Chapter Nine: Looking Inward, Looking Ahead

Not for the first time since they arrived, Bobby wondered how he'd let himself get talked into going out for drinks. With Pete. To a pub Logan recommended. Most of the men looked like lumberjacks who bit through trees with their own teeth and he might have thought the women had stepped out of a cover for Lowrider magazine if they were wearing more clothes. The air was thick with smoke, coarse laughter and the flavor of cooking grease. Every time he thought about it too much he had to tamp down a wave of nausea.

Pete, unsurprisingly, looked perfectly at home.

At least the beer was good. He forgot the name of the stuff Pete had ordered for him, but he had to admit, the man had good instincts when it came to lagers. It would have been nicer to be drinking it in a place that was more like Harry's Hideaway, but Bobby supposed he couldn't have everything.

Not even credit for a job well done, apparently.

Bobby's face darkened slightly as he tuned out whatever it was Pete was talking about and focused on the glass on the table, his fingers still wrapped around the smooth, round surface while the foam from his latest sip whispered its way back down toward the bottom. Leave it to Scott to decide he hadn't considered the potential consequences of his actions when at the time, the potential consequences had been all he could think about. If Emma hadn't been around to spur him into action he probably never would have worked up the nerve to actually do it.

What made it worse, though, what he kept worrying at like a loose tooth, was the thought that Scott might have been right. Maybe something had gone wrong, and they just didn't know it yet. Pete's timely excuse had been a good way to avoid letting Hank do his doctor thing with him. Or at least to delay it. There was no real way to put it off forever where big, blue and furry was concerned. But he simply couldn't shake the nagging voice in the back of his mind telling him that he should be there, to make sure she was really okay. Especially now that he was beginning to realize that-

"You're thinking about Kitty, aren't you?"

Bobby's eyes widened slightly and he almost gave a start as his attention jolted back to what Pete was saying. He recovered quickly enough to hope Pete hadn't noticed the reaction, but if the comment meant what he thought it meant, the surly Brit had already guessed more than Bobby was comfortable with. But how? Was he being that obvious?

In a hasty attempt to look nonchalant, Bobby smoothly said, "Uh, yeah, actually – good guess. I was just making a mental note to grab that cheeseburger and onion rings I owe her before I leave. In fact, I probably ought to get her two cheeseburgers and throw in a malt while I'm at it." Bobby wasn't counting on Pete to swallow that lie, but it didn't matter. He was going to have to make good on that bet, so there was enough truth in what he'd said to claim plausible deniability. "And chili fries," he added after a quick moment's thought, nodding decisively. "May as well, since she's not going to win another one of these bets again for a long, long time. The Mets are due for a winning season."

"Sure." There was a knowing look on Pete's face as he watched him over his whiskey glass, but no trace of a smile. He took a small sip and set the glass back down, the soft clink against the wooden table seeming louder than it should have been in the noisy bar. In an instant Pete's eyes became a shade more scrutinizing as he withdrew another cigarette to replace the one he'd just expired.

"Bit o' advice about her," he said, slipping the cigarette into his mouth and leaning forward almost conspiratorially. His words, however, were as blunt as the expression he was wearing. "Give her enough time, and Kitty will forgive just about anything, but the quickest way to lose her for good is to make her feel like you've abandoned her. So don't let that happen."

"Uh. Thanks," Bobby said, shifting uncomfortably in his seat and taking a long swig from his beer. Not that he didn't appreciate the information, but that seemed like the sort of thing Pete should be saying to someone else. A big, Russian someone else, who was probably in the middle of the big touching reunion scene right now. Changing the subject suddenly seemed like a good idea. "But you didn't drag me all the way out here just to tell me that, did you?" he asked pointedly. Not the smoothest tactic, perhaps, but Bobby wasn't worried about being subtle at this point.

Pete shrugged. "Nah. We have a more serious matter to discuss."

"Oh?" Bobby asked incredulously. Everything he'd seen of Pete so far told him that outside of booze and tobacco, the only time Britain's snarkiest spy was truly serious was when lives were on the line. This he had to hear. "And what might that be?"

In a deceptively casual voice, but one which carried no irony, Pete said, "Thought I'd offer you a job. Seems I've managed to pick up a new secretary while I wasn't looking, so I figured as long as I was hiring on, MI-13 could use a new agent, too."

