sic transit gloria mundis

Alhazred - [email protected] - www.almasymarquis.com/~stairway

X-Men, and all related material, is ã Marvel.

Pyro hated Graydon Creed. The man was a snobby bigot with a superiority complex matched only by an ego the size of the stretch limousine he drove around in.

It came to pass, then, that Pyro absolutely loathed sitting in the same room as the man and listening to his rhetoric. He wanted to kill him.

"...now I've been called callous and even inhumane for introducing this bill, but I think it absolutely ludicrous that normal folk should be required to risk their lives merely by associating with those who may or may not be mutants capable of causing harm to those around them and the only solution is to ensure that mutants can not be close around..."

That last bit was amusing. If only you knew, Pyro thought. He shifted in his chair again, trying desperately not to start flicking his lighter on and off. That would annoy people. And probably get him kicked out. Considering the lengths to which Magneto had gone to get him inside, this would be embarrassing.

Washington DC wasn't so great, Pyro decided. Politicians were boring...except for Senator Kelly. Mostly because Pyro could see the little things that totally gave 'him' away.

"...take the illustrious Senator Robert Kelly, my 'esteemed' debating opponent arriving tomorrow. How do I know this man is not a mutant intent on causing me bodily harm in any number of possible ways, especially considering his sudden reversal in opinion explained only as a personal revelation? Have we learned nothing from the Liberty Island incident? How do I know none of you in this very room could kill me by growing a throwing dagger straight from your bones?"

Graydon Creed was beyond boring. He was downright incomprehensible. And if that wasn't bad enough, someone else in the room was agitating Pyro. He hadn't found where they were, being afraid to look around and be noticed back despite certainty that his presence was no secret.

He'd recognized one of the cars parked outside before he and Magneto had first entered the building, and had instantly regretted looking at the license plate to ensure it wasn't just the same model and color as the car Cyclops owned.

The Brotherhood wasn't the only pro-mutant organization interested in Mr. Creed, it seemed.

"...the point is, we don't just need to know who mutants are. We don't need to know what they can do. We merely need to know they are not in our country and they need to know their choices are leaving or accepting the consequences..."

Graydon finished off his speech with a few more pretty words and quickly left before the up-roaring crowd of spectators and senators had a chance to ask, support or rebuke him at all.

Pyro took the chance to give in and flick his lighter open once. Next to him, Magneto quietly stood and put his fedora on, glancing around the chamber one last time before he headed for the second-floor door.

The second floor corridor was empty as they walked along; people were eager to get out through the front doors now that the show of the day was over. Pyro figured that was why Magneto had chosen it for their departure.

"Nice day for a walk, Mr. Lehnsherr?"

Jumping a little, Pyro watched Magneto turn around smoothly, as if he'd expected someone to sneak up on them.

"Really, Mr. Summers," Magneto smiled and tipped his hat, "Charles must be getting lazy if you're doing the pre-conflict confrontations in the hallway now."

Pyro stayed quiet. Cyclops wasn't wearing his visor, but it still bugged him to no end that he could never tell if he was being watched or not. Dr. Grey could've been wrong, after all. He felt fortunate never having been close enough to the man to warrant adverse feelings.

"Or maybe he'd just rather have someone here who would have less trouble stopping you in your tracks," Cyclops answered. His hand rested on something in a pocket of his overcoat, most likely his visor.

"And the question then becomes," Magneto said, "just how many are with you? The Wolverine, the Weather Witch, or the Firebird, perhaps? Or did you just come here to let me know you have your eye on us?"

"Sorry," Cyclops half-grinned. "That's pretty much it. You being an escaped felon might have something to do with this. I'd advise you to stay out of trouble, Magneto, but I know you won't."

He turned to leave. Magneto shook his head sadly. "Quite right."

"Oh, and John," Cyclops added, looking at Pyro over his shoulder, "thanks."

Caught off guard, Pyro couldn't think of anything to say in response before Cyclops was gone. He unclenched the hand he hadn't even realized was balled into a fist from nerves, and he felt the after-effects. His gloves were puffy and soft at the palms from the bandages underneath, but rubbing the burns through them still stung.

He didn't know what he was going to do about those once they healed. He liked Magneto's gloves but he was proud of the scars he would soon have as well. To cover or not to cover, that was the question.

