X-men, Coming Out

Title: Coming Out [Expectation]
Rating/Warnings: R for kicking the everliving crap out of frat boys.
Summary: On Halloween night, all they want to do is go to a party, but a dozen frat boys and a sentinel later, nothing will ever be the same.
A/N: Well, it’s sort of X-men fic. They’re in it at the end? The members of Expectation are all my creation (except for Cody, who is are also partially Amber’s). Written from start to finish in about three weeks, which was pretty impressive for me in 2002.

Coming Out

“All right,” Kris said. “Stand back. I’m liable to be dangerous with this thing.”

“Oh, please,” Chance rolled her eyes. She pushed Kris out of the way and grabbed the color hairspray from her hand. “Toby, put the towel up over your face and take a deep breath.”

Toby did what Chance ordered and Chance let her have it with the spray can. After a minute, Joanna and Kris had to go fling the door open and stand in the hallway, gasping for air from the fumes.

“Crybabies!” Chance called from the room, still spraying away with abandon. “All right,” she finally said. “I think that’s it.”

Toby lifted her head cautiously and shook out her hair. Her normally blond hair was bright, fire-engine red.

“Oh, wow!” Joanna exclaimed. “Danny’s gonna flip!”

“You’ll look just like Phoenix!” Kris nodded vehemently. “My turn!”

The process was repeated with a similar spray can, this time purple.

“I can’t wait to see what the boys are up to,” Joanna laughed. “Adam as Angel is going to be hilarious. Kris, how long does it take to straighten your hair?”

“I dunno,” Kris mumbled from under the now-multi-hued towel. “Maybe fifteen minutes or so.”

“I can’t believe you’re going to wear this costume in public,” Toby eyed Kris’s purple leotard skeptically. Aside from a leg band and a crimson dawn tattoo, it made up more or less the entire Psylocke costume.

“This coming from the girl who has a lime green micro-mini dress and yellow go-go boots,” Joanna rolled her eyes. Toby blushed.

“You’re done,” Chance announced. Kris dropped the towel and gave a test shake of her hair. The other three stared.

“It’s weird,” Chance finally said, grabbing her towel off the floor to gel her own hair into Wolverine’s winged thinguses.

“This is awesome,” Kris grinned, fluffing her purple curls in the mirror. “Let’s get cracking with the curling iron so we can go check out the boys.”

“Don’t get too carried away,” Joanna laughed, handing her the can of white hairspray. “You need to make me Rogue first.”

* * * * * *

“I can’t believe I agreed to this,” Adam grumbled.

“Shut up and close your eyes,” Danny commanded, shaking the spray can vigorously. “By the way, that shower cap looks particularly fetching on you…don’t move! I’m about to start. “

Adam clenched his fists as a blast of cold spray paint hit him full in the face.

“‘Kay, hold out your hands,” Danny said. “Your head’s done.”

Adam opened his eyes experimentally as Danny sprayed his hands and forearms. Looking at the solid blue on his skin, he had the sinking suspicion that this was not indeed temporary.

“Let me see that can,” he demanded, making a grab for it.

“No touching anything!” Danny scolded, pulling the spray can out of reach. “I’ll have to spray you again if you mess it up.”

“Give it to me now,” Adam advanced on Danny.

“Don’t touch my shirt!” Danny stumbled backwards, trying to evade Adam’s grasp. “It won’t…uh…I mean…”

“It’s PERMANENT, isn’t it?!” Adam pounced on Danny, snatching the can away from him.

“Only a little,” Danny confessed, edging towards the door.

“A LITTLE?!” Adam shouted. “How can something be a LITTLE PERMANENT?!!!”

“I told you not to tell him,” Cody said, sauntering in the door casually. He slapped the irate Adam on the back.

“Don’t say it,” Adam warned him through gritted teeth.

“Don’t be blue, man,” Cody couldn’t help himself.

“I’m going…to kill…BOTH of you…” Adam hissed between deep breaths.

“Put on your wings and chill out,” Danny advised. “The girls will be over soon to check us out and tell us if we’re allowed out with them.”

Adam continued giving Cody and Danny murderous glares while he put his arms through the elastic bands on his CVS angel wings. Danny was busy taping two strips of yellow cardboard together with a piece of red saran wrap in the middle. He bent it over his glasses and secured it to the arms of his glasses to produce a rather respectable ruby-quartz visor. Cody, meanwhile, was coloring in a couple playing cards with a pink highlighter.

Kris pounded on the door.

“Are you guys ready?” she hollered through the door. Cody sauntered over to open the door and leered appreciatively at Kris’s ‘costume.’

“Voulez-vous coucher avec moi, ma chere?” he asked, wiggling his eyebrows.

“Back off, before I use the sum totality of my psychic powers,” Kris pushed past him into the room.

“Don’t even think about it,” Chance added before Cody had a chance to say another word.

“Adam,” Joanna said, giving him an odd glance. “You’re awfully…”

“BLUE,” Adam said loudly. “Yes, I’m BLUE, and I hope you enjoy it, because thanks to your FRIENDS, I’m going to be BLUE for QUITE. SOME. TIME.”

“Well, did you think they made temporary spray paint?” Kris asked critically.

“We’re not going to talk about this any more,” Adam growled. “The next person who says the word ‘blue’ is getting kicked off the team.”

“The sky was very azure today,” Joanna said slyly.

“I think it was more cerulean,” Danny joined in.

“Or sapphire,” added Cody.

“Cobalt.”

“Teal!”

“ULTRAMARINE!!”

“Ha.” Adam gave them the Look. “Ha. Ha. Ha. I want you all to remember this when you are asleep tonight. Because I am going to get you back. Each and every one of you.”

“That doesn’t sound like very effective leadership,” Chance put in sarcastically.

“Right now,” Adam hissed at her, “the only leadership facet I am interested in is being the first person to kick your asses.”

“Are you ready to go?” Kris interrupted loudly. A chorus of affirmatives in various degrees of enthusiasm was had.

“I would just like to point out again that maybe this is not the optimum costume choice,” Danny said.

“Why?” Joanna asked. “What’s the problem with being X-men for Halloween?”

“There are several reasons I could mention,” Danny answered. “For one, The X-men are not the most popular of people right now, nation-wide, cool though they may be, especially in the mid-west. It’s sort of like going as a black person in the deep south. Two, the X-men are in fact mutants.”

“And so are we,” Chance interrupted impatiently.

“But that’s a secret, in case you forgot,” Danny continued patiently. “Probably associating ourselves with known mutants in people’s minds is not the way to keep that secret.”

“Don’t be silly,” Cody shook his head. “It’s like hiding in plain sight. I bet no one will think twice about us.”

* * * * * *

“MUTIE!”

“No one will think twice?” Joanna hissed at Cody, as all seven of them tried to ignore the townies’ racist shouts, hoping that their intolerance wouldn’t escalate to actual violence. They had experienced quite enough of that already this evening.

