Disclaimer: I do not own Marvel or X-Men. Thank your lucky stars for that. Let's be real here – I would have run that train off the tracks right after it left the station.

Chapter 46: Paladin Business


Mister Rasputin, Laura, Hisako, Eddie, Ruth, and I all kept our heads down until we had our ducks in a row. There were still things that needed to be squared away, but once that was done with, our little personal mission would be a go. The oddest thing hadn't been just how easy it had been to get everyone onboard for a sojourn into space. It was how willing they all seemed to be to go along with a plan I was concocting.

I had more or less expected support from my running crew. They had followed me into more half-baked schemes than this before. Mister Rasputin though? It was kind of weird for a grown man pushing 30 to be willing to let me run the show. I remember asking him about it.

"Why not?" He said to me, "Scott led X-Men teams when he was your age."

No. Hell no. Not the same thing. Not at all. I was not Cy-fucking-Clops. I was So-fucking-Laris, with everything that came with it. But whatever. I talked the talk to get him invested in the first place, now I had to walk the walk to pull everything together. That was what I got for shooting my big mouth off.

My plan involved a ton of moving parts – three in total – and if any one of those failed to materialize, the entire scheme would likely go up in smoke. I had contingencies in mind, of course, but for two of my three necessities, if the people behind them wanted no part of it, it would put us on the clock before we were discovered and likely shut down.

The first thing I needed was a teleporter. I knew three. One was a teacher, one was in superjail, and one was my ex. These factors immediately took one off the table. I'll let you decide which one that should have been, but I will tell you which one I wound up going with in the end.

I managed to catch Megan between classes and pull her aside to a stairwell to talk. Getting her alone wasn't particularly difficult. It wasn't as though we hated each other, and a good portion of the heat our respective parties had against each other had subsided since the breakup. Don't get me wrong, it was still awkward to speak to her about anything other than squad stuff, but it wasn't anything that I couldn't simply power through. So, I did.

"I need your help," I started out as directly as I could.

Megan seemed to find it hard to believe, "You need my help?"

"Yes."

"Seriously?"

"Yep."

"No lie?"

"Cross my heart and hope to die."

Megan's wings fluttered while she looked at me with uncertainty, "I mean... Bel-Bel, not that I'm just saying no without hearing you out, but what the heck can I possibly do for you that you can't do for you?"

She really had too high an opinion of me if she thought that there wasn't anything she would have a better handle of than I would.

I couldn't tell her everything so easily, but I at least owed her a general synopsis of what I wanted, "I need you to take me somewhere really far, really fast, then take me somewhere else really far, really fast. Then I need you to go back to school and pretend you have no idea where I am."

Imagine my (lack of) surprise when she didn't roll with my half-assed explanation, "When you say it like that, you make it sound really shady. Why does it sound shady?" She asked.

Because it definitely was. Oh, if only you knew, you smart little cookie.

"Everything that's gonna happen is for a good cause, and I don't think I'm doing anything illegal," I assured her, "It's just that this won't be mission approved, and I want you to have plausible deniability," Because I cared. Even though Megan was my ex, I didn't want her to get in trouble for whatever dumb shit I wound up getting up to.

"That doesn't make it sound any better, you know!" She exclaimed before sighing, "How bad is it that you won't even tell me what 'it' is? Will it get you expelled?"

"I'd put money on it that it won't get me expelled," I said with full confidence.

Megan narrowed her eyes at me, "Will it get you killed?"

On that, I had less confidence. Still, I couldn't bring myself to lie to her, "...I mean, there's probably a better chance of me getting killed than expelled, but-."

"Bel!" Megan stomped her foot fitfully, "Take better care of yourself, you dummy! You're gonna run off and do something you can't tell me about and you're pretty sure you'll survive? What's going on in your head right now?"

A lot. There was a lot going on in my head. But it wasn't her problem anymore. Any responsibility Megan had to shoulder my copious amounts of probably self-imposed baggage vanished the moment we stopped hooking up. I knew what I was trying to get her into was big. Too big to try and rope an unwilling party into. The more we spoke, the worse I felt about getting her involved.

"Forget it," I said, giving her a pat on the shoulder. I went to walk past her and leave, "Don't worry about it. I knew it was a big thing to ask for, but a closed mouth don't get fed, you know?" I would figure something else out.

"Wait," Megan placed her hand over mine before I could step away, "I never said no. Just... talk to me, okay? I don't even know what any of this is about."

I frowned, "You're gonna be late for your next class," I was trying to let her off.

She grinned and winked at me, "I can just say the team leader needed me for something. I'm sure it'll be fine then," At that, the grin fell a bit. She sat down on the stairs and coaxed me to sit with her, "Even if I can't help with what you want me to do, I can help by listening. Please?"

'Fine,' I eventually decided. Even if I didn't get as far as telling her what I wanted, I could at least share what I was thinking. That much wouldn't hurt, "...My teacher has been flying around in deep space for the last eight months, and I haven't done a damn thing to get her back this whole time."

