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A Laying On Of Hands (The 18+18 Remix)

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Professor Charles Xavier, headmaster of his eponymous school as well as leader of the terrorist/superhero group the X-Men, was not used to getting phone calls at the crack of dawn on a weekend. Usually he’d be contacted telepathically, or sometimes an automated alarm would roust he and his students from bed to deal with an emerging mutant or international incident. Still, he had a landline in his bedroom for the few important exceptions to this rule, and the landline was ringing now.

He pushed himself to sit up in bed and rubbed a hand across his eyes tiredly before picking up the phone.

“Hello? Charles Xavier speaking,” he greeted, already pre-planning his response to whatever emergency might be on the other end.

“Headmaster of Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters?” inquired a polished, older, male voice.

“Yes,” he said carefully, already not liking where this was going.

“My name is Edwin Hawkes, and I wanted to let you know I’ll be bringing my son around for an intake interview this morning. I think you’ll find him very gifted.”

Even one of the greatest telepaths in the world was a little slow to start in the morning, and by the time he had started to voice that they were an invitation-only school, Edwin Hawkes was muscling on ahead. “We should be there at 9 am, if there are no delays. We’ll see you then,” he said, and hung up before Xavier could even track him down telepathically to convince him to change his mind.

It was, to say the least, an unusual start to the day.


 

Sure enough, at promptly 9 am, a black town car with tinted windows pulled up the long drive in front of the mansion. Xavier watched it approach from the front-facing window of his study and reached out to the minds within, fully intending to convince them all to turn back around and forget about the school.

There were four people inside the car. The chauffer, an older male mind that must have been Edwin himself, a young male mind who must have been Edwin’s ‘gifted’ son --who was not gifted in the way the Xavier School actually wanted-- and, most interestingly, a young woman—who, remarkably, was.

Xavier chuckled to himself at the irony, and reached out to contact another of his students. #Jean, would you be so kind to meet me out front?# he asked, starting to roll his wheelchair out of his office and towards the foyer as Jean Grey sent her affirmative response.

Jean met him in the foyer, eyebrow raised in curiosity. #We may have something of an unusual intake opportunity,# he thought at her as they pushed through the front doors, just as the chauffer opened the door of the town car. #However, I will likely require your help to convince them to let us capitalize on it.#

#Of course, Professor.# Jean replied, smiling pleasantly.

Edwin Hawkes was a large, well-dressed man with a rigid and uncreative mind. He stepped aside to allow his son to exit the car as he greeted the professor. “Headmaster Charles Xavier, I presume?”

“Yes, and you must be Edwin Hawkes. This is Jean Grey, my associate,” Xavier said politely.

Edwin nodded and pushed his son forward to introduce him. “This is my son, Douglas. I think you’ll find him exceptionally bright and talented, the perfect ‘gifted youngster’ for your school.” Douglas was, in actuality, not gifted, in either sense of the word. Xavier maintained a pleasant smile, regardless. “We’ve been looking for somewhat more… exclusive educational opportunities for him, and I was impressed by the small class size and your alumni. Hank McCoy and Warren Worthington III certainly speak to the quality of education in a range of disciplines.”

The young woman, to Xavier’s disappointment, had apparently been instructed to remain in the car. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Douglas,” Xavier started. “I wonder if you could tell me a bit more about yourself. Do you have any siblings, for instance?”

Behind Douglas, Edwin opened his mouth to protest that this wasn’t a necessary piece of information, but then froze, mouth hanging open, before he could interrupt. #Thank you, Jean.# Xavier thought as Douglas spoke without interruption.

“Yes, Sir. I have two older siblings. Dana and Marcus,” Douglas said promptly.

“And where are they?”

“Marcus is abroad, working for father. Dana’s in the car.”

“Do you suppose I could meet Dana? She might like to attend the school too, after all.”

Edwin sputtered back to life. “I’m sorry. Dana is very shy and she has private tutors. She’ll be staying in the car.”

The slightest of frowns crossed Jean’s face. #Sorry, Professor. I was trying to keep my hold on him as light as possible, and he felt very strongly about that.#

#It’s all right, Jean. I think it may be time for me to intervene as well,# Xavier responded, and reached out with his mind to put a more solid freeze on both Douglas and his father as Jean reached out to calm Dana if necessary.

“Dana, you’re not that shy, are you?” Jean called out to her. “Do you think you could come say hello?”

A very pale face framed by dark brown hair peeked cautiously out of the open car door. “Hello, Dana,” Xavier greeted. “It’s nice to meet you, too.”

“Hello,” Dana said carefully, glancing sharply at her father as if she feared scolding. When none was immediately forthcoming, she stepped delicately from the car to get a better look at her father.

Dana Hawkes was dressed in a simple and modest, but clearly expensive, designer dress that she didn’t entirely look comfortable in. “What’s wrong with my father and brother?” she asked, turning questioning eyes to Xavier and Jean.

“They’re absolutely fine,” Jean said. Better to let Jean do most of the talking, as she was the least intimidating of the two of them, especially to a young woman. “We just wanted to hear you speak for yourself.” Jean smiled kindly. “You’re a very special girl, Dana.”

“I’m not,” she said instantly as if she’d learned it by rote, still wary. She took a few steps forward towards her frozen little brother and pushed firmly against his arm. He didn’t budge. “How are you doing this?”

“You are special, Dana,” Xavier said. “Just like Jean and I are special. Which is how we’re doing this. What do you do, Dana?”

There was a long moment of confusion as her mind raced to put all the evidence together into a cohesive whole. “Are you mutants?” she gasped. She took a few scuttling steps back, but held on to her little brother’s arm, as if she could get him to come with her. He stayed fast. She swallowed. “Please don’t hurt us. Please just let us go.”

Jean took a few steps towards her, with her hands outstretched. “Dana, we’ve no intentions to keep you prisoners or harm any of you. We’d just like to talk. We can tell you’re a mutant.”

“I’m not!” Dana yelled, turning horrified eyes to her father. She was wondering if he’d heard, Xavier noted. “I just—I’m sick. Epileptic or something. I have fits. Pass out.” Tears welled in her eyes. “That’s why I can’t go to school. Why I can’t leave the house much.”

“You are,” Jean said gently. “I can’t tell what the nature of your mutation is, but you’re not sick, Dana. You can go to school. You can go to school here, actually. You’re exactly the sort of ‘gifted youngster’ we teach here.”

Xavier noted a bright flutter of hope in Dana’s heart at that, but it was clamped down ruthlessly only a moment later. She glanced at her father again. “I can’t. He’d hate me forever,” she turned back to Jean. “And I don’t even know you.”

“Dana,” Xavier reassured, “what if I said we could convince your father to let you attend school here, and that he wouldn’t be the wiser?” Dana bit her lip, looking torn. “If you don’t like it here, we’ll take you straight home. No questions asked.”

Dana swallowed. “There are other people like me here?” she asked, tentatively.

Jean smiled. “A whole school full.”

Dana took a long moment, looking back at her father and then at her little brother. “And they wouldn’t know why I was here,” she checked, “because that’s what your mutant powers are. You can do something to their brains.”

“Jean and I have telepathy, yes,” Xavier explained aloud. He suspected speaking to her telepathically at this point would only startle her needlessly. “We can talk, mind to mind, to people without speaking. And I have the ability to convince people of things, like making them miss conversations like the one we’re having now,” he said pointedly.

“But you’re not using it to convince me to come here?” Dana frowned.

Xavier smiled a bit at that. “I don’t think I need my powers to convince you, do I?”

Dana licked her lips, nervously. “What you’re doing… convincing them… it doesn’t hurt them, does it? Doesn’t give them brain damage or something?”

“Absolutely not.” Xavier reassured her.

Dana took a breath, before squaring her shoulders and taking a step forward. “Okay… For now.”

Jean smiled broadly at her and reached out her hand. “Come with me, Dana. We’ll let the Professor do all the talking out here and we can have a little chat inside.”


 

It had taken some time to send Hawkes, his son, and his chauffer off under the impression that they had always intended to have Dana enter the ‘perfectly normal’ school, but it was managed. With the car safely pulling down the long driveway again, Xavier wheeled back inside.

He found Jean and Dana sat together on a couch in the library talking quietly. Jean had both of Dana’s hands in hers and was smiling encouragingly. She looked up at Xavier’s entrance. “Hello, Professor,” she greeted cheerily. “Everything go all right? Dana was just telling me about her ‘fits’.”

“Everything went perfectly,” Xavier said to Dana, who looked in need of reassurance on that account. “Don’t let me interrupt. I’d like to hear this too, if you don’t mind. Please continue, Dana.”

Dana still looked a little hesitant to start, so Jean prompted her. “She was just about to tell me the first time she had one.”

Dana wrung her hands in Jean’s but took a breath and started. “I was 13, I think. It was when mom was sick. She had cancer.” Dana dropped her head, still clearly upset by it. “She was really sick-- the doctors told us all to go and say our goodbyes. I went in and held her hand… and the next thing I remembered I was waking up in bed. Everyone told me I’d passed out.”

“And your mother?” Jean asked.

Dana sounded like she was still in some disbelief. “Mom was still there when I woke up… she’d gotten a lot better overnight, apparently. I wanted to go see her, but father said I’d made myself sick the last time and he didn’t want me to stress myself again. So I stayed in bed. Mom was better for a while, but then got worse again… and then she was gone.”  

“You didn’t see her before she went?” Jean asked in some disbelief.

Dana shook her head. “Father wouldn’t let me.”

“And before she’d gotten to that state? Hadn’t you visited with her before?” Xavier prompted.

She shook her head. “She was at a clinic somewhere. Overseas, I think. Marc would remember better than me. She just came home to die.”

“Do you think it’s possible that you made your mother better?” Xavier suggested. “Perhaps you passed out because you were able to transfer energy to her to heal her, if only partially.”

“Is that even possible?” Dana asked, frowning.

“I think it’s very possible. Mutant powers cover a wide spectrum of abilities. You said you had ‘fits’ plural. What other times has it happened?”

Dana looked up then, in horror, as the pieces came together. “Douglas fell and hurt his arm once. I thought for sure he’d broken it and I went to pick him up and passed out again. It turned out to be just a strain.” She put her face in her hands. “I always thought I was delicate! That I found people in pain so upsetting that I just shut down!” She looked up from her hands with tears in her eyes. “I could have saved her! I could have saved my mother and he wouldn’t let me see her!” she sobbed.

Jean slid closer to her on the couch to take Dana up in a hug. “It was your very first time, Dana. You were still very young, and completely untrained. Even if you’d been given the opportunity to heal her again, it might not have worked. That’s why this school exists, Dana. To train people like you to develop your powers fully.”

“Do you think he knew?” Dana asked, upset turning to anger. “Do you think my father knew I was a mutant? Do you think he kept me away from her on purpose, even though—“ She trailed off, it was too horrible to contemplate. “I have to go back there and pack a bag eventually. How will I ever be able to look him in the face without screaming?”

“I can’t tell you anything for sure,” Xavier said gently. “I honestly wasn’t looking for that information. I think it’s likely he suspected, but how soon he put it all together I couldn’t tell you.”

Dana seemed stunned, hands pressed to her mouth. Jean reached out kindly and brushed a hand down her arm. “How did you even come to be in the car today if you never left your room?”

Dana laughed humorlessly. “We have a deal. He lets me visit my mother’s grave once a month if I stay on my best behavior—if I don’t have any fits or snap at a tutor or something.” She shook her head. “I guess he thought he’d kill two birds with one stone today and he let me visit first thing in the morning and then we came here. What a fluke.”

“We’re very happy you were there for us to find,” Jean said, encouragingly.

Dana answered with a brittle smile, and looked away, clearly not ready to look on anything as a gift, the way Jean did. She took a deep breath and ran her hands through her hair. “So, this school… what’s the curriculum?” she said, changing the topic.

Xavier smiled and allowed it. “That’s somewhat up to you. First of all, I wanted to provide you with an option. The school here in Westchester is skewed a little more post-secondary now, because we have a sister school in Snow Valley, Massachusetts which teaches high school level courses. The students there would be much closer to your age, if you would be amenable.”

Xavier didn’t need to be a telepath to see the alarm obvious on her face. “If I worked very hard to catch up, could I stay in New York?” She looked abashed at what she’d said and how, but continued on anyway. “I know that doesn’t make any sense—I certainly don’t want to go home and see my father any time soon, and who knows when I’ll have the opportunity to see mom again, but… I just like being close by. Just in case.” She clenched her hands nervously. “I’ve no idea where I’m at academically—father always said Douglas was cleverer than I was, even though he’s younger…”

Xavier held up his hand to stem the tide of words. “Of course you can stay. I only want you to be comfortable. Perhaps after years of being only around tutors and family, peers would be overwhelming.” He smiled kindly. “You’ll start here. If you feel like Snow Valley is something you would like to explore, we’re happy to take you over there at any time to get a feel for the campus, but you should not feel any external pressure to do so.”

“And we’re happy to take you to see your mother,” Jean added. “Anytime.”

“Of course.” Xavier nodded.

She blinked at both of them as if she couldn’t quite comprehend, or didn’t believe their offers of kindness. She bit her lip and changed the topic. “So what now? I don’t suppose there are classes on the weekend?”

“Not in the traditional sense,” Xavier agreed. “Besides, you should have some time to settle in. Come Monday we’ll start with some placement testing to see where you are academically. Physical education, we’ll start from the basics.”

Dana wrinkled her nose at that, and Jean couldn’t stifle a chuckle.

“Not a fan?” she asked, smiling a little. “It’s very important for people like us. Physical conditioning assists many mutant powers as well as helps to regulate mutant metabolism, so we need to stay in good shape. Plus, learning personal defense is, unfortunately, also a good idea when it comes to being a mutant.”

“So until Monday, I should just… settle in?” Dana’s lips twisted into a thoughtful frown.

“We’ll keep you busy,” Jean reassured. “Lots of people to meet, and the school is a bit larger than it looks, so we’ll have to give you the tour. And there’s Salem Center, too. It’s a tiny little place, but we can pick you up some clothing and toiletries and things to tide you over until you feel up for getting your belongings from home.”

Dana squirmed a bit at that. “I don’t have any money,” she said, looking down. “Not of my own. There may be a trust, but I don’t have access to it.”

Both Jean and Xavier smiled reassuringly at her obvious discomfort. “Well, your father believes this is a regular private school, so I expect to receive a tuition check soon,” Xavier said with a chuckle. “And believe it or not, you’re not the first unprepared pupil to show up at our door. We’ve had more than our share of runaways or emergency cases. We always expect to take care of some incidentals.”

“Why don’t we go find you a room?” Jean suggested, rising to her feet and offering her hand out. “I bet I can find you a change of clothes, too, just to give you the option of something besides that dress. A t-shirt won’t be quite as nice, but it’ll maybe be more comfortable?”

Dana frowned, clearly having been taught certain lessons about proper attire, and she twisted the hem of her dress in indecision.

“Or, you can just wear them as pajamas,” Jean suggested with a little smile, ushering her out of the room. Dana was distracted enough to almost forget to say goodbye to the Professor, and spun in a panic to offer him a hasty curtsy and a “Thank you!” before she and Jean crossed the threshold of the door.


 

It was uniquely unsettling to be called out on something you were confident you’d been hiding, Sam Guthrie thought, stuffing his hands in his jeans as he walked from Xavier’s study.

He’d been summoned into the room only to find both Xavier and Cyclops waiting for him, and the two of them had systematically laid out his flaws… or at least one big flaw. He could admit to himself he’d been struggling to find his place in the X-Men since being called up from X-Force, but it certainly wasn’t anything he’d say aloud. It was just something he’d planned to work through. There was always gonna be a settling in period as you found your place on a new team—but even he was a little frustrated by how long it was taking him to feel comfortable.

Scott and Xavier had, with their typical insight, put their finger on the possible cause, and Sam was angry with himself that he’d missed it. Sam had been in a leadership (or co-leadership) position on the New Mutants and X-Force since he’d joined—since he was 16. He filled his free time with strategy, keeping personnel happy, and the maintenance of secret bases and equipment. Senior members of the X-Men took care of all of that now, so it was no wonder that he was feeling out of sorts.

He’d assured them he’d take care of it—it was his problem to deal with, after all—but Scott had put him on ‘special assignment’: There was a new mutant at the school who needed some help getting settled, and since he was the youngest (and therefore closest to her age) he was now her official mutant mentor. He had mixed feelings. It was something he was confident doing, but he hated that he had to be told.

He knocked politely on her door. Scott had told him where Jean and the new girl would likely be. He could overhear some conferring on the other side of the door and then Jean’s voice called out, “You can come in, Sam.”

He pushed the door open. Jean was standing inside with a welcoming smile for him, next to a teenage girl that Sam didn’t need telepathy to know she was more than a little overwhelmed. There was too much white showing in her wide eyes.

“Sam, this is Dana Hawkes,” Jean introduced after a beat.

“Sam Guthrie,” Sam said, striding forward with his hand out, only to be brought up short when the girl, Dana, actually curtsied.

“It’s very nice to meet you,” she said primly. She took a moment to look at his outstretched hand, still hanging in the air, and then with the air of the unpracticed and unfamiliar, reached out to take it, cautiously. She squeezed his hand tentatively and then let go, a little too quickly, taking a step back and glancing at the both of them, like she was making sure what she’d done was ok.

So maybe this would be a little bit more of a challenge than usual, Sam thought to himself. He could deal with people freaking out about super villains and sentinels. He could even deal with people who were new to the concept of mutants. But someone unfamiliar with a handshake?

He looked her over again. Xavier had said she was 17, but she was dressed like what he imagined a particularly upwardly mobile MBA might wear. His sister, Paige, was about her age, but they didn’t look like they had much in common. Suddenly his plans of breaking the ice with pop culture or any of the other things his sister seemed to like talking about seemed woefully inadequate. Scott maybe should have sent Warren instead. He was suddenly very aware of his well-worn jeans and t-shirt.

Dana was sizing him up as well, he noticed, biting her lip nervously as she looked at him. “So, what do you…” she started, before deciding to rephrase. “What’s your power?” She cut her eyes over to Jean. “Unless that’s impolite to ask? I’m sorry. I don’t know…”

Jean smiled warmly at her and put a reassuring hand on her arm, and Sam gratefully rushed in to the conversational opening. “No, not at all. That’s why we’re here after all, to learn our powers.” He gave her what he hoped was his most disarming smile. “Ah mean, Ah wouldn’t go shouting the question in a crowd outside this school—plenty a’folks out there might not take kindly to knowing there are mutants in their midst—“

Her face fell at that. “Yes, I know.”

Yikes. That had hit home in an unfortunate way. Time to get back on track. “Ah can fly,” he said a bit abruptly.

“You can?” Dana looked over to Jean again as if she were confirming the possibility. She looked a little impressed.

He rushed to expand on the thought, to keep her interest. “Ah can generate a thermo-chemical field and…” her face was screwing up in confusion, and he changed his approach. “Sort of like a human rocket.”

“That sounds like it could be fun,” Dana said tentatively.

“It can be,” he agreed. “You ever want to go on a little flight, you just let me know.” He smiled. “Ah can carry people while Ah’m flyin’.”

Her eyes lit up at the possibility, but she seemed to quash the idea a moment later. Still, he filed the thought away. Maybe when she was a bit more comfortable and less… controlled, it might be something she let herself enjoy. “What about you?” he asked.

“I think I can heal people, maybe?” She asked, looking again to Jean for reassurance. Jean nodded at her, keeping that warm smile on her face. Sam hoped his surprise didn’t show—honestly, the way she held herself he’d expected something catastrophic. She reminded him of Rogue or Cyclops in a way—someone who had to keep everything bottled up or buttoned up so people didn’t die.

“That’s an amazing power,” he said, truthfully.  First she seemed a bit doubtful, but when his impressed expression didn’t waver, she seemed to blossom under the praise, until she was flushing, and she ducked her head. His smile grew. First and foremost, this girl just needed to learn to have some fun and let herself be a teenager. He wasn’t quite sure how he’d manage that with her, but it had to be easier than keeping Feral in line.

“I’m not very good at it,” she said, still looking at the ground. “Or I’m not very powerful. I couldn’t save my mom when she was sick.”

“My pa died when Ah was a little younger than you,” he murmured, finding a point of common ground between them and seizing on it. It brought her head up at least, and she looked at him, eyebrows raised in surprise. “It was rough. Still is, sometimes,” he murmured sympathetically. “You ever need to talk, my door is always open.” He caught Jean smiling warmly at him out of the corner of his eye.

Dana twisted her hands in front of her. “Where is your door?” she asked quietly, flushing and biting at her lip again. Jean looked like she wanted to pump her fist in victory, and it was all Sam could do to keep his face open and calm.

“Would you feel comfortable with Sam giving you the tour of the school?” Jean asked. “I don’t mind showing you around myself, of course, but Sam’s closer to your age, and he might be able to point out things you’d be interested in?”

Sam bit down on the inside of his cheek so he wouldn’t make any off-hand comments about Jean being telepathic and perfectly capable of knowing what Dana would like.

“I wouldn’t want to keep either of you from anything,” Dana said cautiously. “I’m more than happy to occupy myself.”

Jean was looking at him expectantly, like he didn’t know an opening when one presented itself. Ye of little faith. “Ah have no other plans,” he said, tipping his head towards the still-open door with a smile. “Come on.”

“So, what d’ya do for fun?” Sam asked, trying to figure out where to start on the tour as they walked down the women’s wing back towards the center of the school.

Dana gave a little shrug. “I read. I’ve got-- or at least I had-- a computer I play some card games on. Sometimes I watch videos.”

“What do you do with friends?” Sam asked.

She frowned at him. “I don’t have any. I’m usually not really allowed to leave my room,” she explained. “Or I wasn’t…” she amended. “When Douglas was home from boarding school, or Marc was home visiting—those are my brothers—“ she clarified with a little smile, “sometimes we’d play cards or we’d watch a movie together at the house.”

Oh gosh, Sam thought. That certainly explained a lot.

“I think I had some before mom died,” she continued, shoulders coming up a bit defensively. “There were some girls at school I talked to, and we played together—“ She chuckled self-depreciatingly. “Playing on the swings doesn’t seem like the type of thing someone my age should be doing anymore, though.”

“Ah’m not likely to judge anyone for likin’ to fly through the air,” he teased. “There’s a swingset at the park in Salem Center, and Ah’ve seen plenty of teenagers swingin’ on ‘em, if there aren’t little kids around.”

She didn’t smile back at him. “What should I be doing for fun?” she asked, looking concerned.

“Whatever you want!” Sam said, encouragingly, but the look on her face was more overwhelmed than excited by the prospect, so he changed tactics. “Ah’ve got a sister about your age,” he said. “Near as Ah can tell, she likes goin’ to the mall with her friends, talkin’ with her friends, watchin’ movies with her friends, and rollin’ her eyes whenever her big brother has any advice for her.”

She smiled a little at his joke, but didn’t talk for a while, even though it looked like she had something on her mind to say. He stayed quiet as they walked, hoping to coax it out of her. He was rewarded when she finally said, “I am completely out of my depth.” It was quiet, and said mostly to the floor. “In every single way.”

He reached out and took hold of her upper arm, squeezing gently. It was instinct to reach out and touch, and it was only in hindsight he thought that someone as restrained and buttoned up as she was might not appreciate it. She didn’t flinch away, though. She seemed to actually find it grounding. “Hey. That’s all right. We all were at first,” he explained. “The most important thing is to be comfortable—both at the school and in your powers. Don’t worry so much about bein’ perfect.”

“I just want to make a good impression. I want people to think I’m worthwhile,” she admitted. “This is the only way I know how.”

He chuckled ruefully. “Ah have a secret to tell you,” he said. He waited until she made eye contact to continue. “My first impression here was pretty terrible. When my powers manifested, Ah sort of… fell in with the wrong crowd, and the first time Xavier’s people met me Ah was fightin’ against ‘em.” He scratched the back of his head, still a bit embarrassed about the whole thing, as Dana’s eyes grew large in surprise. “Ah think that if they can forgive me for my temporary villainy, they can probably forgive you a slip in your impeccable manners or if you’re not dressed in your Sunday best.” He smiled as warmly at her as he could. “One thing about Xavier’s… once you’ve found it, you’ll always have a home here. No matter what.”

She looked up at him, doubt clear in her face.

“Ah absolutely promise,” he said with as much sincerity as he could muster.

He hadn’t really noticed the tension she kept in her body, until her shoulders minutely relaxed and the worry lines in her forehead smoothed. “Ms. Grey—Jean-- gave me some clothes,” she said quietly. “T-shirt… sweatpants… they’ve all got the school logo on them.”

“If you want, Ah can take you back to your room and you can change? If you’d be more comfortable?”

The look of distaste was so sudden it almost startled a laugh out of him. “Maybe the T-shirt, but I still can’t see wearing sweatpants in public,” she said, very seriously.

Sam nodded, gravely as he could manage in the face of her expression. “Maybe we can send someone to town later for you for some jeans, if that’s all right?”

She looked down at his own jeans thoughtfully for a long moment. “I guess it must be,” she shrugged. “When in Rome?” she offered with a hesitant smile.

That finally earned a surprised laugh from him. Maybe she’d be okay after all. “Everybody’s a critic,” he said, grinning. “All right. Let’s start with the library.”

Chapter Text

The weekend had gone surprisingly quickly. Dana usually found weekends to pass like molasses with no tutors to distract her from the boredom of being trapped in the house, or worse, her bedroom if her father had guests over. Even though she hadn’t left the grounds of the school, she’d found the days packed and exhausting by comparison, learning new places and meeting new people.

Meeting Dr. McCoy had been the most challenging test of her manners. Sam had tried to warn her that Dr. McCoy looked a bit unusual, but it was one thing to hear that and fully another to meet a furry blue man. This was the kind of monstrous mutant her father had described in his many railings against them when they were mentioned on TV or in the newspaper. Although he also warned of the ones who could hide among humans, which described the rest of the mansion including herself, she supposed. She tried not to feel any shame in that, but wasn’t very successful.

She was proud of herself, though, for not cowering when faced with Dr. McCoy, or flinching when he offered out his massive hand for her to shake. It helped that he was funny and disarming, and Sam seemed so proud of her for keeping her cool that she could almost feel it like a physical thing, which bolstered her courage. Dr. McCoy took her blood pressure and listened to her heart and declared her “hale and hearty,” and expressed excitement about learning more about her capabilities as a healer once she was ready to train her powers. Dana, honestly, was not so excited, since using her powers meant that someone had to be hurt.

Someone very nice had, as promised, picked her up jeans and a simple pair of sneakers. She wore them on Sunday, and Sam complimented her and told her she looked comfortable, which was nice. She felt underdressed, but that was a different kind of discomfort, and much easier to ignore.

Sam introduced her to so many people over the weekend. Bobby, Scott, Logan, ‘Rogue’, Remy, Ororo… she knew there would have been more at a real school, but after so long without much company, even the ten or so at Xavier’s School seemed overwhelming at times. Sam, though, he was nice. Surely he had something better to do than spend the whole weekend babysitting her, but he never complained and he always seemed genuinely glad to see her. He reminded her a bit of her older brother Marc, who she never got to see enough but seemed to be the only person left in her family ever really on her side.  She wanted to write Marc a letter to tell him where she was, but she wasn’t quite sure how to describe things, and she wasn’t sure if he’d still be on her side if he knew what she was.

Sam would not be meeting her this morning. Scott would. Scott was Jean’s husband, and was apparently going to be running her through some sort of fitness test, and then providing she survived that, she’d be doing academic placement tests all afternoon. The fitness test required that she wore the atrocious sweat pants, and she studiously avoided looking in the mirror all morning as she laced up her new sneakers and put her hair in a ponytail to keep it out of her face.

There was a knock on her door precisely at 8 am. It was Scott, as always in his strange sunglasses, there to escort her cartographically-challenged self to the gym so she wouldn’t get lost. Again. She’d had to telepathically call Jean or Xavier for help finding her way a few times over the weekend and was mortified every single time. The embarrassment did distract her, at least, from how weird it was to just think at someone and be answered.

“Good morning, Mr. Summers,” she greeted. For being unable to see his eyes, his facial expressions were remarkably eloquent, and one raised eyebrow and a tilt of his head had her correcting herself. “Scott. Sorry.”

He smiled at her. “It’s all right. I’m sure you’re still feeling plenty unsettled,” he said, as he lead the way downstairs to where the gym was.

“Yeah. Mild understatement,” she said quietly. “Over the past 4 years or so, I’d pretty much assumed I’d be trapped in my room forever, or maybe get institutionalized. And now there’s all this.” She waved her hands to take in the hallway, the mansion, and the grounds beyond. “I know Salem Center is a tiny little town, but the idea of going out in public unaccompanied now…” She shook her head. “I don’t think I’d realized how much I’d changed. I certainly wouldn’t have found it strange at 13.”

“I’m sorry,” Scott said simply.

Dana shrugged. “I’m not dead. Could have been worse. I’m just grateful to have this opportunity now. I’ll do my best to take advantage of it, however long it lasts.”

“We’ll do our best to make it last as long as possible,” Scott said honestly, leading the way into the gym. She’d already gathered most of the school’s fitness was ‘fight training’, and the gym reflected this, with most of the floor space devoted to mats and punching bags. She’d never thrown a punch in her life and couldn’t imagine ever wanting to. She bit at her lip nervously.

“Do you have a routine now?” Scott asked. “Have you played sports or do you run?”

She glanced up at him with a raised eyebrow. “Not since I was 13. And then only in PE class at private school. Not what you’d call strenuous physical fitness.” She shrugged, before a thought came to her. “Oh, I did take a little bit of ballet.” Dad had made her. He’d thought it would make her more graceful. Dance was about the only physical activity he’d thought was appropriate for young ladies of a certain class. Her mom had danced a little, she was fairly certain.

Scott looked relieved at that. “Dance, and ballet in particular, is really fantastic for—“

Dana cut him off. “I only lasted about five lessons,” she said, embarrassed for getting his hopes up. “I kept falling over trying to do grand plies.”

“Oh.” Scott looked down at her and she squirmed under his gaze. She was fairly confident that at this point in her life, she was 10 for 10 at being a disappointment to everyone in the world.

“I’m a blank slate?” she suggested tentatively.

Scott seemed amused despite himself, and chuckled. “A good way to look at it,” he agreed, before moving on. “Okay, so, basic fitness test. You might have had to do this at your school before. We’ll look at some basic measures—strength, flexibility, speed—and that’ll help me figure out what direction we should take your PE classes here.”

Scott lead her through what he assured her was a ‘basic’ warm up. She jogged around the gym a few times, and then there was some stretching. She remembered the importance of warming up from her five dance classes, but she still felt like she were expending her precious fitness reserves before anything even counted. Then came the tests: Pull ups (none), push ups (none from her toes, two from her knees), sit ups in a minute (four), flexibility (maybe she just had really long legs. Touching her toes seemed awfully unattainable.), 100 yard dash (Scott didn’t say her time, but she felt the sigh had been pretty eloquent), and a timed mile (which surely would have been better if she hadn’t taken those laps to warm up. She’d had to walk most of the way.).

At the end of the tests, as she sprawled on the mats, exhausted and embarrassed, she wondered if anyone had ever been expelled for disappointing mile times. She was pretty sure Xavier could have beaten her in his wheelchair. Surely, somewhere, asthmatic mutants existed. Although, the way she was panting, maybe she was an asthmatic mutant.

Scott was making notes on a high-tech digital clipboard that looked like something out of Star Trek. She would have been intrigued if she felt she could move to look at it. “Okay,” Scott said, kneeling down in front of her. “The good news is that whatever I assign you, you’re going to see some pretty amazing improvements.” He grinned at her, and her spirits rose just a little bit in the face of his good humor. “I’ll print off a schedule for you with all the details later, but we’ll start with some gradually improving cardio and strength training, and twice a week you and I will work on self-defense—some boxing, some martial arts, we’ll see what you take to.”

“All right,” she said quietly, hoping that no one else would ever be around while she spent the next year or so humiliating herself in the gym.

“And,” Scott continued, “I have some ongoing homework for you.”

“Yes?” Dana responded, already dreading it but trying not to let it show.

“Your assignment is to be on the lookout for exercise you might actually enjoy.” He smiled at her, reassuringly. “There’s swimming, or cycling. Or you can take up dance classes again. Or if you see some of the other folks here playing pick-up basketball and want to join in. Whatever you want to try, let me know, and we’ll explore that.”

She blinked at him in surprise.

“You know, you are allowed to have fun at school,” he said dryly. “You actually learn more if you do. They’ve done studies.” He rose to his feet and offered out his hand for her to take. “Come on and hit the showers.” He hauled her up with one hand effortlessly, and she marveled at it, even as she got a bit of whiplash. “You did good today, considering. That can’t have been easy.”

She looked at him skeptically. “Good?”

His eyes were serious behind his sunglasses. “You never once quit. There was a lot you couldn’t do, but you never once complained or stopped trying. That’s why I’m not worried about you in the slightest.” He patted her firmly on the shoulder blade, as she looked at him stunned. It hadn’t even occurred to her that quitting or complaining was an option. He smiled back at her. “Showers,” he reminded her. “Then try and find some lunch in the kitchen. Someone will come find you at around 12:30 for the academics tests, which I assume you will give the same effort.”

“Uh. Yes. Of course,” she said, still a little stunned, as Scott escorted her out of the gym and pointed her on her way.

She showered and changed into a new t-shirt with an X on it and her jeans, and made her way down to the kitchen. She found mealtimes fairly intimidating. Dinnertime was all right because usually one of the school’s occupants made a group meal that she could have a helping of, but breakfast and lunch she was on her own. At home, the cook was responsible for all her meals, so she was completely adrift in a kitchen. Jean had offered to make her an egg Sunday morning, but she couldn’t rely on the kindness of others all the time. She’d pretty much resigned herself to cereal and milk in the morning and some sort of simple sandwich at lunch. Very little chance of setting anything on fire or cutting her finger off with either of those options.

The kitchen was empty as she made her sandwich and ate, and she wondered where everyone was. She’d been woken this morning by the sound of a jet taking off, which might explain it. Sam had told her there was a jet—which she wasn’t overly surprised about. Her father had a jet after all.

She’d already come to realize that Xavier’s was pretty focused on ‘self-directed learning’. She couldn’t imagine someone like Logan sitting down every day in an Algebra class, for instance. Everyone seemed on their own path, and learning what they needed to on their own. She found that comforting in a way. She’d had tutors for the last four years after all, and now it looked like it would be more of the same, except with a little more company.

Xavier himself rolled in with suspiciously good timing just as she was putting her dishes into the dishwasher. “Whenever you are ready, Dana,” he said, even though she was more than certain that he knew she was as ready as she would ever be.

She followed him to his study. There was a computer set up there on a small table to the side of his desk, screen displaying some sort of test program. Beside the keyboard was a small stack of scratch paper and some newly sharpened #2 pencils. She looked at the workstation with dread.

“So,” Xavier started, “Social Studies, English, Math, and Science. Is there a foreign language you’ve studied I should add?”

Dana grimaced. “Father made me take French, but I’m not very good, and if I don’t have to take more of it, I’d rather not. I think I’d be happier switching to another language if it’s required.”

Xavier chuckled. “Understood. We’ll skip the languages for now, then.” He waved his hand at the chair in front of the computer. “Have a seat and get started. Each test will take about an hour and you’ll have a break between each one. I’ll be working at my desk should you have any questions.”

Dana nodded, took a deep breath, and sat down, worrying her lip between her teeth. The computer was flashing “press any key to start” at her. She heard Xavier moving away to his desk behind her, and after a long moment to resign herself to her remedial fate, she hit the space bar and began.


 

After the last science question—something about covalent bonds that she’d taken a wild stab at—she slumped backwards in her chair and pinched the bridge of her nose. Four plus hours staring at a computer screen and wracking her brain for answers and she felt more than a little burnt out.

“All finished?” Xavier asked from his desk.

“Guess so,” Dana said, shrugging. “I did my best, but I feel I had to just wing a lot of it.” She shook her head, sighing, and then pushed away from the computer, rising to her feet and stretching. “I just hope I don’t end up with the complete line of ‘For Dummies’ books as textbooks,” she joked.

“I am sure your best will be more than adequate. We all have our academic strengths and weaknesses—aside from Hank, perhaps. He may have us all beat in all fields.” He wheeled over to the computer and pressed a few keys to display the results. Dana winced, anticipating low numbers.

“There, see?” Xavier said, smiling and pointing at the screen. Dana didn’t, and waited for him to explain. “Above average in all categories for your age group. You could easily get a GED if you wanted, with the education you already have. If you’d like to move on to college level work, you may. Your English skills are very strong, with good vocabulary and composition scores. If you’d like to work towards a bachelor of science, we might want to bring up your scores in chemistry and physics first,” he said gently, “but that’s certainly doable with a little hard work.”

Dana’s jaw dropped. “But…” she protested. Her father, her tutors, had always despaired of her work, and said she would never amount to anything academically. Her father said she only had tutors because it was required by the state until she was 18, but educating her was something of a hopeless endeavor.

Xavier smiled up at her. “Any moderately clever person with decent, private one-on-one tutoring is bound to have scores better than average,” he explained. “And I think we can consider you better than moderate.”  

“But I’m stupid! Everyone said so!” she burst out, too floored to mind her manners and moderate her tone.

“I think the computer has proved that to be a lie,” Xavier said gently. “I think it is more than likely that your father, and the tutors in his employ, told you such things to keep you from wanting to leave your home. If you were told you were gifted, you might want to go to university to take advantage of your talents.”

“But tell me I’m an idiot and I’d never want to go,” she murmured. “Especially not a sickly idiot.” She played with the hem of her t-shirt and then chuckled ruefully. “Knowing I’m not stupid just makes me feel more stupid for not realizing that I wasn’t stupid.”

Xavier chuckled and patted her hand. “They had four years to convince you. Four years of everyone you know all telling you the same thing? Few of us could fight that kind of conditioning.”

“Not everyone,” she murmured, with a fond little smile.

“Hmm?”

“Not everyone. Marc always said I was smart. He just wasn’t around much.”

Xavier raised a thoughtful eyebrow. “And perhaps that is the reason he wasn’t around,” he said speculatively, leaving Dana more than a little stunned. I think you’ve had about all the school you can take today,” he said with another gentle smile. “The rest of the day is yours to do with as you wish. Take some time to think about your future. Tomorrow morning, after your gym period with Scott, the two of us should have a discussion about your academic goals for the duration of your stay here.”

“Okay,” she said, more than a little thunderstruck. “Of course.” She blinked a few times, and walked out of the Professor’s office like she was in a dream.


 

Sometime during the test, the jet must have come back, and the occupants of the school who’d been missing had returned. She wasn’t hungry yet, but she didn’t particularly want to be alone with her unsettled thoughts, and the kitchen was usually a good bet to find some company. There were a handful of people in the room, having an early dinner.

Sam waved a little, as his mouth was full when she walked in. Once he’d swallowed, he pulled out a chair for her next to him at the table. “How was your first day of school?” he teased lightly.

“Strange,” she said, still feeling a little lost.

“How so?” Bobby Drake asked, even as Sam frowned at her. He was idly picking grapes out of the fruit bowl and freezing them before popping them in his mouth.

“I’m not an idiot,” she said flatly. The two of them, and Remy LeBeau, who was standing at the counter, all burst out in surprised chuckles, but Sam stopped almost instantly when he saw the look on her face.

“Well, Ah could have toldja that,” he said carefully. “What makes you say it?”

She raised her eyebrows. “I really thought I was.”

Remy came over and sat down at the table with his dinner, and the three men looked at her with some confusion. Bobby offered out a frozen grape, and she took it from him with a quiet “Thanks,” and chewed it thoughtfully. She marveled at how easy it was getting to take casual mutant power use in stride.

Sam broke the silence. “Okay, so not an idiot,” he said simply. “What are you gonna do now?”

She idly plucked an unfrozen grape from the vine in the bowl and shrugged. “I dunno. Take college classes, I guess.”

“What subject?” Bobby asked.

“I dunno,” she repeated, popping the grape into her mouth.

“Any interests? Hobbies?” Remy asked.

Dana blinked. “Two days ago I was a sickly idiot with no future who was probably going to die young in an institution and tomorrow I’m supposed to have a career guidance appointment with the Professor to talk about my options in advanced academics,” she said blandly, and then after a long moment she snorted and then laughed, pressing her forehead to the table in front of her. The others chuckled along with her. “Oh my God, this is the craziest thing that has ever happened to anyone.”

“Maybe not the craziest,” Sam said.

She tipped her head to the side to look up at Sam, who was smiling at her softly as he took another bite of some casserole thing he’d probably salvaged from leftovers. “Where’d you guys go today, anyway? It was dead around here today.”

Sam shared a glance with Bobby and Remy as he swallowed. “The City,” he said, when he could.

“New York?” she clarified, as he took another bite.

He nodded.

“Field trip?” she asked.

“Something like that,” Bobby said.

Dana straightened up to reach for another grape. Bobby froze it for her before she could pull it out of his reach. She nodded her thanks to him as she chewed. “Any plans for tonight?” she asked, conversationally.

“You lookin’ for somethin’ to do?” Remy asked, by way of response.

She shrugged. “Just feeling a little unsettled… and I guess I’ve gotten used to having company. Don’t particularly want to go back to my room yet.”

“We got four for cards,” Remy suggested guilelessly. “You know how to play poker, petite?”

“I can—“ Dana started, before she was cut off.

“No!” Bobby suddenly exclaimed, pointing to Remy. “Not with you! Not for money. Not for chores, either. Not for anything.”

Dana looked up, wide-eyed, at the exclamation, while Sam snorted.

“Stakes make it more fun,” Remy said simply.

“Maybe for you,” Sam told him, with a raised eyebrow. “Do not let him take your lunch money, Dana. As it is, Ah think he could live to be 103 and never have to take the trash out again thanks to us all playing for chores.”

Remy sighed. “No stakes then. Just play to teach Dana how.”

“I can kinda play,” Dana said, continuing her earlier thought. “I had a poker game on my computer, so I know the rules for a couple different versions at least.”

Sam gave her a patronizing look that made her want to bristle a bit. “Playing in person is a little different than playing over a computer. No poker faces needed on a computer.” He smiled at her. “You’ll see.”


 

“Oh mah Gawd!” Sam exclaimed, laughing so hard that his accent practically tripled.

“She’s a shark!” Bobby crowed.

Remy was reduced to sputtering.

Dana looked out from behind her huge pile of chips, frowning at their reactions. “Well, it was obvious, wasn’t it? That he was bluffing?”

Bobby indicated his much smaller pile of chips with a snort. “No it was not obvious,” he said, laughing. “Or else the rest of us would have taken advantage.”

“Remy is not an obvious bluff!” Remy said, indignantly. “No telepathy at the poker table!”

“I’m not telepathic!” Dana said frowning. “That’s like hearing voices in your head, right? I don’t have voices in my head.”

Sam was still wiping the tears from his eyes. “Maybe you have a secondary mutation you haven’t realized you have yet. I know a few mutants who are just lucky.”

“Wasn’t lucky until two days ago,” she said honestly.

“Check up her sleeves!” Remy said, pointing at her.

Bobby took her bare wrist in one hand and lifted her arm up. “She’s wearing a short-sleeved t-shirt, Remy. I think she’s pretty clearly not hiding cards,” he said dryly, even as his eyes twinkled with mirth.

“Undetectable cheating could be a power,” Remy grumbled. “Maybe chere has invisible sleeves.”

“Let’s just put it down to beginner’s luck,” Sam said, “and say good game.”

Dana turned to Sam. “Do you really think I could have a secondary mutation?”

He shrugged. “Could be. How did you know he was bluffin’?”

“She also knew when I wasn’t bluffing!” Remy pointed out. It was true. She’d ducked all of their best hands, and gone in for the kill when they’d had nothing.

She shrugged, looking a bit out of her depth. “I dunno. I just went with my gut. Maybe there was a tell?”

“Remy does not have tells!” Remy exclaimed again indignantly, spurring Bobby to more laughter, and Remy marched away from the table.

Dana frowned as he stalked away. “I’m really sorry,” she apologized. “If I did use a power I didn’t know about, it was cheating.”

Sam patted her on the back. “It’s all right,” he reassured her. “Might’ve just been a fluke. Nothing to worry about.”

“It’s better than all right. That was hilarious!” Bobby said, still chortling. “We totally should have been playing for money.”


 

In the afternoon debrief session the next day, Sam found that, for the first time ever since moving back to Westchester, he was having difficulty keeping a lid on his smugness. He’d been amazing yesterday, if he did say so himself. And he wasn’t the only one.

“Sam, I want to recognize your very creative problem solving yesterday,” Scott was saying. “Using your shield to deflect that power blast to take out the second mutant was heads up play.”

“Thank you, sir,” he said, trying to keep his face neutral as he took the compliment.

The X-Men had taken on a couple of rogue mutants yesterday, on the ‘field trip’ Dana had noticed. Nothing too taxing, so only half the team had gone. Sam had felt truly creative for the first time in a long time, trying to think ahead and create opportunities rather than just wait for orders. It felt good. He was still buzzing a little bit with the adrenaline.

Scott wrapped up the session with a “Good job, people,” and sent everyone on their way.

Bobby bumped shoulders with him on the way out of the briefing room. “We should have gotten you a puppy months ago,” he said, under his breath with a grin.

Sam looked at him sharply, frowning in confusion.

“Give you a little bit of responsibility and you suddenly put your Big Boy pants on. We’re so proud.” Bobby said laughing. “You just remember to feed and water her—“

Sam gave him a good-natured shove into the opposite wall to cut him off. “Maybe Ah just finally came to my senses and remembered you guys were all hype,” he said, laughing back. “Ah let all that nonsense about ‘moving up to the varsity team’ get in my head and forgot that Ah kicked your tails plenty when Ah was on ‘JV’ with a bunch of teenagers.”

Bobby rolled his eyes at Sam. “Talk, talk, talk. When do you think the Professor is finally gonna clue her in about what our ‘extracurriculars’ actually are here?”

Sam shrugged. “Above my pay grade,” he said. “Honestly, Ah’m a little surprised she hasn’t put it together herself, but Ah don’t think she’s watched the news much.”

“She’s gotta figure it out eventually.”

Sam nodded. “Ah’m guessing the psychics think that might be the straw that broke the camel if they told her now.” He pushed his hands into his pockets. “We’ve all had strange paths to get here. Hers is certainly a new one for me.” Maybe he should try and help her with that, he thought. He wondered if it was time for a trip to Salem Center. Being around more than ten people at a time might be a start.

“Not that unique,” Bobby said, with a quirk of his lips. “I think Rapunzel scooped her on the whole ‘princess locked in a tower’ thing.”


 

After a lot of thought and consideration Dana had gone with breadth over depth for her first year of post-secondary study. It was hard for her to settle on a subject she might excel at when she hadn’t been praised for anything academic since she was 13. She wanted at least one year of education where her instructors were honest with her about her abilities before she decided where her strengths lay.

Which was how she found herself sitting in Dr. McCoy’s lab, as Hank (as he insisted she call him) talked her through some of the weirdest bits of quantum theory… While mostly upside down. It was a little beyond where she’d left off with physics, but he was an excellent teacher, who seemed to care more about her interest level than covering everything in the precise order of any given text book or standardized test. She was most impressed by his ability to tie his lecture to her current situation, using quantum theory to attempt to explain how a teleporting mutant’s powers might work, or hypothesizing that a clairvoyant mutant might have the power to manipulate ‘time’s arrow’ to see the future. Her attention was absolutely captured, just as when the Professor had assigned her a history essay on mutant-related legislation in the US. The novelty of learning a previously forbidden topic was addicting.

“It is impossible to determine how your own powers work without a number of tests, or perhaps we can never truly know the precise mechanisms happening,” Hank was saying, as she scribbled notes in a notebook, “but it is entirely possible they have a quantum capacity as well. Perhaps you are able to energize particles around the wound to revert back to a previous state in time—“

He was interrupted by a slight knock on the doorframe and Dana turned to look as Sam stuck his head into the lab. “Oh sorry, Hank. Ah thought you’d be done by now. Ah can come back.”

Hank glanced at his watch. “Oh my stars and garters,” he exclaimed, making Dana laugh at the expression. “I have kept you much later than I intended, Miss Hawkes. Forgive me. You should pack up and get on with your day.” He righted himself, coming to stand next to her. “You were an exemplary pupil today,” he said, making her flush with accomplishment, “As homework, I’d like you to come up with three hypothetical mutant powers aside from what we’ve discussed that could be inferred from quantum theory. I’ve no doubt you’ll hit upon some excellent ones.” He smiled at her and she bent to make a note of the assignment in her notebook, before gathering up her things.

“Did you need me for something?” she asked Sam, stepping out into the hall with her notebook clutched to her chest. There was something about Sam that made her smile just to see him. She was pretty sure that it wasn’t just that they were close in age. It might have been his accent, or the fact that he was missing a little sister and she was missing a big brother. Or maybe it was just because her father would have disapproved of him so entirely. It certainly made it easier to not worry about best behavior around him. At any rate, it was nice to have a friend, and she hoped that wasn’t overly presumptive of her.

“Little birdie told me this was your last class of the day and Ah thought you might want to check out town and maybe get a t-shirt that didn’t have an X on it,” he teased, tugging at the hem of her shirt.

She flushed a little, and swatted his hand away. “Last time I was at a school, I had to wear the same blazer and skirt every day,” she said, shrugging.

“Ah can’t even imagine,” Sam said honestly. “My family never had much money for clothes, so uniforms probably would have been easier for ma, but not bein’ allowed to wear jeans to school? Ah don’t know if Ah could have taken it.”

“You would have had to wear a tie every day, too,” Dana added.

Sam winced, only half for show. “Not really my style,” he said. “So you comin’? Ah got a little spendin’ money from the prof to get you kitted out, and if we play our cards right there might be enough left over for milkshakes or somethin’.” It was just on the right side of teasing.

Dana twisted her face up. “I dunno,” she said, torn. “It’s just… a lot of people I don’t know.” She worried at her lip. God knew the whole world was filled with people she didn’t know and she’d have to get used to going out in it sooner or later.

Sam lifted his hands a little defensively. “That’s alright,” he said, soothingly. “We can leave it for—“

Dana cut him off. “No. No, I should go,” she said, taking a determined breath. The proud smile he gave her only bolstered her courage. “I can’t avoid it forever.”

“Well, there shouldn’t be too many people out on a Tuesday night,” he said to reassure her. “And we’ll avoid anyplace crowded.”

She swallowed. “And we’re not flying, right?” she asked, looking at him apprehensively.

He laughed at that. “No flying. Ah’ll drive you in a nice, ordinary car.”

She looked up at him out of the corner of her eye. “What if my powers activate? What if someone in town is hurt or something and…”

Sam reached out and put his hands on her shoulders. “Then we’ll deal with it,” he smiled softly at her. “Fortunately, your power won’t blow up the town, right?” His hands traced down her arms and he took her hands in his, giving them a squeeze. She hoped her hands weren’t sweaty. “Salem Center has seen worse than a girl pass out and the lame walking, trust me. This school has been making things interesting in Salem Center for a long time.”