“We’re just downtown,” Cody hissed back. “Once we’re back on campus everything will be fine.”

“Cause we were such a big hit at the Arts House party,” Kris said nastily.

“None of those people liked us before Halloween,” Adam pointed out. “They hardly need an excuse to ostracize us.”

“Well, we gave it to them all right,” Chance sneered.

“Told you so,” Danny said darkly.

“Could you guys not fight?” Toby asked, tugging on Danny’s hand. “I just want to go home.” Toby had taken their being kicked out of the party after being harassed and threatened the hardest, actually crying a little. Danny felt his anger flare when he looked at Toby’s face, still marked with tear-tracks, but tried to swallow it as best he could. He pulled Toby close and put his arm around her.

Over Toby’s head, Danny’s eyes met Chance’s and found the same fury burning in her eyes. Something passed between them, and Danny knew their night was far from over.

“Why’re you complaining?” Joanna was asking Kris. “They liked us well enough.”

“Liked to get a piece of us, rather,” Kris said tightly. They had had a run-in with several frat boys, who had tried to separate her and Joanna from the others. Her anger was currently all that was keeping her from thinking about what might have happened if Adam hadn’t found them and broken the nose of the senior leading them.

At long last they set foot on campus, which was mostly deserted since everyone was out at Halloween parties.

“I’m gonna take Toby to the suite,” Joanna said. Danny glanced at her in surprise, knowing that she would like nothing better than to have another crack at the ass who had grabbed her, without his half dozen thugs defending him.

“Are you sure?” he asked, really asking if she was letting him go with Chance rather than her. Joanna nodded.

“You and Chance,” Joanna muffled the sounds waves passing between them so no one else would hear them, “you’ll the beat the shit out of them, and you won’t get caught. It matters more to me that they’ll never try to fuck with us again than that I get to be the one to do it. Besides, we’ve still got a secret to keep, and you can stop Chance from using her powers if you have to.”

Danny nodded curtly, giving Toby a final hug. Looking her in the eye, Danny had no doubt that Toby knew exactly what he was going back out to do, but she bit her lip and didn’t say anything as she went inside with Joanna. The fury in Danny flared again, knowing that even Toby’s inherent pacifism had been surpassed.

“Kris,” Joanna gave her a meaningful look. “Can you come in with us and help me with Toby? If she doesn’t talk about it now, she isn’t going to, and with her psionic empathy…you know how she can get.”

Kris, knowing the same thing was true for her as Joanna but monumentally less happy about it, punched Danny in the shoulder hard as she went in with Joanna and Toby. Danny took it, giving her a nod to say that he would pass the message along in spades.

Adam, Danny, and Chance stared at each other.

“Cody, go stay with the girls in case anything else happens,” Adam said evenly.

“But…” Cody protested.

“Right now,” Adam stopped him hard without looking over at him, his voice made of cold steel. Cody glanced among the faces of the other three, then did what Adam ordered without looking back.

When he heard the door close behind Cody, Adam addressed Chance and Danny in the same voice.

“I don’t want you to do this.”

“You can’t stop us,” Danny informed him flatly.

“It won’t help,” Adam shook his head. “It will make things worse.”

“We have to make them stop,” Danny replied. “Before one of us gets hurt really.”

“If you fight them tonight,” Adam argued, “they’ll just come back at you with more tomorrow. They’ll take us alone, you, the girls, Toby…”

“Don’t talk to ME about Toby!” Danny broke in furiously. “That could have been HER they tried to rape tonight! What if you hadn’t been there? What if we’re not there next time!”

“It’s got to stop, Adam,” Chance, who had been uncharacteristically quiet up to now, put a restraining hand on Danny’s arm and stared Adam down. “It’s getting worse, and we have to MAKE it stop. Or would you rather have us wait? Until we have to fight back? Right now there’s a chance that we can do this without exposing our secret you want to keep so bad. When they hospitalize one of us? Or rape one of us? Or KILL one of us?” Barely concealed static was crackling up Chance’s forearms and behind her eyes. “When they start really hurting us, all bets are off, Lockhart. Instead of standing in our way, maybe you’d better concentrate on hopin’ we can finish this right now. Before all hell breaks loose.”

Adam clenched his jaw tightly.

“If you get caught, we get expelled,” he reminded them tightly. “And if you fuck up, they own us. So you better make it count.”

“Adam, they’re threatening you and yours!” Danny said heatedly. “Come with us!”

“I can’t endorse this,” Adam hissed angrily. “Whatever you do, you do on your own, not as part of this team.”

“That’s bullshit,” Danny glared at him. “The team’s who we’re doing this for, including you! Stay here if you want, but don’t for a SECOND think I believe you don’t know what has to be done.” He brushed past Adam to stalk back towards the street.

“Adam, I got a limited amount of insightful, understanding moments to hand out, but I’m gonna waste one on you now,” Chance stopped beside him before she went by to chase Danny, peeling off her fingerless gloves, to which she had attached knives as makeshift claws. “You wanna believe that your way is better than ours all the time, and you know, even I wish you were right, but that’s just not the way stuff is. There’s times when ass needs to be kicked, and now is one of those times.”

“I feel like I’m failing everybody, whether I go or stay,” Adam kicked at the ground in frustration. “What kind of shitty leader protects his team by sending them out to get hurt?”

“Even Xavier’s got his X-men,” Chance shrugged. “You just have to learn when to use yours. Here,” she slapped her gloves into Adam’s hands. “Hold these, I don’t want to slit any throats accidentally. Or I probably shouldn’t, at least.”

Chance disappeared after Danny, leaving Adam alone on the quad. He stared after her for a long time, paralyzed by anger both for letting them go and for not going with them.

* * * * * *

“What’s the plan?” Danny asked Chance without looking up at her when she caught up to him.

“Plan?” Chance snorted. “We’re the fucking X-men, we don’t need a plan. We’ll just kick ass.”

“I’m not in the mood, McCoughlin,” Danny snapped. “Do you have a plan or what?”

“We could take them a few at time when they leave,” Chance’s expression sobered to one of hard stratgery. “But it won’t prove anything. We need to prove that we can take them all at once, anytime, and we need to do it in front of as many people as possible.”

“Can we do that?” Danny asked.

“Beats the hell out of me,” Chance shrugged.

“That’s what I’m afraid of,” Danny’s jaw tightened. “How many of them were there?”

“Eight, maybe ten,” Chance counted in her head.

“Fuck,” Danny swore. “I wish my power didn’t suck.”

“Frat boys don’t really know how to fight, trust me,” Chance shook her head. “All they know how to do is to throw their weight at you, fists up. We’re lighter, faster, and with what I’ve been teaching you, I think we can take them. So long as they only come at us two or three at a time.”

“So we fight them inside, where there’s less space,” Danny tried to think over what Chance had been teaching them about fighting. “That way they can’t ring us, and their bulk will give us the advantage. Plus they’re drunk.”

