Issue #44

AN: It's finally here! X-men Supreme Volume 3: Ashes of Hope has arrived! This is the third volume in my ongoing X-men Supreme series, also known as Marvel Universe 1015. This series has come a long way through two full volumes, two Supreme Reflection specials, and a giant sized one-shot. There is still plenty more to come, but where the first two volumes had singular defined conflicts this new volume promises to reveal new threats. The world was thrown into chaos by Magneto at the end of X-men Supreme Volume 2: War Powers. He set up a new mutant state on Genosha with himself as dictator. He nearly destroyed the world, causing massive disruptions through governments all over the world. It's a much more dangerous place for mutants now and Volume 3: Ashes of Hope promises to tell the story of that struggle.

Disclaimer: I don't own X-men or any of the characters. Marvel and Disney own them. This is pure fan work that fits within the Fair Use clause. Please don't sue.

'These mean thoughts or psychic communication.'

As always, I urge everyone to take the time to leave review! Volumes 1 and 2 had great feedback and I thank all those who have taken the time to review every issue. But this volume will be much bigger than those first two so it's more important than ever to provide feedback. Volume 3 will expand X-men Supreme to levels that go beyond anything I've done thus far so it's important to know that I'm doing something right. The reviews for Volume 2 exceeded Volume 1. I would like that trend to continue with Volume 3. I really do want to know what you think so I can make it as awesome as possible! Please send your reviews to me via email, post it on the fanfiction website, or post it on my X-men Supreme website. The link is on my profile. Either way is fine as long as you review! Now without further adieu, I give you X-men Supreme Volume 3: Ashes of Hope. Excelsior!

Born with extraordinary powers, Professor Charles Xavier and his X-men fight for peace and understanding in a world that hates and fears them. Their struggle has led them through a number of great challenges, some of which have left a worldwide impact. Part of Xavier's dream was to set an example for other mutants to follow. Lately, however, it seems as though their main concern has been to keep human/mutant relations from falling apart entirely.

Not long ago, Xavier's old friend and the X-men's arch nemesis, Magneto, forever changed the nature of the human/mutant conflict. Using a machine created by a mutant named forge, Magneto held the world hostage by directing a killer asteroid onto a collision course with Earth. He planned on using it to utterly wipe out humanity's dominance, but the X-men stopped him and prevented a global cataclysm. In the months that followed, the world is still recovering from the aftermath.

Magneto's ploy put a major strain on human/mutant relations. In order to prevent an all out war, Charles Xavier helped convince Magneto and the governments of the world to make a compromise. Magneto was pardoned and allowed to start a new mutant nation on the island of Genosha, but only under the stricter supervision from international forces. Since then a fragile peace has been maintained. However, the impact of Magneto's hostile actions has caused ripples of uncertainty throughout society. The burden is now on the X-men and countless other mutants to adapt to this new world.

Xavier Institute – Charles Xavier's Office

It has often been said that all worthwhile struggles face great setbacks. Every movement in the history of mankind hit snags along the way. Some had to take a few steps back in order to make great leaps forward. But one would be hard pressed to find any struggle comparable to the one mutants faced in wake of Magneto's asteroid ploy.

Professor Charles Xavier sat hunched over his desk, gazing over various newspaper articles. The past few months there had been few positive news stories to take note of. The headlines today read as disheartening as they were in the weeks that followed Magneto's plot. Tags that dominated each paper included "Mutation Made Criminal in Six Middle Eastern Countries" and "Four European Countries Adopt Mutant Restriction Laws" and "Mutant Communities Lash Out Against Protesters in Los Angeles." Public sentiment was clearly working against them. Charles Xavier always prided himself at being optimistic for the future, but times like this reminded him of just how hard it was.

Sighing to himself, Professor Xavier set aside the newspapers and turned to his computer. Having had enough news intake for one day, he started typing in his journal.

This is Professor Charles Xavier with journal entry 1015. It has been three-and-a-half months since the asteroid incident. The world it seems is trying hard to get back to some level of normalcy. Massive rebuilding efforts have kept much of the world occupied in wake of the riots and looting. Now that business is resuming, government all of the world and citizens of every nation are turning their attention to the human/mutant conflict. It is a conflict that appears to be spinning out of control with each passing day.

On Genosha, Magneto has been working tirelessly to build his new society from the ground up. Despite international pressures, his country is isolated. He does not allow any trade with humans. His citizens are not allowed to directly help the human order in any ways. Yet he has great support among his people. Using mutants with various powers, he has rebuilt the cities of the island into modern wonders. He's also used those same powers to create enough food, water, and resources for his people to live quite comfortably. His ability to lead has created a very strong knit, but untrusting society. So far those such as Wanda and Lorna have kept him from being too belligerent, but the same cannot be said for the human side.

In wake of the President's decision to pardon Magneto, much of the officials that helped me foster peace on Genosha after the uprising have lost their power. In countries throughout Europe, Asia, and South America old political structures face widespread resentment and new parties are gaining power using anti-mutant rhetoric. For the most part, they seem to be largely for show. I suspect many of these political movements are merely using mutants as an excuse to get into power. One however, appears more sincere than all the others.

Professor Xavier stopped typing briefly and mused silently for a moment. He found himself accessing the internet briefly and bringing up a specific youtube video that had been circulating widely for the past couple of weeks. It was a clip from one of the major presidential primaries that was going on. Despite the chaos unsighted by Magneto, the upcoming presidential election drama never stopped. One man in particular was responsible for it.

On the video the image of Senator Robert Kelly came up, who was standing at a podium amidst a sold out crowd at a local football stadium. He was nearing the end of a speech that spanned nearly an hour. But it was the end that had truly captured the attention of the country and the world.

I understand these past few months have been difficult for all of you. The United States and the world at large is reeling from those darkest of days where we were all at the mercy of a madman. Yet in that short time humanity has come together to rebuild. We are shaking off our old prejudices about our fellow human and standing by one another as we face a much greater challenge.

Charles Xavier watched as the crowds cheered anti-mutant slogans in the background. Senator Kelly remained poised and confident, further strengthened by their sentiment. It showed in his eyes as he drove his point home.

Make no mistake. The mutants of this world have been given a free pass for too long! It is our own apathy that has allowed mutants like Magneto to threaten us all! The current administration has turned a blind eye to it. They have shown repeatedly they do not have the courage or the will to do what needs to be done! That is why I propose, as your future president, that all mutants be registered and monitored for their safety and our own. This is not merely an issue of security. This is an issue of survival! We must ban together as a country, as a world, and as a species to protect ourselves! So with great humility and the utmost thanks, I accept this nomination for president of the United States of America. God bless this great country and god bless our fellow man. Together, we can succeed!

A fury of cheers erupted in the video. There were as many anti-mutant signs as there were political banners. Charles watched as Senator Kelly stood at the podium with his wife and children, smiling and waving at the hoards of eager supporters cheering him on. To many it was a sign of hope. To others it offered plenty of reasons to dread. If this was a sign of things to come, his institute and his X-men were going to be more important than ever.

Turning back to his computer, Charles Xavier continued typing in his journal.

During my dealings with the government, Senator Robert Kelly was always an outspoken critic of mutants. He sees not just Magneto as a threat. He sees all mutants as a threat. Before the asteroid he was a typical moral crusader. After the asteroid he is the voice of the people. Polls show public support to be enormous. His competitors seem hopelessly outmatched. In all likelihood, he will be the next President of the United States. If that happens, our struggle will become far more difficult.

I have already begun preparing my X-men for these growing challenges. I have shifted combat training from dealing with renegade mutants towards dealing with unruly anti-mutant protesters. It seems increasingly likely that they will constitute more of our struggles in the future. I have also used the institute website as a front for promoting counterpoints to those brought up by Senator Kelly. Hank and I are working on getting more traffic to it. Our main concern is to make sure Kelly supporters and other anti-mutant groups don't turn their crusade into a moral dogma that will consume society.

As for my students themselves, I have given them all some time off to help cope with these growing issues. They have been working so hard in helping Genosha and other major cities recover from the damage done by Magneto. John Proudstar and his associates at White Cell have been a big help as well. But I fear the stress may be getting to them. It's been getting to me as well.

My health has not been the greatest since the Genosha uprising. The asteroid only made it worse. But now that the government is shutting me out, I have had more time to focus on my students and my school. I sincerely hope I can be strong enough for them through the coming challenges.

Jersey City, New Jersey – Pat's Pizzeria

Jean Grey always had mixed feelings about visiting her hometown. In the years since she joined the institute, she avoided going home every chance she got. If it weren't for the coaxing of the Professor, her friends, and Scott she never would have walked these streets again. For the young psychic, she would rather face down a hundred anti-mutant protesters and a hundred more killer sentinels than face what lay before her.

