Disclaimer/Notes/General Stuff You May or May Not Need to Know: This fic is a collaborative effort between Sue Penkivech, Melodyrider, and Oldprydefan. The end of Giant-Sized Astonishing left us with a feeling that there was still part of the story left to be told, so here's our effort to do that. Takes place in current continuity, following UXM #499, Divided We Stand #2, and Captain Britain and MI-13 #4. Obviously, neither the X-Men and related characters, nor the giant bullet of doom, or the Skrull Empire belong to us. We're just using them all for our own amusement, especially John the Skrull. Because he likes it.

Now, on to the story.



Chapter One: Common Causes

Pete hung up the phone and glared at the receiver, wondering just what kind of intelligence agency he was running.

He'd figured that Kitty was somehow involved when he'd gotten the reports of the giant metal thingamabob that had passed through the Earth without leaving a mark. Seemed like the kind of mess she'd take on, and the power signature was unmistakable. And yeah, he'd wondered just how she'd managed to pull that off, considering it was a damn sight bigger than anything he'd ever seen her phase before.

He couldn't believe he'd let it drop there and just let his agents keep tabs on what Earth's most brilliant heroes were doing to get her back out again. 'Course, he'd been busy with the whole Skrull invasion, but...

It was Kitty. He should've gotten to work right from the start on finding a way to save her from her predicament, especially since "bonded to the inside of a giant bullet" was a bit extreme, even for her. Granted, he'd passed on the chance to save her when he'd been given that… wish, but he'd also thought he'd left John to rot, too, and there'd been too many lives on the line to spend it on individuals. They'd saved John's green arse in the end, though, and if they could save John, he was damn well going to do the same for Kitty.

He got to his feet and made a grab for his coat, cursing as he groped for a pack of cigarettes that wasn't there. He'd known trying to quit had been a bad idea. First thing he was doing when he got to the States was buying half a dozen cartons. He was going to need them to pull this off; he always did his best thinking with people accusing him of giving them cancer, and given that Kitty had one hell of a head start on him, this was going to take every resource he could drum up.

Apparently her own spandex-wearing teammates hadn't gotten around to doing a thing about rescuing Kitty from a fate worse than outright death. That was going to change, now. Even setting his personal feelings aside, anyone could see that this was something that needed doing.

"You want me to what?"

John lifted his eyebrows incredulously as he regarded Pete behind his signature round glasses. The last of the Skrull Beatles had done a lot in the defense of Earth against his own people, but what his commander was asking of him had honestly taken him by surprise. "Dunno if I really heard you right."

Pete tilted his head forward, one finger drawing his shades down his nose so he could look John straight in the eyes. "I spoke clearly enough, mate," he said, voice firm and confident. "So can you fly it?"

That was the question. "Might take a bit to get used to her," John conceded after a few moments of silent consideration. "The last model I flew's been obsolete for two decades, like, but most of the basics are the same, so if you really need me-"

"That's settled then," Pete interrupted, apparently satisfied with the answer.

John was not to be deterred. "But the Lamprey's Crown property now," he reminded the dark-haired secret agent. The Skrull scout ship had been one of the spoils of Britain's victory in their part of the war with the shapechanging aliens, and the country's top scientists were already hard at work inspecting it and all the technology it held. "You'll never get permission to use it, especially for something like this."

Smirking slightly, Pete said, "Let me worry about that, yeah?" He slid back into the cushioned chair behind his desk and formed a steeple with his fingers. "That's sorted then," he continued. "Now we need to track down the rest o' the crew."

"Want me to round up the others, then?" John offered, glancing around the empty office. He wasn't sure where they'd all taken off to, but most likely it wasn't far…

"No," Pete told him, reaching for a clipboard and turning the top sheet over. "Not for this. I have something different in mind. Pack your things. We're off to San Francisco."