“You have been learning something,” Chance slapped him on the shoulder. “Here’s the problem: Wallace.”

Wallace Gibson was the senior president of Alpha Tau Delta. He was built like a brick house, and was a firm believer in immediate and violent retaliation for any disrespect to his fraternity.

“Wallace outweighs us and actually knows how to fight,” Chance shook her head. “Both of us together might be able to take him, but certainly not along with everyone else.”

“Maybe he’ll have left by now,” Danny suggested.

“That’s worse,” Chance furrowed her brow. “If we don’t take him, he’ll be the first to come back at us, organized and hard, and we definitely won’t be able to take that, tonight or after. Our best chance is to take him by surprise, then take on everybody else.”

“And if we can’t get him alone?” Danny asked.

“We’re fucked,” Chance replied flatly.

By now they had reached the Arts House, where the party seemed to have picked up speed since they left.

“Let’s go around back,” Danny said, pulling Chance behind a hedge that ringed the yard. “Maybe we can get a look at who’s where before we go in.” Chance nodded sharply and they made their way stealthily to the back yard of the house, using the hedge for cover.

“Oh, yessss,” Chance hissed as they peered through the hedge.

“What?” Danny whispered, trying to see what she was looking at.

“It’s Wallace,” Chance grinned ferally. “He’s alone. Well, practically alone.”

“What are you talking about?” Danny asked, finally pushing her out of the way.

Wallace had led some hapless sorority girl out back, and was trying to drunkenly persuade her to go somewhere with him. The girl however, not being as vapid as she looked, was resisting the 250 pound frat senior as best she could.

“I think I should just shock him,” Chance said seriously, her fist crackling in anticipation.

“You can’t!” Danny grabbed her wrist and her static fizzled out. “That girl will see, and what if you don’t knock him out right away?”

“I know how to knock someone unconscious,” Chance jerked her hand away from him. “Think about it, Daniel, he’s our biggest problem, we can take him out with zero risk right now, drag him inside, and everyone will think we beat him! Then they’ll be intimidated as well as drunk, slow, and stupid!”

“I won’t…wait, listen to that,” Danny hushed Chance.

“NO!” they heard Wallace’s victim shout, followed by the unmistakable hiss of a mace sprayer. “Take THAT, you asshole!”

Watching through the bushes, Danny and Chance saw Wallace roar and let go of the girl as he rubbed his eyes frantically. The girl ran inside as fast as her spiked heels could take her.

“Do it while he can’t see, and don’t fuck up,” Danny hissed hurriedly.

“No problem,” Chance’s eyes narrowed and she slipped through the bushes. She snuck up behind the blinded frat boy, fists crackling blue, and holding one fist inside the other, brought them down on the back of Wallace’s skull hard. Wallace dropped lifelessly to the ground from the combination of blunt force and electric shock.

“You didn’t kill him did you?” Danny asked, stepping out of the bushes.

“I wish,” Chance said darkly, the remains of her static crackling up her forearms before disappearing. “He doesn’t have many brains to scramble, he’ll be fine. He’ll probably claim we cracked his head with a baseball bat or something like that, after he finds out that we took out the rest of the frat boys.”

“If we take out the rest of the frat boys,” Danny said darkly.

“Now is not the time for pessimism, Daniel,” Chance hefted one of the downed senior’s muscled arms. “Grab the other arm and let’s drag him inside and get this over with.”

Chance and Danny fireman-carried Wallace to the back door, which Chance kicked open with her boot.

“Ready?” Chance asked.

“I wouldn’t feel half as stupid if we weren’t still dressed as Cyclops and Wolverine,” Danny growled. “Let’s do it.”

Once inside, they pushed past the people hanging out near the door until people started to realize what was happening. A path opened up to the middle of the dance floor, and when they were standing in the center of the room, they dropped Wallace heavily to the floor.

“Yo, cut the fucking music!” somebody yelled. The techno whine that had been smothering everything bendied into silence, and everyone stared at the fallen frat senior and his attackers.

“You assholes fucked with the wrong people tonight,” Chance growled fiercely.

There was a tense moment of silence.

“Are those the X-men?” somebody asked finally.

“Hey,” a drunken voice said slowly. “Weren’t they here before?”

“Yeah,” one of the frat guys answered. “They had those girls with ‘em.”

“I bet you remember the girls,” Danny’s eyes narrowed. “Six of you tried to rape them until Adam broke Covington’s nose!”

“I didn’t rabe nobody!” Covington pushed through the ring of people, his voice thick because of his swollen and purple nose. “Maybe dey were sick ob you pussies!”

“We’re here to deliver a message,” Chance announced, sneering at Covington who she had decided would make a good enough messenger when Wallace came to. “Our friends, they’re off limits. Stay away from us.”

“Who’d gonna stob us, liddle girl?” Covington stepped forward. “You?”

“Bring it, Covington,” Chance gave a savage grin. “Think you can do better than Wallace?”

Covington licked his lips, giving a nervous glance at the heap on the floor that was the head of his frat, but already a drunken cheer of “Covington! Covington!” was circulating the room, and there was really no way he could back down now without losing face.

He made a clumsy rush at Chance, who sidestepped him easily. She swept his feet out from under him and he crashed heavily to the floor, sending sprays of the alcohol slush that was covering the floor in all directions. He staggered to his feet, slush dripping off him, and opened his eyes to see Danny at close range. Danny drove the heel of his hand into Covington’s already broken nose followed by a solid hit to the solar plexus, driving Covington to his knees, howling with pain and spurting blood from his nose. Danny grabbed Covington’s collar and bore down on him, cracking Covington’s head on the cement floor. Covington stared up at him with glazed eyes.

“If any of you ever touches Toby, I’ll kill you,” Danny snarled before cracking Covington’s head on the floor again and knocking him unconscious.

Meanwhile, two other frat boys had felt brave enough to attack Chance together, actually possessing the presence of mind to attack from the same direction so that Chance couldn’t duck between them. She was holding her own, but had taken a few hits, unable to block four fists simultaneously. Before a third frat boy charged him, Danny had time to notice that Chance was charging her fists slightly, not enough that the inebriated fighters would notice in the confusion, but enough that they were feeling her punches more than they should have, and sometimes enough to stun them momentarily.

Danny knew he didn’t have time to avoid the larger frat boy’s sudden charge, so instead he grabbed the outstretched fist of the guy and pivoted like he was swinging a baseball bat, using the larger guy’s own momentum to drive him into one of Chance’s attackers and knock them both to the floor. Chance took the opportunity the other attacker’s surprise afforded her to land a clean uppercut, and he joined his buddies on the floor. She dealt him a savage kick in the ribs before glancing over to see how

Danny was doing.

