Categories > Cartoons > X-Men: Evolution > Sinister Soldiers

The Final Salute

by slickboy444 0 Reviews

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...

Category: X-Men: Evolution - Rating: PG-13 - Genres: Action/Adventure, Drama, Romance, Sci-fi - Characters: Avalanche, Berzerker, Blob, Boom Boom, Cannonball, Colossus, Cyclops, Gambit, Iceman, Jean, Magma, Magneto, Mr. Sinister, Multiple, Mystique, Nightcrawler, Professor Xavier, Quicksilver, Rogue, Scarlet Witch, Shadowcat, Storm, Sunspot, Toad - Warnings: [?] [V] [X] - Published: 2007/02/05 - Updated: 2007/02/05 - 6599 words

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Sinister Soldiers
Chapter 62: The Final Salute


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Deep within the bowls of the Pentagon, home to America's vast and elaborate Department of Defense, one man stood before some of the most powerful men in the country. Most of them were of high ranking military status while others were major political leaders from both sides of the spectrum. They all sat in a very secretive, very secluded area of the vast structure. Their main priority...The fate of the only man charged with the disastrous liquidation of Project Shadow Cell.

The General sat patiently in a desolate seat at one of the tables. He bore his full military uniform, complete with his distinguished metals and dog tags, as well as a few pins and add ons from his days at West Point. Besides him was his lawyer, who looked relatively indifferent to it all and simply failed ascertain just how much this moment meant to this man.

His fate was now in the hands of this tribunal. For nearly two months, the department had launched an extensive investigation into the destruction and disintegration of Project Shadow Cell. Given that it was one of the largest, most elaborate programs in the history of mankind since the Manhattan project, it had been a major deal to all sides. Practically every division from the Army, to the CIA, to the NSA, to SHIELD, and even all the way up to the President and the higher ups had a major hand in the investigation.

It was a big deal...Losing a program that had been one of the greatest weapons in America's vast arsenal. Shadow Cell had saved the world more times than any other branch of the military. There was no doubt that without them, the course of history would have been very different. It was a devastating blow to learn that they, along with their creator, Dr. Essex, were no more. All the money and resources they poured into the project had brought it unparalleled success, but in the end it all came crashing down. And the General was the scapegoat.

For weeks on end, he endured harsh criticism from the prosecution. They blasted him for not watching over the Colonel, for turning a blind eye to Dr. Essex's madness, and keeping too many other branches out of the loop. Much of those criticisms were unfounded, but in the General's mind, he could see some truth to them. After all, he had the power to stop the Colonel many times before and he had the power to end Dr. Essex's scheme...He was just too naïve to take that step because he focused so much on doing his job instead of keeping an eye on those who worked behind his back.

But despite this, the General showed few regrets even as evidence was presented, witnesses were brought in, and investigations were carried out. He had done his job. He had helped run the most ambitious and profound project in the history of mankind and in the process, he got a chance to save not just the country he loved, but the world as well. He got a chance to work with the greatest team of soldiers ever assembled. He got a chance to live out the dreams of his father and in so many ways he succeeded...But it took the manipulative actions of one man to bring it all crashing down. Sure, he was gone now, but he was bearing the blunt end of the aftermath. He only hoped that justice would be served and that the friends and associates who stood by him had done enough.

"General...Please rise," stated the Commander as the deliberations finally ended.

As the dutiful soldier he was, the General rose to his feet, ready to accept his fate. This was it...This is what it had all come down to. And whatever fate this verdict may bring, he was ready to accept it as any soldier should.

"General...You have been charged with the high crimes of conspiracy and treason in regards to the destruction and liquidation of the black program known as Shadow Cell. As one of the project's main founders and the highest ranking officer associated with the organization, it was your responsibility to ensure that everything ran smoothly. And for many years, you did just that and your country is forever indebted to you."

Such words made the General feel a little bit easier, but he knew that these men were just going through formalities. They gave no indication as to what he would face. It could be anything from jail time to all out execution. The charges he was facing were very serious and even in a country of the people, the same old punishments applied to such acts of great dishonor.

