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5316A Sacrifice of Flowers (1/1) Scott/Jean, Logan/Ororo, Professor Xavier [R] X1

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  • pphillips914
    Sep 12, 2003
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      This is the sequel to "Aftermath". It is
      the third and last story in what I'm
      calling the Reno Trilogy. In order, the
      three stories are "Lost Innocence",
      "Aftermath", and "A Sacrifice of Flowers"

      Title: A Sacrifice of Flowers

      Author: Pat Phillips

      Summary: The X-Men find themselves tracking
      down a dangerous mutant gang. This occurs against
      a backdrop of problems caused by an earlier,
      failed mission.

      Rating|warning & pairing|characters:
      Rated R.
      Scott/Jean, Logan/Ororo, Professor Xavier.

      Disclaimer:

      I do not own the characters of in this story.
      Instead, they are the property of Marvel Comics.

      As a firm believer in property rights, it's
      only reasonable that I specify that my use of
      these characters should in no way be interpreted
      as a threat to Marvel's ownership of them.

      All of my fan fiction, including this story,
      is a not-for-profit venture. After all, when
      you get down to it, who would pay for this stuff?

      Notes:

      Note that this story assumes that there was
      a significant period of time between the defeat of
      Magneto and the Brotherhood at the Statue of Liberty
      and Logan's leaving to investigate the Alkali Lake
      facility. During that time Jean, Scott, Ororo, and
      Logan conducted missions for the Professor. That
      may not be exactly canon, but it allows for some
      interesting stories.

      The story is rated "R" for violence and some
      ugly scenes, including a description of a pair
      of young rape victims.

      Thanks to everyone who had such nice things to say
      about the first two stories in the series.
      This story was primarily written because a young
      lady named "K Marie" suggested that closure was
      needed. That got me thinking, and the next thing
      you know a third story was in my head.

      A SACRIFICE OF FLOWERS

      Scott: Reno came close to destroying us.

      Jean, Ororo, and Logan were sent there to find a runaway mutant girl
      name Lisa. They didn't find her in time, and Lisa ended up dead in
      an alleyway, murdered by a pair of thugs.

      Jean had been telepathically tracking the girl. When Lisa was
      attacked, Jean stayed telepathically linked with her, doing what she
      could to make her last moments painless. Unfortunately, that meant
      Jean felt all of Lisa's experiences as she was beaten to death.

      That wasn't the end of it. Logan went hunting for the two
      murderers. Ororo, faced with a decision to try and stop Logan or to
      let him kill the murderers, opted to let Logan have his way.

      The day after Reno was as bad as any that the school had ever
      faced. Jean was bedridden and we weren't sure that she would
      recover, Ororo -- feeling that she had failed the Professor -- tried
      to turn in her resignation, and Logan was convinced more than ever
      that he was unsalvageable.

      And me? I was perfectly willing to leave the X-Men, if that was
      necessary to protect Jean's health and sanity.

      We came pretty close to falling apart. In the aftermath, all we
      could really do was hang on and take whatever came.

      It took Jean weeks to recover from the worst of her experiences. In
      some ways, I don't think she will ever completely recover.

      The Professor had some sort of talk with Logan. I know that sounds
      ridiculous -- kill two men and get a stern lecture? But Logan
      looked like hell afterwards. To this day, I have no idea what was
      said. But I know that a personal conversation with a telepath can
      be unnerving. Their ability to cut through layers of self-
      deception, rationalization, and ignorance and reveal unwanted truths
      can be very painful. That's true even when the telepath is trying
      to be gentle. And I don't think that the Professor was terribly
      gentle with Logan.

      Ororo and Logan forgave each other. They couldn't really forgive
      themselves, so they forgave each other instead. I don't know the
      details, and I never thought it was right to ask, but I felt that
      they had come to some sort of understanding.

      Meanwhile, the Professor was putting the team -- and the school --
      back together one piece at a time.

      Ororo, Logan, and I started doing missions again. We saved lives.
      We did good.

      Eventually, Jean rejoined us. She was hesitant and fragile at
      first. But Jean is a strong woman, and she steadily improved.

      But Lisa never quite went away.

      There's a girl here in the school named Marie. She has a strange
      power. If she touches anyone with her bare skin, she absorbs any
      mutant powers they might have -- and also their memories and
      personality. If she touches someone for too long, they die. Marie
      has bits and pieces of other people stuck in her head. There's some
      of the boy who was her first kiss. There's a lot of Logan. There's
      even a bit of Magneto. There are some others. And although those
      memories -- those other personas -- fade with time, they never quite
      go away.

      The team was going through something like that. In our case, we had
      all touched Lisa. Jean, Ororo, and Logan were particularly haunted
      by her ghost. The Professor and I did our best to help. But Lisa
      was always there.

      *****

      Logan: So Charlie tells us we have a problem with a mutant street
      gang. And I'm thinking, "Oh, for Pete's sake, what's next?"

      We were called into Charlie's office. When we got there, Charlie
      was waiting for us with one of the kids from the school.

