Hero Under Pressure

by Mara Greengrass


AUTHOR'S E-MAIL: [email protected] Feedback is better than chocolate.
PERMISSION TO ARCHIVE: Yes, just let me know.
CATEGORY: Gen, drama
RATINGS/WARNINGS: R, for torture and crude language
SUMMARY: When Wraith is away, the guards of Weapon X will play.
CONTINUITY: This takes place during Ultimate X-Men #10, except that I've added extra time between the India mission and Wolverine being brought in. Hey, Marvel time has never been like real time anyway... DISCLAIMER: The X-Men and the Ultimate universe belong to Marvel and other entities with expensive lawyers. I am making no profit from this story. NOTES: No, this is not my standard pink and fluffy fare. This plot bunny tackled me while I was reading a discussion on the Red Shades list about why writers torture their characters. I've made a few (I hope) logical assumptions about how things work in the Weapon X facility, like why Scott doesn't just blow the place up. Thanks to Askani'daughter for the beta.

//thoughts//


 

I started out trying to be the tough and fearless leader my team expected, but honestly, after a while, Weapon X made me numb. I walked, talked, ate, even managed to dredge up a smile for Bobby, but most of my brain was just shut down.

Under normal circumstances Jean might have helped me, but she was still struggling with killing for the first time. Nightcrawler and I couldn't even communicate, so he certainly wasn't going to help.

I lived moment to moment, staring at the metallic walls of our prison cell. Waiting to die, even hoping for death a little bit. Shamed by my inability to save my team-mates, I figured this was the end. It couldn't get any worse.

Naturally, the universe took that as a challenge.

It started out pretty harmless. This guard in the typical green fatigues would stand in the hallway outside the cell and glare at us, especially at me.

He wasn't exactly the most prepossessing specimen of a guard I'd ever seen, short, blond, kind of wiry, with these huge ears that made him look vaguely bizarre, like some cartoon character. I got the feeling he was the kid who always got beaten up at recess.

So, he'd come and glare at me, ogle a little at Jean, compared to everything else that was going on I really didn't think too much about him. I tried to look steady and unafraid when he showed up, but not angry. No need to be excessively provocative, after all.

After a while, I stopped treating him as a serious threat. Sure, he was a guard and theoretically held the power of life and death over us, but he didn't actually *do* anything.

Of all the mistakes to come back to haunt me, I hadn't expected complacency to top the list. Until the nameless guard came to take me out of the cell.

It was the first time I heard him speak. "C'mon, mutie," he said, gesturing with his gun.

Jean and I exchanged confused glances and I heard her in my mind telling me to be careful.

The rest of the prisoners watched silently as he herded me out and down a brightly-lit hallway to a nondescript door, which opened when I stood in front of it.

The square room, approximately three meters on each side, contained only a green plastic chair and a sink and toilet on the far wall. Its walls were the same silvery-blue metallic of the rest of the facility, and the smell was of an unused room, sort of sterile.

I walked toward the chair, only to be shocked by a blast of pain from the neural implant that left me writhing on the floor.

"That's my seat," he said, sitting down and fondling (that's the only word I could use) the implant controller.

Slowly, I rolled over and prepared to stand up.

"Stay there," he said, "I think I like you better on your knees."

//Okay, this is officially getting weird,// I thought. I knew Ororo had been raped, and I wondered if it was my turn. It's not like that would have been a novel experience for me. And besides, if he got near me without another soldier as backup, I had a chance to knock him out.

Then nothing happened. I kneeled on the floor, getting my breath back, and he sat in the chair and looked at me.

"You know why I hate muties?" he asked after a while.

The words tripped off my lips without passing through my brain. "Because we're cool and you're not?"

He casually pressed a button and I lost an immeasurable amount of time in pain.

I fought back a sob as the pain eased. Damn! None of the other guards used the implant so casually as an instrument of torture, not even Sabretooth. Wraith seemed to see it as a tool with specific purposes and until now the guards had used it as such.

Apparently this guy had other ideas. Lucky me.

