Title: The House of the Rising Sun, Chapter 21

Author: Goddess Evie

Date: 07/24/09

Genre: Romance (Remy/Rogue, Scott/Jean, Lance/Kitty), Action, Drama, Angst, AU, heck, it's got it all…just not all in one chapter.

Rating: G, and I really don't think this'll get above PG.

Disclaimer: I do NOT own X-Men of any incarnation. I am but a poor, fanatical, poor, English teacher who much enjoys a show so that she writes extensive (and hopefully intriguing, enjoyable, and highly popular) fanfiction to feed her insatiable hunger for anything X-Men and is poor, if I haven't mentioned that already. Also, the song lyric I used as the title doesn't belong to me either. I'm quoting Nickelback's "Next Contestant". But, sadly, I own nothing but the plot so don't sue me cause I need all my money for my bills!

Summary: Scott just has a bad day…

Chapter 21: Here comes the next contestant…

Scott arrived home after dropping off his teammates at Bayville High School to a quiet mansion. Jamie was taking his lessons with Hank, Ororo had another long day with the US congressmen, and it seemed that Professor Xavier was meeting with Brad. Scott found the silence more disquieting than relaxing. Admittedly, he found himself a little at a loss as to what to do with himself. He was used to a mansion full of mutants, and usually somebody wanting his attention. To find himself completely alone with nobody asking anything of him left Scott standing all by himself in the middle of the mansion's foyer unsure of what to do with all his free time.

Scott debated his options. He could watch whatever he wanted on TV in one of the rec rooms without anybody else whining about his choice of program. He could read without constantly being disturbed. The pool would be completely unoccupied, and it was still just warm enough outside that he could do laps and not have anyone splashing him or hitting him with a beach ball or any other swimming paraphernalia. A walk around the grounds to reacquaint himself with his home sounded nice, as well. Or maybe he would just shoot some pool all by himself. He had to make sure he stayed ahead of Kurt and Evan. He'd never live it down if they beat him the next time they challenged him to a game.

Just as Scott was beginning to realize what an advantage having the mansion all to himself until 3:30 was and to seriously consider the use of his time, Logan appeared and ruined any chance of having any down time.

"Took ya long enough to get back," Logan growled.

"Uh, there was a small incident with Principal Kelly," Scott informed, watching Logan warily.

Logan narrowed his eyes at the mention of Bayville High's principal. Although he hadn't been part of the talks concerning the Institute students' right to attend school, he'd heard enough about how vehemently Principal Kelly had fought to keep them out. Scott knew the menacing look from Logan was for Kelly, not himself, and decided it was definitely a good idea Logan hadn't been involved in trying to get the mutants back into public school.

Logan's look lasted only a moment, and then he refocused his eyes on Scott. "Suit up and meet me in the Danger Room in ten minutes."

Logan didn't stick around long enough to see Scott's face fall. Nor did Scott hesitate to follow orders. His carefree day had disappeared and it didn't matter to Logan that Scott had already had a training session in the Danger Room early that morning with the rest of the X-Men. Turning to the stairs and jogging up them two at a time, Scott wasted no time changing into clothes more suitable for the Danger Room and then heading directly to the sub levels of the mansion. Logan may have said ten, but Scott knew he meant five.

Logan worked Scott all morning. Exercise after exercise, drill after drill. Obstacles courses to test how well he'd retained, while he'd been away to college, the skills he'd learned as an X-Man. Scenarios to build his leadership abilities, since he'd be assuming his place as leader of the X-Men, complete with holographic replicas of the X-men: ShadowKat, Nightcrawler, Rogue, Jean, Spyke and even Gambit. Sometimes Logan added in one or two of the younger mutants, just to see how he could cope.

Scott gave his all in every task Logan set him at. Even towards the end of the four hours when all he wanted to do was collapse from exhaustion and be carried to the med bay and Dr. McCoy, Scott kept going. Call it pride. Call it stubbornness. Call it needing to prove to Logan that he could take whatever the animal threw at him. He pushed himself to the very end, when Logan finally entered through the bay doors and told Scott he was done for the day, until the rest of the team returned from the school and he would join them in another training session that afternoon. As per Logan's usual demeanor, no encouragement was given, no praise doled out. Scott found himself smiling all the same, to have endured four hours in the Danger Room with Logan at the controls and not once asking for a break.

