DISCLAIMER ~ I still don't own either XME or its characters. I tried, but someone else outbid me. (Fortunately she didn't pay up, so she doesn't own them either. Here's hoping...)

A/N ~ Like many people, I often wonder what happens after the camera cuts to another location on TV shows. What did the villain say next? How exactly *did* the hero get out of that nefarious trap? Where the hell did the secondary characters go between crucial scenes? Therefore, I've taken it upon myself to fill in a few blanks here and there in an XME episode that dealt with one of my favourite characters and gave new dimensions to others I wasn't particularly bothered about beforehand - 'X-treme Measures'. Mostly, this is just my attempt to wedge some things back into continuity, and to tie up a handful of loose plot points the writers either forgot or neglected to resolve, but I must stress that it's just my point of view, even if it doesn't operate inside my usual fic-verse.

Maybe I'll make a series out of this sort of thing. 'The Missing Scene Chronicles'...

Heh...

Reviews will be cherished, and reviewers will earn a warm and fluffy place in my heart.

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'Valedicto' By Scribbler

October 2003

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[After the events of the Power-8 competition, Evan finds himself down in the sewers amongst the 'Morlocks'. They explain about the danger posed to them, and all mutants by the 'toxic eliminators' that essentially turn Power-8 into a potent poison. After Evan has offered to help combat the problem, Caliban pipes up with news of an intruder in their midst...]

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Evan wasn't entirely sure what Ray was doing down here in the sewers. Truth be told, he wasn't entirely sure of anything much, but he put that down to the lasting effects of the Power-8 and that weirdo medicine he'd been fed. He still felt a little woozy, and his internal balance was only just recovering from being shot to hell. Add to that the unremitting nausea, and he was far from being a happy camper.

He watched as the other boy approached, and gradually became aware of the fact that Ray was talking as he walked. Frowning slightly, Evan resisted the urge to twizzle a finger in his ear to unplug his senses a little. Man, what was *in* that stuff?

"...X-Men won't be far behind," Ray finished, coming to stand not three feet away and making no move to go any closer. He was watching Callisto intently, eyes never leaving her face, which part of Evan found rather troubling.

He and Ray had never been the best of friends, but they were civil enough to each other, and had always watched their respective backs in training sims or when running the gauntlet of school. Over the past year of knowing him, Evan had come to the conclusion that Ray's emotional range stretched to angry, happy, and mildly pissed off - possibly in that order. To see him looking so serious now was unusual, to say the least; as was the idea that Ray had actually been considerate enough to come looking for him in this place.

_He must've seen what happened at the contest._ The thought arrived almost painfully, thrumming against the inside of Evan's skull with a staccato beat. The memory of Ray riding in the X-Van alongside Kurt, Auntie O and the others this morning came next, along with the image of them all cheering him on from the stands. _He must've... followed me here..._

Callisto stepped forward, her shoulders visibly tense. Evan looked up at her. Callisto was the one who had ordered he be treated for the poison, and was most willing to give him a chance out of those down here. Consequently, he already felt a little more allegiance to her than the foreboding figures of the other Morlocks behind her.

The mutants in question gathered around their leader's heels, seeping from nearby passages and watching events play out with something approaching morbid curiosity. Evan spared them a passing glance; and then another, longer one when he noticed something shining in all their eyes - recognition. And anger.

They were all of them looking straight at Ray.

_Huh?_ he thought blearily, but was tugged from wondering after what it meant by the sound of Callisto's voice.

"They'll only know if *you* tell them," she said soberly, single eye narrowing almost accusingly. Her gaze held the same spark of recognition and strange, hot anger as the rest of the Morlocks, and Evan looked between his teammate and his rescuers with nothing short of outright confusion.

The Morlocks knew Ray? But... that wasn't possible. They'd said it themselves; they never associated with those who lived 'topside'. But then, how... Had he misread them, maybe? He hardly knew them, after all, and wasn't so adept at interpreting the emotions of strangers as someone like Kurt...

Ach, this was so confusing. Evan didn't even bother to hide it when he rubbed at his aching temples.

"So," Callisto said, voice wet as a desert, "will you?"

Ray's eyes thinned calculatingly, almost appraisingly, but widened again in an instant. Sudden shock and pain filled his face as he contorted in some sort of convulsion and then froze, for all the world a Ray-shaped statue taking his place.

His gaze was fixed forward, unblinking, and his stance bespoke being struck from behind - a notion emphasised when a small, dread-locked child with enormous, distended hands stepped around him. She went straight to Callisto's side, replacing the glove she'd removed, and sheltered behind the taller woman.

Evan blinked, brain catching up with what his eyes were telling him. His jaw dropped, and even through his haze he turned and demanded, "What did you just *do* to him?"

"Torpid can paralyse with a single touch," Callisto said simply, answering in place of the little girl now cowering behind her legs. She spoke indifferently, as if just telling him the weather. "That's why she wears those specialised gloves." She spun on her heel and began to walk away. "Now let's go. You said you wanted to help us - "

"Hey, I'm not going anywhere until you... uh, until you... un-paralyse him." Not the best choice of vocabulary, granted, but it got his point across.

Still, just to make sure, Evan took a step towards Ray, fists slightly raised as he'd been taught. He'd already been through one hell of a day - well, couple of months, really - and rescue or no rescue; he wanted a few more answers.

Speaking of which...

"Why the hell did she do that, anyway? He hadn't done anything to anyone; he just came down here looking for me. He might have helped you guys too, if you'd asked him."

Callisto paused, looking at him curiously. "Is that so?" Then her face seemed almost to fall in on itself, expression imploding into something indefinable, yet infinitely bleak. "But that's right, isn't it? He never did tell you X-Men." Her tone held a bitter edge, and Evan began to feel a little unsure of himself.

"Told us what?" he asked, openly suspicious.

The freaky bald dude gave him a disapproving look, but he could have cared less.

