Don’t tell me how to run my team, Max
Scott touched the jet down in a remote section of the BC Wildlife Park in Kamloops, British Columbia.
Once she heard the engines start to wind down she let out a silent breath of relief and relaxed the deathgrip her fingers had on the arms of the chair. She started wiggling them around to work the ache out of them.
Yep. She might be used to it, but she still hated flying.
“How far out are we?”
Jean began unbuckling her seatbelt.
“About two miles.” Scott leaned forward, starting to switch everything down.
“Great. Another trek.” Jean grumbled, standing up and stretching her arms up to the ceiling.
“I may be able to get us there faster.” Ororo offered.
Scott looked over at her, surprised.
“I know you’ve been working on hefting one or two of us in the air at a time, but are you sure you can do this?”
She nodded and replied, “We shall have to stay just above the tops of the trees, but I believe I can do it.
Scott nodded and stood up, heading towards the back of the jet. Max got out of her seat and moved to follow Jean and Ororo as they stepped out onto the descending ramp.
The ground was covered with a blanket of snow about three inches deep. Their feet made crunching sounds as they stepped off the ramp into the snow and Max began having second thoughts. In combat simulations, Ororo had tried to lift her with the winds before and Max had almost immediately thrown up afterward. The idea of going through it again didn’t appeal to her at all.
She would probably cover more ground in fur, anyway.
Ororo’s eyes began to fade to white and Max quickly said, “I think I’m going to meet you guys there this time.”
Scott looked over at her, frowning.
Max quickly explained, “I can probably run as fast as she’ll be able to fly you over without you getting sick. Besides – I’ll end up with the insides of my stomach on the ground when we land, and it’ll take me a minute or two to recover..”
Scott didn’t look convinced. “You sure you can keep up?”
Max smiled and said, “Oh yeah. Which way is it again?”
Scott pulled out a map, indication the location and pointing north.
“Be careful Max.”
Max nodded and began stripping down. Scott turned away and she chuckled, tossing her uniform to Jean after sliding out of it. Hank was still ironing out the kinks of a suit that would shift with her. Max found it somewhat cute that Scott was still so easily embarrassed at her nudity.
“In case I need it when we get there.” She explained, shivering slightly.
Jean laughed and tucked the suit in a small black pack on Scott’s back.
The three of them slowly lifted into the air and Max shifted, immediately leaping into a sprint. The wolf howled inside her, delighted at the chance to break loose in the wilderness again.
The monthly runs with Hank were enjoyable, but nothing could truly compare with this. Joyous, Max looked up to see the three of them keeping pace with her above the trees. She let out a bark of laughter and ran faster, easily outdistancing them. She would get to their destination before they did at this point.
It was rare that she had to tap into her hidden reserves of speed. By default, everybody else just seemed to move slowly to her in comparison. Even Logan. But then she had yet to really make him tap his reserves either. She hadn’t gotten the chance.
The sounds of the trees whipping by her had an almost rhythmic quality to them and she found herself falling into an almost meditative space as she ran.
So many different scents out here! she thought to herself, wanting to come back up here to hunt someday. She was disappointed that they didn’t have time to wander around a bit longer.
When Max finally arrived at the rundown house seemingly in the middle of nowhere, she stopped short.
A man was standing on the front porch smoking a cigarette, his other arm wrapped around himself to warm up. He smelled sick – she could tell even from here. Did he know? Her nose wrinkled as she quickly darted out of sight behind a woodpile, looking up to see where her friends had gone.
After a few moments, she heard footsteps behind her and turned to see them picking their way across the snow towards her.
“Bless Hank and his temperature regulated uniforms. I’d be freezing my ass off if I was wearing anything else in this,” Jean whispered as she stepped up and gave Max’s head a friendly stroke.
“Ok Jean, you’re on.” Scott murmured as he handed Max’s outfit back to her.
Max quickly slid into it and zipped it up, shivering a little as the suit’s temperature adjusted.
“Good god, it’s cold.”