Scott wasn't sure what he wanted more as he leaned against the wall of the elevator, headed to the ground levels: to shower, sleep, or eat. However, once the door opened, Scott could hear voices coming from the kitchen, so he headed in that direction. He found Hank and Jamie making lunch, apparently for everyone in the mansion. Jamie spotted Scott in the doorway and excitedly pulled him into the kitchen. Scott fell into a chair at the small table, but Jamie didn't seem to mind. He went back to spreading slices of bread with something that Scott couldn't quite make out, but with Hank supervising, Scott wasn't too worried.

"What've you been up to this morning? You disappeared quite effectively," Hank commented as he sliced fruit.

"Logan's had me in the Danger Room since I got back from dropping everyone off at school," Scott replied, running his hands through his hair.

Hank smiled to himself. "I suppose that's Logan's way of saying 'Welcome home'."

Scott groaned. "I sure hope not. Did Rogue get the same treatment?"

"Maybe not for quite as long…"

"That's because Logan likes Rogue better than me," Scott commented.

Hank chuckled. "Those two have a lot in common."

At that point, Brad and Professor Xavier entered the kitchen, as well, and Jamie began passing out the sandwiches. Hank brought the sliced fruit to the table on a large plate as well as a couple of pitchers, one of milk, the other of ice water. Everyone gathered around the table, with the small group it was just the right size, and began to eat, even Professor Xavier. To some mutants, seeing Charles Xavier eating peanut butter and jelly might have been a bizarre sight, but Scott, having been the first student brought to the mansion, remembered when these smaller, more intimate meals had been the norm. He missed them, and having the chance to be a part of one again brought a sweet, nostalgic smile to his lips.

Professor Xavier immediately started a conversation with both Scott and Brad about continuing their college education. Of course it would be impossible for them to return to any college campus, but Xavier and McCoy were both certified and capable of teaching college level courses, and even Ororo would be able to instruct them in certain courses. Hank was just starting to get a profile of what the young men were interested in when Logan entered. He took a sniff in the direction of the table and then headed straight for the fridge.

Scott watched as Brad studied Logan from the corner of his eyes. He realized that it was the first time Brad had even seen Logan. The thought must have occurred to Professor Xavier, as well, because when Logan turned away from the refrigerator soda in hand (Jamie was present), Xavier took a moment to introduce the two. Logan grunted, focusing more on uncapping the soda with one extended claw that made Brad's eyes all but bug out, and the young man responded with a timid wave.

Sipping on his soda, Logan turned to the television mounted in the corner of the kitchen, the same one he had witnessed Magneto's address on with Remy and Rogue, and turned it on. Showing some consideration for the rest of the people, he kept the volume down low, which, with his enhanced hearing, wasn't a problem at all. Once his attention was tuned to the TV set, Hank and Xavier reinitiated their college conversation with Scott and Brad.

Jamie disappeared sometime during the conversation, having finished his lunch and being bored with talk of classes and courses of study. Brad and Scott worked out the basics of their semester work based on what they had started studying at college and what degrees they were interested in attaining. Logan was still watching the television, though with a grim expression. A glance at the screen showed he was keeping an eye on Ororo's progress at the capital. Scott had had enough of that for a while. Unless there was something new to report, he didn't want to hear the same arguments thrown back and forth.

Finally, Professor Xavier excused himself to return to other important matters that needed his attention and Hank supposed that he needed to find Jamie and get in some more lessons with him before the rest of the mutants returned from school. Xavier pointed Hank in the right direction as they exited the kitchen, and then they were gone.

That left Scott and Brad with Logan, who was resolutely ignoring them for the news on the television. Scott decided that it was too early for Brad to get a full taste of the Wolverine, and hurried him out of the kitchen and into the halls of the mansion. To be honest, Brad was looking just a little overwhelmed after spending already less than a day at Xavier's Institute for Gifted Children. To be even more honest, Scott was glad. He couldn't help wishing that Brad would go back to college while he could still pass as a normal human.

"How did your talk with the Professor go?" Scott asked as a way of starting the conversation.

Brad shrugged, "It went okay."

"Did you call your parents?"

Brad shook his head. "Professor Xavier wanted me to, but I don't think I'm ready to tell them, yet."

Scott took this as a good sign, and at the same time felt bad. Brad had to be scared, now that mutants had been exposed. Though his face hadn't been plastered on international television, he had to be thinking about the day that his mutant status would be revealed to the public, as well. Scott still didn't understand why that had made him so eager to give up his old life and come to the mansion.

As he was about to ask his next question and continue the conversation, Scott heard Xavier's voice in his head. May I eavesdrop? Scott wasn't sure why the Professor would be interested in this conversation between friends, but he gave his consent and then spoke once more to Brad.

