TITLE: Twelve Gauge Coffee

FANDOM: Wolverine and the X-Men

CHARACTERS: Forge, Domino, Rogue, Scott, Logan, and Jean. Rest of team by mention.

RATING: Teen. [Mentions of assassinations/murders, though nothing onscreen. Mild Language. Vaguely insinuated femmeslash.]

SUMMARY: When Domino becomes part of life at the Mansion, it means big changes for everyone...one basement-dwelling genius in particular. Someone better put the coffee on; this is going to get interesting.

AUTHOR'S NOTES: This started as the annotation for a song on a fanmix. It is now the monster you see here, and all ~6,000 words are KELLY'S FAULT IN A GOOD WAY. The hints at Rogue/Domino and are for her. Forge's coffee machine is borrowed with humble gratitude from the fic "Night Flier" by alcimines – possibly THE best representation of Forge in fic that I've seen in this fandom. Forge's love of Rage against the Machine is Kelly's fault too, and is my official headcanon foreverandever. Other than that? This whole story is an overdose of fluff and dorktitude topped with a small shot of angst. Also, lots and lots of coffee drinking.

To the pedants, in case it comes up: Mansion is used as a proper noun here, as I imagine that the team uses it as the actual title of their home, not just a description of what kind of home it is. Hence its capitalization throughout.

Part 1: Cock It

Forge wakes up to Logan's face, and wonders for the seventeenth time this week just what Mystique saw in him.

(What? Logan had been muttering stuff about the Canadian organization a while back, Weapon X had kept very thorough records, and Forge is one of the fortunate few with a combination of curiosity and the sort of skills that ought to be making Microsoft and Apple very nervous. It's pretty simple math.)

"Why weren't you in the war room an hour ago?" he asks, arms crossed.

Forge looks to the clock on his bedside table.

"It's six in the morning. On a Saturday."

This is a good point. They never have war room meetings that early – that's an hour reserved for Danger Room sessions – and he's rarely ever called to them save for when then they need his technological expertise, which as a rule has to be translated by Kitty, and it is six in the morning on a freaking Saturday.

The seemingly irrefutable logic is lost on Logan, who is looking less and less impressed by the second.

"Get your ass down to the hangar. Summers is waiting there to brief you."


"Morning Forge," Scott says. "Good to see you amongst the liv-"

Forge holds up a hand.

"Coffee first. Talk later."

Five minutes has an industrial sized mug filled with industrial strength coffee in Forge's hands.

"Okay," he says, sitting down in front of the gigantic, multi-screen console he spends most of his time working with. "How is Logan abusing everyone's goodwill today?"

Normally he wouldn't be this blunt, but he knows that Scott doesn't especially care for the man either. Making snarky comments at their de facto leader's expense actually brings the ghost of a smile to Scott's face; still a rarity as of late even with Jean's return.

"How isn't he?" is the dry response before Scott takes a seat at the console's 'co-pilot' chair and moves straight to business. "Do you remember the last mission we ran?"
"Yeah. You were dealing with that crazy reverend dude. The one who's working his way up the ranks of the Friends of Humanity."

Of course, Forge knows more than this. He's the one who collates and processes all the mission reports. Reading through the team's post-mission field reports is about as close as he gets to joining them most of the time.

Scott nods at the very brief summary.

"He's dead."

"We're upset about this?"

"He worked closely with Robert Kelly. The authorities have been digging through the Senator's papers ever since he disappeared, and some of our names are coming up. There are people out there trying to make the connection."

"Well. Definitely upset then."

"There's a single photograph some kid from the Daily Bugle took that looks like it managed to catch the killer," Scott continues, turning to the console and opening an incredibly blurry, vaguely pixelated photograph on the main screen. "Can you work with that?"

The question is a dumb one. Forge makes a pfft noise, takes a generous swig of his coffee, cracks his knuckles, and settles in.

Running it through a few programs of his own design takes about half an hour of muttering, clicking, and more swigs of coffee. Scott remains silent throughout, demonstrating patience that Forge would both note and appreciate if he weren't so focused on the task at hand.

