Categories > Cartoons > X-Men: Evolution > Extermination

Sky on Fire

by slickboy444 0 Reviews

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

Category: X-Men: Evolution - Rating: PG-13 - Genres: Action/Adventure, Drama - Characters: Cyclops - Warnings: [V] - Published: 2005/10/09 - Updated: 2005/10/09 - 8546 words

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Extermination
Chapter 13: Sky on Fire


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The days passed by as one big blur for Professor Charles Xavier and Logan. They remained confined to their top floor hotel suite, guarded by a small, heavily armed group of Friends of Humanity soldiers that had orders to shoot on sight if they even tried to escape. They still fed the both of them...Keeping them alive even though it was torment to do so. The horrible pictures that had been left by the man responsible for all this remained as a way of taunting and mocking Charles and any faint glimmer of hope that he may still harbor. By this time, he had viewed every last grizzly photo and so had Logan. Some had been much harder to look at then others. Photos like the dead body of Hank and young Jamie Madrox were especially hard for Charles to bear. While for Logan, photos like that of Rogue and especially Ororo were particularly difficult for him to view. But it wasn't just the photos that were left to taunt the two men...General William Stryker also allowed for their room to have continued access to certain television channels, mainly news channels like CNN, so that could watch the overall devolution of mutant/human relationships.

Right now, the two men remained glued to the TV as new stories continued to come and further degrade their hopes of salvaging mutant and human peace.

"This just in from the CNN news desk, more info leaked from the military as forces continue to work to contain the mutant menace upon recent discoveries. According to local sources, the fabled mutant sewer dwellers known as the Morlocks, named after the subterranean race from HG Well's classic book 'The Time Machine,' were discovered to have harbored a cache of battle plans and communications with Professor Charles Xavier, who had earlier last month disavowed any relationship between his institute and any other mutant radicals. Also discovered were images and idols of refuted mutant tyrant Magneto, whom was known to hold somewhat of a godlike status for the Morlocks. In addition to that, officials at the now demolished Xavier Institute have released photos of weapons caches that were hidden in the underground levels of complex. To many soldiers on the field, this only confirms the grim plan that these mutant teams had for all humans and according to a poll taken within the last three days, an overwhelming 85% favor strict containment of any and all mutants not just within the United States, but the world as well. Another 10% favor all out eradication of the mutant menace while 5% remain undecided. Government officials have been quick to act as the President recently decreed that Congress will pass a new version of the Mutant Containment Act within the next few weeks and on an international level, similar acts are now gaining support."

As more of such info continued to blare across the screen, Logan couldn't take it anymore. It seemed that now, there was no more hope left for Xavier's dream. The government wanted mutants contained...And the public wanted them all wiped out from the looks of it.

"Turn it off Chuck...I can't take any more of this shit," grunted Logan.

"It's a charade Logan...I know for a fact that the Morlocks despised Magneto. Those weapons that they claim are complete fabrications."

"What difference does it make?!" bellowed Logan as let out another frustrated sigh, "It's over Chuck...Mutant relations with humans are officially dead. Everyone probably believes what the news is saying...Stryker knows that!"

"Which is why we must remain alive...There has to be someone left to fight Stryker before he accomplishes his sick ambitions."

Logan couldn't see how such a task could be done at this point. What Xavier was now hoping for seemed just too impossible to fathom. The news was turning every human in America against their kind and Stryker had the world's most powerful army at his fingertips and was working to wipe them all out. For the first time...Logan actually felt as though the Professor may be wrong this time...Now, there truly seemed no way out of this situation.

"Chuck...You know I've followed you and your ideas for a long time now. I owe you everything..." said Logan, still brimming with anger over the news and Xavier's repeated resistance to reality, "But this time...You have to face the facts! Humans everywhere want us all dead...Stryker has all the advantages. And even if we do stop him...That won't undo the damage that he's already done! It's fucking irreversible now!"

Professor Xavier let out a deep sigh as Logan once again reminded him of how grave their situation truly was now...But he refused to give up hope. As long as there remained a single breath in his crippled body...Charles Xavier refused to give up.

"That, old friend...Is exactly what Stryker wants us to think. He knows he's destroying any chances at peace...He knows that he is going straight down the path to all out war. The man is not stupid...He understands the ramifications and the risks...As I too understand them in fighting for my goal. We all played directly into Stryker's hands Logan...And we must not give into any more of his wishes...We must not continue to be his puppets."

"And how can we do that?" said Logan in a deeply skeptical tone, "And why? Why should we keep this up? The human race is never gonna trust us again."

"Trust is very easy to lose and very hard to gain Logan," reminded Xavier, "We must work for it...We must fight for it."

