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 59: New Instructors
As the next few days passed, things continued to evolve at the institute for Shadow Cell. Slowly, but surely, many institute residents were beginning to see them not as the dangerous team that had once infiltrated the institute and put them into a world of hurt, but more as actual residents who were in fact making a conscious effort to develop new lives.
They still retained many of their ritualistic training routines like waking up at four in the morning to do their exercises and spending at least a couple hours a day in the weight room. Many still found this to be a bit odd, but it was something that was very much apart of them and much of the institute was beginning to get used to such sights, for Shadow Cell had made it clear that they were still soldiers at heart, and they wanted to retain many of the same tenants that had so often guided them in the past.
But aside from their soldier-like ways, they did continue to ease into civilian life. By now, they had a new wardrobe of clothing so that they didn't look like they had come from the combat zone anymore. They were learning some of what they referred to as 'social rituals' to help them mingle. And in addition, their relationships continued to develop. Scott and Jean continued spending many nights together, Vince and Wanda were also learning to adapt to the idea of them being a real honest couple, and Laura was beginning to really think of Logan as family. They also managed to win the acceptance of a few institute residents like Tabitha while also making strides to mend old wounds with others like Warren, whom they formally apologized to for shooting his wings.
It was by no means easy adapting to this new life, but they were making progress. It was frustrating at times because they could never truly really escape what they were, but it was also surreal in a sense that they were now living amongst the ignorant masses that they once worked so ardently to protect. They could not escape their past as soldiers...That much they had learned since their arrival. But they could still adapt and find a new place at the institute.
As for Mystique, she also managed to branch out a bit as Kurt and Rogue managed to 'coerce' her into hanging around some of the others. At first, she didn't like this one bit since she still garnered many menacing glares from much of the institute residents, but she did eventually find a few that were willing to give her at least some chance. Students like Kitty, Remy, and some of the New Mutants like Jamie, Rahne, and Tabitha seemed more willing to look beyond the past, after some heavy coaxing on the part of Kurt and Rogue.
But as nice as it was to finally have people give her a real chance, there were still some rough patches with people like Warren and Logan. But even they were beginning to come around, at least to some extent. And there was still this suspicion she had about Remy every time he was around Rogue, which was something that didn't necessarily sit well to well with her. She also noticed similar activity between Kurt and Kitty, but Kitty was a real sweet girl who genuinely seemed to like her son and Remy was a former thief from New Orleans, so there was definitely a difference there. Despite this, however, she tried to keep her nose out of her kids' love lives, but that wasn't always easy at times, especially when she could see it manifesting right before her eyes.
Complications aside, however, Professor Charles Xavier was genuinely pleased with how things were going thus far with Shadow Cell and Mystique. There was definitely a lot less hostility in comparison to when they first arrived and he could see new friendships forming and new bonds being forged. He saw a clear in present change in Kurt and Rogue as a result of having their mother as a part of their lives and he noticed a similar phenomenon with Logan and Laura. But aside from new bonds, however, he was also quite interested and getting Shadow Cell directly involved with his team.
The five mutant soldiers clearly had a great deal of skill and knowledge to offer. And with their paperwork now solidified within public records, they could truly look forward with their lives. He had talked to them about school at certain points, but they were reluctant for the most part since they had already received so much education from Shadow Cell. Neither of them knew what they wanted to do with their lives and now that they had a home and mountains of money thanks to Magnum's old funds, they had a lot of options. And always the opportunist, Professor Charles Xavier wanted to show them as many as he could.
It was in the middle of the afternoon as Professor Xavier stood with Hank, Ororo, Logan, and Mystique in the observation deck overlooking the danger room. Many of the students had just returned from school and as usual, they had scheduled a mid week danger room session. Only this time, things were a little different.
Down in the high tech arena, both the X-men and the New Mutants stood in wait for their instructions. It was rare that they were both present, but that such sessions did occur from time to time, usually involving big team building exercises. But unbeknownst to them, this would be no ordinary session...Not by a long shot. The Professor wanted to take full advantage of the new resources at his disposal and both he and his staff were eager to see what they could accomplish with them.
"I don't know about this, Chuck. Are you sure this is a good idea?" said Logan as he watched the students casually loft about in the area below.
"Oh come now, Logan. Don't tell me you're worried about this little experiment," said Hank, who seemed to share the Professor's enthusiasm in regards to this little idea of his.
