Disclaimer: Characters and setting are the property of Marvel, I'm just borrowing them for a little non-profit fun.
Notes: Sorry about the long delay. Work and other aspects of my life turned very hectic then it took me a while before I was in pratice enough to write stuff I wanted to post.
Thanks for the feedback: Raniatlw, Risty, DemonRogue13, dead caffeine junkie, DoubleL27, crazyspaceystracey, pixie stix addict, PAD, Obsidian, Riderazzo, Little Blue Dragon, The Son of Logan and Ororo, Edele Heerseres, soulstress, Mirror Mirror, Goofn1
Megan crouched on top of the flying car's stubby wing. Oblivious to her presence Lance worked beneath the car. Armed with a new theory on why it didn't work, Lance was happily absorbed in what he was doing. Megan drank in the relaxed emotional aura filling the hanger. Lance reached blindly for one of his tools. Megan used a toe to nudge it toward his groping hand.
A few moments later both elemental mutants sensed two other beings approaching. Lance felt Fred's heavy steps accompanied by Penance's skittering, hesitant tread as they sent vibrations through the earth. Megan sensed their weight pressing against the planet and their emotions filling the air currents around them.
As Lance slid out from beneath the air-car and Megan dashed into the indeterminate zone at the edge of Forge's pocket dimension. Her steps blended so well with the earth's natural vibrations that Lance didn't sense her. Her form was quickly lost in the distortion of reality stretched to the breaking point. Megan didn't want Lance to know she was there; his peaceful moods never survived her presence.
"Hey." Lance said as he offered Fred and Penance a wave. "Something going on?"
"Jean just called Scott." Fred said with a tap on the side of his head to indicate which 'line' the red-haired telepath had used.
"Did he say something embarrassing?" Lance asked hopefully. In his opinion it was definitely someone else's turn to be the primary source of amusement on the base. Several weeks earlier Jean had accidentally pulled Scott into what sounded like a very interesting dream. Scott had been in the middle of conducting their daily 'what needs fixing most' meeting. It had been days before their fearless leader stopped blushing. Lance thought a repeat performance might be just the thing to distract everyone from his aspiring groupie.
"Naw, just business." Fred replied. "I guess Evan and Ray got in some sort of mess. They're coming out here with the Morlocks. I came out to see if you wanted to join the cleaning party. We're going to have to dig out another whole wing."
Lance made a face. "We've left the other corridors alone because the sand was so hard packed."
"We were sort of hoping you'd, ya'know, shake things loose." Fred suggested. "Besides with more people coming it wouldn't hurt to have more energy stored up."
"Yeah, yeah, use me for my powers." Lance laughed. "The car'll wait. It's not like I want to fly in it, there's just some cool engineering behind it."
At the edge of Forge's pocket dimension Megan was feeling queasy. To her eyes the pocket dimension was like a hollow in a crumpled up ball of newspaper. At the edge of the dimension Megan was keenly aware that it was forced in between the cracks in reality. She felt other realities pressing in on them. It was like the natural flow of energy in dozens of worlds had been twisted aside to make room for this space. Megan didn't like it. She reached out with her powers and nudged the lines of force into a more normal alignment as she smoothed the energy between realities.
A few minutes after the other three had left Megan followed them; without Lance there the hanger held no interest for her.
It was breakfast. Scott was grinning. Lance wondered if he should worry. Well, whatever Scott had planned it couldn't be any worse than another day of hauling sand out of the base. In Lance's experience Cyclops only looked that happy when he had some new form of training to inflict on his victims – team, same difference. The fact that he'd asked for Lance, Penance and Megan to accompany him practically confirmed their fate.
"Forge has the new Danger Room ready." Scott announced.
"What a shock." Lance grumbled even as he realized he was honestly excited to be using his powers in a combat scenario again. Cable's base had turned out to be a godsend for him in a lot of ways. It thrived off the energy generated by earthquakes and as a side effect it also damped out the evidence of what Lance considered day-to-day use of his powers long before any nosey seismologists could detect it.
