Mystique remained unsure about their newest recruit. He still lived in student housing, still attended his classes, and for all intents and purposes, seemed to be doing nothing useful for the Brotherhood. Erik assured her that he just needed to finish his schooling, that one day, the boy would be useful. He would be great, he insisted. It was all there, in his head, just waiting for them to unlock it.
“So why isn't he here?” She asked.
“Patience is a virtue, my dear.” Erik said, and left it at that.
Mystique could be patient. She could also hedge their bets, and make sure they weren't wasting their time on some puffed up brat who was going to turn and run at the first sign of things going bad.
So she followed him, in different faces, different bodies, followed him to the grocery store, the pub, classes. She observed, cataloged every expression, every reaction. By the end of the month, she could copy him down to the last green hair on his stubborn head. Still though, she didn't know him.
Mystique had never been an angry teenage boy, and had never had reason to imitate one. And the boy was...unique. In his own way. He was angry, angry at everything it seemed, and he lashed out often. Even when he was calm, or working, the anger boiled just below the surface, just waiting for an excuse to come out. He had a mouth that her and Charles' nanny would have threatened to scrub out with soap, one that made her see the point of the phrase, but his words were so sharp they could cut steel, even with the blunt language.
She could appreciate that.
He had friends though, which surprised her. She would have thought someone who looked like him, and acted like such an ass, would be solitary. But his friends seemed to like him, seemed to find his insults and quick temper amusing. They poked at him, stirred him up, made him react. If they could make him throw something, they laughed and laughed, until their faces were red.
More than that, he had suitors.
Not women, unsurprisingly. Women often wanted the quintessential hard case that he so obviously wanted to be, right until they were forced to realize that a man like that was often not worth the headache. He didn't seem to like women anyway.
Men liked him.
Maybe, she speculated, they found him attractive in the same way a person wants to rescue a feral cat. No matter how much the cat scratched you, hissed at you, hid away from you, you were determined to make it like you. That seemed to fit, she thought. Well, feral cats she could handle.
This boy though.
She wasn't so sure he could be handled at all.
“C'mon then, invite me in.” The man said, in what he clearly thought was an alluring flirtation. Erik's little recruit eyed him up and down, the cigarette still in his mouth, and snickered.
“You think that's how it works?” He asked. “We had sex once.”
“And it was fun.” The man insisted, putting a hand against the wall, right beside the recruit's head. He was taller, the recruit not a very big man, and he was using his height to angle himself over the smaller man.
“I got work to do.” The recruit said, taking out his cigarette to exhale blue smoke into the hallway. “And I have lecture first thing in the morning.”
“Skip it.” The man didn't know how to take a hint, did he?
“It's physics.” The recruit replied. “I like physics.”
“You like physics more than me?”
“I don't like you at all. And you can't give head to save your life, in any case.” The recruit smirked, dropping his cigarette on the cheap carpet and putting it out with his boot. He didn't look away from the man, didn't try to hide that he was laughing at him. Fascinated, she watched.
“You really do think a lot of yourself, don't you?” The human sneered. “Know what everyone says about you? That you're a freak. A faggot, and a mutant.” The latter was said with enough vitriol to suffice, but the former was obviously also intended to injure. Curious, she thought, considering he was trying to get into the recruit's bed.
The recruit, to her surprise, didn't rise to the bait in the way she expected.
“Yeah, I am.” He was still smirking in that almost unbearably arrogant way of his, the way that seemed to tell the whole world he considered them all a joke. It made her want to smack him until he bled. “And you're just the sad little human fucker who I'm going to cut from bollocks to chin if you ever come near me again.”
He meant it too, or at least thought he did. The human seemed to believe it just a little bit, at the very least.
“You can't go around making threats like that.” He said.
“Yes I can.” The recruit smiled, and went inside, leaving the human outside.
He kicked the door before stomping down the hallway.
She had to admit she'd found the recruit a little funny, despite him being a little shit.
The next morning, she followed him to his lecture, and slipped in to watch. She never had before, never felt like sitting through one. She'd had quite enough of science lectures after Charles had graduated, when he'd used her as a test audience for his papers. This was a high-level physics class that turned out to be just as boring as she thought it would, just as dull as the papers Charles would read her to sleep with.
