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Head Games

Chapter Text

Peter wasn't sure exactly how safe it was to head up to Westchester for this particular gathering. It was his experience that this date was best not trifled with. On more than one occasion, Logan had gotten him to join him in a random bar — though the first time it happened, Logan hadn't told him what the deal was until after his birthday was over. It had been such a quietly sad thing to hear that Peter made a point to remember the date just in case Logan asked for him again. And on the few times that Peter had been around Logan when it wasn't a lonely, seedy bar, it was an all out brawl with the nastiest, most obnoxious baddie that Peter could dream up. But here he was, taking Sara to a small gathering at the X-Mansion … on Logan's birthday.

"It'll be fine," Peter said for what he didn't realize had to be the fifth or sixth time. "I mean. Most of them will be there. And kids.… So. Many. kids."

"So you've said," Sara laughed. "You're not scared of being mobbed, are you?"

"By the — um. No? The kids are great. They're easy to play with."

"And it's a house full of superheroes, right? Avengers and X-Men are coming? Come on, Peter. I've never seen you this nervous."

"Well, it's not going to be a full-on party," Peter said, wincing almost. "He doesn't like that big of a crowd most of the time, but Kate has been sure to make a thing out of the birthdays."

"Well, I just assumed… you said Captain America was coming…"

"Yeah, just Logan's closer friends," Peter said, nodding. "So, Cap will be there. And maybe Nick Fury."

"Yeah, if that happens, we're just…. I still can't wrap my head around our boss's boss's boss…" She shook her head and squeezed his arm. "You run in some crazy circles, Peter Parker."

"I can't even begin to explain it," Peter said as they pulled into the driveway. "Carol Danvers said she was going to come and get her poker money back."

"And isn't the Black Widow coming too? I thought I heard you saying her two kids were coming with."

"Yeah, she isn't going to miss a party for her 'little uncle'." Peter let out a breath. "There really are a lot of superheroes, aren't there?"

"Oh, only way too many to keep track of," Sara teased, then squeezed his arm. "Only one that matters to me, though."

Peter was grinning as he led Sara into the house — where, as he'd said, there were plenty of heroes celebrating Logan's birthday and plenty of kids playing with bamfs and each other. Jess had brought Gerry along, and the little boy was totally fascinated with Charlie's newfound power ("What about now?" "You're still excited.") And the Wagners and the Lees were leaving tracks on the ceiling as the littlest wallcrawlers played on the walls and ceilings where no one else could reach.

"Hi Spidey!" Kaleb called out from the ceiling, waving enthusiastically. "Hi, Spidey's pretty friend!"

Sara laughed at his greeting and waved back with a grin. "He's so sweet."

"No idea where he gets it from," Peter said, waving back up at the little boy before Kaleb got distracted playing with Celeste and Melody again.

"C'mon in, Spiderman!" Tommy called out from further in the party before, in a flash, he was by the two of them and grinning. "Long time no see. Hi! I'm Speed!" he said, flashing an even wider smile at Sara.

Peter laughed. "Wasn't expecting the Young Avengers at the Old Man's party…."

Tommy quickly shook his head. "Oh, no; everybody else is doing their thing. I just live here. Y'know. Looking out for Erik." He thumbed over his shoulder in the general direction of where an elderly Magneto was playing with a few of the youngest kids, letting them fly around on little metal discs a few inches above the ground. "He's so high-maintenance," Tommy teased.

"Right, well, we're just headed in to say hi to the birthday geezer…" Peter said.

"Ooh, yeah. Call him that and see what happens," Tommy laughed before he zipped back over to pick up both Nikolas Barton and Chloe Summers on his way over and spin them around with him, getting giggles out of both of them.

Across the room, Logan and K were tag-teaming Cap, both of them talking him into "one more shot," one after the other as they flanked him at the table. "Come on — couple more and it'll work," Logan promised with a little smirk. And to the shock of most of those in attendance, Cap was going right along with it and was even starting to look a little intoxicated.

"How long has this been going on?" Peter asked cautiously as he approached.

"About an hour or so," K laughed, clearly keeping pace with the boys.

"This happens every time," Leslie Ann chimed in from the other side of K, shaking her head with one hand on her hip. "My uncle gets so mad."

"C'mon, Petey, jump in," Logan said. "Don't gotta catch up, just grab one."

"I don't—" Peter said a second before K tossed him a beer bottle and he caught it reflexively.

"Yeah, Parker, hop in," Cap said with a grin.

Peter let out a theatrical sigh. "What, or miss out on getting drunk with Captain America and Wolverine?"

"Who are you to say no?" Leslie Ann chimed in from where she was sitting with a obviously non-alcoholic drink and watching the show with her chin propped in one hand.

"No one, apparently," Peter said before he got into his drink. "Anyone drag Cyclops kicking and screaming into this yet?"

"That's on you, Cap," Logan pointed out, as he clapped his hand on Steve's shoulder. "Next time he comes by, nail him. Can't send the Elf in this state."

"I'm sure Kate will bring him by," Kurt said, lazily leaning back and clearly already more than tipsy. "She plans for everything."

"So I've heard," Sara said as she took a seat next to K on the other side of Leslie Ann, clearly entertained by the whole thing.

"Ooooh, Sara," K said, pushing a shot her way. "Just one. Don't leave me as the only girl here drinking."

"I'm chopped liver because I'm too young and have a cop dad," Leslie Ann explained with a crooked grin, her legs pulled up underneath her in a criss-cross fashion as she sat on the counter.

"Leslie Ann is keeping track for everyone," K told them. "Mostly to be sure that Cap and Logan stay on track."

"This is also true," Leslie Ann giggled. "Logan, you're down one to Cap's twenty-two," she added Logan's way as Sara laughed and took the shot in one hand.

Logan let out a noise of disbelief and grabbed the bottle to pour himself two. "Not for long."

"Twenty-two?" Sara repeated, leaning over to K with wide eyes.

K was nodding as Logan downed the second shot. "Slim made us slow down."

"Because the party hadn't even started and you were already that far in," Scott said as Kate half-dragged him over by the crook of his arm, beaming at the group.

K jumped up to make space and helped Kate push Scott down into her vacated chair as Cap pushed a glass in front of Scott and poured him a shot and K took up her new seat on Logan's lap.

"Join us, boss man," Kate said as she followed K's lead with Kurt, who nuzzled into her hair as soon as she was within reach.

As soon as Scott caved and took the shot, the whole table erupted in cheers for him and Cap reached over to pour up another one.

"Is this how all his birthday parties go?" Sara asked Peter as Leslie Ann moved over a seat so he could slip around to sit next to her.

"Just the good ones," Peter had to laugh.

She laughed and laid her head on his shoulder. "I see. Get all the adults cozy and leave the Young Avenger and Magneto to play with the kids," she teased.

"Erik is a sad drunk," K told her. "We don't want to go there."

"And Tommy burns through alcohol in, like, a second flat," Kate said.

"And there are three of us so far with healing abilities to beat back with a bottle," Logan added.

"So far," Sara repeated.

"And the rest aren't going to need quite as much," Natasha added as three more players joined the drinking circle — though they were sure to keep Cap next to Scott so they could make him play.

Jess and Carol both sat close to Logan and K with little grins on and a shot glass apiece. "Started without us," Jess teased.

"Had to," Logan told her. "Kind of on a mission here."

Carol laughed and put back a shot before she held out her glass for more. "Yeah, but it's more fun with us."

"Which is why you got asked to come," he agreed, reaching over to top her off.

"Yes, we only invite the best of the best to watch Cap sucker the boss man," Kate said in a not-very-quiet whisper as she tipped her head at Cap, who was keeping Scott in good supply — and it was obvious Scott had no idea how to say 'no' to Cap when he kept pouring him more with one arm around his shoulders and a troublemaking grin.

"Captain Rogers, before you leave, I think I owe you a dance," K called out with a grin.

"Well, I can't forget my manners," Steve laughed, pouring one more drink for Scott before he offered K his arm.

She gave Logan a lingering kiss and got up to take a twirl with a widely grinning Steve, while Natasha took over Steve's spot and started chatting with Scott, mostly picking at Logan and getting him to laugh to himself. The little group was clearly pleased with themselves and their teamwork, and Sara had to laugh too as she scooted a little closer to Peter to more comfortably lean her head on his shoulder.

"They do this often?" she asked. "This ganging up thing?"

"Not really?" Peter replied quietly. "If they did, I doubt it'd work that well."

She nodded at that with a little smile, more than content to watch all the big names and superheroes around her teasing and picking on each other.

"Is it … I mean, it's not like this isn't fun, but is it really smart for all the heavy hitters to get wasted today?" Peter asked, leaning toward Kurt. "I know Logan usually does this for his birthday … but usually, the backup is sober."

Kurt looked up at Peter in surprise for a moment before he laughed and shook his head. "No, no — we have a very sophisticated alarm system," he explained, gesturing with his tail toward where Noh and Jubilee were playing with the kids, with Noh on the ceiling, since he was one of the few adults who could keep up with all the wallcrawlers. "Noh and Iron Man set it up after that business with the Board," he added, then got a bit distracted when a drunk and affectionate Kate pulled a face at the memory and he seemed to decide that meant she needed distracting — and kissing.

"Oooookay then," Peter said, looking up toward Noh. The Kree warrior looked pretty distracted, so he turned to Logan instead. "And that should be enough to keep that giant creep off your back?"

"He's not allowed on the grounds," Logan drawled out, then tossed back another shot and looked out across the dancefloor to where Steve and K were dancing and laughing. "Steve's gonna have some serious catchin' up to do when he gets done twirlin' my girl."

Peter shook his head at that, somewhere between amused and in pure disbelief at how cavalierly everyone was treating this whole thing. He was pretty sure it had been a bigger deal before — hadn't it been a bigger deal? This was definitely a bigger deal.

"Would you like to see the security we set up?" Noh asked as he made his way over, upside-down, with Sying still halfway attached to him from whatever game they'd been playing. "I'll bet Sying can explain some of it; it's really a brilliant set-up."

"Are you saying I need an elementary schooler to explain it to me?" Peter asked, tipping his head back to look at Noh properly.

Noh laughed and dropped down to stand beside him. "No, but I am saying that Sying loves to have someone to speak with on technology that isn't myself or Forge," he said as Sying nodded, wide-eyed.

"Do you like to tinker too?" Sying asked Peter.

"I … do my fair share," Peter replied. "But maybe we should get out of here before the dancers get back with more alcohol."

"Okay!" Sying agreed happily, leading the way as Noh gave Peter a brief overview on the way out the door on the psionic holographic technology that he and Tony had put together to keep the kids safe from prying eyes.

"...It's nearly foolproof, except of course when people walk through the front gates," Noh said with a little smirk. "Hard to miss someone materializing out of thin air — so we try to let the system down when people leave that way to avoid suspicion."

"And you have enough people here to handle that even with everyone all … dopey?" His question was accented by Steve positively belly laughing across the way.

Noh shrugged. "I'm sober, as are you, not to mention Annie, who is vigilant about this kind of thing if she decides to be," he said. "And with our friends in the state they are, I think we'll know when they leave."

By that time, Steve and K returned from their dance, and K was sure to give both Peter and Scott a kiss on the cheek before reclaiming her spot on Logan's lap. Logan was already pushing an overly full rocks glass Steve's way with everything he'd 'missed'. "You still in this, Petey?" Logan asked.

"I'll be right back," Peter promised, holding one hand up as Sying pulled on the other one. "Apparently, I need to learn about tinkering from a seven-year-old."

"Try to keep up, Dr. Parker," K sang out.

Peter shook his head at the group of them as he let the two resident aliens take him out to the fenceline so that he could see just what it was they were up to.

Victor Creed had been sitting across from the Xavier Institute for most of the day. He was sure he'd seen a few of those do-gooders coming and going earlier, but there was no sign at all of any of them now, and all was incredibly quiet across the lawn.

Victor growled to himself. They had to be using the same whatever the hell it was here that they were using in Chicago. He just couldn't figure out what it was they were doing or how they did it. But when he suddenly saw Peter Parker and Noh-Varr with his little brat in tow, Victor started to pay a little closer attention.

There it was. The alien cockroach and the tinkering pain in the backside. And that was all Victor really wanted to know. He tossed his cigarette to the ground and hopped down from his perch to go give the pair of 'em a little bit of a calling card.

He went charging for them, but before he did more than breach the wall, everything seemed to go positively white. He couldn't move or roar or anything else that would have indicated any fraction of his displeasure … but he could hear what was going on. And he wasn't pleased in the least when it was Noh that got there first.

"Well, speak of the devil…" Noh said with a grin before he turned toward the kid. "Sying, would you go inside, please? Spiderman and I can take it from here." As soon as the kid scampered, Noh waved Peter over. "See? Total psionic paralysis… and he is not allowed on this lawn," he said, bending down to simply sling Creed over one shoulder like a sack of potatoes.

Peter shuddered. "And you're sure you want to be … touching him? I know the X-Men have an amazing locker room and everything, but still. Do I need to tell … I guess Annie or someone responsible to get the cell ready?"

"Oh no," Noh said, shaking his head. "He's not allowed on the lawn, let alone inside our home." He shrugged, bouncing Creed slightly. "We'll just take him out with the rest of the trash," he added, already turning toward the road, with Peter shaking his head the whole time in sheer disbelief and growing amusement.

They went a little way down the road before Noh dropped Creed on the side of it and dusted his hands off. "Now then. I have a cell wash in my ship that will remove this stench…" He looked around himself as if he could still see traces of Creed on his uniform and sighed. "If you like, you can call SHIELD and tell him where to find him, though I have little confidence in their ability to hold him — no offense intended to you, of course."

"Of course not," Peter said with a little shrug, looking one last time to where Creed had been unceremoniously dropped. "I mean. Dr. McCoy had a cell made specifically for him here and he still managed to get out, so I don't blame you not wanting him around."

"Thus, he is not allowed inside," Noh said, gesturing widely with one arm. "Now, do you feel any better? Shall we rejoin the party?"

"Well. That was certainly impressive," Peter said, rubbing the back of his neck. "Might need a few tweaks to it, though …"

Noh looked genuinely thrilled to hear it. "What would you suggest?" he asked as he steered Peter back toward the mansion.

Meanwhile, Sying had run back inside to where the party was really getting rolling to go right to K and tug on her sleeve insistently, distracting her from her conversation with Sara. "Grammy Ka-a-a-ay!"

"Yes, sparkling little maple leaf of sunshine?" K said, turning his way and scooping him up. "You're almost as tall as me. Not. Fair. Stay tiny."

Sying grinned delightedly. "I'm a fast grower," he explained and gave her a kiss on the cheek before he remembered what he had run over to tell her. "Grammy K, my dad's security system knocked out the little bitch!"

K burst out laughing and leaned over onto Logan's shoulder for support. "That's fantastic, sweetheart," she said through tears in her eyes.

"Mmhmm. It was scary for a second, but then he fell over — splat!" Sying illustrated by slamming his hand into the palm of the other hand and laughed. "It was really funny; you should have seen it."

"Where'd that happen, kiddo?" Logan asked.

"By the front gate," he said. "Dad was showing Spidey how the psionic holograms work."

"And he's gone now?" Logan asked, clearly looking like he was considering going down to be sure.

"Mmhmm. Dad picked him up and said he wasn't allowed."

Logan shifted in his chair, and K turned even as she was on his lap to push him back. "No," she said. "We can start bringing it to him as soon as we get that last set of coordinates, but not. Today."

"Today's your birthday, silly," Sying said, shaking his head at Logan.

"Cap hasn't gotten you drunk enough for my liking yet," K added. "So sit back and try relaxing, unless you'd really rather spend the night with Victor rather than me."

"Yeah, Logan, sounds to me like it's all handled," Carol laughed as she pushed a drink into his hand.

"Even the boss man's relaxed," Kate called out, gesturing with her foot to where Scott was laughing hysterically at the whole conversation, since her hands were occupied holding onto Kurt to stay upright where she was sitting.

"It's not even a contest on where I'd rather be," Logan said as K leaned in to steal another long and involved kiss. Logan ended up with one arm around K as he leaned back in his seat and kept up with Cap until, a little while later, Peter and Noh came back, clearly grinning and chatting with each other about the possibilities to improve the system.

"Hey, we took out the trash," Peter called out with a grin once they were closer to the group. "You guys need a maid."

"You doin' my heavy liftin', Petey?" Logan asked with a smirk.

Peter brushed off his hand on his puffed-out chest with a grin. "Oh, you know. It's a dirty job…"

"Delousing station's thataway," Kate sang out, again pointing with her foot.

"Belt sander and rubbing alcohol with Henry … or you can kill it with whiskey…." K suggested.

"Second option sounds less terrifying," Peter said.

"And more fun," Sara said, waving him over. "You've been missing out."

"Yes," K said, nodding her head. "You're behind, Pete. Take a shot; get a kiss. Right, boys?"

"Best game yet," Kurt agreed, nuzzling into Kate with a crooked smile.

"Who's kissing Cap?" Peter asked with his nose wrinkled up and both hands raised. "Because I'm telling you now…"

"He's getting cheek kisses from Natasha and Jessica," Logan said. "Since his girl couldn't make it out tonight."

"I didn't even know you were dating someone," Sara said after she'd kissed Peter — before he'd even taken the shot.

"It's supposed to be on the Q.T.," Steve said as the two girls attacked him on either side.

"It's adorable," Kate giggled. "He's such an old romantic."

"At least you don't have to deal with him when she's gone on missions," Leslie Ann said, smirking at Carol and Jess, who were nodding their fervent agreement.

"Getting serious," Natasha said in a teasing whisper that both Logan and Steve could hear.

"Uh-oh," Logan drawled out. "Is that why you keep starin' at the little ones like that?"

"Oh, he does more than stare," Jess said. "I can't get him to stop playing with Gerry half the time."

"Did you see the look on his face when he got to hold Sadie the first time?" K asked. "His baby face is almost as good as Scott's."

"Hey, leave me out of it; I'm a grandfather now," Scott pointed out.

"So's Logan. Doesn't change anything," K chuckled.

"Not for you two," Scott said, leaning back and shaking his head at her.

"Don't tell me you're actually agreeing with him, Mr. Summers," K challenged.

"On what?" Scott shrugged easily. "The fact that you never age? Yeah, we agree on things that are provable fact."

"So then … you agree with him on just about everything. Okay. Good to know," K replied easily.

"Is that you agreeing with him too?" Scott shot back, grinning.

"You wish, baby face." K was grinning right back at him. "Unlike you, I don't need facts on my side."

"Well, that makes you confidently wrong."

"And gorgeous while I'm doin' it too," she laughed. "So … right."

"That is just not how that works," he said, shaking his head.

"Kind of is," Logan agreed, laughing. "At least for some things, it is."

Scott glanced Logan's way for a second before he burst out laughing, and it wasn't until he got his breath back that he told K, "See? We disagree."

She leaned closer to Scott to drop her voice low. "Only when he's trying to get what he wants."

He was still laughing as he shook his head at her. "If you say so."

By that point, the young kids in the mansion had been shepherded to bed, so it wasn't long before the rest of the mansion residents joined the group. Jubilee and Noh were already teasing Kate and Kurt over something or other — and Annie made her way over to Scott with a grin to steal a kiss. "Well, it looks like everyone had a good time."

"Yeah, got him all warmed up for you, Annie," K said, though the whiskey was no longer flowing quite so freely.

"Which I very much appreciate," Annie said with a little laugh.

"We live to serve the boss lady," Kate called her way, clearly enjoying her own buzz and her own buzzed husband.

"One last round, Slim," Logan said, pouring both of them a shot.

Annie grinned his way and saluted Logan with her glass. "Happy birthday, Logan," she said before she threw hers back and a widely grinning Scott followed her — looking at her and not Logan.

"And I think the numbers on this thing prove I'm getting too old for this," Logan said with a grin, finally pulling K along with him too.

"Don't break a hip!" Kate called after him.

"Incredibly hard to do," he called back. "You'll have to tell me what you do for caution."

"Too young for that to be a concern, dinosaur!"

"If you say so, big sis!" K called her way with a laugh.

"She's never gonna let that go," Kate grumbled to Kurt, who chuckled at her.

"Not until they start calling you her mother," Kurt laughed.

"Don't even start or she'll get it in her head to start early," Kate said, sticking her finger in his face with her sternest look — though that quickly evaporated when he responded by taking that hand, turning it over, and kissing her palm.

As the X-Men all started to take their leave of the party, Sara took Peter by the arm, shaking her head and grinning at him. "If this is what they do for every party, I'm starting to see why you have that little army of troublemakers to play with," she teased as they headed out as well.

"Well … it's not always like this, but it depends on all the stars lining up right."

"Well, it was fun," she said, resting her head on his shoulder as they walked. "I haven't laughed that much in a while!"

"Yeah, you were getting along pretty well with K again, weren't you?" Peter asked. "What do you girls … talk … about?"

"Oh, she just wanted to know more about what I did with SHIELD," Sara said easily. "HR paperwork isn't quite as exciting as what she does, but she seemed interested, anyway. I told her that's how we met when you came to get the department transfer… You know, the usual 'get to know you' things, I suppose."

"Uh-huh," Peter said, not at all buying the angle. "Did she happen to tell you anything about herself in the process?"

Sara thought about it for a moment and then shook her head. "Not really. But there's a whole book about her, isn't there? I mean, I'm sure she doesn't like to retell her story."

"She really doesn't," Peter had to agree. "So … I guess it wouldn't be horrible if we went back one of these Sundays when Annie goes all out?"

"That actually sounds wonderful," Sara agreed quickly, smiling widely at him.

Peter nodded a few times. "Alright then. I'll … ask Annie when her next turn is."

"I can't wait," she said before she had to give him a playful sort of look and added, "I have it from a reliable source she's the second-best cook in the world, next to your aunt, of course."

Peter had no idea how to respond to that but to blush and smile, shaking his head. "Well … you know."

She stood up on her toes to kiss his cheek. "Thanks for inviting me, Peter."

"Oh, hey. Thanks for going with me. Logan and his group can be a little rowdy, and this was … kinda tame, really."

"I run an HR department for SHIELD, Peter. I can handle rowdy," she assured him.

"Does that mean you've been on board when Fury's had his poker games, because those are … not nice."

"No, but I've been on board when a Skrull prisoner decided to break out and go nuts, and let me tell you, seeing yourself breaking out of a window is weird."

"Oh, yeah, tell me about it," Peter laughed.

"And I take calls from General Ross and others when they're mad at SHIELD for something or other. I can handle rowdy."

He cringed dramatically. "Okay, okay, message delivered. Do not doubt the HR lady."

She laughed and squeezed his arm. "I mean, I'm not Spiderman…"

"Well, there's only two of me," he teased.

She laughed at that and stood on her toes to steal another kiss, grinning before Peter opened the door for her to the car. "There's only one Peter Parker," she pointed out, and he grinned and blushed again, falling silent and trying not to look too much like a grinning idiot.

He definitely still looked like a grinning idiot, though. There was no stopping that.

Chapter Text

It was the beginning of December when Tyler found himself coming home to an empty apartment. His shift at the clinic had ended, and he only had a couple of hours to himself before he was due for a meeting with some new ward members, so he tried to rush through his shower and getting ready. But as he was buttoning down his shirt, something struck him as being entirely off.

He took a step out of his bedroom, holding his breath to listen, when he was rushed from the end of the hall. And just like that, his father made his appearance with all ten claws sunk into Tyler's back as he pushed him to the ground.

Tyler tried to make the most of what he knew, and he fought back hard, but Victor had never attacked using his claws before. Not like this. Every time before, Victor had more or less been showing dominance and toying with Tyler. This time? Victor was out for blood.

Tyler managed to land some hits — moves that Logan had taught him — but that just seemed to enrage the beast more, and every stunning blow he landed was answered with a swipe of Sabretooth's claws until Tyler got desperate and gave it back to him in turn.

He fought back hard, and there was blood everywhere as the two of them went toe to toe, but Tyler just wasn't used to using his claws. At all.

"You really think you can go toe to toe with me?" Creed snarled out when Tyler managed a deep enough slash to actually get him to pay attention — and then Creed sank his claws into Tyler's side, wriggling the sharp points around once he had his claws in until Tyler was panting and whimpering underneath the growl that he couldn't stop at all. "Bout time you learned the consequences of learnin' to roll over and beg instead'a fightin' like yer meant to."

Tyler couldn't get out of the pin Creed had him in, though he let out a low and rippling growl — that cut off and turned to a howl when Creed yanked his hand down and tore him open.

By the time Victor was done, he was outlining every single thing that Tyler had done to deserve the beat down he got. And oddly enough, it was pretty much the exact same list that his mother and Henry and Kurt had all used to describe what they were proud of that he'd accomplished.

But his recently acquired position in the church seemed to be more than Victor Creed could stomach. "You think you can play nice, wear the cloth like a good church boy an' show yer belly?" he snarled in Tyler's ear, slashing at something vital with every word so that Tyler couldn't even growl anymore; he was losing steam too fast. "Ain't nothin' good come from a Creed in the cloth, boy. And I'm not havin' it."

When he was finished with him, Tyler was barely breathing and unable to get up on his own steam. He kicked him a few times before he left — purely out of spite — before he crushed Tyler's cell phone, leaving him without any means to get himself help.

It was a lucky break that Tammy even came home before the end of the day; she was supposed to be at the school late, but she'd forgotten to bring Tristan's favorite blanket, and he couldn't go to sleep without it. Rather than drag a grumpy, tired little boy all the way back to get it, Tammy had left him with Peter Quill and Jayce, watching a movie, which would hopefully get him to sleep eventually anyway.

Which was also lucky, as it meant that Tristan wasn't there when Tammy got home a little over an hour after Tyler had… and froze in the doorway when she saw the bloody evidence of the fight everywhere in the apartment.

She flew — literally — through the apartment, calling for Tyler until she found him laid out and unconscious in their room, barely breathing and still losing blood. When she realized how badly he was hurt, she immediately pulled out her comm to call for help, since she wasn't going to levitate a bleeding Tyler all the way back to the school. That might cause … a whole lot of panic. Besides, having America at the school meant that in an emergency like this, there was a quicker route. As soon as Tammy had reported what was going on, a bright white star appeared in the apartment, and both America and Lucy stepped through.

"Oh crap," America said when she saw the scene — all of the blood everywhere and a very wide-eyed Tammy. "What happened?"

"Judging from the slash marks?"

"Well, you know, coulda been Mr. Snuggles," America said lightly before Lucy gave her a look.

"Let's get him back to our lab," Lucy said in a voice that no one was going to argue with, and America kicked open another portal to do just that, gesturing for Tammy to do the heavy lifting as the girls quickly got back to the Chicago school and safety.

"I'll get him set up," Lucy said, clearly in charge, since Tammy was still in a state of shock. "Not sure how his healing will work with me, but I can give him a little help, at least."

Tammy nodded, and America steered her to a chair with a solid hand on her shoulder, while Kitty poked her head into the lab to see the damage and immediately called up Logan when she saw the telltale slash marks.

Kitty hadn't even hung up her phone when Logan, K, and Kurt appeared in a poof of smoke. "Hank's right behind us," Logan said, moving quickly for the medical bay where Kitty had said Tyler was set up.

"He's still not awake," Tammy said, still clearly in shock.

Logan took one look at Tyler and shook his head. "I'm not surprised. That was one hell of a beating. He'll be fine in a couple days."

"A couple days?" Lucy repeated, both eyebrows raised.

"That's a rough estimate," Logan replied. "He doesn't heal as fast as we do …"

"It would take one of us probably at least overnight," K said, nodding. "Just be ready to feed an army when he does wake up."

"We'll order pizza," America said when Tammy just quietly nodded, obviously overwhelmed.

"As long as there's a steak in there somewhere," Kurt added with a smirk.

"Burgers then," she replied.

Tammy shook her head at that and then looked toward Logan. "What was he doing here?" she asked, since she figured he was the most likely to know.

Logan weighed it out for a moment and let out a sigh. "Vic has a place here in town. It's not his main spot by a longshot, but he was probably just lookin' for a fight."

"He didn't get to tangle with Logan the other day," K added. "He's being a pouty little diva."

"So the coward came after the sweetest doctor in town," America summed up with a frown, looking between them with her arms crossed.

"No one ever said he was the bravest cat around," K pointed out.

"No, but still… come on. Have you met this kitty? Because he's not anything like his genetic donor," America said, shaking her head and clearly mad. "You should have seen the apartment."

"He's a pain in the ass," Logan agreed. "And we're gonna take care of it. For good."

"Need any help? My aeronautics class can totally wait," America offered.

"Nope, got it covered," Logan said arm in arm with K as she smirked and stuck her hand in his back pocket, leaning in close.

"We have a plan," K promised.

"Well, get to it," America said, shooing them with both hands. "Because I gotta tell you, I'm a step away from giving Earth a few new moons. He grows 'em back, right? How many d'you think I could get?"

"You really don't want to stink up orbit like that," K advised.

"I didn't say it would be this Earth."

"Really just wanted to check on Ty and grab that last address from David before we head out," Logan admitted, giving K a little squeeze before he stole a quick kiss from K and broke away to start toward the door and Kitty, who was watching the whole discussion.

"David's upstairs," Kitty put in. "He's got Bobby field testing a few changes to our version of the Danger Room."

"Thanks, Kitten," Logan said, giving her a quick kiss on the cheek before he headed up.

"Kurt, can you get your little demon friends to help us out?" K asked. "I think we'd be better off if you were in Westchester keeping watch."

Kurt frowned for an instant at not being included but let out a sigh. "Of course. I'm sure they'd be more than happy to help."

She gave him a quick squeeze. "I promise I'll send one when we corner him."

He straightened up a bit at that and shot her a smile. "Naturally. I wouldn't miss it for the world. This has been a long time coming, and I want to help if I can."

"Take a trophy picture," America said K's way with a troublemaking smirk.

"Now, what makes you think I'd want to commemorate one moment with that stink bag?"

"For the hilarity factor later when you show it to Tristan all grown up and say it's his grampa?" America offered.

"Pay no attention to her," Lucy said, waving her hand at K and shooting her girlfriend a dry look. "Just… call if you need any help?"

"We got it," K promised. "Victor's been looking for someone to take his aggression out on for a while now."

"Well, he gets so touchy when he's ignored," Kurt said with a small smirk.

"Oh yes, I've been soooo neglectful," K deadpanned.

"Alright; if it's just a matter of waiting, I'm going to set Tyler up on some fluids," Lucy said, turning back to the task at hand.

"That would be great," K said. "And for as far down as he is, it wouldn't hurt to give him a weight-appropriate hit of painkillers."

"He'll respond to that?" Lucy asked, honestly surprised.

"As long as he's in a healing coma, yeah. He's going to be prioritizing the worst stuff first, and it'll ease his waking up if he's been doped, believe it or not." K gave her a little shrug. "Help him sleep better too."

Almost on cue, a muted bamf echoed the room, and Hank appeared, looking completely worried. As soon as he saw the extent of Tyler's injuries, he started to growl. "That monster had better not be breathing by the time you're done," Hank warned K.

K held up both hands. "Henry, there is no way Logan will let him walk. I swear."

Hank held her gaze for a moment before he gave her a sharp nod and then jumped in next to Lucy to give her a few instructions on what, in his experience, could help a badly hurt healer.

"I don't think I've ever heard Beast growl," America muttered to Kitty, one eyebrow raised. "I mean, I knew he could do it — Billy and Teddy know the abilities of the full roster of all the heroes — but still."

"It's not something he likes to do," Kitty pointed out quietly.

"No," America agreed. "I just… have never heard it is all."

"Well … now you have."

"Beware the Beast-Dad," America said, sitting down by Tammy so that the young woman had a friend while they were waiting.

"I have to admit: when you said you knew a good place to watch the sunset, I wasn't expecting a rooftop picnic," Sara said. She and Peter were sitting on the very top of one of New York's taller skyscrapers — which meant they had an excellent view of the sunset over the water unimpeded by any other buildings — and had a couple bags of food between them.

"Well, it's all about where you spend time, right?" Peter said with a grin.

"And you spend plenty of time up here," Sara said, laughing as she leaned back.

"I don't get to share this view with anyone very often," Peter admitted. "And I really like it."

"And the trip up here wasn't bad either," Sara said, this time with a slightly more playful grin, since he'd done some webslinging and carried her the whole time.

Peter let out an embarrassed laugh and smiled her way. "Well, then, maybe we should do this more often."

"Yes, we definitely should," Sara agreed before she leaned over and kissed his cheek.

The two of them enjoyed their rooftop picnic, and when it was over, and they'd done a fair bit of webslinging around the city, they headed over to take a walk through the park. It was a nice night for it in spite of the December chill.

They'd stopped on a bridge that crossed the pond in the park and were watching the ice that was forming in the water when snow started falling gently around them. And when Sara looked up at Peter with a smile, he finally couldn't quite stop himself from kissing her.

The rest of their walk was a lot cozier. Peter took the cues and pulled her closer with one arm around her shoulders as she kept one around his back. They didn't have much more to say, just smiling at each other and frankly enjoying each other's company.

It was as perfect a date as Peter had ever been on. So of course it couldn't end that way. That would be too normal.

As the two of them were headed over to hail a cab — the curb in sight through the trees — his spider sense went completely haywire. He couldn't figure out where it was coming from, and no one around them looked suspicious in any way, but he couldn't shake it.

"How about we share a cab?" Peter offered, holding the door open for Sara.

"Not ready to say good night?" she teased as she scooted over so he could sit with her.

"Honestly? No. Not really," he admitted with a grin.

"Well, I make a mean hot chocolate," she said. "Perfect for a snowy night."

"That sounds great," Peter said as he slid into the car with her and took her hand in his. The two of them were still smiling at each other four blocks down when someone laid on their horn — and Peter looked up with wide eyes to see a pair of headlights bearing down on them.

He reached over to try and open the door, but it was locked; they were trapped just before the cab was t-boned by a massive SUV.

The cab went skidding sideways and crashed into the sidewalk, nearly flipping over. By the time Peter got his wits about him again, he could see that Sara was alright — it looked like she'd been knocked out, but nothing worse than a bump on the head, miraculously.

"You should get that looked at," Peter said, more to himself than anything as he gathered her up in his arms and looked around himself to see what the heck had happened. He was able to tear the door off when it was bent in at a weird enough angle that, even unlocked, it wouldn't have opened, but once he got them both out and checked on the driver of the cab — who was worse off than Sara but not critical, thankfully — he looked toward the massive SUV. Even without the spidey sense, he would have known something was wrong, since there was nobody in the driver's seat.

His spidey sense went haywire again, and this time, he was able to duck in time before he would have been totally clotheslined. When he saw that it was Sabretooth, he let out a frustrated noise and jumped sideways to avoid another swipe. "What, you couldn't find someone your own size to pick on?" he asked as he webbed Sabretooth's hand to the SUV. "No mountains wanted to play with you? All the other trolls wouldn't play reindeer games?"

Sabretooth snarled his way and tried to tear loose of the webbing, but it didn't want to budge. "Gonna tear your spine out, bug," Creed growled out, already trying to cut the webbing loose with his free hand.

But Peter responded by webbing up that hand, too — and then his feet to the ground after that, just to be sure. "Yeah, because that is how you get all the other reindeer to play," he said, webbing Creed's mouth when the guy snarled. "Little early for Hanukkah, but I've got plenty to wrap up here," he continued as he poured on more webbing, making very, very sure that Creed couldn't make a move before he finally nodded over his good work and turned back to Sara.

He crouched down beside her and checked one more time to make sure she was alright before he pulled out his cell phone to call Logan. "Hey, so… I have a seven-foot tall wannabe traffic problem webbed to the pavement? Where should I put him?"

"Where the hell are you?" Logan asked. "And why's he bothering you?"

"I don't know!" Peter said, shaking his head. "I'm too amazing? Anyway, that's not the point right now. I'm two blocks down from Avengers Tower."

"Well that's just perfect," Logan grumbled. "Kurt just left; we're in Chicago. Waiting for the imps to show up. Get to the mansion."

