A/N: Hello, you still with me? I can do nothing else than apologise profusely for the enormous gap between postings. This chapter would not be if it wasn't for my absolutely wonderful friend, Miriam, who was kind enough to act as co-author, beta and muse for this chapter on top of her duties as my Polish translator of much fantabulousness. Thank you!

Without further ado:

Tabula Fucking Rasa

Chapter 25: Family.

The aftermath of combat-fuelled adrenaline was not a foreign experience to Toad. As the body calmed down after the blood had coagulated and the dust had settled, he often found it difficult for the mind to do the same. His brain was disturbingly wont to blunder on a million miles an hour even though his body had reached a level of lethargy that enabled him to do little else than stagger to the nearest source of beer.

It was one of his few constants: the post-bloodshed pint. Mystique had tried and tried again to wean him off the stuff, claiming that any predictability was fatal and should be avoided at any cost. He had of course retorted that if anything was fatal, it was to keep an Englishman from his lager. They had never quite reached a solution to that particular difference of opinion, but he didn't really mind much; the woman was astounding when she was mid-rant. He wasn't much interested in her in the Biblical sense, birds of a feather (or scale as it were) and all that, but he wasn't above appreciating a fine woman of any tone; be it blue, purple or even skin-coloured.

The female in question was in rare form this fine evening, glaring a swathe clear across the kitchen at him, hitting him square in the back of his neck and probably giving Wolverine, who was situated in front of him, a lovely toxic tan. Good thing the French doors were open or, he reckoned, the air might spontaneously combust.

It seemed that the entire contingent of X-Men, –women, –Toads, and –kids, barring injury (Kitty and Angel) or sickbed duty (Colossus and Iceman), had gravitated to the kitchen to unwind. Toad was happily perched on a tall stool across the table from Logan, who was regaling him with a blow-by-bite account of his (apparently) epic battle with Sabretooth, whom he had (apparently) defeated single-handedly.

It was interesting, he mused, that while an epic battle to him brought to mind the great battles at Hastings or Culloden, in Logan-terminology it seemed to translate into 'hard and nasty grudge-match between two blundering (and occasionally frothing) Neanderthals.'

How wonderful this new world is; the epitome of civilisation, indeed.

As Wolverine rambled on and on, now with added gestures of moderate beer-toppling power, Toad gripped his own precious bottle a little tighter and let his attention wander on to new and more interesting things. He had long ago perfected the 'nod your head at strategic intervals' method, having had ample practise during his many years in the company of an orator of Magneto's verbosity. How Pyro had ever stayed focused and on task enough to get the deeper meanings of the propaganda at his attention-deficit age was a wonder and a mystery indeed.

Seeing the young firebrand of a few weeks ago today, one wouldn't easily recognise him. Pyro had lost most of the wild, desperate look in his eyes; he had gained a healthier colour, and the lack of the bleached hair and bad attitude had him looking like a proper young man, instead of the kind of dangerous street urchin he used to resemble. He and Beast were seated at a corner table, a pot of tea steaming between them and Beast was writing something down on a laptop while Pyro was talking. Words like 'manifestation', 'relative output', and 'stress-related magnification' drifted over the chatter of Storm, Wanda, Rogue and Cypher at the counter, where sandwiches were being made, and the perpetually broken microwave oven had miraculously fixed itself.

It had turned into quite the not-slumber party, he noted with some satisfaction. For the first time since he and Mystique had made the daft decision to join this band of merry twats, he had a feeling that this endeavour might actually lead to something other than utter and complete fuck all.

"…and you shoulda seen it, Froggy. That Xerox-guy looked like a mummy! I guess that makes the garbage disposal easier down the road, right? Just kick 'im a few times and vacuum the rest," Wolverine blustered. "Good riddance to bad rubbish, I say."

At his words, conversation stopped at the nearby counter. Rogue's eyes zeroed in on the older man and one would have to be blind, or have one's back turned as Logan had, to miss the tensing of her shoulders and the glisten of tears in her eyes. Without a word, she turned and hastily left the room.

