Categories > Cartoons > X-Men: Evolution > Extermination

To Stand United

by slickboy444 1 Reviews

Takes place 2 years after Apocalypse, 1 year after the Phoenix. The mutant problem has grown and a obscure general named William Stryker thinks he has a solution. Has Scott/Jean, Wanda/Kurt, Kitty/...

Category: X-Men: Evolution - Rating: PG-13 - Genres: Action/Adventure, Drama - Characters: Cyclops - Warnings: [V] - Published: 2006/04/25 - Updated: 2006/04/25 - 8776 words

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Extermination
Chapter 28: To Stand United


*************************************************

The computer screens in the Pentagon were all looking over a seemingly insignificant speck of land in Canada. But to all those who eagerly awaited the progress of operation extermination, it was one of the most vital parts of this whole ordeal. Their targets were now concentrated on a single remote area. They lacked Magneto and Xavier's protection and guidance. If ever there was a chance for the Friend's of Humanity and United States military to finish off the mutants that had escaped their initial attack, now was the time.

"General Stryker sir, the main attack group has taken off from Rochester and are on route to the north through Canada," reported the communications officer.

"Perfect, right on schedule," Stryker smiled as he looked at his golden, Swiss-made precision watch, "I've just gotten clearance from the Canadian government. Our troops are cleared to go. At this rate, we'll have them cornered tonight."

Stryker watched the tiny blips on the screen. Each one represented a contingent of aircraft ranging from Apache Longbow attack helicopters, Chinook transport helicopters carrying both soldiers and ground vehicles, and a fleet of powerful jet aircraft to provide support and initiate the attack. William Stryker had seen this operation unfold before him and despite the survivors and the anxiety of the military, his calm, quiet demeanor never ceased. It was as if nothing had surprised him to this point...Not the surviving mutants, not Magneto's escape, and not Xavier's extraction. It was a wonder to all the subordinates both military and Friends of Humanity alike to see a man stay so calm and collected in times of war, but that only reinforced his superhuman status as a man of leadership, intelligence, and duty.

"Sir," said one of the female officers, "We have a message from Senator Kelly over the secure line. Do you want me to cut him off again?"

"No, that would be rude soldier," laughed Stryker, "Go ahead and patch him through."

"Yes sir."

Stryker then adjusted his headset to receive the man whom had helped make carry this meticulously crafted plan out.

"Senator...I assume you have had time to calm down since our last discussion," said the general as he walked over towards a more private area with Magnum close by his side like she always was.

"I'm not here to fight with you William," said the senator in a calmer tone than his last urgent call, "I'm here because I need to know the progress of the operation. It's been going on for too long now. The public is getting hysterical with all the fear you've been feeding them with the media."

"Fear is but a powerful glue that binds society together and gives the rulers the capacity to mold it as they see fit...So says sixteenth century philosopher Thomas Hobbs," said Stryker with a certain level of humor in his voice, "You and the entire United States government should be glad that the public is so full of fear. Now you have more power to get things done without them questioning or protesting any such actions. Through fear, order can finally be established in the bustling melting pot that is America."

"Spare me your philosophy general," said Kelly distastefully, "This isn't Europe...This is America. We don't do things like that here."

"Oh but you do..." grinned Stryker, "Have you read the reports that Homeland Security has fed the public in the past few years? It's practically structured to instill fear. That is why people like me are the only ones fit to lead...Because I fear nothing."

"Don't let it go to your head William," reminded the Senator, "Remember, the benefits that you want will only be yours AFTER the operation is over. The same goes for me so you had better be quick about it. Now what's the status over the survivors?"

"You need not worry about that my dear senator," assured Stryker with confidence, "We already have them pinned down in a remote area in Canada and my influences have gotten us access to the area with my troops. We should begin the attack sometime after nightfall if all goes according to plan as I anticipate it will."

"Well I just wanted to call to make sure that you'd finish the job this time," said the senator with a great deal of distrust over Stryker for not finishing what he thought he would in the first attacks.

"Senator...You worry too much," laughed the general as he heard Senator Kelly's predicable words, "Even if they do escape the attacks...There's no escaping the final step I have planned. And it should go into effect by tonight."

"And then it will all be over?"

"For mutants it will...But for us, it will only commence a new beginning."

"Be sure that it does William," stated the Senator sternly, "Tonight is the night of the semi-annual Congressional and Executive progress gathering at the Capitol. Every major figure from the House to the President will be there."

"And they will all be elated by the end when they hear that the mutant problem has finally been resolved. Go Senator...Stop worrying."

"Not everybody can be calm as you General," quipped the Senator, "But I anticipate tonight to be the final time we'll have to speak like this."

And with that, the Senator hung up and proceeded to attend the gathering at the Capitol while Stryker continued to fulfill the steps he had so skillfully planned. Both he and Magnum looked back up at the computer screen and watched as the blips neared the target area. Anticipation ran high among the soldiers and the officers both military and Friends of Humanity alike. But to Stryker, this was still merely a prelude of the final step. With activity among the officers on the rise, the general used the opportunity to make one last important call. As he took out his cell phone and dialed a familiar number.

