The Evo world is forever turned upside down when a man named Dr. Nathanial Essex begins a project known as Shadow Cell from which the lives of Scott, Jean, Vincent, Wanda, and X23 are changed forev...
Chapter 53: Adaptation
The next few days at the Xavier Institute were marked by a period of rest and recovery. Those who had been in the fight alongside Shadow Cell continued to use the time they had to regain their strength and heal from any injuries they had sustained either from the mission or the earlier fight against Shadow Cell. During this time, the younger New Mutants who hadn't been directly involved in the mission became a bit more proactive, getting their work from school and tending to some of the duties that the regulars usually took care of. The added responsibility did bring them more work and less time for play, but it was something that many took seriously because it showed that they were no longer the novices of the team and were beginning to feel more and more integrated into the X-men as a whole.
For the five mutant soldiers of Shadow Cell, however, they continued to avoid confrontations with the other students for the most part. They didn't eat dinner with them, train with them, or even so much as talk to them unless necessary. In many cases, many of the X-men both regulars and New Mutants alike were still very weary of their newest housemates. After all, they had stormed the school once and kicked their collective butts. In addition, their overall soldier aura made them seem very intimidating and few were really willing to break the ice.
Nevertheless, that didn't bother Shadow Cell too much, for it did make things a bit easier for them in terms of getting a feel for the mansion. Overall, it was definitely a step up in comparison to the conditions they had been living in before and after a few nights, they had become a bit more comfortable with these new surroundings. But comfort or not, they still kept with much of the soldier building regiment that they had learned back at Shadow Cell. They still woke up very early in the morning to train, spent a great deal of time in the weight room, and even practiced using some of the mind/body techniques that they had learned over the years. They also kept with the habit of addressing the Professor, Logan, Ororo, and Hank as their superior officers, but that little quirk of theirs wasn't much of a nuisance to begin with and since they had all been so used to dealing with unruly mutant teenagers, such poise and respect was very much welcome.
In addition to Shadow Cell, there was also a great deal of activity, not to mention uncertainty, regarding Mystique. Nobody was too fond of having her within the institute and after hearing that she was going to stick around, that didn't make things any easier. Having a bunch of former soldiers stay in the mansion was one thing, but a former enemy who had once led the Brotherhood and fought alongside Magneto was quite a different story altogether.
Despite such complications, Kurt and Rogue were generally optimistic about their mother being a part of the team. Sure, they still had their uncertainties, but they were still willing to give this woman a chance. However, it would be a lot harder to convince the others.
Mystique didn't stay bedridden for too long. Thanks to her healing factor, she was up and about fairly quickly. She still had a few lingering pains and some bruises that would take a while to heal, but eventually she would be back at full strength. Kurt and Rogue stayed with her most of the time, helping her recover in whatever way they could. They also gave her updates about how everybody was taking the news throughout the mansion and that didn't necessarily boost Mystique's hopes to say the least.
But then again, she really couldn't care less about what anybody else thought. She was doing this for her children and herself. Even if everybody else in the mansion hated her, that wouldn't stop her from making up for the time she had lost with them. While Kurt and Rogue did express their faith that the others would come around, she remained indifferent to it all for the most part, worrying only about getting herself set up in this alien environment.
Upon being officially released from the infirmary by Hank, she finally had her chance to make this deal concerning her stay here at the mansion official. Granted, it wasn't going to be easy, but that was an issue she had grown accustomed to when it came to her kids.
"I see you've made a successful recovery, Raven," said Professor Xavier in a friendly tone as he and the once bitter enemy of the X-men sat in his office to take care of the formalities.
"What? You think Wolverine's the only one with a healing factor?" she said, still sounding a bit bitter about being around this man that she had considered an adversary for so long.
"Well healing aside, it's good to see you up and about again."
"Enough with the ice breakers, Xavier...You know why I'm here," said Mystique, wanting to simply cut to the chase.
"Indeed," said Xavier as he looked over a few papers on his desk, "And I must say, I was quite surprised when I heard from Kurt that you wished to stay here at the institute."
"Well don't get too excited. It's not like I whole heartedly believe in your little dream, but as long as my kids are here, then I'll be here as well. I promised them I wasn't going to leave them again and I intend to keep that."
With a slight sigh, Xavier set the folders aside. They didn't contain much, just details on Mystique's past deeds, going back to even before she ever joined Magneto. She had quite an extensive and complicated history to say the least. In many ways, she was every bit the enigma as her name implied. But despite this, the Professor did have a genuine hope that this would work out for the better. And already, he could tell that they all had a long way to go if things were to work with this new arrangement.
"I suppose I should expect as much, given that this is only the first step. But differences aside, I think this will do the both of you some real good. However, before we are to make this official, I do have a few guidelines that I wish to stipulate if you are to be a part of this school."
"I expected as much," said the shape shifter with a sigh, "What do I have to do?"