"There," he finally says, bringing up the final product: a clear, crisp version of the photograph's bottom left-hand corner.

The two men take a good look at the individual featured. Despite having sat there, looking at the image this whole time, it only now just sinks in who the picture is of.

Scott doesn't swear.

Forge does.


"Domino?" Kitty asks, incredulous, after Scott delivers the news. "Domino killed Reverend Stryker?"

"It's looking like it."

Hank, seated at the far side of the war room, hums thoughtfully.

"It makes sense. The Brotherhood disbanded once Pietro disappeared, and Domino made a living as an assassin before she joined them."

The knowing snort that serves as a response is from Logan.

"Old habits die hard," he murmurs, or as close as the Wolverine can get to murmuring. "Figures."

Forge, who is torn between excitement at actually being part of one of these planning meetings, and fear at what this all means, manages to get out a question.

"So what now then?"

Everyone looks to Logan. He breathes in, breathes out, and pans across the room with his eyes, ensuring he gets a good hard look at all the individuals present.

"We track her down, get the truth, and go from there."


It turns out that they don't even have to go looking. Domino shows up at the Mansion's door that very afternoon. The first thing they do is lock her in the fishbowl room downstairs, for her own safety as much as their own.

"I didn't do it," she says. "I was hired to kill the President of the Friends of Humanity."

Scott leans against the wall and raises an eyebrow.

"Because that's so much better."

The comment earns a frown from Ororo as Domino explains.

"Once the Reverend was down, it was complete insanity. I may be good, but even I can't make the shot when the target is dog piled on by his security force, and I wasn't going to stick around and kill all of them. I don't leave stacks of bodies behind."

"An assassin with standards. Touching."

"Easy Logan," Rogue warns, though Domino keeps pressing onwards, coming right up to the walls of her holding cell.

"I do quick and clean. You want a mess? Get Wade."

"Who hired you?" Logan demands, eyes narrowing.

Domino smirks, but it's a sad expression.


The stunned silence that follows gives her ample time to elaborate. "As far as he's going to be concerned, I blew the kill. So not only do I not get paid, he and his lackeys are all out for my hide. I'm giving it less than twenty-four hours before there's money on my head. This was the only place I could think of to go."

All eyes turn to Jean, standing a little to the left of Kitty. She is still getting used to her powers again, and is not as strong a telepath as she once was, but is certainly more than capable.

"She's not lying." The next statement is punctuated by a shrug. "Beyond that, I can't say much else."


Logan and Scott check in with Professor X to see what he has to say on the matter. Luckily enough, the assassination of Reverend Stryker is still remembered, if only for what it will eventually lead to. It will come out in roughly a week that it was a desperate, scared, and very unstable mutant teen named Quentin Quire who fired the shot from near enough to Domino that it would have been easy to confuse who the assassin truly was. This Quentin was not caught in the photograph as he was promptly trampled by panicking crowds, and is apparently key to an upcoming mission that the X-Men will run. As for Domino, she is apparently most welcome at the Mansion seeing as that even in the alternate future Xavier currently inhabits, she still becomes one of them.

The two Alpha males of the Mansion then troop back to the fishbowl, where Domino is still waiting.

"That's it?" she asks, somewhat stunned as Logan opens the door to what had been her temporary prison. "That's the interview process here?"

"You're not an X-Man, if that's what you mean."

"Yet," adds Scott mildly, expression unreadable behind his glasses.

Logan scowls at him before handing Domino off to Jean and Kitty with orders to give her the tour.


Forge hears Kitty, Jean, and a third set of footsteps before he sees them.

"And this is the hangar," Jean says in that serene way of hers. Kitty picks up from there.

"Workplace and often home of Forge, our very own pet genius."

This confuses him enough to make him overlook the 'pet' comment. Who on earth would they be giving a tour to?

The sound Forge makes when they come around the corner and he realizes the answer is not an attractive one.

OH GOD THEY BROUGHT HER HERE. Why would they DO that?

"Take a pill, Forge," Kitty says, noting his obvious discomfort. "Future Xavier says she's cool."