Surprisingly, it was Wanda who went after her, leaving Storm standing alone with a very uncomfortable-looking Cypher; the boy had never been good with emotional outbursts.

Wolverine, oblivious that he was, and maybe a little drunk, kept on jabbering only to be stopped short at Toad's irritated: " Oh shut up, you berk!" which happened to coincide with the outraged: "Logan, for God's sake," from Storm.

Even as Logan was stuttering to a halt and probably deciding whether or not 'berk' was an insult, Toad glanced over at the corner table. Pyro and Beast seemed to be completely engrossed in their conversation and the good Doctor seemed to be comfortably in lecture mode. Pyro was frowning, absently chewing on the fingernail of his right-hand thumb as he was wont to do when concentrating fiercely.

Mystique seemed to have picked up on the tension and gave him a small nod before gliding out of the room, leaving Toad to deal with Wolverine, who had apparently decided to take offense.

Toad, once again, was presented with proof that Wolverine had next to no decorum as the man sprang to his feet, knocking over the chair making an unholy ruckus, and presented his claws menacingly. This lead to another revelation about one of his companions: Cypher needed lessons in Grace Under Pressure. At the clatter, the young man jerked like a man electrocuted and the microwave combusted in a shower of sparks and hot chocolate.

Toad thought it prudent to acquaint himself bodily with the wonderfully high ceiling of the place, while both Storm and Beast leaped to his defence like knights in shining leather. While Logan, fists shaking and chest protruding, was bustled out of the French doors into the gardens, Cypher busied himself with wrapping his hands around the exposed wires in the wall, most likely trying to prevent a house-wide power outage; Pyro had taken a quick look at the many small fires that had erupted and put them out with a short and firm quelling motion with one hand, as he stood and looked around; no doubt searching for Rogue.

"She's in the hallway, mate," Toad supplied helpfully as he – after making sure that Wolverine was gone - returned to Terra Firma.

"Thanks, Green," Pyro said, nodding once. "What the holy hell is going on?"

Toad shrugged. "Words were spoken, offence was taken; same old thing, really."

Giving an exasperated headshake, Pyro turned to the chocolate-covered Cypher.

"Have you got it under control, dude?"

"Yeah. Just startled me a bit, I guess," was the sheepish answer he received. "It's just that, well, that guy is seriously scary!"

"That he is," Pyro agreed.

Taking a look at several red burns that had started to appear on Cypher's arms and face, he made a shooing motion and said: "Infirmary. Quick march. Get some icepacks from the right-hand freezer and slap 'em on the burns. I'll be right there."

"No you will not," Wanda said as she calmly entered the room, heading for her cup of coffee, pausing only to deliver a sound slap to the back of Pyro's head. "Rogue, she is most upset with the killing of Carbon, and you would do well to go to her." Even worded like a suggestion, it was clear to those who knew her that with Wanda the 'or else' was always implied.

Carrying on giving orders, as was par for the course for Wanda she continued: "Cypher, you will go to the infirmary. I will get Doctor McCoy. Pyro, you will go now, and Toad, you will clean up. Please," she added as an afterthought as she headed out toward the gardens, a stream of muttered curses drifting back to them.

"Idioty… pierdolone nie myslace glupole… chetnie by w nich wbilam troche sensu ale z facetami nie ma sposób wygracz… rozpatrzona dziewczyna w lzach a oni mysla tylko o walce; huje, wszyscy…"

"Wait, Wanda!" Pyro yelled, coming to a stop, already halfway through the door to the corridor. "Wanda!" he repeated, rushing to the French doors. "Wiedzmo! Where did she go?"

"Your room. Now go!"

With that order ringing in his ears, Pyro left the kitchen and almost bumped into Mystique in the hallway.

"In your room", she answered his unspoken query.

"Yes, I know. Clean-up duty in the kitchen"

"I imagine", she sighed and with that, left Pyro to ascend the stairs while she went into the kitchen to begin cleaning up the mess left by the beer-toting Logan and Cypher's amazing display of auto-combusting cocoa.