Callisto came towards the boys, moving with a predator's grace. Evan eyed her, wary of any sudden movements. Her carriage reminded him of nobody so much as Logan, and he'd long since learned to take that kind of easy posture very seriously. She carried herself with a poise that did nothing to belie her muscles, nor the obvious fact that she knew how to use them, and for the first time since waking up Evan started to wonder whether she was as friendly as she first appeared. Or whether he could take her if she was not.

She stopped and folded her arms, gaze leaving Evan to focus on Ray. Despite himself, Evan did likewise, and saw that, regardless of what she'd said, Ray was not *completely* paralysed. He blinked - albeit slowly, and as though exerting much effort to do so. His eyes blazed with his trademark anger, but Evan was surprised to note that there was something else there, too. He did a swift double take, but it didn't change.

Fear.

He was scared.

Ray, the kid most likely to beat the snot out of anyone who called him chicken... was scared?

That did *not* bode well for their situation. Not at all. The knot of uncertainty in the pit of Evan's stomach began to grow, and he looked at the rest of the Morlocks, wondering whether they were the kind to rush all at once, or attack one at a time a la bad martial arts movies.

"Yes, I know you'd rather keep your dirty little secret under wraps, Ray, but it's too late for that." Callisto sighed, and abruptly dropped her shoulders, the picture of fatigue - if only for a second. "Far too late."

Since she was facing away from the rest of the Morlocks, they weren't witness to the sight; but Evan caught the fleeting glimpse of a woman fast reaching the end of her tether; a woman angry at the world, but painfully aware of how little she could do to change it.

He knew that song all too well, and briefly, his heart went out to her. That is, until he remembered she'd essentially kidnapped him, and possibly hurt his teammate. Maybe even irreparably so.

His fists rose again, defensive, and he scowled a perfect angsty-teenager-scowl at her. "What the hell are you talking about, lady?"

He glanced again at Ray, and saw an uncharacteristically pleading look in the other boy's eyes. It was almost pitiful, in an off beam sort of way, and seemed very nearly fundamentally wrong; like it didn't belong there.

Callisto's features hardened again, and she said minimally, "Ray is a Morlock. *Was* a Morlock," she corrected herself hastily.

"Excuse me?"

"Almost one whole year ago, he was sent out to investigate rumours of other mutants topside - mutants that we intended to offer sanctuary down here should they want or need it. He was supposed to make contact and then return. Only he never came back." She glared at the petrified boy. "Did you, Ray? You found those mutants, you saw a better deal, and you bailed on us."

Evan opened his mouth to dispute her accusation - Ray had come from his parents' house to the Institute; everyone knew that - but stopped when he looked at Ray and hit the tail end of the guilt in his eyes.

Kurt was apparently right; eyes were indeed the windows to the soul.

"Is that true, Ray?"

Ray's gaze shifted over to him, speaking louder than words, and Evan straightened up. "It *is* true, isn't it? You... were one of them?"

What sounded like a strangled gurgle exited Ray's throat, like he was trying to defend himself but was unable to even form the sounds he needed. Evan pursed his lips, regarding the assembled band of mutant misfits contemplatively.

Ray was his teammate. He was a fellow X-Man, and X-Men were supposed to remain loyal to each other no matter what. But then... the Morlocks had rescued him - maybe even saved his life with their medicine, revolting as it was. He owed them something for that, right? Debts had to be paid, after all...

This was stupid. He couldn't just leave Ray here like this. Who knew what would happen if he couldn't move or take care of himself? Come to think of it, who knew who - or what - else was wandering around these tunnels that might do him harm in this state? After all, Ray had been on the news just like all the New Mutants after the destruction of the Institute. He was an outed mutant, and a prime target because of it -

"Evan," Callisto said, no emphasis to her words. "We're going to the Power-8 factory. It's still a threat, and one we have to neutralise as best we can. Whether or not you come along is your choice. I know you probably still feel some misguided sense of loyalty to him," she jerked a thumb at Ray, "even after what I've told you, which is admirable in it's own way, so we'll none of us hold it against you if you decide to stay with him. The touch was light, so the paralysis should wear off in a little while, and there's no lasting damage. But if you want to make sure..."

She turned away, letting her words trail off into her footsteps. Yet she had gone no more than two paces when Evan called after her.

"Wait!"

She halted, looking over her shoulder with her one good eye. "Yes?"

"I... I still wanna help..." He rubbed self-consciously at the back of his neck, joints aching. "I know firsthand what that stuff can do, and... and it needs to be stopped... before it hurts anyone else." He looked at his feet. "Or kills them. Count me in."

Callisto smiled, and it was as though years of obligation and worry fell from her. She wasn't especially old, but seemed more than her years. "Fine, then. Follow us and our plan, and we should be able to put a definite crimp in Power-8's style."

"Wait," Evan said again, as they tried to move off down the tunnel. He pointed to Ray. "I'm not just leaving him here like this, man."

The bald dude inched forward, and said in a sibilant whisper, "There are others nearby. They could watch him..."

A strange look passed between he and Callisto, and she barely hesitated before saying, "Call them, then. Let them take care of him until we return."

Her tone left Evan feeling like he shouldn't push his luck any further, so he simply nodded, threw Ray a last, appraising look, and went after the straggly little group.

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[The Professor and Beast have discovered the potential harm to mutants contained in Power-8, prompting Ororo to surmise that Evan has been poisoned. While this is going on, Scott and Kitty arrive back at the Institute.]

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Kitty tried very hard to ignore the sudden nausea when Kurt 'ported suddenly, taking her from outside the Institute to the hallway directly outside the medical lab in nought seconds flat. She tried incredibly hard, but even after two years of travelling the Nightcrawler Express, she still needed a second to shepherd her stomach back into place.

She had to face it. There were some things she was just never going to get used to.

