Chapter 16: Aftershocks
"Are there ever times when you just want to get away from. . .everything?"
"Things have been so screwed up lately, with Jean and Scott constantly on my back, the Brotherhood after my hide, and now my old pals trying to kill me, I don't really feel like being a part of Xavier's great 'cause.' It hardly seems worth it anymore."
"You want to live a normal life."
"I want to live with you without the Queen of Mean breathing down our necks or enemy mutants trying to kick our ass. I just want…to get away."
"It would be nice. . ."
"Run away with me."
"Lance, we can't. We belong at the Institute. We're needed there."
"Then, when this 'war' is finally over. . .will you go away with me? To a place that's just ours?"
* * *
Lance knew it was only a dream, but he didn't mind; the fantasy was much more pleasant than his current reality, and this was heaven compared to some of the nightmares he had.
He was in his bed, his real one, not the uncomfortable cot in the clinic, and his wounds were freshly healed. His skin was very tender, as Kitty noted while on top of him. She kissed his face in the dim lamplight as his hands roamed her body, caressing the skin under her white blouse. So soft and smooth. His own shirt was lying on the floor by his sneakers with more clothes soon to follow, but at the moment the two were simply enjoying the pleasures of foreplay.
"Mmmm." Lance smiled as her lips moved down his neck. He ran his fingers through her hair, pulling out its tie, and it fell down her back in one dark wave. Kitty giggled and sat up, straddling him. He reached for one of the buttons on her blouse, but she playfully stuck out her tongue and pushed his hands down.
"Not yet," she teased.
"Don't make me wait much longer," he whispered hungrily. "I need you."
They resumed kissing, the bed creaking with their movements. They were being careless; anyone could hear them or walk in (it would probably turn Jean's hair white, Lance laughed inwardly) but they didn't care. They were young and alive, and they were going to savor this.
Their positions switched with Lance atop Kitty. He was moving lower, giving her a very passionate love bite.
Her lips moved to his ear. "Love you."
Something happened. He pulled away sharply; sliding his hands down her neck he proceeded to violently choke her.
She gasped and sputtered, thrashing to no avail as he had her whole body pinned down. As his hands clamped down on her windpipe her face changed, Kitty's blue eyes flashing white, skin turning indigo, and her hair becoming a dark red, the color of blood. Now it was Mystique writhing underneath him helplessly. He showed her no mercy.
Mystique's face flushed a sickly purple from blood congestion, and she turned into Kitty again, then became herself—Kitty, Mystique, Kitty, and back again, the effect like a light switch flickering on and off repeatedly, and then there was a snap—
Lance lay alone in the unlit hospital room, his long hair sticking to the cold sweat dripping down the back of his neck. Panting, he closed his eyes and shuddered.
* * *
A large black van pulled up to the front gate of the stately Xavier Institute for Gifted Youngsters, rolling down its window to allow the driver to stick his palm against the scanner. It approved him and the iron gates parted, letting the van on the grounds. It was a cloudless, moderately cold day, and the Xavier mansion stood tall and beautiful on its hillside. It was only when the vehicle drove close that it was revealed to be a hologram, nothing more. The mansion still lay in partial ruin.
"Home sveet hole in ze ground," Kurt Wagner murmured from the passenger seat.
Several minutes later he and Scott Summers were carried down the secret elevator hidden in the fountain and deposited in one of the passageways hidden below the school grounds. An interlocking series of chambers and halls had become the makeshift home of the X-Men and Brotherhood in the many days following the battle with the Mindcoil. The reinforced metal walls were cold, uninviting, and a poor substitute for the warm security of the mansion, but they made do.
Like most of the rooms, the kitchen/dining hall was a sterile environment offset only by the presence of a pink-and-white checkered tablecloth and a vase brimming with daisies. Several relieved faces greeted the pair when they entered with arms (and a tail) carrying grocery bags.
"My heroes!" Jean proclaimed.
Carefully balancing the bags, Scott rifled through one. "Ah, let's see. Here we have sushi," he handed the container to Jean, "herbal tea," he passed to Ororo, "green tea and hush puppies," Rogue flashed a thankful smile, "beef jerky," Logan accepted it with a grunt, "pop rocks," Tabitha grinned and ripped open the bag, "ham sandwich," Freddy's mouth watered as he snatched it, "tacos," Evan cheered, "and garden salad," he finished by passing it to Kitty.
"Where's mine?" Todd wanted to know.
"We went to a grocery store, not a bait shop."
"Get everything else on the list?" asked Logan. "You two sure took a while."
Kurt sat beside Tabitha at the end of the long table and answered, "Ve didn't run into any problems. I zhink ve have enough food now to last us to next year. But Scott, ehhh…"
Having set down the groceries, Scott lifted the huge red tote bag hanging off his shoulder and unzipped it. Textbooks, pens, papers and other similar things fell out. "I stopped by school and picked up all our homework."
A mighty, collective groan was heard.
"Cyke, man, you're killin' us," Evan whined.
"Totally," Kitty added glumly.
"I think that was very responsible of you." Jean smiled.
"Vice Principal Kelly was willing to let all of our absences slide as long as we get it all done," Scott said. "Remember, he thinks we're sick with the flu."
"Wish I was," muttered Tabitha.
"No arguments, people. Come on," Scott sat down between Rogue and Jean, "let's eat."
They did, with relish. Only Kitty held back from taking part in her meal, looking down at the plastic salad container with a small frown. "Hey Scott, did you get the spaghetti?"
Swallowing part of his hamburger, the boy held up a finger and quickly rummaged through one of the bags on the counter. "With meatballs? Yeah, here." He handed it to her. "Need any help?"
"No, it'll be fine," Kitty shook her head, standing up. "I'm sure Lance will appreciate it."
As Kitty faded from view down the hall, Rogue thought about Scott's trip to school and a frown darkened her face. Her heart was heavy with secret knowledge. Leaning close to Scott, she said in his ear, "Hey…there's something I have to tell you after dinner."
* * *
Sitting upright in his hospital bed, Lance Alvers wore an uninterested expression as he pressed the remote, gazing at the different station for a few seconds before stabbing the button yet again. To help pass the time Scott had wheeled a small television set into the underground base's clinic, and he put it to good use. But after hours every day planted in front of the boob tube he was now bored enough to scream.
Lance was alone a lot of the time. Sure, there was a camera watching him and two other patients were still technically in the clinic, but he had very little in the way of human interaction. He knew they were excavating the remains of the Institute, salvaging what was left and assessing the damage; they had their hands full, but it was irritating all the same to be helpless and locked up in a hospital bed, out of the way.