"Bel-Bel... you can't blame yourself for that," Megan said, shaking her head, "You're just a student."

I let out a laugh, "Nah, Pix. Not anymore. We're supposed to be X-Men. I should be able to do something now, even if I wasn't good enough to back then."

"You, you, you. It's always you," Megan muttered. I was keenly aware that she hadn't let go of my hand, gently running her thumb across the back of it, "Why is it that whenever anything goes well, it's always 'us', but whenever things go wrong, it's 'you'?"

"I dunno," I tried to joke, "The burden of leadership?"

"Bel-Bel..." She said chidingly, "...You're kind of self-centered, you know that?"

I felt my eyes go wide, "W-What?" I was more than willing to cop to my personality flaws – I had many to choose from, after all. Egomania was a new one though. My expression must have been funny, because Megan couldn't help but burst out laughing at the look on my face.

"You are!" She said between giggles, "You totally are! I see it now! I always felt like there was something weird about how you always treat yourself, and that's it! I finally got it!" She celebrated as though she had figured out a puzzle that had been stumping her for months.

I wasn't totally onboard with the idea, even if she seemed certain of it, "I'm gonna be honest, Pix, I really wasn't expecting that one."

Megan settled herself down, waving her hand in the air as if to mollify me, "No-no, not like how most people think of being self-centered. Like, not like, you're God's gift to the world and you can do no wrong. But kinda in reverse... like, anything that goes wrong around you is your fault because you should be good enough to deal with it."

"It is, and I should be," I said. That was part of being leader, wasn't it? Successes were because of the collective. Failures were because of the guy in charge. Things went wrong because the guy calling the shots dropped the ball.

Was I wrong about that?

Megan frowned and put on what I had come to learn was her best impression of what I looked like most of the time, complete with deepening her voice to try and mock mine, "'Hmph. I'm Bel-Bel. I wasn't strong enough. I wasn't fast enough. I didn't account for that one-in-infinity RNG b.s. that would never happen again in a million years. I suck.'"

"I don't sound like that," I insisted.

Not out loud I didn't, anyway.

Megan took my face into her hands and stared deep into my eyes, almost like she was trying to hypnotize me, "Listen to me. Not everything is about you. Not everything is your fault, even when it happens to you, or to people you love. You can't control or influence everything that happens around you. Okay?"

From the way she held my head, she squished my cheeks, "But-."

"-No buts, mister," Megan shot back as she eventually let me go, "Jeez. No wonder you're so grumpy all the time if that's how you feel about everything," She seemed exasperated with me, but amusedly so, "So... Miss Pryde."

"Right," I took a moment to get myself back on track, "I'm gonna go find her. I'm at least gonna try," I said, "I owe her that much."

"And you don't think Cyclops will let you? Or that he won't at least okay a search?"

"If he would, it would have happened already, wouldn't it?"

"And what do you think you can do that he can't? Especially if you aren't doing this X-Men style?"

I didn't answer. This was the part I didn't want getting out in case I couldn't get any help, "You're asking a lot out of me to tell you that much without you being onboard..." I told her.

Megan took a moment to mull it over. The late bell for the next class had rung a long time ago. After what seemed like a minute or two of silence, she made her decision, "Alrighty. I'll help you. But-!" She held up a finger, preempting any thanks I might have been prepared to give her, "-But, I want a favor."

I quickly nodded, "Name it."

I didn't have a problem with owing her one. It wasn't like I'd planned on just enlisting help for free. A lot of my positive relationships operated through a delicate balance of favors.

"Ah-ah-ah," Megan wagged her finger in my face, "You're not telling me everything, so I'm not telling you everything. Not right now anyway," she said playfully, "Fair is fair, Bel-Bel."

That it was. Touche, pretty girl.

So, one part of the plan was set in place. It was up to Mister Rasputin to secure the second part, without which we couldn't initiate the third and begin our search.

We needed transport. We needed something fast, something that could hold at least seven people – comfortably. That wasn't the kind of thing that I could get access to on the sly; me or anyone else on the Paladins. But Mister Rasputin had the means to, or at least he knew people who could. He assured us that he could, and we trusted that he would.

That trust paid off two days before we planned to set out. All I got was a quick call that lasted all of five seconds.

"Hello?"

"It's ready."

"Cool."

That was the breadth of the conversation. No more spoken aloud than what was needed, just in case the wrong person was listening. It was times like this where what we were planning really did seem shady. Either way, that meant step three was a go.

No one involved was a fan of step three.

XxX

Friday afternoon found me suiting up in my X-Men uniform in my room. Laura sat next to me, legs crossed on my bed while Eddie paced around. Everyone else had been cool as cucumbers as the day had approached. Eddie had been the only one to show any nerves. He knew better than to say anything out loud during school about the unsanctioned mission we were set to go on, but he had been antsy all day.

