Mystique runs as soon as she thinks they've given her a long enough leash. She's fairly sure she's being followed at first, as if they think she'll go running back to one of the Brotherhood's lairs. She has more sense. She hitchhikes between truck stops and spends her nights in cheap motels.
In the second week, one of the truckers tries to wrestle her to the seat, and she drives the heel of her hand into his chin and then twists his head until his neck snaps. It's good to know she doesn't need mutant strength to do that. She takes his wallet and jumps down from the truck, leaving his body warm on the seat. She probably ought to be afraid, but instead she smiles.
It's later, in the motel room, that the fear comes creeping in. She makes herself face her own reflection, twining her flat hair around her finger and running her fingers across her creamy skin. She could break the glass, she supposes, or tear the bedsheets to make a rope. The room is full of ways she could choose to die.
She can see the newspaper story they'd make of it once some one realized who she was, with its grainy photos taken in this sordid motel room. She's not sure if that's why she doesn't do it, or if it's just that she doesn't want to give them the satisfaction. She glares at her useless body in the mirror.
She wonders for a moment if this is how Xavier felt. It doesn't make her like him any better, and besides, it doesn't matter now. The man is dead, and Erik -- she won't think about Erik. He's out of the picture. She's on her own again.
It occurs to her that she may have a choice about that. If Erik were still a rallying point, she would have no cards to play, but Erik is out of the picture. She has the Brotherhood's resources to bargain with, and that may get her a handful of followers at least, enough for her to sleep in safety and begin hunting for a way to reverse what's been done to her. It's worth a try.
For the first time she begins to understand what must have driven Erik and Xavier, all those years ago. She wants to find someone, anyone. It's unlikely that any mutant who's young enough or careless enough for her to find will be useful, but if she knew there was someone like her breathing in the other bed, she might be able to sleep.
After a few weeks she begins to believe she may have gotten away clean. If they're still following her, they're very good. Of course, they might be very good. There's really no way for her to know.
She blows a kiss to the trucker who drops her off in Las Vegas, and finds the bus stop to make her way down to the Strip. It's likely that everyone who knew this was a rendezvous point is dead. Still, it's almost the right date for the rendezvous here, and she hates to waste the opportunity. The next one is Seattle in three months, and the idea of waiting three more months to be disappointed makes her tired.
It's easy to lose herself in the crowd at Caesars Palace, although she wishes for clothes she liked better than the ones she's been hitch-hiking in. They make her look like a hick tourist who doesn't know that her tight blouse looks cheap and her jeans are discount-store chic. She feeds the nickel slot machines as slowly as she can and wonders how much money and time she can afford to waste.
"Did you have to pick such a crap casino?" Pyro asks from behind her. She makes herself turn casually. She can't afford to let her feelings show when she's not even sure yet what they are. "This place is full of old people."
"It wasn't my choice," she says.
"Right." They are standing very still, watching each other. She isn't sure yet if this is going to be a fight. She's not sure he's sure, either. "I got a room," he says finally.
She arches an eyebrow, aware who she's borrowing the expression from. "Is that your best line?"
He smiles crookedly. "How about 'not in front of the humans'?"
"Better," she says. She follows him upstairs. In the room, she watches him lock the door and then look her up and down. If he smiled she would hit him, but he doesn't smile, just flips out a cigarette lighter and turns it around in his hand.
"Magneto isn't dead," he says.
She really wants to hit him. "Don't talk to me about Erik."
"What should we talk about then? The weather? He's not dead."
"Yet," she says.
"You planning to kill him?"
"Maybe," she says.
"Then maybe we have a problem."
He watches her. "I changed your passwords," he says.
"You don't know all of them."
He turns over his hands. "Probably not."
"I don't want to have to kill you," she says, and is surprised to realize it's true.
"Well, that's a start."
He looks older than she remembers. She's not sure if he's changed so much in the last few months, or if it's just that she never noticed before.
She's aware that one of them has to either break the silence or make a move. "How long are you going to keep doing that stupid thing to your hair?"
Pyro shrugs. "It's a look. You could stand to do something to yours."
She gives him the finger and sits down on the bed. "Is there food?"
"I can call a pizza."
"I like everything," she says. "Except anchovies."
Pyro orders pepperoni and mushroom and then sits down on the other bed. They look at each other across the divide.
"I still think I should maybe kill you," he says.
"I still may kill Erik."
"This should be interesting," he says. He lies down on the bed, eyes closed. "Do we have to throw down before the pizza gets here? Because if so, you could have saved me twenty bucks."
"We could eat the pizza first," she says.
After the pizza they watch TV for a while. It's admitting that no one else will show up to the rendezvous, but neither of them protests. "Have you found anyone else?" she asks finally.
"You going to turn them in?" he asks. He's still watching cars crash and burn on the TV screen.
"I gave them a meeting site you'd already abandoned," she says.
"You gave them Multiple Man."
"Erik gave them a way to destroy all of us," Mystique says. "You still like him."
"Aren't you people ever sorry?"
"Only when we can't help it."
Pyro makes a stifled noise that might be a laugh. "If we agreed not to kill each other until tomorrow morning, we could get some sleep."
"Whatever," Mystique says. Now she sounds like him. She can't shake the habits of mimicry, even though now it's only a parody. She crawls into bed fully dressed and curls up under the blankets. When Pyro's breathing changes and she's sure he's asleep, she thinks about taking his wallet and leaving. The boy is useful, but he's not essential. Instead she lies awake in the air-conditioned room for a long time, and eventually sleeps.
In the morning they eat room service breakfast in silence. She half-expects Pyro to read the newspaper, but instead he watches the morning news in his undershirt, running a hand through his hair and frowning at the broadcast. There's nothing about mutants.
He flicks the TV off eventually and looks at her. "So, you coming?"
"The safe house in New York."
"Don't you think it's a little hot for us in New York?"
He turns up his hands. "It wasn't my choice."
"Right," she says.
In the car she watches the neon signs and houses crawl by until they are out of the city and the miles stretch out unbearably long. "I'm not promising to play Erik's game anymore," she says, looking out at the distant horizon.
"He started the game," Pyro says. "We're the ones who are going to finish it."
Later that afternoon, when Pyro has gone into a gas station to get them sodas, she looks down at the back of her hand to see a faint blue tinge spreading across her knuckles, like an ink stain on her skin. She stares at it for a while before she can bring herself to will her hand a human color. This isn't the time to experiment.
"This stuff is full of chemicals, you know," Pyro says, climbing into the car and handing her a Diet Coke. "Want to stop somewhere tonight, or drive on through?"
"I'm not tired," she says, and puts her feet up on the dashboard as Pyro pulls the car back onto the highway. She tucks her right hand under her leg, just in case. There's no point in showing her cards too soon.
"I wouldn't have left you," Pyro says. She doesn't know if he means that he would have taken her with him, or that he would have killed her. Either way, she knows it's an apology.
She thinks about saying you did, but she can always say it later; there's plenty of road.