This should be consolation. It is not. Especially since he's spent the last few hours reading over all the stuff the X-Men and maybe possibly some high powered top-secret government groups he shouldn't really have access to have on her.

Domino looks a little thrown off by this comment, but Jean just smiles and murmurs a perfunctory 'play nice' before dragging Kitty away. This leaves Forge and Domino alone in the same room, which means he is not only reflecting on his funeral plans (it is NOT melodramatic to have a file entitled In_Event_Of_My_ on the Mansion's computer network; it is ORGANIZED), but wondering if he's going to end up having the dignity of an open casket. The silence is, needless to say, awkward. Domino ends up taking the initiative.

"So, I'm probably going to be staying here a while."

He nods.

"We should probably introduce ourselves."

He nods.

"I'm Domino," she offers, extending a hand.

He is about to nod again, but catches himself and offers a tentative hand before realizing that he's offered up his metal one. He barely avoids cringing at what she might think, even though a metal hand is a relatively minor thing in the great big world of mutancy; considering Domino has blue skin, it's especially dumb. Forge is not necessarily a rational creature at this point though, since a list of all the kills possibly associated with Domino (it is long and scary and OH GOD HE DOES NOT WANT TO BE NEXT) is running through his head. She takes the hand anyhow and shakes it.

"Did you build it?" she asks, gesturing towards the limb once she's released it.

"Yeah." He rubs the back of his neck with the hand in question.

Apparently satisfied, Domino looks around the workshop before pausing as her eyes settle on the focal point at the back of the room.

"Is that...a coffee machine?" she asks, indicating his pride and joy: the Bean Forger Version 2.5, the uncreatively named, nuclear-powered (no-one quite believes it, but it's true) altar to caffeine that had been the first thing he built upon arriving back at the Mansion.

"Yeah," he answers warily. "Would...would you like a cup?"

Domino considers, and nods.

"A cup of black would be great. Unless-"

"Unless what?"

Forge isn't sure, but he thinks that she might actually look a little bashful.

"Unless that thing can fix a skinny, double sweet caramel macchiato." She pushes the words out a touch too quickly. "And for future reference, would you mind not replying to everything I say with 'yeah'? It's...kind of weird."

So crazy assassin lady has a caffeine addiction, a sweet tooth, and doesn't look as though she's going to kill him right now. Perhaps this'll work out after all. Forge allows himself a smile.

"Fair enough. No more 'yeahs'."

It's as he strides across the workroom to the coffee maker that he looks over his shoulder at her. "And for future reference, my coffee machine can fix anything."

Part 2: Pull It

No-one is quite sure how long Domino intended, or is intended, to stay at the Mansion. What they are sure of is that she manages to fit in quite neatly, slowly becoming a fixture. She's an okay cook and Ororo loves the help in the kitchen. She and Bobby are both half-decent poker players. She and Jean discover a mutual adoration for crappy pulp fiction novels. She and Rogue maintain a polite distance. She and Scott talk aircraft and piloting regularly. She and Kitty finish reorganizing the library together. She helps Hank clean equipment in the lab when he completes experiments.

Logan remains aloof, as always, making a couple suggestions to the effect that he remains vaguely suspicious of the newcomer. He can hardly be blamed for this – Emma was the last outsider they let in to the Mansion, Charles knew she had been there, and everyone remembers how well that worked out.

"We've all got baggage," Rogue reminds him quietly.

"And some of us don't even remember what that baggage is," Scott adds, his tone just shy enough of snide that he can't be called on it. "Charles gave all of us a chance. Unless she proves herself a threat, we offer Domino that same chance."

"Emma got that chance."

It might be a trick of the light, but something glints off Scott's glasses in a way that brings the word dangerous to mind.

"Guys," Rogue says, moving between the two of them. "She meant it when she said she wouldn't have come here if she'd had anywhere else to go. Trust me on this one, okay?"

The look on her face says not to push this any further. Both men are wise enough to follow this advice.


While she manages to mesh fairly well with everyone else, it's down in the hangar that Domino seems to fit in best. She uses the excuse of caffeine jolts to make the trek down there, but that's hardly her only reason.