It didn't help that Kurt had 'ported directly into the path of someone coming the other way. Someone who, even braking suddenly, still managed to bump into Kitty and send them both sprawling.

"Oops," she heard Kurt murmur, holding out a hand to help her up. "Sorry Kitty." He drawled the 'i', as per usual, but somehow it didn't bug her so much. She was far too worried about news of Evan for petty stuff like that to leave a dent.

Strange, a distant part of her mused. Time was that she never would have bothered herself about him disappearing. Well, she corrected, she would've - worrying about things was an intrinsic part of her nature, after all - but not quite so much as she was now. Old emails sent to her parents were filled with ranting about how Evan hogged all the milk, never cleaned up after himself in the bathroom, skated down the banisters, liked playing practical jokes on her... For so long he'd been like a little kid brother, even though they were almost the same age, always annoying her at the most inopportune moments and generally irritating the hell out of everyone at the Institute.

Now...

Since mutants were 'outed' to the media, everything had been turned on its head. Evan had grown up more than she'd have ever thought possible of him. The X-Men had always been close, but their tight-knit group had grown even tighter with practically the whole world out to rip them each a new spleen. Something like that ... well, you noticed when something important was gone from it.

"Bobby," Kurt's voice dragged her back to reality, and Kitty blinked down at the other boy pulling himself to his feet. "Sorry, man, I didn't mean to - "

Bobby didn't give Kurt a chance to finish. "Either of you two seen Ray around?"

Kitty, fresh from her driving lesson, looked expectantly to Kurt. The elf just shrugged and shook his head. "Um," he offered helpfully.

Bobby's hair was a mess from the tumble, but for once he didn't smooth it down in the reflection of a nearby vase. He seemed rather agitated, actually, which instantly started alarm bells ringing in Kitty's head.

"Why do you wanna talk to Ray?" she asked carefully, stealing a pointed glance at Kurt, who just shrugged again.

Bobby looked back the way he'd come, along the plush corridor, as though expecting someone to sneak up on him at any second. "It's not that I especially wanna talk to him, it's just that... well... Listen, don't think I'm overreacting, but I haven't seen him since the skateboarding contest." He gestured wide, and Kitty was suddenly struck by the anxious look in his usually soft, mischievous brown eyes. "As in, at all."

Bobby had never been particularly mature. Of all the second wave of X-Men, he was the one most likely to plant stink bombs, throw egg at passing cars, and by and large make a total nuisance of himself. Yet looking at him now, Kitty realised how much he was a... a leader, she supposed, of the other kids. He looked out for those not yet allowed on 'proper' missions, though he didn't always show it, and was a master of seeming offhand and indifferent when he wanted to cover up his concern.

No such mask now, though. He was genuinely worried, and it transferred itself to her in light of what little information she'd gleaned over Scott's phone about Evan.

Kurt put the nameless fear into words. "You think what happened to Evan might have happened to Ray? But... he didn't drink that weird Power-8 stuff." Then he blinked, obviously recalling some detail he'd previously forgotten. "Unless he got it when he went for snacks for all of us... They *were* giving out free samples..."

The speculation was enough to galvanise Kitty into action. "Come on," she said, grabbing both Bobby and Kurt by their hands and repudiating the door to the med-lab by phasing right through it. "We'd better tell the Professor."

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[Evening. Evan, Callisto and a select group of Morlocks have broken into the Spears Sports factory and are 'taking care' of the vats of Power-8. Meanwhile, back in the sewers...]

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_Shit, shit, shit, shit..._ Ray's thoughts followed a set pattern, filled with inventive cursing and threats on his own well-being if he didn't break free of Torpid's paralysis, pronto.

There were figures headed down the passage towards him, and without even seeing their faces he knew they weren't here to read him a bedtime story.

Betrayal stung hard amongst the Morlocks - harder than most folk, since the majority felt that the world had already betrayed them by making them mutants and then choosing to fear what it had created. Thus he was convinced those whose 'care' he had been left in were more eager to show their true feelings for him than to make sure he didn't spontaneously fall and drown in the sewer water.

Since the beginning, he had never really fitted in with the Morlocks. They resented his normal appearance and ability to walk in the sun, but had quelled that resentment while he pulled his weight and helped take care of those weaker than himself in their number. Just like every other instance in his life, from high school to X-Men, no Morlock had ever been able to complain that he didn't do his fair share. It had 'helped' that he'd had about as much control over his abilities as a mouse holding the reins of an elephant, though.

Similarly, he had resented being forced to live down there because of powers he hadn't asked for and couldn't control, and had always maintained an arm's length distance from them because of it. Where they had camaraderie, he had held himself aloof, not engaging in it for fear of losing his sense of self in their throng.

When the opportunity was offered to join Xavier's school and learn some control... well, he would have been a damn fool to pass it up. Gift horses, mouths, and all that jazz. Control meant no more hiding, or scraping for food from dumpsters, or sleeping in the effluent of human society, or running scared from drunks or police officers, or... or...

Xavier and his charges had been the target of his mission, but had turned out as so much more.

He'd had a second chance at a relatively normal life.

No wonder the other Morlocks were bitter.

Trying desperately to infuse some degree of feeling into his deadened limbs, Ray cussed himself for venturing back down here. He hadn't even thought about the implications at the time, he had just spotted Evan and Callisto and bolted after them. The other X-Men had all had their own worries, what with the rampaging crowd and panicked bystanders. There hadn't been time to rally them, and his powers were hardly of the rescue variety, so he'd gone on alone.

Boy, had *that* been a mistake.

He should have known. He should have *known* they'd do something like this. The Morlocks weren't bad people, but they'd had a hard lot in life, and some of them liked to vent their anger. By coming down here he'd practically delivered himself into their hands as an available - even justifiable - target; and of those who might have had a modicum of sympathy for his plight, almost all had gone on the mission to Power-8.