"Is there a better plan?" Eddie asked. It felt like he had asked me that every day since we had decided on our course of action.

"Nope," I said, not looking up as I tightened the latches on my boots.

Eddie fitfully ran a hand through his red hair, "This is a bad idea."

"It's not a bad idea, there are just a lot of variables," I said, frowning at him, "Besides, you guys all had four days to come up with something better."

Eddie was the one who had been all for our little sojourn into the stars in the first place. He couldn't be getting cold feet now.

"We're not 'plan' people," Eddie defended, "You're the plan guy. That's why you're in charge."

"Buzzsaw's good at plans," I pointed out, giving the girl next to me a nudge.

"Laura's good at procedure, not plans," Eddie said with a roll of his eyes before apologizing, "Sorry. You're cool, but you're about as imaginative as a turkey sandwich."

"I... do not understand the metaphor," Laura admitted with a furrowed brow.

"Case in point."

"Well, tough titty. We're in it now," I said, trying to put this disagreement to rest, "Robbery etiquette says you cannot judge the robbery plan while the robbery is in session. You have to wait until it's over."

"But we are not robbing anything," Laura pointed out unhelpfully.

I rolled my eyes, "It's a figure of speech, and I know you know that," The little smile she gave in response was all the confirmation I needed.

We had to be all in at this point. When I walked out my door, shit would be on. Everyone else would immediately meet up with Mister Rasputin, and they would all wait for me to get back, at which time there would be no turning back.

After what I felt like was enough procrastination, I got up, Laura joining me as we were headed in the same direction, "I'll see you in a bit, Wingman," I assured Eddie.

"Just be careful, dude," Eddie said as we all stepped outside and parted ways.

Laura and I headed back to the room she shared with Ruth. The two of them needed to get changed, but before that, I needed Ruth's help with something. Outside, we found Megan waiting, standing with her back pressed against the wall by the door, just chilling in her casual clothes, her schoolbag still slung over her shoulder. She waved when she saw me coming, pulling back a bit when she saw Laura with me.

Before we got too close, Laura pulled up behind me, close enough for only me to know she was speaking, "I do not like the idea of leaving you alone with Megan."

"I'll be fine," I mumbled back, "We're not gonna fight anybody, Buzzsaw."

"That is not what I am worried about."

I knew that, and knew what her real problem with the arrangement was. I was being intentionally obtuse for the sake of getting shit done, "Have some faith in my loyalty, girl," I said before we got close enough to be heard, "Pix," I greeted Megan aloud.

"I will get Ruth," Laura quickly excused herself, sparing all of us. I had little doubt that with the awkwardness of the moment, Megan would have felt the need to make small talk in the hallway with her Eskimo sister in front of the guy they had in common.

"Team Paladin still not a fan, huh?" Megan said sheepishly.

At this point, I was sure it was just Laura, and not because of the breakup episode. Having me, her boyfriend, spend any amount of time alone with my ex probably wouldn't have sat well with her in any capacity. I would make it up to her later, but for the time being we had to ride it like this. We were on a pretty strict timetable.

Megan and I were only alone for all of ten seconds before Ruth came out, munching on a turkey sandwich. I had no idea where she got it from. Already knowing what I needed her to do, she reached out and touched my head, quickly found what she was looking for, then proceeded to dump it into Megan's brain.

"Whoa..." Megan nearly lost her balance from the sudden influx of information, needing the wall to steady herself, "That was pretty nuts. I think I have a headache... ow."

"I'd say you get used to it, but I'd be lying," I said before smiling over at my personal telepath, "Thank you, Ruthie. Go get ready. I'll see you in a bit."

She popped off to do just that, leaving me and Megan to head out, "Alright. I can see where we're going in my head. Piece of cake. Shall we go?"

I shrugged my shoulders, "You're the one with the spell handy, Pix. On your word."

"Wait."

Before Megan could hit the incantation that would send us halfway across the planet, Laura stepped back outside her room. Seeing fit to publicly claim her territory, she made it a point to grab me, pull me in, and kiss me – hard. For someone who tended to be so low-key, she could be super-dramatic.

Poor Megan had to pretend that she didn't see anything. Ruth, on the other hand, just leaned against the doorframe munching on her snack.

Laura broke away barely an inch, "Mine," she growled before giving me another short, forceful peck and staring at me intently.

I met her gaze with a challenging smirk, "I dare you to do that in front of more people next time," I said under my breath, "Actually, is that you telling me I can do that in front of more people?"

At that, Laura raised an eyebrow, "Go ahead. Try it in front of Logan. See how he reacts."

"Don't threaten me with a good time," I shot back before nudging her forehead with mine, "Now go get ready," Laura smoothly slipped back into her room, allowing Ruth to wave before she shut the door behind them, "...I am so sorry about that."

