled. "This is not a drill! Team Alpha get the professor to the basement, NOW! Team Beta, to me."

Weeks ago, even before the young ones had left, I'd split the students into two groups. The largest Team Alpha were non-combatants, those who, like Rogue, had mutant abilities which wouldn't help them much in a fight. Their job, under Frank Placido's direction, was simple: they were to get the professor below ground and guard him. In truth, it was the basement defenses I counted on to protect them all, but it had made them feel important and gave them something to do to keep them from panicking. A few among them had gifts that might be useful in hand-to-hand, such as John Proudstar's strength or Fred Dukes' near-invulnerability, but we simply hadn't had time to train them well and I didn't want to use students whose mutations put them in grabbing range of our enemy. (Although I had yet to meet a person able to move Fred once he'd planted his feet.)

Team Beta consisted of my fighters. They gathered around me while the others disappeared, shepherded below by Frank. I could hear the sound of choppers in the distance, and a few seconds later, anti-aircraft fire. Hank hadn't lost any time getting to his guns, but he was going to need backup. I grabbed Kurt Wagner. "Get up on the roof and help Dr. McCoy. Do exactly what he tells you to do, including running if that's what he orders. Don't play hero. Got it?" Yellow eyes wide, blue-furred tail whipping in fear, Kurt nodded and teleported right out of my grip. I grabbed my cell phone and was dialing before the stench of brimstone had dissipated.

The phone on the other end rang and rang. "Dammit, Warren! Pick up!" Had our enemy gotten to Boston first? But after nine rings, just as I was about to give up, I heard a sleepy, "Hello?" on the other end.

I wasted no words. "We're under attack. Get your kids to safety," and I hung up.

Logan was jogging down the hall to join us. "Four choppers, five vans, ten Hum-Vees and a few cars," he told me. They turned onto the Lane three minutes ago." He must have been in the security room. Cameras at the end of Greymalkin Lane recorded the approach of any vehicles toward the mansion. These days, if the visitor didn't have the correct codes to enter by remote, it set off the alarm system. That had meant we'd gotten alarms several times a week, but I'd rather have had UPS set off the alarm system than not be ready. "The Hummers have five men each," Logan added, "I'm guessing the vans hold fifteen to twenty. "Some vehicles split off from the main group to surround the estate walls."

Shit. An invading force that potentially numbered between two and three hundred trained black ops, and what were we? I glanced around at the faces watching me: four X-Men and eight kid trainees, including Hank and Kurt on the roof.

"Kitty," I said, "get down to the basement and bring at least our uniform jackets, including all the spares." We'd need the Kevlar. These people had come to capture us, not kills us, but a bullet in the shoulder could still incapacitate one of us. I ducked back into my room and grabbed the little radios I had ready, tossing them to students and adults alike. "Remember, the professor will act as our primary means of communication. Use these only in an emergency." Telepathy was the ultimate in line security, and one never had to worry about static, but I preferred to hedge my bets and not leave my people without a means of contact if anything should happen.

"When Kitty gets back, here are your orders. Storm, I want you up in the air to help Beast deal with the choppers. Be careful. And scout while you're up there to make sure they're not sending in troops that our cameras failed to spot. Wolverine, take Allerdyce, Jubilee, and Sharra to the front. Keep our 'guests' from coming over the walls, and when they break through the gate - I'm sure it's just a matter of time - stop as many vehicles as you can. Stop them permanently." I exchanged a look with Logan. He knew what I meant. We had to even the odds and taking out twenty men in a van was easier than getting them one-by-one after they'd debarked.

"Drake and Elk River are with me; we'll patrol along the rear wall. Pryde and Rasputin remain here in the mansion as backup. Now listen to me, all of you. If I give the order for you to scatter, I mean it. You get away from here as fast as you can, by any means you can. You've spent plenty of time in these woods; you know them better than the troops do. Whatever happens, do not let them take you." I hesitated, then just said it. "That means kill if you have to."

"Cyclops " Ororo began.

"No arguments!"

Kitty had returned in any case, loaded down with uniforms. I snagged mine before anyone else could get it by accident, Logan took his, and Ororo took hers. Unlike the men's, the women's uniforms are all of a piece and she began to strip right there in the hall, to put it on. Modesty and Storm are at best passing acquaintances. The boys were gaping. "This isn't a peep show," I snapped at them, throwing my spare jacket at Drake. "Get into it. John, you have Logan's. Piotr, transform." He did as I ordered, becoming bulletproof organic steel in seconds. "Sharra, you'll have to wear Hank's spare." It would completely swallow him, and it was a vest rather than a full jacket, but it was better than nothing.

I glanced down at the women's uniforms; two uniforms for three girls. "Jubilee is about my size," Storm said and - dressed now - lifted her extra to hand it to the other girl.

