The More Things Change...

The More Things Change…

By: Addie Logan (Addie_Logan@yahoo.com)

Disclaimer: Most of these characters are not mine, excluding all the new X-Men except Rachel Summers (sort of—her name only). Marvel owns everything else. I'm making no money off this—don't sue me. Also, this is simply a possible future, so I've changed a few things and done some things that I've just always wished would happen. In other words, don't email me telling me how I've gone against the real story and how I've put people together that aren't really couples and brought people back from the dead. I know I have, I just don't care. :) And hey, if you can't bend the characters to your will, then what is the point of fanficiton in the first place?

Thanks: I'd like to give a special thanks to both Heather Radomski for all those ideas she gave me when we were supposed to be doing our work in physics (at least we're both passed, Heather!), and to Alex Hakim for those long chats that led to so many of my ideas (marshmallow pokers and all, *lol*). You guys are my muses. ;)

Feedback: Please send me email letting me know what you think. I'd be eternally grateful!

Author's Note: I just wanted to let the readers know that Adanya is a name meaning "her father's daughter." The other names I basically picked at random, although a few are named for family members. Also, I wanted to say, as far as names go, that I actually came up with Marie's long before the X-Men movie came out. Sorta weird, huh? =)

It is a future not as bleak as the ones previously predicted. Although mutants aren't exactly part of "accepted" society, much of the anti-mutant hate groups have quieted down the majority of their activities, as have many of the groups of "evil" mutants. Due to this, most of the X-Men have settled down and taken the chance to start families. About fifteen years ago, Charles Xavier High School was founded in New York in order for a large group of mutants to attend a school where they feel as if they really belong, with many of the former X-Men choosing to become part of the faculty. In addition, many of their children have either graduated from the school or are currently attending. It is these children who are called upon to become the newest group of super heroes known as the X-Men…

The More Things Change

By: Addie Logan

"Okay class, close your books. Time for a pop quiz," the teacher announced.

The students groaned. Suddenly, a barrage of fireworks erupted from the teacher's hands. The class grew silent and closed their books.

Rachel Summers shivered a little. "Does it seem a little cold in here to you guys?" she whispered.

"It does seem a little cooler than usual," Ric LeBeau replied.

Adanya Logan, known to her friends and family as "Addie" but preferably just simply "Logan," blew out. "I can see my breath," she commented.

Kacie Drake shrugged. "Doesn't seem so cold to me."

Logan rolled her eyes. "Kacie, you can turn yourself into a giant ice cube. Nothing feels cold to you."

In the front of the room, Jubilation Lee, formerly the youngest member of the X-Men, and now a high school physics teacher, felt the temperature drop. She walked over to the door, peaked out, and sighed. She came back in and walked over to one of the students. "You can make fire, right?" she asked him.

The kid nodded. "Sure can, Ms. Lee."

"Do you think you could, um, melt the hallway?" she asked. The boy nodded and followed her out.

Realization hit Kacie and she placed her head on her desk and groaned. Logan snickered a little and said, "Looks like your dad finally got revenge on my mom for her earlier prank."

"Dad? What dad?" Kacie asked, keeping her head down to hide her blush.

Rachel patted her on the back. "You know, Mr. Drake, the math teacher? Well, he's your father," she said with a giggle.

Kacie lifted her head just long enough to glare at Rachel.

Ric LeBeau pushed his reddish-brown-streaked-with-white hair out of red, glowing eyes. "Logan, did your mom say how long this 'math department vs. science department war' is going to last?"

Logan shook her head. "No, but with Bobby Drake and Jubilee at the head of it all, I don't see an end anywhere in the near future," she replied.

By this time the hallway had been melted into a puddle and Jubilee had returned along with the fire kid. Jubilee blew a strand of shoulder-length black hair away from her face. "Okay, pop quiz time," she announced, ignoring the fact that the science wing had been a skating rink only a few moments earlier.

No one complained about the quiz this time.

*** *** ***

Bobby Drake, the mutant once known as "Iceman," sat outside the principal's office, his head lowered like a little kid in trouble. A girl who appeared to be about thirteen years old sat beside him. "So, Mr. Drake, what are you in for?" she asked.

Bobby smiled at Marie LeBeau, a student in his first period class. She was one of those people who it seemed like you just couldn't be depressed around, and in a lot of ways she reminded him of his own daughter, Kacie—which was probably why the girls were such good friends. Even now that she was obviously in trouble, Marie still had a mischievous look in her green eyes. "Froze the science hallway," he said. "You?"

Marie sighed. "I threw charged peas at Zach 'Fear-Me-Cause-I-Could-Be-the-Next-Magneto' Tyson," she grumbled.

Bobby frowned as he thought of Zachary Tyson. The kid thought that his rich parents and his powers that were reminiscent of Magneto made him more important than anyone else, but in reality he was nothing but a bully. Bobby leaned over to Marie and whispered, "Don't tell anyone I told you this, but he probably deserved it."

Marie giggled.

Just then, the principal, Paige Guthrie-Starsmore, walked out. She had been the last leader of the X-Men, and Bobby noted how she still maintained an air of calm control. "Robert Drake, may I see you in my office for a moment?" she said.

Bobby sighed and walked towards Paige. "Good luck, Mr. Drake," Marie said. Bobby gave her a slight smile and then entered the office, the door slamming shut behind him.

Paige sat down behind her desk. "I've received repots that the science wing was turned into a giant block of ice earlier today. You wouldn't happed to know anything about this, would you, Mr. Drake?" Paige asked, her hands clasped in front of her and her eyes focused on him. Bobby felt nervous.

"Would you believe me if I said I didn't?" he tried.

"No," Paige said simply.

Bobby looked down at the ground and shuffled his feet. "But Jubilee…" he started.

Paige cut him off. "I don't care what Jubilee has done. Am I going to have to call your wife?"

Bobby looked up, terror in his eyes. "No! Don't call Emma! I'll do anything, just don't call Emma!"

"Do you plan to ever freeze any part of my school ever again, Mr. Drake?" Paige asked coolly.

Bobby looked back down at the ground. "No, Ma'am."

Paige smiled slightly. "Good. You're dismissed. Please send Miss LeBeau in on your way out."

Bobby nodded and hurried out the door.

*** *** ***

Kacie Drake got home from school just in time to hear her mother yell, "That's it! I've had enough! I'm getting the hairdryer!"

A scream from her father soon ensued. Kacie went into her bedroom, and her dad ran after her into the room and shut the door. "Your mom's gonna melt me!" he said breathlessly.

Kacie nonchalantly brushed her waist-length blonde hair up into a ponytail. "What did you do to make the White Queen so angry this time, Daddy?" she asked with her ever-present smile.

"I froze the blender," he said.

Kacie raised her eyebrows. "And just how did you manage that one?" she asked.

Bobby hung his head in shame. "I was trying to make smoothies," he mumbled.

Kacie walked over and kissed her dad on the cheek. "You stay here. I'll talk to Mom for you," She went out her door and skipped down the hall in search of Emma.

Kacie found her hunting for something in the cabinet under the bathroom sink. "What are you looking for, Mom?" Kacie asked, although she already knew the answer.

"The hair dryer," Emma said without looking up. "I think your father hid it again."

Kacie knelt down beside her mother. "Mom, why don't you just give up on looking for it. I think you've already scared him enough."

Emma frowned, but closed the cabinet. "But he broke my blender again! And he did that thing where he freezes his hand and touches the back of my neck. That's cold!"

Kacie stifled a giggle. "I'm sure he didn't mean to break the blender," she defended her father. "And besides, you love him enough to forgive him, don't you?"

Emma sighed, closed the cabinet, and got up. "Hiding in your room as usual?"

Kacie nodded an affirmative, figuring it was pointless to try to hide something from a telepath. "Be nice to him, okay? Remember you love him!"

Emma smiled. "I'll keep that in mind," she said, slipping past Kacie on her way to find Bobby.

Kacie Drake got up, grinned, and then skipped out of the room in search of her four-year-old little sister, Britney.

*** *** ***

Paige Guthrie-Starsmore stayed at the school late that afternoon, despite the fact that it was a Friday and she wanted nothing more than to get home to her husband, Jonothon. But she had a stack of paperwork she'd had to postpone earlier due to the fact that she'd had to have a meeting with the Tysons in order to explain why their son Zachary had been attacked by glowing peas.

It was around five-thirty when Jean Grey-Summers, the school's guidance counselor, knocked on Paige's door. "Paige, there's a young man here who says he needs to speak with you," Jean said as she peaked her head in the door.

Paige frowned. At this rate she was never going to get home. "Do you have any idea who he is?" she asked.

Jean shook her head. "No. All I could discern from his surface thoughts was that he feels lost, and a little afraid, but that's obvious from his appearance," Jean answered. "However, I definitely do not sense any threat from him."

Paige closed the folder in front of her. "Send him in."

Jean slipped out the doorway. A few moments later, a young man who appeared to be in his late teens with longish dark hair and brown eyes came tentatively into the room. He shuffled around uncomfortably. "Um, are you, um, Ms. Starsmore? The redhead said you were in charge," he said without making eye contact with Paige. The boy had a Southern accent.

"I'm the principal of this school. And you are?"

The young man looked into her eyes for the first time since he had entered the room. "I'm a mutant," he said.

Paige gave him a warm smile and motioned for him to take a seat in the chair in front of her desk. "I'm a mutant, too, as is the 'redhead' out there. That doesn't help me much in determining who you are," she told him.

The young mutant sat down. "Just call me Twister," he said.

Paige nodded, figuring a strange name was better than no name at all. "All right, Twister, why are you here?" she asked.

Twister squirmed a little in the chair. "I don't have anywhere to go, and someone told me you guys help people like me

here. I don't have any money or anything, but I don't know where else to turn," he explained.

"Do you have any family?" Paige asked.

A flash if pain went across Twister's face. "I used to. Apparently they aren't real thrilled with the idea of having a mutie son."

Paige hated to think that even then, when they were so close to finally achieving Xavier's vision of a peaceful coexistence between humans and mutants, people could still turn their backs on their own children simply because that child was born a mutant. "We can help you here," she said. "How old are you?"

Twister remained tense, almost as if he was waiting for some sort of catch. "Seventeen, almost eighteen. I was beginning my senior year in high school when I left Texas," he answered.

Paige smiled again. "You can attend classes here then. We have a mixture of regular academic classes as well as classes that allow mutants to cope with everyday life, such as the problem many young mutants face of not being able to control their powers," she informed him.

"You can help me control my powers?" Twister asked, visibly relaxing somewhat.

"We can do our best. What are your powers anyway?" Paige asked.

Twister sighed. "I make it windy," he explained. "Really windy. It has a habit of starting when I don't want it to, and when I do want to start it, it doesn't want to stop."

Paige remembered a time when her skin would "husk" into all sorts of substances, whether she wanted it to or not. Over the years she had learned to master her talent, however, and she was confident that Twister would be able to do the same. "I understand what you are going through," she said. "And we have many people here who can help you. This place was created not only to be a school, but to be a haven for young mutants like yourself who feel that their status as Homo superior as opposed to Homo sapien makes them incapable of fitting in with normal society. It is our job to show you that while you are different, you are not destined to be a social outcast." She picked up the phone. "But right now I need to find you a place to stay."

Twister gave Paige the first genuine smile he'd given anyone in months. He knew he'd found the place where he belonged.

*** *** ***

The next day, Twister found himself in the car on the way to the mall with Warren Worthington IV, the son of Warren and Betsy Worthington, the people who had agreed to take Twister in. Twister hadn't brought much more with him than the clothes on his back, and Betsy insisted that he go buy himself a whole new wardrobe.

Warren had taken the opportunity to let Twister meet his other mutant friends. He hoped that meeting other mutants about who were about the same age as Twister would help him feel more at ease with his newfound abilities.

"Did you go to Charles Xavier High School?" Twister asked after they had been driving for a little while.

Warren nodded. "Yeah, I graduated last year. Billy—Mrs. Starsmore's son—and I both go to 'normal' college now," he replied.

"Did you like it?" Twister asked.

"High school? As much as any other teenaged boy ever does, I guess," Warren answered. "Did make me feel better about being a mutant, though."

"Do any of the friends I'm supposed to meet today go there still?" Twister asked.

"Yep," Warren told him. "All of them except Billy, and most of them are seniors, like you." Warren paused for a second then added, "Rachel's a senior."

Twister smiled, "Rachel?"

Warren tried to hide a blush. "Yeah, Rachel Summers. She's…she's a good friend."

"You have a crush on her or something?" Twister asked.

Much to Warren's relief they found a parking place at the mall before he had a chance to answer that particular question. "Um, we better head on inside. Logan gets cranky when she has to wait too long—especially when shopping is involved."

Twister grinned as he got out of the car, but remained silent, deciding not to push the subject of Rachel Summers.

Twister surveyed the mall as he walked inside with Warren. It was much bigger than the ones he was used to back home. He almost immediately noticed a young woman who sat on the other side of the food court. She was dark-skinned, with long white hair and pale blue eyes. "That is the most beautiful woman I have ever seen," he muttered.

Warren followed Twister's gaze. "You mean the girl with the white hair?" he asked.

"Yeah."

Warren clasped a hand on Twister's shoulder. "That's Rebecca Munroe. She's a friend of mine."

"She single?" Twister asked.

"Yep," Warren replied. "Wanna go meet her?"

Twister grinned. "Oh yeah. Let's go."

*** *** ***

Warren led Twister to the table where his friends were waiting. "So what are your powers?" Logan asked once the introductions had been made.

"I make wind," he replied.

Rebecca smiled. "Really?" she said. "I can do that, too. I control the weather."

Twister thought she had the prettiest voice he had ever heard. "Looks like we have something in common then," he said.

"Have you ever used your powers to fly?" Rebecca asked.

"Never though of it," Twister admitted. "Can you do that?"

"Yes," Rebecca told him.

"Maybe you could teach me how sometime then," Twister said.

Rebecca gave him a radiant smile. "I would be more than happy to."

Twister knew he was going to like it there for sure.

*** *** ***

Logan, Rachel, Rebecca, and Kacie stood in front of the mirror in the mall bathroom. "So, what do you guys think of Twister?" Rebecca asked as she put the cap back on her lipstick.

Logan popped out the claws from her right hand and ran them through her long, black hair like a comb. "I think he has a crush on you, 'Becca," she commented.

Rebecca seemed to blush a little. "Oh? What makes you think that?" she asked.

Kacie giggled. "She's probably noticed how he's been drooling all over you ever since he got here," she answered for Logan.

"He's pretty cute you know, Rebecca," Rachel said, smiling.

"As cute as Warren?" Logan teased her redheaded friend.

Rachel gave Logan a mock-glare. "I don't know, Addie, is he as cute as Ric?" she asked.

Logan shrugged and retracted her claws. "Is anybody as cute as Ric?"

"Why haven't you guys hooked up yet?" Kacie asked Logan. "Neither one of you have exactly kept your feelings for each other a secret."

Logan sighed heavily. "He says it's because of his powers. He feels that if we can't touch then we can never have a real relationship," she explained.

"Sounds like one of the same reasons his parents stayed apart so long," Rebecca commented.

Logan nodded. "I wish Ric would just understand that I want to be with him whether we can touch or not."

Rachel patted Logan's shoulder. "It's probably better this way, Addie," she said. "I can't imagine that your father would be exactly thrilled to see you dating Gambit's son anyway."

Logan rolled her eyes. "Yeah, Wolverine would just love that one," she grumbled. "And how many times have I told you not to call me Addie?"

"Sorry, Logan.".

"Should we not go back out there and rejoin the other?" Rebecca asked.

Kacie grinned. "Sounds good to me," she said. "I still have some major shopping left to do!"

*** *** ***

Logan came into her house and dropped her bags by the door. She may have gotten her mutant powers from her father, but she was pretty sure she got her uncanny shopping abilities from her mother. She walked into the living room to find Jubilee on the couch crying. Logan rushed over to her. "Mom, what's wrong?" she asked.

Jubilee wiped the tears out of her eyes and tried to smile. "I was just thinking about when those Weapon X people got you again," she said.

Logan hugged her. "Don't think about that. I mean, odds are those people were just some cheap imitations of the original Weapon X program that did all that stuff to Dad. And besides, I'm home now, safe and sound," she said.

"I know," Jubilee said, "But that doesn't mean I don't worry about you. And your father…" Jubilee grimaced. "I've never seen him so upset by something, and that's saying a lot. I think he blames himself, the same way he did when Sabretooth kidnapped you years ago,"

"He shouldn't blame himself," Logan said. "Neither one of those things we really his fault—even if both kidnappings were because I'm his daughter."

"That isn't the way he feels, Adanya," Jubilee told her. "Since the two times you've been taken have had something to do with him he feels like he can't so anything but get you hurt."

"It's worth it to have him as my father," Logan said. She smiled and unsheathed her claws. "And the whole 'Weapon X' deal did have it's perks."

Jubilee laughed and hugged her daughter fiercely, carefully avoiding the claws. "You're a lot like him, you know," she said.

Logan sighed inwardly. "Sometimes."

Jubilee pulled away and wiped the last few tears from her eyes. "So, you buy anything good?"

Logan grinned and got up from the couch. "Yep. Let me get my bags and I'll show you."

*** *** ***

William Starsmore stared at the woman who sat a few rows in front of him as she tossed her long golden-blonde hair back over her shoulders. He'd had his eyes on her all class period, and most of the classes before that. Billy hadn't heard a single word the professor had said, but he didn't care. He'd much rather watch Cindy Grayson who was, in his opinion, the definition of perfection. Someday, he knew he'd have her—just as soon as he got up the nerve to actually talk to her.

He felt Warren smack him on the arm. "Stop staring at her, Billy," he whispered. "You can't pass this class just by copying my notes all the time."

Billy took his eyes off Cindy long enough to give Warren a dirty look. "I am paying attention," he lied.

"Sure you are, Bill," Warren said, rolling his eyes. "To that blonde up there. Why don't you just listen to the lecture now and talk to her after class?"

"Nah," Billy said, shaking his head. "I'll talk to her eventually—when the timing's right."

"You've been saying that all semester," Warren pointed out. "When will the timing be right?"

"When will the timing be right for you and Rachel?" Billy countered.

Warren glared at him. "Why do people always bring her up like that?" he grumbled.

"Because it gets you off our backs," Billy explained.

Warren looked back down at the professor who was working out a problem out on the board. "It's different with me and Ray," he told Billy. "She knows I exist."

Billy frowned and crossed his arms across his chest. "Cindy knows I exist," he said. "I mean, how could she not? It's me!"

Warren patted Billy on the back. "Maybe you should work on you self-esteem a little there. I think you may be devaluing your self-worth," he said. "Now would you please just pay attention to the lecture?"

Billy and focused his eyes on the front of the room and away from Cindy. Maybe Warren was right…

*** *** ***

Twister stood on the courtyard of Charles Xavier High School, trying to do everything he could to get the wind to stop, while various other students ran screaming from flying tables and vending machines, but try as he might, he couldn't get the windstorm he had accidentally started to stop. "Great," Twister muttered. "My first day at this school and I've already messed everything up."

All of the sudden, Rebecca Munroe flew into the courtyard, and with a simple wave of her hands, stopped the wind. She turned around to face Twister. "What happened here?" she asked.

Twister blushed and looked away from Rebecca. She had stopped his windstorm with such grace and ease, that he figured he must seem like such a screw-up to her. "I don't know…it just sort of happened," he said.

Rebecca walked up to him and cupped his face in her hands, forcing him to look her in her eyes. "It is all right," she said. "You do not have to be ashamed that you are unable to control your powers."

Twister found himself unable to break free of the trance her ice blue eyes had placed him in. "But you stopped it so easily."

"I have had practice," Rebecca said. "And I have had my mother to show me how to use my powers to their full potential. You, too, will learn how in time."

"I've trashed the courtyard," Twister pointed out.

Rebecca smiled. "These things happen everyday here. There is no need to worry."

Sure enough, almost as soon as those words were out of her mouth, a cleaning crew had arrived on the scene to take care of the mess. Twister reached up and took Rebecca's hands off his face but didn't let go of them. "Thank you for helping me out here," he said.

"You are welcome," Rebecca said softly.

Twister leaned in to kiss Rebecca, but before he had his chance, Paige Starsmore came out to the courtyard, causing Twister and Rebecca to jump back from each other. "What happened out here?" Paige asked.

"Uh, my powers went off on their own again, ma'am," Twister explained.

Paige frowned. "Guess you'll have to work on that then. Y'all should get on to class now, though. We can talk about this later," she said.

Twister and Rebecca both nodded and then headed their separate ways. Twister couldn't resist one last glance at Rebecca, however, as she walked through the door on the other side of the courtyard and out of his sight.

*** *** ***

Husk stared at the television set in her office and frowned. A terrorist had taken hostages in a federal office building that morning in New York City and it had been all over the news. In just a few hours, similar situations had popped up all over the city. Paige's attention had really been called to the incidents when each of the terrorists had begun to claim to be part of an organization calling itself the "New Brotherhood," which appeared to be essentially a revival of the old Brotherhood of Evil Mutants that Magneto had once been lead. Now, the terrorists were systematically killing one hostage from each of the locations every hour, each of them by using their mutant abilities. None of them had delivered any sort of ultimatum, instead declaring that this was merely the beginning of their war on humanity. Anti-mutant hate groups that had been relatively quiet over the past decade were again raising their voices to speak out against all mutants.

Husk wanted to cry as she watched everything that she and her fellow X-Men had fought so hard for come crashing down. But she knew now was not the time for tears. It was a time for action. She had been watching for a while, knowing the high degree of possibility that a day like this would come, and she had prepared. She began to fiddle with the paperweight on her desk that was fashioned like the red-on-black "X" design of the old X-Men emblem. Would they be needed again? And if they were, would they be able to fight now after so many years? Time had caught up with all of them, and even Jubilee, who had once been the youngest member of the team, was already forty. Still, something told Paige that she needed to prepare for the worst. She turned the television to mute and forced herself to pull her eyes away from the dark and foreboding images that filled the screen. She had some phone calls to make.

*** *** ***

"You want to call the X-Men back into action?" Scott Summers, the mutant who had once been had the codename Cyclops, asked. "Do you really think that's necessary Paige?"

Paige Guthrie-Starsmore turned her head to face him. "I've been watching the human-mutant activity recently, and I've noticed the tensions coming to a boil again, especially after the events that took place today. I known none of us want to believe that the X-Men would really be needed again, that we were unsuccessful in truly getting humans and mutants to live in peace but I feel that now is a time to accept the fact that we may need to reform the X-Men. We don't know if this so called 'New Brotherhood is really a threat, but we have to treat it as such. I'm sure I don't need to remind y'all that people have already died," she said.

Ororo Munroe, once known as Storm, spoke up from her seat beside her husband, Bishop. "I, too, feel that the X-Men may be needed again, but I have to wonder if we are up to the task. We are not as young as we used to be, I am afraid."

Paige sighed. "No, we're not, which is why I have come to the conclusion that we should form an entirely new team," she told them.

"But from where?" Monet St.Croix-Thomas asked. "We don't have a team like GenX to draw from anymore, Paige."

"I know that, M," Paige replied. "But we do have this school full of mutants." She took a deep breath. "And many of us have mutant children who would most likely be ready and willing to fight."

Wolverine broke the momentary silence caused by Paige's statement. "I think I speak for most everyone in here when I saw I don't want my kid mixed up in the sorta stuff we faced as X-Men. It's bad enough that they have to face the dangers that come with everyday life just bein' mutants without havin' to constantly risk life and limb," he said.

Scott nodded. "For once I agree with Logan. Most of our children aren't even out of high school. I'm not sure they could handle something like this."

"We handle it just fine, Scott," Paige pointed out. "Sure, it was rough, and there were plenty of times when I wondered if it was all worth it, but looking back I wouldn't change a thing I've ever done. Our children are capable of doing the same. And don't think I'm asking anything of you that I wouldn't do myself. I'm more than willing to ask my own son join the team."

Bishop frowned even more than usual. "I'm still not sure I like the idea."

"I don't much like it myself," Gambit said.

"Paige is right you guys," Jubilee said, eliciting a confused look from Wolverine. "I don't like the idea of Addie fighting anymore than the rest of you like the idea of sending your children out there, but we need to keep in mind exactly what we're fighting for. This is Xavier's dream, you guys. We have to keep it alive, even now that he's gone. The least we can do is talk to our children, see if they're willing. We've got to do this, you guys. If not for mutant and humankind alike, then for the Professor."

"You make a good point, Jubilee," Jean said. "We should at least talk to the kids, see what they want to do."

"You know what they're gonna want to do, Jeannie," Wolverine said. "We've raised 'em, and we've raised 'em to believe that Xavier's dream of human-mutant peace is the most important thing in the universe. They're gonna be all for it, and we're gonna have to sit back and watch our kids go through the same crap we did time and time again. I'm not sure I can do that. Addie's been through so much already."

"Logan, look at the big picture here," Emma Frost said. "None of us want to see anything happen to our children, and I understand that you don't want your daughter to know the same kind of pain you've known, but we don't have much of a choice. The X-Men have always been the ones to save the day in situations like this, whether anyone noticed or not, and they are needed now. You may not be aging, but the rest of us are feeling our years. It just makes more sense to send someone younger and more capable to do this job."

Wolverine let out a deep breath, and balled his fists. "I don't like it," he said, "But I guess it's somethin' that has to be done, if not for the fate of the world at least in memory of Chuck and all that. We'll talk to Addie about it."

Paige smiled, knowing that if she had convinced Wolverine, she'd probably convinced all of them. "Talk to your children, and if they're willing, have them meet me back at the old mansion tomorrow afternoon," she announced.

"The old mansion? Is it even still standing?" Rogue asked.

"Yes," Paige answered. "I've made sure of it. In fact, everything there still works, Danger Room included. I figured we might need it again some day."

Scott Summers crossed his arms over his chest. "And it looks like that day has come," he stated with remorse.

*** *** ***

Damien Thomas looked at his parents a little strangely. "You want me to do what?" he asked.

"We want you to become an X-Man," repeated his mother, Monet St.Croix-Thomas.

Damien pouted. "No," he said. "I don't want to be part of some weirdo superhero team."

