Ben Canaan Compound, Israel, 1956
Erik felt the warning pressure of Charles' hand on his shoulder, and so he kept his mouth shut -- for the moment.
Nobody had warned Marcellina. "What is this you are telling us?" she demanded of Ben David. "Two years of our lives are gone, gone! And still nothing? You have NOTHING?"
Ben David drew himself up, tall and imperious, and even in his disgust Erik could see the power Ben David projected throughout the office. He envied it. "We've had this conversation before, Marcellina. I just told you that we were making progress. We're always making progress. We're able to pinpoint the chromosomes involved in some of your mutations. That's a huge leap forward toward reproducing those mutations in others."
"I am not here to make more soldiers for the Israeli army," Hazim said quietly. Despite the fact that his voice was low and his body still, Erik could tell Hazim was far angrier even than Marcellina. "I have been here for two years so that I could be made a normal man again. And this is what you say you cannot do."
Ben David's eyes were cool and remote. "I didn't say we couldn't ever do it. But we don't have any idea what mechanisms would work. Dr. Avidan's original ideas about genetic manipulation turn out to be finer theories than practice." Dr. Avidan's cheeks flushed, perhaps with anger, perhaps with shame, perhaps just with the damnable heat.
"So, one more theory doesn't work," Marcellina said, shrugging theatrically. "For two years, we have had this theory and that theory. So many. And none of them work? Not one of your great ideas?"
"At this time, no," Ben David replied. Marcellina flinched at the sound of it. Hazim's shoulders sagged, very slightly. In the corner, Shriek was sitting on the edge of a desk, kicking her legs back and forth, rocking her head in time to a tune only she could hear. Erik felt only a profound sense of relief; what the others might have chosen, he had feared of having forced upon him. Glancing over his shoulder, though, he saw Charles looking at Marcellina sympathetically. Damned Charles -- so soft-hearted in some ways, so shut-off in others, his hand on Erik's shoulder but his mind a thousand miles away. Erik forced himself to pay attention as Ben-David said, "Rest assured that we'll keep you informed of every new development."
"You will write us," Hazim said slowly. "Perhaps you will send a telegram, if you have reason to suspect a breakthrough."
Ben David's face became even more remote. "For the time being, we'd encourage you to stay."
"Why? Why stay?" Marcellina ran her hands through her curly hair. "When you say you are worse than useless -- why stay here?"
"We have work to do here," Ben David said. "We don't have the resources to arrange your transport back to the city at this time."
Hazim's head reeled back as though he'd been struck, and Marcellina went pale. They understood -- as Erik did -- that Ben-David meant they were not free to leave. After two years of increasingly restricted travel, Ben-David meant to finally seal them off, permanently. Surrounded as they now were by miles of the Negev Desert in every direction, without phone lines, their isolation was profound. They did not understand -- as Erik did -- that if the mutants truly chose to defy those orders, Ben-David and the pitifully few soldiers stationed in their compound to "protect" them would stand no chance whatsoever.
Dr. Avidan walked forward, her jaw set. "Adael, this isn't right."
"You and I can talk about this at another time," Ben-David snapped. "Everyone else would do well to call it a day."
He stalked out, and Marcellina burst into tears as she fled through the side door. Hazim put his head down on one of the tables. Dr. Avidan made a show of comforting Shriek, but as Shriek was clearly completely unaffected by the announcement, this was probably Dr. Avidan's way of hiding her own dismay.
As they quietly walked from the room, Erik whispered to Charles, "The day will come when we'll have to teach Ben-David a lesson."
"Perhaps," Charles said. "I think he'll catch on when he wakes up to find us gone some day soon."
"Soon?" Erik shook his head at Charles. Sometimes he found himself looking up to Charles as if he were the elder -- he liked imagining the world Charles saw, even tried to make himself believe in it. But moments like these reminded him how young Charles was, how much he hadn't seen. "I'd think tomorrow." He also thought Ben-David deserved rather more tangible reminders of his foolish attempt at imprisonment.
"The others won't be ready that quickly," Charles murmured. "Hazim's so angry right now, he'd rather stay here and fight it out with Ben-David. And Marcellina -- Erik, she's very upset. Someone should go to her."
"Upset." Erik spat out the word; when Charles stared at him, he muttered, "Upset that she has powers normal humans could only dream of. Upset that if she chose, she could turn this desert into a sea. I'm afraid I really don't see the problem."
"She doesn't want what you want," Charles said softly. "She never has done."
