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Fire and Life Incarnate

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Chapter One: Family History


It was mercifully peaceful in Logan and K's little cabin tucked deeply into the woods.

For the first few days after Sam was born, she'd made the rounds of snuggles with almost everyone at Avengers' tower. In particular, K was sure to get to the three blondes that had been in the tower with her when Creed came, especially since she knew Bobby felt miserable about being used as a hostage against her on top of how much Creed had torn him apart for trying to help Hank and Kurt. Unexpectedly, that had ended up being one of K's favorite picture opportunities - when Bobby nearly melted as he nervously held little Samantha, promising to teach her how to make the best snowballs when she was old enough to pack them.

Once their friends were all past the point of hospital beds and it was clear they were going to make a full recovery once the casts were allowed to come off, Logan and K took Scott and Jean and little Samantha to simply disappear to somewhere with a little more snow and a lot more quiet.

The little group had gone to one of Logan's hidden cabins - which was something that had Scott smiling since, this one, as it turned out, was right on the border of Alaska and British Columbia - tucked away in the mountains, hidden well by trees and snow - and perfectly cozy warm.

Logan had just come in from outside - he'd been hunting for something to make for dinner and had come back with a small deer, though before he'd finished cleaning it up outside, the snow had started to fall again, and Scott could hear the wolves starting to howl nearby.

"If we come back in the summer, we can add on to the place," Logan said as he shook the snow off and hung up his coat. "If you wanna come back, that is."

Scott grinned. "Are you kidding? This place is great." He put his hands in his back pockets as he looked around. "What do you think we'd add on - playroom for Sam? Shed for us?"

"Just another room in general," Logan said with a smirk. Easier to heat one place than two."

"He's already thinking of taking Alex up with you for a camping or fishing trip this summer," Jean said, perfectly entertained by how happy Scott was.

"Fine by me," Logan said. "There's a good trout stream not too far off."

Scott smiled contentedly as he leaned against the wall. "We'll get around to teaching Sam too," he said easily.

"When she's a little bigger, she can meet the neighbors," Logan said with a smirk, though it was clear they didn't know what he was talking about.

"I thought no one else was out here?" Jean said with a frown.

Logan tipped his head toward the window. "Take a look, there's another family right there."

Both Scott and Jean went to the window to take a look outside, only to see about a dozen timberwolves sniffing around the gutpile Logan had left outside. "Yeah, Sam doesn't get to play with the wolves until she can heal, Dad," Scott said, shaking his head.

"They won't hurt her if she's with me," Logan said with a frown. "That pack is friendly."

"Really?" Jean asked, her eyebrows raised.

"If you know how to talk to 'em," Logan said with a smirk. "I can show you if you wanna give it a try."

"Sure, why not," Scott said, pushing off from the wall with a smirk to match Logan's. "Could be fun."

Logan didn't lose the sparkle of trouble in his eyes as he simply smirked a little wider then tipped his head Scott's way. "Come on, then." Logan didn't bother putting his coat back on as he opened up the door. "Don't talk. Don't look 'em in the eyes, and just do as I tell you, alright?"

"Got it."

The two of them stepped out into the lightly falling snow, and Logan held a hand up for Scott to stop as he made his way closer to the pack. To Scott's surprise, Logan simply walked right into the middle of them before he crouched down and then took a seat in the snow with them. It didn't take the wolves any time at all to make their way over to him - some of them trotted right up and simply started to nuzzle him, almost whining as they made friendly and others looked as if they were half afraid to get swatted by the way they belly crawled over, tail between their legs before they rolled onto their back and whined, waiting for some kind of acknowledgement.

A few of them were outright playful though, and were doing their best to bowl Logan over, happily bouncing around like massive puppies. "Just hold still now," Logan called out in just over a normal speaking voice. "You got one coming to investigate. Once he sniffs your hand, slowly crouch down and let him check you out. He won't bite."

When Scott did exactly as Logan said, it didn't take any time at all for the wolf to start sniffing at his hand - a lot. A few times as he started to lower himself to the ground, he even could feel the wolf's teeth around his hand - though not in a bite … just … sizing him up apparently. And once he was crouched down all the way, the wolf backed off - and then rushed in, half jumping up on him before it made it's way around to Scott's face and started sniffing at his nose and mouth.

"Blow a breath at him," Logan said. "Nice and gentle. He's gonna get friendly if he likes you. Then you can pet his shoulder. Not the head. Not yet."

A moment later, when Scott followed his directions, he couldn't help but let a little laugh slip out as the wolf started licking his nose and mouth - relentlessly, only stopping long enough for Scott to take another breath and blow at him again … and a moment or two later, a few of the rest of the pack peeled off to say hello as well.

It took almost ten minutes before the pack seemed to calm down, and when they did, Scott looked over to see Logan clearly entertained. "You can talk now. You're alright."

Scott smirked his way. "How'd you find 'em?" he said, though he wasn't talking very loudly.

"Ah … now and again I'll find a pack and make friends," Logan said. "Used to run with 'em when I was young." He gestured to the wolves. "Not this pack, but you learn a lot livin' in a wolf pack."

Scott shook his head at that. "I feel like I keep finding out more about you, and we've been together for years."

"Stuff like this just doesn't come up that often," Logan replied.

"True enough. But still." Scott grinned as he watched the wolves. "They obviously love you."

"Hell, I just fed 'em," Logan chuckled. "They came up at the end of the hunt and followed me back."

Scott smirked at that, shaking his head at the whole story. "Well, you know what they say about kids and dogs…"

"Don't turn your back on 'em?" Logan teased.

"Yeah, that," Scott chuckled.

"You should be proud of yourself," Logan said as he got to his feet. "You just did somethin' most grown men'd be terrified of."

Scott smiled and took Logan's hand to pull himself up. "Like you'd have let them bite me. I had an advantage over most."

"As long as you're playin' by their rules, you're fine. Trouble is, most people don't even think they got their own way of communicatin'."

"Alex isn't going to believe it when I tell him," Scott said, starting to grin as they headed back.

"He will when you show him in the summer. Be more fun then anyhow," Logan said. "When the pup's are with 'em."

Scott's grin got somehow wider. "Oh yeah. We definitely have to come up for my birthday."

Of course, by the time they got back to the little cabin, neither of them were terribly surprised to find that Jean had managed to snag Sam for some snuggles - once she was fed and drifting off to sleep anyway. She grinned when the two of them got to the door. "Have fun?"

"Always," Logan said before he shook off the snow again and then slipped over to pull K into a kiss while Jean had Sam.

Scott, meanwhile, dropped down to sit next to Jean with his arm around her shoulders. "And what about you?"

Jean grinned and resettled herself so she fit into the space he had made. "Well, I finally got to steal your sister while you were gone, you hog," she teased.

"My sister," Scott said, one eyebrow raised.

"Yes, but you'd think someone with your experience being the older brother would know how to share," she shot back.

"Aren't you the older sister?"

"That's not important."

"Sure, Jean," Scott laughed, then stole a kiss and settled back in, perfectly happy to let Jean make over Sam while she was sleeping.

The vacation in the snowy mountains went off without a hitch, and as they reached the six week mark for Sam it was clear that it was time to get back to reality. They'd more or less packed up what they'd brought in, and Logan had taken the time to go outside to give the wolves whatever was left of the meat he'd hunted as K took the chance to feed Sam. And while they were finishing up their final preparations, Scott seemed a little … off.

It wasn't that he wasn't looking forward to going back to Westchester, either. In fact, the opposite was true. He wanted to get back to the team, check up on his injured friends, even start working on some simulations to deal with the inevitable return of Sinister, considering the threats he'd made to K.

But on the other hand, this was the closest he'd been to Alaska in a long time. And something about being that close without being home felt … wrong, somehow.

Jean watched him for a long moment, overhearing his thoughts and the direction he was going mentally before she slowly backed away and made her way over to where K was feeding Sam near the fireplace. You know… She projected to make sure Scott didn't overhear her. I don't think Scott has been to Alaska since he was a kid.

K glanced up at her, but didn't say anything as she thought it over. You think he needs to touch base with home? She projected back to her.

I know he hasn't been there since the crash, and right now, he's wondering how he'd even know where to find his mom, Jean admitted. But he doesn't want to say anything, not when you both went out of your way to play it cool with Corsair and he doesn't want you to think he wants to go back.

That's ridiculous, K said, her mental voice almost scoffing. I'll figure it out on the jet on the way to Anchorage.

Jean smiled. Thanks. This will mean a lot to him.

He needs to learn to speak up a little, you know? K replied. I can tell you for sure we don't want to keep him from his family.

I know that, and you know that, and he knows that, Jean replied. It's just… you know how he is.

K nodded at that and settled in to finish up with Sam. He's just been beaten down too much for too long. It'll take some time for him to realize he's safe in his place with us.

He just doesn't want to lose anyone, Jean said. It's alright; that's what you've got me for in the meantime. I've got the cheat code, she teased.

As long as you speak too.

We do, Jean promised. I remember what you told me.

K smiled at that, then switched over to speak just loud enough for Scott to catch it. "I'm glad you came with us, Jean. It wouldn't have been the same without you here."

Jean flushed with pleasure. "I'm glad you asked me," she said, glancing over at Scott, who was smirking at both of them.

Yeah, and I'm glad you're pretty much part of the family, he projected her way, which had her turning a bit redder - and had K smirking, since she didn't have to hear what he'd said to know the gist of it.

As soon as Sam was warmly bundled up, Logan and K led the way to the jet - with the wolf pack following alongside them all the way there. It wasn't clear to either Jean or Scott that Logan and K were talking - but they were, very low, very softly most of the way to the jet, and when they got there, before they left, K surprised Jean when she took a step to the side with Logan so he could introduce Sam to the pack too … though it was even more entertaining to watch than when they met Scott since the whole group of them all had their ears perked up and were obviously very interested in the little bundle. As each wolf took their turn, as soon as they backed away, they started bouncing around in the snow - exactly like excited puppies.

And when they were done, K shook her head at Jean and had her lead the way into the jet. "Are you sitting with me, or am I playing co-pilot?" K asked.

"If you play co-pilot, do Scott and I get Sam?" Jean teased.

"She just ate, so .. you could," K said with a shrug.

"Perfect. I'll hold her," Scott said, smirking Jean's way - though Jean didn't argue it when she figured Scott might be a little more emotional than he realized after they stopped in Alaska, so… he could hold her this time.

"I told you you're a baby hog," Jean couldn't help but whisper to him anyway as he settled in with his sister.

"Oh, like you're any better," he shot right back, which had her laughing, especially when she could swear Sam was taking her brother's side the way she was raising an eyebrow at Jean.

"If you weren't so cute with your sister…" Jean stuck a finger in his face.

"You'd have a better comeback," Scott teased, while Sam was positively fascinated as she stared up at Scott wide-eyed and blinking slowly.

Jean smiled as she gestured between the two of them. "Perfect team-up."

"Well, good, because she's stuck with me," Scott said as they got settled in for the trip, though he was just as wrapped up in Sam as she was with him as he tried to get her to make faces.

"I don't know if 'stuck' is the right word…" Jean smiled as she rested her chin on his shoulder. More like 'lucky'.

You're a flirt, Miss Gray.

You act so surprised, Mr. Summers.

In the cockpit, Logan and K were quietly piloting over the top of the clouds - especially since the further west they went, the more unpredictable the clouds were going to be near the mountains. "Think he'll notice which way we're goin?" Logan asked low.

"Not as long as he's making faces at Sam," K replied softly.

"Yeah, you got his two biggest weaknesses workin' against him," Logan said, though he couldn't help but chuckle at that.

K didn't respond but to steal a peek at the two teenagers mooning over the little one before she checked their course and started with a quiet radio call to the little airport they were planning to use outside of the city. Logan had made the arrangements once they got into the jet - he had some old friends that way, because of course he did - so by the time they started spiraling downward to land, there was a car waiting for them to use. And that … was when Scott realized something was different. They hadn't been in the air more than an hour. And though the jet was fast … it wasn't fast enough for them to be back to New York.

"I thought we were headed back to the team," Scott said, leaning forward. "Something wrong?"

"We'll go back," Logan said. "Nothin's wrong. Just had a stop to make first."

"Need a hand?" Scott offered.

"You can drive if you really want to," Logan said before he handed Scott an address K had written out. "But we're all plannin' on goin' with you."

There was a long beat of silence as Scott stared at the address and obviously tried to process it before he finally looked up at Logan again. "Where … how did you…?"

"You know how K is," Logan said with a little shrug. "She can find any damn thing you want if you ask for it."

"Yeah," Scott said, nodding slowly before he at least tried to get a better hold of himself. "Alright. Yeah. Let's go."

"Car's waitin," Logan said, gesturing to the exit.

Jean was positively grinning, though Scott barely seemed to notice as they drove out to the quiet cemetery, still lined with snow. No one said anything as they walked around, looking for the markers that would say Christopher and Katherine Summers, even if one of them was unnecessary.

Eventually, they did find the right place, and Scott was grateful that the rest of the family gave him a little space so he could kneel down next to the headstones and just… look at them for a long moment. He glanced over his shoulder to see that K had not-so-subtly pulled the rest of the group to the side to have a quiet chat so he could do whatever he needed to, and he smiled tightly before he turned back.

"Hi, Mom," he said in a breath, just resting his fingers above his mom's name. But after that, he couldn't even begin to think of what to do. Or say. It felt like a part of him was buried there, too, and he didn't know how to even begin to express that.

He spent a long time just kneeling there, not saying anything. Just… thinking about his mom and trying to remember everything he could at once. Like the way she always let the boys stay up a little later than they were supposed to - but only if they helped her pick up the house… so they sometimes went to bed anyway. Or the way she'd laughed when Alex had managed to get his head stuck in the banister - after they got him out, of course.

It felt like a totally different life, somehow.

Finally, Scott cleared his throat and got to his feet, rubbing the heels of his hands in his eyes before he put the glasses back down and headed over to the rest of his family - to positively attach to K in the tightest hug he could give her (since, luckily, Logan was holding Sam at the time).

"You alright?" K asked, hugging him back tightly before she kissed the side of his head and snuggled in a little bit more.

"Yeah," he said quietly. "Thanks."

"I'll be honest," K told him softly. "Jean tipped me off that you were a little down at being this close …"

"Yeah, well, that's why I love her," he said quietly and in a sort of half-laugh that said how emotional he still was.

"One of many reasons," K replied, though she still hadn't come anywhere near letting go of him yet.

"Yeah," Scott said. There was a beat, then, "I miss her."

"I know," K said. "I'm so sorry she's not here for you."

"Me too," Scott said, though he was still talking low enough it was clearly meant just for her. "But you know you're still my mom, right? Just so we're clear?"

"I know," she said. "But any time you want to come here, just say the word. I don't want you to forget her. Ever."

"She… her birthday's in May," he said. It wasn't really a request, but K knew what it was anyway.

"Then we'll have to come back then," K said with a nod.

"Thanks, Mom."

"Love you too, sweet Caramel Mocha."

It took a moment longer still before Scott and K stepped back from each other - and once they did, Jean darted over and positively wrapped Scott in a hug and a long kiss. She was obviously emotional as well, though Scott was starting to pick himself back up and gave her a quick squeeze.

Thanks for looking out for me, he projected to her.

Love you too, Scott.

The little group made their way to the car and piled in, and the ride back was mercifully silent - except of course for Sam's cooing as they went. Scott was just starting to get better control of himself when he had to frown at the road in front of them. The entire roadway was blocked off with what looked to be an accident. And of course, it was the only road to the airport, so they had no choice but to stop and wait for it to be cleared. "This might take a while," Logan muttered to himself, though it was clear they all knew there wasn't really much they could do.

"Well, maybe we could stretch our legs?" Jean offered.

"If you need to, you sure can," K said, settling in.

Jean smirked her way. "Not all of us are as short as you are," she teased.

"I just know Sam will be needing some attention soon," K said. "So I may as well stay where it's warm."

Jean nodded and looked over to where Sam was still sleeping, though she was starting to make a few noises. She let out a breath and leaned over to rest her head on Scott's shoulder. "No one's hurt up there," she said. "So hopefully that will help things move along, even if the cars need to be towed." She paused. "At least, I can't sense anyone hurt. Or… anyone angry. That's weird."

"Maybe we should turn around," K said with a little frown.

Scott nodded, though he had only just managed to go a little ways down the road before they found it blocked off that direction, too - this time with a couple large trees. "Yeah, this is a problem."

"Damnit," Logan breathed out before he opened his door and got out. "This doesn't just happen. Cover your Mom and sister." he closed his door and only made it to the end of the car before he caught a familiar and unwelcome scent - and simply started growling as he let his claws fly. He just … couldn't see where it was coming from, and the way the wind was swirling through the pass, it was hard to pinpoint. He spun on the spot, wildly looking for the source of the scent and looking somewhere between angry and alarmed. There was a little sound - not quite like a pop and Logan whirled driving his claws ahead of him as he turned, though before he made meaningful contact, his target disappeared and reappeared behind him to reach out and freeze him into place.

Essex turned with a self-satisfied look on his face before he simply started walking toward the car. "Run him over, Scott," K said quietly.

"Jean, keep an eye on Sam," Scott said just as quietly before he simply floored it, not even hesitating when it was Sinister they were fighting. Of course, Sinister teleported out of the way, and Scott had to slam on the brakes - but it was worth a shot.

"Yeah, didn't think that was gonna work," K said under her breath. "Crap. What do you have?"

Scott was already throwing the car in reverse. "Buying time to think," he admitted. "Kurt has a harder time teleporting into a moving vehicle; same principle, hopefully…"

It was a good plan in terms of keeping Sinister from teleporting into the car with them, though it hit a sudden and solid snag when a wall of a man came out of nowhere, and the car slammed into him, jolting the four people inside before a second giant man got there to literally tear Scott's door off the hinges.

It was pure reaction when Scott blasted the huge man away from the car, though it was starting to become apparent there were more where he'd come from. And before Scott could blast the next one, he let out a cry and then doubled over, knocked cleanly unconscious by Sinister's telepathic blast.

K shook her head and picked up Sam. "This isn't going to work."

Jean was openly panicked as she tried to shake Scott awake. "We can… do… something, right?"

"What?" K asked. "You've seen him stop both of them without breaking a sweat, and you missed him slapping around Sabretooth like he was a child."

"We can't just… give up!"

"Jean, with everything I've ever cooked up … I can't come up with anything that works against this guy."

Jean's mouth worked for a moment. "But…" It was obvious she didn't have anything, but she couldn't believe K was … giving up. But when she saw Essex making his way over, she could only narrow her eyes and clench her fists. "We'll get out. This is just temporary," she whispered.

"Uh huh," K whispered back, holding Sam a little tighter.

When Essex got to the car, he was smiling at the two women almost pleasantly, though that only seemed to irritate Jean. "Oh, stow it," she bit out, her eyes flashing bright.

"Now, Miss Grey, that's no way to behave," Essex drawled out. "Stop acting like a child and come along."

"And what about Scott and Logan?" Jean asked.

Essex smiled a little wider and glanced at where the two of them were laid out. "They'll be coming along as well, of course. But admittedly, they're not my focus today."

"She's a baby," Jean said heatedly. "Leave her alone."

"She's a baby that I worked very hard to create."

"Then your part is done," Jean said flatly. "You know where to address the child support payment."

"Charming," Essex said with narrowed eyes before he held one hand out. "It's time to go, my dears."

Jean glanced over at K, but K still hadn't said anything and was simply holding tight to Sam. And seeing the look on K's face, Jean was mad all over again and rounded on Essex, tossing him telekinetically into the snow. Even if she knew it wouldn't last, she couldn't stop from lashing out.

Of course, as soon as she'd done that, K turned and grabbed her arm. "Time to run."

"I really couldn't agree more," Jean breathed out, even going so far as to reach out to dump a drift of snow on Essex before he could get up, just to buy them a little more time.

As the two of them ran, K pulled the little sling around she often carried Sam close to her with … if nothing else to give her arms some free motion so she could keep her balance as she ran. They didn't get too far though before the Marauders began coming out of the trees, and K was quick to put one hand on Sam's back to hold her a little closer and popped the claws on her free arm - slicing off one of the Marauder's limbs as she slipped by him. "Don't try to just stop them," K snarled toward Jean.

"Not all of us have lethal weapons at our fingertips," Jean shot back - though she did follow it up by knocking two Marauders into each other to knock them both unconscious.

"My point is that kill shots won't kill them anyhow," K shot back. "So don't get squeamish." The two girls worked their way past the marauders and actually looked like they might get a shot at a clean getaway - right up until, all of a sudden, K froze in the middle of her run toward one of the Marauders.

Jean let out a noise of pure frustration as she spun on her heel, throwing two Marauders right at Sinister, though he simply teleported out of the way and shook his head at her with a little tut that had her that much more frustrated. "Just… just stop!" she said, though she was worn out and angry and on the verge of losing it from sheer frustration and honest terror. "Leave us alone, please."

Essex paused for just a moment as he reached over to move the blanket to take a peek at Sam. "I told you already, Miss Grey, I have too much invested to simply walk away," he said. "And I have far more of a claim to this child than you do."

For just a moment, Jean looked like he'd thrown water in her face. "I… stay away from her," she said, though by that time, one of the Marauders had come to pull her back by her arms.

Essex was smiling down at the little one as Jean stammered and tried to get her feet under her more squarely. "That's not up to you," he said before he finally looked away from the little one and gave a silent order to his marauders just before he rested a hand on K's shoulder and the other on Sam's back - before he simply disappeared with the two of them.

Of course, Jean flat out began to panic at that - especially when the Marauders near her took a more aggressive hold on her and started trudging out of the woods to where the faux wreckage was. When they got there, Logan and Scott had already been loaded up - fully restrained and immobilized, of course.

Jean was frustrated to the point of tears, but the Marauders didn't have anything in their minds but Essex's orders, so really, all she could do was glare all the way through the trip to the large house that Essex had set up for himself, far from prying eyes. Though he had, at least, learned from the last time and, in addition to giving Logan some kind of metal gloves that would keep him from using his claws, had reinforced steel doors and bars on the windows of the cells.

All three of them - besides K and Sam, who Jean simply couldn't see - were locked into different cells and simply left to wait, and seeing as the boys were still out for the count, that just left Jean to pace a small path in her cell before she finally simply sat down and pulled her knees up to her chin.

She didn't know how they were going to get out of this one.

Chapter Text

When Scott woke up in the cell, he had to shake his head to dispel the sharp headache that always came after a psychic attack, and then he took quick stock of himself and his surroundings. He wasn't surprised to find himself locked in, though he was surprised - and relieved - that at least so far, it looked like he wasn't, well, missing anything. He also didn't have any cuts or even a telltale bruise in the crook of his elbow.

But that just meant that Sinister was busy with something else - someone else - and considering Scott couldn't see anyone else, that only had him panicking more.

"Jean? Mom? Dad?" he called out, trying to blast the door - but of course, he wasn't even glowing. There had to be a dampener up - at least in the cell area.

"Oh, good; you're awake," came the response from Jean, though it was hard to tell where she was apart from simply being on the other side of the door to his cell.

"Where's Sam?"

"I don't know." It was clear from Jean's tone that she was panicked. "I haven't seen her or your mom since we got here!"

Scott let out a frustrated sound and ran a hand through his hair. "And Essex?"

"I haven't seen him either," Jean said quietly, which had Scott swearing under his breath.

"We'll figure this out," he said, though he was pacing a path, falling silent as he wracked his brain for something he could use.

It was clear when Logan woke up if nothing else because he started swearing in about a dozen different languages as he paced his cell. He kicked the door, then swore a little more before Scott could hear him … doing … something. There was a muted sort of scraping sound as Logan growled quietly - only punctuated when he was obviously holding his breath. And always followed by a curse.

"Dad, what's going on?" Scott called through the bars.

There was a little louder growl for a moment - followed by a little more scraping and then a heavy thump as Logan slipped from where he'd climbed the walls and hit the floor. "Tryin' to find a way out," Logan replied. "I can't use my claws."

"My optic blasts aren't working either," Scott admitted.

"There's always a weak point to these kinda doors," Logan said through his teeth before he clearly started the process of climbing all over again.

"What are you doing?" Scott asked, genuinely curious - and wondering if he could do the same.

"Climbin' the walls," Logan said - and it was clear from the direction of his voice that he was pretty high up. "Need to find somewhere I can lever the door off the hinges."

Scott nodded quietly, looking over the door to his own cell, though he didn't have the same experience to know what to look for. "We broke the last one down. Probably why we're in these cells this time."

"I've seen doors like this," Logan said. "I just can't remember how to break the damn things. It'd be easier if you were in here to help with the lever when I figure it out."

"Also, probably on purpose," Jean said softly.

"Where's K?" Logan asked, still working at a small spot near the top of the door.

"I don't know," Jean admitted, her voice shaking slightly. "He teleported off with her and Sam, and I don't know where they went. His goons took us here."

"She's probably too damn close to him," Logan said half under his breath, then swore when he lost his angle, his balance and fell hard, knocking the breath out of him with a woosh.

"We'll just… maybe when we're not in the cells we can… do something," Jean offered. "At least try to figure out where K and Sam are."

A few minutes passed before Logan went right back to it - he hadn't responded to Jean's half-formed thought, and he was working pretty hard at finding a way to break out when he finally walked away from the door and took better stock of the cell he was in. There wasn't much there.… A bed was about the biggest thing in the room, and for a long time, he just stared at it, thinking it over. With a scowl firmly on his features, he crossed the cell to the bed, flipped it, and started tearing the frame apart. The noise of the bolts coming out of the frame filled the cell for a long while before the pipes that made it up clanged to the ground - echoing around him. He couldn't do too much, but he thought if he could rig something up to help with the levering issue that wouldn't involve using his arm as the lever, that would help things.

Of course, putting it into practice proved that wasn't really going to do much, and after trashing what was left of the frame, he simply started pacing the room, hands on his hips and growling the whole while. If he could only use his damn claws, this stupid door wouldn't be an issue. But Essex had been sure to keep that an impossibility with the metal gloves shackled to Logan's hands. He was winding up to start wrecking things again when he kicked the mattress and then very abruptly stopped. The growl dropped away as he stared at the mattress on the floor. He knelt down and ripped the side of it open to pull out a long, thin piece of metal … then quietly set to work trying to pick the lock on the stupid gloves. It was delicate work - a far cry from the trashing and thrashing he'd been doing before. But not something he didn't know how to do. The trouble, of course, was that the metal covering his hands made gripping the wire that much more difficult.

Before long, Logan had gotten a second wire and held it between his lips as he tried to gently trip the tumblers in the tiny lock. Of course … that didn't do Jean and Scott any good worrying after the absolute tangle of snarls, growls, and curses he'd been tossing around not long before.

Of course, the snarls and growls covered the sound of footsteps coming down the hall. And when Essex got to Logan's cell and saw what he was up to, his expression twisted into one of rage, and he froze Logan in place before he projected pain into his mind. "Must you be so willful?"

"Leave him alone," Scott bit out, since Logan was pretty well stuck.

"I came down here for a reason, Mr. Summers, and I'll not be listening to any of this … wasteful nonsense. You'd do well to concern yourself with your own well being - and that of Miss Grey."

"Don't touch her," Scott snapped back.

"Not right now, of course," Essex replied as he had his Marauder drag Logan out behind him. "I have far too much work to do."

"Where are you taking him?" Jean demanded.

"I don't see what business it is of yours," Essex said. "But if it will keep you from fretting so, then I'm taking him to the best method I can think of to keep him contained - and out of trouble."

Jean narrowed her eyes at that. "That better mean you're letting him see his daughter."

But Essex simply laughed at that, not really answering her either way as they left Scott and Jean where they were in their cells, both of them fuming and feeling frustratingly helpless.

It was another hour after Logan was gone before the relative silence of the cell block was broken when the first of Logan's screams echoed from a far-off sounding area from where they were.

Jean was literally shaking with anger, especially when it was clear Logan couldn't stop himself. But it was when she heard a second voice underneath Logan's and realized that it was Scott trying to yell for his dad that something just… snapped.

Jean wasn't even aware of what happened - she knew that when that something got loose, she went from shaking in fury to standing in literal fire that melted the door blocking her from getting to Scott and his family.

She panicked as soon as she saw the flames, but… it didn't hurt. In fact, it was like standing close to a campfire, a nice sort of heat that felt good as it burned a little brighter around her.

She gasped - and then, just like that, the fire was out, and Jean was left standing in the still-smoking remains of the doorway.

She blinked as she looked around herself, almost holding her breath, but when the fire wasn't coming back… she decided to rush over to Scott's cell and unbolt the door, her eyes wide and her breath caught in her throat.

At first, Scott looked like he was ready for a fight when the door opened, then relieved to see Jean. And then he saw the molten door. "Jean, what…?"

"I don't know," she breathed out. "It just… happened."

"Did Essex-"

"No, I've been awake this whole time," Jean said. But when Logan screamed again, she shook her head. "We'll… we'll figure it out later."

"Right. Yeah." Scott shook his head and started down the hall. "Can you find Sam? I know Mom and Dad are hard for you to pinpoint ... "

Jean shook her head. "I can't even hear you yet."

"Then how…?"

"No idea." Jean was hugging herself tighter, and it was clear that the only reason she wasn't freaking out more was that she could hear Logan screaming and wanted to get to him.

Scott frowned Jean's way and then let out a breath. "We'll figure it out," he promised her, giving her hand a quick squeeze - and then keeping hold of her hand when he could feel her shaking slightly.

The two of them rushed down the hall, though they came screaming to a stop when they did burst into the room where Essex had Logan pinned down to an examination table and was cutting into him - while he was still awake.

But once they were there at that end of the hall, they were outside the dampening field. And while Scott was frozen in honest horror, Jean reacted in anger, tossing Essex away from Logan hard enough that he slammed into the wall.

"Where are Sam and K?" Jean demanded, her voice a little rougher than usual as she tried to control the shake to her voice.

"How did you get out of your cell?" Essex asked, even as the diamond in his forehead glowed a bit brighter.

Jean narrowed her eyes as she felt Essex pricking at her mind. But unlike the last time he'd broken in, this time, she was fueled by that something from before, and she could feel it gnawing at her again. "You didn't answer my question," she said evenly, while Scott rushed to get the restraints undone to free up Logan.

"That's because they belong to me - and are, as before, none of your concern," Essex replied in a cold tone.

Jean let out a noise of disbelief before she simply drove herself into his mind, a searing telepathic sword cutting through his defense with a heat that she didn't realize was physical until she had K and Sam's location from his mind and focused on reality again - to find that there were once again flames around her, even if, this time, it was just a few and not quite the full-body experience that had melted the door down.

She took a breath and tried to get herself back under control, but when she looked over to see that Scott was trying to talk Logan down from a full-blown panic attack, it was hard to hold anything back, and she simply tore Essex's consciousness to shreds - putting him to sleep and making sure it hurt when it happened.

"I know where they are," she said, already rushing past Logan and Scott. "I'll be right back."

Scott couldn't come up with anything to say fast enough - not that Jean was sure she wanted to hear it. She knew he had questions - she had questions. But they had to get Scott's family out of there before anything else happened.

She still hadn't managed to stop the flames when she got to K's door and unbolted it, though the fire was just flickering at the edges of her hair and eyes. K had Sam clutched to her chest, trying to settle the little girl out, though the tear trails on her cheeks were easy enough to see and it was obvious she wasn't expecting a rescue.

"Come on," Jean said, trying very hard not to get angrier when she saw how upset both K and Sam were - because she didn't need to be on fire around a baby. And, to her surprise, that knowledge seemed to settle the fire out, until it faded to nothing. "We have to get out of here. Essex is down, but I don't know for how long."

"Did you find Logan?" K asked, though it was clear she wasn't waiting around.

Jean nodded. "Scott's with him," she said, reaching out to Scott telepathically so they could meet up someplace that Essex was not. "They're on their way to meet us." She was trying hard to keep it together, telling herself she could freak out as soon as they were out.

The relief from both Logan and Scott was palpable when they met up with the girls on their way out of Essex's hidden lab, though it was obvious that now they were out, they had no idea where to go next.

Jean bit her lip. "I… I know where to go. I saw the layout of this place in his mind," she explained, though she was glad when Scott took her hand so she didn't fall apart as she took the was glad he knew better than to ask her anything until they had put the house behind them and found a car to put even more distance between them and Essex.

No one spoke for a long time, and it was clear they were all more focused on taking stock of themselves and each other than they were on conversation. But whatever Jean had done to force Essex into unconsciousness… it wasn't letting up. At least, there was no sign of Essex or his huge minions, even after they'd put ten minutes of driving between them and the house.

When they finally found the jet, Logan was at least a little more with it. It was clear he was still worn, and although he was healed up, he was still on edge. But he was pushing it back so he could take care of his family, looking for any devices on the jet that shouldn't be there as the others loaded up quickly.

K wasn't letting go of Sam for anything, though thankfully, Sam at least had started to settle out once they were on the jet and even ate a little before drifting off to sleep. Scott was prepping the jet for takeoff, his jaw locked and clearly betraying how upset he was.

But Jean… Jean was done as soon as she sat down. She tried to keep it together; she really did. But she was tired, she was scared, and she could still feel that something inside of her, like it was sleeping, not gone. Just waiting for something else to wake it up so it could come screaming back to life.

She pulled her knees up to her chin, trying for just a few more minutes to keep it together, but she… couldn't. She burst into tears, hugging her knees tightly and unable to stop crying.

"Jean," K said after Sam started to snuggle in. "Do you want some company while you wait for Scott?" On saying it, she'd already gotten to her feet - intent on bringing Jean a blanket and a bottle of water at the very least.

Jean glanced up at K from behind her knees and nodded gently. "Please."

K grabbed a blanket and tucked the water bottle in the crook of her arm before she came over to Jean and finagled a way to cover her up with one arm - and then put her arm across Jean's shoulder and pulled her into a one-armed hug, still holding Sam with her other arm, even if she didn't have a thing to say.

You… you might not want to be that close with Sam, Jean said, sounding miserable even telepathically. I… caught on fire...

K leaned over to kiss her forehead. "I'll risk it."

"Really." Jean looked up at K with wide eyes. "I don't know how I did it. There was a dampener and everything and if anything happened to you or Sam or Scott and - and I don't know what's going on and-"

"Jean," K said quietly. "Just try to breathe, okay?" She shook her head. "I don't know what happened either, but I can tell you the scent was different."

Jean looked alarmed at that. "It… what? It wasn't me?"

"I don't know how to explain it, but … it was you, but it wasn't."

Jean bit her lip and nodded. It made sense in a way she didn't know how to explain, like she knew exactly what K was saying but didn't know it. "Are… are you okay?" she asked, pulling the blanket around her shoulders a little tighter.

"Subjective," K replied. "I'll be fine. How about you?"

"I really don't know," Jean admitted. I can still feel… it.

Maybe your professor will have some answers, K replied gently. Just try to relax until then. Whatever that was … it got everyone out. Everyone.

Jean nodded, wiping her eyes with the palm of her hand. "What about Sam?"

"She's alright," K promised. "All he did to her was to prick her heel and gave her a normal sort of exam."

Jean let her shoulders drop in relief. "Well, that's good at least. She looked so mad when I came in…. I was worried…"

"She was upset from hearing her dad." K tucked the little one a little closer. "Though I don't know if she knew it was him or not."

"You could hear him too?" Jean winced. "That… that was what got me to snap. That and hearing Scott get upset…"

"Yeah, he was hard to miss," K replied. "And it was mostly punishment for being so bold as to make good progress escaping. I heard that much at least."

"Yeah, Essex said he was more interested in you and Sam than us," Jean said, making a face. "Not that it makes it any better."

"Yeah, I heard all about it," K said quietly.

"Well, he can't stand up to that… whatever it was. So maybe… if I talk to the professor… we have a way to stop him now, at least," Jean said, trying hard to find a silver lining, especially since Logan and Scott were now headed for the cockpit and quietly talking between the two of them, and she didn't want to make a scene crying when everyone was hurt.

"They're both holding on by a thread right now," K whispered to her. "When we get back, I don't expect either of them to let us out of their sight."

"I know," Jean said. "I can hear Scott without even trying."

"Hell, can hear Scott," K said dryly.

"And I can hear Logan by that measure," Jean said, managing a small sort of smirk at that.

"They're pretty transparent, aren't they?" K said quietly, waiting for one of them to turn around, since she was very sure they were listening in.

"Dad's more obvious than I am. I have shades to hide half my face," Scott said dryly.

"You really think you're less readable?" K asked with one eyebrow raised.

"Well, yeah," Scott said with a shrug.

K let out a snort of a laugh at that and then turned her head to look out the window - if nothing else because it should get a smirk out of Jean. "Not when he's trying to hide it," she said.

"Well, that's entirely different," Scott said as he came to sit down on the other side of Jean and slip his fingers through hers. "You girls okay - all of you?" he asked not just Jean but Sam and K.

"Yeah, fine," K said, shifting so that Scott could see Sam sleeping peacefully.

"Yeah, right," Scott said, though when Jean leaned over to put her head on his shoulder, he no longer had anywhere to go, so he leaned back slightly to give her more space to curl in if she wanted.

K smirked at the two of them and then got up to step around them. "If you two are going to share a blanket, I am not going to supervise."

"We don't need supervision," Jean said, shaking her head at K.

"Or direction. Or instruction - or ideas," K said, sure to give her the most ridiculous look she could as she turned to walk toward the cockpit. She knew she was being over the top, but she hoped it was enough to break the mood at least a little.

Scott shook his head, knowing full well what his mom was up to - but if he was honest, he was grateful for it, because it was helpful to have a conversation while he refocused on Jean, who was still clearly … off. But once K was up front with Logan, Scott made sure to give Jean a quick kiss and look her over a little closer. "So, that was…" He trailed off, suddenly realizing that there was absolutely no way he could find a good way to explain what it was, exactly.

"Yeah, it was," Jean agreed. "It really was."

"Maybe the professor can help," Scott said after a too-long silence, which was really more of a mark of how out of their depth they were than anything else, since usually, at the least, they could talk telepathically.

"Can we just… sit here?" Jean asked, and Scott nodded, pulling her a little tighter to him.

As soon as they were in the air and up to altitude, Logan switched over to autopilot and then turned to simply wrap up K and Sam. He wasn't in the mood to talk, but he absolutely wasn't going to wait to get back to New York before checking them both over, either. And that's exactly how the three of them stayed for most of the flight back, too.

Chapter Text

Eventually, Logan did go back to piloting so they could land - since Scott and Jean were both asleep by that point - and the five of them tried for a quiet return that they couldn't quite finagle when Kurt teleported to the hangar with a smile and an obvious desire for baby snuggles - completely oblivious to the fact that they were all in recovery mode and not coming back from a relaxing vacation like he'd thought.

Of course, he figured it out when K couldn't help but growl at him when he got close, even if she tried to temper it by shaking her head and belatedly telling him with a growl in her tone still to "ignore me."

"Was is das?" Kurt looked alarmed, his tail straight out behind him. "I thought this was supposed to be a vacation!"

"And it was, for the most part," Logan said before he turned to look at Jean and Scott. "You two should get checked out."

"I will take them," Kurt offered, clearly seeing that Logan wasn't ready to be around people yet and simply teleporting Jean and Scott to the medical bay without another word, though once it was just him and Jean and Scott… "What happened?"

"Sinister," Scott said simply - and really, that was all the explanation needed, all things considered.

Kurt's eyes got even wider somehow. "What… where is he? Can I run him through? What did he do?"

"Jean stopped him," Scott said, more focused on helping Jean to a seat than on answering Kurt's questions. "We don't really know how, though. We could use the professor, if he's available." He paused. "And if he's not, tell him to hurry."

"Yes, of course," Kurt said, still somewhere between alarmed and angry as he teleported once more.

You're supposed to be looked over too, Mr. Summers, Jean pointed out when it looked like Scott had no plans to do anything but hover close by while Hank got a few scans up and running for Jean.

Once I'm sure you're okay, Scott said, which got an affectionate sort of huff out of Jean. Then I promise I'll let you baby me.

I'll hold you to that.

Yeah, I know you will.

Scott was simply sitting with Jean and holding her hand when Kurt reappeared, this time with Charles, who looked obviously concerned, considering the state the family had returned in - when they were supposed to get away for a while for their physical, mental, and emotional safety.

"I thought you were having a little family time," Charles said as gently as he could. "What happened?"

"Sinister managed to find us," Scott said, looking angry even at the memory. "I'm sure he had someone watching any place where we had ties… even my-" He paused. "-even Alaska."

"Scott," Charles said, sounding supremely disappointed on his behalf, "I'm somehow not surprised that he'd have means to stalk you both."

"That's just it. It's not even a surprising move for him," Scott said. "It was careless. We should have just come here."

Charles frowned at that, especially when Jean looked alarmed at Scott's conclusion. "Why don't you tell me what happened before you decide it was your fault."

"He ambushed us after we stopped in Alaska," Scott said, his eyes narrowed as he shook his head. "That's where they buried my parents. Of course he'd have someone there."

"And does your father have any connections that are in similar areas?" Charles asked.

Scott paused and shook his head. "He's Canadian. But until then, we were far from anyone."

"As wild as I'm sure most of your father's hideouts are, Canada isn't entirely a forest," Charles said with a smirk. "You should ask him if he has any places to hide that are closer to things like electricity."

Despite herself, Jean chuckled at that. "Yeah, Sinister doesn't exactly rough it."

"The point is," Scott said, shaking his head at both of them, "he was waiting for us to show up at one of the places he was watching. If Jean hadn't gotten us out like she did, we'd all still be there."

"Perhaps you could tell me more specifically what happened," Charles said. "Since I'm very sure your parents aren't going to."

"That's the thing," Jean said slowly. "We're not… entirely sure what happened. don't know what happened." She was unconsciously curling against Scott, trying to look smaller. "It just… did."

"Did you tell the Avengers about this?" Charles asked. "I'm sure Dr. Pym or Mr. Stark would have ideas or concerns. Frankly, I'm surprised that Captain Rogers hasn't come to tell me how we're not paying enough attention yet."

Scott couldn't help but smirk at that. "We came here," he said. "And honestly, professor, you're the expert when it comes to powers, and we were hoping…" He glanced at Jean.

Jean nodded. "I'm the one that got us out, but I don't understand how I was able to do it, especially when there was a dampener up. I shouldn't have been able to do… anything that I did." And then, because she truly couldn't explain it, she simply projected to Charles what had happened, starting with when she'd melted the door of her cell.

Charles frowned as he took in Jean's retelling of events, though he couldn't help but smile a bit to himself when he saw what the triggers were that had her losing her control. She really was fitting in nicely to the little family, and he knew that was what they both wanted. "Jean, I don't know what to tell you," Charles said finally. "I don't understand where this new power is from, but I am very sure it's not tied to your telepathy or telekinesis."

"I don't know," Jean said softly. "It felt easier to get into his mind…"

"It sounds like more than a power surge," Charles said.

It feels like a part of me that's not a part of me, Jean projected, trying to share with Charles that same sort of sleeping power that she could feel at the edge of her reach.

But when he tried to look closer at whatever it was she was trying to express, Charles very quickly found himself evicted from the projection. "Jean," Charles barely breathed out, completely off kilter from the abrupt end of their shared projection. "Did you mean to do that?"

"No," Jean said, her eyes wide. "I was trying to show you…"

"It's like a separate entity," Charles said, frowning at her. "Is this … did Essex have something to do with this, I wonder …"

Jean shook her head. "He didn't knock me out, and I was awake the whole time - and aware," she said. "And… he seemed surprised, to tell you the truth."

Charles looked thoughtful, and more than once over the following several minutes, he'd open his mouth, only to close it again a moment later before, finally, haltingly …. "Then perhaps this is related to your power surges."

Jean looked surprised, then almost relieved. "You know, that's the first thing about this that's made sense…"

"And you did say it helped you get into Essex's mind," Scott said, looking between the two of them with his eyebrows obviously high, even with the glasses.

Jean bit her lip and nodded, still wrapping her arms around herself as she thought it over. "How do we… it's almost like having a whole new power to learn," she said, sounding a little overwhelmed.

"And not something that I'm used to seeing in a mutant your age, Jean," Charles said. "Secondary mutations are rare, but they only ever manifest well into adulthood. Not … you're simply too young for that to be the case."

"Well, didn't you say sometimes trauma causes powers to manifest?" Scott offered. "I mean, we're both adults. Maybe it's just… early? Not like Sinister doesn't qualify as trauma…"

"Not for a secondary," Charles said, shaking his head lightly.

"Maybe… we can look into it in the morning," Jean offered quietly.

"Yes, of course," Charles said before he turned to Scott. "How is the rest of your family?"

"Sam's alright," Scott said. "She got mad when he pricked her, but she'll be okay." He let out a breath. "Mom… is furious. Dad's still simmering."

"But you expect that they're more or less alright, I'm guessing."

"Physically, yeah."

"But you don't believe they're alright otherwise," Charles finished.

"Would you be?" Scott asked, one eyebrow raised.

"No, I'd suspect not," Charles admitted, then took a moment to weigh his words. "Do they plan to return to Dr. Pym to be checked over?"

Scott paused, then frowned. "I'll… talk to them," he said, knowing full well neither of them were thinking about anything like that at the moment.

"It just concerns me that the three of them were alone with Essex for some time. And considering the history …"

"Yeah, I get it," Scott promised. "I do. I should have thought of that too. I'll… I'll call the tower and let them know what happened."

"Thank you, Scott. I know that both Logan and K will be more responsive to the suggestion if it comes from someone other than myself."

"Don't take it personally, professor," Scott said with a small smile.

"No, of course not," Charles said. "They're solitary people on a good day. They've just been horribly violated; of course they'd want privacy."

Scott nodded. "Thanks, professor," he said, helping Jean to her feet. "Sorry to come back with a five-alarm fire…."

"I'm beginning to think that's the only way your family returns from any excursion," Charles said dryly.

"Believe me, I'd be happy to break that streak too," Scott said, just as dryly.

"I'm sure you all would," Charles agreed. "Thank you, Scott. Jean … you should both try to rest."

Jean nodded, holding Scott's hand a little tighter before he simply picked her up and headed up with her.

Naturally, the Avengers were more than a little concerned about the news of Essex - and on hearing how it had gone down, Jan insisted that they stay with them in the tower until after the wedding was over.

"You guys need some happiness, okay?" Jan insisted. "And, K, you need to be a bridesmaid."

"I already said I would. No guarantees that the dress will look good, though …"

"Please. I designed it." Jan waved her hand as if there was no other possible explanation.

"Well yeah, but … I mean .. no telling what happened with Essex …"

Jan made a face. "If you could hold off on doing anything like that until it's not Sinister-created…"

"I'd much rather any more be ones that we get rolling on our own," K said.

"Good. Wait until me and Hank get started," Jan teased, bumping shoulders with her.

"So what … ten minutes from now? Twenty? I don't recall agreeing to a race."

Jan laughed. "Oh, let me actually get to the honeymoon first!"

"That's a long time to wait to dive in," K said.

"I know, right?" Jan giggled and bounced in place.

"You know … if you did start now, it's not like anyone would know, since the wedding is so close."

"Shhh." Jan laughed. "He'll totally freak. He's so not ready to do anything but this."

"Um … have you seen him with Sam?" K said.

"I have," Jan said. "But he's going to die of stress."

"He'd cope."

"Oh, I'm sure. But don't kill him before we get there." Jan kissed K's cheek. "Give me two more days, mkay?"

"Okay, okay," K agreed. "I'm just saying.… I could help you figure out timing if you get tired of chance."

"If it doesn't happen by the time we hit our anniversary, I'm not even kidding: I will take you up on that. He needs a little anklebiter chasing him around his lab, don't you think?"

"I really think he does. And I hope you get a girl."

"Me too!" She paused and giggled. "And I hope Tony gets his act together with Pepper fast. He needs a tiny redhead, okay? Like, yesterday. I know it's early when they've only been on a few dates, but still!"

"I know … he'd melt," K laughed. "He melts with Sam, too."

"It's so sweet." Jan leaned forward. "And Natasha has been sulking about it, you know. It's kind of glorious."

"She'll get over it," K said.

"She better," Jan sniffed, then grabbed K by the hands. "Now, come on. I need a manicure, and I need someone to get it with me."

"You got it," K agreed, looping arms with her.

On the day of the actual wedding, of course, Jan was bouncing in place, positively brimming with happiness.

"Okay, are you sure you want to marry him?" K asked, checking Jan's hair and arranging the little flowers at the top of her head.

"Oh, definitely," Jan giggled. "I love him."

"Alright … but I think it's mandatory that someone give you the option anyhow …"

"Well, thanks for offering, but I'm set," Jan said with a wide smile.

"Good. I'd hate to think we got all dressed up for nothing."

Jan laughed again, then checked her reflection in the mirror. "I'm totally going to knock him dead, aren't I?"

"Without a doubt," K agreed.

Jan smiled and then gave K a quick hug. "Okay. I'll meet you in a few. I just need to take a moment before we do the official walk. I'm going to make a spectacular entrance."

"You sure are," K agreed then gave her a little hug. "Congratulations - good luck! I'll hold your flowers for the rings."

Jan smiled, holding her breath until the music started to play - and then everyone could see that she was floating on air all the way down to a stunned-looking Hank. By the time they (barely) made it through the vows, the whole assembly was trying to hide their laughter as Jan restrained herself until the last second for the kissing portion of the evening.

And then, of course, there was plenty of partying. Tony had put together a ton of food and all the best drinks for everyone old enough (though he wasn't going to stop anyone younger from having some either) and was clearly enjoying hosting the party.

Scott was enjoying himself too, though when he sat down and Natasha sat close by, it was obvious she wasn't. "You alright?"

"Of course I am," Natasha said, never too far from her standard neutral responses.

"Hey, I might not be able to smell lies like my dad, but I'm pretty good at spotting them," Scott said. "Lifetime of dealing with liars. So let's try that again. Anything I can do to help?"

Natasha smirked for just a moment as she weighed it out. "How about a dance - and you can tell me what's really going on with the four of you."

"Alright, on one condition," Scott said. "You tell me what's got you down, and I'll tell you about Alaska."

She tipped her head for an instant. "I suppose. But your trade-off of information is wildly off. You need to learn to negotiate better."

"Well, you're part of the family. I guess that falls under your duties to teach me," Scott teased as he took her hand to lead her onto the dance floor.

"I suppose it does," Natasha said, smirking a little more before she took a moment to tell him how she expected him to dance with her.

Scott was smirking hard as they twirled on the dance floor together before he finally broached the subject again. "Alright, so, I grew up in Alaska - that's why we stayed longer than we meant to. At least at first."

Natasha smiled at that. "It sounds like Logan knew what you needed - a little time where you're from."

Scott nodded, letting his expression drop into something more open. "We went to see my mom. Her gravestone, at least," he said quietly.

"I'm sorry," Natasha said.

"Not your fault," Scott said - clearly a rote response he'd picked up from his parents. "So, what has you down?"

"Nothing so world-changing," Natasha said. "Just a little … bump in what I'd wanted to do here."

"You're not leaving, are you?" Scott asked with a frown. "Dad's been enjoying having you."

"No, I'm not," she decided. "It's been good to see Logan and Steve … and your mother said she was working on something. She has been making progress, too."

"So, what's the bump?" he asked. "Things weird with Clint? I know he's a dork sometimes, but he's finally growing on my team…"

"Clint?" she said, frowning, then quickly shook her head. "No. I was trying to get Stark."

Scott made a face. "Why."

"What do you mean 'why'?" she said, frowning.

"He's a self-absorbed prick," Scott said bluntly. "Come on."

"He's ... " she closed her eyes and shook her head. "It doesn't matter. That's not an issue."

"Because he's with Pepper Potts," Scott surmised. "Yeah, I can see that being a 'bump' if that was your plan." He shook his head. "Seriously, I thought you were smart."

Natasha blinked at him a few times. "Honestly, Scott, how do you really feel about him?"

"Hey, I've had to deal with him a few times. Once, he threw out all the clothes I owned and tried to dress me like a walking mid-life crisis."

At that, Natasha couldn't help but laugh. "And I'm sure you didn't like when he was seeing K either."

"Not at all," he agreed fervently. "Not a fan."

"I wasn't a fan of that either," she agreed.

Scott smiled at her and then pulled her into a spin. "Hey, I'm sorry you didn't get together with the guy that would be terrible for you. Here's to new beginnings and smarter life choices?"

"Luckier life choices, perhaps."

"We'll see, right? Maybe you'll find your Jean." Scott grinned toward where Jean was dancing with Logan while K had Sam. "I wasn't expecting to meet her, and ever since, it's just been… right."

"That might be interesting," she said. "I don't know how that opportunity would present itself for me."

"I got locked out by Bobby and left in the cold. Never know," Scott said, still grinning. He glanced toward Clint, who had sat down by Sam and was making ridiculous faces at her, and then back to Natasha. "I'll keep an eye out."

"As appreciated as that would be … I think I'll take my chances on my own."

"If you say so," Scott said, smiling as he made his way over to Jean and Logan with Natasha as the song ended. "Trade you dance partners?" he offered.

"I think you've been with the wrong redhead long enough," Jean said with a grin.

"Jealous?" he teased as he took her hand.

"She's too old for you," Jean said without missing a beat.

"And she's not you," Scott said, smiling and stealing a kiss before the two of them swept off together.

Natasha shook her head as she took Logan's hand to dance with him. "He's so much like you. You raised him well."

"He did it all on his own," Logan said.

"Of course," Natasha said, smiling at him - and then smiling wider when he shook his head at her and pulled her into a fancier dance.

And of course, Jan and Hank were doing plenty of celebrating as well, both of them looking almost shocked at themselves by the time they got around to the usual traditions - cutting the cake and throwing the bouquet and all that, though K didn't miss the obvious wink Jan gave her when she made sure Jean caught the flowers.

"Oh, look! I'll start designing!" Jan giggled.

"You've got plenty of time to do it right!" Jean shot right back - getting Scott to blush a deep red, especially when Clint leaned over and whispered something in his ear that somehow shifted him from red to purple.

"At least the Avengers know it's as ridiculous as we know it is," Bobby muttered to Hank

"Them getting married? Or …"


"I don't believe it's that far off."

"The way they're taking over our living room half the time? Yeah, I can see that," Bobby snickered.

"Robert, we don't have to be around them," Hank chuckled.

"I just come down the stairs to get a midnight snack and boom they're snuggled on the couch like it's their bedroom!" Bobby threw his hands up. "All the time, Hank. I have to live with this."

"Perhaps you need a new hobby," Hank teased.

"I'll take up knitting." Bobby tipped his head toward Ororo and Kurt. "And maybe marble collecting. Seeing as those two are just as bad in a sort of 40's movie star couple kind of way."

Hank clapped his hand on Bobby's shoulder. "Come on, Robert; let's find something to do away from the horrible '40's movie couple."

Chapter Text

Though it took a little while, K finally managed to pry herself from Sam and get out of the house and alone for a few hours. That in itself was a trick with how closely everyone was watching over the little Howlett family. So many threats from so many directions …

The little time K managed for herself, really wasn't much, but considering how stressed out they all were, and how attached Logan was to her - and to checking in on Scott and Jean - K honestly needed to do something entirely different, just to breathe.

So of course, she headed out to the barn. It had been a while since she'd ridden, if nothing else because of Sam and the lead-up to her birth … and the mess afterward.… But now? Now, she had a little time, and the horses were more than happy to see her.

As usual, she went through wordlessly until she found one that looked entirely willing and ready to work. The big mare had bright eyes, and her ears were forward. She was positively locked on to every move K made … so of course, with a muted smile, K opened her stall and pulled her out. She took just a few minutes to brush her out and put on a bridle before she led the horse outside and asked her to bow. Though it had been a few months, K had to smile when the mare took the cue almost immediately, bowing deeply down onto one front knee - the other outstretched. The mare's nose nearly touched the ground, and with a proud look, K climbed on the now much easier to mount horse. With a little kissing noise and a long pet on the mare's shoulder, the horse stood up. And with that, the two of them went to work.

She wanted to start bareback - not for any reason other than she didn't want to waste any time tacking up when she knew that Sam would be looking for her next meal before too long. And as it turned out, it was the right move. Every cue was crystal clear to the mare, and it was apparent that the horse missed doing her job as she pushed herself to show off with every step.

K had to bite back the smile as the mare blew out a snort with every step … just a little sound as she tried to show how serious her job was. In no time, the two of them were making good progress, too - lateral movements, passage, and some great flying lead changes, of course.

But that all came to a halt when a familiar spaceship appeared over the front lawn. The horse was obviously spooked by the aerial visitor, and just on principle, K refused to let something as stupid as that god-awful ugly excuse for a spaceship scare her mare off. "Quit now," K said in a low tone before she picked up the slack on her reins and clicked at the horse to slowly go toward the landing craft.

Every step the horse took was shaky, but K made sure to keep gently urging her forward. The closer they got to the ship, the more she felt like she was sitting on a powder keg - which was exactly what Corsair had coming if he thought showing up unannounced again was a good idea.

And by some miracle, she was still the first one there as the hatch opened, even though the mare was ready to run. She made a soothing noise as she relaxed her body as much as humanly possible and then waited for Corsair to step out.

Of course, Corsair couldn't have known how wound up either K already was based on how relaxed she looked, and since they had parted on semi-reasonable terms, he actually broke into a smile when he saw her. "Fancy seeing you here."

"Uh huh," she said, careful to keep her relaxed stance. "What do you want?"

"Same thing as last time, more or less," Corsair said.

"A lesson in manners?" K asked as the horse pawed the ground.

Corsair frowned at that and shook his head. "The Shi'ar are looking your way again. That thing they were looking for last time?" He gestured to the house. "Somehow, Scott's team must have found it."

K tipped her chin up and held his gaze. "Mmmm. I don't think so." When Corsair took a step toward the house, she gave the horse a quick cue, and the mare quickly blocked his path, snorting and pulling her chin up to her chest as she collected.

"Oh, come on," Corsair said, throwing his hands up. "What's your problem?"

"Right now? You do know how to use a comm or open a line, don't you?" K said. "Or is it impossible for you to talk to someone without being dramatic?"

"Hey, I thought the boys would like a surprise, okay?" Corsair defended.

"And we need to get moving, so…" One of the Starjammers tried to muscle past, giving K a pointed look.

The moment he did, though, K gave the horse a little kiss, and a second later, the mare was up on her back legs - and striking at the Starjammer. When he took a step back, K leaned forward a little and used the mare to push him back. "She will trample you if I ask her to."

"Come on, K - we come in peace and everything," Corsair said, holding both hands up. "Leave my guys alone."

"Do you think they'd rather take the back half of the horse?" K asked as the mare shifted from one foot to the other.

"We're trying to help, you lunatic! You want a Shi'ar warship to come blast the school?"

"So tell me what the hell you saw and what you think it means," K said.

"We raided a scout ship and perused their logs," Corsair said. "They were in this area and reported back on the Phoenix Force being here. Seemed pretty excited."

"Where?" K asked. "Specifically."

"Alaska," Corsair said.

"How long ago?"

"About a week," he said. "Two at most."

She looked thoughtful at that. "Do not walk into that house without me. I'm a little more stabby than you remember, and I won't be held responsible for my actions. It's for your own safety." She loosened the reins and asked the horse to sidestep until it was more or less clear of the crew, and then she slipped off easily only to quietly remove the bridle, rub the mare's forehead, and then click at the mare a few times.

It took all of a second before the scared horse tore off for the rest of the herd, nickering and kicking up clods of grass. "I'm serious. Don't go in ahead of me," K said, pointing a finger toward the Starjammers as she put the bridle over her shoulder. She took her time to gather herself up before she slowly walked ahead of the group, though by the time they got to the door, Bobby was opening it and looking more than a little confused.

"So… space invaders. I feel like I've seen this one already."

"Yep, someone put in another quarter," K said. "Can you get the group gathered up?"

"Yeah, we all saw the ship. Wouldn't be surprised if your kid found an X-Men onesie for his sister, because he's still attached even with the team gearing up…" Bobby looked past K to Corsair. "What's the story? He here to meet the… step-son? Son's-sister?" He looked at K. "I don't even know what the word is."

"No. I doubt that's a concern," K said. "Just … gather them up, please?"

"Yeah, got it," Bobby said, bouncing off to go find the others.

"You've got them jumping for you," one of the Starjammers muttered K's way.

She turned his way, tipping her chin up again. "Yeah? Maybe you're next."

The Starjammer smirked. "Could be fun."

"Yeah…. No." Corsair put his hand out between the two of them. "Don't do that."

K smirked at Corsair. "Welcome back, by the way."

"There's the welcome," Corsair said with a smirk right back at her.

"You screwed up the first ride I've had on that mare in months," K said. "It's gonna take me weeks to work that out of her now."

"I'm sure you're up for it."

"Not the point."

Corsair smirked. "Hey, there's no way I could have known you'd be doing that."

"Um … if you'd called, you'd have known - or I could have ended it early," K pointed out.

Corsair shrugged, but before he could dig himself into a deeper hole, Alex called out, "Dad?"

At that, Corsair grinned crookedly as Alex and a few of the others arrived. "Hey, Alex. How's school?"

"Fine." Alex shook his head, grinning a little wider with every step toward his dad. "What's up? You decide to take me up on the offer to teach you to surf? Because I gotta tell you, man, your timing is rotten. Couple more months and the surf is prime."

"Seriously, Alex?" Scott said, shaking his head as he and Jean brought up the rear with Charles - and Scott was, as Bobby had said, still holding Sam, who was asleep on his shoulder and clearly content where she was.

"Wait." Corsair raised both eyebrows. "Is that…?"

"Mine," K said, rolling her eyes at him. "Control your face."

"Hey, be fair. What was I supposed to think?"

"Um … that your son isn't that irresponsible?" K said, staring at him as if he'd lost his mind.

"I'd have found a way to contact you if I could have," Scott said, one eyebrow raised. "Her name's Sam. She's my new sister."

"Looks good on you, kiddo," Corsair said, the smirk still somehow the same even after K had cleared things up.

K rolled her eyes, then thwacked Corsair in the back of the head- hard. "He's nineteen, you nimrod."

Corsair rubbed his head, seeing stars after the adamantium-laced hit. "You seriously pack a punch."

"That wasn't even much of a tap," K replied, frowning his way as she headed over to take Sam so Scott could get more involved if he wanted to.

"What's going on anyway?" Scott asked, smiling in spite of himself as he handed Sam off to her. Especially since Sam was smiling at him. "If this was a social visit, you wouldn't be bringing the troops."

"True enough," Corsair said, his head tipped to the side. "I was just telling K: the Shi'ar are coming back. Some kind of force that they picked up in Alaska. The Phoenix. They're really worked up about it, too."

Scott and Jean shared a glance at that but didn't say anything - yet. "What kind of force?" Jean asked.

"Cosmic and destructive," Corsair said.

"And what do you think the next step is?" Logan asked as he kicked himself out of the doorframe, arms crossed and eyes narrowed.

"Find it before they do," Corsair said. "Because you don't want them getting their hands on something like this."

"What are we lookin' for?" Logan asked.

"Big flaming bird?" Corsair shrugged. "It's an interdimensional power that can wipe out planets. I think we'll know it when we see it."

"Uh-huh," Logan said, looking less impressed by the second. "So you don't even know what the hell you're lookin' for."

"I was hoping something this big? You guys would have noticed it," Corsair pointed out. "It didn't seem like something you just … miss."

Logan looked clearly irritated, and he and K shared a little glance, though they didn't say anything, even as K made her way over to stand next to - and partially block Jean. "Did you want to hold Sam for a little bit?" K asked her quietly.

Jean nodded. Do you think it's that thing? She projected to K. He said Alaska…

I think, based on the timeframe he gave me on the Alaska spotting - and the whole firebird description - I'm a little suspicious. So … we'll protect you.

Thanks, Jean said, even as she took Sam and snuggled the little girl.

"Did the Shi'ar say what they were planning to do with the Phoenix?" Scott asked. It was hard to tell because of the glasses, but he was watching Jean and K - and had more or less figured out what was going on between them and was already ready to defend Jean against the Starjammers if need be.

"Honestly?" Corsair shook his head. "It seemed like they were scared of it. Which is a first."

"And what's your take on that?" Logan asked. "Seein' as you know 'em a helluva lot better'n we do."

"I say we find the Phoenix before they can destroy it - which they will if they beat us to the punch," Corsair said. "Anything that spooks the Shi'ar has got to be worth finding."

"And what do you plan to do with it once you find it?" Logan asked.

But at that, Corsair grinned outright. "Scare Shi'ar."

Logan's eyes narrowed a bit further and then he shook his head. "Forget it."

"What?" Corsair looked between the X-Men, honestly taken aback. "You were fine killing Shi'ar before…"

"And no one was fine with you looting and acting like a dumbass," Logan said. "Protect the planet - fine. Free labor for you? Not happenin'."

"They're coming here anyway!"

"If we do this, you don't get to walk away with it," Logan said.

"Oh come on," Corsair said. "What are you going to use it for? We're the ones fighting Shi'ar!"

"Think you can take me for it?" Logan asked, looking like he was hoping Corsair would say yes.

Scott stepped in between the two of them. "Dad," he said, giving Logan a look before he turned back to Corsair. "Look, there's more going on here than you realize. And I'll talk to you - in private - but Dad's right. You can't walk out with the Phoenix."

Corsair frowned, but when it was clear that no one was going to budge, he let out a sigh. "Alright, Scott. What've you got?"

Scott raised an eyebrow and pointedly gestured to a classroom, which had Corsair letting out another breath before he followed Scott in and frowned when Scott closed the door and turned around looking more serious than a kid his age should look.

"We might know where the Phoenix is," Scott started out slowly. "But it's not a weapon, Dad. It's a person. And you can't walk away with a human being."

For a moment, Corsair looked openly confused. "No, Scott, it's really not. It might be using someone for a host, but it's not a person."

Scott shook his head. "Do you hear yourself? Even if that's true, the host is still a person. Not a weapon."

"Scott … a person couldn't ever control it," Corsair said, looking almost alarmed. "It would consume them!"

"And you're willing to let that happen to get back at the Shi'ar? If that's true, we need to help!"

"Scott this is a bigger problem than just getting back at the Shi'ar," Corsair said, dropping his voice lower. "This entity - it's killed planets on a whim."

Scott honestly had to take a step back, because he didn't know that - and he couldn't reconcile that with Jean. "You … don't understand," he managed to say after a moment. "I know who the host is. I think."

"Then we have to get them out of here before the Shi'ar show up," Corsair said.

Scott held Corsair's gaze for a long moment before he nodded. "Alright. But no one on your crew can know. I don't want someone using … using the Phoenix as a weapon. My team has already seen enough of groups trying to force mutants to be exactly that. I'm not going to stand for it from the Starjammers. Okay?"

Corsair took a moment to watch Scott before finally he nodded slowly. "Alright," he drew the word out as though it was painful to agree. "Who is it?"

There was a moment where Scott honestly wasn't sure if he should tell him. As much as he wanted to trust him, Corsair had changed since he had been Major Christopher Summers. But… it could get dangerous if he didn't know, too.

Finally, Scott let out a breath. "It's Jean," he said, then quickly held up both hands to stop the commentary he knew was coming. "But it's nothing like what you described. Not really. Fiery, yeah, but it's more like she has a boost to her powers with an added element of heat and fire." Scott shook his head. "It's not… planet-consuming. It's just … Jean."

Corsair frowned at that. "That… does explain a few things," he said before he finally let his shoulders drop. "Alright. I won't get in between you and your girl, okay? Let's just keep the Shi'ar from getting their hands on her."

"Agreed," Scott said, though he looked relieved when it was clear he wasn't going to have to fight with his father.

Once the two of them reached their teams, Scott automatically stood by Jean, one hand at her waist as he addressed the rest of the X-Men - at least those that hadn't done this before. "Looks like we're going off-world. If we can lead the Shi'ar away from Earth, that will keep everyone here safe. After that, we can deal with the Shi'ar. Fight them if we have to, slip off if we can."

"What about K and Sam?" Jean asked, glancing down at the little one she was still holding.

Scott paused and glanced to K. "Right."

"I don't even know what to tell you," K said. "We know the Avengers aren't much help …"

Scott held her gaze, though K could see the moment he'd come to a decision, and he nodded. "Yeah, he can't find you in space. And I know you won't let any Shi'ar within sight of Sam. So as long as we don't get shot out of the sky, it would probably be safer for you to come."

K bit her lip at that. "I … honestly don't know if he figured out where the cottage was, maybe I should just go there."

"Okay, time out," Corsair said, looking between them. "Who the hell is so big and bad that a Shi'ar battle is safer?"

"Just a jackass with ties with the worst weapons program on the planet," Logan said. "And a kink for genetics."

"He's after Sam," Scott explained tersely. "So, yeah, she's safer in space. At least right now."

Corsair looked between them one more time before he threw up his hands. "You're all crazy. You know that?"

"Tell you what," K said. "How about when we come back, you can try to play big bad hero and look the guy up yourself? He's more than a little obsessed with Scott, too."

"What?" Corsair turned Scott's way. "Why?"

"Not now, not with a crowd," Logan said sternly. "You wanna do this in private? Fine. But not like this."

"Fine. Then grab your gear and get your butts on board," Corsair said. "Because that sounds like something I want to hear about."

K took Sam back from Jean as Kurt made the jumps to get what he knew the little one would need, and K took the time to make her way over to Corsair, dropping her voice to almost a whisper. "All you have to do is ask. He'll tell you, but it's not something that's comfortable to be shared with people you don't know."

"That's my kid," Corsair said.

K nodded. "It's also how Logan saved him."

"Then should I be asking Logan?" Corsair asked. "Because I honestly don't even know…"

"No, you should ask Scott. If you'd like, I'm sure Logan will join the two of you to fill in any blanks, but it really is something you should hear from him. Or … with him in the room."

"Sounds bad," Corsair said.

K nodded at that. "This is the first time I've come across someone I know I can't beat." She shrugged. "Which probably doesn't mean much to you, but it's bad."

Corsair nodded at that, though he didn't say more — at least not about that. "Kid's cute," he said after a beat, smirking despite himself.

She paused and then looked up at him, unable to stop the disbelieving laugh. "Oh. So that's where he gets it from." She did, however shift so that he could get a little better look at Sam, who was wide awake and studying everything.


"Just … the face."

"Yeah, Scott looks like me. That's how genetics work."

K couldn't help but laugh genuinely. "No, I meant the whole … melts for the little ones. I thought he was going to break his face smiling when she was born."

Corsair smirked a little harder at that. "Did the same when Alex was born."

"But not the better-looking, dark-haired one?" K asked, one eyebrow raised. "Come on."

Corsair laughed. "No, no, I mean Scott did that when Alex was born. Kat and I were both thrilled for each other boys."

"He loves being a big brother," K agreed. "Adores this little girl."

"Wait until she's old enough to walk. If she's like Alex, she'll start following him around and he'll start coming up with games for her."

"If she's like me, she'll start off at a dead run on her tiptoes. And he'll have to chase her."

"Don't do anything slow in your family, huh?"

"Apparently not," she said. "Unless you take into account how old I was when I had her. And no, I'm not telling you. Doubt you'd believe me."

"Hey, I know you have a low opinion of me, but I do know not to ask a lady her age."

K couldn't help but smile. "Well … I'm 19 years younger than Logan … that's all I can give you."

"Wait. What?"

"That's the age gap," K said.

"There's no way," Corsair said. "He doesn't look that old, and you don't seem like the type to go with a cradle robber."

"Well … the other women his age are mostly dead."

"Yeah, but he looks my age."

"Who are you kidding?" K laughed. "He doesn't have any gray."


K grinned and bumped him with her shoulder. "Part of the mutation, old man."

"That's just not even fair," Corsair said, grinning and shaking his head at her.

"And I doubt he'll be getting any gray for a looong time."

Corsair smirked as they headed to his ship. "Sure, rub it in."

"I can't help that he's gifted with youth," she teased.

Corsair chuckled, shaking his head at her as they boarded the ship - though he redirected once they were in to get them in the air and get things settled so he could talk to Scott, since that was still rumbling around in his head, too.

The ship was on course, so he headed to where Scott was talking quietly with Jean. It was clear just watching the kid's body language that he was putting himself between Jean and any possible trouble, too.

Corsair frowned when he saw it. He knew what Scott had said about Jean being the host of the Phoenix, but he never would have guessed it. She looked the same as she had before, if a little older.

But he was also interested to see that the protective urge clearly went both ways. When Corsair tipped his head toward Scott to invite him to find a private place to chat, Jean held onto Scott's hand a little tighter and made it perfectly clear that she was coming with them.

"Right." Corsair shook his head but couldn't stop his smirk. He should have known… especially watching the way the two of them had curled up with Scott's new sister. That was just a matter of time…

So long as the Phoenix didn't get in the way.

But they could get to that later. They would have to get to that later - if Jean even survived the Shi'ar attack.

"So… I'm not even sure where to start," Corsair admitted as he sat down with the two of them. "I'm still not convinced it's a good idea to bring a baby to a Shi'ar fight."

"If the team's coming, it's safer this way," Scott promised.

"Yeah, I'm still not convinced," Corsair said. "You only tangled with them once; you don't know them like I do."

"And you don't know Dr. Essex like I do," Scott said. "He kidnapped my family after Sam was born. He's obsessed with 'studying' mutants - but to do that, he controls, tortures, and experiments on them." His arms were crossed, but there was no mistaking the honest hurt and anger in his tone. "We haven't been able to stop him, and we've tried. The Avengers, the X-Men - no one but Jean has been able to do him any real damage."

Corsair gave Jean an inquisitive glance, and Jean shrugged lightly. "Long story."

"If you're really the Phoenix host, I can imagine what the truth is," Corsair said flatly.

"That's what happened in Alaska," Scott said.

Corsair shook his head. "I swear, Scott: your team gets into the craziest things."

"Yeah." Scott paused, but he was trying to clear the air. "This guy, though, he's not a team problem. He ran the orphanage where my dad found me."

Whatever Corsair had been expecting to hear, it clearly wasn't that. He blinked hard and then turned to face Scott properly. "...What?"

"For five years," Jean said, her tone sharper than any Corsair had ever heard from her. "He kept Scott in a basement to cut into him and experiment on him and turn him into a lab rat." She was holding onto Scott a little harder as she spoke. "And he wanted to do the same with Sam. He wants to study healers, and he wants to study Scott's family. He's obsessed."

Corsair honestly looked like he could have been knocked over by a passing wind. "What?"

"You heard me right." Jean tipped her chin up. "This guy has worked for a department that captures and enslaves mutants; he's kidnapped me, Scott, Logan, K, Sam - all of us - multiple times. He isn't afraid to use telepathy to destroy minds or torture to get his way. And he thinks Scott and Logan are his test subjects. So, yeah, you've missed a lot. But I'm sure your revenge quest against the Shi'ar was important."

There was a long beat of silence as Corsair physically took a step back, clearly floored - though Scott didn't look like he knew what to say either.

"It … really was," K told her in Corsair's defense- clearly having eaves dropped from the doorway. "He might have gotten carried away, but … it was absolutely warranted."

Jean let out a little breath and then shrugged at last. "He asked."

"He did. And you answered him perfectly," K agreed. "So proud."

Jean smirked, and Scott shook his head. "Anyway," he said, "where's Sam?"

"With Kurt," K said. "He said he's been neglected in the amount of time he's been given to spend with her and that you're a giant baby hog."

"My sister," Scott said without missing a beat.

K held up both hands. "I'm not defending anyone. Just passing the message on."

"We did have her for over a month," Jean said, trying to be a little more reasonable, since it was obvious she might have left Corsair more or less in a state of shock.

Scott shrugged at that. "Well, anyway… I guess we wait for the Shi'ar to come to us to lure them away from Earth. I guess Kurt can have Sam that long…"

Jean rolled her eyes. "You're so proving him right, you know."

"Still my sister," Scott said, not even pretending to act as if that wasn't the best excuse he had.

Jean smirked at that and took his arm to leave the room. You're ridiculous, and I love you for it.

As the two teenagers kept up their psychic flirting session, K took a hold of Corsair's arm and pulled him aside. "It's best to leave them alone when they're like this," she advised. "Come on, if you have any questions, I'll try to answer them for you."

Chapter Text

According to the Starjammers, their ship had picked up several Shi'ar headed their way - and fast. And of course it happened when Scott finally managed to get his sister back from Kurt… only to find out that Kurt only turned her over because she was hungry and needed her mom. Typical.

He knocked on the doorframe of the room where K and Logan had set up and waved with one hand at K. "Sorry; she's hungry," he said. "Shi'ar are coming, too."

"It's a little overdue," K said, holding one hand up before she headed into the bathroom to wash up. "Good timing on both fronts." As she took Sam, she tipped her head to the little workbench area she'd been at when he walked in. "Take those. A few anyhow. You should have some incendiaries. They'll need an impact to explode - and by that, I mean not just throwing. Mid-level beam should do it."

Scott grinned at that. "Aww, Mom, you made me presents," he teased.

"Of course I did," she laughed. "If I'd had a little more time, I'd have hit up Tony for some toys."

"But these are homemade," Scott teased. "It's like a reverse macaroni frame."

"And I made it with my own two feet," she teased as she got Sam settled in.

Scott smirked, though he'd only just pocketed the incendiaries when the ship shuddered, and his smirk turned to a frown. "Guess that means the fight is on."

"Give 'em hell for me," K said. "And try to give me my sweetheart without too much damage."

"You know I've got his back," Scott promised, headed out to see the Starjammers already moving, along with his own team. The Starjammers knew how to handle the dogfight in space, but judging by the sheer number of Shi'ar, it was likely going to turn into something a little more hands on - and that, Scott knew, his team could handle.

Still, it really was something else to see the space battle once he got to the bridge. It was a different kind of piloting, somehow still similar to the blackbird but different enough that Scott couldn't help but smile to himself watching his dad at the helm. That was a lot more like the dad he remembered, and it was nice to see, even in the middle of a battle.

The advantage that the Starjammers' craft had was that it was smaller and more maneuverable. And Scott had to smirk when, more than once, Corsair would veer just out of reach of the Shi'ar, only to lead the Shi'ar into shooting at each other.

The moment only lasted a little while longer, though, when the Shi'ar managed a shot to the engines that suddenly made maneuvering much harder. From there, it was next to no time before the ship couldn't move, and the Shi'ar rushed in to board.

"Alright, Scott - let's see if your team learned anything from last time," Corsair called over his shoulder as both the X-Men and the Starjammers rushed to meet the boarding Shi'ar.

Scott simply smirked in response, especially since he didn't need to say anything. Not when his team was doing so well.

Even though Scott and Jean had both been gone for over a month from the team, they gelled back together seamlessly, with Jean linking up their minds so that they could more efficiently keep the Shi'ar from making any headway - especially any headway toward the hall where Logan was keeping close to K and Sam. Though any Shi'ar that did make it that far were dead before they even realized they needed to regret their life decisions.

The team had gotten much more efficient since Corsair last saw them, too. Alex was much more controlled with his blasts, Ilyanna was getting much more creative, Piotr and Hank were an unstoppable force - even Bobby, fresh out of his cast - was doing a terrific teamup with Warren, icing Shi'ar in place only for Warren to cream them. And Kurt was clearly enjoying himself, teleporting in and out of various skirmishes with two swords and a wide, pointy-toothed grin.

The Shi'ar clearly hadn't been prepared for the X-Men in addition to the Starjammers, and it didn't take long before they were being pushed back into their own ships. Jean even spotted Kurt and Ororo grinning as they left one of the ships - only for it to explode a moment later.

The two of them were just congratulating themselves - and flirting - when one of the Shi'ar managed to break away and take a potshot at them. It was clear he'd meant it to be fatal, but Piotr hit him as he took the shot, skewing his aim so that it didn't kill Kurt - but it did obviously hurt.

And while Kurt was still reeling, a second Shi'ar knocked him against the wall hard enough to knock him senseless. Storm was quick to make the Shi'ar in question regret it, but the other aliens had seen the opening and were headed their way.

And, honestly, Jean hadn't meant to do anything but keep the Shi'ar away from Kurt. But that many Shi'ar at once? When she was still a little on edge as it was? Sure, she was able to throw them all back and knock several of them out but when she could feel fire starting to form around her, she realized she'd accidentally pushed into that unseen boundary again.

And that's when the Shi'ar switched from more or less a search and destroy to a full-court press to get to Jean.

They had numbers and a sort of anger on their side that they hadn't had only moments before, though Jean could feel a similar sort of rage simmering inside her that didn't feel like her own. It wasn't just anger that her friends were being overwhelmed - it was hatred, pure and simple, almost a personal grudge that she knew wasn't coming from her.

But, the Shi'ar were perfectly prepared for exactly that - and frustrating not just Jean - but whatever it was, she couldn't get out of the sphere they'd caught her in. What's more, on realizing how stuck she was, the little bit of fire around the edges exploded out, filling every bit of the sphere with fire and rage.

When he saw it, Corsair let out a shrill whistle to get one of his Starjammers' attention and jerked his head down the hall - sending her running to K's room so she could show K one of their smuggling holes to hide, even as the rest of the two teams poured on the heat trying to keep the Shi'ar from walking out with Jean. Including a red beam that leveled out several Shi'ar followed by a blue beam in the other direction as Scott and Alex both rushed over to try to figure out how to get Jean out.

"What even is this thing?" Alex asked, shaking his head, trying to figure out how to … "And, um, how do we open it without getting burned?"

"Jean, calm down; we're going to get you out," Scott said, one hand on the outside of the sphere. "Alex, get my dad."

"You sure?"

"Yeah; he can cut through almost anything," Scott said. "I'll stay here, try to keep Jean calm enough that we won't set the place on fire as soon as we puncture this." Even as he said it, he was already reaching out to Jean telepathically. Come on; you know Dad will get you out. And I'm not letting anyone come near you.

This is a lot stronger than the last time.

You're strong too, Jean.

Yeah, but… this thing… it really hates Shi'ar…

So? My father does too. He paused, thinking of how Jean had gotten mad at Corsair. You want to be like him?

Jean paused, and it was clear she was at least trying to pull back the flames when Scott could see her face better, though she was still definitely on fire.

It didn't take long for Logan to catch up to what was going on, and when he did, he made a beeline for Jean and Scott, cutting through any Shi'ar in his way. He only stopped long enough to give Scott one instruction. "Get clear," Logan said. "Fire's gonna blow out big time."

Scott nodded. "I won't go far," he promised.

"Then get some damn good cover," Logan said, waiting for Scott to get back a little before he popped his claws and then struck out at the sphere. The first few hits, no one paid too much attention, but when the third hit had the sphere echoing out a crack … it was pretty clear he was breaking through.

And that was clearly a step too far for the Shi'ar. Any restraint they might have been showing, or any reserves they'd held back unless under the most dire of circumstances were let loose on Logan. And though they always aimed to kill … it wasn't something Scott was quite ready to see.

"Dad!" Scott shouted out, rushing forward before he'd even thought about it - though that put him right in the Shi'ar's path. Several of them turned their weapons his way, and he blasted through them on his way to Logan, but he wasn't thinking of anything but how the department had similarly shot Logan up and didn't see the Shi'ar captain until the alien had grabbed hold of his arm and there was a weapon in his face.

It was enough to get Scott to freeze, and he gritted his teeth as he realized the same story was true across the ship - Starjammers and X-Men alike were getting overwhelmed… and Jean was still stuck in that weird sphere.

Don't panic, Scott projected to Jean, even as the Shi'ar started to regroup to drag them off. We'll get out. Keep your mind open to me; we'll be able to find you even if we get separated.

It was plain to see that Jean was teetering between rage and panic, especially when the Shi'ar seemed to go out of their way to rough up their prisoners as they were restrained and led off. They even checked Logan's vitals - and were surprised to find him breathing. A few Shi'ar dragged him off too, while the others moved to get Jean resettled in her containment sphere - and then the smug aliens took off, leaving the disabled Starjammer craft to drift in space.


One of the downsides - not the biggest downside, of course, but one of them - to heading into Shi'ar territory in the hold of the ship was that the X-Men really didn't get to see the galaxy they were traveling through. Or anything more than the hold.

So when they arrived on a brand new planet, even though all of them were restrained, angry, furious, and scared all at once… not a one of them could keep from staring, either.

This was the first time they'd ever been on an alien planet, and it just looked so different. There was no way they could have prepared for the different skyline, the different atmosphere, the way the streets and buildings were designed in a way nothing on Earth could ever be… It was like walking into a surrealist painting, in some ways - but even that description didn't quite match up to the experience.

But they couldn't really take it all in with the Shi'ar shoving them around, pushing any of them at the shoulders or yanking them by the arms if they got too distracted.

Not that all of them were taking in the sights. Scott and Kurt were hauling Logan between them. Whatever the Shi'ar had done or hit him with, he hadn't bounced back from it, and it had both Scott and Kurt sharing honestly worried looks between them as they kept pace with the others with one of Logan's arms around each of their shoulders.

To make matters worse, no one knew where Jean was since she'd been separated from the other prisoners, and considering the Shi'ar were crowing about an execution… Scott was having a hard time finding anything but the next step.

"Won't be anything like the one we run for you, Corsair," one of the Shi'ar guards was laughing as he and his friend shoved a few Starjammers around. "You're hardly worth the time to clean up the mess."

"Must be worth something to you," Scott shot back - since out of the many, many things going wrong, at the very least, he could stand up for his father. "You wouldn't take the time to talk to him otherwise, right? Or do you just like the sound of your own voice?"

"Scott, stay out of it," Corsair said in a tone that he meant to be sharp but which had that slightest hint of fear to tip everyone off that they were screwed.

"Touching," the Shi'ar sneered. "You even have your little trainees sticking up for you."

Scott narrowed his eyes at that, but Corsair shot him a look that clearly said now was not the time. Not that it made him feel any better watching the Shi'ar manhandle his friends and father through the streets.

He was just working up a quiet fury when one of the guards grabbed Kurt's arm to stop him - and Scott. "Lose the dead weight."

"No." It wasn't even a question of who responded first- both Kurt and Scott said it at the same time.

The Shi'ar sneered and drew his blade, stalking closer to the three of them. And though both Kurt and Scott were ready for a fight, what they weren't ready for was when the guard simply stabbed Logan.

Only … there wasn't a response from Logan either.

Kurt was almost snarling, but Scott was pale as he tried to get Logan to respond… and then realized he couldn't find a pulse either. "No, no, no," he muttered under his breath, clearly panicking, too focused on his unresponsive dad to notice the Shi'ar telling him to move on until the guard grabbed him to yank him back.

"Hey, get your hands off him," Corsair shouted back, elbowing the guard in the ribs that had been taunting him to get past and insert himself between the Shi'ar and Scott - even if it was only long enough to get his hands on the guy before the first guard caught up to him and sent him sprawling.

It was enough to get most of the Starjammers and X-Men riled, too, and the Shi'ar had a hard time keeping order until they had to resort to drawn weapons and a few guns in the faces of any of the prisoners they could get their hands on - though even with that threat over their heads, the group was still clearly upset.

For a moment, a tense silence rang in the air around them before Corsair wiped his mouth of blood, got to his feet, and then crossed to where Scott was to crouch down by him. "Scott, focus. Don't let them take you from me too," he said low.

"Oh, you can't be serious," one of the Shi'ar said, looking between the two of them with a slowly growing look of disbelief. "Someone wanted to procreate with you?"

Corsair glared at that. "Just because no one wants to get with you doesn't mean the rest of us are that ill-equipped."

"Dad, stop," Scott said quietly, though his gaze was still locked onto Logan where he was lying unmoving on the ground.

One of the Shi'ar guards stepped forward to pull Scott and Corsair apart. "Well, I think, considering our prisoners, this one needs a little special attention."

"Leave him alone," Corsair said at the same time Scott said, "Hands off."

"I'm sure the emperor would enjoy the diversion after the execution," the Shi'ar said, sneering at Corsair as his partner held Corsair back. "Or maybe a warm-up to the main event."

"Don't-" Corsair said, though that just had the Shi'ar holding him jamming the butt of his weapon into his stomach until he was gasping and half bent over.

Scott stared at Corsair, clearly panicking and thinking over and over again that he couldn't lose both of his fathers at the same time… though that panic was overridden with pain for the moment when one of the Shi'ar jabbed him with some kind of energy weapon that had every nerve firing at once until Scott was crying out and only held up by the Shi'ar on either side of him.

"You bastards," Corsair ground out through his teeth as the rest of the X-Men shouted over him as well.

"Leave him alone," Kurt, who was closest, was growling out, his gaze going between Logan and Scott and his expression getting closer and closer to rage than panic.

But the Shi'ar only seemed to be spurred on by the reaction; the one who had jabbed Scott was even smiling outright. "Oh, don't worry," he said, grinning at Corsair. "We won't kill him. At least not until the emperor can see your face when it happens."

Corsair bared his teeth at the Shi'ar. "Good. Take me to him and I'll kill him myself."

The Shi'ar laughed as if it was the best joke he'd heard all day - and then hit Scott with that same device again, leaving Corsair wordlessly yelling underneath the sound of Scott crying out.

When they finally let up again, the air rang with silence - stunned from the Starjammers and X-Men and smug from the Shi'ar. It was clear they were enjoying the look of anguish on Corsair's face. So when they heard a ringing snikt, the Shi'ar didn't know how much trouble they were in for.

There wasn't any more warning before, very suddenly, the Shi'ar who had been heading up the gloating found himself on the ground, away from both Summerses, with a furious Logan on top of him, claws already deeply sunk in his chest.

"Stab me, I stab back," Logan snarled out before he turned and began tearing through the Shi'ar that were holding the kids and Corsair. And once the kids were freed, they went to work too - especially Kurt, who was clearly working off the anger that had been building this whole time.

Logan pushed the Shi'ar, starting by taking out their comms before dismembering them one by one, though as Kurt began to get carried away, Logan put a hand on his shoulder to stop him just before he ran the last one through. "Let 'im go, Elf."

Kurt paused, though he didn't let go of the Shi'ar. "What?"

Logan leaned over Kurt's shoulder to whisper "We need to know where to go. Let 'im go and he'll run like a scared rabbit. It's not a mercy. He'll be the only one knowin' what's comin'."

Kurt's chest was heaving, but he nodded and then let go of the alien, who stumbled back several steps, looking between Kurt and Logan and clearly not trusting the situation before he did, in fact, turn tail and run.

Kurt let out a breath… and then sheathed his swords and pulled Logan into a hug. "It's good to see you on your feet, mein Freund."

"I told you it ain't easy to kill me, kid," Logan said.

"But you had no pulse, no breath…" Kurt shook his head. "You can't blame me!"

"Ain't you the one always tellin' everyone to have a little faith?" Logan teased. "I ain't done 'til I say I am."

"Clearly," Kurt said, letting out a breath and then stepping back. "Jean is still missing…."

Logan gestured to where the Shi'ar had run off. "We'll find 'er."

"Preferably before the Shi'ar execute her," Corsair said darkly. "They weren't kidding."

"You really think Jeannie's that much of a pushover?" Logan said, shaking his head.

"I wouldn't know," Corsair pointed out. "I'd hope not, seeing as she's dating my kid."

"She could take them apart," Scott muttered out as he made his way over - or, more accurately, Piotr helped him over, since he was still reeling.

"C'mon, Scotty," Logan said as Scott took the handful of steps closer to wrap Logan up in a tight hug for just a moment. He really had thought he'd lost him - and even though he'd seen Logan come back from the brink before, it was still hard to watch. And Logan knew it. "Let's go get your girl, son."

Scott smirked at that, though when he took a moment to try to reach out to Jean and let her know they were coming, he was surprised by the heat of her mental touch and how much panic and anger there was there. "She's scared out of her mind," he said with a frown.

"So let's fix it," Logan said, handing Scott one of the guns the Shi'ar had been holding. "A little backup."

Scott smirked and took a moment to acquaint himself with the gun, while Corsair shook his head, taking a step back. "Constantly surprising me, Scott."

The group of them headed after the Shi'ar that had run away after that - though honestly, the closer they got to the execution, the easier it was to find Jean, even without Scott calling out to her telepathically. She seemed to be easier for him to contact than for the others to try when she was that panicked.

But once they got closer, the large display was hard to miss: it looked sickeningly like a concert stage, drawing in crowds of Shi'ar already chanting for the demise of the Phoenix, all while Jean was stuck in the bubble trying desperately to get out with fire and fists.

Jean, we're here, Scott projected to her, trying to help her calm down, even though it was clear she couldn't stop. The Phoenix itself was furious, ready to ravage the Shi'ar, and that paired with the impending execution made it hard for her to focus.

"Keep tryin'," Logan said quietly to Scott, his hand on Scott's shoulder just before he tipped his head for the others to get moving. "We'll keep 'em off ya."

Scott nodded at that, though his gaze was locked on Jean as he kept trying to reach out and promise that she was going to get out. The team's here, and Dad's mad, so… everyone here is going down.

As if illustrating Scott's point, Logan started to really let loose, cutting through the Shi'ar royal guard as if they were toy soldiers, using his momentum of cutting through one to propel himself into the next with what almost looked to be laser guided rage. Kurt was using a blade the Shi'ar wielded to almost as graceful effect as his rapiers, Bobby was sliding through the crowd, freezing them where they stood, and Storm in particular was devastating once she'd had a while to adjust to the alien atmosphere and figure out how to call down some lightning of her own, which was more or less microscopic while they were in space. But with an atmosphere to work with … the goddess rose up anew to strike fear and awe into the Shi'ar. As a group, the team was more than the Shi'ar had been ready for.

Come on, Jean. You've got everyone here coming for you. You know the team won't let you down. Try and pull back a little so Dad can get you out of that sphere, alright?

For the first time, some of the panic seemed to let up, and Jean closed her eyes. I don't know if I can hold it back, she admitted.

Sure you can, Scott said. You let it loose just a little with Sinister, but you're still you. No Phoenix Force can change that.

Again, Jean paused. Love you too, Mr. Summers.

When we got off this planet, I swear, let's just hide away, Scott said - which, honestly, was starting to work to calm Jean down, at least a little. No aliens, no Phoenix. It's a long flight home, and I say we just hang up a 'Do Not Disturb' sign.

Getting a little ahead of yourself, Scott, Jean teased - which had Scott dropping his shoulders a little in relief to hear her sounding more like herself.

I don't think so, Scott teased right back. I think escaping an alien planet bent on destroying us is more than cause for vacation.

And you know your parents will do it anyway.

Yeah, it's a good idea. Why not join them?