She lingered outside the small restaurant, Pat's Pizzeria. Years ago it had been her favorite restaurant. This place always made the best pasta. But all the delicious pasta in the world couldn't make what lay inside any more bearable. Despite her aversion, she sucked it up and entered the restaurant. The sooner she got this over with the sooner she could get back to her real home.

The restaurant was pretty busy. It was around dinner hours and plenty of tables were occupied. One in particular was occupied in a corner near the back of the restaurant. There sat a lone older man dressed in old flannel facing her direction. It was a man Jean promptly recognized for all the wrong reasons. With plenty of reservations and resentment, she made her way over to him where she quickly drew his attention.

"Jean…you actually came," he said in a distant but surprised tone.

"Hello Father," greeted Jean in a flat tone, "Don't get too excited. I don't plan on staying for desert."

"In that case we better make this dinner a good one. I already ordered you some pasta. Clams and linguine are still your favorite, right?"

"I'm surprised you have enough brain cells left to remember, but yeah. It's still my favorite."

"Glad to see some things haven't changed," he said with a weak smile, "Please, sit down. Talk to me."

Jean hesitated. Just being close to this man brought out many mixed emotions. But she promised herself she would try to be mature. Like it or not, this man was her father. No matter how much she hated him, she had to deal with it.

As she sat down, John Grey took this moment in. It had been a lifetime since he sat down with his daughter. Jean had grown so much. She was practically a grown woman. It hurt in many ways because he hadn't been there to see her grow. He had to watch from afar while she became a X-man, using her powers to help people. It was a terrible burden for which he had no one to blame but himself.

"You look great, Jean," said John sincerely, "I can't believe how much you've grown."

"Thanks. You actually look decent as well," conceded Jean, "You shaved the beard, you got a haircut, and your clothes don't reek of whiskey and booze."

"And there's a good reason for that. Today marks my 14th month of sobriety."

"14 months huh? I want to say I'm proud of you. But I'd rather not jinx it. I have a history of being disappointed."

"And I have a history of broken promises, I know. But let's just say I have much more incentive this time. A few months ago I went to the doctor and he said my liver is on the verge of completely failing on me. I fall off the wagon this time and I might not last long enough to get back on."

"Are you hoping to gain my sympathy?" asked Jean dryly.

"Would you blame me for trying?" he said in a desperate tone.

Jean's scorn was still harsh, but it waned somewhat. With all his years of drinking and sulking, he was finally paying the price for it. It was a little late for her, but it was fitting. It forced her father to stand on his own two feet, something he never did well.

She looked away briefly, her apprehensive gaze shifting to one of sorrow. Jean didn't want to show sympathy for this man. After everything she endured with him she couldn't help but feel some compassion for him. That didn't make the pain he caused any easier.

"I'm sorry, Dad. I just can't be as compassionate as I should," said Jean.

"Why not?" he asked anxiously.

"Because I hate you," she said bluntly, "Do the words mental asylum, shock therapy, and drunken neglect mean anything to you?"

"Please Jean, I don't need to be reminded," her father groaned.

"I think you do! Because it still affects me even after all these years! I have nightmares about it at least once a week! In them I'm still locked in that padded cell! Crying my heart out begging for you or anybody to help me! Other times I'm strapped to that table again where those heartless doctors shocked me every time I say I hear a voice!"

Jean was getting emotional, tears forming in her eyes as she recalled these difficult feelings. Her father sat there distantly, his head hung low with sorrow and guilt. He should be feeling guilty though. It was his fault she endured such horrors.

"It still hurts," said Jean in a calmer tone, "Even though I have friends who care about me and a Professor who has helped me gain control of my life, it really hurts! No matter what I do I can never forget about it."

"I wish there was a way you could. Believe me, if I had some mutant power to make it all magically go away, I would."

"Don't pretend you didn't have your chances, Dad," said Jean bitterly, "We both know you had any number of opportunities to make it a little easier for me, mom, and the rest of the family. But it required you to actually work and make sacrifices."

"I did make sacrifices!" he argued, "But it was hard! Your mother was paralyzed and in chronic pain. Your sister was dead. I was lost! I didn't know what to do!"

"Yes you did," said Jean in a low tone, "You could have stepped up, swallowed your grief, and stood by us while we suffered. But you didn't. You just grabbed the nearest bottle of liquor and escaped into your own world."

They were harsh words from his daughter. They made John Grey cringe. But it wasn't because they were spiteful. It was because they were true. The cold hard reality was he didn't face reality. His family needed him to be strong and he failed them on every level.

Upon seeing the hurt on his face, Jean shifted somewhat. She tried not to be so apprehensive. Her father deserved to feel guilty, but she wasn't going to stoop to his level and find new ways of hurting him. She was content to let the truth suffice.

"To be fair, mom lost hope before either of us. Up until she died, she gave up being a wife and a mother. I don't know if that was because of the chronic pain or if she just didn't feel strong enough. Both tend to be a defining trait of the Grey family."

"So it seems," sighed John, "At least your mother had an excuse to be hopeless. I didn't. I saw the people I love suffering. I should've done the right thing, but I did the easy thing instead and got drunk. Even your cousin was more ambitious than me."

"Don't bring Madelyn into the conversation. We don't need to revisit that train wreck," muttered Jean.

"Guess that's one thing we can agree on."

There was another silence between them. Jean was still not looking her father in the eye, choosing instead to stare down at her hands. John never tore his eyes away from her. There was so much strife between them. In a desperate gesture, John reached across the table and took his daughter's hands in his.

"Please Jean, don't keep shutting me out. I know I've said it before and I'll say it as long as I have to. But I'm sorry. I'm sorry for all the pain I caused you."

"I know you are, Dad," said Jean distantly, "But no amount of apologizing can ever make the pain go away."

"I understand that. And I know you hate me for it. You already have someone in Charles Xavier who could love you every bit as much as a father could. You have friends who will be there for you more than I ever well. And even if all it pulls you further away from me, I still accept it. But what I can't accept is living the rest of my days without your forgiveness. I can't call myself a worthwhile human being otherwise."

He then squeezed her hands harder in a show of true desperation.

"Please Jean…I need you to forgive me."

Jean finally looked her father in the eye again. There was so much yearning in his eyes. It was as if he was begging her at this point. Like her, this man endured his share of pain. He suffered from that car crash that fateful night just like the rest of the family. She could sense in him the overwhelming guilt. She knew how sincere he was being.

But despite this understanding, she couldn't escape her own pain. Sincerity or not, her father got off easy. He didn't have to endure mutant powers on top of his grief. He didn't have to endure the nightmares of the asylum that still haunted her. He was able to numb the pain with alcohol. As compassionate a person as she was, this was too deeply personal for her to look around.

She was about to answer when the restaurant manager walked up to her table and gazed down at her with a harsh glare.

"Excuse me, young lady, but I'm afraid I'm going to have to ask you to leave," he said.

"Hey, we're in the middle of something here!" said a very annoyed John Grey.

"Sorry, but someone at the other table recognized the girl here from the news," said the manager, pointing over to a table of people who were glaring at them with equal hostility, "She's one of those mutants. An X-man no doubt. And in wake of recent events I don't want any mutants in my restaurant. Understand?"

John Grey rose up apprehensively. He and his daughter were having a moment and he had the gall to kick her out?

"Now see here!" he spat, "You have no right to…"

But before he could continue, Jean got up and stopped him.

"It's okay," she said flatly, "I don't want any trouble. I'll go."

"No Jean, you don't have to go," he said, still clutching her hand.

"But I want to go," she said, pulling away from his grip, "I think we've said enough for one visit."

John stood shocked and disappointed. He looked back at the manager spitefully, but he showed no sympathy. He wanted this girl out and he wasn't going to make an exception for their family issues.

With a silent nod, the manager walked away. John remained standing while Jean grabbed her purse. But before she left she had one last message for her father.

"I'm sorry, Dad," she said solemnly, "It's taken you too long to come to grips with all the mistakes you've made. I've moved on. I've built a new life that I can be proud of. Until the nightmares stop haunting me and until you fully understand the pain you caused me, I can't forgive you."

With a slight tear in her eyes, Jean Grey turned away from her father and left him to contemplate her words. Encounters with her father were never easy. This one had been better than the others, but they still had a long ways to go to make amends.

John Grey could only watch as his daughter disappeared again. In a daze, he held his head low with sorrow. He truly was a broken man. His daughter, the only part of his family he had left, hated him. It was a hatred he rightfully deserved. He spent years hurting her. It seemed fitting he would spend years begging for her forgiveness. He could only hope that one day she would come around before he took his last breath.

Westchester Mall

"Remind me again why you dragged me into this?" groaned a disheartened Bobby Drake.

"Oh for crying out loud, Bobby, will you knock off the woe-is-me attitude? I'm trying to cheer you up!" said an exasperated Kitty Pryde as she led him through the stores of Westchester Mall.

"How is dragging me to the mall with you, Rogue, and Remy cheering me up? If you really wanted to make me feel better you would have convinced Warren to take me to the strip club with him."