"Are you still thinking about staying here?"

Brad took a while to answer that question. He studied the halls of the mansion around them, the artwork and decorations created both professionally and by the denizens of Xavier's school, the rooms revealed by open doors as they walked past, the flowers and plants that Ororo made her own special chore to keep alive and well groomed, even the grounds of the mansion visible through the windows streaming with the early afternoon sun. Scott watched his friend as he thought seriously about this question. The question he had answered so surely back in Scott's dorm room.

When Brad finally turned to look at Scott and give his reply, it wasn't with a definite yes or no, but with a question of his own. "Why do you think I should go back to college?"

The question caught Scott off guard. He heard genuine interest in his answer in Brad's voice, but also a hint of accusation and quivering of betrayal. Scott rubbed his forehead than ran his hand through his hair as he now took the time to think about the answer.

"Look, Brad, the mansion is a great place, and I think that if you really want to stay, then there'd be no better place to learn about your powers and really come to understand what it means to be a mutant," Scott began.


"But you can still live a normal life. Nobody knows you're a mutant, yet. You could still get a college education, walk around in public without people judging you from what they saw on a TV screen, enjoy spending time with all of your friends and family.

"I envy you that, Brad. I love being home, and this is my home and these people are my family, but I wish I could be back at college going to classes and studying late into the night and even being harassed by Andrew!"

"But you have this sanctuary to come to, " Brad immediately shot back. "You have a place to escape to when you're weighed down with the hate of the world and you need to get away from being looked down on and people being afraid of you for no good reason!"

Scott smiled. "And now, you do, too. Xavier would never turn down a mutant, Brad. You could come back any time you wanted and be welcomed here and accepted here. But you can also go out into the world, right now, and keep living your life like nothing happened."

"That's where you're wrong, Scott. I can't ignore what happened. I can't just act like mutants aren't public knowledge, now. People may not know that I'm a mutant, but they know mutants exist and I can't just forget about that, Scott."

Brad stalked off, leaving Scott to watch him go, unsure of how the conversation had ended so badly. He sighed as he watched his friend turn a corner at the end of hall and disappear from sight. Upsetting Brad had never been his intention, but somehow he'd managed to do just that.

That didn't go so well, Scott thought glumly, knowing that Xavier was still tuned in.

Don't be so hard on yourself, Scott. You answered his question truthfully. Sometimes the truth is hard to accept, nor is this an easy decision for Brad to make.

Scott nodded at his mentor's words, but he couldn't shake the guilty feeling at the way things had ended with his conversation with Brad. Any hopes of a relaxing afternoon were gone. Scott found himself wandering the mansion trying to find something to take his mind off his friend and failing. He only flipped through channels when he turned on a TV, found nothing interesting to read in the vast library that the mansion contained, couldn't concentrate enough on his shots to make practicing billiards helpful, and when he thought that perhaps he could assist McCoy in tutoring Jamie, he decided what they were working wasn't anything he could add any insight to and sneaked away before either of them realized he'd even been there.

To be brief, the rest of his afternoon was ruined, and Scott actually found himself looking forward to when the rest of the students returned home and he'd have another Danger Room session with the team. Something to help take his mind off of Brad for a little while, and his friends always knew how to cheer him up.

Unfortunately, their arrival home wasn't to be the uplifting experience Scott was hoping for. Although he knew their first day back was probably going to prove more problematic than anything, Scott or any of the instructors at the Institute weren't expecting the uproar that came pouring into the mansion that heralded the students return. Scott had purposely set himself in the rec room nearest the door between the garage and the mansion so that he would know the moment they got home. With the raucous they made as they charged in from the garage, their school day must have gone much worse than expected-and Scott decided he could have heard them from the other side of the mansion, no problem.

They were all speaking on top of each other, and all Scott could make out was, "That's just not fair!" and, "You don't deserve to be treated that way!" and, "You earned those awards fair and square!" He intercepted their progression through the mansion at the door of the rec room he'd been occupying. The very first thing he noticed was Jean, tears streaming down her cheeks, as Kitty led her down the hall. Scott stepped out to block their way, and Kitty, seeing him immediately, stepped aside without any word to allow Scott to take her place.

Immediately he pulled Jean close, stroking her red hair gently and making soothing noises. In the moment that he performed that action, the rest of the mutants quieted, even the younger mutants. Jean put her arms around Scott in response and hugged tight, sobbing into his shoulder. Scott looked around the now quiet mutants, and in a soft voice asked, "What happened? Why is Jean crying?"

