Authors Note and Disclaimer:

I do not own any of the rights to the X-Men, the Fantastic Four, or Spider-Man. None of these characters are my own.

This story takes place soon after the latest Thunderbird joined the X-Men.

Three Years Later

A bright-eyed, cheery kid walked up to one of the only other people in the bar. "Hey, you look familiar. Have you ever been here before?"

Robert looked around, hoping that there was someone else the kid was talking to. "No," he said, cold air sinking around him.

"Just hearing your voice gives me goose bumps. Would you like to go somewhere else so you can see where?"

Iceman gave him a funny look. "Did you just say that?"

"I can do more than just say it."

"I think I walked into the wrong place," he decided.

The other looked confused for a moment, and then realization sank in. "Oh. Sorry, this isn't straight night. You did walk in the wrong place." He blushed, clearly embarrassed to have made advances on the man.

Iceman was quick to leave, not bothering to respond. As the door closed behind, he took in the street. There were sparse lamps lighting well enough to define the road's borders, but were not sufficient for much else. A few pedestrians were walking towards the bar he had just left, all men. Not wanting to repeat the scene that transpired a moment before, Iceman walked down the sidewalk, towards what he hoped was the right bar.

The humming of speech was loud in the air, but the former hero ignored it. He tuned the noises out, concentrating on the night's objective. The place was soon before him, the travel time feeling like less than a whole moment. The music coming from the bar was very loud, but also beautiful. Not a word often used to describe bar music, but that was the one that fit.

He stepped through the door, dropping a five-dollar bill into the bouncer's hand. The bouncer considered ID'ing him, but the cold waves gave him enough of a warning not to bother.

There was a large crowd around a stage in the corner, the musician clearly deserving it. Iceman didn't bother checking to see who the woman singing was, instead walking over to the bar to sit beside one of the people he was in town to meet. "Mind if I buy you a drink?" he asked. His body matched his mood at ten degrees below room temperature, but he managed to take the chilled edge off his words.

The woman beside him turned to face the former X-Man with a look of surprise. "Sure." She shook her head, smiling. "Bobby Drake, it's been a long time." He glanced at her drink, an empty bottle of Michelob Light, and ordered her a second. For himself, a Bass Ale. "What are you doing in this little town?" The drinks came, and he paid for them.

He decided not to answer her question right away. Instead, he sipped slowly at his drink, vaguely wondering the same thing. Just when she appeared to be getting agitated, he said something. "I heard a rumor that the X-Men were around here. I had a hunch that one of you might decide to go drinking alone. If there's anything the X-Men don't do, it's stay away from alcohol."

"So what did you do? Check every bar in the area?"

Iceman coughed out a laugh, covering his mouth politely. "No."

She was clearly upset with him. "Drake, you're not the mysterious type, so drop the charade. It doesn't work for you." He raised his eyebrows at the irony of her words. Of course, she could not possibly know what he had been doing over the past couple of years. "You searched me out, why won't you talk to me? Disappointed by which X-person you found?"

"What do you think of the music?" he asked instead of answering.

"The music! That's it, I'm out of here. I came to be alone, I don't need your trash." She rose from her stool, and walked out.

"Nice one, buddy," said the bartender. He whistled in mock appreciation. "I don't think I've seen someone that cold to a lady in quite some time."

Iceman laughed at the irony of the barkeep's words. "She deserved a black eye."

"Oh? What'd she do? Cheat on ya?"

"Not exactly."

"Turn ya down?"

"Not exactly."

"Fuck your best friend?"

"Not exactly."

"Throw me a bone here."

Iceman considered, not wanting to get into it. "All of the above," he said. She had slept with one of the X-Men, and did not respond to any of his not-so-serious advances. Her betrayal felt worse than it had when his ex had cheated on him.

"Huh? That's rough."

"I hear she can be that, too, if you know how to ask." The bartender laughed. "That's all you're getting out of me."

"Suits me. Want another beer?"

"Nope. I think I'll see about that black eye."

"I'll pretend I didn't hear that."

"You do that." Iceman left the bar, looking out to make sure the woman wasn't nearby. He sniffed the night air, still unsure of what he was doing. He didn't want to continue, but had no other choice. He hailed a cab, his destination already in mind.

-

Kitty Pryde walked down the sidewalk, thinking about her conversation with Drake. He wasn't acting like his characteristic self. Then again, he disappeared for three years, and there was a lot that could change over the course of time.

She regretted telling Iceman off. She may not have been crazy about him in the days before he left the team, but most of the X-Men have not been the same. As much as she had grown to dislike like the man, she had to admit that he kept people together. Storm, Archangel, Phoenix, and Beast had left the X-Men to find Iceman after the fiasco involving Rachel Summers, but were unlucky in their search. After many months they rejoined the team, but most of the others left and would not come back. Kitty blamed herself.

She realized that she didn't have her communicator on her, and began to grumbl as she walked on. She was heading towards another bar on the same street, quite a few blocks away.

-

This bar was a little quieter, and had no live music. The crowd was roughly the same size, but were better looking. At least, in Robert's opinion. He approached a gorgeous redhead, knowing exactly who she was. She knew him as well, and was surprised when she turned and saw the man who'd tapped her on the shoulder.

"Bobby?"

"Robert. No one's called me Bobby since I was one of the Four."

"We'd just about given up on finding you. When you stopped showing up on Cerebro, we were afraid that you might have been ..."

"Nah, I just called in a couple of favors from some new friends of mine. Got myself some toys to play with, including a personal psi-screen."

"That explains why I didn't sense you when you came close. I was wondering." She smiled, shaking her head, surprised to see him.