"It's better than havin' you rot on the dang couch like you've been doing the past three months," said Rogue, who was walking with them, "Warren ain't been much better either. And we don't need you two feeding off each other."

"I still prefer the strip club," scoffed Bobby.

"You would," said Rogue, "But a guy needs a better environment to get over a breakup."

"Yeah whatever."

Kitty and Rogue rolled their eyes. Bobby wasn't making this easy for them. They finally got some downtime and Bobby wanted to spend it hunched over on the couch watching cartoons. It had been a running theme of his since his breakup with Lorna. He hadn't been his chipper self since. It didn't feel right without the team's resident jokester. Even Kitty, who never appreciated Bobby's crude sense of humor before, found it disturbing. Rather than let him mope, they tried to get him out and about.

In a sense they all needed some cheering up. These past few months hadn't been easy. With all the rebuilding they had to do after the asteroid incident, the team had been pretty busy. Between Genosha and a number of major cities they stretched themselves pretty thin, trying to help rebuild. It didn't help that they weren't exactly welcome in the ruins. Mutants were now the cause of all the world's problems. Even when they were trying to do good, people found ways to demean them. It was disheartening, but Professor Xavier encouraged them to remain strong. The backlash from Magneto's plot was going to make things difficult for a while. They just didn't expect it to be this difficult.

At least Bobby had a distraction. He had been so hung up on Lorna since they broke up he didn't have time to focus on growing human resentment. He was always lost in thought, dwelling on Lorna. He hadn't spoken to her since it happened. He hadn't even been back to Genosha. He missed being around her, sharing all those moments that made these type of hardships easier. It wasn't as easy to get over as he hoped.

As Bobby followed Kitty and Rogue, they passed the food court. It was here Bobby found himself stopping for a bit and gazing distantly over some of the shops.

"That's where Lorna and I would always eat," he said, pointing to a table near the center of the court, "Usually I would get a burger and she would get Mexican. Even though she knew I wasn't a fan of spicy foods, she sometimes snuck some hot sauce onto my fries. Then she would laugh hysterically when I had to gulp down my drink all at once."

"In that case we'll find somewhere else to eat," said Kitty, grabbing him by the shoulder and moving him along, "The point of this little outing is to help you move forward from Lorna, not dwell on it."

"I can't help it! I miss her!" groaned Bobby.

"Ah know you do. But you can't stay hung up on this forever! You ain't the only one who had to go through a breakup, you know?"

"You had it easy. Scott didn't break up with you to join Magneto! Are you going to stand here and tell me you know how that feels?"

Rogue shifted awkwardly. When he put it like that, it sounded a lot more complicated than anything she dealt with in her relationships. She looked over towards Kitty, who tried not to be overly critical as she had in the past. She was as lost as her, but that didn't stop her from giving Bobby a gesture of sympathy.

"Look Bobby, we're not saying we know how it feels to lose someone like Lorna. I know you really loved her."

"But you doubted us," reminded Bobby, "Seriously, how many times did you call me out on it?"

"I never said you didn't love each other," said Kitty, "Now you may not care much for what I have to say since I've never been through a breakup. But that doesn't mean I was wrong. Two people can love each other, but that doesn't mean they're right for each other."

"I don't know what T-shirt you got that from, but it makes no sense," said Bobby cynically, "Lorna and I were right for each other. I know we were. The problem was her family. If it wasn't for Magneto…"

"What? You'd still be together?" said Rogue dryly, "What are you now, a pre-cog? Hate to break it to ya Bobby, but you can't know that. Speculating is a lousy way to cope."

"I'm not speculating! It's the truth! This is all Magneto's fault! He drew Lorna into his bullshit! And I wasn't able to stop it!"

"He didn't draw her into anything, Bobby. Lorna made her decision," said Kitty.

"Yeah, and if I really love her I should respect it," he said dryly, "It still sucks."

Shoving his hands in his pockets, Bobby looked back at the food court where he and Lorna shared some fond memories. He knew Kitty and Rogue had a point. He was dwelling on this longer than he should. But he couldn't help it. He still loved Lorna and he had no doubt in his mind that if Magneto wasn't her father, they would still be together. Even if that was hopeless speculation, it was what he believed.

As they started walking again, Rogue rolled her eyes. She was apparently ready to give up. She had enough issues to deal with concerning her powers. She didn't need to get involved with Bobby's. But Kitty wasn't so ready to leave it behind. As they walked away, Kitty linked arms with him in a friendly gesture.

"Look, I'm sorry you have to go through this, Bobby. I admit a breakup with Lorna has way more complications than any other breakups I know of."

"Except maybe Scott and his first girlfriend, but that's another story," muttered Bobby.

"Whatever the case, we're not leaving this mall until we cheer you up," said Kitty strongly, "If it helps, we'll go to the solon on the third floor and I'll dye my hair green. That way it'll desensitize you to women with green hair in the future!"

Bobby looked at Kitty strangely.

"You're joking, right?"

"Of course I'm joking!" said Kitty, bursting out laughing, "Can you imagine me with green hair? But as long as you, the X-men's official jokester, is in a rut. Someone's gotta pick up the slack."

"Yeah right, you think you can be a class clown?" scoffed Bobby.

"At a time like this, why not? We need a sense of humor when the world is turning on us!" said Kitty.

"And you think you can hack it?" said Rogue skeptically, "Seriously Bobby, get over this soon. Ah don't think Ah can bear Kitty making jokes."

"I hear you," agreed Bobby.

For the first time in a while, Bobby found himself laughing. It got Kitty to smile as well, happy to see some success in this elaborate endeavor to cheer him up. He found himself enjoying her grip on his arm. When she wasn't trying to give advice, Kitty was a cool girl to be around. He didn't want to dwell on this forever, but it may be a while before he got back to his joking ways. Hopefully it was before Kitty could get too carried away.

Rogue still shivered at the thought of Kitty trying to pick up the slack from Bobby. She had her heart in the right place, but she needed a few lessons in understanding. Having been through a breakup like Bobby, she knew what he was going through. At least she was learning from her mistakes. If she could get Bobby to smile again, she must be doing something right.

Now past the food court, the three X-men made their way down another wing of the mall.

"So where to next?" asked Bobby, "Wasn't Remy supposed to meet up with us by now?"

"Yeah, but you know him. He's easily distracted," said Kitty, "He's probably off doing card tricks for kids near the fountain."

"Ah wouldn't be so sure of that, Kitty," said Rogue, who stopped walking briefly.

"What do you mean?"

"See for yourself," she said, pointing at a small novelty store.

Kitty and Bobby turned to the store and sure enough, they saw Remy inside buying what had to be at least ten decks of cards. It wasn't unusual considering how many he went through in a week. But what caught their attention was how the female cashier was reacting to him. It especially unnerved Rogue.

Inside the store, Remy stacked each deck of cards on the counter for the woman to scan. She was taking her sweet time, giving him that curious eye. She had that sweet but naughty sense to her. She was wearing tight black leather pants along with her store uniform and Remy noticed a number of piercings on her lips, tongue, and navel. Being the opportunist he was, he couldn't help but flirt a little. He couldn't give her that special look since he was wearing sunglasses to conceal his eyes, but he could still charm her.

"Got enough decks there?" she commented, "What are you planning? Little poker tournament?"

"Wouldn't you like to know, cherè?" said Remy coyly.

"Cherè? What are you? Spanish?"

"French," chuckled Remy, "Cherè is French."

"Ooh, French huh? Now I'm really interested," she said, leaning forward and giving him a nice look at her cleavage, "Tell me, what kind of 'activities' could a rugged French gentleman like you be up to with all these cards?"

"You really wanna know? Or you just wanna charm Remy into giving you a little tip?"

"Who's charming who? And what kind of 'tip' are you talking about? Last I checked, guys don't tip cashiers."

"First time for everything, cherè. Question is, how serious are you?" said Remy.

Then in a coy gesture, Remy removed his sunglasses to give her that special look he perfected from years of experience. But the woman's reaction wasn't what he expected.

"Oh my God! What's wrong with your eyes?" she exclaimed.

"Nothing, cherè," he said calmly, "These be the eyes I was born with."

Then the woman's expression turned from intrigue to horror as she pieced it together.

"You're…you're a mutant?"

"Oui, that ain't a problem is it?" said Remy, now starting to get anxious.

The woman looked at him with disgust. She didn't say a word as she quickly scanned the rest of his cards, stuffed them hastily in a bag, and shoved it towards him.

"That'll be 22.34. Pay up and get out," she said sternly.

"Now where in the hell did this come from?" asked Remy in confusion.

"I saw you freaks on the news! I've seen what you do! And I don't want any part of it! So please…just leave."

Remy was deadpanned. There was a mix of anger and fear in her voice. Her hands were trembling even as he gave her the money. It was the first time playful flirting turned into all out fear. It showed just how bad it had gotten for mutants. For once Remy couldn't charm his way around it.

