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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 Eight - "Nice From Far, But Far From Nice"

Rogue thought for a moment. "Genosha. Isn't that in the Indian Ocean somewhere?" she asked, tentatively.

"Yeah. Don't go there. You wouldn't like it." He looked away.

"When I graduated from high school, that summer I took a month off," he began. "I had my powers, and I decided to tour the world. I flew down to South America, and explored the Amazon rainforest. Camping out in the wild is fun when you don't have to worry about insect bites or broken bones or anything."

"After that I went to Africa, saw the veldt, the Sahara, the jungles. A day here, a couple days there. I stayed away from the cities, mostly. No passport, y'know, and I didn't need the hassle. I moved on to India, camped out for several days."

"I spent some time flying over the ocean, just enjoying going fast. One day I spotted somebody trying to follow me. I wasn't as 'paranoid' then," he glared at her, "so I waited for them to catch up, and it turned out there were three of them."

"They said they were from Genosha, and they'd spotted me on radar the day before. They wanted to invite me to see the place. They said there were lots of mutants, and they didn't have to live in fear there."

"Of course I was curious, and I figured nobody there knew who I was, or how to find me. So, what the heck, I followed them down. We landed outside a really large building, and they led me in. I wish I'd paid more attention to the armed guards, but I figured I could handle them, and besides, the mutants said it was safe. Like I said, I was naive."

There's a middle ground between paranoid and naive, Rogue thought, but she kept quiet and let him talk.

"One of them went off, and the others took me into a conference room. They said they wanted me to meet someone, and smiled at each other. I wish I'd thought about that more, too. After a minute this older guy walks in."

"One of them says, 'Here, meet Wipeout.' I was, like, 'Why are you called that?'"

"He went, 'Because I wipe out powers.' I didn't understand. Then there was a bright flash of light and I passed out."

"The next thing I knew, I was in a cave. I didn't know how I got there, but I knew there was an angry bear in the cave with me; I had to get out. Then it was in front of me; I turned and ran, but the ground melted and I was falling. I landed, and I was in some kind of machine, pinned in some gears that were trying to grind me up. I pushed, and pulled, but I couldn't get out. I could see the bear, but it was also a man, and he was running the controls."

"I'd gotten interested in dreams before, when I was researching biofeedback, and I'd learned how to have a lucid dream. I realized that this was some kind of dream. I fought my way out of the machine, and then the guy was a bear again, and he was squeezing me. I was terrified; I knew it was a dream, but it didn't feel like any dream I'd had. But I fought, and fought, and finally I managed to wake up."

"I was strapped onto a table, in a dark room. There was a man, looming over me, with a helmet on his head, and wires coming out of it. He was surprised I was awake, and he was angry. And I could still feel him in my mind! He was trying to break me down, brainwash me. It was awful. I guess maybe rape feels like that."

Rogue was beginning to understand Greg's fear of Xavier. From his description, she recognized a psychic assault. She had fought mental battles before, especially when she absorbed people. Sometimes she lost; it was a horrible feeling.

"I tried to sit up, but the straps held. I looked, and they were just metal. I was fighting to stay awake, but I didn't think they looked that strong. I realized I had a helmet on, too."

"The guy's eyes got big when I pushed the helmet off with my field. He turned and hit a switch, and there were alarms going off. I focused my field as best I could and cut the straps. I could tell something was wrong. It was too hard."

"I sat up, and the guy was staring at me. I wasn't sleepy anymore, but I could still feel him in my head! It wasn't as strong, but I was terrified. I jumped him, and I hit him as hard as I could."

"He went flying, but I realized that I was weak. I had maybe a tenth of my normal strength. And then I saw another guy, a security guard in a weird uniform. I slugged him, too, but he didn't fall. He just laughed and knocked me across the room."

"He was way stronger and tougher than me; at least, weak as I was. So I flew to the door - even that was hard. But it was solid metal, and it was locked. The guard grabbed me from behind and threw me again."