Kitty visited him whenever she could, mostly by herself. Everyone else came in groups, Scott always with a supportive smile, knowing him well enough not to give a pity party, and Kurt trying to lighten the mood with a couple lame jokes. Whenever Evan joined them he rarely spoke and stared at Lance with some reproach. Ororo apologized once, saying that her nephew never did do well in hospitals, but he had heard that Evan's was one of the rooms totally destroyed, and as a result held a bit of a grudge. The rest of his housemates had only come in once or twice in the last week, if at all, which suited him fine.
The channel was on some nature show about mating rituals when the clinic door opened. Kitty entered with a dinner cart. "Hi," she greeted, pushing it to his bed and then placing a glass of water and a bowl of reheated spaghetti and meatballs on his tray.
"Hey," he said quietly.
She sat on the chair beside him and placed her salad container in her lap. She glanced at the muted television. "Anything good on?"
He was careful not to move too much as he picked up the plastic spork with his good hand and dug in. It was hot and burned his tongue.
Kitty swallowed a bite of her meal. "So, ah, Ms. MacTaggert—you know, the Professor's old associate, the one from Scotland—she'll be here by the end of the week. Mr. Logan says she'll help the reconstruction efforts."
"Mmm." Mouth full of hot tomato sauce and meatball, he nodded.
"It'll be great to have the mansion back again, won't it? Living down here makes me feel like a mole."
She added wistfully, "I bet you'll be glad to sleep in your own bed again."
An image from that previous night's dream flashed in his mind's eye; shaken, Lance dropped the spork onto the faded gray covers. Kitty reached for it the same instant he did, and their fingers brushed. It was nothing at all, but the contact made Lance recoil as if she had struck him. The sudden jerk aggravated his wounds; pain shot through his arm, sharp like several needle pricks. "Augh!"
She gasped. "Are you all right?"
He banged his fist against his tray, spilling the glass of water. "I'm fine, goddammit!"
Kitty stiffened, her eyes betraying her emotions. Biting her lower lip to keep it from trembling, she grabbed her salad and said, "Okay. Sure. My mistake. I won't disturb your dinner." And she was gone with a slam of the door.
The sound echoed in Lance's ears, forming a pit in his stomach. Miserable, he rubbed his eyelids with the back of his hand, wiping away the moisture.
* * *
"I don't believe it," said Scott, pacing around the makeshift common room. "Mystique—and Principal Darkholme—were the same person the whole time?!"
Sitting on an old green couch, Rogue pulled her knees up to her chest and nodded.
"It's true, Scott," Ororo affirmed, brushing a stray white hair behind an ear. "Logan and I knew of it for some time."
"And you didn't tell us?" Kurt was aghast.
"The Professor didn't want us to. He thought it would be better for all if it were to remain a secret."
"What, it's not like we were gonna attack her or anything stupid like that." Evan threw up his hands from where he sat on the arm of the couch. "She wanted to pretend nothin' was goin' on, so could we."
Kitty, who had been oddly silent ever since joining the meeting, added, "It's like we were playing with fire and didn't even know it."
Logan shuffled his feet, leaning against the wall and putting his hands in his pockets. "That's a good point. Still, Charles was only worried about you."
"Worried?!" Scott challenged, his brows knitted. "If he was worried, shouldn't he have told us? She was one of our worst enemies and we were left in the dark!"
Jean stepped forward and tried to counsel him. "Scott, calm down. Getting upset won't change anything, and it's not as if we have to worry about Mystique anymore."
He sighed heavily. "I know, but I'm fed up with this! The Mindcoil, Mystique…the Professor's secrets could have gotten us all killed!"
"This is hard on you, Cyke," Logan spoke up again, "but you gotta face facts: there are some things you kids are ready for, and some you're not. Professor X probably had a little difficulty deciding which was which."
Outside the common room stood Tabitha Smith. She lingered by the door, not really meaning to eavesdrop, but uncertain of entering. She jumped back in surprise when Kitty phased through it.
"Oh, I'm sorry!" she cried, embarrassed.
"Uh, no, it was my fault," Tabitha shook her head, feeling awkward.
"What are you doing back here?"
"Not listening in or anything. I'm not going to intrude on one of your secret meetings."
Kitty chuckled despite her low spirits; she made it sound like something out of Mission: Impossible. "They're hardly secret, and, like, no one would care if you hung out."
Tabitha raised an eyebrow. "Really? I am technically one of the bad guys, right? I know Badger or whatever his name is doesn't really like us being here."
"Mr. Logan will get over it. Besides, Rogue's in there."
Tabitha put a hand on her hip. "Yeah, well she saved One-Eye from Ms. Tall Blue and Gruesome. That's gotta win her some brownie points."
Kitty folded her arms over her chest. "Oh yeah, and what about you? Without your help Kurt would never have found me. I don't think you're a bad guy at all." She smiled. "Here, we're like a big family. And we are open for new membership. So don't be shy, you know? Later." Kitty waved, heading back down the narrow hallway to her barracks.
Tabitha shrugged. Why not? She turned to open the door when it flew open inches from her face, and she stood right in front Logan. He narrowed his eyes at her.
"Hi!" she waved her fingers, giving him a toothy, if somewhat nervous, grin.
"Hurmph," was all he said brushing past her. With a relieved sigh, she walked in.
Logan caught up with Kitty not long later. She had left early, and he sensed something off about her. "Hey Half-Pint, you feelin' all right?"
She offered a weak smile. "Yeah, of course." She seemed to have lost the brightness she had talking with Tabitha, and there was sadness hidden behind her eyes.
"Come on, spill it."
"I'm okay, Mr. Logan, really. I'm just tired, and a little sick of living in these walls." She frowned, glancing at her bare surroundings.
Cutting straight to the chase, he asked her, "It's Lance, isn't it?"
Her eyes grew wide. "Why would you think that?"
"Because you get like this every time you see him."
Suddenly upset, a scowl spread across her face. "How am I supposed to feel? He almost died! It hurts seeing him like that, covered in bandages and barely able to move…and then there's what the Mindcoil did to him--"
"What did it do?"
Kitty's angry expression disappeared. Closing her eyes and shaking her head, she sighed. "I don't know. He hasn't told me. He won't talk to me." Her emotions overtook her as tears welled up in the corners of her eyes. "It hurts."