"It is with a great deal of regret on our part and many others throughout Washington that it had to come to this. Without a doubt, you have left your mark. You're record is without a doubt unparalleled. However, such a grave fiasco simply cannot be disregarded no matter how valorous your record may be. And after having carefully waved the evidence, I along with the rest of this tribunal have reached a verdict."

The General held his breath, knowing this was it. This was the moment that would decide whether he would go down with Shadow Cell or carry on the fight.

"General..." said the Commander as he held in his hand a lone sheet of paper, "Under the power granted by my from the government of the United States of America, this tribunal hereby declares you...Not guilty of all charges."

Innocent...He was innocent. The General let out a deep sigh of relief, for justice had been done. They had managed to see the truth through the web of lies. He had nothing to do with the liquidation...He tried to stop it. He was innocent. He was not a traitor. However, the Commander wasn't quite done yet.

"However...As a result of your oversights in the liquidation of Project Shadow Cell, we have also concluded that such actions simply cannot go unanswered for."

"Yes...I understand sir," said the General, bowing his head slightly to such words.

"And after wading through some possible actions, this tribunal had coordinated with several defense department organizations to determine the proper course of action. And we have all unanimously concluded that rather than carry on with a court marshal, you shall be hereby granted early retirement from your services. Now you will be given the full benefits and your discharge will be honorable, but I'm afraid that from here on out, you will be unable to partake in any further military services."

It was a solemn declaration to the General...One that stated that he was not fired in a sense, but he could no longer do the job that he took so seriously. For decades, he had served this country. He had poured his heart and soul into his work, hoping to make a true difference. And in many ways, he had succeeded on many occasions. But despite all his successes...It was his failures which would hang over his being most.

It was probably one of the best outcomes that he could have hoped for...Early retirement with an honorable discharge. But still...Not carrying the title of General anymore was a harsh punishment that struck him deeply in a way he never outwardly showed.

"I understand sir," he said, affirming his fate once and for all.

"Very well then..." said the Commander as he set the paper down, "Would you like to make one final statement?"

"Yes..." he said, taking a deep breath and trying to hide his emotions from such a hard hitting moment, "For over thirty years, I have served this country. I have dedicated my life to using the skills and knowledge that I attained to make a positive difference in this world. It's a rather naïve dream...That much I admit. But...This country...This country that I love with all my heart and soul...Was founded by dreamers. And I too wanted to be a dreamer. But unfortunately...Dreamer or not, I am only human. I have made my mistakes. However, mistakes or no mistakes...I have done what I intended. I served my country and my world. And regardless of what history says of me...I have no regrets. Thank you."

His words seemed to strike an emotional chord with many of the lower ranking military officers who were present. Few men saw the world like the General. Few men took his job as seriously as he did. And now that his valorous career was over, it was a sad day for many of the officers who looked up to the General for believing in the ideals that America was founded upon despite all the lies that shrouded it. And even for the Commander and the many others who had determined his fate, it would be sad to see such a loyal soldier go.

But the decision had been made. The word was finalized. This was where it ended, but in the eyes of the General...The road he had taken was worth the toil.

"In that case, this trial is hereby adjourned."

With the final pound of the gavel, the whole ordeal was over. The General was now free to go. He may no longer have the power and prestige of his rank, but he had clearly left his mark and that was enough for him. As he turned to head out, he passed a few of his loyal subordinates, many of which saluted him one last time and shook his hand, wanting to say goodbye to the man they so earnestly looked up to.

Among the crowd was also Colonel Nick Fury of SHIELD, the man who in many ways was more responsible for what happened than he was. For years, the General had not looked too kindly upon that man...For he had been the one responsible for the reprimand that stagnated his career before he could attain true greatness as a leader. But then again, if he hadn't been faced with that reprimand, he may never have gotten a chance to work with Shadow Cell. And for that, the General pulled no punches. If anything, he owed Colonel Fury. Only he could have exacted the influence to get him an honorable discharge and early retirement. And for that, he willingly shook his hand and gave him one final smile.

"Thank you Colonel Fury," he said, keeping with his dutiful poise, but allowing himself to smile nonetheless.