That left Jean's. Picking it up, I stared at it. This was no time for nostalgia. "Kitty, we'll have to rely on your ability to phase." I handed Jean's uniform to Dani. "You're the right height. Put it on." Nodding, she accepted it.

Welcome to the X-Men, said the professor's voice in our minds.

Cyclops ReturnsWe split up then, Storm taking to the air as Logan shepherded his three towards the estate entrance and I led my two out a back way. "Keep your eyes open," I warned as we exited into the winds that Storm had kicked up. Tree branches whipped and leaves rustled loud. Everything was growing dark, clouds skidding in to cover the fingernail of moon. That didn't help us, but it hindered them more. "Use your knowledge of the property. The main body of troops hasn't broken through, but that doesn't guarantee we don't have visitors on the grounds already." Bobby nodded grimly; Dani just pulled her bow off her shoulder. She's a tall girl, as tall as me or Drake. She looks like she can kick your ass, and she'd been fighting on the reservation since childhood, long before she'd become a mutant. Her first week at the school, I'd had to take a knife off of her three times. Of the eight kids I'd picked, she and Allerdyce worried me the least.

At that moment, Hank pegged his first helicopter. It exploded in a ball of fire out over the lake, went down with an audible whoosh. "Got 'em!" Bobby Drake yelled, his face exultant.

"Don't shout," I hissed at him, and Dani added, "There was a person inside, y'know?" Drake managed to look shamefaced, but I didn't have time to worry about patching up his feelings. I craned my neck, seeking the speck of Storm amid the dark, boiling clouds overhead. The sky convulsed in gale-force anger and the winds alone should have been enough to force the other helicopters away. Two had, indeed, fled, but one remained, despite being buffeted all over the sky. Crazy idiot. Lightning crackled around him to the staccato background of Hank's fire but none of the bolts struck metal. Storm was trying to frighten him. He hovered a moment more, then abruptly turned tail and got out of there.

If only we could have that kind of luck with the rest of them.

Cyclops, she sent then via the professor, I see no troops beyond those that Logan has already named. But they do have us surrounded. Now that the helicopters are gone, what next?

"Try scaring the Hummers off," I said aloud, though speaking was unnecessary. I simply found it easier to verbalize, had done it even with Jean. "Blow over some of their vehicles if you can. Is anyone coming in across the lake?"

None that I see.

I can confirm this, the professor added. I sense no additional minds approaching, although I cannot extend my awareness far and also maintain contact with all of you. There are only so many things even I can do at once. Wry amusement tinged that thought.

"Storm, give me placements for the ones outside the walls," I said.

Most are at the gate. Vans and cars. Hum-Vees are at four o'clock, two o'clock, midnight, ten o'clock and eight o'clock. A simple, predictable pattern. The men have exited the vehicles but appear to be awaiting something. None have tried yet to scale the walls.

Cyclops, the professor interrupted, I have also been in contact - by a secured phone line - with Walter Skinner, from the FBI. I wanted him to know what was occurring. He is on his way here from Washington, though I am unsure what he believes he can accomplish. Yet from what he has just conveyed to me, we may have more problems on our hands than we think.

"What now?" I asked.

It could be that not all of these troops are human.

Don't tell us they have mutants on their side. It was Logan's thought, not mine.

Nothing so simple, Xavier replied. Assistant Director Skinner informs me that Operation Garnet utilizes some alien-human hybrids as operatives. These soldiers are virtually unstoppable. You cannot kill them by conventional means. Yet aside from heightened strength and regenerative ability, they have no other special gifts. This is why they want our DNA. Imagine what such soldiers could do if they also had Cyclops' optic blasts, or Storm's ability to control the weather? Or mine, to control the minds of others? There was a short moment of hesitation. We cannot permit them to take us, my children.

"So how in hell do we stop these super-soldiers if they can't be killed 'by conventional means'?"

By doing as much physical damage as you can. You cannot stop them permanently, but you can stop them temporarily. The length of time they are down depends on the amount of regeneration they must undergo. Just as it takes longer for Logan to heal, depending on the extent of damage to his body, so it is with these hybrids.

In short, we make them mince-meat for a gut box, Logan put in.

Thank you for that lovely mental image, Logan. Hank's voice.

Abruptly, the front gate exploded inward, and at the same instant, Storm sent, The perimeter troops have begun to scale the walls!

"Time to end the chit-chat, people!" I shouted. "We've got a battle to fight!"

Almost instantly, Storm cast lightning down around the perimeter in roughly the places she'd said troops were located. I heard shouting and a few screams. Good girl, I thought in my head. To Drake and Elk River, I said, "Go!" pointing each in an opposite direction towards the property rear: ten o'clock and two o'clock. "Keep out of sight, but stop as many as you can!"

Part 10

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