Jean let out a quick snort, then took a slow breath and closed her eyes. After a moment or two, she murmured, “Ready.”
The four of them began slowly walking towards the house. Max had asked on previous runs about why only the parents of the teenagers they visited could see the illusion of four non-threatening people in normal attire, when she still saw them in their uniforms. Scott had said something about it being a directed thought that Jean placed into their heads.
Max wasn’t entirely comfortable with the idea of Jean manipulating what people saw, but when she thought about it, it actually made sense. The outfits were armor of a sort and the design had been improved on slightly since Scott had gotten shot those many months ago. This way they could be prepared for a direct confrontation if forced into one – but still retain a normal front of sorts.
Scott waved to the man on the porch who returned his wave with a nervous, shaking hand. The man didn’t look at all happy as he took a long drag on his cigarette.
“Good evening, Mister Jones. I’m Scott Summers with the Xavier School for Gifted Children. We spoke on the phone earlier?”
Scott was smiling and extending his hand out as they walked up.
The man eyed him, blowing smoke out in a quick puff before taking Scott’s hand and giving it a single shake before quickly pulling away from him. The man was all nervous jitters, his eyes scanning back and forth as he said, “You’re taking her tonight, right? She’ll go with you and she’ll be safe?”
Scott nodded and spoke softly, reassuring him. “She’ll be safe with us, sir. On that you have my promise.”
The man trembled and gulped, then turned to open the front door. “Please..come in.”
My god, he’s a wreck, Max thought to herself, wondering what had happened to the man that would have him freaking out this badly. She’d seen some shaken up parents before, but this one was entirely too twitchy for her liking. The wolf balked, not wanting to go in the house. Max took a deep breath and stepped inside behind Ororo and Jean.
The TV was on, but seemed to be experiencing a great deal of static from what looked like several different channels. The living room was small and unassuming, but something here skittered along her nerves, plucking at her fight or flight responses. Something bad was going on here.
She looked over to see Ororo peering curiously towards a hallway, her expression closed down.
That’s where the source of it is.
Max’s nerves were already jangling now, and she no longer wondered why the man was reacting the way he was. This place was getting to her already and she’d only just stepped in the door.
“Sh-she’s asleep. I g-gave her something to help her sleep.” he croaked, his hands twitching at his sides. He looked lost and frightened. His fear left an acrid trail behind him as he moved through the house.
The poor man. Max felt sorry for him.
“This way..” he murmured, walking towards the hallway.
Max looked over and saw Jean frowning, her brow furrowed in concentration. She looked like she was about to break into a sweat. Max wondered if she was okay, but knew better than to disrupt her while she was trying to maintain their illusion, especially when she appeared to be having a little difficulty with it.
The father looked back at them as they stepped up to a door at the end of the hallway – as if needing to reassure himself that they were following him. He slowly turned back around and opened it, immediately pulling his arms around himself. Max saw his breath come out in misty puffs. The room must have been well below freezing – almost on par with the temperature outside. A teenage girl with fiery red hair was curled up on the cement floor in the middle of what looked like a new room addition to the house. She was wearing shorts and a tanktop and sweat was pouring off her. The floor beneath her was moist and the edges of it were rimed with frost.
Scott stood in the doorway, his mouth in a tight line.
“It has to be at least ten below zero in this room. Why do you keep her in here?”
The man quickly stammered, “It’s not me..not me..”
He quickly held his hands up. “She comes in here herself when she has her spells. Otherwise stuff tends to..well – melt..around her.”
He flushed bright red, his eyes brimming with tears as he looked over at the girl. Sadness and guilt was rolling off the man in almost painful waves.
Scott nodded and Max could smell the anger on him.
“Is there a direct way to the outside from this room?” he asked.
The man pointed with a shaky hand to a door off to the right. “There. It leads out to the back yard.”
Scott took a deep breath, then turned to face the man, his tone once again soft and reassuring. “You did the right thing, Mister Jones. We’ll take her where she can get the help she needs.”
Tears spilled out of the man’s eyes now and he quickly dabbed at them, trying to master his own emotions.