"Guess it be true what they say about trashy blondes with more than four piercings," said Remy bitterly as he took his cards and stormed off, "They as gullible as trained dogs."

"You know I can call mall security on you!" said the appalled woman.

"But you ain't gonna. You too scared and foolish. When you be gettin' some sense, let Remy know. I may just think more of you."

The woman scolded him even as he walked out. Remy felt her eyes on him the whole way. She truly was afraid and disgusted. He was just lucky not a lot of people were in this lousy store or it could have caused a major scene. And he didn't need that. He would rather leave stores where he could buy decks of cards in bulk intact.

As he walked back out into the main mall, he met up with Kitty, Bobby, and Rogue. They saw the whole thing. Bobby and Kitty looked amused. Rogue did not. She had her arms folded over her chest, scolding him almost as bad as that woman had. Even though they had built a solid and close friendship over these past few months, they avoided any romantic inclinations. As such, Remy didn't stop his casual flirting.

"Need a band aid for your ego, Cajun?" said Rogue tersely.

"Aww Rogue, don't be bringin' Remy down like that," groaned Remy.

"You deserve it! You just can't help yourself can ya? Is flirting some other mutant power you ain't telling us about?"

"Quiet Rogue! X-nay on the mutant talk!" said Kitty under her breath.

"Remy thought we agreed it didn't bother you," shrugged the Cajun.

"It doesn't," said Rogue strongly, "But it does when you make a damn fool of yourself!"

Remy just shrugged innocently, not sure of what else to say. Rogue was one of the few women on this planet where his innocent charm didn't sway her. She wasn't afraid to be blunt with him. It was probably a good thing too. If this was the kind of human relations they had to look forward to, it might be best if he cut back on the flirting.

"Sorry cherè. Any way Remy can make it up to you?" he said innocently.

"Take Bobby to that weird novelty shop and buy him one of those vulgar T-shirt they sell and we'll call it even," she said.

"How vulgar?" said Remy curiously.

"That's for me to decide," grinned Bobby, "And so long as you're buying, I'm feeling a little better now."

"Good for you," said Remy dryly.

So far this mall trip wasn't going as well as they hoped. It could have been a lot worse if Remy ended up making a scene. Such was the world they lived in now. Humans were a lot more hostile to mutants. Between that and getting over breakups, they had a lot to adapt to. It was just a shame it had to be this way.

Washington DC – National Air & Space Museum

While most of the team was using this break in action to unwind, some continued work on their own personal projects. Hank and Scott, having little else to do back at the mansion, took a trip to Washington DC to conduct some extra research. It was part of an ongoing assignment the two of them had been working on for a while now. These past few months gave them little time to dedicate to it, but the growing difficulties they faced made this important endeavor all the more vital.

It brought them to the National Air & Space Museum where the vast history of flight and aviation technology was neatly catalogued in elaborate displays. They had with them some digital cameras so they could take pictures. They had already traversed half the museum and taken multi-angled shots of at least ten different model planes. They still had much more to go if they were to move forward with this endeavor.

"Thanks again for helping me with this, Scott. I greatly appreciate your input on this project," said Hank as they ventured through the modern warfare displays, "Getting plans for a new X-aircraft is quite the challenge."

"I'm an aspiring engineering student with a long love affair with planes. It's really not much of a chore," grinned Scott as he snapped a few pictures, "With all the running around the team has been doing, we need another high-tech jet to get us around. As much as I love the Blackbird, it's still one plane. I look forward to making something a little more updated."

"I admire your passion for the subject," said Hank, smiling back, "You've done quite well for yourself this past year. It won't be long before you can take the national engineering test."

"Don't remind me. You know I was never much of a test taker. I was always better at learning by doing."

"I'm sure you'll do fine. Aviation it seems is in your blood."

"You can thank my father for that, may he rest in peace," said Scott as he gazed distantly up at an F-16 fighter jet, similar to the one his dad flew, "Then there's my grandfather, who flew B-17s in World War II. It's only fitting I continue the Summers family line."

"I'm sure they would be very proud."

Scott kept at it, snapping picture after picture. He was like a kid in a candy store, getting as many details as he could. His highly analytical mind was already forming plans in his head, strategizing how certain flight features could assist with missions. It was no longer enough to just have a sleek aircraft like the X-jet to get from place to place. They needed something a bit more nimble, one that could get them out of tighter spaces and add more flexibility to their operations.

Hank was snapping pictures as well, but not with Scott's enthusiasm. He was more concerned with the logistical aspects. Charles told him before they left that they needed a new aircraft soon. If human/mutant relations continued to deteriorate they needed something to help them keep up. He already heard of some communities shutting out mutants. With a mutation like his that wasn't easy to hide, they had to stay a step ahead of human fears. It was a good thing the museum wasn't very crowded today. His trench coat and hat provided antiquated cover at best.

"Speaking of family affairs, have you heard from Jean?" asked Hank in a more serious tone, "I heard she went to visit her father."

"She did," said Scott solemnly, "And I don't expect to hear from her until at least tonight. She always needs some time to get over every visit, no matter how brief it is."

"I still worry for her. It's such a shame the relationship she has with her father is so strained."

"It's not her fault. He's the one who hurt her," said Scott bitterly, "I'm amazed she still brings herself to see him every now and again."

"You would know more about that than I would," said Hank, "Have you ever tried helping her with such issues?"

"We're not quite at that point yet, Hank," said Scott, daunted by such a notion, "Jean and I love each other. But when it comes to family issues, we try not to butt in."

Hank stopped taking pictures and looked at his young student strangely.

"Not at that point yet? Scott, with all due respect, I've seen how you two have been acting around each other these past few months. Were I none the wiser, I would think you have progressed far beyond the initial stages of courtship."

"We have. Some of these issues are just harder than others," said Scott distantly, "Her father is sort of like my brother. They're issues we try not to avoid."

"But they're not issues you can avoid forever."

"We're not trying to. We just have a lot going on right now. We'll get to it when the world isn't on the verge of falling apart."

"If you say so," said Hank, shaking his head, "But if that is your standard, you'll be waiting a long time."

Scott stopped taking pictures as well and turned back towards his teacher. He wasn't sure what he was insinuating by mentioning family issues with him and Jean if anything. He wasn't the kind to judge, especially after the issues he had with Ororo. But he was an observant man if nothing else. If he noticed something that he and Jean weren't, it was worth taking seriously. For now though, there was work to be done.

But Hank wasn't ready to completely drop the subject. Nearly everyone else had taken time in the last three months to reconnect with family. Scott was one of the few who hadn't.

"It is still worth pointing out that Jean has visited her father more times than you have visited your brother," he said, "I understand it's a sore subject, but…"

But Scott didn't let him finish.

"With all due respect, Mr. McCoy, please don't push this," said Scott strongly, "You know why Alex is a touchy issue for me. I'd rather not get caught up in that mess at a time like this."

"I don't blame you, but Scott the world almost ended," coxed Hank, "And you two still haven't spoken in what? Two years?"

"Three," Scott corrected, "And at this rate it's going to take even longer. He would have such a field day with the asteroid affair. He would rub that in my face, parading it as proof that I was wrong and he was right. Even if he's full of it."

"That doesn't mean you should avoid him. It is often said that the strongest of men are the first to humble themselves in the face of aggressors."

"Well whoever said that didn't have a brother like Alex," muttered Scott, "He's the only one who's probably happy with all this chaos. It gives him an excuse to fight like he always has. His idea of the human/mutant conflict is fighting back when one side picks a fight with another. Until he reconsiders his philosophy on life, we're not on speaking terms."

"So you're not even going to try?" said Hank sadly.

"Maybe I will down the line. But not now," said the X-leader, "Not when he has more going for him than the rest of us."

"How do you figure?"

Scott was tired of talking about this. He wanted to get back to taking pictures. The issue of his brother always got him worked up and not in a good way. This wasn't the first time Hank or the Professor pushed this on him. Being the only one to not even mention family in wake of the asteroid incident was pretty glaring. But he had his reasons.

Before he could articulate them though, they were interrupted by a new presence. Three armed security guards and an old man in a suit and bow tie entered the area. The man in the suit looked nervous, especially as he got closer. But he looked serious too.

"Excuse me. I hate to interrupt your enthusiastic photography of our exhibits, but I'm going to have to ask you to leave," he said.

"Leave? But why?"

"Please don't make me go into details!" said the man, sweat forming on his balding head, "But your presence here is…distressing. So few people visit this museum already. We don't need to give more reasons to 'scare' them off."

Hank quickly picked up on the subtext of his words. He looked down at his furry, gorilla-like hands. Perhaps it was naïve of him to think a trench coat and hat would be enough to disguise himself. There was no denying that mutants were unpopular. Anyone looking to attract tourists wasn't helping his business by bringing in unpopular guests.

"I…I understand. We'll make our leave," said Hank in a flat tone, "Come Scott. We have enough pictures for the project."

