Books and movies tended to compare skilled fighting to a dance. After watching Mr. Summers and his brothers go at each other for the past twenty minutes, Piotr couldn't agree with the metaphor. Dancing implied a sort of communication between the dancers, messages delivered through subtle body movements. What the three men in the Danger Room were having was a complete lack in communication.
The blond brother-- Alex, Piotr thought his name was-- used his entire body to rail at the top of his figurative lungs. He pulled no punches, telegraphing his moves with wide, arcing hits that were as effective as they were simple. A sharp jab with an elbow, knuckles to the solar plexus, punch-kick combinations intended to throw his opponent to the floor in under a minute.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, Remy slunk around the arena. His moves were flashy little flourishes: round-house kicks, lightning jabs, and ad-libbed throws. He went for the weak spots, the cheats like the neck and under the arms. Hong Kong film directors would have loved to capture him on celluloid and the hell with the wire-work.
Mr. Summers fought with clean efficiency. He didn't hit so much as throw and didn't throw when he could step away. More often than not, he did nothing more than take advantage of his brothers' own momentum to bash them against the floor. Or the walls. Or his knee.
While still living with his Russian-speaking parents, Piotr once watched a Scottish film where all the actors had brogues as thick as Cerebro's doors. After half an hour of trying to translate, he switched channels only to catch a commercial whose spokesperson spoke in a lazy Southern drawl. For a few seconds, his brain shut down and Piotr could only gawk as his language centres fought to realign. He knew they were speaking English but he couldn't understand a word of it. The fight down in the Danger Room reminded him of that.
The professor's voice entered his head. How are they doing, Piotr?
They haven't broken any limbs, sir.
I suppose we should give thanks for small mercies. There was a flavour of humour running through the professor's voice although irritation bogged most of it down. End the sequence and tell them that the junior team needs to practice now.
No, but they will break limbs if we give them the opportunity.
Piotr was very glad that he didn't have to leave the control room. If Cyclops stood like that in the middle of Math, it would have been a sure sign that the entire class cheated on an exam.
Three bruised and ragged Summers' filed into Scott's office, stiffly determined not to show pain. Scott rooted for a first aid kit while Remy threw himself sideways on the furthest chair and Alex leaned against the bookshelves with his arms crossed.
Would you like me to mediate? asked Xavier.
Thanks, Professor, but I can deal with my brothers myself. Returning his attention to the physically present, Scott said, "Where the hell am I going to start with you two?"
"I think we got started pretty damn well in the Danger Room until someone wrecked our fun," Remy muttered, rubbing a sore spot in his right side that was sure to be a bruise.
Well, he certainly wasn't going to hear anything new from Remy. Scott turned to Alex. "Well? Are you in trouble?"
Alex was also nursing a few sore spots. "Ow, just give me the damn heat pack already; you're burning me in exactly the wrong place." He grabbed the plastic bag from Scott and settled gingerly on one corner of the desk. "Why would you think I'm in trouble?" he asked. "He's the one who's neck-deep in gangsters." He jerked his chin at Remy who flipped his favourite finger up.
"I'm giving you the benefit of the doubt," said Scott dryly. "I never ask Remy if he's in trouble because the answer is always yes."
Remy stiffened. "Hey!"
"That isn't half of it." Alex, all too pleased to interrupt Remy's excuses, hauled his bag up and dumped its contents on Scott's desk. "I did some more searching on the plane. It's one thing to move around some dusty old ceremonial masks. What about government-restricted information?"
Remy's eyes narrowed but he said nothing.
Scott picked up the file, flipping the cover open and studying the contents. The eight-by-ten photograph lay on top of everything, the camera's slight fuzziness doing nothing to disguise Remy's face. Bright red digital read-outs marked the date and time at the lower right-hand corner.
"Do you really think I'd do a job with my face uncovered?" asked Remy. "Obviously, the picture's been fixed."
"Then how do you explain all of the other documentation?" Alex fanned out several sheets of paper. "Remy, these are genuine FBI documents."
"How would you know about genuine FBI documents?"
Scott picked up one of the documents. He drew it closer to his face, studying the watermark and logos intently. "It looks genuine but forgery can be very sophisticated these days."
Alex threw his hands up and stalked away. "It's like convincing a pot and a kettle that they're green. Doesn't it occur to you two that while you guys are off playing cops and robbers that your perfectly normal brothers are getting the royally stiffed?"
Remy snorted. "Yeah, like your life has really been torture."
"Shut up, pencil dick. I just got a bomb shot through my dorm room."
"What?" That got the elder brothers' attention.
"And why do you think Adam's missing, huh? You think someone's thinking of ransoming him for Dad's massive navy paycheque?" Alex tapped the files. "Nuh-uh. This all smacks if you two and your never-ending quest to live like James Bond."
"Alex, that's enough," said Scott.
"I can shut him up," Remy said under his breath.
"Yeah, shoot the messenger. That's so typical." Throwing himself to the far side of the room, he said, "I spent two hours in California, half of one in Wisconsin, and a staggering five hours in Virginia before landing in JFK with this file burning a hole through my backpack all twenty-four hours. It's yours now. I don't give a shit what you do with it any more as long as it doesn't interfere with my life any more." He shrugged his backpack back on. "Have a good one, dorks, and don't call."
"You flew all the way here from Hawaii to give us this and now you're going back." Scott stated, one brow arched.
Turning slowly on his heel, Alex said, "No, I flew all the way here from Hawaii to give you this and now that I know you're all just going to sit with your thumbs up your asses, I'm going to look for Adam myself." Snorting, he added, "Knowing that bird-brained brat, he's probably trapped in his own locker, drinking his own piss to survive."
One of Remy's brows arched. "You live in your own sad, special world, don't you, Alex?"
"Much better than living with drug dealers and pimps," Alex shot back. "How much are you getting this month to give head to a mafia boss' daughter? Seven, maybe eight grand a minute? Triple if she comes--"
Remy dove across the room and the two of them crashed out of the office. Alex heaved Remy off by simply throwing himself, back first, against the floor. He and Remy were the same height but he had more bulk. Hearing Remy wheeze, Alex jumped up and caught Remy's arm into a wristlock.
"Encule un poulet."
"Nah, that's your job." Alex pushed harder. "Don't make me break your wrist."
"You couldn't break a Kit-Kat bar---OW! Fine! Uncle already. Jesus." Remy sat up as soon as Alex released him, rubbing his forearm. "So, how're the steroids affecting your testicular diameter, Ah-nold?"
Smiling, Alex said mildly, "Don't hate 'cause you're jealous."
"The day I'm jealous of you is the day I start eating at McDonalds."
"Well, you have been there before to use the glory holes."
His red irises glowing slightly with affront, Remy prepared to spring into a tackle. He was in mid-air, elbows ready to lock on either side of Alex's neck, when Warren walked by, arranging a perfect half-inch strip of shirt from his suit jacket. Other than one amber-coloured eyebrow arching elegantly, he said nothing, only standing there observing the now-frozen brothers who were, in turn, watching him. Then, with a small shake of his head that could almost be mistaken as a tick, Warren left.
"I hate him," said Remy.
"Me too," Alex choked out.
"Want to go to the garage and key his Bentley?"
"How old are you, twelve? Let's use my sais."
Scott fell back into his chair, groping in his desk for a bottle of ibuprofen.
Scott, the professor said. Is this a good time?
Hell yes, Professor, Scott replied. Please tell me you have something for me to do besides baby-sit my brothers. Whatever it is, I'll take it, up to and including kitchen duty
There was a pointed silence from Xavier, like a blackout in the middle of listening to the radio. It may not be my place to comment, the professor said, instantly stiffening Scott's spine, but perhaps you should spend the rest of the day with Remy and Alex. Try to put your heads together in order to find a solution for Adam's disappearance and let us worry about Bobby and Jubilee.
Thanks for the advice, sir, but I think we've all had enough of each other for today. Scott said as he cleared his desk. His hand landed on the file Alex brought. One corner of a photograph stuck out among the papers, the top of Remy's head and his red-on-black eyes practically winking at him. Even on paper, he was a snot.
He had his doubts about Alex's source but he might as well give the file to Xavier. Tucking the folder under his arm, he made his way back down to the meeting room. The professor sat alone, staring contemplatively at the telephone in front of him. He looked up when Scott cleared his throat.
"I was just speaking with Nicholas Fury," Xavier said.
"What did he have to say?" asked Scott. It was obvious by this tone that he wanted to use a more explicit epithet in place of "he."
"His hands are well and truly tied. His commanders told him to take Logan in any way possible."
"Then why did they get Bobby and Jubilee, too?"
Xavier studied Scott's face. "He said it was because he didn't want to leave to children unconscious in the middle of nowhere especially knowing they're mutants."
"Bull," said Scott, his face red. "He knows how we operate. We'd never leave a kid behind."
"The point is moot in this situation. SHIELD has them now and apparently they simply cannot be released for security reasons."
"According to Fury," Scott added.
Xavier didn't comment. "He assured me, however, that he will make sure that the children will not be held in cells."
Scott waited, arms crossed, for the other shoe to drop.
"He will log them in as second-year SHIELD recruits."
"Perfect." Scott fairly oozed ice. "SHIELD bureaucracy is like crack; once you're in, you can't get out."
Xavier steepled his fingers. "It is not the best situation but it gives us some assurance that Bobby and Jubilee are safe. But that is not the only favour Fury has given us."
"He's just a cornucopia of helpfulness."
"He has also insinuated that he will give us a window in which to retrieve Bobby and Jubilee." He tapped out coordinates on the computer. The three-dimensional interface map rippled several times before settling into a topographical map of South America. "There will be manoeuvres in the Ecuadorian jungle in three months' time. Fury has given us the location, the number of people involved, and the activities."
"Because Fury's been so up front with us so far," Scott said as he drew closer to study the map. "And three months? That's an eternity in SHIELD."
With a small sigh, Xavier asked, "What would you prefer I do, Scott?"
He looked up, surprised at the professor's weary tone. "I just don't want to jump in there on someone else's information. We should gather our own data to be on the safe side, so we're not taken by surprise."
"You cannot plan for everything that might go wrong in a mission," said Xavier lightly. "There is no such thing as an infinite number of contingency plans."
"I've got a student working on a computer program," Scott retorted.
"I hope you're joking." Xavier provided a small smile with his comment which Scott returned fondly. "I will leave you to brief the others on this. More importantly, I would like to speak to you about your brothers."
Wincing, Scott said, "I'm sorry about the fight. I understand that I'm supposed to set an example for the students but I let my temper get away."
"It seems to be a reflex. The last time Alex visited, Jean told me there were a total of seven stitches, twenty-three contusions, two broken fingers, and a very bad reaction to poison ivy." He manoeuvred his wheelchair back from the desk to Scott's side. "I hope Remy knows that we're doing everything we can to find more information on Adam."
"The problem with Remy," said Scott, "is that he's always contradicted everything I say. Always. Ever since we were little kids. If I say the sky's blue, he'll tell everyone it's actually green with orange polka-dots and I'm being a boring dork for choosing a colour as out of style as blue. It's gotten to the point where he doesn't only contradict me; he thinks everything I say is a lie."
"Well, you will have to dissuade him of that idea," said Xavier. "Meantime, why don't you put a team together and look over the area. I will ensure that your classes have substitutes."
Scott nodded and marched back to his office, bracing himself for the inevitable brawl that would occur once he ran into Remy and Alex again. Since when did Alex top him by three inches and fifty pounds anyway? Golfing didn't require musculature like that unless Alex started an extreme version.
Actually that was plausible.
Before he reached Hank's office, Scott intervened in a stable-duty dispute, rescued a painting from a second job as a dart board, and prevented a kitchen revolt (Mrs. Rasputin considered microwavable anything poisonous). Ororo waylaid him as well, citing missed staff meetings and a second signature on a stack of official documents. Not for the last time, Scott wished his mutation could have something to do with cloning himself.
Scott found Warren in Hank's office, scribbling on a legal pad but no sign of Hank. He looked up and said, "Hank won't be able to come because he has a tele-conference about the collar's interface after classes but he says if you need his help, it'll be alright. 'Ro wanted to see you about some signatures--"
"Got it," said Scott.
"Not these ones." Warren chucked a manila envelope at him. "Those are about legal guardianship of a few more students. SHIELD info-- such as it is-- in this blue folder. Want the good news or the bad news first?"
"Always save the best for last."
"The good news is that as SHIELD trainees, your kids are going to be virtually untouchable by any government agency that might want to kill them."
"That's always a relief." Scott slipped a finger in the first manila envelope and flipped through the titles on the papers. "Nice of them to add that clause when they're tossing kids in the middle of foreign warzones."
"The bad news is that they make Lensherr's training seem like a beach party." At Scott's raised brows, Warren winced. "I forgot. You came in after he left. Your training schedules are so similar though."
"I think I've just been insulted."
"Let's put it this way, buddy. If I wanted an elite paramilitary troop made out of a half-dozen burger-flippers, you'd be the second person I'd look to."
"Who's the first?"
"Now I'm really depressed." Scott tapped a bright yellow folder. "What's this one?"
Shifting a little in his seat, Warren said, "It came from Four Winds Hospital this morning. A few of Jean's papers. They made photocopies for the rest of the people in the lab but they thought you'd like to have the originals."
Scott's breathing slowed. He pressed his hand flat against the folder, feeling the outline of a few CD-ROMs between the sheets of paper. Snippets of memories rushed him. Jean's speedy, yet awkward clacking on her laptop. The smell of coffee, hospital soap, and the incense sticks she used for telepathic meditation exercises. Her scrubs cracking the first time after her residency that she met him for lunch. Roasted garlic over toast; her favourite snack.
"Hey." Warren leaned forward on the desk, trying to look Scott in the eye.
"I'm fine," said Scott, forcing his fingers to bend. "I'll take these upstairs. After we, um, have a meeting with... about the SHIELD retrieval." He squeezed his eyes shut, gathering his wits back from under that damned lake. "We might need your Hellfire connections. How's that going, by the way?"
Warren made a so-so gesture. "I'm in and I'm trusted but it takes a lot of payment to get into the upper echelons. The people in the inner circle have to be willing to sell their firstborn child if the Hellfire Club needed it. I think someone already has. I'll find a way though, don't worry."
Risk always followed a double-agent which was what Warren essentially was. Scott was glad that his friend could navigate the politics of high society so well; no other X-Man could. Squeezing anything from a bunch of bored, spoiled, society brats with as much self-entitlement as money took a different type of courage altogether. "Do you think they would have anything on SHIELD?"
"SHIELD still needs money, doesn't it? Besides, mutants are in this year at the Hellfire." Warren ruffled his feathers. "My mutation is especially tantalising."
"I'm not sure I want to ask."
"I'm positive I don't want to tell you unless we get so hammered, we buy another hamster."
Scott shuddered. "I could never face that much alcohol again. So, you've got information covered."
"Yessir." Warren gave him yet another folder. Folders never ran out at Xavier's; they multiplied like bunnies. Even the papers inside them multiplied logarithmically. This one told Scott more than he ever wanted to know about invasion of privacy and social care. "That's just in case you want to get any money for damages against the school."
"Can we do that?"
"Apparently, the chances of you actually suing the government directly is nil but in a round-about way, if Worthington Enterprises can hit a few key cash cows..." He lazily shrugged a shoulder.
Scott fought a grin. "Does the professor know you're using his economics primer for evil?"
"As long as it pays for the heating bill, he'll turn a blind eye."
Together, Scott and Warren poured over several folders of information, taking occasional bathroom breaks and half-hour grading sessions designed to help them think of nothing. Contrary to movie portrayal, missions did not coalesce after fifteen minutes of Enemy Defenses for Dummies. Mission-planning had more in common with planning a new class curriculum. It was tedious work and he appreciated Warren's help. His cynicism could point out a flaw at fifty paces. During the actual brainstorming session, when Scott thought aloud, Warren often interrupted with probing questions that revealed holes in his strategy. Most of the standard student retrieval scenarios in the Danger Room were a result of his and Warren's war-gaming sessions.
Five hours and a stack of mid-terms later, Warren threw in the towel. "Time to get something to eat."
Scott nodded, still staring at the last two diagrammatic versions of the SHIELD mission.
"That wasn't a suggestion," Warren said. "Go to the kitchen, Gamma Gaze. We can go back to planning after we've gotten some fuel."
"I just need to check--" Scott gagged as Warren caught his collar and yanked him to his feet.
"Get out of here. Eat something."
"Yes, Mom," said Scott, not unkindly.
"Someone's got to take care of you," Warren said. "No one else seems to."
That, Scott reflected, was the Warren Worthington III Patented Spoiled Brat tone. No one argued with it except for Jean. The professor sometimes manipulated it but could never overcome it. And despite his constant grumblings, Scott rather liked being ordered around. While too much dependency on anyone grated him, Warren's version was a nice change of pace. Scott hadn't realised, until he enrolled at Xavier's, how much of a relief it was to be looked after even for a few minutes