“Thank you, Mister Summers. I – I didn’t know where else to turn.”
Scott moved forward to pick the girl up, but the moment his hand came in contact with her skin, his gloves began to smoke. He quickly pulled back, frowning. Max wondered how they were going to get her out of here if nobody could touch her. He looked over at Ororo, giving her a curt nod.
She moved to open the door and Max felt a wind rush through the room. It lifted the girl up gently from the floor. The concrete surface directly beneath the girl was smooth – almost like glass. Max wondered what Jean was showing the man while this was happening. He seemed to be calming down a little.
Scott shook the man’s hand and moved to follow the girl as she floated out the door. The man darted back inside his house, and Max hurried to follow Jean as she walked out into the snow. His emotions were setting her nerves on edge and she was more than happy to get the hell away from him.
“Ororo – think you can fly her back to the mansion? I think she’d wreak havok on the jet’s electronics, if she didn’t set it on fire outright. We need to get her back to the mansion and into a supercooled room as quickly as possible.”
Ororo nodded in response, all formality. “I believe so, if it is only the two of us.”
“Good. I’ll call ahead and see if Hank can’t get the new kid to stay with her while she tries to get a handle on her powers.”
Max hadn’t been on the run when the team had picked up the ‘new kid’, Bobby Drake, from his parents’ house in New York three months ago. He was adapting quickly with his abilities and, according to Scott and Hank, was showing quite a bit of promise. It only seemed common sense, placing this new girl with a kid that could lower the temperature of anything he touched to minus 105 degrees fahrenheit within moments.
“Why didn’t we just bring him with us?” Max asked.
Scott turned to face her, his tone irritated.
“We don’t bring kids on missions. Period.”
Max shrugged and began unzipping her suit. Scott quickly averted his eyes, and she slipped out of it while saying, “It just seems to me that it would’ve been more efficient to bring him along.”
Max quickly shifted and Scott replied, “Don’t tell me how to run my team, Max.”
He sounded pissed.
“Scott.” Max looked up at Jean, who now looked annoyed.
The two of them stared at one another silently for several moments. Max hated it when they had their little head to head conversations. It made it difficult to keep up with what was going on.
Scott let out a sigh and looked back over at Max.
“I’m sorry, Max. The fact that this girl’s own father kept her in a room like that just..got to me. I didn’t mean to snap at you.”
Max let out a whuf and knocked into his leg gently with her head. All forgiven.
Scott smiled and scritched her ears, then said,
“We’ll meet you back at the ‘bird.”
Max stepped off the plane into the underground hangar, feeling only lightly nauseous. Scott chuckled and clapped her on the back gently.
“You’ll get used to it.”
“That’s what you’ve said the last five times I rode in that overpriced tin can.” Max grimaced as she looked back at him and he laughed.
Jean came down the walkway and linked her arm through Max’s, murmuring, “C’mon. Ice cream’s on me.”
Max presented her with a wobbly grin as she tried to calm her stomach.
“That is if I can keep it down.” she muttered.
Jean gently pulled her along and Scott said, “That’s one of the smoothest retrievals yet. Now if we could just keep it that way.”
“Bobby went smoothly as well.” Jean reminded him, smiling quietly to herself.
“Yes, but Bobby couldn’t have immolated us all accidentally.”
Scott removed his pack and placed it on a hook above a table full of tools.
“He could’ve frozen us all in an instant, which would have killed us just as effectively.” she explained, her smile growing bigger.
She was baiting him again.
“If it’s a choice between death by burning or freezing, I’ll gladly take freezing.” Scott muttered.
Jean stopped in her tracks, her jaw dropping open slightly.
She quietly breathed, “Oh shit.”
“Jean?” Scott turned to face her and she quickly breathed, “The Professor needs to see us. Now..”
The three of them started running.
Max flinched at the touch of Jean’s hand on her shoulder.
“Oh, Max. I’m so sorry.” she murmured.
Max was a million miles away, still unable to believe what she had just heard. Was that where he’d been all this time? Is it why he hadn’t come back? She looked over to meet Xavier’s eyes, her jaw tightening.