"Okay, well, I was kind of hoping for a speedy delivery to the good Doctor Blue. Sara got knocked around and I just want to make sure… you know… It doesn't look too bad, but it's a head injury and—"

There was a little discussion on the other end of the line before Logan came back. "Just told Hank what's going on. He's sending Celia to Westchester. Tyler got attacked here earlier. Looks like Vic's making his rounds."

"Oh, I was wondering why everyone was in Chicago," Peter said through a wince. "Is Gerry's favorite X-Man alright?"

"He will be," Logan told him. "Just get her safe. K and I are gonna draw his attention if he's not where you left him."

"Right, right. Okay. Well, he's pretty stuck, so — hey, give me a call when you get here and tell me if he broke out, because that's a thing I would like to know about," Peter said as he reloaded his web fluid so he could swing through the city with Sara — which was the fastest way to get to a car to head to Westchester that he knew.

He didn't get much further before there was a poof of purple-blue smoke that appeared right where he was swinging, and Peter nearly came out of his skin trying to avoid colliding with Nightcrawler. It didn't help matters that he'd lost his momentum and had started to fall — until another poof or two had the three of them reappearing in the mansion.

"Don't do that!" Peter shouted at Kurt, positively livid.

"I assumed you wanted to get here faster," Kurt said, grinning and not looking the least bit sorry.

"I also wanted a little warning!" Peter shot back. "You do that every time! On purpose!"

"Don't you have some sort of sense to warn you about imminent collisions?" Kurt asked with one eyebrow raised, grinning even wider.

"Oh, shut up," Peter grumbled, heading toward the nearest bed in the med bay. "It doesn't work around playful demonic appearances."

"What a shame," Kurt said before he peered over Peter's shoulder at Sara as Celia came rushing over — Kurt had clearly brought her first.

"You know, if … if that creep is loose again ... " Peter said, shifting from one foot to the other. "He was mad at me."

"What on earth for?" Kurt asked, the playful smile disappearing as he turned toward Peter.

"He wasn't exactly clear on the why, but it didn't seem like a chance 'oh look, there's Spidey; let's mess with him' kind of moment."

Kurt frowned deeper at that. "That doesn't make sense. You've had nothing to do with him or even Logan, lately, while you've been with SHIELD…"

"Well, I was with Noh when he gave him the ol' heave-ho over the fence?" Peter suggested. "But normally, he doesn't really seem to bother with me."

"No, and you would think he would be mad at Noh for that if you were simply a witness," Kurt agreed, still frowning thoughtfully before he shook his head. "Either way… perhaps it would be safer if you and Sara stayed here."

"Yeah, but if he's looking for ways to hurt people … I only really have one other person," Peter was nearly bouncing in place. "Considering it's Sabretooth … would it be out of line to ask …"

"Not at all," Kurt said quickly. "This is the safest place to be, especially when it comes to Sabretooth."

Peter pulled out his phone and pulled up the coordinates of his aunt's house. "What's the best way to get there and not draw attention?"

Kurt tipped his head to the side in answer and, an instant later, the two of them were outside of May Parker's front door. "No one's been able to follow me yet," Kurt said with a crooked smile.

"Yeah, this won't be hard to explain at all," Peter muttered as he rushed up the front steps and knocked once before letting himself in, calling for her as soon as the door opened. "Aunt May? I … kind of need to take you somewhere for a little while."

Aunt May was in the back of the house going through some old clothes for a holiday donation run and looked up when she heard Peter call out. "Peter, if you wanted to surprise me, you could have brought a card. I'm a little busy…"

"I'm sorry, Aunt May, but I kind of have a giant supervillain after me? And he has a nasty habit of going after people close to his targets?"

May put down the shirt that she had been holding and looked totally shocked for a moment before she passed a hand through her hair. "Well then," she said, finally shaking her head. "What have you gotten yourself into, Peter? And where are we going?"

"It's … okay. So it's really not my fault. I was in the right place at the wrong time, and I'm getting blamed for … breathing, I think. But Nightcrawler here can take us to the safest place from this creep. And the creep, I'm told, is being dealt with."

"So we won't be gone long? Good," May said, dusting her hands off. "I had a few places I wanted to be."

"Hopefully," Peter said. "But I kind of wanted to make sure that Sara had someone friendly around when she woke up. She got a little head injury."

May immediately jumped into concern as she rushed over to Peter. "What happened? Is she alright?"

"The giant creep happened," Kurt offered. "She's with a brilliant doctor right now. She should be fine."

"Well, let's see her then," May said in a tone not to be argued with.

Kurt nodded his agreement and offered her a hand as he rested his other hand on Peter's shoulder and teleported them directly into the hall outside the medbay.

"Now that is quite the experience," May said in a faraway voice as shook her head.

"My apologies," Kurt said, bowing her way. "I know it can be disorienting, but it really is the quickest, and I've found warning people does nothing to prepare them."

May nodded and almost absently patted Kurt's arm. "That's fine, thank you," she said before she straightened up. "Now… where is Sara?"

Peter took her arm and led her into the med bay, where Sara was resting peacefully, as Kurt's phone went off.

"Any sign of him?" Logan asked. "Because if not ... we're starting up."

"He wasn't where Peter left him?" Kurt asked with a frown. "We haven't seen hide nor hair of him."

"Then he'll come out once he gets a few of our messages," Logan decided.

Kurt nodded as Logan headed down the hall to where K was waiting for him. "Good luck."

Chapter Text

Logan and K wasted no time heading out, and they weren't twenty minutes from the school before they were joined by a familiar figure with two katanas on his back.

"Whatcha do-in'?" Wade asked, his voice high-pitched, his hands behind his back, and one ankle tucked behind the other.

"Lookin' for a hot new makeout spot," Logan deadpanned. "What's it look like?"

"Not that."

"We're going to play Viking," K told him.

At that, Wade instantly brightened and clapped his hands. "Ooh! Can I play?"

"Don't really need the help, 'pool," Logan grumbled.

"Aww, come on. I'm excellent at pillaging! And I speak the language now!"

"Just burning," K corrected as she reached up to pat Wade's cheek. "And I am so proud of you."

"I am excellent at arson too," Wade said, looking entirely pleased with himself — over both his arson skills and his language skills.

"Where did you leave my sister, Wade?" K asked.

"Oh, she and Ellie are spending a girls' weekend together!" Wade said.

"So what the hell are you doin' in Chicago?" Logan asked.


"Who's the hit on, Wade?" Logan asked, not in the mood to play around.

"No one you'd miss," Wade said, waving his hand. "Blue, annoying, possibly related to your bestie…"

At that, Logan stopped entirely, and the two ferals both stared at him. "She's in Chicago too?"

"Well, that's where the tracker that I put in her food ended up, so, yes, yes she is. Unless that taco place gave her the runs — but then that's something I'd rather not find out for myself."

"Didn't David say he was with her?" K asked Logan quietly, which Logan nodded in agreement.

"Looks like we're on the same trail," Logan told Wade. "We won't interfere with your hit."

Wade nodded seriously. "You going after the big ugly bodyguard she carries around like the opposite of a trophy husband?"

"We're burning all his houses down," Logan replied. "Until he catches up."

"Then we're gonna burn one down with bits of him in it, scattered around," K added.

"That actually sounds perfect," Wade said, grinning obnoxiously and obviously even behind the mask.

"Hot makeout spot," Logan chuckled before he tipped his chin toward a very obnoxious-looking older house near the lake. "Do I need to check the address?"

Wade puffed out his chest and took on a careful impression of Sherlock Holmes, complete with a nonexistent magnifying glass that he immediately made a face at and "tossed" aside. "Eww. Some smells you don't want to see up close. What say you, Watson? Up for a little fisticuffs and arson? Or is it petticoats and arson? Or arson and old lace? There's something about lace, I'm sure…"

"Wade, no," Logan said, shaking his head. "Scope it out for your mark, and then we're burning the place."

"Like I said: Arson and old… shapeshifters. Yes, that's the phrase," Wade decided as he examined the house.

K rested her hand on Wade's arm. "Are you shooting her or are we all going in together?"

"One of those things sounds more fun than the others," Wade pointed out, though he was already pulling his rifle around. "Won't take but a mo', Mom! Leave space for the family massacre!"

"I'm not … don't call me that when you're engaged to my older sister," K pointed out.

But that had Wade grinning that much wider as he started to whistle the tune to I'm My Own Grandpa while he scoped out the house, though he came up short and made his way back to the two of them with a heavy sigh. "No go, soon-to-be-sister o' mine."

"We'll make sure to block all but the one exit," Logan promised. "If she's there, she'll come out with the flames backlighting her." The two of them didn't wait before they rushed down to the building and circled around back to force her out the front if she was there. Ten minutes later, the house was fully engulfed, and the two ferals emerged with two glasses and a very expensive bottle of whiskey.

"No sign of her, eh?" Logan asked, handing Wade a glass.

"Not a peep," Wade said. "Tracking signal is directly underneath us… and you don't wanna know where it went." He took the glass and lifted the bottom of his mask just far enough so that he could get a drink. "That's alright; we'll get 'em next time."

Logan poured the drinks as K picked up her burner phone to snap a picture of the flames. She took a moment to send the picture off to Creed's cell, then broke the phone in half and took Logan's glass as the sirens wailed in the distance. "One down."

"Just how many of these are there, mon capitan?" Wade asked K.

"A lot, but there are about a dozen that he uses regularly," she replied, handing Logan the glass back as the three of them started back toward where the bamfs were hiding, watching the show from a safe distance.

"Well then, we've got work to do, gang," Wade said, draping an arm over both of their shoulders. "But do you think we'll be done by, say, June?"

"Oh, we'll be done before Christmas if I have a say," Logan said. "Not sure what you'll be doing."

"Oh good." Wade nodded a few times. "will be taking my girls off on a tour of the world for the summer." He bumped K's hip. "Summer wedding, trip to celebrate — you didn't get the invite yet?"

"Um… no." K shook her head.

"It's because you're in Chicago and not Westchester," Wade decided. "Much better this way!"

"It's because she wants to keep it private," K replied.

Wade made a noise in the back of his throat. "Lies. We've invited the whole family! I cut my tongue licking envelopes and everything; I would know."

"Too much information, Wade," K said, shaking her head.

"About your big sister's big day?" Wade asked. "Clearly, you don't have enough! I should tell you. We can have a girls night. Braid each other's hair. Paint each other's toenails. Double-check each other's explosive recipes."

"Pillow fight, all that, right?" K replied, shaking her head.

"Oh, absolutely," Wade agreed enthusiastically as Logan pulled K over close and wrapped his arm across her chest so he could try and get her to slow down before Wade launched into one of his rants.

"Stop it," Logan growled into K's hair. "Don't encourage his crazy."

"She's my little sister-in-law!" Wade said. "She's supposed to be encouraging. And you — you, oh brother of mine, should learn from her example!" he added, pointing an accusing finger Logan's way.

The little bamfs had come over and were curling up with the two ferals, giggling at Wade. "Right. We have places to be," Logan said. "So enjoy hunting the shapeshifter."

"What? No!" Wade said, looking totally betrayed as his shoulders slumped. "We're on the same trail. We should put our heads and noses together. Compare notes. Roast s'mores over the Creed-fire."

"Yeah, well, you're totally blowing the hot makeout spot vibe," K chuckled, then gasped when Logan pinched her.

Wade tipped his head to the side to consider this. "Separate hotel rooms," he decided. "But only because I want to be an uncle again."

"In separate cities," Logan said, trying and failing not to smirk.

"Kind of impossible to do on the same trail, but if you think you need all that space to work with…"

"Yeah," Logan said, nodding before he turned to his bamf and told him where they were headed next — northern California on the coast. Logan and K were fairly involved as Logan tried to wave goodbye to Wade, but of course, at the last possible second, Wade made a lunge and grabbed a hold of the bamf on Logan's shoulder, dragging himself along for the festivities.

Once Sara was awake and Cecilia had cleared her to leave the lab — just a mild concussion, but nothing too serious — May Parker had settled in to make the most of her stay, making sure that she and Sara both had comfortable lodgings before she came back down to where Cecilia was making one final check of Sara before she would release her.

But when May arrived, she was surprised to find that there was, in addition to the good doctor, the last wisps of blue smoke. Sadie was standing there holding a bamf's hand; she had clearly enlisted the little guy's help to come and visit Spidey.

"Sadie!" Peter said, grinning widely as he bent down to scoop her up and toss her in the air before he snuggled her.

She lit right up and snuggled in as soon as he had her in a hug. "Who hurt her?" Sadie asked.

"Oh, well, she got hit by a car," Peter explained.

Her big, blue eyes widened. "Oush."

"I'm alright, Sadie," Sara promised with a gentle but wide smile. "I just hit my head is all."

Sadie wiggled from Peter's arms to rush over to Sara's bed and then climbed up to give her a kiss on the forehead and snuggle in with her too. "I always get kisses when I bump my head."

Sara laughed and wrapped the little girl up. "That's a good rule to have."

May made her way over to the scene with a wide grin when she saw them all snuggled up together. "Are you taking good care of my nephew?" she asked Sadie with a gentle smile.

Sadie grinned her way and raised one eyebrow for just an instant before she nodded her head enthusiastically.

"Well, that's good. It's a big job. I took care of him when he was just a little older than you," May said, reaching over to tap Sadie on the nose.

"Daddy says he needs lotsa help," Sadie giggled, glancing over at Peter.

"Aww, come on," Peter said, poking his lower lip out. But that just got Sadie to bail out of the bed and rush back to Peter with her arms up, and he laughed and picked her up. "You're just the best friend a spider could ask for."

She took a hold of his head in both hands and very carefully gave him a kiss on the nose. "Okay. Unca Eff will look for me."

"You shouldn't let him worry. You know he's getting to be an old Elf now, right?" Peter teased.

"Daddy says he's a … a hallo-ween cat."

At that, Peter laughed out loud. "Oh yeah. That's 'cause when his tail sticks straight up? It's like a cat that gets scared. I'll show you the Looney Tunes Halloween special so you can get the full effect. It's very very Kurt-like." With that, he gently let her down on the foot of Sara's bed. "We'll see you in the morning probably, but do you wanna say goodnight to everybody?"

"Yes!" she said in an almost breathless tone before she made her way up to Sara to give her a kiss just as carefully as she'd done for Peter — along with a big, snuggly hug. But when she saw the look on May's face, Sadie redirected and rushed to her to do the exact same thing.

"You are too sweet," May said in a voice that said she was clearly dying of cute as she set Sadie down at last.

"G'nite," she called out sweetly as she rushed over to the little bamf trying to hide behind an IV pole and pulled him into a hug too. In a flash, the two of them were gone, once again leaving Peter with his Aunt and Sara, who were both smiling at him in an entirely too troublemaking fashion.

He tried to shrug it off, his palms outturned. "God-baby. Whatchagonnado?"

"She's darling," May said. "And you're wonderful with her, Peter."

"She's probably the sweetest one here," Peter said. "But I am biased."

"I'm sure she is," May said, "but I haven't had the chance to meet the others."

"Just a matter of time," Celia said as she made her rounds to double check Sara's vitals. "Sadie will be giving her uncle fits for the next week or so, too."

"That's usually how it goes," May agreed with a laugh that had Peter looking slightly abashed.

"It doesn't help when she steals his little bamf friends to teleport all over the house," Celia added.

"Just wait until Kaleb's old enough," Peter teased. "Every one of those kids needs their own teleporting Elf."

"Just like every Elf needs a tiny Howlett."

Peter grinned and nodded at that and probably would have said something more — but his phone went off. When he saw that it was Logan, he held up one finger. "This — hold on — this may be news on our creep problem," he said as he stepped aside so that the girls could continue their conversation and he could take the call. "So did you find him?" he asked when he picked up the phone.

"Burned down his place in Chicago," Logan replied. "But Kurt isn't picking up, and I need him to get Wade the hell outta my face. Now. He latched on when we 'ported, and he won't back off. K says I can't cut his head off."

"Oh, well, Kurt is dealing with my goddaughter, but if you want, I can … I dunno. Help?"

"I just need him to quit trying to pull us into his insane ramblings about the wedding."

"Oooh." Peter nodded. "Yeah, alright, okay, that would be one extra-overly excited Deadpool. Got it." He glanced over at Sara and May and shrugged. "If you tell me where you are, I can hitch a ride."

"I'll send the coordinates to you. Bring a couple extra phones to ditch."

"Oh, okay," Peter said, a bit wide-eyed, before he hung up and turned to the girls. "So, ah, there's not really a problem, per se, but I need to go prevent a homicide? So I'll be back later. Looks like I'm joining the creep-busting brigade."

As it turned out, though, Kurt wasn't ignoring his phone because he was babysitting the Howletts or looking for Sadie. Instead, he was elsewhere — in Maine.

He'd had absolutely no warning when it happened: it was like an irresistible pull telling him exactly where to teleport, the same way he'd known exactly where Azazel was when Mystique had stabbed him. So when the blue smoke cleared and Kurt found himself face to face with his father, he wasn't surprised in the least.

"What — what are you doing now?" Kurt demanded, looking around himself. He knew more or less where he was because of the teleport but still didn't recognize the setting. It was a modest house in Maine, too simple for his father's usual tastes, though it did overlook an entire orchard.

"For the moment," Azazel said, standing up lazily from his seat as he set aside the book he had been reading, another one with inscriptions of magic on the front and sides, "a bit of a family reunion, so to speak." Kurt bared his teeth at the implication, but Azazel waved him off. "Nothing involving your little… entourage," he said. "I mean to find your mother."

Kurt narrowed his eyes at that, but though he meant to teleport and leave Azazel behind him, he found that he couldn't. It was as if he could see in his mind's eye where he wanted to go, but he couldn't take that final step to actually teleport. "I'm not going to stop her from running you through properly this time," Kurt said, glaring as he crossed his arms. "That spell no longer has any hold over me."

"True," Azazel said with an almost lazy sigh. "But you see, I can order you to stop her from doing any such thing, and until I have my full powers back, I will." He gestured to Kurt with one hand. "She always did have an easier time hating me than you."

"Not exactly a ringing endorsement of motherhood," Kurt said with narrowed eyes.

"No," Azazel agreed. He packed away his book in a travel bag and then turned to face Kurt again. He broke into a wide smile when he saw the glare that Kurt was working up and shook his head. "There's no reason to look like that. I'll send you home to that airheaded wife of yours as soon as we've dealt with your mother. It's just that if I'm going to build my power here, no one can be allowed to attempt an assassination on my life and get away with it. You understand, I'm sure."

Kurt kept his arms crossed. "I thought you stole back powers from Kari and K. What do you need me for, except to assuage your own fears of death?"

Azazel bared his teeth Kurt's way for a moment — though the move was less intimidating than it had been when he was a demon. "I have some of my powers. I will get the rest. But in the meantime, I am not fool enough to think that I can escape unscathed should Raven be with any of her many associates."

"You're afraid she'll kill you this time," Kurt said, eyes narrowed, though an almost smug expression was starting to pass over his face.

"I'd much rather she kill you than me," Azazel said with a wave of his hand. "Now then," he added as he calmly crossed the distance between them and gestured for Kurt to follow him — and Kurt felt a tug as he did just that, despite the fact that he was screaming at his muscles to instead take Azazel's sword and run him through. "This shouldn't take too long, though I'll admit, the trail ran slightly colder than I'd like. As I understand it, she should be a little further north by tomorrow; we can cut her off and cut her down and you can be home to your little white picket fence by feeding time at the zoo."

Chapter Text

Back in Westchester, Kate was still trying to find Kurt, especially since they were supposed to be looking out for Logan and K's kids while they were hunting Creed, and between the Howletts and the Wagners and the few bamfs that had stayed behind, Kate had her hands full.

"You look like you could use a hand."

Kate looked up and nearly melted with relief when she saw that she had help, in the form of Peter's Aunt May. "Yes please," she said as she finally managed to get Kaleb to stop chasing Kari around. "They're supposed to be getting ready for bed, but all the excitement has them a little… keyed up," she explained.

"Peter was the same way whenever there was something going on," May said with a twinkle in her eye before she found her way to where Krissy, James, and Elin were still playing and leaned over to be at their eye level. "So, can either of you tell me what your routine is? Do you brush your hair or your teeth first?" she asked kindly.

Elin and James shared a look, put down their toys, and straightened up a little bit. "Hair, teeth, pj's," Elin said, ticking them off on her fingers.

"That sounds great. If we go upstairs and you show me where the hair brushes are, I promise not to pull your hair," May said.

Elin nodded, and James called for Sadie, who stopped what she was doing and rushed over to her siblings and grabbed James' hand. "Okay. We'll go," Elin told her once all three of them were together.

Kate stared after the kids before she turned back to May. "Magic. That… that is just not fair."

May laughed lightly. "If it makes you feel any better, I had a harder time with Peter," she said before the three little Howletts made their way over to give Kate and the Wagner kids kisses goodnight and then headed toward the stairs to lead May to where they were supposed to be for the night.

"Oh, hey, you haven't seen Kurt — Nightcrawler — have you?" Kate asked May as she finally got the girls headed upstairs too. "He's supposed to be helping, but he disappeared on me."

"Is he with Peter?" May asked. "He got a call earlier about whoever it is that attacked him and Sara earlier."

"Oh… yeah, probably," Kate said, letting out a sigh. "He did ask Logan to call him if there were any issues."

"Then I'm sure they'll be back soon with that many heroes in one place," May said, though she was frowning slightly at the mention of trouble.

"Yeah, it's just the timing is spectacularly horrible," Kate said, shaking her head.

"Isn't it always?" May asked, her eyes sparkling before the little Howletts pulled her off for the bedtime routine and Kate herded her own little ones off to do the same.

When Peter finally got to the coordinates that Logan had sent him, with a bamf on each shoulder, he drew in a sharp breath and took a couple of steps back at the sheer size of the fire burning wildly nearby. He had to squint to see the three figures backlit by fifty foot tall flames. Logan and K were standing close to each other, while Wade was doing some sort of bizarre victory dance that looked like it belonged in a football comedy more than anywhere else.

He rushed forward surprised to find that Logan had his arm around K and the two of them were calmly sharing a drink as Wade continued his celebration.

"Are you getting rid of him?" Logan asked, tipping his head Wade's way.

"I … am here to help," Peter said, immediately shaking his head when K offered him a swig from the elaborate crystal decanter in her hand.

"By all means," Logan replied, pulling K along with him to a quiet spot to sit down while Peter handled Wade.

Wade, on the other hand, was dancing with renewed gusto at seeing Peter there, and after a quick shake, he rushed Peter, tackling him to the ground in a hug, kissing the side of his face as he wrapped halfway around the struggling spider. "Oh, sweetheart, I am so glad to see you! The gang's all here, and we're goin' on a lion hunt! Or … a sabretooth … ti- you know what? I just know he smells like a dirty cat box, so I say close enough."

"Wade, you can't do this …"

"Yes, yes, I can, and you can go with me!" He dropped his voice to a whisper. "We can't let our stabby little friends do this all on their own. We need to make sure there are other talents in play! You know how the piddly wittle kitty cat can be with those two."

Peter had to stop at that and then ran a hand down his face. It was a good argument, and he knew it.

"You know how they get, snookums," Wade whispered.

"Yeah," Peter had to admit. "Alright." He turned to Logan and K. "Need a fourth?"

"Are you sure you should be leaving Sara?" K asked, though she was easily leaning into Logan as they finished their drink.

"Cecilia checked her out, and she's with my Aunt May, which… is probably going to be dangerous in the long run but, yeah. I'm sure."

"Dangerous dangerous?" Logan asked. "Or dangerous 'you're getting engaged'?"

"If it was the second one, would I really be here right now? I mean, this is Sara."

"And they're at the mansion," Logan pointed out. "With my kids."

Peter tried to give Logan a look for that, but it was totally marred by the fact that Wade was singing the Brady Bunch theme song under his breath. "Look, just — hey, I have a stake in this too, right? He did try to kill me earlier."

"I thought you wanted to marry her?" K asked. "What's the hold up?"

Peter turned bright red. "I do? But this is not what we're discussing right now?"

"Do you have a ring for Christmas?" Wade asked with a girlish gasp that had Logan choking on his drink.

"Hanukkah, and no — no, ah, that would be a little fast," Peter said, shaking his head.

"Don't let him bug you Petey," K said, shaking her head at Wade as she pulled Logan to his feet. "Let's just go see the next house. It's in the middle of nowhere in Saskatchewan."

"And the natives have plenty of Bigfoot sightings," Wade muttered.

"Exactly. Enough drunken, naked Canadians wandering the woods," K agreed.

"Only when the mood strikes me," Wade shot back.

"So … every other Tuesday?" she countered as the bamfs giggled and attached themselves to their favorite travellers — and a moment later, the little group was in the pitch blackness of the Canadian wilderness.

Since both of the Howletts were still out going after Sabretooth, a few of the others at the Westchester school were pitching in to help with the kids. Sure, Kate and Kurt had agreed to watch them, but that didn't mean the others weren't involved. For example, since the Wagners tended to be later sleepers, Erik was, on that particular morning, making breakfast for the three early-rising Howlett kids, several pans and metal-lined plates going at once while he brewed tea for himself.

When it was all ready, he set out the plates for all three of them to a chorus of polite 'thank you's, and he smiled widely at all three of them as he sat down with them and his morning tea.

The three little ones didn't make a peep, all of them sure to stay quiet while he was reading his paper. Elin helped Sadie and James with anything they needed, so once they had something in front of them, they were pretty well covered all on their own. And that was how Aunt May found them. Quietly having breakfast with Erik.

She took in the scene with a fair amount of surprise before she broke into a smile and made sure to direct it at the kids as she made her way to the pantry to see what she had to work with for food. "Such well-behaved kids," she said. "Your parents must have taught you very well."

Again, a little chorus of 'thank you' came up from the kids at the table that had Erik chuckling to himself.

May decided on some wheat toast for herself as she made her way to the other side of the kitchen. "What tea are you drinking?" she asked curiously.

"Earl Grey," Erik answered with a little smile.

"Do you mind terribly?" she asked, gesturing to the teapot.

"By all means: help yourself," he replied. "I have a feeling if I poured some out for the little ones, they'd drink it without a bit of argument."

May smiled at that as she poured herself a cup and joined the group. "Yes, I'm sure they would. My Peter was a fan of grape juice too," she said with a smile just for Sadie and her grape juice.

She smiled up at May and pulled her shoulders to her ears as she kicked her feet under the table quietly.

May smiled back at the little girl before she turned back to Erik. "I'm sorry; I don't think we've been introduced. I'm May Parker, Peter's aunt," she said.

"Erik Lensherr," he replied offering her his hand. "Please forgive my manners. I get caught up watching the little ones here sometimes."

"Oh, it's fine," May assured him. "There are so many little ones to watch, and they really are darling. Sadie came just to make sure that Sara was alright yesterday, and I met a few more last night; you must all have your hands full around here!"

"It's a bit busy at times, but they're all so unique," Erik said with a smile

"Well, I don't know how long I'll be here, but I'm sure I'll get to meet all of them," May said, returning the smile before the toaster dinged with her breakfast and she crossed the span to retrieve it.

"If you're around for the day, you'll meet the ones that live here," Erik told her. "It gets more interesting when the other schools converge."

"I'm sure," May said with a little laugh. "I don't know when Peter will be done fighting whatever it is that he's dealing with, but I'm sure I'll at least stay the day."

Erik took a deep breath and nodded his head. "He's with the best possible group to deal with the trouble at hand," he promised.

"Oh, I know," May said as she sat back down. "But I raised him; I can't help but worry. I always will."

"I understand," Erik said with a smile as the three little ones finished up and sat back. When all three were done, Elin was the one to speak for them.

"May we be excused?" All three of them were looking to Erik with identical expressions.

"Yes, you may," Erik said with a little smile at all three of them.

The little ones got up — and each of them picked up their plates and made their way through the kitchen before quickly heading upstairs again.

May looked positively astounded at the scene. "So polite."

"Their parents are very old-fashioned," Erik said with a smirk.

"They've done wonders. I could get my Peter to say 'please' and 'thank you,' but they are so ... " May waved her hand. "Their parents must be proud. They're darling."

"You should hear them speak Kree," Erik laughed. "The older two get closest to the sounds, since they're much clearer in other languages, but it is amusing."

"That's amazing, especially when they're so young!" May beamed.

"Elin has asked me to teach her Polish," he said with a warm smile. "She's a quick study."

"And is that where you're from, then?" May asked.

"Originally, yes," Erik replied. "But that was long ago. And you, Ms. Parker? Where is home for you?"

"Oh, I've lived in the same little home in Queens for years now," May said, though she didn't get to elaborate any further as there was a ruckus of two boys playing with each other all the way down the stairs: Cody and Chance led the Summers family down to breakfast, playing with each other as wrestling boys tended to do.

"Good morning," Annie called out to Erik and May as she went to work putting breakfast together for the group of Summerses and Scott pulled Cody and Chance apart before it could get too rowdy.

Charlie climbed up next to Erik with a wide grin on her face, taking the spot Elin had occupied. "Hi, Erik!"

"You missed your friends," Erik said with a smile her way.

"What?" Chance looked openly disappointed.

"Elin took the little ones back to their room," Erik told him.

Chance's disappointed look deepened before he started to wolf down his cereal, and Charlie rolled her eyes at him. "You're gonna eat your whole spoon if you keep going."

"Am not," Chance shot back, still eating at a fantastic rate until, a few minutes later, he had cleared the bowl and pushed back from his seat. "Thanksmomokaybye!" he called out, rushing up the stairs and past Annie as she finally sat down with the rest of the group.

"Has there been any word from Logan yet?" Erik asked as much for his own curiosity as for May's.

"Last I heard from them, they'd found three of his hideouts," Scott said. "And they're not usable as hideouts anymore. But no actual contact yet."

"Are you sure she's got the right contact information for him?" Erik asked, looking concerned.

Scott nodded. "She's got it," he promised.

"Then it's just a matter of time," Erik agreed, nodding to himself.

"I'm sure we'll be hearing from them sooner rather than later," Scott said before he looked toward May. "You must be Peter's aunt," he said, in a more approachable and no longer businesslike tone. "I'm sorry you were upended in the middle of all this."

"Honestly, I'm surprised it hasn't happened more often," May admitted.

"Well, we try not to let what we do affect families," Scott said, glancing at his own kids. "Where possible."

"Peter said this particular problem has a tendency to do just that, though," May said.

"Well, this particular problem has no boundaries or sense of … anything, really," Scott admitted. "But he's also completely unable to get past our security system here, so you don't have to worry about it at all," he added quickly.

"I suppose we don't need to worry about the little ones destroying Logan's room?" Erik asked.

"Elin promised Chance they could watch Westerns. I think the only thing Logan will have to worry about is making sure all the popcorn kernels don't get caught in the couch cushions," Annie said with a wave of her hand.

"When this is over, I honestly don't think he'd care," Erik said with a wry smile.

"True enough," Annie agreed, smiling over her sweet tea as Chloe approached Aunt May with a shy smile and a wave.

"Hi," Chloe said, grinning up at her. "Are you new?"

"I'm visiting for a little while," May explained. "My nephew, Spiderman, said I could stay here — is that okay?"

"Uh-huh," Chloe said as Cody perked up.

"You and Spidey, huh?" he asked.

She laughed and nodded. "I'm his aunt."

"Well, I got a nephew," Cody said, grinning.

"You got a niece," Charlie corrected him, rolling her eyes. "If it's a girl, it's a niece."

"Okay, but I do," Cody said. "Her name is Willow!"

"That's a very pretty name," May said. "What's yours?"

"Cody!" he said, holding up his hand. "I'm five."

"Really? I thought you were six! You look so big," May said with a smile.

Charlie gave May a sort of look before she shook her head. "I'm Charlie, and my brother Chance is the messy one," she explained. "And that's Chloe."

"You all have such pretty names," May said.

"Mine comes from the name on the school sign," Charlie explained, looking incredibly proud of herself. "It's pretty special, huh, Erik?"

"It's very special, little one," he told her with a proud smile.

She grinned up at him and then went back to her cereal as, slowly, a few of the others started to trickle in — students and teachers alike.

The Wagners were the last to arrive — not only because they were late sleepers but because it looked like Kate had a hard time getting all three of the elflings down by herself, if the fact that their fur was still a little bit stuck up in places from bedhead that Kate had clearly given up on fighting them on.

"Any word?" she asked Scott as she finally got situated with her coffee once the kids all had their own breakfasts in front of them.

"The last time I heard from them, they'd gone through three hideouts," Scott told her, frowning slightly when he saw how frazzled she was.

"Rough morning," she said, waving her hand. "Krissy had a nightmare, so neither of us got much sleep last night."

"Kurt still asleep then?" Annie asked with a sweet smile. "If you want, we can watch the kids while you—"

"Kurt's with Logan," Kate said, her eyebrows furrowed and a clearly confused expression painted over her features. "He disappeared to go deal with whatever issues came up last night."

"No," Scott said with a frown, starting to stand. "Peter and Wade are with those two."

Despite the fact that Kate hadn't even touched her coffee yet, she looked wide awake. "What…? Then where…?"

"I'll see if we can find the beacon on his comm," Scott said, already moving to the War Room to do just that. "The bamfs should be able to find him too," he added, prompting Kate to quickly nod and turn to the nearest little demon.

"Find Kurt," she told him, and she was so serious about it that the little guy quickly nodded and disappeared without even the slightest chattering in response, though it did absolutely nothing to assuage her worries when he reappeared a few moments later, his eyes even wider than before, to report that he didn't know where to look.

Annie was already starting to shepherd the elflings toward her kids to play upstairs as Kate held onto the table for support. "I didn't even know he was…" She shook her head, starting to panic as Scott took her by the arm and decided she was coming to the War Room — if nothing else so he could keep an eye on her as well if they didn't get a hit on Kurt's comm.

Chapter Text

K and Logan had insisted on separate rooms, no matter how hard Wade was begging for a sleepover, though Peter wasn't as lucky to get away from Wade when the group went to get their rooms for the night. It wasn't that they couldn't continue the work in broad daylight — the problem was that Logan and K both were concerned that using the bamfs to travel was cutting out enough time that Creed might not be able to catch up to them quick enough.

But they couldn't keep Wade away forever, and Peter didn't look even remotely sorry as he followed Wade in after he kicked his way into the couple's hotel room with coffee and donuts — Peter was done holding Wade back. Logan, however, was definitely not amused.

"We're not on a schedule, Wilson," Logan grumbled, using one arm to pull K closer and the other to pull the covers over his head. "Find something else to do."

"We need to give him time to figure out where we're headed," K explained from under the covers. "So go down to the diner and stare longingly into each other's eyes."

"Tempting, tempting," Wade said, nodding as he set down his box of donuts and glanced to Peter, who looked totally betrayed as he stared toward K's covered form.

"Or we could not do that," Peter said, breaking the seal on the donut box to help himself.

"You can take your breakfast to your room," Logan suggested.

"And hold hands," K added, which got Logan chuckling.

"You're not helping. And not funny," Peter said, leveling the donut in his hand at the two ferals.

"Well, maybe we need a few more minutes," K replied. "And then coffee."

"I can call Sara and check on her," Peter decided, pulling out his cell phone and pointedly going to the other side of the room.

"Can you do it in your own room?" Logan asked.

Peter shrugged. "Fine," he said, the phone already to his ear as he headed out of their room and down the hall, with Wade not far behind him, practically hanging on his every word and making a heart sign underneath his chin.

"I think she just wanted to kick us out so she didn't have an audience," Wade whispered not quietly at all over Peter's shoulder.

"Wade… I'm trying to check on my concussed girlfriend," Peter pointed out.

"Tell her I said 'hi'," Wade sang. "She's a keeper, Peter Parker. I'll bet she hasn't even tried to kill you, has she?"

"No, she has not," Peter said, shaking his head. "Thanks for the glass-half-assassins pep talk."