      "We have a potentially serious problem here," began Charlie. "Some
      of you may not know Michael. He's from Denver. He has family and
      many friends there. He came to me earlier today with an alarming
      story."

      Charlie probably figured me as the "some of you" who didn't know
      Mike. That wasn't true. Mike's one of younger students at the
      school. He's maybe fourteen, tanned and dark-haired with brown eyes
      and a ready grin. His full name is Michael McWhirter.

      Mike is stronger than any five men put together and has reflexes
      that would put a wildcat to shame. He's also not the smartest kid
      in the world. In fact, he's borderline mentally retarded, according
      to Jean. About a year back, a pack of bullies made the mistake of
      picking Mike as a victim. By the time the fight was over, those who
      hadn't had the sense to run were in the hospital -- and one kid
      would never walk again. Mike arrived at the school several days
      afterwards, scared shitless and convinced that he was going to some
      sort of prison camp for bad kids.

      Turns out that the kid plays decent piano. Likes any style of
      music, too. He also has a bad crush on Kitty, who -- bless her
      heart -- treats him gently and respectfully.

      So Mike's strong, fast, maybe not as smart as most folks around him,
      mean as all hell in a fight, and has a crush on a girl he isn't ever
      going to have.

      Yeah. You could say I know Mike.

      Right now, surrounded by older people, he looked pretty skittish.

      "Take your time, Mike," said Scott quietly. "We're all on the same
      side here. And we need to hear what you have to say."

      Scott does good sometimes. I'm willing to admit that.

      The kid took a deep breath and began, "Last night, I got a phone
      call from my brother Andy. He's a mutant, too. But he didn't need
      as much help as me with his powers, so he stayed home with Mom and
      Dad."

      "Andy told me not to come home over break -- no matter what Mom and
      Dad said. He said that things are getting real strange back home.
      He told me there's some kinda gang in Denver. A mutant gang."

      "There's this guy called Justin who runs things. He wants Andy and
      anyone else who's a mutant to join. My brother says that they say a
      lot of scary things -- like they might hurt your family if you don't
      join the gang. And my brother says that the gang is doing some bad
      stuff. Real bad stuff. He's scared."

      Michael's voice broke towards the last. The room was still, with
      everyone paying absolute attention. The kid was obviously really
      worried about his brother.

      "That will be all, Michael. Thank you," said the Professor.

      Michael nodded jerkily and basically ran from the room.

      We went over the details with the Professor. The whole thing
      sounded strange, but Mike was a painfully honest kid.

      Then Charlie dropped the bomb. He had got hold of Mike's parents.
      They told him that Andy was missing.

      We were on our way to Denver within an hour.

      *****

      Jean: We went to the McWhirter's first. Michael's folks are about
      as ordinary as you can imagine. He runs a plumbing company. She's
      a housewife. They have two boys and one girl. The boys are
      mutants, the girl is not. Andy was in the local high-school. He
      kept quiet about his ability to see perfectly in the dark and
      blended in with the rest of the kids. Michael, of course, was in
      school with us. The girl was going to start junior high in a year.

      Mr. and Mrs. McWhirter were frantic. Andy had been missing for
      fourteen hours by the time we talked to them.

      "Ma'am, have you ever heard of somebody named Justin? Andy may know
      him," I asked Mrs. McWhirter.

      She looked at me, terribly worried, holding her crying girl, "Yes.
      Andy doesn't like him."

      *****

      Scott: We used our link to the computer system back at the school
      to finally get a handle on Justin. Public records told us that he
      was Justin David Waites. He was seventeen years old and had no
      criminal record. He was not a known mutant. He got average
      grades. He was of average height and weight and had no history of
      medical or psychological problems. His family lived in a quiet
      suburb of Denver.

      We downloaded a student ID photograph. He was a round-faced kid
      with short black hair, brown eyes, a pair of glasses, and a slightly
      soft appearance. Not what you would think of when you visualized
      the leader of a mutant gang.

      His background was so bland and ordinary, that I began having some
      serious doubts as to whether he was really a part of whatever was
      happening.

      Then Ororo noticed something odd. Back in grade school, Justin had
      tested out as having a genius-level IQ. Then that somehow simply
      vanished when he go out of grade school. From then on, he scored
      average in everything he did.

      Perfectly average. In fact, exactly average.

      Then we did some cross-checking and came up with something
      alarming. Starting two years ago, the number of missing persons
      cases in Justin's part of the metropolitan area had radically
      increased. Oddly, there was no change in the number of missing
      person cases actually resolved. People were simply vanishing and
      never being found.

      It was enough to catch the attention of both the police and the
      FBI. They were both worried that a serial killer was loose in the
      area.

      *****

      Ororo: When Jean and Logan work together, pooling her telepathy and
      his enhanced senses, investigations can proceed with remarkable
      speed. Logan followed Andy's trail to a local gas station. There
      Jean found a clerk who remembered the McWhirter boy getting into a
      car with three other boys. That memory had stuck in the clerk's
      mind because Andy didn't look particularly happy about the
      experience.

      We followed, using a mixture of scent, telepathy, and old-fashioned
      questions. The trail took us into the mountains west of Denver.