"Trask here," answered the voice on the other side.

"Trask my good friend," answered Stryker, "How goes your progress?"

"Come now general, you know I'm too good for questioning of such progress," Trask answered with confidence, "It's almost finished. Everything should be up and running tonight exactly as it has been written in the plan."

"I expected no less from you my friend."

"And why should you?" quipped Trask, "Do you have any idea how long I've been going over this in my head? Ever since those freaks sent me to jail I've thought of nothing else! It's finally time to finish what I started...It's time to finish what we all started all those years ago."

"Indeed Trask..." agreed Stryker, "I had a feeling you'd be yearning for some payback. And you shall have it...Everyone shall have it. For tonight is the night when the entire mutant race yields to its ultimate fate."

*************************************************

An old pretense to war once stated that it is necessary to know thy enemy. For the surviving remnants of the X-men, the Brotherhood, and the Acolytes they now knew who their enemy was and how he had brought forth so much carnage upon their friends and livelihood. William Stryker...A man with seeming unlimited resources and know-how had done so much to ensure his victory and power over them and mutants everywhere. He was making all the rules...They were playing HIS game. Not once did they have a chance to fight back in all the time since these devastating attacks were initiated. They had only ran to this point...They had only fought to stay alive and not do anything to take down the mastermind that had been behind all this. And how could they? Stryker kept outfoxing them every step of the way. He had the military on his side, he had the government on his side, and he had the public on his side. Was this truly the end for mutants everywhere?

"So now we know how all this happened...Now we know that there is nothing any of us could have done," said Scott as he and the rest of the survivors of the attacks stood together in the cold depths of the former SHIELD base, "So what do we do now?"

"What CAN we do now?" said Pietro, "This guy has everything fixed! How do we fight against something like that?"

"I think it's obvious what we do now...We find Stryker...And we kill that son of a bitch before he can do this to any more mutants," growled Logan, now more determined than ever to eviscerate Stryker for killing so many innocent people, many of which included the kids he had vowed to protect."

"Logan...That won't help anything," said Kitty, "If we just up and kill Stryker, not taking into account that he's got the entire United States army in the palm of his hand, that will just encourage more animosity towards mutants."

"I don't think there's a way we can possibly avoid that now," said Raven, "At this point, Stryker has already won many of the battles. The only thing we can do now is make it so all our friends who died because of him are avenged. We owe them that much."

"But that's suicide!" said Alex.

"Hey, I thought you were a thrill seeker man," quipped Pietro.

"Well thrills have a chance of survival...Going up against this guy is practically a death wish!"

"You got any better ideas?" asked Wanda bitterly, "Face it...There really is nothing we can do other than avenge our friends at this point."

"Vanda, come on..." coxed Kurt as he placed a hand on her shoulder, "Vengeance isn't going to do anything for them at this point."

"Yeah, like, how is that going to lay their souls to rest?" said Kitty as everybody continued to disagree around them, "We don't even know where this guy is or how we're going to get past all the security he has around him. And let's not forget that crazy psycho lady he always has by his side."

"I don't care!" bellowed Logan, "I'm gonna take that asshole down or die trying! Besides, what else is there left to do?"

"What about Eric and the Professor, Logan?" reminded Scott, "Have you forgotten about them?"

"So...What good can they do now? We're all fucked at this point so we might as well go down fighting!" replied Logan.

"I agree with badger boy here," said Pietro, "No way am I just gonna keep running until they find us all and kill us!"

"You guys are forgetting one important thing..." said Jean as she walked back over to the computer.

"And what might that be?" said Raven skeptically.

Jean then pushed a few buttons on the terminal and a single burned CD popped out of the drive on the side of the machine.

"We have proof as to what Stryker did and how he did it right here," said Jean as she held up the disk.

"Now imagine if someone like Congress, the media, or the President got a hold of this data and found out just how much Stryker had screwed them over these past two years," added Scott, "We could expose the whole operation."

"But I thought you said this man had every last one of them in his control?" said X23.

"Yes, but if the public finds out that every last one of these politicians, newsmen, and officials are shown to be behind this whole elaborate operation and are found to be pawns of one man then there will be no hiding from the law," said Scott, trying to keep everybody from sinking into hopelessness at this point.

"And just how would we do that? How on Earth can we find a way to show this to every man, woman, and child that Stryker has deceived?" said Raven skeptically.

"We don't have to..." said Jean with a grin.

A brief silence fell over the group as they tried to ascertain what Jean meant by that. Then Kitty suddenly realized it.

"Wait a minute...That big gathering at the Capitol tonight! We could use it there!"

"Something like that will surly be on every network...Yes, that could work," thought Piotr.

"See! There is a way to fight back!" said Kurt as a faint glimmer of hope began to show through all the despair that had hung over everybody since this whole thing started.