Xavier took a deep breath, wanting to just get this out of the way as soon as possible. He knew that Mystique didn't like being in his presence and that she was still very much tied to her old dogmatic views. But the sooner they got this out of the way, the sooner they begin working on a new relationship...One that would make them allies instead of enemies.
"The rules of the institute are clear," he stated firmly so as to get his point across, "If at any time I sense that the safety of my students is in jeopardy, I will take action. Regardless of what you may think of me on a personal level, my first concern is my students. Now I know this will be a major transition for all of us, but I assure you that if you do your part, we will do ours."
"Sounds simple enough," said the shape shifter as she got up from her seat, still limping a bit because of her injuries, "Is that all?"
"For now...Yes. We'll discuss your role here at the institute in due time. Until then, you will be on a probationary period so you can get the feel of the mansion and the students. Feel free to use this time to get to know some of the others as well as catch up with Kurt and Rogue as I'm sure you want to."
"Probation huh?" she said, finding that word a bit disconcerting, "So I take it you still don't trust me."
"Trust is very hard to gain and very easy to lose, Mystique," said the Professor in a serious tone, "It's something that must be done by both sides if such issues are to be resolved. Now I won't say I trust you fully in the utmost right off the bat, but I do trust in your commitment to your children. We'll get through other complications in due time, but for now we must simply take it one step a time."
"Agreed...But while you may be willing to give me a chance, I have a feeling that everybody else here in this crazy place you call a school will be a bit slower to get around that."
"Yes, well that's to be expected," said Xavier with a sigh, knowing already from a few meetings with Logan, Warren, and some of the New Mutants that her presences here was already stirring things up a bit, "But give it time, Raven. Have faith that they'll come around."
"Faith..." she repeated, that word now holding so much meaning to her since her son had taught her about it, "Well for both our sakes, I really hope you're right."
And with that, the shape shifter made her exit, knowing full well that she had a bumpy road ahead of her. But for her kids, she would do what she had to in order to make this work. It just seemed as though it was going to be a hell of a hassle dealing with her new surroundings.
And with that thought in mind, she limped her way back down the hall to meet up with Kurt and Rogue, knowing they would definitely have their work cut out for them.
'Damn...The things I go through for my kids.'
With Mystique's presence still causing such a stir throughout the mansion, many of the institute residents were trying to find their own way of occupying themselves, hoping that this mess would work itself out eventually. The folly of this mentality, however, was that it didn't do much if everybody thought that way and at the moment, there were few optimists outside of Kurt and Rogue concerning Mystique and even fewer concerning Shadow Cell.
And for those who were just beginning to emerge from the pain and exhaustion of such trying times, it did little to help their mood.
"Ugh, bloody hell! Why won't this damned shoulder heal?" cursed Betsy, rubbing her still sore shoulder area as she and Remy made their way down the halls on the upper level towards the main stairwell.
"Maybe because ya been sleepin' on it for de last two days?" reasoned the Cajun with a humored grin as he watched the usually strong young woman limp down the hall.
"Oh how would you know, Cajun?"
"Ain't dat de opposite side Warren usually sleeps on when y'all cuddle up?"
That earned him a rather dirty look from the purples hair, but as always, the Raging Cajun took it in stride.
"You really need a new hobby, Remy," she muttered as she moved her shoulder around a bit in order to get the soreness out, "Why don't you go bother Rogue for a while?"
"Hey, she and blue boy are tryin' to have a little family time wit their mother and Remy doesn't wanna intrude."
"Oh wow, Remy Lebeau actually being considerate for once. Let me call CNN."
"Hey, I'm serious cherÃ¨," he argued in a more serious tone, "Dis really means a lot to Rogue and her brother and Remy knows from experience dat family matters are usually best kept in de family."
"Right..." said Betsy skeptically, "So you're telling me that this has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that Rogue can touch now and you're still hesitating to take advantage of that."
"Hesitatin'? What are you talkin' about Betsy?"
"Oh please, Remy...Don't try to bullshit your way out of this one. I, along with pretty much everybody else in the institute for that matter, know you have a thing for Rogue. Hell, a blind man would even be sickened by the way you two flirt day in and day out. It's clear you want her and it's clear she wants you for that matter. So why don't you both just save yourselves the trouble and be done with it?"
Gambit was about to argue her point, but the snide look on Betsy's face that only a trained ninja could match stopped him cold in his tracks. As much as he hated to admit it, she did have a point. It wasn't like he had ever tried to hide his feelings towards Rogue and after the mission it became all the more clear that his attraction to her went a lot further than playful flirting.
But despite this, he was still reluctant to take it to another level.
"Well to be fair...Dis ain't necessarily a good time," he made after pausing briefly to formulate a response that wouldn't make him sound so overtly nervous about it, "And now dat Mystique is here, Remy's got de cherÃ¨'s mother to deal with."
"Oh excuses, excuses," scoffed Betsy, "You know you can't run from it forever, luv. Now that Rogue can touch, that means you no longer have the luxury of a good excuse to keep up with your incessant games."