"Who's sayin' I'm worried? I'm just don't know if they're ready for this," he clarified, sounding quite serious.
"Well, I think this will be good for them, Logan," said Ororo, sounding a lot more confident as she stood beside her friend, "After all, they really have come a long way since their arrival."
Logan simply let out a humored laugh as he shook his head at his friends' words.
"I wasn't talkin' about Shadow Cell, Ro. I was talkin' about the kiddies. They're all used to a certain kind of training. Shadow Cell, on the other hand...Well, lets just say there are plenty of discrepancies."
"You know for once, Logan, I agree," said Mystique, who was keeping her distance, not really wanting to be here at the moment, but since her kids were a part of this, she ended up staying, "I've seen what those kids can do. We all have. And having them teach CQC? Well, do I really have to get into why it's a bit disconcerting?
The Professor kept a confident poise as he did one last check of the console, making sure that everything was in order as specified by Shadow Cell so they could best do this. He could see some of the arguments Mystique and Logan were making, but given that Shadow Cell was still so uncertain about what they were going to do with their lives, he wanted to give them a chance to contribute to the institute. And this seemed like the most logical way for them to do it.
"I understand your concerns my friends," said the Professor as he punched in a few final commands on the console, "But I think this little experiment will yield some real good for both sides. Shadow Cell's attack proved just how unprepared many of the students in the face of great force and I've been trying to come up with a way to get them more involved here at the institute. And naturally, this is the first thing that came to mind."
"Yeah, can't say I blame ya there, Chuck," conceded Logan, "They did get their asses handed to them during that attack...Hell, we all did. But I still think it may be a little too soon. I can still see that they're really tied to that military mindset of theirs."
"Yes, well I believe that they'll always harbor feelings like that to some extent, my friend," said the Professor as he grabbed the microphone from the console, "But I think this would be a good way for them to put those skills to some good, honest use. And after fighting against Sinsiter, I want the team to be more prepared. Magneto is still out there and if there's one thing that Shadow Cell has taught us all, it's that there are plenty of unknowns in this world and the only way to deal with them is to be prepared."
"In other words...If you want peace, prepare for war?" commented Hank.
"To some extent I guess..." said the Professor, reluctant to every associate himself or his team with 'war' in any means, "But for now, let's just see what Shadow Cell can offer us in terms of expecting the unexpected."
Back down in the area below, both teams were starting to get a little restless. Getting back to school after having gone head to head with one of the most powerful and secret military force ever conceived had been quite an adjustment to say the least. But it wasn't like they could use that as an excuse forever. They had to get on with their lives, regardless of how strange it felt at times, knowing some of the things they knew now from their experiences with Shadow Cell.
But aside from school, it was also a bit of a challenge getting back to regular training after having spent so much time dealing with Shadow Cell. They had all worked with such great rigor after the attack and easing back into the old ways was a bit surreal to say the least. But as long as they didn't have to deal with anymore super secret military units, that was okay with them.
"So what do you think this joint session is all about?" asked Bobby, turning to Warren as he watched a few of the others do a little stretching in order to prepare.
"Beats me, Iceman," shrugged the winged mutant, "But I think we're about to find out."
Up on the observation deck, the Professor switched on the microphone for the usual pre-session briefing. Neither he nor the rest of the students for that matter knew what to expect from this. But hopefully, they would find out soon enough.
"Hello my students. Thank you both for coming to this joint session," he announced, his voice echoing all throughout the vast and elaborate training area, "Now as you've probably noticed, I've made a few adjustments to the training schedule. But there is a reason for this, and I believe it's a valid one. The attacks from Shadow Cell have shown that while we remain vigilant...We are still quite vulnerable in many respects. And if we are to prevent such complications from affecting us again, then we must make sure that we are prepared for anything."
"And how do you want us to do that, Professor?" asked Betsy from below.
"Simple...By new forms of training."
"New forms of training?" said Jubilee, who was beginning to get a somewhat weary feeling as to where this was going.
"Yes...And as such, I'd like you to meet your new combat instructors."
Then suddenly, the primary doors to the danger room opened and the five mutant soldiers of Shadow Cell, bearing their full uniforms, stepped in. Immediately, some of them grew a bit worried about this, for they had seen what Shadow Cell was capable of...Hell, everybody knew that. And for those whom had actually gotten to know them on a personal level, it was definitely a bit scary to think that these would be the people who would be teaching them how to fight from now on.
