"So what are you going to do?" Cyclops asks as he jumps over a barricade and drops down behind it. Plasma blasts scream over his head and he can feel the heat. Behind him, the remnant of a tree goes up in flames.
It's been thirteen weeks since Alex was brought to Westchester and this is his first time in the training room with another person. Everyone knows that Scott is the last person Alex wants to practice with, but since he's the only one whom Alex can't really hurt, there isn't much of an argument.
"I don't know yet," Alex replies testily as he runs toward the flag, ducking and rolling behind a hill as he sees Cyclops peek up over his hiding spot and raise a hand to his visor.
Alex is about to loudly point out that Cyclops wasn't even close to hitting him when he realizes that he wasn't the target and has to jump to his feet and run as the tree behind him starts to topple.
Up above in the observation room, Xavier monitors their progress. Alex has mastered mental shields with admirable speed and while they are not perfect, both he and Jean now feel comfortable with reducing their own shields to 'home base level.' To Xavier's great pride, Alex's shields are still holding despite his pre-occupation with blasting his brother to Kingdom Come.
As well as mental shielding is going, control of plasma production - and Henry was right when he predicted it - is moving less quickly. Alex can no more turn off his mutation than Scott can, a fact that disturbs both brothers. Alex fears that he will end up like Scott and Scott fears that he is right. Xavier has explained that it is simply a matter of Alex learning to 'vent' low-level emissions, but that clinical assessment won't make anyone feel any more secure until Alex actually learns such. In the meanwhile, when he needs to Alex powers down the hard way - plasma-blasting targets. The focusing techniques have allowed Alex some measure of controlling the blasts, but he is still wearing a specially designed containment suit (different from his 'civilian' clothes) to help with the rest.
"I think England might be nice," Cyclops calls out as he makes his move toward the next protected area.
"Book yourself a ticket," Alex calls back as he arcs a blast over the rock Scott is hiding behind, sending his brother scurrying. Quick follow-up blasts fail to hit him. "Or better yet, steal the Blackbird again."
Xavier notes that after an hour of being chased around like a rabbit by Cyclops, Alex is finally putting some of his experience to good use and making himself both a harder target as well as a more worthy adversary. Alex has thrown enough rocks and Molotov cocktails to have a decent grasp of the physics of war. His hesitation to use what he learned as a soldier for the Friends of Humanity does not come out of any loathing of his past life, but instead a simple lack of realization that those... skills... can in fact be applicable here.
It won't be enough to keep Cyclops from trouncing him soundly - Xavier does not think that Alex has yet realized that Scott is taking it easy on him - but it will be enough to perhaps ease some of the tension between the brothers. Tonight's exercise is merely the latest in Scott's attempts to forge some sort of relationship with Alex. The others have met with decidedly mixed success.
"Up yours," Cyclops retorts as he destroys the hiding place Alex was running to before he could get there. "I wasn't telling you what to do. I was just offering an opinion."
"You've offered your opinion enough about this," Alex growls, raising his arm to aim at his brother.
His aim is not true.
Cyclops stops running when he realizes that the blast missed and turns around. And then he breaks into laughter. "You torched Bambi," he squeezes out between gasps for air.
Early on, Jean had modified the computer program to, in 'fun mode', turn collateral damage into something less gory. In this case, the virtual deer Alex accidentally hit has been transformed into a venison meatloaf sitting on a plate with potatoes and carrots. Scott, whom Xavier is fairly sure has never done his programs in fun mode, is beside himself with glee.
"I hated Bambi," Alex mutters, trying very hard not to follow his brother's example and only partially succeeding in keeping a straight face.
"Bambi made you cry," Scott says hesitantly after he's stopped laughing long enough to catch his breath. "Mom gave Dad serious grief for renting it in the first place. She said he should have learned from when I watched it the first time."
"You cried, too?" Alex asks, sounding mildly curious.
Up above, Xavier sighs with relief. Alex goes one of two ways when Scott tries to bring up their previous life. Either he storms off in spiteful anger or he asks tentative questions.
"There was a forest near the base we were living on at the time," Scott says slowly as he sits up on the grass. "I had half a squadron out looking for me after I went to go find Bambi's mother before there could be a fire in the woods."
"You were a do-gooder from the beginning, weren't you?" Alex asks rhetorically as he leans against a large rock.
"And you were a pain in the ass," Scott affirms. "Some things just don't change."
"Yeah," Alex agrees sadly.
The two sit quietly where they are for a few minutes until Scott moves to get up. "It's time to go."
Alex nods and gets up as well. Up above, Xavier leaves the control room and heads down the hallway. Scott and Alex are waiting for him by his office with Henry and Jean. They are all in uniform.
"You're ready?" he asks as he approaches.
"Yeah," Scott - now fully into Cyclops mode - agrees. "We'll meet up with Iceman, Storm, and Colossus and proceed with the plan."
Xavier nods. He doesn't know all of the particulars and isn't especially concerned about it.
"Go, then. And good luck."
The four nod and head back downstairs and to the hangar where they keep the X-vehicles.
A half-hour later, the quartet is exiting the van across from an isolated part of the shoreline in the Hunters Point section of the Bronx. The night is foggy - unnaturally so, courtesy of a little mutant power. Storm and Iceman are sitting on the hood of an old, beat-up Trans Am and Colossus is standing next to them.
"We all set?" Cyclops asks as he approaches.
"Yeah," Storm confirms. "I'm not sure how much longer I can hold the fog, though. Especially if I need to do other stuff."
"We'll work fast," Cyclops assures her.