      *****

      Logan: We got pretty deep into the mountains, into old gold-mining
      country. A road sign said we were near a town called Victor.

      There was an unmistakable scent. I jumped into an old prospecting
      pit that was located just off the road. Some waste rock had been
      kicked over the body to cover it. I shifted enough rock to make
      sure. His neck was broken like a toothpick.

      "Hey, Scott!" I called.

      "Yeah?" he yelled from the car.

      "I've found Andy."

      I'm getting so damn tired of looking at dead kids.

      *****

      Scott: Logan showed me the body.

      I called the Professor on our radio, "Sir, this is Scott. We're
      still following the trail. I thought I better let you know that
      we've found Andy McWhirter. He's dead. He was murdered."

      The Professor was quiet for so long that I wondered if we might have
      lost the connection.

      "What is your plan, Scott?" he finally answered. The Professor
      never interferes with field operations unless I ask his advice.

      "We'll track down the killers," I said. "I'm worried that they
      might be too much for the police. I figure that we'll settle this,
      then drop the whole thing into the lap of the Colorado State Patrol."

      "I agree. But be careful, we don't know how powerful these people
      are."

      "Yes, sir. What about Andy's family?"

      "We can't tell them yet. The McWhirter's will have to wait until
      you have captured the guilty parties and gone to the authorities."

      Another long pause, then he said, "I'll tell Michael."

      *****

      Ororo: Logan and Scott examined the body of Andy McWhirter. Jean
      stared down the road, lost in her strange world of telepathic
      whispers and shadows.

      Part of the friendship between Jean and I is born of the fact we
      both see a world quite different than that of other people. We know
      that the commonplace world is simply part of something more subtle,
      beautiful, and terrible.

      I gazed into a glorious blue sky, flecked with sparse white clouds.
      Like all mountains, this was a place of sudden storms. I gathered
      the sky around me like a cloak, and held the sun in my right hand.
      The wind rattled the leaves of the surrounding trees as it
      surrendered to me. I cupped it in my left hand. They all abased
      themselves before me and prayed for my mercy, for I am their
      mistress and their goddess.

      I am tired of finding the bodies of innocent children.

      *****

      Logan: Just a whisper of sound, but I knew what it was. It was
      Jean. She was still sitting in the car, really deep into her
      telepathy thing. But something was wrong.

      "Scott."

      He looked at me, alarmed by the tone of voice, "What?"

      "You need to go talk to Jean."

      *****

      Scott: I found Jean sitting in the car. She was silent, but with
      two trails of tears working their way down her cheeks.

      Behind us, standing at the side of road, Ororo was staring
      heavenward. She does that for hours on end sometimes. Logan was
      having one of his rare tact attacks and was staying near Andy's body.

      I sat next to Jean and gently wiped the tears away.

      "Jean. What's wrong?" I asked quietly.

      She told me.

      For the first time ever, I considered lying to my teammates.

      *****

      Jean: Before us was laughter and music, sobs and curses, screams
      and blows, heat and thrusting, the taste of alcohol and blood and
      salty tears.

      One of the girls was begging for them to stop. More laughter.

      The silent echoes rolled downhill towards me. There was no stopping
      them.

      And our ghost was with us.

      Ororo gathered her lightning -- not quite knowing why.

      Logan stirred uneasily, worried about me, sniffing at a stray wind
      that bothered him.

      I would not get out of the car to look at Andy McWhirter's body. I
      had seen enough dead children.

      *****

      Scott: I braced myself and turned to face my friends.

      "We've got a problem," I told them.

      Logan and Ororo looked at me. Jean was still back in the car. But
      she could hear us.

      "There's five of them, holed up in a some sort of old mining complex
      about a kilometer up the hill. But they've got two prisoners."

      Logan nodded. Ororo was silent, waiting for more.

      I hesitated, looking at Logan. What's the story Logan? What is
      buried within you that drives you to pour so much of yourself into
      those who can't defend themselves? A dead lover or child? A need
      to atone for the past? Or just the fact that you know what it's
      like to be utterly helpless and praying for the pain to stop?

      Given your splintered memory, do you even know?

      His eyes narrowed as he caught my look, "What's else, Scott?"

      I locked eyes with him, "The prisoners are two girls."

      He nodded again, knowing that there was more, and examining my face
      closely.

      "The gang is having an initiation."

      His expression didn't change, but something froze inside Logan. He
      knew.

      "I do not understand," said Ororo in a puzzled tone.

      "If you want to get into the gang, you have to prove you're serious
      about it," Logan said in an utterly calm and reasonable tone that
      was worse than rage.

      "You become a gang member by raping one of the girls," I finished.

      I was mostly worried about Logan, but I didn't like the look that
      crossed Ororo's face either.

      *****

      Ororo: We left the car and begin making our way through the woods.
      There was a road going to the mine, but we were hoping to surprise
      our opponents.

      We moved uphill in a diamond formation. Logan in front, Scott to
      the right, and myself to the left. Jean was what Logan calls "tail-
      end Charlie". Since Logan has taken to instructing us, our
      woodcraft was become quite good. We made very little noise and
      moved quickly.