"With what?! The institute is gone! The students are dead! How can we fight anymore! HOW?!" yelled Logan as he slammed his hand into the wall, making a rather large hole because of his brute strength.

"We have to have faith in those that survived Logan. I know my students...And so do you. They're fighters...They're survivors. The same goes for the Brotherhood and Magneto...They are survivors. If for anything we should hold on to any faint glimmer of hope...We should do it for them."

"We don't know if they're even still alive Chuck," said Logan pessimistically.

"Don't let yourself think that old friend," urged Charles as he wheeled himself over to his distraught comrade, "I know that there were survivors...I can feel it. Have faith in their resolve Logan...After all, it was you who trained them."

The reminder that there may have been survivors in these heinous attacks did help somewhat to bolster Logan's demeanor. Xavier had reminded him that four of the institute students were not among the dead. There were no pictures of Scott, Jean, Kurt, or Kitty...Who were, in fact, some of Logan's first students. He had trained and taught them the longest out of all the others that had perished. If anybody could survive...They could. But it didn't change the fact that so many of the kids that he had sworn to protect now laid dead...Butchered by a madman.

Logan's thoughts then drifted back towards those horrible pictures that were now forever engraved into his mind. No matter how long he lived...He would always remember those images. In thinking about those that could have survived...And those that had already died...Logan let out deep sigh that seemed to replace the simmering anger that brewed from within him and replaced it with an overwhelming sense of remorse.

"How are we gonna do it Charles...How? Stryker has already made all the moves he has to...Even if I do get the chance to liquefy that guys internal organs, it won't change the state of the world."

Professor Xavier was silent for a moment...For he knew that there was nothing he could say to completely lift his or Logan's spirits form the pit that they had been buried under.

"I...Wish I could give you an answer old friend," said Xavier somewhat shamefully, "But I can't...I can only plead for you to not abandon all hope for us and the students that survived. We'll think of a way...I know we will. Something will happen...We just have to have faith Logan. I know you feel that the world is beyond repair at this point old friend...But NOTHING is ever beyond repair. No matter how hard things get or how dark the future seems...We must never stop fighting. Please my friend...Don't abandon that which we have nearly given our lives for so many times in the past."

Logan didn't respond at first, he just continued to lean against the wall...Thinking about what the Professor had said. Of all the times that he and the X-men had faced insurmountable odds, whether it be the sentinels or Apocalypse, this time seemed by far the most hopeless. Then again...Logan remembered that he had thought the same thing during all those times in the past as well. Each time...He had to be reminded that the dream wasn't dead...And each time he was proven wrong. What should make this time any different? So many of the students that he treasured were now dead...But there may still be others alive out there. Were they not reason enough? Logan was still in a state of shock and full of remorse for what had happened to the family that he had grown so close to. He was feeling emotions that he never thought he was would have to feel...Yet the pictures that still stung in his mind had proven him wrong.

"I don't know Chuck...I just don't know..."

Logan then retreated back through the connecting door to his room, leaving Xavier to simply wait and hope that his old friend would come around and keep fighting for that which they had so strongly fought for in the past. But right now...He knew that Logan just needed time...He needed to think. Xavier knew that something had to be done...Exactly what that was, he didn't know yet. But he would think of a way...He felt that he owed as much to the students that had lost their lives in the rubble of his institute.

Back in his room, Logan quietly sat on his bed...Staring off into space and contemplating what would happen now. He had failed to protect those kids...And now they were dead because of that failure. A fury of emotions that Logan had never felt before had washed over him as he recalled the time he had spent with those kids over the years and the effect that they had on him. He remembered what a dangerous, wild animal he had been before Xavier and Ororo found him. He remembered how full of anger and hate he was before he was given a chance to be human again. He recalled the fond memories that he had when he first met Scott and Jean when they were 12 and how teaching and raising them had given him his first sense of self worth. He remembered how other young kids like Kitty, Kurt, Rogue, Jamie, Bobby, and Jubilee had come to see him as a protective mentor as well as a teacher. The smiles on their faces...The feelings that they gave him...Were now all in the past. He had taken those little things for granted...Now he may never feel them again.