Emma Grace Frost paced the room with the sure step of a lioness on the prowl, her posture textbook-prefect and failing to betray even the slightest hint of discomfort. Yet it was pacing nonetheless, and so upon reaching her desk the former White Queen paused, brushing gloved fingers along the smooth wooden surface as if she were on the verge of casually leaning against it. "How were you able to find us, Agent Wisdom?" she said with clipped formality as she regarded the man through ice-blue eyes, face impassive.

She knew, of course. Much though she might care to dismiss the efficiency with which the world's intelligence agencies operated, she was well aware of Peter Wisdom's abilities in that regard. In fact, she was rather surprised it had taken him this long to seek her out, if only for a first hand account of the…situation.

Yes. Best to think of it as that, rather than as yet another failure on her part.

"It's called 'intelligence' for a reason," Wisdom replied around a fresh cigarette. The noxious fumes permeated the room in a foul mist and Emma's nostrils flared ever-so-slightly as she idly reached for the small, plastic desk fan located near her computer monitor. A small press of a button and it whirred to life, dispersing the smoke just enough to provide scant relief.

Expression unchanging, Emma said, "This heat can be unbearable at times, don't you agree?" She could sense Wisdom's own discomfort with the climate rising to the surface of his thoughts at that remark and allowed herself a mental smile. She herself exuded a practiced aura of perfect comfort, with not a single drop of sweat to mar her flawlessly smooth skin. Her alabaster business suit was more cover than she typically wore, yet still managed to reveal a generous amount of cleavage. The color served as a stark counterpoint to the very dark pants and tie Wisdom was wearing, his trenchcoat long since abandoned and hanging on a rack by the door. "I believe you said something about being able to save Katherine when you requested this meeting."

Wisdom smirked, just a little, and said, "You get straight to the point, don't you?" He approved, by the sound of his voice, but didn't specify either way. "Accent could use some work, though. Yeah, I've got a ship that can reach her, and a few ideas-"

"A few ideas?" Emma scoffed dismissively, suppressing the surge of hope she'd scarcely allowed herself to feel since Katherine had left them. "The top minds on Earth have been working out how to help her since before the mutant birth and have yet to arrive at a practical solution."

"Yeah, I twigged that. Figure it's time we took a turn."


Wisdom made a slight nod. "I need you. You've gone deeper in her mind than anyone."

"No," Emma said abruptly, face tightening as she cut him off from going any further. There was a hard, almost bitter edge to the word. "If it were that simple I… I would have… They're working on it." There was no denying the defeat in what she'd just said, and it disgusted her.

"Bollocks," Wisdom shot back as he stepped closer to her. "I've seen their reports. They think they know what happened to her, but you stayed with her right until the end. You felt it, and our best chance of bringing her out of it is if you're there." Removing the cigarette from his mouth, he took another step, until he was only inches away from her, eye to eye and neither willing to yield. "Besides, aren't you lot always going on about how the X-Men look after their own?"

He had a point. Emma's eyes shifted to the side and she crossed to the other side of her table, as much to consider his words as to put some distance between them. "She… changed, Wisdom," she said, the words almost coming out as a sigh as she let one hip come to rest against the desk. "It's going to take more than my mind to bring her out of it, even if we find her."

"We'll find her," Wisdom said without hesitation.

Emma's eyes narrowed cannily as they flicked back over to Wisdom. "There is someone who might be able to address the other problem, although the poor boy doesn't realize it." It was a long shot, yes, but the potential was there. She knew that, far better than anyone. Certainly far better than the boy did himself. Of all the possibilities her mind had picked at and discarded over the intervening weeks, this was the most likely to succeed, given the resources at hand.

A longshot, yes. But then, the man before her had something of a history of playing longshots that worked out. And she wasn't quite as prepared to abandon Katherine to her fate as Scott believed.

"Yeah?" Pete said, letting his interest show with a slight arch to his eyebrows. "And who's that?"