"The reason I hate muties," he said, continuing calmly as if he hadn't just inflicted unimaginable pain, "is that you think you're so much better than the rest of us."

//Oh brilliant, Summers,// I thought, //feel free to mouth off and hit on this guy's sore spot. That's *always* a good idea.// I concentrated on breathing evenly and calming the pounding in my skull. It felt like a few brain bits had broken loose and were bouncing around.

He got out of the chair and started pacing around the edges of the room, running his fingers through his hair. "That's what I like about working here, showing you your proper place. I couldn't do anything until now. But since Colonel Wraith and his flunkies are off in Washington, you and I get the chance to have a little chat about mutie rights. And the fact you don't have any."

Shit, Wraith was gone? He might be a sadistic bastard, but he needed us alive and more or less functional. This guy looked crazy enough to not care. I expected him to start frothing at the mouth any moment.

"I'm gonna break you," he said, leaning on the back of the chair and glaring down at me. "You fucking freaks aren't tougher than a real human, and I'm gonna show you that."

He couldn't see my eyes, but they narrowed. //Maybe mutants aren't tougher than your average Homo sapiens, but Scott Summers doesn't break for just any bargain basement, B-movie prison guard. If he wants it, I'm gonna make him sweat for it.//

He laughed and strode out of the room. I yearned to blast a hole in his back and cursed the implant that would blast my brain to pieces if I used my eye beams inside the compound. Instead, I examined my latest prison in hopes of finding either a way to escape or something I could use as a weapon.

******************************

The guard came back an unidentifiable amount of time later, maybe an hour or two. I was waiting just inside the door when it opened, hoping to jump him, but he triggered the implant before stepping through the doorway. Somewhere beyond the pain radiating from my skull, I heard laughter.

When the pain stopped, I slowly lifted myself to my feet and looked at him with my most implacable glare. I had the momentary satisfaction of seeing him step backwards in fear before he remembered I was a prisoner and he was the one with all the weapons.

He pulled his assault rifle around and waved it at me. "Move back against the wall."

"Ready to shoot me now?" I asked, calculating the distance between us. He stepped back again.

"Against the wall, now!"

The distance was too great, there was no way I could tackle him before he detonated my implant. I cursed under my breath and moved against the wall behind me.

His courage came back, and he smiled. "I learned a new trick."

"Good dog, did you get a treat?"

The smile faded to leave naked hatred behind. "I'm gonna have to break you of that habit."

"What, being smarter than you? Not likely."

He pressed several buttons on the implant controller. I tensed, waiting for the pain in my head.

I was shocked into immobility when the pain began in my stomach and radiated outwards, growing in intensity until I felt as if I was going to explode. I sank to my knees trying to stifle a scream when the pain reached my groin. Bile gathered in my throat and I retched helplessly on the floor.

When the tears cleared from my eyes, I saw him sitting in the chair again, hands clasped around one knee and looking thoroughly pleased with himself. "I can do that to any part of your body, for whatever amount of time I want. Cool, huh?"

"You are one sick bastard," I said. My arms would barely support me when I sat up.

"Yeah, but I'm the sick bastard who's gonna rape your girlfriend someday soon."

I wanted to pummel him into a pile of jelly on the floor, but I was busy trying to remember how to breath.

"You know," he continued, "Colonel Wraith has been way too easy on you. I mean, a little experimentation is great, and the trick he played with your little cunt in India was priceless, but if he wants to control you muties he's gotta be meaner. Broken bones aren't enough."

I closed my eyes for a few moments, seeing the devastation on Hank's face as he was thrown back into his cell, a beast in body as well as name.

My captor continued. "This sissy stuff he's been doing is too slow. He hasn't been using enough good old-fashioned pain to bring you freaks around to the right way of thinking. So, first, I'm gonna..."

I concentrated on regulating my breathing and pulse, letting his words wash over me. I couldn't let him continue to goad me while he had the upper hand. I would bide my time and when I got the chance I'd rip his lungs out and then use his guts for guitar strings.

When he got bored with taunting me and left, I dragged myself over to the sink to rinse out my mouth with cold water.