Logan then found himself taking out two of the pictures that he had kept with him...The ones of Rogue and Ororo. He remembered how he could relate to Rogue...How she went to him for emotional support or advice. He felt like a real uncle or father type figure around her and she had always said that he gave her strength when she needed it from somebody who understands. Then...His thoughts drifted to Ororo. The picture of her dead body...Of her beautiful white hair being stained with charred flesh. When Xavier had first recruited him...Ororo had been the first real friend that he had ever had. She had seen past all his anger and animal-like demeanor and had convinced him that he had a heart underneath all his pent up rage. She was a kind, peaceful, loving creature that seemed to bring joy to everybody she met, be they children or adult. Logan could easily see why people back in her homeland once worshipped her as a goddess. To him...She was a goddess...Because she had help save him from himself. She meant a lot to him...He could talk to her about things that he couldn't talk to anybody else about. Now she was gone...Taken away from this world when she had never voluntarily done anything of harm to a single living thing. She was everything he was not...But the fact that she was dead wasn't what tore at Logan's fragile soul...The fact that he had never so much as thanked her for everything that she had done for him really made him feel the torment that was eating away at him now. Then...He felt something form within his eyes that he had never felt before...Tears. He wasn't somebody that cried easily...Yet the more he looked at the grizzly picture of Ororo...The more his strength to hold his emotions back failed. A small drop of his salty tears fell upon the picture as Logan squeezed his eyes shut and bowed hung his head low in remorse.

"I'm sorry Ro...I'm so sorry..."

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Back at the Pentagon, General William Stryker was still dedicating all of his energy toward finding the surviving mutants that had managed to escape the initial attack on their respective homes. His ability to remain alert and focused despite a horrible lack of sleep surprised and amazed his subordinate soldiers as his seemingly superhuman aura was only further justified. The high resolution computer screens that dominated the center of the room showed the vast area that was being searched by aerial and ground reconnaissance. There were many red blips flashing on the screen, representing an individual search group on the ground and while white blips represented those in the air. Stryker's attention was fully focused now as he looked at the map and contemplated his next move.

"I know you're out there freaks...I just have to find you," muttered Stryker to himself as he looked at the map layout before him, "Now if I was hiding from an entire army and I wanted to stay undetected...Where would I be?"

As the general contemplated those words, one of his communications officers suddenly received a transmission over a secure wavelength.

"General Stryker! I think I may have something!" said the man in excitement as the general turned his attention to the young soldier's computer station.

"Go ahead..." said Stryker in his usual calm tone.

"I just got a tip from one of the ground search units that a local shopkeeper at a small general store in the Northwest quadrant has said that he's been seeing a couple of mysterious women come to his shop on a regular basis in the past few days. And the first day he saw them happened to be right after the night we attacked."

A slow smile spread across the general's face. While he knew that data like this would seem only of mild significance to a regular leader...He had a true gut feeling that this was the break that he had been waiting for.

"I am not a fan of coincidences..." said Stryker with a new hint of optimism in his tone, "What are the coordinates of the general store?"

"According to our boys on the ground, 15 degrees bearing due northwest from the front boundary of the search zone."

"Very good...The that allows us to narrow our search greatly," said Stryker as he then turned towards the relay command officers that stayed in constant contact with each respective group, "Issue a new set of orders...Tell all search parties on the ground and aircraft in the skies to concentrate all of their forces on a 50 square mile area around the general store. And above all, tell the field captains to keep each team quiet and undetected...We want to keep the element of surprise."

"Yes sir, it will be done!" said the subordinate officers as they feverishly worked to comply with the general's request.

Satisfied with their response, William Stryker then turned towards another one of his specialized subordinate officers.

"Sat-com..."

"Yes sir?" replied the female officer obediently.

"Bring all aerial satellite reconnaissance in to sync and focus it on the 30 square mile zone that I just ordered and display for me a full spectrum view on the screen."

"Sir, it will be done sir. It should take about 5 minutes at the most," replied the officer as she went to work.

Stryker then waited patiently with the always stoic Magnum by his side. The look on his face appeared rather jovial...Yet unsurprised. It was as if it was something he had seen coming before this all happened. Whether or not this was true was anybody's guess, but every subordinate officer present in the room knew better than to second guess somebody like him.

"We're close Magnum...I can feel it," said the general as the work pace around him accelerated, "Those escaped abominations cannot hide anymore...No matter where they go my eyes will follow. And just think...This is still merely a prelude of things to come."

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Magneto and Colossus had been searching the vast wilderness of upstate New York for days now. The endless line of trees and forest that spanned as far as the eye could see only added to their daunting task of finding the survivors of the attacks on the Xavier Institute and the Brotherhood boarding house. Of those survivors...Magneto hoped to find his missing children...Who were not among the dead seen at their residence. Overall, the nonstop searching had been seriously taking a toll on both men. Piotr Rasputin had gotten only marginal sleep because of Magneto's fierce determination to find his children. The master of magnetism seemed all but immune to fatigue as his determination to find Wanda and Pietro drove him to the limits of his endurance. However, even someone as powerful as him had to rest on occasion. The nearly constant use of his powers over the last few days had worn down his energy levels greatly, but he gave himself little rest...Refusing to stand by while his children were in possible danger like he had done for too long now.

"We had better get moving again Piotr," said Eric as he stretched his arms out in preparation for the renewed search.