The smallest of smiles played over Emma's lips as she regarded the Englishman. "Tell me, Mr. Wisdom. Have you ever met Robert Drake?"

"You want to do what?"

Bobby's stare flipped from Emma to the surly looking Brit she'd introduced as Pete Wisdom and back again as he fought to pull his jaw up off the floor.

It wasn't as if he hadn't given any thought to the fate of Kitty Pryde. He had. A lot of it, actually, once he'd heard Scott explain just what the brains of the superhero community thought had happened. He liked Kitty, and the idea that she was flying through the galaxy, alone and bonded to a giant bullet or missile or whatever it was, made him sick to his stomach. He'd been one of the multitude of heroes on that space station hit by that magical backlash that made everyone think they stopped the bullet and saved Kitty. Waking up to find out it was all an illusion had been hard enough to take, and the explanation was a little too close to some of his own worse nightmares for comfort. It rubbed him the wrong way that everyone had all but abandoned her to her fate, especially considering that she'd just saved the world.

For all their "we look after our own" motto, it seemed to him that the X-Men didn't do a whole lot of that these days.

But this…okay, he could see Emma going along with Wisdom's plan; it took someone with all the sensitivity of Scott Summers to not realize how deeply Kitty's loss had affected her, and he prided himself as having better interpersonal skills than their Fearless Leader. And he had to admit, the Skrull ship Pete had described was probably their best chance of catching up with the bullet. What he couldn't figure out was why Emma had called him in to tell him about the plan, or why exactly she wanted him along.

Then too, he wasn't entirely sure he wanted to know. Emma's plans for him tended to have unfortunate side effects, ranging from unconsciousness to the creation of extra-pointy ice extremities. As a rule, he generally tried to avoid Emma's plans altogether.

"Told you already. We're stealing a Skrull ship from the British government, flying it after the bullet, and rescuing Kitty from the mess you gits left her in. Are you in or not?" Wisdom stubbed out his cigarette on Emma's coffee cup, ignoring the glare she shot him and instead meeting Bobby's eyes with a look that suggested he was taking his measure and wasn't impressed with the final analysis.

Considering Bobby gave himself a similar look pretty much every morning in the mirror, he was pretty much unfazed by that. He could, however, make a point of trying to prove otherwise.

"Of course he's in," Emma said coolly, her lips curling up in what passed as a smile. "Robert wouldn't dream of leaving a damsel in distress. Would you?" she asked, eyebrows raised.

It wasn't even a question, really. She was just waiting for confirmation. And as usual, she was right.

"I'm in," he heard himself saying. It was pretty much inevitable that he was going to regret whatever Emma was plotting later, but she was right. If there was a chance of getting Kitty out in one piece, he wasn't about to say no.

He paused a moment to choose from among the questions flooding his mind for which was the most likely to be answered, then grinned over at Pete.

"So, how are we going to get the Skrull ship?" he asked. "And can I fly it?"

A jet lagged Ali was not a happy or patient Ali, and the former pop star turned superhero heaved a sigh of annoyance as she stepped through the doorway and noted the absence of anyone at the desk in the outer office. Dropping her duffle in the nearest chair, she made a bee-line for the closed door leading to the inner office, following the faint sound of muffled voices from inside.

"Might want to give them a minute," an unfamiliar, accented voice warned, breaking into her thoughts and stalling her intentions. Hand pausing on the doorknob, Ali's head swiveled to the side, eyes narrowed, then suddenly widening in surprise. Was that…?

…Nah, no way.

But it definitely looked like John Lennon was sitting in the outer office, thumbing through a beat up copy of Maxim. Shapeshifter? Ghost? Clone? Alternate reality duplicate?

One too many vodka martinis on USAir?

"That so?" she asked noncommittally, reining in the initial surprise and raising an eyebrow, hand still poised on the doorknob and ready to blast…whatever or whoever this was if he did anything suspicious. Besides looking like a dead guy. It wasn't like that didn't happen a lot when you ran with this crowd. "Big meeting?"

