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FIC: Nine Lives (1/1) PG-13

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  • Diana
    TITLE: Nine Lives AUTHOR: Diana EMAIL: dee@viscerate.com RATING: PG-13 for language and concepts, including violence. SUMMARY: Love, loss, memories and
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 19, 2001
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      TITLE: Nine Lives
      AUTHOR: Diana
      EMAIL: dee@...
      RATING: PG-13 for language and concepts, including violence.
      SUMMARY: Love, loss, memories and moonlight to round out the series.
      During a mission, Scott's world comes crashing down.
      SERIES: The last part in the Loss of Composure series.
      DISCLAIMER: No ownership. No money. No nothing.
      NOTES: This is a style that I've wanted to try for a long time now. I'm not
      entirely sure I did it justice, because by the end I just wanted it
      /finished/, forget being good, or even passable. *sigh* (Italics are used
      in this piece for various reasons. Since I don't do HTML email, I can't put
      them in here; they're indicated by /. The HTMLised story is available at
      DEDICATION: Definitely for Meghan, for helping me get it written. Nothing
      but the real thing, baby. ;-)

      WORDCOUNT: 5900


      Scott had a dream, a wish, a prayer. That was all he had, but it was
      enough. It had to be enough.

      /She slid onto the bike behind him, fingers gripping his shoulders through
      the old leather of his jacket. It was as smooth, as pliant, as silk from
      age and wear. This jacket had seen his life with him. Hands smoothed down
      his arms, and then the weight of her head against his shoulder as her arms
      snaked around his waist. Her hair tickled the back of his neck, and he
      rested one hand on hers, lacing fingers.

      /"Take me away," Ororo whispered against aged leather.

      /He smiled as he untangled his fingers. The bike started with a liquid
      snarl. "Your wish is my command."/

      * * * * *

      "Is that so?" Amusement evident even through the sleepiness in Ororo's

      Scott turned off the light and slipped under the covers, sliding across to
      spoon against her back. He lowered his head to press a kiss to her
      shoulder, just beside the strap of her nightgown. "It is," he confirmed.
      "As long as the wish is something as close to my heart as coming to bed with
      such a beautiful woman." Another kiss, his hand dipping down into the
      hollow of her waist, brushing up to the peak of her hip. "So before you
      even think to ask, no, I will not grade your senior theory exams. I've had
      enough of that bunch in my own classes."

      She laughed, snuggling backwards against him. "Sure there is nothing I can
      do to change your mind?" Steadily sounding less sleepy by the minute.

      A trail of kisses up her neck and he grinned into her hair. "Why, Ms
      Munroe, I thought you were tired."

      In answer, she merely turned, her lips finding his in the darkness.

      Of course, the Professor always had the world's worst timing when it came to
      interruptions. Then again, things happened when they happened, with very
      little regard for how tired, or otherwise occupied, the X-Men were. Which
      is how they came to be standing in the Professor's office two minutes later,
      learning that Magneto had... well, he hadn't escaped, technically. He
      hadn't left the facility he'd been held in. He'd just taken it over, with
      the help of his Brotherhood, taking the staff of 57, including a good score
      of various law-enforcement officers, hostage.

      "Are we waitin' for a signed invitation?" Logan - fully dressed despite the
      hour - growled from his position near the door. "Let's go."

      "This mission will require more than just the four of you," Xavier said

      "We did fine last time," Logan noted.

      "Barely," Ororo murmured from her seat.

      Scott nodded. "We weren't facing them all at once at the Statue, and by the
      end Magneto was pretty much out of action. Now they're together, ready,
      probably waiting for us to get there and reinforcing their position with
      every minute." He looked to the Professor. "But the students have barely
      had two months training. A couple of them might be capable, but none of
      them are really ready."

      "Rogue, Pryde, maybe that Jubilee kid could handle it. That new one -
      LeBeau - knows what he's doing," Logan listed, demeanour not changing. "And
      Drake and Allerdyce together, and only together."

