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Claremont era
"Fortress Around Your Heart"

Fortress around Your Heart

Author's Notes
Chapter 1: Dramatis Personae
Chapter 2: We All Have Our Separate Battles...
Chapter 3: Tell Me Why
Chapter 4: Setting Parameters
Chapter 5: Approaching Storm
Chapter 6: Basic Training
Chapter 7: A Very Important Date
Chapter 8: Nice from Far, but Far from Nice
Chapter 9: Guest Account
Chapter 10: The Battle for Asteroid M
Chapter 11: With Enemies Like These...
Chapter 12: Denouement

Chapter Two - "We All Have Our Separate Battles..."

Rogue banked into a sharp turn, just missing a jutting flagpole ... and just being missed by a sizzling bolt of energy from the pursuing Sentinel. This fight was not going well.

Many of the X-Men had come to New York for something of a diplomatic mission to the Hellfire Club. Though personally, Rogue didn't trust them any further than she could throw ... well, she didn't trust them. Still, they were mutants, and the way things were going these days, even enemy mutants had to stick together. Maybe.

The beautiful fall day had soon turned sour. Nimrod had suddenly appeared over their van, and this time he had three Sentinels with him. They were smaller than the Sentinels the X-Men were used to - only about twelve feet tall. Things had gotten very scrambled very quickly, and the X-Men had been split up. Rogue had tried to swing back to help her comrades several times, but the robot following her had blocked every attempt.

That sucker was fast, too. She was barely staying ahead of it, with the help of her seventh-sense power. She just knew - usually almost too late - where the robot was, what it was going to do next. She dropped six feet suddenly, and sure enough, another zap crackled through the air she'd been occupying. But it was closer than the last one.

She swung over a construction site, only inches from the top of the beams, and plucked a steel pipe from a heap as she went by. Maybe she could throw it back at the robot, buy a few seconds to press the attack... worth a shot.

Suddenly she realized that she couldn't sense where the Sentinel was. Nah... it couldn'ta adapted to my seventh sense... could it? Ah sure hope not! Either way, now was the time to try her plan. She twirled in the air, bringing the pipe around like a javelin, seeking her target. Ah can throw a quarter through four-inch steel plate, so you'd best have insurance, suckah!

WHAM! Blinding light, a feeling like Storm's lightning at full force, a piledriver blow to her chest... Rogue was rocketing through the air. She heard more than felt the impact when she slammed through a brick wall thirty stories up. She couldn't move, couldn't think. Nothing worked. She could barely see. The sound of the robot's jets rumbled closer. She knew dimly that if she didn't do something fast, it was over. But everything was still spinning...

A shockwave rolled across her, like an artillery shell had landed a few feet away. She heard shrapnel chittering to the floor. The jets were gone. Suddenly she felt someone rolling her over, carefully feeling for injuries. An unfamiliar voice said, "Are you okay? Oh, jeez, please be okay. Come on."

Recovering somewhat, she looked up. She was lying next to an overturned desk, tiny pieces of Sentinel scattered all around. It was an office building, and a few people were cowering at the far end of the room. She was half-supported at the shoulders by a stranger. He was dressed in jeans, a sweatshirt, a jean jacket. He had a ski mask on, but she could see his eyes were green. His sneakers squeaked as he changed posture slightly.

Looking at her face, he saw her eyes were open. "All right! You okay? You took quite a hit back there." She was still woozy, but getting better. She took stock. Bad headache, ears ringing, an ache in her knee that she didn't like, her costume was torn up... her costume was torn.

And his bare hand was cupping her bare shoulder.

"DON'T TOUCH ME!" she shrieked, jumping out of his grip, backing up against the wall. She was very awake now. She waited for the stranger to keel over, for the flood of alien memories, strange powers... and she waited ... and it didn't come.

He had put his hands up in a 'don't hurt me' pose. Yes, they definitely had no gloves on. "Hey, it's cool, I'm sorry, I didn't mean anything, honest, I was just..." He trailed off. She stared.

He stammered, "Uh, look, if you're okay, I'm going to see if your friends need any help. Okay?" She still stared. "Okay. Uh, see you later." He quickly flew out through the hole in the wall. She heard a muffled sonic boom.

For a long time she just sat there against the wall, her thoughts running in endless circles.

He touched me. And nothing happened. He touched me. And nothing happened.

Storm and Cyclops dodged around the corner of the storefront into an alley. The Sentinel behind them was closing fast - faster than they'd expected. It had also adapted quickly to Cyclops' optic blasts. Its surface had turned a crimson shade unpleasantly like ruby quartz. A few test bursts a block ago had done nothing.

"It's not talking," Storm barked quickly between breaths. She loped with easy grace along the irregular surface of the alley, barely breathing hard.

She's right, Scott thought - Sentinels normally kept up a running commentary about how they thought the battle was going, and a continuous estimate of how long until their targets would be "eliminated". This one hadn't said anything since the chase began three blocks ago - like Nimrod himself, Scott realized.

"Break right at the turn," he panted back. They had just rounded the corner at the end of the alley when a blast of energy scorched the air behind them. And their path was blocked by a wall. They could scale it, but not in time. Cyclops prepared to blast through it, but then he heard the unmistakable sound of children playing on the other side. He couldn't risk it.

Cyclops spun around, desperate to find some other escape. His eyes lighted upon a concrete cylinder - a traffic stop. His instinctive judgment for angles kicked into play. If he could jog left ... he could blast it free, and bounce it at high speed into the Sentinel...

But even as he started to move, the Sentinel emerged from the alley. He saw Storm charging it - he knew she was trying to draw its fire, trading her life to give Scott a chance. He also saw it wasn't going to be enough. Time slowed.

