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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 Four - "Setting Parameters"

For days now Rogue had been nervous and agitated. She was glad in a way for the double consciousness she had - it made psychic probes difficult. Xavier had once compared it to "looking at a picture that was double-exposed."

She'd reported to the others how he'd rescued her, and listened very attentively to their observations about him. They could tell she was leaving something out, but no one pressed her.

What did it mean? Was she finally getting control of her power? Had he been immune for some reason? If so, would he still be immune? Could she trust him? But what if he represented her only chance to ... how much was she willing to risk?

She waited outside the entrance to the Empire State building, her back against the wall. There was a chill in the air, so none of the locals or tourists thought it unusual that she was wearing a jacket and gloves.

Not like in the summer. She was fairly immune to overheating, so extra clothes didn't bother her that way. But she liked shorts and t-shirts, and she could only wear them in controlled circumstances. She always drew stares in August when she went out in public.

Her outfit was deliberately casual. Ankle boots, blue jeans, a long-sleeved green blouse, her short leather jacket, and dark green gloves. That didn't mean she hadn't spent over an hour picking it out. Her makeup had taken equally long; there wasn't much, but she'd chosen it very carefully.

Glancing at her watch, her nervousness increased. It was 10:06. Was he just running late? Would she be stood up? (She tried not to think of it like that.) Could something have happened to him? Then her portable Cerebro unit beeped. A faint signal, probably a hundred yards away.

"Hi." It was his voice, right next to her. He'd come out from inside the building; she hadn't expected that. And he didn't show up well on a Cerebro scan, like Kitty had figured; but he was a mutant. She turned to face him. "Sorry I'm late," he continued. "I was, well, casing the place. Call me paranoid."

He had a scarf over the lower half of his face, but she knew the eyes. A light jacket didn't offer much protection against the wind; he didn't seem to mind. She realized that he was as nervous as she was. She didn't think it was for the same reason.

"Ah understand. Maybe we should move along," she said. "Ah know somewhere a little less public." He nodded, and they walked for a while down the street. "Thanks again for helpin' us out."

"You're welcome." There wasn't any recognizable emotion in his tone. "I was lucky, too."

"You impressed me," she replied. She had to force herself to look straight ahead, not stare at him. Wondering what would happen if she took off her glove and touched his face, she stopped. "Here, this way." She led him into an alley, then looked up. "Let's head upstairs, 'kay?"

"Sure." Up they flew, and Rogue led him to the top of an office building on the edge of downtown. It offered a good view and she'd never seen anyone come up to the roof. They landed facing each other.

"So, uh, what do you want, exactly?" He was nervous! And he still hadn't dropped the scarf.

What does his face look like? She didn't answer him the way she wanted to. "We'd like to invite you to come visit us. We can help you, y'know, develop your powers, use 'em better." And Ah want to know why you could touch me.

"I'm not exactly the X-Men type. I mean, you guys are heroes, you've saved the world. Literally! I don't think I'm up to that."

If only more humans thought of us that way, Rogue wished. "Ah didn't mean you'd have to join us.  We just, y'know, try to help people out where we can. It's gettin' to be a scary world out there, y'know?" Stop saying 'y'know'!!

He turned, thinking. Rogue waited breathlessly, trying not to stare, trying not to spook him. She wondered if her hair looked all right; it was not a typical thought. Carol hovered in the back of her mind, faintly amused, thinking he was cute. Rogue felt a surge of irrational jelousy, and cried, <<You shut up! He's mine!>>

<<Not yet he isn't. Maybe not ever,>> Carol retorted spitefully. But she retreated a bit.

He turned back. "What the heck. Why not? Where are we going?" There was a smile in his voice.

Rogue smiled back, inwardly jubilant, and terrified. Carol snickered from some corner of their mind.

He and Rogue easily covered the distance to "Charles Xaviers' School for Gifted Youngsters" in less than twenty minutes. He'd inwardly groaned at the pun, but the grounds were very nice, and the mansion was impressive. He'd met the X-Men again, and Prof. Xavier.

He hadn't quite relaxed, but he'd finally decided to ditch the scarf. It wasn't really concealing much anyway. He still wouldn't give his full name. They were introducing themselves, explaining their powers, and giving small demonstrations. They'd gotten to Xavier, who demonstrated his talents right off.