And while Jean and Scott were trying to calm each other down, Logan was working his way toward her. It was as if he'd simply decided on a straight line path and refused to deviate from that path regardless of what was in his way. When he finally got close enough to her to get started, the Shi'ar that were farther out from the action started firing on him, even as he sliced down at the odd bubble Jean was trapped in. He'd managed to get on top of it - and instead of fighting sideways, he was using every bit of weight and strength he had to drive down into it.

There were several hits before it looked like the cracks he'd put in it before began to reappear, but he still hadn't even acknowledged Jean in the bubble. Not until the cracks were plain for even Scott to see from where he was. "Don't panic, Jeannie," Logan said. "We got ya." His lip curled back and he threw himself into the last hit, breaking the capsule.

But even as he tried to fall away from her, Jean slipped on her control just a tiny bit and the instant Logan had broken through the capsule - well before Logan could get clear- fire burst out along with Jean until the flames had formed a fully realized giant firebird that rose up high in the sky.

When Logan hit the deck burned down to the bone in some places and already shaking in shock, he half curled into a ball, his face buried in the crook of what was left of his arm as he tried to get his bearings, but that left Jean with no one close enough to try to talk her down, if not for the connection with Scott.

Everyone was staring up at the Phoenix. The Shi'ar were pointing and yelling, and even the Starjammers and X-Men couldn't help but stare as the fire started to spread across the sky and reach down, blazing paths through the Shi'ar - in particular the ones that had imprisoned her in the first place. It was pretty clear the Phoenix was taking its revenge, but with every life taken, it seemed to get brighter and bigger in the sky.

"Jean!" Scott shouted, rushing forward until he was standing almost right underneath her. Come on; weren't we just making plans? When the fires just kept right on burning and tearing through Shi'ar, he tried again, Would you rather stay here and kill aliens or go find my mom and Sam and curl up?

That seemed to get a reaction, at least, and Jean paused, looking his way. Scott?

Yes, it's me, he said, sounding almost breathless even in his mental voice. I know you're in there. Come on, Jean. The rest of us can't get close to you when you're like this. Come back down and be Jean.

The Shi'ar…

Are running away from you. Besides, anyone stands in our way, and I'm pretty sure we can take them down. We got all the way to you, didn't we? He looked up at her, finally catching her gaze. You, me, a 'Do Not Disturb' sign…

That does sound nice…

Right? Scott smiled up at her. By the time we get back, it'll be right around my birthday anyway, so we'll just vacation the whole trip and then have everyone's birthday at once, since 'Yana's will be in space...

You just want the excuse to spend more time with our friends and family, Jean teased lightly.


Jean couldn't help but smile, and the fires were starting to fade away as she gently floated down until she was standing in front of Scott, still radiating fire but at least not fully in bird-form. You're such a family man and you're not even twenty, she teased. What am I supposed to do with you?

Stop burning my dad and being on fire so I can kiss you? Scott pointed out dryly, gesturing to her with one hand. That seems like a start.

Jean smiled at him for a moment before she took a few steps his way, the fire dying out with each step until the moment she threw her arms around him and pulled him into a kiss. "Better?" she asked, even if there were still a few flames licking at her hair.

Scott nodded. "You alright?" he asked without moving back from her.

She nodded, resting her hands on his shoulders. "I think so," she said, then glanced over her shoulder to where Kurt was crouched by Logan, who was clearly still in pain. "Is he okay?"

Scott frowned, wincing at how much bone Logan was showing… but Logan was also pushing Kurt away, so he was conscious, and he'd been through the fallout from a nuclear bomb before, so… "He'll be alright," he said.

"I didn't mean-"

"Yeah, I know you didn't," Scott promised quickly. "I know you lost control. It's alright. Let's just get out of here before the Phoenix causes any more trouble."

Jean nodded. "Yes, please," she said, holding her arms at the elbows. "I can feel how much it wants to keep going and destroy this place."

"Then let's not let it do that," Scott said, keeping his arm around her to let her feel grounded, even if it was all he had to keep from panicking himself at the sheer power of what Jean had been doing.

Kurt and Piotr finally got Logan to his feet, but Logan kept his head down and his face blocked even as the team at large looked more concerned about their friend. But even with everyone taking turns trying to help, Logan flat refused to let them look at the damage he was hiding at his face. But it was impossible to hide the blood as it dripped to the ground and just as hard to hide his other arm that was little more than shining adamantium with bits of charred and angrily raw looking flesh. It was pretty clear that if it wasn't for the fact that he couldn't see where they were headed, he'd have shrugged their hands off of him, too.

But on getting a better look at the extent of the damage, Scott couldn't help but to reroute closer to Logan. "Dad?" Scott asked as he and Jean got to them. "You alright?"

"I'll 'e fine," Logan said, though his words weren't quite clear and his tone was laced in a growl that Scott was very sure he couldn't control.

"I'm sorry," Jean said, her eyes wide now that they were closer up and she could see some of the damage.

"Don't," Logan said, cutting across her.

"Your arm-"

"Jus' don't."

"He said it would be alright," Kurt explained, though it was clear by looking at Kurt's expression that he had gotten a glimpse of how bad it really was before Logan could shove him away. Clearly, Kurt didn't believe it.

"Sounds like him," Scott said in a sigh.

"We can shanghai a Shi'ar craft and get back fast," Corsair said, a Shi'ar weapon slung over his shoulder as the Starjammers joined them. "We're familiar with the way they work. One of mine already picked out a nice fast one, too."

"Where?" Kurt asked, and when Corsair pointed out the ship in question, Kurt reached over before Logan could protest and simply teleported Logan to the ship - with the others not far behind.

Chapter Text

Alex had been with K when the X-Men and Starjammers were captured, hiding out in a smuggler's hole with Sam asleep on K's shoulder… which was lucky for them, since the Shi'ar had swept the whole ship before they left with their prisoners.

The problem was… with space travel between worlds taking so long, that had been three weeks ago, and it was getting more and more obvious that the separation was grating on K's last nerve, especially when the Starjammer's ship was damaged enough it couldn't really go much of anywhere even if Alex had known how to fly it.

K was barely talking to Alex or Hepzibah, the catlike Starjammer that had also been left behind, and instead, K spent almost all of her time in as small of a ball as she could make out of herself and Sam.

Alex really didn't know what to do with that, though he did try to help. The Starjammers had food and supplies and more or less anything they needed, and Hepzibah was working on repairs to try and get them back to earth at the very least, but he'd never seen Scott's mom do… whatever this was. He didn't have a frame of reference for it other than when she'd been miserable and pregnant. But that was pregnant lady stuff.

So, yeah, he was kind of at a loss and it went against his DNA to not do anything to try and help a woman and a baby - and that was before he factored in that this was his brother's new mom..

K had commandeered a blanket and sliced it up so that she could more or less tie Sam to her chest, unwilling to set her down while they were stuck there, which was probably good for Sam, anyhow. A lot of the stuff on the Starjammers' ship really wasn't okay for an infant to be around, Alex was pretty sure.

K had just gotten done feeding Sam and had settled her in to sleep as she stared out at the stars when the radio crackled to life - and Hepzibah started … hissing? Whatever it was that she was doing, to Alex, it sounded a lot like a ticked off cat and he wondered if it was her language's way of swearing.

K didn't say anything as she tied Sam to her chest again, instead looking almost bored as she watched Hepzibah scrambling - her tail twitching behind her.

"So… um… what?" Alex leaned over the console. "I don't speak… hiss?"

"Is Ravagers," Hepzibah explained in her odd accent. "They no better than scavengers."

"So your friends then?" K asked in a dry almost snooty tone. "Or the more successful competition?"

"Neither," Hepzibah said shortly. "But they are going to try to scuttle ship."

K growled at that and waved Alex over. "I need you to hold onto her for me," she said quietly as she gently settled Sam with Alex and tied the straps to her creation around him so that Sam was comfortable and secure. "I'm going to fix this before Pepe LePew over there screws it up."

Alex's eyebrows shot up as he resettled Sam. "Yeah. Don't worry; I've got her," he promised quickly.

K reached up to rest her hand gently on Alex's cheek before she gave both of them a little kiss and made her way over to where Hepzibah was fiddling around at the controls. "Have you responded to them yet?"

"Told them where they can stick it? Yes."

"And they're coming anyhow," K surmised.

"Of course," Hepzibah said, a bit more of a hiss coming out in the words.

"How does this usually work with them?" K asked as she ran her fingers through her hair then started to braid it.

"Depends on which group we face. They have loose allies. Each captain runs ship different," Hepzibah admitted.

"So who is it?" K asked. "I'm assuming you know who you've got here."

"Kraglin," Hepzibah said. "Is one of more war-like captains."

K hummed to herself and narrowed her eyes. "Show me where they'll try to come in so I can put a stop to this nonsense."

"I am weapons officer for Starjammers."

"Just show me where to wait for them," K said. "You might be a weapons officer, but I'm a weapon."

"Fine. The hull weakest here," Hepzibah said, already walking with K, with Alex sort of hanging back watching the two of them and wondering if he was supposed to … do… something.

They were almost to the spot Hepzibah had pointed out when K turned her way. "Whatever gear you have that will protect them in case of something going wrong with your fake atmosphere? Get them in it now."

"What about you?" Alex asked, even as Hepzibah went down the hall to get the gear.

"Yours is in case it all goes wrong. It won't," K said.

"Okay, but again, if it goes wrong…"

K gave him a more hard look. "It won't."

Alex quickly put up both hands. "I'm just saying-"

"They are cocky, idiotic aliens with a superiority complex. All aliens are, apparently," K said. "So I'm going to do what I always do and let them underestimate me for the full three seconds I'm going to let them live."

"Okay. I'm going to get in that gear now and stand way far back from you," Alex said, his eyes wide.

K closed her eyes and waited, taking the minutes before the hull breach to regain a calm, wide-eyed facade before the group of well-armed Ravagers came through - all of them clearly expecting a bigger fight than one little terran could threaten.

And as K had said, one of them scoffed at finding a terran and lowered his weapon about two seconds before she launched herself at them with a snarl and started tearing into them. Of course, she didn't just attack those that had come through. She followed the trail back into their ship, killing them as she went with no regard for what kinds of aliens they were - or whatever kind of means they tried to stop her with.

Though they were bounty hunters and scavengers … they weren't as nasty as they thought once she was past the guns. Those that did land shots were intimidated almost immediately since like Logan, K simply didn't stop for something like a flesh wound, and in K's mind, they were trying to get to Sam and Alex. Which only had one outcome when she let her instincts go wild.

She was halfway into their ship when Hepzibah finally caught up to her. Though she'd been in a few little battles with the ferals on deck, she hadn't been quite this close to the action before. So she couldn't know that this was far worse than when they'd fought Shi'ar the last time they'd allied.

"How do you think about taking ship?" Hepzibah asked when she saw just how much damage was being dealt.

"Already planning on it," K snarled out. "Seeing as the one you have is irreparable with the skills available."

Hepzibah smirked at that. "Then we go," she said, redirecting toward the bridge.

K glared at her and followed the flow of ravagers all the way to the bridge. When they got got there, it was clear that some of the most senior of their members were there with the captain - a monstrous looking half-fly, half-furry blue creep.

Hepzibah glanced over at K. "I take controls if you take captain."

"You will stabilize the ship," K said. "And if you forget for one second about Sam and Alex I'll turn you into a rug."

Hepzibah held up both hands. "Am not leaving them behind."

But it was pretty clear K was only wound up tighter for as far as they'd gotten and she'd completely abandoned her usual methods of staying oddly pristine through the fight. She was splattered in several colors of blood and when the Captain and his crew on the bridge turned their way, she couldn't help but growl lower. "Which one of you is running this thing?"

The fly-eyed alien stepped forward, both hands out as he spoke in an odd tritone. "We thought this was a scrapped ship."

"With people in it?" K challenged. "Do yourself a favor and don't lie to me again."

"Look, you want to keep your ship so badly, fine. Keep it. We go."

"This is my ship now," K told him. "I just want to know where you were headed and if you have friends coming after you."

"You can't take my ship!"

"You were going to take ours," K said before she let the growl roll more freely. "Besides. I thought it was empty."

"Why you-" Kraglin rushed forward - but that was exactly what K was waiting for.

She let him take a swing, and slipped under his arm with her claws extended, neatly taking his arm off at the joint at the same time that she sunk her other hand of claws into his side as he passed.

Hepzibah let out an appreciative chirrup as she settled in at the controls. "Good way to take ship. Get your young; I'll have us in flight fast."

"If you even think of leaving us, I will hunt you down and make it hurt."

"I said I wouldn't," Hepzibah said. "Besides, Alex belongs to my C'ris."

K's growl kept rolling low as she turned. "Not sure that matters to him, or why it'd matter to you," she said as she turned and started toward the old Starjammers' ship. She didn't even bother looking at who was standing - simply killing them if they were stupid enough to get too close - those that were left, that is.

When she got to the Starjammers' ship, she called out for Alex. "Come on, Havok, we don't have time for this. We've got a new ride."

It took a minute, but Alex peered out from around the corner - with Sam snuggled into his neck and making cooing noises at him. "So we're pirating the pirate ship?" he asked, a crooked smirk tugging at his expression at the thought.

"Just the one," K said. "Come on. I want to keep my hands free in case I need to skin a cat."

"She's alright," Alex said. "I think Dad likes her." He made a face. "She's nothing like Mom was, but… she's alright."

"You've got your dad's judgement. Hmm."

"Yeah, no." Alex shook his head quickly. "No… fur for me. No thanks."

"Not what I meant, but sure," K said as they headed through the ship toward the bridge.

Alex let out a low whistle, holding Sam a little closer when he saw all the Ravager bodies - though it was hard to feel too serious when Sam was discovering how to giggle and kept doing it at inopportune times whenever Alex would try to bring up the death count.

"You're so much like your parents, you weirdo," Alex teased at last, getting another little giggle before he hugged her.

Sam gurgled out a coo and then leaned forward to chew on Alex's face, making little noises the whole while as if this was how everyone should talk.

"Oh good, you here," Hepzibah said when they got to the bridge. "Yes. I have course plotted for Chandilar."

"Which is… where?" Alex scrunched up his nose. "Exactly?"

"Home of Shi'ar. You want find your friends, yes?" Hepzibah said.

"She's just trying to get me to Logan faster so she doesn't get hurt," K said.

"Pro-o-o-obably smart, given the body count," Alex said, both eyebrows still high on his head. "Seriously."

"What?" K said.

"I mean… I definitely would be intimidated by all this if I didn't know you liked me," Alex pointed out, gesturing to his brother's blood-soaked mother.

K glanced down at herself, one eyebrow raised before she met his gaze again. "Then I guess that makes you lucky."

"Pretty much," Alex agreed with a crooked smirk. "But, alright, let's go to this… chandelier place."

"Chandi-lar," Hepzibah said.

Alex nodded. "Whatever. The place that has my brother, my dad, and my team."

K let out a breath when she saw that they were all relatively settled. "I'm going to clean out the ship of any more riffraff."

"Okay. I'll watch out for Sam while she tries to eat my face. Should I be worried? Am I under attack?" Alex teased.

"She's kissing you, Alex," K called out over her shoulder. "She thinks you're pretty."

"Well, then she's got good taste," Alex decided, then kissed her head and got Sam to fall apart laughing all over herself.

It was almost a week before Scott's group met up with K's - though neither had been expecting to meet halfway like they did, with K's group headed to rescue them and Scott's group headed to save the others.

The only reason they even knew not to attack each other was that Corsair and Hepzibah had both been transmitting a low-frequency Starjammer code - otherwise, they would have gotten into a dogfight, given the ships they were traveling in.

But once they met up, they trashed the Ravager ship in favor of the Shi'ar one, since it would be easier for the Starjammers to cause havoc with the Shi'ar in their own ship - and then plotted a course back to Earth at last.

Which also meant that Alex had time to show Scott the new game that Sam liked to play - which was to chew on Alex's face until he kissed her head and got her to giggle. And when Scott tried it and got the same results, the looks on both Summers boys' faces were nothing short of priceless.

"Hey, Sammy," Scott said, tossing her in the air when she stopped giggling. "Miss me?"

Sam tipped her little head back, one eyebrow arched up as she started cooing low - and clearly trying to copy the movements he was making with his mouth.

"I think that's a yes," Jean said, smiling over Scott's shoulder. "In fact, I know it is. She's thinking about how familiar you are and how glad she is you're not gone."

"Yeah, me too," Scott said, snuggling his sister tightly while K headed off to go find her sweetheart.

Logan was still sleepy when Kurt got him moving into the new ship, and Logan didn't make it far before he spotted K and pulled her over for a tight embrace. He was still hurting, even long after being healed … he just wasn't in the mood to tell anyone as much. Not that K needed it explained. The two of them took a few moments then K slowly led him back to where Scott and Jean were trying not to break their faces smiling at Sam's squeaky noises as she tried to get louder in her attempts to speak with them.

Jean was almost nose to nose with Sam when she looked up to see Logan and K come in and then smiled. "Oh, good. I'm glad you're awake," she said, honestly relieved - since she had been worried she'd done something terrible to him.

"Just tired," Logan said. When Sam saw Logan though, she started leaning his way, the low coos and gurgles gone when she really just wanted her dad. And when Jean handed her over to him, Sam didn't do the kisses like she'd done for Scott, instead just wriggling to get as close as possible, patting his cheek with one hand for a long while.

"She missed you too," Jean said with a smile.

"Yah, I see that," Logan said, his hand resting on Sam's back. "So you two can relax a little now, right?"

"That's the plan," Scott agreed, one hand on Jean's waist.

"See you when we get the hell out of space, then," Logan said as K took up his free arm and the three of them headed off to find somewhere quiet.

"Don't bother me unless you need someone to keep you from losing another ship," K said as she passed Corsair.

"Not getting in the middle of … whatever you're doing," he said, holding up both hands. "I'm ready for a vacation myself."

"Right," she said, though she did not look amused at all.

Corsair shrugged and waved them off. "Have fun. I'll just be your pilot for the trip."

But that left Logan and K to get reacquainted like they'd intended, and Jean was already pulling on Scott's hand to find some privacy too. "They have the right idea," she said with a smile.

"You know they're probably just going to curl up with Sam in the middle, right?" Scott said with a smirk.

Well, that is a good idea, too, but not my idea, Jean projected to him, getting a laugh out of him when she picked him up a little off the ground telekinetically.

Are you sure you want to fool around in space? Scott projected back.

Why not? Jean projected. The Phoenix has quieted down the further we get from the Shi'ar; I think we're perfectly fine. And besides … this qualifies as more than just the mile high club.

Scott paused, a breathless laugh almost in disbelief echoing the hall as they headed away from the bridge. It's just … still a little close to know the Phoenix won't be an issue. Isn't it?

All that rage is gone, Jean promised. With the Shi'ar, the Phoenix was overpowering and angry. Now that it's gone, I feel alive. Like I can breathe again.

Well, that's good, Scott admitted.

Besides, you promised me a vacation, Jean pointed out. You, me, and a 'Do Not Disturb' sign, remember?

Scott couldn't help but grin. I did, didn't I? He projected back before they disappeared into the room they were staying in.

Chapter Text

The X-Men and their Starjammer hosts were nearly back to Earth when the planets aligned for a short time. Scott and Jean were up for air at the same time Logan and K were. And while Jean was definitely enjoying herself, when she saw Logan, she redirected to grab his arm, her expression falling into something a lot more serious than anything she'd worn in the last few days. "Can I talk to you?"

"Always," Logan said, almost distractedly. "What's up?"

"I just… thank you for getting me out," she said in a breath. "I didn't mean to burn you… I thought I had it under control with Scott helping me, and then I didn't..."

"Don't worry about it," Logan said with a wave. "Better me than one of the others."

"I'm glad you're healed, but I do want to apologize," Jean insisted. "I know that had to hurt; Scott told me how that works."

"Yeah?" Logan said, looking her way with a frown. "What'd he tell you?"

"That it still hurts even if you heal from it," she said. "I don't know if he told me in as many words, but he had projected so much after everything that happened with Sinister and Creed and the department that it's very clear in my mind."

"You don't really wanna worry about that, Jeannie."

"Of course I do," she said. "Just because I'm not officially part of your family doesn't mean I don't care about you!"

Logan let out a weary sigh. "What do you want me to say, Red?"

"I don't know. I just … I'm sorry I hurt you. It wasn't directed at you, and I just wanted you to know I didn't mean to get you hurt. I'd never do that - to you or anyone on the team!"

"Don't let it bug you," Logan told her. "I get nailed all the time. Pretty sure that's just what I do. It's fine. You're out ... Scott's happy … it doesn't matter right now."

"Yes, well, I just … don't want you to think … down the line, you know, when Scott ... well, I don't want you to think I hate you when ... well, yes."

"Nobody really needs to bother themselves with what I think, kiddo. Let it go."

"But that's just …" Jean paused, bit her lip, and then flung her arms around Logan in a hug. "Thanks. I already think of you as family, so… thanks." With that, she gave Logan a little smile and headed off to find Scott again, not at all surprised that he was wrapped up in Sam, with K smiling at both of them as they played together.

"That's one of my favorite looks," Jean said as she slid in to sit next to Scott.

"What, 'baby hog'?" Alex asked, shaking his head. "Yeah. It's something, alright."

"You had almost a month with my sister to yourself," Scott shot back. "My turn."

"See?" Alex gestured at Scott. "Baby hog."

"You can play with her too," K offered, her arms wrapped tight around her own middle.

"Yeah, when Scott's not around," Alex teased, though Scott elbowed him in the ribs.

"Shut up, Alex."

"He really didn't get much time with her," K said to Alex. "Not since we met up again."

"Yeah, okay, but what kind of brother would I be if I didn't razz him?" Alex pointed out. "Think of it as defending Jean from that face he's making until they're at least, like, twenty. I'm a good friend!"

"I'm very sure Jean gets high from seeing that face," K pointed out.

"Maybe," Jean said with a smirk that turned Scott a light pink and had Alex shaking his head.

"Okay, but I get to be godfather," he said, pointing between Scott and Jean. "This is law."

"You're the uncle," Kurt said, looking positively insulted. "That's enough for you, baby hog."

"It's genetic; he can't help it," Scott said straight-faced.

Alex dragged his hand over his face and let out a groan. "Done in by my own insult."

"Find something more insulting," Jean suggested with a smirk.

"It should be insulting, considering your age," Corsair cut in, finally having heard enough.

"Hey, Scott's almost twenty," Alex pointed out. "He's the walking danger zone!"

"Is not danger zone if you like it," Piotr added from across the way. "And clearly, he likes it."

"It is a danger zone if he goes out of order," Kurt teased, his tail swaying behind him as he rested his chin on his hands. "So, when should we expect the ceremony? Since you are in such a hurry…"

Scott turned a little redder, especially when Jean was no help. Instead of defending him, she was sedately smiling at him and clearly letting him answer that. "We… ah…"

Jean smirked a little harder. When you get around to it, she teased.



Scott shook his head, already laughing to himself at the innocent expression she was wearing. Hey, when I get around to it, it'll be done right. And you shouldn't peek. I'd like to at least try to surprise you for something like that.

I think that might be fun, Jean projected back. Just this once.

You're already thinking of ways to get around that, aren't you? he teased.

I guess you'll find out, she teased right back, though the telepathic teasing was interrupted when Sam decided Scott had been quiet too long and grabbed his nose with her hand to get him to laugh.

Alex burst out laughing at that. "Have I told you how much I love your sister? Because I do."

"Kind of hard not to, isn't it?" Scott laughed, tickling Sam to accentuate the point.

Corsair shook his head at that and leaned over to K. "So, if I leave a contact line, how long before I'm a grandfather, because…" He gestured at Scott and Jean.

"He's a good boy," K said. "He'll want to be married first."

"So a year then," Corsair said, still shaking his head at Scott and Sam. "Geez, he looks just like Kat when he does that."

"Knew he had to get his good looks from somewhere."

"Hey now."

K turned his way, looking up at him with a believably innocent expression. "What?"

"Come on. He may act like Kat, but the rest is all me!"

She shook her head. "No … I don't see it. He's a good leader … handsome ..."

"You're mean-spirited; you know that?"

"No one's ever said that before," she said, again, maintaining her innocent expression. "It must just be you."

"Oh yeah, you're hilarious," Corsair said, rolling his eyes - though before he could dig himself in any deeper, an indicator flashed, and he got to his feet. "Well, that's the signal we're ready to land. Should be on solid ground in half an hour."

"Can't wait to get rid of us," K said, shaking her head. "All because of a little girl…. Probably would have tried to take another lap if she'd been a boy."

Corsair rolled his eyes again, though before he could argue, Alex stole Sam from Scott and practically skipped over to slip the little girl into Corsair's arms. "Well, Dad? Still think it's all Mom?"

For just a moment, Corsair kept up a dry look, but when Sam started to explore his face with her hands and a breathy-sounding coo, it was pretty much impossible to do anything but smile at her. "You're pure trouble," he said as he sat down with Sam.

For a long moment, Sam simply kept looking, though after she'd seen the smile Corsair gave her, she stopped what she was doing and stared at him wide-eyed. She didn't even smile when she reached up again and patted his cheek - an instant before she grabbed a hold of his mustache and started pulling.

Both Scott and Alex burst out laughing. "We should have done this weeks ago!" Alex said, one hand on Scott's shoulder as both of them chortled.

Corsair reached up and got Sam to let go of his mustache, only to kiss her fingers, which at least got a bubbly sort of smile out of her. "Why am I not surprised?" he asked, shaking his head at her. "Just like your mom."

But at that, Sam raised one eyebrow and started very quietly babbling like she was telling him a secret.

"Yeah, that's right," Corsair said after she kept going for a few minutes, nodding along and shifting his facial expressions as if they were having an in-depth conversation. "I am the best Starjammer. You're so smart."

Sam squealed and slapped him across the mouth, again grabbing for his mustache before she started giggling.

"If you want her to stop beating on you, you have to snuggle her," Alex advised through clear laughter.

"Voice of experience?" Corsair teased, though he did sweep the little girl closer in a deep snuggle anyway. She squirmed for a moment, then snuggled right in, and after a little bit, she let out a heavy sigh and started patting him with her hand on his neck, positively melting Corsair where he sat with her.

They stayed curled up like that all the way until they were back on the lawn outside of the school - and Sam had even fallen asleep, too, which had Corsair biting back his grin hard as he handed her to K while the X-Men prepared to go.

"So, I'll see you around," he said quietly.

"Making plans or expecting more trouble?" K asked, settling Sam in on her shoulder.

"There's always trouble, isn't there?" Corsair pointed out. "And I'm pretty sure there's going to be a wedding I need to attend soon anyway."

"Check in often," she said. "And we'll keep you updated." K paused and gave him one last once-over. "You sure you're okay there, big guy?"

"Always am," he said with a careless smile.

"I did tell you that lying is just wasting both of our time, right?"

"You did."

"So … what do you need here, Grampa?"

But that had Corsair laughing outright. "I can't even begin to think that way," he said. "Scott and Alex are still just… kids to me."

"They're young men," she said. "How old were you when you got married, military man? Twenty-three? Twenty-four?"

"Okay, you're not wrong. But Scott's not even twenty until the end of the summer."

"Look at the calendar again, honey."

Corsair let out a breath. "So it's not that far away. I can't have a kid who's twenty, can I? That feels old to me."

"Oh, I definitely believe it," she said, nodding seriously.


K grinned up at him brilliantly. "You think I'm wrong? I'll get you a decent mirror for your birthday. Maybe some hair dye ..."

"You're so cruel to me every time we get together."

"Yet you keep wanting to talk to me," K said, blinking at him. "What does that say about you?"

"Hey, I'm a scoundrel, remember? There's no accounting for that," he laughed.

"Well you know what you'll get: plenty of picking and some hard truths. So … happy to be your reality check."

"Let's try not to meet when the world's ending next, huh? I'll take a nice wedding," Corsair said, smirking as they got off the ship and he stayed on the loading platform. He paused. "And, hey, can I grab the boys in a few weeks? You're the guardian, kind of, so…"

"That's up to them," K said. "I let Scott make his own calls, but … we were planning to spend his birthday fishing for grayling."

"Great. I'll find a place close by. 'Bout time I got to know them better before they start making families of their own, right?" Corsair said. "I'll just ask if I can keep them a week past what you were planning. Just the three of us. That okay with you or am I stepping on your toes? It's sort of a weird custody relationship with Scott, even if he's grown at this point…"

"I don't have a problem with any of that," K said. "But you'll likely have Jean with you, too. She's been going with us when we get away. I'll get you the coordinates to where we'll be headed."

"O...kay then," Corsair said, then gave her a two-fingered salute and headed off to talk to the boys, leaving her smirking after him.

The group had found a warm welcome on their return to Westchester; Charles had been more than a little concerned for his little group of students. But once the dust had settled from their welcome back, it didn't take long before Logan had other things he had to deal with.

Steve and Natasha had a lead that needed to be chased down — just another redirect to keep the Room off of Natasha's back until they could find a way to end the Room permanently. But that meant that K was once again short her sweetheart for an unknown period of time.

She didn't let it get to her too much — Steve had even made a point of saying that he would have liked to have her come in Logan's place — but aside from the fact that Sam was still breastfeeding, K was pretty firm about not trusting Natasha … yet. So instead of galavanting on a quick trip, K hunkered down with Charles' students — though Charles himself was something else whenever he was around Sam. And his honest take on the little girl had K softening her stance on him.

Charles couldn't contain his concentrated look of awe at the sheer possibilities that the little girl was capable of — and that on its own was something to be seen. No matter how hard he tried to mask it, it was impossible for him to manage long-term. Something about how purely open Sam was — and would remain for some time — had Charles positively captivated. He was so genuine about it, and the Sam so clearly liked him, that K began to make a point to give Charles a little time with Sam every day. It was good for all of them, and it left K time to get to know Charles a little when she wasn't quite so … defensive about the whole telepath issue.

But once K left Charles, it was always time to take Sam somewhere quiet for her to eat … give her some tummy time … play little games … it was a little different every day, but time with Charles always transitioned to time with mom.

The two of them headed up to K and Logan's suite. K had Sam on the floor on a soft blanket while K laid on her side making little faces and playing games with her that had Sam belly laughing hard enough to hide her little face in her hands when she set her head down on the floor. When it was clear the little one had laughed more than enough and was getting tired, K stretched out and rested her head on her arm, watching over Sam and waiting for the moment that Sam would inevitably yawn hard and need to be picked up and snuggled until she fell asleep.

It was just so comfortable and warm in the room … and K was sure at that point that she was just going to hold Sam for her nap like she seemed to be doing more of while Logan was gone. She just … had to get to the point where Sam wanted to sleep.

K closed her eyes for a moment, knowing that if Sam was watching her, that was all it took for her to scoot closer and fall asleep fast. Sure enough, Sam started making little noises, and K gently reached over to pull her closer. She had her nose buried in Sam's tufty, black, fluffy hair, but when she opened her eyes … Sam was in the crib and K was still on the floor.

K was groggy and slow, but Sam was happily babbling away. K frowned and pushed herself into a sitting position, then ran her hand through her hair. It didn't make a lot of sense … but …. Nothing really seemed out of place….

"I'm coming, sweetheart," K said in a smoky tone as she got to her feet and simply went to take care of her little girl.

Of course, what K didn't know was that there had been a visitor to the mansion.

Sinister had been annoyed when the whole group of X-Men had disappeared all at once - and for a couple months, no less. So when they at last returned, he needed to see what had happened - and to make sure that his little subjects were alright.

Perhaps if he had time he'd look into the others at the school as well, or maybe he'd come back if he didn't have time. As interested as he was in this little family, the more powerful mutants Scott found, the more his interest was piqued.

Still, his primary task was to find out why they had been gone for so long and make sure that they hadn't managed to damage his good work.

It actually wasn't too difficult to find K and the little one - Samantha was, of course, a few months older than the last time he saw her, and that made such a difference in her development. Already, she had shown a curious personality with a sort of playful nature. Her mental signature was easy to find, and he only had to wait until she was starting to fall asleep to find K as well, laid out on the floor with the little girl pulled close to her chest.

He nodded to himself as he stepped in, putting K into a deeper sleep for the time being while he picked up the little girl to get reacquainted.

Samantha was, to his relief, perfectly healthy - though still too small. Her mind was sharp, too, which was good, especially if he wanted to use her. Looking through her memories, it was clear that she was getting plenty of stimulation with this group, which was, he had to admit, a compelling reason to let the family continue here as they were, even if they would get into such trouble.

He was just about to set Samantha down in her crib when he heard the door open and then turned with a smirk when he saw Scott standing there - frozen, since he couldn't outright attack with Sam there. "Oh, good - you can answer a few questions for me, my boy," Sinister said carelessly as he beckoned Scott inside.

"What are you - get out of here," Scott spluttered, transitioning to anger from shock quickly enough.

"I assure you; I won't be here much longer," Sinister said in an almost-soothing tone as he tipped Sam's head up - and the little girl giggled, earning a smirk from Sinister.

"You're damn right you won't," Scott bit out, his hands in fists at his sides.

Sinister chuckled and shook his head. "First, tell me - where did you and your little family disappear to, Scott? It's unlike you to do this kind of thing."

"Family trip," Scott said flatly, still standing in the doorway and watching Sam more than Sinister.

Sinister narrowed his eyes at that. "Stop playing games, now," he said. "You know as well as I do that I can take what I want. I'm trying to give you the chance to act of your own accord, since you seem so determined to go on without my guidance."

"It really doesn't matter to you where we were," Scott said. "Maybe we should go back, seeing as you don't know and couldn't reach us."

Sinister shook his head at that before he simply went into Scott's mind to take what he wanted, frowning and shaking his head at what he saw of their decision to go to space yet again. And with an infant, no less.

But on the other hand, what he saw of Jean's powers… He couldn't help but smile. "That does explain a few inconsistencies," he said to himself. "Of course you would find the most interesting mutants…" He shook his head and then made sure to wipe Scott's memory of the encounter and send him off to Jean before he did the same with Sam and set her in her crib and left - which was the scene when K had woken up.

When Scott got to Jean, she smirked. I thought you were going to go find Sam, she teased.

I was, and then I decided to come see you.

I'm not at all complaining - I just thought you wanted snuggles after practice.

Maybe I just decided I wanted to do that with you instead. Sam was with Mom, anyhow.

Jean smirked at that and pulled him into a long kiss. Like I said, I'm not complaining.

Chapter Text

When Scott's birthday came around, the little Howlett family headed north to take their fishing trip as planned. There was a slight delay when some of Magneto's Brotherhood caused some trouble, but that just meant that when they did get to leave to go fishing, everyone in the group was exhausted and ready to crash for a while.

The transmission of intel on where their retreat was set to be was cause for entertainment for K and Scott at the very least when Corsair kept telling them that there was nothing but forest according to his computers, and Scott was smiling widely as K kept telling him "Yes. That's the whole point."

Alex in particular was glad when Corsair showed up a week into their trip - because it seemed like Scott and Jean were spending all their time in each other's heads. He supposed it was alright when he didn't really want to hear their flirting anyway, but still. It was getting kind of ridiculous.

Not that Jean or Scott was going to apologize when they were honestly enjoying each other.

I was trying to decide what to do for your birthday, Jean said as they took a little swim, chest deep in the water together, smiling to themselves as Alex and Corsair were focused less on fishing and more on one-upping each other with stories of daring-do, even if Alex hadn't been in the X-Men for as long as Corsair had been a Starjammer. And on the shoreline, Logan was curled up with K and Sam, too.

I said I didn't want anything this year but the trip, Scott pointed out.

Well I still want to do something special just between you and I.

Alright, Scott said with a small smile.

Jean smiled and sidled a little closer, entwining their fingers together. So there's something I want to do, and to do it right, I need to have total concentration and we need to be alone. Do you want to take a little walk with me, Mr. Summers?

Always, he said, smiling a little wider at her as they swam for the shore, past his parents who were giving them knowing looks.

Jean and Scott walked until they were well out of sight, then Jean grinned, took Scott's hands in hers, stole a kiss, then flew both of them well away from the others, stopping at a little clearing that was on the side of the mountain. It took Scott a moment to gather his bearings, grinning and laughing to himself as he looked around the little clearing they were in. Alright, I want you to clear your mind … and trust me.

Scott leaned forward to kiss her cheek. You know I always trust you, Jean.

Jean smiled wider, though something was flashing just behind her eyes that had Scott blinking at her for a moment - but it was gone as quickly as he'd seen it as she took his hands in hers and then closed her eyes.

Scott smirked to himself when he felt her warm presence in his mind, but the longer the connection lasted with Jean concentrating so hard, the hotter it felt. It was almost to the point of painfulness when instead of the heat, he realized that he could hear what Jean was thinking … from 'oh … I hope I didn't screw this up' to 'he looks so wary … maybe … maybe I went too far'.

Hey, no, Scott projected, holding her hand tighter. You didn't go too far. I'm alright. Just… hot. That was kind of intense.

Yeah, that's … kind of a thing, Jean replied. But that's not all I wanted to do. That … I opened up a psychic link. So you can hear what I'm thinking whenever you want - no matter where we are, and I can do the same. She smiled wider and not only could Scott hear what she was thinking, he could feel where her mind was headed - all nerves and excitement. And again, she didn't ask permission before she put her hands at his temples and concentrated hard. Take off your glasses.

You know I haven't mastered turning it off.

You don't have to, Jean promised. It's off. Trust me.

Scott raised his eyebrows at that and then slowly put his hands up to his glasses to take them off, surprised when there was no resulting optic burst… though it was nothing like the few times he'd managed to turn it off since breaking Sinister's implant in his brain. What that happened, he felt like he was holding back a flood… but this was like watching someone else build a dam. "Woah," he said softly. "How are you doing that?"

It's just something I can do now, Jean replied, smiling wider before she leaned in to steal a kiss. I thought you might like it.

Yeah, I definitely like being able to see you, Scott said. But Jean… you've never been able to do this before.

I know, but I couldn't focus like this before either. I think I was just … holding it all back.

Scott smiled, running his thumb over her cheek where he could see the pattern of her freckles really for the first time. I do like seeing you, he said. Even prettier in color … and I'm glad we're connected. I just… the timing isn't great. You just had to deal with the Phoenix and the Shi'ar. Are you sure this isn't- He paused when she frowned. Jean, no, this is a great birthday present. I love you. And I love being closer to you. I'm not questioning it… not that part...

Just … relax, Jean replied, as she stole a longer kiss. I feel great. Better than I can remember in years, really.

I'm glad. I just - I'm trying to look out for you, that's all, Scott tried to clarify, though he was already getting wrapped up in another kiss with Jean with his hands in her hair. You know I love you, right? I'm just worried, that's all. But when the kiss kept going, he couldn't really argue. And he honestly didn't want to.

When they did, eventually, get back to the others, Jean gave him a smile and rushed off to steal Sam from Alex. Scott shook his head at her then came to sit beside K, blatantly ignoring the look K was giving him when he had a few things on his mind.

"Have fun playing in the bushes?" K asked quietly.

"Yeah, actually," he said.

"Great," K replied, settling into her chair a little deeper. "Nothing like a little fresh air."

"Mom, I wanted to ask you …" Scott let out a breath. "I need advice."

"Alright," K said, turning his way a little as Alex and Corsair made a quick beeline for the cabin, which of course had K snerking to herself. Logan was at the river and a rather large pack of wolves was starting to come out of the trees.

Scott paused and glanced toward Jean to make sure she really was distracted with Sam before he took a deep breath. "I'm going to ask dad to help me look for, you know, a ring," he admitted quietly. "When we get back to Salem Center."

"He's got good taste," K said. "And he'll know where to go. Good call."

Scott nodded. "You know I love her, Mom, right?"

"Sweetheart, it's plainly obvious," she agreed.

"Well, knowing that, I'm wondering if I'm missing something or not -" He paused. "Jean's acting… differently."

"I noticed she's more quiet," K said pointedly. "And … more confident, too."

"We have been doing a lot of telepathic flirting," Scott admitted.

"Not surprised," she said.

"I like being part of her like that," Scott said. "And we have this connection…" He looked toward Jean. "Mom, she turned off my powers so I could see her."

K raised an eyebrow at that and turned toward him more squarely. "That's … not something that's in her power set, I didn't think."

"Sinister's done it, and he has telepathy."

"Sinister also has a laundry list of other powers. Can Charles do it?" K asked, looking thoughtful. "Maybe it is a more … powerful telepathic thing, but none of the ones that screwed with me in the department could."

"I just don't know if I'm not taking this seriously enough, all things considered," Scott admitted. "I love her. Maybe I'm worried too much, too. I need an outside opinion."

K held her breath and thought about it for a long moment, watching Logan while she listened to his concerns and weighed it out. "Are you okay with her doing that to you now and again? Turning your powers off?"

"Yeah… I think I really like getting to see her without having to fight for every second while I'm still learning, you know?"

"You'll still work on it yourself, won't you?" K asked.

"Of course. I'd like to be able to see her all the time," he pointed out.

"Okay, well … as long as it's not a crutch," she said. "That's what I was worried about with all the telepathic stuff."

"I don't think it is," Scott said. "I'm more worried about her than me. I don't want this power to come back to bite her."

K nodded at that. "Well … I still think the basic considerations apply. Everyone has something … different." for a perfect example, she tipped her head toward Logan and the wolves, where they were - just as they'd been in Canada - warming up to him quickly. "As long as you love each other - and you don't get lost in her … all you can do is be there for her when she needs you, right?"

Scott nodded slowly. "Yeah." He let out a breath and brushed back his hair. "I guess I'm nervy. For a few reasons."

"You have plenty of reasons to be nervous - above and beyond what most 'normal' people would. But if it's not a deal breaker … then honestly, what are you afraid of?"

"Just… I don't know," Scott said. "I just want her safe."

"Of course you do," she said before she rested her hand on Scott's arm. "But you can't control that all the time."

"I know," Scott said, looking toward Jean. "Alright. I… thanks, Mom," he said, suddenly turning her way to kiss her cheek. "I needed that."

"Anything this serious that regards the heart will always be scary and unpredictable - and a leap of total faith. You two … you're doing just fine."

"Got good examples," Scott said. "You and Dad are amazing, you know that?"

"I don't know about all that," she said.

"C'mon, Mom. You know I'm right. I've been right about you two from the start," he teased.

"You … weren't exactly sure about me when you found out what I did."

"Hey, one moment of weakness doesn't make me any less right the other 99% of the time!"

"I'm just saying … you knew who I was, then things changed … did it really change who I was?" K shrugged. "Aside … from the coffee equipment, that is."

Scott shook his head and then reached over to pull her into a tight hug. "Love you, Mom. You know that."

"Love you too," she said. "Try not to forget that."

A few weeks had gone by and the whole group had gone back to the Institute - or more accurately, K and Logan had gone back with Sam and left Jean, Alex, and Scott with Corsair so they could have a little one on three time for Corsair to get to know his sons - and if things kept going well, his future daughter in law.

Logan and K had made a few little bets between them on how long it was going to take for Corsair to call it enough for the time being and bring them back. And while they waited for the inevitable, they took their time to get settled in with the rest of the team. Besides … Sam was growing fast … and she was starting to get some little quirks that were fun to watch.

Like the fact that out of everyone trying to sing to her and get her to settle out, the reigning champ was still Logan. Sam had gotten worn out after her little six month check up at the Avengers place and the ride back. Hank had gone along to see how the process went, too, which was great for the Howletts, who were more than happy to share a semi-cranky little girl with him, and Sam adored giving Hank kisses on his freshly shaven chin. The young man had chosen his field well and he was excelling in medicine as well as in the three other doctorate degrees he was chasing down at once.

But when Hank had finished helping Sam for her check up, and they had made the trek back to Westchester, he had to concede that he just wasn't Sam wanted.

K was in Charles' office making arrangements with him on how to move forward with some horses for the kids on the team and the few new students - a couple boys named Jamie and Sam - trickling in, which left Hank no option but to take Sam to Logan.

But once he'd handed her over, Hank ended up sticking around while Logan tried to get her settled. Sam was fussy, rubbing her eyes and more than a little bit tired with hitched yawns caught between sad little whining sounds … but that all petered out when Logan started to sing to her quietly. Hank didn't quite catch the words, but after a little while, it was clear that Sam knew the tune since she started cooing along - her little vocalizations matching the length of those in the song Logan was singing quietly to her.

And the more she tried to sing with him, the more tired she got, which was, of course, when Scott came in … as Sam was honestly drifting off to sleep and not trying to sing as much anymore.

Scott smiled - especially since Logan hadn't stopped singing, either. He sat down on the other side of the room to wait until their moment was over and Sam was well and truly asleep. When it was clear Sam was passed out, Logan took her into the next room to lay her down in her crib - and even Scott could hear her stuttered sigh once she was settled in.

Scott smiled, leaning against the wall until Logan closed the door behind him. "Can I borrow you?" he asked. "Just for advice. I need to know where in town I can find a ring."

"Sure," Logan said letting out a breath as he crossed the room. "Think Hank can handle a sleeping baby until K gets back?"

"I'm sure he'd be more than happy to," Scott said with a smirk Hank's way.

"Oh, I'm sure I can abide it," Hank chuckled.

Logan smirked at Hank and then clapped a hand on Scott's shoulder. "Welcome back, by the way. How'd it go with Corsair?"

"Alright," Scott said slowly. "I think he's still trying to figure out what to do with us, honestly. I was ten when he left."

"That's gotta be tough, no matter how you look at it," Logan said diplomatically.

Scott nodded. "But… it was nice," he said. "I think he knows I'm thinking of proposing. Wanted to ask a lot of questions about Jean. And he and Alex have this wicked way of teaming up on me sometimes. Still drives me nuts just as much as it used to."

"Some things never change," Logan agreed.

"Thanks for letting us take over your cabin for a while," Scott said.

"Wasn't about to make you go somewhere people might bug you."

"Thanks," Scott said again, with a quiet smile. "Gave me time to stop by Jean's parents on the way home, too. Just to get everything done right."

"How'd it go?" Logan asked.

"I think they knew it was coming but … we're both still young. She's not twenty for a few months. I more or less had to swear on my life this wasn't because she was pregnant or something."

Logan let out a hollow little laugh. "So what do you need me to do, kiddo?"

"I have some money saved… I just don't know what to look for."

Logan nodded. "So you want me to tell you where to go, or head down with you?"

"I'd like to do it myself. I just need advice," Scott said. "And…" He paused. "Considering our luck? Someone who knows where I am. Just in case. Jean and I have this connection, but since I don't want her to know where I am, I need someone else."

"Gotcha," Logan said, then surprising Scott, he took out his wallet and pulled out a business card. "This place is close and does custom work. That way if you don't find what you want, they can make it." He drew in a breath and held it for a moment. "As far as the other side of things? Don't know what kind of advice you need."

"Neither do I. Not like it's something I've ever done before," he pointed out.

"I've done it a few times, but it's different. You're looking for her, so … you'll know it when you see it."

Scott couldn't help but smile at that. "Thanks, Dad," he said, darting forward to hug him quickly before he rushed off, before he could lose his nerve.

"You'll do fine," Logan said.

Chapter Text

Scott had been back and forth to the jeweler's several times … but he hadn't said a word to anyone about what he was thinking. It was clear it was heavy on his mind though when on the ride back from a mission, he grinned Jean's way and immediately shook his head. "No peeking. You know the rules."

It's really tempting, she teased through their psychic link, leaning over to steal a kiss.

I know but please … just once, Scott projected back, still smiling through the kiss.

Just for you, Jean agreed with a little, playful smile. And also because I'm worn out. Magneto can be exhausting when he wants to be.

He's a drain, Scott agreed. But we're almost home, and tired or not … you want to grab a movie and pass out on the couch?

Don't I always?

Still going to ask, Scott replied, smiling wider as he thought about how much he enjoyed curling up with her … almost every night.

I love it too, Jean said, laying her head on his shoulder. It's probably my favorite tradition.


Not at your little secret! Jean promised.

I'm teasing, Scott said, laughing at her reaction before Jean simply smirked and stole a long kiss.

The jet was still almost an hour out from the school when a pair of jets flanked them, visible out of the windows long before Scott could get to the ground. "Alright, this isn't good," Scott said.

"No kidding," Alex said dryly.

"Not helping, Alex," Scott said through his teeth. "They're not hailing us…"

"Do they have any identifying markings?" Hank asked, frowning as he came to the window.

"Nothing that I can see," Scott said. "Just … black."

"That usually doesn't bode well," Hank said.

"Not from my experience," Scott said dryly. "Can you make them … I don't know … get distracted, Jean?"

"Of course," Jean said. "I'll make them think they're flying with us - you just change course." She held out a hand, the other one resting against her temple as she concentrated. And just as she'd promised, the jets kept flying in a straight line while the blackbird veered east.

"I've told you how much I love that you're on our team, right?" Bobby said with a grin.

"You have, but you could do it more," Jean said.

"Don't celebrate yet," Warren said, frowning out the opposite window. "They're circling back. Either they have a telepath too or we got out of range or… something."

"We need to get out of the air," Scott said.

"Well, set her down and we'll take on these losers. Whoever they are," Alex said, nodding to himself.

"Jean - can you …" Scott started out then switched to projecting. See if you can figure out who-

Jean nodded, already reaching out before he could finish the thought. By the time she nodded to herself, they were already making their descent. It's Department H, she said, the anger obvious in her mental voice.

Well that's just great, Scott replied in a dull tone. Of course this happens when we're worn out already.

They know that too. They waited until we were coming back not leaving the institute.

They know I'd flatten them otherwise.

Jean smiled at him fondly and leaned over his shoulder. You would, too.

"Alright guys," Scott said. "We need to be ready to fight when we get to the ground."

"No kidding," Alex said again, just as dryly as the first time.

"What's going on?" Piotr asked. "Who is it we will be sending home with our names as curses to their defeat?"

"The department," Jean said, a spark of something powerful just behind her gaze.

Scott looked grim as he started the vertical descent. "Be ready to fight, guys."

"No kidding," Alex said, this time more seriously, though Ilyana still punched him in the arm for being a broken record all the same. "Hey, what do you want from me?"

"A little originality would be nice," Piotr said.

"He can't help it," Kurt said philosophically, obviously trying to inject a little humor. "His brother's the same way. 'Get ready', he says. We're always ready to fight evil."

The jet was on the ground and the jets following them were close behind, but the pilots weren't the only ones there when the team started to head out of the jet. There were several blackhawk helicopters that were making their way all around them.

First out of the jet was Piotr and before anyone could even say a word, shots rang out and Piotr fell to the ground with a tranquilizer dart in his neck and chest. They couldn't leave a teammate on the ground, but even as Kurt teleported out to grab him, he too, was hit with a dart.

The others really didn't have much choice but to step back into the jet, at least until Ororo pushed the wind ahead of her that would keep any darts from hitting her - giving Ilyana and Warren the cover to move their friends back into the jet so no one could grab them.

But when the department couldn't make headway with the darts, they switched tactics and after a few long moments of fighting the wind, a heavy charge that seemed to almost magically follow the curve of the winds in their favor arced a projectile onto the starboard wing. There were a few flashes of red light before an explosion rocked the blackbird, tore off a wing and left a gaping hole in the fuselage of the plane.

"That's my plane," Scott bit out angrily, though he made it a point to grab Bobby by the shoulder and point at his comm. "Call the professor and have him tell my parents what happened - and the Avengers. I don't want it to be just them; we're going to need backup," he said, waiting for Bobby to nod before he headed out ahead of the group, one hand to his visor as he cranked up the power until he had the widest beam he could manage to flatten the soldiers aiming guns their way.

It didn't last as long as it usually did, and it left him with a ringing headache, but it was enough that they weren't all immediately darted, and the X-Men were able to spread out and rush for their enemies, with Storm blowing through the soldiers and calling down lightning while Jean and Ilyana worked in her wake, and the boys were doing a great cleanup act, keeping the soldiers away from Piotr and Kurt as much as they could.

But it wasn't going to last. It was still going to take time for Logan and K to show - or for the Avengers to show, even … and Scott knew better than the others that the department worked fast. He had just turned to warn Alex to keep up when Scott got hit. Only … it wasn't a dart.

"Oh. Crap." Alex rushed over to Scott, wide-eyed when he saw Scott fall to his knees with his hands reflexively pressed to his stomach. He was bleeding pretty badly, and of course, that only had Alex panicking as he tried to help, with Bobby pulling up a sheet of ice between the Summers brothers and the soldiers when a few darts were fired Alex's way.

A second later, though, a spray of bullets shattered the ice, and they had to dive for cover. "Guys, we need help!" Bobby called toward the trio of girls fighting on the other side of the soldiers, even as Warren went down with a bullet in his shoulder and a dart in his leg. Hank let out a roar of frustration as the soldiers managed to get to Piotr and Kurt to start to drag them away - and was shot himself in the arm and leg when he tried to rush after them.

The girls all looked toward the boys - and very quickly started to redirect. Storm looked furious as she called on the elements around her, though she was starting to wear down as well after they'd already done a mission, and when Ilyana got hit over the head by a soldier who started to drag her off, Jean stopped and glared around at the soldiers surrounding them.

This whole situation was nothing but pain, anger, misery, fear, and despair. She could hear through her connection with Scott how much pain he was in - It never looked like it hurt this bad for Dad, he was thinking, which only had the flames licking at her face and trailing from her hair. Jean she could see her friends in restraints and collars even as the soldiers closed in on the rest of them.

And that strength she had been feeling for a while now started to fill her as her feet left the ground. She wasn't even thinking about what it meant until the words left her lips. "Enough," she said in a commanding tone- though her voice sounded different, echoing and layered with something otherworldly that grew stronger with every word.

The soldiers turned their attention to Jean, clearly recognizing the heightened threat she posed - but before they could do anything else, she held out both hands, and all at once, the fires lit up around her in a flash, and she rose higher into the air as the fire rushed through the soldiers' ranks, burning everyone that had been threatening her friends. Her lip curled back in what could almost pass as a smile as the fire grew hotter, feeding off of the terror from the soldiers.

But it wasn't enough. She could feel the Phoenix at her fingertips calling for more. The world had to pay; the world was unfair; the world had left the guy she was in love with bleeding and hurting and it was willing to kill, hurt, or enslave everything and everyone she loved.

Jean. She blinked and turned her attention to Scott, frowning when she saw the way he was crumpled over himself, though his gaze was fixed on her. You're better than this. You're better than that thing inside you. The department soldiers are gone. Pull it back.

I can do more, Jean projected back to him, and even in her mental projection her voice sounded older, more confident … and not entirely Jean. It's not just fire… I can shape the world. I could save you with a thought and fix all that they've tried to destroy. I could turn this world on it's ear and eliminate the inferior creatures that think they hold power.

Is that you or the Phoenix talking? Scott asked, holding his breath as he already knew the answer.

Does it matter?

It does to me, Scott said. I'm in love with Jean, not the Phoenix. And I want her back.

Jean frowned his way, then looked down at her hands, watching as the flames danced over her skin. I'm still here, Scott.

Then come down here, Scott projected. It's over. We won. You destroyed them all.

At that, the corner of Jean's mouth twitched into a smile, and she nodded. I did. And they deserved it, she said, the fires stretching a little more until they were positively filling the night sky - the shape of the fiery phoenix with its wings outstretched easier to see on the otherwise black sky.


But Jean wasn't listening. She could barely concentrate on anything Scott was saying when the Phoenix was so loud in her mind, crowding out anything else going on as it promised to give her everything she wanted. It could help her get rid of everyone who kept coming after her friends and family. She could bathe the world in fire.

She could be fire. She could hold the whole world in her hands and decide its fate.

The hotter the flames burned, the more the Phoenix promised, until Jean had begun to lose track of what she wanted anymore….. Who she was …

The first adult on the scene was Tony - and only because he was out stripping everyone else on speed. He took one look at what was going on and decided for the moment to tactfully ignore the firebird in favor of injured kids. He landed not far from Scott and made his way closer, only popping up his facemask when he knelt down next to him. "What happened?" Tony asked, taking a moment to scan him to see how bad it was even as he put pressure on the wound that Scott had, and by the expression on Tony's face, the injury wasn't good at all.

"The department," Scott said distractedly, though his gaze was on Jean. "She wiped them out… I have to get through to her."

Tony turned to look up at where Jean was - higher than even a few moments before and only growing her flames. "Yeah … I don't know how that's going to happen with this injury. You're lucky it wasn't another half inch over or you'd be dead already."

Scott shook his head and then tapped his temple with one bloody hand. "We've got a telepathic connection. I can talk to her."

"Then tell her to hang up the flames and kiss it better, we gotta get you outta here." Tony had his hand pressed over Scott's injury and another hand on his shoulder keeping him prone.

"I'm trying," Scott said. "Shut up."

Tony made a face and flipped his facemask down, already muttering into his comm to fill in not only the Avengers - but Logan, who was already headed there, too.

Jean, please, Scott said, flat out ignoring Tony. What are you trying to do? You know what Corsair said about that thing… it eats worlds. You can't let it out! Of course, when he wasn't getting any response, Scott kept pressing on their telepathic connection, frustrated when all he could hear was the Phoenix pushing for more death, more destruction. Jean, come on. How am I supposed to give you that surprise if you're doing this?

Scott didn't really know how long it took for the rest of the rescuers to get there, but he was aware that they were starting to arrive.

It's … it's too strong, Scott. I can't control it.

Yes you can, Scott said. I know you can. Let me help.

I can't do it, Jean replied and even her mental voice was shaking. It was clear she was terrified, and that only fed the Phoenix more - handed it more control. I can't focus to stop … I can't even slow it down.

Try focusing on me, Scott said, though his own mental voice was panicked. We were going to curl up and watch a movie, remember?

For a moment, he could see her trying .. the conflict as the Phoenix fought her for control … and the anguish as Jean's honest terror bubbled to the surface.

That's it, he said. Keep fighting, Jean. Come on. We'll go home and curl up and maybe we'll even actually listen to Bobby and curl up in your room instead of the living room. It was obvious he was grasping for something to give her that wasn't laced with fear.

But it was also clear that Jean truly didn't believe she was strong enough to fight, too. She'd given the Phoenix so much control … and now she was scrambling to hold on.

"Scotty," Logan said as he caught up - obviously freshly there by the way he and Steve were both panting. When Logan got close enough, he swore at Scott's injury and took up the spot across from Tony. "how bad is she?"

"She's fighting it," Scott insisted, still looking at Jean and not the Avengers. "She is. She's just… she's scared. I'm trying to help. I know she can do it."

Logan followed Scott's gaze and nodded. "What does she need?"

"Focus," Scott said. "She's scared. It's - she's panicking… The Phoenix wants to use her…it is using her. More and more as she's losing her grip."

Logan worked his jaw for a moment and nodded to himself. "Get me up there, Stark."

"Not sure how close I can get you, but-"

"You've got heat shielding," Logan said. "And I'll heal."

"Yeah, I've got heat shielding - and I still am telling you I might not be able to get you that close. Whatever she's doing, it's hotter than your everyday fire. Or weaponized fire."

"Yeah, I know. She burnt me before. I can take it. Just get me as close as you can," Logan said as Steve made his way over to take over for Tony once Tony had a hold of Logan to take off.

"You sure about this?" Tony asked as he and Logan flew almost straight up.

"Nope. But he can't get as close as I can," Logan said. "Gotta give her somethin' to focus on. She's good. But this … this ain't her." When they got as close as Tony could handle - even with the anodization layer melting off of his armor, Logan called out to Jean. "Come on, kid. Douse the fire and get your sweetheart home. He's gonna need help with that punctured liver."

When Jean turned their way, she was all fire and a wicked smile. "No."

"Come on, Red," Logan said.

Jean smiled a little wider and shook her head. "This world doesn't do anything but take," she said, her voice ringing oddly. "It's not worth all the effort to save anyone here. You're all bent on self-destruction anyway." She shook her head again. "I can burn it all away. All of it. Make the world new."

"Jeannie, the world's full of a lot better than you're givin' it credit for. Don't let the idiots ruin it for you. You know better than that."

She laughed and shook her head. "Oh, now you buy into the dream?" she asked, one eyebrow arched high as the flames kept spreading. "I see. When I decide to burn the world, now you side with Charles Xavier."

"I might be cynical, but I'd never go along with killin' off the good, Jeannie. You can't kill everyone - or burn everything. That's takin' more than you can handle."

Jean narrowed her eyes, and then a burst of fire pushed Tony and Logan back. "I'm not the weak little Marvel Girl you're used to leading around like a lost, mooning little schoolgirl," she snapped. "I am Phoenix. I am fire and life incarnate. I can do whatever I please and no one can stop me!"

Logan narrowed his eyes at that. "No one gets to do whatever they please, darlin. And the way I see it, the Phoenix is just a parasite."

"Your opinion won't matter in a few minutes anyway, terran. I will-"

"Jeannie! Come on," Logan shouted, cutting over what the Phoenix was saying, with Scott doing the same thing in every way he knew how down on the ground through their connection.

Jean, please. God, Jean Elaine Grey, I want to marry you! I want to have a life with you, you and me - just us ... not the Phoenix!

For just a second, it looked like the fires stopped spreading - but it was only a second, and then Jean tipped her head back, her arms outstretched, and the fires pushed a little farther, a little faster, burning that much brighter, knocking Tony and Logan out of the air.

"We can't just stand here, we gotta do something," Tony shouted, clearly frantic knowing he didn't have anything powerful enough to stop her, especially when the fire started to reach down, blazing a path of destruction around them.

"Get me up there," Logan said from between his teeth. "Use your rockets, repulsors … whatever the hell it takes ... "

"And then what? You already tried that!"

"This … thing in her burns out entire planets, Stark!" Logan growled out. "We can't just let it go, and that's not Jeannie anymore." His voice broke toward the end of his statement. "The Phoenix is in control and it won't let go. She can't fight a cosmic entity or she would have. We have to stop her."

Tony stared at Logan, obviously horrified, but with all the alarms in his suit screaming at him for how hot it was getting around them, he could only nod and put everything he had into his suit to get them closer… this time close enough to see that Jean was in tears as the Phoenix surged through her.

"Logan, please," she said, her tone totally different than when the Phoenix had been talking. "I can't stop it… please…"

"What can I do?" Logan asked, though he already knew the answer … he just desperately wanted another route. Any other route.

"Stop me," she said softly. "Please."

Logan didn't say anything, and as he was obviously trying to find a way out of it, Tony had to tell him what was going on. "The fires are going into the upper atmosphere … it's going to light up everything if we don't do something."

"Get me there," Logan said finally - and though Tony didn't reply, Jean gave him a sad, tearful smile as Tony pushed to get Logan across the short distance.

Logan went right into the flames - burning up on his way through the white-hot fire, but he was still quick enough to get an arm around Jean's shoulders before he caught her gaze. There was just a moment where she tearfully nodded and projected out 'I'm sure' before Logan did what he had to - and ended her quickly with his claws straight through her heart.

All at once, the Phoenix scream died off, no longer echoing around them - and just as quickly, the flames evaporated as both of them fell straight down, a trail of smoke following them the whole way.

Tony didn't have a snappy response, and instead of even attempting to warn anyone, he zipped over to catch Logan - who was still holding Jean tightly to himself. The three of them landed without a word said, though as soon as they were on the ground, Logan laid her down and backed up just far enough to fall back on the burnt grass himself and prop himself up with one hand - staring at the dead girl an arm's length away. It was a crushing blow - made worse when, almost belatedly, they realized that even though the Phoenix scream was gone, the air wasn't ringing with silence at all but a different kind of scream coming from the direction they'd left Scott and Steve.

"Scott," Steve almost whispered as he wanted to both keep his injury taken care of and wanted to simply wrap the kid into a bear hug to help calm him down. "There's nothing you can do, Scott."

"You don't know-" Scott shook his head, almost breathless before he shouted for Jean again, sounding honestly frantic.

"Scott," Steve tried again, but when Scott started fighting him, pushing him away as if he could somehow get to Jean when he couldn't stand…. The only thing Steve could do was get into the medkit and sedate him. "I'm sorry, Scott. I'm so sorry," he said as Scott finally stopped fighting and slipped into unconsciousness.

It was finally, eerily silent after that as the responding Avengers simply looked around at the damage. Every one of the X-Men had either been drugged by the department or by a rescuer to deal with the damage … the department's forces were nothing but charred remains and ashes on the ground… and Logan was still just a few steps from a dead young woman.

Chapter Text

"I'll get my people on clean up," Tony said to Steve quietly as the two of them assessed the damage around them. "You get them back to where they belong."

"Right," Steve said, slowly straightening up. "I'll have Carol get most of them to Westchester. Our doctors should take care of the ones who were shot with more than darts. Clint can help move our injured."

Tony nodded at that. "You might want to check on your friend, too," he said quietly.

Steve let out a breath that said exactly how upset he was as he nodded and, without a word, headed to where Logan was still just… sitting there. "I'm sorry," he said quietly, putting a hand on Logan's shoulder.

Logan barely reacted, and for a long moment he still simply stared until Steve gave his shoulder a squeeze that seemed to pull him out of his haze a little. "What did I do?" Logan asked, his tone was whisper quiet, and Steve knew it wasn't a good sign. At all.

Steve paused and then let out a breath. "You stopped her," he said gently. "And saved the world in the process. I'm so sorry, Logan."

But at that, Logan almost melted, head in his shaking hands, and ignoring the damage he'd sustained to himself as he tried to shake the image of Jean asking him to kill her, or the sound of Scott screaming in his ears. Steve let out a sigh and then simply kept a grip on Logan's shoulder, not about to let him out of his reach until it was time to head out after Carol signalled that the kids had been loaded up.

Steve glanced toward Jean and made his mind up. "I've got her," he told Logan. "You need to stick with Scott."

Logan didn't argue it and instead numbly followed Steve's instructions, though that had Steve frowning harder as he gently gathered Jean and met Clint at the Quinjet. Not one of them knew what to say - there was nothing to say. Steve remembered the way it had felt when it was Bucky; there really wasn't a way to alleviate it, especially not so soon. And this … this was so … tragic.

Once he was at the Quinjet, Steve got on the radio and called to Westchester, already dreading this conversation but knowing it had to happen. So when Xavier picked up the line, Steve let out a breath. "Professor Xavier, we've got your team, and Captain Marvel is headed your way with some of them. The others we're taking to safe medical treatment - Stark's treat. There were gunshot wounds."

"What's happened?" Charles asked.

"The department chased them down. Ambushed them," Steve admitted, one hand to his forehead as he let out a frustrated sound. "But by the time we got there, Marvel Girl had already taken care of that problem. Or the Phoenix had; I'm not entirely clear on that." He paused again. "I'm sorry, professor, but she's dead."

Charles was silent for a long while. "We can talk when you get here."

"I need you to send K over as soon as you can," Steve said, his tone dropping a bit. "Logan was the one to end it when the Phoenix got out of control. We had to sedate Scott and Logan's in shock, if I'm being frank."

"She'll be on the way," Charles said.

"Alright. I'll meet her when she arrives," Steve said, switching off the radio for the moment. The Quinjet was, once again, completely silent - and it stayed that way except for the doctors talking to each other as they offloaded the injured X-Men. Steve followed with a hand on Logan's shoulder to steer him until they could sit down and wait for his son to wake up.

It was clear that Logan was beyond what Steve knew how to help with … and Logan wasn't giving any clues on what was going on with him other than the obvious heavy guilt. So Steve was grateful when K arrived with Sam. On seeing her arrive, Steve got to his feet.

"Trade you," K said as she met up with Steve, already lifting Sam up so he could take the little one. As soon as Steve had a hold of Sam - and she was sure that Sam was safely curled into Steve's arms, K carefully walked over to Logan. She tipped his chin up so he'd look at her - and a moment later, he reached around her waist to pull her closer, resting his head on her chest as she gently cradled his head. The two of them were entirely wrapped around each other as Logan allowed himself to fall to pieces from the guilt.

When Scott woke up, he was in the Avengers' tower, in the same room he'd stayed at when they were there before Sam had been born. And sitting nearby was K, her hands folded over her knees as she waited for him to wake up.

It was enough of a change - in location, circumstance, the people around him - that there was a beat of a moment where he had to wonder what had happened. He was still a little fuzzy after he'd been stitched up in surgery, after all.

But the brief moment where he thought maybe it hadn't happened, maybe it was the drugs - that lasted for maybe a few seconds when he reflexively reached for that connection with Jean to check on her. There wasn't anything there but the memory of fire, and all at once, he almost couldn't get a breath. And when he did finally get a stuttering kind of breath, he just closed his eyes again, trying to reach back for unconsciousness.

K waited, not wanting to rush him into anything seeing how she knew where his head had been before this disaster had happened, and she really just wanted him to know that he wasn't alone. It was the same reason she'd made sure that Steve had Sam while Charles had come in to put Logan under a psychic suggestion to sleep.

So she waited while Scott was still lying there and trying very hard to disappear into his own mattress until Steve knocked on the doorframe with Sam. "She's hungry," Steve said apologetically. "Or I wouldn't bother you…"

K nodded at him and quietly turned to Scott. "I'll be right back, Caramel Mocha," she promised, then was sure to tip her head Scott's way when she took Sam from Steve, urging him to fill the vacant seat and keep watch for a little bit.

K made her way through the living room area to find a quieter spot, though she was already trying to figure out how the hell she was going to juggle Sam with Logan and Scott when they were all … so much in need for one thing or another. Normally, she'd take them and disappear for a while, but considering how guilty Logan felt - and rightfully so - on top of how destroyed Scott clearly was, she wasn't sure how that would end. And considering that she didn't want to lose any of them in the wash, once again, she was finding ways to be smaller herself.

So it almost wasn't a surprise when Charles found her. Even with her natural abilities, the panic, hurt, and worry she was feeling had been projected strongly enough he could hear it too.

When he made his way over, it was obvious he was deeply affected by the loss as well - she had never seen him look so deeply sad before. He stopped close by as she finished feeding Sam and then let out his breath. "I'm sure that you and your family could use some distance, but might I suggest using our boat house rather than any of your hidden away places," he said softly.

"I honestly think that if we went that far, all of us wouldn't be coming back," K replied quietly. "Maybe one or two … if we're lucky."

Charles nodded, sadness clear on his features. "That's my concern as well," he admitted. "So please, let me offer you a little space of your own and our support. You know that all of us at the school will be willing to help; you don't have to care for all three of them alone." He spared her an almost subdued smile. "I must admit, I've become attached to my time with Sam. I didn't realize what a wonderful help she'd be to a house full of teenagers, but I hope you'll allow me to continue to help. It wouldn't be a burden for me, at the very least, to give you some time to yourself. You need to take care of yourself as well."

"I don't know when that would happen," K said with a soft, sad sort of smile. "I need them both to speak."

Charles nodded gently. "You know that we'll do what we can. Alex is concerned for Scott; Kurt has been asking after Logan… so you aren't alone on either count."

She nodded at that. "Scott might do better with his brother, but I want to give him a chance. He just woke up. It's raw." She let out a breath. "Logan … well."

"I spoke with Mr. Stark about what happened," Charles agreed. "I'm quite certain Logan is carrying more guilt than anything else." He let out a sigh. "I'm sorry. I had been working with Jean, and I only wish we had better prepared for this…"

"I don't think you could have," K said honestly. "From what happened with the Shi'ar - from what Scott and Logan said, it wasn't something you could prepare for. And considering that Scott was shopping for a ring for her … after getting Logan's advice on it? It's more than just a little guilt."

"I know Logan's history," Charles said in a sigh. "After Dr. Essex brought it up to Scott…" He shook his head. "This can't be good for him."

"No, it's not," K agreed, feeling the weight of all of it herself.

Charles reached out and rested a hand on her wrist. "I know that no words can help right now, but all the same - please let us help where we can."

"I'm not stopping you," she pointed out as she got to her feet. "But unless you want to steal baby time away from her Godfather …"

That had Charles smirking as he shook his head. "I wouldn't dream of it."

K quietly made her way back to Scott and handed Sam to Steve before this time, she stopped in front of Scott and gestured to his bed. "Do you mind if I sit with you?"

When Scott didn't really respond in any way, she let out a breath and sat down next to him. "Then I'll just do it anyhow unless you tell me to go away." She sat down close to him and put her arm around his back for a little one armed hug - not sure if he'd get angry with her for trying to do more than that. But when he didn't respond to that either, she simply started rubbing his back and sat there quietly with him.

Eventually, after a few minutes, Scott finally let out a soft breath and leaned over, just enough to put his head on her shoulder. She took that as a cue, and shifted to wrap him up in a hug and just held on, honestly relieved that he'd done even that much.

Things hadn't improved much when the Avengers' doctors had released the shot-up X-Men to return to home. Neither Scott nor Logan had been showing signs of life - and it seemed to somehow get worse when they went back to Westchester for the funeral.

It was the first time that the team had all been back together since losing Jean, and not one of them was able to hide their emotions. The sky was overcast as Storm buried her face in her hands, and Jean's family had everyone in tears with their quiet, moving tributes.

Kurt had planted himself next to Logan, watching his friend the whole time but at an uncharacteristic loss for words as to how to help him. Alex hung close to Scott, similarly unsure of how to help… especially when Jean's parents had made it a point to hug Scott and Alex was sure his big brother was going to lose it right there on the spot.

But after that, K took her little family and went to the boat house, doing her level best to keep it together when all three of them needed her. The rest of the X-Men tried to help where they could, especially offering to take Sam… but they were all young too. None of them knew how to help.

At first, it was manageable - at least for K. Neither of her boys was doing well, but she made it a point to make sure they were never alone. In a few rare moments, she'd even been able to be a shoulder to cry on, when the guilt or loss would hit one of them freshly all over again.

But after several days beyond the funeral when all three of the members of her little family had spoken a grand total of zero words, K had to admit that she was starting to lose it herself. She absolutely didn't want to rush them through their grief, but the truth was that she was grieving too, though clearly in a much more subdued manner than the two of them were. She couldn't afford to let it out. Not when Sam was so dependent on her - and when the men in her life were totally destroyed. So instead, he pushed it down as best she could and forced herself to carry on for their sakes instead, ignoring her own sorrow and loss.

It was helpful for the others on the team to come by - if for no other reason than that K needed a few minutes to herself that usually amounted to her quickly taking a shower and hiding what tears slipped by her in the hot water. She did get actual conversation when the team members came, even if it was loaded with sympathy and awkwardness. But it was still something more than what she could get from Logan or Scott.

Almost two weeks had passed when Bobby had come to get Sam, and he was actually pretty consistent about trying to get a smile out of her. "Baby bouncing service," he said when he got to the door.

"You're sure you're alright with her?" K asked as he picked Sam up.

"Course I am," Bobby assured her. "She's kind of hilarious doing her butt wiggle trying to figure out crawling. Hank found a music player and set her up with Benny Hill…"

"That sounds like him," K agreed, running a hand through her hair.

"We got a video camera, if you need the smile," Bobby said.

"Maybe a little later," K said, her voice wavering slightly as she leaned in the doorframe.

"Alright," Bobby said, shifting Sam until she was snuggled onto his shoulder. "I'll come back when she's done being hilarious, huh?"

"Thanks, Bobby. Have fun." She watched him go, headed up the hill toward the mansion, honestly not sure where she was needed most at the moment, so she headed to the kitchen first to get a little coffee. Only …before she stepped into the room, she saw Scott there, leaning on his elbows at the table and staring at a little diamond ring that he was turning over in his hands. She stopped cold on seeing him, her breath caught in her throat before she simply backed up a few steps - very sure that she didn't want to break into his train of thought just then.

That was really all it took for her to change directions entirely, though on her way back through the living room, she saw Logan sitting on the deck, the cigar in his hand burned down almost to his fingers - but with over an inch of ash still clinging to it. This whole scenario was just … wrong. All of it. But for as much as she'd seen the two of them doing their own little version of depression and self blame and ... all of it. She very suddenly needed a moment to herself. She'd held it back for as long as she could, but on seeing Logan hitting the bottom of the barrel and Scott mourning his lost love … that was it. She just … couldn't do it at that moment.

She broke into a quick step and slipped into her bedroom that she shared with Logan and quietly closed the door behind her, though it didn't latch. She didn't want to alert Scott or Logan to anything being wrong. She had only gotten to turn around though before she lost her grip on her composure and had to take a few steps to get away from the door before she slipped to the ground, leaning against the dresser with her face in her hands as she just .. let loose with silent tears, her shoulders shaking though even at that, she tried to keep quiet.

"Oh. Man." K didn't even look up, but she could hear Bobby in the doorway. "I just… Sam wanted her teddy bear and Charles said he saw it here when he dropped her off and-"

"Sorry," K managed. "I'll get it."

"No, I got it," Bobby said quickly, though what he actually did was set Sam down by the teddy bear in her crib and then take a few hesitant steps over to K before he rushed her and pulled her into a tight hug. Shocking Bobby, she didn't fight him on it in the least, instead, melting more, though she kept quiet as her shoulders shook.

"This really bites, huh?" Bobby said, not sure what to do but keeping up the hug all the same. He had no idea how to handle someone that upset, but he knew he couldn't just … do nothing.

K nodded at that, and as soon as she could, she picked her head up and wiped her eyes with the palm of her hand. "I'm okay. Won't happen again."

"Hey, at the risk of getting cried on again… I don't mind," Bobby said. "You think the rest of us at the school have mastered Professor X's British 'carry on' attitude? Yeah, no. Plenty of tears all around. It's a thing. You're fine."

K let out a breath and tried to regain her composure as quickly as possible. "They're not really improving," she said. "And I'm running out of ideas."

"Yeah, I don't know either," Bobby admitted. "I mean, short of necromancy?" He gave her as winning a smile as he could manage. "That's totally a thing when we've had so much weirdness …"

K nodded at that, but honestly didn't want to tell anyone that didn't already know that Scott had been planning to propose. It seemed too private, particularly when even playing with the ring was new. It didn't feel like progress, not really, but she didn't want that to make him move backward from pity … he didn't need pity, and she sure as hell didn't either.

"So, uh." Bobby cleared his throat.

"I'm fine," K said, shaking her head lightly. "Really. Just … momentary insanity. If you want, you can take her, but if you don't anymore, that's … I get it."

"No, I can take care of her," Bobby promised. "I just…" He gave up trying to figure out what to say and just hugged her again. "Yeah. Maybe … maybe Kurt can come down for a while and we can give you a break from them being zombies. Would you, please? Come up with me?"

"I really don't want to leave them like this," K said, then drew herself up and nodded once. "I'll be okay, Bobby, really. Thank you." She popped up on her toes to kiss his cheek. "You can take her up if you like, or leave her here-"

"I said I'm taking her up," Bobby said. "But I'm also going to send Kurt down. Both of them are too much at once. I can't even take them for a few hours like this. I don't know how you're doing it full time."

"What we do for the people we love," K said with a little smile before she let out a breath and sat down on the bed as Bobby picked up Sam - this time with her Teddy bear.

As Bobby stepped out of the bedroom, he glanced around the boathouse and then snuggled Sam a little better. "Come on, Sweet Sammy, Maybe mom will get a chance to take a nap while we're playing with Hank."

Sam cooed up at him, perfectly content in the snuggle, though Bobby didn't see that Scott had stepped back into the kitchen, obviously having heard at least some of what had taken place.

Chapter Text

K had made a point to go and check on Logan once she'd taken a shower and cleaned up. She knew he'd still be sitting on the deck - or at least he'd still be looking out over the water. And she knew that he really needed to take some time and sleep better than he had been lately.

She knew she didn't want to touch anything with Scott yet. He was still in the kitchen, and he was still taking time alone as far as she could tell, so … yeah. That wasn't something she wanted to step into yet. Not until she knew the ring was put away. Then she'd find him and at least give him a hug. But right at that moment, the only thing she knew she could do was to get Logan off the deck. Get him to stop just blankly staring.

When she got over to Logan, she was pleasantly surprised, though. As she stood next to where he was seated and rested a hand on his shoulder, he let out a sigh and reached up to rest his hand at her hip, his arm around her back. And that … was actually an improvement. The relief at seeing him do something other than just be guided from point 'A' to point 'B' was enough that she really just wanted to extend the contact a little. "Sam's taken care of right now. Won't be back for a while. Bobby took her up to the kids," K said. "I don't suppose you've got the time to curl up for a few, do you?"

Logan didn't reply, save to get to his feet and wrap her up in a little kiss before the two of them headed off to curl up together. It was clear once Logan was half wrapped around her how tired he was when he let out a long breath after a short while and simply passed out with his nose in her hair.

And for as comfortable as she was, and for as good as it felt to just curl up with him, instead of falling asleep herself, after a long while when she heard Bobby come in with Sam, K gently slipped out from under Logan's arm and headed for the living room. Both Logan and Scott were sleeping all the time, but she was having a hard time of it herself, so she had spent more than a few nights on the couch racking her brain trying to find something she could do to help.

"I'll just put her in her crib," Bobby whispered. "She had a blast."

"You're a sweetheart, thank you, Bobby," K said, leaning in the door as she watched Bobby carry Sam over and lay her down. On his way back out, he paused for just a moment before he gave her a very quick hug.

"I'll be back tomorrow if Kurt doesn't beat me to it," he promised before he darted out.

K watched him go then grabbed a blanket to cover her legs as she drew herself up into a ball. She hadn't been expecting any company once Bobby left, since the past several, long weeks had been marked by too much quiet and a depressed sort of routine for the boys. So it was honestly a surprise when Scott came to the living room and wordlessly sat down next to her - then leaned over and put his head on her shoulder with a quiet sigh, one arm around her in a tired sort of hug.

K let out a breath and relaxed her shoulders a little, resting her hand on his wrist and leaning her head toward him in return before, after a long moment, she turned and kissed the top of his head. "Love you, Caramel Mocha," K said quietly.

For just a second, Scott tightened the hug, and then he nodded softly. "Love you, Mom," he whispered at the lower register of her hearing.

"This is what happens when I leave you to your own devices," a disturbingly familiar voice rang out, alerting them both that they weren't the only ones in the living room. Sinister was in the doorway, watching them both with a sort of gleam in his already-red eyes.

On hearing his voice, K simply closed her eyes, too tired and worn down to even argue with him over anything, and once she did close her eyes, even her expression relaxed as his psychic trigger kicked in for K not to fight him. Not that Scott was offering any of his usual resistance either, looking almost resigned at this point.

Sinister smirked when he saw it, though he put on a falsely sympathetic look as he approached until he was on the other side of Scott with a hand on his shoulder. "I can help," he said in an almost-gentle tone. "All of that hurt, all that pain. I can make it go away."

Scott didn't even look up at Sinister, and that had Sinister smiling to himself.

"Come along now, Scott. There's nothing left here for you."

While Sinister had been too anxious to get to Scott when he was so vulnerable, though, he totally missed the fact that Logan had woken up not long after K had gotten up and he was just inside the bedroom, looking out at the scene and frowning harder at every word Sinister had said. He didn't like any of it, especially when Scott seemed to just… go along with him as Sinister pulled him to his feet, clearly meaning to make good on the promise to leave with him.

Logan wasn't considering the risks as he simply made the rush toward Sinister. He didn't make a noise, and he didn't pop his claws until he already had his arm moving forward, so by the time anyone heard the metallic singing of his claws, it was too late to avoid them.

Sinister didn't even get the chance to turn as Logan stabbed him in the back of the head, just the tips of Logan's claws were sticking out of the front of Sinister's head and one of them right through the center of the red diamond. Before Logan could pull his arm back, Sinister's own body weight simply pulled him down and left Logan standing there once again with blood on his hands, more than a little conflicted on what to think about it.

K clearly hadn't been entirely with it, and a few moments after Sinister fell, her eyes fluttered open and she looked around herself- more than a little confused. When she saw Sinister- and where Logan and Scott were in relation to the body, her first concern was of course Logan and Scott. "Did he do anything …" she asked, looking between them.

Scott shook his head, though he had his arms tightly crossed as he sat back down, clearly upset all over again - this time with himself.

K let out a breath and looked between them. "Scott, I hate to ask you, but … could you go keep an eye on Sam? She should be asleep, so she shouldn't bother you…"

"Yeah," he said in a breath, almost automatically moving with a job to do - and giving K the chance to assess Logan for herself.

She watched Scott go and then got to her feet to make her way over to Logan. She took his hand in hers and waited for him to look at her, but when he did, she wasn't expecting, "We need to get rid of his body now," as the first full sentence he'd have to say.

"Get him out; I'll get what we need to burn him," K said, which seemed to have almost the same effect on Logan as it did on Scott - something to do.

In short order, the two of them had taken Sinister well away from the boathouse and had gotten a pyre started, though there wasn't anything to be said as they simply got the job done. And as soon as she was sure it was properly torched, she gently led Logan back inside and all but pushed him into the shower, even though he was clearly concerned about her too. "What happened to you back there?" he asked.

But K frowned and shoved him gently. "I don't want to talk about the dirty details about getting rid of that creep."

"Not what I meant."

It was clear she had no idea what he was talking about at that though. "Just … clean up, okay?" After Logan grudgingly got started, K met Scott while Logan was cleaning up but didn't have anything useful to add. "You're probably tired," she said.

"Yeah," he admitted softly, though he looked past her toward the door. "Did he heal?"

"No. He burned."


She shook her head, her focus on the ground. "I don't know how he … I should have tried to stop him."

"Me too," Scott said, letting his gaze drop as well.

"I'm sorry, Scott."

Scott let out a breath and then let his shoulders drop before he stepped forward and hugged her tightly. "He's gone. It's alright," he said, more to her than himself, since he had to admit he'd been ready to just… follow along and give up. And he didn't know what to do with that knowledge.

"Yeah," K replied in a flat tone.

Scott sighed and hugged her tighter with a whispered, "Love you, Mom."

"Love you too," she said, though she was trying again to keep herself in check. And she was not going to lose her composure on Scott. Instead, she hugged him back until he let go, and then she stepped back and sniffled just a bit. "I'm going to check on your Dad. Are you going to be okay until I can get him to relax enough to sleep for a little bit?"

Scott nodded. "I'll look out for Sam," he said. "Take care of Dad…" He let out a breath. "Yeah."

"I'm trying to," K said as she headed for Logan.

Scott nodded at that, still looking a little lost but making an honest effort - since Sinister's appearance had scared him. He had faced losing himself to Sinister's grasp again and hadn't fought it.

He was still hurting, but… he needed to focus so that didn't happen again.

Jan had come back from her honeymoon riding high. She was perfectly tickled and ready to party with her friends when she came back after so long being apart from them.

She and Hank had both needed the time off, if she was honest, after the stress of planning the wedding and everything. But now, that was over, and she was looking forward to hanging out with the Avengers.

So she definitely wasn't expecting the frankly lukewarm reception.

"So, um, did you guys all decide that you hated me while I was gone or… what's with the long faces?" Jan asked, gesturing around at the lackluster affection.

"Oh, hey, welcome back, Jan," Tony said with a smile her way and a light wave, though that hadn't changed the look on Steve's face. "Bad timing. Cap's been playing godfather over in Westchester-"

"And since when has that been bad timing?" Jan asked, both eyebrows high. "I thought that was prime Uncle Steve cuteness, not…" She waved a hand at Steve. "...whatever this is!"

"Jean died," Steve told her flatly. He couldn't think of a way to cushion it when he'd just come back from seeing one of his best friends so locked in self-loathing and guilt and watching K try to keep it together… Even watching Scott try to interact with the world for K's sake, though it was a development in the right direction, was painful when the kid looked so mechanical.

It took a long moment for Jan to even register what Steve had said, because it was so very much not what she had been expecting. "What?"

"The department ambushed the X-Men," Tony explained. "And she sort of… lost control of this power…" Tony shook his head. "To be honest, I'm not even sure what it was that took her over, but it wasn't pretty, Jan."

Jan had one hand over her mouth, still obviously in shock. "What… when did…?"

"Few weeks ago," Tony explained.

At that, Jan started to shake her head slowly before she turned on her heel, already crying on her way out the door before Hank caught her by the shoulders and pulled her into a hug as she fell apart all over him.

After all, she'd really liked Jean. And she was honestly looking forward to designing something in white for her and Scott. She could see the way the wind was blowing - anyone could - and… and…

And it just wasn't fair.

She cried for a good long time, completely buried in Hank's chest until she just didn't have any more tears to cry, and even after that, she could barely get her voice to work enough to whisper out, "I want to go see them," loud enough that he could hear it.

"Are you sure?" Hank asked almost gently, considering how clearly upset she was.

She nodded. "Yeah. You should've seen K with the whole Sinister-pregnancy… she's going to need someone to… just trust me, okay?"

Hank was pretty sure he didn't get it, but it was hard to argue, so before they had even really unpacked their bags, they were back on the road, headed to Westchester.

Of course, they didn't know that the Howlett family was in the boathouse, so they went to the front door instead - only to be greeted by Charles, who had a sleeping Sam in his lap when he came to the door.

Jan gave Charles a tight smile. "Hey. So. We just got back and we heard about… yeah…"

"I'm sorry to see you back with such horrible news," Charles said. "Everyone is in a bit of freefall still."

"Yeah, I bet," Jan said, biting her lip before she went ahead and hugged Charles, since he looked like he needed it. "Looks like you've got Sam, so where's K? I'm totally stealing her. I know she needs it."

"At the boathouse," Charles said. "You passed it on the way in."

Jan nodded and ran a hand over Sam's silky hair before she spun around again, clearly on a mission, and Hank gave Charles a tight smile before he followed her.

When they got to the boathouse, they didn't know that things had actually improved slightly - they just knew that watching K sitting with Logan while a pale Scott made coffee looked off.

"Um, hey, we're back," Jan called out

"How was the trip?" K asked, though she didn't really move from where she was seated.

"Honestly, it was great, and then Steve told us-" Jan cut herself off and then rushed over to wrap her arms around K. "How you holding up?"

"Oh," K said, honestly surprised that Jan had gone to her. When she spoke again, it was at a whisper. "I'm … I'm fine. You should be going for Scott."

"I never miss," Jan said with a smile.

"Yeah, but he's the one that lost his sweetheart," K said.

"Yeah, and that means everyone's been making sure he has attention, right?" She looked Scott's way, and he looked up from the coffee to nod slightly.

"Yeah," he said quietly, then looked her way. "Mom's hurt too."

"I'm fine, sweetheart," K said, though even her response sounded tired.

Scott shook his head, even as Jan sat up a little straighter and got a look in her eyes that said she'd made up her mind. "I'm stealing your mom," she announced. "We're going to go do something just for us." She turned to K. "What do you think? Mani-pedis? Or are you more a mud bath girl?"

"I am more the kind of girl that doesn't like to be touched by strangers," K said. "Especially when I'm severely underdressed."

"Easily fixed," Jan said with a wave. "We can do something else. Ice cream or a steak house or … whatever! It's my treat!"

"Is this your way of saying you're not going to leave until we do something?"

"Pretty much," Jan said, injecting as much cheer into her voice as possible.

K glanced at Logan and shook her head. "I don't think so. Rain check?"

"Mom," Scott said softly. "Go. I'll stay with Dad."

"You don't have to, though," K said.

"Sure I do," Scott said with a quiet shrug. "He's my dad."

"Go. Jan won't stop until you do, and I'm okay with ordering a couple pizzas and breaking out a beer or two," Hank said.

K still didn't look very convinced, but Logan gave her hand a squeeze and kissed her cheek, which seemed to be all the pushing she could take from literally everyone in the room before she slowly got to her feet and headed for the bedroom. "Let me drag a brush through my hair."

Jan nodded. "I'll hug your boys while you're gone," she sang out to K, already moving to give Logan a solid snuggle in K's absence.

"You got a pizza joint that delivers out here?" Hank asked Scott. "Tell me what you usually get and I'll order."

"I got it," Scott said in a breath, already moving for the phone.

K came out a few minutes later, her hair brushed and a different sweater on that more or less dwarfed her even more than the first. "Alright. I guess … off we go."

Jan smiled at that and dashed over to K to wrap her arm through her friend's. "First thing's first: food. I'm independently wealthy, so, like, for real. If you want lobster, I'll get it for you. I will get you a boat full of lobster fishermen."

"I'm really just tagging along here," K pointed out. "This is your show, troubles."

"No, no, this is a mission to spoil you," Jan insisted. "What's your favorite? Something that just… when you have that, it just feels right. Like… it's kind of ridiculous, but for me, it's tomato soup. That was my go-to when I wasn't feeling good, and now, whenever I have it, it's home and safety, you know? Everyone has something."

"I don't know, Jan," K said. "Let's just… figure it out once we get out."

"Alright," Jan said, making sure to keep her arm through K's as they headed out and left the boys behind, though once they were in the car together, she shook her head and gave K a more serious look. "Really, I'm sorry about what happened. I liked her too."

"Do you know all of what happened?" K asked.

"Well, Steve gave an overview…." Jan admitted. "I sort of kind of went right back out the door to find you," she added, her words coming out a little faster as she spoke. "I remembered how it was, you know, with Sam? And how miserable you were but trying not to be, and I don't think the guys get it, and sometimes, you just need someone around you who does…."

K nodded and looked down at her hands for a moment, playing with her fingers. "They have a good excuse. Scott's … well. He's bouncing back faster than Logan. And Logan … he killed her, Jan. He didn't have a choice. Tony was with him. Steve was with Scott … and Scott … Scott was ready to propose. He has the ring still."

Jan blinked. "Okay, I didn't know that part. Like… I suspected he'd ask; it was kind of obvious. But I didn't know about… the rest of it."

"We're all kind of a wreck," K said. "But those two? They definitely have a bigger claim on misery right now."

"It's not a competition, though," Jan said. "You're allowed to mourn too. cried and she wasn't even my almost-daughter-in-law!"

"I don't know what to do for Logan," K said.

"Yeah, me neither," Jan admitted. "He looks…."

"It's like he's slipping off."

"And that has to hurt you too," Jan said, reaching over to put a hand on K's. "You're scared of losing them. I know you are. You can admit it; I won't tell them."

"I don't care if they know," K said. "I don't think it makes a difference right now."

Jan nodded. "Hank won't let them do anything stupid," she said. "He's… protective. It's kinda cute."

"So, how long before you start talking about your own little tiny insects?" K asked, because she was pretty sure that was a good way to shift the conversation back to Jan.

"Soon, I think," Jan said with a smile.

"Hard to do when you're babysitting me, don't you think?"

Jan laughed and shook her head. "Oh, no, I'm not ready yet, actually. I think Hank might be? Which is kind of shocking? But, like, I missed the Avengers, and I missed my friends, and I missed you and - well, I was hoping to design Jean's wedding dress, but…"


Jan let her shoulders drop. "You look terrible, K," she said. "I'm just trying to help. Because you're a good friend, and I love you."

"Love you too, sunshine," K replied. "I just don't feel like doing anything outside of what I have to. So I doubt I'll be good company."