Then, I slumped against the wall and cursed everything and everyone I could think of: my parents for dying, the Professor for getting me into this, Logan for showing up, the government of the United States for creating Weapon X, and the entire human race for existing.

******************************

I awoke disoriented from a catnap, looking wildly around the room for the three- headed scaly lizard that had been chasing me in my dream. It took my brain a few moments to remember that my situation was actually worse than the dream.

I had no way to track how long I'd been in this room, but it had to be at least a few days, because I could feel my system was getting low on energy.

Time was hard to judge in the Weapon X compound. They made certain we couldn't track the weather or daylight or the phases of the moon or any of those hundreds of small signals that people use to gauge the passing of days, months, and seasons. Hell, they even seemed to vary our feeding schedule so we couldn't use that to track time. The lights were always on in our cells, and the only time we saw the sun was when they sent us on a mission.

The imprisonment was hard on everyone, but in some ways it was hardest on me because my powers are run by the sun. So, apparently, are many of my essential bodily functions. After I collapsed in my cell, Dr. Cornelius insisted that Wraith put me in a room with sunlight on a regular basis. Not a window, mind you, but sunlight.

But the last time I'd seen sunlight had been days ago. I propped myself up against the wall, knees up and face in my hands, evaluating my physical situation. The answer I came to was clear: not good.

I could feel the lack of sunlight weakening my body, aided by repeated use of the implant. I was starting to get random tingles and twinges through my nervous system. I could only hope that whatever damage had been done wasn't permanent.

Physical evaluation complete, I leaned my head back against the smooth, cold wall, hoping the chill would ease my headache.

It couldn't do much for my inner turmoil. What did I do to deserve this? What did *Bobby* do? What was happening to the rest of them while I was in here? Was someone doing something like this to Jean? I couldn't trust anything my captor said, all I could do was worry and wait for him to come back.

And he always came back with a new game to play.

****************************

The next set of games knocked me repeatedly unconscious, which made it even harder to track the passage of time.

I drifted slowly back into my body, trying to remember what had come before. The floor was cold against my cheek, and if there was a part of my body that didn't hurt, I couldn't name it. I tried to ignore the pain and concentrate on where my visor dug into my cheek, using that focus to wake up.

My eyes refused to open, and I was disinclined to argue with them. Looking at my captor could hardly improve the situation.

Then the steel-toed boot connected with my stomach. Again. I choked and my body convulsed around the point of impact. Early on, he'd taken care to stick with things that kept him away from me, in case I managed to muster a physical attack. He didn't bother now, sure I was too weak to hurt him. The worst thing was, he was right.

"Sit up, freak," he said, and I slowly made it back to a seated position, dragging my scattered wits together. How long had I been unconscious? What the hell day was it, anyway?

My captor sat back down in the chair. "What a great set-up this place is," he said, slapping his knee in apparent good humor. "They even provide soundproofed and psi-shielded rooms."

How convenient. One stop shopping for all your lunatic needs.

A grin spread across his face as he contemplated me. "You think you're so smart. I heard you tell the other freaks about all your plans to escape back when we caught you. But you're still here."

I still don't know why I said that about having escape plans, I knew how dumb it was even as I spoke. But everyone looked so lost, so afraid, I had to say *something*. I had to sound like the confident leader.

"You're still here," he repeated, "and now you're mine."

"What do you want from me?" I asked, my voice scratchy from yelling. I winced at the sound.

"That's the best part," he said. "Nothing. There's nothing you can do that will make me stop. Nothing you can say. Nothing you can think." He leaned forward. "Because I hate everything about you."

My throat was dry and I fought back a shiver. How the hell could I outmaneuver him when he wasn't going to maneuver?

He laughed and held up the implant controller. "I've always wanted to test the limits of this thing. It's working pretty good so far, don'cha think?"

"You can't kill me or Wraith will kill you," I said, hating the desperate tone of my words.