      I shifted the wind slightly, so that it was blowing directly towards
      us. That would help Logan's enhanced sense of smell. It would also
      help conceal us, if any of our opponents had enhanced senses as well.

      This whole region was mined and prospected during a gold-boom that
      was now over a hundred years gone. Everything from grave-sized pits
      to deep open shafts dotted the landscape. Abandoned and half-
      collapsed mining buildings were common. Huge piles of waste rock
      formed artificial hills among the real ones. All of that was
      partially hidden by a dense pine forest.

      It was a strange and disturbing landscape. This struck me as a
      place where almost anything could be hidden.

      Logan was in his element. More than ever, her reminded me of one of
      the great cats of my homeland. When hunting, they are powerful,
      graceful, focused.

      And merciless.

      *****

      Logan: I figured it out. Andy was playing for time. He figured
      that he would join the gang and try to stay in the background. He
      would try to avoid doing anything too bad while keeping his family
      safe.

      Then he found out about the initiation. And he said no.

      Andrew James McWhirter, Jr. was all of sixteen years old when he
      died. But we would be able to tell Mike that he died a man.

      *****

      Scott: Jean was worried that Justin had some kind of mesmeric
      power. Maybe. Maybe not. We sometimes forget that there have been
      a lot of people like Justin throughout history -- with no mutant
      powers being required. The trick seems to be to tell people things
      that they want to hear, then hook them by providing them with
      something that they need or want, and then finally reel them in by
      divorcing them from the rest of society.

      Justin was telling a certain kind of mutant that normal people were
      inferior trash. Then he told them that human women were nothing
      more than expendable toys -- something that the master race could
      use to amuse themselves with until they finally broke. That was
      what his audience wanted to hear.

      Then there's the 'initiation', which was brilliant in a sick sort of
      way. If you did the initiation, you get sex, power over others, and
      membership in a group. That feeds a number of powerful drives.

      But once you've done the initiation. Once you've committed rape and
      eventually murder, then there's no turning back. You've broken some
      of the most fundamental rules of society. And that becomes
      something shared between you and the others in the gang. You're all
      guilty together and from then on you have to depend on one another
      to survive.

      If you do the initiation, then you're part of the group -- which
      really meant that Justin owned you body and soul. There's nowhere
      else to go after that. And the funny thing is that in the end you
      might not mind that fact.

      On the other hand, I suspected that Justin would turn out to be
      either a telepath or have one working for him. This had gotten too
      ugly too fast. Justin had put together a core group of the most
      alienated and sociopathic mutants that he could find. He would have
      needed a telepath to find who he needed.

      Then Justin started expanding. Andy was an example of phase two.
      Justin no longer had a willing pool of recruits and he was now
      forcing the partly-willing and just plain unwilling to join his
      gang. Or more accurately put, his cult.

      Andy died because he wouldn't go down that path. Not even to save
      his own life.

      *****

      Jean: It became worse as we got closer. I wanted to help the two
      girls. But I couldn't. There was a telepath with them, and he
      would detect me if I was too obvious.

      The telepath was riding the minds of the two girls. Enjoying their
      terror, pain, and shame as the other boys...

      I flinched away. We had to stop this. We had to stop this now.

      From the tree line, we could see the mine. A half-dozen dilapidated
      buildings were scattered about the crest of the hill. Broken rock
      was everywhere, making the footing treacherous. A car and a pickup
      truck were parked near one of the larger buildings. The doors to
      the truck were open, and loud music poured from it's stereo system.
      Two young men stood near the vehicles, drinking beer and talking
      among themselves.

      Scott looked at me.

      "The other three boys, and the two girls, are inside the building.
      One of the boys inside is a telepath. He's powerful but untrained.
      So far, I'm having no problem shielding us from him," I reported.

      He nodded, "OK. Logan and Jean will come in from behind the
      building. They'll find a means of quick access that's as close to
      the girls as possible. When they give the word that they're in
      position, then Ororo and I will take out the two guys in front while
      Jean locks down the telepath. Logan, you're security for Jean and
      backup in case anything goes wrong. Once the two guys out front are
      gone, we'll hook back together and Ororo, Logan, and I will go
      inside."

      We've practiced together so often that Scott's spare words formed a
      full plan.

      Ororo closed her eyes and breathed deeply. Clouds began to slowly
      expand and darken. By the time Logan and I were in position, she
      would be more than ready.

      Logan begin picking his way along the tree-covered slope, almost
      totally silent. I followed as best I could.

      *****

      Logan: We got around the back of what I figured was the old mine
      office. It was the biggest building in the complex, but that really
      didn't amount to much. It was an old wooden shack that had maybe a
      couple of rooms inside. The roof was still intact, which made it a
      likely place for the local kids to sneak into and have a party. Or
      a gang-rape.

      How many times had this happened? I had the bad feeling that when
      this was over, and we started looking around, we'd find more graves.

      Thanks to the two idiots out front who were blaring music, no real
      stealth was required to get into position. Hell, Jean and I could
      have driven a tank up to the building and I don't think they would
      have heard.