"I grasp that. But forgive me if I think the proper response isn't a cup of a tea and a sympathetic ear. That woman needs to have some sense shaken into her. Think Hazim would oblige?"
Charles' face darkened with anger. Only after he registered his own shock did Erik realize how seldom, in the past two years, he'd actually seen Charles get angry. He braced himself for a diatribe about all the good and noble virtues of normalcy.
Instead, Charles only said, "I don't know you as well as I thought I did."
Erik couldn't say anything in reply. He would never have imagined that those words could have hurt him, and yet they did.
Charles seemed to want him to say something; they stared at each other for a while in the shadowy hallway, their arms folded across their chests. Erik couldn't put words to how he was feeling, and he halfway wished Charles would explain it to him. The one thing he could think of to say was an apology, and that was the one thing he would never say.
At last, Charles said, "I'm going to Marcellina." He turned without waiting for any reply. Erik was left alone, feeling foolish.
Then he thought -- No time for that. If Ben-David's trying to exert his influence, then we should make sure we know how to exert ours.
He started down the corridor toward a storage room he and Charles had appropriated long before. Originally intended to house the equipment a wildly successful Ben David would purchase with a grateful government's money, the room had remained officially vacant ever since they'd come to the Negev months before. Unofficially, it stored his and Charles' secret projects, most notably the machine they'd dubbed Cerberus.
Immersing himself in science -- in rational matters like cause and effect -- often calmed Erik, and he could feel himself focusing better already. They were testing different materials for the Cerberus headpiece; Erik could create alloys previously undreamt-of, and he was determined to find the exact mix that would best enhance Charles' psychic abilities. Must do better than that last try, he thought. Couldn't do much worse, seemed to shut Charles down completely --
"Erik?" He wheeled around to see Dr. Avidan standing at the end of the corridor. "Are you all right?"
"I'm fine." Then, realizing that her next question might involve his presence in this out-of-the-way corridor, he put on a bit of a sigh. "I just wanted a few minutes by myself. To think about what Ben-David said."
"I thought you were with Charles."
"Charles is trying to talk some sense into Marcellina, for all the good it will do. Shouldn't you be talking to Ben-David? I'm sure he keeps you posted on all the details here; must be a lot to discuss."
Dr. Avidan leaned against one wall. She always seemed so tired. "You shouldn't be so harsh with Marcellina. I also wish she'd look at the positive side of her talents, but she's lost a lot because of being different. Her husband left her for being 'demonic' -- did you know that? And it goes even deeper than that. That's hard for some people to accept, being set apart forever."
"It's hard for people who aren't different to accept," Erik said. "They create fear and hatred. We can't give in to that."
"I'm just saying -- be patient. Sometimes it takes time for people to surrender their ideas of what their lives are supposed to be like. We take our visions of the way we're supposed to live from those around us. Only over time can most of us create a new path for ourselves." Dr. Avidan smiled again. "Be patient with Marcellina. And be patient with Charles."
"Charles?" Erik was taken aback; he gave Dr. Avidan credit for more perception. "He's not like Marcellina. He's accepted his powers. He's glad of them."
"That's not what I meant." Dr. Avidan opened her mouth to continue, then shook her head. "It's not my place to--"
Charles' voice: Erik! Erik, help me!
Erik wheeled around, looking for Charles. He'd heard him, crying out desperately for him, but he wasn't -- he wasn't --
Again: Erik! I need you here.
Charles' voice was inside his mind. He'd done it. He'd broken through. And he was in trouble.
Erik turned and ran from Dr. Avidan, ignoring her startled questioning, then the sound of her footsteps echoing behind his. He didn't know how he knew where to go, but he did -- was that Charles' mind too? He'd ask later. All that mattered now was getting to Charles, as fast as possible, getting to Charles in Marcellina's room.
He ran through the doorway, noticing as he did so that the lock looked broken -- as though someone had kicked it in. Charles was standing near Marcellina's bed, his hands clutching the footboard. Marcellina was perfectly still. "Charles?" Erik gasped. "I heard you. What's -- why --" Then he realized just how still Marcellina was. "No."
Charles did not turn to face him, but he grabbed Erik's hand and clutched it as tightly as a climber would his ropes. "I thought she was better," he said dully. "I was talking to her through the door, and she was so wretched, Erik. You would have pitied her, I know you would have. But then it seemed to me that she was a little better. A little stronger. She asked for some quiet, and I gave it to her. But she felt better only because she'd decided to die."
"Dead?" Dr. Avidan said from the doorway. "Oh, please, no." Behind her, Hazim appeared, apparently drawn by the commotion; he grimaced in anger and disgust.