"And why not?" asked his father, Everett. "Both your mother and I were X-Men at one time."

"I don't do the whole spandex thing," Damien replied.

Monet sighed. "Damien, really, don't be such a pain about this," she said, obviously exasperated. "You've inherited your mutant abilities from me, and I'm sure that that's something that could really be of use to Paige and her new team of X-Men. The least you could do is go up there tomorrow and check it out."

Everett put his hand on his son's shoulder. "You might even discover you like it," he said. "And I think I head Paige say she's forgoing spandex for some more practical material."

Damien continued to pout. "Don't hold your breath on me liking it," he mumbled.

Monet glared at him. "You're going to the mansion tomorrow and that's final," she informed her son.

Damien glared back at her. "I'm not getting in that car tomorrow."

*** *** ***

Damien Thomas sat in the back seat of the car and frowned as he watched the trees whiz by. "It really wasn't fair of Dad to synch Mom's super strength to help her get me in the car," he thought. "Aren't we there yet?" he whined.

Monet glanced back at him through the rearview mirror. "I didn't think you wanted to get there," she said.

"I don't," Damien said.

"Then why do you keep asking if we're there yet?" Everett asked.

"So I can know how long until the car stops and I can make a break for it," Damien replied.

"Try it and die," Monet growled. "I don't care how fast you can run—or fly—I will catch you."

Everett shifted uncomfortably in his seat at the sound of his wife's harsh tone, even though he wasn't the one at which it was directed. "No one said you actually have to become an X-Man," he said, trying to pacify both his wife and his son. "We just want you to check it out and see what you think. It could be a good opportunity for you."

Damien realized he was beaten. "Fine, I'll go in and maybe I'll even listen to Paige a little," he conceded with a sigh.

"Good," Monet said as she pulled into the driveway of the mansion that she had once called home, "Because here we are!"

A small group of kids, most of which Damien recognized from school, were standing outside the garage, waiting to see who all was going to show up. "Go join the other kids while your father and I go inside and find Paige," Monet said as she turned off the car.

Damien gave an over-exaggerated sigh. "They're are all older than me," he complained.

Everett pointed at one of the kids. "There's Marie LeBeau," he said. "Isn't she about your age?"

"Marie? Where?" Damien asked, his eyes frantically searching through the crowd of teenagers. He saw her and grinned. "See you guys later!" he called to his parents as he jumped from the car at superhuman speed.

"Somehow I knew that would work," Everett said with a chuckle.

Monet smiled as she placed her hand on her husband's shoulder. "Come on, Synch, let's go find Husk," she said.

Everett nodded. "Right behind you, M," he replied.

*** *** ***

"Uh, hey," Damien said as he approached the other would-be X-Men.

"What are you doing here?" Marie asked. "I never pegged you as exactly being X-Man material."

Damien shot her a dirty look. "Of course I'm X-Man material!" he declared, completely forgetting his earlier vow to never become a spandex-clad superhero. Besides, maybe it would be worth it—if it meant he got to spend more time around Marie LeBeau.

"Right," Marie said, rolling her eyes. "Have you even come up with a codename?"

"Sure I have," Damien lied. "Have you?"

"Yes, but I asked for yours first," Marie said.

"Ladies first," he said, trying to stall her in order to come up with a codename.

"Lady? Where?" Marie said, pretending to look around. Then she turned and focused her eyes on Damien. "What's your codename, Thomas?"

Damien glanced around nervously, trying to find some sort of inspiration. He read the words "turbo charged" on the back of a car. "Turbo," he told Marie.

"Turbo?" Marie asked, making a face at his choice. "Why Turbo?"

"Because I do everything faster and better—I'm Turbo charged," Damien offered as an explanation. "Now you have to tell me yours."

"Charger," she said as a small rock she'd been holding in her hand began to glow a deep red. She threw it down, creating a small explosion right by Damien's foot, making him jump, "And I think you can figure out why." She gave him an almost predatory grin as she walked past him to join the others.

Damien sighed happily as he watched her walk away. He was in love…

*** *** ***

Twister felt nervous as they approached the mansion. "It'll be fine, Man," Warren assured him. "Just relax."

"Mrs. Starsmore said she wanted the children of former X-Men," Twister pointed out. "I've only been living with your family for a little over a week, and I don't think that exactly makes me Warren and Betsy's child."

Rebecca walked up and took hold of Twister's hand. "Do not worry," she said. "I'm sure that Paige will be happy to have you. Besides, I have this feeling that you belong on this team."

Twister relaxed as soon as he felt Rebecca's hand in his. "How is it that you always know exactly what to say?" he asked.

"It always feels that way when you have a crush on a girl," Warren said.

Twister turned pale. "I…I…um…" he stammered.

Rebecca smiled up at him. "The feeling is mutual," she said.

"Really? Wow," Twister said, not quite sure how to respond. He turned around to yell at/thank Warren for opening his big mouth like that, but Warren had already gone over to talk to Billy, making his escape by blending in with the shadows cast by the trees. "I hate it when he does that," Twister muttered.

"Forget about Warren," Rebecca said as she kissed Twister's cheek. "We are almost there anyway."

"Do you really think I'll make a good X-Man?" Twister asked.

Rebecca smiled at him sweetly. "You'll be wonderful."

*** *** ***

Paige glanced around at the children who had come with their parents to the mansion that day. She took note of the way that Wolverine stayed in the back, partially hidden by the shadows. "He's still not happy about this," she thought.

"I'm glad you all decided to come. I know you have the potential to become a great team," Husk said.

"And we will not let you down" Rebecca said, stepping out a little bit from the rest of them.

Paige smiled. "I never believed otherwise. But I need to know if you are all prepared to take on the responsibility that comes with being X-Men."

Adanya Logan stepped forward. "You bet we are," she said. "The world needs us, and we're more than willing to help."

Wolverine started to say something—anything—to convince his daughter to stay where he could at least attempt to protect her, but Jubilee placed her hand on his shoulder, stopping him. "Let her go, Logan," she said. "She's too much your daughter to just walk away from this."

Wolverine reached up and placed his hand over Jubilee's. "I guess I just figured we had a few more years left until she grew up," he said.

Jubilee gave his shoulder a small squeeze. "She'll make us proud."

"Never doubted it, Darlin'," he said, almost inaudibly. "Never doubted it for a second."

*** *** ***

Paige went around, making a list of the young mutants whom had chosen to show up that day. "Twister?" she said in surprise. "I didn't expect to see you here."

Twister gave her a nervous smile. "I know I'm not actually a child of any of the former X-Men, and heck, I'm not even that good at controlling my powers, but I really want to do this. So if you would, Mrs. Starsmore, just let me have a shot," Twister said.

Betsy Braddock-Worhington looked at Paige. "He has shown himself to be a young man with an incredible strength of character ever since he came to live with my family," she said. "I believe he would be a welcome addition to any superhero team."

Paige nodded. "Well, I'm convinced. Welcome to the X-Men, Twister."

"Thank You," he replied with a nod.

"There is one more thing that we haven't discussed before, but I think it will be the best thing for the team." Paige took a deep, preparatory breath. "I'd like for the children to stay here at the mansion."

"But why?" Scott Summers asked. "We all live near each other anyway, why should we pull the children from their homes?"

"Because I feel it will be the best for all involved," Paige answered. "Here they will have easy-access to equipment such as Cerebro and the Danger Room. They will also be able to prepare for battle at a moment's notice, and we all know the importance speed can play in our line of work. But most importantly, I feel that it will build the sort of camaraderie that has been shared by previous teams."

"I'm not sure if I like the idea of my daughter leaving home quite yet," said Bishop.

"There really isn't any need for concern," Paige assured the worried parents. "Many of us came here when we were the same age as these children, and some of us were even younger. They will still be able to attend classes at Charles Xavier High School, while Billy and Warren will be allowed to continue their college studies. And you won't have to worry about them not being under proper supervision—Jono and I will be here to take care of them."

"Paige and I won't let anything happen to ye kids," Jonothon Starsmore said.

"They are our children," said Emma Frost. "I believe that they are more than capable of facing this challenge, and I also agree with Paige that the mansion is the best place for them to be."

As much as the former X-Men hated the idea of letting their children go, they knew that allowing them to live at the mansion would be for the best. They all wanted to shelter their children and keep them from knowing the pain that being a superhero could cause, but they also understand that that would be impossible. They looked back at Wolverine, waiting for a complaint.

"If Adanya's willin' to go for this I ain't gonna stop her." Wolverine laughed mirthlessly. "She can be as stubborn as her father at times."

The parents turned back to look at Paige. She let out a breath she hadn't even realize she'd been holding. "I guess it's settled then," she said. Bring your kids back here the day after tomorrow and we'll get this thing started."

The mutants nodded their agreement and began to file out the door. "Betsy and Warren, if you would, stay behind for a moment. I'd like to have a word with the two of you," Paige said.

Psylocke and Angel walked back over to Paige. "What is it?' Betsy asked. "It's not about our son is it?"

"No, actually it's about your daughter," Paige replied.

"Angela?" Warren asked, surprised that Paige was asking about their oldest child. "What about her?"

"She's expressed her interest in joining the new X-Men," Paige told them.

Betsy shook her head. "Angie can't do that, Paige," the purple-haired woman protested. "She is not anywhere near well enough."

"Betsy is right," Warren said. "The treatment she is on keeps her illness in remission, but the truth of the matter is Angie is suffering from the Legacy Virus. The last thing she needs is the strenuous life of an X-Man."

"She wouldn't be fighting along side the others," Paige explained. "She has offered her services as a scientist and doctor, performing many of the same tasks that Hank McCoy once did. Also, your daughter is an extremely powerful telepath, a skill that would be quite beneficial to the team."

"Both Rachel Summers and Kacie Drake are telepaths as well," Betsy pointed out, "And our son, Warren, is a low-level psi himself. Wouldn't that be enough without pulling Angela into, too?"

"But Rachel, Kacie, and Warren will most likely be needed out in the field. I am not a telepath the way Professor Xavier was, and even using Cerebro I would not be able to communicate with the team on the level that would be necessary. Jono has some telepathic abilities too, but I'm not sure he could really do too much with Cerebro, either. Both Jean and Emma have offered their services, but they cannot be here all the time. Angela can. She's told me she's willing, and frankly, I need her," Paige explained.

Warren's feathers rippled. "She may be willing, but that doesn't mean she's able," he pointed out. "Sure, the treatments that Moira and Hank have developed make it so her life is not in immediate danger due to the virus, but she's still weak. She needs all the rest she can get, not the strain of running around a lab or using her telepathic abilities at the level you're talking about."

"But how do you plan to stop me from doing just that, Father?" asked a voice from behind them.

Warren and Betsy turned around to see their daughter standing in front of the doorway. She came closer to her parents and forced herself to stand as straight and tall as she could, spreading her wings in an attempt to make herself look strong and healthy. "I'm needed," she said. She smiled at her parents. "Don't make me think I spent all that time in school for nothing. And besides, I'll have Warren here to look after me." She pushed a strand of purple hair that had escaped from her ponytail away from her face. "I'm glad that you guys want to take care of me, but I'm doing this regardless of what you say, so you might as well give me your support."

Warren looked at his daughter and then over at his wife. "She gets this from you, you know," he said.

Betsy shrugged. "Maybe, but you can pretty stubborn yourself." She looked into Angie's blue eyes. "Do you promise us you'll be careful and rest when you need to?" she asked.

Angela nodded. "I promise," she answered. She hugged her parents. "Thank you."

*** *** ***

"Are you sure about this, Marie?" Rogue asked her only daughter as they stood outside of the X-Men mansion

"You bet, Mom," Marie said with a grin. "You know I've always wanted to be an X-Man, and now I finally have the chance."

"Being a superhero can be a dangerous job," Gambit pointed out. "You can't treat it like it's a game."

Rogue gave her husband a confused look. "Since when did you feel that way?" she asked.

Remy narrowed his eyes at her. "Where my little girl is concerned, I always have." He looked back over at Marie. "You be careful, Petite. Being de youngest member of de team is a hard job in itself. Just ask Jubilee."

Marie giggled. "Don't worry so much you guys," she said. "I'll be fine. I figure the worst thing about this will be trying to get Damien Thomas to leave me alone." She frowned a little. "I wonder why he's suddenly so into being an X-Man anyway. He's always said being a 'spandex-clad superhero' seemed like a waste of time to him."

Gambit shrugged. "People change."

Rogue smiled, despite the tears forming in her eyes. "Take care of yourself."

Marie gave each of her parents a quick hug. "Y'all take care of each other, okay?" she said. Then she picked up her bags and smiled, trying to hold back the emotions that were threatening to surface. "I'll see you guys soon," she promised.

Gambit hugged Marie one last time. "Send Ric over here, so we can say good-bye to him, too," he said.

"No prob," Marie replied. She told her parents good-bye one more time and then ran over to join the other X-Men.

Rogue leaned over and began to cry on Gambit's shoulder.

*** *** ***

Logan looked around her new room. "So I guess this is home now," she said to herself as she sat down on the bed. She reached over to her nightstand and picked up a picture of her and her father that she had unpacked earlier. It had been taken in the park one day when she was about five—about a week or so before Sabretooth had kidnapped her. Her father had saved her from Creed then. She had never really seen him fight before that, since she had always been kept away from the scene of his battles. She'd seen him that time though, seen him go into those beserker rages that people had only talked about in hushed tones around her. And when she had finally seen that rage, part of Addie had been a little scared to see her father fight Sabretooth like that, but she'd also been proud. She's been proud to have a father who would protect her, who would do anything to keep her safe.

She remembered how she had thought that Sabretooth must've been dead after that, but her father had said that they had to get away before he healed enough to fight again. That had made Addie feel scared again, frightened by the fact that Sabretooth was able to heal as quickly as she had seen her father do. But Wolverine had picked her up, held her tightly, and she'd known she'd be all right. All that mattered to him at that moment was getting her home safely, and Addie had trusted in the fact that that was exactly what he'd do.

Years later, he'd been there to save her again. She'd been taken away, taken to some strange, cold place. Addie hadn't been fully conscious then, but she remembered groups of people—people she later found out to be a group copy-catting the old "Weapon X" group—running strange tests and causing her excruciating pain. She hadn't even been fully aware of who she was, but somehow she'd known that there was someone who would come and save her, and he hadn't let her down. He came and took her home, just like he had when she was five.

And when they did finally get home, he helped her then, too. She'd been so lost and confused that she could barely remember anything from her life before, finding it hard to recall even her own name. But her father had been there, refusing to give up until her memories came back to her. She'd learned then what had happened to him, how he lost the vast majority of his own memories. He'd been afraid that the same thing would happen to her, that she'd never feel whole and he hadn't let it. Sometimes it was hard for Addie to believe that only a year had passed since then.

Logan put down the picture and went over to the mirror. True, she had black hair and blue eyes the same way her father did, but then again, so did her mother—and her hair certainly didn't form little points. People always told her she was like her father, and her new teammates even teased her by suggesting that her codename be "Wolverina" or "Lil' Wolvie." She'd never thought she was tall that much like him, really, aside from the obvious adamantium skeleton and claws and the mutant healing factor. And the name, of course. Sometimes she wished she were more like him, though. In her eyes, her father could do anything—he was her hero. Addie sighed. She hoped that she could be half the X-Man that he had been.

Logan heard a knock at her door. "Come in!" she called out.

Kacie Drake bounced into the room and began pulling Logan out. "Come on, it's time for our first dinner as X-Men!" Kacie announced.

Logan stumbled a little trying to keep up with her blonde friend. "You sure seem excited about all this superhero stuff," she said.

"I sure am," Kacie said with a grin. "I've always dreamed about being an X-Man." Kacie let go of Logan's arm and stopped for a second. "Haven't you?"

Logan shrugged. "Sometimes, I guess. I never really gave it much thought. Always figured the X-Men were pretty much a thing of the past. But now that it turns out they aren't, I guess I feel honored to be able to follow in my parents' footsteps."

"You'll be a great, X-Man, I know it," Kacie assured Logan. Then she grabbed her friend's arm and began dragging her again. "C'mon before we're late. They already have enough worries about us, what with you being Jubilee's daughter and me being Iceman's."

Logan smiled. "It's Marie they should be worried about. She is the youngest and all."

Kacie's grin grew somehow wider. "I don't know, Logan," she said with a giggle. "I think it is us they should be worried about."

"Maybe they should worry about all three of us," Logan said. "We've always gotten into plenty of trouble before!"

*** *** ***

Bright and early the next morning, the X-Men met down at the lab, where Dr. Angela Worthington had called them in order to perform a few tests and get their information logged into the computer. Angela entered the room after all the other X-Men had groggily filed in. Warren smiled warmly at her. "Are you feeling okay?" he asked.

"I'm fine, Little Brother," she replied. "I'm not so weak that I can't even do my job."

"I know, but Mom and Dad said I should ask you that a lot," Warren said.

Angela sighed. "This is probably just about the only time you'll ever hear me tell you this, but don't listen to your parents on this one."

Warren grinned. "Will do. But if anything happens to you, I never stopped asking.

Angela smiled. "I'll keep that in mind." She turned to face the other X-Men. "This is you last chance to back out," she said. "After today, you will all be official members of the X-Men. There's no shame in deciding that this isn't what you want to do with your life, so if any of you are unsure, let me know. It's a whole lot better to change your mind now than in the middle of a battle where someone might get hurt."

Angie's words made Damien think for a second. Was this really what he wanted to do with his life? He knew that he could leave the team eventually, but he'd still always be an X-Man. He'd never even given a moment's consideration to being a superhero before his parents brought it up, and now here he was about to sign his life away to the cause of human-mutant relations. Suddenly, Damien Thomas wanted nothing more than to turn and run out of that lab, away from the mansion, and back to his parents and his old, at least semi-normal, life. But then he looked over and saw Marie LeBeau, the girl who had been the object of his affections for about as long as he could remember. She'd never really noticed him though, seeing him as more of an annoyance than a possible boyfriend. But maybe this would change her mind. Maybe, if he could be successful as an X-Man he could earn Marie's respect and maybe, just maybe, eventually her heart. He made up his mind right then and there. He was going to be an X-Man.

"I haven't heard anything out of you guys," Angela said after a minute, "Does that mean you're all ready for this?"

Rebecca smiled at Angie. "We are ready and willing, Dr. Worthington."

Angie returned the smile. "Good. Now, the first thing I need to do is to get all of you to tell me what your codename will be so I can get them entered into the mansion's computer database—that is, if you choose to have one. I for one figure that me having a codename would be a moot point, seeing as I'll never see any field action."

"Hey, Rachel are you planing to go by a codename or are you going to be like your mom?" Logan teased.

Rachel gave Logan a sort of mock dirty look. "My mother actually had two codenames during her career as an X-Man," she replied. "She just very rarely used them."

"I don't blame her," Kacie muttered. "Who would want to run around calling themselves 'Marvel Girl' anyway? Although Phoenix was sorta cool…"

Rachel gave Kacie the same look she's given Logan. "Phoenix is a good codename. That's why I figured I'd use it too, seeing as it was also the codename of the other Rachel Summers."

"Phoenix it is then," Angie said as she entered Rachel into the computer. She turned to her brother. "How about you, Warren?"

"Shadow Stalker," he said.

Angela nodded as she typed. "Rebecca?"

"Rainmaker."

"Ric?"

"Red Thief."

"Logan?"

:"Wildcat."

"Kacie?"

"Ice Queen."

"Billy?"

"Sparks."

"Uh, Twister, do you care to give anything besides a codename?"

"Not at the moment."

"Okay, I can respect that. Marie?"

"Charger."

"Damien?"

Marie looked over at him and snickered a bit.

"Turbo," Damien said with a small sigh, mentally kicking himself for allowing Marie to back him into a corner the way she had with his codename.

"Okay," Angela said as she finished typing. "I have all of you in the database now, so if you'd just come with me we can begin the tests and I can get a little more information on all of you."

*** *** ***

It was only a week before the first alarms sounded. "A group of mutant terrorists is holding three humans hostage in an old warehouse downtown," Angela announced. "Paige, do you think they're ready to handle this?"

"I think they have to be, Angie," Paige said. "I would've liked for them to spend a little more time training, maybe a few more Danger Room sessions, but they have shown exemplary ability, and I believe they're ready for the field."

"We can do it," Ric LeBeau said as he and the other X-Men came into the room.

"We are ready," Rebecca added.

Paige looked up. "I'm glad to hear you feel that way, Rainmaker, because I would like you to lead this mission."

"I will do it," Rebecca said.

Paige nodded. "Good. Now suit up and get going. We don't have a moment to loose."

*** *** ***

The X-Men stood outside the old warehouse where the hostages were being held. "An old abandoned warehouse," Charger muttered. "You'd think the bad guys would've gotten creative by now."

Rainmaker ignored Charger's comment. "We need to get into the warehouse and save those people," she said. "Any suggestions?"

"Break in, get the hostages, and leave?" Ice Queen offered.

"Uh, don't you think that's just a tad bit over-simplified there, Ice Princess?" Sparks asked.

"It's Ice Queen, Sparky," Ice Queen growled. She smiled again. "I figure we can just make up the rest as we go along."

"Okay, so far our plan is go in, save the humans, get out, and improvise the rest? Does anyone else have a better idea?" Rainmaker said.

The other X-Men looked at each other with clueless expressions. "Ice Queen 's plan works fine for me," Red Thief said.

Rainmaker shrugged. "All right, Ice Queen's plan it is then. Um, stick together, help out any of your teammates if they appear to be in trouble. Let us go."

Charger rolled her eyes. "Oh this is great," she said, her voice dripping with sarcasm. "We're going to risk our lives in there and our only hope is a plan thought up by a giggly blonde girl and the superhero version of the buddy system? We are so screwed."

Red Thief shot his sister a dirty look. "Don't be so negative, Charger. We're all going to get out of this safe and sound."

"And what makes you so sure of that, Brother Dear?" Charger asked.

Red Thief flashed her a cocky grin that for a second made him look almost exactly like his father. "'Cause we're the good guys, Sis."

"Oh that makes me feel safe," Charger grumbled as she hurried to catch up with the others.

*** *** ***

Ice Queen looked around. "I don't see anyone at all," she said.

Wildcat sniffed the air. "Someone's here. I can smell them." She paused and sniffed again. Her eyes got wide and she began to back up. "I know that smell," she said.

She backed into Red Thief. "Where you going, Beautiful?" he asked.

Wildcat turned around and Red Thief saw fear in her eyes. "He's here," she said. "I can't face him."

"Who?" Red Thief asked.

"I think she means me, Boyo," said a tall figure as he stepped from the shadows.

"Sabretooth," Phoenix said.

Sabretooth laughed. "Nice to see I'm remembered."

"I heard you were dead," Shadow Stalker said.

Sabretooth laughed again. "Just waiting for a chance to make my comeback," he said. "I figured startin' the Brotherhood back up and causin' a war between mutants and humans would be a good way to make my presence known."

Wildcat gathered her courage and unsheathed her claws. "Yeah, well, it's going to be a short comeback, Creed."

Sabretooth gave her a feral grin. "I see you've found your voice, Frail. Still, that ain't gonna stop me form rippin' ya to shreds the way I shoulda done years ago. That'll teach me to play with my food."

Wildcat tried to make herself look as tall as she could, despite the fact that she was only a little over five feet in height. "I'm not afraid of you."

"Oh yeah," Sabretooth replied. "Boo."

Wildcat gave a little yelp and moved closer to Red Thief. Sabretooth laughed once more. "This'll be a snap," he thought. He roared and a group of kids about the same age as the X-Men stepped forward.

"I think I recognize some of them," Turbo whispered.

"Of course you do," Sabretooth said. "They're your classmates."

"Classmates?" Phoenix asked.

"You heard it, Red," Sabretooth said. "You think everyone at that school of yours believes in Charlie's dream? I was able to recruit plenty of people willin to become 'Evil Mutants.' And it looks like you'll have to get through them to save the humans."

Twister groaned. "Well, y'all, I'd have to say we have our work cut out for us."

Rainmaker stood tall and firm. "The plan is as follows: Fight the members of the Brotherhood as necessary, but keep in mind that our main goal is to save the hostages. Ready?"

The X-Men nodded an affirmative and the battle was on.

*** *** ***

Sabretooth clawed his way through the mess of fighting mutants in search of his prey. He smiled, bearing his teeth as he approached her. The person Wildcat had been fighting with staggered away, clutching his arm where Wildcat had slashed him, as he saw Sabretooth approach. Wildcat dropped into a defensive stance and growled at Sabretooth. She unsheathed her claws, still stained by the blood of her last opponent.

Sabretooth laughed. "You may be tryin' to look like the runt, but you ain't foolin' me, Girlie. I know you're nothin' compared t'me," he taunted.

Wildcat lunged at him, slashing his face before she came back to the ground. Sabretooth reached up and touched his cheek, feeling the blood from the gash that was already beginning to heal. "You're gonna wish you hadn't done that, Girlie," he growled as he came after her.

Wildcat tried to get away, but Sabretooth moved too quickly. He grabbed her by the throat and threw her up against the wall with a force that would've shattered her bones, had they not been bonded with the strongest known metal on the planet. Wildcat tried to drag herself up from the ground, but her head was still swimming from the blow she'd just received. Sabretooth picked her up again and threw her back up against the wall, playing with her much the way a cat would with a mouse.

From across the warehouse, Red Thief saw what Sabretooth was doing to Wildcat. He threw aside his current opponent and ran towards the other side of the warehouse, knocking over anyone who stood in his way. All he knew was that he had to get to Wildcat.

"Hey, Creed, why don't you stop picking on someone so much smaller than you?" Red Thief shouted as he approached Sabretooth. "Or didn't your mother teach you any better?"

Sabretooth dropped Wildcat and spun around to face Red Thief. He roared, trying to scare the newcomer off so he could finish with Wildcat.

Red Thief narrowed his glowing red eyes. "Wouldn't a big tough guy like you rather fight someone a little closer to your size instead of picking on a little girl?" he said.

Sabretooth bared his fangs. "So what, you wanna die along side your little girlfriend or somethin'?"

"Ric…no…please," Wildcat tried to call out, but she was so weak that she wasn't even sure if he could hear her over all the noise.