"Right Kurt...We just have to get this information to Washington and expose it all in front of he whole world."

"Wait, wait..." said Raven, still not believing in such a plan, "How the hell would we get this whole thing in front of Congress and the rest of the government with Stryker and the fucking army in our way?!"

"Aren't you forgetting Raven...Eric and the Professor are already there! We just have to send this to him," exclaimed Jean, hoping to get everybody to rally for this plan.

"And you think THEY can accomplish this?" said Pietro skeptically.

"Hey...You got any better ideas?" quipped Alex.

"But with Stryker holding all the cards, there is only a miniscule shadow of a chance that something like this could ever succeed!" said Raven.

"Then there's still a chance," said Jean.

"So that's the plan?" said Logan, "We take this data, send it to the Prof, and lay back and hope for the best?"

"No..." said Scott, "We send the Professor the data and go to Washington ourselves and take down Stryker."

"Take him down?" asked Wanda.

"Yes...Take him down," said Scott sternly, "This guy has been one up on us for too long now. He's been fighting with every conceivable advantage. He knows exactly when to fight and when not to fight. We can't possibly hope that a man of such power will ever face justice. He believes that the law doesn't apply to him and from what we've discovered, there's no reason to assume that he's wrong. This man is a murderer...A tyrant...And a danger to everybody both mutant and human."

"Are you saying what I think you're saying, bro?" implied Alex as he, and everybody else for that matter, started to see where Scott was going with this.

"Yes Alex..." said Scott, "I'm afraid that if we don't fight back, then nobody will."

"Do you mean we'll kill him?" said Kitty, "But X-men don't kill!"

An ominous silence soon fell over the group. The survivors of the attacks that Stryker had brought on had left them feeling nothing but pure anger towards him for butchering their loved ones. They had all lost homes, family, friends...But did that vindicate killing of a man who already had so much blood on his hands?

"Maybe you can't kill Kitty...But I will!" said Raven with a mixture of sorrow and anger in her expression, "This bastard murdered my daughter! He must face the consequences of his actions!"

"But mother...Killing him won't bring her back!" urged Kurt, not wanting to see his mother fall back into old habits.

"Kurt...This madman has killed too many innocent people! He has to atone for such crimes and traditional justice just won't cut it for a guy like this!" said Mystique intently, "Say we do expose his plan...Say we turn him into the authorities. What good will that do? The man is rich and powerful, that much is clear. And this is America...Rich people NEVER got to jail."

"Sad but true Nightcrawler," agreed Pietro, "Face it man...There really is no other way."

Another heavy silence came over the group as they debated what they should do. They had never gone up against somebody like Stryker before. In some ways, he was nearly as bad as Apocalypse because he used intellect, reasoning, and strategy to take cause so much carnage. His resources couldn't be seen or cut off. The means for which he planned to carry out his goal remained equally unclear. And should they succeed in capturing him, what good would that do for a man who wields more power than any politician in the world?

"So what do we do?" asked Alex, "What CAN we do at this point?"

"Well we can't just stay here forever," said Kitty, "Lots of other mutants out there are probably dying right now because of this guy. We can't just wait here while innocent people die."

"But going up against the entire military won't stop it," argued Wanda.

"She's right," said Logan, "We gotta take down the source! We gotta fight Stryker!"

"Even if it means killing him?" asked Kurt wearily.

The repeated notion of killing somebody kept making this issue more complicated by the second. X-men were never supposed to kill...Even if they were up against the most heinous of butchers. But at this point, what were their alternatives?

"Guys...We have to stop doing this," said Scott, "We have to stop dividing ourselves with this issue. Both sides have valid points. I agree...Any prosecution against Stryker would be pointless. The man has more connections than a circuit board. But we have to take him down! This guy is killing innocent people without a second thought. It's like swatting a fly to him. He's not some anti-mutant psycho that we can educate and help him see the light. This man is a smart, sophisticated, intelligent guy with a goal and he is NOT going to stop until he succeeds. And it's not just us he's playing, it's everybody. He's controlling the public, he's controlling the government, and he's doing it like a tyrant."

"So does this mean you think we should kill him bro?" asked Alex, wanting to know for sure if they would have to cross this once inconceivable line.

Scott let out a deep sigh as he once again thought about everything he and Jean had uncovered in their data search.

"I've always believed in the Professor's teachings. I've always believed that peace was a better than war and that killing was never justified. But we all have to face facts...This is a war. This is Stryker's war. We are playing by his rules. He knows us and he's used that to fight against us. And already he has succeeded on so many levels. He probably knows that X-men don't kill. He probably knows that Apocalypse changed Eric and Raven. He's not stupid...He's a man who knows how to fight and win a war. And we must stop playing by HIS rules. Now I know Xavier would never approve...But in certain, extreme cases...The law in itself cannot provide justice and bring about peace in the most effective way. And a part of being an X-man is ensuring justice between both humans and mutants. This no longer has anything to do with human/mutant relationships. This all has to do with Stryker. This is his doing...This is his war. We can't...Use the same techniques that the Professor would use at this point. Hell, we can't even use Magneto's techniques either. Stryker knows this...And we have to put a stop to him once and for all! If we don't do it...Than nobody else will."