"That's alright. You've got a good excuse. And honestly, I'm still processing it myself, so I can't even really blame you," Jan said. "I might not be all that talkative after it hits? I mean, I babble when I'm processing. Sorry in advance!"

"It's actually a nice switch from all the silence," K said softly.

"I'm sure," Jan said, biting her lip. "I'm sure they're both... and I'm sure you have probably lost it a few times. I mean… that's so hard."

"Believe it or not, Bobby's been watching out for me," K said.

"Bobby? Really?"

"Yeah, he's been worried, and he's been super sweet. He's a hell of a kid."

"He really is," Jan said with a widening smile. "You know, after that crap with Creed? He was so sweet all cooped up and recovering - and between him and Clint on painkillers, I honestly don't even know who was funnier."

"Tough call," K said. "Both are pretty wicked with the puns."

"And it's worse when drugs get involved," Jan giggled.

"Better, you mean."

"Oh, absolutely," Jan said. "Clint had a whole cadre of clown jokes. And Bobby kept retelling them but changing the punch line… It was a riot!"

"They were funnier when he was done, weren't they?" K asked. "And Clint was confused?"

"Oh, definitely. Especially because he was too addled to know how bad the break had been, so he didn't get why Natasha was suddenly worried about him and paying him attention. No idea she was worried for his almost-career-ending injury."

"How's that working out, by the way?" K asked, still grateful for the focus being elsewhere. "Not just his recovery but Natasha. Has she finally made a move?"

"No, but I think she surprised herself, if you ask me," Jan said. "Didn't realize she was so invested. At least, she was doing a lot of soul-searching when I left. Things might have changed while I was honeymooning, but…" She leaned forward slightly as they pulled to a red light. "If you ask me, he should make her work for it, after she dropped him so hard."

K shook her head. "It wasn't exactly like that, though."

"Um, you and I saw the same train wreck, right?"

"Yeah, but what we didn't know at the time, but I've found out since, is that the Room did a lot of tampering with her memories. Erasing anything good that had happened on that mission. She honestly didn't remember the connection until Charles got in her head and started poking around."

Jan bit her lip. "Okay, that's… definitely a good reason. I mean, it's not. But - you know what I mean."

"I know," K said, nodding. "But I married one with major memory issues. I've seen when it's really not their fault, and it is different."

"Yeah. But still, I like Clint, and he was so hurt, y'know?"

"And she needs to come clean to him," K said. "He was hurt, and that's rotten, but … I don't know. Don't listen to me. I don't know all of what I'm talking about."

"No, no, you're making more sense of their stupid weirdness than I've heard in months!" Jan said, her eyes wide.

"That's not very good to hear."

"Just a testament to how stupid people can be when they fall in love. I mean, Hank and I danced around each other for ages, and now he's got this look like he's ready for the next step already and I'm over here wondering when he got to be the fast mover?" Jan threw her hands up to illustrate just how ridiculous it all was.

"You know, you're probably too young to have seen it very often, but … usually, when a guy steps up to the plate to get married, they're saying they want all of it then. It's not the stepped mindset most modern women go through."

"Yeah, well, I'm not complaining; I'm just surprised, you know?" Jan said, blushing high on her cheeks.

"Even if they're not jerks, most men haven't evolved past that expectation," K said. "Marry a girl. Have babies. Like a checklist. That's part of why so many of them are afraid to get married. They think they have to stop being them."

"Well, you would know, wouldn't you?" Jan teased.

"Why do you think I said 'no' to so many before?" K asked. "If I wasn't sure, I wasn't going to even entertain the possibility."

"Makes sense. Though now I'm kind of curious about your 'crummy ex' stories…"

"You really don't want to know," K said as she leaned back and pulled her feet up to sit cross-legged in her seat.

"One time, I went on a blind date with a guy who turned out to be a Hydra recruit," Jan said, trying to bait K into stories.

"Oh come on," K laughed. "You did not."

"His name was Bob," Jan said in a conspiratorial whisper.

K finally smirked at that. "Was that the worst one for you, sunshine?"

"Well, once I found out about the evil organization, I high-tailed it, so no, no terrible, horrible, awful stories of 'oh no, Red Skull!' but I came close!" Jan said dramatically.

K shook her head. "You so didn't," she laughed. "By comparison … one of the guys I turned down a proposal from turned me over to Department H. For cash."

"Um. What."

"Pre-adamantium, by the way."

"So, I know the Avengers have a code against murder and all, but…"

"Yeah," she said, nodding. "Real nice guy. Dodged a bullet with that one and caught another one in my teeth."

Jan shook her head. "Well, the one you've got is way better. By, like, a million miles."

"Doesn't take much compared to that guy," K said dryly, then let out a sigh. "So, what are we doing?"

"Well, you never said what your favorite food was, so I'm taking us to an excellent steakhouse because, well, I may have cheated and asked Hank for cribnotes, and he said your mutation means you need more protein than normal, so…"

"I haven't been injured, Jan," K pointed out.

"But you look like you're withering away," Jan shot back.

"It doesn't … really matter. That'll fix itself. Eventually."

"Yeah. With food."

"Sure, Jan," K said.

Jan let out a sigh. "Seriously, K. I don't want you to waste away."

"Me either."

"Well good. I'd be even more worried otherwise."

"I just want them to be alright," K said.

"Me too. All of you."

Chapter Text

And while Jan was trying to get K to give herself a break and take a minute to take care of herself, Scott was watching Logan. He hadn't noticed it before because he'd been so caught up, but… his dad was… off. And not just like K was off, which Scott had finally noticed after what had happened with Bobby and then even more glaringly with Sinister. But with Logan, it was… Scott wasn't sure what it was, and he wasn't sure how to address it.

But he did at least sit down next to Logan after the pizza arrived and racked his brain for something to say before, for some reason, his brain settled on, "Got the works." Which wasn't helpful but… he didn't know what to do, and talking was still much harder than he remembered it ever being.

When Logan just sort of tipped his head, though, Scott held his breath and then dished out a couple slices for each of them on paper plates. Logan didn't touch his, and for a moment, Scott wondered when he remembered Logan bothering to eat or drink anything more than beer or coffee. He clearly hadn't seen how low his Dad was, but Scott figured if he at least had something set aside…

Yeah, Scott definitely didn't know what to do.

And he definitely didn't think he could come up with something to say when they had a weird audience of Hank Pym, who, for his part, obviously didn't know what to do with the two of them but knew enough not to break his promise to the girls not to leave them alone.

Which left all three of them in a sort of awkward limbo for the time being until the girls returned.

Charles was honestly relieved to see that the little Howlett family was starting to come out of their haze, even if Logan hadn't quite taken the same steps the other two had. It was obvious having an adult to talk to in Jan was doing K some good, even if Logan was making attempts to at least be close to her. Scott was making an honest effort to reckon with his new reality, but Charles was sure it would also help Scott to have the kind of purpose he'd had before with the team.

So, he sent word ahead to Scott to let him know that a young man would be coming to the school later on that day - and that Charles would be sending him Scott's way.

Why? Scott asked, sounding honestly surprised when he heard it. We're not really… this isn't the image you want to use for… he'll think this place is horrible.

I just want to be sure someone catches him - and warns us when he arrives.

Scott paused and then projected back, Alright. Just… let me… change. And shave.

Charles left it at that, though that meant that Scott was left trying to focus a little more, sitting outside and trying to force his mind back to the team and everything that he had been doing with Charles. It seemed so far away, almost a different life. He knew he'd slipped a lot in training and control, but he wasn't yet to the point that he cared to get it back. Not yet, anyway.

Almost as an afterthought, he decided to pass the time waiting for the newcomer by actually using his powers, just… trying to remember what it felt like to be Cyclops. Nothing fancy, just throwing rocks and trying to hit them with a fine beam. A few weeks without practice made smaller beams harder, though.

It was actually a good way to spend time. There was a good rhythm to it, and he was concentrating enough that he almost missed it when he heard someone coming toward the boathouse.

He put his glasses back down, and let out a breath, but couldn't quite manage a smile toward the dark-haired young man making his approach. He was wearing a nice suit - tailored, probably - and sunglasses blocked part of his face as he came closer, hands in his pockets and smirking already.

"You must be Jamie," Scott said.

"Sorry, no," the young man said as he came to a stop near Scott and gave him an open once over. "I'm looking for someone that I understand is here."

Scott frowned and unconsciously straightened up. "I'm sorry - who are you?" he asked guardedly.

"Of course," he said as he took his sunglasses off and tucked them into his front pocket then offered Scott his hand. "I'm Daken. I'm looking for my father."

At first, Scott wasn't sure what to make of that kind of an introduction - but then when he got a good look at Daken with his sunglasses off, Scott almost did a double-take as he recognized… Logan. "...what?"

"Do you know where I might find Logan?"

"Yeah, I…" Scott swallowed, still reeling. Logan had never mentioned… "Just - hold on." He held one hand up and then turned to go back inside the boathouse, feeling very much like the rug had been yanked out from under him.

Logan and K were on the couch, half leaning on each other. K was on the verge of falling asleep and Sam was already sleeping on her shoulder when Scott walked in.

"Hey. Ah. Dad?" Scott looked at his family, all curled up, and felt like he was about to destroy it. "There's… your son says … there's a guy that looks like you? Outside?" He gestured to the door.

"My what?" Logan said, frowning hard.

Scott gestured vaguely outside again. "That's what he said."

Logan shook his head as K leaned away to let him up. "I don't ... " he was still frowning as he headed for the door, though before he could open it, the newcomer stepped inside and Logan just stared.

"Hi, pop," Daken said with a smirk. "It's a little overdue."

"Who the hell are you?" Logan asked - for the first time sounding more like himself, but not entirely there.

"Yes, that's right. You left before I was born, I'm sure whatever it was was pressing," Daken said.

When Logan was still looking at Daken with no recognition, Scott muttered a very quiet, "Dad?" that he thought just his parents would hear.

Daken gestured to Scott. "He gets it." Again, Daken gave Scott a once over and almost wrinkled his nose. "But he's not yours."

"Like hell he's not," Logan shot back. "Where the hell did you come from?"

Daken looked as if his patience was being tested and he clenched his jaw before he tipped his chin down and spoke - even and flat. "Jasumin taki."

Which was enough to have Logan start to very quietly shake his head. "That's not possible." His words came out almost in a whisper, though he couldn't quite tear his gaze away from Daken.

When it was clear Logan was in sheer shock, Scott cleared his throat. "How'd you find us?" he asked, trying to direct the conversation. To do something.

Daken turned toward Scott. "It wasn't very hard to do the homework when he's been running around with superheroes. It was simply a matter of finding where they all were supposed to be, then go down the list."

"Right. Yeah. It's just… the timing is…"

Daken tipped his head, the mannerism a little too close to Logan's. "What's wrong with my timing?"

Scott looked toward Logan and then K and Sam. "Family tragedy," he said tightly.

"I didn't realize," Daken said, letting his smirk fall, though it clearly looked forced. "I can come back another day." He glanced over to K and Sam. "I'd like to get to know my sister."

Any semblance of an expression on Scott's face fell until he was just blank. "Yeah," he said in a breath.

Logan seemed to get his bearings at that though, and he took a step forward and gestured to the door. "A word. Outside."

Daken tipped his head and led the way, leaving Scott and K positively thunderstruck behind them. When Scott turned to look at K, she held up one finger, her eyes narrowed making it clear she was absolutely eavesdropping. It wasn't a good sign that the first decent sign of life from her was an obvious and quickly smoldering anger.

Outside, Logan had already chosen his route - and it was a familiar one to him to simply run with defensive and angry. "I don't know where you got your information, and I don't know what the hell kind of game you're playin' but I'm not buyin' whatever you're sellin'," Logan said in a low, clear growl.

"I'm not surprised at the reaction," Daken said, keeping his cool composure. "But I assure you, I am who I say I am. My mother was Itsu - she was murdered and I was born alone in that village." His tone finally had a little bite to it as he held Logan's glare and returned it with one of his own. "But if you want proof, I'm more than happy to give some blood for your friends to run through whatever tests you like. I'm not lying."

Logan narrowed his eyes further at that. "Havin' trouble believing that."

"I thought you could tell that sort of thing," Daken said, smirking down at him.

"Only when someone's got a damn scent. You don't. Makes me a little suspicious. Especially when you come in tryin' to screw with my family."

Daken slipped off his jacket and rolled one sleeve up before he tightened his fist and popped the claws on one hand. "If you still need a blood test, just tell me who to talk to."

Logan's angry glare slipped and he said the first scientific name that came to his mind. "Reed Richards."

"Excuse me?" Daken said, losing his controlled … everything for a moment.

"If there's gonna be a test, I want it done by the one guy that won't have a prayer of screwin' it up." He looked up to meet Daken's gaze, more in control himself now. "So - Reed Richards."

Daken blinked at him a few times, clearly at a loss for words. "You're being obstinate."

"No, I want accuracy," Logan said. "I know a guy that can arrange it. How do you want to get in touch when it's set up?"

Again, Daken looked off guard and he swallowed hard before he found his wallet and handed him a business card. "You can reach me there."

Logan watched him go, not willing to turn his back on the guy, but once he was out of sight, Logan let out a breath and sank into a chair outside trying to figure out if it was even a remote possibility. He didn't know how long he sat there, running it over in his mind, either.

But, finally, Logan got it in gear and stepped back into the boathouse only to look up at both K and Scott. "I'm not believing it until I get a test done," Logan said.

"Okay," Scott said quietly, though he was visibly separate from the other three.

"That's great, but what the hell?" K said with an edge to her tone. "Not once did you mention anything like this."

"I was married once before, right after the war," Logan said. "I told you that. She was pregnant when she was killed and by the time I got done taking down the people that were responsible, the rest of the village kicked me out."

"Uh huh. So … how the hell do you plan to get Reed Richards to lower himself to a blood test?" K said.

"No idea," Logan said. "Figured you might be able to get Stark to arrange it."

"Fine," K said before she turned to Scott. "When this stupid thing happens, would you watch Sam for me? I want both hands free in case I need them."

Scott blinked and then nodded. "Yeah, I can do that."

K spared a glance at Logan as she walked over to Scott and gently handed Sam over so she could make a phone call and start the process, though when he picked Sam up, K was sure to kiss his cheek.

"I got her," Scott promised.

"I know you do," K said. "You are the best, after all."

Scott nodded, looking toward Logan, suddenly apprehensive about all of it. "Don't… start anything with Stark, okay? Not … right now. With all this in the air."

"Not even a concern," K said. "I'm just using his contact list."

"Yeah," Scott said, then let out a breath and gave K a one-armed hug. "I've got your back; you know that?"

"I do," K agreed. "I won't be more than a few minutes and I'm more likely to threaten than flirt." She turned and headed into the next room, leaving Scott with Logan and Sam. Neither of them said a word until K returned several minutes later. "Two days. You'll have to go to the tower." She held out the phone. "Leave a message for this guy then you can get to talking to us and explain yourself."

By that time, Sam was awake in Scott's arms, too, and she was watching her parents with her nose scrunched up, since she'd never seen them mad at each other, not really. But there was no mistaking K's tone - or the fact that Scott was keeping Sam unconsciously on K's side of the room.

Logan nodded and made the call - though he didn't leave the room, and he left his instructions for Daken to follow. The call sounded entirely businesslike and when it was over he looked between them and seemed to wilt. "I don't believe him."

"Was any of that in your file?" K asked, not dropping her gaze from Logan.

"No," Scott answered for him. "There wasn't a thing there about anything before they found him. Not really. Not if it wasn't military."

"Then where could he have gotten that information?" she asked. "And let's go ahead and pretend like he doesn't look like a Japanese version of you."

"Which he does," Scott said.

Logan let out a breath. "Itsu was dead and still carrying our baby when I saw her. There was no sign of life." He shook his head. "I wouldn't have left him behind if there was a chance…"

"Then someone else must have come after you - or before you got there. Not like it would be the first time we've heard of someone taking an interest in mutant kids," Scott said slowly. He still didn't know what to make of the whole situation, but … the look on Logan's face told him that much was true. And his own experience told him Logan wouldn't leave someone behind. Especially someone that defenseless.

K turned to Scott at that, frowning at the reason he was pulling together. "I kind of hate that you make sense right now."

"I tried being wrong and ended up being right anyhow," he said with the ghost of a smirk.

"Then I hope you're right this time too," K said.

"Dad wouldn't leave someone," Scott said, looking toward Logan and almost asking him to agree with his expression alone - because he really could use the reminder when he was almost trying to convince himself and fighting the deep panic that always came from getting disappointed again with another family that backed out or canceled trips to meet him or whatever else.

"Not if there was any chance," Logan agreed.

"Yeah, I know," K said, frowning still at all of it.

"So… we wait, and in the meantime, we find out who was in the area at that time and see what we're dealing with," Scott reasoned.

K crossed her arms at that though. "Why didn't he have a scent?"

"No idea," Logan said. "Itsu wasn't a mutant."

"I don't like it," she said.

"Me either," Logan agreed.

K's shoulders relaxed slightly at that. "Do you think he's dangerous?"

"Maybe," Logan admitted.

"If this comes back like we're all pretty sure it will, I'm going to want a word with him. Alone."

Logan stopped at that, his eyes narrowed, but he wasn't about to try and stop her when he knew she was so angry anyhow. "We'll talk about it when we find out for sure."

"Either way, I don't like either of you going anywhere with him without backup," Scott put in. "If someone did take him, we don't know why. And all things considered, I'm not going to take any risks with either of you."

"It's not a risk, Scott," K said. "I'm not going anywhere."

"You can't scent him, and I don't like it," Scott said, turning her way. "So yeah, I'm going to be close. Sorry, but turnabout is fair play. You have my back; let me have yours."

K took a few steps toward him and then kissed his and Sam's cheeks. "You wouldn't listen to a no at this point anyhow."

"Love you too, Mom."

K turned as the breeze picked up outside and made the light curtains at the windows by the deck billow out. She watched them flutter in the wind for a moment before she turned back to Logan and closed the short distance for the two of them to take a moment to just watch each other before K leaned forward and gave him a little kiss that had Logan clearly relaxing a moment before he wrapped her up in a tight hug and made it clear he had no intentions of letting go any time soon.

Chapter Text

For Scott, it sort of felt like everything was happening at once. He still didn't think he'd wrapped his head around losing Jean, let alone what had happened with Sinister. And then this guy had just shown up claiming to be Logan's…son. Charles wanted Scott back on the team… Alex said Corsair had contacted him to ask if he could drop by for a visit…

If Scott was honest with himself, he was fighting back an instinct to run.

He didn't like to run away from a fight, but there had been times before that it had all seemed like too much. He'd run away from the Home for Foundlings a few times, for example. Usually when a potential family would decide not to adopt him.

This … felt kind of similar. He knew K wasn't doing well, and he knew that things between all the members of his family were strained at best. This latest wrinkle felt like one spinning plate too many, and Scott was waiting for the inevitable crash.

And then what? Stick with Logan, who had been the first person since he was a kid who actually cared about him? Or K and Sam, who needed him and loved him unconditionally too? Or maybe he should stick with the professor and the team after all he'd done to build them up and push them forward? Or try to reconnect with Corsair?

Whatever the case, he felt like he was going to let someone down. And he was dreading it, almost holding his breath. Something was going to break; he just knew it. And it was going to be his job - like always - to pick up the pieces.

His family met up with Clint at the base of the tower so they could test out this person's claims on Logan. It was a bigger deal than they'd thought initially for Reed Richards to come to 'play' a little, and as a result, Reed's brother-in-law had joined him and was annoying half of the Avengers just on principal.

"Sorry," K said as she gave Clint a little squeeze. "No Sam today. She's taken over the school and has decided that she loves Bobby and Hank the best for snuggles.." She turned to look at Scott. "When her big brother is busy, of course."

"Good to know there's a ranking system in place," Clint teased.

"Well, you haven't been singing to her lately; it's your own fault if she looks to the younger crowd."

"Hey, I've been right here this whole time. Playdates are open season. Just tell me when," Clint said, spreading his arms wide.

"I'm not exactly real social right now," K said. "And the only reason the boys have done as well with her as they have is because they've kind of been pushing."

"Good to know." Clint grinned at her and put an arm around her shoulders. "I'd have pushed more, but Jan was on a mission, and no one wants to get in between Jan and a mission."

"Might have to make her mission harder next time, then," K said.

"Nah, I'll just tag along next time and babysit for you both while you're out doing girls' things," Clint said with a shrug. "I'll win Sammy back in no time."

"I'll bet you will," K agreed, though it wasn't exactly her chipper self, clearly. Especially when she spotted Daken not too far off. He hadn't exactly given her a distinct reason to dislike him yet, other than the whole drop in out of nowhere thing, but any time she got near him, she found herself irritated.

"You want to punch him, huh?" Clint said quietly, tipping his head toward her hands, which were balled up in fists.

"I don't know yet," K admitted. "It'd be nice if there was a reason to be so … him out of the blue."

"Want to steal our practice room and interrogate? I'll be your backup," Clint said, half joking - but only half.

"I'll have a word with him once they get their samples," K said. "I know it'll take a little time, even if I'm sure Mr. Stretchy-Brain has quicker means than most."

"Just let me know," Clint said. "I don't have to have enhanced senses to know all three of you are on edge."

"Let's just see what the story is. I'm more interested in the why on a few issues than I am in the who at this point. As much as I don't like it, It's kind of hard to deny that he's Logan's, don't you think?"

"Yeah, it's pretty clear," Clint agreed. "Kinda something that should be covered before you get married, right?"

K let out a sigh - particularly when Scott made his way toward the two of them as they quietly chatted. "Technically, he did," she said. "It was a tragic story that ended in his first wife and unborn child dead, so Logan really was surprised to hear who he says he is."

"It's always some tragic story," Clint agreed, then tipped his head toward Scott without looking away from K. "How's… I mean…"

"He's shaken. Of course. He's not over Jean by any stretch, and we had a little snafu with Sinister that shook him more…."

"Wait, when did that happen?"

"Before this guy showed up," K said, vaguely gesturing to the group. "We're pretty sure Logan killed him, but I don't know what happened."

"Holy crap, K," Clint said, his eyes wide.

She wrapped her arms around herself and started walking, following the group with Steve to head for the elevators. "It doesn't really matter at this point."

Clint paused and then reached out to grab her arm and yank her into a tight hug. "Hey, listen, you say the word and I will put arrows in the eye sockets of whoever you tell me to. You've been through it."

"That has to be one of the sweetest things I've heard in a while," K replied. "But I can't think of anyone, so … you're free to keep chasing the redhead until I find you a target. How's that going, by the way?"

Clint paused, blushed, and shrugged. "I dunno. Sometimes, it seems like she likes me."

"You mean sometimes she seems like she likes you like a normal person or sometimes it seems like she likes you like a Russian?" K asked, which got an honest snerk out of Steve, cluing them in that he'd been eavesdropping.

"Um… yes?" Clint shrugged. "Like I said: I dunno. I'm trying not to get taken in again."

"GIve her vodka."

Clint turned toward her fully. "K, I don't know what kind of person you think I am-"

"Get her wasted. She'll drop her filter." She looked up at him. "It's simple."

"-I don't take advantage-"

"I'm not telling you to take advantage. I'm telling you to get her talking."

Clint waved a hand at her. "Yeah, no. I'm not comfortable with that."

"Fine. I'll get her wasted."

"If you want a girls night, be my guest."

K shook her head. "She can't keep up with me on liquor."

"The way I understand your mutation? No one can. Unless it's, like, Thor or some other godlike entity."

"That's an idea …" K shook her head. "What could possibly go wrong with that?"

"You'll end up an honorary Asgardian. Goddess of all things short."

"That actually would be a wild realm to be in charge of short things …"

"Ranging from you to Sammy and everything in between…"

"Mmmhmm. Kids and midgets," she said. "Nothing will ever get done again."

The rest of the elevator was mostly quiet as they headed up, and once the doors opened, Steve led the way for Logan and Daken to head over to where Reed was waiting for them - bright and optimistic looking as ever. What neither of them expected was that he didn't need blood and that the collection process was pretty quick.

"This should only take a few hours," Reed promised. "I have everything I need in Stark's lab, so were you leaving or planning to wait?"

"Wait," Logan said at the same time Daken said "Leave." The two of them shared a look, and Logan tipped his head. "C'mon, Scotty. I'm sure we can find something to do."

Scott looked surprised to be addressed and then nodded once. "Yeah, sure," he said.

Before K could even think about saying anything, though, she was surprised when Daken turned her way and seemed to have a major shift in his body language. "If it's alright," he said, "I'd like to spend a little time chatting with you." He looked over to Clint and gave him a tightly polite smile. "If you're not too busy, of course."

That low-level irritation was still fairly strong for K, but seeing as he hadn't actually done anything, and the fact that she was increasingly more sure that he was Logan's son, there wasn't any reason to say no. "Alright," she said finally.

Daken smirked to himself. "How would you feel about going to get a cup of coffee while Dr. Richards does his work?"

"Full offense, but you don't get to go anywhere with anyone alone," Clint said before K could respond. "You leave this tower, it's with at least two people."

"I'm sure Tony has coffee here," K said, sure to give Clint's arm a squeeze. "If you want privacy, we can find a quiet corner."

"That's fine," Daken said, turning his cocky smirk to Clint. "I just thought you might want some distance and fresh air."

"I'll make do," K replied then tipped her head for Daken to follow her to get some coffee. Conveniently enough, Tony was in the kitchen when they came in, doing exactly the same thing. "Do you have a spot that Daken and I could have a quiet word? Away from the crowd?" she asked Tony.

Tony glanced up at the two of them but paused at the expression on her face. "Sure. Got a board room you can use. Glass walls, no curtains, though, so no one will overhear if it's private you're looking for."

K poured herself a mug after she slid a full one toward Daken. "That would be perfect, I think. Lead the way, please."

With a smirk that was obviously meant to try and cheer her up, Tony offered K his arm, and the two of them, with Daken trailing behind them, headed out - not that it would be totally private when Clint decided to sit outside and blatantly eavesdrop. And Tony wasn't even trying to stop him despite knowing Clint could read lips.

When Tony closed the door behind him, he turned to Clint. "I want to know what the hell he's up to."

"You and me both," Clint said.

Tony looked over his shoulder as K and Daken sat down. "You want me to send someone with coffee for you too? This might take a while."

"Please and thank you," Clint said with his gaze on the conversation in the other room.

It started out simply enough. K clearly had her guard up as they sat down to talk. For some reason, considering how little he'd bothered to even acknowledge her on their first meeting, K was surprised when Daken chose to take the seat nearest her as he sat down with his coffee, and he made what at least appeared to be an honest effort to talk to her.

"I know this must be difficult, but I won't pretend to know how hard it is," he said, unbuttoning his vest as he settled into the chair. "So perhaps it would make things easier if I told you about myself first?"

"That would save me some digging," K said frankly. "Not that I won't anyhow."

Daken smiled at that. "An honest response, I'm sure," he said before he started to tell her about himself and where he was from. He outlined how he'd grown up, and how he had no idea he was adopted until he found out about his mutation - and properly described how shocking it was for him when he discovered his claws. All of which K simply sat back and listened to, holding his gaze as he spoke and clearly looking for any sign of deception, though the longer he talked, the more her eyes slowly narrowed, even if her shoulders were relaxing.

Tony had been smart enough to start up a pot of coffee in the meeting room, and when Daken saw that she was low, he was quick to get to his feet and take her mug over for a refill. K watched him the whole time and even did a preliminary sniff of the liquid before she took a drink as Daken sat down again.

When he asked her about her past or relatable experiences, she only shook her head. "I don't have anything so interesting," K said. "Just the typical boring home life. Nothing earth shattering or dramatic."

Daken smirked at that but nodded once, slowly. "I hate to ask, but did he … did he ever mention my mother?"

"He did," K said. "And your story doesn't line up with his very well. No offense - since I know you aren't lying - but one of you must have been lied to." She took a sip of her coffee. "Or both of you were."

"It took me years to discover who he was," Daken said. "And from his past, I have to wonder …"

K raised an eyebrow as Daken moved his chair a little closer. "Wonder …"

"He was a soldier and a spy for so long," Daken said. "I simply wonder if I have any other siblings in the world."

"You do. An adoptive brother named Scott and a half sister named Sam," K said without missing a beat.

Daken faltered for just an instant, but recovered quickly. "I find it hard to believe that there's no possibility of more."

"Could be," K conceded, and her snarky tone began to slip a little as she thought not only of the trouble Logan had gotten to during wartime and spying … but also whatever might have happened when his memory had been obliterated as well. "But if there are, he didn't know about them any more than he knew about you."

Daken nodded at that and drew in a breath before he gently rested his hand on her wrist. "Be that as it may, this has to be horribly difficult for you. You don't deserve all the trouble or the drama that goes with all of this."

As Daken spoke, K's gaze dropped to her hands, and the truth of what he was saying felt a little too heavy, a little too close to home. As he kept talking, the words started to blur together into white noise, but the crushing sensation in her chest seemed to intensify slowly. He wasn't saying anything too far out from the truth, though the more he talked, the more it sounded like the pure truth of the matter.

"At any rate," Daken was saying as he leaned back in his chair and took his hand from her wrist. "It's clear you're a wonderful mother to your little girl. That really was the only thing that I missed out on, you know."

K frowned at that and tipped her head lightly, just now seeming to see the coffee cup that was no longer steaming hot. "If that's true, then why are you here now?"

Again, Daken's response was to let out a disbelieving sound from the back of his throat … and move a little closer again. "Perhaps it's to make sure that my little sister has the best possible childhood. And only those with the best intentions around her."

K was just digesting that when the door opened a little too loudly and Clint walked in. "Hey, sorry," he said carelessly. "Something came up, and I need to steal K." He paused and looked around. "Open a window or something, would you?" he directed Daken's way as he put a hand on K's shoulder.

K didn't fight with him on it, and before she could totally process what was going on, Clint had her halfway down the hall. Still, he waited until they were completely out of range of Daken's hearing, already in the elevator, before he dipped his head to catch her gaze. "Is he a telepath?"

"What? No," K said, shaking her head. "Why would you say that?"

"Because every time he touched you, you'd shrink in on yourself and look sadder and smaller," Clint said. "I don't know what he was doing, but he was doing something."

"He was just talking," K said.

"No, he was doing more than that," Clint insisted. "I could feel it as soon as I walked in the room. felt depressed just being in the same space, and I've actually been feeling pretty good in life, y'know?" He shook his head. "So, we're going to go see Cap. And probably Tony. Because something was up in that room."

K didn't argue with him, not when she had no means to argue either way. And not when she was, in fact, feeling like complete human trash anyhow. And when they met up with Steve and Tony - who were in fact both acting like mother hens over everyone that had come to visit - K didn't even try to slow Clint down.

"You okay?" Cap asked when he saw the way both of them were looking. "What happened?"

"I need you to tell me," Clint said. "Or call Professor Xavier or something. I don't know what he did, but he filled that room with - I don't know. Something. I walked in and felt like … well, like when my mom died, if I'm honest. Whatever it was, it was cranked up and emotionally devastating."

Tony stared at Clint for a moment. "Is he still in there?" he asked as he pulled up a screen and started a lockdown procedure for that one particular room.

"I wasn't as worried about keeping him in there as I was about getting her out," Clint said, looking toward K. He hadn't let go of her, still obviously worried about her, and when she still looked small, he leaned over to kiss her cheek and give her a quiet smile.

"Can you take her somewhere safe?" Tony asked. "Maybe get the other two and lock 'em in the room with her?"

"On it," Clint promised, already on his way out.

"Do you have a plan in place for this?" K asked Clint. "Or is this standard procedure for 'sad girl'?"

Clint paused and then shrugged. "I have a place I like to go," he said. "So… no, it's not standard procedure. Nat hasn't even found it yet. So… let's get your boys and see how well they do with heights, huh?"

"Whatever you say, Hawkeye," K said.

And meanwhile, even though Tony had always made it a habit to lock down the most important places in the tower when unknowns were in the mix, he took it a step further and started locking down other areas that weren't so sensitive. Just to exclude the guy from anywhere he really didn't need to be - and to trap him if he ended up already somewhere he shouldn't be.

"We really need to just … drag them all here from that school and make them stay," he said to Steve. "It'd probably be safer. Buncha teenagers and … ridiculously at risk adults."

"That would only make them leave, Tony," Steve said. "Especially Logan and his family. You can't force them into anything, not with their background."

"Then we make it look like the most attractive option," Tony said. "He's your friend - get him to join up."

"I'll make him an offer," Steve said.

"Good," Tony said stiffly, looking over the readouts to see where their guest was. "I'm going to get a sample of that air, see if there's anything to it."

"That will help prove Clint's point. I don't think they'd listen to just him when it's emotional danger," Steve admitted.

"I just don't understand how he could even do that much," Tony said. "Have we ever even heard of a mutant that twists your emotions up - not using old fashioned methods?"

"Tony, how many mutants did you know before we met Scott?" Steve said with a quiet smirk that he couldn't quite help.

"I'm thinking out loud," Tony grumbled. "Shut up if you're not going to help."

"Just keeping you realistic."

"Yeah, that's what you're doing," Tony said, shaking his head. "Tell Reed to take his time. I want this guy isolated before the results come in."

"On it," Steve promised.

Tony was quick to get his sample, though he wasn't fool-hardy enough to go in without a few precautions, including using the suit with the closed breathing system. If Clint wasn't exaggerating, Tony did not want to get into that kind of a head space. At all. He took an actual air sample, but while he was in the suit anyhow, he started a preliminary scan of things and was quick to report to Steve on his confusing findings. "No drugs or chemicals in the air that are traceable, so if it was something, it has to be from him."

"Well, it's got to be something. I doubt Hawkeye would lie about this - and especially not in personal terms, considering."

"Yeah," Tony agreed. "At any rate, this guy is dangerous if he can do that. And we don't even know what he wants."

Scott and Logan were in one of the quieter areas of the tower, and neither of them really had much that they could say. Logan was waiting to hear what Reed had to say before he could even begin to come up with a plan on handling it, and Scott was so deeply lost in his thoughts that he really didn't have a good way to even start a conversation …

So neither of them was entirely prepared when Daken found them and strolled into the room with his hands in his pockets. "Your mother was looking for a new coffee companion, I think," Daken said, addressing Scott.

"Why, because you walked out on her?" Scott said, narrowing his eyes behind his glasses.

"Of course not," Daken replied. "She stepped out."

Scott frowned at that and then glanced toward Logan in a silent question, since he didn't trust Daken, but he didn't want K to be in trouble either.

"Might be a good idea to find her," Logan said.

"Right," Scott said, letting out his breath before he slipped out to go find K, not at all trusting the situation but unable to put his finger on what, exactly, was going on.

But once he caught up to Clint and K - who were headed his way anyway - he couldn't help but frown when he saw how K looked, not to mention the deeply settled frown on Clint's face.

"Where's your dad?" Clint asked.

"Talking to Daken."

"Yeah, no, that can't happen," Clint said, looking more serious still.


"He's got some kind of manipulative powers. I don't know what. But it sucks the happiness out or something," Clint tried to explain, then shook his head and instead reached out to spin Scott at the shoulder. "I'll explain later. Point is, go get your dad. Now. And whatever you feel when you walk in the room, it's that idiot, not you."

Scott didn't know how to react to that except to rush back the way he'd come, somehow not at all surprised to see when he got back that Daken had dropped his polite veneer to verbally lay into his father.

"Everyone knows exactly what you are," Daken was saying. "A man who would betray a friend at the drop of a hat over a bit of righteousness. Or who would murder his wife and leave their child to die. At least, that was your intention. It's too bad it wasn't that simple. That easy. Instead, I had to grow up mocked and hated … because of your influence."

For Scott, it was an almost automatic response; he didn't even think about if before he grabbed Daken's lapels and slammed him against the wall. "If you ever talk about my dad that way again, I'll blast your head off."

Daken chuckled at him for that as he started to truly work on twisting Scott and Logan around, cranking up the anger in the hopes that they'd turn on each other if he played his cards right. "I doubt that, little man. You'll do whatever I want, no matter what I want, with almost no effort on my part - if I decide to make you."

"And none of that will make you right," Scott said through his teeth without letting go of Daken. "Whatever your powers are, they won't change reality. You don't get to walk in here out of the blue and act like you know the first thing about my dad."

"I know I was raised to be someone better than him."

"Not from where I'm standing," Scott shot back. "You'd have to pull your head out of your ass just to lick his boots." He slammed Daken a little harder against the wall. "You want to take it out on someone who didn't know you existed? Real honorable. You're worthless, nothing like he is, and if you had any sense, you'd see it. You want to know who you're insulting? That guy saved my life, took me in, gave me a home - and then turned around and tried to find a way to do that for a bunch of lost teenagers too. Showed us how to defend ourselves. Helped me pick out a ring for my fiance." Scott was building up steam, the glow behind his glasses brighter with every word. "My real father left me and my brother in an orphanage because he was too upset when my mom died to face us. Don't tell me your sob story about your abandonment. I lived it. You're just a poor copy trying to blame your past on someone who had nothing to do with it. But sure, go ahead and tell me you're better. I'll wait."

"I'd do better to show you," Daken replied. "No matter what my old man says, this hero nonsense is a good way to lose people that you care about." He leaned forward slightly. "Keep pushing me and I'll start showing you."

Scott tipped his chin up and then set Daken down, settling into a fighting stance. "Prove it."

Daken smirked and looked like he was sure he was going to win. "Let's make your little code name match the rest of you."

"Try it," Scott said - and as soon as Daken had popped his claws, Scott just picked his glasses up.

And the next second, Daken was through the wall.

"Thought so," Scott said as he put his glasses back down and then turned to Logan. "You okay?"

Logan swallowed and nodded. "Sure."

"You know he's full of crap, right?" Scott said. "I know you didn't know about him. There's no way anything that happened with him was your fault."

Logan met his gaze. "You mean outside of the people that had come specifically to find me? And when they didn't find me, they killed half the village. Pretty sure that's still on me."

"No, that's on them," Scott said. "Come on, Dad. What happened to putting the blame on the right people? Or are you taking back everything you told me after I killed a whole town for the department?"

"No," Logan said, shaking his head and staring at the ground. "I'm not saying that."

"Then don't give yourself different rules than you give me," Scott said.

The wind was pretty wicked from where they were - not far from the new hole in the side of the tower that Scott had made - using mostly Daken. "Hard not to."

"Yeah, but since when do we do things the easy way?" Scott asked with a quiet smirk.

"I got no idea what that means," Logan said.

Scott shook his head and then simply stepped forward to wrap Logan in a hug. "He's full of crap," he said again. "He's not better than you."

"Not by the standards he was raised in, no," Logan said in a breath - finally.

"Not by any standards," Scott corrected him. "You think if he'd been the one to find me I'd have gotten out of Sinister's hands? Ever? Or that he'd have taken the time to help Kurt feel confident in his own skin? Or sing to Sam?"

"You're usin' a different measurin' stick, kiddo," Logan said. "But I hear what you're sayin'."

"You sure?" Scott said, still honestly a little keyed up. "Because you and Mom and Sam - I can't lose you. You get that, right? You get how much this family means?"

"You know I still stand by what I said, Scotty," Logan said. "I wasn't gonna turn my back on you no matter what that guy had to say."

"Good," Scott said with a short nod. "Because I'm tired of losing people. So just… forget him and his twisted worldview."

"Doubt that's the last we'll see of him. Still don't know what he wanted. And I doubt he'd come lookin' unless he wanted something."

"Revenge, mostly," Clint said from the door, and when the two men turned his way, he waved. "Hi. Personal experience talking. Brother tried to kill me. Usually prefaced it with smack talk about what a crap brother I was. It's a dull, predictable pattern of isolation, insults, and attempted murder."

"So that's another one for the list," Logan muttered.

"Let him try. I'll put him through another wall," Scott said, standing in front of Logan.

"Probably have to scrape himself off the sidewalk first," Logan muttered.

"It's the only thing he does better than you. Flying," Scott said with a dry smirk.

"Don't know about that," Logan said, then rested his hand on Scott's shoulder. "We need to get her away from this room." He was already pushing Scott toward where Clint had K almost tucked under his arm.

"Yeah, I don't know what that guy does," Clint said as they spilled out into the hallway, "but he manipulates emotions. Somehow."

"Huh." Scott tipped his head toward Logan. "Guess he made me madder. His mistake."

Logan nodded at that as he pulled K away from Clint and got the three of them moving. "Wonder if he figured that out."

"We'll see," Scott said. "Maybe next time he'll try to keep me calm. It'll improve my aim."

"Your aim's fine," Logan said. "How much better you think you can go past crackshot?"

Scott couldn't help but grin Logan's way. "Best in the business."

"You got somewhere we can get away?" Logan asked Clint - who for the moment wasn't arguing with Scott on who was the better shot when it was so clear that the kid needed this. "Or are we just leavin'? Not too interested in the results. Way that jackass acted, it's kind of a closed case."

"Let's go home," Scott said, sounding relieved. "Please."

"You're driving," Logan said.

"No making out in the backseat."

"No promises," Logan shot back, getting a crooked grin out of Scott as they headed for home.

Chapter Text

Strangely enough, Scott was honestly feeling better after he'd blasted Daken. Maybe it was just that he had needed something or someone to take his frustration out on or maybe he just needed the reminder that he liked being on a team that stood up to the kind of crap Daken had been peddling. Whatever it was, he found himself headed back up to the main house to change into his uniform for a team practice that morning.

He hadn't told anyone he was coming, so there was a bit of a pause in the middle of the practice when the team realized Scott was there, and then Alex was the first one to rush over and slug him in the shoulder.

"Gotta make a dramatic entrance, huh?"

Scott smirked. "I just wanted to see how you guys were doing without me. Looks like I'll have to work hard to catch up."

Storm smiled as she touched down by Scott and pulled him into a hug. "I'm sure it won't take long."

"You've been keeping the team busy while I've been gone, I see," Scott said. "Don't let me get in your-"

"Oh please," Storm said before he could even finish the sentence. "We've all missed you."

"What do you say, fearless leader?" Hank asked with a smirk. "Are you ready to lead us again?"

Scott glanced around at the group and then couldn't help but smile. "Can't argue with the team decision, can I?"

It didn't take long for Scott to get thrown right back into life with the X-Men in a big way.

Bobby was the one to notice the problem, since he was a news junkie, so he was watching the television in the kitchen when the news broke that Magneto and another narcissistic mutant were wreaking havoc across New York City.

"Hey, guys!" Bobby called out. "Metal-head's back!"

"Well, that's great," Alex said, shaking his head as the others started to trickle down - and then turn around to get changed on seeing what was going on.

"He can't go too long before he needs attention," Bobby said.

"Which would be one thing if he was a golden retriever and another when he's trashing New York City," Scott said dryly as he grabbed Bobby's arm. "Come on. Let's get moving."

By the time the X-Men arrived in the city, Magneto was already gloating, with several metallic things floating around him, though the second mutant, a dark-haired man, was also causing chaos and flying high above them.

"Alright, X-Men, you guys know the drill," Scott said. "Keep the civilians out of danger and stop Magneto. Storm, knock the new guy out of the sky and then you and Kurt can see if you can figure out what his story is. 'Yana, you and Piotr are on civilians with Hank. Bobby, you, me, and Alex are going for Magneto."

"Ten points if you hit his helmet," Alex called back to Scott, grinning and clearly enjoying having his brother back on the team with him.

"Just ten?" Kurt called out. "Mühelos."

"Aren't you supposed to be dealing with the new guy with your girlfriend?" Alex shot back.

"It's only a restriction for those that are too slow," Kurt said with a grin before he teleported away.

Scott shook his head as he jogged alongside Alex. "Haven't you learned not to encourage him?"

"Aww, come on, Scott. More fun when you play!" Alex said with a crooked grin.

"This is fun," Scott countered. "But it's also important." To emphasize his point, he gestured toward Magneto in the middle of some spinning metal - and then fired off a shot that Magneto blocked at the last second with a floating car.

"Ah, young Mister Summers," Magneto said with a crooked sort of smile. "I didn't expect to see you again with your little friends."

"Took a little time off, but this is my team," Scott shot back. "And if you're going to show up threatening a whole city, I guess I'll have to take fewer vacations."

Magneto chuckled at that. "As if you could stop my plans."

Scott gestured around him with one. "What plans? Terrorizing people? At least be creative. What are you trying to do, exactly? Prove you have the same destructive capabilities as the Hulk?"

Magneto scoffed and lazily sent an entire street full of cars toward Scott and his team, forcing Scott and Alex both to blast through the cars as Bobby quickly iced up a wall to keep the metal from hitting anyone too.

Bobby shook his head as he skated up an ice path a little higher. "Hey, as much as we love having you back, Scott, maybe less arguing and more fighting?"

"Magneto doesn't just cause random destruction," Scott pointed out. "Don't you want to know what the story is?"

"Um … I really just want him to stop."

Scott shook his head at that before he went to his comm. "Storm? Nightcrawler? What have you got on the new guy?"

"He says he's the Prince of Atlantis," Kurt said. "And he's very much in love with himself."

"Perfect match with Magneto, then," Alex quipped. "I hope they're happy together."

Scott shook his head at that before he called up to Bobby. "Get me closer to Magneto!"

"O-kay but you're wasting your breath," Bobby called back - but went ahead and iced up a path for Scott to get up to a building at the same level as Magneto.

"What's your arrangement with Atlantis?" Scott called out to Magneto.

"What concern is it of yours?" Magneto called back. "You're not any kind of authority."

"I'm the guy whose team is standing between you guys and declaring war, so yeah, I think I'd like to know why you're causing chaos."

"I believe you're a bit out of your depth, young man. Run home now …"

Scott let out a scoff of a breath before he shot a blast toward Magneto - and then bounced it off the windshield of the car floating close by so it hit Magneto anyway and nearly knocked him out of the sky. One more blast, and Magneto barely stopped himself from falling outright, and Scott kept his hand on his visor. "Your choice. You can leave or I can take you in, but this stops now."

"You're speaking to the wrong leader, young man. I'm here only in support."

Scott couldn't help but pause and frown at that. "That's new."

Erik smirked. "Yes, well, you won't be allowed near the prince at any rate."

"My team's already on it," Scott said. "This isn't your fight. Go home."

"Such overconfidence."

"No, I just know what my team is capable of," Scott said simply, half paying attention to Magneto when the other half of his attention was on Storm and Kurt getting Piotr involved as well to stop the prince - which seemed to have tipped the scales in favor of the X-Men. "They're taking him in right now and we'll find out what we need anyway. You've lost."

Erik smirked and simply started to float higher. "Yes, I'm sure that's what's happened," he said. "Enjoy your interrogations." he didn't give Scott a chance to figure out what he was up to before he flew off, far out of sight and long before the X-Men had managed to get Namor down.

Scott frowned after Magneto but couldn't do anything for the moment, instead headed to where the rest of the team was. "What's the story?" he asked Kurt.

"He seems to think his home was attacked," Kurt said.

Scott frowned at that - and frowned at the gathering reporters. "I'll… ask the Avengers. Right now, we need to get out of here before it becomes even more of a scene."

"Kinda late for that, isn't it?" said a new voice as Johnny Storm touched down to join them, grinning and still on fire. "Maybe you didn't notice you're practically on our front step?" With that, he gestured toward the Baxter building - which the X-Men hadn't realized was so close until then.

"Ah, yes, but what took you so long?" Kurt asked.

"Hey, we just got home ourselves," Johnny said. "One of Reed's experiments… long story. Anyway." He waved at the cameras. "Wanna come inside? You're sort of national news right now - and not in a good way."


Johnny gestured to the Baxter Building, but it wasn't until they were all inside, with an unconscious Namor between them, that Johnny explained, "They're saying it's some kind of mutant turf war."

"Do we look like we're singing and dancing like they did in Grease? Do you want to drag race?" Kurt asked. "This is no turf war."

Johnny held his hands up. "Hey, listen, I'm not the one saying it. I'm just saying that's what's on the news right now. Now, seeing as I've actually met you-" He gestured toward Scott. "-I'm actually inclined to listen to you guys? But not on the streets and not until this guy is in our containment."

With that, the X-Men headed up to where the rest of the Fantastic Four were, and Scott let out a breath when he saw the news, muted, playing on one of the monitors in the main room with the banner headline "Mutants Tear Up NYC."

"Oh, but no mention of the mutants who saved it," Alex grumbled, his gaze on the TV as well.

"They're small-minded," Hank said, one hand on Bobby's shoulder.

"And New York has yet another superhero team," Reed said as he met the group.

"We're a bit more global than that," Kurt said with a smirk.

"Aren't we all?" Reed countered. "What happened? I know the news is saying turf war, but it would be the first time you guys have participated in anything like that."

"Nothing like that," Scott said. "We've had some experience fighting Magneto, so when we saw he was tearing up the city, we came to help." He gestured toward the prince in their custody. "Prince Namor here says his city, Atlantis, was attacked by some kind of shockwave coming from the city. I was going to ask the Avengers if they knew what happened, but if you saw something…"

Three of the Four turned slowly toward Reed. "Yeah, Reed. You wouldn't know how that might have happened, do you?" Johnny asked.

"Well, I was running an experiment," Reed said. "But … my figures said it wouldn't be anything but very very localized." He frowned. "And … that kind of wavelength shouldn't be able to travel through water at all."

"Well, either it was a freak accident or someone else hit them, but he seems to think we'e declared war on Atlantis, so…" Scott gestured toward Namor. "Maybe you could explain it to him."

"Ah," Reed hesitated. "I'll give it a shot. But at the risk of starting trouble, maybe we should do this without treating him like a prisoner."

The X-Men all shared glances before Hank nodded - though Kurt was sure to add, "If he starts tearing up your labs, on your head be it."

Reed nodded, though thankfully for the already wary X-Men, the prince didn't immediately try to destroy everyone, and that gave Reed a chance to show Namor what he had been working on and give him a chance to see what the root cause was if it wasn't Reed's experiment.

Which left the X-Men in the Baxter Building, unsure if they were still needed or not, since there wasn't a fight - but there could be.

"So … do you guys have a play here or …" Johnny asked, still halfway smiling to himself.

"Mostly, we just came to make sure the city didn't get pulverized," Bobby said with a shrug.

"Uh-huh. How'd that work out?" Johnny asked. "Really. I didn't see that part. I'm not picking yet."

"Well, on the one hand, the master of magnetism didn't strip all the buildings of metal supports and collapse cars in on themselves like we've seen him do when he's really mad," Alex said.

"On the other, those two both still pack a punch. It could have been worse, but there's damage every time there's a fight," Scott said in a sigh.

"Well, this guy's not real good with fire, so I'm pretty sure that between me torching him, Sue wrapping him up in a bubble, and Ben ready to kick him like a field goal, we should be good. You guys can take five." Johnny paused and tipped his head. "Unless you like … are looking for video games or something."

"I wouldn't turn that down," Bobby said with a grin.

"Yeah?" Johnny said, smiling somehow wider. "Come on, Frosty. Let's see what you got."

Bobby matched his grin and followed him to the living room - and Hank put a hand in the center of Alex's chest to stop him from following.


"If you really need a trouncing in video games, I'll wipe the floor with you when we get home," Hank said, one arm around Alex's shoulders to steer him away.

Kurt and Ororo shared smirks at that before Kurt simply teleported the group out a few at a time so they could head back to Westchester and leave Bobby and Johnny to their video game matchup

Once they got back to Westchester, though, they were surprised to see a Quinjet there, and Scott frowned, reaching out telepathically to ask the professor what was going on.

No answer.

Scott held his breath, biting back a bit of panic. "Kurt, check Cerebro and see if the professor's there. I can't get a hold of him. I'm going to check on Sam and my parents," he called over his shoulder, already sprinting out to the boathouse.

When Scott got down to the boathouse, the mood was somewhat light, though it was clear that it wasn't entirely a social call, even if Sam was positively fascinated with Steve and kept babbling over him as he tried to talk, half snuggled into him. The expressions on the faces of the adults in the room told Scott that there had been a serious discussion until he interrupted - but he didn't know what that could be, and he didn't have time to figure it out when he didn't know where the professor was.

Steve turned to face Scott when he heard the door open, with Sam in his arms and pulling on his face. "Hey, Scott," he said with a little smile. "Good to see you getting back into the swing of things."

It definitely wasn't the scene Scott had expected, and he had to take a second to get his breath back. "I didn't know you were - how long have you been here?"

"Not too long," Steve said. "I was coming back from a little mission. Had to stop in and talk to your dad."

"Well that explains it," Scott said, shaking his head. "We just got back from the city. Magneto found the prince of Atlantis and tried to attack the city with him." He shook his head and ran his hand through his hair. "You haven't seen the professor, have you?"

"Nope," Logan said. "Been busy here, if I'm bein' honest. Isn't he up there?"

Scott shook his head. "When we got back, I saw the Quinjet and called for him - no answer. Kurt's looking, but even considering how fast he is… he hasn't found him yet."

"If you need some backup-" Steve started to say, shifting Sam, though the little girl let out a squeal indicating her displeasure at Steve trying to set her down and held onto him tighter by the ears.

"I'll let you know," Scott said, then turned to Logan. "Think you could help? If someone's been at the school that shouldn't be, you'd know faster than anyone else."

Logan nodded and then turned toward Steve. "Stick around, wouldja? K needs the sleep."

"Only if you actually think it over," Steve said, moving to sit down with Sam - though he was still in his gear.

"Sure," Logan said as he headed for the door. "I'll think about it." Once they were out, though, and Logan closed the door behind him, he turned to Scott. "Alright. What do you think happened?"

"I'm not sure," Scott admitted. "But if someone wanted to go after the professor, a big distraction in the city while both the Avengers and the Fantastic Four were out of town would be the way to make sure our team wasn't around."

"True," Logan agreed. "So what happened to the guys you were fighting? They pack up an' go home, or did SHIELD or someone come pick 'em up?"

"Namor's with the Fantastic Four - that seems to be some kind of diplomatic misunderstanding," Scott said. "Magneto left after we'd gotten his partner down."

Logan stopped and turned his way with one eyebrow raised. "He just left." It really wasn't a question.

Scott let out a breath. "Yeah. I know. That's my worry too. Do you think you could still pick up his scent or-"

"I can try," Logan said though they were almost to the door by then.

Scott nodded, already pushing open the door to Charles' office. "What were you and the captain talking about, anyway?"

"Oh, nothin' important," Logan said as he started slowly walking through the office, frowning to himself at the scents.

"Well, he wanted you to think about it," Scott prompted.

"He was askin' me to join his team," Logan said off-handedly.

Scott froze for a full beat and then said, "Oh."

"Your guy was here," Logan said. "Not as strong a scent by the door when you walk in, but closer to the desk? Kinda hard to miss." He put his hands on his hips and looked around the room more carefully. "Doubt Charlie could do much to fight him with that bucket on his head."

Scott nodded, quickly shifting gears. "I've been reading over some of the reports from when I was off the team; there's a lot of activity close by what the professor thinks is Magneto's latest hideout. Let's go there first."

"Sure," Logan said, turning to follow him back to the jet, though he didn't bother getting changed.

As they fell into step with each other, Scott paused and turned back to Logan. "So, the Avengers, huh? What did you say?"

"Told him I wasn't lookin'. And that I wouldn't consider it until he pays up for the two-fifty he owes me from the last poker night."

Scott shook his head at that, smirking lightly. "He knows you're on my team, right?"

"He does," Logan agreed. "He just got spooked by all the crazy that's been happenin' lately, though. Thinks it might be a better fit there."

"Not like the team you're on is going to change the fact that some lunatics hate you no matter what," Scott muttered.

"Not like they did anything to stop Sinister an' Sabretooth from traipsin' in, so his argument's crap."

"Besides, the team needs you," Scott said. "You taught half of us how to actually fight."

"When I said 'I'll think about it,' what I meant was 'It's not open for discussion'," Logan said.

Scott couldn't help but smile at that, relieved to hear he wasn't going to lose his dad on the team that meant the world to him. "Good. Because I think I'd like to have you fighting with me in the field more. You and Mom both."

"We'll see where it goes," Logan said. "Don't think you really need us that much."

"We're facing bigger fights all the time," Scott pointed out. "It's not like it was when we started when it was me and the professor going to pick up lost kids. We're actually … well, we're a team, and we're attracting attention, to tell the truth. Not just Magneto's Brotherhood."

"Seems to be a recurrin' theme," Logan said. "Cap said there was more Hydra trouble brewin'."

"Isn't there always?"

Logan shrugged. "Comes in waves." The two of them made it to the jet, and once they sat down in the pilot and copilot chairs, Logan dropped the rest of it. "Stark wants your mom to help him come up with weapons ideas, too. Apparently, they had a few discussions on stuff like that I din't know about that turned out to be pretty ingenius."

Scott shook his head at that. "Yeah, but like I said - my team needs you," he said. "You got us out of that living island and a few other scraps, and when we face things like the department? We need people like you and Mom who know what they're doing in a fight like that." He held up one hand. "I'm not trying to say we can't work with the Avengers, but they're already established - and, frankly, they don't need you like we do."

"He's right, you know," Kurt said, teleporting up to where they were. "Beyond that, the team is family, mein Freund, and you are definitely that to all of us, not just the lucky few with documents to prove it." He flashed Scott a crooked grin and then put his hand on Logan's shoulder. "The Avengers are jealous."

"I don't think it's that deep," Logan said easily. "Cap just wants someone he can reminisce with, and Stark wants the ego boost."

"Jealous," Kurt said with a little smile.

"Hey, it's a thing. The Human Torch shanghai'd Bobby…" Alex pointed out, and Hank elbowed him in the ribs. "What is your problem with me?"

"You need to share," Hank said.

"I'm just saying," Alex grumbled. "Everyone wants a piece of the team. Not that I don't get it - I mean, we're kind of amazing - but still."

"It's not like that," Logan said, shaking his head. "They don't really want us for the team anyhow. Just forget it."

"As long as we aren't losing you," Kurt said.

"Already said it's not a real issue."

Kurt tipped his head Logan's way and then smiled. "Right. Better things to focus on anyway - like finding Charles."

The subject was temporarily dropped, then - at least until they got closer to Magneto's suspected hideout and the controls on the plane suddenly went haywire. Scott swore - but that didn't stop the fact that he knew he wasn't the one landing the plane when they came down to a stop.

"Should be fun," Logan said, frowning to himself.

"We're just here to get the professor," Scott said, as much to himself as to the team. "He's always looking for a fight, and I don't feel like giving him what he wants."

"Not lookin' for a fight, Scotty." Logan tipped his chin up ."But if he starts it with me, I'll end it."

Scott simply shook his head at that as the team got out of the jet, not terribly surprised to find that the path to where Magneto was more or less reclined on a throne was obvious and clear for them.

"You don't look surprised to see us," Scott said once the team was all in the throne room.

"Of course not," Magneto said. "I knew it would simply be a matter of time before you brought someone to sniff us out."

Scott narrowed his eyes at that, unconsciously stepping in front of Logan. "Where's the professor?"

"He's safe," Magneto said.

"That's not an answer."

"He is my oldest friend," Magneto said. "I would never do anything to cause him harm."

"Aside from kidnapping, you mean," Alex said, rolling his eyes.

"You're welcome to speak with him if you'd like," Magneto said with a crooked smirk.

The X-Men shared glances at that before Scott nodded. "I'd like to see him."

"Of course," Magneto said, gesturing for him to follow. "All of you can."

None of the X-Men necessarily trusted Magneto, but they also wanted to make sure that Charles was alright, so, a bit grudgingly, they shuffled down the hall after Magneto.

None of them said a word on the way down, but Magneto simply couldn't help himself. "I thought you all had uniforms."

"I wouldn't be pointin' out fashion choices if I was you," Logan rumbled without turning his head. "You haven't got the high ground runnin' around with a cape."

"And when one of our own is missing, we don't exactly wait around to get changed," Scott pointed out. "Not everyone needs to make a dramatic entrance."

Logan smirked at that but still didn't acknowledge Magneto … especially since the further they got, the more the whole setup had Logan wondering what exactly was going on.

Eventually, they reached a room far removed from the entrance to the overly metallic hideaway, and Kurt was the first to teleport in, with a smile, to put a hand on Charles' shoulder. "Charles! We were all worried about you."

"I'm afraid you were too hasty in coming to find me," Charles said. "Erik has an interesting proposal in mind, but I have yet to consider all the angles of it."

"What kind of proposal?" Scott asked, arms crossed and looking between Charles and Erik.

"An island safe haven for all of mutant-kind," Magneto said.

"There's gotta be a catch," Alex said. "Because it sounds like you're just copying the professor but on an island."

"Charles and I have discussed this concept for years," Magneto said.

"Of course, our divergence in opinion has always been on the scale," Charles added. "My thought is that peaceful coexistence can be achieved. Erik thinks we'd be better off to simply have our own place to be, separate from humans."

"So… you just want to buzz off and have your own island?" Alex looked between the two men. "Okay, what's the downside?"

"I don't see one," Magneto said.

"Except the giant target you're puttin' on yourself," Logan said.

"We've already seen several times that just by having met some of the heroes like the Fantastic Four, we're able to get our voices heard more clearly. When people see us, they're not as scared of mutants. We're not 'unknowns,'" Scott said, thinking of how Logan having asked Reed to do the test for Daken had led to the X-Men getting into the Baxter Building.

"So… good luck with your island," Ilyana said. "I guess we'll just go."

"I think not," Magneto said, and with a look from the master of magnetism, the metal doors around them clanged shut.

"We're not stopping you from setting up an island hideaway if that's what you want to do," Scott said, spinning on his heel to face Magneto. "What's your problem?"

"My problem is that you've found yourselves too close to troublesome humans that would step into my affairs," Magneto said. "Besides, this is for your own good. You in particular, Mr. Summers - you and your family have found yourselves in more trouble than the others combined."

Scott's eyes narrowed at that. "I didn't ask for your help."

"But you still need it all the same," Magneto said. "Now-" He gestured grandly. "-you should settle in for the trip."

"We're not going anywhere," Storm said, her eyes flashing.

"On the contrary," Magneto said. "You have little choice. We'll be travelling to Genosha. All of us. If you think you can fight me, then you can simply stay in the jails until you see reason. You can graduate into the steps to citizenship after you've seen the error of your ways."

Scott narrowed his eyes, his hand on his visor. "No. We're leaving," he said, going so far as to blast a hole in one of the metal doors.

In retaliation, Magneto spun to face Scott and extended his arm in front of him, his hand in a fist. Scott didn't see what was going on … not until Kurt swore as Magneto gently flattened his hand out and lifted Logan off the ground. As his fingers opened, spreading apart, so did Logan's arms and legs, though Magneto didn't say a word and instead simply smirked at Scott as he forced Logan's claws out.

Scott was frozen when he saw it, and he looked between Magneto and Logan with his breath caught in his chest before he quickly held his hands up. "Let him go."

"And lose my bargaining piece?"

"Let him go and you have my word we'll come to your island," Scott said as evenly as he could.

"I don't need your word, Mr. Summers. You're already going."

"Let him go," Scott said, his hands in fists at his sides.

Magneto was still glaring, though Charles reached out to Scott. As cold as it sounds, he's Erik's best way to keep you from fighting him. He won't hurt him.

Scott worked a muscle in his jaw for a moment longer before he breathed out a quiet "fine" and sat down by Charles, still looking furious but knowing he couldn't do anything about it.

"Enough, Erik," Charles said.

Magneto hadn't blinked yet and was still watching Scott even as he slowly started to lower Logan. "The next time you put a hole in something, I'll take that metal."

"Fine," Scott said through his teeth.

At that, Magneto set Logan down, though he still couldn't move. Not until Magneto was safely out of the room and the metal doors had been pulled back together and locked behind him.

"Well, that went well," Alex said dryly.

"Your buddy's an ass, Charlie," Logan said from where he was on the floor, cringing and rubbing his wrists.

"Mildly put," Kurt agreed.

"He has to know we're not going to blindly follow him, even if we do wind up on that island of his," Storm said, glaring toward the locked doors.

"He thinks he'll wait us out," Warren said.

"And considering we'll be isolated…" Scott let out a noise from the back of his throat.

"No prison built I can't get out of," Logan said. "We'll get out."

"Of course we will," Scott said. "It's just a question of how to get home once we do."

"One step at a time, son," Logan said, leaning back.

"Just trying to look out for you, Dad," Scott said with a small smirk.

"Me? I'm fine," Logan said gruffly. "Better feel sorry for him when K wakes up to Cap coverin' Sam."

"She's got the metal too," Scott pointed out.

"And she's got Stark at her fingertips. Think he won't have something to deal with Ol' Buckethead?"

"Not to mention Cap on the warpath," Alex put in. "He's stupid protective of you guys, in case you haven't noticed."

"You mean the guy with the big metal frisbee?" Logan asked.

"Says the guy whose wife is calling in Iron Man," Alex shot right back.

Logan smirked at that. "Askin' for weapons. Not him."

"Whatever the case," Scott cut in before the two of them could go back and forth too much, "we've got backup coming, but we can't assume they'll find us fast. We don't even know where the island is. We need to get out, send a beacon, message, something, steal a transport, whatever it takes."

Logan was lying flat on the floor, though he turned his head to Scott. "Don't suppose you still got your panic button."

Scott swore under his breath. "It's in my jeans back home. I don't wear it in uniform, since, well, we usually know what fight we're going into when we're wearing them."

"Just a thought," Logan said.

"We could always just use me or Scott like a beacon," Alex pointed out. "Shoot a big beam into the sky. Probably catch someone's attention."

"That would require blasting a hole into something, and I'd rather you didn't," Kurt said. "I don't want to test Magneto on his threats."

"Not if we go outside," Alex argued. "I'm just saying: we get out, we send up a beacon that you can see from miles around…"

"As long as someone's looking the right way already," Logan said.

"Hey, like you said: we'll have people looking. Just keeping shooting up blue and red, right? Maybe Storm can make a giant swirling cloud of 'here we are' above the island? Maybe an X-Cloud?" Alex offered.

"That would certainly show up on someone's radar," Storm said with a little smirk.

"Or," Logan said slowly. "Charles can reach out to someone once we're outside."

"Bobby," Scott said. "He's still with the Four."

"He jumpin' ship?" Logan asked, though he hadn't moved from where he'd been left stretched out.

"Hank set him up on a playda- ow!" Alex rubbed the back of his head where Hank had hit him.

"Oh, great," Logan said. "He'll come back all sugared up, tuckered out, and ready for a nap."

"Hey, as long as he's there, might as well use that connection to reach out to the Four and the Avengers," Scott said. "Magneto's right. We do have connections to humans that would get in his way."

"Whoever you can reach, professor," Storm said. "You have several to choose from."

"It seems I do," Charles said, one eyebrow raised - but also clearly proud of how well the team was working together to come up with a solution.

Chapter Text

Bobby was in the middle of one of the tightest speeding races he'd ever run - Johnny was wicked good at video games - but the whole game got upended when the professor's voice broke into his thoughts and he got the message that the X-Men were in trouble.

Johnny let out a shout of triumph, and Bobby spun to face him. "Hey, no, that doesn't count when there's telepathic interference from my team!'

"Oh, but you took the win when Ben was throwing stuff at me?"

"It was hilarious?" Bobby said, shrugging both shoulders up with a crooked grin. "Seriously, though, my professor just called out to me. That bozo that was working with Namor kidnapped him while we were out, and now my team's in trouble. So… we're going to have to rematch."

Johnny frowned at that as he got to his feet. "Sounds bad."

"Yeah, well, when I'm the backup rescue team…" Bobby grinned.

"So … is this where you show off?" Johnny asked.

"Pretty much," Bobby said, his grin turning a little more crooked as he iced up. "Think I could steal a ride, though? I can't just ice skate over the Pacific."

"Oh yeah, I can get you there," Johnny said. "Are we bringing anyone with us? I think Reed's got his nose in that experiment still with the sub-mariner, but Sue might be up for some fresh air if you need more backup."

"Might be a good idea with this guy," Bobby admitted. "He can be a pain, and he's got almost like a cult of personality thing going on. Lots of people following him."

"Do you have more X-Men hidden away somewhere?" Johnny asked as he headed down the hall to find his sister.

"Um… maybe Scott's parents. They're pretty good at getting us out of jams," Bobby said. "We can swing by the school and pick them up."

"Scott's parents?" Johnny asked. "That sounds like a glowing review. Watch out for his parents …"

Bobby snorted. "Hey, that's what I said at first, but remind me to tell you about the murder dress."

Johnny stopped and turned his way. "Woah. Wait. First of all, what? And secondly … I thought X-Men don't kill? That's what Cap told us."

"His parents used to be some kind of special forces something," Bobby said with a shrug. "Not their idea, weird weapons program… point is, they're scary good at fighting, and they will put the fear of death into you, even if Scott and Charles make sure it stays on the level, you know?"

"O … kay," Johnny said as he kept his gaze on Bobby and called into the next room. "Hey Susie? Wanna go save a teenage hero team?"

"From what?" Susan called back.

"Ah, the guy that had Reed's new best friend fooled into attacking New York."

Susan let out a sigh. "Of course," she said. "Okay, let's go."

Bobby grinned at that. "Thanks. Kinda glad I stayed here now. Who'd've thought I'd end up being the lifeline?"

"Probably more people than you thought," Johnny said. "Do you need to call ahead so we don't need to wait for the murder dress to get put on? Or … put away… or however that works."

Bobby grinned even wider. "Knew I liked you," he said, ducking away to call ahead to the boathouse.- though he was surprised when it was Captain America who picked up. "Um… hi?"

"If you're looking for Scott or Logan, they're not here," Steve said.

"Oh crap. Did Logan go with Scott?"

"He did. I've got Sam trying to eat my face and K's … still sleeping. What's going on?"

"Ummm, long story short? Magneto kidnapped Professor X, lured my team into a trap, and now they're all headed for some island somewhere and I'm trying to, you know, put together a rescue team."

Steve was quiet for a long moment, and it was clear even to Bobby he was trying to figure out how to both keep his word to Logan and how to get in the fight. "I don't suppose you've got a full team yet, do you? I can help, but I need someone to step in here."

"Right now, it's just me and half the Four. If you're watching out, maybe you could just send me a couple Avengers or something?"

"Yeah. I'll call to the tower," he said. "Let them know where you're headed."

"Great, because we're going to need some help locating the team in the first place. The professor contacted me, but, uh, he doesn't know where the island is. Just that it's … an island. Which is not very helpful, I know…"

"I'll warn Tony. Take your team to Avenger's Tower."

"Cool. Thanks, Cap," Bobby said, setting down the phone and shaking his head that this was his life now before he went back to the Storm siblings. "Okay, we don't have a location, but Captain America picked up at home and said we could coordinate with the Avengers on trying to find wherever the heck this island is-"

"Wait," Sue said. "Cap was at your house? Why?"

"Oh, I don't even have time to get into the nonsense that is our fearless leader's family," Bobby said, throwing both hands up to illustrate how much nonsense it really was. "But somehow, his little sister? Her godfathers - two of 'em - are both Avengers. And his dad is best friends with Captain America. And his mom dated Tony Stark. And that's just scratching the surface, I swear to you."

Both Sue and Johnny stared at him for a second. "How is this even your life?" Johnny asked.

"That's what I've been saying," Bobby said, gesturing to Johnny with one hand. "Thank you."

"I know you're new, but please don't encourage him," Sue said as they loaded up. "Flight is short, but we'll probably end up in a quin-jet once we meet up with the Avengers anyhow."

"Probably," Bobby said with a shrug. "This thing is so cool, by the way," he said as he strapped in.

"It's not bad," Johnny said. "Not like that blackbird you guys were using, though."

"Yeah, Scott's all excited about it. But this makes a statement."

"We'll have to see what kind of statement you make when Tony gets done reworking your jet," Sue said. "He's been working on it since the last one got blown up. Or … shot. I really couldn't get the full story."

"It's a revolving door of reasons," Bobby said with a shrug. "Once, we had a jet get eaten by a living island."

"You're screwing with me," Johnny said, though he was grinning widely. "You're totally screwing with me."

"I am not," Bobby said, one hand over his heart. "I swear, this is one hundred percent true."

"Still. How do you explain that? Sorry, boss, the island ate it. Cash that fifteen million dollar plane in on the ol' insurance."

Bobby snorted. "Hey, you're talking about the team that has gone to space twice, fought an entire island, and dealt with a cosmic entity that literally eats planets, so, like, it's just another day, really."

"Twice, huh?" Johnny said. "Be careful with that kind of thing. That's how we got to be the way we are."

"I'm just naturally this cool," Bobby said without missing a beat.

Johnny burst out laughing and grinned his way. "I love it."

Bobby's grin turned more crooked. "Seriously, I'm going to have to come back and tell you the full crazy story, because I swear to you, our team is nuts."

"Probably when we rematch and I wipe the floor with you."

"Never gonna happen," Bobby shot back without missing a beat.

"You two," Sue said, half under her breath as she shook her head. "Oh my God."

"Can't take it, sis?" Johnny teased.

"I just feel like there's no reason for me to be here when you're doing so well just the two of you," Sue said matter-of-factly.

Both of them gave her a look that said they didn't quite get it. "She totally can't take it," Johnny said Bobby's way, and Bobby just grinned wider.

Mercifully for Sue, the trip to the tower was short, and when they arrived, Jan was there to greet them. "Please tell me Tony's got some idea on how to find them," Sue said, though she gave Jan such a look before tipping her head to where Bobby and Johnny were grinning like idiots and laughing at every. Single. Joke the other one told.

"Ohmigosh," Jan said.

"I know," Sue said.

"Ohmigosh." Jan grabbed Sue's arm to pull her down the hall. "Sue!"

"I know."

"How long have they been flirting?"

"I … think since they met this afternoon?"

"They're, like, the same person," Jan said.

"They are. And they love it. They just … I don't think they realize it."

"Oh, well, it can take some time," Jan said, still with her hand on Sue's arm. "Half my friends still keep quiet about it, even in the fashion industry. We all know, but… oh my gosh. They're kind of so cute?"

"I know right? Totally makes all the girl chasing make sense now, doesn't it?"

"He's trying so hard," Jan said in a tone that was half heartbroken and half amused. "Well, I mean, to be fair, he could swing both ways and - are you gonna be okay with that, big sis, because that's a whole can of worms and it's not like you guys aren't already under a microscope and oh my gosh they're so cute."

"As long as he's this happy? Yeah. We'll be fine," Sue said. "I mean … Ben might take it weird."

"Yeah, I can see that," Jan said sympathetically. "Maybe you can ease him into it. I mean, clearly, they don't even realize what's going on, so you have time, right?

"Probably. We'll see … but seriously. Tony has to have a way to find the missing team, right/"

Jan nodded, getting down to business a little better. "He's working on something. The problem is more about how, you know, oceans are most of the planet's surface? So it's totally a numbers crunching thing instead of 'can I do it', you know? Hank's helping - he's kind of attached to those kids too. You know he actually beat a guy down in defense of Scott? It was so hot!" With that, she dragged Sue along, getting lost in talking about what Hank and Tony were up to.

The boys could catch up eventually.

The group of X-Men that had been captured by Magneto were carefully brought down to the underground jail system on Magneto's Genosha. Naturally, he wasn't going to give them a chance to make an escape easy, so almost as soon as they were brought into the building and away from the public eye, they were each put into separate cells - and informed about the inhibitor field that they were in.

"You really have built a utopia, haven't you?" Scott said dryly, glaring at Magneto behind the energy-laced bars. "Where mutants can be safe from people who put them in cages."

"Now, Cyclops," Magneto said in an almost patronizing tone. "The people here don't want to hear your discourse."

"Maybe they do. Have you tried asking them?"

"They ran away from persecution, Scott. You're still a bit too young to know what that really feels like. Allow them to keep their peace."

"Look, I don't have an issue with safe havens," Scott said. "I have an issue with using force to make people come to your haven."

"I'm only keeping you here as long as Charles and I are talking."

Scott raised an eyebrow over the top of his visor. "Right. And then we'll just go home, no harm no foul, right?"

"If that's what you choose to do at that time? Yes." Magneto started to walk away from the cells. "But until such time, I won't give you the tools that you might need to destroy this place for the ones that do want to stay."

Scott tipped his head back, rubbing a spot on his forehead. "That's not-" He let out a breath. "Don't twist what I say. I told you I don't have a problem with havens."

"And I've seen enough to know that one simply doesn't trust those that don't share the same worldview. Not when there are so many innocents here to protect."

"What part of 'peaceful coexistence' is so hard for you to get?"

"When you've lived through what I have, the very concept seems like a lie."

"Hey, weapons programs, experimentation, you don't think I get it? We're better than that."

"I'm trying to ensure that you don't have to go through what I did, Mr. Summers. Concentration camps. Death squads. Smug guards casually joking about how those they despise go in through the gates but leave through the chimneys. It's not up for discussion," Magneto said, and though he'd started their conversation calmly, his tone had become heated by the time he was ready to leave. But … he also left before he lost his temper, too.

Scott leaned back and rested his head against the wall. "Yeah, he's not going to let us go when he's 'done talking'."

"At least I can understand where he's comin' from," Logan said from across the hall.

"Yeah, it's kind of frustrating agreeing with him - up to a point. And then he just…."

"He had to be a kid at the time," Logan said. "Those places were a lot worse than the books say."

Scott paused. "Experience?" he asked.

"Yeah," Logan said in a breath.

"Right. You mentioned that once, a long time ago. But I kind of figured it was you trying to get people out … not that you were … I'm sorry to hear you were stuck in one of those places."

"Don't be. They couldn't keep me dead. Drove 'em nuts."

"Well that's one way to get back at them," Scott said dryly.

"Crappy way to spend a couple years."

"No kidding." Scott shook his head. "Well, we're not staying here. Any ideas?"

"Sure. But it might be good to spend a few days gettin' an idea of what the guards patterns are," Logan said.

"So we wait," Scott said.

"That'd be the smart play."

Alex had to admit that it was a lot harder to work out a way to escape when the team was all split up like it was. It looked like Erik was fully prepared to deal with them, with cells spread out and humming with energy.

Alex was toward the end of the rows of cells, so he didn't quite know where everyone else was. But he certainly wasn't expecting the next visitor to the cells after Magneto had left them there to be a girl about his age - very pretty, with green hair.

"Holy- wow." Alex got quickly to his feet, blushing hard at his lack of eloquence. "Um, hi?"

"Hello," she said, the tiniest of smiles tugging at her lips. "You must have done something spectacular to make Daddy that mad."

Alex blinked at her in honest shock. "Wait, you're - seriously?"

She smiled at that and nodded her head. "Lorna. You are?"

"Alex." He shook his head. "You don't look anything like Magneto, just so you know."

"Thank you. Telling a girl she looks like her dad has to be the worst thing you can say to a girl, so thanks. For not doing that."

"Yeah, no, I mean, I just -" Alex rubbed the back of his neck. "Let's try this again. Hi, I'm Alex. It's nice to meet you."

"Well … not exactly nice, but … I get your meaning," Lorna laughed. "This … it's just temporary, right?"

"Oh, totally," Alex said, brushing his knuckles off on his shoulder. "Can't hold me and my team long."

Lorna looked surprised at that. "Team, huh? Are you some kind of criminals or something?"

"Um, no?" Alex shook his head. "Kind of the opposite, actually."

She gestured to the bars. "Really?"

"Okay, I know it looks bad, but to be fair, all we did was say we didn't want to come and - poof! - like magic. Here we are."

Lorna frowned at that, the expression not really looking like something she did often by the way her nose crinkled across the bridge. "That doesn't sound much like Daddy."

"We… have very different experiences with him, clearly," Alex said, shaking his head, though he leaned against part of the wall close to the energy-laced bars. "So, what brings you to where us terrible, horrible criminals are?"

"Oh, well. We don't have many prisoners, and everyone is pretty busy, so … I volunteered to bring the food down."

"Well, you're definitely the cutest waitress I've ever met," Alex said, smiling a little wider.

Lorna stopped and blushed slightly. "Then you haven't had too many waitresses, have you?"

"Actually, I grew up in Hawaii, and I worked at a few tourist traps, and…" Alex cleared his throat. "What about you?"

"Northern California," she said. "Originally."

"Okay, not too terrible for a mainlander," Alex teased.

"Oh, I suppose you're one of those surfers, too, huh?"

"Um, yeah," Alex said, grinning a little wider. "Why wouldn't I be? That's where the fun is!"

"Huh," she said, smiling. "Maybe when you get out of here, you can teach me …" She flashed him a brilliant smile. "See you later, Alex."

Alex blinked after her for a long moment and then shook his head, sitting back down and leaning his head back against the wall. Okay, so, maybe the island wasn't terrible.

Chapter Text

A few days had gone by, and there was still no sign of the team. Or Logan. Or Magneto. And the few X-Men left behind in Westchester had all gone with Steve to stay in the tower as Steve cited 'safety concerns' and Jan shouted that K needed the extra babysitters - for Sam, of course. Not that K believed it.

K was leaning on the piano that was in the corner of the living room, her chin on her crossed arms as she looked out the window thinking it all over. "I wonder … if we were villains if this crap wouldn't be happening as much," she said under her breath.

"Serious question or just frustrated?" Steve teased.

"Guess it depends on the answer," she said. "How often do you guys go out hunting baddies that aren't stirring anything up?"

"Well, if you're not stirring anything up, how do we know you're bad guys?" he asked.

She frowned at that. "I'll get a cape."

Steve shook his head and sat down to put a hand on her shoulder. "Yeah, I know it's the worst. But you must be doing something right or they wouldn't be trying to stop you all the time. That's how I see it. If you don't have to fight for it, it's not good enough for the bad guys to care."

"That's fine and good when you're making speeches and kissing babies, but I'm trying to raise one, and I did not sign up to do it with a pure part timer."

"I did offer Logan a spot on the team. It's open to you too if you want it," Steve admitted.

"I don't take pity offers," she said, wrinkling her nose at him.

"Hey, I know you're good. The pity part is mostly just that I'm tired of seeing your family in more trouble than you deserve to see."

"How much do we deserve? Is there a sliding scale?"

"Yeah, you're at the part of the scale that says 'losing to Steve and Nick Fury in poker'," Steve said with a small smirk.

"Never gonna happen, spangles," K said, shaking her head. "I'll have your shield and his eye patch - all with Sam on my lap."

"If you say so," Steve chuckled. "But really, it's a serious offer. I know the team in Westchester is doing a lot of good, but you guys could use the support."

"We're training them, Steve," K said. "Teaching them to defend themselves and fight back. Think ahead. Make use of the environment … the works."

Steve let out a breath. "Yeah, I know they could use it. I swear that team gets in trouble more than any team I've been on, and you've read my file. Those are kids, K, and it just - it irks me. They should be fighting pickpockets, not…"

"You're like five minutes older than Scott is."

"Technically, I'm old enough to retire."

"Technically, you were in suspended animation, so you're not even thirty-five yet." She smirked at him. "Who's older? Really? You or Tony? This is fun."


"Are you mad because it's him?"

"I'm still older than the X-Men, and you have to admit that they're too young for this crap."

"Yeah, but they're old enough to enlist. Can't tell me you were just looking to fight pickpockets when you joined up." K paused when she saw the look of resignation on his face. "Are you older than all of the kids around here?"

"I thought Kurt was the oldest, and he's in his mid-twenties, isn't he?"

K nodded and settled her head back down on her arms. "Just wanted to know if you'd done your homework."

"Of course I have. You think Jan's the only one invested in those kids just because she designs the uniforms?"

"That's not what I said," K replied. "I know you care. It's pretty clear."

Steve let out a breath. "For the record, if we were villains, the problem wouldn't be constant attacks. It would be when we got caught and permanently separated from each other. Not to mention the other villains attacking us too." He smirked at her. "We really do have a talent for drawing in trouble, though."

"Alright. That's a fair argument," K agreed after a long while. "But … if we were villains, or … if was, then I'd just be killing them. Hard to come after me if you're dead."

"Harder to live by a code, huh?" Steve said.

"Just harder to live when you're a known entity," she said.

"You know we have your backs, K," Steve said.

"I'm just thinking it wasn't too long ago that I was running a coffee shop and no one cared who I was."

"Hey, from my perspective, it wasn't too long ago I was a skinny sick kid from Brooklyn that no one knew or cared about either."

"Yeah, but you wanted people to care. Or notice."

"True. I'm just saying - life changes. I bet you didn't think you'd have a great husband, a doting son, or the cutest daughter in the universe either."

"Nope," she agreed. "Every one of those things was nowhere near my radar."

"And Logan and Scott are doing a lot better now. You've got them back to themselves - or on the way there. The rest is just noise."

"Mmhmm," K said, nodding slowly. "If you say so. Ooh, hey. I don't suppose Tony ever figured out how to find them, did he?"

"The way I understand it, it's not a matter of 'can he do it' but 'how long will the scan take' according to Jan."

"Well … has he started it or do I need to go and cry at him?"

Steve chuckled. "He's working on it," he promised. "In the meantime, if you need cheering up, Jan is convinced Bobby and Johnny Storm are a thing and they don't even realize it yet."

"Oh yeah," K said, nodding. "Both of them have an attraction."

Steve raised an eyebrow and then nodded, tapping his nose. "Right."

"Hard to miss, honestly." she said before she sat upright and let out a breath. "So. Now what do we do?"

"Now, we wait for the geniuses to do their thing. Want to throw Sam at Thor and watch her destroy his hair again? That never gets old."

"Thought he had a date," she said. "I'd rather see her tackle you or talk Clint into singing again." She smirked. "You know she slapped Tony yesterday, right?"

"It was hilarious," Steve laughed outright. "But Clint's with Natasha right now. They're dancing around each other again."

"Then it's all you," K said. "But ... " she turned to look at the clock. "She's been playing with Bobby for a while. I could take her and just curl up for a nap."

"I'll wake you up if they find anything."

"Thanks, Steve," she said, then gave him a little kiss on the cheek before she headed over to pick up a very sleepy Sam and to curl up.

A little over two weeks had passed and Scott was starting to wonder what the plan was. Or what they had to work with to even make a plan. He knew Logan had been watching the patterns and relaying to Scott how it worked out, but now, Logan wasn't really answering his questions.

It was enough to get Scott seriously worried. Logan wasn't reacting like himself at all - tired and almost dazed. So when Erik came down again, Scott wasn't even trying to keep his cool.

"Something's wrong," he breathed out. "This isn't just … tell me there's nothing more to my dad's cell than the power inhibitor, because he seems drugged."

Erik frowned and shook his head. "No one has been drugging any of you, and all the cells are the same," he said, though he did walk over to look for himself. "Are you sure he's not acting?"

"I'm sure," Scott said. "If I was going to fake something like this, don't you think I'd ask the member of my team whose bones you can't control?"

But at that, Erik's eyebrows went up as if something occurred to him. "That … would likely explain it." He turned back to watch for a moment. "What has he been doing?"

"He's just… slowing down," Scott said. "Do you have medical facilities here?"

"Yes, we do," Erik said, nodding. "I'll have him taken up."

"Let me go with him," Scott said, standing close to the bars.

Erik paused and let out a breath. "You'll need to wear a collar to the facility. Both of you."

"Fine," Scott said. "But I want to stay with him."

Erik nodded and walked down the hall only to return a short moment later and hand a collar to Scott to put on, and then he handed him the other one and opened the cell to Logan. "Once you're both collared, I'll levitate him up to medical."

"Fine," Scott said again, snapping the collar on, and in a heartbeat, he was by Logan, almost holding his breath when he saw just how off his dad looked. Obviously, Scott was focused on his dad's pale face, but it was more than that. His eyes looked sunken in, he wasn't responding to Scott trying to talk to him and random muscles were twitching on their own.

He didn't figure out what it was until he saw that Logan's fingernails were an almost silver color. And then he realized… the metal still inside him couldn't be good for anyone. Without his healing, he was just a normal person with a hundred pounds of rare metal leaching into his bloodstream.

He glanced over at Erik, who was leading the way out, and then let his shoulders drop. "He's never been this long without his healing - at least that I've known him. He's being poisoned."

Erik paused and looked down at Logan, nodding very slowly. "That makes perfect sense. The human body was never meant to have so much metal inside it." He nodded once more, as if agreeing with himself. "The fact remains - you will both stay in a collar until we're in medical where he can be better contained. If that's all this is, then once he's on fluids and has recovered his abilities, he should be fine in no time."

Scott nodded, sure that was what the problem was and now looking around the island rather than Logan. The island hideaway itself was actually a sight to see, if Scott was honest. It would be a good place for people to hide… if not for the guy running things.

Still, he didn't get the chance to see much before they were in the island's hospital, where the staff worked quickly to get Logan tied down tightly before they got the collar off and got to work hydrating him again.

And from there, Scott could honestly see the difference as Logan healed and started to blink out of the fog, obviously confused as to how he got to where he was.

"Hey, Dad, you're fine," Scott said before Logan could freak out at being restrained in a medical setup. "You're fine. I'm right here."

"Tha hell happened?" Logan asked, slurring his words as he spoke.

"The adamantium in your system was poisoning you," Scott said. "You're healing. It's fine."

Logan nodded. "Yeah, that's a pain. Explains why my back is killin' me."

"We're still on Genosha," Scott clarified.

"M'kay," he agreed.

Scott shook his head at that, though he kept his hand on Logan's arm all the same, then leaned over to rest his head there, falling quiet as the IV worked through Logan and Erik left to give them privacy.

After a beat, Scott whispered low, "Can you pop your claws at all?"

Logan didn't answer but to look down at his arms and then looked up and around the room as he slowly let one out. "Maybe."

Scott couldn't help but let out a light laugh at that. "Great," he said. "I just need you to cut the collar so I can send up a beacon."

Logan nodded and looked around the place again for a second before he closed his eyes and played dead for a while, letting Scott rest his head back down on his arm and then popping just enough claw to break the connecting circuit. After a long moment, Scott looked up again and then nudged Logan's arm to "wake" him again.

"You seen the others?" Logan asked as Scott sat back with a smirk.

"We passed Alex and Piotr on the way here," Scott said. "I heard Kurt and Storm talking further down, but they were down a different hall."

Logan nodded at that. "They alright or am I the only one that's havin' troubles?"

"Everyone seems alright, just stuck," Scott said. "It's been a while and I don't know where the professor is, though. And I doubt he and Magneto are still 'talking' while we're all hostage."

"Never know," Logan said. "How long we been here?"

"A couple weeks."

"They haven't been talkin' since we got here," Logan said.

"That's what I figured," Scott said, shaking his head. "The worst part is: looking at this island? It could be a great haven for people who need it. He's just trying to force it like he's the only game in town and his will is God's."

"It looks good," Logan said. "But like I said - it's a target."

"Guess we're just going to have to add it to the list of innocents we're protecting as the X-Men," Scott said. "And make sure the world knows they can't wipe us out all at once. We're still out there doing good."

"Gotta get out first," Logan pointed out.

"I'm working on that," Scott said. "The professor said he contacted Bobby before we got here. Our friends back home are looking. They just need something to find." He tapped the side of his temple. "You think a full-power blast into the atmosphere won't register on their scans?"

"If it doesn't, their scanners are busted," Logan said.

"Exactly," Scott said, then got to his feet. "Be right back." With that, he slipped out and simply took off - since even if he was about to paint a huge target on his back, he was going to send up a signal outside of any buildings. Just to make sure Magneto couldn't use that threat on his father against him for putting a hole in something.

Not that Scott didn't think he'd get in trouble, but he wanted to be able to argue what he could.

He figured he'd be caught any second, so as soon as he had pushed through the main doors, he simply yanked off his visor and fired off a beam straight up, full power, as long as he could make it last.

It didn't last as long as he'd hoped, though. Not when a couple of guards came out of nowhere and started shouting demands at him, and he spun to face them, one hand still on his visor. "What, using my powers isn't allowed?" he asked, even as the guards grabbed an arm apiece.

"Magneto is not going to be happy," one of them said, jostling Scott to head for one of the entries. Though they didn't get far once they were inside before Erik was headed toward them and looking furious.

"Whose idea was this?" Erik asked. "And what exactly were you trying to accomplish?"

"Your collars are faulty," Scott shot back. "You know my powers are on full blast all the time or I wouldn't have to wear a visor."

Erik frowned but didn't do more than slow as they went deeper into the compound. "Yet I don't believe that was an accident by any stretch of the imagination."

"I guess that's your problem," Scott said. "For someone who supports mutantkind, you really don't support expressing our powers, do you?"

Erik let out a heavy sigh. "Yet I still don't think that was simply a display. What were you doing?"

"Using my powers," Scott said simply.

Erik let his feet touch the ground, and an instant later, he had an iron grip on Scott's arm. "I don't have time to play childish games."

"And I don't have time to spend weeks on an island I never asked to be on," Scott shot back without dropping his gaze. "Guess we're both disappointed."

Erik didn't bother looking at Scott as they continued on, and when they finally got to their destination, Scott was more than a little surprised to see that he'd brought him to Charles - and that Charles certainly wasn't under the kind of strict watch that the others were.

"Would you please explain to your protege the importance of secrecy?" Erik demanded as he pulled Scott into the room where Charles had been staying.

"He's got the X-Men in cells," Scott blurted out before Charles could say anything. "I'm just trying to get us home."

"Scott," Charles said, letting out a breath. "I'm sorry that you feel as though you've been mistreated. But we are going home." Or that was what he said even as he was projecting to Scott: Good. I can't reach out of this room.

He's not going to let us go, professor. I don't care what he says, Scott projected in a rush, even as he pulled against Erik's grip and shook his head.

I'm sure you did exactly what needed to be done, Charles projected. "You need to have a bit of patience, Scott."

"I'd have more patience if my family wasn't locked up!"

"Is anyone hurt?"

"No," Scott promised in a breath. "Dad was having a hard time not being able to heal from adamantium in his body, but he's alright now."

Charles turned toward Erik with a frown. "You didn't tell me you'd taken their powers."

"It's a function of the holding area," Erik said with an impatient wave. "I already told you I couldn't risk allowing them to destroy my good work in the main areas."

"Yet you allowed a man with healing powers and an adamantium skeleton to be without his healing this whole time?"

"My doctors are with him now. It's being addressed," Erik said. "That isn't up for discussion. What I need is for you to tell your devoted student to think instead of risking my haven."

Charles let out a frustrated breath and waved his hand impatiently. "Scott, please don't … what was it you did, Scott?"

"Used my powers," Scott said dryly.

"Were you taking down new construction?"


"Was anyone injured?"


"Then I fail to see what the trouble is, Erik."

"The trouble," Erik said, his grip on Scott's arm unconsciously tightening, "is that I thrive on secrecy here until we're quite ready to bring in the world's mutant population. And I can't have your protege shining beacons into the sky drawing down the interest of the world powers my people are fleeing."

"Ah. Scott," Charles said in a stern, low tone. "I'll not have you impersonating a lighthouse."