John Lennon, looking the very picture of a Beatles cover album from the 60s come to life, pushed his stylishly retro glasses up on his nose and regarded her more or less calmly in return, shoulders lifting in a negligent shrug. "Seems so. I'm just the hired help, waiting my turn."

Right. Dead John Lennon was the new butler. It all made sense now.

The temptation to open the door and ask whoever was in this 'big meeting' if they knew the dead rock singer camped out in the outer office was even greater than it'd been to announce her presence so she could get some sleep, but Ali discarded that idea pretty fast. Mostly because that sort of question just didn't carry the surprise factor around here it would most other places.

"So, what, you're here to join up?" she asked instead, moving away from the door and perching on the edge of the desk, legs crossing smoothly and regarding him across the distance. "Those White Album royalties must really suck these days."

A snort of what sounded might've been amusement or exasperation and Not-John was shooting her a level look through those same retro glasses. "Yeah," he deadpanned and she thought she caught the hint of a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. "S'all Boko's fault." Dropping the magazine into his lap, the likeness of a dead music icon shook his head. "But don't get too attached, like. I'm back to London, once we're done in space."

That went a long way toward confirming all those National Enquirer rumors that John Lennon was an alien. Interest piqued and desire to check in and run blown out of the water, Ali made a mental note to ask him about Elvis before this was over.

"Back to the home planet for a visit, huh?" the former singer asked with good natured sarcasm and an equally good natured smile. "Business or pleasure?" John's reaction was, to say the least, not the one she'd expected. What she got for asking a question like that around here of all places.

"Business, nothing to do with the Empire, though," he stated matter of factly, leaning back in his chair and draping his arms casually along the top edge. "Right mess, that is. Wouldn't go near it these days." John Lennon was an alien? Oh, great. Seriously, she was getting too old for this and her heart couldn't take it. Maybe it wasn't too late to try to pick her career back up after all.

"Right…" Ali agreed, kind of, wondering which Empire and which mess he might be referring to but deciding it was in the best interest of her time-zone addled brain to save those questions for later. Hey, not like it was the first time she'd stumbled on random aliens hanging around the house. Probably wouldn't be the last. Live with the X-Men, learn to deal. "So that's the big meeting. Another trip to space. Looks like I'd better catch that nap, if I'm planning on getting one."

"Pete's idea," John interjected with a shrug and a nod, and Ali's head came up again, eyes snapping to his face. "Got his head set on rescuing some girl they lost a month or so back. He's in there hashing it out with the Lady in White now."

And it all clicked into place. Blue eyes slid sidelong to the still closed office door, nerves doing a jangling dance before she put a firm clamp on them. Fate had decided to play a lot of games with her lately, and looked like this was just one more. Sometimes, Fate was a real bitch.

"They're going after Kitty." It wasn't a question as she looked back toward John, finding the dead, alien, ex-Beatle, whatever, smiling back at her in a way Ali was sure had made a few thousand teeny-boppers pass out cold back in the day.

"That's the plan. Can't say I'll mind the trip so much, if there's more like you going along."

Crooked smile curving her lips, she glanced from John, over to the door, and back again. "There aren't any more like me. I'm one of a kind," she assured him, bracing her hands on the edge of the desk and settling in. Looked like that nap would have to wait. "But you can bet I'll be going along on this one."

A flash of light preceded her arrival by seconds, just enough time to allow the pair in the office to turn and look startled.

Illyana grinned, red eyes glowing ominously as hoofed feet came into contact with solid ground. With any luck the two would run, leaving her free access to the woman behind the other door. All she needed was four more souls, and of the people she'd feel least guilty about harvesting one from, Emma Frost was on the top of the list.

Pixie had been a mistake. She knew that, and felt a twinge of conscience when she realized she'd subjected the innocent teen to exactly what Belasco had done to her. Granted, she still couldn't think of anything else she might've done, but it had been wrong.

