Long Have I Lived
by Ironraven, with the beta reading of Lychee Loving
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Logan stood in the doorway of the hanger. The three Blackbirds that were part of tonight's training flight flexed their wings and tails, stretching, spreading, curling them. The brilliant materials they were made of no longer had what he considered sane and rational control surfaces; instead, they changed their shape like a living thing- they could almost scratch their bellies.
He still remembered bringing in the first one from a mission, the laminate of the skin threatening to unravel, streaming smoke while structural warnings screamed, and with less than seventy seconds of fuel in the tanks. It was a tribute to the designers and the Institute's gadgeteers that Blackbird-1 had flown again after Russia as much as it was his and Kurt's skill as pilots.
Logan tapped headset he wore. "Blackbird flight: control systems show full range of motion."
There were two acknowledgments to him and to the lead aircraft. "We're waiting on you, Wolverine."
Headmaster Logan nodded, stepping briskly to the lead aircraft. This late in the term, there was only one instructor aboard each jet, and only as observers- the students were in charge.
As a team, the three aircraft would fly in formation through a simulated obstacle course drawn in over the ocean by the cockpit displays, then each pilot would make a touch and go at the real strip using instruments, then another one without. At night, they would be relying on their skills, their powers, and the runway lights: it was all very primitive and 20th century. The students had been told that the aircraft's autopilots had been deactivated, and they had, but the AI that managed flight operations was fully aware of what was happening and could override if a crash was likely to happen. It was perfectly safe, but the kids had the illusion that if they screwed up, they'd kill themselves and their classmates in a horrible fireball.
And if that wasn't enough, the pilots would go to the cargo bay, with the next student taking over, so they could make a solo parachute jump with only an altimeter, not even night vision if they weren't born with that. There were instructors already on the ground to calm their nerves, help them out of their jump harnesses and hand them a hot cup of tea and a blanket. The pattern would be repeated five times, with the instructor-observer taking over so the last student could jump. Once the last student had landed, they'd head back to the dorms.
The students would one day learn that Tower had their safety well within his electronic hands and the jump zone had telekinetics ready to catch them. But not until they were instructors. This exercise was one of those who showed who was a good pilot, and who was a great one. The night jump was there to give them something to be afraid of; could they fly the aircraft knowing that something scary was waiting at the end was there to simulate the terror of flying into the kind of danger that made legends.
All of them were good. Some a little less so- Logan could remember driving lessons that were worse, but not by much. But none of the young men and woman heard the words "Co-pilot has the aircraft", much less the message that Tower had intervened, the ultimate blackmark for a trainee Blackbird-driver's record. Each student flew the course, handed off to the next pilot, and made his or her jump.
The last pilot took the left hand seat silently as his friend headed for the back of the jet. Twitch had done fine, now it was Max's turn. He was the last one for a reason. The same reason he'd always be the last student to do any drill. He'd been raised at the Institute, he knew no other life. Nor did he want another life.
Logan still wasn't sure what to make of students like this; he was pretty sure Charles wouldn't have wanted to see the X-men become a warrior tribe, and he'd fought that impulse hard. Scott hadn't, from one point of view he'd taken the easier way, but he'd also had to find a way to get the X-men outside of the Long Island Mutant Reservation. The only ways to do that was to smuggle them out to Canada or Europe or anywhere else, or send them to the Avengers or SHIELD. Now, X-men were all over the world and they went where humans traveled, and the Reservation had become the expanded Institute. It had only been a few years, but they had emotionally scarred the first generation of the X-men and to some degree, the second.
TJ and Kendall been the first of what Logan considered the "second generation". Jason "Bluejay" Wagner-Pride had thought he'd had it rough growing up. He wasn't just the great grandson of Shadowcat and Nightcrawler, but also of Hank McCoy, with some Guthrie thrown in. Sure, his genes were the stuff of legend, but people didn't judge him by them. Max's fate was worse. It wasn't that his family expected him to get it right every time, the first time, far from it. Even his instructors didn't. But a lot of his peers did. "Nice and easy, kid."
Max toggled his mic, "Blackbird Flight: One is moving to the portside flanker position. Two, take the lead and call the formation." He throttled the engines back a fraction and slid left as he lost about forty meters of altitude as the second aircraft in the trio moved into the lead slot. Max's motions were smooth, but with a little bit of hesitation. He had begun to hesitate and be nervous when the Headmaster was watching, it has started about three weeks ago.
"Max, you can relax. Talk to me."
"I can't, you are an observer. For the purpose of this simulation, the pilot is to assume they are flying alone." The young man's jaw was clenched, his eyes scanning the the instrument console every few seconds, when they weren't taking in everything in outside the cockpit. In fact, he was looking at everything but the co-pilot's seat.
Logan grunted. "You've flown this exercise before. I've known you your entire life: I know you probably snuck into the simulator three nights ago and sweet talked House or Tower into giving you the map."
"That would be dishonorable, Headmaster." But the boy blushed a little as he rolled the aircraft onto a wingtip to slip through a simulated canyon. "But a wise strategy."
"Cut the crap, kid. Why aren't you talking to anyone? Your mother is worried."
Max's eyes flicked to the right hand seat angrily. "I have been speaking."