Watching the boy was an absorbing activity though. His face, for the first time since she'd started observing him was completely calm, focused, as he watched the professor at the front write. When the professor had a question to pose to the students, he did what Charles used to do: he looked to his favourite, the one he expected to know the answer.
He looked at the recruit.
“That's right, Mr. Toynbee.” The academic said, with a smile, as the recruit rattled off some long explanation involving more maths than she had any desire to know. “As always.”
The recruit lit up, maybe not as much as someone else his age would, but when she took into account his normal expression, it was downright joyous.
It was interesting.
Later, she practiced his facial expressions in the mirror over the dresser in her suite. They weren't quite right, when she did them, she saw now. She frowned at herself with her own face, trying to deduce what she was missing. His face was so plain when she copied it, and it wasn't when he wore it. She shifted again, back to him, and really looked at it. She rolled her shoulders into a careless slouch, tipped her chin up in a defiant sort of way, and smirked like he did, and yet, she was wrong somehow. She wasn't him.
Frustrated, she shifted back to herself, then idly flickered through the faces she knew best: Erik, Sabretooth, Feral, the Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver. All perfect, she thought.
She shifted to Angel, as she was now, with the crow's feet at the corners of her eyes and the lines around her mouth. Still beautiful, always beautiful to her, even though she was old and retired. She took away the lines, the grey hair, and added eye make-up that hadn't been worn for fifty years. She firmed up the body, took in the waist, muscled the legs, and garbed herself in a black outfit that wasn't appropriate for everyday wear even now.
She flicked out the wings that couldn't really fly, watched the sheen on them.
She shifted back to herself, and her own unchanged face.
Angel had grown old, had left them to live with Frost in that ostentatious mansion and raise a noisy little gaggle of brats. Even the gorgeous Frost had aged, hadn't she? And here she was, the same as always.
Bored, she shifted away from her own face, to Azazel's, as he had been the first time she'd seen him, all those years ago in that facility. All these years, and he was still burned into her mind's eye. Fear could really make a first impression stick. Fear, youthful fascination, anger, and now hatred.
She smirked at herself wearing his face, all of it completely correct. She could do Azazel blind.
“Azazel curls his tail over his shoulder when he smirks like that.”
She nearly jumped out of her skin, turning to see Janos standing in her fucking suite like he owned it.
“How did you know where I was?” She demanded, not bothering to ask how he'd broken in or hidden his presence from her. Janos had taught her everything she knew about breaking and entering, about being unseen. “And what do you want?” He never showed up to say hello. He always had a purpose.
“There's a locater at Emma's school now.” He replied, answering the first question as he strolled over to her. Like Angel, time had worn on his features in a way most envied. He was still a man who turned heads, for all that his once black hair was mostly grey, and his handsome face was lined. He still stood tall and strong, his aging, like most mutants, happening more slowly than a human's.
“Answer the second one too.” She demanded, boosting herself up to sit on the dresser. “What do you want?”
He held something out to her, a pamphlet folded into three. It was a program, she realized, in German, advertising the Munich Circus. Advertising “The Incredible Nightcrawler”, right on the front, his picture taking up half the cover. He smiled at her from the glossy paper, a pair of fangs showing in his wide smile. His eyes were hers, she saw, as her breath caught her in throat. Still hers.
“He's the star.” Janos said. “He's quite good.”
“Is he?” She asked, not bothering to pretend with Janos. He wasn't like Erik, content with her strength. Janos never minded. “You saw him?”
“It was his nineteenth birthday.” Janos brushed his hair behind his ear as he navigated her suite, showing the scar on his neck. She looked away from it without expression.
“I know when his birthday is.” As though she could forget thirty hours of labour without a painkiller to be had. “Did Azazel go?”
He touched the scar at the mention of Azazel, then shook his head.
“No, I went alone. I thought it was better to leave him out of it.” Janos smiled at her, and tilted his head. “How is Irene?” Always polite, Janos.
“She's well. She just added another section to the garden. Bought another cookbook. She appreciated the one you sent.” She said. “She said to thank you for it.” She looked down at the pamphlet again, at Kurt, so adult now. “Did you talk to him?”
“His English is not very good yet, I'm afraid, and my German and French are too poor. He said hello, I wished him bonne anniversaire, and he thanked me.” Janos was smiling in that way that made his eyes crinkle. He had always been devastating when he smiled, and even if she had never loved him, it had made her heart skip a beat when she was young to have that smile turned on her. “He is a sweet boy, even now. An artist, Margali says. And kind. Very kind.”