Dana took another deep breath. “Okay. Let’s go,” she said, sounding a bit more sure.

“Okay.” Sam replied and let go of her hands so they could make their way to the garage to get a car. “What happens when you heal someone, anyway? Do you turn blue or light up or anything?” he asked out of curiosity.

Dana shrugged. “I can’t remember,” she said apologetically. “I think I’ve done it twice but all I remember is passing out and waking up later.”

“Ah’m a little surprised Hank didn’t put you through your paces today, frankly.” Sam said.

“He asked,” she said, ducking her head. “I really didn’t want to. I don’t want anyone to get hurt just so I can… do whatever it is I do.”

“Ah suppose that’s understandable. Shouldn’t have to wait too long, anyway,” he smirked. “Between sparring practice and just general clumsiness we’re due a concussion any day now that you can deal with.” He chuckled. Her answering smile looked strained, and he raised a questioning eyebrow. “Somethin’ else on your mind?” he prompted.

She hesitated a long moment, before looking up at him. “Well, it’s all real if I do heal someone, isn’t it?”

“You don’t want it to be real?”

“I don’t know,” she said, indecision all over her features. “It’s amazing to be at the school… it’s amazing to be able to think about the future…”

“But?” Sam prompted.

“But it’s not home, is it?” she said, shrugging. “It’s not what I’m used to. And it’s scary to be here and think about having to choose between this—and I barely even know what this is—and my family. My father is a long way from perfect, but he’s all I’ve got, and if he ever finds out…” She trailed off, implication clear and eyes terrified.

Sam slung an arm around her shoulders, and pulled her into him a bit. “Hey. We’ll figure it out,” he assured her. “But the solution is not letting yourself get locked in a small room for the next 60 years,” he said. There was a touch of scolding in his voice and her shoulders came up high enough to dislodge his arm.

“All right,” she said, ducking away scowling just a little bit at the gall of him making a good point.

He chuckled, opening the door to the garage for her before following through and grabbing the keys to one of the more inconspicuous cars from a peg on the wall. “Look at that. A little bit of a temper! That’s a good start.” He grinned, much to her chagrin. “It’s the blue one over there,” he said pointing at the car in question. “Get in.”


 

Salem Center was a very small town. Only about 5,000 residents, but with enough tourist traffic to support a few small boutiques. Dana had ducked in and out of each and managed to assemble a meager wardrobe without taxing Sam’s patience in the slightest. Despite his reassurances that he was fine for her to take her time, she’d rocketed through town in about a third of the time Paige or Joelle would have taken. However, he suspected at least part of that was due to nervousness of strangers. She ducked away from any approaching helpful sales clerk.

He did his best to keep her at ease. “So how were classes today?” he asked, as she feinted towards him and away from a stranger passing them on the street.

She looked up at him, temporarily distracted by his question. “Good. Mr. Summers… Scott,” she corrected herself, “tried to show me how to throw a punch.” She chuckled despite herself. “It’s a bit of a lost cause so far. I can’t even make a fist right.” She clenched her fingers around her thumb by way of illustration.

Sam rushed to correct her, physically prying open her fingers to put her thumb on the outside of her fist. “No,” he said, shaking his head with a grin. “Don’t let yourself do it the wrong way at all, or it’ll be hell learning the muscle memory.” He set her fist to rights and gave it a pat before letting go. “There you go. The last thing you need right now is a broken thumb.”

She winced at the very idea.

“Unless… you can do something about that?” he asked curiously.

Her look turned serious and she cut him a quelling look. “No. I can’t,” she said, practically murmuring. “And can we please not talk about it in public?”

“Sorry. Sorry,” he apologized, and briefly soothed a hand down her back, trying to get her shoulders back down from their defensive hunch. “You hungry? There’s a diner up here we could get a bite?”

The hard line of her mouth softened a little. “You did promise me a milkshake,” she said, tentatively.

“Well, then Ah better come through on that.”

The diner was at the opposite end of town from Harry’s Hideaway, which she was a few years away from, technically. Although he was certain Harry had been persuaded to ignore IDs for plenty of students over the years, Dana was probably not up to a dive bar today.

To get there, they had to walk by the town square. He could hear chanting voices as they approached. Honestly, that wasn’t entirely unusual. He’d seen everyone from anti-war protesters to PETA to 2nd Amendment enthusiasts in the years he’d been here. Like a lot of small towns, there were a lot of opinions, and the town square was the place to voice them. Unfortunately, the group voicing their opinions this afternoon weren’t any of the above.

Sam cursed his luck and tried to turn Dana away before she noticed, but was too late judging by the way her body went rigid.

The Friends of Humanity. Or, really, a few locals who wished they were in the Friends of Humanity. If he were by himself he would have laughed, because it was a pretty pathetic display. A few signs of mostly blurry shots of the usual mutants, some photocopied brochures, which mostly found their way into the nearest garbage can if they weren’t handed right back. The fact that they were completely clueless about the true purpose of Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters right down the street was just icing on the cake.

Dana next to him, however, was a line of tension and her breathing was getting labored. He took her elbow and ducked her into the nearest alleyway, out of sight of any passersby. He leaned her up against the wall to help support her and chafed her arms. “Hey. It’s okay. You’re okay,” he murmured. God, she looked impossibly pale, and she was trembling. He wished the protesters would shut up for a minute. “Just breathe.”

She looked up at him, terrified but also somehow angry, tears in her eyes. “My father gives them money--!” she panted out between panicked breaths.

“It’s okay,” he repeated as soothingly as he could. “They’re just wannabes with—“

She shook her head fiercely and cut him off continuing her original thought. “—and they have a picture of you!” she said accusingly, and fisted her hands in his shirt.

Oh. Thinking back on it, one or two of those posters may have featured the X-Men. He’d always been surprised, frankly, how hard it seemed to be for some folks to recognize them out of costume considering none of them wore masks. It was probably the same effect as when you saw your elementary school teacher in the grocery store, he thought. You couldn’t recognize them out of context, and no one expected to see mutant superheroes shopping at their local small town boutiques.

“You and Hank and Scott and—“ She tried to take a gasping breath but it hitched badly, sounding dangerously close to a sob. “I’m so stupid! You must think I’m so stupid.” Tears trickled down her cheeks.

“Ah don’t. Ah promise Ah don’t,” he said, as quietly passionate as he could. He reached up and unclenched one of her hands again, and put it flat on his chest, covering it with both of his hands to keep it there. “Ah promise Ah won’t let anything happen to you. You’re safe. Just breathe. Try and match me.” He breathed deep and slowly, trying to make eye contact with her. He shoved everything else aside other than being as calm as possible. If he were calm, maybe she would see there was nothing to worry about.  

It didn’t take her long at all, actually. Frankly, he was a little surprised. “Good. That’s really good,” he said, honestly. A few tears were still leaking from the corners of her eyes, and she was still trembling a bit, but her breathing was steady and her eyes looked more focused. “Ah’m really sorry what happened here--” he started.

“Who are you?” she asked, accusation in her eyes.

“Ah think you’ve figured that out,” he said carefully. “Let’s get out of here first, okay?” He chafed her arms again. “We’ll go the back way to the car and we won’t see anyone.”

There was a long moment where he thought she might fight him. She was clearly torn between being angry with him and wanting him to help her, and his hands tightened slightly as they moved up and down her arms just in case he’d have to stop her from making a dash for it. Fortunately, after that moment of indecision, her shoulders came down a bit and she nodded. “Okay.”

“Okay.” He nodded back. He gathered up her shopping with one hand and shepherded her down the alley with the other, taking her directly to the car.


 

Dana was silent in the car, not knowing what to think let alone what to say. Sam, next to her in the driver’s seat, had a white-knuckled grip on the steering wheel, his usually open, smiling face stuck in a frown as he concentrated on the road. She let her head lean back against the headrest and looked out the window at the trees going by outside the car, and just focused on trying not to cry. She was embarrassed, angry, and scared all at the same time which made it hard to decide on any course of action.

Jean was waiting by the front door when they drove up. Dana threw an accusing glance at Sam, but he just shrugged as he put the car into park. “You want information. Jean’s the easiest person to talk to.” Dana looked away again, trying to figure out if that was what she wanted. She swallowed and pushed open the car door. It seemed a long way from the car to the front door, and she tried not to either glare or duck her head from embarrassment. In the end, it was relatively easy to default to the inoffensive neutral expression her father preferred on her. She had plenty of practice masking anything she might be feeling behind it, after all.

…Although not with a telepath, she acknowledged. Jean was giving her a knowing look as she climbed the stairs to the front door.

“We’re all sorry, Dana,” Jean said softly, as Dana was ushered back into the professor’s office. It was empty, however, and while Dana did appreciate that it was easier to talk to just Jean, she was getting the overwhelming sense that she was being handled, which rankled. Jean leaned back against the front edge of the desk. “We all thought you might find too much information on that first day overwhelming.”

There was a chair in front of the desk she was clearly meant to sit in. She debated holding out and standing, but she didn’t think restlessly pacing and doing stupid things with her arms was necessarily a stronger move. She took the seat that was offered and crossed her arms over her chest, penning herself in. “It would have been, but it was overwhelming getting blindsided with it too.”

Jean nodded. “So, do you have any questions?” Jean asked her.

Dana chuckled humorlessly and looked away. “How about what else don’t I know?” Looking away, laughing, sulking—it was all unforgivably rude, and she could not find it in herself to care at the moment. All she could focus on was the very real and sudden possibility of this one brief taste of freedom leading to her life completely unraveling.

“Well, let’s start by fully explaining what you’ve just discovered,” Jean said, her voice calm and even. “Xavier’s is a school, first and foremost, but it’s also a headquarters for the X-Men. There are basement levels below the school with technology and equipment for the team. Some of it is alien. The ‘private jet’ you heard yesterday is an SR-71 Blackbird stealth plane with a below-ground hanger.”

Dana hunched in on herself further, curling over her folded arms. “And what do the X-Men do?” she asked, staring at the carpet. Whatever her father yelled about was not to be trusted factually, after all. It only served as a warning for what not to bring up in front of him. “I didn’t ever watch the news,” she added quietly. “It didn’t seem relevant.” She was regretting all of that now.

“We try to help where we can,” Jean said. “Sometimes it’s disaster relief, sometimes it’s fighting people who are trying to harm others…” She paused. “Sometimes it’s negotiating with aliens for the fate of the planet.”

She didn’t have it in her to doubt anything Jean said. Disbelief took too much effort. “My father is going to figure this out,” she said. “It might take him a while to notice, but eventually he’s going to finally look up the two alumni that someone name dropped to him and he’s going to figure out one is blue and the other has wings and he’s going to see a picture of the X-Men and then my life is over.”

“You’re almost 18, Dana. And you can become legally emancipated…”

“And do what?” Dana laughed, looking at the ceiling now as her eyes watered alarmingly. “With no money, no life skills? That’s ifhe lets me go. He’s got an army of lawyers, and I’ve already got a documented history of ‘medical issues’ that make it real easy for him to insist he’s my legal guardian for as long as he wants to be.”

“Dana, we can fight for you, if you want to be fought for. We do know a lawyer or two ourselves.” Jean reached out and put a hand on her knee.

“And do what? I’m, maybe, a walking first aid kit. You can train me all you want, but I’m never gonna be some ninja or commando or whatever. I can’t fly, I can’t shoot things, I don’t even have a shield. My code name would be Sitting Duck.”

“Dana…” Jean started, a little scolding in her tone.

Dana blithely carried on. “Or else I drop out, get a job at The Gap or something, and try to learn how to balance a checkbook and feed myself and… Jesus. I’ve never even learned how to make my own bed.”

“Dana,” Jean said, more strongly this time. “There’s also the private sector. I’m sure your power would be very valuable to a lot of people. You could be a… mutant concierge doctor, if you wanted.” She lifted her hands placatingly, to forestall whatever Dana might say. “The important thing is to try to think of all the options you have, rather than some inevitable doom.” She smiled a little and tried to catch Dana’s eyes with hers. “You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do, and I promise we’ll all work here to support whatever decisions you want to make. But you also don’t have to make your final decision on what the rest of your life will look like right now. You’re still very young.”

Dana finally looked at her, frowning and a bit confused. How on earth could she be expected to not plan ahead for the disaster that was going to befall her eventually? Anything else seemed hopelessly naive.

Jean continued. “Your relationship with your father may come to a head soon, that is true, so you will have to think about what you will do in that case. But if you do stay—and you can, you’re always welcome here, no matter what financial circumstances you find yourself in—we’re not going to make you sign up for the X-Men that day or kick you out! You’ll have years, if you want them, to learn what you want, find where your talents lie, and think about the best way to become the person you want to eventually be. And that person may not be an X-Man. It’s all right if you’re not.”

That was a lot to think about, but perhaps it was easier to consider one problem at a time, as Jean suggested. Just thinking about her relationship with her father and family was a little easier without it being tied to her food and shelter. “What about that school in Massachusetts?” she asked after a long moment.

Jean smiled a little at her, but there was something funny about it. “Snow Valley?” she asked. “Well, I think the education may be more high school than you need, and also they’re Generation X—their own mutant team.”

“Oh,” Dana said quietly. Of course they were.

“We’re more than happy to take you over there if you’d like to meet—“

“No. That’s okay. Doesn’t really solve the problem after all,” Dana said.


 

Jean talked with her for a while after that, and while she felt calmer, she was still plenty unsettled by the whole thing. Part of her wanted to just head straight to bed and deal with it in the morning, but part of her did realize that her head might be spinning too much to get a decent night’s sleep. At any rate, some alone time sounded good to either sort through her thoughts or not.

She headed quickly to the staircase leading upstairs, hoping to avoid everyone. Unfortunately, she didn’t quite make it. Sam caught her halfway there. He was holding a box in his hands. She paused, not sure what to say to him—half embarrassed and half angry. He clearly didn’t know what to say to her either, and there was a long moment before he offered the box out.

“This is for you,” he said.

She hesitated a moment before reaching out for it. “You didn’t—“ she started, but he interrupted her quickly.

“No.” he said instantly, and then offered her a little smile. “It came in the mail while we were out.”

“Who would send me mail? I just got here a few days ago!” The box was a little larger than shoe-box sized.

Sam shrugged. “Dunno, but it was overnighted from France.”

“France?” She flipped the box over, and sure enough, not only was it addressed to her, but it was covered with stamps and stickers that clearly implied it had left from France and gotten to her fast. “I don’t know anyone in France.” She looked at it suspiciously.

“Go on and open it, or you’ll never figure out who it’s from.” Sam said, daring a little grin.

She considered going up to her room to open it, but she was honestly curious, and Sam was leaning forward with obvious interest. Besides, she wasn’t entirely convinced it wouldn’t explode. “I suppose you want to see what it is, too?” She said, sitting down on the lowest stair to put the box on her lap and go to work on the tape.

“Oh, sorry,” Sam said, backing off a step. “Ah’m pryin’.” He raised his hands in a peace-making gesture and turned to leave. “If you wanna talk about what happened tonight later—“

“Oh, sit down.” She patted the stair next to her. “We might need your blast shield to protect us if this explodes in a wave of Grey Poupon.” Sam took a seat next to her, clearly doing his best not to crowd her. She finally caught an edge of the tape and peeled it back across the top of the box. She hesitated before opening it. “Look, I’m still not sure how I feel about today, but even if I decide that I’m angry I have enough sense to know that I can’t direct it entirely at you. So I’m sorry about that. You’ve been really nice to me, and you don’t have to be.”

Sam shook his head and waved her off. “Ah’m pretty sure Ah would have freaked out too. It’s forgiven and forgotten.” He smiled at her and then jabbed a finger at the box. “Now let’s see what’s in your box!”

She smiled back and finally folded back the flaps of the box. The first thing she saw was a corner of something plastic poking up out of a sea of packing peanuts. “What the hell?” she murmured, digging it out.

It was an incredibly tacky plastic Eiffel Tower. The two of them frowned at it. “What’s this?” Sam asked, pointing out a small button on the base. He pushed it, gently, and suddenly a very tinny rendition of ‘Le Marseilles’ started playing as the plastic lit up in red, white and blue. They both laughed in surprise, and she set it down on the step between them to continue digging through the box. Next was a white patisserie box filled with macarons in a rainbow of pastels. Then came two small jars—one of mustard and one of preserves, a carefully wrapped bottle of French perfume, and then, at the bottom, a carefully folded and brightly colored Hermès scarf.

“Oh my God,” Dana gasped. She wasn’t much of a fashion plate, but she knew a luxury status item when she saw one. For all the expensive and proper clothing that her father stocked her closet with, she still didn’t have anything like this. She started unfolding it and a piece of paper fell out. She draped the scarf over her neck in order to unfold the letter, written on hotel stationary.

“Does it say who it’s from?” Sam asked, looking up from his examination of the preserves.

Dana recognized the handwriting instantly. “It’s from Marc,” she said, voice going soft as she started to read. “My older brother.”

 

D,

Got your new address from Dad. I wanted to rush to be the first one to wish you congratulations on FINALLY busting out! I am so excited for you. Please take advantage of this—Make friends, study hard, have fun, see as much of the world as you can, and don’t ever go back to Dad’s house. Seriously.

I happened to be checking out the ‘European Markets’ for Dad when I got the good news, so here’s a little bit of Paris. Wish you were here. Maybe with a little work we could get your language skills past “Bonjour” and “Baguette”.

Love you and I hope I get to see you in your new digs sooner rather than later.

Marc

 

She refolded the letter and quirked her mouth up in a half-smile. Marc always did have the best timing. That certainly was a vote towards staying, although she still wasn’t sure if Marc would feel the same way if he knew what she was. She’d never heard him say anything against mutants, but he’d never said anything for them either, that she could remember. Of course, it was always hard to get a word in around her father.

“The letter’s all good news, Ah take it?” Sam said carefully.

Dana looked up, and smiled fondly, thinking of her brother. “Yeah. He’s in Paris… obviously.” She chuckled, tapping the plastic Eiffel Tower with her finger. “He works for father’s company, going abroad and researching overseas markets and things. Apparently he talked to father and found out I ‘busted out’.” The quotes were obvious in her voice and she looked over her little haul and examined all the items again. “Oh, you should have a macaron!” she said, offering out the box to Sam.

“Nah. They’re yours!” Sam said.

“Marc told me to make friends. You make friends by sharing. Have a cookie,” she insisted.

Sam looked intrigued despite himself, and looked more closely at the box. “They’re cookies?” His fingers hovered over a purple one. “Are they all the same or are there flavors?”

“Flavors, usually.”

“And purple is… grape?” he asked.

She frowned. “Probably lavender, actually.”

Sam made a face and pulled his hand back, and Dana laughed. “Pink could be strawberry, but it could also be rose,” she warned.

“Why would anyone make a rose flavored cookie?” he asked, sounding horrified.

Dana laughed more. “Yellow should be pretty safe. It’s almost always lemon. White is usually vanilla. Looks like the orange one has a chocolate filling, so that’s probably orange and chocolate.”

Sam looked skeptical and suspicious and carefully selected the yellow one. Dana took the pink one and had a bite as Sam continued to look at his up close. “Yup,” Dana said with a smile. “That’s rose.”

“Thanks for the warning,” he said, and then finally took a bite of the yellow, eyebrows shooting up in surprise as the airy cookie collapsed in his mouth. “That is a really strange cookie,” he said after a moment, covering his mouth with his hand as he spoke since he was still in the middle of chewing. “Really good, though!” he said, quickly moving onto the second and last bite. “Ah’ve never had anything like this.”

“You’ll have to help me eat them,” she said, smiling. “They go stale really fast, and they’re nowhere near as good stale.” She nudged the box in his direction on the stair and examined the perfume. It smelled nice, a well-balanced light floral, but she couldn’t imagine an opportunity to wear it.

“Do you like perfume?” Sam asked, looking at the box of macarons, but not reaching out until Dana nudged it meaningfully in his direction. His hand hesitated over the white one, before ducking over to the chocolate orange. She smiled at him, glad he was enjoying them. “I’ve only seen you with make-up on the first day you were here.”

She shrugged. “I don’t think Marc knows who I am away from my father’s house any more than I do,” she said, putting the perfume back down, and examining the scarf around her neck. “The housekeeper always helped me with my make-up on the few times I went out or met company. I don’t have any here, and even if I did I’d be guessing at how to wear it. Seems easier not to… at least while I’m still going to the gym every morning.”

“You should do whatever makes you comfortable,” Sam said firmly. “But if you want to learn, Ah’m sure any of the women in the house could help. They all seem to have a good idea about it.”

She smiled at him and picked the green macaron out of the box. Could be mint, could be pistachio. She doubted it was lime.

“Here’s one now,” Sam murmured to her with a little smile as Rogue started coming down the stairs. Dana piled her gifts back in the box and scooted to the side of the stair to give her room to get through.

“Look at you, thick as thieves,” Rogue said, with a teasing grin. “What are you getting up to?”

“I got a care package from my brother,” Dana said, by way of explanation, and lifted out the white pastry box. “Want a macaron?” she offered.

“It’s a cookie,” Sam helpfully explained, hand covering his mouth again as he finished off his own. “Do not pick the purple one.”

Dana laughed and turned to Sam, as Rogue hesitated at the choices. “Lavender is a frequently used ingredient! I’ve seen it in shortbread, lemonade…”

Sam made a face again at the very idea. “It smells like soap!”

Dana dissolved into laughter so infectious that both Sam and Rogue had to smile reflexively at her.  “Thanks, sugah,” Rogue drawled, taking the white one. “Ah’m sure Ah’ll enjoy it.”


 

Slowly but surely the uncanny world of the mutants at Xavier’s started to become normal to Dana. She spent all morning in the gym learning to fight or lifting weights and eventually started getting sent outside to run laps around the campus. Afternoons she spent learning history, English, sciences, and math from the various other occupants of the mansion. Jean and the professor tried to teach her rudimentary mental shielding, which she understood theoretically but found befuddling on a practical level. Hank drew blood and performed tests and started to teach her first aid to use should her powers fail or to save her powers for emergencies, but she refused to let anyone hurt themselves just to test her powers, and Hank suspected Logan might heal himself before he could serve as a helpful subject. She was uncomfortable around Logan anyway, although she couldn’t pin down why. He was certainly gruff and a little scary, but not more so than all of the other occupants of the house had been at first. Why she’d grown used to everyone else in the house but not him was beyond her.

Sam, on the other hand, was amazing. Her first real friend in years. He was trying, against all odds, to teach her how to cook after he caught her eating cheese sandwiches for lunch three days in a row. He wanted to introduce her to his sister so she’d know a girl about her age, although a piggy-back ride all the way to Massachusetts faster than the speed of sound was a bit beyond her at the moment. He was funny, and patient, and clever, and she had no idea how she would manage without him. Between him and her phone calls with her older brother she was starting to gain the confidence that she might actually be okay if she cut ties with her father.

Tonight, however, she was on her own. The professor was around somewhere, of course, coordinating if needed, but bothering him outside of class always seemed a little gauche, so she kept to herself. It was certainly familiar, and she was used to entertaining herself. There was an expansive library, but she didn’t feel like reading for once, a little too concerned with the welfare of her new friends even if they assured her they’d be fine. Instead she went to the TV room and the decent collection of movies at the mansion to take her mind off it. She picked “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure” a stupid favorite that her father wholeheartedly disapproved of but she and Marc secretly loved, and settled on the couch to watch.

She awoke with a start much later, in the darkness. The TV was showing a blank screen, the movie long over. Maybe the sound of the jet returning had woken her up, she thought groggily, trying to focus. She thought at Jean, but there was no answer. She pushed herself up from the couch and wobbled. She felt awful. Her chest was tight and there was a pain in her side and she couldn’t think straight, overwhelmed, and she suddenly wanted to cry. She held herself up with one arm on the back of the couch and the other clutched to her chest, trying to settle herself.

“Is there anyone here?” she asked quietly, hoping there was someone nearby to help her. There was no answer. She couldn’t remember ever feeling this badly… well, no, she corrected herself. She’d felt pretty badly when her mother had been sick. Had it felt like this?

She staggered a few steps forward, walking without consciously thinking she would, and frankly surprised she could manage it. It seemed to make her head a little more clear as she did, though, so she let herself wander and just focused on breathing and trying to figure out why she felt this way.

Her feet took her straight to Hank’s medlab, focus returning as she walked. Sam was standing at the threshold, but she shouldered him aside barely even realizing who he was.

“Dana?” he asked, delayed from his surprise, but she’d already moved past and she didn’t acknowledge his call as she moved towards the flurry of action at the center of the room.

Rogue was laying on the bed, sweating and pale, most of her uniform covered in blood from a massive wound in her side. Hank was doing his best with the advanced tools he had at his disposal, but Remy didn’t look any less concerned and Rogue wasn’t looking any better.

Dana walked straight up to the bed, deftly avoiding Hank, and before anyone really noted her presence or what she might do, she put both her bare hands on Rogue’s pale cheeks.

“No! Dana!” Hank cried, followed by a number of other voices shouting in alarm. Dana stiffened and drew in a sharp breath as Scott grabbed her shoulder and tried to pull her away, and then her hands started to glow with a soft white light.

“Scott, wait,” Hank said, looking in awe at various monitors.

The skin on Rogue’s side began to knit back together. Hank watched on the display of his scanner as, below the skin, veins and muscles and other soft tissue repaired itself, until the only evidence she’d ever been hurt was the damage to her uniform. With nothing else to heal, Dana raised her hands from Rogue’s face, took a deep breath, and then crumpled to the floor.

Scott barely reacted in time, managing to get a hold of her arm and shoulder enough to keep her head from hitting the floor. Sam was by his side a second later, helping him to lift her dead weight. “Dana?” he called to her, trying to get her to respond.

“Over here,” Hank directed, waving them over to an unoccupied bed, even as a stunned Rogue was being helped to sit up by Remy.

“Dana? Come on and wake up,” Sam said, with increasing alarm, as he looked to Hank for help.

Hank ran the scanner over her body quickly, but he breathed a sigh of relief after a moment. “She’s all right, I think,” he said, a note of surprise in his voice. “It’s not anything at all like when Rogue drains someone. Dana is simply unconscious… and there are quite fascinating vital signs…” Hank continued, trailing off as he became absorbed in what his scanner was telling him.

Sam was still looking somewhat alarmed and Jean came up and set her hand on his shoulder. “She did tell us she passed out after healing someone. I think this is normal for her,” she said gently. “Best let her sleep this off.”

Chapter Text

“Hank, Ah think she’s wakin’ up!”

Dana groaned, putting a hand up to her head. She had a splitting headache, the light was blinding, and the taste in her mouth was horrific. She tried to curl into a ball.

“Dana, you okay?” Sam asked, concerned. He bent over her to ask, which blocked her from the light somewhat. It was an immediate relief.

“Please be quiet,” she whispered, voice croaking a bit, “and turn down the lights?”

Her requests were quickly taken care of. Hank was soon leaning into her field of vision to murmur, “Miss Hawkes, do you know where you are?”

“Medlab, I guess,” she said, voice growing a little stronger the more talking she did.

“How do you feel?”

“Like every movie’s depiction of a hangover ever multiplied by twelve,” she said, turning her face into the pillow with a groan.

Hank chuckled lightly. “Interesting! That does play into my current theory.” He made a few notes on his data pad. “Well, we should probably get you rehydrated again. Would you prefer water or intravenous saline?”

“Intra..?” Dana started sounding out the word as she scraped braincells together to figure out what it meant. “Um. No. Water is fine. I feel rough enough without getting needles poked in me, thanks.”

Hank grinned. “Mr. Guthrie, if you would be so kind?”

“Right away, Doc,” Sam said, and hustled off to the nearest tap.

Hank reached for a nearby pill bottle and shook two ibuprofen into his palm. “These will help with the pain,” he said, offering them out as Sam came back with the water for her. She started to push herself up to sitting, and Sam assisted with his free arm, helping her up.

“Thanks,” she murmured, both for the water that he handed to her and the assist. She sipped at the water and then downed both pills, following them with another sip. She was slowly starting to feel better and more capable of thought.

“That should be your first glass of many,” Hank was saying. “I suspect you may be more than a little dehydrated. You’ve been unconscious for a while.”

Dana suddenly sat up straighter. “Rogue! Oh my God. Is she all right? How could I have forgotten?”

Sam chuckled a bit at her sudden reaction but ran his hand down her arm soothingly, like he had before. She found it particularly effective. Hank smiled softly and did the explaining. “She is better than fine,” he said, amazement creeping into his voice. “I have known a few mutant healers, but never one to heal so completely. You didn’t even leave a scar. You may have even healed old scars! Furthermore, once your power activated, you negated hers. Quite incredible and something that merits further study.”

Dana drooped a bit in relief. “Oh, good.” It was a strange feeling to do have done something so useful. She felt accomplishment along with the thankfulness that Rogue was all right after all. Still, that did make things pretty clear. “So I guess I’m really a mutant, then,” she said with a wan little grin before taking another sip.

“How did you know to find her here?” Hank asked.

She found the simple question surprisingly difficult to answer, and she blinked a few times in surprise and then frowned as she thought back. The whole episode was a little hazy. “I… I don’t know. I was asleep, and then I woke up and… I hurt. And I felt really upset and I just started walking.” She shrugged. “I can’t really explain it.” Hank’s raised eyebrows were eloquent, and she saw Sam tip his head thoughtfully out of the corner of her eye. “Does that… mean something to you?”

“It may indeed,” Hank said. “However, we should probably consult with Jean and the professor—“

“No! What the heck does it mean?” Dana said, alarmed. The idea of other people knowing things about her that she didn’t know about herself was incredibly unsettling. Especially with a headache making her short tempered.

Sam put his hand on her shoulder. “Remember when we were talking about secondary mutations, Dana?” he asked gently. “Ah recon you probably have one… and that it suddenly makes the poker game you won make sense.” He chuckled. “Empathic, right Doc?” He asked over her shoulder.

She narrowed her eyes. “Empathy is a mutant power?”

“If we’re correct, this isn’t just being emotionally aware, Dana,” Hank explained carefully. “This is actually being able to sense what people are feeling, even if they’re trying to hide it. Like telepathy for emotions.”

Dana slapped her hand over her mouth. “Oh my God, I did cheat!”

Sam chuckled. “Ah suspect you’ll be banned from the poker games from here on in, that’s for sure.”

“How did I not know?” Her alarmed question was muffled behind her hand.

“That is a question for the psis, I’m afraid,” Hank said. “I suspect it may take some training to develop conscious control.”  

She was still stunned, blinking, and going back over her life since her mother died, trying to think of moments when she might have been more aware of the emotional states of other people than was considered normal. Now that she thought about it, perhaps it was a bit odd that Sam always seemed such a steadying presence. And a reason that she found the constantly hurting and healing Logan to be so unsettling.

“At any rate,” Hank continued, “even untrained, it appears you can use the power like a compass, to find those who need you. I am grateful you came to find Rogue in the medlab, rather than the hanger. It was quite… informative to have the medscanners turned on you both as it happened… which is why I am rather concerned about the water. You exhausted quite a lot of energy healing that damage, and then went into a sort of stasis—You show no muscle loss despite a day in bed—“

“A day?” Dana asked alarmed.

Hank nodded kindly and continued. “Some functions of your body shut down entirely, while your metabolism boosted-- I suspect working to generate replacement energy for what you expended.”

“Well, that’s nice. That it works like that.” She imagined there might be a different version of her without a similarly evolved metabolism that just keeled over the first time she tried to heal someone and died.

“Yes, that is certainly true. However, Samuel here was telling me something about cheese sandwiches for lunch?”

She whipped her head around and looked at Sam accusingly. “Am I never gonna live that down?”

Sam quirked his mouth in a half grin, but tipped his head back towards Hank. “Listen up to this bit. Ah think it’s important.”

She turned her head back towards Hank, still feeling sheepish about her terrible food skills, as he began again to explain. “Your mutation makes your body something of a finely tuned engine. Cruising along at your normal speed and not healing anyone, of course you can use whatever fuel you like. However, when you heal someone it’s something like taking a casual Sunday drive and then suddenly finding yourself in the middle of an F1 race. You need the right fuel in the tank or your engine will seize up.”

She frowned at that. “What does that metaphor mean practically for me?”

“I suspect that your metabolism may turn on you if there is not enough of the right fuel in the tank, so to speak. It may leech nutrients from bones, muscles—all the tissues we want to stay intact. Because I suspect you will be hard pressed to anticipate when the need may occur for you to use your power, I recommend putting you on a very precise meal plan.”

“You’re putting me on a diet!?” Dana exclaimed. God, she could barely manage eating terribly like a teenager. How was she going to manage eating well?

“Let’s not think of it that way,” Hank said, raising both hands. “It shouldn’t feel restrictive. We just want to make sure all nutrients are covered and that you’re getting sufficient protein and hydration.”

It sounded hellish to Dana. “I’m assuming this means I should treat junk food like I’m allergic to it.” She sighed.

“Don’t think of it like allergies,” Sam said calmly behind her. “Think of it like you’re a high-performance athlete.”

“Which we all are here, to a certain extent,” Hank agreed. “Unlike a food allergy, you are allowed to cheat and have some junk every now and again, just try not to make a meal of it?”

Dana flushed. There may have been a mostly potato chip-based dinner a few days ago. Oops.

“In light of the cheese sandwiches, I suspect it might be useful to you to cook meals ahead of time… with some help,” he added at the panicked look on her face, “and portion them out to be reheated at a later date.” After a moment he added, “There may be a meal replacement bar or drink that may suit your purposes as well, in case of emergency,” he acknowledged, to her great joy. “I am still consulting with a nutritionist.”

“Drink your water,” Sam added helpfully, tapping the half-full glass in her hand.

She scowled, but softened it with a little smile as she took a sip. “Nag.”

“Yes. Two liters of fluids a day, please,” Hank said. “It should help with the hangover feeling.”

Dana grumbled into her cup, but kept drinking.

“You used to be so polite…” Sam tsked at her. She shrunk a little, feeling a little rebuke in the words, even if his smile didn’t fade, but then he followed it with a quiet, “Ah think we all prefer you honest.”


Hank let her leave the lab an hour or so later, after a few more cups of water, some tests, and an admonishment to get a real meal. Sam had left once he ascertained she was all right, so she was apprehensive as she approached the kitchen, wondering what she could possibly rustle up for herself that met Hank’s approval without any assistance.

She frowned into the cupboards and then into the refrigerator and felt more than a little adrift before the door to the kitchen opened behind her. She looked up, hoping Sam might have come to her rescue, but it was Rogue. She still smiled to see her, anyway. “Good to see you on your feet,” she said, and it was heartfelt.

Rogue smiled at her. “You too, kiddo. Now sit.” Rogue put her gloved hands on Dana’s shoulders and directed her to the nearest chair. “Ah owe you. Everyone knows you’re terrible at food…” Dana flushed and cursed Sam again under her breath, “and Hank says you’re on a diet so Ah figure the least Ah can do is offer you a good meal. Ah owe you somethin’ fierce.”


 

By the time Dana’s birthday rolled around she was well used to the routine. So used to it, she’d lost track of time and practically forgotten that it was her birthday. She’d happened to glance at a calendar recently and taken note of it, but birthdays had never particularly been happy recently. If Marc had been home, they were at least companionable, but alone with her father they were cold exercises in manners.

She rolled out of bed slightly before her alarm and put on her gym clothes for her morning session. Scott had been starting her in on some pretty easy sparring with him, and she found herself looking forward to it more than she expected she ever would. There was something about throwing a punch, or running, or anything else she’d been doing in the mornings lately that made her feel capable in her body in a way she’d never felt before, and the lean muscle that she was gaining couldn’t have been more of a ‘screw you’ to her father’s plans for her. She smiled a little at herself in the mirror as she tied her hair back. She was changing slowly, but she couldn’t deny she was changing, and she liked what she was changing into for the first time in her life.

Her thoughts were interrupted by a knock at the door and she glanced at the clock on the nightstand. She certainly hadn’t dawdled. There was still plenty of time to breakfast and get to the gym in time to get a warm up in. She frowned and went to the door, opening it a crack.

Sam grinned brightly back at her, and she blinked in surprise. She really should have known before she opened it. Jean and Xavier were trying to train her on her empathy but it was a surprisingly different animal from their telepathy and the going was slow. She still hadn’t gotten used to relying on it anything more than unconsciously yet, or else she would have reached out with her powers before opening the door. Sam was the easiest for her to distinguish by emotions alone—his mind almost always seemed ‘sunny’ to her-- although she still had difficulty isolating individual emotions from him or anyone without effort. “Sam? What’s up?” she asked cautiously.

“This is a kidnapping. You’ve had two weeks of ‘spinach scramble’ for breakfast and Ah can’t watch anymore. We’re going out for coffee and really sugary pastries. One day won’t hurt.”

Coffee! Caffeine had been on the ‘avoid’ list, because apparently it was a diuretic and dehydrated her. She’d snuck a little, but not as much as she was used to, and she was already fantasizing about endless cups of dark roast at a café somewhere.

“Scott is expecting me, though,” she said, cautiously, trying to be at least semi-responsible.

“Ah talked to Scott. Told him Ah’d handle it when we got back. Ah can take you through ‘left, right, block, duck’ as well as anyone,” he smirked, as he did a small scale shadowbox in front of her door. “So you comin’?”

“I…” she started as she pulled open the door a bit more only to notice that he was not in his usual civvies of jeans and a henley. He was wearing khakis with a sharp pressed crease and a blue button down and Dana had no idea how she rated all that.

His face dropped a little. “Is it Salem Center?” he asked carefully. “Ah can understand you not being comfortable—“

“No, no,” she rushed to reassure, feeling really conspicuous in her sweatpants. She felt capable of handling some strangers today, and it wasn’t likely the FOH would protest today, too. “I just need a minute to get ready.” She stood there awkwardly with her hand on the door, staring at him, and then, not coming up with any better idea abruptly shut the door in his face.

She flushed, and probably turned even redder as she suddenly registered his surprise and then what had to be amusement through her empathy. Apparently she’d been tuned into him well enough to notice, although she cursed the inopportune timing. She put her hands over her face and very badly wanted to scream into them, but he was still right outside the door. God, she was a stupid teenager fawning all over a college boy, and she was such a cliché, but he was the best thing that had ever happened to her and she couldn’t stop herself from sucking up his attention while he deigned to give it to her. He probably just missed his little sister, or felt sorry for her, and she didn’t think she’d ever trust her empathic powers to not be overruled by wishful thinking to try and figure out how he felt about her. She hurriedly stripped out of her gym clothes and rushed to her closet. The dress she’d worn the first day would clearly be trying too hard, but she could wear the flats, and there was a khaki skirt that she’d bought on their shopping trip, and a twin set. There. That was casual-esque.

She ripped the hair tie out of her hair, and ran a brush through it again as she wished she had any make-up at all, and then in what could only be described as an actual fit of madness dabbed on the smallest touch of the perfume Marc had sent her. Oh God, that was the actual definition of trying too hard and it was too late now, it was permanently bonded to her skin.

Nothing to be done about it now, she thought, with only the slightest touch of hysteria as she checked herself over one last time in the mirror and tried to look a little less wild-eyed. Then she finally went to the door again and whipped it open. Sam was still there. Still smiling. Still nice. Still handsome.

“Hi,” she said inanely, and called herself all sorts of names in her head.

“Hi,” Sam responded, generously not laughing at her. “You ready?” he asked, gesturing down the hall.

“Yeah.” She said, and resolved not to say anything else as she walked alongside him. In fact, never speaking again sounded like an excellent plan. She wanted to ask if this was because of her birthday, but she wasn’t sure how he might have figured it out, and it seemed a bit presumptive. She supposed it might be on some sort of official school record somewhere and have trickled down from Xavier, but that seemed a long shot and she didn’t trust herself with any sort of complex verbal operations at the moment. Safer to shut up, definitely.


 

Sam had taken them to a café he knew well enough to promise her that the coffee was good. The only time he’d really laughed at her was when the staff had asked her if she wanted the whole carafe on her third refill and she’d had to stop to think about it. It certainly hadn’t been malicious. She had a rich and flaky pan au chocolate and he’d had a fruit Danish, and over their illicit breakfast they had an entirely professional discussion about how she was feeling personally and academically at the school. It was something of a relief, frankly.

She had tried getting a read on him empathically as they talked—it was easier to focus once she calmed down—but it was difficult to be sure about any of her impressions without confirmation. He seemed happy, and relaxed, but there was a touch of something else that she couldn’t quite put her finger on, and it only got worse as they drove back towards the mansion. God, what was it? It shifted through her mental touch as she tried to pin it down. It was nervous and tricky and anticipatory but it wasn’t any of those, not really. By the time he’d parked again, she was almost concerned.

“Hey, is everything all right?” she asked as he shepherded her towards the mansion from the garage, a small frown playing around her mouth.

“What makes you ask?” he asked, honestly, looking down at her as they walked.

She tapped her temple. “I’m trying out the empathy thing,” she said with a huff of frustration. “It’s still pretty rough, but… I dunno… It feels like you’ve got something on your mind.”

“Yeah, okay. Not bad.” He looked impressed despite himself. “Ah’ll tell you inside,” he said, and opened the door for her, but he did that everywhere for everyone, honestly.

The entryway was surprisingly dark for the time of day, and she had time for a flash of true alarm before Sam came through the door behind her and the all the lights suddenly turned on.

“SURPRISE!”

Dana jumped, startled, and muffled a tiny shriek in her hands, as all her new friends leapt out from their hiding places. Sam started laughing outright behind her and she spun to hit him repeatedly on the arm. “Oh my God, you jerk! That took, like, five years off my life!”

He only laughed harder. “Ow! Stop it! Save it for the gym later, Dana!” he said, trying to fend her away from him.

“You should see her when she loses at Monopoly.”

She spun, shocked, towards the voice, but she wasn’t hearing things. Marc stepped from behind the bannister with a wry smile. “Hey D. Happy birthday.”

“Marc!” she exclaimed and sprinted across the room to throw herself at him, tears in her eyes.

Marc was taller than she was and he swept her up into his arms easily, laughing. “Look at you! You’re hardly recognizable!”

She reached up and mussed his business-like haircut. His thick brown hair looked better like that anyway. “Might be able to beat you at arm wrestling soon enough,” she said confidently. “What are you even doing here? I thought you were in Europe!”

“Gotta come back from Europe eventually to report to the Board. Didn’t take much to re-arrange my schedule to make sure it was this week.” He gave her another firm squeeze of a hug and stepped back from her, taking her in. “God, you look so happy. I haven’t seen you like this in years.” He smiled softly at her. “I’m so glad.”

She smiled back at him reflexively and then glanced around the room. “I suppose introductions have already been made…” she said, taking in the occupants of the room, and then froze a little as she realized what conclusions Marc might have drawn. Ororo with her shock of white hair… Hank… she glanced at Xavier wondering if he was somehow altering Marc’s perceptions. Did he know about her? What must he think?

The nerves must have shown on her face because he bent close again, smile fading a little. “Hey, what’s up?”

“Do you… know about me?” she asked, very quietly. “Do you know what I am?”

He ruffled her hair in return, and tipped his head close to hers. “You and I need to have a long talk later, just the two of us, but long story short… I’ve suspected for a while and not everyone is a huge bigot like Dad,” he murmured. “There’s a few good reasons I can’t be alone in a room with him. The only reason I’d been home the past few years is to see you, D.” He kissed her temple, and she beamed, suddenly teary again, as he raised his voice to address everyone. “Now be a good guest of honor and get to partying. Everyone here is just standing around waiting for you to stop crying so they can eat!” He gave her a little swat and she jumped forward in surprise and turned to scowl at him briefly before dutifully making the rounds and thanking everyone.

There was food. And music. Bobby had made an ice sculpture of the number 18. She found herself hovering near Marc for most of the afternoon, she’d so missed his company she was loathe to leave his side for anything. Besides, she wasn’t the type to dance in public or be the center of attention, so she liked the distraction he provided.

Fortunately Marc was very good in a social environment, so she didn’t really neglect anyone. Marc talked to everyone… probably more than she had her whole first week at school. When he made his way to Sam, Sam offered out his hand for the handshake that most other people had gotten, only to get pulled into a hug and a pat on the back. It surprised her to say the least.

“Nice to finally meet you, man,” Marc said, as Dana’s eyebrows went to her hairline.

“Do you know each other?” she asked cautiously, somewhat alarmed.

Marc grinned. “How do you think this all got arranged?”

She hadn’t really thought about it, actually. She shrugged a little, glancing between the two of them. “Sam here intercepted one or two of my phone calls to you,” Marc explained. “Asked when your birthday was. Asked if I could make it.”

“You did all this?” she asked, turning to Sam, amazed. “Why?”

Sam waved her off. “Ah didn’t do everything. Just suggested it. You can’t not celebrate your 18th birthday,” he said, like it was the most obvious thing in the world.

“Oh, Sam, can you do me a favor and get my present for the birthday girl here? I think it’s with my coat.”

“Sure thing,” Sam said with a grin, and rushed off.

“I thought the box from Paris was my birthday gift?” she asked quietly, with a little smile. She hadn’t expected gifts from anyone, frankly. Sam had taken her to breakfast, after all, and everyone else had given her the day off of classes, and Hank wasn’t even looking at her disapprovingly for the food she’d been eating today.

“No, that was a ‘wish you were here’ gift. I’ve got a birthday present for you too,” he said. “It’s just a little one, though. Don’t get all excited.” He grinned as Sam came back with a small, flat box in his hands. He handed it to Marc and Marc handed it to her.

She took it, glancing at him with curiosity before starting to peel at the tape on the box. The wrapping paper came off and she took the lid off the plain box inside to reveal the contents. It certainly wasn’t anything fancy—a plain black picture frame—but inside the frame was a picture that made her cry again.

“Oh Marc!” she said, and hugged him.

He laughed, but he sounded a little teary too. “You have got to stop crying at your birthday. People are gonna think you’ve got issues!”

The picture was of her family. Her whole family. She must have been around nine, which made Marc fifteen and Douglas four. And her mother and father were behind their children and were actually smiling like they cared about each other. She couldn’t remember the picture even being taken. Her mother looked beautiful, and she touched the glass over her face reverently.

“Marc, where did you even find this?”

Marc shrugged a little, even though it was clear he was touched by her reaction. "When I moved out for college, I just grabbed a bunch of stuff from the house and threw it in a box. I never really went through it. When I started traveling I had it stored away. A few months ago I went through it all. I was looking for my birth certificate or something like that, and I found a photo album. I opened it up and found all these pictures of us as a family. I've got it in the rental car outside. I'm gonna give it to you, 'cause I don't have anywhere to put it.” He chuckled. “There's this naked-baby-in-the-bathtub-picture of Doug I don't think he wants to know that we have. Could come in handy as blackmail when he tries to become president or something. Maybe it'll get us a night in the Lincoln bedroom."

Dana giggled and wiped tears from her cheeks. “Thanks, Marc.” She turned to Sam. “And thank you, Sam. This has been the best day.”

Sam shrugged nonchalantly. “Not over yet. If you two want to get that quiet talk in, I made you a reservation at the Italian place in town tonight.”


 

“It’s hard for me to remember mom how she was in that picture. I really only remember the end. That’s awful, isn’t it?” Dana confessed, leaning over the table at the restaurant. The booths were in secluded niches and it really was ideal for having a discussion.

Marc shrugged at her. “Memory is a weird thing. Doug was really young, so I kind of expect him to not remember anything, but I thought for sure you’d be old enough to remember,” he said, taking her hand over the table. “But Mom’s death hit you the hardest, I think. And who knows what kind of crazy Stockholm Syndrome you got living with dad.” He looked away at that. “I really wanted to get you out of that house, I promise. It killed me to leave you there.”

“I was all right. I just missed you.” She squeezed his hand.

He quirked his mouth like he didn’t believe her. “I hope you were. But I do think being there has messed with your memory.”

She frowned at that. “What do you mean?” she asked, suddenly alarmed.

Marc took a breath as he chose his words. “Do you remember her playing with Doug when he was small? Like two or three? You and I would go in to watch.”

Dana blinked, trying to remember. “I remember the four of us in the nursery, but I can’t remember us doing anything that would make it memorable.”

Marcus sighed and looked very old and sad all of a sudden. “She would make Doug’s toys dance, Dana.” He paused, and when she didn’t seem to pick up what he was saying he added, “Without touching them with her hands.”

Dana straightened at that, face going white. “What are you saying? Are you saying mom was telekinetic?”

Marc blinked at her a little and Dana realized she’d already learned mutant vocabulary that he wasn’t familiar with. They were already different. It was disconcerting. “She was a mutant, Dana,” he murmured. “Doug doesn’t remember, and now you don’t either.” He shook his head and leaned back into the cushions of the booth. “Now I feel like I just made it up or something, but I’m so sure.”

She leaned forward to speak, but was interrupted by the waitress coming to drop off their plates. They both did the requisite smile-and-thanks but she was relieved when the waitress left them alone again so she could continue her thought. “Marc, did father know?”

Marc stabbed at his pasta with his fork and shrugged. “No clue. It would explain a lot about how he treated you if he suspected you being one, but her? Who knows. They fought about everything before I left for school… must have been even worse after I left.” He looked up at her out of the corner of his eye and she sheepishly nodded in response. He swore and did more damage to his pasta. “I’m sorry D. I think about it all the time, how I could have come back to save you. If I’d only had the guts to tell dad to shove it and go out on my own and find some way to support us both…”

She reached out to touch his hand again. “No, Marc. You can’t beat yourself up about that. It wasn’t your job.”

“It’s my job when our parents can’t or don’t step up to do it themselves.” He sighed. “If I’d really been brave, I would have cut dad out of my life, gotten a regular job and a crappy apartment and gotten you out of there. But I really convinced myself at every stage that selling my soul a little would pay off in the end. First I was just gonna use him for tuition and then make my own way. And then it was a job with the company to earn a nest egg. And now it’s working my way up the chain to maybe challenge him for the company.” He shook his head again. “I think I’m destined to turn into him, no matter what I do. A better man would have taken a different path.”

“Marc!” Dana said, helplessly. Her older brother was the most important person in the world to her and it hurt her to hear him talk about himself like this. “God, you were 19 when she died. That’s only a year older than me now… and I certainly couldn’t move out and take care of Doug at this point in my life. I can barely take care of me!”

“I was a little more worldly than you are, D,” he said wryly. “Dad made sure I was taught to be a CEO. He made sure you were taught to be compliant.”

She scowled and turned towards eating her pasta.

“D.” Marc started after a moment. “Dana. I didn’t mean it like that. Man, I am totally wrecking your birthday now. Look, it’s just…” he sighed. “Have you stayed up all night with your friends and talked about philosophical nonsense? Have you played hooky from class because you just couldn’t take it?” He smiled a little at her, trying to catch her eye. “Have you ever kissed a boy?”

“No. You know I haven’t! And I don’t see why I have to,” she said, too quickly and flushing a bit.