Bobby's jaw dropped as he stared at the man across him as if he'd just sprouted a second head. Blinking the surprise away, he wondered for a moment if he'd heard Pete correctly or if the beer had already fuzzed his mind more than he expected. Before he could stop himself, he blurted the first question that came to him.

"Why?"

After the way Scott had jumped right into lecture mode before they'd barely stepped off the ramp, Bobby wasn't expecting to have Pete, of all people, trying to recruit him barely an hour later. He figured his gut response should have tilted toward suspicion, but for some reason curiosity had won out instead.

Pete seemed to mull that over for a second, hint of a smirk suggesting that he was enjoying Bobby's momentary confusion. "Not that long ago we had some dodgy alternate dimension versions o' you and the other founding X-Men running around and causing trouble." Bobby's eyebrows made a sudden climb for the ceiling at that little nugget. An evil team of X-Men wasn't all that new, he had to admit, but there weren't that many than included 'him' in their ranks. Before he could ask the questions that leapt to mind, Pete gave his head a quick shake. "Something to do with the Shadow King, but we took care of it. They switched sides after that and helped us deal with a man called Albion who was trying to take England back to the Dark Ages."

Despite himself, Bobby found himself leaning forward with interest as Pete paused to take a drag from his cigarette. "I spent most of that working with your double," Pete continued. "He did some impressive things, and I wouldn't mind talent like that on my team. Besides," he added with smug look, plucking his glass back up and waving it slightly toward him. "I know you've already gotten your feet wet, 'Drake Roberts.' Nice work breaking into Creed's presidential campaign, by the way."

Wincing slightly at the mention of his one-time alias, Bobby rolled his eyes and said, "Sam has a big mouth."

"That he does," Pete agreed.

"Okay, not the best fake name ever, but at least I never wore an eye patch and told people to call me 'Professor W'."

That got a good-natured chuckle from Pete, who shook his head with bemusement. "Guthrie again?"

"Who else?" Bobby confirmed. "He still wants to punch you in the mouth for faking your death, by the way."

Pete didn't appear concerned as he tilted his head back and finished off his glass "He'1l have to take a number." The dark haired man signaled to their waitress for another as he set his glass back down and then turned his eyes back on Bobby. "So how about it, then? Feel like signing on?"

"You really are serious," Bobby said, giving Pete a scrutinizing look. He didn't really need an answer, and Pete remained patiently silent as he awaited a response to his question. Suddenly Bobby found himself giving the idea some real thought, and he almost hated to admit it, but the idea did have some appeal to it. "Well, I'll need to think about that for a bit," Bobby said offhandedly, a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. "It would mean having you for a boss, after all."

"Heh. Don't take too long," Pete advised. "I'm taking the Deliverance back tomorrow. Reunions really aren't my thing. They give me indigestion."

Somehow that didn't surprise Bobby in the slightest. He drained his pint glass just in time for the waitress to come by the table with Pete's next whiskey and nodded when she asked if he wanted a new glass as well. As soon as she was gone, Bobby looked over at Pete and let his smile become wider and undeniably self-indulgent.

"Well, since you put it that way," he said, folding his hands over each other, "Can I ask what your accounting department is like?"

* * * * * * *

John gave his mental clock a quick check and pressed the button to activate the cockpit viewscreen. As he'd expected, the hangar outside was empty. By now the reunion had either dispersed or found its way to a more amiable location. Possibly a little of both. That suited him just fine. No need to hurry; they'd be along soon enough, he supposed. The question would be how many Pete brought with him.

He hadn't been so distracted during the flight back to miss that look on Pete's face, and he'd known the man long enough to tell when he was planning a bit of recruitment. Despite his abrasive personality, Pete could be a tough one to say 'no' to when he was being sincere, so odds are there'd be at least one extra joining them on the return to England.

No chance it'd be Frost. That much, at least, he knew for certain. He wouldn't mind seeing more of Illyana. Nothing serious, of course, but it was always nice to have a pretty girl around to flirt with. Or more than flirt when the mood was right. On that matter, it seemed Pete was getting on rather nicely with Dazzler, now. He'd noticed something going on between them right from the start, but then, he was fairly certain everyone had noticed it. The tension, the meaningful looks whenever they thought the other was busy, the quick changing of subjects and uncomfortable silences. It was a wonder Frost hadn't said anything just to tweak them for her own amusement. He couldn't wait to see how Tink felt about the whole thing. Hopefully there'd be popcorn handy when she got the news.