A heavy silence fell over the surviving mutants of the devastating attacks orchestrated by William Stryker. The prospect of facing this man and trying NOT to kill him was almost an inconceivable notion. This man had every attack they had faced wired and they were nothing more than pawns in his game now. So what did that mean for them? Every time they considered their actions, death to this tyrant seemed to be the only choice. It was something that would have seemed inconceivable a mere few weeks ago...But at this point, there looked to be no other way.

"Look...I don't like this any more than you do," said Jean, "But this man...This monster will destroy us all. He will keep growing until everybody, not just mutants, are his pawns. I'm no fan of killing...But I think Stryker knows that. This is unfortunately a war...And it's a war we are all losing because he knew us all so well and we never had a chance to fight back. And he knows that we are all not allies in a sense because we come from different teams. And if we all don't fight together...We'll never win. Now I know that some of us were enemies before...But within the last few years we have been forced to fight together because there's no way we could have succeeded otherwise. And now...We have to do it again. But this time...We have to do it not because we're forced to...But because we want to. If we work together...I believe we can take down Stryker before he takes every last one of us down. We have to fight this guy as a team...Even though we all come from different worlds. But we can't do it any other way. Whether or not it comes to killing this man...That's left up to how things pan out. But this carnage has to stop! And we have to be as willing as Stryker to do anything to stop it!"

"So what are you saying? That we should all just go in there and fight this guy until we're dead?" said Wanda.

"No...I'm saying that we should all go in there together with one goal...Ending the carnage. Stryker is just a medium of this carnage...And if we have to take him down, we have to be willing to do so in order for many other innocent mutants out there to live. And...I'm willing to do that."

"Me too..." said Scott firmly, "What about the rest of you? Will you all be willing to fight with each? But we must fight together for peace...Not war. We must fight together for justice...Not vengeance. We must fight together for our fallen friends...And those whom have yet to be killed by Stryker's plan. Now who's with me?"

Once again, everybody looked back up at the oversized image of William Stryker on the computer screen. His snide, penetrating gaze seemed to mock them all as if to say "cowards." Here they were, disagreeing over an issue...Just like they had so many times in the past. Yet they were all equally a part of this whether they liked it or not. Killing was something that they never had to debate over before...But as they looked up at the sinister face on the screen, they knew that there was no other way. Nobody else would provide proper justice at this point. Nobody else would dare to fight this man with all the power and intelligence he wielded. And if they...The survivors of the attacks...Didn't step up and fight, then nobody else would.

"I am..." said Kitty as she stepped forward, feeling complete and utter contempt for the gaze of the man staring back at them from the computer screen.

"Me too..." said Piotr.

"You really gotta ask Cyke?" grinned Logan as he stepped forward.

"Count me in as vell..." said Kurt as he and the others turned back towards those that had not stepped forward.

"Then I'm going as well!" said Wanda, which earned her a look from Pietro.

"And so am I..." said Pietro, following close behind his sister, "Besides...I kind of owe this asshole for the ten bullets he put in me."

"If you're all going...So am I," said Alex, "Besides...I knew I'd be an X-man sooner or later. Might as well start now!"

Then, everybody turned to X23...The newest arrival to the group. She had no knowledge of such issues. She had no notions of all this carnage that had gone on while she lived alone in the wilderness. For so long now, she had been so alone...Yet here she was with a group of people that looked at her as more than just a weapon. Like her...They were warriors and fighters. Yet unlike her...They fought for peace, not war. Using war to bring peace was an alien notion to this girl...Yet it made more sense than just fighting for more bloodshed in the long run. She then looked into the eyes of Logan, the man whose blood created her. He smiled back at her...Almost as if he knew what was going on in her mind. Like him, there was still an underlying feeling of right and wrong and it was through those feelings that had helped her stay human and not become a weapon. That...And the new emotions she was feeling and all the new sensations she was experiencing around these new people made her choice more clear than ever now.

"When I was with Hydra...They had a saying that I once overheard," said X23, "It read...If you want peace, prepare for war. And I've learned that war is never something to be desired. I'll fight too..."

This left only Mystique...The once disturbed loner that had never willingly worked alongside anyone else. She had never been one to work in a team before...She had never been one to reach out to anybody before. Yet in the weeks since these attacks, that had changed. As Mystique, she would have gone on her own bloody rampage with no other desire other than to kill those who dared attacked her. But as Raven Darkholm, she remembered the grizzly image of her daughter, Rogue. She had perished in the attacks on the institute. She had seen her bloody corpse as a result of these attacks ordered by William Stryker. And now, she was at a crossroads. Should she fight alongside her new friends? Does this really mean that everything about her had changed? Did this make her an X-man? For a moment, she thought about Xavier's ideas and the ones she had fought for. Xavier wanted peace...She and Magneto wanted war. And now...This is what war brought her. Magneto had seen that...Now Raven was beginning to see that as well. It wasn't because of Charles Xavier she thought this way now...It was because of herself...Raven Darkholm...That she believed she finally had something worthy of fighting for. Looking back at her son, the only family she had left, she couldn't help but smile. To her, he was reason enough to fight for. But mainly...It was for those reasons she couldn't yet ascertain that her decision was finally sealed.

