I’d assured both Scott and Charles that I was ready for combat missions. I’d been feeling for a while like it was time. I’d seen various team members going off on missions, been in on some of the debriefings. I found myself itching to be among them and wanting to use my powers and my abilities for the X-Men.
I’m not saying the prospect of going into combat wasn’t frightening to me. Truth be told, it always had been. I’d never totally gotten used to the fact that, at age sixteen, I’d gone off to boarding school one day and found myself the first female soldier in a small private army the next. Still, over the years, being an X-Man had become so much a part of who I am. It’s at least as central to my identity as being a doctor and a teacher.
I needed that part of me back. I worried, too, that if I didn’t act soon, I’d lose my nerve and never really rejoin the team. So, I’d told Scott and Charles both that it was time to take me off the Disabled List. Now, though, I wasn’t so sure I hadn’t acted too hastily. En route to Vermont with the team Scott had assembled, I was having doubts. Rather too late to change my mind.
Scott and I had spoken a few days before this mission had arisen. I’d told him then that I wanted to be fully on the team again. He had asked me “Are you sure?” at the time, but I hadn’t felt that he was doubting me. Rather he seemed to want to ensure that I wasn’t feeling pressured to resume my full responsibilities before I was ready.
With Charles it had been a different story. His worry about me wasn’t just in his words, but in waves of telepathic concern that kept washing over me. I opened my mind to him almost completely, let him feel just how I was doing. I let him know that I was still working on getting over Scott and still recovering from the knowledge that I’d lost a year the rest of them had experienced. Beyond that, though, I let him feel all the healing I had been doing. Time and work and Ethan’s support were leaving me feeling more like my old self, enough like my old self to resume all my activities, including functioning as a full-fledged X-Man. I kept very little back, wanting Charles to be reassured, to really understand that I was ready. I only walled off the part of me that was thinking about Logan, not ready to let Charles in on my hopes for a new relationship.
I tried to keep my mind off of Logan when I was with Charles, but I’m not sure I was successful. Selective telepathic communication isn’t an exact science, and Charles knows me so well that I’m never quite sure that I’m effective in keeping something from him. I could feel a telepathic emanation from him that wasn’t a clear thought. More of a sense of a thought forming. Some worry about me and Logan. And Scott. So, perhaps I let more through than I had intended to.
Still, he had told me he felt reassured that I was ready, and had shown his confidence in me by calling me for the cabinet meeting and by supporting Scott’s decision to include me in this crucial mission. I wanted to live up to the confidence that the two men I’ve loved the most showed me.
I was sitting in the Blackbird next to Scott, with Hank and Logan behind us, as Scott reviewed the battle plan. We were going in with incomplete information, of course. We didn’t know how many of his Brotherhood Magneto had with him. We didn’t know how far they’d gotten in the development of the reconfigured mutagenic machine. We didn’t know what weapons they might have brought or built. Hank had suggested we wait for the mission, take time to learn some more, but Scott had said no, quoting Patton again.
I was listening to the plan and trying to focus, but my mind was jumping all over the place. I was very aware of Logan’s presence behind me, but I couldn’t feel his mind at all. I wasn’t trying to eavesdrop on his thoughts, but his mind is usually so active, so agitated, so strong that some thoughts come to me unbidden. At least that’s the Logan I remembered from when we first knew each other. He was different now. He had mental shields up almost all the time lately, it seemed.
That scared me a bit, when I thought about the possibility of what Logan and I had begun turning serious. My continuing grief over the loss of the relationship with Scott made me wonder whether this was the right time to embark on a new one. And Logan was so different from Scott, I worried that I might be choosing someone in reaction rather than in a positive way. Still, there was no denying that I found him extraordinarily appealing, and had since he’d first shown up. That animal side of him was never far from the surface, and there was something both frightening and compelling about his semi-feral personality. And his strong physicality was something that attracted me and always had.
Beyond general attraction, I had some feeling that in spite of our surface differences we could really be emotionally compatible. Logan didn’t talk much, but he had said something to me that really touched me: “I know what it’s like to be missing part of your life history.” I felt like he could understand what I was going through in a way the others couldn’t. I wasn’t sure how he felt about me; he seemed very defended against emotional entanglements.
Even though his mental shields seemed always to be up lately, something leaked through. Strong feeling – longing, desire, a kind of aching loneliness. Maybe he wanted to love and be loved but was afraid to. Maybe we were both afraid, but could assuage each other’s fears.