When she came into the kitchen she was met by the sight of Toad in the throes of mapping out the various spots that were now covered in cocoa and shards.

She grabbed a broom and tossed it to him and said: "Stop surveying and start sweeping."

"Och aye, the work of a terrorist is never done," he quipped in an awful Scottish accent, catching the broom with an effortless flourish.

"Idle hands are the devil's tools, Mortimer" she riposted and began to mix soap and water with the precision of an alchemist.

The cleaning progressed with military precision with the two soldiers instinctively laying out a grid across the kitchen working to maximum efficiency and expediency. When the cleaning was done 45 minutes later, Toad snapped his tongue across the room and snagged another beer from the open cupboard and said "this, love, is high strategy at work. Today the kitchen, tomorrow the world… They don't stand a chance".

"So your plan is to take over the world with a war machine running on booze, is it? That will go over very well"

"Oh come off it, it's only a beer or two between friends"

Mystique raised an eyebrow quizzically; "Friends?"

"Yeah, whatever. Me and Mr. Budweiser here are going to bed," he said and headed for the door, only pausing to turn his head slightly at Mystique's pointedly muttered "Lush."

"Nag," he threw back over his shoulder, smiling.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.


A few hours later the mansion was finally quiet; only one shape separating itself from the looming shadows in the underground hallway outside the infirmary. Mystique moved with all the silent grace of her vocation. Though she would viciously deny doing any such thing, she had made a habit of checking on what she in her heart of hearts considered her children.

She crept over to the observation window, pausing and breaking out into a small fond smile at what she saw there. Pietro was a small white shape between the white sheets of the hospital bed, hair tousled, limbs arranged in an ungainly sprawl. Wanda's dark head was resting on his shoulder, her red coat haphazardly arranged around the both of them. Wanda always wore the same perfume as their mother had, Mystique knew; the scent clinging to her coat would act as an olfactory security blanket should Pietro wake up confused in the middle of the night. For all that they fought constantly, the two were indeed as close as a brother and sister could be, and she thanked whatever power that might listen to the likes of her that they wouldn't have to go through life alone.

"Sleep well, children," she whispered, pitying anyone who would be foolish enough to disturb them.

Checking to make sure that the security camera in the hall was active and functioning, she continued on her rounds.

She made her way through the chilly stone hallway, slipping up the concrete stairs before stepping onto the plush carpeting of the wood-panelled corridor. Heading to the second floor, she listened intently for any sound that might be out of the ordinary. The fight today had left her even more alert than usual; Magneto was not the type of man to forget, and their location was far from secret.

She walked down the corridor, one hand trailing the top of the waist-high panelling as she went, luxuriating in the feel of surroundings that were not harsh, decaying or dripping with moisture.

At the end of the hall, she could hear the murmur of soft voices. The door to Pyro's room was slightly ajar and through the crack she could see a soft flickering flame creating a small island of light in the velvet darkness.

Pyro had his arms wrapped around Rogue, her back resting against his chest; their hands cradled in front of them, sheltering a golden werelight, tendrils of fire running across their entwined fingers. His cheek lay half-buried in her loose hair, and together they were watching the flame even as it cast shadows across their faces. Mystique could barely make out their whispered words.

"It's just power, Rogue. We all have it," he said.

Rogue didn't respond other than to give a small, sad sigh and move deeper into his embrace. He tightened his arms around her and kissed her hair and murmured "I know you want me to feel sorry for his death, but I cannot be sorry that you're alive."

As Rogue brought their hands together extinguishing the flame and turned around to face him, Mystique slipped back into the shadows. There was already one protector in that room, and she wasn't needed.


A/N2: I really, really hope to hear from you after this chapter, as I've messed around a bit with the 'feel' of the text. It's more 'book' and less 'film' now, I guess.

In conclusion, I can only say: "Thank you so much!" to all of you who've left me reviews and especially to those of you who left long ones! Reviews are love and long reviews are pure Ambrosia!