He raised his hands defensively. “I’m just saying, it’s hard to be an adult without being a teenager first, and you’re 18 and you just got permission to be a teenager for the first time. It’s time to do some really stupid stuff so you can learn why you need to be responsible.” He poked her in the arm. “And don’t you dare try to tell me you only haven’t kissed a boy because boys are icky, I have seen the proportion of rom-coms in your video collection.”

“Shut up!” she hissed, face flaming, as she slapped his hand away. “I’m already responsible. And there aren’t many boys my age at the school, if you didn’t notice.”

“Dana, I went to an all-boys prep school and we still managed to find girls. ‘Nature finds a way’,” he quoted with a grin.

“Whatever,” she mumbled into her pasta.

Marc chuckled. “Look, just promise me that while you’re at this school, you let yourself do some things because they’re fun. Don’t always think about what you’re learning or if it’ll reflect well on the family or any of that. Just have fun.”

“Fine. I can do that.” She looked up at him a little sheepishly.

“Good. In return, I’m gonna promise to you that I’ll do whatever I can to keep you happy. Whatever I have to. You’re 18 now, so you don’t have to go back. Ever. If he tries to declare you a dependent due to illness or whatever then his lawyers can fight my lawyers. I’m not gonna play along anymore.” He reached across the table and took her hand. She squeezed his hand back and offered him a smile.

Chapter Text

Dana bounced on her toes, keeping loose, and pushed damp tendrils of hair back from her face as she focused on what Scott was telling her.

“Okay, same thing, but lead with your left this time,” he said, and she nodded.

“Got it.”

“And if I see that arm drop, I’m gonna knock you down,” he warned, gesturing threateningly with the sparring pad.

“Not gonna drop it then, boss,” she said, with a little grin, and got into position. Her left arm was still noticeably weaker than her right, and by the end of a sequence it was usually burning. Scott had started making her pay for faults in form.

“Prove it,” he said, getting into position.

She nodded and dropped into her stance, and with a deep breath, started. Left jab, left jab, right cross, spin kick…

“Good, Dana! Faster!” Scott encouraged, as she made her way through the steps to drive him back towards the edge of the mat. The praise helped drive her on, but she could empathically feel the pride from him too, which was an even better motivator.

She was starting to breathe hard and, of course, her left shoulder was starting to burn with fatigue. She grit her teeth and pushed through, trying to ignore it. Left, left, left, right, kick…

“Keep that arm up…” he warned. “Don’t you dare get tired on me!”

About halfway, and now even her right arm was starting to feel like cooked spaghetti after a long day of training, and stinging sweat was falling into her eyes.

“That kick needs to be higher and harder, Dana! Try to knock me down.”

She muscled through the last few moves on sheer determination alone, form going all to hell, but at least her guard stayed up all the way through the last swiping kick. She came back to ready position with very noticeable wobble, but Scott was still grinning at her.

“Yes! That’s exactly what I’m talking about!” he said, dropping the pad to give her a hearty slap on her shoulder. She took that as the OK to drop out of position and doubled over, sucking wind and trying to rest her arms. “How did that feel?”

She turned her head to look up at him with an exhausted grin. “Honestly? Kind of like I want to puke.”

He laughed at that, and walked to the side of the mat to get her water. “Well, when you stop feeling pukey, and when you can move your arms again, get some water,” he said. “Take five and then we’ll work on that kick of yours.” He shook his head. “You are too tall for that to be as high as your kick can go. Is that flexibility issues or conditioning?”

She finally reached down and grabbed her water, taking a drink as she did a slow walking lap around the mat to keep her muscles loose. “I think it’s a bit of both?” she suggested, voice still a little breathy. “If I throw my leg up cold, I’ve got the height, but once I’m into the sequence my hamstrings tighten up, and I don’t—“

The door opened to the gym, and Rogue stepped in, looking, and feeling, frankly, a little alarmed.

“I’ve got her for another 30 minutes, can this wait?” Scott asked, glancing towards the door, before pulling up short at the look on her face.

“What is it?” Dana asked, setting down her water bottle and stepping forward.

“Your brother is on the phone,” Rogue said.

“Marc?” Dana asked. She frowned. He only ever called her on the weekends.

“No. It’s Douglas.”

Dana went white. There was no good reason for Douglas to call her. Despite her exhaustion she ran for the nearest phone.


 

Sam could certainly attest to Dana’s increase in muscle mass as she blew into him in a mad dash up the stairs. He nearly fell down, and only arrested his fall by clutching on to the bannister. “Woah, girl,” he said, with a grin, and then frowned when she didn’t so much as look back in his direction. Well, that was strange. He turned and followed her back up the stairs.

“Dana?” Still no response, so he hurried to catch up to her and caught her arm to stop her forward progress.  She spun to look at him and he pulled back in shock when he saw tears in her eyes. “What’s wrong?” he asked carefully, letting go of her arm.

“I have to go get showered and changed.” Her voice was strangely flat, some of her old reserve creeping into her voice despite the display of emotion. It left him feeling chilled as she headed into her room.

She left the door open, so he felt it wasn’t too much of an intrusion to follow her in. She was laying out clothes on her bed—the same clothes she’d arrived in. He knew she wasn’t a fan of the dress she’d worn so he frowned at the sight of her laying it out now. “Why do you have to get changed?” he asked cautiously.

“Father hates it when I’m dressed inappropriately,” she said primly and wiped at her eyes.

That was unexpected. “Dana…” he said, hoping she’d finally spill the whole story.

“Douglas called,” she said, not looking up as she meticulously set out her towels and shower things. “Father’s very sick. It’s apparently my last chance to say goodbye.”

“Wait. What!?” Sam asked, feeling left behind. “Why are you upset? You can heal him, right?”

She raised an eyebrow, and gave him a composed but fatalistic look. “And then he’ll know what I am for sure.”

“Better than dying, surely?” Sam fought to keep the worst of the incredulousness out of his voice.

She shrugged. “I suppose I’ll find out soon.” She gathered up all her shower things. “Can you call me a taxi? I’ll probably be ready by the time it gets here.”

“No way. You’re not going alone. I’ll give you a ride. Meet me downstairs when you’re ready.”

He changed into his Sunday best and then busied himself getting the keys for the car and pulling it around to the front of the drive. He was waiting in the foyer when Dana made her way downstairs. It was something of a shock to see her back in that dress. On the one hand to mark the differences—the beginnings of muscle definition made her look incredibly capable, and the dress fit completely differently now, flattering in a way it had never been before. On the other hand, she looked so reserved again. Expressions carefully controlled, and limbs close to her body so she wouldn’t take up too much space. The idea that family could do this to anyone made him a little sick.

In the car, he tried to make conversation. “You don’t ever talk about Douglas,” he wondered aloud. “Do you miss him like you do Marcus?”

She turned her head from where she was gazing out the window, still hugging herself tightly and shrugged. “Douglas is the most like father of any of us. I suppose he can’t help it, being the youngest, but he’s certainly comfortable where he is. If Marc offered to take him away from father, I don’t think he’d want to go in the slightest,” she said sadly, and then turned back to the window.

He wished he could say something to comfort her, but he couldn’t think of anything reassuring, and the rest of the ride was silent except for when she had to direct him to the house.

Sam pulled up in front of a set of huge wrought iron gates. Security cameras on nearby fence posts turned to take in the car.

A speaker to his left burst to life. “Can I help you?” the voice asked.

“Dana Hawkes is here to see her father.” Sam answered, as calmly as he could.

The camera on Dana’s side of the car did some adjusting and refocusing and then the speaker came to life again. “Miss Hawkes! I’m sorry, I didn’t recognize you!” The wrought iron gates buzzed and then opened in front of the car. “Welcome home, miss!”

Out of the corner of his eye, he caught Dana closing hers as they approached. She looked tired already. He turned his attention back to the long driveway as they pulled up to one of the largest houses Sam had ever seen. Dana, of course, was completely undaunted. She opened her eyes once the car stopped, took a breath, and then exited the car.

The large double doors opened as Dana approached them and Sam rushed his last few steps to draw even to her side, as a formally dressed older man appeared on the other side of them. “Miss Hawkes!” the man exclaimed, quickly leading her in. “It is excellent to see you again, despite the unfortunate circumstances. Will you be staying?”

“It’s very good to see you, too, Thomas,” she answered, stepping into the grand foyer and looking around. “This is Mr. Samuel Guthrie, a friend from school. I don’t think we’ll be staying.”

“Master Guthrie, can I take your coat?” Thomas asked.

Sam blinked. “Uh, yes. Of course. Thank you.” It was unsettling to see her here, like this. She was so clearly playing a role—it was one she knew well, but it was an uncomfortable fit. She seemed a completely different person here. He tried to imagine growing up in this house. It seemed opulent, but cold, even compared to Xavier’s.

“I’ll just go tell Mr. Hawkes you’re here. Your things have been boxed in your room, if you’d like to take them back to school with you?” Thomas suggested.

“Yes, of course. Thank you. That would be excellent, Thomas.”

Thomas nodded sharply and then left upstairs. Sam had a quick moment to boggle at the manners on display and then the most starched and pressed young teenage boy he’d ever seen came down the stairs. By the family similarity, this had to be Douglas.

“Douglas,” Dana greeted.

“Dana.”

The two siblings hugged, but it was formal, and certainly not how he’d hugged his family when his father had been dying. There was tension there, visible even through the very codified manners.

“This is Mr. Guthrie. He’s a friend,” Dana introduced. Douglas nodded in acknowledgement and stuck out his hand. Sam numbly offered his in return and Douglas gave him a firm handshake.

“Father’s in his room. He doesn’t know I’ve called you, but I suppose you should know.” Douglas turned and started to lead them up the stairs.

Dana nodded, even as she let herself bite her lower lip a little. That was a dead giveaway of her mental state, Sam thought. “Thank you. Does Marcus know?”

Douglas nodded sharply. “I called him before you. He’s in the City, so it might take him a while.” Douglas walked to a door at the end of the hall. “I’ll just see if he’s feeling up to visitors.”

“Of course,” Dana said, as Douglas slipped inside. As soon as the door shut behind him she sagged against the nearest wall and closed her eyes, looking strained.

Sam reached out a hand to her arm, cautiously. “You all right?”

“I can feel him from here. He’s in a lot of pain.” She rubbed her hand over her chest in a sympathetic reaction. “He’s having trouble taking a breath,” she murmured. “I don’t know if I can do this.”

“You have to do what you think is right,” he said back quietly, stepping closer to stroke her arm comfortingly.

She looked down at her hands. “I just…” she started, but that moment Douglas came through the door. She pulled herself together with a quickness that spoke of long practice and Sam stepped away from her with one final pat on her shoulder, although the gesture looked out of place with her suddenly so upright.

“He’ll see you now,” Douglas said.

Dana nodded and slipped through the open door.


 

The room was huge, but the lights were dimmed, curtains drawn. Her father looked small in the large bed, and as she approached with cautious, measured steps, his wracking coughs echoed in the room.

She felt like a small child again, scared and sitting by her mother’s bedside in a dark and emotionally cold room, but, she corrected herself after a moment, she’d been at her mother’s bedside out of love. She was here today out of duty. There was a wide gulf between the two.

“Father?” she asked hesitantly as she approached.

He looked up at her, eyes focusing. “Dana.” He coughed again, and she felt the rattle in her own chest. It was awful. She put her hands behind her back just in case they tried to betray her by starting to glow. “How goes your schoolwork?” he asked. It was rather amazing, she thought, that he looked so small in the bed. Not very huge and frightening any more.

“Very well, sir,” she said primly, coming to a straight-backed stop a step away from his bedside.

“Good. Excellence in all things. If you can stay healthy then…” he trailed off into a series of violent hacking coughs that hand him arching up from the bed. It was instinct to reach out to him, support his back and hold his hand. She would have done it for anyone—especially with her empathy calling out for her to do something.

With a gasp, and almost beyond her control, her power flared to life, hand glowing. Edwin Hawkes started to breathe easier. His color returned. His lungs repaired. When it was finished, Dana staggered back from him, drained, but conscious. At least she wasn’t hurting in sympathy anymore.

“What did you do?” her father asked in a furious whisper.

Dana shook her head, wide-eyed and took a hesitant step away. “I… I just wanted to help you.” Surely he’d realize that saving his life was more valuable than the disgrace of her being what she was.

“I was right all along, you ungrateful…” he said, rising from his bed, not small and helpless anymore.

Tears welled in her eyes as she fought her exhaustion. “It’s how I was born. There’s nothing I can do about it… but I healed you,” she pleaded, trying to appeal to him. “It’s all right!” As she backed away, her heel caught on the edge of the area rug and she fell backwards, sprawling across it.

“How am I supposed to explain this away?” He was dangerously quiet as he advanced, and she knew that was worse than him raging at her. She cowered back, trying to put some distance between them so she could climb to her feet. “The funeral plans were made, the lawyers were contacted. I was going to be able to hand the company over to your brothers. And now…” He slapped her, hard across her cheek, and she cried out. “What am I supposed to tell people? You have damaged this family.”  

“Father!” she cried, holding a hand to her stinging cheek, before continuing in a smaller voice, “Daddy. Please.”

“You don’t have a father,” he growled at her, and gripped her hair to keep hold of her as he shouted. “Douglas! Call security! There is mutant trash in my bedroom!”

The door opened as Douglas stepped in, only for him to freeze in the doorway, eyes going wide at the scene in front of him. “Douglas!” Edwin roared. “Now!” Douglas went sprinting off even as Sam pushed his way in, fists clenching, as he saw Dana exhausted and crying out in pain as her head was wrenched back.

“You let her go!” he shouted, rushing over to Edwin. Her father’s surprise at Sam’s presence made him unclench the hand in her hair and she scrambled back and got to her feet again with Sam’s assistance. “You okay?” he asked her quietly, incredibly concerned and reaching out to tentatively touch the darkening mark on her cheek, even as he kept most of his attention on her father.

Edwin was shouting again before she could answer. “Who the hell are you?” he shouted at Sam. “Security!”

“I’m still Dana!” she pleaded, hating that she had to lean on Sam for support. She was supposed to be strong now. That was the whole point of Xavier’s, wasn’t it?

“You are nothing! You are just like your mother—a freak trying to undermine me-- the company!”

Dana went white. He knew. He knew about her mother. She closed her eyes. Behind her Sam was full of barely restrained anger and disbelief, muscles tense and ready to spring into a fight, and in front of her was her angry, scared, stupid, shortsighted father. She found it surprisingly easy to draw from Sam’s emotions to strengthen her own. She opened her eyes again. All the mistakes he’d made. His delusions of self-importance. He’d tried to ruin her life, and suddenly, for the first time in her life she was too angry to be scared anymore.

“I saved your life!” she hissed. “You locked me up, tried to take away MY life and I still saved your life. I have the power to bring people back from the brink of death… and you’re worried about the power of, what, the board? The country club? There are people on this earth that can turn the world inside out, and they’re just like me. Who’s side do you want to be on?”

He snarled at her and drew his arm back like he wanted to hit her again, but probably thought better of it, with Sam right behind her. “You won’t have any power where you’re going,” he snarled. “There are places for things like you.”

She wanted to snarl at him. She wished she had claws. She wished that she was the sort of mutant who could hold her ground and tear through the oncoming security like tissue paper in front of her horrified father. But her stamina was slipping and how long had Douglas been gone anyway? Besides, the security guards had never done anything to her. Some of them had even been nice. “Enjoy your empty little life,” she finally said, and took a step back that felt more like a stagger than a dignified retreat.

“Get out of this house!” Edwin snarled.

Sam put his hand on her shoulder, reacting to her step back rather than Edwin’s command.  “Come on. Ah’ll take you home.” There was emphasis on the last word, and she wanted to sag against him in gratitude as he lead her out of the room, doing their best to ignore Edwin behind them.

Once they were in the hall, he carefully touched her cheek, which must have been blooming red. “That happen a lot?” he asked gently.

“It happened.” She shrugged and kept her eyes on the ground not wanting to see anger or pity in his face, even though she could feel both from him. “Often enough to know I can’t heal myself. We should go. The last thing I need is to get you into a fight.”

He took a breath like he wanted to say something, but kept it inside, and she was grateful he followed her lead. They made it down the stairs unmolested, which seemed strange after all the time they had taken in her father’s room, but security was waiting for them both in the foyer.

“Well?” Douglas prompted. “Go do your jobs!”

It was an awkward standoff. She’d known some of the staff here for most of her life, and she couldn’t imagine any of them ever suspecting they’d be told to detain a member of the family. Sam said, “We’re leavin’. We don’t want any trouble,” and raised his hands disarmingly.

It was Thomas who finally stepped forward with both of their coats over his arm. He was upset, although whether he was upset at her or the situation she couldn’t be sure. “Goodbye, miss,” he said, and offered out their jackets to them.

“Goodbye,” she said simply, and was pleasantly surprised they let her go. They were certainly putting themselves between her and her father, but she and Sam weren’t being detained, which was more than she had any right to hope for.

Sam let out the breath he was holding as they got to the car. In the back seat there were two boxes. He opened the door for her. “Ah suppose they didn’t get your things brought down before it all hit the fan,” Sam said, concerned. “Maybe Marcus can help—“

She sank into the seat, exhausted and having trouble keeping her eyes open. “I don’t want it. He can keep whatever’s left. It belonged to a different person anyway.”

Her eyes were open enough to catch Sam’s look of concern before he shut her door for her and headed around to the driver’s seat to take them home.

Chapter Text

She faded further and further on the ride home. By the time they pulled back up to the mansion, she could barely stand. “Ah gotcha,” Sam said, and carefully scooped her up into his arms to bring her into the house.

She mumbled something into his chest, and he looked down at her in concern, worried that she was stuck on the distressing events with her father. “What was that?”

“Let’s just not make this a habit,” she murmured with a weak smile. “I’m already enough of a damsel in distress without swooning all over and making handsome knights pick me up.”

He raised his eyebrow at ‘handsome knights’ but she looked too exhausted to even notice her word choice. He allowed himself a short laugh instead as she closed her eyes and fell against his chest again. Once at her room he set her down on her bed and helped slipped her shoes off.

“Is everything all right?” Jean was at the doorway, looking concerned. “I felt you come in.”

“It’s not great.” Sam said.

Dana was struggling to sit upright. “Gotta change out of this dress,” she mumbled, fighting to stay awake.

Jean stepped into the room. “I think I can help with this,” she said kindly, and patted his back as she passed. He nodded, relieved to have an ‘adult’ take over the situation. Better yet, a telepath who could intervene if Dana’s thoughts were in a bad way.

Relieved from duty, he went straight down to the medlab to report to Hank. Hank was, of course, distressed by the events that had occurred, but was heartened that she’d been able to stay awake for so long, despite the circumstances. He thought that her diet and exercise were probably increasing her stamina helpfully. Hank suspected that she’d have no ‘hangover’ this time as well, which was good, because that was the last thing she needed to deal with when she woke up.

Feeling a bit at a loss after that, Sam went to his room and changed out of his ‘going to a fancy house’ clothes and back into a T-shirt and jeans, and then decided to empty out the car. He’d hoped there might be some things in the trunk, but it turned out that the two boxes were the only belongings she’d been given. She’d seemed pretty unequivocal about not wanting them, but he certainly wasn’t going to throw them out without her explicit say so. There might be mementos of her mother in there, for all he knew. He opened the flap on the first box and it looked mostly like clothes and a few plush toys, and, convinced there were no nasty surprises waiting for any of them, he brought them into the house and then up to her room. The door was ajar, and he let himself peek in just to reassure himself that she was all right.

She was unconscious and unnervingly still. Apparently, that was how her powers worked—it had been no different after Rogue, after all—but it unsettled him, and after he set both boxes inside the door, he came to sit in the desk chair next to her bed just to reassure himself that she was breathing. Then he talked himself into staying until she woke up, just in case she wanted to see a friendly face. He knew he would, if their positions had been reversed. Besides, Hank had said it wouldn’t be too long.


 

When Dana woke, it was gradually, and gently. There was no blinding headache this time. In fact, she felt absolutely fine, which just made her emotional state that much more jarring when it all came back to her.

The early morning sun was streaming through the window, and a little noise to her right called her attention to the fact that Sam was sleeping in her desk chair. Uncomfortably so, judging by the way he was shifting his position in his sleep. Part of her was touched, and part of her thought it was ridiculous, and she smiled at him softly before letting him sleep and instead climbing out of bed to go to her window.

The photo of her family was there on the sill. Seeing her father filled her with a spike of anguish, so she covered his face with her hand and looked at her mother instead. In the picture, her mother’s hair lit up with red highlights in the sun as opposed to Dana’s flat brown. She was shapely and beautiful where Dana was a rectangle with boyish hips and an unremarkable waist. Dana wished she could have inherited more from her than the x-gene. She wished she didn’t look so much like her father.

“You okay to be out of bed?” Sam asked softly from behind her.

“Says the person sleeping in a desk chair,” she turned and cocked an eyebrow at him, a little too melancholy to laugh.

He bobbed his head sheepishly in acknowledgement. “Got me there. You all right?”

She shrugged. “Dunno, really,” she said quietly.

He pushed himself out of the chair with a big stretch and walked over to her, reaching past her to pick up the photo on the windowsill and examine it.

“It’s not even a surprise,” she continued. “I knew I’d get disowned for it eventually. I don’t know why I can’t just brush it off.”

He put the picture down and looked at her again. “Because no matter how awful, he’s still your father?” he suggested. He turned his body to lean against the windowsill and sighed. “Because no matter how certain you are of something, a tiny part of you holds out hope that it’ll all turn out for the better?”

She looked up at him, eyes large. What he’d said felt closer than it had any right to. “What makes you say that?”

He shrugged. “Might be an entirely different situation,” he said, looking over his shoulder at the trees outside, “ but when my dad died…”

She remembered him mentioning it before. “I’m sorry,” she said automatically, but he waved her off.

“It’s all right, that’s not the point,” he said kindly. “He was sick a long while, and we all knew what was happening and by the time it happened, Ah think we’d all made our peace with it. Ah think what Ah actually mourned was the death of that little dream that hoped beyond logic that he would magically get better.” He turned to look at her again with a little sad smile. “The death of the possibility.”

She exhaled heavily. “Yeah, the possibility with me and my dad is definitely dead.” She chuckled bleakly. “Don’t think Xavier will be getting any more tuition checks.” She jammed her hands into the pockets of her pajama pants and looked out her window onto the grounds of the school. “So is this where I move into the drafty attic room and end up scrubbing floors here to pay my way?”

“No, of course not!” he said, aghast, and then stopped and frowned. “You weren’t really…”

She actually managed a little laugh at his outrage on her behalf. “No. That’s the plot of The Little Princess. Shirley Temple movie? And a book, I think. It ends happy, dark as that synopsis was.” She just felt numb, really, she decided, and it was strange to feel nothing, but to also feel Sam’s fretful emotions on her behalf at the same time. “Thanks for being here when I woke up,” she said. “It was kind of ridiculous, and I can feel the twinge in your back from here, but it’s probably good I’m not alone right now.”

“Ah’m glad Ah was here, then,” he said, with a little smile, “and my back’s fine.”

She gave him a flat look of doubt, and then pulled one hand out of her pants pocket and brushed it across his bare arm. Her hand flashed with its white glow for only a moment before she withdrew it and stuck it back in her pocket.

He made a face. “Okay. That maybe feels a little better.”

She snorted and he grinned at her and she reluctantly smiled back at him.

“You’re going to be okay, Ah promise,” he said. “You’ve still got all of us at the school, and you’ve got Marc. We’re all gonna look out for you.” He stroked her arm again, and she’d really come to find a lot of comfort in that simple gesture. She nodded, not knowing how to respond, and starting to get a little choked up.

Sam kindly didn’t mention it, blithely moving onto another topic. “So, Ah’m not gonna tell you how to live your life, or whatever, but just as a heads up, Hank will probably come at you with a tofu veggie scramble or something if you don’t get to breakfast before he does this morning.” That startled a chuckle out of her, even as she absolutely agreed, and she wiped at her eyes. He grinned back, clearly pleased he’d gotten a reaction. “Ah brought the boxes from the car up last night. You want ‘em, or should Ah make them disappear?” He gestured carelessly towards the door and there both boxes were, piled innocuously against the wall.

She frowned at them. Eighteen years of life and that was all that it came down to—two small boxes, and for all she knew nothing she might have actually wanted had made it down to the car. “No. I should go through it first. It might have something I need.” God, like her birth certificate or social security card… She was gonna need to get replacements for those things if they weren’t in the box. How did someone go about doing that?

“You need company for that?” he asked, still concerned.

She wanted it, but he couldn’t stay here metaphorically holding her hand all day. Besides, she was tired of crying in front of people. “No, I’ve got this,” she said instead.

“Okay.” He patted her on the back and drew away towards the door. “Tell you what,” he said, turning back, “come down in the next 30 minutes or so and Ah bet Ah can make you an omelet before Hank finds you.” He winked at her as she smiled softly at him and then left her alone with all that was left of her life in her father’s house.

She got dressed for the day and then sorted through the boxes. None of the documents she’d worried about were inside. Maybe she could get Marc to help her get them if he hadn’t burned his bridges the instant he’d heard she burned hers. There were some old toys, some clothes that were too expensive to wear at school, some others that she could actually incorporate with her wardrobe, and other odds and ends. The most exciting thing was probably the small collection of make-up, which she didn’t think she’d start wearing everyday yet, but it would be nice to know how to… especially if Sam ever took her out for breakfast again. Maybe Rogue or Jean or Ororo would teach her.

She saved what she thought would be useful, putting it away in her room, and the rest she put back in one of the boxes to give away. Sorting through it had not been as awful as she expected, only leaving her melancholy rather than sobbing, and she cheered herself with the idea that Sam and his omelet awaited. She brushed her hands off on her jeans and headed downstairs.

She found Sam sitting on the couch in the living room watching the morning news with some of the others. He was nursing a mug of coffee and she leaned over the back of the couch next to him to ask, “That omelet still on offer?” with a little smile.

“Yeah, of course. Just waiting on you,” he said, smiling back and rising from the couch.

She was crossing her fingers they’d be alone in the kitchen so she could get a sneaky mug of coffee herself without news getting back to Hank when the weatherman on the TV pitched back to the anchors. “Thanks Bill. And now in local news, philanthropist Edwin Hawkes, president of Hawkes Incorporated has donated over one million dollars in pledged money and equipment to local researchers.”

Her blood turned to ice and she froze on the way to the kitchen sure that every eye in the room was suddenly turned to her.

“His wish is for the money to be used for research to cure mutant behavior.”

She closed her eyes, cheeks flushing in shame, and felt Sam coming to hover beside her. God, how did she get out of this room without making even more of a spectacle? There was suddenly a hand in the middle of her back guiding her out of the room, but it wasn’t Sam’s.

“Come on. Let’s go to the kitchen and talk in private,” Jean said. “Sam can make you that omelet.” She let Jean guide her through to the kitchen even if the omelet seemed unappealing now. Jean sat her down in one of the kitchen chairs at the table and sat opposite her as Sam went to the counter. He returned a minute later with a mug of coffee fixed how she liked it and squeezed her shoulder in solidarity before going to start her breakfast. “What d’ya want in your omelet?”

Dana felt less than hungry. “Anything. Whatever’s there.” Dana turned her head to follow him as he walked away and Jean hissed a sudden breath. Oh, her cheek. She raised an embarrassed hand to cover it and looked at the tabletop. She’d entirely forgot about it, but it must be bruising nicely now.

“No, it’s okay,” Jean rushed to reassure. “It’s certainly not your fault.”

Dana shrugged and dropped her hand but turned her head back the other way so Jean wouldn’t have to look at the bruise. “The bruise isn’t my fault, but I’m not sure about the million dollars,” Dana said quietly.

“Sam told us you went to your father’s house and healed him… just to explain why you were sleeping. I think he left the rest for you, if you wanted to tell it,” Jean prompted.

Dana shrugged. The opening was obvious but what else was there? “Not sure there’s anything left to say. He hit me. There was shouting. I got disowned. Then Sam and I left.”

“I’m sorry.” It was heartfelt, Dana could feel the sympathy radiating in waves from her, but she didn’t feel she really needed it at the moment. The only surprise was the bruise on her cheek, but not even really that.

“I don’t think I could have stopped it from happening,” she said honestly. “But I feel like there was something I could have done to just make him let it go at that, and not do… this.” She gestured in the direction of the living room and the TV there.

Jean glanced over her shoulder in a way that made Dana sure that Sam was looking at her too, but she didn’t dare turn her head to check. Feeling his upset was enough—she didn’t need to also read it on his face. After a long moment, where Dana was fairly confident Jean was working feverishly to come up with a spin on the situation, she said, “Well, maybe it’s his way of reaching out. Of saying sorry. You and I know why what he did was hurtful, but maybe he doesn’t. Maybe he thinks he’s trying to help you in an indirect way?”

Dana snorted. She found herself pleased by the fact Sam felt doubtful as well. “I don’t think that would ever actually occur to him.” She licked her lips. “I mean, I suppose I could be pleasantly surprised, but you don’t know him. If this is anything it’s one last, very public, ‘screw you’.”

Sam set down her plate in front of her. It actually would have looked fantastic during any other conversation. Still, he’d made it for her and she had to eat, so she took a healthy bite and smiled as heartfelt as she could manage. He seemed satisfied with that. “Honestly, I don’t see how this ends well. He’s not the type to throw away a million dollars on a whim, so either I’ve pissed him off enough that he’s stupid with it or he’s figured out how to make a profit from this.” She wrapped the arm not holding the fork around herself, chilled by the thought. “Either way, if he throws money at the right people, it makes your lives that much more dangerous, and for that I’m sorry. I don’t know what I can do at this point though.”

“Ah think a call to Marc might be a good idea,” Sam murmured, sitting down to his own omelet.

Jean nodded. “And it’s your life, too,” she smiled softly. “You’re family now, kiddo.”

The thought was simultaneously warming and terrifying. She hoped Edwin’s anger stopped at a million dollars for all their sakes.


She called her brother after breakfast. News had apparently already gotten to him, of course.

“He called last night,” he said dryly, “as I was still on my way over to visit. Told me not to have anything to do with you.”

Her blood went cold and she must have gasped because he rushed to reassure her. “Not that I would listen to him,” he said quickly. “I meant what I told you on your birthday. If he asks me to pick between you, he’s going to lose.” He paused for a moment, and then added. “Do you want me to quit? I will if you want me to. I would understand.”

“No, Marc. I think I’ve had enough dramatic statements today,” she said. “But I do have a favor to ask. But only if you’re absolutely willing to do it.”

“Of course, anything,” Marc said wholeheartedly.

“Dad’s million dollar donation…” she started.

“You heard about that then?” He was clearly sorry she had heard, but did he really think she would manage to miss it?

She chuckled humorlessly. “Yes. I heard that dad double downed on hating me from the morning news.”

“D, I’m sorry.”

“Marc, shut up. It’s not your fault.” She was a little exasperated. “If you’re up for it—and please don’t do anything to get yourself in trouble—but can you follow that money for me? Like, just find out if that ‘cure’ he’s going for is a bullet or not, okay?”

“Jesus, D!” He sounded shocked.

“What? You think he wouldn’t?” She raised her eyebrows in skepticism.

Marc took a long pause. “Not directly,” he said eventually.

“Oh, God, no,” she agreed. “No, if that’s the case there’ll be fifteen layers of plausible deniability and hand washing between him and the bullet. But you’re smart and you know the company, and if anyone can track that money you can.”

“I’ll see what I can do,” he said immediately.

“Don’t get in trouble,” she warned. “Don’t do anything stupid for me.”

Marc laughed. “I do stupid shit all the time. It might as well be for you for once.”

Chapter Text

Scott met her outside the gym after breakfast and her phone call with Marc. He’d clearly heard what had happened, but she appreciated that he didn’t give her the day off but rather was insisting on her schedule. She thought some fighting would do her good.

Instead of stepping inside like they usually did he waved her further down the hall. She followed, very confused, as Scott took her to an elevator, which they rode downstairs to some very sleek hallways completely unlike the upstairs of the house.

“Where are you taking me?” She asked, unsettled.

“You might have heard some of the other people in the house refer to the Danger Room?”

Dana coughed. “You have a room called the danger room?” she asked, both eyebrows heading towards her hairline.

“Guess not,” Scott said, wry. “So let me explain. We have a room, like the gym, but it’s a little more technically advanced. Robotics, solid light holograms…” he scratched behind his ear sheepishly, “alien technology.”

Dana gaped for a moment and then shut her mouth and shook her head. “I don’t know why I’m even surprised anymore. Thanks for not including that in the tour the first day, by the way, that’s something I really needed to build up to.” She quirked an eyebrow. “So what do you do with your robot room?”

“We use it to run scenarios. As a team or individuals. To train for missions.”

“And you’re taking me there now because…” Was this some sort of bizarre gift to cheer her up?

“Because you’ve learned really well in the gym and I want to see what you’ve got.”

“Against killer robots.” What even was her life? Still, it was, strangely, serving well to get her mind off things.

“The safeties will be on, so they can’t kill you,” Scott explained patiently as he ushered her into a big empty room. “Ororo is right up there in the control booth.” Scott pointed up at the ceiling and sure enough there were a little panel of windows and she could make out Ororo behind them. Dana waved up at the booth. Scott chuckled at the gesture.

“The Danger Room not only lets you practice your fighting like in the gym, you can practice your resourcefulness.” Scott waved up to the booth, and suddenly they were standing in a jungle. Dana slapped her hands over her mouth to muffle her surprised screech. He cracked a smile at her, but she was more fascinated by the foliage. She reached out and touched a giant leaf. It felt real! The mansion had the Holodeck and they only used it to train? What a waste!

“This is amazing,” she enthused, pushing leaves out of the way to see further into the room. The jungle seemed to go on forever, well beyond the limits of the room that she knew it was contained in. She was so caught up in the new environment she completely missed Scott gesture skyward again, and suddenly there was a person in front of her.

She made a noise of surprise and reared back, arms pinwheeling, before she fell backwards sprawling on the loamy earth. She glared up at Scott and he shrugged, grinning. “No stopping to smell the roses in the field, okay?”

She pushed herself to her feet and dusted herself off. It was amazing how real the dirt felt, clinging to her sweatpants. The person in front of her was a woman about her size and build, already sunk into a ready position, but frozen like a video on pause. Dana threw a quick glance up to the booth, hoping that Ororo could see her through all the foliage. Now that Ororo suddenly held Dana’s life in her hands, she suddenly wished she’d spent more time with the woman. Dana found her intimidating, frankly, beautiful and regal and almost otherworldly. Ororo had the bearing and grace that her father had always wanted Dana to have, but Dana had never managed to live up to his desires. And here she was brushing dirt off the rear of her sweatpants in the ultimate demonstration of it.

Scott was looking at her expectantly. Dana sunk into a ready position opposite her opponent and imagined the look on her father’s face if he saw her throwing punches, and couldn’t help but smile a little. Maybe now that she finally felt free to be her own person, she could spend time with Ororo without feeling that she could never measure up. The idea was nice.

She kept an eye on Scott, even as she squared up against her opponent, so she didn’t miss his signal this time. She was ready when her opponent came to life. Fortunately, the woman opposite her seemed scaled to her abilities. She forecasted her punches just enough that Dana could read the cues, ducking or throwing up a forearm to block. She left her guard down too, leaving openings for Dana to land punches and kicks.

What was different was the terrain. Pressing forward with a punch sequence, she nearly tripped on a root. Falling back to defend had her contending with a slick pile of fallen leaves underfoot, that forced her to turn a slip into a tuck and roll. That earned her a “Good!” from the ever-watching Scott, but also earned another gesture to the control booth as her opponent suddenly got another notch faster and more aggressive.

“Don’t fight the terrain. Use it!” Scott suggested, which was easier said than done. Keeping one eye on an opponent that was starting to tax her limited skills, and also being aware of opportunities or hazards that the environment presented meant that she was mediocre at both. It also met that she completely missed Scott ratcheting up the difficulty with another gesture. A leg sweep sent her to the ground in a heap.

Being flat on her back on the mats usually meant a break, and a reset of the scenario, but her opponent was on her in a flash, one hand pinning her to the ground and the other landing punches. Thankfully, they seemed to land with less force than they should, otherwise she would have been bleeding. She covered her face as best as she could, and flailed out with her legs, but couldn’t seem to dislodge her. Nor could she figure out how to escape.

“Break,” Scott finally said, and her opponent was gone. Dana cautiously uncovered her face to see that she was frozen back in the ready position again. She looked up sheepishly at Scott. “No time outs in real life,” he said.

“Yeah, figured that out about five seconds too late,” she said ruefully, climbing to her feet.

“What should you have done, stuck on your back?” he asked.

She bit at her lip, a little embarrassed, before answering, “Block with one arm, eyes or throat with the other.”

“Little bit of dirt in the face wouldn’t have hurt either,” he said with a smirk.

Oh right. There was dirt here. The sheepish grin came back to her face. Scott shook his head at her, fondly exasperated.

“Okay, let’s take a moment and look around. What resources does the environment provide you with?”

Dana took a breath and really looked around. “Dirt,” she said, fairly confident about that one since Scott had already pointed it out. “Rocks,” she said, pointing out a fist sized rock laying on the ground not too far from her position. “Oh! There’s a stick over there!” It was, perhaps, a little ridiculous to hit someone with super powers with a stick, but it did keep her out of their reach for a while. She looked up at Scott and he seemed to want more from her. She glanced around the room again. “I could… crawl under that underbrush?”

Scott nodded. “Cover can be just as good as a weapon. Escape, or getting safe until help can get to you is always going to be a good option for you. There are going to be opponents you can’t defeat. You’re going to want to look for some place easily defensible. It’s much easier for you to strike out from underneath that underbrush than it is to hit into it, or climb into it to get at you.”

She nodded, but was still a bit hesitant. “Running and hiding seems a bit…” she trailed off, making a face.

“Discretion is the better part of valor,” Scott said. “If, heaven forbid, the mansion is ever attacked, your job is to stay safe until we need you or there’s an all clear.”  

She nodded, although it was a bit hard to wrap her brain around because she was pretty sure she was the only one who Scott had ever told to use that strategy. It was a little blow to her ego to be the odd man out.

“Let’s give that a shot this time, all right?” he suggested.

“What? Hiding?” she asked in disbelief.

“Yeah. We can’t train that in the gym.”

She couldn’t believe she was being asked to train it at all. “Okay,” she said, giving the bushes a dubious glance. How was she gonna get in there without poking her eye out?

“I’m going to make her much faster, stronger, and better than you, so your only chance is hiding.” Scott warned, signaling up to Ororo again. “And I’m not going to let you leave for the day until you make it.”

Oh. Well, okay then. “Roger that,” she said, taking a deep breath.

“Go!” Scott shouted, while she was still looking skeptically at the bush. Her opponent body checked her before she could even turn her head, and she hit the ground in a spray of dirt and leaves.

“Not cool,” she groaned, spitting dirt out of her mouth.

Scott shook his head. “Do it again.”


 

The leaves and twigs in her hair had disappeared when the jungle had, but she found herself reflexively smoothing her hands through her hair, even after her shower. Between getting tackled to the ground and forcing her way through the underbrush she felt that, by all rights, she should be plucking foliage from her hair (and from under her shirt) for another week at least.

She found Sam waiting for her when she got back to her room. He smiled reflexively at her as she approached, and she couldn’t help but return it. “Ah heard it was your first day in the Danger Room,” he said, with a note of sympathy in his voice.

She chuckled at him, tiredly, and brushed past him to hang up her towels in her room. “Yeah. You know some of you could have warned me that there was a room in this place called the Danger Room before today.”

“Sorry.” He scruffed his hand through his hair, and at least managed to look a bit abashed. “Guess we didn’t want to chase you off too soon.”

“Don’t worry, I’m staying,” she smiled. “Not sure about anything else in my whole life, but I’m staying.”

“Good.” Sam said, and it was surprisingly firm. She almost questioned him about it when he continued. “You up for a walk, or do you need to sleep for a week?”

She bit her lip. She was kind of exhausted, but she liked spending time with Sam. He set her at ease when she might otherwise worry about things. He was a solid and dependable friend and she found his emotions steadying and bolstering in turns. “Just don’t make me hide in any shrubbery.”

Sam quirked an eyebrow at her. “That’s what you did in the Danger Room?” he asked, disbelievingly.

“Yes. Scott’s teaching me strategic cowardice,” she joked, earning a laugh from him.

“No hiding. Scout’s honor. We’ll stick to the path.”

“Deal,” she said, and let him lead her down the stairs.

They left the house and walked in silence along a path that lead down an avenue of maple trees, leaves starting to turn for the fall. It really was lovely, she thought, now that she was out of the danger room and allowed to admire foliage again. Sam was his usual companionable presence at her side, but there was something about him that was a bit… off, and she tried to sort through his emotions as they walked.

After a few moments, he spoke. “How’s your cheek?”

She reached up and touched it, reflexively, ducking her head down. “It’s fine. I honestly forget it’s there until someone reminds me.”

Sam cursed under his breath. “Sorry. That was…” He sighed. “Ah didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable.”

“It’s all right. You didn’t do it.” She rubbed a little fiercely at it as if that would make the bruise go away. It ached when she pressed hard.

“Ah can’t help but feel a little responsible, though. I should have come into the room faster.”

She shook her head. “It’s not your fault you didn’t know how screwed up my family was,” she said. “I’m just glad you were there to get me out of the house.”

“Ah’m glad Ah was there, too,” he murmured, and then swallowed. “Look, Ah don’t want to overstep my place, and Ah would never want to make you uncomfortable but…”

Dana glanced up at him, alarmed. God, what was this about? How could Sam ever make her feel uncomfortable? Was he upset about how she had handled things at her father’s house?

“Ah really like you,” he admitted quietly. “More than Ah should. Ah know you probably don’t feel the same way, but Ah just couldn’t…” he trailed off, trying to read her expression.

Her eyes went wide. Even with her empathy she’d never expected that. She just dismissed it entirely. How could anyone like her like that? She was sheltered and graceless and inexperienced and Sam was—

He must have not liked what he saw in her expression and cursed before rubbing at his forehead looking pained. “Ah shouldn’t have said anything. You’re not in any state to—“

“No!” she said, surprising herself by saying it aloud and so suddenly. Sam had even pulled back a little in shock. She licked her lips as her heart rabbited in her chest. God, she felt lightheaded she was so nervous. “No, please.” She made sure to speak at a much more moderate volume. “Don’t think that. I like you too,” she admitted.

His face and emotions lit up in happy surprise that distracted her from her nervous shaking, but then his mouth relaxed into a warm smile that made her swallow reflexively again. God, how did he not know what that did to her? “Why didn’t you say something earlier?” he asked. “Didn’t you feel how Ah felt about you?”

She looked down at the ground. “I thought it must have been wishful thinking,” she murmured, embarrassed. “My empathy is still…” She made a face. “It’s still easy for me to talk myself in and out of my interpretations.”

“This whole time Ah thought you were too polite to shoot me down.”

“No. I think you’re amazing,” she murmured, still looking at the ground. She wrung her hands nervously. “I have no idea what to do about it, though,” she added.

He reached out and took her hands in his, stopping her restless movement. They were warm around hers, solid and strong without feeling restraining. “Ah don’t ever want to make you uncomfortable, all right? You have to tell me if I do,” he reassured, squeezing her hands in his. “Ah’m not that much older than you, but Ah know Ah’m more experienced. This only goes as fast as you want it to. Ah don’t want to push you.”

“Okay,” she said breathlessly, looking up at him with wide eyes.

He smiled down at her and gave her hands another squeeze. “Maybe this is enough for now,” he said kindly, and lifted her left hand to his mouth to give the back a kiss. Her breath caught in her throat as his lips touched her skin, and then he was turning to walk on, her left hand held gently in his right.

“Wait--!” she said, leaning towards him in more of a lurching sway than she would have liked. She bumped into his broad chest before she righted herself. “I mean… um…” She trailed off awkwardly, but he seemed to pick up the thread.

He lifted a hand to brush carefully against her bruised cheek, tipping up her face and then drew close enough that she could feel his breath on her skin. “This alright?” he breathed, lips a hair’s breadth from hers. She couldn’t find her voice and just nodded, a minute bob of her head, wide eyes locked on his.

He smiled softly at her, corners of his eyes crinkling, and then touched his lips to hers. She knew it was a simple kiss, closed mouth and just a press of lips, but it was her very first and she closed her eyes and went up on her tiptoes as his hands went carefully to her waist to keep her close.

There were new sensations singing down her nerves, new emotions overwhelming her brain, and she felt as if she might float away if Sam wasn’t holding on to her. It was hard to think her way through it, to keep track of her limbs and make sure her hands weren’t doing anything stupid, but it was still the best moment of her entire life.

He pulled back well before she wanted it to be over. “That alright?” he murmured with a smile. She licked her lips and nodded, feeling dazed.

“You want to try again?” His smile turned just the tiniest bit wicked. She nodded more firmly. That made him grin broadly at her before lowering his head again.

Suddenly, she couldn’t think at all.


 

Kissing, even the chaste kissing that they were doing, was amazing, but they had to stop eventually. Sam pulled back to look at her, smiling, as she pressed her fingers against her lips helplessly, still a little unable to believe it had happened.

“Didja want to head back?” he asked, tipping his head in the direction of the house. The two of them, alone like this, was nice and she wasn’t ready to let go of it yet. She certainly wasn’t ready to face the other occupants of the school.

She shook her head, and then tried to find her voice. “Maybe we could just sit for a while?” she asked hopefully.

Sam glanced around looking for a likely spot and then tugged her by the hand over to the base of one of the maples that looked like a relatively dry and clean place to sit. He folded himself down, and helped her to sit beside him, and it only took the slightest encouragement of his arm around her shoulders for her to curl into him and rest her head on his shoulder. She could admit she was perhaps a little intoxicated with endorphins along with the heady feeling of his affection for her, now that she knew it was real. 

He chuckled. “The first time Ah saw you, you were so proper and buttoned up, Ah thought you must hate to be touched.”

She looked up at him through her lashes. “I just wasn’t used to it… had come not to expect it. I don’t hate it at all.” She bit at her lip a moment, indecisive, before finally admitting, “I like this a lot,”cheeks heating with embarrassment.

“Good. Ah’m kind of a hugger.” He tightened his arm around her for a moment, and tipped his head down to kiss her temple. He was so casual and comfortable with it, it was hard for her to comprehend. Even just sitting here with her head on his shoulder, her cheeks seemed to be permanently pink.

“I’d noticed,” she said, lifting her eyes up to look at him. She always found his touches comforting and reassuring and he was generous with them around her, but she’d seen him pat other people on the back too— it was just what he did. “I’m starting to think it’s your secondary mutation.” 

The nervous little cough was so unlike him that it made her look up sharply in alarm. “Ah might already have one,” he admitted sheepishly, ducking his head. 

“What do you mean ‘might’?” She frowned at him. “And what is it?” 

He scrubbed his hand through his hair. “Ah might be immortal.” 

She blinked at him. “You might be…” She couldn’t really comprehend it, and half expected him to crack a smile in a joke. “Can you explain that?” 

He huffed a sigh. “Well, once Ah died and it didn’t take. So some folks reckon Ah might be a special kind of mutant called an External. Don’t really want to test it out by dying again, frankly, but if Ah don’t age that’ll be a pretty good sign. It’s been too soon to tell on that one.” 

She pulled back a bit to look at him. It clearly wasn’t something he was comfortable with. It seemed too strange for her to even wrap her head around. A lot of people claimed to want to live forever, but for someone like Sam, who was so obviously close to his friends and family, the idea that he’d have to be without them all one day must be daunting. Still, she wasn’t so naive to think that their relationship of five minutes so far meant she would know him long enough for it to affect them. 

“So if you are one, you can’t die? Guess you don’t need me at all,” she teased, trying to show him it didn’t bother her. 

“Nah, Ah still need you,” he said, and ran his hand through her hair to underline the double meaning. “If Ah am one, Ah just won’t die of natural causes. Ah’ve seen Externals die before. There’s a mutant-targeting virus called ‘Legacy’ that’s killed at least one. And apparently you can kill an External by taking off their head, or doing enough damage to it.” 

She shuddered, absolutely hating the image. “Topic change, please. I don’t like the idea of bad guys coming for your head.” 

“Ah’m glad. Ah don’t like the idea either.” He kissed her temple again. “But your brother is the one Ah’m worried about coming for my head at the moment.”

She frowned up at him. “What are you talking about? He told me he liked you!”

“That was before Ah kissed you,” he said with a guilty little smile, but he smoothed his hand over her hair like she was somehow worth it.

“I don’t see what that has to do with anything,” she said, huffing out an exasperated breath and setting her head back down on his shoulder. “It’s not any of his business.”

He chuckled. “Well, if my little sister Paige were in a similar situation, Ah might be concerned that an older guy who expressed an interest when she was away from home might be taking advantage of her being a bit out of her element,” he explained carefully.

She made a dismissive noise, and he laughed. “Just because you don’t see it that way doesn’t mean anyone else will. You’ve never dated. You’ve been socially isolated. That makes you a wide-eyed innocent to a lot of folks.”

She shrugged. “Well, I am… sort of. Still, how am I supposed to get any dating experience if I’m not allowed to date?”

“Maybe if you’d had more than one person to choose from…” Sam said, trailing off.

“I chose you. I like you,” she said, as firmly as she could say those things at this point. They still made her blush. “What about you? You didn’t have much selection either!”

“There are townies and there’s lots of other girls on the other teams,” he said. “My old team, X-Force, are all about my age. There are a few more teams scattered around, although I’m not about to date any of my little sister’s teammates, that’s just asking for trouble.”

She chuckled a little at that, even though she did detect a flash of something when he mentioned his old team. Sadness or nostalgia? Something else? It was impossible for her to tell. “Glad I didn’t transfer to Massachusetts, then?” she said instead, teasing.

“Very glad,” he said, and reached out to tip her chin up so he could kiss her lips again.

“Me too,” she said, smiling softly when they parted, but feeling that she might ignite with the force of her blushing.

“Ah should probably talk to Scott about this,” he admitted after a moment.

She groaned and turned to bury her face in his chest. “Why? Why is this anybody’s business?”

“He doesn’t doubt my intentions or anything, Ah don’t think… but it might affect team dynamics, so he should still know.”

“I can’t keep you to myself for even a day?” she asked plaintively.

“Dana, girl, Ah’m all yours, but if you’re talking about keeping a secret in this house, you’re about to be sorely disappointed. You are living with telepaths after all.” He squeezed her against him with the arm around her shoulders. “Better strategy to beat them to the punch and show them we don’t have anything to hide.” He kissed the top of her head.

“I suppose that’s a good thing,” she allowed carefully.

“Yeah, then we can sit like this somewhere warm and dry,” he laughed. “Ah don’t know about you, but Ah can’t feel my legs!”

“Oh, sorry. Gosh,” she said, shifting so he could get up. “I didn’t mean to—“

He kissed her again, one big hand cradling her jaw to pull her close for a firm and certain press of his lips to hers. It was surprisingly effective at stopping her words. “Ah wouldn’t have sat here with you if Ah didn’t want to,” he murmured at her afterwards. She flushed as he climbed to his feet and dusted himself off.