I felt the need to apologize. Here Megan was doing us a favor, and then she had to be a captive audience to Laura's power move. And I was so glad that I wore a cup underneath my gear, otherwise my tight-ass uniform would have revealed just how positively a certain part of my body reacted to said power move.

"It's fine!" Megan replied, a bit louder than she likely intended, "Ahem... anyway..." She gestured to the space next to her, prompting me to stand close, "Right then. Sihal novarum chinoth!"

Megan's teleportation spell is trippy as hell. You're surrounded in a blindingly bright pink field of energy, so you can't see much of anything until it's gone. It's not the most jarring way to be teleported I've ever experienced, but that's part of the problem.

When Riddick and Deadpool teleported me, I could at least feel I was being moved. The sudden change of perspective fucks your balance if you aren't ready for it. With Megan's, you blink because of the flash of light and suddenly you're somewhere else entirely. You don't even feel it. It comes off like an illusion for a moment until you start to notice the difference in your surroundings one after another.

I will say, the light her magic generates feels great to absorb. Being something of a light snob, given that I use light to power my body's processes, I feel like my opinion on the subject matters.

Either way, one spell later we had left the hallway of Xavier's female dorms for the middle of the ruined road of Hammer Bay, Genosha.

A soft gasp escaped Megan's lips as she was able to get a good look at the ruins surrounding us, "...This is Genosha?" she nearly whispered, "I saw it from your memories, but..."

"Yeah," I said, quick to understand the impression she had.

It was a lot different to hear about what had happened to the place, and another entirely to see it a year and a half later. It wasn't like there had been much video of the country's destruction. With the quarantine of the island, media crews weren't allowed in when it had been hot in the news cycle. People still weren't allowed in or out, and now the story was stone cold – nearly forgotten about entirely. I probably missed a trick by not getting video on my phone last time I was there. That mistake would not be repeated this time.

That, however, was not why we were there.

Remembering the way from where we started, I led Megan on an impromptu tour of the ruins, intent on heading to the home overlooking Hammer Bay that had played host to Hisako and I the last time Quire had dragged us there.

It was there I found Magneto staring out at what remained over what had once been his country. Not wanting to sneak up on one of the most powerful, dangerous mutants that had ever lived, I announced my presence long before we got close enough to surprise him while he was in thought, just in case he couldn't hear the ground crunch underneath my feet.

"Magneto!" I shouted as we approached.

Whatever the flying equivalent of tripping over one's own feet was, Megan did it when she heard the name and associated it with the silver-haired man at the cliffside. She caught herself before she could take a spill, but clearly was shaken. It was easy to understand why – approaching this man was a questionable decision at best.

Megan quickly landed and hid behind my back, "Magneto? Like, 'Brotherhood of Evil Mutants', international terrorist, Magneto?" She asked, "I thought he was dead?"

"At some point, you stop being so surprised when that happens," I said. My moment of diminishing returns was when I saw Mister Rasputin's little sister was alive and a demon in Limbo.

She didn't appreciate my smartass answer, "Okay, well, when do I stop being surprised that you're about to go and talk to him!?" She hissed under her breath, "Now I can see why you really didn't want to tell me what you were doing!"

Megan wasn't alone in her apprehension. This was the biggest issue any of Team Paladin had with my plan, that if everything went right, it would involve Magneto.

X-Men indoctrination dictated that Magneto was basically the biggest, baddest, most prolific evildoer they had ever had to deal with. The literal poster child for 'bad mutants', the man had done a lot of dirt over the years. Asking him for help, or trading favors with him was too alien a concept for a bunch of kids who grew up with the black-and-white idea of 'X-Men good, Brotherhood bad'.

"Solaris," Magneto greeted. It hadn't been long enough since we'd last met that he would forget me, "You've... returned? Of your own volition this time, I hope," He noticed Megan standing behind me, "Armor looks different than I remember."

"Did Magneto just make a joke?" Megan asked, keeping me between herself and the man in question none too subtly.

"Chill," I said to her before addressing Magneto, "This is Pixie. And no, I didn't get press-ganged into coming here this time," Quite the opposite actually, as I had to get Megan to go with me, "I need help."

Magneto nodded, "Charles is busy with reconstruction efforts, but I can point you in his direction," I shook my head, "No?"

I took a step forward and pointed at him, "I was kinda looking for your help."

"And what could you possibly need from an old villain like me?" Magneto asked skeptically.

I reached into my pocket and pulled out a small piece of metal that I tossed over to him. He didn't even need to lift a finger to catch it out of the air and bring it close enough to observe up close.

Megan tugged on my arm, "Bel-Bel, you just gave Magneto a weapon!" She whispered.

"Pix, Chill," I repeated to her. As if were weren't just outside of a ruined city with tons of torn up metal. If the man wanted to hurt us, he could chuck half of Hammer Bay at us with a flick of his wrist.

After a moment, Magneto floated the metal piece back over to me, "This seems alien."