      Half of the senior students who'd been involved in training for the past two
      months. Logan had proven himself skilled, rigorous and determined as their
      main instructor. At the beginning, at least, he'd been the kids' worst
      nightmare. They'd been positively delighted to have Scott for the odd
      tactics class. But they'd settled down remarkably quickly. Not that Logan
      had become any less demanding as the training went on. They'd just got used
      to it. Some of them, Scott thought, had even come to enjoy it.

      "Rogue, definitely," Scott said after a moment's consideration. "She knows
      what she's doing better than any of them." Logan nodded his agreement.
      "LeBeau's too new, but I think we're going to need him anyway. Drake and
      Allerdyce, together. Kitty could be invaluable, but Jubilee would just be
      an extra neck to risk; I'd prefer to leave her at home." He turned to
      Xavier. "Can you have them meet us in the ready room?"

      At the Professor's nod, Ororo stood up. "Let's go." Logan was out the door
      in two seconds, and they followed him.

      "Scott?" He paused in the doorway, looked back to the Professor. His
      guardian, his mentor... his friend. "Look after them."

      * * * * *

      Why couldn't he fucking look after them?

      Wrap himself in layer after layer of control, of composure, of business-like
      efficiency. Get the hell out of there. Get them all in the Blackbird.
      Run. Jean already inside, with a pale and shaking Kitty. Bobby and St
      John, wide-eyed and blessedly quiet. Logan. And Remy, carrying in his arms
      the unconscious form of Rogue.

      Control, composure and efficiency. Like armour. Hard. But hard is such a
      small step away from brittle, and he could feel the cracks appearing

      Just close the door, Scott. Bark out the orders. Get into the pilot seat.
      Don't stop beside Jean, where she's working so feverishly. Don't look over
      to the empty co-pilot's chair. Don't think.

      Don't look down, or you'll fall.

      The Blackbird was a dream for two, a nightmare for one. But it kept him
      blessedly occupied, mental and physical. A stocky body brushed past,
      dropped into the seat beside him. Scott grit his teeth as he flicked a
      switch, started her up, hands flying over the controls to keep her steady.
      "I don't need your help," he grated.

      "Well, you're gettin' it."

      It was impolite to play with another guy's toys without asking, but what
      else did he expect from Logan? The Blackbird eased under Scott's hands,
      gliding smoothly into the air, back towards Westchester. It meant he could
      relax. But he didn't want to relax. Because then his mind turned in
      circles, an endless slow-mo replay of fifteen vital seconds. And his body
      wanted to turn, look back, crane for a glimpse of stunning white hair.
      Except that it was almost all obscured by grime. Or by blood.

      He stared ahead, body tense, mind screaming in circles, as the plane sliced
      through the night. And for the first time in years, since he'd grown up,
      into himself, he allowed himself the luxury of three little words.

      It isn't fair.

      * * * * *

      "No, it isn't," Scott agreed, but still didn't step out of the way. "But
      it's an order, Jubilee. Go back to bed."

      Rogue seemed to be almost holding her breath as she watched her friend.
      Jubilee's jaw was set hard, and she was none-too-pleased about being left at
      home while the rest went off on the mission. Scott wasn't precisely happy
      himself. This wasn't fun, this was business, and if he thought he could get
      away with it, he wouldn't risk a single one of his students. He certainly
      wasn't taking anyone who wasn't absolutely necessary.

      "Fine," the girl growled, and Rogue breathed again, slipping past Scott as
      he stepped aside to let her into the ready room. Jubilee turned and stalked

      Scott - Cyclops, rather, fully uniformed and visored, ready for business -
      turned back to the others in the ready room. Rogue zipped up her own
      uniform, a faint blush on her cheeks as she turned back to face front. He
      ran his eyes along his entire group, cataloguing them in his mind. They
      were the raw material from which he would shape the mission. Skills,
      deficiencies, quirks. Code-names the students had chosen themselves in a
      brain-storming session at the beginning of the training. There had been a
      lot of giggling, teasing, over the names, and they'd been ill-fitting to
      begin with. As time passed they had grown into them. They all did,

      Clinical, business-like, he started the briefing. Took the younger members
      through the situation, and watched Shadowcat take a deep breath as he
      outlined what they were probably up against. Pyro clenched his jaw;
      determination. Iceman merely watched, his face serious. They understood.
      Maybe, just maybe, their training had been enough. He roughed in the
      initial plan of attack, simple, but hopefully effective, and they nodded.
      They would follow orders. They were prepared.