"Consider it a long overdue payment," said Fury in response, "I know it probably doesn't mean dick now, but I'm sorry General. This country could truly use more men like you."

"I appreciate that," said the General amicably, "But now that SHIELD has Shadow Cell's jurisdiction, even I'll admit that it's comforting to know that the fate of the world is in very capable hands."

Knowing this would probably be the last time these men would see each other, both Nick Fury of SHIELD and the General of Project Shadow Cell saluted one another in a show of mutual respect. Regardless of past animosity, they were still soldiers...And as such, they would honor one another. It was just such a shame that this was how it had to end.

Once the formalities were, the General was escorted out of the Pentagon for the last time. He took one last look at his surroundings, knowing he would never get a chance to live this life again. It hung heavily upon his soul, but he kept with his poise...Forever bound by his honor as an officer and a soldier. That much nobody could ever take away from him.

As he exited the building, his escorts left him and returned to depths of the vast structure. The sun was high in the sky and there wasn't a cloud to be seen. It was a beautiful, bright day. Yet for the General, he couldn't help but feel solemn. His career was over. His service was up. After serving his country dutifully for over thirty years, it was finally over.

Now, he could finally go home and spent some quality time with his family. He no longer had to worry about going from place to place, being away for weeks at a time, or having his military life conflict with his civilian life. But still, it was hard to let go of this strong feeling. He loved being a General. He loved serving in his father's footsteps. And that was just very hard to say goodbye to.

At the base of the Pentagon, the General found himself stopping right before a pole with the American flag waving majestically in the breeze. In an almost ritualistic show of his patriotism, he removed his hat and held it over his heart as he took in the sight of the flag he had served with all his heart. Sure, he may not have been an officer anymore, but that didn't take away from the meaning that this flag held for him.

While he was making his final peace with the flag and the life he had carried out so dutifully, five all too familiar figures approached him from behind...For there was still but one loose end to take care of before the legacy of Project Shadow Cell could truly be laid to rest.

"I take it they went easy on you, sir," said Scott Summers as he, Jean, Vincent, Wanda, and Laura stood before the man they had respected and served for nearly a decade.

Upon hearing their voices, the General couldn't help but smile as he turned to face the brave soldiers that he had been privileged enough to work with.

"I had a feeling you would show up," he said to them as he put his hat back on and faced the loyal soldiers with undue pride, "After all, I was one of the many people who taught you the importance of loyalty."

"And we still take that very seriously, General. And rest assured, we always will. Even if Shadow Cell is no more," said Jean as she smiled at the man who had done so much for them.

Knowing that they still held onto those tenets of being a soldier after having been betrayed by the people they had trusted the most was a comforting feeling for the General. Even with all the lies they had been told over the years, they still clung to those ideas that they had instilled in them. And even though Shadow Cell had fallen apart...Such knowledge was proof enough to the General that he had succeeded in his dream.

"So what was the verdict?" asked Vincent.

"Better than I ever could have hoped for," answered the General, "An honorable discharge and forced early retirement."

"That doesn't sound so bad," commented Laura.

"It isn't...But it means that I can't serve my country anymore," he said, letting out a deep sigh as he turned back to the flag, "I gave this country over thirty years of my life...Thirty years of my blood, sweat, and tears. And in that time, I've accomplished my share of victories...While also making some very grave mistakes. I suppose that no matter how skilled I am, I'm still too naïve for my own good."

"The world still needs dreamers, sir," said Vincent, feeling somewhat angered that a man, the only decent superior they ever had at Shadow Cell, was being forced to retire.

"Indeed, Vincent...But it also needs realists. And I suppose it's too late now to see that. But rest assured my loyal friends, I have no regrets about what I did. I served my country, I did my duty, and I watched as you put your necks on the line time and time again to save this country and this planet from complete and utter destruction."

"We couldn't have done it without your guidance sir," said Wanda, for this man was just giving them too much credit at this point, "We would have never succeeded like we did without your leadership."

"Leadership or not, that doesn't change the fact that I did fail you at one point, Shadow Cell," he said, his tone becoming more morose, "For all the successes we had, I cannot escape my failure as an officer. I had the power to stop the Colonel. I had the power to stop Dr. Essex. But I just didn't use it."

