Time Marchs On Disclaimer: They belong to Marvel, I'm just playing, but I promise to put them back when I'm done.

Lance trudged along the railroad track. He kept walking, away from the scene of the accident, away from the X-Men's accusing glares. Like Kitty and Jean he'd pushed his powers to the limit to contain the damage. Naturally he was as far from the Boarding House as he could get and still be in Bayville.

It was a hell of a long walk home and he was too fucking tired to keep his thoughts distracted. Ever since Pietro moved back in with them Lance had stopped thinking, well really thinking anyway. Instead he focused on all the petty irritations in his life: Pietro's latest demand. Graffiti from some anti-mutant group sprayed across the walls around town. His housemates acting like a bunch of lunatics. Magneto acting like they were worthless. The X-Men in general. There was always something to be sullenly angry about, but right now he just didn't have the energy to keep inflicting paper-cuts even if they were the only things keeping him distracted from the pain of having his heart torn out.

"Nothing but a hood." Kitty was the one person who he'd really tried to impress. The only person whose approval he'd truly sought. And he was never going to win it. Because she was right. Because no matter how hard he tried he was always going to screw up eventually. Because his temper would always get the better of him and make him do something stupid. Because he sure as hell wasn't any sort of hero.

His life was never going to be his own. He was too fucking stupid to keep from being manipulated. Mystique, Kelly, Magneto and his henchmen, now Pietro, it was never going to end. Standing in Kelly's office the day after the fight outside the PTA meeting he'd sworn he was never going to be used again. Not fifteen minutes later he'd stared into cold, demonic eyes and known that if he didn't give in to Magneto's demands he was going to watch Todd die and something in him broke, because as long as he cared they could always use him.

Damn it, why couldn't he stop caring? That was all he wanted anymore. He just wanted to be numb to his whole crappy life. He'd thought it was working for a time. For the last two months he'd done nothing, not really: sleep, eat, feed the smoldering bitterness that suffocated every other emotion, nothing real. He couldn't remember the last time he'd smiled let alone laughed.

Then it happened. Wanda's powers exploded in a burst of rage. The subway derailed. He looked out the window and saw a sparking wire and broken gas line. The eminence of death had sent adrenaline shooting through his veins. Unlike bitterness it burned with a clear bright flame that illuminated rather then concealed.

He wanted to be the sort of person who could have walked right past the other passengers. Who wouldn't have even noticed how they were frozen with fear. He wasn't though. He'd stopped and offered them the promise of hope. He'd taken the time to give them the push they needed to get them to save themselves. He'd taken the time to help them as if his own life wasn't the biggest disaster of all. Then, as if that wasn't enough, that woman had called out for help. Her plea had frozen him in his tracks as the rest of the passengers streamed past him to safety.

Why did he have to keep proving to himself that his heart was still soft? That it could still bleed? Why couldn't she… why couldn't everyone have acted like they did when the X-Men saved them? Why couldn't they have reacted with fear and revulsion? Why couldn't they have given him the raw material he needed to shore up the cracks in his defenses?

Instead they… she reacted with gratitude. He didn't want it. He didn't want his walls pulled down. He didn't want people giving him reasons to care. He never wanted someone to make him feel like he could be a good person again. It hurt too much when they realized the truth.

And maybe that was the real reason he let Pietro manipulate him into that stupid fake heroics scheme. He'd known all along that they'd get caught and even if they didn't it kept him from fooling himself. He was just a hood. That was all he'd ever been and all he ever would be. Yet when the inevitable happened, when their plans backfired and turned into a huge disaster, he had stayed to help fix things instead of saving his own hide.

Lance sat down on the side of the road and laughed. Laughed till he was choking on it. Laughed without the slightest sign of joy. Laughed at himself, at his pathetic inability to choose a side. Too worthless to be a hero, too soft to be a villain, just nothing. Laughed because if he didn't laugh he'd cry.

The sound of a very familiar vehicle pulling to a stop beside him was icing on top of an unmitigatedly miserable day. "Yo Lance, why didn't you come with us?" Todd asked. "You could have gotten hurt. Leave that kinda crap to suckers like the X-Geeks."

Lance got up and shoved Pietro out of the driver's seat without a word. He wished he could make himself believe he was angry with them for coming back to look for him, for acting like friends when he didn't want to care about them anymore. He knew the truth was he was furious with them because they'd run off and left people to die of their reckless stupidity. Weren't they the bad guys? Why should he care?

Over the next few days everything went back to the way it had been. Their brief fame ended and the infamy that followed didn't last long either. After a couple of weeks it was like it had never happened at all. Nothing had changed. No one had learned anything. Lance tried to go back too. He tried to slide back into the painless living death of the last few months. Until one night he found Todd's collection of new paper clippings spread out on the table and forgotten.