"I know I may have been a slow learner when it comes to seeing things clearly after so long," said Raven as she stepped forward, "But as a friend once told me...Better late than never. I'm in too."

Logan couldn't help but grin upon hearing that, for the memory that he shared with her on that fateful night when he first arrived would surly be something for the ages no matter how long he lived. Now everybody was united...They had a common purpose to defeat William Stryker. They would have to go up against an entire army, a public pumped full of fear, and one of the most intelligent and powerful men on the face of the Earth. The odds were greatly stacked against them. There was no guarantee that they would all survive such an assault...But there was nothing else left to do. Running was no longer an option. Running only prolonged the war...And now it was time to end it...One way or another.

"Good..." said Scott as he now stood before a united group of mutants, "Then let's start planning."

*************************************************

In the skies over Canada, hundreds of aircraft sped at great speeds towards a small, seemingly insignificant area in the vast Canadian wilderness. The government had allowed them safe passage much to the surprise of the regular soldiers, but not so much for the higher ranking Friend's of Humanity officers. William Stryker's influence had extended beyond the boundaries of the military. Now he showed his diplomatic powers as well. In Canada...The mutants that had survived probably thought they were safe now outside the United States. But boarders didn't mean anything at all to William Stryker. Nothing would get in his way...Not even an entire government.

Night had fallen over Canada as the aircraft moved towards their target under the cover of darkness. Every soldier and officer was confident that this would be the final showdown between humans and mutants. Should they come out victorious in this battle...Then the war would be won. With time ticking away towards the hour of attack, William Stryker remained vigilant back in the main control room of the Pentagon. While many of his subordinates remained anxious and weary of the outcome of the battle, the general didn't look the least bit worried.

"General Stryker sir!" said one of the captains in the lead transport helicopter over an encrypted line, "This is ground squad A checking in! All protocols are a go!"

"This is ground squad B checking in...We're all ready to go here," said another captain through his communicator.

"Ground squad C checking in...We're ready to rock and roll!"

"Ground squad D checking in...My men are itchin' to kick some mutie ass!"

"Excellent ground squads," replied Stryker through his headset as he looked at the computer display back in the Pentagon, "Remember to deploy at the specific locations I ordered and say in the fallback position until the bombs are dropped."

"Sir yes sir!" said all four of the ground captains at once.

"Now air squads, report..." ordered the general.

"This is wing leader Black Fox checking in...All F-16s operational and air-to-ground ordinance with bunker busting bombs and JDAMs are a go."

"This is wing leader Grizzly checking in...All F/A-18s for close ground support checking in with hellfire and maverick missiles are a go."

"This is wing leader Wildcat checking in...All F-22 raptor air interceptors armed and ready. They aren't getting away this time general!"

"Very good squadrons...All is a go. Now remember, these freaks have escaped the last two times they have been attacked like this. They are crafty, cunning, and driven...Do NOT underestimate them. No matter who your enemy is...It is necessary to respect them so as to bring their defeat quickly and effectively. This operation is almost over...I know you all want to be done with it. So let us all end it right here, right now."

"Sir yes sir!"

Upon hearing those final words, the troops in the helicopters prepared themselves for what they hoped to be the final attack. They had them all cornered now, but that didn't guarantee success, that much Stryker was sure of. However, this would be a fight to remember for all of them...And they would bring forth all the fire power necessary to take down the targets that their general had designated them once and for all.

For the general himself, nobody quite knew what was going through his mind as he looked at the computer image with a grin on his face. It was always hard to tell what a man so sophisticated and intelligent was thinking right before a major attack. His loyal bodyguard Magnum remained at his side like always, looking as intimidating and stoic as ever. And together, they represented the force that would bring the final destruction of the mutant race on this most momentous of nights.

"Tonight is when it will all end Magnum," said Stryker to his loyal associate, "Everything this operation has gone through has been like a well played game of chess where the enemies remain pawns and I remain the only player. The progress of this whole operation has had few surprises. I remain shocked as to how these freaks have handled themselves through the whole thing. Frankly, I would have surly expected more from Charles Xavier."

"I could say the same for Wolverine," said the oversized Russian woman in her thick accent, "More than anything...I wanted to slay the ultimate living weapon with my gun. Without mutant power, without mutant skill...I wanted to give that monster a taste of human power myself."