_Yet another fine mess you've gotten us into, Stanley. Shit, shit, shit..._

The figures drew closer, and as Ray felt his blood supply start to surge into his frozen body, they stepped into the light of an overhanging lamp - no doubt brought down here by some overzealous Morlock or other. The electricity had been siphoned out of the main supply, and across the roof of the tunnel ran dangerous looking wires and cables that had no place being in such a damp atmosphere. Owing to the nature of his power, he knew a thing or two about electricity and the dangers thereof.

Ray grunted, wrenching himself to his limit and *twisting* his body free of the paralysis. There was a rush of sudden pain, as muscles became his own again, but he ignored it. All the endurance sessions with Wolverine had been worth it, it seemed, and he yanked himself into a stumbling step, arms stretching luxuriously and head dropping onto his heaving chest.

Which was when an all-too-familiar person stepped in front of him, ashen features drawn together in a sneer that was made even more melancholic by the pendant lighting. Her dark hair was cropped short into a crude Mohawk, but was still a wiry mess, and the tight-fitting clothes that covered her too-thin body were smeared with grime and filth.

_Scaleface?_

A scavenger-buddy, he'd been paired with her many times in the incessant hunt for food that pervaded all lives below the surface of the town. He didn't know her real name, nor where she was originally from, but he knew enough of her character to be aware that she was probably the last person he wanted to be confronted with right now.

All at once, she changed; skin bulging, warping; bones elongating and shifting to accommodate the spiny growth shooting from the base of her spine. Her hands curled into claws, which in turn became green and scaly, swelling to disproportionate dimensions to match her protruding snout. Sharp white teeth spurted into her mouth, while her eyes paled to a sickly yellow, and within a few seconds Ray was looking at the colossal bulk of Scaleface's dragon form.

_Aw shit - _

On the off chance that it might work, he tried reasoning with her. "Scaleface, you gotta let me go - "

He didn't even get to finish his sentence. The giant lizard opened her mouth, fangs glistening, and Ray barely had time to jump aside before the orangey glow in the back of her throat burst forth in a plume of searing fire. It blasted into the stonework where he had been, leaving a black mark and the distinctive smell of burning lichen.

That settled it. Evan was long gone, so it was time to get his sorry butt out of there and call for backup. Heroic though rescuing his teammate all on his lonesome might have been, Ray wasn't stupid. Experience had taught him he couldn't take Scaleface in a fight, even with his powers, and this time there was no Callisto around to regulate a scrap between them.

Another explosion of fire. He was sure he felt his bangs start to sizzle, and hastily pushed himself to his feet, only to be confronted with another ghost, this time with ragged blonde hair and smudged cheeks. Her face was lined with ugly scars, testament to the drunken stepfather and smashed bottle that had sent her scurrying down here in the first place.

"You dare to come back here after what you did?" Skids demanded, voice shrill and reproving. She was one of the youngest, most flighty of all the Morlocks, and was subsequently left out of missions a lot, which did nothing to assuage her temperament.

"Look, Skids, I - "

"I can't *believe* you!"

"Skids - "

She responded by stepping aside to let Scaleface shoot at him some more, and Ray didn't even bother to see who else was part of their little posse. He was *not* going to get a friendly welcome down here.

So instead, he turned tail and ran, sticking to the path he'd taken down here and hoping there was nobody stationed along the way to detain him.

He had to get help before Evan did himself some serious damage. The Morlocks didn't play around - they were survivalists, and the kind of compassion cultivated at the Institute had no place down here. It was quite liable to get him killed, and though not best buds, Ray had absolutely no desire to see Evan smeared across the asphalt.

Lumbering thumps signalled that Scaleface, at least, had given chase, and Ray redoubled his speed, ignoring the rash of pins and needles suffusing his legs. He rounded a corner and took a running jump onto a metal ladder that would lead him to the upper galleries of the sewers. Footwear tap-tap-tapping an echo against the curved walls was the only indication that he was even there aside from his ragged breathing, and when he spotted the flip-top grate in the ceiling, he even dared to hope he'd made it.

Which was when a scaly green form whistled overhead and thumped down in front of him, impossibly agile for such a bulky creature. Scaleface glared balefully, and then spewed another round of fire his way.

Ray covered his face, throwing himself sideways and pressing his back against the wall in an effort to escape it. The flames were so close that he could feel the fine hairs on his arms singeing, and no sooner had the explosion passed then he was running the other way, trying to lose the dragon in the shadows.

Note; dragons can see in the dark.

_Shee-it!_

On impulse, Ray whirled and clenched his fists. He doubted electricity would matter much on such a leathery hide, but hopefully it would startle Scaleface enough for him to get away - or, at the very least, to gain a head start. Blue light erupted from his fingers, arcing the gap between him and his pursuer and slamming into her snout. Scaleface howled, more from surprise than actual hurt, and Ray lost no time in darting down a narrow side-passage that he was fairly certain led to a manhole cover.

It did, and he was ascending the ladder when Scaleface caught up with him.

The tunnel was too constricted for her to maintain her cumbersome dragon form, so she had reverted to a more manageable humanoid shape, and grabbed the ladder in his wake. Ray didn't even risk a glance backwards, but freed a fist and pelted the manhole lid with a bolt of electricity, loosening it with the sheer force of the blow. It rumbled in place, and he heard one of the restraints ping off on the other side.

Congratulations had to wait, however, as something grabbed his ankle. Ray turned, trying to tug his leg free from where Scaleface had wrapped one rapidly growing fist around it. Scales were beginning to appear across what skin of her arm he could see, though the rest of her remained green-free, and her grip tightened as her hand enlarged. Ray gritted his teeth, feeling the bones grinding together.

Had he really done something so terrible as to merit this? It was possible that Scaleface didn't realise she was about to snap his ankle like a twig, but considering the whole 'burn-you-to-a-cinder-with-my-halitosis' aspect, he highly doubted it.