"So what are you working on today?" she'll ask over the day's beverage of choice, and Forge will share the answer with unabashed glee if only because Domino appears to be the only person in the Mansion (himself aside) who cares about planning and the process as much as the final product.

Today, over quad shot hazelnut lattes - heavy on the foam for her, light for him - they ogle the specs he's drawn up for the latest upgrade to the Blackbird.

"I thought the current cloaking devices were fine," she asks, tracing the outline of one of the new components with her index finger.

"NORAD is undergoing crazy upgrades next month. I managed to get copies of all the new software they'll be using, and it's going to be able to see right through everything we've got right now. If we want to stay invisible-"

"-we've got to stay ahead of the curve. Gotcha."

"Of course, first I have to finish fixing the damage from the last time they took her out," Forge sighs. "I wish Logan would let Scott fly the thing again. He could at least do an emergency landing properly."

"Need help?"

"I've managed to repair everything except the holes in the hull."

"I happen to be a quick hand with a blowtorch."

"Lucky me," he says, meaning it. A second pair of hands is always welcome. This gets Domino laughing for some reason though, which puzzles him (he didn't think that was particularly witty), but that's okay because she follows him to the corpse of the Blackbird and the two of them proceed to finish resurrecting her through the power of flame, sheet-metal, and a new coat of paint.


Domino mentioned only once, and only in passing, over the course of her months at the Mansion that her birthday fell on September 26th. Forge had made a mental note of this at the time, and on that particular morning when she comes down for a coffee, he greets her with the sort of grin that means something is up.

"Happy Birthday," he says, handing her an extra hot white chocolate mocha with an added espresso shot.

She accepts the cup gratefully, but blinks.

"You remembered?"

Forge shrugs. "It's not like they give me much else to do around here but remember stuff."

She thanks him for his birthday wishes, and the two of them drain their coffee while waxing poetic about how effective the Blackbird's new targeting system is proving. The first lull in the conversation is interrupted by Forge clearing his throat.

"I...I made you something."

He leads Domino out on to the grounds and along a path through the back woods.

"Rogue told me that you used to enjoy practicing your marksmanship up on the roof of the Brotherhood's house. That it was how you would wind down or something like that."

He catches the vaguely hurt look to her eyes before picking up the thread of the conversation again, moving a little more quickly as they come to a clearing and he explains himself further.

"I figured you haven't really been off the grounds at all since you got here, and you haven't had the chance to do anything like that lately, so I rigged you up a shooting range. It's nothing special, but—"

He pauses to go over to a gun locker set up inside a hollow tree, fiddling with the lock before pulling out a sniper rifle.

"Here," he says, handing it over.

"A Savage 10 FPXP-HS .308." She could either be incredibly upset, or incredibly impressed. Forge mentally crosses his fingers and hopes for the latter.

"I fixed it up a little. Nothing major, really. Just replaced its Accu-Trigger with an SSS one, polished the internals so the action's a little smoother, stuff like that."

He jams his hands in his pockets and kicks at the ground in what he hopes comes off like nonchalance. "There's other guns in the locker too. The combo on the lock is your birthday: zero nine two four."

"You didn't have to do all this," she whispers, touching the gun gently and adjusting the scope out of what's probably habit. Forge shuffles nervously.

"You're my friend, Domino. I didn't have to, I wanted to. I hear that's kinda how it works."

She has been running her hand along the gun's stock as he speaks, and it falls still once he finishes.

"Just...call me Neena, okay?"

And that point – watching a gorgeous woman giving him her real name while expertly handling a very dangerous weapon – would be the one at which Forge realizes that he could very possibly be in love.


Lunch on Tuesday is always cream of broccoli soup, prepared and enjoyed with Kitty up in the kitchen. This Tuesday is no exception. There is something that sets this Tuesday apart though.

When he returns to his workbench Forge notes right away that something is a little out of place; more specifically, something's there that wasn't there before.