      As he'd caught Storm's eye, preparing the Blackbird for take-off, he'd
      smiled, just a little.

      * * * * *

      Not now, never now. Can't smile when the bottom's been torn out of your
      world and now, now it was over and they were back and he could go to pieces.
      But he couldn't. Not Cyclops. Not even Scott. Couldn't lose control like

      So he sat here, cold metal against his back, his legs, in front of his eyes.
      Locked in this tiny, shiny box of a corridor when all he wanted was to be on
      the other side of that door. Not that there was anything he could do to
      help her.

      He'd done enough.

      He'd had her blood on his hands, on his uniform, when they'd come back, but
      he didn't even have that now. He'd operated on auto-pilot, because Cyclops
      doesn't break, not in front of anyone, not ever. Direct the younger
      members, be what they needed. A debriefing he hadn't heard a single word of
      because all his concentration was on the two women who weren't there. Help
      Kitty take Rogue into a closeted session with the Professor. He should care
      about that, about Rogue and what had happened to her. He did, but it was
      far away, on the periphery. Get out of the uniform, into regular clothes,
      like you might wear on any regular day when the woman whose smile powered
      your heart hadn't been ripped open and dropped at your feet like so much

      Don't think about that, but there was nothing else to think about, out of
      tasks to perform, and the autopilot had let him down, led him down here.
      Outside the door that wouldn't open, wouldn't let him in, wouldn't tell him
      anything. So he waited, head tilted back against the hard wall.

      Time passes slowly when it's measured in fifteen-second replays. It became
      meaningless, and he wondered if it was passing at all.

      And then the door opened.

      On his feet in an instant, across the space. Jean looked haggard,
      exhausted, eyes dull as they met his. She was silent for a moment, scanning
      his face. "If she wakes up, she'll be all right," Jean said, finally. "But
      I don't know." She stepped back, held the door open for him. "Come in. We
      can watch her together."

      He hesitated just inside the door to her room. It wasn't Ororo, laid out on
      the bed, an almost lifeless body. The machines around her had more energy,
      beeping and whirring.

      It was wrong. It was all so horribly wrong.

      * * * * *

      /But this, this was right. Her arms snug around his waist and body moulded
      to his. The road was splashed with moonlight filtered through the trees,
      stark white and shadow that they flitted through like some sort of motorised

      /It was a beautiful, spangled dream. Moonlight was their element, had been
      since that first night in the library.

      /She shifted a little, leaned up to bring her mouth closer to his ear.
      "Faster," she whispered, but he could hear her easily over the wind. "Make
      us fly, Scott."

      /He grinned, and flicked the switch. Revelled in the sudden burst of speed,
      the tightening of her arms, her laughter. It rang in his ears as she threw
      her head back, hair whipping around her. And they flew./

      * * * * *

      Even though Magneto surely knew they were coming, Cyclops landed the
      Blackbird far enough away from the complex to hide their arrival. No point
      in giving him any more warning than absolutely necessary.

      There was a moment of hesitation as they approached the complex, and he felt
      eyes on him. They knew their orders, but they wanted a sliver of
      confirmation. It was more real here. This was it.

      "Get into position. Don't start in until everyone's in place. Go."

      And they went. They knew the layout of the building, they knew the probable
      points of defence, they knew their groups. Wolverine, flanked by Iceman and
      Pyro, melted into the darkness in one direction, heading for the main
      entrance, as Jean and Shadowcat crept forward, heading for the unbroken side
      wall. Doors weren't necessary for all, and training had proved Shadowcat
      could phase more than just herself. Just as Storm could carry more than her
      own weight into the air, another trick to be utilised as her eyes whited
      over, and the wind lifted her feet off the ground. Gambit seemed a shade
      insecure in her arms, glancing down towards the ground frequently, but he
      didn't look like he'd pass out before they reached the roof. Cyclops turned
      his attention to his own task; making it around to the back entrance with

      The complex looked mundane. Normal. Cyclops could almost believe that they
      had the wrong building. A few scattered lights were on, most off, but
      nothing moved. There was nothing remarkable about the small building, and
      absolutely no sign of hostile occupation. But then again, the Statue of
      Liberty had looked harmless at first glance. That's what this was all
      about, wasn't it? Not judging on appearances.