She had to rely on his hand up to climb to her feet because suddenly her legs felt a bit numb too. Apparently kissing really did that.


 

Sam had gone to find Scott as soon as they’d gotten back to the mansion. He hated to leave her, but he wanted to be as responsible about this as he could be, and she had a paper to write that he’d only distract her from. It was heady to be with someone again, even as simply as this. His relationship with Tabitha hadn’t so much ended as atrophied to death from the distance, and it had been so long since he’d had someone to be affectionate with.

He even liked that it was as innocent as it was. He’d had to grow up fast at 16: His father dying of the black lung, going to work in the Kentucky coal mines to support his family, only surviving a cave-in through the timely manifestation of his powers. He didn’t regret any of it, and he was usually pretty sure he liked the man he’d become, but there was something particularly indulgent, at least so far, about having the type of relationship he’d had when he was younger. He hoped Dana had a little more gradual introduction to the real world and the mutant world than he’d had.

He found Scott, finally, in the garage, leaning into the open hood of one of the cars. “Hey sir, can Ah have a moment?” he asked, putting his hands in his pockets and trying his best to appear his ‘aw shucks’ best.

Scott looked up, eyebrows raising in curiosity above the rim of his glasses. “Of course, Sam. What’s up?” He wiped his hands on a rag. “I’ve seen the stats from your last Danger Room session, by the way. Very impressive. You’ve shown some excellent progress in the last few weeks.”

“Thank you, sir,” Sam said, ducking his head a bit in acknowledgement. He really should have been at this level the whole time he’d been here, but it was nice to get the compliment anyway. “Ah actually wanted to talk to you about Dana.”

“Oh?” Scott asked, tucking the rag into his back pocket again. “There something wrong?”

“No. At least Ah hope you don’t see it as a problem.” This was, perhaps, a little more difficult than he imagined. “Ah’m fallin’ for Dana, sir. She feels the same about me. Ah just thought that—“

“Sam!” Scott cut him off and then sighed deeply, rubbing his forehead. “I told you to look out for her to be a mentor for her, not to pair you two off.”

“Ah know, sir, and Ah went in with all the most platonic of intentions. Ah don’t know what to tell you. She’s not what Ah expected.”

“She’s a teenager! She’s been sheltered… you’re the first boy she’s seen outside of her family since she was thirteen!” Scott threw his hands up in exasperation.

Sam kept his calm and did his best to be unflappable. “She’s not sheltered anymore, and she’s eighteen. That makes her an adult. She had to meet her first boy sometime, and if you can’t trust my intentions, then whose can you trust?” Sam shook his head. “You’re training her. You can’t expect her to deal with life at the mansion and risk her life but still be too innocent to kiss a boy who likes her, surely.”

Scott sighed heavily again. “If you two break up ugly…” he warned, trailing off meaningfully.

“We’ll have to do our best not to do that, then,” Sam said, taking his hands out of his pockets as he squared his shoulders. “Just like any one of the many other couples that have formed and sometimes dissolved on this team.”

Scott raised his hands, defensively. “All right, I get the point. You just treat her right.”

“That was always my intention, sir.” Sam said, before relaxing his posture a bit. “But, tell you what… you see me doin’ anything less than that, you call me out on it. Deal?” He offered his hand out, hoping Scott would see it as the pledge it was.

Scott reached out and took his hand, giving it a firm shake. “Deal.” Scott paused for a moment, and Sam was sure Scott was looking him dead in the eyes from behind those flat red shades. “For what it’s worth, I hope it makes you both very happy.”

That surprised a brief chuckle out of Sam. He certainly hadn’t expected that after how the conversation started out. “Thank you, sir. It’s working out well so far.”

Chapter Text

Having a boyfriend was amazing, Dana decided. It wasn’t quite like all the movies said, of course, but she didn’t really expect it to be. It was less some grand romance and more like the friendship they had before but with kisses, cuddling and handholding. They had long talks about nothing. He jogged at her pace to keep her company on her runs around the grounds. He purposely got flour on her nose when he was trying to teach her to cook. They shared favorite movies and favorite albums. (She’d promised to do her best to ‘give country music a chance’.)

It went without saying that the ‘mutant’ stuff had never been in any of those romantic comedies. She practiced reading his emotions. He helped her with her sparring—although those sessions usually ended up devolving into an excuse to sprawl on the mats and kiss for a little while.

She’d even allowed him to take her flying. Once. So far. It was obvious he loved being in the air and she wanted to share that, but that first time had been so overwhelming-- so fast and so breathtaking that she couldn’t even scream while she clung to his shoulders with all her strength. She’d sprawled on the lawn panting afterwards, trying to catch her breath as he looked at her concerned. “I’m going to get used to that,” she’d promised, “…just not for a while. “

“Ah suppose Ah can’t ask for any more than that,” he’d said, grinning.

“I haven’t been on a rollercoaster since I was a kid,” she’d panted. “You’re going to have to take pity on me.”

She’d also asked to see pictures of his family. After all, he’d met all of her family, for good or for ill, but she hadn’t met any of his even though it was obvious he was so close to them. He’d pulled out a small photo album for her and they sat on his bed in his room as he showed her the pictures, naming all his siblings for her.

“That’s Ma,” he said, pointing at a picture. “Ah’m gonna take you down to meet her someday. She’ll love you.”

“She’s in Kentucky, right? That’s where you’re from?” she checked, smiling down at the image. His mother looked strong, stable, and also incredibly kind. She would have had to be surely, to raise a man like Sam. She wasn’t anything at all like the frail image of motherhood Dana had.

“Right. On the family farm in Cumberland,” he said, smiling at her, before flipping the page. “That’s Pa, before he died.”

She nodded, feeling a certain kinship, as she always did, over the death of a much-loved parent. “Handsome,” she said instead, smiling up at Sam. Sam had many of those same handsome features.

Sam chuckled. “It took me a while to grow into his ears,” he said, flipping ahead a few pages to illustrate.

“Oh gosh, it did!” Dana exclaimed, laughing, covering her mouth with her hand. There was Sam at maybe 16 or 17, with a crew cut and his ears straight out from his head.

“Nice,” he said, mock-offended.

Dana schooled her face. “Sorry. No. They look perfectly normal.” Her eyes were dancing with repressed humor, and she leaned over and kissed the shell of the ear nearest to her in apology, after brushing his hair out of the way. “Thank god you don’t have access to pictures of me in my most awkward years.”

“Ah bet Marcus might provide some someday…” Sam speculated.

“Don’t you dare ask! I will kill him if he does!” she exclaimed, eyes wide, as Sam laughed.

She desperately looked for a change of topic. “Who are the rest of these people?” she asked, pointing out the other teens in the photo.

“The New Mutants,” he said. “My first team. Dani, Rahne, my best friend ‘Berto, who you will probably have to meet someday, but he’s kind of a ladies’ man, so not for a while.” He winked at her.

“Where are they all now?” she asked, curious for more recent pictures.

“Rahne’s in the UK with Excalibur, the mutant team there,” he explained, flipping forward a few pictures. “’Berto’s still on X-Force, my last team before Ah moved to the X-Men. Here’s ‘Berto now,” he said, flipping forward a few pages to show a more recent photo.

“They look like fun,” she said, smiling back at the frozen smiles in the photo. It still seemed a little strange to comprehend, mutants her age having fun, confident in their powers, all hanging out together like it was nothing.

“They are, that’s for sure. Maybe too much fun sometimes,” he chuckled. He flipped the page, and even though he tried to flip past quickly Dana saw the picture clearly.

She stopped his hand. “Who’s that?” she asked coolly, trying to be casual about the whole thing. Honestly, she’d already known he’d dated before he’d met her. Surely seeing evidence of it shouldn’t be that shocking.

“Uh,” Sam started, awkwardness clear in both his expression and through her empathy. But he took a moment, and collected himself and she could see the moment he decided to be upfront and not sugar coat it, which she appreciated. “That’s Tabitha. My ex-girlfriend.” In the photo Sam and Tabitha were kissing. Deeply.

“Pretty,” Dana said with a little smile. Honestly, she looked like everything Dana really wasn’t, trendy and cool and devil-may-care and so very, very blonde. Comparing herself to Tabitha she was hard-pressed to figure out Sam’s type, if he had one. “What happened?”

Sam shrugged. “Long distance really didn’t work out for either of us,” he said.

“I’m sorry,” she said, wondering how often team roster shake-ups happened. Sam had just recently come to this team, after all. Would he ever be ‘traded’ away? Would she? Long-distance superheroes sounded even more fraught than long-distance regular relationships.

Sam was oblivious to all her deep thinking, however. “Ah’m not,” he said, kissing her temple. “Things have a way of working out, and Ah like you,” he said insistently. “Ah’m glad Ah was here to meet you.”

“Me too,” she said, bumping her shoulder against his companionably. He felt settled, emotionally speaking, now, no longer worried, but she noted he still turned the page as soon as she let him to something less fraught.

This one was a casual shot, of teen mutants lounging in a living-room type space, some watching TV, some playing cards, some in clearly passionate discussions. Sam pointed to each of them in turn, picking out Ric and Shatterstar, ‘Berto and Tabitha again, Terry and Jimmy. “Who’s that?” she asked after a moment, pointing out, a large, frightening-looking man with a prosthetic arm.

“That’s Cable. Nathan Summers,” Sam said with a soft smile, flipping rapidly through the photos until he landed on one of ‘Cable’ looking a lot less intimidating. Still huge, and still with one metal arm, but he was smiling in this one at least. “He was the…” Sam paused for a moment and then chuckled, “responsible adult, Ah guess you could say. Taught me an awful lot. You might meet him someday. He stops into Westchester now and again to help out or meet up.”

Dana picked up the photo album out of Sam’s hands to look at the picture more closely.  The prosthetic was rather incredible, a complete match in size and shape to his other arm, muscles and all, and she couldn’t see a visible hinge or joint at fingers, wrist or elbow.  “Where did that prosthetic come from?” she asked, fascinated. After all, if he was missing an arm, her power might be able to replace it, but with a prosthetic like that, would he even want it replaced? The prosthetic might actually be better.

“Uh. Him? Sort of.” Sam seemed unusually apprehensive, and Dana wondered why. “So no one has told you about Cable?” he asked.

“Should they have?” she asked with more than a little alarm.

“Oh, hell.” Sam pursed his lips, frustrated. “Okay. What Ah’m about to tell you is going to sound absolutely insane, but Ah swear to God it is actually true, and this is the short version.”

“Okay,” she said, setting the photo album back down and turning towards him seriously to listen.

“Please do your best to hold your disbelief until the end.” He sighed and then took a deep breath. “Okay, so a while ago Scott had an infant son, and he was infected with a particularly nasty virus.” Dana nodded, face already going sympathetic imagining what could only be a very tragic tale from that beginning. “It’s called the Techno-Organic virus. It turns organic matter inorganic—metal, electronics, that sort of thing. It’s almost always fatal to an organic host. In order to save his son, Scott sent him to the future to be cured.”

Dana managed to keep her mouth shut, but only just. Sam wasn’t wrong about the insane part, but then again what was sane about flying men and laser vision? She bit the inside of her cheek to keep from injecting any expressions of incredulity into the conversation and let him continue.

“Anyway, a lot of stuff happened that Ah still don’t really understand, but the long and short of it is that Nathan Summers eventually returned from the future as you see him, having been raised most of his life in a future post-apocalyptic wasteland. Not cured, but in control of the virus enough to keep it from advancing and to utilize it in place of what it’s taken with his telekinesis.”

Dana couldn’t help but gape at him. “That man is Scott’s son?”

Sam nodded, apparently comfortable enough with the story to smile faintly.

“With Jean?” she ventured.

Sam gave her something of a helpless look and winced pre-emptively. “Technically? With Jean’s clone.”

Dana blinked, opened her mouth, closed it again, and then just shook her head. “Sorry, it’s just taking me a while to readjust my notions of ‘normal’,” she said with a little laugh.

“Oh no. Don’t worry. That one was weird even for us,” he laughed and set her at ease immediately.

She looked down at the photo again. “So that’s a virus?” Hank had been teaching her about epidemiology, but something like this certainly hadn’t come up on the syllabus yet. It almost seemed more cancerous than viral. “Just the arm?”

She could feel a note of surprise in her interest in Sam with a pleased little thread running through it that she was interested in someone that was so important to him. “Arm and his eye, too.” Sam pointed it all out on the photo. “Would that be something you could heal?” It was impossible to miss the note of hope in his voice, even without her empathy.

She shrugged. “Injuries are relatively easy. I’m just supercharging what the body wants to do anyway, with no opposition. Disease… viruses, bacteria, cancer… they all fight back, and some are stronger than others. From what you’ve described, this sounds particularly vicious. Plus the amount of damage…” She tipped her head speculatively. “I’m always willing to try,” she said at last. “I mean, if it’s something he wants to try. Metal is certainly more resilient than flesh. I wouldn’t want to heal something he doesn’t want to lose. Some people like their scars, or tattoos, or pierced ears.” She smiled and tugged on the simple gold studs she was wearing. “Hank and I are working on only healing what needs to be healed, rather than wasting my energy on things that people would rather keep anyway. It’s working pretty well so far.”

“Ah’ll ask him, next time he visits. We’ll see what he says,” Sam said, but there was unmistakable hope in his eyes and heart, and she fervently hoped she didn’t end up letting him down.


 

“Ororo?” Dana called out, stepping into Ororo’s greenhouse attic room. “Bobby said you wanted to see me?” She wished she’d been able to say it all slightly less tentatively, but she found Ororo very intimidating, and here Dana was on Ororo’s home turf. Growing up she’d found it difficult to stand the scrutiny of mere CEOs and the nouveau riche. Ororo was a goddess.

“Ah, yes.” A slight breeze stirring her hair was the warning Dana got of Ororo’s arrival, descending from the vaulted ceiling of her tropical greenhouse of an attic room. Dana stood up straighter. “I did tell him there was no rush. I hope he conveyed that.”

“Yes,” Dana said, smoothing her hair down. Bobby had thrown off a casual ‘No rush. Whenever’, but she imagined that if the Queen asked for something at Buckingham Palace ‘whenever’ people around her still snapped to it.

“I would have spoken to you before,” Ororo said, alighting in front of her with a gentle smile. “But it appears your social calendar is a little fuller at late. Samuel occupies much of your free time, and it is not for me to interrupt young love.”

Dana flushed bright red. “It’s… new.” She swallowed, still not used to having this relationship… thing. A new topic for conversation or small talk. A new target for friendly teasing. Sam handled it all much more smoothly than she did.

“But enjoyable, I hope?” Ororo smiled kindly at her. “I will admit some here worry about your ability to fully consent a little, because it is your first relationship and he is somewhat older. It was mutually decided upon, I trust.”

Dana was still bright red but she gushed out, “I really like him. He’s so nice.” She looked away to the floor when she couldn’t take Ororo’s scrutiny. “I feel so lucky he thinks of me that way, so it absolutely was my choice. I just hope I haven’t… I don’t know… done something with my powers to make him like me back.”

“You doubt his feelings for you?” Ororo asked with a raised eyebrow.

“I can’t. I can feel them,” Dana admitted, looking back up. “But I still can’t see how he does. Why me? I’m just…” she trailed off helplessly.

“And that is the crux of why I invited you to speak to me,” Ororo said kindly. “Admittedly not about your deservedness of Samuel’s love, but I believe it is related.”

Dana snapped her head up in surprise, shocked out of her embarrassment. “What do you mean?”

Ororo ignored the question entirely, as Dana supposed queens and goddesses were certainly allowed to do, and walked away towards the southern corner of the room, where sun was streaming through the greenhouse-glass window onto empty plant pots. Dana almost thought she was somehow dismissed until Ororo began speaking to her over her shoulder. “You were raised with every financial advantage, I believe?” she asked, and Dana rushed to catch up to her. “You wanted for nothing?”

Dana nodded, feeling guilty, as she always did when it was brought up. So many of the others here had had it so much worse than she ever had, and even though she’d lost all that now, aside from the tentative connection she still had to it through Marc, it didn’t make her feel any less guilty. “Yeah, nice house, good food, expensive clothes.” She shrugged, trying her best to downplay it.

“You were, however, missing honesty.” Ororo said, stopping in front of the plant pots.

“I don’t understand.” Now that Dana was closer she could see they weren’t empty, but filled with potting soil, and a few sprouts were protruding from the dirt. Had she interrupted Ororo’s gardening? She tried to be unobtrusive.

“Your father, and others in your life, handicapped your assessment of your own abilities. According to the professor, when you arrived you were certain your powers were actually a sign of illness, and that your education was remedial when it was actually quite satisfactory.”

Oh, that, Dana thought. “I suppose,” she said, not quite sure yet about the point Ororo was making.

Ororo turned to smile at her encouragingly. “I believe some here are still doing the same to you—not out of maliciousness, but out of omission. They don’t realize that you don’t know.”

Well that was alarming. “That I don’t know what?” Dana asked, a little more sharply than she would have liked.

“How powerful you are.” Ororo said simply, and turned back to her gardening, thinning some of the sprouts.

Dana sputtered, so many questions and denials on her tongue that she couldn’t say anything.

“I believe that proves my point,” Ororo said serenely. “Alpha class mutants can level buildings, wipe the minds of everyone in a mile… too often mutant powers are framed in terms of what they can destroy,” she explained. With the tiniest gesture the air in front of her started to grow hazy before condensing into a tiny cloud, as Dana watched in wonder. “I can summon hurricanes, throw lightening, destroy cities,” she said as her voice took on a very gentle tone, “but the most powerful thing I can do is this.” At that, the cloud in front of her began to drop rain on the plant pots in front of her, saturating the dark soil, and then evaporating. Once again the sun shone brightly through the windows, sending light back down onto the pots. “I was worshipped as a goddess not for my wrath, but for my shelter. I made crops grow, I made the weather mild.”

Dana blinked, surprised to her core and unable to speak.

“Destruction is easy,” Ororo said. “Healing and creation. That is strength.” Ororo finally turned away from her plants to look at Dana. “Scott should have told you, when he was making you hide in the Danger Room the other day. You are not being instructed to hide because you are weak, because you have some sort of handicap. You are being instructed to hide because your strengths lie elsewhere. You are an Alpha-class mutant Dana, equal to the rest of us-- save, perhaps, the professor, of course.”

“I don’t know what to say,” Dana said at last, overwhelmed.

Ororo smiled at her. “We are aware of your upbringing, and it behooves all of us to be honest with you until you can be honest with yourself. Scott should tell you that you are strong. Henry should tell you that you are clever. Samuel should tell you which of your charms have so captivated him.” She smiled a little wickedly at that, and Dana blushed hard again. “We must all tell you until you believe it, because strength also lies in confidence.”

Dana managed a little lopsided smile at that. Ororo smiled back serenely, and Dana realized that she had a question about her powers that only Ororo would be able to answer for her.

“With a power like… ours,” she said, tripping over the word because including herself with Ororo seemed pretentious at best and blasphemous at worst, “how do you decide when to use it and when not to?”

Ororo raised an eyebrow at her, but nodded to encourage her to go on. Dana had hoped that Ororo would just understand, but she gathered her thoughts and carried on as coherently as she could.

“I mean, I’ve gotten a lot of ‘Mutant Ethics’ in my courses so far, but it usually deals with controlling powers so they don’t hurt innocent people. I don’t think I can hurt people. But I feel really guilty for not just, like, going to the nearest hospital and doing what I can. Sam’s asked me to stop watching the news because I feel personally responsible whenever they talk about a fundraiser for someone with cancer,” she admitted, frowning. “There are droughts and famines all over the world. Why are you on the team instead of just… helping people?” She hoped she hadn’t insulted Ororo with that last bit and made an anxious face as she checked Ororo’s reaction,. However, Ororo was unflappable as always and her emotions were calm as well.

“Your question is one I have asked myself many times in my life,” she answered. “It is a good question to ask, and ask frequently, as your answer may change over the course of your life, and when it does it is time to change what you are doing.” She looked wistfully to the window. “When I was a goddess, I was able to make life very easy for a few hundred people, and life was easy for me as well. When I was invited to join the X-Men, I traded the absolute safety of a few hundred people to making life a little better for the whole world, or at the very least mutant kind. Millions. On the balance, I thought the X-Men would do more good, and my people were strong and resilient and I believed in their ability to recover and rebound from things I would no longer be around to protect them from.”

Dana frowned, not really seeing how that was applicable to her case. Ororo seemed to notice her expression and tried another tack.

“If you went to the hospital, how many people could you heal before you passed out, do you think?” she asked.

Dana shrugged. “Depending on how hurt they were? Maybe three.” Once she said it, she knew it sounded ridiculous. A pathetically small number, really.

Ororo nodded as if it weren’t pathetic at all. “So you change the lives of hundreds, like I did,” she said. “You heal those three people and their friends’ and families’ lives are forever changed and made better, and to them you are a goddess,” she smiled a little at Dana, as Dana flushed at the very idea. “The Salem Center Hospital becomes renowned as a place where miracles happen and the people of Upstate New York are blessed to have you, and you spend most of your life unconscious.”

Dana made a face at that, but wasn’t that part of selflessness?

“We must all make our own decisions, and only we can decide if our choices are right for us and are in line with our personal morality,” Ororo said. “However, I think it is important to remember that if we do our jobs right as X-Men, we will not be the last of our kind. For me, I have decided that if I devote my energies to the X-Men now, there may be more like me in the future. I do not have the energy or the power to protect the globe by myself, but I hope that in the future, there may be dozens of mutants like me. By helping to ensure a future where they can exist openly and use their powers for the common good without facing persecution, perhaps they can protect the globe where I never could.”

Dana took a moment to consider that. “So, you’re saying if I stay with the X-Men instead of just going to the hospital, there’s a chance that we’ll ensure a future where there are plenty of healers for everyone?” Dana couldn’t help the thread of disbelief in her voice. Mutant history class had taught her better, of course, but it still seemed that she was in such a tiny minority—she could barely wrap her head around over a dozen or so mutants total, let alone a huge team of mutants with her powers alone teaming up to solve the health issues of the world.

“It is only a possibility, but it is a future I fervently hope for,” Ororo said simply. “You are not the first healer I have known, after all, so there is the potential for your power to be repeated in future generations.” She smiled suddenly. “Also, if you have decided not to spend all of your time unconscious, there is the chance that some of those future children may be your own.” She laughed lightly.

Dana flushed again. “Not sure if I’m cut out to be a parent. I didn’t have the best role model,” she admitted.

“Forgive me,” Ororo said. “I did not mean to put you on the spot. You are young and you have decades to decide one way or the other. I only meant that while the path of the X-Men does require much sacrifice, it does not require complete sacrifice. There is still the potential to live our lives, have outside pursuits, have friends, fall in love. It is very hard to do, at times… I have certainly lost at love more often than I have succeeded, but the potential is there. It is not there as a goddess, or as an unconscious saint of healing.”


 

“’Red Tail’,” Marc said without prelude, once Dana answered the phone. “The million dollars was earmarked into R & D for something called ‘Red Tail’.”

Dana frowned and then snorted. “Red Tail Hawkes? Subtle. He certainly couldn’t have expected a really obvious pun to hide his involvement?”

“Oh no. That’s only the first shell, of course,” Marc said, a touch of humour in his voice. “Still, it’s not quite just a tax write off, it’s R&D. He’s not donating it to other labs, or university associated researchers. These labs are all under the Hawkes umbrella. This is personal. Hands on.”

“Well, we knew that,” Dana huffed a breath.

“Okay, but here’s the other thing,” Marc said. “These account numbers… none of them are new. They’re all about a decade old. We both know he’s thrown a few bucks to the Friends of Humanity over the years, but this predates even that. These are established funding streams. I’ve been trying to track the money over the years—the funding was pretty heavy seven or eight years ago, and then it sort of petered off, until this new ‘donation’.”

Dana frowned, building a timeline in her head, and things that might have been coincidences started lining up in a way she didn’t like. “Marc… seven or eight years ago… he knew about Mom. He told me as much. Her getting sick doesn’t coincide with these earlier donations does it? Tell me it doesn’t.” She felt a bit queasy at the idea.

“Dana. He’s not a great human being but you don’t think he murdered her?”

“I don’t know!” she exclaimed into the phone, as the magnitude slammed into her. Surely this couldn’t be it. Surely he wasn’t that evil. “I’m just trying to make sense of things, and I know he equates mom and me and I know he spent a bunch of money when he found out for sure about me, so what happened when he found out about mom?”

She heard him flipping through papers over the phone. “It was a year or two before her diagnosis…” he said carefully.

“But how long does it take to give someone cancer?” she asked, unable to keep the concern from her voice. “There are cheaper and quicker ways to kill someone, and he never spent a dollar he could save instead,” she murmured. “So what was he really trying to do? What is he trying to do now?”

“Don’t jump to any conclusions, okay?” Marc pleaded. “It’s shady, and whatever it is it needs to be stopped, but let me get some facts. Let me at least find out where to go and what you’re up against before you and your new friends assemble some kind of strike force.”


 

Cable was coming. Sam had informed her with some excitement. He had been overseas, and now he was coming back to Westchester to consult with Scott and Xavier in person, and Dana would finally have the opportunity to meet him. Honestly, despite Sam’s faith in her, she wasn’t sure she could do much. If his Omega-level telepathy could only subdue the T-O virus, she didn’t hold out much hope for her supposed Alpha-level abilities to heal his body completely. Still, he was important to Sam—practically family with how long they’d worked together—and since Sam hadn’t taken her to Kentucky yet, she was still excited to meet him herself, no matter how intimidating he was in his pictures or in person.

He was very intimidating in person. He was huge, both broad and tall, his hand dwarfing hers when they shook hands as Sam made his introductions. Like Wolverine, though, he was also intimidating to her empathically, since he, too, seemed to live in near-constant pain. She did her best to keep her expression pleasant.

“Scott was telling me about you,” Cable said, after introductions were made. “Mutant healers are few and far between, so he’s ecstatic to have you.” She flushed a little at the compliment, and beside her, Sam beamed proudly on her behalf. “But it can’t be pleasant to be in the same room with me, no matter how very polite you are being.”

She swallowed, having been caught out, as Sam looked at her worriedly. “It’s not bad,” she said, trying to put them both at ease.

“How diplomatic of you.” His eye flashed, catching her off-guard. “However, I’ve never been one for polite diplomacy. Why don’t you cut to the chase and tell Sam what he’s itching to know?” He softened his words with a smile that set her at ease, however, and he must have done something to improve his usual shielding because the discomfort had trailed off to a low ache.

She glanced over to Sam who was looking at her a little expectantly. She bit at her lip while she collected her words and then turned back to Cable and shook her head. “The T-O virus… there’s just so much of it,” she said carefully, stretching her empathic diagnostic abilities. “It’s not just the arm and eye, there’s internal organs, bones… It’s killing you and keeping you alive at the same time. The control and power it would take to remove the virus and heal the damage at the same time without killing you would take more control than I have, and far, far more power. I think the most I could do would be to hold it at bay for a while.” She shrugged. “I’m sorry. I think it’s beyond me and it always will be.”

Sam’s disappointment was obvious. Cable’s complete lack of surprise was what was shocking. “I did expect something like that, but I do want to thank you for your willingness to consider it. Not many people would even consider risking themselves for someone they just met.”

She shrugged. “Sam’s important to me, and you’re important to him.”

Cable cut a look at Sam she couldn’t read, born of long familiarity with each other rather than an emotional state. Message apparently conveyed—Sam looked a bit sheepish, frankly—Cable turned back to her. “Be that as it may, there is such a thing as being, perhaps, too generous. I appreciate the impulse, but burnout is always a danger in our line of work.”

Dana pressed her lips together, feeling a little chastened. “I’m still learning,” she said quietly, in her own defense.

“Yes, I can see that. And you’ve made admirable progress for the short time you’ve been here, please don’t mistake me.” Cable leaned forward, giving her such a searching look that she felt like he was looking through her. “Who is training your empathy?” he asked.

She blinked. “Jean and Xavier. I’ve been practicing reading people and then shielding from telepathic attacks,” she explained.

“Hmm.” Cable leaned back in his chair again and looked thoughtful. “Some people think empathy is just weak telepathy—usually telepaths do, of course,” he said with a smile. “I think Sam’s told you I spent time in the future.” She nodded, and he continued. “The teaching of mutants there was extremely codified and advanced, for good or for ill. I think you’d find that they considered empathy and telepathy very different—both means of psionic communication, but the equivalent of completely different languages, with different requirements. I’m not an empath, of course, but I know the training a little.”

Dana’s eyes got big. “You’d train me?”

“I’m planning on being in the area awhile. There are worse uses of my free time. Plus, Scott wants your powers fully trained so badly he can taste it, and I’d be a pretty poor mentor to Sam if I let someone so obviously important to him go on with any gaps in her defenses.”

She flushed at the mention of her very new relationship, even as she could feel Sam practically glowing beside her. “Thank you,” she said simply.

Cable quirked his lips into a rueful smile. “Don’t thank me yet. The Askani were not known for their gentle teaching techniques.”

Sam chuckled. “Don’t let him fool you,” he said. “Neither is he.”

Dana swallowed.


 

There was a Fed-Ex document file in the mail for Dana from Marc. It was unexpected, as he hadn’t called to let her know it was coming. She worried suddenly, as she opened it, that perhaps he couldn’t talk. She opened the envelope and spilled the contents out onto the kitchen table. There was a small bundle of manila folders with a post-it on top in Marc’s handwriting:

 

I don’t think she was the only one. Can’t prove it yet. –M

 

Her blood ran cold, and she tore into the files trying to piece the information together. There were lines highlighted that she suspected were done by Marc to draw her attention. There were financials, the same amounts of money travelling from one account to another, further and further from the regular operations budget from the company, all the way to a number of ‘facilities’ abroad and domestically.

The second folder was a confusion of old ticket stubs and hotel bookings, all in her mother’s name, paid for and arranged by her father. The names of the cities were highlighted. She remembered her mother’s trip to Europe vividly. Mom had been away for a while, but at the time it hadn’t seemed unusual. After all, the non-working mothers of her friends at private school had also toured Europe from time to time, just to get away. Plus, she and her brothers were only too aware of how their parents fought, even with all three of them at school, so a break to Europe seemed all right.

Still, the information had to be connected, so she looked back and forth between the financials looking for a connection, until she noticed the cities. Every city her mother had spent time in coincided with a ‘facility’ in the financials. Every single one. She inhaled sharply and then flipped to new pages. This one was a listing of upscale ‘health clinics’ in the cities listed in the financials. From the names they sounded like someplace wealthy ladies might go to get plastic surgery or give birth, but Marc had highlighted the addresses of each. The same as the ‘facilities’ from the financials again, even though the names were different.

The last page was from the nearest domestic clinic from the list. There was one in upstate New York, not far away at all. This one she recognized, however. She’d written letters to her mother there—it was where she’d gone for her cancer treatment. The list was a summary of medical procedures and drugs, like a bill, for her mother’s treatment, but there was another note from Marcus on it: None of these are chemo.

Her eyes teared at the possibilities, and she swept up all the documents and sprinted from the room to Hank’s lab.

She thrust papers at Hank as soon as she burst into the room. He looked up, startled, at her abrupt approach.

“Oh my stars and garters, Dana! Calm yourself.” He sat up straighter behind his microscope. “Whatever is the matter?”

“What is this?” she asked, red-faced and panting. “What is any of this?” She dropped the folders on the workbench and offered out her mother’s treatment record.

Hank frowned down at the document and smoothed it over his workbench examining it closely. “Some of these are rather standardized diagnostic tests,” he started, pointing to each. “Bloodwork, here, for instance, checking hormone levels and iron.” He moved down the list and shook his head at the next listing. “This seems to be some sort of trade name for a drug I am entirely unfamiliar with.” He spun on his stool to access the nearest computer terminal, and typed the name exactly into a search bar. He raised his eyebrows when the search came back empty. “And it appears to be completely absent from mention in all refereed journals.” He typed another name that appeared in the record. “This one as well. Fascinating.” He ran his finger down the list, examining each item closely. “Ah, this one is still listed under it’s chemical name.” He picked up a pencil and a spare notebook and began to sketch out what the molecule must look like and then frowned at it thoughtfully. “I believe this has something to do with neurotransmitters,” he said. “It’s like a Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor, but not for serotonin.” He seemed absolutely fascinated. “It will take some time to discover what receptors it binds to, however.”

“Is it carcinogenic?” Dana asked, eyes worried.

“Impossible to say at this point. It would require tests on live subjects, to tell for sure.” He set down the paper, and leaned forward to look at Dana, concerned. “May I ask what this is about, and where you got this?”

Dana reached out and tapped at the top of the paper. “This is my mother’s record of treatment at the hospital I thought she went for to be treated for cancer.”

Hank raised both eyebrows again. “This is not a cancer regimen,” he said carefully, “but this is only a partial record.”

“But this all reads like a lab rat’s records, right?” she asked. “Like, if you haven’t read about any of these chemicals in journals, they can’t have legally progressed to clinical trials on humans!”

Hank frowned, and she could feel his equivocation. “It is entirely possible the trade names changed before or after the trial, and that is why there are no records of them,” he offered carefully.

Dana raised a skeptical eyebrow.  “What are the odds of that?” Dana sighed. “These are drugs that act on the chemicals of the brain in an unknown capacity. According to my brother, my mother was a telekinetic. My father very much wanted her not to be.” She lifted the folders on the bench.  “His money trickles to all these places my mother was at, she gets cancer, apparently doesn’t get cancer treatment, and now that father knows about me, all these places are getting money again.” She pleaded that he would understand.

“If your suspicions are correct, this is a matter for the FDA and certain ethics boards rather than necessarily the X-Men. “

“Okay, well, let’s do this, then. What information do we need to build a case?” Hank could play devil’s advocate all he wanted. She knew in her heart her father was funding illegal and deadly research that had been going on for at least five years. She supposed the good thing about being disowned was that she was out of her father’s reach so he couldn’t subject her to the same treatment, but she felt responsible for anyone else her father’s money was going towards. Who were the test subjects? Kids pulled off the street as research subjects or people with families who didn’t approve?

“Well, of course, anything your brother can lay his hands on in this vein. More treatment records. A whistleblower would be ideal,” Hank said. “In the meantime I can do some more research on these chemicals and see what I can find there.”

“Or…” Dana said, pointing at the address of the clinic on the letterhead of the document. “We could just go here and take it. Or ask Xavier to listen in on employees. Something?”

Hank took his glasses off and rubbed at the bridge of his nose. “There are certain ethics considerations we try to live by, Dana. The records of one woman from a number of years ago is not enough to infringe upon the privacy of the employees of a private business.”

“It’s not one woman! It’s my mother!” Dana threw her hands up in frustration.

“I do understand that, Dana. And I know this may be hard for you, considering how incredibly personal it is, but the X-Men can only maintain the moral high ground by adhering to a certain code of honor. If we overstep those bounds, we’re no better than those we fight against, whether they are human or mutant.”

Her shoulders hunched, feeling as if she’d been scolded. “I know people are dying because of my dad’s money, Hank. Right at this minute. I have to do something about it.”

“And we will do something, if that is the case. We just have to do it correctly.”


 

Dana knew that she was going to calm down eventually and knew Hank had a point, but at the moment she was too upset. Hell, she was too upset to even try to figure out where she might get the proof Hank said he needed. She took a breath, and then another, and when that didn’t work, she reached out with her empathy. One thing about Sam was that he was incredibly even-keeled, and that was exactly what she needed at the moment.

She ‘borrowed’ his emotions for a moment, letting him calm her down enough to focus, and then started in on a list.

First things first, figure out what her brother was capable of getting for them. She took a few moments just to make sure she was finally calm and then jogged downstairs to the phone in the living room. Thankfully the room was empty, so she had some privacy, and dialed Marc’s cell phone. He picked up after a single ring.

“Can’t talk,” he said abruptly.

“Oh, sorry. You could have let it go to voicemail,” she said, instantly apologetic. “I can call back.”

“No. Do not call back,” his voice was brusque and she wished she had the range to tell if he was mad at her or scared. She wondered if anyone else was in the room with him, and that’s why he was being so short.

“Marc, should I write you, or—“

“No. Do not talk to me again,” he said, and hung up.

She looked dumbly at the receiver in her hand, hardly able to believe what had happened. Marc had told her he would always be on her side—that he would quit before he let her father come between him. What had happened? Had he changed his mind? Was he in danger? Was she?

She hung up the phone and sat numbly for a moment. Whatever was wrong, clearly no more help would be coming from that quarter. She choked back a sudden sob, not sure whether it was from her sudden separation from the only family member she had left or the fact that her chance to avenge what had happened to her mother was over before it had even begun. It seemed so unfair.

She found herself in a sudden Catch-22. She didn’t think she could get the records she needed without going to the offices, but she couldn’t get any help getting to and into the offices without getting the documents.

If she had Remy’s help, she might be able to break in at night, bypassing locks and security systems, but how could she get his help? If she could get someone to give her a ride she could maybe just walk in and pretend to be a patient and if the opportunity presented itself she could grab some paperwork and run. She suddenly wished she could drive. Sam had always told her he’d give her a ride wherever she needed to go, but he didn’t think he’d go for it if she was honest about her plans, and she didn’t want to lie to him, not when what they had was so new and so precious to her.

“Dana?”

She looked up and scrubbed at her eyes. It was Scott, and of everyone in the mansion, she hated looking weak in front of him the most. She forced a smile. “Yes, Scott?”

“I just finished talking to Hank. He was worried about you,” he said, looking sympathetic. He felt sympathetic too, and concerned.

She sighed, trying to figure out how to explain herself. “I am absolutely certain my father is involved with horrible things-- Things that have resulted in people dying-- But I can’t prove it. And now suddenly my brother can’t or won’t talk to me anymore.” She looked away.

“I’m sorry,” Scott said.

She couldn’t stop herself from the ironic chuckle. “But…?”

Scott frowned, but completed the sentence for her. “But we can’t just go tearing into a private medical clinic on one old document. Think how that would look if we didn’t find anything.”

Exactly what Hank had said, of course. “Can we stake it out? Can we sneak in and take just a few more documents? It’s practically right up the street. Can Jean or Xavier poke around and see if anyone is being held against their will?”

“Dana, like you said, it’s close by and they haven’t heard anyone mentally call for help. What does that tell you?” Scott was overflowing with compassion, but it was just frustrating her more. She needed someone to help her act!

“That they’re being hidden somehow. Shielded.” A wave of skepticism washed over Scott and it made her want to tear her hair out. Why couldn’t she have been a pre-cog, or be able to turn invisible, or have super-speed? Anything that would actually be useful in getting proof! “Please Scott. I know people are getting hurt and killed all over the world now because of me. It’s the one thing I’m the most sure about in the whole world, and I need someone to help me stop it.”

“Dana, if it’s happening, we will. But we can’t go off half-cocked. I’m not risking the safety of the people here, or the reputation of mutants as a whole by going in blind. Hank is looking at the science, and we’ll keep looking at the local facility. We might even be able to have some of our overseas associates look in on the facilities out of the country, but you are going to have to be patient. I know it’s hard, but in the long run, it will pay off, I promise.” He reached out to her and patted her arm.

She huffed a sigh, by way of response, but that was clearly not enough as he kept standing there expectantly. She raised an eyebrow wondering what else he wanted.

“Do you agree?” he finally asked.

She fought hard to keep from rolling her eyes, and instead answered as straight as she could, “Yes. I promise not to go off half-cocked. I’ll wait for whatever research gets done to do anything.”

“Thank you,” Scott said, and it was certainly heartfelt. Dana realized he must have really been worried she would run off on her own. Like a healer could do anything on her own. “I am devoting resources to this, I promise.”


 

Cable was not someone whose time you wasted. Even if Sam’s feelings towards him didn’t make this point abundantly clear, it was obvious to look at him. He was large and very tough and honestly, not the type of person you associated with meditation.

“I can read your mind, remember,” he said wryly, as she startled and then flushed. They were seated cross-legged across from each other and she was meant to be focusing on her breathing, but it was hard when she just kept noticing her body protesting the position.

“Telepathy is easier than empathy in a way,” he said, eyes closed, and looking peaceful and comfortable in the pose. “Telepathy frequently manifests as voices of others in your head. The volume can be an issue, but it’s usually easy to determine what is coming from you and what is coming from outside your head. Emotions don’t come tagged as ‘other’ necessarily. You might be able to tell from relative distance, or manage to logic your way through it, but it can be very hard to distinguish what is you and what is other. So the first stage of training is to know your own mind.”

He grew silent again and she was left to feel her twinges and count her breaths again. She wasn’t sure what that had to do with knowing her own mind, but she could certainly be quiet for a while. It wasn’t the worst coursework ever.

Cable huffed an impatient sigh. “You have to be quiet in your head, too. Or at least get better at your shielding so I can’t tell you’re so distractible.”

“Sorry,” she said, peeking an eye open to look across at him. “I just spent a really long time having to be quiet and polite and bite my tongue, and the only way I found to cope was apparently to be a chatterbox in my own head.”

He allowed a small, amused smile, which was a relief to her, frankly. “Perhaps, then, I need to provide more direction as your instructor. To focus on nothing can be difficult for the beginner. What I am hoping you will discover is if your own emotions have a flavor, a color, a texture that you can use to identify what is yours and what is not yours. That will allow you to build much more effective shields. Shields that might even keep me from hearing your plans for lunch,” he said wryly.

“Sorry! Sorry!” she winced. “You said flavor and I thought of food.”

Despite his shielding, she could sense his amusement, and she allowed herself a little smile in return. “Well, we both need to acknowledge that this is never a quick process,” he said after a moment. “The important thing is not that you learn everything today, but that you are slightly better tomorrow. So perhaps tomorrow we will try meditating immediately after lunch rather than before.”


 

She’d been assigned an e-mail account when she arrived at the mansion, but didn’t use it much. It was much easier to just go down the hall and talk to whoever she needed to rather than go to the computer and send them an e-mail they might not get for a while. She’d given it to Marc, but he had generally preferred to call—until he’d cut off all communication. He’d only used it occasionally when he was somewhere where the time difference made it impossible to call. Really, the only action it had seen was a few scattered love notes from Sam, who apparently thought it was cute to make her blush in public at the computer.

It was something of kismet, then, that she just happened to check her account and found an e-mail waiting in her inbox. Most of the X-Men were off on a mission, and Sam, Remy and Logan were in the Danger Room, and she was just finishing off a history essay on the computer terminal when she’d decided to check.

Her heart leapt in her chest when she realized the e-mail was from Marc and dated that morning. She double clicked on it to open it, holding her breath at what it might say.

 

Do not reply to this message. It’s not safe. Meet me at the clinic tonight at 9 pm. I’ll have information for you.

 

Below was the address of the local clinic that their mother had been treated at. There was no signature, and no greeting, but at least her brother was writing her again. He didn’t suddenly hate her, he was just in danger. Or being watched. It was a relief even as it made her worry. He needed to stop being her spy and possibly quit his job, and she was going to tell him as much tonight… if she could get to him.

She was glad that Sam was home and hadn’t gone on the mission. He’d always promised to give her rides anywhere, and without him she’d be stuck here. Still, there wasn’t a lot of time to spare. She pushed back from the computer and went running downstairs to the Danger Room control room to wait for a lull in their program.

Had she not been in such a rush, it would have been amazing to watch. She’d never seen any of the X-Men at full brutal capacity—the most dangerous was Scott during their sparring sessions, and he’d always been holding back quite a lot, and never used his powers on her. This was something completely different, destruction on a massive scale, albeit all holographic destruction.

Logan was the most vicious, of course, slicing pitilessly through robots, doors, walls—whatever was in his way. Remy was graceful and creative, equally as comfortable in close quarters with his staff as he was at a distance with his cards.

And then Sam, her gentle and kind boyfriend, was a force of nature, smashing into whatever happened to be in his way. It was certainly eye-opening. It was probably the side of them that 99% of the public knew from newscasts, but it hadn’t been her experience of them up to this point.

She watched raptly, but a bit impatiently, until the last robot was swiftly dispatched and Logan called a halt to the program clearing the room of debris.

She pressed the intercom button as soon as they settled.


 

Sam had been happy to offer her a ride, as always, but the three of them had gotten a little suspicious when she told them why and where.

“I don’t like it,” Logan said almost immediately. “What’s stopping him from coming here?”

Dana shrugged. “Maybe he’s being watched. Maybe there’s something at the clinic he wants to show me. I don’t know. Just please don’t let me miss this chance. Scott and Hank have told me they need more information before they can act. This is information!” She bit her lip. Surely Logan wouldn’t veto this. “There might be lives at stake.”

Sam was clearly torn between supporting her and bowing to the instincts of a senior member of the team who had proved right in the past, and Dana panicked at the idea he wouldn’t support her.

“Please? What if we all go? Just in case?” She’d just seen them destroy a baker’s dozen of giant robots after all, certainly they could take whatever came out of a small medical office. She looked to Remy pleadingly, hoping that he might give in. He’d been very grateful to her after she’d saved Rogue after all.

“Surely all of us…” Remy started, and her heart soared. Remy’s words tipped the balance on Sam as well, and he moved closer to her and put a hand in the small of her back in solidarity.

“Oh for…” Logan sighed. “Fine. Let’s go.”


 

Dana had been confident getting in the car, but Logan’s grumbling behind the wheel had her doubting herself. Surely Marc would have signed the e-mail as he usually did his letters with an M? The e-mail had already come from his account, so it wouldn’t give too much away. Maybe he’d just been short on time. She huffed a little sigh and leaned against Sam in the back of the car. He patted her shoulder, and turned his head to kiss her temple comfortingly, but stayed silent. She didn’t think anyone wanted to dare interrupt Logan’s grumbling.

The address given turned out to be less of a hospital and more of a clinic. It certainly wasn’t open 24 hours. It looked more like outpatient treatment. At any rate, it did look like the type of place to keep records, and that was what she was looking for. There was a rental car parked out front, close to the door, but no sign of her brother. Perhaps he was inside the darkened office?

Dana pushed open her door to go meet Marc. “Wait!” Logan hissed. “I don’t smell your brother.” He frowned. “I don’t smell much of anything.”

Sam reached out and grabbed her wrist, keeping her from moving away from the car. “Maybe he’s inside,” she whispered back, trying to tug free. “There’s a note on the door, I can see it from here. Just let me go check.”

“Ah don’t like it,” Sam said, but seemed to soften seeing the expression on her face. “At least let me go instead?”

“You can come with,” she said, and tugged a little at his grip around her wrist to get him to follow her.

“I’m keeping the car running,” Logan grumbled, looking twitchy.

“Probably smart,” Dana muttered under her breath, liking this situation less and less, as she walked up to the little building. Sam beat her to the door, wanting to be the one to snatch up the note, just in case. Normally she would have shot him a look for his needless chivalry, but she felt a bit distracted. As she’d approached she started feeling a little disoriented.

“It says to come inside,” Sam said, looking over the note. He shook his head. “No way. There’s no reason he couldn’t have met us out here.”

Dana nodded. “Agreed. Besides, my head feels funny.”

Sam looked at her sharply. “Right,” he said simply and tugged on her hand to take her back to the car.

Before they could take a step, though, the world exploded.

The rental car parked in front of the clinic had detonated. Sam had instinctively stepped in front of her to protect her with his blast shield, but it hadn’t fired, and instead the two of them were blown through the unlocked door and went into the reception desk on the other side hard.

A stack of files on top of the desk went scattering to the floor. The files had obviously been set out to entice them further into the building if they’d been stupid enough to fall for the note, rather than getting blasted through the door.

“You okay?” Sam asked, as soon as he climbed to his feet, and trying to pull her to hers. She ached all over and her ears were ringing. The both of them were covered in small cuts and were more than a little singed, but when Sam took her hand, she felt nothing.

“My powers are gone!” That must have been the disorientating feeling she had when she walked over—her empathy cutting out. She glanced at the files underfoot. Maybe they were fake bait, but they looked just like her mothers file, but these included pictures. Really awful pictures. A whole program of mutant experimentation. She felt sick, and it wasn’t just the ringing in her ears.

Sam hadn’t noticed the pictures, probably more worried about their immediate safety. “Mine too, or we’d be outta—“

The lights suddenly flipped on. Dana and Sam’s head snapped up as a dozen armed men came in from the back, guns raised. “Freeze right there!”

Dana’s head spun. This had been a trap. But was Marc involved? Compromised? In danger? Sam pulled her out of her head by yanking her towards the open door, only to pull her right back when a few bullets hit the wall nearby. They were pinned and Sam pulled and pushed her over to take cover against a filing cabinet that would offer a little cover.

Fortunately, Logan and Remy didn’t wait long to spring into action, and neither of them really needed their mutant powers to fight. They smashed through a window in a shower of glass only a moment later, Remy already swinging his staff. Neither of them seemed too intimidated by the possibility of bullets.

“Sam! Get her out of here!” Logan yelled over the din, and Dana’s eyes went wide as he threw himself at the men. This wasn’t holographic robots—this was life and death. Logan and Remy were clearing a path and Sam had one strong hand on the nape of her neck to keep her down but moving. The little office made for close quarters, and though Remy and Logan had incapacitated many, more spilled through the open door, and covered the exits outside. It became clear they had few options, even though the small space rapidly filling with guards made it harder for security to use their guns.

“Logan, go for help,” Remy called, and Sam nodded, even as he pushed Dana clear of a knife swipe to take a security guard one on one.

Dana sprung to her feet and found herself face to face with a security guard of her own, and brought her guard up, even though she knew it all looked hopeless. Logan was heading back out the window, taking heavy fire, which fortunately she knew he’d heal from once he got far enough away. She took a quick breath, and then just tried to pretend it was any other drill, blocking, ducking and throwing punches and kicks. A quick kick-punch combination sent the man she was fighting to the floor, but she had no time at all to celebrate her victory as two more security, jumped her from behind, taking her to the floor. One of them pulled his fist back, and the burst of pain along her cheekbone was the last thing she felt before her world plunged into darkness.

Chapter Text

Dana was dropped in a heap on the floor of the only cell Sam had ever seen in a ‘medical facility’ before, the door slammed shut after her. He scrambled over to her to look her over, and carefully pulled her eyelids back, breathing a sigh of relief when her pupils reacted normally to the bright light in the hall outside the cell.

“She okay?” Remy asked.

“Well, it doesn’t look like she’s got a concussion, at least,” he said, trying to look on the bright side as he scooped her up from the floor to lay a little more comfortably in his lap. “You get searched, too?”

Remy nodded. His clever fingers were already feeling around the seams of the inhibitor collar they’d put on him. That spoke of transport. If they were going to stay here, they’d just stay in the range of the suppressor that was clearly in effect over the building. Putting collars on them meant they’d be moving them away from that suppressor. Sam didn’t like the sound of that. “No lockpicks left, then?”

Remy raised an eloquent eyebrow. He would not be messing around with his bare hands if he’d had tools.

“Right,” Sam said, brushing Dana’s hair out of her face and hoping that Logan had made it to find help.

Dana stirred a few moments later, coughing awake and then moaning.

“Dana?” Sam cradled her head carefully. “Slowly now. You got hit pretty hard.”