"You haven't lost it, Jean." Beast and Archangel arrived, both with image inducers to hide their appearances. "Warren, Hank," he said, the two almost directly behind him. They both held looks of surprise, Robert not even turning around. "Is there a reason why you're surrounding me?"

"How did you know we were here?" asked Hank as he took a seat on a nearby stool. Warren sat on the other side of Jean.

"Your body heat. Everyone has a unique heat signature, like a fingerprint."

Hank's eyes shot up, being obviously. "You can tell the difference? I'm very impressed. You've been training a lot while you've been away from the team."

Robert shrugged. "Not exactly 'training'."

Warren decided to stop being quiet. "Bobby, I'm sorry for what happened. If I were there, things would have turned out differently. You've always been our friend, and no one has the right to challenge you like that."

"You're a little late." Robert smiled. "But all wasn't for naught, I've learned a lot while away from the X-Men."

"We can see that," said Hank. "Why don't you tell us what you've been up to? We should find Ororo first, though, I'm sure she'd love to hear it."

"Sounds like a plan. I was wondering, though," Iceman continued as the X-Men slipped off of their stools, and began heading out of the bar. "Is there still a place for me in the X-Men? I think I'm ready to come home."

"We'd love to have you back, Bobby." Jean's sincerity was evident in her voice. He thought he detected something else there as well.

"Thanks," he said as the four old friends got inside Warren's car. Iceman usually flew nowadays, but even he appreciated the convenience of a car. "Forgetting something?" Robert asked.

"Oh, right," Warren laughed. "Kitty." He stepped outside as he saw her approaching on foot, and asked if she wanted a ride back to the Mansion. She graciously accepted. Kitty was noticeably upset, and too drunk to notice Robert sitting in the front seat.

-

The sun was bright, and the kitchen seemed even brighter. Jean was there in her robe, fixing breakfast for the X-Men, unbeknownst to most of them. Wolverine was outside hunting, or, rather, playing in the woods like a child. His games may have been infinitely more deadly than a child's, but they were still games.

Beast was inside with Jean, helping out in any way he could. He was not much of a cook, but his boundless energy and willingness to help more than made up for a lack of cooking talent/skill.

Warren came downstairs to see breakfast almost ready, and Ororo went outside with Wolverine as soon as she woke up, was to play in a different way than Logan usually did during his private training sessions. Kitty, it seemed, had decided to sleep off her hangover for as long as possible.

Robert walked down to the kitchen, not surprised to find the others there, taking out stacks of freshly-cooked pancakes. They ushered him out to the dining room, and he gratefully sat down with them as the pancakes were served. "Yum," he couldn't resist saying. He dove right in, finishing his meal in record time. "Thank you, Jean!" The others were just beginning to eat as he wiped his mouth with a napkin. "Best meal I've had since OZT." She smiled, glad for the appreciation. Jean responded telepathically, her words causing Robert to blush. A quick usage of his powers cleared the red from his face before anyone else noticed.

Everyone else eventually finished the meal without much conversation. Beast climbed onto the ceiling and cleared the table before anyone could lift a finger. The esteemed scientist and nimble X-Man disappeared into the kitchen a moment before returning to his seat.

Ororo and Logan came in just in time to miss the food. Wolverine did smell it, however, and was quick to raise a protestation. It went ignored, so he reached into a bag at his side, and pulled out an apple with one of his claws. He ate the apple off the claw while the rest of the X-Men questioned Iceman.

"Okay, okay! Calm down! I'll get to all your questions, by and by." The man grinned, a little bit of the old Iceman seeping into the newer, colder one. The more time he spent with the X-Men, the more his personality returned to the one they knew and loved.

"Hey!" was the uniform response from all those gathered.

"Alright. You know why I left the X-Men, right? A couple of 'em said that their lives would be better off without me. Eventually I ended up in the Fantastic Four, and became their leader. We were doing well enough that I earned a Presidential pardon from the President for 'terrorist acts' committed as an X-Man. The press even hailed me as one of the greatest heroes of all time, but nobody really knows why. Only one problem: I still couldn't show my 'human' form to the public. I was pretending to be a man of ice. After a while, I found that I had become one.

"After we faced Rogue's group of X-Men, something clicked. I realized that one slip-up, and the universe could have ceased to exist ... I wasn't fighting because I wanted to prevent the end of the world, but because I wanted to get back at the X-Men. Everything in my life felt empty. I'd become someone different, and I felt this overwhelming need to find out who that was." Robert paused, blinking away the memory.

"I signed up with some mercenaries for a while, learned a new trade. About a year ago, I bumped into Justice, of the Avengers. A few months before, his wife Angelica was assassinated by some mercs. He asked for my help in finding the killer, and I agreed. The guy got caught eventually, but not before Justice was murdered, too.

"I was feeling lost again, and decided that it was time to head back to my old friends. True friends." There was silence for a few minutes. "I didn't expect to come to you. I wasn't really aware of what I was doing."

They embraced him in turn, and assured him that he was welcome. "The X-Men are a family," Jean said to him. "We look after each other; we'll always be here. You're an X-Man for life, Bobby. Just because you leave, that doesn't mean we've forgotten you. You'll always be one of us." So much emotion came through her voice that Robert was left wondering what he had missed over the years. "Don't ever forget that again."

He smiled. "Thank you. Everyone. Even you, Logan, standing in the corner like the island you pretend to be."

Logan spat out a comment with heavy sarcasm. "I appreciate you sayin' that, Drake."

"Good to know." Wolverine growled, but everyone knew the anger was not real.