Scott didn't even bother to hide his smile. "Yes, sir."

"Honestly, Charles," Erik said, scoffing.

"No, no, he has a point. I'd make a terrible lighthouse," Scott said, grinning outright.

Erik was clearly irritated, but interestingly enough, he wasn't nearly as threatening in front of Charles, either. "I cannot believe you are coaching the boy in sass. Are you quite sure there's no blood link here?"

Charles smirked and shook his head. "As the saying goes: birds of a feather…" He smiled gently Scott's way. "That's why we've been able to build the X-Men the way we have. A shared worldview, after all."

"Yes, I'm sure you're solving all the world's troubles over being full of piss and vinegar," Erik said. "Mr. Summers … if you're quite done…."

Scott glanced at Erik and then back to Charles. "See you soon, Professor," he said. After all, Erik seemed to be more reasonable around Charles, making an effort with him that he simply wasn't making with the X-Men. So if Scott could more or less get the promise of another visit with the professor, Erik couldn't do anything terrible to him if he wanted to stay on Charles' good side.

"Sooner than later, I hope," Charles called back.

Hopefully with Bobby and whoever he brought, Scott projected out before he was quite out of the room - though he wasn't sure if the professor heard it or not.

He walked with Erik for a long moment before Erik finally broke the silence. "I won't warn you again. Another stunt like that and I'll have a new adamantium throne."

"I followed your rules," Scott countered. "I didn't put a hole in anything. Leave my dad out of it."

"You're making a spectacle of yourself and I'm very sure trying to draw attention at least."

"Then if you don't like it, let my team go," Scott said. "Let us all go back to Westchester. My dad, the professor, all of us. You don't need us."

"I'm not discussing this right now," Erik said. "And seeing as I'm sure you're up to something, I should simply throw you in prison."

"I thought that's where I was already."

"It can always get worse," Erik promised through his teeth.

Scott tipped his chin up. "It's not going to work, you know. You can't wait us out. My team doesn't switch sides out of boredom. And we don't change our minds because you made us."

"We'll see," Erik said. "Or - you can simply stay there indefinitely."

Scott glared at that as he tried to yank his arm back. "My team isn't some trophy."

"No they most certainly are not."

"Let them go," Scott said.


"They have lives to get back to. My dad has a baby waiting back home. There's students that aren't on the team yet, there's family outside of Westchester - our lives don't revolve around your version of utopia!"

"Perhaps it would be better if we brought your sister here."

"That's not the point," Scott said. "The point is we want to go home. To our lives. We're not going to tear down your haven or stop you from having one as long as it isn't a glorified prison!"

"I'm not interested in your judgements, young man,' Erik said as they got back to the cells.

"No, you're only interested in blind obedience," Scott said, shaking his head. "It's like talking to a wall."

Erik made a little noise of irritation at the back of his throat as he tipped the metal floors downward to slide Scott into his cell and then locked it without touching anything. "Feel free to take the collar off - or wear it if you like. Those lasers won't be functional here either way."

Scott got to his feet with his eyes narrowed as Erik turned to leave. "Glorified warden," he bit out after him, though once the doors were closed, the sound rang in his ears.

Chapter Text

As soon as Scott had fired off his optic blast into the sky, it registered on a few different satellites. After all, a big, red energy blast was pretty darn obvious.


“Gee, wonder who that is,” Tony said dryly when his AI threw the image up for him, and he alerted the other Avengers as soon as he saw it, though since K was already in the room with him - with Sam monopolizing Clint’s attention in the room next door- he didn’t have to tell her what he’d seen. “We can be there in no time. The real problem here will be making sure we’re non-metallic in our approach. Or Trojan horse him with you and Bobby…”


“We could Trojan horse it a few ways,” K said, frowning at the map. “How long has half my family been gone now?”


“Two and a half weeks,” Tony said. “Which means someone escaped.” He raised his eyebrows as he tapped the screen. “But that? Magneto knows that’s a beacon. He’ll be expecting someone.”


“Hmm,” K started to pace, her fingers tapping out a rhythm on her hips. “We can go in as the Trojan - or, if you even have something non metallic, I can go back to Westchester and reach out through Charles’ channels to distract while you go in - and I hope you realize how much I want to go in.”


“Well-aware,” Tony said, both hands up. “But… I may have been working on some armor that’s all synthetic.”


“May have, huh?”


Tony smirked. “Even the wiring in this thing is non-metallic.”


“You really wanted a party dress that I can’t go along to play with, didn’t you?”


“I really wanted to avoid getting crushed in my own armor,” Tony pointed out.


“Very smart move,” she agreed, then pointed at herself. “Still wanna go, carryin’ plenty of metal I can’t ditch.”


“Yeah, he’ll be expecting you,” Tony said thoughtfully. “So you could be our distraction. But it’s not like we have a little red phone to contact him.”


“No, but Charles does,” K said. “That’s what I was thinking. I’ll do what I can to steer away from ‘angry’ and try out ‘desperate’. Just to see if it works.”


“See if you can convince him to let you talk to someone, because your kid kinda put a target on himself as well as the island,” Tony told her frankly.


“True. Get me back to Westchester,” K said. “There’s a serious means of exploitation there you’d be stupid to ignore.”


“He’s got a Bat-phone. I think I’ve figured that out.”


“No. I mean he and Magneto were close friends , and by all the intel I’ve seen … they’re still pretty close.”


“I definitely got that from the mass kidnapping,” Tony said dryly.


“Tony. He wants his buddy to work with him,” she pointed out. “I’m sure you have no idea what it’s like to love someone and still fight like cats and dogs with them, do you?”


“That sounds completely nuts,” Tony said straight-faced.


K shook her head at him then popped up on her toes to kiss his cheek. “Just get me to Westchester.”


“We bringing Sam or do you want her to stay here?”


“I’d prefer she was somewhere safe, and seeing she was snuggling with Clint last I checked …”


“Then she’s fine,” Tony agreed, then offered her his arm. “Shall we?”


“Please,” K agreed.


In no time at all, then, Tony had taken K to where he’d just finished putting some modifications on the synthetic suit, and once he was set on that front, he offered her a hand up again so they could take off, this time with Tony as pilot and obviously grinning behind the face mask.


“You love showing off,” she laughed.


“Hey, if we weren’t literally going to rescue half your family, I’d be making so many passes at you right now.”


“If you weren’t literally going to rescue half my family, I wouldn’t be in nearly as good a mood as I am.”


“We should really put the four of you in a protective bubble,” Tony said, only half joking.


“We’d die of boredom. So would you.”


“I mean, you’re not wrong…”


“Just get used to that,” K said, smirking to herself.


Tony laughed outright. “Hey, I know how to talk to a lady.” When K smirked at him, he figured he was on the right track and kept up with the increasingly ridiculous compliments - to the point that by the time they landed, he was complimenting “the bald look you rocked that one time Alex set the Danger Room on fire with that explosion…”


“You only liked that for the charred uniform,” she shot back.


“What? Me? Noooooo.”


“Uh-huh. Shockingly out of character, I’m sure.” She led the way in. “If you stick around and you’re good , you might be able to pick up where on Genosha that Magneto is from the call.”


Tony drew a halo over his head… then immediately flicked it to make it “crooked.” “Sure thing.”


K shook her head at that and headed to Charles’ office first . It only took a few picked locks on his desk before she found the phone with Magneto’s number programmed into it. She took just a moment to try and find the right frame of mind to talk to him when she really just wanted to strangle him - and then hit the number and waited.


“Who is this?” Magneto demanded on the other end.

“My name is K,” she said, “We met briefly once before. I just want to know how I can get my husband and son back.”


There was a moment’s pause as K could almost hear the recognition click for him. “Oh, yes,” he said, switching from a more demanding tone to one that was almost smooth. “I’ve heard much about you.”


“Good, I hope,” K said, making a face as she looked across the desk to Tony, who smirked at her and make a cuckoo twirling hand motion near his temple. “I was watching. And I don’t want to fight with anyone. I just … I want the two of them back with me, so I was hoping that a civil phone call might be a safe starting point. Charles spoke highly of you, after all.”


“We’re old friends,” Magneto said, and she could hear the smile in his tone - it was actually genuine when it came to Charles. “I’d be happy to find a place for you here - and for your daughter. I’ve heard so much about her as well.”


“You have?” K asked, honestly surprised at that. “What ... what exactly have you heard?”


“Your son speaks highly of her. It’s obvious he’s attached to her. He’s very protective,” Magneto told her.


“She adores him,” K agreed, then let out a breath that certainly sounded relieved. “What kind of arrangements do I need to make?”


Magneto paused. “If you could gather what you need for the little one, I wouldn’t want you to feel rushed, but it would do wonders for the people on my haven to see a young, new family flourishing here.”


“I can do be ready quickly enough,” K replied. “I’ve been looking for Logan and Scott and I’ll admit- we’re halfway packed as it is.” She paused and then smiled for just a moment. “We’ve been hunted enough that I was starting to believe that this … geneticist might have found them.”


“There are no such problems here, I assure you,” Magneto said almost gruffly.


“I’d thought that was the case with Charles, but ... “ She let out a nervous sort of laugh.


“But you’ve allowed yourself to live so exposed,” Magneto finished for her. “That is why I founded this haven.”


“No, we’ve actually hidden too,” she said. “This man is relentless.”


“Then when you come here, I’d like to hear more about this man. I take care of my citizens, my dear, and if you were to come here, I would be more than happy to deal with this… situation.”


“I’m grateful for the offer of protection, but I’d caution you to avoid this creature at all costs,” K said, trying not to smile at the irritation in his voice. “He’s been stealing powersets from mutants and augmenting them to himself for years.”


“Then that must stop,” Magneto said, with no room in his tone for argument. “It’s exactly that kind of thing that I mean to end. Permanently.”


“That will be hard,” K told him in a quieter tone. “Especially since he’s taken healing from my husband.”


“I think,” Magneto said with real anger in his voice, “that I’d like to talk with you in person. I can arrange for you to come here. It seems we could have much to talk about.”


“I’m not opposed to the idea,” she said. “Especially if that means I have my boys back.”


“Wonderful. I’ll make the arrangements,” Magneto said. “I’ll have transportation for you at the school soon enough.”  


“I’ll be here,” she promised.


“So,” Tony said when the phone call was over. “You seemed like you were getting along.”


“I try to get along with everyone.”


“At least until that someone isn’t holding your boys…”


“Hell, I’ll settle for ‘far enough away from them’,” K said. “So … if you have non-metallic weapons, you might wanna make sure they’re ready to shoot, because I’m not entirely sure it won’t be the big guy himself coming for as mad as he was.”


Tony waved with one hand. “Hey, got plenty of repulsor power here. The first sign of trouble, he’ll be out before he realizes he’s out.”

“My hero,” she said sweetly.


“I feel like i have to say ‘aww shucks ma’am’...”


“So … this is probably the part where I have you hide in the closet or something, right?”


“Mmm, if you wanted someone to hide in the closet, there’s two blondes dancing around each other in the Baxter Building…”


“What on earth makes you think they’re in the closet?” K laughed.


“Um, have you seen them? They don’t even realize what they’re doing.”


“That’s not in the closet,” she said. “If they knew and were hiding it, then they’d be in the closet. That’s how that phase started. You hide things you don’t want found  …”


“Linguistics teacher… sexy butt… anything you don’t have?”


She tipped her head to think it over. “I don’t have a way to stab Magneto in the face and walk away clean.”


“Okay, fair,” Tony agreed. “But that’s what you’ve got me for.”


“Then we need to watch out for my ride,” she said. “Because he comes in silently.”


Tony smirked and then leaned back, one foot resting against the wall. “So, in the meantime, I just had my AI check in on Sam. Clint’s singing. Because of course he is.”


K smiled at that. “He wants the top spot back,” she said, nodding.


“Helps that Bobby’s distracted. He was winning for a while there.”


“Just be sure to point out that he needs the brother gone and the stand-in brother to be occupied if you want to get to him,” K said.


“Don’t think I won’t!”


K stood up and headed for the kitchen. “I don’t know about you, but I’ll wait better with coffee.”


“Like I’d turn that down,” Tony said. “Especially the way you make it.”


She didn’t argue that one bit and instead started up Scott’s cappuccino machine to whip up something a little stronger than a regular cup. She didn’t ask if Tony wanted anything out of the options in front of them and instead slid one his way just like she’d taught Scott to make. “So. conditions are changing … you gonna call up your guys?” She hopped up on the counter with her latte, waiting for whatever indicators Tony had set to notify them of someone’s arrival.


“I’ve got them on standby,” Tony admitted. “Steve’s ready to go already, but we’re waiting to see who comes to pick you up. If it’s not him personally-”

“I can torture whoever it is if it’s not him,” K said casually.


“Yeah, we’re gonna call that Plan B,” Tony said. “I was going to say that if it’s not him, we’ll commandeer the plane and get the coordinates - stage an island breakout.”


“That sounds more like a ‘B’ plan to me,” K replied.


“We told you about the Avengers rules, right?”


“Yes, but I am not an Avenger,” she pointed out.


“You’re working with us,” Tony said. “And X-Men don’t kill either, so…”


“Am I? Working with you?”


“Definitely working for me. Those jeans in particular…” Tony grinned crookedly.


“So is this when you usually get hit with a sexual harassment lawsuit or ... “


Tony snorted. “Pretty much. That or Pepper hits me with some new project.”


“Well that’s no fun,” she said. “Drink your latte.”


“Yes, Mom.”


“See … now you just ruined it for yourself,” K teased.


“You were the one momming me. I’m surprised it wasn’t ‘Drink your latte, sweetheart.’”


“You were the one to go right to ‘mom’,” she said. “I was just pointing out that I made something amazing, and you are missing out.”


“Yeah, but Clint’s got her, so I’ll settle for the coffee.”


“Mr. Stark, are you jealous of Clint right now?”


“Yes. Yes, I am,” Tony laughed.


K watched him for a long moment. “Huh.”


“Okay, what’s that look for?”


“Just … didn’t peg you for baby hungry.”


Tony blinked at her and then burst into a laugh. “That is not - you’re not-”


“Listen. You can lie to anyone all you want, but you can’t get it past me.” She reached over to pat his wrist. “Don’t worry. I won’t tell anyone.”


Tony shook his head. “I’m not even married, K. You’re gonna have to pump the brakes.”


“Since when does a person need to be married to want a family?” she challenged. “I didn’t say you were actively trying to make it happen, just that you want one.”


“We’re talking about Miss Potts, K. She’s the definition of an honest woman-”


“No, sweetheart, I’m talking about you . What you want, not what kind of girl Pepper is. I know that part.”


“Well, this conversation is taking a turn that I have absolutely not expected,” Tony said, shaking his head and hiding his smirk behind the coffee.


“You’re the one that’s jealous of Clint ... only one conclusion to draw. You did it to yourself.”


“Hey, Sammy’s cute. You’d have to be blind not to want to hang out with her.”


“How many bachelors do you know that would play with her that don’t want a family?”


Tony paused. “Xavier?” he offered at last.


“Try again.”


“Wait, him too?” Tony asked, starting to grin and honestly entertained.


K smiled his way and shook her head. “For everything this guy is putting into every single kid he can find? Come on.”


“Yeah, but baby hungry?”


“Tony, if he had a woman in his life, do you think he wouldn’t bend over backwards at the chance to have a tiny little thing all his own?”


“Okay, fair.” Tony shook his head.


“Men that don’t want little ones do not seek babies out to hold or play with. They look at them like they’re vile.”


Tony paused as he thought about it. “It’s just,” he said slowly, “I’d be a terrible father.”


“Says who?” K challenged. “Are you a fortune teller? Wanna tell me my fortune if you’re that good?”


Tony blinked a few times. “K, it’s - look, I don’t have the greatest relationship with alcohol and I know where that-”


“So work on it,” she said. “You’re tougher than that.”


“It runs in families.”


K smiled crookedly at him. “Tony. I’m Swedish. You think I don’t know about familial alcohol issues? The only reason I drink the way I do is because it takes a tanker truck to get me numb.”


“Fair,” Tony said.


“Come on. You’d be great. You’d avoid all the stuff you’re afraid of doing. All that would be left is enjoying it.”  She tapped her fingers on the counter and then hopped down. “I need to do something while we wait. And no offense, but counseling isn’t it.”


“We could always go for a quick romp…” Tony offered.


“You’d get distracted,” she said with a wave.


“Would not.”


She turned to face him. “Yes. You would.”


Tony took a moment to look her over. “No. I wouldn’t.”


“Then what’s the point?” K countered.


Tony let out a groan. “You set me up!”


“You’re the one that insists he wouldn’t get distracted … and well … if I’m not distracting, then I’m not gonna even consider it.”


“I was thinking more about how I wouldn’t get distracted from you but okay, you twist it how you like…”


“A spectacular attempt at a save,” K laughed.


“No, that was my real thought process,” Tony laughed right back. “I focus on the most important things…”


“I thought the most important thing was catching the bad guy in this whole set up,” she said. “Your reputation as my hero is on the line, good sir.”


Tony gave her a crooked grin. “You were distracting .”


“Point taken,” she replied, smiling right back at him.


“Meantime, I have a feed on godfather-singing in my helmet if you really want to take a moment….”


“Is he singing well or caterwauling?” K asked. “Because … she likes both, but I’m a little pickier.”


“Okay, hate to admit it, but he’s doing alright,” Tony said with a shrug. “She’s falling asleep, so it’s lullabies that I think he thinks we don’t know he knows.”


She slipped over to him at that. “Okay. Gimmie.”


Tony smirked, leaning back and watching K relax at least a little as she saw her baby girl with Clint, and eventually, they heard the plane touchdown out on the lawn.


“Showtime,” K said, then closed her eyes to try and focus, settling in at the table with her head in her hand. “Hope you have a good spot to hide.”


“Not usually my thing, but when needs must…” Tony got to his feet and slipped off, leaving K to head out to meet Magneto as he came down from his plane.


It took a few minutes to get into the right mindset, and though she didn’t like to do it, she let herself remember the sensation of waking up in Sinister’s lab. That … was always a good one to recall panic and despair.


So when Erik came to meet her, he was all sympathy and gentle looks. “You must be K.”


“I wasn’t expecting you to come yourself,” K said, her voice slightly shaky. “Yes. That’s me.”


Erik looked perfectly approachable. “When I heard your concerns, I wanted you to see the lengths I am willing to go to in order to protect my people,” he explained.


“I’m just not used to anyone doing something like that,” she said, shaking her head.


“Then I’m sorry the world has treated you so poorly,” Erik said. He looked around her. “Now, I was hoping to meet your little one…”


“She’s asleep,” K said. “I can go get her, we’re all set to go.”


“Wonderful,” Erik said. “I’ve been looking forward to meeting her.”


K nodded at that. “Charles enjoys his time with her, too,” she said, then gestured toward the counter. “I’d offer you a cup of tea, but I know you went out of your way, so I’ll just be right back.”


As soon as K was out of Tony’s line of sight, the only warning Erik had was a slight whine before - blam - he was blasted off his feet so hard that he was unconscious before he even hit the ground.


Tony stepped forward and popped up his face plate with a crooked grin. “That was fun.”


“I thought you knew hitting people was fun?” K said as she darted back around the corner with a collar and a set of restraints that Hank kept around for unruly ‘guests’. “I almost feel bad about this.”


“About cuffing the terrorist and kidnapper?” Tony asked. “Seriously?”


“About the fact that he actually gives a damn,” K clarified as she glanced up at him and cinched down the handcuffs

Chapter Text

"Oh, that's a thing," Bobby said as he, Johnny, and Steve arrived on the scene in Westchester where Erik was still unconscious and K and Tony were quietly discussing what to do next. "What did you do, jump him in an alley?"

"With the murder dress?" Johnny asked - which had Bobby snickering.

"I cried at him," K said as she got to her feet and straightened out the front of her shirt. "Then Tony said hello." She turned to Johnny. "There is no murder dress."

"That's not what Iceman says," Johnny shot back.

"There is totally a murder dress," Bobby said, nodding seriously.

"Like Iceman knows what he's talking about," K said, shaking her head before she turned to Tony. "He's insinuating that I have a dress just to kill a man in."

"Don't you?" Tony asked - which had both of the boys busting up laughing again.

"Not the way you're thinking," K shot back with a smirk.

"That's not nearly as fun!" Tony laughed.

"I've got a few for that. You know I do," she said. "Just not for actual murder."

"I'm just saying, K-"

"We all know what you're just saying," Steve interrupted.

K grinned at Steve. "Can we go now? Please?"

"Yeah, we've got things covered here," Steve promised. "Go get 'em. Please. They've been there too long."

K turned to Tony and gestured. "Waiting on you."

Tony smirked and offered her his arm, and a few moments later, they were both in the cockpit headed for the island coordinates on Magneto's computer.

On the island nation of Genosha, Scott hadn't seen his dad since Magneto caught him sending up a beacon, and he was frustrated, to say the least. He knew Magneto was keeping Logan separate because that was his best way to keep the X-Men in line, but he had no idea what to think about the situation. Did they turn his healing back off to keep him down? Did they leave him in the lab?

He was pacing and angry, so when he heard the door open down the hall, he was ready to lay into Magneto - or try to keep his mouth shut while his brother flirted with the girl who brought the food. What he wasn't expecting was to hear his mom calling out to them.

"Holy crap, Scotty," K said when she got within sight of his cell.

"Hi, Mom," Scott said. "Did you get my message?"

"Sure did," she said. "Or more accurately, Tony did." K was looking over the cell door. "How does this even open?"

"I don't know. Magneto does it, so I doubt it's some standard lock and tumble," Scott told her."

"Hmm," she said, frowning at the cell before she met his gaze and popped her claws to slice through the lock. "That was hard. I thought it might be electrocuted but … oh darn. No sparks for me. Where's your father?"

"I was going to ask you," Scott said. "I haven't seen him since I sent the beacon."

K frowned deeper at that and started walking down the cell block - cutting open every single lock that had someone behind the bars, even it they weren't one of 'her' kids. It wasn't until she was done that she retracted her claws then blinked a few times as she watched the bleeding continue. "What the hell… I thought this guy was all about pro mutant?"

"Yes, well, his philosophy doesn't extend to those who disagree with him," Hank said irritably.

"Where does it end?" K asked as she headed back toward Scott. "Before I pass out, please."

"At the threshold of the prison," Kurt said, already slipping over to her to put his arm around her shoulders so he could walk with her.

When they got far enough, Tony met them and K filled him in. "He's got a dampener - would you mind, honey?"

Tony grinned. "You got it, sweetheart." A moment later, he'd finished his scan and blasted through the dampener's power. And with that, all of the X-Men had their powers back for the first time in too long.

"Thank you, handsome," K called out to him as she tried to get away from the scent of her own blood to find a trail.

"I know where the professor is," Scott told her as he caught up to her. "And I know where the last place I saw Dad was. We can start from there, right?"

"Yes," K agreed. "That sounds like a solid plan, at least I can get a scent that way."

Scott nodded, though he didn't say anything further as he took her on the same path that he'd taken following Magneto to where Logan could get healed and hydrated after his near-poisoning - and that was a big sign to K of how stressed he still was.

But when they got to the lab and Logan was still there looking worse off than the last time Scott had seen him, he froze for just a moment - infuriated at how his dad had been treated by a so-called pro-mutant advocate. K's lip curled back in a snarl an instant before she broke the door off the hinges and rushed over to cut Logan loose - daring the doctors there to come close while she worked to get him to open his eyes - and cut the collar off, the whole time, peppering him with little kisses as she gently tried to rouse him.

"Mom, get him out of here," Scott said, one hand on the visor.

K didn't argue with Scott in the least, not when she was working on getting Logan moving anyhow. "Do it from the doorframe," K told Scott. "The support over the door will keep the ceiling from falling on you, too." With a little work, she got Logan half draped on her - and half on Kurt as soon as he joined them, which made it possible for the two of them to get him out and let Scott have a little room to work.

Kurt teleported the Howletts out, looking concerned when he saw how weak Logan looked. "Was…?"

"Adamantium poisoning," K said. "Can you get water? He's not going to clean it out of his system when he's this dehydrated."

"Absolutely," Kurt promised, teleporting away again - a moment before K heard the destruction as the lab came down and Scott came out a moment later still looking angry. "I'm going to go get the professor," he told her. "Are you okay?"

"Take your time," K said. "Magneto is in custody, so he won't be bothering you. I'm just going to get Logan going." By the time Scott had gotten to her, she'd settled on the ground with Logan's head in her lap. "No one will bother us if they want to live."

Scott nodded at that, not even questioning her, then left them there - and Kurt appeared at K's side a moment later.

"Wasser, fraulein," Kurt said with a bow.

"You're an angel," K said, taking the water and then rearranging Logan more upright to get him to drink. "Can you gather the others, too?"

"Of course," Kurt said.

With that, one by one, the X-Men arrived. And there was no problem until Kurt got Alex last of all, and they seemed to be in an argument.

"-nothing like her father," Alex was saying as the smoke cleared.

"Absolutely not!" Kurt said, almost sharply.

"What the hell are you talking about?" K asked, half glaring between the two of them, though at least Logan was half awake as he leaned on her.

"Her name's Lorna," Alex said.

"She's Magneto's daughter," Kurt said, cutting across him.

"And she's nothing like him."

"You're hooked on Magneto's daughter?" K asked dryly.

"You have to meet her, K," Alex said quickly.

"Where is she?" K asked. "And can you get her here?"

"Well, it seemed like she was in the ivory tower. So if we could just… if you could just meet her…"

K let out a breath and turned to Kurt. "Go up and get a hold of her. Tell her that her dad's in Avenger's prison and see if she cries."

"And if she does?" Kurt asked.

"K, no - she's really sweet," Alex argued, but he was being fully ignored.

"If she doesn't then she at least sympathizes with the man that did this to Logan." K gestured to Logan, who was still obviously weak, even with his abilities back and slowly drinking more water as he began to come around.

Kurt nodded and then teleported away, though Alex was already trying to explain: "She's been pretty isolated, and she really believes what he tells her. You can't really - she just - she thought we were criminals when we met, so she's got a lot of unlearning to … she's really sweet, I swear!"

"I'm not doubting that," K said flatly. "But I don't know what the hell you expect anyone to do if she's on board with her psychotic father."

Alex bit his lip, but he was having a hard time coming up with an argument when Logan was on the floor with her.

"I'm not even saying no, Alex, I just don't know what the hell we could do," K said.

"We can't just leave her," Alex said.

"Why not? Does she know what's going on in the world? Is she used to being treated like a princess? Do you know more about her than what flavor toothpaste you've been sucking out of her fillings?"

Alex flushed. "We haven't… actually…"

Before Alex could dig himself too deep in that hole, Kurt reappeared with Lorna in tow. She looked shocked and red-eyed, one hand over her mouth as she looked around the group. "What's going on?" she asked.

K held up a hand to try and signal the others to keep quiet. "What do you think is going on?"

She gestured to Kurt. "He said my father's in jail? Why?"

"For his crimes," K said evenly.

"You must have the wrong person," Lorna said. "He's been building a safe place for mutants, that's all. We didn't do anything wrong. This island is his - he made it."

K narrowed her eyes at that. "Do you know what he does when he leaves the island?" K asked as she reached for her comm and sent Tony a blip.

Lorna paused. "Not entirely, no," she admitted.

When Tony landed nearby a few short moments later, K gestured to him. "Do you know who he is?"

Lorna shook her head. "No. Sorry."

"You brought me here to get my ego taken down, didn't you," Tony said dryly.

"My sweet, darling, handsome prop, No." K gestured for him to go closer to Lorna. "Show her Magneto's last speech over broken down DC."

"Sure thing," Tony said, and the next minute, Lorna was watching with one hand over her mouth as her father made his demands of the government.

It was clear for the watching X-Men - including Scott and Charles, who came late to the party but weren't about the interrupt whatever was going on - that Lorna was seeing this for the first time, and for a long time, there was only silence as she tried to wrap her head around what she was seeing.

K glanced over to Charles and tipped her head toward Lorna in a silent suggestion to step up, and he cleared his throat.

"Lorna," he said gently, "your father and I are old friends. We both agree that the world has a lot of progress to make before mutants can feel safe, but we disagree on how to achieve that. I believe that we can show the world that they don't need to be afraid of us. I believe in peace." He let out a sigh. "Erik, your father, has always feared the worst humanity has to offer. Believe me when I tell you I want to help him, even if he is captive right now because of his worst inclinations. I believe he has more to offer the world than either war or timidity. Perhaps you can help me with that."

Lorna finally took her hand off of her mouth and bit her lip before she nodded. "Alright."

Alex broke into a smile at that. "I told you," he said, "we're the good guys, I swear."

"Can we get moving please?" K said. "Logan needs to get into a bed - that isn't an exam table - and probably drink a gallon or two of water."

"Yes, please," Kurt agreed.

"Scott," K said, tipping her head toward the plane. "I'm sure Tony has other things to do if you want to fly us."

"On it," Scott agreed, already rushing ahead to do just that.

"You don't mind, do you, oh, hero of mine?" K sang to Tony.

Tony laughed. "Yeah, yeah, keep flattering me."

"I already said 'handsome' and you know how incomparably smart you are …" K smiled his way. "But … if you hurry, you can probably steal Sam ahead of everyone else for a little bit."


Chapter Text

For the next couple of months, everyone was more or less taking the time to enjoy not having to rush from one catastrophe to another. Charles visited Erik often, and it was obvious Lorna and Alex were circling each other in the way that only teenagers could do.

The team was flourishing. Adding Jamie Madrox to the mix as Scott was trying to get back into the swing of things gave them a flash of new life that carried over into Scott incorporating his parents into more practices too.

Kurt and Ororo were putting everyone to shame, Hank and Jan were already thinking about the future… And Johnny and Bobby were going out and picking up girls together.

They were both still laughing and joking around as they got to Westchester and Bobby knocked on the door. When K answered, the boys grinned and held up a little bag. "Okay, so, I know it's not usual to bring stuff home from a bar blitz for a baby? But we were driving around and…"

"You love us," K said. "And wanted to steal some snuggles before you pass out."

"Oh, totally," Bobby agreed, grinning when he saw Sammy scooting along and holding onto the table. "Hey, Sammy."

"She's trying to run on her tiptoes before she walks," K said. "So … if you get close enough, be ready to catch her."

"She's trying to keep up with the superheroes in the family," Johnny said with a crooked smile as he came to sit down close to Sammy. "Heya, kiddo."

Bobby grinned and handed K the little bag - which had a kid-friendly Human Torch toy. "His idea," he said, laughing.

"Super cute, Johnny," K said. "She'll love it."

"Of course she will," Johnny said. "Because I'm awesome."

"Yes, everyone is in awe of you, bodies falling in the streets at your feet," K said with a wave. "Etcetera, etcetera."

"See? She gets it," Johnny said.

"I still think you're full of it," Bobby shot back.

"You're just jealous you don't have a toy like that too."

"Does he need one?" K asked, though she was already headed into the kitchen, so she didn't see the look on their faces.

"I'm too cool on my own," Bobby said with a sniff.

"You gotta get new lines, man," Johnny laughed.

"Says the guy who uses the same catchphrase every five seconds."

"The ladies love it, man."

"The shallow ones," Bobby shot back.

"I'm sorry, how many numbers did you get? Hmm?"

"Hey, I don't have to flaunt my team affiliation to get noticed."

"Oh, it's like that?"

"Yeah, it's like that."

"Are you staying for the movie, Johnny?" K called out from the kitchen.

"I'd love to, K," Johnny called back. "But we're launching some new exploratory ship into Reed's latest … thing." He waved his hand. "Always something."

"That's an interesting way to put it, but … okay. Sure. Next time then," she called back.

Johnny grinned and then ruffled Sammy's light hair as he got to his feet. "See you Friday, Iceman," he said, and Bobby gave him a two-fingered salute of a wave before he left.

"Don't run off, Bobby," K called out after she heard the door close. "It's been a while since I saw you."

Bobby grinned - and caught Sammy when she tried to run over to him. "I think I'm stuck. Your minion has me pinned."

"Oh no," K gasped. "Whatever shall you do?"

"I've been defeated, K. It's a real problem."

"It really is. What are you going to do when she gets old enough to walk?" She waved a hand as she came into the living room with a bowl of popcorn. "Well … walk and not throw herself at you at the same time."

"She'll get there," Bobby said. "And then she'll take over the team from her big brother." He grinned and tossed Sammy in the air as he sat on the couch, and she giggled and started babbling at him with all the sounds she knew how to make.

K smiled as she watched him playing with her. "You really are good with her."

"Hey, we're family. That's the point of the team - or so we keep saying, right?"

"That's the idea, yeah," K agreed, pulling her feet up under her. "So … you and Johnny must be raising all kinds of hell down at the bars the way you're going."

"No one can handle us," Bobby grinned crookedly.

"I'm sure," K said with a little smile. "So what do you boys get up to? I'm very sure I didn't frequent the kinds of bars you guys do."

Bobby held up his hands. "Woah, not like that."

"Like what?" K asked, frowning at him.

"Like… that."

"I just meant I spent most of my bar time in biker bars …"

"Oh." Bobby blinked and then nodded. "Yeah, no, we're more college bars."

K set her popcorn down where Sam couldn't reach it. "What did you think I meant?"

"Nothing," Bobby said quickly.

"Bobby, come on," K said, leaning toward him.

"No, it's just… me and Johnny aren't like that," Bobby said, holding up both hands. "We're just friends, okay? He's a great wingman."

K held up one hand, palm out. "I'm not a psychic, Bobby. I don't know what you're alluding to. But … if you had anything you needed to work out, you should know I'm a safe someone to bounce off of."

"It's fine," Bobby said.

"I know, but I wanted to make sure you know I love you no matter what stupid things you do in the bars…"

Bobby looked down at himself and then grimaced into a smile. "Do I smell?"

"Like many things," K said, nodding with a smirk.

Bobby nodded, falling quiet as he played with Sammy until she got tired of playing and wanted to try to walk around some more.

"Do you want to know?" she asked.

"Yes?" Bobby said. "No? Know what?"

"What you smell like."

"Okay, sure."

K smirked and leaned back in her seat. "Shocking exactly no one, the biggest note is freshwater - not like the sea, not like a pond, but more like rain. Clean. Fresh… nothing to taint it like the others. Then add in just a touch of sandalwood, fresh paper, blue ink, and beach sand. That's before you layer on the shampoo and conditioner and soap and cologne."

Bobby was smiling by the time she was done. "That's kind of amazing, you know that?"

"It has its uses," K said. "Like … I didn't realize until a few years ago that apparently I have a thing for motor oil."

Bobby laughed. "That makes sense," he agreed.

K shrugged. "Never realized it until I was comparing."

"It's different than a jet fuel smell, right?"

"Very, very different," K agreed. "It's even different between motor oil for a car and motor oil for a truck."

"That's cool," Bobby said with a grin. "So I bet you can smell the difference on Scott versus Johnny with their different piloting stuff, right?"

"Oh, they're worlds different," K agreed, nodding.

"Oh yeah," Bobby agreed. "Don't get me wrong. I love Scott like a brother. But -" He shrugged.

"But Johnny has a lingering scent of something that's about to catch," K said.

"I swear, sometimes he does it just to throw me off my game," Bobby said, rolling his eyes.

"I think he might actually be emitting something," K said. "And he needs to spark up just to burn it off." She shook her head. "His whole scent changes after he's been on fire. And it's not just the whole smoke and smolder thing."

"You know, that would probably make sense?" Bobby said.

"You should time him - see how often he does it," K said. "For science or something."

"Spray him with a water bottle every time," Bobby said with a smirk. "If he can make me sweat, I can make him fizz. Sweet revenge."

"The two of you could start a high-dollar sauna," she laughed.

"Oh yeah. 'Come hang out with Iceman and the Human Torch while you sweat the pounds away'. Who needs teams? We'll be millionaires."

"And what a way to wile away your time," K nodded.

Bobby laughed. "Nah. I like being on the team - and Johnny couldn't stop being one of the Four if his life depended on it."

"Of course not; he's got to keep an eye on that guy with his sister."

Bobby rolled his eyes at that. "Seriously."

"Not a fan, huh?"

"I just know if I had someone that interested and devoted, I wouldn't shut myself in a lab, that's for sure," Bobby said.

"Seems to be a recurring problem for brainiacs," K agreed. "Though … at least Hank is paying attention to Jan now."

"And Stark has his secretary, right?"

"Yeah, she happened to somehow get a picture of Tony with Sam when he was 'talking' to her - you know. The one where she was fascinated and trying to copy him?"

"Oh, and she kept talking over him trying to copy him?" Bobby laughed.

"And slapping him in the face," K said, smiling wider.

"Seriously, K. I love our family."

"We're lucky. All of us."

"Yeah." Bobby leaned back as Sammy came up to the TV to talk to the characters on the screen in the movie that was had just started up. "I mean it, though," he said suddenly. "The whole… family thing. I bet I could do it. Pick up a nice girl, right? Get a family. All of it."

"Bobby, you can do anything you like," she said. "As long as it makes you happy, that's all that matters." She let out a sigh. "This … was never my plan, but it's working. So…"

"Yeah, but it's-" Bobby shook his head. "It's different, right?"

"It's always different than what you expected for yourself."

"Not this way," Bobby muttered under his breath.

K frowned. "What's on your mind, Bobby?" she asked gently.

"No, it's just…" Bobby shrugged. "I mean, it's just not gonna happen. So that's that, I guess. Not like people don't already want to put a target on my head and then, you know, he's a big name and that's just-" He waved his hand as he tried to sort out his thoughts. "So."

"You never know what's going to happen," K pointed out.

"Yeah, I do, though," Bobby said, crossing his arms and pulling his feet up on the couch. "Me and Scott, remember? First time we met we almost died. And that's just the mutant thing. Can you imagine how dead I'll be if anyone knew there was more to it than just being a mutant? And with a high-profile… Be real, K."

"I'm not sure what it is you're worried about, Bobby, but … you need to do whatever it takes to make you happy."

"I'd be happy to not get destroyed, K," Bobby said.

"What are you worried about?" she asked. "You're a superhero."

"Yeah, but…" He let out a breath. "Yeah, but I like him. And I'm not an idiot, you know? I know I'm not a tactical or medical genius or whatever, but I know people and I know how to listen and I know how it is, okay?"

"You know he likes you too, right?" K said after a long silence between them.

"I guess so," Bobby said.

"No, Bobby," K said, then tapped the side of her nose. "Not a guess."

"Yeah, but that just makes it worse," Bobby said. "You haven't - I mean, look, he's - I love hanging out with him but if anyone thought for a second we were-"

"No, I actually get that part," K said. "Part of why I didn't follow through with Tony was because there was no way that would work without the department destroying him. Imagine the angles they'd have used to torture him? Weapons designer screwing around with a living weapon? Too many ways to drag him through the mud or to force him to develop nightmares for them."

"Exactly," Bobby breathed out. "I don't want to wreck Johnny. He's not hated like we are and he's got cameras flashing and people watching and if anyone knew, it would be chaos."

K waved him over to sit next to her on the couch, and when he grudgingly came closer, she snuggled up to him and kissed his cheek. "If it's just that - wait and see where it goes. If things don't lighten up and you still like him, give it a shot. I'm sure the two of you can figure out how to be sneaky enough if you need to."

"We need to," Bobby told her quietly. "He'd get nailed, but me?" He gave her a tight smile. "Look, I already got almost lynched once, so I'd just as soon not do that again. Ever. So…" He let out a shaky breath. "So, yeah."

"Believe me, I understand that," K said. "Entirely different reasons, but the final result could possibly be the same."

"You can't tell anyone," Bobby said.

"Bobby, why on earth would I do that?" K asked in a gentle tone.

"I don't know," he said. "But you can't - it's just-"

"That's not my secret to tell. I swear to you on my life I won't tell anyone. Even Charles can't get that out of my head unless I let him in."

"Oh. Crap." Bobby's eyes were wide as the realization hit.

"Don't worry about it," K said. "There's a weird vibe with him and his 'old friend,' so I wouldn't put too much concern there if I were you."

"Okay, but now I'm seeing me and Johnny as old guys and I'm in a Magneto cape…" Bobby pointed at himself. "Mutant menace."

"No way," she said. "He'd totally have the cape. Fire cape."

"This is true. He's way more dramatic," Bobby said with a smirk.

"You'd be the dashingly good-looking one … and he'd just be visible by the flaming cape."

Bobby smiled a little wider at that. "Sounds about right."

"You're just barely nineteen, Bobby. You have plenty of time."

Bobby let out a breath and nodded. "Yeah, I know. I just… I didn't know this was a thing. I had a girlfriend, you know?"

K nodded at that. "And she was a twit to drop you like she did."

"Yeah, I'm a catch," Bobby smirked.

"Must be," K said in a quiet singing tone. "You got a guy that is literally made of fire that wants to get close. You could douse him in a second."

"Believe me: I've already heard the jokes."

"I'm sure the fire and ice jokes are worn down to nothing already." She leaned over to kiss his cheek. "Just remember: even when the fire goes out? There's still water."

"Yeah, I don't know if I'm even ready to… even think that far ahead…"

"I'm just trying to say you're stronger than you think."

"Oh, okay. I was clearly not thinking the same direction you were, but thanks for the pep talk," Bobby said with a quiet smile.

"You are adorable," K said, shaking her head.

Bobby smiled a little more at that and then pulled K into a hug. "And totally your favorite, right?"

"Right at this moment? Absolutely."

"Good, because you're my favorite right now too." He paused. "Actually, no. Sammy's my favorite, right, Sammy?"

"I'll go along with that," K said, nodding. "But if you ever need a sympathetic person, even if you don't want to talk, I'm here."

"Okay, so pretty much every time I get freaked?"


"Thanks, K," Bobby said.

Chapter Text

As Christmastime came around, Scott spent a lot more time either training or looking over intel. He was doing better coping with all of the loss from the past year- he was - but facing the holidays had him pushing himself more into throwing his heart and soul into the team and playing with Sam when he wasn't doing that. Anything he could do to remind himself of what he had all while trying not to think about Christmas with Jean's family and all that could have been.

It was working, too. Even though there had been a lack of any serious supervillain issues, there had been an uptick in backlash against mutants since Magneto had come to wreak havoc. All Magneto had done was show the world how bad mutants could be. So it was more important than ever that the X-Men showed a counterpoint for that.

The interesting part was that it seemed like there were a lot of reports of mutants being attacked and harassed - and yet Scott and his team couldn't find what happened to them after that. Mutants around the country were hiding.

And if that wasn't enough to keep his mind occupied, Corsair had announced that he was coming for Christmas, and Scott was trying to figure out how to balance that. He really wanted to show his mom that she was special to him after everything she'd been through that year, from Sam and Sinister to the fallout from Jean and the disaster that had been Daken. But he also knew he needed to make an effort with his birth father and Hepzibah.

The compromise Scott had more or less come up with was to try and keep his attention balanced in person, but until then, he was putting extra effort into looking for a present for his mom. Something for her.

He was of two minds, thinking he would get something related to coffee, since that was their thing and how he'd even met her... But on the other hand, he wanted something over and above.

So, he had found a nice coffee cup, one that made him laugh. One one side, it said "Best Mom Ever" and on the other, it said, "And Don't You Forget It." But when he gave it to her, he wanted something nice in it.

So for the first time since he'd gone ring shopping for Jean, Scott went jewelry shopping. He knew that K would realize what a big deal that was just by seeing jewelry from him, but more than that, he wanted to get something for her that would remind her of how important she was to their little family. It was needed. Even if she wouldn't acknowledge that herself.

He talked to the girl at the counter to get the engraving arranged - something simple and small that would fit in a locket. One side would have space for a picture of the family, and the other would say "got your back."

He was pretty pleased with that as he headed home - and he found himself actually looking forward to Christmas. So yeah, this trip had been much-needed.

He was just thinking about what he would get Corsair and Hepzibah - something to remind him of Earth and to tell her she was part of the family - when he heard quick steps and spun to face that way. So, of course, someone hit him from the other side.

It was a hard enough hit to send him reeling and blinking hard, and then a couple quick hits later, he was down and out.

When he woke up again, the first thing he noticed was the strange, damp smell - and then when he opened his eyes and saw color, he panicked and quickly closed them again. He hadn't had control of his powers at all since losing Jean, so this was not just unexpected but worrying.

He took a deep breath and peeked his eyes open again, and he was still seeing color. Not that there was much color to see in the gray, damp space. He didn't know where his glasses were, and for some reason, his button-down shirt was open.

So this was new. And … horrible.

Scott nodded to himself and then got to his feet, somehow not surprised that he felt dizzy when he did. Whoever had hit him in the alley had done a number on his head - maybe that was what was messing with his powers. He couldn't even get a beam thinking about it, let alone the full-power beam that he was used to getting without thinking about it.

He reached into his back pocket for the panic button - but that was gone, and so was his wallet. So that was great.

A clatter drew Scott's attention, and when he turned to take a peek - trying to use only his peripheral vision just in case - he was surprised to find a small, skinny young boy that was clearly a mutant just by the physical issues he had. He looked almost frog-like, with green skin, yellow eyes and an elongated skull.

"Sorry, hi, can you tell me what's going on?"

"Hello. Hi," the boy said in a quiet voice, raising his hand. "You can stand? Can come with me?"

Scott nodded lightly. "Yeah, I'm fine," he said, shaking off the still-pounding headache. "Where are we, anyway?"

"Is Morlock tunnels," he said, though he moved differently as he kept stopping and peeking around corners and looking down paths almost haltingly.

"I'm not sure what that means," Scott admitted, though he was on his guard as well just based on what the boy was doing.

At that, the green boy smiled up at him but didn't try to explain, instead going further down the tunnels until Scott could hear voices - two male, one possibly female. But that seemed to get the green boy moving quicker, and before Scott could stop him or ask him who they were, he pulled Scott into the room with him - and then headed across the room to sit next to a pink-skinned boy that looked almost similar to him.

Scott frowned as he looked around the group of obviously mutated people. He had no idea what to make of them, and since he hadn't seen who had attacked him, he still didn't know the score. "So, who wants to tell me what's going on?" Scott said, arms crossed.

"We didn't expect you to wake up so quickly, Cyclops," the woman said. She was wearing a lot of black leather, including the eyepatch she had over one eye, and it looked like the others were deferring to her. "Welcome to your new home."

"What." Scott turned to face her with a totally flat expression.

"We've been watching you for some time now," she said, gesturing to the two grotesque mutants on either side of her. "And we could use someone like you to step in and rule with me."

Scott blinked, but when she looked completely serious, he let out a short laugh and shook his head. "No," he said. "I've got my team to run. I don't even know where I am; I'm not 'ruling' with anyone I just met."

"You don't seem to understand," she said. "I wasn't offering. It's not negotiable."

"I don't even know who you are," Scott argued.

"My name is Callisto," she said. "And I rule over the mutants that hide here."

"Hide?" Scott frowned at that. "Look, I've already done this song and dance with Magneto. The point of my team is peaceful coexistence, not-"

"Magneto wasn't looking for a consort."

Scott took a solid step back, both hands up. "Neither am I," he said.

"Again, I wasn't asking, pretty boy."

Scott stopped and narrowed his eyes, one hand on his shirt as he realized why his shirt had been undone when he came to. "Answer's still no," he said and then just decided to leave. He was not giving this any more of his time, and the whole situation left him feeling sick.

But it was clear pretty quickly that they weren't taking no for an answer - and not just Callisto. She didn't move a muscle; the men on either side of her though …

On a normal day, Scott would probably have been able to deal with them. Even without his powers, his dad had made sure he knew how to defend himself. The problem was his head was still killing him, and the first too-fast movement he tried to pull had him dizzy. He was definitely concussed.

For just a second when he was too dizzy, he saw red, but it was never sharp enough for a blast, and the next thing he knew, Callisto's men had him in a solid hold that he just wasn't getting out of, his arms securely trapped as they forced him to his knees. And it was pretty clear Callisto was ready to act on her insane plan right then.

She walked over to where he was and tipped his chin up with her hand so that he was looking up at her - and glaring and wishing for an optic blast no matter how much his head hurt. And then, probably to prove he wasn't getting out of it, she crouched down and didn't take her gaze off of him, addressing her men as she spoke.

"Take him back to my quarters and make sure he can't escape," she said, though the men didn't make a move to take him anywhere just yet when she was holding his gaze and methodically undoing every button on his shirt.

Scott couldn't do anything, though he did try to pull free. But stuck as he was, he could only glare at her, his heart racing in his chest as he tried not to show how panicked he felt. Which was easier to do when she was just unbuttoning the shirt than when she moved on to more than that.

She held his gaze a moment longer before, in a flash of steel, she'd flipped a knife in her hand and cut through the fabric of the shirt from the collar to the shoulder before she rested the knife against the side of his neck - not pressing it to the skin but leaving it close enough he could feel the steel.

"You can't do anything to stop me, pretty boy," she told him with a self-satisfied smile before she did finally step back and gestured for the men to drag him off.

Scott wasn't the only one that had been out running down their Christmas list, either. Kurt had gone out of his way to leave the quiet of Salem Center and had gone into the city. And though he hadn't gone shopping with Scott, he had seen him looking in a few similar shops for their mutual friends. And when Kurt returned to Westchester, he was honestly surprised to find that he'd beaten Scott back.

"I don't understand it - unless you let him take the blackbird to the city," Kurt said as he dropped into a chair across from Logan, dropping his bags next to him.

"What're you talkin' about?" Logan half grumbled, his focus on the book he was reading.

"I spent quite some time finding something perfect for our beautiful goddess, but Scott seemed to be done and leaving Salem Center last I saw him," Kurt said.

Logan looked up at him and narrowed his eyes. "You sure about that?"

Kurt nodded. "Quite. And even if he had another stop to make, I know I was torn between two gifts for so long he could have finished all his shopping while I made up my mind - on them both," he added, this time with a crooked, playful smirk.

"What'd you do, Elf?"

"A goddess deserves to be showered with gifts, does she not?" Kurt said with a wide smile.

"That she does," Logan agreed, then turned to look at the clock, frowning to himself. "Why don't you see if the locator's workin'?" Logan said. "Who knows. Maybe he got distracted by a pretty girl."

"We can only hope," Kurt agreed with a smile before he teleported - and reappeared as Logan was headed out. "Well, he's still in the city, so it's possible he found a nice girl," Kurt said.

"I'll try an' get him through the comms," Logan said. "It's not like him to go that long past his own schedule."

"Perhaps she was exceptionally pretty," Kurt teased, though he hadn't gone anywhere either, and Logan could see in the way his tail was moving that he was worried too.

"Relax, Elf," Logan said. "No reason to get worked up unless he doesn't pick up."

"We've gone a couple months with no life-threatening incidents. It seems like a pattern."

"Yeah, keep your shirt on," Logan said as they got to the radio so he could reach out, but of course, the one time Logan tried to keep his head cool, the kid didn't answer. Logan frowned to himself and tapped his fingers on the tabletop. "Alright. Do me a favor an' tell K I gotta go check on the kid. He's been doin' better, but I don't want to take that for granted. Who knows where he's at after holiday shoppin'."

Kurt nodded. "If you need backup, Mein Freund…"

"Yeah, well, I figured you can give me a lift. Get there quicker."

"Say no more," Kurt agreed, disappearing to tell K what was going on. And by the time he appeared again, Logan was already impatient, even with as fast as Kurt could be.

"Damn, you're slow," Logan said.

"K wanted to know who she needed to stab," Kurt explained.

Logan smirked at that. "What'd you tell her?"

"That we didn't know who it was yet, so we would handle it in case it was beneath her dignity," Kurt chuckled.

"You really are practicin' for 'Ro, aren't ya?" Logan chuckled.

Kurt gestured widely. "She deserves everything, Logan."

"Just don't practice on my wife," Logan said as he clapped a hand on Kurt's shoulder and handed him the coordinates.

It took a few teleports, but when they got to Scott's car, it was clear that he wasn't anywhere near it. Kurt frowned, already looking over the scene before the smoke had cleared. "There's no reason for him to leave this here…"

Logan pulled his keys out and opened the car door, carefully scenting out what he could, and when he stepped back, he was frowning deeply. He didn't say a word before he turned tail and started down the street at a quick clip.

Kurt rushed after his friend. "What is it?"

"Not Scott," Logan said shortly. They were moving fast, though Logan stopped and had to backtrack when he passed where the trail ended. He frowned and took a few steps back, only to circle around then swear to himself. "You've got to be kiddin' me," he muttered.

"Logan, what is it?"

Logan looked up at him and then gestured to the manhole cover. "Don't know, but there was one hell of a scent on Scott's car, and it goes dry here."

"The sewer?" Kurt curled up his nose.

"Sure as hell ain't no picnic for me," Logan said before he reached down and moved the cover. "You don't gotta follow, but I'm not leavin' this trail until I figure out if he's down there or not."

Kurt shook his head. "What, and leave you to the sewer monsters?"

Logan snorted at that. "Yeah, like that's a thing."

"You have all sorts in America. I've heard stories of baby alligators…"

Logan let out a weary sigh. "Whatever. Ain't nothin' down there or anywhere else meaner or badder'n I am. So it don't really matter, does it now?" Logan didn't wait to hear what Kurt had to say before he dropped down into the manhole and started climbing down the ladder. "You don't have to go if you can't handle it!"

Kurt looked down and then teleported to the bottom of the ladder, putting on a dramatically brave face. "I'm a superhero. I can handle it."

"Alright," Logan said with a smirk. "I'm sure your goddess won't mind the smell."

"She'll understand the sacrifices I make in the line of duty," Kurt said with a sniff.

Logan shook his head and had to close his eyes to get his bearings for a long moment before, finally, he turned and started down one way - not quite as fast as he'd done aboveground, but just as confidently. The one thing Logan did was pause for just a moment and hold one finger over his lips so Kurt could see that he wanted him to stay quiet.

The two of them wove through the tunnels, though occasionally, Logan would step back into an alcove and pull Kurt with him to wait until the footsteps he was hearing down the way passed. And while they were at it, Logan took the time to show Kurt how to move through the ankle-deep water without making noise - which was tremendously difficult to the point that Kurt found himself irritated enough to simply climb up the wall and mirror Logan from the ceiling.

It took them almost an hour to get to where there were enough mutants that they were getting harder to avoid - but Logan kept on the scent trail until he could hear a raspy, fairly deep voice that was talking about the 'pretty boy,' though they only caught the tail end of that conversation as the raspy voice echoed around them: "The sooner he realizes he's mine, the sooner we can get on with building our power."

"That don't sound ominous at all," Logan said quietly to Kurt.

"She's clearly blind," Kurt said, trying to bring a little levity to what was clearly a serious situation - if only to give Logan something to keep from going over the edge into fury until after they'd found Scott. "I'm the prettiest X-Man."

"You're biased to yourself," he said.


"Alright," Logan said, "Let's find him." Logan paused and turned to take a different scent trail, though he took a little time to find the right one as Scott's scent actually crossed itself a few times, and with so much other crap in the air, it was harder to decipher what was the most recent trail.

But it still didn't take Logan much time before he found the right door - and it had to be the right one because it was locked. He tried the handle, then lost his patience and sliced through the lock, ready to fight if he had to when he stepped inside. "You in here, Scotty?" Logan asked quietly.

For just a second, on hearing the door open, Scott had looked openly panicked, and Logan got the full expression turned his way in that second - made even worse when Scott didn't have his glasses on, so in addition to the sharp scent of fear, he could see how upset Scott looked. "Dad!" Scott's shoulders dropped in relief.

The locked room was apparently someone's bedroom, and whoever these people were, they'd not only left Scott in there tied up hand and foot but had tied the other end of the rope around his wrists tightly to one of the bedposts so that Scott couldn't move more than a foot in any direction. Add to that the fact that Scott was missing his shirt as well as his glasses and Logan was already biting down a growl.

Logan rushed over and cut him loose. "What the hell happened?" Logan asked, not even slowing down as he looked Scott over for injury of any kind.

"Someone hit me on my way home," Scott told him.

"What do they want from you?" Logan asked, though he was already frowning pretty deeply at Scott's state of half-undress.

Scott rubbed his wrists and then looked over his shoulder to where he'd been tied up. "Yeah." He cleared his throat. "Let's just go."

"That bad, eh?"

"That bad."

"If your mom was here, she'd kill her," Logan pointed out. "I oughta kill her. I know where she is."

"Yeah, one step at a time. I still don't know where I am," Scott told him.

"Take a whiff, kiddo; you're in the sewers."

Scott made a face at that. "No idea where, though. I was out for a while, and I'm still…" He waved a hand near his temple.

"Don't really matter," Logan said. "Let's get you away from where they're concentrated, and we'll pop a manhole cover so Kurt can get you home."

"And then I need Hank to take a look," Scott told him frankly. "I can't get the beams back on."

"Right." Logan tipped his head and listened. "Alright. Keep quiet, follow my lead, and I'll get you out."

Scott nodded, and to his credit, he didn't say anything when he saw Kurt as well except to raise an eyebrow his way - but he was too ready to be out of there to risk saying anything when they were trying to slip out unimpeded.

They got far enough that Logan spotted a manhole ladder, then gestured to it. He took a quick climb up to make sure they weren't going to get their heads taken off, then gestured for them to go up. "I'll be back."

"Not all of them are like her - some of them are just kids hiding from people who hate them, Dad," Scott said quickly. "It's almost like Genosha all over again." When Logan looked like he was still ready to run back down the path, Scott let out a breath of frustration - though that turned into something more like a shout of anger when he turned back to the ladder and nearly blasted himself off of it when his optic blasts suddenly turned on again.

Logan rushed to make sure he didn't fall. "Alright, I got you," Logan said. "But you're gonna need to tell me everything that happened."

Scott was shaking his head, his eyes screwed shut. "Dad, let's just-"

"Yeah, I know. I just need to know if I gotta come back and kill her."

"I'm fine."

"Are you tryin' to tell me I'm not supposed to watch out for that kind of crap?"

Scott let out a breath, one hand over his eyes. "I'm glad you've got my back, Dad. I get that. But the wedding is clearly off, so we can go."

"Wait. Wedding?"

"That's what I said," Scott said dryly.

Logan did a fair job of shoving his reaction down, though he nodded to himself. "Yeah, I'm goin' back."

"At least let me get my visor."

"You gotta get checked over by Hank," Logan said. "We just kidnapped her betrothed; I think we'll let 'em settle down first. Make sure you're healed up."

"And I'd be fine never coming back, to be honest," Scott told him.

"Alright, I'll let it go if she can find someone else to stalk," Logan said, though he hadn't taken a hand off of Scott yet. "How's that?"

"Yeah, she shouldn't be stalking anyone, but fair for now," Scott said.

Logan looked over to Kurt. "At least get us to his car."

"Right," Kurt said, though the way his tail was still behind him, it was obvious he had been listening to the whole conversation and was not happy about it. A moment later, he'd teleported them to the car and handed Scott a spare set of glasses from the glove compartment.

"Yeah, you're not drivin'," Logan said. "Head injury. You can talk on the way back, though."

"Dad, I'm fine," Scott said - which was belied by him sitting down too fast and getting very dizzy.

"No one would be fine after that," Logan said, handing him his flannel when it was clear, on top of everything else, he was cold without his shirt in the middle of December.

"I don't even know enough to tell you what the story was," Scott told him as Logan got in the driver's seat.

"Well, she had you half undressed," Logan pointed out.

"Yeah, no, I know that part," Scott said, drawing in his shoulders with a look of pure distaste. "I just meant - I mean, there's not much to tell. Someone jumped me, I woke up concussed, the self-proclaimed ruler of that group of mutants wanted a 'consort,' and that's really all the explanation I got. I've never even heard of the 'Morlocks.'"

"Doesn't sound like a group you wanna know too much about," Logan said.

"There were some kids in the group," Scott said.

"Bein' led by that bitch that kidnapped you? Yeah, we're probably goin' back."

"Please do me a favor and don't tell Mom the full story until after we're back," Scott said. "If we go in and she knows the story, you'll both be ready to kill someone, and X-Men don't kill."

"Still didn't think I was official all the time," Logan said half under his breath - clearly his loophole for anything like this.

"Dad." Scott shook his head. "Seriously?"

"Listen, you can't drop something like some creep kidnappin' my kid to screw and expect me not to kill her."

Scott let out a breath. "Yeah, love you too."

"It's not something I take lightly," Logan said. "And even though she didn't … the intention was there."

"Yeah, I know. I was there," Scott said in a breath. He leaned forward and rubbed his hands over his face. "Thanks for coming to get me."

"Hey, we look out for each other, right?" Logan said, turning his way.

Scott smirked lightly at that. "Got your back."

"And I got yours. Which is why I'm gonna break hers."

"Dad, I'm fine."

"No, you're not," Logan said, though it was clear by his tone of voice he wasn't entirely mad. The truth was he was more affected by the whole setup than he was letting on, too.

"We can have this discussion at home, ja?" Kurt said.

"Are you entirely sure you're not actually my biological kid?" Logan said. "Because the level of trouble that goes lookin' for you …"

Scott let out an almost disbelieving laugh at that. "Must be why you adopted me. Birds of a feather."

"Must be," he agreed, though as they took off for home, Logan was doing that thing that he did when he was feeling particularly paranoid - obsessively checking the mirrors and being overly careful to follow every single road law. Even though it was driving him nuts not to just floor it.

Chapter Text

By the time Logan and the boys got back to Westchester, knowing it was probably better to give them privacy, Kurt simply teleported out of the car, off to find Storm to tell her what had happened. Not to spread gossip, but because he was seething himself and trying not to show it in front of his two obviously upset friends.

Which left Logan and Scott to head down to where Hank was set up not far from the Danger Room. Both of them were convinced that Scott had a concussion and neither of them were anywhere near willing to break the silence that had fallen in the car.

But considering the high levels of not okay that both of them were projecting, Hank didn't even need to reach out to anyone when Charles could hear Scott, and Hank hadn't even finished confirming the concussion diagnosis before Charles had reached out to K to let her know her boys were in the medical wing and asked her to accompany him to check on them when they were absolutely not alright.

"Okay, so what's going on?" K asked Charles. "Who needs to die?"

Charles let out a breath as he caught up to her. "There's a group of mutants hidden underground - quite literally," he explained. "And I'm afraid they decided to kidnap your son." He paused as he considered what to tell her next, keeping in mind the highly protective drive that the whole family had. "I think the rest is something you need to discuss with them - for their sake."

"That doesn't sound like a horrible no-good very bad thing at all," K said sarcastically as the elevator doors opened and she made her way into the lab and then over to sit between Logan and Scott. "Would one of you please tell me what happend?"

"Hi, Mom," Scott said, giving her a quiet smile before he squeezed her arm. "I'm fine. Just a concussion."

"Yeah, but for as upset as your dad is, I'm not going to believe that it was nothing."

Scott looked over at Logan, who still hadn't said anything, though Scott couldn't tell if that was because he was biting back anger or something else. "Dad … is just upset I'm taking after him," he said, trying to keep both his parents from freaking out - especially his mom, since she'd already had to deal with them both being depressed so soon after dealing with Sinister that it wasn't fair to her. "I inherited the sign over his head that says 'please kidnap'."

"No kidding," she said, reaching over to brush the hair out of his face. "If you can inherit it from him, you can get it from me too. I apologize formally for subjecting you to this kind of nonsense." She frowned as she looked him over - and considering the flannel shirt he was wearing was most definitely not his… she reached up to jiggle the collar. "This kind of nonsense in particular."

"What, you don't think this is a good look on me?" Scott asked with a teasing smile that didn't match the anxious scent on him.

"If it fit you right, you'd be positively gorgeous in it," K said, though the corner of her mouth tightened slightly. "You don't have to give me the blow-by-blow, but I really would like it if you told me how far this went." She leaned forward and dropped her voice low just for Scott. "I've seen every shade on that spectrum. I just want to know how bad it was so I can know how to react. Because right now? I'm trying to keep it in check and not jump to the worst conclusion."

"Mom, I'm okay, I promise," Scott said quickly. "You don't have to worry about it, alright? Nothing happened."

"Sweetheart, I'm going to worry about it anyhow. I can't stop that."

"Well, I'm serious," Scott said, then looked past her to Logan. "Dad can back me up. It was just … threats. We've dealt with way worse on any given Saturday."

"Yeah, well, threats that start with losing your clothes have a special kind of panic to them," K said. "And I kind of forget my manners when it comes to those threats."

"I'm okay," Scott said again, more firmly this time. "Nothing happened."

"Good," K said with a nod, though she still had a steely sort of glint in her eyes. "What was this person's name?"

Scott let out a sigh when it was clear K wasn't going to let it go. "Callisto," he said.

K nodded at that, then leaned over to kiss his cheek - and subtly look for scents that could belong to people and not just the environment he'd been in. "If you'd like, I made pasta. You could grab a shower then snuggle up with Sam."

"Yeah, I still smell like a sewer. Sorry, Mom," Scott said. "Dad had it worse, getting in there with his enhanced senses chasing down a scent trail. And Kurt's going to be getting that smell out for weeks." He smirked. "Fur."

"Baking soda," she said. "Mix it with your shampoo after the first wash. It helps."

"Thanks, Mom," Scott said, looking between his parents before he got up to leave, sure that he hadn't really succeeded in keeping her from freaking out - but more than ready to take a shower, all things considered. And not just for the smell.

"Love you, Caramel Mocha," K said, sure to try and smile a little for him.

"Love you more, Mom," Scott called over his shoulder.

"Not even remotely possible," she shouted out to him, which had him chuckling as he headed out.

K smiled after him for a moment, then turned to Logan. "Okay. You can freak out on me later, but I want to go, right now, and deal with this."

"No," Logan said, shaking his head. "They'll be on high alert right now. Give them a little time to get over it, give us a chance to find out more about them first, but yeah. Callisto and her buddies need to be stopped."

"Are they that powerful?"

"No, but it's their turf and I've been caught up in sewers before. It's not something I like to repeat - the whole head to toe submersion thing."

K growled low at that but closed her eyes and nodded. "Fair enough," she said after a long moment. "But that just means you need to go hose off too - and do it fast. Please."

"Fair enough," Logan agreed, trying not to let the smirk slip into anything more than that when he knew she was honestly ticked off. He got to his feet and stole a quick kiss, then headed off - almost following Scott's path exactly as K stood there for a moment and then turned to Hank.

"You're coming with when we go, right?" K said to him, though by her tone and body language, it didn't feel like a question at all.

"Of course," Hank promised quickly.

"Those two don't want to talk, I'll get it out of Logan later, but … if they want to wait, then when we go, it'll be a hard hit," she said. "I don't care who's in charge of running it. I'm telling you now I want the heavy hitters ready to roll."

"As flattered as I am to be a heavy hitter," Hank said with a small smirk he couldn't quite contain, "I think you'll find that the entire team would be on board. Especially once Kurt finishes his tales."

"I'm sure they will," K agreed. "But make sure he knows to keep his tales mostly to himself. Once they all know the gist of it, I don't want Scott slipping any further than he already is. He's trying to protect me, for Pete's sake."

Hank smiled kindly a put a hand on her arm. "Can you blame him? You've done so much for your family - for all of us, in fact. I think I speak for the entire group when I say we're quite protective of you."

"And I love you, too," K said. "But whatever this person was threatening?"

"K, believe me: I'm just as ready to let a bit of the beast out as well. And I can tell you now that as soon as Alex hears it…"

At that, K smiled crookedly, then walked over to kiss Hank's scruffy cheek. "Just bottle it and hold onto it until we head down there."

"Ah, a little motivation for the troops, I see," Hank nodded.

"It works," she said, squeezing his arm. "Now. I'm going to go tackle-interrogate my sweetheart. If he's lucky, I'll let him finish washing his hair first."

Hank chuckled at that. "Either way, he would be lucky," he pointed out.

"That's the idea," K called back as she headed out of the lab. She counted it out in her head - how much time she knew Logan took to get started usually - and that had her slowing down slightly in the kitchen as she passed through.

Ororo was there, and she frowned on watching K clearly counting in her head. K stopped and turned her way for just a moment. "Scott will be back through in a little while - could you please make sure he eats real food?"

"Of course," Ororo said. "Kurt told me what happened. If you're going after them…"

"Not tonight, no. I need more information," K said. "Bobby still playing with Sam?"

"And Jamie. And Jamie's double."

K nodded. "Tell them to hold onto her for a little while. Both Scott and Logan were being tight-lipped about what happened, so I'm gonna get my information. Might take some time."

Ororo smirked at that. "Yours is much less talkative than mine and harder to get talking."

"You'd think so. That's gonna change," K said, tapping the counter with one hand before she headed up the stairs. She took the time to take off her shoes - just her shoes - and then went from their bedroom to the bathroom, smirking to herself when she could smell the lightly-scented sandalwood shampoo, because, of course, her timing was right where she wanted it to be.

She padded silently closer, then darted forward past the shower curtain to tackle Logan on the spot. There was, of course, a loud crash when she took him to the ground, and before he'd hit the tiled floor all the way, she was sure to set up the pin to keep him down.

"Now. You need to tell me what happened, and if I'm feeling nice, I'll let you get the soap out of your hair."

The shock of getting hit in the shower was one thing, but the idea that she was willing to attack him fully-clothed was another subject of discussion altogether that had Logan frowning. "I think you might be doing this wrong," Logan critiqued, though he couldn't move his arm without her twisting his wrist, and all things considered, seeing as she'd made sure to get him in a solid leg-lock too, it was a pretty efficient attack. Especially since he wasn't inclined at all to get her off of himself. "Too many clothes."

"No," K said, tipping her head. "That's what we like to call incentive. I know how to do this perfectly well. So. Start talking, and I'll help you finish up."

Logan managed to keep from smirking though the light in his eyes were dancing with trouble. "I don't think I was trained against this kind of interrogation."

"No. You were not."

"I'm strangely okay with that."

"Figured you would be."

"What if I promise to fill you in after the shower?"

"Losing incentive at an alarming rate."

Logan sighed at that. "Vicious."

"You know it. Now talk."

"This is a really odd way to waterboard."

"Are you complaining?"

"Not even a little bit." Logan shook his head, tried to shift out of her pin, and when he couldn't … without hurting her ... he took a deep breath - and quickly ran down what he'd seen and what he'd heard - all of it with his eyes closed since, of course, she was sure to keep the water in his face. But the second he'd finished talking, there was another crash as he turned the tables and they got started in a whole different game.

The next week, Corsair and Hepzibah arrived just ahead of Christmas, both of them grinning and clearly ready to enjoy their time on Earth. They had kept trying to set up a time to visit, but things kept falling through. Either the X-Men had some villain they needed to fight or the Starjammers got caught up in trouble.

But they'd managed to make it work for Christmas, and Corsair was actually looking forward to the two-week break.

When Corsair stepped into the kitchen, there was only a few people there - K and Logan - and their little girl who was growing so fast, Charles, and the tall Russian boy.

Corsair broke into a grin when he saw that Sam was taking a few steps toward Piotr before Piotr would catch her as she started to fall and lavish her with praise. "Woah, first steps, that's a big deal."

"She's been diving at people if they get too close," K said. "Except for Warren. She likes to pretend to go to him, shake her head 'no' then turn the other way and fall on her backside."

"And he is so dramatic about it she does it still every time," Piotr laughed.

"They both love it," K agreed. She looked down at her coffee, and then up at Corsair before she narrowed her eyes and pointedly pushed the coffee mug away from herself. "But … before everyone gets down here, you and I really need to go get a cup of coffee."

Corsair looked between her and the mug. "You have one. Is this a code?"

"You bet your ass it is," she agreed, then got to her feet and kissed Logan for a long moment, though he didn't look surprised at all with how she was handling things. "Come on, I'll drive."

"Okay then," Corsair said. "Can I bring a friend or is this a solo execution?"

"Oh yeah, bring a friend. Friends are fun," K called out - already halfway to the garage. "You like coffee, Hep?"

"I suppose," she said, obviously not sure about whatever code this was - especially since this was the same woman who had threatened to run over the Starjammers with a horse before and 'dangerously inconsistent' seemed to be the best way Hepzibah could describe her.

"Excellent. I have a bakery I like to hit not too far from here and you need to get filled in on all that you've missed," K said.

"Apparently so," Corsair said, still totally bemused as he followed her.

K snatched the keys to Logan's Jeep and gestured for the two of them to climb in. "This won't take too long, and I will actually get you both a bite to eat and some coffee, but I don't want you flipping out around the kids. And if you don't flip out a little bit, then you and I are going to have major problems."

"This does not sound like a pleasant coffee date by any stretch of the imagination," Corsair said, still entirely off his guard as to what the heck was happening.

"Oh, I'm sorry, were you expecting something with a warm, welcoming hug and a kiss? 'Oh, I don't know how we've come this far without you?'" K shot back, laying it on thick with a breathy tone of voice. "That it? That what you need?"

Corsair let out a laugh as he put his arm around her. "That exactly! That's the reception I need!"

K tipped her head back as she stared up at the soft top over her and let out a long, low breath then, just to keep him off his guard, she launched over to his side of the Jeep to wrap him up in a hug and kissed his cheek. "I don't know how anyone can make it without you around, you big, strong Summers, you."

Corsair was laughing hard by that time. "Hep, you watching this?"

"Yes," was the very simple response.

"You need one too?" K asked.

"No," she replied, shaking her head.

"Suit yourself," K said, settling back into the driver's seat before she started it up and then threw the Jeep into gear and headed out. "Alright. So. You've missed a lot of misery, my friends," she said - then started down the list of all that had happened and how she was particularly concerned about Scott's impressive number of kidnappings already under his belt.

"He did not have that kind of problem as a kid," Corsair said.

"No, but he did have that whole crap where you know … family outing turned into alien attack, I'm sure every kid goes through that these days," K deadpanned.

"Okay, fair," Corsair said. He ran both hands over his face. "Seriously, though… I thought for sure him and Jean…"

"Yeah, we all did," K said with a sigh. "Both he and Logan are still a mess over that."

"No kidding." Corsair took a deep breath, obviously still processing all of it. "Holy crap."

The discussion continued, though they paused when they hit the bakery long enough for K to get their orders and their coffee. After that, they quietly headed to one of the nearby lakes to continue their chat since K was very sure Corsair needed a few moments to process all of that.

But finally, enough was enough and the silence was getting to her. "Could you have done it? Taken Jean out knowing her like that?"

"I don't know," Corsair said, still wide-eyed over the whole thing. "Maybe. If I knew we were all gonna die. Maybe. I don't know."

"The guilt is a real thing," K said. "And Scott … He doesn't talk about it, of course."

"Hey, that part I get," Corsair said. "I didn't even tell you about Kat until you threatened me."

"I don't expect him to talk about it,' K said. "It's still fresh, after all. And he's a kid."

"That Callisto woman, though - that one I wouldn't hesitate to kill. That's a much easier situation than the Jean thing," Corsair said after too long a pause, obviously to get the subject off of loss.

"Yeah, working on that, actually," K said. "Pulled in a few friends to do the recon I need to hammer them hard."

"Good. Any chance that can happen while I'm still here?"

"Depends on how long you're here," K said frankly. "I'm not wrecking Christmas if I can avoid it."

"Should be a couple weeks, as long as the boys don't run into trouble and need bailing out," Corsair said with a smirk.

"Then maybe," she agreed, tipping her head.

"Good," he said, then leaned back as he thought it over. "And this Lorna… we're sure she's not like her father? Because it seems like the way my boys are running, I'm going to need to take care of some business."

"She's … she's been pretty clueless, honestly," K said.

"Well, that's something going right anyway," Corsair said, shaking his head. "And Sammy's not showing any signs of kidnapping problems? Too early to start worrying about that?"

"Considering the guys that have been after Logan and I? That's always going to be a problem," K said. "But I think we can handle that alright. So far." She tipped her head. "We have the Avengers backing us up - Captain America, Iron Man .. and their group of buddies."

"That's not terrible, then," Corsair said. He let out a long breath. "So what can I do?"

"You … can tell me if there's anything that I can make for you boys that you've been missing around the holidays," K said. "I'm trying to make sure these kids have a semi-normal kind of Christmas - so ... "

"Well, Kat always made sure we had chocolate pie," he said after a long moment's thought. "Pumpkin for Thanksgiving, chocolate for Christmas."

K nodded at that. "Alright. Well, on the morning of, I always make Swedish pancakes and cinnamon rolls," she said. "And since we had some time in the right place - at the right time, I've got a few jars of thimbleberry jam that I know Scott went for. You're welcome to hit it, too."

"Hey, that sounds great," Corsair said, sitting up straighter and honestly grinning for the first time since the conversation had started.

K smirked at that and turned to Hepzibah. "Have you two done Christmas before? Or is it all unbuckling swashes?"

Hepzibah shook her head. "C'ris tells me of it, but no."

"Then this will be your first," K said, nodding. "I sincerely hope you enjoy it."

"I'll make sure you do, sweetheart," Corsair promised Hepzibah with a troublemaking grin her way that had K shaking her head at them as they headed back.

"The boys should be up when we get back," K said. "So … now you know. Keep in mind Scott doesn't like to talk about any of it. But … feel free to razz the living daylights out of Alex. He thinks no one notices how entirely smitten he is."

"Which is impressive since he was the attention hog when he was a kid," Corsair laughed.


"Is, apparently," Corsair said, still laughing.

"Much better," K said, and after she double checked that Hep had enjoyed her latte, they headed back. When they got to the house, sure enough, both Summers boys were awake, and Alex was half wrapped around Lorna - though his back was to the door so he didn't know that his dad and Hep were there until Corsair busted him out.

"Atta boy, Alex. Buy her a drink and take her home like a man, wouldja?"

Corsair barely got the words out of his mouth though before K hauled off and cracked him in the arm, then quietly made her way over to give Scott, who was laughing hard at the look on Alex's face, a kiss on the temple before she sat down with Logan.

"What is even happening right now," Alex said, blushing hard as he and Lorna sat up straighter on the couch.

"I thought you knew your Dad was coming in for the holidays?" K said, smiling sweetly, then she turned to Lorna. "Guess you get to meet the parents."

Lorna was turning so red by then. "Hi," she said softly, unable to say much more than that with how hard she was blushing.

"Nice to meet you," Corsair said with a grin. "Not surprised my son has good taste, though, right, Alex?"

"Dad, stop," Alex said, covering his face with both hands. "Oh my gosh."

"It's okay," Scott said, grinning to himself. "Why don't you tell Corsair how you swept her off her feet - from inside a jail cell?"

"My son the delinquent," Corsair said proudly.


"It's okay, kiddo. You get it honestly."


"This should happen every year," Scott told Logan low, still grinning widely.

"Probably will," Logan said, smirking at how incredibly openly embarrassed Alex was. "Just make sure you keep a runnin' record of things to use."

"Never gonna let him live it down," Scott agreed, laughing as Alex and Lorna finally got around to introducing themselves properly to Corsair and Hepzibah.

K slid a box over to Scott since Alex was occupied. "Grabbed some donuts. I needed them, but I can share."

"Since when do you need sweets?" Scott teased as he grabbed a chocolate glazed one.

"When I know you'd want some too," K shot back. "Your Dad asked me to grab some when Corsair got here. And today they had blueberry cake donuts, so. Some things have to be done."

"Good point," Scott laughed.

"Can I have a cream-filled?" Alex asked.

"Are you going to steal it if I say no?" K asked perfectly straight faced.

"Yes, because I'm a delinquent," Alex said without missing a beat.

"Then I guess I wanna see you try and steal it from your brother," she said. "Good luck with that."

Scott smirked and picked up the cream-filled donut - just to take a big bite out of it… which only resulted in two Summers boys running through the house over shouts of "give it here!" and "second place again!"

Chapter Text

As promised, Christmas morning, K had gotten up early and started her baking and cooking for the group, and by the time Scott came down, Sam was just getting into her lingonberries and whipped cream - and grinning widely at him. "Umm!" she said, offering some berries to Scott.

Scott grinned and kissed her hand - and got some berries that way too. "Super yummy, you're right," he told her, then slipped over to where K was to get some Swedish pancakes and cinnamon rolls. "Merry Christmas, Mom."

"Merry Christmas, Caramel Mocha," she said, then kissed his cheek. "Oh hey … I may even have a Caramel Mocha whipped up over there … no reason."

Scott smirked at that. "Yeah, no reason at all," he said, though he had his own Christmas surprise already planned for her, since he'd gone in the night before and put her mug in the cabinet. He got it down and pushed it her way before he grabbed his caramel mocha and leaned against the counter. "Want me to put some coffee in that for you?"

"That'd be great, thanks," K said, half distracted just because she was trying to finish cooking before the crowd hit.

Scott smirked, knowing she hadn't realized it was new, so he poured her some coffee and wrapped the locket through the handle of the mug before he set it down next to her. "I'll ice these if you want to take five," he told her as she pulled the next batch of cinnamon rolls out of the oven.

"You're wonderful, you know that?" K said, flipping the last of the Swedish pancakes out onto a platter. She turned and reached for the mug, only to stop when she saw what he'd done. "Oh, you little shit." She turned away from the cooking and picked up the mug, holding the locket reverently in her hand careful that it didn't fall off. She was holding her breath as she untangled it from the mug and carefully opened it, unable to stop the smile when she saw his message. "You're amazing. You really are," K said with a little crack to her voice.

Scott grinned and paused in his icing work to kiss her cheek. "Hey, someone had to remind you how great you are. I'm lucky you're my mom."

K set the coffee down and turned to give him a bear hug. "Love you too, Scott."

Scott wrapped her up and spun her off her feet, then set her down again. "Merry Christmas, Mom."

"Want to catch the clasp for me?" K asked, offering him the locket she was still holding.

He nodded and waited for her to pick her hair up before he did the clasp, then grinned when she turned around with her hand resting over the locket. "Just so you know, I have the pattern saved at the jewelry store, so if you ever lose it fighting the department or anyone else, I can get another made."

"I'll tuck it into my uniform," K said. "And if anyone goes for it, I'll cut their hands off." She smiled sweetly at that - though she was sure that her canines were showing as she did so.

Scott laughed. "Love you too."

She kissed his cheek again, then took a moment to get herself a plate before the rush and made her way over to sit down between Logan and Sam.

"Oh, good. This is my favorite part of Christmas," Warren said as he was next to arrive downstairs, grinning as he helped himself to the spoils. "Thanks, K."

"You're very welcome," she said, and as Scott came toward the table, she was sure to gesture to the jam waiting. "I kept a few jars of thimbleberry for you, by the way. You don't have to do lingonberries."

"Oh, wow, Mom," Scott said, grinning crookedly. "Merry Christmas to you too."

As Scott got settled into his breakfast, Logan got up for more coffee, and as he did, he gave Scott's shoulder a squeeze and slipped a little box to him. "That's not for Christmas," he said - off to refill his mug.

Scott raised an eyebrow at that, but with Logan at the counter, he decided to take a peek - and then broke into a grin when he pulled out the compass with the phrase "so you can always find your way" on the back of it. So when Logan sat back down, Scott was sure to pull him into a solid hug. "Love you too, Dad."

"Couldn't forget the gotcha," Logan said gruffly.

"That was definitely the best Christmas present of my life," Scott agreed.

"Yeah, but this isn't your present. And neither was that."

"Still taking it that way," Scott teased.

"Glad to have you around, kid."

"Oh, have we already started with presents?" Alex asked as he got down. "I thought we were - mine are all under the tree."

"No," Logan said. "This ain't a Christmas thing."

"Dad adopted me on Christmas Day," Scott explained - not just to Alex but to Corsair and Hepzibah behind him as they came down. "So we mark the day."

Logan glanced up at Corsair who looked honestly shocked to hear it. "I've got a few friends that make things happen."

"Clearly," Corsair said. "Government's closed on Christmas."

"Not if you make the right calls," Logan said.

"Well, that's one hell of a backup team," Corsair said, shaking his head.

"I'm sure it helps when you've got Cap pushing people around for you too," K said casually. "Big softie."

"Good ol' Uncle Steve," Alex said with a smirk that had Scott shaking his head.

"Our family is a little unconventional," Scott said with a shrug. It was kind of an understatement, with his brother standing in front of their dad and his alien girlfriend while they discussed Scott's new family and the Avenger who helped make it happen.

Still, it was actually one of the best Christmases they'd had in a while. It was kind of entertaining to watch Hepzibah go through the whole thing for the first time with looks varying between awe and total confusion. As far as the kids at Xavier's went ... Lorna and Alex were ridiculously sweet together, though they couldn't match Kurt and Ororo, who seemed to have flirting down to a science.

And the nice part was: that good mood seemed to last, too.

Kurt had hung mistletoe everywhere and absolutely refused to take it down after Christmas, insisting that it stay up through the Twelve Days of Christmas and at least until the Epiphany- which no one seemed to have a problem with. At least no one who had someone to kiss.

And though it had been polite, sweet little kisses to start with, by the time Christmas had rolled around, K had taken it all the way through very involved not at all for young audiences kisses … and then decided that it was getting predictable, and instead of adhering to the tradition of catching someone while you were both under the mistletoe, she decided that only one party really needed to be there. Not that Logan was avoiding the mistletoe at all. It was pretty clear he was enjoying her randomly coming up and kissing the sense out of him.

Which … was all the better to tackle him with, after all. She was taking pride in knocking Logan clean off his feet too, which was all in good fun for them, and Kurt thought it was the height of proper mistletoe uses if nothing else, than just for the look on Logan's face when K would surprise him, tackle him and get entirely wrapped up once she had him down.

But of course, Kurt and the kids weren't the only ones that saw it and it wasn't long before Hepzibah had totally misconstrued the meaning of the mistletoe … and followed K's lead, tackling Corsair off his feet, though he wasn't quite as sturdy as the two metal-laced ferals, and he honestly didn't see it coming.

"Atta boy, Dad!" Alex shouted through his tears of laughter.

"I can't even complain," Corsair laughed as he pulled Hepzibah into a long and impolite kiss.

"She learned from our best influence," Kurt said, laughing with Alex.

"Definitely not you," Alex teased.

"Oh, I'm a wonderful influence," Kurt replied. "But no, I was talking about our feral friends."

"They're the reason we have a baby mascot," Bobby said - with Sam on his shoulders.

"And we're all better for it," Hank agreed with a laugh.

The kisses and teasing and flirting kept up until New Year's Eve, where the mansion was a little fuller. A few Avengers came over to join the fun, and Bobby had even invited Johnny over too.

Which was great at first, but as the clock neared midnight and all the couples started pairing off, Bobby found himself drifting over to where Scott was sitting instead - since, as much fun as it was to have the whole family together, it was still hard for Scott seeing everyone happy with their significant others.

And, Bobby figured he could commiserate or at least try to help his friend instead of thinking about the guy he'd like to kiss.

"You alright?" he asked as he sat down by Scott.


"Yeah, I miss her too," Bobby said. "I mean, obviously not like you do. But still."


Bobby let out a sigh, though he didn't really know what to say. And that was making it hard for him to have a reason to be there outside of solidarity.

"Hey, come on, Bobby, you're missing the show," Johnny said when he caught up to them - grabbing both of them to pull them to where everyone was watching the countdown.

"Yeah, yeah, take five minutes to talk to a friend," Bobby said.

"You were being wallflowers. I brought you to the party," Johnny pointed out, grinning with his arm around Bobby's shoulders.

"Yeah, thanks for that," Bobby said, trying very hard to ignore how red his cheeks felt as everyone counted down from ten and he swallowed down the impulse to kiss the guy whose arm was around his shoulders.

The countdown hit zero, all the couples kissed, and Bobby turned to look at Johnny, who was grinning widely and facing him too with a spark of trouble in his eyes.

And then Bobby grinned and smacked Johnny on the back in a hug. "Happy New Year!" he shouted out to everyone, and the others repeated the refrain with their own raised glasses.

efore Corsair was due to head out, he did want to be part of paying the Morlocks a visit, and on his last day left of the visit, he stuck his head in to where the X-Men were starting to gather.

When he saw that they were all in uniform, he grinned and held up a hand. "Hang on. I'll change. I want in on this too."

"Not sure the frilly look will do you any good where we're headed," Logan said without looking up. "If you're gonna change, Alex can take you down and give you a training uniform."

"Might as well look like part of the team," Alex laughed. "C'mon, Dad."

It was hard to argue when the boys were so clearly entertained, so in no time at all, Corsair found himself in an X-Men uniform and moving out with the team to go sniff out the sewer-dwelling mutants.

Of course, not everyone on the team knew the whole story of why they were hitting back when Kurt had been sworn to secrecy and the others who knew weren't going to break their silence either. But it was a mark of how serious it was when Ororo agreed to go underground to help. Before they had quite gotten all loaded up to go, K pulled Alex aside to fill him in.

K could see it when Alex lost all his good cheer and suddenly looked a lot like his big brother, his back straight and his glare solidly locked forward. "Seriously?"

"Oh yeah," K said, nodding. "I had to interrogate Logan to get the whole story, but yes."

"So how come you didn't tell me so I could blast a hole in her head?"

"Because a) that's not your job, b)you're not supposed to kill anyone, c) Logan wanted more intel on them before we started up, and finally - I called it."

"You can't call it. That's my big brother she tried to-"

"My kid. I called it," she said. "Between the two of us, who's killed people before, Alex? You do not want to even talk about doing that stuff. You don't need to even consider doing anything like that seriously."

"But you're talking about it," he pointed out.

"Because I've killed plenty of people," K said. "And I'll do it again."

"Yeah, but that's my big brother and he's been through hell, K."

"I know. But I don't want you or him to have blood on your hands or on your conscience. Stick to the plan. Help the little kids that are part of this racket."

Alex let out a breath. "Yeah. But I'm still gonna blast her if she gets close to Scott."

"Feel free," K agreed. "But don't try to kill her."

"Just make her regret her life decisions. Got it."

K patted his shoulder. "That's the goal, yes."

When they got to the city and stashed the blackbird, K and Logan took the lead to find where the Morlocks had most certainly moved their camp … only the smells coming out of the tunnels weren't just the usual awful that came from the sewers. They hadn't gotten all the way down the ladder when the stench of death hit them and the two ferals shared a concerned look before they headed cautiously down the tunnels. Both of them had their guard up, and when they found the first murdered morlock, Logan swore outright.

The five slashes across the woman's face was a signed confession from Victor Creed, and the only reason they couldn't smell his scent in the tunnels, even if it was old - was because the smell of the dead bodies was overpowering everything else.

Logan turned to the other X-Men that were coming down with them and walked toward the back of the pack. "K's taking the lead, I'll take the tail," he said as he passed Scott.

Scott was holding his breath as he looked around. "I'll stick with Mom in case he's still around."

"I doubt that he is, but I won't have her at the end of the line for him to creep up on," Logan said.

"Yeah, and I'm not letting her turn a corner into him if he's using the sewer smell to mask his scent," Scott pointed out.

Logan smirked. "He smells a lot worse than the sewer," he said though he helped Illyana down then waited as K started down the tunnels with Scott.

She didn't seem to notice the bodies as they passed them by, not exactly avoiding them as she simply stepped over one if they were in her path. The Morlocks had gone into hiding much deeper than they were when Logan and Scott had crossed paths with them. And the deeper they went, the more dead people and deep claw marks they could find in the walls. At one point she stopped and put her nose closer to the slashes then shook her head. "I don't think he's here."

"You sure?" Scott asked.

"Pretty sure," K said. "With him, he likes to kill and leave. He's not real likely to hang around." She turned to face him. "And if it was supposed to be for one of us - or all of us, he'd have done it on the front lawn or left something to direct us to the carnage." She turned, taking in the wreckage. "I think this was just his idea of a good time."

"I'm going to blast him into next year next time I see him."

"Yeah, well. I had a few thoughts myself."

"I don't doubt it," Scott said, still with a hand on his visor as they made their way deeper.

But they didn't see any sign of life for almost another mile, deeply beneath the city by that time. And then it was just a flash of someone with long flowing looking robes as they darted around a corner.

"Hey, wait!" Scott called out. "We're not Sabretooth - we want to know what happened!" When that didn't get him anywhere, he let out a sigh, glanced at K, and then the two of them broke into a run to catch up.

"Careful," K reminded him. "Might be a trap."

"Yeah, got it," Scott promised.

The two of them ran down the trail - with the other X-Men not far behind - until they finally reached an open area where a small group of Morlocks was gathered up - including the two younger mutants that Scott had met and Callisto herself.

Callisto was on her feet when she saw the two of them, her one good eye flashing. "So now you come back," she said.

"What happened, Callisto?" Scott asked, ignoring the jab for the moment.

"What always happens to mutants like us," Callisto said angrily. "I told you I needed you to rule with me. My Morlocks need the power to stay safe."

"Hold up there, mister," K said, stepping halfway in front of Scott. "You don't get to blame him for anything like this. This was your little death trap that you chose for yourself. You have no solid exits or safeties. That was on your poor planning from the beginning. That's not on a teenager that you kidnapped. That's on you. And if you try one more time to guilt trip my son, or try to put any blame on him for your shitty mistakes, I'm gonna tear your other eye out with my bare hands and shove it up your ass."

For just a second, Callisto and K glared at each other, though that moment only lasted until Scott muttered to K with a smirk, "I'm twenty now, actually."

"Shut up, Scott," K hissed from the corner of her mouth, though it was clear that it was an honest mistake on her part for how she almost broke her stride at the correction.

Scott smirked a little harder before he turned back to Callisto. "Look, the X-Men were literally founded on helping mutants in need. We can help, but we're not tools you can use up either."

Callisto tipped her chin up. "Then we're agreed."

"That you're nuts for thinking you can claim someone without their consent?" K snarled out. "Yeah. We're agreed. We'll get you the help you need to save these people- and in your case, maybe a freakin' jail cell you whacked out predator."

"You're not in charge here," Callisto snapped back.

"What makes you think you are?" K replied.

"Because I am," she said.

But that just got an honest snort out of Logan from where he was standing toward the back of the group of X-Men.

Scott spared his dad a smirk before he turned back to Callisto. "We've got a place for mutants in need-"

"No," she interrupted him. "We aren't looking for refuge. We have our own lives."

"No. You're just looking for people to kidnap," K said.

Callisto did her best to ignore K. "If you truly want to help us, then help us on our terms."

"That's not how it works," K said with a growl. "You ever hear the term 'beggars can't be choosers'? Because that's how it is. You want help, you can get what we offer. You don't set the terms, you psychotic, delusional—"

"Look," Scott said, as reasonably as he could, resting his hand on K's shoulder, "we can help you get set up somewhere hidden if that's what you really want — but I want your people to know that they have a place with us too if they want."

"Could send 'em to Genosha," K said under her breath loud enough for Scott to hear.

"That could work," Scott said, then, louder, told Callisto, "We know an island hideaway you could use. The man who founded it is in jail, but if you really want a place to be apart from the rest of the world, it's ready-made."