Wade started skipping as he went from one end of the hall to the other, singing to himself about "Petey and Sara sitting in a tree …"

In the meantime, Logan and K were taking advantage of the quiet to sleep in a little longer, but Wade's singing was getting to both of them, so with much grumbling, K finally gave Logan an extended kiss and got out of bed to get dressed before Wade could burst through the door again. She had just gotten her boots on when there was a telltale bamf.

Kurt looked incredibly irritated when he appeared in the middle of Logan and K's hotel room and glanced around before he spotted K, took a solid hold on her arm, pulled her closer, and disappeared with her again in one smooth motion — as Logan shouted for him to tell him what the hell was going on.

Kurt reappeared with K on the coast of Nova Scotia, still looking incredibly irritated, though it was clear why he was so annoyed when the smoke had cleared and Azazel was seated comfortably nearby, stretched out on the couch and reading a book with inscriptions on the cover.

K turned toward Kurt clearly in a state of shock. Of all the things that he could have done that was right on the top of her 'what the hell' list...

Kurt shook his head lightly, his tail twitching behind him as he whispered in her ear, "This is what happens, K, when you deal with my father."

Azazel put a bookmark in what he was reading and slowly stood up, looking her over. "There's no need to look at me like that, my dear. I'm not asking for much," he told her almost lazily. "In fact, I think you'll find you and I are of the same mind for this particular endeavor."

"I find that very hard to believe," she replied, though her shoulders relaxed and she closed her eyes for a moment, trying to fight the pull to step closer to him as a shiver ran down her spine and pricked more intensely the more she tried to tamp it down.

"No?" He smiled widely at her. "Then you'd try to oppose me if I told you our goal is to rid this mortal coil of Kurt's dear mother?"

"Oh," K said, turning Kurt's way for a moment, breaking her concentration just enough that as she looked at Kurt, she was gliding closer to Azazel. "Is there a reason you're afraid to do it yourself?"

Azazel waved his hand at her. "That's not your intended purpose right now. You are required simply because her trail has disappeared; she was not where I was told she would be."

"She broke away from Victor in Chicago, I think. I doubt that they were in the same area on pure coincidence."

Azazel's eyebrows shot up at that. "Victor Creed?" he asked, a bit more interested as he began to walk around her. "Tell me what they're doing together."

K closed her eyes as she tried to get control of herself better, but nodded her head. "They're … well. You know how it is when a couple of psychopaths meet up in the moonlight. Disgusting. Horrible taste on both sides."

Kurt chuckled under his breath at that. "Agreed," he muttered.

"And this was recently?" Azazel asked, barely glancing at Kurt as he paused to rest his hand on her shoulder for a moment, strengthening his orders through the blood magic. "Tell the truth now, pet; this seems like more than a passing interest."

"I have no reason to lie," she replied in a sigh. "It was last night."

"Then we were in the wrong place in Maine," Azazel said, sighing as he shook his head. "Well then, we'll just have to start from there. Once you put us on her trail and lead us to her, you can return to… whatever it was you were doing. I have no need for more than that."

Her mouth dropped open in protest, and Azazel stopped what he was doing to step in closer still. "I lost the trail for her last night when the tracker went into the sewers," she argued. "She'd only need to go a block to disappear into the crowd smelling like that."

Azazel frowned at that, picking up a lock of her hair and inhaling deeply before a broad grin split his face. "You smell of brimstone and fire," he said, looking pleased. "It reminds me of my waiting kingdom. What sort of trouble have you been up to, my pet?"

"I'm hunting Victor Creed," she replied watching his expression shift, continuing her explanation when the compelling feeling to simply tell him became too strong. "I'm burning his homes to the ground along with everything in them to smoke him out of hiding so I can kill him."

At that, Azazel stopped short in front of her and reached out to tip her chin up, a delighted smile lighting up his expression. "Now that," he said slowly, "is a worthy bit of mischief and will be an interesting encounter. Are you alone in your hunt?"

"No," she said, shaking her head lightly, and hoping like hell that he'd ask to come along, if nothing else so that Logan could stab him.

He smiled wider. "Victor Creed is a brute and an animal. It's long past time," he said, turning toward Kurt. "We can start in Chicago and work from there," he told Kurt, who looked irritated as K returned to him, clearly taken off-guard by how that had gone. "Call when you find him, pet. I love a good show," he ordered.

"I was going to call Kurt anyhow," K replied with a glare, getting angrier at the fact that she apparently couldn't fight him like this. "For the class factor."

"Well, now you will be calling me with your coordinates," Azazel said, waving his hand her way.

"I don't have the number," she said as evenly as she could.

"Kurt will give it to you when he returns you to your hunt," Azazel said. "And once you're done with that animal, if we've not found Raven, we can simply move on to the next… entertainment."

K gritted her teeth and locked her jaw at that, though any biting remarks she had would draw his attention in the wrong direction.

Azazel smiled widely her way before he turned his attention back to Kurt. "Take her back to where you found her. We'll retrieve her if need be," he said, then looked K's way once more. "Don't forget to contact us when you find him."

In an instant, Kurt had teleported K back to the hotel room, which was currently empty, and he was already shaking his head at the whole thing before the smoke had even cleared.

"I am so glad your jackass father doesn't read minds anymore," K said in a rush.

"It's something at least," Kurt agreed, looking completely livid.

"I'll tell Scott to trace your phone," K promised.

Kurt nodded and gave K a quick little hug. "I'm just grateful he has his thoughts toward revenge and nothing worse," he told her in a low tone. "We need to break this spell, K."

"I know," she agreed before she gave him a quick kiss on the cheek. "I'll handle Logan for you."

"I'm sure he's not happy with me right now," Kurt said with a small smirk.

"That'll all transfer over to me soon enough," she promised as the hunting group came back through the door, and she turned to face the three men as Kurt disappeared in a poof of smoke.

"What the hell's going on?" Logan demanded, livid and ready to fight.

"Azazel is after Mystique," K explained quickly, resting one hand on his chest before she started to work up a text for Scott. "Kurt can't say no to him. He's livid. I'm sorry." She put the phone back in her pocket as soon as she was finished. "And I just sent word to Scott so he can try to track him and let Kate know."

"We should drop this and go help," Logan said, but K was already shaking her head.

"I'm going forward, with or without anyone here. I have to," she said, and Logan looked livid as he realized what it was she was saying.

"Well, there's just no way you're going without me, oh sister of mine," Wade said. "What kind of brother would I be if I let you face that big ol' nasty putty tat without me?"

"I'm gonna kill that jackass the next time I lay eyes on him," Logan growled out.

"One murder at a time?" Peter suggested, looking between the two of them.

"He's right to try to kick this one up," K said as she took Logan's hand. "Kurt's dad is a piece of work."

"The exact opposite of everyone's favorite Bamfmaster," Wade said in the highly scandalized tone of an old-fashioned school marm. "Drive a stake through 'im! Kill the beast! All that."

"And both Kurt and K can't tell him no," Logan said, more for Wade than Peter, since he wasn't entirely up on things.

Wade turned toward Logan with his whole body. "Wha-a-a-t?" he said, putting a hand over his heart. "Say it isn't so!"

"Can we please just go back to killing Victor?" K said, one hand over her eyes.

"Are you just going to go join Kurt with the demon brigade when we do?" Peter asked with a serious frown. "Because I'm starting to think Logan's right."

"Unless they manage to kill Mystique first, then yes," she admitted. "After that, I don't really know what he's going to ask for."

"Worst family spat," Wade said, shaking his head. "You know, most custody battles involve more bloodsucking lawyers, less… bloodletting."

"And less demonic possession," Logan added.

"Is Kurt okay?" Peter asked.

"He's … well, mad is an understatement," K said. "He's fine. But he's so mad and full of 'told you so's."

"Obviously," Peter said, shaking his head.

Logan put his arm around K's back and started the re-direct. "One bastard at a time. We have another house to take down," he said, though he gave both Wade and Peter a look that easily showed exactly how ticked off he was on the way out of the door.

When the call from K came in letting Scott know what was going on with Kurt, Scott was relieved to hear that Kurt was relatively alright, though he wasn't happy in the least to hear what the problem was.

Kate had a similar reaction, nearly melting in relief when she heard that K had seen Kurt and then letting out a very loud noise of displeasure when Scott explained the rest of the situation.

"I'm going to run him through, and don't you dare stop me," Kate said, nearly shaking with fury as she got to her feet.

"I'll help you get there," Scott said. "We'll run a trace on Kurt's phone, and K suggested hacking his contacts to find Azazel as well."

"Yeah, yeah, less talking more stabbing — let's go," Kate said, gathering herself up and headed out the door to get her bow and her sword.

Scott paused just long enough to get the trace started and to send out the word to anyone else in their contacts that might be out and about to keep an eye out for Kurt or Azazel — or even Mystique.

The next house Logan's hunting party went to was far less illustrious than the sprawling mansions that they'd been finding. It was a small, old farmhouse in North Dakota with nothing and no one around it for miles of open prairie. They were more cautious going up to it since it was clear that Victor most definitely did not live at this place.

"We'd be doing the world a favor burning this rat hole down," Wade said as he finally broke from the line and headed to the old house. "Just gonna make sure no one lives there …"

He only got ten paces from the house when a trap sprang up and impaled Wade to the spot, and K turned to Peter. "Do not. Move. We've got this."

She and Logan shared a look as Wade tried to get himself out of the trap, and then both of them broke off running. Most of what was set was old and didn't have much umph to it as the two ferals triggered them as they ran. They were nearly to the porch when one caught K by the ankle: a rusty-looking old animal trap.

But Logan kept going. He knew the two of them would be fine, and it was entirely likely that there was more to be triggered outside. One look in the house and it was clear by sight and by the overwhelming scent of rodents that no one had been there in decades, so instead of tempting fate, he simply started the fire and headed back out.

By that time, K had gotten out of the leg-hold trap and was helping Wade to his feet after slicing through the skewer. "Let it burn the grass," Logan called out. "Should expose whatever else is hidden."

"Yeah, we should probably disarm all that nasty before we go," Wade said. "Don't want any unsuspecting antelopes to trigger anything. Wascally Jackwabbits and all."

"Or, you know, squishable spiders," Peter called out from where he was still standing stock still.

"That too!" Wade called back, waving at him with one hand. "Hey Petey! You're so far away!"

"On purpose!" Peter called back.

"You're perfect where you are, Peter," K called out before she snapped a photo of the burning farmhouse. But she was getting antsy with as long as it was taking, and when there was still no response from Victor, she let out a little growl and simply dialed the number. She had her hand on her hip as she glared at the fire, and when he finally answered, she kept it short and sweet. "Check your messages, jackass." When she hung up, Wade was staring at her. "What?" she asked with a little shrug. "Until that one, I was sending them from a burner phone. Figured it was time to let him know."

The two of them headed back to where Logan and Peter were quietly talking, and when they got there, K's phone went off.

"Oh, sure. Now he wants to talk," she said before she let out a sigh and answered sweetly. "Is there something wrong, Mr. Creed?"

She pulled the phone away from her ear as Creed snarled one vicious thing after another. "Right. Well, you pissed me off going after my sweetheart. And then that little trick last time we actually had to deal with you was over the line. So. How about you try and stop me?" K said before she hung up on him again and turned to Wade. "You can talk next time if you want. I was kind of careful, though, to not let him know who's along for the fun."

"Want me to do my John Wayne impression to hide my super secret identity?" Wade asked, sounding entirely serious.

"Only if you take the next burning creep picture for me," K said. "I think a nice one of Logan and me stealing a kiss over his burned memorabilia would be appropriate."

Wade held up both hands to frame her in a box. "Hmmm. Got to get the right angle. See if we can throw in a sunset… some champagne… maybe a pair of flying doves…"

"Whiskey," Logan said. "That's what we've been lighting the fires with. His hundred-year-old whiskey."

Wade let out a pained noise. "There are better places to put that!"

"We're dealing with most of it the right way," Logan defended.

"You'd better be," Wade said, shaking his head and looking and sounding every bit like Annie when she was getting onto one of the kids for misbehaving.

"Right. Well … how does the Yukon sound?" K asked. "Or do you want to warm up a little in Texas first?"

Wade adjusted the brim of a nonexistent hat as he settled into his John Wayne impersonation. "Well, I do believe I was promised a shot at this here… I wanna take a picture in Texas," he said, abandoning the voice halfway through to instead go for pleading with his hands clasped under his chin.

"You got it, brother-in-law," K replied, and the bamfs began to appear from where they'd been setting off traps from the burned-out grass that hadn't sprung themselves.

Wade let out a delighted little 'eep'. "That's never ever never ever going to get old."

Kurt was still livid as he and Azazel made their way through Chicago, but he was doing what he could to at least start trying to put holes in his father's future plans — starting with the books he had been carrying with him.

They were hardly apart, but in a few snatched moments, Kurt pulled out his phone to snap pictures of the covers of the three tomes, and he had moved on to pictures of the inscriptions inside. It wasn't a language that he could read, but that wasn't his immediate concern.

For the moment, his concern was with making sure that whatever plans Azazel had were being transmitted to the X-Men. He was sending them not only to Scott but to Kate, Storm, and Kitty as well. Surely someone in one of the three schools would be able to translate what Azazel was reading.

"Do be sure to send pages twenty through twenty-eight in particular," Azazel said as he entered the room, looking completely unperturbed at seeing what Kurt was up to. "It seems to be in a language I can't translate — and considering my long life, that is saying something. It's a dialect I can't seem to parse."

"Right. It's the dialect causing problems, not the fact that you're getting older and less powerful," Kurt said, shaking his head as he paused in taking pictures. The X-Men should know what was happening, but he didn't much care to do what his father asked. He went back to what he was doing, though, since he still couldn't say 'no'.

"You and I both know that neither of those is true," Azazel said, sinking into a chair nearby and propping his feet up as he watched Kurt work through the books.

"No?" Kurt said, turning his way with a glare. "And I'm sure those scars you can't heal entirely are just for show."

Azazel glared at him but didn't move in the least. "I am rebuilding my power since you asked that welp who wields magic like a child discovering his own limbs to remove them from me. But I assure you: I am growing in power every day, in ways you do not even know."

"Of course you are," Kurt said in a patronizing tone.

Azazel sneered at him. "It's easy to mock what you do not understand," he said, matching the patronizing tone.

"I understand an inferiority complex when I see one," Kurt replied lazily.

Azazel laughed. "Inferior to whom? No one is my equal, my boy."

"Oh, of course," Kurt said, a little smile in his tone. "I forgot."

Azazel glared his way. "Watch your tone with me, boy," he said, the amusement gone from his voice.

"I forgot how happiness burns you so," Kurt shot back.

"Be honest, Kurt — isn't that what all your superfluous beliefs are supposed to teach you? If you were happy in my presence, we would have ruled heaven by now."

"Believe it or not, my religious beliefs had nothing to do with you."

"No, of course not. I wouldn't sink to teach you such things."

"Then you still don't know the true meaning of power."

Azazel waved a hand at him. "You are an ant measuring the power of a boot and thinking you know the strength of a man."

"I know I've been to heaven — and was welcomed there."

"As I said," Azazel said calmly. "You know nothing."

"Because once I found the truth, I found no reason to keep looking," Kurt replied easily.

Azazel glared at him deeply before he got to his feet and brushed his hands off on his pants. "Our quarry has moved on from here. There's no reason to stay here any longer, so once you are done sending your little messages, we'll be going."

Kurt glowered at him as he finished sending the last of the photos, but as he walked toward Azazel, his phone chimed, and he had to smile at the message he found there. "My translator says the pictures simply are not clear enough. We should bring it to him."

"Very amusing. And I assume your translator believes he has the ability to trap me once we arrive," Azazel said.

"Only one way to find out," Kurt replied with a shrug.

"I think not," Azazel said. "But when we're done here, and Raven is dead, you can go to your translator and bring me his results." He waved a hand. "I have already copied down the pages elsewhere, in case you are thinking of destroying them." With that, he simply disappeared in a burst of red smoke, with Kurt's blue not far behind.

Chapter Text

With Kate and Scott gone trying to find Kurt — and Logan and K out messing with Creed — there were quite a few little ones whose parents were out hunting. Which meant that Annie, along with the few people left at the mansion, had their hands full — not to mention the fact that it was supposed to be finals season at the school.

The Avengers were pitching in to help again, with Natasha running self-defense and Clint taking over Kate's archery class, that sort of thing. But that still meant that both the Howletts and the Wagners were without both of their parents, and the Summers kids were missing their dad.

Kate had taken the rest of the bamfs with her in order to try to get to Kurt faster, so the kids didn't have the bamfs to play with — but Tommy was doing his level best to keep the kids entertained, running around with them, exploding a few things, the works.

A few of the very youngest had been playing with Erik, zooming around on metal discs, but now, they were asleep on the couch, wrapped up in blankets and worn out from all the playing.

"Thank you," Annie said as she sat down next to Erik, having just fed some of the kids for snacktime after they came in from playing with Tommy.

"It was my pleasure to help," Erik replied.

"It would be easier if it were the summertime," Annie said with a small smile. "They could play in the sprinklers for hours… but you know, that sweet May has been helping them in and out of coats and hats all day so they can play in the snow?"

Annie was followed in by Zoe Barton, her red pigtails swinging and almost as red as her nose as she carried in a mug of hot chocolate. "Thank you, Miss Annie!" she sang out as she took it to the table, and a few of the other kids start to follow her, all carrying mugs of hot chocolate to recover from the cold.

May brought up the rear of the brigade, carrying Chloe on her hip. The youngest Summers clearly still didn't want to take off her earmuffs or mittens — though she took off everything else and was giggling as May bartered with her over it.

"She likes those mittens," Cody explained from where he was riding around on Tommy's shoulders. "They're her favorite."

"They're very cute," May agreed. "But it's hard to hold your hot chocolate with your mittens on, Chloe," she tried to explain.

"She thinks they make her into a bunny," James said, sounding like the idea was painful.

May looked at the padded mittens and then at the bunny ears and nodded seriously. "Well, bunnies shouldn't have chocolate," she said, sounding entirely disappointed. "I guess we'll just have to give yours to a little girl instead of a little bunny."

Chloe frowned as she tried to decide which she wanted more before she fixed May with her sternest look. "I get dem back," she said.

"Of course," May promised.

Chloe held her gaze, practically nose to nose with May, before she finally nodded and let May take off her mittens and muffs so she could join the other kids with their hot chocolates.

"Don't make any chocolate for the Howlett kids," Charlie whispered to her. "They won't touch it."

"Why not?" May asked, matching her whisper.

Charlie shrugged all the way up to her ears. "They just don't."

"Then I won't make any for them," May said, ruffling Charlie's brown curls. "Thanks for telling me."

"I'll have Elin's chocolate!" Krissy called out happily, catching on to what Charlie was doing.

Charlie rolled her eyes. "You always have Elin's chocolate."

"Uh-huh. That's how it works."

May shook her head at both of them as she joined the other adults getting their breath after a day of keeping up with a whole army of little ones. The kids were pretty worn out as well from all their playing, and it wasn't long after everyone had finished their hot chocolates before they started to drift off like the curled up youngest kids.

Elin and Chance took up one of the loveseats nearby, though Kari had fallen asleep right at the table, her head next to her empty hot chocolate mug. Krissy fell asleep with her head on Annie's lap, and by the time James and Sadie — on either side of May — as well as Charlie and Zoe — on either side of Erik — had drifted off, the adults were well and truly stuck waiting for the kids to fall asleep deeply enough that they could be carried up to their rooms.

Sara, somehow, had managed to miss being right in the center of things when all of the kids crashed, but she could see that even for as pleased as May was to be snuggling up with James and Sadie … she was well and truly stuck. She came over carefully and crouched down when she got close. "I'll take the little boy out of your way," Sara offered.

"Thank you, Sara," May said warmly, able to slide to her feet with Sadie once James was off of her lap.

The two little ones snuggled right into their shoulders as May led the way up to where they were supposed to be. "I can get the oldest when we get back downstairs," Sara said.

"Oh, Speed said that he'd get those two — so they wouldn't be separated," May said with a smile. "They're apparently the best of friends. It's very sweet."

"To listen to Peter tell it, they're practically engaged already," Sara laughed.

"Oh, they're too young for all that," May laughed as well. "Right now, it's just sweet. He follows her around like she hung the moon." As they got to the kids' room so they could put the little ones to sleep, May glanced toward Sara. "Have you heard anything from Peter?"

"He called this morning to say that they're making progress — or they think they are," Sara replied. "It was a little difficult to hear what was going on over the singing."

"Well, he did say he was with Wade," May said, shaking her head.

"That's who was singing alright," Sara agreed. "Apparently, Wade kept him up part of the night too. They were splitting a room."

"Oh, poor Peter," May said, though she couldn't help the smile.

"I suppose it's the only sensible split, seeing as they're travelling with a married couple," Sara reasoned.

"Sensible is one thing," May laughed. "Comfortable is another."

"I already told him to get his own room," she chuckled. "We'll see how it goes."

"I'm sure he'll listen to you," May said with a warm smile.

Kate was still fairly grumpy as she, Scott, and the bamfs chased after her missing husband — since it seemed like as soon as they would get a good trace on Kurt's phone and teleport there, Kurt and Azazel had teleported across the country, and they would have to start all over again.

It was nice that Kurt was sending messages, though — even if they were indecipherable pages of what couldn't possibly be anything good. So when her phone chimed, she wondered if it was Kurt again, sending them more information as to what Azazel was up to — and had to stop and cover her mouth to stop the disbelieving laugh that very nearly escaped her.

It was another picture, but most definitely not from Kurt. The background was incredibly massive flames, and the foreground was Logan and K kissing — with a little message of "Wish you were here. S'mores next time? I'll ask Kurt too."

Kate shook her head, smiling despite herself, before she showed the message to Scott. "I've mentioned how much I love her, right? Because I do."

Scott shook his head, though he couldn't help but smirk. "You may have let it slip once or twice."

Kate bumped his shoulder with hers before she responded to the message: "Needed that. Thanks." She pocketed her cell phone and was about to ask Scott if there was any word on the trace on Kurt's cell phone when it was his phone that chimed this time.

He looked down at the message. "Kurt's phone pinged," he said, and that was all the two bamfs with them needed to hear before they peeked over Scott's shoulder and read the coordinates, seized both of them, and teleported to where the trace was.

The blue smoke had only just cleared when they heard a familiar voice — though it was not the one they'd been hoping for.

"You just missed them," Betsy Braddock said as she made her way down the street. "I was about to call you, actually. I got the message about keeping an eye out for him, but it's still something else to see Kurt with Azazel when they're not trying to run each other through."

"Tell me about it," Kate said, practically growling with how low and grumbly she was about it.

"What is going on, anyway?" Betsy asked with a frown.

"Azazel's going after Mystique," Scott explained. "And the last time those two saw each other, Mystique stabbed him, so we're pretty sure he's bringing Kurt so he has a chance of surviving the encounter."

Betsy pressed her lips together and let out a hum of annoyance when she heard it. "That sounds about right for everything else I've heard."

"And Logan, K, Spiderman, and Wade are out hunting down Sabretooth. We heard that Mystique was travelling with Creed, but so far, they haven't seen him."

"So you could use an extra hand," Betsy surmised.

"We really could," Scott agreed. "Especially one that can tell when they're around."

"Then it's a good thing that my business in LA is through, isn't it?" Betsy asked, brushing her hair back. "I'm sure I could get Kurt back for you, even if I have to knock him out to do it," she added.

Kate let out a sigh. "I just want him back," she told Betsy, and Betsy nodded and put a hand on her arm.

"Don't you worry," she said. "We'll catch up to the pair of them in no time, and then we'll make sure he regrets hijacking your husband."

Kate smiled at that and gave Betsy a quick hug. "Thanks."

After the last photo K sent out, not only to Kate and Kurt but to Victor as well, they had finally gotten his attention. Her phone was going off non-stop with calls and texts when she finally just started answering to hang up on him.

It was crystal clear that he was not happy with them. At all. And he was frustrated too that he couldn't get into the mansion or any of the schools — "for now," he'd said, which really wasn't helping his argument at all.

They were taking their time, as the program Scott was using to track Kurt was equally useful to track Victor the more often he called or texted. Even though they'd narrowed down the possibilities considerably, they needed to know where he was headed. They could get there in a blink, but Victor was travelling in a more conventional method. So, when the pings on his phone started to go almost perfectly north-west, they were sure they knew where to go.

"Alright, you guys ready for the big fight?" K asked, turning her phone so that Peter could see they were headed into frozen tundra.

"Born that way!" Wade sang out to her — to the tune of "Born to Be Wild" as he twirled his katanas and then sheathed them again.

"Honestly surprised you didn't go with Gaga for that, Wade. Nice. Growth," Peter said.

"But it would have been so obvious," Wade said, shaking his head at Peter. "Never be obvious. Then they can anticipate you, grasshopper."

"If you two lovebirds are done," Logan said dryly, the bamf on his shoulder looking almost as serious as he did.

Wade gestured grandly. "Lead the way, mon cap-i-tan!"

Logan shook his head, and the two ferals took a breath before they disappeared in a flash, only to reappear in the middle of a howling wind with driving snow. It was hard to see where they were supposed to go, but with the bamfs helping, they found the entrance to what seemed to be a hidden fortress in the snowy tundra, built right into the mountain.

The heavy stone door was hard to move, even with Spidey's help, and once they were inside, the wind cut out entirely and Logan let out a loud 'ugh' that only confirmed they were in Creed's favorite hidey hole.

"I'm buying you incense for Christmas to clean out your nose from all the gross," Wade whispered.

"Please don't," Logan said, shaking his head. "I can come up with much better ways to do that on my own."

"No Ode de Deadpool then?"

"No," Logan said flatly before they carefully headed deeper into the stone walls. The texts were still coming in — with promises of what Victor was going to do to K and, of course, Logan once he caught up with him — but when Logan saw the latest one, he chuckled. "Gettin' ahead of himself already."

Naturally, it couldn't be as easy as just walking in, and they weren't too far into the hall when they spotted something or someone deeper down the halls that, oddly enough, were lit with gaslights.

"No electricity, or does he prefer the high creep factor?" Peter asked.

"Creep factor, definitely," Wade said, nodding. "That and gaslighting puns. Obviously.""

"That would require him being nice enough to make someone think he had a heart in there," K pointed out. "Which I am pretty sure would cause a small black hole if he tried."

"I thought he had a thing with that little blonde? The one with the … you know … boom!" Wade said, though the icy glare from Logan was enough to get him to drop the subject entirely. "Or not…. I can't keep up with all the ex-X-Men."

Logan let out a weary sigh; clearly, Wade was not helping his focus dragging up old ties and long-healed wounds, but at least it seemed as if the halls they were wandering in weren't littered with traps.

However, when they got closer to the end of the hall, both Logan and K slowed and looked incredibly wary of something ahead. Logan couldn't tell if it was the hall itself, the floor, the walls — something was letting off a low vibration, and he flat out didn't like it. "Goin' a different way," he said suddenly, turning and heading elsewhere. "Don't like whatever that is."

"That's probably the whole point," Peter said. "Keep you in particular from going that way? Come on, it makes sense."

Wade agreed immediately and rushed back to the spot where Logan had stopped — this time continuing on. "It stops on the other side," Wade offered. "You just have to get past that spot."

The other three shared a look, and Logan reluctantly agreed, sending the little group into the maze of gas-lit hallways of stone that went deeper into the mountain. It was a while before Wade sucked in a breath as if he'd just thought of something after they'd passed yet another intersection of hallways. "How do we know we're going the right way? I lost track two right turns ago."

"We're following the scent," K told him. "If we start to go off-track, the scent disappears. Simple enough."

"So you're cheating your way through the maze," Wade surmised.

She stopped and turned to look at him. "If you want to try to find your way out on your own, be my guest." K paused and looked around them quickly, almost as if she was just then seeing where she was, before she pulled her phone out and took a precise measure of where they were in coordinates. She couldn't help but smirk as she bit her lip and then grinned at Logan. "Nothing," she said, but that managed to get a smirk out of him and a little chuckle before they headed back down the scent trail.

When they finally got to the end of the maze, it opened up into an incredibly vast open space that seemed to be a living room of sorts, with windows that overlooked a frozen lake. It was massive. "Nowhere to hide here," K said, looking up at the tall ceilings.

"Parker — cameras up in the corners. Think you can fix 'em?" Logan asked, tipping his chin toward where the glimmer of glass reflected out of the corners of the room.

Peter let out a low whistle. "I don't know. Cameras. Tall order. How will I ever reach them?"

"Real problem for a wallcrawler," Wade agreed, nodding seriously, though that had Peter grinning as he scurried up to the cameras to get started.

While Peter got to work, and Wade tried to find something that they could use to burn the place, Logan and K shared a look before they headed toward the liquor cabinet across the room. "Last stop for this crap," Logan said with a nod as they took the whiskey out once again.

"We should make sure that this last picture is memorable," K agreed as the two of them headed over to the couch in front of the vast fireplace and took a seat, kicking their feet up.

"Petey, your turn for a picture, photographer," Logan called out. "Just don't send it until we get out of the room. I wouldn't put it past him to blow the room up or something."

"Got it," Peter said, swinging down on a thread of webbing so that he was upside down with the phone, his feet pressed together on the line of webbing to hold himself steady as he squared up the perfect cozy shot of the two of them. When the shutter clicked, he grinned and tossed the phone back to Logan. "That'll win Pulitzers."

Logan couldn't help but give him a little smile. "Might get a Nobel if they hear what you were doin'," he teased as the four of them left the room via bamf to just outside of the giant window in a protected cove of rock. Within seconds of the picture being sent, Victor was calling. There was a small explosion — though based on the direction it came from, it was clear that it was to block an exit rather than do anything to them before he got there.

"I think that was where he thought we parked," Wade said, looking out into the swirling snow.

Logan took one look at Peter, shivering in the cold, before he looked at the bamf on his shoulder. "Send me in. Make sure there isn't anything to hurt Petey." It only took a few more minutes before the bamf returned to grab Peter, and the others followed suit, bringing them back into the warmth. "Wade, you might want to see if he's got any C-4 around here. Disarm it if it's rigged — and if it's not … pretty sure you can make a few sets in special places. I doubt this mountain is going to burn easy."

Wade cheerfully rushed off in search of something more explosive than the cabinet full of booze while the other three shared a look.

"I … can probably find where he's hiding his surveillance," Peter offered before he headed out, muttering how wrong everyone was about crime not paying.

Which left Logan and K to wander the place to figure out where Creed was going to come in.

When the message had come in from K with coordinates, Azazel's growing irritation with their inability to catch up to Mystique evaporated, and he broke into a wide grin. "Finally. Something worth my time," he said, and an instant later, he and Kurt had teleported to the coordinates.

They were surprised at where they ended up — clearly nowhere near the action of a Creed versus Logan and K fight. Instead, they were in a series of hallways lit by gaslights.

Kurt looked around and started to smirk to himself when he saw the setup. "Perhaps they've already fought and left without us," he said.

Azazel glared at him. "Not enough blood," he said shortly as he seemed to simply choose a direction and headed down that way. "We'll hear the fight before long, I'm sure."

Kurt shook his head at that as he followed Azazel. "We'll see."

Sure enough, Creed arrived not much later with a roar, fully enraged as he made his way through the in-mountain lair. He was beyond livid and couldn't wait to tear the two little ferals apart, so it was that much more irritating when, as he turned the corner where their scent was thick, the wall blew out in an explosion of granite and bits of concrete.

Before Victor could get to his feet, two long swords sank down into his shoulders from behind as Wade leapt onto his back, twisting the blades and continuing with his horrible cowboy impression. It didn't last long, but it was more than enough to announce to the ferals that "Ugly is home!"

As Victor threw Wade, Logan called out to him — glass still in hand. "Not impressed with the selection, Vic." But that just tweaked him, and the fight was on.

Peter had a front row seat, high in the living room, where the roars echoed worst. But he was in a great spot to web Creed's feet to the ground, or a hand to his chest … or .. well. Any number of things. All while he watched what he earnestly hoped was the last fight like this.

The two of them were bashing each other hard, and as Azazel had said, there was a lot more blood to contend with. But even with the webbing, with Creed fully off his chain like that, there was nothing drawing his focus from doing anything but causing as much pain and damage as he could, seeming to ignore his own injuries even if they were gathering faster than he could heal.

In a flash, K dove in with Logan, dancing around the two men as she darted in to cut Victor deeply when she could find a space to slip through.

The two Howletts were too much for Victor — even if he was bigger and stronger than both of them put together — they both had him in speed, and neither of them were ready to let him walk.

Desperate to save himself, he bashed Logan backward, staggering him badly with the amount of blood he'd lost already. There were deep claw marks across Logan's body where Creed had worked them in. With Logan bashed out of the way, K had no cover, and Victor snatched her up, holding her at arm's length as he started to crush her throat.

A splatter of webbing obscured Victor's sight as Peter nailed him squarely. K was losing her fight with consciousness as Wade returned, not afraid to reintroduce himself to the spar with a field goal kick to Creed's groin that forced him to drop K.

The little feral reached out with a snarl, one hand to her throat as the other neatly sliced off Creed's arm, and before he could recover, Logan was on top of him again with a snarl that bounced off of the stone walls.

A few hard hits and a ringing sound echoed the room, followed by a heavy thump and, finally, a heavier one as Creed's body followed suit from his head and crumpled to the floor.

Panting from the fight — though it wasn't as long as they'd anticipated — K couldn't stop herself from taking the picture of Creed's body, though she gritted her teeth as she sent it off to Kurt.

When he got the text, Azazel was in an excellent mood over the fact that Victor Creed had met his end. Before he could go to coordinates of the dead Creed, to his continuing delight, he noticed a glimmer a movement and recognized it in an instant. Raven was trying to make her escape to avoid the same end. She had likely come as backup for Creed but left when she saw the way the wind was blowing.

Not that Azazel planned to let her go.

She was further down the maze of hallways than a normal person would be able to get in the time she'd had since Creed fell, but once Azazel alerted Kurt on where to go, the two of them teleported into her path, swords drawn.

Mystique pulled up short and glared daggers at Azazel when she saw him without his red fur. "That was always a horrible look on you," she sneered at him.

"It seemed to suit you well enough once," he replied with his eyes narrowed as he twirled his sword, though Raven avoided the thrust and scrambled off to the side, only to find Kurt teleporting into her path as well.

"Kurt, darling, I'm surprised at you," she said in a soft near-purr. "Standing with him."

"It's not by choice," he told her frankly.

Raven looked between Kurt and Azazel for a moment before she settled on Azazel, a disbelieving laugh escaping her. "This is how far you've fallen?" she asked, gesturing with one hand to Kurt.

"I simply prefer these odds," Azazel replied before he looked Kurt's way. "We'll kill her together, my boy," he said, as if this was a perfectly magnanimous suggestion, before he drove forward with both swords drawn.

Mystique was able to dance out of his reach easily — and had it been the two of them, she would have easily dealt with him. She had come prepared for a fight, after all, and she drew a gun from her hip as she ducked a sword strike to fire at Azazel, catching him in the arm before Kurt met her there, cutting through the arm holding her gun before she could fire the rest of the magazine into Azazel as she'd meant to do.

"Really now," she sneered at Azazel. "You've never wanted me dead before. Find yourself a dimheaded blonde somewhere that thinks she can replace me? Or are you so tired of being the weaker one in this game you decided to stop playing?"

She spun toward Kurt and then bent over backwards to avoid the next strike as both of his swords crossed over her in what would have been a fatal move if not for her reflexes. "Kurt," she said, shaking her head as she straightened up, dancing away from another strike, "are you even fighting him? That was a good move, darling, one of your best ... " She shook her head again. "Now that you have the excuse, you don't need to pretend you don't have that same killer instinct as your father." She looked between them both. "You've grown up just like him."

Kurt paused as if she'd slapped him before his lip curled back in a snarl and he drew back to strike again — if for no other reason than to stop her vicious lies.