"Uh...Professor," said Kitty, not necessarily sounding all that optimistic about this, "Are you sure this is a good idea?"
However, before Xavier could answer, the five mutant soldiers stepped in, not wasting any time in making their presence and authority known.
"Hey, no more questions at this point, Kitty," said Jean as she and her comrades now stood in their strong soldier poise before the somewhat disorganized group of teenage mutant, "Rule number one in regards to training with us...NEVER question the authority of your superior."
"Superior?" said Warren, taking a step forward, not liking where this was going, "Look, we don't have that kind of thing here. This isn't the military, it's..."
"Hey! Did we give you permission to speak?!" shot Laura, flashing the older mutant a gaze that could only come from the seed of Logan, "We know this isn't the military. We know this is a school."
"But titles aside, we have been tasked to teach you the art of CQC and we will do so by any means necessary," said Vincent, speaking in the tone and voice of a soldier, "And unfortunately, the only way to truly teach you guys this powerful technique is through the same means which we were taught."
"Oh boy...Did anybody else just get dat sick feeling in their stomach besides me?" commented Remy.
"Oh believe me, Remy...I don't think any of you will have much of an appetite after what we've got in store for you," said Scott with a slight grin as he and his comrades stood poised to carry out the task they had been given and as the dutiful soldiers they were, they would see it through until the job was done, "Any questions?"
Nobody dared to speak, but there were plenty of inward groans to go around. Shadow Cell had expected as such, but it was just one of the many barriers they would have to work around. After all, they were starting from scratch and the rest of the X-men knew it.
"Shit...We are so dead," muttered Amara.
"ALRIGHT THEN FALL IN MAGGOTS!" yelled Wanda, taking the initiative with the kind of voice that she had been so used to hearing for so many years.
Her tone left absolutely no room for argument as everybody suddenly found themselves lining up in a row, not looking forward to having former soldiers as their new instructors. But then again, what choice did they have?
"Alright now listen and listen good..." said Scott as he walked up and down the row with his comrades, taking in what they were going to have to work with, "In order to make this work, we can no longer be your teammates. Now like it or not, you guys need to know how to fight. We proved that when we came in. But now, things are different. The circumstances have changed."
"And in regards to all the training and skill that you've acquired through your experiences as X-men or otherwise...As of this very moment, they all mean precisely dick," continued Jean, her tone firm, but embodying a sense of great strength as well, "Because from this moment on, you are all officially one big hunk of primordial, proto-human shit. You're nothing...Formless, shapeless, and hopeless. And we're going to mold you into the most effective fighters you can be."
"And if we're going to do this, then you're going to obey us without question," said Vincent, speaking so as to make sure that nobody would have a means to question the authority that the Professor X had bestowed upon them, "Now CQC is a military style and it can't be taught with sweet talk and roses. It can only be taught with obedience, sweat, and strife."
"In other words, you guys are going to follow the orders you're given," said Wanda, who was pacing back and forth along the row of weary young mutants, "You're going to do EXACTLY as we tell you. And when we're done, you all are going to be a new force...A new power. You will be ready to eat your own guts and ask for seconds. You will be perfect in your ability not just to fight, but to think as well. We're not just going to teach you how to use your muscles...We're also going to teach you how to use your brain as well. There are millions of styles out there that we could teach you...Styles that could just as easily help you overcome the most powerful of foes. But only with CQC will you not only be able to take out your enemies...But entire armies as well."
"Now granted, you may not like some of our methods..." said Laura, maintaining the stern look that embodied so much of her predecessor, "But we are fair in what we do and how we go about it. We will NOT treat you like our drill sergeants treated us. But that doesn't mean that we're going to go any easier on you."
That got both teams to tense up a bit, for some of them still had the bruises from what Shadow Cell had done to them the first time around. Training in the danger room was hard enough, but having the most deadly soldiers ever to come into existence as their new instructors? Could they really handle that? It was a question that even the former mutants of Shadow Cell weren't sure of, but then again they wouldn't know until they tried.
"As of right now, there are no more divisions with this team," said Scott, taking over as he and his comrades stopped pacing to address them all in full, "There are no more regulars. There are no more New Mutants. From this point on, you are all X-men and you're going to learn to fight as such! Defeat, victory, or draw, you're going to fight like warriors! So get ready...Because we've got a lot to cover."