Angry, Sabretooth charged after Red Thief. Red Thief fought hard, and for a moment he was actually able to hold Sabretooth back. But the smaller man was soon overpowered, and Creed went back after Wildcat.

Red Thief watched as Sabretooth picked Wildcat up and threw her back into the wall. Groaning, he tried to get up, tried to ignore the pain. He knew he couldn't just lay there and watch while Sabretooth did that to Wildcat. He pulled himself up, took off a glove and limped over to Sabretooth, taking him by surprise as he grabbed Creed's bare arm. Sabretooth's eyes grew wide and he let out a wild yell right before he collapsed to the ground.

Red Thief clutched his head as he felt Sabretooth's personality threatening to take over his mind. He tried to fight it, but his powers were fairly new to him and he wasn't yet able to successfully fight off a personality he'd absorbed, especially not one as strong as Sabretooth's. "Logan…run…now…"he called out to Wildcat.

"I don't want to leave you Ric!" she said.

"You have to!" Renegade replied. "I…can't…fight it!"

Wildcat realized the situation. "I'll be back," she promised him. She gathered up all the strength her healing factor would allow, and ran over to the rest of the team. "Rainmaker, we've got a slight problem," she told the field commander. "Red Thief has just absorbed Sabretooth."

The expression on Rainmaker's face was grim. "That is not our only problem," she said as she flung a bolt of lighting at an enemy. "It appears that we are outnumbered—and loosing."

By this time the New Brotherhood had the X-Men backed into a corner. "Now what?" Sparks asked. "Anybody got any ideas?"

"I'm fresh out," Shadow Stalker replied. "How about you, Rainmaker? You're in command."

Rainmaker said nothing. All she could think was how it had been her job to make sure that the X-Men succeeded in their mission and she had failed.

"I think it would take a miracle to save us now," Ice Queen said.

Almost as soon as the words were out of Ice Queen's mouth, a tall, muscular figure came crashing through the skylight, knocking out mutant terrorists right and left.

"Cable?" said all the X-Men, except Twister, in disbelief.

"What in the world in Nate doing here?" Phoenix wondered aloud.

"Sure beats the heck outta me, but I'm glad he showed up." Ice Queen replied.

"Me, too," Turbo said.

"He's got them on the run," Sparks said. "Now would probably be a good time to try to save the hostages."

"Sounds good. Wildcat, Phoenix, and Shadow Stalker go help Cable. The rest of you, come with me." Rainmaker said.

"What about Ric?" Charger and Wildcat asked in unison.

"We will have to rescue him later," Rainmaker replied. "Our primary concern right now is saving the people we were sent here to rescue in the first place."

"But he's in trouble!" Charger exclaimed.

"Red Thief would want you to help those people," Phoenix said. "We have to keep our minds on the mission."

Charger nodded. "I know," she said almost inaudibly. Rainmaker and Phoenix were technically right, she knew, but she could also tell that her brother was in trouble just from watching him, and she wanted to help.

Rainmaker put her hand on Charger shoulder. "We will not let him down," she promised, "But Cable can only hold them off for so long. We must go help him."

The other X-Men, excluding Charger, nodded and then ran off to fulfil the duties that Rainmaker had assigned them. Marie sighed heavily before going to join her teammates.

Phoenix and Wildcat approached Cable. "Need help, Big Brother?" Phoenix asked.

"It would be appreciated," Cable replied as he threw a punch.

Wildcat unsheathed her claws. "Alright, who wants to be the first to get a taste of adamantium?" she asked with a snarl. Three opponents approached. Wildcat grinned. "Hmm…this should be fun," she said right before she lunged at the evil mutants, slashing one in the shoulder. The injured one grabbed his wound and began to hobble away as quickly as he most possibly could. The other two, frightened by the realizations that one, Wildcat was capable of hurting them, and two, the look in her eyes was rather crazed, ran off to rejoin the others.

"Not bad," Cable said to Wildcat. "You remind me of your father."

Wildcat brushed a strand of hair away from her face. "Yeah, I hear that a lot."

"How did you know we needed your help?" Phoenix asked Cable as she telekinetically pushed aside a charging enemy.

Cable shrugged. "I didn't. I just picked up signals indicating that the X-Men were engaged in a battle, and I figure it'd been a while since I'd had the opportunity to have a good brawl."

"Glad you showed up when you did," Wildcat said as she kicked someone, causing him to fall to the ground, clutching his stomach in pain.

"Phoenix, how are you fairing?" Rainmaker voice came through Phoenix's communicator.

"Good," Phoenix responded. "They appear to be retreating."

"We have freed the hostages," Rainmaker said. "We must rescue Red Thief and then get out of here."

"Sabretooth is leaving!" one of the Brotherhood mutants yelled suddenly. "Time to retreat!"

The X-Men turned around to see Sabretooth dragging an unconscious Red Thief out of the warehouse. "No!" Wildcat screamed at the top of her lungs as she ran across the room and jumped on Sabretooth, trying to knock him to the ground. Creed merely swatted her like a fly, sending her flying into yet another wall, this time with a force powerful enough to cause Wildcat to blackout for a moment.

The other X-Men tried to stop Sabretooth as well, but they were all too late. Sabretooth had already thrown Red Thief on to a plane with him and flown away.

Rainmaker wanted to cry as she watched the jet speed off into the horizon. It had been her first mission as field commander, and although they had fulfilled their objectives, she had failed. She felt as if she was going to pass out from the grief and guilt as she heard Charger screaming beside her.

Wildcat attempted to calm Charger, although, truth be told, she felt like screaming herself. She grabbed Marie into a tight embrace, partly comforting herself as well as the younger girl. "It'll be okay," she said, though the words sounded hollow, even to her own ears. "We'll find Ric and then everything will be fine."

Charger stopped struggling against Wildcat as her wailing cries died down into choked sobs. She looked up into the area of the sky where she had last seen the plane and wondered if she'd ever see her brother again.

*** *** ***

"Something's wrong," Angela said as the computer alerted her, Paige, and Jono to the arrival of the X-Men.

"Were they not successful in their mission?" Paige asked.

Angela frowned as she reached out and scanned their surface thoughts. "I sense that they were successful in doing what they were sent to do; however…" she paused for a second. "It's almost as if…something's missing."

"Are they all there, Angie?" Jono asked.

Angela closed her eyes. "I sense ten people, but one of them is…" She looked confused. "That can't be right. But it has to be him."

"Who?" Paige asked.

Angela looked her in the eye. "Cable."

"Cable? Why?" Paige suddenly turned pale. "That means there's only nine of them. "Who's missing?"

The X-Men entered the room before Angie could discern who had not made it back. The look on Marie LeBeau's face said it all.

"What happened to Ric?" Jono asked.

"Sabretooth got him," Logan answered. "I tried to stop him, but…" Her head hung down and her voice trailed off.

"Sabretooth?" Paige asked. "I thought he was dead."

Warren shook his head. "No, he's very much alive—and in charge of the New Brotherhood of Evil Mutants."

Paige fell into a chair as her legs gave out from under her. "I believe this New Brotherhood is more dangerous that we originally thought. I shouldn't have sent you kids out there with so little training."

"We really did not do so poorly—considering," Rebecca said. "We did set the hostages free and were able to defend ourselves against numerous opponents."

"But we lost Ric!" Marie exclaimed, speaking for the first time since they had left the warehouse. She pointed to Rebecca. "You were the field leader! You were supposed to make sure something like this didn't happen!"

Rebecca stumbled backwards as if Marie's statements had been her fist instead. The words stung, and the fact that the echoed so many of Rebecca's own thoughts gave them an extra kick. "I did the best job I could!" she said.

"Well, apparently that wasn't good enough!" Marie snapped before running from the room.

Cable started to go after her, but Angela grabbed his arm. "Let her go," she said. "She needs some time alone."

Nathan Summers turned around to face the winged woman who he'd always found to be strikingly beautiful. "You probably have a point there," he said after a brief, silent moment.

Angela let go of Cable's arm and then turned to face the remaining X-Men. "You could probably all use a little time alone after your ordeal to be honest," she said.

Paige stood back up, finding her strength again. "I concur with Angela. All training exercises will be canceled until further notice and all of y'all in high school will be excused from classes, at least for tomorrow." She looked in the eyes of every member of the team before adding, "You are now dismissed."

The X-Men mumbled various "good-bye's" and "thank-you's" as they filed out of the room and headed to their individual quarters. Cable stayed behind. "They did fight exceptionally well for warriors in their first battle," he commented once all the X-Men were gone.

Paige moved closer to Jono. "Still, I shouldn't have rushed them like that," she said. "Maybe I should just call it off until they've had more training. Or even just call the whole thing off entirely before we loose anyone else. I guess I thought that since they were the children of former X-Men that they'd just have some sort of innate ability to be superheroes and would be able to just rush out into the field like that. It looks like I was wrong."

"I don't think taking them off active duty would be the best thing to do right now," Angela said. "I did sense that they had some doubts on their own abilities and they were also a little frightened at the prospect of facing the New Brotherhood again, but I also sensed that they were eager to rescue their fallen teammate as well as ready to show Victor Creed what they're really capable of. I believe that telling them that they cannot go after Sabretooth the next time he attacks would either shatter their self-confidence or cause them to strike out in their own, both of which could have disastrous results.

"I think Angie is right, Love," Jono said. "To use a cliché—I believe you've created a monster."

"I would be willing to aid in their training as well as help them fight," Cable offered. "Scott told me recently what you've been trying to do here, and I'd be more than willing to do all I can."

Paige was easily convinced by the arguments of the others that the X-Men should continue to fight, at least for now. "I'd be more than willing to accept your help, Nathan," she said. "Welcome aboard."

Cable shook her hand. "It'll be my pleasure."

"Uh, and just out of curiosity, Cable," Paige asked with a small frown. "What exactly are you doing here in the first place?"

*** *** ***

Marie sat in a chair in her room, crying. She had the lamps off, and now that the sun had gone down the only light in her room was that coming in from the floodlights on the basketball court where Billy and Warren were playing.

Marie heard a knock at the door. "Go away!" she shouted.

Logan came in anyway. "You know, if you really want to keep people out, you should probably lock the door," she said.

Marie didn't look at Logan. "I'll keep that in mind," she grumbled.

Logan came in and sat down on the bed across from Marie. "Wanna talk?" she asked.

"Nope," Marie said.

"It isn't Rebecca's fault, you know," Logan said.

Marie looked up and wiped the tears from her eyes. "But she was the leader!" the younger girl exclaimed. "She should have tried to save him when we had the chance!"

Logan sighed. "None of us knew exactly what to do. We're all so new at this…"

"So I lost my brother because no one knew what they were doing?!" Marie yelled, jumping up. "If we were so freaking unqualified to be X-Men then why did Paige send us out into battle like that?"

"She thought we were ready. I really don't think she was all that wrong, really."

"Then how come no one could save Ric?"

Logan turned away from Marie's almost accusatory gaze. "I tried," Logan said softly.

"But you couldn't do it, could you?" Marie narrowed her eyes. "And you said Ric absorbed Sabretooth while trying to save you. Maybe it's you I should be blaming!"

"You shouldn't be blaming anyone," Logan said. "It wasn't anyone's fault. It just happened."

"It just happened?!" Marie threw her hands in the air. "How can you stand there and say it just happened? My brother was captured trying to save you, and all you can say is 'oh, well, it just happened.' Don't you even care that he's gone?"

"Of course I care!" Logan shouted as she jumped up from the bed and moved closer to Marie. "I love your brother very much, and the fact he's Sabretooth's prisoner is driving me insane, but sulking about it isn't going to do much good." Logan calmed down some, then continued. "We'll find him Marie, I can promise you that. I won't give up until Ric is home, and neither will anyone else."

Marie's features began to soften. "You really think we'll save him?"

Logan put her hand on Marie's shoulder. "Of course. Paige is searching for any leads and Angela's been looking for him using Cerebro." She dropped her arms to her side and clenched her fists. "We have to find him. I don't think I could live without him."

Marie looked up and made eye contact with Logan. "Did you really mean it when you said you love him?" she asked.

"Yeah, I did."

"He loves you, too, I think," Marie said, softening a little more.

The two girls were quiet for a moment, until Logan said, "C'mon, some of us are going to watch a movie. It make you feel better if you join us."

Marie shook her head. "Thanks for the offer, but I think I really would rather be alone right now."

"I understand," Logan said, trying to give her friend a smile, although it turned into almost more of a grimace. "If you need anything, I'm here."

Marie nodded and Logan turned to leave. "Logan?" Marie called out as the older girl reached for the doorknob.

"Yes?" Logan replied as she turned around back towards where Marie was standing.

"Thanks."

Logan gave Marie a real smile this time and then left the room, closing the door behind her. Marie fell back into her chair and began sobbing.

*** *** ***

"How's she holding up?" Kacie asked as she removed a bag of popcorn from the microwave.

"Marie? I think she'll be all right, considering," Logan said.

Kacie dumped the bag into a bowl. "How about you? How are you holding up?"

Logan went to the fridge and got out a couple of Cokes. "I'm hanging in there, I guess. I still feel like we could've done something more to stop Sabretooth, though."

"You shouldn't dwell on that now, Addie," Kacie said. "We'll get Ric back."

Logan popped out a single claw and used it to open one of the Cokes. "You don't understand. I've been Sabretooth's prisoner before. It was horrifying—even worse than when those Weapon X wanna-bes did all those experiments on me." She paused, took a sip of her drink, and then added. "I don't know what that monster will do to Ric."

Before Kacie could respond, Angela came into the room. She looked pale and worn. "Are you feeling okay?" Logan asked.

"I'll be fine," Angela replied as she fixed herself a glass of water. "I just think I may have overextended myself some searching for Ric."

"Did you have any luck this time?" Kacie asked.

"No," Angie answered. "I'm starting to wonder if maybe Cerebro is being blocked somehow. It has happened before."

Kacie shrugged. "It's possible. Maybe you should let Rachel or me try searching next time. It looks like it really took a lot out of you," she suggested.

Angela shook her head. "I'm fine." Suddenly, Angela felt the room start to spin.

"Whoa, be careful there," she heard a deep voice say as two strong arms caught and steadied her.

Angie turned around and found herself face to face with Nathan Summers, the man otherwise known as Cable. "Um, thanks," she said. Her throat grew dry as she looked up at him. Despite the fact that he was many years older than any of the X-Men—probably even physically older than most of their parents—Cable hadn't aged in years, a trait that Angela believed to be a side effect of all the time traveling he had done.

"Are you going to be all right?" Cable asked her.

"Yes, I'll be fine. I just got a little dizzy, that's all. I'm most likely just tired," Angie replied.

Cable gave her a rare smile. "You better get some sleep then."

"I will. Thanks," she said

Cable nodded at her and left the room.

Kacie and Logan began to laugh. Angela looked at them with confusion. "What?"

"Oh, just the way you were gazing longingly at Cable," Kacie teased.

"I was not 'gazing longingly' at Nathan," Angela protested.

Logan snickered. "So it's Nathan now?" she asked.

Angie tried to look stern, but ended up smiling. "I'm going to bed. See you girls in the morning," she said.

Kacie giggled. "Going off to dream about Nathan?"

Angie gave the blonde a dirty look. "Good night you, too."

Kacie and Logan broke into a fit of laughter as Angela left the kitchen. After a moment, they regained their composure, grabbed their Cokes and popcorn, and went into the living room to start watching the movie.

*** *** ***

Cable down on the edge of his bed, frowning. He hadn't really even meant to stay at the mansion—he hadn't been prepared to become part of a team again—but after seeing how badly he was needed, he had decided it would be for the best if he stuck around for a little while at least. Well, that and the fact that he had a hard time saying no whenever Rachel begged him.

Cable felt something tickling his face. He reached up and grabbed it off his shoulder. It was a feather. Her feather. He slowly ran his fingers over it, marveling at its softness. A smile crept to his face as he realized that it smelled like her perfume. It was such a nice scent…

Suddenly, Cable frowned again. "What am I thinking?" he asked himself as he flung the feather aside. "I came here to help these kids train, maybe spend some time with my little sister, not fall for some girl—especially Warren and Betsy's daughter."

He grumbled to himself as he got up in order to get ready to go to sleep, hoping that a good night's rest might help him clear his mind of all thoughts of Angie. As he went to bed, he saw that the feather had landed on his pillow. He sighed heavily as he picked the delicate, white feather up and placed it on his nightstand. He climbed into bed and tried to stop thinking of Angie, but to no avail. She was the star of all his dreams that night.

*** *** ***

Billy lightly shook Kacie. "Hey, wake up. The movie's over," he said.

Kacie sat up groggily, then realizing she'd fallen asleep on Billy Starsmore's shoulder, her eyes got wide and her cheeks grew bright red. "Um, sorry about that," she mumbled.

"It's all right, but you should probably get up to bed. I don't think I could be your pillow all night," he replied.

Kacie nodded and ran upstairs without giving so much as a glance back in Billy's direction.

"She looked pretty comfortable on you shoulder there, Man," Warren commented to Billy once Kacie was safely out of earshot.

"Yeah, she did," Billy said without looking away from the television.

"I think she has a crush on you," Warren said.

"I think so, too," Billy replied. "What's your point?"

"She's cute," Warren said. "Why don't you ask her out?"

Billy looked over at his friend and started to say something, but Warren cut him off. "Don't say anything about Rachel."

Billy shook his head. "I wasn't going to. I was just going to say that, yeah, Kacie's great and all, but she's never going to be anything more than a friend to me. I'm still waiting for my chance with Cindy."

"Then take a chance with Cindy," Warren said.

"Take a chance with Rachel," Billy answered seconds before he was smacked by a flying throw pillow.

*** *** ***

Ric LeBeau groaned as he felt consciousness flowing back into his body. He forced his eyes open, but immediately regretted it. There, snarling in his face, was Sabretooth.

"Rise and shine, Sleepin' Beauty," growled the oversized hairy mutant.

Ric said nothing. He was in too much pain to think of something to say even if he did think he could use his mouth.

"I bet you're wonderin' what I'm gonna do with ya, ain't ya, Boyo?" Creed asked. "To be honest, I ain't quite sure just yet. See, I'm figurin' those powers of yours might come in handy, the way your mother's did for Mystique, but I haven't come up with a way to use 'em yet. But then again, if I never do, I can just kill ya. Either way, I'm happy."

Ric, still in too much pain to speak, simply glared at Sabretooth.

Sabretooth laughed at Ric's obvious suffering. "I'll be checkin' on ya later," he said, turning to leave Ric's cell. Once outside the door, he found one of his assistants waiting for him.

"Sir, there may be a slight problem," the lackey said.

Sabretooth growled, enjoying watching the assistant tremble in fear. He was sure the young man knew what happened to the last person that dared to bring Victor Creed bad news. But Sabretooth wouldn't kill this particular messenger just yet. For the moment, the man was worth more to him alive than dead. But of course, that could all change very quickly. "What is it?" he asked, being sure to show his fangs.

"It appears that some of the mutants here are planning a rebellion. They believe that you are not strong enough as a leader. They say we need someone more like Magneto," the assistant said, his voice trembling.

"Well Magneto's dead and I'm the leader now," Sabretooth said.

"I know that, Sir, but this group really is beginning to grow in numbers. If they aren't stopped soon they may begin to pose a threat to our cause."

"I'll handle them then," Sabretooth growled. He then pushed the much smaller man out of the way and stormed down the hall.

*** *** ***

Angela stared at the computer screen in front of her. Wincing in pain, she grabbed a small bottle, dumped out a pill, and swallowed it without water. She thought about how she'd give just about anything not to have to be constantly on medication anymore.

"Are you hurting, Angie?" she heard someone ask from behind her.

Angela jumped a little and then turned to face the source of the voice. "Nate, I didn't see you standing there," she said. "Been there long?"

"Long enough to see you take a pain killer," he responded. "Are you feeling okay?"

Angela nodded. "I just have a little headache, that's all. I've probably been working a little too long."

"Rest for a little while then" Cable suggested.

"I'm sick of resting," Angela said as she took off her small, black wire-frame glasses and began to slowly rub her temples. "I have too much work to do to be resting all the time."

"Let me help you then," Cable offered.

"Do you know anything about the Legacy Virus," Angela asked.

Cable made a noise that could've been a laugh. "You could say that. Are you trying to develop a cure?"

"Yes," Angela replied, "Although I haven't been very successful so far. So many people have worked on it already, and I'm not having any more luck than they did."

"Doctors Henry McCoy and Moira McTaggart developed a treatment, didn't they?" Cable asked.

Angela sighed. "Yeah. It allows you to stay alive, but that's about it. I can't say much for the quality of life, however."

"It has to be better than dying," Cable said.

"At times I wonder."

Cable frowned. "Let me help you then. Maybe together we can get somewhere."

Angela slowly twirled her glasses between her fingertips. "I just don't know anymore, Nathan. Hank and Moira worked on this thing for decades, and they never came up with an actual cure. What luck do I have?"

Cable placed his hand on her shoulder and Angela felt her whole arm tingle. "You do have their work as a starting place," he reminded her. "That's something."

Angie sighed. "Maybe."

Cable pulled up a chair and sat beside her. "Come on, show me what you've got so far."

Angela put her glasses back on and turned around to face the computer. "All right, but I'm warning you now, I don't have much."

*** *** ***

Billy watched Cindy Grayson as she gathered her things and prepared to leave the classroom. Warren nudged his best friend's arm. "Go talk to her," he said. "Now's the perfect time."

Billy shook his head. "I'm not ready."

"When will you be ready?" Warren asked.

"When will you be ready with Rachel?"

Warren glared at him. "Stop it."

"I'll make you a deal," Billy said. "You confess your true feelings to Rachel and I'll ask Cindy out."

Warren gave Billy a dirty look. "That isn't fair."

Billy shrugged. "What in life is?"

Warren sighed. "Fine, you have a deal."

"So don't even mention Cindy until Ray knows you love her, got it?"

Warren shook Billy's outstretched hand. "Got it."

*** *** ***

"Do it like this," Rebecca said as she blew a leaf a few feet using her powers. "You need only to concentrate."

Twister took a deep breath, trying to do it the way Rebecca had told him to do. However, instead of pushing a leaf forward just a few feet, he created a sort of mini-tornado that pushed it all the way across the yard. Luckily, Rebecca was there to stop Twister's impromptu windstorm before any actual damage was done.

Twister hung his head in his hands. "I can't do it 'Becca," he said. "I'm nothing but a failure."

"You are not a failure," Rebecca said.

He looked up at her. "How can you be so sure of that?"

She kissed him lightly on the cheek. "Because I would not love a failure."

Twister blushed a little. He wanted to tell her he loved her, too, but the words caught in his throat. He'd never felt this way about anyone before, and yet he couldn't bring himself to tell her. Instead he said, "I guess maybe blowing leaves around just isn't my thing."

Rebecca laughed her beautiful, musical laugh and Twister smiled. "Maybe you should work on stopping the wind," Rebecca suggested.

"Good idea," Twister said. "That is something I think I need to work on."

"You are sick of hearing this, I am sure, but just concentrate," Rebecca said.

Twister gave her a crooked grin. "You keep telling me that, but then you sit there being so darn beautiful that my concentration is just shot," he teased.

Rebecca kissed him. "Don't be such a flirt."

Twister blushed again. "So, um, is there anything you do, any little tricks of the trade, that makes this any easier?" he asked, changing the subject back to his powers.

Rebecca shook her head. "Not really. All I do is, of course, concentrate, and just sort of 'will' the wind to do what I want. I do not know; it is hard to explain."

Twister shrugged. "Well, it sounds easy enough."

"Okay, then try it," Rebecca said with a nod. "I will start a small breeze and you try to stop it. Once you master that we can move on to something more difficult."

Twister nodded his assent and a slight wind began to blow. Twister closed his eyes, concentrating, and trying to "will" the wind the way Rebecca had told him to. Suddenly, an eerie calm settled over the grounds of the mansion as the wind came to a dead stop. Twister opened his eyes to see Rebecca smiling.

"I knew you could do it!" she exclaimed as she threw her arms around him.

Twister grinned from ear to ear as he realized that he actually had done it. He hugged Rebecca tightly. "Thanks for believing in me," he whispered in her ear.

"It is the least I could do for the man I love."

*** *** ***

"Sabretooth, Sir, there's a young mutant here who wishes to speak to you," Creed's lackey said as he cowered in the door to his boss's office.

"Is he a member of the Brotherhood?" Sabretooth asked.

"No, Sir, but he says he's interested in joining."

Sabretooth grinned a fang-filled grin. "Then by all means, send the kid in."

The assistant disappeared and a few seconds later a boy who was probably about thirteen came in.

"What's your name?" Sabretooth asked with a snarl.

They boy stood as straight and tall as he could as the imposing figure of Victor Creed approached him. "Zachary Lawrence Tyson III," he replied.

"I hear you wanna join the Brotherhood. Why?" Sabretooth gave a little growl.

Zachary refused to be intimidated. "Some of the kids I go to school with have joined, and they told me that the goal of the Brotherhood is to make mutants the dominate species on the planet—the way they are clearly meant to be. That's something I want to be a part of."

Sabretooth nodded. He liked what he was hearing. Yet another impressionable youth that he could bend to his will. "What are your powers?"

"I have control over the forces of magnetism," Zach answered.

Sabretooth's eyes lit up as he began to form a plan. "Like Magneto?" he asked.

Zach nodded. "Similar."

Sabretooth looked Zachary over. He was too small and weak to be very effective on his own, but Creed already had a way to fix that. And with Zach's powers, maybe Sabretooth could regain the footing he had lost with the Brotherhood. "I think I just may be able to find a place for you here," Sabretooth said as he placed his arm around Zach's shoulder.

For the first time since he had arrived at the headquarters of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, Zachary Lawrence Tyson III felt afraid.

*** *** ***

Addie Logan sat on the roof of the mansion looking up at the stars. "Nice night, ain't it, Pun'kin."

Addie turned around quickly. "Dad!" she exclaimed. "I was so lost in thought I didn't even notice you back there!"

Wolverine sat down beside his daughter and gave her a mock-stern look. "What have I told you about that?" he asked.

Addie sighed. "Letting down your defenses leaves you open for an attack." She paused for a second. "What are you doing here, Daddy?"