      The others were watching me close. They were wondering if I was
      going to kill some or all of these bozos. I knew Scott would do
      whatever it took to stop me if I went berserk. 'Ro would too --
      although she'd be less inclined to cut me down. But I wasn't sure
      about Jean. Something inside of her hardened after she felt what
      happened to Lisa back in Reno.

      I filtered out the loud music and listened in on what was happening
      in the building. For the first time, I could hear what they were
      doing to the girls.

      The others were wondering if I would flip out and start killing
      people. As my heart started pounding and that metal taste crept
      into my mount, I began wondering that myself.

      Jean and I got into position.

      She looked at me. I nodded. She sent Scott the word.

      *****

      Ororo: I sent my greetings.

      The lightning bolt -- nowhere near as powerful as I would have liked
      to make it -- struck the hood of the pickup truck. Both of the
      creatures standing next to the truck were blown off their feet and
      flung away.

      Scott and I began running across the rock-strewn open ground between
      us and the main building.

      The larger of the two got to his feet. He was changing, scales
      appearing on his skin. His eyes becoming dark and alien.

      The other wasn't moving.

      Scott fired a blast into the chest of the standing creature. It
      staggered him backwards and spun him around, but didn't knock him
      down.

      *****

      Jean: The concussion from Ororo's lightning bolt made me stagger.
      But I quickly recovered and struck deep into the mind of the
      telepath. I would have to keep him busy.

      Logan edged around the corner of the building, keeping an eye on
      what was happening out front. I heard one of Scott's optic blasts.

      The telepath was Justin. He was very strong -- stronger than me.
      But I had been trained by the best in the world. I also had the
      advantage of surprise. Justin went completely onto the defensive,
      trying to establish his shields. I began knocking the shields down
      almost as fast as he could bring them up, but Justin was regaining
      his equilibrium with impressive speed.

      The other boys were shocked, not knowing what was happening. Their
      first instincts were to struggle into their pants. As they did so,
      they yelled questions to each other and Justin that had no answers.
      The two girls huddled together and cowered away from Justin and his
      boys.

      There was a howl of wind and a tremendous crash from out front.

      Justin finally stabilized his defenses and lashed out at me.

      *****

      Scott: The lizard-kid picked up what was left of the pickup,
      apparently planning on throwing it at us. Ororo sent a focused
      hurricane wind, laden with dust and rocks at him. It knocked him
      down and the truck landed on top of him.

      Then Ororo lightning-bolted the truck. Three times. Panels were
      blown from the truck as the gas tank exploded. I immediately took
      cover, but it wasn't necessary. A wall of wind kept the flying
      glass and metal away from us.

      Above us, the sky was now completely overcast, and transiting in
      color from dark gray to black.

      I had spent a lot of time worrying about what Logan might do when
      the fight started. Maybe I should have been thinking a little more
      about Ororo.

      Then the lizard-kid clawed his way out from under the remains of the
      truck. He was covered with burning gasoline and spotted with molten
      metal.

      He ignored all that, roared, and charged us.

      *****

      Logan: Thanks to dinosaur-boy, Scott's plan had officially hit the
      crapper. It was taking too long for us to get back together, the
      girls were in danger, and it was time to improvise. I didn't bother
      with the door. Instead, I popped my claws and slashed my way into
      the building through a wall.

      I took in the interior with a glance. Justin was standing against
      the far wall with his eyes closed and making strange, graceful,
      gestures with his hands. Two more guys were wearing nothing but
      pants. One of them looked confused and shocked, but the other had a
      knife in his hand and seemed a little more motivated. Out of the
      corner of my eye, I also caught a flash of bare skin in a dark
      corner of the room.

      The punk with the knife was moving quickly, very quickly, towards
      the two girls. They had seen him coming and were scrambling for
      cover under a nearby table. The kid with the knife was probably
      figuring that it was time to dispose of the witnesses. Then they'd
      be able to run.

      My plan had been to take out the telepath, take the pressure off
      Jean, and then she and I would clean up. Scott and I now had
      something new in common, both of our plans had gone to hell.

      There was no time to waste. I went after the kid with the knife.
      He pivoted with inhuman speed. The kid was faster than me. Way
      faster.

      *****

      Jean: Justin and I were momentarily deadlocked. I was better. He
      was stronger. Over the long run, in a purely telepathic clash, he
      would simply overpower me. But that would take a long time.

      So I cheated. I let my outer defenses falter, freeing up energy to
      do other things. Justin clumsily lunged forward -- sensing
      victory. Then I telekinetically picked up a six-pack of beer that
      was sitting on a rickety table next to him and slammed it directly
      into Justin's forehead.

      And then I did it again.

      And again.

      And again.

      And again.

      *****

      Ororo: The lizard-creature charged. Scott cut his legs out from
      under him with another optic blast. The creature's momentum carried
      him towards in a ragged tumble. He lay there, stunned for a split
      second. Then he began scrabbling to his feet.

      Enough.

      I gave my orders. The storm obeyed. And the lightning began to
      fall.

      ****

      Scott: One good thing about this visor, it keeps me from being
      flash-blinded when Ororo cuts loose. Of course, I had probably
      suffered at least some hearing damage.