“Not at all like us then.” She said, putting it down on the dresser as she lifted herself off, and grabbed her robe off the vanity table chair.
“Children are not mirrors of their parents.” Janos reminded her. “He is not a blue Azazel, which I thank God every day for, nor is he a teleporting you.” She could feel his eyes on her. “Which is also a good thing. He is himself. And it is a good person.”
She closed her eyes, and wished she was home with Irene. She didn't want to go to bed alone tonight thinking of this, thinking of Kurt. Thoughts of Kurt inevitably spun into thoughts of the girl too, and her brown eyes staring up at her in confusion as she handed her over to the nurse. Her heart ached with the thought of the two, of the babies she had nursed at her breast, adored and loved with everything she had left to give, only to realize each time that it would never be enough.
“How is the girl?” Janos always knew where her thoughts lay. It was a trick he had never taught her, how to see into people so sharply. She suspected she could never learn anyway. “She should be around eight or nine, yes?”
“She'll be nine next month.” She would have a yellow cake and blue streamers and she was going to get the baseball bat and catcher's mitt she wanted from the man and woman raising her, and the Barbie in the lovely green dress from her best friend. Irene had told her every last detail with her arms around Raven, as Raven cried into her pillow. “She's fine. Just like Kurt.”
“You know you made the right decision. For both of them.” She turned to him as he spoke, and he met her eyes without judgment. “What life would they have had, with the Brotherhood? They would have ended up like all the other children we found too late and took. Broken, angry, murderous. You know this is better.”
She knew that. She did. But how could she explain to Janos, a man who had no children, and would never face the task of carrying one for nine months, feeling its heart beat with your own, before having to let go? How could she explain the devastation that brought? He could sympathize and say he cared, but he would never feel this pain. This was a mother's pain.
“Who is the boy you are learning?” He changed the subject as a kindness to her, and she almost hated him for it. She wanted to ache for her loss, wanted to punish herself for her decisions. “A new prospect?”
“Erik already convinced him.” She said. “We're calling him 'Toad'.” Janos raised an eyebrow. “His mutation is physical. He's less human, more amphibian. Can climb walls, enhanced strength, moves like he doesn't have bones.” She couldn't help the envy she had for that. She had worked so hard to be as flexible, as skilled as she was, and this stupid boy moved like water, as though he were born doing it.
“Such a young boy though?” Janos questioned.
“He's seventeen, actually. Going on eighteen.” Janos raised his eyebrows in surprise. “Looks like a boy still, doesn't he? He's also frighteningly intelligent when it comes to machines. Erik wanted him.” She explained, with a shrug. “He's here, finishing school. Foul-mouthed little asshole, really. Arrogant like you wouldn't believe, and with a violent streak.” She smirked. “How many bastards does Azazel have, again?” She asked, with a grin.
Janos held up a hand and shook his head, laughing in a sad sort of way.
“Kurt, and two others that he knows of. In any case, he is the wrong age. You were Azazel's only affair with a woman at the time.” He said it like a fact, like it didn't bother him. Maybe it didn't, anymore, she thought. Maybe the wound had finally scarred. “If the boy has already been recruited, why are you here?”
“Curiousity. Making sure we're not going to be fucked later on down the line.” She said, with a shrug. “He's different. Odd. I can't get his face right.” She tried again, shifting into him. His shoulders were still just a tad too wide, still waiting for muscle, his spine a little odd, legs not long but strong, hips steady in the middle of his frame.
Janos looked her up and down and shrugged.
“He looks like a boy.” He said. “A little young to be recruited, actually. Maybe if I saw him, I would see the difference.”
She shifted back and discarded the robe, turning into a man, dark-skinned and tattooed, older than the recruit, younger than Janos.
“Are we going somewhere interesting?” He asked, eyeing the tattoos.
“You're an old man. Everyone has them now.” She had seen this man a week ago, smoking a cigarette on the corner, and thought he would do well for their task. The recruit didn't go for older men, she'd observed, and she would garner no more than a passing look from him, if he noticed the two of them at all.
“Come on,” She started towards the door, Janos on her heels, already pulling out a cigarette. “How do you not have cancer?” She asked, disgusted as he lit up once they hit the sidewalk. “You should be dead three times over, the amount you smoke.”