She raised the gun and squeezed off one shot before Azazel at her side plunged a blade into her shoulder, causing her to cry out and release her grip on the gun. She twisted to get away from Azazel's second sword, and that led her into Kurt's path as both of his blades sank into her — at her opposite shoulder and hip.

She cried out, but it wasn't longer than a heartbeat before Azazel plunged his second sword into her chest, twisted the blade, and pulled it out. He stepped back with a smug grin as Raven sank to her knees and then fell to her side.

Azazel was grinning widely despite his badly bleeding shoulder, as he crouched down to be at eye level with Raven. "It's always a shame to lose a favorite plaything," he said, tutting slightly. "You ceased to be of any use to me long ago, my dear, and when you stopped being amusing as well…" He leaned back and then got to his feet. "On to better things," he said, as much to Kurt as to Raven as she bled out. "Bring K to me," he told Kurt, smirking to himself as he saw Raven's eyes narrow — and Kurt's as well as he disappeared.

By the time Kurt and K returned, Raven was dead, and Azazel had taken the time to attend to his shoulder. It was healing, but of course, the healing powers he had stolen from K were not as fully realized as hers; he hadn't changed his underlying genetics the way Sinister had to match the powers. So he would have an ugly scar there — at least until he could restore his own powers to their original state of splendor.

K was a mess when they appeared, bloodied and healed from the slices that Victor had gotten in — her appearance alone was almost like shoving it in Azazel's face on how healing was supposed to work.

"You denied me the show," Azazel told her with a deep glare when they arrived.

"I gave you my coordinates," she replied easily. "As soon as I knew for sure he was coming."

He glared at her. "You did not give me the coordinates of the fight. Clearly, you need hand-holding in your instructions."

"Had I sent you any other coordinates, you would have ended up in the middle of Victor's decapitation." She stopped and tipped her head to the side. "Oh. I see my error." She frowned as she watched his face contort in anger. "Well ... who did I send the right ones to, then?"

Azazel's furious expression only lasted for a moment as K's question was answered — by a couple of bamfs arriving with Scott, Kate, and Betsy.

With no telepathic powers of his own, Azazel didn't have nearly the ability to avoid it when Betsy dove into his thoughts to keep him from teleporting — and he therefore couldn't avoid it either when Scott let him have it with a heavy blast that knocked him out entirely.

Kate, on the other hand, was far more interested in running right to Kurt to fling her arms around his neck and kiss him deeply.

While they were preoccupied, K grabbed a bamf to disappear back to Logan, fully intending to clean up before they returned to the kids — and to make sure she was well away from Azazel when he woke up again. And while Kurt was still wrapped up in Kate, one of his bamfs took that cue to get Kurt outside of the mountainside hideout to the forest outside of Westchester, away from Azazel and his commands. Kate and Kurt didn't stop what they were doing in the slightest despite the change in scenery, though, and the little bamf disappeared with a giggle to leave them a little privacy.

Finally, Kate pulled back, one hand still tangled in Kurt's hair and the other in his shirt, and watched Kurt's expression carefully. He was clearly upset by everything that had happened over the last few days.

"I'm sorry," she said quickly, though that had him shaking his head at her.

"Evil is evil," he told her. It was a phrase he used often, and he was getting a little tired of using it, especially for situations like this. Not that it wasn't true; he was just tired of needing to use it.

She nodded at that and then pulled him into another kiss that lasted for a good long time before she considered speaking to him again, this time resting her head on his chest. "Are you alright?" she asked, listening to the sigh move through him as she asked it that said he definitely wasn't.

"I should have fought him harder," he said after the long sigh, and Kate was already shaking her head at him before he even finished the sentence.

"It's not your fault he's the worst father in the history of existence," Kate said fiercely.

Kurt kissed the top of her head. "No, but that doesn't mean I am without guilt," he whispered into her hair.

She straightened up and watched him for a long moment. "You're cute when you're full of misplaced guilt and all, but you're going to have to stop that. Don't do that for this. Not for him. He doesn't deserve one single sleepless night of yours." She gave him an impish grin before she stole another kiss. "Those are mine."

Kurt couldn't help but chuckle at that as he pulled her closer and let the kiss stretch on between them, tracing the curve of the headband in her hair down to the curve of her chin.

"I thought it was a brilliant move to send those pages our way; it'll give us a clue to what he's up to," Kate said after a long moment of reacquainting themselves.

"He wants them translated."

"That's good, isn't it?" Kate pointed out. "It means he doesn't know the stuff he wants to know — makes it harder for him to get his evil on."

Kurt smiled at her and kissed her forehead. "Yes, that is true."

"And I gave Scott my entire tranq stash, so the monster-in-law will be unconscious into next week until we get Doctor Strange or Billy or whoever we need to get in here to figure out how to break the spell." She smoothed out his shirt with her hand. "So whatever the heck just happened, it's not happening again."

Kurt kissed her again, though when she looked up at him as the kiss broke, he looked incredibly tired. "I helped him to kill Mystique," he explained when he saw the questioning glance she was giving him. "And I'm sure that if you hadn't arrived when you did, I would have been forced to kidnap K and begin whatever schemes he had next," he said, the frown only deepening.

Kate let out a sigh when she heard it and then gently pulled Kurt's head down to rest just beneath her chin. She kissed the top of his head and simply stood there for a while and held onto him in the dark of the forest, and they stayed out there like that for a long while, neither of them entirely ready to go back to the mansion.

Chapter Text

Peter Parker was the first to return to the mansion, a bit dazed as to how he got there, if he was being honest, and entirely happy to see that Sara and Aunt May were perfectly safe and happy there. He had just started to explain what had happened — leaving out as much gore and blood as possible — when K and Logan appeared with a bamf on each of their shoulders, hair wet and in new clothes.

They weren't far into the living room when their three little ones spotted them, and with an excited shout for 'daddy,' the two girls led the charge, with James hot on their heels to snuggle in and kiss both of them.

"So, it turns out that Aunt May was the one doing most of the snuggles on your three," Peter said as Elin attached herself to her mother and Logan tried to balance the two smaller ones.

"Oh?" Logan said while James nestled in and Sadie tried to turn his head to give him a kiss.

"Thank you, Aunt May," K called out, stroking Elin's hair and held on to Logan's arm. "And it's nice to see you looking so well."

"It's nice to see you both back in one piece," May said with a warm smile. "You were sorely missed."

"Apparently," Logan said as Sadie melted into his shoulder.

"Hope they weren't too rotten," K said while the little group of them headed toward the stairs.

"These three angels? They were nothing but well-behaved," May said fondly.

"Good," K replied. "They know they're supposed to behave."

"You really have taught them well. It shows. You should be proud."

K rested her hand on Elin's head, and the little girl looked up at her mother for a moment before letting go and heading over to give May a hug and a very quiet 'thank you' about half a second before James rushed over to do the same, though Sadie just waved May's way and blew her a kiss.

The little family went upstairs together, with May smiling after them before Peter offered her his arm to head up the stairs as well. "It's kind of super late? We can head home in the morning, seeing as the creep's taken care of."

Scott was the last to arrive at the mansion, with Azazel still unconscious and Betsy glaring at him and looking like she was just waiting for a reason to make the former demon king miserable. They took him down to Hank's lab, where the good doctor was sure to set it up so that Azazel would have enough drugs to keep him under for as long as they needed.

Azazel would be under constant monitoring, too — but even still, after spending the last few days running after Kurt, Scott didn't want to leave anything to chance. So once Azazel was all set up and Hank reassured Scott — again — that he wasn't going anywhere, Scott headed upstairs next.

Kurt and Kate had just come in from the forest, though Scott only knew it had been recent because he got there at about the same time there was a tiny mob of elflings to their parents. Scott frowned, well-aware that his timing was bad, but he knocked on the door anyway.

Kaleb was still hanging off of Kurt and grinning when Kurt answered the door. "Hi, Scott!" Kaleb called out, beating his dad to the greeting.

Kate was in the middle of a snuggle with both of her girls as she glanced up at Scott, and he let out a sigh as he scrubbed a hand through his hair. "We've got—" He glanced toward Krissy. "Our guest is completely unconscious, and Hank said that's not going to change anytime soon," he said slowly. "But last time he was here, he didn't need to speak to get you and K to break him out," he explained to Kurt, who was already frowning and clearly following Scott's train of thought.

"I see," Kurt said slowly, shifting the way he was holding Kaleb. "And with him being in the house…"

"Exactly," Scott said, starting to nod. "So I think it would be safer — not just for you but for everyone—" he added, tipping his head slightly toward Kate and the girls, "—if we separated the two of you from his reach. At least get you somewhere far enough away that it would be hard for you to go to him."

"And somewhere I cannot teleport," Kurt said, still frowning but nodding along. "Or there's no point to my leaving."

"I was thinking about K's cottage," Scott admitted. "It's practically a home away from home for this kind of thing at this point. And if you set up a dampening field there and bring Kate and Logan to keep you from crossing the threshold…"

"I'll need to grab a few more tranqs from Clint," Kate said. "I gave you all mine."

"Do that," Scott agreed, then let out a sigh. "And I'll call Jubilee. With him here, and you two in the cottage, I don't want him getting any ideas about the kids."

Kurt glanced over to where Krissy was watching the conversation intently and then let out a sigh. "Yes, that would be too much of a temptation," he said. "And I don't want him to think he can have me bring them to him either," he added, this time a little softer.

"Not exactly the trip I was hoping for on our anniversary," Kate said with a little frown.

"We'll take the elflings somewhere with sandy beaches when this is through," Kurt decided.

"At least we'll get to hide away together tomorrow," Kate decided.

"I already called Strange and Billy," Scott told them both. "I'm sure it won't take long to figure out how to break the spell, especially with how mad Strange was last time he was here."

"And how incredibly irritated he was on seeing the pages I sent him as well," Kurt pointed out.

"Exactly," Scott said. "I'm hoping it won't take long at all — and you two can go to LA by the end of the day. After all this, I'm sure you could use the break."

"My grandfather's here, isn't he?" Krissy asked after a moment, clearly watching the adults in the room with her tail perfectly still behind her.

The three X-Men froze before Kate very gently kissed Krissy's forehead. "Yes, but he's not going to go anywhere. And we're not going to make you stay here while he's around. You can stay with Sying's family, alright?"

"Alright," Krissy said, frowning and curling a bit more into Kate.

"And you'll have all our little friends with you," Kurt said. "Do you think you could sit with the bamfs while they have to fly instead of teleporting?"

"They're not gonna like that," Krissy said, wrinkling her nose.

"That's why we need you to take care of them," Kate said with a little smile. "Can you do that?"

"Alright, but they're not gonna like it," Krissy said again.

Scott watched the family scene for a moment before he let out a sigh. "I'll meet you down at the hangar. I have to go talk to Logan and K first, but we should get moving on this before any curve balls have the chance to get thrown our way."

Kate nodded. "I'll just grab a bamf and go get my tranqs," she said, sure to kiss both of her girls before she got up to do just that — and Scott let the group of them get packed in privacy as he went next door to the Howletts' suite.

After he knocked, K called out that the door was open, and he let himself in, not surprised to see that Logan and K were relaxing together — the kids already asleep after spending a good amount of time snuggled with their parents, which Scott wasn't sure would make this easier or not.

"Azazel's downstairs," Scott told them both, hands in his pockets. "Hank has him drugged, and Strange and Wiccan are on the way to start working on breaking his hold on you and Kurt," he added K's way. "But … it's still a good idea to take a few precautions in the meantime."

Logan sat up a little straighter and let out a breath. "Why don't we just take his head off?"

"For how long he's been off our radar — and how long he had Kurt? I'd feel better if Strange double-checked him first and if Billy made sure we're not shooting ourselves in the foot," Scott admitted.

"What are you thinkin', Slim?"

"Separating him from K and Kurt," Scott said. "We know he doesn't have to speak or be near either of them to exercise his influence, but if they're far enough out, even if he does call for help, they shouldn't be able to get to him to help him until we've broken whatever spells he has on them."

"Strange said it'd be easier to remove things if they were there. You gonna pull 'em back while he's handling things?"

"We can figure it out with Strange when we need to," Scott said. "But I'd feel better if he tried without them first, considering how the last time went."

Logan nodded and glanced toward where the little ones were sleeping. "Alright. Where you have in mind, and what are the fine details I should know? Or is it just a 'go hide' thing?"

"I figured you could head to the cottage," Scott said. "Kurt and Kate will come with you, and we'll set up a dampening field or collars, something to keep Kurt from teleporting and to make sure Kate's tranqs will work on K if she tries to get to Westchester." He leaned back against the wall and let out a breath. "I'm going to ask Erik to fly Kate and Kurt's kids to LA too — since Azazel's here and we know he would love to get his hands on them."

"That would break the deal," K said.

"I'm not going to take the chance that the deal was only that he'd let them go in that one instance," Scott pointed out. "Krissy's already terrified of him as it is — and she can tell more or less what's happening. I don't want anything else to happen if I can help it."

K nodded, though she crossed her arms over her middle as she thought it over and Logan simply got to his feet. "Any idea how long it'll be? Don't have much up there for the little ones," he said.

Scott frowned. "If Azazel tries to call them, I don't think the kids should be there to see it," he admitted.

Logan paused, and it was crystal clear that he was thinking of who to send the kids to outside of the mansion before he nodded. "Right."

"Strange and Billy are already on the way. Hopefully, this will be through in no time," Scott said. "I'll have Jana fly you out — just to be safe. You can call her for pickup when you get the all-clear, but I'm thinking it would be easier to make it as hard as possible for either of them to get here when he calls — and you know he will once Strange gets started. In the meantime, you know the kids are always welcome with us. Or I'm pretty sure Peter's aunt wouldn't mind getting more face time with them." He almost smirked. "She seems to like them."

"Thank you, Scott," K said, saving both of them from any more awkward tripping around each other. "We'll bring them over in a little bit."

"Alright," he said, headed for the door. "Don't worry about them; Annie and I love having them over."

"Sabretooth and Mystique are dead," K said. "This is a speed bump in comparison. And I'm sure that Charlie doesn't mind snuggling up with Elin to save her from Chance."

He did smirk at that one. "I'll meet you in the hangar."

The two Howletts immediately went to the little ones, rousing them enough so that Elin and James both walked with them down to the Summers' suite, though James was walking with his face half buried in K's hip, leaning on her the whole way, and Sadie barely woke up enough to give them both kisses before she curled up and passed out again.

Logan and K didn't bother to pack anything, especially considering the fact that they had all they needed at the cabin Logan had in mind. When they got to the hangar, Kurt and Kate were busy, and Jana was raring to go, though she was careful not to look too eager about being part of such a big mission.

"So, where are we headed?" she asked. "Cyclops said something about maybe K's place?"

Logan let out a sigh and closed his eyes. "Place near Alaska. I'll give you the coordinates when we get in the jet. It's not in the system."

"Alright," she said with a nod before she went back to prepping the jet so that she could hide her excited look at getting to go to one of Wolverine's off-grid hideaways.

Kate and Kurt had tucked the elflings in on the mini jet, since it was late enough that the hope was they'd just sleep through the whole flight out to LA, though Tommy promised he'd ride with them to keep an eye on them (and, though he wouldn't admit it, to keep an eye on Erik). So once they were all tucked in with blankets, bamfs, and teddy bears, Kurt and Kate joined the others at Jana's jet to head out.

When Strange arrived, he was clearly annoyed and furious at the situation in general, ready to get down to work and looking more gruff than usual, though Billy was reassuringly not nearly as serious-looking — which at least meant that there was no danger of world-ending consequences for this particular endeavor.

"Where is he?" Strange all but demanded as he strolled through the hallway.

"We have him sedated in Hank's lab," Scott explained as he led the way.

"Then let's address this ridiculous issue before it gets any worse," Strange said, with Billy shaking his head behind him.

"He's in a mood," he told Scott in a stage-whisper.

"How long has that been the case?" Scott asked quietly as they followed Strange's billowing cape down the hall.

"Well, he wasn't happy about K's deal in the first place — that was really crummy being around him, by the way — but he was tolerable doing research until you called up again to say Kurt was missing, and it's just been going from there with the stuff Kurt was sending him to translate."

"Is it something we should be concerned with?" Scott asked. "More than we already are, that is."

"Not when he clearly doesn't know how to perform the spells," Strange said over his shoulder with a glare.

"And the simple fact that he doesn't know how shows how old and dangerous it is, right?"

"It's not something that should be practiced by anyone, for how many ways it can go wrong," Strange said. "Not only for the caster but for anyone involved, as well as the laws of nature and time."

"He's not going to break anything like that," Billy said before Scott could say anything about that. "Not the way things stand right now, anyway. I just don't see that in the future — though admittedly, it's always changing based on people's decisions in the present."

"So it's possible for him to get his power back?" Scott asked, looking concerned.

"Powers, yes, but nothing like what he had," Billy promised. "He still doesn't have that connection to Hell — and he never will. He's still mortal, and he can't undo that. Ever." Billy looked entirely serious as he crossed his arms. "It's just not possible to undo one of my spells when it's powered by the Demiurge."

"But he's trying to," Scott replied.

"Trying being the operative word," Billy said, shaking his head.

By that time, they'd reached where Hank was keeping watch over a heavily sedated Azazel. "He hasn't done anything more offensive than breathe this whole time," Hank said, though he didn't take his gaze off of the equipment that was rigged to keep a steady stream of sedatives and paralytics in his system. "There is a Kree device in place that will prevent him from teleporting."

Strange glared at Azazel as he came to a stop a few feet away from him. "I've been researching how best to break a demon deal," he said. "I can try a few things with regard to the spell on Nightcrawler, but the truth of the matter is simply that a deal cannot be broken unless a new deal is reached — or the terms of the first one are either broken or come to an end." He let out a sigh. "We have some leeway here," he added. "K's deal was to give him access to her blood, not to give him full control over her."

"It's a technicality," Billy said with a grin. "But this is more… technical than magical, really."

"And of course, the control he has over both Nightcrawler and K can be broken easily enough, so long as he agrees to end it," Strange said. "It doesn't matter if it is under duress — once he releases them, he would need to recapture either of them to redo the spell."

"I can help with that," Betsy offered, stepping out from the shadows.

Strange's head came up fast, and then a near-smirk played with his expression. "Yes," he said thoughtfully. "You can." He turned toward Hank. "If you would, please — if we are to free Nightcrawler and K, then he needs to be awake to give his word."

Betsy smirked and looked between Scott and Hank before she and Hank stepped in to where Azazel was being held. Hank was quick to pull the IV and simply get out of the way, knowing that the sedation would wear out quickly — and probably faster than what was strictly normal when Betsy was firing up her psychic knife.

She waited until Azazel started to move a bit, slowly waking from the sedation, before she plunged the psychic fire into his chest, waking him harshly — though for the first time, Strange didn't seem bothered in the least by the barbaric act.

Thousands of miles away, at the exact moment that Betsy started to work on Azazel, both Kurt and K suddenly felt the unstoppable urge to get to Westchester.

Both of them seemed to be hit with a sudden jolt, and Logan and Kate had just enough time to share a look before they moved. Logan flat out tackled K to the ground as Kate whipped her bow out; before Kurt could reach the door, he had a tranquilizer arrow in his shoulder, and a second later, he hit the ground face first. Kate lined up a shot for K next, though with Logan and K both moving, she ended up loading a double shot — since K would be more affected than Logan with the collar on.

Kate winced and apologized quickly after she let the arrows fly, even as K stilled. "Didn't want to give her an arrow of leverage on you," she explained, crossing over to where Kurt was splayed out as she turned him over.

"What kind of leverage would she have with three hundred pounds of anchor on her?" Logan asked with a smirk.

"She's smart and mean; I'm not taking chances," Kate pointed out as she pulled the arrow out of Kurt's shoulder.

"You don't say," Logan said sarcastically.

Kate just rolled her eyes at Logan.

"They're fine; don't feel bad. They knew this was gonna happen," Logan told her. "If you're upset, I'm sure Kurt won't argue if you offer to kiss it better later." He gestured to Kurt, sprawled out on the floor. "Now. Why don't you toss me some rope so I can tie her up?"

Kate nodded, pulling some of the extra rope from her quiver from old spent grappling hooks. "Hopefully we won't have to hit them again. This is stupid."

"She's not as strong with the collar on," he told her. "She won't get out of this. You want me to get him too?"

She let out a heavy sigh but shook her head. "I can do it. It's just… stupid."

"This whole thing is stupid," Logan agreed as he got to work.

"If he's still alive when we get back, I'm going to shoot him," Kate told Logan frankly. "I don't care what tricks he has up his sleeve as long as no one's gonna die if I kill him."

"Sound reasonable to me," Logan agreed, though he was shaking his head. "Trying to figure out the best way to keep her from squirming loose … damnit."

"You want a traq just in case?" she offered, holding one of her arrows out to him.

"Nah. I'll just tackle her again," he said, shaking his head.

Kate nodded at that as she pulled out her own rope. "This is so not what I was planning to do with him on our anniversary. Just so you know," she grumped.

"Sorry it's not as scenic as it could be," Logan teased, as if he'd ever picked out a hiding spot that wasn't ridiculously gorgeous.

She gave him a dry, dry look for that one. "Yeah. You're hilarious. That's so not the complaint here."

"You want it after this is over? Hole up and kiss whatever you shoot?" Logan countered.

"We already promised the kids we'd take them to the beach," Kate said. "We've been apart long enough — I'm sure you know the feeling."

"Yeah, that wasn't exactly the best 'welcome back' that we could have had," he agreed.

"No kidding," Kate said.

"Thought Scott was going to have a stroke for a minute there," Logan muttered.

Kate had to nod her agreement. "You should have seen him when Krissy asked if this was about Azazel," she said softly.

"No, I got to see him try to reword 'go hide' so that it didn't sound like last time. He still acts like he had a choice last time around."

Kate shook her head, one eye closed in a little wince. "Yeah… that guy needs a vacation, like, stat."

"We'll ship him here," Logan decided with a smirk.

"I'm in favor," Kate said, matching his smirk. "Annie would love it too."

He looked over his shoulder and out the window and shrugged. "Maybe."

"Well, you're assuming she's going to care what the weather is like when we're gift-wrapping relaxed boss man."

"At some point, the older ones will always look out the window," Logan pointed out. "And not sure if you noticed, but Ol' Slim ain't as dark as he once was."

"You mean our steadily-silvering Summers?"

"That's the one," he agreed, finally pulling the last knot tight.

"Kurt's not as blue as he used to be either, but he doesn't seem to have any problems," Kate said with a crooked grin.

"And you're a lot more purple," he said quietly.

Kate shook her head at him as she worked on Kurt's ankles. "I over-dye, honestly. I kinda like the purple."

"Oh, I know," he said, nodding. "The candy grape scent is something else on that stuff."

She grinned. "I meant I'm not as gray as all the purple suggests," she said, pointing at her head. "I just like the stripes."

"Yeah, I know. The lighter stuff ... well. I wasn't pointing out the gray so much as I was pointing out that you're getting more colorful while he's fading."

"Well, Kari's blue enough for both of them — and Kaleb."

"I don't want to know what the shower looks like if he decides to be vain and go full body."

Kate burst into surprised laughter, shaking her head as she sat back after finishing her own tying job. "I'd never let him — he'd have to sleep outside. That would just… the smell would mess with even a normal little human like me," she laughed.

"I'd have to break Scott's heart and move to the boathouse like I was trying to do before," Logan said, shaking his head.

"Aww, but you just pointed out how old he's getting, and we have to be gentle with his over-stressed heart," she chuckled.

"Which is why we haven't done it," he countered.

Kate shook her head at him and then pushed herself to her feet and wiped her hands on her knees. "Think you could help me move him so he's not by the door?" she asked.

"Sure. Lay out a blanket on the carpet," he directed as he headed over to pick Kurt up. "If we put 'em on the beds and they start thrashing …" He shrugged. "Not the first time I've had to do this."

"Smart," Kate agreed, headed to a closet to pull down a blanket they could use to bring over to him, though she was sure to pause and give Logan a kiss on the cheek. "This whole thing sucks, by the way, but… thanks," she told him quietly.

"Hey. He's my best friend. He'd try to do the same for me if I needed it." He let out a breath. "Probably end up breaking somethin', though …"

"I dunno. We have a pretty good setup with K. Do the same to you… tranq arrows and a teleporting demon… you wouldn't get far either," Kate said.

"Okay, you go ahead and think that," he chuckled as he set Kurt down where Kate had set up the blanket.

"I'll go ahead and know it," she said. "I've seen him fight you — the behind-the-back arm hold is a personal favorite of mine. Saw him do it way back when we first met Azazel."

"Yeah, he likes that one too — until I pull his grip loose, and then it loses all the fun suddenly."

"Well, he'd only need to do it 'til I tranq-ed you," Kate pointed out. "Easy peasy. We are a beautiful team."

"And as long as K wasn't helping me, it'd be perfect," he agreed.

"Yeah, I don't want to fight both of you," Kate agreed, pulling a face. She let out a small sigh. "Even when we went to that future, we didn't ever fight you both together. We were lucky that way. Well, me and Kurt never did, but the others had to do it."

"Yeah, I'd rather not think about that," Logan replied.

"As crummy as this is, honestly, it's still, like, a thousand times better than that future. Really," Kate promised quickly.

"So far," he replied. "It can always get worse."

"Well, it's already pretty much guaranteed not to get to that point anyway, since he's not a demon anymore," Kate pointed out.

"Small miracles."

"Small Wiccan, you mean."

"Right. That too." he leaned back against the couch and watched K and Kurt all drugged up and restrained. "How long are those tranquilizers good for?"

"Three hours, give or take," Kate said. "I mean, it varies based on height and weight and all that, but I saw Clint get hit with one, and he was out that long."

"You'd think he'd have built up a tolerance," Logan said before he turned Kate's way. "You know he's poked himself on accident."

"Honestly, the fact that he has a low-level healing ability explains so much about how he hasn't had more issues," Kate said.

He'd be dead a dozen times over without it," Logan agreed. "Gotta be like a damn alley cat."

Kate smirked and leaned back. "This is newer stuff," she explained, gesturing at their drugged friends. "Clint changes it up every once in a while."

"Probably changes it when it doesn't work to knock him out for a nap."

"He changes it when Hydra comes up with quick antidotes," Kate explained.

"Potato … tomato. Whatever."

She shook her head at him for that one and then leaned back on the couch. "Whatever. Either way, we have time to kill. And I have a book to read if you don't want to lose horribly to me in cards."

"That's never gonna happen," he replied. "You can try. But you're gonna lose."

"Only if you cheat," she pointed out, the grin widening.

"So is that saying you don't know how to cheat? How can you be as old as you are and not know how to cheat at cards?"

"That's me saying you can't beat me fair and square," she countered.

"Oh, I can, but old habits … and it's good to keep sharp on the cheating for Fury's games."

"Uh-huh. I hear words, but it sounds a lot like excuses to me."

"Get the cards," he replied with a little growl.

Chapter Text

In the basement of the mansion, Azazel was screaming again, though it was no longer from Betsy's psychic blade. He'd resisted just enough and insisted that the purple-haired ninja couldn't beat him in a square fight long enough that she finally relented and had Scott lock her in the cell with him.

And then she proceeded to positively wipe the floor with the ex-demon king.

He might have been an incredible swordsman, but Betsy never needed a sword. She liked them, of course. She was skilled with them. But she had always been the kind of girl that got to work with her hands much better. And her feet. Azazel had no idea what he'd gotten into when the little ninja really dug in.

After the first forty-five minutes or so, he was all but begging for her to stop, and Doctor Strange was on his feet with a pleased smile as Betsy pulled Azazel into a painful hold that kept his arms behind his back and still left one of her hands free to employ the psychic blade.

"I think he's ready to talk to you, Doctor," Betsy said, looking up at Strange with a twisted little smile. Clearly, she hadn't worked out her rage from losing Angel, and what better target than an old demon king?

Strange wasn't entirely sure whether to return her smile or to let his own fury show as he approached the two of them, but thinking of the task ahead had him glaring all the same at the trapped Azazel. "You will release your hold on both Nightcrawler and K," he told Azazel in a tone that brokered no argument. "You can do this now, or you can continue to serve as an excellent receptacle for Psylocke's fury. Either way, you will do it."

"I'm sure that the others wouldn't mind a turn if I need a short break," Betsy pointed out. "Beast looks like he could use a stretch."

"And here you all call yourselves heroes," Azazel said, though his voice was hoarse and without its usual power. "At least now you show your true colors — and we can speak like equals."

"The usual rules don't apply when you try to enslave our team members," Scott pointed out.

"Always an excuse to mask the penchant for cruelty and violence," Azazel purred. "I would know — I've seen it all."

"Just feel lucky our penchant for cruelty and violence hasn't made his way down here yet," Scott replied. "Pretty sure he's got a few words for you."

"As if I don't know he has his attention elsewhere," Azazel sneered. "Or I wouldn't be here, would I? How long do you think you can battle your own teammates and keep them from me?"

Scott smirked. "We're patient."

"As am I," Azazel replied.

Betsy let out a little sigh and let her blade slip slowly into his shoulder, pointed down to the center of his chest. "I'm not very patient," she said in a casual tone.

Since the blade wasn't something his stolen healing could recover from, it was obvious that Azazel was hurting as he glared at the group of them, finally shaking his head. "I can release Kurt easily enough, but as for the other spell… that is a binding agreement."

"Which she met the terms of, giving you access to her blood," Strange said evenly.

Azazel couldn't help but smile. "She didn't have a restriction on what I could do with it. It's not my fault that she assumed I only wanted the healing ability."

"Terminate the contract," Strange said sharply. "You hold it; you can do it if you choose."

"No," Azazel said, eyes narrowed. "My deals are not so easily tossed aside. They are binding unless a new deal is struck. And considering that the deal was for the lives of two of my granddaughters, I doubt you want me to terminate it entirely."

"She gave you her blood; you released the children. The deal is complete. You are trying to make it last longer to suit your own needs," Strange replied.

Azazel smiled at that. "As has ever been the case, for me and others like me, for millennia and eternities."

"Drop the spells," Scott said sharply. "On both of them. Now."

"Oh, are you going to torture me some more?" Azazel asked in an almost interested tone. "That seems out of character for you."

"No, I won't torture you," Scott said, shaking his head. "I'll just kill you."

"If you were going to do that, you would have done it by now," Azazel said.

"No," Scott said with almost a laugh. "I'm trying to give you a chance to do the right thing. That's the hero part coming out."

Azazel laughed at that. "No. You are worried that if you try, I will have some other tricks that would hurt your ... " Azazel's smile widened. "Your little family." He shook his head lightly as he saw the reddish tinge to Scott's eyes. "Now then. Shall we barter for my release? As I said, I am willing to release the boy."

Scott's jaw tightened, and he shook his head lightly. "It's in your hands, Doctor."

Strange nodded and took a step closer to where Betsy still had Azazel pinned down. "No one here is going to deal with you," he said. "This is not a contract negotiation. This is a simple demand. You will release them or you will die."

Azazel held Strange's gaze for a long moment. "You have no guarantee that killing me will not harm others."

"Your strongest magics are tied up in these two spells," Strange countered. "If you have any tricks, it is in those. Release them, and you will live."

There was a long moment of silence as the former demon king considered it. "I'll need to amend the contract with K in order to release her," he said at last. "The terms as they stand are open-ended and will go on forever. They can't be broken unless a new agreement is reached."

"Then release Nightcrawler and prove your word," Strange said. "And I will be there for every word of this amendment."

Azazel glared before he glanced toward Betsy. "I will require my hands. If you want the spell broken, I need to shake her hand."

She looked to Strange, who nodded once. "Try anything else and I'll feed you your hand," Betsy warned.

"Charming," he said her way before he took a step away from her once she let him up and shook out both of his arms, wincing slightly. He stretched out both hands for a moment, eyes closed, and Strange looked like he was ready to jump in at the slightest provocation before Azazel let out a breath. "There. Kurt is released. Really, now, you make such a fuss over him."

"So do you," Betsy replied as she walked to the door.

Scott, meanwhile, had called Kate to be sure that the spell really had been lifted — and if Strange's muttered incantations were any indication, he was also double-checking. So when Kate reported that Kurt was alright — and Strange nodded — Scott let out a breath and nodded in return. "Kate, we need K. Tell Logan to let Kurt bring the group of you here."

You've got to be kidding me. Is he there? Did you make some creepy deal?

"I didn't," Scott said. He shook his head. "I don't like it either, but Strange is here and he won't let this go any further either."

This is stupid, Scott.

"It would be worse if we let it go on indefinitely," he pointed out and then pinched the bridge of his nose. "All of you can come. If you don't like it, I'm sure we'll know about it."

That's right you will.

Still, despite Kate's obvious misgivings, a moment later, with a familiar bamf, the group that had been at Logan's cabin arrived outside the cell, and Billy let them in, giving them a quick overview of where things stood as Logan had to carry in the still-restrained K.

"Crude," Azazel said when he saw her. "Effective, but crude."

"Just end this contract with her and stop your theatrics," Strange said in a clearly annoyed tone.

Azazel grinned at him and then turned toward K. "The deal as it stands has been that I control your blood and would leave the children be," he told her. "If I'm to end it, it has to be altered. There must be a clear end to the agreement."

"Why not just annul it?" she asked.

"When the deal is for my life, I would prefer the insurance," he told her frankly. "We can be honest with each other, pet. I do not trust you or your… playmate not to go back on an arrangement for anything less."

"Oh, I trust him completely to feed you his claws," K said with a nod as Logan smirked behind her.

Azazel gestured their way as if this explained everything. "Therefore," he said simply, "the deal is this: I will rescind the previous arrangement, in its entirety, and in return, I will be given safe passage, by you, until we reach a point that I can teleport myself."

K frowned and held his gaze as she weighed it out, very aware of Strange's presence nearby. "To do that, you'd need to give up the healing that you took from me. If you're going for entirety."

He tipped his head to the side. "And I would no longer be required to abstain from interfering with my grandchildren," he pointed out.

"Which is what you were jockeying for anyhow," she replied.

He pressed his lips together as he considered his situation. Obviously, if he refused, the X-Men weren't going to let him go, and since Betsy's psychic weapons wouldn't affect anyone he tied himself to, things would be miserable for him if he stayed. "You will guarantee my safe passage," he said. "And if any move is made against me, the deal is forfeit, and I regain my healing immediately."

She gave him a smile that he should have known wasn't in his favor. "You're asking me to broker a deal that was originally between you and I and include the intentions of everyone around us? No. I can't control them."

"There is no point to this deal if I have no guarantee of leaving this place," Azazel snarled.

"I didn't say you couldn't leave," she countered sweetly. "Just that whatever safe passage you have has to be between us." She tipped her head to where Scott was standing beyond Logan. "I can't do anything to make them behave. Charming as I can be on occasion, that is not one of my skills. And I can only do what's in my power and in my right to do."

He glared at her openly. "I have already shown my word releasing Kurt."

"To them. You've shown them your word can be good. The only word you've shown me is that you will take a mile if I give an inch. You worry about me lying to you, but you're the one with that record. Not me."

"Then guarantee that you will take me outside these gates — alive and unharmed — and the deal is done," he practically snarled her way. "I have only asked to be taken to a point I can teleport."

"In exchange for…"

"In exchange for this deal superseding the previous one. The terms of our old agreement will be void," Azazel said. "You will be free, as your teammates keep insisting."

Betsy, K projected out. Do you see any twists he's hoping for that I'm missing?

He is very anxious to be done with all of us for now, Betsy replied in an amused tone.

"And the children?" K pressed.

"The agreement will have no sway any longer," he replied. "If you are looking to deal for their safety, you will need to give me something in return." He paused to smirk with a wicked glint in his eyes. "And that would be a new deal entirely."

"How about your arms? Would you like to keep them?" she asked in her most reasonable tone.

"That," he said, "would be a breach of the new agreement for my life."

"I'm patient," she said, her gaze suddenly dangerous. "Doesn't mean I'll take them right now. You know how that works."

He sneered at her. "Do we have a deal or not?"