Erik's mind seemed to be looking for facts to deal with rather than the truth. "How did she do it? I don't see any blood -- surely no drugs could have worked so quickly."
Charles gestured at the rain-spattered windows. Then Erik blinked; they didn't get much rain in the Negev. There were water trails on the tabletops, from her washbasin, on the floor leading from the bathroom. Charles whispered, "She pulled every drop of water she could reach into her own lungs. She drowned herself."
His hand clamped onto Erik's even more tightly, and Erik couldn't even react to the pain. He could only hold on.
"Poor Marcellina." Dr. Avidan's voice was thick with grief as she went to Marcellina's side and lifted her hand. The many rings glittered in the lamp's light. "Ben-David must answer for this."
It was Hazim who spoke. "He will."
Caliburn Falls, British Columbia, Canada, 2006
Logan woke up alone.
He sat up, frowning, and for a split second he wondered if he'd dreamed the whole thing -- Rogue showing up, all if it. Then he realized he was in his bed instead of on the couch, so he knew it was for real.
The sound of water running filtered in from the front room, and Logan breathed out a sigh of relief: Rogue was still there. He tugged on his jeans and went out. The front room looked weird; it took Logan a few seconds to realize a bunch of stuff had been moved around. Books were piled on the table, the ashtrays were empty, and the beer cans were missing. "Rogue?"
"Oh, hi. Over here." Her voice was high, a little too casual. Logan wandered to the kitchen area to see her wearing his sweatpants and one of his flannel shirts, peering into the sink with an unhappy expression. "The cleaning up isn't a criticism, okay?"
"Whatever," he said. And this seemed like a good time to say something about last night, except Logan wasn't at all sure what he was supposed to say. "Uh -- are you hungry?"
"Getting there," she said, scrubbing the faucet vigorously. "But I figure I have to wash the dishes before we can cook, and I have to clear out the sink before I can wash the dishes."
Some of those dishes looked perfectly reusable to Logan, but he'd learned that women were generally fussy about that kind of thing. "If I'd known you were coming, I'd have taken care of that."
"Guess I surprised you." At that, Rogue ducked her head, obviously resisting a smile. But then she caught sight of something in the sink and grimaced. "Ugh -- Logan, is that a SOCK?"
"Maybe." Logan figured this was probably his cue to offer to drive into town and get some food she might actually want to eat. But his curiosity got the better of him. "Just trying to clear this up -- are we pretending last night didn't happen?" Rogue froze, still not looking at him. "We can do that, if that's what you want, but I don't quite get why."
Rogue finally turned from the sink to look at him, and her well-scrubbed face, her crooked smile, brought back sharp memories of the night before. "I don't want that. It's just -- I don't know what to say."
"'Good morning' usually works fine." Logan reached out to brush her hair away from her face, but she flinched. "Sorry."
She shook her head quickly. "Last night -- after -- Logan, I had a dream. I was back to myself. I had my old powers, and I was hurting you, just by lying there." Rogue closed her eyes against the memory. "I could feel you dying, but I couldn't move away."
"Hey," he said, understanding at last. "Just a dream."
"For now. But I don't know when it's going to change back, and neither do you. When I woke up, I was scared of what I could have done to you. So I got out of bed, and once I got out of bed it was stupid to just stay in the bedroom. So I came out here, and then I felt awkward just sitting around waiting for you to wake up, so --" Rogue gestured around the kitchen. "I got busy."
"Okay. You could've woken me up, though. If you needed to talk."
Rogue quirked her mouth. "Waking you up hasn't always gone so well for me."
"Guess not." The longer they stayed there -- talking normally, a couple feet apart, more or less dressed -- the weirder Logan felt. Part of him resisted acting like they were just two old friends, but then, what else were they? Just for one night, he'd told himself, and that night was done with. And Rogue was right; her touch could become deadly again at any time, and they'd probably taken a bigger risk last night than they should have. He took a deep breath, let it go. "I should pick you up something to eat. Trust me, if you didn't like the sink, you're not gonna be real happy with the pantry."
She grimaced. "I'm NOT opening that door."
So he drove into town and got her some stuff, fresh bread and fruit and all the junk that went in and on salads, plus some of those kiddie cereals she pretended not to be hooked on. Stood to reason they didn't have tons of Apple Jacks in Havana. When Rogue lifted the box out of the grocery bag and beamed, he knew he'd guessed right.