I desperately wanted to know what he was thinking. I worried that his use of mental shields against me was not a good sign for a potential relationship between us. Or maybe it was. I know Scott and I could not have been together as long as we were if he hadn’t been able to have some privacy in his own brain.
Hank wasn’t shielded at all. Without even trying, I could feel his worry about whether I was up to the mission. I felt the warmth of his friendship and concern, and appreciated it. Still, it was intensifying my doubts, making me wonder if I could do it, too. I was more distracted by Hank’s thoughts since I couldn’t hear anything from Logan or Scott. Was that why they were both shielded? Was this all about the mission? Did they doubt me? Were they afraid to let me know that?
The last battle I’d been in had been at the same house we were going to. I’d killed two people, then – people on our side. Two FBI agents seconded to the Mutant Protection Plan project. I’d pulled their hearts out with telekinesis and left them dead on the floor in that ski house. I’ve seen their pictures; I insisted on it. They looked completely unfamiliar to me. I murdered two innocent men in cold blood and I can’t even recognize them. I remember none of what I did then, and that’s even harder to accept than the fact that I did it.
I found myself thinking back over battles I do remember. I’ve been a member of a mutant combat team since I was sixteen years old. I’ve been in hundreds of battles. I’ve come close to dying a few times, had a few missions I believed were going to be my last. I’ve killed twice and sobbed in Scott’s arms afterwards, although I knew there had been no other choice – kill or be killed. Scott himself had only killed once and that was the only time I’ve ever seen him cry. He took his glasses off, tears leaking out of tightly closed eyes.
On four occasions I failed to save someone from dying when that was my mission. I felt those deaths more acutely than the ones that were at my hands. The last time – a child I thought I’d reached in time – was over five years ago and I don’t think I’m quite over his loss even now. I bring flowers to his grave every year on the anniversary of his death. I always meet his parents at the graveside, even though I vary the time I come purposely, in order to avoid them. They never fail to thank me for trying, and I never fail to feel worse when they do. What did they think last year when I wasn’t there?
Possession by the Phoenix – whatever it was – has left my confidence shaken in a way that having to kill enemies or failing to save the innocent couldn’t. Was I really the same person I’d been before Alkali Lake? Could the Phoenix come back? The latter idea terrified me. It’s one I’d talked about extensively with Ethan, and I thought I’d mostly been able to come to terms with my fear. My powers – both telekinetic and telepathic – were greater than ever and seemed to be continuing to grow over time. I wasn’t drowning now, as I had been when my body had been invaded, the weakness as I succumbed to the water letting the Phoenix in. I was in peak condition physically and much recovered emotionally. I had come to feel that even if that being returned, I’d be able to resist it, fight it off. Now, though, as we approached the place where it had left my body, I wasn’t so sure.
Scott’s voice pulled me out of contemplation. “We’re almost there,” he was saying. “Jean, can you tell yet who’s in the house? Or at least how many?”
I shook my head. “No, not yet. When we land, let me try again.” I forced myself to focus on the mission for the next few minutes, and then we were landing in the clearing. Scott turned to me and I nodded. “Magneto – he’s in the basement workroom. Johnny’s there with him.”
“What’re they thinking about?” Logan asked.
“Magneto’s concentrating on the task at hand. We were right – it’s the mutagenic machine. Johnny’s nervous – waiting for us.”
“Who else is there?”
“Jean-Paul. He’s upstairs, in one of the bedrooms. Three – no four – more. I can’t tell who they are. One might be Mystique. I’m not sure – I only had access to her brain briefly and a long time ago. None of them are minds I really know. And I can’t tell their powers, not unless they think about them.”
“No time to wait for that. We’re going in.” Scott gave out the assignments. “Logan – you start upstairs. Stay out of the basement until we’ve got Magneto knocked out. Hank, you join Logan upstairs. Jean, you and I will handle Magneto, as we discussed.”
I pulled out the hypodermic with the sedative I intended to use on Magneto. Scott nodded and I put it back. “I think I can take him alone. I’ve got Pyro for backup.”
He shook his head. “I’m not counting on him. And I’m not counting on you getting that needle in him before he realizes what you’re up to and stops it. I hope we can do it that way, but we need to take him out one way or another.” He spoke to all three of us then. “No deadly force unless necessary, but don’t hesitate if it is.” Those were the marching orders I’d heard often before. They’d only given me goose bumps three times before, and all three of those missions had ended with an adversary dead. If goose bumps were my physical symptom of predicting the future, this would be the fourth. I wondered who it would be.