“It’s hard to say.” he explained, “I’ve been trying to get a lock on his mental signature for a while; trying to make sure he was okay. He’s remarkably difficult to establish a firm mental lock with unless he’s receptive.”
“How bad is it?” Max asked, her voice sounding hollow.
“I believe that the only reason I was able to get through to him was that he was too weak to prevent it. Something about his condition makes him rather adept at blocking mental intrusion if he puts his mind to it, and his consciousness is fragmented enough that he’s unable to keep most surface thoughts from being read easily.”
“Do you know where they’re holding him?” she asked, feeling the first stirrings of anger.
Xavier paused for a moment, leaning forward before he replied, “A Canadian military facility in southeastern Alberta. I can provide you with a map if you like.”
He sounded resigned as he leaned back in his chair. He also looked a little tired.
Max took a deep breath, then said, “How soon can you get it to me?”
Scott stepped forward, his voice calm and quiet.
“You can’t possibly think that you’ll be able to infiltrate a military installation by yourself, Max.”
Max growled, “I’ll damn well try. He’d do the same for me.”
“How do you know that?” Jean asked, sounding scared.
She had tried to get Max to talk about Logan before, and Max had always shut her down. While they might be close friends now, that particular topic of conversation was none of anybody’s damned business. Max appreciated the fact that Jean worried about her, but it was the wrong time to show it now.
Max glared at her, baring her teeth. “Don’t.”
Jean frowned but backed down, crossing her arms. She would pout, but she would also get over it.
“There are over three hundred soldiers and personnel within the facility, Maxine.”
She looked up at the Professor. He only ever used her full name when he was trying to stress the importance of something to her.
“They easily outnumber you, and they have weapons. They’ll kill you.”
“Shit.” she muttered, feeling her blood run cold. “Shit.” She began trembling.
“Max..” Jean murmured, placing her hand on Max’s arm.
Max leapt out of the chair, her teeth grinding. The wolf was howling with rage. Its mate – their mate was trapped – caged, and it wanted nothing more than to tear apart anything that stood between them. She was shaking as she took a step back towards the door.
The professor moved to open a drawer beside him, pulling out a manila folder. He placed it on the desk and slid it over to her.
“There is nothing I can do to stop you, Max. If you truly do wish to go, here’s all the information that I could find. There wasn’t much, I’m afraid. It’s apparently a location that the Canadian military proper hasn’t utilized in quite some time, so the records are a little spotty.”
Max reached out a trembling hand and picked the folder up, leafing through it. There was a map of where the facility was supposedly located, and a rough sketch of the building, as well as several satellite photos of the surrounding terrain.
“Which room?” She asked, her eyes scanning a diagram of the layout of the first floor. Was there only one?
“I can only tell you that he’s in the building. I’m afraid that Logan has been sedated quite heavily, and isn’t entirely aware of his surroundings.”
Max felt her fingertips lengthen into claws and tried to calm down, to reassure the wolf.
Unfortunately, Xavier was correct. The wolf was irrational and would get her killed. She needed to work in tandem with it if she was going to do this and make it out alive with him intact.
“Do you know if it’s the same people who..” she couldn’t finish the sentence.
Xavier shook his head, frowning. “Unfortunately, I don’t know. Even using Cyberno, Logan is too drugged to get a solid informational read on. I was very lucky to find him as it is.”
Max had watched him use the strange machine off to the side of his desk before. He’d explained that its essential purpose was to amplify his own abilities so that he could detect other mutants around the world. It was a prototype, but he was working with Hank on an upgraded model that he hoped would be ready for test trials in another month.
Max closed the folder and held it to her chest, her voice sounding empty.
“Can I borrow a car?”
She hated asking for favors, but hitchiking was hardly a reliable or efficient method of transportation. She wanted to get up there as quickly as possible. God only knows what they were doing to him. The thought turned her stomach.
Scott placed a gentle hand on her shoulder.
“I’ll fly you up.”