Danny had just dropped a fifth frat boy (six if you counted Wallace) to the ground, but looked worse for wear, having taken a gash above the eye; fortunately, his glasses were miraculously intact, faux visor and all. He looked stunned, and was having trouble seeing with blood pouring into his eyes. Chance saw that the last three frat boys seemed like they were going to make a final simultaneous bid for them, and took several fast backwards steps to put her back against Danny’s.

“Can you hold out?” she hissed hurriedly.

“Bring it,” Danny repeated her earlier words fiercely. “I’ll take the far right one. Are there three or five of them?”

“You’re scaring me Daniel,” Chance tensed for the trio’s charge. “Can you see or not?”

“No, there’s too much blood on my glasses and everything’s blurry,” Danny told her.

“Then do exactly what I tell you, I’ve got an idea,” Chance said tightly. She waited until the three guys were nearly on top of them. “Punch now!”

Daniel struck out nearly blindly, ignoring his double vision, and got a lucky shot out at his attacker, catching him solidly in the throat. Unable to breath, the guy fell back, leaving two more.

“Hit the deck!” Chance shouted hurriedly. Her attacker was coming in too low for her to punch, so she crouched down and took the hit, grabbing the collar of the attacker and rocking back with the force, using his momentum to flip him over her head. Danny dropped just in time, and Chance’s boy crashed into the remaining attacker. Chance jumped to her feet painfully and helped Danny up hurriedly. The only attacker standing was the one Danny had punched in his throat. They advanced on him, but he backed away.

“Don’t…” he wheezed, clutching his throat with one hand and waving surrender with the other. “Don’t…hurt me…”

“You tell your friends to stay away from us,” Chance ordered sharply. “Tell Wallace if any of his pals lay a hand on any of our people, then we’ll fuck him up for real. Slow, so he’ll remember it this time. Got it?”

The frat boy stared at Chance dumbly, raw terror evident on his face.

“GOT it?!” Chance barked. The frat boy nodded jerkily. “Let’s get out of here, Danny. I wouldn’t spend an extra minute at this fucking party even if I was as much a brain-dead asshole as them.”

Being as he still couldn’t see very well, Danny made a good show of following Chance’s confident stride out of the house, and the silent crowd of stunned bystanders parted immediately, as though they were afraid to even brush against Danny and Chance.

“Chance,” Danny started when he felt cold air on his face.

“Not yet,” Chance ordered him in a low voice. “We need to get out of sight before you keel over. Act like its nothing.”

“I can’t fucking see anything,” Danny hissed angrily.

“Just keep moving forward, there’s nothing there,” Chance whispered back. “There’s an intersection coming up in about ten steps. You’re going to stop when I tell you, wait till I say ‘go’ and as soon as we’re on the other side of the street we can stop and look at your head. All right? Stop.”

Danny obediently halted. Through his blood spattered glasses and red-cellophaned visor, not to mention his double vision, all he could make out was fast blurs of white and red lights whizzing by in front of him, making him more dizzy than he already was.

“Go now,” Chance ordered suddenly, and they moved across the street as quickly as possible while still looking tough.

“I’m stopping now,” Danny informed Chance, dropping to his knees. He peeled off his glasses and tried to use his shirt to scrape off the dried blood as best he could, trying to blink the blurriness of his vision away and ignoring the other parts of his body that were starting to ache. Chance crouched down beside him and probed the cut on his forehead.

“I don’t think its deep,” she said, as Danny jerked his head away from her hand, hissing in pain. “Head wounds just bleed a lot.” Danny peered at her near-sightedly, and saw that she had a split lip and a small gash of her own along her cheekbone.

“You’re bleeding too,” he told her, putting his sort-of cleaned glasses back on his head. Chance touched her own cheek and glanced at the blood on her fingertips.

“We’re going to have to go in one of the other dorms to clean up,” she said. “Toby’ll flip out if she sees you like this. We need to get moving, I think did something to my ankle, and if we don’t keep moving, it’s gonna stiffen up real fast.”

Danny grunted and struggled to his feet, leaning heavily on Chance. Once upright, he steadied himself and seemed to be okay to walk.

They trudged back towards campus in silence for several minutes.

“Danny,” Chance said finally.

“Yeah?” he asked, concentrating on putting one foot in front of the other.

“You did real good.” Chance, having a rare moment of respect for others, was having a hard time stringing the words together to say what she meant. “All that stuff I taught you, you remembered it when it counted, and you wouldn’t quit coming, even when we were pretty sure we’d lose. Used to be, I would’ve taken that fight on by myself…but next time, I want you to have my back.”

“What the hell are you talking about, McCoughlin?” Danny demanded with irritation, glancing at Chance and coughing some. “I got the crap beat out of me! I can’t see, and I can barely walk for chrissake, and you’re hardly doing much better! The only reason we won is cause you’re a good enough fighter to kick the shit out of somebody and yell orders for me to fight blind at the same time!”

“But we did win, Powers,” Chance reminded him, shrugging. “And that’s all that matters. Wallace won’t touch us now, any of us. Neither one of us could have done that alone. As for the beating we took, well…if it keeps Toby and the rest of them safe…I’ve taken a lot worse than this, for a lot stupider reasons.”

“Careful,” Danny hacked a painful laugh. “Someone might mistake you for a member of some touchy-feely team.” He stopped walking so he could get a good look at Chance. “You really mean that? About wanting me to back you up?”

“Who else would crack someone’s head on concrete without giving it a second thought?” Chance gave him a penetrating stare. “You do what needs to be done, and you don’t second-guess yourself about it. Sounds simple, but the rest of them haven’t learned that trick yet. And it’ll get them hurt unless you and me are there to take care of things. Like we were tonight.”

“Yeah, well…what’s that noise?” Danny asked, looking around. There was a distant sort of pounding.

“It’s the sound of me not caring what the hell it is, Daniel,” Chance replied. “We’re done for the night.”

“It’s coming from campus,” Danny looked at Chance. “It doesn’t sound good.”

“Danny, what could it possible be that would concern us?” Chance asked caustically. “It’s probably construction, but if it’s not, they could blow up half of campus right now and I wouldn’t lift a finger to stop it.”

“That’s bullshit,” Danny summarily dismissed her statement of apathy. “Come on.”

Danny upped his admittedly pathetic speed slightly, dragging Chance in his wake. The sounds were indeed coming from campus and getting louder all the time. Now it sounded like a hollowly metallic, rhythmic pounding, and the ground was starting to shake a little. He and Chance exchanged glances and sped up a little more.

“Whatever it is,” Chance warned, “we’re only going to look and then go get Adam. Neither one of us needs to get fucked up any more tonight.” Danny nodded.

Suddenly, a voice like a deranged PA system rang out across campus:

:HALT, MUTANT. UNIT GAMMA ALPHA 3958 INTERCEPTING TARGET.:

Danny and Chance broke into a run, ignoring their aches, and headed for the quad in the middle of campus.