"No, you've asked people to pass you the peas; but you ain't sayin' anything."
"You benched me." Max's right hand came off the controls to stab an accusing finger in the air. "I'm just ask good as they are, or do I really have to do better than every other X-man?"
"Everyone else has a provisional team assignment but me. Why? What did I do wrong?"
"Ah, that." Logan nodded. "Why do you think?"
"Because of me and my frigging destiny!" Even angry, Max's eyes and hands didn't over compensate. If anything, the hesitation was gone. "I know I have to hit a higher mark than anyone else, don't lie to me and say I don't, so just tell me what I need to do."
"Ha. You score well on your own, kid." Logan was glad to see the anger. But the accusation wasn't true- Max had to hit the same marks everyone else did. Who his parents and grandparents were didn't mean a damn thing. The Headmaster was morally certain that the boy's grandfather would want to tear strips from anyone who said otherwise, and knew he was in a position to make every life at the Institute miserable if it was done. Logan weezed the question as he clenched his abs against the Gs, "What didn't you do?"
"I've busted," Max grunted as they stacked the gees like plates on his chest, "every damn record you ever set, and I don't even have the claws."
"You never asked me. WHOAH! Keep your eyes on the terrain, kid." Logan blinked as they missed the mark that simulated a mountain by maybe a meter, his hands almost on the stick. Even though he knew it was illusion for the exercise, it still looked very solid.
"I was in full control of the aircraft. Why should I ask you?"
"Because you've never asked for help."
"Don't want your help, I want to do it on my own."
"You've never once asked for help from anyone in your whole life. You've helped others, led when asked, and stepped aside for others to shine. If you didn't curse and chase girls I'd think you were strange."
"I got that from my grandfather! Wait-" Max buttoned his mic then reached up to kill the landing gear lights. "Trainer-One to Tower, request permission to make night VFR touch and go on runway one-one-two using natural light only." That wasn't part of the plan, but always that extra step. Max was always pushing himself- stronger, faster, smarter, he always thought he had to be. His weakness was his pride and the the fear of failure it camoflauged.
Logan laughed. They were having this conversation while simulating landing the aircraft on an empty stretch of highway or something- it wasn't like Blackbirds had never done that. He listened to Tower's voice granting permission, the synthetic mind's voice rich with an indulgent chuckle- Tower would never let any aircraft crash on his runways. Logan waited as the tires squeeched on the tarmac, then the roar as extra power was pumped to the turbines and they were going back up for more. "So?"
"Fine!" The anger was tight in his words. Max's growl was feral and deep. "What do I have to do to be on a pro-team? Help me." It took him a moment to remember his manners. "Please."
"Ask your teamleader: Twitch has been waiting for two weeks for you to ask him."
"WHAT! I'm on Twitch's team? That's all I had to do? Then what?"
"He'd have told you to ask me." Logan smiled smuggly. "See how easy that is."
There was a snarl. Max had never, ever asked for help. Not once in his life, never in his sixteen years. Even when he was learning to stand, he'd been too proud to ask for help. He'd fall down and get back up. He'd had his share of bumps and bruises and cuts and he never once went crying to adults, he always toughed it out, sucked it up. He'd ask how something was done, but then he'd do it and do it right. But not for help. He didn't need help. He didn't want help. He wanted to help his friends. He needed to help his team. He did the helping, not the other way around. "That is not funny, Wolverine."
"Hey, I ask people for help. Your mother and your aunt and your father all asked me for help when they were your age."
"Yeah, well... whatever. Have your joke."
Logan smirked. "I knew there was surly teenager in there."
"You had to wait this long to teach me this?"
"Figured you'd get here on your own- guess you aren't as brilliant we all figured." Both of them chuckled, even Max's was more rueful. "Now, go get your chute on, or I'll toss it out and make you fetch."
Max released his restraints with a grin, moving with a fluidity most could never rival, like his jointed were jeweled machines.
"Hey, Skippy- tell your mother not to wait up. Jay asked me if wanted to try his latest batch of starberry wine after the exercise."
Maximilian Monroe stopped at the hatchway. "OK Grampa. But if you aren't at breakfast, I'll come over and ring Jay's doorbell. Even if you don't get hangovers off that stuff, he does, and he'll complain all day."
It was one thing to be the grandson of Headmaster Logan, the latest generation of a mutant family that went to the beginning. The Wagner-Pride and Parker and Reed children always had the hurdle of expectation. The Gutheries were a sprawling clan, loud and able and no one could predict what their x-genes would do next, but they had it just as rough. But the Logan-Monroes, they had been Avengers and X-men before there were X-men or Avengers, and when there hadn't been either one. It was a lot to live up to.
Max's father had died on a mission when he was very young. He'd been raised by mother and grandfather. He'd wanted to be an X-man since he was very young, even before they knew what his genes would do to him. His few friends were those had accept him for being Maximilian Logan-Monroe, not the Headmaster's grandson with the fame and possible connections that promised- he didn't trust liars and sycophants.
In a few years, Logan was sure the boy would be ready for his own team. But for now, he'd have to learn to ask for help from those whom he would lead.
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Author's Notes: Rumors of my demise have been premature. Weapon neXt nears conclusion.