Disclaimer: I own nothing, nada, zip. My OCs own me. Vixen belongs to Corrinth.

Epilogue

Diego's Bar, Westchester, New York

"We were strolling on a bridge over the Seine," Vala told her wide-eyed audience of Jubilee and Shadowcat. "When Daniel took me by the hand and whisked me into his strong arms. My heart is still doing somersaults… or that could just be the after-effects of the escargot, but never mind. I swear I did not know Daniel had that much romantic in him, but obviously I was wrong. It must be Paris, I've been told its one of the more romantic cities on your planet, and I…"

Smiling, Sam Carter stopped listening to Vala's monologue and turned to Jackson, who was sat besides her. "You whisked her off her feet?"

"She stepped into the road in front of a truck," Jackson clarified wearily. "At least, that's what I think happened. This story has changed so much I'm not even sure I was there any more." Carter laughed, glancing at Kitty and Jubilee.

"Should we tell them not to believe a word she says?"

"I don't see the point, do you?" Daniel replied. "She's more convincing than either of us. Besides, Vala's doing no harm. The world is a better place for some romance, even if it is fabricated."

Carter looked quizzically at Jackson, struck by the idea that it might not have been so fabricated as Daniel would have them all believe. It seemed that the situation with the French police had been resolved fairly quickly, awarding Jackson and Vala an impromptu vacation in Paris whilst they waited for passports and documents from the USAF so they could return to the States. Jackson knew that Carter didn't believe that the vacation had been as miserable as he had told her, but still Daniel refused to rise to the bait. Rather than continue the conversation, he took a sip of his gin and tonic whilst casting his gaze around the bar.

SG-1, General Landry and Doctor Lam had been invited to Westchester as a thank you. They hadn't been allowed to tour the lower levels of the Xavier Mansion, Charles Xavier's good will didn't extend that far, but he had permitted them to see the school and meet some of the pupils. Now they had retreated to Diego's Bar for some well deserved R and R. Xavier himself was sat at a table with Ilehana, Hank Landry and Carolyn Lam. From the buzz of conversation it seemed as though the two father-daughter teams had a lot to talk about.

Wolverine and Iceman were bickering over the jukebox, accompanied by lots of gesticulating. Logan eventually threw his hands up in disgust and went outside to brood over a cigar. Snickering, Bobby promptly put on some New Jersey guitar rock that Logan would not have totally objected to. Picking up his chilled beer, Bobby crossed the wooden floor and took a seat in a pew alongside Carter and Jackson. Iceman and Sam were soon in discussion about Shockwave's prospects as a student, Air Force Cadet or politician whilst Jackson listened intently.

Storm was busy renewing her friendship with Teal'c. The big Jaffa listened politely as she outlined her concerns about being around Blaze after all Astarte had done to her.

"I don't know how I am going to feel," Ororo admitted quietly. "All that Astarte did to me with the torture and the experiments, it was Blaze who stood over me. It was Blaze who I pleaded with, Blaze who didn't so much as flinch when I screamed in pain."

"Indeed, it will be most difficult," Teal'c agreed calmly. "However it is highly important that you remember that Blaze was an unwilling precipitant in Astarte's actions. She has also been a victim in all this. It is highly likely that trapped within her own body as she was, Blaze was also greatly distressed at what Astarte did to you."

Storm considered this for a few moments, knowing there was wisdom in Teal'c words. Teal'c let her think. Storm was wise enough to realise that his words were true. Indeed, of all the humans he had met here on Earth, none had come so close to the ways of the Jaffa as Ororo. He found her company most reflective and amiable. He also knew that she was a warrior-born, filled with strength. He had seen it in the cell he had shared with her in the SGC. Teal'c was proud to know her, and he hoped she felt the same about him. Coming out of her reverie, Storm saw Teal'c was watching her and smiled coyly.

"So," she asked, "how are your son and his wife?"

Colonel Mitchell was on the way back from the bar with two bottles of beer when he saw Teal'c bonding with Storm. Cam shook his head, amused. It was always the quiet ones you had to watch out for. Mitchell walked past them and up to Gambit, who was loitering with intent at the back of the room.

"Here," Mitchell told the Cajun, offering a beer, "we good?

"Yeah," said Remy after a moment of weighing up his options. He took the bottle he was offered without complaint.

"Excellent," Mitchell decided, and clinked his bottle against Gambit's. "Cheers." Both men took a swig of beer, before Mitchell spoke again. "You must be ecstatic at gettin' your girl back?"

"My girl?"

"Yeah, y'know, Blaze? Redhead, 'bout yay tall, pyrokenetic… Not ringing any bells?" The corner of Gambit's mouth twitched in what could have been a smile.

"She ain't my girl," he told Cam flatly. "We're just old friends."

"Right," drawled Cam. He wasn't sure if he should believe the Cajun or not. "You wouldn't mind if I maybe asked her out sometime then?" Gambit's secret smile became a glower, making Mitchell laugh. "I'm jokin' man, I swear. Although…" he paused as something behind Gambit caught his eye. The Cajun turned to see what Mitchell was looking at, just as those sat at the tables saw it too and the whole bar went deathly quiet.