“And yet, I am not.” He replied calmly. “You will be pleased to know that is another trait the boy failed to inherit. I am honestly amazed, with how many people in that place smoke.” The way he said 'that place', made her smile.
“Is the circus still offending your sense of style?” She teased, elbowing him a little. “Was someone mixing patterns again?”
“Your son was wearing red and yellow striped trousers, a blue shirt, and earrings with bells on.” Janos said dryly, and when she stared in horror, he smirked at her, his mission accomplished. “Where is this boy, then? So far I see a lot of idiot children with...” He trailed off, and she saw why.
The recruit stood in front of them, with three others, a woman and two men. His hair was neat, for once, and he was smoking, no surprise there. He didn't smoke like Janos did, she thought, an observation she'd made before. He smoked like the cigarette was his lifeline, like he needed it more than air.
He was in a mood tonight, she saw. She could tell from the set of his shoulders, from the way he tipped his head back and exhaled a plume of blue smoke into the cold night air as though he were breathing his last breath. What had put him in it, she wondered? What could actually break through his shield?
“You don't do him justice.” Janos sounded almost interested. Suspicious, she turned on him, and saw the look in his eye.
“You too?” She asked, the deep baritone of the man she was copying making the words almost threatening. “What is it about him that has men following him around like dogs in heat? He's a foul-mouthed little bastard who can't speak a single sentence without swearing. He's not even that good-looking.”
“No, he's not.” Janos agreed, shrugging. “There's something about him though. Look at him. If I was young, I must admit, I would try.”
She knew he was right, but she could not pin it down, what it was about this boy. Why people looked at him. There was nothing special about him, beyond his unusual appearance, and if that was taken away, all you had left was his terrible personality. Because really, he was terribly cruel, she saw now, in the curl of his smirk, the one she couldn't get right. He was cruel and arrogant, more like a cat than a toad.
“It's the same reason you can't get Domino right.” Janos said, his dark eyes still on the boy. “Domino's madness is in everything she is. It's a part of her that lives in her soul. And you are not mad, nor have you ever been, so you cannot imitate it. You don't know what it feels like.” He nods at the recruit. “That boy is burning inside, you can see it in him. He's angry, so angry it's consumed him.”
“Are you saying I don't know what that feels like? I was young once too, and I was just as angry as he is.” She could remember that fire, could remember how it made her walk across the beach to Erik's waiting hand all those years ago.
“But you are older now.” Janos explained. “You are different. You have grown up.” He raised his hand as though to touch her face, but stopped, perhaps realizing it was inappropriate with her in this form. “You have been a mother.” He almost whispered it. “Your anger is the anger of a woman who has fought a war. It is older, weathered. It's cold now, and that is good. Cold anger is stronger.”
“I can still remember feeling like that though.” She protested, hating the idea that she couldn't perfect some stupid child.
“But it's not in your heart anymore.” He was smiling, but not in a way that pissed her off. It was just his smile. “Not like it's in his. That boy is a fighter, to his bones. He'll be someone to watch out for, in a few years.”
“If he even lives that long. The way he runs his mouth, I wouldn't count on it.” She said, watching as the recruit was approached by a man who seemed to know him, a blond with two safety pins in his eyebrow and a hoop in his lip connected to a chain that swung back to an earring.
“Oh, this generation.” Janos looked appalled. “Where did their parents go wrong?” He sighed and shook his head.
The newcomer was smiling at the recruit in a shy way, angling himself towards him. He wanted to be pursued, wanted the recruit to want him.
“He's awful.” She said. “He doesn't love anything. Why do they want him?”
As they watched, the recruit seemed to figure out what was going on. He backed away, moved towards the woman, stuck his free hand in his pocket. He seemed almost bothered by the interest, and even refused a light from the other when he needed a new cigarette, taking one from his female friend instead.
But the blond would not take a hint.
“He fucked him.” Janos assessed with no emotion one way or the other. “Look at how he looks at him. He thought it meant something. All that focus and passion turned on you, for just a brief moment, it can almost be like a spark. It can make you feel special. He doesn't realise it wasn't for him.” He tipped his head. “Or maybe he just won't accept it. The boy just wants him to go away though. He was just another body, just a distraction.”