"It is," I told him, "It's the same metal in a bullet that another planet fired at Earth a few months ago. Now it's just out there in space somewhere. Do you think you could find it?"

He seemed to mull the thought over for a moment, "It isn't impossible..." He eventually said, "I would need to be closer to have a better chance however. From here, even with my full power and concentration, trying to locate what you're looking for would be like searching for a needle in a haystack."

"If I told you I had access to a spaceship, would that improve those odds any?"

"Significantly," Magneto replied. Folding his arms behind his back, he levitated himself off the ground and slowly floated toward me. I felt Megan tense up behind me, "But what makes you think I would consider lending my assistance to the X-Men?"

I chuckled humorlessly, "This is not an X-Men thing. They don't even know what I'm doing. Hell, they don't even know I'm here."

"Um," Despite her fear of the man, Megan chimed in on my behalf, "He's telling the truth. I didn't even know what he wanted me to bring him here for until just now... Magneto, sir."

"If you knew, you wouldn't have done it."

"Yeah, probably!"

That seemed to pique Magneto's interest, "Okay? And why do you think I would help you then? What is this for, Solaris?"

I shook my head, "I don't really expect you to help. But I had to ask, because you're the best man for the job," I said, "My first mentor saved the planet by sealing herself in a metal bullet big enough to destroy the planet. Now she's stuck out in space. I couldn't do anything to help her when it happened. Maybe I still can't. But I won't know until I give it a go. If you say no, I'll turn my ass around and head back."

Being turned down would suck, but it wouldn't be unexpected. I would figure something else out, somehow. Magneto was plan A, and likely the best chance of getting anything done, but there had to be something else. If there was, I would think of it.

Magneto let my words settle, his expression giving away nothing. I simply stood and waited until he finally responded, "Alright. I'll help you."

"I don't expect you to do this for nothing, so-," I stopped in the middle of my sales pitch, as I had expected him to say no and had already moved on to how I could possibly persuade him. I wasn't prepared for him to agree so easily, "Wait... what?"

"I'll help you," He said again.

It was exactly what I wanted, but I still couldn't just take the win at face value, "...Why?"

"I am a man who knows regret," Magneto said, his expression sorrowful and reflective, "There are many things I have done that I would like to take back; things that I would erase entirely if I could. There are countless things that I would like to fix, or make up for. That is a struggle I can understand intimately. If my actions can spare you that much, I would lend you my assistance."

As magnanimous as that sounded, there had to be a catch. There was always a catch. I had expected a catch. I had planned to have to negotiate something. I didn't know what exactly I could give a militant mutant leader in return for his help, but I was willing to deal with that problem once I had gotten to it. If it wound up being a favor owed somewhere down the line, that would just be another problem for future me. We could tack a deal with the devil onto to the list that already included my patricidal would-be offspring and eventually blowing up and taking the planet with me.

That in mind, when Magneto extended his hand to me, I readily shook it.

XxX

It was weird, seeing Magneto in the flesh, wearing that same goddamn red and purple outfit of his that haunted the simulations we had to run against him in the Danger Room and Danger Cave. The specter of this man had haunted our training to be X-Men

I know. I was the one that asked him to go with us in the first place. But just because it was my idea didn't mean I still wasn't ready for it to go pear-shaped.

Once Magneto was ready, Megan teleported us to a second location that Ruth had put into her head when she'd done the same with Genosha. I couldn't help but smile when we arrived and right in front of us was a massive vessel meant for space travel.

It was Ord's ship; the one he had taken to get to Earth to enact his mission that had set up everything leading to Miss Pryde's disappearance. He had left it behind when we were all more or less abducted by S.W.O.R.D., and seeing as how he had died, it wasn't like anyone from Breakworld was going to come back and retrieve it. That made it property of S.W.O.R.D... and they lent it to us.

Megan shook her head, unable to take her eyes off of the ship as we walked the rest of the way over, "I don't understand how you could have pulled all of this together in, what, three days?"

"Four," I corrected, trying to downplay it all, "I told you, Pix. Lots of moving parts."

I really didn't have to do that much. The plan wasn't particularly elaborate, there were just certain things that needed to come together for it all to work. I just had to procure two things – transportation to get us through space, and Magneto to use as a living, breathing compass, pointing us in the right direction. Maybe he could even reach out and get the bullet to slow down so we could catch up. One could only hope. Beyond that, it was winging it and giving it our best shot.

The transportation part wasn't even handled by me. Mister Rasputin was the one who went and leaned on someone for it. The mean Abigail Brand lady from S.W.O.R.D. owed us a favor from Breakworld, and since we were using that favor to fix a consequence from that godforsaken mission, she had little reason beyond official ones to turn us down. It wasn't like I knew her well, but from what I had experienced, she didn't seem the type who cared very much about red tape.