They talked about the food, and they talked about the cabin, and they talked about Cuba and Canada and Storm and Forge and everybody else besides. When they ran out of news to give each other, they settled into a comfortable silence; he took a turn cleaning up some, since she was funny about that stuff, and she dug into one of his books on Shinto. Once in a while, she'd talk -- about Geir, mostly, but sometimes about Bobby, too. A year apart, and it didn't seem to make any difference in the way she confided in him. He liked that.
The only subject that seemed off-limits was the night before, and Logan wasn't going to bring it up again.
When night came and she started yawning, Rogue went into the bedroom and shut the door, assuming, rightly, that he'd be taking the couch. As he settled his head into the pillow, it occurred to him that he ought to feel relieved. Happy, even. He'd been able to give Rogue what she'd wanted -- and have a damn fine time himself in the bargain -- without it getting too complicated. They were still going to be friends, and she had a safe place to get her head together, and to his surprise he didn't mind the company. Their one night as lovers was just going to be a nice memory. A great memory. A memory that, if he thought about it too long, was going to prevent him from ever getting to sleep.
By the third day, he'd figured out that there was a second forbidden subject: the question of how long she would stay. Logan found himself hoping it would be for a while. She gave him his space when he wanted it, and though he'd thought he was well out of the habit of talking to other people, it came back fast. Rogue seemed to be -- well, 'enjoying herself' was probably too strong, since she was obviously still in mourning for Geir, Bobby, the X-Men, all of it. But he thought she felt safe, and he thought she was glad to be near him.
Yet she never brought up the question of either staying or going, and Logan couldn't think of a way to ask without it sounding like he was giving her a hint to go.
By the fifth day, the roads were clear, and he started teaching her how to drive a stick. Country roads -- you could go a few days without seeing another car, so the only things endangered were the trees and his truck's bumpers. Rogue kept translating everything he said into Norwegian, which was mildly amusing in the morning and, for some reason, hysterically funny by nightfall.
"What's that squeaking sound?" she giggled as she took them downhill.
"The brake lining --"
"-- which you have completely destroyed, along with half the rest of my -- what's it again? Lastebil?"
Rogue laughed, far too pleased with herself. "Yes! Now you speak Norwegian too." She concentrated as she shifted gears again; the truck groaned in protest, but it was close enough. "How am I doing?"
"You are a long way from getting your driver's license. Do not even tell me what 'driver's license' is in Norwegian."
She shook her head and clucked her tongue at him. "You'll never be fluent at this rate."
Logan couldn't stop grinning. "Fine, tell me."
"Forerkort." Rogue looked so self-satisfied that he had to shake his head and look away.
Later that evening, as they prepared their dinner, she was laughing and her hair was loose, and Logan realized that he still wanted her. That he was going to keep on wanting her.
That night, as he tossed and turned on the sofa, he could only think how careful he'd been, back at the school. As long as those lines had been in place -- a student, Bobby's girlfriend, not to be touched, not Jean -- he'd had no trouble sticking to them. His mind didn't wander any more than his hands. But now all of that was blown away.
Rogue still remembered Geir's language, and she had brought in some firewood with the telekinesis, and she was walking around with bare hands. She could still be touched. If he went to the door right now, knocked, stepped inside, knelt on the bed next to her --
He slammed down on the fantasy, hard. It was good because they hadn't made it complicated. Best to leave it that way.
On the eighth day, despite having a headache, she rode into town with him to check out the store for herself. As she browsed through the few aisles, the grocer (always the same red-haired woman) gave him a knowing smile. "So that's the one."
"Excuse me? The one who -- what?"
"You never used to buy salad dressing," the grocer said.
"You this nosy with all your customers?" Logan was smiling when he said it, though he would have preferred a different answer:
"Honey, what else have I got to do?"
Logan kept grinning until he'd turned away. He sauntered up to Rogue's side (she had Comet and Windex already, like you'd ever need both) and murmured, "Try not to stand out. That lady means well, but if the wrong person ever asks her questions --"
"I should've told you to get me some hair color," Rogue said, frowning. "People always remember the white. Oh, God, my head -- do they have Extra Strength Tylenol?"
"Not sure. The medical stuff's never on my shopping list." Had the red-haired lady noticed that? He should have thought of that before -- bought some Band-Aids or cough syrup or something to fit in.
"Logan?" Rogue was pale.
"You okay?" He wheeled around, half-expecting troops at the doorway.
"Fine. It's just -- I was going to tell you the Norwegian words for some of this stuff. And now I can't think of them." She held a hand out experimentally, and Logan knew she meant to try and move some items on the shelves through telekinesis. He would have tackled her to stop her if he hadn't suspected that the effort would be useless.