"Good," Callisto said. "Then you can lead our people there."

"Your," K said. "He's part of ours and we're fine."

"I'm not taking my people to an island far from anything we know on nothing but the word of you surface-dwellers."

"How about you take it on my claws up your nose," K said from between her teeth.

"I'm not taking my people anywhere under threat of force. That's no better than the other surface-dwellers," Callisto shot back.

"But you think you can kidnap my kid?" Corsair blurted out from somewhere in the middle of the crowd, which took Scott back slightly, though Logan got them back on track.

"Yeah what'd you do to piss Sabretooth off anyhow?" Logan asked. "You try that whole 'you're gonna do as I say 'cause I said so' crap there?"

Callisto gestured widely with both hands. "No. We just existed."

"Too bad, I'd have paid to see the look on his face for that," Logan said, and that got a snerk out of Kurt.

Callisto narrowed her eyes Logan's way before Scott caught her attention. "Listen," he said, "I get that you're trying to have your own team and family. But all I can give you is my word as an X-Man that this isn't a trap or a prison. You'll just have to decide if that's good enough— but the rest of your people are welcome to come anyway."

"I don't need your word, pretty boy."

"It's all you're gonna get," Scott told her.

"Then we're not going."

Scott ran a hand over his face. "You can't ask for help and then refuse it!"

"I did ask for help, and you refused to follow through," she shot back. "None of my people will go without my say-so. Morlocks are loyal."

"That's not loyalty," Ororo said as she stepped up next to Scott and K. "That's servitude."

"Call it what you like," Callisto said. "But I've already said what I need."

"What you need is a better leader if the best you can do is force everyone to bend to your will and refuse to listen to sense," Ororo said.

Callisto smirked and gestured to Scott. "Then we agree."

"You did not ask his opinion on matters or invite him to stay. You kidnapped him and tried to force him," Ororo pointed out. "That is no better than forcing your people to live here without caring for their opinions. That is no leader, regardless of what you like to call yourself."

"I don't need your approval, surface-dweller."

"No, but you want his," Ororo said, turning toward Scott for a moment. "And I know that our fearless leader has no desire to join your group in any capacity. No matter how you have deluded yourself over it." She smiled at him. "Scott?"

"Yeah, I'm pretty happy with the family I've got," Scott said, smiling Ororo's way.

"Oh, I see," Callisto said as she looked between them. "Then I have a new proposal." She turned her attention to Ororo. "Single combat. If I win him from you, he's mine. If you win, I'll defer to you as leader." She smirked. "Does that seem fair to you? My people for your leader?"

"He's not a baseball card," K said in a snarl, and Scott could see the dark purple bruises at the backs of her hands. "What is wrong with you?"

Callisto kept her gaze on Storm. "She doesn't think you can beat me."

"I know she can beat you," K said. "I just thought you could consider saving a little face … what's left of it."

Callisto shook her head at that. "If you want my people to follow you to this island, then you will have to prove your worth," she said, still speaking to Ororo.

K turned to Ororo. "If you don't kill her, I will. Go ahead beat her ass — and make it clear we don't bet people." She looked over her shoulder at Callisto. "It doesn't matter who wins, she's dead anyhow."

Callisto smirked as one of her men handed her a bo staff, and she tossed a second one to Ororo. "Go ahead. Prove yourself."

Ororo caught the staff and then looked to Scott, who looked like he could hardly believe that this was happening. She gave him a reassuring smile and then settled into a fighting stance.

Callisto rushed toward her first, her staff extended, and Ororo twisted to meet her. The sound of their staves meeting echoed dully around the sewers, and they spun away from each other again before clashing once more.

Their styles couldn't have been more different. Callisto made every strike with anger and power, and she fought like an angry street fighter. Ororo's arms rang with every hit, but she was also quick enough and light enough on her feet to dodge or parry each one — and even get in a few good hits of her own.

To Scott's dismay, it seemed the two women were fairly closely matched. Callisto had power, but Ororo had grace — and the styles were different enough that either could prove to be the deciding factor.

And sure, Scott knew that his friends and family wouldn't actually let Callisto walk away with him, but he was not happy about the part he had to play.

He winced when he heard Ororo cry out as Callisto finally managed a blow that powered through Ororo's defenses and hit her shoulder — but that seemed to be the tipping point for Ororo. With a cry, she lunged forward, driving the bo staff through Callisto's defenses to hit her squarely in the chest. Callisto responded with a solid blow to Ororo's leg, but as Ororo fell to one knee, she used the motion to sweep Callisto's legs out from underneath her as well.

Ororo sprang forward, pressing her advantage. Callisto wasn't fast enough to stop her before Ororo had her bo staff pressed down on Callisto's neck so that she could hardly draw a breath. She kicked Callisto's bo staff away and knelt on Callisto's hands, her eyes flashing as she met Callisto's gaze.

"Yield," Ororo said in a tone that echoed authority in a way Callisto simply hadn't been able to muster. "Yield and give up your claim to my friend. Give up your false claims."

Callisto's eyes were wide, and her mouth was open as she tried to get a breath, but Ororo didn't let up the pressure until Callisto nodded ever so slightly.

Ororo got to her feet, then twirled her bo staff and turned to face the watching Morlocks. "We go to Genosha," she told them.

And while the Morlocks were in awe of Ororo —Callisto got to her feet, insulted and enraged. Ororo didn't see her flick out the switchblade, and she didn't see Callisto rushing toward her, either. But K did — and before Scott could call out to warn Ororo, K had a hold of the old Morlock leader. In the matter of a few heartbeats, K broke Callisto's wrist, forcing her to drop the blade, and as Callisto screamed out from the break, a bigger, hollower sounding crack echoed the tunnels when K took a hold of her head and snapped her neck.

There was silence for a long moment before Ororo breathed out, "You didn't have to do that."

K held Ororo's gaze for a moment, her eyes flashing with barely restrained anger. "She wanted to do unspeakable things to my boy and she was going to stab you in the back. Someone like that will just keep coming."

"If she hadn't, I would have," Corsair agreed.

Ororo frowned between them for a long moment and then she let out her breath. "We need to move," she said, speaking to the Morlocks. "My team and I will provide you sanctuary. What you choose to do with it once you have it is entirely up to you. You are free to make your own decisions from now on. That's a promise."

Most of the Morlocks still seemed to be in awe of Ororo, and clear fear of K as they started the trek out of the sewers, though Scott was sure to pull Ororo aside and into a solid hug while the team was getting everyone loaded up.

"Thanks," he said. "But please don't ever bet my life again."

"I wasn't betting for your life," Ororo said. "Or did you miss that your mother made a point to showing everyone that people are not up to wager?"

"Yeah, I heard that part," Scott said. "I was mostly teasing." He shook his head. "But still. Let's never do that again."

"Agreed," Ororo said, pulling him into another hug.

Chapter Text

Once the Morlocks were settled away - and under the stewardship of Caliban in Ororo's stead - Corsair and Hepzibah headed back out to space as well, and things started to settle back into relative normalcy.

Of course, that still meant there were plenty of missions for the X-Men - anti-mutant attacks and even a few speaking engagements for the professor that one of the team members always went with him for. But normalcy also meant they were getting back to their lives, schooling, and families.

Hank was well into his medical studies, but Bobby was actually on a solid track to get an accounting degree, and that was what had his attention at the moment. He was still kind of mortified over how New Year's Eve had gone, so he was trying to more or less keep himself too busy to do anything that stupid again, focusing on school and the team as much as he could.

Johnny had asked him to come bar hopping a few times, but Bobby was always busy.

It felt pretty crummy, but Bobby was sure this was just how it needed to be. He really liked Johnny, and if he didn't want to get killed or to ruin Johnny's life, well, that was that.

And Bobby was fully prepared to keep up that pace - except that it was taking its toll in ways he hadn't expected. Like the team practice that started out as a low-level exercise in department-style soldiers that turned into a problem when Bobby suddenly couldn't ice up.

"Bobby, what's the holdup?" Scott asked, pausing the program with a frown.

"Your guess is as good as mine," Bobby said, his eyes wide as he stared at his hands.

Scott's frown deepened. "Maybe you should talk to the professor. If this is some kind of power surge…"

"Yeah," Bobby said, nodding quietly. "Yeah, maybe."

"May-be you're getting a secondary mutation," Warren suggested.

"I'm, like, nineteen," Bobby said. "I thought the professor said that wouldn't happen until later - and that was just a theory, right?"

"Well, if it's still just a theory, he could be wrong," Jamie pointed out. `Maybe you're getting one early?"

"Maybe you;re just stressed out," Hank said. "You've been surprisingly less jovial than usual as of late."

"Yeah, maybe that's it," Bobby agreed, frowning to himself as he thought it over. "If you don't mind, I think I'll just… sit this one out, guys. Take a sick day. I've got the opposite of a cold."

"Seriously," Scott said, "try talking to the professor."

"Thanks, Dad, but I'm just going to take a nap. Hank's right. It's probably stress," Bobby said, already headed out the door. "I'll be back to your favorite snowman in no time."

Not that he was going to actually get away with that. Bobby hadn't even gotten to his room before Charles caught up to him.

"Hey, Charles," Bobby said. "Taking a sick day, sorry, can't ice anything for you right now, but if you leave a name and number…"

"Bobby, I think perhaps it's time you and I had a private chat."

Bobby let out all of his breath through his puffed-out cheeks.

"I won't take long," Charles swore.

"Okay, well, you're running this show," Bobby said, gesturing with one hand.

Charles smiled warmly and then led the way down to his office, and as usual, Bobby closed the door behind them once they arrived. "What's been troubling you?" Charles asked. "And please don't tell me it's school. I know better than that."

"I'm just busy, that's all," Bobby said. "Accounting's a five-year degree and a CPA exam, you know."

"You've always found time to take a bit of stress relief before though," Charles pointed out.

"Yeah, I just… I'm just trying to focus," Bobby said. "That's what people keep telling me I should do anyway, right? So this is me. Being serious."

Charles let out a sigh. "Bobby, you know you're projecting everything that you're worried about, don't you?"

Bobby let out a sigh and rubbed his hand through his hair. "Yeah, well, if that's true, then you know why I can't… I mean, just last week, this guy got beat to death you know, and - I mean, I still like girls too so I can just… not."

"Bobby, you know that might be the cause of your power issues," Charles said. "You know you have to have a clear mind and be able to focus to use your abilities properly."

Bobby let out another long breath. "Yeah, but I can't do anything about it."

"Of course you can," Charles said. "The only thing truly holding you back is your fear. Do you really think that you don't have the tools to protect yourself should someone turn on you?"

Bobby shook his head slowly. "Yeah, I know, I get it. I just… Maybe I should just let this one go, you know? Find someone less public. Maybe." He had one eye closed as he watched Charles. "That could work, right?"

"I don't know," Charles said. "Do you imagine that ignoring your heart is really the best path to take?"

"Well, when you put it like that, it makes me sound stupid," Bobby grumbled.

"I only want to help you, Bobby. And if you think it's a matter of his fame, then I'd like to know if it was a problem before you spent so much time together or not." He smiled at him in a trouble making way. "Not all couples have to make a display of it."

Bobby rubbed his hand through his hair again. "Yeah," he said, not really able to come up with an argument that didn't sound stupid.

"You should take the afternoon,' Charles suggested. "Check in on your friend."

Bobby watched Charles for a long moment and then nodded. "Yeah," he said slowly. "Yeah, okay." He got to his feet. "But if he's not interested, I'm going to come back and cry on you. So. There."

"I'll be here either way," Charles promised.

Bobby nodded and then put his hands in his pockets, uncharacteristically quiet as he headed for the garage to grab his car and then drive to the city. He almost turned around several times, but somehow, all the same, he managed to get himself to the Baxter Building.

"Hey, Sue, it's me," he said when Sue was the one to answer when he called up. "Is Johnny home? Can you let me up?"

"Sure thing, Bobby," Sue replied, not wasting any more chatter before she buzzed him in.

Bobby only felt that much more nervous as he hopped in the elevator, and by the time he got to the top floor, he was pretty sure he was going to back out. Make up some kind of a lie. Things had been going alright before; they could just… go back to bar hopping and be cool, right?

He cleared his throat as Sue watched him with a slight smirk. "So… long time no see. Sorry; school swamped me."

"Yeah? What's with the radio silence?"

"It's been a really weird few weeks," Bobby admitted. "And, like, a few months before that too. Our team leader got kidnapped and almost became a mail order bride? There was a lot going on." He thumbed over his shoulder. "Johnny around or…?"

"He's where he always is," Sue said, then gave his arm a little squeeze. "We've missed you."

Bobby smiled at that. "Yeah, right back at you."

Johnny was down in the media room watching a basketball game, though when he heard Bobby come in, he tipped his head back so he was looking at him over the couch. "Oh. Hey stranger."

"Hey, sorry for the disappearing trick," Bobby said, waving at him with the tips of his fingers.

"Yeah, that was some trick," Johnny said, though he moved some of the pillows to make room for him all the same.

"Yeah." Bobby looked over his shoulder and was relieved to see that Sue wasn't there anymore. "Yeah, sorry. It's been a whole… thing." He waved his hand in a circle and then vaulted over the side of the couch to sit by Johnny. He took a deep breath and let it out. "Maybe I'm just freaking out about nothing, right? I'm not trying to creep on you, and I don't want you to think that - I mean, I'm totally fine just bar hopping on the weekends too…"

"I'm not sure I follow you, Bobby."

"No?" Bobby let out his breath. "Okay, well, maybe I'm wrong then. That's cool too."

"What do you think you're getting wrong? Exactly."

"Well, I mean, it would be way easier if you weren't interested because it's not like you can - I mean, with a girl on your arm it's one thing but if you were interested, that would also be… great. Really, really great," Bobby said. "Oh my God. I'm so terrible at this. Picking up chicks was way easier." He rubbed both hands over his face, but when he looked up again, to his surprise, Johnny darted forward and stole a kiss.

For just a second, neither of them said anything.

And then Bobby grinned. "Okay. I guess that answers that."

"Are you gonna freak out and go ghost again now?"

"I don't think so," Bobby said, still grinning.

"You sure? Because last time-"

"Wait, New Years? was gonna kiss you!"

"Sure didn't seem like it."

"Yeah, well, I mean, look, I've already been dragged through the streets once by an angry mob and I kinda panicked?"

"So … we keep it low key if you're worried," Johnny said.

"Do you even have a low key setting?" Bobby couldn't help but tease.

"Should I?"

"Can you?" Bobby asked, biting his lip. "I just… I haven't even told anyone on the team. Or my parents. Or … literally the only people who know figured it out because they can cheat wih their powers. And you kind of have cameras everywhere. You'd get hit too, you know."

"So we can try it quiet and private and see if it's even … this is pretty new for me, too, you know."

Bobby nodded. "Yeah, we just… keep it quiet and try it out. If it doesn't work, no harm, no foul, right?" he said, then bit his lip and decided to try it again and stole a kiss back. "But… yeah. That's kind of… why I went radio silent. You're hard to resist," he said, this time with a teasing smirk.

"Well … yeah, that's what I've been saying…"

"Good thing I'm awesome enough to keep up," Bobby said, the smirk widening into a grin before he stole a much longer kiss.

Just after Valentine's Day, Tony had invited the Avengers, X-Men, and Fantastic Four to a big get-together that he seemed almost anxious about, constantly double-checking that Steve and Jan in particular would be there.

It was an open secret at this point that this was probably going to be an announcement of some kind, and the even money bet was on Tony and Pepper announcing something big. They had been secretly (not to secretly) dating for ages now, and everyone could see that's where they were headed when Tony or Pepper held Sammy.

But it had people talking about weddings, and Scott was sure that was why his dreams lately had been… weird.

He kept waking up in a hot sweat, the covers kicked off even in February. He didn't remember much about the dreams, but they involved fire and screaming and he didn't care to remember much more of that.

And yet he found himself drifting toward the living room all the same, curling up with Jean's favorite blanket on the couch. It was the easiest way to fall back asleep - though he was sure someone had noticed. He wasn't falling back into the way things had been before. He wasn't. It was just that all those marriage discussions were bothering him. That's all.

"Yeah, this isn't a familiar sight at all."

Scott frowned and reached for his glasses before he blinked blearily up at the door frame to see Warren standing there, his arms crossed as he leaned on the frame. "Couldn't sleep," he said.

"Yeah, I can see that," Warren said, his feathers ruffling behind him, just like they always did when he was concerned.

"I'm fine, Warren," Scott said, running a hand through his hair and at least trying to look presentable.

"Yeah, okay, but … Alright." Warren paused at the door, clearly thinking of leaving Scott to himself, but then - "It's just that you haven't done this in a long time."

"Yeah, I know," Scott said. "I'm fine, I promise. It's just … insomnia. Probably just the whole thing with Stark."

"I didn't realize Stark was that much of a problem."

Scott snorted. "Yeah, no. It's more the engagement thing," he said, sitting up better and folding the blanket to put it away. "I thought I was okay when I went to the jewelry store for Mom, but I guess this is just…. I don't know. Don't worry about it."

"I'll work on that," Warren said. "But it's not an automatic 'off' thing."

"Yeah, it's fine," Scott promised. "I'm fine. It's just bad memories."

"Yeah, okay," Warren said, though he took a seat in the chair nearby and pulled a blanket up to his chest that had been dropped nearby.

"Oh, okay, I see how it is. You want the living room for yourself," Scott said. "I'll get out of your way."

"You don't have to do that. In fact - I don't think you want to do that. Bobby's talking to his sweetheart."

"Tying up the phone line again, huh?" Scott shook his head. "He's not nearly as sneaky as he thinks he is."

"You can't be surprised."

"I really can't," Scott said. "More surprised that Johnny Storm is trying to be sneaky."

"With the way the news has been lately?" Warren asked, raising an eyebrow. "I think they might hate gay guys more than mutants right now."

"Which is kind of impressive," Scott said. "I wasn't saying I don't get it. I'm just saying I hope Bobby realizes how much this guy likes him that he's keeping a secret."

"We can hope. But he hasn't really dated much before. This is all probably a little over his head."

"Good thing he's got us around," Scott said with a smirk.

"Oh yeah, real pros. All of us."

"Yeah, we're pretty pro at acting like bachelors."

Warren laughed at that. "Yeah … okay. Then on the other end of the spectrum we have your family."

"Yeah, I wish I didn't know as much as I did about my parents," Scott said, holding both hands up.

"If it makes you feel any better, I guess your mom said something to Hank that he thought was a joke?" He shook his head. "Not so much."

"Oh no. I'm not sure I want to know."

"Something about an interrogation, I don't know," Warren said.

"Yeah, now I'm definitely sure I don't want to know, because I know how that usually goes with them.

"Your parents are wild, Scott."

"Believe me, I know." Scott smirked and shook his head. "I think I'll take my chances with Bobby and his sweetheart."

"Suit yourself," Warren said, settling in. "And here I thought a movie might be on deck"

"Hey, I wouldn't say no," Scott said with a quiet smile. "Least I can do for a worried friend, right?"

"Yeah, sounds right to me," Warren agreed.

Scott smirked and settled in - which meant that he actually fell asleep pretty easily. Which… would have been great if the problem really was insomnia.

So when the dreams came back all fire and destruction and the black void of space? Yeah, he woke up screaming.

And of course, that was the very last thing Warren was prepared for, and as soon as Scott started screaming, he flat out fell off the chair - limbs and wings in every direction. His feathers were sticking up in odd places and his eyes were wide by the time Scott snapped out of it enough to realize where he was.

"What was that?" Warren asked.

Scott was still breathing hard as he shook his head. "I'm okay. It's fine. I'm okay," he repeated.

"Great, but that … what the heck was that?"

"It's just… I was connected to her when she died."

"I'm sorry, you what?" Warren said, more concerned than before as he got off the floor and tried to preen his feathers.

Scott leaned forward and put his head in his hands, rubbing the heels of his hands into his eyes. "When Jean died. I was connected to her. Telepathically. I felt it when she died."

Warren was staring at him open mouthed. "You … you know what it felt like for her when she died?"

"Yeah, don't spread it around. My dad feels bad enough as it is, and if he heard that…"

"You don't think he should know?"

"No, I don't," Scott said. "He still feels guilty. He doesn't need this on him too." He shook his head. "I was doing fine before. I don't know why I'm dreaming about being the Phoenix again, but it's hard every time."

"That's ... " Warren paused for a long moment. "Does the professor know?"

"I haven't really brought it up to him," Scott admitted. "He's been helping Bobby stop having an anxiety attack every time he thinks someone he hasn't come out to is onto his secret, and he's been working with Jamie and the other kids on their powers. Nightmares? Not really worth bothering him."

"I think you might be wrong there, Scott."

Scott sighed. "Okay, yeah," he said. "Sorry to wake you."

"Yeah, that's really not … I don't mind. Really," Warren said.

Scott nodded at that as the two of them started down the hallway, though he couldn't come up with a thing to say until they got to the professor's room and Scott knocked on the door. He was absolutely planning to turn right around, but then Charles called out for them to come in, and Scott knew Warren wasn't going to let him get out of it.

Which was how Scott found himself in Charles' room feeling like he'd just woken the professor for nothing. "Sorry to get you up," he said, rubbing the back of his neck. Then, he looked over at Warren, smirked, and pointed at his friend. "His idea."

"Happy to take responsibility," Warren said, waving the tips of his fingers. When Scott didn't say anything, Warren rolled his eyes. "So, professor, I don't suppose you'd like to weigh in on a little argument Scott and I were having. See … he says that nightmares that have you waking up screaming aren't really something to be worried about … I disagree." He looked down the hall to make sure no one was around, since he was sure Scott's parents could pick up anything being said from here to the moon. "And considering what he said the context was … well …"

"Thanks, Warren," Scott said, shaking his head, especially when Charles was just waiting for the rest of it with an ever-patient expression. "It's not a big deal. I'm just - I was going to propose, so I guess I've been thinking about Jean more with Tony and Pepper's party coming up, that's all. Brought up memories."

"Scott, if that were all it was, I wouldn't be concerned," Charles said. "But you were projecting very strongly."

"Sorry," Scott said, rubbing the back of his neck. "Now I'm keeping three people awake."

"No, it's fine," Charles insisted. "I'm sure that you'd only have trouble if there were another telepath here. As it stands, I was going to talk to you about your experience anyhow."

"Hey, it's just a memory," Scott said.

"That's fine," Charles said. "But I didn't realize the two of you shared a psychic bond."

Scott flushed. "It was a birthday present," he muttered.

"And I'm sure it was well in line with where the two of you were, relationship wise, but this … to lose someone you were bonded with … Scott, not only is this more than the normal aspects of the loss you had, but I wasn't even aware that Jean had gotten strong enough to do that."

"It was after the thing with the Shi'ar," Scott admitted.

"Come to my office Scott, I'm sure you don't want to be overheard."

"Right." Scott spared a glance at Warren, who still looked worried, and then shook his head as he followed Charles down the hall again, though he waited to say anything until they were there. "I should have told you," he said quickly.

"I understand, Scott. It was a private matter, it wasn't necessary to share it," Charles said. "But once it was broken - I might have been able to help you heal faster."

"I don't know that I would have wanted you to," Scott told him frankly. "That was a connection to Jean."

Charles smiled at that. "And I understand that as well." he said. "I would never want to take away from her memory, Scott."

Scott nodded. "I'll be fine, professor. Seriously. This is just part of the process, right? This is the first time anyone's been talking about marriage since it happened. That'll get easier." He paused. "Tell me it'll get easier."

"I'm afraid it's different for everyone, Scott. I hope that the pain will ease with time, but we all have our own timelines to deal with that kind of heartbreak."

"I just wish I knew why the dreams have been so vivid lately," Scott admitted. "I mean, you probably noticed the holidays were hard. It feels like if I was going to be a mess, it should have been then."

"One would imagine," Charles said. "But perhaps it started you thinking about her more."

"Maybe," Scott agreed. He was quiet for a while and then let out a breath. "Do me a favor, please, and don't tell my parents. Dad feels terrible about what happened already. If he knew I felt it too, he'd spiral all over again; I just know it."

Charles let out a long sigh. "Normally, I'd argue that, but he really wasn't doing well with all of it and he's had a few missteps along the way."

"Yeah, I know," Scott said. "That's why I asked."

"I won't mention it," Charles promised. "But if you have more nightmares like that, I'd like for you to come talk to me."

"It's practically every other night lately, so how about I just tell you if anything changes," Scott said.

"For now, if that's what you'd like to do," Charles said. "Then perhaps that's all I can ask."

"Yeah, I just don't want to have to wake you up all the time," Scott explained. "I'll get over it. Eventually. I'll be okay."

"All the same, you know I'm here for you," Charles told him. "And even if it was every night, it's not a bother."

"Thanks, professor," Scott said with a smile and let himself out.

Chapter Text

"You don't have to go if you don't want to," K told Scott as she helped him with his tie.

Scott wasn't entirely sure how his mom had figured out he'd been having a hard time with this whole situation, but then again, she always knew what was up with him anyway. Still, he gave her a quiet smile and a shrug. "I'm fine, Mom."

"I know that, but I also know you're not exactly the biggest fan of him on a good day, let alone one where you know it's going to be a giant ego fest."

"I'll suffer through. Bobby and I already have a plan in place to start a superpowered contest with Johnny. You know, so they're seen with more than just the two of them out and about. I'm playing wingman today when I get tired of the party," Scott said with a quiet smirk. "Hank's going to join us later, too - he just wanted to talk to Pym about something that went well over my head."

"Well … okay. But … I don't want you uncomfortable or even just bored, alright?"

Scott smiled and gave her a hug. "Hey, if I've got Sammy, I won't be bored, right, Sammy?" He grinned and poked his sister in the tummy.

Sam crunched over her belly, giggling, and turned to open and close her hands at him. "Up, up, up, up, up, up upppppppppp."

"How high?" he teased, already tossing her in the air as soon as he had her. "Higher?"

"Uppppppp up up up uppppp."

Scott grinned wider and tossed her higher. Every time, Sam would squeal with laughter and ask for more up, until she finally went just an inch too high, held her breath and then positively latched onto him as soon as he caught her. And then it was time for many many kisses.

Scott was grinning widely by the time Sam finally settled down, and he tossed that grin K's way. "See? I'm set."

"Oh yeah," she agreed. "Super set. And while you're doing that - when it happens, I might just steal a dance or two with your dad."

"None of us will complain about that," Scott said, grinning and setting Sam on his shoulders as they headed out together.

Still, K hadn't been entirely wrong. The party was a big ego boost, and Tony looked like he was bouncing off the walls as he waited for everyone. But once he'd done a quick head count and was sure everyone had arrived, he got up on a little raised platform and got everyone's attention.

"So! You're all probably wondering why I gathered you here. Or not! I've been informed by just about everyone that they think they know anyway." Tony grinned as he spread his hands out in front of him. "But, surprise! Pepper and I couldn't figure out how to keep something like this under wraps, and we didn't want to let the rabid press descend, so welcome to our wedding!"

A murmur ran through the crowd, and K and Logan were snickering and laughing between them with whispered, snarky comments that had Logan grinning, and pulling her closer.

"So!" Tony clapped his hands together. "I've got an officiant… Steve, you're mine. Jan, you're Pep's…. Here we go!" It was obvious he was both nervous and excited by the manic energy he was putting off - not that Pepper was doing much differently when she was blushing with pleasure.

The X-Men grouped up quickly - on Tony's side since honestly, once Pepper's family and friends had settled in - and Steve and Jan were standing up for them. But even with the Avengers in attendance, Tony's side was honestly a little light.

Since it was a quick elopement, it seemed like it went by in a flash, with basic vows - and then it was a whirlwind of congratulations and celebrations and champagne all around.

Which was great. It also meant Scott was downstairs with Sammy determinedly not there. Though he was pretty sure someone had noticed that, because it wasn't long before anyone who couldn't drink or who wanted to escape the wedding aura came down there with him.

Which was how Sammy ended up having the time of her life with Scott, Johnny, Bobby, Hank, and Warren all in one place making her laugh. Bobby had ice slides, Hank had the highest tosses, and Warren always got belly laughs when she'd pretend to ignore him until he scooped her up for kisses.

Eventually, even the adults started to trickle out of the party, and when Sam fell asleep, Scott headed up to go get his parents - not surprised to see them among the last people still on the dance floor, wrapped up in a very, very slow dance.

"Hey, do you live here now?" Scott asked with a smirk.

"Rather not," Logan muttered.

"So, we headed home?"

"Sure," Logan said, then stole a kiss with K and pulled her along. "Had enough of the obnoxiousness?"

"Practically the whole team has been playing with Sammy, and she fell asleep, so we're out of entertainment, and Bobby and Johnny snuck out on us too, so I can't even play wingman," he said, adding that part quieter - just for them.

"Then let's head back." Logan said.

"I've had enough of the four thousand questions on when Sam is getting a younger sibling anyhow," K added.

Scott paused, smirked, and almost bounced over. "When's she getting a younger sibling?" he asked, his tone perfectly innocent.

"Shut up, Caramel Mocha," K said, half heartedly shoving his shoulder.

Scott grinned. "Well, I'm fine with this one," he said, bouncing Sam slightly.

"That's what I've been saying," K agreed.

"I'd love a brother, though," Scott said - perfectly straight faced.

"Toldja," Logan muttered into her hair and K turned to give Scott a dry look.

"You're really not as subtle as you think."

"I wasn't being subtle today. I'm too tired after playing 'up' with Sammy for an hour."

"Mmhmm, but I'll take that as you don't want any more sisters to wear you out, so … that's a risk that can wait."

Scott laughed out loud. "I'd love a sister, too!"

"Mmmm. you added that after the fact," K said, shaking her head.

"Sure, Mom, whatever you need to tell yourself."

"Yep, that's exactly it," she agreed, nodding. "Besides - that opens up a bunch of questions I don't want to think about."

"Well, on the plus side, there's no danger of you being a grandmother at the same time as being a pregnant mother, so…."

"Eventually … that could be an issue though," K said. "Maybe. Hell. I don't know. I might have needed the boost to get this far."

Scott narrowed his eyes and shook his head. "Mom, no," he said. "Look, even if that was the case, I know kids that would love parents like you in homes like the ones I was in. You don't … even if that is an issue… just… that guy doesn't get to mess with you like - Dad, back me up here!"

"I already said I'd prove that wrong," Logan said.

"Well there you go," Scott said.

"And you're both willing to pull in another baby just to what ... "

"Because we love you?" Scott offered. "And it would be cool if you got to be a mom without Sinister involved?"

K was quiet for a long moment. "I'll think about it."

"No pressure," Scott promised and kissed her cheek.

The little kiss on the cheek seemed to pull her out of her thoughts for a minute, too. "Hey. I didn't get to dance with you."

"Oh, well, I sort of left when the dancing started…"

"I'm sorry I didn't get you," K said. "But someone was distracting me."

"Not sorry," Logan said without missing a beat.

"Yeah, no worries. You can dance with me at mine, not Tony's," Scott said with a quiet smile.

"Yes, much better," K agreed.

"Now, I just need to find someone," Scott said.

"No rush," Logan said. "Take your time."

"Yeah, well, I already got the terrible rebound out of the way," he tried to joke.

"That horrible crustacean didn't count," K said in a deep tone laced with a growl.

"It was a joke," Scott said.

"Don't joke about her," Logan said, shaking his head. "She growls just thinking about her."

"Good," Scott said, and that was really all he cared to say about that.

By the time they got home to Westchester, Scott had actually fallen asleep in the car - a combination of being worn out from anxiety at the wedding, playing with Sam, and not getting enough sleep. He woke up for a couple minutes when they got home, but he went right back out as soon as his head hit the pillow again.

This time, the dream was different, though. It wasn't fire and anger all at once. It actually started out almost peacefully. There was still fire, but it seemed to be stretching on into space. He could see the rubble of something floating past in the vacuum of space, but it wasn't until he saw the first Shi'ar that he realized what the rubble was.

And then, that feeling - that fire - intensified until he could hear that high-pitched shriek all around him until he was screaming too.

"Scott," K said, one hand on his shoulder as she gently tried to wake him up. "Hey. I've got you."

Scott woke up fast - and then when he realized K was there, he took a deep breath and grabbed her in a hug. "I'm sorry. I'm fine. It's okay. I'm sorry."

"Don't apologize," K said in her most soothing tone, pulling him in tight. "Who doesn't wake up screaming now and again? Really."

"Yeah, I'm fine," he said.

"Totally," she agreed nodding through the hug - and all the way up until she met his gaze, then she paused and gently shook her head. "Come on. Spill."

Scott let out a breath. "It's just… Jean," he tried to explain. "Well, the Phoenix."

"You're dreaming about the Phoenix?" K asked, though she didn't put any stress on anything she said.

"Yeah, not my idea of a good dream either. I'd rather dream about Jean without the fire," Scott said, running his hands through his hair as he tried to get his heart rate back under control.

K sat down, crosslegged and slumped as she thought it over. "Honestly, me too," she agreed. "But … can you walk me through it?"

Scott let out a breath. "Usually, it's just … the moment she died," he admitted quietly.

But unlike Warren or Charles, K simply nodded as if that was exactly what she'd expected.

"It was different this time, though," Scott said. "In space… the Shi'ar… I don't know. Maybe I was picking up an old memory of when she was fighting Shi'ar and it turned into a nightmare."

K narrowed her eyes as she thought it through. "Did she ever show you that?"

"No," he admitted. "But that connection was fuller than anything I can describe to you. I felt like I was her. She was me. It's hard to …"

"Intense," K said, nodding. "But … how can you remember something that you didn't have?"

Scott was quiet for a long moment. "I'm really hoping it's just a memory from Jean," he said at last in almost a whisper. "I don't want to know what it is if it's not."

K shifted over to wrap him up again. "I hope it's just a memory too, then."

"Because here's the thing," Scott said after a little stretch of silence, clearly working it out in his head and getting more worried as he thought about it. "If it's not a memory from Jean… it could be from the Phoenix itself. The Shi'ar had a problem with the Phoenix, right?"

"Yeah, they did," K agreed. "They were a bunch of jackasses too."

"Yeah." Scott was quiet for a long time. "I think I need to talk to the professor. It's just… I don't want to take any chances with the Phoenix." He nodded to himself, clearly making the decision, but since it was his mom, he took a second to glance up at her. "Mom, what if it escaped into me?" he asked in a whisper. "What if she died and it didn't even matter?"

"I don't believe that," K said.

"We had a connection, and I know the Phoenix helped her make it," Scott said.

K let out a breath at that. "She didn't die for no reason. I refuse to believe that," she said. "And … I don't know, Scott. If it escaped into you, I don't see why she wouldn't have first."

"I'm not that lucky," Scott said, shaking his head.

"See, I don't believe that, either," K said. "But … I'm pretty sure the only ones that can do that kind of thing are telepaths."

"Yeah," Scott ran both hands through his hair. "This has been going on for… not that long after Callisto died."

"Do you think that kicked it off for you?" K asked.

"I don't know. Maybe," Scott said.

"Well it wasn't my intention to hurt you if that had anything to do with it," K said.

Scott shook his head quickly. "No, no. It was not you."

"No, of course not. But the shock of everything that went with it," K said. "Hell, if anything, you should be having dreams of your mom kicking the crap out of evil women that cross your path with ill intentions."

Scott couldn't help but smirk at that. "I really appreciate you having my back. You know that, right? I never want you to feel bad about that."

"And you know I appreciate you having mine," she said, leaning toward him slightly. "And I will never feel bad about taking down someone that crosses you like that."

"I think that's what kicked it off," Scott said. "I thought it was just all the wedding talk with Jan and Tony, but I was thinking about it…" He turned red and swallowed. "If she'd gotten any further, that would have been the first… I mean, since Jean…"

"Just making me more glad I did what I did," K said. "And I'm pretty sure Jean never had to tie you down." She paused, realizing she'd tipped him off to what she knew. "I forced it out of him. Don't hold a grudge."

Scott flushed redder for a second before he cleared his throat. "It's fine. That explains why Hank was talking about an interrogation."

"It wasn't anything bad," K said, shaking her head. "I wouldn't hurt him."

"Oh, I'm pretty sure I know the story."

"Oh, really?" K said, turning his way with narrowed eyes. "And how would you know?"

"Okay, not details. But considering all the tackles…"

"You just didn't see the tackles before," K said. "You were occupied."

"Not sorry."

"I'm sure you're not," she agreed, then tipped her head. "But … yeah, I guess I've been tackling him more since … that."

"Don't stop," Scott said with a smirk. "He needs it."

"I noticed," she agreed. "It's just getting him when he's not expecting it - it gets tricky when his guard is up."

"Well, I can honestly say Dad and I are better having you around, so… keep doing whatever it is," Scott said and pulled her into a quick hug. "So… walk with me to the professor's? I sort of promised I'd keep him in the loop."

"Sure thing," she agreed. "And if your sister's still asleep I'll see if I can distract your Dad from worrying or wondering."

"There you go," Scott said with a smirk. "Get me my little brother or sister."

"That's really not what I meant, but he's making a solid case."

Scott smirked. "The same way you interrogate him?"

"I actually ask questions, thank you very much."


"I do," she defended. "Just to scar you, I attacked him while he was washing his hair. I was clothed. So don't go there."

"Okay, that detail does help somewhat with the emotional scarring…"

She laughed at that and took his arm. "Like I said - surprise! Tell me what you know."

Scott was laughing and shaking his head to himself by the time they got to Charles' room - which was obviously surprising to Charles, since he had known Scott had been dreaming about the Phoenix again and wasn't expecting him to be in a good mood to talk about it.

But, true to form, once Scott actually sat down with Charles to explain what was going on - and what his worries were with this new dream that didn't seem to be connected to Jean - he'd lost his good mood and looked honestly stressed.

"I'm not a telepath, professor. If there's something inside me, how the heck am I supposed to contain it?"

"We can look together," Charles said. "And I can help you to build up your psychic defenses. If you'd like."

"Yeah, I'd rather be safe than… well, the Phoenix." Saying it out loud, Scott was suddenly hit by how serious the situation was, and he found himself putting his head in his hands again. "It was supposed to die with her, professor."

"Somehow, Scott, I doubt that a cosmic entity is that easy to kill."

"It should be."

"If the trouble it caused your family was any measure, then yes, it should be gone forever."

Scott let out a breath and finished the thought for him. "But there's more to the universe than just me and my family," he said in a breath. "Yeah." He straightened up a little. "Alright. Let's just… can we just start with a quick look to see if it's even there or if I'm just insane? We can build up defenses when it's not three in the morning."

"Of course," Charles agreed.

Scott nodded and closed his eyes, keeping his mind open, and once Charles joined him in his mind, he tipped his head. "I can show you the connection, but it's … frayed. Every time I've tried to touch it, it's like touching a hot stove."

"That … if the rapport was severed, then that shouldn't be an issue," Charles said. "Unless of course, it's just the memory of it that's been seared into your psyche, which I wouldn't doubt for a moment."

"See for yourself," Scott said, stepping back so Charles could see what was clearly a scarred area of his mind, all black burns like the door that was still standing there had opened to let out a fireball.

"We can reinforce this," Charles said. "Build it up. Maybe cutting off the burned area will allow you to rest your mind."

"That would be nice," Scott agreed. He paused and looked around the mindscape. "So… what's the verdict?"

"Honestly, I'm not entirely sure," Charles said. "Nothing looks fresh, so I'm reluctant to say that it's a new scar. But … the heat of it is curious."

"Yeah." Scott let out all his breath. "Well, let's… reinforce everything here. Even if it is what I think it is, maybe we can trap it here."

"You misunderstand, Scott," Charles said. "I don't think the Phoenix holds a place in your mind. But the Phoenix most certainly left its mark." Charles stepped back and took Scott above the level of his mindscape so that he could look down to where they'd just been standing - only for him to see that the scorched area had a definite shape to it. The reaches of the black marks showed the Phoenix's symbol, and the hot spot that was still red hot to even try to touch was right at the heart of it.

Scott stared down at it for a long time before he actually let out a breath that moved through him. "That's a good thing, right?" he asked, turning to Charles. "It's not here; it's just… it left a scar. That's all."

"That's what I think, yes," Charles said.

"Good," Scott breathed out. "Good. That's… that's good."

"We won't know for sure until the hot spot cools enough to investigate the door, though," Charles said.

"It's been that hot since Jean died," Scott said.

"Which makes sense for how much pain you're in."

Scott rubbed a spot in the middle of his forehead. "So I need to figure out how to move on, but I can't move on when I'm dreaming about the thing that killed Jean, but if I don't move on, I'll never know if that thing's still here for sure…" He shook his head. "Kind of a Catch 22, isn't it?"

"All that you can do is wait, and to pass the time," Charles said. "I wish there was a quicker solution, but heartbreak is unique that way."

"Yeah." Scott let out his breath. "Tell you what. If I suddenly get the desire to destroy worlds, just…"

"I'll make sure your father is nowhere near you," Charles said.

"Thanks," Scott said, still staring down at the Phoenix-shaped scar. He'd really thought he was rid of that thing, but here he was, staring at its symbol and wondering if it was going to get him killed too.

That was definitely a relaxing thought to have when he was supposed to be "recovering."

"Yeah," Scott said in a breath as they returned to the real world. "This is going to be hard."

Chapter Text

Charles had been talking to another potential student for a little while now - a young girl who couldn't seem to stop walking through walls was at the top of the list. So far, his conversations had been fruitful, and he was sure he simply needed to let a few of his students talk to her.

So, he asked Ororo and Scott to come with him - and Logan as well. He'd found that bringing one of Scott's parents with him helped ease new parents' worries more seamlessly than anything else he'd tried. It helped for parents to see that trust and relationship in play.

Scott and Logan had both agreed - so long as Clint came over to play with K and Sam so K didn't feel like she had to hold down the fort alone. And once that was settled, they were off.

The girl in question - Katherine Pryde - came from a good family and seemed to have a bright future ahead of her. It was plain to see that her parents expected excellence from her - and so they seemed stressed about any deviation from that plan.

"I can assure you, Mr. Pryde, Katherine would have every opportunity should you all choose to send her to our Institute," Charles said with a warm smile once the formalities between them had been covered.

"So you can fix this, then," her father, Carmine, said, sounding like he was ready to just brush this whole thing under the rug.

"I'm afraid I don't understand," Charles said, frowning deeply.

"That's what you said, isn't it?" Carmine said.

"I said we could teach her to control her abilities," Charles said.

"Exactly. The sooner this gets fixed, the better."

"There's nothing wrong with her to fix," Logan said.

"You haven't had to pull her out of the floor," Carmine argued.

"No, but they all have their own problems. Doesn't mean there's anything wrong with her though."

Carmine waved impatiently. "Whatever the case, I just want this fixed. That's what you're here for."

Logan looked ready to take the handful of steps between them and just flatten the guy, so Scott put a hand on his arm. "The school's about more than just learning to control your powers," he said, purposefully directing his comments to Katherine instead of Carmine. "The extracurriculars are killer."

Katherine tipped her head and looked like she was going to say something before Carmine said, "Alright, let's get moving, then. I've got guests coming over soon and I don't need you crowding them."

Ororo stepped purposefully past Carmine, shooting him a look that sparked slightly at the edges before she gave Katherine a kinder look. "I can help with your things."

"I didn't say I wanted to go," Kitty said, wide eyed. "And it's not Katherine - it's Kitty."

"Kitty, then," Ororo said. "I'm Ororo. It's nice to be properly introduced now, isn't it?" Her eyes held a teasing sparkle like they always did when she and Kurt were up to trouble - which made it hard to be mad at her too.

Kitty looked over her shoulder to where her father and mother were trying different tactics to speak with Charles and Logan - with Carmine trying to dismiss them - and on the edge of throwing them out while her mother, Terri was asking more questions. At least … until very suddenly, Carmen's entire tone shifted and he began to demand they leave - and that Kitty stayed.

"Mr. Pryde," Charles said with a frown, "we're only trying to help your daughter-"

"My daughter is none of your concern," Carmine said almost mechanically before he turned to Kitty. "Go pack your things, dear. Your new teacher will be here soon."

What's going on, professor? Scott projected to Charles, who was watching the Prydes with narrowed eyes - though before Charles could say anything, it was clear Kitty had had enough as she got into an argument right there in the living room with her parents.

"What is going on with you guys?" Kitty said.

There was a knock on the door and Carmine rushed by, anxious to open it - and when he did he stepped back almost reverently as a man walked in. "Katherine, aren't you ready to go yet?" Carmine shouted.

"Go where?" Kitty demanded, obviously frustrated. "I'm not going anywhere!"

"You'll be joining us," the man said, though he looked as if he was looking more for a fight than for a student. "In our new school. Only the most elite will be allowed, of course."

Kitty narrowed her eyes as she looked between her parents and this new guy before she let out a frustrated sound and threw her hands up, headed back out of the entryway … and out the back door instead of up to her room.

When they heard the back door shut, Scott and Ororo shared a look and, without a word, went after her, leaving the older adults to deal with whoever this newcomer was.

It wasn't hard to find one upset teenager making a beeline away from her house, and when Scott and Ororo caught up to her, they simply fell into step with her. "Mind if we join you?" Scott asked. "It was getting a little territorial back there."

Kitty scrunched up her shoulders. "Whatever. Not like anyone cares what I have to say."

"Then why don't we find some ice cream and you can tell us what you want to do," Ororo suggested. "Away from anyone trying to set your future for you."

"And if I say I don't wanna go?" Kitty challenged.

"Then we want force you into anything," Scott promised. "We didn't really get to talk, but that's kind of why the professor asked me to bring my dad along." He smirked. "If you want, I can tell you about how my parents grilled Professor Xavier in his own school because I was nervous."

"Must be nice," Kitty muttered.

"Hey, trust me - if you do come to this school, just tell Mom you're not sure about something and she'll destroy the professor on your behalf," Scott said with a crooked grin.

"And it's always fun to watch," Ororo laughed.

Kitty looked between the two of them and then let out a sigh. "So, I'm not making any promises, but funny stories would be welcome."

"And ice cream," Ororo said, already pointing the group toward the malt shoppe nearby.

It actually wasn't long before Kitty started to warm up to them - mostly because Ororo and Scott weren't telling her what to do but were just telling stories about the school. Ororo showed Kitty a sneaky little cloudburst over one hand, and Scott explained why he was wearing his red-tinted shades. And that was nice to see too - someone who had their powers handled and someone who was still not in full control.

"So … is everyone at the Institute … for .. um… whatever … is everyone a … a freak?" Kitty asked, the last word came out whispered and she was red-faced, shrinking in on herself.

"A mutant, yeah," Scott told her quietly. "Nothing wrong with it. And we have a lot of friends outside the school who aren't." He paused. "Well, my baby sister lives at the boathouse with my parents, and technically, we don't know if she is or not. But neither of her godfathers are, and they visit a lot."

"And your parents?"

Scott nodded. "Yeah, both of them are mutants," he said, taking care to say the word aloud so she didn't think 'freaks' was the right thing to say.

"I just don't know about any of this," Kitty said. "I wanted to just … keep taking my dance classes and go to school."

"There's nothing stopping you from doing what you want," Ororo said. "You can still be a dancer. One of the boys at the school is going to college for his accounting degree. We have another in medical school." She smiled gently. "Being a mutant doesn't have to be your only identity."

"There's plenty to do," Scott promised. "There's a town close by that's pretty open-minded, and everyone at the school really acts like family. Dating included." He smirked at Ororo. "'Ro here is getting pretty serious with her boyfriend."

"Oh, and your brother and his green-haired lady are the picture of propriety," Ororo teased right back.

Scott chuckled at that. "Like I can control him."

"You might be able to," Ororo said. "If you told him not to do what you really want him to."

"I guess the real problem is he's so happy I can't even be mad," Scott said, shaking his head.

"And you love seeing your family and friends happy," Ororo said before she rested her hand on Kitty's shoulder. "That counts for new students too. Scott can't help but big-brother everyone smaller than him."

"Yeah, I'm starting to see that," Kitty said with a smirk. "And he's so giant…"

"Hey, I'm normal-sized!" Scott said when Ororo started laughing.

"Oh, yes, especially in comparison to the rest of your family," Ororo teased.

"Hey, be fair. Alex is almost as tall as I am," Scott pointed out.

"Almost," Ororo said, her eyes sparkling with laughter.

Scott shook his head at her. "Don't listen to 'Ro," he told Kitty.

"I don't know; she seems to have the right idea…" Kitty said, still grinning as the three of them ordered their shakes and found a place to sit down and watch the snow starting to fall outside.

"You're very special, Kitty. We all are at our school," Ororo said. "I'm one of a kind and so are you. And we want to help you with that."

"Is this another way to tell me I'm so smart?" Kitty said, playing with her straw. "Because I've heard that already and I know it's just because my Dad pays everyone off. I purposely failed my math test but still ended up with a B+."

"That wont' happen in our school," Scott said with a smirk.

"The professor said we could tell her, Scott," Ororo said quietly before she turned back to Kitty. "Have you ever heard of the X-Men?"

Kitty's entire face brightened up. "Oh, sure! They're super-heroes … like the Avengers or the Fantastic Four, right? They were just in the news the other day!" She gasped as she looked between them. "Hey … are you guys the X-Men?" Before either could answer, Kitty pressed on. "Can I have your autographs?"

Ororo grinned as Scott turned a bright red that matched his glasses. "You can get the whole team's autographs if you like," she told Kitty.

"Keep it on the down-low," Scott said, though he couldn't stop smiling either.

"Is everyone at the school there on the team?"

"Not everyone, but you can join the team if you want," Scott said.

"Well that definitely changes things," Kitty giggled.

Kitty was obviously starting to warm up to the idea, especially when Scott suggested that if she truly hated it, she could always go to her local high school after spending at least a semester and a summer or however long it took to figure out her powers in Westchester.

Kitty was just starting to really relax when they heard the squeal of tires - and a moment later an explosion rocked the building. The three of them hit the deck, but as Scott and Ororo were pinned down by debris from the bomb blast, Kitty simply phased through it in a panic … especially when she couldn't quite stop. Her head was killing her and she couldn't focus. But even in her daze, she didn't miss the voice that belonged to the other guy that had shown up.

She peeked around the corner to see several men in matching odd uniforms and masks while Mr. Shaw directed them. "Load them up," Shaw said. "After we take these two to the lab, we'll get Xavier as well."

Kitty stared, wide-eyed as Scott and Ororo were carried out of the wrecked and burning building and loaded into an odd looking craft, and before she gave herself time to think about it, she phased into the craft, staying back far enough that she wasn't seen as the group headed off. She was excited with herself for controlling her phasing … but also borderline terrified at finding herself in such a position.

The craft rushed away toward the old docks on Lake Michigan. The whole area was a industrial area with high chain link fences and alleyways between blocky buildings. The two X-Men were unceremoniously unloaded from the craft and into one of the large buildings as Kitty watched, wide eyed and more scared than she could remember being.

Of course, she followed them - from a distance and slipping into the shadows when someone looked her way. "We have two X-Men," Shaw said, then snapped his fingers and pointed to his side only to be joined by a blonde girl in too-tight clothes a moment later. "What about the girl? Did you find her?"

"No, she slipped away," the blonde said. "I don't know what her powers are yet, but I think I can persuade her father to enroll her in your Massachusetts Academy, Mr. Shaw. He has a taste for all the finest things, and it is one of the most prestigious private schools in the country. He won't be able to resist it."

"And once she gets there -" Shaw turned toward the blonde and waited.

"I'll make sure she's of the right mindset," she replied.

Of course, they had no idea that Kitty had heard them, and she was frowning hard on hearing all of it. Scott and Ororo were half-conscious, though Ororo was waking quicker and Kitty snuck over to try and see what she could do to get them out .. but as she jostled Ororo, one of the guards spotted her.

Ororo pushed Kitty back. "Get the professor, he'll help," she said. "Go home - maybe they'll still be there."

She didn't have time to argue before the guard made a dash for her, and though he should have grabbed her, he caught nothing but air as his arm went right through Kitty - and all at once, Shaw started shouting - demanding they catch her.

What's more, the blonde whirled on her heel and broke into a run trying to catch her as well - though she missed out too as Kitty took a deep breath and ran through the wall to outside. She wasn't sure where to go - and though Ororo had told her to go home, the thought of Mr. Shaw just rushing off to pick her up had her terrified.

So instead, she backtracked to the ice cream shop, where she was surprised to find Xavier and Scott's dad frowning at the wreckage.

"You gotta help - those guys from before showed up-" Kitty panted as she rushed over to them.

"Take it easy, kid," Logan said - though Charles didn't wait for Kitty to catch a breath before he dove into her mind to see for himself what had happened. "What happened?"

"Sebastian Shaw took Ororo and Scott," Charles said. He turned to Kitty. "Do you know where they went?"

Kitty nodded, still wide-eyed. "I followed them," she explained. "But they couldn't grab me. I don't really know how I did it, but I'm really glad it worked."

"Yes, and we'll help you discover how to control it better," Charles said. "But - did you see Scott and Ororo? Are they harmed?"

Kitty nodded again. "They got knocked out when the building blew up… Ororo told me to find you."

"Show me where," Logan said in a growl.

Kitty held her breath as she looked Logan's way, though her heart was pounding and she was too worried not to just keep going with whatever adrenaline was still fueling her before it ran out. "Okay, follow me."

"We'll take the car," Charles said. "There's less of a chance that Shaw's men will spot us that way. Katherine, please, direct us."

Kitty nodded, still feeling very much out of her depth and a little wary of the low growl Logan was emitting as they climbed into the car and she did her best to give directions based on her terrified running.

"You can mask yourself from them, right?" Logan asked Charles as he took his jacket off. "I won't be long. Place smells like betadine and bleach."

"That sounds bad," Kitty said.

"You can stay here," Logan said as he got out of the car.

Kitty shook her head. "You might need me," she pointed out. "I already got away once, and they can't touch me."

"They can touch me, but I'll touch 'em back," Logan said before he tipped his chin down. "Where'd you leave 'em?"

Kitty hedged. "We'd just gotten inside," she explained. "But they said something about an academy and something about, well, labs," she said, whispering that last word.

Logan stopped cold and turned toward her. "What."

"Well, that's where they said they were taking the X-Men?" Kitty said, wincing with one eye shut.

Logan flexed his hands - forcing his fists to relax enough to stretch his fingers just long enough to take a break before they balled back up into fists - and the backs of his hands were already turning purple as the tips of his claws rested just under the surface. He paused and turned his head, sniffing out the scents in the air before he turned and started down the scent trail. He didn't waste an instant of time before he was flat out running and the first Hellfire Club minion that crossed his path caught the wrong end of his anger as a familiar snikt echoed in the building's sterile looking hallways.

Inside, deeply in the building, Scott and Ororo were unconscious and the blonde that had been helping Shaw the whole time decided that it was high time that she stole a peek into the two X-Men's memories.

With Ororo, she saw little that was of use to her … though the overwhelming fear that was wrapped around tight spaces would come in useful later. She filed away the information and turned to Scott, narrowing her eyes as she peeked - and was supremely disappointed to find that to her, his mindscape looked like a long hallway with a series of doors - though now and again she could find a large window that looked out toward a mountain.

Intrigued, she tried to open a few doors. Nothing was open - it was all locked up tight, and as she wandered she found herself more and more frustrated. There was one door though … one where a warm flickering light seemed to dance from the other side - the light spilling out into the hallway as it shifted and turned. She couldn't take her eyes off of it - almost as though she was watching a fire, and without thinking, the blonde reached for the doorknob.

The instant she touched the knob, a searing pain shot up her arm like an electrical current - burning and screaming nothing but pain and fire - and the instant that the pain had travelled up her arm and raced up her neck, she could see nothing but fire around her.

There was fire in every direction, but the fire building up inside him was more powerful than anything outside. And there was a voice, both smooth and sharp somehow at the same time, whispering and shouting encouragement and calling for more destruction.

Every time the fires stretched out a little farther, there was a rush, almost like a high, and the second presence got louder, more excited. It was impossible to control, and the fear that caked the memory only seemed to strengthen the fire.

She was gasping as she retreated from his mind and memory, though she had barely recovered her wits before she could feel another telepath reaching out and searching for the X-Men. It seemed Professor Xavier had come looking for his students - and while she was still reeling from fire, she knew better than to try to engage him. Instead, she simply slipped out of the room to recover her senses.

Which was good for her - since Logan was in a mood by the time he, Charles, and Kitty got down to where the X-Men were behind held, tied down and drugged.

"Let 'em loose," Logan said in a snarl - not looking to see if Kitty was keeping up when he knew full well she was. The scent of the lab had him right on the edge of completely losing his fine hold on his temper - and anyone that so much as looked at any of them cross eyed were regretting their every life decision that had brought them to where they were today.

One of the men in the lab backed away, holding up both hands in the face of Logan's anger. "Okay, okay, hold on…"

"Do it faster," Logan snarled - louder and lower this time.

The guy swallowed and looked like he was going to wet himself as he quickly undid the restraints on both Scott and Ororo and stammered out a quick, "It's just a sedative," when Logan realized they were still both unconscious.

"Where's the bottle?" Logan asked, still bearing down on the guy.

"On the counter," the guy said, wide-eyed as he pointed.

Logan reached out and took a hold of the guy then dragged him with over to the meds - sure to make the guy draw up a measure of it - before Logan took the shot and jammed it into the guy's neck. "You better hope you weren't lyin' about what that was."

The guy let out a wordless sound before he crumpled, and Kitty let out a little "eep" as she watched the whole thing.

Logan watched the guy pass out before he turned toward the unconscious X-Men and quick stepped over to Scott to try and wake him up. At least a little. "C'mon, Scotty."

"'S fine, Jean, we'll take the couch."

Logan froze up and stared at him for a moment before he stepped back and turned his attention to Ororo instead. He just needed one of them to wake up. He could carry the other. "How you doin', 'Ro?" Logan asked gently, trying to wake her up slowly. "Can you wake up?"

Ororo took a deep breath and let it out. "Mm, yes, I think so," she said sleepily.

"Would it help if I told ya where the Elf is plannin' to take you later?" Logan asked.

Ororo smirked at that. "Oh, don't spoil it," she said, peeking one eye open to look at him before she put a hand on his shoulder. "Where are we?"

"Wrong side of Chicago," Logan said, pulling her upright gently.

Ororo put a hand to her forehead and then smiled tightly when she saw Kitty. "Welcome to the X-Men, Kitty," she said lightly.

"Yeah," Kitty said in a breath.

Logan glanced over at Kitty then steadied Ororo for a moment. "I've got Scott if you ladies want to stick to Charlie."

"Yeah, okay," Kitty said, though she was obviously wary of Logan as she slipped around him to help Ororo, following Charles' lead.

"I hate to be the bearer of bad news," Charles said. "But I'm afraid, Miss Pryde, that we'll still need to convince your parents if you want to come with us."

Kitty wrinkled her nose. "After these creeps got in their heads? Seriously?"

"I still can't abide by being charged with kidnapping," Charles said. "And it's been proven several times now how important it is for a student's family to stay in their lives."

Ororo smirked Charles' way. "Beyond that, I'm sure Charles has cleared their minds of these people's influences."

"Not yet, no," Charles said. "But I'm sure they'll need their minds eased a bit before they'll listen."

"Yeah," Kitty said, though she still sounded unsure. Still, with all the X-Men in agreement, how could she say no? So she stuck with them to head back home, somehow not surprised that Logan stuck with Scott until he woke up more fully.

"You're not flyin' back, Slim," Logan told him quietly, though Kitty managed to catch it.

"Yeah, I gathered," Scott whispered back. "What happened, anyway? Last I remember, we were eating ice cream."

"Buncha idiots screwin' with you," Logan said. "Best if you don't put too much thought to it. They shouldn't bug you again. Least, not the ones I dealt with."

"What about the girls? Kitty and 'Ro?"

"They're alright," Logan promised. "Go to sleep. You need to sleep it off the rest of the way."

"I'm fine, Dad."

"Great. Be fine with your eyes closed," Logan deadpanned.

Scott rolled his eyes behind his glasses, but it was hard to argue with Logan, especially when there wasn't much else to do in the car, so he ended up falling asleep against the window - as did Ororo - leaving Charles, Kitty, and Logan to deal with the Prydes.

When they got to the Pryde's house, both Carmine and Terri rushed out on seeing them. Carmine was clearly angry and went right into shouting at both men as Terri latched on to Kitty - tearfully looking her over and trying to get a hold of herself all while Kitty tried to soothe her.

"What have you been doing with my daughter?" Carmine shouted, bearing down on both Charles and Logan. "We thought she'd been killed! Or kidnapped! What kind of racket are you running? I won't stand for it! I'll make sure …" Carmen's eyes unfocused for a moment and his whole expression shifted. "... it's good to see you again, professor. My wife and I have been discussing you and your school since you left."

Charles nodded with a perfectly polite smile. "Katherine has been getting to know some of my best students. I think she'll fit in well, Mr. Pryde."

"Please, call me Carmen," he said, grasping Charles' hand.

"Then please call me Charles," was the ever-polite response. "The choice is up to your daughter, of course, but if you're amenable, we'd love to have her."

"Yes, yes, of course," Carmen said. "Katherine, sweetheart, we've talked it over and you can go to Westchester if you'd like to. It's a very exclusive school. I'm sure it will look impressive on your college applications."

"Layin' it on thick, Charlie," Logan said quietly over Charles' shoulder.

"I won't abide being charged for a kidnapping I didn't commit," Charles said perfectly primly.

"Uh huh. I'm sure this don't fall outside of what you said you wouldn't do anymore either."

"Honestly, Logan, they were both traumatized by the mental assault. It's kinder to erase that than to leave them scarred," Charles replied.

"I've been around the block with that kind of thing more'n my share," Logan said. "Don't gotta tell me."

Charles raised an eyebrow his way but didn't say anything more, not until a very wide-eyed Kitty had joined them and whispered urgently to them both, "This is so cool but you know you guys are terrifying, right?"

Logan didn't react at all, but Charles smiled up at her. "Only if you mean to do someone harm. You, Miss Pryde have nothing to fear."

"O...kay then."

The flight back to Westchester was amusing - especially since Charles had Kitty sit next to Scott- and asked him to tell Kitty all about the kinds of classes she'd be taking. And that at least had Kitty feeling a bit more enthusiastic about the move, even if she was obviously still keyed up about the whole affair.

"Any questions, Kitty?" Scott asked.

"Just … I mean, it all sounds okay and all, but I was working to be a dancer. And I was already passing up the other girls in my class … and I don't know where I can keep doing that …"

"I don't know if we have- Professor, do you know if Salem Center has a place like that?" Scott asked with a frown.

Logan frowned to himself and then took out the cell on board to punch in a few numbers, then leaned back as they flew. "You running with the Avengers full time now?" Logan asked into the phone, not hiding his conversation from anyone, though Scott was frowning at the back of Logan's head. "Or can you find a little time between kissin' babies and Cap's ass to get away from the tower now and again?"

"For you?" Natasha replied. "Of course. What do you need?"

"Got a kid here that needs a ballet teacher."

Natasha paused. "Are you serious?"

"Of course I am," Logan gruffed.

"Well." Natasha paused for a long time. "I'd like to meet her and see where she is, but of course I can work something out for you, malen'kiy dyadya." It was obvious she was trying to hide her delight, but she wasn't fooling Logan at all.

"Think you can contain yourself until we get there or do you need to run out and find some tighter tights to work with?"

"Oh please," Natasha said, scoffing over the line. "I'll see you when you get here. Clint and I are with Sammy and K anyway."

"How's that goin'?"

"Clint's singing. It's going marvelously."

"Alright. Thanks, Tasha," Logan said. "Oh, hey. It's your turn to cook. See you in twenty."

When Logan hung up, Scott laughed outright. "When in doubt, call family, right?"

"She was a ballerina in Russia," Logan defended. "Before she became a spy full time."

"Wait, you got me a spy for my teacher?" Kitty blurted out, looking both awed and scared.

"She won't be teachin' you much of that," Logan said.

"Not unless you ask her to," Scott clarified.

"I may," Kitty said, smiling to herself.

"Nah, she'll tell you to ask me if you push for that," Logan said.

Kitty nodded to herself, getting more and more excited about this move the more she learned. Still, once she got to the school and saw not only how amazing it looked but how many of the X-Men were just hanging out and using their powers, she was once again entranced until -

Bamf. Kurt teleported over to hug Ororo-

And "eep!" went Kitty as she nearly phased through the floor in alarm.

Kurt looked properly apologetic as he offered her his hand to pull her up. "Entschuldigung, fraulein," he said. "My name is Kurt - I didn't mean to startle you."

"It's okay," Kitty replied, though she was a little breathless as she recovered, one hand over her heart.

"Actually," Ororo said, one arm around Kurt's waist not only to flirt but to show Kitty that he was alright, "Kitty saved us."

Kurt's eyebrows shot up. "Then I'm sure you have quite the story to tell."

"Um … I … guess so," Kitty said, clearly uncomfortable still as she watched Ororo and Kurt.

Kurt let out a slight breath and stepped back, kissing the back of Ororo's hand. "I'm interrupting your tour," he said. "Please, carry on," he added before teleporting away again.

Kitty bit her lip and then glanced up at Ororo. "I'm sorry. I …"

"It's alright," Ororo said. "Kurt has a beautiful physical mutation, but not everyone sees it that way at first. I promise you that he's quite wonderful."

Kitty nodded, though she was still chewing on her lower lip. She did feel bad for freaking out, but she also didn't know how not to freak out just yet. Maybe Ororo was right and she just needed some time to get to know the guy…

Kitty let out a breath. "Okay. Well. Okay. There's a tour, right? Let's… let's keep doing that."

Chapter Text

While Logan had gone with Charles to talk with Kitty's parents, K had stayed behind with Sam and found herself with an unexpected visitor.

It wasn't uncommon for Clint to stop by and check on both K and Sam when Logan and Scott both were on a mission. K knew that a few of the kids at the institute were keeping the Avengers in the loop on when she was alone - they had their hearts in the right places after everything that had happened with Jean dying, Sinister showing up, and then Daken messing with her emotions - so she didn't have it in her to tell them to stop spreading it around when she did get some time to herself.

But this time around, Clint hadn't come over. Natasha had. Herself. Without Clint.

When K simply raised an eyebrow at Natasha as she stood in the doorway after answering the door, Natasha let out a long sigh. "Clint isn't the only one who cares about your family," she said in explanation.

"Yeah, but Logan isn't here," K said flatly. "Neither is Scott. And Sam is asleep."

Natasha nodded but didn't turn around to go back. "That's fine," she said. "I wanted to talk to you anyway."

K had her arms crossed as she watched Natasha. "That's new."

Natasha nodded, matching K's careful body language almost unconsciously. Anyone watching the two women could clearly see that they weren't comfortable with each other. And yet Natasha wanted to talk to K alone.

"I'm not sure what I can say that would make you trust me," Natasha said slowly. "But I saw so much of the way you were after Jean much you gave to Logan and to Scott. And Clint told me what he felt around Daken." She hedged and took a deep breath and let it out. "It's difficult for me to admit to being wrong, but I cannot deny after everything that's happened how good you are for Logan and how much you've given to his family. "Now, I'd like to extend a hand of friendship and start over, if we can. You don't need to carry them alone; I can help."

"You do realize that they're my family too." K said, though she stepped back to let her in further. "What is it you want?"

"I want to make sure they're not in danger of losing you," Natasha said frankly. "You've stretched yourself to your limit to take care of them."

"Assuming you know my limit. How do you propose to change that?"

"That's what I wanted to talk to you about," Natasha said. "I don't know as much about you as I do about them. Files can only tell me so much - not what you need when you're exhausted."

"The files are all written by people with a pre-determined outlook," K pointed out.

Natasha gestured widely. "And so I'm here," she said. "If you need someone to look out for Sam so you and Logan can get some time together - or if you need to be alone-"

K frowned at that, her arms crossed over her chest. "Why?"

"Because you're still worn down. You can hide it from most people, but…" She paused. "Well, Clint in particular… you can't hide things from him."

"So you're here because your boyfriend is concerned." K let out a breath. "Fine. I'll make tea."

"I'm here because I believe him when he points out patterns," Natasha corrected her.

"And what pattern do you think is happening now?" K asked as she started the water.

"You're not taking any time for yourself except to get the rest you need just to keep up with your family," Natasha said. "You're losing yourself. And, well, I saw the immediate aftermath of Jean's death and the effect it had on your family. Have you had any time for your own needs since then?"

"I'm fine."

"Yes. Well. To borrow a phrase from Steve, 'fine' is a baseline," Natasha said. She paused. "You like horses, yes? Maybe you could go riding. Something that's yours. I'm no psychologist; I don't know what you need. I'm just offering to help so you can do more than survive."

"As noble as that is, really. It's not necessary. I can handle my own family." She gestured openly. "I was just at the tower for a few weeks not long ago. Everyone already has me more or less on suicide watch. I don't know what else I need to do to get you people off my ass. What do you want from me?"

"Maybe you just need to get away with him," Natasha said thoughtfully. She tipped her head to the side. "Logan always did come away feeling better after spending some time in nature. No obligations, no worries…"

"Except we have obligations now," K said slowly. "That won't change. I'd just be pawning them off on someone else for a while. How is that right?"

"You have obligations to yourself as well," Natasha pointed out. "And you have to know that none of us would consider watching Sam to be a burden. Everyone adores her. You'd just be asking anyone who watched her to spoil her until you're able to come back a more refreshed and happier version of yourself." She paused, let her shoulders drop, and made a face. "Oh, now I sound like the therapist Stark is making me see."

"Yes you do."

"Still, the point stands."

"There's too much going on right now," K said with a wave.

"There always is," Natasha countered. "If it was Scott, you'd have bundled him in a car with whatever girl he finds to date and sent him on his way no matter what his team was doing."

"He's a kid," K said. "He deserves a break with all he's been through. And I think both of us have a little higher bar than just any girl that comes along."

"You lost a daughter," Natasha pointed out. "I know you were already thinking of her that way. Logan certainly was. And then you lost Logan and Scott to their own grief for a long while, too. We all did." She let out a sigh. "Just try it. Go for a week with Logan somewhere you know you can relax. If I'm wrong, I'm wrong, but I'll be the one to bear the blame."

"You think he needs a break that badly?" K said. "Because the only reason I haven't tried that with him was because I knew Sam was helping him."

"I think you both need each other," Natasha said simply.

K narrowed her eyes for a moment and started to shake her head, but stopped halfway through the motion. "We'll see."

Natasha sighed. "I'll take it."

K didn't say anything further, though she did slide a cup of green tea Natasha's way before doing all she could to avoid speaking any further. Which - made for a fairly awkward hour or so before Logan came to the boathouse and pulled Natasha aside with a little request.

"We've got a new kid up here at the house, just got in a little bit ago - and I'm gonna officially cash in on a favor," Logan said.

Natasha's eyebrows shot up at that. "What do you need?"

Logan smirked at that. "I asked you about bein' a ballet teacher for a thirteen year old. Maybe a little preliminary self defense slipped into it."

"You were serious?" Natasha said. Considering the conversation she'd just been having with K, this was obviously the last thing she had expected.

"She needs a teacher, Nat. And you need to dance again. Perfect fit."

"Well, of course, I'd love to," Natasha said, recovering slightly and nodding. "You're right; I miss it."

"Soundin' wistful, little widow." Logan watched her more carefully. "So what's got you off your game?"

"I'm just distracted," Natasha said as they walked back toward the main house. She looked over her shoulder and let out a breath. "You know your wife is terribly depressed, don't you?"

"Yeah," Logan said in a breath. "Not sure what I can do at this point but ride it out. She doesn't really want to do anything, and she doesn't want me to do anything for her."

"I suggested that the two of you could take some time together, maybe go off somewhere with no obligations, no people… but she wouldn't even consider it until she got it in her head that it might help you." Natasha shook her head. "She's completely lost in taking care of you and your kids."

"Our kids, Nat. Ours."

"Her obligations," Natasha shot back. "At least that's the way she seems to see it. She has no joy in it at this point."

"No, she doesn't," Logan agreed in a heavy tone.

"Then why don't you see if you can make life fun for her again?" Natasha said. "That's what my-" She caught herself and flushed. "That's the point, anyway."

"Your what now?" Logan said, one eyebrow raised. "We got a superhero rotation on who keeps an eye on Sam, and you can defer to Scott on how it's supposed to go. If you want in."

"I think I can let him take the lead just this once," Natasha said, ignoring the question entirely. "He's not distracted with - well, when he's not with the team, she has his full attention. And I'm sure he knows who she trusts for when he is on the team. I won't get in the way. I'm only trying to help."

"Uh huh."

"Is it so hard to believe that I want you and your family happy?" Natasha asked, one eyebrow raised. "Especially when I can see what a difference they've made for you?"

"Just an awful big swing, that's all," Logan teased.

Natasha shoved his shoulder. "It is not," she said. "You've known for ages how much I care about you."

"Me, sure," Logan said, teasing her. "But this isn't about me. Not really."

"Maybe I want to see that the heroes among us know how to be heroes to a depressed mother and not just to kittens in trees," Natasha said with her chin tipped up.

"When did you decide you didn't hate her, Tash?" Logan asked, pulling her a little closer. "And how much of that had to do with the nitwit you're playin' tonsil hockey with?"

"Admittedly, it is hard to hate someone he loves so much," Natasha said. "But it was actually shortly after Jean died…" Natasha let her shoulders drop. "I doubt she remembers it, and I know you don't. But seeing her swallow down her grief so she could take care of you and Scott…"

"I tried to tell you," Logan said softly.

"You know me," Natasha said just as softly. "I need to see things to believe them."

"Just keep hopin' you'll trust my judgement one of these days."

"Can you blame me?" Natasha asked with one eyebrow raised. "Considering your romantic history…"

Logan held her gaze, but didn't do more than narrow his eyes. "Is that somethin' else I get to take the blame for? Teachin' you bad habits?"

"Oh, so when you find a woman with a good heart for family, that's good, but when I find someone with those same traits, I'm learning your bad habits?"

"I mean all the others," Logan said. "And your circus brat isn't the same as my troublemaker." He paused and smirked a little more crookedly. "Though they did both get the drop on you …"

"You're enjoying yourself far too much."

"I'm just pointing out the obvious."

"I would like to point out that I was not in my right mind when I first met either of them. Not with the Room over my shoulder."

"How many times did you cross paths with her before I was in the equation?" Logan asked, smiling outright now. "Because I'd like to point out those first times, she wasn't in her right mind when she met you, either."

"Then we were doubly disadvantaged," Natasha argued.

"You sound sore."

"I'm always sore when I find another reason to hate what the Room did to me," Natasha said.

"Uh huh," he said, nodding slowly - again. "Go on up to the school - tell Scott to come down. Please."

Natasha nodded and then slipped over to kiss his cheek. "While you go to spoil her?"

"So I can tell him he's in charge of you and anyone else that wants to babysit while we're gone."

"He's in charge of me?"

"He's overlooking who gets to do what with Sam." Logan smirked at her again. "It'll help her relax."

"Fine." WIth that, Natasha simply turned on her heel and headed up to the school - and not five minutes later, Scott was on his way to the boathouse, looking totally bemused.

"So, you wanted to talk to me, Dad?" Scott asked, his hands in his pockets. "'Ro and I already told you everything we remember about Shaw and his group."

"Yeah, not about that," Logan said as he got up from where he was seated. He grabbed his keys and smirked at Scott on his way to his room. "I gotta head out for a little while. You're in charge of what happens with Sam, but you gotta pull in the Avengers and make them listen to you." There was the sound of low voices coming from the bedroom and a little sound of surprise from K before Logan stepped out again with her slung over his shoulder. "We'll be back. Eventually."

Scott burst out laughing when he saw the looks on both of their faces - pleasant surprise from K and a crooked smirk from Logan. "Yeah, I know better than to get in your way. Have fun. Take your time. I'll just be teaching Sammy to say my name while you're gone."

"Good luck," Logan said before they simply headed out, leaving Natasha and Scott staring at each other and caught between amusement and genuine pleasure that Logan and K were, in fact, getting some time together.

The very idea of the trip away from the kids and the Institute, the Avengers, … all of it was going against K's instincts to stay and protect those trouble-prone teenagers, but she couldn't deny the fact that just being alone with Logan away from everyone and everything else was enough to get her to melt into a more relaxed state of being.

Which … was only interrupted when they got to New York City instead of the woods and Logan roused her from her half sleep at the airport. "The hell're we doing?" K asked thickly as she sat up, frowning at the lights around them.

"Private flight," Logan said as Steve met them on the tarmac. "We haven't had a lot of luck in Canada lately, so I figured we could try something … different."

"What have you got in mind?" K asked, letting him pull her along, even if she was in a little bit of a daze.

"You'll just have to wait and see," he replied with a crooked smirk.

"Is it a long flight?"

"Oh yeah," Logan said.

"About 14 hours," Steve replied.

"Are you flying?" K asked Logan, after she frowned Steve's way.

"No, that'll be me," Steve said as Logan pulled her a little closer to himself with a smirk. "So you two can relax on the way there, too."

"Oh… o-kay," K said, frowning between the two men, though she trusted them enough just to sit back and see what they had in mind.

And while Steve handled all of the official flight business, Logan pulled K along and had her lean into him as they got underway.

"Really," K said, looking up at him for a moment. "Where are we going?"

"Somewhere you can't get too caught up in taking care of anyone else," Logan said, though he refused to answer any further than that, instead deciding that kissing her into silence was the best option. Not that he was wrong.

Of course, she really really wasn't expecting to disembark from the plane hours later in Tokyo. "Alright," Steve said as he handed Logan their passports and an overstuffed envelope. "I'll see you two in a couple weeks. Have fun."

"Wait," K said, even as Logan pulled her over with his arm around her waist. "You're going to just drop us off in Japan?"

"You'll be fine," Steve replied with a smile at the door of the jet. "You've got an expert guide after all." He and Logan shared a look, and a moment later, he took off, leaving Logan pulling K along with him.

And from there on out, it was completely confusing for her. She didn't know more than a few words in Japanese - and none of them were useful to her. Especially considering the speed Logan was talking to the locals, in a low, soft, and evenly metered pace that spoke volumes of how fluent he was in the language.

She waited until they were in a train headed out of the city before she tried to say anything - though it hadn't slipped her notice that he'd been sure to take the aisle seat and was watching everyone just as warily as if they were stateside. "How far away from the city are we going?" K asked quietly, and Logan let out a long sigh as he leaned over then kissed the side of her head.

"Far enough out that no one but you and me will know English," Logan replied, and though it was an honest response, K was a little surprised at the answer.


"Why not?" Logan challenged, shifting so he could look her in the face easier. "This is one of the few places in the world that I love. Let me show it to you the right way."

"Does it come with storytime?"

"Some of it does," Logan agreed as K slid closer and settled her head on his shoulder.

"Alright, then. I'll try it."

A few hours later, when the two of them left the train though, it was clear pretty quickly that this was going to be difficult for her. It wasn't that she needed to control where they were headed or what they were doing - she'd totally turned to Logan's judgement on that side of things since the Sinister kidnapping incident anyhow. But everything - everything - left her entirely dependent on him while they were there. Any time they interacted with the locals for anything - it had to be through Logan.

So when he finally got her to a little minka with a thatched roof tucked away in what looked like a bamboo garden, she honestly didn't know what to do with herself. There were copper eavestroughs with chains of bells hanging off of the corners and when they stepped inside and took off their shoes, K was surprised at the quietness around them. The floors were covered in tatami mats, and the separations between rooms was made up with sliding doors that were light wood and rice paper.

Before Logan opened the first door, he paused and listened carefully, then took her hand and led her though the place. "Just you and me here," he said, smirking at her before he dropped their bags and pulled her into their bedroom, getting more involved as they slipped through the house.

The fun part about Logan and K being gone was that all of the Avengers at some point came to help with babysitting Sammy, so the little girl was never at a loss for playmates - though she did insist that Scott had to be there for bedtime and would only go to sleep for him, Janet, or her godfathers.

Which meant Steve and Clint were trading off night shifts - not that either of them was complaining.

Steve had actually fallen asleep in Sam's room, so he hadn't been expecting to wake up to screaming - and not from Sammy.

Of course, the sound of Scott so obviously upset also woke up Sammy, and Steve spent a good deal of time shushing her before he did eventually get to Scott's room, where the kid was trying very hard to pretend like nothing had happened.

"Scott …" Steve started out, obviously unsure of what to do. It probably didn't help matters that he was still holding Sam, who was chewing on her hand and watching Scott with wide eyes, too.

"It's fine," Scott said quickly, trying very hard to play it off.

"I'm going to just not believe that," Steve said. "Not when I know how torn up you are."

"It's…" Scott let out a breath. "It'll be fine. I'm working with the professor and - well - we're working on it. We've got a plan…"

"Can you tell me what it was? For my own piece of mind, please," Steve said. "Because I know that tone in your voice and I can't just sit on the sidelines.

Scott honestly considered trying to play it off - until he realized that if he was right and Charles was wrong and that door in his head was more than just the memory of the Phoenix, the Avengers would need to know about it too. So he let his shoulders drop and tipped his head in an unspoken invitation for Steve to join him.

As soon as Steve sat down with Sam, she leaned toward Scott - her arms out for him to take her, and as soon as he was holding her, she put her hands on his face and carefully - and sloppily kissed his cheek.

Scott couldn't hide his smile as he pulled her tight to him in a hug and kissed the top of her head, and only once she was settled in did he look back up at Steve, who was quietly watching them the whole time. "So," he said slowly, "Jean and I had a telepathic connection."

"Yeah, that's what you said back then … I saw it in action."

"Well, I still have it," Scott said. "But right now, the only thing behind that door is fire."

"I don't understand how that's possible, Scott."

"Frankly, neither do I, but that's the truth, Captain," Scott said in a sigh. "I don't know if it's a scar like the professor thinks or if the Phoenix is …." He swallowed. "Yeah."

"You haven't told your parents, have you?" Steve said after a long stretch of silence. When Scott shook his head, Steve nodded. "I won't say anything."

"It's just that they've already been through the wringer," Scott tried to explain.

"No, I get it," Steve said. "Logan is barely holding himself together - they just now stepped away because K was very quietly falling apart. You don't need the stress of their reaction and they don't need the distraction when they're just starting to get it together." He blew out a breath. "But you have to tell them when you get a better idea of what's happening."

"All I know right now is that I keep dreaming about the Phoenix and destruction. It's not solid enough to do anything but freak them out," Scott said. "And I don't know if it's an active connection to the Phoenix or if I absorbed some of its memories and consciousness or… I don't really understand any of it."

"Doesn't sound like your professor does either," Steve pointed out. "But … you'll get there, I'm sure of it."

Scott gave Steve a dry look for that. "This thing killed Jean and she actually had telepathic powers."

"I know," Steve said. "But maybe that was the window it used with her." he shrugged. "Might be what attracted it to her. She was powerful."

"Yeah, and I'm an escape hatch," Scott said dryly.

"Not what I meant," Steve said sincerely. "I just … her mind was probably one of the safest spots for the Phoenix to hide. For as powerful as she was, the psychic blocks had to be substantial. And with how easily Jean could reach into other people's minds undetected, it was probably the right spot for a paranoid cosmic being to lay low."

Scott was nodding along to everything Steve said with a quiet frown. "I think she could have learned to control it. I really do. She was more powerful than she knew; she was just… scared to be powerful."

Steve nodded at that. "Seems to me that fear holds almost everyone back sooner or later."

"Yeah, well, I think all things considered, I'm going to keep a healthy fear of this thing, thanks," Scott muttered.

"Considering what it was supposed to do? Smart."

Scott nodded and then held his breath before he spoke up again. "The professor knows, but… if this thing comes back, we need to have a plan for how to stop it. Preferably one that doesn't involve killing the host," he added with a grim smile.

"I hate to say it, but for fly by the seat of your pants plans … you'd be smart to pull in your mom."

"Not until she's not…" Scott held his hand up by his ear and wiggled it back and forth to indicate that his mom was struggling.

"Yeah, we're all more worried than we're letting on."

"Well, you didn't see Dad sling her over his shoulder and announce that they were leaving," Scott said, this time with a quiet smirk.

"Well that's just good for both of them." Steve was smiling to himself then let out a little laugh. "She let him do that?"

"She was grinning, so I think he took that as an enthusiastic approval," Scott chuckled.

"Well … as long as it works for them."

Scott nodded. "I've known since they met each other they were going to be perfect together. Nice to be reminded of how right I was," he said, starting to really smile now.

"Yeah? Sounded like it was a rough start though … at least … what I remember of the story."

"Sure, maybe, but that was on the Department, not them," Scott said with a shrug.

Steve smirked a little wider at that. "Alright so, if that's the case, when were you going to introduce them, if the department hadn't gotten in the way, that is?"

"I kind of assumed they'd meet sooner or later, seeing as I was working at her shop and Dad was paranoid. Surprised he hadn't checked her out sooner, honestly."

"For as paranoid as she was - makes me wonder if she didn't duck out when he came by. You ever see him drive by?"

Scott paused to think about it. "You know, I think he did a few times."

"Probably too much to ask if you remember her around when that happened," Steve said, though he was smiling as he thought about K dodging Logan while he was being paranoid.

"Ah…" Scott rubbed the back of his neck. "I was paying more attention to … someone else."

Steve grinned outright. "That's alright, Scott. She made him work a little, I'm sure."

"I'm really not that interested in the finer details," Scott said with a crooked smirk.

"I'd be worried if you were," Steve laughed.

Scott shook his head and then readjusted the way he was holding Sam as the little girl started to drift off on his shoulder. "Really, though. I'm fine. Sorry to wake you."

"It's okay," Steve promised. "I'd rather know you were okay than to have you suffer in silence."

"Yeah, well, Alex said more or less the same thing the other day so… I think I'm good. Got a good support system, anyway." Scott got to his feet. "I'll tell you if anything changes. Jean had a few actual power flare-ups before the Phoenix really… you know."

"Hey, I might be Sam's godfather, but I'm pretty sure Logan never changed the paperwork that says officially that I've got your back, too."

"No, he didn't," Scott agreed, slowly smiling."Just tell me you're not here out of some obligation."

"I actually like your whole family, Scott. I don't babysit little ones like Sam out of obligation. If I did, it wouldn't be long before my actual job was kissing babies."

"If you listen to my dad, that's actually your job…"

"Oh, come on," Steve said, half under his breath. "He got to you, too."

"He's my dad," Scott laughed. "Of course he did."

Steve sighed and held his arms out. "I can put her down. Since it's my job according to your family."

"It kind of is," Scott agreed as he gently handed Sam over.

"Damnit, you're pretty awful sometimes, you know that, Summers?" Steve shook his head as he picked up Sam and of course, she immediately curled into him and was absolutely no problem for him at all to get her to sleep.

Chapter Text

At first, Logan and K's time in Japan was a little uncomfortable for K. Setting aside the simple fact that she didn't know the language outside of basic greetings, please, and thank you - the rest of which Logan handled for her entirely - they were far enough away from the city that any time that they took a breath long enough to step out of the little house for anything, she couldn't seem to avoid the way that almost every person in the little village would openly stare at her. Wherever she went - she couldn't get away from being watched. Which was incredibly awkward for her. She simply wasn't prepared to have a whole village of people staring and watching all the time. But Logan seemed to ignore most, if not all of it.


"They're not used to seeing westerners do more than pass through," Logan said.

"Is that all?"

"Pretty sure, yeah."

K was starting to feel like they shouldn't have gone to such a close-knit community that wasn't alright with westerners in their midst when she was proven utterly wrong about halfway through the trip. The weather had been a bit cooler than expected, and as a result, the residents were starting to wonder how long Logan and K were planning on staying.

When the bright-eyed older woman approached K and tried to talk to her, Logan had to step in, and the conversation she watched was pretty fascinating, if she was being honest. She'd managed to decipher part of it anyhow … the woman had seen their rings and was pointing to them as she spoke at a quick pace. There was some joking around, and some quiet encouragement from the older woman, but K was left in the dark - still at a loss. At least until the woman said 'sakura' rather uncertainly.

So of course, Logan was immediately shaking his head on one of the few words K had managed to pick up. From there it was pretty clear that she was inviting them to something after that by the way she was cheerfully gesturing for them to follow and grinning wider at K - though Logan shook his head and thanked her deeply before leading her off.

"What was that?" K asked, glancing over her shoulder for a moment, but sure not to let her gaze linger for too long on anyone - even if they were watching them.

"An invitation to a little festival that's starting up tonight," Logan said. "It'll run for the weekend, but you don't want to go."

"How do you know I don't want to go?"

"Aside from the fact that you're not exactly relaxed with everyone watchin' you - and neither am I - I figured you wouldn't want to wander down to a fertility festival."

K almost stopped right where she stood and turned toward him, but Logan cut her off at the pass. "I wasn't thinkin' about any of the festivals when I decided to bring you here," he promised. "I just wanted to take you to Japan. I've wanted to for a little while."

"What was that about cherries?"

"Cherry blossoms," Logan corrected. "She was asking if we'd come for the cherry blossoms, and I told her no, but then she thought we were here for this festival-"

"We're not."

"I know."

"Just … had to make sure we're on the same page."

"Last I checked, we weren't lookin' to give anyone outside of the two of us any toehold of credit for our next one," Logan said "Though it would have been nice to catch the sakura."

K watched him for a moment, but didn't argue it in the least when he slipped his hand across her lower back and pulled her closer. "They're bein' friendly," he promised. "She said you'd have pretty babies."

"Well, she's right,' K said, trying to sound irritated, but a genuine compliment from a stranger that wasn't interested for their personal gain was a little … different.

"She sure is," Logan agreed, kissing the side of her head as they headed back to their little hideaway for a meal that K was certain would be different from those they'd been enjoying - if nothing else from the stupid fertility festival that was underway.

Bobby and Johnny had been spending most of their time in the Baxter Building, but they sometimes took their shenanigans to Westchester, too - usually for the space to do a snowball/flame war.

By this point, everyone had more or less figured out what was going on between the two of them, though neither Bobby nor Johnny had said anything, and they were trying to be discreet, so no one brought it up, waiting for them to be comfortable enough to tell their friends on their own terms.

The problem, of course, was that it was next to impossible to be as discreet as they wanted to be when there was a teleporter around.

In all fairness to Bobby and Johnny, they'd both thought that they were alone, hidden around the corner of the barn and wrapped up in a kiss that was steamy in every sense of the word. They just hadn't realized that Kurt had promised to look after the horses while Logan was taking his wife to get some much-needed rest, and he'd just teleported over to make sure they were fed.

"Ah, I'm very sorry - didn't mean to intrude-" Kurt looked every bit the embarrassed interloper as he teleported into the barn to give them more privacy, though the interruption had startled both of them and left them a little on edge.

After all, while Sue had been pretty cool about the whole thing, and while K had been supportive and Charles had helped Bobby finally move past his own fear, Kurt… Kurt was very open about his faith, and, well, they weren't sure how he would react.

Of all the people to be caught by…

"Kurt … he won't say anything," Bobby said.

"Right, because he's the member of your team best known for not making a show of things," Johnny said with a frown toward the barn.

"Well … alright, that's a fair point, but he's also not big on airing other people's lives." But Bobby still looked nervous.

"I was about to get offended for a second if you called me 'dirty laundry'," Johnny teased.

"Yeah, that's nowhere near where I was headed," Bobby promised.

Johnny grinned and then stole another kiss. "Good. Even if I am one half of that phrase."

Bobby tipped his head and put on his best confused look. "You're the missing sock?"

Johnny burst out laughing. "Oh yeah. The one you find behind the dryer when it breaks. That's me!"

"It makes sense," Bobby agreed, once again getting comfortable. "Everyone wants to find it ... "

Johnny grinned a little wider, and with that, the two of them simply picked up where they'd left off and stayed hidden behind the barn for a good long while before Johnny did finally have to go home - Reed had some new thing he wanted to take for a test run.

When Bobby got back up to the house, Kurt was in the kitchen pouring out a bowl of popcorn. "Are you alone already?" Kurt asked. "We are getting ready to watch a movie."

"Yeah, the Four had a mission…" Bobby trailed off and waved a hand vaguely in the direction of the barn, though he flushed red remembering Kurt's earlier interruption.

"That's too bad," Kurt said, smiling pleasantly.

Bobby frowned for a second. "You're… surprisingly… fine with this."

"Why wouldn't I be?" Kurt asked, tipping his head as his tail stilled behind him.

"Well, you know…" Bobby shrugged nearly up to his ears. "I'm… gay? And you're… Catholic?"

"Ah. Would you prefer that I misquote scriptures and threaten to kill you for finding someone that makes you happy?"

"Obviously not…" Bobby closed one eye. "You know we're keeping it on the down-lo, right? Because of the whole… well. Like you said, death threats…"

"So you think so little of me? That I would simply go along with those that distort what it truly means to believe in a higher power? And a higher power who wants us not to judge each other, but to live our lives to do the most good possible?"

"Well, when you say it like that…" Bobby let out his breath. "It's just… you never know how someone's going to take it. Ben still acts a little weird around Johnny. Not mad, just… I guess he didn't see it coming? And everyone takes it - and it's just -"

"Bobby, it's not in my power to decide how to consider all of this. All I know is that I need to treat you as God would like," Kurt said. "And all I can find in all my years of searching is that we are not to judge, but to treat others like we wish to be treated."

Bobby blinked at him for a long moment before he dropped his shoulders and then yanked Kurt into a hug. "That is such a relief. You have no idea."

Kurt chuckled a little and returned the hug in spades. "You are like family to me, Bobby. I will always support you, regardless of the subject matter."

Bobby couldn't stop his grin at that. "Well, it means a lot. I've been tying myself in knots over this whole thing - couldn't even use my powers - you have no idea."

"If it's that much of a burden, then you definitely need to stop hiding it."

"Yeah, but not everyone is going to take it as well as you did," Bobby pointed out. "And I like being alive, Kurt. I really, really do."

"I will protect you," Kurt said with a wave.

"Okay, but I also want to keep Johnny safe? And that includes his love of good press - because it really matters to him, okay? He cares what people think about him. And no offense, Kurt, but if people find out he's dating a gay mutant and then they find out the backup is a blue demon…"

"I'll wear an inducer," Kurt replied in that same, even, unconcerned tone.

"Yeah." Bobby switched his weight from one foot to the other as he considered it. "I don't know. Maybe I'll talk to him about it. This double life thing sucks, not gonna lie." He nodded to himself and then clapped Kurt on the shoulder. "Thanks. Seriously."

"Any time," Kurt replied with a grin. "So … are you joining us or are you feeling too broody now that you're alone for a while?"