      The lizard-kid wasn't moving anymore, but he was breathing. The
      scales began vanishing from his body, and I found myself looking at
      a badly burned teenage boy. He was maybe sixteen or seventeen. I
      suppose I should have felt some pity.

      Above us, the sky muttered, thundered, and rolled like a black sea.
      Heavy rains were falling all around us, but not here. It's hard to
      explain how it looked and felt. It was like the storm was obeying
      Ororo while simultaneously cringing away from her.

      That was the angry version of Ororo. It was pretty impressive in a
      terrifying sort of way.

      Ororo and I moved forward.

      ****

      Logan: I was bleeding from a couple of cuts. The kid with the
      knife wasn't really very good at knife fighting, but his sheer speed
      was making it possible for him to get inside on me. The other kid
      was now starting to play as well -- he threw a energy bolt of some
      kind that just missed my head and blew a basketball-sized hole in
      the wall.

      Fortunately, the kid with the knife thought he was a martial
      artist. Which meant he spent a lot of time trying to look cool
      instead of concentrating on the fight. I lunged, changed
      directions, and faded back. The kid did as I expected, moving in
      towards me and striking a movie pose just outside of claw range.
      Then I whipped around in a low spinning kick that knocked him off
      his feet. He lost a precious split second trying to get up when he
      should have rolled away.

      That was all I needed. I knocked away the knife, broke one of his
      arms, and put him in need of some serious dental work. He was out
      of the fight.

      Looking around I noticed to my surprise that Justin was down. It
      looked like somebody had bashed him pretty good with a six-pack.

      The kid who could throw energy bolts decided that enough was enough
      and tried to run out the back door. Unfortunately for him, Jean was
      waiting.

      I started forward to help. Then it became obvious that she didn't
      need me.

      *****

      Jean: The boy came barreling out the door, obviously terrified. I
      tripped him. He fell straight forward, skidding on this face. Then
      he tried to roll onto his back and focus his energy powers.

      I kicked him in the face. His nose broke and his face was suddenly
      covered in scarlet. He shrieked and put his hands over his face for
      protection.

      I stomped on his groin. He didn't scream because he was too busy
      vomiting.

      Rolling in his own blood and vomit, the boy curled into a ball. Of
      course, I know exactly where the kidneys are most exposed. Trust me
      on that. I'm a doctor.

      *****

      Scott: While Ororo kept an eye on the kids outside, I ran into the
      building. One guy was down and out -- he appeared to be trying to
      wear the remains of a dented and ruptured six-pack as a hat.
      Another kid was only wearing a pair of pants and was rolling on the
      floor, spitting out blood and tooth fragments and holding what
      looked like a broken arm.

      I could see the bare foot and calf of a girl sticking out from under
      a table.

      Logan was carefully approaching the table in a crouch, claws
      retracted, keeping his hands open and visible, and whispering
      reassurances.

      Jean was out back. I could hear her cursing and someone else
      screaming.

      Deciding that things were under control inside, I ran out the back
      door to see what was wrong.

      Jean was hissing curses as she circled a prone, screaming boy. He
      was lying in a puddle of his own fluids and frantically trying to
      curl up defensively while writhing away from Jean. But Jean
      wouldn't let him escape. Every now and then she would find a weak
      point and launch a flurry of vicious kicks.

      From behind, I grabbed Jean's arms and gently pulled her away.

      Jean knew it was me, but she still jerked forward, straining against
      me, her eyes locked on her target, her whole body trembling,
      predatory, and eager.

      I now understood why Logan thought there was a chance he could take
      her from me. He had seen -- or sensed -- something in Jean that I
      had missed. All these years together and I somehow never knew about
      this part of her.

      Then Jean suddenly relaxed. In fact, for a second I thought she
      might collapse. Once I was sure she was OK, I released her. She
      turned towards me and her face crumbled. Then Jean was nestled in
      my arms, holding me tight and trembling.

      *****

      Logan: I tried to talk to the girls under the table while keeping
      my distance. They'd be skittish around any kind of man for a long
      time to come, but I wanted them to know that it was over and they
      were safe. In a little while, Jean or Ororo would come in, get them
      dressed, and find out who they were and where their home was.

      I finally got close enough to get a good look at them.

      "Please. No. Please," said the one who looked a little older. She
      was holding the younger girl very close. She didn't really know
      what she was saying. She'd just said the words so many times that
      they rolled out automatically now.

      The younger girl stared at nothing, her eye's never blinking. The
      girls looked a lot alike, I figured them for sisters.

      The "older" one was maybe thirteen years old.

      And things began to splinter around me.

      ...split lips and a black eye on the older girl...

      ...black bruises against pale skin...

      ...a splash of semen on the cheek of the younger girl...

      ...Andy murdered and thrown into a hole like a dog...

      ...Mike and his folks, waiting for news...

      ...and the younger girl had green eyes...

      ...green eyes...

      ...like Marie...

      There's an old saying about "everything going red" when you get
      angry. It's never worked that way with me. With me, everything
      goes gray. Literally. I no longer see colors.