Colossus had chosen to sit against a tree and rest for the rare and brief interludes of their search, but he had grown increasingly tired and didn't have Magneto's stamina when it came to sleep deprivation.

"It's only been an hour Magneto," said the Russian mutant as he let out a tired sigh.

"I know...But we have to keep searching...I have to find Wanda and Pietro before the military does. I refuse to stand by like I have for so long now and let them suffer on their own."

"It is a large area to search...Besides, do we even know what we're looking for? Perhaps we should focus on finding more information," suggested Piotr.

"That would take too long!" shot Magneto in response, "I can't let the military find them before I do! We must keep searching for any signs of them or the other survivors!"

"What kind of signs?"

"ANY kind! We just have to keep our eyes open!"

Magneto's frustration was showing just as much as his impatience. The image of the body bags back at the Brotherhood, X-men, and Morlock dwellings hung strong in his mind. The lingering fear that his children would suffer a similar fate if he didn't protect them continued to tear at his soul. It was all he could think about now...Ever since Piotr's words back in New York, Eric Lensherr had been thinking less about the so called war and more about finding Wanda and Pietro. Two years of confusion after his release from Apocalypse had done a number on his mind...But at least for the first time since then, he had something to truly focus on.

Colossus finally got up as he let out a tired sigh and prepared for another round of searching. But before they could take off, the Russian suddenly saw something in the sky that sparked his curiosity.

"Magneto, look!" said the Russian mutant as he pointed towards the sky.

Magneto looked up to see what he was referring to and was greeted with the sight of five distinct shapes flying in formation high in the sky. He quickly recognized them as a group of F-16 and F/A-18 fighter jets. The distinctive white streak of clouds left behind by their exhaust gave them away, but to the ignorant observer...It didn't look like something too strange. However, to the two mutants on the ground...It was the sign that they had been waiting for.

"Combat planes...In formation," said Eric as his mind processed this sight, "They aren't searching anymore...They're traveling towards a destination. They must know something..."

This was the break they needed...The single stroke of luck that could bring them to the surviving mutants of the attacks. And hopefully...It would mean for Magneto that he would find his children.

"Come Colossus...We must follow them!"

The Russian mutant didn't have tome to react as he was abruptly lifted off of the ground and into the air along with the master of magnetism. His children were close...He could feel it. But he only hoped that he wouldn't be too late when he found them. So far, the military forces had proven themselves to be quite efficient and deadly...But no force was deadly enough to keep Magneto from finding his kids. It was now more uncertain than ever what would happen next...But for Eric Lensherr and Piotr Rasputin it would undoubtedly be a daunting task for both of them to go through.

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

The sun was setting for yet another day as the seven surviving mutants of the X-men and the Brotherhood continued to hold up near a cave, hopefully out of view for their pursuers. Scott had continually tried to contact the Professor back in Washington through the strange cover of static that seemed to block out any and all signals he sent, but so far he hadn't been successful. Jean kept an eye on Pietro's condition and gave Wanda constant updates. Overall, he was now out of danger since they removed all but one of the bullets from his body and now the speed demon was in a deep sleep thanks to some extra strong doses of over the counter Nyquil. Kurt stayed by Wanda's side, offering emotional support when she needed it and overall he managed to lighten her demeanor somewhat much to everybody's surprise. Kitty spent the rest of the day with Raven, telling her about everything that had happened within the past two years with the X-men. She didn't just talk about Kurt and Rogue, but everybody from herself to Scott, Jean, Logan, and the Professor. Kitty was somewhat surprised at Mystique's curiosity to know everything she could about the people she was now surrounded by. And the more Kitty talked, the more intrigued the shape shifter became...For it truly showed her how little she knew about everybody at the institute. Even as diminishing daylight fell upon them, Raven Darkholm listened intently to everything that the young teenage girl had to say.

"So what happened after that?" asked Raven as she listened in fascination to Kitty Pryde as she told her the story of the Phoenix that happened a year ago.

"Well after the Phoenix nearly took everybody out, it prepared to finish what it came for and disassemble the Earth and sun atom by atom. But apparently...Scott was still conscious and started yelling and begging for Jean to fight it even though the Professor had failed."

"Did it work?" asked Raven intently, somewhat shocked at the events that Kitty was describing, for they were nothing like that described to her by her late friend, Destiny.

"Not exactly as you would expect..." answered Kitty as she once again replayed the events in her head that she knew all too well by now, "While everyone still tried to attack...Scott refused to and just kept talking to her...Trying to get through to Jean. But the more he talked...The angrier the Phoenix became. Scott kept saying that he knew Jean was still alive...He could feel it."

"He could feel it? Scott isn't psychic, how could he do that?" said Mystique skeptically.