Of them all, Bobby seemed the most likely. Pete had been giving him more grief than anyone and the lad had done his job anyway. That was a sure way to win Pete's respect, and it didn't seem like the X-Men were giving him much of that, lately, so it'd be a novel change for the lad. It'd be quite a coup on Pete's part to steal away with one of their founding members. Whether he could pull it off or not was another matter, especially since Bobby quite obviously fancied Kitty. He might decline an offer to jump ship and move clear across the pond just on account of that alone. Then again, he might agree for the same reason, seeing as she already has a boyfriend, and he might prefer not to be reminded of that.

"Well, girl, I suppose it's time I made that call to get you back home, yeah?" John said, giving his seat an affectionate pat. The ship had been a nice bit of nostalgia, even if it was a much newer model than the last one he'd piloted, but it was another part of his former life he was going to have to put behind him forever. The Skrull invasion had made that point all too well for him. They'd killed him, called him a traitor, and John, Paul and George were dead. He hardly felt like a Skrull anymore. The fact that he could even exist in Britain when every other of his people were magically killed thanks to Pete's wish only served to reinforce that sentiment.

John switched the viewscreen to communications mode and it wasn't long before Alistaire Stuart appeared, expression stern but otherwise unreadable.

"Where is he?" Alistaire said. "Where is that chain-smoking sod? Out drinking himself senseless, I expect."

"Who, Pete? He stepped out for a moment, Al. Can I call you Al?" John would need to apologize to Paul, rest his soul, for that one, but it was too much to resist.

"I'd really rather you didn't."

"Well, I just figured as we've probably been sacked, there was no need to be formal."

Alistaire quirked an eyebrow and seemed to bore his gaze right through John. "Sacked? What a curious notion. Right now the two of you are looking at a lifetime behind bars. Keeping your jobs should be the least of your worries."

"Oh, I dunno." John shrugged. "We've just come back from putting our lives in danger, and I've already died. Twice if you think about. Prison would be practically a holiday by comparison." Reclining into his seat, John kicked his feet up, resting them on the ship's control panel. "Besides, I was just calling to let you know we're ready to return the Deliverance, now that we're done with her."

"The Deliverance?"

"We decided to rename her, like," John said. "Seemed a bit more fitting wouldn't you say?"

Alistaire folded his arms together and pressed his lips into thin lines. For a moment John expected him to say something menacing. "Did you find her?" was what he eventually asked instead. He spoke cautiously, visibly bracing himself for any possible answer.

"Yeah. Yeah, we did," John told him. It was nice to say the words out loud, even if he hardly knew the girl. "She's going to be fine."

The relief on Alistaire's face was obvious. "Thank God," he said, heaving a long sigh. "You've no idea how glad I am to hear that."

John cleared his throat. "Well, seeing as that's the case, I don't suppose you'd be willing to put in a good word for us when we get back, would you?"

A knowing smile slowly grew across Alistaire's face. "Thought you said you weren't worried about the consequences of stealing that ship."

"Sure sure," John said, waving his hand dismissively. "It would be nice to have a job when we get back, all the same."

"Oh, I doubt that will be a problem. Between rescuing Kitty and finding new allies to help fight off the invading Skrulls, I believe you can both expect plenty of work to be waiting for you when you get back. Welcome home, John."

"Thanks, mate. It's good to be home."

And it was.

* * * * * * *

Pete finished his latest glass of whiskey and glanced over at the clock mounted on the wall just beyond the pool tables. It was getting late, and the question on his mind at that point was whether it was late enough. It hadn't been long before Drake finally excused himself to deliver those cheeseburgers and all to Kitty, leaving Pete alone with his drink and his thoughts, which suited him fine.

He had plenty to do with both.

Just a little longer, he decided, and he'd head back. There was still a spaceship to get out of the X-Men's hangar, after all. He'd been honest enough when he told Drake that he preferred to avoid all the excitement and attention that was surrounding Kitty and Illyana's return. If that had been all there was to it, though, he could have just as easily left with Drake and then taken off for England before anyone else could so much as wave good-bye. Even swinging by to bid farewell to Kitty wouldn't take that long, and he knew better than to try to leave without doing at least that much.