But it was a question for another time. For the moment, Pyro was content to follow Magneto down the corridor and back downstairs.

~~~

"I'm not really an expert," Pyro took one last look behind him, just in case, "but wouldn't he have to be confident about bringing this into the Senate before this thing even gets by the House?"

"Confident indeed," Magneto agreed. "I suspect large sums of money have been moved from his bank accounts recently. Just to get a spot talking on the Senate floor in the first place, if nothing else."

At this point, something behind them exploded. And it did so violently.

Turning to see that it was a car, Pyro almost did a double take. It was Cyclops' car, on top of it. But Cyclops wasn't in it; he was standing on the sidewalk, acting nonchalant and vulture-like, blending in nicely with the nearby crowd.

Maybe the FoH had known there were mutants attending their little seminar. On the other hand, that didn't sound right. If they'd wanted to kill him, it was a piss-poor car bomb. Pyro brought his hand up, and...

"Don't put it out. Keep walking."

Pyro did as he was told. Besides, what mutant in their right mind would be caught dead making themselves obvious at this scene? Despite his doubts, Pyro wondered if there was something going on they just didn't know. "You think Creed..."

Magneto's brow furled. "Be damned strange if he did. But I wouldn't put it passed him. Perhaps we should do a little information gathering."

~~~

"This is it?" Pyro asked, handing Magneto his helmet. "Looks like a campaign office."

"I'm sure Creed thinks it is," Magneto said. He waved his hand at the doors in front of them; one unlocked and swung open. "Sabretooth?"

Sabretooth looked happy to be doing something besides sitting around. He simply didn't blend in well with normal humans; it was impossible for him to tag along during the day. But here, at night, during a very illegal break-in, there were no such issues.

In response to Magneto's prodding, he looked up at the second floor windows as opposed to the front doors. One was right above the awning over the door. For Sabretooth, it was perfect. He took a running start, jumped up, grabbed the edge, flipped up onto it and silently slid through the window with the cat-like grace he never seemed to have otherwise.

Pyro went in with Magneto through the front, taking a small headset from him. The lobby split off into two corridors, Magneto stepped toward one. "Take the other hall, we'll meet with Sabretooth at Mr. Creed's office at the other end."

Nodding, Pyro turned and walked down said hallway as quietly as he could and as quickly as he felt comfortable, noting the few doors into other offices with a conference room here and there. One was labeled 'Larry Trask,' another read 'Edward K. Roberts.'

One thing made him nervous; a total lack of any security. There were no visible cameras, no guards, nothing. He reached Graydon's office at the back wall with little trouble.

It was a nice office, with picture windows for walls and a nice glass door. Pyro didn't see Magneto down the other hall, and that worried him. He tapped at the headset in his ear. "Everyone alright? Magneto?"

His response was a growl from Sabretooth, followed by a smacking sound and a sick tearing. Sabretooth, apparently, had found the security."

"Quite all right, my boy," Magneto's voice answered. "I found something interesting in another office. See what you can find in Mr. Creed's inner sanctum, I'll be there shortly."

Pyro opened the door and entered the office, taking in his new surroundings. Behind the deck and chair was another window and he was suddenly nervous someone might look in and realize he wasn't supposed to be there. But then, what were they going to do?

Eschewing the file cabinet, he sat down and booted up the computer. Computers ruled information nowadays, and Pyro was proud of the rather exceptional grades he had earned in every computer class he'd taken at Xavier's. Bool he was not, but snooping didn't require being a cyber-kinetic.

The names under the folders that appeared on the screen were mostly normal, the usual Microsoft Windows 2007 nonsense. Things like 'My Documents' and 'AOLverizon.' At least there was an Internet connection, maybe Creed's surfing habits would say something about him.

But some of the other folders looked more interesting. One was labeled 'Project Wideawake [halted,]' another read 'Madripoor.'

But 'Stryker's Database' caught Pyro's eye. He opened it.

"Whoa," was all he could think once his eyes were assaulted with such mass amounts of information. There was intelligence on Xavier's school, which would certainly provide a nice big target for the Friends of Humanity, both for propaganda and outright violence. Even more interesting was the massive, massive list of known mutants.

There were even categories for them. Alphabetical order, possible threats, escaped prisoners...

Curious, Pyro clicked on the last one. Magneto's name caught his eye immediately, as it was a surprisingly short list. 'Lehnsherr, Eric' sat at the very bottom. Above it was 'LeBeau, Remy' and 'Haller, David.' A few names went by before Pyro was at all intrigued.

Creed's name on the list almost knocked Pyro out of his chair. Once he'd thought to look, however, the full name read 'Creed, Victor.' Graydon must've gotten along well with Stryker if he hated mutants even after someone related to him had the X-gene.

Looking around the deck, Pyro found something for storage. He recognized it as one of those optical hard disks, almost hearing the lecture from school over in his head about the technology being an extraordinary expensive, extraordinarily large capacity storage device. Leave it to a bigot to spare no expense...

Shoving the disk in the drive, he set the database to work copying itself over. Magneto would find this amusing, he knew. The blackmail opportunities alone were enough to make his head spin.

He flicked his lighter open and closed, close to the drive, waiting for the disc to pop out. It wouldn't take long, the status bar on the screen was already passed fifty percent.

His attention on the monitor, Pyro didn't see the people running to the door through the office windows. It wasn't until he heard the door open that he actually looked up.