Shortly after Forge got the conversion system up and running Lance suggested using his abilities just once to recharge the batteries and get them off power rationing. Logan and Scott had worried that it might lead the police to them but Cable had been enthusiastically approving. Once they learned that the base's energy collection system hid Lance's power signature and that it's structural design rendered it immune to damage from all but the largest quakes Lance had gleefully gone back to using his power more like he had before he'd gotten sick.
It had been over eight months since Lance had been free to just be himself. Except for Scott and Rogue everyone used their powers casually around the Mansion, even Jean couldn't pass a dish at dinner without resorting to telekinesis. Lance was convinced Scott's love of the Danger Room was because it was the one place where he felt free to cut loose. Lance didn't know how Rogue coped with always keeping her powers bottled up and he didn't want to know. He didn't mind controlling his powers, keeping the quakes small enough that he didn't accidentally hurt anyone but completely repressing his power was something else; it was depressing but at least it was over now.
"Hey Lance." Scott called. "I just realized something: This will be the first time you've trained as part of the X-Men."
Lance rolled his eyes. "We're not X-Men anymore." He pointed out. "Hey Fred, you think Tabby would vote with us to call this team the Brotherhood?"
Scott winced. Lance hid a grin.
Fred thought about it for a moment. "Naw, Tabby's never liked that name. She'd probably talk Penny…" The girl in question shot Fred a glare. "Ah… I mean Penance and Meg into calling us the Sisterhood."
Megan smiled at her nickname. As her attention focused on Fred Lance felt relieved to see her coloration shift away from mimicking Kitty's.
"How about we call ourselves the Underground, I mean we do live underground." Fred concluded.
Scott and Lance traded a surprised look. "That's actually… really fitting." Scott said.
"I like it." Lance agreed. "So are we testing this new torture chamber or not?"
"Be my guest." Scott said with a wicked smile. "Why don't you show the girls what to expect?"
Lance's eyes sparkled as he accepted Scott's challenge. He stepped inside while the others headed down the hall to the control room. The doors slid shut behind Lance. Several moments later, Scott's voice came on over the intercom. "All you have to do is get to the other side of the room."
Lance turned toward the control booth with a smug look. "A cakewalk." He declared and the room disappeared.
Lance glanced around the forest that surrounded him cautiously then took off in the direction of the far wall at a light jog.
Despite everything he loved about the base it did screw with his senses a little. He almost stepped on the false patch of ground before recognizing it for a trap. Avalanche threw himself to one side then rolled to come back to his feet as a laser struck the spot where he'd lain a half second earlier.
The floor shivered, Avalanche grinned fiercely as he filled the ground around him with his powers and kept running. Instinctually he knew every move the floor would make, his feet always found solid footing. The lasers, programmed to shoot a moving target while they remained stationary, struggled to lock on to anything while bouncing around on the suddenly treacherous ground.
"Nice move." Cyclops said approvingly. "I don't remember you being able to move while you used your powers before."
"I've gotten better." Avalanche replied.
"Let's see how you handle this." Cyclops challenged.
A four-legged robot scuttled out of its lair and blocked Avalanche's path. It coped with the bucking terrain better than the lasers had. Avalanche let it drive him back while he evaluated this new obstacle.
The severity of the tremors inside the room increased. Faint shivers could be felt in the control room before the base completely dissipated the vibrations.
Avalanche sent a swell through the floor and flipped the robot on it's back. He cursed when its legs simply reoriented themselves to its new position. It was up again in seconds.
"Well, I was looking for an excuse to try this." Avalanche commented then ran directly at the machine. He twisted to kick it and called on the earth's strength to back him up. The ground jolted beneath him adding considerable force and momentum to his blow. Avalanche's foot connected with the robot's joint and the mechanical limb shattered. "Fuck!" Lance exclaimed as the force of the blow reverberated back through his body.
The robot went down. Avalanche finished out the run with a heavy limp.
"Do you want to go next?" Fred asked Penance. "You don't have to worry, Scott won't run it at a very high level and if you get upset we'll shut it right down. I promise."