He smiled at the first one: The four of them standing outside of the subway entrance caught between being dumbfounded and hamming it up for their fifteen minutes of fame. The snapshot of Toad in mid-air, scarfing up bees and being called a hero for it almost made him laugh. The third one though… it crushed any fond memories he had of their stunts. He looked at the picture of Blob catching the gargoyle he'd knocked off a nearby roof and all he could think of was. "What if that thing had shattered when my powers hit it?" Fred wouldn't have been able to catch all the pieces. The smaller fragments would have rained down on the crowd like bullets. The next picture was worse. It showed Fred holding the back of the run-away bus while Pietro posed heroically with the mother and child he'd snatched out of harm's way. The guys on the bench hadn't been part of their plan. They'd been so lucky Fred had been able to stop the bus before it plowed into that bench. It had been Lance's powers that sent the bus careering out of control and it had been dumb luck he hadn't killed someone that day. Lance picked up one last clipping. A picture of Kitty trapped halfway through the barrier in the crocodile pen, her expression caught in a brief moment of fear as she realized her powers weren't going to save her, not with Wanda around.

Lance laid the three clippings out on the table side by side then he went to the pile of discarded papers beside the couch and carefully tore out one last article. The one about the train collision their final stunt had caused and the catastrophe that had barely been averted. He placed that article over the other three and crumpled up all the other stories about the Brotherhood's 'heroics'.

After that Lance walked up to his room. He stuffed some clothes in a duffle bag then came downstairs got in his jeep and drove away. At the city limit sign Lance stopped the jeep and turned to look back at Bayville for a few minutes. Then he started the engine again and kept on driving until long after the city's lights had been lost in the distance.

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

1 ½ years later

To: The Brotherhood, Todd, Fred, Pietro and Wanda (aka Toad, Blob, Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch)

I feel like I owe you guys some sort of explanation or maybe I'm just feeling nostalgic because I turned twenty today.

I won't say I'm sorry I left. It was something I just had to do, but I'm sorry about how I did it.

You guys, plus Tabby and Kitty, were the first real friends I ever had. When Mystique brought me to Bayville all I knew about people was how to use them and how I got used. During those times when Mystique and Magneto ditched us I felt like we actually were a family. A twisted, insane, highly dysfunctional family, but you get the picture.

I want you to know I didn't leave because I was mad at you guys or anything.

When we first got together (Sorry Wanda, before your time) it seemed like there were only two choices if you were a mutant: You either followed Magneto or you followed Xavier. That kind of black and white, little kid thinking didn't hold up very long. All of us, Brotherhood and X-Men stood together against the Juggernaut. In the end it turned out that the only side Mystique was on was her own, she betrayed everyone in the end. Even Magneto and Xavier stood together against Apocalypse for a moment. Not so black and white after all, huh?

When I look back I remember what you said, Todd, when you came to Asteroid M after us. We asked you which side you were on and you said the side that lives. For me it eventually got to be less about survival and more about being able to live with myself. By the time I left I was already way too old to say "I didn't think of that," when the consequences of my actions got out of hand. The truth is I've never wanted to hurt anyone who hadn't hurt me first. I couldn't justify being angry at the whole world anymore. I couldn't keep pretending that it was okay to let someone like Magneto use me.

I just wanted you to know that I'm alive and happy and hope you are too.

Your Friend: Lance (formerly Avalanche)

The postman checked the address again then looked back at the dilapidated, boarded up old building. There was no return address on the envelope. With a shrug he pushed it through the mail slot then turned and walked away.

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

5 years after that

"Better hurry up and get changed." Kitty's boss, Dylan, said. "The bar's been jumping tonight. The fire fighters just got the Morning Side blaze under control and a lot of crews coming in to celebrate."

"They deserve it. I mean do wild fires get worse than that?" Kitty replied. She yelled through the door of the pantry while she got ready for work.

"I can't remember Boulder ever being in this much danger before and I've lived here for ten years." Dylan said. "So how'd finals go?"

"I feel good about them, but I'll let you know for sure when the Profs post our scores." Kitty replied stepping out of the pantry in the sleeveless top and leather pants she wore while bartending.

Kitty headed out front. About halfway threw her shift a boisterous group came in. They were fresh from the fires judging from the soot and dirt still clinging to them. The guys grabbed a booth in the back while two members of their party headed to the bar to get drinks.

Thirty minutes later they caught Kitty's attention once again as one of the group raised his glass in a toast. "To Lance and the fast firebreak in the west."

Kitty's breath caught. She reminded herself that Lance was a common name. Still she couldn't help but stare and hope.

The center of attention ducked his head, embarrassed. One of his friends nudged him and he glanced up. There was a smear of bright red clay bisecting his face, and the years just fell away. Without taking her eyes off him Kitty started working her way around the end of the bar.

Lance hadn't noticed her yet. Kitty found herself remembering a phone call out of the blue one day. She couldn't believe he was here, now, after all this time. She couldn't believe what she was going to do. She quietly slipped into the booth behind him and put her hands over his eyes. "Guess who?" she whispered in his ear.

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