"Thank you," said the man in relief, "Again, I do apologize."

"You don't have to. I know what this is and why you're doing it. It's just a shame you're not trying harder."

The man shifted nervously. He was obviously not comfortable in the presence of mutants. Hank and Scott didn't push him. They had no desire to spark a confrontation. They willingly turned towards the exit, disheartened their visit had to be cut short. The current state of affairs for mutants was bad. But they had no idea it was this bad.

As soon as the men and the security guards were out of sight, Scott turned to his teacher stoically. It turns out he didn't have to elaborate on the point he was making about his brother.

"I rest my case," he said, "People like my brother who take advantage of conflict are having a field day while the rest of us struggle. It's not fair, but that's just how it is."

Lady Marvel Strip Club

Warren Worthington III went through his share of phases after he broke up with the love of his life. For years he had been hung up on Candy Southerner, unable to put himself out there with women in hopes of finding someone else. He would go out at times, but could never bring himself to connect with another woman the way he had with Candy.

Now it was different. In wake of the asteroid incident Candy revealed how she had betrayed his trust and his love. He used to believe she loved him for who he was, wings and all. It turns out that love had limits. She saw him being a mutant as an obstruction, not part of who he was. It shattered all previous notions that she was a victim of family pressure. She was just as pig-headed as his father. At least he was taking steps to make up for it.

In some ways Candy did him a favor. He broke the illusion that she was the one for him and there was no use putting himself out there. For the first time in a long while Warren could seek out women with more confidence. He could actively pursue someone who would love him for who he was, mutant and non-mutant. But for the moment, he wasn't out for true love. He was content to just have a good time.

"Tipping with hundred dollar bills? I didn't know guys like you were so generous," said a scantily clad dark haired women in thigh high boots and a black thong.

"Just because I'm a mutant doesn't mean I don't have connections," grinned Warren, "Is that going to be a problem?"

"Keep giving tips like that and you can be Satan himself for all I care!"

Warren smiled at her reaction and slipped her another hundred. Upon receiving his generous tip, she leaned over the private table he was sitting at and let her breasts rub against his face. Warren smiled in contentment at the feeling. This was by far the best way to get over Candy.

'Ah strippers, the least judgmental people in the world. If only regaining humanity's trust was this easy. The world would be a much better place.'

As the attractive woman danced and grinded against him, Warren closed his eyes and moaned in contentment. Lady Marvel was one of the best strip clubs in the state of New York. It was outside the city and catered to clientele with deeper pockets than the average Joe. Since the Magneto incident, his father loosened his restrictions on the family fortune. It was his way of silently trying to buy his love back. It was shamelessly shallow, but Warren wasn't complaining.

This wasn't the first time he went out to unwind like this. It probably wouldn't be the last. Candy's false love robbed him of precious time he could have used to enjoy himself instead of wallowing in hopeless heartache. So long as human/mutant relations were deteriorating, he wanted to enjoy it while he could.

"Hmm…you know how to make an angel feel heavenly," said Warren, still enjoying the feeling of her womanly flesh against his.

"Glad you like it, hun," she purred, "You seem so tense. Is being a mutant really that hard?"

"More than you can imagine," he said in a melodramatic tone, "People hate me just for being born. And it's not like I can hurt anybody with my powers. All I can do is fly."

"That's still a hell of a power," she purred, rubbing her breasts against his wings, "I would love to be able to fly!"

"I'm sure you would. But that isn't the only reason I've been struggling. I recently had to go through some relationship drama. Turns out the woman I thought I loved didn't love me back."

"Oh you poor baby!" she cooed, now straddling his pelvis, "Sounds like you need cheering up of a special kind. Considering all the generous tips you've given me, I may be inclined to give you the secret special in back."

"Oh? What does that entail?" asked Warren coyly.

"Don't ask like you don't know, pretty boy. You're too smart not to," she replied.

With his eyes still closed, Warren smiled. It had been a long time since he got intimate with anybody. Candy was the last. It seemed everyone else in the mansion had been getting some lately. So why shouldn't he?

"Sounds great," he grinned, "Exactly how much extra tip do you need?"

"Um…I'm not sure," she said, her tone shifting suddenly.

"What do you mean?"

Warren noticed she stopped dancing all of the sudden. Confused, he opened his eyes to see what was going on. To his dismay, one of the bouncers was now looming over them. The woman looked up at him nervously, almost appearing guilty for having been near him. Even though the bouncer was at least twice his size and showing off biceps that would give Beast a run for his money, Warren wasn't intimidated.

"You've gotta be kidding me," groaned Warren.

"Sorry flyboy, but I'm gonna have to ask you to leave," said the bouncer in a deep, menacing tone.

"What did I do? Use the wrong lingo? Is 'secret special' not vague enough?"

"Don't get coy with me, angel boy. It ain't my call. Boss says some customers are leaving because they don't like being around a mutant. And we can't be having that now can we?"

Warren groaned in frustration. They never threw him out before. Now out of the blue they were changing their policies. It was outrageous.

"Look, can't you and your boss work something out?" said Warren as he reached into his pocket and pulled out a wad of bills, "He doesn't want to alienate a loyal customer now, does he?"

The bouncer looked at the wad stoically. As generous as it was, it wasn't enough to stop him from doing his job.

"Not my call," he said sternly, "Now are you gonna get out or am I going to have to 'escort' you out?"

"You do realize your talking to an X-man. I've faced way more intimating guys than you."

"So we're doing this the hard way?" said the bouncer, cracking his knuckles.

Warren was tempted to show this man some of the moves Logan had been teaching him. But that would mean causing a scene. And the idea of the media having the words mutant and scene and strip club in the same headline was just too much. For the good of mutant-kind's fragile reputation, he decided to back down.

"No…I'll leave," said Warren bitterly.

The woman looked disappointed. Warren gave her a sympathetic gaze and slipped her one last bill. It helped put a smile back on her face. At least there was one person in this club that would have a favorable attitude towards mutants. But before he slipped away, he took out another bill and turned to the bouncer.

"One more thing," he said to him under his breath, "I know you're just trying to do your job here, but your boss is a dick. What are the chances you can spit in his drink for me before your shift is over?"

The bouncer looked at Warren with the same stoic gaze and then back at the hundred dollar bill he offered. He seemed to have no inclination one way or the other. He was paid to be intimidating and he did his job well. But that didn't mean he had no standards. To the surprise of the winged mutant, he took the bill.

"You're right. He is a dick," said the bouncer as he pocketed the cash.

"So we're understood?" said Warren coyly.

"I'll even leave a little surprise in his car," he said, "The lady here will help me. Ain't that right?"

"Sure, why not?" grinned the attractive woman.

Warren grinned as well. The night it seemed wouldn't be a total loss. It was sad when human bigotry had gotten so bad that a rich young man like him was expelled from a strip club. It showed just how far Magneto had taken them down and how far they had to go in pursuit of Professor Xavier's dream.

"You guys are alright," said Warren as he made his leave, "There may be hope for humans and mutants yet."

Rural Germany – Sefton Farm

Kurt Wagner let out another round of moans as he savored the sweet sensations of blissful intimacy with his lover, Amanda Sefton. Lying in her bed, their naked bodies entwined in a sexual heat, all the stress and concern over the outside world just melted away. It was just what he needed. No matter how difficult the outside world was becoming, Amanda's tender embrace made it all worth while.

It was late at night on the Sefton farm. The only major noises besides the crickets and the wind was coming from them. Kurt and Amanda gasped after completing their latest round of lovemaking, sharing a deep kiss before slipping comfortably into each others' arms. Kurt closed his eyes and laid back while Amanda curled up to his fuzzy form. He savored the feeling of contentment as she gently traced her hands over his furry body.

"Mmm…Kurt," said Amanda, still panting, "I miss making love to you."

"So do I, liebe," he said softly, "Sorry if I vas a little loud. I hope ve didn't vake your mother."

"Wouldn't be the first time," she said playfully, "But don't worry. She should be used to this by now."

"But she isn't. She still seems to be awkward about us being intimate sometimes."

"That's her problem then. I love you and I love having sex with you. If she can't deal with that then she should look into sound proofing spells."

"I'm sure she already has," joked Kurt.

The couple shared a good laugh, embracing each other closer and sharing another tender kiss. Amanda curled up closer so she was resting right on the nook of his shoulder. It had always been her favorite spot. She and Kurt always got their best sleep like this. But while she was out of it, she noticed her lover was restless.

"Something on your mind, Kurt?" she asked tiredly, "Usually you're down for the count after sex."

"Guess I'm too tired to sleep," he sighed, "I've had a lot on my mind lately."

"With the way you and the X-men are taking on the world, I don't blame you. But that's the point of this little visit," she said warmly, "To get you to unwind from it all."

