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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 Five - "Approaching Storm"

Suddenly the ground slipped out from under him. He fell, then hopped up and hovered in midair. That didn't last long, since a wave of earth broke over his head and he was buried.

He burst out of the ground, and stabilized about twenty feet in the air. The blond one fired a sheet of flame, which was easily dodged - until it curved around like a hand. Shocked, Greg dived, putting the fat man between himself and the flame.

The giant turned to face him. "Hey there, squirt. My turn." Greg ducked the slow roundhouse and made a jab for the belly. But his hand didn't come back. He pulled harder; it was like it was embedded in taffy. The fat man laughed, and swung a few punches; Greg parried one-armed. He lifted, but it was like the guy was rooted to the ground. He didn't budge.

"Teach you to mess with the Blob!" the gross hulk shouted, and landed a solid punch to Greg's face. Then there was a sound, like a muffled explosion. A huge wave rippled across the fat man's body, and he fell to the ground, retching. Greg zipped away, putting the gauntleted man between himself and the pyromaniac.

"He must've pulsed out his forcefield around his hand. Nice move," Wolverine murmured to the others.

A single blow flung the helmet off of the groundshaker, knocking him out in the process. Unfortunately, this gave the flamethrower a clear shot.

Greg surrounded himself with a bubble of force. The flames washed across the outside, unable to get in. He would run out of air soon, though, so he tried to spot the pyromaniac through the fire.

He flew up and over, pulling out of the grasp of the fire for a moment. Dropping the bubble, he dived and came around behind, smashing the valves of the flamethrower. But the fire didn't go out, and he found himself racing to stay ahead of a bird made out of flame.

"I keep the flame going, you idiot! I just use the flamethrower to start it!" the blond man gloated.

"Oh, is that how it works?" Greg spun and brought up his hands - suddenly a ball of force surrounded the flaming bird. It burned for a moment; then it sputtered, guttered, and faded away in the airtight sphere.

The fire-wielder wasn't nearly as happy after that. He was still frantically trying to restart his flamethrower when a column of pure force sent him spinning into oblivion.

Literally. As the last opponent fell, the scene faded and Greg was back in a bare-metal room. Rachel called from above over the intercom, "Why did you drop your shield? Couldn't you have trapped Pyro in a ball, too?"

"I, uh, can't make disconnected shapes. I can make holes or bubbles in it, but it's all one field."

Greg had left a while ago. He hadn't said where he lived, and based on the speeds he could fly, it could have been a long way away. "An F-15 weighs over twenty tons, generates almost thirty tons of thrust, and moves at over Mach 2. I can pull a lot of thrust, and I only weigh 165 pounds. I really don't know how fast I can go," he'd explained.

They compared impressions. "He lacks experience, but he's got a lot of potential," Scott judged. "I hope he comes back soon."

"He said he would," Rogue objected.

"I didn't say he wouldn't come back. But you've got to admit he was pretty secretive."

"Chuck, when you 'talked' to him, he damn near had a heart attack. I really think he wanted to kill you," Logan said. "I was about ready to pop my claws."

"While his thoughts are well-protected, his emotions came through quite clearly. I sensed it too," Xavier confirmed. "Overall, he didn't seem hostile, however; merely fearful."

"Something must have scared him badly, once." Kurt could sympathize. His appearance had nearly been his death several times. Someone who looked like a demon was just going to have a hard life.

"He fights pretty well. A little slow on the uptake sometimes, but like you said, he's inexperienced." Kitty was young, but also battle- hardened.

"He learned some Tae Kwon Do somewhere," Logan said, "but I wouldn't put him above brown belt. At least, not in my dojo. And he's out of shape." This was a slight exaggeration. Greg obviously worked out, but there were Olympic atheletes in worse shape than the X-Men.

Peter noted, "I don't fully trust him. I was watching the medical monitors during the tests. He was holding back. He's stronger than he lets on."

"Yeah, he was faking some. I could smell it." Logan's enhanced senses sometimes made him very hard to fool.

"Well, y'all would be paranoid too!" Rogue cried. "Y'know how people are about mutants, and he doesn't know us from Adam!"

"Rogue, relax," Storm told the young woman. "No one's saying he doesn't have his reasons, but bear in mind that we don't know much about him, either."

"I never even told y'all my real name, and y'all took me in! You..."

"He hasn't asked us to take him in," Scott interrupted. "Rogue, what's bothering you? You've been upset ever since we met him!"

She glared at them for a moment, then barked, "Ah'm fine. Leave me alone." She got up and strode briskly toward the stairs.

Rachel broke the silence. "I think I know what the problem is. Kitty, what did he say about his forcefield, how thick it is?"