"That's the thing...I really don't know," answered Kitty truthfully, "Scott and Jean have this really weird bond that even the Professor never could quite understand. He said it had to do something with two people who are deeply linked through some psychic bond formed by a true and powerful love that allows them to connect with each other in a way that goes beyond any real understanding."

"Sounds like something out of a cheesy romance novel," commented Mystique, who still didn't quite understand such a concept...Then again she had never had the joy of experiencing such love in her life.

"Yeah, that's what I always thought...But when Scott talked to her and told her how much she meant to him and how much faith he had in her...I saw how strong it was for myself. Because of Scott's words...Jean actually managed to fight back the Phoenix. But that crazy entity kept on yelling and screaming at him...Saying that it was going to kill him with a single thought. And honestly...I think it actually tried...But Jean managed to keep it from hurting him."

"So Jean actually suppressed a living god?" said Raven in a shocked tone, for this story sounded almost too fantastic to believe.

"I don't know how she did it...But she did. She forced that evil thing back and managed to return to us. It was still inside her...But she kept it at bay briefly. Then what happened next just totally blew my mind!"

"Well, don't keep me in suspense here," said Raven, wanting to know how this story ended.

"Jean then just all out collapsed in Scott's arms and started crying...Saying that she couldn't keep it up and she couldn't stop it. And over an over again they just kept saying how much they loved each other and Scott kept telling her that everything was going to be alright and he would make sure of it. Jean just kept clinging to him and crying her heart out trying to maintain control. Then as the Phoenix was about to take over her again...The Professor stepped in and used Cerebro to focus his psychic energy towards Scott instead of the Phoenix and in turn was actually able to give Jean the strength and power that she needed to separate herself form the Phoenix entity once and for all."

"She separated from the Phoenix? Something that powerful and that destructive?" said Raven, feeling as though this was almost too fantastic to believe.

"Yep! It was quite a sight..." said Kitty as she thought about what she and the others had seen on that fateful day, "All of the psychic energy that the Professor could muster was sent through Scott's mind...And through the link that they shared...That energy allowed Jean to save us all. I remember hearing the Phoenix letting out this one last, agonizing scream as it flew out of Jean's body and back into space where it truly wanted to be. After that...Scott and Jean pretty much collapsed in each other's arms...And it was all over."

It was a story that most people would have thought to be some amazing work of fantasy...But Raven knew from Destiny that the Phoenix was a real being...And now she knew how it had been beaten and how the very universe was saved.

"Wow...So that's how the Phoenix was stopped..." said Raven as she took in Kitty's account.

"Yeah...That's how it happened. Ask anybody else...They'll tell you," said Kitty, "But there was one last thing that happened that you just have to know!"

For an instance, the peppy, upbeat voice seemed to return to Kitty as she talked to Mystique...Whom she surprisingly found comfort in because of her sheer willingness to listen. Kitty had never known enough good listeners in her life...But this completely different version of Raven Darkholm continued to amaze her.

"And what might that be?" asked Raven, unable to hide her smirk as she saw the renewed giddy expression on the young girl's face.

"After it was all over and the Phoenix left...Scott and Jean were pretty much out cold from all the energy they had exerted. I remember the Professor saying that Scott was nearly knocked into a coma because of all the psychic energy that his mind was forced to absorb and Jean was totally unconscious from all the energy that she had used. We got them both back to the mansion and they rested and recovered in the infirmary for nearly three whole days! But on the third day when I went down with Mr. Logan to check on them...You'll never guess what we found!"

"Must be something worth remembering if you're this excited about it," commented Raven as she awaited Kitty's response.

"It is! You see...When we walked into the bedrooms where they were being kept, we saw that Jean was no longer in her bed. At first, Mr. Logan looked worried...Then he took a look at Scott's bed and saw them both curled up in each other's arms with big smiles on their faces!"

"Oh my...That must really have been quite a sight," said Raven, only able to imagine how those two must have looked wrapped in each other's arms, "I had no idea that Scott and Jean were so close...They must really love each other if they managed to fight off and survive something like the Phoenix."

"Yeah, they really do...Believe me I know they do. I mean...It's not like they hide it or anything!" said Kitty, letting out a light giggle as she recalled all the times she and Kurt caught those two openly showing their affection for one another.

"It must feel pretty good to have that kind of love in your life..." mused Raven, now feeling somewhat envious of Scott and Jean.

"Well...From what I could see...It really brought out the best in both of them," said Kitty as she recalled how Scott and Jean changed after that fateful day with the Phoenix, "Scott actually lightened up a lot...Jean allowed herself to let loose more often. I have to say...I kind of developed a new respect for them after seeing how close they really were and how much they loved each other. I think after I saw them curled up in that hospital bed...I more or less stopped teasing them like I did when they first started dating."

"I...Never thought love like that could even exist," said Raven as she thought about her old views of love in the past compared to the kind of love that Kitty was describing.