      "Wolverine here; we're in position."

      "Jean; us too."

      Cyclops and Rogue settled into bushes a short distance from the rear
      entrance, and he held his hand up to his face to whisper. "This is Cyclops;
      we're right. Storm?"

      A pause. And then: "Ready to go."

      "All right, then. Remember, draw their attention from Shadowcat and Jean.
      Neutralise the resistance if you can, but don't take chances. Stay whole,
      and when you hear the word, get the hell out of there." Take a breath. "Do

      * * * * *

      "What did you do?" Watching her chest rise and fall, taking his own shaky
      breaths. Can't form a coherent sentence; three tries just to get it out.

      Luckily Jean understood. "The neck wound wasn't too bad immediately, no
      tendon damage. It'll bear watching for infection - bites are bad like that.
      She's lost some blood from the abdominal wounds as well. I think she's
      stable, but the knock on the head is the main worry. There's so many things
      that could go wrong."

      So many things. Wrong. It was all wrong to start with.

      There was a chair beside the bed, out of the way of the equipment, and Scott
      barely knew how he made his way over to it. Her hand lay above the covers,
      just there. Long fingers with their short, well-cared-for nails. One of
      her small vanities that he hadn't even noticed until he'd noticed /her/.

      He couldn't take her hand. Not yet. But he raised his own hands to the
      bed, smoothed the blanket - something pale and blue-based - along the edge
      of the bed. And when he was ready, taking a deep breath, he followed the
      dark skin from wrist, to elbow, to shoulder...

      To face. Long lashes on cheekbones, shadows and grazes and a bruise forming
      on the side of her jaw. But so serene. She was always so serene. He'd
      seen it broken though. With passion, with pleasure... and now with fear and

      "I'm sorry." Jean's voice, snapping him back so sharply he flinched.
      "Scott, I'm -" Her voice broke a little. "I'm so sorry."

      He didn't look back. Couldn't look away now that his eyes had found her
      face. "She's your friend too, Jean." His voice was distant, under someone
      else's control.

      "But she means more to you." It sounded almost wrong, but he knew what she
      meant, and she knew he knew, and neither of them was going to quibble about
      expression now. "I'll be in the next room."

      Scott could only nod, looking at her face, back down to her hand. Almost on
      its own, one hand slid across the blanket to cover hers, slip fingers around
      into the cool, smooth palm.

      More to him. So much more. So much. She meant to him.

      Somewhere behind him, the door clicked closed.

      * * * * *

      Cyclops paused a moment in the entrance hall, Rogue calm and steady beside
      him. He'd told the truth about her readiness; she handled herself with more
      confidence than any of the others. Perhaps a throwback to Wolverine's
      incorporation. She scanned the crazy shadows of the foyer, thrown by the
      pillars onto marbled walls from the pale light streaming in from outside.

      No alarms yet, that was good. The override codes they'd been given had
      worked, then. Or the alarms had been disabled. Assume Magneto knew they
      were in. Always safer to assume the worst.

      They moved quickly, then, finding the stairs - don't chance the lifts - to
      the third floor. With the entire blueprint of the complex laid out in his
      mind, Cyclops had no reason to hesitate at any corner. Right, straight,
      then left. Corridor after silent, dimly-lit corridor. Empty. Quiet.

      Where the hell was everybody?

      As if in answer, Jean's voice sounded quietly in his ear, a bare whisper
      sounding unnaturally loud. "Heads up. They're on their way out from the
      control room. Looks like they've been recruiting - there's some people I
      don't recognise."

      "Be careful," Cyclops said quietly into his handpiece. "We don't know what
      sort of powers they might have."