“Holy shit!” Chance stopped dead when they broke onto the quad and saw what was making all the noise. “What the fuck is that?!”

‘That’ was a two-story-high, purple and red metallic android, who at that moment was chasing a hysterical girl across the quad. It wasn’t very fast or very graceful, but given its size, it didn’t have to be.

“It’s a sentinel,” Danny went cold with fear. “It tracks mutants and exterminates them. Go get Adam, now!”

“What are you going to do?” Chance demanded. “I’m not leaving you here to get yourself killed!”

“I block powers, maybe I can get close enough to that girl to turn hers off so we can hide,” Danny said, pushing Chance roughly towards the dorms. “GO!” Chance growled and ran down the other side of the quad to the dorms, and Danny went after the girl.

The girl had tripped and crashed to the ground, and was too terrified to climb back to her feet. Danny cursed and sprinted with everything he had left, knowing he wasn’t fast enough to reach her before the sentinel did.

“HEY!” he heard Chance shout from the other end of the quad, and he heard the crackle of one of Chance’s shockbursts. The sentinel paused.

:NEW MUTANT DETECTED. IDENTITY UNKNOWN.:

The momentary pause was enough for Danny to gain the lead over the sentinel.

“CHANCE!” he screamed without looking to see if she could hear him or even if she was still there. “It tracks your POWERS! Turn yours OFF and GET ADAM!”

:PRIORITY: FIRST TARGET.: the sentinel decided.

As the sentinel turned back towards the downed girl, Danny didn’t know whether that was good or bad news, but he was glad the sentinel was at least announcing his plans out loud. He made a desperate dive for the girl, and as he grabbed her, he concentrated every fiber of his mutantdom on turning off her powers.

The sentinel paused again, and swiveled its head back and forth slightly, as if a satellite searching for a signal. Danny held his breath, sure that the pounding of his heart could lead the most inept tracking device to them, mutant or not.

“Get up, stay quiet, and do exactly what I tell you,” Danny hissed at the girl, “and for chrissake, no matter what happens DON’T let go of me!” The girl nodded dumbly, eyes wide with terror. Danny staggered to his feet, ignoring the sharp pain that was beginning to develop in his side and dragging the girl along with him. He hustled her to the nearest building and they huddled in the doorframe.

Please let it not be able to sense my power, Danny prayed fervently.

The sentinel moved forward to where they had been previously and scanned the area some more, managing to look confused despite its complete lack of expression. It seemed to know that they were still nearby though, and showed no signs of moving on.

“What’s your power?” Danny whispered at the girl.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” the girl whispered back.

“Your mutant power,” Danny tried to smother his irritation. “What is it?”

“I’m not a mutant!” the girl snarled at him. “I’m not a freak!”

“Do you think I’m an idiot?!” Danny’s patience snapped suddenly. “That sentinel is tracking YOU with YOUR powers! It’s not cause you’re the tooth fairy!”

“I’m not a freak!” the girl repeated louder this time. The sentinel’s head swung in their direction.

“Shut UP, you stupid bitch!” Danny tightened his grip on her arms until he was sure he was leaving bruises. He froze as the sentinel took a step in their direction.

This is it, he thought. I’m going to die defending some bitch who I don’t even know, and who would rather die than be a mutant. How fucking perfect.

The sentinel was less than ten steps away when he heard the most welcome sound he had ever heard in his whole life.

“OVER HERE, YOU OVERGROWN TRASH COMPACTOR!”

Danny nearly fainted with relief at the abrasive sound of Chance’s voice and the CRACK of her staticburst at full force. At the end of the quad, his other six teammates were doing their best to attract the sentinel’s attention without being in close range.

:NEW TARGETS LOCATED. UNREGISTERED MUTANTS: TERMINATE.”

The sentinel’s flat statement sent chills up Adam’s spine, but he kept his head.

“Toby, you and Danny have the least battle-worthy powers, get that girl out of here and keep bystanders away!” he ordered, glancing over at the crowd of students that were starting to gather on the edges of the quad. “Kris, Joanna, and Chance, you have the most offensive powers, see if you can make a dent in that thing’s armor! Cody, stay close and get them out of there if it gets too close! I’m gonna soak the ground and see if we can make it slippery enough to knock that tin soldier down!”

While Kris, Joanna, and Chance kept the sentinel busy with staticbursts, fireballs, and plasma shots, Adam got close enough to soak the ground near it, and Toby ran past to where Danny was still hiding in the doorway with the girl. Toby hugged Danny tightly with relief. Danny squeezed her back, wincing as she pressed against his bruises. She was about to demand an explanation for his head wound when she noticed the girl cowering behind him.

“Rachel?” Toby asked, glancing at the girl. “You’re a mutant?”

“NO!” Rachel nearly screamed. “You freaks keep calling me that, but I’m NOT! I’m NORMAL!”

Toby bit her lip and exchanged glances with Danny, who gritted his teeth.

“Fine, whatever,” he growled at Rachel. “But the longer you go without learning to control your powers the stronger they’ll get, and the easier it will be for things like THAT to track you down!” Danny pointed at the sentinel, who was still advancing against his team despite the force of their combined powers. The girl opened her mouth to protest, but Danny cut her off fiercely. “Why don’t you just get the hell out of here, if you’re not going to help, while you still can!”

Rachel’s eyes shifted nervously to the sentinel and back to Danny.

“I’m not going out there,” she said stubbornly. Danny thought he might snap right then, but Toby pulled away from his grip.

“I’ll take care of it,” she said. “Go keep the other kids back and I’ll be there in a minute.” Danny nodded, and sparing Rachel a last glare, limped quickly over to the growing crowd of students.

“Rachel, everything’s fine,” Toby looked into Rachel’s eyes, using her mutant power to slip Rachel into a waking sort of daydream. Rachel looked confused for a moment, then calm washed over her face.

“What was I doing here?” she asked Toby, benignly puzzled.

“We were just talking,” Toby told her soothingly. “But you look tired. Why don’t you go back to your room and go to bed.”

“That sounds really nice,” Rachel gave Toby a vapid smile and wandered off towards her room, paying no attention to battle raging behind her. Toby’s power would lose its effect after Rachel was more than a couple dozen yards from her, but it would be more than enough to get her out of the way.

Adam had managed to make the ground muddy enough so that the sentinel’s bulk sunk it into the earth several inches, but it didn’t do much besides slow it down. He retreated to where Joanna, Kris, and Chance were still blasting away. The sentinel, unable to move forward without difficulty, started fire rounds from the energy weapons in its hands towards its targets.

“This isn’t working, Adam!” Kris yelled over the noise as they traded shots with the sentinel. “And we’re all getting tired!”

“It’s made of some sort of plastic,” Chance told him, moving closer so he could hear her. “It’s not even feeling my powers, and Joanna and Kris aren’t doing much better.”