“Is that what Azazel is like?” She wondered about that, wondered if this was what Azazel had been like when he was young.
“That boy is nothing like Azazel.” Janos took a drag of his cigarette, and blew out the smoke. “Azazel's not angry. He kills because he likes killing, and he loves power. Azazel would fuck him again, would make him think he loved him, just to do it.” Janos shrugged. “The boy isn't that smart, I bet. He doesn't see that sex can have as much power as violence. Many boys are like that. Sex is a woman's weapon, after all.”
“Watch it.” Mystique warned, giving him a sharp look. “Who is he? All I see is an arrogant, stupid child, and yet everyone else seems fooled. Where is he vulnerable?” She needed to know this, needed to know what made this stupid boy tick. If he was going to be in the Brotherhood, she needed to know everything about him, needed to know how far she could trust him, and most of all, she needed to know how to manipulate him, and how to hurt him, if need be.
“I don't know. I'm not psychic.” Janos was such a fucker.
“If you're not going to be any help, go home to Azazel and pretend you still love him.” She said it with a lot more nastiness than she intended, as the recruit listened to whatever the blond was whispering in his ear, while he exhaled another cloud of smoke.
“Why don't you go home to Irene, and both of you can pretend you're not a murderer.”
He always could cut them all down with just a few calm words.
“Are we even now?” He asked, without a bit of anger.
She didn't answer, but she supposed that was the best they would do.
“Let's get supper, shall we?” He suggested, as though the exchange had never happened.
She took the form of a woman similar enough in features to Janos to be his sister, and decided she was, for the evening. It wouldn't be the first time they'd pretended. She liked the game.
She looped her arm through his the way she had done with another so many years ago, and leaned on his shoulder just a bit. He was wearing a new cologne, she noticed. It was a muskier scent than he normally used.
“Why did you change your cologne?” She asked idly.
“The bottle was broken.” For a moment, the questions of why and how were on the tip of her tongue, but then she looked at the scar on his neck and decided she didn't want to delve into that dangerous subject tonight. “When will the boy join the Brotherhood?”
“When Erik tells him to.” She answered.
They walked in companionable silence for a time, until they found a French restaurant that met his standards. Janos ordered for them, not that she expected any different, or really wanted any different. He had a skill for food and wine that he had taught her, but hers was learned and his was a talent.
For the first time she had been home with Irene, she relaxed.
“So, is his art any good?”
She doesn't need to clarify to him what she means, who she means, and she could love him just a little for that alone.
“It is. He shows talent. Potential.” As always, when the subject of art came up, his eyes turned intense, focused. “He's interested in tattooing, according to Margali, and it reflects in what she showed me. He doesn't draw to copy down the world, he's drawing to add on to what is already there. He did a very interesting sketch of one of the acrobats with their design. It was fascinating, he used very thick, sharp lines, and worked them in to flow with the lines of muscle and bone. Very well done, in my opinion.”
She rested her chin in the cradle of her knit fingers, listening eagerly, starving for every detail he could give her on the boy. The wine had loosened her inhibitions, let her drop the shield she kept up between her and this pain.
“He favors ink, oddly enough.” Janos wrinkled his nose. “Most artists don't like ink for designing. So permanent. But he's very good with it, better than anyone I've seen.” He smiled. “Perhaps you have a talent you never explored?”
“No,” She shook her head. “No, I was never any good at it.” She circled the rim of her wine glass with a finger. “Is Azazel?”
“No.” Janos answered shortly. “No, not at all. But, like I told you, children are not their parents.”
He smiled again, and took a sip of his wine.
Sometimes, she wished it had been Janos who had fathered Kurt. He deserved to have been a father, would have been a wonderful one. He would have been a good father for Kurt. If it had been Janos, maybe she could have kept him, could have been his mother with Janos to be his father.
She said none of these things aloud though. It would only serve to hurt him by reminding him of all the things he'd lost, or missed out on. She wondered how much of his life he regretted now.
“Do you ever wish it had been someone else you fell in love with?” She dared to ask, because she genuinely wanted to know.
“Yes. Often.” Janos replied. “I'm surprised you even have to ask me that.”
“Then why do you stay?” She asked, morbidly curious. “Why put yourself through that?” She really did hate this weakness in him, hated how dramatic it all was, how pathetic he was. It disgusted her, in a way she couldn't explain, to see how he lowered his expectations of happiness just because he couldn't let go of a man who clearly saw him as nothing more than a possession to be had.