Penance watched Lance offer a jaunty wave to the control room as he limped through the door then looked back at Fred uncertainly.
"You'll be fine." He promised solemnly.
Penance pursed her lips producing a musical, crystal on crystal sound, like the chinking of campaign glasses. Then she nodded.
She passed Lance on his way back to the control room. He gave her a grin and an encouraging pat on the shoulder. He was careful not to apply too much force, by now they'd all learned that touching her was always a risk. Even when a knife was covered you didn't press too hard on its blade and every edge of Penance's gem-like, multi-facetted body was sharpened to a cutting edge.
Penance stepped into the empty room then to everyone's surprise she stripped off her jumper. Fred blushed.
"Her body is her weapon." Scott pointed out. He removed the drop away floors and dialed back the power on the lasers so they'd only cause a slight sting. He didn't want to frighten her. With that done he started the sim.
Penance ignored the laser banks as they took aim at her. Everyone in the control room stared as the beams reflected harmlessly off Penance's crystalline skin. "I guess I'll use the robot after all." Scott said. "Wouldn't want her to get over-confident."
Fred watched anxiously as the metal beast bore down on her. Penance cringed away from it.
"Try to fight it." Scott ordered.
"Turn it off." Fred said.
Scott slowed the robot's advance to give Penance time to collect herself.
"Scott, shut it off!" Fred exclaimed.
"Give her a chance to get mad." Lance said quietly. "She needs to learn to stand up for herself."
Fred bit his lip and stared down into the danger room.
Penance backed away from the robot until her shoulders collided with a wall.
Scott's hand hovered over the cut off switch.
The robot reached for Penance. Panicked, she batted its arm away. Sparks were drawn where she connected. Penance stared at the deep scratches she'd scored in the robot's grappling arm. A dark light filled her eyes.
When the robot reached for her again Penance held her crossed arms in front of her face. When she slid them apart it was like a giant pair of scissors slicing through everything in their path. The grappling arm clattered to the ground, it had been cleanly severed.
The robot fell back a step. Penance shrieked in rage. Her altered vocal cords made a sound like the shattering of glass. Penance leapt at the robot.
"So we give her to Logan to train?" Lance said.
Scott nodded as he shut down the simulation. Penance kept slashing and hacking at the deactivated robot.
"I'll go talk to her." Fred said. He walked out.
"Is it my turn?" Megan asked excitedly.
"Go ahead." Scott said as he shared in her infectious mood. He calmly ignored the trace of red that crept into her hair as her attention focused on him.
"Bye-bye! I'll do good!" Megan exclaimed.
"You know that move of Penance's with her arms, it was pretty clever." Lance said. "And I think she guessed that the lasers would bounce off of her.
"Speaking of new moves, were you trying to break your leg there?" Scott asked.
Lance's breath escaped in a short irritated huff. "Okay, I didn't land that kick so well. I twisted my ankle a little, it's no big deal."
"How much of the earthquake's force did you put into it?" Scott demanded. "How much force can your bones withstand? Your body's just human Lance."
Lance rolled his eyes. "Yes mother." He snorted. "Give it a rest will ya? I'm fine."
"You have to learn to be careful." Scott continued in a scolding tone.
"You want to see careful?" Lance demanded. "After Megan's run, you and me. Best two out of three falls."
"I've been studying martial arts with Logan for four years." Scott pointed out, he felt a touch of his former drive to compete with Lance stirring. "What do you think is going to happen?"
"I'm a quick study… or maybe you're just slow. Four years, I've seen how you fight." Lance snorted fanning the flames, but his eyes were still openly friendly.
Scott paused to consider the situation. His old rivalry with Lance had died a very quiet death when illness and depression had stolen away Lance's ability to fight or to lead his team. They'd become friends in the interim and judging from Lance's expression that wasn't changing… Still Lance was recovered, there weren't any immediate external threats or distractions and Lance wasn't exactly the type to surrender unconditionally.