"It's not zhat," he said distantly, "I can handle zhe fighting, zhe traveling, and zhe missions. It's zhe people zhat have been bothering me. It vas bad enough before Magneto tried to destroy us all. Zhere vere still zhe arrogant hatemonger, but few people truly listened. Now people are taking zhose same hatemonger seriously."

"But it'll pass, right? You and the X-men will keep them from gaining too much influence. They did it before after Hodge. Now that they have you I'm sure they can do it again," said Amanda.

"Zhat vas different. It feels much vorse zhis time," said Kurt distantly, "I notice zhat vhenever I'm vith zhe team, people look at me vith more disgust and hate. It used to be people vere just afraid. Zhey saw how zhey looked and zhey cringed. Now it's not so much fear zhey react vith. It's outright hostility. It's as if zhey don't even vant me or anyone like me to exist."

There was a deep sense of worry in his tone. Amanda sought to comfort him by caressing his fuzzy face. It helped, but she sensed he was still distant. He had been dealing with peoples' reaction to his appearance his whole life. It was only now that it was becoming a sign of more difficult times to come.

"You know I've always had faith in zhe human spirit. I've held strong zhat zhese zhings happen for a reason," Kurt went on, "But I'm not sure vhere god's plan ends and humanity's flaws begin. Because now it feels like zhat is all zhat's guiding them."

"Try not to think of it as flaws," said Amanda reassuringly, "Human beings, and mutants for that matter, can be guided by darkness just as they can be guided by light. Sometimes one is more dominant than the other. But it never stays that way. It always balances out."

"I vant to believe zhat. But I just don't see a vay how some people can come around."

"That's where guys like you come in," she said with an affectionate grin, "You have faith in god's plan, but you need to have faith in yourself as well. I know this as a lifelong mystic and a practicing pagan. Faith alone and work alone only go so far. But put them together and there's no darkness you can't overcome."

Her comforting words and tender gestures brought a smile to the young man. Amanda always had a way of making sense of his world. Faith had always been a big part of his life, but challenges like the ones he faced with his father, his mother, and the X-men always shook it. But it was Amanda who always helped it stay strong. It was one of the many reasons he loved her so much.

Sensing that his tension was easing, Amanda pulled Kurt into another kiss. He tenderly caressed her womanly curves, sharing passionate gasps as they savored this feeling.

"I love you, Amanda," said Kurt, "You know just vhat to say to lift a man's spirit."

"I love you too," Amanda purred softly, "And that's not all I'm lifting. Still not tired?"

"I'm getting zhere," said the young man playfully.

"Then I'll just have to give you that little extra push," she said in a seductive tone, "Because I won't rest until you're get a good night's sleep, Kurt Wagner."

Kurt loved the sound of that. Amanda was such a sweet, loving girl. But she had a sensual side. It was part of that pagan spirit of hers. It was a spirit that perfectly complimented his own and if she was to use it to help him relax, who was he to stop her?

They started kissing passionately again. Amanda rolled on top of him, allowing her naked body to press against his. Kurt moaned softly as he slid his hands down her hips, lying back on the bed and letting his lover work her magic, both literally and figuratively. Things were just staring to get heated again when they were suddenly interrupted by a sharp popping sound outside. It sounded like a gunshot.

Kurt's mercenary instincts kicked in. Despite his body's objections, he parted from his lover and rose up.

"What is it, Kurt?"

"I heard something outside," he said grimly.

Before he could elaborate he heard it again. At that point he knew what it was and sprung into action. He quickly slipped out of bed and slid on his boxer shorts. A confused Amanda stayed in bed, holding the sheets up over her naked body as she became worried as well.

"Stay here, liebe," he told her, "I'll take care of this."

"Kurt wait!" urged Amanda.

But it was too late. He had already teleported out of the room and out into the brisk German night.

Outside, he appeared in a tree overlooking the back yard of the house. Despite the cold and the darkness, Kurt quickly got into position and zeroed in on the source of the noise. Sure enough, it was just what he feared. Down below he saw a half dozen men dressed in darkened farm apparel. He recognized them as locals and not the friendly type either. They were carrying flashlights, shotguns, and bottles with dirty rags in them, no doubt Molotov cocktails.

It was fairly easy to determine what they had in mind. It wasn't the first tome people harassed the Sefton house. But this was the first time they came with arson in mind. Having to hold back his own anger, Kurt moved in closer as they steadily approached. As he got closer, he could hear them talking in German.

"Will you stop fooling around with that damn thing! You're going to wake the whole damn town up!" cursed on of the men.

"I'm sorry! I'm not used to handling a shotgun! I didn't know it would go off like that!" said a nervous younger man carrying a gun.

"Both of you shut up! Worry about the gun if we see that freak!" said an older man who appeared to be the leader of this little group, "My daughter came running home screaming today that she saw that blue demon man again. We all know he lives around here and we've all seen what his kind is capable of! We have to send a message we won't tolerate that freak in our town any longer!"

"You said it, Uncle! Now let's hit these freaks and send them packing!" said the man's nephew as he lit the Molotov cocktail.

Kurt tensed at their hateful words. It appeared that darkness Amanda mentioned had reached even this remote rural area. With no time to reason with these men, he prepared to strike back.

With the bottle now flaming, the nephew heaved the dangerous mixture right at the house. But just as it left his hand, Kurt appeared right above him in mid air and grabbed it before it could even get halfway to the house. When the six men saw this, they nearly fell back in terror.

"What in God's name?" exclaimed the older man.

Kurt then appeared on the ground in front of them, the Molotov cocktail in hand. Gazing at them angrily, he removed the flaming rag and tossed the bottle full of gasoline aside. Then he clenched his fists, staring down the armed men with an intimidating look that would make Logan proud.

"Leave zhis house alone!" he demanded, "You're trespassing!"

The six men recovered and identified him as the demonic figure that had been seen in this area for years. Only this time it wasn't just fear that gripped them. It was anger.

"It…It's you! You're the freak!" said one of the younger men.

"You're just like that monster Magneto!"

"Yeah, we don't want you here! Either leave now or we'll make you leave!"

"Please refrain from making threats," said Kurt menacingly, "You do not vant make a big deal of zhis!"

"Yes we do!" said the man with the shotgun, "Now are you going to leave or not?"

Kurt didn't answer. These men showed they were beyond being reasonable. Normally he sought to avoid fighting, but with Amanda's safety in mind he was prepared to make an exception.

With the six men surrounding him, each armed with heavy farming equipment or firearms, he let his mercenary training take over. First he took out the men with the shotguns, teleporting behind each of them and drop kicking them in the back. When they dropped their guns he grabbed them and separated the vital parts. The man had little time to react, barely able to turn around as they watched his nimble figure disappear in a puff of smoke.

"Ack! Where is he?" exclaimed the older man as he coughed on the smoke.

As if on command, Kurt appeared right behind him. Sensing his presence, the man turned around to strike him with his crow bar. Kurt easily avoided it, ducking out of the way and sweep kicking him so that he fell to the ground and dropped his weapon in the process. Upon seeing this, two men armed with pitchforks came to their leader's aid.

"Don't worry, Uncle! We've got him!" one of them yelled.

Kurt rolled his eyes, teleporting out of the way so that they hit only smoke. He then appeared behind them, laying one of the men out with a roundhouse kick. The other one turned around and hit him with the pitchfork. He grabbed it while he was going through the motions, pulled off a spin move and then in a show of his acrobatic talents did a perfect back flip, kicking him right under the chin in the process. He knocked a couple of teeth out in the process, ensuring he wouldn't be getting back up from this.

With no more weapons and little will to fight, the six men stayed down. They all groaned in pain, clutching the many injuries the nimble mutant left on them. Kurt remained standing, not bothered by the cold even though he was just in his boxer shorts. It was a shame it had come to this, him having to fight the locals to protect his loved ones. But these were extraordinary times.

"I'll ask you again nicely. Leave zhis house alone," he said in a low but firm tone, "If ever you try to harm zhese people, you'll have to deal with me. Understand?"

"Ungh…crazy freak," said the old man.

"Vhat vas zhat?" said Kurt menacingly.

"Nothing! Nothing at all!" said the man's nephew, "We understand! We'll leave! Come on, Uncle! Let's get out of here."

The rest of the men seemed to agree. They had no desire to push their luck. They still looked at him with fear and anger, but at least now they understood they could not harass his loved ones without consequence. Kurt watched intently as they rose up slowly and helped each other off. The old man was the slowest, still showing a desire to fight back. But his nephew held him back. Soon they were on their way. The danger had passed. The Sefton farm was safe.

With a solemn sigh, Kurt teleported back into Amanda's room. When he appeared, Amanda was sitting anxiously in bed near the window where she saw the whole thing. While relieved that her home was safe, it was still unnerving that it had gotten this bad.

"Sorry you had to see zhat," he said solemnly.

"It's okay. At least you weren't too rough with them," she said.

"I tried," said Kurt sheepishly.

He then slipped out of his boxers and got back into bed with his naked girlfriend.