"Dat may be so, but dis ain't something ya can rush. Hell, it took you and de Angel what? Three years to get together?"
"Don't even try to bring that up, Remy," said Betsy, who didn't like being reminded of how long it took for her and Warren to realize their feelings for one another, "This isn't about me and Warren. This is about you and Rogue."
"Well why in de hell do ya care so much about things between me and Rogue?" he asked, getting a little annoyed, "Is it because ya want to get her off yo' back?"
"What?!" she exclaimed, "No! I was just..."
Then suddenly, both she and Remy stopped in mid stride as they came across the library area not far from the stairs. Their eyes widened at the sight before them, causing them to grow a bit curious as they stepped into the room and took in what they were seeing.
"What in the bloody hell?" she said as she looked around at piles upon piles of books strewn along the floor.
It looked as though the New Mutants had been using this room as a playground or something. Half the shelves were empty and many of the books were stacked throughout the room in piles over six feet high. It made the whole library area seem a lot smaller than it really was and at the center of it all was one of the institute's newest controversial members...Vincent Freeman.
"Vincent? What on earth is all this?" exclaimed Betsy as she and Remy made her way over towards the young man, who had several books neatly laid out on a table.
"Books," he said simply, not diverting his gaze from the two texts laying before him.
"Yeah, I can see dat," said Remy as he took in the mess surrounding them, "But what in de hell are ya doin' homme? Tryin' to build a fortified bomb shelter out of paper?"
"No..." he answered, his tone not changing in the slightest, "I'm just reading them."
"All of them?" said Betsy with a slight laugh.
"If I have time, yes;"
That hadn't been an answer either of them anticipated as a strange silence came over them. They really weren't sure if he was being serious or not, but judging from how fast he was turning the pages, it definitely seemed as though it was a possibility.
"Friedrich Nietczsche, William Blake, and Mark Twain..." he said as he turned the pages on each book in rapid succession, "Real literature...Stories with characters...Ideas about valuges...Words with a message. It's beautiful."
This only served to freak Remy and Betsy out even further. For the most part, the whole mansion was still very troubled by the presence of the five mutant soldiers of Shadow Cell, but to see one of them like this was just so unexpected. After all, who would have thought that former killers could have a genuine taste for classic literature?
"Uh...Okay," said Remy, "Ya got me homme. What de hell are you talkin' about?"
"Back at Shadow Cell, we were never given much of a selection when it came to books," explained Vincent as he continued to turn the pages with superhuman speed, his photographic memory and enhanced brain function aiding him in fully absorbing all this material with little effort, "The only text we were allowed were texts having to do with war and combat. And even those were usually censored to the point of obscurity. But here, nobody has gone over these books with a permanent marker. And as long as I have the chance, I'm going to make full use of it."
Remy and Betsy exchanged glances, not knowing what to think as they watched the young soldier they knew only as a hard hitting fighter who could survive having a building fall on his head. And as they watched him set aside both books and pick up a couple of new ones, they were beginning to feel a bit weird about this and began backing away towards the door.
"Uh...Just be sure you clean all this up before the Professor finds out," said Betsy, almost running into a stack of books on the way out, "Both he and Hank are really big on keeping this place organized."
"Don't worry...I'll take care of it in a couple of seconds if I have to," he told them, picking up a few new books from one of the many stacks he had set up.
"Okay den...Well, knock yourself out homme."
Upon leaving, Remy closed the door behind them, thinking that was just too weird even by their standards.
"At least they've found something to do other than training," shrugged Betsy.
"I guess so," conceded Remy as they both began to make their way down the stairs, "But I get de feelin' dat dis place is gonna be a lot more interestin' now dat those hommes is around."
Down in the sublevels, things had been relatively quiet ever since Mystique had been released. And with much of the resident population still recovering, there were no danger room sessions planned for the day, but that was going to change soon enough since things were finally beginning to stabilize to some extent. In addition, the Professor was eager to get the team organized again and with Shadow Cell now in their ranks, he was eager to see the kind of impact they could have on the team as a whole.
In order to prepare for such a time, Hank and the Professor had been doing some extensive work on the lower levels. For the most part, the damage done during Shadow Cell's initial attack had been repaired thanks in no small part to help from the New Mutants and their so called 'mutant ingenuity' as Hank put it. With Cerebro nearly up and running at full power and the danger room being refitted and revamped for their new settings, things would return to normal soon enough.
"So I hear the New Mutants have been a lot more proactive lately," said Ororo as she and Hank made their way to the hanger, which was the only place left to check before they could declare the sub levels fully optimal.
"Oh yes...It has been quite a remarkable turn for them," said Hank proudly, "With the regulars out of commission, they've really stepped up to the plate in terms of helping to get things moving again around here."
"I guess that means all those team building exercises you've been organizing have really been paying off."