Graydon Creed himself was in front of three security guards. "Hi."

Pyro's eyebrows went up. It had been a sarcastic 'hi,' but it still wasn't what he'd expected. "Hi?"

"Obviously you didn't know that thing is rigged to sound about three different alarms if you don't log on right, so I'll assume you didn't come here knowing what to look for," Graydon said, "and just ask if you are what I think you are."

"Well I suppose that depends what you think I am," Pyro answered, flicking his lighter on. He eyed the monitor; his disc was almost ready.

"Typical, dangerous mutant scum," Graydon answered, his eyes narrowing. The man's sheer presence offended Pyro; he looked as professional as Xavier or Magneto in a suit and tie, his red hair tied back. But he didn't exactly radiate kindness.

Quietly, the disc popped out of its drive. Pyro kept his lighter burning. "I suppose you'd know about scum."

"Small words," Creed snapped. "From a small being trying to attack what he doesn't understand!"

"Oh what," Pyro laughed, "I don't understand being normal? Actually...you're right."

The hand Pyro had rested on the keyboard waved up, and the flame from his lighter promptly jumped in front of the desk and expanded into a wall. Graydon and his guards dived back through the door; Pyro grabbed his disk, shoved it into his coat pocket, bolted out of the chair, and turned around.

He wasn't eager to try and run through armed men and a crazy mutant hater. On the other hand, diving through windows wasn't as difficult as it looked, according to Mystique.

Not that she had taught him that particular trick yet, but it seemed like it involved more common sense than anything. So he dived through the office's window, arms in front of his face, hitting the ground well before the rain of glass following behind.

He tucked and rolled onto his feet; Mystique had taught him that, and right now he appreciated it more than ever as Magneto's voice buzzed in his headset. "Pyro, run around the front."

Fortunately, the front wasn't far away. The late hour meant there wasn't anyone to clog the sidewalk, though the few people in hearing distance on the street turned to see what was going on.

Pyro hoped Magneto would be quick; he had lost his concentration and the firewall had dropped when he made his escape, and he could already hear Graydon shouting at his cronies behind him. "Don't just stand there, shoot him, you idiots!"

The front door swung open once more and Magneto casually walked out and onto the sidewalk, just as Pyro ran by. Seeing Magneto turn to confront his pursuers, Pyro stopped running and turned as well, his confidence much improved.

It was perfect timing; the guards were trying to do as Creed had instructed once they rounded the corner. Graydon was close behind, clearly wanting to watch.

Magneto stopped every bullet in midair. "Guns again."

The guards didn't even see it coming when he hurled the metal right back at, and through them. To his credit, the bodies bleeding at Graydon's feet didn't seem to perturb him. "You couldn't have waited for a news crew, I suppose?"

"Your mouth is working you towards a lot of trouble, Mr. Creed," Magneto glared. "What are you up to?"

"I'm sure you'll find out. You people always do," Graydon answered. "Unless, of course, you'd like to kill me, as well. Maybe have your flamer over there burn me to a crisp? No?"

Pyro was tempted to do just that, but Magneto made no move. Graydon tugged at his lapels and turned to simply walk away. "I thought not."

And Sabretooth leapt from a window of the building clear into the sky, soaring over the front lawn so elegantly it was surreal. He landed in front of Creed.

For the first time, Creed's arrogance broke as he jumped back, clearly terrified. "You!"

Sabretooth reached up with one hand, bloody from taking care of security inside the building, and wrapped it around Creed's neck. Creed's feet were off the ground a second later and he couldn't breath, his eyes bulging in shock or suffocation.

Calmly, Sabretooth said, "Worldly fame is transitory."

He squeezed. Creed couldn't breath...

"Sabretooth," Magneto scowled. "Put him down."

The glare Sabretooth shot Magneto scared Pyro; it wasn't creepy, it wasn't resentful, it was damned scary. Magneto, however, was not scared. "I mean it."

Creed hit the concrete with a thud when Sabretooth let go.

And Pyro wondered if it had just been Sabretooth being Sabretooth or if it was something else that made him want to strangle Creed right there. And as they walked away, he asked another question on his mind.

"Why didn't you let him?"