All he'd wanted was a chance at a normal life.

The one thing none of them could never have, that annoying voice in the back of his head prodded. Nor even entertain, in some cases.

Thinking this made Ray pull back a little, and instead of kicking Scaleface right off the ladder, he instead placed the sole of one sandal on her shoulder, keeping the other firmly on a rung for leverage. Then he shoved with all his might, trusting to luck that she wouldn't take him with her down to the bottom.

Scaleface scrabbled, one foot coming loose but her grip remaining iron. She snarled up at Ray, fangs starting to indent her lower lip as her transformation went ahead without her. Her eyes flickered, colour shifting from reptilian to human and then back again, and she hissed angrily at him like a punctured tyre.

"You let us down," she said at last, in a voice like ripping paper. "You betrayed our trust. We waited for you, and you didn't even bother with the simple courtesy of telling us you were still alive. We had to get Caliban to scan for you!"

"Look, I'm sorry - " Ray began, but it seemed nobody was willing to let him finish a sentence today.

"Sorry? *Sorry*?!" Scaleface's voice rose to an almost inhuman screech. "Is that supposed to make everything all better? You, more than anyone, know how *difficult* it is finding enough food to feed everyone down here; without half the tribe out as search parties for your measly butt."

A frission of guilt tightened in Ray's stomach. They'd searched for him? He'd always been under the impression that nobody in the Morlocks cared whether he lived or died - and that included Callisto.

"You didn't have to. I never asked you to come looking for me," he said gruffly.

"Morlocks don't abandon each other," she spat back, as though including him in the title made her sick. "Callisto made us comb *everywhere*, in case you were lying in a gutter with a maggot-hole in your head. She wouldn't *let* us stop looking for you, even when we told her to just give up."

A hard lump manifested in Ray's throat. So *that* was why Callisto had seemed so much madder than the others. Not that they'd exactly welcomed him back with open arms either, but he'd seen the glint shine brighter in her single eye than in all of theirs combined.

She'd worried about him, a member of the tribe she'd gathered, made a home for and sworn to protect. She'd lost sleep over him, while he was sitting pretty up at the mansion.

_All I wanted was my life back..._

Scaleface griped his ankle tighter, drawing a yelp from his lips. Ray shoved at her again with his foot, and the two of them teetered for a second.

"Why didn't you come back to us?" she demanded suddenly, an edge of something akin to pleading creeping into the betrayal. "We could've used your help against Power-8."

More guilt. It wasn't an emotion he was used to dealing with, and Ray shut his eyes against its flow. _Aw, hell..._ "I couldn't come back."

"Why?"

"I... I..." He searched for the words, but the arguments he'd used before seemed suddenly hollow, and with a surge of strength he yelled, "I just couldn't!"

Scaleface shrieked at the tendrils of electricity that coursed unbidden down his body. Instinctively, she let go, and tumbled like a rock into the bilge water below. Ray took a moment to marshal his errant powers, curse himself for letting his emotions dictate them, and then aimed them once more at the manhole cover.

The close range helped immensely, and it was with a satisfying clank that the cover flew off and landed several feet away on the street above. Ray lost no time in clambering out - especially since he could hear Scaleface discarding the notion of restricted space and morphing anyway.

The huge, clawed hand shot out in his wake, scratching grooves into the concrete as he scrabbled backwards and hastened to his feet. Pausing long enough to cast one last look at the entrance to the Morlock tunnels, Ray spun on his heel and pelted out of the alleyway in which he'd come up.

Then he just ran, taking in the sights and gauging where he was as he fumbled in his pocket for the cell phone all the X-Men had been presented with as a safety precaution after the advent of Mutantkind to the media. With all the running and crashing and bashing, he just hoped it still worked, and he hastily typed in a number he knew by heart. When the tone gave way to the click of someone picking up at the other end, Ray didn't even give whomever it was time to speak.

"Professor, I know where Evan is!"

=========

[Chaos at the factory when Spear discovers what the Morlocks are up to. The X-Men arrive just in time to rescue the Morlocks from a wave of Power-8, but when the danger has been averted, they find that both their rescuees and Evan have vanished. The only place they could possibly be is back in the sewers, and so the search begins afresh.]

=========

The sewer was dark, and dank, and generally unpleasant. Things swirled in the water that nobody really wanted to think about, much less talk about, and the skitter of claws on concrete signalled the many rats watching from deeper recesses of shadow.

Sam shivered, the thin fabric of his uniform doing nothing to keep out the cold, and he suppressed the urge to shake his foot violently when something decidedly squidgy caught against his ankle.

"Jeez, compared to this place, the Boarding House is a palace," Tabby commented idly, leaning against a lichen-encrusted wall to pick off a strand of discarded fishing net that her boots had become entangled in. The mesh was wreathed with bits of sodden paper and old candy wrappers obviously tossed into the street and washed down the drains when it rained.

"You guys actually sheltered down here?" Sam thought the voice belonged to Kitty, though she wasn't part of their little group, and was rewarded with the sight of her head protruding from the wall above Tabby.

Tabby jumped. "We spent the frikkin' night down here," she replied, a little snippy. "Rock as a pillow, paste of the city's wastage as a blanket, and you're all set to have a happy night. All we needed was a disco ball and we could've had real shindig."

Though her shoulders were still immersed in brickwork, Kitty shuddered. It was rather odd, seeing parts of her vanish and then reappear again so quickly, and Sam blinked. Since everybody in his little search party was focussed on her, he also took the opportunity to jiggle his foot, thus dislodging the squishy-thing-he-really-didn't-want-to-know-about and sending it floating away down the passageway.

"No luck on your side?" Jamie, the third part of their little trio, piped up. He was standing a short ways in front of the rest, clone-free as of yet, and immensely proud of the fact that he'd been allowed out on an actual assignment. Granted, it wasn't exactly the most glamorous or exciting the X-Men had ever been on, but even the effluent of Bayville's bathrooms wasn't dampening his spirits.