Dana blinked her eyes, and then looked around the room to take in their surroundings. “Where are we?” she whispered hoarsely.

“Some sort of holding cell,” he said, and then helped her to sit upright when she made a move in that direction. “How are you feeling?”

“Terrible,” she said, putting one hand to her head and pressing against what must be a pretty massive headache. “I’m so sorry, both of you. I lead you right into a trap.” Her eyes were tearing, and Sam squeezed her arm in support.

“We went in with our eyes open,” he said, and glanced over at Remy to see him nodding in solidarity. “Ah just wasn’t expecting a car bomb, a suppressor, AND a few dozen armed commandos.”

“Two of de three we could have taken,” Remy said with a confident little smile, and it seemed to work to cajole Dana out of her upset, at least a little, as she returned it faintly.

She seemed to take stock of herself, touching gingerly at her cheek, and brushing off her shirt, before finding a sore spot on the inside of her arm. “Blood sample,” Sam explained. “They got all of us.” Personally the clinical draw had left him the most unsettled—combined with the conclusions Dana had drawn about the information Marc had given her, it wasn’t a pretty picture.

Dana looked like she’d reached the same conclusions, uneasiness returning to her expression. “I hope Marc’s all right,” she murmured. “I hope someone just got into his e-mail, and he’s not in trouble or…” She trailed off and Sam rushed in to fill the silence.

“Ah’m sure he’s fine. And he’d never betray you. He’s your brother,” Sam said firmly. “Company e-mail address, though. If someone in the company caught wind of what he was doing, it would probably be pretty simple to take control of the account, right?” Sam wasn’t sure if that was true or not, but it seemed to set Dana at ease, which had been the goal.

“How are you two?” She took both Remy and Sam in with her concerned looks.

Remy waved her off and Sam shook his head to minimize any injuries. “Ah think you got the worst of it. Just got a little knife scratch,” he said, offering out the arm that she couldn’t see from where she was sitting.

He’d torn off the sleeve of his shirt and had Remy wrap it tightly around the wound, but it had bled through in places and Dana clearly didn’t like the look of it.

“A scratch!?” she said, alarmed, moving herself to see the injury better. She put both hands on his arm and closed her eyes, but nothing happened, of course. She looked up at him in alarmed confusion. He tapped the collar around his own neck as her hands flew to touch her own.

“Turns off powers,” he explained. “Plus, Ah think the supressor’s still on in the building, so we’re doubly turned off.”

She looked around the cell apprehensively, and then hugged her knees to her chest, looking small. “I wonder if my mother went through this,” she murmured. “I wonder if my mother was here five years ago. She must have been so scared.” That Dana was scared herself, was obvious.

Sam reached out to hold her hand and tried to look confident. “I’m pretty sure they save this treatment for people who launch a frontal assault,” he teased lightly, trying to get her to smile. “And don’t worry, you know Logan is bringing help. We’ll be outta here any minute now.”

She squeezed his hand. “I hope so.”


 

 It was not a few minutes. Most of the night Sam and Dana sat in the cell while Remy cased it, looking for any lapse in security.

“Dad’s money probably made this place airtight,” Dana grumbled, leaning drowsily against Sam’s shoulder. “Probably hired the security team too.”

Sam patted her back soothingly and she tried to settle again. She was jumpy as hell. The files she’d seen in the office had already set her up to be freaked, and then if that hadn’t been enough there’d been the visit they got an hour or so ago—some sort of research team standing outside the bars and looking at them all dispassionately and talking like they weren’t even there.

“We were expecting the female,” they’d said flatly, looking over their clipboards, as Dana’s spine had turned to ice. Had her father figured out how to lure her in? Had her brother betrayed her? Someone else? “Her powers are at least partially psi-based, so we’d like to try her on the treatment program we’ve been testing on the telepaths and telekinetics and see if it affects all the X-gene deficiencies of this subject or just the mental ones.”

He’d tapped his pen on his clipboard. “The others were something of a bonus. Both energy projectors of a sort, although the younger male uses them for propulsion. There’s a new class of drugs they came up with in Geneva that have shown some promise on this sort—although we’re still having the same issue with tissue death. I’m with Steveston, personally—I think the implantable supressors are really the way to go, if we can just figure out the carcinogen problem.”

The research team had completely ignored Dana’s gasp, or the way Sam and Remy bristled.

“We’re transporting all three to the Institution first thing in the morning, and we’ve kept them off fluids and food all night, of course, so we can start treatment as soon as they arrive. Things should be arranged by the time we get there, I’ve called ahead, but, Brian, if you could make sure they’ve actually got things set up, that would be fantastic…” The rest was lost to murmurs as the research team had walked away down the hall continuing the conversation, leaving Dana to her terror.

Remy had redoubled his futile efforts to find a way out after that, but Sam had just pressed close to Dana, touching his forehead gently to hers and promising that he would never let anything happen to her. Which was the biggest lie he’d ever told her, she knew, but she forgave him because it did start to make her feel better.

The suppressor made her feel muffled and uncomfortable, she wanted to duck into Sam’s emotions and find strength in them so badly, but she was shut out. Instead she pressed close and tried to pretend they were back at the mansion. He’d kept her from bursting into tears, at least, and after an hour she was as settled as she thought was possible, considering the circumstances. Which was, of course, when something else came to terrify her.

Expensive shoes on a hard surface had their own particular sound. The research team’s shoes had made noise, but it wasn’t the precise, hard click she was hearing now. She sat up perfectly straight from muscle memory alone. Her father’s shoes had always made that sound on the polished tile and expensive hardwood floors of their home.

However, it wasn’t her father that came to stop and look at her dispassionately in the cell, but her brother, Marcus. Her heart shattered.

Beside her Sam muttered, “You son of a bitch,” under his breath, and his muscles tensed for the fight he so clearly wanted. There was a nervous looking guard next to Marcus, holding the keys.

“Yes, these are the three,” Marcus said, his voice as precise as the cut of his suit, impeccable as his carefully styled hair. He reached into his briefcase and pulled out a sheaf of papers, handing them over to the guard. “I believe you’ll find the transfer documents completely in order.”

The guard swallowed. “This looks right, but as I said, procedure is to call the supervising researcher, so if you’d…”

Marcus calmly reached into his suit jacket and produced a small leather case from which he extracted a single business card on thick expensive cardstock. The guard looked at it with some confusion. “If I can call your attention to my name, my title, and who I work for, I would hope that would clarify some things for you.”

“Yes, Mr. Hawkes,” the guard said with reverence, “but as I said, the plane is still scheduled as the transport for the morning, despite this paperwork, so I just want to check…”

Marcus sighed deeply. “I believe the head researcher is on a flight to the Institution already, which means it may be an hour or more before he lands. My time is an awful lot of money, and I’m afraid this is rather time-sensitive.”

“I’m sorry, sir, but—“

“Procedures, yes,” Marcus said, sounding bored. “Look, we certainly can’t work on all three at once anyway. Why don’t I just take one now, and then when you’ve cleared the paperwork on the rest you can give me a call and I’ll come for the others. Would that be permissible?” The guard didn’t say anything, still nervously looking at the paperwork, so Marcus went on. “You see, the drug we have spent the last five years developing, at great expense, has something of a short shelf life. So if we don’t inject it into something in the next 20 minutes, I’m afraid the company will be out rather a lot of money… quite a lot more than your salary, in fact, so…” he trailed off meaningfully and the guard’s resistance seemed to melt.

“I suppose one would be all right.” He drew something from a holster on his hip. “Which one did you want?”

Dana glared, tears in her eyes, as Marcus panned disinterested eyes over the three of them. “The girl, I suppose. She looks docile enough.”

Dana clung to Sam, and shook her head. “No. I’m not going.”

The guard unlocked the door, but waved the device towards all three of them as Remy stepped up to close in on Dana’s other side, protectively. “Don’t you get any ideas, you animals. I push this button and you go down in a twitching heap.” He stepped inside, and Dana thought her heart might fly out of her throat. “No, no, no.” Her voice went high and scared. “Sam, no.”

Both Sam and Remy were watching the controller the guard held warily, neither of them doing anything to keep her with them. Instead, Dana clutched onto Sam’s arms desperately, even as the guard grabbed onto the back of her collar and hauled her towards the open door, choking her.

“Hey!” Sam shouted, alarmed, as the guard kicked at her until she let go of him, but he was still helpless to do anything as the controller was waved in his direction. Dana was dragged bodily outside the door as she sobbed. She heard Sam practically snarl, as her brother hauled her up to her feet by the collar, looking at her dispassionately, even as she cried and tried to struggle back towards Sam, despite Marcus’s grip on the collar cutting off her air.

“Yeah, she’ll do,” Marcus said, grabbing her arm and holding it out from her body as if inspecting her.

Dana made a choking noise of surprise as she felt something being pressed into her hand, and she did her best to suddenly pull herself together as she tried to grab onto the train of her brother’s plan. She clenched her fist, hiding the contents, and as she drew her hand back towards her body, Marc shoved a little bit at her collar making it look like she’d broken away from him.

She took her advantage, taking a running dive into the arms of Remy, leaving both he and Sam stunned. She’d recognized the thin twists of metal of Remy’s lockpicks being pressed into her hand by Marc and she passed them to Remy now, watching him seamlessly spirit them away up a sleeve before the guard found his instincts and pressed the button on his device.

There was incredible pain, and she crumpled to the ground, muscles seizing and out of her control. She dimly noticed Sam rushing to cradle her head off the concrete for a few moments before she was hauled away from him again, and dragged unceremoniously down the corridor. The guard was calling her terrible names under his breath as he hoisted her by one arm, and Marc’s hands tightened around her other arm in reaction every time he did.

She couldn’t even speak as they made it out of the building. She was unceremoniously tossed in the back of a Hawkes-branded helicopter and Marc climbed in after her, after thanking the guard. Once they lifted off, his manner changed entirely and he slid quickly to the floor to scoop her up.

“I’m sorry, Dana, I’m so sorry. Are you okay?” He brushed her hair back from her forehead and wiped the tears from her cheeks. “Logan called me and told me what to do… it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, Dana. Please be okay.”

She managed to maneuver one hand to weakly clench in his suit jacket, and tried to speak. Her lips moved a little, but nothing came out. Tears of frustration dripped down her cheeks.

“What was that? I couldn’t hear.” Marc hadn’t looked so concerned since their mother had died, Dana thought as she tried again.

“Take me back.”

“What!?” Marc almost dropped her he was so surprised.

“Please Marc, take me back.”

Marc looked alarmed and it was so strange not to feel it, Dana thought. “Look, you’ve had a rough night—“ he started.

“I love him, Marc.”

“What?”

“I love Sam. I love him so much, Marc. I can’t leave him behind.”

Marc’s expression turned bittersweet and she found she couldn’t take his pity, and looked away. “Logan told me my priority was you,” he said, trying to soothe her by stroking her hair. “He said he’d get the guys out if I couldn’t. And if anyone can, Logan can, right? Plus, you got Remy the lockpicks, I saw you. It was brilliant. They both may be out already.” By helicopter it was less than a few minutes to Xavier’s, and Marc looked out the window at the approaching mansion before leaning back down to speak again. “Look, I pretty much burned every bridge I have at the company on this move, so I’m gonna have to lie low for a while, okay? Don’t worry, I’ve been headhunted by competitors for years, so I’m gonna land on my feet.”

Oh God, in her panic she hadn’t even thought about that. She felt instantly guilty. “You’re going to get disowned too, aren’t you? Because of this,” she said, concerned.

Marc laughed it off. “Because of this? No, this was just me going out in a blaze of glory.” He scruffed her hair like he used to when they were kids, and she scowled out of habit. “No, he’s disowning me because he found out we were still communicating, and that I’d found some of the old files. But screw ‘im-- I’m disowning him because he had IT take over my e-mail account and set you up to be killed. So I ‘borrowed’ his favorite helicopter and am reliably informed a half-dozen pissed off mutants are about to turn his pet project into rubble. Payback’s a bitch, right?” He laughed, and she couldn’t help but return a faint smile, even if her heart was still aching about leaving Sam and Remy behind.

The helicopter set down gently on the front lawn, and he got a thumb’s up from the pilot that they were okay to go. “Can you walk?” he asked Dana, and she nodded, although she wasn’t actually sure if she could.

Marc nodded and slid the door open and climbed out first to help her to the ground. She stumbled a bit on the step down, but was able to walk into the mansion with his assistance. Jean must have felt them coming because she was at the door as she entered to take the load off of Marc with Bobby just a few steps behind her. “Dana, I’m going to take you down to Hank to get that collar off. Marc, if you’d follow Bobby to the warroom, Scott is going to want all the information you have on this entire operation.”

Marc kissed the top of her head as a goodbye and went off after Bobby as Jean helped her down to the medlab. “You all right?” she murmured as they walked.

Dana shook her head. She hurt all over, and Sam being in danger had her half frantic on top of the panic she already felt being powerless and leading her friends into a trap.

“We’ll get this collar off,” Jean said, “and then you should see if you can’t get some sleep while we go get Sam and Remy.” Jean ushered her into the medlab and Hank was waiting with a selection of tools spread out on his worktop.

“Don’t make me stay here,” Dana said, as she got boosted up to a bed so Hank could work on the collar. She’d ignored the pitying look he’d given her. Her face must look a mess. “I can help. There might be people who need medical attention wherever they are.”

“Dana, you can barely stand up!” Hank said, finally unlocking the catch. Her empathy came back in a rush that made her woozy, which didn’t help her argument. “I can give you a sedative if you’ll need it to sleep.”

“I don’t want a sedative, I want to help. Please don’t leave me behind!”

Jean and Hank shared a look and then Hank took both her hands in his large ones. “You may be right, that you will be needed. However, you are in no shape to help,” he said gently. “Stay here, get some food and some rest, and we will send someone for you as soon as you’re needed. Deal?”

She didn’t see that she had much choice, so she nodded. Hank smiled at her and patted her hands.

“Scott says it’s time to go. We’ll bring them back, Dana. You just rest up,” Jean said, and then she and Hank were out the door.

Chapter Text

Logan had taken a position overlooking the clinic to report back to the mansion and to intercept Marcus when he’d arrived. Marcus’d been nervous as hell, but he’d come through in a clinch, apparently, and had gotten his sister out. It wasn’t the ideal situation of all three of them, but he’d take it. Now he either had to wait for back-up, or wait for Remy and Sam to give him some sign that they were coming out on their own. He was currently out of range of the suppressor, but he could tell it was still on somewhere down there, and as good as he was, he was smart enough to know that going in alone without powers or intel was a death wish. Two men free on the inside, though, powers or no, might just even the odds. He hoped Remy had gotten the lock picks.

He got an answer a few moments later, when alarms started going off in the building. He chuckled to himself, sent a little thought of impressed praise to the Hawkes kids, and then pushed himself to his feet and started down towards the building. He was, perhaps, a little more cautious than he would have been without the suppressor with no healing factor and his senses muffled, but a bunch of rent-a-cops expecting the danger from inside the building still didn’t see him coming and he was into the building in a flash. He couldn’t track where the boys were the way he normally might have, but security tended to scramble towards the threat which lead him right to them… Or at least to Remy, who was inexplicably battling his way deeper into the building. 

“Gumbo, what the hell? Exit’s the other way!” he shouted over the din, exasperated. “Where’s Cannonball?” 

Remy, had, as was his way, magicked up a length of pipe from somewhere in the building to act as a weapon, and he was doing as much damage with it as he could. The narrow hallways of the clinic meant that they could never be too outnumbered, and security wasn’t willing to shoot when they were more likely to hit their own than the people they were trying to subdue. “Dey came to take us both off-site before I was ready,” he shouted back. “He’s on his way to de hanger and to parts unknown unless we get there first.” 

Logan roared and tried to push his way down the hall, but the security team getting in each other’s way also got in their way and the hall was effectively blocked. No matter how they tried to batter through, without powers they were going nowhere and it wasn’t long before the roar of a jet engine sounded overhead. 

“That’s not the Blackbird,” Logan said. “It’s getting farther away, not closer. Sam’s gone.” 

“Merde,” Remy muttered, even as he flipped gracefully to strike in the other direction, finally heading for the exits. “Hope you’ve got intel on where de plane is going?” 

“We gotta hope Cyke does,” Logan said, following Remy’s lead, and helping him clear a path. “Come on. It’ll be easier to bring this place down from the outside.” 


 

Scott did not know where the plane was headed when the Blackbird landed sometime later. Marc hadn’t known. He’d had the feeling that it was in the Southeastern US, but no address. The Hawkes millions had paid for some more than adequate stealthing technology on the jet that had taken Sam, as well as all the other technology that had kept the whole operation under the radar for years, both physically and psychically.

“Beast, take whoever you want and go through the records rooms. See if you can find us some intel on this second site. Everybody else, we’re gonna clear this place of personnel and then bring it down, all right? Phoenix, see if you can pull a location from the minds of the personnel on site. Anybody finds anything, you relay it back to us and we’re wheels up.”

“Cyclops,” Jean spoke up, her eyes closed as she concentrated. “Cable just got to the mansion. If anyone can find Cannonball with Cerebro, and punch through whatever psi-shielding they’ve got, it would be him.”

Scott nodded. “Let him know. I’ll take intel from any source at this point. I want us after Cannonball ASAP.”


 

Resting wasn’t working out well for Dana. She’d sent Marc home as soon as he’d come back from the warroom. He’d wanted to stay but she knew her father wouldn’t be idle about the break in at the clinic or the theft of his helicopter for long, so Marc needed to get a start on his new life as soon as possible. Xavier was with Cerebro keeping an eye on the rescue mission. She’d been left on her own and she felt it like a rebuke for getting the team into the situation.

She’d eaten as instructed, but couldn’t sleep much despite her all-nighter, so she settled for sitting very quietly on the couch in the living room at the center of the mansion where she wouldn’t miss hearing or seeing the team returning.

It wasn’t the jet she heard, though, but rather a motor coming up the drive. Had Logan driven the car home? She frowned as she stepped up to the front door reaching out with her empathy to try to identify the arrival, only to stumble back as it opened and Cable stepped inside.

He took her in with a glance, and spoke to her without slowing down, heading straight past her. “They can’t find Sam,” he said, bluntly, as her hands flew to her mouth in horror. “Do you really think you could hold the virus back for me?” he asked, heading straight into the house to the elevator downstairs.

She blinked in surprise and scurried after him. “Yes. I think so. For a little while, anyway.” For Sam she’d do anything.

“Good. Follow me.”

She did as he asked, as it was clearly no time for questions or conversations. He lead her down to the door of Cerebro just as Xavier was coming out. He gave Dana an appraising look before saying, “Nathan, Jean said you’d be coming. Good luck.” He moved aside to make room for him, and Dana trailed along after Cable as he moved into the giant empty room.

“I thought Xavier was the most powerful telepath,” she murmured, unable to keep a lid on her curiosity.

“He is on a day to day basis,” Cable said, kneeling down and adjusting the headpiece. “If I didn’t have to worry about the T-O, however…” his meaning was clear, and Dana quickly knelt beside him, taking hold of his flesh arm with both of her hands.

#I’m going to telepathically link us so we can synch up. I imagine this will hurt you quite a bit, so you need to brace yourself.#

She nodded, settled herself, and then thought *I’m ready,* at Cable.

She was not. It was pain like she’d never felt before, and it burned along her nerves. Cable couldn’t shield her and focus on finding Sam, and she was buffeted by it all for a moment, gasping and tears pouring down her cheeks until she pulled herself together with the thought that if she didn’t Sam would end up like her mother.

*Sorry. I’m good now. Go.* she said, and turned her attention to the virus. It was everywhere and there was a vicious malevolence about it. Cable waited a moment to check her holds were in place and then just let go.

It was a trust fall she had not proved her worth for. It was bigger than anything she’d ever attempted. She suddenly understood the magnitude of power that Cable truly had as every cell of the virus all over his body lashed out to try to gain ground. She felt stretched thin as it tested her, looking for weak points, and she grit her teeth forcing it back from any advances it made. She knew she had a tendency to anthropomorphize disease, but to her mind the T-O virus was like a snapping, clawing wild animal with a cunning she didn’t like, and the attacks began alternating with feints, and the attacks began growing in intensity. She pushed everything she had through her hands into Cable’s body, because she could feel it collect itself for another attack, testing her hold on it.

She took a breath, as Cable had taught her in their meditation session, and cleared her head of every thought but Sam. The T-O virus seemed to scream as it smashed into a weak point and she cried out, one hand going to the floor to help keep her upright. With sudden clarity, she realized she wasn’t up to the task, and the glow around her hand on Cable’s arm started to dim.

#Got him!# Cable announced in her head as he reasserted control of the virus, and pulled clear of her mind. She collapsed to the floor entirely, gasping and drained, muscles aching with the phantom burning pain of the virus.

Cable touched her shoulder. “That was an impressive thing you just did, Dana.” Dana felt it like a benediction and pushed herself back up to her knees. “Rest now. I’m going to go join them, and bring Sam back to you.”

She shook her head, and climbed slowly to her feet. “If you’re going, I’m going too. The Institution is doing mutant experimentation and all those people are gonna need me.” She hoped they got there before Sam was among them.

“You’re…” Cable started, but must have seen her resolve in her mind or her eyes, and shook his head. “Come on,” he said instead, and she followed him out of the room at a jog.

Chapter Text

She must have looked a sight stepping on board the Blackbird. Scorched, cut and bruised from her time at the clinic, exhausted from both lack of sleep and exertion. She felt everyone’s surprise at first at seeing her, and Scott’s disapproval, but Cable must have said something to move everyone past the ‘sputtering denial’ stage and onto the ‘flying the plane to save their teammate’ stage. Hank wordlessly helped her get buckled in and handed her a meal replacement ration. She ate quickly and then tried to recover as much as possible on the short ride down. A lot of people would need her. She was conscious right now by will alone, and she couldn’t pass out in a combat zone.

The flight was too long when she thought of what might be happening to Sam, and not long enough when she took stock of herself. What would happen if she were to ever push it too far? Would her heart just give up? Would she burn out her powers? Would she die young? At the moment, it seemed like a noble trade.

“We’re setting down on the other side of a ridge,” Cyclops’s voice came over the speaker system. It’s a short hike and we’ll be looking down on the target. Storm, you provide fog cover and short their electrics. Gambit, you’re on the security system. Jean, you’re communications. Cable and Wolverine, you get Dana to Cannonball, if he needs her, anyone else you come across if he doesn’t. Everyone else with me to deliver Hank to whatever serves as central operations here. This is an evacuation situation, people, keep destruction to a minimum until innocents are out of the vicinity. Got it?”

By the time Cyclops finished speaking the Blackbird was down and the nods and words of assent were buried under harnesses unlatching and the bay doors opening. Dana followed quietly behind Wolverine as he made his way out of the plane and they marched up the hill as Storm sent low clouds rushing ahead of them and a conspicuously localized thunderstorm gathered above the buildings below them. Dana didn’t have a uniform and she felt conspicuous in her jeans as they walked. Silence was the order of the day, of course, but there was a fraught silence between Cable and Wolverine, and it was obvious to her empathy that they had a history. Still, they had the firepower to keep her safe, and while their guards had managed to mask themselves from Wolverine’s enhanced sense of smell until it was too late at the clinic, she hoped Sam had not been similarly masked and Wolverine could lead them directly to him if the psi-shielding stayed up.

They approached under the cover of the thick fog, Cable telepathically keeping them together through the haze, getting into whatever position Wolverine seemed to think was best as thunder and lightning seemed to boom directly overhead.

#Security system is dead. You ready to go?# Phoenix asked in her head.

#Any progress on the psi-shielding? Feels like the whole place doesn’t exist,# Cable replied to all of them.

#It’s the priority. We’re working on it,# Phoenix answered. #At least it’s not a suppressor. Just be safe, you’ll be unable to communicate with me until it’s down. Regular communications are spotty too.#

#Then we’re ready when you are,# Cable answered back.

There was a pause, as Phoenix relayed things to other members of the team, and then there was a massive smashing sound as, presumably, Cyclops had unleashed his powers on the wall at the far side of the compound.

“That oughta draw some attention away from us,” Wolverine said making his way to what looked to be a double-doored emergency exit. He drew back his arm and sliced through the locking mechanism in the center. “Here we go. Dana, stay behind us.”

Dana nodded, more than willing to let them do the pathmaking. This already seemed well above her paygrade, but she was determined not to let her fear overwhelm her when Sam needed her. Even if he was immortal, she was sure the people at the Institution could still put him in danger, and she refused to let anything else happen to him.

Cable kicked the door open, and the three of them cautiously entered sterile white corridors. Dana found it wholly unsettling. The psi shielding was inhibiting her empathy, but her powers kept trying to flare to life anyway—despite not feeling any pain, there were people here who needed her. It was impossible to triage without her empathy however, and while it hurt to leave people who needed her, she didn’t dare stop at any of the doors they passed. She couldn’t risk passing out before finding Sam.

“He’s here,” Wolverine said, and the confirmation made her heart swell enough to make her forget her fatigue. “Just not on this level.” He pushed open a door that lead into a stairwell.

Dana looked over the railing. “I’m guessing down.” It was always down, wasn’t it?

“You watch too many movies,” Cable murmured, but the corner of his mouth turned up.

Wolverine followed his nose. “In this case, she’s right,” he said, slipping down the stairwell. There was another muffled boom of what must be the other half of the team and the lights flickered ominously, before the yellow emergency lighting switched over.

Because what we really needed was for this basement to be even darker and creepier, Dana thought to herself, hiding a wince as she climbed down the stairs after the two of them. On the lower levels security was greater, locks on doors more complicated. Wolverine finally came to a halt in front of one door in particular and paused long enough that Dana couldn’t help but throw herself to the window to see if Sam was inside. The bleak little room was empty, although it did look like someone had been in there recently. “He was here, but he’s been moved,” Wolverine explained, stepping away to find the trail again.

Cable picked up a medical chart in a slot by the door, and flipped through it. “Scheduled for surgery,” he read aloud, and a wave of ice-cold adrenaline flooded Dana’s system. “I’ve got a room number,” he said, and pointed down the hall.

Dana was off like a shot, but Cable had a quicker reaction time than she did, and reached out to take a firm grasp of her arm that nearly wrenched it from her socket as she tried to run by, and she yelped and would have slipped to the ground if Cable hadn’t been holding her up.

“Don’t you dare go off half-cocked,” he said, voice low and full of warning. “There is a way to do this relatively safely and a way where we all end up dead.”

“But he could be--“ Dana protested, tears in her eyes. God, what were they doing to him?

"We take it slow, we check we’re not heading into an ambush. No point getting three people killed trying to save one person. You are not just tagging along to help your friend. You act like an X-Man. This is your job. You do this the right way, or you go back to the plane. Clear?"

He held onto her arm tightly until she nodded. “Clear,” she agreed, dropping her eyes and swallowing any anxious replies. He let go of her arm and moved up to share point with Wolverine.

She stared at both of their backs. Both of them had been fighting for longer than she had even been alive, and here she was trying to tag along like she had any right to live in this world after a few sparring sessions. She shoved all her fear, worry and frustration down deep, and scraped up as much bravery as she could find without her empathy to give her a boost from one of them. If she couldn’t fight, the least she could do was not be stupid. She took a deep breath and followed them both, resolving to not let them down again.


 

The operating room was around a corner in the hallway. Wolverine stopped them before the turn. Cannonball was in there, he confirmed, but so was a four-man surgical team and a skeleton crew of security for them. It was the first they’d encountered so far, the rest apparently drawn off by Cyclops’s attack on the other side of the building.

Neither Cable nor Wolverine were talking, instead communicating via furious hand gestures. After a moment, they seemed to come to a resolution and Wolverine turned to her, pointed at her firmly and then at the spot on the floor on which she was standing. The ‘Stay Put’ was obvious, and she nodded seriously.

Cable started a countdown by holding up his fingers, and when the last finger retreated into his fist, the two of them rushed around the corner, yelling loudly. There was screaming, gunfire, and the sound of Wolverine’s claws, but Dana stood absolutely still, no matter how much she might have wanted to duck around the corner. The body of a security guard hit the far wall, flung by Cable’s telekinesis, and she jumped at it’s sudden appearance, before jumping again as she was summoned.

“Dana!” Wolverine hollered for her, and she ducked around the corner and ran into the room, ignoring blood on the walls and any injuries on anyone but the man on the table in front of her.

Wolverine had his claws out and was caging the surgical team against one wall as Cable stood by the door keeping an eye on unconscious security or anyone who might come up on them. “This is a sterile environment!” the doctor was saying. “That man will die unless we—“

Dana might have snarled at him, but Wolverine did it for her, shutting him up. At any rate, he was beneath her notice, and she instead turned her attention to Sam lying still on the table. Her empathy wasn’t back, but her powers were crying out to be used. Still, she took in the situation carefully before doing anything without her empathy there as a diagnosis tool. First the IV came gently out of the back of his hand—a quick glance at the injectables nearby showed it wasn’t just feeding saline and anesthesia into his veins. She pulled the tape off his eyes, pulled away the ventilator. Then she moved on to what was less than simple. There was an incision on his neck, skin held open by clamps. The cut went all the way to the bone and blood flowed out steadily without anyone suctioning it out. She reached for a small set of forceps on the table and reached into the incision. There was something in there—an implant right next to his spine. She got a firm grip on it and pulled.

“You’re killing him!” the surgeon yelled, but she knew she was doing damage, she could feel it… not through her empathy but rather the pull on her healing powers. Sam’s body seized as she pulled the device clear. Monitors were screaming about his heart rate and O2 levels, and she moved quickly to put her hands on his face and pushed her power through his body as she shushed him, burning out the toxins and healing whatever damage she’d done to his spine, incision closing as if it had never existed. Even the light burns and cuts from the car explosion disappeared. She knew she should have pulled away earlier—conserved her strength for other patients—hell, even just to get herself home on her own two feet but she wanted him whole.

He woke up with a gasp on the table and coughed a few times before opening his eyes, which landed immediately on her.

“Dana?” He seemed a bit fuzzy and confused, but that was all right. At least he was breathing.

“Hi,” she replied tiredly, pressing her forehead against his in relief. “Let’s not make this a habit, okay? Don’t like the idea of you dying on me.”

He looked a little stunned at that, as she stepped back, like he hadn’t really realized where he was. He glanced around the room and went pale. Cable stepped over to help him down from the table. He was wearing scrub pants along with his gown, which made moving him a lot simpler. Dana didn’t like the idea of escaping anywhere in just a medical gown.

“Ah can walk, Sir,” Sam insisted, as Cable helped him to his feet. “Just takin’ a while to get my head right.” Dana couldn’t help but hover a bit. She knew she’d healed everything but with her empathy still down it was hard to double check, and she just wanted to keep her eyes on him, just in case.

Her empathy pinged for a moment, though, a little flicker of pain that made the breath catch in her throat. She looked over at Cable with a frown, and by the look on his face he’d felt it too. He put two and two together faster than she did, though.

“Dana, psi-shield is coming down! Get your shields up. All the way up!”

She only caught part of his shouted warning as the static noise of the psi-dampener shattered around her and she staggered to her knees. She hadn’t really realized that she’d thinned out her shields to try and overcome the psi-dampener the longer they were in the building, and she was quickly overwhelmed. There were far more mutants here than she’d expected, and every one of them were in ill and distraught. It felt like plunging into ice-cold water and she couldn’t catch her breath.

Pheonix was speaking to all of them but Dana couldn’t focus on any of the words, kneeling and clutching her head in a futile effort to keep out the pain. What she could finally focus on was Sam taking her face in his hands, and tilting her face up to look at him. His worried eyes made contact with hers and he was speaking to her and she did her best to hold on to his words. “…up. Get your shields up, Dana. Ah know you can do it. Shield and take a breath for me.”

Seeing him helped her pick out his emotions, his concern for her, out of the screaming noise, and helped her filter out everything else. It was enough clarity to slam her shields fully into place again, and get her breath back. When Sam saw her eyes clear he moved to stroking her arms as he had in the past. “You’re okay,” he said confidently, with a little smile, like he’d never doubted her, even as she wiped the tears from her cheeks. “What’d’ya say we get out of here? Phoenix just told us there’s a triage point they’d like you at ASAP.”

She nodded, and Sam helped her to her feet before scooping her into his arms. As she looked up she saw Wolverine opening the doors of every room on the floor with his claws to get any detainees out, and Cable ‘Strongly Suggesting’ that the doctors and mobile security guards make their way out of the building without giving anyone any more trouble.

Sam tightened his arms around her, warned her with a “Here we go,” and then was off like a rocket, right through the ceiling, through the next two floors, and then the roof. It was as breathless a ride as the first time he’d taken her to fly, but this time they were going through a building. Fortunately, the breathlessness cancelled out the shriek she might have let out otherwise. “We’re invulnerable while Ah’m blastin’,” he reminded her, his voice right in her ear.

The triage point was about halfway between the Institution and the Blackbird. Patients were brought to it as a staging point and depending on their mobility they’d either walk to the Blackbird to evacuate or get carried there. Phoenix was already there directing traffic and Beast was performing first aid where needed. Sam set her down gently a few paces away.

“You up for this?” he asked, concerned. “You just healed me. Maybe you oughta stick to first aid.”

She nodded, looking more confident than she felt. The only thing keeping her conscious right now was adrenaline, but how could she stop when so many people needed her at once? “I’m gonna sleep for about a week after this, though, so don’t make any plans.”

Sam chuckled. Beast waved them over. “Cannonball, we could use a transport to the Blackbird here.”

“Ah’m on it, Beast,” Sam called back.  Dana turned to jog over herself, but Sam caught her elbow. “Hey. When you wake up, Ah owe you dinner. Dream about where you wanna go.” He winked and he pulled her close for a sweet but brief kiss. “Go save lives.”

She flushed as he jogged off to get orders from Beast, but let his feelings for her warm her as she stepped up to see who needed her as Sam took off with the first batch of evacuees.

She did her best to be sparing—gave just enough to get people stable. Nearly everyone would need some sort of surgery or treatment later to remove the implants or counteract the drugs in their body. She hoped it wasn’t entirely down to her in the long run or she’d spend the next month more asleep than awake.

#That’s everyone!# Jean said at long last, and Dana looked over her shoulder to see the X-Men returning with the last few evacuees.

“And not a moment too soon!” Beast pointed out. “It appears the reinforcements have arrived.” Two huge helicopters flew overhead and set down right behind the retreating X-Men, and armored men with automatic weapons piled out. Sam landed, returning from his latest trip, and he reached for Dana. She shook him off.

“Them first. I can walk,” she said, pointing to the last two people in the triage area. Sam gave her a concerned look, looking at the approaching troops, but her expression didn’t waiver.

“Ah will be. Right. Back.” He punctuated each word firmly, and raced off with his last load.

The noise of gunfire pierced the air, and Dana ducked automatically, even though she guessed (hoped) she was still out of range. “He who fights and runs away, lives to fight another day,” Beast quoted, raising an eyebrow at the approaching troops, and nodded towards the plane. Time for them to both make their exit. Dana gratefully retreated.

Even though it was downhill back to the plane, it was a lot slower going than when she’d first arrived. The adrenaline was all but gone now and it was all she could do to stagger along in the right direction, despite the fact that the gunfire was getting ever louder behind her. She was in trouble. She glanced at the sky hoping Sam would return soon, and sent out an SOS she hoped the telepaths could hear. *Any fliers free to bring me in? I’m done.*


 

Sam had dropped his last charges off as quickly as he could manage without actually dropping them from a height and then sped back out into the field. He could see Beast coming back to the plane with stacks of records, and Rogue flying back with the last evacuees directly from the institution, but Dana was still out there somewhere. He sped back in the direction he’d come and thankfully spotted her quickly and raced to her side. She was in front of the rear guard of the X-Men at least, but the line of approaching gunmen was far too close to her for comfort and she was struggling, sliding downhill more than she was walking.

When he’d left her last she was exhausted, but at least able to stand, and he didn’t understand her sudden clumsiness. He dropped next to her. “Ah gotcha, girl.” He swept her up into his arms again. “Come on, you can sleep on the plane.”

The sharp cry of pain was certainly a surprise. So was the fact that her hand went to clutch at her abdomen rather than around his neck as it usually did. He glanced down to see what the matter was, and it was only then he spotted the spreading crimson around her clutching fingers. Oh Jesus! he thought, and panic spurred him faster towards the plane. *Jean!* he shouted at her mentally, and when he was sure he had her attention, just pushed the image at her, unable to even think the words. He trusted she would have Hank ready to receive her by the time he got to the plane with her. “Dana, Ah’m gonna have you to Hank in a flash. You’ll be okay. Just hold on.”

Dana could only groan in response, but the open rear bay doors of the Blackbird were in front of him. Hank had gotten the message and cleared a space on the floor of the bay, which was otherwise more crowded than usual with evacuees. Sam brought Dana right to him, and set her down as gently as he could, and then knelt next to her quickly to help out in any way he could.

“Pressure on the wound, please, Samuel,” Hank said, voice grave in a way that sent chills through Sam. Hank handed him a cloth pad and he pressed it firmly against the bloodflow, even as Dana cried out in pain. The Blackbird shuddered underneath them as the last members of the team returned and the engines fired up. “Jean, if you could assist with your telekinesis?”

“Shh. Ah know it hurts. Just hold on, girl. We’re gonna get you patched up,” he murmured to her. The blood was slowing with Jean’s help, but it wasn’t stopped and Dana was shaking terribly and had gone white as a sheet. He looked up at Hank in a panic, and Hank looked more serious than Sam had seen him in a very long time.

“She’s going into shock,” he murmured and glanced up over Sam’s shoulder. Sam followed the look and saw Nathan standing behind him, looking intently at Dana, presumably helping as well, but it didn’t seem to be doing much good. Hank was muttering darkly at a syringe as he filled it.

Dana had her fist clenched in the front of Sam’s medical gown and she tugged as strongly as she could despite her shaking. He bent down over her to be closer to her face. “I l-love you,” she said, through chattering teeth, eyes wide. “I need t-to say that.”

“Dana, me too. Ah love you too. You’re gonna be okay, all right? Just stay with me. Just hold on.” He held onto her hand with his free hand and tucked as close as he could to her without getting in the way as Hank worked. She just seemed so cold. “Maybe you can do it if you try? Maybe you can heal yourself?” His voice was getting high and panicked, but surely she could save herself when she was this badly injured?

She shook her head weakly and tears spilled down her cheeks before her head limply sagged towards him and then went still. Hank pushed his syringe into the vein of her arm but apparently it didn’t have the reaction Hank had wanted. Hank shoved Sam unceremoniously back. “Nathan, do you have the control to manipulate her heart?” he asked firmly, before bending to do resuscitating breathing. Sam stayed where he was sprawled, unable to comprehend what was happening and absolutely numb.

Chapter Text

“If it were anybody else, we’d be fine,” Remy murmured to Rogue, looking grim as they looked on from the far side of the bay.

Rogue played with the opening of her glove, toying with taking it off. “Ah could try to borrow her powers, but… she’s so weak. She might not make it.”

Remy looked at her, a little stunned, like he hadn’t even considered it. “Chere, I don’t t’ink she’s going to make it any way. Might as well try.”

Rogue swallowed and nodded, and pushed her way up out of her seat and made her way over to the scene. “Hank, lemme try?” she asked. She glanced at Sam to get permission, but he looked too devastated to even acknowledge her.

Hank pulled back. “You’d better do it now,” he said, and Rogue reached down immediately to touch Dana’s face.

There was not much left to take. Not only was her life dimming, but her power was nearly tapped out. Rogue took what she could, trying to let Dana’s memories flow through her while holding onto the power. It was an eye opening power to use—the sense of putting things to right was overwhelming, as was the pull to heal everyone else in the plane who needed it. Still, she knew she could only stay in contact with Dana for so long before she did real damage, if she hadn’t already. She pulled together the kidney and intestine damage and the major blood vessels and then pulled away, hoping that would be enough.

Once Rogue was clear, Hank moved in again. “She’s breathing independently and her pulse is weak but steady. I’ll take it.”

Rogue tugged her glove back on, feeling unconsciousness already tugging at her. “But is she gonna wake up?” she asked, easing herself down onto the floor near Dana.

“She is not immediately going to die, which is more than any of us could have hoped for a few moments ago.” Hank said kindly. “I will deal with the rest later. Sleep well, Rogue.”


 

Rogue woke with a loud groan in the medlab, flinging an arm over her eyes. “Oh God, this is like being hung over.”

Sam squeezed Dana’s unresponsive hand as he sat next to her nearby bed. If Rogue was awake, maybe that meant Dana would wake soon too. He watched Hank bound over with ibuprofen and a glass of water for Rogue and help her to sit upright.

The medlab had never been so busy as it had in the last 24 hours. Besides Dana and Rogue, there were all the ‘patients’ rescued from the Institution. Hank had had his work cut out for him, finding them places at local hospitals or medical installations vouched for by the Avengers. He and Reed Richards had been up most of the night brainstorming and coordinating, finding beds and transport and arranging for surgeons, oncologists, and other top medical personnel to either fly to the east coast or consult from long distance.

Even with more of a crowd than usual, Rogue found them unerringly as she sat up, glancing in their direction and squinting from the headache. “How is she doing?”

Hank looked over in their direction as well, and then turned to address Rogue. “I’m afraid we can do little but let her sleep and think very good thoughts,” Hank was saying, “You’ve worked a minor miracle.” That was not the full speech, Sam knew. What Rogue had managed was incomplete. Hank was on guard for internal bleeding and her kidney shutting down. And then there was the coma—this wasn’t one of Dana’s usual periods of ‘sleeping it off’. She was connected to saline and oxygen and heart monitors, and if she stayed unconscious for too much longer, Hank was ready to feed her through a tube. Hank had taken a look at her brain function and it appeared all right, but honestly the only way to tell for sure would be when she woke up, and she might never…

He swallowed and rested his head on the bed hear her hand, and listened to the heart monitor’s regular beeping. Surely as long as that rhythm stayed steady she’d come back to him. He knew that people in comas were supposed to be able to hear you—you could talk to them and read to them and it was supposed to help—but he wondered if she could feel him empathically while she was asleep. If he loved her enough, if he wanted her enough, could it pull her back?

“Sam?”

Sam blinked, looking up at Nathan. He honestly hadn’t even heard him approach. “Sir?”

Nathan paused, like he was trying to decide how best to proceed. “How is she doing?”

He swallowed and nodded, trying to spin it all like Hank did. He even managed to fake a small smile. “She’s stable.” He squeezed her hand again.

“And how are you?” Nathan asked.

That made him double take. He hadn’t expected that at all. He said, “Fine,” automatically, because that was how you answered that question, wasn’t it?

Nathan’s skeptical eyebrow raise told him perhaps he was wrong. “How are you really?”

He swallowed. It was a sign of how far out of it he was that he’d tried to slip something so obvious past one of the world’s strongest psis. “I’m actually about as far from fine as possible,” he said, taking some breaths and blinking hard to keep his resolve from cracking.

Nathan nodded, but gave him a little space to pull himself together by going to get a chair of his own. He pushed it up to the bed next to Sam’s and took a seat, silent but present. Sam could appreciate that. Neither of them were particularly men of words, especially when it came to expressing sorrow or grief. Sam knew, however, that they both had felt their share—Sam had lost a father, teammates. Nathan had lost teammates, too, of course, as well as a son and a wife. There had been a few honest conversations when they’d both been awake too late at Camp Verde.

“Can you reach her? In her mind?” Sam asked after a long, companionable quiet.

Nathan shook his head. “No. She’s deep under. And honestly, I think she needs the time to recover, if she’s going to.” Sam appreciated that Nathan didn’t sugar coat it—that he was honest about the possibility.

“You think she knows Ah’m here?” Sam asked, looking back at her.

“It’s possible. Subconsciously.” Nathan looked over at where Hank was still talking to Rogue. “McCoy probably has a list of studies on that sort of thing, if you wanted to look at them.”

Sam shook his head. He didn’t want to read anything right now. He just wanted to have faith.

Nathan must have overheard him. “You can have faith, Sam. She was hell bent on getting to you, and she did. If anyone can claw awake on sheer will alone, it’ll be her to get to you.”


 

Sam didn’t leave the medlab much. He didn’t like the silence of his room where he couldn’t hear Dana’s heart monitor. Besides, the medlab had eventually emptied of patients aside from her, leaving him to sleep in relative quiet, so he caught catnaps laying his head on Dana’s bed. He woke up from one only to find that he wasn’t alone keeping vigil.

Marc gave him a thin smile. “Didn’t want to wake you. You looked like you needed it.” Marc looked pretty rough himself.

Sam shook his head, feeling instantly guilty. Dana was young, not fully trained, and had no business being out on a mission. Marc had done his job and got her to safety, but she’d come right back into danger to save Sam. “Marc, Ah am so sorry. She never should have been out there--”

Marc’s laugh was loud in the quiet room and startled Sam enough that he jumped. “You’re kidding right?”

Sam stared blankly at him, not knowing what to say.

“Sam, she can be incredibly stubborn when she puts her mind to it, and she’s obviously crazy about you.” He leveled a look at Sam across the bed, and Sam tried to meet his gaze evenly. He loved Dana in return. “The only surprise is that she didn’t just steal the helicopter I brought her home in. And considering I sort of stole the helicopter in the first place…” He shrugged helplessly. “Must run in the family.”

They both shared the faintest of smiles, and then Marc looked down at Dana and patted her hand. “I couldn’t even start to blame you, blame any of you, for this,” he said. “You got her out of that house when I couldn’t. You’ve made her happier than I’ve ever seen her—she got to live a life. Even if… the worst happens. I don’t think she would have taken anything back.”

Sam swallowed, and changed the subject, feeling awkward in the face of Marc’s unexpected gratitude. “How are you?” he asked, and then clarified a bit, because it seemed too generic for the conversation they were having. “You did steal a helicopter.”

Marc raised an eyebrow. “Yeah. Dad’s not happy and he has some very excellent lawyers. Fortunately, I also have excellent lawyers, my new employer has excellent lawyers, and frankly the helicopter pilot likes me a lot more.” He grinned slyly. “Don’t you worry about me. I’ve been thinking about this exit for a while, so I’ve landed on my feet. Yeah, it’s a paycut and a little demotion, but they’re a direct competitor of Dad’s so they’re glad to have me and it won’t be long until I’m climbing the ladder again.” He looked down at Dana again and spoke directly to her again. “So don’t you worry, Dana. No more Hermes for a while-- you’ll have to slum it with Coach—but I’ll be back in that tax bracket soon enough.” He glanced up at Sam, smiling. “And yes, I do know she barely knows the difference, or cares. I just like to give her nice things to assuage my guilt.”

Sam wasn’t sure if he should say what was on his mind as it seemed blunt and ill-timed, but eventually he just came out with it. “Ah don’t know my sister as well as Ah’d like either. She’s been doin’ all her growin’ up away from me.” 

Marc looked startled at first, and anger flashed across his face before he let it go and sat back in his chair. “I turn my back, and she leaves the house and becomes an adult.” He shrugged. “I think while she was living with dad she was too worried about being who dad wanted her to be to have too many interests of her own, aside from a few movies or music albums she knew he hated—the only rebellion she felt she could handle at the time. I don’t think I even knew who she really was then.” He shrugged and then gave Sam a speculative look. “What does she like then? What have I missed?”

Sam sat back in his own chair and blew out a thoughtful breath, knowing this was a bit of a test. “She likes being outside, going for walks or runs on the grounds. She likes training, or at least takes a lot of pride in it when she improves because she doesn’t like feeling like a weak link. She likes books and music and movies, of course, but you knew that. She loves coffee and she likes food if she doesn’t have to make it.”

“She likes you.” Marc said pointedly.

Sam shrugged, raising a self-depreciating eyebrow, and trying not to feel it to deeply. “No accounting for taste. Don’t know why, but I’m glad she does,” he said lightly.

“She never told me,” Marc said flatly. “Not until she was on the helicopter. I mean, I think she was really focused on the whole Red Tail thing—obsessed with it, even— and we never talked about anything else, but I wish I could have heard her tell me you two were together when we could have had a chat.”

“Ah didn’t know she hadn’t told you,” Sam said, frowning. Had she thought Marc wouldn’t approve? Surely she wasn’t embarrassed of him?

Marc read his expression flawlessly. “I think she wanted something just for herself for a while,” he said kindly. “She’s in love. I certainly didn’t run home and tell my dad the first time I kissed a girl. Didn’t mean it wasn’t great. Didn’t mean the girl wasn’t great… God, was she great.” Marc shook his head, and chuckled and Sam couldn’t help chuckling with him. “She was too good to tell my family about.”

“Suppose Ah haven’t really told my Ma about her either,” he admitted, “but that’s only because she would have demanded we show up for that night’s dinner, and Ah can acknowledge my family can be a little large and overwhelming.” He laughed. “No pistols at dawn then?” Sam teased lightly.

“Jesus. God no. On any metric you could probably kick my ass anyway.” Marc said it so ruefully that Sam couldn’t help but smile. “I knew you were a good guy, even before you were together. You look out for her. You make her happy. Whether you’re friends or a couple doesn’t matter.” He shrugged. “I don’t have any complaints. Plus, it’s not really my place to have complaints. She’s finally living her own life—It’s a little counterproductive for me to storm in with opinions about how she should live it.” He leaned forward in his chair and spoke to Dana directly again. “So you better wake up and live it, D, or I’m gonna be pissed.”


 

“Time to leave, Sam.” God, he looked rough, Jean thought to herself. Somebody should have been in here ages ago to kick him out, but it was hard to give tough love to someone who looked so pathetic and was so adamant.

Sam startled a bit, and blinked owlishly up at her. “What?”

She reached down and hauled him to his feet. “Come on. You need real rest, real food, and a shower and shave wouldn’t hurt either.”

He shook his head and tried to sit back down but she wasn’t having it. “Marc is keeping an eye on her for you,” she pointed out, tipping her head towards where Marc was sleeping in a chair. He honestly didn’t look much better than Sam, but she could only work on one of them at once. “Hank’s got her monitored, and both of them know to contact you immediately if anything changes.” He looked skeptical so she tried another tack. “When Dana does wake up, I think it would be nice if you managed to look your usual handsome self. Also, if you make yourself sick and she has to heal you as soon as she wakes up, that’d be pretty rude of you.”

Sam sighed and scrubbed his hands over his face, and Jean took a moment to check in on Dana. She was in there, Jean was sure, even though Hank got more and more grim with every day that passed. Dana just needed to gather her strength.

“Come on,” she said gently, reaching out to lead him by the elbow. “Just a few hours in your own bed will do a world of good.”

He gave her a sullen look that made it clear that he was leaving under protest, but he followed her lead anyway, all the way back to his room. Once inside, he sat heavily on his bed and looked at the floor in front of him.

“Do you want me to bring you something to eat?” she offered.

He shook his head.

“Do you want to talk?”

He lifted sad blue eyes to meet hers. “Don’t know what to say. Just want her to be okay.” He shrugged.

Jean took a seat next to him and put an arm around his shoulders. “You’re allowed to be upset. Be sad. Be angry. Being strong for her doesn’t mean being stoically emotionless. Besides, she can tell what you’re keeping inside anyway.” Jean smiled gently at him. “If she’s tuned to you, even though she’s asleep, I have to think that bottling it all up has got to feel rougher to her than working through it.”