      A snort that could be none other than Wolverine. "No shit." And then
      silence again.

      They continued onwards, even more wary now, careful, clinical, both of them
      all-business. The silence stretched. It was starting to get uncomfortable.
      Cyclops almost jumped when his earpiece sprang back into life.

      "We could use a little help up here." Gambit, terse but calm, though he
      sounded a little winded. "Sixth floor, main corridor."

      "On it," Cyclops returned immediately, and started for the stairs again,
      Rogue running sure behind him.

      The silence receded as they moved up, and the sounds of fighting were
      obvious as they took the last flight of stairs. No reason to be careless,
      though, and they moved cautiously into the main corridor.

      Gambit was barely holding his own against a blue-skinned blur that could
      only be Mystique. Cyclops' blast went over her shoulder as she ducked,
      twisted out of the way, delivering a last kick to Gambit's stomach before
      sprinting away down a side corridor. She was gone by the time they reached
      Gambit, the faint patter of bare footsteps fading quickly into nothing.

      "You all right?" Rogue was asking Gambit, who only nodded, leaning on his

      Cyclops waited while he took a few deep breaths, and then asked curtly:
      "Where's Storm?"

      Gambit pointed at the ceiling. "There were two of them," he wheezed. "The
      other one was a flyer. Storm was chasing her back to the roof last I saw

      "Then let's go. Gambit, you lead. Rogue, take the rear. Be on the
      lookout." Two nods, and they moved off.

      * * * * *

      "They were all so sure." Somehow, he'd just found himself talking, his
      thoughts turning into rambling sentences without him really noticing. It
      helped, calmed his mind, slowed everything down. Distracted him from the
      endless loop. Talking to her hand, because it was easier than her face.
      "They all knew what they were doing, most of the time. Not like us our
      first time. We were flying blind, remember? How did we ever make it
      through that first mission? So many narrow escapes, and we had no idea.

      "They'll all be up there now, trying to get rid of the adrenaline. There's
      no rush like the first one, right? I sat in the Professor's office that
      night and felt like laughing, and didn't know why. There was so much energy
      inside me it was like I was going to burst. I didn't hear a damn word he
      said until he told us to go and try to get some sleep." The faintest trace
      of a smile creeping across his face at the memories. "But that just wasn't
      happening. I couldn't sit still, let alone lie down. It was late, and Jean
      was already asleep, the entire mansion was asleep, but I'd never been
      further from it. We ran into each other. No need for words because we just
      understood. It was the same for both of us.

      "You became my best friend that night, I think. The first, last and only
      time we've ever ridden the motorcycle together, you know. And it was the
      first time I'd ever had anything stronger than beer. I think I told you
      that at the time, and you laughed. I hated people laughing at me, but
      somehow then I just couldn't seem to care. The first time you'd ever played
      pool, so I taught you. Those two guys; I hustled them, you charmed them. I
      still can't believe it. I thought we were going to get killed in a bar
      brawl, and on top of everything else that night, it was the funniest thing
      I'd ever heard. Thank God for alcohol and the body's natural drugs, or I
      probably would have had a heart attack.

      "We had to take a taxi home, and get the bike back the next day. That's
      when the Professor said I could keep it, remember? I felt like death warmed
      up, hung over and wrung-out. Jean was sympathetic. And at the time, that
      was all I needed. But you understood. You've always understood."

      Pale fingers tightened around darker ones in machine-broken silence.

      * * * * *

      /Just the sound of the motorbike in the still night, sliding into darkness
      and out as a cloud scudded across the moon.

      /It seemed that the moment froze in crisp perfection. Her arms firmly
      around him, her body against his, the motorcycle under them, the wind
      teasing, the moonlight bestowing benediction.

      /He added it carefully to his vault of memories. There were those with red
      hair, certainly, but so many with white. Old and new. Teammates, friends,
      lovers. She was always there. Always.

      /Being with her was perfection on its own, and he treasured it second by
      blissful second.