"Um, you must have me confused with someone else," Bobby said. "I don't brood." He stuck his nose in the air as if Kurt had mortally offended him and then grinned and snagged the popcorn for himself to lead the way to the movie room.

As had been planned, Steve showed up to pick Logan and K up from the village this time rather than make them go to Tokyo. And it was for no other reason than to make sure that K was still off guard, though by that time, she'd more or less given up on trying to anticipate what Logan had arranged to throw her off base. So the two of them hadn't moved or even reacted to Steve's arrival until he let himself into the house and made his way over to where the two of them were curled up with each other.

"Well this looks cozy," Steve said when Logan waved him over, though K barely looked over at him. "I hope you're ready to go back."

"Just when I'm starting to learn the language a little," K said airily.

"How else is he going to keep you off your game?" Steve teased. "He has to take you where you can't speak for yourself."

"That isn't it, damnit," Logan grumbled. "I was just tryin' to get 'er to slow the hell down."

"And …"

Logan turned toward K, who held his gaze for a moment then let out a sigh. "He totally made up for any in absentia behavior by getting me here in the sticks where no one but him could talk to me."

"So you're saying he just got to be entirely selfish and not share for this whole time?" Steve asked with a teasing grin as Logan swore under his breath.

"What? Like that's a bad thing?" K replied. "I didn't want to talk to anyone else anyhow."

"You sure you wanna go back then?" Steve laughed.

"We gotta," Logan said. "At least for Sam and Scotty."

The flight back was quiet - especially since even Steve was worn out after more or less doing a non-stop down and back between New York to Tokyo. In fact, it was beyond disorienting considering that it was both a thirteen hour flight - and a thirteen hour time difference, so by the clock, mere minutes had passed - even if it had been a very long flight.

Luckily for them, they had both left and landed late in the day, and Steve was sure to be quick getting them back to Westchester so they could make use of the boathouse and sleep.

Which made it all the more impressive when the next morning they were awakened by the smell of coffee brewing in the kitchen of the boathouse. "Your son must have missed you," K said quietly into Logan's shoulder.

"Pretty sure he missed you too," Logan pointed out, though he didn't look to be in any kind of hurry, either and neither of them moved. Not until Scott called out to them.

"I know you're both awake," he said in a normal speaking tone. "And I've got coffee and breakfast, so why don't you tell me what the official plan is for Sammy's birthday?"

The two ferals shared a look and got up rather than answer, though the fact that Scott was simply enjoying a cup of coffee himself showed that he had expected as much from them. K took a seat next to Scott, who only waited for her to put her mug down before he pulled her into a hug and kissed her cheek. "Welcome back. You two have a good time up north?"

"We … didn't go up north," K admitted as Logan squeezed Scott's shoulder and then took the seat on K's other side. Scott looked openly surprised at that, and looked up at Logan for clarification.

"She needed to be spoiled and I couldn't think of where or how that would happen without takin' her out of her comfort zone," Logan said.

"Meaning …"

"He took me to the countryside in Japan," K said. "No one knew English but him, so it was totally a selfish 'no one can talk to you but me' move."

Scott looked between the two of them for a moment and then couldn't help but snicker. "Captain Rogers never said…"

"Of course not," K said. "He was too amused by it." She huffed to herself even as Logan put his arm around her shoulders and pulled her closer. "There are easier ways for you guys to say you think I'm a control freak, you know."

"Oh, come on, how the hell is that what you walk away with from that?" Logan asked in a tone of disbelief.


"You were right," Logan said, shocking them both a little. "I brought you there to keep you all to myself."

"And that couldn't happen in a cabin?" Scott asked, obviously able to see where K had come to her conclusion too.

"Not when every cabin I can think of is smack dab in line with places the Department would look for us," Logan replied quickly. "It was entirely selfish." He smirked at her crookedly and K couldn't help but return the expression. "And I'm not sorry about it."

"Good," Scott said. "You needed the break too, Dad."

"Alright. So. New subject," K said, holding up one hand and breaking into the two of them teaming up before they could get going. "Sam's birthday is tomorrow, and she's …"

"With Bobby and Warren," Scott offered. "We've got everything set, we just need you two."

"And the dozen or so Avengers that will absolutely appear," K said.

"I ordered a cake," Scott said. "Really. All you have to do is enjoy it. It's all taken care of." K melted a little and turned his way to wrap him up in a hug as Logan smiled at Scott over K's shoulder.

"I knew you'd be coming in tired," Scott defended. "I didn't want you to stress out."

"Love you so much, sweet Caramel Mocha," K said, though neither one of them let go any time soon.

"I'm just glad you're feeling a little more like yourself," Scott said, then met Logan's gaze. "You too, Dad."

"I'll have to take you there too," Logan said. "Next time we get a chance to take the whole crew."

"I'd like that," Scott said, grinning wider as K finally let him go.

Chapter Text

Even though Reed had said his stupid portal machine would only take about a day to test, what actually happened was that the Fantastic Four got lost in a different universe for a couple weeks, so by the time Johnny got back, not only were K and Logan back - and in vastly better moods for their time spent alone together - but the X-Men had just gotten back from their own mission. And he'd missed out on Sammy's first birthday, which was disappointing.

But unlike the Four, the X-Men hadn't been spending their time exploring a different universe. They'd been responding to a mob that had sparked up on the mere accusation that a young girl in the town was a mutant. She wasn't - but that hadn't stopped the mob.

The X-Men had broken it up but gotten pretty beat up themselves when they were trying to keep things from escalating too far. Ororo was nursing a black eye, Piotr was fussing over Ilyana's limp, Jamie had a solid concussion, someone had grabbed Kurt's tail and had twisted and dislocated it if not broken it, and Bobby had just gotten his arm set in a sling. The whole team was cut and bruised up, but they'd stopped a murder without making the riot even worse, so they were feeling alright.

When Bobby saw Johnny, he didn't even consider how things looked before he came to the door and grinned, giving him a one-armed hug. "Long time no see. I thought Reed might have turned you all into ants or something," he teased. "What, you get lost?"

"What the hell happened to everyone?" Johnny asked. "Why … I know you guys were putting up with some crap but this … is kind of next-level. Who'd you tick off?"

"Oh, this?" Bobby turned to look back at the team. "No, you should see us when we fight, like, weapons departments and evil egomaniacs. This is just wear and tear. I only broke my arm because I de-iced because I was freaking out the girl we were trying to rescue; that's all."

"I thought you were just rescuing people ... "

"Um, yeah, we are," Bobby said. "Usually from mobs trying to kill them. I told you about how Scott and I almost got killed when we first met, right?"

"I thought you were blowing it out of proportion! I didn't realize you were getting attacked for trying to help people."

"Trying to help mutants," Bobby said. "That's the problem." He grinned, checked over his shoulder, and then kissed Johnny's cheek. "It's fine. We get banged up more than this when some of Magneto's old followers decide to harass us thinking they can bust their boss out. Which they can't." When Johnny still looked wide-eyed, Bobby grabbed his hand with his good hand and pulled him out of the doorway. "Hey, come on, if you had a bad mission, that spot behind the barn is still a thing…"

"Yeah," Johnny said distractedly. "Why don't you … just … finish getting patched up and I'll sign your cast, huh?"

"I'll give you the Sharpie first or Hank will put his John Hancock on it too big for everyone else," Bobby said. "Come on. No one's going to care if you come with me. Pretty sure most of the team has figured it out anyway."

Johnny hedged as he looked around the crowd of battered X-Men. "Al-right," he said slowly.

Bobby grinned a little wider at that and stole a kiss. "Besides, I wanted to talk to you anyway. I know you've got cameras on you literally all the time, but how big a hit do you think you'd take if we were seen out in public together together?"

"I was just wondering about that myself," Johnny said. "Kind of."

"Yeah?" Bobby brightened up. "What're you thinking?"

"I was wondering if it might help you."

"Me?" Bobby tipped his head to the side. "I don't follow. I'm well-aware that I'll be the 'also pictured'. Which is too bad, because I'm fabulous."

"Yeah, but … no offense, Bobby, your team is like the butt end of a bad Rodney Dangerfield joke. You're doing good work, and I can't understand why you're getting the run around like you are."

"People just hate mutants, Johnny," Bobby said. "That's kind of the whole reason the team exists. If people weren't treating mutants like crap, we wouldn't be out there stopping them from doing that thing."

"Yeah, true," Johnny said, though he let the conversation fall to silence for a moment. "I think I need to think over how to handle this."

"Okay," Bobby said, then squeezed Johnny's hand. "Just as long as you don't use that as an excuse to totally ghost me like I did to you. It would be karma? But still."

"Yeah … no." It took a moment, but Johnny managed a smile.

"Seriously, are you okay? You look like you're trying to turn into a Summers or something."

"Hey, I get back from space and you're doped up on morphine and sporting a broken arm. I'm entitled to a little whiplash."

"Aww, you're worried about me," Bobby said with a crooked smile.

"And you're high," Johnny laughed finally.

"Yes. Yes, I am," Bobby agreed and then leaned over to steal a kiss. "So you don't need to worry so much. I'm feeling great."

Johnny was a little stiff at that. He was simply unused to letting anyone see the two of them like this, and it showed in a nervous laugh. "I'll bet you are."

"He'll be feeling better when he stays off his feet too," Hank said mildly - not even commenting on the obvious flirting between the two of them. "So if you know anyone who wants to sit with him and play video games…"

"I don't know how many bones you've broken, Hank, but 'feeling better' isn't how I'd describe it," Johnny said.

"I was a football player; I know," Hank said with a smirk.

"Then you either didn't really get hurt or they spoiled you with the good stuff," Johnny teased.

"Oh, absolutely," Hank said, grinning over at Johnny. "And that, of course, is why I spoil my friends when they are also injured."

"Good to know," Johnny laughed, though he took a seat nearby and still out of Hank's way. "You know, sometimes I wonder why you haven't been drafted to another team. Brainiac kid like you ... working on an MD …"

"Actually, I was offered a place with the Avengers, but I want to finish my degree first before I take on any more responsibilities," Hank said with a shrug.

"Oh wow," Johnny laughed. "I guess I'm not the only one that thought that way."

"Hank, my guy's hitting on you; make him stop," Bobby whined - obviously joking and still feeling pretty good, though Hank snorted under his breath and turned to Johnny with an open expression.

"I'm very sorry, Mr. Storm, but you are just not my type," he said with a straight face - which had Bobby busting up laughing as soon as he said it.

For a moment, Johnny just stared at him in total disbelief, though for as entertained as Bobby was … he couldn't really get defensive.

Hank was grinning as he finished up with Bobby and then headed to the last of his patients - Kurt's X-rays had just come in on whether his tail was sprained or broken - which left Bobby and Johnny in relative privacy. At least as private as the medical wing could provide.

"You know, I'm glad you're back," Bobby said at last after a moment, though he was starting to drift off under the influence. "More fun with you around."

"You really are high," Johnny teased quietly. "You're right, but you're high."

"Still right, though."

Johnny laughed quietly. "That's what I said. Oh my God, just go to sleep. I'll be here when you wake up."

Bobby grinned even wider at that before he let out a loud yawn and, not long after that, did in fact go to sleep.

Considering how high Bobby had been before, he and Johnny hadn't actually made any official decisions about going public with their relationship, though they were at least a little more open around their friends and family. Bobby had sort of blown that with being openly affectionate for the whole team to see - and he felt bad about that, he did. But he also didn't.

After all, he'd hated having to lead the double life, and at least being open about who he liked in the privacy of the school felt better than hiding all the time.

As for their public life, though… that was still the subject of some debate. They kept thinking maybe they'd be more open and then backing off that decision, vacillating between the two options practically three times a day - three times an hour on the worst days.

They still hung out in public, of course. They just couldn't figure out when to start doing it as a couple.

The two of them had headed out to the usual spot in a little coffee shop nearby like they did most afternoons, and Bobby headed over to grab a table before things got too busy while Johnny waited for their order to come up at the end of the counter. As he usually did, Johnny was leaning on the counter and watching what was going on - people watching, smiling at the couple of people that recognized him right off and basically being a ham. But the whole tone of the shop seemed a little off. That or he was getting paranoid. It hadn't been too long since there had been mutants in the news getting beat down - and even less time had passed since the last hate crime about a pair of young men out west had been beaten down in the street.

But Bobby didn't see what Johnny saw.

Just outside of the shop, there was a young lady who looked normal except for the long tail that ended in a bit of fluff. And somehow or another - Johnny didn't see how - a pair of guys had gotten her to show the tail. She had to have had it hidden away …

He shook himself out of his moment of trying to figure that out when the young men went from simple sexual harassment to getting more physical as they pushed the young mutant between them toward an alley. Johnny didn't think about it for any longer than it took for him to kick away from the counter - already starting to flame up before he could shed the leather jacket he was wearing.

By the time he got out to the alley, the two guys had managed to amass a small crowd of onlookers - none of whom were actually helping the young mutant and instead seemed to be cheering the guys on as they pushed, shoved, kicked, and hit her, starting to ramp up with every turn they took like it was some sick game. A few people were even laughing - though Johnny was focused on the terrified girl.

As instantly recognizable as Johnny was, a few of the people in the crowd were already looking his way, too, though they seemed to think he was going to side with them, already grinning at him as one guy in particular called out, "Here for the show?"

"Just here to break it up," Johnny replied. "Come on, guys; you have to have something better to do than act like this."

"Muties a little below your paygrade?" one of the guys who was holding the girl with the tail said, the sneer obvious in his tone.

"See … if that was the case, no one would ever need to talk to you," Johnny said, still trying to keep a half-friendly look, even if he was ready to try going supernova just then. "Leave her alone. What'd she do anyhow?"

"Do?" the second of the girl's assailants snorted. "You can see the tail, can't you? We can't let them take over."

"Yeah, I was wondering about that," Johnny said. "I'll bet she didn't have her tail out when you came across her, so how'd you see it?"

"Not a crime to look for a good time," the guy replied, though judging by the look on the girl's face, it had absolutely not been her intention to show him anything.

"Yeah, no," Johnny said, starting toward the guys holding her. "If you gotta drag her into it, you're doing it wrong, guys." He'd gotten all the way up to them before one of the creeps tried to shove Johnny back, though that was a mistake even before it had really started, since Johnny was just waiting for it. He returned a punch - laced with fire, not to burn the guy but to scare the crap out of him. And though the fight broke out a little more cleanly then - with the girl managing to slip away - that meant the guys Johnny had started fighting were mad about losing their game too.

"You're on their side?" one of them half shouted at Johnny.

"I'm not siding with someone that's trying to force girls into heading into an alley."

"Doesn't matter. No one wants to sleep with a mutie anyway. We're just conducting a public service."

"Yeah?" Johnny shouted, not bothering to even try to control his temper by that point. "Is that why you had to move in a pack? Like a bunch of mindless animals? That girl didn't do anything to get your ugly faces following her."

"You're just as bad as they are if you're sticking up for 'em!"

As things escalated, Johnny lost his focus … which was just really bad timing on his part, since some of the crowd that had gathered was in support of the idiots in the alley. As Johnny moved to avoid getting hit by one of the creeps trying to rush him, someone on the street threw a brick and clipped him in the back of the head.

In a serious display of Murphy's Law, of course, that was exactly when Bobby had stepped outside to see what was going on, so he saw Johnny go down - and he saw the creeps he'd been fighting. Bobby didn't need to know more than that before he threw up a wall of ice between Johnny and everyone else and skated quickly over to the unconscious Human Torch.

Johnny was still warm to the touch, but Bobby picked him up anyway, steaming a little where he had Johnny's arm around his shoulders. Still, he wanted to get him away from the crowd, and Johnny was cooling off anyway, so by the time Bobby had skated them both out of trouble and Johnny was starting to rouse, the steam had stopped, too.

"Hey, so, if you wanted to take on an angry mob, you could have told me, and I'd have totally helped," Bobby said. They were most of the way toward the Baxter Building at that point, and he was ready to get Sue involved to check out the head wound, but first, he had to tease Johnny.

"I wasn't … really thinking about that?"

"Yeah? What were you thinking about? All I know is some guy threw a brick at you."

"I was trying to help the girl they were dragging into an alley," Johnny said, then looked frustrated. "Didn't see the guy with the brick."

Bobby frowned at that. "Do we need to go back? I didn't see the girl…"

"She slipped out when I hit the guy."

"Good. Because you're kind of bleeding from your head, man. We need to get that looked at."

"Good thing I know a place," Johnny teased. "Or two."

"Yeah, we're already headed toward the Baxter Building," Bobby said. "Your sister's gonna freak. But she'll freak a little less when she hears you were defending a girl's honor. Gotta be the hero, right?"

"It wasn't that," Johnny said, sounding mad all over again.

"Okay, you're gonna have to walk me through it, then, because 'girl in an alley' seemed like a straightforward hero thing to me."

"I saw her on the street," Johnny said in a sigh. "She was getting pushed around by a pair of creeps … had a few more trailing behind her." He shrugged. "I didn't really think too much of it until I realized she had a tail. Kinda like a lion, you know? That was when I realized how freaked out she was, okay?"

"Oh man," Bobby said, finally catching on, since he'd seen more than a few incidents like that play out too.

"Exactly. I didn't really … think about it before I headed out."

"Yeah, guys like that… makes total sense why you got hit too. They don't like it when you take sides, especially not our side," Bobby said, rolling his eyes, though after a beat, he turned his attention back to Johnny and bit his lip. "You okay?"

"Fine," Johnny said. "I didn't need those brain cells anyhow."

"Yeah, well." Bobby frowned and tried to look Johnny over a little better. "I'm sorry, man. You're not even a mutant…"

"I'm not worried about it," Johnny said. "Not really. They were just mad I screwed up their hate crime."

"Yeah." Bobby was starting to get quieter as they got closer to the Baxter Building. "Hey, you're not getting flack for hanging out with me, are you? I mean, I'm an X-Man. Everyone knows we're mutants…"

"I don't know," Johnny said. "I've always kind of ignored the negative crap anyhow."

"You can afford to," Bobby muttered under his breath, then shook his head as he skated to a stop on top of the Baxter Building, still with Johnny's arm around his shoulders. "C'mon. Your sister's gonna want to baby you. You know that's her whole purpose for being."

"Ugh. If that were true, she wouldn't have married who she did."

"I hear that." Bobby shook his head - though as expected, it took next to no time for a worried-looking Sue to meet them and start asking what had happened, even as Johnny insisted he was fine.

"Someone threw a brick at him," Bobby said. "It's fine. He says he doesn't need those brain cells. He's pretty enough not to need to be smart."

"It's not as bad as it sounds," Johnny said, holding up one hand.

"Right. Then why is the news reporting that you were badly injured in a mutant-driven riot?" Sue asked, then quickly held up one hand. "Not that I believe it, especially since the one picture they've got from the scene is you and Bobby. But still."

"Did they get my good side?" Johnny teased. "You know I hate it when they don't."

"Really, Johnny?"

"He really does hate it," Bobby confirmed, which had Johnny snickering at the look on Sue's face.

"I don't think it was that bad, Sue," Johnny said.

"They've got a hysterical lady on the news claiming you were kidnapped by a terrorist X-Man," Sue said.

"Oh, well, if that's the case, I need a ransom," Bobby said dryly.

"I guess I'm in trouble," Johnny said. "She'll never pay it."

"Too bad for her. Guess I'm keeping you."

Johnny snapped his fingers and did his best to look properly put out.

Bobby smirked at that, though he let that drop while Sue directed them to where Johnny could get properly patched up, and by the time Johnny had a clean wrap around his head, Bobby looked downright pensive. Which wasn't his usual look.

"I don't know about this," he said at last, letting all his breath out in a whoosh. "They were ready to beat you down for sticking up for a mutant you'd just met, let alone one you're dating." He rubbed the back of his neck without meeting Johnny's gaze. "And that's before you add in the fact that I'm a guy."

"Wait … are you worried about me?"

"Well, yeah," Bobby said, gesturing to Johnny with one hand. "And with good reason! Look what happened!"

"It was a fluke thing," Johnny said. "Just a few jerks, that's all."

"Yeah, but that's an everyday thing for me," Bobby said. "And… I dunno. You don't deserve this crap."

"What? And you do?" Johnny shook his head. "This can't be the way most people react, Bobb-o."

"That's not what I meant," Bobby said. "It's just… come on. You were upset when I got hurt. I'm allowed to return the favor!"

"You are. It's adorable."

Bobby grinned at that and leaned over to kiss him. "Yeah, I am."

Chapter Text

Lately, Scott had started to notice that he was having fewer fire dreams. And while he wasn't convinced that the two things were related, the professor did point out that he'd been having more fun, spending more time with Sam as she learned how to say his name and how to start following him around, and throwing himself back into the team.

And since Charles thought the dreams might have been related to the scars left behind by the Phoenix, not necessarily the Phoenix itself, he suggested to Scott that he try to do more - and to allow himself to heal at last.

Scott knew Charles was right - if for no other reason than that if he was able to move on and start to heal from losing Jean, he could separate the scars of that heartbreak from what he was increasingly sure was an interdimensional influence that he'd rather not have in his head. If the scars were gone, and there was still fire, well, only one explanation was left.

And really, he was sure he should at least try. Bobby was even improving on the team because he was so much happier with Johnny, even if they had decided to keep their relationship out of the public eye. Kurt and Storm were an unstoppable force together. And watching his parents with Sam, he remembered that he did still want that life for himself. A normal one. For as long as he could get it.

He didn't think he wanted to date anyone on the team, and the few suggestions Jan had made, while heartfelt, weren't his type. But the more he thought it over, the more he realized he did know someone who might at least give him a shot - and who he could be honest with about everything.

He wasn't entirely sure that Farrah would respond if he reached out, since it had been such a long time. They had tried to keep up a correspondence, but of course they'd gotten distracted with their own lives.

Hey Farrah,

I know it's been a long time since we talked. A lot of things have happened since then. For me as well as for you, I'm sure. I was hoping if you had time that we could catch up. I know it seems out of the blue, and if you're busy with your own life, I completely understand.

But if you're interested, a caramel mocha might be nice.

Scott paused. He wasn't sure what else to write when there was so much to say and he still had no idea of how to put it into words. So, he simply left the letter at that and mailed it off, trying to put it out of his mind for the time being.

Easier said than done, of course.

In the two weeks between when he sent the letter and when he got a response, Scott was second-guessing himself a million times. He wasn't sure he was ready for this. It hadn't quite been a year since Jean died. Farrah had made it clear she was fine backing off. He didn't know if he had any right to ask her to be part of the circus that was his life.

So when she wrote back and said that she'd love to come up during her spring break in mid-April, Scott was honestly floored.

It must have shown, too, because he was hardly up the stairs before K caught him - and saw the look on his face. She didn't even have to say anything; the expression she was wearing was so familiar.

"Farrah's coming up next week," Scott said, trying to make it sound like this was a totally normal thing, like a scheduled team meeting or something. "For spring break."

"Well. Upstate New York is definitely in the top five spring break destinations."

"I asked her to come," Scott said, shaking his head at her. He took a deep breath and let it out. "I just … need someone safe. To try - you know. Again."

"And it wouldn't hurt to have a good friend around to ease you into it," K agreed.

"Right." Scott nodded a few times. "Plus, she already knows most of the story anyway. Not… the most recent awful, but enough that the basics like the X-Men won't be a surprise."

"Did you tell her you're a big brother or are you saving that for a big reveal?"

"I… didn't want to feel like I was baiting her with a baby," Scott admitted.

"And you want to get the drop on her."

"I just - I wanted to see if she'd come up. For, well, for me. Not any other reason." Scott flushed.

K let her shoulders drop and crossed the distance to rest her hands on either side of his neck, making sure he was looking at her. "I can't believe you'd doubt that she'd come running if she knew you needed someone." She popped up on her toes to kiss his cheek. "Of course she would. She doesn't need anything else."

Scott smiled lightly at her. "I'm just hoping … well. The professor thinks I need to start healing."

"Obviously he's a quack," K said with a wave. "You've been healing."

"Not moving on, though," Scott pointed out. "And you know I want to. I do. I want what Jean and I talked about - the family and marriage and all of it."

"Everyone has their own pace. You will take your own time to move on. It's not up to anyone on how quickly that happens or doesn't and anyone that argues that … well, I'll sock 'em in the mouth."

Scott smiled and kissed her cheek. "Love you too, Mom. But I think the professor's right on this one."

She let out a sound that bordered on a hiss. "He is not."

"How else am I going to separate the scars from the Phoenix from the dreams I've been having-"

"That's not exactly the same thing as moving on. That's checking your boundaries, totally different - I'm 100% behind you. But I know you're not quite ready to move on from her yet.

"I gotta start somewhere, Mom."

"I know. And I will encourage you to do what your heart tells you. Not your egghead."

Scott chuckled. "Yeah. We'll just… see what happens next week, huh? I'm not expecting a girlfriend right off the bat. Just… trying to reconnect."

"I know. And seeing Farrah would be good for you anyhow."

"She's a good friend," Scott agreed. "Always was."

K nodded. "You know she's always welcome around us. I love that kid."

"And she loves you," Scott said. "We haven't talked much lately, but when we did, you were a usual topic."

"Right up there with the weather," K said as she reached up and patted his cheek.

Scott smiled at her and gave her a quick hug. "Like I said, we'll see how it goes."

When Farrah got to Salem Center, Scott of course went to the local coffee shop to meet up with her, and he wasn't at all surprised to find that she hadn't changed, even if they were both older and college-age. She had a new, shorter haircut, but her shoe was untied, and she lit up with a familiar grin when she saw him.

She took a running jump, and the next thing Scott knew, he was spinning her in a hug.

"Nice to see you too," he said, grinning despite himself as he set her down. "I like the haircut."

"I like the height," she said. "Are you ever going to stop growing?"

"No," he said without missing a beat. "I'm going to play pro ball."

"I wouldn't be surprised, honestly," she laughed, then looped her arm with his. "So. What's the plan, Caramel Mocha- extra tall?"

Scott smirked at the addition to his nickname. "I thought we'd start with coffee, and then I'm pretty sure my mom would love to say hi too."

"Yes. We need coffee, and coffee isn't complete without our favorite barista," she agreed. "Lead the way!"

Scott smiled at that, leading the way to a quieter table outside, since he wanted to talk to her without the hustle and bustle of the coffee shop. Once they were seated, he gave her a quiet smile. "So, how's college?"

"Core classes only, so … mind numbingly boring and so high pressure it's stupid. You?"

"No scholarships for being an X-Man, I'm afraid. Though a couple of our guys are going to school all the same."

She bit her bottom lip, nodding slowly. "You guys are getting slandered something awful in the news, you know."

"Yeah. Did you see how Bobby 'kidnapped' the Human Torch a few weeks ago? They're best friends and he was defending him from some idiots, but that's the story they're running with."

"Does that surprise you somehow?" Farrah asked.

"No, but that was pretty egregious. Johnny was kind of upset about it." Scott shook his head and leaned back in his seat. "I'm glad you don't believe the hype, though. I'd hate for you to agree to coffee with a terrorist."

She smirked at him. "I kinda figured it out, honestly." Farrah leaned forward. "The haircut. You haven't changed it and if that didn't do it, the red shades were a dead giveaway."

"Yeah, and you met the rest of the team - at least back then - at the wedding, so I'm not at all surprised."

"I mean … you had a lot of Avengers at that wedding, too. Like … two would have been a lot? But that was a lot a lot."

"Yeah, you should see them fall over themselves to babysit my baby sister," Scott said, smirking into his coffee.

"Shut up."

"I would have told you in a letter, but it's more fun to see your face, and I didn't want to bait you," he said, smiling outright.

"I knew they were rushing to get married!"

"No, no, this was after the wedding," Scott promised.

"Su-u-ure it was."

Scott shook his head. "Actually, we're kind of quietly campaigning for another one, because Mom was miserable the first time. Evil geneticist messed with her to try and engineer a kid - long story - so we'd like her to have a better experience with round two." He winced one eye shut. "It's a whole thing."

"I'm sure," she said, resting her chin in the palm of her hand. "That sounds like a wild story, you know. And if you weren't such a horrible liar, I'd call BS."

"Good thing I'm a terrible liar, because that isn't even half of the crazy that's happened since we last talked," Scott chuckled, though his smile didn't quite reach his eyes by the end of the sentence.

"You don't have to rehash the nasty stuff. Just tell me you're enjoying life otherwise, hero."

"Trying to," Scott said. He paused. "That's… part of why I wrote you. I'm trying to, well… try to get my life together. Have fun."

"So … what's good for fun around here?" Farrah asked as if that was all she needed to know. "We can start immediately. Well… immediately after I finish my coffee."

Scott smirked. "If you can figure out how laces work, there's roller skating…"

"That's a personal attack."

"Sure is," Scott said, smirking a little more.

She rolled her eyes theatrically. "Fine, I'll let you tie my shoes for me."

"Not where I was going, but alright," Scott said, laughing despite himself.

"See … I could have sworn that since you were criticizing that the only real solution here was to just step back and let you do it your way."

"Hey, try and keep a girl from tripping…"

"Uh huh. Dropping suggestions just so you can tie my shoes. It really bugs you doesn't it?" Farrah teased.

"Kinda does," Scott admitted, since he knew he was caught. "But then again, you've seen what my team wears. The Wasp designed them for, well, not tripping," he teased.

"Shut up and let's go skating so we can count who trips more, huh?" she laughed.

"You're on."

Scott and Farrah both were in excellent moods by the time they got to the school. They'd spent most of their time catching up - with Farrah telling Scott all about her college experience and Scott telling her everything that had happened with his family.

Well, most of it. He didn't quite know how to broach the subject of Jean.

Still, Farrah was thrilled to get to meet Scott's little sister - and she made a noise that said she was clearly dying of cute overload when she saw Sammy toddling around between the X-Men. "Oh my gosh; she's so cute."

Sam looked up at the new voice and broke into a grin. "Camoka!" she called out, stumbling on short legs over to Scott until he picked her up and tossed her up into the air.

"Hey, Sammy," he said, grinning widely as he rubbed noses with her.

Farrah looked even more like she was going to die. "Camoka?"

"You know Mom. She never uses my name, and neither does Dad. She had to pick up something, right?"

"So she picked up Caramel Mocha?" Farrah started to giggle. "That's so perfect. Sammy you are so smart!"

"I'm trying to get her to say 'Scott', but she only says it if she thinks I'm sad, because she knows I like hearing it," Scott admitted. He tapped the end of Sam's nose lightly. "Can you say hi to my friend, Sammy?"

Sam tipped her head and watched Farrah before she waved and then giggled. "Hi."

"Hi, Sammy," Farrah said, reaching out to tap the end of her nose like Scott had done. "My name's Farrah."

"Hi," Sam said again, then fell apart giggling at herself as she hid in Scott's shoulder.

"Hey, Farrah," Warren said, standing up and stretching his wings now that he wasn't on the floor playing with Sam anymore. He was clearly glad to see her - especially considering he knew Scott needed to start moving on. "Welcome to the chaos."

"I always love the chaos," Farrah said.

Scott smirked at that. "Have you seen Mom and Dad?" he asked Warren.

"Honestly, I think they were down in the Danger Room," Warren said.

"Well, that sounds like fun," Farrah said, raising an eyebrow.

"They sure seem to think so," Bobby replied.

"I'll go get them," Scott said before he set Sam down again. "You gonna be okay here with Sammy?" he teased Farrah.

"Oh, I guess," she shot back, smiling wider as she sat down and Sammy went right to Bobby so he'd play with her.

Scott smirked her way and then headed downstairs, not at all surprised that, as he caught the tail end of a fight, his parents were wrapped up in each other. So, he knocked on the door and called out, "You think you two could postpone trying for my little brother or sister until you say hi to Farrah?"

"I don't even know how I can talk to you when you're like that, Caramel Mocha," K said. "I thought you liked me."

"Like what?" Scott asked, feigning total innocence.

"Saying mean things like that. You know what I'm talking about."

"I didn't realize having a little brother and being outnumbered was so painful to you."

"She's not outnumbered," Logan said, though he was smirking at Scott. "Not yet."

Scott laughed outright and gestured to Logan with one hand. "See?"

"You're both horrible. Give me ten minutes to hose off, okay?" K said. "Unless you want to bring her around while we're still in uniform."

"Nah, she's upstairs with Sammy," Scott said with a shrug.

"So go entertain her," Logan said. "We'll be up in a few."

"I mean, if you want that little brother we talked about, I can tell her you'll be slightly longer…"

"Get upstairs," K said, tossing a towel at him.

"Love you too, Mom!" Scott said, grinning as he ducked the towel and then headed up.

It was another almost twenty minutes rather than the ten K had requested before Logan and K did make their appearance, and when they did, Farrah was sure to hug K. "You have the cutest little girl!" she gushed.

"Well, thanks, sweet girl," K replied as she gave her a solid squeeze in return. "Been too long, my friend."

"Right back at you. But I guess I can't blame you for wanting to hog the cute baby."

"Yeah, that's what I was doing," she said, shaking her head.

"I could have been hearing her call Scott 'Camoka!'"

"Well that's kinda new," she said. "But she picked it right up."

"My Camoka," Sammy said helpfully, climbing up Scott's side until he picked her up again so he could play with her.

"Yeah, that's my girl," Scott teased. He rubbed noses with Sam before he looked up at Logan and K. "Kurt's cooking tonight. Said dinner would be ready any minute."

"Good," Logan replied. "Hope you like whatever crazy German crap he comes up with this time."

"Sounds interesting," Farrah said.

"Usually is," Scott told her. "Come on. There's a few more kids you haven't met." With that, he set Sam back down and offered Farrah his arm so they could head off together, and Warren and Bobby simply shared smirks before Bobby had to say something.

"We should have made him write to her ages ago."

"It doesn't work that way," K said. "But you know … you could have written her too."

"Maybe we should have," Bobby said. "That… is the best mood he's been in for… ever."

"We can just get Sam and get out of here, if you guys want to play," K offered.

Bobby shook his head. "Nah, stick around. Enjoy the good mood."

"Just want to give you guys room if you want it," K said. "Without the toddler crowd."

"We get enough of that, promise," Warren said. "Now, come on - want to be my escort to the kitchen?" he teased. "Sam already turned me down."

"If you tickle her, she'll be more friendly," Bobby pointed out. "Sam, that is."

"Not K?" Warren teased.

"Not for you," K said.

"Fair enough," Warren said with a shrug, though he was still smiling - and, in fact, everyone was in a great mood as they headed to dinner. It was just shaping up to be that kind of day.

Chapter Text

The rest of the week went just as well as it had started, and Scott found himself honestly enjoying being around Farrah again. Even if it wasn't the same as being with Jean, it was still fun, and he was almost dreading when the weekend would hit and she'd have to head back.

They were out at the lake on her last day in town when he finally got around to saying something about it, though. "So, we should do this more," he said, breaking what had until then been a companionable silence.

"You know I'm here for you when you're going through stuff or not, right?" Farrah said. "And I don't want to change that."

"Yeah. I'm sorry I dropped off the face of the planet. I seem to keep doing that, huh?" Scott said, wincing and rubbing the back of his neck.

"It's okay," Farrah said with a smile. "That's how you know we're good friends, right? All kinds of time can pass, and we can pick up just like we never stopped talking." She paused for just a moment. "But … that's it, you know?"

Scott blinked behind his glasses and frowned. "I'm not sure we're having the same conversation anymore."

"It's possible we're not," she agreed.

Scott nodded, knowing where Farrah was going and honestly disappointed… but not surprised. "We used to work, though, right?"

"Totally. We so did. But." She leaned forward. "I talked to Bridget - or K. Whatever. You know what I mean. And I asked what it was that I missed. And you left out something very important, brown eyes."

Scott's shoulders drop, and he let out all his breath in a woosh. "There's… not really a way to say 'hey, my last girlfriend died.'"

Farrah walked over the step or two between them to wrap him up in a hug. "I'm so sorry you went through that, Scott. You are the last person on the planet that deserves to put up with anything that horrible."

Scott shook his head as he returned the hug. "Can't change it," he said.

"I know. I just …" When Farrah couldn't find any words to put to the situation, she went back to the earlier topic. "So maybe I kind of … moved on a little after the last time we got together … and maaaaybe that's why I didn't write as much either. Sorry. I dropped the ball."

Scott shook his head. "No, don't apologize," he said quickly. "We parted ways. I was dating someone else. I can't expect you to just… I don't know. Be there."

"Yeah, but we agreed to be friends and stay in touch - and if I'd known you were going through hell, maybe I could have helped sooner."

"I was kind of a mess, Farrah. I'm actually glad you weren't there. It was… it was rough."

"Well … don't count me out if you want to talk. Ever."

"Same to you," Scott said, falling silent as he looked out at the lake. "I don't want you to think…" He paused and tried to reorder his thoughts. "I'm trying to move on from what happened. So I turned to you because we worked. And I did like you. And you… I trust you." He scrunched up his shoulders. "If that makes sense. Or makes you feel… I don't know. Not like I thought you were pining or something."

"It makes perfect sense," Farrah said. "And I kinda came hoping to see if whatever it was was still a thing … but honestly … it's different, isn't it?"

"Yeah," Scott admitted.

"I mean … you're still stupid cute and the sweetest guy around…"

"And you're still the most fun anyone could ask for."

"I feel like we have failed to just … fall into a thing, but … I really don't want to force it either."

"No, I don't want you to feel like you have to - no," Scott said quickly.

"I don't want you to feel like I'm your only other option, either," she said. "You are a catch."

"So are you," Scott pointed out. "I was surprised you didn't already have someone wrapped around your finger."

"I have high standards to meet up to," she said, smirking crookedly. "You're a tough act to follow."

Scott smirked at that and bumped shoulders with her. "So… we'll stay in touch, right? For real this time."

"Can we please?"

"Yeah. And you know you're welcome up here anytime. Don't feel like you need an embossed invitation," Scott said. "Everyone here likes you."

"I didn't really come up here for them," she said. "I missed my study buddy."

"Missed you too," Scott said, then smiled lightly. "But… let's leave the option out there. Maybe we just keep hitting the wrong time but not the wrong person, you know?"

"Could be," she conceded. "I won't shut the door on the idea. Maybe you need to finish growing into monster height and I need to learn how to keep my shoes tied."

Scott smirked at that. "So… probably when you're done with college, right?" he teased. "There's a shoe-tying class you can take?"

"I may just get smart and do like your new mom and buy cowboy boots instead."

"There's a thought," he laughed before he got to his feet and pulled her to hers. "Seriously, thanks for coming up. I didn't realize how much I missed you."

"I feel like I got the easier side of this deal, since I've been able to see you from time to time as a terrible terrible mutant … whatever," she said. "Lookin' good, by the way."

Scott flushed pink. "Thanks."

"Credit where it's due."

"Too bad you're not a mutant. I bet you'd look even better in the uniform," Scott teased.

"You're not wrong," she shot back.

Scott laughed again and then pulled her into a hug. "Write me a letter when you find the cowboy boots or the shoe-tying class, would you?"

"I'll write you well before then," Farrah promised, snuggling into the hug. "And call, too. I need updates on your baby sister."

"I knew I was being upstaged," he teased.

"No, not at all; I just wanted to give you something else to consider. Like … how I want to see her again before she starts school. Or dating. Or … whatever."

Scott laughed outright. "You'll have to come up around Halloween or something. She'll be big enough to really dress up."

"Oh yeah, that sounds like a blast," she laughed. "Consider it done."

Scott grinned. "Great. I'll see you then," he said, pulling her into one more hug. "And really, thanks for coming up. I'll try not to only call you up in heartbreaking emergencies, huh?"

"Why don't we set up, like, once a week. We can vent about our week, stupid roomies, idiots at work … and it'll be a way to get away from everyone we always see."

"Sounds good," Scott agreed. "What about Mondays?"

"I'm clear on Mondays," she agreed.

"Then expect a call for your Monday lunches - unless I'm in space or something. No phone lines out there."

"You really need to get a camera for that kind of thing," she laughed. "I'll send you film."


Scott and Farrah did, in fact, keep up with each other, and Scott was even pleasantly surprised by the fact that a month of talking to his friend every Monday seemed to be helping not only his mood but his dreams. He hadn't dreamed about fire in that whole month, and while he didn't usually like being proven wrong, he'd take the loss in this case if the professor's theory about needing to heal turned out to be true - and if he didn't have to face an interdimensional firebird.

Now, it was the day after Mother's Day, and Scott was out getting some supplies for his mom. He'd decided to give her not only the day off of watching Sam but also cleaned out the barn and took care of her chores for the week leading up to it - and he'd noticed that they were running low on a few things.

So, even though the day was passed, this was the day he had time to grab a few things. He'd meant to get them on Saturday, but there had been a dustup with some of Magneto's old followers.

Farrah accused him of going all out for Mother's Day because he wanted another sibling, and while that was partly true, he really just wanted his mom to know how loved she was. And doing stuff for her… that seemed to mean more than anything he could say or any gift (though he did notice that she wore the locket he'd given her religiously).

And, selfishly, he felt better when he had something to do. Something that made him feel like he was making a difference. Maybe that meant helping his mom; sometimes it was playing with Sammy; sometimes it was being on the team. He just… felt better.

Whatever the case, he was nearly to the store when he heard an argument not far from where he was, and the tenor of it made him pause, especially when he recognized one of the voices as the pompous guy who had tried to walk off with Kitty.

"...wasn't asking," the man was saying in a sharp tone as Scott made his way closer to see that the man had a blonde young woman by the arm.

Scott narrowed his eyes and looked over his shoulders. He didn't want to cause a scene with an optic blast, but he knew that guy was trouble. So, he stepped in, one hand on his glasses all the same. "You alright?" he asked the girl, though his gaze was locked on Shaw.

She opened her mouth to say something, but Shaw cut across her. "She's fine, and it's none of your concern."

Scott ignored him. "You alright?" he asked again.

"Don't call the police," she said as Shaw dragged her along.

Scott frowned at that reaction before he jogged to catch up to them and stood in Shaw's path. "Let her go. You can't kidnap people in broad daylight."

"Mind your own business, boy."

Scott rolled his eyes behind his glasses before he picked them up, pushing Shaw back with a beam just strong enough to separate him from the girl before he rushed to grab the girl's hand. "Come on. Let's get out of here."

"Who are you?" she asked in a borderline snooty tone.

"Right now? The guy trying to stop a kidnapping," Scott said. "We can do introductions in a minute, alright? Trust me - that guy is not someone you want to hang around."

She didn't argue that much, at least, and instead did her best to keep up with him, though the heels she was wearing wasn't exactly very helpful to running. Anywhere.

Scott glanced over his shoulder to see Shaw had picked himself up and let out a breath before he made sure no one was watching and lifted his glasses once more - this time blasting Shaw more directly until he went flying. That should buy them the time they needed.

The two of them ran as fast as the girl's shoes would let her before Scott pulled her around a building, shook his head, and checked around the edge again. "My car is parked not far from here, but I don't want you to feel like I'm - my name's Scott, by the way. That guy tried to kidnap a friend of mine not that long ago; that's why I stepped in," he explained in a rush.

"So he has a history, is what you're telling me," she said, extending her hand delicately. "Emma Frost."

"Nice to meet you," Scott said. "Can I get you home? Didn't sound to me like you were going anywhere willingly."

"No, it wasn't my idea," she agreed.

"Well, like I said, I'm parked not far from here. Let me make sure you get home alright," Scott said.

"Is this something you usually do?" Emma asked, tipping her chin up slightly. "Galavanting about looking for damsels in distress?"

"Actually, I was picking up a few things for my mom - late Mother's Day thing," Scott explained.

"That's charming."

Scott shrugged and tried to play it off. "Hey, it's what you do. How I was raised," he said as they got to his car and he opened the door for her automatically.

"I appreciate it," Emma said, hesitating just a moment before she slipped into the car.

Scott shook his head to himself as he walked around to his side and let himself in. He really needed to look into this Shaw guy if he was going to keep showing up. "So, where's home for you?"

"Boston, actually," she replied. "But I was trying to get settled into an apartment here." She gestured vaguely over her shoulder. "College."

Scott nodded. "I can take you there, if you want." He paused. "That guy… he's been a problem for, well, people like you and me."

"What is it he's done to you?"

"Tried to stop him from grabbing my friend and got a building dropped on me," Scott told her frankly. "He's trying to run his own mutant school."

"Yes, he'd said as much," she agreed. "But I don't much appreciate his recruitment techniques."

"No one does," Scott agreed. He tapped his glasses. "I've already got someone helping me with mine, though. What about you?"

"Nothing that complex, I'm afraid," Emma said before she shifted in her seat and then transformed into diamond.

Scott's eyebrows shot up, and he let out a low whistle. "That's pretty amazing."

"Not very practical though, is it?" she said, shifting back to herself.

"Just depends on how you look at it," Scott said. "Diamond is a hard substance - you could stand up to just about anything less than diamond." He shrugged. "You get what you get - the difference is what you do with it."

"So what should I do with it?"

"Well, this is going to sound ridiculous after that guy just tried to kidnap you to a school for mutants? But I actually go to a school like that. A good one," he clarified. "We learn how to control our powers and how to use them to help people."

"I'll keep that in mind," Emma said.

Scott nodded and fell silent as Emma directed him on how to get to her apartment, though as they pulled up to the building, he stopped and turned her way. "If you decide you're interested, look up Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters."

"I think I might." She smiled crookedly.

Again, Scott nodded, then let himself out to open her door, since she hadn't really moved. "And call the school if that guy comes back, too," he said.

"What if I'd like to speak with you?"

"You can ask for me," Scott said, missing the point entirely.

"Alright," she said slowly as she got out of the car but didn't step away. "And how do I thank you for helping me?"

Scott blinked when he realized how close they were, then cleared his throat. "Just… doing what anyone would do. Should do, anyway."

"I can see the 'should,' but it's truly not something most people would do." Emma smiled a little wider. "So please … let me find a way to thank you."

Scott cleared his throat again. "Really, it's fine," he started to say.

"And you're the first decent person I've met since I've come here," she said. "What harm would it do? Let me treat you to coffee or something."

"Coffee would be nice," Scott said, taking a slight step back.

"I don't bite, you know," she said.

"I didn't think you did," Scott said, smiling a little more at the thought. "I'm just not that comfortable with someone trying to offer, I don't know, a reward for just doing the right thing."

"Coffee is hardly a reward, Scott," Emma said in a more amused tone.

"Depends what you get," Scott said. "My first real job was at a coffee shop."

"And what did you get there?" she asked, though she was careful to keep some space between them.

"Caramel mocha, actually."

"Sounds terribly sweet," she said, smiling outright.

"I was fifteen, and the barista suggested something sweet to get used to the taste of coffee," Scott said.

"And now?"

"Now, it's practically a tradition. But I'll have regular coffee too," Scott said with a smirk.

"That sounds charming enough," Emma said. "So … when would you like to meet up and where?"

Scott tipped his head to think about it. "There's a good shop in Salem Center close by the school if you want to make the trip and see it. Or there's one with a good view of Avengers Tower, but it's full of tourists."

"I think I'd prefer something that isn't overly busy," she said. "But let me give you my number - just in case you get a better offer or get caught up helping someone else."

Scott smirked. "That's a real possibility," he said, shaking his head.

"Why am I not surprised?" Emma asked as she wrote her name and number out carefully. "Just be sure to leave my ego intact. If it's a better offer - at least tell me that you were playing hero, hmm?"

"I'm… not playing…" Scott shook his head as he took her number and pocketed it. "Wednesday work for you?"

"As long as the shop is open, yes, I think that will be lovely." She was still smiling at him as she nodded.

"Then I'll see you then," Scott promised. "Barring some other creep trying to kidnap people. Which happens all the time."

"I hope to see you then," Emma said over her shoulder as she strutted away.

Scott blinked after her for a long moment before he got back in the car. He wasn't entirely sure what had just happened, but he decided to push it out of his mind for the moment, anyway. He needed to get back home and talk to the professor about Shaw showing up again.

Somehow, Wednesday snuck up on Scott, and he was running slightly late to meet up with Emma at the coffee shop by the time he did arrive, though he looked perfectly apologetic when he finally caught up to her.

"Sorry. I was at the school, and time got away from me," he said as he sat down. "I was looking into Shaw - the guy who tried to kidnap you."

"What did you find?" Emma asked as she slipped her jacket off to show off a slightly too-tight pure white ensemble that showed a lot up top.

Scott blinked and was glad for a moment that the glasses obscured his eyeline. He cleared his throat. "He's interested in 'elite' mutants. Not just powerful ones but ones with other kinds of power. Influence. That kind of thing."

Emma nodded along with that, and though she was looking toward Scott, she was absently playing with the gold chain she was wearing around her neck. "But do you know why?"

"Not yet, but it's only been a couple days. It looks like he's trying to build influence, but beyond that… no." Scott shrugged. "Not that he needs to have any other reason, to be honest. Powerful people all in one place?"

"That's probably true," Emma said. "So … I suppose that had you looking into me as well? What did you find on me? My unpaid parking tickets in Boston?"

"That and your family name," Scott pointed out. "That's influential too."

"My father is influential."

"That's part of what he's looking at. I wouldn't be surprised if he wants the parents as well as the kids to feel beholden to him."

"Then that's one more thing that I owe you for," Emma said.

Scott held up both hands. "Hey, I already told you. I'm not keeping score."

"No, but I do, I'm afraid," she said.

Scott shook his head at her and then tried to change the subject. "What about you? You haven't been bothered by him again, have you?"

"Not yet, no, but I've kept indoors for the most part," Emma said.

Scott couldn't help but smirk. "Yeah, you look tan."

"Oh?" Emma said, raising one eyebrow. "Can you see any lines?"

Scott cleared his throat again. "Ah. No."

Emma smirked. "Are you sure?"

"Think so, yeah." Scott swallowed and was grateful when the coffee got there so he could have the excuse to reset behind a drink.

"I'd hope you're right," Emma said as Scott got into his coffee. "When I do get the time to tan, I prefer to use any means to keep that from happening. Not that there are many places one can go topless."

Scott swallowed a bit faster than he meant to. "I'm sure," he said.

"What about you, Scott? I'm sure you're not the type to tan purposely. Do you find things to do when the sun is out?"

"My dad and I like to go camping and fishing, actually," Scott said.

"And do you come back tanned all over, or do you get those terrible farmer tans?" She shook her head and lifted her cup. "Horrible thing to do to perfectly lovely arms."

Scott flushed. "I don't really tan on purpose," he said. "And I get lines anyway. Glasses." He tapped the ones he was wearing.

She hummed at that. "Pity."

"More to life than a perfect tan, Emma," Scott said, shaking his head as he took another drink of coffee and saluted her with it. "I'm kind of too busy for that anyway."

"I'm teasing you, Scott," she said, smiling at him. "I don't have time for that either. Even if it is normal for people our age."

"Well, not everyone our age can do what we do," Scott pointed out.

"How sad for them," she said, smirking still.

Scott nodded and then leaned back. "So, when you're not not paying parking tickets, what do you do?"

"I've been going to college to get a degree in education, oddly enough," Emma said with a shrug.

"Really?" Scott's eyebrows went up, and he leaned forward, honestly interested.

"Well, my brother is being groomed to step in for the family business, so … I had to choose my own path."

"And you chose teaching." Scott tipped his head to the side. "Hoping to help the next generation or did you just pick a random major?" he asked with a teasing smile.

"It seemed that the best way to move forward was to find what I could do to make education more accessible to those without the same open doors I've had," Emma said. "So I'm working on my Bachelor of Science in Education." She paused. "With a minor in Business Administration, of course."

"That's kind of amazing, you know," Scott told her, smiling more genuinely.

"It's just classes," Emma said, sure to drop her gaze to her coffee.

"No, but making a difference - I mean, that is amazing. Really."

"That's the goal, anyhow," she said.

"Well, I think it's a lofty one," Scott said. "I'm trying to do something similar. Make the world better for the people that don't have the same opportunities as the rest of the world."

"Are you going to college too, then?"

"No, but I'm heading up a team that does what I did when we met," Scott said, aware of the fact that they weren't the only ones in the shop. "Helping people, making a difference."

"Well, you're quite good at it."

"Thanks," Scott said, flushing slightly. Despite the coffee, he was starting to feel tired, too - probably from overwork.

"You should be proud of what you're doing, Scott," she said smoothly.

"I am. More than I can say," he said. "And my team is astounding."

"This has been charming, Scott, as have you." Emma narrowed her eyes for just an instant when Scott's attention was elsewhere. "I don't suppose you'd like to meet up for something a bit more lengthy than coffee, would you?"

"I think that could be fun," Scott said. "What were you thinking?"

"I thought I'd leave that to you," she said. "You're the one with the irregular hours, after all."

"True," he conceded. "And my weekends are usually the craziest." He paused and bit his lip. "What about next Wednesday - but a longer lunch?"

"Alright," she agreed. "But I'll pick the place this time. Jacket and tie, please." She took the time to write out the name of the place where she wanted to meet up. "I have a table there."

Scott's eyebrows shot up, but he wordlessly nodded and then got to his feet as she stood. "Thanks for the coffee," he said.

"I look forward to our next soiree," she said.

"So do I," Scott admitted and offered his arm. "Let me walk you to your car?"

"Please," Emma said, taking his arm and smiling to herself long after Scott had gone.

This was going exceedingly well. Usually, all it would take to get into a man's mind was the low-cut shirt, but the last time she had crawled through Scott's mind, she had been expelled by fire. The coffee date was a perfect way to try again, to find out whether her suspicions were correct about where that fire came from.

It helped, of course, that she had slipped something into his coffee to help him relax in addition to the usual method of distraction. And once he was open enough, she slipped into his mind to brush what she could find without alerting him that she was there.

Already, she knew that she needed more information. He was still thinking about a lost love, and those memories lined up with what the Hellfire Club already knew about Marvel Girl's death. The question was what had happened to the Phoenix after that.

She'd need more time with him to be sure, but she knew - she just knew - she was on the right track.

As for Scott, he actually didn't think much of the coffee date once he was back home. Emma was… interesting … but he had other things on his mind over the next little while.

One of the most pressing issues, for example, was the fact that mutants rights were starting to get kicked around in politics on a national level. It was to be expected, since the X-Men, Magneto, and others had brought mutant issues to the forefront, but the direction of the discussions was downright disheartening.

And when they weren't dealing with politicians who wanted to "cure," expel, or lock up mutants, they were dealing with a growing issue of mutant trafficking. As more kids started to express their powers, the potential for exploitation was apparently too much to ignore - and the department that had tried to weaponize Logan and K weren't the only game in town.

So, yeah, the X-Men were busy. But at least they had the Avengers for help.

Though that also meant the Avengers - and all their resources - were able to spot just how much of an issue there really was, too.

"We … may have a problem," Tony said as a few Avengers met up with the X-Men after a successful joint venture to deal with a trafficking group. "Or … you guys do. To be more accurate."

"Why does it not surprise me that you're passing the buck?" K asked, watching the SHIELD troops hauling off the worst offenders, even as the Avengers kept a protective circle around the X-Men - all too aware of the current political climate.

"Not passing the buck - passing information," Tony said, though he was sure to wait for Scott to catch up to where Logan and K were both standing with him, arms crossed. "Things got awful quiet on the incoming intel front when it comes to the department, so I got curious and started digging a little deeper. It looks like SHIELD may be trying to keep all the juicy stuff for themselves, but in case they let one slip by - your entire family needs to keep an eye open."

"That is the absolute opposite of fresh news," K deadpanned.

"Especially considering the climate," Scott put in. "Lately, there are even more people trying to kill us or worse."

Tony shook his head, almost impatiently. "No. They are actively working on a play to get the kid, too."

"Sammy?" Scott frowned, dropping any sarcasm at all.

"Yes," Tony said, though he clearly wasn't happy about it. "I think Fury's working to cut across them, but it wouldn't be the first time they moved against the intel."

Scott glanced toward K, drumming his fingers against his crossed arms. "How much of a lead do you have? I mean, how immediate are their plans - and how effective? We've been able to keep them out of the institute thus far…"

"Not much," Tony said. "But I'm concerned about how erratic they are - which is why I'm warning you now before they register a plan in their system that'll probably just be a decoy anyhow."

Scott nodded. "I'll put the team on alert. Some of our newer members haven't dealt with them before." He ran a hand down his face. "You'd think after the thrashing Jean gave them…"

"Scott, maybe I need to show you the intel I found from when your dad broke out of there. He destroyed them, but they still keep coming. I doubt they're going to stop, especially if they think they can get new assets."

"Yeah, no, I know how they are. I was just-" Scott let out a breath. "Would be nice if Jean took them with her," he said.

"It'd be nice if they just admitted they screwed up and move on," Tony said. "The fixation is just … bad all around. They're nuts."

"Pretty sure you could say the same about a few people after you," Scott pointed out with a small smirk.

"Pretty sure we can verify that on everyone we're talking about as problematic," Tony agreed. "Just … keep your guard up, and if something seems off, call for help. We do not want you and the family to disappear, okay?"

"I've still got that panic button you guys gave me," Scott promised. "Even had Hank help me make a second one to incorporate into the uniform."

"Great. Make sure your parents," Tony paused to take a moment to hold both Logan and K's gazes before he continued, "get one too. And carry it on yourselves. Always."

"They will," Scott put in. "Especially if these guys are after my sister."

"Good," Tony said, though it was easy to see the stress around his eyes. "I'll get in to find out what Fury knows and what's going on."

Seeing the honest worry - something he hadn't really expected of Tony Stark, of all people - Scott let out a breath and dropped his shoulders. "Thanks. Seriously."

"No problem," Tony replied. "So … maybe get out of here before the officials come poking their big noses into it, huh?" An instant later, the faceplate on his armor flipped back down, and he turned toward the SHIELD agents - who were, indeed, headed their way.

Seeing the official uniforms, the X-Men slipped out and left the Avengers to deal with that, heading home and circumventing the blue suits with a few quick teleports from Kurt.

Once they were back home, Scott took the time to sit down with the newer members, particularly Kitty, and detail what the department was and frankly explain what they were capable of. If they were going to start looking their way, Scott didn't want any of his teammates caught unprepared.

So after a conversation like that, Scott almost wasn't surprised when his dreams were full of fire that night.

It wasn't anything new - he was surrounded by fire, and the screaming of the Phoenix was more than enough to overwhelm him - but it was enough to wake him in a panic. He was sweaty and disoriented, and it took him far too long to remember where he was.

"Scott?" Warren called out quietly as he knocked - and slowly opened Scott's door. "Are you alright?"

"Yeah. Yeah, I'm fine. Sorry," Scott said, waving one hand tiredly in Warren's direction. "Just dreaming. It's fine."

"I was up anyhow," Warren said. "So you didn't bother me. I just … needed to be sure you were okay."

"I'm okay," Scott promised, sitting up better. "Going out flying again?" he asked, trying to change the subject. "You and 'Ro have been doing that a lot now it's warmer."

"Well … it's a lot harder to get spotted at night," Warren said, almost self-consciously. "But it is nice to have someone to fly with."

"Hey, I think it's great," Scott promised. "I'm glad you both get the chance to, well, stretch your wings."

"Oh, yeah, see, I was worried about you, but now you're punning, so I know you're fine, totally believe you now, fearless." As he said it, Warren crossed the room and then fluttered his wings as he took a seat. "Really. What's up?"

Scott shook his head, though he couldn't help but smirk at Warren's outlook. "Just the old dreams coming back," he admitted.

"Probably from all the stress," Warren guessed.

"Yeah, that's what I'm thinking. The last time we faced the department, Jean burned them out. Kinda frustrated that they're still here and she isn't, to be honest."

"I mean, I'd be really worried about you if it was the other way around."

"Yeah, then you'd definitely need to lock me up," Scott deadpanned.

Warren was quiet for a long moment. "Is this the first one in a while, then?"

"Yeah. I was doing alright for almost two months now," Scott admitted.

"I guess it makes sense, doesn't it?" Warren said. "I would still talk to the professor, just in case, but still."

"Yeah. I was thinking I'd reach out in the morning," Scott said.

"Probably smart," Warren said, smirking Scott's way. "But … are you okay right now?"

"Yeah. Am I keeping you from a hot date?" Scott shot back with a matching smirk.

"Oh yeah, me and the shower before I go to bed. The rain didn't quite do it to get the sweat off."

Scott laughed at that and then waved his friend off. "Go ahead. I'm fine. Seriously. Hopefully, this is just a hiccup."

"Yeah, I know," Warren said, getting to his feet. "Still have to say hi and be sure."

"Yeah, I know," Scott agreed.

"Then I'll see you in the morning," Warren decided.

Chapter Text

Scott had almost forgotten about the date he had set up with Emma when he had so much else on his mind with the department - until she had called to ask if they could switch from lunch to dinner instead. Which actually worked better for his schedule when he was trying to help the team train on department simulations, so he was more than happy to make the change.

The restaurant was one that she'd picked out, and when he arrived in a jacket and tie, he understood why when he saw the patrons. This was the kind of place the professor might go to on one of his outreach tours.

Scott almost wasn't surprised when he did spot Emma at last to see that she was wearing yet another low-cut ensemble, though this one looked more expensive. For a moment, he thought of Jean and Jan talking fashion and bit back his mental commentary on how he knew the two of them hated that kind of thing - stuff that was only made for drawing attention and not actually for moving around or doing anything.

"Hello, Scott," Emma said as he met up with her. "I'm so sorry I had to reschedule, but something came up that I simply couldn't put off."

"That's fine. I've actually been busier lately than usual, so a late start worked for me too," Scott said. "You know, there's been all that talk about making a list…"

"Oh?" Emma said, looking interested. "And what would top it?"

"No, the government making a list of mutants," Scott explained. "It's been keeping us busy."

"Oh, politics," she said with a sigh.

"Not my favorite thing either."

"Well, polite company would best try to avoid politics as a topic of discussion," Emma said. "So … tell me more about you."

Scott gestured with both hands. "I don't know. I think we covered most of it at coffee," he said as they walked to where the waiter had a table waiting for them.

"Oh, I doubt that somehow," Emma said.

"Well, what do you want to know, then?"

"Tell me about your hopes and dreams," Emma said with a smile.

"Without getting into politics?" Scott smirked. "Considering one of them is peaceful coexistence, that could be hard."

"Then perhaps tell me how to achieve that lofty ambition."

Scott smiled easily. "My team and I just do what I was doing when you met me. Make a difference in the world so the world doesn't have any reason to be afraid - of us or anyone else."

"A whole team of higher-thinking, good looking heroes," she said with a smile, resting her chin in the palm of her hand.

"Pretty much," Scott said with a self-deprecating smile.

"How does one find such a lovely group of heroes? Is there some kind of means to contact you when you're in trouble?"

"Gave you the phone number to the place, didn't I?" Scott said.

"So I need to be near a payphone if I need help?" Emma teased.

"It's not a perfect system," Scott admitted, blushing. "We also keep an eye on news reports, and the professor is a powerful telepath, so he keeps an eye out for trouble, too."

"So … it's just wait for trouble to happen and swoop in on angel's wings?"

"Like I said: it's not perfect," Scott said. "But yeah, we're kind of a response team."

"And what are the criteria you search for?" Emma moved a little closer, her volume level a bit lower as if anyone was listening to them.

"Anything that could help mutants," he whispered back. "I mean, we'll help anyone who needs it, but we're especially good at mutants in need. You know how it can be when you get your powers. It's not always safe out there."

"No, I suppose it's not," she agreed. "Particularly if that young person's parents were the type to pay attention to them."

"Yeah, we've had a few kids whose parents just dropped them off," Scott said, thinking of Warren.

"That's on the lighter side of things, isn't it?"


"Then I suppose I can count myself lucky that my father never noticed." Her tone was matter-of-fact, and completely casual as she picked up her drink and took a sip.

Scott shook his head at that. "It shouldn't have to be the case that anyone hopes for that," he said. "My parents have been supportive."

"Now that is incredibly rare," Emma said.

"I got very lucky with them," Scott agreed with a fond smile.

"Not many people our age feel that way about their parents," Emma said.

"Well, I was adopted when I was in high school. It's still relatively new," Scott admitted. "I know how lucky I am; I can't ignore that."

"You were adopted?"

Scott nodded. "Not that long ago, really."

Emma frowned slightly. "But why would they adopt a teenager? No offense, of course, I just .. have never heard of that. At your age."

"Yeah, it's rare. It happens, but it's rare. You'd have to have met my parents, though. Dad wasn't going to let me go through life without someone backing me up, and Mom was attached the second she met me," Scott said, back to smiling at the topic. "Like I said: I lucked out. Not everyone can adopt teenagers, but they're the type that can."

"I'm not sure I understand," Emma admitted.

"That's just the way they are. They don't think any kid should go without support and love. So, that was that. I don't think Dad thought twice about it when he realized I wanted to stick with him. He just let me make that choice."

She made an interested sort of noise, but didn't have a response.

Scott shrugged lightly. "Hey, I was surprised too. I was pretty sure I was going to be stuck until I aged out of the orphanage. I'm glad it didn't happen that way, but not everyone gets that shot. So, my team helps where we can."

"I suppose I didn't realize that there were orphanages in this day and age."

"Mostly for older kids," Scott admitted. "They're home for kids that are hard to place with families - until we're old enough to be on our own."

"That sounds positively dreadful," Emma said, her mouth downturned into a little pout. "I'm so sorry that you had to deal with that kind of idiocy."

"Nothing you had anything to do with," Scott promised.

"No, of course not, but that doesn't mean it's alright," she said. "Though I wonder how different it was when I compare it to the boarding schools my parents sent me to. Made me wonder why they even had children."

"We had a few of those," Scott said with a slight frown. "People whose parents just… didn't care. Left them there or got their kids taken away because they couldn't be bothered to try."

"Mine simply didn't have the time. At least, not between racquetball and country clubs."

"Then I'm sorry you had to deal with that kind of idiocy," Scott said, smirking as he echoed her words from earlier.

"Quite the odd pair, Mr. Summers," Emma said.

Scott shrugged at that. "Like you were saying - not that different. That's kind of the point of everything my team and I do: prove to the world we're more similar than we realize."

"I think you should tell me more about your mission statement," Emma said in a low tone.

"I think you'd like it," Scott said earnestly. "What you said about wanting to make a difference in education - that's a lot like what we're doing. We believe in peaceful coexistence - mutants, humans, and everything in between. And we're trying to prove that what you were born to be shouldn't determine your destiny."

"Mmmm. I meant you should tell me more about it elsewhere," Emma said.

Scott blinked in surprise, just then noticing how closely they were sitting. "... oh?"

"Yes, I think so." Emma smiled warmly at him. "I think we can get a little something sweet elsewhere. This place is a little stuffy."

"It kind of is," Scott admitted - though he hadn't wanted to say as much before since the date was her treat and she'd picked it out.

"So, my driver is out front," she said.

"Then I guess I'll follow you," Scott said, gesturing with one hand.

"You don't want to ride with me?"

"Oh, well, I can," Scott said, rubbing the back of his neck. "I just thought it would be easier if you didn't have to come back for my car…"

Emma smirked crookedly. "I can make sure the driver gets you back when we're done, but if you truly want to follow …"

"No, it's fine; I just didn't want to make things more complicated."

"It's very simple, Scott," Emma said as she got to her feet. "Shall we?"

Scott nodded, offering Emma his arm as they left the restaurant. "What were you thinking?" he asked. "If you're looking for something less stuffy, I know a few places in town where some friends of mine go, but you're the one with the driver…"

"I'm open to suggestions," Emma said.

"There's a place that does custom donuts not far from here…"

"Perfect," Emma said.

Scott nodded at that, walking with her until they got to where her driver was waiting, and Scott held her door for her before he climbed in as well - and let out a cry of surprise when before he could give the driver an address, Emma had pulled him into a long and not-at-all polite kiss. And when it was clear she was already pushing him flat, Scott decided to run with it.

Of course, as soon as Scott was properly passed out at Emma's place, she didn't waste any time getting to work. It was always so much easier to dive into someone's mind when they were unaware and vulnerable. And after the date the two of them had shared, well … it would be easy enough to chalk it up to an active imagination should he wake up realizing that something was amiss.

And like the last time, she had laced his drink just a bit to make it easier to get past his impressive psychic defenses. Especially considering that his own powerset had nothing to do with telepathy or anything else to do with the mind. There was plenty of damage along the way- -little scuffs in his mindscape where someone had tried to do him harm and Scott's mind had clearly repaired what it could.

Which was interesting on its own. But not as interesting as what she was finding behind several of the doors. Many were locked up tightly, but most of the subjects he'd spoken about earlier were wide open. And Emma casually looked through all she could find on his team, his mentor, his parents and sister, the odd alliance with the Avengers - that was a good bit of information to know.

But it didn't really get interesting until she saw a few memories of a beautiful redheaded girl - and she saw just a glimpse of how head over heels Scott had been for her. At least, until she hit the areas that were locked down tighter. But it seemed like the doors on that end of the hallway were emitting light from under the cracks. Every door a little brighter and the hall a bit warmer until she finally got to the last door and felt honestly in awe at what she was seeing. The final door was more elaborate than the others, and larger too. There seemed to be a roaring sound from the other side that took Emma far too long to identify as a raging fire, but once she knew what was lurking behind the door, she couldn't help but reach out to touch the flat plane of the wood, and immediately jerked her hand back at the heat behind it.

At her touch, the heat suddenly spilled out into a fire, and a scream filled Scott's mind and hers as well, the sheer force of it propelling Emma out of his mind like it had when she first poked around his head when he and Storm had been captive.

Only this time, Scott was more alert, and he woke up fast, the scream still echoing in his mind as he looked around in a rush. At first, he thought it was another dream, and he opened his mouth to apologize - but then he could feel the telltale residual energy of a telepathic intrusion - colder than the professor's touch and much colder than Jean's.

In a rush, he had one hand on his glasses as he got to his feet. "Stay out of my head," he bit out sharply.

"But I can help you," she said, even though it didn't seem convincing at all for how wide-eyed she was.

"No," Scott said, not taking his gaze off of Emma as he started instead to gather his clothes to go. "That door is locked for a reason. And you don't get to poke around other people's minds just because you can."

"But that fire …" Emma shook her head as she tried to slow him down enough to talk to her. "What was that?"

"A memory," Scott said simply, pulling his pants up.

"What kind of memory has that much fire? It was like the whole world was on fire."

"So you can imagine why I don't like remembering it," Scott said. He pulled his shirt on as well and looked for his keys, suddenly regretting letting Emma's driver take them there.

"So let me help you forget it."

Scott gave her a dry look as he did finally find his keys. "That's not why you were in my head in the first place, Emma."

"No, but that's what I came away with." Emma crossed her arms, and watched him. "So what would it hurt for you to let me help you? Theoretically, it should be easier if you go along with it."

Scott narrowed his eyes at that. "Stay out of my head, Emma," he said. "You don't know what you're messing with."

"No, but I did ask," she said. "Before I go in again."

Scott let out a bark of a laugh and turned to leave. "Good night."

"Fine. Be that way," Emma said before she tipped her chin down, narrowed her eyes and dove into his mind to start digging more aggressively.

It was a completely different sensation - like ice cold water going through his mind and leaving frostbitten trails in her path. Emma wasn't holding back in what she was after either. "Have you ever had someone do this before?" Emma asked. "Why don't you show me what you're afraid of?"

"Definitely not you," Scott shot back, and Emma could see flashes of other, different nightmares in his mindscape: Sinister and Cyber in particular and their brand of telepathic warfare. He was actively fighting to get her out, and that wasn't a bad strategy, either: throwing bad memories like knives at an intruder.

But Emma was ruthless and seemed to know exactly what she was doing - using the trauma Scott was trying to defend himself with to pry open doors that had until now been sealed up tightly. But it was more than she was prepared for when one door opened to let loose the memory of the night that Jean had died.

The same fire that had pushed her out of Scott's mind before was present in that memory, too, but it was also ringing with a pain and grief that was too much for even her power to handle. Not that it left Scott in much better shape - he was reeling and in obvious shock reliving one of the worst days of his life.

It was enough to sever the connection that Emma had forced, and the sheer power of it had her on the ground, staring at him in shock. The moment that he turned his head even a fraction of an inch, Emma shifted to her diamond form as a clear protective reflex.

Scott narrowed his eyes behind his glasses before he scrambled for the door, more interested in getting out of there than anything else. He wished he'd been paying better attention to where they were going when they got there, but he got out to the street all the same before he took a deep breath, leaning on the building to get his breath back.

He was still barely holding himself together as he headed toward where he had parked. Losing Jean had been hard enough once - reliving it hurt almost as sharply, and he had to keep reminding himself it was a memory. But he wasn't going to call in any help, either. What would he tell them? That his date had gone terribly wrong? That his mom was right and most telepaths were selfish and damaging?

He'd rather just get home - so that's what he did. And he drove into the garage in the wee hours of the morning, hoping like hell everyone was still asleep.

But, just outside of the kitchen, it was pretty clear that he wasn't alone by the glowing red cherry on Logan's cigar, though it was only visible when he was taking a long drag.

Scott paused and then swallowed. "Hey, Dad."

"Hey Slim," Logan said in a soft, low rumble. "Why don'tcha take a seat?"

Scott flushed, knowing he wouldn't get anything past Logan, but sat down all the same. "Couldn't sleep?"

"More or less," Logan agreed.

"Anything I should be worried about?"

"Nah, just the same old," Logan said before he took another long drag. "Weighin' out all the possibilities. How was the date?"

Scott shook his head, his expression falling. "Telepath."

Logan nodded. "So not good, is what you're tellin' me."

"Yeah. Woke up when she started poking around and touched the door that was my connection to Jean," Scott said darkly.

"That doesn't sound like a fun time at all," Logan said. "Which is a shame since I'm guessin' it started out okay." He gave Scott a raised eyebrow look.

Scott turned red, knowing exactly what his dad wasn't saying. "Yeah," he said simply.

"So how the hell'd you go from a decent time to that?"

"Well, I didn't know she was a telepath until she was going through my head while I was asleep," Scott said, clearly frustrated by the whole thing. "I don't know why she was in there, but she seemed determined to get into everything."

"Nosy telepaths," Logan agreed, then fell quiet. "You okay?"

Scott probably would have lied if it was anyone else, but since it was his dad, he shook his head. "She busted open the night Jean died." He knew he didn't have to explain any more than that.

"You gonna talk about it?"

"About what, the spectacularly bad date or the memory she cracked open?"

Logan chuckled at that. "Fair. How 'bout yes?"

Scott let out a breath and shook his head. "I don't know what to tell you. She showed up in a low-cut shirt and took me home and after she got in my pants, she tried to get in my head-"

Logan held up one hand at that. "Hey. No judgement on the first part."

"Seriously?" Scott shook his head. "I was raised not to just…"

"Lord knows I've done enough of that myself, and you can't tell me everyone you know is entirely straight laced," Logan said.

"No, but - I mean-" Scott let out a noise of frustration. "What is it with me and telepaths, huh?"

"I dunno," Logan said before he couldn't help but tease a little. "Everyone's got a type."

Scott shot him a dry look for that one. "At least Jean wasn't evil."

"No, she wasn't," Logan agreed, losing much of his good humor. "She was a good one, Scotty."

"Yeah, she was," Scott said. He closed his eyes, the recent memory still a little too fresh for comfort. "I'm really bad at this, Dad."

"Me too," he agreed. "Wish I could tell you it gets better or goes away, but I don't wanna lie to you."

"Yeah, I know. Alex and I were talking about going to visit our mom - doesn't go away just because we both have families now," Scott said quietly. "It does help to move on, though. Which is what I was trying to do."

"Yeah," Logan said, nodding his head. "Hard to do with someone screwin' with you."

Scott shrugged. "Well, not going out with her again. So. There's that."

"Smart move," Logan said heavily.

"What, you didn't go back to someone…?"

"I'm not answerin' that."

"On the grounds that the answer is 'yes'," Scott surmised.

"Don't you need to get some sleep or somethin'?"

"What, and miss good life advice from my dad?" Scott asked with a slowly growing, crooked smirk.

"Go down the list of what not to do?" Logan chuckled.

"Could be instructive," Scott said, smirking wider. "This is what you should not do…"

"Got plenty of those."

"I'm collecting a few of those myself," Scott said.

"Life experience," Logan said.

Scott shook his head, still smirking as he got to his feet, though he did pause before he took the few steps over to where Logan was to squeeze his shoulder. "Thanks," he said quietly.

"Try and get a little rest, kiddo," Logan said, covering Scott's hand with his. "It'll look better tomorrow. Kinda has to."

Scott gestured at himself. "Only way to go is up? I hope so."

"Yeah, well. You know we were considering cuttin' out, right?"

"Yeah, I know. As soon as Tony Stark brought that intel, I saw that look," Scott said, his expression dropping. "I hope you don't. You mean too much to me."

"We can't decide where we'd go."

"And I'd rather you stayed anyway. At least here, if something goes wrong, we have backup."

"Yeah, well, the timing sucks. As always. Just had her relaxed. For the first time in a long time."

"I know," Scott said, letting his shoulders drop. "You know I'll do whatever it takes to keep you both safe, right? You and Sammy too."

"And we'll do the same for you - and your team," Logan agreed. "And when we figure out what the hell's goin' on, maybe we can take you and Sam with us next time."

"I'll start doubling down on learning Japanese," Scott teased.

"You do that," Logan agreed. "I've been hiding the materials from K."

"So she'll be even more annoyed when I know it too? Brilliant. I'll start studying tonight."

Logan smiled crookedly. "You didn't hear all of it, you know," he told him. "I forgot which festivals hit when. She might have been a little ticked off."

"Seriously? The way I heard it, you both had a great time."

Logan was smirking a little wider. "Yeah. For the most part. Hit a snag when one of the villagers tried to get her to go participate in the fertility festival."

Scott blinked - and then burst into a laugh, completely uncontrolled and holding onto Logan's shoulders as he did so.

"She was more than happy to just hide out," Logan said.

"That's perfect," Scott managed to stay, still smiling.

"Kinda was," Logan chuckled.

Scott finally managed to get his laughter under control and then straightened up, shaking his head and still grinning. "Well, if I get that brother or sister I keep asking for…"

"You can blame the village, but I made it clear I wasn't lookin' to give credit anywhere but where it's due."

"Fair point," Scott agreed. "But I really would like a brother, please," he added, obviously in a much better mood.

Logan started to chuckle at that. "Well it's not happening right now. Sorry, kiddo. Guess we didn't bring back the present you were looking for this time."

"Next time," Scott said without missing a beat before he headed upstairs, still perfectly entertained.

Chapter Text

For a few weeks after the date with Emma, Scott could barely get a full night's sleep. Even with Charles' help getting everything back in order, the fire dreams were back in full force, and it was getting to the point that Scott was just grabbing naps in between missions, training, and pouring over intel on the department. Not like he was doing anything else with his nights.

So it was nice to get away for the weekend at the end of June for his birthday. Even if by that time, the dreams weren't coming every night, he was still worn down and tired enough that some time in Alaska with his little brother was definitely in order.

They borrowed a jet and headed up to not only spend some time where they'd grown up but to visit the place where their parents had been buried, so when they came back, they were both quiet - even if they felt relaxed and closer to each other, their arms around each other's shoulders as they talked quietly.

They were just about the only ones from the team that were home, too. Most of the team was on a mission, and although Sam was happily playing with Charles … she utterly abandoned him upon hearing the boys. She came right over, holding her hands up until Alex beat Scott to it and scooped her up.

"Hey, Sammy. You miss us?" Alex teased, tickling her tummy.

"Camoka," she giggled.

"Alex," he said, booping her nose.

"Ca-mooooka!" Sam said, and when she saw the look on Alex's face, she leaned forward and slobbered all over Alex's cheek. "Lub you."

"Love you too, silly girl," Alex said.

"Even if you mix us up," Scott said with a smirk.

"Lub you, Camoka," Sam said, positively shoving Alex's face away with one hand as she leaned toward Scott. "Camoka-up."

Scott laughed and snatched her out of Alex's hands to toss her in the air. "She knows who her favorite is."

"Aww, shut up, Scott," Alex grumbled good-naturedly.

"Bye, Wex," Sam said, opening and closing her hand as she leaned on Scott's shoulder.

Alex laughed quietly to himself. "Oh, now you know my name!"

Scott grinned as Alex headed out and then rubbed noses with his sister. "You miss me, Sammy?" he teased. "I had to go hang out with my other little sibling."

Sam was careful to take a hold of Scott's face with both hands and then kissed him, too. "Lub you."

"Love you too," Scott said, then tossed her in the air again. "What should we do today, huh? Should we go bother Bobby? Play with Kurt on the ceiling?"

"Camoka," Sam said, snuggling in a little deeper and petting the side of his face.

"Not gonna argue that," Scott said, smiling as he put a hand on the back of her head and grabbed his suitcase to head back to his room and unpack - one-handed, since clearly, Sam was there for snuggles. And once that was done, he headed outside, since it was a perfect summer day, and Sam would sometimes fall asleep on him if they found a perfect shade tree where it wasn't too hot or too cold.

He didn't think too much of it when he heard a jet overhead, either. That, he was sure, was the team coming back from their mission. He'd go check in with them later - but for the moment, he had a tiny little girl sleeping on his chest, so he wasn't going anywhere.

At least, that was the plan before he heard voices farther out in the woods that definitely did not belong to his team.

Carefully, Scott got to his feet, keeping Sam tight to his chest, one hand at his pocket where the panic button for the Avengers was. Considering the threats recently, he wouldn't hesitate to use it - he just wanted to be sure he knew what he was facing.

So the second he saw a too-familiar department uniform, he hit the button - and blasted the guy back into the tries, taking off running and wrapping himself around Sammy as best he could while he kept one hand on his glasses so he could blast anyone in his path.

And there were a lot of soldiers in his path.

The department had clearly come prepared to overwhelm them with pure force, if the numbers were anything to go by, so Scott wasn't holding anything back as he called out for the professor - who was himself dealing with keeping the students who weren't part of the team safe and also fighting some telepaths the department had brought.

Scott swore under his breath before he turned at the sound of guns and let loose with a blast that took out several dozen soldiers and a truck behind them - and the trees beyond that. His heart was pounding in his ears along with a headache that sounded like a too-familiar, fire-laced memory, but he was trying to ignore that when Sam was obviously scared and clutching onto his shirt.

"Camoka," Sam said quietly, even as she reasserted her grip and snuggled in, hiding her face in his neck.

"I got you, Sammy," Scott promised, letting his glasses fall back down on his nose after another solid blast left a hole in the department's forces. He was starting to wear out - though no way was he going to let Sam know as much or even think for a second that he was worried. Not that he could ignore how much trouble he was in when he realized the soldiers had formed a circle around him.

"You're surrounded," one of the soldiers shouted. "You really want to take a chance at the kid getting shot?"

Scott held onto Sam a little tighter. "You really want to take a chance at shooting her before she can heal?" he shot back, deciding to try and call the bluff while he looked for the weakest point to blast through.

"Hey, if you think we can't get the lab on making more little brats, you're nuts, kid."

Scott's eyes narrowed, and his eyes glowed brighter behind his glasses. But seeing as he was starting to run out of energy and he was, in fact, surrounded, he glanced at Sam and then raised the hand that wasn't holding her. "She stays with me," he said firmly. "None of you are fit for babysitting."

"You don't get to make that call," one of the soldiers said. "Hand her over."

"Yeah, that's not happening," Scott muttered.

"Then we'll just shoot both of you," the guy said easily, and to emphasize his point, several rifles cycled in a fresh round from all around him.

Scott swore under his breath before he looked down at Sam, who was holding on tight and looking up at him and obviously scared. He swore again and then kissed her forehead.

"Scott," Sam said, whisper quiet.

"I'm gonna be right here, okay?" he whispered to her as he took a few measured steps toward the soldiers, one hand up while he held onto Sam with the other. He wasn't even looking at the soldiers, though - his whole focus was on Sam.

One of the soldiers stepped forward, and without any kind of warning, he holstered his weapon and yanked Sam away from Scott. When Sam started screaming, Scott could feel his temper spilling over until the glow to his eyes turned into something else entirely. He wasn't even aware of it, but the soldiers around him didn't seem to react, probably assuming the fire spilling out from behind his glasses was part of his usual powerset.

"Follow the brat," a soldier from behind Scott said as he nudged him between the shoulders with a rifle.

Scott kept both hands raised, his gaze locked onto Sam, doing his level best to ignore the others as he kept pace with Sam and the soldier holding her, talking in a low tone to tell her that he was right there - not that it was helping much when Sam could see him and wanted her big brother.

Scott's mind was racing as they headed for the transport - the one that, he realized belatedly, he'd heard and assumed was his team coming back. The one good thing he could say about the situation was that his parents weren't there - but with Sam in department custody, that wouldn't last. He needed to figure out a way to get them both out before his parents got screwed. Again.

He still hadn't noticed the fire at the edges of his eyes, but it was starting to get more intense as they boarded and loaded up, until it was flickering past the edges of his glasses and finally caught his attention as embers of the fire floated past his vision.

And then, he could feel all the blood draining out of his face - at about the same time the jet took off.

"Knock it off, kid," one of the soldiers said.

"I'm literally just sitting here," Scott said, though the tone didn't have as much bite to it as usual when he was still in shock as he processed what the fire meant.

"If you want to burn down the chopper the kid is in, I guess that's on you."

"I'm not planning on burning anything right now," Scott said, though all the same, he had closed his eyes behind his glasses to try to push it back. Even if the department was asking for it, he knew letting the fire out was the worst possible play. And he couldn't do that to Sam or his parents.

Of course, Sam was used to being allowed some freedom, and she was making sure to be at least a little bit of a pain for the soldiers. She started out with a simple 'no'. But that soon escalated to her pushing on them to let her down and hitting them with much more forceful 'no's.

"I can hold her," Scott said softly, watching Sam go to town.

"Not gonna happen," the soldier holding Sam said - and responded to Sam's little tantrum by readjusting how he was holding her - pinning her arms to her sides tightly.

Scott had only just managed to pull back some of the fire, but it flared out again when he saw the soldier manhandling Sam, enough that it actually started to melt through the rims of his glasses until he let out an involuntary hiss and yanked them off, wincing at the burned spot on his nose where the metal had dripped.

"Scott," Sam said, only a little louder than before, even if she couldn't wriggle loose. "Up."

"Not right now," Scott breathed out - not just because there were soldiers all around them but because he did not want his baby sister anywhere close to Phoenix fire. "Later, I promise."

But that had Sam shrinking back as her bottom lip quivered and she started to cry - a lot quieter than before. She didn't try to call out for him again, either, quick enough to catch on that she wasn't going to get anything she wanted around these people. So the rest of the flight was very quiet, all the way until they landed and the soldiers split up - or almost split up. Two soldiers headed off with Sam quietly stuck with them and the rest of them circled around Scott - and pushed to move him an entirely different direction.

For just a second, Scott saw Sam meet his gaze - and the next thing he knew, the fire had spilled out of his eyes until it was a fully-formed apparition, spreading its wings out through the soldiers around him and burning them to a crisp before they had a chance to react. And the soldiers around Sam found themselves at the mercy of the same fire, though Sam wasn't burned as she fell with the soldiers, landing on one of them as a cushion before the fires went a new direction.

Scott hadn't even gotten to look at the building where they'd been taken, but he didn't need to see it to know what it was. And he didn't need to see it to burn it down.

In fact, he didn't need to do much of anything while the Phoenix destroyed everything for him, though with Sam crying as he emerged from the wreckage of the building, that was enough to snap him out of the pure rage that had taken over him to stare at his baby sister. The part of him that wasn't the Phoenix was screaming at the fires to burn out so he could hold her, but the Phoenix wanted to keep going, of course.

Sam was watching him with her eyes as wide as they would go, brimming with tears, and finally, the part of him that was still Scott won out, and the fires dimmed until he touched down in front of her and knelt down next to her. "You alright?" he asked, his voice still slightly ringing.

"Hot." Sam still looked scared, and there were tear streaks down her face.

"Yeah, I know," Scott said, then held out his hands to show her he was safe. "Not anymore, though."

"Moka-hot," Sam said, staring at Scott's hands. "Oush."

"I'm okay," he promised. That was a lie, but, well, he wasn't on fire at the moment, so it was a lie he was willing to tell to a scared baby. "See? No more fire." When Sam still looked hesitant, he picked her up and kissed her forehead. "Told you I'd stick with you."

With that, Sam simply curled in and melted into Scott's shoulder.

Finally, Scott got to his feet and looked around the charred remains of the building. Whatever the operation had been, it was huge… and the destruction was just as big. "Someone's going to see this," he muttered to himself, wondering if the panic button was still functional after putting it through fire like that. He looked around and then bit his lip and nodded to himself. "Well, better start walking," he said to Sam. "If the wrong people come looking, we're in trouble." He knew she didn't really understand it, but talking to her was helping him calm down - and helping him avoid thinking about the fact that he didn't have any glasses and was mostly operating on a faint hope that the fires would stay out and the optic blasts would stay off until they could get somewhere safe.

"Mom," Sam said into Scott's shoulder. "Want Mom."

"Yep, we're going to go find a phone to call Mom, okay?" Scott told her. "I'm sorry I scared you. You're gonna be okay now, alright?"

Sam reached up and patted his cheek. "Myscott."

Scott smiled at that and picked her hand up to kiss her fingers. "My Sammy."

Sam snuggled into again, and Scott kept muttering little comforting phrases to her as he walked in what he hoped would eventually be the direction to civilization, though he froze when he heard the whine of an engine overhead and didn't even breathe until he saw that it was a Quinjet, not a department transport.

He let his shoulders drop in relief before he headed quickly to a clearing where the Quinjet would be able to land, happier to see Steve than he had been in a long time. "Oh good; you got my signal," he said, still trying to sound calm, for Sam's sake.

"Yeah, I'm just a little surprised they got this far with you," Steve said, frowning as he looked between Scott and Sam. "Load up and you can tell me what happened on the way back."

Scott nodded gratefully and climbed up, more than happy to have backup as Sam was worn out from all the excitement - but still wanted to be awake because they weren't home yet. "The team wasn't home," he explained. "Alex and I just got back from Alaska, and I was outside with Sam when they staged an ambush. If Mom and Dad had been home, they would have heard it long before it was an ambush, and we probably would have lasted longer until you could get there to back us up."

"You don't know that for sure," Steve said. "They're pretty good at getting them down, you know."

"I know. They brought more than enough people to do it," Scott said. He was unconsciously holding Sam closer as he said it. "They tried to separate us… and I sort of lost my temper."

"Yeah? That usually doesn't work out too well for them," Steve replied.

"Yeah. Especially not when the Phoenix gets involved," Scott said. He'd meant to say it dryly, but it came out in a rush and sounded exactly as defeated as he felt.

"Yeah, about that," Steve said quietly - not sounding as surprised as Scott had assumed he would. "It wasn't as big as the last time - with Jean - but it was definitely visible. Don't worry; Stark panicked at the thought of saying anything to your parents."

"I don't want them to know," Scott said quickly. "Not until we have a better plan for dealing with this thing. I don't want them to look at me and think they're going to have to kill me too one of these days."

"Yeah, your Dad ... " Steve shook his head. "We don't want that."

"I'll tell the professor. And you. But honestly…" Scott let out a long sigh. "The only way we know how to fight this thing is to kill the host." He paused. "Which would work. I don't have a psychic link with anyone else. Theoretically, it wouldn't escape as easily. Maybe." He shook his head. "But that's how the Shi'ar dealt with it, that's how we stopped it with Jean… we need something else, or Dad will never be the same."

"Yeah, he's still not over that, you know," Steve said.

"I know." Scott ran his hand absently over Sam's hair. "This explains the dreams I've been having, though." His voice sounded almost distant by that point.

"Have they been getting more intense?" Steve asked gently.

"I was having them almost every night a few weeks ago. But that was after a telepath tried to knock on the Phoenix's door in my head."

Steve held up a hand. "Wait. You had someone trying to dig in your head?"

Scott pulled a face. "Don't date telepaths, Captain Rogers."

"Yeah, not a concern, I don't think."

"You'd be surprised. I didn't know she was one until she was rifling through my thoughts," Scott said, then shook his head. "But now that I think of it, the dreams were always more intense or more frequent when I was in danger - or my mind was. It makes sense that the Phoenix is, well, looking out for … its host, I guess."

"Probably gets worn out if it has to keep jumping from host to host," Steve reasoned.

"Probably," Scott agreed. "Especially if it has to jump to a host that didn't already have the open pathway I had with Jean." He shook his head. "I don't know if we can stop it, not permanently, not when this thing has been around long enough to have so much history outside of our world too, but … but I won't let it use me, either. I only managed to pull it back this time because Sammy was there, but I helped Jean pull it back before too. It doesn't always work. And it gets stronger every time, from what I saw."

Steve would have said something else, but Sammy got there first with a little "hot hot hot," obviously retelling the story from her perspective, since Steve looked so thoughtful and interested.

Scott tapped the end of her nose. "Not anymore. Let's go find Mom, okay?"


"Yeah, love you too, Sammy."

When they got back to the Institute, it was no shock to see both Logan and K rushing toward the Quinjet as it came in, with most of the team following in their wake. As Scott stepped out with Sam still holding tight, it was clear both of his parents were overly stressed out. "Your argument to get us to go with the team more often is hard to agree to when crap like this happens," K pointed out as she got to the two of them and pulled both of them closer for a quick hug - kissing both of them and checking them over for injuries.

"Yeah, but part of the argument was that we have backup, and I think Captain Rogers proved me pretty well right there," Scott pointed out.

"Yeah, yeah, that's fine, but what the hell?"

"We're alright," Scott promised.

"They set the department back pretty well too," Steve put in, trying to help Scott reassure his parents. "The facility they had set up was a huge investment - that no longer exists."

"Yeah, well, I guess it's time to go scorched earth," Logan said. "With every damn facility they got." Of course, K was nodding along with him.

"Already ahead of you," Scott said dryly.

"What's that supposed to mean?" Logan asked, frowning at him.

Scott glanced at Steve before he let his shoulders drop. "Captain Rogers is right. There's literally nothing left of the place."

"Then that's one down," Logan said. "But I'm still gonna go back and make sure the sublevels are shot."

"Yeah, got those too." He winced one shoulder up. "They kinda made me mad when they tried to take Sam."

"Scott. You don't know those places like I do," Logan said.

"I know," Scott said. "But I'm telling you. I was… thorough."

"Going anyhow."


"Scott, your dad's taken down a few of their facilities, and both of us have been in enough to know where the secret hidey holes are," K said. "I'm sure you did a great job, but this is about finding the guys in charge. Not just the buildings themselves."

Scott paused. "I just… I don't want you sucked into it," he said, already running down in his head what he'd say to explain the scorch marks. He was fairly certain the pattern of the fire left behind in the trees would be too much for his parents to ignore.