Emma, though…

"Whoa. So, are you related to Tink or something? 'Cause if you're popping by for a visit, she sat out this jaunt."

Illyana frowned as her eyes settled in on the man who'd spoken, who was looking her over as if impressed by what he was seeing. He looked familiar; not someone she knew, but someone she'd seen before. But before she could pull a name from her memory, an incredulous voice spoke up.

"Illyana? Or is this some huge Skrull reunion type thing?"

She knew that voice, and her eyes widened as she turned to look at the other woman in the room. Pink hair, now, far shorter than she'd ever seen it, but there was no mistaking the face.

"Alison?" she squeaked, forgetting for the moment that soulless demon sorceresses didn't make squeaky sounds, and that she on a mission to rectify the whole soulless part.

"Aren't you supposed to be dead?" they both said at once.

"Y'know, I get that all the time," the man said drily with a wave of his hand. "Even came close to it for real the other day. But both you birds look alive to me."

"I can't believe – just look at you!"

Before Illyana could reply to that, she found herself on the receiving end of an excited embrace. And even more surprisingly, found herself returning it.

"I thought you died in Dallas," she finally managed to blurt out.

"Yeah well, I thought you died of Legacy. It sort of evens things out, right?"

Illyana let out a soft snort of laughter. "Pretty much," she admitted, still feeling more than a little dazed. She'd known that somehow, her brother had survived the confrontation with the Adversary. But for Dazzler to be alive as well…

"What about the others?" she asked, pulling back from Ali's shoulder. "Storm, Wolverine…?"

"All alive," Ali confirmed with a nod as she moved back and hopped up on the desk she'd been leaning against. "Sorry about the whole faking our own deaths thing. It was one of those ideas that sounded good in theory, not so much in practice. Now tell me, what've you been up to? We're heading out in a few minutes to rescue Kitty from the giant bullet of doom, but we can catch up until then."

"From what?" she asked, a surge of dread crashing over her. If Kitty was gone…seeing Alison, it was hard to dismiss the feeling that her initial idea about retrieving her humanity had been the right one. She'd known how, once, and it hadn't had anything to do with the medallion, or the souls of others, just her own. But if Kitty was gone…

"Y'know, I rather liked the tail long," observed the man behind the desk, who she finally recognized as a dead ringer for one of the Beatles. "Not that it doesn't look brilliant short, I'm just saying."

Blinking, Illyana glanced over her shoulder at the tail she'd been sporting ever since her return, and smiled. Shorter by half, at least, and looking far more like the one she'd had in previous Darkchylde incarnations than the lizard-like monstrosity that had made sitting down impossible. She might just be able to pull this off after all.

"Okay, tell me what Pryde managed to get herself into this time," Illyana said as she planted herself awkwardly on the desktop beside Alison Blaire. Who, despite all evidence to the contrary, wasn't dead after all. "I swear, I die for a little while, and everything just goes to Hell."

Including her. But it was just possible there was still hope for her, too.

Pete wasn't entirely certain why Emma Frost had chosen Iceman of all people to help them with this particular mission. He knew him by reputation, of course, and as an Omega level mutant there were few, if any, limits to the sorts of things Drake could do with his powers. At least on paper. He didn't really look like much to Pete, and his powers weren't anything he would have immediately thought to look for when dealing with either Kitty's situation or the fifteen kilometer bullet she was inside. Still, the most powerful mutants who controlled metal were either depowered or lost in space at the moment, and any telekinetics worth bringing along were unavailable for similar reasons.

The way Drake was dressed wasn't exactly doing wonders for his confidence level either. The loose pants and red vest sans shirt made him look like he'd just stepped out of the Summer of Love or something. Worse, he couldn't tell if that was supposed to be his costume or the way he went about normally. It was making it pretty hard to take the idea of bringing him along seriously and damned if he could figure out what they were going to have him do once they reached Kitty.