Closer examination reveals it to be a tape – an old school, stick-it-in-your-ghetto-blaster-and-crank-it tape. Upon seeing the cover, Forge's eyes grow wide. It's a copy of Rage Against the Machine's 1991 demo. He is very aware of how hard it would be to track down something like this. It's no secret he's a fan – he blasts their music whenever he's got the hangar to himself, and it's not like the walls are soundproof or anything (though that's something he's toying with doing once the X-Men have a chance to breathe and they go on vacation or something) – but for someone to get him something like this? Wow.

There's a post-it note on the back-side, between the case and his hand. Forge removes it and reads:

For you. Enjoy.


He smiles, then sets both the note and the tape down so he can go dig out the tape deck he keeps hidden beneath his work-bench because he knew it would come in handy someday. He has the entire Rage Against the Machine catalogue on his computer, but there's something different about this, and he's not ruling out that it may be the fact it's a gift from Neena that makes it special.

Popping the tape in, he turns up the player as loud as it can go as the first strains of 'Bombtrack' burst through the hangar. The rest of the afternoon is spent singing along, head banging, and possibly dancing clumsily while finishing up his refitting of the seat harnesses in the Blackbird.

The tape is the first of many similar gifts. Over the course of two months, Forge becomes the proud owner of a mint condition, first pressing of each Rage Against the Machine album, and he's growing more and more sure that Neena just might be the proud owner of his heart.


Logan paces the room while Scott and Jean look on.

"Is she ready?" he asks, and both Scott and Jean look to one another first before looking back at Logan.

"You know that she's close with Forge, right?" Jean points out.

"She spends enough time down in the hangar with him that yes, I was able to figure that one out," Logan bites back. "That's not my question though. Is she ready?"

"He cares about her. A lot. And she cares deeply for him too."

"You're not telling me anything I don't know, Jeanie, and you're not helping me out much either."

Scott takes a step forward, hand moving upwards in a dangerous arc from his hip to the side of his face.

"I suggest not talking to Jean with that tone."

Grabbing his arm, Jean gently guides it downwards.

"As much as I appreciate the defence of my honour, Scott, I'm actually answering Logan's question. Now may I make my point?"

Both men go silent and wait.

"Xavier's already told us that Domino eventually does become an X-Man, but he doesn't know when, so it's all comes down to timing. She's all but an X-Man now, and it's been long enough since she came to us that it's probably safe for her to run missions with us. However, Forge is in love with her. He's just figuring it out himself, but he is, and once he finally realizes it and does something about it, things between the two of them are going to change significantly. When that happens, that's going to impact her too. It'll either draw her further in to the X-Men, or drive her to the fringes. So whatever you decide, Logan, decide quickly," she concludes. "The longer you wait, the more variables you're going to have to deal with. That's my answer."


A week later, Wolverine brings Domino – and it is Domino to all the others; Forge is still only one in the Mansion who knows her real name – along on a mission. He claims it's because they need more bodies, but pretty much everyone knows it's a trial run.

She comes back that night rather bruised, and both she and Forge toast her first successful outing as an X-Man over London fogs.

"So you're officially in then," he laughs.

"Logan's calling it a 'Temporary X', but Scott says today was pretty much my job interview and that I've been hired."

"Way to go Neena!" He loves using her real name, and when it's just the two of them, he makes a point of doing it. "You deserve it."

"Credit where it's due, Forge - I couldn't have done it without you."

He tries to wave this off. Neena's amazing enough on her own, and she has earned her spot on the team over the time she's been at the Mansion.

She just rolls her eyes. "Forge, I'm being serious here. The others have been welcoming and all, but you're the only one who's given a damn. I'm...not good at staying in one place for long stretches of time. Or at least I didn't think I was. I wouldn't have been able to hold out this long if you hadn't been there for me and you need to hear that."

"Where's Neena and what afterschool special did you step out of?"

"I'm trying to have a moment and you're making jokes."

"Hey," he smiles, shoving her shoulder gently and doing his best to chose his words with care. "Seriously? You're incredible. You're the only one here who's actually interested in what I do, the only one who doesn't make me in to a walking joke. You kick severe ass, and I'm just surprised that it took this long for you to make the roster. You're always going to have a place here." He pauses to amend the statement. "At least here in the hangar anyhow, and you need to know that."