Three and a half hours later, the entire institute was an echo of moans and groans. Bodies were reeling, pain was ubiquitous, and minds had turned to mush as the tired and exhausted mutants of the X-men literally dragged their bodies out of the danger room, wincing with every movement. They were sore in places they didn't even know existed. They were tired in a way that no words in the English language could describe. Training in the danger room had been exhausting enough, but training was Shadow Cell was something entirely different altogether.
"Ugh...Can't...Feel...My legs," groaned Bobby, leaning on Jubilee so that he didn't fall flat on the floor.
"Legs?! To hell with legs! I can't feel my entire body!" groaned Kitty, who was practically limping as they all exited the elevator and slowly made their way towards the nearest resting place for them to rest.
"Okay...It's official guys...I'm never going in the danger room again," groaned Warren, his wings slouching so that they were practically being dragged along the floor.
"I second that," said Betsy, who was faring a little better thanks to her ninja body, but still moving slowly as a result of so much soreness.
Finally, they all managed to make it to the living room where there were couches...Beautiful, comfortable couches. It was like seeing a drinking fountain in the middle of the Sahara desert and with what little strength they had left, the team of young mutants collapsed onto the soft cushions, ready to pass out right then and there for at least a week or so.
"Mien Gott...Somebody get a shovel and bury me right here," said Kurt as he collapsed upon the couch face down.
"No way, homme! Den who'd bury Remy?" said Gambit as he collapsed next to Rogue, whom he had been leaning on for support.
"Ugh, just get a bulldozer and make one big pit! At this point, Ah'll take anything," said Rogue, having no idea that a body could get this sore.
"Will you guys please keep it down?" groaned Jubilee, who simply fell to the floor, not even able to make it to the couch, "Even my ears are sore."
"Hey...Look on the bright side," said Warren as he slumped down in his seat on the chair, "At least we made it upstairs. I think the newbies collapsed half way."
"Yeah...Can't say I'd be surprised if some of them were dead," made Betsy as she rested her head against her boyfriend's shoulder.
"Yeah...Wish I could join them," said Bobby, feeling as though he wasn't even strong enough to make a snowflake with his pinky finger, "Man, I though Logan was the worst when it came to training. But compared to those guys...Hell, I'll do a marathon of his stuff before I get this sore!"
"Truer vords vere never spoken, Iceman..." said Kurt, his voice muffled from laying face down on the couch, "And to think, zhey still insist that ve have a long vay to go before ve can even be considered amateurs at this stuff."
"Well I for one don't t'ink dat Remy could survive another session," groaned Remy, "Hell, at dis rate, I don't t'ink any of us could."
"Hmm...Yeah...Right," said Rogue, already on the verge of passing out.
A tired and exhausting silence finally fell over the young team of mutants. They had faced the Brotherhood, the Sentinels, and Magneto, but even they never left them feeling this sore. Shadow Cell had gone above and beyond. They had given them a taste of the rigors they used to endure on a daily basis. And in their eyes, it was one taste too many.
As the exhausted and sore X-men began to allow their bodies to recuperate, they hardly noticed the New Mutants filing out of the elevator in small groups. Like them, there was plenty of discomforting groans to go around. Some, like Tabitha, Sam, Amara, and Ray, were trying to make it to the den where they could at least have the TV distract them from their pain. Others, like Jamie, Rahne, and Roberto, however, didn't even have the strength for that as they went straight up to their rooms for some much needed rest. Ororo, Hank, and Logan were there to help some of them, but for the most part it was just one long line of tired mutant teens, now completely sapped of their energy for the evening.
The last ones to come up from the lower levels were the five mutant soldiers of Shadow Cell. They had stayed behind to give the Professor a report of their progress and for the most part, it was mixed. They clearly had a lot to learn and many of them didn't seem to have the strength to handle certain rigors that were unfortunately necessary for teaching CQC. But despite this, there was still hope for them...That much they were certain of. It was just a matter of getting over the initial shock.
And as much as Shadow Cell hated to admit it, it was kind of humorous seeing them like this...So beaten and exhausted from just one little four hour session when they had endured many times more than that through the course of their training. But then again, these weren't soldiers they were teaching...They were students. And as such, they had a lot to learn if they were ever going to gain proficiency at the art of CQC.
"Damn...Three and a half hours and they already look half dead," commented Laura, who couldn't help but grin somewhat at the sight before her.