"I came to see how you're doing here, Kiddo," he replied. "And to give you this." He pulled out a wad of tissue paper from the jacket of his red flannel overshirt. He handed it to Addie and she unwrapped it.

"It's beautiful, Daddy," she said as she pulled out a silver chain with a charm that was apparently supposed to be a wildcat. The name "Logan" was inscribed on the back of the charm. Addie hugged her father around the neck and kissed him on the cheek. "Thank you."

Wolverine took it from her hands and clasped it around her neck. "It looks good on ya, Adanya," he said.

"Does this mean you're okay with me being an X-Man?" she asked.

Wolverine shrugged. "It means I've accepted it at least. When I heard about Ric, I was sorta hopin' you'd come on home, but Paige told me you guys have decided to stick it out and try to find him."

Addie tensed a little. "I'm not a quitter, Daddy."

"I know that, Darlin', I know. But that doesn't mean an old man can't hope. I worry about ya out there.."

"You don't need to. I can handle myself," Addie declared.

Wolverine put his arm around her shoulders and pulled her to him. "I know you can. But it still scares me knowin' I won't always be there when you need me."

Addie snuggled up close to her father. "You've always been there when I've needed you before," she said.

"I wasn't there when Creed came after ya when you were little, or when those 'Weapon X' people came and took you away, Adanya," he said.

Addie looked up, making eye contact with him. "You were there to save me both those times," she reminded him.

"But I shouldn't have been gone to start with. I shouldn't have…" his voice trailed off.

"How long are you going to beat yourself up over something that's in your nature?" Addie asked. "It's just part of who you are, Daddy."

"But what if somethin' happens again, Darlin', and I let you down? Then what? What if…"

Addie put her hand to his mouth to silence him. "That is not going to happen. You have to believe me on that one. As much as we both hate to admit it at times, I'm a lot like you. I know I didn't exactly prove myself with Sabretooth this time, but I am capable of handling myself in a fight. You just need to have a little faith in me."

"I do have faith in you Darlin', it's just, well, like I said before, I just get a little scared, that's all."

Addie raised an eyebrow. "It isn't like you to be afraid, Dad," she said.

Wolverine brushed a stand of jet-black hair out of Addie's eyes and tucked it behind her ear. "You bring out a side of me most people don't see, Pun'kin," he said. "Look, Adanya, you're the best thing that's ever happened to me, plain and simple. I ain't afraid of much, but I am afraid of loosing you."

"That is not going to happen. Personally, I'm not too keen on the idea of dying myself, and plan to do everything in my power to stay alive for a long, long time," Addie said.

"But I've never been able to protect the people I love. Silver Fox…Mariko…Yukio…"

"You haven't lost me or Mom," Addie said.

"Not yet."

Addie put her hands on either side of his face, forcing him to look at her. "Don't even think that way. I'm not going to lie and say it's easy being close to you, because it's not. But it's not an automatic death sentence, either. You're too strong of a person to let the world get you down like that. Yes, you've lost a lot, but you need to look at what you have, otherwise all your worrying is going to become a self-fulfilling prophecy."

Wolverine sighed as he reached up and took hold of her hands. He rubbed his thumbs over two of her knuckles, feeling the little bumps caused by her retracted claws. "Old habits die hard."

Addie swallowed the lump in her throat. "I know that. But do you think you could at least get yourself to trust me?" she asked.

Wolverine sighed. "I trust you, Adanya," he said. "It's Creed I don't trust."

"Don't worry about him," Addie said as her eyes narrowed into ice-blue slits. "His time is coming."

Wolverine sighed as he put his arm back around his daughter. "Wish I had your confidence, Kiddo. I started thinkin' a long time ago that Victor Creed is one guy who will never get what he damn well deserves."

Addie turned her attention back up to the stars. "He will, Daddy. In one way or another, everyone does."

*** *** ***

Ric LeBeau bucked against his restraints. "What are you going to do to me?" he asked.

Sabretooth laughed at the question. "You'll know when it happens."

A couple of Sabretooth's henchmen entered the room dragging Zachary Tyson along with them. "Let me go!" Zach yelled.

Sabretooth laughed again. "Can't, Boyo. I can't make a new Magneto without ya."

Ric's red eyes grew wide as what Sabretooth was planning suddenly became clear in his mind. "This isn't going to work the way you want it to, Creed," he said. "Odds are you'll kill Zach, and who knows what'll happen to me."

Sabretooth shrugged. "I'm hopin' it'll drive ya insane so you'll work for me."

"You're crazy," Ric stated.

"Tell me ya didn't just figure that out," Sabretooth said. He turned to his henchmen. "Give me the kid."

Zach tried to resist, but he was no match against Sabretooth. He reached out with his powers, hoping he could find something metal he could use to attack his captors, but he never had a chance. Sabretooth grabbed the boy's bare hand and placed it to Ric's face. Ric tried to resist, but he had no control over his mutant powers. Sabretooth made it impossible for Ric to even pull away, giving Ric no choice but to sit there as Zachary Tyson's consciousness slipped into his mind.

And then, it was all over.

*** *** ***

Angela woke up with a start. "Where am I?" she asked.

"You're in the lab," Cable answered from beside her. "You fell asleep at your desk and I didn't have the heart to wake you." He didn't add how he'd liked being able to watch her with impunity as she slept.

Angie blinked as she remembered what had woken her. She gripped Cable's arm. "Something bad has happened to Ric," she said.

Cable looked at her with concern. "Do you know what?" he asked.

Angela shook her head. "No, but I do know he isn't dead. Whatever did happen, though, it was bad. I could hear his mind screaming."

"Do you think you'd have a better chance at finding him now?" Cable asked.

"Maybe. It was the first time since he's been gone that I've been able to sense him. That could be a good sign," she said

"Are you too tired to use Cerebro now?" Cable asked.

Angie shook her head. "I think I'll be okay. But would you come with me just in case something happens?"

"It would be my pleasure," Cable said as he took her hand to help her out of the chair.

Angie stood. She looked up and her eyes locked with Nathan's. She became very aware of the fact that he had not yet let go of her hand. She started to say something, but before she had a chance, Cable pulled away and looked down at the ground. "We should probably get going," he said.

Angela nodded. She couldn't decide if she was relieved that the moment was over or not. "Yeah, we probably should."

Angie turned around and walked away. Cable stood still and watched her for a moment, concentrating on her every curve.. "What are you thinking Nathan?" he scolded himself. "She'd never go for an old guy like you even if you do have a messed up aging process.":

Angela turned around and flashed Nathan a beautiful smile. "Are you coming or not?" she asked.

Cable smiled back. "I'm right behind you."

*** *** ***

Rebecca and Twister stood outside the door of Rebecca's room. He took her hands in his. "Have a good time tonight?" he asked.

Rebecca nodded. "Of course. I cannot think of a time when I have not enjoyed your company."

Twister reached up and pushed a piece of white hair out of her face. He looked deeply into her pale blue eyes. His lips curled in a small smile, and he moved in to kiss her…

The alarm blared. Startled, Twister and Rebecca jumped away from each other. "Why does this always happen?" Twister muttered.

Rebecca squeezed his hand and gave him a quick kiss. "We need to find out what the problem is."

Twister nodded and followed Rebecca down the hall. It was times like this that made him wonder why he'd signed on for this whole superhero thing in the first place.

*** *** ***

Angela, Cable, and Paige all ran into the war room at precisely the same time. "Does anyone know what's going on?" they asked in unison.

Angie ran over to the computer. "Cerebro says the Brotherhood has attacked again. Apparently more humans have been taken hostage and are being in another abandoned warehouse," she said.

"Again?" Kacie asked as the X-Men filed into the room. "Sabretooth's not scoring many points for creativity here."

"Well, it's not like he's ever been the brightest crayon in the box anyway," Marie said

Addie came in, a few steps behind everyone else. "He's baiting us," she said. "He wants to get our attention and he knows putting people in danger is a good way to accomplish that goal." She paused for a moment. "However, I also agree with Marie's crayon analysis."

Rachel frowned. "I know Sabretooth probably is baiting us, and he's a few crayons short of a box of Crayolas, or whatever, but don't we have to go anyway? I mean, trap or not, people's lives are in danger."

Paige nodded. "If y'all are willing then yes. Somehow I get the feeling that Sabretooth is not exactly the kind of person who would let the bait go if the trap was not sprung. However, if anyone feels as if he or she would not be able to fight after what happened last time, then please, stay behind. Otherwise, you'll endanger yourself and your teammates," she said.

What happened last time. The words hung in the air. Paige had not started what exactly had happened last time, but everyone knew she meant Ric, and were saddened by the thought of their fallen comrade. But none of them wanted to turn back now. This could be their chance to rescue him.

Rebecca stepped out in front. "We are all willing."

Paige's expression was grim. "Suit up then. It's time for battle."

*** *** ***

Rainmaker was again the field leader. While their first battle had been during the day, this battle was at night, allowing them to stay better hidden, especially in their black uniforms. "Maybe we should come up with a better plan this time," Rainmaker suggested.

"What, you mean we're not going to let the blonde come up with it this time?" Charger joked.

Ice Queen stuck her tongue out at her.

"Be serious you two," Phoenix scolded.

Charger and Ice Queen both gave Phoenix a mock salute. "Sure thing, Summers," they said in unison. Phoenix ignored them.

Rainmaker's serious look quieted down the couple of less-than-reverent X-Men. "If this battle is anything like the last one, then we will have to face quite a few enemies as well as rescue hostages. I believe it may be best if we have some people concentrating on the fighting and others going to save the hostages," she said.

Shadow Stalker nodded. "Sounds like it could work.," he said. "Who's doing what, Rainmaker?"

"Well, I was thinking that you, Sparks, and Phoenix could work on setting the hostages free while the rest of us covered you." Rainmaker paused for a moment, then continued. "Shadow Stalker, use your powers to stay hidden. Phoenix, do what you can to create a mental shield to keep you out if sight. Sparks, you are their firepower in case they need it."

The three X-Men addressed nodded their agreement.

"Let us go then," Rainmaker said as she led her team into battle.

*** *** ***

It was dark in the warehouse when the X-Men entered. Suddenly, a spotlight came on, illumination the five hostages who sat bound to chairs in the middle of the room.

"Um, I'm going to go out on a limb here, but I believe this may be a trap," Sparks commented.

Wildcat sniffed the air. "He's over there," she said, pointing to a wall on the opposite side of the warehouse.

Sabretooth stepped into the light some, making himself visible, but still accented by shadows. "So you found me. Frail," he said with a sinister chuckle. "Daddy would be proud."

Wildcat did her best not to be intimidated this time. "Tell me, Creed, do you have some sort of plan that can only be accomplished by tying people up inside big old warehouses or are you just trying to annoy the hell out of us all?"

Sabretooth laughed. "You actually think I'm gonna tell ya what I'm up to? I'm not that stupid."

"So maybe he's a tad bit brighter of a crayon that I originally though," Charger whispered to Ice Queen. "Maybe like a light brown or something."

Ice Queen snickered. "I wouldn't place good money on it."

Phoenix frowned at her two teammates. "Keep it down," she hissed.

Slowly, a group of young mutants clad in the uniform of the New Brotherhood approached the hostages, surrounding them by forming a large circle.

"There goes our plan," Turbo whispered.

Rainmaker shook her head, her bone-white ponytail swishing across her back. "No, we will just need to draw the enemy away from the hostages," she whispered.

The X-Men prepared to attack. A new figure suddenly emerged from the shadows, stopping them dead in their tracks. He was dressed entirely in black, and his costume along with the shadows caused him to seem completely covered—aside from his glowing red eyes.

Wildcat's breath caught in her chest and she found it hard to continue standing. Part of her wanted to run across the room to him, but she knew that something wasn't right. She stood there as if she was frozen.

Charger was the first to find her voice. "Ric?" she asked.

The dark figure with red eyes laughed mirthlessly. "I do not know that name," he said. "I am Renegade—the spirit of Magneto reborn."

"Magneto?" Sparks questioned.

Renegade stepped out into the light, revealing the white streak that hung prominently on either side of his perfectly-chiseled face. "Allow me to demonstrate," he said. With a flick of his wrist, a huge sheet of metal ripped from the ceiling and flew at Phoenix, sending her backwards and pinning her to a wall.

Without giving it a second thought, Wildcat launched herself into a series of back flips, landing in front of Phoenix. Wildcat unsheathed her claws, cutting Phoenix free. The redhead collapsed as the metal fell to the ground, and the Wildcat caught her. "Are you all right?" Wildcat asked as she helped Phoenix to her feet.

Phoenix nodded. "I'll be fine," she said, steadying herself.

By this time, the battle had begun. Phoenix ran to help Shadow Stalker and Sparks save the humans, but they were still having a difficult time completing their task.

Charger picked up a small block of wood from the ground and it began to glow a deep red. Before she had a chance to throw it, a massive blast of energy hit her, knocking her unconscious. Ice Queen tried to help her teammate, but was stopped when an opponent spraying fire from his fingertips approached her. The sight of the fire made Ice Queen panic, and her attention was diverted away from Charger.

Ice Queen recognized the boy as a student from her physics class, but still she figured he wouldn't show her any mercy. She put up an icewall for defense, although she knew very well that it wouldn't be long at all until the boy melted it down. She tried to think of someway she could fight her opponent as she realized she had quite literally backed herself into a corner, but what chance did ice have against fire?

The fire boy reached out to grab Ice Queen, but before he had a chance someone yanked him away from Ice Queen, punching him so hard that he flew into a wall and crumpled into an unconscious heap.

"Thanks, Sparky," Ice Queen said as she grinned her rescuer.

Sparks smiled back and winked at her. "Anytime, Beautiful. Now don't you think it's about time we rejoined the others?"

Ice Queen sighed heavily as she looked over at the battle which the X-Men appeared to be loosing. Suddenly, she remembered Marie. "I saw Charger go down," she said. "I think she might still be over there."

Sparks nodded. "Lead the way, Ice Princess."

Ice Queen threw him a dirty look over her shoulder as she ran to the place where she had last seen Charger. "That's Ice Queen, and don't you forget it," she scolded.

*** *** ***

Charger was still lying there when Sparks and Ice Queen arrived. Ice Queen touched the back of Charger's neck with a frozen finger. Charger sat up with a start and glared at her blonde teammate. "What did you do that for?" Charger growled.

"I was just trying to wake you up," Ice Queen said. "No reason to jump all over me."

Charger gave a weak smile. "Sorry. You startled me, that's all."

Sparks helped Charger up. "Are you hurt?" he asked.

"Um, my head hurts a little, but I'm fine otherwise," Charger replied.

"Can you fight?" Sparks asked. "It seems like the others could use all the help they can get."

Charger opened her mouth to speak, but before she could answer, Renegade floated to the top of the warehouse using his magnetic shield and gestured to his underlings. The terrorist mutants broke away from those that they were currently fighting and scurried from the building.

The X-Men stood still for a moment, puzzled. "Why did they retreat?" Wildcat wondered out loud. "They were winning."

"Phoenix, do you sense any sort of explosive device?" Rainmaker asked, fearing the worst.

Phoenix closed her eyes in concentration. "No, I don't sense a thing. It appears that they just decided it was time to leave."

Charger stepped closer to the other X-Men. "I don't know why they have left, but I do believe it would be the best for all involved if we just helped the humans and then returned to headquarters."

Rainmaker nodded. "That does sound like the best course of action."

Ice Queen shrugged. "Maybe this just all goes back to Sabretooth being a crayon," she suggested. The comment was obviously directed at Charger, although the girl just stood there with a blank expression for a second. When she realized Ice Queen was looking at her, she gave a small smile.

Sparks and Shadow Stalker freed the hostages and directed to them to the nearest police station so they could get help. The five humans ran out of the warehouse with amazing speed, overjoyed to finally escape the battle of the super-powered beings.

Wildcat approached Charger. "Are you going to be able to handle this?" she asked.

Charger looked confused. "Handle what?"

"Your brother showing up as Renegade," Wildcat said.

Charger nodded and the corners of her lips slowly turned down to form a frown. "Yeah, I'll be okay," she said. Then she added quickly. "I guess I'm just a little dazed."

Wildcat moved a little closer to Charger but suddenly stopped. She didn't smell right. Wildcat shook her head. She knew she couldn't rely on her sense of smell quite the way her father did, but she figured that she'd know Marie's scent. "It's all the people that were in here. That's throwing me off," she rationalized to herself. Still, she moved a little farther away from Charger.

Rainmaker sighed as a look of defeat came over her. Her shoulders slumped and she lost that majestic look that she usually possessed. They had been successful in their mission, but only because the enemy had decided to retreat—an enemy that was now led by one of their own. "It s time to return home," she stated as she turned and left the warehouse.

*** *** ***

"Are you doing all right, Marie?" Logan asked as she sat down on the couch beside her friend.

Marie didn't turn away from the television. "Of course I am. Why would I not be?"

Logan frowned. "I don't know, I guess I just figured this thing with Ric would bother you." "And you've been acting rather strangely," Logan added to herself.

Marie shrugged, still not pulling her gaze away from her show. "I can handle myself well enough not to make some sort of scene, Adanya," she said.

"Showing emotion does not necessarily constitute making a scene, Raven," Logan said, using Marie's first name that she hated it as much, if not more, than Logan hated "Adanya."

Marie's puzzled expression was reflected in the television screen. "That isn't my name," she said.

"Then Adanya's not mine."

The room grew quiet save from the buzz from the television. "Have you changed your perfume, Marie?" Logan asked.

Marie looked at Logan for the first time since the conversation had started. "No," she said. "Why?"

"This probably sounds weird, but you, well, smell different than you usually do." Logan said.

Marie raised one an eyebrow. "You're right. That does sound weird." She paused, as if she was thinking, then added, "I did change the type of shampoo I use. I bet that's what it is."

Logan looked relieved to have an explanation for the abnormality. "That must be it," she said with a smile.

Marie turned back to the television and Logan left without saying another word.

*** *** ***

Warren walked nervously up to Rachel, who was lying on a chair beside the pool. He stopped and watched her for a moment, keeping himself hidden by blending in with the shadow of a nearby umbrella sticking out of a table. He never ceased to be amazed by Rachel's beauty. He marveled at how her hair looked as she sun's rays hit it, mixing shimmering gold highlights in with the red. Her breathing was steady and rhythmic, and he found his gaze drawn to the red fabric—or lack thereof—of her bikini top. He shook his head and forced his eyes to look elsewhere. Slowly, he emerged from the shadow and cleared his throat, letting Rachel know he was there.

Rachel's emerald-green eyes opened slowly. "Warren?" she called softly.

He came over and sat down in the chair beside her. "The one and only," he replied.

Rachel rolled over on her side so she was facing. "And I always thought you were one of four," she teased.

Warren frowned for a second, then smiled. "Yeah, but I'm by far the best of the Warren Worthingtons."

"I wouldn't doubt it," Rachel said.

A strand of red-gold hair fell in front of Rachel's eye, and Warren reached up to softly brush it away. Rachel caught his wrist and held it. Warren froze as his eyes met hers. He felt his mouth go dry as his gaze wandered back down to the area of her red bikini top and then back up to her face. Rachel sat up, never breaking eye contact with Warren. She slipped her hand down from his wrist and intertwined her fingers with his. Slowly, she moved into kiss him.

Warren jumped up as if he'd been startled. This was exactly what he wanted, but suddenly he felt almost afraid. He wondered if maybe Rachel had just sensed his desire for her and had been acting accordingly. He felt his cheeks grow hot with embarrassment. "I have to go," he mumbled as he rushed back towards the mansion, blending in with the shadows all the way.

Rachel felt like she was going to cry. She had thought for sure that Warren had shared her feelings, sure that she'd sensed it stronger than ever as he'd been hiding in the shadows as if she didn't know he was there. But she'd been wrong, and now she'd pushed him away. Frustrated at herself, Warren, and the world in general, she grabbed her towel, wrapped it around her waist, and stormed away from the pool.

*** *** ***

"I am an idiot," Warren announced.

Billy looked up at him from across the table. "I could've told you that," he said with a crooked grin, "But what made you finally come to that obvious conclusion on your own?"

Warren sighed. "Rachel tried to kiss me, and I ran away—literally."

Billy breathed out in a slow whistle. "So let me get this straight, the girl you've been madly in love with since like preschool tries to kiss you and you run away?"

"That's pretty much it." Warren said.

Billy rolled his eyes. "Yeah, I'd have to say that that is probably the textbook definition of an idiot. Why'd you run?"

Warren sighed again. "I don't know," he said. "I mean, I went out there with the purpose of finally telling Rachel how I feel about her, but when I had the chance I bolted. I guess it was just sort of overwhelming. There she was, looking at me, and she was so beautiful. I mean, her hair, her eyes—that bikini. She took hold of my hand, and I couldn't keep my eyes off of her. Damn, I just wanted her to be mine more than I'd ever wanted anything else in my whole life. There was my dream right there in front of me, so close I could touch it. But then I panicked. I just got scared. It was the moment I've always prayed for, but when it actually came I didn't know how to react. Now Rachel probably thinks I don't like her, that I rejected her on purpose."

"Well, that's pretty heavy," Billy said after a pause. Then his features got serious. "Look, Warren, I know what you feel for Rachel—I've been listening to you talk about it for years—and I'm fairly certain she feels the same way. But you're going to need to tell her now, before any more time passes. In Rachel's mind, she probably feels rejected, like you said, and as if she made a move on you when it wasn't warranted. You're going to need to let her know that you are attracted to her before this forces a wedge between the two of you and ruins any chance you had with her."

"Since when did you know so much about relationships?" Warren asked.

Billy shrugged. "Been in enough of them, I guess."

Warren stood up and placed his hands on the table in front of him. "I'm going to do it. I'm going to go up there right now and tell Rachel exactly how I feel."

"Good for you," Billy said. "Tell me how it goes, okay?"

Warren started to leave. "Only if you tell me how it goes with Cindy."

*** *** ***

Wiping the tears from her eyes, Rachel chose to ignore the knock at her door. She really hadn't meant to cry, hadn't meant to let Warren's rejection affect her in that way. She'd always figured she was stronger than that, strong enough to brush something like that off. But it had been Warren, someone she'd loved as long as she could remember. She'd always thought he liked her, too, at least a little bit. She'd sometimes even believed she could sense it. Then there was the way he'd been looking at her down by the pool earlier that day, the way his eyes kept wandering from her face to well, down farther. She'd decided then that she was sick of waiting on Warren—that it was time to make her move.

However, it would appear that she had miscalculated, and that Warren did not share her feelings after all. He'd come out there, looking at her as a friend, and she'd come on to him. And when Rachel could've sworn she'd sensed desire emanating from him! She felt upset, embarrassed, and confused. She chewed on her bottom lip. Maybe she wasn't as good of a telepath as she'd always thought. Rachel began to cry harder.

The knocking came again, this time louder. "I know you're in there, Ray, so there's no use in pretending you're not," Warren said from behind the door.

Rachel remained silent, still making no effort to open the door. She'd known it was Warren even before he'd spoken, but she didn't want to talk to him, not after what had happened by the pool. The last thing she needed was to hear him tell her that she was a good friend, but that his feelings didn't go past that. She hoped he'd just go away and leave her alone for a few days or so, in order to let her forget this anything had ever happened.

Warren knocked again with obvious impatience. "Rachel, please, let me come in!"

"I don't want to talk!" she shouted back, figuring it was pointless to try to continue her silence.

"Please! I need to talk to you!"

"No!"

"Rachel!"

"Go Away!"

"For crying out loud Rachel, would you just opened the damn door!"

Rachel finally flung the door open. "What?!"

Rachel's eyes were red and puffy and her cheeks were heavily tearstained. "You look awful," Warren blurted out.

Rachel glared at him and started to slam the door, but Warren stopped it with his arm and pushed his way in. "I didn't mean it to sound like that," he said.

"What, you didn't mean to reject me and then insult my appearance? Could've fooled me," Rachel said, her voice a lot colder than usual.

"No! Not at all!" Warren said, throwing up his arms to emphasize his denial. "I only meant you looked really sad, that's all. There's absolutely nothing wrong with your appearance. You're beautiful."

"The why did you push me away earlier?"

Warren's expression was serious as he looked into her eyes. "I didn't mean to push you away," he said. "The last thing I'd ever want to do is hurt you. I guess I just got scared. I've always wanted to touch you—to kiss you—but when I got my chance it sort of overwhelmed me. I know it seemed like I didn't want you, but that isn't the case at all."

Rachel's lips turned up in the smallest of smiles. "So does this mean you do have feelings for me?"

Warren wiped the last, lingering tear of her cheek. "Rachel Jean Summers, I am madly in love with you," he said. "I have been for longer than I can even remember." He took in a deep breath, savoring the feeling of finally getting that off his chest.

Rachel was a little dumbfounded by Warren's declaration of love at first, but her smile began to grow as realization set in. "I love you, too," she said as she threw her arms around him.

Warren returned her embrace, savoring the moment. He couldn't help but find himself wondering why he hadn't said something years earlier.

*** *** ***

Damien Thomas sat in a chair in the mansion's library, staring off into space. He was relieved that he had finally found somewhere that he could be alone with his thoughts. He'd been searching for the past hour for some place where he could have some privacy, and was amazed at how small a mansion could come once you filled it with people.

Damien was puzzled. Marie LeBeau had rejected his advances earlier that morning. But that wasn't what had confused him. Damien was more than used to Marie giving him the brush off. That had been happening for years. No, it was the way she had done it. This time, instead of her usual eye roll-insult combination she'd simply given him this look. It was like she was some sort of royalty and he was just a peasant who had dared to invade her personal space. It was a sort of snobbish, hateful look that he'd never seen Marie's features wear before. Frankly, it had frightened him.

He'd been trying to figure out what exactly had caused the sudden change in Marie's behavior. He knew the obvious reason: Ric's kidnapping and his subsequent transformation into the villain Renegade. But somehow it just didn't to seem to be in Marie's nature for even that to affect her quite the way it had. She'd never seemed like the type to take her frustrations out on something other than the problem she was faced with, even if the alternative source for anger ventilation was Damien. Sure, he'd never exactly been her favorite person in the world, but she was sure he didn't hate him quite as much as that look had suggested. Besides, Logan had complained about Marie's strange behavior, too, and Damien knew that Marie didn't have anything against Logan, one of her closest friends.

