Welcome to the last moments of a young woman’s life. Her name is Jean Grey. For twenty minutes now, while her fellow X-Men sit helplessly in the ship’s radiation-proof life-cell, she has been piloting the starship space shuttle towards Earth through the worst solar storm in living memory. It was an all or nothing gamble – that her telepathic powers would protect her from the cosmic radiation long enough for her to fly the shuttle into the safety of Earth’s atmosphere – and for her friends, it may have paid off. But for Jean Grey…?
The blip drops onto the Deer Park radar out of nowhere, two hundred miles down range and heading for Kennedy Airport at better than fifteen hundred knots. An alert air traffic controller slaps his panic button, immediately clearing all traffic from the unknown’s flight path, while he tries in vain to contact the shuttle. There is no time to get ready: one minute the bogie is on the outer edge of the radar plot; the next, it is screaming low over Long Beach and Cedarhurst, in a desperate attempt to land before coming apart in mid-air.
Not that it makes much difference in the end. The X-Men hadn’t expected to make it this far. When the solar storm hit and the radiation sensors went of their scales, all of them knew that Jean Grey was as good as dead, and so were they… But then, they were in the atmosphere, the ship obviously under human control. They began to think they might have a chance after all. Until the landing…
It’s over quickly, the shuttle scattering wreckage and burning fuel across the heart of Kennedy’s runway complex as it slams through the last crash barrier and arcs out over Jamaica Bay. It lands once… twice… thrice… and then the Starcore Eagle One is gone with only a spreading oil slick to mark its passing.
“Made it!” Cyclops exclaims as he swims to the surface. The rest of the X-Men, along with Peter Corbeau, gather around Cyclops. “I was the last one out!” Colossus announces. “Then we’re all safe,” Storm says. All except the lady who got them down, Cyclops reminds her. And he’s going back for her right now!
“Are you mad?!” Nightcrawler exclaims and tries to stop him from diving underwater again. He cannot save Jean now… the radiation… the crash… Cyclops warns him to stay back: Nightcrawler stopped him once before; if he gets in his way this time, he will kill him!
Just then, Colossus calls attention to them: something’s happening to the water. “Right over where the shuttle sank!” Scott realizes. The scummy, garbage-strewn water glows with iridescent, rainbow fire… and then explodes.
Jean emerges from the water, fierce and high-flying, her fists in the air, inexplicably donning a green and gold costume, with a bird emblem on her chest. “Hear me, X-Men!” Jean proclaims. “No longer am I the woman you knew! I am fire! And life incarnate! Now and forever… I am PHOENIX!”
Suddenly, she closes her eyes, visibly in pain: “I… I…” Her mind is burning… so many memories… sensations… pain inside… tearing her apart! What’s happening to her? What has she done?! “Scott!” she screams before collapsing into the water again. Scott cries her name and grabs her: “I’ve got you.” He assures her she’s safe now: the flight’s over, they’re all back on Earth and she’s going to be all right. Desperate, he realizes she’s lying still… barely breathing… almost no pulse. He berates himself: he shouldn’t think like that. She’ll pull through: she’s got to.
Cyclops carries her ashore, followed by the X-Men. Colossus wonders about Jean’s costume. Cyclops remarks there are more questions here than they can handle right now: Jean creating a costume out of nothing, using powers she never had, the very fact that she’s still alive. Yet, she is still alive; Scott will settle for that. Professor X believes they should, for the moment, not compound their problems. Perhaps the fewer costumed super-beings present when the police arrive, the better. Nightcrawler assures him that’s as good as done and changes his image into that of Errol Flynn, courtesy of his image inducer. Storm follows suit; a simple enough matter to use her powers to re-polarize the unstable molecules of her costume into a Starcore uniform. Or any clothes she wishes, Corbeau remarks. That’s a neat trick; however, disguises aren’t going to help them much. After all, this is the second time the X-Men made a mess of Kennedy Airport. Nightcrawler admits that, unfortunately, so it is. Does Corbeau think it would do any good if the X-Men said they were sorry?
Nightcrawler’s question goes unanswered as the crowds and confusion grow. No one notices as the eight mutants slip unnoticed from the crash site. Thanks to Professor Xavier’s mental powers, no one remembers them being there, leaving Peter Corbeau the shuttle’s “sole survivor” and the X-Men free to live their own lives once more.