"Nobody could have seen that coming, sir," said Scott, his voice shifting a bit at the mention of those names, "We were set up, used, and betrayed."

"But it was I who betrayed you the most by not acting," argued the General.

"What makes you say that, sir?" asked Jean, saddened somewhat that a man like this was bearing such a harsh burden.

The General struggled to keep his poise at this point as he addressed the soldiers that had given him a second chance. Without them, he never could have attained the success and greatness that had given him such a voice. And even though he had made his mistakes before they all paled in comparison to the mistake that put these brave souls through so much.

"Ever since I was a kid, I looked up to my father for doing what he did for his country, helping to create Captain America and lead this country to victory. He left his mark on history. And he left a good one. I always wanted to follow in his footsteps. I always wanted to be a part of something so much grander...Something that could leave the same kind of mark on the world that he did. And as the General of Project Shadow Cell, I fell as though I truly succeeded. For like my father, I helped lead the greatest soldiers of this generation into countless battles that saved humanity from the brink of destruction. And for that, I am eternally indebted to you, Shadow Cell."

Such words struck the five mutant soldiers profoundly, for this was still their superior officer in their mind. And here he was thanking them. It brought out a wave of new feeling to the young warriors. But he was not done yet.

"Nevertheless, even after everything you've given me and your country and through all the prejudice and lies...I failed you when you needed it the most. I didn't act when I should have. Looking back on it I saw the signs, but I didn't act on them. And because of that, our world was destroyed...Shadow Cell is now no more. It may not mean much now, but at least accept my apologies for not doing my duty as your General."

"Sir...You have no need to apologize to us," said Laura, finding this man's words to be truly touching, "This was all Dr. Essex...He betrayed us all."

"But I was foolish enough to listen to him and believe his lies," quipped the General in response, "It's a part of the game. You know that better than anybody. There are many lies out there, shaping and molding our world. But lies or no lies, it's a matter of how much you believe them that really makes a difference. I believed Dr. Essex. And because of that, I paid the price."

"We all did, General..." said Scott, sounding stronger in his words as he remained as respectful as ever to his superior, "And if that was what we had to pay for the sake of our duty...We'd pay it gladly."

Such words helped bring a smile back to the General's face. Even after the lies and betrayal that Dr. Essex had fed them, they were still the same dutiful soldiers he took so much pride in. It almost made it worth the toil, but the damage had been done. There was no going back now. And here they were now, no longer an organization...Yet still very much a unit.

"You really are true soldiers at heart," he said to them, which helped bring a smile to their faces.

"Thank you sir. And rest assured, we will never forget what you and the rest of Shadow Cell taught us," said Vincent, taking to heart this deep rooted promise that bound him and his comrades so strongly.

"Then I take it back..." said the General, his smile not waning, "You're more than just soldiers...You are all true warriors."

That made the five mutant soldiers of Shadow Cell feel even more proud, for it truly did lay to rest many of the lingering complications that had been plaguing their minds ever since the destruction of their livelihood. Regardless of whether or not they had been tools or puppets of Dr. Essex, that didn't take away from what they were at heart. They were soldiers...Forever bound by the honor and compassion that had carried them into so many battles. They may have fought, killed, and maimed their way through countless opponents...But they did so with the spirit of the warrior to guide them. They had protected countless innocents, staved off many disasters, and loyally served their country and their world...And for that, they would never forget the ideals that they believed in.

The General could never convey how truly grateful he was to have been able to work with such fine warriors. With all they accomplished, he felt as though he had done his father justice. And wherever he was, he was looking down on him and these fine soldiers with a smile. However, it would make it that much more difficult to say goodbye.

"You do know that...Once I leave, our paths may never cross again," said the General, knowing the time had finally come.

"Yes, we figured as much, sir," said Jean, very much saddened with the knowledge that they wouldn't be able to see this man again after everything he had given them, "We just...We wanted to say goodbye. You're still our General. We're still soldiers. And Shadow Cell or no Shadow Cell...That will never change."