Nothing moved. It looked only as if she couldn't decide which can of soup to buy.
Carefully, she set down her purchases and reached into her pockets; Logan hadn't realized that she'd had her gloves with her the whole time. She slid them on, her face resolute. When she spoke, she said, "The headache's gone."
"Just like that?"
"Just like that." Rogue's eyes flickered up to meet his own, and he realized that she was fighting the urge to cry. But when he leaned forward to -- what? he didn't know -- she shook her head. "I'm okay. I knew it would go back to the way it used to be. The way it's always gonna be."
"I'm sorry, kid." He put one hand on her shoulder.
"I knew it wasn't going to change." She shrugged, doing a poor job of acting casual. "Where's the cereal?"
As she walked away from him, blinking away her own tears, looking for the Apple Jacks, it hit Logan all at once.
He'd lost his last chance.
Pyro spread his arms out, showing Bobby the city. Giving it to him. Just one more of the many prizes that had always been Bobby's for the taking.
Iceman, he reminded himself. Iceman. Bobby was some kid who wore school sweatshirts and tennis shoes, who helped a kid named John cut class. Iceman was the guy walking down the street now, older and leaner. His jaw had a harder edge to it, even if the smile was still the same.
"This used to be the heart of the red-light district," Pyro said. "Back in the '30s. You ever see that old movie? Cabaret? They had all those kind of clubs down here -- still do. You are going to LOVE this."
"John," Iceman said. "I was wondering -- I wanted to ask you something."
Didn't sound good. But Pyro shrugged as they kept walking down the streets and said only, "Start by calling me Pyro."
"What are you doing here?" Iceman said. He wasn't making an accusation.
"You mean, with Magneto. Instead of Xavier." Pyro wanted to snap at Iceman -- but it was Iceman, and he'd waited too long for his old friend's return to go biting his head off the first time he asked questions. Besides, he had a good memory: The first couple months with the Brotherhood usually involved a lot of questions. "Living life from the top down instead of the bottom up. Making the rules instead of breaking them. You ever think there'd be something I liked better than breaking rules?"
"No." Iceman smiled; when Pyro laughed, Iceman laughed with him, their voices echoing off the buildings and the cobblestone street. Behind a few curtains, Pyro could see movement -- furtive, uneasy. The humans in these buildings knew only mutants or their lackeys would be out after curfew. He wondered if their laughter was frightening, and decided with another grin that it was.
"We're safe, Iceman." He wouldn't have admitted that he cared about this, not when he was still at the school. These days, he felt more than three years older. "That's something Xavier never gave us. Never could."
"What about the regular people who live here?" Iceman demanded. "They're not safe."
Pyro shrugged. "Most of them are as alive and well as they were before the Brotherhood got here."
Iceman shook his head. "They aren't free."
"Nope. Before that, WE weren't free. You've got to hang up on that dream world of Professor X's where everybody's free and accepting and dancing around in the Age of Aquarius or whatever. That's not happening, at least not anytime soon. And if only one group of people gets to be free, I'm glad it's finally mine." Pyro clicked his lighter and sent a plume of fire into the sky, orange in the darkness. No reason.
"And that's all there is to it?" From the absent sound of his voice, Pyro figured Iceman was mostly talking to himself. "Survival of the fittest. Nothing more, nothing less."
It seemed surprisingly natural, when it came right down to it, to slide his arm across Iceman's shoulders. "Doesn't sound so bad, once you figure out you're the fittest." Iceman just hung his head, and Pyro forced himself to stop reveling in his good mood. "Iceman -- if you're going to have a problem with the way things are, figure it out sooner rather than later." When Iceman turned toward him -- his face had changed so much, and not at all -- Pyro continued, "And do me a favor by not telling me anything about it."
"Magneto doesn't appreciate it when people take off," Iceman concluded. His body was weirdly stiff, all of a sudden. "You know, he's not the only one."
Pyro realized that he was either going to have to apologize for three years before, or he was going to have to change the subject. So he let go of Iceman, half-danced a few steps ahead and clicked his lighter again, just for the sound. "You really oughta see this club, you know."
When Iceman's footsteps paused, Pyro glanced over his shoulder. His old friend had his coat pulled around him, and he was staring up at the sky -- still faintly pink on the horizon, this late in the year. "This isn't the way I thought it would be," Iceman said. "I thought when we came here, things would change."