The thought of Logan made Damien remember something he'd heard her say earlier. She's muttered that Marie didn't "smell right." Damien wondered now if there was anything to that. He rested his chin in his hands and frowned. Maybe it was better if her just didn't worry too much about Marie's sudden temperament change.

*** *** ***

Marie sat alone in the small room, her knees pulled to her chest. Her long, dark brown hair fell in her face, hiding her eyes. Her cheeks were still tearstained although she'd given up on crying some time earlier. Marie wasn't sure how long it had been since she'd gotten there, really, though she figured it had been a couple of days.

She just couldn't accept the fact that Ric, her beloved older brother, was now the leader of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants and claiming to be Magneto reborn. It didn't make sense. Ric had never believed in the ideals of the Brotherhood, nor had he ever shown any sort of desire to work with Sabretooth. And since when had he had any sort of control over magnetism? Marie suddenly began to cry as a whole new wave of hopelessness crashed over her. If the deal with Ric wasn't enough, she was cold, hungry, tired, and still in pain from the blow she'd received during the earlier battle. All she wanted to do was go home.

The door flew open and Sabretooth came in. Marie wiped away her tears. "Where's my brother?" she asked through clenched teeth. "I told you I wanted to see him."

"Renegade's busy, Girlie," Sabretooth replied. "And I doubt he wants to see you."

"What have you done to him?" Marie yelled.

Sabretooth laughed at her misery. "I simply gave the boy what he needed to become the savior of mutantkind. You should be real proud of your big brother."

Marie jumped to her feet. "You son of a bitch," she snarled. "You don't give a damn about saving mutantkind! All you care about is how you can get something for yourself and how many people you can hurt in the process! You're nothing but a bloodthirsty animal! You may think this isn't going to come back at you someday, but you're wrong. You'll get yours someday, Creed. Sick bastards like you always do."

Sabretooth roared as he ran at her, knocking her back down to the ground. Marie grabbed a handful of pebbles off the ground close to where she had landed and charged them, throwing them in Sabretooth's face. Sabretooth howled in pain and surprise. "You're gonna regret that, Frail," he promised.

Before Sabretooth could make good on his threat, Renegade entered the room. "Let her go," he said, his voice deep and commanding.

Sabretooth stopped in his tracks, his eyes darting between Renegade and Marie. "She doesn't need to live," he said after a moment.

"We don't know that yet," Renegade said. "She may come in handy later."

Sabretooth snarled and stormed out of the room, swatting Marie back down to the ground as he left.

Marie shifted to a more comfortable sitting position. "Why are you doing this, Ric?" she asked after a moment.

Renegade looked puzzled. "Who's Ric?"

Marie stared at him, horrified. "You're Ric," she said. "Richard Henri LeBeau—Ric."

"I'm Renegade."

Marie begin to cry again. "What has Sabretooth done to you?" she asked.

"Sabretooth hasn't done anything to me," he said.

Her tears confused Renegade. She had seemed relatively unfazed by Sabretooth knocking her around—something Renegade knew to be unpleasant, although he couldn't remember if and when he'd actually experienced it himself—yet, she was devastated by the fact he wouldn't answer to the name Ric.

"If he hasn't done anything to you, then why are you here leading the Brotherhood?" Marie asked.

"I'm not leading the Brotherhood because Sabretooth made me," Renegade replied as if Marie had just asked an extremely dumb question. "I'm leading it because I believe that mutants are meant to be the dominant species of this planet and that it's time humans assumed their subordinate role."

Marie shook her head. "You've never believed that," she said. "You've believe in Professor Xavier's dream of mutants and humans living together in peace. You're an X-Man!"

Renegade glared at her. "I am not an X-Man. X-Men are the enemy. You are the enemy."

Marie looked at him in horror. "Don't you remember anything from before you came here?"

Renegade frowned as he tried to remember his life before he had joined the Brotherhood, tried to think of who he'd been before he was Renegade. All he could bring to mind were fuzzy images and bits of memories. "Why do you care?" he snapped, annoyed by the confusion Marie was causing in his mind.

"Because I'm your sister."

Renegade closed his eyes, trying to grab hold of one of the little fragments of memories that were running around his mind. He could see Marie smiling and laughing. He could see her glaring at him from across the room. She was someone he loved. She was someone he hated. Renegade clutched his head, trying to make sense of his conflicting thoughts. He felt almost as if he was two people that had merged into one. He opened his eyes and looked at Marie. "Don't mess with my head, X-Man," he growled.

"I'm not the one messing with your head," she said, almost in a whisper.

Renegade said nothing more. He just turned and left the room, slamming the door behind him.

Marie stayed sitting on the hard, cold floor. She wrapped her arms back around her knees again, and her hair fell back in her face. She didn't cry.

*** *** ***

A young woman came into the room, shutting and locking the door behind her. Slowly, her long brown hair became short and blonde; her green eyes became brown. She grew smaller. Her skin paled a shade or two and freckled. Within a few seconds, she'd taken on the appearance of someone else entirely.

She went over to the dresser and picked up a jewelry box. She opened it and removed a small transmitter that she had hidden inside. She switched the transmitted to "on" and tuned it in to the correct frequency. "Switchblade here," she said into the microphone, softly as not to let any third parties hear her.

"I read you, Switchblade," said the staticy voice on the other end of the line. :"What do you have to report?"

"The leader was right," Switchblade said. "The X-Men are still using Xavier's old mansion as their headquarters."

The man on the other end of the transmission gave an audible smirk. "How predictable of them to cling to tradition. Have you found anything else?"

Switchblade sighed heavily. "I wish I had more information I could give you, but apparently Marie doesn't have access to important information, and no one ever talks about anything of consequence. It's like living in a damn soap opera over here."

"Well, seeing as our leader is not interested in the personal lives of our enemies, nothing soap opera-like will do us much good. Get some real work done, Switchblade."

"I will," Switchblade promised. "Suggest to the leader that the Brotherhood attacks. Maybe then I can get a good look at their equipment."

"I'll see what I can do," her contact said. Switchblade heard a click, and the static stopped.

Switchblade re-hid the transmitter in a different location this time. Slowly, she began to change form again. "Time to go back to being sweet little Marie," she grumbled as she left the room to rejoin the X-Men.

*** *** ***

It all happened so quickly. One minute, Kacie was driving home, and the next her car was in a ditch. Slowly, she began to regain consciousness. She tried to move, but the pain was just too much. Kacie wanted to remember what it had been that had caused her to wreck, but she was unable to think clearly. Blood was running down her face from a gash in her forehead.

As Kacie's thoughts became less foggy, she began to hear voices in the distance. She couldn't make out their words just yet, but they were moving closer. Kacie knew she was in danger. She began to panic. She began to struggle with her seatbelt, but it would not budge. She cried out telepathically, although she knew it was most likely a futile gesture, seeing as in her weakened state she didn't think she could project her thoughts to the mansion, even with it being less than a mile a way.

The voices moved close enough to allow Kacie to make out what they were saying. "Do you think she's still alive?" asked a deep, male voice.

"Doesn't matter one way or another," replied a second voice that was slightly higher in pitch but still obviously masculine. "We'll kill her if the accident didn't do the job."

Kacie was terrified by this point. She wanted nothing more than to get out of the car, turn the two men into popsicles, and then run all the way to the mansion, never looking back. But she couldn't even feel her legs, never mind use them to escape. Her head was really beginning to throb now, and she was feeling more than a little dizzy. She wondered absent-mindedly how much blood she was loosing and if anything was broken.

The two men were at the driver's side window now. Kacie was sure they could see the fear in her eyes. They moved to tear off the door, and Kacie whimpered in helplessness. She wanted to protect herself, the way she always thought she would in such a situation, but at the moment she was fighting to even stay awake.

All of the sudden, she saw one of the men go flying as if he'd been punched hard. The second man soon followed his partner. Both men tried to get up, but a huge blast of almost-blinding energy shot forth, knocking Kacie's attackers away from her and rendering them unconscious. Kacie recognized the person who now approached the car. "Billy? What is he doing here?" she thought right before the darkness overwhelmed her.

*** *** ***

Billy Starsmore ripped the door off Kacie's car. He freed the girl from the wreckage, using low-level energy blasts to cut her loose. He lifted her carefully out of the car and checked for vital signs. An unbelievable wave of relief washed over Billy as he realized she was still breathing. She was obviously injured very seriously and would need immediate medical attention, however.

"It's okay, Princess. I'm going to get you to Angela. You're going to be okay," he said, although he knew she most likely could not hear him. He was saying the words for his benefit as much as hers, if not more so.

Billy started the half a mile walk back to the mansion, cradling Kacie's limp body in his arms.

*** *** ***

Angie was working in her lab when a frantic Billy Starsmore burst in carrying a bloody Kacie Drake. "What happened?" Angie asked as she led Billy to a table where he could put Kacie.

"I'm not sure," Billy replied as he gently lowered Kacie onto the operating table. "I was taking a walk in the woods when I heard Kacie calling out for help in my mind. I ran to find out what was going on, and when I found her, she was in her car, which was totaled in a ditch. Two men were coming towards her with guns. I got them away and then pulled Kacie out of the car. I don't know what exactly happened after that. All I could think of was getting her back here, to you."

Dr. Worthington nodded as she began to prep her patient. "Go tell Paige to call Hank McCoy. Kacie's gone into shock and may require a blood transfusion. I'm going to need his help."

Billy gave her a nod. "Will she be all right?" he asked tentatively.

"In all honesty, it's real too soon to tell."

Billy ran off to find Paige.

*** *** ***

Bobby Drake paced back and forth in the small waiting room outside the mansion's medical lab. "Robert, please sit down," Emma asked from the couch. "You're making me nervous."

Bobby stopped in mid-pace and looked over at his wife. Their four-year-old daughter, Britney, was curled up next to her mother, fast asleep. "I'm worried about Kacie," he said after a brief pause.

Emma patted the empty space on the couch beside her and motioned for him to sit down. Bobby walked over to her and collapsed on the sofa. Emma wrapped her arm around him and he put his head on her shoulder. Emma stroked his hair. "I'm worried about her, too, but it's going to be okay. She'll get through this," she assured him. "She's strong, Bobby. And I can sense her will to live."

Bobby let out a deep breath. "I know, but that doesn't make me any less worried, Em. Kacie's my little girl—in my mind she's really not much bigger than Britney. I don't know what I would do if I lost her. I keep seeing how Rogue's trying to deal with the loss of Ric. I couldn't go through that."

"We're not going to loose her," Emma said, her voice strong and determined. "She has two wonderful doctors in there who are doing everything they can to make sure Kacie gets through this. You've just got to keep telling yourself that everything will be fine. Otherwise, you're going to drive yourself insane."

Bobby started to say something else when Billy and Addie walked in. "Heard anything?" Logan asked.

Bobby sat up. "Not yet," Emma said. "Hank came out a little bit ago and said they were about to start to blood transfusion."

Billy looked pale, and Emma was surprised to note that he looked even worse than Bobby. Dark circles shadowed his eyes and his brownish-blonde hair was a tousled mess. Emma looked up and him. "Thank you for getting her out of that car, Billy," Emma said.

"I'm just glad I heard her call," Billy replied. "If I hadn't…" He moved further into the room and slumped down into a chair across from the Drakes.

"Do you have any idea who the people were who attacked her?" Bobby asked.

Billy shook his head. "No, but one of them had blue hair, so I'm guessing they were mutants. Maybe members of the Brotherhood."

"Warren, Rebecca, and I went to look for them after Billy brought Kacie back to the mansion," Logan said. "I was able to trace their scent for a little while, but the trail went dead at the main road."

Suddenly, the medical lab door opened, causing everyone to turn and look. Dr. Henry McCoy walked out. "The procedures were a success. Her vital signs are stable. I believe she is going to be just fine."

Billy let out a deep sigh of relief and leaned back in the chair, letting himself relax for the first time since he had found Kacie. Bobby hugged Emma. Logan leaned back against a wall and smiled.

"She's resting now," Hank continued. "Either Angie or I will be with her at all times and we will let you know when she wakes. If she feels up to it, you will then be able to visit her, one at a time."

Bobby Drake thanked his lucky stars as he thought of how close he had come to loosing one of the three most important people in his life. Still, a trace of sadness lingered, even though he now knew that Kacie was going to pull through. He remembered all the trials he had had to face during his time as an X-Man and knew that his daughter had a similar road ahead—and that he wouldn't always be there to shelter her.

*** *** ***

Marie glowered at the door to her cell. "Stupid force field," she muttered, referring to the energy shield that had been placed around the room in order to prevent her from using her powers to make it explode. Neither Ric nor Sabretooth had returned since that first time three days ago, and Marie was really beginning to get fed-up with the whole prisoner thing. She wished they'd just make up their minds and decided what they wanted to do with her, whatever that may be. She hated being trapped. Staying in one place for too long went entirely against her nature.

She picked up a handful of pebbles that had fallen from the cracking floor, charged one, then threw it at the door. She had known it would disintegrate as soon as it hit the force field, just like all the others, but she didn't care. It gave her something to do. She threw another one…

*** *** ***

Kacie smiled at her mother as Emma Frost-Drake sat down beside the girl's bed in the mansion infirmary. "Hey, Mom," Kacie said weakly.

"Hey, yourself," Emma said with a small grin. She took her daughter's hand. "How are you feeling?"

"Better," Kacie replied. "But I'm not sure how good that is. Angela said I almost died."

Emma frowned. "You would have if Billy hadn't found you."

Kacie's blush was very clear on her sickly-pale skin. "I'll have to thank him for that."

Emma pushed Kacie's blonde hair out of her face, revealing the mark that was left by the gash she'd received in the accident. Kacie grimaced. "Kinda makes me wish I had Logan's healing factor," she said.

"Angela said she'll be able to cover up the scar," Emma said.

"I hope she can," Kacie replied. "I feel like the Bride of Frankenstein with all these stitches."

"Well I think you look just fine," Emma said, squeezing her daughter's hand a little.

"How's Dad?" Kacie asked.

"He's doing okay now," Emma said. "He's asleep with Britney upstairs. You gave him quite a scare, Kacie." She paused for a moment, then added, "You gave me quite a scare, too."

"Sorry."

"It wasn't your fault, Sweetheart." The former White Queen of the Hellfire Club looked down at her sixteen-year-old daughter, thinking about young sixteen really was. After spending so much time with the Hellions and then Generation X, she'd forgotten how much of a child you really still were at sixteen. "Do you still want to be an X-Man?" she asked.

Kacie gave her mother a sort of puzzled look. "Of course!' she said will as much emphasis as she could muster in her present state. "Why would I not?"

"Well, I was wondering after what happened to Ric LeBeau and now what happened to you that maybe it was all too much for you to handle," Emma explained.

"I made a promise to be a part of this team, and I'm not going to let a few bad things scare me into breaking that vow. I like being an X-Man—I like being able to help—and I'm going to keep doing that, no matter what it costs me personally," Kacie said.

Emma nodded. "I know, and I'm proud of you for you conviction. But still, if things ever do get too rough, you're always welcome to come back home."

"I know," Kacie said. "And thanks."

Emma smiled and squeezed Kacie's hand again. "You're father's awake," she said, sensing her husband upstairs. "Do you want me to send him down for you?"

"I'd like that," Kacie replied. "And when you get back upstairs give Britney a big hug and kiss for me, okay?"

"Of course," Emma said as she stood up. She kissed Kacie on the top of her head. "I love you."

Kacie smiled. "I love you, too, Mom."

*** *** ***

Phoenix, Wildcat, Sparks, and Charger approached yet another old warehouse that contained human hostages as well as, they were quite certain, a group of terrorist mutants belonging to the New Brotherhood. "This is getting way beyond redundant," Wildcat said.

"Hey he did change his strategy a little this time," Sparks said. "He's using two warehouses instead of one."

"Ooh, maybe he's like a dull orange crayon now," Wildcat said.

"Quiet you two," Phoenix snapped. "This is serious."

"Sorry, Phoenix—just filling in for Ice Queen," Wildcat said.

Phoenix glared at her. "Well this is neither the time nor place for jokes. With half the team all the way across town trying to save the other hostages, we have to be even more serious than usual."

"Sure thing, Scott," Wildcat muttered.

Phoenix glared at her. She was determined that this mission would go smoothly. The team had been split back into Blue and Gold teams, and Phoenix had been made field commander of Blue Team. She would not fail. She would be the type of leader as she'd always seen her father as being. She would live up to the Summers name.

The four of them sneaked around to the door of the warehouse. "Charger, blow the lock off," Phoenix ordered.

Charger's eyes grew wide, and for a second she looked nervous. "Don't you think it would be easier if Wildcat just cut the door open?" she asked.

"I guess. Wildcat?" Phoenix gestured towards the door with her arm.

Wildcat's claws came out with a SNIKT. She sliced the door clean off its hinges and it fell forward.

"Hope we weren't going for a sneak attack," Sparks mumbled, the sound of the door crashing to the ground still ringing in his ears.

Wildcat shrugged. "Creed's probably smelled us by now anyway."

"You know me well, Girlie," the X-Men heard Sabretooth announce. They looked around, but could not find him. "I'm up here," he said.

The X-Men's newly formed Blue Team looked up and saw Sabretooth standing on a platform high above them. In front of him was something that appeared to be a massive weapon. Creed laughed. "Like my new toy?" he asked. "It can reduce anything to atoms."

"We need to get the hostages out of here," Phoenix said.

"I think we may need to get the homicidal maniac away from the huge ray gun first," Wildcat said.

"Or mission is to save the humans," Phoenix said. "That should come before everything else."

"Don't you think Sabretooth controlling a weapon that can vaporize matter is something that the humans need to be saved from?" Sparks asked.

"We don't even know if Sabretooth is telling the truth about the capabilities of that device," Phoenix pointed out. "We just need to get all the hostages away from the danger completely."

"I think we need to assume he's not bluffing, for the good of everyone," Wildcat said. "At least let me go up there and try to distract him."

"There are four of us and it looks like about fifteen of them," Phoenix said. "You're needed down here."

"Just let me…" Wildcat started before Phoenix cut her off.

"You are to stay away from Sabretooth. That's an order, Logan," Phoenix said. Her face was more serious that Wildcat had ever seen before, and it was remarkable how much the redhead resembled her father at that moment.

"Fine, you're the leader," Wildcat conceded. "But don't come crying to me if anyone gets zapped."

Phoenix nodded. "Let's go then. We need to get those hostages out of here as soon as possible."

*** *** ***

Rainmaker, Twister, Shadow Stalker, and Turbo stood in front of Renegade and a few of his minions. A single hostage sat tied up in the far corner of the warehouse. "Do not do this, Ric," Rainmaker pleaded with her former teammate.

"I really wish you people would quit calling me that," Renegade said with obvious annoyance. "I am Renegade, and I am here to remind this world of Magneto's vision of a mutant-controlled world."

"Even Magneto finally turned away from that belief in the end," Shadow Stalked said. "He gave his life to help Professor Charles Xavier save humanity."

"Xavier probably affected Magneto with his mind-control! Otherwise he never would've turned away from the cause!" shouted one of the Brotherhood mutants.

"That isn't true at all," Shadow Stalker said. "Xavier never controlled Magneto. Magneto realized that by continuing to attack humans simply because they are human, then you are no better than the humans that persecute mutants, and that you're only compounding the problem by making every bit of slander that's spread about mutants look true!"

The terrorist mutants stared at Shadow Stalker blankly. Renegade rolled his eyes. "Attack them," he commanded.

Rainmaker prepared herself for yet another fight. Sometimes she wondered if it ever would be truly over.

*** *** ***

Laser beams rained down from the ceiling, leaving holes in the walls and floor. "Good think he's such a bad shot," Sparks said.

"Phoenix, we need to get Sabretooth away from that thing!" Wildcat said. "At the rate he's going, if he doesn't disintegrate someone with that thing he's going to knock down the whole damn warehouse!"

"Just work on getting the hostages out of here! We can deal with Sabretooth later!" Phoenix shouted over the din of the battle.

"I agree with Wildcat," Sparks said. "Stopping Creed would help."

"Later!" Phoenix yelled. "It's not our priority now!"

No sooner did those words come out of her mouth than did a bolt come down from above and strike its intended target…

*** *** ***

Rainmaker stood face to face with Renegade. "Please do not do this," she begged. "I do not wish to fight you."

"Then join me. Fight with me," Renegade said.

"I cannot."

"Then there's only one option left," Renegade said. He threw a quick punch, knocking Rainmaker back a few feet.

Twister unleashed his power, blowing the three people he was currently fighting out of the warehouse entirely. He then ran to Rainmaker, just in time to catch her as Renegade hit her again. "Are you all right, Beautiful?" he asked.

Rainmaker steadied herself and stood back on her own two feet. "I will be fine. I am more worried about Ric. He does not remember us at all. I believe he may have absorbed someone else's personality."

"Makes sense," Twister said. "What should we do?"

Rainmaker glanced up at Renegade who had gone back to supervising the activities of his warriors. "I am not quite sure. All I know is we are not going to be able to convince him to come with us, not now at least. The best plan of action, I believe, is to free the hostage and then return to the mansion. There, we can discuss the current situation with the others and hopefully devise some sort of plan," she said.

"Want me to tell Shadow Stalker to sneak over and untie the human?" Twister asked.

"Yes, please," Rainmaker replied. "I will stay here and distract Renegade."

"Will you be okay?" Twister asked with a frown. He didn't really like the idea of leaving her alone to face Renegade, although he knew she was more than capable of holding her own against him. Twister was more worried about her needing moral support.

"I will be fine," Rainmaker assured him.

Twister kissed the top of her head. "I'll be back," he said.

*** *** ***

"Marie!" Wildcat yelled in anguish as she watched one of her dearest friends disappear right in front of her eyes. Anger filled Wildcat in a way she'd never quite felt before. Sabretooth had always been there to make her life miserable, to fill her with fear. He'd done so much to hurt her, and her family, and now—now this. Wildcat had had enough. It was time for her to stop Victor Creed once and for all. With a roar, she jumped at the steel tower that Sabretooth's platform rested upon. Her claws sunk through the metal with a loud screech, and she used them to climb up the tower and towards the source of her uncontrollable rage.

She reached the platform and lunged at him, breaking his nose with her adamantium-backed punch. Sabretooth was taken by surprise, but only for a moment, as his healing factor quickly worked to restore the damage Wildcat had inflicted. He snarled and turned around to face Wildcat, blood pouring down his face from his nose. He lunged at her, knocking her to the ground. Wildcat jumped back up and charged Sabretooth. He slashed her across the face, sending her back down..

Wildcat didn't let the blow really phase her. She was running on adrenaline now, and her healing factor was working overtime. She lunged at Sabretooth again, pushing him to the ground. She brought her claws down and stabbed him hard in the stomach. Sabretooth bellowed in pain and anger and threw Wildcat off him. Wildcat got back up and charged him again. She smacked into him with the full weight of her body, knocking him off balance. He stumbled some and then fell off the platform to the hard ground below. Sabretooth lay their for a moment, his body having a hard time keeping up with the injuries her received. Wildcat wasted no time. She ran to the laser and pointed it at Creed. She then smacked the biggest button on the control panel, hoping it would cause the desired effect.

With the bright flash of a beam of light, Victor Creed was no more.

Wildcat climbed down from the platform and stood beside the dark spot on the floor that had been Sabretooth only a seconds before. She pushed a blood-soaked strand of hair out her face and kicked at the black, ash-like substance that stained the warehouse floor. "Like to try to see you heal from that one, you son of a bitch," she growled down at the ash.

Wildcat turned away in disgust and made her way through the panicking terrorist mutants that were running around the warehouse trying to find a way to escape now that their leader was dead. She approached the hostages, who cowered as Wildcat unsheathed her claws. With one swift movement she cut the ropes that bound them. The humans got up and ran away without as much as a glance back.

Wildcat walked back to Phoenix and Sparks, who were standing there, dumbfounded. "Are we leavin' or not?" Wildcat asked. She was covered in blood from both herself and Sabretooth, and the claw marks across her face had not yet healed completely. She was almost unrecognizable.

"Logan, I…" Phoenix approached her teammate.

"Don't talk to me, Red," Wildcat snapped.

"But…" Phoenix tried again to speak.

Wildcat spun around and stepped closer to Phoenix, her claws stopping at the taller girl's chin. "Marie's dead," she said, her voice low and accusatory. "If you'd let me go after Creed when we first got here like I wanted, she'd still be alive. I'm never gonna forget that, Summers."

Wildcat turned and left the warehouse.

*** *** ***

Renegade's communicator began to beep. He swatted Rainmaker to one side and reached to answer it. An hysterical voice can in from the other line. "Sabretooth…dead…retreat called…return to headquarters…immediately!"

Renegade's eyes grew wide. He pulled himself into his magnetic bubble, floated to the top of the warehouse, and gave the signal for retreat. The Brotherhood scurried to their transport. Renegade followed in suit.

Rainmaker pulled herself off the ground and rejoined her teammates. "What's going on?" Turbo asked.

"I am not sure, but I believe I heard something about Sabretooth being dead." Rainmaker said.

Her fellow X-Men stared at her in disbelief. "That can't be right," Shadow Stalker said.

Rainmaker's expression was one of confusion and worry. "We need to return to the mansion at once. Something big must have occurred across town with the other X-Men."

Rainmaker and her four teammates headed towards the mini-jet that had brought them there.

*** *** ***

Renegade walked briskly into his office, upset by all that had just occurred. Not only had the Brotherhood lost its leader, but Sabretooth's last action had been to kill the mole agent that they had sent to infiltrate the X-Men's headquarters. "Idiot!" Renegade yelled as he threw his arm across his desk, knocking everything on it to the ground. "Not only did he get himself killed and leave me here to run the Brotherhood by myself, but he brought the one good advantage we really had over the X-Men down with him!"

The man who had once been Sabretooth assistant entered the room, cowering at the sight of Renegade's anger. "You called, Sir?" he said, voice trembling.

Renegade looked over at the assistant, his red eyes flashing. "Tell me, who was the one who killed Sabretooth?"