"But it does! I saw it myself! It was SO sweet and romantic! I almost lost my mind and I thought that Logan was going to as well...But he just stood there with a big, goofy grin on his face and led me out of the room."

"Ha! I would have expected somebody like Logan to be more agitated by a sight like that."

"You'd be surprised Raven..." said Kitty as she heard her classic views on everybody's favorite volatile Canadian, "Mr. Logan is actually a real softy once you get past that tough exterior."

"I find that hard to believe..." said Mystique, still somewhat poignant on her views of somebody that she had fought with bitterly in the past, "But I'll take your word for it."

Kitty knew Logan was a tough nut to crack when it comes to getting past his overall gruffness. But she had gotten to know him and she had become quite fond of him over the years even though he still called her 'half pint.' All of the kids back at the institute had an appreciation for Logan...They all trusted him and respected him. It was sad now that they were gone...Taken away so wrongfully and brutally. And Kitty felt that if Logan was still out there like she knew he was...He would go to the ends of the Earth avenging and rectifying all their memories out of the great fondness and care that he had for all of them. In some ways...He was kind of like Mystique when she though about it...A tough exterior, yet with a real heart on the inside.

"Oh make no mistake about it Raven...He's actually really protective of everybody," assured Kitty, "Especially Scott and Jean...Whom he's practically raised since they were twelve."

"Well...Judging by how much he hated me for meddling with the kids...I don't doubt that. But I still can't imagine a guy like him with a soft side."

"Oh I beg to differ..." quipped Kitty, "Because when he saw Scott and Jean all curled up together...So happy and blissful...I could've sworn that I actually saw tears in his eyes."

"Tears...Logan...No way!" said Raven, finding that notion even harder to believe than what Kitty told her about the Phoenix.

"If I'm lyin' I'm dyin' Raven..." said Kitty with a grin as she remembered the look on Logan's face when he saw Scott and Jean together like that, so happy and peaceful, "Like I said...He's a real softie at heart. Scott and Jean just bring out more of that side of him because he helped raise them."

Kitty Pryde's words on Logan, Scott, Jean, the Professor, and her son had really shook the old views that Mystique had of her former enemies. She never would have guessed how complex they were at heart and how intriguing their lives were. Before Apocalypse, she had a vague idea of all the X-men as brainwashed soldiers of the Professor that lived in their own dream world...Oblivious the alleged futility of trying to live peacefully with humans. Yet in learning so much about them now...Raven Darkholm now truly knew the folly of her dogmatic assumptions of the past. There were so many sides to them now...So many parts of them that she never bothered to take notice of because she was too busy fighting her own fights and wallowing in her own self hate. It was a surreal feeling...Almost as if she had stepped into a new world that she knew was always there...But was too afraid to venture to.

"I guess Scott was right when he said I truly didn't know a thing about him or the rest of you," said Mystique as she let out a deep sigh, "I mean...I never would have guessed Logan to have a soft side...I never would have guessed my son growing into such a kind, noble man...I never would have guessed Scott to have such a compassionate and understanding side...I never would have guessed Jean to care so much about people she did not yet fully trust...And I never would have guessed you to be such an easy person to talk to."

"Thanks Raven," said Kitty with a light blush, "I'm glad to know somebody like you that actually listens really well to what I have to say."

"Well...Your welcome Kitty..." said Raven, feeling somewhat better now after hearing everything that Kitty had told her about the others, "I'm glad I got the chance to know you and learn more about everybody else that I've so foolishly negated after all these years."

"So does this mean you'll stay with us?" asked Kitty somewhat hopefully now that she had truly gotten to know this woman.

"I'm not going anywhere Kitty...Not as long as I have reasons like you, Kurt, and the others to stay here. I owe Rogue that much."

The solemn mention of her dead daughter always made her feel somewhat depressed because she knew that she would never get a chance to know her in the same way that she had gotten to know Kitty and Scott these last few days. However, the reassuring smile on Kitty's face helped her cope somewhat in knowing that she was finally being Raven Darkholm for a change instead of Mystique.

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

The sun was close to setting over the horizon as Jean made a few last minute checks on Pietro's condition. She was definitely tired now...Everybody was. These past few days had been very hard on all of them...Being forced to live in hiding and remain in seclusion while an entire army was out hunting them. However, Jean Grey tried not to think about that as she let out a deep sigh and let the wounded Pietro rest.

"So how is he?" asked Wanda as Jean walked out of the medical area.

"Still in a lot of pain..." replied Jean, not wanting to worry the Scarlet Witch about her brother but not wanting to lie to her either, "I managed to numb some of it out temporarily with my telepathy, but it will take time for him to heal from so many wounds. I gave him another dose of Nyquil to keep him asleep for at least 12 hours...But we may need to find something else soon or else his pain may stunt his healing rate."