      /They ticked past, and now they were nearing their destination./

      * * * * *

      They burst out onto the roof, the moonlight that had shone previously wiped
      out by dark, angry clouds glowering low above them. They had to brace in
      the doorway against the raging winds that tore across the roof. A little
      light came up from below, but it was probably only Cyclops, able to pick up
      movement better than most, who could see the figures careening through the
      sky. They were easy to tell apart. One battled against the winds
      constantly, one moved with them, pure grace.

      The Goddess, in control.

      Lightning rent the sky, but somehow the other figure dodged it, and it
      passed her by, earthing elsewhere.

      "There she is." Gambit pointed, unnecessarily. Cyclops was already raising
      his hand to his visor, adjusting the beam as they two figures swooped their
      airborne dance closer to the rooftop.

      The other figure - a woman, Cyclops could see now, and blonde - managed to
      twist away from his blast, the red beam slicing behind her arched back. But
      she couldn't avoid the lightning bolt that followed an instant later. It
      struck her full-on, passed through immediately to earth below her, but that
      didn't matter because she was falling out of the sky, dropping like a stone.

      Rogue and Gambit rushed to the edge of the roof as the winds settled.
      Cyclops followed more slowly, meeting Storm as she stepped off the air and
      onto the roof. Her eyes faded back to their normal darkness as she turned
      to him. "Thank you. That distraction was just what was needed."

      He nodded, accepting her thanks, as the younger two turned back to them.
      "No sign of her," Rogue reported. "But it's too dark to see the base of the

      "No time to waste on her now," Cyclops replied. "Back inside. There's
      still a lot of them we haven't seen yet."

      He raised the handpiece again as they descended into the building. "Cyclops
      here. With Storm, Gambit and Rogue. One new mutant, female, blonde, a
      flyer, outside the building. Mystique somewhere still inside. Sit. reps?

      An immediate answer. "Toad's stuffed in a cupboard down on the second floor,
      tied up with his own tongue. There was some blue guy, stranger to me, but
      he disappeared in a puff of smoke. I'm bettin' he's a teleporter, so he
      could show up anywhere."

      "Noted. Jean?"

      No answer, and Cyclops signalled a stop as they came to an intersection of
      corridors. Rogue and Gambit moved a little ahead to get better views of the
      other corridors. He tried again. "Jean? What's your situation?"

      But before she had a chance to answer, the building shifted under his feet.
      A jerk, and then a tremouring, and with ponderous inevitability, the floor
      fell out from underneath them.

      Thirty seconds of noise, disorientation and bouncing rubble, and then

      * * * * *

      Talking filled the silence, but it became hungry, and wanted more. Whenever
      he stopped talking, it yawned at him, vast and empty, and there was nothing
      to fill it but his voice and the percussion of medical machines, marking out
      her survival. It needed her voice to fill it, but he wasn't going to hear
      it any time soon, so all that was left was for him to talk.

      Other times, other memories. Dwell on something other than tonight's crop.

      So he talked. Other missions, recent and older. Things they'd said,
      waiting in the Blackbird before they'd met Logan and Rogue. The first
      mission Jean had ever gone on them with - there had been few of those,
      before the business with Magneto - and how nervous he'd been. The first
      moment they'd met, Ororo fresh from Africa and somehow simultaneously full
      of wide-eyed uncertainty and stately poise. He'd been in awe, tried to make
      her welcome, but felt somehow inadequate. She'd told him later that his
      welcome had been the one reason she hadn't bolted immediately.

      There from the start. A connection.

      How had he been so blind for so long?

      His voice drifted off, into nothing.

      * * * * *

      A cough, shifting rubble, and Cyclops felt smooth skin against his cheek,
      fingers on his face. "It is unbroken." Storm's voice, and he opened his
      eyes behind the visor. Dust in her hair and a graze on her cheekbone
      already weeping beads of blood. "We have not fallen far, only two floors,
      but the other two are not with us, and the hole continues down further."

      He hauled himself to his feet and raised his handpiece as she looked around
      further. "Rogue? Gambit?" There was rubble everywhere, and not far from
      where they were the floor was gone, a gaping, jagged pit. Above, he could
      see dark clouds through a similar hole in the roof of the building. The
      place had been torn apart. What the hell had done it?