"I've only ever reacted to them coming after me," Logan said. "It's high time I turned the tables. Should've done it before, but I let Cap talk me out of it. Not happening again."


"He's not going alone this time either," K said. "It'll be fine."

Once again, Scott glanced over at Steve, but Steve didn't seem to know how to stop two very angry parents either. Finally, Scott let his shoulders drop. "Alright. But… when you get back, let me… let me know." He didn't say the rest of what he was thinking - that he needed to know when they got home so he could hit them with whatever excuse he came up with about the fire and try to minimize the damage and the panic that came with the Phoenix.

"We're not leaving tonight," Logan said. "Not when your mom has Stark jumping through hoops to find out who knew what."

Scott let his shoulders drop. "Good. Because I sort of promised Sam we'd find Mom…"

"Well, you found me," K said. "Now, let's get you both something to eat, huh?"

"Please," Scott agreed, relieved that - for the moment - there was nothing more pressing than lunch. He needed the break.

Chapter Text

"Hey, guys," Bobby said as the elevator in the Baxter Building dinged open and let him in. "Sorry to be gone so long… it's been crazy. Mansion got attacked, got to see Nick Fury on a rampage - that was something else - the Howletts are getting out their matching murder outfits…"

"I really don't want to see his dad in a murder dress," Johnny said distractedly.

"Yeah, thanks for that mental image."

"You are oh so welcome," Johnny replied with a grin his way.

Bobby rolled his eyes and then vaulted over the back of the couch. "So, what about you guys? Anything exciting happen?"

"Oh you know … the usual: smiling for cameras, saving people's butts … nothing exciting to speak of. I think we hit all of the cool stuff in that last space … mess."

"You must have such a boring life without me," Bobby teased.

"Totally," Johnny said, his grin turning more crooked as he turned to face Bobby. "So … what should we do?"

"I don't know… want to hit up a bar or something?"

"Oh, man. I thought you'd never ask," Johnny replied with a winning grin.

Bobby broke into a matching smile and then pulled Johnny to his feet, calling over his shoulder, "See ya, Sue! I'll bring him home for curfew!"

"Or not - don't wait up," Johnny shouted.

Bobby laughed and iced up. "Race you," he said, already starting to skate off, though of course, that only prompted Johnny to rush past him in enough fire to melt the ice path he was on so he could overtake the lead.

By the time Bobby caught up to him in the elevator, Johnny had already touched down, and Bobby shook his head. "Cheater."

"I would never," Johnny laughed. "You're just a sore loser - who started it."

"Oh, that's how it is?"

"Hey. Don't start it if you can't finish, popsicle."

"You're asking for frozen pipes, matchstick."

"Taking nickname advice from Ben? Bad move, frosty. Bad move."

"You're the one carrying a torch for a snowman," Bobby shot back, grinning steadily wider.

"Okay, that was bad, but I'll allow it."

"Hey, most puns are. You just accept that and run with them," Bobby pointed out, leaning back against the wall with a crooked smile. "And who made you the referee, anyway?"

Johnny smiled back at him with a troublemaking look - especially since they were alone in the elevator - and a second later, he leaned over to steal a kiss. "I did."

Bobby was grinning hard. "Fair point," he said, then kissed him back with a muttered, "counterpoint…"

"I got an argument to go with that," Johnny snickered when the kiss had met its natural end - but it was completely pointless when the two of them were really just competing on who kissed who at that point.

"Yeah? Following my lead?" Bobby shot back without taking a step back.

"I can share the lead," Johnny defended.

"You totally can't," Bobby teased.

"I was military! I can … I just … don't like to."

"Yeah, I keep forgetting you're old," Bobby laughed, tracing Johnny's hair.

"What does that say about us, I wonder?"

"Pretty sure that makes you the aggressor here," Bobby laughed.

"Yeah, I won't argue that," Johnny laughed.

"Not what you were saying earlier," Bobby said - and just to prove his point, he went ahead and kissed him again, not paying enough attention to know the elevator was coming to a stop.

But Johnny hadn't really caught up either. Not until the doors opened with a 'ding'. A moment later, there was the usual clicking of cameras ... followed by a brief pause … before the photographers doubled down on their picture taking - and started shouting for clarification on who this guy with Johnny even was.

"Oh crap," Bobby muttered, though he was in so much shock he hadn't figured out whether he should put distance or step in front of Johnny or… what.

"Ah … well …" Johnny hesitated for just a moment as he caught up himself, then drew in a breath and plastered on a grin as he stepped out of the elevator - his usual 'on camera' persona firmly in place, pulling Bobby along until he knew he was following along on his own. "Don't say a word to them," Johnny said through his grin. "Pretend nothing happened. Let's get some distance between us and them."

"Right," Bobby said, letting Johnny take the lead on this one - since he really had no experience with paparazzi. He didn't let go of Johnny's hand until Johnny forcibly dislodged his grip. Johnny didn't stop Bobby when he stepped closer, though, clearly trying to keep up and look less like a deer in the headlights as they headed out.

It took some doing, but once they got into Johnny's car, it was a matter of time before he got them away from the press. "So, we might need to go a little further out than I was thinking," Johnny said.

"Yeah." Bobby shook his head and tried to blink out of his shock. "I'm sorry, man. I totally forgot about the mob on your main floor."

"I … wasn't exactly paying attention either, Bobby. It's … well. I guess it'll be fine. One scandal's gotta be the same as the next, more or less. They'll move on once Stark does .. um. Anything."

"You sure?" Bobby had one eye closed. "Because the way they were yelling at us on the way out kiiiinda felt like a big deal."

"Um … I mean … it wasn't that different from my usual um … issues."

"The string of pretty girls before me… most of them blonde… I think you have a type, man."

"Pretty and blonde? Who isn't that a type for?"

Bobby snorted out a laugh at that. "Fair. My first girlfriend fit that bill too."

"See? You can't even argue with me about it. Especially when you have the same type."

Bobby laughed again and shook his head. "Yeah, but now I feel like I'm just another little waif in a long string of blonde lovers…" he teased, finally getting back some of his earlier good mood.

"No, no, there were non-blondes in there too," Johnny teased.

"Thanks, Johnny. That definitely makes me feel better," Bobby deadpanned.

"The pretty part is what you need to focus on. And funny. I don't think I know anyone as funny as you are."

"Must be why you like me, since you're top of the game from where I'm sitting," Bobby said, starting to grin a little more.

"Ooh, that's a compliment," Johnny said, before he broke into a grin. "And an admission that you're second place."

"Only because you have years of practice on me, old man."

"Yep. Years and years. It's called experience."

"I wouldn't go that far. Practice, man."

"Of course you wouldn't. You're not experienced enough to take it a step or four too far. Which is when it gets fun anyhow."

"I'm pretty sure we're not talking about jokes anymore," Bobby said with a crooked smirk.

"No. Probably not," Johnny laughed. "So let's hit a bar and have a little fun, huh?"

"You're on," Bobby agreed. "Let's have some fun and ignore the vultures."

The boys did their level best to do just that, too. They hit the usual bars, where it seemed the news hadn't quite hit the college kids in the area, who were already partying and not paying attention to that kind of thing. And besides, Bobby and Johnny were old faces, so they blended in, and no one bothered them when they were drinking and dancing - with Bobby stealing Johnny's drink, since he still got carded.

They were both pretty well buzzed and grinning, leaning on each other and laughing when they finally decided to head home, though neither of them was exactly in good shape to skate or fly back, even if they were joking around about who would win that race - with most of the back and forth ending in the shared agreement that they didn't want to end in one of them putting out the other one, either into steam or doused flames.

"Steam later," Bobby giggled.

"Does that mean you want to sleep over?" Johnny said, still grinning broadly.

"Um, yes. That sounds really nice," Bobby said, nodding and laughing.

"We ought to sober up enough to get to the roof by the time we get there, right?"

"Theoretically," Bobby laughed.

"Oh, good," Johnny said, laughing with him as he leaned on Bobby. "So let's get back faster."

Bobby grinned and then iced up the ground underneath their feet, holding onto Johnny to pull him onto the ice slide. "Don't light up. I'm maaaaybe not sober enough to catch us if we have a sudden stop like that."

"Got it. No lighting up - unless we start to fall. Then you get to let me catch you, right?"

"I'll try to do a dramatic damsel pose for the cameras that follow your every move."

"Yes, that," Johnny said, grinning as he did his best to make the slide easier for Bobby - which was good, because Bobby barely got them to the Baxter Building as it was, and they were both laughing as they slid onto the roof, joking around and holding hands as they snuck back inside.

"What the hell are you trying to do, Johnny?" Sue shouted - purposely hoping to give him a headache with his hangover as she barged into his room.

"Gah." Johnny startled awake, and Bobby pulled the pillow down over his ears with a groan.

"Oh please," she said, rolling her eyes before she threw the newspaper at Johnny. "I thought you two were keeping this on the down-low?"

"We were," Johnny insisted, though the picture on the front page of him and Bobby wrapped in a steamy kiss in the elevator wasn't doing much for his argument.

"Yeah, you have a freakin' gift basket from Stark Industries outside for taking the headlines, so that's an actual thing that happened. Johnny."

"Be honest. This isn't even remotely the worst picture you've seen of me in the news," Johnny shot back.

"No. It's not," she said. "But this is the first one with a guy - and he's a nice guy." Sue paused and barely glanced Bobby's way. "Morning, Bobby."

Bobby barely picked up one hand from his cocoon in the covers and pillows. "Morning. You're loud," he grumbled.

"Yes. it's a service I offer to my brother when he's got a hangover. You think he'd stop doing this, but no."

"Hey, we needed a good night after the ambush of the reporters," Johnny argued.

"I'm sure you did," Sue agreed, lowering her tone for Bobby's sake. "But now you're going to have to deal with it. They're trying to figure out who Bobby is."

"Ooh, yeah," Bobby said, frowning. "Think they'll put together Iceman and me?"

"I don't know," Sue said. "It's not an angle we've had to consider before, to be honest."

"Yeah, you don't do secret identities, huh?" Bobby finally peeked out from under the pillow.

"Not really," Sue said. "We were busted out before we could come up with them."

"We wear masks so no one comes after us for existing," Bobby said, his filter completely gone in the morning.

"I know, which is another concern, I guess," Sue said. "How bad is it?"

"Which part?" Bobby asked. "Mutant stuff? Gay stuff? I don't even know, Sue."

"How about you take a minute to wake up - get dressed - and we can talk it over with breakfast?" Sue offered.

Bobby let out a sigh and sank back into the pillows. "Fair enough," he agreed, waiting for Sue to close to door before he started looking for clothes. "Well that, happened."

"Yeah, that's about as close to a 'she approves' as you're going to get, I think."

"That's good, right?" Bobby said as he tossed Johnny his shirt.

"I … prefer that my sister approves, but it wouldn't be a dealbreaker if she didn't," Johnny admitted.

Bobby shrugged at that, still waking up and processing everything that had happened until he got dressed and then waited for Johnny to catch up. "Let's see how the rest of the Four are taking it, I guess."

"Sure we can't just … stay in bed and let them stress?"

"Tempting," Bobby said, smirking in spite of himself.

"We can revisit it, then," Johnny said, breaking into a winning smile.

Bobby laughed outright and shook his head. "C'mon, hot stuff. Let's go see the damage. I'm kind of curious to know if they've figured out who I am - and which identity they've figured out."

The boys headed to where the rest of the Four were already eating, with the news playing in the background. As it turned out, someone had caught Johnny and Bobby ice skating back home on a news camera, so the headlines were all about Johnny dating an X-Man - though to Bobby's relief, he was only identified as "Iceman."

"Well, that's something," he muttered. "Guess I'll just have to stay frosty in public."

"When do you not stay frosty in public?" Johnny teased softly.

"Good point. Probably why they haven't figured out my secret identity," Bobby pointed out as they sat down at the table and he grimaced a smile Sue's way. "So. Hi again."

"Good morning," Sue said, smiling warmly at him for a moment, though when she turned her focus to her brother, she made a face. "You are going to have to cool it."

"I am," Johnny said without missing a beat, gesturing to Bobby with one hand.

"You know what I mean, Johnny," Sue said, rolling her eyes at him as she got into her coffee.

"Look, it was one moment of distraction at the wrong time," Johnny said. "They wouldn't even care this much if it was a girl. I've gotten caught plenty of times before. They'll get over it."

"They're not getting over it, Johnny," Sue said, gesturing toward the salacious headlines still playing on the news. "We've been getting calls all morning. We screened them, but still."

Bobby winced. "Sorry."

"You act like we don't already have a regular flood of angry calls," Ben said dryly.

"Yeah, but not death threats, right?" Bobby looked around the table and flushed. "I know that's what they are. We get them all the time with the X-Men just for the mutant thing."

Sue's eyes flashed when she heard it. "That has to stop."

Bobby spread his hands out in front of him. "Yeah, well, let me know when you figure out how to stop idiocy, because… no one else has that secret of life."

"How can they … you're helping people," Sue said, looking every bit as furious as Bobby had ever seen her. "And your whole team is a bunch of teenagers, isn't it?"

"Hey, be fair, our older members are in the twenties…"

"Oh, don't forget the parents," Johnny said over his shoulder. "Scott was very clear they were on the roster last time I saw him."

"Oh, yeah, well, they don't count when they're old as dirt."

"They blew the curve," Johnny agreed.

"Besides," Bobby said, turning back to Sue, "we're mutants. So it kinda doesn't matter how old we are. Most of us start getting hate when we hit puberty, so… we're used to it."

"Yeah, but you're used to death threats," Sue said, her eyes wide. "That's not okay, Bobby."

"No kidding," Bobby said. "Didn't I tell you how Scott and I almost got killed by an angry mob the first time I met him?"

"I thought you were exaggerating!"

"Oh my God. Why does everyone think that," Bobby muttered.

"Have you heard your stories, popsicle?" Ben asked lazily.

"Yeah, but I wouldn't exaggerate about that."

"Hey. I don't know where the line is on what you joke about and what you don't," Ben pointed out.

Bobby sighed, shook his head, and then looked around the table. "Anyway, point is, they've got me ID'd, so, um, I hope you're all okay with being labeled mutant-lovers…"

"Don't worry about it," Ben said.

Bobby tipped his head in a slight frown but decided not to question it as he gratefully ate breakfast the Four had provided. "So. Um. Good morning otherwise?"

"Oh sure," Reed said, finally halfway chiming in as he read one of the latest journals. "Pretty normal for Johnny to stir up a bees nest."

"Your brother-in-law just called me a bees nest," Bobby whispered to Johnny in mock horror.

"As funny as that is, I think he meant the vultures outside," Johnny said low. "But I like your version better."

"Then we'll just accept that version and no other," Bobby agreed with a smirk.

"So. We made our required appearance at the breakfast table," Johnny muttered softly. "You have two choices … maybe three, but for argument's sake … do you want to go back to hiding where it's warm and cozy or try to find a way to slip out the back?"

"Hard call," Bobby whispered back. "Why not both? Hide until it's time to eat again and then escape out the back way?"

"This … is a great plan," Johnny agreed, though by the expression on Sue's face, his answer was no shock.

"I know. I'm a genius," Bobby said, drawing himself up before, with a wicked grin, both of the boys left the table to go back into hiding.

Chapter Text

Scott was beyond frustrated.

He hadn't been able to get his powers to work right for him since what had happened with the department, and it was the worst possible time for this kind of thing to happen. His parents were out there actively hunting down the department, and Bobby was getting death threats along with the rest of the X-Men after the pictures had come out of him and Johnny kissing in the elevator at the Baxter building. It wasn't a total loss. He was still able to help. He could plug through intel and run training simulations in the Danger Room. But he couldn't get even a glow to his eyes and he'd long ago accepted that like his parents, he needed to do something more hands on.

It was like the Phoenix fire had locked away his access to his powers. He could feel them, just at the edges of his fingertips, but he couldn't quite reach them.

It was driving him nuts.

But that wasn't even the worst part.

The worst part was that he knew exactly why his powers were off. He had only been through a couple days of frustration before he could hear the Phoenix from inside his own head - and the worst part was that it was using his memory of Jean's voice to outline how much power it had.

The thing could turn his power off - or it could give his power back and more if Scott would only just let it out.

The voice was a totally new development, and Scott wasn't happy about that at all, but he wasn't going to tell his parents, not when they were already on the warpath with the department and he didn't want them even more worried. And the professor was working with Bobby, who was freaking out over the sheer volume of threats on his life.

Scott had been prepared to keep his power troubled to himself - it wasn't like there was anything anyone could do to help - but he should have known that his team wasn't going to let him do that. Which was how Ororo ended up coming to find him while he was still in the Danger Room booth, pulling up a seat next to him after Kurt had teleported them both up there.

"You guys looked great," Scott said, already trying to steer the conversation so Ororo wouldn't ask the question it looked like she was gearing up to ask. "That was a nice catch on your part when Kitty had that stumble…"

"It would have been smoother if you'd been in the middle of the action with us," Ororo said.

Scott tapped his temple near his eyes - which were uncovered, since his powers were still off. "Working on it."

"You still would have been welcome with us," Ororo repeated. "Better to see our angles while you're with us, I think."

"Yeah, I would have, but I've been distracted, and - you know - it was a fast-paced sim," Scott admitted.

"Isn't your dad the one always telling everyone to run the sims without their powers?" Kurt asked with a troublemaking smile.

"Fair," Scott said, tipping his head Kurt's way before he let out a sigh and decided his team should probably know anyway. He waved a hand near his temple. "Just having an internal fight with an unwanted occupant."

"Ah, yes, I keep forgetting that little monkey wrench," Kurt said.

Scott shrugged with a tight smile. "You'll know when I win when I've got my glasses back," he said. "Right now, this thing is playing keep away with my powers to try to get me to let it out." He held up both hands. "Which isn't happening. Not if I can help it."

"So the Phoenix is being strategic with you," Kurt said, tipping his head.

"That's one way of looking at it," Scott said. "I was going to say it's being petulant."

"I think it might be taking on part of your personality," Kurt teased before he teleported out of the room, laughing as he went.

Scott rolled his eyes and shook his head as he turned Ororo's way. "Team's doing well with you running things, though," he said. "Thanks for stepping in for me."

"My pleasure," Ororo said. "But it isn't the same without you."

"Thanks." Scott leaned back in his chair as he thought over his next words. "You know this isn't going to last, right?" he said at last, thoughtfully. "This truce between me and the Phoenix."

"Yes, we all are aware of the dangers," Ororo said.

"Which is why I'm glad the team's getting practice with you at the helm," Scott said.

"Scott, you don't know how this will end," Ororo replied, though her expression fell when she realized where Scott's head was. "We can find a way to deal with this too, I'm sure."

"Just prepared for every eventuality," Scott said, frowning as he turned back to the readouts from the last sim.

"And what is your plan if it ends up that all of us are out of commission and it's only your parents to handle things?"

"I'm working on that," Scott said. "Believe it or not, Stark and I have an understanding. He's got an alert system if this thing crops up again. Even if the X-Men are down, someone will get the alert." He paused. "And we're working on non-lethal options first. I'm not going to do that to my parents."

"Do you really think that will make a difference?" Ororo asked gently - trying to make it clear she wasn't picking on him but genuinely wanted to make sure that he was alright.

"I think there aren't many options when the worst-case scenario means the planet's gone, 'Ro," Scott pointed out. "Best-case means I get a handle on it and survive. I'm working with what I've got."

"Then let's lean toward that option," Ororo said as she put her arm across his shoulders.

"I am," he promised. "I've been working with the professor constantly. Meditating with Dad in the mornings." He glanced up at her. "It's just - it sounds like Jean."

"It's a lie," Ororo said firmly.

"I know," Scott said, though he didn't look up. He didn't know how to say the rest of what he was thinking - that his whole chest ached every time he heard Jean's voice, and he struggled to remind himself every day that she was gone.

"We'll find a way to make it work," Ororo promised. "All of us will."

"I know," Scott said again, then paused and pulled Ororo into a hug. "We're the X-Men. This is what we do."

Ororo hugged him until he pulled back - and then she was smiling at him. "And in the short term, I think we're safe. So, if you'd like to join us, tonight is a pizza night, since Bobby is previously engaged with more pressing matters."

Scott couldn't help but laugh at her description. "I'm glad he and Johnny are sticking with it. I know he's freaked out, but they really do work well together."

"It's just a matter of them finding what works in this hostile climate," Ororo said. "This forced public outing was not good for either of them."

"Yeah, I know. We've sort of been lowballing Bobby on how much mail we've gotten," Scott admitted.

"He doesn't need to know the real numbers," Ororo said.

"No, he doesn't," Scott agreed as he and Ororo started to head out of the booth. "But, hey, what about you and Kurt? That seems to be going well. It's nice to see you both happy and not hiding and - well, it's nice."

"It's just a nice change of pace for what you're used to lately," Ororo admitted, some of the smile dropping from her eyes as she thought of all the hate she and Kurt had received. "But we're still staying close to home for the most part. Better to be cautious as ourselves. Lord knows I have trouble even when he's in his inducer."

"I hadn't heard that," Scott said with a frown. "I thought he was going into town without it more and more lately."

"He has been," Ororo said. "But paired with me, that seems to be too much for some to handle."

Scott put a hand on her shoulder. "I wish it wasn't like this, 'Ro. For you, Kurt, Bobby-"

"It will change," Ororo said confidently. "They can only point to so many things that they hate about us. The fact that our races don't mix is just as preposterous as them having trouble with us being mutants. Their idiocy will catch up to them."

"Of course it will," Scott said. "Peaceful coexistence - that's for everyone. We wouldn't be here if we didn't believe in it." He gave her shoulder a squeeze. "Come on. Let's go find some pizza and razz Warren about that terrible attempt at flirting with that cute bystander on the last mission."

In an attempt to stay out of trouble, Bobby had been skating in the skies above the Baxter Building when he came to see Johnny - and vice versa, Johnny had been flying to go see Bobby, too. They tried to stay mostly in the Baxter Building, though, since they didn't want to pull down too much trouble on the X-Men on top of everything else going on.

But he was looking forward to seeing Johnny, because there would be so many jokes about the murder dress and matching murder tux when he told Johnny what had been going on with the reports coming in of the department getting flattened for daring to screw with Sam and Scott.

What he didn't realize, of course, was that some lunatic had been waiting by the Baxter Building, watching Bobby's progress on the ice slide until he was close enough to take a shot - and the next thing Bobby knew, the slide had shattered with the impact of a bullet, and then everything hurt too much to do more than react.

Honestly, it was only the fact that he was an X-Man that saved his life. It was second nature for him to react with his powers, even if he was out of steam and hurt and confused. He managed half an ice slide on the way down and then skidded the rest of the way, so at least he didn't splat.

The crowd all gasped and parted, and the shooter took off running when a few flashbulbs went off. But once the guy took off, the crowd coalesced around Bobby again, murmurs going up around them and a few tentative questions about who should be calling police - or the Four.

"Probably just going to arrest him anyhow," someone in the crowd said. "Leave him where he is."

"Do the police even do mutant calls or do we call in a specialist…?" someone else mused as the first person bumped Bobby with the toe of his boot, and Bobby winced instinctively - not that anyone seemed fazed by the fact that he was obviously hurting.

"Probably someone else. No reason to bother the cops."

"Anyone know the number of that pastor that does mutants?"

"Gotta be a flyer around here somewhere," someone shouted out. "I got a quarter. I'll take care of it."

The crowd tightened around Bobby, murmuring their opinions and poking at him, wondering out loud when he was supposed to shift back to a human. Or if he did. But it wasn't until Ben Grimm got down to the ground floor that the crowd dispersed - or at least stepped back when he started pushing his way through.

"Move it," Ben said. "This ain't a road show."

"We already called the authorities," a voice called out from the far side of the crowd.

"Good for you," Ben said, already bending down to pick Bobby up and get him off the street and out of the crowd. It was hard to gauge how bad it was when Bobby wasn't bleeding, but there was a big shattered hole in his side. Still, Ben figured it was better than leaving him there, even if, judging by the little noise Bobby made when Ben picked him up, it definitely didn't feel good. "C'mon, frostbite," he muttered under his breath, at least encouraged that Bobby was hanging onto his shoulders, so he wasn't unconscious. Not completely, anyway. Though he definitely wasn't fully with it, either.

"Oh my God," Sue breathed out when Ben got inside with Bobby, who finally lost his fight to stay conscious before they were even in the building.

Reed met them in the lobby as Ben came in, and as he was trying to get an idea of how bad it was for Bobby, a few policemen showed up outside the door - knocking on the glass to get their attention before they stepped inside.

"We can take him from here," the first cop said.

"We've got medical facilities here," Reed said without looking up from what he was doing.

"Yeah, but … there are probably charges to be filed, too."

"For what," Reed said, finally looking up. "Being shot?"

One cop pushed his hat up and gestured to the crowd. "They're blocking traffic because of the scene he made, for one thing."

"Then find the shooter," Reed said, his eyes narrowed.

"Don't know nothin' about a shooter," the second cop said. "No one reported a shooting."

Reed gestured angrily at the obvious bullet wound - though admittedly, it was only obvious to him because he could see the path the bullet had taken. "Then I'll be happy to give you a copy of my building's surveillance. Now, if you'll excuse me, I think the bullet might still be in there."

"You'll let us know if he wakes up, right?" the cop said. "I'd hate to have to put out a warrant for you too."

Reed looked livid. "Get out of my building."

"When you're harboring a fugitive? Come on, man. That ain't gonna happen."

"I'm trying to save a young man who was shot on my doorstep!" Reed thundered back. "All you've done is show up and try to blame him for his own shooting. Are you going to ticket him for not bleeding too? What kind of law enforcement is this?"

"Just doin' my job, Richards."

Sue stepped in the middle, and though the cops didn't know it, she'd thrown up a force field, too. "If you want to come back with a warrant, then we'll talk to you, but until then, you really don't have any reason to be here."

"Go deal with the people that are blocking traffic," Reed said with his eyes narrowed, still obviously furious over the whole thing.

The police officers looked like they were ready to square off against Reed, but with Sue steadfastly standing in between them and Ben standing behind Reed with his arms crossed, they decided to leave.

Reed glared until they were gone, then turned back to Bobby and let out a breath, shaking his head. "I'm not even sure how to start," he told Sue in an undertone. "Everything's ice. If he wasn't in his ice form, the stuff that's hit… he'd be dying. I'm not entirely sure he isn't. It's hard to gauge."

"So what's the play here?" Ben asked.

"First, we get him upstairs and secure so no one tries to take him," Reed said angrily. "And… someone needs to call Xavier. Their team should know how to patch him up."

"I'll do it," Johnny put in, breaking into the conversation in a tight tone that they hadn't heard from him before - and looking downright sick.

Reed nodded, though Sue was already moving to catch up to Johnny, grabbing hold of his arm to support him before he could get upstairs to the phone. She didn't say anything, but her expression made it clear that she was trying to look out for him.

Johnny was uncharacteristically quiet as he made the call and Scott picked up on the other end. "Bobby got shot," he blurted out without any preamble.

There was a beat of silence on the other end before Scott replied. "How bad?"

"He's unconscious and in his ice form," Johnny said. "Reed is looking into it, but … we're really kind of out of our depth here, Scott."

"Alright," Scott said, obviously shocked as well. "I'll send Hank your way with Kurt - that's the fastest way to get him there. Do you have a power dampener? If you can get him out of his ice form-"

"Ah, no, I don't think we have anything like a dampener," Johnny said.

"Okay, I think we have some collars we confiscated from the department. I'll send Hank with one of those," Scott said. "Once he's in his 'normal' form, you should be able to operate - that's what Hank had to do last time Bobby got in trouble. Shi'ar left him with some internal bleeding… long story." It was obvious Scott was worried by the tone of his voice and by the fact that he was almost rambling, something that Johnny had never heard the guy do before.

"Just … be careful when you guys show," Johnny said. "The crowd outside was rallying for his arrest."

"That somehow doesn't surprise me," Scott said in a sigh. "Don't worry. I'll make sure Kurt knows. He'll try to teleport right to your floor. He's been there before, so that should be doable." He paused, then said, "Keep us in the loop, alright?"

"Yeah, will do," Johnny said.

It was only a few minutes after that before Kurt and Hank showed up, but all of the Four were clearly agitated and worried until they arrived. Hank went right to work, slipping a collar onto Bobby that turned him back to his blonde, surprisingly pale self - and once that was done, Reed and Hank both went right into it, working fast to staunch the bleeding and see the damage more clearly.

"What happened?" Kurt asked, his tail totally still behind him and betraying his shock.

"Idiot with an attitude, apparently," Sue said.

Kurt narrowed his eyes at that and muttered a few words in German that didn't sound like they translated well.

"We won't let anyone get to him," Sue promised. "Now that he's here and safe, too."

"I believe you," Kurt said, but he sat down nearby all the same. "But I don't think you realize how determined some can be when they mean to do us harm. I'll stay in case we need to leave quickly."

"I really hadn't expected anyone to do anything like this," Sue admitted.

Kurt gave her a tight smile. "It's always better to hope the better angels win, yes."

"Yeah, but seeing as how they've treated your Angel …"

"Yes, and he has much more of an advantage," Kurt said, gesturing dryly to himself.

"You're a wonderful person, Kurt," Sue said. "And it's criminal that people think they way they do."

Kurt waved a hand. "That's why we believe the X-Men are so important. We must change minds in order to survive."

"And we'll back you up," Sue said. "I just don't understand why they're so ... " she let out a breath and let her shoulders drop.

"Ignorance, fear… it's not for us to unravel the mysteries of hate," Kurt said in a sigh. "Just to combat it." He leaned forward and watched Reed and Hank working on Bobby.

"Can I get you anything while you wait, Kurt?" Sue asked. "There isn't a thing we can do right now but wait."

Kurt shook his head gently. "Neindanke. I'm more concerned for your brother, truth be told." He gestured with his tail to where Johnny was hanging back, watching from the other side of the room, like he was reluctant to get too close.

"He's best left to pace," Sue said. "He might panic and take off otherwise."

"I'm truly sorry that your family has been pulled into our mess," Kurt told her honestly.

"I'm sorry that it's an issue at all. It shouldn't be. It hasn't been for us, and maybe that's why we didn't think it would be a big deal. No one gave us any flack when we came back from space with … abilities."

"Ah, but you weren't born to it, and that seems to be the point of contention," Kurt said.

"Which is more maddening," Sue said. "You couldn't help it, and we … went somewhere that no one was supposed to be to begin with."

"But we're a new branch of human evolution," Kurt said gently. "You don't think I've heard the arguments? Surely you must have heard a few - that we're not what God intended."

"That goes against how it works," Sue said dryly. "At least if they believe that God doesn't make mistakes."

Kurt gestured to himself. "We're creatures of the devil, Sue Storm. That's the argument."

Sue crossed her arms. "But even the devil was once an angel."

"You're preaching to the choir, my friend. I'm only giving you the arguments I've heard," Kurt said, finally breaking into a smile.

"Idiots," Sue said, shaking her head.

"Fearful, hateful, ignorant people, yes," Kurt said. "And Bobby in particular has been a target twice over, I'm afraid."

"Which is ludicrous. He's a sweetheart."

Kurt nodded, though before the two of them could get too lost in grousing, Bobby started to come around, drawing their attention as Hank put a hand on his shoulder.

"Don't try to run circles around us just yet. You've got quite a few stitches."

"You get the number of the bus?" Bobby asked tiredly.

"Oh good, the patient survived with his sense of humor intact," Hank said.

"You didn't surgically remove it while you had the chance? Nice. Restraint," Bobby said, frowning as he blinked around and realized he had more of an audience then he realized. "Oooh. Right. Baxter Building."

"What do you remember?" Reed asked, and though he was speaking gently for Bobby's sake, he still looked livid.

"Umm." Bobby shifted slightly, then let out a noise that said that wasn't a good idea. "Ice exploded, I fell a few stories… then I think Ben came and rescued me from the Museum of Oddities on the sidewalk?"

"We had to put you through surgery," Reed said. "We've got the bullet - and normally, I'd hand it over to the authorities, but I'm sure that's an exercise in futility."

"Sounds right," Bobby said in a breath.

"You're on some pretty heavy painkillers," Reed warned.

"Also sounds right," Bobby said, though he tipped his head back, finally spotted Johnny, and grinned. "Oh, hey. How long have you been there?"

"Um. I live here," Johnny pointed out.

"Right." Bobby nodded. "I was gonna tell you about the murder dress and the murder tux. It's ongoing."

"Um … what now?" Johnny asked, trying not to laugh when Bobby came out of sedation with that on his mind.

"Whole facilities just… flat. Poof! Gone," Bobby said, gesturing with one hand, while the other had an IV in it.

"What are you talking about, Bobby?" Johnny asked as he sat down next to him. "What kind of facilities?"

"Remember those guys that tried to kidnap Sammy and Scott?"

"Yeah, the guys I didn't hear about until after the fact," Johnny said.

"Wait. Who's kidnapping who?" Reed asked, his attention back to the conversation.

"Keep up, Reed," Bobby said with a crooked smile. "Sammy. Scott's awesome baby sister? Slobbers all over Johnny every time he comes to visit? Only evil people kidnap her. And these guys are super evil."

"Why didn't I know you were playing with a baby, Johnny?" Reed asked, turning toward Johnny with a frown.

"Because the baby wasn't part of an antimatter universe?" Johnny said with a shrug. "You don't pay attention to half the stuff we do."

"Well, whose baby is it?" he asked.

"Wolverine and K," Kurt put in. "That's why she was kidnapped - along with Scott. That department has been after them for years now, trying to use them as weapons." His tail was twitching at the thought of it. "Haven't you heard this? The Avengers have been helping us with this ongoing problem."

"I didn't realize …" Reed shook his head. "And they want the baby? Where is she now?"

"At home, probably with Scott or Alex," Kurt said. "That is, if she isn't also playing with Charles or the Avengers who have appointed themselves babysitters."

"And where are Wolverine and K?" Reed asked.

"That would be the question of the day," Johnny said.

"Murder dress," Bobby stage-whispered, grinning up at Johnny.

"She said there was no murder dress," Johnny laughed.

"Lies," Bobby said. "Dirty, dirty lies."

"He's not wrong," Kurt said. "They have been decimating the department - and we can't see the pattern they're following. Apparently neither can the department, either."

"That's what they get for kidnapping the murder baby!" Bobby sang out.

"She's not a murder baby," Kurt said with a deep frown.

"Kills people with cute," Bobby insisted.

"Ignore him," Hank said. "He has quite a few drugs in his system."

"And there are no fatalities from cute yet," Kurt said with a chuckle.

"No, not yet," Hank said with a teasing smile. But when Reed still looked like he couldn't stop frowning, Hank sighed. "I'd be more than happy to give you a full recounting of the many misadventures we have seen of late, but if that happens, I'd advise that we do so elsewhere. Bobby needs rest."

"Please," Reed said. "I didn't realize I was this far behind."

"Ignorance is no sin," Hank told him kindly, already leading the way, leaving Johnny sitting with Bobby and trying to slow his heart rate down after the huge scare Bobby had given him while the Four and the others dispersed.

"You gotta stop telling people about the murder dress thing, snowflake," Johnny said quietly.

"But it's hilarious," Bobby said, grinning upside down at Johnny.

Johnny didn't wait for the room to clear entirely. "You scared the crap out of me, bud."

Bobby frowned at his tone and then reached over with the hand that didn't have an IV and grabbed Johnny's arm. "I'm fine. I'm an X-Man!"

"Hard to just take you at face value when you're this far gone," Johnny pointed out.

"I'm on a lot of drugs," Bobby agreed solemnly.

"And you're really hurt," Johnny said. "You may have to stay here for a few days just because."

"Oh no," Bobby said in mock horror.

Johnny started to smile a little more. Even with how scared he'd been, Bobby was impossible not to laugh with. "I know. Serious room service issues, you know."

"If I say I'm dying, do I get breakfast in bed?"

"You get breakfast in bed anyhow," Johnny pointed out. "You were shot."

"Oh, right." Bobby shrugged lightly. "Right. I think I'm supposed to be under arrest, too?"

"You have the right to remain in bed," Johnny said. "And under heavy drugs - because you're more hilarious that way."

"Aww, I knew you couldn't love the real me," Bobby teased.

"Oh, it's just that much more entertaining, not better - and I sure couldn't handle it if you were an addict that needed it all the time."

Bobby nodded seriously. "No way. I'm not a fan. I don't usually get cold, but this stuff is cold? And it's weird."

"It'll fade," Johnny promised.

"Okay." Bobby squeezed Johnny's arm. "Stick around?"

"Can't get rid of me in my own house, Bobb-o."

Bobby did end up staying in the Baxter Building while he was still recovering - since they didn't want to have to move him if they could help it, and honestly, they didn't want to have to navigate the press and the crowd either. But that meant that he was spending a lot of time sleeping off painkillers - and that Johnny had some time to watch the tapes of what had happened.

The shooting itself was upsetting enough, but what happened after had him ready to spark up and hit something. Not just the way the crowd was talking about Bobby but the way they were poking at him while he was clearly hurt and acting like they just didn't… care.

And yeah, he knew Bobby specifically had been targeted because of his relationship with Johnny. But what the crowd was saying? It was so blase and so matter-of-fact and so dehumanizing.

So when he sat down with Bobby when Bobby was awake again, it was impossible for Bobby to miss the pensive look on his face. "Hey, what's up, hot stuff?" Bobby asked tiredly.

"You, finally," Johnny said, though he didn't have a very excited tone.

"Okay, besides me," Bobby said, tipping his head to the side. "You look like someone ran over your dog."

"Wow. Poor choice of words," Johnny said. "I think you meant to say 'like someone shot my boyfriend'."

Bobby broke into a grin. "Maybe I just like hearing you say it."

Johnny smirked crookedly at that. "Yeah, just makes me angrier when you have to put up with crap like that."

"I did warn you," Bobby pointed out.

"You didn't say there were shooters."

"Okay, admittedly, that part is new," Bobby said, trying to sit up a little better. "Usually, if I'm getting shot at, it's by weapons groups or aliens."

"Bobby, I saw the tape and how those … idiots were talking about you after you hit the ground."

Bobby's expression fell. "Oh."

"That shouldn't … I can't believe that's how they think."

Bobby let his gaze drop. "Yeah. I know. You don't have to put up with it if you can't deal-"

"I am not … No. That's not the point, Bobby."

"I'm just saying. You're not a mutant-"

"I'm not a lot of things, but that doesn't mean I'm going to ignore this level of stupidity!"

Bobby let out a breath and grabbed Johnny's hand to pull him over so he could reach him to kiss him. "Okay, message received. Love you too, man."

"You're still on drugs," Johnny said after a moment of shock.

"And?" Bobby said, blinking at Johnny like he didn't follow his train of thought.

Johnny smiled widely. "And I think I need to get some food to you before you pass out or something. Wilting flower that you are."

Bobby looked supremely insulted. "Wilting flower?" he teased. "Seriously?"

"You're so delicate, Iceman."

"Oh yeah. And you're so together, Torch."

"Well I'm not shot," he teased.

"Okay, that's one point in your favor…" Bobby grinned and looked Johnny over. "Well. One point in the relative scale of delicacy. You have other points."

"Delicacy like … delectable?" Johnny teased with a grin as he walked backwards out of the room .

"Umm, yes. We'll go with yes," Bobby laughed, leaning back with a crooked grin as Johnny headed out.

For a couple days, Bobby stayed with the Four, not just until he was safe to move but a little longer to make sure no one was watching or waiting for the move.

They were, but the team didn't want to make it easy.

But while the Four might have been expecting more X-Men out in force, they were surprised when it was just Hank and Charles who came, with Charles looking serene.

"I trust you're ready to return to Westchester?" Charles asked in his usual calm tone.

Bobby nodded. "I mean, I could just stick around and play video games with Johnny endlessly, but I'd miss being an X-Man, I guess," he teased.

"Don't rush off on my account," Charles laughed.

Bobby grinned that much wider. "Nah, I think Sue would like to get the angry crowd off her doorstep, right, Sue?"

"I'm used to them now," Sue said with a sniff, not about to let Bobby act like the Four weren't perfectly willing to go to the mat for him.

"Yes, but it's not exactly something you're used to," Hank said.

"We'll live," Sue said, waving her hand. "Are you sure you don't need… more?" She gestured between the two of them. "There are a few anti-mutant groups that have made it pretty clear they'd like to get their hands on him as soon as he leaves, and no offense, but you two aren't exactly the cavalry."

"I assure you," Charles said, "it won't be an issue."

"All the same, we'll be on the lookout until you call us to let you know you're back safe," Sue decided.

"You can watch us leave if you're concerned," Charles said.

"It's a great show," Bobby promised.

"Honestly, if I didn't need assistance driving, I'd have come alone," Charles said.

"That's our Professor X," Bobby said. He waved Johnny over. "Seriously. Watch this. We'll just coast on through." He winked, and then Hank helped him up before they went to the elevator - and to the utter bemusement of the Four, the crowd acted like they didn't even notice the three X-Men in their midst.

"Do you feel as though you've been properly rested?" Charles asked Bobby as they started to head out of the city, with Hank at the wheel.

"Well, I probably could be more rested, but it was more fun to race Johnny…" Bobby admitted, not looking terribly sorry about it, though he dropped the grin slightly and then shrugged. "I guess we've got to figure out something new if I don't want to get shot out of the sky next time."

"You could try the front door," Hank said.

"Yeah, but, see, getting to the front door is the trick. Because I'm perfectly happy with people not knowing I'm Iceman so only one version of me is getting attacked."

"Why not walk in as yourself?" Hank asked.

"People are going to start noticing if myself keeps visiting the Four," Bobby pointed out.

"There has to be a way to make it look as if it's normal. There is other business in the building, isn't there?"

"Yeah." Bobby let out a long breath. "It just sucks."

"You'll adapt," Charles said.

"Yeah. I've heard."

"And you're a quick study," Charles said. "I have faith it will work for you both."

"Now you sound like Kurt," Bobby said with a small smirk.

"I'll take that as a compliment."

Bobby nodded, though he was still uncharacteristically quiet for much of the drive home. He was more shaken than he was letting on - but he didn't want to admit it, and he definitely didn't want Johnny to get freaked out even more. But being shot and then having half the street watching him hurt was not something he could walk away from without feeling terrible.

Don't let this situation shape you too much, Charles projected to Bobby. It was unfortunate, and it could have been far worse, but … you have survived, and so did Johnny. And he didn't run, even if that would have been easier.

Yeah, that's something, Bobby agreed, watching the trees pass by instead of Charles. This is exactly why I didn't want to start anything.

You can't let your fear rule your decisions. Particularly those of the heart.

Easy for you to say, Bobby grumbled.

Of course it is, Charles replied. I speak from experience.

What, is there a Mrs. Xavier out there in the world somewhere you never told us about? Bobby asked, one eyebrow raised as he turned to face Charles.

Charles smirked to himself, though he kept his gaze forward. I believe you've met him. A few times. He turned toward Bobby. Think about it.

Bobby blinked at Charles once, then twice. "Shut up," he said in obvious shock.

"I haven't said a word, Robert."

"Shut up. Seriously?" Bobby was starting to grin out of sheer surprise.

There is always a way to make things work, if you choose to.

Yeah, but, um, he harasses your team on the regular and kidnapped you that one time? I'm still … holy crap. How long have you two been - I mean, are you still - with the Genosha thing and all the - holy crap.

Bobby, you're missing the point.

You have a thing with a supervillain!

No one is perfect, Charles replied, clearly amused with Bobby's reaction.

Bobby was starting to grin steadily wider. No one knows, though. I mean, I think it's kinda easy to suspect, but it's not like you two are obvious? So I guess I'm still missing the point, because you flew under the radar so hard.

That's the only way that works for us, Charles said.

Secret dates as chess meetings in Avengers custody… Bobby started to laugh. This is amazing. How long? I mean, seriously. It's bad now, but it was worse when you weren't a dinosaur, right?

The climate has never been friendly in that regard, Charles told him. But it is better now than it was when we started up years ago in Israel.

That is seriously so cool, Charles, Bobby said.

Don't get downhearted, Bobby. Not over something that is so easily worked around.

Yeah. Bobby shrugged, though he looked a lot more like his usual, carefree self. I think I'm allowed one small freakout per surprise shooting, though, right?

I think that's reasonable.

Bobby nodded. Thanks. Seriously.

Anytime you need to talk - you know where to find me.

Chapter Text

Scott had pretty much resigned himself to the idea that he wasn't going to get his powers back while the Phoenix was still in his head. It had been a few weeks now, and neither of them was budging. But with the fall semester at the school starting up soon, Scott was trying to focus instead on what he could do. Take care of Sam. Work with the team. Help some of the kids trickling in.

And that was fine - right up until the moment his powers suddenly turned back on in full force when he was picking up Sam's toys while she was drifting off.

One second, everything was fine, and the next, he was flat on his back and panicking as he squeezed his eyes shut and tried to will his heartbeat to slow down so he could listen for Sam. "Sammy?" he called out. "You okay?"

"Camoka!" Sam shouted breathlessly.

Scott let out all his breath in relief. She wasn't crying, though she sounded scared. But at least she wasn't hurt. "It's okay," he promised quickly.

"Otay," Sam repeated. "Hot?"

"No, not hot," Scott said. He had his glasses sitting on the dresser nearby purely as a precaution, and he was thanking every lucky star he had left for that as he felt around until he found them and then shoved them on. "See? It's okay."

"Up!" she said, doing her best to get to him quickly, and once he'd picked her up, she started kissing his cheek over and over.

Scott smiled at her and snuggled her with one hand on the back of her head. "You're my favorite. You know that, right?" he told her and kissed her forehead. She kissed his cheek a few more times, and he held her close until they had both calmed down a little more.

"It otay, my-Scott."

"Thanks, Sammy," Scott said, knowing she was doing her utmost to make him feel better. "Sorry I scared you."

"S'okay." Sam kept patting him, since clearly, she was sure that was a good way to help.

Scott smiled at her and readjusted how he was holding her so she could reach him better, though he got to his feet so he could check in the mirror by the dresser. And yeah, there was a glow behind the glasses again.

"Need ice cweam?"

Scott smirked. "Oh yeah. Always," he said. "Let's go get some chocolate for you, huh? Mom'll love it if I bring you back all sticky and brown," he teased. "You know Mom's on the way, right?"

Sam cheered at that and then nodded seriously. "Camoka."

Scott laughed and put her on his shoulders, running out of the room while she held onto his head and cackled with glee all the way down to the kitchen - where, as predicted, K was just in time to catch the tail end of the ice cream party, having finally washed off after getting back from their tour of destruction.

"There are the cutest kids around," K said in a breath.

Scott grinned. "Hey, Mom," he said - with Sammy echoing him a moment later.

K made her way over to both of them, and as Sam threw herself toward her mother, K was sure to pull Scott over too so she could kiss his cheek. "I don't want to see you disappear on me before you can get some hugs and kisses too."

Scott smiled and gave her a quick hug. "We've been watching the reports come in," he told her. "Looks like you and Dad had a good time."

"I don't know about that," K said. "But we worked out a little frustration."

"Yeah, I know how that is," Scott said. "Sam's been a little more aware of if I'm around or not after what happened."

"She loves you - and you're her rock," K said. "Are you sticking around to eat? Logan ordered enough for everyone here."

"That sounds good," Scott said. "I was going to grab something anyway. I've got a headache." He tapped his forehead. "Sort of overdid it on the powers earlier on accident. I've been getting surges, more or less."

"Yeah, us too, which is why we ordered out," K said, smirking at him crookedly.

"Which also doesn't surprise me," Scott said.

"Hard to rest right when you're hunting that hard," K said.

Scott leaned over to kiss her cheek. "Yeah, they made you mad. Shame on them."

"Probably still won't sleep right for another few days," K admitted.

"Sorry about that."

"Not your fault," she promised. "Just my paranoia."

"Yeah, well, I've been having a few late nights myself," he admitted. "While you were gone, Bobby got shot after he and Johnny got publicly outed. And that's just the 'big' story."

"Yeah, caught the news," K admitted. "Is he okay?"

"Surprisingly, yeah," Scott said. "I don't know what the professor said to him, but he's doing a lot better."

"Good," K decided. "Kid needs a break."

"Seriously. And Ororo's been talking with him too. She and Kurt have been getting some hate too, even in his inducer." Scott shook his head. "Oh, and there's some pastor gaining nationwide support calling mutants the enemies of God and all that. So that's been fun."

"Always someone going out of their way to prove they're idiots."

Scott chuckled and nodded. "Pretty much. Missed you, by the way. In case that wasn't clear."

"Missed you too, but also very very happy you weren't there," K said.

"That bad?"

"It was ugly …" K paused, frowning to herself. "We were ugly."

"Hey." Scott reached over to put a hand on her shoulder. "You know there's not a thing you or Dad could do that would change anything about how much I love you guys, right?"

"You say that now," K said.

"Hey, I fell in love with a girl who had a planet-eater in her head. I think I've got a high threshold for danger here," Scott tried to tease.

"I guess so," K said. "Still. We … did a lot of damage, the two of us."

"I wish you didn't have to," Scott said honestly. "But with those guys in particular, I know why you need to. They won't stop." As he said it, he could hear the faintest echo of the other occupant in his mind and a reminder of how easily he'd taken out a facility, but he ignored it as much as he could.

"I still feel like crap afterwards," K admitted.

"Yeah, I know. I'm still not that thrilled about the one I leveled, even if they were after Sam," Scott said, matching her down tone.

"Yeah," K said, drifting off a little. "That was something else."

Scott paused. "How much did you see?"



"You have some control."

Scott almost laughed, but he knew K hadn't been around the last few weeks he'd been fighting just to get his powers back. And he wasn't going to make her think things were going sideways. "Relatively," he said at last, diplomatically.

"I think that's the case no matter how you look at it," she said.

"I've been having surges," he told her honestly. "My powers aren't really reliable lately. I'm still fighting with the team, but I'm putting in a lot more work on what Dad taught me."

"That's not surprising," K said. "Have you felt any better while you work on what your Dad taught you?" She smirked. "I only ask because he took a minute to try and meditate yesterday and I let him do it long enough that he relaxed a little before I tackled him sideways across the room."

Scott chuckled. "Yeah, I've been meditating. It helps keep me grounded, even if everything else right now is up in the air."

"You're doing alright then?" she asked, watching him carefully.

"Yeah, I'm fine," Scott said. "I'm always fine."

"Oh yeah," K agreed, nodding a few too many times as she settled in. "Me too."

"You'd think we were related or something," Scott said with a quiet smirk.

"I'd claim you in a heartbeat."

Scott kissed her cheek. "Love you, Mom. I'm glad you're back."

"Glad to be back," she said as Sam grabbed a hold of Scott's shirt to keep him from going too far away - so Scott was pretty well stuck. Not that he was going to complain about it.

Bobby was frowning to himself as he listened to the phone ring at his parents' house. He'd been trying for the past few weeks to get in touch with his mom, but no matter when he called - no one was home. And when the phone finally clicked over to the answering machine - with a new and much more abbreviated message on it - no longer the happy, cheerful one where his mother announced all in the house who lived there.

He was confused as he waited for the beep, and then as the tone was still ringing in his ears, Bobby tied to leave a message. "Hey, Mom. Dad. Ah … just trying to find out if you were doing the neighborhood Halloween party this year or not. Things have been really busy here and I-"

The phone cut off before he could finish his message and Bobby frowned deeper at the phone as he stared at the receiver, he had a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach that he just couldn't shake. He reached out with one hand and hung up, paused and tried to call back again, only this time, the machine didn't pick up and Bobby let it ring and ring for what felt like forever before he finally gave up. He started tapping his fingers on the counter, but he couldn't focus. Not when he started to think about how long it had been before he had been able to go home for a day or two.

But that was cut short when half the team zipped past. "Get a move on, popsicle, we have places to be!" Warren called out, and with one final glance at the phone, Bobby turned and rushed off to help his team. It was the more immediate concern just then, and regardless of what was going on at home, he had to help his team. He knew he'd let them down already more than he should have, and he didn't want to be the weak link in the group. Not when everyone was already having to put up with all the hate mail and death threats that were coming in since the whole … news disaster with Johnny.

Thankfully, the most pressing issue the X-Men faced was the "usual" anti-mutant nonsense. It was still rough, and they were still fighting people who wanted their extinction, but considering the many brushes with death and captivity they'd been having lately, it was sadly almost pedestrian.

But as Halloween got closer, it seemed like there was a bit of a moratorium on the hate crimes. Kurt in particular was highly entertained by how many people complimented him on his costume. So October seemed to be the best month to be a mutant, in their estimation.

And that meant their Halloween party kept getting bigger and bigger, until Storm was providing mood lighting and a foggy, stormy night, while Kurt had gone overboard on decorations and Kitty had picked out plenty of music. Any trick or treaters who braved the trek up there were rewarded lavishly with plenty of candy, and a few Avengers and the Fantastic Four had come to celebrate with the young team as well.

Some of the X-Men had brought dates, though that wasn't quite the case with Scott and Farrah. They were still operating as friends, not as dates, but Scott was honestly happy to have her around, because she always knew how to take anything and make it even more fun than it already was. Apple bobbing was particularly hilarious, and he was still getting the water out of his nose after Warren 'helped' him get his apple.

At the moment, Scott and Farrah were taking their turn with the bowl of candy to give to trick or treaters. There weren't too many, but the party inside was so loud that everyone was taking turns sitting outside away from the noise just in case. And it was the perfect chance for the two of them to talk - even if they had been calling each other often to chat anyway.

"Has that guy in your history class asked you out yet, or have you given up on him?" Scott asked with a smirk after they'd just sent one of the few trick or treaters away.

"I … kind of got over him when I found out he was after the biggest jerk in our class," Farrah said. "No loss."

"Sorry to hear that," Scott said. "I was hoping you'd find someone to wash the taste out of your mouth after that terrible blind date your sister set you up on."

"Yeah … she still wants me to trust her for another attempt. No. Way. What about you? Any interesting prospects?"

Scott shook his head. "I'm not really looking," he admitted.

"Yeah, I guess I can see that," she said.

"Yeah?" Scott said, one eyebrow raised over his glasses, since he hadn't expected her not to push - like most of his friends were doing.

"Well - you really loved Jean," she said. "And she freakin' died tragically. Of course it's going to take some time to even want to try."

Scott nodded at that. "Yeah, it did take a while," he agreed, then tipped his head her way. "I was actually trying when I reached out to you, though. It's just…" He leaned back against the wall.

"It's just when you've hit some awesome like us? It's hard to beat."

Scott laughed at that. "Oh yeah, that's a big part of it," he agreed. When Farrah grinned, he let the compliment hang in the air between them before he went on. "How much did my mom tell you about how Jean died?"

"Just that she died," Farrah said quietly. "She didn't want to go into it, and I think she wanted to give you some privacy about it."

"Yeah," Scott said in a breath, turning a chocolate bar over in his hands. "There was this… thing that took her over. It's a destructive force. I mean really destructive - known for burning whole planets. And Jean knew she couldn't stop it, so she asked Dad to kill her before the thing could get too powerful."

"That … what?" Farrah said in a breath, wide eyed and still.

Scott nodded. "Yeah. It was bad all around."

"Your dad had to kill her?"

"Dad can heal. He was the only one who could survive getting that close," he explained softly.

"Yeah, but … your dad." Farrah had one hand over her mouth as she stared at him for a moment. "Oh my God. Scott."

"There was a reason I dropped out of contact for so long," Scott said softly. "No one came out of that fight okay, but Dad and I…." He let the sentiment hang in the air between them.

When it was clear Scott didn't have anything to say immediately, Farrah scooted closer and wrapped him up in a tight hug. "I'm so so so sorry," she said quietly.

Scott returned the hug just as tightly. "Me too."

"Is … are you guys okay now?"

"It's all relative," Scott admitted. "I think Dad's doing a lot better now that he's taking care of Mom. She had to take care of us and Sammy after it happened, so he's been giving her a lot of attention." He paused and shrugged. "I'm a whole other shipwreck."

"I … think I'd rather look at it like a flat tire," she said.

"Not a bad analogy," Scott acknowledged.

"Well shipwreck seems so permanent. You just need the right person to come give you a hand."

"Which is why I'm lucky I've got you, my family, and the X-Men," Scott said, giving her a quick squeeze before he leaned back again. It was obvious Farrah was watching him, and he let out a long sigh. "So," he said slowly, "the thing that was inside Jean… escaped. Into me. Which makes it hard to want to try to date with that hanging over my head."

"Scott, that's ... " she was staring at him for a long moment before unexpectedly, she was trying to keep from smiling.

"Okay, that's not the reaction I was expecting."

"No, it's just … okay. Before the party really got started, I spent some time with your mom, so I guess my mind isn't right. And I'm trying very hard not to say something terribly inappropriate, but I'm also half sure you'd laugh at it. So … I'm just …" Farrah didn't try too hard to hold the smile back at that point. "... twisted. I guess."

Scott started to laugh. "Okay, that is … I can't decide if I want to know."

"Forgive me if it's too far out there?"

"Hey, you've met my mom. You're fine."

"I have. And I blame her," Farrah agreed. "Because for just a second all I could think was that I feel awful for you because that sounds like the universe's worst STD."

Scott let out a laugh that he couldn't stop. "Seriously?"

"Is there a burning sensation, Scott?"

"Oh man, it's just getting worse," Scott said, laughing harder. "The thing is literally a firebird!"

"So it's a burning most fowl?" Farrah giggled.

"It really is," Scott said. "Only this one tries to take the whole world with it when it has a temper tantrum."

"I'm pretty sure that's the only STD I've ever heard of that has temper tantrums - though clearly, I'm not as otherworldly as you are."

"Oh my God."

"It's all your mom's fault! We were being awful and punning earlier!"

Scott laughed, shaking his head as he leaned back. "Seriously. No one has ever looked at it that way."

"Well I just … I really kind of felt bad saying it, but I mean … the way you framed it."

Scott was still shaking his head. "But that's what happened."

"I know. But … it's your mom's fault."

"Sure. We'll blame her," Scott said, still smiling her way.

"Well it is her fault."

"You're the twisted one," Scott teased. "You can blame whoever you want, but we all know the truth."

"And you think I'm cute. So what does that say about you?"

"I have dangerous taste?" Scott offered.

"I thought it was that you were smart."

"That too, definitely," Scott chuckled.

"So what do we do now?"

"About your twisted sense of humor or my interdimensional bird problem?"

"I mean … what do we do tonight. I doubt I've got the right penicillin for your interdimensional burn problem."

Scott laughed. "Well, Bobby and Johnny are going to take their turn in a little while, and then I'm pretty sure the plan is to watch scary movies and camp out in the living room for as long as you want," he said. "If you feel like you need an X-Man escort to get you home after all the horror movies, we can do that too," he teased.

"I think I might need to have you light the way." She smirked. "Can we do s'mores? Because I feel like I'd take the risk on catching something to get a good s'more."

"Yeah, I'm not lighting a fire," Scott laughed. "Not that way anyway."

She laughed outright and leaned on him a little. "I know. I just … kind of had to."

"Couldn't resist, huh?" Scott teased.

"You know it," she said. "It's been too long since we got to play."

"Yeah, well, like I said - other things on my mind. Or in it. As the case may be."

"So you're really saying you just have a dirty mind?" Farrah raised one eyebrow as she watched him.

Scott laughed outright and then pushed her at the shoulder. "You're really terrible tonight!"

"Not my fault!"

"Oh, sure, we're blaming Mom. I forgot."

"How can you forget? We need to give her some payback for all those teases at the coffee shop!"

"I've also got her as a full-time parent now. You can imagine how much she teases me."

"I'd imagine she was laying off a little bit," Farrah said. "But … I guess if she knew how much you put in the baby pool on her, things would change."

"You can't tell her," Scott laughed.

"You are betting on her having another baby," she said, sounding scandalized, even if Scott knew it was all for fun. "And I don't even know if it's for her getting pregnant or for when your new sibling shows up."

"They're separate pools."

"You have two bets on your parents?" Farrah stared at him open-mouthed. "And you didn't invite me into it?"

Scott was grinning widely. "Hey, when Captain America asks if you want in… you don't ask questions."

"I … would ask all the questions I could."

"Yeah, I know you would," he teased her gently.

"So… when are your bets? I won't tell."

"Christmas for both. Either way, it would be a great Christmas present and a good bet, right?"

"You just want another big present for your gotcha day."

"And?" Scott laughed.

"Nothing!" she said, shaking her head.

Scott grinned and then offered her a hand up. "So, if you were serious about s'mores, I can put together a fire the old-fashioned way."

"I think it would be a good thing to do," she said. "Especially if you have anything that has caramel to go in it too."

Scott grinned. "I'm sure we've got something," he agreed, already grabbing a few things from the candy bowl so they could spice up their s'mores.

Chapter Text

Scott had been meeting with Charles regularly ever since what had happened with the department. They hadn't been able to figure out how to lock the Phoenix away entirely, but they were working on some serious safeguards.

It was working - at least somewhat. Scott was getting better control of his powers, and he was getting better at ignoring the Phoenix, even if it wasn't completely silent or gone. But he'd take whatever little steps he could get.

"You're making progress, Scott, even if you don't feel like you are," Charles said.

"Thanks," Scott said, though it was hard to feel like there was much progress when his jacket was lying on the couch because he'd been sweating and hot while they built a fortress around the Phoenix in his mind.

"You are fighting a cosmic entity," Charles said.

"I know," Scott said. "And I appreciate all you're doing. Don't think I don't," he added quickly, since his frustrated tone was only too easy to misinterpret.

"I know. But I know how frustrated you must be."

Scott spread his hands out wide. "I'm trying to lead a team, take care of my baby sister, and keep my parents from freaking out - and this thing is making every single one of those goals harder. It's not on you, really."

"I know. I only wish that there was something more I could do to help you."

"You and me both, professor. If there was a better, permanent solution, I'd bend over backwards to get it," Scott admitted.

"I think it would be safe to say all of us would."

"And that means a lot to me too," Scott said, picking up his jacket to put it over his shoulder. "Really. Thanks. Even just keeping this thing behind walls and doors is doing wonders for my sanity." He thumbed over his shoulder. "You coming to Kurt's party at Harry's? Most of the team is already there, but Sammy's having a tantrum, so Mom and Dad and I said we'd catch up when she figures out it's not the end of the world when she can't open the door by herself."

"I was going to stay back, honestly," Charles said. "Harry's gets to be a bit … busy for me."

"You know, you could not eavesdrop," Scott couldn't help but point out with a crooked smirk.

"That's not what I was talking about, Scott," Charles said flatly. "It's not the easiest place to get in and out of, for one thing. And the crowd is a bit rowdy for my tastes."

"Right. Sorry; I didn't think about that."

"It's no bother to me," Charles said. "As I said - even if it was easier to access, the crowd isn't for me."

"Well, next time, we'll go somewhere else to celebrate," Scott decided. "You're part of the group too, you know."

"I do know that," Charles said. "But it's more than enough to have all of you here."

"Thanks for that too," Scott said as he headed for the door with a smile. As tired as he was, he was finding that the more he worked on contingency plans for the Phoenix, the more he wanted to make sure everyone in his life knew where they stood. Just in case.

And with that, he made his way to where his family was gathered in the living room, still feeling the aftermath of a tired tantrum. Sam had transitioned from simply having a fit to rubbing her eyes and looking honestly worn out and was even giving Logan a little trouble on settling in - which she never did.

"You want me to take her?" Scott offered. "I know you promised Kurt you'd be there for his birthday."

"She's probably getting sick," Logan said in a soft rumble as he ran his hand over Sam's hair.

Scott sat down on the couch and reached out to boop Sam's nose. "Hey, you trying to get every cold that passes through the school?"

"Noooooooo," Sam whined.

"Good, because I like it when you're happy," Scott said, then glanced at Logan. "Think you and I could go for a walk?" he offered. "Mom and Dad are going to go somewhere too, but you and I can look at all the stars for a while, huh?"

"Nokay," Sam mumbled.

Scott smirked and gently shifted so he could pick Sam up and let her lean on him. "Let's go get your blanket," he said, already walking off with her and making sure to keep her attention so Logan and K could slip out.

"Thanks," K said, looking down at herself for a moment. "I'm going to change real quick before we go. She got some drool on my shoulder."

"The horrors," Scott teased.

"I know. I'll just get drool on me at the bar I'm sure."

"That's even worse," Scott said.

"I didn't say who it would belong to," K pointed out as she rushed up the stairs.

Scott laughed to himself, shaking his head as he walked off with Sam, even grabbing her favorite blanket to wrap around her shoulders so that she wouldn't be too cold outside while they were looking at the stars - and he was trying to get her to calm down enough to sleep, even if she clearly didn't want to.

"C'mon, Sammy; I know you're tired," Scott said as he tucked the blanket in around her shoulders better.

"Not tired."

"Okay," Scott said, shaking his head at her stubbornness. "Can we go inside and snuggle? I'm kind of tired."

"Nokay," she said, nodding quietly.

Scott smiled and bounced her slightly as he headed back inside. "We can start a fire in the fireplace and curl up. Sound good?"

"Yes," she said - and it was the clearest he'd heard her say it that way, too.

"You're so smart, you know that?" Scott said, balancing her on one side as he shouldered open the door. "You're going to be smarter than me; I just know it."

"Nooooooooooo," she giggled.

"Sure you are," Scott said, booping her nose. "Smart Sammy."

"Shush," she said, reaching up to cover his mouth.

Scott smiled and kissed her fingers, then headed to the living room to set her down so he could get a fire started, occasionally pausing to head back over to her, tuck her up in the blankets, and cover her in kisses and tickles before he went back to what he was doing. By the time he got the fire roaring, he could tell Sammy was finally starting to drift off, and he smirked to himself as he came to sit on the couch with her and get her all arranged with her favorite blankets, all snuggled into him.

"You alright with her?" Logan asked.

"Yeah, I think she'll go to s-l-e-e-p if we stay here long enough," Scott said, making himself more comfortable too. "Go have fun. My present's on your dresser if you and Mom could bring it to Kurt for me."

"Sure," Logan agreed. "If that's how you want to run with it."

"Hey, maybe I'll make it later," Scott said.

"Most of 'em can't stay that long," Logan said. "They start kickin' out the under age kids at ten anyhow."

"Few more months."

"Yeah, like seven. You got a weird count on a few."

Scott grinned at Logan upside down on the couch. "Hey, I'm close."

"Uh huh," Logan said, nodding as K made her way toward them - changed and ready to go. She crossed the room to kiss Scott's head and take just a moment to rest her head on his shoulder so she could go nose to nose with Sam too. Sam, for her part, opened her eyes just long enough to smile at her mother before her eyelids seemed to be too heavy and she started to drift off honestly.

Which Scott appreciated. He really was hoping to catch at least part of the party, so if Sam went to sleep soon, he could at least come for an hour before things closed. So, he was being very, very quiet and still.

"If you boys want to go I can stay," K offered.

"Nah," Scott said. "I'm being selfish and stealing Sammy."

"Yeah, that's what you're doing," K said, shaking her head before she kissed both of them. "I'll be back soon - and you can go in my place and drive your Dad and Kurt home. Just for appearances."

"If you say so," Scott said, knowing his mom wouldn't let him miss out on the whole party if she was going to feel responsible for it.

"I do. You need to celebrate with your team," she said.

"So go have fun. I'm cutting into your time," Scott teased in a whisper while Sammy was drifting off on him.

Logan took a hold of K's arm at the elbow and pulled her along with him just as Charles came out to sit with Scott as his parents stepped out for a moment - though neither of them said anything when they were hoping Sam would go to sleep.

The house was still and quiet except for the sound of Sam snoozing and the grandfather clock in the hall tick-tocking evenly. Scott himself was on the verge of passing out with Sam snuggled up under the little blankets and cozy on the couch. At least, he was ready to sleep all the way up until he heard an odd long, scratching noise that seemed to just draw itself out forever.

Scott frowned and picked himself up as much as he could without moving Sam. Professor…?

I can't sense anyone, Charles replied, though he too, was frowning deeply and looking around the room with Scott. Even for as quiet as it was, it simply didn't feel right.

So when the lights went out next, leaving only the fire in the room, both of them were instantly on the alert, and Scott got to his feet. Could someone be shielding you? He asked Charles, even as he kept a hand on his glasses.

Not likely, Charles said.

I'm going to get Sam out of here, Scott decided, already moving to gather up her things.

Probably wise, even as a precaution, Charles agreed, frowning deeply as he began to concentrate harder on their surroundings. It might be smart for you to leave entirely.

I was going to head for the boathouse and reassess from there. Dad's Jeep is there.

Go, Scott.

But the tone Charles was using had Scott pausing. "What about you?"

"Just go," Charles repeated.

If it had just been the two of them, Scott would have argued it, but with Sam there, he knew she was the priority, and with a frustrated groan, he broke off from the living room and headed for the garage - only to find that the tires on all the cars were slashed.

"Oh, you've got to be kidding me," Scott said, narrowing his eyes as he looked around for the intruder, while Sam wriggled in his arms, somewhere between waking up and going back to sleep. She startled slightly at the sound of a wrench falling on the other side of the garage, and Scott held her a bit tighter, one hand on his glasses as he kept his gaze on that side - though he still didn't see anyone as he backed toward the door until he had his hand on the door handle. Then, he saw a flicker of movement, and he picked up his glasses to fire a shot that way.

So of course that was when the Phoenix decided not to let him use his powers.

"Damnit," Scott bit out as he let his glasses fall back down - only to hear a low, familiar chuckle nearby.

"Oooh, lookie who's havin' trouble," Creed drawled out in a delighted tone. "Or am I wrong in thinkin' you don't usually talk like that, shrimp?"

Scott turned toward the sound of Creed's voice. "Finally crawled back out of your hole?" he said.

"Just had to find the right time to drop in," he said, stepping out where Scott could see him - though he didn't stay there long, slipping into the shadows smoothly instead. "Looks like the little whelp didn't suffer any."

Scott glared into the darkness and then let out a scoff of breath as he found the door handle and opened it. "You're not worth my time," he said, already heading back in.

"You really think goin' inside's gonna stop me from what I came here for?"

Scott rolled his eyes behind his glasses. "Go find a rock to crawl under."

"I know you're alone with the brat and the old man."

"Great. You've learned to count."

"Won't do ya any good to call for help either," Creed said, not bothered by Scott's dry sass. "Phone lines won't work. Cut 'em at the road, but if you think you can make a break for it … be my guest."

Scott shook his head, even as, along with the glow to his eyes dying off, there was a voice in the back of his head pointing out the easy path to getting rid of him. "You've picked a bad time, Creed," he said. "You have no idea how badly this is going to turn out for you."

"I think I did pretty good, boy," Creed said stepping out of the shadows a lot closer than he'd sounded - and looking bigger than he should have been able to.

Scott glared a moment longer, his head still ringing with the promise of fire, before he decided to get out of there before another incident like the one with the department could happen. He slammed the door to the garage behind him and took off, already calling out to Charles to let him know what the story was.

I'm reaching out to the team. Kurt is too inebriated to get them back, but they are on the way, Charles promised, sounding stressed.

As Scott and Charles tried to come up with a way to get help, Creed found his way inside - not following Scott's footsteps of course. That would have been too easy and too predictable, and Creed knew that keeping the kid off his game was good for his own health. Besides, a healthy dose of fear only made the whole endeavor better. And little Scotty was right on the brink of full-scale terror. That on its own was enough to make Creed want to stretch it out.

With a crash, the front windows broke in the living room, but nothing but the night breeze blew in billowing the curtains inward and making it that much harder to focus on what should and what should not be moving in the room. As Scott and Charles braced for a hit - Creed made his way in from the opposite direction - announcing himself only by a few quick, heavy footfalls before he reached out and slashed at Scott, tearing open a thin line from his shoulder to his hip.

Scott cried out but only held onto Sam tighter, instinctively angling himself so she was covered as Creed stepped back, though Creed could see some of the glow was back to the glasses, even if he didn't know it was fire instead.

"You should introduce me to the kid," Creed said, grinning widely enough that his overly elongated canines were easily visible.

"She doesn't waste her time with trash," Scott said through his teeth.

"Oh, you don't think she wants to meet yer ol' Uncle Victor? Just a matter of time anyhow."

"Seriously, Creed, back off," Scott said, his eyes shining a little brighter.

"Or what?" Instead of curling his hands into fists, Creed was slowly extending his fingers - letting the claws curl out as his fingers reached full extension.

"Or there's not going to be enough ash left of you to fill a dustpan," Scott shot back.

"Careful who you threaten, boy," Creed said, towering over both of them - until very suddenly, he grinned and darted off to scoop up the professor by the throat. "How about a trade?"

"Let him go," Scott said, even as Charles projected to him to get Sam out.

"Like I said. A trade," Creed repeated. "I won't hurt her … him, though.…" He smiled wider. "No promises."

Scott's mind was racing a mile a minute. "I can't trust you with her," he said sharply.

"Trust games are fun, Scotty-boy."

"Look, leave the professor out of this," Scott said, trying to sound reasonable. "You want to screw with my family, deal with me."

"Lissen, kid. If you could hammer me, you would have. But you can't. So drop the show and make a call. Gimmie the girl or I shred your old man here to pieces."

Scott was already shaking his head, but he couldn't even begin to make that kind of call. He knew he'd pick Sam in a heartbeat, but there had to be another way - one that didn't involve the Phoenix.

But before he could even begin to open his mouth, a low growl echoed through the room.

"Victor. Drop. Him. Now," K growled out low as she stepped in to see the layout on how things had gone south so fast. "Scott - take my keys." K didn't turn away from watching Creed as she shoved her keys into his hand. "Get out."

Scott closed his hand around the keys but still hesitated. "The professor-"

"I know," K said, though rather than try to talk, she turned and started to walk right toward Charles and Creed. "Your hands are full - gonna have to make a choice," K said - picking up speed the closer she got.

Creed faltered for just a second, sure she was bluffing - all the way up until she popped her claws, and surprising K more than she'd react to - Creed let go of Charles and backed up a few paces.

Scott didn't question their luck and darted in, not even giving Charles enough time to recover before he had Sam in Charles' lap and was flat out running with Charles' chair to get them out of there.

Which left K to deal with Creed.

It was like no fight K had ever experienced with Creed. Every time they'd ever had to fight, he'd always relied on his size and strength to snatch her up and hold her too close for her to fight him. And every time, she'd stab and slash and bite him until he had her pinned tight. But this time, he was trying to keep distance. The hits she was landing were all superficial. Every one of them.

And her frustration at not getting close to him caused her to take a lot more time to realize that even the little cuts she was managing were bleeding him out. But when she did see it … it was enough to get K to pause. Creed was trying to catch his breath and K's entire expression went sort of slack a split second before she met his gaze. Creed answered her look of dawning comprehension with a growl - and a charge.

Big as he was, he was still wickedly fast, and when he rushed her, from that close, it was almost inevitable that she lost her footing trying to backtrack. He grabbed a hold of K's arm, but quickly regretted it when she popped her claws into his stomach with her free hand - forcing him to not only let her go- but to push her away hard to gain some distance.

It was a hard enough toss that once again, she lost her footing as Creed took to throwing her like a rag doll any time she got close enough to nail him with a hit. But that meant he actually had to catch her when she attacked every time.

A shot rang out, and it was only the fact that they were moving so fast that meant neither of them were hit, though both of them looked over to see Scott leveling his aim again with a shotgun. He'd gotten Charles and Sam to the boathouse - and grabbed the shotgun he and Logan used on hunting trips. He narrowed his eyes as he lined up his next shot. "You're not looking too good," he said. "Told you to get lost."

"Get them safe," K said, and though she was out of breath, it wasn't anywhere near as bad as Creed was.

"'Ro's on it," Scott said.

"You too," K said as she darted in - and after a quick scuffle with K darting around Creed, she slashed out and cut his achilles tendons, only catching a claw across her arm as she slipped away from him. "He's not going anywhere."

"Yeah, and I'm not leaving you alone with him," Scott said firmly.

"I've got it," K growled out low. From the ground, Creed was glaring harder than Scott had seen before - and the growl he was emitting was lower and far more constant than he'd heard on anything before. He was bloodied and bruised, but just by body language, it was clear he was more than ready to take whoever he could with him on his way down.

"Still gonna back you up," Scott said without lowering the shotgun.

K began to circle closer, looking for an opening that wouldn't get her caught up by his long reach as Creed kept his focus on her as she tried to work around him. When she started her rush, Creed looked for a moment as if he was trying to avoid her - only to shift and lunge at her. He caught her leg with the claws on three fingers, curling his fingers as soon as he felt the claws sink in. As his hand closed around her ankle, he snarled and pulled her closer - his other arm raised and obviously ready to slash her. His arm came down and the shrrip echoed the room at the same moment that K raised her arm, too - but it wasn't in self defense, and she didn't even try to block as she sunk her claws into his chest - dead center.

For a moment, Creed was smiling at her in a satisfied way - he'd managed to slice her up deeply, catching her across the face and down her neck and chest almost to her waist. But as he smiled, K shifted her arm for a little better leverage and twisted her wrist hard. Which made Scott's slug to Creed's shoulder just a little salt in the wound.

Everything was still for a long moment and slowly, Creed simply fell forward, pinning K in place in a way that made retracting her claws and getting away from him entirely impossible.

The hall was silent for a moment before Scott rushed over to help K get out from underneath Creed, swearing under his breath the whole time until they both finally got Creed shifted and Scott was able to pull K out and look her over. "We've got to get you out before he heals."

"Scott. He wasn't healing," K said.

"I noticed," Scott said. "But you and Dad have worn down like that before-"

"No," K said, shaking her head before she gestured to Creed. "Every cut I landed is still there. Every one." She gestured toward Creed's still body. "He's got scars, Scott."

Scott's eyes were wide behind his glasses, though it was hard to tell with the intense glow still there. "How…?"

"I don't know. And I don't really care," K said, still sitting on the floor not far from where Creed was laid out.

Scott shook his head and came to sit down by her, obviously thinking it over even as he watched Creed for any sign of movement.

"If it makes you feel better, I'll take his head off," K offered.

"If you think he's dead, that's good enough for me. Your paranoia level is higher than mine," Scott pointed out.

"I'm watching him," she said. "And I'll keep watching him until Logan gets here."

Scott nodded, falling silent for a long time until, finally, he said, "Last time you saw him, Sinister took off with him."

"Yes," K agreed. "And Sinister wasn't happy with him."

"And it stands to reason if he can add powers to his own powerset, he could take them away, right?" Scott muttered.

"It's … possible, I guess," K said.

"That's got to be it," Scott said. "We didn't hear from Creed last year on Dad's birthday. But that wasn't too long after Sinister died. He might still have been recovering."

K nodded slowly, but she still didn't take her focus from Creed. "I'm okay with that."

"Yeah. Me too."

"Are you sure?"

"I think so." Scott let out a long breath. "That makes two good things the guy ever did for me."

"Yeah? What was the first?" K asked.

Scott tapped his glasses. "These."

"Is everyone okay?" K asked, showing some wear as she leaned further back.

"Yeah, Ororo got there about the same time I got the professor and Sam out. She's making sure he gets himself looked over." Scott gestured vaguely to his neck. "Bruising."

K frowned and turned to look Scott over. "You have more than bruising, don't you?"

"I'm okay."

"No. I'm okay."

"Well, I'll be okay," Scott said, trying to shrug her off - though that was never going to happen now that she was on the scent.

"Oh. then I guess you'll be okay if I use this giant jackass for a pillow until someone that'll look you over comes in?" K said, shifting as if she really was going to do just that.

"Mom, no."

"I'm tired. You're fine."

Scott rolled his eyes and then relented, pulling his shirt over his head to toss at her. "It's not deep," he said.

"Then it won't take long for Hank to clean and bandage," K said.

Scott shook his head and then got to his feet, offering K a hand up. "Look, I'm just sticking with you until the rest of the team gets here. Just in case."

"Fine," she said. Though once she was upright, she turned him to look at his injury.

"I'm sure you know where the supplies are in our medical wing," Charles said in a hoarse voice as he made his appearance known - with Ororo holding Sam behind him. It was obvious Ororo had already patched him up, but Hank would likely want another look at the bruising at his neck. "I believe I can watch over a corpse without complaint, since you both seem unable to leave your post."

"You're not watching him alone," K said.

"I won't leave him," Ororo promised.

"I'm fine. He should get his neck looked at," K replied.

"And Scott should get his back looked at," Ororo said. "The team is on their way. I was the faster windrider."

K gestured openly. "There you go. Scott - take Charles to get the both of you cleaned up."

"Fine," Scott said, shaking his head at both of them - though with Ororo there to look after his mom, he at least felt better about leaving.

By that time, several of the rest of their teammates had arrived, and while most of them were distracted by the dead Sabretooth and the fact that Sam had been there, Hank went straight down to the medical suite, knowing that any dealings with Creed would have to mean injuries even before he got any information from K.

So by the time K had healed enough that she really could move - seeing as Creed had done her some serious damage before she had managed to kill him - both Scott and Charles were clearly in good hands, and Hank was just finishing up.

"I can just go to bed if you're still busy," K said. "Especially if Sam is cleared too."

Hank waved her over with a kind smile. "I'm just finishing up," he said. "It helps to have Charles help me talk your stubborn son into letting me help," he added in a teasing tone.

"You've been working with him for this long and you still don't know how to say please?" K said.

"I do," Hank laughed. "But I get 'I'm fine' in response."

"So … you know how to tell when he's lying, don't you?" K asked as she made her way over to Scott and Sam to look them over herself quickly.

"Oh, yes. Every time he says 'I'm fine'," Hank chuckled.

"Well, that's just a negative outlook, right Caramel Mocha?"

Scott smirked her way. "See? Mom gets it."

Hank shook his head at both of them, even as he booped Sam on the nose. "Your brother and your mother are a terrible team-up," he informed her with a crooked smile.

"My Camoka," Sam said with a grin before she leaned into Scott and snuggled up.

Hank laughed and shook his head before he turned to K. "They're both cleared to go. I was just going to run a few scans on our dear professor to be double sure."

"Great," she said, nodding to herself.

"And you?" Hank asked gently. "I know I can't help you physically, but I did want to ask how you were doing."

K's whole body language relaxed as she turned toward him - just to look him squarely in the eyes. "I'm fine."

Hank couldn't help but laugh. "As you say."

"A little hungry, but nothing I can't take care of on my own," she clarified. "Is that more comprehensive for you?"

"Yes, thank you," Hank chuckled. "And as the resident almost-doctor, I'd also prescribe a solid hug from all three members of your family. Purely for medical purposes, I'm sure."

"I think they'd do that anyhow," K said.

"Of course," Hank said, still smiling.

They're all glad to see you come out the other side of this so well, Charles projected to K - not speaking out loud because his throat was hurting him.

K glanced toward Charles for an instant. Yeah, lots of faith on that one.

All things considered, given the history with him, we really are relieved, Charles said. I'm only sorry I complicated matters for you and Scott.

You didn't, K said.

Yes, well. Charles gave her a tight smile. Thank you, all the same.

You didn't think I'd let you die, did you? K asked.

Charles shook his head. No - but I was also quite clear with Scott that Sam was the priority.

Even if Sam hadn't have been there - I would have done the same thing, she told him. I'm no more willing to let these kids lose you as I am to see them forced away from their families.

Charles couldn't even begin to hide his pleasantly surprised smile. I admit I don't know what to say.

So don't say anything. It's not necessary anyhow.

Thank you, Charles said, his tone all warmth.

Get some rest, Charles. You need it.

I should tell you the same thing. Especially knowing what a thorn he was in your side.

Oh, I plan to sleep through the next few days, K admitted.

Good. I'm glad to see you taking care of yourself as well.

It's about all I can to do stay upright right now, K replied with a tone of amusement. Not a choice.

Then I'm sure Scott will be more than happy to help you to your room. Lord knows he needs something to do to take care of the people he loves. Charles smiled. It's a trait I think we all share.

Debatable, K said, though she was urging Scott to take Sam. "You carry her, please. I need a shower and a detox."

Scott nodded, though he was watching her closely. "I'll send Dad your way," he decided, suspecting she needed more support than she was admitting.

"Oh, good. He was probably looking for a project," she teased.

Scott shook his head and laughed as he put his arm around her shoulders, giving her a little support whether she asked for it or not. "C'mon," he said. "I think we all need some sleep after that."

Chapter Text

For the next week or so leading up to Logan's birthday, it was clear that Logan was far more relaxed than Scott had ever seen him — which was a milestone of its own, but … it also fully illustrated how much Scott needed to try and do something similar. Considering that his nightmare doctor was already dead, and the monster that had been tormenting his parents was now also dead — and the creepy black government agency was out of the picture for now… the last hurdle to Scott's blood pressure falling into the normal range was of course the interdimensional firebird. Which they all knew was a lot bigger problem than anyone wanted to discuss.

But, considering Scott knew his dad held back most of the time, he had to hope that if he emulated a little of Logan's daily routine that he'd be able to push back the fire a little more and get a chance at controlling it enough to live.

So it was no shock to Logan when Scott started showing up to the earlier meditation and sticking with him from stretches through the kata, and then for the meditation too. He didn't say a word about it, but the second day that Scott showed up early enough for the kata, Logan had been sure to bring a wooden bokken for him to practice with and he took his time quietly correcting Scott's form where he needed the help as they went through the motions.

By the fourth day, it was clear to Logan just how much the Phoenix was seeping out — even when Scott wasn't fully aware of it. The young man was tense as a drawn bow-string, even when he'd reached the point in meditation that for years had been the point of pure relaxation for him. In short — it wasn't working. And the more it didn't work, the more it was clear to Logan how much that fact stressed Scott out causing a wicked loop of building frustration. Something had to be done.

What's more, Scott was still trying to keep Logan and K from worrying, trying to play off his stress — and the rest of it — by blaming his power flare ups. But neither of his parents were stupid —they could figure out for themselves what the story was. And why Scott seemed to be spending more and more time with Alex and Sam, like he was trying to get in those good memories while he could.

"We need to try something else," Logan said suddenly. "Maybe take a vacation somewhere new to you."

Scott opened his eyes from where he had been sitting and meditating with Logan. "I'm fine, Dad."

"Scott," Logan said, turning his head to make sure Scott could see he was focused on him alone. "I thought you knew not to lie to me by now."

Scott held Logan's gaze for a moment before he had to drop it. "Yeah."

"You gonna tell me about it?"

"It's your first birthday without having to worry about Creed. I don't want to stress you out when you and Mom have been so relaxed."

"I'd rather have you be straight with me than to have to figure it out myself."

Scott was quiet for a long time as he thought over what to say. "Here's the thing," he said quietly. "It's… it's not your problem. And I am doing everything I can to make sure it stays not your problem."

"If it's screwing with you, it's my problem," Logan said evenly.

"Yeah, but I mean—" Scott let his shoulders drop. "It's… something happened when Jean died. And I'm not going to let it happen again. Not that way. Not if I can help it."

"And now it's in you."

"Yeah." Scott looked like the admission was exhausting in and of itself.

"Did you think I missed the fire at the corners of your eyes?"

"I was hoping so, yeah."

"Yeah, not real likely there, kiddo." Logan shook his head and let out a breath. "It screws with your scent, too."

"Didn't think about that," Scott admitted, rubbing a hand over the back of his neck. "I just don't want you to think you have to fix it. Wasn't trying to lie to you. I swear."

"I know," Logan said. "But this falls into the kinds of things I wanna know about before it gets outta hand."

Scott nodded. "I know, but after Jean died, seeing what that did to you…"

Logan nodded at that. "I don't get a choice in avoiding crap like that, Scott."

Scott shook his head. "I don't believe that. I've got — I talked to Captain Rogers about it. He's got an alert system set up with Stark so the Avengers can respond if this thing gets out of hand. The professor and I are working on safeguards. There are other people involved in this that can stop me. I don't want you to have to deal with it."

"Good to hear you're thinkin' ahead," Logan said quietly. "But … you aren't gonna get a chance to fight that thing if you can't relax, too."

Scott let out a long breath. "I'm trying," he said. Then, because he knew Logan knew the truth now, he let his whole body drop. "Nothing's working."

"So be more stubborn about it," Logan said. "Set your mind to doing whatever the hell it is you want to do and will it to go your way."

"I'm trying," Scott said, more sharply this time. "But it's too damn hard to do when the thing keeps using Jean's voice to argue with me."

Logan let out a huff and for a moment it was clear he was working his jaw over, trying to find the right encouragement. "Can you imagine Jeannie sayin' the crap it's saying to you?"

"No. Obviously not," Scott said quickly.

Logan leaned toward him, his tone low and gravelly. "Then why the hell are you listenin' to it?"

Scott blinked at Logan for a long time and then dropped his gaze. "Yeah. You're right. I know."

Logan sat back and let out a breath. "How open are you to learnin' somethin' new?"

"What are you thinking?"

"You need to read a few books," Logan said, though it was clear Scott hadn't expected a reading list to come from his dad. "Hagakure for one. The Art of War for another."

Scott raised an eyebrow. "O...kay," he said, trying to process where it was coming from.

Logan shook his head. "You know I remembered a few things when we were in Japan. And I think if you can apply the teachings of Tsunetomo Yamamoto and Sun Tzu, you might get a new perspective on this … stupid firebird thing."

"Yeah?" Scott was openly interested, turning with his whole body to face Logan.

"The Art of War is from Sun Tzu, a Chinese military strategist. Everything in that book applies to things that cross your path today," Logan explained. "And the other is the explanation of the Samurai code. That one … that you can apply to everything in life on a day to day basis."

Scott's eyebrows were high on his forehead, though his smile was slowly stretching wider. "Every time you learn something about your past… seriously, Dad. That's amazing."

Logan rolled his eyes at that. "You can find English language versions of both of 'em… just about anywhere I'd guess."

"I'll talk to the professor about getting a copy," Scott promised. "Even if it doesn't help, I want to learn it anyway."

"Nah," Logan said, shaking his head. "I'll find one that doesn't screw up the translations."

Scott couldn't help but smile. "My dad, the snob."

"You get the wrong translator and the next thing you know, he's cobbed up the whole meaning. Both Chinese and Japanese can be tricky like that."

"I was teasing you, Dad," Scott said, shaking his head.

"Yeah? Maybe I oughta just teach you some Japanese."

"I've been learning it, actually — since you took Mom to Japan…"

"You wanna go, don't you?"

"Please?" Scott said, this time with a much more crooked smile.

"You know how I said you needed a vacation?" Logan said, tipping his head.

"Perfect. That's what we should do for Christmas."

"After Christmas," Logan corrected. "Your friends'll wanna be here with you for the holiday — and it's really not anything special over there."

"Fair enough," Scott agreed. "Though you know that means we'll have to put up with Alex and Lorna under the mistletoe for the next month and a half, right?"

"Yeah, don't remind me," Logan said. "Kurt's already been warnin' me that there was gonna be more of it this year — and he's trying to estimate your mother's trajectories for all of 'em."

"You know there's a betting pool on my next little sibling, right?" Scott said.

"Figured it was a matter of time," Logan admitted.

"It's just gotten worse since Creed," Scott said. "With him gone, Sinister dead, and the department in shambles…"

Logan shook his head. "It's on her mark, that's all I can say."

"I know. But the obstacles to relaxation are gone now, is what I'm saying." He paused, then pointed at himself. "Well. Mostly."

"Relaxation wasn't ever a key factor," Logan said with one eyebrow raised.

Scott shrugged. "I don't want to know all the details," he teased.

"Pretty sure I didn't give you any details, Scooter."

"And I'm grateful for that," Scott said, then rearranged himself so he was sitting in a better position for meditation. "And thanks. For the suggestions."

Logan was quick in finding Scott his reading list, too. Inside of a few days, he brought Scott a copy of both books— and he had a copy that matched Scott's — only Logan's were well worn and in Japanese and Chinese, respectively. When he gave Scott the books, it was a quiet hand off with a few muted words of encouragement. "I went through both of them myself," Logan said, holding up the original text books in one hand. "And anything that was off - I fixed."

Scott didn't bother to hide his grin as he stole over for a quick hug. "Thanks. Seriously."

"Sooner you get into it, the sooner you'll know if it's something you wanna keep doin'," Logan said, though before Logan could even step away after their little hug, Scott was already pouring over the books.

He watched Scott over the days leading up to Christmas both when they were doing their morning meditations and when Scott was simply going about his day — and he could see as the days ticked by how much he was taking to heart from the texts he was reading. It spilled into his daily routine and how he approached talking to his teammates and his family, and there was a marked difference in the Danger Room as Scott began to try out the concept of deciding what the outcome of the fight was going to be before the sim had even started. It was rough, but he was trying, and the fact remained that Scott was learning how his own focus and sheer force of will could be a positive thing.

He was more confident in his leadership of the team — and though it was subtle, Logan knew that as he collected successes using those methods, his confidence would only grow, and that had Logan relaxing just by proxy.

By the time the family gathered up to go to Japan on Boxing Day, it was clear that Scott was looking forward to a vacation, too. And for the most part, the trip was wonderful. The new year was really an amazing time to go to the far east — there were celebrations everywhere — which added to the fun of the trip for all of them.

Before the trip was set to end, Logan had insisted on taking them to Mount Fuji, and when they got to the village at the foot of the mountain, the snow was falling lightly, coating the whole area in a light powder even as they stepped into the house they were renting for the last leg of their trip.

Scott had a room of his own, of course, and though they'd been in the country for a few days already, he was still a little mixed up from the jet lag, so he headed off to settle in and find himself some peace and quiet. He put his bag away — and had put his clothes into the dresser since they were going to be a few days still — before he came back out to the main living area, smiling at his little sister who adored the tatami mats covering the floors.

There wasn't any warning at all. One minute, Scott was fine, and the next, he was bent over almost in half, and even though his eyes were closed, there was fire pouring out of the edges of his field of vision — and then more that tried to spread, even if Scott was obviously fighting it.

And for Scott, the effect was made worse by the fact that he didn't even feel like he was on Earth at all. It was a lot like the dreams he'd been having, only this time, he wasn't asleep when he suddenly felt like he was in space.

Everything hurt, which wasn't something he usually associated with being one with the Phoenix. Something had hurt it — though when Scott looked around and saw that there were pieces of Shi'ar ships everywhere, he put it together. The Shi'ar had been fighting the Phoenix for ages. Of course they knew how to actually fight it.

It was hard to find himself in that moment, because the Phoenix was all rage and pain, and it wasn't until every last one of the Shi'ar ships had been reduced to ash that the memory or whatever it was started to fade — at least enough that Scott could hear Logan trying to talk to him. And that was just what he needed to tear his focus away from the strange vision of space all around him and get him to focus on the here and now.