      A lot of animals can't see colors.

      I realized what was happening to me when that girl's eyes changed
      from green to gray.

      Then I felt myself get to my feet.

      There was a clatter behind me, Justin was half-crawling, half-
      stumbling out the front door.

      And now I was off to one side, watching myself watch Justin.

      Please.

      No.

      Please.

      But the words were just stuck and they didn't mean anything any more.

      ****

      Ororo: the lizard-creature was clearly unconscious and would be for
      sometime. A medical evacuation helicopter would eventually be
      needed. I suspected that I would be receiving a lecture from Scott
      about acceptable levels of force in a day or so.

      Another one of those disgusting creatures shambled out of the main
      building, his face a blood-stained mass of bruises. He promptly
      fell down the front steps. After a second, unable to get to his
      feet, he began slowly, painfully, crawling away.

      He managed about ten meters before finally collapsing completely.

      Logan came out of the building. He stood on the building porch for
      a second, watching the collapsed figure on the ground. And then
      there was the ugly sound of his claws coming out.

      My heart sank. Logan began descending the steps. His normal wiry
      grace was gone and he took the steps like a machine.

      I walked towards the two slowly. It would be very unwise to move
      too quickly. In fact, it was probably unwise to be within a hundred
      meters of Logan. But I had failed Logan once before. For a while I
      had hated him for my failure. But Logan never thought run from his
      mistakes by hating me. In fact, he came to me and asked for my
      forgiveness.

      And my help. He asked for my help. He begged for my help.

      He prayed for my help.

      Logan now stood frozen over the boy. There was no expression on his
      face. But something seemed to glitter behind his eyes that made it
      difficult to look at him. A slight shudder ran through Logan's
      frame. He was struggling. He was trying so hard. But he couldn't
      stop staring at the boy.

      The boy sensed that a particularly brutal death stood a step away.
      He began sobbing and begging for mercy.

      Logan might not hear me if I tried to reason with him. And I would
      not attack him. Something else was required.

      Still moving slowly and carefully, I knelt beside the sobbing boy.
      Then, although the thought of actually touching him disgusted me, I
      lay down and covered his body with my own. I carefully held him
      down and restrained him with my arms and legs, locking us together.

      "You're going to have to kill us both, Logan," I said as firmly as I
      could manage. Then I closed my eyes and waited.

      *****

      Logan: Until 'Ro curled up on top of Justin, the biggest question
      was just how slow I was going to make him die. I know some tricks
      along those lines.

      Until 'Ro showed up, the world consisted of Justin and me. And very
      soon it was just going to be me.

      'Ro risked everything and expanded my world. And I started thinking
      again.

      I thought about Marie, the only person on this entire planet who
      didn't wonder if I was beyond hope. I had promised to protect her.
      No way was I going to fail her.

      I thought about Jean, who had just found something ugly inside of
      herself. She would need a hand with that.

      Then there's Scott. Who's smarter than he looks, and is learning
      fast, but he needs my help in the more practical aspects of applied
      mayhem and dirty tricks.

      And Charlie. Someone had to provide the mailed fist to match his
      velvet glove, or this school thing was going to fall flat on it's
      ass.

      'Ro. I couldn't disappoint her after what she just had done for
      me. I couldn't even bear the thought.

      Mike. He had to be told about his brother. And he had to be told
      by someone who understood.

      And then there was the rest of the runts, squirts, and rug-rats at
      the school. Someone had to get between them and dirt-bags like
      Magneto and Justin and those other dick-heads out there. Scott,
      Jean, and 'Ro were a damn good start at that. But they needed me.
      And...

      And I needed them.

      I couldn't do all that with a murder on my hands.

      *****

      Ororo: I heard Logan take a deep breath. He shifted uneasily, his
      boots stirring broken rock. Then I heard another deep breath.

      Then there was a brief bark of laughter that sounded a bit like a
      croak. And suddenly Logan was helping me to my feet. He held me
      for a moment, the oddest half-smile on his face. One hand was on
      the back of my neck, fingers intertwined with my hair. The other
      holding one of my shoulders in a strong grip. Finally, he tilted my
      head forward and I felt his breath stir my hair just before his
      kissed the top of my head.

      I realized that my arms were clasped around his body. We stood
      together like that for a long moment. Logan's face in my hair and
      my forehead resting against his chest.

      Then he said, "'Ro, when's the last time anyone told you that you
      have a lot of balls?"

      I couldn't help but chuckle, "I don't believe anyone has ever said
      that to me."

      "Thank you, 'Ro. You answered my prayers."

      "This makes you one of my worshippers, you know," I said. "But I
      will only demand a sacrifice of flowers."

      Another laugh. This one much more normal than the previous. He
      kissed my hair again. Then Logan released me -- and I released him -
      - and he walked away without a word, headed back into the building.

      The wretch on the ground was still sniveling. He raised his head to
      say something and I realized that he was Justin. Filled with
      revulsion at the thought that he might thank me, I broke his jaw
      with a cross-body kick.

      Yes. I would be in trouble with both Scott and the Professor.