      "I think we're back down at ground level." Rogue's voice. "Can't see much
      for the dust. I've busted my ankle, but not bad. Gambit's fine, just
      scratches and bru-- Fuck."


      "The flying bitch. She's --" And the rest disappeared in a sudden, rushed
      exhalation of breath.

      There was the faintest sound of shifting rubble behind him, but the real
      warning was the soft growl that overlaid it. By the time Storm gasped his
      name, he was already moving, diving forward as claws hissed along the
      leather of his uniform. He landed badly on the uneven surface, rolling to
      the side and up to his feet.

      But even as Cyclops straightened fully, he heard her grunt, and knew what he
      would see. Didn't want to see it. Hated to raise his eyes to the sight.

      Sabretooth was using her as a shield, one arm wrapped around her, pinning
      her arms against her body, the other gripping her chin, claws pressed
      against her cheek.

      "Pretty face," he snarled. "Wanna keep it after I rip it off?"

      Cyclops barely heard him, his vision tunnelling to her face. Sabretooth's
      hand covered the faint scars he'd left her with last time, but they were
      there. Her face was as cold and impassive as ice, but her eyes were solid
      white in an instant. Thunder cracked above.

      "Not this time, bitch," Sabretooth growled, dragging her backwards
      underneath the ragged remains of the floor above. His grip remained tight
      on her, claws digging into her arm. A tiny rivulet of blood crawled along
      his claw, down over her wrist.

      "Hold it right there," Cyclops ordered, shadowing the movement as he raised
      a hand to his visor. Calculating. The corridor was too narrow to get
      around him. Sabretooth's head was exposed over Storm's shoulder, but they'd
      seen before how fast he could move. If Cyclops shot at him, he would still
      have time to tear her throat out.

      And Sabretooth knew it too, black eyes cunning beside her white hair.
      "Shoot me, and I cut her up."

      "Cut her up," Cyclops returned coldly. "And you're dead."

      /And so am I.../

      * * * * *

      "You can't leave me." After being silent for so long, the words sounded
      especially loud, but he had to make sure she heard. She had to understand.
      "You've always been there. I didn't realise it, just took it for granted,
      took you for granted. You were the constant, steady rock in my life. My
      unquestioning support, and I didn't have to prove anything to you. Every
      good memory I have, every memory of the best part of my life, has you as a
      background. You're always there."

      Scott looked down at his hands, white-knuckled from not gripping her
      unresponsive hand too tightly. He barely even saw the tear that splashed
      onto the twined fingers. "I'd be lost without you, Ororo." His voice was
      down to a whisper now. "You've got to be there."

      * * * * *

      /They were there, pulling up at the edge of a clearing. She didn't even
      wait for him to cut the engine before she slipped off the bike, taking the
      two steps necessary to escape the dappling cover of the trees, and be bathed
      in liquid moonlight. She twirled slowly, her hair fanning out
      incandescently behind her, her faint laughter like starlight.

      /"Beautiful," she said simply, and it was, /she/ was. Just them in this
      tiny clearing in the woods, a stolen moment from reality. He could believe
      anything he wanted to, here.

      /As he climbed slowly off the bike, she turned again, heading away from him
      towards the centre of the clearing./

      * * * * *

      Cyclops edged slowly sideways, not really with any hopes of circling behind
      Sabretooth, just trying to keep the other mutant's attention on him until he
      could think of a plan.

      Think, Cyclops!

      "Stalemate," Sabretooth growled, shifting so that Storm was always between
      him and the visored man. "But any way, I win. I got less to lose." The
      grip on her chin shifted slightly, claws trailing lightly along the curve of
      her jaw in a parody of a caress. "So pretty." He'd turned his head
      slightly, his lips almost touching her neck as he spoke. She tilted her
      head away, a grimace on her face.

      A grimace that turned into a scream as teeth sank into the bared flesh,
      where neck met shoulder. Scott leapt forward a pace, and Sabretooth's head
      whipped up. His teeth were horrifically blood-stained as he grinned, and
      yanked Ororo roughly backwards, into the shadowed depths of the corridor.
      Her eyes were closed now, face drawn tight, not making a sound. "Me and the
      frail are leaving, boy," he said, triumph in the gravel of his voice, and he
      pulled her backwards another step.