Logan put his hand on Kitty's shoulder, offering what little support he could. Neither of them took notice of Jean Grey in the hall entrance, watching them with an unreadable expression on her countenance.
* * *
It was later that night Kurt and Tabitha decided to take a stroll. It felt good to be aboveground, able to feel the cool breeze on their faces and gaze at the glittering stars overhead. Kurt had his image-inducer off, and his blue fur made him almost invisible in the dark. Tabitha strode beside him, crossing her arms over her body.
"So Mystique's really gone."
"Zhat's vhat Logan said."
"Heh. I'm glad."
Kurt paused before adding, "I suppose you would be." There wasn't any disapproval in his voice. She had told tales of Mystique's cruelty to her charges, and those true accounts were pretty much responsible for the Brotherhood being able to crash with the X-Geeks—Logan otherwise wouldn't have had any sympathy for those who had stood by and let Mastermind brainwash Lance, or helped in Magneto's attack on the mansion.
"Like I said before, we really didn't have a choice."
"I still don't believe zhat."
Tabitha scowled. "Mystique was my only way out, Blue. Without her I don't know where I'd be, or if I'd even be alive right now."
He froze in mid-step, turning to look at her. "Vas?"
She sighed. Could she really tell him? Would it make any difference?
"My mom and I were running from my dad. He was a crook, and he used us for anything he could. He'd hit her sometimes. You know, typical asshole father bullshit like that. And he had some real creepy friends." She shuddered involuntarily as unpleasant memories came back to her. "When I got my powers, he stopped seeing me as his kid and instead I was his new cash cow. He had me blow open safes, payphones, crap like that. Mom got scared that one day something would happen to me. So we bailed. He eventually found us…and I tried to make sure he never hurt us again." Silent for a long time, she didn't elaborate further. "I was scared of the police. I was ready to run again when Mystique contacted us and said she could hide and protect me, and that I'd be with my own kind. It smelled kinda fishy, but what choice did I have, you know? So yeah. Here I am." She shrugged and ran her fingers through her hair almost self-consciously.
Kurt was almost at a loss for words. There must have been something for him to say, but all he could muster up felt trite. "I'm sorry to hear about that. Really."
She shook her head. "Don't worry about it. I'm sure I don't have to give you a story about a screwed-up childhood. I mean, with your mom and all…"
"Vhat about her? I had great foster parents. Zhey took care of me and loved me, vhen some of my family members vould have just sold me to ze circus, or vorse. It vas hard growing up like zhis," he held up one blue, three-fingered hand, "but I made do."
Tabitha was confused. "And your birth mom…"
"Dead," Kurt finished sadly. "My foster parents found me in her arms."
Tabitha drew in a small breath. He doesn't know! Could I tell him? Should I? Would he even believe me? 'Hey, sorry for not mentioning this earlier but Mystique actually gave birth to you. Small world, huh?' Oh, no fucking way…
"Vell," Kurt spoke up, "zhanks for telling me."
She leaned against him, pushing away thoughts of Mystique. "Mmm hmm."
"I…like talking to you."
"Yeah. This is nice."
"It's kind of a shame, isn't it? All zhat time our teams fought, vhen ve could have…" His voice trailed off as he looked at her.
"Been doing somezhing else." Swallowing his nervousness, he leaned down and gently kissed her forehead. He was blushing.
Tabitha grinned and wrapped her arm around his. "It can't be helped, especially when we got off on such a wrong foot."
There was a playful gleam in Kurt's eye. "Should we start over?"
Grinning, he bowed theatrically and waved his tail for her to shake. "Kurt Vagner, at your service."
Tabitha suppressed a short laugh. "I'm Tabitha Smith. Pleased ta meet ya."
"Ze pleasure is all mine."
* * *
There was just something about hospitals he didn't like. Maybe it was the washed-out walls, the clinical smell, or the steady beeping of machines…the feeling of the place touched upon memories beneath the surface of his consciousness, reminding him of a clinic that might as well have been a butcher shop, and what had befallen him there.
Logan gazed at Charles Xavier. Dressed in his pajamas with blankets covering his chest, he looked like he would wake up from his slumber any moment. But this was an underground emergency clinic, not his bedroom, and he was in a coma. Had been ever since the mansion went down taking the Mindcoil with it. Jean had tried to reach him several times by pushing her underdeveloped abilities to the limit, to no avail.
"It's…almost like he's lost. Physically, he's fine. He's not brain dead…but his consciousness is somewhere else. It's almost as if his spirit has left his body completely. The Mindcoil was actually his cloned brain and possessed all of his abilities. Maybe they were both connected in some way, and when one left, so did the other…or perhaps he chose to stay with it, fight it on the psychic plane, and make sure it never returned…"
It was all speculation, of course. Only one person knew what had really happened, and as it was, he was comatose.
"The kids are going to be just fine, Charles," he said. "Cyke's a born leader, just like you said. He found out about the Mindcoil, Mystique, and everything else by the way. He doesn't know why you did it. Something about trust and betrayal always sticks with ya, I know that much. When you're through paying your penance, I think you're gonna have a long chat with him."
* * *
Lance had been awake for over an hour, the red digits on the alarm clock by his bed telling him the awful time, but he lay inert, face buried in a pillow. It had been another rough night, and he finally stopped shaking.
His tranquility ended when someone entered the room from the adjacent clinic where the Professor was, the heavy booted footsteps automatically exposing the intruder's identity. Lance remained still. Logan would shuffle out in a few moments without a word, and he would be left alone. But that was not what the stocky Canadian planned on doing.
He took a chair and spun it around to face the bed. Crossing his arms over the back of it, he stared at the boy before announcing his presence. "Your breathing's givin' you away," he remarked.
Lance stiffened, and with a small groan he turned over on his side. "What is it?" he asked. Something was up; this was no social call.
"Just thought a little dialogue might be in order."
There was a pause before Logan made conversation. "Kitty's been having a rough time lately."
With a roll of his eyes and body, Lance turned his back to his guest. His comment was an uncharitable, "Everyone's having a rough time."
"So, you don't love her anymore."
Despite the pain it caused him, Lance shot up, livid. "What the hell are you talking about?"
"She tries to help and you push her away. You don't speak to her. It'd probably be better for both of you if you just tell Half-Pint the truth now."
Logan had always been one of the few people who actually intimidated Lance, but at this point he could care less about how scary he was. "Where do you get off saying that? Of course I love her!"
His tone rose. "So you slap her hand away when she touches you?"
Lance slammed his fist against his bed, hair falling into his eyes. "You don't understand! How can I look at her or touch her after what I did?"