Trouble was, he had one good reason to linger a bit that was at least as compelling all his reasons for leaving, and he still hadn't quite decided how he felt about that. Drake hadn't fooled him for a second with his attempt to obfuscate the way he was thinking about Kitty. He knew the look too well, especially at the moment, with a certain other lady refusing to leave his own thoughts.

As he waited for ask for his next drink he heard the jukebox grind to life, playing a lively Talking Heads song. Without even thinking about it, Pete's fingers began to drum softly against the table in time with the music.

"Well this is a surprise."

Pete looked up at the sound of the familiar voice to see Ali standing at the other side of his table, as if his thoughts had somehow summoned her. Fingers still tapping, he smirked around his cigarette a little and said, "I'm sure Wolverine mentioned you could find me here."

There was a twinkle in Ali's eyes as she affected an innocent look. "Oh, I just never figured you for a Talking Heads fan," she told him with a smile and inclined toward his fingers, which he stilled the moment he realized what they were doing. "They're one of my favorite bands," Ali continued. "Finding you here? Total coincidence, really." She waved her hand dismissively as if the very idea was absurd. Pete didn't believe that for a second. But then, he figured she probably didn't intend him to. "I just got thirsty after telling Kurt about what we did." Sighing dramatically, she added, "He wanted to know everything."

Expression both amused and dubious, Pete looked her up and down, noting that she'd taken the time to have a wash and change of clothes first. Compared to everyone else in the dive they were in, she looked horribly out of place, but an ex-starlet like her enjoyed standing out from what he'd seen. Not that he was complaining. The jewel-toned blue dress with spaghetti straps and a skirt that cut off at the knees she was wearing displayed her figure rather nicely and Pete had a bit of trouble convincing his eyes to lift back up to hers. Any longer and he'd have been leering at her outright. Blaming that on the whiskey for the moment, Pete said, "Sounds like him, all right."

"He wasn't the only one, either," Ali informed him with a smile. "Is there anybody sitting here?" She didn't wait for an answer, and slid into the seat before she'd even finished asking. "There's going to be a line of people waiting to shake your hand when you get back to the base, you know."

Pete made a slight face. He'd been afraid of that. "Nothing to make a fuss over," he said with a shrug. "Needed doing, that's all." Tilting his head to the side a bit, he added, "Besides, it wouldn't have even worked if you and the others hadn't come along." Every one of them, in fact. Even the flying rat had played a role in helping them rescue Kitty, although he didn't think that needed mentioning out loud.

Just then the waitress breezed her way up to the table, pausing long enough to ask, "Can I get your friend something while I'm bringing you another glass, hon?"

Ali tilted her head back slightly to look at the woman, and after pausing to think for a moment, said, "I'd like a Long Slow Comfortable Screw Against the Wall, thanks." Midway through the order, Pete noticed her giving him a sidelong look before her eyes slid back toward the waitress.

"I'll have that out to you in a moment," the curly redhead serving them said before smoothly taking Pete's empty glass and vanishing back into the surrounding throng.

Pete's brows had inched up more than a little by the time Ali turned back toward him, but there was a slight gleam in his eyes as he stubbed out his cigarette. "Interesting choice of drinks, there."

"I like to make all my choices interesting ones," Ali replied, propping her chin on one hand as her other traced a finger along the wooden surface of the table. That got a slight chuckle out of Pete, who was sure she never had trouble making good on that goal. "Any suggestions on what to follow it up with?"

Pete pretended to think on that for a moment before saying, "Well I'm no mixologist, but you might be interested in Between the Sheets, or Sex on the Beach if you prefer." He watched Ali's smile grow with the mention of each drink and found himself leaning forward as he continued. "But whichever you choose, I recommend finishing the night with a Shuddering Orgasm."

Ali made an interested sound, almost a purr, and grinned outright at him. "It would be a shame to miss out on that last one," she agreed. "I like the way you think."

"Good to know," Pete answered. He was enjoying the direction her mind was going himself. Then, after a slight pause, he decided he may as well go ahead with what he'd been thinking earlier. Trying to look casual, he said, "That offer to help you pick out a set of traveling leathers is still open, you know."