"That's good to hear. Because in a world like this, so full of lies and deceit, we all need something to hold onto. Regardless of what you endured, who you killed, and the mistakes you made...You must never forget the honor, the soul, and the heart that guided you through each and ever battle. It's not so much how the world works...It's more so why it works. There are lies everywhere and nothing is ever in black and white. But I do know this though...As long as there are people like you out there...People who believe in upholding the values of honor, compassion, and self sacrifice...Then mutant or non-mutant, this world is in good hands."

A brief silence fell over the last remnants of Shadow Cell. All the conflict, all the uncertainties, and all the lies seemed to fade somewhat at the mention of that which would forever bind them together...Not just as a unit, but as true warriors. Even though there wasn't a whole lot they could do to unravel the complex web of lies that ubiquitously inundated the world, they would always have something to hold onto for both themselves and for future generations.

"Thank you, General," said Scott as he and his comrades gave their superior one final salute, "I promise you...We will never forget."

"I have all the faith in the world that you won't," he smiled in response, "And please...You need not call me General anymore. My name is Nathan...Nathan Grimshaw. And even though we may never see each other again, just know that you've made this old man proud. And it has been a true privilege...And a great honor...To be your General."

And with one final salute, General Nathan Grimshaw and the five mutant soldiers of Shadow Cell parted ways.

They had been to every corner of the world. They had saved this planet from the brink of destruction time and time again. And now that they had made their final peace with the organization that held such a strong hold on their lives, Scott Summers, Jean Grey, Vincent Freeman, Wanda Maximoff, and Laura X23 Logan could finally look forward to the future. It was sad in a ways seeing the General go, but in a ways it helped lay to rest the final issues concerning the past and from here, they could finally move on and make their own future together.

"You think we'll ever see him again?" asked Laura, her tone somewhat saddened as she watched the General disappear from sight.

"I don't know, Laura," sighed Vincent, "I hope so, but...In many ways, it's probably better that we didn't."

"I know," she conceded, "But still...He was the only one out of everybody at Project Shadow Cell who didn't betray us. He was the only thing who practiced what he preached when he taught us. That has to say something about what we were and the world we came from."

It was an interesting perspective for the five mutant soldiers as they stood in the shadow of the Pentagon. For a good part of their lives, they served this country like the General had. And while it all came crashing down in the end, that didn't take away from the deeper meaning at hand. In some ways, it was like Sinister had said...It was the context rather than the content.

"You're right...It does mean something," said Scott as he thought about some of the things the General had told them, "Lies or no lies...That doesn't change what we stood for and what we had faith in. Soldiers or warriors...We'll always have our cause. We may be haunted by the past and chances are we always will. But as the General once told us, you can never forget who you are. And there's no way to know where you're going unless you always remember where you have been."

Despite all the uncertainty, pain, and sorrow of their past...The five mutant soldiers managed to smile somewhat at that. It didn't necessarily make the pain of what they had been through go away, but it sure did put it into perspective. They could not and would not forget where they had come from. From the lives they saved to the lives they took, they owed to themselves, the General, and to the masses they swore to protect never to forget. And as soldiers and warriors, that was a vow they intended to keep.

"Come on guys..." said Jean as she enlaced her arm with Scott's, "Let's go."

"Yeah...Let's go home," said Wanda, doing the same with Vincent.

The five mutant soldiers of Shadow Cell then finally turned their backs on the military that had given and taken so much from them. They had made their peace with the General and their complicated past. And now, it was time to go back to the place that was now their home. It was still very much a strange feeling...Thinking of the Xavier Institute as their home. But from this point on, they planned to build their own livelihood. They planned to make their own future. And they would do so not just as a unit...But as a family as well.

After a short walk to a heliport not far from the Pentagon, one of the X-men's high tech aircraft, the jet/rotor hybrid helicopter known as the Velocity, was there already waiting for them. Both Logan and Ororo were waiting for them with Ororo in the cockpit and Logan waiting outside the open hatch.

As he saw them approach the lone craft, he couldn't help but smile. He may not have been an expert on emotion or interaction, but he could tell that the five tormented souls had made peace in some ways. There were so many ways he could relate to what they had been through, but no matter how much empathy he felt for them, it was clear that this meant something to them that nobody could ever understand.