She had to force herself to turn to Strange first — and Kurt as well. When both of them nodded, she turned to see if Logan or Scott had any qualms before finally nodding herself once. "Fine."

He extended his hand to her for her to shake, and when she took it, he stepped into her space with a wide smile. "You, my dear," he said softly, "will make a fine demon when you reach the other side."

"I think your compass is off," she almost purred back. "As always, I'll be training the good guys."

He glared at that but then stepped back. "Now then," he said, "you have a bargain to fulfil."

K nodded as Kurt cut loose the remaining restraints, and she gave Betsy a look before she started off with Azazel, though the team didn't even try to hide the fact that all of them were following at a close distance, Logan in particular sticking close enough to nearly breathe down his back, growling low all the way.

But Azazel clearly wanted to put as much distance between himself and the whole ordeal as possible. The moment they stepped outside the gate, he teleported elsewhere in a poof of red, leaving K still at the gate and Strange looking very clearly relieved as he mumbled a few incantations, just to be sure.

"Neither of you seem to be under any undue influence any longer," he told K and Kurt in a relieved tone.

"Sorry for all the trouble," K said. "But I'm still not sorry for trying to save those girls."

"From noblest intentions come often the worst woes," Strange remarked, shaking his head.

"Maybe, but he never would have renegotiated at all if it wasn't for the fact that he couldn't get to those girls," she countered.

"He won't get to them again," Kurt said sharply.

"And if he tries, I'm taking his arms," K added while she made her way back to Logan to get a kiss and lean her head on his shoulder.

"I already said I wanted to shoot him," Kate put in, already texting Noh to tell him that she would like to see her kids again now, pretty please.

"I think it's just a standing rule at this point: anyone who sees him…" Billy shrugged. "There's a few different options… plenty of people want him dead."

"But he's going to die?" Scott asked, almost interestedly.

"Oh yeah," Billy said, nodding. "As soon as he had to give up his healing, the future shifted. It's going to happen; it's just a matter of how things fall into place to get there."

K sighed as she shook her head. "I really didn't want any lingering effects in case it was tied in."

"Well, either way," Kate said, "I'm taking my family on vacation now."

"You can use the place in Mexico," Logan said casually. "If you need a beach that bad."

"We promised the girls sandcastles," Kurt explained with a small smile. "And thank you. If you'll just… give me the coordinates…." he added, one eyebrow raised.

"I seriously thought you two knew everything about each other at this point," Kate said, looking totally shocked. "I mean, at least stuff like, you know, houses."

Logan took Kurt's phone and shook his head as he made a note of the spot. "I'll tell them I sent you and no one will bother you," he promised. "It's right on the Pacific."

Kate looked like Christmas had come early at the prospect — and of course, when Noh arrived a few moments later with Kari and Krissy on either shoulder, she grinned even wider … and then burst into a laugh when she realized Sying had made the cross-country run with his dad too, slightly slower, and carrying Kaleb on his back.

"I assumed you wanted to see them now," Noh said with a smile as he gently handed off the little girls to Kurt and Kate crouched down by Sying to ruffle his hair.

"Stop growing so fast. You're gonna be faster than your dad at this rate," Kate said as she took a giggling Kaleb from him.

Sying grinned widely. "You really think so?"

"Maybe," Kate said, laughing. "You're pretty fast already."

"You're already cuter," K added before she lifted him a few inches off the ground in a hug.

"And pretty tall," he said. "I'm gonna be taller than you someday!"

"Like next week?" she asked.

He laughed. "I don't grow that fast, Grammy K."

Kate grinned at that. "She's pretty short; it's not that hard," she teased before she stood up with Kaleb. "Come on, handsome," she told Kurt. "We have an anniversary to celebrate — and we've wasted half of it on your stupid dad."

"We'll simply have to keep celebrating it into tomorrow then," he said with a fond smile.

"And the next day… and the next…" Kate said, grinning before the whole little family teleported off.

K and Logan turned to Scott, and K took a few steps his way before she gave him a quick hug. "Thank you for dealing with the crazy all the time."

"Take the coordinates Jana used and disappear and head off with Annie for a few days," Logan suggested. "We'll handle yours for you."

"You sure?" Scott asked with one eyebrow raised.

"You need it," Logan said. "And you haven't seen that spot yet."

Scott started to smirk and shook his head. "Well… alright. I'm sure Annie could use a break too."

When all was said and done and the little ones were all back with their parents, the people who had volunteered to help take care of them were worn out — though not at all regretting their decision.

Still, they all appreciated the chance to catch their breaths — and Erik couldn't stop his smile as May Parker arrived with a cup of tea for both of them. "Thank you," he said, gently taking the tea from her as she sat down beside him.

She smiled just as gently his way. "You really are wonderful with them," she said.

"I'm afraid it's quite a selfish arrangement on my part," Erik told her with a smile. "Seeing these little ones and their boundless capacity for love reminds me of why I came to the X-Men in the first place."

"And why is that?" May asked, genuinely interested as she leaned back against the couch.

Erik smiled lightly. "Now, that is a long story."

"All my plans were recently upended. I have time," May said, and Erik couldn't help but laugh as he settled in.

"Then allow me to tell you the story of my old friend and his impossible dream."

Although Hank had been on hand to help with containing Azazel, the rest of the McCoy family was still in Chicago tending to an injured Tyler as he healed. So the timing was perfect when Tyler finally started to show signs of waking up: Azazel was gone, freeing Hank up to go see his stepson.

When he arrived, Tyler was still in the hospital bed — not because he was still hurt but because his little sister and his son wouldn't let him get up. They were too happy to see him awake after spending so long watching him sleep through a healing coma.

Jolie was really getting too big to climb up with anyone else, but that was the beauty of having a seven-foot brother: she could always curl up easily with him. So that's what she was doing, curled up under his chin in a snuggle as she purred contentedly on his chest. And Tristan was parked on Tyler's lap, doing his utmost to catch his dad up on everything that he'd missed while he was unconscious.

And off to the side, Hank saw that Daisy had her arms around a tired-looking Tammy. He recognized that particular kind of exhaustion — the kind that settled in after a loved one pulled through. It was relief and happiness mixed with fear and tiredness all at once.

So, he went to Tammy first to pull both her and Daisy into a tight hug that he knew they both needed. "How are you feeling?" he asked them both.

"Glad he's awake," Daisy said, sounding as tired as Tammy looked. After all, in all the time she had spent raising Tyler, he had never been injured badly enough to need a coma like that to bounce back. It was draining watching her son hurt, and Hank knew it.

"So am I," Hank agreed, stealing a kiss from Daisy before he pressed one to Tammy's forehead.

"You look like you've been through the wringer, Dad," Tyler called out.

Hank chuckled at that. "Look who's talking," he teased.

Tyler grinned at that and stood up, dragging a pair of giggling kids with him as they clung on when he stood up. In a few strides, he had closed the space to pull Hank into a hug — at least as close to a hug as he could manage with his hangers-on. "I'm alright, Dad. I promise."

Hank let out a breath and clutched Tyler around the shoulders. "Love you too, son."

Chapter Text

Tyler was still a little bandaged up in places — his body was prioritizing the worst of the healing, after all — when he, Tammy, and Tristan arrived in Westchester the next morning. He'd heard that not only his parents but Logan and K had been down to see him while he was laid up, and now that he was feeling more like himself, he wanted to stop by, catch up on what he'd missed, and maybe ease their minds that he was doing much better.

There were fewer people home than he'd expected to see at the school, but of course, when he did get down to the living room where Jolie was playing with some of the other kids, there was the expected happy squeal and attack from a little white and black fuzzball.

"Hey, Jo, did you miss me?" he teased as he tossed her up in the air. "You've only been here for a day since you were in Chicago."

"You still hurt!" she said, snuggling in and giving him a kiss on the cheek when he caught her again.

"I'm doing much better now," he promised, even pointing out one bandage on his arm that was Spiderman-themed. "Tris helped me put this one on. Pretty cool, huh?"

"Uh huh," she said before she leaned forward and kissed the bandage.

"What about you?" he asked. "The house seems pretty quiet — you get bored without me?"

"No-o-o-o," she said, shaking her head. "I've been playing with James."

Tyler grinned at that. "He plays nice with you, doesn't he?" he asked, pretending to be concerned just to get her to giggle.

She grinned and nodded happily. "He plays allll the time."

Tyler tossed her in the air again and then grinned even wider as he kissed her cheek. "He's a good friend, huh?"

She giggled as she nodded, purring until he set her down finally to let her scamper off to play with her friends. He made sure after that to wrap his mom up in a solid hug and do the same to Hank. "Where is everyone?" he asked.

"Making use of a few very well-hidden gems," Hank replied. "As I understand it, Kurt and Kate have the family in a Mexican coastal villa, and Scott and Annie are tucked into some remote spot near Alaska. Approximately."

"Well alright then," Tyler said, shaking his head. "Maybe Tammy and I should have taken a page out of their book," he added, and Tammy nodded with a little smirk.

"I'm sure there is still an extensive list of places to hide if only you were to ask," Hank chuckled.

"Probably," Tammy agreed as Tristan climbed down from her arms to go snuggle with his grandfather.

"I got to help Dad after you left," Tristan told Henry.

"Did you now?" Henry asked with a smile. "Did he need a lot of your help?"

"Uh-huh," Tristan said, nodding wide-eyed. "I got to help with Spidey Band-aids, and we got to eat candy."

"Did you give him a Twinkie afterward?" Hank asked.

"Mmhmm. Just like you!" Tristan giggled.

"So, are you back for a once-over, then?" Hank asked Tyler. "You know it's just a matter of time and rest at this point."

"I was actually coming to check on a few of the others," Tyler said. "Heard they came to visit, and I missed it."

"I may have glossed over some of the finer details on who all came and what they were up to," Tammy admitted, looking sheepish. "I wasn't… actually paying attention to them."

"Well, finer details would best be answered by Logan or K," Hank replied. "They're handling the Summers children with their own upstairs."

"Whatdya say, Tris? Want to go say hi to Logan and K?" Tyler teased.

"Yes!" Tristan giggled, skipping over to Tyler from Hank. "Yes please!"

When they got up to where the Howletts had the kids in a full out popcorn war, completely enabling them, the two adults glanced up with a little wave their way. "Dive in, Tristan," K offered. "Charlie is getting slammed."

Tristan grinned. "I love popcorn!" he said, rushing forward to go join the other kids.

"You'd think considering the others outnumber your kids…" Tyler pointed out. "What, did Chance defect?"

"Are you kidding? The first kernel was thrown by him," Logan chuckled. "It was a full betrayal three seconds in."

"Somehow, I'm not surprised," Tyler laughed.

"You're lookin' a lot better," Logan said when Tyler finally settled in.

"Thanks," Tyler said, and then, because he knew Tristan would appreciate it, he made sure to point at the Spiderman Band-aid when Tristan looked his way. "Tris is very proud of helping."

"He should've been here a few hours ago, then," Logan said. "Petey just left."

"He was here too?" Tyler shook his head. "Seriously — everyone left before I got here."

"He was with us," Logan replied. "Joined up on the coast …" He narrowed his eyes and watched Tyler for a few moments. "You know what we were doin', right?"

"Yeah, America said you were going after Sabretooth," Tyler said slowly. "I'm assuming it went well, but everyone's gone, so I have to wonder — did it?"

"It got complicated," Logan admitted. "But he's … not an issue anymore."

"What happened?" Tyler asked. "I don't ... I don't need details, but just tell me he's not going to show up in my living room next week, huh?"

K got up to join the kids and leave the two of them to talk. "He's not going to show up at all," Logan said quietly. "Not for you or anyone else."

Tyler nodded and fell silent for a moment. "Thanks," he said at last.

"You do not have to do that at all," Logan said.

"You've met my mom, right? If I wasn't grateful or polite, you think I'd live to be this old?" Tyler shot back with a small smirk.

"I just know the philosophy behind it. And considerin' how the rest of things worked out, well. It's best you weren't around it," Logan told him. "We went from him and Mystique to Azazel … it's been a long week."

"Yeah, that does sound complicated," Tyler said with a little frown. "Kurt okay?"

"Yeah, he's fine. Got out from under his dad's call," he said. "K too, for that matter. Just … didn't like a lot of what was said. All around."

"Well ... demon," Tyler pointed out. "Comes with the territory."

"Right. Still."

Tyler leaned back as he watched K and the kids playing. "Says a lot about my biological dad that I'm glad you weren't there when he attacked me for the same reasons, right?" he said. "A lot of what was said…" He shook his head. "You gotta let it roll off your back, right? Not worth the time."

Logan made a little noise, not really agreeing or disagreeing with anything.

"What about Mystique?" Tyler asked after a second.

"Azazel killed her," Logan said flatly. "Then Wade dropped the mountain on both of their bodies."

Tyler stopped and turned Logan's way with an eyebrow raised. "So there's no chance they're coming back," he said slowly.

"No," Logan said, shaking his head. "We took care of Vic. Even before the mountain caved in, that just wasn't gonna happen."

"You and K alright?" Tyler asked, gesturing at the bandages he was still wearing. "I mean, can't have been a picnic."

"Wasn't as bad as I was expecting," Logan admitted. "We had him so pissed off he couldn't see straight."

Tyler raised both eyebrows. "You got him to lose it?"

"Yeah," Logan said, nodding. "Wasn't easy to do either."

"I'm… not sure I want to know, to be honest," Tyler said.

"It wasn't as bad as I'm sure you're imagining," Logan said, finally starting to come out of the totally bleak expression he'd been wearing. "It was her idea to bring the fight to his backyard. We just had to find and torch about half a dozen of his places before we found the one he really liked."

"Little bit of just deserts," Tyler said, starting to nod. "Considering."

"Well, that was the plan before he jumped you," Logan admitted. "Been ignoring him for months."

Tyler looked a bit self-conscious. "Didn't mean to throw off the plan."

"That's just it: you didn't. We were gonna do exactly what we did. Just got us kickin' it into higher gear a little bit. You and Petey. He tried to take him out too."

"What for?" Tyler asked. "I mean, he was pretty clear on how I pissed him off, but Pete?"

"He was with Noh on my birthday. He tried to get through the security. Got fried. Noh chucked him out after. Probably thought the security was something Pete had a hand in."

Tyler nodded. "That's actually not too far off; Pete's amazing at tech."

"He's never liked Pete anyhow," Logan said, shaking his head. "Pissed him off that Petey was stronger than he was."

Tyler smirked at that. "Doesn't look it."

"Which was what pissed him off," Logan pointed out. "Scrawny little teenager could whip him across the street? Come on."

"Is Pete okay?" Tyler asked.

"He's fine. He stuck to the corners up high. Well out of the way."

"Good." Tyler gestured at himself. "Pete's strong and all, but I don't think he'd stand up to a full-on attack."

"He has before," Logan told him. "But K and I handled it."

Tyler nodded at that, still thinking it over before he started to smirk. "Hey, I guess this means I'm the only one who looks like me now."

"You can hope," Logan said dryly. "He had a brother."

"Oh, come on," Tyler said, tipping his head back.

"It's true," he replied. "Of course, I already killed him. Your aunt, though … don't know what happened to her."

"You know, I didn't even know I had an aunt?" Tyler said, shaking his head at that. "Mom's an only child."

"Don't know if you still do," Logan said. "It was a long time ago."

"Well, either way, if it's just her, I'm still the only one who looks like me… though should I be worried?" Tyler asked with a small frown.

"Clara was nothing like her brothers," Logan said. "You couldn't know her and not love her."

"Yeah, that's nothing like Sabretooth," Tyler said. He paused. "Wonder if we'd've gotten along, then."

"She got along with anyone that wasn't full of it," he said. "Wasn't afraid of anything, and she didn't take anyone's crap. At all."

"Yeah, she would've liked my mom then," Tyler said.

Logan nodded at that and leaned back again to watch the kids as they had all settled in, half piled onto K as they went back to their movie. "Pretty sure we'll be demon-free for a while too," he said finally. "He couldn't wait to get outta here."

"Yeah, I gotta admit: I'm surprised out of the three names you mentioned, he was the one that got out of here," Tyler said.

"He had a hold on Kurt and K," Logan said. "Strange and Billy came by to make him let go." He shook his head lightly. "If it was anyone else, I'd feel sorry for the deal he had to cut to get out."

Tyler couldn't help it when he burst into a small chuckle. "Sympathy for the devil?"

"I said 'almost'," Logan clarified. "He had to re-work his agreement with K. She was … ticked off."

"Gee, can't imagine why," Tyler said.

"It was rough enough that he told her she'll make a good demon. Later."

"Yeah, no way," Tyler said, shaking his head.

"That was more or less what she told him," he said with a frown.

"Well, she's right," Tyler pointed out.

Again, Logan only made a little noncommittal noise.

Tyler raised an eyebrow at him. "Come on. You and I both know K's pretty much the most amazing hero you could ask for, so what's the hangup here?"

"Forget it," he replied.

"Hey, take it from someone who knows, huh?" Tyler pointed out.

"You guys stickin' around for long, or is this a short trip?" Logan asked, right back to a more neutral expression.

"Well, we were just planning to check in, but with everyone being gone…"

"Had to ask. For as close as it is to Christmas, I figured Jolie would be on the 'stay' bandwagon."

"Oh yeah. We're coming back for Christmas if nothing else," Tyler promised.

"I'm sure. Otherwise your mother'd be dragging you back by your ear the whole way."

Tyler chuckled at that. "No kidding."

For the time being, the conversation was dropped and Tyler settled in when Logan handed him one of the unweaponized bowls of popcorn. The kids were settling down a little and frankly, Tyler enjoyed watching them pair off and snuggle up to finish their movie anyhow.

The villa that Logan had sent Kate and Kurt to was perfect for a beachside vacation for the Wagner family, though Kate had spent most of the day looking totally incredulous the more she discovered about the place. After all, she had no idea when they arrived that they would be… well, staying in a place with armed guards. Or that they'd all look like they ate tanks for breakfast.

Though Krissy relaxed a bit knowing that they were somewhere safe. She had been a little jumpy at first — she was old enough to understand at least some of what had happened earlier — but with how many guards there were, she finally settled in with her sister to build sandcastles.

And Kaleb ... Kaleb had warmed right up to the guards, seeing it as a chance to make new friends. He even knew a little Spanish from his favorite babysitter — America — so he was just as happy as can be following around the big guards.

"Look!" Kaleb said, beaming brightly as he rushed up to one of the guards with a seashell in both hands, his tail switching around excitedly. "Bonita!"

The big guy looked like he wasn't sure what to do with the little elfling. He crouched down to take the shell, since Kaleb was so insistent about shoving it into his side until he did take it that he couldn't do anything else.

"Kaleb, don't bother the guards," Kate called out, though she didn't make a move to stop him, either, since he was clearly enjoying himself.

"I showing him my bonita! My seashell!" Kaleb called back, grinning up at the guard.

The big man finally shook his head and put the seashell in a pocket. "Gracias."

Kaleb's whole face lit up, and he started to laugh delightedly, clapping his hands together as he ran off to go search for some more seashells.

"Should we be worried about his total lack of a 'stranger danger' button?" Kate asked Kurt as she leaned back into him.

"He knows we're safe here," Kurt replied.

"Still," Kate said, "I blame you. Those are your genes."

Kurt turned her way and took off his sunglasses. "Are you trying to say that you never made friends with a mercenary?"

"That is different. I had no choice in the matter," Kate countered.

"Oh? With which one?" Kurt teased.

"Uh… Wade," Kate said, shaking her head. "I got sucked into him and Clint getting in trouble one Halloween…"

"That's the only one?" Kurt said with a growing smirk.

"That's kind of the only mercenary I know," Kate pointed out.

"So you don't count Clint or Natasha or Logan …"

"No. Avengers aren't mercs," Kate teased.

"Avengers don't have Mexican villas with armed guards," Kurt laughed.

"Crime lord," Kate said. "That is so not the same as a mercenary."

"He was a mercenary too," Kurt defended. "And as far as Clint and Natasha go, a rogue spy counts as a mercenary."

"They weren't when met them," Kate shot back.

"Semantics," he laughed.

"I'm still blaming you," Kate insisted. "Seeing as you're friends with actual mercenaries."

"He wasn't an actual mercenary when I met him," Kurt shot back. "Though he may have been a crime lord…"

Kate laughed and rested her head on his shoulder. "Semantics," she teased him.

It was just before Christmas when Annie and Scott got back from Alaska, both of them in great moods — and of course, their kids were thrilled to see them.

Chloe hit Scott first, grinning up at him so she could tell him what they were up to. "K's letting us make the cookies!" she said.

"Oh really?" he asked as he picked her up.

"Uh-huh! Cuz it's Christmastime!"

Charlie grinned up at Annie. "Everybody's lots happier," she said.

"Well, it is Christmastime," Annie said, hugging her little girl tightly.

"I made the ones with the red sugar!" Chloe sang out.

"And I made the ones with the green!" Cody added helpfully.

"And are you going to share with us — or are we just looking?" Annie teased.

"You can have some," Chloe allowed. "But not too many!" She shook her head and her finger in Scott's face. "We gotta save them for Christmas."

"Then we'll just have a few," Scott promised, carrying her over to where K was pulling the kids' batch of colorful cookies out of the oven. "Thanks for watching them," he told her.

"I think they had a good time," K said, shooting him a little smile. "How was the cabin? Passable?"

"Wonderful!" Annie said, holding onto Scott's arm with a wide smile. "It's beautiful up there!"

"And when she says she enjoyed Alaska…" Scott said with a smirk.

"Technically it's British Columbia?" K said. "But … glad you had fun, Alaska."

Scott smirked a little wider at that. "If I'd known, I would have brought my own fishing gear. Ice fishing would have been great up that way."

"Fishing should be a lot better come springtime," she pointed out. "And really, we have spots for fishing if that's what you want to do. That one … that one is good for grayling."

"I just haven't had the chance to do it much lately," Scott admitted.

"Take a weekend now and again," K said with a shrug. "Probably won't kill you."

"Probably," Scott smirked.

"I know Logan doesn't mind sharing a few good spots like that," she said, glancing up to see if he'd bite.

"Maybe next time," Scott said with a shrug, more focused on the cookie that Chloe was shoving into his face than anything else.

"We're all set for dinner tonight, so keep relaxing. Or … hold that relaxed. Whatever."

Scott shook his head at her. "What about you? How are you and Logan and the kids after all that mess?"

"Everyone's been slowly unwinding," she replied. "I think he's more or less fine now."

"More or less?" Annie asked, one eyebrow raised.

"It's complicated," K said with a shrug. "He'll be fine."

"He was pretty grumpy when you guys left," Charlie said.

"And now?" K asked before she ruffled her hair.

Charlie made a face and flattened her hair back out. "He's not grumpy," she said. "Just kind of tired. And a little sad." She made another face K's way. "I don't like it when you play testing games on me."

"You're proving my point, sweetie," she promised. "I know how he's feeling."

"Anything we can do?" Annie asked.

"Not a thing," K promised. "It's on him. He's doing it to himself."

"Charlie's been asking everybody to give him hugs," Cody said with a giggle.

"Yeah, maybe don't do that, sweetheart," K said.

Charlie shook her head. "How else are we gonna show him he doesn't have to be sad?"

"Honey, he's gotta figure that out himself."

"Sometimes you gotta listen," Charlie said, her hands on her hips.

"Well. Yeah. But unless you're a bad guy bent on screwing with him, he doesn't always hear it," K replied. "I can't explain it."

"But it's sweet of you to try," Annie told Charlie with the little girl looked a little upset to hear it.

"He should be happy," Chance pointed out. "I mean, some really bad guys are gone now, so… that's good, right?"

"It is," K agreed, checking on their dinner one last time. "But sometimes, they say things before they end up gone."

"Bad guys say mean things all the time," Cody said.

"They do," she agreed, leaning against the counter with her arms crossed.

"That's how come they're bad guys," Cody added. "Cuz they say and do mean things."

"And how come we're good guys, cuz we say nice things," Chance added. "Like 'please' and 'thank you' and 'yes ma'am' and 'no ma'am'."

K just smirked and looked up at Scott for a moment as if to say "exactly this."

Scott matched her smirk and leaned forward to drop his voice low. "The kids get it."

"You know how he is," K said quietly.

"Yeah, I do," Scott said. "But one of these days, maybe he'll catch on."

"I can hope," she said, shrugging.

Chapter Text

Kate and Kurt had decided to stay in Mexico a little longer than they'd originally planned, enjoying the rare chance to relax. The kids had a blast on the beach, and all things considered, it was probably the most time they'd had to unwind in a long while.

So by the time they did come back, it was after Kate's birthday — so that it was nearly time for the new semester at school. All of the kids were excited to see their friends again — and of course, Kaleb had to tell Sadie all about the new, giant friends that he'd made while he was there.

"His name was Emilio, and he liked my seashells!" Kaleb told Sadie, grinning widely and holding her hand almost as soon as they met up, dragging her over to see the shells that he'd brought back. "See? Aren't they so pretty?"

"Ooooh, I like the curvy one," she said with a smile.

"You do?" He grinned widely. "You can have it if you want."

She grinned at him and kissed his cheek. "It's okay. I'll just come and look at it sometimes."

"Okay, if you say so," Kaleb said, shrugging. "I got lots of other shells if you wanna see more! And a sand dollar."

"Ooooh, yes, please," she said, smiling up at Kurt before the two of them disappeared, with Kaleb showing off his shell collection.

"Your genes," Kate whispered to Kurt with a smirk.

"I'm not sure who was flirting more," Kurt replied, shaking his head.

Kate grinned even wider as she slid her arm through his. "You're so ridiculous," she pointed out. "Kari's a heart attack with James and Kaleb gets a head shake? Come on."

"Predatory best friends," Kurt said with a sniff. "It's not my fault that James is a terrible flirt with Kari."

"It is your fault that Kaleb's a terrible flirt with Sadie," Kate countered, clearly enjoying herself now. "Totally your genes." She pulled Kurt on. "Come on. We gotta go find the bigger versions before they find us first and the super sniffers spoil the surprise."

They found K first — directing a group of the Summerses and the rest of her kids, as well as Tristan — and Kate jumped up on the counter next to where K was mixing the last of the bread. "Hiya, K."

K looked up at her as soon as she got on the counter and just shook her head, though she didn't let anything slip. "Have enough fun?" she asked.

"Oh plenty," Kate said, with a grin that bordered on obscene — though she got distracted when she saw the drawings on the fridge and that Sadie had drawn some clearly pregnant stick figures. "Uh… did you?"

"I always have fun," K replied with a troublemaking smirk. "Why do you ask?"

"The picture," Kate said, waving her hand. "I mean, we haven't been home for a month…"

"Not everything is about you," K pointed out, smiling finally.

"Right, which is why I'm asking." Kate tipped her head to the side. "What, the universe just has to keep the balance?"

"No," she laughed. "I made about four metric tons of cookies — for Christmas, mind you. Sadie … has been pushing for a little brother for a few months now, actually. That is wishful thinking."

Kate watched K for a long time, her eyes narrowed. "No joke?" she asked at last. "Because I'm not gonna lie, it is nice to share the misery."

K stopped what she was doing and gave Kate a flat glare. "I'm not jumping on anyone's bandwagon, regardless of how many people are telling me it's a party."

Kate shook her head at that. "Well, that's a 'no'. I was just checking."

K let out a sigh. "If … if I ever lose my mind, I'll let you know," she swore.

Kate shrugged lightly and then hopped down from the counter. "Well, I hate to tell you, but I'm about to be a walking glitter bomb."

"Congratulations, by the way. You and anniversaries …"

"Yeah, it seems to be a pattern," Kate said. "And this time, we got to learn on our own."

"Must be nice. Logan's always the first."

"Yeah, well, fair warning: Kurt's headed down to go tell him right now." Kate smirked. "You know, so the nose won't know."

"I should leave," K decided.

"Awww, don't do that," Kate said, pushing out her lower lip in a pout. "We just got back!"

"Well, I know you're not looking to snuggle up on me, glitter bomb."

"No, but someone's gotta help me get the kids set up for shooting lessons."

"Annie is excellent at setting kids up for all kinds of things." K smirked. "You should have seen her explain to Chance the mistletoe thing."

"No." Kate stared at K. "I missed Chance learning about mistletoe?"

"Oh, you so missed it."

"That… oh my gosh."

"Pretty sure it's his favorite plant now," she said with a shrug.

"No kidding." Kate started to laugh as she shook her head. "I'm so sorry about your luck. How'd Elin hold up to the assault?"

"She thought it was hilarious," K said, shaking her head.

"Of course she did," Kate said. She hopped back up onto the counter. "Those two are trouble."

"It was a very kissy Christmas all around," K told her.

"Well, your youngest is currently holding hands and sorting through seashells with mine," Kate said. "I tried to point out to Kurt how he was acting stupid being upset about Kari flirting and not Kaleb but… boys."

"Well, Sadie has a few admirers, it seems," K said. "She's not discriminating, but she spent New Year's Eve with Jayce."

"Yeah, well, Kari's got a few too, and yet…" Kate said, shaking her head.

"Sadie is kissing all of them," K replied.

"Oh, don't tell me that means she's kissing my little boy upstairs."

"Probably," K replied. "She was holding hands with Abara when he looked like he was being too shy."

"I thought Sammy was Abara," Kate giggled.

"Interchangeable," K said with a wave.

"I keep telling them they should join up at the school here so we'll see them more," Kate said, shaking her head.

"Well, if the look on Teddy's face was anything to go by, it might happen."

"Good. I miss them," Kate said, stealing one of the cookies from the plate. "Oh yeah. I'm going to need, like, eighty of these. This is exactly what I wanted."

"Sorry. Limited to the season. Once they're gone, they're gone," K told her brightly.

Kate poked her lower lip out in a pout. "Fine," she said, already grabbing a couple more for herself.

Kurt, meanwhile, had teleported to where Logan was once again working on his motorcycle after he'd seen Kate to the kitchen to talk with K. He was grinning widely as the smoke cleared and took up a seat close by on a box of tools. "Sorry to be gone so long," he started out. "The villa was beautiful, thank you. It was just what we needed."

"Glad to hear it," Logan said, barely looking up at him, his cigar clenched between his teeth. "Hardly ever go there."

"Well, it was wonderful. And we had quite the surprise for Kate's birthday as well," Kurt said, still riding the high of his good mood.

"Good," Logan said distractedly.

Kurt shook his head and teleported closer, just beside Logan where he was working on the bike. "Logan, I am trying to tell you that we're expecting, and your blasted motorcycle has your attention," he teased.

Logan stopped and sat back on the creeper as he took in a deep breath then removed the cigar. "Well. Congratulations, then," he said finally with a little smirk. "Another anniversary, eh?"

Kurt grinned widely and shrugged. "When we are not hit with accidental magic from Wiccan, it seems to be the best day for us."

"Stick with what works."

Kurt nodded, resting a hand on his friend's shoulder. "Have a drink with me, mein Freund. You are the first to know, and I feel like celebrating."

Logan nodded and pointed to the cabinet across the garage. "Dealer's choice. Look behind the carburetor."

Kurt grinned at that and teleported to the cabinet, coming up with a good bottle of whiskey before he came back to drape an arm over Logan's shoulders. "And how were your holidays?" he asked, clearly still in high spirits over the good news.

"The usual," Logan said, glad to share a drink with him. "Lots of people, lots of noise. Got K drunk."

"Then you had a good time," Kurt said with a little grin.

"You missed the mistletoe, or … maybe you didn't."

"We did not," Kurt chuckled. "Or maybe you missed the part where I told you Kate is expecting. You know how that happens, ja?"

"Oh, I know what you were doin'," he chuckled. "I was referring to the kids kissin'."

Kurt rolled his eyes dramatically. "Ah. No, I didn't miss that. Your daughter is already trying to run away with my son."

"Put his name on the list," Logan said with a shrug. "Looks like she's keepin' her options open."

"As is Kaleb," Kurt said with a small laugh. "Do you know — he wanted to befriend every single one of the guards you had in that villa? Not that he could find them all…"

"I'll have to send 'em a bigger bonus," he replied.

Kurt poured them both another measure and then shook his head at his friend. "It was appreciated all the same. Knowing there was a little extra security," he admitted. "Krissy felt safer."

"They had instructions if he'd shown up," Logan admitted.

"If he had, they wouldn't have needed them. I'll kill him myself for what he's done," Kurt said entirely seriously.

"Yeah, you don't have to do that to yourself," Logan said, shaking his head.

Kurt shook his head in response. "What — ridding the world of evil?"

"I know how that would play out," Logan said, giving Kurt a look. "You'd end up feeling bad about it and beating yourself up."

"Logan," Kurt said, then let out a sigh, "I've already been party to matricide. I would much rather be part of something that rids the world of a kidnapper, murderer, and former demon."

"Okay," Logan said, holding up his hands in front of himself. "I'm not gonna try to talk you out of it. Don't worry."

Kurt watched Logan for a moment before he shook his head and threw the glass back. "Besides," he said, "I'd prefer to deal with him rather than let him come anywhere near anyone else in my family. He had no business doing what he did — saying what he did to K."

But Logan just tipped his head to the side for a second and finished his drink.

Kurt leaned back as he finished his own whiskey, watching Logan carefully before he started to shake his head. "You can't possibly believe him," he said at last, sharply. "Do you think so little of your wife?"

"Of course not," Logan said almost in a growl.

"Then tell me he was wrong. You can't just let that pass you by," Kurt said, still in that same sharp tone.

"She handled it," Logan replied.

"And you still look as though you believe him," Kurt pointed out.

"He doesn't know the first thing about her," Logan said, shaking his head. "Outside of the fact that he's probably scared to make another deal with her."

"As he should be," Kurt said. He shook his head to match Logan. "Then, what — you think you are a matched set to her?"

"I thought you were celebrating?"

"My best friend seems to think that my demonic father is worth listening to. I can put the celebration on hold for a moment to address this incredible idiocy."

"We absolutely are a matched set," Logan said. "Nothin' wrong with it."

"Exactly," Kurt said, putting a hand on Logan's shoulder. "And as K pointed out to my father, she knows her worth — and you are a matched set." He leaned back. "My father knows it, and he fears you both. There's a reason for that."

"If you say so," Logan said finally.

"I do," Kurt said, raising one eyebrow Logan's way. "I also know that you cannot beat a demon but by the grace of God. What does that tell you, mein Freund?"

"That you need another drink."

Kurt rolled his eyes heavenward once more and then reached over to Logan to smack him in the back of the head. "I have spent too much time dealing with the consequences of my father's actions. He is not allowed to have any further influence over my friends. Stop it."

Again, Logan held his hands up wordlessly.

Kurt let out a frustrated noise before he took hold of Logan's arm, and a moment later, they had teleported to one of the hidden atolls that he and Kate liked to visit. "Tell me I'm wrong, then," he challenged as the smoke cleared. "Tell me that you haven't convinced yourself that my manipulative, lying father was right — as if he has ever been right in his life — and I will stop worrying if I can believe you."

"He hasn't convinced me of anything I didn't already believe," Logan finally said.

"He's parroting the same lies that the Father of Lies told you," Kurt pointed out. "Are you really so easy to convince?"

"Take a look at everything I've done and tell me I don't have a reason to believe it. I've killed more people than I can count in a day."

"Logan, I have lived and fought by your side every day for years. And what I have seen is my best friend saving the world with me. Saving my family. Saving heaven. You remember that, ja?"

"Doesn't make up for all the other stuff."

"Then I suppose you believe we are all condemned," Kurt said, arms crossed.

"You haven't done the crap I have," Logan said, shaking his head.

"No, I have done entirely different things," Kurt said. "Trading my eternal soul, for instance. Of all of us here, Logan, I was barred from Heaven. You have no right to speak to me of being barred from salvation. I know what that is, Logan. And it does not look like what you have convinced yourself you are facing." He crossed his arms. "I gave up my soul, Logan, and I have still been promised the chance to return to Heaven if I walk the right path. What could you possibly do that would make you think you can't do the same?"