"What did you do?" Rogue asked, fascinated and appalled.

"He couldn't fly. I killed two birds with one stone. I picked him up and used him as a battering ram on the door."

Rogue was shocked speechless.

Greg glared back. "He lived. At least, I think he did. I wasn't exactly in the mood to be charitable. It took a few hits, but finally the door went down. So did he."

"Outside there were more guards, weird weapons, more alarms. I used my guard as a shield and flew over them, and ducked around a corner. They were shocked; I don't think they expected me to have any powers at all. Then I got lucky."

"Right in front of me, Wipeout was running up the hall. I guess he was responding to the alarm. I remembered what he'd said, and figured he must've zapped my powers. I dropped the guard, picked up Wipeout, punched him in the stomach, and busted out a window with him."

"We were maybe forty stories up, by that building. I kept going, heading around another corner, and saw what I needed. There were a bunch of spikes sticking up out of a tower. I don't know what they were, maybe antennas or radiators or something."

"Anyway, I got us over them, as he started to recover. I made him look down, so he could see that if he zapped me again, we'd both fall onto the spikes. He was scared, I could see it. I grabbed him by the throat and said, 'Fix me, now, or I'll drop you!'"

"He was choking, and panicked, but he finally got it. He waved his hand at me, and there was a flash of light, and suddenly I was back to normal."

"I wanted to kill him, but by then there were ships and those flying people coming at me. So I hit him in the head, hard. He went out like a light, and then I threw him at one of the flyers. She had to catch him. Another flyer got close, and I kicked him just as hard as I could. I don't know if I killed him; I do know I broke ribs." He seemed very satisfied with that. There was a dangerous glint in his eyes.

"I was furious, and terrified. Everyone was shooting at me, and there were more coming every second. I would've leveled that whole damn island, but I figured if they had one guy who could mess me up, they might have more. So I bugged out. They couldn't keep up with me. I was going full blast. I must've been halfway across Australia before I calmed down at all."

He stopped. He was tired, and he'd worked off some of his anger. But not all of it. "So, 'sugar'," he asked, his voice dripping sarcasm, "do you understand why I'm not so inclined to trust you?"

Rogue looked away. "Yeah, Ah guess Ah do." Then she looked him in the eye. "But Ah didn't do any of that. Ah wouldn't even if I could. Your field helped protect you from Wipeout, Ah guess. It protects you from me all the way. You're safe from me."

"Which makes me really convenient." His vicious tone bit into her, but she was done crying.

"Damn you. Ah thought you were better than this. You can't imagine what it's like to never be able to touch anybody. Ah'm not going to apologize for being interested in you because of that. But that wasn't all of it. You seemed like an okay guy. You helped us out. You were polite and funny. Ah wanted to know more about you."

She turned away, tired and saddened. "But y'know, maybe you're not so different. Ah can't let anyone touch me. But you, you're just too scared. Ah'm sorry Ah had the courage to reach out to you. You ain't worth it."

Greg just stood there, openmouthed.

"See you around." She took off, heading back toward the mansion. Later there would be more tears, she knew, but right now she didn't have it in her.

Rogue curved towards Westchester County and the mansion. At least he had one thing right. It is beautiful up here. For a while she just enjoyed the night sky, deliberately not thinking about anything but the clouds illuminated by moonlight.

Something swooped up beside her, a dozen yards away. She whirled around, bringing up her fists, but it was Fortress, with his hands up in another 'don't hurt me' pose.

They slowed down, until they could hear each other speak. Greg looked abashed.

"Earlier I said I was going to have to apologize more often. I didn't think I'd be doing it this soon. I'm sorry I freaked out on you. I'm sorry I accused you of using me. You did not deserve that. And I humbly ask for a chance to make it up to you."

"Can Ah trust you?" Rogue asked, staring at him levelly. "Will you give this a fair chance?"