Kitty shook her head. "No sign of Evan anywhere, but we're hopeful. I just popped through to tell you that we're heading off in another direction, and to meet back on the surface in an hour if you haven't found him."

From somewhere behind them, they could hear Scott calling Evan's name, followed closely by Jean and Kurt. Somewhere in this labyrinthine place, the rest of the X-Men were also searching for their missing teammate, as they had been for quite some time. Their spirits diminished a little the further they went, but it was with characteristic optimism that they plodded on regardless, scouring the sewers for any sign of their proverbial lost lamb.

Sam nodded at Kitty, and she faded back the way she'd come, leaving no sign of her presence. In her wake, Tabby extricated herself from the last of the netting and cast it aside with a loud splash.

"Ew, this place embodies the word disgusting."

Sam couldn't come up with an argument for that, so he didn't, and they trudged on their way once more, not one of them noticing the pair of eyes glinting at them from an exceptionally shadowed alcove they'd already passed. Nor did they perceive how the owner sank into the wall, what little there was of him vanishing from sight.

=========

[The Professor talks to Guy Spear about Power-8, and Guy claims that he honestly didn't know it was poisonous to mutants. Xavier, being a telepath, senses the truth in him and replies with a plea on the Morlocks' behalf for Guy to understand their unique perspective on the matter. Meanwhile, the search in the sewers continues...]

=========

"Evan!" Ray cupped his hands around his mouth and yelled with all his might. "Evan, where are you?"

By this time, his subconscious was convinced he had a death wish.

So was the rest of him, but he'd ignored his better sense and accompanied the X-Men down into the bowels Bayville anyway; some abstract sense of debt making him suit up with everyone else without a single word of protest, even though he knew exactly what would be waiting for him down there should he actually find anyone. He's split off from the rest of them as soon as they arrived, striking out alone and traversing the smelly maze without fear of anyone else becoming embroiled in a scuffle should one arise. His fights were his, nobody else's.

Thus far, luck had been with him, as well as against him. He hadn't found any Morlocks, but by the same token, he hadn't found Evan either.

"Evan!" he shouted down a tunnel, making a last attempt before moving on. "Yo, Daniels, get your ass out here!"

"I'm right here," said a voice, and Ray whipped around to see a familiar figure highlighted in the mouth of the passage. The lighting was poor, taken from an overhanging strip some distance down the line, but the profile was one he recognised.

"Evan? What're you doing, man? You know you've got the entire Institute out looking for you?"

"I know," came the strangely detached reply.

Ray narrowed his gaze. "Ororo's looking. She's real worried about you." He glanced around, wondering how far Ororo's path had taken her from here. If he shouted, would she hear him? "Come on, if we go now we can meet up with her and the others upstairs - "

"No," Evan cut him off, and then showed the first signs of hesitancy. "I... I'm not going back. Not up there. Not yet." He turned his face away, and Ray caught sight of the bony protrusions still jutting from his face and arms. "I can't..."

"Don't be dumb, Evan. Of course you can. Professor Xavier can help you..." Ray trailed off, as several more silhouettes hove into view next to Evan, like guards flanking him - protecting him...

Ray too one look at their equally recognisable profiles and swore under his breath.

"I'm not going back," Evan said again, and a hand went to his cheek where a particularly keen barb extended. "I'm staying here... with the Morlocks." It was said with weight, or maybe just for dramatic effect. Either way, the declaration had Ray bouncing backwards.

For a second he couldn't believe it. The bottom dropped out of his stomach, to be replaced a few seconds later by something that felt like a mixture of rage, apprehension, and intense guilt, all dolloped together with a hefty amount of acid and left to stew in his gut. "You're not serious, are you?" he found himself gritting.

"He is," Callisto replied for Evan, and laid a hand on the smoother part of the boy's shoulder to emphasise her words. Ray could feel her eye boring into him witheringly, and shook off the shiver it elicited in favour of a step forward.

The Morlocks reacted by forming a sort-of phalanx around Evan, as if defending him from harm.

Ray chewed on the inside of his cheek, wondering what he should do as he surveyed their impassive faces. "You don't know what you're doing, Evan," he said seriously, knowing there were no secrets amongst this motley gathering. Not anymore.

"I know exactly what I'm doing," Evan replied soberly, though Ray fancied he could hear a slight hitch in the other boy's throat. "There's no place for someone like me up there anymore, man. Visible mutations - it's a signpost for more of what we've all already been getting. And I'm tired of it. I'm sick of being the scapegoat whenever things go wrong for other people, or victimized for stupid stuff just because I was born with a few extra strands to my DNA."

"Is this about what happened at the contest?"

"No. Yes... Partly. Yeah, it's a factor, but that's not the only thing. I'm... I'm changing. My mutation's going wacko - and I mean *seriously* whacked - and I don't know how safe I am to be around anymore." Evan stared at his hands, turning them over to reveal a deep ridge of brownish plates across his knuckles, each tipped with a nasty looking thorn. "At least down here, I won't be so much of a danger. I can be with people who appreciate what I'm going through..."

"*We* appreciate what you're going through." Ray patted his chest, but the gesture encapsulated so much more. He was speaking for each and every member of the X-Men, both past and present, and he knew that they'd all back him up if they could hear what he was saying. "Damn, Evan, we're all mutants. We've all had power surges at some time or another - just look at Jean or Mr. McCoy." He paused. "Especially Mr. McCoy."

"And what exactly am I supposed to don in Upworld? Wear an image inducer? Stay home and hope I don't blow out a window when my power blips? Spend however long it takes for this to blow over in solitary confinement so that I don't end up killing some innocent bystander on campus?" The sarcasm shot through the air, latticing it.

The use of Morlock slang made Ray wince, as did the raw bitterness in Evan's tone. He was talking about shorthand triggers, but somehow Ray sensed a deeper meaning - a more personal dispute.