That seemed to break his resolve a little, and he closed his eyes as a pained expression crossed his face. Jean leaned toward him to put both arms around him and pull him against her and he pressed his forehead into her shoulder. “Ah need her to be okay,” he said, starting to cry. “She has to wake up.”

“I know. This isn’t very fair,” Jean said, trying to comfort him as best she could. “But I promise it’ll be a little easier to bear if you get some sleep and some food.”

Sam sobbed, exhausted, into her shoulder for a few minutes. It had the side benefit of tiring him out so much that he was practically asleep before she finally tipped him onto his back onto the bed.

Jean kept tabs on him, and when he finally awoke late the next morning and stepped outside his door with the intention of heading right back to the medlab she was waiting for him. He’d slept hard, out of necessity probably, and his hair was sticking up in a way that would have been either adorable or amusing if they’d been in a different situation.

“Is she up?” he asked, face full of both hope and dread. She practically got a second-hand adrenaline spike.

She raised her hands calmingly. “No, Sam.”

“Is she—“

She felt him form the thought so she was quick to react as the words started to be said. “Absolutely not. She’s just how she was when you left her: Stable.”

Sam eyed her suspiciously. “So you’re here to…” he prompted.

“Make sure you’re not a complete wreck when she does wake up,” she said with good humor. “I don’t think she’s ever seen you with anything more than a 5 o’clock shadow. She won’t recognize you.”

Sam made a face that made it clear that he found the whole thing manipulative and ran a hand over his jaw. “Fine. Ah’ll shave,” he allowed

She found it adorable that he thought he could bargain his way through this. “Shave, shower, and a decent meal or I will have the medlab door programmed to not admit you,” she countered with.

Sam looked wounded. “You wouldn’t!”

“I absolutely would, Sam,” Jean said, seriously. “We don’t know how long she’ll be asleep for. This may be a marathon rather than a sprint. If you can’t take care of yourself because you’re sitting vigil, then we’re going to stop you from sitting vigil.”

He clenched his fist and flared with anger for a moment before his growling stomach undercut his posturing and he turned sheepish instead. Jean saw her opening and moved closer to put an arm around his broad shoulders and shepherd him towards the kitchen. “Come on, Sam. Sandwich, shower and shave and you can get right back in there.”


 

Dana had never been out for longer than a day before and here it was over a week later and she was still dead to the world. Marc had come and gone numerous times over the past few days. Once it looked like Dana wasn’t liable to wake up imminently and that she could just stay like this Marc had reluctantly pulled himself away to put in some hours at his new job. He was currently at work, or possibly at home sleeping. The Medlab was windowless since it was in the basement and it was easy to lose track of time there.

Sam was currently only half-paying attention to Hank trying to prepare him for the worst. “The longer she stays asleep, Sam, the less likely it is that she’ll wake up. She could stay in the coma for years, or eventually just… succumb. I’m going to broach long term plans with Marc the next time he comes in.” Sam tuned out the rest. He wanted to have a say, but he was only the boyfriend of a few months and Marc was family. Plus, Marc probably had resources he couldn’t even imagine for nursing homes, care facilities, or even private nurses. He wondered if Marc would let him visit wherever Dana was kept. He hoped Marc would keep her somewhere nearby.

He focused on the regular chirps and beeps of the monitoring machinery instead and thought about taking a visit home to Kentucky to get his head right, but the idea of not being here when Dana either woke up or passed on made him nauseous. Ever since learning he was an External all those years ago, he’d acknowledged that he would likely outlive everyone he knew and loved—it might just be him and Logan hanging out for centuries, really—but it seemed particularly unfair for it to be happening already.

Hank reached out and gripped his shoulder. “Sam?”

Sam pulled his attention back to Hank with a sigh. “Yeah. Sorry. Ah’m listen—“ he cut himself off, and looked sharply back in the direction of Dana’s bed. He thought he’d seen something, but she was as still as always. Great, now he was hallucinating. Jean would jump all over that. He pinched the bridge of his nose and tried to focus again. “Listening. Sorry,” he finished lamely. He took a breath and was going to turn back to face Hank when adrenaline flushed through him in a cold wash. That had definitely been movement.

He practically flew over to stand next to the bed, sending a chair clattering out of his way as Hank squawked in alarm. The monitors next to the bed were showing her heart rate had picked up, and though her eyes were still closed, her eyes were moving underneath the lids and her mouth was opening and closing as her throat worked. He realized quickly she was gagging on the feeding tube. “Hank!” he shouted in alarm, but Hank was only a step behind him.

“I see, Samuel,” he said, and quickly but delicately began peeling at the medical tape on her cheek that held the tube in place. Sam’s heart felt it might burst out of his chest at the faint note of joy in Hank’s voice. “I do believe our sleeping beauty is finally waking. Please hold her head still for me. She won’t like this much.”

Sam did as he was asked, standing at the head of the bed to hold her head between his hands as Hank pulled the tube free in one fluid motion. True to Hank’s warning Dana didn’t like it, trying to weakly toss her head. Sam held her firm, but ran his thumb gently over her brow to try to soothe her. “It’s okay, Dana. It’s all done. Just come on back to us. Open your eyes.”

As Hank was relieving her of her nasal cannula, she finally did open her eyes. They were hazy and unfocused, but Sam thought he’d never seen anything so beautiful. Now that Hank had removed all the tubes from her head, he figured he could let go of her and he did so, in order to wipe his arm across his own tear-filled eyes. He stepped around to the side of the bed and took up her hand. “Hey, Dana. You’re okay. Ah’m right here.”

“Sam?” Her voice was rough and raspy, but her eyes were clearing, even as Sam’s were blurring with more happy tears.

“That is a very excellent sign,” Hank said, right before flashing a penlight in each of her eyes, which she also didn’t seem to like, shying away and squeezing Sam’s hand. “Outstanding pupil response, my dear!” Hank said, and Sam laughed a little as she scowled and tried to lean towards him.

Sam stroked her hair back from her face with the hand not holding hers, and then bent to kiss her forehead, crying and laughing with joy at the same time.

“Wet,” Dana complained, even as she gave him a small smile, and he apologized and brushed his tears from her skin.

“Sorry, Danes. Ah’m just real happy you’re back. You really scared us.”

“Sorry,” she apologized back, looking contrite.

“It’s okay. It’s okay.” He pulled her hand up to press it to his cheek and then kiss it tenderly. “Ah’ll forgive you anything today.”

Hank had taken a suspiciously long time to check her vitals on the nearby monitors, leaving them a little bit of privacy, but now he returned to smile down at Dana. “You still have some recovery ahead of you Dana,” he said. “You’ll likely feel tired, and you absolutely should not let us wear you out or overwhelm you. However, I imagine your brother would very much like to be here as soon as possible. Shall I call him?”

“Marc?” She smiled, looking joyful at the idea. “Yes, please.”

“Then I shall make haste to do so,” Hank said, and bounded away to the phone.

Dana glanced back in Sam’s direction, smiling softly at him. He pressed her fingers to his lips, and kissed them again and again, tears occasionally spilling onto his cheeks. “Ah really, really love you,” he murmured against her skin.

“Love you, too,” she said, looking touched and a little overwhelmed. She swallowed, and a tear spilled out of the corner of her eye. Sam leaned in to wipe it away with a smile.

“No heroics for a while, okay? Let me take care of you?” he asked softly, and she nodded, cheeks flushing just a little.


 

It had taken a while, but finally Hank had deemed her recovered enough to allow her out of the medlab and back in her own bedroom. Marc had gone back to work full-time after spending almost a full day hugging her and Sam had gone back to his usual training schedule and only spent every moment of his free time with her, rather than every moment of all of his time. Still, he’d volunteered pretty damn fast to carry her up to her bedroom. She could walk all right, if slowly, and there was always the elevator, but Hank thought the full trip might needlessly exhaust her.

Sam scooped her off the bed in the medlab carefully, one arm under her knees and the other behind her back. She threw an arm over his neck and leaned against his body as he took her weight. “You okay?” he checked.

“Nothing hurts, aside from my pride,” she said with a wry smile.

“You did get shot,” he said kindly, as he got underway. “You’re allowed to need a little time to recover. Tell you what. Next time Ah get shot you can carry me to my room.”

She smiled at the joke, but didn’t laugh. “It’s funny. Before I came here I’d been absolutely convinced that this would be my life. That I’d be sickly and bed-ridden and would need to be carried everywhere or have a wheelchair.” She shook her head having a hard time reconciling it now.

Sam looked a little offended on her behalf, and she could feel the outrage in his mind. “I was okay with it! The sickly heiress is almost an archetype-- Pride and Prejudice has one, and I read that book a lot.” Sam clearly wanted to jump in before she got to the point, so she rushed ahead to beat him to it. “That was under a year ago, I thought like that, and now suddenly being in bed for more than a day is intolerable.”

“Good,” Sam said, and she couldn’t help but chuckle at the emphatic firmness in his voice.

“I’ve done things I never thought I was capable of, and it’s terrifying but also amazing. The funny thing is that I don’t even really realize it until after I do it.”

“Ah don’t think you would have made a very good sickly heiress, no matter what your dad said.”

“Maybe you’re right. Maybe I always had this in me. But it feels that I could only have done it around you. Around all of you.”

He smiled at her, but said nothing more on the point. “You’re sure you’ve got everything you need?” he checked as he set her down gently on her bed, taking a seat in her desk chair.

She chuckled. His fretting was coming through loud and clear through her empathy, but she didn’t know what else to do to reassure him at this point other than try to get back to her normal self. “The shower this morning was all I really needed,” she said, running a hand through her finally clean hair. “Everything else is gravy.” It was nice to feel human again. The hot steam had made her a little dizzy, but she certainly wasn’t going to admit it if it meant Hank might forbid her from taking another one any time soon.

“All right then,” Sam drawled, and kicked off his shoes, propping his socked feet up on the corner of her bed like he was planning on staying a while. She couldn’t help but give him a little patient smile.

“You can go do something else if you want, you know. You don’t have to wait on me hand and foot,” she said. “I’m capable of getting out of bed to get anything in my room, and if I need anything more complicated, I can just think at a telepath.”

“You kickin’ me out?” he asked, and there was a little puppy dog in those big eyes he shot her and she fought rolling her eyes right back.

“I certainly don’t mind the company. I’m just saying that if you have anything else to do…”

“Nothin’ more important than this,” he said, and reached out for her hand like he had so often since she’d awoken.

“You are not staying in that chair all night,” she said sternly. “You wake up with a bad back and I’ll end up feeling it.”

“Soon as you nod off, Ah’ll head over to my room and get a full night’s sleep, Ah promise.” He gave her a disapproving frown. “Don’t mother me. Ah’m supposed to be mothering you.”

She laughed at him and squeezed his hand in hers before giving it a little tug. “If you’re determined to stay, you could at least be a little more comfortable.” She scooted back on the twin bed to leave him some room.

“You sure? It’s a tight fit. Don’t want to hurt you.” He looked skeptically at the narrow space on the mattress for his broad shoulders.

She tugged on his hand in response. “Please?”

He sighed, but smiled helplessly, and shrugged out of all his upper-body layers but his undershirt and then crawled into bed with her. She carefully turned onto her good side and moved to lay her head on his chest as he curled his arms around her shoulders. A content sigh escaped her before she could clamp down on it, and he chuckled underneath her, setting her blushing again.

“Happy?” he asked.

“Yes.” She buried her face in his chest, a little embarrassed, and he patted her shoulder gently before starting to stroke her long hair. God, that would put her out in no time, she thought, practically purring. They’d cuddled together before, of course, but it had always been either outside in nice weather or on the couch, watching TV (or sometimes ignoring the TV if they’d managed to get a few minutes alone). A bed was entirely new. She liked it and it sent a little illicit thrill through her, even though she knew Sam would never do anything with her this weak. She trusted him completely, so she could just focus on the comfort he provided.

Dana had been easily chilled ever since she’d woken up whether due to blood loss, weight loss, or a cratering metabolism. Sam always ran a little hot thanks to his mutant powers, and she snuggled up eagerly to him, soaking in the warmth like she’d lingered under the hot water of the shower earlier.

“How’s your wound?” he asked, seemingly determined to check she wasn’t doing herself any damage.

“A little tender, but it’s fine. Doesn’t hurt at all when I lay like this. I just have to be careful not to twist too much.” She threw an arm over his chest, and pressed down a little. “So stop fretting and lay still.” She grinned up at him, and he managed to bend his neck just enough to kiss the top of her head. There would absolutely be no making out like this, due to the aforementioned twisting limitation, but Sam seemed full of patience with her ever since she woke up.

She might have been tempted to push it, but she knew that if she so much as winced, he’d cut her off cold turkey until kissing had officially been medically cleared by Hank and that was not a conversation she ever wanted to have.

“Copy that,” Sam murmured and settled underneath her, before yawning widely.

“You’re gonna fall asleep before me,” she warned, raising a skeptical eyebrow.

“Ah’m fine,” he said firmly. He pushed his fingers through her hair a little more firmly and rubbed at her scalp a little, and she couldn’t help herself from chuckling as he clearly was redoubling his efforts in a race to get her to fall asleep before he did.

“You could try singing me to sleep?” she suggested coyly.

“Hah. No. Josh got all of that particular talent in the family. Whatever Ah managed would not be soothing,” he said ruefully.

“Guess you better manage to stay awake then.”

“Hush, you. Ah am not on the verge of passing out,” he said defensively. He was undercut a bit by another yawn, which he gamely fought through. “Ah’m gonna get you sleeping and then Ah am going to deftly slide out of bed without jostling you and get to my own bed and Ah’ll see you again for breakfast.”

Dana laughed, incredibly skeptical. After all, she’d been sleeping about 90 percent of the last two weeks. No one was better rested than her right now.

“You doubting me only strengthens my resolve,” he said puffing up his chest a bit under her head.

He was out in five minutes. Dana smiled, patted his chest, and waited to fall asleep herself.

Chapter Text

Hank went upstairs first thing the next morning to give Dana her morning check-up and run her through some rehabilitation exercises before breakfast. He knocked politely on Dana’s door. Her sleep schedule had been set awry by the coma, but she’d seemingly been up pretty early in the morning so far.

Dana did not immediately answer through the door. Instead, there was an alarmed masculine voice, muffled by the door too much to hear what was being said. Hank pushed the door open, worried, and peeked his head in the room.

“Ah can’t believe you let me fall asleep!” Sam was whispering forcefully as he pulled his shirt on. From the way the blankets were turned back on the near side of the bed, he’d clearly come straight from Dana’s bed. Dana, for her part, looked completely unflustered by Sam’s fretting, with the covers pulled all the way up to obscure what looked to be a very amused smile.

Hank knew what it looked like, and he was shocked and then surprised he was shocked. After all, he’d been a young adult once.

He wondered if he’d even been noticed. His knock certainly had, but he thought he might have been unobserved opening the door, so he did his best to gracefully and silently exit and stand in the hall like he’d never seen anything.

He smacked his hand into his forehead a bit later as he realized that Dana had been homeschooled for a great many years, and he was pretty sure the curriculum set for her here had not included sex ed. He scrubbed at his face. The honor would probably fall to him.

He resolved to ask Scott to make sure Sam’s training was extra strenuous this week. Perhaps if Sam was too exhausted to listen to his youthful hormones it would give Hank a little more time to let his message sink in.

Sam came to the door a few minutes later, combing his fingers through his hair as he did to try and flatten it down. “Hiya, Hank,” he said, looking, in Hank’s not entirely unbiased opinion, guilty as sin. “Just, uh, checkin’ on Dana this morning. Sorry. Can’t talk. Late for training session.” He pushed past Hank and fairly fled down the hall.

Hank turned to enter the room Sam had exited. Where Sam was flustered Dana was calm, sitting up in bed almost primly. At least she was fully dressed in her pajamas by the time Hank stepped inside. “Good morning, Hank,” she greeted.

“Dana,” he replied, still trying to figure out how to respond to the situation. “How are you feeling?”

“Getting a little stir-crazy, honestly,” she said.

“Not too tired?” he asked pointedly.

“No,” she frowned, and narrowed her eyes, considering him with some suspicion. “Why?”

He sighed and delicately took a seat in her desk chair, folding his hands in front of him and wondering how to even start. “I’d like to preface all this by saying that I do realize you are a legal adult, and I don’t in any way want to call into question your ability to make decisions for yourself.”

“Okay. That’s… good,” Dana said, sounding unsure. “Look, if this is about anything that happened involving the Institution, I know I made some really bad judgment calls in a whole bunch of different areas, and I promise I’m going to learn from—“

He raised his hand to stop her. “I wasn’t referring to that, although I have no doubt Scott will review your decisions ad nauseum once you are able to sit through his lectures,” Hank digressed as Dana made a face. “No, instead I was referring to your relationship with young Mr. Guthrie.”

She immediately looked alarmed, and winced as she pushed herself more upright. “I don’t understand,” she said, distraught. “What’s wrong with our relationship?”

Hank raised both of his hands placatingly this time. This was going completely wrong. “I simply meant that it seems to be… progressing, and as I believe that I am now your primary care physician, I wondered if we needed to discuss things.”

Dana looked at him, seemingly confused. “What would we need to…” she trailed off, as things seemed to come together for her. “Oh my God!” she exclaimed and buried her face in her hands, cheeks flushing with embarrassment.

“Now, I want to reassure you that there is nothing at all to be embarrassed about. Sex is a perfectly natural part of being human. I just want to make sure—“

“Oh my God!” Dana interrupted, still embarrassed and still hiding behind her hands. “Please stop!”

“Dana.” Hank reached for her hands gently to pull them away from her face. “If you would prefer to talk to a female doctor I can arrange for—“

“You think I’m having sex! I’m not having sex!” she exclaimed. Hank thought she could probably sense his skepticism because she went on to add, “Sam thinks I’ll break in half if he kisses me right now!”

“Be that as it may--”  

“Get a telepath… Get Jean right now, she will tell you!” Dana pointed wildly at the door. This excitement was not what Hank had planned for this encounter and he felt he should probably be taking her pulse just to make sure she wasn’t overtaxing herself.

“Be that as it may,” he repeated, patiently, “the point is that I don’t know what your knowledge is, and now that you’re in a relationship, it’s certainly easier to know these things in advance.” Whether she was sexually active or not was not the point, really. It was just the catalyst reminding him of possible gaps in her education.

Dana went back to covering her face with her hands. “Oh my God,” she repeated again, but quietly this time and no longer interrupting.

“Also, I think it’s important for you to understand that mutant powers may, in fact, play merry havoc with certain methods of birth control and we don’t know how you using your powers might affect a developing fetus.”

Dana had slid slowly down in the bed until she was laying flat again as he spoke and covered her face with a pillow. “No one said anything about fetuses. There will be no fetuses,” came the muffled response.

“Which is why we should discuss methods of birth control,” Hank said placidly.

Dana made a sound from under the pillow, but she was in no state to flee so Hank geared up for his presentation.


 

*Jean, please help?* Dana thought plaintively, hopefully loud enough to be heard by Jean’s telepathy without seeming like a shout. It had been days since the horrifyingly informative and medically precise birds and bees lecture she’d received from Hank. Perhaps this was paranoia speaking, but in the time since it felt as if Sam’s visits had become shorter, less frequent and infinitely more supervised. Sam said that he was just getting a more frequent than average training schedule to get back into shape, and seemed oblivious—she hadn’t told him about her discussion with Hank, far too embarrassed to mention it, and he clearly hadn’t been confronted by Hank or anyone else about it-- but Dana couldn’t help her suspicions. She knew Hank hadn’t believed her.

#Is anything wrong, Dana?# Jean asked, mental voice tinged with a little concern. Dana rushed to reassure her.

*Nothing really wrong,* she thought at Jean, *I just think there’s been a misunderstanding, and if you have a moment, I think I need your help to clear it up.*

In response, Jean sent a mental image of her point of view at the moment, sitting in the kitchen alone and enjoying a late morning cup of coffee. #I have a bit of time. What’s up?#

*I’m pretty sure Hank thinks Sam and I slept together, and we didn’t. I mean, we did, but we didn’t have sex, and now Sam is suddenly suspiciously busy and I’m still not allowed downstairs and I miss him and I’m bored,* she thought in a rush, embellishing the words with a few images and emotional impressions to help convey what she was trying to convey. *Can you vouch for me?*

There was a longer than expected pause before the reply. #Oh dear,# Jean thought at her, and the emotions that Dana picked up from Jean even across the distance made it clear that Hank was far from alone in his suppositions.

*I understand Hank getting the wrong idea, but you? You could have checked!* Dana thought at her, exasperated.

#I didn’t want to pry!# There was the tiniest sliver of amusement in Jean’s voice. Not enough for Dana to take offense at, certainly, just enough to make her acknowledge that this was probably going to be pretty funny in hindsight. #He showed up late to training in yesterday’s clothes with his hair all askew and Hank said he’d come out of your room first thing that morning. It was kind of a textbook Walk of Shame.#

Dana rubbed at her forehead in frustration and sighed. *I understand that I’m the youngest and the newest and people are going to be overprotective but can I please have my boyfriend back?*

#I will pass on the message to those who need to know,# Jean promised. #I think they were only keeping Sam busy until Hank could make sure you were fully up for strenuous activity anyway, and I heard you might be allowed down to breakfast tomorrow.#

Dana flushed. *Sam’s treating me like I’m made of glass,* she said, torn between admiration at his restraint and frustration that she couldn’t even get a proper kiss. *Nothing ‘strenuous’ at all is even on our radar, I don’t think. And I’m okay with that. I like where we are and Sam doesn’t seem frustrated.*

#Well, that is one response to a near-death experience, being overprotective,# Jean explained. #I’m afraid the other one, which can be pretty common, is life-affirming sex, so that’s the side everyone came down on.# There was the telepathic equivalent of a brief hug and Dana leaned into it. #I will inform those who need to be informed.#

*Thank you, Jean.* Dana thought back, and settled back into bed, relieved.

The next morning Hank pronounced her fit enough to hobble down the stairs for breakfast with the rest of the house, and Sam was right behind him, beaming, and allowed without comment to help her down the stairs and help her into a seat at the table right next to his own.


 

“I want to join the team,” Dana said, doing her best to sound firm in her convictions as she spoke to both Charles and Scott. “After what happened… after what I saw… what my father was up to… I can’t just be a student here. I can’t move on to the private sector, or transfer to another school, or get a regular job. It wouldn’t be right. I want to do my bit to make up for the damage he caused, and the damage people like him cause. I want to drop all my academic classes and just train my powers like the rest of you.”

“You’re sure about this?” Scott asked, raising an eyebrow above his sunglasses. She wasn’t surprised he was the one to ask. She was absolutely dead set on this path, and she hoped Charles could sense that. “No one blames you for what your father contributed to.”

“I am,” she said. “And it’s not that I don’t think education is important. I think everything I’ve been learning is incredibly important,” she added. And it had been too, learning history through a mutant lens had been incredibly enlightening and science and medicine were suddenly vital when used to explain her powers and how to most efficiently use them. “I just feel like its time for me to do something. There are probably millions of people in the world who could use my power right now. It doesn’t feel right to sit safe in the mansion and just study anymore, but it doesn’t feel right to just walk down the street and heal whomever I come across either. I feel like I need to use my gift in service to a greater goal, and I think yours is the best one I’m liable to find.”

Scott and Charles shared a look and she could sense the hesitation. She was young (although she was two years older than Sam was when he started, so that couldn’t be that much of an excuse), she was vulnerable, and it was a power of a type that Scott and Charles had never had to incorporate before, so it would be a strategic challenge for them, although she couldn’t see either of them backing down from such a challenge. “I can always go back to school,” she added. “I just feel that training my powers and working on academics is distracting me from both.”

Scott sighed. “All right,” he finally allowed, “but on a trial basis. You do not go out into the field until you pass combat certifications to my satisfaction.”

“Combat?” Dana asked, eyebrows in her hairline. “Like… Combat?”

Scott nodded, and Charles looked serious. “The best move strategically is always going to be to keep you in reserve and on the sidelines, but we’re not always so lucky. You just recovered from a time when you weren’t that lucky. I have to know you can last in a fight. You learn the Blackbird controls well enough to take off, land, and keep it flying in a straight line. I also want to investigate that side power you seem to have of being able to turn off mutant abilities when you heal.”

“Understood,” she said, resisting the impulse to salute. He was going to try to scare her off now, she was sure, but she wasn’t going to give up at just words. In all honesty, she wasn’t sure if she could physically cut it, but she certainly wasn’t going to give up without trying.

She cursed herself a few minutes later for having idle thoughts in Charles’s presence when he spoke up. “Two-a-days, I think?” he suggested aloud to Scott as Dana did her best to not react. “One training session solo and the other getting used to team work?” Scott nodded, clearly latching onto the idea.

“And at least one session a day of work on either empathy or healing and first aid. If you’re on the team, you’re going to be our medic, and I need you able to fill that role even without powers.”

She nodded sharply. “I’m not afraid of hard work. I’ll do my best to live up to expectations.”

“You haven’t ever let us down with lack of effort, Dana,” Charles said kindly.

“And your judgment will get better with experience and age, I hope,” Scott added. The rebuke stung a bit.

Once she’d recovered enough to come down for breakfast Scott had deemed her ready to be on the receiving end of a long talk, which rehashed any and all questionable judgment calls she’d made on the evening in question, and there had been quite a few.  Still, he softened the comment a moment later. “Although, Lord knows, I’m still waiting on Wolverine to see things the way I do and he’s, like, three-hundred-and-two.” He sounded stern but the corner of his mouth pulled up in the tiniest teasing smirk. “Once Hank clears you medically, its go time,” he said. The ‘hope you’re ready’ went unspoken.


 

Crap, crap, crap! Dana thought to herself, as she backpedalled away from the energy projector squaring up as her opponent. She’d been trying to do an end run around most of the fighting, but she’d apparently miscounted the opposition. She didn’t even have time to radio for an assist when the blast came, but she managed to dodge enough to keep it from hitting her dead on. It caught her in the shoulder like a punch with enough force to send her tumbling backwards, but she managed to use her momentum to roll over her shoulder and back to her feet in time to see Cannonball slam into the large man, sending him crashing into a wall.

“Okay?” he checked. His voice and demeanor were completely professional, but she could feel his boyfriendly concern. He hated seeing her get beat up and he wasn’t entirely on board with her being in the field, although he’d never speak up against her.

“Fine,” she said, as reassuringly as she could, considering the roll had made her a touch dizzy. “Thanks for the assist.”

He nodded, ready to launch off again when they both heard the call over the earpiece. “An assist would be très bon about now…”

They both looked in Gambit’s direction. He was being pinned down by a mutant with a lot of firepower, keeping Gambit ducked under cover so completely that he couldn’t get a shot off. Cannonball reached out a hand to her. “Wanna give it a shot?”

She nodded and took the few steps to throw herself into his arms before he launched into the air. They’d practiced flying together enough that she could ignore the lurching feeling in her stomach and only a moment later he was dropping her directly behind the mutant harassing Gambit and rocketing off to the next target.

Dana wasted no time wrapping both her hands around the mutant’s beefy wrist and with a bit of focus—as doing this without activating her healing ability still felt a bit awkward—turned his powers off. “Gambit! Go!” she called into the radio. The mutant was already turning to deal with her, but Gambit’s timing and aim was impeccable as always, and a spray of cards hit the mutant enough to knock him down and well clear of Dana. They each nodded their thanks to each other before Gambit departed to find another opponent and Dana ducked behind the cover he’d found to consider her next move in relative safety.

“One left!” Cannonball called out over the radio. “Gambit, you need an assist?”

Gambit’s cards sent the last opponent tumbling head over heels. “None left,” he called in response.

Even with all the threats neutralized, Dana stayed on guard and Cannonball came to stand vigilantly next to her, just in case. They only relaxed when the images around them disappeared and the Danger Room returned to normal. She’d learned that lesson the hard way.

Scott’s voice came from the speaker overhead. “Good job, people.” Dana greedily soaked up the praise as she slumped to the floor to recover. Getting praise in the Danger Room was still a new enough experience for her that she let out a sigh of relief every time.

Sam had gone to the bin of towels by the door and gotten one for each of them, and he tossed Dana hers as Scott came in the room for the debrief. There was always something to improve upon, even in a successful session, and Scott ran through points of strategy with the three of them, fairly pointing out both the good and the bad.

Sam had come to sit next to Dana, his pride flaring bright empathically at Scott’s compliments towards his decision-making. She knew his confidence in his on-field performance was still being re-bolstered, although it seemed Scott now had few doubts about it, even as Scott told him he had hovered a bit protectively around Dana, and he was going to have to stop that. Sam ducked his head, a little embarrassed, but not enough to dim the earlier confidence boost.

Without even thinking about it, she reached out to lay her hand on the bare skin of Sam’s neck above his uniform, healing whatever minor injuries he’d managed to acquire in the fight. Scott flashed her a disapproving glance. They’d already had the discussion that she was ‘spoiling’ him, but in her defense, in her free time with him she didn’t want to be distracted by every bruise and pulled muscle he’d sustained.

Debrief finished, Sam and Remy climbed to their feet. Sam offered her a hand up when she was slower to rise, legs still a little rubbery with exertion. She was already thinking about a hot shower and lunch when Scott called her back.

She couldn’t help but cringe instinctually as Sam left her behind with a pitying look. Scott calling her back usually ended in her drilling something until she had to be scraped off the floor. She turned to face the piper. “Okay, what did I screw up?” she asked.

He chuckled. “Don’t let this go to your head, but nothing, actually.” She couldn’t help gaping at him a bit. “Don’t get me wrong,” he continued, “there’s always room for improvement…” She couldn’t hold back a groan at what was practically a catch phrase for Scott, “… but you actually looked pretty good in here today. Competent. Decisive.” He nodded and both looked and felt impressed.

She narrowed her eyes at him, confused. “So why am I still in here?”

“How are you finding the Blackbird?” he asked, an apparent non sequitur.

She frowned in confusion. “Fine, I guess. Sam and Ororo have each taken me out in it, and I run the simulator in here about once a week and haven’t failed a session in ages.” Once you learned it, the plane really did mostly fly itself, especially if you didn’t ask much of it. She wasn’t exactly learning stunt flying—just how to get home safe in a pinch. “It’s actually easier than learning the car.” Even Sam’s endless confidence in her was being tested by his attempts to teach her to drive.

Scott chuckled. “Yes, I had heard the car wasn’t your strong suit. On the other hand, Hank’s very pleased with the progress you’ve been making with your powers and your medical training.”

“That’s good,” she said cautiously. “What’s all this about, then?” She waved her hand between them to indicate the discussion they were having.

“I’m offering you a last chance to back out,” he said with a little smile.

“What?” Her eyes went big in disbelief. She allowed herself the barest hints of a smile. “You mean… you think I’m ready? You think I’m actually ready to join the team?” She would have been a lot more outwardly excited if she hadn’t been so tired.

“Guess that answers that,” he chuckled. “Don’t get too excited, though. One last test for you.”

Her excitement was dashed in a moment. Whatever this was, it couldn’t be good. “Will I survive this test?” she asked flatly, looking entirely unimpressed.

Scott grinned at her. “Hopefully,” he said brightly as she rolled her eyes. She sighed and lifted a hand to gesture for him to bring it on. “The only thing we can’t train in the Danger Room is being on guard. Once you step in this room, you know attack is eminent. In the real world, though, an attack might come from anywhere at any time.”

Her face fell as she started putting it all together. This was so bad. “Oh my God.”

“Starts tomorrow morning. I’ll let you have your room as a safe space, but no hiding in there all day.”

“Oh no,” she murmured into her hands.

“There will be a few basic rules of engagement. You’re allowed to tap out and surrender, and they can’t tell you they’re not going to attack and attack anyway.”

“I thought hazing at schools was illegal now.” She fixed him with a glare.

“You still in?” He raised a challenging eyebrow.

She punched his shoulder in frustration, not as hard as she could, but enough to let him know how unimpressed she was. “You know I’m in, jerk. Ugh!” She bent over at the waist, pressing the heels of her palms to her eyes. “I’ll get through it, but this week is gonna suck.

Chapter Text

The week had started with Sam tackling her to the floor as soon as she first stepped outside her door in the morning. Afterwards, she’d remember that she’d hit the floor with his hand carefully cradling the back of her head, but at the time she’d been more focused on catching her breath.

“Jesus, Sam! What the hell?” she’d asked, staring up at him in shock.

“Scott made me do it,” he said in his defense with a guilty little grin. “Surrender?” His bodyweight was pinning her hips down, and his hands were heavy on her wrists, so she couldn’t retaliate with a punch or try to flip him off of her. She was stunned for a long moment, just catching her breath. When she finally did respond, she didn’t offer her surrender, rather surging up as much as she was able to press her lips to his. He took a surprised breath in through his nose, and she felt his absolute shock. Whatever he’d been expecting, he certainly hadn’t expected to earn a kiss from it, but he picked up the thread quickly enough. She opened her mouth against his and even hooked one of her legs around the back of his knee. “Dana,” he panted, voice a little high and pleading and sounding a little overcome, as he broke away for a breath and she continued kissing along his square jaw. “We’re in the middle of the hallway!” His protest was faint, however, and he certainly didn’t stop, moving his hands from her wrists to the sides of her face to kiss her better.

Once his body weight had shifted, she pounced, rolling them over until he was pinned underneath her. With both hands on his bare wrists, she kept him from being able to activate his powers to blast away. She pulled away from him, looking the slightest bit smug. She thought she was allowed, considering. “Surrender?” she asked.

“That was very dirty pool,” Sam said breathlessly.

“Yeah? So was taking a flying leap at me before I’d even had coffee!” she said as sternly as she could manage when he was laying underneath her feeling a mixture of impressed, embarrassed, and turned on.

“Ah surrender,” he said, looking sheepish, and she climbed off and gave him some distance for both of them to cool down, sitting against the wall. He pushed himself up to sitting and took a seat against the opposite wall. “Tell me Ah’m the only one you’re gonna to use that move on.” He chuckled and ran his fingers through his hair, pulling himself together.

She arched an eyebrow at him. “You’re in no position to make demands,” she laughed. “After this week it’s going to take some serious groveling on your part to get any kisses from me ever again.”

He chuckled ruefully. “Yeah, Ah did consider that. Any date requests?”

“Depends on how this week goes, buddy,” she scolded, pushing herself to her feet. “If you’re lucky, it’ll be the French place in town. You keep pushing your luck, it’ll be a French place in France.”

“How about Ah start by bodyguarding you through breakfast?” he offered. She took him up on it, which was probably the only reason she managed to get the meal in.

As the week progressed the rules changed. Scott had been pretty adamant about how the week would work, but leave it to Bobby to get so ‘creative’ that Scott had had to make most of the mansion off limits just to keep it standing. It was one thing when Scott had gotten half-frozen because Dana had quickly used him as an unsuspecting human shield, it was quite another when Bobby took it upon himself to actually hide in the refrigerator to surprise her one morning. Jean had threatened to turn him into ice cubes at the mess he’d made.

Even so, she was still so on edge and tense that when Sam had gone to casually massage her shoulders one night as she was standing in the kitchen, she’d swept out his legs and had him on the floor before she’d even realized what she was doing. Scott couldn’t have asked for a more ready response.

The mansion being a safe area just meant that she ended up getting kicked out of the house eventually. She suspected Bobby complaining triggered it every day, as he was getting particularly gleeful about his attacks. Somewhere a frat house was missing a truly devious pledgemaster.

As the week went on, solo attacks became less and less frequent and the team started to combine their efforts. Sam earned himself at least one more groveling date when he approached her under flag of truce outside and after cajoling her into letting him kiss her, she realized she couldn’t feel anything from him, and that he must have been serving as a distraction. Jean had been shielding him so Dana wouldn’t pick up on the deception. It may have adhered to the letter of the law, but she felt it was a clear violation of the spirit.

She’d pushed herself away only to find Logan bearing down on her, and as much as she wanted to tell off Sam in that moment, she could really only let off an undignified squeak as she scrambled to put some space between her and the attack. Sam had at least had had the good grace to look guilty as she’d blown past him looking for cover.

She hadn’t gotten far. Logan was on her in a flash, and the two of them tumbled with the momentum. She thrashed as they rolled, trying to maintain some sort of upper hand and the punch she actually landed surprised her so much she could only stare at Logan’s bloody nose and then curse her bruised knuckles.

She put up a token struggle when they came to a stop, but she was not going to go up against adamantium for this stupid exercise, and she’d lost any element of surprise and any chance of the upper hand when she’d clutched at her hurt hand. “I’m done,” she said.

He raised an eyebrow, but let her up. “Nice punch,” he allowed, reaching up to wipe at his nose.

She pushed herself to sitting and flexed her right hand. “It was a complete fluke,” she said. “Don’t get used to it… although maybe I’ll get lucky again when I go talk to Sam,” she added darkly.

Logan chuckled a little at that. “Can’t afford to let yourself get so distracted at a time like this.”

She flushed. “He’s gonna be lucky if he ever gets me distracted again this week or any other week after that,” she muttered. He kept laughing at her and she looked for a change of topic. The blood still slowly dripping down Logan’s face provided a good one. “Ugh. You’re taking too long. Your nose is still icky,” she said, and reached up to lay a few glowing fingers on the bridge of his nose, stopping the flow. Nothing was broken, of course—just some tissue damage. Logan couldn’t help but grin at her.

“Never said I did it pretty, darlin’. Is ‘icky’ the technical term?” Logan said, testing the bridge of his nose with his own fingers.

She scowled at him for the dig and sat back, “Shut up,” she murmured, “or I’ll never do it again.”

“Thanks,” he said honestly, pulling his hand away from his nose. “Hurts a lot less than when I do it.”

Dana shrugged. “’S what I’m here for.”

“You’re going to wish you hadn’t though.”

She blinked and gave him a cautious look. “Why?”

“You’re not done yet. I’ll give you a head start, though.” He grinned at her.

She looked at him in disbelief and then pushed herself to her feet slowly. “This is ridiculous,” she muttered.

“10. 9…” Logan started counting down with one eyebrow raised. Clearly he wasn’t going to give her enough of a head start to actually collect herself.

“Oh, for Pete’s sake,” she exclaimed, and ducked off towards the nearest stand of trees looking for some sort of cover before Logan hit zero.

She counted down in her head as she scrambled into the overgrowth in the woods and waited, tense, as she hit the end of the count and waited for Logan to burst in afterwards. He didn’t. He didn’t even when she counted down from ten again. She reached out with her empathy to try to figure out where he might be, but she couldn’t find him. She couldn’t find anyone anywhere nearby, although there was the buzzing of pleasant emotions coming from the direction of the mansion. *Come on, Jean,* she thought in the direction of the house, *give me a fighting chance!*

Another few minutes of waiting in the cold and damp and she wondered if everyone had just gone back to the mansion without her. The thought was galling. She knew Sam’s emotions well enough by now that she could find him fast and it took her only a moment to locate him back at the mansion. She couldn’t quite believe that he’d come out to distract her and then bopped right back to the house leaving her running around in the late fall damp. He felt a little guilty at least, which mollified her a tiny bit. Still, he was warm and dry and calm and she was none of those things.

She stuck her head out from her hiding place to see if anyone was coming. There was still no sign of anyone approaching. Frowning, she dipped into Sam’s emotions, letting his calm settle her of any remaining nerves, and mind made up, strode right out of her hiding space determined to head back to the mansion until they kicked her outside again.

She’d made it about three steps when a hard blow to her back sent her tumbling into the pine needles and fallen leaves. She blinked the dirt out of her face and scrambled to her feet only to get pushed down again, breath catching in her throat at the feeling of helplessness. She still couldn’t see an attacker, and she was all alone out here. She tried to tap back into Sam’s calm, just to keep her functioning enough to escape. It didn’t do any good to spin off into what ifs—no sense being distracted by the possibility of real danger rather than hell week—she had to focus.

She clawed forward again, making some headway only to be pushed down again, taking a header into the loam. Her attacker still hadn’t revealed him (or herself) clearly, but she had seen movement out of the corner of her eye. She gathered herself, tapped into that calm again, and launched an attack, pressing to her feet and leaping to sweep her leg around in a high kick.

Her heel made contact, but her attacker only took a step or two back at the force of it, and another invisible blow of what had to be telekinesis sent her sprawling on her back into the forest leaves, finally with a clear view of her attacker.

Fear surged in her. It was Cable, looking as menacing as she’d ever seen him. He’d always been intimidating, both physically and empathically, but he’d always been benevolent towards her in training.

This, however, was the Cable from Sam’s most hair-raising stories of X-Force. The ones that she only liked hearing because it was obvious Sam had survived them. One eye glowed balefully at her. His mouth was set in a grim line, and emotionally he was absolutely blank to her, even standing right in front of her. It was terrifying.

Another wave of telekinesis struck her high in the chest before she was even able to stand. Hitting the ground again shocked her into action and she scrambled to her feet and ran from him. She ducked and weaved around trees and overhanging branches as she sprinted towards the mansion. This was one fight she especially did not want, and seeking refuge in the safe places of the mansion was the only way she could see of getting out of it. She didn’t even think he’d been invited to take part, so what was he doing here?

Sam's X-Force horror stories about Cable pushing his team to the point of collapse and beyond were nothing that she felt the need to act out herself. She'd always had difficulty believing that the Cable in Sam's stories and the Cable that she'd spent time with were the same person. She no longer had such difficulty.

She slammed into a barrier in her headlong dash and staggered back expecting to see a tree blocking her way. Instead there was nothing. Telekinetic force field, she thought darkly, turning her back to it. Cable walked unhurriedly toward her, as if he had all day to pen her in and kick her ass.

Back literally against the wall, she considered her option. The only way back to the mansion was through the TK barrier, and the only way he’d drop it was if she managed to beat the mental lapse into him. She took a breath and did the only thing she could think of.

"Okay. I surrender." She shot her hands into the air. It no longer seemed like such a sticking point now that her butt was truly on the line.

"I don't accept your surrender."

Dana cringed, sliding her back along the forcefield, trying to find an edge to it as Cable advanced. There had to be an end to it somewhere. "But you have to. It's one of Scott's rules!"

"Flonq Scott's rules. There are no easy outs in combat in real life. You’ve managed one half-decent kick. Let's see you defend yourself."

That made her bristle a bit, finally feeling something beyond the fear or Sam’s calm. She was proud of that kick! “Sam won’t be happy with you if I die out here.”

“I can take Sam. At least he puts up a fight.” He moved towards her, threateningly, and Dana ran for it, looking desperately for any opportunity, or any stick or rock she might use as a weapon.

Dana dashed along the forcefield only to end up making a long circuit entirely around Cable as he watched, looking less and less impressed with her. She hated disappointing people. Even people who were being completely unfair.

Maybe she could get a hand on him, she thought. Maybe she could turn off his powers for a moment and duck away while he was still pulling himself back together. There was no way to manage a sneak attack, penned in as she was, so gathering every scrap of courage and calm she could find, she just rushed him, slamming her shields full up, hoping she might surprise him.

She made it further than she expected, actually. His flesh and blood hand was actually just within reach when a spike of pain lanced through her head and she stumbled to the ground, clutching her head and yelling at the pain of it. It was impossible to focus on any objectives or danger she might be in—she could barely feel the ground beneath her.

“…all right. Come on back.” The pain receded gradually, and as it did she was able to notice her surroundings again. The ground under her face. The chill in the air. The fact that Cable was crouched next to her, slapping her cheek lightly and speaking to her in a reasonable tone. She looked sharply up at him, still squinting at the pain and wiped the tears off her cheeks. “Takes a special kind of stupid to go up against a psi with your shields wide open,” he said, looking disappointed.

She blinked and then scrambled up to sit upright. “No! No, they were up! They were absolutely up!” she insisted. “I’m not suicidal!” She thought he’d just smashed right through her shields.

He frowned at that, but looked at her seriously a moment, and when her frightened expression didn’t change he folded himself down in front of her to sit cross-legged in his now familiar teaching pose. She moved to mirror him. “Can I take a look?” he asked her, and she nodded immediately. Linking with him was always uncomfortable, but what she learned was always worth the pain. She closed her eyes and he pulled her into his perception of the astral plane.

The two of them were standing outside of a tall sliver-grey wall—the representation of her shields. They certainly looked all right to her. Cable eyed them speculatively. “This is how they were when you attacked?”

“This is the intensity they should have been at. I didn’t have time to confirm everything, but I thought I’d been getting enough practice that I could just…” she shrugged, trailing off.

“You should be beyond double and triple checking, yes,” Cable said with a frown. “Were you thinking about anything during the attack?”

“Not dying,” she said dryly.

He chuckled despite everything. “Right. Well, everything seems all right now, but if you had them up like this before then there was a giant hole.”

“That sounds really, really bad,” she said.

“Yes.” He sounded grave.

“How do I fix it?”

“Good girl.” He smiled. “First we’re going to need something to fix.” She nodded and then deliberately made a gap in her shield for him and after a moment, she could see the telltale gold of his own powers ringing it. “Okay, now close it.”

She couldn’t. His power was holding the hole in her shields open. No matter how hard she tried, he was just stronger than she was. She knew better than to say she couldn’t aloud, though. It wasn’t his style to give her an impossible exercise. Solutions in the astral plane always seemed to be half logic puzzle anyway.

She stopped wasting her energy trying what wasn’t working and tried to think her way through the problem, trying not to squirm under Cable’s close supervision. After a moment he spoke up with what she hoped was a hint.

“How many dimensions exist on the astral plane?” he asked her.

It sounded like a zen koan to her, and she was pretty sure they’d never discussed the answer. Still, the astral plane seemed pretty limitless, so she went with her best guess. “Infinite dimensions?”

Cable made a gruff noise of agreement. “So why are you only thinking in two?” he crossed his arms.

“Oh, duh!” With a little bit of concentration, her shields flowed from the silver grey to a sparkling blue and changed shape entirely, leaving the ring of Cable’s power floating in space while her shields reformed perfectly just behind it.

“Good,” Cable said. “There’s no shame in a strategic withdrawal and sometimes the strongest thing you can do is be flexible.” He smirked. “Which must sound like an awful lot of bull coming from me.”

She bit her lip, fighting a smile. “It does sound counter to one or two things I might have heard.” 

“Yes, well, don’t go spreading it around,” he said, trying to be stern. “Now, what’s the next step?”

“Practice until I pass out?” She grimaced.

“Now that sounds exactly like me,” he said with a chuckle. “So let’s try it again.”

Obediently, she opened another hole in her shields for him and a few minutes later her shield flashed to rose as she changed their shape again and closed the hole. The next time, as she concentrated on yet another shape, Cable gave her a shove with a hand on her shoulder in the real world, sending her sprawling onto her back and completely out of the astral plane.

“What was that for?” she asked, combing leaves out of her hair with her fingers.

“How many times do you think any of the X-Teams have encountered a villain that sat politely and only launched an attack on one front?” he asked, pushing himself to his feet.

“Ugh. Zero,” she groaned, climbing up to get into a ready stance. “But wouldn’t it be nice if they did?”

Cable chuckled. “Now I know you know me better than to think I’m nice.”

“Unfortunately, yes,” she said, opening another hole in her shields and putting her guard up.

For the next few hours she let herself get beat up physically and mentally, trying to split her concentration between the two. Cable was certainly holding back on both fronts pushing just enough to keep it challenging without impossible, but it was incredibly difficult to split her concentration and pay attention to the right thing at the right time. She was getting better, certainly—even enough to earn some faint praise from Cable, which was more precious than gold, frankly—but after the 20th time she’d fallen on her face and come up spitting dirt out of her mouth, she couldn’t help but think darkly of Sam, warm and dry and not aching everywhere, inside the mansion. She was going to kill him.

She pushed herself up to her feet again, took a moment to shake off her exhaustion, and then obligingly opened her shields to him again. He took his position opposite her, both in the real world and on the astral plane and then they started to spar as she tried to manipulate her shields.

She was well used to him ramping up the difficulty without warning, so she wasn’t completely taken off guard when another hole opened in her shields after she’d closed the first one. She couldn’t figure out how he’d managed it, but she dutifully changed the shape of her shields again to try to close the hole.

It didn’t work. Not at all. No matter what shape, the hole stayed put, and through it a mist was beginning to pour through, though she couldn’t even begin to figure out what the mist was supposed to be an astral plane representation for. She pulled even more of her focus inward as she tried to figure out the new puzzle he’d set for her and so of course, she was wide open for the pretty obvious leg sweep that he hit her with a few moments later.

“Okay, what was that?” she asked, pushing herself up on her elbows.

“A leg sweep,” he replied, offering her a hand up. “Did you hit your head?”

“No, not the leg sweep.” She rolled her eyes at him, but took his hand, and didn’t even bother dusting herself off. She was pretty sure she’d be on the ground again in a minute. “You opened up a second hole in my shield after the first one, and I couldn’t figure out how to close it, so what’s the trick?”

“I didn’t open up a second hole.” He tilted his head at her in confusion.

“What?” She shifted her stance uncomfortably. If it hadn’t been Cable, then what did that mean? “Then what was it?”

He frowned. “Show me?”

She nodded, and closed her eyes to push her impressions towards him. The hole that couldn’t be fixed. The mist. When she opened her eyes to look at him he was still frowning and she didn’t like that at all. “Any ideas?”

He huffed a thoughtful sigh. “At this point, I’m thinking it might be an astral projection of your exhaustion. You can barely stand up straight.” To prove it, he pushed at her shoulder with one finger. She had to take two steps back to recover her balance and she scowled at him.

“I think this might have been what happened before,” she said. “Is there something wrong with my shields?”

He pressed his mouth into a line. “Your shields seem fine again now,” he said slowly. “Go get some rest and then we’ll keep an eye on it. If it doesn’t come back, it was fatigue. If it does, let me know right away, and we’ll figure out how to fix it.” He looked at her seriously, clearly making a promise, and she found the thought relieving despite her nerves. She trusted him to figure it out and help her, even if it took him a while.

“Thanks,” she said, grateful to be given permission to hit the showers as well, frankly.

“If it’s anything, its probably some weird empathic thing,” he teased her, giving her another little push to set her stumbling. “Feelings are so much trouble.”


 

Sam was sitting down to dinner when he heard the front door open and instantly felt a wash of guilt when he heard Bobby’s voice call out “Hey, Dana!”

He pushed up from the table just in time to hear Dana snap “No,” at Bobby in response. She sounded absolutely done with everything, and he left the kitchen to see how worse for wear she was.

“Aww, I wasn’t gonna—“ Bobby started, as Sam stepped out into the hall and winced. He didn’t think he’d ever seen Dana look so rough. Covered in dirt, hair in disarray—he didn’t think Logan would have been quite so hard on her.

“No,” Dana repeated flatly to Bobby before turning to look at him and pointing an accusatory finger at him. “And you are dead to me.” Sam took a step back at that, shocked by how legitimately angry she looked as she headed past them both on the way to the showers, he assumed.