The rock-tumbler snapped, "I tried to kill her! I fucked Mystique, thinking it was her! Kitty comes in, and I see myself wrapping my hands around her throat, or I imagine screwing her, and she turns blue—sometimes both!" Now his eyes were moist, and he looked at Logan as he clenched his fists over his thighs. "I close my eyes and I relive what the Mindcoil showed me. I hurt Kitty, attack Summers, and do terrible things…and part of me enjoys it! So don't tell me how I feel! I know how I feel! If I hurt her again--"
Logan snorted. "You have."
"But it's better this way. I know it is. Until I can figure myself out she's better off just staying the hell away from me."
Logan pressed his lips together, slowly shaking his head. "Let Kitty decide what's best for her. She almost lost you once; to be close to losing you again must be killing her. This ain't the time to be selfish."
Selfish? That bastard.
Logan continued as if he could read his mind. "You said it yourself, everyone's havin' a rough time. You think you're the only one who nearly kicked it? You think you're the only one who got hurt? You're not the only one who lost things, Rocky, so don't you dare give that girl any more grief than she deserves."
Again Lance spat, "You don't understand." Unable to meet Logan's stern gaze any longer, he buried his head between his knees. Christ, why did it all have to spill out now, in front of him of all people? He couldn't hold his feelings back any longer, and started to mutter, his emotions nearly making him incoherent. "Kitty looks at me, and I see how much she loves me, that she'd do anything for me, and I know deep inside I don't deserve a damn bit of it. I was twisted so fucking easily, beaten, brainwashed, shown a life I never led…I remember it all! So much of it—eating me alive! I lied to her! And Kitty—she-- loves me! I lied to her…and still she…why?"
For what felt like a long time, the only sound in the room belonged to the ceiling fan whirring overhead.
"I don't know, Rocky. That's between the two of you. But," Logan sighed, "I do know what it's like when things don't make sense in your head…when your own memories can't be trusted. God knows it's hard, but you tough it out 'cause you still got your future. You're lucky to have someone next to you, willing to be with you every step of the way. It's not something you really wanna throw away." It was strange to hear those words come out of Logan's mouth. He made it sound like he really did know what Lance was going through, but how could he?
And there's something else, too. You were with the Professor when he went and got that…thing. Did you know? Did you have any idea what it was, or what it was going to do to us?
"Just…leave me alone." His head still between his knees, the boy paid no attention to his guest as he stood up from his chair and crossed the room.
"Think about what I said." Ah, now that was the Logan he knew, gruff as always; he half-expected an "or else" to be attached to it. The door closed behind him.
After his departure Lance lay back, trying to forget. Oh, man. It hurt so much. Perhaps Logan was right; still, he couldn't trust himself near Kitty. Couldn't get close to her…why was he doing this to himself? To her? Was there any reason behind it save his fear? He was so fucking stupid.
He drifted back to a memory. Pictures played themselves behind his eyelids; black and white zigzags lining the room's floor, red curtains swaying all around him. It wasn't real, the rational part of his brain told him. The Mindcoil could never hurt him in that place again. So why then did he feel so strange, like he wasn't alone in his head anymore? Something was snooping around. He felt the touch of a telepath, light as a feather.
Lance opened his eyes a bit. The red curtains were still there. No, not curtains, but hair; long red locks framing a face he knew all too well. He hadn't heard her enter.
* * *
In the barracks she shared with Rogue and Tabitha, Kitty lay atop the army cot that functioned as her bed, sprawled out on the course blankets nestled between Lockheed and Lancelot (both of whom had miraculously survived the destruction, with the dragon's missing plastic eye the only injury). On her pillow was a cheap romance paperback from the grocery store, and she closed it, no longer interested in the risqué tale of Desiree and Rafael.
I miss him, she thought. She missed his presence, the feeling of his arms around her, protecting her; she missed the way he messed up his hair with his hands, letting it fall in his eyes; she missed his laughter and his smile. It had been so long since she last saw him smile.
I need to have patience. Lance wouldn't talk about what exactly happened inside his mind back there, but we know it was different from what it did to everyone else. She bit her lower lip as her own specially made nightmare came to mind. It…showed him things. And then there's Mastermind's brainwashing to consider. Like, it's really no wonder Lance isn't himself right now. I can't imagine what he's feeling.
But how can he get any better if he closes himself off? I can see him keeping his mouth shut to Scott and Jean, but me? After everything we went through together, even almost dying right next to each other, he won't open up. He just pushes me away every time. Why, why, why? She pounded her pillow in frustration. I love you…but how much more do you expect me to take?
After a good, long cry, Kitty glanced at her watch. Almost time for Lance's lunch. She collected herself and washed her face in the restroom (God, I'm such a crybaby, she thought, feeling pathetic and not at all like herself) before going to the kitchen. When Ororo greeted her she said hi as if nothing was bothering her. This was between her and her boyfriend. No need to make anyone else concerned. There was already so much to worry about.
With his meal on the cart she pushed, Kitty steeled herself for another trying encounter when she noticed the door that Lance requested always be kept shut was wide open. Peeking inside the infirmary, she gasped. "What are you doing?!"
Jean was at his bedside, alone, one hand pressed against his temple with her eyes closed. Startled by Kitty's cry, her concentration broke. No mistaking it, she had been using her powers on Lance, who was still and silent. "Kitty! I--"
"What were you doing to him?!" the girl shrieked again.
"Hasn't his mind been messed with enough?!"
"I wasn't trying to hurt him!" Jean raised her hands, pleading. "I was trying to help."
Kitty's face flushed with anger. "Oh yeah right! You help a hood like him?" Her tone dangerous, she pointed to the door. "Get out!"
Jean stood in place and took a deep, calming breath. "I suppose I deserve that."
"You're not welcome here, Jean. Leave right now, or I swear…"
"Please, listen to what I have to say for just a moment!" She appeared desperate, guilty. "I didn't mean to scare you or worry you. What I said was the truth. I was just trying to help Lance."
Kitty scowled, not believing a word of it.
"I know now I was wrong. If not for you and Lance, we all would have been killed. I blame myself for all this; I was so sure Lance was rotten I fell for Mystique's trick hook, line, and sinker. I chased him away…it's because of me he was brainwashed and turned against us. So…I'm sorry." Jean swallowed hard. It was not an easy thing to say.
Kitty felt the words strike
a chord within her despite her unwillingness to trust her teammate. She
swallowed hard, torn over what she should say or do, but then finally spoke.
