Disclaimer: Sadly, even after all of this time and effort, they're still not mine. All characters, save for Dani and her Grannie, belong to Marvel, Stan Lee, and the bank. Probably. (:
Story Notes: This story acknowledges some aspects of X2 as well as some of the foundation of X-Men: Origins. Yes, I've messed with canon, who cares!
Normalcy is Overrated: She never asked to be different. She was pretty complacent being normal. The day that changed her whole life changed. Being a mutant definitely isn't all it's cracked up to be. OC alert!
Normalcy is Overrated
"And now, to give an inspiring farewell speech to this year's graduating class, our Salutatorian. Please, join me in giving Danielle Evans a warm round of applause!"
I felt silly as I rose from my seat upon the stage, black cap and matching gown making me stand out as I ambled toward the podium. I wobbled slightly in the bright green heels that Jubilee had talked me into wearing, and my head ached from the day's processions as well as the tricky up-do that Kitty had managed with my generally unruly hair.
The Professor spared me a smile as he wheeled away from the podium, positioning himself next to the impeccably dressed Xavier Institute staff as I rested my hands upon the podium weakly. A sea of faces stared back at me as I glanced around the immaculate lawn that had been covered by tasteful chairs and decorations for the graduation ceremony.
A smile curled my lips as my gaze rested on where my family sat; my grandma, two of my cousins, and my grandma's nosy neighbor. Grandma Janie looked perfect, primped and pressed, as she sat there between two unruly teenagers, hands clasped in her lap. Her lovely black dress made her a bit slimmer looking, and her curled hair and daintily made-up face made her appear all the more lovely. Although part of me had half-expected her to show up in her bath robe, curlers in her hair, it was nice knowing that she had gone through the trouble of dressing up for me.
"Ladies and gentlemen, teachers and peers," I began, the speech that I'd written weeks ago and practiced hundreds of times rolling off of my lips easier than I'd anticipated. "We gather here today to celebrate this, our graduation. For some of us, this is the end of our general education. For others, college or job-training is next. For all of us, this is where we end yesterday in order to begin tomorrow."
"I came to this school late last fall, a chip on my shoulder and determined that I would not remain. I wanted to go back home, to go back to my friends, to continue playing sports. Instead, I was given a choice: keep your friends and family safe by staying here, or jeopardize them by going home. An easy enough choice, given the circumstances."
Considering the Professor's reminder that every member of the audience did understand that at least some of the graduating class was made up of mutants, I smiled faintly and continued.
"Today, we will step out into the real world together, ready to face our futures. Some of us will enter the job market, others will prepare to venture off to college, and still others will remain here in the sanctum that Charles Xavier has created. The world outside of these gates can be prejudiced, violent even towards the likes of me. Since the Great Blackout, the day that the world went dark, more and more groups have risen up in order to fight the outbreak of chaos that is blamed directly on mutants. I stand before you today as a graduate of the Xavier Institute of Higher Learning, proud to call myself your class Salutatorian. But, I also stand before you as a woman, as an American, and, most importantly, as a proud mutant."
"Some would argue that it is not normal for a person to be born with altered DNA that can cause them to develop unique abilities. Even more would argue that these mutations are an abomination. But, I couldn't agree less. I may not be normal, but what is normal anyway? Is normal spending your Friday evening relaxing after a hard day, flipping the channels and joking with friends? Maybe normal is spending your Sunday morning lazing about, knowing that there are chores to do that won't get done if you continue snuggling into the couch, book in your hands? Normal is a term that no one can correctly identify, as it varies from person to person."
"To you, I may not seem normal. But, to me . . . there is no one more normal. So, as we venture into the world as successful high school graduates, I urge everyone to look at the person next to them and remind yourself that, in their opinion, you might not be as normal as you think. Together, let us forge ahead to make a better tomorrow, today."
The applause was staggered at first before it grew into a roar, one that did little to ease the ache in my chest. My speech had been slaughtered as I'd gone off-topic, launching into a rant of sorts that would, no doubt, somehow backfire on me in the near future. But, keeping a smile fixed firmly to my lips, I nodded and walked back to my seat.
The ceremony lasted another twenties minutes, and then before I knew it, we had received our diplomas and awards, and tossed our caps into the air. Suddenly, I was a high school graduate. Nearly half an hour later, gowns discarded, we all gathered with family and friends, ready to eat.
"Your Dr. Xavier sure went all out on this luncheon, baby." My grandma smiled at strangers as she carried her china plate in her left hand, her drink in her right. "Oh, here's a good spot!" she decided as she made her way over to a large table with an umbrella. The gardens had been converted for the small after-party luncheon, one that could seat over a hundred comfortably. "Mmm. This chicken ain't half bad."
I couldn't help but smile as I crossed my legs, relaxing for the first time all day. "Professor Xavier hired the best caterers around," I explained as I picked at my pasta salad. I was hungry, but my stomach was upset. "Oh, here comes the gang."
Within ten minutes, our large table was crowded as many of the Jr. X-Men crowded around, with and without their family members. The conversation was loud and boisterous, happy and light-hearted. Rogue chatted with my grandma and I flirted half-heartedly with Kitty's cousin. Soon, a three tiered cake was brought out and sliced up and served along with more beverages.
The festivities lasted well into the evening before family and friends alike started to depart, leaving behind hugs and smeared lipstick on cheeks, and in a few cases, graduation gifts. Most of the graduating class had decided to stay behind in order to help the instructors finish out what was left of the school year. But, Bobby and Kitty had both left with their families, promising to write and call soon; they were both returning to the Institute in the fall in order to attend school online and help out with classes.
"Are yah nervous?" Rogue asked as she pulled on a pair of gloves. Once the School's guests had left, we'd changed out of our formal wear into appropriate street-clothing. "Ah'm nervous."