She looked back at him, her expression conflicted.
“Thank you.” She looked over at the door and murmured, “I really need to eat first. The run took a bit out of me.”
If she was going to do this, she would need to do it on a full tank.
Max sat at the kitchen table in dire form, wolfing down the raw fifteen pound roast that Ororo had picked up earlier that day.
“There goes tomorrow night’s dinner.” Jean sighed with a resigned smile.
Scott walked into the kitchen, his expression unreadable. Jean turned to face him while Max focused on her meal. She heard him pull out a chair and sit down as she shoved the last few bloody bites into her mouth. Max let her body shift back into hominid form and looked back over at them. They both wore strange expressions as they met her gaze.
Max licked her lips and said, “What? Did I miss a spot?”
She reached over to get a napkin and wiped her mouth.
Jean was the first to speak up. “We’re coming with you.”
Max blinked, then frowned. “You what?”
Scott leaned back in his chair and said, “You’re a member of my team. I can’t have you running off on a mission without backup.”
Max relaxed back into the chair, not knowing what to say.
“Since are you better able at tracking him, it only makes sense that you call the shots on this one.” Scott explained, adding – with a wry smile, “Just try not to get me shot again, okay?”
Max thought about it for a moment, then eyed Scott.
“This could get really ugly. It’s taking almost everything I’ve got to keep me seated at this table and not immediately changing to run up to Canada myself in fur.” She shivered and continued, “I don’t know if I can control her once we get up there – and she wants to kill everything that gets in her way. I don’t think I’ve ever been this angry – I know she hasn’t. Not much truly pisses the wolf off.”
Scott blanched and she could tell that he wasn’t at all comfortable with the idea. If she got out of hand, it would turn into a slaughterhouse pretty damned quick, no matter what weapons the guards had on hand. It was imperative that they understand this.
“You sure you want to do this?” Max asked, hugging her arms around herself.
Scott set his mouth in a hard line and nodded, his tone back to that commander tone he slid into when they were in the field or in a Danger Room session.
“We’ll need to keep the collateral damage to a minimum, if at all possible. The only way we can do that is by backing you up while you get in there and retrieve him.”
Max nodded, appreciating what it cost him to agree to this.
“I’m probably going to go in hard and fast at some point, and I can’t give you any guarantees about keeping body count down.”
“If I tag them before you get to them, will your wolf attack them?” he asked.
Max thought about it for a moment, then responded, “I’m not sure. I can’t say the same for the men that smell like they’ve had a direct hand in whatever’s been done to him, though. You need to be clear that they’ll be in pieces before we leave. That’s something I won’t be able to stop.”
Scott drew in a long breath, then said, “We’ll just have to play it by ear then. We’re not letting you go in alone.”
Max looked over to see Jean watching her with wary eyes.
“Just..if it looks like I’m losing it, get away from me as quickly as you can. If I’ve blacked out and she’s taken over, I don’t know if I’ll be able to tell you apart from the others.”
“Max..” Jean murmured.
Max cut her off, her tone soft.
“You know what I am, Red. I know it’s hard to forget when it’s not in your face, but – this is who I am.”
“I know. It’s just hard to realize that your best friend is a psychotic animal at times.” She murmured with a weak smile.
Max smiled and said, “Bitch.”
Jean’s lips curled into a genuine smile now as she replied, “Takes one to know one, Blondie.”
MARVEL owns the copyright on their own characters, but I’ve fussed with and taken liberties with canon, and Max is my own creation.
Chapter 1 :: Chapter 2 :: Chapter 3 :: Chapter 4 :: Chapter 5 :: Chapter 6 :: Chapter 7 :: Chapter 8 :: Chapter 9 :: Chapter 10 :: Chapter 11 :: Chapter 12 :: Chapter 13 :: Chapter 14 :: Chapter 15 :: Chapter 16 :: Chapter 17 :: Chapter 18 :: Chapter 19 :: Chapter 20 :: Chapter 21 :: Chapter 22 :: Chapter 23 :: Chapter 24 :: Chapter 25