"Nothing ever changes," Pyro said, glad to be back on safe ground. When he kept walking toward the club, Iceman came with him.
Der Katzerkeller was raucous as ever; the laughter and music poured out of the knee-level windows, blared from the door even before they'd gone down the steps and gone inside. Pyro saw a few of the whores turn their head and recognize him; their faces registered first fear, then a weak facsimile of glee.
He didn't care if they were faking it. He kinda liked the fact that they hated him, but they'd make him welcome anyway. Him and Bobby both.
"Pyro," one of them purred. Renate? The one with the black curly hair. Whatever. He couldn't keep their names straight. "Liebchen. You have a friend brought."
"Meet Iceman," Pyro said with a grin. "This guy needs a lot of cheering up, girls. You gonna help me out?"
They laughed and applauded and started pulling off Iceman's coat. Iceman looked so horrified that Pyro started to laugh like crazy. "Pyro -- this is a whorehouse?"
"A nightclub," Pyro said. "So, maybe some of the entertainment happens offstage." When he saw Iceman's rigid face, he said, "Get off it, will you? After three years with a girl you can't touch -- you can't tell me you aren't ready. You have got to be just about to pop." He hoped so, anyway. Iceman flushed, but said nothing. Pyro asked, "So what do you need?"
"Right now? I need a drink." The bartender understood that in English and cocked his head. Iceman sighed and said, "I bet you don't have Coors."
"American beer and chastity: two of your bad habits we're gonna break tonight." Pyro clapped his hands and spoke to the bartender. "Bring us some brandy."
Iceman frowned. "Brandy?"
"Just one of the finer things Magneto taught me to appreciate," Pyro said. "Tonight is about widening your horizons, right?"
"Right," Iceman said. Pyro really, really hoped he was telling the truth.
Some of the girls got up and did a little song and dance; Pyro didn't speak nearly enough German to follow, but the gestures were more or less universal. The human men forgot their terror of the mutants; they only had eyes for the girls, after a while. Renate wasn't one of the singers; she came and draped herself over Iceman, stroking his cheek right at the border of the helmet. Iceman didn't respond, but he didn't push her away, either -- just kept gulping down the brandy, even though he clearly hated it, trying to get drunk. He finished one, then another, then another.
Was he going to get drunk enough? Pyro realized he probably was -- but that he wouldn't be any damn use by that point. His disappointment was minor; after all, time was on his side. He reached over and brushed a stray drop of brandy from Iceman's lips. Iceman stared at him, and Pyro said, "You aren't enjoying the floor show? Maybe we need a different kinda show, huh? Renate there looks ready."
Iceman glanced over at Renate, who gave him a full-lipped smile. Then he sighed heavily. "Let's just -- let's get this done, okay?"
"Now you're talking." Pyro glanced around the room, at all the girls he could choose from. They charged different rates, but they serviced Magneto's people for free. They knew better than to refuse. Which one of them hated him the most? That one. With the long blonde hair. What was her name again? "Andrea?" Her eyes widened, but she forced herself to smile. "Upstairs."
She understood that. Stiffly, she walked to his side, and he pulled her to his side tightly, cupping his hand around one breast. Renate took the hint and pulled Iceman to his feet. Iceman said, "Two rooms."
"Nah," Pyro said. "One room." Iceman stared, and Pyro laughed. "Get over it! Besides, I have an idea."
"An idea?" They were stumbling up the stairs now to their room. Renate was giggling; either she really liked Iceman or she was just glad not to have Pyro again. In the past, he'd tried out a few his more creative ideas on her; apparently she hadn't liked it. He'd have to make sure to come back and get even more creative with her someday soon.
"Yeah," Pyro said. They went into the room, girls laughing too brightly. Pyro started taking off his clothes; the girls didn't, but he frankly didn't care. "A race."
"A race?" Iceman was following Pyro's lead, not the girls'. He pulled his shirt off sloppily, letting it fall to the floor. Quite a six-pack Iceman had there. One hell of an ass, too, Pyro thought, as the jeans dropped to the floor.
Andrea began stripping off her flimsy top as Pyro said, "Well, the girls are gonna race. You and me, we're going to have -- whatever the reverse of a race is."
"What are you talking about?" Iceman said. "Are you sure -- two rooms, we could --"
"The girls are going to have a little competition," Pyro said. He was talking to the girls now, too, as he grabbed Bobby's arm and towed them both over toward the one bed. They each sat on the side, just a couple feet apart. "We're gonna see who's better at giving a blow job -- Renate, or Andrea? Let's see if they understand -- uns blasen?" The girls nodded; that was probably the first English they'd ever learned. "Ein Rennen? Got it? Good. And you and me, Bobby -- we are gonna see who can hold out the longest. First one to come owes the other one a drink."