A streak bolted from the sky behind the Sentinel, barely subsonic, directly at robot. Scott had almost no time to register what happened next - a curtain of white light appeared behind the robot, the streak collided and ricocheted, smashing into a building and through the wall. The sound was deafening, like a clap of thunder.

The robot spun quickly and advanced on the hole in the wall. A figure rolled over from under a pile of bricks and beams and shook its head, obviously stunned. Scott suddenly realized it wasn't Rogue, as he'd assumed. It was a man, dressed in civilian clothes (now rather tattered) and a ski mask. The man looked up as the robot approached. He shook his head once more and leaped (no, flew) forward.

Again Cyclops had trouble following the action. It looked like the man's fingers lengthened and widened, simultaneously becoming silvery. His hand was suddenly an eight-foot parody of Wolverine's claws, with giant mirrored razors at every fingertip. One slash, and the Sentinel was split in five pieces.

Cyclops might have been taken aback, but he hadn't been the leader of the X-Men for many years because he took chances or missed opportunities. He didn't know if the Sentinel could repair that much damage, but a full-force optic blast on the exposed innards of the Sentinel pulverized the robot before it had the opportunity.

"Owww," the man said, rubbing his shoulder as he landed next to the pair of X-Men. His hand now looked perfectly normal. "That sneak attack worked just a minute ago on the other one." He sounded annoyed at the unfairness of it all.

"They adapt quickly, and they share information. You can't stop them the same way twice." Storm explained. "Thank you for the help, by the way." There was no sign in her voice that she'd just been microseconds from dying. Scott was impressed in spite of himself. He was also impressed with this stranger - he'd apparently taken out two Sentinels.

"Hey, uh, no problem." He paused nervously, looking at them. "Uh, we should probably go see if your friends need help. Want a lift?"

Shadowcat was getting tired of running. A quick attempt at phasing through a Sentinel had failed, and she'd barely ducked beneath the surface of the street in time. The cement had looked more like cobblestone when she'd surfaced seconds later. Then, despite a vagrant impulse to leave him, she'd phased a battered Colossus through a couple of walls and the chase had been on.

"You okay there, big guy?" she said, smoothly leaping over a cardboard box in the lot they were racing across. He'd taken some monstrous blows from the Sentinel. She wondered how the others were doing - especially Phoenix. The last she'd seen, Nimrod was going after Rachel himself.

" I... will be all right. Do you have an idea for what to do with our silent friend?" They, too, had noticed the taciturn nature of this new crop of Sentinels.

"Actually, yes." Colossus leaped over a dumpster. She had no choice but to phase through it. It slowed her down a little, but as she came out the other side, she heard a blast of energy smack into the screaming metal. Phasing ought to protect her, though she wasn't going to count on it if she could help it.

"Would you be so kind as to share it with me?" He was irritated more than he should be by her coolness. It wasn't his fault that he'd fallen in love with another woman after being abducted to the far side of the cosmos, was it? And, well, even if it was, this was no time to be surly about it. So why did he still feel guilty?

"Nah. When we make the turn, just keep running. You make a good target." She took a few extra breaths - she'd need them for what she had planned. They emerged onto a side lane.

They took the turn at full speed, and suddenly Shadowcat phased again, diving right down into the street. Colossus had no choice but to keep running. The center of his back itched ... that was where the Sentinel would zap him.

The Sentinel made the turn sharply, almost gracefully. Jets were unnecessary for this type of pursuit; at least not yet. It conserved energy to run. [PRIMARY TARGET ACQUIRED - DESIGNATE COLOSSUS. CHARGING PARTICLE BEAM NINE. SECONDARY TARGET NOT TRACKED - BRINGING TERTIARY SENSORS ONLINE. CAUTION INDICATED - AMBUSH LIKELY.]

But even as the "thought" passed through the killing machine's "mind", it lost its footing. Its sensors were confused - it was falling through apparently solid pavement. It realized what was happening an instant too late. The pavement became solid again.

Colossus stopped dead when he heard the metallic scream from behind. He whirled around, and paused for a moment, amazed. Most of the Sentinel was embedded in the street. The head, shoulder, and one arm was flailing about. Everything glowed red-hot where the robot and the street tried to coexist. She phased the street under it, he suddenly understood, a little awed.

The sight didn't stop him long. He charged forward and delivered a brutal kick into the exposed part of the robot's chest, which practically exploded from the punishment. He shot his head around, searching desperately for a sign of Kitty anywhere.

A few feet away, Shadowcat slid up from below the street. As always, it was a little eerie seeing her phase through solid matter, like a ghost. Her breath escaped in a burst, and she drew great gasps of fresh air. She slowly sat down and put her head between her legs.

Colossus rushed over. "Kitty, are you all right? I didn't know you could phase that much..."

"I've been practicing. But I really don't want to have to do that again." She began to sit up straight.

Unnoticed behind them, the Sentinel's head had landed facing the pair. Its eyes began to glow, as it readied for a killing blast...

Rogue slammed down with both feet on top of the head, shattering it into fragments. "Y'all gotta keep better watch than that!" she called. "These're tricky critters!"

"Rogue, are you okay?" Kitty called, coming to her feet. "You look kinda beat up." She saw the torn costume and held back from touching her teammate. She could see that Rogue was... nervous. Disturbed.

"Yeah, Ah'm okay. Ah, er, got some help." She didn't volunteer any more.

"Oh. Okay." She pondered the situation, then dismissed it, for the moment. "Your costume is a mess, and we'd better see if the others need help. Here, let me." She began to unwrap part of her own costume, so Rogue could safely carry them all. They silently hoped that there would still be a battle to join.


Continued in Chapter Three


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