"It would appear so, but I suppose we should also chalk it up to responsibility. For even the rowdiest of youngsters will set aside their nature when their home is in need."
"That's definitely a good sign. If they keep it up, I'm sure they'll be ready to join the regulars in no time."
After that, Ororo was forced to stop for a moment and let out a deep yawn for what Hank calculated to be the fourteenth time. In addition, there were also dark circles under her eyes that had become quite apparent over the past few days. While Ororo had tried to hide this, there really was no feeling a mind like Hank's.
"Still tired I see," he commented as he gave her a few moments to rub some of the sleepiness out of her eyes.
"Yes, well...It's been quite trying lately."
"I certainly wouldn't argue that, but are you sure you're getting enough sleep Ororo? You're starting to worry me."
"Well, don't concern yourself too much with it, Henry," she said, managing to cast her friend a reassuring smile, "I'm okay...Really."
"Right..." he said, not sounding convinced, "So am I to understand that nothing too pressing is on your mind?"
"Of course not," she said confidently as they started moving again.
"Okay then...Let me rephrase that. If something isn't on your mind...Could it possibly be someone? Namely a certain burly Canadian with a set of adamantium claws in his hands?" he said with a slight grin.
That got Ororo to stop once again as she turned to face her curious friend with a weary expression. Knowing exactly who he was referring to, she couldn't help but blush...Which more or less gave away the fact that Hank's acute perceptions were right on target. The former weather goddess had been trying hard to hide it these past few days, but as Hank's observations clearly proved, she hadn't done a very good job.
"Oh...So you noticed," she said, diverting her gaze so he wouldn't see her blush.
"It was somewhat hard not to, my dear Ororo," said Hank with a laugh, "I question the perceptive aptitude of anybody who didn't."
"Well I guess that's your call. Either way, it's not like I can argue the point."
"I would think not," said Hank, trying to lighten the mood a bit, "So...Do you wish to talk about it?"
Ororo merely sighed.
"It's complicated, Hank."
"For a lot of reasons, actually. You know Logan and I have always been pretty close as friends. I have, after all, known him since I graduated. And granted, at first I saw him as a bit of a wild man. But I quickly came to see that he had a real heart in that tough, burly body of his. He's a walking mystery...Even to himself in many ways. And he just...He's so closed off to everybody and the only time when I can get him to open up is when I push him."
"Well that alone should be considered quite an accomplishment," said Hank in response, "You are probably the only one here except for maybe the Professor that can get our feral friend to reach out. Now I know I haven't been here nearly as long as you two have, but I don't think I've seen anyone have the kind of impact on him that you have."
"Really? You think so?"
"I know so. Don't tell me that you question my acute observations."
"Wouldn't even dream of it, Henry," grinned Ororo, "But I guess the real issue isn't how things have been between us in the past...It's where things are going now. Ever since the sentinel incident, he's been a bit more reclusive than usual. He just wouldn't stop blaming himself for the state between humans and mutants."
"But you've been there for him, haven't you?" argued Hank, always one to work to prove his point.
"To some extent...Yes," she affirmed.
"Then maybe you should take another look at your situation Ororo."
"What do you mean?"
"Think about it..." he reasoned, "The way you're always able to bring him out of a rut, the way you seem to admire his heart and spirit, and on top of it all, the way you two simply interact on a personal basis...I think it's very clear that you both are attracted to one another."
Ororo once again tried to fight off a blush. In the back of her mind, she knew Hank was gong to conclude to that point and in many ways she just hadn't come to accept that yet. Sure she and Logan were close, but not close in THAT way. At least, that's what she kept telling herself.
Only now that an outside observer was bringing it up and putting her on the spot, the former weather goddess found it rather difficult use that as an excuse again.
"Oh...Uh, well I..." she stammered, but that only served to prove Hank's point.
"Oh come now, Ororo," said Hank, who couldn't help but laugh at his friend's rather humorous reaction, "Can you honestly tell me you're not attracted to him? If not in a deeper sense, than at least physically?"
"Well...He is very attractive. That much I will concede to," said the former weather goddess with a grin.
"Then that's half of the solution right there. I've seen the way he looks at you, Ro. The man is clearly affected by you. And bear in mind, we're talking about a man who isn't affected by much outside of combat. And I think that if the both of you truly feel these things, then you should confront them."
"Confront them?" she said, sounding a little nervous upon hearing that, "You really think so?"
"I know so," said Hank in full confidence, "Now granted, there are a few areas that I am certainly no expert on...Love being one of them. But with everything that's happened...Especially regarding that girl...I think you owe it to him and to yourself for that matter to let him know how you feel."
Ororo thought about that for a moment. It wasn't exactly calming to say the least, for the idea of having this talk with Logan made her nervous just thinking about it. Part of her was just worried that because of this man's nature, he would reject such things because of his secluded persona. On top of that, she thought it was doubtful that he would want to pursue something more than friendship if it ran the possibility of being a detriment to their friendship and their overall function as teammates.