"Fair enough…but what are you doing here?"
"I heard you talk with Logan about your troubles with Lance and wanted to do something about it. The Mindcoil was a telepath; it hurt him mentally. I thought I could use my powers to heal some of the damage."
She shook her head. "Perhaps, a little. He resisted me. His mind is such a mess; I had to be very gentle. But I saw his memories of that night, felt what he felt. He's being tormented by strange visions and false memories. If I can block them out, push them into the recesses of his mind where he'll never find them again…"
Kitty gazed down at the floor, thoughts torn. "Will that help him?"
"I believe so, yes. I don't want to hurt him, Kitty. Please know that."
"I'll think about what you said. But Jean…please leave."
The redhead nodded once, bowing her head, and exited the room.
Kitty let go of the angry breath she had been holding and went to Lance's side. His deep slumber had to be Jean's doing, because not even he slept heavy enough to miss such a spat. He looked peaceful. She stroked his cheek, feeling terrible not because his mind had been invaded yet again, but because the girl who had held nothing but ill will for him now knew more about his pain than she did.
* * *
Scott was in his barracks completing a history paper when he heard a door slam shut and hurried footsteps. He stuck his head out the open entrance and called out, "Jean!"
She stopped and looked down the hall. Her face was red, teary. "Scott, I…"
"What is it?" he asked, concerned. He met her halfway.
Wiping away her tears, she tried to stifle herself. "It's all right…just…could we talk? For just a little while? Alone?"
He nodded slowly, wondering what could possibly disturb her since she was normally so composed. He led her into his room, quietly shutting the door behind them for privacy. "Tell me what's wrong."
She did, spilling out the tale of her contact with Lance, the terrifying images that assaulted her, and Kitty's anger. "…I don't know why it's so upsetting. I guess I've just hit my limit, with the Mindcoil, the mansion, the Professor and everything else."
Scott sighed. "You'll have to excuse me, Jean, but I can understand Kitty's reaction. You should have said something."
"I know, I know…but Scott, you should have seen it! How it tortured him and us, and all that rage and violence. He had a conversation with an alternate version of himself! It's a wonder he hasn't lost his mind." Her whole body started to shake, and she touched her face. "Oh Scott, I said and did so many awful things to him…I was afraid of what he could do to Kitty, and in the end, he was the one who was raped."
Moved into silence, her companion was at her side. She went to him, flinging her arms around his neck.
"Hold me. Please?"
Startled, Scott said nothing at first. It felt good to have Jean against him, turning to him for comfort and affection, but there was something deeply wrong about it. While at one time he would have enjoyed the embrace, now he felt uncomfortable. Frowning, he gently put his hands on her arms and pushed her away.
"Jean, I'm sorry, but I can't…"
"Can't what?" She was hurt by his seeming rejection.
"I can't do this. I can't be what you need right now."
Her sadness turned quickly to anger, and her famous temper flared. "What I 'need' is someone to lean on! There's nothing wrong with that!"
Scott ran his hands through his hair, struggling to find the right words. "You know this is more than that. I mean, what about Duncan?"
"What about him?" She touched his cheek, softening her voice. "This is about us right now."
Scowling at her dismissal of the jock, he removed her hand. "Please, Jean. I don't want this."
"But Scott, all this time…you and I…I thought you cared about me."
"I did—I still do. Feelings change, and…" He sighed. "I'll always be your friend and be here for you. But I can't go any farther."
"It's her, isn't it?"
He looked away, unable to stare into her green orbs any longer. There was a long, agonizing silence before he heard the door creak open and close, and then he was alone.
* * *
Nightcrawler 'ported from place to place, surveying the mansion's wreckage and looking for anything salvageable. The Danger Room and two wings of the mansion were total losses, but it was fortunate that Cerebro and the X-Jet's hanger suffered minimal damage. He was glad that Blob was there and using his super strength to help the cleanup process, but they still lacked the tools, resources, and expertise to effect repairs. Calling the local Bayville construction crew was out of the question. It was another stroke of luck that the Professor had old friends in Scotland willing to help (though the elf had not once heard of Muir Island, and he thought he was pretty good at geography.)
Far away from him there was a deep shaft that led to what had been the Mindcoil's chamber. Spyke and Blob had the unenviable task of finding the psychic beast's remains for examination and disposal, and as Nightcrawler stared into the distance he saw them emerge from the tunnel. Spyke waved.
Teleporting to the site in a sulfuric bamf, he asked, "Find it?"
Spyke's lips were pressed together as if fighting back a meal that disagreed with him. Blob's face was pale, almost white.
"Not the Mindcoil…but something else is down there. Get Wolverine, man."
* * *
Storm was with Cyclops in the X-Jet's hanger, giving the sleek SR-77 a good check-up. The boy was distant and quiet, not acting like his usual attentive self. He was still mulling over his tussle with Jean, his feelings for Rogue, and the confusion it all brought him, though Storm had no way of knowing that. Their eyes flew to the elevator as Nightcrawler, Spyke, and Blob emerged from it, Wolverine following them and dragging what looked like a stretcher behind him. A sheet covered what was on it, and both Cyclops and Storm rushed to meet them, concerned.
Storm's eyes were frozen on the lumpy mass under the sheet. "Is that…?"
Wolverine nodded. "But I think you need to take a look at it."
Cyclops wanted to ask "why?" but his voice disappeared as the older mutant pulled away the material, exposing the discovery.
It was Magneto's body, or at least it appeared to be. Being crushed under rubble had done enough damage to the remains, but it had decayed rapidly, bits of moldy flesh clinging to bones. What also made it horrific was that the blood and gore was white, not red, and looked like a thick paste. Glimmering traces of metal decorated the insides.
"Good god…" Cyclops was very nearly ill. "What is that?"
"A dummy," replied Wolverine. "A synthetic clone of Magneto with no mind of its own…just those nanites that let the real Master of Magnetism control it."
"And that was down there?" Storm's lips curled in disgust, and she put an arm around her nephew, holding him close.
Wolverine nodded gravely. "He's still out there, pulling the strings. I'd bet my money on it."
"Vell good for him," spat Nightcrawler. "But vhat are ve supposed to do about his son?"
* * *
"Does he really need all those drugs?"
Jean Grey stopped fixing the IV drips and turned her head to look at Todd. "I'm afraid so. Pietro needs to be heavily sedated. You remember what happened when he woke up." She shook her head and went back to work, muttering, "Shot out like a spring-loaded cat."