Everyone looked at each other, as if to say, "You tell him," but nobody seemed willing to speak up. Scott continued to watch them as he comforted his best friend, Jean Grey, the girl of his dreams. Every sob cut him to the core, and he felt her pain as his own, even if he didn't know the source. He wasn't going to wait very much longer to find out.

"Somebody better tell me what's going on," Scott demanded a little more harshly this time, and now he started to see the faces of his and Jean's friends turn away.

"Scott," it was Jean's voice who answered him, and he looked to see her tear-stained face looking up at him, her blue eyes still glistening with tears, her bottom lip quivering with the threat of more crying. She sniffled and he could see her trying to compose herself. "It's not their fault."

Scott relaxed a bit, and shot an apologetic gaze at his friends.

"It was Principal Kelly," Kitty was finally the one who told. "He, like, took away all her academic awards and soccer trophies, and even, like, told her she was no longer valedictorian or on the soccer team."

Scott's eyes got wider with every word Kitty spoke, and he heard Jean sigh heavily as the brunette finished. Scott gave Jean another warm hug, and held her for just a moment. Then he loosened his grip and turned, keeping an arm around Jean's shoulders.

"Come on. Let's go talk to the Professor," he said with determination.

He urged Jean along side him as he headed towards Xavier's office. Beside him, Jean started wiping at her face, trying to clean up the evidence of her breakdown. Behind them, the rest of the mutants followed, silently offering their moral support.

Thanks, Scott. It's good to know I can always count on you, he heard in his head.

Scott smiled and thought back. Hey, I know you're not a cheater, and so does everyone else here, and we're the only ones who count.

Jean laid her head on Scott's shoulder for a moment and he gave her shoulders a squeeze. He'd missed having little telepathic conversations like that. The distance while he'd been at college had been too far, and it was a comfort, now that he was back, to be able to share that with her again. He hoped she felt the same way.

The group had only made it about halfway to Xavier's office when they were intercepted by both Logan and Ororo. Logan immediately began a tirade over how the core members of the X-Men should already have been in uniform down in the Danger Room for training, but Ororo hushed him with a simple touch on his arm. Having noticed the remnants of Jean's tears on her cheeks, Ororo immediately moved to stand in front of Jean and Scott.

"Are you okay, Jean?" her voice was regal and compassionate all at once.

Once again the story was explained, this time by Jean herself, for once. She managed to make it through without crying, though there were a couple of times that Scott thought she was going to break down. Ororo listened sympathetically, and then agreed with Scott when he explained that they were heading to discuss the issue with Xavier. Logan, however, still standing where Ororo had left him with his arms crossed over his chest, was less sympathetic.

"Ororo, go ahead and take Jean to see Charles, but the rest of you need to be dressed and waiting for me in the Danger Room five minutes ago."

The X-Men looked at Ororo for help, pleading with their eyes for her to intervene. She shook her head at them as she steered Jean away from the group, her signal that she would support Logan on this decision. Everyone wished Jean good luck before they turned and headed to the elevator that would take them to the sublevels of the mansion. Scott was quiet the whole way there, his mind on Jean, though he still caught the mumbling of his teammates as they continued to grumble about Principal Kelly's unfair treatment of Jean. Only Rogue and Remy were silent, standing next to each other opposite Scott.

The elevator silently opened to release the X-Men into the sublevels of the mansion. When they practiced as a team, they always wore their uniforms, and they split off to the locker rooms to change. Within a few minutes they had reconvened in the Danger Room, everyone looking up at the control room window as they awaited Logan's instructions.

Logan wasn't one for waiting, or playing games, thankfully, and he started barking their instructions the moment everyone had gathered. The metal lined room disappeared behind the holograms of Logan's training program for the day and the team immediately looked to Cyclops for instructions. Quickly he assessed the situation and then began divvying out orders.

All was going well, their goal almost achieved, when suddenly Cyclops realized that Gambit wasn't where he was supposed to be. He began to reach out with his mind for Jean, asking her to locate the errant X-Man, when he suddenly remembered that she wasn't present. With a growl to himself, he gave the order for the rest of the team to continue with the plan and proceed to the goal.

Even without Gambit, the fight was going fairly well. They weren't losing entirely. They also weren't winning, however. The enemies Logan had dreamed up for them were a little more of a challenge than Scott had planned on, but then that was probably only because Gambit had gone AWOL. If he'd been where he was supposed to be and done what he was supposed to do, maybe they could be done with this training session.