"For the reason he knew I wouldn't kill him myself." Sighing, Magneto had obviously wanted to kill the man. "Never underestimate the power of a martyr, dear boy. We'll get our chance."

~~~

After Magneto had been going over various amounts of data on a laptop for two hours in the Brotherhood's hotel room, Pyro wondered what on earth could be worth this extreme boredom. Flopping down onto his bed, he decided to ask. "Why do we care about this guy anyway? Who's to say he's not just a bigot with a lot of money and an old friendship with Colonel Stryker?"

Sabretooth - flipping through the channels on the free cable television and drinking himself silly on the not-so-free mini bar - let out a growl. He wasn't actually drunk; Pyro guessed his healing factor made sure of that. Still, he hadn't been quite so angry a few seconds ago.

"Where Graydon Creed walks," Magneto sighed, "bad things happen. We know. Unfortunately, St. John, it's not my business to tell people why."

More time passed. Magneto eventually gave up sifting through the gigabytes of data on the two discs so he could take a quick nap; he was meeting Mystique later, and he was going to be keeping an eye on her during her debate with Creed. Pyro became the television god while Sabretooth poked at the laptop.

Finally, once Magneto had left and Sabretooth had curled up in a rather cat-like fashion to get some sleep himself, Pyro started looking through the stuff. He had a rough start; Sabretooth purred in his sleep. Sabretooth and purring was just so monumentally distracting and...disturbing that he found it difficult to concentrate.

The disc Magneto had come back with was loaded full of files from the Friends of Humanity event coordinator, Anne Reynolds. Her name and electronic signature was on everything. Bored with the chocolate-coated anti-mutant forms, events and plans, Pyro went back to Stryker's files. There was, he already knew, one thing there that interested him.

'Creed, Victor.' Curiosity killed the cat. Maybe it would have been a good idea to have Sabretooth look at it instead. Nevertheless, Pyro clicked the name.

Then he blinked. He looked at Sabretooth, still sleeping and purring, and then he looked back at the screen. One more look at Sabretooth confirmed what he had just seen and couldn't, for the life of him, process.

The mug shot on the file was Sabretooth. Sabretooth's name was Victor Creed. And there just weren't many Creeds in the phonebook.

"No wonder he's so cranky," Pyro mused. Shaking his head to clear the shock, he closed the laptop and decided it may be time for sleep after all.

~~~

The sound of a cart being pushed into the room almost woke Pyro up the next morning. The idea that a maid was waltzing in at a rather inopportune time jolted him into awareness, but it was just Sabretooth.

Just Sabretooth wheeling in a cart that held what appeared to be a quarter-eaten roasted turkey, a large bowl of mashed potatoes, a few sticks of butter, a gravy boat, two plates and some utensils.

"Breakfast," Sabretooth said. He helped himself. The fact that he seemed to have not only a concept - but a well-refined sense - of etiquette merely made the scene weirder as he grabbed a plate and started carving.

"That's breakfast?" Pyro stared.

"Breakfast," Sabretooth repeated. "Don't ask how I got it."

Even more to Pyro's surprise, Sabretooth handed him the plate he'd just prepared, though it was more a reaction to seeing that Pyro was still not moving.

And Pyro was also thinking about Sabretooth's comment as he poked at what he thought was turkey. "The ovens in the kitchen aren't...big enough for people, are they?"

Considering this, Sabretooth looked dazed for a moment, almost as if the question had floored him. "I should tell Magneto you said that."

Pyro ate. He also turned the TV back on. The news was all over the car bombing the day before; Creed had claimed that it was a mutant attempt on an FoH member's life. It was a perfect story, too. What mutant, let alone a potentially high-profile mutant like Cyclops, would even make a cursory attempt to dispute the claim while Creed was growing more popular over it?

Pyro turned it off and went to take a shower, because Sabretooth was starting to poke at the laptop again and he didn't want to think about what the bathtub would look like after a big huge guy with manes of fur had used it.

Sabretooth had left to bring the cart back to the kitchen by the time he was out. Probably bringing it back before anyone noticed it was gone. Going back to the laptop, Pyro read over another document filled with plans for Graydon's debate with Kelly today while he pulled fresh wrappings around the burnt palms of his hands.

It was full of self-indulgent things to do and plenty of bling-bling to make Graydon look nice for the news cameras. Ms. Reynolds had even gone as far as specifying that the upper hallway above the theatre be decorated with plenty of potted plants and curtains over the window glass. "Who is this woman, Martha Stewart reincarnated?"

He kept reading her files, stopping only to pay more attention to the rather delicate procedure of putting his gloves on now that he had the bandages taken care of.

Around this point, Sabretooth stormed back into the room, with his trademark growl, and started packing. "Leaving. Now."

Surprised but nonetheless responsive, Pyro grabbed his leather jacket from the coat rack and shrugged it on. "What happened?"