Stryker couldn't help but grin at his associate's words. Despite their backgrounds, they were so alike it almost seemed too much for it to be a coincidence. But it was for that reason why Stryker trusted her more than anybody else on the face of this planet.

"You may yet get your chance Magnum...If those freaks don't waste away in the attack. Either way...They all die TONIGHT."

*************************************************

In the depths of the abandoned SHIELD base with the surviving mutants of the X-men, Brotherhood, and Acolytes the final preparations were being made for the inevitable attack they would mount against the tyrant known as William Stryker. Everybody was preparing themselves now mentally and physically for the daunting task at hand. They were about to go up against the most powerful army in the world led by the most eccentric genius they had ever faced. For the first time since Apocalypse, the three opposing sides would fight together as a team and work towards one goal...Ending Stryker's rampage. From the X-jet, everybody received an X-men uniform and they would all bear the same emblems as they stepped into battle against their greatest enemy to date. Some like Pietro, Wanda, and Colossus modified their uniforms to fit their own tastes. But on every one of them, an X-men logo was visible. Night had fallen and the inevitable takeoff would commence soon. All that was left were the final checks before heading out into a battle for which there was a good chance that some of them might not make it back.

Scott and Jean were all suited up in their uniforms now as they finished the final preparations. They had used the base computers one last time to send an encrypted email to the Professor's laptop with all the information they had just obtained. Hopefully, this would aid in helping the Professor and Magneto expose the truth about Stryker before everybody, but they knew it probably wouldn't but a stop to this man. That's what they were going to do now...And it was hard not to think of the astronomical odds stacked against them.

"Is it done Jean?" asked Scott as they both waited for the final part of the email to be sent.

"Yes...It's done," said the redhead as she shut the computer down.

"So I guess that leaves only one thing left..."

Both teens simply stood in silence, for they knew the hour of battle would soon be upon them. Unable to speak, they soon found themselves in a tight embrace...For it was not at all unlikely that one of them wouldn't live through this battle.

"I don't want to lose you..." whispered Jean, choking back tears as she held him tightly.

"I know...I don't want to lose you either Jean," said Scott as he soaked up her embrace and gently wiped away her tears.

"You have to live for me Scott...I don't want either of us to die out there."

"We won't...We've survived too much together Jean," said Scott softly as he kissed her forehead and looked into her deep, emerald green eyes, "We've been through high school, battled Apocalypse, and survived the Phoenix together...And if we can live through that, we can live through this."

Jean once again let her tears flow freely as she felt his deep love for her through the link they shared. Their love for each other...Their connection that was formed in the early days of their time at the institute...Was so powerful and had been with them for so long now that neither wanted to live without it. This link had saved them from the Phoenix and had grown so strong since then. But this battle...This overwhelmingly huge fight they were about to take part in may very well be the most dangerous thing they had faced since that fateful day when that malevolent entity entered Jean's body. And like then, Scott and Jean refused to let it tear them apart.

'I love you...Don't ever forget that Scott,' Jean sent through their link, 'Don't ever doubt it.'

'I love you too...And I won't forget...I promise,' Scott sent back, 'You mean so much to me...I could never imagine life without you. I love you so much.'

And with that, the young couple met in a deep, loving kiss...Hoping that this would not be the last time and praying such love would only give them strength in the coming battle.

Upstairs, Wanda was making the final adjustments on her uniform before the inevitable departure. She had on a regular looking X-men uniform, but she had complimented it with her usual boots and a cape. While others were still concerning themselves with the inevitable confrontation with Stryker, she remained stoic. These past few weeks, she had made many new friends and had learned the truth about her past from her father. She had come very close to losing her brother as well and had nearly died herself on two separate occasions. The memory of the insane asylum had hardened her to the point where she found little reason to fear this fight. She had seen the bodies of her dead friends and she had watched as her father threw her away like a piece of trash. Fighting against this madman may not undo her vial disposition, but at least she wouldn't be going down the same roads as her father. As she finished attaching her cape, she then heard a voice near her door.

"Wanda?"

The Scarlet Witch turned around to see her brother standing in the open doorway wearing a full X-men uniform, slightly modified with his speedy sewing skills.

"What do you want Pietro?" asked Wanda, not showing a bit of emotion even though the coming battle would most likely be the fight of their short lives.

"I just wanted to come and say...Thank you."

"For what?" asked Wanda, not expecting Pietro to say something like that at a time like this.

"For forgiving me...You know I never agreed with Magneto's decision. And I know I should have done something about it sooner...But I didn't. I guess what I'm trying to say is...Thank you for being my sister again...And I'm sorry for everything I've done."

The cocky, arrogant Pietro that Wanda knew seemed distant at the moment as he stood before her, unafraid of her and her temper for the first time in a very long while. He still had pain from his bullet wounds, but he had wrapped them up in thick bandages now and his speed healing had made him feel combat ready once again. And for a fight like this, Quicksilver was certainly not going to back down from it.