"Yeah, and that was just a fraction of we used to go through back at the base...And we were barely in our teens," said Jean, finding it surreal in a sense that she and her comrades had endured training like that while these run of the mill civilian mutants collapsed after a mere three and a half hours.
"Well to be fair, we did go through the bio-mutagenic accelerator," made Vincent, "So we did kind of have and advantage in that regard."
"Or maybe we just have a higher tolerance for pain," shrugged Wanda.
"Guess anything's possible," said Scott as he and his comrades let out a collective round of laughter before leaving the others to recuperate.
Then, as they were making their way back down the hall, they ran into Mystique, who had just seen some of the tired and frazzled New Mutants pass by. As usual, Jean somewhat tensed up and stuck close to Scott since there was still a lot of bitterness between them. While Mystique was starting to come around for most of the others, she still had little love for her after the mind rape even though she had apologized for it on several occasions.
But aside from the minor details, she didn't seem all that moody this time around. If anything, she seemed somewhat amused that these seemingly hyper-energetic kids had finally showed that they did indeed have a capacity for fatigue.
"Wow, looks like you guys were pretty rough on them," she commented, casting them a half grin.
"Hey, it's not our fault they can't handle it," shrugged Wanda, "We used to go through that routine early in the mornings almost every day in some form or another."
"Yeah, and we weren't nearly as tough as Magnum. Otherwise they'd have a lot more bumps and bruises," added Laura.
"Well you do have almost a decade of experience on them, so just leave it at that for now," she shrugged, "I've learned from experience that anybody who wants to gain true skill in anything, whether it's in combat or control, they always find themselves shell shocked by the first session."
"Yeah...Well hopefully, they'll get better. CQC is a very rough skill to learn, but it's doable for anybody to some extent. It's just a matter of what one's limits are in terms of endurance and drive," said Vincent, although after this session they had reason to have certain doubts about such notions.
"Guess that's where being a soldier comes in mighty handy," commented the shape shifter, causing a round of laughs.
It was somewhat odd to see Mystique so much lighter than she had been when she first arrived. But spending time with her kids and getting to know some of the young soldiers of Shadow Cell had been nothing short of therapeutic for her. Sure, there was still some bitterness...That was practically a given with somebody like her. But she was finding new ways to balance herself out here at the institute. And it wasn't just with her kids.
"You guys hungry?" asked Mystique as the laughter died down, "The night is still young and I doubt anybody else around here has got much of an appetite after what you just put them through."
The five mutant soldiers cast the shape shifter a curious gaze. Was she just offering to take them out to dinner? Was she actually implying that she was going to 'get out' for once after having been sequestered here since her arrival? It was a bit sudden, but with a full evening ahead of them, they figured...Why not?
"Yeah, I could go for a snack," said Scott, his stomach growling somewhat after the three hour session.
"Me too," said Jean, having not eaten much all afternoon since she and her comrades maintained some rather sporadic eating habits due to some of the habits they still maintained from Shadow Cell.
"Great, I know a little place you might like," said Mystique as she led the five soldiers over towards the garage, "I've been wanting to get out for days and if I'm forced to stay cooped up here for a minute longer, I'm going to go crazy."
"And Lord knows we don't want that," said Wanda with a humored grin.
"Very funny, Wanda," muttered the shape shifter.
"Hey, I call em as I see em!" she shrugged, "Chalk that up to battlefield mentality I guess."
"That, or you just seem to get a perverse level of fun out of it," said Scott with a grin.
"Hey, either way is fine by me."
Such comments made Vince shake his head and laugh at that. No matter how well he knew her both on and off the battlefield, she still had a knack for surprising him in a way nobody else could.
"Cute, Wanda...Real cute," he said with a laugh.
"Hey, isn't cute what you like about me?" she grinned, interlacing her arms with his.
"It's one of the things," he quipped.
"Hey come on you two, save the kissy face for later," made Mystique as she rolled her eyes a bit at their playfulness, even if it was kind of funny, "Come on...Let's eat."
A few hours later, the five mutants of Shadow Cell and the shape shifter known as Mystique found themselves at a quaint little restaurant and bar just within the city. It was definitely a ways from the institute, but the trip proved to be worth it. The food was good, the area was low key, and it wasn't too bawdy or overwhelming. It was just a simple place with simple food...Exactly the kind of thing the five mutant soldiers needed in their utterly complicated lives.
