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"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 6 - "Basic Training"

Greg stopped by Sunday night, after dinner, and met the New Mutants, Xavier's junior students. He was noticeably more open, though he avoided getting close to Charles, and the psychics Karma and Mirage. It was pretty obvious he didn't believe that Illyana was a real sorceress, and the youngsters hastily escorted her away before she decided to prove otherwise in some unpleasant manner.

Kitty inspected the biofeedback device with interest. It wasn't as sophisticated as the systems the X-Men had, but she declared it clever in its own way. They talked shop for a bit, and Greg admitted he was Gregory Holland, a junior at the University of Wisconsin, looking at getting a bachelor's in Electrical Engineering.

"I'm just measuring the capacitance in this gap. My field is nearly a perfect insulator."

"So you just put your finger here?"

"Yeah. I practiced getting some control of my heartbeat and a few other things first. By then I had an idea about how to get in the right frame of mind."

She half-jokingly tried to convince him to transfer to Xavier's school. "It's acreditted, and Xavier's well-known as a biologist. It's unusual enough to stick out on a resume. You'd have no problem going on to grad school."

"I'm actually a lot more interested in the combat training," Greg replied.

"That's not going to get you into a master's program!" Kurt joked. He wondered again what had made this young man so fearful.

Rogue had been trying to figure out a way to interrupt, but she was glad Kurt saved her the trouble. Greg was paying way too much attention to Kitty. And she was on the rebound from Peter.

Scott and Logan talked it over with him, and set up some sessions twice a week, on Tuesdays and Fridays when he didn't have afternoon classes.

Rogue was still thoughtful, but seemed to be a bit more relaxed. She watched from an armchair in the den with amusement as he learned how foolish it was to play Cyclops at pool. Kurt was studying for one of Xavier's brutal physics exams in the other corner; Logan was reading a book on Japanese prehistory. The others had gone off on their own, some studying, some crowded around the videogames up in Roberto's room.

During one of the short periods of Greg leaning on the wall while Scott ran the table, she came to a decision. Leaning forward, she said, "Good thing your girlfriend ain't around to see this." She'd raided Carol's memories for flirting tips; this was a bit clumsy, but she had to know.

"I don't have one. She ran off with Minnesota Fats. That's my luck, with pool and women," he joked back. I'm pretty sure I'm being hit on. What the hell is her deal?

Scott finished the table, knocking three balls in with one shot. "Your break," he called, grinning.

"You know, I think maybe I'll sit this game out." He was smiling ruefully, glad he hadn't accepted the offer of a bet. "Do you mind if I grab a pop or something?"

"You want a soda?" Rogue asked. "C'mon, Ah'll show you where the kitchen is."

"It's pop, dang it. Where are you from, you heathen?" Greg replied, mock-offended. Hmm, better tone it down just a bit. She really is spectacular. If only she weren't so weird...

Kurt and Logan exchanged glances as the two walked off, discussing the various virtues and failings of Yankees and southerners. Scott kept his eyes on the pool table.

Rogue was still nervous, but at least now it was mixed with a good deal of excitement as well. Now that she'd decided on a course of action, she felt better. Waiting for things was never her strong suit. Greg was on time for his Tuesday session, and some fairly unsubtle hints had arranged for her to be part of it. Things had gone okay Sunday night; she was mostly sure he didn't think of her as totally crazy.

Scott was talking to Greg while she hovered on the far side of the Danger Room, doing some stretches. They had provided him with a costume made from unstable molecules; it was far tougher than his street clothes.

"You'll probably understand the benefit of using codenames during combat. Unless you have a suggestion of your own, Xavier came up with 'Fortress' for you."

"Not bad. I guess that's what my field is." he replied. The X-Men privately thought that the name suited his personality as well. He still avoided personal questions.

"Today we'll work on airborne agility. Your job is to dodge what we throw at you. Your field is one heck of defense, but why take punishment that you can avoid?"

"Makes sense. Any other rules?" I hope she finishes her warm-up soon; it's distracting. She's in excellent shape.

"Of course there are." Scott smiled evilly. "You can't attack at all, and you aren't allowed to extend your field. Flying only." He walked out the door, shutting it behind him.

He turned and scanned the bare room. Rogue had finished up and was off to one side, waiting for Scott to get to the booth. Lacking anything else to do, he floated to the center of the room, glancing around, trying to decide what to expect. "I take it you're one of the dangers I'm gonna be up against?"

"Yup. But not at first. Ah'm the advanced part of the course." She grinned wickedly. Noticing that Scott had reached the booth, she added quickly, "By the way, your shoe's untied."

"Huh?" He stared at her, not his boots, which had no laces. I'm not going to fall for that one!

Thus, the jet of water caught him full force in the back. She laughed for a moment, then wondered if the joke had been wise on someone with such issues about trust. It was worth it! Look at his face! she finally decided. Her laugh rejoined Scott's.

"Fortress" had flipped over from where he'd sprawled in the corner, dripping. He was furious and soaked. "No fair!" he cried. "I wasn't ready!"