Evan was tired of his role up in the sun; tired of what he represented these days. To most, he was a mutant, nothing more and nothing less. He was not Evan Daniels, not a high school kid - not a kid at all, if some authorities were to be believed; and that loss of identity chafed at him more than anything else. For the first time in a long while, Ray found himself understanding where Evan, to all intents his polar opposite, was coming from.

Evan's eyes burned, and Ray knew his own probably weren't much better. He channelled his anger, rounding on the Morlocks. "You're taking him away from his family - the people who love and care for him."

"But not the people who understand him," Callisto replied, dispassionate in all but gaze. Even her posture seemed relaxed, though he knew better that she could go from tranquil to hellion in nought point eight. "We can't offer a comfortable survival, but we *can* offer sanctuary to someone who needs it, and a listening ear to a brother. We offered the same to you when you needed it, Ray, and we'll continue to do so. This is Evan's call, not ours."

Ray scowled, but his expression lightened when he heard Ororo calling faintly from down a side passage. Her voice, even from this distance, was plaintive, and he motioned at it. "How the hell can you leave that behind, Evan? She loves you. She wants to help you. She'd do anything for you - we all would. Can't you see? The Morlocks don't want Evan Daniels, they want Spyke. That's who they'll teach you to be. That's the cost of their friendship."

"And you'd know," Evan riposted, not batting an eyelid. Then he added, "Besides, what makes you think that's not what I'm giving them?"

Ray's stomach clenched. "You don't mean that."

"What, you're telepathic now?"

"Evan, that's like declaring war on the rest of humanity. You can't make that big a decision based on just a couple of months living up there as a mutant."

"Hey, let's not forget who fired the first shot! I've seen enough of how it is to know that it's not gonna change, Ray." Evan at once took on the air of one speaking from experience, and Ray was struck by the memory of old documentaries featuring war veterans and 'Nam survivors. That self same fatalistic manner now trimmed Evan's words, clipping them into shape before letting them out of his mouth. "The Professor was right; people just aren't ready to accept us yet. I don't think they ever truly will be, but I'm not willing to stick around and have my head kicked in every day because of it."

Ororo's voice filtered between them like a knell.

"That's the most selfish thing I've ever heard," Ray said.

Immediately, Evan's eyes were crammed with fire. "You're one to talk about selfishness." He nodded at the other boy's flinch. "Yeah, they told me all about what you did - abandoning the people who took you in and cared for you when you needed it the most. You practically levelled your old school gym when your mutant ability surfaced, right? And when you went on the run, the Morlocks found you and let you stay with them when you needed shelter. And then you just ditched them when the chance of the Institute came up."

Ray had told himself low blows like that wouldn't affect him. He now realised he'd been telling himself a crock of shit.

"All right," he said seriously, "I'll admit it. I regret what happened. I never meant to leave the way I did, and I *definitely* didn't mean for anyone to get hurt or go hungry over it. You know me, Evan. You know I'm not like that."

"I *thought* I knew you."

Ray ploughed on nonetheless, ignoring the sting of that comment. "But my fuck-ups have got nothing to do with you or this, Evan. This is your life we're talking about now, not mine. You can't ruin the good thing you've got at the Institute over a few hoodlums with an congeniality deficit."

"It's more than that!" Evan retorted, volume climbing a few notches. "It's... it's everything about being who we are. It's about being spat at in the street by people I don't even *know*. It's about little old ladies jaywalking just so they don't have to pass me on the sidewalk. It's about nobody in authority giving a damn about us turning up to class with black eyes and cuts because we're 'just muties' and 'probably asked for it'. It's about being persecuted just for being *alive*!"

"And you're willing to dump your Aunt, your Mom, your Dad, and all the rest of us like last week's take-out just because you're sick of dealing with it?" Ray's tone dropped. "Evan, I know where I went wrong, so don't even try using that as an excuse or a deflection. You're making a big mistake in thinking that you can solve your problems by running away from them."

In answer, Evan turned away from Ray and looked to Callisto. "I'm done here. Can I go see her, now?"

She nodded and gestured that Caliban should lead him away.

The bald mutant did so, but not before Evan had chance to turn and say, "Don't worry, Ray. I'll keep your little secret for you. Maybe someday you'll take your own advice, huh?"

When he and his guide were gone, the other Morlocks turned to follow.

"How the hell are you going to give him what he wants? What he *needs*?" Ray demanded of their departing backs.

Callisto turned, breaking her stride for a moment. "By whatever means necessary. And that's all you need to know." Her stare tightened, becoming slitted, and she said in a soft voice, "We have an X-Man on our side now. And it's not you. We let you come back here unharmed so you could say goodbye, but this is your final warning, Ray. Don't ever come back down here, not for any reason. There'll be no more favours. You're not welcome, and you're not wanted. Not anymore."

With that, she spun on her heel and was absorbed by the gloom.

And for the life of him, Ray couldn't find it in himself to follow this time.

=========

[Evan finds and talks to Ororo, telling her he intends to stay with the Morlocks for the foreseeable future. He asks her not to look for him, and then leaves when she entreats him to come home with her.]

=========

Evan slotted into the line of Morlocks like he'd always been meant to fit there; and when they walked, he walked. When they faded away into the clouds of steam and smoke, so did he. There was something... he couldn't really think of a better way to put it; there was something just so *right* about being there with them. It felt almost... good. Like in another place, in another time, he'd always been with them, a part of them - one of them.

But here... not yet. Not quite.

Auntie O's fevered shouts filtered after him, and some part of his lower brain wanted to turn around and run back into her arms. That part of him wanted to just forget all about this crazy idea and simply go back to life as it was at the Institute. It didn't want to give up being a little boy, cowering behind adults and a fancy costume in the hope that one or the other might save him from the world. It didn't want to go with these people, these strangers; it wanted to run from them.