"Lucky's Bar...Nice choice, Ms Darkholme," said Wanda as she bit into her burger.
"Thanks," said the shape shifter, now in a human form so she didn't draw any undue attention, "It's not fancy, but the food is good, the service is nice, and it's not too rowdy."
"Can't go wrong with that," said Jean as she continued to hungrily inhale her cheeseburger, a simple dish she hadn't had in years, "God, I almost forgot how good these things were!"
"Amen to that!" said Scott with a smile, "I remember how my dad used to grill these ever Sunday. I don't think I've had one since."
"Yeah, sure beats the gruel we had back at the base," added Wanda.
"Definitely!" said Vincent in agreement as he took a sip of his soda, "Now that we're civilians, we finally have the freedom to eat food that's bad for you and full of chemical preservatives, half of which are formulated by the government and big corporations to get you addicted to the food."
"No kidding...Ain't America great?" laughed Scott, taking another big bite out of his burger.
Such comments made Raven feel a bit uneasy, but it wasn't so much the comment about junk food being addictive. That part actually made a lot of sense when she thought about it. It was more how enthused they seemed about having the kind of food that they had once been denied to them for so long. And for some like Laura, such food was a completely new experience altogether.
"Mmm...God damn, this is good!" said Laura, who was already halfway done, "I had no idea food like this even existed!"
"Well don't worry, Laura...There's plenty of shit like this out there," said Raven with a slight laugh, "And with the crowd back at the institute, you'll be hooked on it in no time."
"Hey, if it tastes this good, I wouldn't mind," she shrugged, "It's almost as good as snakes!"
"Yeah...Almost," said Jean with a smirk.
Mystique cast them a rather curious, if not somewhat disturbed, glance upon hearing that. But they didn't seem to mind. Hell, they had grown somewhat accustomed to such things ever since their arrival.
"Snakes?" she said with a half disgusted look.
"Don't knock it till you've tried it, Raven," grinned Wanda, "Once you've had a snake, you'll wonder how you ever did without."
"I think I'll pass," she said, putting her burger back down momentarily to get that image out of her head.
"Hey, back at the base, they didn't call us the Snake Eaters for nothing," said Scott, "But as good as they are...There really are no substitutes for good ol' burgers and fries."
"Yeah, I've missed stuff like this," mused Vincent, taking another sip of his soda and picking at some of his fries, "Hard believe that just a few weeks ago, we were still training for our next mission, listening to lectures from Sinister, and learning how to become stronger and deadlier killers...All while having the GURSO unit on our backs 24/7."
"I know. Sometimes I still think they're watching me," said Jean, who stopped eating her food for a moment to think about just how far they had come since the destruction of Shadow Cell, "Even though I know they're not there...Even though I can clearly sense that they're gone...Part of me still feels it, being in their gun sights nearly every waking moment."
"Yeah, I think we've all felt that to some extent, Jean," said Scott as he followed suit, setting his food aside for the moment to console his girlfriend, "And chances are, we're going to keep feeling that for some time."
"You think it'll ever go away?" asked Laura, sounding a bit down.
"I don't know," said Jean, not sounding too optimistic about it, "Honestly, I don't think we can ever escape some of the things Shadow Cell did to us. Like it or not, they made is who we are...Even if they did betray us in the end."
"Yeah, as if we don't have enough shit to deal with in our lives as it is," muttered Vincent, speaking from the voice of the lone survivor of the Prodigy Project.
"Hey, come on you guys, you're starting to sound like me," said Mystique, somewhat taken by this dramatic shift in tone, "You beat them didn't you? Shadow Cell is gone now, isn't it?"
"No...It's not just that, Raven," explained Vincent, his tone growing deep and solemn, "Even though Shadow Cell is gone, the whole experience was just so much a part of our lives that...I don't think we can ever escape it. So much of what we believe in...Principles like honor, loyalty, duty, patriotism, self sacrifice, and valor...It was all taught to us by people like Magnum and Sinister. They taught us how to be a soldier. They taught us to embrace these tenants. But in the end, they turned around and betrayed us. They completely shattered everything we once so strongly believed in."
A solemn feeling quickly fell upon the five mutant soldiers. Such words were a painful reminder of the burdens they would have to live with. So many of the things they had been taught had been brought into question with the betrayal of their superiors and their mentors. There was a lot they wanted to hang onto, but it was just so hard to trust such ideas when they came from people like Sinister and Magnum.