Scott found himself grinning back at Lance. "How 'bout we wait a few days; I wouldn't want you claiming you lost because of a twisted ankle."
"Okay, I wouldn't want to embarrass you too badly by winning with a sprain." Lance returned.
Scott turned back to start Megan's simulation as he thought, "A friendly rivalry, this is going to be an experience." He was surprised by how much he liked the idea.
In the room below Megan found Fred attempting to comfort a shaking Penance. He patted her back and spoke soothingly as he drew her away from the chunks of scrap metal that she'd reduced the robot to.
Megan shivered. She knew Penance wasn't shaking from fear. It was a deep, formless rage that made the ruby girl tremble.
"Good luck Meg," Fred said when he noticed her standing in the doorway. She gave him a smile and stepped to the side so he could lead Penance away.
"Ready Megan?" Scott asked a few moments later.
"Ready!" She exclaimed. Megan wrinkled her nose at the fake forest and leapt into the air. She twisted and dove to avoid the lasers.
Scott frowned as he wondered how many of her near escapes were the result of her playful exuberance. Since the ground-bound robots Lance and Penance had faced were useless against Megan Scott sent flying drones to confront her. They weren't as powerful but at least they could reach her.
Megan studied the drones for a few moments then giggled. She swooped down on one drone, grabbed it be a protruding control vein, spun in mid-air and tossed it into one of it's wing-mates. "Dodge ball! You're it!" She cried.
"She could pretend to take this seriously." Scott groaned.
"Like Penance?" Lance asked helpfully. "We really haven't had a flyer on the team before."
"Hovers, she makes a really good target of herself while trusting her teke-shield to protect her." Lance replied. "With Jean you would have boosted the powers on the ground embankments and lectured her about not overestimating her invulnerability afterwards."
"And Sam can barely stop let alone maneuver. Okay you've got a point." Scott admitted. "I'll have Forge make some sort of beefed-up flying attacker to keep her entertained. Can you do anything to enhance the targeting for the ground-based lasers?"
"Turn control of them over to me." Cable interjected.
"Thanks." Scott said.
Megan squeaked when one of the lazars, now under Cable's direction, tagged her. She scowled. The lazars filled the room with an intricate lattice. Megan dove and twisted between them, when she reached the far wall she shouted gleefully.
"Good job." Scott said. Then he turned off the intercom. "We should work out ways to counter flyers outside of the danger room too."
Lance nodded. "Remember, we've got something to settle."
"Once your ankle heals."
"Come on!" Tabby exclaimed several days after the first test of the new Danger Room. She grabbed Forge and Fred and hauled them along behind her. "Cyclops and Avalanche are fighting."
The two boys raced after Tabby. They emerged in the canyon entrance to base then scrambled up to the desert above. A full moon illuminated the sand like a giant spotlight. Scott and Lance circled one another cautiously, both were grinning.
"Pull up and rock and sit down." Logan told the three latecomers.
Lance fainted forward. Scott knocked the blow aside. "Weak." Scott commented.
Lance smirked. "You thought I was trying?"
They traded a few more blows then Lance made the ground lurch beneath Scott's feet. Before the taller boy recovered his balance Lance flipped him on his back.
"Two out of three falls, right?" Lance asked as he pinned Scott with a forearm across the other teen's throat.
"You didn't say we were using our powers." Scott protested.
Lance smirked. "I didn't say we weren't either."
Scott lightly touched the side of his visor. "Okay." He said as he looked at Lance's shoulder.
At that range there was no way Lance could dodge. The blast knocked him several feet away. As he climbed back to his feet Lance rolled his shoulder to test it.
"Ready to quit?" Scott asked
"That doesn't count as a fall." Lance stated. "You're half way to loosing, why should I quit."
"That one was a cheap shot, so I'll give it to you." Scott said and fired another blast at Lance's feet. The ground rippled in front of the dark haired teen and the sand absorbed the concussive energy. Lance shrugged innocently.