It was not the best of news in the world for Wanda to hear...But it wasn't the worst either. Her head sank somewhat when she heard how much pain Pietro was in...But Kurt was by her side and placed a comforting hand on her shoulder, which did help somewhat. This sparked Jean's curiosity when she saw this...But from the looks of Wanda's disposition, it would probably be a good idea not to comment on it.

"Well...I'll let you see him now Wanda," said Jean as she left for the cockpit, "I think it would be beneficial to both of you if you were by his side."

"Thanks again for all your help Jean," said Wanda gratefully as she looked back at the redhead that had helped care for her brother.

"You're welcome Wanda...Glad to do it," said Jean as she turned back to give Wanda a brief smile.

It was rewarding feelings such as those that had always made Jean want to become a doctor. Although it had been a long, difficult task...She had managed to help treat her first patient and there weren't many medical students out there that could boast such a feat.

Now that Pietro was sleeping and Wanda was there with Kurt to watch over him, Jean felt her fatigue set in as the physical and mental strain of the last few days finally caught up with her. The sun was setting and night would soon be upon them. She briefly looked out the window of the camouflaged X-jet and saw Kitty and Mystique still talking like they had for hours now. Jean thought about joining them, but they seemed too engrossed in their conversation at the moment and she didn't want to intrude. Feeling hungry, she grabbed a bag of chips and made her way to the cockpit where Scott had been holding up for most of the day. He had continued to try with every piece of equipment he could to contact the Professor and Logan...But so far he had not been successful. Upon entering, Jean saw that he had worked himself to sleep and was now passed out in pilot's seat.

'Oh Scott...You really pushed yourself hard...' thought Jean as she made her way over to the sleeping young man.

As Jean approached him, she heard a soft groan escape from his throat as he began to stir.

"I'm sorry, Scott...Did I wake you?"

Scott rubbed the temples of his head as he turned to the new presence in the cockpit. He was relieved to see that it was Jean...For it helped him let go of the incessant concern that his nightmares kept bringing him when he dreamed of Jean being among those lost at the institute.

"No...It's okay," assured Scott as he rested his head on the back of his chair, "I couldn't sleep much anyway."

"Nightmares?" guessed Jean, knowing full well the answer because of the psychic link she shared with him.

"Yeah...Bad ones too," replied Scott, "But...I guess I'm kind of use to it now after so many years."

"Scott...Nobody can ever get use to something like that and you know it," quipped Jean.

Scott just let out a defeated sigh as he conceded to his girlfriend's words. She could sense his tired and anxious disposition through their link and she could tell that he was still struggling to deal with it just like the rest of them. Jean soon found herself slipping into the chair where Scott was sitting and perching herself atop his lap. She gently wrapped her arms around his neck and placed a soft kiss on his cheek as Scott was left to absorb to surprise of Jean's actions.

"I know it's hard...Believe me, I've been having nightmares too," said Jean in a deep, monotone voice as tightened her grip on Scott's body, "Every time I close my eyes...I see the looks on their faces...Our friends...Our family. I still remember the feeling of sensing all that death...I still remember sensing the feeling of all that pain. It just...I don't know if I can ever sleep again with such memories in my head...I just..."

Jean's voice cracked under the strain of her own words as tears started forming in her eyes. Scott gently wrapped his arms around her and held her close to his body. Jean then rested her tired head against Scott's chest as he whispered comforting words to her in order to help sooth the pain they both felt.

"Shh...Its okay Jean...I know...I know it hurts."

"It's never going to go away...Is it?" sobbed Jean as she clung to Scott as if he was the only thing keeping her from falling into a bottomless void.

"I...I'm sorry Jean," said Scott as he struggled to keep himself from breaking down at the sight of Jean's agonizing tears, "I wish I could say it would...But I know from personal experience that it doesn't go away. However...I also know that it does lessen with time...You can learn to live and cope with it if you're strong enough. And I know you Jean...It's like I've said before...I know better than anybody ever has, or ever will for that matter...You are strong enough."

"I don't know Scott..." said Jean, not feeling very strong at all at this dark time of loss, "After everything we've been through...The sentinels, Apocalypse, the Phoenix...I don't..."

"You can't let yourself think that Jean..." said Scott quickly as he kept her from finishing, knowing it would just make her sink deeper into depression, "I won't let you doubt yourself after all the strength you've shown and all the heart that you've given me. I can't...Be in your shoes and know how it felt to feel so much death and I can't make it all go away even though I would give anything to do it...But I can always be by your side Jean. Remember that promise I made you back when we were twelve?"

Upon recalling that memory, Jean managed to smile somewhat through her pain.