A sip of her drink's last dregs is followed by a shake of Neena's head.

"One of these days I'm going to figure out what I did in a previous life to end up getting it so good here," she says softly, putting her mug down and rising to leave.

"Jonathon," Forge blurts out.

She turns around, expression quizzical. He turns his mug about in his hands, looking at the ground.

"The name my mom gave me. You know, the one on my birth certificate. It's Jonathon."

She smiles wistfully before coming back towards Forge and pressing a kiss in to his cheek, which renders him pretty much frozen as she leaves.

That's it, he decides. Tomorrow. Tomorrow's the day he'll tell her how he feels.

Part Three: Fire It

The next morning, he wakes up with stomach turning. Today. It's actually going to happen today. He heads down to the hangar with enough adrenaline pumping through his system that he's avoiding skipping by a very narrow margin.

Something is wrong though. Neena doesn't show up for coffee the way she does every morning. This deviation from routine worries Forge enough that by ten in the morning, he heads up for her room and knocks on her door. There's no response, and opening the unlocked (UNLOCKED!) door reveals nothing but an empty room.

He runs out through the grey morning to the shooting range, thinking maybe she just felt like some target practice. He hopes that he's being overly paranoid because of what he plans to tell her today.

He reaches the range.

There's nothing and no-one there.

Forge looks towards the locker and opens it, fearing the worst and finding it. All the guns are gone, replaced with only a note:

I'm sorry.


The universe's sick sense of humour makes itself even more evident as it starts to rain, and the ink on the piece of paper in Forge's hand begins to run.


The next few days are hard ones. Since it is the Mansion, everyone already knows what has happened and figures they know what's going on. They all know that Forge and Neena were friends, and that her leaving has hurt him. They have no clue about how close he had been to...

Well, maybe a couple of them do.

Scott comes and helps put a new coat of paint on the Blackbird, saying nothing. Forge suspects he, out of everyone, sympathizes most keenly with him right now. He appreciates the help, the companionship, and the silent understanding that his former leader offers.

Rogue stops by his room on the second night and hugs him tightly. He is thankful for both her care and the dark as he hugs back.

The others keep their distance for now, but they all murmur their attempts at comforting things whenever he crosses paths with them – Jean is especially apologetic about not having caught on to this whole thing before it happened.

No-one says it, but they all suspect another betrayal. Forge wants to believe otherwise; the only things missing are the guns, though in the back of his mind he knows that in her time spent with him, Domino (he can't bring himself to use her name anymore) had learned more than enough to be a threat. Just how much would someone pay to know the kind of things he'd talked about with her?

Logan just looks on disapprovingly, as per usual. Forge finds himself suddenly very aware of how the man watches absolutely everything.


Mornings come and go, and Forge thinks he might actually be doing pretty okay. There's never a shortage of stuff to do, after all, and keeping himself occupied is what he does best. Besides, it's not like knowing someone for a few months is a huge deal. It's not like he'd actually gotten around to admitting just how much he cared about Neena, so it isn't really that big a loss at all.

He actually might be coming to believe all this too, which he's guessing is at least a step in the right direction.

Forge heads down to the hangar one particular morning doing the two things he always does on this journey – wonder what kind of coffee he's going to make and write out the day's to-do list in his head. Upon opening the door and crossing the hangar to his coffee machine, he stops about ten feet away from it to do an honest to goodness double take.

"Morning," Neena says, walking up to him and handing him a mug of plain black coffee in what has to be the most surreal role reversal he can imagine.

"Good...morning?" he asks, accepting the mug only because some reptilian part of his brain is reminding him that he's the one who'll have to clean it up should it end up on the floor.

She heads back for the Bean Forger to go pour another mug, presumably for herself. Forge takes a large draught of the coffee. The two of them stand there in silence for a few minutes, drinking.

"Is there a question I could ask at this point that won't end up making me sound like a hysterical teenage girl?" he finally asks once his mug is pretty much empty and he can say with authority that no, this Neena is not a caffeine-withdrawal hallucination. She shrugs and gives a half-smile.

"That one was probably as close as you'll get."