"X-Men at the Senate," Sabretooth answered, leading him out. "We get to make sure they try nothing."

~~~

Sabretooth's idea of leaving was hopping on his motorcycle, tossing Pyro the extra helmet and skidding away like a bat out of Hell.

After an incident involving a police cruiser and a bus, the ride was fairly smooth. Pyro had doubted Sabretooth remembered that not everyone on the bike would heal in a few seconds if they wrecked, but they stopped before he had to find out.

There were police guarding the theatre's entrance, but Sabretooth was in no mood to do anything fancier than waltzing in the front door. He left his helmet on even as Pyro took his off before they approached, hopefully hiding some of the threat he posed. The door guards waited until he was on top of them to try anything.

He promptly grabbed them both and bashed their skulls together. Pyro couldn't tell if it had been enough to kill them as they fell down the front steps, but he couldn't find himself caring, either.

Before moving again, Sabretooth sniffed the air a few times, his eyes darting around. He walked away from the stairs. "I'm going around back."

"Why?" Pyro asked, starting to follow.

"Don't ask. Go in. Look for Magneto," was the reply.

Pyro stopped and turned back to the front doors; he didn't think it would be a good idea to make Sabretooth mad.

He didn't care for the quiet in the lobby. He had a feeling that there should have been a lot more security than there was. There was absolutely none. The debate was already on in the little amphitheater that the one hundred senators crammed into on a daily basis, and Pyro had no wish to walk onto the floor.

On the other hand, if Magneto were around, he'd likely be in there with the audience, albeit not on the balcony.

So he walked down the short hallway he remembered leaving from the day before, where he could get to stairs that led to the upper hallway and, in turn, the balcony.

Except when he opened the door, he found a perfectly smooth wall of ice blocking the other side, and slammed it shut. He was alone in the hallways, so he promptly walked back to the lobby and took a look around. "Where are ya, Bobby?"

"Right here, Johnny."

Bobby promptly walked out from the hallway Pyro had just come from; he'd apparently hidden himself rather annoyingly in another room.

Scowling for reasons unknown, Pyro said, "Don't call me that, please."

"Sorry," Bobby chuckled. "Would you prefer I use your 'real' name?"

What's your real name, John...

"Pyro, St. John," he shrugged, grabbing his lighter from his pocket and flicking it on and off once, amused at Bobby's confusion. "Both are real."

Pyro sounded serious, but he couldn't even convince himself that he was as he and Bobby approached each other. He didn't know if he would have beat the crap out of his best friend to find Magneto.

The important thing was, he didn't have to at the moment. Bobby grabbed Pyro and hugged him first; when they separated, Pyro gave him a once-over. "Finally got a uniform, huh?"

"Heh, yeah," Bobby's reflex was to glance over himself briefly. "So did Rogue. That's...a nice jacket."

"Magneto gave it to me," Pyro said. It was amazing to him, talking with Bobby so casually it was almost as if they still shared a room at Xavier's and the past few weeks hadn't happened.

Nevertheless, X-Men sneaking around made Pyro a little more paranoid than he cared to be. What had they been up to before he and Sabretooth arrived? And for that matter...

"Bobby...where's Cyclops?"

"Making sure Magneto doesn't try anything today, I'd guess," Bobby said, hitting more nerves on Pyro than he had intended. Neither of them spoke; it was like a standoff until Bobby said something again. "John...y'know...you could come back."

"I know," Pyro said, sadly. Bobby knew it was only the people he missed that made him sad, not the place. "But I don't want to. You could always come with me."

"I think I'll repeat your answer, thanks." Bobby looked like he was trying not to laugh. "We all miss you...me, Rogue..."

That did it. "Really, after what she did to me at your place?" He pointed to his back with one thumb as if what Bobby should've known, plain as day, was right behind him.

Bobby raised his voice back; "You nearly burned how many people alive? You'd gone psycho."

"No, the kid calling the cops on his brother," Pyro lit his lighter again, "that is someone going psycho. The cop shooting Wolverine in the head for nothing, that's psycho. That's why I left. Let me go by."

"I don't think I should do that, John."

"Why," Pyro asked, the flame from his lighter growing into a stream that wrapped around his arm. "Afraid I'm going to burn Creed down next?"

"Frankly, yes." Bobby raised a hand; Pyro knew what was coming before the mist of cold even hit his flames, but he didn't care even as he shivered from it.

Pyro put his lighter back in a pocket and walked by. For a second, it looked like Bobby would let him pass.

And then Pyro felt a hand grab his arm and spin him around; his reflex was to swing a punch with his other fist, but Bobby crouched underneath; Pyro felt him step forward and shove with one hand, and he was too off-balance to stop himself from falling.

So instead, he caught himself and rolled backward up to his feet, facing Bobby again and falling into a defensive stance. "Let's see what'cha got, Iceman."

"See for yourself," Bobby raised a hand as if to blast out something icy. Instead, he turned his palm up and beckoned Pyro forward.

Pyro obliged. He realized, in the back of his mind, that he wasn't the only one learning over the past few days how to summarily hand someone their ass with no powers needed. But he had more faith in Mystique's tutelage than whoever Bobby's sparring partner was.

Unless it was Wolverine, but he doubted that. Pyro went for blood. Or at least, he went for burning, once again grabbing his lighter, flicking it on and sending a sizeable flame at Bobby's face.

To his credit, Bobby had the flames cooling off and evaporating long before they reached him, but he stepped back for more breathing room as Pyro stepped forward, once again standing in the lobby where there was room to move.

He hadn't expected Bobby to push so hard with his power that the fire went completely out from sheer temperature drop. Lighter still in hand, he rushed in and covered the remaining distance between them in under a second.