"Yes...You promised that you'd always be there for me when I needed it...Because you told me that I was your best friend. And no matter what happened...You always stayed true to that promise. You were always there for me Scott...Even at times when nobody else was."

"That's because you mean a lot to me Jean. You've grown into more than a friend to me over the years...You're my soul mate. I could never live without you...Never. And I'll always be by your side...No matter how hard things get, I'll always be there for you."

Scott's words helped Jean fight her tears as she basked in the comfort of his love. He gently rocked her tired body back and forth...Trying to lull away her suffering.

"Thank you Scott..." whispered Jean as her sobs finally began to subside, "I love you so much..."

"I love you too, Jean...Just keeping a promise."

Scott looked down at his distraught girlfriend with a heavy heart. Being someone who had suffered a great deal of personal loss in the past...He was somewhat better at coping with such feelings. But Jean had never dealt with such pain before...And it was somewhat worse because she had actually felt her friends die because of her powers. Scott could only imagine the kind of pain that she must be in as he felt her distraught emotions radiate from her mind. He wished that he could make it all go away for her...He wished that he could take all of the agonizing feelings that plagued her and force them into himself. Ever since he had met her...Ever since he had known her...Scott never wanted Jean to feel pain. But now...The woman he loved more than anything in the universe was suffering so much and there was little he could do now other than hold her close and let her cry her emotions out.

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

In the depths of the Pentagon in the capital of the most powerful nation on the face of the planet...General William Styrker and all of his subordinate officers worked feverishly to find the surviving mutants from the initial attacks that had been executed days before. The tension in the air grew with each passing moment as communications officers, field commanders, and data analyzers worked hard to take advantage of the narrow window of opportunity that had presented itself as they continued to search. The general, as always, was remarkably calm and collected...Only giving out occasional commands to subordinate officers and looking closely at the map that was displayed on the screen.

"I know your out there...I can feel it," said Stryker under his breath as his mind took in all the data that the map had to offer him.

Then, one of his communications officers interrupted his train of though with a sudden message.

"General Stryker, sir...We've got an update from the field captain in the forest."

"Very well, patch him through," ordered the general.

Then, with a few keystrokes from the officer, General Stryker then heard the voice of the field captain through his headset.

"General Styrker...All search forces have successfully surrounded the area like you requested. But we still haven't been able to find the targets. The trees and humidity are making it difficult for aerial reconnaissance to find anything and the terrain is making it difficult to advance our vehicles."

"Keep the aircraft hovering over the area...I had a feeling that we would encounter such problems in this region," ordered Stryker as he kept his eyes on the map, "And for the vehicles, have all heavy ordinance teams stay back around the perimeter and keep all ground forces armed and ready at a moments notice. As for the rest of the troops, tell them to advance forward on foot...And to be careful and stay in the shadows. We want to keep an element of surprise. And in addition to them...Have all Apache helicopters provide close backup. We want to be sure to overwhelm them before they can escape this time."

"Sir, it will be done, sir!" said the field captain obediently, "Anything else?"

The general was silent for a moment as he looked back at the map. He was about to break contact with him...When suddenly, something caught his attention on the map. Upon feeling his mind go off with such fervor, he quickly turned towards one of his map analyzers.

"Satcom...Zoom in on Northwest quadrant 3B."

Upon hearing this, the officer responsible for overhead satellite mapping complied with his request. A look of great intrigue quickly came over the face of the general as he looked closer at the anomaly that he had seen. It was the sign that he had been looking for...He could feel it in his bones. The closer he looked...The more sure he became as a slow smile spread across his face.

"Captain...Are you still there?" said Stryker with a grin as he turned his headset back on.

"Yes sir...Has something come up?"

The general's grin only became wider as he looked back at the map with all the marked areas where his forces resided. He knew that this was his chance...This was the opportunity that he had been searching for. And now...He was going to make sure that he took advantage of this and finish once and for all what he started.

"Captain...There's been a change. I know where our targets are now. Issue the order for all forces to prepare to advance on a new position. This is an opportunity that we must not squander...So let's make sure that there are no survivors this time around."

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

AN: To be continued in the next chapter! So now Stryker knows where the seven survivors are and he's pulling out all the stops! Stay tuned to see what happens! Can the X-men and Brotherhood can survive this one? You'll just have to wait and see! So what do you all think? Do you like the story so far? What about the Jott moments throughout this fic? I thought that this would probably be the best part to clear up any questions on what happened with the Phoenix since I didn't have time to go into it earlier. And don't worry...There's plenty of more drama and action to come! Don't forget to review! Send them to me via email or post the on the fanfiction website! I love getting feedback and it really helps motivate me in writing a story! Thank you all very much for reading and I wish you all the best!

HEY YOU! PLEASE REVIEW!!!
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