Unfortunately, the fight was turning out to be pretty even. Scott was quickly trying to reassess the situation and hash out a new plan. Nobody was making any headway to the target-a mysterious black briefcase of which the contents were unknown, but vitally important, according to Logan. Scott knocked his own opponent back and took the opportunity to look around. Automatically he looked to where the briefcase was sitting before he turned back to his rushing opponent, only to realize, as he shot the projectiles blasted at him by the holographic mutant, that the briefcase had disappeared.

None of the X-Men had grabbed it. They'd all still been fighting their opponents when he'd looked around. So where had it-

"I got what we came for. Let's get outta here, mes amis!" Gambit suddenly cried from the only exit.

Before Cyclops could affirm or reject Gambit's call, the rest of the X-Men had disengaged from their respective fights and followed their newest teammate away from the fight, complete with a "Right on, man!" from Spyke. Cyclops sighed to himself and followed them, keeping an eye behind him to see how their enemies would react. He couldn't imagine they were just going to let them get away with whatever they had been guarding so loyally, even if they were just holograms.

That was why he wasn't surprised when they did attack from behind. Cyclops yelled out for help as he spun and began firing optic blasts to keep the baddies at bay until his teammates could catch up. Fighting in such a cramped space was not a good idea, and Scott would have preferred to defeat these guys back where they had more room to fight. But since he didn't have a choice, he'd have to adapt to the situation at hand and hope everything came out okay.

Cyclops had only just began shouting orders when he suddenly heard ShadowKat loudly complain, "Careful, Evan, I'm not looking to get any plastic surgery done!" and then Rogue's angry voice cry out, "Kurt, don't teleport raght in front o'me! I can't see OR breathe!" and from there everything melted into chaos until the holograms faded and the group was left standing in the bare bones of the Danger Room again.

"Aw man, we failed. Logan's not going to be happy," Evan groaned.

"Well maybe if you'd, like, be more careful where you shot those things. You're supposed to, like, aim them at the enemy!" Kitty complained to Evan. That started the bickering again, but Scott ignored it.

"Perhaps if everyone had followed orders we could have avoided the whole mess and got out safe and sound with our objective," Scott bellowed above them, his gaze fixed on Remy who was the only person not involved in the blame game.

He lazily turned to look at Scott, eyeing him up and down for a moment before replying. "I learned a long time ago that sometimes yo' gotta follow yo' instincts, homme."

"No. You gotta follow my instincts," Scott shot back. "That's why I'm the leader."

"Is dat why? I t'ought it was jus' cause you were da oldest," Remy taunted, a grin spreading across his face and his red-black eyes glinting eagerly.

Scott was about to reply when Logan stepped in and ordered both of them to back down. It was then that he'd realized he and Remy had been stepping towards each other, and he backed up a couple of steps, but only a couple. Remy stood where he was.

"We would have succeeded with your mission if Remy had followed orders," Scott accused.

"Or perhaps it's time you got used to not everyone following everything you say all the time," Logan replied. "And show a little trust in your teammates and their judgments."

"I-" Scott began, but then shut up again, knowing it was useless arguing with Logan. He shot an especially nasty glare Remy's way, who was grinning like the weasel he was. It was too bad his visor hid it.

"And you," Logan turned on Remy, who lost his smug expression for a more surprised one, "need to be more careful of your teammates. Achieving the objective isn't the only goal. You have to think of the safety of your teammates, as well."

"I t'ought da safest t'ing would be to get da briefcase and get out," Remy argued back. He was apparently still too new to know that arguments didn't work with Logan.

"The safest thing, Cajun, would have been to not let your teammates go into a fight they couldn't win without your help," Logan sneered back and now he and Remy were beginning to step up to each other.

Remy opened his mouth to respond, but this time Logan cut him off. "Discussion over. Everyone hit the showers."

Scott followed the rest of the X-Men as they headed back towards the locker rooms. Remy stood where he was for a minute, but then backed down and with a scowl joined everyone else. The only one left behind was Rogue, who was still serving her punishment of extra Danger Room sessions with Logan. She didn't look at Remy or Scott as they passed by her, even though Remy was throwing her looks over his shoulder. She didn't look at any of her teammates. She merely looked at Logan, watching him boredly as she waited to start her own private training session.

Author's note: To be honest, I'd started this chapter soon after posting the last one, but I wasn't sure how I wanted to end it so I took a break to mull it over. I didn't get back to it before I took a month long trip to visit friends and family in Montana, but since so many wonderful nice people had been adding this story to their favorite list, I decided to make myself get it out and finish it, and I quite like how the ending came out. I hope you all enjoyed!