"I take it things went well," he said as he watched them all file into the aircraft.

"Yeah...I suppose that's a safe assumption," said Vincent, giving Wanda's arm a firm grasp as he looked back towards the Pentagon one last time before following Scott and Jean into the passenger seats, "I'm just glad we could finally lay some of these things to rest. Now we can truly move on."

Logan may not have known the details as to what exactly happened, but with those words in mind, there seemed to be plenty of reason to be optimistic. But then, as he was about to close the hatch, he noticed Laura stopping suddenly, her gaze turning back towards the unrivaled symbol of the military...An organization she had been literally born into.

Unlike the others, who had lives before Shadow Cell to some extent, her life was completely centered around that of a soldier and it was a lot harder for her to forget that compared to the others. But thanks to the support of someone who had been through many of the same toils as she had, she could move past this life...And hopefully, she could build one all her own.

"Hey...Are ya gonna be okay, kid?" said Logan, placing a gentle hand on his 'daughter's' shoulder.

Laura unexpectedly found herself laughing as she turned to the man whose blood flowed through her veins. But after spending all this time around him and learning the true power of family and blood, she couldn't help but feel a great deal of pride every time she thought of this man as family.

"How many times do I have to tell you, Father...Don't call me kid," she said to him, smiling in a way that resembled Logan all too much.

"Hey, sometimes I can't help myself," he shrugged innocently.

"And I guess that's where I get so much of my attitude from," she said as she followed him into the aircraft, closing the hatch behind her.

"What can I say? Ya got yer daddy's eye."

No matter how many times he said or thought about it, Logan never could quite wrap his head around the notion of him being a father to a teenage girl. But the closer he grew to this girl, the more proud he felt to call her family. Even Laura's comrades had to admit, they never saw her smile so much before. It was as if that hole in her heart had been partially filled after all these years. And the same seemed to apply to Logan as he joined a smiling Ororo in the cockpit.

"You truly are growing soft...You know that, Logan?" she said with a grin as she started up some of the controls.

"I know...I know," he admitted, a smile never leaving his face, "Just don't let too many of the others know. I got a reputation to uphold."

"Oh don't worry about that, Logan," said the former weather goddess as she placed her hand over his, "Your secret is safe with me."

Giving her hand a firm squeeze in response, Logan smiled back at the woman who had helped him through so much. And as he looked into those beautiful, sky blue eyes of hers that so embodied the divine goddess she was in his eyes, he was grateful that he had someone like her...Someone that really held a special place in his heart. While he was aware that his feelings for her had definitely grown from this difficult time, that didn't make him forget everything she had done for him any less meaningful.

From the passenger seats in the back, Laura couldn't help but smile at this sight. The others noticed it too, but it seemed to mean the most to Laura. There were so many things that she had now that she never thought she'd get a chance to experience. She had friends, she had a home, and she had a father. But from what she could see now, it was clear that her future was still developing right before her very eyes. And for the first time in recent memory, they could safely say that they were looking forward to wherever it may take them.

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Later that afternoon after Ororo, Logan, and Shadow Cell returned from Washington, the five mutant soldiers decided to celebrate their newfound freedom out in the backyard, making a sudden last minute change to their session to reflect on the new path they now found themselves on. Both the X-men and the New Mutants were now practicing CQC alongside them under the warm sun, but unlike previous sessions...The five mutant soldiers chose to show that they also had a taste for fun.

"Dogpile!" yelled Wanda as she saw Bobby and Ray lagging behind in their movements, triggering a mass rush amongst both the regulars and the New Mutants as they quickly got into the spirit of this unique little session.

"YES! Now zhis is my kind of training!" exclaimed Kurt as he and Kitty jumped their friends.

"Hey! Wait! What happened to give me 50?!" said a nervous Bobby as he tried to get away.

"Meh...I think this reinforces the point of discipline much better. Wouldn't you say so team?" grinned Scott as he saw everybody getting into it.

"Oh most definitely!" said Jubilee, who naturally went for Bobby first...Although he didn't seem to mind for some reason.

