"So what will you do now, Madelyne?" Magnus asked as they prepared to take their leave of the mansion. The rest of the two teams were saying their goodbyes some distance away, and he glanced in that direction as he awaited her answer.

"I don't know, exactly," she answered with a light shrug that did not echo how she felt. "I feel like maybe I should be on my own for a while."

"This world is a scary place for a lone mutant these days," he replied with just a touch of concern.

Green eyes skittered away from his, not wanting to meet the intensity there. "I know. I'll survive though. I always do, somehow."

"If you are sure." He nodded, adding, "You know you are always welcome among us."

She'd thought she'd been prepared for this moment, but she hadn't suspected for a second that Magnus might offer her the very thing she wanted. She'd been completely prepared to gracefully go on her own as if it were her own idea all along. Her eyes widened with surprise now as he spoke, snapping back to him questioningly. Did he toy with her? Was he testing her? Had the Master of Magnetism discovered a latent sense of humor? Surely not. She remained silent, considering for a few heartbeats more.

"If you're sure. A reincarnated telepath can be a scary thing these days." Her eyes observed his reaction to her words carefully, watching for the slightest hint of uncertainty.

"Well, it just so happens that I have an opening on my team," he said, bordering on being grandiose, so much so that Madelyne's eyes widened even further. He wasn't joking, but he was speaking with something bordering on humor.

"Well, it just so happens that I have an opening in my schedule…" she chuckled, "for the next fifty to sixty years or so."

"Excellent. I will see you back at the complex, then." With a nod and the faintest of smiles, he moved past her. In his wake, he left Madelyne Pryor with an expression that had frightened many an enemy in her time: a Cheshire cat grin.

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


Wanda's voice interrupted his thoughts as he made his way back toward the two teams, and he paused, looking down at her expectantly. Odd, she seemed… almost nervous.

"Yes Wanda?"

"I was… ah… I was wondering if… that is, well. I just wanted to say goodbye," she finished abruptly with a small shrug, as if she had thought the better of her intended statement, starting to move past him already.

He turned, blue-grey eyes following her curiously, lovingly, almost bemusedly. She had called him Father.


She turned as if she had been spun about on a string.

"I thought… that is, I was wondering… would you like to come out and visit us again sometime soon?"

She stood, staring at him suspiciously for a few long moments, then, slowly, ever so slowly, her face creased with the smallest of smiles. "I'd like that. Sometime."

"The invitation is always open." He gave her a rare smile of his own return, holding her gaze until at last she nodded, turned and walked away.

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

Still smiling, Magnus approached the group. Everyone seemed to be there and be ready. In the orange light of the late evening, he could make out Bobby and Lorna sitting on the mansion lawn, kissing like high-school sweethearts, and he supposed they were, at that. He was glad they had finally found the love between them; it would only serve to strengthen the team. And with the mainstay couple of the team now sundered by Remy's death, they could use all the love they could get.

His expression darkened slightly as his eyes moved toward Rogue, sitting on the ground, quietly waiting, barely aware of anything around her. Irinee' and Jean-Luc sat to either side of her, looking just as pensive. Ah, endings and beginnings, ending and beginnings, again and again, time after time, Yin and Yang, the balance of things. It would take time for her wounds to heal, and Magnus meant to see to it personally that she and her children got the care they needed. They would be all the stronger for the loss of father and husband someday, but right now it was too fresh, too raw.

Leaning down, he stretched out his hand to help her rise, blue-gray eyes meeting hers with sincere, warm intent.

"Let's go home."

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

Kitty stood beneath the darkening sky outside the mansion, watching Magnus and his team depart upon the very air itself. When at last they were but distant silhouettes on the horizon, she slung her shoulder pack backward, letting the weight pull her body straight, and began moving with slow, determined steps down the path toward the open countryside. She didn't know what lay ahead for her, but she knew that she couldn't find it here among the ghosts and graves of the many dead. Piotr would be devastated when he discovered her missing, even more so when he found the note she had left. Her heart ached for the pain she would cause him by doing this, but she hoped, somehow, that he would find a way to understand why she had to leave. Maybe someday he would even forgive her for it.

Maybe someday, she would forgive herself.

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

Rogue remembered the last time she had sailed through the sky above post-apocalyptic New York… then, the two children at her side had been but tiny sparks of life in her belly, Remy had been at her side, and she had been filled with hope for a new life, a new world. Now, as she stared down at the ruined buildings beneath her, fully six years later, she was filled with a sense of sadness she couldn't have imagined back then.

Reluctantly, she pulled her eyes from the torn landscape below, looking to the skies ahead. The sun was just sinking below the horizon, the last fiery tip of its hemisphere disappearing behind the mountains, taking with it all the golden light of day. The moon hid its face from the earth, and not even the stars seemed to have the will to shine this night, leaving the sky a mask of impenetrable black velvet. A perfect echo of her mood, she thought, the complete opposite of what she had felt the last time she'd been here. If there was hope out there now, she couldn't see it.

She'd spent the last few days since Remy's death in an emotional haze. It hadn't seemed real, as if she were living out someone else's nightmare, saying and doing all the right things. Going through the motions, waiting for someone to drop the curtain on her excellent performance, to wake up sweating and shaking cold from this horrible dream and roll over, pressing herself against his warm, breathing, loving body. She would tell him about her nightmare in the morning and they would reaffirm their love, grateful that they still had so many years of life ahead of them. She could accept the Academy Award for her excellence in her dream role and then she could move on with her happy life. Except that it wasn't ending, and the Academy wasn't calling. The funeral today had been the last nail in the coffin, literally. She had said her goodbyes because she'd been expected to, but slowly, little by little, she was realizing that she'd also said them because she needed to. The denial was ending, and somehow, that only intensified the pain. At least now it seemed more real.

Irinee' shifted her weight, pressing against Rogue's side insistently. Out of instinct, she glanced down and patted her daughter reassuringly, and gazing into wide, young, green eyes, she was suddenly struck by the thought that perhaps she'd been looking for hope in the wrong place. For as surely as she'd thought six years ago, she thought now that if there were any hope for the world, it was in the future of these two children. What was her own grief compared to that?

Somehow, in the torrent of emotions that followed Remy's death, she'd lost sight of the very reason he had died. He had sacrificed himself so that she and their children might live on, and the reason had been twofold; firstly, they were his children and he had vowed upon their inception that he would die to protect them, but secondly, because he had believed that the world needed them to help rebuild itself. Magnus had tried to remind her of that when she'd been drunk with the power of the Phoenix, but she'd been too overwhelmed by her loss to truly realize the value of what he was saying.

The world needed these children, and thus, it needed her. Irinee' and Jean-Luc didn't just need someone to raise them… anyone could do that, though how well might be in question. No, what they needed was someone to prepare them for the world, to perhaps pave their way into it. Her mind explored the idea, latching onto it like a drowning man grasping for purchase. It wasn't exactly hope, but it did give her a sense of purpose. It didn't warm her, or give her new life, but it did give her a reason to keep breathing, and perhaps a way to forget her grief. It would get her through until tomorrow. That was enough. For now.

"I promise, I will not fail", she whispered to herself.

She put her arms around her two children and hugged them close to her, taking refuge in their closeness, comfort in their warmth. And ahead, in the darkness, a single star peeked through the curtain of night.