      *****

      Jean: Eventually, I got ahold of myself. As I took care of the two
      girls, Scott called the State Patrol. Logan stuck his head inside
      the door, saw that everything was OK, and dragged the injured boys
      out front. He and Ororo would keep them together and under control.

      God help them if they tried anything while those two were on watch.

      "How's it going with the prisoners?" I asked him as he carried out
      the moaning boy that I'd come close to kicking to death.

      He shrugged. "Well, much to my surprise, they're all alive."

      "Do any of them need me?"

      "C'mon, Jean. Thanks to us, they're all looking at serious hospital
      time."

      "Well, yes. But what I mean is, do any of them need immediate care?"

      "There's this guy with a lot of burns. 'Ro fried him pretty good."

      "I'll be out in just a second."

      *****

      Scott: The State Patrol took charge while the Professor and some
      high-priced lawyers made sure that the State of Colorado understood
      just who was doing what on top of that hill. There were some tense
      moments, but we finally walked free.

      The last we saw of the two girls, they were being loaded into an
      ambulance. The Professor kept track of them. He and Jean offered
      to help, but the family wasn't terribly interested in having
      anything to do with mutants. I can't say that I blame them. We
      pulled some strings behind the scenes and made sure that some bills
      were anonymously paid and that the people helping the girls had,
      shall we say, special skills.

      FBI dog teams roamed the hills around the mine for a week. They
      pulled out more bodies. A lot more bodies.

      The lizard-kid was an obvious problem. He broke loose during his
      trial. An Army unit tracked him down and killed him.

      The rest of them were tried as adults and went to a special Federal
      jail that had the facilities to handle them. The youngest of them
      was fifteen years old. He got the lightest sentence. He would get
      out sometime in the second half of this century.

      Justin got the death penalty. It's still in the courts.

      *****

      Logan: She wanted a sacrifice of flowers. So I make damn sure
      that 'Ro gets her roses every week.

      Except in the summer. Then I pick wildflowers. You won't believe
      the crap I catch from everyone about that.

      But I pay my debts.

      *****

      Scott: It settled nothing, but it settled enough.

      Lisa is still with us. Sometimes at night, Jean shudders and
      whimpers and shelters against me. That's Lisa.

      But much of the pain has been worn away. Something that had to
      happen in order for Jean to get on with her life was settled in
      Colorado. I don't know if it was saving those girls' lives or
      kicking the crap out of the guy who made the mistake of falling into
      her clutches. Maybe it was both. But whatever it was, she sleeps
      much better at night, and I hear the sound of her laughter almost as
      often as before.

      Logan is still Logan. Violent, brooding, difficult, and haunted.
      Oh, and did I mention his big mouth? But when we're on missions,
      his claws don't come out quite as quickly as before. And he doesn't
      push people away as abruptly as he once did.

      For Logan, nothing was solved or cured. But a big step forward had
      been taken.

      At first, it seemed that Ororo was the one who was the least
      effected by what happened in Colorado. Then a few days afterwards,
      when both the Professor and I started nagging her about
      the "Hurricane Ororo" display up at the mine, she told us to -- and
      I quote -- "Fuck off." The Professor smiled while I looked at her
      in shock. But when you get down to it, that was the start of
      something that was a definite improvement. Ever since then, instead
      of dutifully following the "Xavier party line", she's thinking more
      for herself, asking questions that need to be asked, and leading.

      And contrary to what you might think, the Professor is delighted
      about that part. There's going to be a second school someday. The
      Professor has always wanted Ororo to run it. And he wants someone
      running that school who is willing to try new ideas.

      *****

      Jean: Logan still chases me around while simultaneously fending off
      Marie. Meanwhile, he shamelessly exercises his amazing ability for
      one-night stands. That hasn't changed.

      Ororo still lives her life of magnificent, chaste, isolation. She
      says she is far too busy to waste her time with a man. In fact, she
      enjoys giving the impression that she thinks she is far too good for
      any man. That hasn't changed either.

      Outside of a mission, those two almost never talk. You seldom see
      them in the same room at the same time. If something forces them
      together, then their contact is brief -- and yet very warm. It is a
      thing of easy smiles, casual touches, and kind banter.

      And there is that delight in Ororo's face every week as she accepts
      Logan's sacrifice of flowers. I thought that it was a joke or a
      romantic gesture at first. But then I realized that it's actually a
      bargain -- a promise from Logan to Ororo, and vice versa. When
      needed again, she will be there to help him. And he honors that
      fact and thanks her.

      It will probably take years for those two to admit their feelings.
      That's a shame. All we ever really possess are the few years that
      make up our brief lives -- that's the final lesson I learned from
      Lisa. And those two beloved idiot friends of mine are losing some
      of the precious time that they should have together.

      But I know that the day will finally come.

      *****

      Ororo: I do not understand how, but I understand why. There was a
      trade. A bit of Logan's wildness entered Jean and I, because we
      would not be complete without it. Some of the gentleness in Jean
      and I entered Logan, soothing his anger and pain. He would not be
      complete without that part of us.

      Mysticism? Perhaps. But remember this -- I am a goddess. I would
      know.