A few days later, Wolverine buys some flowers from a kiosk. The vendor explains flowers are a dollar a bunch, like the sign says. Is he buying them for a sick friend? Wolverine snaps that’s none of his business. He pays and grabs the flowers. As he walks the steps up to the hospital entrance, he wonders if he’s crazy acting like that; acting like a school kid still wet behind the ears… and for some broad! What’s Jean Grey to him anyway? He answers his own question: someone he likes… and wants. And what Wolverine wants… he gets. He’s never felt like this before, all hot and bothered over a frail. He’s never cared about anybody. He always liked being a loner. What the heck, he’ll surprise her with these flowers, maybe get to talking.
“What the…?” he exclaims in surprise, as he sees the rest of the X-Men plus Moira MacTaggert already sitting and waiting in the corridor outside Jean’s hospital room. He really should have expected that Jean’s friends would stay as close to her as possible until they knew her fate. Disillusioned, he tosses the flowers in the trash.
Moira anxiously remarks that the doctors have been with Jean such a long time. Is Charles sure there’s nothing he can do? Perhaps using his telepathic powers? Charles wishes he could, but he can’t. Every time he tries to use them to any great extent, his mind is savaged by his cursed dream. Even a little thing, like the mass hypnosis he used to get the X-Men away from Kennedy Airport, very nearly brought on another seizure. He cannot help the girl he once thought he loved as much as Moira. He cannot even help himself.
And so the hours drag, day moving into night and into day again, with no new word on Jean’s condition. They know she is alive, but that is all. Banshee tells Moira it’ll be over soon; he can feel it. Nightcrawler pities Scott. Cyclops is such a man of action; this endless waiting must be a living hell for him.
Sitting by himself, Scott contemplates all those wasted years, when he loved Jean and she loved him and neither of them had the sense to tell the other. And now if she dies, it’ll all have been for nothing. What does one do when the light goes out of one’s life? When Jean moved down to the city to build a life for herself outside the X-Men, he let her go because he thought the X-Men gave his life meaning. But they’re not: it’s Jean. It’s always been Jean, only he never realized it until now when he’s about to lose her forever.
Just then, Scott hears the doctor, Dr. McKay, talking to Corbeau. Dr. McKay tells Corbeau it’s not like him to argue with reality or to deny the evidence of his own eyes. The doctor comes out in the corridor to discuss with the mutants. Smiling, he quotes Sherlock Holmes to them: “Once you’ve eliminated the impossible, whatever remains – however improbable – must be the truth.” Full of agony, Scott asks him about Jean. Dr. McKay replies it’s going to be touch-and-go for a while but, with rest, proper care, friends to look after her, he and Dr. Corbeau think she’s going to be just fine.
The X-Men go wild with joy. Scott enters Jean’s room by himself. Kurt sees him slipping away when they all start cheering. The good news rocked him pretty hard – which isn’t surprising the way the strain of the last few days has been eating at him. Peeking inside the room, he sees Scott clinging over Jean. Kurt understands: there are times when everyone needs to be left alone. A relieved Scott bursts into tears: Jean is going to be all right. Thank God.
Back in the corridor, Nightcrawler tells Xavier that Scott is in the next room; he will be along in a moment. Charles replies he doesn’t need Scott to say what he has to say. But he can only say it if the rest of them do him the courtesy of quieting down. “No need t’ snap, Charles,” Banshee protests. Xavier apologizes; the pressures of the last weeks are beginning to tell on him, too. Which is part of the reason he’s sending these five X-Men on an enforced vacation…
Wolverine angrily unsheathes his claws and tells him to stick it in his ear: none of them is going anywhere until Jeannie’s better! Professor X urges him to control himself and, for once in his life, listen and think. They all heard the doctor. Jean’s recovery depends on the care and attention she receives – care that Charles and Scott are prepared to give her. Unfortunately, they can’t look after Jean and run the X-Men at the same time. Therefore, a brief and well-earned vacation is in order. Whatever happens, Xavier won’t have them staying around the hospital; they’ll just get in the way.
Banshee is not sure he agrees with what Xavier’s saying – but Xavier is the boss. If he’s still undecided about where to send them, Banshee thinks he can fill that bill. Banshee’s lawyer, Mr. Flaherty, wrote him to inform him he’s inherited the Cassidy ancestral home. Banshee produces Flaherty’s letter and Xavier asks to read it. The castle is in a remote part of County Mayo, out of the Atlantic coast; few conveniences, fewer people. Professor X finds it an excellent suggestion. He thanks Sean and asks them all to leave as soon as arrangements can be made. He wishes them a good time.