It was hard for them to accept...Forever having to contend with this burden. Mystique could see how greatly it affected them. But in a ways, it was comforting to see that there were others out there like her that had also endured such conflict. For like them, she knew all too well what it was like to be betrayed and have all the principles she once believed in thrown into question.
"Betrayal is a horrible feeling," she found herself saying, managing to break the silence over the five mutant soldiers as she now garnered their attention, "It really does hurt on a level that's hard to ascertain. But at the same time, it also challenges everything you once believed in...Everything you once held dear."
"Yeah, I know," said Vincent, not doubting that the shape shifter had some experience in that regard, "But it's just that...We're all soldiers. There are certain tenants we believe in...Certain beliefs we treasure. Things like honor, duty, and valor...Those are what really helped drive us all during the hard times. But learning them from Sinister, Magnum, and..."
However, Mystique didn't let him finish. She knew where he was going and she wasn't going to let him end up walking that path she knew all too well.
"Vincent...It doesn't matter where ideas or principles come from," she told him firmly, speaking from both experience and knowledge, "You could learn the tenants of a noble life from Satan himself and that wouldn't make a lick of difference. It's not so much where your beliefs come from...It's more so how much you believe in them."
"You mean like faith?" asked Laura, having known from many lessons with Magnum the importance of that term.
"Kind of..." said Mystique struggling to find the right words, "Being a soldier has a lot to do with faith. If every soldier didn't have it, then there would be no wars to begin with. Faith in your cause is your strongest weapon, hands down. And through things like honor and valor, you really can foster a great deal of strength from within. You five are a testament to that."
"But still...Faith is all well and good, but what about right and wrong?" asked Vincent, still only half convinced, "I was raised by a priest and he was like a father to me. He always taught me and all the other orphans back home that things like kindness, honesty, compassion were right. And killing was always wrong."
Vincent Freeman found himself sinking in his seat a bit after that, for every time he thought about Father Michaels and the orphanage back home, he was always hit with a twinge of guilt. It had been Sinister that had destroyed his home. It had been Sinister that had used and betrayed him on more than one occasion. First with Prodigy, then with Shadow Cell, he was used and hurt in ways no other human being could muster. But what hurt most of all was that he ended up trusting Sinister. He killed for that man. He broke one of the most defined rules Father Michaels had taught him. And in a ways that hurt more than any feeling of betrayal.
For Mystique, she merely let out a deep sigh. She knew this debate through and through and she had argued with herself over it for many years. Like Shadow Cell, she had taken her share of lives and contrary to what many others would have believed...Such acts didn't come without guilt. But if all her experience had taught her one thing, it's that NOTHING is ever truly simple.
"It is wrong Vincent," she found herself saying, "Killing is wrong...Plain and simple. It's a black and white rule...One which pretty much everybody can agree upon. But the problem is that it's a rule for an ideal world...Not the real world. Black and white rules can't function in a world dominated by gray. It's like trying to put a square peg into a round hole."
"But still...We killed so many people," argued Vincent, "We took human lives."
"And had you not taken those lives, plenty of others would have been lost," reasoned Mystique, "That's the gray area. That's the part where such ideal tenets lose their meaning. Is one guilty life worth one innocent live? If the death of one man could save the life of a hundred innocent men, is it not worth it? There's a lot of gray area...Especially when it comes to war and combat. And that's why you should never forget things like honor, compassion, and loyalty. In a world that's so gray, I can think of no better way to define what is right and what is wrong than through the power, drive, and strength of a soldier. It's kept me going all these years. And sure, I've made some mistakes...Everybody does. But no matter what happens, you can never forget that few things in this world are truly defined. So much of it is gray. So much of it is uncertain. And that's why you need things like honor...Because in the end, we're all just looking for something to hang onto. And for a soldier, what better thing to retain through victory, defeat, and betrayal then honor?"
A heavy silence fell over the five mutant soldiers. Mystique's words really spoke volumes. For unlike them, she had been in the game a lot longer than they had and she didn't have the luxury of defined goals or principles. Yet still, she still had a sense of honor and compassion. Like them, she believed in the spirit of a soldier. And in many ways, it helped reaffirm that which had driven them so strongly over the years through the good times and the bad. And once more, it really did put a lot of things in perspective.
"Gray area..." said Vincent, finding that concept to resonate the strongest with him.