"Pyro --" Iceman struggled for words, then just said, "Shit." And Pyro realized, with a thrill, that beneath his confusion and drunkenness and shame, Iceman was getting turned on.
"You're gonna lose," Pyro said. Then he gave Andrea his best, most scornful smile; she was smiling up at him, but he could feel her hate, radiating from her like heat. That just made it better as she opened her crimson-lined mouth and took his cock inside.
He glanced over, got a good hard look at Iceman before Renate got her mouth on him. Iceman saw him staring, but as soon as Renate closed her lips, the guy was lost. He shut his eyes, tilted his head back, started making sounds that Pyro had never dreamed he'd hear.
Andrea's tongue was stroking him, working him good, as she started sucking hard. Pyro thought, So, she doesn't want this to take too long. Too bad, bitch. I know Dodgers scores that go back almost a hundred years. Home-run averages. RBIs. His cock was getting harder and thicker, and it felt better and better, but his orgasm was still a long way away. Perfect. Just perfect.
Iceman, though -- he wasn't gonna last that long. Poor stupid bastard; three years of jerking off while thinking about Rogue clearly hadn't done it for him. He was pumping into Renate's open mouth, clutching her hair while he moved her head back and forth. His abdominal muscles were working with every single thrust, his skin glistening with a faint sheen of sweat. God, it looked good -- seeing Iceman just going for it like that, just taking what he wanted.
Baseball scores weren't cutting it anymore. Andrea's mouth felt a whole hell of a lot better. She had blonde hair and blue eyes, just like Iceman. Just like Bobby. Pyro gasped, "Hold on, man."
"I -- I can't," Iceman said. "I don't want to."
"Then I win," Pyro said. "You just gonna -- let me win?"
Iceman nodded. "Fuck. Yeah. I just want to --"
Pyro grabbed Iceman's hand, hard. It was cold, so fucking cold that it slashed through his body. It was like that time Renata'd blown him with ice cubes in her mouth. No, better. As Pyro started radiating heat back, their hands began to smoke, sending up thin vapor trails, like dry ice.
"Yeah," Iceman whispered.
The girls' heads were working faster, and the wet suction on his cock felt better and better, and Pyro could feel Iceman's hand in his. He squeezed tighter, and Iceman's eyes opened. They stared at each other as the whores kept going, as the orgasm started spiraling up inside his body, at the exact same time he could see it building up in Bobby. Pyro held onto it as long as he could -- but then Iceman was shouting out, thrusting deep between Renate's lips, and Pyro couldn't hold it any longer, coming right then, coming hard, feeling his come filling up Andrea's mouth. He never looked away from Iceman. Iceman never looked away from him. Their eyes locked the whole time.
When the last wave of it was gone, Pyro flopped back onto the bed, Iceman beside him. He could hear Andrea spitting into the hem of the bedspread. He'd get back to her about that, someday. Right now, all that mattered was the fact that he and Iceman were lying there, hands still clasped together. Dry-ice vapor rose from their hands and clouded the air so that Pyro could barely see him, but he still didn't look away.
Xavier decided he liked the hotel. He hadn't ever seen much of it besides his own bedroom, but once he was up and around more, now being wheeled through by Scott, he could get a proper view of the place through his own eyes.
"Professor, Forge wants to know if we can get any more planes from the Argentinians; there's something about the engines of those models he thinks he can really work with." Ororo frowned over her checklist, exasperated with someone, though Xavier couldn't quite make out whether it was Forge, the Argentineans or himself. Most likely all three, he decided.
"I'll send out the communiqué, and we'll see," Xavier replied. "They've been unusually forthcoming, so it couldn't hurt to ask."
Ororo continued down her list. "We have secured safe passage in several East African nations, but still none on the West Coast will allow us harbor privileges."
"Most of what we'd need, we could fly over." Xavier said.
"And the rest?" Ororo snapped. She was at the point of exhaustion, but Xavier was glad to see it. The energy in the hotel, even the anger and impatience, now was far, far better than the depressed malaise he'd sensed before now. The X-Men felt a purpose again, and Xavier knew his challenge was to make sure they felt that way with good reason. "What about our other materials? Are we going to try and get a ship around the Cape of Good Hope? That's going to take months."