Yet still, that didn't take away from the truth in Hank's arguments. If he was attracted to her in the same way she was to him, wouldn't that be enough for at least something to develop? And anxiousness aside, what if he was really willing to give it a try?
It was a complicated matter for the former weather goddess...One that would most certainly take some major thought on her part. But for now, there was just too much going on with the complications of Shadow Cell's arrival and Mystique's recruitment. She knew she couldn't use that as an excuse forever, but it was only a matter of her trying to get it out in the open before it drove her crazy.
"I'll...Think about it, Henry. Thanks," she said, smiling warmly at her friend, hoping his advice would come in handy for when the time finally came.
"Think nothing of it, Ororo. What are friends for?" replied Hank, returning her gesture as he punched in the security code for the hanger and opened the heavy metallic door, "Now if you'll excuse me, I think there's a certain X-jet that needs some..."
Then suddenly, Hank McCoy found himself cut off in mid sentence by an unexpected sight. Both he and Ororo stopped cold in their tracks as they took in what they were seeing, a look of great surprise and shock falling over them as they quickly learned that that the lower levels weren't as desolate as they had expected it.
"Come here to make some adjustments to the X-jet?" asked Scott Summers as he came out from the underbelly of the high tech craft, which now looked completely cleaned, waxed, and utterly spotless.
"Uh...Actually, yes," said Hank as he began to walk around the perimeter of the aircraft, his eyes quickly widening at some of the things he saw.
"Well don't bother, I already gave her a little tune up," said Scott as he wiped some of the grease off his hands with a rag, "The avionics were a little unbalanced so I reconfigured the fly by wire system and the digital relay so that the mechanisms can communicate easier. I took a look at the engines and saw that the fuel to air mixing ratio was off a bit, so I tweaked that as well to give it a little extra push. And I also did an overhaul of the cockpit because during the fight, I noticed that a few of them flickered a bit during evasive maneuvering, so I spaced some of the wiring out and adjusted some of the gyros to make them a little more forgiving for times when the overall structure of the aircraft is stressed."
Hank looked back at the young man with a deeply impressed look on his face. Going over some of the wing components, he could clearly make out some of the adjustments he had made. And from the looks of it, he had done them with surgical precision. Not many people could have managed the advanced technology present on an aircraft such as the SR-77, but Scott seemed to work it as if it were a regular car.
"My, my...You even managed to wash out the intakes," he said with a smile, noticing how clean the whole thing was.
"Yeah, well, they were filthy," shrugged Scott.
That evoked a smile from Ororo, since something like this, tending to and cleaning the X-jet, was often so tedious that it was used as a punishment at times for the students. Yet for Scott, he didn't seem too frustrated with it in the slightest.
"Wow...You certainly do know your way around the hanger," said Ororo with an approving smile.
"Of course, ma'am," said Scott, still respectful of his superiors as the dutiful soldier he was, "I know pretty much everything anybody could possibly need to know about planes. If it flies, I'm you guy. It was one of the special tasks I was assigned back at Shadow Cell. I tended some of the most high tech aircrafts in the world, so naturally this thing was a snap."
"Indeed..." said Hank as he checked some of the airfoils on the wings, "You simply must tell me how you managed to balance these things, Scott. I've been frustrated by them for months."
"Well it's actually not that hard when you look at it a certain way," said Scott as he made his way back over to the area under the wing to explain some of his work, "You see, the fiber optics run information along at a higher speed than regular wiring and it's really only a matter of recalculating the relay speeds and rewiring some of the electronics so everything is in sync. It's just like the configuration of an F-22 Raptor, only with more advanced fiber optics."
"Ah, I see it now..." said Hank, growing increasingly fascinated by this young man's work, "But how did you managed to rework the engines to optimize the fuel mixture?"
"Oh well, that's a bit more complicated. You see..."
After that, Ororo felt as though her presence was no longer required. At this current rate, Scott and Hank would at this for hours, which was fine with her since it would give her some time to think about her current state with Logan. But even as she left, she couldn't help but look back and smile. It seemed as though the five mutant soldiers that had once lived a life of such great restriction were finally beginning to find their place.
Outside in a grassy area just beyond the pool, Jean, Wanda, and X23 were all doing some of their usual CQC spar practices. It wasn't something they did because they were ordered to. It was mainly done out of habit because they were so used to working each day to improve and maintain their skill level. This gave them something to do and a means to avoid the others, many of which were still weary of them. But that was their problem.
It was a little after one and the sun was shining high in the sky, so pretty much everybody in the institute was up at this point. It made them a lot harder to avoid, so naturally the three girls used the outdoors as their sanctuary. Even though they had been trying to adjust to these new surroundings and their new housemates, it was still a slow, nearly stagnant process and because of that, they sought solstice in the bliss of combat training where everything was set and nothing was ambiguous.