“It has to have circuits on the inside we can fry, if we can just get to them,” Adam thought hard. He snapped his fingers. “Chance, I still have your claws! Joanna, keep it distracted a little longer! Kris, Cody, get over here, I have an idea!”

“This better be good!” Joanna shouted, dodging a round of energy fire. “I can’t keep this up much longer!”

“Kris,” Adam said hurriedly, “at close range, do you think you can melt a hole in that plastic?”

“Real close range,” Kris said dubiously, “And not a very large hole.”

“Enough to get these stuck in it?” Adam held up Chance’s makeshift claws.

“What’re you getting at?” Kris demanded.

“I think we can keep it distracted long enough for Cody to teleport you up,” Adam explained rapidly, “somewhere onto it’s back or shoulders, it doesn’t matter where. If you can soften up the plastic enough to stick Chance’s claws through the plastic to touch the metal that has to be underneath, she can use it as a lightening rod and maybe we can fry it!” Cody took the claws and nodded sharply.

“It’s the best thing we’re going to come up with,” Chance agreed. “Let’s go!” She and Adam ran back to help Joanna keep the sentinel distracted.

“Let’s go before it figures out what we’re up to,” Kris told Cody. He nodded and grabbed her around the waist before winking out of existence.

They reappeared on the broad shoulder of the sentinel and dropped immediately to their stomachs to have a better chance at holding on while the sentinel thrashed about, fighting Joanna, Chance, and Adam. Kris put her hands flat on the plastic and concentrated on heating it as fast as she could.

“Hold on to me,” Kris asked Cody, “and try not to touch the plastic with your bare hands, it’s going to get pretty hot before it melts any.” Kris knew Cody was just as scared as she was when he tightened his grip on her leotard-clad body without so much as a ‘yeah baby.’

“Adam!” Chance called seriously as they tried to keep the attention of the sentinel. “I can’t shock that thing with enough juice to bring it down from here! I’m hurt and already tired, and Cody isn’t going to be able to take another person with him up and back, he’ll probably collapse once he gets Kris down!”

“How close do you need to be?” Adam asked.

“Adam, watch out!” Joanna screamed. Adam dove to the ground just in time to avoid an energy shot that whizzed bare inches above his head. Distracted, Joanna cried out as another energy blast grazed her arm.

“About that close!” Chance told him. “Joanna, get behind me! Adam, you okay?”

“Just great,” Adam growled, hefting himself back to his feet as quickly as he could. “Joanna, how bad is it?”

“Bad enough,” Joanna said through clenched teeth, clutching her arm. Blood was seeping out from under her hand.

“Get out of here!” Adam ordered her.

“NO!” she shouted back. “I can still shoot and you two can’t hold its attention by yourselves!” She shot a round of plasma blasts, eyes tearing up as pain lanced down her arm, but standing her ground.

“Adam, what now?!” Chance demanded.

“Fuck if I know,” Adam swore under his breath. “Hurry UP, Kris!”

“Joanna’s hurt!” Toby cried, grabbing Danny’s arm.

“We have to do something,” he took a step forward.

“No!” Toby tugged him back. “You’re hurt and your power would just stop theirs, there’s nothing we can do!”

“Get out of the shot, man!” someone shouted angrily behind them. They both turned and noticed for the first time that one of the students in the crowd had a handheld camcorder and was filming the fight.

“Hey, stop that!” Danny shouted, pointing at him. “This isn’t entertainment, moron!”

“Are you kidding?” the student didn’t even turn his head, keeping his camera trained on the sentinel. “The X-men fighting a huge robot on campus? This is Pulitzer material!”

“We’re NOT the…” Danny started to yell, but Toby elbowed him sharply.

“Let him think we’re the X-men,” she hissed at Danny. “Maybe nobody will realize it’s us in the confusion! Hiding in plain sight, remember?” Danny shut his mouth but glowered at the student. He and Toby turned back to the fight to watch anxiously. Joanna was struggling to fight beside Chance and Adam, but her left arm was obviously useless.

“That one chick’s hurt!” somebody yelled.

“All right!” someone else yelled. “Blast those muties, robot!”

Danny clenched his jaw so hard he thought he might black out.

“Why don’t you two go play, too?” a third voice called. “Then maybe he can take you all out at once, do the genetic pool a favor!”

Danny spun around in a blind fury.

“Danny, no!” Toby tried to hold him back, but he shook her off angrily. He grabbed the nearest person by the collar and lifted them off the ground, twisting the heckler’s shirt until he could barely breathe.

“You wanna know what we’re doing here?!” he screamed in his victim’s face. “You all want to know?! We’re saving your worthless lives, that’s what! So you can go home, marry some other piece of white trash, and populate the whole world with racist, ignorant assholes JUST LIKE YOU!”

Danny threw the choking guy to the ground hard and glared at the silenced crowd, including the film student, who now had the camera trained on him. He didn’t care at all.

“Fuck you all,” he addressed the camera clearly, voice cold with rage. “It’s flatscans like you that make mutants want to destroy humanity. Put that on the fucking news.” Danny flipped the camera the bird, then turned and ran to help his teammates.

“What are you going to do?” Toby demanded, catching up to him.

“I’m going to fight with my team,” Danny told her harshly. “I’d rather die with them than live another second protecting those flatscans.”

“All right!” Kris yelled to Cody. “Hand me the claws quick, before it re-hardens!” Cody gave her Chance’s gloves, and Kris plunged them into the softened plastic in front of her as hard as she could. She heard a dull clang from inside the sentinel and nearly wept with relief. She ripped the leather glove off the blades stuck inside the sentinel so nothing would insulate the bare metal. Just them the sentinel seemed to notice they were there and slapped at the back of its neck, barely missing them.

“Let’s go!” she screamed at Cody, but before he could teleport them the sentinel’s second swipe knocked them off its shoulder. Kris squeezed her eyes shut as the ground rushed to meet them.

“Hold on!” Cody shouted, teleporting them mid-air.

They reappeared close to the ground several yards away from the fight, but their momentum was still the same and they hit hard. Kris, who had landed on top of Cody, had gotten the wind knocked out of her. Gasping, she rolled off Cody to see if he was alive. He was out cold, having absorbed most of the impact, but he was breathing.

“CHANCE!” she screamed as loud as she could, “DO IT NOW!”

“Adam?” Chance called questioningly.

“When I say now, shock me!” Adam called back. “Hard as you can!”

“WHAT?!”

Adam ignored her and concentrated on pulling as much water out of the air as he could, running a stream from Chance’s claws in the sentinel’s shoulder back to him.

“Do it!” Adam called, eyes screwed shut. “Everything you’ve got!”

“Adam, no!” Joanna screamed as Chance hesitated.

“FUCKING DO IT!”

Chance grabbed Adams shoulders and poured everything she had into him. A raw scream tore from her throat she forced a bolt of blue-white lightning through Adam. The lightning blasted up the path Adam made and shot into the heart of the sentinel via Chance’s bare claws.