He figures as much. He considers pouring himself a little more coffee, but defers in favour of locking eyes with Neena.

"So what the actual hell, Domino?" It's a hit well-calculated and well-placed; she hides it well, but there is definitely a wince. "What happened? What the hell could make you disappear without a trace like that?"

Neena takes a leisurely sip, recovering that touch of lost composure as she looks to be considering her answer.

"Scott might have been convinced by that first mission, but I knew Logan wasn't. That night, I went and asked him what it would take to show I'm qualified to be an X-Man. Remember how Scott thought of that mission as a job interview?" She indicates her garb, which is an X-Uniform – the black tactical edition that Forge has always secretly referred to as X-Ninja gear. He notes it doesn't fit her quite right; he tries to pick out who on the team is closest in build to her because she clearly had to borrow it since he never made one for her and he hates that his fallback thinking pattern is this sort of analysis even in situations like this." I just got back from Logan's interview. I'm officially in the club now."

Defensiveness kicks in and ends up tainted by hurt.

"I thought you didn't do well in one place for too long. That you'd left-"

He's going to end the sentence with me, but for once in his life his brain catches his mouth before it gets to that point. Neena smiles.

"Told you I'd figured that changed, didn't I?"

"But you didn't say anything. At all. To anyone. To me."

The last words manage to squeak out despite his best intentions. Stupid brain. And it had been doing so well too. Thankfully, Neena (and there he is, using her name again like nothing's happened – damnitall) appears not to notice.

"Logan's orders. I shouldn't even have left that note in the locker," she says. "The man had a complete fit when he found out, but that was the only point he ended up holding against me."

"You weren't allowed to tell anyone at all?"

"Scott's reaming him out over the whole thing right now, actually. Apparently, there's a process and paperwork required for solo covert ops, since the team is supposed to know when they're being run. Logan was countering by reminding him of, and I quote, 'that lone wolf crap you pulled that ended up getting you kidnapped by Mister Sinister', unquote, and demanding to know where the paperwork was for THAT. I left when Scott's trigger finger started looking itchy."

"And you came here."

This statement appears to confuse Neena, giving way to a surprising vulnerability that doesn't suit her at all.

"I figured you ought to hear this all from me." She swallows, and Forge isn't sure if it's shame or coffee she's gulping down. "Plus, someone I really care about told me a few days ago I'd always have place here."

"I guess he did, didn't he." There's a tense moment with pursed lips on both sides before Forge tilts his head to the side. "I figure he still means it too."

"Thank you, Jonathon." When she says his name, it's quiet, and he isn't really sure what to make of the affectionate smile that tints it.

"What can I say," he responds, trying to force out a laugh and succeeding at letting loose a self-conscious bray. "I'm a sucker for a pretty face."

"That makes two of us, I guess."

"Buh?" is his intelligent reply, almost certain he misheard. Turning around to face her in order to confirm his suspicion, he finds her right up in his personal space.

This, of course, turns his brain off, allowing his mouth to run amok. Curses.

"Before you disappeared I had been meaning to tell you that I sort of -"

She shuts him up very effectively with a kiss. Neena's breath has that gross after-coffee smell and tastes absolutely horrible, but Jonathon finds that he doesn't particularly mind.



Jonathon, for the record, is kinda-sorta comic canon. Since Forge's real name has never been revealed, I picked one of his more notable aliases and ran with it.

The reference to Mystique at the beginning is a tiny nod to their fling in the comicverse that ended up bringing Forge to the X-Men. Holy crap, discovering that blew my mind. I would give an arm and a leg...well, perhaps a ridiculous amount of gratitude for scans of this.

Quentin Quire attempting to incite violent riot and being mentally unstable in the worst way is comic canon as well; he apparently once started a riot at Xavier's, and is just bugnuts in Phoenix: Endsong.

WHY YES SCOTT HAS BEEN GIVEN A SPINE. If you need an excuse, how about Jean's return giving Scott that much-needed shot of confidence? The show indicated that he was pretty dependant on her, so having her back in his life would probably make him feel a little more capable of going toe-to-toe with the Wolverine. Make what you will of the Scott/Emma hints.