"The other options are going by the Pacific, which would take even longer, or the Mediterranean, and that would last about five minutes before Magneto realized we were there." Xavier said calmly. "I needn't explain what he would do then."
Her doubt and anger were far from quieted, but she continued on, businesslike as ever. "The Egyptian president has asked if we wouldn't rather be in Cairo," Ororo said, moving her finger down the checklist. "The better to keep an eye on us, I'm sure."
"Thank him graciously, then tell him the Sinai Peninsula is tactically important for reasons I can't yet share with him. Which means, of course, that I'd prefer for him not to be keeping an eye on us." Xavier ran one hand over his scalp; no wonder they complained about the heat. Well past time to rethink black leather uniforms.
"Professor --" Ororo hesitated, then met his eyes. Xavier realized how long it had been since she'd done that -- just looked him square in the face, no polite lies between them, no hidden resentment or pain. She said only, "Is this really going to change anything?"
"I think it's going to change quite a great deal," Xavier replied. "I have several plans. Some of the best -- well, they may not come to pass. They rely on too many variables. But I believe that we can get in position to make a major strike at Magneto's forces, one that will hurt his effectiveness and gain attention in the anti-mutant nations."
Ororo didn't look very satisfied with this answer. "And that's President Kendall's cue to made another worldwide broadcast about the mutant menace. I like it when he compares the battles to gang warfare."
He ignored the bitter joke. "I believe that, this time, President Kendall -- and his compatriots in America, and in China, and in Australia -- will be suitably impressed by what we've sacrificed for humanity's sake."
"Professor --" Ororo was visibly trying to control her temper. "I hate to repeat the obvious, but they haven't been very grateful in the past."
Xavier folded his arms and looked very hard at each of them in turn. "This time," he said, enunciating clearly, "they'll be suitably impressed."
Ororo's mouth twisted in a poorly hidden smile. Her shock ran deeper, and truer, as Xavier understood well. "You've always said you'd never --"
"Their minds will remain their own," Xavier said. "They will make their own decisions about how to proceed afterward. I will not take that from them; if I did, I should have fallen farther than Magneto ever has. But I can, and will, ensure that they see what we do next in the proper light. They will know our efforts to help them for what they are. Beyond that -- we'll have to see."
"Magneto will know what you've done to their minds." Ororo still couldn't accept the idea.
"He'll know what I haven't done, as well," Xavier said. He smiled ruefully as he added, "And that's the part he'll hate me for."
Ororo nodded, perhaps pacified at last. For the first time, Xavier realized how deep her distrust had been-- how profound her bitterness. How close had he come to losing her? Would she have been the next to go? He realized that she would have been -- that he had been just in the nick of time to keep her here. His gratitude to her for lasting so long at his side, feeling the way she felt, overwhelmed him, and he took her hand -- a simple gesture, yet one they hadn't shared in far too long.
Her face softened into a smile -- one of her gentler smiles, one that lit up her entire face. But just as she was about to speak, her comm began beeping. She squeezed his hand again before the answered it, then said, "There's a vidcom call coming in from Israel."
The moment seemed to freeze, as though he'd stopped time -- Ororo's silver-white hair brushing against his scalp, the shadows of some of the children at the far end of the hallway on their way to help Forge, the afternoon light filtering through the dusty glass of the old chandeliers. Carefully, he said, "Israel?"
"Yeah. Who figured they'd answer?" Ororo shrugged. "I thought they were enjoying being a neutral nation for a change."
"It's unfinished business," Xavier said. That was all the explanation he could give until he knew for certain. "Get me to a station."
"Professor -- what's going on?"
"Remember what I said about variables?" Xavier replied. "It appears that some of them are about to resolve in our favor."
Once he was in front of a station, he tapped the screen on. Before him stood an elderly woman, her frizzy white hair pulled up in a bun, a long scar visible along the length of her cheekbone. Xavier felt all the years of his age on him as he quietly said, "Dr. Avidan."
"Charles Xavier." She tilted her head, her gaze almost fond. "I had thought you would call upon me long ago, or never again."
"I hadn't thought I would need to endanger you in this way," he said. "I had hoped not. But now -- I need everything you still have. Which is how much, exactly?"
Dr. Avidan shook her head at him. "And you call yourself a scientist," she said. "How much would you have kept in my place?"
He could feel his heart pounding with anticipation. "Everything."
She held out her hands. "Waiting here for you to come and claim it -- which the Israeli government welcomes you to do."
Behind him, Ororo muttered, "We just got lucky, didn't we?"
"Yes," Xavier said, as the smile spread across his face. "Oh, yes."