“ADAM!” Joanna reached over to pull Chance away from him, but Danny caught up with her at that moment and jerked her back.

“You’ll be killed!” he yelled over the noise. He grabbed Toby and threw all three of them to the ground. “Cover your head and shut your eyes!”

Completely overexerted, Chance gave a final harsh cry and blacked out; she and Adam both collapsed to the ground.

The sentinel made an awful metallic scraping, grinding sound, then crashed to the ground, the impact shaking the whole campus. It laid smoking and sparking in the middle of the quad, it’s chest a blackened crater.

Kris, outside of the immediate blast center, was the first to sit up. She struggled to her feet and dragged Cody as best she could over to the others. Danny was sitting in the mud, holding Toby, who was crying, and Joanna was kneeling next to where Adam and Chance had been. Heart in her throat, Kris rushed to Joanna.

“Are they…” she couldn’t squeeze the words out around the lump in her throat.

Joanna looked up and opened her mouth, but just then Chance stirred. She curled up on her side, making a thin wailing sound.

“Is…is she crying?” Kris asked, crouching down next to Joanna.

“Look at her hands,” Joanna uncurled one of Chance’s clenched hands. They were raw and blistered from the force of her last shock. Chance cried out at the touch and opened her eyes.

“Sentinel?” she whispered, voice husky and cracking, struggling to focus her eyes on Joanna.

“It’s down,” Joanna told her. “You did it, you took it out. It’s all over.”

“Adam?” Chance asked.

“We don’t know yet,” Joanna looked away, knowing there was no way Adam could have survived the force of Chance’s powers at full force.

“Fucking hero,” Chance rasped, closing her eyes and slipping back into unconsciousness.

“Joanna,” Kris said in a hushed voice. “Look at this.”

“I don’t want to see,” Joanna said, tears slipping out of her eyes.

“No, look!”

Joanna crawled around to where Kris was leaning over Adam, who was facedown in the mud.

“Help me turn him over,” Kris said urgently. Joanna reached over and gingerly helped Kris roll their team leader over.

“Holy shit,” Joanna gasped.

Adam’s shirt was a string of charred rags, but there wasn’t a single mark on his artificially blue skin. As they watched, his chest rose and fell evenly.

“Danny!” Kris yelled. “Danny, Toby, come here!” Danny and Toby helped a newly conscious and dazed Cody over to the others, sitting him down next to Joanna.

“What happened?” he asked.

“Chance used Adam as a conduit to fry the sentinel,” Joanna explained. Cody’s eyes widened.

“But there’s not a mark on ‘im,” Cody said, looking bewilderedly from Joanna’s face to Kris’s. “How can that be? How can he still be alive?” Joanna shook her head wordlessly.

Just then Adam began to stir. He opened his eyes and looked around slowly across the tearful and stunned faces of his team members.

“This is either real good or real bad,” Adam said, his own voice sounding thick like he had been in a deep sleep. “Did we win, or are we all dead?” Joanna and Kris collapsed on Adam, hugging him and weeping openly. The other three just stared at Adam, speechless.

“Jesus Christ,” Danny finally said. “How the fuck can you still be here?”

“I’m not really sure,” Adam started to sit up, and Joanna and Kris backed off to let him up. “I just thought, if Iceman can become totally ice, maybe I could be just like water, and electricity doesn’t hurt water, it just passes right through it. I never tried it before, but…guess it worked. How’s Chance?”

“Hurt,” Joanna said flatly. “Her hands are covered in electric burns, but she’ll be okay. We all will.”

“That asshole is still filming us,” Danny growled, looking over Toby’s head. Most of the crowd of students had dispersed when the sentinel went down, but the film student had come forward to film the downed sentinel close up, and now had his camera trained on them. As the other five looked up, the student turned off his camera and ran off.

“Shouldn’t we chase him and get his camera?” Kris asked.

“Forget him,” Adam shook his head, standing up. “We can worry about it tomorrow. Right now we need to get Chance inside and decide whether anybody needs to go to the hospital.” He picked Chance up and started walking to the dorms. The others followed slowly after a moment.

* * * * * *

Later that night, Adam came out of the girls’ bathroom into the common room of the girls suite and sat beside Danny on the couch. His skin was bright pink with a bluish undertone, and he reeked of turpentine.

“Are you okay?” he asked. “I never did find out how the first fight went. Looks like you took some damage. Chance too.”

Danny was quiet for a few moments before answering, concentrating on cleaning the last of the blood off his glasses.

“We won,” he said with a shrug, using Chance’s earlier words. “That’s all that matters. Both times.”

“You don’t seem like you feel particularly victorious,” Adam pressed.

“Adam, these people hate us,” Danny put his glasses back on and slumped in his seat. “We put our lives on the line for them, and they were rooting for the sentinel. One of them is likely selling a video of us to the news right now, and anybody with two brain cells is going to know we aren’t really the X-men. They won’t let us stay once they find out who we are. We saved dozens of lives, and we’re going to be expelled for it. You nearly died, and it’s all for nothing. Doesn’t that make you angry?”

“Yeah,” Adam leaned his head back on the back of the couch and looked at the ceiling. “It sort of does. But we couldn’t just do nothing. We’re the ones with all the powers, it’s our job to protect the people who can’t defend themselves. Even when they hate us. We knew it would suck when we decided to be a superhero team.”

“I just wanted a cool codename,” Danny managed a sickly laugh.

“Danny, you put a lot on the line for this team tonight,” Adam looked at him. “What you said earlier, about doing what needed to be done for all of us, you were right. You came through for us tonight when I couldn’t.”

“That’s not true,” Danny shrugged.

“I got to fight with my mask on,” Adam pointed out. “Tomorrow I’ll go outside like nothing happened and no one will be the wiser. Like Clark Kent. But by tomorrow everybody will know what you and Chance did at the Arts house. That’s going to stay with you for the rest of your college career, maybe the rest of your life, for better or worse. But you didn’t care about that, you only cared that your team was safe. The real Cyclops couldn’t have done any better than that.”

“The real Cyclops isn’t going to see himself on the six o’clock news tomorrow night,” Danny snorted.

“Oh, I think that’s exactly what he’s going to see,” Adam broke into a wide grin. “In fact, he’s going to see himself calling millions of TV viewers across the country ‘flatscans’ and then giving them the finger.”

“Heh,” Danny did have to snicker at that. He caught Adam’s eye and they both lost it, laughing as hard as only unappreciated heroes can after having a near-death experience.

* * * * * *

Half a country away, in Westchester…

Storm knocked on Xavier’s office door loudly.

“Come in!” Xavier called, exchanging glances with Wolverine, who was sitting on the other side of his desk.

“Professor,” Storm said urgently, coming inside quickly, “there is something on the news you must see.”

Xavier obligingly flipped on the TV in his office.