"Your... pals... didn't mind losing a car?" Beast asks as he walks over to the driver's side door and opens it. He places a canister (filled with 'ashes' that will be used to identify the funeral pyre of missing Friends of Humanity leader Alex Summers) in the back seat.
"It's hotter than hot," Storm replies as she gets up off the hood. "Whatever this was used for, they don't even want the well-oiled V-8 engine tucked inside." She pats the hood for emphasis.
"Cars," Marvel Girl mutters as she walks away from the group a little. She's on guard duty, her mental eyes open for anyone from a drunk to a couple of kids looking for a quiet place to park and fool around.
The preparations are rather simple. Alex gets into the car and takes off his gloves, putting his handprints on everything he can reach. In the unlikely event anything survives the blast, of course. He gets out, sliding his hands along the windshield for good measure, and joins Iceman on the side closest to the water's edge.
Colossus and Beast are fiddling with the passenger seat, trying to get it pushed down.
"It's not going to matter, you guys," Storm points out. "Everything's going to be in pieces when we're done."
"I like to be thorough," Colossus replies primly as he finally gets the seat to move.
"When the Professor made sure we all had blood on file," Beast says as he stands back to give Colossus more room to move, "I didn't think this was what he had in mind in terms of usage."
"He said 'for life or death' situations," Colossus replies as he empties the unit of (Alex's) blood around the back seat. "This just happens to be a death situation."
A little more fussing around and Colossus ducks his head out of the low-riding car. "We're ready," he announces.
"You're up, Iceman," Cyclops calls over.
"Ice walls it is," the young man replies. So close to the water's edge, it's easy for him to build a tall, thick open circle around the car. "How's that?"
"Great," Cyclops encourages as the others gather around him at the opening of the circle. "Marvel Girl, are we clear?"
"Ready," she replies.
"Storm, you set?" He looks over to her.
"Ready, Cyclops," she confirms, eyes already glowing a brilliant white.
"All yours... Havok," Cyclops says finally. He dislikes the codename intensely. Alex didn't want one -- it was taken as a sign of progress that he didn't openly mock the 'post-human rebaptism' Xavier pronounced upon him -- and the irony of the name (for what else is both Scott and Cyclops but the personification of order and control) has not escaped anyone.
Alex nods and closes his eyes. He can feel the burn down his spine and doesn't need to look to see that his hands are glowing. The suit that has been modified to look like the X-Men's uniform does not block the cosmic radiation from entering his system, so most of the energy he expended being chased by his brother earlier has been replenished. A deep breath and he opens his eyes as he raises his arms.
"Goodbye, humanity," he whispers as he lets go.
A stationary car is much easier to hit than a well-trained man in motion and Alex doesn't miss this time.
The plasma stream hits with ferocious force and the explosion is intense. Storm generates a stiff wind to keep help the ice cylinder contain most of the blast and Marvel Girl uses her telekinesis to catch the few strays bits of shrapnel. To Iceman's pleasant surprise, the frozen barrier holds well.
When the fire has mostly burned out - and being so hot, it burns very quickly - the team springs into action once more. Cyclops uses his optic blasts to carve up the wall and Colossus tosses the chunks into the nearby river. Storm concentrates on dissipating the remaining fog and Beast goes to retrieve the van. After everyone has piled in, Marvel Girl erases all of their footprints from the dirt ground.
The drive back to Westchester is quiet and there isn't much socializing once they return home. The team showers, hits the kitchen for a snack, and then heads off to their various rooms except for Cyclops, who goes to find Xavier.
"It's done," he says as Xavier offers him cognac. He accepts.
"The 'ashes' should be enough, plus the blood," Xavier says as he pours. "Unpleasant business, all. How did Alex seem?"
"A little angry, I think, but only at circumstance," Cyclops replies, sitting in the offered chair. "Not at me, for once."
"I'd tell you it takes time, but you know that," Xavier sighs. "Everyone else did well?"
"Iceman was fine - he did a really good job with the shield," Cyclops agrees. "And Storm held the fog throughout. Nobody else was doing anything they hadn't done a thousand times before."
Xavier waits as the young man sips at his cognac and wills himself to calm down enough to be Scott and not Cyclops.
"I shouldn't have brought up the college thing," Scott says finally. "Oxford would be great for him, but if I keep pushing he's going to not go purely out of spite."
Xavier smiles at him. "I trust you can keep a secret, Scott. He's decided already."
"Decided as in he's made his decision and you can tell because his shields still slip or decided as in he's told you to pull your strings," Scott asks, curious. He knows Alex wouldn't actually tell him either way.
"Decided as in he had a videophone interview with the Master," Xavier says. "He'll probably start Balliol College in the fall term."
Scott nods. "Good," he says, swirling the cognac in its glass and watching the legs form. "I guess that's why he wanted to come tonight, then."
"Perhaps," Xavier says. "But I suspect that Alex just wanted to put his past to rest."
"I just wish that I wasn't only part of his past," Scott murmurs.
There's nothing Xavier can say to Scott that will convince him that while time cannot heal all wounds, it will heal most. So he doesn't say anything. Instead, they sit together in silence, sipping their drinks and watching the fire. The cat that everyone thinks only likes Xavier actually likes Scott as well and clambers up onto his lap expecting to be lavished with attention. Scott rubs his thumb along the bridge of her nose as she nestles her head into his palm.
After a while, the glasses are empty, the cat is dozing, and Scott tries not to yawn loudly. He transfers the cat to Xavier's lap and bids him goodnight and heads off to his room.