Assuming she'd kept the motorcycle. He hadn't asked for it back after what had happened. It had been a gift of Her Majesty's Government, for one thing, even if he had been the one who picked it out, knowing she'd love it. He wouldn't have said a word even if he'd gotten it for her himself, though.

If the proposal caught Ali off guard, she made no sign. Although there might have been something close to hesitation before she said, "Sounds good to me. How about looking around Harrods? They might have something. Maybe a Roberto Cavalli I'd like."

That sounded suspiciously like she'd given the matter some thought ahead of time in Pete's opinion. He didn't even know if a place like Harrods even carried proper leather jackets for that, much less something she'd like. Her response, however, gave him the opening he needed to actually voice the concern that had been at the center of his mind since before their ship have even touched ground.

"So are we going to give this another try, then?"

Ali snorted slightly, smile twisting into a smirk. "I kinda thought we settled that back on the ship," she replied.

"Suppose we did," the dark haired spy conceded. A second later he shook his head bemusedly. "The things me sister would say if she met you," he breathed. He was still sure she'd faked her death the way he had his own back when he was playing mentor to X-Force. And evil or not, Romany had never hesitated to offer her opinion on his girlfriends, usually when he didn't want to hear it.

The comment got a soft laugh from Ali. "You never told me you had a sister, Pete," she said, eyes sparkling again.

Pete's face darkened and a hint of regret entered his voice as he said, "I never told you a lot of things about me."

That seemed to bring her up short for a moment, and a silence hung between them until their waitress came back around with their drinks. Ali's slender fingers curled around her glass, but she didn't move to take a drink. Finally, she lifted her eyes back up to him and let a wry grin form on her lips. "I guess I've been sort of guilty of the same thing," she said, a bit more seriously than before. She lifted her drink to her lips and took a long sip from it, eyes never leaving his, before setting it back down and adding, "I owe you an explanation, Pete. About Longshot."

Pete tried unsuccessfully to make his face impassive. "No need for that. He's your long lost husband, yeah? Only natural you should go back to him." It wasn't as if he hadn't seen that sort of thing before, after all. He'd told himself at the time that it was just a good thing it happened before he'd gotten too attached, but after everything that had just happened, he had to wonder if he was a bit further along with that than he'd expected.

Ali sighed, the sound somewhere between resignation and exasperation. "If only it were that simple," she said, a wistful smile briefly playing at her lips. A second later she was all serious and conflicted again. Almost pensive. He remembered seeing the same sort of look on her when they first arrived at the Exiles' Crystal Palace, and it didn't seem any more right for her now as it did then. "I'm not sure how to say this. I've never really talked about it with anyone."

There was a lingering pause, and Pete found himself focusing on her, all his attention hanging on what she was about to say. "We were…expecting," she finally said in a quiet voice. The past tense in there, and all that it implied, wasn't lost on Pete. "Afterward, we tried to work things out, but there was always some crisis getting in the way." Ali made a slightly disgusted noise. "Great, now I'm starting to sound like Scott."

"Not hardly," Pete assured her. "He honestly thinks he hadn't done anything wrong by putting things off." Summers had made that abundantly clear by his reaction to Drake and Kitty's outbursts back in the hangar.

That got a slight quiet chuckle from Ali. "Good point. At first, most of it kept me with Longshot, so it was easy to tell myself I'd have a chance to deal with stuff later. But things with us were never all that stable, you know," Ali told him, blue eyes flicking toward the table briefly before rising back up to him, a glimmer of their usual sparkle starting to return. "Memory loss on both sides has been sort of a running theme, for one. And just when things were starting to seem like we had it all settled, he was gone. I thought he'd died, in fact. So when I saw him with TJ's friends…I guess it was harder to let go than I expected."

"I can relate," Pete said slowly, chewing the words over. He wasn't exactly proud of the way he'd acted around Kitty after the two of them had broken up either, and was glad to be past that. He valued her friendship too much to let something like that drive a wedge between them.

Ali shrugged noncommittally. "We just couldn't make it work anymore, though," she sighed. "Just one of those things, right?" Another sigh, wistful this time, and she picked up her drink for another sip. "And so now, here we are."

"Here we are," Pete echoed, motioning his own glass toward hers is a casual salute. It wasn't exactly what he'd expected, but made about as much sense as anything else he'd come to accept as the norm since falling in with the spandex brigade.