By appearance Pietro Maximoff looked as comatose as the Professor, tucked in with the blankets covering his chest, arms tightly bound to the bed to keep him from harming himself. His silvery-blonde hair needed to be combed.
"So he's totally gone, huh?" Tabitha asked from her seat across the room, words muffled by the lollipop she was sucking on.
Jean held onto the precious remainder of her patience. "He isn't 'gone.' There's no irreparable damage to his brain; the Mindcoil just erased all his memories."
"Oh." Todd snickered, as if that made it all okay. "Just erased his memories, huh?"
"Pietro's an amnesiac." She rubbed her forehead. "A hyperactive, super fast amnesiac…"
Before the Brotherhood boy and girl could make any cracks Storm entered Pietro's room in the infirmary, as serious and self-possessed as ever. Jean sensed something was wrong just by observing her countenance.
Bad news, I'm afraid, child. It would appear that Magneto…is alive and well.
**It can't be!**
Impossible as it may seem…
"Uh, hey, care to let those of us not on the psychic hotline know what's up?" Tabitha inquired indignantly, hands on her hips.
"So what does that mean, yo? Is he gonna come back and attack us?" Todd was a little bit fearful.
"Magneto's thoughts have always been his own. And sadly the two among us who could have possibly shared their information of him with us are in no condition to do so." Storm glanced pitifully at the bedridden Maximoff boy.
"Well, that pretty much ruined my day," Tabitha whined.
"Neither of you have anything to fear," Storm continued. "You both are invited to stay here, as are Rogue and Blob, for as long as you wish. We have the room."
"And the 'love?'" Todd stuck out his tongue; he obviously did not appreciate her warm offer and sentiments. "Yo, the Brotherhood still got their pride. Me an' Freddy are gonna blow this hot dog stand as soon as Pietro's better. Sniff you guys later." He hopped out of the infirmary without waiting for a reply.
Storm shook her head in dismay, while Jean frowned. Tabitha merely shrugged.
"You know, you X-Guys are better off without them. Spend a couple weeks locked down here with that smell and you'd be kicking 'em out, let me tell you."
* * *
Lance sat up in bed. He never made it a habit to listen in on other people's conversations, but when they were being blasted in another room with only a single door separating them, it was difficult to ignore. Especially when walking away wasn't an option.
Jean's voice was pained. "Magneto is alive."
His eyes narrowed into two dark slits.
The sound of the door opening took him unaware. Turning his head slightly he caught Kitty enter, and she offered him a small smile. Truth was she was glad to see him awake after his encounter with Jean (which was only a few hours ago, she reminded herself). Lance sat up straight as she moseyed toward the bed, eyes taking her in. All thoughts of Magneto had vanished.
"How are you feeling?"
Lance settled back against the pillows. His answer was a slow, "Fine." He was, as much as could be expected at least. He remembered having another dream where he was back in the red room, but it hadn't been terrible at all. And Kitty was the first visitor since Logan…
Kitty released a tiny breath, relieved. In that moment she felt so much she was moved to touch him, not caring a bit if he'd flinch or pull away. He didn't. Her fingers were soft against his two-day stubble, and he put his large hand atop hers.
"I've been worrying about you, you jerk."
There was something sad in his expression, and faraway; yet this was the closest they had been for some time. Their hands remained joined.
"I'm tired, Kitty…of everything. I don't want to take the easy way out, but I don't know what to do anymore. I don't have any answers for either of us…"
He broke their gaze. "But right now…I really need you. Can you do something for me?"
Furrowing his brow, he felt the heat rise to his cheeks. He spit it out. "Could you, maybe…give me a bath?"
Kitty's eyes widened.
* * *
He hadn't meant to hurt Jean. It had all come out without a thought to the wiser and he was sure he could have been gentler, or said something else to get his point across. She was already upset about Lance and Kitty; he definitely hadn't done anything to help her through it. Even so, it felt somewhat good to get that off his chest. Confessing to Jean had been the right thing to do. It had to be said.
His infatuation with the redhead had started the very moment she walked through the Institute doors with her parents, tears in her eyes and voices in her head she couldn't silence. Still, she was really a natural, and in what felt like no time at all she mastered her gifts. Jean was so strong, and capable. Nothing could bring her down. He marveled at her inner brilliance, her strength of character, her refusal to let being different beat her. So he followed her example, and they were friends.
To her he was simply Scott—friendly, dependable Scott, who was a nice guy but a terrible stick in the mud. Not boyfriend material, and certainly no Duncan. Eventually, he hoped, she would come to see what he really was and turn to someone who was right for her.
She never did.
And then Rogue came along.
He looked at her as she sat under the gazebo, reading in the shade as a cool breeze rustled the branches overhead. Hands in his pockets, he strolled up to her. "Read any good books lately?" he asked casually.
Taken by surprise, Rogue smiled as he sat down beside her and closed her copy of Interview With The Vampire. "Just the usual."
"Where were you this morning?"
She turned her gaze to the cerulean sky. "Todd, Fred, Tabitha an' Ah went to check out the old boarding house an' get some o' our stuff. Nothin' major."
Scott leaned back, resting his hands on his knees. "Anyone there?"
"No. It was totally empty. No Mastermind…an' no Destiny." A sad shadow passed over her face.
"I'm sorry. I know she was your foster mother."
Rogue pulled her legs to her chest. "Ah just wish Ah knew her connection to Magneto an' Mystique, an' the part she played in all o' this. Ah want to talk to her, just one more time."
Scott offered her a warm smile. "Maybe you will."
She tried to share in his optimism. "Yeah."
The boy decided to change the topic slightly. "So, you and the Brotherhood are officially moving in then, huh?"
She shrugged her shoulders. "We don't want to impose or nothin', but we really don't have any place else to go. Ah think Freddy an' Todd are stayin' because Pietro's still sick, an' Tabitha's attached to Blue Boy…"
"And what about you?"
Rogue faced him, unsure of what she should say. So she said the first thing that popped out. "Well, there's someone here who makes me feel welcome."
She nodded once, feeling the color rise to her pale cheeks.
Scott seemed a little flustered as well. Was this really the cool and collected leader of the X-Men? " I know what you mean, Rogue. I talked to Jean, and…"
"Jean." Rogue said the name in surprise, her face falling. Ah should have known.
"It wasn't what you're thinking, honest." He held up his hand, the corners of his mouth turning up. "I told her exactly what I felt. I was confused for a while…but there's nothing romantic between the two of us. As a matter of fact…the person I really care for is with me right now."