"It...Wasn't your fault Pietro," said Wanda, unable to hide her emotions as a result of Pietro's words, "You...Nearly died a few weeks ago. Even though I didn't know the truth then...You still went through a lot of pain for me. I guess...It is somewhat my fault that things between us got so rough because of my temper...But no amount of anger could ever undo the fact that we're twins. You're still my brother...And I'm still your sister. And I would be dead now if it wasn't for you. So don't thank me completely...We've still got a long ways to go before this is over."

"But we'll still have plenty of time after this is over!" said Pietro, always confident.

"Still cocky I see..." grinned Wanda.

"Hey...Would you have me any other way?"

And with that, the speed demon ran off towards the jet. This left Wanda alone once again to think about the situation at hand. At such a late hour before the most important battle of her life...She had finally made peace with Pietro. And while it was a huge weight lifted off her shoulders...Part of her still wanted to do the same with her father. She remembered his words before he left and thought about what they meant to her. And if she and the others were to come out victorious...Was it possible for them to be a family again? Could she find it in her heart to forgive her father in the same way Kurt had forgiven his mother?

Almost as if on cue, Wanda heard a familiar 'bamf' noise and turned to face Kurt as he stood behind her. For a moment, it appeared as though Kurt had forgotten what he was going to say. He seemed tongue tied in a way that almost made Wanda laugh, but the blue mutant quickly regained his composure.

"That uniform looks good on you Vanda..." stumbled Kurt.

"Thanks...Yours doesn't look so bad either," grinned Wanda in response.

"I always knew you vere X-men material."

"Well...Maybe if we all survive this battle...We'll know for certain," said Wanda, soon finding herself start to struggle with her words as well.

"I vould like that."

"Me too..."

There was a brief silence between them as both mutant teens soon struggled to form the right words at this point. In the past two weeks, Kurt Wagner and Wanda Maximoff had grown very close in many ways. Kurt had saved her brother's life and Wanda had become one of the few people who could ever relate to and understand the blue mutant. He had helped her though some of the most difficult times of her short life. And for that...She knew of no way to express her gratitude.

"Vanda I just came to say that..." stammered Kurt as he broke the silence, "I vanted to thank you...For being my friend. I know these last few weeks have been difficult for you and I..."

"Kurt..." said Wanda as she cut him off in mid sentence, "You don't have to thank me. I should be thanking you. I've...Never really had friends before. And I've never really had somebody that I could relate to before. You really helped me through those difficult times even though you didn't know me too well. And even though we may not survive the coming battle...I'm glad I got the chance to know you. You really are the sweetest person I have ever met. Thank you..."

Wanda then placed a soft kiss on the fuzzy blue mutant's cheek, causing him to blush a funny purple color as a result. Ever since that fateful day their paths crossed, they had established a connection with each other that neither of them could explain. But in the dark hours of war...They wouldn't have time to go into it. But hopefully...Such a connection would only serve as a source of drive to push for victory against seemingly impossible odds.

In the living area, Piotr Rasputin looked at his reflection in the blank TV screen. He was now wearing a slightly altered X-men uniform, compliments of Pieto's handiwork. This would mark the second time he would fight alongside the X-men. But this would be the first time he would wear a uniform. As someone who once fought with Magneto against the X-men in the past, it was an odd feeling. Yet it felt many times more comfortable than fighting against them.

"Looking good big guy," said a chipper voice from behind.

"Katya..." said the Russian as he turned to face the young valley girl that had intrigued him so much since his arrival.

"So I guess that means we're all ready for the big battle," said Kitty, sounding somewhat anxious, yet still unafraid about it.

"It would seem so...It feels strange wearing this uniform, but at the same time it feels right."

"Maybe that means something, you know?" said Kitty as she gently hooked her arm with his big muscular forearms, "I mean, it's clear you have a big heart in that big strong chest of yours."

This caused Piotr to blush slightly, earning him a smile from Kitty.

"Perhaps it does...I guess if we may never know if we don't survive this battle."

"Hey! Don't think like that," said Kitty, "Negativity is the last thing we need before something like this. We've done the impossible before against Apocalypse...We can do it again."

"You really are something, you know that Katya?" smiled Piotr as he shook his head at the words of the young valley girl, "Of all the people I've met here, you are by far the most interesting."

"Well after this is all over...You could get to know me more," suggested Kitty as she felt herself blush once again.

In one of the empty rooms in the sleeping quarters, X23 had finished putting on her new X-men uniform. For her, it had been the first change of clothes in over two years since Hydra's destruction. It was a lot more comfortable to say the least, not to mention cleaner than her last uniform. But still, many things were going through the former living weapon's mind as he prepared for what promised to be a truly epic battle.

"Hey...You ready?" said a voice from outside the door.

X23 turned to see that it was Alex standing before her in full uniform like she was.

"I've been trained to fight my whole life," mused the former living weapon as she looked at herself in the mirror, "Ever since I was...Created...I've had no other purpose other than to fight other people's wars. But for some reason...This time feels different."