<<Hello,>> Greg had heard in his mind, <<and welcome. I've been looking forward to...>> and then the voice cut off.

Greg's skin had turned silvery. He jerked like he'd had an electric shock, and only just barely kept himself from shooting out the door. "Get out of my head!" he yelled. Xavier and the other X-men had been rather taken aback, and some dropped into defensive postures instinctively.

"Of course, if you prefer," the Professor said politely. "I assure you, I meant no offense."

Greg felt around, but there was no trace of anything strange in his mind. He relaxed very slightly; his skin regained its normal color. "Okay. Fine. But stay out! I mean it." He was shaking a little.

Several of the X-Men exchanged glances, but they tried to smooth over the difficulty. Rachel only mentioned her telekinesis when it was her turn. Rogue did not mention her ability to absorb powers and minds; she only demonstrated the powers he'd seen.

He consented to an examination. Using equipment that he'd never seen before, they established what he'd already told them. He was continually surrounded and penetrated by a force field. It amplified his strength; protected him from impact, energy, and extremes of temperature; and allowed him to fly.

"Greg, how did you cut apart that Sentinel?" Scott asked.

"I can extend the field out from my body, make it take on other shapes. It's not easy, but I've practiced things like knives and pincers and such. Simple shapes."

"And when you focused the sun on Nimrod?" Storm probed.

"The field's either totally transparent or perfectly reflective. I can switch it. Except over my eyes. Something instinctively lets in only the light my eyes can handle. I can stare right at the sun." It was so ... liberating, being able to talk about his powers. He hadn't even told his parents he was a mutant.

"So you can make it invisible?" Logan asked.

"No, transparent doesn't mean invisible. It doesn't have the same refractive index as air. Light bends when it goes through it. It's a lot closer to water. It's nearly invisible underwater. And I guess it's hard to spot when it's dark."

"And it's always on?" Kitty queried.

"Yeah. I had to learn to turn it off; it's still not easy. It takes a while, and I can't do it for long. Kind of like holding your breath."

"I can't see it around you now," Peter objected. He looked a lot smaller when he wasn't made of steel, but he was still a big man.

"It's less than a millimeter thick, normally. If it's not reflecting, the distortion is hard to spot."

"You don't look wet," Peter said obstinately.

"It doesn't reflect at all. So it doesn't glisten like water."

"I must say, you've really gotten a handle on your powers." Nightcrawler's appearance was disquieting at first, but he was so friendly and charming that Greg was getting used to him fast. Rogue was still confusing; she'd clammed up almost completely since they'd arrived. But she watched him.

"I had to learn how to control it. At first, it was all instinctive. Later, I built a little biofeedback device ... from a diagram in a book." The X-men pretended not to notice the pause. "I used it to learn how to shape the field. It's still not easy. I lose it if I try to make something too complicated."

"Wow," Kitty said, "we use biofeedback ourselves sometimes. I'd love to see that when you get a chance." Despite her youth, Greg had gotten from her the distinct impression of a very intelligent young woman.

"Sure. I'll bring it next time." <<Rogue's staring again.>> "Any other tests you have in mind?"

"Yeah," she replied, "wait 'til you see the Danger Room!"

The room hadn't looked like much at first - a large, metal-walled box. But a lot of machinery was hidden behind those walls. A hydraulic press, lasers, odd weapons.

They put him through some paces, lifting weights, repelling lasers. He was careful not to do too well. It was hard for a mutant to let go of years of paranoia.

Greg had found himself standing in a grassy meadow, in the middle of a cloudy day. They had explained that the sophisticated, "special" technology could reproduce almost any environment. He wondered where the hell it had been developed, because the illusion was total.

Well, except for the window that hovered unsupported about fifty feet in the air. The X-Men crowded into the observation/control booth, watching him. Xavier and Kitty were at the controls.

"All right, young man," Xavier called down, "we're going to run an easy testing program. We just want to get an idea of how well you use your powers under pressure. As I said, the safety systems will ensure that no harm comes to you. Think of it as a game."

"Right." Nervously he scanned the horizon. Then, suddenly, there were three people in costumes a dozen yards away. A giant, fat, hulk; a slim blond figure with what appeared to be a flamethrower on his back; and a powerfully-built man with a metal helmet and strange gauntlets.

"Get him!" one cried, and the battle was on.


Continued in Chapter Five


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