“…X-men wreaking havoc in the mid-west?” the news reporter was saying. Xavier raised an eyebrow at Wolverine.

“Don’t look at me, Chuck,” Logan growled. “I didn’t blow up nothin’ this time.”

“Shh,” Storm shushed both of them.

“…caught on film by a student at the college. Kent, could we roll the tape.”

Xavier, Storm, and Wolverine watched in silence as the jumpy video tape indeed seemed to show Psylocke, Gambit, Rogue, Angel, and Wolverine fighting a sentinel.

“That’s not us,” Wolverine said, watching closely. “They’re powers are all wrong. Psylocke’s shooting fireballs and I’m throwing lightning bolts.”

Suddenly the camera panned right and focused on Cyclops and Phoenix look-a-likes, watching the fight anxiously. Someone off-camera yelled “Why don’t you two go play, too? Then maybe he can take you all out at once, do the genetic pool a favor!” Storm stiffened and Wolverine growled softly. The Cyclops turned abruptly and attacked the heckler, holding him up in the air by his collar and shouting angrily at the crowd of bystanders.

“You wanna know what we’re doing here?! You all want to know?! We’re saving your worthless lives, that’s what! So you can go home, marry some other piece of white trash, and populate the whole world with racist, ignorant assholes JUST LIKE YOU!”

“If I had a buck for every time I wanted…to…” Wolverine’s sentence trailed off as Cyclops very deliberately flipped off the camera. “Heh,” he tried to stifle his laughter. Storm was covering her mouth with her hand, and the professor was trying to look like he was coughing discreetly.

“Computer, I think we need to see that again,” Wolverine commanded.

Jean came in as the broadcast was rewinding obligingly.

“What are you guys up…to…oh my god.”

Jean covered her mouth when she saw her husband on the TV flipping a very dramatic bird. She tried to suppress it, but a snort escaped and they all burst out laughing.

“What’s going on in here?” Scott demanded, coming into Xavier’s office. “Have any of you seen what’s on the…oh.” Scott narrowed his eyes at the imposter on the TV screen and considered giving his own Grandma’s Salute as his teammates tried unsuccessfully to contain themselves.

“This is serious!” Scott informed them humorlessly. “People are impersonating us!”

“Perhaps we should watch the rest of the broadcast,” Xavier cleared his throat, wiping tears from his eyes.

“…investigation revealed that these mutants were not in fact the X-men,” the reporter continued, “but students at the college, returning in costume from an off-campus Halloween party. Bystanders claim that the rogue sentinel was attacking another student when these mutants came to her rescue. This morning, the school has officially identified juniors Adam Lockhart, Kris Danigan, Joanna Ward and Cody Forrestor, and sophomores Daniel Powers, Toby West, and Chance McCoughlin as the mutants seen on this tape. Sadly, the school has expelled the students permanently on the ground of “destroying college property.” Adam Lockhart, the former captain of the varsity soccer team, and the self-proclaimed leader of the mutants had this to say about the incident.”

The TV switched to a taped interview, showing a tall, blond student, looking sincerely into the camera.

“We just did what we could to protect the student body.” Adam raked his hand through his hair and smiled self-consciously. “We figured we looked like X-men, we ought to act like them.”

“Mr. Lockhart,” the interviewer asked, “how do you feel about being expelled for your noble acts?”

Adam face darkened. “I don’t think I should talk about that.”

“Why not?” a female voice off-screen demanded. The camera panned over to show a girl with curly brown hair and her arm in a sling.

“You are Joanna Ward, aren’t you?” the interviewer asked. Joanna nodded. “You were actually injured fighting the sentinel, were you not?”

“Shot in the arm,” Joanna answered curtly.

“Do you have anything to say about your expulsion?”

“I could say lots of things about it,” Joanna replied darkly. “But what I will say is this: when we first arrived here as freshmen, one of the things they stressed the most was giving back to the college community. The seven of us, we’re A students, varsity athletes, club leaders, RAs! We gave our lives for these people, and they want to expel us? Would the administration be happier if we had kept quiet and let students die? It doesn’t sound to me like we’re the ones who are threatening student safety.”

The screen cut back to the studio reporter.

“Students themselves are divided on the issue. Several protest rallies have been held, demanding the mutants be allowed to return to classes, but they have received no response from the administration of the college.”

The screen cut back to another taped interview. An angry, dark-haired student was scowling into the camera. The caption underneath read “Joshua Anderson: Leader of Recent Student Protests.”

“Mr. Anderson, can you sum up for us the essence of your movement?”

“Look,” Joshua’s southern accent was readily apparent. “Ah didn’t used to like mutants neither, Ah thought they were dangerous an’ they hated us normal folks. But Ah saw what those guys did for us, they got hurt savin’ our lives, and we spit on them! The way we treat them, Ah wouldn’t of lifted a finger to help us. They’re bigger folk n’me.”

The camera panned over to a red-haired girl and the caption read “Sheila Cormick: Co-Leader of Student Protest.”

“It’s a disgrace,” Sheila said with venom. “The administration would never get away with this if these students were gay or black or Muslim. But they think can persecute mutants by claiming they’re dangerous? It’s racism, pure and simple, and the student body won’t stand for it. We’re going to make sure every soul in this country knows what the administration is doing here. This college is where diversity comes to die!”

The news report cut back to the studio reporter to wrap up.

“The administration could not be reached for comment, but has issued a statement saying that the expulsion of the seven mutants is final and not up for appeal.”

The room was quiet for several minutes as Storm, Xavier, Jean, Scott, and Wolverine exchanged glances.

“This is awful,” Jean finally said. “Those kids…”

“And people wonder why I lived in the Canadian wilderness all those years,” Logan growled, standing up. “I’m gonna go kills somethin’. Chuck, you oughtta do somethin’ about this.”

As the door slammed shut behind him, Xavier sighed.

“Sometimes I think Logan has the right idea,” he said heavily. “Could you all leave me for a while? I have something things to take care of.”

Jean gave Xavier a sympathetic smile as she, Cyclops, and Storm filed out of the room.

Xavier sat in thought for several moments before telling the computer to rewind back through the interviews to the actual tape of the fight.

He watched the seven mutants take down the sentinel several times in a row.

“Fascinating,” he said to himself. “Seven untrained mutants disabling a rogue sentinel with no casualties? It’s unheard of.”

Xavier let the recording play through to Adam’s interview and stared at the team leader’s image for several minutes, tapping his fingers on the desk, before picking up the phone.

“Yes, hello,” he said to the person on the other end of the line. “This is Professor Charles Xavier, headmaster of the Xavier Institute for Higher Learning. I would like you to give me the number where I might reach Adam Lockhart.”

“We figured we looked like X-men,” Adam’s voice continued on the television, “we ought to act like them.”

“For once, Logan,” Xavier said to nobody in particular, “I think you might have exactly the right idea.”

Xavier allowed himself a small smile.

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