After they'd both taken a drink Ali braced her forehead against the back of one hand and gave it a slight shake, chuckling softly. Letting her hand drop, she met Pete's eyes again and in a semi-serious voice asked, "So what do you think? Feel like seeing if we can have that happy ending?"

Now it was Pete's turn to smile a little. "Funny thing about endings," he said, bright blue eyes looking directly into hers. "They end. I say we worry about that later and focus on all the interesting stuff that goes on before the happy ending."

"Oh?" Ali said, perking up and letting her smile regain the wicked edge from before. "And what exactly are you interested in, Pete?"

"Thought we settled that back on the ship," he replied, mirroring her smile.

Ali beamed at him, her entire face seeming to light up with her smile, and for just a moment Pete felt his breath catch in his throat as he gazed at her.

"Good answer," she said.

Mail Deliverance

Melodyrider here, back on the letters page again with our responses to more of your fantastic feedback. We've all enjoyed hearing from you and finding out what you thought of Chapter 8. And now, on to the mail!

Arashihawk

Excellent story. I like how you resolved the plot thread that Marvel has left hanging there. More Kitty is always good. Your characterizations of everyone was excellent. Looking forward to more of your work.

Thank you! More Kitty is definitely always good, and we couldn't leave that particular plot thread hanging for precisely that reason.

Scipio the Elder

For some reason I didn't get around to reading this until now. I shouldn't have waited! Great job on their homecoming. Your writing reminds me of Whedon's style, which is pretty high praise coming from me. Keep up the great work and PLEASE update soon!

Thank you very much, Scipio! We had a great time with the homecoming and letting all the characters cut loose on each other. A little controlled chaos can always provide fun and a few surprises.

timkhj

Great reunion here, nice seeing the interaction between the entire assembled ensemble. Great Scott-ness with perfect comments by the rest about his, well, Scott-ness. (I can't really explain that better - sorry). And the Pete/Bobby discussion could be interesting lol. As pd mentioned, this IS how a rescue should have been done! Hope you manage to continue with as much of the cast as possible :)

Thanks, timkhj! Scott means well, but sometimes he just can't help himself, and the others know him too well to resist catching him in the act. Bobby was definitely surprised by what Pete had to say, but it looks like he's intrigued, doesn't it? "Heir of the Dog" sort of spills the beans on where the cast goes from here, but we're close to the end of Deliverance, so we figured there was no harm in a little preview.

Delora2047

That was a funny chapter. I liked that Illyana got the job as Pete's secretary, and Pete and Emma each musing whether the other one has a soul is just hilarious.

Thank you, Delora! Pete's keeps insisting that he's not so sure he likes that Illyana's his new secretary, but he's been outvoted, and nobody listens to what he says about stuff like that anyway. He and Emma might have to make sure they don't spend too much time together. The combined snark might cause the universe to crack, and we can't have that, can we?

Harry2

Ahh. Reading some GOOD fan fiction like this puts me in the state of mind to do writing of my own. And I musn't forget drinks for some of the cast of this tale! For Logan, a six pack of his favorite brew. For Pete, a six pack of good English ale. For Emma, a case of good white wine. For Kitty, a six pack of her favorite soda. For Drake, cold beer. And more activities for this group! I want to see MORE!

What about Ali? She's feeling left out, now! It's okay, though. Throw in a glass of champagne and we're sure she'll forgive you.

And since "Heir of the Dog" was a one-shot side story, we figured we'd throw in the feedback we got for it as well, so we can respond to it too.

Ducky'sgirl4ever

A great story. Very good.

Thank you!

Tenderfoot

LOL! Very funny. :)

Glad you liked it, Tenderfoot!

timkhj

Ah-hahahaha! When i saw the note mentioning both Marvel and Disney, i was scared. I had NO idea how that would even begin to work together. Instead, it was a GREAT mix. Very Entertaining One-Shot! Thanks!

Heh, sorry for scaring you, timkhj! It's definitely an odd combo, isn't it, but the idea of twisting that movie into the secret story of Pete's problem with dragons was too fun to resist!

Thanks again for the feedback, everyone. We love to hear what you think and look forward to whatever you have to say about our next chapter. Stay tuned for Chapter 10!

- Melodyrider, Sue, and Oldprydefan.