"Okay, X...You're up," said Jean as she and young X23 stood ready to spar for yet another run through of advanced CQC motions.
"You ready?" she asked, taking on a ready stance as she prepared for her attack.
"You know it!" said Jean in response.
"In that case, on my mark..." said Wanda, who was acting as the stand in guide for the exercise, a task that Magnum had once been responsible for, "Ready...And move!"
Jean and X23 then sprang into action, skillfully and efficiently running through their course of maneuvers in perfect harmony. Their fists met, their legs thrashed, and their whole bodies moved with the swiftness and power that had so often taken them onto the battlefield. There were never any winners in these exercises, they only stopped once they managed to come to a draw, which could take anywhere from five seconds to five minutes.
Luckily, this time didn't take too long. It was barely under half a minute when Jean and X23 stopped, their fists coming together and their arms in a parallel grasp that hindered any further actions. And upon accomplishing this, the two girls broke the grapple and gave one another a respectful bow as was the custom of all their spars.
"Glad to see we still got it," said Jean as she stretched and flexed her limps.
"Yeah, civilians or not, we still know how to kick ass," said X23 in agreement as she cracked her neck a bit, a custom many recognized as being practically identical to what Logan did after a fight.
"Well I guess it's like Vince said earlier...Once a soldier, always a soldier," said Wanda as she began to stretch as well.
"Amen to that," said Jean as she did a few more quick mini-exercises, "Speaking of which, how have things been between you two since...Well, you know."
Wanda blushed slightly from that, but it wasn't too noticeable thanks to years of hardened training. Naturally, it took a lot for a strong soldier like her to fall into such a state, but since she and Vincent came clean about their feelings for one another, there had been plenty new factors for the both of them to reconsider the way they viewed their world. Having told Jean, Scott, and X23, they had the advantage of some genuinely strong support from their friends. Yet still, it was very new to them to say the least.
"Yeah...That," said Wanda, her mood shifting slightly as she thought back to some of the things that they had worked out over the past few days, "It's been going well I guess. I mean, neither of us has had any relationship experience, so we're taking it slow."
"Yeah, slow is good," said Jean, keeping up with her stretches, "That's how things were between me and Scott when we first got our feelings out in the open. But then again, we were only 15 when it happened and it had been building for years."
"Well you had youth on your side. Vincent and I just kept it all bottled up for the most part," muttered Wanda, remembering just how many complications that had brought them.
"But you both came around in the end, didn't you?" said X23, who may not have been an expert, but she still knew Vince and Wanda well enough to understand where they were coming from.
"Yeah, I guess you're right about that," conceded Wanda, "But it's just...We've spent all these years with these pent up feelings that...Well, I guess neither of us wants to waste any more time than we already have. We still want to take it slow to get the feel of this whole thing, but we also want to make up for all the moments we missed."
"Yeah, I know the feeling," said Jean with an empathetic expression, "And given how we're so used to living from day to day, I don't blame you."
"I know. But that's kind of my point," continued Wanda, "We want to move forward, but I guess we're both a little afraid to do that."
That last part got both Jean and X23 to look at their friend a little strangely. For in all the years they knew her and fought with her through battle after battle, not once did she ever so much as hint that she was afraid of anything.
"You...Afraid?" said X23 with a skeptical glance, "A girl who once brought down a Russian Tanker with a live nuclear warhead and eviscerated an entire Columbian militia? Actually afraid?"
"Yeah, yeah...I know," she muttered, "Wanda Maximoff, the Scarlet Witch...Afraid of something. So sue me."
"Hey, hey...Come on, Wanda. We didn't mean it like that," said Jean, acting quickly so as not to bring her any more grief than she already had endured.
"I know...But it's not something I can deny, really. I honestly am a bit afraid about where things between me and Vincent are going. I love him...You guys know that, don't you?"
"Of course we do..." said X23 with a sympathetic gaze, "You've already made that abundantly clear over the years."
"Then you should also know that we both don't really have much of a history with love...If you can even call it that. My so called 'loved ones' threw me away and abandoned me. His loved ones were heartlessly killed."
"And now you're both worried that history may repeat itself, aren't you?" said Jean, who was now beginning to understand where she was coming from.
"Yeah, I guess we are," she said, her voice growing a bit more distant, "Maybe that's what's been holding us back all these years. Maybe that's why we've been taking it slow. But if things between me and Vincent are ever going to really move forward, then we'll have to work past these kinds of things."
Wanda let out a deep sigh as she thought back to how far she and Vincent had come. It wasn't just that night when they finally told each other how they felt that hung so strongly in her mind, it was the countless volume of other memories she had floating around in her mind of her and Vincent growing so close over the years. In some ways, they had already made it through some of the most significant complications in terms of their relationship, but in others they still had a long way to go.
But what really struck Wanda more than anything else was simply the fact that she had never had something like this before...Someone she truly did love with all her heart. But throughout the past, she had just endured so much heartache after her father threw her away that she really didn't know how she was going to go about something like this. She honestly couldn't see herself with any other man. And because of that, she wanted to truly make this count.