"It'll get better. We have to keep believing," she said.

"Ve'll see, liebe," said Kurt distantly.

She took him back into her loving arms, clinging to him more firmly now. Kurt embraced her back, snaking his arms around her as he finally began to slip into a peaceful but uncertain sleep. He still clung to his faith that everything would get better. It was just going to be a lot harder now.

Mike's Bar & Billiards

"Seven ball. Side pocket," said Ororo Munroe through the haze of cigar smoke and bar style music.

"You ever intend on giving me another chance, Ro?" said a bemused Logan as he sipped a beer while leaning over the pool table.

"You're the one who keeps giving me shots like this. You have no one to blame but yourself," grinned the African woman.

"And they say I lack sportsmanship."

"Sorry, but I never won much when I played these games with Hank. It's hard to win against a man who can do complex angular calculations in his head," said Ororo as she pulled off another perfect shot.

"Ever try getting him drunk?"

"I did once. But let's just say it had some unpleasant consequences that I would rather not talk about."

Logan snickered as he took another puff of his cigar and watch Ororo continue her assault on the pool table. He had to admit, Ororo was a good drinking partner. She didn't mind going to the more unsavory bars in town. She was not a woman who was easily intimidated. She never got too drunk herself, but wasn't afraid to enjoy a good beer. She was also great at shooting pool. For someone who always seemed so graceful in the field and in the classroom, Logan never would have expected her to have this side to her. But ever since she tagged along with him in Germany after they faced Deadpool he was getting to know her a lot better.

It was nice to have her tag along again for this rare break in the action. With all the running around the X-men had been doing these past few months, they needed some downtime. A trip to the bar was just what the doctor ordered. This particular bar was one he usually came to by himself. It was in a bad part of town and had its share of thugs. Especially now with mutants being everybody's favorite whipping boys, it was not a safe place to be. But he didn't care and neither did Ororo. They got some unpleasant looks from some brooding bar patrons, but if they knew what was good for them they would keep their mouths shut.

Logan finished his beer as Ororo finished off the billiards, completing her third straight win. She stood proudly as she sunk the eight-ball, pulling off a skilled angled shot that would have made any professional pool shark envious. She wasn't at all put off by the unsavory environment. If anything, she seemed right at home.

"Looks like I win again," said the African woman proudly, "Want to try another?"

"Sure, but this time you break. You gotta at least give me a shot before I'm too shit faced to play," said Logan as he put out his cigar.

"At the rate you're going I would say you're chances are dwindling," joked Ororo.

"You're not going to try and cut me off are you?" said the feral mutant as he racked up the billiards.

"Would that stop you?" she shrugged, "So long as you let me drive home and don't pass out on me, have at it."

"Never thought I'd live to see the day when a beautiful gal was encouraging me to drink," snickered Logan.

"I'm not encouraging. I'd prefer to remain tolerant," said Ororo, blushing somewhat at his comments, "But don't think I'll let you overdo it. You may not be a student, but I can still call you out on your bad habits."

"You and everybody else, darlin'. You should have seen the lengths Jeannie went to when we were together."

"Well unlike Jean, I can be much more persuasive."

Logan snickered again at Ororo's playful tone. It seemed the more time he spent around her, the more appreciation he had for her toughness. He never would have expected that side to her. It shouldn't have surprised him considering how she carried herself in a fight, but it did. It gave him all the more reason to appreciate her company.

After she took her initial shot, Logan began his assault on the pool table. He started off strong, sinking the nine-ball. In between shots he poured himself another beer and prepared to make his next shot. As he did, Ororo stood back and smiled. She was enjoying herself a lot more than she expected. Logan may be a mysterious man, but he was easy to hang around. Joining him on his various ventures to bars and such was sort of therapeutic for her. It helped her get out again in wake of her breakup with Hank. It also helped her unwind in ways she hadn't been able to in a long time.

"Just in case you get too drunk on me, Logan, there's something I've been meaning to tell you," she said in a more serious tone.

"If this has anything to do with that Danger Room where I blew myself up and knocked out half the team, I don't wanna hear it," he said as he prepared to make another shot.

"It has nothing to do with that, I assure you. I'm over that, even if I still have the bruises from it," said the African woman as she leaned over the table next to him, "What I want to say is…thank you."

"For what?" said Logan, not taking his eyes off the billiard.

"For letting me tag along with you while I was going through that drama with Hank. You've really been a big help. I didn't realize how much I needed to unwind from it until I joined you in Germany for those extensive beer runs of yours."

"And here I was thinking you didn't get drunk enough to do any unwinding," grinned Logan as he made his shot, knocking the 10-ball into the corner pocket.

"I didn't have to. You got me through it by doing what no one else did."

"And what was that?" asked Logan as he prepared for his next shot.

"You didn't try to cheer me up or give me advice. You didn't judge or try to make sense of it for me. You just let me be myself. Now that I look back on it, that's what I needed most. I know that doesn't sound like much to you, but it means a lot to me. It's hard at times, having to hide what you're going through and adjust who you are to every situation. I don't expect you to understand. I just want you to know I'm grateful."

Logan turned away from the game for a moment. He figured hanging out with him was her way of getting away from her personal issues, but he never thought it was this deep. Ororo looked genuinely sincere, smiling at him warmly in a way that left him feeling a little awkward. But he found himself smiling back as well with his distinct wolfish grin.

"I understand more than you think, Ro," he said rising up from the table to face her, "You've seen me in a fight. I got a lot of nasty sides to me. Ain't that many of them I can show around the team. So every day's I gotta put on the face of a guy not totally screwed up by Weapon X. It's hard as hell, but I'd rather be the better guy than the prick who can't stop killing."

"I know how you feel, minus the killing part of course," said Ororo, "Part of the problem with Hank was we couldn't relate on other personal levels. It was easy for him to talk about the times when he still looked human. It wasn't as easy for me to talk about the times when I was still a street thief in Africa."

"Can't say I blame you," said Logan as he casually leaned back against the table, "Hank wouldn't even steal a pop tart from Bobby."

"Imagine what he would think if I told him I was trained to steal by the Amahl Farouk, leader of the Shadowkings crime syndicate."

"The Shadowkings? Never heard of them," said Logan.

"Be glad that you haven't," sighed Ororo, "They're not a pleasant group to be around. And I lived with them for five years from the age of ten. They had me pick pocketing at 11 and jacking cars when I was 13. I was even hanging around bars like this when I was 15, never afraid and always focusing on the next job."

"15? No wonder you're so comfortable in a place like this," laughed Logan.

"Trust me, this isn't the worst bar I've been in," she said with a slight grin, "But the hardest part of all, even harder than telling this sort of thing to Hank, is having to teach students at the institute the merits of stealing and lying. It's a good thing the Professor found me before I became too caught up in that life. But it's still part of who I am. And I can never escape it."

Her tone was solemn, not so much out of anger but out of regret. Ororo was not proud of her past. She had her share of misdeeds that she was trying to make up for with the X-men. It was a difficult struggle, one that she didn't talk about with just anybody.

Logan contemplated that for a moment. He knew Ororo was a thief. But he didn't know it ran that deep, being part of a shadowy crime syndicate surrounded by people who made the toughest guy in this bar look like a preschooler. For her to come out of that and still be this kind, graceful woman that everybody respected was really saying something. It gave him even more reasons to admire her.

"So why are you telling me when you couldn't even tell Hank? A guy who has seen you naked?" asked Logan.

Ororo's solemn expression shifted upon hearing that serious yet crass tone of Logan's. She then looked at him and smiled.

"Because you can understand," she said, "Like my life with the Shadowkings and your life with Weapon X, we both face the same struggles. And in times like this, it's helps to have someone to relate to. Plus, you have great tastes in bars."

"Guess I should be honored," he said, moving in a little closer to her, "You trusting me with this shit. That mean I gotta return the favor?"

"If you want to, I wouldn't be against it," said Ororo, smiling even more as he got close, "That of course depends on how good a sport you are after I beat you in three more games of 8-ball."

"You're enjoying yourself way too much in a dump like this," he said, now standing within inches of her.

"So are you. But if this is what we have to do to get away from it all, I'll take it."

"Me too, darlin'."

The tension between them was building. Ororo was still smiling and Logan couldn't drag himself away from her. His instincts were getting the better of him again. They were drawing him into this woman and there was no stopping him. He could tell Ororo was drawn in as well. He could smell it on her. He couldn't tell if she was going to follow her instincts as well. It may not hurt to give her a little incentive.

But before he or Ororo could go any further, a shadowy presence interrupted them. Logan felt a large, burly hand grasp his shoulder and abruptly turn him around so he was facing four tall, muscular, and very moody looking thugs. Two of them were bald, wielding dark clothes and gang outfits with red and black bandanas. The other two were slightly smaller, but dressed similarly with red on white bandanas.

"Okay, that's enough you two. Take your freakshow outside," he said.