Her face immediately lit up; she could have laughed at his awkward, blushing admittance. Nervous, she inched her gloved hand toward his. "Ah do like you, Scott."
He couldn't hide his grin. "Not that I'm fishing for compliments, but why?"
Their faces moving slightly closer, Rogue stared into his ruby quartz gaze. "Ah like you because you try. Our powers ain't exactly gonna let us live a normal life, you know? But instead o' lettin' it get you down you keep trying to make yourself the best you can be. You never give up. Truthfully," she wistfully added, "Ah envy you. So tell me, Mr. Summers, what do you see in me?"
"I think, maybe, a kindred spirit." Touched, at that moment Scott wished he were more verbose. But little did he know those few simple words were more than enough.
Ever so slowly they shifted their positions, close but not too close, fingers intertwined.
"So what happens next?" asked the Goth, casting a glance at the mansion that seemed so far away.
"I don't know," Scott answered honestly. "But we'll have to take what comes one day at a time, I suppose."
* * *
Embarrassed, Lance felt like a baby as Kitty helped him into the infirmary's tub, holding his hand so he wouldn't slip and fall. A towel secured around his waist preserved his modesty; it amused Kitty that he was suddenly so shy when he certainly didn't have anything to hide from her.
"Don't worry, I'm not going to take advantage of you in your weakened condition," she chuckled. It felt nice to talk lightly with him.
"Thanks," he murmured, cheeks still crimson. "I felt pretty gross, and wasn't about to ask Summers to help me out."
The tub was filled with warm water that reached his waist, just short of the bandage that covered the freshly stitched wound from a telekinetically thrown pipe. Kitty held a small sponge, and after dipping it in the water began to wash him, starting with his good shoulder and working her way down his chest. He made a small, thankful sound in the back of his throat.
"Feels good. I needed this."
He was letting her in again, allowing her to take care of him, be intimate with him. She wouldn't call it a breakthrough, but after everything that had happened it was such a relief to spend time together and maybe pretend the mansion was still standing, or that nothing had changed between them.
"Are you all right?"
It was a silly question and she knew it, but still she wanted some sort of confirmation that his wounds were healing.
"I'm…improving." His words were stilted, eyes shut. But then he blurted out, "Do you love me?"
Kitty, busy washing his back, lifted her head and met his gaze. His eyes were intense, maybe a little desperate.
"I mean, really…do you?"
"Of course," she said quietly. "How can you ask me that?"
He turned away, feeling more naked than ever. "I was just thinking. I wrecked everything, didn't I?"
"What?" Setting down the sponge, Kitty rested her hands on her knees. "Are you talking about the mansion—and the Mindcoil? You weren't you. You saved us all in the end. It's all over; don't hurt yourself over something you can't change. We were all helpless."
"I know …but I can't stop it. It's not like the TV shows, you know? The good guy turns evil, but true love saves him and all that crap, and everything's okay in the end. They get to ride into the sunset. But--" and now he was breaking down, "everything's not okay."
A tremor running through her young body, Kitty pressed her face against his uninjured shoulder, trying to comfort him with her nearness and warmth. Her voice was sad but sharp. "What happened, Lance? What did it do to you?"
A beat. A sigh. "You remember when we met?"
"It showed me what would have happened if I…if I joined the Brotherhood that day. I saw—saw this other life, where I hated the X-Men, and I hated you, but wanted you all the same…I remember all the things it showed me, things I did…Some nights I go to bed and I'm him again, this other me, and I don't know if I'll be who I really am when I wake up. Other nights I can't tell the difference between you and Mystique and I just lash out. If I ever touched you like that again I'd want to die."
Kitty was still and silent as he rattled on, and she understood. Something inside you is broken, she thought, and I'm scared I won't be able to fix it.
"And I'm really sorry I lied to you."
His gaze was fixed at the bottom of the tub and the soapsuds and water shimmering in the light from overhead. Was that actually a tear that fell into the basin, or just another drop of water from his damp hair?
"All the blame is on me. If everything went according to plan, and if Riley hadn't attacked you….I…I would have…"
"What are you talking about?" she asked softly.
"I acted like I wanted to help you, but I really wanted to help myself, Kitty. That day, when I asked you to meet by the offices, I was going to get you to break in and steal something."
Her lips parted as she released a sharp breath, and Kitty pulled back. "Excuse me?"
"You know about the shit me and Griff and Pete did. We were plannin' on breaking into the offices to steal exam answers from the computers and make a nice profit. We didn't know how we were gonna get past the alarm system until you showed up."
Kitty's mind traveled back several months to that fateful day at Northbrook High School. She touched her temple. "I don't believe it. You said you were going to help me. And you wanted me to…?" Her expression suddenly darkened. "I thought you cared--you said all those things, and you just wanted to use me?"
Lance leaned forward and rested his forehead on his knees, unable to look at her. "I did care! You were the first person I met who was like me. But you're right; I was going to use you anyway."
In the back of Kitty's mind she wanted to laugh 'ha ha, nice joke' but she knew he was serious. She had wanted him to talk to her so badly, and this was what he had to say? All that time…all that time she thought he was looking out for her, when she was just a means to an end. But he did save her from Riley, unless, ha, he was going to confess he set all that up too.
"And…you're telling me this now?" She was looking away from him, her long bangs obscuring her eyes. There was something cold in her voice.
"I didn't want to think about it. Everything happened so fast. We both ended up in the same swanky mansion with other mutants, so no harm done, right? I tried to forget about it. But I saw the alternative…and I can't do that anymore."
"You lied to me!"
"You bastard!" She now stood, livid, shaking, hands clenched into fists. He had never seen her so furious or vehement. But there was also confusion in her face, and a world of hurt. She threw the sponge at him in a fit, and he made no move to dodge it.
As she stormed out of the room he called, "Don't!" Supporting himself by keeping his hands on the sides of the tub, he stared at her back as she stopped.
Kitty spun around and demanded to know, "Why? Do you have anything else to get off your chest?"
"Save it! What do you want, Lance? You just told me our entire relationship was built on a deception! You expect me to—to just take that, and say 'I forgive you' just so you can feel better about yourself?"
He closed his eyes and shook his head. "No."
"Fine!" She turned swiftly again, her ponytail whipping behind her. She was walking away from him.
And, for a moment, a false memory came to mind. In the school office Kitty turned away from him to run to her parents, her affectionate illusion of him destroyed. In another memory she scowled and beat his chest with her fists, condemning him, and then ran to her teammates. And now, back in reality, it felt like it was happening all over again.