"Haven't you ever heard of 'shot while trying to escape'? He'll believe you tried it. Besides, he mainly needed *you* to control the telepath. And that's done. Heck, I'll bet all he has to do is talk about you and she'll jump." He leered at me. "You must be a pretty good lay for her to go to all that trouble for you. She's a pretty little thing. Definitely next on my list."

**********************************

Time dragged on, pain came and went, and my body weakened further.

Left alone after another session, I sank down in a corner and began to regret abandoning Magneto to rejoin the Professor. It didn't matter that the X-Men had saved the President's daughter, we still were nothing but living weapons or freaks to the humans. Everything I'd done to help humans, all for nothing.

My whole body shuddered. I didn't want my captor to see tears, but I wasn't sure I had the strength to fight them anymore.

//Some hero I am, crying in my cell.//

I looked down at my hands, which shook where they lay in my lap. I clasped them together, but couldn't control the shaking. Lack of willpower or nervous system damage?

//How the hell did I get myself into this?// I asked, wrapping both arms around my aching stomach. //What brought me back to the X-Men, instead of supporting Magneto?//

I wiped away a few escaping tears. //My great love of humans? Hah, that's laughable. I didn't exactly have great experiences with them before the Professor found me. I should have let Magneto wipe them out.//

//Did I come back out of loyalty to the Professor? Please, I'm grateful to him for getting me off the streets, but that manipulative bastard doesn't exactly inspire great loyalty. I wouldn't be surprised if our capture by Weapon X was just another part of his master plan.//

The door hissed open and I tried to glare at my captor, but the defiance was hollow. I suspect he knew that as well as I did. I felt myself flinch like one of Pavlov's dogs when he held up the implant controller.

"See, now we're getting down to the real you," he said. "Cringing, whining like a dog, I knew it'd happen."

My brain felt as sluggish as my body, and I couldn't formulate a response.

//Fuck, I'd hate to think that I'm here because being a hero was a habit. Maybe I've just forgotten how to do anything else? It's not like I'd acquired a lot of useful skills before the Professor found me. At least, not ones I'd like to keep using.//

With a flash of bitter humor, I thought, //I certainly didn't come back to the X-Men for the chance to eat Hank's cooking, or because of the sex, 'cause I don't want the former and Logan was getting all of the latter.//

My captor was ranting, and my eyes glazed over. //I'd love to say I stuck around the hero biz because it's what I'm good at, but I let my team get caught by the bad guys, so that doesn't cut it. We're all going to die in the service of the bastards of Weapon X, and there isn't a damn thing I can do about it.//

**********************************

When I finally slept, my dreams were worse than usual. I saw Ororo, beaten and bloody, white-clad scientists tearing out Peter's heart, Bobby dying in his cell, Hank turned into a ravening animal, Logan chained to a table and flayed. Last came Jean, naked and bruised, asking me why I didn't save her.

"I tried!"

"Did you?" She asked, her expression serious. "Or did you just give up?"

"No! I didn't give up...but what could I do?"

"Maybe nothing except hold onto hope," she said. "But if you're not looking for opportunities, you won't see them." She paused. "I love you, Scott."

I tried to respond, but the words stuck in my throat, and when she died in my arms, I awoke, tears streaming down my cheeks. //Hope? It's easy for a figment of my imagination to talk about hope.//

I pounded my fists on the floor with the little strength I had left. //Hell, I *have* given up, I don't want to live anymore. And why should I care? It's over. We're going to die.//

I closed my eyes and sat for a long time, feeling empty.

**********************************

When the guard came in, I couldn't even summon up the energy to flinch. I just looked at him and vaguely wondered when he was going to kill me.

He strolled over to the chair and leaned against it, considering me. "You know," he said, "this was almost too easy. Maybe next time I'll try doing it without using the implant, just to see how long that takes."

Deep in my brain, something jumped at the words "next time." I tried to smother it, but my treacherous subconscious dragged up my dream, stopping particularly on Jean's death.

He loomed over me. "D'you hear me? I've won, I've beaten you."

I wanted to argue with him, but the words wouldn't come.