"I'm sure Nimrod will tap you on the shoulder the next time he sneaks up on you," Scott replied, not cowed in the least. Greg had to admit to himself that they were right. Come to think of it...

He launched himself out of the corner just ahead of a low-power energy blast. "That's better!" Cyclops called down. The young man wasn't stupid enough to get tagged the same way twice. But they'd just begun.

The next hour pointed out several of Fortress' strengths and weaknesses. He could accelerate extremely rapidly, and because of his field, felt only a fraction of the forces involved. He didn't get dizzy easily. But in a relatively confined space like the Danger Room, he wasn't terribly maneuverable. Rogue judged that that would improve with practice.

Greg was untangling himself from a net he hadn't quite avoided when Scott signaled that it was her turn, and fired up the program they had worked out beforehand. An aerial maze appeared overhead, made of tubes, rings, bars, cables, and even some flaming hoops. "Okay, sugar, let's hurry it up. It's time for phase two," she called down lightly.

"So what's up?" he asked, floating up to join her. "I have to get through that?"

"Sure. In thirty seconds."

"Oh, come on! That's..." he trailed to a halt as she streaked into motion. Gracefully whipping around, over, and through the obstacles, she rejoined him twenty seconds later.

"You're new, so you get an extra ten seconds," she told the dumbfounded mutant. "Whatcha waitin' for? Let's go!"

Greg never got below forty seconds that day, but after a few tries he could make it through without hitting anything. That's when Rogue started to run interference. She seemed to know just where he was going to be, and have a well-placed foot or backhand in the right place to trip him up. Once he forgot the rules and swung at her, but again she simply ducked. He apologized quickly.

"Sorry, really. I was just getting frustrated."

Rogue saw an opportunity. "That's no way to treat a lady, sir. You'll need to apologize better'n that."

She was smiling, so Greg didn't think she was severely offended. "I was just..."

"Not like that. You Yankees - y'all got no class. Ah want flowers, maybe dinner somewhere nice. How's Saturday for you?"

"Uh... fine, I guess." What am I getting myself into?

"All right then. Pick me up at six, 'kay? Dress nice." Carol had been an ardent feminist, and her flirting style tended to be aggressive. It wasn't a typical southern belle approach, but Rogue thought that maybe it was just the method she needed. "Now, one more time, from the beginnin'..."

Sparring with Wolverine was another humbling experience. The man was so ridiculously fast! He'd say "Go!" and land three blows before Greg could even get his guard up. He wasn't gentle about it, either. About the only good thing was that he didn't think Fortress was ready for the claws yet. Privately, Greg had to agree.

Fortress got up from the floor again, straightening his white-belted gee. "What the heck did you just trip me with? You were in front of me!"

"Why weren't you ready for it? You were too extended. You practically invited me to loop out my leg." He sounded personally insulted by the young man's incompetence.

Greg buckled down again. If it weren't for his forcefield, he'd have had a diverse collection of disabling or fatal injuries. As it was, he'd be sore tomorrow. He hadn't had a workout like this in a long time. He was panting like a dog in the tropics; Logan hadn't seemed to have broken a sweat.

It wasn't Greg's idea of the best way to spend a Friday afternoon. Circling cautiously, Wolverine brought up his hands in a defensive position. "I hear Rogue's taken a shine to you."

"Yeah, I guess," he replied, lashing out with a fist. He wasn't using his full strength for this, though for all the success he was having landing a blow, it wouldn't have mattered.

Logan easily dodged the punch, and brought his elbow down on Greg's forearm in a move that would have shattered bones in a normal case. Greg simply felt embarrassed. He was trying, dammit!

"Got a date tomorrow, right?" Logan asked, simultaneously executing a vicious uppercut. Greg jerked his head back and it missed. He felt pride for an instant; that was only the third blow he'd managed to dodge or block this whole match. Then the kick took him directly in the stomach.

He collected himself from off the wall. He'd been thrown six feet! How could the little shrimp be that strong? "Yup. Gonna get dinner, maybe catch a show," he panted, charging forward. He had a plan.

Logan said, "One piece of advice..." and slid to the side, escaping the roundhouse Fortress threw. But Greg had expected that, and immediately whirled into a back kick. Wolverine dodged that too, but Greg had thrown a jab where he thought his opponent would be.

Somehow Wolverine grabbed his arm and whipped him onto the floor. "...we all like her a lot. Don't toy with her." He had Fortress in an aikido hold, twisting his arm behind his back in a very uncomfortable position. It was surprisingly effective. He thought that with his full strength he could break free, but that was against the rules.

"I'm not sayin' it has to work out, but if it doesn't, let her down real easy, okay?" It wasn't quite a threat. But Greg didn't think it was just a bit of friendly advice, either.

"Got it. I'm not some kind of schmuck." Logan let him up.

"That's enough for today. Good combination, by the way. Just make it faster next time." His sensei bowed, and Greg hurriedly mirrored the move. Logan walked off toward the showers.

What exactly what that about? Greg pondered. Yet again, he wondered just what their date was going to be like.


Continued in Chapter Seven


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