Pairing: slight Laura Kinney (X-23)/Julian Keller (Hellion)
Timeline: post-Messiah CompleX, pre X-Force (III)
A/N: I never understood why Laura agreed to join a black ops team after she'd finally shaken the killer mindset.
A/N2: I used to love Cyclops. I thought he was a kickass leader and a good role model for the kids for the most part. Then Messiah CompleX happened and he became a manipulative jackass just like Xavier.
Feedback: is a must!
Disclaimer: Not mine. I play with other people's toys.
First Posted: August 19, 2010

Laura hears him coming long before he reaches her, but she does not look up until he's standing above her. When she does, she sees he's stopped just short of the shade from tree she's under. His expression is light but she can tell it's forced. This man is pathetically easy to read. She does not know how he manages to bluff his enemies.

"I'm assembling a strike-force." Cyclops tells her without any of the usual niceties she's come to expect from the people here. "You're on it."

She tilts her head to the side in confusion. "I do not understand."

He does not sit beside her under the tree. "I'm reforming X-Force, to be lead by Wolverine." The leader of the X-Men explains calmly, but there's an edge to his tone that she finds unsettling. "To deal with things the X-Men are neither trained for nor capable of doing." He pauses, likely waiting for her to respond. She says nothing. "Do you get what I'm saying?" She blinks once, then understands.

"No." Laura answers flatly.

Cyclops stands even straighter in a way that cannot be good for his back, and clasps his hands behind him. "Black Ops." He says, coldly.

"I understand." She answers, equally as harsh. "My answer is no."

She can sense Summer's eyes on her, even from behind his visor, so she keeps her eyes on him as well. It's a clear standoff which lasts until a Frisbee lands less than a foot from the tree she's against. He looks away first and nods to the young boy who chases after the plastic disc.

"Walk with me." He orders. Without waiting for a response, Cyclops walks away slowly, trying to look casual. Laura thinks about disobeying him but does not. She catches up with him quickly and they walk deeper into Central Park in silence.

"I will not join your team." Laura says unequivocally. "Wolverine has told me many times that it's up to me to choose who and what I am. When he brought me to your school, on the way to the room where I would sleep, you told me that as well." Logan's 'little sister' reminds him. "I choose to be human, not a weapon. I am no longer X-23. I choose to be Laura Kinney."

"You're right." Cyclops agrees levelly. "You do have the right to make your own choices. But in making choices, you also have to accept the consequences of them, which involves making sure you make informed decisions." There is something ominous in the way he says it and Laura's stomach clenches.

"You are insinuating there will be negative consequences to my choosing not to become a killer again." Laura bites out, angry at Summers for the way he is attempting to manipulate her. "What have you not told me?" She demands.

"There are very few people who can do what needs to be done. Even fewer I can trust to follow my orders without question. If you choose not to do it, I'll get Hellion instead." Laura freezes as soon as she hears his name. Cyclops stops as well, but continues speaking. "Given the current state of the mutant population, I can trust him to do whatever is needed." Laura feels like she's going to be sick.

"Why are you telling me this?" Laura asks, unable to hide her horror. He has targeted her weakness and he is using it to manipulate her.

"Because you need to know. This is what the world is now. I know you don't want to go back to what you were. I don't blame you. But if you won't do it, I need to find someone who will. Would you rather that Julian go through what you did?" Images of Julian Keller, killing as she was trained to, losing his humanity piece by piece, fill Laura's mind. "I need to know your answer now." Wolverine will be upset with her, but that does not matter. "Time is essential."

She doesn't need time. "What is my mission?" X-23 asks Cyclops.

"You're going after Riseman. Report to me tonight at nine thirty for your instructions."

X-23 nods swiftly, already letting go of any reluctance she had about joining X-Force and blocking out everything that will not be of use to the clone in her mission. She cannot forget the image of Julian wearing the same vacant, detached look she knows is now on her own face, but she can force it to the back of her mind. It serves no purpose, only a distraction, and distractions are unacceptable. They are a weakness and weakness leads to mission failure.

X-23 does not fail.