Bobby stepped around the punch thrown at his face and hit Pyro right back. Not deterred and not even feeling the blow yet, Pyro lit his lighter again and waved his hand, prompting Bobby to back off from the close flames and put a gap between them once again.

Pyro waited for Bobby to come to him this time, Mystique's voice ringing clearly in his head as if he were getting lessons from her at this very moment. Let them come to you; they'll make a mistake.

Bobby didn't look like he was going to take the bait...at first. Before he made a move forward, he raised his hands over his head, arms crosses...and slowly moved them apart. His fingers curled around ice as it formed in the air, stretching out with his hands into a staff tailored perfectly to his own preferences, right down to a coat of frost that made it easy to grip.

"You've got to be kidding me," Pyro muttered, unpleasant memories of Gambit fresh in his mind.

And then Bobby made a move. He held the staff high and swung it down at Pyro's head; Pyro, in turn, hopped away to the side and crouched underneath when Bobby just carried through with the motion and swung horizontally.

Off hand, Pyro guessed it must've been Cyclops who was teaching the Iceman how to brawl; it just felt like Cyclops, as if he'd left an imprint on Bobby.

But Pyro had more faith in Mystique. He let Bobby swing down at him again, but this time he grabbed the staff before it moved again, wishing he didn't have his gloves on so the ice would numb his hands; making a fist was beginning to hurt.

But Pyro shrugged it off and tried to take Bobby's weapon away. He had no doubt his icy friend wouldn't make another if he did, but the point was not to be at a disadvantage against an armed opponent.

Hanging on to his creation, Bobby knew this as well. He pulled and lifted it above their heads, kicking Pyro in the chest and knocking him back as he did so.

Pulling back, Bobby lunged with the end of his staff. Reflexively, Pyro caught it in one hand, it wasn't so different than catching someone's fist, but he regretted it instantly; a solid staff was harder and faster than a fist and dug into the burns underneath his gloves. He cried out and almost crumpled from the sudden pain, but even though he managed to stay ion his feet, Bobby took advantage of the distraction.

Off-balance and surprised, Pyro stumbled and couldn't move fast enough when Bobby followed and swung his staff downward, clipping his ankle. Pyro went down on his side with a rather painful thud, involuntarily rolling so his back faced his opponent.

He had sat up before an odd sensation crept its way around his back. Still a little dazed, Pyro found it harder to move, as if he was being frozen solid, and it was cold and...

Almost too late, he realized what Bobby was trying to do before he tucked and rolled forward. Pyro jumped to his feet, looking back to find Bobby finishing the rather large cube of ice he had tried to seal him in, one hand still holding his staff. "Jesusfuckingchrist Bobby, and you call me psycho?"

"Seemed like a good idea at the time," he shrugged. "It's not like I wouldn't let you melt your way out...slowly."

"Really cute, Drake," Pyro lit his lighter, "Maybe I'll melt you instead."

"Bring it, John," Bobby chuckled. "We can match each other with powers and I have no problem doing it all day. Besides, hitting each other isn't gonna do much either, I doubt you've been learning how for any longer than I have."

Maybe he was right, but Pyro told himself again how much of a better teacher Mystique was. He refused to believe otherwise.

"The way I figure it," Bobby said, "we'll be walking on walls sometime next year."

Now that was a mistake Pyro could take advantage of. More of Mystique's words sounded in head; Never tell them what you can't do, listen in case they're foolish enough to tell you.

Smiling, Pyro said nothing more. He put his lighter away...and ran straight for Bobby.

The block of ice stood in his way; he jumped up, set one foot on the edge, and pushed off before he could slide. Bobby never saw the kick to his face coming.

Before Bobby got a hold of himself, Pyro grabbed him by the shoulders and tossed him over the ice; he slid across and fell, getting up quickly.

Pyro had wanted him to get up. He had no doubts that Bobby expected him to do the same thing again, so instead, he took a step back, broke into a run, jumped up...and ran two steps across the wall instead before he pushed off and kicked Bobby again on the way down.

Unfortunately, Pyro still hadn't perfected his technique and he hit the floor right next to Bobby. Bobby got up first, but it didn't help; Pyro swung a leg around and kicked out the back of Bobby's knee; Bobby fell past Pyro, and before he could recover, Pyro pounced on him.

Trying to get Pyro away from him, Bobby swung a sloppy punch from his less-than ideal position; Pyro caught it and grabbed it in much the same way Mystique had done to him during the lesson he'd had before his hands had burned. He put a foot on Bobby and used him for leverage to twist and pull.

Bobby screamed...and Pyro almost enjoyed it, because he wanted more than anything to still think of Bobby as a friend and he hated doing something to jeopardize that. But he didn't feel he had a choice. "On second thought," he pulled harder; "it'll hurt less if I just break your arm."

On the other hand, having power felt good, and Pyro was high off of it, relishing the feel of his fallen opponent under his weight, glad that Bobby kept his dignity and didn't beg him to stop. Pyro thought he might've lost a bit of respect for him if he had.

And then he paid attention to the front doors; he'd been facing them since he started wrenching Bobby's arm out of its socket, but now one was opening.

Cyclops walked in, just putting his visor on. Pyro froze, unable to move as he watched Cyclops' hand go up to the side of his head, pressing that button...

He'd sometimes been curious about what getting hit with one of those blasts felt like. Now he knew. Cyclops blasted him square in the chest and he lost hold of Bobby, knocked backward and flipping over. Had things been normal, he would've flipped over once and landed facedown, probably sliding a few feet on the way.

But Bobby's ice cube was still behind him and Pyro didn't level out before his head cracked off it, leaving blood and a spider-web set of cracks at the edge.