Nobody echoes Xavier’s sentiment – not in the hospital, and not at the X-Men’s Westchester mansion headquarters, where they discover they all have American identities and passports, authentic and (so the Professor tells them) quite in order. But their mood begins to change once they fly into Dublin, to spend a week sightseeing and winding down in Ireland’s capital before heading west towards County Mayo. Indeed, by the time they detrain in Balina and switch to a hired car for the last leg of their journey, some of the X-Men are actually beginning to enjoy themselves.
Some of them, however, are merely getting… sore. Wolverine complains about Banshee’s driving: what’s with the bumps? Didn’t he ever learn to drive, for crying out loud? Banshee smilingly suggests that Wolverine shouldn’t be getting himself into an uproar; that’s how they build their roads here, with character. Ororo suggests they should build their automobiles to match – say, with springs and softer seats? She would have done better to fly. Sean agrees it’s a beautiful day for it, but Charles did tell them not to draw attention to themselves. Colossus happily reminds him that the Professor is not riding in this four-wheeled torture chamber. Banshee is amazed: is that a joke Peter is cracking? Will wonders never cease? Sean reassures them their torment is almost over, though: they have arrived.
Cassidy Keep was first built by Liam Cassidy over a thousand years ago to defend this stretch of coastline from Viking raiders. It was rebuilt a score of times over the centuries as it stood against every invader who tried to conquer it. Ever proud, ever defiant, its tall, forbidding walls stained with the blood of a hundred sieges. But in all the Castle’s glorious history, those walls had never fallen to force of arms.
“Uglaublich!” Kurt exclaims upon seeing the breathtaking castle. This is incredible – and did Banshee say he grew up here? Sean confirms he did. Nightcrawler thinks it must have been marvelous. He supposes it’s time for him to switch to his human guise. Wolverine is not so sure about that. In a place like this, he figures Kurt will fit right in the way he is. Storm wonders how they get in. Banshee rings the bell, as they wait for Mr. O’ Donnell to throw the drawbridge.
Unbeknownst to them, someone spies them through a monitor: Banshee’s cousin, the devious Black Tom Cassidy. The villain realizes his cousin has come, after all, and brought friends with him, it seems; five flies, winging their ways into Black Tom’s web, never to escape alive! He turns to Eamon O’ Donnell and reminds him his orders: the man is to escort them in, make them comfortable, but give them no inklings that anything’s amiss. O’ Donnell refuses to do that. He’s done evil thing in Black Tom’s service, but he’ll be no party to the murder of innocent people. Black Tom is furious to see O’ Donnell defy him. Has Eamon forgotten the lives that Tom holds in the palm of his hand? The lives of those Eamon holds dear held hostage for his good behavior? “And you dare defy me?!” Tom roars. Beating O’ Donnell with his shillelagh, his traditional Irish stick, he insists that Eamon be party to whatever he, Black Tom Cassidy, tells him, or he’ll watch those who love and trust him die in agony! Is his meaning clear? “Aye, curse yer butcher’s heart, it’s clear as crystal,” O’ Donnell replies.
After Eamon leaves, an unseen man standing next to Black Tom argues that Tom is a fool to trust the steward. Tom retorts that’s where he is wrong. As long as the families are in Black Tom’s powers, Eamon will do whatever he commands. He’ll even betray a man he loves like his own son.
Now inside the castle, Storm looks around and wonders how anything can live here, grow here; this place is nothing but dead, cold stone. She muses that it’s pressing in on her, caging her. Banshee disagrees with her. His boyhood here was the happiest time of his life. Young Sean Cassidy fought more dragons and rescued more damsels in distress… Eamon interrupts him: if Sean doesn’t mind, it’s time all of them were getting settled.
O’ Donnell leads them on, as Sean introduces him as the castle’s seneschal: the steward of the house. If they need anything, they should ask O’ Donnell. Sean asks about Eamon’s families, the little ones. Eamon nervously replies they’re… well.
O’ Donnell leads Storm to her room. He trusts it’s satisfactory. Ororo replies it looks all right. O’ Donnell informs her that dinner will be served promptly at eight and moves on, to lead the rest of the X-Men to their rooms.