"Hey, it'll be okay, Wanda. Trust me," coaxed Jean, placing a reassuring hand on her friend and comrade's shoulder, "If Scott and I can do it, then so can you."
"I hope you're right about that, Jean...I really do," she said, feeling a little bit better now that she had gotten that off her chest, "I just love him so much. I know he's the only one for me."
"Then that's all you really need, isn't it?" reasoned X23.
Even for someone who didn't really understand love, Wanda had to admit...X23 knew how to keep things simple. And for that, she couldn't help but smile.
"Yeah, I guess you're right, X. Maybe I'm just making this more complicated than it has to be."
"Love is always complicated, Wanda. Believe me, I know," said Jean, speaking from experience, "But if you and Vincent really do love each other like I know you do, then I think you'll both be able to work things out in the end. And trust me, it's definitely worth it."
"I'll take your word for it, Jean...Thanks," said Wanda with a smile.
"Hey, what are friends and fellow soldiers for?" the young redhead smiled in response.
The three girls began to prepare for another round, stretching and breathing in the way they were so thoroughly taught over the years in preparation for another quick run of their skills. Even if they weren't soldiers anymore, that didn't mean they wanted to let themselves slide in terms of skill and prowess. Regardless of how Sinister and Magnum betrayed them, some of the things they had taught them along with the General still resonated in their minds and they would continue to do so as long as they thought of themselves as soldiers.
"Okay, who's up next?" asked Wanda, feeling ready for another go.
"How about you and me?" said X23, "I noticed my rate of execution is a bit sluggish in regards to my reflexes."
"Probably because you're not used to doing this in civilian clothes," commented Jean.
"Tell me about it," she muttered as she adjusted her shirt, which was actually something she borrowed from Amara, for what felt like the fifteenth time, "I swear, I don't know what other girls see in these clothes."
"Yeah, me too. I think it has something to do with being 'trendy,'" said Wanda in a sarcastic tone.
"Trendy? Sounds overrated to me," said X23 as she cracked her knuckles in preparation for the next round.
"Can't say that would surprise me," said Jean in agreement, not knowing how much longer she could last in this Betsy girl's clothes.
The three girls were about to go at it again, then suddenly, a new figure entered the area and caught their eye. Usually, the appearance of a new figure was cause enough for them to find another area to train since much of the student body still wasn't very comfortable with them to say the least. But luckily, this was Logan...A man who probably knew where they were coming from better than anybody.
Naturally, X23 tensed a bit, for she was still very awkward around this man and continued to get strange feelings when she was around him. This was certainly not lost on Wanda and Jean, who knew very well why the former living weapon was so conflicted. After all, this man was technically her 'father' in many ways.
"Heya, ladies. Am I interrupting something?" he asked in his usual gruff tone.
"Of course not sir," said Jean respectfully, both her and Wanda adjusting their poise somewhat in the presence of a man who was still their superior officer in their eyes.
"Hey, come on. You know how I feel about the whole 'sir' thing. Call me Logan, or Mr. Logan, or something that doesn't make me sound like some asshole officer. Because believe me, I've had enough of those kind of people in my life as it is."
The two girls smiled in response to that, for they most certainly didn't doubt him if what they knew about his history was any indication.
"As you wish...Mr. Logan," said Wanda, forcing herself to try it out.
"There...Much better," he said with a wolfish grin, "I was just comin' out to tell you that Ororo made some lunch if you ladies are hungry."
"Thanks, but we'll manage. We're still adjusting to this whole, three meals thing," said Jean.
"Yeah, back at Shadow Cell, we were only allowed a couple of meals and it was always the same oatmeal goop with all those vitamins and shit to help us grow stronger," added Wanda, the taste of that universal meal still hanging strong after so many years of eating it.
"Well this ain't Shadow Cell ladies," stated Logan, still trying to get that point across since they still acted like they were in the military, "Here you're allowed to be lazy, eat junk food, and speak your mind."
"Yeah, we know...We know," sighed Jean, having heard that bit plenty of times before, "It's just not something we're used to."
"And I ain't sayin' that keeping up to par with yer skills ain't a good thing. Hell, I can't say I mind ya bein' so respectful of all the elders here. But now that yer here, I think ya should take some time to make up for the kind of stuff you missed out on."
"Stuff? What kind of stuff?" asked Wanda.
"Shit, I don't know," said Logan, scrambling a bit for examples, "Things like...Krispy Kreme doughnuts, Playstation 2 video games, and memorizing episodes of the OC or something. It's different for everybody, but we all want ya to find yer niche here."
"Well, it's still a bit of an adjustment for us," said Jean, not even knowing what any of the thing Logan had suggested even were, "But I guess it just takes time. I mean, this is just what we're used to doing."
"Hey, ya can take all the time ya need while yer here, ladies. Just don't be afraid to step outside the box every once in a while," said Logan.