"Outside his skin, it's about a millimeter thick..." she began, then trailed off. "Of course. Nothing ever quite touches him. He's probably immune ... Rogue, did he touch you?"

Rogue froze for a moment, halfway out the door, then stormed up the stairs. Her mind was still hard to read, but no one needed any further confirmation.

Nimrod had suffered minimal damage in the battle, so self-repair was quickly accomplished. His Sentinel subordinates were all totaled, however, and that was irritating. Gathering the parts and the raw materials had been difficult.

Most had come from a Stark, Inc. research lab. He was authorized to requisition anything he needed in his native time. He wasn't sure the authorization of a potential future government applied here; his legal software was quite limited. He had tried to minimize the criminal violations, if any. No one had been seriously hurt.

And after all that, the Sentinels hadn't made much of a difference in combat. He couldn't build them flexible enough. If the unidentified mutant had not intervened, the probabilities were that only two to four of the mutants would have been eliminated.

Worse, Nimrod's self-analysis had indicated that, despite all the combined information gathered from previous generations of Sentinels, he was inexperienced. He'd needed to learn the importance of not being outnumbered. He'd been taught the critical role that the unexpected played in combat.

Therefore, a new strategy was indicated. He required more experience. He needed to minimize unanticipated factors during combat. And he had to avoid being outnumbered. He began a search process, incorporating the information he'd gathered about this time along with his own records, seeking a solution...

Rogue trusted Storm more, perhaps, than any other teammate. Storm had voluntarily offered to be absorbed to prove her friendship. After a sacrifice like that, and after seeing her personality from the inside, it was hard for Rogue to stay angry at her.

She had come in while Rogue sat weeping quietly in a chair in her room. She sat down on the floor with silent grace, placed her hand on the girl's knee, and waited patiently for her to be ready to speak.

"Mah costume was torn. He grabbed me, to see if Ah was all right. And Ah freaked, but nothin' happened."

After a moment, Storm prompted, "So he can touch you without fear."

"Leastways, that once. But no reason to think it'll change." She looked away. "And now Ah don't know what to do about it."

"What do you want to do?"

"Ah don't know! What do Ah say? 'Excuse me, but you just happen to be the one of the few people in the world Ah can touch?'" There had been others she hadn't affected. Cosmically-powered beings like the Asgardian god Loki; artificial beings like the Vision; and Wonder Man, who'd been mutated so much that biologically he really only looked human. None had ever been potential romantic pursuits.

"Do you think he's attractive?"

"Do you?"

"Actually, yes," Storm replied. "A bit young for my taste, but nice." She smiled.

"Me too, Ah guess. He ain't gonna be a model, but he's cute." She fell silent.

"But..." Storm prompted.

"But Ah'm afraid."

"I understand. It's always terrifying. You have the normal uncertainties, of course - What if he's a fool? What if he's not attracted to you? Does he have a girlfriend, or is he married?"

"Yeah. And in mah case..." she trailed off.

"...are you really interested in him, or merely the potential he represents?"

Tears sprung forth again, but she appreciated Storm's honesty, putting her own fears into words. "Ah can't be sure. Ah'd just about given up hope. Ah was wonderin' if Ah should ask Kurt 'bout becomin' a nun or somethin'." Despite herself, she chuckled at the thought.

Storm laughed as well. "That would be something."

"What if we did get together? Would Ah be so afraid of losing him that Ah'd let him walk all over me?"

Storm smiled. "I doubt it. You are not the type."

"So what do Ah do?"

"I can't decide that for you. But we will all support you, whatever you choose. I can say that this sort of thing is never easy, for anyone."

Rogue looked pleadingly at Storm. "What would you do?"

"I'm really not sure. But I think..." she paused. "I think that if there were a chance, I would pursue it."

Greg descended, searching out Madison, Wisconsin. He slowed, releasing the bubble that he'd pressurized with an air supply for his trip through the stratosphere. Things were hard to recognize from up here, but he'd had a lot of experience orienting himself by the lights of cities. There's Chicago, of course, so that's Milwaukee. Over to the west...

In a few minutes he was over his neighborhood. He dropped his speed further and curved down towards his apartment. It had been a long day, and he had a lot to think about.

He'd just about decided on the way back that he was being silly. If he couldn't trust the X-Men, who was he ever going to trust? He'd been badly frightened once before, but that had been on the other side of the world.

That did teach me one thing, though. No way is Xavier getting into my head. Nobody messes with my mind. Private Property. Keep Out. Trust has its limits. He landed in the woods next to the complex he lived in. Walking across the parking lot, he got out his keys and let himself into the building. He had homework due on Monday, but tomorrow would be time enough for that.


Continued in Chapter Six


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