Disclaimer: Gosh. Lyman and Stryker belong to Marvel. No money is being made, nor is it expected. (some chocolate wouldn't go amiss, however)

SPOILER WARNING: This spoils at least part of the X2 movie, so if you're wary of spoilers, go away.

Notes: This was rattling around in my head while I listened to the Avengers movie soundtrack (crappy movie, good music), and, well. I think it's 'cause it was Peter Wingfield. I had to give him... something. I dunno. Anyway.

The Best Things in Life Are Free
by Ana Lyssie Cotton

As the ringing of the pins echoes in his mind, he suddenly remembers. It's the little things in life that you live for.

He'd almost told Stryker that, once. A tiny child was writhing before them, fighting her restraints as if she could ever gain her freedom. Stryker had touched her cheek, all careful sympathy. "Don't worry, dear. We'll cure you."

For a moment, violet eyes had opened. Comprehension sat in them, fear battling at it. Then terror was them out to a dark grey and she screamed again as a new stimulus of pain shattered her world.

Lyman looked at the slider he'd just pushed, and wondered at himself.

It was the little things.

Stryker, nodding his approval.

Deep inside, Lyman felt something twist. Some little part of him that used to be fascinated with butterflies and flowers and bubbles curled up and died. The little girl screamed her pain shrill against his nerves and he had to remind himself this was for her own good.

Others' good. The good of humanity.

The floor would be cold when he fell, he decides.

As cold as the ice outside their door. As cold as Stryker was towards his son, Jason.

"He's our tool now."

"Yes." Pity touched him as he watched the wreck of a human trundle around in his wheelchair. And was ignored.

Pity would gain him nothing.

And there were others. So many others, processed, marked, tagged--some even died as they were studied, and he cleaned them up. Nose wrinkling at the stench of death, hands coated in their innocent blood. It never came off, anymore. He could scrub for minutes, and there would still be flecks under his fingernails.

He couldn't tell Stryker that. Couldn't talk to any of them about it.

Because it's the little things in life that keep you sane. And talking about it, rebelling, would mean he'd become just another one of Stryker's toy soldiers. No will of his own, no life of his own.

And, oh, there were times when he'd wanted to. Times when some part of him resurfaced and screamed to rebel. But that last step was beyond him.

Others had complained, questioned, or just merely refused their duty. They were 're-educated', their will shattered. Some were given to Jason. Most were drugged for the rest of their tenure with Stryker. And he made sure that tenure was very short.

Hazard paid well.

Lyman wondered how many of those killed by the Wolverine were 're-educated'. How many had had wills of their own.

Of course, at this point, it's all reflex now. He hates mutants, wants them gone.

Can't see a world where they'll ever co-exist peacefully.

How much is learned, how much is habit? He asks himself, amused. They hate him as much as he hates them. That blue woman proved that. Her eyes so full of contempt and rage as she ran by him, her lips curled in a silent snarl.

As the pins of the grenades float away, panic sets in around him. The men begin to scurry, as if it will save them.

There's something inevitably right about this, Lyman decides. There was, from the moment Stryker's plans began to fail, a domino effect. Their house of cards was falling.

And as the grenade at his chest explodes, ripping him apart, Lyman smiles.

For it's the little things that matter. And he is at peace. Finally.