      Cyclops stalked forwards, mirrored their progress. Hand on visor, waiting
      for a chance, any chance. Please, let there be a chance. His world had
      contracted to a single focus of concentration, on the woman with white hair.
      On Storm, being taken away from him.

      * * * * *

      /She walked into the clearing, ephemeral in the moonlight. Walked away from

      * * * * *

      Scott's hands fell away from hers. He couldn't hold her.

      * * * * *

      Sabretooth's hand had shifted from her chin during all this, now gripped at
      her shoulder as he drew her backwards. And suddenly, mid-step, Storm
      twisted in his grasp, and Sabretooth couldn't hold her...

      * * * * *

      His voice was broken as he whispered: "Ororo."

      * * * * *

      /Suddenly panicked, he called after her.../

      * * * * *


      There was a chance, and Cyclops took it in an instant, her name leaving his
      lips as the beam left his eyes. Still too slow, and he knew that with a
      sick feeling. Sabretooth still half-gripped her shoulder, his other arm
      around her stomach, and he moved with animal speed, yanking her to the side
      as he leapt away. Her head hit the wall with a crunch of plaster as the
      optic blast sliced through air and wall and nothing. Sabretooth was gone.

      Five age-long seconds it took him to get to her side, where she was slumped
      in rag-doll pose on the floor. There was a tiny smear of blood down the
      wall, from the indentation her skull had made, and blood weeping from the
      teeth marks at the base of her neck. More blood trickling over her uniform
      from the jagged rents across her abdomen, where claws had raked in farewell.
      He catalogued it all in some clinical, dogged part of his mind, but the rest
      of him was huddled over her, cradling her face gently as he whispered her
      name, turned it into a plea.

      Her eyes were blue behind half-closed lids as she tilted her head up towards
      him. "Scott," she breathed. "Won't let..." Eyes flickered closed, voice
      ending in an exhalation.

      His earpiece burst into life. "This is Jean. Magneto is down. I repeat,
      Magneto is down."

      That clinical part took over, raised the handpiece. "Cyclops here: pull
      out, regroup at the Blackbird." And he flicked the frequency, spoke again.
      "X-Men mission completed."

      A pause, and then a business-like voice returned: "Copy that. You have ten
      minutes to withdraw."

      "X-Men out."

      * * * * *

      "Out," Jean ordered, quietly but firmly. "You've been here all night. Go
      upstairs, get something to eat, a breath of fresh air, and then you can come

      Scott shook his head, slid a hand up underneath his glasses to rub at tired
      eyes. It had been hours - long, long hours - since he'd sat down here. His
      panic seemed to have melted, leaving a dull, quiet ache in his head. He was
      so tired, but somehow almost at peace. Almost.

      Once the glasses were safely resettled, he looked up at Jean. She looked as
      tired, as drained, as he felt. Her best friend too. Jean laid a hand on
      his shoulder.

      "I'll go in-"

      Then it happened. A breath out of place in the previously unchanging
      rhythm. A twitch of her hand as it lay on the blanket. It hi-jacked their
      attention instantly, and they waited a dozen anxious seconds before her
      eyelids fluttered open. Blue eyes focussed, and Ororo smiled.

      Scott smiled back.

      * * * * *

      /She turned back to him, took his hand and/ drew him forward, into the
      circle of moonlight with her. His panic settled as swiftly as it had risen
      as he looked into her eyes. He felt her eyes more than her hand, tracing
      lightly down his cheek. He was wrapped in the deep serenity of that dark
      gaze. He could stay there forever, safe and warm.

      "I love you." Barely a breath on the wind, but she knew the wind, was the
      wind, leaned forward and took the breath from his lips with hers, so tender
      and gentle.

      "And I love you."

      Scott had a dream, a wish, a prayer.

      It was answered.

      And now he had the world.

      ======= http://viscerate.com =======
      Not as plunk as theople drink I am.
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