"Yes," said Mystique, giving the troubled young man a reassuring smile, "Believe me, if you think the world is black and white, you will drive yourself crazy with guilt, anger, and sorrow. Magneto saw the world as being black and white and just look where that led him."
"Why am I not surprised?" said Wanda, rolling her eyes at the bitter mention of her so called 'father.'
"But still...What about everything Father Michaels taught me? What about all those virtues we so strongly embraced?" asked Vincent, still desperate for answers.
"Just ask yourself this..." said Mystique, still not done, "Was stopping all those terrorists and saving all those lives honorable? Was living by a code that preaches honor, loyalty, and compassion so wrong? No matter who it came from or who you believed in...Did it still matter to you? Because when you get right down to it, right and wrong are only relative to the principles you hold dear. And if the principles you hold dear are things like the honor and compassion for the millions of innocent lives that you helped save, then please tell me...Why is that so wrong?"
For all her bitterness and all her deception, Raven Darkholme sure had a knack for putting things into their proper place. It was a reminder as to how complicated the world truly was while at the same time drilling back into their minds that which was truly important. Their honor, strength, and spirit as both warriors and human beings...Now that was something nobody could truly touch. Sinister may have nurtured them, but they were the ones with the faith, not him.
Vincent Freeman, for all his uncertainty and conflict, actually found himself smiling now. It was a smile that seemed to influence the others as well...Wanda in particular, whose hand he found himself firmly grasping now. Maybe killing never was truly justified in some sense...But after everything he and his comrades had been through, they knew all too well just how much more complicated such matters were. And it wasn't just on the battlefield...It was also life in general. They had been down some very tough roads...Yet in the end, they remained loyal not to Shadow Cell...But to themselves.
"Thanks Raven. You really do know how to make things very clear," he finally said, smiling back at her with a sense of gratitude that made her blush somewhat.
"Chalk it up to experience I guess," she said as she finished up the last of her burger and let out a content sigh, "And besides, us messed up mutant soldiers have to stick together, you know?"
"I'll drink to that," said Scott as he held up his drink.
"Me too," said Jean with a smile as they all tapped their glasses in the center of the table in a show of camaraderie.
Such actions made Raven feel somewhat lighter inside. For the first time in her illustrious life, she felt as though she knew people who truly understood some of the problems she faced. Few others could truly ascertain what it was like to live life as a soldier and a mutant in a world where nothing was as it seemed. And despite the bitterness that she still harbored to some extent, it was nice to finally not feel so alone for once.
As they all finished their meal, they continued to share a few war stories here and there while also simply conversing about life at the mansion so far. Things continued to grow a bit lighter overall as they simply enjoyed one another's company. Eventually, though, the check finally came and they knew they should probably get back to the mansion soon if they were to enjoy the serenity of the night. Mystique motioned to pay the bill, but before she could, Jean stepped in.
"It's okay, Mystique. I got this," said Jean as she pulled out one of her new credit cards that she used from her vast bank account.
"Don't patronize me, Jean," she said, her voice notably irritated, although she was trying hard not to let it show, "I took you all here, so I'm paying."
"Oh come on, Raven!" said Jean with an exasperated sigh, "Are things going to be bitter between us forever? Or are you going to at least try and give me a chance to at least make up for what I did?"
Mystique wasn't in the mood to make a scene...Not when the night had been going so well. And as much as she still disliked Jean for the mind rape, she was clearly making an honest effort. It seemed as though she really did regret what she did, but that didn't stop the shape shifter from feeling bitter about it. Nevertheless, if she was going to get over this in any conceivable span of time, she would have to start somewhere.
"Fine," she said, much to the surprise and relief of the others, "Go ahead and pay. But don't think this will change things all that much."
"Oh don't worry, Raven...Like you, I'm a realist," said Jean, managing a slight smile, "And besides, if any of us are to move forward from this point, we've got to start somewhere."
AN: Well it seems as though Shadow Cell is finally beginning to resolve some lingering issues. Add to that, it looks like Mystique has made some new friends as well! Although the rest of the X-men are sure in for a hell of a time now that they're being taught by five former soldiers! Oh how I pity them. There's still more to come. A few loose ends have yet to be resolved and I hope you all like how they come together! As always, I encourage everybody who reads this to REVIEW! Send you feedback to me via email or post it on the fanfiction website! Thank you all very much for reading and I wish every one of you the best!
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