He didn't stop, sliding over the top at nearly the same speed he'd started before hitting the ground, rolling twice, and coming to a rest on his back.

Things already looked blurry. Pyro felt physically nauseous, not just from the unusual ride but from the sharp pain in the back of his head and he tried not to close his eyes. He heard someone groaning and realized after the fact that it was his own voice. That had hurt.

He tried moving and found he could, but also found that he didn't really want to, either. Vaguely, Pyro was aware of Bobby and Cyclops rushing to his side and what lucid thinking he was capable of was dedicated to wondering if Cyclops had meant to hurt him this badly.

"John, how many fingers am I holding up?"

That was Cyclops' voice, Pyro thought. He wasn't entirely sure. He could make out that a lot of the pairs of fingers were blurry doubles, though. Knowing he wasn't seeing straight didn't make it better. "Two," he mumbled, barely whispering. "I see ten."

Bobby was busy with something else; he'd gotten down on one knee next to Pyro and pulled one of his gloves off. Pyro tried to protest, but he just didn't have the strength. The bandages came right off with the glove; Bobby hadn't expected anything underneath.

He certainly hadn't expected what he saw in Pyro's hand. He had to restrain himself from touching the burn pattern. Just from looking at it he knew it couldn't have been accidental. "Jesus, John...did...did he do this to you?"

Finding this absurd and funny, Pyro put in the effort to snort in contempt.

"What's Magneto planning, John?"

Cyclops again. Cyclops was being confusing, and Pyro didn't think it was just the cobwebs in his head playing tricks on him. "Nothing," he forced out. "He's just...he's...keeping an eye on Mystique."

"I find that hard to believe," Cyclops answered, talking slow enough for Pyro to catch every word despite his state of near-blackout. "Someone sent us an anonymous tip last night and said you'd all be here. And here you are. We traced the e-mail back to the sender; didn't find anything out of the ordinary."

Something about this didn't seem right. Pyro tried to think, focusing on the events of the past two days to keep his mind clear. He didn't think Magneto would plan something and not tell him, there would be no reason for that. "Who'd you trace it to?"

"A woman who lives here in DC," Cyclops said. "Anne Reynolds, I think her name was."

That knocked Pyro out of his concussion. At least, he'd wished it did, because he fell over as soon as he tried to stand up. Bobby and Cyclops were nice enough to catch him. Suddenly, things made sense. Of course Creed would know about Xavier's school and the Brotherhood; he had a copy of Colonel Stryker's mutant database. Creed knew he had mutants watching him, he was in danger. "She works for Creed...they baited you here to keep us...busy..."

He shoved them off, trying to stand under his own power, forcing himself to be lucid. No, Creed wouldn't dare.

And Pyro knew after he thought it that he was wrong. Suddenly, the plans to fill the upper balcony with rather large plants made more sense. "Upstairs..."

"Stay here," Cyclops told him. He motioned for Bobby to follow and ran off down the hallway.

"Nuts t'that," Pyro mumbled, stumbling towards the set of double doors that led to the senate floor. He rubbed the spot on his head where the pain throbbed from and pulled his hand away as soon as he felt blood.

He wiped it off on his shirt before putting his glove back on.

The doors were locked; melting the lock open once Pyro could concentrate enough to control the flame more effectively easily solved this. He closed his lighter and almost fell through, still off balance.

The doors slamming open stopped Creed in mid sentence as he and Kelly stood at their podiums. Everyone in the room turned and grew quiet. And the nearest guards rushed to contain the intruder.

Pyro wouldn't be stopped. He had to refrain from calling Mystique's name out of habit as he ducked to the side and planted a fist into a police officer's stomach before running down to the floor. "Senator Kelly!"

Mystique was caught very off guard by all of this, and Pyro saw Magneto out of the corner of his eye; the Master of Magnetism was the only one in the audience who stood up. Above him, Pyro could see the results of Anne Reynolds redecorating the balcony looked like a forest. The barrel of a gun was inching out from between a few leaves. "Senator Kelly," he called out again, louder, trying to move faster without tripping over his own feet.

Mystique's bodyguards appeared from nowhere at her side, guns drawn, but she quickly put them down. "No, wait, wait, it's okay!"

There wasn't any time left. At least, that's what Pyro's mindset was. Once he was close enough, he hopped up onto the stage, pushed off the edge to jump up higher, reached an arm over the podium and brought Mystique down with him.

Just before the ptiffs of a silence automatic weapon going off heralded a flail of bullets putting holes in said podium, and the floor, but not Mystique.

Graydon Creed stepped down from the stage while Mystique's bodyguards swarmed her, but no further shots came.

Instead, Pyro could hear the sounds of Cyclops' optic blast once more, though it sounded considerably less powerful.

And a figure decked out in black, wearing a ski mask, gun in hands, fell through the trees on the balcony and crashed on the floor between a pair of very shocked senators.

Pyro looked up to see Creed nonchalantly walk up that aisle while all attention was focused on the stage, the reporters on the scene were trying desperately to get something out of Senator Kelly. The photographers waited patiently for a good shot of the Senator together with his apparent savior. Pyro felt a lot of eyes on him as Mystique helped him up. Now that he'd done what he intended and the adrenaline was wearing off, his head reminded him of how hard he had fallen.

And then a wave of gasps went out as another shot fired; Mystique's guards were instantly around her again, but the shot hadn't been aimed at her.

Near the edge of the room, Graydon Creed stood with a gun in his hand. Sabretooth stood next to him, one hand holding Creed's in the air so the gun was pointed harmlessly away.

Creed had tried to shoot the assassin. And Sabretooth had dragged one of the news cameras away from the scene on stage to capture it all.