Having said what he needed to say, Logan was thinking about heading back in, the smell of Ororo's unique blend cooking already enticing his scents. But before he gave into that, he noticed that X23 hadn't said anything. He knew she was still acted strangely around him. Hell, the same thing went for him as well, but as long as they were living at the mansion, they might as well at least try to grow comfortable around one another.
After all, given what they had been through, only Logan could possibly understand the kinds of things X23 had been through and only she could possibly understand him in the same way.
"What about you, kid?" he said, turning to the young girl who shared his blood, "You alright? Ya haven't said anything."
"No...I'm fine," she said in a somewhat mechanical tone, which was usually just her way of hiding inner conflict, "And please, don't call me kid."
"Well I sure as hell ain't gonna call ya a number, so we're gonna have to work on that at some point."
"Well just so you know, we already tried that when she first joined," said Jean, remembering back to those early days when X23 was still more weapon than person, "I think we must have gone over half the names in the phone book."
"Yeah...I remember," muttered the former living weapon, "But X23 is the name I've always gone by. I know it's more a designation than a name, but that's just who I am."
"Well it's still not a name for a teenage girl," argued Logan, "Maybe it could be a decent codename, but if we're gonna help ya build a decent life, we should at least give ya a decent name."
"Yeah, that's exactly what the officers back at Shadow Cell said too," she replied, having had this argument enough for one lifetime, "They even tried to give me one. They were going to call me Bushwacker."
"Bushwacker?" said Logan, not knowing whether to laugh or cringe at that one.
"Yeah, yeah...I know. It sucks. But thankfully, some dumb prick at the CIA with a cybernetic arm got that one before they could thrust it onto me."
"Well I think it worked out for the best," said Logan with a slight chuckle, "But still, we're gonna have to work on that. Maybe not today, but at some point we're gonna get you a name that you can be proud of. That I promise ya...Ya hear?"
"Yes...I understand," said X23, finding it a bit difficult to look him in the eye without getting this strange feeling in the pit of her stomach.
Logan simply cast the young girl a smile, a rare occurrence to anybody who knew him. But there was just something about this girl...Something about the way she made him feel. He couldn't quite put his finger on it, but whatever it was, it was very powerful if it was enough to get him to smile.
While he would have loved to stay and ponder such things, he decided against it since it just seemed so complicated at the moment. But in seeing the look of hope that fell upon the young girl's face when he made her that promise definitely made it something worth thinking about.
"Well, I'll leave you ladies be for now," said Logan as he turned to head back into the mansion, "But at some point, I want ya to sit down and try Ororo's gumbo later tonight."
"Sure thing," said Wanda, as she turned back towards he comrades in preparation for another round.
Then suddenly, Jean got an idea. She looked back at Logan and then towards X23. She wasn't sure why, but damn it something had to be done. This girl had something none of them had...A blood relative that truly cared about her. And after having endured so much harsh loss over the years, they figured that if anybody deserved a chance, it was X23.
"Hey Logan, wait!" said Jean, causing him to stop in mid stride, "Would you like to train with us?"
"Huh? You serious?" said Logan, finding this to be a little sudden.
"Of course," said Jean, despite the strange look X23 was now giving her, "Come on, we'll show you a little CQC. X, you want to give him a little sample?"
The former living weapon was definitely confused by her friend's actions. Jean was never one to do things so suddenly and without reason. But in this instance, the young redhead knew this was necessary...For if one of them didn't get things going, chances are that neither X23 nor Logan would do so either given their legendary stubbornness.
'Jean, what the hell are you...' began X23, but Jean was quick to cut her off.
'Just give him a chance, X...Please. Trust me on this one.'
The former living weapon may not have been one to embrace the spirit of spontaneity, but she did trust Jean with her life and if she was doing this because she thought it would benefit her...Well, then that was good enough for her. It was just a matter of working through some of this awkwardness that remained between her and her only blood relative.
"Uh...Okay, so how does this work?" asked Logan, who seemed to share X23's state of mind.
"Well...Here, let me show you," she said as she took a stance.
It was from here where Jean and Wanda simply watched, happy to see that their young comrade, who had been denied so much in her life, was finally getting a chance to experience something that she had never experienced before. And as they watched the two former living weapons quickly get into the spirit of CQC, the two older girls exchanged an approving smile, for it showed that maybe there was some hope for them here after all.
AN: Well, things are still plenty awkward in the Xavier Institute with Shadow Cell and Mystique among the ranks. But it's getting there...At least in some ways. But don't worry folks! There's still more to come as Shadow Cell works to adapt to life as X-men and Mystique starts rebuilding some of the things she had lost. The drama, action, and romance isn't over yet, so stay tuned to see where it all goes from here! As always, I urge you all to REVIEW! Send them to me via email or post them on the fanfiction website! Thank you all very much for reading and I wish each and every one of you the best!
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