She didn't want to, but stopped still anyway. The desperate cry had struck her in the chest. Narrowing her eyes, sighing, not planning on giving him the idea of just how hard his confession had hit her, she faced him. Lance was standing on weak legs, leaning against the white tiled walls to stay up. Soaking wet, he was shaking almost like a scared child. It was so unlike him—but then, everything else had been stripped away, hadn't it?
Obviously in pain, his teeth bit into his lower lip to squelch a whimper.
"Please…don't give up on me."
Squeezing her eyes shut, Kitty lowered her head and went to the door. But as she reached for the knob she heard a loud stumble. The rock-tumbler had lost his balance and met the floor. A fist slammed against it as he hissed behind clenched teeth, trying to raise himself. His free hand touched his bandages, which were damp. The towel around his waist? Forget about it. Christ, somebody put a bullet in his head already. He could use it.
Squeezing his eyes shut he released a harsh breath and tried to sit up. The stitches in his abdomen hurt. Wet legs slipping against the tile, he made little progress. Lance was surprised to feel gentle hands on his shoulders give him support.
Pressing her lips to his hair, Kitty murmured, "You are so lucky…so very lucky…that I love you."
* * *
Logan had monitoring duty, and was thus inside the control room reclining in a swivel chair and nursing a beer as he studied the flickering black and white images on the many small screens.
On the top monitor he could see Kurt rummaging for food in the fridge, and he had a surprise as Tabitha snuck up behind him and grabbed his tail.
In another Evan, Todd, and Fred were in the common room laughing at the television, the worries of the day already forgotten. "Ah, to be young again," as the Professor would have remarked.
To his right Storm was showing Jean the remains of who they thought was the Master of Magnetism. Noting the look on poor Red's face, Logan knew that even when the mansion was rebuilt their trials wouldn't be over.
The camera in one of the statuaries outside captured an image of Rogue and Scott sitting beside each other under a gazebo, talking and smiling. Were they making eyes at each other? Nah, couldn't be.
Last but not least he saw the infirmary cam's point of view, and caught a glance at Kitty helping Lance. Only wearing a terrycloth robe, the boy made it to his bed with some effort. While Kitty fussed over him to make sure he hadn't reopened his wounds, he leaned forward and kissed her quite unexpectedly. Well, it looked like those two made amends. Good for them. Arching his eyebrows as their urgent kisses continued, Logan turned off the camera and took a swig of his drink.
"Kids," he muttered.
* * *
"I was scared you hated me."
"I…can deal with it." Kitty stretched beside him on the bed, and smoothed a wrinkle on her cranberry blouse. She was curled up in the crook of his good arm, the gray blankets twisted around their ankles. "You asked me there for the wrong reason, but I know better than to think everything that happened afterwards was an act too. Can't say I'm glad you told me," she gave him a small glare, "but it was probably for the best. I know who you are now. And what can I say? I've gotten attached to you."
He would have laughed in relief at her light comment, if he weren't so worried about upsetting his stitches again. Would he be incredibly lame if he said his thoughts aloud?
"I don't think I deserve this."
"Who says you can't be happy? After what we've gone through…" She shook her head, letting her sentence remain unfinished. "It would be nice if everything was okay. Maybe then," she paused to give him a wistful smile, "we really could ride into the sunset."
There was a glimmer in Lance's eye. "Let's do it."
"Let's go. Get out of here. Find our own little corner to hide in."
She sat up and brushed one of her bangs behind her ear. His words had almost lifted her spirits. "Thanks for saying that, but come on, Lance. We can't go. They need us here."
"No, they don't. There isn't going to be a shortage of X-Men with Rogue and Boom-Boom crashing here. Hell, maybe even Blob and Stink-Boy will stay. Those Muir Island people are coming to fix things…what's left for us to do?"
"You're in no condition to make a break for it." Her voice was adamant, but the corners of her lips showed she was warming up to his ideas.
"I'll get better."
"You're serious, aren't you?"
She made eye contact with him then, and saw for herself that he was not joking, teasing, or ruminating on what might be. Lance Alvers wanted to run away.
"I need to work things out, Kitty. Get through all this junk floating in my head. The Mindcoil made me doubt myself, and I'm not sure about my place. It sure as hell ain't with the Brotherhood…but now…I don't know if it's with the X-Men, either." He sat up straight and reached for her hands. "I know I want you to be with me."
"Lance…" She shook her head, breaking their eye contact. Of course she was reluctant, he realized. She never doubted her place among her friends. Kitty was Shadowcat, an X-Man through and through, and never felt like the outsider he had been. It wasn't exactly fair, was it, to ask her to leave it all for his sake.
She surprised him.
"I'll go with you. Someone has to keep you in check, right?" Her mischievous smile was dazzling. He could have kissed her.
He placed his hands on her cheeks, his bandaged arm shaking just a little, bringing their faces together. Her eyes…they could always pierce into him, striking him to the core of his being. They were such a deep and abiding blue.
Kitty, for her part, felt like she had just agreed to elope. It was the same giddy rush she felt whenever reading a cheesy romance. This was really happening. "You're sure this is a good idea," she asked with a teasing grin, batting her eyelashes, "running away and rocking the world?"
He nodded resolutely. "The way I see it, fate dealt us winning cards--if we play them together."
The pair shared a long kiss. For the first time in a long while Lance felt like Lance—it was not Mastermind, the Mindcoil, Jean or even the part of him that was Avalanche who influenced his thoughts. It didn't matter where or when they were going to go, only that they put the future into their own hands. Right on. This time we're on top. As their lips parted, he whispered into her ear.
"We're in control now. We make our own way."
* * * * *
* * * * *
Author's Notes: …And so things come full circle. 16 chapters, 255 pages, and 14 months later, it's over. Rock Your World is my baby, and I had a hell of a time writing it. These characters are definitely a part of me now, and writing about them has gone so far as to influence my perception of the wacky crew. For instance, I like Scott more, Kurt a lot less, and have a newfound appreciation for precogs. My deep fondness for Lance and Kitty remains unchanged, of course.
Tremendous thanks goes to my readers and reviewers, especially those of you who have been reading this from the beginning, or been influenced by it in some way or another (you know who you are!). A particular mention has to go to Neva, author of the original "Lance Alvers, X-Man" story. Blame her. It's not hyperbole that the great comments I received from you all kept me writing when I had the strong urge to empty it all in the trash bin.
Hope to see you again soon. Keep on rockin'. ~Sandoz