It wasn't as tense as you would have thought, bringing Magneto onboard. Hisako had already met him, so she roughly shared my sentiments on the man. If Ruth had seen some treachery ahead of time, she hadn't told any of us, so she was cool. Laura never had to deal with Magneto before, nor had she been brought up on X-Men tales of his treachery, so she didn't care beyond the basics of not trusting him.

Eddie and Mister Rasputin were the ones who were most against Magneto's presence. Neither of them trusted him. Though Eddie's was more along the lines of Megan's wariness, Mister Rasputin had a long and checkered relationship. Still, when we boarded with Magneto, Mister Rasputin was quick to approach him, standing face-to-face. There was never any fear of a fight breaking out, but there was enough of an edge to the interaction that we all took notice.

Despite Mister Rasputin towering over him, Magneto simply stared up at him, never looking away, "Piotr."

"Erik," Rasputin replied neutrally. Eventually, his body language relaxed and he lowered his head, "Thank you… for doing this. For helping us search for Katya."

At that, Magneto's eyes widened, "Katherine is the one who was lost in space?"

"You didn't know?"

"Solaris didn't say."

I looked between the two when they turned to glance at me, "I didn't want to bring it up unless he asked. I don't know who all of you have heat with or not," I just thought it better not to name names, just in case Magneto had some kind of blood feud with Miss Pryde. It seemed to be the opposite, in fact.

The two men headed off to speak amongst themselves, which left me to run through a last-minute check before we took off… because I was going to be the one flying, you see. Who else?

"I can't believe we're seriously going back to space," Hisako said while I ran through the checklist, "I know you said you don't expect danger, but we could die out there."

"That doesn't hold a lot of weight considering who we are," I replied.

Eddie quickly agreed with me, "Yeah, I'm pretty sure the odds of us getting killed in space are on par with the odds of us getting killed on a random Friday night in Salem Center."

Hisako smirked, "Speaking from experience, Wing?"

Eddie snorted, "Yeah, Sol's."

"That only happened three times," I counterproductively argued.

"In one year?" Hisako said, catching onto the joke.

"That's still three more than the rest of us," Eddie added.

I pointed over to Ruth, "No, 'cuz Ruthie was there for one of those; when we got kidnapped."

Eddie disagreed, "That doesn't count because Blindfold didn't almost die. You did."

I chuckled, "Maybe it's just me then?"

"Dunno what to tell you, dude," Eddie said.

"Have you ever tried not nearly getting yourself killed?" Hisako suggested.

"What, you mean going all the way and fully getting myself killed?" I offered, "Because I'm pretty sure that would piss a few people off if I went and did that," Having sat on the sidelines for the duration of our inane conversation, Laura let her presence be known with an affirmative grunt, "See?"

Megan shook her head at the banter between us, "I can't believe you guys are about to get shot off into space and can joke about it like this," The way we spoke, we may as well have been getting ready for a road trip to a concert or something, "Is Bel-Bel's crazy infectious?"

"Yes," Hisako stated bluntly, "It might be terminal too. The jury's still out on that one."

Eddie grinned, "I've learned that this crap isn't as scary if you can keep making jokes about it."

I turned to Megan who seemed out of place, what with the rest of us in our uniforms. As far as X-Men stuff went, she was good in the field, but until the action kicked off, she always seemed skittish. A confidence thing, maybe?

"Pix, you can go back to school now," I told her, "We're good. I won't forget I owe you one later."

"If you live that long," She grumbled.

"I mean, yeah," I shrugged, thinking that went without saying.

Megan seemed to be debating with herself, shifting back and forth from one foot to another, "...Do you think it would help if I stayed?" She eventually asked.

The rest of us all looked at each other before I said anything else, "I told you, this isn't an X-Men thing, Megan. This is straight-up Paladin business."

Megan looked around at all of us, then at herself. Likely feeling more than a little out of place, she started to back out of the cockpit, "I... see. Got it. Sorry!"

I felt bad to send her on her way so abruptly, but she really didn't need to be there any longer than necessary. Life as an X-Man was dangerous enough without getting people involved in the little personal things that popped up for from time to time. Plus, it would be kind of hard to work the plausible deniability angle to her benefit to keep her out of trouble if she was around the whole time.

Before long, I finished my pre-flight checks. Not too long after, Colossus and Magneto finished hashing out whatever grown folks' business they needed to see to away from the rest of us. The only thing left to do from there was to take off.

Everyone took their seats, buckling in tight as I brought the engines to life.

"Are you sure you can fly this thing?" Eddie asked, "It isn't exactly the Blackbird."

I had to laugh. It was a little late to be asking that now, "Yeah, for sure. It's got the same interface as the things I flew on Breakworld, it's just got a bit more junk in the trunk. So, we doing this?"

Everyone looked to Colossus, who sat in his seat, eyes glued straight ahead. He didn't seem to be looking at anything in particular, but the focused expression on his face was clear for all of us to see, "It is time, Solaris."

"Right," I gripped the controls tightly, "Last call. If your ass isn't in a seat, life's about to be hard for a little bit."