I couldn't help but smile as we exited her room and jogged down the main staircase two stairs at a time. "No, not too nervous," I confided as we headed toward the elevator, entering the code and taking it to the lower levels. Jubilee and John were there, waiting for us, as we exited. Together, we hurried down the hall, slipping into the room known as the War Room.
Cyclops, Dr. Grey, Nightcrawler, Storm, and the woman that Creed had recommended months ago, Vivian Waters, stood garbed in their X-Men uniforms at the head of the large conference table. All wore varying expressions of contemplation as select Jr. X-Men piled into the room, choosing a seat at random.
From what I'd heard, both Iceman and Shadowcat had been given their official uniforms and welcomed to the senior team the night before. As I glanced around, I realized that quite a few people were missing: Tabitha, Roberto, Jesse, and even Terry. I couldn't help but wonder what that meant for the rest of us.
"You are all gathered here because you've officially graduated from the Institute," Dr. Grey began, her smile warm and gracious. "We've watched you all grow as individuals, and I personally just want to let you all know how very, very proud I am of each and every single one of you."
"We've deliberated and considered this for a very long time," Cyclops took over, his voice laced with control and arrogance. "The Professor has been consulted, and agrees with our decisions. From this moment forward, we are breaking the X-Men into three separate teams. The Jr. X-Men are now known as Delta while the senior X-Men," he motioned to his peers, "are now known as Alpha. You, the graduating members of the Jr. X-Men that are in this room, are hereby members of Bravo."
Cheers echoed in the room as Jubilee did a quick booty dance in her chair and John sent a wicked smirk my way. Clearly, they couldn't be more excited.
"The teams will be thrown together now and then, as needed, but seeing as how Blackbird II is finally running well," Cyclops trailed off, lips curling into a smile. "Our ranks have grown, which means that I'll need someone that I can trust to lead you all, Shadowcat and Iceman included, when you're on a mission of any kind. Dani, could you come up here, please?"
The room was deathly silent as I staggered to my feet, heart racing as I ambled toward the front of the room. It was a little overwhelming, standing there in front of the infamous X-Men. Cyclops' visor winked at me as he turned around and pulled a carefully folded leather uniform in his hands. He let it straighten out as he faced me, bringing attention to the changes that had been made in the specially-crafted uniform.
Where before only the inseams were different, the material seemed lighter and there was a large X shape at the v in the neck. The sleeves were plain save for the in seam, which was green. Overall, it was both stunning and a little overpowering, causing me to stumble back a step before Nightcrawler placed a comforting hand on my shoulder.
"Danielle Evans, you have proven that you have courage, as well as strength of mind and body in times of great distress. You're already well on your way to mastering your abilities, and for that we couldn't be prouder." With a faint nod, he held out the uniform, as though giving it to me. "While it took us weeks to decide, we think that the code name Tenacity suits you quite well. And, if you'll accept it, so will leading the Bravo team."
Slowly, I reached out and brushed my fingers over the smooth leather, as though in a daze. My lips quivered into a smile as I slowly shook my head. "I'm sorry, but I can't accept it."
The room exploded in a cacophony of noise as everyone began to talk at once. Jubilee was outraged that I was ungrateful, while both Cyclops and Chasm, the woman known as Vivian Waters, were simply confused.
"Scott, give her a chance to talk," Dr. Grey interrupted as he wrung the uniform between his hands. "Go ahead, Danielle."
I didn't even know how to began, so I looked at her instead. She looked the same as she had the day she'd nearly sacrificed her own life for ours, the same day that she'd nearly cost me my life. She'd been unconscious for weeks following Alkali Lake, and still sometimes seemed too tired to even lift a book with her telekinesis. Still, she was improving, and it made me sad that I wouldn't see her and the others everyday.
"This isn't what I want. Not now." It was hard to admit out loud. It'd been difficult enough to admit to myself late at night when I'd lain awake in a cold sweat, tossing and turning in my bed. "It would be too easy for me to fall right into line, to take the next step here and become an X-Man. There's more out there, more than I could ever see here." Slowly, I swallowed the lump that had formed in my throat. "I've been accepted to the Buffalo Police Academy. I leave tomorrow for Orientation."
The news seemed to surprise them, and for several seconds I almost feared that they would try to talk me out of it. I knew, deep down, that it wouldn't take much for me to change my mind, to give up on the plans that I'd concocted late at night, all alone in my bed. Instead, they seemed almost happy for me.
"Danielle, I had no idea!" Cyclops exclaimed, smiling broadly. For the first time since I had known him, he stepped forward and engulfed me in a hug. Smells like Old Spice, I decided as I patted him on the back awkwardly. When he pulled away, I couldn't help but grin as his visor winked at me. "You're sure it's what you want?"
I opened my mouth to reply before I realized that I still wasn't sure. Reflexively, I lifted a hand and cupped the dog tags that I wore every day through my t-shirt, half expecting him to think I was clutching my chest. I thought about everything that I had been through, all of the trials and tribulations and the constant training that I knew I would have to continue whether I stayed at the Institute or not.
Sighing heavily, I nodded my head.
I was going to be nineteen in two months, and my grandma was no longer my official guardian. I'd graduated from high school, second in my class, and was ready to face the world. It was time to start making my own decisions.
"Yes," I managed, wondering why it sounded like such a lie.
"Here's to us, Dad, the two Evans that are too hardheaded to ever give up."
A/N: It's finally over! Whee! I cannot even describe how good it felt to finish this story. I've loved every single part of it, and it's honestly been a blast. All of you reading this- it's perfectly okay to leave a review so that I can get my ego fluffed. Thank you to those of you that have stuck by this story and continued to read despite the random postings. It's been finished and sitting on my hard drive for so long. I just hate editing crap. Thank you all! (: