Professor Charles Xavier, founder of the Xavier Institute, fights for peace in a world that hates and fears his kind. Along with his X-men, a talented group of mutants, they oppose the forces of war, intolerance, and hatred. Their battle has been difficult and wrought with many dangers. Not long ago, they prevented an all out human/mutant war from breaking out over the shores of Genosha. But since then, numerous conflicts have kept them on their guard.
Recently, the X-men have been investigating a string of mysterious thefts orchestrated by remnants of their rivals, the Brotherhood. These thefts involve high tech components that could be used to create sentinels, the mutant hunting robots once used by Genoshan dictator, Cameron Hodge. But their investigation was sidetracked briefly when they received a distress call from former X-man, John “Thunderbird” Proudstar. The unstoppable Juggernaut, who happens to be Charles Xavier’s wayward nephew, had broken out and gone on a rampage. The X-men managed to stop him, but questions remain such as how did he escape in the first place?
These mysterious along with many others have led certain X-men like Wolverine to investigate the matter further. But in the course of his investigation, the former living weapon finds himself caught up in other affairs.
Denver, Colorado – Pike’s Bar & Pub
Many people have a love/hate relationship with alcohol. To some, it’s an escape. It helps calm the nerves and ease a tenuous mind. To others, it’s a necessity. In some ways it’s like a crutch, a simple means of holding it together in order to function. John Proudstar had experienced both over the course of his life. There was once a time when drinking was his only means of coping. It was a time he long since put behind him. He still had his share of issues, but life was better for him now. He didn’t have to drink to escape anymore. He could just drink to unwind after a long, arduous day as a private soldier.
The crowd at Pike’s Bar was steady tonight. It was pouring rain outside, but many still braved the weather for the promise of a good drink. There was a baseball game playing on some of the TV’s and a crowd of guys were having a small pool tournament. There were some women in the bar as well and a couple of guys trying to mingle with them. A few even approached John, but he kept to himself. He wasn’t in the mood for socializing tonight. He just wanted to relax after the Juggernaut debacle.
It took nearly three day to finally finish the job. He stayed with the officials at NORAD until Juggernaut was officially contained. Even though the job was officially a success, his superiors at White Cell were not pleased. They lost some good men and a fleet of convoys because of this incident. They also had their reputation to consider. But John left that to their PR department. One of the benefits of working for private military companies is that they didn’t have to deal with the red tape of government. They could put the right spin on any incident. He still got yelled at, but he could care less.
It wasn’t a total loss though. Because of the danger he faced and the significant losses to the convoy, he got a nice bonus. Being a mutant with durability and strength had its perks. And what better way to spend a bonus than at a bar?
“Another one, chief?” asked the bartender.
“Keep them coming,” said John as he finished his drink, “I’ve had a long, stressful couple of days and I’m not leaving this bar until my nerves are semi-normal again.”
“The rate you’re going it must really be something,” he scoffed, “What happened? Rough day at the job?”
“You have no idea,” groaned John.
John slipped the bartender an extra fifty bucks to get him going and to shut him up. He shrugged and took it as he got the Native American mutant another round. Because of his mutation, it took a lot to get him drunk. But John was a patient man. He had to be after what he had been through over the past few years.
As he went to work on his beer, the door to the bar opened and a new figure entered. At first John didn’t notice. Then he was greeted with a gruff tone.
“Well ain’t this a treat. I go out to get shit faced and for once I got company.”
John turned around to see Logan standing in soaked street clothes. He only met him briefly after the Juggernaut affair, but it was hard to forget a man like him.
“Wolverine?” said John, “What are you doing here?”
“You see me in uniform, bub? It’s just Logan now,” he said as he pulled up a stool, “And why does anybody come to a bar in this weather at this time of night?”
“That’s not what I meant,” said John skeptically.
“Fine, if you must know the Prof sent me out to investigate that attack. He thinks there was something more to letting Juggernaut loose than just messing with us.”
“The Professor is a smart man,” said John, “I was looking to investigate that myself. Find anything yet?”
“Nope,” Logan replied, “Probably too late now. The rain washed away all the scents. It’s a dead end so now I’m here. That a good enough explanation for you?”
John snickered somewhat as he turned back towards his beer while Logan summoned the barkeeper. He looked just as eager to get drunk as he was if not more so. He didn’t give off the friendliest aura, but considering how he carried himself against Juggernaut that came as no surprise. It didn’t look like he was drinking to relax either. He had other reasons, but that was a matter John would rather not concern himself with.
He watched as Logan bought himself a bottle of whiskey and started chugging away. He figured it took a lot to get him drunk as well because of his healing factor. Already, he seemed well on his way. At first he kept to himself, but John could sense there was a lot more he wanted to say.
“So you’re Jeannie’s ex-boyfriend,” said Logan after finishing half the bottle in a couple of gulps.
“Is that why you tracked me down?” laughed John, “To catch up with a fellow ex?”
“Now why would I want to do that?” muttered the burly mutant.
“Good question,” said John as he said aside his beer, “I did call Jean earlier today. She told me what’s been going on with the X-men recently. She also mentioned you.”
“Bitterly, I bet,” grumbled Logan as he drank even more.
“Not really. That’s not Jean’s style,” said John, “She just said you two dated for a while and recently broke up. That’s about it. Although I have to say I’m a bit surprised.”
“About what? That she hooked up with a lug like me?”
“Considering you’re in a bar getting drunk at this hour, that goes without saying,” snickered John, “But that wasn’t the only reason. I just figured after we broke up she would get with someone a bit more specific.”
“You talking about Summers?”
“Who else? I’m sure you’ve seen the way they act around each other. Given how long it’s been, it’s nothing short of a miracle they haven’t taken the next step.”
“I don’t believe in miracles. I believe certain people are just freakin’ stubborn as hell.”
John laughed again as Logan took bigger gulps of his drink. He had to admit, Logan was a pretty swift drinker. As soon as he finished the bottle he slipped the bartender another round of bills. He was already looking at Logan strangely, but he didn’t get paid to judge. He got paid to serve drinks. Soon Logan had another bottle of whiskey in front of him.
“Tell me something, Proudstar, what makes a girl like Jeannie tick?” said Logan as he opened up the new bottle, “I was with her for months. We went out, talked, humped, all that crap. I learned a lot about her, but I never could quite figure her out.”
“Is that another reason why you’re here? To get some answers about Jean you weren’t able to get when you were together?” asked John.
“If you’re gonna start answering questions with more questions, then save me the trouble and just shut the hell up,” grumbled Logan.
“Take it easy, Logan. I’m still sore from the Juggernaut fight,” said John, “But I can’t say I blame you for wanting answers. I was with Jean for almost a year. And I’ve asked myself that same question many times before.”
“Let me guess, you had no better luck than I did,” Logan surmised.
“Seeing as how I’ve known her longer, I like to think I have some insight. But Jean’s a complicated woman with a complicated history. Everybody in the X-men is like that I guess. You and I are no exception.”
“Seeing as how I don’t know shit about you I’ll take your word for it.”
“But Jean Grey is special,” said John distantly, “I know we’re probably bias because we dated her, but she’s really something.”
“That she is,” sighed Logan, thinking back fondly to the good times he had with her.
“It’s amazing how far she’s come,” John continued to muse, “Kind of puts a lot of things into perspective.”
“Sounds like quite a story,” said Logan as he started gulping down more whiskey, “Care to share more?”
“Are you really interested or is that just the liquor talking?”
“It’s easier to get drunk when you got something else to listen to than the rest of these lowlifes,” he shrugged, “And unless you’re gonna tell me you got something else better to do, why the hell not?”
Logan had a way with words. John was starting to see why Jean hooked up with him. Turning back to his beer, he figured he might as well come out with it. It had been a while since he had anyone to talk to anyway, let alone share a beer with.
“Just warning you, it gets a bit complicated. And I don’t know how much you can understand when your drunk.”
“So try anyways. Think of it as a challenge.”
John smiled and shook his head. He finished his beer and signaled the bartender to get him another. This was going to be a long story. He might as well stock up.
“If you say so,” he sighed, “I’ll start from the beginning on the day I joined the institute.”
Xavier’s Office – Five Years Ago
21-year-old John Proudstar sat uncomfortably in a chair across from the desk of Charles Xavier. He felt horribly out of place. This was a school built out of a mansion in Westchester. He was a dishonorably discharged soldier who grew up on a shoddy ranch in an Apache reservation. As both a Native American and a mutant, his options in life were limited. Yet here he was faced with a new kind of opportunity he never could have prepared himself for.
“I have to be honest with you, Professor Xavier, I’m not entirely sure about this.”
“What exactly is it that has you uncertain?” asked Xavier.
“Just to make sure my senses aren’t off, this is a school, right?”
“Correct, this is a school.”
“So then why do you need a combat instructor? And why me of all people? Have you seen my record? The US Marine Corp kicked me out for a good reason. Hell, I’m lucky I didn’t get sent to Leavenworth!”
“I’m well-aware of your history, John. I know you are a man of certain character flaws.”
“With all due respect I think rampant alcoholism, drug charges, and attacking my own commanding officers are more than just flaws.”
“I don’t disagree. But I know you’re working on them,” said Xavier, “I also know you still have a strong desire to be a soldier. You said it yourself. You come from a long line of Apache warriors. It’s admirable you’ve worked so hard to continue that tradition.”
“Not as good as my brother,” muttered John, “But how would I be a soldier at a school? I thought this was a teaching gig?”
“It is. You’ll be teaching your soldier and warrior skills to students as they come in. In addition to academics and learning how to use their powers, it’s important they know how to defend themselves as well as coordinate as a team.”
“Defending themselves I can understand, but why would they need to coordinate as a team?” said John skeptically, “Unless you’re starting your own private military unit, I don’t see how that’s going to be useful.”
Professor Xavier fell silent, his expression remaining serious and stern. John didn’t mean for that last part about a military unit to be serious. He thought it would be accepted as sarcasm, but Xavier didn’t even flinch. It was as if he touched on something deeper and it didn’t take long for him to piece it together.
“Wait…you’re not really putting together your own military unit, are you?” said John.
“I wouldn’t put it that way, but I am definitely putting something together,” said Xavier, “I can’t say what it is just yet because I honestly don’t know. All I can tell you is that recent events have shown me that if this school is to further peace and understanding, it must also have a means of setting an example that the world can look up to.”
“I gather we’re not talking about a sports team here.”
“I was hoping for something more ambitious,” said the Professor with a slight smile, “There’s a lot of suffering and injustice throughout the world. As a soldier, I’m sure you’ve seen your share. I want this school to stand for something more than just education and understanding. I want it to be active in leaving a positive impact on the world.”
“How active?” questioned John, “Are you talking defense or offense? Because there is a big difference.”
“I was hoping for a little of both. Think of it not as a private military unit as you put it. Think of it as a peacekeeping force, one that can set an example to the world at large and show that mutants can do good in the world. Moreover, it provides a means for those who want to make a difference to be able to.”
“So what are they going to be? Soldiers or superheroes?”
Professor Xavier smiled at his choice of words. John wasn’t sure what to make of it. That part about superheroes was meant to be sarcasm as well. But just like before, it struck a serious chord with Xavier. As corny as it sounded, John found himself considering it. Was it really so outlandish? Mutants like him could already do extraordinary things. Being superheroes weren’t exactly restricted to the comic books in this instance. It seemed nobler than what he did as a soldier and more akin to what he once strived for as an Apache warrior.
“It’s up to you, John,” said the Professor, “Our student body is small at the moment, but it will grow I assure you. I just need someone like you to show them the way.”
“You mean whip them into shape and turn them into warriors?” grinned John.
“If that’s how you wish to do it, then by all means. All I ask is that you give it a chance.”
John took a moment to consider this offer. It wasn’t like anything he had ever come across before. In a ways this Charles Xavier was an enigma. He was serious about this dream of bringing peace between humans and mutants. He was also serious about mutants being heroes. Most rational people would call him an idealist or a deluded dreamer. But in his experience, it was the dreamers and the idealists that fought for the greatest change.
Looking back at where he came from and what potentially lay ahead, his decision was clear. John Proudstar stumbled a great deal in his life as a mutant, a soldier, and an Apache warrior. There were too many times when he didn’t take chances he should have taken. He wasn’t going to let it happen this time. He owed it to himself, his family, and his ancestors to make the noble choice.
“You know where I come from, Professor, dreamers are seen as prophets,” he said, “They try to reveal destiny. But you’re a different kind of dreamer. You try to forge your own. And I admire that.”
“Does that mean you’re going to give the institute a chance?”
“If you’re willing to give a chance to a dishonorably discharged who also happens to be a recovering alcoholic soldier, I should be willing to give you a chance as well.”
John rose up in his seat and extended his hand. Xavier rose up as well, leaning on a cane for support, and smiled as he shook his hand.
“You officially got yourself a combat instructor, Professor,” said the Apache mutant.
“Thank you, John. I appreciate your help,” said Charles Xavier kindly, “I’ll certainly be needing it for what I have planned.”
Pike’s Bar & Pub – Present
“So you were the one that first whipped the X-men into shape?” said Logan upon hearing the first part of John’s story, “Not bad. Chuck must have a soft spot for messed up ex-soldiers with a drinking problem.”
“Wouldn’t put it past him,” sighed John as he finished up another round of beer, “It’s a good thing too because I didn’t have too many options. I joined the Marines when I was 18 because there wasn’t much else for me at the reservation. I thought I could handle myself since I had been training with my older brother for years in the ways of the Apache warrior. Turns out I was dead wrong.”
“Never was one for that ‘be all you can be’ crap, eh. I ain’t got a rosy history with the military either,” muttered Logan, “For some people, it makes them soldiers. For others, it just turns ‘em into monsters.”
John fell silent as he ordered another beer. Thinking back to those early days with the marines, he saw truth to Logan’s words. For a while he wasn’t sure what he was becoming, but it certainly wasn’t the warrior he strived for. It was hard enough that he was a mutant. He didn’t make it any easier on himself by not getting along with anybody outside the reservation. Overall, he did a lot of things wrong. It was a good thing Xavier came along to set him on the right course again.
“So how bad was it?” asked Logan, who was now working on a round of vodka.
“With the Marines? Pretty bad,” said John, “I didn’t push myself like I should have. I didn’t set a good example either. I was so used to being taught like a warrior, learning the skills to overcome an enemy while holding into a noble spirit. The Marines just taught me to fight and follow orders, relying on my fellow Marines for support. Turns out I wasn’t a team player. Didn’t get along well with my superiors either.”
“Is that when the drinking started?” snickered Logan.
“Pretty much,” sighed John, “When your own unit hates you and your officers despise you, what else is there? I probably wouldn’t have made the cut if I wasn’t a mutant. The idea of a super strong, super durable soldier was too much for them to pass up. That’s why I got special training that prepared me for special missions. I did what I had to do, but I never took a whole lot of pride in it. Guess being a soldier just isn’t in my heart as much as being a warrior.”
“I know how that feels,” said the former living weapon, “It’s hard enough being one or the other. But being both is hell.”
“Why do you think I used alcohol to get through it? But it caught up with me. It always does. That and so many other issues I don’t even want to begin to talk about. Hell, it was almost a godsend when the government banned mutants in the military. At least I was able to clean up my act for the institute. But that was a challenge of a different kind.”
“I’ll bet. Was Jeannie there when you started?” asked Logan.
“Yep,” said John, now smiling again, “It was just her, Scott, Warren, and a recently transformed Hank McCoy. There were a few other students, but they didn’t participate in the training. It was small-time stuff at first because the early X-men pretty small-time. We didn’t go up against big time mutant supremacists or renegade dictators. It was your typical hero gig, running around in costumes and fighting crime. It was the Professor’s way of showing that mutants could be heroes.”
“Like to find out how the hell did he get away with that?” laughed Logan as he took another drink, “The hero biz draws a lot of attention last I checked. How did that school of his not get shut down?”
“It was easier than you think. He had us all wear masks with our costumes to conceal our identities,” snickered John.
“Masks? That’s it?” said Logan skeptically.
“That’s it…well, that and some well-paid lawyers. The masks were ugly as hell, but they allowed us to be heroes. It’s part of what helped the X-men get a foothold in the superhero world. It was a lot of trial and error at first and I always had the team training. Being the oldest, Hank was the leader. But training wasn’t without it’s pitfalls.”
“Oh this I gotta hear!” grinned Logan.
Training Room – Four Years Ago
“Come on, you guys! Move already! You’re falling behind!” John yelled out in an authoritative tone.
“We’re trying, Thunderbird!” panted a 19-year-old Warren Worthington III, “I…I just need to catch my breath!”
“That’s what you get for not adhering to the fitness regiment, Warren,” chided 17-year-old Jean Grey.
“Work ethic aside, the mission is not complete unless the whole team finishes!” said Hank assertively.
“We’ll make it!” said a determined 18-year-old Scott Summers as he grabbed Warren by the arm, “Come on, Warren. Lean on me and I’ll help you through the next part!”
It was an impressive sight to John Proudstar. Standing in the observation deck alongside Charles Xavier, he watched as the institute’s up and coming mutants traversed a treacherous obstacle course. He personally put it together, giving it elements of basic training from when he was in the Marines. It was one of many courses he had his students run. It emphasized not just survival, but teamwork. It was an element that had been lacking as they continued to refine their masked superhero gig. One individual being strong on their own wasn’t enough. They had to succeed as a team.
They were young and still learning. As he watched Hank try to lead Scott, Jean, and Warren over some jagged balance beams he saw they were still a bit clumsy. It wasn’t as bad as when they first started out when they couldn’t even finish the course. But there was still a lot of room for improvement. He hadn’t even gotten into advanced hand-to-hand combat yet and as evidenced by Warren, they still needed to get in shape. But overall, he was satisfied with their progress and so was Professor Xavier.
“They’re doing much better,” he commended.
“Indeed,” said John, “They’re still a bit uncoordinated. They tend to lack leadership. I have nothing against Hank, but he’s a thinker not a leader.”
“I agree, but we’ll leave that issue for another day. How has combat training been progressing?”
“Slower than I would like, but they all seem eager to learn how to defend themselves. Scott’s definitely got the toughness and the discipline. He just has to work on his technique. Jean’s definitely got some spirit as well, but she tends to get a little carried away at times. I love the passion, but she gets a little emotional at times.”
“Yes, I’m working on that with her as well. You know full well what she’s dealt with,” said the Professor, “She just needs time.”
“I hope so,” said John as he watched her more closely than the others, “As for Warren, the kid needs to get in shape first. It would help if he’s around more.”
“I know. But his situation with his family remains tenuous. They’re reluctant to make him full time.”
“Well they better decide soon because I can tell he wants this. He’s just too distracted. At least he’s got a sense of humor about it.”
Xavier smiled as he and John watched the team run the rest of the course. Warren was still holding up the others, but Scott was helping him through the last obstacle. They had to make it through an array of moving lasers. They weren’t of the lethal variety, but if one of them hit they would get docked points and an unpleasant burn. They moved fast so agility was key.
“Come on, Warren! Just a bit further!” urged Scott.
“Go…go on ahead! I’ll need more energy to get through this,” he panted.
“There’s no time! We have to move!”
“I know! But I’d rather…be slow than…have my…lungs explode.”
Scott tried to move him along, but it was no use. Warren just didn’t have the endurance. He looked up ahead at Jean and Hank, who were ready to get going. But they couldn’t leave a teammate behind.
“Looks like we’ll have to improvise,” said Scott, “Jean, I have an idea.”
“I can sense that, but am I reading your thoughts right? Do you really want me to…”
“Don’t second guess it, Jean! Can you do it?” asked Scott assertively.
“Oh I can do it,” she said confidently, “I just thought I would make sure.”
“Do what?” said Warren in confusion, “What are you-WHOA!”
Before Warren knew it, he was literally pulled into the laser array via telekinetic tug. Jean had levitated him so he didn’t have to run and used her powers to guide him through. Scott backed her up along the way, shooting the laser blasters with his optic beams as they made their way to the end.
“Interesting approach, Scott,” commented Hank, “I wish you would have debated it with me first.”
“Sorry Mr. McCoy, but we’re short on time!” said Scott urgently, “Just lead us the rest of the way.”
Hank heeded his student’s words, which was ironic given their roles. Perhaps Scott would be more suited to lead than him in the future. But that was something to discuss after the mission. He led them through the last obstacle, his acute mind calculating the angles and direction of the lasers as they came in. It all came together in a well-coordinated manner that led them to the finishing platform with time to spare.
Once complete, they could all finally catch their breath. Warren was still winded and so was Jean after having to use her telekinesis so extensively. Scott helped them both and gave Jean a smile of approval. He put together his plan on a whim and they were able to execute it without hesitation. It was a strong sign of good teamwork and a growing bond between them as a unit.
“Next time…warn me before you do something like that!” groaned Warren, now feeling a bit sick to his stomach.
“It worked, didn’t it?” said Scott with a half-grin.
The doors to the course then opened and John entered with Xavier following close behind on his crutches. They both bore a look of approval. John was especially proud. They seemed to be doing okay for themselves despite their tender ages.
“Not bad, you guys. Not bad at all,” said John, “Way to think on your feet, Scott. I’ve seen captains of entire units do worse.”
“Thank you sir,” said Scott respectfully.
“And Warren…seriously, you need to put in more hours at the gym.”
“Yeah, that’s already been documented,” he wheezed.
John shook his head, sensing Warren still had a ways to go. Then he turned towards Jean and smiled.
“And Jean, you continue to impress me,” he said, “You’re showing a lot of improvement. I’m running out of ways to commend you.”
“Oh I’m sure you’ll think of something,” said Jean with a flirtatious grin.
Hank suppressed a grin while Scott rolled his eyes.
“That has to be overly bias,” said Scott, “I thought instructors weren’t allowed to play favorites.”
“They aren’t. But sometimes certain ‘circumstances’ make that difficult,” said Hank with a suggestive wink.
Bias or not, there was no denying progress. Signs of a real team were taking shape. John could see it and so could the Professor. Even as his health became more fragile, his will became stronger. He foresaw a bright future for his students.
“Good work,” said the Professor, “You’re all making tremendous strides as a team. But you and the rest of the students here have much to learn and much to accomplish.”
“We’re up to it, sir,” said Scott confidently, “Just bring on the next obstacle course!”
“At the rate you’re going, obstacle courses may not suffice,” said Xavier with an ominous grin, “But no worries. I’ve been working on some new training equipment using holograms. I look forward to seeing how you handle it.”
Pike’s Bar & Pub – Present Time
Logan was working on a new round of whiskey. It was kind of interesting hearing about the early days of the X-men before they even called themselves the X-men. The idea of Summers, Jeannie, and Warren stumbling around obstacle courses, trying to go along with instructions from a marine, must have been quite a sight. It seemed to pay off though. The X-men were a well-groomed team today and John played a part in that. But as he described these tender times, he picked up on a few other things.
“Sounds like you had a hell of a time teaching those runts,” said Logan.
“I did,” said John, smiling fondly at the memories, “I had an even better time wearing the old mask, fighting crime and being a hero. I still felt like a kid at the time, but working with them really help me pull myself together.”
“I also take it that was the beginning of you and Jeannie’s little tryst,” added Logan.
“I wouldn’t say it started, but the seeds were definitely planted during that time,” said John as he sipped his beer, “To be honest I’m not sure how it happened. Technically I was her instructor so I thought it would be a bit weird to say the least. She was still growing girl at the time.”
“But she had to fill out sooner or later. And boy did she ever,” said Logan with a dirty grin.
“That’s for sure,” said John, laughing somewhat at Logan’s tone, “It’s hard to imagine she used to be so thin and underdeveloped. But puberty along with a good fitness regiment did her body good.”
“So when did you start noticing?” asked Logan.
John took another gulp of his beer as he reflected back on those complicated times. Jean Grey played a prominent role in his later years with the X-men. Watching her, Scott, Warren, and the others grow helped him grow as well. Even though he was older in years, he really came of age when he was with them.
How he and Jean became an item was still something he didn’t fully understand. It all happened so fast and he got so caught up in it he didn’t bother trying to decipher it. But understanding or not, it was a hell of a ride.
“It happened shortly after the X-men expanded, becoming less a superhero gimmick and more in tuned with the mutant cause. At that point I became less an instructor and more a full-time teammate. We started working together more closely in the field, taking on more complex missions that involved protecting vulnerable mutants and fighting against better equipped foes. Along the way she would flirt more. And unlike the training period, I would flirt back. She was 18. I was 23. I wasn’t sure what to make of it. But then she made a move. And without getting into too much detail, I went with it.”
“Jeannie made the move?” said Logan with a touch of surprise, “I find that hard to believe. I had to practically spell it out for her when we hooked up.”
“It’s true,” said John, “One night she just walked into my room, sat down on my bed, and started talking. It seemed casual at first, but then she got serious. She went on about how she never got to just put herself out there like a normal teenage girl. I’m not sure how much she told you, but you do know she was in a mental hospital for a while, right?”
“Oh yeah, that was always a peachy topic,” said Logan dryly.
“Well when you think about it, she makes a good point. Most teenagers have some social outlet. Whether it’s school, community, or what not they have somewhere they can reach out to people and even become intimate with some of them. Jean never had that. A lot of us never had that. Guess she didn’t want it to be that way. So she did something about it.”
“Sounds like you were the lucky guy,” grinned Logan, “How’d it go down? She start dry humping you on the spot?”
“I wish,” snickered John, “But Jean’s not that kind of girl. We talked about it first. I went into all the reasons it was a bad idea like me being older than her and stuff. But it didn’t change anything. I wanted her and she wanted me. So we just sat there on my bed at one in the morning, kissed for the first time, and went from there.”
Logan stopped drinking for a moment to digest that. It didn’t sound like the way he and Jeannie hooked up, but it fit her persona. She was a passionate person who reached out to people even when it didn’t always seem right. She reached out to him, a monster and a killer, and she reached out to John, a disgraced ex marine who was nearly five years older. It didn’t just show her unorthodox tastes in men, it showed the kind of heart she had.
“Can’t say that sounds exciting, but it definitely sounds like Jeannie,” he said, “What did Summers have to say about it?”
“Not much, actually. He was dating another woman at the time,” said John, “I always suspected one of the reasons she was encouraged to seek me out was because of what she saw in his relationship.”
“Must have been something considering the kind of woman you would need to hook up with a guy like Summers,” said Logan.
“If you ever met her, you would understand. But that’s a different story,” said John with a wry grin, “Whatever her reasons, she was very passionate about our relationship…even though she wasn’t very experienced so to speak.”
“Ah, so you were the one that popped her cherry?” said Logan with a dirty grin.
“Do people even use that phrase anymore?” groaned John as he drank some more.
“I’ll take that as a yes.”
John shook his head and sighed. This guy had a dirty mind. How Jean dealt with that was beyond him.
“I won’t use any cute euphemisms, but yes. I was Jean’s first,” said John proudly, “Without getting into too many details, she was pretty clumsy in the beginning. But I can tell you first hand she was a fast learner.”
Cape Verde, Arizona – Three Years Ago
“Mmm…John,” moaned an 18-year-old Jean Grey, “Hold me.”
“Jean…you’re amazing,” gasped John Proudstar breathlessly.
It was the perfect scene for a perfect night under the Arizona night sky. This had to be the best idea John had ever come up with. Here he was in tent, lying peacefully in a sleeping bag with his girlfriend. He and Jean were both naked, having spent the last hour or so in a heated fervor. The tent was thick with the scent of sex and passion. Sharp gasps and blissful moans filled the desolate campground. They didn’t care how much noise they made. There was nobody around for miles out here in the desert, allowing them to freely enjoy their intimacy without any cares or constraints.
Now tired and sweaty, the two lovers curled up together in a loving embrace. Their naked bodies glowed softly under the dim light of a single lantern. Jean lay panting softly in John’s powerful arms, resting her head on his well-sculpted chest. John sighed in contentment as he gently traced his hands down her womanly form. She purred under his gestures, gazing up at him with those alluring green eyes of hers and smiling warmly.
“This was a wonderful idea, John,” said Jean softly, “Just you and me…alone in the desert like this.”
“I’m glad you like it. And to think, you said you weren’t into camping.”
“That was before you gave me a new appreciation for it.”
John smiled warmly as he continued to trace his hand up her back. He couldn’t help but marvel at how much Jean Grey had grown. She was no longer the skinny, shy 15-year-old he first met. In just a few years she developed before his eyes into a confident, passionate, and beautiful young woman. She also learned quickly in the ways of intimacy. It was hard to believe how she had been so reserved at one point. He had to help her get through the many awkward moments in the beginning. But she caught on quickly and showed just how passionate she could be.
“I know I’ve said this a lot lately, but I can’t thank you enough for being so good to me,” said Jean in a more serious tone, “I didn’t make it easy for you. I put you in an awkward position, having to decide whether or not to get intimate with someone so much younger who was once your student.”
“It wasn’t as hard a decision as you think,” said John wry grin, “I always thought you were special, Jean. And I’m not exactly as noble as Kevin Costner movies would have you believe.”
“After what we just did, I wouldn’t put it past you,” snickered Jean, “But honestly, John, I really appreciate everything you’ve done. I know I’m not the easiest girlfriend in the world. I’m an ex-mental patient who gets a little ahead of herself way too often.”
“Compared to the other women I’ve dated, you’re a model of stability. You’ve been good to me too, Jean. You’ve made life for this disgraced ex-marine a lot more bearable.”
“Not bad considering you’re the first man I’ve ever been this intimate with. I know that’s added an extra dimension to our relationship,” she said coyly.
“I don’t mind. You’re a naturally sexy woman,” said John, playfully teasing her nude form, “Although it did take a while for you to get in touch with your inner nymph.”
“Guess I just needed the proper incentive,” she said in a sultry tone, “I’m glad you showed me. I think it’s been good for both of us.”
“And it makes for great camping trips.”
“That too,” purred Jean as she got serious again, “But beyond the sex, I know it can be a little extra stressful sometimes. The others still look at us strangely. That new kid, Bobby, keeps making jokes about my preference for older men and your weakness for vulnerable young students.”
“Remind me of that the next time I plan his training session,” muttered John.
“Will do, but it’s still worth noting that you and I are not a normal couple. It really can be…weird at times.”
“Weird enough to make you regret what we do?”
“Of course not,” she assured him as she playfully traced a finger over his chest, “I’m honestly glad we’ve been able to make it work.”
“Me too,” said John as he caressed her face, “I really do care about you, Jean.”
“I care about you too, John,” said Jean softly, “You’re a wonderful man and a wonderful lover. I’m glad I took a chance on you.”
“So am I.”
They shared another warm smile and came together in a deep kiss. The warmth of their naked bodies in the cool desert nights felt so good. Their relationship was not typical. Life in the X-men left little room for traditional romance. But they still found a way to share this passion together. For John Proudstar, it was nothing short of astonishing. He entered the X-men with no direction and waning hope. To have something like this with a woman like Jean Grey did more than renew his confidence. It renewed his spirit.
Pike’s Bar & Pub – Present Time
Logan sat in silence, halting his relentless assault on his liver for a moment as he mused over John’s story. The way he described the passion, the pleasure, and the contentment he felt when he was with Jean reminded him a lot of what he had when they were together. She really did bring out the best in him. He could tell by the distant look on John’s face how deep it was. It required him to get something a little stronger for his next drink.
“Damn, a naked Jeannie in a sleeping bag?” said Logan, “I miss that.”
“So do I,” sighed John as he resumed his drinking, “But sex was never the problem.”
“Yeah, that’s one thing she doesn’t complicate. I’m guessing it fell apart another way.”
“Well to be honest, I don’t think either one of us considered our relationship to be long term. It was Jean’s first romance and I was never that good when it came to commitment. Just ask my old commanding officers.”
“Funny, we had that same freakin’ issue,” muttered Logan, “We got through it to a point. Then it just started going downhill.”
“How did it start for you?” asked John curiously.
“How else? Summers,” said Logan before gulping down another shot of whiskey.
“Ah, I see where this is going,” said John, who needed a drink himself.
“Damn Cyke was an issue from day one. Jeannie’s just too damn close to the guy. I can’t tell you how much it bugged the hell out of me. She kept on saying they were just friends and all, but you and I both know that’s bullshit. There’s friends, there’s good friends, and then there’s those two. And friendship ain’t the right word for them.”
“That’s for sure. I know as well as everybody else how deep their feelings for each other really are.”
“Then why the hell don’t they know it?” grunted Logan, “Why did Jeannie have to be so freakin’ dense about it when we were together?”
John gulped down the rest of his drink. He could appreciate Logan’s frustration. He dealt with the same issue. But it the story behind Scott and Jean was a lot more complicated. John Proudstar knew better than most people because he had been a part of it.
“It’s not that simple, Logan,” he said, “Believe it or not, there’s a good reason why those two didn’t hook up sooner.”
“Let me guess. They didn’t see enough chick flicks of about best friends getting sappy with each other,” grumbled Logan.
“Since when do movies get anything right?” quipped John, “The truth is Jean was being completely sincere. At one point she really didn’t have any romantic feelings for Scott and he didn’t have any for her. There was a time when they really were just good friends and nothing more.”
“Yeah right,” scoffed Logan, “Jeannie told me all about her history with him. She told me all about how they knew each other from the beginning and shared all their deep dark secrets. I don’t know what she told you, but you would have to be pretty dumb not to see the subtext.”
“Most of that is true, Logan. But the subtext wasn’t always there,” said John, “Yeah, they were close. But they were friends. Trust me, I know the difference.”
“Even if I believed that crap, how the hell did it get this messed up?” asked Logan.
John took a deep breath and set is drink aside. He couldn’t afford to be any more drunk in order to tell this story. It was a bit complicated, but it played a major role in his relationship with Jean and the future relationship she and Scott would have.
“I can’t say for certain because I’m not psychic like her. But there were other signs. The biggest came on a mission when we were still in our mask-wearing phase, but were focusing less on traditional superhero work and focusing more on dangerous mutants emerging from the growing mutant population. It wouldn’t have been too big a deal, except it happened in a place called the Savage Land.”
“The Savage Land?” said Logan, quickly setting aside his beer, “That the same Savage Land with alien technology, real life dinosaurs, and cockroaches as big as cars?”
“You’ve heard about it?”
“I was in the military too, bub! Of course I heard about weird shit like that! How the hell did you guys get caught up in that death trap?”
John was surprised, but he shouldn’t have been. The Savage Land was a well-kept secret. Not many outside the military knew about it. The public would go crazy if they knew there was a place like that in Antarctica of all places. At least he wouldn’t have to convince Logan about it. If he knew how serious it was to be stuck there, he would better understand the gravity of what happened there.
“There was a renegade mutant that decided to set up shop there. His name was Trevor Fitzroy, a career piece of shit. His dad was a petty thief who got killed by a mob boss. Since then he’s had this obsession with taking over the entire criminal underworld and being what his father couldn’t.”
“Like there aren’t a million of those guys running around,” scoffed Logan.
“Only Fitzroy had an edge. He was a mutant that could absorb energy and use it to create portals that could take him anywhere in the world. You can imagine how useful that is when you’re a thief trying to increase his net worth. The guy stole so much he made himself a hell of a target. So he chose the Savage Land as a base. Because honestly, can you think of a better place for a hideout?”
Logan thought about it for a moment and it made perfect sense. The Savage Land was the one place no criminal organization, no matter how powerful, could ever touch.
“Sounds clever for a low-life,” said Logan.
“Clever and devious,” added John, “He was causing such a stir for mutants and humans alike, the Professor sent the whole team after him. But apparently, the Professor wasn’t aware of the special reputation the Savage Land has when it comes to planes.”
“Let me guess, as soon as you were close all the systems went dead and you crashed,” said Logan dryly.
“Pretty much,” sighed John, “But we weren’t far from Fitzroy. We hoped to capture him and worry about the jet later. Turns out he was ready for us. The son-of-a-bitch set a trap using a couple giant spiders and a T-rex for good measure. We tried to fight our way out, but Fitzroy pulled a fast one. He used his powers to create this space/time distortion thing that froze us in suspended animation.”
“Why didn’t he just kill you?” asked Logan.
“I don’t know. He sure had his chance. He said he had more elaborate plans or something, but he made one mistake. He let Scott and Jean get away.”
“Just those two?”
“Just them,” sighed John, “They jumped into a river while the rest of us were captured. They must have floated miles downstream before they came to. But what happened after that would change everything. Because for the next two weeks, those two had to survive in the Savage Land all on their own and somehow find a way to stop Fitzroy. Needless to say, they faced their share of challenges.”
Savage Land – Two Years Ago
“Scott! Look out!” cried Jean.
“I’m okay, Jean! I know what I’m doing…I think,” said a wary Scott Summers.
Their situation couldn’t have been worse. Scott Summers and Jean Grey found themselves alone in the unforgiving wilderness of the Savage Land. They were far from where the X-jet had crashed and the rest of the team had been abducted by Fitzroy. They had no idea where they were. They had no food, no tools, and no means of calling for help. The mission was still on. They had to stop Fitzroy. But at the moment, their goal was only to survive.
Scott was trying to get them some food and keep them from becoming a meal for a hungry predator. They were boxed in. Behind them was a river with a family of hungry crocodiles looking for a meal as well and in front of them was a full grown T-Rex. Jean was trying to hold off the crocodiles and force them back into the river with her telekinesis while Scott was trying to shoot down the T-Rex. Neither one of them was going down without a fight.
“Heads up, Jean!” Scott called out as the T-Rex charged him.
Jean instinctively threw up the strongest telekinetic shield she could. This blocked an incoming attack from the crocodiles and tripped up the T-Rex. It gave Scott the window he needed to take the T-Rex down. He shot at it with the most concentrated optic blast he could manage. He hit it right in the neck, effectively downing it. But as it howled in pain, it thrashed wildly. Scott had been close and ended up being hit by the tail and knocked back.
“Scott! No!” Jean cried out.
With great newfound strength, she unleashed a telekinetic wave that sent the entire family of crocs flying. Despite her tired mind and sore head she ran up to her downed friend, who was hunched over at the base of a tree.
“Scott…Scott, are you okay?” she asked urgently as she helped him up.
“I…I’m fine,” he said, wincing in pain as he rose up.
“It’s official. I hate this place!”
“Hate Fitzroy more for bringing us here!” grunted Scott, “We have to get back and stop him. He has the others!”
“How? This place is huge! There’s no telling where he could be hiding out here!” said Jean with growing frustration.
“The X-jet,” said Scott strongly, “If we can get back to it, we may be able to use the computers to locate the others. The communicators have homing beacons in them, remember?”
“Yes, but that’s assuming we can survive long enough to get back to it. We must be miles down this river!”
“We have to try. We just need to follow the river upstream and it should take lead us to where we landed. It’s easier said than done, I know. But the others are counting on us!”
It was a daunting notion. Scott and Jean were already battered. Their uniforms were torn and their faces were muddied from the harsh tropical air. Looking at the dead T-Rex in front of them, they got a sense for what they were up against. A lot was riding on their shoulders, but they didn’t have a choice.
“I’m not liking our odds here, Scott,” said Jean, “Surviving in a death trap like this wasn’t part of our training.”
“Then we’ll wing it,” said the X-leader, “We just have to stick together. Our training may not have prepared us for this, but we’re still a team. We have to remember that.”
“Are you sure that’s going to be enough?”
“Of course I’m not sure,” said Scott, “But we have to promise each other right now that we’ll get through this.”
Scott then took Jean’s hand strongly in his and held it firmly as he looked her in the eye.
“You have my word, Jean. I’ll protect you. Now I need your word that you’ll do the same for me.”
Jean tried to remain strong. It wasn’t easy in an environment like this, but she drew strength from Scott’s words. Pushing aside all fear and uncertainty, she grasped his hand as well.
“I promise I’ll protect you too,” she said.
“Thank you,” said Scott, managing a smile, “Now let’s get going!”
I don’t know all the details during this time. I’m only going off what Jean told me. But based on what she said, the next few days were hell for them. They braved hunger, exhaustion, bugs, leeches, and hungry pterodactyls to make their way up the river. Looking back on it I wish I spent more time teaching survival skills. They got in a lot of trouble during those first few days. They even came close to death a number of times.
Three days in the Savage Land and danger still lurked at every turn. The tired and battered duo were crossing a vacant area over the beach. That’s when Scott suddenly disappeared in a pond of quicksand. It happened so fast. He nearly dragged her into it. But he let go of her hand at the last second. Now he was gone.
“Jean…” came a muffled voice.
“Hold on, Scott! I’m not leaving you!”
Using her telekinesis, Jean reached into the mushy sand. It was a bit strange since quicksand didn’t act like normal material. But she wasn’t giving up. She propped deeper and deeper, reaching with her mind to find her friend. She sensed him choking. His mind was going into shock. Working faster, she kept probing until she found him. Then with a hard tug, she pulled him out.
“Ugh!” he coughed.
With her mind already tired she pulled him the rest of the way. He was so weighed down by the sand that he fell right on top of her. They tumbled to the ground, ending up in a somewhat awkward position with Scott on top of her and Jean underneath while their faces were inches from each other.
“Jean…thank you,” said Scott breathlessly.
“Don’t mention it. We’re in this together, remember?” she said with a smile.
They were still too stunned to notice the position they were in. They lingered in it for a few more moments. Eventually, awkwardness took over.
“Um…mind getting off me? I don’t think John would approve of this,” said Jean awkwardly.
“Right…sorry,” said Scott with a sheepish grin.
They rolled off each other and renewed their journey. They stayed closer this time, leaning on each other for support and strength. Awkwardness aside, they drew a lot of strength from each other. It was strength they were going to need if they were to survive.
But trouble aside, those two hung in there. As the days went by, they adapted to the challenges they faced. They supported each other, looked after each other, drew strength from each other. It wasn’t enough to just be friends. They had to trust each other implicitly, almost as much as they would trust themselves. Jean never said it overtly, but it was probably the first time she started looking at Scott as more than just a friend.
It was day seven in the Savage Land. To Scott and Jean it might as well have been a lifetime. By now their uniforms were practically shredded. They had to use leaves to keep themselves covered from the elements. Jean’s hair was a mess and Scott grew a messy layer of facial hair. They also lost some weight, having sustained themselves with berries, fish, and dinosaur meat. They looked like they had been living in the jungle for ages.
At times it was hard to keep a firm hold on reality. Yet strangely enough, the fear and uncertainty they started off with had waned. In a ways, they felt stronger than ever. It was just them against nature and they were making it. They stayed focused on their goal, negating all the usual concerns of the modern world. Everything seemed so much simpler out here. It was kind of liberating even if the circumstances were grim.
At one point they found themselves resting against a boulder near the river. Having just washed off under a waterfall, Scott was leaning back against the hard rock with Jean huddling close to him for warmth. The constant embrace used to be just a means for them to stay close in case danger struck. Now it had taken on a greater meaning.
“Yes Jean?” said Scott, who had been resting his eyes.
“Can I tell you something?”
“Of course. You can tell me anything,” he said honestly.
She turned her head so she could look into his shrouded eyes. His visor was dirty, but she could still feel his gaze beyond it.
“I know we’ve always been friends. We practically had to salvage our youth together after we joined the institute. But these past few days have given me a lot of time to think. Looking back on where we’ve come, what we’ve been through, and what we’re up against…I can honestly say there’s no one I would rather have by my side.”
Scott smiled warmly and blushed under her gaze. Under normal circumstances, he would have felt awkward hearing that from a friend, especially when he had a girlfriend. But under these conditions in a place like the Savage Land, it really didn’t matter.
“I wouldn’t want anyone else either, Jean,” said Scott, “I don’t think I could have made it through this without you. I probably would have lost my mind by now.”
“Me too,” she said, “And even though I know we have our own personal affairs. We have our other friends, our own relationships, and our own way of doing things. After going through this with you, it’s made me realize how lucky I am to have you in my life. And I…I can’t tell you how much that means to me.”
“You don’t have to. I already know,” said Scott softly.
They shared another warm smile. Scott took her hands in his and gave it a firm squeeze, further reassuring her that he was there for her and always would be. Under circumstances like this, it was the most comforting feeling they could have hoped for. It was amazing how being in extreme circumstances could make everything seem so much more meaningful. It gave them hope that they would get out of this together and ensured they had a new appreciation for the bond they shared.
I don’t know what happened much beyond that. Jean never went into much detail about the days that followed. She just told me she and Scott talked to pass the time. She didn’t say what they talked about, but I get the feeling she told him things she never told anybody before. Scott probably did the same. Maybe it was secrets about their past or just musings over stuff that was too difficult to talk about to others. Whatever it was, it kept them going until they reached the X-jet.
But as it turns out, they didn’t even have to use it to locate us. Fitzroy moved us and his camp to the crash site and began using the jet for his own means. He tried combining the alien technology with the engines to generate an unlimited source of power he could use to make bigger and more powerful portals. Don’t ask me where he got the expertise to do this, but by the time Scott and Jean got there he was nearly finished. And after ten days in the jungle, they were so hardened and determined Fitzroy didn’t stand a chance.
“NO! You little punks! You’re ruining everything!” exclaimed an enraged Trevor Fitzroy.
“Considering I’ve been wrestling crocodiles the past ten days, you’re lucky that’s all we’re ruining!” said an equally enraged Scott Summers.
Fitzroy was scrambling to salvage his scheme. He took cover behind a couple of metal boxes he used to transport equipment from his previous camp. He was armed only with a high powered laser gun he stole from a weapons research lab. Scott’s attack was relentless. His optic blasts barraged his position, forcing him to cower like no criminal god should ever have to cower.
Looking across the camp, he saw the alien generators glowing brighter. The cables running from them to the X-jet were starting to spark as well. It looked like they were overloading. If he didn’t stop them the whole thing could blow and his plans would be ruined. Scott was getting closer, blasting through all his equipment with reckless disregard for all the work it took him to acquire it.
“That’s it! No more games!” barked Fitzroy as he readied his gun, “I’ll blow your brains out and feed them to my tigers!”
He prepared to leap out and take his shot. But his attack was unexpectedly halted when a telekinetic tug ripped the weapon out of his hand and flung him into a nearby stack of cables.
“Now that’s just blatant animal cruelty,” said Jean, taking great satisfaction in knocking him back, “You better hope your cell-mate isn’t an animal lover!”
“Nice move, Jean!” commented Scott with an approving grin.
“Who says I’m done?”
Jean, who used her newly found survival skills to sneak up on Fitzroy, used her telekinesis to tie him up with cables. Fitzroy struggled at first, but Jean made sure he wouldn’t escape. This man caused them all a lot of headaches. It was about time he paid for them.
Scott walked up beside Jean, smiling at the sight of a defeated Fitzroy. He kept his hand on his visor, making sure he understood that they meant business. Given how rugged they looked from ten days in the jungle, he was intimidated enough.
“Now listen up, Fitzroy, because I’m only going to say this once,” said Jean, giving him an extra hard telekinetic squeeze cables to reinforce her point, “You’re going to free our friends from whatever time warp you’ve got them trapped in. And once they’re free, we’re going to repair the jet and fly you to the nearest prison.”
“Give me one reason why I should even consider such a demand?” scoffed Fitzroy.
“Other than royally pissing off a powerful telekinetic?” said Scott in a firm tone, “If you don’t, we’ll make sure you’re stuck here. I’ll destroy every last device that runs on power here so you can’t teleport out.”
“Then you’ll be stuck here too!”
“Wouldn’t bother us,” he shrugged, “We just spent ten days in the jungle and survived okay. Hell, it’s even grown on us. We can do it longer if we have to. Question is, are you willing to?”
“Also bear in mind that means you’ll be stuck with us,” added Jean.
Trevor Fitzroy studied the two teenage mutants. They looked ragged from their time in the jungle. He was amazed they even survived this long on their own. He couldn’t tell if they had lost their minds from their time here. Too much time in a place like this could drive anyone crazy. They just may be crazy enough to carry out their threats.
Considering the options, jail or the Savage Land, the choice was obvious. At least in jail he would have a chance to escape. There was no way he was going to be stuck in this death trap with these two.
“I really hate you!” groaned Fitzroy.
With a defeated sigh, he gestured towards a clearing. A small black hole the fabric of space opened and in a greenish flash, Professor Xavier and the rest of the team appeared in a daze. When they saw all the equipment around them along with their disheveled teammates they were understandably confused.
“What…what happened?” said a dazed Charles Xavier, who was behind held up by Warren.
“Whoa! What happened to you two?” said Bobby as he saw Scott and Jean, “When did you find time to adopt the Tarzan look?”
Scott and Jean exchanged humored grins as they took in their reactions. To them the last ten days hadn’t even happened. They got off easy. It had been an eventful mission to say the least and one they wouldn’t soon forget.
“It’s a long story,” said Scott, “We’ll fill you in once we repair the X-jet.”
The others continued to look at them strangely. Their demeanor was unusual considering how ragged their condition was. It could have just been the good feelings that came along with accomplishing a mission, but there seemed to be something else to it. Their spirits were high and the sight of a beaten Fitzroy was a welcome sight. For the dazed team, they were content to leave it at that.
But John Proudstar wasn’t so quick to drop it. He noticed while the team was gathering themselves that Scott and Jean were holding hands. It wasn’t like he hadn’t seen it before, but this was different. He saw a strange sense of closeness in the gesture. But he chose not to bring it up. They had enough to worry about getting out of this place. He and Jean could discuss these sorts of issues on their own time. Since this involved his girlfriend he couldn’t help but be a little concerned.
Pike’s Bar & Pub – Present Time
Neither John nor Logan was drinking at this point. Despite half-full bottles of hard liquor sitting right in front of them, they sat in a daze. John’s story resonated on a profound level. Logan remembered Jean mentioning many missions on their dates, but she never mentioned this one. It was probably a good thing too. Had he heard about how she and Scott survived an experience like that together, he would be unnerved. But in a strange way, it made sense of certain issues that had been lingering for some time.
For John, it was a somewhat bitter memory. Looking back on it, he should have seen the signs of what had happened between Scott and Jean. He should have realized how it affected his relationship with Jean. It was the beginning of the end for them. It didn’t help there were a number of other issues that came up during that time. Even as the years went by, he thought back to that fateful mission. It really did set the tone for how their relationship would pan out and how her growing connection with Scott would evolve.
“When I was in the marines, a few officers told us stories about how people that have been in battle together develop a special bond. When two people start trusting each other so implicitly, it affects them in so many ways. They relate to each other on a level most people, even the ones that care about them, can never understand. Looking back on it I know without a doubt that Scott and Jean developed such a bond.”
“Damn…” was all Logan could say.
“I don’t expect you to understand because you weren’t there. But I know what I saw. Battle creates bonds. Feel free to make any comment you want on how corny it is, but it’s the truth.”
John was expecting something, but Logan stayed silent. He just looked at his half-empty bottle of whiskey and snarled.
He didn’t need to be convinced about bonds being formed in battle. He may have lost most of his memory, but he still remembered being part of plenty of conflicts. He saw an ominous correlation with John’s story and his bitter feud with Sabretooth. Together, they endured many battles as well. They developed a trust in one another that went beyond the battlefield. They had probably been part of a lot more battles than he remembered, which only made his betrayal later on all the more egregious.
“We were brothers in arms, Logan! We were a team! And you betrayed me! You betrayed us! I swear I’ll make you suffer for this!”
Sabretooth’s venomous words still played over in his mind. Their hatred for each other was a testament to the power of such bonds. It put Jeannie’s connection with Scott into a new perspective.
“I understand more than you think,” said Logan distantly as he gulped down the rest of his drink, “I take it this mess screwed things up between you and Jeannie.”
“That would be quite the understatement. Nothing was the same afterwards,” sighed John, “It was subtle at first. Jean just seemed a little closer with Scott. But it blossomed into something new. It didn’t just affect my relationship with Jean. It affected Scott’s relationship with his girlfriend too.”
“You ever call her out on it?”
“Probably as much as you did,” replied John, “But Jean, being the great girl she is, went above and beyond to keep things going. For a while we did endure. Hell, we outlasted Scott’s relationship and we didn’t argue half as much as they did.”
“That’s Jeannie for you. She tried to make everything right even when she knows it ain’t,” said Logan, raising his glass to her.
“But it couldn’t last. The death knell came when a few personal issues came up for me. My older brother, James, had left the reservation. Apparently, he was following some new opportunities. It left much of our people in disarray. Someone had to do something. I couldn’t divide my time between the two. This was shortly after the X-men battled Juggernaut the first time, unmasking themselves in the process. This escalated and complicated the X-men’s mission. I was left with a choice…my people or the X-men.”
“Tough choice,” said Logan, “How much did Jeannie factor into that decision.”
“Not as much as you think. It was a hard decision to make. But in the end I know I did the right thing. My people needed me so I left. And I took our relationship with us.”
Xavier Institute – 18 Months Ago
It was a solemn day for John Proudstar. For three years he had dedicated his life to the X-men. He met some amazing people, fought some incredible battles, got to be a masked hero, and learned a great deal in the process. In many ways he was a better person. Once a dishonored solder, he had the heart of a warrior again. But today that would come to an end. He was officially leaving the X-men and returning home to the reservation.
He finished packing the last of his bags. He had already said his goodbyes to the Professor and the rest of the team. A taxi was waiting for him at the front door, ready to take him to the airport. Looking at his now desolate room, he felt a range of emotions. He was definitely going to miss this place. He had a lot of fond memories here. But his fate was not with the X-men. Many circumstances beyond his control were taking him elsewhere. Now that the X-men weren’t wearing masks anymore and facing greater scrutiny from a mutant-wary public, the need for his warrior skills was diminished. As hard as it was to leave this life behind, he had his responsibilities. He had to make the right decision.
He shifted at the sound of a familiar voice. Turning around, he saw Jean Grey standing in his doorway with a sad look in her eyes.
“Hey,” said John flatly, “I was going to catch up with you before I left. You know I wouldn’t leave without saying goodbye to you one last time.”
“Guess I beat you to the punch,” she said with only a half-smile, “I just…I wanted to talk about us. We’ve been avoiding it ever since you announced that you’re leaving.”
“I’m sorry if I’ve been stalling.”
“Don’t be. We both have.”
She was already getting emotional. John could hear the strain in her tone. Setting his bags down, he walked up to her and pulled her into a light embrace. Once a skinny 15-year-old girl, she blossomed into a beautiful 20-year-old woman. He shared many fond memories of her and it wasn’t just their relationship. But if he was to make this choice, she knew as well as he did that they couldn’t continue like this.
“Let’s not make this any harder than it has to be, Jean. You know why I’m doing this. You know why I have to leave.”
“I’ve heard your list of reasons, John,” said Jean, looking away briefly, “I’m not trying to stop you or anything, but I have to know…am I on that list?”
“Of course not. Why would you think that?” said John with an affectionate gesture.
“Is it really so unreasonable?” she said skeptically, “In case you haven’t picked up on it, I’m psychic. Your eyes may be honest, but your mind isn’t always that clear.”
“Have I been projecting again?” asked John warily.
“Maybe you’ve let a few thoughts slip here and there. It’s not much, but it’s enough to make me wonder.”
Jean then looked him in the eye with a pleading look. She could already feel tears forming, but she had to know.
“Be honest with me, John…if things hadn’t been strained between us lately, would you still be leaving?”
“I…I can’t answer that,” he said, “This decision was hard enough to reach without us being a factor.”
“So it’s true then?”
“No, it isn’t,” said John strongly, “But it’s not completely false either. Let’s not mince words, Jean. Our relationship has been on the decline for a while now.”
“I thought we were making progress,” said Jean with a touch of hurt in her voice.
“We have. I’ll be the first to commend you for that. You’ve done everything a guy could ask a girl to do when things aren’t working. But we have to face facts. The two of us get along great, but when it comes to this relationship…we just aren’t meant to be.”
That was a hard thing for any girl to hear from her boyfriend and that was a hard thing for any man to say. But it was the cold hard truth. Jean was just beginning to realize that. It had been a harsh reality for John for a while now. First relationships were always difficult, especially when they ended. But like all relationships, they had to end when they aren’t meant to be.
“So…are we over?” asked Jean, holding back a sob.
“I’m sorry, Jean,” said John as he tenderly caressed her face, “I’ll always care about you. I don’t want to hurt you, but it’s best for both of us if we end this.”
“But I…I don’t understand. Where did we go wrong?”
“We didn’t. There are just too many forces beyond our control working against us.”
“Are you referring to Scott?” she said anxiously, “Because if this is about me spending more time with him…”
John silenced her with a finger to her lips. Scott had been a point of contention between them, especially since he broke up with his girlfriend. But John made a point not to factor that into his decision.
“Scott has nothing to do with it. It has everything to do with you and me,” assured John, “In my culture we believe everybody and everything has a spirit. When two people are meant to be, it reflects in both their spirits. They become bonded like the forces of nature are bonded to the land. And their spirit reflects how they feel and act. Looking at us from where we started to where we are now, can you honestly say we have that bond?”
Jean looked away briefly as she contemplated his words. She was still choked up. A part of her really believed they could make this work. But when she thought about it in this context, she saw what John was getting at. It led her to the same difficult realization.
“No…we don’t,” she answered.
There was a solemn silence. John pulled her in closer and cupped her chin. She still had tears in her eyes. It was expected for someone who had never been through a breakup before. Holding back emotions of his own, John smiled as he said what needed to be said.
“I’m sorry,” said Jean with a sob, “You’re right. I shouldn’t be pushing this on you.
“Don’t be sorry,” said John, “You’re young. You have a lot more to experience in life. I’m glad I got to be a part of it.”
“I’m sure you were,” she said, managing somewhat of a smile herself.
“You’re an amazing woman. You deserve someone who will love you in every way, spirit to heart. I can’t be that man. But I can always be your friend.”
“My friend…” said Jean, now looking him in the eye again, “I can live with that.”
John helped wipe the rest of the tears from her eyes. They then shared a friendly embrace. Jean was still a little choked up, but John could tell it was finally sinking in for her. They were both going to need some time to get over this. But Jean was strong. John was confident she would get through this. Their relationship may not have been meant to be, but it was still a relationship worth treasuring.
With that last affectionate gesture, John Proudstar parted from Jean Grey for the last time. John gathered his things and with Jean following close behind, he parted ways with the X-men. His life with them had been memorable, but it was over now. A new set of challenges lay ahead back home at the reservation.
Pike’s Bar & Pub – Present Time
John gulped down the last of his latest beer. It was official now. He was drunk. After reliving these memories, some of them more difficult than others, it was just what he needed. Combined with the lingering aftereffects with a fight with Juggernaut, he was in the perfect state of mind. That is to say he was too soused to dwell on it.
Logan was just starting to get tipsy. He couldn’t help but snicker at how John looked. He wasn’t sure if it was the booze or the memories of the breakup that did it. But he was out of it. He wasn’t going to be telling any more stories tonight, at least not those that would be credible. With this new knowledge in mind, Logan thought back to what happened with him and Jean as well as how Scott fit into all this. It didn’t make him despise the X-leader any less, but it did put a few things into perspective.
“So that’s it. After that I left and we were over,” he said in a slurred tone.
“Tough break, bub,” said Logan as he chugged some more vodka, “I know how you feel. So do you hold as big a grudge against Cyke as me?”
“Ah why bother,” he said, “Scott’s a good guy. I can’t hate him for making Jean happy.”
“It’s easy. Just picture his ugly face every time you think back to the good times with Jeannie.”
“I’ll keep that in mind. But you know what the really messed up thing is?”
“Besides you being shit faced?” grinned Logan.
“It’s that she still hasn’t hooked up with Scott yet! I mean seriously, what’s the hold up? What are they waiting for?”
“Shit if I know. Maybe Jeannie just wants to go through one more drunk before she settles on her guy.”
“If she does I’ll find out who it is and kick his ass!” said John, now barley able to hold himself up, “Just tell her to get with Scott already. She deserves better than guys like us.”
Logan laughed as he grabbed a fresh bottle of whiskey and began another round. John was an articulate man when he was sober. He was quite a mess when he was drunk.
“So how did life back home work out for you? If you’re in a bar with a guy like me, that’s a dead giveaway it didn’t go as planned.”
“You just love bringing up painful issues, don’t you, Logan?” groaned John.
“Do I strike you as a guy who talks about cheery shit?”
“Do me a favor. Get some Prozac in your diet,” grumbled John, “I’ve done enough dwelling on the past for one night. At least start telling me painful stories about your past.”
“Why bother? You’re too drunk to remember them anyhow,” quipped Logan.
John grumbled at first. Then he found himself laughing. It was kind of funny when he thought about it through his own muzzled reasoning. He left the X-men in hopes of taking the next step forward in his life. Reflecting on his current state, he hadn’t gone forward at all. If anything, he went backwards. Maybe his brother, James, was right. He made lousy decisions when he didn’t have the X-men to guide him.
At least he wasn’t the most messed up guy in this bar. Looking at Logan, he saw a man with more issues than he could imagine. The way he carried himself and the way he drank said a lot about who he was. He was a damaged man with a damaged spirit. No wonder Jean reached out to him. She always did have a soft spot for men like them.
“Just do me one favor before I become completely incoherent,” said John.
“A little late for that, eh Johnny boy?” grinned Logan.
“Don’t run away from a good thing. Life in the X-men may be rough at times. It may not even be your thing when you get right down to it. But being at the institute surrounded by people like Charles Xavier and girls like Jean Grey is good for us. They bring out a better part of our spirits. I can tell you’re a man who likes to do his own thing. But don’t ever turn your back on it. You’ll come to regret it.”
“You’re not gonna get all sissy and hug me, are you?”
“Even I’m not that drunk,” he said in a slurred tone.
Logan finished his drink and thought about his words. He and John had a lot more in common besides having dated the same woman. He was somewhat of a loner as well, bearing his own load of burdens. The X-men did a lot to set him back on the right path, just as it had done for him. There were times he didn’t always like it. But there was no denying how much better he was because of them.
“And another thing…” John began.
But he couldn’t finish. The alcohol caught up to him and passed out, his head falling onto the table of the bar with a hard thud. All this talking along with the drinking was too much to handle. John Proudstar was officially done for the night.
“Lightweight,” grinned the feral mutant.
Logan shook his head and laughed at the sight. He may not have found any answers about the mission by coming out here, but he got answers of another kind by talking to John. Lingering issues about Jeannie made a lot more sense now. He didn’t give much credence to her friendship with Scott, but now it didn’t seem so infuriating. Those two really did share a special bond. Even if he understood better now, that didn’t mean he was going to be get along with the X-leader anytime soon.
It was a small condolence to an otherwise dreary night in a bar. John may have issues, but he was an okay guy. He had the spirit of an X-man. He wouldn’t mind if their paths crossed again in the future. In addition, he was a halfway decent drinking buddy. Too bad all his missions couldn’t end like this.
Next Issue: Sinister Intent
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