He nudged my knee with his foot and I just looked back at him. "You're a little wimp, mutie. Will your girl be braver than you?"

I summoned up a minor league glare for that.

"Pretty soon we'll have lots of muties to play with around here, when the damn governments of the world get off their asses and see what they need to do." He was getting in stride now, off on one of his favorite rants. I closed my eyes.

//Why am I here?// I asked myself again. //Why did I want to be a damn hero?//

I ran through all the reasons in my mind again, and then stopped cold, as my brain finally pointed out what should have been obvious.

//I didn't fight the Sentinels and Magneto and anti-mutant prejudice because somebody told me to, or for some reward. I did it because I couldn't do anything else and still be me. I tried Magneto's way, but I knew it was wrong for me from practically the first moment in the Savage Land.//

I opened my eyes and looked at my captor. In my dream, Jean told me I wouldn't see my opportunity if I wasn't looking.

//If I've stopped believing in peaceful coexistence, if I no longer believe in what I tried to do before Weapon X, then it doesn't matter what happens to me, I'm already dead on the inside.//

I inventoried my physical state and concluded it was grim, but not entirely hopeless for one last shot.

//I've seen the worst humanity has to offer, but if I got out of here, I'd go back to trying to save them, because that's who I am. That's what makes me better than this bastard, and that's what he'll never understand. That's what Magneto never understood.//

Deep breath. "You're a moron," I said, interrupting his rant.

"What?" He looked like the chair had jumped up and bitten him.

"Every moment you've spent in this room just proves how superior I am," I said, enjoying myself for the first time in God knows how long.

His eyes bulged until I hoped they would explode, and he loomed over me, looking like a psychotic clown. "You fucking freak, haven't you learned not to talk to me that way? I can make you hurt. I can kill you."

"But that'll only prove me right." I gathered my strength and drew up my upper body so I could grin fiercely at him. "You lose, you bastard. You'll never break me."

His mouth opened and closed like a fish as I crawled the few feet toward him, muscles screaming in agony. My head swam as I gathered my legs under me.

"Hey, what're you doing?"

//I love you, Jean,// I thought, launching my weakened body at the guard. He didn't have time to aim his gun but had his finger on one button of the implant controller just as I got my hands around his throat.

Pain washed through my skull, as agonizing as the first time, but I kept my fingers around his throat. If he killed me, I was going to take him with me.

We lurched backwards, once, twice, until we bumped into the cell door and his presence opened it. We staggered out into the hallway. I felt consciousness and my fingers slipping away.

//At least I'll die free of that cell,// I thought as I slid to the ground, my vision narrowed and finally went black.

***************************

"What the fuck is going on here?" a familiar voice shouted.

//Colonel Wraith? Well, I'm sure as hell not in heaven.// I struggled to open my eyes or move a limb, as Wraith and my captor yelled at each other.

I struggled to hold onto consciousness, hearing bits of conversation overhead. I heard my captor dragged away, still screaming and probably frothing at the mouth.

Wraith nudged me with his foot and when I groaned, he said, "He's still alive, take him to Dr. Cornelius, see what he can do."

Dr. Cornelius got a day to patch me up before the guards--under Wraith's watchful and evil eye--dumped me back in the cell with Jean and Nightcrawler. Half my brain cheered to see them alive while the other half watched Wraith.

He shook his head and rolled his eyes as Jean helped me struggle to my feet. I wasn't going to face my enemies on my knees anymore. Wraith waited impatiently until my attention was on him, then spoke, "What did you do to that idiot that pissed him off so badly?"

I couldn't help the grin that flickered across my face, "I'm alive."

"Whatever," he said with a shrug, turning to walk away.

"You know," I said, "you're going to fail in the end. You're gonna be brought down by your own evil. And I'll be there to watch."

Wraith's scarred face looked startled. Unable to come up with a response, he fled the scene. A small victory, but all mine.

Jean put her arms around me, and I held her tight against my chest, tears of relief springing to my eyes.

I stood in my cell, surrounded by my friends and teammates, and looked out at the guards. No longer numb, I had a mission: to survive.

--end--