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Collateral Damage (The Devil's Advocate Remix)

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Scott and Professor Lehnsherr are outside by the orchards. They're arguing - echoes of the argument Professors Xavier and Lehnsherr abandoned just ten minutes ago. There were no winners in that contest, and there don't look to be any in this one. Scott fights like a child - hurt and betrayal and other people's rhetoric underscored with panic - don't leave me! - which in the end is going to be just as ineffective as Professor Xavier's more philosophical reasoning.

Professor Lehnsherr - Erik - just Lehnsherr, now, reiterates his earlier points, calm voice masking the turmoil within. He and Professor Xavier have agreed to disagree, and agreed that it will be best for all concerned if Lehnsherr quietly takes his leave, although the storm raging against the mansion's roof indicates that Professor Xavier's agreement was made with considerable reluctance...

Down in one of the mansion's sub-basements, Hank McCoy shakes his head in an attempt to clear it, and turns back to the task of streamlining the degaussing belt that allows Scott to restrain his electromagnetic field. Hank has come a very long way in managing his considerable telepathic talent, but there are still times when it gets away from him. Considering the emotional upset of the evening, it is really not surprising that he is still picking up on some of the others' thoughts. It will be all right, though - he will concentrate harder on his task to drown out the confusion and pain upstairs, and hopefully will not overhear anything he shouldn't.

Hank chooses a pencil with slightly harder lead and sketches a few details into the schematic before him. The degaussing belt was Professor Lehnsherr's design originally, a fact that Hank is trying very hard not to think about. There will be time enough later to process the circumstances and implications of Professor Lehnsherr's departure - time in which, hopefully, he can achieve some distance from his compatriots and ensure that his thoughts are fully his own.

He sighs and contemplates his work. If he and Scott were to rewire the control matrix like so, it's possible that they could reduce the overall bulk of the belt and hopefully cut down on overheating as well, which besides being uncomfortable for Scott can be dangerous for the rest of them. Of course, it would also probably help if Scott would avoid disrupting Jean's finely-tuned control over her fiery powers -

Jean is upstairs in the shower, sitting in the bottom of the tub with her arms wrapped around her legs. Her clothes are steaming. She has no telepathy, like Hank does, but her room is close enough to Professor Xavier's study that she could hear the earlier argument in great detail. She cannot believe that Professor Lehnsherr would do this to them. He knows how important what they're doing is, how necessary every little bit of help will be, how much he means to Scott -

She scowls, and the theoretically cold water coming from the showerhead begins to evaporate a foot above her head. Scott was devastated when Professor Xavier told them Professor Lehnsherr was leaving. Betrayed. Jean has always been closest to Professor Xavier, because as the two with elementally-based powers they have a lot in common, and a tiny, selfish part of her is glad that if one of them has to leave, it's Professor Lehnsherr. This only makes her angrier, for Scott's sake; guilt and fury mixing because they've been abandoned by someone they should have been able to trust.

Her clothes are smoking. She takes a deep breath, and tries to calm herself. She knows Professor Lehnsherr has been badly hurt in the past, that he has good reasons to believe the things he does. He has survived what no one should have to go through... but why can't he just see? All this nonsense about the war coming - it will come a whole lot faster if a mutant army starts terrorizing the population! Their only hope, clearly, is to prove that they can be trusted - more, that they can be helpful -

The other part of her, the cold, patient part, tells her to be still. Professor Lehnsherr will come back. He will.

Hank sits back hard in his chair, breathing carefully. It has been quite some time since he has lost control of his powers to this extent. Not since the early days, in fact, when he was slowly realizing that the only reason he knew all the answers in class was because he could hear the teacher's thoughts, has he felt this... unfocused.

Perhaps his blood sugar is low and it is interfering with his concentration? There is a stash of Twinkies in his desk drawer for just these occasions and he unwraps one as he tries to turn his concentration back to his project.