Logan grunted, shoving the man back somewhat and flashing him a menacing glare.

"Touch me again, bub, and that hand ain't gonna be touching anything else!"

"Easy Logan," said Ororo, holding him back.

But the imposing thug was unafraid.

"This is our hangout!" said another thug, "The toilets are backed up, the music sucks, and the TV reception is lousy. We don't need your kind here making it any worse! Now are you going to get the hell out or are we going to have to throw you and your bitch in the nearest dumpster?"

Logan snarled intently, clenching his fists. His claws were just aching to come out and teach this guy some manners. He noticed he was in good company. At least half the bar was bearing the same gang emblems as him and was looking their way. They made it clear if he messed with one of them, he messed with all of them. In Logan's mind, those were good odds.

Ororo was more inclined to seek a peaceful solution. But after hearing that comment, she wasn't nearly as accommodating. Having been around thugs like this before, she understood that was a long shot at best. Thugs like this would find a way to hurt them no matter what they did.

"Be gentle, Logan," said Ororo as she let him go.

"No promises," snarled Logan.

His next response came in the form of an ominous 'snikt.' His metal claws came bursting out of his knuckles. Then with a feral growl he lunged towards the four thugs, knocking two of them onto the floor and head butting them into submission.

"Augh! Damn freak! Kill him!" yelled the now wounded thug.

"He's a dead man now!" said one of the two still standing.

Others got up from their seats to join him. Some took out guns while others took out knives and chains. At this point the bartender was already hiding under the bar in fear, knowing full well what was about to happen. Ororo could only groan in exasperation. This was going to get messy.

"Hrrrrrrrrahhhhhhhhhh!" roared Logan.

Shooting up from the floor, Logan drop kicked two more thugs and sliced clean through the guns of two more who were trying to rush him. Others from afar started shooting. A few missed, but several hit Logan right in the shoulder and chest. But this didn't even slow him down. He just turned towards the thugs who shot him and charged in a rage.

"Think you hurt me? You're just pissing me off even more!" he roared.

"Oh shit…" groaned one of the thugs.

While Logan went after the ones with the guns, a few of the thugs tried their luck on Ororo. Four more from a nearby table tried cornering her. They were all armed with knives and gave her a menacing and predatory glare.

"You're pretty hot for a mutant. But you're still a freak!" said one.

"Please, I'm a lot more forgiving than my friend," she said calmly, "Back away and you'll save yourself a lot of trouble."

"Are you trying to intimidate us, bitch? Because you suck at it!" sneered another.

Ororo tensed at such a harsh comment. Clearly, these men needed a lesson in manners. Summoning her powers, her eyes began glowing white while she continued to grip her pool cue.

"Very well, if your going to be rude I'll give you a brief lesson," she said menacingly.

One of the thugs came into attack her. But as he did, Ororo formed a small cloud overhead and triggered a small but powerful lightning strike. And since each men were wielding metal knives, it arced right into them and delivered a painful but non-lethal shock.

"Ahhhhhhhhhh!" they all exclaimed.

"I probably should have mentioned. It was a lesson in the physics of lightning," said Ororo, still calm but now very intent.

Using her pool cue, she skillfully slugged each man in the face and gut until they fell to the floor. A number of onlookers watched with shock. A new sense of fear gripped them, but they didn't back off. Her eyes still glowing and still armed with her pool cue, Ororo joined Logan in the fight. She hoped to avoid this sort of trouble on her night off. But if nothing else, it should provide her another way to unwind.

"I don't suppose I can convince the rest of you to back off?" she said.

"Get her!" yelled one of the thugs.

"And so it begins," sighed the African woman.

Ororo hit the oncoming crowd of thugs with a sharp gust of wind, kicking up napkins, food plates, and beer mugs all around the bar. Those that weren't knocked off their feet were taken out by her and her trusty pool cue. Few would expect a woman with powers like hers to know how to wield a stick in a fight. It was one of the few benefits of growing up in the Shadowking syndicate of thieves. These thugs were going to find that our the hard way.

While Ororo was taking out the thugs on her end of the bar, Logan was making quick work of the ones on his end. As soon as took down the first armed thug, nearly two dozen others swarmed him and tried to tackling him down. He managed to fight off the first few, but there were too many coming at once. And a few had knives so as soon as they got close enough, Logan was stabbed from multiple angles. The pain was intense, but it did little to slow him down. The feral mutant just let out another snarl in a predatory roar, she shot out from the pile and went to work beating the rest of these foolish thugs with his bear hands.

"Errrrrr! You picked the wrong freak to start a bar fight with, bub!" scowled Logan, holding a thug up by the collar, "You're lucky I got a lady friend with me! Or you and your buddies would be looking at your own guts by now!"

"That's polite of you, Logan. But we better end this quickly and get out of here," said Ororo as she fought off another thug with her pool cue.

"Are you kidding?" grinned the feral mutant, "You wanted to blow off some steam tonight? Well here you go!"

Logan emphasized his point by slugging the thug he had by the collar right across the face, breaking his knows and knocking out a tooth. It was a bloody, violent mess but it got the point across. Ororo could only watch on and shake her head. But she couldn't stop herself from grinning. While a bar fight with a bunch of thugs wasn't high on her list of ways to unwind, the way Logan presented it definitely gave it some appeal.

The bar fight continued. Despite being bloodied and bruised, Logan didn't let up. He took out every thug that came his way, ignoring pain every step of the way. Ororo kept at it as well, using wind to subdue the thugs that tried to come her way and her fighting skills with a pool cue to take the rest out. It wasn't the ideal behavior for a couple of teachers for the Xavier Institute, but as the Professor himself once said these were extreme times. The best she could do was make the most of a difficult situation.

Xavier Institute – Later

It was early in the evening and Professor Xavier had just left the kitchen after having helped himself to some leftovers for dinner. He had enough work for one day and was ready to relax with a good book and maybe even a movie. As he wheeled past the foyer, he sensed some of his students returning from their outings. He stopped briefly to greet them, waiting by the front door as they started filing in. Jean was the first one in.

"Hello Jean. How did dinner with your father go?" he asked warily.

"I'd…rather not to talk about it, Professor," she said in a morose tone.

She started making her way up the stairs before Xavier could ask any further questions. He couldn't help but worry, but if her thought projections were any indication it would probably be wiser to heed her words.

A few minutes later Kitty, Bobby, Rogue, and Remy arrived through the front door as well. They didn't look much better than Jean.

"Hey Professor," said Bobby in a low tone.

"Is everything okay? How was the mall?" he asked.

"I'd rather not talk about it," said Remy, mirroring Jean's exact words.

Kitty and Rogue seemed to share that sentiment. They looked at the Professor distantly and shrugged before followed each other to the kitchen. It seemed they didn't have much more luck than Jean. Now the Professor was really starting to worry.

A minute or so later Warren arrived through the front door. His hands were shoved in his pockets and he bore a frustrated and disappointing look.

"Warren?" he began.

"I'd rather not talk about it, Professor," he said, heading straight up the stairs just as Jean had.

That was three for three. This was becoming a disheartening cycle. Charles Xavier was officially worried now. Had it really gotten this bad?

As he wondered this, Hank and Scott passed through the foyer. Since they took the X-jet, they landed in the hanger downstairs and came up through the elevators. But they didn't look any more encouraged than the others.

"Are you okay, Charles?" asked Hank, "You look distressed."

"It's been a difficult afternoon in more ways than one old friend," said the Professor, "I hope you bring better news from the Air and Space museum."

"I wish we could," said Hank, "We didn't get as many pictures as we wanted. There was some…unpleasantness."

"How so?" asked the Professor.

"I'd rather not talk about it," said Scott as he headed up the stairs as well.

Professor Xavier had to keep himself from reacting too strongly to those words. It seemed to be the mantra of the entire team at the moment. It was a good thing Kurt was staying in Germany for the weekend. At least one of them could avoid this. Xavier's fears about the deteriorating state of human/mutant relations were worse than he thought. It was getting to a point where his students couldn't even find time to get out and unwind from their duties. It was difficult challenge for all of them. They needed something to give them and their cause hope. Otherwise there wouldn't be much left to fight for.

Xavier was about to head up to his room and call it a night. Then the front door opened again and Logan and Ororo entered. But their state was just as telling as the others. Ororo was helping Logan along, keeping him upright. He looked a little roughed up to say the least. His clothes were covered in holes and stained with blood, beer, and various food. They were all indicative of stab wounds and bullet holes. Ororo had a few scrapes too, but they were nothing compared to Logan's.

It was the clear signs of a scuffle to say the least. Logan looked alright, just sore. Xavier could just look at the demeanor with an exasperated expression. When Ororo saw Hank and the Professor she shifted uncomfortably.

"It's a long story," said Ororo awkwardly

The Professor nodded sheepishly and sighed.

"It's okay, Ororo," he said as he started wheeling away, "I'd rather not talk about it."

Up next: Hearts and Minds