Logan shook his head and let out all of his breath, unable to form a real argument.

Kurt gestured at Logan. "Now, are you past your idiocy, or would you like to argue salvation with me? Because I can guarantee you, Logan, you will lose that argument."

Logan glanced up at him, then looked out at the scenery. "I'm guessing Kate's just about had a heart attack by now." He looked up at Kurt. "Sadie's been drawing."

Kurt shook his head at his friend. "Kate is probably telling her friends right now," he said. "It's nice to be the first to know this time."

"It's nice to be told for once," Logan agreed.

"Why do you think I came to tell you myself?" Kurt said, starting to get back some of his grin. "If I had brought Kate, the surprise would be ruined."

"Well, you better get back before you miss out on your chance to tell everyone."

"She's already promised to let me tell Kitty and Storm," Kurt chuckled. "Come on; I still want to drink with my best friend first."

"So you want to be drunk for the big reveal. Nice."

"I want to celebrate," Kurt countered, and to prove his point, he sat back against a tree with another bottle of whiskey — not teleporting them back to where their wives were until he felt like he'd properly had the chance to be excited with his best friend.

It wasn't until Logan finally put his arm around Kurt's shoulder that the Elf finally decided he'd met his goal. In an instant, the two of them teleported back to the mansion — reappearing in the kitchen — though by then, Kate and K were in the living room watching the kids coloring and fingerpainting.

When they saw the boys, K crossed the space with a little smile and simply kissed the daylights out of Logan in lieu of a greeting. "Feel better now?" she asked, though it was hard to tell if she meant to continue being nice or slap him upside the head if he answered wrong.

He gave her a little smirk and kissed her back with a quiet 'yes' as Sadie came over to shove her drawing at Kurt with a grin and scamper off again, giggling.

"Oh…" Kurt glanced up at K when he saw the drawing. "When did she draw this?"

Her eyes narrowed, and she reached out and smacked the back of his head, glaring at him for a moment before she left the two men standing there in favor of the kids.

"It's a simple enough question," Kurt told Logan low.

"Sadie's been pushing for a baby brother," Logan replied. "For a few months now. She just moved onto drawings just after Christmas."

"See — was that so hard to explain?" Kurt asked, shaking his head.

"When literally every single person through the mansion has asked the same question? Yeah. It is, apparently." Logan turned Kurt's way and let his voice drop lower. "She thinks I put her up to it."

"You would never," Kurt said, sounding perfectly insulted.

"No, I would not," he agreed.

Kurt shook his head as he motioned Logan over to where the kids were. "Kaleb wanted to thank you for the villa," he explained as the little blue elfling in question grinned and ran over to Logan to push a sand dollar into Logan's hands.

"Danke!" he sang out happily.

"Bitte," Logan replied. "Did you have fun?"

"Uh-huh. Lots!" Kaleb bounced slightly, grinning widely. "I made lots of friends. And found lots of pretty things. And then Mama and Papa are getting me a new sister! They said so when we had cake!"

Logan looked up at Kurt with one eyebrow raised. "You sure it's a sister?"

"Uh-huh, cuz I always have sisters."

"Maybe you'll get a brother," he pointed out.

Kaleb wrinkled up his nose and shook his head hard. "Nuh-uh. No way. I have sisters."

"Well, you can share with Sadie," Logan decided.

"No, I don't gotta. It's my sister," Kaleb said, his arms crossed over his chest.

Logan smirked but leaned over to Kurt. "Guess we'll be moving to Chicago, then."

"What, and miss the debut of our newest little one?" Kurt said, shaking his head.

"It won't stop her drawings anyhow," Charlie said with a nod, cluing the others in to the fact that she had been eavesdropping.

"They're pretty drawings," Kari chimed in. "Mama doesn't look like them, though."

"That's because our new little elfling is still so small," Kate explained gently. "You were that small when you started too."

Kari tipped her head to the side and studied Kate. "Okay, if you say so," she said. "But you have purple hair, and Sadie draws 'em brown."

"For a reason," Charlie muttered out of the corner of her mouth with a little smirk as she concentrated on her own artwork, a pretty flower that she was going to give her mom when she was done.

Logan reached over and rested his hand on top of Charlie's head with a sigh. "Too smart for your own good, troublemaker."

Charlie looked up at him and grinned crookedly. "Dad says there's no such thing as too smart."

"He's wrong," he argued.

"Nu-uh," Charlie said, setting down her paints to look up at him. "Being smart is a good thing."

"I didn't say it was bad," Logan said, getting down to her level. "I said you were too smart."

"No such thing," Charlie said. "It's good to be smart always, so being smarter is good too. Duh."

"Why don't you just trust me on this?" Logan said.

"Cuz you're wrong," Charlie said matter-of-factly.

"Come on, sweetheart; you can't argue with a Summers. They speak a different language," K said.

"No," Kari said, her nose wrinkled up. "Elflings speak German. You got confused."

"No, I'm not confused. They take the different meanings of words," K replied. "Like … the different which'es and there's."

Kari scrunched up her nose. "That sounds like Mama work."

"It is," she agreed.

"No working," Kari decided. "It's vacation time. We went on holiday. It's time for playing."

"It's almost time for working again," Charlie pointed out.

Chance rolled his eyes at her. "Yeah, but not yet," he said. "We don't have to go back to school for a little while longer, okay?" He slid his color-by-numbers drawing over to show Cody, who was coloring with Chloe. "Can we have hot chocolate?" he asked.

"Sure," K said, pulling Logan with her. "I'm sure you're all about ready for another round of sugar."

Chapter Text

After all of the excitement at the end of the year, it was a relief when the new year started out slow and didn't seem to be in any rush to bring anything awful with it. No one heard from Azazel, no one heard from anything or anyone that would have the X-Men out on more missions than going to meet new students for the different schools as they got their powers.

And since there was no imminent war, no big hunt, Jubilee and Storm had put their heads together for a Valentine's Day bash, inviting all three schools' staff and students to join in the festivities.

The beachside LA school was decorated with reds and pinks, with crowds of teenage students taking advantage of the excuse for PDA — not to mention the staff members.

It was almost guaranteed at this point that Noh would be DJ-ing the party and that Jubilee would come up with all sorts of excuses to come up and join him or pull him onto the dance floor for kisses. Kitty wasn't too far along in her pregnancy for dancing, though Quill insisted on carrying her off the dance floor the second she got tired. Kurt offered to do the same for Kate, who gave him a look that had him laughing.

And the adults were switching out in shifts watching out for the little kids — everyone under the age of ten — who were playing board games, painting, eating popcorn, watching movies… everything that kids their age could do while everyone else was dancing.

Though not all of the kids were satisfied with this setup.

"I wanna dance too," Chance was arguing with Remy. "I know how! I'm not little."

Remy couldn't help but laugh at the determined little boy. "You sho' do," he said, shaking his head. "But you gon' put all de older boys to shame dancin' better'n dem. You bes' wait 'til you older so dey have a chance to get pretty girls too."

"It's not my fault they don't know how," Chance argued.

Remy grinned wider and looked over at Marie, who started to laugh. "Oh, go ahead," she said through her laughter. "I'll be fine here."

Both Remy and Chance broke into wide grins at that as Remy steered the little boy down the hallway to where the main dance was — and Chance grinned that much wider when he saw the party going on. He looked around the room until he saw a few girls that were standing in a group and talking with each other and nodded to himself.

"I'm gonna dance with one of them, because they're not dancing, and they look like they want to," Chance told Remy with nothing but confidence.

"No way to know fo' sho' unless you ask 'em," Remy said, pushing Chance forward slightly with one hand, though he really didn't have to, since Chance was already headed over to the group of girls — who seemed to be totally thrilled with the little boy.

Remy grinned as he watched Chance lead one of the girls out for a dance. He could absolutely see K's dance class training in there, with the way he offered his hand and was incredibly polite about the whole thing.

"You seen Chance work his magic, Stormy?" he asked as he made his way over to where Storm was by the punch bowl, grinning as he made sure to snap several pictures on his phone of the little flirt.

"Yes, it seems as though he has better luck than the boys twice his age," she replied with a laugh.

"He fulla confidence," Remy laughed. "Jus' walk right up to de girls, sayin' de look like dey wanna dance. Like lookin' in a mirror, he dat smooth."

"If that's true, then we're all in for a long time of watching him dance and never go anywhere," she laughed.

Remy raised an eyebrow at her. "Hey now. Dat ain't fair to wish on dat sweet lil boy."

"So it's just bad luck, then?" Storm asked.

Remy gestured to the dance floor. "Wouldn't say he got bad luck, would you, lil Miss Stormy?" he teased.

"I wasn't talking about him, you old swamp rat," she said, shaking her head.

Remy shrugged openly. "Den I don' know whatchu talkin' 'bout," he said.

"I'm talking about the fact that you've been 'dating' the same girl exclusively for five years." Storm shrugged one shoulder up. "Either the two of you aren't that interested or someone would rather be elsewhere."

"Now, dat ain't nice either," Remy said with a little frown. "Ain't a ting wrong between me an' Marie, an' you know it."

"No, I really don't," Storm replied. "And before you get all worked up, I just want to know that you're with someone who wants you to be happy."

Remy laughed at that and threw an arm around Storm for a little side hug. "Stormy," he said, shaking his head, "you gotta know ol' Remy happier den he ever been. Got a pretty sneak tief, a lil tiny Stormy to play wit, and a beautiful view."

"Then you should seek to make it permanent," Storm said.

Remy shrugged. "Mebbe one day."

Storm let out a laugh. "Is that your way of saying that the divorce with Bella Donna wasn't as official as you'd like to say?"

"What?" Remy turned to face her and then shook his head. "You talkin' nonsense now, Stormy."

"If you say so," Storm replied airily.

"Hey now." Remy shook his head. "Dat… dat is a low blow."

She leaned over to kiss his cheek. "Enjoy your evening. Maybe you should try finding a dance partner." She started to walk away, smiling to herself at the expression on his face and fiddling with the deck of cards she now held in front of her.

Remy looked down and reached into his pocket, bursting into a laugh when he realized that Storm had pickpocketed him. "Sneaky," he muttered to himself, glancing over to where Chance was still dancing with a girl at least four years older than him. He snapped one more picture and then shook his head before he headed back to where the rest of the kids were with Marie.

He slid over to her with a little grin and flipped out his phone. "Dat boy gon' be a heartbreaker when he grown," he told Marie as he showed her the pictures of Chance and the girls.

"You love it," Marie teased, smiling widely.

"Hey, he know what he wants, cher," Remy pointed out. "Jus' gotta help him get dere."

"That and you are a pushover," Marie laughed. "Espec-i-ally for the leetle ones."

Remy shrugged openly. "Mebbe dat's true," he admitted before he pocketed his phone and let Marie get back to her game of "Go Fish" with some of the younger kids.

"He's gonna be so annoying when we go home," Charlie told Remy with a totally unamused look.

Remy grinned as he sat down next to Charlie. "Nah," he said, shaking his head. "Be worse if he stuck here all night."

Charlie pursed her lips at him and then went back to her book — one of her mom's, The Scarlet Pimpernell. "If you say so."

Remy laughed. "You don' wanna dance? You de oldest," he pointed out.

"I don't want to dance," Charlie said. "I don't like being that close to strangers 'cause I can tell what they're feeling, and it's weird if I don't know 'em." She leaned forward. "And boys are weird."

Remy couldn't help chuckling at that as he leaned back. "You been workin' wit Rachel, right?"

"Yeah," she said, almost scuffing her feet on the floor. "But she uses bigger words than she needs to."

Remy laughed outright at that. "Well, how 'bout you come an' work wit' ol' Remy for a lil bit?" he offered. "Rachel real good wit' people's thoughts, but she ain't an empath like you an' me." He leaned forward. "She try hard, though."

She wrinkled her nose a little at that. "I don't know that would work," she said.

"Why not?" he asked with a little frown.

"Well," Charlie said, tipping her head to the side and crossing her arms. "You're all the way here, and I'm all the way over there."

"Dat ain't too hard to get past," Remy said. "We got friends wit' teleportin' powers, speed fast 'nuff to getchu home for dinner, not to mention we got de fastest planes dat ever been seen."

She leaned forward. "You need to ask my Daddy," she said.

"Don't tink I won't," he teased. "You tink you gon' be okay comin' out to all dis paradise on de beach a couplea times?"

She shrugged. "Yeah, it'll be okay." But then she frowned and gave him a little look. "Who are you worried about?"

Remy raised both eyebrows and then smiled. "You got real talent, petit," he told her. "Don' you worry 'bout it. Just tinkin' 'bout how your daddy gon' be havin' a fit over how grown up his twins got."

"He already has fits," she said rolling her eyes. "And he gets sad for no reason."

"Just 'cause you gettin' so big," Remy said, ruffling her hair. "And he worry 'bout you gettin' big and dealin' wit' the great big world." He leaned forward with a little grin. "Dere boys out dere like your brother who gon' be heartbreakers, you know. You gotta be careful."

"He doesn't need to worry about them," she said, shaking her head.

"Yeah, you said you tink boys're weird," he chuckled. "You right, you know."

At that, Charlie shrugged with a muttered, "I know," before she went back to her book.

Across the way, Elin was playing quietly with Oliver Hudson. This was the first time that anyone from the Canadian school had come down to mingle, and she was taking it as seriously as she could. The little guy really didn't know any of the kids outside of the Howletts, and he was exceedingly shy around everyone. But she made a point to keep him close and show him around, even leading him by the hand to wherever they were headed next.

Krissy, of course, had been very sweet with him, and the little boy had warmed up to her enough that by the time Remy went to check on them, little Ollie was wedged between Elin and Krissy watching Charlie Brown and nibbling on popcorn.

"Hi, Remy!" Krissy said, waving at him when he peeked into the TV room.

"You all lookin' nice an' cozy in here," Remy said with a little smile.

"It was too loud out there," Elin said, scrunching her nose up a little bit.

"Well, it look nice and peaceful here," Remy said. "You t'ree want anymore popcorn, or you jus' gone hold hands when you run out?" he teased.

"Why would we wait until we run out?" Elin asked, straight-faced.

Remy laughed. "You smart, petit," he said, though he laughed even harder when Krissy caught his eye and held up both of her hands to show that she wasn't in on the hand-holding. "You makin' friends, Oliver?"

Oliver glanced up at Remy then looked almost straight down, blushing fiercely and clearly hoping to sink into the couch they were all sitting on. "Yes," he said quietly, and Elin let out a sigh as she gave Remy a look, shaking her head.

"Can we watch Mythbusters when Charlie Brown is over?" Elin asked, pulling her feet up under her.

"Sho' nuff," Remy said with a little laugh. "You wanna blanket too?"

"Yes, please," she called back. "Where is Sying? He loves Mythbusters."

"He playin' wit' his sisters," Remy said. "But I kin tell him 'bout your show."

"Would you please?" Elin asked sweetly as Krissy gave her friend a look.

Remy laughed at that. "'Course I can," he promised, already headed to go find the little half-Kree and making sure to send the little boy on his way as soon as he did.

He went out to where the rest of the dance was after that — since, after all, it was Storm and Forge's turn to be watching the kids anyway — and made sure to keep an eye out for little Chance the whole time he was spinning Marie out on the dance floor. Chance was still dancing, and it looked like some of the girls were actively making sure to keep dancing with him, too, totally enamored with the little boy.

But eventually, Chance did get tired — toward the end of the night — and Scott made sure to steer him back toward where the other kids were. He was pretty worn out from all the dancing, so he just wanted to curl up and watch a movie, though Chance's big grin from all the dancing faltered when he saw that the four kids who had been watching Mythbusters had wound up all curled up together and had fallen asleep that way.

Sying had his head on Krissy's shoulder, and she had her head on top of his, but Elin and Oliver were much more curled up, with Oliver leaning into Elin with his arm around her middle and Elin's head tilted back slightly underneath his.

"Nobody said …" Chance said, then stuck out his lower lip.

"They didn't want to go dancing, remember?" Scott pointed out. "You got to have a good time dancing all night, and they watched movies. It looks like you all got to have fun, right?"

Chance frowned at that and then let out a breath. "Maybe."

Heather and Mac stepped in not long after Scott and Chance, and she positively had to cover her mouth to stop from giggling. "Oh my God, that's so precious," she said at just over a whisper.

Scott smirked her way. "We just found them like this."

Heather took her phone out and snapped a picture with a grin. "This should make it easier to get Logan to take the kids north for the summer," she said, elbowing Scott just slightly.

Scott rolled his eyes. "Hey, I'm sure the other kids would love to have Oliver down for the summer."

"Oh, sure," she said, waving his way. "Maybe for a week or two. But they never get to come up to stay."

"Well, I'm sure you know it's busy running a school. This is the first time we've gotten to see you two in the States since you started yours up," Scott said, perfectly straight-faced.

"Yeah," Mac agreed as he arrived too. "It is busy. But maybe now would be a good time to bring up the possibility of exchanging a little? Some of our kids would probably jump at the chance to come down your way for a semester."

Scott tipped his head to the side as he thought about it. "Yeah, it's not a bad idea for kids that age to get out in the world and see more than just the schools they're in. They should know they have options — some of them are too young to know there are more people out there like them." He shrugged. "You'd be better off talking to Kitty and Storm, though."

"Oh?" Mac said, looking openly let down. "No room for trades in Westchester?"

"The kids that come to Westchester applied to be there from the other schools. They already know they want to be heroes," Scott explained.

"Huh," Mac said, frowning slightly. "Then it wouldn't hurt to ask Logan if the kids would want to come up for a semester. Unless the pressure's on already to stay where they are."

"Logan doesn't run the school — I do," Scott said with a small glare.

"No, I'm talking about his kids," Mac said, holding up both hands.

"Why don't you wait until we know what their mutations are — and when they're getting them," Scott pointed out. "There's no guarantees, and I've already been through it once with Chance dealing with not getting his powers."

"Elin has claws," Mac replied. "That has to count for something."

"And Krissy has a tail. That doesn't guarantee they'll have their full powers their parents do," Scott said. He turned toward Mac. "They're kids. Stop trying to stake a claim until they get their feet and their powers underneath them. And for the love of God, wait until they're old enough to choose whether they want to spend that long apart from their friends and family."

Mac gave Scott a friendly smile and put his hand on Scott's shoulder. "Which is why we were talking about something over the summer first. Shorter stretch. No pressure."

Scott shook his head at Mac. "Yeah. I'm not stopping anyone on my team from vacationing wherever they want. But if I hear you're trying to pressure them into staying there, you're going to hear it from me. They're kids."

"I know, Scott; take it easy," Mac said with a little frown.

Scott crossed his arms. "I'm just telling you because I'm going through it right now with Chance and Charlie. These kids are going to have it hard enough when they do start getting powers. Charlie doesn't want to be a hero, Chance wants to have powers — there's going to be problems no matter how it happens. And when they first start? They need to be around their parents or people with similar powers. It's terrifying for a kid that age when that change starts up — they don't need you pressuring them to go across the border."

"We're following your model," Heather said gently. "And I can promise you: no one is going to try to screw with Logan's kids … ever."

Scott let out a sigh and turned her way. "I'm not saying that's what you're doing," he told her in a slightly quieter tone. "I'm just telling you that this is the first generation of kids growing up with parents who have any clue what being an X-Man or Avenger or even Alpha Flight is like. Our model is good for the kids outside that bubble, but these kids are different."

"And we're the only ones that know what it's like to be a human on a team full of mutants," Heather pointed out. "Let me know if you need any tips."

"Kate's been teaching Chance how to shoot," Scott said, almost defensively.

"That's fantastic," Mac said. "If he wants to keep going, and you want a suit for him, I'd love to make one for him."

"Will it make it hard for me to use karate and swords and stuff?" Chance asked from around Scott's side, totally undercutting his dad's protective streak without even realizing.

"Nope," Heather said. "And mine is bulletproof and lets me fly too."

Chance's eyes went wide as he looked up at her. "Like Iron Man?" he asked, his head tipped to the side. "Because that's kinda clunky."

"Not as bulky," Mac told him. "It's actually a force field, and it looks like most of the other uniforms."

Chance raised his eyebrows and was totally ignorant of the look on Scott's face as he stood up on his toes. "That does sound pretty cool," he admitted, then leaned forward. "I'm learning about karate and swords and shooting and horseback riding and lots of other stuff," he told Heather in a conspiratorial tone.

"It sounds like you're having a lot of fun, then, aren't you?" she asked with a smile.

He nodded. "I'm leaning from lots of people, too," he said. "Logan's teaching me karate and stuff, but my dad's showing me lots of things too!"

"Logan's a fun teacher, isn't he?" Heather said, smiling wider. "He showed me how to throw Mac over my head once."

"Uh-huh!" Chance bounced slightly. "I like learning with him and Elin."

"The kids are pretty close," Scott said, putting a hand on Chance's shoulder. "They usually take lessons together. They're hardly ever apart."

"Oh, I'd pay to see that," Heather laughed.

"Well, if you decide to come down and visit, you'll probably see a trail ride."

As Mac made his way over to pick up Oliver, the little redheaded, freckle-faced boy startled a little and then leaned over to give Elin a little kiss on the cheek as he quietly said goodbye and she drew in a deep breath and stretched out.

"Are we going home now?" Elin asked sleepily.

"Yeah, we're just getting everyone gathered up," Scott told her as he reached down to pick her up too.

"Good," she muttered, snuggling into his neck and drifting back to sleep.

Scott grinned at her and kissed the side of her head as Annie came to join the group and picked up Krissy as well, shaking her head at the whole conversation. "Don't be such strangers," she told Heather.

"Same to you!" Heather said with a grin. "We'd love to have you back, Scott. The kids talked about it for weeks last time."

"I'm sure you're getting along just fine," Scott said with a shrug.

"We're doing okay," she agreed. "But the opportunity to liven things up would never be turned down."

"You know where I am," Scott said, steering Chance ahead of him. "We should do more combined events — maybe let the kids mingle some more. Clearly, we need more events to give the different schools the chance to meet up that don't involve long-term travel," he added, pushing Chance forward as they headed out the door. "We'll talk later. I gotta get these two to bed."

When they got to the jet, Kitty had just set Sadie down, all tucked in with James, the two of them sharing a blanket together; the little boy was sure to pull his little sister close as they fell asleep. "You going to be okay, Fearless?" she asked as Scott came in with Elin.

Scott nodded her way. "Everyone's pretty well worn out," he told her. "You okay?" he added when he saw that she was a little emotional.

"Oh, yeah," she said, gesturing to herself. "I'm sure you remember how it can be. They're just getting so big."

"Yeah," Scott said with a little frown.

"See you soon," Kitty said, wiping a tear away after Scott turned her way. She gave him a little smile and then wrapped him up in a very quick hug. "Are you sure you'll be okay when Logan and K come to Chicago for a little bit?"

"Yeah. They ran things at the end of the fall semester, so it's only fair we do the same while they're going out to help you," he pointed out. "Besides, we don't have as many students as you do."

She gave him a sideways grin. "I told Logan I was craving for him to give a lecture on World War II."

Scott gave her a dry look. "Yeah, I'm sure."

She giggled. "Well, he can't hold my hand the whole time he's there," she pointed out. "Might as well put him to work."

He shook his head at that. "Make sure you send pictures when she gets here," he told her.

"I don't know if I can stand to do that and miss the baby face," she countered, regaining some of her usual fire.

Scott smirked. "Not you too."

"I saw the pictures," she pointed out. "I've seen it in person. It's amazing, you big, giant marshmallow."

"Don't spread it around," Scott said, shaking his head at her.

"Yeah, no worries," she said. "Just tell K that I look forward to returning the favor."

Tommy Shepherd, meanwhile, had not been spending his Valentine's Day at any kind of dance or doing anything even halfway romantic. He had been spending it watching Billy and Teddy's twins, since of course the two most dramatically romantic people he knew in the world had decided to get married on a Valentine's Day.

He wasn't really mad at them, necessarily. He thought it was great that they were going out to see some cool alternate universes or whatever Billy had said that went flying over Tommy's head so fast it parted his hair. That was great. Really.

And he liked being the cool uncle to the twins, too. That was also great. Really.

It was just that… there was something else going on that needed his attention, and he was dying not being able to do anything about it.

Because the thing was, while everyone else had been gone having other-dimension anniversary trips or going to the dance or whatever else they were doing with their lives, Tommy had watched, with his own two eyes, as Erik put on his nicest shirt and went out. On a date. Which he had never, ever, ever done before.

In his nicest shirt.

"What the hell happened?" Logan asked shortly after he and K returned from their night out. The two ferals were watching him warily as he paced a path in the carpet.

Tommy glanced up at both of them wide-eyed. "You — you beat him back home?"

"We weren't doing the romantic rendezvous thing," K countered. "Yet. Too many people." She let out all of her breath as soon as she realized what it was that had him twisted and gave Logan a kiss before she headed toward the stairs. "He's fine."

"Ummm. No?" Tommy said, shaking his head. "No, no, I'm not. Have you… you didn't see…"

"I wasn't talking about you," K called over her shoulder. "Clearly, you need help."

"What's the problem?" Logan asked, heading toward the kitchen.

Tommy let out a long and dramatic sigh. "It's my grandfather," he said, shaking his head.

"What about him?"

"He…" Tommy shook his head. "He's on a date. Right now. Out there somewhere." He waved toward the door to indicate "out there."

"Oh," Logan said then shook his head as he headed to the freezer to pull out his bottle of whiskey and some ice. "With who?" He didn't look overly calm or upset as he poured himself a drink.

"Well, okay." Tommy let out all his breath. "You remember Peter's aunt? Came and stayed with us for a while — well, I mean, you were gone when that happened doing the Wolverine thing and—"

"And what? You think Petey's Aunt is gonna steal his virtue or somethin?" Logan asked, sure to keep his expression flat as he poured his drink.

Tommy dramatically recoiled. "AUGH."

Logan started to chuckle at that and took his whiskey to sit down. "Not sure I caught that. Is that a yes? Should I ream Petey out right now for his obviously ill-intentioned aunt going after poor, innocent Magneto?" He shook his head. "Got done takin' over Queens … now she's movin' on to Westchester."

"Why am I even talking to you right now," Tommy grumbled, not really asking as he dropped into a chair at the kitchen table and rested his chin on the counter.

"Probably 'cause the twins are passed out and K won't listen to your nonsense. Understands this meltdown less than I do."

"He's my grandfather," Tommy pointed out.

"And an ex-supervillain. He can handle himself just fine against a sweet old woman," Logan countered, pausing dramatically to fix Tommy with a concerned expression. "Unless you're afraid she's after his heart pills."

Tommy lifted his head up to glare Logan's way. "That's so not what I'm worried about," he said. "It's just weird."

"I don't want to know if he's got any other little pills," Logan said dryly, shivering a bit as he took his drink.

"Please stop."

"You want to tell him he can't date?" Logan asked. "Or that he should wait for you to grow up before he starts?"

"No." Tommy still had his head on the edge of the table, glaring hard at the centerpiece.

"Then outside of you never havin' seen it — and I promise you, it's no less disturbing the third or fourth time around — what's the problem?" Logan crossed his arms and leaned against the table to watch Tommy stew. "As long as she doesn't trample his little heart and break it into a thousand pieces, he's better off this way." He tipped his head to the side as he reached over to pour himself another drink. "Now … if she does, I'll be moving out. And you probably oughta make sure your insurance is paid up, because that just gets ugly."

"Uh, yeah. That's a distinct possibility? Not… malicious intent," Tommy added quickly. "Just…" He let his shoulders slump slightly. "Well. You can count on one hand how many members of the family are left? So yeah. Yeah, I'm worried. Okay?"

"I think you're safe," Logan argued. "The worst that can happen in this scenario is that the two of 'em have a little fun for a while."

"It's weird."

"It's always weird at first," Logan told him. "You'll get used to it if it lasts."

Tommy shrugged slightly at that but stayed where he was. "You know I moved in to take care of him, right?" he said after a second.

"And he's doin' a lot better because of it," Logan said with a nod. "Doesn't mean he's a teenager that's gonna ditch you because he found something new and shiny."

Tommy nodded, still with his chin on the table.

"They drink tea together," Logan told him. "And fill up some of the time until either you or Petey comes by."

Tommy glanced up at him. "You knew about this, didn't you?"

"Of course I did," Logan chuckled.

"Well, nobody told me about this!" Tommy said, sitting up at last and throwing his hands in the air. "I mean, some kinda warning would be nice. I'm still getting used to having a grandpa. How do you deal with a dating one?"

"All it would have taken was a little observation on your part. Not my fault you're slow."

"Hey." Tommy glared at him. "There is no reason to get nasty."

"Kid, this ain't anywhere near nasty," Logan pointed out. "They've been gettin' together for tea and whatever for weeks. Weeks."

"Okay, if you could never say 'tea and whatever' about my grandfather again, that would be really, really awesome."

Logan shook his head and chuckled low. "Well. I don't know what to call it. It's not just tea, and I'm pretty sure it's not that. But I wouldn't bank on it."

Tommy shook his head. "You know what? This didn't help. At all," he said as he stood up.

"What do you want me to tell you?" Logan asked.

"I dunno," Tommy admitted.

"Then how can I help you out?" he replied. "All joking aside, I can tell you that the older he gets, the less chances he's got for this kind of thing — and to spend time with you and the twins too. If he starts blowin' you off, let me know, but otherwise, it seems to me like he's just filling up his time with someone in a similar situation."

Tommy shrugged, though at least he wasn't freaking out nearly as badly as he was before. "Yeah," he said, almost sullenly. "I know. It's fine. It's just… not … what I thought was gonna happen when I moved in, y'know?"

"What did you think was gonna happen?" Logan asked, his tone a lot more sedate.

"Not this?" Tommy shrugged. "I was just set to, you know, take care of him 'til he goes?"

"Fair," Logan replied, nodding. "Pretty sure he'd still be lost without you, though. Won't shut the hell up about you half the time."

Tommy had one eye half closed and his face turned from Logan. "Really?"

"Are you kiddin'? As I understand it, most of what he and May talk about is the kids. You and Petey. Billy. The little ones. That's what they do. Compare and brag."

Tommy didn't do a good job of hiding his grin. "Yeah. Well. Alright then."

Logan got to his feet and picked up his bottle and glass. "You know, I'm told there comes a point where the lines move from 'Where ya from' to 'Look at all these grandkids'. They're at that point."

Tommy started to grin. "You mean they would be if Spidey stepped up his game."

"Yeah. And for now, they're usin' Sadie and the rest of mine as his stand-in kids," Logan said. "Try to relax."

Tommy nodded and headed for the door. "I gotta go check on the twins…"

"Yeah, I'm waitin' to catch the little ones when Scott comes in," he said. "Don't worry. I won't tell Erik you were frettin' over him. If he comes in tonight."

"I was not. I was… battling your stupid mental images, thanks."

"You're welcome. I'll make sure you get the shared text with Pete about broken hips and whatnot."

"I'm gonna need to change my phone number."

"I'll make sure America sends it, then," Logan called out.

Tommy made a face at him for that one, slipping out of the room before Logan could give him any other fuel for therapy.

Chapter Text

When Charlie flew out with her dad to Los Angeles, she was a little bit nervous. She didn't really like having to have all these lessons for her powers, and actually, it would just be nicer if she didn't know what everyone was feeling all the time, even if Rachel kept saying she should learn how to turn her powers on and off.

She did like Remy and everything. And she liked Rachel. But she would much rather curl up with a good book by herself without a whole lot of people around confusing her with all of their different weirdness. But to get to that point, she had to admit, it would probably a good idea to learn how to deal with her powers. Like how to turn them off so she could get some peace and quiet even if people were around.

Rachel had said that she'd get used to her powers and that she would even like them once she figured out how to use them without having them on all the time. Charlie wasn't so sure about that, though she did like how much she could tease her brother because he couldn't lie to her anymore. About anything. At all.

But it was easier to be excited once they got there and she got to see some of her friends. Sying always gave her a big hug whenever she came to visit, and Miles let her in and led her and Scott down the halls — and he always had fun jokes when she came to visit.

But even though he was all smiling and joking around, he wasn't carefree happy like usual, so she had to ask, "How come you're pretending?"

Miles stopped and tipped his head to the side at her. "What?"

"You're trying really hard to be funny, but you're actually worried," Charlie said, then shrugged. "That's part of my powers; I can just tell."

"Yeah… yeah, I got that," Miles said, nodding. He glanced at Scott. "It's just that, wellm I sorta had to fill in on Remy's class this morning. He probably lost track of time. Or, like, slept in. He and Mistral were out last night, you know, being them."

Scott frowned at Miles. "He's not here?"


Charlie looked between the two men and frowned. "Dad, it's not Miles' fault, so you gotta be not mad at him."

"Whatchu mad at de Spiderman for?" Remy asked as he came around the corner, his hands in his pockets and looking totally relaxed. "He ain't even bigger'n a beanpole and cain't do no more wrong den mebbe tellin' too many jokes."

Miles spun to face Remy and looked both relieved and mad. "What — where did…" He shook his head. "I want to thank you, really, for the ringing endorsement."

"Any time, homme," Remy replied with a smile.

"Where — what, you just show up out of the blue, no 'thanks for running my class, Miles'?" Miles said, starting to recover from his surprise. "No 'you didn't need to be worried about the cutest little empath ever getting stood up'? Come on!"

"I don' know what you goin' on about," Remy said gruffly. "Ol' Remy here now, non?"

Miles shook his head and threw up his hands. "What-ever," he said. "Have fun, Charlie," he said over his shoulder as he headed out.

"Ain't you a lil' bit early, petit?" Remy asked.

Charlie shook her head, watching the conversation between the two men intently with a little frown. "No, we got here on time," she said. "And you kinda hurt Spidey's feelings. He thought you were gonna miss our class."

"I'll fix it up wit him good later," Remy promised with a little wink.

Charlie tipped her head to the side, shrugged, and then nodded. "So, what do you want to do first? Sometimes, Rachel makes me tell her what everyone at lunch is feeling. I can do that if you want to, but it's kind of hard."

"Why don' you tell me what you feelin' your own self?"

Charlie looked up at Remy in surprise, her mouth slightly parted in an "o" shape, before she smiled a little bit. "I'm kind of nervous," she admitted. "I don't really like this stuff."

"Nobody really do," Remy replied quietly. "But we all gotta do it anyhow. Even if you ain't gonna be no superhero."

She shook her head hard. "I don't want to be a superhero," she agreed. "I just want to read and play the piano." She leaned forward with a little smile. "I'm really good at the piano," she added. "I've been playing since I was five, and I really like it."

"Well let's make sure you know your own feelin's and then you can show ol' Remy what you can do on the ivories."

After that, Charlie actually enjoyed her lessons. Remy didn't do the lessons the same way that Rachel did, trying to make her see what everybody else was doing. Instead, he made sure that she was centered and knew where she was outside of all the other voices and feelings that she could 'hear' all around her, and Charlie hadn't realized how much she missed being able to just be Charlie until she could do it again.

It took a lot of concentrating, but it worked, and then, when she wanted to, it was also easier to know other people. Everybody had a sort of… musical melody to their feelings, and it was actually pretty neat to figure those melodies when it wasn't homework but something fun, like picking out the different parts in a song. She liked that Remy listened to her when she tried to explain it like that.

She liked that he listened to her in general, actually. Not many grown-ups knew how to do that.

So she was in a pretty good mood when she got downstairs and could feel two people who were also in very good moods. She closed her eyes and tried to remember what Remy had said about listening to the "music" other people had. She was pretty sure that the really deep, rich sort of baritone was Erik. And… there was a sound like an oboe cadenza that was familiar, but she was still trying to get everybody right and… She peeked her head around the corner.

"Oh! It's you!" she said before she could stop herself when she saw that Erik and Spidey's Aunt May were sitting at the table talking together.

"Hello, Charlie," May said warmly, waving her over to come and join them. "What are you up to?"

"I'm just trying to learn how to tell who people are in my head," Charlie explained. "Everybody feels a little bit different, even if they're all sad, or happy, or mad, or whatever."