It sounded like Emma had something specific in mind for that, though. Whatever it was, she seemed determined to keep it to herself for the moment. Given the way the two'd been trading insults back and forth, it was fairly obvious they had some kind of history together and not exactly the friendliest. As long as they were willing to put that aside when they got to work, he was willing to leave them to it. Same as he was ignoring Drake's request to pilot the ship. This wasn't some sort of joyride, and the only one Pete planned to let near the controls was John.

"Richards and Strange have been tracking the bullet since before it left the Solar System," Pete explained to the other two, reclining into the chair he'd taken. "But that stopped after the Skrulls invaded, so the last report's a bit out of date. It's been generally travelling in a straight line and at a consistent speed, however, so we have a fair idea where it should be."

Emma angled one pale brow at that remark. "Space is a very large place to be using terms like 'fair idea,' Mr. Wisdom," she stated, crossing one leg over the other.

The answering nod was slow and solemn as Pete said, "Agreed. It's only going to get worse the longer we wait, though."

"So, what are we waiting for?" Bobby asked, sounding as much curious as impatient.

"I mean – couldn't we just hash all this out on the ship? She's been gone over a month; it's probably going to take a while to catch up."

"Perhaps because we've yet to establish exactly how Mr. Wisdom plans to proceed?" Emma countered archly. "I rather think stealing the ship will be the least of our worries for this particular mission and would like to know what he intends to do once we have it."

Wisdom rolled his eyes toward the ceiling, and pulled another cigarette from his rapidly dwindling pack. Honestly, he'd thought his current team of agents had the market cornered on dysfunctionality, but he had to admit, the spandex set seemed to have the edge on the competition.

Somehow, he wasn't surprised.

"Well, if he'd just answer," Drake whined in response.

"Fine. We need to pick up the ship before we can get moving," Pete snapped as he lit his cigarette. Granted, it seemed as if he was whining specifically to annoy Frost, but it was getting on his nerves as well. "Sooner the two of you settle down, the sooner I can get things set up for that. Then…" He looked from one to the other to make sure he had their attention, "once John's gotten us past the Skrull blockade, we'll warp out there. The scout's sensors ought to be able to locate it from there." Pete shifted a bit in his seat to face Emma more directly. "That's where you come in. The bullet's still phased, so once we catch up with it we're going to phase inside the nosecone and you'll have to contact Kitty, get her to make the thing solid again so we can land."

"Whoa, time out. Time. Out." Bobby jumped in, making the universal hand signal for exactly what he'd just said. Once he was sure he had Pete and Emma's attention he continued. "I think you're forgetting something. If we go inside there, how are we supposed to get back out? I'm guessing it would be a bad idea to try to get Kitty to phase through any more of that metal once we save her. And how exactly are we getting her out anyway?" he added as almost an afterthought, his forehead furrowing. "Scott said she was probably bonded to the bullet or something."

Before Pete could make up an answer, the door suddenly swung open. As one, the room's occupants turned to see what it was, and as one their eyes each widened in surprise, Emma going so far as to gasp out loud before resuming her more typical blasé expression. In the doorway stood a young blonde with curved horns sprouting out of her head. She regarded them all with a wide, toothy smile that had a menacing, almost predatory aura about it. Behind her, Ali and John peeked over her shoulders with quiet curiosity.

"How about letting me take care of that," the new arrival said.

Pete blinked, having no idea who she was. Then he took in the horns, tail, and outfit she was wearing, figured they could only mean one thing, and gave voice to the thought before he could help it. "Bloody marvelous," he breathed, feeling a headache starting all of a sudden. "Nobody told me Tink had a sister."

Upon hearing that, Bobby's face want from slackjawed astonishment to snorting with amusement. "You call Colossus 'Tink?' Wisdom, just what were you two doing in England? And does Kitty know?"