It wasn't like we were in a rocket, so the takeoff was smooth. Still, the ship had to fly with enough force to break through Earth's atmosphere and gravitational field. Breakworld was a planet about warfare, so they made everything sturdy, ships like ours included. It still wasn't the most pleasant experience. Thankfully, it only lasted a minute or so. That minute would have been a lot worse if we hadn't been in the relative safety of our seats.

Once we were 'safely' within the reaches of space, I set coordinates and let the auto-guidance take over. Sighing, I slumped back in my seat. My head hurt. All we had done was take off. We hadn't even started the search yet and it felt like so much had already happened.

No one was talking. Colossus was still alone with his own thoughts, Magneto didn't seem to be the talkative type these days, Laura was Laura, and everyone else was getting acclimated to being in space. Other than the sound of the engine running, it was very quiet. Quiet enough to hear pained moans and jostling from elsewhere onboard.

"...No..." I muttered, knowing exactly what I was hearing. I didn't even need to check, but was obligated to do so, "Goddamn it."

I got up and headed to the hold of the ship. Being that it had been in S.W.O.R.D. storage prior to them pulling it out for us to use, there was no cargo inside. There were food and water supplies though, along with a stowaway.

Megan seemed to be halfway through changing into her X-Men uniform when we took off, because we found her in a heap in the corner of the hold, upside down, pants halfway down her legs, boots separated across the room.

"Oww..." She complained to her new audience.

"Pixie?" Armor said, "You didn't leave?" She then turned to me, accusation in her tone, "You didn't check?"

"Of course, I checked!" I replied, "I checked the whole fucking time! Literally all I was doing before we took off was checking the ship!"

How did she even avoid me? I wasn't aware there even were hiding places onboard. Even so, I didn't think she would stay! Who wants to go to space? ...Other than us?

The only one who didn't seem surprised or perturbed was Laura, which immediately caught my attention, "...Did you know?"

"Yes," Of course she did, what with her super-sniffer and all. She had probably been aware that Megan had still been around the whole time.

"Laura..." I said, meaning to admonish her.

The girl was unapologetic in her demeanor, "She asked if it would help if she stayed. It would," She reasoned. How pragmatic of her.

"Eh-heh..." Megan chuckled sheepishly, embarrassed by the position we had found her in, "Surprise!"

The thing was, Laura wasn't wrong. Megan had been as good as gold as a member of my X-Men team. Her powers were effective, she could use magic, and she was a lot braver than she thought she was once crunch time set in.

Also, contrary to how she appeared, upside-down in a heap with her uniform half on and her undergarments showing, she was very capable.

All-in-all, things could have been worse than bringing along an extra pair of hands. We could have been found out before we ever even left. At least the mission had gotten underway.

XxX

The idea of traveling through space seems novel, right? You're getting an up close and personal look at the very cosmos themselves. Things you've only seen from a distance with your feet firmly planted on the relatively safe surface of Earth. Flying past these heavenly bodies must seem like something out of a dream.

The reality is, space travel is boring. It's like being on a plane, only with less to do most of the time.

The earliest space flights in recorded human history? That was real hardcore shit. Those flights were done with less technology onboard than what you could find in your modern smartphone. Every bit of the mission had to be carefully calculated for months before the rocket ever even launched. Every moment of the shuttle's flight itself had to be monitored on the chance that anything went wrong, that any anomaly would screw up everything.

Fast forward 60 years, give or take, and with technology pilfered from aliens over the decades, things are pretty mundane. Once you get free of a planet's atmosphere, the ship does most of the work itself. Yes, there are still tons of dangers, but it's a lot like a long car trip or a long flight, just on a way bigger scale.

Now, I know what you're saying; 'But Bellamy, you get to see the real planets close. You get a better look than anyone else on Earth ever would,' and, sure, you would have a point, I guess, if we were actually going in the direction of any other local planets. But we weren't. We passed Mars, got a good look at it, got a half-assed view of Jupiter, and that was it. This isn't just me being a jaded asshole spoiled by superhero life. Compared to other places in the universe, the Milky Way galaxy is empty as fuck. There weren't even any comets or asteroid belts to look out for. The other galaxies were the ones with all of the cool, dangerous shit. Until we got to those places, there wasn't much for us.

To that end, for us, it was just a lot of hanging around and waiting as we made sure the ship was still following the coordinates we originally set. You can imagine how boring this became after half a day of flying.

To fight the boredom, one of the things I demanded everyone on the Paladins do when we were getting everything ready, Mister Rasputin included, was download an entire massive playlist of their music. Specifically download, because it wasn't like we were going to be getting standard wi-fi as far away from home as we were going. Streaming would not be a reliable option.

The teenagers among us wound up playing a game where whenever a new song came on, we would try to figure out whose playlist it came from. It helped kill a few hours.