Scott fired again, when Lance pulled the ground up to counter he charged. Scott landed a solid punch on Lance's jaw. The earth-shaker stumbled backward. Scott followed up with a leg sweep. "Now we're even." He said as he offered Lance a hand up.
"Winner takes all, this time." Lance agreed as they went back to circling.
This time the ground around Lance came to life. Scott backed away. Given the proximity of the base's energy collectors Lance could only manage a three-meter radius in which his quakes were strong enough to knock Scott off his balance unless Lance reached for the earth's deep energy. Scott still felt like he was standing on the deck of a ship.
Scott fired and watched a wall of dirt swallow the blast. "Looks like we have a standoff." He commented.
"Now that's not any fun." Lance dropped to one knee and planted his fist in the sand. The nature of the quake changed from a field of waves to a sand spout.
Scott ducked and fired.
"Damn!" Lance dove and rolled to avoid the beam of energy. He came up in a crouch directly in front of Scott and punched the other boy in the gut.
For a several seconds the two teens rolled across the sand as they grappled with one another. Then they broke apart and rolled to their feet.
Scott fired, Lance didn't have time to do anything except to go limp and try to minimize the impact. He turned the fall into a controlled backward summersault. The earth responded to Lance's emotions, the quake strengthened and deepened.
"Rocky, get control of yourself." Logan reprimanded. "Shades stand down."
Scott stepped backwards and waited.
Lance remained crouched in the sand. He took a deep breath and the quake subsided. "Sorry; adrenaline." He said.
"Let's call it a draw." Scott suggested.
"I'm fine." Lance snapped.
"Go ahead." Logan said. He was more interested in Lance's ability to keep his temper and powers separate than in the outcome of the match. Having Scott end the scenario the moment Lance got a little stressed wouldn't show much of anything.
Scott nodded. "Okay then." He waited for Lance to stand. On the sidelines Tabby and Forge released Fred's arms and sank back into their places.
Lance rushed Scott. Scott figured that the other teen had decided to end their spar with a purely physical brawl. Scott blocked Lance's strike and the two teens exchanged a series of blows. Lance made sure to press Scott hard enough that the taller boy didn't dare take the time to reach for his visor. He considered trying to knock the visor off so that Scott would be forced to fight blind but it didn't sit right. He knew Scott would never unleash an uncontrolled blast at him. If Lance had Scott's powers and limitations and if he were in a real fight he would have been willing to kill an enemy rather risk what might happen if he lost.
Scott felt a burst of confidence; without his powers Lance didn't have a chance. Scott had been training with Wolverine for years whereas Lance had only had a few months. Scott employed a judo throw only to loose his leverage when the earth crumbled into loose sand beneath his feet. Scott held on determinedly as Lance's powers turned the terrain against him, he reprimanded himself for assuming that Lance would give up his advantage that easily. He might have backed off after the first sign of trouble with his powers but Lance would always be a risk taker.
Scott dumped the various judo and karate tactics in favor of a straight wrestling match. There was a lot less that Lance could do with his powers while they were grappling. After a few moments Scott got a leg hooked behind Lance's and sent them both to the ground. He landed heavily on top of Lance then met the other teen's eyes and freed a hand.
"Yield." Lance sighed as he recognized that Scott could potentially take his head off. He knew Scott would never carry out the implied threat but he also knew he'd lost.
Scott rolled to his feet then stumbled and ended up on his knees. "Gah, I think I'm seasick." He complained.
Tabby giggled. Forge clapped. Fred looked uncertain.
Lance chuckled. "Serves you right. Good match."
"You too." Scott replied. "I'm going to have to start training harder, another couple of months and you might take me in a no-powers spar."
Logan shrugged. "Rocky has good instincts for hand to hand, he just needed to learn to keep his head when he fought. You, on the other hand, tend to over think things."
Scott grimaced. "I'd really rather take my opponents down at a dozen paces."
"Too bad I got shields huh?" Lance asked smugly.
Fred smiled, reassured that the two people he'd chosen to follow were still on the same side. Deep down he knew he'd always have a closer friendship with Lance, but he'd never feel right about fighting against Scott again.