"Is that what you're learning in your lessons?" May asked as Charlie climbed into the seat across from her and next to Erik. "Erik told me you've been going to California to learn about your powers."

Charlie nodded happily. "Uh-huh. Remy and I play it like a game, which is lots more fun than when people just come up and make me tell them what they're feeling," she added, shrugging her shoulders up to her ears. "We play it like listening to music and trying to pick out the parts. It's really fun."

"And that's what you were doing when you found us?" Erik asked her with a small smile.

She nodded. "Uh-huh." She looked between the two of them and broke into a huge grin. "I like finding people who are happy together. Happy makes harmonies the more people get involved."

"That's actually a beautiful sentiment," May said with a little smile.

"I like listening to it too," Charlie said. "People who are sad, or angry — they sound like someone skipped a note."

"It's wonderful that you're learning so much about your gift," Erik said warmly. "And it's good to see you enjoying it as well."

"It's not so bad once you figure out how to play games," Charlie said. "I didn't like it when it was a chore."

"No, that doesn't sound very fun at all," May agreed, still smiling at her.

Charlie shook her head and then looked between the two of them brightly. "Do you want me to tell you both what you're feeling?" she asked.

"Perhaps pick someone who's not so obviously happy," May suggested with a smirk.

"Well, happy is hard," Charlie told May matter-of-factly. "Lots of people are just… peaceful. Happy comes differently." She shrugged. "But you guys are happy." She grinned between the two of them and then slid out of her chair to find herself a snack.

"You're welcome to stay nearby if that's what you're looking for," Erik offered.

"Is that okay?" Charlie asked. "I just wanna read, and I like being around happy."

"We like the company," May agreed.

Charlie grinned and then hopped up on the breakfast nook with her book. "Thanks!" she called out, tucking her bookmark into the back of the book as she found her place.

She'd just gotten properly settled in when the Howlett group came through, K and Logan of course were looking for some coffee, and took their time in the kitchen while the kids all sat down with their own projects to work on. Elin had sat close to Erik and smiled up at him before he started to speak slowly with her in Polish. James was into a book of his own, and Sadie settled in right next to Charlie.

Sadie grinned up at her, humming to herself as she started to draw again, kicking her legs under the chair and enjoying the company as much as Charlie was.

K and Logan stayed in the kitchen for a good long time, which only had Charlie smirking a bit wider since it was pretty obvious to her that they were kissing while they had a minute.

Charlie looked around the room, smiled, and leaned back with her book. She was surrounded by a lot of people and a lot of feelings, but they were mostly happy or peaceful, so she was alright with that. "Sadie, what're you drawing?" she asked after a while, just because it was hard to concentrate on her book with so many people — it was easier to get involved with the people around her.

"Everybody!" Sadie said with an excited grin.

"Are you drawing me too?" Charlie asked.

"Uh-huh," Sadie replied, shuffling through her papers until she found the right one — a sweet little stick figure that was wearing Charlie's favorite color dress and had the hair close to right. "See! It's you!"

Charlie grinned and nodded. "I like my curls."

Sadie leaned closer with wide eyes. "Curls are hard to draw."

"Well, you did really good," Charlie promised. "I can't draw very much, so you do better curls than me."

"My mom has wavy hair, and that's easier," she said, demonstrating with a brown crayon. "You just make squiggles."

"Yeah, that's not too hard," Charlie agreed. "I think even I could do that."

"This is how I make curls," Sadie said, concentrating a little harder as she started to make curlicues. "But sometimes I make them too big at the ends."

"That's okay," Charlie said, putting her book aside as she scooted closer to Sadie to try and draw some curlicues with a red crayon beside her. "They're pretty hard. I always make mine too little, see?"

Sadie frowned at the paper, trying to figure out what the best way to handle it was. "May-be … we can draw them together, and the little ones will hide the big ones…"

"That's a good idea," Charlie agreed with a bright smile.

Sadie pushed some of the older drawings out of the way to find a piece of clean paper so they could get started, scattering some of them across the table.

Charlie had to grin when she saw all the pictures of everybody in the room. "Oh, I like all of these," she said, and Aunt May looked over as well.

"Is this one your brother?" May guessed, holding up one that looked like James, with his favorite blue for a shirt.

Sadie looked up and nodded happily. "Uh-huh!"

"And is this…" May tipped her head. "This is Kitty, isn't it?" she asked, looking at the brown-haired pregnant stick figure.

Sadie looked up and shook her head. "Nooooo, Peterquill is in the Kitty picture," she said, still blissfully humming and kicking her feet until she found the picture of Kitty. "And Lockheed too! He's purple!"

"I like Lockheed," Charlie said with a grin.

"He's nice," Sadie agreed. "And he likes to snuggle."

"So who is this, then?" May asked sweetly.

"That's my mom," Sadie said, shaking her head. "See the hair? And the cowboy boots?"

"Oh, I see them now," May said quickly. "You did a very good job, Sadie."

"Sadie wants a baby brother or sister," Charlie explained with a shrug.

"So does Daddy," Sadie said, still totally unbothered.

Charlie giggled as she looked up at Logan. "Uh-huh. Real bad."

"I coulda swore that you wanted to go swimmin in the lake," Logan replied, giving her a look.

Charlie looked up at him, shook her head, and put one hand on her hip. "You're always saying not to lie. I'm not gonna lie."

"You're also not supposed to bust people out," he told her as he ruffled her hair. "Not that it's a shock, though."

"Well, it's not like it's a secret," Charlie said. "I don't tell secrets."

"Which is why it's not a shock," Logan agreed while the two adults sat down with their coffee. K didn't react to the whole discussion more than to rest her hand on his arm and give him a kiss.

Charlie grinned over at K. "Don't worry," she said. "I don't tell." She tossed her hair over her shoulder and hopped over to go get her book, picking it up to hold it to her chest and giggling to herself as she did so.

"Oh. My. God," K said under her breath to Logan. "The Summers sense of humor skips a generation." But that only got a laugh out of Logan.

May watched her leave with a little smile. "She's really so proud of herself getting a handle on those powers."

"She's a troublemaker," K replied. "And a stinker of the highest order."

"Well, that's a rare sight."

Scott smirked and looked up as Annie came downstairs to steal a kiss. "I read the news every morning," he pointed out.

Annie laughed and traced a hand through his hair. "Yes, but you don't usually smile while you're reading it."

"It's nice to read good news every once in a while," Scott said with an easy shrug, setting the paper down so Annie could see the headline about the election, with a new poll showing Cleary well ahead in the primaries. "It looks like our friend is doing well for herself."

Annie let out a delighted noise as she snatched up the paper so she could read it for herself. "Oh, I hope she wins," she said. "We could use someone with sense running things."

Scott smirked and then snagged Annie around the waist, pulling her down until she was sitting in his lap so he could steal a longer kiss. "How do you really feel about it?"

Annie laughed and hit him in the shoulder. "Like you didn't know I was opinionated when you married me."

"News to me," Scott teased.

She hit him in the shoulder against and then pulled him into a kiss — since that was always the best way of dealing with Scott when he was in a mood like this anyway.

Charlie was still loving her weekly trips out to LA to train with Remy, and she looked forward to them every week, because sometimes, he would just let her play the piano and focus on what she was feeling when she played, and those were her favorite lessons.

But as much as she loved her lessons with Remy, she was surprised by how people at the school in LA felt about her favorite teacher. A lot of the time, it seemed like they were annoyed. Or disappointed, like Storm was sometimes.

She didn't really understand it, because Remy was nice to everybody, especially her. And she couldn't think of any reason for people to be mad at him except that sometimes he was late to her lessons. Maybe he was just late a lot; she didn't really know.

So on the plane ride back home, Charlie decided to ask her dad: "How come everybody's mad at Remy?"

Scott hedged for just a moment, not wanting to speak ill of Charlie's teacher when he knew how close the two of them were. "It's nothing that has to do with you," he said as easily as he could.

Charlie frowned. "Well, I want to help. I like Remy," she said, crossing her arms. "And I don't think he knows why people are mad at him either. He gets confused when it happens, and then he gets worried."

Scott frowned a little deeper than he had been. "There isn't really much of a reason for him to disappear like he is," Scott said. "But he used to do it a lot before you were born."

"You mean before he met Miss Marie?" she guessed.

"Yeah, that too," Scott said with a smirk.

"Well, I don't think he's trying to make people mad. He likes it when people are happy," Charlie reasoned. "That's when he's happy."

"I don't know what's going on with him, sweetheart," Scott replied. "But if it makes you feel better, I'll talk to Storm when we get back."

"That would be good," Charlie decided, leaning back in her seat. "I don't like it when people are sad or mad. Especially not my friends."

Charlie wasn't the only one who had picked up on the fact that something was up, either, though it was Remy who found his way down to Storm's headmistress office to knock on the doorframe. "You gotta minute, Stormy?"

"Of course," Storm replied, looking up at him. "I was hoping to speak with you once Charlie left."

Remy frowned a bit as he closed the door behind him. "Guessin' you gonna ask de same ting what everyone else been askin'," he said.

"I don't need to ask you the same questions," Storm replied. "I was simply going to ask: what has changed?"

"Well, now, see, dat's what ol' Remy was gon' ask you 'bout," Remy admitted as he took a seat, shaking his head. "I try an' tell de other teachers — I ain't tryin' to be gone. Truth is, I don' know where time gets to dat I ain't where I mean to be."

Storm frowned as she thought it over. "You have no idea where you've been?" she asked. "Because we have plenty of footage of you walking right out of the front door, just as bold as brass. And the security system we have shows you returning too. What do you do outside of the school?"

Remy stared at Storm for a long moment and then shook his head. "Either ol' Remy's gettin' older den he realize or somet'in' up, Stormy, 'cause dat don' sound right."

"Well, I believe that it could be both of those things," Storm teased lightly.

He smirked at her. "Cain't be. Ain't gray yet."

She smirked at him and gestured to her own snow white hair. "Let's not use color as a guideline, shall we?"

He smiled at that and let out a little laugh as he leaned back and relaxed. "Well, I still say I ain't dat old, Stormy."

Storm tried to hide the smile, schooling it at least to a highly amused smirk. "Then would you object to keeping another staff member with you? Since your youth is so apparent."

"Well now," Remy said with a steadily growing smile, "dat depend on de staff member."

"Whoever you find most available would be sufficient for me," she agreed. "Particularly if you plan to do anything with all that shared time."

He laughed as he got to his feet. "Well, me and Miss Marie just gon' have to suffer t'rough havin' to be 'round each other dat much more."

Storm had to smile at him for that. "If anything seems off, even if it's small, please let me know. Charlie loves her lessons with you."

Remy nodded, smiling a bit wider. "Dat Charlie — she sometin' else."

"Yes," she agreed. "And well-named."

"Sometimes de universe open up like dat," Remy said, grinning widely as he headed for the door. "Don' you worry — we gon' tell you if anyt'in' come up." He looked serious for a moment as he turned back her way. "Ain't tryin' to mess wit' de school you built up so good."

"I know, Remy," Storm promised. "You would never do anything to harm us."

Chapter Text

The Howlett family had been in Chicago with Kitty for all of a week before Kitty actually had to go down to the medical bay. It still ended up being a false alarm, but it was good practice for everyone, and Kitty, although she was miserable, was nowhere near as miserable as she'd been last time around.

Kitty's classes were covered by the rest of those in residence, since alien computer sciences simply were not something that the ferals knew how to deal with. But that just meant that Kitty got to spend more time with them, and more time snuggling the kids, and watching Jayce play with them … it was very emotional for her to deal with. But what finally got the floodgates to open was a simple 'hello' from Logan to Peter Quill that wasn't wrapped up in a threat or a growl. Just off handed and casual. And not at all something either Kitty or Peter was prepared for.

It took Peter ten minutes of hugging her and kissing the side of her head after K ushered the rest of them out for him to get out of her what had happened to make her cry, and when she finally came clean ... well. Peter's smile was enough to get her tripped over again.

The teachers were quietly making their guesses as to when the little one would show, though no betting was allowed. All of that was squashed with a few deep growls that even had Bobby on edge.

It started so suddenly that, had it not been for the ferals being there, Kitty would have gone a lot further into labor before anyone spotted it. The tipping point came when they were all sitting around the television, watching a movie of Kitty's choosing, and she simply started to sink down through the couch, taking Peter and Logan both with her — they were seated on either side of her.

"Kitten," Logan said, finally drawing her attention once the contraction had passed. "Time to stop ignoring it."

She let out an irritated breath before she floated the three of them up again. With their feet underneath them again, Kitty and Peter started toward the med bay, with Logan following at a distance.

When they got there, America stopped what she was doing — flirting with Lucy and stealing kisses — and started to shake her head. "What happened to a three AM wake up call? I thought that was like … law."

"You're hilarious," Lucy said without missing a beat as she very quickly started to get things set up for Kitty.

"Can I get that inhibitor before things get going again?" Kitty asked. "I kind of accidentally took Logan and Peter through the couch with me …"

Lucy's eyebrows shot up before she quickly nodded and then rushed to the table and returned with a collar for her to wear. "Of course."

"It's just that, usually, adamantium catches my attention … but not this time," Kitty tried to explain.

"It's fine," Lucy promised. "I've been talking to Hank about the different births he's done to prepare for this — Tyler too; he should be here soon if you want him to help. But if you just want it to be us girls, he won't be offended, I'm sure."

"Oh, I'm not shy," Kitty said. "But he might be nervous with Logan here playing 'dad'."

"Why?" Lucy laughed. "Peter's the one who should be nervous; isn't that how that works?" she added with a little teasing sparkle in her voice.

"Yeah, but … background and a little bit of … oh, you know how it is," she said, shaking her head as she pushed her curls back behind her ears. "Peter's nervous enough for everyone."

"It's my job. I'm doing it well," Peter insisted, looking every bit the nervous father as Lucy checked Kitty's progress.

"Yes, you are. And Kitty's doing hers perfectly well too," Lucy promised. "Everything looks great, really. And this should go much easier without you having to concentrate to stay solid. Henry told me about that too. This'll be much less horrible if we start you with the inhibitor, huh?"

"Here's hoping," Kitty agreed. "Though if I could figure out how to just … you know ... phase her out …"

"I'm pretty sure every mother would love to have that power," Lucy pointed out.

"And yet she still wants to make me do it," America grumbled lightly to Kitty just to get her to smile.

As Lucy had said, though, it was a much easier process this time around, especially once Lucy had administered the pain medicine to Kitty and gotten her all set up, so it was hardly any time at all — with only very badly bruised fingers for Peter with Logan taking the brunt of it — before the little baby girl with stunningly long eyelashes came out to say hello.

Kitty leaned back tiredly as Lucy handed the little girl off to Peter first while Kitty got the chance to get her wits about her again — and he looked like he was going to break something with how widely he was grinning.

"You did good, Punkin'," Logan told her before he gave her a little kiss on the forehead. "Not that I'm surprised."

She smiled at him for that one as Peter sat down next to her so she could see the little girl for herself. "Just don't go anywhere," she warned him.

"Yeah, I've been put through the drill a few times now," Logan said, waving her off.

She shook her head at him before she turned her attention back to the little girl, grinning widely as she took her from Peter and got to lie back with her and get acquainted with tiny Nina.

"Should we tell America it's safe again?" Lucy asked, smirking as she finished up her work.

"Pretty sure that's your job," Peter shot back with a grin. "Not that she'd believe you."

"She would not," Lucy agreed.

"Too bad. She's missing out," Peter decided, grinning down at the little girl. "You want one blonde like ours or more like America?"

"I'm not real picky," Lucy said. "Those curls on a little girl though…"

"Just wait til Nina grows 'em in and then point her America's way," Peter laughed, still grinning before he kissed Kitty's cheek. "You know — and I'm not just saying this — I swear, she looks just like you, Kitty."

"You're going to see who you want to when she's this little," Kitty said, shaking her head, though she was grinning, her gaze locked onto the little bundle of pink.

"No, no. That's so your nose. And your eyebrows. Look — one of 'em's still quirked up sleeping. Gotta be you."

She bit her bottom lip as she looked at the little girl. "Maybe …"

He grinned and leaned over to kiss her. "I'm just saying she's perfect," he told her quietly. "That's all."

Logan and K had barely returned from Chicago before they had somewhere else to be — another family commitment — this time, technically, on K's side, since it was her sister getting married to Deadpool the last day of May.

It was a small ceremony, really, in a prairie field that was the most picket fence-y thing Wade could find, since he was still so in love with the fact that he had this picket fence-y girl. That and it was easier to see anyone coming when it was so flat everywhere, but hey, a little paranoia was healthy, he insisted.

There weren't too many people there, either. Logan and K, obviously, had come for Lisbet, and Wade had invited both of the Hawkeyes as well as Captain America and Peter Parker. And, of course, Kurt was doing the ceremony and Eleanor had the rings. With Sharon and Sara rounding out the group, it was still an intimate gathering, but not too terribly small, either.

It was obvious Wade was thrilled to bits from the way he was bouncing slightly on his toes. Lisbet couldn't stop grinning brilliantly over the top of a bouquet of marigolds, with a few braided into her hair that made it look golden in the sunlight.

It was nothing elaborate — both Wade and Lisbet had asked Kurt to give them something simple for the ceremony — but it was amazing all the same for the gathered group watching, especially when, after Kurt had pronounced them both man and wife, Lisbet was sure to go right to Eleanor as soon as they were officially married and sweep her up into a hug and kiss her forehead too — to make sure she was included.

Eleanor grinned as she hugged Lisbet right back and then pushed her back toward Wade, who was uncharacteristically quiet and hadn't been able to do anything except grin. So Eleanor elbowed Kurt and grinned up at him. "He means thank you," she said as she watched Wade grin and grin.

But that seemed to be the prompting that got Wade in gear as he turned toward Kurt and simply tackled him in a hug that took them both to the ground in the tall meadow grass. "Thank you, you big, beautiful blue Elf, you."

Kurt was obviously surprised, but he also couldn't help but laugh anyway as he shook his head, returned the hug briefly, and tried to get back to his feet, offering Wade a hand up. "Bitte," he said, still grinning. "This is one of my favorite things in the world to do."

"Hopeless romantic," Kate called out to him, and Kurt didn't argue it in the least.

"You say that as if it's a bad thing," Kurt chuckled, though Kate was already shaking her head.

"That is not what I said," she said, pointing an accusing finger at Kurt before she turned Wade's way and wrapped him up in a huge hug that he returned, spinning her off of her feet. "Congratulations, Wade," she said when he set her down. "You totally deserve it."

Across the way, K was chatting with her sister, and the two of them took all of a moment before they were hugging, with Ellie pulled into it as well.

"Thank you for coming," Lisbet said, still smiling more broadly than K had seen in a long time.

"Hey, I wasn't going to miss my big sister settling down with a guy she can't break," K pointed out.

Lisbet shook her head. "I never broke any of them," she said with a small laugh. "That was you."

"Just wore them into the ground," she countered.

"You two know that I'm right here, right? And this is my dad?" Eleanor broke in, though she was grinning.

"We just mean she outlived them," K told her with a wink. "She had exceptionally bad taste in picking out all military men."

Eleanor rolled her eyes but couldn't help but tease, "Yeah, of course. And you and Aunt Hawkeye definitely don't mean it any other way when you usually say stuff like that. I'm not eight anymore."

"Well, she's not really lying about most of them," Lisbet admitted. "Uniforms …"

Eleanor grinned up at Lisbet. "Yeah, I know," she said. "Hard to resist."

"You should not talk like that so close to your father," K told her, though she had to kiss the girl on the temple.

"Hey, he's not the one in the family with super hearing, Aunt K," Eleanor pointed out.

"All dads with pretty daughters have super hearing in cases like that," she argued as Wade came over with an obvious smile in his voice.

"Whatcha ladies talkin' about, huh?" he asked innocently as he threw an arm over Eleanor and Lisbet's shoulders, and K gave Eleanor a look as if to say 'see?'

"We were talking about you, actually," Lisbet said, smiling Eleanor's way. "And how glad I am to be part of the family."

Wade gave Lisbet a kiss, then gave one to Eleanor before he set his sights on the little gathering of Cap, Logan, and Peter Parker. "Be right back. Gotta tackle someone else." He tried to be casual, but it was hard for him to pull that off on a regular day, let alone one where he was in such high spirits.

He took a few quick steps and couldn't help but shout out "My brothers!" before he managed to snag both Logan and Peter and pull them to the ground. Eleanor was giggling behind her hand as she watched Logan push Wade's face away from him and slip loose, though that just meant Peter got the full brunt of Wade's affection.

Peter was obviously trying not to get crushed in the hug — but at the same time, he couldn't blame Wade for his enthusiasm, all things considered, so he did return the hug warmly, grinning all the same. "Yeah, congratulations, Wade," he said. "You two are going to be amazing together."

But the day wasn't set just yet. Wade was sure to make all of the still single attendants gather up — all four of them. "Eleanor is not eligible," he insisted, for Lisbet to toss her bouquet, then cheered when Sara caught it and made Peter turn bright red.

But before Wade could complete their friend's embarrassment, Logan hit him with something a little unexpected and handed him a slip of paper with a set of coordinates and not another word.

Wade let out a squeal of excitement and promptly memorized and then put the piece of paper in his pocket. "Best. Brother. Ever."

"Congratulations, Wilson," Logan said, turning to leave him alone. "Took you two long enough."

Wade grinned even wider and drew himself up. "Well, perfection takes a long time," he said in a matter-of-fact tone before he giggled delightedly, bounced on his toes, and rushed off to Lisbet so they could go explore the far-off place that Logan was sending them to.

As the newlyweds headed out, K put her arm around Eleanor's shoulders. "So, we get to cause trouble while they're gone, right?"

Eleanor beamed at her. "Oh yeah, definitely."

"She's the fun aunt," Peter agreed, grinning.

"Well, that … remains to be seen," K argued. "I can't go taking everyone out to destroy Kree empires for fun and profit."

"Maybe for my Sweet Sixteen?" Eleanor offered with a troublemaking smile.

"If it's space adventures, you'd do better to ask Aunt Kitty," K told her. "I am not a real big fan of outer space."

"Well," Eleanor said, thinking about it. "Maybe after her space princess is older," she decided. "Dad showed me pictures, by the way. And congrats on the granddaughter."

"Of course he did," K muttered. "That man is baby crazy." She gave her a smile. "And thanks."

"He just likes it when people are happy," Eleanor defended, though she leaned forward. "But I think my mom wants to have kids fast."

"He never told you how he behaved when we met then," K said Ellie's way in an undertone before she nodded. "And Lisbet has always wanted kids."

"Well, maybe Dad will get off your back then," Ellie said, grinning crookedly. "Don't think I don't know how he is. He's like this."

"He still is insisting I need twins," K told her quietly.

Ellie wrinkled her nose. "Umm, I may have a C in Biology, but I'm pretty sure you can't fit twins."

"I don't think I can either," she agreed. "That hasn't stopped him from suggesting a dozen different magical solutions, though."

"Maybe he'll stop after he and mom start," Eleanor said, linking arms with K so she could pat her arm consolingly.

"Maybe," she said, tipping her head Eleanor's way. "For now, why don't we get everyone home so Peter can start editing those pictures? You know both of them are going to want to see the end results when they get back from Brazil."

"Oh, is that where you sent them?" Eleanor asked, wide-eyed, as she followed K back to where they had parked.

"They needed something unique," she defended. "The top of a mountain in the jungle sounded unique enough. No one's used it in years."

Eleanor stared at K before she broke into a laugh and threw her arms around K's neck. "That's perfect!" she said. "Dad will love it. We have the best family ever."

Chapter Text

For the past several weeks, Marie had what she thought was probably the best assignment she'd had since she had agreed to join with the X-Men: she was supposed to spend all her time with her boyfriend. At least, any time she was not teaching French. Then, Storm had agreed to watch Remy. Thus far, absolutely nothing of note had happened, other than the fact that all that extra time together meant he was in a grand mood all the time, which she appreciated.

She especially liked watching him work with Charlie, who seemed to adore him. Marie stayed at the outskirts of their lessons, but it was clear to her just observing them that he loved getting to do this part, showing someone so young how to fall in love with their powers.

So, all in all, this had been an easy assignment — until she left Remy alone for just a few minutes.

She hadn't thought it would be that big of a deal — it was simply a matter of a student who had a question on their French homework. But ten minutes later, when she came back to the room that she shared with Remy, he was nowhere to be found, the only indication that he had left the fact that the window was open.

She breezed through the window out onto the grounds, flowing over the lawn and then down to the beach as fast as the winds could take her, but he had enough of a head start that she simply couldn't find him. His car was gone, and when she didn't see him in any of the closer roads, without knowing which way he went, there was no way she could find him.

She returned to the school in a foul mood, annoyed with Remy especially because they had plans to spend the evening out together at a new restaurant in town that she had been wanting to try out.

She breezed back into the school through the same open window, and when she saw that Remy still wasn't back, she let out an even louder huff of annoyance before she decided that she was not going to wait for him before she ate.

Marie was nearly to the kitchen before it occurred to her that she should at least tell Storm what had happened. She was still getting used to working on a team after working alone her whole life, and "reporting" was not something she liked to do. It was, in that regard, much easier to be on Storm's team than Cyclops'. But if something was the matter with Remy, than she should get the rest of the team involved, no matter how annoyed she was with him for leaving her in the lurch.

She found Storm with Amadi and Forge, playing with their little girl as Amadi animatedly told them both all about all the games she had played with her friend Sying, who treated her like one of his little sisters and spent all his time with her when he wasn't studying with his dad in that alien ship of theirs. The Lee kids were staying with Forge and Storm for the time being, because their parents were celebrating ten years of marriage by going out for a transdimensional space trip, and Amadi seemed to think it was the most amazing thing ever. But when Storm saw Marie — and saw the look Marie was wearing — she got to her feet.

"'E ees gone," Marie told her in an undertone, not bothering to hide her annoyance.

"What happened?" Storm asked, already moving to start looking herself.

"I spent a few meenutes talking with a student and then — no Re-mee," she said, shaking her head. "Almost like he was waiting for me to turn my back. Le scélérat."

"That doesn't sound right at all," Storm said, though Marie could easily see the fury rising up in her eyes.

"I am telling you what happened," Marie insisted. "'E ees gone, and what's more, I could not find him when I searched."

"That doesn't seem possible," Storm replied, shaking her head. "How could he slip away that quickly?"

"'E took his car," Marie said. "And perhaps he had a bit of a head start, I admit. I could not follow him past the roads; I do not know which ones 'e took."

"We'll check into the traffic cameras," Storm decided. "I'm sure that we can get into the system and find where he disappeared to."

Marie sniffed. "Eef he is so determined to be gone—"

"He has never simply disappeared like this before," Storm insisted. "He would never leave us — leave you — behind with no warning. This is not like him."

Marie shook out her hair. "'E has never done it before," she had to agree.

"So let's find out why before we string him out like a drowned swamp rat," Storm suggested.

At that, Marie finally started to smile. "Oui, I suppose we should do as much," she said, stepping back so that Storm could go through the door ahead of her. Then, she followed the headmistress out of the school to track down the traffic cameras first.

Although Remy didn't know it, it had been the better part of a day since he had disappeared from the LA school. He didn't know how long he had been gone, but he knew that he had to have left for an appreciable amount of time, since he was standing near the front gate to the Westchester school with absolutely no recollection of how he got there.

It was almost a relief, because it meant that all that missing time he thought he had lost was, in fact, missing. But he didn't know how he had managed to get this far to Westchester, and with no phone or comm on him, the best way to get back to LA would be to get someone in the institute to let him borrow their phone so he could call Storm.

"Stormy gon' love dis," Remy muttered to himself as he let himself in at the gate and walked up the long driveway, shaking his head at the situation.

Thankfully for him, the first person he saw was one of the few that was unlikely to ask twenty questions about anything. The garage door was open, and Logan was inside working on his motorcycle and drinking. Which meant he was probably going to be easier to deal with.

Remy didn't get all the way to the garage before Logan stopped wrenching on the bike and looked up at him, leaning on the saddle of the bike with his arms crossed. "You look a little lost," Logan remarked.

Remy shrugged lightly. "Need to use de phone. Mine ain't available."

Logan looked him up and down and pulled his cell out of his pocket to hand to him. "You go in and I'm sure there'll be questions."

Remy nodded at that. "Sho' nuff," he had to agree as he put the phone to his ear to call up Storm. When she picked up on the other end, he let out a breath. "You got a minute to pick up an ol' Cajun from Westchester?" he asked, and Storm sounded both relieved and exasperated at hearing where he was.

"Take a bamf," Logan said quietly, already back to work.

"Hey, now dat ain't a bad idea," Remy said with a smile. "Never mind, Stormy. I'm gon' be dere real soon, n'est pa? Gon' borrow one o' de lil' blue imps." He waited for Storm to get through telling him to get home fast so they could figure out what was going on before he let out a sigh. "Yeah, I know," he told her before he hung up and handed the phone back to Logan.

"They're easy enough to bribe," Logan explained before he took the phone and put it in his pocket. "First one you find, tell 'em I'll give 'em a shot of whiskey when they get back."

Remy nodded at that and made his way inside, where it was easy to find the bamfs; they were in a group with all of the kids "helping" in the kitchen. It was a few hours ahead of a big birthday bash for Billy and Teddy's twins, and that meant cookies, frosting, and plenty of chances for the kids and the bamfs to get sugared up.

Remy slid into the room quietly, preferring to simply get a bamf and get out, though of course, as he crouched down by the nearest imp and explained the arrangement — whiskey if the bamf would go with him for just a moment — a couple of the kids noticed, and what followed was nothing less than a mobbing of hugs.

"This is a very long way to go just to sneak a cookie," Elin said, though she handed him one of the mis-decorated cookies anyhow.

Remy grinned at her and ruffled her hair. "What if ol' Remy jus' want to say 'hi' to some o' de prettiest girls he know?" he teased.

She tipped her head to the side and looked at him with one eye closed. "You shouldn't lie."

"I ain't lying, petit: you real pretty. You know dat," Remy told her easily.

"But you didn't come here for cookies or kisses," she said, giving him a kiss on the cheek.

"No," Remy agreed. "But I ain't 'bout to turn down either. Be a fool if dat were de case, non?"

"Oui," she said with a smile.

He ruffled her hair again and took a bite of cookie. "Jus' passin' tru," he told her. "Your daddy tell me I kin borrow one of dese here bamfs if I ask 'em right. So's ol' Remy can get back to where he need to be. But it real good to see you, petit. You growin' way too fast."

"I'm growing just right," she argued. "You just don't come by often enough."

"Well, mebbe I got to fix dat," Remy decided.

She gave him another hug around the neck and kissed his cheek. "See you soon?"

"Definitely, petit," he told her and kissed her forehead before he ruffled her hair again. He got a few more hugs and kisses from Kaleb and Chloe as well — both of them grinning and giggling and in a hugging mood — before he could get back to what he was doing and pulled aside one of the bamfs.

"What are you doing here?" Charlie asked before Remy could tell the bamf where he wanted to go, and Remy looked up at the obvious tone of concern that the little girl was sporting.

He grinned up at her crookedly. "Like I just went an' told lil' Miss Elin, ol' Remy's jus' passin' tru. Though all de hugs and cookies ain't bad," he teased her lightly and in an easy tone that he figured would keep her from worrying.

Charlie crossed her arms over her chest and leaned forward so that she could drop her voice to a whisper. "You're worried. Maybe … maybe my dad can help," she offered.

"I ain't dat worried, petit," Remy replied warmly. "Don' worry your pretty lil' head about dat."

Charlie frowned at him. "I don't like it when my family is scared."

Remy let out a breath and did his level best to get his emotions under control, particularly with her staring up at him with wide eyes. "Don' know what dey is to be scared of," he said gruffly. "Ain't no body gon give ol' Remy de heebie jeebies."

Charlie had to smile the slightest bit and shook her head. "You're silly," she told him before she ran over to wrap him up in a quick hug.

Remy wrapped her up for a second right back before he ruffled her hair. "Gon' see you next week for more lessons, petit," he promised before he turned back to the bamf and the little guy jumped up on his shoulder. They were just about to teleport when Charlie startled just before Remy put a hand on her shoulder, and she went with them as they left Westchester and wound up in a big, old house that she didn't recognize.

Charlie spun around to face him, wide-eyed, because just before they had teleported, Remy's song had shifted. And her eyes only widened when his already red eyes seemed to be glowing slightly.

The little bamf took one look at the slight red glow and let out a little sound of pure distress and fear, but before he could get to Charlie to grab her and disappear, a glowing pink card blew up in his face, knocking the little guy out. "Put the little rat in a cage," Remy said, and though the voice was most certainly his, the accent was completely gone, and his tone was cold and commanding.

Charlie's eyes widened even further as one of the biggest guys she had ever seen came over to pick up the bamf and take him out of the sprawling room, and she didn't notice she was slowly backing away from Remy until she accidentally backed into a table by the wall. She let out a little sound of surprise and then bit her lip when she saw Remy turn her way.

"No need to be so scared, my dear girl," he said evenly with a little smirk. "I simply want to see how you've improved and if you can be improved further."

She shook her head. "What happened to Remy?" she asked in a shaky voice. "You're not him."

"No, I'm not," he replied.

"Well, bring him back," she said.

"Not until he's needed," not-Remy answered.

But that just got Charlie mad as she narrowed her eyes at him and squared herself up as tall as an almost-ten-year-old could get. "You bring him back right now or I'll — I'll scream so loud!"

He smiled at that. "That's your father talking," he said in a pleased tone.

"He's going to kick your butt when he finds me," she said, still drawn up and glaring defiantly.

"He's not going to find you unless I let him, Charlotte," he told her.

"Nobody calls me that," she said, starting to edge away from him toward the nearest door, totally terrified but still holding the glare. "If you were really Remy, if you paid any attention, you'd know that."

"I'm well aware of the ridiculous name those simians call you," he shot back coldly. "It's not fitting for a young lady of your age."

She glared at him with both of her hands in fists at her side. "Well, you don't know anything."

"A wild exaggeration, to be sure. You'd be correct to say that I don't know much anymore," he agreed. "But I will."

"No, you won't," Charlie said before she broke into a run for the door — though to her frustration, she didn't get very far at all, running practically right into that same huge guy from before like a human wall. She didn't know the first thing about fighting anyone, but she did know that getting kicked in the shins hurt, so she did that. The big guy picked her up of the ground instead of getting as upset like the kids on the playground would if she tried that.

"Put me down! Let me go! I want to go home!" she screamed at him as loud as she could, loud enough that if anyone was around, surely they would hear it too. But no one came to help her, and she couldn't do anything but scream and cry as the big guy carried her toward the stairs.

Logan had gone back to working on his bike when his cell phone rang again with Storm calling, and not too long after he'd sent Remy off to leave with one of the bamfs.

He shook his head when he saw who it was and answered it with a smirk, though he didn't get more than a 'hello' out before Storm cut across him asking if Remy had other things he was doing before he returned to LA.

"Sounded to me like he was in a hurry to get back," Logan pointed out.

"Well, he's not here," Storm said in a clearly exasperated tone.

"Alright, calm down," he said, standing up and putting his socket wrench down. "I'll go see if the bamf came back. Let me call you back once I figure this out."

"Call me back sooner if he's not there," Storm said.

"You got it," Logan agreed, already pushing the door to the house open. He didn't get far before he found the kids and the majority of the bamfs. He took in the group — happily watching a movie — and then picked up one of the bamfs by the scruff of his neck. "Where's your little buddy?" he asked. "He was supposed to come back."

But when the little guy made a face at him and started to chatter, Logan was quickly rolling his eyes. "Fine. Don't be useful. I'll just take it up with the Elf. Oughta put freakin' trackers on you little bastards.…" He was grumbling to himself all the way until he found Kurt and Kate in the dining room, nibbling on more 'imperfect' cookies with their coffee. "I need to find one of your imps," Logan called out. "Now."