Once she was out of sight, Bobby turned to him. “Oh, you are so busted.” He sounded gleeful, and Sam would have scowled at him if he didn’t wholeheartedly agree. He’d been a pretty good teammate this week, he thought, but a pretty terrible boyfriend. He shouldn’t have let himself get talked into playing the distraction this afternoon.

He debated just leaving her alone and giving her some time, but he was pretty sure she looked too tired to get her own meal and she’d feel even rougher in the morning if she forgot to eat, plus Hank would probably be on her case if he found out. He turned back to the kitchen and ate his dinner at the counter while he made her a meal she could eat in her room.

He polished off his own plate and threw it in the dishwasher before jogging upstairs with hers and knocking on her door.

“Dead to me!” she yelled through the door, and he wondered if he could identify him through her power or if she had just expected him to come up and grovel.

“Ah know. Ah would hate me too.” He replied, trying to project how very sorry and full of regret he was. “Ah brought you some food, though. You don’t have to talk to me, just take the plate.”

There was a soft thump sound as if something had hit the mattress or pillow on the bed, followed by a groan and then a deep sigh. He wondered if she’d tried to get up and couldn’t. “Can you bring it in?”

“Of course,” he said and opened the door and winced in sympathy. He’d certainly come home from plenty of missions to curl up awkwardly on the bed like that. The shower had cleared all the dirt off, but that had just brought all the cuts and bruises into stark relief. He’d intended to come in, set down the plate, and leave her alone but he couldn’t help himself from blurting out “Logan did all that?” He never would have agreed to be the distraction if he’d known she’d come out looking so rough. He just thought Logan would chase her around a little.

She glared up at him. “Logan did, like, a quarter of it. Cable did the rest.”

“What!?” he asked in surprise, too stunned to set down the plate on her nightstand as he’d intended to. “Nobody said anything about Cable.”

She made a face at him. “Apparently he took the initiative without being explicitly invited.” She lifted her hand half-heartedly towards the plate he was carrying and let it drop again, apparently too tired to actually take it from him. That brought him out of his daze and he set the plate down within her reach on the nightstand like he’d intended, cursing himself for getting distracted.

“Sorry,” he apologized, “You can just bring the plate down tomorrow morning. Ah’ll let you get some rest.” He took a few steps backwards, and then couldn’t help himself. “Look, you do not have to forgive me tonight or ever, but Ah had no idea Cable was waiting for you. Ah know what that’s like, and Ah would have warned you at least. Ah only said yes to Logan because he said he’d go easy on you and Scott was watching. Ah’m really sorry, and if Ah can do anything to make it up to you, just let me know, all right?” He nodded at that, and then headed for the door.

Dana mumbled something at him and that brought him up short as he looked over his shoulder at her and waited for her to repeat what she said. “Advil?” she asked weakly.

“Yeah, of course,” he said, kicking himself for not thinking of bringing it up in the first place. “Ah’ll be right back,” he said, and ducked out the door, not knowing if he should be grateful she was talking to him or worried that she was in so much pain she didn’t feel she had any other choice.

He was back with a small bottle of pills and a glass of water in a few minutes and he found her slowly picking at her dinner, her arm moving awkwardly from the plate to her mouth and back. Considering the bruising he could see on the shoulder of that arm, he wasn’t surprised, and it was early yet. He was sure the bruising would look even more awful in the morning.

The fact that she was laying down on the bed as she ate wasn’t helping either, and there was no way she’d be able to swallow pills like that. “Can you manage?” he asked.

She took a long moment to do anything, still looking distrustfully at him. She put her fork down on the plate still on her nightstand and tried to push herself up, but he could see it was taking a lot out of her to do. He set the pills and water down on the nightstand and offered out his hand. “Ah know this doesn’t mean you forgive me,” he said, when she hesitated.

That made her take his hand with a sigh, and he did his best to pull her upright with the minimum amount of pain on her part. She hissed quite a bit anyway and he ended up having to touch her more than he’d planned with a hand on her torso to help her up. Once he got her upright he handed over the glass of water and shook two pills out of the bottle into his palm to offer them out.

She looked down at his hand. “I don’t know if I can do this.” He was pretty sure she wasn’t talking about swallowing pills, but he held his breath as he waited for her to clarify, praying she wasn’t talking about him. He watched her take the pills, swallow them, and chase them with a drink of water, and it was only when she’d swallowed the water that she raised her eyes to him again. “I want this more than anything, but I don’t know how I can possibly go through that door tomorrow when I already hurt so much.”

“You’re almost done,” he said, still not sure how much she would allow him to comfort her. It hurt so bad to see her hurting, and it was suddenly much harder to go along with all of this, no matter what Scott had told him about not taking it easy on her. He knew the logic around it—God knew the X-Men had been in extended rough spots and they had to know Dana could survive one of those situations before they sent her out with the team—but she looked at a breaking point. She’d been so stoic so far, he hadn’t even realized how badly she’d probably had it.

She closed her eyes and tipped her head back and he felt a stab of sympathetic pain in his own chest when tears leaked out between her closed eyelids. “God, I have never wanted to quit everything so badly in my life.”

“What can Ah do?” he asked quietly.

She sighed, and opened her eyes to look at him again and for the first time this evening she didn’t look angry at him, just tired. “Can you just come over here and tell me I can do this?” she asked, and tipped her head to indicate the space behind her on the bed.

“Yeah. Of course,” he said, trying to keep his voice sympathetic rather than grateful that he was being allowed that much. He kicked off his shoes and climbed onto the bed behind her, and she turned into his arms with another hiss of pain.

“This doesn’t mean that I’m not still really pissed off at you,” she grumbled, as the two of them cautiously adjusted their positions to find whatever hurt her the least. “I just really need a hug more, and Marc’s not around, and he doesn’t approve of this insanity anyway, so that leaves you.”

“Insanity?” he asked as she settled into what seemed to be a comfortable position.

She sighed. “The word ‘deathwish’ was used in our last phone conversation.”

“Dana…” he started. He knew how much her brother’s support meant to her, so if he was truly against what she was doing, it wouldn’t be good.

“He understands, I think,” she said, reassuring him. “He knows why I feel I have to do this, but he’d feel a lot better if I were in a convent somewhere or something.” She flashed him a rueful little smile. “But, being swaddled up in one place and protected is exactly what I’m trying to escape, and he knows that. I hope.”

“Ah can’t say Ah totally disagree with him,” Sam said honestly. “Nobody likes seeing people they care about be hurt, or even being in positions where they can be hurt. It’s breakin’ my heart to see you all beat up like this, but at the same time Ah know you can do this.”

She let her head fall forward into his chest and sighed. “At least they’re not making me camp outside. If it was all this, plus survival training, I would have quit about an hour in.”

“You would not,” he insisted, carefully stroking her hair to settle her and surreptitiously checking for head wounds. “Ah know you can handle whatever they throw at you. Ah wouldn’t have agreed to take part if Ah didn’t think you could handle it.” She glared up at him and he immediately added, “Although Ah shouldn’t have taken part anyway.”

She made a face. “Don’t say I can handle anything. Eating bugs for sustenance is not anything I can handle. If anyone says survival training, I’m gone.”

“Then Ah certainly won’t say it,” he said immediately. “You do need sustenance though.” He looked meaningfully at the mostly full plate still sitting on her nightstand.

He was answered with a grumbling sound as she twisted a bit in his arms again with a wince. “You’re as bad as Hank.”

Her arms had looked shaky before and so he reached over her body to help her bring the plate over carefully, and balance it on her knees. “Sorry. Ah don’t need to slip any lower in your esteem this week,” he said ruefully.

She sighed again, fork paused over her food. “Look, I know why you’re taking part, and I know you probably don’t have much choice. But you could certainly stand to be less gleeful about it.” She stabbed her fork into a piece of diced chicken. “Thanks for the food, though.”

“You’re absolutely right, and Ah’m sorry, and Ah will make it up to you if you let me,” he said solemnly, hoping that she gave him that chance.

She tipped just enough to lean against his shoulder as she ate. “I don’t think I could do this without you, either,” she admitted quietly between bites.

“What makes you say that?” he asked, even as he personally disagreed.

“It’s bad enough that Jean and Xavier can read my mind and see all my doubts. I think if I told anyone else that I didn’t think I could cut it, they’d call it off.” She shrugged. “I feel like Scott and everyone are looking for weaknesses and I’m spending this whole week madly trying to hide the multitude of flaws I have, but you’re the one just playing along with the week because you don’t have any doubts about me at all.”

“Ah don’t,” he said simply. “You’re not a fighter, but you’re smart and you’ve got an incredible will. Ah think you can do anything you put your mind to, and Ah know you want this, so you’ll do it.”

“Yeah, that’s what I’m talking about,” she said with a smile and nodding her head as if she hadn’t expected anything else from him. “Still, that means I can talk to you. If I had to bottle up all my doubts…” she squirmed as if she didn’t like the conclusion she’d come to, and turned back to her eating.

“We’re all your friends here, Dana. You can’t honestly believe that everyone else is just waiting for you to fail. Your empathy has to tell you otherwise.” He hoped that was the case anyway. If it turned out she was picking up anything else from people in the house, he was gonna start some fights.

She shrugged. “Empathy—my empathy anyway,” she corrected, “isn’t really an exact science. It’s not telepathy.” She gestured with her fork a little as she tried to explain. “Really clear, strong feelings, like pain or rage for instance, I’ve got that. But so much of emotion is subtler, shades and combinations of feelings. They can be personal to a particular person, and I can unconsciously influence my own interpretation.” She shrugged. “I’m still learning.”

Ah think your reading is not as catastrophic as you think, then,” he said confidently. “This is boot camp, not Army Ranger training. We all want you to get through it, not use it to chase you away.”

“Breaking me down to build me up?” she asked.

“You do look a little broken down right now,” he said, chuckling.

She stared at him, like she couldn’t believe he’d said it, and flung out a hand to hit him on the arm. “Nice talk,” she said dryly. “And you were doing so well up until then.”

“Sorry?” he said sheepishly. “Does that mean you were going to forgive me all my transgressions this week?”

She huffed out a sigh. “You know I will anyway,” she told her plate. “I can’t manage to stay mad at you, you jerk.”

He risked kissing her cheek even though she was scowling at him. “That’s nice to know.” He knew he owed her a hell of a lot of groveling in the next month or so, but he’d gotten off lighter than he expected, frankly.

“Don’t you dare test that any more than you already have,” she scolded, as she finished off her meal.

He kissed her cheek and neck playfully a few more times in gratitude, and she giggled a little. “Cut it out or Hank will think we’re doing something inappropriate in here and I’ll get another lecture.”

He laughed. “Ah’d like to see you try to do something inappropriate. You couldn’t even sit up without help.”

“I’d probably get a cramp,” she admitted.

“Or pass out in the middle, which would really be a blow to my ego.”

She laughed. “You oughta be used to me passing out on you by now.”

“Not quite the same thing,” he said, and took her plate from her, “but speaking of passing out… you look like you could use 40 winks and me talkin’ your ear off isn’t helping with that.” He leaned in to kiss her tenderly on the lips. “Get some sleep.” He helped her settle back down onto the bed and pulled the blankets over her.

“I’ll feel better in the morning?” she asked, looking up at him as he gathered up the dishes from her room to take with him.

“Oh, God no. You’ll feel like shit in the morning,” he chuckled. “But you’ll be 8 hours closer to being done with all this.” He shrugged.

“Great,” she groaned, pulling the covers over her head.

“Love you, Danes,” he said sweetly, opening the door to leave.

“Yeah, yeah,” she grumbled back, and he grinned on his way out the door, feeling a lot better about everything than he had when he’d come in.

Chapter Text

True to Sam’s warning, she did feel awful in the morning. Her bruises had all turned black and her muscles ached even worse than they had the day before. Fortunately, the last person she expected it from gave her a break. Cable had told everyone to leave her alone that morning because the two of them needed to get a training session in, and he promised her there would be no fighting this time. He’d had some thoughts about her shields and he wanted to test them out, and that meant quietly sitting, which was an incredible relief to her. He asked her to meet him out in the woods after breakfast, and she was happy to agree, eating with a lot more enthusiasm than she had earlier in the week.

She made her way out to the copse of trees before he had apparently, and sat down gingerly to wait. She assumed the meditation position she’d almost gotten used to and decided to do all the pre-work without Cable around. She took a few breaths and settled herself, getting used to the sound of her own thoughts, and then let her mind wander off towards the mansion to check on the moods of the occupants.

Everyone seemed calm, or pleased, or in some variety of good humor which was certainly nice. Sam was always the most familiar to her and it was almost second nature to slip into his emotional state the way she would a warm bath. Sam was steady, reliable and brave, everything she thought she should be as an X-Man. Falling for him had been easy when she found his presence so soothing on nearly every front.

She was plunged into ice water a moment later, yanked mentally clear of him so fast that she fell to her back in real life, gasping at the shock of it. She blinked up, sprawled on the ground, to find Cable looking down on her balefully.

“Did you do that?” she asked a little indignantly. Yes, she probably should have been aware of his approach, but he’d promised not to attack her, so a little warning would have been nice.

“What were you doing?” He ignored her question entirely, and she bristled at being dismissed, even though he was intimidating as always. She took her time pushing herself upright and dusting herself off, resuming her meditative pose before answering.

“I was practicing with my empathy. Reading emotions and identifying people,” she said, as primly as she could manage.

He gave her a knowing look she didn’t like the look of at all. “That’s not what it looked like on the astral plane,” he said sitting down opposite her. “It looked like you disappeared inside Sam’s presence.”

That made her flush in a way she hadn’t since she’d received the lectures from Hank. Cable made it sound positively indecent. “Look, if this is about getting too close to Sam, I’ve already gotten this lecture from…”

Cable looked entirely unimpressed. “Do I look like I give a flonq about the sexual mores and relationship conventions of the late 20th century?” he asked dryly. “This is about your safety as an empath. What were you doing just now?” he repeated.

She shrugged and examined her fingernails, chastened and embarrassed enough to find it hard to make eye contact. “I know him and his emotions the best because I spend so much time with him,” she explained. “He’s steady, and when I’m feeling unsettled, I can just sort of borrow that.”

“That sort of emotional crutch can only backfire.” Cable looked so disappointed in her when she glanced up to check his reaction, and that really hurt.

“It’s not a crutch. It’s using my powers to help myself. I’m never exactly gonna be out on my own, am I?” she asked defensively. “I rely on him, yes, but I don’t think total self sufficiency and walling myself off is exactly healthy either.” She fixed him with a pointed gaze. “I understand why you think that’s important,” she said, thinking of the post-apocalyptic hellscape he’d been raised in, “but I don’t think it’s important for me.”

Cable sighed. “For the last time, this is not about your flonquing relationship,” he said, sounding frustrated with her. “This is about you being a variety of psi! There are things we all have to do to keep ourselves separate from everyone else. I’m not an empath,” he acknowledged. “I’ve only heard trainings and warnings second-hand. But it’s one thing to reach out and touch another’s mind, and it’s entirely another to subsume yourself into one. You start disappearing into someone else, and it’s going to be harder and harder to keep yourself separate until one day you’re stuck.”

Oh. “Stuck?” she asked tentatively. “Like—“

“Like no opinions of your own, no desires of your own, permanently losing yourself in the emotions of another… that is, if you’re not comatose.”

She winced at that and bit at her lip, feeling suddenly contrite. Okay, so maybe there was a good reason.

“Exactly,” Cable said after a moment, looking relieved that she’d stopped arguing with him. “So if you can just manage to keep yourself out of Sam’s head in the meantime, maybe I can remember how to keep you from getting stuck, all right?”

She nodded emphatically, but buried the fact that it had become almost second nature to her now—that she did it without even thinking about it half the time. She would have to just be more mindful of things. She could do that, right?

“Excellent,” he said, sighing. “Now, if we could get back to the entire point of working with you today, I’d like to see if we can’t recreate the issues you were having with your shields now that you’re better rested.”

They worked together all afternoon, Cable trying attacks and techniques both mundane and obscure to open her shields the way they’d been opened the previous day. He had the power to smash them open with brute force, of course, but her shields had opened painlessly the day before, and almost without her notice. She wondered if she would have even noticed at all if her shields hadn’t been up fully and she hadn’t been particularly focused on them. It was a disconcerting thought.

Cable had more technical knowledge of anyone on the planet, surely, benefitting from hundreds of years of codified psychic teaching, rather than the few decades of the existence of Xavier’s school that every other psi on the planet might have had access to. However, there was nothing that he tried that could recreate the phenomenon. Even when he had her distracted by concentrating on other tasks, there was nothing he tried that seemed to replicate the phenomenon.

“I have to conclude it was just fatigue,” he said, at the end of the session, but she detected a note of doubt that did nothing to set her at ease. “Keep an eye on it, and if you ever notice it again…” he trailed off meaningfully.

“Yeah, of course,” she readily agreed. “I’ll let you know immediately.”

The lounge was also off-limits (“Because the TV is FRAGILE, Bobby!”), and Sam was there so that was where she headed once inside. About half the occupants of the house were watching football, but there was space next to Sam on the couch so she curled up next to him and leaned on his shoulder while she glanced at the TV to take in the score, the quarter, and who had possession. Televised sports were a new thing for her, but Sam enjoyed them and they seemed like something her father would hate for her to watch, so she did her best to soak up rules and an appreciation. She’d learned baseball in late summer and early fall, although Cincinnati had not made the playoffs much to Sam’s chagrin, and now the household had moved on to football (and Sam had quickly moved on from the Bengals after they’d lost seven games in a row, throwing his allegiance behind the Steelers instead).

Sam had thrown his arm over her shoulder instinctively and drew her closer to him. “Everything go okay?” he murmured, turning away from the TV to look at her, concern flavoring his emotional state.

“Yeah.” She smiled softly at him. “Not muddy this time at all.”

He smiled back at her, relaxing somewhat at her report. “Good.” He kissed her temple and then settled back to watch the game. She felt his hand playing with her hair, and she closed her eyes and relaxed against him, smiling at the good natured ribbing going back and forth between everyone.

Without even thinking about it, she was drifting into his emotions again, too practiced at it to stop herself. She realized what she’d done a moment later and pulled herself out with a start.

That made Sam turn and look at her again, concern again clouding his face. She quickly waved him off. “Sorry, just drifted off and startled myself awake,” she said with a little smile.

He patted his thigh, offering it up as a pillow. “You can lay down and doze if you want,” he said. “Hell, Bobby’s been asleep since kick-off.” He jerked his thumb at Bobby who was, indeed, dozing in a chair until he heard his name and startled awake.

“I’m watching! I was just resting my eyes!” Bobby said instantly.

“Was the last play rushing or passing?” Rogue asked dryly.

“Ru…” Bobby started until Rogue reacted to the first syllable and he changed his answer. “Passing.”

Rogue laughed and Bobby tried to defend himself against Rogue and a suddenly dogpiling Logan, as Sam caught her attention again. “Or you can always go take a nap. You don’t have to watch this just because Ah am.”

“No. I’m fine,” Dana insisted, cuddling closer to his side until he turned back to the TV with a ‘suit yourself’ shrug.

She did her best to relax after that, but she found she had to be on guard from slipping into what was apparently a very bad habit. It made it hard to unwind the way she normally would, and she found the concern was back in Sam’s eyes after the game. It wasn’t a look she liked to see there.

“Just a little jumpy, I guess,” she said, trying to reassure him.

“Only for a little while longer, Ah hope,” he responded, and she nodded, but honestly that was starting to be a bit of a concern too.

She’d gotten through the rest of the football game without getting kicked outside, which was strange enough, but now that she was paying attention to something other than the game she noticed that she could sense Xavier in his office with Scott, Cable and Jean. It was perhaps a little egotistical to think that any given meeting this week had anything to do with her, but she hoped Cable hadn’t summoned the group together to tell them she had a potentially catastrophic shielding flaw.

Sam left her to go do some flying practice, and she tried to read a book to keep from fretting, but the longer she remained unmolested the more concerned she got. Was it really all over already?

#All right, time to go outside,# Jean finally told her telepathically in the early evening. The relief was almost overwhelming. Whatever the meeting had been about, it was clearly over now, and she hoped that imminent surprise attacks meant they’d ruled in her favor. It was a little sick how fast her distaste of the whole situation had flipped on its head after some doubt.

Sure enough, after stepping only a few feet away from the mansion, a suspiciously dense and fast moving fog rolled in. Before she lost sight of the ground entirely, she picked up a few dense pinecones from the ground. None of the telepaths had bothered to hide the other members of the team from her this time, and while she wasn’t as precise with location as she might have wished, it was possible she could get lucky.

Bobby was easy enough to find, his mind felt playful and young and male, and she knew Sam’s mind so well that she’d never confuse the two of them. Bobby was coming up somewhere on her right and she hurled the first pinecone in that direction. It missed, landing with a small noise in the grass, but the next one she threw hit the mark, surprising Bobby enough that he exclaimed “Hey!” from his hidden position, which gave her just enough to go on to launch a running tackle directly at him.

Bobby was still rubbing the side of his head when she broke through the fog and tackled him. He gave a grunt of surprise as the two of them fell to the ground and then tumbled, scrambling, to get the upper hand. Bobby managed to climb to his feet and formed an ice slide to escape and regroup, but he didn’t make it out of reach before she was able to get a hand around his ankle and turned his powers off, sending him tumbling to the ground again with his momentum. Dana pressed her advantage, launching herself at him once he was on the ground and keeping his powers off with her hands around his wrists. He was in his uniform, which meant when she turned his powers off, which included his resistance to cold, he was left in nothing but very tiny shorts and boots on a very cold November afternoon. He gasped aloud as the cold wind hit his skin as he struggled to break her grip.

“A little help here!?” he called, teeth chattering a bit. Sam came to his rescue, quickly landing and getting a good hold of Dana’s waist before blasting off again. Dana had a good grip on Bobby, however, so the three of them ended up sort of dragging along the ground at a moderate pace until Dana gave up holding onto Bobby in order to turn her powers on Sam, sending them both tumbling through the grass. She grabbed at Sam to try and keep him grounded, but a well-timed blast of wind from Storm kept her unbalanced. It was too hard to fight the force of it to get to Sam, so she let it push her along, running to put some distance between her and the others.

A red beam of light cut across her path, far enough away from her that it was clearly a warning shot. She skidded to a halt and turned to run in another direction as Scott used the beams to encourage her back the way she’d come. She was being penned in, but if this was going to come to a quick, messy conclusion she was sure as hell going to make sure she took her chief tormentor with her.

She made a beeline for Bobby again, who still looked a little disoriented. Scott’s beams were getting smaller and less powerful but a hell of a lot closer, and she new if one made contact it wouldn’t hurt her badly, but it would trip her up and probably sting a bit. Fortunately, she had Bobby. She grabbed hold of him and swung him into the path of the next beam.

“Ow! SCOTT!” he exclaimed, hopping to shake off the sting, and Scott started laughing too hard to aim. Dana grinned and took off towards the mansion again. It was too much to hope that she could make it, but she had to at least make a good effort, she thought.

She got close enough to the mansion that she actually thought she might make it, and her focus on reaching the safety of the front door distracted her from the presence of a teammate nearby.

“Not so fast, petite,” Remy said, stepping out of the shadows and flipping his bo-staff into her path just firmly enough to bring her to a halt and start backpedalling furiously with a squeak of surprise.

He twirled his bo playfully once, and then swiped at her legs with it. She was able to leap out of the way and then duck the higher strike that followed. She dodged the jab at her midsection, and immediately reached out to try and pull the staff from his hands, but he pulled it away before her fingers could get purchase on it, and punished her with a stinging knock to her outstretched hand with a flick of his wrist.

She yelped and clutched her stinging hand to her chest, flexing it to try to restore the feeling to her fingers. Deciding that a good offense might be a good defense and catch Remy off-guard, she launched a kick at his midsection. He ducked aside, but she immediately followed it with another that was on target.

Unfortunately, it never connected. Rogue had swooped in and pulled her up and away. Rogue was uniquely suited to challenge Dana as every inch of skin but her face was covered and Dana couldn’t make contact to turn off her powers. Dana was in an awkward position to get to Rogue’s face, and before she could twist around to make contact she was set down on the ground, with just enough height to make her stumble when she landed. She’d been set down in the middle of the whole team, all ready to advance.

“Dog-pile!” Bobby yelled, and started the charge.

This would almost certainly be her last stand, but she was not going to go down easy. And she was not going to be on the bottom of a pile. With a battle cry she managed to tackle Bobby before he could tackle her, leaving him on the bottom as everyone else piled on top of her. Bobby groaned underneath her. She laughed as much as she could, short of breath as she was.

“Guess this means you’re in, kiddo.” Jean said, laughing, and smart enough to be well clear of the crush. Sam had managed to be the third person on the pile after her and Bobby and kissed her cheek in congratulations as she flushed.

“Okay, seriously,” Bobby shouted, sounding strained. “Everybody get off now.”

Chapter Text

Christmas, for the first time in a long time, was utterly overwhelming to Dana. It had always been a rather cold, formal affair at her father’s house. She hadn’t been invited to any of the parties that her father and brothers had thrown or attended, so all she’d really had once her mother died was a sterile gift exchange and a formal dinner.

Sam, on the other hand, was all about Christmas. He dragged her out at least once a week to go shopping for his family, their friends, and Marc, he made her watch all the traditional Christmas movies, and his impromptu cooking lessons for her were now entirely cookie-based.

To make matters even more overwhelming, the winter was shaping up to be slow enough on the international incident front that Xavier felt comfortable throwing an all-teams holiday party a week before Christmas-- where she’d be meeting Sam’s sister for the first time, as well as all his ex-teammates and friends. On the one hand, it was a bit of a relief, giving her that much more time to settle into her role as a member of the team, remembering to answer to her new code-name, ‘Medic,’ and learning to do her job in a uniform that was absolutely nothing like the sweatpants she had spent so long training in. On the other hand, she was eager to get started. She wanted to start making an impact on the damage her father had done, but the American clinics and hospitals were being investigated by the FDA and AMA, and the other affiliated teams were shutting down the clinics abroad, so there wasn’t much she could currently do on that front.

Sam was also making exploratory noises about her coming to Kentucky for Christmas-- since Marc would likely be out of town and back in Europe-- which seemed both inevitable and intimidating.

Still, she reminded herself that having her boundaries challenged wasn’t a bad thing, and the holidays were more fun now, too. Everyone was cheerful, and the mansion looked beautiful once it was decorated, and cuddling with Sam was somehow even better with a chill in the air and a hot beverage to drink. She was pretty sure she’d learn to be as excited as Sam once it didn’t seem so new.

Even when he was being his most exasperating-- and he was getting pretty close at the moment, asking her opinion on a sweater for his sister when she neither knew Paige nor had any knowledge of fashion trends—she somehow found it much more charming than it should have been.

“I’m sorry, Sam. I don’t know her at all. I have no idea what you should get your sister,” she said, as patiently as she could manage.

“Well, as a girl… do you like it?”

She sighed deeply. “Sam, I am the least fashionable woman you know.”

He gave her a deadpan look like he somehow disagreed, before softening it with a smile. “Sorry. Ah know you’re not a shopper. You’ve probably earned that peppermint latte Ah promised you by now.” He folded up the sweater neatly and put it back.

“You do know you don’t have to bribe me with coffee to come shopping with you. I don’t hate it. The town is lovely in winter and I always like spending time with you.” She reached out for his hand and squeezed it. “I just don’t have any opinions about it. I still don’t know what I’m going to get you or my brother, and I actually know you guys. I really don’t know what to get your family.”

He bumped his shoulder into hers as they left the store. “Maybe once you’ve met them,” he said, a little too casually.

“Maybe,” she said as non-committally as she could in response.

He glanced over at her as they headed down the street to the coffee shop. “You can say ‘No,’ you know,” he offered out.

“Sam, you’re desperate for me to go,” she said kindly. “Your mother wants to meet me, and it’s hardly fair that you’ve put up with Marc for months now and I haven’t even met your mother yet. It’s just a little… intimidating.”

“Don’t be intimidated. We are so unintimidating!” he said, smiling and tugging pleadingly on her hand.

“You outnumber me ten to one, of course you’re intimidating!” she laughed.

“Yeah, but we’re so low-key, you won’t even realize half of us are there,” he teased.

“Sam, that’s even worse,” she laughed back at him, even as she was still honestly concerned. “I get nervous around new people, and when I get nervous I get really formal, and then your low-key family will think I’m weird and uptight and high-strung.”

“They won’t. Ah promise they won’t,” he smiled kindly, swinging her arm playfully. “Ah’ve told them all about you, and they think you sound great, so we’ll just have to stay there until you unwind. Okay?”

“Okay,” she said, taking a bracing breath and tucking a lock of hair behind her ear with her free hand. “I suppose if I’m brave enough to face super villains now, I can be brave enough to face my boyfriend’s family.”


 

Sam opened his window and breathed in the fresh, clean air. The first snow of winter had fallen during the night, and he was anxious to get out in it. He zipped up his jacket, took another deep breath of the cold air, and blasted out of his upper-story window.

At times like this he wished he had Warren's wings. He would have liked to take his time over the whitened landscape, but he scolded himself a moment later. Just being able to fly was incredible enough.

He blasted low over the frozen grounds of the school at a breakneck speed, twisting and turning, practicing aerial acrobatics, and working the last of the morning's drowsiness from himself.

Cutting over towards the forest he caught two sets of footprints left in the new-fallen snow. There were at least two people who’d wanted out into the wintery landscape earlier than he had.

He flew over to investigate and was rewarded with a snowball splattering against his blast shield. He landed, his blast shield still up to protect him, and narrowed his eyes as he squinted into the darkened forest, from where the attack had come.

He heard a familiar squeal, and Dana popped from behind a broad tree. "Bobby, I thought we were on the same team!" she exclaimed, hopping in place while trying to untuck the back of her shirt from her pants. She finally managed it and a large chunk of ice fell out. Sam bit the inside of his cheek to keep from laughing.

“I’m sorry… really!” Bobby gasped between bouts of laughter as he emerged from behind the same tree. "It was just too easy!" He didn’t look apologetic at all. "Besides, Sam's stupid blast shield doesn't make him much of a target."

Dana glared at Bobby and kicked some snow in his direction.

Sam bent down and packed a snowball. He tossed it between his gloved hands, looking at them both speculatively.

Dana glanced away from her glaring contest with Bobby long enough to see that he was looking for a target. She turned to face him shot him a warning look. He read the intent clear enough: If he wanted to enjoy any of the benefits of having a girlfriend at the holiday season, he would throw the snowball at Bobby.

He did. He caught Bobby completely by surprise and hit him in the side of the face.

Dana looked so positively smug that he decided he had to get her too, and lobbed a hastily constructed ball at the back of her neck while she was still laughing at Bobby.

A lot of it fell down her shirt again, and she yelped, hastily trying to get the snow out.

The noise they had made attracted some of the other occupants of the house. Rogue was strolling by to investigate, when Bobby’s retaliation strike at Sam went wide and hit her instead.

“Bobby Drake!” she exclaimed, bending to gather up a snowball of her own. Sam turned to laugh at Bobby, because this would not work out well for him, when the snowball whacked him in the back of the head instead. Rogue must have missed. Still, retaliation was in order, he thought, and scooped up some snow.

Remy was the next to join, and before too long everyone had come out to see what all the commotion was about and had become embroiled in a no-holds-barred fight.

The telekenetics proved to be incredible marksmen. Enough so that the three originators of the fight, Sam, Dana, and Bobby, had scrambled for cover behind a large overturned tree when the X-Men with much better aim had shown up. Even Bobby’s control over ice and snow paled in comparison to a telekinetic being able to redirect all those snowballs right back the way they had come. Unfortunately, Jean and Cable could make snowballs twist and turn around obstacles and there was nowhere to take shelter.

Finally at around noon, everyone had exhausted themselves to the point where they were no longer in the mood to continue the war and went inside to warm up and get lunch.

Dana was left spread-eagled on her back in a snow bank, as a result of Cable's experimentation with snowball size. She'd been hit with a telekinetically controlled snowball the size of a basketball, going much faster than a snowball should, and it had sent her sprawling. She didn’t even look up as Sam approached.

"Well, that was fun," Sam panted, sprawling next to her in the snow. He stared up at the sky for moment, before rolling onto his side to look at her. "Looks like it's gonna keep snowin' for a while longer. Maybe we can do this tomorrow, too."

"Let's not,” she groaned. “Let's find something a little less strenuous, like making snow angels or something." She blinked up at the snow that was still falling from the sky and opened her mouth to catch a few flakes.

"You're my snow angel," Sam said in a sing-song voice, somehow managing not to laugh. Dana looked at him with disgust, but he leaned over to kiss her anyway.

She rolled her eyes at him just as Bobby strolled over, pretending to gag. "My snow angel? Ugh.”

Dana lobbed a handful of snow at his leg, too exhausted to do more. It only covered about half the distance necessary. Bobby shook his head at her, looking deeply saddened and walked back towards the house.

“Ah can’t believe you teamed up with Bobby against me,” he said, mock-severely.

“It was self defense! He caught me out here alone. It was either die in a barrage of snowballs or pledge allegiance to attack the next person who came along. I didn’t think it would be you!”

“Well, if that’s the case, Ah suppose Ah can forgive you,” he said, reaching out to push her hair back from her face. She truly looked disheveled. “Your health and safety should always be the first priority.”

After a long moment she pushed herself to sitting with a groan. “Please remind me the next time I get a crazy idea like this that mutant snowball fights are neither healthy or safe.”  

“Yeah, the water fights in summer are more of the same, FYI.” Sam pushed himself up to sit next to her and slipped an arm around her lower back and she turned towards him, snuggling close and putting her arms around his waist.

"Aha. Ah get it now," he announced quietly as he settled her head on his shoulder. "Ah'm only good for my body heat."

"And your cute accent," Dana added as she kissed him briefly on the lips.


 

Dana had not forgotten about the apparent defects in her shields. Nathan had told her after she’d been admitted to the team that he’d brought up the issue with Xavier and Scott but that the three of them felt that she would still be a valuable member of the team, especially since she hadn’t been able to recreate the effect since.

The popular opinion was that it had been down to exhaustion, but regardless Dana felt it was a weakness that required more training, so when Sam went off to do a special session in the Danger Room she wasn’t invited to, she sat in her room and practiced with her shields instead, fluctuating their strength and shape as rapidly as she could. On the one hand, it was a good exercise for making her a quicker draw with her shields. On another it was guaranteed to wear her out mentally, and though she certainly didn’t want to confirm that there were deep flaws in her shields, the best way to get confident in them was to push them to where they might break.

Cable had announced his plans to head west again with X-Force after the holiday party, so if she really had a flaw, she had to suss it out in the next few weeks while she had help to fix it.

She ran through her drills, cross-legged on the floor, and doing her best to stay focused. After a few moments of her shields so low she got a bit of a headache from everyone’s emotions at once, she cranked her shields up to full and started manipulating the shape of her shield again. It was different doing it alone than with Cable’s help. She didn’t have quite the same easy access to the astral plane he did, so while when working with him she had seen everything as representations in a physical space, by herself, with only her empathy to work with, nothing was so clear. She had vague impressions of things, and could mostly tell the strength of her shields by the quiet rather than the visual solidity of them.

Which was why it took so long to identify when the issue happened again. It was only when she noticed that she could feel things from outside even when her shields were as strong as she could make them that she cottoned on to what was happening. She hadn’t been at it nearly long enough to be exhausted, and she took a moment to calm herself down and fight the panic before mentally calling to Cable for help.

*I think it’s happening again,* she thought as clearly and calmly as she could in his direction.

There was a pause and then a moment later he’d swept her onto the astral plane with him and they were both looking at the astral manifestation of the ruin of her shields. There was a gap in the otherwise solid looking wall, and through it a mist was pouring in, pooling on the floor and creeping towards them. She backed up away from it instinctually, and looked up at him, alarmed.

“What is this?” she asked.

He shook his head at her. “This is your interpretation of what’s happening. Your symbols, your symbolism.”

Well, that was unhelpful. She kept backing away from the fog until she couldn’t anymore and it washed over her shoes. She blinked in surprise. “Its…” she started, “… I’m getting an empathic reading off of it.” She looked up at him, amazed. “It’s emotions.”

“What kind?” he asked. “Whose?”

She knelt and reached out a hand to it, focusing all her concentration to try to figure out the mystery, but as soon as her hand disappeared into it, she knew. She knew the emotional signature better than her own, and she swallowed before turning her head back to Cable to report, “It’s Sam.” She stood and walked deeper into the mist, hands outstretched. “It’s all Sam.” She knew with a sudden sickening certainty that this was somehow all her fault, even if she didn’t know how. “What is this?”

Cable’s professional curiosity had turned grave. “I may have an idea,” he said, and she squirmed a little under his steady regard. “I’m going to shield you, all right?” he checked with her, and she nodded in response.

His shield came up around the outside of hers, and the fog disappeared entirely. She quickly closed the hole left in her shields, even as she shifted uncomfortably. It was funny, she’d gone so long not realizing she even had powers, and now to have her empathy effectively turned off just a few months later made her so uncomfortable she could barely keep still. It was like being in a dark room suddenly, and she hoped they could solve this soon.

“I need to go confirm a hypothesis,” he said. She waited as patiently as she could, hands clasped in front of her to keep them from conveying her distress.

Time sometimes passed unconventionally on the astral plane, but it seemed like she hadn’t been waiting too long before that mist was pouring through her shields again, despite her being supposedly protected by Cable’s shield. This time she couldn’t help her panicked shout for his help.

The mist went away suddenly in a flash and she patched up her shields again. “Yes. Sorry. I should have warned you,” he said, overly precise with his words in a way that made her pretty sure she’d set his telepathic ‘ears’ ringing. “However, I believe I’ve solved the mystery. I think you should come down and join us all in Xavier’s office.”

“Okay,” she said, nerves making her voice waver. “I’ll be right down.” He nodded back at her and then she opened her eyes and brought her consciousness back to her room. She took a deep breath and pushed herself to her feet, nervous in a way that she’d not been in a very long time, and sick with the idea that she’d done something terribly wrong without even realizing it. It took far more effort than it should have to reach out and open her bedroom door and make herself go downstairs, and once she reached Xavier’s office she found she couldn’t make herself open the door, hesitating a few steps away. It was stupid. Lord knew all the telepaths in the house were in there and Jean and Cable could both open the door for her telekinetically and summon her inside, but she supposed they were either distracted or giving her a moment to pull herself together. She hated that she was weak enough to need the kindness.

“Dana!” She turned her head to find Sam jogging towards her down the hall. He was clearly fresh from a hasty shower, and he should have been in a training session for at least another 30 minutes. She couldn’t help but frown at him in confusion. “Were you waitin’ for me?” he asked.

“What?” she asked, feeling flat-footed.

He smiled at her, the reassuring, reflexive smile he gave her when he could tell she was unsettled. “Cable told me he wanted to talk to both of us here ASAP. You okay?”

She had no idea how to answer. On the one hand, she always found his presence comforting. On the other hand, she wasn’t exactly thrilled to have her boyfriend here to witness what she suspected would be a bullet-pointed list of her screwing up and possibly have violated some sort of psi code of ethics regarding him.

The silence grew uncomfortable as he waited for a response and finally she just took a breath and shrugged helplessly. Hard to say if she was okay or not until she found out what was wrong, she supposed.

He nodded, somehow understanding that that was as valid a response as anything, and reached out to put a steadying hand on her shoulder blade as he opened the door for them both.

“Dana, Sam. Thank you for coming. Please have a seat,” Xavier waved them both to chairs arrayed in front of his desk and kindly didn’t say anything about her hovering outside the door for so long. Cable was standing behind him looking inscrutable. Jean was seated at one of the three chairs arrayed in a semi-circle in front of the desk, and Dana felt the center one was probably reserved for her. She took a seat in it primly, trying to stay as calm and collected as possible with everyone else in the room feeling so very concerned for her, none more so than Sam, whose concern was mixed in with a healthy dose of curiosity.

“So, let’s get right to it,” Cable said without pre-amble once everyone was seated. “Dana’s shields have revealed themselves to have something of a catastrophic flaw.” Dana couldn’t help the way her shoulders went up defensively and her head dipped in embarrassment at that. Sam glanced at her in concern and put a gentle hand on her thigh in comfort before looking back at Cable as he continued. “I think it will take the five of us to come up with a functional solution, so you’ll forgive me for summoning Sam off the bat, Dana, but I thought it would save us time later.”

Both Jean and Xavier seemed to be against Sam being here, judging by their emotional response to that, but Dana could acknowledge that Cable was probably right. Sam would get told eventually, and whatever the solution was he’d be a part of it—unless whatever he heard today signaled the end of their relationship—she thought bleakly. So while it probably was a breach of confidentiality or something to have him here, it was the most efficient option. Jean and Xavier looked at her to protest, but she didn’t have it in her.

“So what is the flaw?” she asked instead, ready to just get everything out in the open if that’s what was going to happen. “What exactly is going on?”

“You remember that I told you it was important for an empath to know her own mind,” he started, as she nodded. “Your problem is, that you don’t. You’ve synched up to Sam, so that you—and more importantly, your shields—sometimes think his emotions are yours. And when your shields part to let his emotions in, they leave a gap that any unscrupulous psi can exploit.”

Dana could feel her cheeks heating in shame as Sam shifted beside her, frowning in confusion. “So when you got me out of the practice session to pull me onto the astral plane…” he asked Cable, words spinning out slowly as he pieced it all together.

“The shields you reached out to were Dana’s,” Cable finished. “I asked Sam to reach out and touch Dana’s shields on the astral plane. They parted in front of him like wax melting at an approaching flame. I’m not entirely sure what triggered the other events of shield breach. It could be Dana thinking of Sam or Sam thinking of Dana or just having a strong emotion in general, at any rate, there appears to be nothing Dana can do to keep him out.”

“It doesn’t hurt Sam, does it?” she asked quietly, looking at the floor. “I haven’t… influenced him or anything?” That concern had never been far from her mind since Sam had confessed his feelings towards her—that she’d somehow convinced him to love her against his will. She’d read up on the Hellion Empath for her strategy class with Scott and the idea of manipulating others that way had made her feel sick.

Jean leaned towards her, and Dana could see out of the corner of her eye that she was smiling kindly. “Dana, as far as we can tell, your empathic powers are and will always be non-projecting. At the most, you could just share your own feelings, not use it to manipulate anyone. Anything Sam feels, he feels authentically, same as the rest of us.”

Dana nodded in relief. Well, there was that at least. It still didn’t make her feel any better for her own emotional and professional inadequacies, but at least she wasn’t doing damage to anyone else.

Jean didn’t sit back in her chair, instead staying close in support. “I know this doesn’t add much to the discussion as far as a solution to the problem goes,” she said gently to Dana before glancing at the men in the room who were clearly all ready to start fixing things, “but I think it bears pointing out that while this is all very inconvenient at the moment, it may have started as a rather cunning method of survival.”

Dana looked up sharply at that, curious at what Jean could possibly mean, and Jean smiled back at her.

“When I think back to when you first arrived, you were a very quiet girl who was unusually aware of your father and his wishes. I think an untrained empath would find a certain survival advantage in being emotionally attuned to a man who lashed out,” Jean said carefully.

Dana winced at the very idea of being so in tune with her father in hindsight, but she couldn’t deny that in those early days she’d been a completely different person. Sam seemed to catch on to the same train of thought beside her.

“Ah asked you to do it,” Sam said, a little bleakly. “When you were panicking, Ah asked you to match up to me. Of course, Ah thought you’d just pay attention to my breathing.” He rubbed his hand comfortingly across her upper back. “Ah feel like Ah should apologize somehow, but Ah guess none of us really could have known.”

Dana clamped down on her disbelief. Sam apologize to her? She’d secretly used his emotions without his permission, putting her own safety at risk, apparently, and he somehow felt this was his fault?

Sam glanced up at Cable. “She asked if she changed me, but did Ah change her?” He licked his lip nervously, and the line of his shoulders was tense as he braced himself for the answer. “You’re not the girl you were,” he told her, “but Ah thought that was down to new experiences and having the freedom to find yourself…” he looked away from her to take in the other psis in the room. “The change in her personality… did she just… become more like me?”

His guilt hung heavy in the air, and Cable said nothing to dispel it. “We won’t know until we start to undo this,” he said, and Dana reached out to hold Sam’s hand and squeeze it in reassurance. She loved him truly, she was absolutely certain of it. Her feelings towards him, her entire personality—it couldn’t possibly just all be a reflection, could it? It felt so real to her. “I do believe it can be undone, especially with Jean’s hypothesis of it having happened before. If Jean is correct, I certainly don’t see Dana in any danger of letting her father in past her shields now.”

Dana shook her head fiercely.

“She stood up to him the last time she saw him,” Sam pointed out helpfully.

“An excellent sign,” Xavier replied. “It may be that the solution is as simple as distance and time.”

Sam beat her to her response. “How much distance and time?” he asked carefully, clearly expecting to not like the answer.

“Excalibur has a talented empath in their ranks, and as Cable has elucidated to all of us, empathy requires specialized training aside from what a telepath knows,” Xavier spelled out. Sam stiffened beside her, but Dana wasn’t sure why. “I believe training with Meggan may kill three birds with one stone for Dana: Time, distance, and the specialized training from a fellow empath that she’s yet to receive.”

“And where is Excalibur based?” Dana asked. It sounded vaguely familiar, but she couldn’t place it from her studies.

“Muir Island,” Xavier explained. “Scotland.”

Oh. “That’s a lot of distance,” she said, as calmly as she could. She licked her lips and gave a fatalistic smile. “I suppose the time would be equally significant.”

“We’d want you to stay until you were trained enough that we could be sure it wouldn’t happen again,” Cable said. “I suspect Sam serves as a greater temptation than your father ever could, so your shields will have to be perfected. There’s no ‘good enough’ with this, I don’t think.”

“So months,” she said flatly.

Cable shrugged. “Maybe years.”

She tried to stay calm. She liked it here. She didn’t want to leave, and if she did have to leave she certainly didn’t want to go to the other side of the planet. She also hated feeling so on the spot. She was desperate to talk to Sam in private. She needed to reassure him that she loved him because she could tell he was guilt-ridden by the idea that he’d somehow emotionally coerced her, and she needed to be reassured herself. Leaving behind everything she knew was even scarier the second time around when she thought she’d found the place she’d live happily for the rest of her life.

Everyone was looking at her to say something, but Sam was actually the one to break the silence. He held her hand in both of his and smiled at her like she couldn’t see the turmoil in his heart. “It’s not ideal, but there’s phone calls and letters, and Ah’m sure we could even talk over the vidscreen sometimes.”

Dana pressed her lips together and managed a small polite nod of acknowledgement. This was neither the time nor place to bring up the fact that Sam had told her his last relationship had broken up because it was long distance. Still, there was something to be said for getting so much bad news at once. She was starting to feel a bit numb, so she could deal with this meeting and then go to her room and lose control in private. “I don’t suppose I have much choice,” she said at last, suddenly overwhelmed with the planning of it all. Christmas at the Guthries’ was certainly out, she would have to call Marc and let him know her new address, and she started making a packing list in her head.

The psis shared a look among themselves before Jean spoke again. “There may be an alternative. It would be much more difficult, I think, but it would allow you to stay at the mansion.” That had both Sam and Dana’s heads shooting up in shock, and Dana clung to the possibility like a lifeline. “There is the possibility that, between the three of us,” Jean gestured to include all the psis, “we could shield you all the time from everything, giving you the opportunity to rebuild your defenses on the inside of ours.”

Dana exhaled. “For months or years,” she clarified.  She hated the feeling of her empathy being muffled, even for a short time. Going without for so long would be maddening at the very least. Plus, that didn’t even take into account the drain of resources—she’d be confined to the mansion or a psi escort 24/7 and she could hardly be a functional member of the team. Plus, whoever was babysitting her would be distracted--

“Certainly longer than if you went to train with a true empath. There’s a psi-shielded chamber you could retreat to if we were all needed elsewhere,” Cable said, either coming to the same conclusion or reading her mind. “But really, once the basic structural work has been completed, you’d only need to be shielded around Sam.”

Both options were terrible, but Sam was gently stroking the back of her hand with his thumb, and she knew she didn’t want to do this alone if she didn’t have to. Sam was the best thing she had and the idea of leaving him hurt worse than any other possible negative consequence of either of the plans.

She licked her lips. “I want to stay,” she said, voice coming out in something of a whisper. “I don’t want to be a burden to the three of you, but if there’s any possibility, I really want to stay.” She tightened her hand around Sam’s, almost clinging.

Xavier nodded as if he’d expected that answer all along. “I can take the first shift,” he offered and Dana relaxed her grip on Sam in relief. “And Cable, we certainly realize that you have plans elsewhere after the holidays, so we won’t expect you to participate past that point, other than occasional visits.”

The only clue that Dana had that the shield would descend already was a slight crease of concentration between Xavier’s eyes and then she was suddenly alone. A choked gasp escaped before she could stop it and she gripped Sam’s hand in hers again, just to confirm he was still there. It was awful, and she clamped her lip between her teeth to keep from begging for one more moment—one more impression of Sam’s warm heart, one more memory of the camaraderie of the mansion to take with her on her empathic exile.

Sam was looking at her with alarm she couldn’t feel, but the expression finally shifted to understanding when Xavier spoke again. “There. I expect you’ll take the day to find your equilibrium while we come up with a strategy for your future instruction. We may consult with Meggan, in fact. Still, I think we can all agree the sooner you get started, the better.”

“Yes, of course,” she agreed, trying to keep her voice level. Months of this. Years of this. Already, she found herself instinctively trying to reach out to the minds of the people around her. She wondered how much of her self-confidence came from knowing exactly what people thought of her. She found herself questioning the real meaning of every glance and word just a few minutes in.

Sam stood up next to her, and she blinked stupidly for a moment before realizing that Xavier’s words had been a dismissal. She scrambled to her feet and nodded at the psis. “Thank you,” she said, and tried to make it heartfelt, even though it felt like she were being punished at the moment.

“Of course,” Jean replied with a smile that looked sympathetic, but Dana could no longer tell for sure.

Dana nodded, and left the room, Sam shepherding her out with a hand at the small of her back. Once they were out of the room Sam guided her over to a private corner of the hallway, even though they both knew they were probably as on display to the three psis in Xavier’s office as they had been sitting directly in front of them.

“You okay?” he asked softly.

She shook her head. “Honestly, I don’t know.” She swallowed, and Sam looked pained on her behalf.

He tucked a lock of hair behind her ear. “Ah don’t know whether to take you in my arms or give you some space,” he said ruefully. “For what it’s worth, Ah’m sorry. If what we have is—“ he swallowed and shook his head. “You have to be honest with me now. If this relationship was all just a reflection of what Ah wanted, then you need to let me know. Ah don’t want to let you go, but Ah will, no questions asked and a lot of apologies.”

It felt impossible to have such a heartfelt and important conversation without her empathic powers, and feeling so unsettled besides. She felt smothered by him one moment and wanted to pull him closer just to verify he was really there the next. “I have to love you, Sam. I don’t know who I am if I don’t,” she choked out, fighting to get the words out calmly. Her own feelings seemed suddenly strong and unpredictable in the absence of everything else, and she felt buffeted by them. “You can’t think that…” she licked her lips, not even wanting to voice the thought aloud.