Blaze was stood in the doorway. Hesitantly she stepped into the room and let the door close with a thump behind her. It took her eyes a moment to adjust to the bright light in the bar after the night outside. She paused, tentative like a rabbit in the headlights. She wore tapered three-quarter length jeans over black lacy stockings and heeled shoes. Her high-necked, sleeveless oriental style top was black with red detail. A lace scarf around her neck hid the dressing from her operation. Her hair was loose and her make-up, compared to Astarte's, was discreet. For the SGC personnel who had never seen Blaze as herself it was a revelation. For the X-Men, it was a relief.

Spotting the gang, Blaze gave a petite smile and a little wave as she headed over. Remy took a few steps forward to meet her so he could have a quiet word without the others hearing. This was the first time he had been allowed to see his friend since Astarte had been removed, and he needed to make sure it was really Blaze. He opened his arms to her and she trotted meekly into them, returning his chaste kisses to each cheek. Half-releasing her, Gambit took Blaze by the wrists and looked down on her critically. Unflustered, Blaze met his red-on-black gaze solemnly.

"How you feelin' Petite?"

"Good," Blaze replied, "actually, really quite good. Look," she wrenched her hands free and showed him her left wrist. The angry scar that had been there was now little more than a fine silver line, fading into nothing. "That slimy, insidious cretin Astarte healed me. Ilehana gave me a good going over and we came to the conclusion that I've never been this healthy. Liver's great, scars are fading, every ache or pain I have ever had is gone."

"You sure?" Remy pressed, putting his hands on her hips and frowning.

"Yep, Rem, I'm sure," Blaze humoured him with wry Mancunian charm. "I even feel like my head has been deep-cleaned. I mean, I thought I had problems, but Astarte was proper tapped." Blaze rapped two fingers against her temple to indicate madness. "She was far more desperate and twisted than I have ever been. It's enough to make a girl feel almost normal." She laughed, eyes twinkling. Raising a hand with her three middle fingers extended in a salute, she continued.

"Brownie's honour, this is the absolute truth. I swear I haven't felt this good, this whole since…" She blushed, and dropped both her hand and her eyes. She bit her lip rather than complete the train of her thoughts. "Since a long time ago," she finished lamely, tucking a piece of her hair behind her ear. She couldn't bring herself to say out loud when she had last been this content with her lot in life. She wasn't quite brave enough to tell Gambit that being his girlfriend had been so important to her. Still, after all their years of friendship she was as transparent as glass and Gambit joined the dots pretty much immediately. Remy smiled slyly and brushed her cheek with the back of two fingers.

"It's good to have you back, Petite," he told her kindly.

"Damn right," chirruped Blaze contentedly, before coming over all serious. "I am sorry for what Astarte did. What she said to you in Paris. I couldn't stop her. She just rifled through my mind and took what she wanted. It's my fault she offered you…"

"Exactly what I've always wanted," Gambit cut Blaze off quickly, in case anyone could overhear them. "It ain't your fault Chere, we known each other too long to be keepin' secrets jus' in case somet'ing like Astarte happens. I knew she'd never really give me not'ing. No harm done, eh?"

"I suppose," Blaze said. "That's all she had, really, offering whatever she thought people wanted in return for them working for her. She had no power over the Brotherhood beyond what she could promise them, and she knew it. So did they. If she'd been less cocky she might have realised that it would take more than hunger for power and lust to keep them loyal to her."

"Lust eh? Gambit leered. "Guess she got lucky pickin' a host to help her out with dat one…"

"Are you trying to chat me up?" Blaze laughed, shoving him away playfully. "You'll have to do better than that, Cajun." Flicking her hair over her shoulder, she turned and walked away, hips swinging, knowing that Gambit was laughing just as much as she was. C'est la vie…

"Trust you to be fashionably late," teased Bobby as he stood to greet Blaze with a friendly hug.

"Oi, it's my party," Blaze retorted.

"It's your round," Bobby corrected her earnestly, bringing a chorus of laughs from the gang.

"How does that work, I only just got here?"

"Ahem," Cam Mitchell cleared his throat to draw Blaze's attention. "Need a hand?"

A wicked sparkle came into Blaze's eye as she blatantly looked Mitchell over. "It's Shaft, right?" He nodded, accepting his call-sign. "Sure," she decided, "why not?"

"I thought you were sworn off man-handling?" Bobby quipped.

"That was so last week," Blaze dismissed him. "Besides," she confided, "Air Force uniform…" Bobby looked confused, so Blaze tipped her head in the direction of Storm and Teal'c. "'Ro knows exactly what I mean," she laughed, before whisking herself off to the bar with a befuddled Mitchell in her wake. Bobby and Storm exchanged an amused glance.

"I think our Blaze is back," said Ororo, feeling a weight lifting from her shoulders. Bobby grinned.

"Is that a good thing?!"

The End