“Not all of us were smart enough to guard our hearts until we found someone perfect.” Janos didn't look at her as he spoke, instead choosing to play with the rosary he wore around his neck. “I am old, Mystique. I am old and tired. Maybe if I had understood that he would never change, back when I was young, if I hadn't forgiven him after the first time, maybe...” He sighed and shook his head. “This is all conjecture, and useless. We made our beds. Now we have to lie in them.”
“You always did have a flair for the drama.” Mystique said dryly, choosing not to fall into his spiral downwards.
“So did you.” He replied. “But please, that really is enough of that. I'd rather talk about the boy. You need to find his weak spot. You never know when you will need leverage, and if his temper is really all that bad, it might be sooner than you think.”
“What do you think I'm doing, exactly?” She asked, raising an eyebrow at his lecturing. He hadn't dared lecture her in many years, and she wondered why he thought she needed it now. “Everyone has a weakness. An Achilles heel. You just have to find it and apply the right pressure. No one is invulnerable.” It was almost verbatim, she was sure, from what he had said fifty years ago.
Janos smirked at her, and raised his glass to her.
“That's my girl.”
The next day, she resumed her study of the boy, following him in various shapes, trying to see where his own Achilles heel might be. Not the people he associated with. They were just convenient companions to him, she was sure. He had no lover, just people he fucked, and no children. He was too full of himself to be scared for his own life.
This was incredibly frustrating, she thought. She had never taken so long to see through someone. Janos had taught her to be as good as he was, or so she had thought. He had seen some more of the depth in the boy's personality, had seen past some of the bullshit front he put up, but it wasn't doing her any good. All it told her was that he was even more awful than she originally thought.
So she was perched outside his place, on the fire escape, mimicking the art student upstairs while she listened through the window, unbelievably annoyed at her time being wasted on such an idiot, when she finally found it.
It was unexpected.
“No Dad,” He was saying, coming closer to the window, cigarette hanging from his mouth. “I don't need money. Got a job, don't I?”
That was a lie. Mystique frowned, but showed no outward interest in him. He had yet to acknowledge her, probably wouldn't at all. He wasn't very friendly with the boys upstairs. This also meant that he wasn't bothering to lower his voice.
“How's Mum?” He asked, scratching his stomach while he stretched. How he did that and managed to keep his cigarette in his mouth and the phone between his shoulder and ear, she wasn't quite sure.
He was so odd looking, she thought, when he wasn't trying to look mostly human. He held his shoulders wrong, and there was something off about the arrangement of his muscles. His eyes were still as ugly as ever, black and uneasily reptilian, and that terrible hair, that weird moss color. Right now, when he was relaxed, he could only have fooled the blind.
“Mum,” He said, sounding surprised. He unconsciously straightened up, and attempted to fix his hair, as though it mattered. “Non, je ne sais pas pourquoi Papa a dit que.” The switch was so fluid, she started, her own mind taking far too long to re-adjust. Irene spoke French fluently, and she had her to thank for how quickly she recovered.
“No, Mum, my marks are fine.” He continued, still in French. “Yes, Mum, I've been good. No fighting or nothing.”
Also a lie. He still had a bruise on his jaw from where someone had hit him in the pub down the way.
“No, Mum, I'm not seeing anyone. I'm trying to get a degree, aren't I? I don't have time for that nonsense.”
He was so different sounding, speaking to them. The prickly shell he wore had dropped away to show...she wasn't sure who.
“Yeah, look, Mum, I have to go. I have to get ready for class.” This was the truth at least. He had a lecture in less than an hour, and he was still only half-dressed. He needed to shave too. “Love you, Mum. I'll see you soon.”
He hung up and went about the task of finding clean clothing, while Mystique pretended not to watch him.
“Je t'aime, maman,”
She closed her eyes to the way those words cut her, hearing him say them like that. Stupid boy, stupid, arrogant boy, throwing around his love like that for all to hear. Letting people know he valued someone. Stupid boy.
Her recruit left for class with one of his boots half-unlaced and a piece of toast in his mouth.
She went back to her suite, packed her bag, and then sat on the bed, holding the advertisement. She looked at him, looked at his beautiful smile, and then burned it in the gas fireplace.