From there, chaos and laughter erupted from the crowd...Bringing a smile to the faces of the five mutant soldiers. Even though they were still instructors, they had to admit...It was nice making room for fun every now and then.

"So...You think we should stop them?" said Laura with a grin.

"Nah...I think they'll tire themselves out more with this than any training we can provide," said Vincent as he watched in amusement.

"Yeah, and besides, that makes our jobs a lot easier," said Jean with a shrug, "And you've got to admit...It sure is interesting to watch."

"Amen to that!" said Wanda in agreement.

From a lawn chair by the pool, Mystique simply shook her head and grinned at the sight before her, wondering to herself just how crazy things at this place could get. But crazy or not, she had no intentions of leaving this place anytime soon. She had a new life here at the institute. She had her children and people who truly understood her. And despite all the mistakes she had made in the past, she could safely say that this was one she was finally certain of.

Also watching from afar, Logan and Ororo shared the view, wishing they had a camera to capture this moment. But so far, they were content simply watching them. They smiled back at one another, feeling a warm sense of accomplishment and pride that they had come this far. They were also holding hands, a gesture that was quickly growing in importance for the both of them as things continued to evolve and manifest right before their very eyes. And the more they watched, the more they smiled, for it seemed to embody a sense of hope for the both of them that the future before them was still full of so many possibilities.

From up on the balcony that overlooked most of the backyard, Professor Charles Xavier and his long time friend Hank McCoy also watched with undue pride as they took in the scene below them. They were drinking tea and playing chess, but at the moment, they simply took a moment to reflect on how far they had come.

"Well, I see that our newest recruits are really getting into the spirit, so to speak," said Hank with a grin as he watched Bobby and Ray try to flee from the swarming mass of kids, only to be stopped cold in his tracks by a flying Warren.

"Yes, it would seem so," said Professor Xavier with an approving grin, "I suppose that the Washington trip was a good idea for them after all."

"Indeed, now it seems as though they can truly leave part of their past behind them," mused Hank as he turned back towards the chess board, trying to think of a way to finally beat his friend and mentor.

"Yes, well...I do believe that there's only so much that they can leave behind, old friend. As far as they've come in their quest to move past the demons of Shadow Cell, it is my belief that a part of them will always remain tied to that legacy...Not out of sorrow, but out of choice. They are true soldiers...Plain and simple. And from here on out, it is simply a matter of building a future...While also remembering to keep the past alive."

"Well spoken, Charles," said Hank as he made a move on the chess board and took another sip of his tea, "Yet still...One has to wonder just what kind of future five of the deadliest soldiers ever created will make for themselves."

"I suppose only time will tell old friend," said the Professor with an optimistic smile as he looked back down at his students below, "There's no telling what the future may bring us. And I guess in some ways, we can only be along for the ride. Checkmate."

Back down with the crowd, the five mutant soldiers seemed to get into the spirit as Laura joined the dog pile and Vince and Wanda followed suit. Scott was about to drag Jean into the mix as well, but for some reason she held back.

"Hey, come on babe! Let's go have some fun!" said Scott, tugging at his lover's hand.

"I think they're having enough fun without us, Scott," she smiled in response, pulling him back into an embrace, "Besides, I just got the strangest craving for a nice bucket of chocolate chip ice cream. Care to join me?"

"You and your ice cream...How could I resist?" grinned Scott, snaking his arm around his lover's waist as she led him back inside, "I guess we can safely say that this session is over."

"Most definitely lover boy," said Jean in an affectionate tone, "But ours has just begun."

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

AN: Well, it seems as though the future is finally looking bright for Shadow Cell and the X-men as a whole. They seem to be adjusting to their new lives quite well and there are plenty of new relationships blossoming. From here on out, it's simply a matter of building a future...Which, by the way, is a concept Solid Snake preached at the end of Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty. Just thought I'd mention that to all those looking for Metal Gear references! There's not much more left...Just two more chapters! The countdown has begun my friends! "Sinister Soldiers" is almost over! So before it ends, don't forget to REVIEW! Send them to me via email or post them on the fanfiction website! Thank you all so much for your wonderful support and I wish you all the best!

SCROLL ON FELLOW FANFICTION FANATICS! REVIEW!!!
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