You see? These are the kinds of dumb ideas you can count on for mundane entertainment if you ever find yourself stuck with me and my crew.

"Anyone know what in particular we need to be on the lookout for?" Eddie eventually asked during a down moment, "Like, stuff that could go after us for poking around out here?"

Let's see. Skrulls, Shi'ar Empire, Nova Corps, Brood, Chitauri… just to name a handful. I'm definitely missing countless more that I'd been aware of through studying. Those ones are just off the top of my head.

However...

"Nothing I'd worry about," I said.

Hisako and Laura immediately gave me looks as if to say they knew I was full of shit, but neither said anything – because they knew what I knew. Those names meant nothing without a long, scary explanation, and if we stepped on any of those toes, knowing about them in advance wouldn't do much beyond needlessly freaking out the more neurotic among us. It wasn't like we planned on rocking up to anyone's doorstep for a fight, just the eight of us.

Worrying about crossing paths with any dangerous space folk was like worrying about the sun coming up. There wasn't much we could do about preventing it but keep our heads down, so I wasn't about to wild out over the possibility.

And yes, there was a distinct possibility.

It took two days for us to pick up the bullet's trail. The instruments onboard helped us try and figure out its trajectory, so we did our best to try and plot a course meant to head it off, or at least shorten the distance between us and it. Magneto was the one that alerted us he could feel something akin to the tiny sample I had given him back on Genosha. What followed was a conversation that reminded me that there were levels to this.

"I believe I may be able to bring it closer," Magneto said.

...Excuse me?

"-Or at least slow it down enough for the ship to catch up," he continued to Colossus, "What say you?"

"Whatever you can do, Erik," Colossus replied, "Please."

Magneto simply nodded and took up a stance, getting to work on just that. The audacity of these men, to speak of something so nonchalantly, as if it wasn't fucking absurd that Magneto could catch a satellite-sized bullet hurtling through space, who knew how far away, with nothing more than his powers. Master of Magnetism clearly wasn't just a sick-ass title.

I sat and watched Magneto put his powers to work. It was hard to tell if it was working, how much power he was throwing around, anything really. Unlike something like, say, Julian's telekinesis, there wasn't any glowing or sound to accompany Magneto using his powers. The only sound that came with his powers being thrown around in my experience was the screech of metal being torn apart and crashing around as he threw it at you.

Only the tenseness of his entire body, and the sweat beading on his face told me of the sheer amount of effort this feat required. His arms started to shake as minutes continued to pass. I would have called the effort herculean, but as far as I knew, Hercules was a god or something, not a mutant. I tried to help by steering the ship in a direction that would allow us to better move to meet the bullet.

While everyone waited tensely in their seat for any kind of update on the situation, Ruth sat in the corner of the cockpit, sequestered by herself, "Something is coming, yes," She whispered, "Something big. Something very, very big. She did not see it until it was too late."

"Holy shit..." I heard Eddie quietly say. He'd been in the co-pilot chair next to me, eyes peeled for any sign that we were getting close. He couldn't point out on the navigation instruments fast enough that we were coming up on something, "Something is coming out way. Is he actually reeling it in?"

It seemed like it. As I could feel the excitement creep into my stomach, there was a new question. It was like the adage of a dog chasing a car. What did we do once we caught it?

Magneto, beast that he was, kept up his work. Eventually, after the better part of an hour, he somehow got the bullet to slow enough that we could stay alongside it at cruising speed. At that point, he damn near collapsed on the floor from fatigue.

"Bel-Bel, use the tractor beam to bring it in," Megan suggested.

I looked at her oddly, "We don't... Pix, we don't have that. I don't think that's really a thing."

Hisako chimed in, "It probably is a thing. We just don't have it."

Colossus peered out the side window, his hands pressed to the only barrier between him and the infernal silver prison that had contained his lover for the better part of the year, "We are so close..." He lamented, "Hold on, Katya. Just a little while longer."

Ruth sat, knees pulled to her chest, "Sorry. It is here," She said quietly, frowning as she did so, "She does not know what to do..."

After a moment, Magneto rose from the floor, "Solaris, can you keep course with the bullet for a while? I just need a little time to rest. Then I can keep hold of it while you begin returning us to Earth."

So, tow the damn thing back home? Hey, that worked for me. We could figure out how to get Miss Pryde out of the bullet at our leisure once we had it on the ground.

"Can do," I told him. This was good. It was excellent actually, "Dandy," I said to myself, "Dandy-dandy-dandy-dandy," I repeated in the hopes that things would stay that way.

For once, things were going off without a hitch. Maybe Eddie was right? Maybe I was the plan guy?

Unfortunately, I could not plan for what happened as a result of this. We brought the bullet back to Earth, but something else wound up tagging along for the ride.


Goddamn it, Bellamy. Even when something seems to go right, something else will go wrong. But what was it? And when will it manifest? Oh well. I'm sure it will be fine.

Until the next time, guys.

Kenchi out.