"I promise. I won't back down." He looked her in the eye. "I was really looking forward to a second date. And I'll make sure our third date isn't another apology."

When they landed at the mansion, they were holding hands. Gingerly, but they were holding hands.

Magneto grunted as the blast seared across the chamber, nearly buckling the protective field he was maintaining. This Monday had gotten very, very bad; and it had done so very, very quickly.

He had been at work in his laboratory, developing a microwave pulse weapon that he could arm troops with. There had been a sudden asteroid-quake, and he'd felt the unmistakable drop in air pressure that signaled a hole in the integrity of the space station.

His warning sensors hadn't tracked any nearby debris, or there would have been alarms. He'd raced to investigate, grabbing an air mask on the way to the breach.

What he'd found had been horrifying. He recognized Nimrod instantly from the news reports he'd intercepted of the X-Men's recent battle. Poor Lorelei's power to enchant people with her singing had been useless against the robot. She was dead, and Magneto tried to avoid looking at what was left of her.

He'd only barely been able to yank Unus out of the way; his repulsion field had nearly failed by the time Magneto arrived. Toad was applying first aid in the hall, trying to get another air mask for Unus, while Magneto lashed out at Nimrod and repaired the hole in the wall.

He wasn't having much of an effect. The Sentinel didn't seem to contain any magnetic material that Magneto could get a hold of with his power. The robot's weapons appeared highly tuned to Magneto's weaknesses. His shield was getting progressively less effective.

Fortunately, he had some advantages here. He reached out to the malleable iron ore that pervaded the asteroid, and slammed two huge chunks of it together on opposite sides of the robot with extreme force.

Nimrod had determined from contemporary records that Magneto was as great a threat to humanity in this timleline as in his native one. Records from his future time had listed the existence and orbit of Asteroid M - it had been captured by Sentinels in 2008. His advanced stealth capabilities had allowed him to approach it undetected.

Magneto was one of the most studied (and most fought) mutants of the 21st century. Nimrod had detailed files on his abilities, skills, strengths, weaknesses, tactics, and psychology. He was confident that he could defeat the powerful mutant handily.

As he had judged, the two chunks of iron ore, even reinforced by Magneto's power, were not sufficient to do more than cosmetic damage. He lashed out with a neutral particle beam, which would be harder for Magneto to repel.

Indeed, Magneto was not able to entirely shield himself from the beam, and only his reinforced costume protected him from serious injury. He came to a quick decision, and implemented it just as quickly.

It was terribly inefficient, but Magneto could generate gravitons when he had to. He focused his power, pulsed energy in front of himself with a supreme effort, and released it in a rush at Nimrod.

A powerful gravity wave slammed into Nimrod, who was not adequately prepared. It carried him with savage force, flexing important internal connections, finally crashing him with stunning force into the far wall of the chamber. Nimrod was momentarily disoriented.

Magneto was half-exhausted, and he could see that the robot was not damaged severely enough to risk pressing the assault. He ripped the substance of the asteroid apart, embedding Nimrod in a metal sphere a dozen feet thick.

He whirled swiftly and lurched out into the hall. "Come with me! We are leaving!" he barked to the two shocked mutants.

"But... Lorelei..." Unus and Lorelei had been lovers for over a year.

"She is dead; and so shall we be if we do not retreat now!" He sympathized with Unus; he himself had lost many people he'd loved. But, unwilling to waste more time, he grabbed them both in a magnetic field and propelled them to the far side of the station.

They quickly seated themselves in the single transport ship, and Magneto added his own power's force to the ship's engines as they fled from the station at full thrust. All three groaned at the acceleration.

Nimrod finished melting out of the steel prison, and took stock. He detected the ship vectoring at full acceleration for Earth. It was not yet out of range. He calculated for a moment, weighing options.

Ultimately he decided not to waste more energy. He had achieved his key objectives, and things were proceeding more-or-less according to plan...


Continued in Chapter Nine


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