Left by herself, Storm exclaims that, even though Banshee is so happy to be home, she will only be happy the day she leaves this castle forever. Jean would keep saying Cassidy Keep has “bad vibes” for Ororo – and it does. But Storm refuses to be ruled by her fears. She must force herself to relax. And she knows precisely how to do it. For when the goddess of the storm wishes to refresh herself and calm her nerves, how better than by summoning her own summer shower? Instantly, she proceeds to create a mini shower of rain for her own pleasure. God, how she needed this. If she closes her eyes, she can almost imagine herself back in Kenya.
At eight o’clock, all dressed up, her hair styled in a beehive, Ororo is about to leave, when Nightcrawler, still in his costume, teleports inside her room: “Behold, fair damsel… the furry felon!” I’ve beg your pardon?” Storm responds. Nightcrawler explains he came to escort her to dinner. After all, why should Colossus have all the fun? “Why indeed?” Storm smirks. Is he going dressed like that? Kurt reminds her of his handy-dandy image inducer. With it, he can go as whomever he wishes. He transforms into Clark Gable as Rhett Butler in Gone with the Wind: “Frankly, Scarlet… can I have the first dance?” Ororo seems bemused. “No?” Kurt insists and then changes his appearance into that of Fred Astaire in Flying Down to Rio, suggesting they take a fast flight down to Rio, then. After all, he can Rio them in with the best – if she knows what he means, he adds, as he shifts into Groucho Marx. Ororo giggles in response. “Then again, there’s always the usual,” Kurt adds and assumes the standard human form he usually adopts: that of Hollywood star Errol Flynn.
Now that Kurt’s show is over, it’s Ororo’s turn for a quick change. She removes her kimono and reveals a V-neck dark red dress. How does she look? Kurt is breathless. Storm admits she’s never worn anything like this before. Hesitantly, she asks him if she’s pretty. Kurt firmly declares she’s one of the most beautiful women it has ever been his privilege to know. “If that’s true, then thank you… I think,” she replies.
In his room, Banshee sees it’s almost time for dinner. He’d best be getting a move on. If he could only shake this feeling that something’s wrong. Nothing looks out of place, and yet, there’s the way Eamon froze up when Sean mentioned the families. He’d best take him aside at dinner, get him to level with him.
Sean runs into Wolverine and Colossus at the corridor, both men smartly dressed. “Hey, what gives, Irish?” Wolverine snaps as he reminds him that O’ Donnell said this was a formal shebang; why is Sean coming to the table looking like a stable hand? “It’s like this, short-stuff…” Banshee tells him, pipe in hand. “Watch the mouth, bub,” Wolverine retorts. Banshee reminds him that his name is Sean, not Irish. Anyway, since he happens to be the lord of this manor, he gets to come to dinner dressed however he pleases.
Meanwhile, Kurt tells Peter to back off: tonight, Ororo is his date. Ororo insists she’s no one’s “date.” She enjoys being with both of them. Which means that the three of them will go into dinner together, as equals. Agreed? Ororo takes each man arm-in-arm.
Suddenly, the floor below them gives way. “Hannigan’s bog… the floor! It’s a trapdoor!” Banshee exclaims. They’re being pulled down! While falling, Banshee urges them all to go into costume. Thanks to the unstable molecules of their clothes, the X-Men switch back to their costumes. Kurt quips it was nice vacation while it lasted.
At the basement, they are greeted by Black Tom Cassidy, comfortably seated on a throne, with Juggernaut by his side. “Why, dear cousin Sean, how nice of you to – shall we say – drop in?” In case they haven’t guessed, he and his muscular friend are the villains of the piece. He introduces himself. Juggernaut addresses the students of his deeply-hated stepbrother, Xavier. He also introduces himself. He knows who the X-Men are. Tom and Juggernaut are going to do what no other villains in the history of the world have been able to do: they’re going to kill the X-Men!
Banshee wonders if that’s meant to scare them. Does he plan to talk them to death? Black Tom suggests he bluster away; it’ll do him no good. They’re in the dungeons now, deep inside Cassidy Crag, with countless tons of rock between them and freedom. They have no chance: this place will be their tomb.
Panicky thoughts inundate Ororo’s mind: Tomb… closed in… rock all around me… no way out… rock burying me… crushing me… can’t breathe… can’t think… Mother! Help me! She unleashes a terrible scream: “Nnnooooo!” “Mein Gott… that scream?” Kurt gasps. Wolverine realizes it’s Storm – she’s flipped out!