The lackey somehow began to tremble even more. "They say it was the one called Wildcat," he replied.

"Wildcat." Renegade almost spat the word. "I'll have to pay more attention to that one."

"Sir, if you don't mind my asking, what are we going to do now that Switchblade is no longer, um, able to report?" the assistant asked, gather up a little nerve.

Renegade's eyes narrowed to red slits. "Send in the X-Man we apprehended. We'll simply have to get the information from her instead."

"How do you plan to do that, Sir?" asked the assistant. "She has not been willing to cooperate in the past."

Renegade's lips curled into a sinister grin. "Then I guess we will just have to be a little more persuasive."

*** *** ***

Logan didn't say much over the next couple of days. As people began to arrive at the mansion for Marie's funeral, Logan became more and more withdrawn, until she finally cut herself off from everyone, even her father. She did go outside for the funeral, however. She sat by herself in the back without saying a word to anyone. She watched the ceremony with an emotionless gaze, silently taking in everything around her.

She watched as Kurt Wagner did his best to conduct the ceremony, having to stop momentarily here and there as he delivered a eulogy for a girl who he considered his niece. She looked up towards the front to watch Rogue and Gambit. Rogue tried to keep herself collected, but as she looked up at the closed casket that she knew held no real body since there was nothing left of her only daughter, she couldn't hold back any longer. She collapsed over on Remy, sobbing deep, gut-wrenching tears. Gambit wrapped her into his arms, unable to suppress the tears back himself.

Logan didn't think she'd ever seen so many grieving people together at once before. Even Kacie was there, allowed to leave her bed at least long enough to attend her friend's funeral. Logan tried to remember Charles Xavier's funeral, but she had been so young that she couldn't remember much more than the fact that her mother was wearing black and it was probably one of the only times she'd ever seen her father cry. She watched her father now as he took his hand and wiped at his face gruffly. Logan wondered if he was crying now. He'd had a sort of soft spot for Marie, even if she had made it an almost a daily occurrence in the past to come across the alleyway that had separated their house and torment poor Wolverine in a sort of "Dennis the Menace" sort of way.

Addie surveyed the crowd and thought of just how loved Marie had been. Despite the three year age difference between them, Logan had always felt a sort of bond to Marie herself, and had considered her one of her closest friends. The two of them had grown up together, along with Kacie, as all three of them had spent the majority of their lives in the same neighborhood. Now it was all over, and there was no way to ever truly go back. Logan glanced over at Kacie and thought about how she'd almost lost her, too. Suddenly, Logan felt more alone than she ever had before. You could loose someone so quickly. Even the people who you always thought would be there, the rocks of stability in your life, could be gone in an instant.

She glanced behind her towards the wooded area and noticed a woman whom she did not really recognize, but was familiar all the same. Logan kept an eye on the woman throughout the rest of the ceremony, and once it was over, she silently sneaked away in order to follow the woman who was trying to slip off into the woods.

"Hey!" Logan called once she knew she was far enough from the mansion grounds that no one would be able to hear her.

The woman looked behind her and caught sight of Logan. She began to run. The strange woman was fast, but Logan was faster. Within seconds, Logan had hold of the woman's arm. "What are you doing here?" she asked the stranger.

The woman tried to break free of Logan's grip, but to no avail. "Can't a girl go to her own granddaughter's funeral?" she hissed.

Logan's blue eyes grew wide as realization hit her. "Mystique?" she asked.

Mystique morphed back into her normal blue-skinned appearance and grabbed her arm from Logan's now-loosened hold. "The one and only," she said.

"No one's heard anything out of you for a while," Logan said. "I figured you were dead."

Mystique shook her head. "Not dead, just sick of my life and ready for a change I guess. With my ability it was easy to…fade away." She paused for a second. "I've been trying to avoid the X-Men in all actuality."

"Why are you here now then?" Logan asked. "I never thought you were exactly close to Marie."

"I wasn't," Mystique replied. "But she was the child of someone I've always considered my daughter. And she was my namesake, whether her father, or anyone else, liked it or not."

"That fact never exactly thrilled Marie," Logan said.

Mystique made an expression that could've been a smile. "Shouldn't you be getting back to the mansion?" she asked.

Logan shrugged. "Probably. Although I doubt anyone will even notice I'm not there. I haven't been exactly sociable recently."

"So I take it you handle grief much like your father," Mystique said.

Logan started to deny it, to swear up and down that she wasn't anything like Wolverine, but she knew she wouldn't even be fooling herself. "In some ways, yeah, I guess I do. I haven't gone to a bar with the sole purpose of bashing some heads together yet, though."

Mystique put her hand on Logan's shoulder. "Take my advice, Child," she said. "Whatever you do, don't go through this alone. You have plenty of people around to grieve with. It makes it easier that way. Trust me on this one."

Logan nodded. "I will."

Mystique took her hand off Addie's shoulder and began to leave. She took a few steps forward and then turned back around to face Logan again. "By the way, congratulations on knocking off Sabretooth. It's about time somebody got the bastard." Then she turned around and this time, left for good.

*** *** ***

Rogue sat alone on the roof of the mansion, watching the stars through tear-filled eyes. It had been years since she'd been up there, and yet somehow it still felt like home to her. She'd been alone for almost two hours, and she'd half-expected Remy to come looking for her. He hadn't, and she was actually glad for that. She knew seeing him would make her start crying even harder, and she was crying less than she had in days. Remy looked so much like both of the children…

Rogue still couldn't believe they were gone. She'd known the risks involved when her kids first became X-Men, but she hadn't in her worst nightmares imagined she'd loose both of them like this. Rogue had thought she was going to go insane when she'd heard about Ric, and it had become even harder for her when Paige had told her that he had most likely absorbed to personality of someone else. She understood the inner torment that her son was experiencing better than anyone else possibly could. But now that she'd lost Marie, too, she wasn't even sure what was even keeping her breathing.

She could still remember every detail from the day that she'd received the news about Marie, and sometimes it was almost as if she was still living it. She and Remy had just finished dinner when the phone rang. Remy'd gone into the other room to answer it, and Rogue had not been able to tell what he was saying, though she could tell from his tone that it was nothing good. She'd heard the phone click on the receiver and then he'd come back into the dining room. There had been a wild look in his already bizarre eyes. "She's dead," he'd announced as if it was taking all his strength to force the words from his mouth. "Marie's dead."

Rogue remembered the following events in almost a sort of slow motion. She slumped out of her chair and to the hard, cold tile floor, breaking out into a fit of wailing sobs. Remy had run to her, taking her into his arms, doing his best to console her. But it hadn't been enough. Her children were gone, cruelly ripped from her. Nothing would ever be enough again.

She felt like no one could help her through what she was going through now. Gambit had tried to be there for her, but he was torn apart with grief himself. He'd started smoking again, and Rogue hadn't even bothered to scold him for it. She'd been tempted to try to dull her pain with some sort of vice herself.

Kurt had tried to be there for her, too, as a friend, as a brother, and as a man of God. Still, he hadn't been able to help. Deep down inside, Rogue didn't even want to let go of her grief. Sometimes it felt like all she had left of her children.

Rogue heard someone come onto the roof. "Um, sorry," muttered the newcomer. "I didn't realize anyone else was up here."

"It's alright, Addie, you can stay," Rogue said, relived that it was not someone trying to get her to come back down. "I know what it's like when you feel like you just have to come up here and get away for a little while."

Logan gave Rogue a small, grateful smile, and sat down a few feet to the side of the older woman. Neither of them said a word for a long while.

"I'm sorry," Logan said finally, her words slicing through the thick silence.

"For what?" Rogue asked.

"For your loss," Logan said quickly.

"I'll accept your sympathy," Rogue said. "But if that was meant as an apology, I'll have no part of it."

Logan's head jerked toward Rogue, the words to ask what Rogue had meant by that on the tip of her tongue. But she didn't ask, knowing that it was a question that had no need of being voice. "I must be easier to read than I realized," Logan thought. "First Mystique, now Rogue."

"I know you blame yourself some for both Ric and Marie," Rogue said, her statement making Logan's stomach tie up into little knots, "But you shouldn't. It wasn't your fault, Addie. It ain't no one's fault 'cept Sabretooth's. You can't take it on yourself to be responsible for everyone else, no matter how much those people mean to you. No one expected you to battle Sabretooth single-handedly, Sugah."

"But in the end, I did," Logan said. "Why couldn't I have done it when it really counted?!"

"The fact that you killed him at all is impressive," Rogue pointed out. "Do you know how long your Daddy's been tryin' to do that?"

Logan gave Rogue an almost-smile. "He was really proud of me when he found out. I think he wanted to take me down to Harry's for a drink, but Mom put a quick stop to that."

"You meant a whole lot to Marie and Richard, you know." Rogue said.

"I know," Logan replied. "They meant a lot to me, too."

Silence returned to the roof again, and for a moment they were both content to simply stare out into space.

"Ric isn't dead, you know," Logan said.

"His mind is," Rogue replied.

Logan was taken back by the finality of Rogue's answer. "How can you say that?" she asked.

"I know what it's like to have another person floatin' around in your head like that, to have someone else take over your body, make it so you can't even control your own thoughts. Once that happens, you're never the same again."

"You may not be the same, but you're still alive," Logan said. "You may still have a part of Carol Danvers inside of you, but you aren't her completely, not by a long shot."

Rogue sighed. "But even if Ric's personality was able to re-emerge, and he did come back to the mansion, what then? It took Professor Xavier to help me finally suppress Ms. Marvel and let me live an at least semi-normal life. He won't be around to help Richard."

"But Ric wouldn't be alone, either. He has so many people who love him, so many people who would help him every step of the way." Logan paused for a second. "I guess what I'm trying to say is, you've already lost your daughter, that much is final. Don't let yourself give up and loose your son, too. I know I couldn't live knowing both Marie and Ric were gone for good."

Rogue stared up at the stars, thoughtfully chewing her lip. She'd stopped crying completely. "You sure are philosophical for someone so young, Sugah," she said.

Logan shrugged. "I've just been thinking a lot lately."

"Do you really think there's a chance that we can get Ric back?" Rogue asked.

Logan directed her attention back up at the night sky again. "It's the knowledge that that chance that allows me to get out of bed in the morning."

*** *** ***

As the mourners began to leave the mansion, life for the X-Men started to again resemble what they had learned to accept as normalcy. Kacie was fast on the road to recovery, and the others had returned to school. Still, a sort of somberness seemed to hang in the air. Usually such a mood would have been broken by the constant merriment of Marie, Logan, and Kacie, but neither of them were in any state to add a splash of humor to the lives of their friends.

Dr. Angela Worthington threw herself into her work, spending almost all of her time down in the lab with Cable, concentrating on finally discovering the cure for the Legacy Virus. It was a way for her to keep her mind off not only the team's recent losses, but her almost-continual pain as well.

Rachel Summers spent a good bit of her time in the Danger room, running and re-running simulations of their last battle, trying to find what would have been the perfect way to execute the fight. Her guilt over Marie's death, compounded by Logan's condemnation, was eating her up inside.

Damien Thomas decided it was time for him to leave the X-Men. He'd admitted that his heart had never truly been in it, and now, with Marie gone, he saw no reason to stay. It had all been too much for him, and not even something he really wanted. His teammates had been sorry to see him go, but understood that it was what was best for Damien.

Adanya Logan had started taking long walks alone, finding it a good way to clear her head and keep her from falling into a deep depression. Still, she remembered Mystique's words of advice, and spent some time each day talking to Kacie, who was still restricted to bed rest.

Rebecca Munroe found Ric's situation filling up most of her thoughts as of late. After watching Rogue and Gambit at Marie's funeral, she'd become almost obsessed with the idea of saving Ric, of reminding him who he really was. She vowed that she'd see Ric back with the X-Men if it was the last thing she did.

Still, even with the loss of the LeBeaus, life did go on at the mansion. All of the remaining X-Men continued to train and prepare, knowing that even though Sabretooth was dead, they had not seen the last of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants.

*** *** ***

Marie was no longer sure exactly how long she'd been in that cell, although she knew it had been a while. She thought that maybe she should've kept track of the days somehow, but she figured that probably would've only served to depress her. It had been a few days she thought since she'd seen anybody. Renegade had taken her, and tried to get her to talk, to tell him everything she knew about the X-Men, especially Wildcat. But Marie hadn't told him a thing, and Renegade had finally gotten fed up with her and thrown her back into her cell. She hadn't seen another living soul since then. No one had even come to bring her food. Marie had all but come to accept the fact that she was going to die there.

Suddenly, the door to the cell was flung open. Renegade stepped in and then slammed the heavy door behind him. He looked haggard, with dark circles under his eyes as if he had not slept in days. Marie wanted to run over and comfort him, but she had to stop and remind herself that he was not the brother she had once known.

"Why are you here?" Marie asked.

"I…um…I…well…" Renegade stammered. He looked confused, as if he didn't even known where he was, never mind why he'd come there.

"Ric…" Marie said softly, hoping that maybe in his weakened state he'd be able to remember.

"Stop calling me that!" Renegade yelled so loudly that Marie was sure she felt the room shake. "I am Renegade, the leader of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants! The leader!" He paused for a moment before declaring, "And I can do it myself!"

Marie raised her eyebrow at the last part of Renegade's outburst. "Okay, I sense some hostility there," she said. "Would you like to talk about it?"

Renegade, quickly composing himself, glared at her. "No."

Marie thought for a second. She hoped that if maybe she kept the conversation going long enough that she'd be able to find some part of Ric left inside of him. "Um, where's Sabretooth?" she asked.

Renegade blanched, and then anger washed over his face again. "Don't taunt me," he said, his voice a low growl.

"I'm not trying to tease you," Marie said, keeping her tone steady, gentle. "I honestly want to know where he is."

"Well, he's dead," Renegade snapped. "Your little clawed friend killed him."

Marie looked surprised. "Logan?!" she asked, unable to fully believe what she had just heard. She hadn't thought that it would ever be possible for someone to actually kill Sabretooth.

"Yeah, Addie," Renegade said in response. He frowned as he tried to figure out how he'd known that was her name, but quickly pushed the question from him mind, unable to deal with the answer.

"You know her, don't you," Marie said. It was not a question.

"No!" Renegade snapped in a quick denial.

"Yes you do," Marie said taking a step closer to Renegade. "How else could you have known that Addie and Logan are the same person." She met her eyes with his. "And you know me, too, don't you."

Renegade clutched his head in his hands. He felt as if there was some sort of war going on inside of his head and nothing he could do would stop it. He wished that Sabretooth was still there so he could remind him why he believed in the goals of the Brotherhood.

Marie took Renegade's gloved hands away from his face and forced him to look into her eyes again. "I know that my brother is still in there somewhere," she said. "He's just sort of hidden away right now. You've got to remember who you were before, before you became Renegade, the leader of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. You were an X-Man. Don't you remember? The X-Men are your friends and family, not your sworn enemies. And you remember Logan because you love her."

Renegade felt more confused than he'd ever thought possible. For some reason, it seemed as if Marie's words were both the truth and a lie. He attempted to remember what his life had been like before the he'd joined the Brotherhood, but it seemed like every "memory" he had before the past couple of weeks contradicted some other "memory." Everything in his head was jumbled into some giant ball of mass of confusion. He felt almost as if he'd lived two entirely different lives and now they'd collided together to form nothing.

"Why won't you just stop!?" he yelled at Marie.

"Stop what?" she asked.

"Stop messing with my head like this!" he said. "I don't know what it is you're trying to do to me, but it is not going to work, X-Man!"

Marie was mental and physically exhausted. "I'm not messing with your head, I'm just trying to help you," she said. "And I'm not going to stop doing that—not until I get Ric back."

Renegade used his powers to fling the metal door of the cell back open. "Go," he said, pointing to the hallway that lay just beyond the small room. "I just want you to get away from me."

Marie crossed her arms in front of herself defiantly. "I'm not going."

"I'm letting you go—releasing you," Renegade said, wondering if maybe she hadn't understood him or something.

"I don't want to leave without you," Marie said.

"I don't care what you want," Renegade snapped at her. "I want you to leave. You're driving me crazy, and I mean that in the most literal sense of the phrase."

"Please, just come with me," Marie begged. "I know people who can help you."

"I don't need help!" Renegade screamed. He immediately looked almost embarrassed over his sudden outburst, but it did not take him long to regain what was left of his composure. "I just want you to go away," he added softly.

"Why?" Marie asked. "Why would you just release me like this?"

Renegade thought a moment. Why did he want to let her go? He had told her that he wanted her gone because she was being too much trouble, and that he needed her to get away from him. But if that was the case, then why didn't he just kill her? Renegade knew that that's what Creed would've done. But Renegade couldn't have killed her, and there seemed to be a part of him that truly wanted to let her go. But he couldn't say that, could he? "I'm letting you go because you're a bad prisoner," he blurted out.

Marie looked almost offended. "Well! If I'm a bad prisoner it's simply 'cause you're a bad…you're a bad…you're a bad bad guy!"

Renegade raised an eyebrow. "A bad bad guy?" He looked away from Marie. "Please, just go away." He looked back up and suddenly began to yell. "I said go! Now! Before I change my mind and decide to just keep you locked in here forever! So just shoo! Go! Run away!"

Marie stepped forward then stopped. "GO!" Renegade yelled at the top of his lungs.

Marie ran from the cell without looking back.

*** *** ***

Renegade slammed the door to his quarters so hard that it vibrated the whole room. He collapsed on to his bed and stayed there for a long time, just staring at the ceiling and wondering why all this was happening to him. And it had seemed like things were going so well, too. He'd had the respect and power that came with being leader, but he really hadn't had to do much of anything. Sabretooth had told him what needed to be done, and Renegade had simply done it. Now he had to run the whole Brotherhood on his own and, truth be told, he was not even close to sure how to do that, especially with the little bit of experience he had. Or at least he thought he had little experience at such matters—he couldn't really remember.

As a matter of fact, he couldn't seem to remember much of anything. All he knew was what Sabretooth had told him, and that was next to nothing. Still, Creed had driven one point home: the X-Men were the enemy.

Renegade made up his mind right then and there to destroy the X-Men, no matter what the cost. Maybe then he could find a little peace.

*** *** ***

Marie walked silently into the X-Men mansion. It was late by the time she'd finally made her way home. She'd gotten turned around so many times since she left the Brotherhood's headquarters, that she didn't think she could find her way back there if her life depended on it.

Everyone at the mansion was asleep, and it was all dark, save the emergency lighting. Marie was exhausted herself, but as she walked past the kitchen, her need for food began to outweigh her need for sleep. She wandered into the room and proceeded to make herself a peanut-butter sandwich.

She was opening the fridge in order to find something to drink when the door opened and Cable came inside. He walked by the kitchen and came to a dead stop as he noticed Marie. He blinked a few times, not believing his own eyes. Angela followed him in. She looked like she was about to say something when she noticed Marie. Angela screamed, causing Marie to jump away from the fridge, dropping the orange juice bottle, which shattered as soon as it hit the ground.

Marie gave Angela a puzzled look as she grabbed the paper towels and began to try to sop up the mess. "Now what did you want to go and do that for?" she asked.

"You're dead," Angie stated as if Marie should've been plainly aware of that fact.

"I am?" Marie asked. She pinched her own arm. "Nope, I feel pretty alive to me. Although you about gave me a heart attack." She pulled the trashcan over to her and began to throw away the sticky shards of glass from the broken orange juice bottle.

By this time, the X-Men were all running down the stairs to find out what all the commotion was. They ran into the kitchen and proceeded to stare at Marie as if they'd just seen a ghost.

"Let me guess," Marie said. "I'm dead."

"I saw you die," Logan said, almost inaudibly.

Lack of food and sleep had made Marie irritable. "Well, looks like I missed it. You'd think someone would have the decency to invite me to my own death, but I guess not. Maybe I figured it would be better if I died without myself there to see it so I wouldn't get all upset."

"So does this mean you're not dead?" Billy asked.

"No, I'm a ghost. Boo," Marie said, her voice dripping with sarcasm.

Suddenly, the whole team rushed her, hugging her and asking her a million questions all too fast for Marie to actually answer any of them. "Slow down. I'm getting a headache. There's too much going on for me to understand anything."

The questions stopped and all the X-Men moved away from Marie. "If you're not dead, then who did Sabretooth kill?" Billy asked.

"I have no idea. I've been the prisoner of the Brotherhood for awhile—a few weeks I think. That's really all I know," Marie said.

"When did the Brotherhood get you?" Kacie asked.

"It was in the first battle where Ric appeared as Renegade," Marie replied. "I blacked out and woke up in a cell."

"Did you see Ric?" Logan asked. Her words came out in a rush.

Marie nodded. A look of pain was in her eyes. "Yeah, I saw him. Talked to him some, too. He's really messed up."

"Do you think he's absorbed someone else's personality?" Warren asked.

Marie was already sick of answering questions, especially about Ric. She didn't want to think about him, not now, not after she'd just seen him and could still remember the way he'd been acting. She wished if they were going to ask questions they'd ask about her—after all, she'd been dead—and thinking about Ric right now was too painful. "It's someone else's personality," Marie said. "He doesn't even remember ever being Ric."

Paige frowned. "Did it seem like we'd have a chance at getting him back?"

Marie threw her hands up in the air. "I don't know! I don't understand what's going on in Ric's head, okay! I have no idea what's going to happen. All I know is I've been through a lot, and I'm tried and hungry." She snatched her peanut-butter sandwich off the counter and then turned to the others. "Good night."

The X-Men cleared to let Marie go up the stairs. Logan watched her for a moment and then ran up after her.

"Marie!" Logan called.

Marie stopped and turned around. She swallowed a bite of sandwich. "Yeah?"

Logan moved closer and embraced Marie. "I've missed you like you wouldn't believe, Kiddo," she said.

Marie returned the hug. "Glad to know I'm loved."

"You have no idea how much, Marie. It hasn't been the same without you around."

Marie smiled a little and looked down at the ground, then back up at Logan "I heard you've been a little cranky. What's this I hear about you and Sabretooth?"

Logan looked sort of proud and embarrassed at the same time. "I thought he killed you…it sorta ticked me off, I guess. So I killed him."

"You took on a psychopath for me?" Marie said, pretending to wipe a tear from her eye. "I'm touched."

Logan laughed. It was the first time she'd really laughed in longer than she could remember. "Don't let it go to your head."

The sound of a group of people coming up the stairs broke the moment. The X-Men stopped as they saw Marie and Logan standing in the hallway. "Go on to bed now, y'all, it's a school night," Paige said to the mutants still standing behind her on the stairs. They muttered their good nights and headed to their quarters. Marie and Logan joined the crowed, both ready to get some rest and forget the events of the past couple weeks. Paige took Jono's hand and the two went up a second flight of stairs to their own room.

The only people remaining on the stairs were Angela and Cable. Kacie poked her head out of her room. "Just out of curiosity, what were you two doing up this late anyway?" she asked.

Cable said nothing, but gave Kacie his most-menacing glare. The blonde girl took the hint and quickly disappeared back into her bedroom.

*** *** ***

Angela had tried to sleep, but after Marie's unexpected reappearance and the subsequent scene, she had not been able to quit thinking long enough to get any rest. It seemed as if the emotional nature of the entire ordeal had caused long-buried thoughts and feelings to resurface. Now she was standing in front of the window, watching the sun rise.

She wasn't sure what had made her start thinking about Kerrigan. Even though she had once believed that she would never love another man as much as she had loved him, she had pushed all thoughts of him to the farthest recesses of her mind. The memories we less painful there.

They had met back when Angie had been in her last semester of medical school. They were young and in love, and within a year they were married. Then, shortly after the honeymoon, Angela started to get sick. Kerrigan had been so supportive at first, being strong for her even after she was diagnosed with the Legacy Virus and when she started the treatments. But somehow, it had all begun to fall apart. He had said that she wasn't there for him enough, that she just wasn't meeting his needs. He'd told her that he hadn't signed on to be the husband of a sickly woman. Angela pleaded with him to remember the part of the vows where he'd sworn to love her "in sickness and in health," but he no longer cared. Sacred promise or not, he'd left her all the same.

She hadn't planned to fall in love again after that, figuring she'd be better off alone, without anyone to pull her down. She'd thought she could make it on her own. Nevertheless, it hadn't worked out that way. Here she was, in love again, despite the fact that the odds were more stacked against them that they had been against her and Kerrigan. She'd known she was falling for him from the very beginning, from when they first started working together. Still, she hadn't been able to stop herself.

She remembered the moment she'd realized that she wasn't going to be able to deny her feelings anymore. She'd been made tired by her constant search for a cure for the virus that was ravaging her body and her inability to help even herself. Angie had gone out flying, even though she knew she shouldn't in her weakened state, especially with the level of stress that had been on her. She hadn't listened to her body when it had told her she was tired, hadn't landed when she knew she should. Suddenly, she lost all control of her wings and found herself plummeting from the sky.

She could still remember what had been going through her mind at the time—how silly it would be to have her cause of death being a fall from a high place seeing as, after all, she did have wings.

But he'd caught her. He'd just come out of nowhere, and suddenly she was in his arms. She'd asked him how he'd found her, how he'd been there in time, and he'd told her. "I'll always be there to catch you." He'd had her right then and there, and she knew there was no where left to run, nowhere left to hide. He'd kissed her then, and that had been that. She loved him, and there was no way around it.

Angela felt a pair of strong arms wrap around her small waist and a warm cheek nuzzle against her feathers. "You weren't there when I woke up," he said, his voice low and husky. "I missed you."

Angela turned in his embrace so she could face him. "Sorry, Nathan, I just couldn't sleep.

He gave her a sly grin. "You should've woken me up then," he said. "I'm sure I could've tired you out."

Angela blushed as she diverted her eyes from his intense gaze. "I needed a little time to think."

"Do you want to talk about it?" Cable asked.

"No."

"Do you want to be alone?"

"No. I want you here with me."

Cable pulled Angie closer to him and held her. He wished she'd tell him what was bothering her, but he didn't push it, resisting the sudden urge to lightly probe her mind. He knew she'd open up to him eventually, she just needed time. For now he was content to just be near her.

"I want to go back to bed," Angie said, her voice so soft that it was almost a whisper.

Nathan led her there without a word.