What was he doing? Right, rewiring the control matrix. Risk of overheating don't think of Jean which means Scott's powers will fry every sophisticated electrical device within 100 meters, which will put that terrible, damaged look on Scott's face and which will also be extremely annoying. Hank would be the first to admit that he is not as good at electronics as either Scott or Professor Lehnsherr, but he has a knack for seeing problems in a different way that has proven to be just as valuable, and he is determined to put that knack to work now.

He chews absently on the end of his pencil. The control matrix is as streamlined as it's going to get with current technology, so it's time to switch his attention to the belt's armouring. It would probably be a good idea to look into lightweight Kevlar instead of steel plating, which should be both adequately protective and cooler. Of course, neither material will offer much resistance to something like Ororo's claws, but-

Ororo is calm. Her breathing is deep and even, and her body is relaxed. She listens to the storm rage around the mansion in a detached way, acknowledging its presence but refusing to allow it to break her composure. It has been a very upsetting evening, to be sure - the disastrous argument earlier came as a great shock to the others, although Ororo herself was not overly surprised. Professor Lehnsherr has always viewed the presence and role of mutants differently than Professor Xavier, and while she had hoped that they would continue to manage the delicate philosophical balance that they have thus far maintained, she is not terribly taken aback that it has faltered.

The next few weeks will be very trying, and she accepts this with as much grace as she can muster. Scott and Jean, while a good deal more mature than they have any right to be, are still very young, and they will not understand why Professor Lehnsherr has chosen to leave. Ororo does not agree with Professor Lehnsherr's viewpoint or his proposed methods, but she understands why he feels the way he does, and moreover, she understands why leaving is so much less painful than the alternative. Sometimes, the only victory one can attain is the absence of defeat.

She is not entirely sure how Hank will be affected by tonight's events -

Hank closes his eyes. To be honest, he is not sure how he will be affected by tonight's events either. He deeply respects both Professor Xavier and Professor Lehnsherr, and unlike Scott or Jean does not have a favourite between them. He believes in Professor Xavier's vision, to be sure, but Professor Lehnsherr is such a joy to work with that he cannot bring himself to wish for one over the other. In fact, the thing that disturbs him most about this schism is not the absence of a mentor, but the idea that they are already drawing lines in the sand, even amongst themselves. What will happen when this disagreement becomes about actual people and events, not just abstract theoretical positioning? What will happen when Professor Lehnsherr must attack and Professor Xavier must defend?

This night is not the worst that they will see. Hank is certain, right down to the core of himself, that one day this argument will come around again, and it will be violence and destruction instead of hurt feelings and impassioned debate. Professor Lehnsherr and Professor Xavier both believe too strongly in their respective positions to back down or compromise, and just as Professor Xavier has gathered those to him who support his ideals, Professor Lehnsherr will find allies as well.

Professor Xavier is reaching for the photograph on his desk -

No. Hank does not let himself think too closely on Professor Xavier's thoughts at this moment in time. For a man so carefully controlled, such an invasion would be the worst sort of indignity. Instead, Hank re-shields himself carefully. The storm outside has mostly passed, indicating that while Professor Xavier's emotions are undoubtedly still in turmoil, he has regained control of his influence over the weather. Hank knows that no one will bring up tonight's storm later - they all respect him too much for that. In a few days, perhaps, Scott will ask Professor Xavier to accompany him to someplace remote on the pretext of testing his own powers, and they will all pretend that it is not so that Professor Xavier can also allow his emotions to rage freely.

Hank can feel Professor Lehnsherr's presence fading away into the distance - he and Scott have apparently concluded their argument. He nudges Jean's mind gently, letting her know that Scott is headed back to the house and would probably appreciate some warming up, and then he tidies his workbench and leaves the sub-basement, turning out the lights as he goes.

In the future, there is uncertainty and pain and undoubtedly more hard truths. In the present, there are his friends and the comforting little lies that allow them to survive. He will make some hot chocolate for Scott and Jean, he will bring some tea to Ororo, and he will ask Professor Xavier - the Professor, now - if he would like to play a game of chess.

Hank is not as good at the game as Lehnsherr was, but he has a feeling that a working knowledge of strategy is something he will have need of in the future.