Author's Note: For FanFic100 #54 – Air. This fic fits rather neatly into X-Force v1 continuity after Jesse joined and Sam came back when the team was hanging out in San Francisco. (Somewhere between X-Force v1 #83 and the six month gap.) It's not really that important. Thanks, as always, to my beta for fixing my grammar/errors/general stupidity.
Disclaimer:Characters mentioned are used without permission and are trademarks of Marvel Characters, Inc. I do not own them and am simply borrowing for my purposes. Please don't sue.

Shades of Gray
by, Caliente

It always starts the same. She's in a wood somewhere. She's sure she's been there before but it's so misty she can hardly see. Her movements are hesitant as she weaves between the dense forest growth. She's trying to find her way (though to where, she's never quite sure), but the mist only grows thicker. Thicker and thicker, until she's surrounded by gray.

Only it isn't gray. It's white. The whole world has turned white, endless and empty. She tries to call out for someone but there's no sound. She walks forward (she doesn't know how she knows it's forward, but she does), checking over her shoulder every so often. She can feel someone watching her. Eyes haunting her. They're yellow and horrible at first, and she's frightened. But then she recognizes them. Brown. And she knows they belong to someone who'd never hurt her. She just doesn't know who it is.

Then she turns around and she's home again. It's sort of a fusion of her parents' home, Black Eagle's cabin and the Xavier Institute—the one she remembers from when she first joined the team, not version 10.0 or whatever they're on these days. There's no one there, either, and it's unnerving. It feels like she can't remember a time when the halls weren't full of students.

The mist begins to seep in there, too. She can feel her frustration growing. She wants to yell or fight it, but how can she? The gray is coming and there's nothing she can do to stop it. She can never stop it and that angers her, too. She hates not having control. And she hates that it erases this place. She feels safe here. She doesn't want to go.

But she doesn't have a choice. The white returns, unwelcome but ultimately overpowering. She thinks she's alone again but a tap on her shoulder causes her to spin around. And there they are. The New Mutants. Her New Mutants. The ones she'd left to stay in Asgard, to be exact."Why'd you have to go?" comes an eerie chant. "Why did you leave us? We needed you…"

Rahne steps forward, looking so young. "You were my best friend. We had a bond. We were never the same after."

Then Bobby takes a turn. "I trusted you—we all did. We were friends. You said you wanted to help me, but all you did was hurt me."

Sam's the last to step up. "You were a leader. We were leaders together. You gave it up—and for what? What are you now?" Collectively, they shake their heads at her.

She wants to apologize. She wants to explain. But the words won't come out. They just continue to shake their heads, silently disapproving, as they begin to slide away. Opening her mouth, she tries to yell for them. To stop them from leaving her, even though she probably deserves it. She wishes they'd wait for her. But they're already gone. And she's still standing there.

Another tap on her shoulder reveals X-Force and her current home. Sam's standing tall in the front, older now, flanked by Terry and Bobby on either side. Jimmy's standing large beside Terry, while Tabitha's blowing a bubble next to Roberto with Jesse looking awkward to her right. She can almost imagine Cable looming behind them but they've already left him behind. Facing her team, she thinks maybe she's not the only one who's lost her way.

They stare at her blankly, like they don't recognize her. She looks down and sees she's holding her bow and wearing her MLF costume. She looks up at them again helplessly but their faces are full of anger and blame. "How can we ever trust you again?" Terry asks, eyes accusing.

"You shot me," Sam says with the same expression, Tabby and Bobby nodding their agreement.

"You promised you'd save me," Bobby adds. "But you're still hurting me. You're hurting all of us."

Jimmy glares at her, sneering. "Hypocrite. You judged me when we were young, but look at you now. Look at what you've become."

She pulls off her mask and stares at it. She wants to ask them what they mean. What has she become? Because even she doesn't rightly know. But the words won't come. And the only ones that ever will finally spill from her lips—"Who am I?"

The look on Sam's face is more distant than she can ever remember seeing him. "If you don't know, why should we?" They, too, are shaking their heads at her now as they begin slipping into darkness. She tries to run after them, to call to them—something—but they're gone. The darkness has disappeared, too, and all that's left is the endless white. Again.

It's so heavy. She feels the weight on her and crumbles. It's just so much. It's not fair for one person to bear it all. She's always done what she thought was best. She can't understand where it all went wrong. She never can. Over and over she asks but the answer never comes.

Then something new happens. There's a comforting presence beside her and she looks up, half-afraid of what she'll find. Her eyes glisten when she sees who it is. Black Eagle. He looks exactly as she remembers him, unchanged in every way as he stares at her in such a way that she thinks maybe he can see right through her. She feels fifteen again and blinks when she realizes that's how she looks, too.

"Hello, little one," he says in the warm, gravelly tone she knows so well. Even now, years later and parents alive again, it still sounds like home to her. "It has been a long time."

She nods, not trusting herself to speak. She's not even certain she could if she tried.

"You feel have lost your way," he continues. "You fear you have lost yourself." Shame makes her avert her eyes. The words hurt her but worse are the truth they hold over her. She feels his warm hand on her shoulder and peeks up at him through her lashes. "Do not fear, little one. You may have stumbled, but you have not fallen."

Biting her lip, she shakes her head. "My friends…"

Black Eagle smiles now. It's a warm expression that seems to radiate color in the blank place where they exist. "It is not they who blame you, Danielle. It is you who blames yourself." He offers her his hand and helps her up. Gently, he presses his palm to her chest. "You have a good heart. Trust it."

She wants to ask how she's supposed to trust something that has led her so far astray but those words won't come. She just continues to look up at him helplessly. When he starts to fade away from her, she can't stop the tears. She knows whatever she tries, it won't be enough. It's never enough. She can't reach him. Can't reach any of them.

The serene expression on his face never changes as he drifts into the void. "It's time to wake up," he tells her, the distance between them still growing. "Wake up, Danielle. Wake up…"


In the San Francisco warehouse quarters of X-Force, Dani Moonstar suddenly gasped and bolted upright in her bed. Heart pounding in her ears and panting raggedly, she touched her face. There was a familiar wetness on her cheeks, which she quickly wiped away. It took a few minutes for her breathing to return to normal and by then she knew she wouldn't be getting any more sleep. Not that night, anyway.

Slipping into some running clothes, she decided to go for a jog to clear her mind. She was careful to be as silent as possible as she moved through the building, knowing even the lightest sounds would wake some of her more colorfully violent teammates. As soon as she opened the door to leave, she was greeted with another thick, gray San Francisco morning. The city was known for that sort of weather. Still, after her dream the depressing color made her heart drop to her stomach.

Dani shook it off. The air might have been thick but she was too stubborn to let that stop her. It was just a dream. She was made of stronger stuff than that. And she knew better—knew Black Eagle had been right. He always was.

She heard someone approaching and turned to see Sam in his running gear, too. There was a moment where her breath caught in her throat. Then she forced her lips into a smile, waving at him. His expression was more lopsided and friendlier than hers. "You couldn't sleep either, huh?" he said by way of greeting when he reached her.

"Something like that," Dani replied, tugging the zipper on her windbreaker up higher.

He looked out at the bleak day, then back at her. "Care for a little friendly competition 'round the piers?" he asked, putting on his own jacket. "Loser buys the winner coffee."

Suddenly there was nothing forced about her smile. "You're on," she agreed, eyes bright at the thought of competition. They were off without any more words. They didn't need them and that told Dani that even if it wasn't quite yet, it would be okay. Eventually. And that was enough.