Kurt got to his feet at that and frowned, disappearing immediately in a poof of blue smoke to track down the little guy — but a few minutes later, he reappeared, shaking his head. "One is missing, but I can't find him," he said, clearly worried. "There must be some kind of shielding wherever he is."

As soon as Kurt reappeared empty-handed, Logan was back on the phone with a growl, already on his way to talk to Scott when Storm picked up. "Bamf is missing along with him. Taking it to Scott."

He was halfway down the hall when Kaleb caught up with him. "Where's Charlie?" he asked, running to keep up. "She shoulda come back by now, and she's missin' the movie!"

Logan stopped and turned his way with a frown. "Where did she go?"

Kaleb shrugged with both hands out. "I dunno … she went with Gambles. They do stuff all the time."

Logan closed his eyes and cursed under his breath before he broke into a run for Scott's office. "Slim! We got a problem!"

Scott was on his feet before the door was even open, given the tone Logan was using. "What's going on?" he asked, already joining him in the hall to head for either the hangar or the garage, whichever was needed.

"The Cajun disappeared. He was here, called Storm, and took a bamf to get back home," Logan said evenly, though both of them were headed toward the hangar once Logan pulled Scott's arm that direction. "One of the kids said Charlie left with him, and no one's heard from him."

Scott stopped cold. "What."

"Charlie disappeared with Remy," Logan repeated. "I don't have a solid plan, but I'm thinking I'll grab Kurt and head to Chicago. We gotta get Rachel to get movin' on it."

Scott shook his head and started moving again, clearly more upset than before as he nodded. "Right. I'll talk to Storm and work from that end."

Logan handed him his cell — with Storm still on the line — before he started to run toward where Kurt was. "Call me on Kurt's."

"Tell Rachel to call me the second she's found either of them," Scott called after him.

"You got it," Logan replied just a few moments before Scott heard Kurt swear in German, followed by the telltale sound of a teleport.

Scott stared down the hall for just a second longer before he got on the line with Storm. "I'm going to need to know everything that's been going on with Remy," he told her.

Charlie couldn't open the door to the bedroom where she was from her side of the door — though she tried that — and the window was too high up. She had seen movies where people were able to climb out on vines, but there weren't any by her window to try that on either, and she was still kind of hyperventilating.

She didn't like the bedroom. It had a bed her size and soft pillows and a few dolls and a dollhouse to play with, but she didn't really like dolls. She was almost ten, and she would rather read books.

There was a bookshelf in her room, but she hadn't looked at it yet, because she was too upset to read, and she climbed onto the seat underneath the window with her knees tucked up under her chin to hug them close to her chest. This was not her room. She wanted her bunk bed with Chance, and she wanted her music and her books and her brothers and sister.

She wanted Remy back too, because she knew he was in there. She had been able to feel his song underneath the bad guy's song, that sort of sing-song cadence that he usually had, even though it was caked in fear and anger and helplessness and a lot of the same stuff she was feeling, too.

She had been hiding, balled up in her corner, for a good long time before, this time, she felt something different. It wasn't the dull sort of background noise that the big guys around the mansion had, but it didn't quite sound like music either. Like it was muffled. But … it sorta… kinda felt familiar. Like Rachel felt. Brassy and kind of loud, but not in an annoying way.

She picked her head up and listened harder, and she thought she could hear it again, so she tried to remember how Rachel had taught her to send her thoughts out. She was pretty sure if she could feel Rachel, then Rachel could find her, so she very, very loudly thought about where she was and how much she wanted to go home so her sister could find her.

When Logan and Kurt had first arrived in Chicago, Kitty was instantly thrilled to see them, but on seeing the nearly identical expressions they both were wearing, that faded out quickly, and she was at their side in a blink, listening to what had happened.

And by the time they'd found Rachel, she was already looking for her little sister in the new, more advanced version of Cerebro in their basement. I heard it when you explained to Kitty, Rachel projected out. And I already told Dad I'm workin on it.

At that, all three of them backed out of the room to leave Rachel to her work, and thankfully, it wasn't long before Rachel both projected and shouted at once. "Got it!"

They rushed back to her as she was concentrating, trying to break through a psychic barrier … "It has to be man-made," she said. "... I can't find the exact spot, but I know generally where we need to go."

"Give me an idea, and I will get us closer; we can search from there," Kurt said.

Rachel looked up at him with fire in her eyes as she projected the location she'd found to him, and an instant later, they were in Washington.

"Get Scott," Logan said to Kurt.

Kurt nodded. "I'll be right back," he promised, disappearing in a poof of blue and reappearing only moments later with Scott in tow, looking both furious and worried, somehow at the same time.

"You found her?" he asked Rachel first and foremost.

"She's somewhere with psychic shielding," Rachel said, coming clean. "But I could feel her."

Scott nodded, already looking around them at the trees. "Well, can you follow that feeling?" he asked. "Or is this as close as you can get?"

"I can probably follow it closer …" Rachel said.

Scott and Logan shared a look, and Logan headed wordlessly out into the woods, starting a search pattern at a dead run.

Rachel was still concentrating hard when Logan hit the comms. "You're not going to believe this, Scott. I've got a thick scent trail from a group of Marauders."

Scott stopped in the middle of his search and shook his head hard. "That's — that's not possible. Unless… someone's co-opted them…"

"I didn't think so either …" Logan replied, and there was a short pause. "Cajun's in the middle of the trail. It's light, but there is no doubt it's him."

Scott brought a hand to his face and slowly brought it down. "Alright. I'll catch up to you," he said, already starting to run to catch up. "What is he doing…" he muttered, half to himself.

"I just got his scent, not his intentions," Logan replied quietly.

Scott caught up to Logan about the same time that the trail got a little stronger, closer to a clearing in the trees that opened up to the large, sprawling grounds of an old home. "Any other scents?" Scott asked.

"Marauders and Swamp Rat," Logan said. "Charlie's scent is light enough though I can't tell you for sure if they carried her or if it's just leftover from him holding her earlier."

Scott nodded, though he had a hand on the visor he carried just in case. "Right," he said, falling into step with Logan as they headed for the large house.

"I can take 'em down if you spot her," Logan said quietly.

"If I find her, I'm not going to need help," Scott told him frankly.

"Just get her out, and I'll keep your path clear. I don't want her to see what happens after."

Scott nodded and then paused and glanced Logan's way. "Last time, before Azazel, he had Daken's powers."

Logan turned his way and nodded. "But that was in his body. If he's using Remy, he's only got what Remy's got." He paused and drew in a deep breath. "That was part of why he kept bits and pieces of all of us. Or why he kept picking us up."

"That's assuming he hasn't moved on from Remy — or isn't using him remotely," Scott pointed out.

Logan stopped and let out his breath. "I know he seems like it, but he's not a monster. If he didn't have the stuff to take control of him telepathically, he can't do that. And if he had … he wouldn't have gotten through Noh's system."

"I just don't want to underestimate him," Scott said quietly as they headed through the gardens, overgrown from disuse.

"I'm not," Logan promised. "We know what he likes to give himself. I'm just trying to be sure that I'm not going to back down if I can find an opening to take him out."

Scott nodded at that, and the two of them hit the back door — what was probably a staff entrance to the house — a moment later. Scott blasted the door off its hinges, and the two of them plunged inside, with Rachel and Kurt teleporting in after them to start tearing through Marauders as well.

The fight with the hulking brutes was just as miserable and tough as they ever could remember it being, but as they got closer to the traditionally styled lab that was set up overlooking the gardens, it was clear that Nathaniel Essex, as they knew him best, simply was not there. Not in body, anyhow. The glare of pure hatred aimed their way by Remy was shocking — the glow in his eyes even more so, even for a group of hardened X-Men. It just wasn't what they expected to see, especially from a friend.

"I can knock him out, Slim," Logan said between slashes.

"It would give Rachel a chance to find Charlie," Kurt added.

"Do it," Scott said, blasting back a Marauder that got too close with a little more ferocity than usual.

Logan kicked the Marauder he was fighting high in the chest and then made a rush for Remy. For a moment, it looked as if Sinister had some serious control over Remy as the cards flared up in his hand and he twirled the bo-staff with the other.

But Remy was fighting him.

The charges on the cards flared for a moment before they dimmed down to nothing, earning a growl from the man inhabiting Remy's body half a second before Logan landed his first hit. The cards went flying, and the bo staff swung up, but it was obvious that Essex had never truly trained with the thing.

His attempt at defense was weak, especially with Logan going in and utilizing his vast library of martial arts. It didn't take long before Remy's body was laid out unconscious and still, bleeding through his nose and mouth as the others cleared out the room of what was left of the Marauders, leaving Scott free to start calling out for Charlie.

"Logan — basement," Scott called out as he took the opposite direction, running up the stairs that led towards the bedrooms.

"On it," Logan called back, sending a fist full of claws through the Marauder he was fighting before he took off at a run.

But to Scott's relief, he and Rachel found Charlie upstairs in an old-fashioned bedroom, not downstairs in a cell or on a table. As soon as the door was open, Charlie looked up from where she was curled up in a window seat and then immediately rushed for them, and Scott dropped to one knee to catch her in a hug and to reassure her that she was safe now.

"I knew you were coming," she whispered into the hug.

Scott nodded and kissed the side of her head. "We brought Logan and Kurt with us too," he told her, just to make sure she knew that there were enough people to keep her safe.

"I know," she said, still hugging him and holding on tight. "I could hear them. I heard Rachel when she found me."

Rachel crouched down to give Charlie a hug as well, pulling her tight. "You were reaching out, weren't you?"

Charlie nodded and hugged her for a while longer before she picked her head up. "You gotta save Remy too," she said, entirely serious and wide-eyed. "I know he looks like the bad guy, but it wasn't him! He's still inside there."

"We're taking him with us," Scott promised.

"Good." She nodded and straightened up a little, still holding onto Scott as he picked her up to carry her out of there.

When Scott got back downstairs, he could hear a large fire crackling below them, and when Logan emerged from the basement, he was smoking. "Something I picked up from the missus," he admitted with a nearly imperceptible smirk Kurt's way. "Nothing will be salvageable," he added to Kurt as he and the Elf picked up Remy to bring him along, tied and gagged.

Kurt smirked Logan's way in response. "It's a good policy to have."

"You really missed out when we went after Victor," Logan said conversationally. "Nothing but big fires and whiskey."

Kurt let out a sigh. "And here I could have been doing that instead of spending quality time with my father."

"Anything's better'n that," Logan pointed out. "It was really good whiskey, too. Hated using what we didn't drink it to set the next fire."

"Sounds like a waste," Kurt said, shaking his head.

"If you'd have been there, we wouldn't have had to burn your share. Ask the bamfs; they liked it too."

Kurt shook his head. "You are mean-spirited."

"I'll remember that next time I get a chance to disappear with your wife with no warning."

Kurt gave him a look for that one. "That was not my doing." But then he caught the smirk Logan had and had to simply slug him in the arm.

By that time, the three Summerses had come down to join the others, and Charlie looked overly concerned when she saw the state Remy was in. "He's still Remy in there," she told Kurt.

"Remy was fighting him," Logan reassured her. "He's still there."

Charlie nodded once. "He's so mad," she said, a bit wide-eyed as the bamf who had come with her and Remy attached himself to her, smoothing out her hair and kissing her cheek repeatedly.

"He's only gonna get madder," Logan said, watching her carefully. "You alright, punkin'?"

She snuggled the bamf and made sure to give him a kiss too before she glanced up at Logan. "I knew you guys were gonna find me," she said. "I heard Rachel looking."

"Weren't gonna leave you alone, little darlin'."

Charlie nodded at that, though by then, she was tired and scared and tired of being scared, so she simply hid in her father's shoulder all the way home.

Chapter Text

Once everyone who had gone to rescue Charlie arrived at the mansion, Logan and Kurt moved quickly to get Remy into a cell that made use of a psychic Faraday cage to keep Essex from leaving or possessing anyone else.

Scott's first priority was getting Charlie to Hank, though once they split from the others and Remy, Charlie held on a little tighter when they got down to the lab, suddenly refusing to let go as she shook her head at both Hank and Scott. "I just wanna go home," she told Hank, halfway hiding behind Scott. "To my room."

"You know Hank won't hurt you," Scott told her softly before he kissed the side of her head. "And when we're all done, I'll take you to your room myself."

She glanced up at Scott and then over at Hank and pushed out her lower lip. "I know," she said. "But I don't wanna be here anymore. You're really not making me feel any better when you're all scared too. I want Chance. And Cody and Chloe and Mom and—" She shook her head and then buried her face in Scott's shoulder again.

Scott paused and tipped his head to the side. "Not everyone is scared, sweetheart, and Chance and Cody and Chloe and Mom are all upstairs."

She picked her head up and gave him a look. "You shouldn't lie to me, Dad. I know what everybody's feeling."

"I'm not — I wouldn't lie to you," he said seriously.

"Well then, somebody lied to you, because everybody's scared — and they were all scared at that big house too. Remy too." She paused and frowned. "Except the man inside Remy. He wasn't scared at all."

Scott stared at her for a moment. "Well he should be," Scott told her at last. "Logan and Kurt have him locked up, and Rachel is going to help get him out of Remy."

She nodded at that and put her head back on Scott's shoulder. "Can you stay, please?" she asked after a moment, still holding on tight.

"Of course," he said, settling in with her and squeezing her gently.

And while Hank was very gently examining Charlie, everyone else was further down the hall, where Essex and Remy were trapped in the cell. It was surreal for all three of the X-Men to see the familiar look of disdainful loathing directed their way by Remy, not to mention the total lack of an accent when he would address them.

Once Rachel had joined the other two, he glared deeper and then broke into a sneer. "Did you really think it would be so simple?" he asked. "That I wouldn't have plans in the works? Me?"

"Do you really think you're a more powerful psychic that I am?" Rachel challenged. "Clinging to another person's psyche, too weak to do anything but hide?"

"How long has it been?" Essex countered easily. "That you knew nothing?"

"How often have you been around me?" Rachel replied with some heat. "Had I seen him before now, this never would have gotten so far. Which is why you made sure he wasn't around me." Her eyes flared up with fire as she sought out the parasitic entity.

Remy's eyes were glowing as Essex spoke. "That may be true more recently, but my dear girl, do try and think for a moment instead of rushing in like your father."

"No, this reaction I get entirely from my mother," she countered.

Essex tipped his head to the side. "Perhaps," he allowed. "But if you would exercise any of that genetic potential for intelligence, you would realize that I had not turned my interest from Remy LeBeau for years now. So I ask you again: how long has it been? How deeply do you think you will have to go — and how much will be left when you are through?"

"Considering that I've been mapping out where you've been hiding this whole time? More than enough to get him back." She pressed him backward telekinetically as she reached deeply into Remy's mind, safeguarding all that Essex hadn't infected even as the parasite tried to talk his way out. She was fully intending to burn him out bit by bit, protecting what was Remy LeBeau with her flames and isolating Essex in an ever shrinking circle.

And what will your dear sister say when you've made a vegetable of her favorite teacher?

I won't, Rachel replied. I learned from the best. I know what I'm doing. In spite of the fire, she was all cool confidence.

Do you really? Essex asked. I know the truth, my dear.

Which truth? The one where my father already banished you from a body, or the one where Charles and my mother taught me how to deal with creatures like you?

The truth in which you are not as in control as you let others believe.

All evidence to the contrary, she replied easily. Nice try, but I learned how to ignore smack talk from the best too.

And I suppose that means there have been no Phoenix incidents? Funny, I seem to recall you needing to be restrained and depowered to have your little family. How selfish to put them in danger that way.

Something else you know nothing about. The fires flared up around him, trapping him with no room to wriggle, let alone push his way out. And you're not anything that will take near that much control.

Then you had better hope that I am only here, and nowhere else.

If you are, I'll burn you there too.

But, my darling girl, how will you find me?

Why would I tell you that? Rachel asked before she sneered his way and burned all of his essence that was hidden inside Remy's mind.

For a moment, there was silence in the cell before Remy put a hand to his head and shook it hard. "You get 'im out, petit?" he asked hoarsely.

"I did," Rachel replied with a little smirk. "Are you okay?"

"If he gone, den ain't no reason not to be," Remy said, then waved one hand. "Don't matter anyhow," he said as he looked between the others. "Remy gon' be fine — y'all bes' be checkin' on Miss Charlie."

Charlie was nicely settled in after Hank had looked her over, and while no one had actually told Chance what was going on, he somehow had found his way down as well and was trying to peer over Hank's shoulder to watch everything he did, hopped up on the counter as Hank got the supplies together for an IV for the little girl.

But the difference for Charlie was plain to see just having him around, as his boundless curiosity and enthusiasm was clearly better for her than the worry Hank and Scott had been sharing — even if both of the adults had tried to get a handle on that anyway. It was simply hard for them to do that much when both of them knew what Essex was capable of.

But Chance? Chance was grinning as he watched Hank set Charlie up, explaining to her that he was just going to make sure she was well hydrated before she went upstairs.

"What's that?" Chance asked as he watched Hank set up the bag.

"Just a little something to help your sister get back on her feet and back to her old self as soon as possible," Hank promised him, though when Charlie looked a little apprehensive about the whole thing, Chance hopped down from the counter and climbed in on the other side of Charlie from where Scott was still holding her hand — she wasn't going to let him let go, either. Chance pulled a blanket up around their knees, and both of them watched Hank set up the IV before Chance grabbed hold of Charlie's hand as soon as it was done.

"That," he told her, wide-eyed, "was so cool."

Charlie started to shake her head at her brother, smiling despite herself. "No it wasn't," she argued. "I don't like needles."

"You get to get speedy-healing stuff in you!"

"It's just saline," Hank assured Charlie when she glanced up at him. "Nothing like what Noh gets, for example."

"Oooh, but can you imagine if you got alien stuff?" Chance continued, totally unperturbed.

Charlie rolled her eyes at him. "I don't need alien stuff."

"But you could get super strength or something maybe," Chance reasoned. "Like — like Leslie Ann was telling me about Captain Marvel!"

"I don't want alien stuff," Charlie told him.

"Okay, but you're missing out," Chance told her, nodding along.

She rolled her eyes at him and then gave him a hug, finally letting go of Scott in favor of messing with her brother — who was clearly the better emotional anchor anyway.

And that freed up Scott to very quietly have a word with Hank on the results of his examination of Charlie. Thankfully, it seemed that there was nothing worse to deal with than a blood draw, though they both knew that Charlie would be scared for a while.

It wasn't too long after Rachel was done going over Remy's mind very thoroughly before he was led out to the med bay by Logan and Kurt, with Rachel taking up the tail end of their little parade. Even though Remy was sure he was fine, everyone knew that Hank wasn't going to let him go anywhere without a full medical work up too.

But while Rachel was already where she wanted to be, near enough to Charlie to reassure her, the other two X-Men simply shared a look with each other before they left in a swirl of smoke to let everyone do what needed to be done, in spite of Remy's mild protests about not needing any intervention.

Charlie motioned Rachel over while Hank was looking Remy over, a little bit wide-eyed and slightly shivering because the saline was cold, but she was smiling all the same. "Did you fix it?" she asked Rachel in a whisper. "I can't feel anybody in there but Remy."

"It's only Remy," Rachel told her. "I looked everywhere and made sure that the other guy wasn't hiding."

Charlie looked relieved to hear it and kept her gaze on Remy as Hank worked. "I'm glad," she said. "He was really scared — and really mad."

"I think everyone was," Rachel told her.

Charlie nodded at that and then raised her voice a bit to call out to Hank: "Can me and Remy be neighbors 'til my IV runs out?"

"Of course," Hank replied, gesturing for Remy to make his way over to the bed nearest Charlie.

And since there was just no way Remy could say no to Charlie at this point, he hopped up beside her and gave her a little smile. "You look mighty comfy all tucked up wit' your brother and your blanket."

"She's cold," Chance explained, though he had to add in a teasing whisper, "I bet alien stuff isn't cold."

"Chance, stop," Charlie said, shaking her head at him.

But Chance grinned wider at her and launched into his explanation of how Charlie was missing out, which turned into a story of how their cousin Leslie Ann was good friends with Captain Marvel, and wasn't that so cool? And so on and so on as Charlie shook her head at him and stayed perfectly curled up until the saline was finally finished and Hank took the IV out so she could go.

And while Scott was totally prepared to take her upstairs just like she'd made him promise, she didn't go right to him after she hopped down, instead climbing up beside Remy to wrap him in a hug for a good, long time.

"You don't have to be mad anymore," she told him after a long moment.

"It's awful hard to jus' forget bein' mad like dat," Remy told her quietly. "But we kin always try."

She nodded and then smiled up at him. "Are we gonna learn that when we do more lessons, maybe?" she said, just the slightest hint of teasing in her tone.

"You some kinda joker, petit," he said with a tired smile.

She grinned up at him a little wider. "Well, I got a good teacher," she said, then hugged him one more time to make sure it sank in. "I'm really glad you're okay. I was really scared."

"You should know by now: your daddy ain't gon' let anyone cross you," Remy replied.

"I know," she agreed. "But I was also scared for you." She gave him another hug. "So I'm really, really glad you're okay."

"I'm glad you okay too," he said, snuggling her into a little tighter hug.

Upstairs, Kurt and Logan found K and Kate sitting side by side with the little ones passed out on the carpet while they watched a movie. And when they saw the boys, both women waved them over, with Kurt tucking in behind Kate and half propping her up as she snuggled into him, one hand over his to rest on her protruding stomach as they liked to do.

"So, what was the story? Who wanted to die?" K asked as the two of them scooted closer to make room.

Logan sat down next to her and pulled her closer for a little kiss on the side of her head. "Sinister possessed Remy," he said quietly. "Rachel dealt with him."

"Wait. What?" Kate sat up a little straighter with a serious frown.

"We knew he could jump bodies," Kurt said. "We didn't realize that he'd use people he'd 'improved' in the past, though."

"Oh, this …this just changes everything," K said softly, and Logan let out a little sigh and nodded his head.

"Rachel burned him out of Remy's mind," Kurt said. "He won't be an issue there, and she is going to Chicago to use their version of Cerebro to check to see if there are any more traces of him." He leaned back. "As powerful as he thinks he is, no one can stand up to Rachel."

"Right," K said, looking completely skeptical. "Even though everyone thought he was dead for all this time. Not going to believe that."

"He was nothing like the Sinister we knew," Kurt said almost soothingly. "He only had Remy's powers, nothing more."

"For now," K argued. "I just went through the same routine with your father gathering bits and pieces. I'm not … No."

"She has a point," Kate said, tipping her head back to look up at Kurt.

Logan got to his feet and pulled K up with him. "Let Scott know I'll catch him in the morning." Logan's tone was decidedly more subdued that he'd been earlier as he picked up James and got Elin on her feet while K managed to get Sadie. "I'm sure Rachel will let us know whatever she comes up with."

Kurt frowned after them as they left, and Kate glanced up at him. "That bad?" she asked quietly.

"Not as bad as it could have been," he admitted. "Charlie was able to reach out, empathically, and we found her quickly."

"Yeah, but…" Kate let out a breath. "He just waltzed right through everything. All the security we've been working on for years."

"It was a fluke infiltration," Kurt tried to reassure her. "Rachel has theories on how it worked; most of them point to the lack of a psychic here as a line of defense."

Kate leaned back into him. "I can see that," she admitted slowly before she let out all her breath. "This… is gonna keep me up nights until Rachel sounds the all-clear."

"I'm sure that Rachel will have it figured out soon enough," he said before he kissed her head. "Charlie has the best support system she could wish for, and she'll be perfectly fine."

Kate nodded at that. "She will be," she agreed.

"To be honest: I'm just as concerned about Logan," Kurt said with a sigh.

"Seriously?" Kate glanced up at him. "Was it that bad with Sinister?"

"No, Logan properly knocked Remy silly, and Rachel removed him," Kurt said. "No … this is about K shutting him down. He'd talked her around to another little one."

"He did not!" Kate turned back to look at him, beaming.

Kurt chuckled and nodded. "He did. Shortly after Lisbet's wedding."

"Umm, that's kind of perfect, you know that?" Kate said, grinning wider as she rested her other hand on her stomach. "Our elfling needs a Howlett."

"Except that you missed what she just said, apparently," Kurt pointed out.

"I didn't hear anything about babies in there at all. I don't speak secret-growly-language."

Kurt laughed outright. "Then you have been missing a lot of conversations over the years," he teased. "That was a solid 'no', reneging on the green light, as it were."

Kate looked put out as she thought it over, pushing her lower lip out. "Well… only because of Sinister, though, right? I mean… what if Rachel clears everyone? If Remy was the last failsafe — I mean, he's not immortal."

"That sounds like a desperate argument," Kurt replied. "And fine points that I'm sure Logan will bring up when K becomes a bit more reasonable and not so reactive."

"I don't really blame her," Kate admitted, pulling his arm over her. "Not just because it royally sucked last time but… if he's taking an interest again because the kids are getting older ... Charlie's just the first, you know. To get powers, I mean."

"Yes, and he studied Charlie and Elin and Krissy," Kurt said, nodding. "And was clear that he wanted to study the full life cycle."

"Exactly." Kate pulled him around herself a little tighter. "So, yeah. I can't really blame her."

"No," Kurt agreed, kissing her temple. "But I'm in agreement with Logan on this one. There's no reason to put our lives on hold for anyone like that."

"Also a very good argument," Kate admitted. "And like you said, at least he doesn't have all those powers. If he's even still out there." She glanced up at Kurt. "What do you think? Honestly? Because if you tell me you don't think he's out there still, I'll believe you."

"Honestly, if he was going to gather abilities, he'd likely take someone other than one of them. He used Daken last time," Kurt said. "But I do not think that Rachel would leave even the barest of traces of the man."

Kate thought about it for a moment and then kissed his cheek. "Alright," she said. "Then I guess… we'll just try to lay that ghost to rest. Again."

Charlie had a hard time falling asleep that night, and she'd asked Scott to stay with her until she did, but even after she'd eventually fallen asleep, he hadn't been able to.

Eventually, it got to be morning anyway, so he very carefully slid out of the semi-cramped position he had been in Charlie's bunk bed with her sleeping on his side to head downstairs. He got the coffee going and figured, while he was up, he would put together breakfast for his family.

They started trickling down one at a time — Cody and Chloe first and then Annie, then Chance … and finally a still-sleepy Charlie made her way downstairs after the rest of the kids had already eaten and had stolen Annie away to play Uno with them.

She nibbled on her toast for a bit, sitting so close to Scott that she was practically sitting on his lap anyway, before she rested her head on his arm and let out a sigh. She glanced up at Scott and, finally, she told him very quietly, "You never get that scared." She watched him carefully. "Even when you fight bad guys."

"That's because I was worried about you," Scott promised.

She tipped her head to the side. "Scared and worried are different things."

"I know. And I was both worried about you and scared that something might go wrong," Scott said.

She nodded thoughtfully, chewing on that thought for a while before she moved on from it. "Nobody told me what happened," she said. "Rachel said she kicked the bad guy out of Remy, but… nobody told me who the bad guy was or why he got Remy's head all twisted up."

"That … is a very complicated question," Scott said with a sigh.

"I'm almost ten, Dad. I can keep up."

"I know," Scott said with a little smirk. "That's not what I meant. There are just a lot of things that I don't want to touch any of you kids."

She smiled up at him and hugged his arm. "That's why Noh and Forge and Iron Man and you and everybody works on the fence all the time. I know," she told him. "And I know about Krissy's grandpa, and about how Logan and K went after Tyler's first dad. I know more than people tell me."

"I know you do," Scott said, clearly a bit uncomfortable with the direction the conversation had gone. "But this is one that I don't like to talk about."

"Because he scares you?" Charlie asked, perfectly open.

Scott's mouth opened, and for a moment, he couldn't really speak. But he couldn't lie to her, not when she could see through him so transparently. "That … and this bad guy has been after me for my whole life. Since I was about your age, actually."

"Oh." Charlie watched Scott with wide eyes. "That's a long time."

Scott smirked at her and nodded. "Yes, it is."

"He said I talk like you," Charlie told him after a moment.

"Of course you do," Scott told her. "I'm proud of the young woman you're turning out to be, and if you picked up any good from watching me, I'm proud of that too."

She glanced up at Scott and then hugged him again. "I'm really glad Rachel made him leave Remy alone. He shouldn't be mean to you or to Remy or anybody."

"He's just like that," Scott said gently. "He always has been."

She glanced up at him and nodded. "But Rachel kicked him out. She said she got rid of him."

"She did," Scott agreed. "And she's going to make sure that he isn't hiding in anyone else either."

"So how come you're still worried?" she asked. "Rachel is really good at taking care of things."

"She is. I just thought we'd gotten rid of this bad guy a long time ago," he told her.

She scrunched up her nose as she thought about it. "Yeah," she said, nodding slowly. "He said he didn't know a lot because he was gone."

"And we'll make sure he stays that way."

She smiled up at him and then gave him a much longer hug. "I know you will."

As the two of them were curled up and generally enjoying each other's company, Logan found his way past them, silently padding into the kitchen to grab a couple mugs of coffee fully intending to return to K before the kids got up. The only thing that tipped off the Summerses that he was there was the sound as he poured the two mugs full. But where Scott wasn't entirely sure on who it was without looking, Charlie knew right away.

"Oh, hi, Logan," she said, her head popping up from the hug. "You shouldn't be so sad; Dad says Rachel's going to kick bad guy butt," she told him with a teasing smile.

Logan had to chuckle a little at that as he stopped in the doorway to look her way. "I'll keep that in mind, princess."

"You were just so happy, and I like being around happy, and you really shouldn't be sad." She turned a little more so she could see him. "Remy said it's hard to stop feeling something like being scared for a little while, but you should try it."

"I'll be fine," Logan promised. "Don't worry about a thing. You got plenty to handle on your own."

Charlie glanced up at Scott and then hopped down from her seat to run over to Logan to throw her arms around him in a hug — and seeing as she was a Summers and was gaining on him in height pretty rapidly, it would have been a substantial half-tackle if not for the weight the adamantium gave him.

"What's that for?" Logan asked, having set the mug down just before she latched onto him — and hugging her right back.

"You're so disappointed," she said quietly. "And I don't know why. And I know lots of people were scared and angry and sad and upset, but you're disappointed and …" She shook her head. "I dunno why. So I think you need hugs."

He let out a breath. "Don't worry about it," he said. "And quit listenin' to Hawkeye about the hugs. That's nonsense." He gave her a final squeeze and stepped back. "Longer you have your abilities, the sooner you'll know that's usually the case with me. It's fine."

She closed one eye as she shook her head at him. "Hawkeye didn't send me; you just needed hugs," she told him. "And if you're gonna be sad all the time, I'm just gonna keep doing it, because I know you like hugs."

"Now you're just arguin' to argue," he told her, picking up the mugs. He tipped his head at Scott. "Come get me when you're ready." He didn't wait for Scott to answer before he disappeared again, nearly jogging up the stairs as Kate and Kurt were headed down.

"What was that all about?" Kate asked as she came in, shaking her head in Logan's general direction.

Charlie shook her head right back at Kate as she sat back down by her dad. "I tried giving him a hug so he would stop being sad, but it didn't work very well," she said. She blew out her breath, and some of her curls moved with it. "I've been giving lots of hugs since yesterday, and it doesn't work very well."

"Logan can be particular about who the hugs come from on any given day," Kurt tried to reassure her.

"Well, I thought maybe he needed hugs from yesterday, but I don't think that's it," Charlie reasoned, biting off a big piece of her toast and glancing up at Kurt.

"No, it's something else," Kate agreed with a little bit of a smirk in Kurt's direction.

"Then you two know what his problem is," Scott said, shaking his head. "Of course you do."

"It's not hard to figure out if you speak growly-language," Kate teased Kurt. "Or, you know, are married to someone who does."

"Yes, well. Months and months of growls and snarls down the drain," Kurt chuckled.

"You guys don't make sense," Charlie told them, though she was smiling all the same. "Did you know that?"

"We like our nonsense, thank you very much," Kurt teased.

"Well, maybe you can help me make Logan feel better," Charlie suggested.

"That is a project much bigger than a little girl can handle," Kurt said.

"I'm almost ten," Charlie said with her arms crossed.

"Then a medium-sized girl," Kurt amended with a grin. "Still. My point remains."

"Well, I can still help," Charlie said obstinately.

Kate grinned at her and shook her head. "Not unless you can magically turn into the Stork."

Both of Scott's eyebrows shot straight up as Charlie made a face at Kate. "So that's what this is about?" he asked.

"He's been working on her for the longest time," Kurt told him in a sigh. "And she changed her mind back to 'no'."

Scott frowned at Kurt for a moment. "Because of — you're kidding."

Kurt shook his head slowly. "Not even a little bit."

At that, Scott honestly looked mad. "She can't let him affect her like that," Scott insisted.

"No?" Kurt asked. "Because it seems like she can."

Scott shook his head. "No. See, if I had to listen to Logan telling me not to let him in my head again, then they can't turn right back around and pull that."

"It's not 'they'," Kurt clarified.

"Of course it is," Scott said. "Because I had to listen to the argument that he's apparently not making to her."

Kurt set his coffee mug down and looked at Scott with a frown. "And what argument is that?"

Scott shook his head. "Going in, he pointed out that Essex isn't all-powerful."

"He's not," Kurt agreed.

"So he shouldn't get to stop anyone on this team from having their families."

"You're assuming that the argument that helped you through that is going to work with K?" Kurt asked with his nose scrunched up.

"I'm saying we just had to deal with his return, and I've just been telling Charlie we're not going to let him come after anyone," Scott said. "Giving up the second he shows up — that's giving him too much power over our lives."

"Scott," Kate said patiently. "Have you ever been pregnant and captive at the same time?"


"No, really. I mean, don't get me wrong. I know you've dealt with the guy for way longer than is okay in any sense of the word? But maybe consider being pregnant and tired and hurting and emotional and dealing with that guy." Kate held his gaze, her argument accentuated by the baby bump. "I know you remember that crap." She held up both hands. "Don't get me wrong; I'm on Team Howlett Number Four? But I'm also on Team Let's Not Send My Friend Into That Spiral Again. So… let it sit for a while. Give Rachel time to do her thing and K time to cool off." At that, she grinned over at Charlie. "Yeesh. Boys are so complicated, aren't they?"

Charlie giggled. "Oh yeah."

"Wanna help me raid the strawberries and powdered sugar?" Kate offered.

"Yes please!" Charlie said, grinning as she hopped down from her chair to help Kate cut the tops off of the strawberries so they could get a big bowl together.

"Are you going to be alright?" Kurt asked conversationally over his mug once the girls were in the kitchen.

Scott gave Kurt a dry look for a moment before he pulled it back and nodded. "Yeah, Charlie's doing alright. She won't let me leave her, though."

"I asked about you," Kurt pointed out. "I'll handle Logan. He's got it under control anyhow."

"If you say so," Scott said with a little shrug.

"I guess the only way we'll know for sure is when and if he gets his way," Kurt said in an airy tone. "If he could get her onto his side before, he can do it again."

Scott leaned back and let out a sigh. "I just don't want her to think it's anything like it was before," he said.

"Scott, she just got out from under my father's control," Kurt pointed out. "Give her some time to process everything. Azazel was not supposed to be able to have the abilities he uses now, but he does. She's being cautious."

Scott waved a hand. "It's her decision. It's fine," he said.

Kurt couldn't help but chuckle. "You have no poker face."

"Sleep-deprivation," Scott said, waving him off. "Charlie had an elbow in my stomach all night."

"Yes, for what, ten years now?"

Scott shot him a dry look. "It's fine," he repeated.

"It will be," Kurt agreed, finally getting up to refill his mug. "More coffee for the 'sleep-deprived' non-poker face?"

Scott rolled his eyes. "Yeah, I think Charlie was saying she wanted to spend the day somewhere quiet. I'll just grab some shut-eye while she's reading, but thanks for the offer," he said as he got up, taking his own mug and plate to the sink — and catching Charlie, powdered sugar-covered and in a much better mood, up on his shoulders to head upstairs.