He tipped his head thoughtfully and sighed. “Ah think that you are a smart, kind, beautiful girl,” he said, “but Ah also think it’s a little unusual for a poor boy from Kentucky to have so much in common with a rich girl from upstate New York.”

“Sam,” she pleaded.

“Ah’m not saying Ah want it to be true. Ah want you around as long as you’ll put up with me. Ah’m just saying, we like the same movies, we watch the same things on television. Whatever Ah suggest, you’ve always just gone with it. You could just be agreeable, but maybe there’s something else at play.” He shrugged.

“Sam,” she said again, and tipped forward to press her face against his chest, tears forming in her eyes. It couldn’t be as lopsided as he made it sound—surely she’d suggested things that he’d gone along with before? How could all of this be an illusion, when it was the foundation of her new life? “I’m still not sold on your country music,” she sniffed.

He laughed a little and kissed the crown of her head. “Well, that’s a good sign. Not for your taste, but you know… for us.”

Dana wanted to laugh, but it came out as more of a sob.

“Oh Dana. It’s okay. Don’t cry.” He rocked her a little in his arms. “This is a chance for you to finally figure out who you are with no interference from anyone. Take the opportunity. If you still want me, Ah’ll be here for you.”

“What if I turn into someone you don’t like?” she asked, looking up at him.

He reached out to take her face in her hands and carefully wiped at her tears with his thumbs. “Ah’m not sure if you could ever change that much, but Ah promise to be honest with you, too.”

She sighed. It was an honest answer, but it wasn’t the one she wanted to hear.

“What do you need?” he asked, giving her a kind but sad smile.

She laughed a little bitterly and gave him a wry look. “My empathy back,” she said dryly. “And that’s not gonna happen, but I don’t know what I need instead.”

Down the hall, the trio of psis exited Xavier’s office. Jean glanced in her direction kindly, but Dana found she couldn’t hold her gaze and looked away, embarrassed, even as she tried to straighten up and pull herself together under their scrutiny.

Sam followed her look and then turned back to Dana with a frown. “Hey, you wanna go for a walk? Or watch a movie or something? Try and take your mind off of it?” he asked.

Dana swallowed and did her best to appear, at the very least, not so very fragile and dependent. “I’m pretty sure you owe someone a Danger Room session,” she said with a raised eyebrow.

“Yeah, but…”

She cut him off. “Look, I’m supposedly an adult and an X-Man, or at least I was for a brief moment, and I think both of those things means that I should be able to deal with this on my own for at least part of the day. You go off and have ‘fun’ with Scott, and I’ll hide somewhere and lick my wounds and patch up my ego.” She flashed him a little smile, and the tiny bit of humor seemed to make him feel a lot better about leaving her.

“Okay,” he agreed, nodding at her. “Maybe Ah’ll catch up with you later, and see how you’re feeling.” He leaned close, smiling, and kissed her goodbye on the cheek. “Just remember, as powers foul-ups go, this is pretty minor. Nobody died and the mansion is still standing. Ah know it feels rough, but you’ll get through it, and then you’re back on track like nothing happened.”

“Yeah, yeah. Get out of here. You’re like that ‘Hang In There’ kitten right now,” she said, swatting him away. He laughed and took a few steps back away from her hands. “You ever knock down the mansion?” she asked before he walked too far away.

He actually flushed. “Never completely,” he said, defensively, before grinning and heading off to the basement.

Chapter Text

Sam looked up every time he heard a noise in the hall the next morning at breakfast. Dana was usually up by now, especially considering she’d gone to bed early the night before. He was halfway through his own breakfast and was debating taking his time so he’d still have something to linger over while she ate, or finishing the rest in a hurry to go up and check on her when the kitchen door opened. He looked up expectantly, but it was only Bobby. He waved a distracted hello and returned to his breakfast as Bobby went to the kitchen counter to fix himself something.

“How’s Dana?” Bobby asked, setting down what Sam was pretty sure was a small mixing bowl full of cereal at the seat next to his.

Sam wondered what Bobby had heard, if he’d heard anything. Scuttlebutt moved fast in the mansion, but he couldn’t imagine that Xavier, Jean or Cable had let anything slip, and he certainly wasn’t going to be a leak. “Haven’t seen her yet this morning,” he said vaguely, and moved the conversation on. “Feelin’ a little hungry this morning?” he asked, raising an eyebrow. “Or were you just tryin’ to get to the secret decoder ring?”  

“Early training session this morning and I’m starving,” Bobby responded, digging his spoon in. It looked like more than one brand, all mixed together.

“You know, some protein or a banana might be a little better than marshmallows,” Sam pointed out.

“You sound like Hank, buzzkill.” Bobby gleefully shoveled another spoonful into his mouth.

Sam chuckled. “You want some Saturday morning cartoons with that?”

“Yeah, actually. But the good ones. The ones these days…” he shook his head like a true connoisseur, and Sam chuckled in response as the door opened, and Dana finally made her appearance for the day.

She looked a little rough, honestly, but he smiled up at her anyway. She returned a pale reflection of it and walked straight to the counter, which was… unexpected, frankly. Ever since she’d gotten over any aversions she had to minor PDAs, she usually greeted him a little more fully in the morning. A kiss, a touch on the shoulder, even a ‘Hi, Sam,’ in that soft, fond voice she reserved for him alone.

He frowned in concern and turned in his chair to watch her as she grabbed a bowl from the cupboard and got out the milk. “You okay, Danes?” he asked quietly.

“Headache,” she explained shortly, reaching into the drawer for a spoon.

“Anything Ah can do?” he offered, and was honestly a bit startled when she shook her head ‘no’ as she picked up the nearest box of cereal. Dana was not the type to turn down a neck rub, a free breakfast, or even a cuddle… or at least she hadn’t been. He caught Bobby looking over at him from the corner of his eye, and turned to return the look. Bobby had both eyebrows raised in interest, and Sam tried to give him a quelling look. Now was not the time for Bobby’s particular brand of humor.

“Bobby.” Dana’s voice was quiet and calm in a very dangerous way, Sam thought, and he whipped his head around to look at her. Bobby looked up more casually, and Sam could see impending disaster unspooling in front of him. Dana was holding a box of cereal in her hands and she upended the box, showing that it was empty. There were other boxes on the counter, all tipped onto their sides, also clearly empty. “Did you eat all the cereal?”

Bobby shrugged in a way that struck Sam as particularly suicidal, and Sam wanted to put his face in his hands, but didn’t dare look away. “I filled my bowl.”

“You filled a mixing bowl!”

“I was hungry!”

Dana was glaring daggers and took a forceful step forwards, hands clenching into fists, and Sam pushed himself up from his seat to put himself between them. “Bobby, just shut up,” he said, exasperated. “Dana, let me make you something.” He reached out to touch her upper arm, something that had never failed to soothe her in the past. She jerked away, and Sam thought you probably could have knocked him over with a feather at that moment.

“I don’t want you to make me something, Sam,” she hissed. “I want Bobby to be considerate, but I guess we’ll all be holding our breath a long time on that one.”

“Hey, you want first choice at breakfast you better wake up a little earlier,” Bobby bit back, taking a big bite of cereal. Sam could have sworn Dana growled in response.

“Bobby, for the love of all that is holy, shut your dang trap!” Sam snapped. In Bobby’s defense, Dana and he bickered quite a lot, but it was almost always playful. Dana was clearly not in a playful mood, but Bobby had no idea what the reason for her mood change was, and that wasn’t Sam’s information to reveal.

“It’s your girlfriend in a mood, not me!” Bobby gestured dramatically with his spoon. “Get her sorted out so the rest of us can enjoy breakfast in peace!”

Sam turned and sighed, starting to get fed up himself, frankly, and almost missed Dana straight out lunging for Bobby’s throat, both hands outstretched. He managed to get an arm around her waist to hold her back as Bobby pushed his chair back in shock, yelped, “Jesus!” and iced up in defense.

“Come on!” Sam said, getting both arms securely around her and hauling Dana out of the room. “We’re getting some air away from the village idiot.”

He managed to drag her out the door and then let her go, but put himself between her and the way back into the kitchen, just in case. She was fuming, and paced away from him, hands still clenching in anger. “Okay, what do you say Ah take you out for breakfast?” he offered gently, looking at the stiff line of her back.

He was not expecting her to whirl on him like she did, to have almost the same amount of anger directed as him as had been directed at Bobby. “Don’t you handle me,” she hissed at him, pacing back towards him as he looked on surprised.

“What—?“ he started, eyes wide.

“You carried me out of the room like a child being sent to time out!”

“You almost started a brawl over breakfast cereal!” He raised his hands in defense. If he could just get her to calm down, she would have to see how ridiculous this all was.

“Whose side are you on?”

“The side of the kitchen not getting destroyed.” The answer did not seem to appease her at all, and he really hoped this was just a mood swing and not her authentic personality. He was sure if he could just get her to sit down and eat something she’d calm down, but he thought if he asked her to do anything right now she’d try to take his head off. “Bobby is a complete asshole, but Ah can pick you up a lot easier than him.”

She looked at him for a moment, breathing heavy, and then paced away again, flexing her hands as she walked. It was a good sign if she was trying to get her muscles to unclench, and for the first time all morning he thanked God that Bobby had such a big bowl of cereal to keep him occupied so he wasn’t likely to come out of the kitchen any time soon and interrupt the peace Sam was trying to claw back.

She paced back and forth, keeping her eyes fixed on the parquet floor, and he kept his mouth clamped shut. She was making herself relax and he wasn’t going to do a single thing to disturb that. He didn’t even think moving would be a good idea at the moment. After a few circuits, she finally stopped and turned back towards him, although she didn’t look up from the floor. She took a few breaths, and then in a carefully controlled voice she said, “Could you please get me one of the meal replacement bars?”

“Yeah, absolutely,” he said, trying to keep the sheer relief out of his voice and turned to go back into the kitchen. The meal bars were cardboard-tasting things but were Hank-approved alternatives to a proper meal for Dana when she was too tired or busy to eat something better. He was thankful they existed at the moment. Bobby was busy with his cereal and blessedly didn’t say anything as Sam went to the cupboard and back, and, foil package in hand, made his way back out into the hall to hand it over.

Dana was standing exactly as he’d left her, and she still didn’t look up even when she reached out to take the bar from his hand. “Thanks,” she said quietly, opening up the package.

He stood near without touching her as she took a bite. There was a space here for him to fill with something, and he took a breath as he tried to figure out the right words to say. “Ah’m sorry,” he started with. “You’re absolutely right. A lot of the times Ah’m trying to be helpful can probably come off as treating you like you’re helpless… especially when you can’t read my intentions.” He put his hands in his pockets.

“Still not a reason to be a raging bitch,” she said flatly, before taking another bite and chewing morosely.

He raised an eyebrow at her. “What’s Bobby’s excuse for being a dick?”

She snorted despite herself at that, and looked up at him at last like she couldn’t believe he’d said it. He smiled at her softly and his heart leapt to see her smile a little back. Still, he wasn’t going to press his luck, so when she finally crumpled up the wrapper and made for the stairs, he let her get away without exchanging more than a friendly goodbye.


 

Dana felt like she had spent ninety percent of her time lately sitting cross-legged on the floor with her eyes closed. She had lessons with every psi in the house, now with added suggestions from Meggan the British empath, and when she wasn’t actively working to rebuild everything, she was meditating trying to get her emotions on an even keel.

“You’re an addict,” Cable had dropped on her without warning in an early session.

“Excuse me?” she asked. Cable had also been the one to tell her, bluntly, in their first session, that her shields as they currently existed were too corrupted to be salvaged and they’d have to start completely from scratch. She’d been almost too devastated by the news to continue the session, knowing how much work was ahead of her. Cable was two for two on testing her limited grasp on emotional control.

“The reason your emotions are a disaster right now,” he continued, infuriatingly calmly and without any amount of tact. “You’re an addict. Since you were thirteen and manifested you’ve been… sedating yourself with other people’s emotions. Now you’re cut off cold turkey, and you’re in withdrawal.”

“Excuse me!?” she said again, louder and with her tenuous control on her anger slipping.

“You honestly don’t expect me to sugar-coat anything for you,” he said flatly, raising an eyebrow at her and unphased by her anger. “Intentional or not—“

“It was not intentional!” she interrupted.

He went on as if she hadn’t said anything, “--the results are the same. What is, is.” She hated that goddamned phrase already. “Jean and Xavier can waffle around finding a more socially acceptable metaphor all they want, but you know that I’m right.”

Her pride and anger had forced her to march right out of the room cursing at him as she went, but that had only meant she’d had to slink back with apologies later once she’d had time to cool down, which had been utterly humiliating.

The tearing down and rebuilding of her shields, once she stopped fighting that it had to be done in the first place, had proceeded with slow but steady progress in the following weeks. Jean had told her that she was on pace to have at least a basic protective shield by the time Christmas rolled around. Not enough to stand up to any kind of attack, or not even to Sam’s presence, but in a monitored, friendly environment, while Sam was away visiting his family in Kentucky, Jean thought it might be possible for Dana to have a few breaks from the shield to practice her empathy again in carefully monitored situations. Dana was ecstatic, but at the same time it did feel like time off for good behavior, so the addict metaphor, as gutting as it was, was turning out to be apt and explained a lot. Sam had not been told about the metaphor, because it made her feel unworthy of him. She supposed that just made the metaphor more true.

Still, she thought, as she tried to follow the instructions Rogue had given her about getting eyeliner even, the ignorance would have been bliss for tonight. Meeting her boyfriend’s beloved sister thinking she was just having some minor shielding issues certainly gave a lot more confidence. ‘Hi Paige, nice to meet you. I’m a recovering psionic vampire who’s been accidentally feeding off your brother,” was not quite the impression she wanted to make. The ‘psionic vampire’ was, admittedly, a bit of an exaggeration since Sam wasn’t any the worse for wear, but panic made her exaggerate, even in her own head.

Her relationship with Sam was, to say the least, strained. The loss of her powers made her irritable and moody, and Sam had been right to a certain extent: She was still, in her more lucid periods, at least, absolutely sure she loved Sam, but her powers had made her very agreeable and she had no idea how to negotiate within a relationship. Sam did, which was probably the only reason the relationship hadn’t come to a screeching halt the first week without her powers, but they were having fights now. Fights that sent her to the gym to work on the punching bag and fights that sent her to her room in tears. For all their promises to communicate, it was easier said than done when she couldn’t be sure if she’d change her mind in five minutes.

She was determined to be on her very best behavior tonight and to keep her emotions on an even keel. She was not going to be needy or distant. She was not going to read the worst into any situation. She was determined that when Sam left for Kentucky he would be able to leave with no doubts about her.

She stood back from her mirror to give her reflection an appraising look. It… wasn’t terrible, she thought to herself, before reaching for the mascara to finish it off. Rogue had been kind enough to give her a few pointers on how to best use her small supply of make-up without looking like a clown college, and she felt that tonight, of all nights, she could use the boost of confidence. She was an emotional basket case with a strained relationship with her boyfriend and in remedial mutant lessons, but her eyeliner was even, her blush wasn’t streaky, and her blouse made her eyes look extra green. She was failing at mutant, but doing okay, for once, on being a teenage girl, so hooray for that.

If she could just get through this evening, she thought, the rest of the year would be easy. She just had to stay calm… all on her own.

Downstairs, the other occupants of the house were finishing up decorating and setting out food, before the first of the guests showed up. She tried to make herself useful and went into the kitchen to help.

Jean handed her a plate of cookies when she got there and she dutifully took them into the living room to set out with the rest of the food. Bobby was standing on a chair in the far entrance to the room hanging a sprig of mistletoe in the entryway, with Sam looking on, frowning. “Ah think that’s gonna cause more problems than it solves with this crew,” he said as Bobby blithely ignored him.

Sam was wearing the blue shirt that was her favorite because it brought out the blue in his eyes, and she smiled at the thought that he’d dressed for her, the way she’d tried to dress up for him. Instead of returning to the kitchen right away for another plate, she came to stand next to him as Bobby stood back to admire his handiwork. “Who are you hoping to catch under there?” she asked, honestly curious.

Sam snorted. “Anyone.”

Bobby folded up his chair with a huff. “I am not desperate.”

“Bobby, I can smell your cologne from here,” Dana said, with a little grin, and Sam laughed brightly next to her as Bobby stormed off to put the chair away.

“You guys are jerks!” Bobby threw over his shoulder as he retreated.

“Nice,” Sam said, still chuckling at the dig, finally looking away from the hallway as Bobby ducked out of sight to look down on her. “Oh. Wow.”

“Okay?” she asked, biting her lip.

“Very okay,” he said, sounding impressed. “Wanna go test out Bobby’s mistletoe?” he asked, grinning and tugging on her hand.

She went along easily, happily. It was nice when he made things so unambiguous for her. “Sure, if you don’t mind my lipstick all over your face.”

“The downside of lipstick,” he sighed, and ducked in to kiss her cheek instead. “Raincheck, then. From past experience, a few hours into these parties, no one will notice a little lipstick on my face. Or even a lot.” He laughed, and it was really good to see him so apparently unconcerned around her, especially when she was so nervous about the night ahead. “You like it?” he asked.

“What, your face?” she teased.

“Ah hope you like my face,” he mock-scolded cautiously, swatting lightly at her hip, before letting both of his hands come to rest on her waist, coaxing her closer. “No, yours. The make-up.”

“I think I did alright.” She shrugged.

“Yeah, you did,” he agreed emphatically, which coaxed a smile out of her.

“Not sure if it’s something I want to do every day,” she hedged. Sam seemed to like it, but it was a bit of work, especially if she had a danger room session in the middle of the day and ended up having to do it twice.

“Fine by me,” he said easily. “It’s nice for a change, but it’s also nice knowing Ah don’t have to worry about smudging you.” He grinned and swooped in to kiss her other cheek.

Despite the very real absence of her empathy, the playfulness was almost like old times, and it set her at ease, despite her nerves about the evening.

Someone clearing their throat behind Dana made both of them turn and look. Jean was setting down plates of food on the tables, (two in her hands, and two more being held aloft by her telekinesis) looking amusedly at them but also a little frazzled. “I don’t want to interrupt, but Excalibur is due in five minutes, X-Factor in ten, and the kitchen is still full of food that needs to be set out. Could you perhaps flirt and set up at the same time?”

Dana and Sam both flushed a little and Sam murmured a “Yes, ma’am,” and they both got back to work setting up for the party, although Sam held her hand all the way to the kitchen.


 

Excalibur and X-Factor had arrived promptly, but ‘The Massachusetts Academy’ and X-Force had no real set ETA, which, Sam assured her, was pretty par for the course. In an emergency or for a mission they could scramble like anyone, but getting them to arrive for a social engagement was like herding cats.

Sam was anxiously awaiting both team’s arrivals in a way that would have set her nervously thrumming in sympathy had her powers been working. He was dying to introduce her to his sister, especially now that Dana was no longer able to join him for Christmas. He also talked about introducing her to all his friends on X-Force. But he knew most of the people on the other teams as well, just by dint of being associated with Xavier’s for so long, and being naturally socially outgoing anyway, he greeted and was greeted in turn by more people than Dana could possibly keep track of.

Dana was glad not everyone had arrived at once, as it was taking her a while to settle into the party as it was. At first she’d been too stiff and proper, defaulting into her old party etiquette, and then when she’d realized what she’d been doing, she became too shy and retiring, pressing close to Sam.

It was somewhat surprising then, when someone came up to them both and ignored Sam entirely. The striking blonde woman with a British accent smiled broadly at her as she stuck out her hand. “You must be Dana, correct?”

“Yes,” Dana said, curious, taking the offered hand.

“Hey Meggan,” Sam greeted from behind her, and Dana wanted to slap herself. Of course this would be Meggan. In her defense, everyone looked surprisingly different in street clothes, and the stills and videos she’d seen of Meggan in her studies had shown Meggan shifted into a slightly different form.

“Sam,” Meggan inclined her head politely to him, but it was clear she was here to talk to Dana and Dana tried not to duck away from the attention.

“I owe you some thanks,” Dana told her. “Jean’s said you’ve been very helpful with suggestions for my little problem.”

“It’s absolutely my pleasure. What happened to you is a risk to a lot of empaths, I think. Something similar happened to me, after all, except when I synched up to other people I physically transformed into what they felt about me,” Meggan explained with only a small trace of embarrassment, which Dana found gave her more hope than almost anything else she’d heard since they’d discovered the problem. “More obvious, which made it easier to identify, but also more embarrassing.”

“And now? It’s all sorted?” Dana asked, and behind her Sam squeezed her shoulder in support.

Meggan nodded. “I’m not going to lie and tell you it was easy, but it can be done with time and effort.” She smiled encouragingly just as the sound of a jet coming in for a landing roared overhead. They all glanced up at the sound and then Sam leaned in to give Dana a quick kiss on the cheek and patted her hip.

“Ah’m gonna go see who that is. You stay here and talk,” he said, and then ducked away with a grin, excitement to introduce her to family and friends overwhelming him again.

“I know why you don’t want to come to Muir,” Meggan murmured as they both watched him leave. “I certainly didn’t want to leave Brian’s side once I met him. Still, there’s nothing to say you can’t come for a little visit, now that we’ve been introduced.”

Dana turned to look at her feeling a little caught out before flushing in embarrassment. “I can’t tell for sure because, you know… shielded,” she waved her hand vaguely in front of her head, “but I’m pretty sure everyone thinks I’m an idiot for staying except Sam.” She shrugged. “I think Sam does too, sometimes, when I’m being irrational.”

Meggan sighed. “This is the lesson I learned that helped the most,” she said after a moment. “Just because you can hear everyone else’s feelings, doesn’t mean you have to listen to them, and certainly doesn’t mean you listen to them at the expense of your own. You are the expert on you. Half of the work you are doing now is developing confidence in your own emotions, and it’s not a good sign to start that off by doing whatever other people feel you should do.” She laughed and Dana had to admit she had a point when she put things that way.

“So you don’t think it’s self-indulgent for me to stay and train with telepaths rather than you?” Dana asked carefully.

“Why are you staying?” Meggan asked frankly.

Dana shrugged. “Because I have support here. Because it’s what I know. Because I love him.” She sighed. “It sounds so… chicken when I say it aloud.”

“Absolutely not!” Meggan said. “You would prefer to train in a place you feel safe and supported, so that is the right decision for you. Should you have decided that starting from scratch needs to be done in entirely new environs, then that would have been the right decision. And if you change your mind from one to the other and back again, that is all right as well.”

Dana frowned, unsure.

“Confidence is the key.”Meggan explained. “Confidence in your decisions, your emotions, the shields you are building. Everything else will follow eventually.” That drew a hesitant smile out of Dana. “And now, I believe your beau has someone to introduce to you,” Meggan said with a grin, pointing across the room to where Sam was standing next to a pretty blonde with a certain resemblance. “He’s being terribly polite and waiting until we’ve finished, but I think if you don’t wave him over soon, he may burst.” Meggan giggled. “We can talk later.”

Dana smiled fondly and waved. He grinned back and started over, arm in arm with his sister, and Dana turned back to Meggan. “Thank you so much,” she said, heartfelt. “We will absolutely talk later. You’ve been so helpful.”

“Until later then,” Meggan smiled, and then stepped out of the way as the Guthries made their way over.  

“You must be Dana,” Paige insisted from a few steps away, and closed the distance between them to hug her firmly. Dana blinked in surprise, but she supposed she should have guessed the Guthries were all huggers. She returned the embrace as best she could caught off-guard. When Paige stepped back again Dana got her first good look at Sam’s sister. Paige was tall and athletic and looked a lot like Sam with her blonde hair and blue eyes, but where Sam used his Kentucky accent to disarm people, Paige was doing her best to suppress hers entirely.

“And you must be Paige,” Dana said with a broad smile. “It’s so good to finally meet you.” It was, too. Dana had honestly been so nervous about making a good impression with Sam’s family, but now that Paige was here, it seemed as easy as befriending Sam had been. She suddenly deeply regretted not being able to go home with Sam at the end of the month.

Sam was grinning like this was all he’d ever wanted. Paige glanced at him slyly, before looking back at Dana with warmth. “How on earth have you managed to put up with him for so long?” Dana gaped, not knowing how to answer at first, especially when she couldn’t put her finger on why Sam put up with her lately.

“Thanks,” Sam said dryly, which served to cover her confusion. “Ah was wondering how long your good manners would last.” He poked Paige firmly in the side and she squirmed away.

Dana laughed gently at them both, and Sam gave her a wounded look. She bit her lip, hoping she hadn’t offended him, truly. “Oh come on, I know for a fact that you and Marc have talked about me in less than flattering ways,” she said, bumping her hip into Sam’s.

“We never!” Sam said, so aghast and offended she knew it was an act.

“Marc told me he told you the invisible friend story!” Dana exclaimed.

“That’s not unflattering! It’s funny and adorable,” Sam said as Dana rolled her eyes and turned to Paige to explain.

“I was five and had an active imagination and my brother Marc has gotten way too much mileage out of that story especially considering he couldn’t even talk about me to anyone from the ages of 13 to 17,” she sighed.

Paige took Dana’s arm. “Oh, don’t you worry. I’ve got loads of those sorts of stories about Sam, here.” She turned to Sam and gave him an appraising look. “What do you think Sam? The attack goat? When your clothes went missing after a skinny dip? The time you broke your arm—“

Sam was flushing harder than Dana had ever seen him. He lunged at Paige and got a hand over her mouth, muffling the explanation of just how he’d broken his arm. “And that’s about enough of that,” he said as Paige laughed against his hand before finally ducking away. “Ah’m gonna dropkick you to Kentucky for an early Christmas visit.”

“See, he’s not nice at all!” Paige said. “You should have come to the Massachusetts Academy instead. Jubilee and I are way more fun.”

“Ah am not leaving you two unattended for the rest of the night.” Sam insisted.

Paige gave him a friendly shove. “No, go get us eggnog. I wanna talk to your girlfriend.” Sam frowned and looked a bit hesitant and she rolled her eyes at him. “Oh my God, Sam. She’s put up with you for months now, and inexplicably lets you kiss her, so what could I possibly say to chase her away now?” With Dana, at least, feeling like their relationship was on a knife’s edge, she had to force a bit of cheer at what otherwise would have been a really funny dig.

Sam sighed, “Fine,” but glanced over at Dana to check in with her.

Dana smiled at him to assure him she’d be okay. Even without her empathy to read the situation, she liked Paige. Maybe it was because she reminded Dana of Sam, or maybe it was just because she was a friendly girl a little closer to her age than Jean, Rogue or Ororo. Either way, she was pretty sure she could manage without him for a while. “Eggnog, please,” she asked politely.

“Ah’m bringing Dana a cookie too, because she asked nice,” he said, sticking his tongue out at his sister, and leaned in for another kiss on the cheek goodbye before ducking off towards the kitchen. Dana thought she was looking forward to the cookie and the eggnog. If she ate her lipstick off, maybe she’d finally get that proper mistletoe kiss Sam had promised her.

“I heard you can’t make it to Kentucky for Christmas now,” Paige said, as Sam retreated through the crowd.

Dana frowned. “Yeah. I’m really sorry.” She sighed, trying not to duck in shame or flush about it. “I’m having issues with my powers right now and can’t really leave the mansion.”

“Oh gosh. What awful timing!” Paige said. “Still, I’m glad it wasn’t that you were scared of all of us.” She smiled kindly. “There are a lot of Guthries, but the farm is also pretty big, so it’s not like you’re trapped in the house with all the littlest ones all the time.”

“I was a little intimidated,” she admitted. “I come from an unhealthily restrained family, but I still wanted to come meet all of you and see the farm. Sam talks about it all the time and I know there were things he was desperate to show me.”

“Next year,” Paige said, sounding certain. “Or come in the spring. It’s prettier in the spring anyway. And warmer. Only reason to come for Christmas is Ma’s food, so you make sure Sam brings you back a Tupperware or two, or he’s officially a bad boyfriend and you deserve better.”

Dana chuckled lightly. “Duly noted. I’m really sorry I can’t come.”

Paige waived her off. “Powers are always the priority with us. We all understand. Besides, at least I got to meet you.”


 

There had been something of a run on the eggnog. Sam hovered around the bowl of punch for a moment trying to decide if the girls would accept that instead when Scott came in and dug in the fridge for more supplies. “Thirsty bunch,” he chuckled. “I’ll have more made in a few minutes, if you want to come back?” he offered.

“Ah have been sent on a very specific mission,” Sam said, with a grin.

“Yeah, me too,” Scott said, indicating the empty punch bowl by way of explanation, and they both grinned. “Oh, the PACRAT landed a few minutes ago. You could probably get into some trouble with DaCosta for a few minutes while I finish here.”

Sam chuckled, even as he was excited that X-Force had finally arrived. “’Berto gets into his own trouble. Ah just sign the witness statements and pay bail.”

“Right,” Scott said, chuckling back, and got to mixing while Sam headed out of the kitchen. The living room was pretty crowded, but he could still see Paige and Dana chatting pleasantly, so there was no reason to go back to them empty handed. Instead he took the long way around, ducking through other rooms and hallways to see if he could intercept any members of X-Force coming in from the hangar.

He lucked out and ran into Terry, who pointed him on ahead after they’d shared a hug and a promise to catch up later. He finally caught up to Berto nearly at the far entrance to the living room.

“’Berto!”

Roberto DaCosta turned with a huge grin to come over and give him a pounding hug. “Dios, Sam. Feels like it’s been a year. Don’t you know how to use a phone?”

“Know enough about ‘em to know you can make a call from either end,” he said, grinning broadly. Being on the X-Men was a fulfillment of a dream he’d had since he was sixteen, and he was incredibly happy to have Dana in his life, but he’d really missed his best friend. ‘Berto was practically a brother to him.

“Fair enough,” ‘Berto allowed. “Still, you’re in the big leagues, so you’re supposed to be the more responsible one.”

Sam snorted. “Man, Ah have missed you. So much has happened.” He shook his head. “Ah really should have called,” he admitted. “Just to have someone to talk to.”

“You can come on back to X-Force anytime, Sam.” ‘Berto offered magnanimously.

“Yeah, Ah know. But Ah got a reason or two to stay.”

“Responsibility. Using your mutant powers for good. Living somewhere where there isn’t a huge pile of dirty dishes in the sink,” ‘Berto said, making air quotes around each phrase.

“Yeah, cleanliness is a hell of a big reason. Ah have never accidentally come across anyone’s underpants here, that’s for damn sure.” Sam chuckled ruefully. “Ah got one more reason, though.” He pointed over to Dana, still talking happily to Paige like they hadn’t even noticed his absence.

“Paige?” ‘Berto asked, confused.

“No,” Sam chuckled. “Dana. The girl talking to Paige. She joined the team earlier in the year.”

“And?” ‘Berto prompted.

“And, Ah really like her.” Sam smiled at Dana fondly.

‘Berto didn’t smile. He frowned. “What about Tabby?”

“What about Tabby?” Sam asked, confused. “We haven’t talked in a year. That felt pretty conclusive.”

Roberto blew a breath out through his lips and looked around. “You better find her and clear up her conclusions then. She’s got plans for you.”

“Oh, Jesus,” Sam said, pushing his fingers through his hair. What a mess. Okay, the thing to do right now was to keep Tabitha and Dana apart until he could explain very carefully this entirely reasonable misunderstanding.

Sam!” cried a hauntingly familiar female voice.

Sam cursed his terrible luck and turned towards the sound just in time to have Tabitha launch herself at him. He’d forgotten that she was so tiny and gymnastic and it was reflex to catch her against his body so she wouldn’t fall as she flung her arms around his neck. He took a step back to absorb the impact. “Tabby, Ah—“

“I have missed you so much, Mason-Dixon. We cannot let it go this long again!” Tabitha was a little loud, and he prayed that they were far enough away from where Paige and Dana were that Dana hadn’t noticed. He tried to set her down, but Tabitha’s thighs were clinging onto his hips.

“Tabitha, we really need to talk, so—“ he started.

“We’re under the mistletoe,” Tabitha pointed out, pointing up. The step back that Sam had taken to stay on his feet when she’d jumped at him had put them both squarely under the arch of the entranceway where Bobby had hung his stupid mistletoe. “Talk later,” she said, and moved her hands to frame his face before planting one on him.

Tabitha kissed like her timebombs. She always had. Explosive, exciting, uncomplicated. Her nails scratched into the short hair at the back of his head, her legs tightened around his hips, and it was incredibly familiar and devastatingly strange all at the same time. After much too long, he was able to get his hands on her shoulders to push her back. “Tabitha, no. We have to talk,” he said, as gently as he could. He didn’t dare look behind him towards Dana yet. He could only hope she’d missed the whole thing.

Tabitha frowned at him, and he helped her back to her own feet. “What are you trying to say?” she asked carefully.

“Ah’m saying that it’s been a year. We haven’t talked at all,” he said carefully. “Ah’m saying that Ah met someone.”

“You met someone?” she asked, voice rising with disbelief. “So what, I was out of sight, out of mind?” Tears were forming in her eyes and he felt like a heel. “You met someone and you couldn’t even call to break up with me?”

“In hindsight, Ah should have,” he agreed. “But Ah really thought you’d already broken up with me.”

Tabitha set her jaw mulishly, but sighed like she realized it wasn’t entirely his fault, even as she wiped under her eyes. She wasn’t one to show weakness for long. “Well, who is this girl? Is she here tonight?”

Introducing Tabitha to Dana this evening sounded like a death wish, but at the mention of her, he couldn’t stop himself from turning to glance over his shoulder to see if she was there. His heart hit the floor when she saw that she wasn’t. Paige was standing alone, and looking at him, upset. He sighed. Worst-case scenario it is, he thought.

“Ah think she may have seen us,” he said slowly. “Ah think Ah should go find her and explain.” He took another deep breath as he turned to look at Tabitha again. “For what it’s worth, Tab, Ah’m really sorry.”

“Yeah, whatever. It’s done now. Frees me up to find someone way hotter than you, anyway,” she smirked, and slapped his rear to send him on his way. “Come on, Roberto. Let’s go spike the punch,” she said, and grabbed Berto’s arm to pull him into the crowd in the living room as Sam ran off to find Dana.

It was too cold for her to comfortably be outside, so he played the odds and ran upstairs to her room. The door was closed, so he knocked. “Danes, you in there?” he asked gently. He tried the door, but it was blocked by something. There was a murmur of female voices on the other side, the sound of movement, and then the door opened for him. Meggan was on the other side, and she let him into the room cautiously. He didn’t see Dana at first because she was sitting just beside the door, knees hugged to her chest. He suspected she’d been what had been blocking him from coming in at first.

“Hey,” Sam said carefully.

Dana replied, “Hey,” as well, but not before she’d sniffled and wiped at her face. Her make-up was gone.

“Did you want me to stay?” Meggan asked Dana cautiously, and Sam might have bristled if he wasn’t feeling so damn guilty. Dana shook her head and Meggan nodded in response. “You know how to find me if you need me,” she murmured, and spared Sam a glance before leaving and shutting the door behind her.

Sam sighed, and looked down at Dana for a moment before finally folding down on the floor to sit in front of her, hopefully far enough away to give her some space without feeling distant. She didn’t look up at him, instead focusing on her knees. There was a box of Kleenex at her hip.

He mirrored her posture, resting his chin on the top of his knees. “So that was probably the last thing Ah wanted to have happen tonight,” he started gently. “You all right?”

She shrugged. “I could have caught you in bed with her. That would have been a lot worse.” She picked up another tissue and wiped at the tears under her eyes.

“Dana,” he sighed again. “That wasn’t intentional. She just sprung it on me. She didn’t know about you and was trying to get back together. You have to know that.”

“I don’t know anything. That’s the problem,” she said quietly, tapping her head.

“What, your empathy?” Sam asked. “Ah could go ask them to drop the shield for a bit, so you could see. Or you could just ask Meggan or somebody to confirm?” he asked, desperate to put her at ease.

“There are millions of people on this planet in relationships who don’t have empathy or telepathy. Who don’t know anyone with psi powers. They just have to trust.”

“You don’t trust me?” Sam asked cautiously, a little hurt, to be honest.

“I can’t trust myself,” she said bleakly. She set her chin on her knees with a deep sigh before looking up to meet his eyes. “She’s so pretty. She’s tiny, and blonde, and she knows what she wants. She’s so different from me.”

He blinked at the non sequitur. “She’s different, yeah, but I can’t compare you to her that way. What Ah have with you is different to what Ah had with her, and Ah like what Ah have with you. Ah don’t want to lose it.”

Dana swallowed and looked away from him again. “You’ve got her lipstick on your lips,” she murmured.

He cursed under his breath and swiped his hand across his mouth. The back of his hand came away with a hot pink smear. She offered out one of her Kleenexes and he took it to wipe at his lips again and then at the back of his hand. She used another to blow her nose.

“I can’t even remember who I was before my mom died, before I manifested. And then I spent years trying to be who my dad wanted me to be, and now I’m trying to be who you want me to be, and I can’t fix myself doing that. I can’t figure out who I really am. ”

“Dana, Ah never asked you to—“ Sam protested.

She shrugged. “I’m trying to save my relationship. This isn’t about you asking. It’s about me prioritizing us over myself. I’m on my best behavior all the time until I crack, and then it’s bad. Really bad.” She lifted her gaze to look him in the eye with a touch of rueful humor. “If you’d come up here about five minutes ago, you would have needed your blast shield.”

Sam winced at the idea of her ever being that angry with him. At the idea she would have been so convinced he’d betrayed her like that. “So what can Ah do to help?”

She shook her head. “Nothing.” She took a shaky breath. “Meggan told me the most important thing for me was to listen to myself and have confidence in my decisions. I’m so afraid of losing you, that I’m only listening to the fear, and it’s making me crazy. So I think I have to just… let the relationship go.” Her voice cracked at the end and she pressed her hand against her mouth, like she was trying to keep things inside.

“What?” He was stunned. “Dana. You don’t have to do this.” He reached out and touched her arm, where it was wrapped around her legs, and she pulled it back like his touch burned. He returned his hand to his own legs like she’d stung him, feeling his eyes grow damp. “She kissed me!”

She shook her head. “Honestly, it doesn’t even matter. When I turned and I saw… the only thing I could think was that I had nothing. That I had nothing without you. I should have gotten angry, or upset, or confused—and I did later—but my first reaction was to think I had nothing left.” She looked hard at the ground in front of her toes, and his heart ached for her. “That’s not right, Sam. That means I’m not right.”  

“You’ve got so much besides me,” he protested. “You’ve got family and friends that love you, and a calling, and a home here.”

“I know that now. But in that first moment of panic… that first instinct… That’s always what you really feel, isn’t it? That’s what you hear before you start lying to yourself.” she shook her head. “I’m going to Muir. Moira McTaggart wants me to help her with her Legacy Virus research. Meggan is gonna keep an eye on me and make sure I’m shielding right from here on in.”

“And you’re going to come back when Meggan says you can?” he asked.

She shrugged, not meeting his eyes. “I can’t think that far ahead.”

“Do you love me?” he asked. It seemed like an important thing to establish.

She smiled softly at him. “More than anything. It feels like the one thing I’m sure of most days. This would all be a lot easier if I didn’t.”

“We don’t have to break up over this. We can just be on a break.” Sam pleaded. He’d maybe accept that she’d have to leave him for a while, but leaving him with no guarantees seemed unnecessary.

“We just saw what happened with your last long-distance relationship,” she murmured.

“That’s not fair!” he exclaimed, and she flinched, closing her eyes. “Sorry,” he amended quietly.

Her eyes were still closed, and she looked pained. “Please don’t do this,” she asked quietly, twisting her fingers together. “If you ask me to stay, I’m not going to be able to say no.”

Sam swayed backwards at her request. On the one hand, she’d handed him all the power over the relationship he very much did not want to be over. On the other, he’d had no idea until that very minute how powerless she felt, and that was nothing he ever wanted for her. He’d thought she was so strong to overcome what she had in life—and yet, in this moment, she didn’t feel she had the strength to simply tell him no. It stopped anything he might have said dead in his throat.

“Have you ever been unable to tell me no before?” he asked instead, feeling ice in his veins. “Have Ah pushed you to do anything that you didn’t…”

She shook her head firmly. “You never pressure me,” she said quietly. “That’s why I’m hoping that you’ll let me go.”

He blew out a breath and ran his fingers through his hair. He’d had no idea. He loved her so much, and he had no idea, and what did that make him? “Can Ah give you a kiss goodbye?” he asked quietly, regretting his missed chance to kiss her properly at the beginning of the night.

She twisted her fingers together again. “Better not.”

He nodded, accepting that. He wanted to say that he’d wait for her. That he’d prove he could handle a long-distance relationship. That they’d talk over the phone and stay friends and that she could come back someday and they’d pick up where they left off—but those were all things that would make him feel better, but not comfort her in the slightest right now. He looked around her bedroom and tried to think of something to say and there just wasn’t anything left to say.

“You probably want some time alone, now,” he said rhetorically as he pushed himself up to his feet, and was surprised that she actually nodded in response. “Right. Have a good flight to Muir, and take care of yourself, Dana, okay? Ah mean that.” He said it with as much heartfelt honesty as he could manage and got a dutiful nod from her. Then he took another breath and, with one last look around, left the room.

Once the door was shut behind him he sagged against the wall and tried to collect himself. He certainly didn’t feel like going back to the party, even though he owed at least a hello to the rest of X-Force, and probably should talk to his sister more. On the other side of the door he heard Dana starting to cry, which forced him into motion, jogging downstairs and out the front door before anyone could catch him.

Chapter Text

“Found you,” Paige said, ages later. “If you’re trying to give yourself pneumonia so she’ll have to stay—“

“Don’t, Paige,” he cut her off brusquely without looking over at her. “That’s not even close to being funny.”

“Who’s being funny? It’s gotta be near freezing out here and you don’t have a jacket.” Paige hopped up next to him on the fence. She was wearing a jacket. And a hat. And gloves. He wasn’t really sure if he didn’t feel the cold or the burn of it just matched his bleak mood.

There were two steaming mugs in her hands and she handed him one. His hands were cold enough that the warmth of the mug stung a bit before it felt good. He sniffed at it. Coffee.

“Sorry for wrecking the party,” he said.

She punched him in the arm. Hard. The coffee spilled over his hand a little, but didn’t land on his or Paige’s clothing, at least. “Ow! What the hell, Paige!?”

“You didn’t wreck the party. 90% of the people in there don’t know anything happened. Most of the people who saw it happen shrugged it off anyway. Dana’s upset. Tabby’s pissed. ‘Berto’s a little put out that he has to calm down Tabby instead of getting his party on. Bobby’s angry because apparently he had money on Remy and Rogue getting into relationship drama at the party, not you.” She shrugged. “Hank and Scott and some of the others might be a disappointed when they find out the team’s healer is moving to another team…” She sighed and took a sip from her own mug. “I know it feels like the end of the world to you, but for most everyone here it’s not even a ripple in the pond.”

“Thanks for the pep talk, Paige. Always nice to know Ah’m inconsequential.”

“Oh my God!” she exclaimed, exasperated, “Just because you’re the oldest doesn’t mean you know everything. Some of us have had our own relationship dramas. Relationship dramas with psis even.”

He glanced at her out of the corner of his eye and sipped at his coffee. “How’s Jono?”

She shrugged. “Who knows? I don’t even think he knows. We’re talking about the smoking ruins of your life, anyway, not mine.”

“Great. Thanks.” Sam shook his head. “You missed your calling as the world’s worst crisis hotline counselor, sis.”

“I’m perfectly nice to strangers. You’re family,” she scoffed.

“Lucky me.”

“You are lucky. You have me as a sister, and I am amazing. You’ve got a job you love, a job that’s really important and changing the world for the better. You’re living rent free in a mansion.”

Sam tipped his head forward in acknowledgement. When it was spelled out like that he did look pretty spoiled.

“She tell you she loves you?” Paige asked.

“Yeah. Did she tell you that?”

“No, it was just really, really obvious. So there’s another thing. Even though you totally screwed the pooch today, there’s still a girl who loves you. Inexplicably.”

“Love is not enough in our case,” Sam sighed, mood swinging low. Paige punched him again. “Ow!” He rubbed at his arm.

“Not enough for what? God, you’re picky!” Paige exclaimed, exasperated. “Somebody loves you. Somebody you love back! That’s it. That’s the achievement. The world’s greatest novels have ended on that revelation! People have lived their whole lives trying to find that and failing!”

Sam looked over at her, blinking.

“Plus, you’re probably going to live forever and she’s eighteen. Like, just chill. You’ve probably got another sixty years to completely screw this whole thing up irreparably.” She bumped her shoulder into his, and he couldn’t help it. He chuckled. He still felt terrible, nothing at all had changed, but he did have a little better grasp on perspective, scale, and scope.

“Thanks for the coffee,” he said, bumping her shoulder back. “Sorry about Jono.”

“Yeah, well, I have been an exceptional sister today, so you get to hear me bitch about him all next week in repayment. That’s the last time I buy a dress hoping a guy will notice, that’s for damn sure.”

“The cad! Ah thought you looked nice.”

“I did look nice!” she agreed firmly, and hopped down from the fence post. She reached up and tugged on his arm. “Now come on. This dress is nice, but really not appropriate for the weather, and you still owe me eggnog.”


 

Once Dana landed at Muir Island—once she slept off the jetlag, anyway—she kept herself busy by throwing herself into Moira’s research.

Having her empathy back was a godsend, but it only served as a stark reminder that Sam was nowhere near, and she missed him so much her heart ached with it, even though she was convinced she’d absolutely made the right choice. She could mope in her room—and she wanted to—or she could get to work, and she refused to have her first impression on her new team be ‘that girl who cries in her room all the time’. So, Moira’s research. Excalibur had also been doing a lot of the work chasing down Red Tail affiliated clinics in Europe, so she would be able to help with that as well. Marc might even be able to stop by sooner rather than later since his new job had him spending a lot of time in Europe. It was about as much as she could hope for, she thought.

Moira’s research was proving more difficult than she had imagined, however. “I don’t understand it,” she said, pouring herself a cup of coffee from the pot on the counter. “I thought the whole point of my empathy was as a diagnostic tool, and it’s telling me there is damage and disease, but my actual healing power is just coming up a blank.” She’d tried to heal Moira and then a variety of tissue samples that Moira had set up. Nothing. She’d almost panicked that she’d somehow lost her powers except she’d preemptively healed Kitty from a cold she’d picked up in Westchester on the first day back. “What do we know about Legacy? How is it different than, like, every other virus I’ve ever encountered?”

“Aside from myself, o’ course,” Moira started, pouring her own cup, “the virus seems ta attack the DNA, specifically attacking the x-gene. Makes powers go haywire.” 

Dana tapped her fingernails on the counter, thinking. “How do my powers work?” she mused aloud.

“What d’ya mean?” Moira asked sharply.

“I mean, is there a template my powers compare to? How do they know what to heal?”

“I thought you decided,” Moira said, looking concerned. “I thought you directed your powers.”

“Oh, yeah. But it’s a very general thing,” she explained. “I just sort of point the energy in the right direction and then it does its thing. You know, ‘heal the gunshot wound, leave the tattoo alone’. How the gunshot wound actually heals, I’ve got no clue, other than a vague idea I’m sort of supercharging the human immune system or repair response.”

“What did McCoy say about it?” Moira asked.

Dana shrugged. “I dunno. We never really tested it that way.”

“What!?” Moira threw her hands in the air in exasperation. “McCoy had you under observation for nearly a year and he ne’er actually—Och! I will give that blue neap a piece o’ my mind later.” She shook her head. “If your powers use DNA as a template, and the DNA is altered…” she started, and then turned on her heel to head for the door. “Have a good breakfast, lass, and meet me in the lab. I’m goin’ ta go calibrate the equipment.”

Dana blinked as Moira rushed out again, leaving her coffee untouched. She wasn’t entirely sure what had happened, but it seemed like some sort of progress, and she went about doing as Moira had asked, assembling something that resembled a decent breakfast and adding milk and sugar to her coffee mug. She was just sitting down to eat it when Kitty came in, through the wall (and Dana was still getting used to that, frankly), looking strangely sympathetic and carrying a small box.

“Oh good, I found you,” she said gently, and then a moment later, swooped over in a panic to swipe Dana’s coffee cup before she could have a sip.

“Hey!” Dana exclaimed, reaching after it. “Have you been talking to Hank? I’m allowed a cup of coffee every now and then.”

“Not this coffee,” Kitty said, pouring it down the sink. “This is not coffee. This is the unholy black brew that Moira makes and it’s about as palatable as motor oil.”

Dana pushed out of her chair. “It can’t be as bad as all that,” she said, exasperated, and went to pick up Moira’s untouched coffee cup to take a sip, and immediately gagged. “Oh my god.”

“I tried to warn you,” Kitty said.

“Maybe some sugar and milk…?” she suggested.

Kitty shook her head. “It’s unsalvageable. Trust me. There’s a coffee shop in town I can take you to, if you want something that won’t kill you.”

Dana poured Moira’s cup out and fought the impulse to wipe off her tongue with a paper towel. “Yeah. I’ll wait for the coffee shop, I think,” she said weakly and moved back over to the table to eat her breakfast. “Anything else on this plate I need to be warned about?”

Kitty tipped her head, considering. “Looks mostly safe. Just watch out for black pudding if you get breakfast in town. It’s not pudding.”

“Duly noted,” Dana said, suddenly a little anxious about the more unfamiliar ingredients of the Scottish pantry. “You were looking for me?” she prompted.

“Oh. Yeah. Sorry.” She handed over the small box she’d carried in with her. “There was a little care package in the post this morning from Westchester. I think everyone sent over your Christmas gifts, so you would have something to open here with us.” Dana had left so soon after the party that packing up such things hadn’t been the priority. “I thought you might want to open this one in private, maybe?”

Dana frowned, confused, and looked down at the little box in her hand and examined the tag. It was from Sam, and she exhaled a heavy breath, feeling her eyes suddenly sting. “Thanks,” she murmured.

“I’ll just leave you alone, then?” Kitty offered kindly.

“Yeah,” Dana replied automatically, not looking up from the box as Kitty left the room again. She steeled herself, just staring at it for long after Kitty was gone and then pulled the lid off.

Inside was a pendant. A silver disk on a thin chain. On one side, was the X in O logo of the X-Men. Flipping it over, a date had been engraved. She frowned at it, trying to figure out the significance. It wasn’t the date she’d come to the school, or the date Sam had kissed her under the maple trees, or the date she’d saved his life.

With a small smile, she realized it was the date that Scott had officially welcomed her to the team, the day she officially became an X-Man-- even though she’d essentially been demoted only a few days later. She ran her thumb over the raised X on the front, smiling softly even as tears threatened to fall. She remembered what he’d told her once. That once she was a member of the school, she’d always have a place there, no matter what. That she could always come home.

She swallowed and lifted her arms to fasten the clasp around her neck, and then tucked the disk behind the neckline of her shirt, to rest against her skin, before returning to her breakfast.

It settled over her heart.