Darkness cocooned her, cradled her in soft, black velvet. Held her like a lover; tugging, pulling her inexorably, tenaciously, back from the single, small pinpoint of light. That distant, dim flicker in the unrelieved blackness, hovering at the periphery of her consciousness.

It called to her, beckoning her with gentle, undeniable persistence.

Again and again, she stretched her fingers toward it, grasping. Reaching. Only to be pulled back down, wrapped in the dark as it reclaimed her, flowed over her like a warm, safe wave. Part of her welcomed it, wanted to let go and sink down into it. Just let it take her. It would be so easy…

But another part of her rebelled, pushed against the darkness and set its sights on that barely perceptible pinprick of brightness in the distance. Struggled and clawed her way determinedly upward, pushing toward the light. Reaching again.

Easy wasn't in her nature.

Give me strength…

Though she couldn't have said why, couldn't gather enough of the drifting, elusive wisps of her own thoughts to know, instinct gave her goal the weight of importance. Something…

There was something she needed to do, had to…

With effort, gathering the waning vestiges of her stamina, she tried again. Pushing herself past the threshold of her limits, straining and clutching and finally…finally…brushing the edges of that faint illumination. Just barely, but it was enough.

Wide brown eyes fluttered open and Kitty gasped as the pain and nausea slammed into her again, flooding and igniting every nerve ending and making her stomach roil dangerously. Familiar, but that never seemed to make that initial rush any easier to take. No matter how many times she went through the cycle – the drifting into and out of consciousness, the struggle to surface again that seemed to be getting harder and harder – it always took her by surprise, the sheer force of it.

But it would pass. It always did. Closing her eyes again, for just a few seconds, she waited until it settled down into a dull ache, a sickly but manageable churning. How long this time?

No way to know. No way to tell. The smooth, unrelieved metal walls that were her prison gave no hint, and even if they had she wasn't sure she'd have been able to see it. Her movements were severely limited by her situation, but that was something she'd tried very hard not to think too much about. What it meant, or might mean, to be so literally a part of this thing…

To still be attached to it, and alive, which she hadn't expected; her powers seemingly switched to permanent 'on' in a way that felt far too familiar. Her stomach clenched and rolled dangerously again and she closed her eyes briefly, forcing those thoughts back into their box where they belonged.

"Emma," she tried again, hopefully, her voice hoarse and hardly above a whisper. Previous attempts had already told her what to expect, but there was always a chance. And she needed the distraction, brief as it might be. "Is anyone there?"

Nothing, but then she told herself she hadn't really expected anything different. She'd known the risks when she'd made her choice. Her life, in exchange for everyone else's. In exchange for an entire planet.

Kitty could only hope it hadn't been too little, too late.

She clung to that hope with single-minded determination. It was all she really had left and she wasn't ready to give it up. That wasn't something she'd ever been in the habit of doing, either. And, regardless of the odds against her, she wasn't about to start now.

Which meant she had to keep trying.

It was going to hurt like hell. That was something Kitty already knew far too well from previous experience, but she gritted her teeth and mustered every ounce of strength and will she possessed. Each time, there seemed to be a little less to draw from, but until there was nothing, she'd make use of what she had, pouring it into one single thought:


For a second, one single bright instant, she felt the alien metal holding her captive give. Just the tiniest bit. Felt the brush of air against her cheek as she almost solidified. Pushed harder, until it felt like her veins would burst under the strain. Pulled and fought with every molecule of her being in a desperate attempt to disentangle what was her from what was it.


The span of a half a heartbeat, and she almost had it. She was almost there. Could feel the world around her go solid again.

God…help me…

Like a well run suddenly dry, her strength gave out, silent plea going unanswered. Unwilling to surrender, she fought to go on, struggling and pushing against the leaden fatigue. It was a losing battle.

Sagging limply, her eyes closed again and Kitty sank back into the dark as it rushed to reclaim her.