It was Magneto. I didn’t want him to die, for Charles’s sake. I didn’t want Scott to have killed him, for Scott’s sake. I tried to save him, for both of them, but it all happened too fast.
We’d surprised him as we’d wanted to, stealing silently down to the basement workroom as Logan and Hank went upstairs to join Jean-Paul in battling the rest of the assembled Brotherhood. His back was to the stairs and he didn’t know we were there. The gorilla was in a cage right next to him. I had the hypodermic ready and would have gotten it into him if I’d been quicker. But Johnny gasped when he saw us and Magneto realized something was up.
He spun around quickly, saw the needle flying at him before it could pierce his flesh. He sent it back at me, but Scott blasted it before it could get me. And then everything was chaos, as it so often is in battle. Magneto was throwing everything he could at Scott and me. There were some heavy objects made of metal. Scott was blasting them and I was stopping them telekinetically but even with two of us against one of him we were having trouble keeping up.
Pyro had seemed paralyzed when we first arrived. Magneto was yelling at him to join in, not realizing on which side he’d be fighting. Suddenly Johnny seemed to get himself under control and lobbed a fireball at his putative boss. Some sort of machinery – maybe a component of the mutagenic machine – rose into the air, intercepting the fire and moving quickly towards Pyro, threatening to crush him. Scott blasted it in pieces, just in time to save him. He didn’t know that one of those pieces would ricochet into Magneto. He went down.
I’ve seen head wounds like that before. I knew there was no chance. I tried anyway. Scott and Johnny went off to join the others. From the sound of the battle upstairs, there were more of Magneto’s minions in the house than I’d been able to pick up telepathically. I stayed. I knew it was hopeless, but I kept trying as long as he had a pulse.
When I’d assured myself he was dead, I looked to the animal in the cage. Still, silent. It too had been hit by flying metal. I’m no vet, but I certainly could tell it was dead.
There was nothing more to do in the basement. I joined the rest of the team. The battle was raging throughout the house. Yes, there were more of Magneto’s men than we’d thought. A whole lot of them looked exactly alike. Logan was fighting four identical men at a time and Jean-Paul was next to him, taking on two more. It wasn’t until Logan’s claws went through the belly of one of them that I realized what was going on. The wounded man seemed to disappear before my eyes, his body kind of dissolving and being absorbed into one of his twins. Yet another one emerged to take his place, just springing forth fully formed and fighting. I joined the battle and one by one they went down, one by one they disappeared into what must have been the original of these multiple men. At first he kept creating – or releasing, who knows? – more alter egos, but as the battle wore on the ur-fighter seemed to tire and the numbers went down. Four men were actively fighting, then three. “We’ll handle it from here,” Logan called. “Go help Scott.”
I found him in the kitchen. He wasn’t fighting. By the time I got there, there was no one left to fight. He looked shaken. “Are you okay?” I asked. He didn’t answer.
I walked over to him and he held out his arms. “I love you,” he said. “I’m sorry. I was wrong. It won’t happen again.”
It felt almost like a dream. I couldn’t believe it. But there he was, looking to me in time of distress, like he used to. Hurting at what he’d done to Magneto, dreading having to tell Charles, but that wasn’t all. Loving me. Maybe it was a momentary thing; maybe he’d been right to leave me; maybe he really did need to be with a man. But maybe not. Maybe our love was enough. At that moment I felt like it was. I fell into his arms.
Logan burst into the kitchen, claws out, and ran to us. Before I could say anything, do anything, he was on Scott. He stabbed him in the back.
I threw Logan’s adamantium-filled body across the room with stronger telekinetic force than I knew I possessed, without even thinking about what I was doing, just wanting to save Scott. I heard the thunk sound as he hit the far wall. But as I heard it, I was falling, with Scott collapsing on me, the weight of him catching me off balance. Only his weight lessened as we went down. And his body was shrinking, his clothes disappearing, his skin changing color. By the time we hit the kitchen floor, it was Mystique I rolled off of me.
Logan was standing up now, the wounds from the impact healing as he walked towards me and Mystique. “She would have attacked you,” he said. And then, “Did I kill her?”
I moved from warrior mode to physician mode, checking her wounds and her vital signs. “No,” I told him, “she’ll live.” I wondered what he was thinking, but he was still keeping me out.
This series begins at http://mofic.livejournal.com/31235.html and is also available here
Summers in a Sea of Glory is a sequel to Returning Spring, which in turn was a sequel to After the Fall.