*** *** ***

"Okay, Mom, you can let go now," Marie said.

Rogue loosened her grip some, but did not stop hugging her daughter. "Sorry, Baby," she said with a sound that was somewhere between a laugh and a sob. "I just fell like if I let you go, you'll disappear."

"I promise I won't," Marie said. "But I would like to be able to breath."

Rogue, suddenly remembering her superhuman strength, pulled away. "Are you alright?" she asked. "Did I hurt you?"

Marie nodded. "I'm fine, Mom."

No sooner did Rogue step away than did Gambit move in and take his daughter into his arms. Marie sighed inwardly. Her parents had come to the mansion early that morning and had not given Marie a moment's peace ever since she had woken up. "Did you guys miss me or something?" Marie asked.

Gambit gave her a sort of a dirty look. "Of course we did, Petite," he said. "How could we not have?"

Marie slipped herself out of her father's embrace. "Well, I'm safe now."

Rogue gave a beaming smile. "I still can't get over the fact that you're standin' here alive."

Marie smiled back at her mother. "You should've known it would take more than that to kill me."

Rogue's expression got suddenly darker, as if she'd just had a disturbing thought. "Did you see your brother?"

Marie took a sharp inhale of breath. That question didn't bother her nearly as much as it had the previous night, but Ric's current situation was still something she'd rather not deal with just yet. "Yeah, I saw him," she said.

"How was he?" Gambit asked.

"Not so good," Marie replied truthfully. "I think he's absorbed someone else and that the conflict of the two personalities has driven him, well, to the brink of insanity, if not over it. He's not sure who he is, and I'm not quite sure if either personality is exactly dominant or if their both sorta all jumbled up."

Rogue burst into tears as she recalled the days after she permanently absorbed Carol Danvers, and empathized with the nightmare that her son must've been living in. Remy pulled his wife to him and did his best to console her, although he knew that was pretty much impossible when she got that emotional.

Marie's put her hand on her mother's shoulder, unsure of what she could say or do, but wanting to make things better. She wished Ric was there. He could always make their mother smile, no matter what. But then again, if Ric was there, Marie figured there wouldn't be any reason for Rogue to be crying.

*** *** ***

It was their first battle since Sabretooth's death. All eight of the remaining X-Men were there, once again serving as one team with Rainmaker in command. Even Ice Queen had managed to make it, once she had finally convinced Dr. Worthington that she was indeed well enough to fight.

This battle was different from the last. It was in a park, not a warehouse. There were no hostages, only flocks of screaming people running away from the picnics and Frisbee games that had been upset by mutant terrorists. Charger and Ice Queen had, of course, chalked the differences up to the fact that the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants was now being lead by a brighter crayon.

Renegade faced the X-Men now, flanked on either side by five of his best fighters. It was almost evenly matched, and neither side seemed quite ready to make the first move. Renegade sneered at the X-Men. "Are you afraid to fight me?" he asked. "Afraid if you hurt me that you'll really be hurting your best friend or something like that. Well, trust me, X-Men, there's no need to worry about that. I'm not him. Never have been, never will be. Besides, even if I was, you'd never be able to do any damage to me."

The X-Men stepped back and circled in a huddle. Renegade waited patiently, eager to see what type of doomed-for-failure plan they could devise.

"So what do we do?" Shadow Stalker asked Rainmaker.

"I am not quite sure," Rainmaker replied. "He says he is not Ric, and yet I still believe he is, and is just not aware of it. We have got to stop him before he hurts any of these innocent people, yet, as Renegade himself pointed out, we are unable to harm Ric in the process. I am not sure how we should resolve that conflict."

"Although our best bet would be to convince him that he is Ric and have him defect back to our side, I just don't see that happening right now, not with the resistance he's shown in the past." Ice Queen said. "I think we should send someone over there to distract him, someone we know that Ric would never hurt, and who Renegade will most likely not be able to really harm either."

All eyes turned to Marie, who began to shake her head vehemently. "Don't look at me that way!" she exclaimed. "I've dealt with Renegade enough for one lifetime. I don't think I could handle it anymore."

"Who do we send then?" Sparks asked.

Marie thought for a moment and then replied. "Wildcat. I don't think he'd hurt her."

Wildcat frowned. "I'm not so sure. He'd probably still a little upset with me over the whole Sabretooth incident," she said.

"But I know from a couple of the conversations that I've had with Renegade that he remembers you," Marie said. "Heck, he even remembered your name was Addie. I think you're our best bet. Besides, if it doesn't work, you're the most resilient out of all of us."

Wildcat gave a quick nod. "Fine I'll do it."

Twister looked over his shoulder. "Um, y'all, I think you might want to consider continuing this conversation some other time. The Brotherhood has apparently gotten sick of waiting and are now coming at us."

The X-Men broke out of the huddle and each one fell into an immediate defensive stance. They fought off the attacking mutants with relative ease this time compared to their previous battles, not wishing to give the enemy the upper hand the way they had many times before.

Wildcat worked her way though the fray towards Renegade who floated above the action in a magnetic force field generated bubble. The thought struck Wildcat that he resembled dome sort of god up there, watching over the exploits of mere mortals. A lump grew up in her throat. She loved him—always had. Now he was the enemy, and that fact was killing her. But she wouldn't get her anguish get in the way of what she had to do.

"Renegade!" she called up to him. "Renegade! Come down here and face me!"

Renegade's demonic eyes darted down and made contact with Wildcat's. "What? Come here to accuse me of being an X-Man?" he asked.

Wildcat shook her head. "Nope. I just don't see why you get to hang out up there while we have to fight down here," she said.

Renegade floated down to the ground and the magnetic bubble disappeared. "Then here I am," he said.

Wildcat narrowed her eyes. "So fight me." She held her breath for a moment, hoping that Ice Queen and Charger had been right about Renegade not harming her and that this gambit would pay off.

Renegade looked from side to side quickly, as if he was not completely sure of what to do. "I don't want to waste my time fighting you," he said after a moment.

"I think you can't fight me," Wildcat baited him. "You're probably afraid I'll do to you what I did to Sabretooth."

Renegade stared at her. "Don't your teammates need you over there?"

Wildcat gave a quick glance over her shoulder. "They appear to be doing just fine to me," she said. "It looks more like your people are the ones in need of some help."

Renegade glared at Wildcat. "If you don't think I'll fight you then you're wrong, Sweetheart."

Wildcat resisted the urge to pop out her claws. She didn't want to hurt him, but she had to keep him busy and make sure he stayed away from everyone else. "Then fight me."

Renegade made a half-hearted attempt to hit Wildcat, and she blocked him with ease. "You'll have to do better than that," she taunted.

Renegade struck again, this time with more force. Wildcat jumped out of the way, causing him to fall to the ground. Renegade pushed himself up, dusted himself off, and came after her again and again. But Wildcat blocked him every time, causing Renegade to either stumble or fall flat on his face.

Renegade noticed that the main battle had come to a pause, as X-Men and Brotherhood alike watched as Renegade attempted to get one hit in on Wildcat. He was beginning to get mad now as Wildcat continued to embarrass him in front of his underlings. He shot out at her with his magnetic field, hoping that maybe that could get her to stop moving around so much, although he doubted it would be very effective.

Wildcat thought she screamed, but she wasn't sure if she actually made a sound. She felt as if she was being torn apart from the inside out. She'd expected him to fight her some, but she'd never even considered this possible outcome. She wanted to cry out, to say something that would make him stop, but there was just too much pain.

Renegade watched as Wildcat crumbled and then began to writhe in agony. He hadn't anticipated this. He'd thought that there was a possibility that his magnetic field would hurt her, but this. This was way beyond just stopping her. It seemed almost as if she was actually dying. He looked over to see her teammates frozen in horror, not sure of how to react.

"She has metal on her bones and you're ripping it out," he heard a little voice say inside his head. He knew that that was the truth, although he didn't know how he knew. He was hurting her, really hurting her, and suddenly that was the last thing he wanted to do. He stopped his powers and stepped away from her. Wildcat slumped to the ground as the pain began to fade away all too slowly. She'd never felt anything quite like that before.

Renegade felt guilty, although he couldn't understand why. She was an X-Man, and he'd sworn to kill all X-Men. Yet he felt more of an urge to protect this woman than to hurt her. "I'm sorry, Logan," he whispered before floating back into the air in his bubble and giving the signal to retreat.

The X-Men let them go.

*** *** ***

Addie woke up in the infirmary with her father sitting beside her. "You okay, Pun'kin?" he asked when he saw her eyes open.

"Good as new," Addie replied, smiling weakly.

"Heard Ric tried to rip ya apart," Logan said.

Addie laughed, though the sound possessed no humor. "News sure travels fast." She paused. "How long have I been out?"

"Couple of hours," Wolverine replied. "Your healing factor's been working overtime, Kiddo." Logan frowned at his daughter. "What made you face him alone like that?"

"We—the team I mean—were hoping that maybe I'd be able to distract him while they took care of everything else. We thought that if Renegade was still Ric at all, that he wouldn't really hurt me."

"But he did."

Addie turned her head away from her father. "A little. But he stopped. I think that counts for something."

Logan saw the pain etched on Addie's face before she turned away. He took her hand. "I bet there's still some Ric left in there somewhere, Darlin'," he said, trying to reassure her. "You guys'll bring him back."

Before Addie could respond, the door opened, and Jubilee walked in. "Am I interrupting anything?" she asked.

Addie sat up in the bed. "Nah, just the usual father-daughter bonding," she said. "Come on in, Mom"

Jubilee came in and sat down beside Wolverine. "How are you feeling," she asked Addie.

"Pretty good, actually," Addie said. "I was a little groggy when I first woke up, but I feel just fine now."

Jubilee smiled. "Good. You had me worried there. I remember what your father was like when Magneto…" She stopped.

Addie reached over and patted Jubilee's shoulder. "You don't have to worry about me, Mom," she said. "It'll take more than that to get me."

Wolverine ruffled Addie's hair. "You are somethin', Kiddo. I still can't get over what you did to Sabretooth."

Addie blushed. "Dad…"

Wolverine grinned. "I'm just proud of ya, Pun'kin. You turned out real good, especially seein' as you got me for a father."

Addie laughed a little and playfully punched Wolverine in the arm. "Don't say that. You're a great father." Her gaze shifted between Logan and Jubilee. "You're great parents."

None of them said anything for a while, unspoken words hanging heavy in the air. So much had passed between them in the years that they had been a family, and not all of it had been good. But they didn't talk about the bad, finding it less painful just to bury it away in the furthest recesses of their minds. What was the point of digging up the past, anyway?

"I don't have to stay in the infirmary very long, do I?" Addie asked, breaking the uneasy silence.

Jubilee shook her head. "Angela said you're free to go whenever you're ready."

"Good," Addie said. She shuttered. "I hate places like this. They bring back too many…less than desirable memories."

"You ready to leave then, Adanya?" Wolverine asked.

"Yes," Addie replied. "But could you two stay at the mansion some, at least for the rest of the day? We never spend much time together anymore and well, I miss you guys."

Jubilee took hold of Wolverine's hand, almost absent-mindedly. "We'd be happy to."

*** *** ***

Kacie wasn't even sure why she was doing this. Normally she wouldn't be so bold. But she figured it was time for her to take a chance. Heck, it had only been a few weeks since she had almost died! That had made her realize her own mortality in a big way, to say the least. Kacie had decided that she'd never keep her true feelings hidden from anyone ever again. You never knew when it could be your last chance to tell them.

Billy was in the middle of tuning up his motorcycle when Kacie found him. His dark blonde hair was ruffled and grease was smeared across one cheek and on his old, faded T-shirt. The sight of him made Kacie weak in the knees. "Hey, Billy," she said.

Billy looked up and smiled as he saw Kacie. He grabbed an old rag as he stood, and began wiping some of the grease of his hands. "What's up, Kacie Gracie?" he asked.

Kacie winced inwardly at the fact that she'd ever let Billy know that her middle name was Grace. Still, a part of her found the nickname sort of endearing, albeit a small part. "Um, I wanted to talk to you," she said.

"'Bout what?" Billy asked. Kacie couldn't help but notice the way his blue-green eyes sparkled. By this point, her stomach was doing flip-flops. She briefly considered just making up some lame reason why she'd come out there and then leaving before Billy could ask anything else, but she knew she'd hate herself later if she did that.

Kacie looked away from Billy and down at the ground, as if that would somehow make her task easier. "IreallylikeyouawholelotandIjusthadtotellyou," she blurted out.

Billy raised an eyebrow. "Mind repeating that one in English?"

Kacie took a deep breath and look up to meet his gaze. "I said I really like you—a lot. More than a friend, you know?'

Any trace of a smile that remained on Billy's face faded. "Oh," he said.

An awkward silence followed, then both of them tried to talk at once. "You go first," Billy offered.

"No, I'd rather you did," Kacie said.

"I was just going to say that while I think you're great—I really do—I can't like you the way you like me. You're a good friend to me, Kacie, but just a friend. I'm already in love with someone else," Billy said.

Kacie was crushed, but did her best not to let it show. "Who?"

"Her name is Cindy Grayson."

"Is she that girl in your math class?'

"Yes."

Kacie felt a sudden flash of anger. "You don't even know her," she said. "How can you love her?"

Billy looked away. "You wouldn't understand.

Kacie's eyes narrowed into ice-blue slits and she suddenly bore a striking resemblance to her mother. "Try me," she said.

"I just do," Billy said. "Cindy's just, well, perfect."

"Perfect huh?"

"Perfect for me, at least," Billy said softly.

"Well, then she's a real lucky girl," Kacie said. She'd meant for the statement to be genuine, but her words came out harsher that she'd planned.

"Kacie, I'm sorry," Billy said, trying to look up at her, but quickly turning away again.

"I know," Kacie replied, her voice quivering. "I…I have to go." She ran away, not wanting Billy to be there when she started to cry.

Billy watched her go. He felt like a jerk.

*** *** ***

Renegade hadn't spoken to anyone since the last battle with the X-Men, two days earlier. He hated himself for letting Wildcat get to him. He should have just killed her right then and there, instead of showing mercy, making himself look weak in front of the X-Men as well as his insubordinates.

He paced back and forth, thinking about what he could have—should have—done. He'd had her right there! How easy it would've been to just destroy her! She was the person who killed Sabretooth! She deserved to die! But he'd correct his mistake. He knew her weakness now. He'd kill her next time.

Renegade stopped pacing and leaned back against a wall. He slowly slipped down until he was sitting in the floor with his knees pulled up to his chest. No matter what he swore to himself he could do, he knew he'd never be able to kill her. Something inside him just wouldn't allow it. It was almost as if he'd known her before—maybe even loved her—in another place, another time.

He thought about it. Maybe he had known her before. Somehow, that made sense, even in the jumbled insanity of his mind. He'd known her name was Addie. He'd known about the metal on her bones. It was her face that always seemed to haunt his dreams. And she did seem to know him.

Renegade counted in his head the many times the X-Men had called him "Ric." They'd been insistent that that was indeed his name. The more he thought about it, the more it made sense. What kind of name was "Renegade" anyway? It couldn't be his real name. Maybe the X-Men had been telling the truth, and it was Sabretooth who had lied to him.

But then why didn't he possess any real memories of being an X-Man? Ric frowned. Hell, why didn't he possess any real memories of anything. The closest things he had to memories were just fuzzy images, like something out of a daydream. He believed he'd been in the Brotherhood before though. Sabretooth had told him so, told him that he couldn't remember because of an injury he'd gotten in battle. But Renegade had never really been told much more than that, and the more he thought of it, the less the pieces seemed to fit.

Renegade clenched his fists. He wanted the pieces to fit. He'd force them if he had to, dammit. A part of him still wanted things to stay right where he was, that relished the power of being an absolute leader. Still, that part was getting smaller and smaller, leaving Renegade to feel lost, confused, and alone.

*** *** ***

Billy tried to build up his nerve. He'd been saying since the start of the semester that he was going to talk to her, and he figured was about time to make good on that promise. "Um, hey Cindy," he said as he approached her.

Cindy turned around at smiled at him. Her light blonde hair fell down to her shoulders and her big brown eyes looked up at him intently. "Hi. William, right?"

"Um, yeah, well, Billy actually," he said, a little surprised that she knew his name.

Cindy continued to smile. "So, Billy, what brings you over here?"

Billy mentally told himself to calm down. This was it. " I was wondering if you'd like to go out on a date with me sometime."

Cindy didn't really stop smiling, but the smile suddenly appeared very phony. "Don't take this the wrong the way or anything," she began, "I mean you seem like a really sweet guy and all, but I just don't date muties."

Billy was shocked by her response. Never in his wildest dreams had he ever imagined that Cindy Grayson could be a bigot. She had seemed so perfect, never capable of prejudice. But as the word "mutie" tumbled from her mouth, Billy was smacked hard in the face with realization. Kacie had been right—you couldn't love someone you didn't even know. Their conversation from the day before played out quickly in his mind. He could see the heartbroken expression on her face, and he suddenly knew why he'd felt so awful—so guilty—after he'd talked to her. He tuned back into Cindy, who was obviously waiting for his response.

"You're not offended are you?" she asked with her phony smile.

Billy shrugged. "Your loss. Look, I have to go. There's someone I need to talk to. Catch you later." He left quickly, his mind obviously preoccupied with something else entirely.

Cindy frowned.

*** *** ***

"Hey, wait up!" Warren called down the hall after Billy. "Where are you going in such a hurry."

Billy skidded to a stop and turned around reluctantly. "I have to find Kacie," he said.

"What happened with Cindy?" Warren asked.

Billy shifted nervously, as if he wanted to leave. "She apparently doesn't date 'muties.'"

Warren looked disturbed by Billy's statement. "She what! Aren't you upset?" he asked.

Billy shook his head. "Nope. Actually, it opened my eyes a lot. Now really, I've got to get back to the mansion so I can talk to Kacie."

"Why do you need to talk to her?" asked Warren.

"I have to tell her she was right."

"About what?"

"Bye, Warren," Billy said as he turned around and ran down the hall, not willing to answer anymore of Warren's time-consuming questions.

Warren stared after him in utter confusion.

*** *** ***

Angela had fallen asleep on her desk again. Cable walked quietly over and removed her glasses. She was so beautiful to him, literally like an angel. He wasn't sure quiet how he'd gotten lucky enough to have someone like her. It felt almost like he'd gotten a second chance at life. The future that had been his reality was gone now, and Nathan had lost his family, his friends, everything. He'd grown accustom to the time he'd finally chosen to live in—his "parent's" time—and he'd been content, though not truly happy.

He was happy now, and it was because of Angela. He knew how many obstacles lay between them, one of the biggest being their age difference, but he didn't care. She was the best thing in his life. He never wanted to loose her the way he'd lost everything else.

Personally, he'd never really wanted to keep their relationship a secret, wanting to just come clean. Well, shout it on the rooftops was a little more like it, he mused. The covert nature their feelings for each other was the only thing they'd ever really fought over. But he understood that after he failed marriage and her fear of how people would accept them being together, she was a little wary to announce that they were together. Still, he hated having to hide how much he loved her—and how much he hoped she loved him.

Cable frowned. Angie had never said she loved him, still he assumed she did. Truth be told, she never really opened up to him much, instead telling him just a little bit, then shutting herself off again. He figured it was just the wall she'd built to protect herself after her experiences with the Legacy Virus and Kerrigan. Still, he wished she'd just open up to him, really let him inside her life.

Nathan had to laugh at himself on that one. Here he was, Cable, the quintessential loner, upset because someone wasn't emotionally open enough. However, Angela brought out parts of him that he'd never known were there before.

Angie stirred a little and whimpered, as if she were having a bad dream. Cable reached out to her and gently stroked her hair. She relaxed. Cable looked at the time as it bounced around as the computer's screensaver, and realized just how late it was getting. He decided it was probably time for Angela to quit working anyway, although he was positive she would dispute the matter if she was actually awake to argue.

Slowly, so he wouldn't wake her, Nathan picked Angie up. She shifted a little, but continued to sleep. Nathan held her close to his chest and smiled at how small and delicate she seemed pressed up next to his massive form. He nuzzled his cheek against her wing as the slowly folded up the way the always did when she slept. Carefully, as if he were carrying something fragile and precious, Cable brought Angela up towards his quarters.

*** *** ***

Kacie couldn't stop laughing. She'd just heard from Logan, who'd heard from Marie, who'd heard from Rachel, who'd heard from Warren, that Cindy had turned Billy down flat. She'd also heard that he'd been looking for her when he'd returned to the mansion, and had seemed pretty upset when he'd found out that she'd had some errands to run after school.

It had been a long day for Kacie, and she'd been rather depressed for most of it. But once she'd gotten home and had that conversation with Logan, her mood had gotten considerably brighter. Honestly, she figured that Cindy's blatant, bigoted rejection was exactly what Billy deserved. She didn't much like the fact that Billy had been hurt, but she did think it served him right for thinking he was in love with someone he didn't know, and that she was somehow "perfect." Kacie believed that idealization was always the first step towards disappointment.

Billy was sitting on the couch in the recroom when Kacie came downstairs. She hadn't expected him to be there, and she wished she'd gone upstairs instead. Even if he had been looking for her, she wasn't quite prepared to face him yet. "Have you seen Marie?" she asked, then, answering her own question, said quickly, "No? Okay, I'll go look for her upstairs." She turned around and started to leave.

"Kacie, wait!" Billy called after her, jumping off the couch and running over to her. He took hold of her arm so she wouldn't go away.

Kacie stopped, but didn't turn around. She didn't try to break free of his grip, either, however. "What is it, Billy?" She made her tone annoyed in an attempt to mask her true emotions.

Billy let go of her arm and looked down. Kacie turned around slowly to face him. "First off," Billy began, "I want to apologize for being such a jerk yesterday. I shouldn't have pushed you away like that."

Kacie tried to stop herself from smiling. She could tell Billy was nervous and somewhat uncomfortable, and frankly, she found it amusing. "Do you really mean that, or are you only saying it because Cindy, um, gave you the brush off?" she asked.

Billy raised an eyebrow. "How'd you know about that?"

"News travels fast around here." Kacie's smile began to break loose.

"You just love being right, don't you?"

Kacie smile grew larger. "It is always nice to be able to say 'I told you so,'" she said.

Billy gave her a small grin. "I should've known better than to ever doubt the infinite wisdom of you, Kacie Gracie."

"One would think you'd have learned that less by now," she teased. Her smile suddenly faded. "Seriously, are you okay? I mean, I know you really did want that girl."

Billy took her hand and slowly caressed the back of it with his thumb. "Actually, Kacie, I'm glad she turned me down. Like I said earlier, you were right when you said I couldn't love someone I didn't even know, and when Cindy turned me down the way she did, it made me realize something: It really does make more sense to decide you love someone after you've known them for a while, once you've had the chance to make them a friend. That way you understand them, and they understand you. Do you see what I'm trying to say to you?"

Kacie knew her pale skin was turning pink with a blush as she looked up and locked eyes with Billy. She wanted to say something, but all she could manage was a nod that she hoped he was able to catch. She felt warm, something she was not exactly accustomed to. Her stomach was full of butterflies, and her knees were wobbly. Billy slipped one arm around her waist and slowly pulled her closer to him. She felt like she was almost paralyzed as he drew her in. Her eyes were wide, like a frightened animal, and her breath was quickening.

Billy leaned in and kissed her, slowly at first, but then with more passion, more urgency. He wrapped both his arms around her and Kacie sunk into the embrace. She'd wanted this for longer than she could even remember, and now here she was, finally in Billy's arms. She thought it must be the happiest moment of her adolescent life.

*** *** ***

Warren's jaw dropped. Cable was carrying a sleeping Angela to his bedroom. "What is he doing with my sister?!" Warren thought.

Cable could feel someone watching him from behind. He slowly turned around to see Warren gaping at him in shock. Warren's mouth closed, but neither man said a word, each one sort of sizing the other one up.

Warren stepped up closer to Cable. "What are you doing with my sister?" he asked in a hoarse whisper.

"She fell asleep back down in the lab, and I'm taking her to bed," Nathan replied.

"You aren't anywhere near her room," Warren said.

"I know, I'm taking her to mine."

"Your room?"

"Yes, my room." Nathan shifted his hold on Angela, who was still fast asleep. He figure this probably wasn't the way she wanted her brother to find out about their relationship, but Cable was sick of lying about it.

Warren's eyes narrowed. "So what exactly are you doing with my sister?" he asked.

Cable narrowed his eyes right back. "What exactly are you doing with my sister?"

Warren's eyes grew wide again, and he became visibly nervous. 'Um, well, um, don't hurt Angie, okay?"

Cable gave him a nod. "Don't hurt Rachel."

Warren returned the older man's nod and walked away down the long hallway.

*** *** ***

Rachel draped her arms over Warren's shoulders. "Is something wrong, Sweetie?" she asked.

Warren relaxed a little in her embrace, but not much. "No…well, not really. It's nothing."

"Is it Angela and Nate?" Rachel asked.

Warren turned his head around quickly and glanced up at her in shock. "How did you know? Did Cable tell you?"

Rachel came around to sit beside him on the bed. "No, he didn't tell me, but I've known for a while," she said. "I've been able to sense it.

Warren looked hurt. "Why didn't you tell me?"

"I could tell they wanted to keep it private," Rachel replied. "Besides, I didn't think you'd care all that much."

"Why wouldn't I care?" Warren asked, his tone rising some. "My sister is dating Cable. Shouldn't I care about that?!"

Rachel grew defensive. "What's wrong with my brother?"

Warren sighed. "I didn't mean for that to come out the way it did. There's nothing wrong with your brother—honest. He's just well, too old for Angie. I don't want to see her get hurt again."

Rachel crossed her arms in front of her and narrowed her eyes. "Nathan isn't going to hurt her, Warren."

Warren put his arms around Rachel and tried to pull her over to him, but she bristled. "Ray," he said with a sigh. "I didn't mean anything by it, really. I guess I'm just a very protective little brother. I have nothing against Nathan, I promise."

Rachel softened and rested her head against Warren's shoulder. "Just trust him, okay? He is trusting you with his sister, after all."

Warren ran his fingers through Rachel's long, red hair. "I know. And believe me I'm grateful for that."