"Maybe it's because you're not fighting somebody else's war," suggested Alex, "Maybe it's because you're fighting your own battles for a change. This isn't someone else's fight...It's everybody's fight. And we're both equally a part of it."

X23 thought about that for a moment. In addition to being trained to kill, she was also stripped of her own free will. Never before had she been able to choose to fight. All her life she fought because she had to or because she was forced to...But this time, it was different. She was doing something she hadn't done before...She was making a choice.

"It's just that..." struggled the former living weapon, "Even if I help fight this battle and we win...Everybody has something to go home to...Everybody has a reason to improve their lives from this. For me...I don't know how it would change me...Or my so called life. I guess I still haven't found my purpose yet."

"Hey, don't say that 23," said Alex as he walked over towards her, causing the young 16 year old former living weapon to feel somewhat funny inside, "You have plenty to fight for. You have friends now...Isn't that reason enough? Wouldn't they be the improvement in your life?"

"I guess..." said X23, still not sure, "But what about my purpose? This still won't change the fact that I'm a born killer...Trained to do nothing more than fight."

"You're a 16 year old girl who's been robbed of everything...You're not a killer," coaxed Alex, "Otherwise...You probably wouldn't have stayed here. And as for purpose...Try not to let that get to you. A lot of people out there struggle their whole lives to find their purpose and some never find it. But if we survive the coming battle, I promise you...We, your friends and family, will help you find what you're looking for."

X23 didn't know how to respond. She was never the best at social interaction. But she found herself taking a strange comfort in Alex's words because they helped her not to feel so alone. Through this, she managed a small smile which helped Alex feel that he had succeeded in some ways by helping her think clearly for the first time in a long while. Now all that was left was the final battle...Afterwards, only time would tell for the former living weapon known as X23.

In the kitchen near the elevator, Logan stood waiting in full uniform for the others to meet him here. While waiting, he found himself remembering the scene of his first encounter with William Stryker and Magnum back in Washington a few weeks ago when this all started. Since then, many things had gone through his mind in terms of what was going to happen now to both him and the X-men. Now...He and the survivors of the first brutal attacks would mount what promised to be the ultimate attack on William Stryker.

As the Wolverine contemplated over and over again the outcome of the coming battle, he was soon met with a most unique sight.

"I see you're ready..." said Mystique as she walked into the kitchen in an X-men uniform.

Logan had to adjust his eyes slightly, for he never in a million years would have thought he would be seeing something like this before him. Mystique...An X-man. She tight fitting dark blue pants that helped compliment her skin color and a top bearing the same color with a large yellow and red X on it. It was truly a sight that Logan would never forget. Just days ago...He had thought of Mystique as an enemy. Yet after that fateful night they spent together at the lake...He now saw her in a completely different light. And he wasn't afraid to call her...His friend.

"Nice uniform..." grinned Wolverine.

"Thanks," replied the shape shifter, "I never thought in a dozen lifetimes that I would end up wearing something like this."

"That makes two of us," said Logan, not wiping the grin off his face.

Mystique couldn't laugh herself at the irony of the situation. Here she was...Alongside those who were once her greatest enemies. Now...Only William Stryker was her enemy now. Not humanity...Not Xavier...And definitely not the X-men. Over the past few weeks she had made many friends and rebuilt some of the shattered relationship with her son. Now here she was...About to fight with them on a battle that would determine whether or not war or peace would reign.

"I know it seems a little late now Logan...But I'm glad I got the chance to get to know you and the rest of the X-men. And if we all somehow survive this battle...I don't want to leave and be alone again. And if it means becoming an X-man...Then so be it. I lost Rogue...Because I was too stupid and stubborn to see things clearly. But now I think I've finally learned what I should have long ago."

"Glad to hear it Misty," said Logan, who couldn't help but be intrigued at the idea of Mystique being an X-men.

"Misty?" said Mystique with a confused look.

"Get used to it..." said Logan with a wolfish grin, "Anybody else around here will tell ya that I always call friends by crazy nicknames. Just ask one eye, Red, or half pint."

Mystique just shook her head and laughed. Even in such dire times, Logan was still Logan. The thought of him calling her by a nickname like he did with all his friends made the shape shifter feel strange...But in a good way. It would finally mean being a part of something that she could be proud of. Not to mention...Being friends with Logan did have other appeals to her that she was not yet fully willing to admit.

Then, as everybody gathered for the final preparations...Suddenly, a loud alarm echoed through the halls of the entire base.

*************************************************

AN: Sorry this ran kind of long, but there was just so much to talk about here I couldn't help it! And now things are heating up! Stay tuned because the final battle against Stryker as well as operation extermination's 'final step' will soon be revealed! So what do you all think so far? Do you like it? Do you like the pairings? Please tell me! I'd love to know! Send me your reviews via email or post them on the fanfiction website! The more reviews, the better! Thanks lot for reading my story! I wish you all the best!

DON'T GO YET!!! REVIEW!!!
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