~~~

"Can I get up now, please-ahhh!"

"That's one hell of a concussion," Toad blinked behind his rather large goggles. Pyro hated those, because they made his eyes look huge. Fortunately, Toad had the consideration to pull his tongue back; it was wrapped around the penlight he had just shined straight into Pyro's eye and had driven him up the wall.

"Was that necessary?" Pyro yelled, blinking a lot.

"Increased irritability, sensitivity to light, jeez man, you bumped your head good."

"Like I need you to tell me that," Pyro moaned, letting his head drop back to the pillow. He rubbed at the thick bandage Toad had managed to tape to his hair; he wasn't sure how much good it did, but at least it was soft.

"I wouldn't try walking much for the next day or so," Toa hopped away and came back with a wheelchair; Pyro agreed, and he graciously accepted a ride into the rec rom.

Magneto and Sabretooth sat there, watching television. Senator Kelly was giving an interview.

"...I think it says something about the mutant community that a young, injured man would save my life at the risk of his own and a mutant who must certainly knows how cruel humans can be would save a Friends of Humanity assassin from her own boss and not harm Mr. Creed himself. And these are the people Mr. Creed waned to deport from our country with his bill? I, for one, am glad the House killed it when they voted."

The show host played off of that. "Well, Graydon Creed is awaiting trial for attempted murder, Ms. Anne Reynolds is reported to have struck a deal with the DA to testify against him even though he denies knowing her. According to her, the attempted on your life was entirely orchestrated by him."

"Again, I think actions speak for themselves," Mystique repeated. "Mr. Creed is such an obsessive man he was willing to kill his own colleague when he thought no one was watching to stop her from talking. According to Ms. Reynolds, he'd planned to blame my death on mutants. It seems he didn't give mutants enough credit."

That was almost funny; everyone was lucky no one had seen Sabretooth brawling with Wolverine after he'd sent Pyro inside. Pyro had found that amusing, the lengths thew two of them went to tear each others' throats out.

"Well, this worked out well," Magneto yawned. "How are you feeling, Pyro?"

Pyro shot him a look.

"Yes, I suppose I shouldn't ask," Magneto chuckled. "That was a brave thing you did."

"I'm glad she missed," Pyro answered.

"Mystique is grateful nonetheless...but that's not what I meant," Magneto smiled, standing up to leave. "Oh, I ran into your friend Iceman when I left. He asked me to tell you he wants a rematch someday."

And Pyro was left to think about that.

~Fin~

Refs:

Note the pseudo-Shakespeare in the narrative when Pyro considers his gloves in the beginning.

"Small words, from a small being trying to attack what he doesn't understand!" ---from Star Trek: First Contact

The Matrix reffage should be obvious. I'd like to say Bobby's attempt at sealing Pyro in a block of ice is a reference to 616 Iceman's tendency to coat himself in ice, but the truth it, the thought never occurred to me until someone pointed it out. Eh heh.