Everything still hurt, and when he opened his eyes, they were still full of fire. But though he didn't know it, the simple fact that he felt more like himself had pulled back the fire that had surrounded him while he was out of it — though Logan was still watching him with an open look of concern.

"You okay?" Logan asked quietly.

"Yeah," Scott breathed out, still trying to ground himself in where he was as he looked around. "Yeah, I think so."

"Sit down the rest of the way and ;ets try that again," Logan said as he helped Scott get lower and more relaxed. Externally anyhow.

Scott was still reeling — and felt surprisingly sore. "That's never happened before."

"What's never happened before?"

"I've had a few dreams like that, but never while I was just… living my life," Scott said, shaking his head. "I think they're memories — the Phoenix in space, fighting the Shi'ar…"

"Sounds like some interesting stuff to see," Logan said. "That or it's your space pirate blood sneakin' out."

Scott couldn't help but smirk. "Probably that."

"What usually happens after somethin' like this?"

"I wake up," Scott said. He was still shaking his head. "Like I said, it's usually dreams. And the Phoenix has been quieter lately. I've had more of a handle on it…"

"Seems kinda weird that a parasite would be showing you it's dreams," Logan said.

"Yeah," Scott agreed. "I don't know if it's playing some kind of attention-seeking game or … what." He shook his head, rubbing his arms absently. "This one… I don't know why it would show me this one. The Shi'ar actually hurt it."

"Considerin' those guys know how to hurt things like they do, I'm not surprised."

Scott nodded. "I'm back now, though," he promised.

"Great. So you need some matcha or sake?"

Scott couldn't help but chuckle at that. "Yes."

"That sounds like a troublesome mixer," Logan replied, slapping his hands on his knees. "But … I'm game."

"I'm close enough to twenty-one anyway," Scott teased.

"You only gotta be twenty here," Logan told him.

"Well, there you go."

Logan reached over to pull a bottle over and then poured Scott a glass of sake—sure to top it off so it was ready to spill before he did the same for himself. "Might as well. You could even like it."

"Alex is going to be so jealous," Scott said, obviously grinning — and trying hard to relax and grasp onto something more solid — more real than phantom pains from God only knows where.

"How is that different than any other day?" Logan asked.

"Point," Scott agreed before he did try some of the sake — and blinked a few times over.

"Kanpai," Logan said as he held his glass up toward Scott.

Scott chuckled and shook his head. "Not what I was expecting," he said, though he went for a second go all the same.

"New years'," Logan said as he poured one for himself again and pulled out a third cup for K. "Why not?"

"Year of the firebird," Scott said dryly.

"Won't be year of the Tiger until February," Logan chuckled. "You'd be real popular in China, though."

"It's my party trick," Scott said, starting to smirk a little harder now that he'd gotten Logan to laugh.

"We'll make your brother watch you and all your friends have fun on your twenty first," Logan said.

Scott laughed outright at that. "Best possible present," he agreed.

"Maybe I'll start a drinkin' contest with Cap, too."

"Like you did on your birthday?"

"Yeah, like that," Logan agreed. "He doesn't really do that unless I goad him into it."

Scott laughed and shook his head. "It was hilarious. Mom was egging you both on long after you got hazy."

"When did she quit keepin' up?" Logan asked with a frown.

"You act like she wasn't keeping up and egging you on," Scott chuckled before he finished off the sake Logan had given him.

"I … do not recall."

"Yeah, I know you don't," Scott laughed.

"To be fair, I don't think she remembers either."

"Probably not. Good thing I was around to see it, then," Scott agreed.

Logan was quiet for a little bit. "Didn't help with everyone's betting, did it?"

"Not even a little bit."

Logan smirked at that for a moment and threw back the second shot, smiling to himself. "Oh well."

Chapter Text

Things at the institute were abnormally quiet with the Howlett/Summers clan gone. Hank had headed back to Illinois to spend time with his parents for the holidays, and Warren had flitted away to his hidden aerie in Colorado for a little down time alone. The rest of the team was around … but … Bobby hadn't quite meshed with everyone really well yet, and seeing as it was the holidays, he was sorely missing his family.

To make matters more complicated, Johnny and his family and team were out of touch with a mission that had taken them to Latveria. So Bobby really didn't have anyone he cared to talk to about the fact that as time wore on, all he wanted to do was to go get a hug from his mom and watch a game with his dad, like they always did this time of year. Football season was gearing up for the Super Bowl, and he knew his dad would be glued to the screen watching. Especially since the Patriots had made it to the playoffs.

Bobby wasn't the biggest football fan, but he'd paid attention over the season, usually watching games with Warren, Scott, and Logan when they had down time, but every game he watched, he couldn't help but wonder what his dad was up to - and why he'd been so hard to reach out to.

There had been a few times that Bobby had headed back home to try and drop in when he knew they should be there, but every time he had, they were either just leaving or no one was around and Bobby had to wonder if he should have spoken up - or gone ahead and interrupted them to try and say hello. But … his father seemed to be in a foul mood when he saw him - even from a distance, and in Bobby's experience, that wasn't anything to interrupt. Especially if he was already avoiding him.

But New Years was the time to get a new start, Bobby reasoned. And that meant a new shot at trying to fix whatever it was that had his parent's ire. He suspected, of course. The press had been pretty relentless in their pursuit to find out who Bobby was, but the picture of him and Johnny kissing in the elevator had been plastered on every newspaper in New York - and several that were nationwide. He knew they would have had to be willfully ignoring the news to miss that story - and all of the press surrounding it since then, too.

He just … he was sure they'd want to talk to him before they reacted.

So with no one to talk him out of it, Bobby took the keys to Logan's Jeep and headed out to speak to his parents. It was overdue, and though he'd been hurt by the snub over Christmas … he simply couldn't go on without talking to them.

The drive was slick, and it gave Bobby plenty of time to think about what he'd even say, and by the time that he got to his parent's neighborhood on Long Island, he decided that he needed to take a moment and grab a bite to eat … maybe grab some flowers to bring to his mother …

He found himself drifting toward the little corner market his mother frequented, and as he was at the cooler trying to decide which beverage he wanted, someone at the end of the aisle knocked over part of a display. Bobby turned, then broke into a smile when he saw his mother - though he wasn't expecting the expression on her face as she quickly abandoned the wrecked display and started off.

"Mom, wait," Bobby called out as he rushed toward her. "I was coming to see you - hold up!" When he caught up to her, he took her elbow with a warm smile and a moment later, wrapped her up in a hug that … at first, she didn't quite return, but after a moment, she sobbed into his shoulder. "Hey, it's okay," Bobby told her, doubling down on the hug. "What's going on? I tried to call - at least a hundred times-"

"This isn't the place, Bobby," Madeline told her son. "Not here."

Bobby frowned as she let go of him and he stepped back, doing his best to keep his emotions under control - something he hadn't really had to do around his mother before. "Okay. Where do you want to go? I've missed you, Mom."

She smiled tightly and rested her hand on his cheek as she looked up at him. "I've missed you too, sweetheart. Come on, let's go down the block to that little ice cream parlor you liked so much."

Bobby smiled a little easier and headed off with her, though the back of his neck was still prickling with nerves. The two of them sat down in a booth and ordered their milkshakes, though by that time, Bobby was so nervous, he wasn't sure what to say or how to even start. So, after a while, with no forward motion, Bobby decided just to say what was on his mind.

"I'm sorry you had to find out about Johnny and me through the news," Bobby said quietly and with no warning. "I didn't … if I … I mean, it was still pretty new at that point and-"

"There's no way you can be gay, Robert," Madeline said. "There's just no way. You dated girls. You like girls."

"Yeah, I did," Bobby said slowly, watching her expression carefully. Of all the times he'd paid attention to his mother's expressions - this was the one and only time that he didn't know immediately what she was thinking. "But Johnny-"

"I don't want to hear about that man. He's far too old to be chasing anyone near your age," Madeline said. "I should have known … all the women he's been seen with. The man's a predator."

Bobby blinked back at her wide-eyed. "He's really not, Mom. He's a really good person-"

"I didn't raise you to be gay, Madeline almost hissed. "It's evil. You're going to get AIDS and you're going to hell the way you're headed. This isn't what I wanted for you. I raised you to have morals, Robert."

Her hands were shaking and there were tears at the corners of her eyes threatening to spill over, but Bobby simply didn't have a response more than to stammer as he tried to keep from breaking down on the spot. He knew his father would have trouble. He just never thought his mother would take this kind of a reaction. "I … I'm sorry," Bobby said at barely a whisper, his breath coming in gulps as he tried to keep from hyperventilating … though the prickling, numb sensation that was washing over him was proof enough that it wasn't something he could stop. "I didn't mean to… please, don't tell Dad. I won't … I …"

But she didn't budge, and a moment later, Bobby found himself slipping out of the booth. He stood there, unable to look her in the face as he fumbled for his wallet with numb, shaking hands and left a tip on the table, though he had no idea which bills he'd dropped.

When he finally looked at his mother again, she was resolutely looking out the window. "I'm sorry, Mom."

"You need to fix this," she said, still not looking at him. "You need help, Bobby. Professional help. And I'm not sure that band of miscreants that we trusted is the right group to help you either." She made a scoffing noise in the back of her throat. "As if those people truly wanted to help."

Bobby's face grew hot as he tried and failed to push back the blush. "It's not their fault, Mom."

"Of course it is," she snapped as she got to her feet and marched toward him. "They've got you convinced that you're … that you …"

But that had Bobby bristling just enough for a parting shot. "You're going to have to make up your mind, Mom. Either it's the people at the school, or it's my boyfriend. You can't blame both. Especially when it's me you're mad at." He turned and strode out of the door, more than ready to get some distance. And when he heard his mother call out for him, he couldn't help but grimace as his shoulders scrunched upward and he iced over at a run - and whipped up an ice slide to get some distance from her and get to the Jeep faster.

"What was I thinking?" Bobby lamented to himself, and by the time he got to the Jeep - back to his more recognizable form, all he could do was take a moment with his head in his hands, trying and failing to keep from losing it completely.

Scott and his family got back from Japan feeling much better-rested than before - and setting off a whole new round of betting - but for Scott, his real focus was on watching to see if he had any waking dreams like the one he'd had on New Year's.

He told Charles about it as soon as they got back, and that had kicked off about a week of intensive telepathic work in an attempt to give Scott a way to fight back for conscious control of his mind, but after a few weeks, it seemed like the painful Shi'ar memory had been a one-off.

At least, that's what Scott was hoping. Especially since everything else was going so well. His parents were still joined at the hip, his team was flourishing - despite more and more anti-mutant rallies and despite Bobby getting a steady stream of death threats that he was more or less learning to ignore. There was even a betting pool on Kurt and Ororo, considering how well the two of them were working together.

He was in a reasonably good mood - until of course, he rounded the corner and could hear the other end of the phone call Bobby was having. At first, he thought it was another angry random stranger, but when he saw the wide-eyed look of horror on Bobby's face, he knew that wasn't the case.

"...You're as good as dead to me and if you ever try to come back here and bother my family again, I'll shoot you dead. Do you understand me? Dead!"

"Got it," Bobby replied in a breath. And then the kicker that had Scott completely horrified.

"You're no son of mine!"

Bobby flinched before he simply stood there, pale as a ghost and clearly in shock, the receiver still to his ear even though Scott could hear the dial tone that said that Mr. Drake had hung up already.

"Bobby …" Scott breathed out, which as it turned out, was enough to snap him out of it.

Bobby sniffed and hung the phone up before he turned toward Scott, his focus clearly on the ground as he tried to simply step past Scott. He turned sideways to get through the door Scott was still standing in, and when Scott reached out to try and stop him, Bobby pushed him away. "Don't touch me," Bobby said in a low tone Scott had never heard before.

"Bobby, wait."

"Not now," Bobby said, storming off. "I don't need a pep talk, Scott." As he walked away, he iced up and Scott had to frown. Normally, Bobby's frozen form was mostly opaque - it was icy, but now he almost looked like a moving ice sculpture, and as he went the hall behind him frosted over half way up the walls, leaving snow on the picture frames and door knobs.

Scott frowned deeper, knowing better than to chase after him and instead, he made a point to call up Johnny and see if he could do something to cheer up their favorite snowman.

When Valentine's Day came around, almost everyone in Westchester was in a great mood. Kurt and Ororo were of course leading the way with bold, romantic gestures, and Logan and K were a sight to see as they set the bar for how they thought it should look. Logan was making it a point to take K out more often, and they'd taken the whole weekend to head up to a cabin and leave Sammy with Steve (since Clint and Natasha were actually going out for Valentine's as well, shocking Clint and almost nobody else). Even Johnny and Bobby had made plans, though theirs were much quieter and involved Bobby sneaking over the night before Valentine's to spend the night at the Baxter Building, which was happening often enough that the team was joking that they should rename themselves to the Fantastic Five.

Which was great. Scott loved seeing his friends happy.

But Scott's plans for the day were a lot less flashy. He wanted to grab some flowers, yes, but not to take to anyone - not even the girl at the jewelry store that Warren had told him three times he needed to ask out already. He wasn't quite ready to try dating again, not when he was still expecting the Phoenix to flare up again. It wouldn't be fair to ask a girl to fall for him if he didn't know if he could stick around. He was trying to approach the problem like Logan had said, deciding he was going to survive, and that was working. But the part of him that needed to plan for the worst held him back from doing anything that would hurt someone, no matter how confident he was about his approach.

So instead, he was grabbing some flowers to go visit Jean. He'd come to lay some flowers at her grave at all the big holidays, milestones… there was something comforting about talking to her, like she was still around.

Maybe one day he'd move past it. But for now, he still loved her. He'd never stop.

He made his way out to the cemetery with the roses in hand and sat down in the grass, clearing away some of the old flowers to set the new ones down before he made himself comfortable and started to very quietly tell her about everything that was going on, from his parents to the team and everything in between. He especially made sure to update her on Sammy, who was getting close to two years old and was figuring out how to sass everyone with her ever-expanding vocabulary.

Scott particularly loved when she did it to Stark. She would talk louder over him when he tried to talk and then she'd cover his mouth with both hands, and it was hilarious.

Eventually, he talked himself out, and he got to his feet, brushed himself off, and went into town to get a hot cocoa. That was something he and Jean had always done - and held hands with the hands that weren't holding the cocoa. And while usually, Scott was trying to keep from wallowing, he figured he could spare a day to just… remember her.

He hadn't expected, however, to walk into the shop and see a girl with red hair in a soft sweater and jeans. It wasn't Jean, but the sight left him almost breathless before he tried to get his feet back underneath him to get in line behind her and look less like he was staring like an idiot.

She looked over her shoulder at him for a moment then turned back around, shaking her hair out before stepping up to make her order with an almost bored tone. Before she paid, she leaned halfway over the counter to pass her credit card to the cashier and whisper something to her that had the girl behind the counter smirking with a little nod as the girl stepped to the side.

Scott didn't think anything of it until his order rang up - and the girl at the counter let him know that the redhead had paid for his cocoa. He raised his eyebrows and looked over his shoulder at her. "Okay."

She raised her cup when he looked her way. "From one single person to another on this miserable holiday. Don't make a thing over it."

Scott smirked at that and shrugged. "Well, thanks," he said, raising his cup to her in return as he sat down at his own table.

The redhead gently shrugged up one shoulder before she settled in with her book, though she was facing him as she read, so it was incredibly hard for Scott to miss a few of her mannerisms. Like the way she would fiddle with her cup before she picked it up, twisting the sleeve around a little so the seam wasn't touching her fingertips. Or how she played with the corner of the page more as she got closer to turning it. Or how she looked almost in a trance as she slowly would tuck a loose tendril of hair behind her ear - only to ignore it as it slipped free a short few moments later.

It reminded him so sharply of Jean that he found himself staring all over again - and trying hard not to. Maybe it's just the day, he told himself. I'm just thinking about her a lot, that's all.

The girl took a moment to flip the book over and then leaned back as she stretched out a little - her shoulders pulled up high and her arms out in front of her. He couldn't help but shift his gaze when he saw how she'd pointed her toes well away from the chair she was in then crossed her ankles and tucked that unruly tendril back for the eighth or ninth time. But she didn't seem to notice him watching as she went back to her book with an eager expression that fell just short of a smile.

Scott tried to ignore it, but by the time he'd finished his cocoa, he was so stuck on how much she looked and acted like Jean in all the little ways, he couldn't leave it at that. So when he got up to throw his cup away, he had to ask, "Can I at least get a name so I can thank you for the gesture?"

"Elaine," she said.

"Scott," he said.

"Nice to meet you, Scott."

"Yeah. Likewise," he said. He wasn't sure what else to say, and he knew he couldn't just blurt out something like, "You remind me of my dead ex-girlfriend."

"I really wasn't expecting a thank you."

"I know," Scott said, then rubbed the back of his neck. "I … it's just that you remind me of someone, that's all. I was gonna drop it - not trying to be weird-"

"What made you change your mind?" Elaine asked, closing her book as she looked up at him with a smirk tugging at the corner of her lips.

"Well, it's going to sound crazy, but are you maybe related to the Grey family? Because you look just like a girl I used to know."

Elaine frowned and gently shook her head. "I don't believe I'm familiar with that name."

"Well, I figured, but I thought I'd ask," Scott said, letting out his breath. "It's just that… well, she died a few months ago, and you're so much like her I wondered if you were visiting her family or something…"

Elaine frowned deeper then looked around at their setting. "No, I'm sorry. I'm actually here for the college."

Scott nodded. "Yeah. Sorry. I just thought I'd ask."

"No, I understand. Sort of." She leaned forward, biting her lip as she turned toward a nearby table that was clearly listening in. "Do you think you could show me somewhere a little quieter to read around here? I can't do it at my dorm - my roommates are terrible."

Scott blinked in surprise and then nodded. "Yeah, there's a park not far from here when the weather's good - and they have a covered pavilion when it's cold."

"Would you mind?" Elaine asked, already gathering up her book and purse. "I really don't know my way around very well yet."

"Sure," Scott said with a nod. "One good turn deserves another, right?"

"I promise I wasn't pushing for that when I got your cocoa."

Scott nodded. "Yeah, I know. I'm the one that stopped to ask you if you were related to the Greys."

"Strangest introduction ever," she laughed. "But points for not being normal."

"Yeah… it's just that kind of a day, really."

"I've never been much for this holiday," Elaine said as she pulled her coat on.

"Yeah, well, I used to be," Scott admitted, grabbing his own gloves to pull them on.

"Scheduled romantic affairs seems … wrong." she shook her head. "And there is far too much pressure on people our age to have dates."

"I'll agree to part of that," Scott said. "But I like having a day to look forward to and do something big. My parents go out and celebrate, and it always makes them happy to have the excuse."

"It sounds sad to need the excuse," Elaine said.

"I didn't say they needed it. Just that it's there for them to take," Scott clarified automatically.

"Alright," she said, though she didn't put a hat on as they headed for the door.

They walked toward the park in relative silence, since they were still mostly strangers, though as the crowds from the town thinned and they were almost to the park, Scott felt the slightest prick of pressure on his telepathic defenses before they were overwhelmed entirely - and he dropped in an instant.

Chapter Text

When Scott woke up again, his head was killing him, and he didn't have his glasses on - though he did have a blindfold tied tightly around his eyes. He almost groaned - he was getting tired of running into trouble - though when he heard someone else let out a light moan, he paused and frowned. "Who's there?"

"Scott?" Elaine called out in a tired, weak tone. "What's going on?"

Scott felt his stomach drop. "Are you okay?" he asked.

"I … think so," she said, though her tone shifted to one that sounded much more fearful. "Where are we?"

"I don't know, but I'm going to get us out, alright?" Scott said, shaking his head to himself. He couldn't risk trying to take the blindfold off when he didn't know where she was or what he might hit, especially when his powers had actually been more reliable lately since his dad had been helping him push back the Phoenix, which meant he was back to a full-power beam more often than not when his eyes were uncovered and open… "I'm sorry. They're probably after me - whoever they are."

"Why are they after you?" Elaine asked, sounding more shocked. "Scott … why are you blindfolded?"

He let out a long sigh. "It's… it's a long story. Those glasses I was wearing… I need them to see without, well, shooting a blast out of my eyes. I'm sort of a mutant." He grimaced a smile. "Sorry. There's a lot of people that hate us."

"This … is so …" she let out a breath, but let her statement fall.

"I know. I'm sorry," Scott said. "I really am. You should never have been caught up in this just because you were walking with me. But I promise I'll get you out of here, alright?"

"I really don't know how you'll do that, Scott," she said, her voice breaking slightly.

"I'll figure it out," Scott promised. "Can you - are you hurt? Can you get to me? If you can help me figure out the layout of this place… maybe you can point me at doors… like I said, I can blast through things." He paused. "Look, I don't want to open my eyes and blast something I'm not supposed to. If you work with me, if you're my eyes, we've got a good shot at getting out of here. Do you think you can do that for me?"

"I can try," she said unsurely before she started to haltingly explain the layout of the room they were in.

Scott was nodding encouragingly with every word. "Alright, you're doing great," he said, already starting to angle himself toward where it seemed like the door was based on her description. He rolled the blindfold so it was no longer over his eyes but kept his eyes closed all the same. "I'm pointed at the door?"

"Yes," she said from behind him.

"Alright. Stay behind me," he said before he blinked his eyes open, and he was relieved when there was the usual sharp-sounding kzapt before the door splintered - his powers were working. He quickly closed his eyes again, since he had no idea what was beyond the door, and he didn't want to end up blasting into someone else's cell or something.

He reached out behind him until he found Elaine's arm. "Okay," he said. "Just like that. Just keep telling me what you can see, and we'll go through the doors one by one."

"Alright," Elaine said, and quietly took him through what she could see, directing him as they went and smirking more and more the further they went. Every little victory - every new room was building the trust up little by little, and all was going well until Elaine let out a little sound that bordered on a scream as she was pulled away from him.

Scott spun to face her, but of course, without being able to see who had grabbed her or where she was in relation to him, there wasn't much he could do. "Who are you?" he demanded, his eyes still screwed shut and his hands in fists.

"Mr. Summers, I'm surprised to find you out of your room. Did you not find your accommodations reasonable?" Scott recognized the voice as Sebastian Shaw's, and he almost groaned. It had been so nice not to have that guy around for so long.

"I really wouldn't know. I couldn't see them," Scott said dryly. "What do you want?"

"I want to know what your lovely friend did to summon the Phoenix."

"No." Scott shook his head, his hands shaking in almost immediate rage. "Absolutely not."

"I don't think you quite understand, Mr. Summers. I'm not asking. You will tell me what I want to know."

"No, you don't understand," Scott shot back angrily. "No one should go looking for that thing. It's dangerous, deadly - it kills on a whim and devours whole worlds. You don't want it. You can't have it."

At that, Elaine let out a frightened strangled sort of scream as the person handling her did something that Scott couldn't see. "You're willing to be difficult? Fine. We'll see who will break first."

"Leave her alone," Scott said, the anger still ringing in his tone.


"She doesn't have anything to do with this. She doesn't know anything - we literally just met!"

"Then it shouldn't bother you," the man said just before Elaine made another terrified sound.

"Let her go," Scott said again. "I'm the only one that knows anything. She's just a bystander."

"Then tell us and we'll let her walk."

Scott paused, but when Elaine let out a scared-sounding sob, he let his shoulders drop. "She didn't summon it, alright? It came to her. Now let Elaine go."

"Somehow, I don't feel as if you've told me all you can."

"I answered your question," Scott said. "She didn't summon it. It sought her out - and it got her killed."

"Why? What was so special about her?"

"God ... everything," Scott said, shaking his head.

"You have to know something."

"I know it killed her," Scott said as evenly as he could. "I was there when it happened."

"It killed her? That's not what it looked like on the news report that I saw."

"That's what happened," Scott said, his jaw locking down as he tried to keep the images of Jean's death out of the forefront of his mind. "She had to stop it, and she died to stop it. It killed her." Scott held out a hand. "Now let Elaine go. I told you: you can't use the Phoenix. It wasn't summoned. All you're doing is asking about a dead girl. There's no reason to kill anyone over that thing."

All of a sudden, Elaine let out another half-terrified sound and fell into him, though he caught her before she could lose her footing. "You won't be able to get out of this place,' the man warned. "Not without killing your friend."

"I already told you everything you need to know," Scott said angrily. "You said you'd let her go!"

"And I don't believe that's all you can tell me. Think it through, Mr. Summers."

"Let her go," Scott repeated through his teeth.

But the man's only answer was the door slamming behind him with a hollow sort of sound leaving the two of them alone once again.

Scott frowned before he let out a breath and turned his attention to the girl he was holding up. "Are you okay?" he asked gently as he eased them both to the ground.

She was clearly shaking, but it took her a few moments to manage a quiet 'no.' This was everything Scott didn't want to have happen: a civilian pulled into the Phoenix drama. An innocent in trouble because of his drama.

"I'm so sorry," he said quietly.

"You … you don't know what they're asking for," Elaine said in a trembling voice. "So why won't they stop?"

"Because this thing they're after has the potential to be the ultimate weapon of mass destruction," Scott explained. "And if they got their hands on it, they could destroy everything. I've seen what it can do. Nothing can stand up to it."

A moment or two of silence later, she started to cry - or he thought she started to cry as her shoulders shook and even Scott could smell the tears on her skin.

Scott bit his lip and then rearranged how he was sitting with her so he could hold onto her as tight as he dared - he wasn't sure how hurt he was. "I'm so sorry," he said again.

She leaned into him for just a moment, and before Scott realized it, everything about her seemed to shift. "Are you?" she asked.


Elaine didn't respond - at least, she didn't respond in any way Scott was expecting as a moment later, he was hit with a familiar kind of rush that went along with a psychic attack, overwhelming him more than he expected was possible. He had been working hard with the professor to keep up his telepathic defenses, but he'd been distracted, scared, worried, and having Jean's death brought up so cavalierly did not help him to keep his focus. He was trying so hard to hide the Phoenix from whatever telepath had knocked him out before, not on keeping out a girl he hadn't even known was a telepath.

At once, he recognized the telepathic signature, but before he could even tell Emma to stop, she blew through the halls in his mind, kicking in doors as she went - though she didn't stick around for long at any one place, just breaking open one closed off memory after another, leaving Scott trying to contain all of it as she pushed forward causing more damage and leaving him in her wake trying to stumble over it.

Everything he'd thought he had a handle on was being set loose. All of it. One moment, it was Sinister, then he was joined by Cyber and the faceless masses of the town that he'd been forced to flatten. Sabretooth. Magneto. The Shi'ar. The kids that had been awful to him at the orphanage, the families that had turned away from him one after another … the handful of times that he had been sure Logan was a dead man … every fear, every nightmare … all of it was thrown out into his consciousness as if she was turning over his bedroom drawers, dumping all of it out as she rifled through his memories and his mind.

She had just blown through his memories of the nightmares he'd been having lately and the sessions he'd spent with Charles trying desperately to convince himself that he wasn't going to meet the same fate as Jean when, at last, she got to the defenses Scott and Charles had built up around the red-hot door. But the moment she knocked on those defenses, her open assault came to an abrupt end as red and yellow flames curled out from behind the defenses and forced her out of his mind and into reality, where Scott himself had the hint of fire around him as well, even if he was half doubled over and reeling from the psychic assault.

Though for as surprised as Emma was to be out of Scott's mind, it was obvious Scott himself was scared stiff, his hands in fists at his temples as he willed himself to try to get a hold of the fire spilling out.

"Sebastian," Emma said - her voice had shifted to a much more blue-blooded accent that spoke of spoiled generations of prep school brats down her family line. "I was right. He is the connection to the Phoenix."

"Stop. You have to stop," Scott said through his teeth, though his eyes were still screwed shut as he tried to put the lid back on the fire. "You're going to get us all killed."

"No, darling, the way this is going, you will," Emma said.

Scott shook his head as he tried to get a handle on it, though when he did open his eyes, there wasn't even an optic blast - just fire - as he looked around the ornate room at the several different people around him and Emma. "I told you - the Phoenix isn't something you want to mess with."

"Not alone, no," she said. "It's something that requires a united front with much more powerful and experienced people."

"So you can use it as a weapon of your own? I don't think so," Scott said, and though he didn't mean to, his own anger at Emma spilled into more fire, and he could hear the Phoenix pressing for him to just destroy them all then and there. It was much harder to fight back when his telepathic defenses against the thing had been attacked. His mind was reeling, and the Phoenix was taking full advantage.

"Oh, yes, you have a wonderful handle on it on your own, don't you?"

Scott shook his head, his hands in fists so tight he was drawing blood. "I'd rather let this thing kill me than let it fall into the wrong hands."

"It seems to me you don't have much of a choice."

"Yeah, the options aren't the best, but hey, at least I'll see Jean again."

"I'm alright with that," Emma said. "Why don't you try to reach out?"

Scott blinked, not expecting that response when he'd just been saying he was ready to die rather than let the Phoenix win. "What are you talking about?"

"Whenever the Phoenix chooses a host, a part of them remains with the Phoenix."

Scott paused, the desire to connect with Jean again warring with the desire to have absolutely nothing to do with the Phoenix. Finally, he narrowed his eyes and shook his head. If he did reach out to Jean, he wasn't going to do that with an audience. "Back off, Emma. This is your one warning. This thing is already telling me how easy it would be to kill you all and break out of here, and I'm starting to agree with it."

Emma narrowed her eyes and cocked her hip as she stared him down. "Do you think the Hellfire Club is so poorly prepared that we would not have someone close enough to deal with your family should you step out of line? I know the Phoenix can be fast, but it's not faster than a telepathic message, and you have no idea where you are right now in relation to Avengers Tower."

Scott glared at her, though Emma wasn't helping her case at all when his anger was only fueling the Phoenix's whispers for more destruction. But he didn't want to risk his family either. "You don't know where my parents are," he said at last. "You're bluffing."

"Not your parents, no."

"My sister is with the Avengers," Scott said. "You'd have a hard time getting to her."

"Go ahead and think that. Your sister isn't the only member of your family in the city tonight."

Scott narrowed his eyes. "Leave Alex out of this."

Emma smirked. "You finally remembered your baby brother. No."

For a long time, silence stretched between them before Scott finally let his shoulders drop. "Fine," he said, some of the fire receding - though not all of it, not when he was still furious and barely holding back the Phoenix calling for him to kill them all anyway.

But as soon as Emma took a step toward him, what little restraint he had over the Phoenix crumbled, and the fire rushed out from him all at once, incinerating Emma where she stood and blowing out the windows in the room before the other members of what Emma had called the Hellfire Club tried to contain him - not that it was going to do any good against the Phoenix.

It was hard to maintain what he wanted in the midst of everything the Phoenix was craving, but somehow, even with the Hellfire Club dying around him, Scott managed to get his worry over Alex through the fire. He yanked the information on who was watching Alex out of Emma's mind before she died, then simply burned his way out of the building, headed right for his little brother faster than he'd ever traveled before - right into the middle of Alex and Lorna's Valentine's Day date.

The two of them obviously hadn't been expecting company, let alone Scott with the Phoenix fire around him burning through a pair of men with guns trained on them, though when the men were taken care of, Scott paused and looked Alex's way. "You alright?" he asked, sounding almost distant.

"Um … no," Alex said, staring at him wide-eyed. "Scott- you're on fire."

"Yeah, I'm aware," Scott said. It was weird, trying to hold a conversation when the Phoenix was right there in the back of his mind promising Jean to him if he'd stop trying to drive and just surrender. And that was seriously tempting if he wasn't terrified of what would happen after that. "It's not… really… stopping."

"That's not good, big brother."

"I know," Scott said, though by that point, he was really starting to panic, especially because the fire was only getting stronger. Last time, the Phoenix had pulled back once he and Sam were safe, but this time, even seeing Alex safe and sound, the Phoenix was only growing, not backing off. The defenses he'd carefully cultivated were in ruins in his mind, and he was struggling to concentrate, let alone fight back. "I need you to call the Avengers. Please."

"Scott -" Alex said, looking more upset at Scott's request.

"Look, we both know how bad this is, and we need to fix this before it gets worse, alright?" Scott said, barely keeping his tone under control even though he was floating steadily higher with every word. He wasn't trying to float. He wanted to stay on the ground. He was trying to call on what his dad had taught him about willing something into being. It was working only to the extent that the fire wasn't spreading, but he wasn't on the ground.

But Alex didn't need to call anyone, and before Alex could respond, Tony showed up with a handful of Avengers not far behind him - and his voice through the armor sounded strained. "You're taking the phrase 'hot night on the town' a little too seriously tonight. What's the story, big guy?"

Scott looked almost resigned when he saw the Avengers show up, and he shook his head with his eyes closed. "It's not stopping. Last time, it stopped when the danger was past…"

"Not stopping yet, you mean," Tony said before his face mask flipped open. "Can you get a handle on it?"

"I was trying before someone threatened my brother," Scott said, his eyes flashing, and the moment of anger had the fires flaring for just a second.

"Hey, Alex is safe," Tony promised. "Sam too. She was sleeping when I left her with Pepper and Jan."

"Yeah, I know," Scott said. He took a deep breath. "Look, I need you to… we have to stop this thing."

"Alright, alright," Tony said. "How about we take this all the way down to ground level. See if you can pull it back. Seeing Alex here has to help right?"

Scott paused and looked toward his brother, who looked pale as he watched Scott and Tony talking in the air. "Yeah," Scott said in a breath. He was trying to pull it back; he really was. But it seemed like every time he'd start to go toward the ground, the Phoenix rapped at the recently-torn open mental defenses, and it honestly hurt enough to break his concentration.

"You put in for the pool yet, Scott?" Steve called out as he caught up to Tony, trying a different tactic to get Scott to concentrate on something better, since they knew the Phoenix drew on the worst emotions.

"I'm not really in a betting mood, Captain Rogers," Scott said tiredly.

"I'm not asking you to bet now; I'm asking if you're the one that took my time slot," Steve said - obviously trying to redirect him.

Scott smirked at that. "What, you said Dad's birthday for this year's bet?"

"I tried to!" Steve said. "Should have known you'd take that."

"Well, you can have it now, I guess."

"What? You got a lead I don't know about?" Steve said.

"Come on, Captain. I already told you I know how this ends," Scott said. "I can't even get back down on the ground."

"So that's it, huh?" Steve said. "You're just gonna give up? Leave your Dad like that without givin' it hell?"

Scott shook his head, though he closed his eyes as he tried to at least push back a little. Steve was right; he did want to go down fighting. He'd put in too much work with his dad not to do that much. But with the Phoenix tearing into every fear and hurt Emma had laid bare, the truth was he was scared out of his mind, and that was making the Phoenix stronger. But he also really didn't want to make anyone there kill him either.

"Maybe…" Scott said at last, slowly. "Maybe if I can pull it back for just a second, you can knock me out."

"I really don't want to hit you, Scott. I'm pretty sure that goes against my Godfather thing."

"Better than the alternative," Scott pointed out. "Get a tranquilizer; I don't care. Just… knock me out and get the professor, and if we can close that door again…"

"Alright," Steve agreed after a moment.

Scott let his shoulders drop in relief - which was actually helpful in fighting back against the Phoenix too. Just the idea that it could be stopped was doing wonders to help him push it back, since now he was just trying to win a few seconds without the fire instead of trying for full containment. He was starting to get back to what his dad had taught him. He could stop the Phoenix. He just needed a few seconds.

So of course, the Phoenix decided to play its trump card just as the fires were dimming, flooding Scott's mind not just with the piece of Jean that was a part of the Phoenix but with Jean herself. Her essence and her mind on the other side of their connection, lost and alone. And alive.

Scott froze, but the fires were down enough that the Avengers could act anyway, and the next thing Scott knew, there was a sharp prick in his arm, and he felt himself relaxing as he fell slowly the rest of the way to the ground.

"Sorry, kid," Tony said.

There was a split second of silence before Alex caught up to the Avengers looking still pale and stressed. "What the actual hell."

"We'll figure it out," Tony said before Steve spoke up.

"We can discuss it at the tower."

"Yeah, okay," Alex said, though his eyes were still wide. "I don't know where Logan and K are… they were doing the hideaway thing…"

"I can find them if we need them," Tony said.

"I think this qualifies as an emergency situation!" Alex said, throwing up his hands.

"Yeah, but that's what all the plans have been for, right?" Steve pointed out. "Get in touch with Professor Xavier; we need all hands."

Alex took a deep breath - helped a bit by Lorna holding his hand - and nodded. "Yeah. Yeah, okay. I'll let him know to come… Holy hell."

"Alex," Steve said as he picked Scott up. "Focus. We can do this later. Let's get him somewhere safe first."

"I don't know if you know this, dude, but power dampeners don't stop this thing. Jean broke them out of a Sinister lab one time…"

"Do you want a sedative too?" Tony asked.

"Um, no."

"Then hold all questions until the end of the tour," Tony replied as he clapped a hand on Alex's shoulder.

Alex sighed and then shrugged Tony's hand off. "Yeah, just gonna stick by my big brother, if that's alright with you. And even if it's not alright, I'm there."

"That's what I was going for from the beginning," Tony said as the group headed for the tower - quickly.

Chapter Text

Once everyone got to the tower, Alex was barely holding back from freaking out as he watched the Avengers get Scott settled in somewhere relatively safe; he felt like he wasn't breathing until the professor showed up too. Then, he gestured between Charles and Steve. "Okay, so. Answers. Starting with - what the heck just happened?"

"I've only just arrived," Charles pointed out, though he was frowning deeply at the scene. Scott was unconscious, Alex was a wreck, and the Avengers looked like they were in a state of shock - and their minds were just as filled with worry as their expressions.

"Long story short," Steve said, holding Charles' gaze when he saw the professor had at last arrived, "Scott was fully engulfed in flames when we saw him. He managed to push it back enough for Stark to drug him. It wasn't the best option, but it was the safest we could manage at the time."

Charles nodded, still frowning. "Do you know what happened before the Phoenix arrived?" Even as he asked it, he was already reaching out to brush Scott's mind, though he wanted to know what the others knew too.

Steve shook his head. "No. Tony had sensors up and monitoring - so that was the first alert we got."

Charles nodded, though his focus was on Scott's mind, and he was frowning when he saw the damage that had been done from the telepathic attack, with the doors kicked in and the defenses around the red-hot door breached. It was no wonder the Phoenix had gotten as far out of control as it did if this was the state of affairs in Scott's mind.

"Charles," Steve said gently. "Scott was already talking about more permanent solutions."

Charles' frown deepened, and he pulled his attention back to Steve. "I wish I could say that surprises me," he admitted. "But given what happened to Jean, how they were ultimately forced to stop her, and from what I can see of what was clearly a telepathic assault on his mind, I'm not at all shocked to hear it. Even before this assault, he was sure the Phoenix was a death sentence."

Alex cleared his throat quietly, catching the adults' attention. "Yeah, well, it's not like anyone here has come up with a viable alternative to really stop the thing." He held up both hands. "Not saying I want him to - I mean, I don't want him to give up. But c'mon. If it was you? How'd you feel?"

"Like I needed more data," Tony said. "There's got to be something more we can use on this thing."

"Um… I could talk to my dad," Alex said, frowning as he thought about it. "Scott said the Shi'ar could hurt it, and Dad's been fighting them-"

"Your what now?" Tony said, squinting at him. "I thought ... "

"Okay, I actually don't have time to talk about my space pirate dad?" Alex said, holding up both hands. "That's a whole story and several years of crap that he's gonna have to answer for? But yeah. My father. Who's in space. Where this thing likes to live. So he probably knows some stuff."

Tony nodded. "Do it. Come on; I'll set you up with whatever you need to reach out and get him."

Alex nodded, though he pointed a finger at Steve. "Anything happens to my brother, you come get me. I'm not letting him die on me again, you got that?"

"Pretty sure the plan is to keep him medicated until we can come up with something better," Steve said. "Especially if his mental defenses are that badly breached."

Alex let out a breath at that. He didn't like it - it reminded him too much of when his brother was in a coma and then he was told that he died - but it was better than nothing. Still, he took a moment to cross the span and rest his hand on Scott's shoulder as he slept. "Don't leave me again, big brother," Alex said at just over a whisper before he squeezed Scott's shoulder and then followed Tony out.

"I'll stay as well," Charles said, his chin resting on his clasped hands. "I need to repair the damage done to his mind before we can even begin to contain it."

"If this starts to go south," Steve said slowly, "we can't keep Logan and K out of the loop. You know that, right? It would wreck both of them."

"Then if you could please retrieve them, I'll get started repairing the damage done in the meantime."

"That's what I was planning on. If you need anything, say the word. Anyone here will help you." With that, Steve turned on his heel and headed for the quinjet that Tony kept ready for a small group to go on emergency runs when needed.

The flight was a fairly quick one, and for that, Steve was grateful. He really didn't want to have to take the time to fly to the other end of the continent to find his old friend miles away from anything like a serviceable landing area. He had expected Logan to meet him, though, if he was being perfectly honest. He knew that the quinjet wouldn't get past Logan's senses, so when no one emerged from the little cottage, Steve couldn't help but be concerned.

Swearing under his breath, Steve rushed out of the jet, though he wasn't foolish enough to call out. He headed for the cabin and cautiously peeked through the window near the door, but he didn't see anything. So, without trying for a more reasonable warning - and fully aware that he could end up with foot-long claws in his face - Steve knocked and forced his way into the cottage in one smooth movement.

He stopped almost as soon as he'd gotten inside and paused to listen. The fire was crackling in the wood burner - accented nicely by a soft, hollow, metallic thump as one of the logs rolled against the inside of the metal box. Three steps deeper into the place, and there was still no sign of anything but the fire and the clock on the wall tick-tick-tick-tick … though that on its own certainly wasn't helpful to him. Not with all the people after them.

"This better be good," Logan said, and Steve turned before he stepped into the cottage deeper to see that the two little Howletts were half wrapped around each other on the couch on the side he hadn't been able to see from his angle in the doorway. They were fully clothed, half asleep, and looking perfectly content as they were.

"Do you really think that I'd even consider bothering the two of you for anything that wasn't important when I know you're out … trying to unwind?" Steve said.

"You never know," Logan replied. "So what is it?"

Steve considered trying to soften it before he decided against it. "It's the Phoenix," he said simply.

Logan and K didn't say anything or react more than to untangle and sit upright. They went into motion and left everything as it was as they headed out the door. It wasn't until they were settling into the jet that Logan spoke again. "What's the plan?"

"Right now, we've got Scott sedated at the tower," Steve told them.

"Why is Scott sedated?" K asked.

"Because he was fully engulfed in fire, and it wasn't stopping," Steve said. "He came rushing to help Alex and Lorna while they were on their date. He burned up a couple guys that had guns on the two of them. Charles says there was some kind of telepathic attack, too - we're still sorting out the details."

Everything about Logan's usual professional demeanor slipped, and it took him a long while before he finally nodded. "Probably shoulda seen that comin'."

"He was concerned about it," Steve admitted. He ran a hand over his face.

"Yeah, I know. Just figured he had a handle on it," Logan muttered.

"From what Xavier was saying, he probably did - but someone knocked down his telepathic defenses and let the thing out."

"What kinda jackass would pull a move like that?" Logan growled.

"No idea," Steve said, obviously furious himself. "But whoever it is, they're not walking away from it." He shook his head. "Right now, Alex is talking to his space dad, apparently. Trying to find more information on this thing - something about the Shi'ar? Xavier is with Scott rebuilding his mental defenses." He looked more determined. "We're going to figure out a way to keep this thing contained or get it out of your son, I promise."

But at that, neither Logan or K said anything, and if Steve was honest, he couldn't really come up with anything either, knowing how this had ended the last time.

When they got back to the tower, Charles was still sitting with Scott, though he did look up when Logan and K arrived and nodded their way. "Logan, do you remember the Hellfire Club that went after Scott and Ororo when we talked with Katherine?"

"Yeah, why?" Logan asked, almost in a breath.

"Apparently, one of their telepaths saw the door to the connection Scott and Jean shared when she was in Scott's mind while he was in their custody. This person sought him out again and forced the door open." Charles looked tired and leaned back in his chair. "I'm happy to report the door is closed once more, though it will take some time to build his defenses and repair the damage of the attack."

"So … now what?"

"Now, we shore up his mind," Charles said. "We keep the door locked. Whatever it takes." He shook his head. "Alex is speaking with Corsair, asking for anything he can steal from the Shi'ar about how to stop the Phoenix."

"That's a start," Logan said slowly. "What can we do?"

Charles let out a tired breath. "This force - the Phoenix - it's harder to fight when it feeds on anger, fear, and misery. I can help him with his defenses, and Corsair can give us information, but he needs support. The Hellfire Club opened up everything - Sinister, the department, losing his parents - all at once. That's a lot to feed the Phoenix, all in one place."

Steve was watching from the doorway and frowning, his arms crossed. "That's an uphill battle when he's already resigned to how he thinks it's going to end."

"Alright, but," K said quietly chiming in, "you said it feeds off of … basically how everyone is right now. Or does that just apply to Scott?"

"I wasn't sure from Jean's experience alone, but paired with what Scott remembers, I think the answer is both," Charles admitted. "But for the host especially, it's difficult to fight against anger and despair without something to fight with."

"So what can we do?" Logan pushed again, sounding more frustrated this time.

"First and most importantly, I'd like to get his defenses to a place where he can spend time with the real world," Charles said. Drumming his fingers against his leg, he nodded to himself before he continued, "And I'd like to give him an option of dealing with the situation himself without having to turn to either of you. Not permanently." He held up a hand before K or Logan could say anything. "But if there is another burst of fire like this one, perhaps we can have something for him to be sedated… this seems to work as an option, and it could give him peace of mind, if nothing else, to know there's a way to stop himself."

"More like a reset button," Steve muttered. "And not one I want to use all the time."

K and Logan shared a look. "Then we should probably go get cleaned up while you … do whatever you're doing," K said. "Let us know when we can come back and not make it worse."

"I think you're misunderstanding things," Charles said with one eyebrow raised.

"No, I don't think so," K said. "He needs to have the walls built back up - nothing we can help with. He's concerned about screwing us up - something he won't be able to get out of his mind until he's semi-in control of himself. Something else we can't do. And I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that if he were to wake up and see us … that could be a problem too. Am I still misunderstanding things?"

Charles held her gaze. "That's part of it," he said. "But I'm also telling you that being able to be around you both without the Phoenix involved will be a relief - and that is also important. I haven't discounted the importance of your family ties; in fact, I think they're going to be crucial in fighting this entity. So yes, we'll need to speak with him first, but I don't doubt he'll want to see you both once he's sure he can." Charles spread his hands. "While we're still working on his defenses, we don't even need to leave this room."

"We're not going anywhere. Just out of his line of sight," Logan said.

"Good. Because I think he's going to need you both sooner rather than later."

Logan and K had gotten cleaned up and even had time to play with Sam for a while before Charles had said that he'd like to have them stay close when it came time to wake up Scott - but before they could get there, Alex caught both of them, with Tony behind him looking as wide-eyed and confused as Alex.

"Okay, new wrinkle in the unending weirdness that is this stupid firebird thing," Alex breathed out. "Just got off the line with my dad, and, um, the Shi'ar homeworld doesn't exist anymore."

"I'm heartbroken," Logan deadpanned.

"Yeah, but here's the thing," Alex said. "It sounds like the Phoenix did it. But that was, um, in space. So… what the heck."

"Somethin's off," Logan said thickly.

"No kidding," Tony said, shaking his head.

"He wasn't talking about your cologne, moneybags," K said distractedly.

"Scott said he was having nightmares," Alex said, looking toward K. "I was there for one - said he was dreaming about fire in space. Sound familiar?"

"I haven't really seen the fire in space," K said. "But … sure sounds like it lines up."

"So my question is: how can we have one Phoenix here and one in space?" Tony asked. "Are there two of them now? Is that possible?"

"Beats the hell outta me," Logan grumbled. "But there are two of us here that can deal with it if all else fails."

"That's his kind way of saying 'don't fail'," K translated for Tony.

"Yeah, no one wants to go through that again," Tony promised.

K nodded and then curled in to Logan's side, mostly because she knew, if nothing else, he didn't really want to react to any of it.

"So, uh, Corsair is gonna keep an eye out and track down the one in space for us," Alex said, rubbing the back of his neck. "Which shouldn't be that hard to find, except apparently it is, because space is huge."

"He is preoccupied," K said.

"Not anymore. He was pretty upset," Alex said. "I mean, you told him everything that happened with Jean, and when I said this thing had Scott, he … I mean, I don't know what language he was swearing in? But it was definitely swearing."

"Good to know," K said in as even a tone as she could.

"So, um, how's Scott?" Alex asked, walking with the two of them as they headed down the hall. "I've been talking to Dad this whole time, so I don't know… he's okay, right? No more firebird or anything?"

"He's pretty well out of it," K said.

"Yeah." Alex bounced slightly, shifting his weight from one foot to the other. "This sucks. It really, really sucks."

"Well … no reason to dwell on it if we can help it," K said. "He's still here, so just … I don't know. What would you normally be doing right now? Bouncing popcorn off his head?"

"Probably," Alex said with a quiet smirk as the group of them made their way down to where Charles and Scott were.

Once Logan and K had positioned themselves so that they were out of Scott's sight line, Charles administered a stimulant to get Scott out of the sedation, making sure to reach out to him telepathically before he'd even fully woken up to explain to him where he was and that he was safe. There's no fire, and I've closed the door in your mind, he said. But if it returns, there's a button at your right hand that will put you under again. You're not going to hurt anyone - and no one will hurt you.

Scott was frowning hard as he started to come around, and then, when he saw Charles, he sat up straight. "Professor, I know this is going to sound crazy, but we need to find Jean," he blurted out. Which was absolutely not what anyone was expecting him to say right out of the gate - and it was downright disheartening to hear for those that knew the Phoenix had been using Jean's voice this whole time.

Charles frowned. "Scott, I need you to focus. I know that there's a part of her in the Phoenix force-"

Scott shook his head. "No, this is different," he insisted. "I can feel her out there. I just didn't know we needed to look because we kept the door closed, and I was too worried about Sam to think about anything else last time it was opened." He leaned forward, his eyes shining. "Yeah, the Phoenix is there too, but I could feel Jean. She's alive."

"Scott…" Charles let his shoulders drop. "I need you to focus on the here and now. Your family is here to see you, concerned about you…" He looked toward the others in the other room, obviously thrown off his game when, of all the things Scott could have woken up saying, this was not on his radar.

"I'm fine," Scott said. "I'll be fine. We need to help Jean." He frowned and looked around the room. "Where are they, anyway?"

K and Logan came in when it sounded like Scott was open to seeing them, and when they did come in, K had Sam on her hip. "Never too far, Caramel Mocha," K said. "Mind you, that's not usually something a guy your age really wants."

"Yeah, well, our family doesn't do things normally," Scott pointed out, looking relieved to see her.

"Yeah, that's for football players that can't pass home ec," she replied before she gave him a kiss on the temple. "I brought your Valentine."

Scott smiled at that. "Hey, Sammy," he said and kissed the top of her head before he glanced up at K. "Look, I know with the Phoenix thing, it sounds … I know it sounds bad. But I swear, Mom, Jean's still alive. And she's alone and she's scared."

"I would be too," K replied without missing a beat or taking even a second to question his word.

Don't encourage him, Charles chided her, frowning her way.

A large part of my job is encouraging him, K countered.

Not into a false hope, Charles said.

What makes you think it's a false hope? K shot back with some real heat.

We buried her ourselves; your husband was the one to kill her.

And if it could survive by hiding in his head, what makes you think it didn't take part of her with it? Something or someone is on the other side of the universe burning out alien jackasses. I doubt there are two. Not the way those space pirates talked about it last time. It wasn't Phoenix. It was the Phoenix.

Charles narrowed his eyes. We don't have any guarantee that it's using Jean as its host again, and I just told you that it feeds on despair. Don't build him up to failure. The Phoenix showed him what he wanted to see. There is a part of Jean in the Phoenix, but it takes a piece of every host.

Charles Francis, K replied in as patient a tone as she was able to use. You don't know nearly as much about this thing as you want to believe. Don't you think it's a little weird that the entity that is repeatedly coming back over and over again is named a phoenix? Little on the nose, don't you think? Pretty sure it wouldn't be the first space creature that showed up on our planet and made an impact on our lore.

It's precisely because I don't know everything about it that I'm not willing to rely on false hope. We don't understand it - and just because it comes back doesn't mean its hosts do.

False hope is better than no hope in the face of nothing but despair. You and I both know how this ends if nothing works the way we all want it to. And you told me that this thing feeds off of those emotions.

Charles kept his eyes narrowed as he watched her. This could too easily turn into another loss.

You don't get it, Charles. If this turns into a loss, it won't just be Scott that's gone. Do you really think that I don't know that? If it's going to turn into a loss, I'll be damned if I don't back him up with whatever time I've got. He deserves that much from us. You're supposed to back your family up, and that's what I'm doing. Like it or not, I will give him whatever hope he needs to fight.

Charles clearly didn't like the answer, but on the other hand, it was impossible to argue when the stakes were that high. Fine.

For the first time, K's response was sharper and more forceful than Charles'. I wasn't asking your permission.

All of their discussion had happened in the matter of less than a minute - rapid-fire on both sides - as Sam distracted Scott enough that he didn't quite catch who Charles was angry with. Especially since Logan and K were almost stacked next to each other, and neither of his parents were giving up anything.

It was Alex who broke the silence, though, clearing his throat and looking between the adults in the room. "So, uh, hey, Scott. Nice to see you without all the fire. That's a much better look."

Scott glanced up at Alex, and his expression softened. "I'm just glad you're alright."

"Yeah, you know Lorna would have bent their guns into pretzels, right? She's still kind of mad about it. Has her dad's thing about guns, apparently," Alex said, smiling ruefully. "You sure you're okay? You were kind of drugged for a while…"

"I'm not hallucinating, Alex," Scott said.

"No, no." Alex held his hands up quickly. "It's just… um… well, we were all kinda there when Jean... you know..."

"How many cosmic entities have you known, Alex?" K asked.

Alex shrugged. "Okay, fair point. But still. This whole thing is super weird."

"As opposed to the normal stuff we always deal with?" Scott said, one eyebrow raised.

"Well, on a scale from hate crimes to living islands, this is, like, an eleven."

"So far," K and Scott said at the same time.

"And now you're mind-melding," Alex said.

"Just means he's getting smarter," K defended.

Scott nodded. "What she said."

Alex let out a sigh, though he was also happier to see K and Scott on the same page than he cared to admit. "Okay, well… Dad's looking for the latest cosmic entity nonsense, so… I mean, you know I'm right behind you, right? One way or another, in all the weird, we'll figure out what's what."

"Great. Then we need to get the team ready to go," Scott said. "We need something for me if the Phoenix - well -" He looked down at the IV in his arm. "Well, we need something."

"Let's wait until Corsair can get a trajectory on the trouble out there," Logan said. "In the meantime, we'll gather up anyone that wants to go." He turned to look toward the open door. "I'll ask Jan to stay with Sam."

Scott nodded at that, ruffling Sam's hair. "Jean's going to have a fit when she sees you," he told Sam. "You're going to love her."

"Wuv you," Sam replied, then dove at him to snuggle into his neck. "My Scott."

"Yeah, I love you too, Sammy," Scott said, one hand on the back of her head.

Chapter Text

It was only a couple days before Corsair returned with some alarming intel: the cosmic entity in space was making its way for Earth.

The team was ready to respond, of course. But they were all more than a little worried about Scott, even with the "reset switch" of tranquilizers they were bringing with them. It was more than that - they didn't know what would happen if Jean wasn't there, and they weren't convinced that Scott wasn't losing his fight with the Phoenix because of his conviction that Jean was there.

"It needs a host, right?" Steve asked, trying to give Scott the benefit of the doubt, though he was clearly discouraged too. "So whatever it is at the center has to be living."

"Yeah, but so far the only thing that's stopped it is kind of unacceptable, especially since… I mean, that's my brother," Alex muttered.

"But he's not at the center of the other thing," Tony pointed out.

"Yeah, but if he's right about who is - and look, I don't think he is, but if he is? Then I don't want to kill her either."

"You're overthinking it," K said, cutting in before the boys could get themselves too worked up. "Wait, see what the story is, then follow your gut."

"We're gonna have to, considering we don't have much time before it's on our doorstep anyway," Tony pointed out.

"You kiss Pepper before you left?" K asked - both as a means to get him to focus on the important stuff and to see what he thought their chances were.

"Yeah, I did," Tony said, though the look he gave her was serious and told her he knew the Phoenix was a real threat. Which was why they were both focusing on what mattered.

"Smart man."

"Hey, I've got a good woman. I'm not gonna neglect that."

K smiled at him for that. "I know. She waited a long time for you to catch up, so I like to hear you say it."

"So does she."

The mood was a lot quieter than usual by the time Corsair joined them, just ahead of the Phoenix's arrival, with coordinates that they could use to head out and confront whoever was at the center of this other, bigger part of the Phoenix equation.

Scott was drumming his fingers on his knees, honestly worried about what they were going to find. He knew he was right, but he also knew there was still the Phoenix to deal with, and he knew how that had ended last time. But if nothing else, he was going to make sure he was there with Jean this time around.

"How you holding up?" Corsair asked, honestly concerned and watching Scott for any sign of fire.

"As well as can be expected," Scott said out of the corner of his mouth, his gaze on the coordinates on the screen as they got closer.

"You're sure you want to catch it out here on its own turf?" K asked.

"I don't want the Phoenix to get to Earth," Scott said. "It tried to burn the planet last time." He held his breath and then let it out. "And I can talk to Jean. No one's hurt. There's nothing out here for her to lash out at when she sees she's not alone. We've got to give her a reason to fight back."

"You'll be more than enough all on your own," Logan said.

"It'll help that I'm not bleeding out on her," Scott agreed.

"Yeah, try not to do that again, mkay?" Alex agreed.

On hearing that, Logan quietly took a step back - slowly enough that the three Summers didn't quite catch it. He was back out of their line of vision as K took his hand, and they settled in together until they got to the coordinates - not that they needed them when they could see through the windows on the ship the tendrils of fire spreading out from the center of a huge, flaming Phoenix.

Scott tripped over his own feet as he ran to the large window on the bridge, staring out at the Phoenix. It was too far away from anyone to clearly see who or what was at the center, but he knew it was Jean.

Jean, it's me, he projected, almost holding his breath.

The group of heroes were all watching it come, but as soon as the Phoenix was within range to be fired on - the lights and electrical systems in the ship began to flicker. "Is that normal?" Tony asked as his armor started to assemble itself.

"Definitely not," Corsair said with a frown.

"Better be ready for an unscheduled space walk," Tony replied. "Just in case. Our Phoenix looks a little … moody."

"No kidding," Alex said dryly.

"Alright, blond Scott," Tony said, reaching out to tap Alex on the shoulder. "I didn't give you guys that tech just to sit on it."

"First of all, that's not my name," Alex said.

"Should be," Tony deadpanned.

"No, I'm way cooler."

"You think you are anyhow," Tony said. "That's okay, buddy. You're doing your best."

Alex rolled his eyes at that before he called out to Scott. "C'mon, Scott. Let's go say hi to whoever's out there."

"I already did," Scott said as he finally looked away from the window to walk toward his brother. "I told you. It's Jean."

"So let's get ready to meet up with her," Logan said in an unreadable tone, though by the look he and K shared, it was clear the two of them were under the impression that they were going to die. And neither of them were backing down from it anyhow.

Scott nodded, following the others as they double-checked the suits they were wearing one last time before Corsair opened the hatch for their little space walk - all while the Phoenix was getting steadily closer. The whole time, Scott was projecting out to Jean: Come on. It's me. It's Scott. I'm sorry I took so long, but I'm here, Jean. I missed you so much.

But the closer the Phoenix got, the larger it looked. The being in the center had only looked like a dark dot for a long while - it didn't look like the center was getting any bigger, while the flames grew to unbelievably large proportions as it got closer.

While that had most of the heroes visibly nervous, Scott wasn't even moving, just watching that being in the center. Jean, I know you're scared, but it's time to come home to me now. Please.

The scream from the Phoenix was easily heard as the fire formation of the bird seemed to pause, drawing itself up, the bird's head curling over its chest before the whole fire bird seemed to bend, shifting into a dive that had all of the heroes panicking and wondering not only what the heck to do but how to stop from getting burnt to a crisp before they even had a chance to fight.

As it raced through the darkness, it seemed to concentrate down into a more streamlined form until it was clear that it was rushing forward to Scott - and Scott was merely standing his ground, not only sure in who he was facing but sure that even if he was wrong … this was the way to go.

The Phoenix was finally close enough that Scott could see that Jean was at its center looking every bit as beautiful as he'd remembered … and just as wrathful and detached as the last he'd seen her. He couldn't see any recognition in her gaze, only fury as the firebird kept coming for him - and that was what finally broke the careful defenses he had as the tiny piece of the Phoenix inside him flared up to meet the much larger firebird. Suddenly, everyone there could see that Scott only had a sliver of the Phoenix; he was dwarfed in comparison, even with the shard that had stashed away inside him fully formed and reaching, it was a pittance compared to the real deal. At that point, he couldn't stop even if he wanted to, because he too, was now in the middle of Phoenix fire burning through the suit he'd been wearing, the flames reaching out, stretching toward Jean with every bit of longing to reconnect with itself as Scott had longed to even lay eyes on Jean one more time.

Without the suit dragging him down and holding him back to the ways that non-cosmic beings moved, it was much easier for him to simply rush toward her, and since he was already surrounded by fire, the Phoenix wasn't burning him at all as he went to its center, to where Jean was. As soon as he got there, he pulled her into a long kiss, one hand at her waist and one in her hair as he stopped trying to project who he was and started trying to remind her instead.

There was a long moment where Scott didn't know if he'd gotten through to her or not, but finally... "Scott?" Jean said quietly, looking almost confused.

Scott let his shoulders drop in relief. "I missed you, Jean," he said, tracing his fingers through her hair.

She stared at him for a long moment - as though she was just starting to wake up and realize where she was and what was happening around her. "I was so scared," she said quietly. "How are you … the fire, Scott!"

"Yeah, I know," he said, though he was still just drinking her in, giddy and on the edge of breaking down in relief all at once. "I'm fine. We've got this connection, remember? I guess it left some fire with me too." He smiled and kissed her forehead. "Can't let a little bird keep us apart."

At that, Jean wrapped her arms around his neck and curled into him as tightly as she could. "I can't keep this fire with me, Scott. No matter what I do, it will burn me out. I don't want it anymore."

"Then don't keep it," Scott said. "I don't want it either. I just want you. You know that. I told you that. Just be Jean. Nobody expects you to be anything other than that."

She nodded at that and leaned forward until their foreheads were touching. "Then help me, and we can go home."

Scott nodded, leaning into her touch, bringing both of his hands up to cup her face. "I'm right with you. I promise. And so's the team and the rest of our family - we came out here to find you." He paused, smirked, and added, "But maybe let's get rid of it and make sure we won't be left in the vacuum of space when it's gone. Because I'd die for you, Jean, but if we can avoid it…"

Jean looked around them - really noticing where they were for the first time. "Alright. Let me just … I can put us in a telekinetic bubble. Where's your ship?"

"Not far," Scott promised, gesturing toward where the others were, with the ship behind them - though with Scott's suit gone, none of them knew what was being said between Scott and Jean, and they could only see the two of them in the center of a huge firebird, so they looked understandably wary. "You have to see Sammy when we get home. She's figured out how to say my name about three different ways, but I bet yours will be easier."

Jean looked alarmed at that, though. "How long … how long has it been?"

"Too long," Scott admitted. "Sammy's going to be two years old soon." He let his shoulders drop. "You've missed a lot, Jean. Because of the Phoenix, not you. So let's get rid of it. I don't want it in our lives." He was rubbing her cheek with his thumb as his voice cracked with emotion. "I missed you so much." With that, he pulled her into a kiss, and they didn't even break apart as they reached for each other's minds, still locked in an embrace as they started to push back against the fire around them.

Not that the Phoenix was going to give up so easily. Almost as soon as they started to push against it, it pushed back with promises of power, almost cajoling Jean with the idea of a partnership that would be stronger than either one of them alone. And when that wasn't working, the promises shifted instead to what Jean wanted more than anything else - the idyllic family life… spending her time with Sammy, with her parents, with Scott. No Sinister or department or anything else threatening them - even if she didn't know Sinister was gone, it was a tempting promise when there were so many others out there wanting to pick apart mutants. And the Phoenix could clear the path, get rid of everything standing in the way of the life they wanted.

"I've already got that," Jean said, holding onto Scott's shoulders with his arms around her waist.

The Phoenix had turned so that its head was pointed toward them, the fire burning somehow hotter as it locked gazes with Jean. All at once, the Phoenix switched from promises to threats, making a rush for Scott, but Jean was hanging onto him with everything she had, not about to let the Phoenix tear him from her. Which only meant that it turned its sights on the others, enveloping them in flames that didn't destroy them - yet - but the threat was clear, and every one of them looked panicked for a moment until suddenly, they weren't panicked at all … and every one of the people that had come to space to try and stop the Phoenix was listening to the cosmic firebird whispering promises to each of them. It was clear in the way the fire danced through their eyes and snaked around their bodies that the Phoenix was testing them … tasting them to see who in the group would be suitable to take over.

But by then, Jean was simply furious. "You're not taking anyone," she said, her eyes flashing. "You can't force me to take you back. I don't want you, and I don't need you, so you want to blackmail me into this? No." She reached out a hand, still hanging onto Scott, and the fires receded from around their friends, though it took a few moments for each of the potential victims to blink the fire away as each of them were either dismissed or rejected the creatures' lies. "This stops right now. We're done."

For a long moment, there was a spectacular light show, the fires around Jean and Scott burned brighter and hotter, before, with no warning at all, they simply stopped, and the space around them went black, leaving Scott and Jean suspended in a bubble and hanging onto each other tightly, neither of them quite willing or able to move yet when they were still waiting for the Phoenix to come back.

Shockingly, it was Tony that got to them first, and he didn't consider slowing down as he brought them right down to the ship and made sure they were both safe and with oxygen. "Holy crap, is it good to see you both alive."

Jean looked like she was still wrapping her head around that, too. "It really is," she said in a breath, and Scott grinned widely before he kissed her again, obviously thrilled to have her there with him.

"Let's go home," Scott said. "Please."

"I'll get everyone else. You two … find a room, why don't ya?" Tony suggested with a wink before the facemask flipped down again and he shot off.

Scott grinned as he turned to Jean and pulled her into another kiss. "We actually have a few new teammates," he told her between kisses. "And Alex is dating Magneto's daughter. I have missed you. We could have been laughing at him."

"Wait, what?" Jean blinked at him and let out a disbelieving laugh. "Seriously?"

"Yeah, he met her because she was bringing us food while Magneto had us captive. I think there's some kind of psychological term for that," Scott said, still grinning and kissing her between words. "God, I missed you."

"I missed you too … I can't believe it's been so long," Jean said. "I lost track of everything."

"It's fine. You're here, and that's all I care about right now," Scott said, pulling her into another long kiss as the others returned to the ship with Tony's assistance. Scott was still grinning and had his arm around Jean's waist in the quick moment he took to spare the others a glance.

"You know, I'd tell you both to get a room or tease you or something, but I'm just so happy to see you happy that I'm gonna let this one pass," Alex said, grinning as he took off his helmet.

"Told you," Scott said, grinning at him - and then past him to K and Logan. "Right, Mom?" he called out.

"You sure did," K agreed, as both she and Logan stopped where they were, supporting each other and looking worn down.

Scott grinned, pulling Jean by the hand as they rushed through their friends and family, and he pulled K into a tight hug. "Thanks for believing me," he said in a breath.

"If I don't back you up, what good am I?" K said as she hugged him tight.

And while Scott had K wrapped up, Jean had paused, biting her lip when she saw Logan. Then, all at once, she blurted out a quiet, "I'm sorry."

"You got nothin' to be sorry for, Red," Logan said roughly, though he didn't look at her, keeping his gaze somewhere between K and the floor.

Jean frowned before she simply threw her arms around his neck in a hug. "I remember all of it, Logan, and I'm so sorry. I couldn't stop it… I'm sorry I made you do that."

"Didn't make me do anything. And it doesn't matter," Logan said gruffly, gently returning the hug, even if it was clear his heart wasn't entirely in it.

Jean continued to hug him tightly until he returned the hug properly then finally stepped back and smiled toward K, throwing herself at K too. "Scott said Sammy's almost two," she said. "I had no idea."

"Yeah, well. If we're lucky, we'll be back in plenty of time."

"I can't wait," Jean said, stepping back - and into Scott, who seamlessly pulled her close again, like he couldn't stand being apart from her for too long.

"Are you two alright?" Steve asked, looking skeptical from where he was standing with Tony. "Really."

Jean turned toward Steve with a smile. "I think so," she said. "The Phoenix wanted me to choose it, and I turned it down."

"Smart move," Steve said. "So, it's gone?"

"I'm not sure," Jean admitted. "But I think if it came back… I'd know." She paused. "And… and I think I can stop it." She turned to look at Scott. "I just need help."

"I'm sure you'll get as much as everyone can give," Steve said.

Scott nodded, squeezing Jean's hand. "Whatever you need."

"Come on, old man," K said - she had Logan's hand in one of hers, and with the other, she reached up to knock loose Steve's helmet. "We like to fleece the space pirates in poker. You think you can keep up?"

Steve grinned at that. "I know I can."

"You too, Tony," K sang.

"Oh, I see, bring the rich guy…"

"In all fairness, I asked the not-rich guy first. It's not my fault if you're scared to lose to him," K said, earning a look of sheer disbelief from Tony and a loud bark of a laugh from Steve before Tony recovered.

"Oh, you're on."

Scott was grinning as he watched Tony and Steve head out with his parents. "Yeah, that hasn't changed," he told Jean and then kissed her again. "You haven't missed too much."

"Are you sure? It seems like things are a little different," Jean said, hedging a little as they found a spot just for the two of them. "It's been a long time. Did you …" She frowned and trailed off.

Scott frowned and then took her face in one hand. "Jean, last time we saw each other, I said I wanted to marry you. I spent Valentine's Day buying you flowers to lay at your grave. No, I didn't."

She frowned at that. "Then … I guess I was just having some very weird red-tinted dreams."

"Wait, you too?" Scott's eyebrows shot up. "I thought that was just because I had part of the Phoenix."

"Well if you want to get technical, it probably was," Jean said, obviously trying to dodge the question.

"Jean," Scott said gently. "Come on. What's bothering you?"

"Alright. So … there was a very creepy woman in a sewer... Dream or actual problem?"

Scott frowned. "Actual problem," he admitted. "Not my idea, either. Mom killed her because she- well..."

Jean's shoulders relaxed. "Oh, good. It seemed like she needed to die."

"She really wanted to get married," Scott said flatly, finally dropping her gaze.

"Then she probably should have focused more on personal hygiene and meeting someone else who enjoyed swamp gas-filled sewer walks."

Scott smirked at that and then leaned forward to steal a kiss. "Besides, I already met the perfect girl," he said. "No one could ever measure up."

"That's a good answer, so I guess I'll just let my concerns about a trampy blonde float."

"Okay, that's not fair," Scott said. "I was trying to move on when I thought you were dead. Very, very bad rebounds do not count."

Jean smirked at him. "I wasn't judging you, handsome."

"Good, because that was a terrible mistake that I'd rather pretend never happened," Scott said, then leaned over to kiss her. "Especially when you're infinitely better."

"What did you see when you dreamed, Scott?" Jean asked, again trying to dodge her other concern.

"Space and fire," Scott said. "I think I saw the remains of Chandilar."

Jean nodded. "That was terrifying," she said, frowned, and then looked up to him. "I destroyed a planet. Or three."

"The Phoenix did that and used you to do it. There's a difference," Scott insisted as he ran his fingers through her hair.

"But I felt it," Jean said. "The psychic projections from all of them."

Scott let his shoulders drop and kissed her gently. "You remember what you told me after I leveled that town?" he asked.

"That I love you?"

"That too," Scott said. "But you were pretty clear about where to place the blame. Just because you were there to see it doesn't meant it's your fault." He kissed her again. "I'm so sorry it dragged you through that."

"Well, I was honestly starting to wonder if you had some weird things going on - even if I couldn't focus enough to understand what was happening." Jean shook her head. "But it wasn't planetary destruction. I guess."

"No, but I did get kidnapped by a cult and burned them all down," Scott said.

"Is that what the fake red-head was about?"

Scott flushed. "She was using my surface memories of you."

Jean reached up to brush his hair out of his face. "You were so distracted that you quit using your psychic defenses?"

"I missed you, Jean," he said in a breath. "You were - you are the love of my life. I never got over it. When I lost you … I lost everything. There was no coming back from it."

Instead of answering with words, Jean pulled him down so she could reach him better and stole a long and rather involved kiss. And our psychic connection is still working. I hope you're okay with that.

I'm fine with that, Scott promised. All I can feel is you - no more fire. And it's how I knew you were still alive. What's there to be mad about?

Hopefully nothing at all. I guess I just need to make sure that it wasn't the firebird that had you falling so hard.

Scott shook his head, tracing the curve of her back. Jean, I fell in love with you the day I met you.

"Same," she said quietly.

"Good," Scott said. "Because if you're still interested, I'd like to try that proposal again."

"I am very interested in your consideration, Mr. Summers."

Scott was grinning. "I don't know; now I'm wondering if I should at least try to act like I have some decorum and wait…"

Jean tipped her head to the side. "That's probably wise. No one should get the wrong idea, after all. And who knows what all is wrong with my mind after all that. Maybe we should go back to first date territory."

Scott shook his head at her, pulling her by the hand. "Come on," he said. "I don't care about the details of the rest of our lives as long as we're together. If you need the professor to work with you every day, I'll wait outside with hot cocoa for you when you're done. But I'm never going to leave you again."

"I'm also slightly concerned about space worms or something," Jean teased. "I already had one giant space parasite, after all ... even got you infected."

Scott was entirely unable to stop his grin. "You sound like Farrah. She said more or less the same thing when I told her about it."

"Oh, really?" Jean said with one eyebrow raised.

"Yeah, she's been helping me keep it together this whole time," Scott admitted.

"Then I'm glad you had a good friend while I was …" She let out a breath. "I'm glad she was there for you."

"I just wish I'd known you were out here, or I'd have come to find you sooner. I didn't know until it told me you were alive," Scott said. He breathed out a sigh and took her hand. "And you have no idea what that meant to me."

"Yes, Scott, I do know what that meant," Jean said. "Because I'm pretty sure you were the reason I broke away from planetary destruction."

Scott smiled wider and pulled her into a long kiss. "Jean Elaine Grey, will you marry me?" he breathed out. "I can't wait to ask you with the ring. I'll ask you again properly, I promise, but I can't stand to wait one more minute without asking you. Again."

"Scott, I don't care about the ring," Jean said before she kissed him right back. "I'd love to."

Scott grinned and then picked her up off her feet in a much longer kiss as they found a little privacy to reunite without an audience.

Chapter Text

The following morning - or what passed for the following morning for the group of space travellers - Jean and Scott made their way to where the scent of coffee was thick in the air to find Logan and K having coffee together, as always, Logan's arm around her as she tucked into his side. But with no newspaper to keep them just to themselves, Logan was chatting with Steve, and K was oddly … wearing Tony's sunglasses. She tipped her chin up a little when she saw Jean and Scott, then slid the sunglasses down to the tip of her nose so she could peek at them.

"That took no time at all," she said. "Morning. Ish."

Neither Jean nor Scott could stop grinning. "Morning," Scott said. "Nice sunglasses."

"Someone ran out of cash," K said as she lifted her mug.

Jean laughed. "And you're not giving them back."

"Hey. I won them," K said.

"Well, I like your new accessory," Jean said, her eyes sparkling.

K smirked and tipped her head. "Yeah, I'm not the only one either." She took off the shades long enough to put them on top of her head, then got up to head over to the two of them before any of the men could catch up. She took a hold of Jean's hands, shaking her head at them before she pulled Jean over for a hug that she clearly needed. Once she let her go, she turned to Scott and let her shoulders drop before she wrapped him up in a tight hug. "You are the sweetest little romantic," K said. "You couldn't wait to ask, could you?"

"Absolutely not," Scott said. "And technically, this was the second time I asked."

"Yeah, I just ... " K let out a breath. "I'm glad you brought the ring. It's perfect for her. Of course."

"I knew she was here," Scott said. He paused and added softly, "And if I couldn't talk her down with anything less than everything I had…"

"Yeah, we figured as much," K told him, though she fell short of letting him know she and Logan had their own plan in place to stop the Phoenix if they could get close enough.

Scott gave her another hug and then smiled over at Logan. "What do you think, Dad?" he asked. "You ready to be a father-in-law?"

"Long overdue," Logan said easily. "Congrats, kid."

Scott grinned. "He helped me find the ring," he told Jean, who was still grinning at him and had her arms around him.

"He learned well," K said.

"And somehow I thought they'd wait until we got to Earth before I got a sister," Alex said dryly as he joined them.

"No, they're waiting for Earth to start thinking about giving you a niece," Logan deadpanned.

Both Scott and Jean flushed red. "So that hasn't changed either," Jean said.

"Why would it?" Steve chuckled.

"Good point," Jean said, smiling his way and resting her chin on Scott's shoulder. The two of them were still clearly soaking in each other's presence - and they weren't going to stop anytime either.

"Congratulations, lovebirds," Steve said.

"Okay, I feel like I missed an important announcement, and it better not be a tiny firebird," Corsair said as he came in, looking a bit bedheaded himself - and still slightly frazzled after watching his oldest son get swallowed up in Phoenix fire and somehow walk out the other side unscathed.

"No eye for detail, hmm?" Tony said.

"Who knows how long cosmic firebirds take to hatch," Corsair said dryly.

Tony rolled his eyes and made a point to lean over so he could see Scott and Jean clearly. "I'm very sure the proper sentiment is something closer to 'congrats - looking forward to the wedding - and let me know what I can do to help.'"

"We're still working out the details. I'd like to see my family again first," Jean pointed out, though Corsair was shaking his head slowly before he finally came over to pull Scott into a hug.

"Congratulations. I can't believe it, but I absolutely can."

"Yeah, everyone saw it coming," Alex agreed.

"Cut him a little slack," K said. "Your old man has whiplash right now."

"I think we all do," Alex said even as Corsair let out a 'hey', throwing one hand out to indicate Scott, who was still grinning and definitely not at all like the depressed almost-suicidal brother he'd been dealing with up until that point. "I thought he was gonna die not that long ago…"

"You're so dramatic," K teased.

"Gets that from our dad," Scott said.

"Obviously," Logan agreed.

"You'll come to the wedding, right?" Scott asked, turning to Corsair, who had almost exactly the same expression on as Alex: bewildered amusement.

"Yeah, of course," he promised quickly.

"I've got your frequency now; if they can't reach you with what they've got - well, that won't be an issue for long," Tony said before trying - and failing - to get his sunglasses back, snatching his hand back when K growled at him to Logan's complete amusement.

"You're never getting them back," Jean laughed.

"I can try," Tony said with a laugh.

"You can fail," Jean said without missing a beat.

"All part of the learning process, right?" Tony said.

"That means he's remedial," K told Jean with her hand next to her mouth.

"But how else can he learn?" Jean teased.

"I thought he was supposed to be a genius."

"He keeps saying that," Scott said dryly.

"I don't know why I keep sticking around for this," Tony said, shaking his head.

"Masochist," Jean sang out to him.

"Established," Steve said, nodding along. "Well-established."

"And once you've got Captain Rogers on your side, you win," Scott said as if that was that, and Steve grinned at Tony as if to say 'see?', which of course got an epic eye roll.

"You're outnumbered, Stark," Corsair chuckled. "Get used to it."

"I already am," Tony laughed. "Just can't quit."

"Addict," Jean teased.

"Also established," Tony said as he picked up his mug and wiggled his fingers on his left hand to highlight the wedding band he was wearing.

"Now he's got his own redhead to fix that," Scott teased.

"Oh wow. I was gone long enough that you finally got married?" Jean teased.

"I … might have gotten a few key points rubbed in my argument that I couldn't really … argue with." Tony shrugged.

"Thanks, K," Jean sang out, then paused, her eyes sparkling. "I mean … thanks, Mom."

"Love you too," K sang right back.

Jan was spoiling Sammy rotten - and giggling over the faces Hank was making to entertain the little girl. But when Jan saw that the others were coming back, she was disappointed to give up her prime babysitting time… and also worried. Any trip into space took several days at least, and Jan wasn't sure if the fact that the others were coming back so quickly was a good thing or bad one. She'd only heard the tail end of the transmission, and then Sammy had wanted attention and had run off screaming and giggling, and Jan wasn't going to pass up the chance to play tag with a toddler.

But once she'd heard that Scott had been right? Jan was beyond tickled. She'd loved Jean, and she'd already been planning a wedding dress…

She wasn't doing such a good job of holding back her excitement. For all she knew, all this time in space would have screwed Jean up. She should really pace herself.

Yeah, that wasn't going to happen.

As soon as the others arrived at the tower, Jan rushed over with Sammy in her arms and threw one arm around Jean in a hug. "Ohmigosh. You look amazing. I missed you! How was space? Are you okay?"

Jean smiled and threw her arms around Jan. "I'm fine. You look amazing too." She turned her attention to Sam, her expression shifting into something sadder. "Oh, wow. She's grown so much."

Sam looked a little stunned to see Jean - though it was clear the little girl didn't recognize her by how tightly she held onto Jan with one hand and pulled on one of her tiny pigtails that stuck almost straight out with the other.

"Hey, Sammy," Scott said, grinning on Jean's other side. "This is Jean. Can you say hi?"

Sam pulled at her hair for an instant longer, staring at Jean with an almost blank expression before she opened and closed her hand a few times.

Scott smiled and then scooped her up to kiss her and tickle her. "I love her, Sammy. You two are going to be sisters." He tossed her in the air and caught her again, still grinning wider than Sam had ever seen him in the last several months.

"No, lub you, Camoka," Sam squealed until Scott finally pulled her closer for a hug.

Scott grinned. "That's right you do. And I love you so much."

Sam was giggling at him as she snuggled up, and then finally peeked at Jean - and waved again.

Jean smiled and waved at her. "Hi, Sammy. I know you don't remember me, but I was there when you were just born." And I love your big brother a lot, she projected, knowing that Charles would have been playing with her in her head when he babysat if things were the same as they'd been when she was first born.

Sam blinked at her for a moment and then smiled at her. "'Neaky."

Jean grinned. "That's right I am," she said. "Do you do that with Charles?"

She looked at Scott before even considering answering Jean, and when he smiled wider at her, she turned her head back to Jean and leaned into Scott. "Shhhhhhhhhhush."

Jean grinned. It's fun to play, right? she projected, even as Scott leaned over and stole a kiss.

But at that, Sam gasped and then clapped both hands over Scott's mouth as soon as the kiss was over. "Noooooooooo."

Scott grinned and kissed Sam's fingers. "I love her lots, Sammy."

Sam leaned forward so they were nose to nose. "Shhhhhhush."

"Yes ma'am," he whispered and then snuggled her, still grinning.

"It's seriously so good to see you again," Jan said while Scott and Sammy were playing together, pulling Jean into another hug. "It's totally not the same without you."

"I didn't realize I was gone that long," Jean admitted. But everyone seems so shocked to see Scott so happy. I'm so sorry.

You have no idea, Jan told her, more than willing to clue her in to how much she was loved and by how many. He was a disaster. Logan was a mess too … and K ran the circus to keep them going. It was pretty touch and go for a long while.

I had no idea, Jean said, her eyes wide. I didn't even know I'd been gone that long. I kept getting flashes of life on Earth, but it all blended together.

You have to know how wrecked they were, though, Jan said. Those two in particular… I mean, we were all upset. But that …

If I could have found any other way, I would never have asked Logan to do something else, Jean swore. The only reason I was able to stop it this time was I'd had over all that time to practice with its power - and I had Scott with me.

It took both Tony and Steve to get the guys back here after you died, Jan said. And I think that's what Logan was going to you to do anyhow to stop it. I know he didn't want to. And I know that it stopped very very bad things from happening - but … I'm just super glad you're okay and here! And engaged! Again! Or is it still?

Both, really, Jean said, unable to stop her smile. And I can already tell you want to design for it. Just… let me spend some time with my family first. My dad doesn't even know I'm alive yet; I want him to be alive to walk me down the aisle, so let's not give him a heart attack.

I've got my godmother duties to attend to, Jan said importantly.

Jean smiled and looked back toward Sam. I wish she remembered me. She's so smart. And beautiful.

She's so much like her mother, don't you think?

From what I saw of her mind? Absolutely, Jean agreed, smiling a little more. And she adores you. And Scott. He's her hero, of course. I'm not surprised.

She is just a little ray of sunshine.

I'm glad. You needed something bright. Jean bit her lip. I'm so sorry. I really am. I wish I could have… I should have stopped it.

I'm very sure that if you could have, you would have.

I know, but … but -

No buts. If you could have done anything differently, you would have! So … let's move on, hmm? In other news … Natasha and Clint are a thing …

Wait, I thought they were still … I've missed a lot!

You did. You really, really did! We've had to replace windows, and Clint got to be all kinds of shades of protective Hawk …

And you and Hank are adorable together still.

That really shouldn't be any kind of a surprise.

Definitely not. But all that time with Sammy… he's definitely projecting…

Yeah, I figured that out myself! Jan was grinning by that point.

Jean giggled. Good. Then everyone can focus on you and stop teasing me and Scott. I just got him back.

Um … I got the text from Steve. Did you even have time to say hello?

Steve doesn't know what we were saying when we were both consumed in the Phoenix.

Sounds hot. Jan was giggling outright by that time. And not trying to hide it at all.

It sure was, Jean said before she grabbed Jan's hand and started to pull her away. "Come on. Let me tell you the whole engagement story. I know you're dying."

"I am; I just don't know if I'm dying because I have a new engagement story to hear or because your fiance is being super cute with his baby sister."

"Um, both," Jean said, grinning over at where Scott was rubbing noses with Sammy, who would grab his face to keep him from moving away if he tried - so that she had his full attention. "Come on. You can gush over my ring too," she said, showing off her left hand and getting a squeal out of Jan.

"Oh, yeah, that is definitely news," Jan said, grinning as she pulled her along. "Okay. Storytime!"

Chapter Text

Even though Jean and Scott were both obviously feeling the best they'd felt since they'd lost each other and were joined at the hip, Charles still wanted to meet with both of them and make sure they were alright - and he wasn't the only one concerned. Considering everything that had happened, Corsair was sticking around as well, just to find a way to know he wasn't going to get a call that his son had the Phoenix again.

Scott was in with Charles at the moment, and Jean was with her parents - who were still in shock, really - so Corsair had been hanging out with Alex and catching up on everything that had been going on with him and his green-haired girlfriend when Alex suggested that they get Sam before Scott got out of his session and hogged all the toddler fun.

Surprisingly, Corsair was more than happy to take Alex up on the suggestion, so they headed down to the boathouse together, still telling jokes and making bets on whether Scott and Jean would make it to the wedding before they had their own little one on the way, especially considering how wrapped around Sam's finger they both were.

When they got into the boathouse though, it was only Sam in the living room stacking up her blocks and singing to herself in her finest attempt at Rida Rida Ranka - with maybe a third of the words coming out in proper Swedish.

"Hey, Sammy," Alex called out. "Where's everyone?"

Sam put her blocks down and rushed toward him on her tiptoes. "Wexi!"

Alex grinned and swept her up. "Sammy!"

Sam wrapped her arms around Alex's neck and snuggled in, patting his cheek when she couldn't squeeze him any harder. "Hi, Wex. My Wex."

"That's right I am," Alex said, tickling her tummy. "Can you say hi to my dad?"

"No." Sam shook her head, and her little pigtails bounced as she did so.

Corsair laughed outright. "You are your mother's daughter."

Sam focused on Corsair for a moment, then simply turned away from him to snuggle into Alex again, clearly dismissing him.

"Where is your mom, anyway?" Alex asked, not even trying to hide his laughter at the look on his dad's face.

"Mom's ucky."

Alex raised both eyebrows at that. "Your mom's sick?" he said, not sure he was understanding her right - but that was the phrase she used when she was sick...

Sam nodded her head. "Uck."

"Can you tell me where?" Alex asked, frowning, since K didn't get sick.

Sam shifted in his arms and led the way to K and Logan's room. And with that, both Corsair and Alex followed to peek inside - only to find that K was curled up and looked miserable.

"Woah," Alex breathed out. "You okay? You need us to call someone?"

"I'm fine," K said, though she didn't open her eyes and she was clearly trying not to move if she could help it.

"What's hurting?" Corsair asked. "I've got some pretty good stuff on my ship for just about everything-"

"No, no," K said, shaking her head minutely, slowly shifting to wrap her arms around her middle better. "I said I'm fine. I am fine."

Alex narrowed his eyes before something clicked. "K… are you … I mean, how do you politely ask if someone's pregnant?"

"You keep your mouth shut and mind your own damn business," K said evenly. "That's how."

But by that time, Alex was steadily grinning. "Uh-huh. So that's a yes."

"You asked me how to ask," K said.

"You pregnant, K?" Corsair asked, grinning somehow wider than Alex was - which was saying something.

"Sure seems that way, doesn't it?" she replied.

Alex broke into a disbelieving laugh, as Corsair burst out with: "Congratulations!"

"Thanks, I'll thank you both to keep it to yourselves, please," K said.

Alex grinned. "I won't tell anyone. But you should need to tell Scott. He'll break his face grinning and die of happiness right on the spot. Another little sibling and getting Jean back?"

"We're waiting for a little while to make sure we're in the clear," K said. "And Scott is pretty occupied right now."

"Still. This is amazing!" Alex insisted. "You can't blame us for being excited that things are actually going right around here for once."

"Look at you two," K said, shifting a little to a more upright position. "You're bookends."

"Hey, apple doesn't fall far from the tree," Corsair said with a smirk. "And I think I got some good kids, don't you?"

"I'm pretty fond of them, yeah," she agreed.

Corsair chuckled and put his arm around Alex to steer him out of the room - since of the two men, he remembered what his wife had been like pregnant and knew she probably didn't want an audience when she was that miserable. "We're stealing Sam to play with her and Scott. You feel better."

"Thank you," K said as she ran a hand through her hair.

Corsair made sure to close the door behind them, grinning to himself at the progress on so many levels … including the fact that K didn't argue with trusting him with her adorable, sassy little girl. He grinned at Alex as he picked up Sam to head back up to the mansion. "Seems like things are looking up around here, huh?"

"Kinda nice for a change," Alex agreed, grinning just as widely as Corsair.

Corsair tickled Sam's belly, and she giggled appreciatively then grabbed his cheeks to kiss him - which got an even wider smile out of the elder Summers before he put Sam on his shoulders to head up to the school.

It hadn't even been long enough for K to start to think about if it was time to get Sam back before Scott got to her room, all smiles and looking like he'd run the whole way there.

"Hey, Mom," he said, his whole expression shining.

"Hi, sweetheart," K replied, not at all fooled as she tried to decide how best to deal with the Summers boys.

"So. My brother has no poker face. And my dad doesn't either."

"They really don't," K agreed. "Which is why I have a part share in his ship."

Scott burst out laughing. "Oh, is that what happened?"

"In the last game, yeah," she agreed. "He didn't have anything else to wager."

He shook his head at that and then darted over to wrap her up in the warmest hug he could. "How are you feeling? Can I get you anything?"

"I"m … I'm really tired. And dizzy," she admitted.

"Well, whatever you need, let me know, and I'll take care of it," he swore. "You were so miserable last time… and I know Sinister and Creed are both dead now, but still. This time, you should feel better, if I can help it."

"I really don't think there's anything you can do," she replied. "But I do appreciate the sentiment."

"Jean might cry," Scott warned her. "She was so upset she missed so much of Sammy's life... She'll be so happy…"

"You two are in the fast lane then, huh?" K said, trying to subtly shift the conversation.

Scott wasn't even going to try to redirect her when he was still riding high from getting Jean back in his life. "Absolutely. As soon as her family gets used to her being back, we'll start making plans."

"Yeah, I'm sure you two will dive in head first as soon as the ink is dry on the marriage certificate," she said, shaking her head. "But seriously … you didn't notice your dad floating on a cloud all this time?"

"I … was distracted by floating on my own cloud?"

"Which was why he was so entertained," K agreed. "He gets the chance to be right. No interference this time." She rested her hand over her stomach as she looked down with an uncertain sigh. "All us. No help."

Scott grinned. "Well, I'm glad. Obviously, I'm thrilled to get a little sibling, but I think having Dad this happy is also helping him with getting Jean back. I know he was worried over… how that ended. But it seems to be falling into place."

"That implies that you have a plan for all of this," she said, frowning. "So … do I want to know how many siblings you see yourself with?"

"Only as many as you and Dad decide to have," Scott swore. "But Jean and I?" He grinned a little wider. "She said she wants a big family…"

"You two …" She shook her head as Scott came over to give her a gentle hug.

"Hey, she brought it up. All on her own."

"Before or after your brother and Corsair came up there with zero game face?"

"Actually, in space, when we were talking about getting married and having a life together." Scott rubbed the back of his neck. "The Phoenix was trying to get her to stay with it, promised it could give her that life, so it was kind of already out there that we both wanted a family of our own."

"Then I really am happy you get that shot," K said.

"Me too," Scott said, still looking like he could hardly believe it himself.

"So. Who has your sister right now?" K asked. "And how long before the rest of the team accidentally slips down for one thing or another?"

"Well, Alex and Lorna have Sammy, and she's making Lorna fly her around, so …" Scott smirked. "Kurt already teleported to go find Dad…"

"Corsair looked like he was going to both break his face and faint."

"Yep. I saw it too," Scott laughed.

"I think I've had enough of space for a while. This … is a trend." K turned his way. "Finding out, anyhow. With Sam we found out just before we went up, this one, we figured it out up there. If we go for round three, with this pattern, it'd happen in space. No thanks."

Scott burst out laughing. "We need to go to space more often!" he teased.

"I thought you just said 'as many as we decided on' - now you're already flipping on me and going to more space all the time?"

Scott grinned and did his best approximation of an innocent expression. "Yes?"

She sighed heavily as she shook her head. "Love you too, Caramel Mocha."

He leaned over to kiss her cheek, then took her hand and squeezed it. "Seriously, Mom. Whatever you need, I've got your back. Always do."

"You're a lot like my sweetheart that way," K said, smiling up at Scott tiredly as Logan leaned in the door watching them, but as soon as Scott saw him standing there - it quickly turned into Scott congratulating his dad, clearly grateful for all that had fallen into place so far.