Warren leaned down and captured Rachel's mouth with his, forcing all thoughts of Angela and Nathan from her mind.

*** *** ***

Marie felt herself drifting off in class. She wanted to pay attention, really she did, but this had to be the most boring class in all the universe. Even worse than her fifth grade math class had been, she decided. Sometimes she swore the hands on the clock were going backwards. She'd never found the French and Indian War to be a particularly interesting subject to begin with, and this lecture the class was receiving on it now was not making anything any easier.

"Marie! Marie LeBeau, please keep your head up," the teacher scolded her.

Marie sat up and rubbed her eyes. "Sorry, Mr. Summers."

"That's the second time this period, Marie. If I catch you dozing off again, I'm going to have to give you a detention."

"Yes, Mr. Summers."

Scott Summers turned back towards the overhead projector to restart his lesson when the door slowly opened, and his wife, Jean, peeked in. "Scott, can I see you for a moment?" she asked, from the doorway.

"Sure," Scott said, frowning some. He could tell from Jean's body language, as well as through to psychic rapport that they shared, that something was very wrong. He walked out in the hall with her, shutting the door behind them. After a moment, Scott came back into the room and called Marie into the hallway with him and Jean.

"What is it?" Marie asked.

"Renegade is outside with a group of his followers. He says if we don't send the X-Men out within one hour, he's going to attack the school," Jean explained.

"Then we have to face them," Marie said. "We can't let him hurt all these students."

"But there's a problem in that," Jean said. "From the looks of things, Renegade has almost all the New Brotherhood out there with him. It would be a suicide mission for you kids to go out there now, even if you were at full strength, which you won't be until Billy, Warren, and Nathan get here."

Marie shrugged. "We're X-Men. When have the odds not been stacked against us." She paused for a second. "What about the former X-Men who are teachers here now? Can't y'all help us?"

Scott ran his hand through his now-gray hair. "I'm not sure how much help we could be. We're not nearly as young as we used to be."

"What about Wolverine?" Marie asked. 'He hasn't exactly aged in at least as long as I've known him."

Jean nodded. "I already called him. He said he's on his way. Paige is trying to get in touch with some of the former Generation X members, too. Hopefully, they'll be some help."

Marie looked more serious than either Jean or Scott had ever seen her look before. "Have you talked to the others yet?"

"Yes," Jean said. "I told them to meet in the cafeteria. We still have some time until the Brotherhood attacks, and hopefully it'll be long enough to develop a plan."

"We'll do it," Marie promised. "You don't have to worry."

Jean reached out and took Scott's hand in such a way that Marie wondered for a moment if Jean had even realized she had done it. "I know you guys can do it," she said. "After all, you're X-Men."

Marie took off down the hall towards the cafeteria.

*** *** ***

The X-Men—both old and new—sat together in the cafeteria of Charles Xavier High School. Paige Guthrie-Starsmore stood in front of the mass of tables where her teammates were seated. "I take it y'all know why we're here," she said.

Rogue crossed her arms. "We're here because my son's flipped and is tryin' to kill us all," she said.

Paige didn't even flinch. "That's one way of putting it. So is everyone willing to help in every way they can?"

The X-Men muttered their various affirmations.

"Do you have any kind of game plan, Paige?" Emma Frost asked from between Bobby and Kacie.

"Yes," Paige replied. "I feel that our main focus should be protecting the students. Even though they are mutants, they are not trained in combat the way we X-Men are. I figure the best way to protect them and fight the Brotherhood is to split into groups. The current roster of X-Men can go out front—along with Wolverine, Rogue, and Cable. Generation X will back them up by staying a little closer to the building. We'll move the rest of the student body into the gymnasium, and the remaining X-Men can protect them from there. Does that work for everyone?"

The X-Men replied positively again. There expressions were all serious, almost emotionless. They knew what they had to do, and were ready for whatever battle ensued. They had each taken a vow at some point to fight in the name of Charles Xavier's dream, and they were still ready to stand behind that promise. As Xavier himself had once said, the only dream worth having was a dream worth fighting for.

Husk's face mirrored the grim expressions of the others. "Then let's get out there and defend this school and everything it stands for with whatever it takes." She paused and glanced up at the clock. "Our hour is almost up."

The X-Men immediately stood and began to walk towards their different assigned posts. Billy went over to Paige. "Don't worry about it, okay, Mom? Everything's going to be fine in the end, you'll see."

Paige said nothing as she hugged her son tightly.

*** *** ***

The X-Men stood ready for battle as they faced off against the swarm calling itself the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. It was clear how mismatched the two sides were, not only in sheer numbers, but in preparedness as well. While the Brotherhood's fighters were dressed in a matter that obviously indicated they were about to enter a battle, the X-Men were still dressed in their school clothes. But the X-Men had one advantage—they were fighting for something that was theirs.

Wildcat stood beside Wolverine. He was crouched in a battle position with his claws extended. Wildcat realized that this would be the first time that her father would really get to see her fight, and she wanted nothing more that to make him proud, the way he'd been when she'd defeated Sabretooth. She thought back on how she'd spent most of her recent life denying that she was anything like him, swearing up and down that she was anything but another Wolverine. But as Wildcat watched her father now, she marveled at how steadfast and strong he looked, not even remotely nervous about the impending battle. She almost envied them. Wildcat felt a flood of warmth towards her father. Maybe it wouldn't be so bad to be at least a little like him…

Rainmaker stepped forward. Her blue eyes narrowed and the wind whipped at her bone-white hair. "You wanted us, Renegade," she announced. "Now here we are."

Renegade floated a little above everyone else in his magnetic shield. He flashed Rainmaker a cruel smile. "Then let the battle begin."

*** *** ***

Charger grabbed a handful of gravel and prepared to charge it. Suddenly, something red and glowing hit the ground in front of the terrorist that Charger had targeted, causing a small explosion and sending him flying backwards into the hard pavement. Charger looked down in confusion at the pebbles that still lay in her hands.

She turned around slowly to see Gambit standing behind her, a new card already in his hand. Charger smile and gave her dad a quick nod of appreciation as Rogue flew over and landed beside her husband. Charger ran over to join her parents.

"What are ya doin' out here, Swamp Rat?" Rogue yelled.

Gambit's red eyes held an almost-hurt expression. "You don't want Gambit out here wit' ya, Chere?"

Rogue shot him a dirty look as she punched out an enemy that tried to attack her. "You're supposed to be inside, Remy."

Charger reached inside Gambit's duster, grabbed a handful of cards, and began throwing them, picking off evil mutants right and left.

"I thought maybe ya could use help out here, non?" Gambit said.

Charger pegged someone in the leg with the three of diamonds. "The Brotherhood's already gotten back to Husk and them. Odds are, they'll be in the building soon enough anyway," she said.

Wildcat and Wolverine came up to the LeBeaus. "Got almost the whole family here," Wildcat commented.

Charger made a gesture towards Wildcat and Wolverine. "Looks who's talking."

Wildcat shrugged. "It's a family affair." She looked over at Gambit and Rogue, as well as Charger. "I just got through talking with some of the others, and we've decided that our best chance at saving the school is turning Ric back to our side."

Charger groaned. "In case you've forgotten, Logan, we've tried that a million times, and it hasn't worked."

"I know," Wildcat said. "But we have come close a couple of times." She punched someone, breaking his nose. "Rainmaker said that maybe with you and me, as well as Gambit and Rogue, we'll have a better chance than before."

Wolverine's seemed to shift uncomfortably, even while in his fighting stance. Wildcat knew he didn't like the idea of her confronting Renegade again, even if she wouldn't be alone this time. Still, he understood what needed to be done.

Gambit pulled out his Bo and swatted away a couple of people who were about to attack Rogue before she even had a chance to react. She gave him a small smile, and he winked. "You actually t'ink we got a chance here wit' Ric?" Gambit asked Wildcat.

Wildcat looked grim. "We better. Otherwise, I think we may be in some serious trouble."

Rogue opened her mouth to respond, but stopped when both Wildcat and Wolverine stopped and perked up as if they were listening to something.

"That scream—it was your mother," Wolverine told Wildcat.

"You sure?" Wildcat asked, although she already knew the answer.

"Positive," Wolverine replied. "Will you be all right, Kiddo, if I go check on her?"

Wildcat looked him in the eyes. "Yeah, I'll be fine. Go help Mom."

Wolverine put his hand on Wildcat's shoulder. "Good luck, Logan."

Wildcat forced herself to not get emotional at both the nonverbal and verbal gestures. "You, too, Daddy."

*** *** ***

Jubilee paffed the man in front of her with all her might, but he simply laughed as he absorbed all the energy she threw at him. He moved closer to her, grinning sadistically. Jubilee silently cursed at the fact that she had backed herself up against a wall. She tried to escape from the side, but the man knocked her back to the wall.

The man's hand was glowing with the energy he'd absorbed from Jubilee's pafs as he drew back to punch her. Suddenly, he was hit by something moving rather fast and knocked to the ground. Jubilee heard the familiar sound of adamantium claws extending. She visibly relaxed.

"Were you about to hit my wife, Bub?" Wolverine asked, the points of his claws resting on the other man's throat.

"N…n….no!" stammered the man pinned down to the ground. "Of course not!"

Wolverine gave him a feral grin. "Funny, it looked to me like you were about to hit my wife. I just can't have that." He came around with his other hand and smacked the man hard on the side of the head. Wolverine then climbed up off the body of the now-unconscious terrorist.

Jubilee ran over to Wolverine as he dusted himself off. "Is he dead?" she asked.

"Nah, Darlin', I just knocked him out," Wolverine replied. He glanced down at the man. "He'll have one hell of a headache when he wakes up, though."

Jubilee took Wolverine's face in her hands and kissed him. "Thanks for saving me," she said as she pulled away.

Wolverine grinned. "Anytime, Darlin'. Anytime."

*** *** ***

Various members of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants were making their way into the school building. Some of the former X-Men spread themselves throughout the building in order to keep anyone from reaching the gym. A few groups of students had crept away themselves, resenting the fact that they were being cooped up like weaklings when they did, after all, have mutant powers themselves. One group, led by former X-Man Damien Thomas, managed to enlist the help of Bishop.

One group of evil mutants walked quietly down the halls, searching for someone, anyone, to fight. They wandered towards the science wing to see if it was truly as deserted as it's dark, shut-off rooms would denote. They took one step of the hall's tile floor and immediately lost their footing, sliding towards a door that suddenly flew open, as if something—or someone—had pushed on it from the ceiling. The door shut and locked behind the mutants.

One of the doors opened at the other end of the hall, and Bobby Drake came out. "Good going there, Hank!" he called out to his furry blue friend.

"Why, same to you, my friend!" Dr. Henry McCoy replied as he climbed, up-side down, on the ceiling over the ice-covered floor.

In the room at the end of the hall, the trapped members of the Brotherhood pounded on the door trying to escape, but to no avail.

Bobby gave Hank a high-five as the Beast jumped down to the unfrozen floor a couple of feet in front of Bobby.

Iceman suddenly frowned. "Hey, Hank, you think Paige is gonna be upset that I froze her science wing after a promised never to do it again?"

Hank just laughed, shaking his head in silent amazement over how some people never seem to grow up.

*** *** ***

As usual, Renegade stayed away from the main part of the fight. He preferred watching over the battle, making command decisions, to actually being in the thick of things. Still, something inside him seemed to remember a time when he liked being in the center of a good scrap.

He noticed Wildcat off a little ways in the distance, and remembered their earlier fight. Maybe that was what he needed. Something about her intrigued him, anyway—drew him to her. He watched as she broke away from the action and made her way towards the building. No one other than Renegade seemed to noticed her sudden departure, and he figured she must've meant to keep her exit secret. "Maybe the battle's getting to be too much for her." Renegade frowned at the thought. He'd be disappointed if she wasn't any stronger than that.

Renegade didn't take his eyes off her as she made her way through the dozens of people almost completely unnoticed. Wildcat stopped when she reached the door to the school. She looked back and locked eyes with Renegade across the distance. He was transfixed as he looked at her perfect, delicate features, her long, black hair blowing around her face in the wind like a mane, and her deep-blue, almond-shaped eyes regarding him coolly. He thought at that moment that she must be the most beautiful creature in all of creation.

Wildcat broke their eye contact first, pivoting around on the heel of her boot to go inside the building. Renegade couldn't help but follow her.

*** *** ***

Ice Queen ran around the side of the building, towards the large space behind the school that was mostly used for loading and unloading purposes. A group of about ten evil mutants followed her. Ice Queen got to the parking lot and stopped, gasping heavily for breath.

Ice Queen's pursuers stopped dead in their tracks, and their faces grew pale in fear. A huge monster, reminiscent of Godzilla, roared as it made its way towards them, leaving craters in the ground with every step. Suddenly, it was the terrorists who were running away.

Ice Queen broke into a fit of laughter as Godzilla faded away and Phoenix came out of her hiding place behind some boxes. "Lot of laughter for someone who was whining about having to be the bait last time I saw her," Phoenix joked.

Ice Queen tried to compose herself, but continued to chuckle a little. "I know, but the look on their faces when they saw your projection was just classic."

Phoenix grinned. "Well, it was a pretty good projection if I do say so myself."

Ice Queen put her arm around Phoenix's shoulders. "Girl, that's the last time I tease you for watching corny old monster movies."

*** *** ***

Renegade followed Wildcat through the building, always staying just a few yards behind her, matching her step for step, turn for turn. As she approached the entrance to the open-air courtyard in the center of the school, Wildcat's pace increased, making it somewhat more difficult for Renegade to keep up. Suddenly, Wildcat reached a door, flung it open, and disappeared outside.

Renegade followed, not yet willing to let her get away. However, when he reached the courtyard, he was surprised by what he found. Wildcat was not alone. She was there with Marie and two people that Renegade knew he recognized, but couldn't quite place.

Renegade stopped dead in his tracks, and his face turned almost as pale as the shock of white at the front of his hair. Something in the back of mind told him to run, that somehow this was a trap, that it would be his undoing. Still, something else was holding him there, making it so he couldn't possibly get away. "What…what do you want?" he stammered.

Wildcat stepped forward. "To help you, Ric," she said.

"NO!" Renegade yelled. "You don't want to help! You're X-Men, all of you—how could you want to help?!"

Rogue's eyes locked with Renegade's. "Because we're your family," she said.

Renegade began backing up. "NO! You're lying! I don't know you people! Any of you! Get away!"

"Yes you do," Charger said. "You know you do. Just let yourself remember."

"There's nothing to remember!" Renegade yelled. "I'm not Ric! I've never been an X-Man!"

"Ric…please…I'm your father…"Gambit said.

Renegade looked up to find eyes almost identical to his own staring back at him. He sunk to his knees, breathing through choked sobs. "No…it isn't true! You're lying. All of you! Lying!"

Rogue reached her hand out, as if she wanted to go to him, but wasn't quite sure if she should. "You know it's the truth," she said, trying her best to keep her voice as soothing as possible. "I can help you…I know what you're going through."

Renegade stayed on his knees and continued to look at the ground, his hands balled into tight fists. "How can you know?" he asked through gritted teeth. "How can anyone know?"

"I know Ric!" she said. "I know because I've been there, too! I know what it's like to feel like you're two different people, both fighting for control of one mind!"

Renegade felt like he was being mentally ripped apart. How could she have known what he was feeling? How could any of them know? He hadn't described to anyone what was going on his mind, but she'd described it exactly. How could she have?! Unless…unless they were all telling to truth.

Charger couldn't stand it anymore. She ran past her parents and Wildcat and to her brother, wrapping her arms around his shoulders. Renegade looked up at Charger, unshed tears still clinging to his eyes.

Renegade's eyes locked with Charger's. He knew those eyes. He knew her. Memories started pouring to the surface as the haze lifted, and more and more images of a life he'd known before suddenly became clear. "Marie?" he said, almost inaudibly.

"Ric?" she asked.

He nodded. He still wasn't sure…but it felt right somehow. "Marie…help me…ya gotta Marie…" he begged.

"I'm trying, Big Brother. You've just got to let me…let all of us."

Renegade looked up and slowly moved his gaze from Gambit, to Rogue, and finally to Wildcat. He could see them in his mind—in his memory—and the image was clearer than anything had been in such a long time. He slowly stood up and walked towards them. Suddenly, there was so much he wanted to say, and yet, not the words for any of it. So he just said the one phrase that kept playing over and over in his head.

"I want to go home."

*** *** ***

All around the building and inside the halls, the battle continued to rage. By this point the X-Men were bruised, bloody, and tired, but not ready to give up. Jubilee limped over to Husk, using Wolverine for support. "Are you all right?" Husk asked her former teammate.

Jubilee nodded. "I'll be fine. I just think I sprained my ankle," she replied. "Have you seen my daughter recently?"

"No," Husk said. "I guess she's still with the LeBeaus trying to help Ric."

Jubilee's expression looked worn. "I was hoping she'd be back by now. I'm worried about her." Wolverine shifted his weight a little to better accommodate Jubilee and she sunk farther into his supportive embrace.

"She'll be fine, I'm sure," Husk said. "After all, we are talking about the girl who killed Sabretooth. Maybe the fact that it's taking a while is a good thing. It could mean that they're getting through to him."

"I hope so," Jubilee said.

Rainmaker rode the wind over to them, landing beside Husk. "We are in trouble," she said. "We are trying our best, but there is just too many of them."

Husk nodded. "I know. We're going to need to do something more. At this rate, we'll loose the school before the day is out."

Rainmaker's eyes were still determined. "Do you have any ideas on how we can prevent that outcome?"

Husk surveyed what she could see of the battle. She watched as the X-Men continued to fight, many of them wounded, all of them exhausted. She knew that she couldn't possibly ask any more of them than she already had, but what could she do?

Suddenly, the doors to the school flung open and Husk had her answer.

*** *** ***

Cyclops felt as if he'd been trampled. He had tried to stop them, to keep them in place, but they just wouldn't listen. Now Cyclops stood there with the rest of the people who had once been his teammates, watching as a whole school full of teenagers rushed out of the gymnasium doors. "We used to be superheroes," Cyclops said. "We took on the coming of the apocalypse. Now we've been bested by a room full of teenagers. What happened?"

Jean Grey-Summers wrapped her arms around her husband's waist and rested her chin on his shoulder. "Don't be too shocked about it, Scott," she said. "Remember when Jubilee was first an X-Man?"

Cyclops frowned and Jean was sure she could tell from his tone that he was rolling his eyes. "How could I ever forget?"

Psylocke watched as the children fled the building, knowing that this was one situation that was out of her immediate control. "Well, at least there's more of us than them, now," she said, her tone anything but optimistic.

Storm looked around at her teammates and realized someone was missing. "Where is Bishop?" she asked.

*** *** ***

Bishop glared down at Damien Thomas. "This better work, Kid," he growled. "Otherwise 'Ro's gonna kill me. That is, if the Brotherhood doesn't do the job for her."

Damien sighed. "It'll work," he said. "And you sure are pessimistic for someone who's been through so much. By now one would think you'd have just come to accept that luck—and time—are on your side."

"Time, luck, whatever, it isn't going to matter once Storm finds out I helped you stage this little rebellion."

Damien shrugged. "If it works, she'll be proud. And it'll work, so there's no reason to be so depressed and pensive-looking all the time."

Bishop shot his eyes down at Damien. "I am not depressed and pensive-looking all the time!"

Damien shrugged again. "Whatever. C'mon, I may not exactly be an X-Man anymore, but I've still got a battle to fight here!"

*** *** ***

Husk stood, disbelieving, as almost the entire student body of Charles Xavier High School come stampeding out of the front doors of the building. Apparently, the Brotherhood didn't see it coming either. They stood there in shock as they were suddenly surrounded by thousands of mutants, all wielding random types of mutant powers. It was too much for them to take.

"Where's Renegade?" shouted one of them.

"I don't know!" shouted another one. "You don't think he's abandoned us, do you?"

"Who cares?" asked another. "There must be a million of 'em! Let's get the hell outta here!"

Nothing more needed to be said. The Brotherhood of Evil Mutants was in retreat. The students cheered, flinging the last bits of lighting bolts, plasma bursts, etc. at the back of their enemies, proud of what they had accomplished. They felt invigorated. Sure, it had been a long day, but their school was safe.

The X-Men, both old and new, stood dumbfounded.

"Well, I'll be damned…" Bobby Drake muttered.

"I take it they were not as helpless as we thought," Nightcrawler said.

"That's the way it looks, Fuzzy Elf," Wolverine said, still supporting Jubilee who continued to swear she was "just fine."

The students were whooping and hollering, giving each other high-fives and pats on the back. Paige stared forward, as if she was watching something far behind their heads. "I guess I should probably cancel school tomorrow," she said. "Maybe the next day, too…" Billy gently squeezed his mom's shoulders.

Damien gave Bishop a low five.

*** *** ***

Marie, Logan, Rogue, Gambit, and Ric walked out into the crowd, with Rogue and Gambit supporting a barely conscious Ric. "What happened out here?" Logan asked.

Marie looked around, trying to survey the situation. "Um, I'm not quite sure, but from the looks of things, we won."

Rogue looked up at her soon. "And in more ways than one," she thought.

Marie left the others and ran over to Kacie. "Fill me in," she said.

Kacie looked at her, wide-eyes, and shrugged. 'To be perfectly honest, I couldn't tell you exactly, and I was right here the whole time. See, we were fighting—the best we could, mind you—but we were still way outnumbered. And then all of the sudden, it was like someone opened the floodgates. Mutants came running from everywhere it seemed and within minutes, the Brotherhood was just gone!"

Rainmaker approached Marie, with the other X-Men soon following. "How's Ric?" Rebecca asked.

Marie gave a hopeful smile. "I think he's going to be okay," she said. "He still doesn't remember everything, but he does seem to be remembering a heck of a lot more than he was. And he said he wanted to go home, which I believe is a good thing."

"And a good idea," Jean said. "I think it's about time we all went home."

*** *** ***

The X-Men mansion was as full as it had ever been. Almost everyone ever to wear the red-and-black "X" symbol was there, celebrating the success of their latest battle. The news report that night had even referred to the X-Men as heroes—not terrorists—eliciting much cheering and even a few tears from the mansion's present inhabitants.

Storm sat next to Bishop on a couch in the recroom. "One thing still puzzles me," she said, "How did the students all come up with the idea to leave the gymnasium at that precise moment?"

"I wondered the same thing, Baby," Bishop replied, putting his arm around Storm and giving Damien a wink.

Damien smiled. Maybe he didn't feel at home as a part of the official X-Men team, but he knew he still belonged among them. There was no fighting that.

Billy looked up from the chair he was sharing with Kacie and met eyes with Paige. "Now what, Mom?" he asked.

Paige frowned. "What do you mean?"

"I mean, where do we go from here? The X-Men reformed in order to fight the Brotherhood, and somehow I get the impression we won't be seeing much of them, at least for a while. So where does that leave us? Are we still a team?"

All eyes were on Paige, and she shifted uncomfortably for a moment. Then, she smiled. "Of course! You heard what the newscaster said—the X-Men are heroes, now, and heroes are always needed. Besides, I don't think the Professor would have much like it if this team dissolved for good. As far as I'm concerned, the X-Men aren't going anywhere for a long, long time."

The mansion was once again filled with the sound of cheering.

*** *** ***

Logan silently slipped out of the room. She knew that this was a happy occasion, but still, she felt somehow hollow. She looked over at her parents. They seemed happy—happier than they'd appeared in years, even with her mother still complaining over Hank making her walk on crutches. Logan hoped that the smiles would stay this time.

She left the party completely, hoping no one would notice, at least for a little while. She had something she had to do, and she didn't much feel like being disturbed. She walked down the stairs towards the medlab. She opened the door, and was surprised to find Cable and Angela down there, locked in what seemed to Logan to be a rather passionate embrace.

Logan cleared her throat, and Cable and Angela jumped away from each other, both looking startled and a little embarrassed.

Angie stared down at the floor. "Ric's in Room 3," she muttered.

Logan chuckled. "Thanks." She jogged over to Ric's room, but looked back over her shoulder before she went in. "I won't say anything to anyone," she said.

Angela looked up with an expression of gratitude. "Thank you."

*** *** ***

Ric heard the door open and someone enter the room. He opened his eyes and saw that it was Logan. "Hey," he managed to say.

Logan sat down beside him and took his gloved-hand. "Hey."

Ric watched as Logan studied his face. "Trying to figure out if I feel as bad as I look?" he asked, attempting to maintain a little bit of humor.

Logan smiled slightly. "Something like that. You don't do you?"

"Nope. I feel worse—like I've been hit by a semi," he said. Ric winced. "Make that two."

"You've been through quite a lot of the past couple months," Logan said, "but Hank says it looks promising."

Ric's eyes darted away from her intense stare. "Physically, at least."

Logan frowned. "You'll be fine psychologically, too, Ric. It just may take a little more time. You've always been so strong…"

"But I'm not sure if this is something I'll be able to recover from," Ric said. "This isn't like some football injury."

"You'll be fine," Logan said again. She lightly squeezed his hand. "I'll be here with you every step of the way."

Ric pulled his hand away from her, and for a moment, Logan felt her heart sink. Was he still pushing her away, after everything that had just happened?

Ric pulled off one of his gloves and reached up to touch Logan's cheek with his bare hand. She quickly moved back from him. "Trust me," Ric said.

Logan moved towards him again, knowing he's never do anything to hurt her. Gently, he put his hand against her cheek, and Logan felt herself savoring the coolness of his uncovered skin. Much to her surprise, nothing else happened to her, save a few butterflies in her stomach. "How?" she managed to ask.

"It's my new powers," Ric explained. "They allow me to create a magnetic shield that protects people from my absorption power."

Logan smiled, as realization hit her. "I love you, Ric," she said, reaching up to take hold of the hand that was on still resting on her cheek.

Ric said nothing as he pulled Logan in for their first kiss. Everything else melted around them and, for the moment, all was right with the world.

THE END!

So, what did you think? PLEASE give me feedback! After all I put into writing it, and the amount of time I know you spent reading it (if you didn't skim most of it!), it's only fair! =) Also, I've been working on a few sequels, so e-mail me and let me know if it's worth continuing! (Addie_Logan@yahoo.com)