They dropped over a ledge to another below, falling as if from the cloud itself, and Auntie O's cries abruptly faded away.

He wasn't ashamed to admit that a little piece of his heart broke when they did.

Caliban edged closer, towering over him lankily. "You'll never make it down here," he drawled, indolent to the last but still managing to infuse the words with a sense of prophecy.

Evan didn't look at him. "We'll see," was all he said, keeping his gaze purposefully ahead, and thus completely missing the approving glance Callisto sent his way. Caliban still didn't trust Evan, survival instinct making him wary of the newcomer, and Evan felt it glance of his shell like a physical blow.



Then something clammy took his hand, and Evan almost jumped away until he realised in was an oversized hand sheathed in a glove of something akin to latex, yet sturdier. He looked at it for a second, eyes travelling down the arm it was attached to until they reached a strange, pudgy little face. Torpid, the little girl he'd rescued at the factory. She gazed up at him, silent but eloquent, and her grip on his fingers squeezed a little tighter.

Evan allowed himself the ghost of a smile, even though deep in his chest still hurt. "We'll see."

=========

Ororo's step, when she finally tramped back the way she'd come, was slow and indecisive. The tunnel seemed twice as long as it had before, and was made longer by her frequent pauses. She kept stopping to glance over her shoulder, as if her body was convinced a familiar figure would emerge from the smoke and declare the whole incident some colossal practical joke, even though her brain already knew it wasn't to be. She'd seen the look in Evan's eyes. She knew he wasn't coming back.

Footsteps, and the patter of several pairs of feet. Scott and Jean appeared up ahead, while Kurt crawled into her peripheral vision. They were breathless, and Jean propped herself against the curved wall with one hand before speaking.

"We thought we heard him," she said simply. "Is he...?" She left the rest of the question unspoken, and all three of them glanced around, obviously looking for the one that should have been there; should have been by her side.

Ororo brushed past them all, not looking at anybody directly for fear they would see that her Authority Figure mask was slipping. Badly. She knew her eyes were shiny with unshed tears, just as she knew that she had to be the strongest of all right now. She had to be the crutch on which they all leaned, showing them how to cope with such a different kind of loss as they were used to. Forced absence was one thing, but when someone so close purposefully chose not to stay...

"Ororo?" Scott. Dependable, steadfast Scott, who saw the world in shades of teams; 'them' and 'us' being the divisions his mind had long ago set up. That one word summarized all possible questions, and she halted long enough to answer him.

"Evan's not coming back with us," she said plainly, presenting only her back to their undoubtedly shocked and inquiring eyes. "He's... chosen to remain here."

She didn't mention the Morlocks, or the outrageous veer his mutation had taken. She knew she would break down completely if forced to talk about it just yet, and she was saving what little resolve she had for when she had to tell Charles. And Vi.

Oh God, what was she supposed to tell Vi and her husband? I'm sorry, you charged me with looking after your son, but I've lost him in the sewers to a bunch of bottom-feeders? I know I'm his Aunt, but I couldn't keep track of him enough to prevent his being poisoned by some bozo in a business suit? He'll be back soon, when he gets this crazy notion out of his system...?

Ororo felt the moisture gathering in the corners of her eyes, and abruptly stepped away, moving off without a second look. She knew the three students would follow her lead, even if it took them a few moments. She also knew she was radiating enough confusion and hurt at the moment for Jean to sense without even trying, so they wouldn't be prodding her for any further answers.

She was glad of that, however fleeting the feeling. What she needed most of all right now was some time alone with her thoughts, to try and make sense of what Evan had told her. He'd said he needed time to get his head together, which she could comprehend to a point, but the request not to look for him was caustic. So was the idea that he thought she could simply turn off her worry for him like a faucet.

Emotions didn't work that way. She couldn't suddenly stop caring about him just because he told her to. She couldn't shut off the pathways to and from her heart that concerned him and his well being, just because he'd said he was going to be okay without her.

And all at once she felt inexplicably angry with Evan for making her feel this way; for taking all she had to offer him and throwing it back in her face like both it and she meant nothing to him. She wanted to comfort him, to bring him home where he could be safe and warm and in the care of people who had the means to help him. Yet she also wanted to take him by the shirt front and *shake* some sense into him. And along with it came shame for feeling that way about him, her own flesh and blood.

The emotions came thick and fast, until she thought she would either be drowned in them or buried, to be dug out by others. She was confused, and traced her path through instinct more than conscious contemplation.

Another form moved out of the gloom, this one not directly into her path but to the side of it, allowing her passage. She caught sight of stretched orangey bangs juxtaposed with blonde hair, and saw a strange understanding in the eyes below as she passed by.

Despite herself, she stopped, meeting their gaze for a brief instant in time. Ray stared at her - into her, nearly, like he was reading her soul back to her from a sheet of paper. She saw something there in his eyes that she'd never seen before, and though he didn't offer a shoulder for her to cry on, she suddenly wanted nothing more than to collapse in a sobbing heap at his feet and lose herself in this strange, almost-grief that was threatening to consume her.

"I'm sorry," he said sadly, repeating the same useless phrase that people the world over had used since loss was first defined and given a name. It didn't sound any more profound coming from him, and Ororo looked away, the moment broken.

She had to be strong. She was an adult, and had to be there for the children. People with responsibilities like her didn't show emotion; they didn't ask those younger for support, they gave it.

Even so...

"Yes," she said, quietly and honestly. "So am I."

=========

FINIS.

=========

ObNit: 'Valedicto' is Latin for 'goodbye'. Or at least, that's what my notes from several years ago tell me. Meh, I was never that hot studying Latin. And yes, I know Evan came back in Season Four (not that I've seen it yet; nor am likely to until, ooh, late 2004 maybe), but he did essentially leave the main cast in this episode, and it fits in with Ray's storyline, too.